The empty egg breaks


If the past week has taught me anything, it’s that I’m very definitely dumped. 

I feel like a faulty Cadbury Creme Egg, one that didn’t get any creme filling. I’ve taken a knock and come apart and there’s no substance inside. Nothing. 

The wrapper is torn and I’m squelched underfoot now – time for the bin. 

What does a girl do when all her hopes, plans and dreams have revolved around building a life with someone who doesn’t want her anymore, and probably hasn’t for quite some time?

I’m guessing normal girls watch movies, eating delicious things in their pyjamas, while their friends either commiserate with them in person, or offer support over the phone. 

Maybe they go out, get drunk, end up shouting, “Baaaaah! Who needs love anyway?” and then snog someone at the first opportunity, just to prove they can. 

Maybe they race to find a new partner. Or maybe they race to improve their own lives and find contentment and meaning that way… and probably a wonderful new love later on. 

The problem is, I’m not a normal girl. I haven’t got anyone to chat to or drink with. Nobody’s going to tell me I was too good for him (I wasn’t). Nobody’s going to tell me I can do better (I can’t) or any of that other trite and irritating “it all happens for a reason, babe” stuff. 

I look down the corridor of my future and, where open doors of opportunity once lay, now there is only the blinding white of locked doors. 

It’s all gone. The home I hoped to share with him. The happiness I hoped we could build. The healing. 

The meaning of all that I’ve invested: the time I spent writing him love letters, knitting for him, sewing for him, scouring the world for ways to show him how much I love him, how special he is. It’s all gone. 

Every effort, every tear, every butterfly in my stomach has turned to ash in my mouth, and I cough and splutter until I am nearly sick. Sometimes I am sick. The rest of the time, I’m huddled over with pain. I can’t eat. 

I’m trapped in the corridor of closed doors and so I keep looking at them, forced to think of what’s hidden and barred to me forever: safety, a happy family, a loving partner, a purpose. 

There will be no validation. No self-worth. 

I try not to think about the little things – like the holidays we had dreamed of, the walks and bike rides together – or the frightening practical things, like how I will cope as a chronically and mentally ill woman with no job or savings. 

I try not to think. I try to let it all wash over me, to sit with my pain and let it go. 

But, trapped in a corridor of closed doors, where is a girl to go?

Caterpillars

IMG_8160

Today it happened: the GP talk I’d been dreading for quite some time.

“Your cholesterol is a little high,” she said, looking at my blood test results. “You need to try and bring that down.”

I gulped. My cholesterol has always been fine before.

“You need to exercise more and eat less carbohydrates,” she said.

“I… exercise has been a problem,” I said. “I often have trouble just walking. As you can see,” I went on, gesturing at my medical notes on her computer. “My joint problems have prevented a lot of activity.”

Something tore open inside me, some last pocket of hope that I was OK, that I could still possibly be construed as attractive and worthwhile, and not entirely unwell. I wanted to believe I was still the same slim person I’d been most of my life, that I just had to shed the arthritis and I’d go back to normal.

I realised in that moment that the doctor (the slender, glamorous doctor) saw me as a fat person – a lazy, bad eater, who just needs to pull my socks up and try harder to lose weight. Her advice was based on assumptions, not on an assessment of why I’ve gained weight and my cholesterol levels have gone up.

She has no idea how much exercise I do or what I eat. She doesn’t know anything about me other than a few results on a screen. She’s not even my regular doctor. She doesn’t know I wear orthopaedic shoes or sometimes use a walking stick. She doesn’t know I spent months unable to stay up for longer than about four hours per day. She has no idea what it feels like to wake up feeling like someone’s beaten her joints with a baseball bat in her sleep.

Her entire assessment of my health – and my moral character – involved looking at me and my pathology results and deciding I was fat.

The proof of this was in her response.

“OK,” she said, accepting that I can’t exercise as much as I’d like. “In that case, you need to look even harder at your diet. Less carbohydrates and more greens.”

