I’m currently reading “Getting Past Your Past” by Francine Shapiro, inventor of EMDR. This is making me reflect on early incidents and pre-memories that caused negative feelings, if not trauma. I am not writing them out of a sense of poor me, but rather as a need to acknowledge these early factors.
- Stress in utero: My mother was hugely stressed whilst pregnant with me. They moved to a new city, with one child starting secondary school and the other a new primary school; my father always got anxiety or depressed when he started a new job (which he never acknowledged which made it harder to deal with); they weren’t happy with the move and returned to London shortly after having me.
- Four hourly feeding: my mother will talk of the agonies of listening to me cry for three hours but four hourly feeding was the recommended practice at the time and she didn’t want to break the rules. I fed mine on demand and struggled to last a couple of minutes if one was crying.
- Two weeks in Skye: it sounds like a lovely idea now, but my father carried me on his back for our first holiday in my first year. They still chuckle over the fact that I cried for the whole two weeks, apparently.
- Move to London: around a year old, my father started a new job and we moved back to London, so more stress all around. My eldest sister was excited by moves whereas my middle sister was stressed out about them.
Actual memories (up to age 7 and the family’s next move) – I’m trying to keep to the ones that still piss me off or feel entrenched.
- Being bored: I don’t remember feeling punished but in my first year at school I was left to keep quiet at the back of the class whilst everyone else did alphabet flashcards. I could already read and school didn’t know how to handle that.
- Fear of an upstairs fire: I have no memory of being scared by an actual fire inside or out; I always liked fires; but I remember planning my route upstairs in the daytime, what I wanted and where it was, so that I could race to get it and be back downstairs in the minimum of time. I don’t know whether I was encouraged to play nicely downstairs and that put me off upstairs. I have no idea where that fear came from but it was very real and went away after we moved.
- No choice walkies: whether day trips or holidays, staying at home was not an option. Sharing a tent with my sister and midges in the rain, trailing along behind, controlling hunger and thirst, not having a choice and having little time to enjoy the countryside. What’s not to like!
- Pubs: my sisters and I all agree that after a walk we would get a packet of crisps and possibly a drink to share between us outside a pub while our parents went inside to drink beer and eat food. One of the few memories that we agree on.
- Scrabble: I have no memory of this but my mother tells me it caused her to consider leaving my father and us children. He bragged to her that he had cheated at Scrabble and I hadn’t noticed and he had beaten me. My father, an adult, was ecstatic that he’d beaten a 5 year old at Scrabble. No wonder I never liked it. He hated losing any and all games.
- Public meltdown in the playground: I didn’t want to go home with this girl to play but my mother needed me looked after and had arranged it. I wasn’t friends with this girl but she didn’t deserve my floods of tears as witnessed by all our class mates. Was it just that I had no choice?
- First bully age 6: it was my first amateur play and I think he mocked me a little from the superior vantage point of being a few years older. I might have mentioned it to my mother but she would have told me not to worry, to ignore him or walk away. I had no idea how to respond then and I still struggle.
- 30 second blank age 5: walking back from the fair? with my oldest sister and her boyfriend through a car park. I remember feeling happy, possibly holding hands and then he said or did something and I never wanted to see him again. Maybe he just poked fun at my sister and nothing more. My sister remembers nothing.
- Injustice, not being heard: first year of junior school, through the swing doors. I read a book, 3 lines per page, 20 odd pages, in five minutes and went to change it. My teacher didn’t believe me and made me copy out the book for the rest of the lesson. She could have asked me about the story, checked my understanding but no, I was just punished for good reading. The injustice of it still makes me angry.
- Car travel: I’d be sandwiched between my sisters when we all travelled. As the smallest I would be in the middle seat. All holidays had massive car journeys (Scotland, Wales, Lake District or France) and my car sickness was an inconvenience not to be tolerated so I learned to sleep through as much as possible, lying down in the back after my sisters had decided who would have my head and who my feet. Sometimes the car would have to stop so I could throw up.
- being ill: A clear sign of weakness; my prompt return to school was my father’s concern. There is something about being ignored but I cannot put my finger on a clear memory. I remember having measles, and bowls of custard when ill but mostly being left to sleep away illness on my own in bed. One time I remember feeling grateful when my mother sat with me for an hour in the evening despite having guests as I felt so awful she couldn’t leave me be.
My sisters fought physically a lot, but I don’t remember being bothered by it. Nor do I remember noticing the stress my mother went through trying to get my sister to school before she dropped out, or discussions over her pregnancy and termination. Yet there must have been plenty of tension. My other sister discovered God at a similar time and that too would have caused some intense discussions behind closed doors (or more likely out on walks).
Then we moved and everything changed but the foundations to how I reacted to what followed were already set.