What has it got in its pocketses?

When my partner and I met in the winter of 2007, I know he realised I had some… eccentricities. I’m just not entirely certain that even if he had envisaged us still being together 9 years later that he would be having a conversation with me over txt that read as follows:

Him: “Do you want your bath robe just on gentle wash?”
Me: “Lol yes pls! Can you… can you save my pocket knots?”
Him: “I already found a giant one in the bed”
Me: “Yeah I made that one last night. You can add them together if you like. It had good texture”
Him: “Please stop talking…”

Part of me can’t stop laughing.

Another part of me is fully aware that what I’ve asked him to do, goes above and beyond a man’s love for his woman.

The bigger part of me now can’t stop thinking about those knots.

I have what is known as Trichotillomania, which is a fancy word for the fact that I pull out my hair.

It began for me when I was about 8 years old, and hasn’t stopped since. I do it almost constantly, all day, but it’s much worse when I am reading or watching television.

I think that’s the norm for many Trich sufferers, though the majority that I know pull hairs directly from the scalp, whereas I twirl my hair into messy, tangled knots, and then rip them out.

For the most part, I don’t realise I’m doing it until the knot has been well and truly created. If I stop, I have to go back to it a few seconds later. It is literally a compulsion that I can’t get past.

The only real effect that it had on my life is that there were always little knots or strands of hair laying around, until 3 or 4 years ago, when my life started falling apart. The stress exacerbated the hair pulling, and I ended up with bald spots and very asymmetrical hair (not in a cool way).

While my hair is growing in at the back and I can get away with the asymmetry at the front, all it takes is one stressful night and I undo months of self-torture (also known as self-discipline) where I’ve made the knot and untangled it before it caused any damage. If I don’t make the knot, I’m always on the edge of the compulsion.

That’s where my pocket knots come in.

I believe trichotillomania is a sensory thing. For me, it’s the texture of the knots that are the best part, and that’s why keeping a few in the pocket of my dressing gown gets me out of trouble.

My sister finds it creepy that I keep knots of hair in my pockets. I reminded her that it would only be creepy if it was other peoples’ hair.

Admittedly, while I don’t think it’s creepy, I do know it’s really gross to ask my NotHusband to reach into my pockets and blindly pull out a bunch of hair balls, and put them somewhere safe until I get home.

I would totally txt him back and tell him it’s okay if he doesn’t want to, except I really fucking want those knots. They took me ages to get just right.

… yeah okay. I’m going to shut up now. Except to say that I am totally proud of myself for deleting refraining from saying  “KnotHusband” earlier.

When Bullied Children Grow Up

It’s been about 4 years since my diagnosis of Complex PTSD following severe psychological childhood bullying, and subsequent domestic violence relationships.

I was diagnosed a full year before I accepted that diagnosis. I left that therapist the moment she suggested the PTSD, and that it began with the bullying, because I had never associated the way that “friend” treated us as bullying. I’d merely seen it as one girl being a real bitch.

My counsellor came to her conclusion by asking me to detail my early childhood experiences. She had suspicions that the symptoms I was displaying were related to early childhood trauma, but I think that initially she suspected some sort of family abuse, until she heard about the loving and accepting and nurturing environment that my family had given me.

That’s when she began asking me about my experiences with friends, with school, and then with men.

That bullying label she applied to that girl.. it came as a shock. Through our sessions, I began to detail specific incidents; and in doing so, remembered more of them.

In order to explain the specific type of bullying I experienced, it’s probably easiest to liken it to a domestic violence relationship.

That girl started out sweet, and friendly. Within a very short period of time, she changed direction and would cast one of us out every couple of days, forcing the rest of us to go along with it under threat of being the outcast; the girl who nobody was allowed to speak to, the girl the group would whisper about behind their hands, the girl who would be laughed at and humiliated and occasionally pushed around the playground.

At 8 years of age, it’s a very scary and confusing experience, to have people that you love treating you in such a manner, with absolutely no explanation as to why.

What was more damaging was what happened when she decided your time as an outcast was over – she asked you why YOU had ignored THEM.

I now know that there’s a term for that behaviour, and it’s designed to make you question your own perception, to take the power away from you, the power that allows you to stand up for yourself. It’s called Gaslighting.

She began to control every aspect of our lives, both in school and out of school.

She decided which boys we should have a crush on. The boy she picked for me was a boy I actually had a crush on. She told me to ask him out, I did, she then became jealous when he bought me a gift, and she told me I had to break up with him. I did that, too.

None of us were allowed to have sleepovers without her being present. If we did, we had to keep it secret, so we couldn’t go back to school the following Monday and laugh and giggle about the silly little things we’d done. We had to tiptoe around each other and pretend nothing had happened.