I blinked, possibly due to my brain short circuiting. I already eat very little, and I eat plenty of greens. I always have, because I actually like them. The only problem I’ve had in preparing vegetables has been my physical difficulty in chopping them up – not an insignificant problem, but I’ve done my best to push through.

“OK,” I said, and got ready to leave, but she wanted to talk about my mental health.

“Any bad thoughts?” she asked.

“No, I’m all right,” I said, because someone who assumes I don’t eat my broccoli, and who tells me my immune system is “perfectly fine”, is going to have to work a bit harder to win my trust.

She pressed harder and I tried not to confess that my only current bad thought was a sneaking suspicion that she’d glued her eyebrows on. They looked like a pair of dark caterpillars, peeling at the ends nearest her nose, and possibly neatened up with thick brown paint and a stencil.

For a split second I imagined them straining to escape and crawl away.

I could identify with that. I just wanted to get away from her and her lovely outfit and silky hair and faux-concerned, made-up face.

I couldn’t help seeing myself as I imagined she saw me: a fat, lazy hypochondriac who was probably about to drive my car 50 metres to get a family size portion of chips and a vat of Coke for morning tea.

Instead, I went home and, at lunch, had a tiny tub of quinoa, lentils and red peppers, and then a few almonds as a snack.

The doctor doesn’t need to tell me I’m fat. Every time I see my reflection I want to cry. And it feels like no matter what I do, I just get fatter.

Hollow

Yesterday was a bad day. 

There were, it seemed, a thousand criticisms. What I’ve done. What I do, always do and always will do. 

My fault, all of it. 

Disgusting, disgraceful. Have I no shame?

I’m at him and at him and at him. I keep him prisoner. I’m manipulative, abusive: controlling him, he says, by telling him I’m suicidal or that I have a compulsion to self-harm. I won’t let him leave: I cry – no, wail – when he approaches the door. 

I wouldn’t let him leave properly when he tried to split up with me. He was trapped by my misery, trapped by the thought of what I might do to myself. Even my welcoming him back into the house, or offering him dinner, was just proof of a delusion on my part (at best), or another form of selfish manipulation (at worst). Why couldn’t I just give up and leave him alone?

I make it impossible for him to work, and always have done. I deny him sleep by talking about my feelings at night when the children are asleep. I interrupt him at work when I’m not coping. I deny him peace by not coping. I stop him from being able to think. 

I talk about the news and want to share articles with him when he comes home,  even if he’s got his computer out to work, and is therefore unavailable. I stop him from working and therefore rob him of more sleep later, because he’ll have more work to do as I’ve wasted his time talking. 

I shouldn’t be reading the news anyway. I should be using my time more productively. 

I want to chat with him because I don’t have a life. I lock myself away and don’t meet friends or lean on relatives (though he doesn’t mean my mother – he thinks it would be best if we were able to cut her off, as do every psychiatrist and psychologist I’ve ever seen). I pressure him because I don’t tell anyone else I’m mentally ill, and dump everything on him (even the general chitchat), when he wants none of it. 

I talk and talk. I complain about my past, the hurts inflicted long ago that I should, by now, have forgotten. 

I whinge about my family. 

I whinge about everything. I am tedious. 

I never let him speak. I am incapable of a two-way conversation. 

My interests are hypocritical. He asked me recently: how can I claim an interest in social justice or human rights when I’m a controlling, manipulative abuser myself?

And why do I just accept what he says about me? What am I inside: hollow? Can’t I have my own personality? He doesn’t want to be the boss, doesn’t want the responsibility. It’s stressful and exhausting shielding me from everything. 

I should never have told him that I feel like a husk of a person. I should never have confessed that, when faced with his arguments, all my own evaporate and I’m left confused and unable to defend myself. Because now he says it back to me and all I can say is “yes, I’m hollow, and no, I don’t know who I am”, and I realise that everything else he says must be true too. 

I forget things. Big things, traumatic things. (But not just things I’ve said and done, I should point out. Things said and done to me. It makes grudge-bearing very difficult.)

Which is the real me, he asks: the one acting out of wild, uncontrolled emotion, or the other one, the “most of the time” me?

