The Little Things

There are always little things your significant other does, which elicit an uncontrollable response in your body.

They are tiny things, things that no other person outside your bubble would ever understand, or react to. Things that are yours alone…

Like the way you can tell which footsteps are his in a crowded room.
The way you can sense that he’s coming up behind you to rest one hand on your shoulder as the other stretches out to shake that of the person who has just introduced himself to you at the party.
Or sometimes it’s the sight of his keys in the change bowl when you come home which causes your heart to flutter and skip a couple of beats.
What about the way that you know exactly how he is going to react to something based solely on the manner in which he has removed his shoes for the afternoon?

For some of us, these things bring warmth and love and gentle sunshine smiles that fill up all our corners.

For some of us, these things are catalysts that elicit the fight or flight response. They fill you with fear – Fear of the known, but unpredictable. The fear of his raised voice, or that quiet, cold one he gets when he pierces you with his eyes. The dread that fills you when he places his hand on your shoulder while he shakes the hand of that man who introduced himself to you at the party.

… the fear of a man introducing himself to you at a party.

You ignore them, at first. If you do mention them, you are embarrassed to be informed that you merely overreacted. Sometimes this news is given to you with an indulgent smile and a little pat on the head as your significant other walks out of the room, silently letting you know that the conversation is over.

So you shrink away from the world. Away from the people asking the odd question here and there – Are you okay? You’re very quiet tonight. Is Significant Other okay? He seems a little cranky. You run out of excuses and cover stories quicker than you’d suspect.

So you shrink into your bubble with him, where you can somewhat control the environment to limit the things that cause his hand to ball into a fist and find that soft spot just to the left of your spine.

Your voice becomes small and your vocabulary shrinks to “please”, “thank you” and “I’m sorry”. You ask for permission to read your book, to shower, to go to your family’s house or a friend’s birthday. Your every move and every thought, handed to him in the hope that by asking for his permission, you will not only be allowed to apply for a new job but will be rewarded for your obesiance.

You think about leaving. You do. It crosses your mind a lot, but then you hear his gentle arguments, explaining why you deserved it. You feel his fingers brushing your hair back from your face, the tendrils stuck to your wet cheeks, cold ropes of hair being tucked behind your ears as he whispers all the ways in which you wronged him, and do you understand now? Do you understand what your actions did to his feelings? The way you confuse him? You can be so loving sometimes, and then you disrespect him like that. Or sometimes you just imagined it, you must have been having a different conversation with a different person because that’s not what was said in the one you had with him.

You stop listening to any voices who try to convince you to end it. You don’t have the energy to listen to them, your energy is all gone now, it is constantly being used to predict his next outburst, to tiptoe through your own life and make as few ripples as possible to mark your passage.

Eventually you can’t even hear your own voice, begging. You hear it through his ears where it has become an ugly whine, a pathetic whimper from a useless, weak, ugly woman who will never amount to anything.

It is by this point that nothing in his behaviour shocks you anymore. You are used to the fear that fills you when he does something nice for you. You know that you will have to pay for it one way or another. You are used to him dangling carrots of hope before your eyes and the enjoyment he gets when he takes them away from you. You are used to your place in the world, now, curled at his feet, covered in dirt, ready for the kicking.

You are used to feeling like a spider, stuck to a tiny strand of web, floating on the whim of a breeze with no idea where you are going to land or what you are going to be faced with when you get there.

And you don’t deserve anything better.

You don’t even remember the girl who once knew she deserved better. You don’t think of her because, like everyone, she is judging you and finding you wanting.

And still, you can pick the sound of his footsteps in a crowd. Your heart still skips a beat when you return home to see his keys in the bowl or his shoes lined against the wall. Only now, your heart is always hammering, your breath always catching in your throat, and the only reason you now use the word “please” is to place it before the words “I’m sorry, don’t hurt me”.

The world outside knows there are troubles. They know he can be a little bit cranky. That he is a little stingy with money, or that he doesn’t like you to go out without him, but the world doesn’t know that every time you feel him lift the covers to climb in beside you, your entire body goes rigid, tense and fills with a blind, raging hatred that finds you clenching your fists and digging your fingernails into your palms to give some kind of voice to the invisible, voiceless pain you feel at not just losing your soul to the whims of another, but handing it over, willingly, to gutlessly save yourself from whatever may happen next.

