For the majority of my life I have always asked myself ” What is wrong with me?”. It took me 32 years to define it and understand it all of it, to this point. I couldn’t make any sense of the invisible pain and emptiness I was feeling. I let it fester for my whole life, mostly because I was embarrassed, angry and shamed for expressing myself and my emotions. I am constantly learning more about myself everyday. I’ve also learned I am not alone and it was not my fault.
When I was diagnosed with my third chronic illness Fibromyalgia, the specialist made a couple remarks on my childhood history involving depression and problematic home life as a possible contributing cause in my path with multiple chronic illness. This left me thinking, as I had recently been introduced to Childhood Emotional Neglect and Adverse Childhood Experiences through my therapist not too long before.
That moment when life and all the messed up things you’ve done or had done to you make sense from foggy childhood memories and uncontrolled emotions.
One of my first questions to my Rheumatologist when I was diagnosed was “What’s the chance of my son developing Rheumatoid Arthritis?”. I was told to not worry, only 15% chance, lower because he’s a boy. Everytime he says something hurts I am terrified of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis in the back of my head. Kids get arthritis too. I know he mimics a lot of what I say but it still gets me everytime, they are little sponges. I never want to hurt my son in any way. However arthritis isn’t the only thing I fear passing along to my son that causes pain, I am realizing I am the product of C.E.N. The adversities in my life make my chances high. It took me becoming a mother and a diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis, Fibromyalgia, Anxiety and Depression to make sense of it all. I don’t want to pass any of my baggage along to my son.
In some ways I find mental health problems and emotional scars more painful than all my physical chronic pain and both heighten each other. Vicious cycle. The memories of it are foggy, confusing, and also mixed in with many good memories. Trauma is different for everyone and I am not talking about physical trauma, I am talking about invisible emotional trauma that you didn’t realize was making such a drastic impact on your life til years later after it’s already left a path of destruction. The brain is a powerful organ.
What is Childhood Emotional Neglect?
It’s a deep invisible wound that makes you question if you can overcome it because it barely makes sense to you, your memories of it are foggy and you are conditioned to believe it’s your fault. To some it sounds like Mommy and/or Daddy didn’t love you enough, you are needy and high maintenance. Well sometimes that does affect someone whether they can control it or not because it leaves invisible wounds that later manifest.
The emotional bond between parent and child is missing during crucial development. However, sometimes that bond is absent, whether due to single or absent parent, mentally or physically disabled parent, alcohol, drugs, imprisonment, death or a narcissistic parent and various other reasons.
Parents failure to respond to emotional needs while raising you is the simple definition of Childhood Emotional Neglect, which can be quite severe and considered a form of abuse in some cases, but you can’t always see what fails to happen. There are still signs of C.E.N., when those signs show it’s a bit too late and a possible drastic impact has already been manifesting. Parents themselves often don’t even realize they are doing it or refuse to admit it, putting their needs ahead of their children’s at these crucial times.
My pain was invisible to me but severe and deep it was all I could focus on, all I could portray as it busted out of my seams. I had a void I tried to fill until I became the thing I was missing.
My father worked long stressful hours building a career in the Vancouver Film industry as it started to explode while my mother tended to the home. I have an older brother by two years that I always wanted to impress, so I became a tomboy as I figured he wanted a brother instead of a younger sister.
I was always jealous of what other girls had that I didn’t at such a young age. I wanted to be anyone but myself, I dreamed of being anyone but me. I remember going to other homes and wondering why or how it was so different than mine. Why their mothers weren’t like mine. I wanted the connection they had with their mothers and family. I wanted the happiness I could see in other families.
At one point in my early childhood years it seemed like my mother just gave up on everything, her marriage, herself, our house, our pets, the garden and including me. She fixated on only things that interested her, then she became bitter, cold, manipulative, and vindictive but it wasn’t always the case, we had moments when we weren’t at each other’s throats. Something always triggered either of us into an argument. She was passive aggressive towards me, only kind in front of crowds or belittled me. She turned to unhealthy coping mechanisms for what was wrong with her and projected it onto others. Years later I recognize her depression from understanding my own now but as a child I felt confused, unloved and unwanted which later tormented me through my adolescent years. I felt like everything I did just annoyed her. I still to this day struggle with the question of why, why did this happen in my childhood? What was so wrong with me? I am aware none of it was my fault.
