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.

Homecoming

I was only recently saying to a friend that having mental “health”, after three decades of trying to understand my mental illness, is a foreign place, to me.

Mental stability has a sameness to it that has never been part of my life, either as a child or an adult. I’m used to peaks and troughs, constant confusion, the gripping chill of reasonless anxiety. I’m certainly not used to emotional equilibrium.

At first, it was a most welcome state. I was able to deal with any issue that arose in a calm, secure, and controlled manner.

Then it just got kind of boring.

I lost the desire to write. Nothing stirred my passion, anymore. Nothing seemed worth the effort. It appears that my passion is fuelled by rage. By injustice. By bad people who get away with doing bad things to good people.

And that’s why I’m here now, in my old angry home; a place that is red and sharp and full of tiny little pointy things.

I wonder whether I should be concerned that this place makes me feel safe? It’s a place where footsteps need to be considered, because when you step too far inside, it can be quite difficult to leave. But it’s nice, for now. Nice to recognise something of myself.

I know I can’t stay here, I have a wonderful world waiting for me on the other side, but for one day, I’m just going to take a little holiday inside the red, and remind myself why I worked so hard to leave it in the first place.

She is my light in dark places

You know that place where the feelings disappear?

Where there’s nothing but silence, a companionable silence that has no meaning behind it, just acceptance of whatever is, and that vague sense that what preceded this place was the snapped-elastic sensation of giving up on everything, all at once? And now there’s no resistance, just a weightless silence of nothing mattering anymore.

You feel relief wash over you, like you’re bathing in it, swimming in it, just floating in freedom from yourself, but there, under the water is a current. If it had colour, it would be a cartoonish wisp of blackness that tickles your toes and reminds you that this isn’t a dream.. that this is real. You’re finally here. You’re at the place where the noose hangs from the tree, the poison sparkles in the bottle, the pills pile up in your hands, the gun glistens in the moonlight.

It’s when that brings no fear that you have to tread most carefully.

I was lucky.

It was the feeling of pure calm that made me realise it wasn’t me who was holding the reins that night. No, they were being held by The Girl Who Lives Inside – the little downtrodden one who finds her voice when I find the middle of the bottle.

I used to feel sorry for her, when I realised she was in there. She’s the little girl me, the girlfriend me, the one who kept trying to tell me to leave these harmful people and I kept telling her to shut up.

I don’t feel sorry for her now. She isn’t a nice girl. She is made out of knives and bee stings and hatred and vomit and just like those people she kept warning me to leave, she also tries to hurt me.

She hates that I know about her now. She hasn’t been allowed out because I haven’t opened a bottle. I haven’t left the shores of sobriety for seven months – not a single escape tool has passed my lips – no cigarettes, no alcohol, no drugs.

I suppose she’s in there just biding her time, knowing that in a few very short months, my main reason for keeping the lid on the bottle will be out in the world, no longer sharing my blood, my oxygen, my body.

And I wonder if she will pounce. If she will take me back to that weightless place a month or so into my lack of sleep, when the sound of crying causes me to do the same. When the responsibility of being someone’s world becomes too overwhelming, will that elastic snap again? When it all piles on too heavy, I know she will be there with her bee stings and dagger-eyes, laughing at me for thinking I could get away.

What she may not have taken into account is something I’ve just realised – She’s never met me. Not this me.

This me is someone who is now needed by someone who won’t go seeking a better version of me elsewhere. For someone, I am finally going to be enough. I’m going to be their mum. And nobody is going to make me feel like she would be better off without me.

Happy New Year!

I think it would be fairly safe to say that 2012 was a big year for me.

I had a mental breakdown, turned 30, decided to commit suicide but in typical Bri style, immediately changed my mind, and right this very minute, almost started a war with my new neighbours because they threw rubbish over our back fence.

What hasn’t changed, is that despite the fact that they threw rubbish over our fence, I still feel that I should just keep my mouth closed because I would be the rude one if I said anything…

Back on topic, however, 2012 was a year of re-establishing old friendships, cutting ties with others and saving my time for the people who have time for me. There are a lot more than I ever knew.

Sadly, it hasn’t all been roses and sunshine. Shortly after I turned 30, I experienced my very first bout of “ate-too-much” indigestion and could have been a legitimate Movember contender. I also began using the phrase “there just aren’t enough hours in the day”.

