I’ve started writing this post from the waiting room of my doctor’s surgery. I’m hoping I won’t finish it from here because I want them to be quick!
I’m poorly. I feel very nauseous all the time, I’m being sick when I eat or drink, I have really odd, very sore back pain and I’m freezing cold all the time (but sweating when I have layers on). I’m not at work today, and I feel so totally triggered by the entire situation. Trying to put words to what is going on inside is really hard, but here goes.
I texted my mum last night to tell her I had been sick. Her reply said, “did you go home from work?” I said no, I didn’t, but I wouldn’t be in work tomorrow. “Oh dear” she said. That was it. No sympathy, no suggestions of how to make myself feel better, not even any questioning to ascertain any other symptoms. Just “oh dear”. Has there ever been less sympathy in any words written?
Being sick as a child wasn’t allowed. My mother always held up her sickness record as a badge of honour – “I’ve never taken a day off sick in my working life” she’d say. As I got older, I realised that this simply cannot have been true – she had one or two major health situations that would have required time in hospital, let alone off work. So I suppose what she was really suggesting was that she’d only ever had time off work for illnesses that she deemed ‘serious’. Which filtered through to the way she treated us when we were ill – no limbs hanging off? No blood pumping out of any arteries? Are you still conscious? Then you’re fine. Stop moaning.
She regularly called me a hypochondriac, and I am sure I probably was. To get her to register that I was poorly, I needed medicine, a doctor or simply time off school, everything had to be so over-exaggerated and blown out of proportion, otherwise it felt like she would never listen. I remember holding the thermometer to the radiator, slipping it quickly back in my mouth when she came in. I remember the day that I had tummy ache, but she wouldn’t let me stay off school, and the thought of going to school when I felt that way was so awful that I fractured my wrist by smashing it repeatedly against the side of my bunk bed. That backfired, though – she sent me straight into school in the afternoon, wrist in cast, awfully sore and still feeling as poorly as I did in the morning. It being suggested that I am ‘attention seeking’ is one of the biggest triggers for me, because it throws me straight back to that time when I was hurting and yet being completely ignored by the people around me. As an adult, and as someone who works with children, I can now see that it was less about ‘attention seeking’ and much more about ‘attention needing’. Anything blown out of proportion came from being ignored, or being told off for feeling the way I did.
This is the same root that my self harming grows from. The need to have something physical, something awful, to show for the way I am feeling.
As an adult, I really struggle with describing things at a truthful level. Everything in my whole life is about extremes, and feeling like I will be believed if I am honest is really, really hard. It isn’t that I am dishonest, as such; just that, at the time, everything feels so totally awful that it can only be described in the most awful way. Then, when some time has passed and I have some perspective on it (and usually, the need has been met in some way), I realise just how exaggerated it all was. Then I feel all the shame and guilt that I was made to feel as a child come flooding back, and it totally smashes me into a pulp whilst I destroy myself either internally or externally.
This particularly causes problems when, like today, the person I tell doesn’t listen. It all comes running at me and those emotions are impossibly hard to avoid. The doctor I saw today was blunt and quite uncaring and I’m not sure she did the best job – but instead of being cross with her for being this way, I’m cross with myself for needing her in the first place. If I was a better person then I wouldn’t be ill, if I wasn’t such a bad person she’d care more… it’s so hard to override these thoughts. I get very panicky and quite hysterical at the thought that this meeting is about to end and you haven’t understood that I’m not okay yet. Being left before I’ve been heard… a constant fear running through all my life.
I had T tonight, and all day I was petrified about going. “Being ill isn’t allowed”, my head kept saying over and over. This is completely untrue and I’ve sat with T when I’ve been poorly before, but it doesn’t matter – I’m so trapped internally into this place where she is my mother and so she will hate me in just the same ways. Thankfully, T is a decent human being and of course just showed sympathy for me being poorly, and was absolutely fine to sit with me, which has soothed the panic, for the time being. But I know it will happen again, next time I’m ill.
There is really nothing that can be done about this trigger just yet. I’m confident that as I start to build my self-worth and my self-compassion, these feelings of inadequacy and badness will dissipate, until the holes where they once were become filled with all the good that T and others show me. But it feels so painful to be feeling all these things, particularly when I’m already really low by being ill and very tired. Hey, nobody said it would be easy though, did they?