Why do I want to marry him, anyway? Can’t I see there is no foundation for that sort of commitment? Can’t I see how difficult it is for him when I mention marriage?

I am an abuser. Emotionally, for years, dragging him into my Borderline hell. Trapping him. 

I thought I was kind to him, but I was never anything but demanding, he says. I put the effort in to the relationship, he agrees, but it wasn’t love or kindness, it was just me being demanding. My “generosity” was just another way of being needy. A symptom. 

Meanwhile, I stopped him from having friends, ruined his career prospects, stopped him from having a life. Stopped him from evolving as a person. 

I lash out. I am nasty. I say cruel things I don’t mean. It doesn’t matter that I apologise immediately, accept responsibility and try to make up for it.

It doesn’t matter that I say I know he didn’t deserve to be spoken to that way. That, he says, is an admission that he should have left me, because who puts up with nastiness they don’t deserve? My taking responsibility is just an acknowledgement that he shouldn’t be with me (it’s implicit that I deserve to be alone). 

It doesn’t even matter that I’ve changed, that every fibre of my being is engaged in the process of trying to be healthier and better. 

I’ve harmed myself in front of him, or I’ve told him or shown him that I’ve done it, numerous times in the past. This is violence. I am a violent person. 

I’ve grabbed at him and shoved him and I cannot be forgiven (and this is enough to kill me because I never meant to hurt him, I swear it, and I’m so sorry, I’d punish myself any possible way to prove it). I’ve been someone else’s fearful wife and I don’t want to be my ex-husband, screaming abuse and terrorising my family, telling everyone else it’s all their fault, telling them that’s how they deserve to be treated. 

My partner once took our then-baby to work, to a meeting, because he thought I’d harm myself or kill myself with the baby in the room. (My one bit of self-defence here: I would never leave my precious son alone to cry for someone who wasn’t coming.)

But I am abusive. 

I have traumatised the love of my life. He is ashamed that he’s put up with me. 

I blow up at my daughter. It’s disgusting and doesn’t matter that I apologise. I fail her every day.

I sleep too much and don’t keep a clean house and complain when people don’t pick up their dirty dishes, which I shouldn’t complain about because I’ve never had a clean home, not the whole time we’ve lived together. Maybe if I was a good housewife I’d have grounds to complain about things, but not now. Probably not ever. 

Every bad pattern – especially our toddler’s sleep – and domestic problem in this house is my fault, but it’s difficult to fix because everybody has an unreasonable fear of upsetting me. 

I’ve cut my partner off from support: he feels he can’t call an ambulance or CAT (Crisis Assessment and Treatment team) after my previous terrible responses. 

Lately, I had been a little bit proud of my progress. Things were changing, I thought, in a positive way. Hope and happiness leaked into my heart and made me smile, made me believe that perhaps life could get better. 

I haven’t self-harmed in months. I haven’t had all the melt-downs or demanded hours-long talks about my feelings, “demanding comprehension” from my partner (which is one of his absolute all-time pet hates). I’ve had a little more energy, and much less pain in my joints, so have been able to do more around the house. I’ve even been working on redrafting a novel, which I hadn’t looked at for ages. 

But all the “progress” is no more than a castle in the air. 

I told him that so much criticism is hard to take, too much for me to process at once. 

He said he wasn’t mean, that he didn’t say anything that wasn’t true, or bring up anything I didn’t do. He didn’t understand why I felt so miserable and hurt. 

“I don’t think I said anything controversial,” he tells me, puzzled, and this is what makes everything so difficult to cope with. 

Husk-me, hollow me, has filled up with all this information he’s laid out, accepting it as truth. I can’t find a single good quality hidden in myself. Not a single thing for anyone to love or even like. I have swelled with pain and self-hatred until I could burst. I felt a need, so strong, to harm myself, just to let some of the pain out and ease the pressure, but still, I resisted. I gritted my teeth and rode it out, and I coped. 