It wasn’t always like that, you know? That’s what we always say when asked why we stayed.

Because it didn’t start that way.
It started with The Little Things. 

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Trigger Warning – Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Cannot Help and Yet Continue to Fight Against Daily

Clearly the author of this list, Amy Morin, hasn’t heard of Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD or Complex PTSD, just to name a few trauma-induced personality disorders. Many of the behaviours on this list are symptoms of those disorders, as people who suffer them are given no choice but to do whatever it takes in order to physically survive the situations they have no escape from, or control over.

While the things she advises in this list are, of course, stepping stones to freeing your psyche from the burdens that disable your ability to analyse and recover from life’s difficulties, the tone with which it is written is extremely offensive when you consider that millions of people in the world suffer extensive trauma on a daily basis – trauma which often results in the manifestation of those disorders previously mentioned – these are not disorders that one is born with, they are disorders developed following trauma.

That is the key message that must be heeded here. People who suffer these disorders didn’t have a choice in their abuse, and they don’t have a choice in the symptoms they experience as a result of that abuse.

I think it is incredibly irresponsible for a “licensed clinical social worker”, as Forbes describes Amy Morin, to completely disregard the personality disorders which are comprised mostly of the “13 things” in her list, when mental illness is still so incredibly stigmatised in society.

I’d love to see Amy Morin read this list, out loud, to the face of childhood sexual assault victims, or those who have grown up in or endured abusive environments for years on end, where every ounce of power was stripped from them, forcing them to adapt their thoughts and behaviour permanently, in order to survive.

Recovery from these disorders requires the sufferer to spend every single moment of their day fighting instincts they were conditioned to experience in order to survive their physical, mental and emotional traumas – instincts which are no longer required when the traumatic situation ceases, but instincts that remain part of their psyche and their body for the rest of their lives, thus impacting the way in which they interact with and navigate the world.

Recovery requires the sufferer to ACCEPT and FORGIVE themselves, whilst REWIRING EVERYTHING THAT THEY HAD TO BECOME IN ORDER TO PHYSICALLY REMAIN IN THIS WORLD. They have to take responsibility for what was done to them, as well as the way they reacted. They have to take responsibility for keeping their natural instinct at bay as it is generally not appropriate for their current situation and can have a profound effect on the people in their lives.

So you’re sort of right, Amy Morin: mentally strong people don’t 1. “waste time feeling sorry for themselves”. What they do is feel sorry for the horrendous abuse they had to endure at the behest of someone else. And then they turn themselves inside out keeping the effect of that away from other people, whilst recalling that abuse over and over and over.

They don’t 2. “give away their power” – their power was stripped from them – they never had a choice in the matter.

They 3. “shy away from change” because they are terrified by change -their lives have been spent following strict rules of survival, and many “changes” they experienced quite often signalled a new form of abuse, often in the form of gaslighting.

They 4. “waste energy on things they can’t control” because their abusers ensured they didn’t HAVE control. Many of them NEVER had control, so when they escaped their abusive situation, they had no idea how to make decisions for themselves, they were used to being controlled at all times so they find tiny things that they can control and they focus intently on them.

They DO 5. “worry about pleasing others” because pleasing others was what may have downscaled their beatings from “life-threatening” to “permanent scarring”, for example.

They 6. “fear taking calculated risks” because every single chance they took to escape their abuse resulted in some form of “punishment”. Everything, except allowing the abuse to continue, is a risk to people who have endured trauma. Clearly, allowing the abuse to continue is also a risk, but it’s one they know better than freedom.

