One and the same

I learned fairly recently from a source I now can’t place that emotional trauma and physical trauma are essentially one and the same to the body. Which, I mean, I already knew in the context of understanding and dealing with trauma, but what I hadn’t considered up to that point was the implications for, for instance, exercise and recovery. Because if you experience emotional trauma and then do a workout, your body is now going to have two things to recover from. If something really bad happens in your life, it’s probably not a brilliant idea to push yourself too hard physically, even though that’s a fairly common reaction for people to have.

But it’s a tricky line, because exercise is often a healthy coping strategy for all kinds of psychological ailments and burdens. So the fact that they are equatable doesn’t mean they are necessarily additive. Does physical recovery train your body to deal better with emotional recovery? Does the low-grade physical trauma of exertion give your body something it knows how to do, providing some relief from what can be very mysterious psychological chaos? Does healing one heal the other?

This is on my mind because, late last night, I broke through into a little nugget of trauma I’d been unknowingly holding onto for the last five years. And, although it was an altogether positive experience, and I processed the revelation well, and then I even let myself sleep a little later; today I have felt very tired and flat. And I wondered, is my body recovering from a hefty emotional workout? Because there isn’t any other obvious reason for my low energy.

I don’t think it’s my exercise regime, because day four of daily running has seen an easing of the leg aches and I felt great striding out today.

I am too tired to dig into this further, but I have many speculations swirling in my head to make manifest another day.

Lay me down

Lately, I have been waking up in the middle of the night, because my brain has decided that that is a good time to worry about all the things I’ve said and done the previous day, and how I shouldn’t have said or done them, or should have said and done them differently.

That’s not a usual thing for me to do. And it’s really not helping my already precarious sleeping situation.

But it might make sense. My son started school part-time this week, and thus I’ve been spending a lot of time driving around and whiling away aimless, unproductive hours here and there in between my childcare duties. I’ve also spent a lot more time than usual with his dad, with whom I have a festering wound of a relationship, to be quite frank about it. And on top of that (or, more likely, because of it) I’m feeling an increasing pressure to conform to societies expectations; get a respectable full-time job and a home closer to the city. Be more like Daddy.

But I’m not like Daddy.

And I don’t want to be like Daddy. I want to be like Me. The full and glorious, spectacular Me that Daddy never really understood. There’s a lot of noise and distraction in my head right now, and I probably just have to ride out the turbulence. But I’d be doing everyone a disservice if I caved now. Yeah, I want some of the things that Daddy has. And, yeah, I fucking resent him for having them and that’s an issue I’ll just have to keep working on. But compromising myself to try to get them isn’t going to lead me anywhere good.

And it certainly isn’t modelling the values I want to nurture in my son. He doesn’t want me to be like Daddy either; he wants me to be like Me. He might even need me to be like Me, so that he can learn it’s entirely acceptable to be exactly whoever He is.

I need to get real here. I need to be able to withstand the dissonance I’m experiencing right now. Because this is my life. It isn’t anybody else’s. I have the privilege and responsibility of making my decisions. Past traumas, criticism, external judgements, self-doubt; I need to stop paying attention to them. I need to stop giving them power.

My goal has never been a comfortable life. My goal has been an extraordinary one. And every time I bail out and choose comfort, because I’m too scared that the people who say what I should want is a comfortable life are right, I’m failing myself. I can’t keep failing myself. I only get one shot at this. And I’m a fucking good shooter. Why would I shoot for a team other than my own?

The adventure of tragedy

I can’t stand it when I see children ripped away from their parents, or parents forced to leave their children behind for their safety. At that point in the story I just weep unconsolably now. It never used to be like that – it used to just feel like part of the adventure. Before I was a parent, I didn’t really get what the big deal was, honestly.

And maybe this was a simple maturation process, or a reward of the rite of passage that is parenthood, but I can’t help suspect there is something else at play. Because I have always maintained a rather unhealthy distance from the concept of family. I have looked upon others’ close familial relationships with bemused curiosity and an uncomfortable tinge of envy. I never had a parent that felt like a safe space; like plain and simple sanctuary; like unconditional love. I’d never known that, so I had no concept of what it would be like to lose it. And I hadn’t considered that that’s what those moments in the story represented – the tragic loss of true love.

I’m a good mother. I’m validating and responsive and highly attuned to my son. I am joyful to be blessed with this role, and I know he feels it. I am enthusiastic, I’m quick to admit error, I respect him as the whole person he is and protect him as the precious growing being that he is. I have done my best to earn the honour of being a safe space for him – a sanctuary of unconditional love.

