Mental health Tearing down the house

Tearing down the house

I’ve copied the title from my boyfriend’s blog, where he recently created a post with this name. Tearing down the house – joeplaa.com

This was a private post. I’ve decided to make it public after all. I’m writing in English, because I often find it easier to express my feelings in English. This post has no purpose, other than to write down what I think, feel and remember. It has no message, no conclusion, no advice. It’s just an expression of stuff. It’s also not very nice stuff. Please be warned.

I haven’t blogged in a long time. Today, I imported all my old posts from old blogs into this current blog. And reading back some of those old posts was very strange. It seems like a different person wrote them. It was odd, to see comments on my blog from people I used to be in close touch with but that I now feel very distant from.

Last year was one of the most difficult years of my adult life. I’ve faced

  • a medical misdiagnosis that I had to partly solve myself by buying illegal antibiotics
  • medical healthcare practitioners that were uneducated about ‘silent’ abcesses and who refused to listen to me
  • mental healthcare practitioners that treated me like a hypochondriac
  • self-fulfilling prophecies and self-sabotage on my own part by, instead of saying what I feel and need, saying what I think the other person wants to hear
  • intense loneliness while trying to get the correct medical help for myself
  • retraumatization from that whole ordeal
  • a health crisis on my brother’s side, that resurfaced a lot of old trauma for me

I am still not okay. In fact, my mental health is, right now, at an all-time low. Last year, I had to shut down in order to survive. I returned to my oldest programming, the one that I learned in my family of origin: A horrid, dysfunctional blind panic to predict all the negative things that other people could possibly say or do to me and to try to either defuse those worst-case scenario’s before they happened, or inflict them on myself so that at least nobody else could. I am, at this moment, a very dysfunctional, unhealthy person.

Reading my posts from previous blogs, shows that I used to be (a bit) more open about what was going on in my life, but still not much. This is also because some things are taboo, or considered dangerous. Some things might damage your career forever!!!! Or they may not. All I know for sure is that every time my mental health is poor, it’s in part because I have not been able/allowed to talk about thoughts and feelings. Either because I am afraid of what other people might think, or because another person gives off a signal, however small, that I can’t say the thing I want (need) to say.

There are a million things that you are not supposed to say. I still remember an e-mail from my ex-mother-in-law in 2011, titled “danger!”. In fact, I still have it. Which is good, because it allows me to cross check my memory. Yes, the title was “danger!”. Now, she had a good point, I had posted something on my blog that talked about code quality. Apparently, I had shown a piece of code I encountered at my job and talked about why I thought it was poor. She warned me that you should never post anything negative about your employer, including poor code. Good point, true. But the title of that e-mail still stings, after all those years. It’s burned into my memory, because it evoked in me, at that time, a very strong emotion.

Why did that title hurt? I think the most important reason is that I am super sensitive to the slightest negative inflection. The volume knob is turned all the way up for me, and then forcefully broken off. I will assume that whatever the bad thing is, it’s either a confirmation that I am fundamentally flawed, or proof that the other person means me harm.

I was abused as a child.

Last year, all of the traumatic emotions resurfaced. My regular therapist was one of the people who could not hear my medical issues and at one point called my severe illness and misdiagnosis an ‘opinion’, so I couldn’t go to her anymore. Joep also didn’t believe me, and he was also overwhelmed, responding from old coping strategies, triggers and childhood reflexes as well. I couldn’t go to him either. I tried to talk to friends, but it didn’t help… I needed to talk to Joep or my therapist. Why? Because frankly, they are the only two people I had any healthy attachment to. I needed to feel safe and reconnected again. Instead, I could not, and the stress has been screaming through my body. Now, 12 months later, parts of my brain and body have a new pathway etched through them, that sears in pain whenever anything happens that reminds me of my illness, Joep’s response to my illness, my therapist’s response, the way I myself acted, the way medical healthcare professionals responded, the way mental healthcare professionals responded. I’m afraid it will take a lot of time for this to heal. I do not feel any connection with other people at the moment, however hard it may be for you to read this. I feel numb, disconnected from myself and others. What I need a lot, right now, is to escape in the way that I escaped from the emotional violence in my home: By spending alone time at my computer, where they didn’t disturb me. It’s a self-soothing technique. I’m exhausted. Part of me just wants to go to sleep and never wake up.

