I wrote the below a couple of nights ago in the early hours, then debated whether to post it. But the blog is for my daughters in the future, and on the offchance they have similar fears or problems, I’m sticking to my ‘keep it all’ policy!
Tonight was an important night. I haven’t spoken much about it and I didn’t talk to anyone but my husband about it, however dear friends; tonight I went out on my own.
A year ago I was three months pregnant with Holly, and my health began to deteriorate, my kidneys got to a pretty dire state, and my epilepsy reached an all time high (in the worst sense of the word). So at around that time, I was advised to have someone with me I knew whenever I went anywhere. And we realised, that it wouldn’t be difficult because since being pregnant with Scarlett, I hadn’t been anywhere on my own. This at first sounds a bit mental, but I don’t drive, and so I used to get picked up by colleagues for work, and my husband and I go out together an awful lot, and since Scarlett, we’d had a lot of family and friends around in that first year. Without noticing, I’d started a nervous pattern of not going on my own places. The epilepsy had returned in my first pregnancy but not in a severe way, but it had been enough to mean I ensured I was always with somebody I knew.
However, the second pregnancy kicked off a whole new level of anxiety. By the time January came around, my Dad had moved in with us and my husband put almost all of the work he had on, on hold for three months so not only did I not go out on my own, I wasn’t on my own at home. As my seizures got so frequent, I had a few worrying falls, and I would have someone i with me almost all of the time. I remember very little of those last few months, it was very confusing at the time and I frequently didn’t remember what was going on. Post it’s adorned our bedroom, and my phone notes became my go to. I even had an album of people I saw regularly with descriptions of who they were that I would refer to if I found myself in a conversation with someone who was in my lounge but suddenly unfamiliar. This inevitably brought some humorous times as well as frightening. On one occasion, I read in my notes, “we’re having a Thai takeaway tonight and will order from…” etc, and by the time my husband got home from work at 10pm, despite having had dinner, there was not one, but two Thai takeaways that my bewildered Dad had had to answer the door to. An occasion that I’m often reminded of, and one I barely remember happening!!
Anyway, back to the point. Through this, I developed a rather severe case of social anxiety. I’d want people to come visit, but I’d panic that I’d have a seizure, or forget who they were and freak out. I’m ashamed to admit it but I can be a very proud person in the negative sense of the word. I don’t like being out of control of myself, and the thought that I might upset someone or embarrass myself was very upsetting. There were several social occasions I had to ‘get through’, concentrating so hard on not losing the conversation thread or not appearing vacant, that I’d be absolutely exhausted afterwards. The most heartbreaking was Scarlett, I never didn’t know who she was, and seeing her always made my face light up and made me happy even if I got a bit confused. But I wasn’t allowed to carry her, or be with her on my own, for her and my safety and THAT was the hardest part of it all. How to explain to a one year old that Mummy couldn’t be with her again. I look back now, and I realise that what everyone said at the time about her forgetting that stage and not being affected is absolutely true. We have an incredible bond and I love having time with my mini pea, and she knows she can come to Mummy and climb all over me whenever she wants (being gentle if I’m holding Holly of course!). But at the time, I thought she’d eventually hate me, not want to come near me, be scared of me etc etc, the list of paranoid worries goes on!!
Once Holly was born, the seizures almost immediately ceased. I still get a bit confused at times and have to just go over in my head or with my husband what’s going on; in Malta on holiday one morning when I’d had no sleep at all, my poor long suffering partner had to gently go through where we were and what was happening before I sorted it out in my head and could continue. So at my six week check and an additional 12 week check, I was told that the restrictions that were on while pregnant could be lifted. And I HUGELY enjoyed spending time with my two little girls on my own. Because all of a sudden I wasn’t a ‘danger’ to the three most important people to me, I could be ‘allowed’ to be with them by myself. After some time, I even took a huge (for me) step and took them both out on my own, and it was AWESOME!
However, they were now a bit of a safety blanket. A few months down the line and I realised that although I do spend a lot of time with the girls by myself, even a day in London with them, going on a boat trip, attending an interview, regular jet setter(..!), I still hadn’t been out by myself by myself (if that makes sense?!). Clearly I wasn’t overly worried about epilepsy, or else I would feel comfortable out and about with the girls. So I knew from quite early on I’d been left with some residual psychosomatic anxiety.
I’d been thinking (borderline obsessing!) about this for about 12 weeks. I kept finding opportunities to take a little trip out alone, and then changing it, or inviting someone to ‘meet me at mine’ instead or just cancelling for what I felt at the time were decent reasons but was actually, looking back, just an excuse because I wasn’t quite ready.