And so I am terrified of messing it all up by doing what humans inevitably do. I’m scared of dying and leaving him behind.

I was watching Aquaman when it hit me that it’s so much more painful to have and to lose that kind of thing, than to never have known it at all. I don’t know why it took Aquaman for that realisation to descend, but there we are. I feel a responsibility, having gained my son’s trust, having nurtured his open heart, having made him vulnerable to me. Because that makes me a potential source of great pain to him, and a lot of the ways I could hurt him are outside of my control.

But the thing is, I didn’t really start living until I felt what it was like to love and lose. To give myself over completely, to trust in someone else, and to have that sanctuary stripped away. So maybe I was right all along. Maybe it is just part of the adventure.

Glad we got that straight

I think if there’s something we can all agree on, it’s the fact that, Seth Godin, I am not. While he may have been the inspiration and impetus for this blog, and just an all round positive influence in my life, we don’t have a lot in common. I like to think it’s easier for him to blog daily, but maybe I’m just conning myself. Maybe it’s far less about privilege and personality and brain hardware, and far more about choices. The problem is, sometimes, we’re not making our choices as consciously as we think we are, and how much of that are we even in control of?

For a time, about a year ago, writing daily was easier for me than not writing daily. And not because I had something I needed to say, but because the process was important to me; the endeavour was important to me, and losing what I had built within myself was not worth any temporary gain to time or energy.

But then I did lose it, because I did have something I needed to say, and I was scared to say it, and so I let writing become more about the outcome than the process. And what I had built within myself was no longer factored into the question. I had forgotten.

I had a pet research interest while doing my masters – emotional interference. It’s not a particularly well-researched phenomenon and so naturally, before COVID descended, I was designing a study to explore it further. And then when COVID descended I designed a completely different study in a completely different area of not-well-researched phenomena. I have a suspicion that emotional interference is an important link between ’emotional dysregulation’ and ‘executive dysfunction’. Basically, you’re more likely to get distracted by something emotionally pertinent. You’re more likely to perform worse while distracted by something emotionally pertinent. If you feel things more strongly, or feel strong emotions more frequently, it stands to reason this will present more of a challenge to your focus and attention. Thus, understanding the emotional aspect may be key to managing the cognitive challenges.

I didn’t even notice I was making the choice to switch from process to outcome. If I’d noticed, I could have consciously reassessed. And I would have, because I’m good at that. But I didn’t see it at all. I was swept up in the preoccupation of the words I was keeping to myself. I was feeling things, and those things caught my gaze. I knew there was a problem – I wasn’t writing daily anymore. And I knew the problem came when there was something I needed to say. The thing I missed – because my attention was caught by the thing I needed to say – was that the thing I needed to say wasn’t the problem; it was just a distraction.

Sometimes the thing isn’t a problem to be solved; it’s just a distraction to be ignored.

When you’re too small

The impetus for me writing about the insane double bind I place myself in when contemplating the notion of interacting with the world was the crisis unfolding in Afghanistan. Because I wanted to write about it, but how could I possibly have value to add? I know nothing. And, unlike some world events of recent times, I don’t even feel stirred to anger about it, I just feel very sad. And it feels very far away. And I feel very far removed from it. And there is a gratitude and relief I feel for being so far removed. And there is a powerlessness and ineptitude I feel for being so far removed.

Yet there is also this knowing that it wouldn’t take so very much for me to find myself in a very similar situation to the people trying to flee Kabul. It seems a world away, so very inconceivable, but, really, in my lifetime, it could happen to me, and I’d be a fool not to acknowledge that. And if it did happen to me, what would I want the person on the other side, living in a different world, so far removed from my heartbreak and fear and struggle, to do? I don’t know. I know nothing.

I am just one, tiny, inconsequential being. I am nothing against the systems in place. I exist here, in my room, with very few resources to offer and a very limited idea of how I could offer them. I don’t matter in this. But something that soothes me in these moments, when I feel so entirely dwarfed by the magnitude of an issue, is something I learned when I did non-violent direct action training with Greenpeace many moons ago – the concept of ‘bearing witness’.

At the very least – even if we can’t figure out how to help, or how to heal, or how to change what’s wrong – we all have the power to bear witness.

Bearing witness will change you. It will change the way you move through the world. Bit by bit, it will change the world. But it will also share the load. It will spread the word. It will allow the sufferers to breathe, knowing that they are not solely responsible for carrying the burden of their story. That they don’t need to hold it alone. That you bear it too; as much as you are able.