I haven’t posted anything in a while, it’s been a difficult time lately. A difficult and detailed conversation with my eldest daughter about puberty and sex triggered a week of vivid flashbacks and disturbing dreams. No longer being in therapy and having no faith whatsoever in the crisis teams I didn’t know where to go for help and hoped the situation would simply die down and return to normal soon. Yesterday the problem came to a head, or rather exploded, when I experienced what I can only describe as an age regression. I forgot everything from childhood onwards. Professionals may class this as an extreme case of Dissociative Amnesia, I class it as Personal Hell.
In previous posts I have explored the idea of dissociation being a means of coping and surviving rather than suffering as one would suffer other illnesses. It is our minds way of protecting, of damage control and ultimately of healing – though it certainly doesn’t feel like that at the time. Today I feel as though a breakthrough has happened, but I’m not fully recovered enough to appreciate the extent of it yet. In the short-term, after a week of enduring several intrusive flashbacks per hour, since regaining my present day memory in the early hours of this morning I haven’t had a single one. That’s nearly 17 hours with no flashbacks. This episode of explosive amnesia seems to have wiped my slate clean, ready to pick up where I left off, though I’ll wait and see how the next couple of days go before breathing my sigh of relief.
A very wise man said to me recently that life should be lived in reverse. I believe my recent experience couldn’t offer more truth to this statement. I awoke yesterday morning already exhausted from another disturbed night, wondering if I had the energy and resources to face another day, wondering if I could keep fighting the flashbacks and keep the past separate to stay in the here and now. It was mid afternoon when the “explosion” occurred. I don’t know what specifically triggered it, I can only assume it was one more flash too many. I felt as though I was just waking up again, only I had no idea where I was, it was a strange house, and next to me on the strange couch was a baby and a woman I’d never seen before (my friend had been keeping me company). I panicked and ran upstairs and locked myself in the bathroom. My friend, or to me at that time the stranger, came upstairs and started talking to me through the door, reassuring me, telling me I’m safe and I’m home. I didn’t feel safe and I certainly wasn’t home, I did what any frightened child would do – I cried for my mother.
At this point it’s important to explain the significance of that childish act. When the event at the root of my condition took place, I didn’t tell anyone. The memory blocks came down like bulletproof flood/fire-doors and on top of that, I didn’t have the language, the vocabulary to explain what had happened to me or what was continuing to happen in my mind. As I grew older the symptoms of DID came through, the “leakage” as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, tends to build up over the years and manifest in many ways – depression, self-harm, panic attacks, mood swings etc. but still, I didn’t tell anyone anything, least of all my parent and unfortunately for all concerned, these things are also easy to hide, especially when they coincide with the joys of adolescence. What teenager doesn’t have mood swings? Weird phases of attitude change, appetite change, fashion sense changes, they all come with the territory. There are few people who don’t look back at their own adolescent years and cringe, fewer who would want to repeat them. The freedom you didn’t know you had, the lack of responsibility, the simple pleasures of a new album, latest film or the excitement of a new crush, yes we’d all like to relive that, but preferably without the hormones and insecurities. So as a parent, how are you supposed to distinguish between the mood swing and depression? The need for privacy and the fearful secrets? Unless you know what you’re looking for the signs are well camouflaged – except with hindsight. With hindsight I can see the difficulties my parents faced, just as they can see what they missed, but neither of us can go back. I can’t go back and make it clearer or speak out. Except for last night, when the child took over and cried for her mother. And her mother came.
I don’t know how long I was shut upstairs, but my partner did call for my mum, and she came to get me. She held me, she let me cry, she soothed me, and then she took me home to my dad. She took me away from the strange things that were scaring me and took me back to the safe and familiar. It was there that memories started coming back bit by bit, the fact that we’d moved house, that my siblings had moved away, that I’d switched bedrooms, memories from older childhood and early adolescence bringing me closer to myself. The rest was done through sleep, I basically dreamed my life back, waking confused but myself.
My dad suggested that my mind, having endured a week of relentless flashbacks, reset to an earlier age in an attempt to put the memories back to where they’re supposed to be in my past, then relive the rest of my life to put the proper distance between the traumatic memories and my adult self. It’s a good theory, it makes sense to me, it also makes me marvel yet again at how the mind works, the lengths it goes to to adapt and protect. But something even more important happened as consequence, my inner child finally got to tell her mother that she was scared, and my parents finally got to comfort their little girl. And I think that is the biggest breakthrough of my life. It couldn’t have happened without hindsight, for them it was knowing what they didn’t know then, knowing what had happened years ago, for me it was spending my adult life finding the words and then the confidence to communicate them, for all of us it was a patience borne of many years frustration and confusion, of mistakes and misunderstandings on both sides.
There are themes here that I will be coming back to explore further – how to recognise a teenager with mental health problems for one, and the importance of your inner child for another – but for now I shall simply dedicate this post to my mum and dad. The little girl is still in here, and the adult me will pay more attention to her needs from now on.