It was rare for us to dare her wrath because inevitably, the girl you’d invited over, when she felt she was next in line for being outcast, would dob you in to protect herself. We all did it. It taught us that we couldn’t trust anyone, especially each other. We learned to keep happiness a secret, in case it was used against us.

We all discovered quickly that none of us were allowed to excel in anything. Some of us deliberately failed exams, others held back their sporting potential, and each of us tried desperately to become her Best Friend; the one afforded protection over all others.

She constantly accused us of having a secret.

Have you ever tried to prove you don’t have a secret? You can’t. You simply get accused of lying, regardless of what you say, and the conversation goes round in so many circles, with them suddenly changing direction, or throwing in another accusation, until your brain is so confused, and exhausted, and too full of anxiety over the consequences of this conversation that in the end, you just admit to something to make it stop – the punishment is preferable to the interrogation.

My first romantic relationship was practically identical to my relationship with this bully. He employed all of the same tactics, and threw in a whole bunch of cheating to go with it. The gaslighting, though. He was a master, and the end result of all of that relationship was a girl who didn’t believe in herself, her memories, or her own feelings. Everything I thought, felt, or saw was incorrect, so I lived a secret life on the internet, with friends he was unable to touch. It was the only place I had ever been allowed to learn who I was.

A year after that initial diagnosis, I went back to my therapist. I finally believed her.

From then, my mind was a place I didn’t recognise. All of the barriers I’d created over the years had been broken down, but life itself hadn’t stopped to allow me to process it. I didn’t know how to cope. It was touch and go for awhile there, with so much rage exploding onto the people I came into contact with, and the destruction of some dear relationships.

But I learned how to cope. I learned how to process it, and I learned how to put the pieces of my past together with the reactions of my present. I healed, I became a more productive member of society, I lost all that rage, the self-hatred, and a fair chunk of the shame I’d been carrying for the majority of my life. I don’t have panic attacks, I don’t react to current situations in a manner affected by all of my past. I can quite confidently say that my C-PTSD, while it will always exist within me, no longer affects my daily life.

It’s been a good four years.

I had a beautiful baby girl, who had some physical challenges in the form of Developmental Hip Dysplasia, but my therapy and diagnosis gave me all the tools I needed to get her and ourselves through it unscathed.

She’s recently started a couple of days a week at Day Care. It’s an exciting opportunity for her to socialise with other children.

While it’s a wonderful opportunity for her, I’ve found that it’s been quite triggering for me – I wasn’t expecting that.

My daughter is pure sunshine. She’s friendly, and happy, and loves to share. She adores other children, and gets so excited to spend time with them. What’s triggering me is the fact that at the moment, it’s her chasing after them.

It’s a silly thing to be hurt by.

I only see her at drop off and pickup; an emotional time for all of the children. It shouldn’t affect me that those children stick to the kids they already know, but it upsets me to see my daughter on her own so much. If she engages with another child, it’s because she initiated it, or she sits on the periphery, smiling or laughing at what they’re doing, just waiting to be invited to play.

This is most definitely a situation where only time will help. She needs to settle in to the environment and the concept of being away from her family for hours on end. They all need time to get to know each other. I know that once they’re comfortable, they’re going to adore her and she won’t even need an invitation to play.

I know that this is a situation where I need to remember that my experience is not her experience. I’m desperate for her to know something that I never did – the pure, guileless love of a friend you can trust. A friend who cares for you enough to stand up for you. A friend that you can spend time with, without worrying that the fun moments you’re sharing are going to be erased the very moment they dob you in for inviting them over.

I’m not worried that I will taint her experience with my own. I know that I can keep my hurt from clouding her life, because I was given the tools to do so.

I am just surprised by the extent of the damage done to me by one little girl, over a period of five tiny little years. Experiences that ended 20 years ago but are still resonating within my subconscious, despite therapy and all the work I’ve done to heal from them.

I’m not angry about it, I’m not hurt by it (anymore). I am aware that her behaviour had to have been due to her own experiences in her own life. I can’t blame an 8 year old girl for not having the tools she needed to deal with whatever traumatic situation she was experiencing. Her behaviour ended up putting me in that same position, years later.

I am just… surprised. I am in awe of the power of the brain, and of the consequences of traumatic childhood experiences.

I am also now more prepared for the future; for the days my daughter comes home crying because someone was mean to her. They’re going to trigger me. They’re going to make me angry, and they’re going to *hurt*. I am determined, however, to encourage my daughter’s natural empathy for the suffering of others, whilst helping her to cultivate a healthy self-esteem.

