In which I will write in the first person, because it feels important.
It’s an odd thing to realise that I have been cocooning myself away from the world without even realising that I was doing so. Slowly winding layers and layers of soft ‘not coping’ around me to protect myself from the rigorous expectations of others and the punishing expectations of my own self. Hiding in the darkness of my PND and using it as a barrier between me and the world ‘out there’, where I am ‘talented’, ‘strong’ and ‘capable’. The ‘out there’ where the bar is set so high in every area of my life, I have no hope of ever getting close to it.
In here, in this beautiful darkness, I am safe. It is quiet and peaceful and manageable. Out there is push and shove and noise and chaos and there is always drama and limits must be met and exceeded. In here, I am slow and sometimes melancholic and often angry but I have been given permission by my illness to simply put one foot in front of the other until the end of the long mothering day. In here, it is tight and restrictive and often uncomfortable, both mentally and emotionally, because it is the safety of failure, of ‘not good enough’ and in this small, tight darkness I have companions like Shame and Guilt and Anger. Yet squashed in here is still so much better than bearing the weight of all that other ‘stuff’ that waits for me, like a hungry wolf, out there.
I have come to realise that I have been cowed under the weight of everyone elses expectations of me. That carrying these expectations around on my shoulders has caused me to feel like I am simply going around and around in circles as I slowly grind myself into the ground. I was raised (unconsciously to be sure) to be ‘better than’. To always pit myself against the best and win. And if i didn’t? Well, there was sadness and guilt and shame. If I did, it was the best feeling in the world. I was loved and accepted by those whose love and acceptance I so desperately craved. Moreover, I was ‘Special’ and that seemed to be the most important thing to be. The problem with this type of early conditioning is that it becomes a part of your DNA without you even being aware of it. It’s not like, at the age of five, I had some kind of bullshit radar which kicked in with a, ‘Hang on just a damn minute! You don’t have to better than X,Y & Z – or achieve X,Y, Z medals/distinctions, you just have to enjoy what you are doing!’ I only had the quiet urging in my ear to be the best. I am not blaming here. I want to make that absolutely clear. Everything that was said and done was said and done with the best of intentions. I am also aware of the old adage about the ‘road to hell’ being paved with such intentions. We do what we do when we know no better. And let’s face it, I am hardly without ‘sin’ when it comes to this shit. But still, since then I have always carried those expectations of greatness, high achieving and ‘better than’s’ with me and unconsciously tried to live up to them. The problem with this is that they are impossible to attain. Seriously. Equally problematic is the fact that logical argument (especially my own) never made me give up anything, let alone these deeply held beliefs about my own magnificence. I have, quite simply, grown up with the expectation that I will be something extraordinary and with an absolute horror of being ordinary. I am not tooting my own horn. I am stating a plain fact. I have always believed I was meant for something better. Something much more magical than a plain and ordinary life.
My lovely therapist, Kat, thinks this belief stems, not from unbelievable arrogance – as it may first appear, but from being ‘incorrectly mirrored’ as a child. I was a very clever little girl, precociously so. Because of this and the realisation that I was a bit smarter than the average bear, and also because of the many un-lived lives of my mother, I was expected to become something amazing. With all this cleverness, (and later with all the talent for dance and drama and such), I was expected to really excel at something. I was pitted against every other little girl or boy in every area of my life until I became so stressed out and so guilt ridden at the thought of failure, I began to experience severe migraines, vomiting and awful stage fright. I literally became sick of the pressure I was under to achieve. It was never enough to be good at things and I was and still am, naturally pretty good at stuff. I can pick things up very easily. At least, I could. And I was always pretty capable. But it was never enough. I was never enough.
Slowly I am coming to realise that maybe I was not meant to be extraordinary or to live an extraordinary life. Maybe my talent is simply for enjoying life and enjoying the many and varied things it offers. Maybe my talent is to be a great writer. Maybe it’s to be a mediocre writer (look how well many of them are doing!) or maybe it’s to be no kind of writer at all. All that pressure, all those weighty expectations, all they ever did was make me afraid to fail. Afraid to really try those things to which I was most drawn in case I did badly and lost the love and respect of those I most dearly needed it from. And so. When my beautiful, challenging, heart expanding, anxiety inducing children came along, I again had a bar set so high for parenting that I couldn’t hope to ever attain it and I began the fast and angry descent into PND where I became one with this Beautiful Darkness. And here I have been ever since.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I have thought all along that I was trying to climb out of this pit of self-loathing and angry parenting. Trying to escape from the feelings of overwhelm and terrible sadness at my own inability to parent well and with real heart. And I do believe I have. The trouble is that the pay off for being inside this angry little cocoon is that I am not expected to do or be or achieve ANYTHING. I don’t have to strive to be a perfect anything because just getting through an average day is achievement enough. I am not expected to have it all together because I clearly don’t have it all together. My husband comes home earlier, takes a bit more care, gives me more time and parents a bit more than I fear he will when I am well. He doesn’t expect a home cooked meal on the table every night or a perfectly clean house or a sexy little minx in the bedroom. He expects an exasperated, frazzled, chubby little house frau who may or may not be writhing in a puddle of parenting self loathing, when he comes home. And that means I don’t have to try so damn hard all the fucking time. I mean, it’s just so exhausting – all this stuff we are supposed to do/achieve/become. Being broken means never having to carry that heavy burden of other people’s expectations.
I know. It’s faulty logic. I will be so much happier without this black dog stalking me through every day. I know that I will be able to experience more joy if I can just let go of my little black cloud, but I’m scared. I’m scared that when I am well all of those expectations will come crashing back down on me like a comet and I will find myself pushing and pushing and pushing myself uphill, trying to achieve every last one of those golden dreams until I break. Out there, there is always more to want, more to need, more to achieve. In here, it’s just me. For better or worse.
Sadly, the cracks in the cocoon are showing and the light is starting to filter in. I know that I can’t stay in here much longer. I honestly don’t want to – not really. I know that I have to try to figure out some kind of middle ground, some bar setting skills that are not so cruel and remorseless. I have to find a way to put one foot in front of the other and see where that takes me, without looking up for the bigger and better dream all the time. Because, and I know this down to my boots, I need to live life at a pace that can be sustained by me without lots of support, because support won’t always be available. I need to find a way to live my life that makes me happy, that allows for more moments of ordinary grace, that gives me room to BE without always trying to be more. I need to find a lower bar and be ok with that.
I am Emerging – slowly – from this safe little hideaway. I am learning to put down the heavy burden of expectation. I am unravelling all the ideas, the beliefs, the un-lived lives – to see what remains at the end.
And that’s the journey my friends.
That is the journey.