They certainly 7. “dwell on the past” because despite being conditioned to believe that they deserve everything committed against them, there is a voice inside that screams at them, asking them to explain why they “allowed it to happen”. There is a voice that doesn’t let them wholly accept that they deserved their abuse – a voice that tells them “something isn’t right”. And they dwell on the past because in most occasions, their abuse wasn’t acknowleged, either by the perpetrator or those who could have helped them. The ongoing effects of that abuse also aren’t being acknowledged as something they can’t control, rather they are being blamed for being a bad person because others do not understand why they act in certain ways. Even when the abuse by the perpetrator ceases, the behaviours learned in order to survive, remain, and these behaviours do not fit with normal, healthy relationships. The victim is viewed as a perpetrator as their behaviour can sometimes unfairly affect the people in their lives. Consequently, they spend much of their time explaining their past, to justify their current behaviour.

They most definitely 8. “Make the same mistakes over and over”, because safe environments feel unsafe. The whole “Better the Devil you know” scenario. They spend the remainder of their lives in a state of hypervigilance, waiting for the penny to drop, for the rug to be pulled from under them.. if they’re in a situation they know (abusive), it feels like home, despite “home” being the least safe place for them. They are conditioned to accept abuse because they’ve been conditioned to believe they don’t deserve otherwise.

Some of them 9. “Resent other peoples’ success”, particularly those suffering Borderline Personality Disorder, because they can’t fathom what is so intrinsically wrong with THEM, that they were made to suffer at the hands of someone else. Many things feel like a personal attack. When you haven’t done anything to deserve the horrendous way you’ve been treated, you in turn can’t understand why others have a seemingly blessed life, free from hardship.

Many 10. “give up after failure” because their entire everyday life is spent in a state of “trying”. Trying to please their abusers, trying to avoid the next beating, molestation, or phrase that might trip your paranoid, psychotic partner into gaslighting you to ensure your continued compliance. Trying to navigate the world with a head full of trauma. The idea of trying something outside mere physical and mental survival is overwhelmingly exhaustive, and to be frank, not a goddamn motherfucking priority when simply making it to the shops without breaking down is something that takes 2 hours of intense “talking yourself up” to accomplish. Any sense of failure carries with it the weight of every other failure they have experienced throughout their lifetime.

A lot of them 11. “fear alone time” because being alone means being left with memories. Being left with self-hatred. It means staring at walls because you don’t know how to make plans because someone made them for you for 5 years and if you dared to make a decision for yourself, you were punished. A lot of them also fear being with other people, or being around a particular scent, or sound, or time of year, because it triggers horrendous memories and emotions that overwhelm them.

Some of them 12. “feel the world owes them something” because nobody protected them from the trauma in the first place. It isn’t always that people ignored them, many simply weren’t aware, and the abuser ensured the victim had no voice with which to seek help. Once they leave that abusive situation, and begin to comprehend what was done to them, they get angry, and they  demand recompense from whoever they can get it from.

Many of them 13. “expect immediate results” because simply comprehending their life, their abuse, the effect it has had on their psyche, is a long and exhaustive process, and they are desperate for the pain, anguish and exhaustion to disappear. They want to be normal, to be happy, and it feels extremely unfair that despite all they’ve gone through, the only way to reach a sense of normality, where their instincts and lives can become part of the world again without it wreaking more havoc, is a long, drawn out one where they often have to examine their abuse in detail and wonder whether they’ll ever reach the end of that road. They want immediate results for the other aspects of their lives because simply existing as they are takes everything they have.

While I do see where Amy Morin is coming from with this list, I feel very strongly that she has done a sincere disservice to people who not only have to suffer the results of their abuse on a daily basis, but also the stigma that surrounds the resulting mental illness, and the incredibly difficult task of surviving life, even when they have managed to escape the abuse.

If a person genuinely wishes to help me in my recovery, I ask them to first and foremost do some research on Complex PTSD.  I am happy to answer questions and clarify the ways in which this affects my life, as the purpose of recovery is to establish and maintain healthy relationships – healthy for me, and healthy for the other people involved.

Mental illness is already difficult enough to live with, without the stigma attached. I’d like to see the world working to break down this stigma, rather than reinforcing it. 

People cannot help their mental illness. That doesn’t take away their responsibility to manage it to the best of their ability. Blaming them for being who they are, however, helps no-one.

A new little MadeUp: A break in a well-worn path

Everyone thought she had freckles until someone from the church dragged her in off the street and gave her a bath.

