*trigger warnings for talk of suicide and domestic violence*
One of the things I have found out about life is that it keeps going on.
At my most depressed, when I had post natal depression after Sammie was born, had a violent husband at home, and was being badly abused by my first treating therapist, I sadly went through a time where I found out that life isn’t actually all that easy to end.
This came up last week at work when talking to workmates. Working in a team of people with aspergers means most of have faced horrific bullying growing up. What this means is most of us have faced feeling suicidal during at least one point in our lives. Somehow the topic attempted suicide came up – I’m actually not even sure how it first came up because I joined the conversation after it had started.
The big thing I remember out of the conversation is the discussion about how strong the unconscious desire of the human spirit to stay alive is. Which means dying “before our time” is also not easy.
So where does that leave us human beings?
It means that if dying isn’t that easy, then we have no choice but to live. And if we have no choice but to live? Then we have to get on living!
No. This is not one of those depression-bashing, ignorant posts written by someone who has never experienced really depression or trauma. I know all too well that feeling of being disgusted by ignorant people who tell those with depression or PTSD to “get over it”, “just move on” etc. Which is why ‘d never tell someone else to get on living.
But why I wrote it, is an encouragement, rather than a command.
I want to encourage those who are suffering with depression, or trauma, or grief or any other difficult emotion right now – especially those who are wondering if life is worth continuing – I want to encourage anyone who feels like that, that dying actually isn’t easy, nor is it a solution, and that if you have to keep existing, then try to face life with the view of not just surviving, but with the view of actually living.
I know it sounds cliched. I know it sounds like I don’t know what I’m talking about. I know it sounds like I can’t possibly know how bad your pain is, or how awful what you’ve suffered or are still suffering is. But I wanted to say, I may not know what you’ve suffered or what you’re suffering, I may not know how your suffering is from a personal perspective.
But one thing I do know, is that there is something worse than living and dying – and that is living in limbo – the “just surviving”. I know because I’ve been in that place before.
In some ways, it’s a normal part of the grieving process – ie that first period in time when you put your life on hold to gather your thoughts, to process your emotions over what has happened, to work out how to deal with it going forward.
Unfortunately when faced with depression or PTSD, it can be all to easy to get stuck in that time out period. If you think of depression itself as a trauma to the mind, getting stuck in taking time out of life when suffering from depression or PTSD is actually a very normal response to an abnormal situation. It’s a mourning period.
But why I wanted to write about this is because I wanted to encourage those of you who are suffering depression or PTSD or anything similar, that (if you can!) it’s okay to keep living. It’s okay to move out of that cocoon of mourning.
I’m not saying you have to. And if it’s something you’re not ready to do at this point in journey, that’s okay. But I’m here to encourage you that if you can find a way to return to living not just surviving, that it can help.
It won’t take away your pain, but it might help. It won’t necessarily change your situation, but it might, at least for some people, help improve things.
Why am I writing about this? Because it’s what I’m trying to do at the moment.
Things are hard. Things are very hard. For those readers who don’t know me personally, I’ve had to move house, I’m starting over as a single parent again with two children this time, Sammie is traumatised by everything that has happened, and as a teenager her favourite person to take that out on is mum [me], Rose is also traumatised and even though she can talk, she’s not old enough to verbalise how she’s feeling and it’s coming out in all the non verbal ways that kids show they are traumatised and struggling, John’s response is to tell Sammie that we all “just have to move on” from the things that have happened, even though the most painfully abusive things are actually still happening [there are things that are actually more painful than violence].
But ever since the really painful things all blew up just over two months, I’ve been in that “time out of real life” period. I’ve barely worked in that two months, I’ve dealt with countless professionals – police, courts, child protection, support agencies, and so on, the first month I was plagued with nightmares and that’s when I was actually able to sleep, the nightmares are back to their usual levels (even though I must admit I still struggle to sleep due to worry for Rose’s safety), and all the other things that go with horrific traumas involving domestic violence and abusers that take out their anger at the victim standing up to the abuse, out on the children.
But I decided in the last few days, my “time out from real life” is over.