That’s far easier said than done. My own parents did exactly the same things for me, and I still fell into this trap. I refused their help when they tried to intervene. I forbade them from contacting the school or her parents because by that time, the damage had already been done. Just like with that high school boyfriend, I needed that bully to love me. I believed both of them when they told me that nobody else would want me, so I did all I could to become what they wanted me to be. Of course, what they wanted me to be was broken and in their control, so nothing I changed about myself ever made a difference, except in the damage it did to me.

For now, I’m going to work on putting my own feelings aside, and focus only on the positives that this new day care experience is providing for my daughter.

Hopefully, by the time bullying starts, I’ll have developed a strategy for helping my daughter through it.

You know, that… or schools will have actually done something to address the epidemic.

Sleepwalking

This acoustic version of Sleepwalking reminds me of the hours and hours I spent alone in my Melbourne apartment, writing, drinking, freezing, singing, crying, hating, loving – feeling terrified, empowered, and lonely.

At the time, I was numb to all of it. Those emotions were ripples across my surface – except the loneliness – I felt that as keenly as the icy winds that greeted me every night as I left the call centre I worked at.

I remember feeling new, like paper. I was blank, nothing – a few etchings beginning to appear as my new person developed. Someone wholly separated from the person I’d been in all the years leading me to that point. I vowed I’d never be that girl who hurt herself by staying where she wasn’t actually wanted. I vowed I would never date a musician again. I vowed I would stop being scared of losing everything, and start living.

So I took a job in a call centre – something the old me would never have done, because I was too anxious that the people sitting next to me would hear how useless I was at the job. I went out to nightclubs on my own and introduced myself to people. I wandered a lot. Had hair style changes, new piercings, new clothing… and while it felt exciting to create a new me, it felt like it was all happening to someone else.

It’s only through hindsight that I can see how close I came to actually losing everything, and to just how completely disconnected I was from reality, my emotions, and the idea of consequences.

When I listen to this song, I remember the smell of that apartment, how cold it was, how small, but wonderful it was. The way I heated it using the oven, because the idea of buying a heater to keep myself warm never once occurred to me. When Sid asked me, flat out, as he shivered that night of our one night stand, why I didn’t have a heater, I remember the sadness, the horror, as I realised I’d never considered it because mentally, I didn’t feel worthy of warmth.

Until that very moment, I’d had no idea just how much I had confused my numb, reckless, alcohol-induced Brave New Person, with simply shutting down and not coping.

People say that you drink to forget. The only time I remember Important Things, is when I’m drunk. But the next day, I can’t remember what I remembered, and I wonder how many secrets about myself and my past, that I discovered and lost, alone in that apartment, with this song the only witness?

I wonder what the walls heard, or who I spilled my secrets to at 4am on threadbare couches in darkened corners of dirty clubs and 24 hour pubs – There are strangers out there, walking around, who know things about me that I will never remember, and the shapes of their faces are little more than a faded blur of a whiskey soaked memory, and yet, they probably know me far more intimately than people who’ve known me for decades, because when the whiskey goes in, the walls come down, and I feel safe to be myself.

Until I become The Other Self, the one that’s too Too – too loud, too violent, too angry, too sad, too lost, too lonely, too desperate, too broken, too confused.

So now I’m a new Me. Again.

The walls are higher and thicker than they’ve ever been. Nobody gets through the generic How’s The Weather layer. I don’t know how to let them, without alcohol, and now I have new reasons to be more scared of the consequences of drinking than I ever had in the past. I have a child who doesn’t deserve to witness the demon inside me, or my punishment for who I apparently become.

This new me is a bit like the old me, in that I feel no connection. I have friends – those satellites who orbit my world, never getting inside, because I don’t know how to have friends and trust them. It’s easier to keep everyone at arm’s length, than to lose them, or have them leave you.

So now I find myself missing those days in that freezing apartment, where my whiskey words let me make the strongest connections to any friends I’ve ever had.

I wouldn’t trade what I have now for what I had then, but it sure would be nice to learn how to let go, and live.

The Smell of Apricot Chicken Reminds Me of SuperTed

Last night, as evening began to hide the clouds that had owned the sky all day, I stepped into my parents’ house to collect my daughter. A wall of scent and memory flew into my face and settled around my heart. It lifted the corners of my mouth and made me stop, and breathe.

Apricot Chicken!

I could smell Apricot Chicken cooking on a cold Autumn evening, whilst standing in the downstairs living room of my family home, right in front of the wood fire.

