Family Estrangement After Childhood Trauma

My friends from large families never understood why I don’t enjoy family gatherings. I don’t like crowds, even if I know everyone. I don’t see my family often enough to know any of them. This is my extended family, but what about the family I grew up with? I have my parents and two older sisters. I have not spent time with these four people together in over 15 years. That’s the last time I can remember the five of us together. Growing up with childhood trauma can cause one to isolate themselves. My family broke apart and never came back together.

My parents separated when I was starting my teenage years. My sisters and I were happy to see them get away from each other. I never realized at the time how abusive my father was. My oldest sister moved out and moved back in with my mother a couple times. She made her way into the world after some time. My second oldest sister, the middle child, she enlisted in the Army. A good way to get far away from home. I was alone for a couple years before going to college in another city.

I later moved to another state to finish my education and never went back home. I visited a few times, but never moved back. I never wanted to. After a while, I stopped visiting too. I rarely speak to anyone in my family; extended or other. I don’t know any of them well and have no interest in getting to know them. My life has improved without them. Still, my friends don’t understand my aversion towards families and gatherings. Growing up, these were times for arguments and sometimes violence. I have only negative associations with holidays.

I attempted to mend fences with my sisters and parents at different times. There’s some progress but the five of us will never be in the same room together. I’m the only one who hasn’t married and doesn’t have children. I almost don’t want to have a wedding, so I don’t have to invite anyone in my family. My broken family makes me feel I can’t have a family. This isn’t true but I can’t break the feeling sometimes. I struggle with interpersonal relationships. Distrust and pain filled my first experiences connecting with other people. This is something I’m still working on. I want to prove to myself that I can have a family.

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That Time I Almost Went to Disneyland

Growing up, my family never went on any vacations. One year when I was eight, we traveled to Tennessee for a family reunion. I didn’t know anyone on that side of the family and never made friends quickly anyway. I don’t remember any other time we traveled somewhere that didn’t involve moving. We lived in about six or eight different states before I turned six-years-old. We were always moving to a new place. My father worked for interstates as an electrician and we traveled to where he would work. We settled in Oklahoma and stayed for several years.

I thought my childhood was normal. As I got older, I repressed most of my trauma. Any memories I did have, I didn’t think were that bad. I thought everyone lived through things like that. I looked at photos a lot as a child. I’d see pictures of myself as a baby or toddler and never remembered anything from that time. Most people don’t remember being a baby. I saw pictures from before I was born. These were interesting because it was life prehistory. A time before life. More often than not, my family had to tell me who was in the photos.

One photo from the summer of 1986, the year I was born, showed two little girls standing in between their two parents. The mother was pregnant. The photo looked faded and old in the standard four by six size. They were my two older sisters and parents at Disneyland. There were other photos of the girls on various rides like the teacups. The rumor is they no longer have the teacups ride. At the time, the family lived in Southern California and would for another two years. In those first two years of my life, the family never went back to Disneyland.

I went through grade school hearing other kids talk about their time at Disneyland. I would joke and say I’d never been, but I had the food. They’d look at me in confusion. I would explain my mother was pregnant with me when the family went. They would nod and look awkward until the subject changed. I grew older and older sharing this same story. People would become enraged shouting how they didn’t understand how I had never been to the happiest place on Earth. Before now I don’t think I could have comprehended what happy meant.

I have ridden rollercoasters where they take your photo. My picture would show me grimacing. I didn’t think the rides were as exciting as everyone else. The rides which pushed the limits are the only ones I find exciting. The only rides I actually smiled in the photo. I can think of two. No more. As a kid, I don’t think I would have appreciated Disneyland for what it had to offer. I’m not sure if I will now. It’s rare to find someone in their 30s who hasn’t been to Disneyland. The closest I’ve found is someone was 25 or 26 when they first went.

I’m not saying my family stopped going on vacations after I was born because of me, but I am saying my childhood was not great and enjoying things can be difficult. I’m not sure when I’ll finally get to visit this magical place. Part of me wants to and another part cares less and less each year. I think I will go one day and it’s possible I’ll go alone. Just so I can say I did it. But I think the point of a place like that is to enjoy it with people you love. That’s the part I’m still working on.

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Having a Mental Illness as a Kid is Tough

I truly believe that I was born anxious.

I had serious separation anxiety as a baby up through most of elementary school when I was away from my mom. This lasted for way longer than it should have for a normal child.

As a kid, at least in my experience, I didn’t have the brain capacity to understand my emotions. I couldn’t express my feelings plus I didn’t want to. I thought that what went on in my brain wasn’t normal therefore I didn’t want anybody to know.

I struggled in school socially because of anxiety. I hated being with people I didn’t know, I didn’t like the focus to ever be on me and I always wanted to keep to myself or to my couple friends.

If I was put into a situation that made me anxious, I would cry. At 6 years old I couldn’t explain why I cried so often in school. Saying, “I cried because I didn’t like how everyone was looking at me when the teacher made me stand in front of the class.” never crossed my mind. Also if I said it, I’m not sure anybody would have understood what I really meant.

I remember taking a quiz or I was doing a worksheet in first grade. For some reason it made me upset, maybe I didn’t understand how to complete the sheet, I don’t know. Whatever triggered me made me cry which inspired the girl across from me to announce to the whole class that I was crying. My nightmare of everybody looking at me became a reality which made me cry even more.

When I reflect on being little, I so often think about the struggles that went on in my own head. I try to think about the fun things like my brother and I playing with our Crazy Daisy, going to the beach, eating ice cream and playing Pokemon Blue Version on my Gameboy Color.

I found childhood to be difficult and I think a lot of it has to do with my mental illness. Reflecting as an adult I would describe myself as being uncomfortable in my own skin. I always felt like I was in an itchy sweater that I wished I could take off so I could be anybody else but me.

I think that constant awkwardness was a result of anxiety and depression, two words I didn’t know until I was a teenager.

My awkwardness has decreased as I’ve grown but only in the last couple years have I felt comfortable in my skin. It’s been one long road to accepting myself for who I am.

Fellow Bipolar Writer readers and writers, did you have signs of mental illness as a child? If so, did you understand what was going on in your mind? Did adults around you see that you were struggling?

Healing Through Poetry

April is National Poetry Month. Poetry has played a significant role in my healing process. I spent many years discovering myself and learning how to heal. The things hurting me were not always clear. I wrote my first poem when I was 15 in 2002. Terrible does not describe those early poems, but I continued writing. Making sense of my emotions proved difficult. I didn’t understand myself completely. My childhood memories sat repressed in my mind making me feel and react to things. I never knew the cause until I began to heal.

As my trauma resurfaced, my poetry evolved. I had found my voice. After years of struggling with expressing myself, everything flowed with ease. In writing about my thoughts, fears, and anxieties, a blanket of burden lifted. I felt connected to those closest to me. I never felt connected to anyone. Poetry gave me the opportunity to understand my emotions and develop my thoughts. When I get an idea to write something, I often consider it as a poem first before other writing options. I don’t often have the money for therapy. Poetry acts as therapist to help me work through difficult problems.

I have a long way to go yet, but I’m confident that I’ll find my way to recovery. Writing poetry has kept me going for this long. I imaging I’ll write until I can’t type or lift a pen anymore. Everyone is different and I understand that writing poetry may not help others heal. I do encourage everyone to try. Especially during National Poetry Month. I wouldn’t call most of my poems great or inspiring. I have pride for creating something and I’d rather create than destroy. Creating something is what leads to healing. I recommend practicing an art form to anyone who struggles to heal.

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