Lopsided Lola they called her afterwards.

She had run from the house all fish-belly naked, her fat-girl tits uneven and puffy against the hideous bulge of her raised-on-TV stomach.

Clothed only in shame and anger, Lola ran from the house and its dusty street lined with children who owned books, toys and functioning parents. The children chanting “Lopsided Lola, Lopsided Lola” to the same tune they had used to tease her her whole life. It was only the words that ever changed.

Running from the street, Lola realised she couldn’t go home naked. If she went home without clothes, there would be nothing for her stepdad to make her take off, hurry up, before that bitch comes home with the milk.

Instead of going home, Lola hid in the park next to the river, moving from ditch to ditch as families walked dogs, threw Frisbees and laughed in the sun.

When darkness had surrounded her, she returned to that house, to the street whose children were now safe and full on the other side of all those  windows leaking out warm, glowing light.

Pulling sticks from her hair, she crept to the church lady’s door. A fat, grubby fist knocked twice before returning to its customary place clenched at her side. Nervously, she used her arms to try to hide her body, thinking that if she wasn’t so fat, it would actually be possible to do so. Knowing that if she wasn’t so fat, people wouldn’t mind so much anyway.

The door opened and happy hallway light spilled out, bathing her. The scent of meat and the kitchen-hum of a woman reached out to her, while a shocked and Proper husband glared down at her from the doorway.

“Where are your clothes, child? You can’t walk around naked! Where are your parents?” he demanded in a fluster, searching the street behind her.

“I knew she’d come back!” came the church lady’s voice, followed by the clash and clang of heavy dishes being hastily dropped onto a table.

“Don’t make her stand out there where all the neighbours can see! Bring her inside, Harold!” chided the church lady, wiping her hands on an apron tied around her waist.

Lola simply stared blankly as Harold moved aside to let her into the house.

Life had been easier when she was just “that fat little Biggs girl. You know, that family that lives at the Morrell farm”.

Lola was never introduced, merely explained, and that explanation was always followed with a clucking of a tongue, the shaking of a head, or the wrinkle of a disgusted nose.

She had developed a hard callous around her feelings in the mere eleven years she’d spent in this world. She had grown accustomed to the names people called her, or the way they only saw her when they wanted someone to feel their anger. Lola knew she wasn’t part of their world, she had her own place, on the outskirts, with the rest of her family, yet separate to them simply by being “too young to know any better”.

Now this church lady has started telling people to treat her nice and Lola can see they don’t want to.

“Why don’t people like that just do us all a favour and move away into one, big, loser town? That way we’ll only have one place to avoid!” they had joked the day her mother had driven the car into the side of the bank.

Nobody stopped to help her mother that day. Nobody rushed over to her, like Lola had seen on movies. Everyone just stood back and shook their heads at her. Some laughed while most tried desperately to look anywhere but at the crumpled car and the woman with the broken mind who had crumpled it.

“Now look at her, shrieking at everyone for laughing. That kid’s got no hope.”

That kid believed them still, which is why, when the church lady and her husband ushered her into their orderly, neat living room, she stood petrified, her entire body radiating tension. This was not her place.

“Is she deaf?” asked the husband.

“No, dear” replied the wife, handing Lola her own underpants, freshly laundered.

“Well, mute then? She doesn’t speak!” he pushed.

“Well, you’re speaking enough for all of us, so it doesn’t really matter, does it?” she admonished sharply, the cold set of her eyes saying more to her husband than any words ever could.

“Cup of tea”, he announced, clearing his throat and leaving the room.

“Lola, I have the rest of your clothes here. They’re washed now” the church lady said, gently holding the clothes towards the grubby little girl standing in her living room.

“Now, you’re welcome to come here whenever you want to, Lola. You don’t have to come here if you don’t want to, but you’re always welcome. I like to do my garden through the day. It would be nice to have someone else to talk to while I do it” said the church lady.

“What’s your name?” Lola asked, still staring blankly ahead.

“I’m Mrs Wells, but my friends call me Harriet. You can call me Harriet too”, she offered.

“If I come, will I have to talk to anyone else?” Lola asked.

