On the eve of my reconnection with Anna.
I have been reflecting on how I’ve experienced the past month. How the virus and it’s impact on the world has changed my current way of living and how Anna’s absence in all of this has affected me.
I’ve been thinking about our collective experience of the pandemic. How some may have gone into their well rehearsed freeze response, shutting down emotional responses and feeling safe in their familiar coping strategies. Some may feel the panic rising – a more hyperareousal than hypo. Some may respond with resourcefulness and productivity, masking their feelings. However it is interpreted by our reptilian brain… the unconsious instincts we may be unaware of as we walk through empty towns and are faced with masked people who cross the street to avoid us. The fear of contracting or passing on this virus that has led us to wash our hands til they bleed red raw. It made me think about some of psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s work that I read years ago when I first became interested in different theories of psychology and the human brain.
The collective unconscious is sometimes called the objective psyche. It refers to the idea that a segment of the deepest unconscious mind is genetically inherited and is not shaped by personal experience. Jung believed that the collective unconscious was an inherited collection of knowledge and images that every human being has at birth. People are unaware of the items contained in their collective unconscious. However, at times of personal crisis, the psyche may open a door to the collective unconscious. The images contained in the unconscious are frequently manifested in dreams.
It makes me think of intergenerational trauma and intergenerational wisdom. The mothers, grandmothers and great grandmothers of our families passing down their traumas and their truths. The wars and famines, the tribes and rituals. Birthing their babies in caves lit by fire and howling at the moon. All experiences, emotional imprints, woven into the fibres of our being, our cells and the deepest parts of our brains. An intrinsic knowing that things can feel very right and they can feel very wrong. No matter our individual experiences, we know in our guts, our collective unconscious, what feels safe and what feels unsettling, dangerous.
The current scenes of the pandemic frequenting our tv screens, flooding our various social media feeds have a deep impact to those really paying attention. Our experiences when we leave the house have an affect on us all, both consciously and unconsciously. Our natural instincts are to protect ourselves and to fear the unknown. The invisible threat. It fires up our collective unconscious. There is a deeper impact than we’re aware of currently. Something only time will show.
For many of us, our lives have been turned upside down. If, like me, you grew up in chaos and uncertainty, subjected to emotional neglect and abuse then this ‘new normal’ may have an even deeper sense of impending doom. If, like me, you have fought hard to establish a sense of calm and composure in your adult life, if you’ve dedicated years of your life to building foundations and walls and connections and bonds and bridges and you have delicately and carefully, painstakingly built a life for yourself that feels safe and healthy and beautiful… then this ‘new normal’ feels devastating. It feels like someone has lit a match and burned down the precious world you made for yourself by yourself. The extensive, detailed and varied tapestry of your life that you so carefully laboured over is now singed and shrivelling at the edges and reduced down to a single patch. In an instant. Violently and while your hands were tied behind your back. It felt like all control and freedom was taken from us. It is an assault on all the senses.
For nearly two decades my days have been full, my mind has been busy. I have worked hard not only to build my career but also the other roles in my life – I have built a family and a home (a family home unlike any I lived in as a child). I have grown as a mother, a wife, a friend, a client. I have worked tirelessly at my journey through therapy – focusing purposefully on the goal of recovery. I have dedicated time and energy to building my fitness levels. Focused on fuelling my body and moving my body with a more mindful and loving effort than was ever demonstrated to me as a child. Overnight, many of these purposeful activities and freedoms were taken from me (as they were taken from everyone) and I found myself imprisoned in a forced lockdown. Restricted and forbidden to extend beyond these new limitations.
These forced restrictions were retraumatising for me. They felt like the stuck, alone, isolated, suffocating years of my youth. This is personal to my lived experience as a child. All of the joyful and purposeful things I had enthusiastically and sometimes bravely cultivated in my life as an adult were no longer allowed. I could no longer get in my car and drive to the gym to take part in a class that made me feel alive and fully in my body, part of a group of people all with a shared goal. This felt like I was plunged back to my childhood with a mother who wouldn’t let me join clubs or learn skills I was interested in. A mother who would ‘teach’ me to drive while she was drunk and needed a lift home. A mother who refused to pay for professional driving lessons. It took me years and three failed tests, all paid for by myself, before I finally passed my driving test and gained that desperately needed freedom. The lockdown meant that I could no longer go out for a meal with friends which felt reminiscent of my childhood when we never went for meals out. As an adult this has always felt like a luxury I gifted myself and a pleasure I gladly gave my children. I could no longer take my kids to the park or cinema or museum. Something I could count on one hand the amount of times we did when I was a child. I would pass the parks and longingly watch the other happy children as they played. Thanks to the lockdown I can’t hop on the train and stop in at a wee independent shop or walk to the cafe and sit in the corner journaling and enjoying a cappuccino made my someone else. I am no longer able to go and get my nails done or have my hair cut. A luxury I was never allowed as a child. I would have to endure my mother hacking at my hair whenever she felt like it just as she would hack at my fingernails until they bled at the quick. I would dissociate from the pain of these nail cuttings so much that I now feel close to passing out when I have to cut my own children’s nails. The lockdown dictates that I can no longer sit with my therapist and allow my soul to be filled up with her attunement and presence. An active listening and authentic caring that I never experienced growing up.
