I have the worst neighbours.
So there I was enjoying an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale (except the bit where June cuts off her ear) when I notice an email on my phone from Dr K telling all her clients she’s had her baby with photos included. At first I stare at the email trying to feel something and my whole body goes still like it does just before you do huge sneeze. I know this feeling – this jarring nothingness – “Quick! Look away, look away from the email!” I tell myself. But not in time.
* * *
Years ago I saw psychologist Dr K (who I returned to briefly this year and then she left to have a baby) and back then she tried to tell me that I had several parts that made up my internal family. I pretty much told her I thought she was bonkers – never mind that she had a PhD, I’m one person thank you and that’s all there is to it.
So, yeah I was wrong.
It turns out that no one has a single fully integrated personality until about the age of 7-9. Forget about pizzas and imagine you’re born with mind that is a block of undeveloped land.
If you’re younger than 7 and a baddie does bad stuff to you a lot, your mind builds a little granny flat on the land away from the main house and sends a bit of yourself off there to live in it and deal with all that bothersome nonsense. That way you won’t have to store the memories in your house and can get right back to skipping rope or trying to eat the dog or whatever childhood milestone you’re up to.
And if the granny flat gets too full, well you just go right ahead and build another granny flat and pop a part of yourself in there with more junk and then go back to enjoying your life in the main house.
Of course if there is just sooooo much bad stuff going on, you might have to sell some of your land such that the granny flats are no longer on your property at all and that way you can have nothing to do with the parts of you that live in those flats at which point you probably have full blown Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly Multiple Personality Disorder).
I have a handful of granny flats but there are 2 with the noisiest occupants. In flat 1 lives a very young needy toddler and in the other lives a vicious inner critic who unfortunately had to store most of the nasty stuff but who also tends to wander out of their granny flat and come raging into my house ready to fight me and who occasionally makes it out my front door and screams at motorists who SHOULD BE IN THE LEFT FUCKING LANE IF THEY’RE GOING TO DRIVE SO SLOW ON A MOTORWAY – JESUS CHRIST!
Usually I go about my life in the main house but when psychologist J had been helping me discuss memories, I found myself dissociating into a granny flat such that I might, for example be experiencing the world from the perspective of the angry inner critic, looking at a granny flat full of terrible memories, hearing the adult me far off in the distance all while sitting in a therapy room I didn’t recognise wondering why some random adult was staring at me asking me how I’m feeling while scribbling on a notepad at which point I would say “I don’t know who you are” and the unknown adult would introduce themselves as my psychologist and try to help me clean up the flat.
Psychologist J had also been encouraging me to visit the granny flats and get better acquainted with the occupants and maybe even – GASP – befriend them to which I complained I have a real child to take care of with his own disability, so I’d rather NOT get to know these broken child bits if that’s all the same to you. Can’t I just continue ignoring them while they squat on my land? Apparently not, that’s not the path to healing and I suppose psychologist J doesn’t have all those degrees on his wall for nothing.
On the plus side, in getting to know the granny flat occupants I’ve come to realise they aren’t such bad kids, mostly they were trying to do their best to take care of stuff that didn’t belong anywhere near a child. On the downside, now we are better acquainted they seem to think they can visit me whenever they please and drag all their junk and nightmares into my house or lock me out of my own home and take over my body. The worst offender is the inner critic who is thrilled to know there is someone other than me out there that they can direct their rage at and “ooooh just look at all those relationships I can meddle with!”
With both psychologist J and psychologist Dr K on leave, to my relief all occupants of the granny flats also decided to go away and things were so quiet I started feeling totally genuinely SUPER NORMAL so much so that I was thinking I might take an extended break from therapy and, I don’t know, heck …knit a scarf or something.
Of course the quiet didn’t last. Everything went TOO STILL when I saw that email and then suddenly the door in my house slams open and the inner critic comes stomping in, pushes me out of the way and starts shouting at the phone.
I don’t want to know this! Why did she send me this? Do I need to know she had a short unmedicated labor? Is she trying to make you feel bad about needing an induction and methadone to give birth? Why does she have to rub it in MY face that she got to feel JOY and EXCITEMENT holding her precious *eyeroll* child! Doesn’t she remember my mother gave birth to my sister while HE was doing those things to me?!?
Hey, ummm ok, I say to the raging intruder, I think this might be one of those moments we’re overreacting.
Shut up! Don’t tell me how to feel! She told me I wasn’t allowed to email her anymore but she gets to shove this happiness in my face like ooooh look at me having yet another happy moment you won’t get to experience!
Ok I think this is a shame storm of some kind. Breathe. You’re not in that family anymore. You won’t be punished for missing her.
The conversation goes on like this for some time with tears running down my face and my body feeling a bunch of pokey pokey flashbacks sensations and then a kind of deathly shame but not before the inner critic has emailed psychologist J to tell him in capslock that I’M OVER EVERYTHING and for sure NEVER COMING TO THERAPY AGAIN!
I eventually figure out that her email unlocked a closet containing yet another bag of “mother issues” and Dr K emailing me while I’m not allowed to email her back is all too similar to my mother who neglected me from day one because I disgusted her, but who to this day, sends me emails with photos to just to let me know what a great life she’s having without me.
The problem with these kinds of tenants is you can’t evict them and any amnesic walls around my home created in childhood have been crumbling for some time now. So I begin the clean up. First will be some compassion for those very young parts of me with unmet needs, then I might find something intense to distract myself from the bees of regret buzzing round my ears perhaps by concentrating very hard on ALL THAT BLOOD coming out June’s ear while she cuts it off – gross! – and lastly, the part I always hate the most, will be the in-session apology to psychologist J for saying or doing something irrational. Of course he won’t accept my apology because in his words “we are piecing together memories that can only be remembered by interacting together in ways that feel full of feeling and deeply familiar“. Such is the messy noisy work of dismantling granny flats and rehoming the tenants.
Cheryl Malmo PhD & Toni Suzuki Laidlaw PhD (2010) Symptoms of Trauma and Traumatic Memory Retrieval in Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse, Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 11:1, 22-43,DOI: 10.1080/15299730903318467
Van Der Hart, O., Nijenhuis, E.R.S., & Steele K., The Haunted Self, Structural Dissociation and the Treatment of Chronic Traumatization, 2006, W.W.Norton and Company, New York.