I spent much of the year alone, my partner working out of town. I discovered that without him here, I tend to go fairly crazy, and often caught myself walking from room to room, singing to myself/the cats and doing strange knee-dances. I literally spent hours making faces at myself in the mirror.

Thankfully, his stint of out-of-town working has now come to an end. We’re broke, but who cares! It just means more nights in playing ps3 together. OK, him playing and me telling him what to do.

Most of all, 2012 was the year that I sought professional help for my depression. I am now almost 4 months into my medication and therapy, where we have discovered that I have been mildly depressed for approximately 9 years, with major depressive episodes occurring once or twice a year. This year’s breakdown was by far the worst, and I still cannot express the terror that I felt at the loss of control I had over my own mind.

Medication has been the best decision I’ve ever made and I am now as normal as I will ever get. It feels really good to no longer feel severe anxiety on a daily basis. It’s been a shock to realise how crippling that had been for me. On the flipside, it now feels amazing to know that I won’t deny myself possibilities out of fear anymore.

There are too many people for me to thank for helping me reach this point, but my parents, siblings, partner, friends and colleagues are at the top of that list. Their incredible patience and support are what allowed me the time and space to heal and without that, I honestly could not say that I would be here now, writing this.

My alcohol counsellor and mental health nurse discharged me from their care just before Christmas, stating that they were incredibly impressed with my determination to make the changes I needed to in order to get well. I think that it really just comes down to reaching that proverbial “rock bottom”. You can’t really get any lower than deciding to end your own life. There’s only two options to you at that point – end it all, or try something else instead. Since I couldn’t really go back from the first option, I decided to give the latter a go first.

Perhaps that was the best decision I made in 2012. Medication just makes it easier to stick to.

Either way, 2012 was exhausting, exhilarating and emotional.

Let’s hope 2013 teaches me just as many lessons, hopefully with a little less drama though, yeah?

Happy New Year, Friends!

Just roll with it

It’s been great having Sid with me on this medication adventure.

I asked him to tell me when he thinks I’m being weird, and to give me his observations on it, if he can, because I am really having trouble even sensing when strangeness is afoot. Everything seems normal to me.

He said to me yesterday that my behaviour at the time was like I always get when we go to bed, when I get hyperactive and get my own version of the midnight cat crazies, annoying him, or just laughing incessantly over the most ridiculous things. Overflowing with child-like happiness and mischief.

He said it’s the way children can live their imaginations out loud, before their parents and society deem them too old to be doing such things. Back when kids played games about witches and goblins, Transformers and Power Rangers, turning branches into swords and garden furniture into spaceships.

Apparently that’s how I am a vast majority of the time, but on this medication, it’s exacerbated; extending beyond the midnight crazies into lazy afternoon territory. Or, in yesterday’s case, From The Beginning Of The Day territory.

For me, there are certainly worse side-effects I could be experiencing. For Sid, and those who have to spend time with me, it could be a different story.

It has been disconcerting to receive that “what the fuck are you talking about?” look four times in one day, from coworkers, and it’s certainly not been easy flitting between agitated and anxious to emotionally oblivious, but overall, I feel okay about this medication.

At the moment, the positives are outweighing the negatives. I find myself more motivated at work, I can concentrate much better on completing tasks, rather than constantly switching between new, old and current tasks, abandoning them halfway through to move onto something else.

That in itself is most refreshing. My mind seems more able to focus on tasks at work, even if it is getting lost when it tries to focus on tasks for me to enjoy.

Any positive is a step forward from where I’ve been this year, so I’m just not really allowing myself to focus on the negative aspects, just keeping my mind on the positive outcomes. Whether that’s me or the medication starting to do its thing, I don’t really know. Doesn’t really matter, does it?

I’m happy with the way things are going. I have no real expectations of this medication because I’m fully aware that in many ways, it’s just a lot of trial and error. All I feel is that I’ve got to try something beyond talking now, so here we are. Starting that process. No idea where we’ll end up, but at least the mistakes that stem from this adventure will be new and different.

The same old ones I’ve been nurturing for years were getting me nowhere. These might send me off a cliff but at least it will be a spectacular view on the way down!