I am fully aware that these things that have been temporarily taken from me during this period of quarantine are all indulgent privileges. However they are all also significant triumphs in the new life I was forging for myself, post childhood trauma. Gifts I worked hard to be able to provide for myself. I am attempting to validate my personal experience, while also holding the truth that the very real warriors of this war against the virus are of course our keyworkers. There are always, always others worse off than us. I am holding this awareness as well. This experience has undeniably highlighted my privileges. The wealth of things I had introduced to my life that I now long for are the very things some people have never had the luxury of experiencing. I know this deeply because that was me. I was so very grateful for these things because I didn’t always have them and I’d worked hard to get them. I didn’t take them for granted but now I feel a deepened awareness of how much I had to lose.
I am still privileged now. My home is small but it’s safe and I have a garden. I love the people I live with and they don’t cause me harm. For this I am beyond grateful. I have technology and the internet that allows me to access a community online that keeps me from feeling completely isolated. I am able to afford therapy still, grateful that video sessions exist. I live in a rural village where the little shops are fully stocked with fresh produce and the rolling fields and single tracks always welcome my need to get outside. I am grateful that although our household income is being reduced, we will financially stay afloat. We have access to credit if we need it and we will be able to pay that back in time. It’s not ideal, it’s not part of my plan. But it’s better than it might have been for us ten years ago, twenty years ago… in childhood. I wouldn’t have survived this in childhood.
There is still this panic rising. Less frequently than when the lockdown was first established. This terror at the forced changes. The emotional flashbacks to times when I was locked in a room alone. To a time when I was refused access to friends. To a time when even school was taken from me and I no longer had my safe place and safe people. To a time when my only comfort was food. This lockdown has brought me to a very dark corner in a hidden room in the back of my mind that I have as yet not explored. The grief and overwhelm I’ve experienced was locked away for over twenty years. And I had to re-experience all of this without my attachment figure. Instead I had an emergency replacement that I had to attune to – learn to trust – very quickly – in emotional chaos. Thank god for Linda. She was the exact thing that I needed in the absence of Anna.
Just weeks before the lockdown Anna and I had a few of our most exposing, emotionally vulnerable and connecting sessions. We opened a space that had been locked away for a lifetime. My child was learning to trust her, to be seen by her, to love her and feel loved by her. On the one hand this feels like the worst timing ever. Just as we start to uncover the delicate core wound, this worldwide crisis happens and I can no longer sit with my safe person in our safe place. However, I am also grateful this has happened now, if it had to happen at all. My child has had a taste of her care and connection. Luna, smothered in Anna’s perfume, keeps that small part of me comforted and reassures her that the connection is real and strong and meaningful. I’m grateful that happened, even though it was just moments before this separation.
So, this collective unconscious… this deeper knowing that things just aren’t quite right just now. The awareness that so many of us are misplaced, put in danger, imprisoned (in many cases with an abuser), at risk, alone and isolated… Anna is experiencing it too. It connects us. It connects all of us. As I stand on my doorstep every Thursday evening and clap with my children, I glance over the road and up and down the street and I see my neighbours at their doors and windows clapping and smiling. I hear a trumpet proudly blasting out a triumphant tune. I hear a saxophone in the distance. I hear bagpipes and even a violin. I hear wooden spoons on pots and someone turns their stereo up loud so that Caledonia fills the air. There is a sense of community in this shared chaos. It moves me. I have a deep love for this place that has adopted me as one of its own. I feel at home here. Something I never felt as a child. We never stood still long enough for me to lay roots. On a deeper level the Thursday evening applaud for our keyworkers unsettles me to my core. It feels like we are in the eye of the tornado, while those on the frontline are caught in the twisting force of the storm as it wipes out tens of thousands of souls that were alive and well a few weeks ago.
There is of course a sense of luxury at all this time we have now suddenly gained. Time to bake and make crafts with my kids. Time to learn how to play an instrument. Time to sleep in til mid day and stay up til midnight of we choose. Time to watch more tv than necessary. Time to make home cooked meals every day and eat it as a family. Time to run and play and cycle. Time to write and draw. The very nature of my preoccupation with regret tells me I will look back on this pandemic (if I’m lucky enough to survive it) and wish I’d made more use of all this time. Enjoyed it more, not been so in my head.
I have a video session with Anna tomorrow morning. I noticed she’s already sent me the zoom link. I sat and studied that email, each letter she typed while sitting in her house thinking of me as she set up our meeting. She said she’s looking forward to seeing me. I can’t figure out how I feel. I can’t articulate it. Every emotion on the entire spectrum is swirling inside me like oil in a puddle. So much has happened since I last spoke to her four weeks ago. A friend said to me, ‘I’m hoping for you that it’s going to feel like going home. That familiarity that makes you feel so comfortable and at ease.’ This beautifully reframed things for me in my mind. I may fear her rejection and anger. I may fear my own anger. I may question our connection and her dedication to me, but it may also feel like a familiar coming home to a person who has been there for me consistently for years. Another friend reassured me that, ‘all the words in the world aren’t enough’ to express how I’ve felt in Anna’s absence. Yet also I am reminded that there is time. I can go slowly and gently. She has agreed to twice a week sessions for however long I need. There is no rush and if I know anything about Anna I know that she will welcome a slow pace and a gentle approach. So I need to trust myself and trust her.