This week was the first time that I told a family member, my aunt: I was abused as a child. Her response was empathetic and sad. She didn’t know that I (we) had gone through so much. After she divorced her husband (who was a blood relative of one of my parents), my parents blocked her out of our life. We haven’t been in touch since. My brother has been in touch with them in the past, but I myself.. I fled from home and didn’t have much of a social life back there anymore. I never visited my aunt, I didn’t have the energy. Or the guts. I don’t know which. I think mostly because I am terrified of people, terrified that they will approach me angrily or in disregard, or that I will do something that will put them off or that they will get sick and tired of me eventually. My parents, especially my father, were extremely dangerous to my health, happiness and general well-being. If your caregivers are that dangerous, and you’re bullied in school, and nobody genuinely understands what you’re going through, as a child you conclude only one thing: Everyone is dangerous. My mother did stick up for me once, by biking angrily to a parent of a child who bullied me and demanding that this child stopped bullying me. Didn’t work of course… What I needed was emotional support. I never got any. If my mother had known how to give that, I know she would have done it. But she didn’t know how to give me that, because she’s mindblind. The double-bind is that she doesn’t know what she doesn’t know and so she cannot see the things she failed to do for me. She always did her best, she truly did. She did every single thing she could think of, whenever she could. If anyone had taught her how to soothe her children, she would have done it in a heartbeat. But she was also unavailable a lot of the time, when she had a meltdown or was otherwise emotionally overwhelmed.

My father is a self-centered bastard who doesn’t care about anything except his own victimhood.

My aunt expressed that she had been quite hurt when my parents abandoned her like that. I told her that I understood. She said that she had to choose for herself and her children, that it took years to get to the point to divorce. Back then, when my parents refused contact with her, she decided that people who were that nearsighted weren’t worth worrying about. I replied that I understood. I told her I know more about her marriage and divorce than I should have known. Because my father talks bad about people behind their backs. I told her that I was thinking about blogging about it. She said she was very much interested.. I’m not sure if making this post public is such a great thing to do. But I’m also done hiding and covering up everything that made me who I am today. Yes, this may make some people very uncomfortable. No, a lot of this is not nice to write down. Maybe some of it isn’t even necessary to make public.. This may be one of them. You be the judge.

Now, this aunt is one of the few people I have warm memories of, in my childhood. She once gave me a trial packet of shampoo, or body soap, from one of her magazines. I remember standing in her kitchen and her looking at me, she told me it smelled nice and asked me if I wanted to have it. Nobody ever acknowledged me like that. I remember a feeling, a desperate need for attention and love, and this was a chance! She took the trial packet out of her magazine and gave it to me. The next time we were at her house, I stated that I had started ‘collecting’ these packets. And she saved them for me, for a while. I remember, in my desk in my room, a plastic container filled with trial packs of shampoo and body lotion. I didn’t do anything with them. Although I never realized it as a child, I think I had them as proof that someone had seen me, had remembered that I had asked for something and had taken the time out of her day to actually save something for me. She cared, however small. And I told her that it was special for me. And that I always looked forward to visiting her.

Also, she always made her homemade cherry pie for birthdays. I loved it, it was delicious and brilliant. One day, I asked if I could please copy out the recipe. She allowed me to do so and it filled me with great joy to have my aunt’s “magical” pie recipe. I made that pie a number of times. (Before I discovered I’m intolerant to dairy, damn..) I just searched my laptop for files titled “kersenvlaai”. I’m afraid I can’t find it… It kind of makes me angry. I know it’s a digital file.. I know it was just a text file.. but still it was a prized possession. I’m pissed that I’ve moved my files so many times. Did I do a cleanup I didn’t mean to do? Did I throw away a folder titled ‘backup’ or was it in a folder with an unclear name. Damn.

Anyway, I told my aunt, in that WhatsApp conversation, that I understood that it had been a process of years before she divorced her husband. I understand, because it has been a process of years to get out of the toxic relationship with my father. I know how hard it is to get away from a relationship that is really, really bad for you. I also told her I knew more than she might think. But at the same time, what I had heard could be very distorted. Here’s what I remember.

I remember my youngest niece being born. I remember her crib in my parent’s bedroom. I remember how my uncle obsessed over her and insisted on going to her crib upstairs, even though she was sleeping. And I remember that that’s where it started being palpable that something was going on in that family. I remember my nephew crying a lot. I remember once, as kids, that my nephew said that it bothered him that he cried so much. I remember me and my brother telling him that it was okay, that it was normal to cry as kids. In fact, that we used to cry a lot too!

The interesting thing is that both me and my brother spoke about crying in past-tense. I remember the day my brother stopped crying, because it was pointless. Nobody responded in an empathetic way if you cried. All we got was a raised fist and screaming threat “I’LL GIVE YOU A FUCKING REASON TO CRY!” I don’t remember when I stopped crying, but I remember the first time in therapy that I started crying again. A long wracking, heaving sob. For the first time in years that I allowed myself to cry. My therapist didn’t share with me the sense of accomplishment that I tried to express to her.. She didn’t realize that I had had to freeze myself emotionally to survive as a child.

I always knew something was strange about my uncle. This is a very unfair thing to say in hindsight, of course. But I remember a glazed look in his eyes and a domineering way of addressing me. Other than that, I don’t remember much. I remember the name of the family dog. I remember that my nephew’s bedroom was at the front of the house. And I remember that my aunt’s marriage was going really poorly. My gut tells me the guy was abusive.

