I can remember the last time I was happy. To be clear, by “happy” I don’t mean that I recall the last time I laughed until my belly hurt or the last time I just couldn’t stop smiling, I mean that I remember the first time I felt broken and how I haven’t stopped feeling broken ever since. As a consequence, everything before that moment seems to encapsulate “happiness” for me.
I was 11 or maybe 12 and I was listening to Kelly Clarkson’s first (and best) album whilst sitting in my parent’s car in Newport. Admittedly, Newport is the kind of place that can breathe despair into the hearts of the most positive people but there was no huge traumatic event to trigger my malaise. The truth is I was sitting in the car and I fell in love with this album and suddenly it came to me that I would never amount to anything, that I would never “be someone”. How could I be? I would never be a singer, have an album and I would never be friends with Kelly Clarkson. The oddest catalyst to a personal apocalypse? Quite possibly.
Afterwards I fell into an isolated world of despair. I spent weekends in bed, just lying there in a stiff, comatose state, doing a fabulous corpse impression. I didn’t have or feel able to make plans with friends for over a year. I went so far into myself, into what now I see as as a deep black hole, that when I went to school I couldn’t bear to engage in any way, I would constantly listen to music and put my earphones attached to my CD player (and later iPod) up the back of my shirt and under my hair. I didn’t hear a lesson properly for nearly two years. I passed all of my exams, because it turns out if you’re good at locking yourself away in silence and solitude, adding a revision book into the mix isn’t too much of a stretch.
With hindsight, I now understand that I behaved and felt this way due to the emotional trauma I had experienced as a child, which I was still experiencing as a teenager. Being unable to engage my fight or flight responses to frequent emotional attacks from my mother meant that I ended up physically frozen, depressed. I had to shut down and detach from life – from ambitions, emotions, friends and even myself – to be able to get through. The alternative would have been acknowledging cruelty day after day without being able to get away from it or having the tools to fight it. So I retreated into the safest place I could find, my bedroom, where I created a sanctum of solitude and silence, where my bed became my bunker of safety.
Why am I writing this (given that this was back when foil highlights were cool)? Because I still feel like this. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when I feel ok. There are times when I feel good, great even. And I know that I’ve made great progress working on myself over the past two years. But then there are days like today. Days when I feel so impossibly broken, days where I cannot complete the simplest of tasks because I am frozen (I refused to pick up my friend’s contact lenses earlier, even though I walked past the shop). Days like last Friday, when I spent the day in bed, scared of life, feeling so, so lost even though I’m 300 miles from my childhood home and staying with a good friend in London.
I came back to the UK after being in Asia for a few months, after leaving my parent’s house where I had lived for two years, with positive ambitions, with hope that this time it would work. But when I look back over my life I can no longer deny that I have not been ok for the last 16 years. The truth is that for more than half of my life I have felt broken and I am so fucking tired of feeling broken. The gap between what I want to achieve and the place of frozen entrapment seems bigger than the Grand Canyon at the moment – I can’t find a bridge long enough to cross over to the other side.
But all of this makes sense. I carry the things that my mother used to say to me in my head and in my heart with me everywhere I go and it’s enough to puncture a good day. But I also carry what was once my armour against the attacks with me too, that silent, immovable place which was once my former sanctum but is now my inner prison. Both of these things still pervade my life to such a degree, and have done for such a long time, that I don’t know where to find myself, if there is even room for me as an individual. I can’t stay far enough away from those hurtful words or from the inner prison long enough to sort out a functioning life and it is terrifying.
The power of trauma is enormous.
The power of trauma is so that I feel unsafe and abandoned when I am staying with a good friend who has welcomed me in their home. The power of trauma is that I feel useless and without motivation despite having £5,000 in my bank account I could do anything with. The power of trauma is so that I have two degrees, I’ve traveled alone to Africa, to Asia, I climbed Kilimanjaro and trekked to Everest Base Camp and I still feel so fucking worthless that I cannot send my CV off to one employer. The power of trauma is so that I can hear someone tell me that “the world is my oyster” but I feel nothing but trapped. Stuck. The power of trauma is so that at 27 I still have a really unhealthy habit of staying in bed when I do not feel safe, that when I hear someone walking outside the door I feel threatened and like I am about to be attacked. The power of trauma is that I feel so trapped within myself, or cannot find myself for long enough to figure out a plan so that in two days time I don’t have anywhere to stay and I don’t know what to do.
I suppose I know one thing:
Trauma needs to be destroyed and robbed of all it’s power. Once and for all.