Thank god for Everest. As far as icebreakers go, there’s nothing better than a tiny bouncy kitten who’s oblivious to the awkwardness in the room.
My first session back with Anna wasn’t terrible. It definitely could have been worse. But it was pretty challenging.
One of the great and terrible things about Anna is that she doesn’t beat around the bush. After five minutes of watching Evee explore and idly chatting, she told me that she doesn’t think I have DID, and that her gut feeling is that I have Pure O (a form of OCD). She talked about what that means for how we work together, and that medication and learning about emotion regulation will be the most important things.
What I heard was something like this: “You’re so gullible for going along with Aisha when she said she thinks you have DID. Things aren’t actually bad for you. You don’t have little parts that need compassion – you just need to learn to suck it up, stop overreacting to things and deal with your emotions better.”
What I said was something like this: “Yeah, that makes sense.”
Anna acknowledged that I was activated, but didn’t ask why, and the conversation moved on – but my brain didn’t, not completely, so the rest of the session was skewed through a triggered lens.
The real challenge came when we talked about my trip home over the holidays. Mostly I had a great time, but it’s got to the point where there’s one ongoing family situation that I just can’t stand by and watch any more.
I was incredibly close to one of my cousins as a child – so close we dressed as twins until we were 15. When I was 16 and she was 17, she got pregnant and my aunt and uncle wanted her out of the house by the time the baby came, so we started looking for an apartment together. I love children, and that baby became the most important thing in my world. I’d been self-harming for 6 years at that point, but I quit cold turkey, because I didn’t want to risk exposing him to it. In the end, my cousin’s partner got transferred to another state so we didn’t end up living together, but still saw each other regularly, and her son grew up calling me Aunty Rea. When I walked into a room, his face would light up and he’d run to me. When I left, he would walk around for days saying “Mummy, I lost Aunty Rea“.
She has a new husband now, and seven kids – four biological and three stepkids – and I don’t know who she is any more. For years, I’ve known that she is neglecting her children. Until I started therapy, I didn’t understand that it was serious enough to warrant outside intervention.
After Christmas, I went down the coast to meet them at our family caravan for a few days. When I drove up, my two year old niece was playing on the road. She’s almost never supervised – she can be gone for an hour without either of her parents noticing. When they do, neither of them go to look for her. The youngest, a nine month old baby, was only being fed two bottles a day, even though she’s supposed to be on solid food and bottles. When she finishes her milk, she screams. My cousin doesn’t play with her or interact with her at all, and she will sit quietly in her pram for hours without crying. She’s incredibly developmentally delayed – she isn’t even rolling over yet.
But her oldest baby hurts my heart the most. He’s seven now, and he’s a smart, active, angry little boy. He needs love and attention so badly. We were sitting together colouring, and talking about when he gets angry – what kinds of things make him angry, and how it feels, and what he can do to feel better. After we’d been colouring in silence for a little while, he said quietly, eyes still on his paper, “I put a cord around my neck and tried to choke myself, and it got stuck and Mummy had to cut it off“. My whole body went numb.
I love these kids so much. But as much as I hate what she’s doing, I love my cousin too.
I told Anna all of this. She affirmed that I was right to be worried, and that the kids are going to have major issues when they get older – I know that, but it hurt to hear it. Then she told me the only thing I could do was make a report to Children’s Services.
I told her “For a few years I’ve been thinking about whether I should move back home and just –” and she cut me off.
“No. No. No. I’m sorry, it’s not for you to do, Re; you’re not healthy enough to do that. This is not your responsibility.”
I shrugged. “It’s got to be somebody’s.”
“No. It’s not yours. I’m serious, Rea. The smartest thing for you to do is make a Children’s Services report.”
This part felt okay. She was disagreeing with me, but it felt like she was protecting me. But then she went on to tell me that I wouldn’t cope, and that the kids would be worse off with me than with my cousin. That really, really hurt. One of the only positive things I can recognise about myself is that I’m great with kids and my nieces and nephews adore me. Okay, yes, there’s a difference between playing a mean game of hide and seek and being a mother. But I know how to talk to children. I know how to sit down with my niece with a picture book and use it to help her understand her emotions; to ask her how the people in the pictures are feeling, and why, and what things make her feel like that. I know that when my nephew is hurt or upset and telling me to go away that leaving him is the last thing I should do; that if I sit with him, quietly, he will crawl into my arms to be held. As a child of a mother with mental illness, I know how it can affect children, and I know to be mindful of myself. I wouldn’t be perfect, but I’d sure as damn hell be better than my cousin.
I felt ashamed that she seemed to think so little of my capacity to be a parent, ashamed of having a mental illness, and angry that (from my perspective) she didn’t know me at all. It didn’t feel like she was protecting me any more – it felt like she was protecting them from me.
I like that she’s honest with me. I like that she has the best interests of my nieces and nephews at heart. But I still feel wounded.