Lock down has been an interesting experience. The novelty of "taking a break" since a good portion of us are out of work has long since worn off. Some of us may find ourselves in familiar situations, like being isolated to this extent echos how we were in our yesteryears. Some of us further still can hear the echos of "get over it" and "move on" and you wish you could separate the now you from the memories woven alongside your veins of the you who survived in this familiar situation...but you can't. Inability to "let go" becomes just one more thing to "live with", on edge, not quite gone but also not here, there or anywhere really. At least that's where I was in the beginning of this lock down.
Disclaimer: This is how I dealt with my trauma. I held onto the ways I survived that trauma so tightly that it cost me the most significant relationship I've had so far. This wasn't easy, but I hope it helps you should you need it.
If there is a benefit to an anxiety disorder it is that panic attacks and being triggered are as common as breathing and blinking so navigating the heart palpitations and hyperventilating is an old trick by now. The constant rise and fall of cortisol (stress hormone), adrenaline (fight or flight) and the wear it does to your body become the price of daring to live outside its alarming subconscious rules. The first wave of it I gave in. "You win. I won't move. I won't feel. I won't care." Depression set in and rocked me back and forth. "I deserved it. I am wrong. I don't want to live anymore if I can't escape it." Further and further it dragged me down until I completely lost my sense of self and still it tried to push me further. If you know me though, you know I'm a brat through and through every aspect of my life and this was no exception.
"Further still?" I cried incredulously after weeks of this. I tend to imagine my depression as the bottom of the ocean, cold, heavy with pressure, drowning. My face is pressed into the sand. "Really?"
And still it pushed. "So staying still isn't enough and fighting back yields temporary peace, what other option do I have? I don't want to do this anymore."
I reached out to my partner, "I don't know what to do and this is killing me. The endless loop, trying to outrun it, I want it to stop." and he said, "Soothe the child as you would now as an adult who has more emotional equipment to do so."
Well I'll be damned.
So I took a deep breath and let the depression take me back, leap frogging over the recent moments that triggered me all the way back to the origin. The first weaving of the yesterme into who I would become. I saw my younger self alone and crying in their childhood bedroom, watched the ritual of inflicting pain on themselves unable to process what was happening. I listened to them scream for help and winced when they realized nothing was coming to save them. Until now.
I sat across from younger me, wiped their tears and I told them, "I'm sorry that you had these experiences, that you were so dreadfully alone and had to learn how to survive alone. I'm sorry you only had twigs to use to defend yourself when you needed swords. I'm sorry that the people who hurt you don't even realize how much they hurt you or frankly don't care and I want you to know it's not your fault." The crying stops and something in me shifts like a tangled heart string slowly undoing a knot. "I'm proud of you for continuing to live even when you were ready to die. I'm proud of you for trying your best even though you did not have much to go off of and only your previous experiences for guidance. I'm a little jealous of your reckless optimism in the face of the impossible because I could really use it now. Would you mind showing me how you did it?"
I watch younger me's expression as I speak to them go from panicked to vacant to hopeful. This version of me was so desperate for anything that wasn't this they would have gone with anyone to anywhere. It kills me because I remember what comes next, but the pain is slowly fading, the pressure is easing.
They lead me down the hallway of memories, growing up before my eyes as we walk and they show me the separation of self from body, the severe detachment where nothing can hurt you. Something I had forgotten was the reason why being social was such a difficult experience. The "who the fuck are you" conundrum. Younger me looks delighted when this ritual is done, not yet knowing the cost of such a coping mechanism and I don't really know what to say which suggests this version is still present in some way of who I am now. So I am quiet as they lead me through what's to follow, quiet until the next wave of experiences hit them.
Persistent, determined, head strong younger me doesn't stay down for very long though, a blessing and a curse. It's when they start piecing together make shift armor that I stop them. I know the armor always breaks, not because the perceived enemies are stronger but because it's not good armor. A snippet of a recent conversation comes to mind about walls and what they're for. "What are you trying to protect?" I ask myself and they look up at me like I asked why do they breathe. "Myself of course." It's the wrong question, right answer and my heart sinks because I don't know the right one yet. So off they go to the next imagined battle and down they fall. "I need better armor." They say, not understanding that armor is meant to take blows not win battles. But a sword won't save you either if you are your own Achilles' heel. "Why do you want to win the battle?" I ask. They don't stop moving, still searching for their magic armor. "If I win this, they'll see I'm not weak and they'll love me because I was good enough." Fuck. I say this next part with them. "I'll be the best."
I forgot that's why I overexerted myself all the time, was everywhere, did everything. I didn't love myself so I was constantly looking for love in everyone else, opportunities to demonstrate that I was worthy of love. In fact I hated myself and used my self loathing as an encouragement to continue overexerting myself. "Get better and then they'll love you and you can love yourself." Chaotic, fragile egocentric energy does not want to stop and reflect, it wants to achieve and prove itself right. But I know where younger me starts to learn this lesson so I wait. All geared up for the next imagined battle, I watch as the person who always happens to show up when I need them the most walks out. They have no weapons, no armor and younger me is suspicious but curious, excited but lacking direction. They approach with all their chaotic, fragile, ego energy and the challenger puts up their hand, frustrated "Stop. You are already loved, you do not have to fight like this. You have nothing to prove. You are beautiful, capable, and loved. So love yourself." Younger me hears the words, but not the message, stops but doesn't know where to go and I finally know how to finish the lesson bringing us to be one in the same.
