Still a Sausage

Frustration boiled up in me again just now when, after expressing a desire to do something and L saying he wouldn’t join me, I immediately started saying that I wouldn’t either. I started to “change” my opinion to match his as soon as I found out what he wanted.

Again.

From the moment we started dating, L has encouraged me to be my own person, state my own views, make my own choices and to be more assertive about who I am and what I do or don’t need and want. Just this evening he said, “No, it’s fine! You can do that if you want. It’s ok!”

Still there is always this struggle. A struggle to become myself  at 29, after 22 years of trying to cram myself into the image my parents wanted to see. The struggle to be ok with my own choices at 29, after 22 years of meticulously feeling out my father’s preference before announcing it as my own “independantly made” decision.

I am trapped in this should-be-surreal scenario where in trying to live a normal life, I am being rebellious in the eyes of my parents, whose beliefs demanded conformity to a lifestyle that fought against the pressure to be just like everyone else.

I remember more than one occasion when my father told us about this song which compared the school system (although this might just have been his interpretation?) to a sausage factory, where all that happened was the mindless churning of children through the system, so they would all pop out at the end of the process as matching sausages. We didn’t want to be sausages, did we?

No, we didn’t want to be sausages. We were being homeschooled so we weren’t just churned through the school system. We didn’t have to bend to any expectations to be just like everyone else.

At what point will my parents realise that they turned into their very own sausage factory, churning out sausages that, although admittedly a very different shape from the mass-made sausages they so feared, were still sausages?

When I struggle to take a decision that isn’t influenced in some way by either what I know my father would want or taken purely because it’s the opposite of what he would want, I find it hard to laugh at the stupid irony of the whole thing.

Here I am, at 29, after all this hard work to break away from my parent’s demands, doing exactly what they claimed to want for me in the first place!

I broke free from my society’s pressure to be just like them and to live my life a certain way just because that was what everyone else was doing. I went against the trend and made my own choices, enduring the disapproval of my peers for the sake of my convictions.

Only the society I bucked was my parent’s and the choices I made for the sake of my own convictions? They had me heading away from my parent’s demands to be just like ‘one of them’.

Here I am, at 29, still learning to make my own decisions.

Oh Hello PTSD

“Power on through. You can do this. Power on through. You can do this. Power on through. You can do this.”

I was walking along the unfamiliar pavement, rapeating these lines outloud (to my embarrassment) to myself, getting that slightly burning wheeze that comes from cold air, fast walking, a general lack of fitness … and panic.

I’d pushed the button to get off at the next bus stop, but I hadn’t known until that moment that this bus didn’t stop at the bottom of the hill, but went round to the next road. I had already been running late, now I just couldn’t think about the time.

When I say ‘I just couldn’t think about the time’, I mean I actually could not think about the time. I had to tell myself my watch was running 10 minutes fast and that everything was going to be ok.

Otherwise I was going to run away.

I know, because I’ve done it before.

You know what? I made it! I made it to work, my boss didn’t say anything about the time, work happend, I left, I still had my job. In my book, that’s a win.

It turns out, I’m needed in my job, I want to be there, I feel like I’m in the right place. But I left feeling heavy, sad, disappointed – those last 3 minutes before getting there had been a big fight.

The buzz of the first two weeks of working again is settling into normality. The drive to prove myself capable and entitled to this job is melding into the reality of beating my fears every time I go to work; of knowing that most people don’t even know that ringing that doorbell is an act of courage every single time.

PTSD becomes a part of my everyday life. Has probably been for longer than I’d be able to admit. It doesn’t become easier, but it does become a wierd kind of normality. Do I forget it’s there? Um, no! I don’t forget the nightmares that happen every night or the 13 times I have to check the front door is locked before I can go to bed. Do I try to minimise it’s impact on my life and pretend that I can do whatever anyone else can do without it causing negative affects? Abso-flipping-lutely I do!

The reality comes sneaking up behind me and knocks me over the head. PTSD is a real and living thing in my life and sometimes, it can be cripplng.

This morning I made it to work and everything was ok. This evening I didn’t make it out to homegroup and I sobbed into my knees with frustration and shame after my husband accepted a lift there (despite not wanting to go) and I stayed at home.

I felt like I had failed and I felt so small and pathetic. Once again I had oh-so-very-publicly demonstrated that I am Not Normal.

I meant to go. I even got the bus home instead of walking so I’d have enough energy to go to homegroup and be normal and stuff. But the car giving a lift only had one spare seat, so was very happy to come back for me … but I would be causing an extra lift (I HATE it when people have to put themselves out for me) and I’d have to do it alone with a man …

My throat started to close up and I actually froze mid-conversation. Dam. I thought I was being normal … right?