High School Hell
I was bullied at a young age when I was discovering myself and my interests in the goth and underground heavy metal subculture. It seemed like such a competition between the girls and the elitists. I wrote out my frustrations on livejournal, IRC and myspace in my younger years, not understanding them or much ability to communicate. Girls began to become nasty towards me once I started to blossom from awkward metal head tomboy to a girl in boots and miniskirts oh so goth, these comments included coming from my mother. I put on a facade that it wasn’t getting to me but it only made me spiral out of control.
I was called ugly, fat, a midget, a slut, whore, told they were prettier, thinner and had bigger boobs. My photos posted online to make fun of me, yet I was proud of these modeling shots. I questioned myself until they berated the negative emotions into me. As if teenage girls don’t already have body and self worth issues. I became a bitch because it was all I knew at this point. I felt alone, ugly, worthless.
You are more than what they say about you.
I immersed myself into the local alternative scene despite being quite underage, my looks could get me a number off bars and all I wanted was to be accepted by like minded peers. I frequented underage goth dance clubs and heavy metal concerts. I craved the new attention I received from boys and men as I discovered others thought I was pretty. To them I didn’t look like a freak. I wanted to get away, I wanted to be older, free and myself but I craved love and attention in all the wrong ways. I didn’t understand the emptiness inside me for over a decade on.
My passion for dancing started at 14, it became my escape. Invisible Illness eventually robbed my confidence of this, arthritis stole my ability to do so.
To me it felt like everyone and everything was rejecting me as I already suffered from fear of rejection and abandonment without understanding it. What was boiling up inside me found a way to push mostly everyone away or I ran in search for something to fulfill the emptiness in me. I couldn’t control my emotions and my sense of self worth was gone but I didn’t want anyone to see that vulnerability so I manifested unhealthy coping mechanisms. I couldn’t recover for over a decade as the symptoms continued to plague me.
I often felt out of place, dreamed of a better and bigger life for me, the grass seems always greener on the other side. I wanted to be anyone but me, I was tired of being seen as a little kid and made fun of by the people I wanted to connect with. I struggled with relationships. I was sensitive to any criticism and lashed out at any sign of rejection or abandonment. I couldn’t accept compliments. I thought they were fake, ways to hurt me but I became desperate for a love that would fill that emptiness.
I started cutting myself briefly in the 11th grade because I wanted my emotions to be seen on the outside, it was a desperate cry for help. Many people thought that because I was into the goth subculture that I was going through a phase, I would grow out of it. I was being a hormonal teenage girl. Yet it stuck throughout my entire life so far, as has the depression. I avoided teenage pregnancies, ever being arrested, drugs and alcohol. For the most part I wasn’t that bad but my emotions were out of control as I was screaming for help. I had no idea what I needed though. I didn’t understand what was wrong with me.
Often when I needed encouragement, support and guidance my mother told me I deserved the negative attention or was annoyed, shaming me for whenever I exploded in emotions and confusion as a hormonal teenage girl, it seemed she’d rather fight me than nurture me in my suffering. I figured it was just how mother and daughters fight during the teens, but that fighting never stopped. I had to walk on eggshells, fearing anything would set her off if I needed help of any kind.
I dropped out of high school suffering from severe depression just shy of 2 months from graduating. I had missed so much school from sleeping all day because depression was tormenting from the bullying, the neglect, and the much older boyfriend who told me he liked to watch me suffer.
I had no idea how to ask for help or who to ask, I was embarrassed or told I was dramatic. My parents were often at each other’s throats, my grandmother went through two knee replacements while staying with us then shortly passed away. My sense of family diminished when she passed away in my late teens, just days after Christmas, a month before my 18th birthday.
Overtime I became explosive, angry, mean, impulsive, jealous. I wanted to be anyone but myself. Rejection and abandonment became my worst fear. Next I expected it as I pushed people away on purpose.
I exploited my emotions onto others because I myself didn’t understand them yet wanted someone else to feel the hurt I felt inside but couldn’t explain. It took me a long time to admit my mental health problems because I was always shamed for any emotional or medical help I needed as a child from my mother and then how men talk about women being crazy. I remember being scolded for needing help whenever I needed medical help. This caused me to feel guilt whenever I became ill or asking for help, which unfortunately ended up being chronic for me.
It took me years, tons of reading, some therapy, and many mistakes in my life that I realized I was suffering, why I was suffering, and what that suffering was, it was as invisible to me.
I am not a victim, I am a fighter.