I feel much calmer now but have no idea how I’m going to bounce, how I’m going to find some compassion for myself and allow myself to heal enough to get back on the wagon and make more progress. 

I don’t think I even deserve compassion. He does tell me to be good to myself, but he also disbelieves me when I try to explain why I behave the way I do sometimes, when I tell him it only comes out of excruciating emotional pain, and I’m sorry, sorry, sorry, but it just hurts so much I can’t keep it in. 

I don’t even know if healing and progress are possible anymore. 

A few days ago, he told me I should think about forgetting the novel, considering my inability to shake off criticism and rejection. 

“I’m much better able to take it than I used to be,” I said. 

“True,” he said, but went on to say that I’ll probably be happier, in the long run, if I just give up. I can’t help thinking the same applies to every other dream and ambition. 

Right now, I just wish I could go to bed and sleep until I wake up, magically transformed into a different, mentally well person. Magically worthy of love and forgiveness. Worthy of trying again to get things right. 

Oxygen

“For now, I’m just enjoying your company,” he says. “Taking it one day at a time.”

I’m holding my breath, afraid that, any minute now, the oxygen will be sucked from the room. 

His love. His approval. Gone. 

Without him, a vacuum will open, sucking my innards out, tearing every part of me to shreds (which is what I think, deep down, that I deserve). 

He’s back, my beloved ex-fiancé, but still my ex-fiancé, because there is no commitment, no promise. Just “for now” and “one day at a time”.

I smile, still holding that breath, and I try to be Zen. I concentrate on staying in the moment. 

For now, he’s back. For now, there’s oxygen and warmth and I exist. 

For now, he enjoys my company. 

Don’t breathe, I tell myself. Don’t think about the future. Don’t look left at the unworn wedding dress in the open wardrobe. Don’t look down at the negative pregnancy test stick, dropped months ago and now peeping out from under the bed.

Don’t think. Don’t breathe. Just smile and stay in the moment. 

Searching for synovitis

This week I had ultrasound scans of my hands and feet, which I was hoping would prove my symptoms are real and in need of some decent treatment.

The scans were performed on two separate days because, apparently, Medicare doesn’t cover two hands or two feet being scanned at the same time.

And yet, one hand and one foot at the same time is perfectly acceptable (presumably, as long as said hand and foot are on the same side of the body).

My medical timeline for the week
  • Easter Monday: public holiday.
  • Tuesday: psychiatrist, who said I deserved a medal (things were looking brighter then); GP (to ask for separate referrals for left-side and right-side scans); radiology clinic for right-side scans.
  • Wednesday: left-side scans.
  • Thursday: possible collapse of toe on left foot (similar to collapsed toes on right foot).
  • Friday: long appointment with GP to: 1) discuss results and make future plan of attack re arthritis/rheumatologists, and: 2) draw up a new mental health plan.

The upshot of the scans is that, apart from excess fluid, they could only see synovitis in my left foot. I think this means I’ll be “waiting and seeing” until everything finally falls apart.

Sometimes I feel like my doctors think I’m just a hypochondriac, despite the collapsing toes and swan-necking fingers. Unfortunately for me, I’m at my most inflamed in the evenings and at night: hot, red-fleshed, and hobblingly stiff. That’s when I need my examinations to take place, not during  9 am – 5 pm clinic hours.

Between all these appointments, looking after kids, resting when the pain gets too much, and trying to swallow my grief (but vomiting instead), I don’t have time for much else.

I don’t know how I’ll ever manage to get and hold down a job. Standing on my own two feet seems beyond the realm of all possibility, even with the help of my orthotics.

Empty

Empty, by The Cranberries, was one of my favourite songs as a teenager. I could only aspire to the incredible Dolores O’Riordan’s vocal talents, but I would sing this to myself in my room, quietly, when I thought nobody could hear.

Today this song popped into my head and, as I don’t have any of my old CDs, I looked it up on YouTube.

Unfortunately, the song was preceded by an ad for an ovulation predictor kit – the last thing I want to see when I’m reflecting on how all of my plans fell through my hands!

For a couple of blissful days over Easter, I thought my beloved ex was coming home for good.