I’ve given my statement to the police – over John’s violence and over John’s breaches of the DVO I took out – but unfortunately the police have got back to me that they won’t charge him over the violence because most of the incidents weren’t witnessed (and the ones that were witnessed, were in another state, or I didn’t know the exact date of when they occurred, or had one of the other seemingly endless loopholes that allows violent perpetrators to get off violent assaults) – the fact that most incidents of domestic violence are never witnessed doesn’t seem to matter, and when it comes to breaches of the domestic violence order, apparently sneaking into someone’s home when the one thing you’ve had put in the order (other than the usual “be of good behaviour”) is to stay away from the property, is “insignificant”, especially when you’ve chosen to move out (but haven’t moved out yet) in the hope that the abuser’s obsession with money, material things and the home means if you just give them what they want, they might leave you alone, and you’ve made it very clear in court, in attempts at mediation, that all you want is for them to stay to stay away until you can find somewhere else to live and gather your things and leave – apparently breaching the DVO to intimidate and scare someone just isn’t a big deal to the police – “insignificant”.
The fact that it just makes John more confident in doing what he likes to the kids and I, because he thinks he will get away with it (because so far he has), means nothing to the police.
But this post wasn’t meant to be about sharing my frustrations with our legal system that protects abusers and violates victims all over again.
So I’ve done all I can with the police at this time, I’ve done all I can with the family court legal process until the first hearing in a few months, I have heard the interim DVO mediation, the DVO hearing isn’t for another few weeks, I’ve told child protection about the abuse of the kids (and can’t change their attitude is the same as those that I dealt with when Sammie and I escaped her violent father, ie that “the family court is involved now, it’s up to them to make decisions”), I’ve found a new place, I’ve moved out of the old place.
I can’t do undo the terrible things John has done to the kids and I, I can’t even do anything more to protect the girls and I from ongoing abuse until a few months’ time when the different things go to family court and domestic violence court.
So what I am deciding to do is to move on from survival mode, leave my “cocoon of mourning” and return to living not just surviving.
In some ways, it is easier for me than for others because at the moment I’m not battling the horrors of biological depression. I am very traumatised by what has happened, and my PTSD symptoms still linger, new ones created in the last few months, as well as the old ones from previous abuse, but I am making the very conscious decision to not them cripple me.
For those of you who have PTSD (or those of you who know someone who has PTSD), please don’t misunderstand – not everyone with PTSD is in a mental (or even a physical) place where they can make that choice. If I was battling a depressive episode at the same time as the hell I am being putting through by John, there is no way I could make just decide to get back to living life as normally as possible. I know all too well that sometimes, the time people need to wrap themselves in a protective cocoon away from the world is a lot longer – and for those who have been abused or traumatised in some other way, or those who are battling other issues (family issues, health issues, whatever), the time it takes to heal can be an enormous amount of time.
But I consider myself “lucky” because, even though it hurts much more going through this a second time, it means I already have the knowledge that I CAN survive this. I consider myself “lucky” because I can still fight to protect my children from violent abusers – some people sadly are not that lucky. I consider myself “lucky” because despite issues like having to cut back my hours at work because of being a single parent again, that I have an amazingly supportive work (management and coworkers) who not only provide professional support, but emotional support, flexibility (as much as possible) to attend things like court hearings, and only care not judgement even in the first few weeks this happened when I had to leave work early multiple times because I couldn’t stop crying for fear for Rose’s safety.
Also because my job has allowed me for the first time in the nearly five years I’ve lived in this city, to finally make genuine friendships with people (other than a small handful of people I’ve met through support groups that are hard to catch up with due to us all struggling with health, and work and/or kids, and hard to find times where we’re available and well enough to catch up). Before now, my only friends have been through my church that I have painfully realised most were not real friends. Many aren’t bad people (in fact most of them have been very genuinely good people) but the “friendships” were more just “acquaintances that talked to each other due to going to the same things”. The “friendships” that have been more than just acquaintances, I have discovered, like many domestic violence abusers, John has been over time poisoning the friendships behind my back over time to isolate me and to make sure when I finally spoke out about his violence and other abuses, that many of them would sadly not want to believe it.
Thankfully some do believe it. In fact, some have been begging me to leave him for a long, long time (even before he became physically abusive). Some have seen some of the abuse, others don’t need to see it because they know John and they know me and they know the controlling, angry, spiteful side of him that he hides so well from most people, and they know if he hadn’t done the one thing I told him I would never tolerate – abuse the children – I wouldn’t have said a negative word about him to anyone no matter how bad things got.
