I wanted to write this to share some of the ways past trauma leaks into my life today. Not in a poor me type way, just to share how it manifests in subtle ways, as it does in many of our lives creating additional challenges others might not imagine.
A close friend had taken suddenly very ill a few weeks ago, (thankfully she is slowly getting better). She is a generous and supportive friend and fairy goddess mother to my youngest, who turned 11 this week. They both share a birthday and as a way to celebrate, she had booked a day for her and my two kids to go to Bricktastic, a Lego convention in Manchester. Because of her poor health she could no longer take them, so it was down to me.
I was looking forward to it, as her and the kids were so enthused about it when they got back last time – the amazing models built by hobbyists, the freebies, the big builds they could get involved in, etc. I was anxious about one thing and that was getting there. I played this down, but looked it up on map and planned our route, thinking that the most straightforward way would be on a bus from the train station. It looked like an easy route, and my friend assured me it was indeed very simple.
We got off the train in Manchester in good spirits and headed for the bus stop. I tried to make sense of what the route map was trying to tell me, which was difficult, but I was reassured by the fact that it was a circular route. When I am stressed, even just a bit of ordinary stress, my brain finds it very hard to make sense of things, to take in information. This gets compounded in an unfamiliar place around lots of people. In order to cope with the stress and stimulation, I seem to shrink in my awareness, so it’s like I’m in a globe ball and everything outside it gets shut out, but it’s very isolating and hard to make contact with anyone, which I find pretty scary anyway. So, we got on the bus, and after about 10 minutes, I plucked up the courage (this sounds pathetic I know – I am an adult woman, a mother) to ask the driver which stop we needed to get off at. He said we’d got on the bus going the wrong way and that what we needed to do was to get off at the next stop and catch the bus going in the opposite direction.
That sounded simple enough, so we all got off. For a reason I can’t explain, I could no longer trust we would get there on the bus, so our best option seemed to be to walk. I was calm at first as we walked in a random direction whilst I tried to get a map up on my phone. The boys were calm and fine with not knowing where we were or how we were going to get there. My incompetence with technology frustrates me at the best of times, but to be in this situation where it could be really helpful if only I had the basic skills to use it fed into my rage at myself and added to my stress. Eventually I gave up trying and took another deep breath to go and ask for directions. I’m not sure why, but I always find it really difficult to ask for directions, scary and unfamiliar – something about asking for help and how visible that makes me. And then of course, I can’t retain the information.
I repeated to the kids immediately what the man in the shop had said, and we headed off in a promising direction. After a while we got to a really busy shopping area with roads going off in all directions and again the disorientation of sensory overload meant I couldn’t think straight. I had no idea. I asked a couple of people for directions who couldn’t help and that was my courage spent. We scrutinised sign posts, and stood about in a sea of people whilst I tried to work out what to do next. I spotted a map board in the distance so we headed there and I managed to look up the place we were heading, but couldn’t make any sense of the map. My youngest suggested we should head off back in the direction we had come, which we did for a while, but then it became clear that was not the way, so went back again to the map. I knew I had to do this, that this was our best option and stood there willing my brain to unfuddle. Eventually I managed to do what I needed, which was flip the map in my head so we could work out which way to go, and this time we headed off with hope of getting there.
By this time the stress and overwhelm was such that tears flooded my eyes and then wouldn’t stop. As we walked away from the crowds, my youngest looked up to me and said “Mummy, are you crying?” The shame. The shame of feeling so easily overwhelmed, of having the ground disappear from under my feet, of the physical fact of being lost and how that triggers my own internal disorientation. “I can’t even do this. I’m forty fucking four and I can’t even take my kids on a nice day out without going into melt down.” Etc, etc. The map of two straight lines I’d studied the preceding day taunted me, “Not even that. What’s so difficult?” The shame of people seeing me in the middle of Manchester crying with two kids in tow. We stopped at a shop to buy drinks in a bid to normalise and try to pull myself back together and stop the tears falling. My eldest said, “It’s ok mummy, we’ll be there soon.” I usually manage to keep my meltdowns hidden from them and felt bad that they were the ones reassuring me. Walking again, I thanked them for being so lovely, because they really were heart warmingly lovely to me, and apologised for being in such a state and the tears slowed down.
We got there and we had a good day – the kids had a lovely time, and I was really glad and grateful we did something nice together, something different. But it reminded of me of why my life is so small, why I don’t arrange to do such things off my own back with the kids. It makes me feel so pathetic, but it’s the reality of my limits, which I pushed at a cost and won’t have the resources or the courage to do again for some time. It reminds me of how getting a GPS for my car a few years ago felt extravagant but has totally transformed my experience of driving, taken the stress away, a visual contradiction to my raging self doubt at the smallest decision. We did it though, we got there! We got lost again on the way back, but it was tedious and tiring more than stressful. A messy disorganised brain makes it challenging to step outside my comfort zone. I need a life GPS, telling which way to turn, what decision to make – that would take the stress away. And I guess that’s what I’m trying to do – rewire my brain – it just takes a long time and a lot of commitment.