After my aunt started the divorce, my father was gleefully talking badly about my uncle, about how he was insane and ridiculous. My mother never said anything negative about anyone. It’s one of her rules and she lives by it. Everything I’ve heard is from my father. My uncle was fighting my aunt in the divorce. At some point, the division of all the furniture was complete, or nearly complete, and he suddenly changed his mind. He suddenly demanded a cupboard or closet from the living room, or something. Not only that, he demanded to have a spare tire. God knows why. He demanded to have things that had little monetary value, and my father scoffed at him for that. I think perhaps some of the things my uncle suddenly demanded, were actually objects that my aunt wanted to have. I vaguely remember that the cupboard was a family heirloom of my aunt, but I could be mistaken. I have a feeling my uncle was busy trying to avoid my aunt from getting anything of emotional value. But then he wanted a spare tire… I don’t know.

The divorce dragged on and on and at some point the lawyer or mediator finally got him to sign. But then, the man had to find his own place to live, and found a small apartment. Too small, so he dumped a lot of his possessions at our house. My mother always wants to be kind to people, she works off some sort of social script: She felt she had to take sides with her brother, that’s “just what you do”. So, this was fuel for my dad to relentlessly complain and mock the worthless junk that my uncle had stored at our house. At some point my father angrily threw out my uncle’s possessions. My uncle wasn’t picking them up and my father didn’t see any value in any of it. He was seemingly insulted that he ‘had’ to store other people’s stuff. It was taking up valuable space and that was that.

Then, my father came home with a juicy piece of gossip. His eyes were shining as he divulged his new gem of information about my uncle: My uncle was insane! My uncle had apparently been flashing in the park (potloodventen) when he was younger, he had been admitted to a mental hospital before his marriage. And my aunt hadn’t even known!!! Also, my uncle was stalking my aunt and her kids. He was driving through the street, harassing them. My father acted like it was a really horrible thing that was happening to my aunt, but you could feel he delighted in all this drama. It was something to gossip about!

At this point in time, my father had been harassing me for years about how my mother wouldn’t sexually satisfy him, about what a poor wife she was, about how she drove him crazy. And he started repeating, over and over again, how infatuated he was with my aunt. He dreamed of ditching my mother and having a relationship with my aunt. He wouldn’t stop obsessing over her. He never expressed any concern or interest in my aunt or her children’s well-being, though. All he could talk about was how hot my aunt was. He wanted to fuck her.

The last thing I heard was when I went to university in 2004. My uncle was still in touch with my mother, and had heard that I was going into Computer Science. He asked my mother if I could fix his computer. I think I naively said something like okay maybe I can take a look. My mother gave him my phone number. I was moving into my new room when I got a text from an unknown number. It was someone insinuating that I should come fix his computer in exchange for sexual favors. I went home and asked my parents whose number it was. We figured out it was my uncle. My mother refused to believe it, and she was so distraught that in an attempt to comfort her I made up a poor excuse about how maybe his phone was ‘hacked’.

My mother doesn’t understand computers, you see. If she sees an e-mail that is an advertising e-mail, she panics. She used to call me nearly once a week, panicking that she was terrified that she had been hacked. She hyperventilated, wheezing into the phone “Idontunderstand Idontunderstand Whatisthis Whatisthis!?!?” and me trying to decypher on the phone what kind of advertisement she was seeing this time…

I sent my uncle a message that if he needed to talk to anyone, it wasn’t me, he should just contact my mother. I received a really creepy sentence of the form “You’re a big girl, you can decide for yourself, can’t you?”. Yuck.. My mother took me into town to get a new phone and new phone number.

I didn’t see my uncle after that, but I think that my mother had believed my comforting lie, and had suggested to my uncle that his phone might have been hacked? I remember my father telling me that my uncle had made a scene and had started screaming that my aunt must have hacked his phone! A pathetic excuse.. a sign that the man not only also has no idea about computers but also no common sense about which lies are easily seen through… The last thing I know is that my father felt it necessary to ‘rescue’ my aunt, who had long since got a restraining order (straatverbod) for my uncle. But still.. my dad, imagining himself a knight in shining armor, drove over to my aunt. He told me he had gone to my aunt and had warned her. “Keep him away from your children, he’ll rape them.” He told me that she had replied “I know”. I can’t describe the look on my father’s face. It was something of a triumphant “See what a scandal I’ve uncovered!”.

When my aunt met her now husband, and moved in with him, my father was beside himself with jealousy. He spent all his time telling us that this man was no good. This man was awful. He insinuated that my aunt was poor, that that family was poor and that this man would not take good care of my aunt financially. My father was insanely jealous. And the bad part was, we believed him for a while. But after my brother and I visited my aunt and her new husband, we looked at each-other. We had been worried about meeting a very mean man. I remember my brother saying that my father was an idiot. My aunt’s new husband seemed like a really good guy. I don’t remember if we called my dad out on his bullshit. I’d like to think we did. Anyway, eventually my dad finally kept his fucking mouth shut. To my face at least.

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