When I was five, six… sixteen years of age, I would sit in that room, watching ABC evening TV, while mum cooked dinner upstairs. In those days, she would have just dragged herself in from a long day in the operating theatre. The smell of Betadine would cling to her, and the sound of pots and pans and stirring and chopping would filter down the stairs, forcing us to turn the TV up with a grumble, completely oblivious to the fact that while we were annoyed that mum’s cooking was interfering with our television watching, mum was dead on her feet, knowing her day wouldn’t be over until dinner was cooked, the dishes were done, laundry washed, folded or ironed, and us selfish bastard kids had finally gone off to bed.

We’d sit there for hours, watching Danger Mouse, Trap Door and Roger Ramjet, waiting for Degrassi Junior High to come on. We’d laugh and fight, and ignore mum’s pleas for us to set the table for dinner, pretending we didn’t hear her, or telling her we’d be up in 5 minutes … we were such jerk liars.

Despite not wanting her to make any sound as she prepared our meal, we’d be desperate for dinner to be ready. The closer it got, the headier its scent, and the growlier our stomachs became.

Last night, that smell of Apricot Chicken took me back to that time, where I had my whole family at my fingertips, whenever I wanted (or didn’t want) them around.

And now my daughter is experiencing something almost identical to my own childhood, only hers comes without the scent of betadine and the stories from the operating theatre. And right now, it comes without brothers or sisters to fight with.

It also comes without the smell of Apricot Chicken, because they were actually cooking Ham and Leek Soup…(wtf??)

I have a vested interest.

Tenure, She Wrote

In the fourth grade, I was obsessed with marine science and sonar technology, and I’d spend Saturday afternoons watching The Hunt for Red October instead of Saved by the Bell. That summer, I toured a Navy sub in dry dock– my first time! — and I asked the officer leading the tour when we’d be going to the sonar room. “Sorry, kid. It’s classified,” he said. Masking my disappointment, I replied that it was okay, because I was going to be a sonar technician when I grew up, and I could wait until then. “But they don’t let girls on subs,” was the officer’s surprised reply, as he looked at me as if I’d sprouted horns. When I asked why not, he told me I wouldn’t want to be stuck on a sub with a bunch of smelly guys anyway. My “Then…why aren’t there submarines for just girls?” got no reply.

So, I have a vested…

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Senseless

It’s a beautiful Autumn day. The sun is a warm glow on my bare arms and a slight, playful breeze whispers through the stray hairs that have fallen out of my ponytail, tickling the back of my neck.

Birds and  butterflies take a moment’s rest in the leaves of still trees, and the clear, haze-free skies let me see the forests that dig into the small mountains around the town of Eugowra, a 25 minute drive from where I sit.

A town that was supposed to be the site of a wedding that united two families, two hearts, two worlds.

Instead, the two families gathered in a park at Leeton, mourning the loss of the bride-to-be, who was stolen from her fiancé, her family and the world, last Sunday, by a man who felt that he was entitled to take her life.

Her name was Stephanie. She was a school teacher, a friend, daughter, sister. She was a stranger to me,  though not to people i know.

Her killer isn’t worth mentioning.

He isn’t worth remembering.

He’s just one more man whose severe inadequacies led him to believe that his desire to enact the ultimate form of control over a woman, outweighed her desire to exist.

As I sit at the table on my parents’ balcony, feeling the same sun that should have glittered off her wedding dress, I can’t stop the tears from falling, or comprehend the agony her loved ones are now forced to endure for the rest of their lives.

Most of all, I want to reach out to a woman I never knew and tell her how sorry I am that someone hurt her.

Stephanie Scott was a teacher, a daughter, a sister, a friend, a fiancé.

Today, she was meant to be a wife.

A Lofty Dream

I’m really hungry, today, but only for a café breakfast.

I’m not cereal hungry, or toast hungry, or even Work Morning Tea hungry, with their party pies, sausage rolls, cocktail frankfurts and some-kind-of-cheesecake.

No.

I am only hungry for eggs benedict on sourdough, with heaps of hollandaise sauce, chipolatas, fried tomatoes and bacon. Lots and lots of bacon.

I want to sit at a table in the sun, the sound of cutlery clinking onto plates and the crinkle of newspapers being read while people sip coffees and juices and catch up on each other’s news. I want to have a reason to wear something other than my House or Work clothes – perhaps I would even brush my hair. With a brush.

… Okay, with my fingers.

… Okay, so I’d just put it in a ponytail and not even look in the mirror to check that it didn’t have lumps all up in its grill. (It would).

Either way, this is how you’ll find me tomorrow morning, *guything and daughter in tow, fulfilling a dream that used to be my weekly reality…

*Since I can’t call him my husband, I’m too old to have a boyfriend, and ‘partner’ just sounds like we’re lawyers, he’s going to be formally referred to as ‘guything’.