"I don't understand." Younger me says looking sheepish in their make shift armor and their flimsy sword. "How could anyone love me as I am now?"
"Walk with me." and we start walking down a hallway with snapshots of memories, like fingers sleepily tracing over very old but very deep scars. I realize this wound that never really healed is mirrored in someone else in my life, that going through the correct motions only further supports the philosophy of our younger selves that love is earned and when it's freely given dismantles the entire framework with which we live our lives. Love that is freely given is an earthquake not just in its intimacy but to accept it would mean we've been wrong for a very long time and chaotic fragile ego energy does not understand that there is no battle to win, there is no enemy to defeat. There is nothing.
I watch younger me, curious and hungrily searching through these memories for something to hold onto, but I know we're not yet at the place where they can recognize it fully in themselves to readily see it with other people. They become frustrated and I think there's a small blessing somewhere that the philosophy "If I'm not getting the result I want, it must be other people's fault, they're the ones who are wrong" never developed. No, I got the other side of it, the "I must not be doing it right so try harder, change 'correctly'" side.
"I don't understand." Younger me says again and it's like we never really left my childhood bedroom. "The thing you're looking for in other people you have to give to yourself." I say and they look terrified.
"But how? What is there to love about me?" What is there to love about the thing (not person) who deserved what happened to them? "If someone told you the story you lived and said they deserved it, what would you say?" The speed the expression on their face changes threatens to give me whiplash, "That's terrible, I wouldn't let them believe that!"
"So why do you let yourself believe it?" The younger me realizes the price of the aforementioned ritual is that you can't feel good things either, like making a deal with the devil without being able to read the fine print too broken to make a truly conscious decision. You just want to survive. I'm burning the contract. I'm shattering the piecemeal armor and I'm watching myself dismantle. But I'm not worried because I've had the good fortune of older friends so I know there is something after this, I'm only losing this idea of myself.
"But why then?" Slightly younger me is trembling, crying and breaking over and over.
"You aren't responsible for misplaced anger, the violence you didn't see coming when you thought you were safe. Stuff happened to you, yes and I will always be sorry for that I can't change that but you're not there anymore. You didn't get a choice then, but in this moment now you do."
"You actually have been doing it this whole time." I point to a picture of my goth family. "Remember how you didn't want anyone to feel as alone as you?" I point to another. "How you cheered people on the way you wanted to be cheered for?" I point to another, "How if your friends knew the things you said to yourself sometimes they would only try even more to make sure you knew you were loved?" The point balances on "deserve" and "responsible" and we are almost the same age now, eye to eye. It hurts as the pain comes up like it's happening all at once over and over again. I'm not sure what to say. The hallway fills with sheets of paper covered in short notes of motivation. One has always stuck with me, keeping me going, since I was a teenager "I got cancer, cancer never got me."
"We are responsible for doing our damn best. You didn't deserve what happened to you, but you are not responsible to pay the price of losing yourself as a result. You are not the vessel for your trauma, the trauma is just extra gunpowder and you are an explosion of something better that they couldn't even comprehend. Those motherfuckers gave you demons yesterday? Turn them into your army today and take every ounce of your can do, fuck you attitude that has haphazardly carried you through life and keep being the light you think this world deserves more of. If you could conquer your fear of socializing without a will a live to make sure someone knew their kin was right around the corner, imagine what the fuck you will accomplish with one."
Sit with your demons at the table of your soul until your demons aren't demons anymore.
"But what if they leave? What if they don't love me and it will have all been for nothing?"
"Can you love? Can you forgive? Can you do better?"
"We are not responsible for where others' journeys take them, whether we are a moment or a saga. But no matter the duration we can still be one hell of plot twist. Love freely, live with intention. Do your best."
"Do my best with what? Who am I?"
"I am the weirdo that hell itself couldn't the beat the optimism out of. My heart is bigger than my body, I love cats, coffee, cigarettes and you. I am a lot of things but done is not one of them."
And then there is no one in the hallway except me and I sigh, strangely feeling like I am in my body for the first time in a long time. I imagine I'll be back, there's some wallpaper that needs redoing and a frame or two to straighten. Often, having such a close relationship to my trauma I feared the unknown of my new self. I've tried to make it a reflex, when the pain comes up give what you need most. A hug, a kind word, and blog post that helps one other person breathe a little easier. I just met this new me. Tomorrow if I'm lucky I will meet another one and I will fall more in love with each of them.
Tomorrow is coming,
Don't be hungry for life. Be ravenous.
Zakkarrii Edison Daniels