And then I made a classic mistake: I thought he was angry at me, I tried to clarify the situation, I made him angry for real by “forcing” him to “understand” my feelings, I cried, which  made him angrier, I tried to mend things and I just made him angrier still by talking when he just wanted me to be quiet and let him sleep.

He can’t bear my compulsion to make up after an argument, to fix things, to reconcile immediately, and so my best efforts are worse than pointless: they’re ruinous.

I would love to stop, to be the perfect partner, but I have my own needs (however unhinged they may be), and I can’t simply go to sleep when my misery is so extreme that I’m squashing thoughts of self-harm, but the feelings still demand an escape, and, for example, cause vomiting and chest pain.

I picked myself up and tried again the next day.

Keep hoping. He’s come home. He still loves you. Be patient – you’ve put him through a lot. Be patient and kind and don’t hurt yourself and everything will be OK.

The next night, he decided to leave again. And here I am. Empty.

Shiny, shiny fat pants

Time to get myself out there and hold my head high. Time to tell myself I’m not hideous. I’m a swan. Not just two handfuls of swan-neck deformities, but a whole, beautiful swan.

I haven’t managed a shower in some days (am alone with a toddler who won’t sleep, and who destroys the bathroom in the time it takes me to brush my teeth), so my hair is getting harder to tame. I did a quick straightening job on it a few days ago after the last wash, but it’s starting to curl up and point in all the wrong directions again.

It’s been at least four – maybe five – months since I hacked my hair off. Distraught, unmedicated, undiagnosed. Cutting my hair was always part of my spiral of self-harm.

I wish it was long again, able to be tamed with pins and elastic bands. I wish my scars away, too, but that’s another story.

For now, it’s me, my disobedient hair, and a broken comb. My son in the base of the shower, unscrewing the top of the shampoo. I have to be quick.

A miracle worked by the broken comb. A rub of makeup over the tired face, the blotches, the grey eye bags, the eyebrow regrowth zones. Blush: a touch of life. The mascara wand waves and the spell is complete. I look normal. Functional. Almost.

I’m wearing a bright new dress (being too chunky for all my old ones), and a silicone teething necklace. I pull a pair of control pants on, concerned that I look pregnant in the dress. At last, I slip my tights on, pull on my one and only pair of shoes, and zip my son out the door in his pram.

It’s a beautiful autumn day. There are dogs and birds to point at, motorbikes and babies and cafe doors to wave at.

I walk towards the city, my shoe’s broken heel clattering on the paving. I’m limping. Sporadic, severe pain leaks from my little toe into the rest of my foot. My ankles feel as though they’re about to snap. My right wrist hurts so much I resort to pushing the pram with my left hand only.

Think swan, I tell myself. Elegant and graceful. Calm. Happy. (No honking in the street.)

It’s then that I notice something distinctly inelegant. Something rather uncomfortable: that terrible feeling of slipping underwear.

Perhaps it’s my knickers creeping down inside the control pants. They’re a bit baggy. It seems likely.

I walk on and the feeling gets worse by the step. I try to catch my reflection in the shop windows. Any weird elastic-induced bulges visible? Segmented buttocks?

I look normal. And yet, the slipping feeling gets worse. Fabric slides over my hips and there’s a sagging between my thighs.

At last, I realise: my tights are slipping down, unable to grip the shiny control pants. Any minute now and the top of my tights will be visible below the hem of my dress, especially if I bend forward.

I try to pull the tights up as I walk, without grabbing too obviously. These days, anyone could have a camera. I could end up on YouTube or Facebook, a joke.

  • Fat mum’s tights fall down
  • Fat mum tries to pull sagging tights up and flashes fat pants to the world
  • Fat mum flashes fat

Keep walking, I tell myself. Act normal. Be the swan. Little pulling-up movements nobody will notice. Just act normal until you can get to a toilet and then pull them up properly or take them off altogether.

Act normal. Be the swan.

And in just a few minutes, everything is fixed. I’ve kept my calm and everything is ok.