Both me and my ever-lovely husband knew right then that I wasn’t going to be going. I tried to tell myself it was still going to happen … somehow.

But I got supper just that bit too late. The doorbell rang while L was atill eating. I wanted to run and hide but had to answer the door … I have this cringe-worthy need to fill any silence that could be interpreted as awkward when I’m tired or nervous … I was both … I knew I wasn’t going, I guessed that the kind-but-still-male person knew I wasn’t going … and knew that I knew that he knew … and L went when he had worked longer, harder, more frustrating hours than me …

And I stayed at home and sobbed into my knees. Even though I hate crying.

Oh, hello PTSD.

Too many words

Words keep rushing through my head. They have been all day.

There are things that have been said to me. Things I’ve heard being said to other people. Things I’ve said. Most of all, what I’ve been thinking. My (mostly) silent response to all I’ve heard.

I’m not sure that I can get them out in a way that will make any sense. Or at least, not without a lot of backstory.

So for now, next time you see the quiet person, think about what might be going through their head. They might be fine. But they might be having a dark day.

Maybe a smile, a cup of tea brought to their desk, the door held open … maybe it might help to break up the steady flow of negative words running through their head, their heart.

Words are so powerful. Sometimes the absence of words can be just as powerful.

Still the Freak Show

“So what do you do?” That little chilly tingle slips down my spine as I reluctantly turn to smile at the person standing next to me. I always hope that they’re going to be so interested in what my husband does for a job that they’re going to forget about asking me.

If it wasn’t that question, it would be another. “Where did you go to university?” Maybe they’ll ask that one too.

When I cut it back to the absolute truth, the answers are really simple. I don’t and I didn’t.

I’ve never had the guts to be that direct with anyone, although there have been many times when I have been so weary of trying to make my words paint a picture that doesn’t exist, that I long to scream those words and run from the room. Back to hide in my own space where I (almost always) understand me and my history and don’t have to feel like the freak show. Again.

With most people, I have no intention of giving the reasons behind my lack of current job or why I didn’t go to uni and what kept me living with my parents until I was 21. It isn’t something they need to know (even if they think they should) and I’m not going to tell my story to just anyone. But that doesn’t stop the curious looks – and sometimes the curious questions too. And it doesn’t stop me feeling like the outsider … like a pair of jeans in a Christian homeschooled girl’s wardrobe.

There are people who I want to understand me. I care about their opinion and I want to be a part of their lives. Those people for whom a polite half-truth just won’t do. Those people who have become close enough to see through the self I present to everyone else. Their questions come from a place of caring and love, from wanting to really understand because they want to understand me and the experiences that have brought me to where I am now.

But how do I explain, even to an honestly caring friend, a life experience that has so little in common with their own upbringing that it might as well have been from another era? A childhood that in part actually did come from another era?

How do I explain why I obeyed and even at times furvently pursued the very controls that I then ran away from? How do I show them that the headscarf-wearing, Christmas-is-evil spouting, who-was-Bart-Simpson girl is the same as the let-women-preach, why-can’t-gays-be-Christians, nose-pierced, Iron-Maiden-listening women they see in front of them?

How can I explain why maxi-dresses make me feel stupid and ugly instead of pretty and fashionable? Why a sermon on the Old Testament stresses me out rather than fascinates me? Why someone enthusing about homemade bread and natural cleaners will have me rolling my eyes cynically instead of joining in the discussion?

How do I even begin to explain why PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder), flashbacks and nightmares are a part of my everyday life? Why a talk about forgiveness would have me leaving in the middle of church and fighting tears all the way home? Why babysitting a toddler and watching their adorable innocence would make my thoughts so unbearable that I have to recite good memories to myself?

I haven’t found the answer yet. I don’t know how to explain these things. I don’t know how to explain that you can get debilitating culture shock from leaving your parents house. Or how a quote from the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt can make you laugh with glee and cry inside at the same time.

I read an article on Homeschoolers Anonymous the other day that explains why The Village is such an eerily good representation of some of our childhoods. It doesn’t get it all, but it goes a long way to allowing others a small moment of comprehension when viewing our lives.

I haven’t found the answer yet. But I haven’t given up. I’m searching for those words; trying to paint that picture. I don’t want you to hear my stories and say “you poor thing”; I want you to hear my stories and know that I am not the only one. I don’t want you to pity me; I want you to be there as an ear, a voice or a hand for the ones who are still living inside those woods of fear, however they were planted.