But tonight. Tonight I was going to see a friend in an event at a local literature festival, it was 15 minutes walk from home and lasted one hour. My husband and I are so busy in the next week or so that we were at the end of babysitting favours, and as he has a writing deadline coming up, it was decided that I should go and he’d take care of the kids. ‘No worries’ I thought, I’ll go with a mutual friend…who was busy. I text a few other people, but to cut a long story short (which I haven’t really done so far, sorry comrades!), I found myself at 5.30pm today, due to leave in just over an hour and sweating profusely. This was it, this was leaving the house totally on my own on my own. No husband by my side to squeeze my hand if we went through a busy crowd of people, no daughters to occupy me (and hide behind!), if I was going, I was going alone. To a place with a location I wasn’t 100% sure of.
Before I carry on, let me express to you how ridiculous this will seem to people who know me. My entire life I have been fiercely independent, ready for adventure, and due to my often crazy schedule, happy to go alone anywhere, my old housemates used to think I was a bit mad going to the cinema alone but I loved it! I’ve travelled alone, I’ve lived alone, alone have never been something that’s worried me before. Sorry…back to the narrative…
In my head I flip flopped between not going and going 700 times. I thought about various things; ‘my throats quite sore at the moment’ (but I’m definitely not under the weather enough not to go), ‘there’s that email I haven’t replied to’ (but I’m not expected to till Monday, the list went on. For someone who has supposed to have their crap together, I really am a mess!
Now I can’t do a dramatic reveal as in my first sentence I gave out an important spoiler, but after much psyching myself up and talking to myself in the mirror, ‘you have a PhD for christs sake, pull yourself together woman’! I went out. I arrived after a fifteen minute journey of jumping a couple of times because of a car horn or something stupid. I arrived and didn’t know where to go within the venue which threw me momentarily. But I did it.
And I had a really nice evening, and then on the way home I remembered how much I used to enjoy solitary walks to clear my head (I still jumped when a motorbike revved ahead of me but baby steps and all that..!). I was SO excited to get home to my husband and tell him I’d done it, and I arrived back to a stiff drink, and the PS4 controller being handed to me to play Resident Evil (which likely sounds very strange but was a big treat!). And now I know I can do it. I won’t promise that if I’m going somewhere alone, I won’t falter a bit, or make an excuse to get out of something when I suddenly realise I’m going it totally alone, but that’s ok. I know I can do it, and I know it all fine, but on the occasions where I’m not quite there, I’m not going to let it set me back.
The lingering effects of traumatic events or difficult periods of our lives are often long lasting and silent. Long past the time when those around you actively thinks of it as a problem, which is understandable; we all have busy lives, and we simply don’t have time to remember each and every little thing that might effect everyone around us based o past events. We all get on with it as best we can. Which often means that leftover issues don’t necessarily get dealt with, which is how we all become so uniquely messed up in our own way!! Which I say with love because none of us get out of life alive, and we all have various scars and bumps and bruises along the way, they’re just all very different jumps, bruises and scars! So although some people’s fears seem strange to us, it’s not our right to decide they shouldn’t feel that way, we have no idea what journey they’d been on to feel like that. We should help each other, and be kind to each other, but always remember that we all have at least a few things that most people would probably deem ridiculous. And then there’s the common fears that we all understand like ‘my God what if Trump becomes president.’
Anyway, multiple tangents aside, tonight I conquered a nervous fear. I say conquered, I mean challenged. I won, but that’s not to say I’m totally victorious in general! But that’s OK. I’m happy with that. As pathetic as it may seem, I’m proud of that. In the future I’ll do more and more on my own. The girl who went to America alone, regularly joined OAP’s at the cinema on a Tuesday afternoon is a slightly different person now. Now I genuinely prefer doing things with my husband or my daughters with me, I find experiences more fun with them there and when they’re not I find myself wishing they could be there to enjoy those experiences with me. That said, the girl I am now was being held prisoner by herself. And I have started the rescuing process!
It’s not an easy thing to do, breaking a habit that’s formed. Especially a habit that’s formed under traumatic circumstances. Mine is really not bad compared to the struggles a lot of people go through and a lot of the trauma that other people survive. But it’s all relative, and we’re all entitled to go through these things. For those that have gone through and totally beaten their anxieties and fears, I salute you! It’s not easy and it takes incredible inner strength just to acknowledge those things are there, let alone vanquish them. To those of you that are still fighting, keep going, you’re doing great. And for those of you that feel like you’ll never be able to face it, please know that you can, when you’re ready. It doesn’t have to be today, it doesn’t have to be tomorrow. Give yourself a break and face it when you’re ready. And talk to those close to you, I tried to sort it all in my own head, as soon as I opened up to my husband it seemed like half the problem it had felt before! Greet the demons in your cupboard with a friendly grin, you know exactly where they are, you’re familiar with their form, in a lot of cases, you helped create them in your own design! Then when you want to, open the cupboard with a shotgun in hand (METAPHORICAL SHOTGUN! PLEASE don’t think I mean literally..!) and do those demons some damage!