“You don’t ever have to do anything you don’t want to, Lola. Not just at my house, but anywhere. Do you understand?” Harriet asked, kneeling on the floor to force Lola to look at her.

“Nothing you don’t want to do. I’m sorry if the bath scared you today. I wanted to make you feel better, not worse” she continued.

“I put dirtfeet on the floor” Lola mumbled.

“What do you mean?” asked Harriet.

“The water was hot so I got back out, and I put dirtfeet on the floor and the towel. I wouldda got in trouble so I ran away” Lola finished, absentmindedly picking at a scab on her right thigh.

“Oh, dear. That’s nothing to worry about, those things can be cleaned right up!” smiled Harriet.
“You should see the mess Harold makes when he has been fixing the motor on the car. He puts dirtfingers everywhere!” she continued.

Lola’s eyes widened in shock.  Mrs Harriet was smiling. When her stepdad put dirtfingers everywhere, her mother would shout and he’d call her names and tell her it didn’t matter anyway because the whole house was dirt because she hadn’t done any housework since alcohol was invented. After that, there would only be bread for dinner because her mother had taken her whiskey to bed and her stepdad was watching TV.

“Pop your clothes on and I’ll make you a plate. Do you want to call your family?” Harriet asked.

Lola shook her head. It was dark now. Her stepdad would be away at the bar and her mum doesn’t remember she’s there most of the time anyway.

Harold tried to make small-talk with Lola, uneasy in the silence that had descended on his dinner table. When Lola gave no response, Harriet would fill in the blanks, always finishing with an “isn’t that right, Lola?”

Lola would nod, or shake her head, but didn’t expand or provide alternative explanations. She sat at the table, her dirty arms hovering awkwardly above the tablecloth in an attempt to keep it clean.

When their meal was finished, Harold collected their plates.

“That’s what I like to see in a growing girl! A good appreciation of food!” he smiled down at Lola.
“You don’t by any chance also appreciate ice-cream, do you?” he asked, wiggling his greying eyebrows at her.

Despite herself, Lola giggled and nodded to him.

“Then that will be two bowls of ice-cream coming up! Harriet, who I secretly suspect of being a spy, says she doesn’t like ice-cream. Which is exactly why I think she is a spy!” he whispered conspiratorially to Lola.

“Spies have excellent hearing, Harold” Harriet said from beneath her arched eyebrows.

“I’m done for!” he shouted, dramatically dumping the dishes into the sink and hurrying out the door.

Lola turned to Harriet, caught between fear and laughter.

“What happened to him? Are you really a spy?” she asked, wide-eyed.

“Not at all, dear. Harold went to the bathroom. He just thinks it’s funny to stay in character as he does things” Harriet explained.

“Ink arakter?” Lola asked.

“Like in a movie. The person you see on screen isn’t really a pirate or a bank robber. It is a person playing the character of a pirate. Harold was playing the character of a man who suspects his wife is a spy, and he just got caught and needed to run away.” she said.
“To put it more simply, Lola, Harold is a big, silly idiot.” she laughed.

Lola laughed too. She didn’t think Proper grown ups said idiot. Especially not church ones.

“Psst! Lola!” came a whisper from the doorway.

She turned toward the sound as Harold’s balding head peeked around the corner. He motioned for her to go over there.

She looked at Harriet, who just smiled and rolled her eyes.

“Psst! Lola!”

Grinning, she stepped down from the chair and tiptoed over to the doorway.

“Who is it?” she shout-whispered.

“It’s me, Harold The Brave. Is that crazy spy lady still in there? Is the coast clear? Is it a safe time for ice-cream?” he asked, his head darting from side to side, checking that nobody was hiding in any other rooms.

“Mrs Harriet is still in there” Lola whispered.

“Harold, stop being an idiot and come and get the child some ice-cream”, Harriet sighed from the table.

“Curses! Lola! She heard us! I think she’s more than a spy. I think she’s a witch! Tomorrow, when you come back to visit, we will try to find her flying broomstick! I tried to fly on the one she sweeps the porch with, but that must be a fake! All I did was land on my bottom in the garden!” he told her, grimacing in remembered pain.