But anyway, I consider myself lucky because even though my marriage to John turned out to be only one sided, until I finally gave in and accepted he didn’t love me and doesn’t even know what love really means, foolishly thinking he felt the same way about me as I did about him, gave me the feeling of safety and having what I thought was a safe emotional space, gave me the chance to heal from previous abuses, and to reach a point where I was strong enough that I didn’t need his support to have my own safe emotional space. I consider myself lucky that it is only in the last 6 months as I have made some amazing friends and found amazing supports (including the managers at my job) that I now have found the strength to realise I don’t need anyone else to feel safe – that if people don’t see the real me, that it is their loss. I am lucky that I am strong enough within myself that I can deal with the abuse from John and not feel beaten by it.
It hurts what John has done and continues to do. More than nearly anything in my life has ever hurt before. But I am strong enough in myself to know that neither he, nor anyone else for that matter, can break my spirit. I will keep fighting to protect my children – from him and anyone else out there who might try to hurt them now or in the future.
So this coming week, with a new month coming, I am leaving the cocoon I have been in the last two months – a cocoon where “real life” got put on hold to live in survival mode that comes when one’s whole life is dealing with police and lawyers and courts etc to urgently try to rescue and protect one’s children. Yes there are court dates still to come, and everything that goes with that, but for now, I am returning to “real life”, heading back to work four days a week (albeit with shorter hours), going back to church somewhat regularly (but at a new church I’ve been attending on and off the last year where domestic violence isn’t just ignored), doing things other than just the bare essentials – I’m even hoping to get back to the gym one day a week to help with my knee pain like the physios keep pushing me to do as a minimum!
Of course, nothing will take away the worrying for Rose when she is with John and not at home here with me. Nothing will take away the pain of seeing Rose and Sammie suffering the effects of trauma from John has done to us. Nothing will take away my own PTSD and hurt. But since there is nothing more I can do, at least in the immediate future, I am going to do my best to get on with life – to show my girls that no matter what the betrayal, no matter what abuse, that I won’t beaten by it, and they don’t have to be beaten by it either – I will show them that I am strong and I am here for them and will fight to protect them no matter what, that they can count on me to not give up. I will show them no matter what life throws at you, that you can come out the other side and not be broken.
It will be hard. Even on the best of days where I can nearly ignore the trauma of past abuse, the pain of present abuse, and the fear of future abuse, I still have to face my physical health issues and how difficult being a single parent is (even for those who are healthy and have far more support than me). Even on my best days, I am plagued by physical pain – from my pre existing health problems, and from ongoing pain from injuries John has given me in the last 18 months – as well as extreme exhaustion from health problems. Sammie still needs more support than the average teenager due to her aspergers and her pre existing trauma issues from the abuse and abandonment from her biological father, as well as how John has treated her. Rose is a typical very hyperactive toddler, as well as dealing with the trauma and needing support for that.
But I am determined to be the strongest person I possibly can be so they know mum is always there for them, and so they know they can conquer their traumatised feelings too. So I am getting out there, returning to normal life. My time for mourning and grieving is over and I am getting back out into the real world.
It will be hard. There will be lots of moments when I want to return to a safe cocoon, but the reality is, the world keeps spinning. It’s okay to take time out to grieve, and to just survive. But the reality is, it’s not healthy to stay grieving for too long, and neither the human mind nor the human body can cope with being in survival mode indefinitely. So I’m leaving my cocoon.
I hope for those of you who are suffering right now, that you are able to find strength and healing so that you can also leave your cocoons. Maybe not immediately, maybe not even in the short term, but one day. Hiding away somewhere safe emotionally has it’s place, and it’s part of the healing process, but just remember, it is only when the butterfly leaves the cocoon that it actually becomes a butterfly.
You have the strength in you to live life, not just survive and not just exist. You too can become a butterfly. It may take time, there will be setbacks at times, but you (and I mean every single person reading this no matter how awful life has treated you) you too can one day find that strength inside of you to be a butterfly.
Even before the hell with John started, it is the experience of my first marriage and other abuses I have been through in life, that is why I fell in love with the metaphors around butterflies, and where my username “i take to flight” comes from.
I am a butterfly, I have been through the deepest darkest nights as a caterpillar, I have taken time out in my cocoon to regroup emotionally, spiritually and practically, and now I leave that cocoon and I take to flight, for me and my wonderful, amazing children.