“Let’s pretend we don’t know anything about her being a witch. We’ll go in there and get some ice-cream and then tomorrow… tomorrow we’ll show her all the proof we need!” he enthused, taking her hand and leading her into the kitchen.

“Spies on that side of the table. Ice-cream enjoyers on this side”, he said, picking up the ice-cream scoop and waving it menacingly at Harriet.

“… and idiots get to sleep outside with the dog”, Harriet replied, folding her arms across her chest.

Lola was enjoying every minute of their pantomime.

After her bowl of ice-cream, Harold offered to drive her home.

At the look of disappointment on Lola’s face, Harriet reminded her that she was welcome to visit whenever she wanted to, and that she would really love a friend to talk to when she was in her garden.

As Harold and Lola walked to the car, she waved goodbye from the porch.

“Wait! I forgot!” Lola shouted, running back to Harriet.

“Am I allowed to call you Harry?” she asked.

“Uh, wha- sure you can, dear” came the confused reply.

“You said that your friends call you Harriet and I can too if I like, but you are Harriet and he is Harold and so you are both Harry. You can be Mrs Harry and he can be Mr”, Lola explained.

“Lola, I would be delighted if you called me Mrs Harry” Harriet laughed.

“Okay, good!” Lola said, and ran back to the car Harold had started.

“She said I can call you Mr and Mrs Harry”, she explained as she clambered onto the front seat, slamming the door behind her.

“Between you and me, I think you should call her ‘Mrs Hairy’!” Harold said, turning the car onto the road.

Lola laughed most of the way home, until the streetlights began to grow thinner, and home began to grow closer.

When they reached the long driveway of the farm, Harold went to turn in.

“Mr Harry, I want to walk the rest of the way. The car will make mum wake up”, she said.

Harold nodded, knowing that the real reluctance came from her fear that her family would try to destroy the small bubble of happiness she had just discovered. He and Harriet would need to speak to her parents if she was to spend time in their home.

“Don’t forget, Lola. I need you. Nobody else can help me find Mrs Hairy’s flying broomstick!” he reminded her.

Lola laughed again.

“Don’t call her Mrs Hairy, Mr Harry! She’ll put you in trouble and then I’ll have to undo the spell!”

She darted up the driveway and Harold turned the car towards home.

A long time later, his key turned in the front door and he found Harriet in the living room, a pot of tea ready on the coffee table.

“I’ve seen her around, you know? Without ever ‘seeing’ her. All I saw was her family name, her fat, grubby stomach always poking out of shirts and shorts that should have gone to goodwill months before.” He said, sadly, taking his chair next to the fireplace.

“We always say that there’s no helping people like that. They don’t want any help, they just spit it back in your face” he continued, picking up the teapot and filling his cup.

“What I’ve learned tonight is that part of what makes them who they are, is us. Our attitudes, our instinctive reaction to their appearance or the rough way they speak. They don’t want our help because it is never genuinely offered. It is only offered as a means to make us more comfortable with them, not to make them more comfortable in themselves” He paused then, reluctant to put his next thought into words.

“That girl has more reason to hate us, than we’ve ever had to hate her, and yet, she doesn’t. We are the freaks and monsters in this town, Harriet. We who sit on high, judging everyone else who walk below us, and yet it’s only in our own minds that we have placed a distinction between them and us.  All Lola wanted was acceptance, to be included in something, wanted somewhere. When I look back at my own life, that’s all I’ve ever wanted, too.”

When he didn’t continue, Harriet spoke.

“Lola isn’t full of hatred yet. But she will be. As the years go by and her treatment remains the same, Lola will learn to hate. Lola will become her mother, or her stepfather. She will become her uncle who beats the prostitute from the roadhouse every payday. Or she’ll become her sister who is the prostitute at the roadhouse because she will grow up believing that she deserves no better.”

“For tonight at least, Lola discovered that she is wanted somewhere, even if it’s with old Mr and Mrs Harry”, she finished, glumly.

“Hairy. You’re now Mrs Hairy”, Harold corrected, his sparkling eyes grinning at her over the rim of his teacup.