What is wrong?
The insatiable question – what is wrong with me?
There should be nothing wrong – I came out of the year 2020, a respectable force, a woman that held her head and her team high, a clear conscience of treating every suffering and non-suffering soul with virtue and endless empathy, a business that tide through the hardest. What can be wrong?
Yet, I was swinging between immobilisation – I couldn’t look past this 24 hours – almost like a scared peacock in its tracks and unable to twitch; and anxiety- mostly unwarranted in my opinion.
Truth is, I avoided and put off asking for help or answering what is wrong with me – cos I did not want to be dramatic or have a punchy catch-phrase prognosis to park my emotions or behaviour or find an excuse for myself. I spent a lot of quiet time getting better alone. Better? That was far from happening.
I took a week off work, tried to shut off, did meditation. It helped to some extent, it brought some form of stabilisation but maybe for a day without imminent hostility or triggers.
Getting back to work, the business partners meeting was a huge signal that I am not myself. They were doing a recap of Year 2020 – April, May, June…. during the thick of the pandemic. I was triggered thoughts of them abandoning the business yet I couldn’t. I was triggered by recalling the days I struggled to keep the rest of the employees paid, and having to manipulate, toggle, juggle and tip toe around my business partners who were incessantly looking forward to temporarily closing down the business during the lockdown. It is of no fault of theirs, and of no malicious intent. We all deal with the pandemic and its consequences and how to handle it, very differently. We all make very different decisions. I took on a task that I did not know was too much for my 30 year old shoulders. I brought a team of almost 20 Singaporeans to bring 4 restaurants to virtual restaurants for the next 3 to 4 months till the lockdown was over and we could operate brick and mortar again. Kickass it might seem? But it fractured my feelings of my business partners. It crippled my ability to look at this new year without tainted glasses and fear that is immobilising.
“Ah, let’s not mention about the pandemic, seeing that it clearly affects Megs,’ one of the partners said that, again to no deliberate fault. But the line in the sand seemed to be deeper – they are not in my space, they could not understand, empathise. They were capable of abandoning, they were insultful in their decision makings during the pandemic, they are also capable of being dismissive of my trauma. Again, to no fault of theirs- my rational brain always tells me.
During those tough months, I witnessed so much suffering. Delivering food to the COVID-stricken dormitory workers – I have never witnessed living conditions of such; and delivering food to the healthcare workers, I have never felt more deeply for fellow Singaporeans’ risking their lives and fighting through the frontlines. I slogged my way through the night to get the online platforms for our virtual restaurants up and running. There were bugs to fix at night, new products to upload, and there were customers’ data to look through and hopefully customise, personalise their orders. I was up till 3am most nights just doing any technologically possible to get our virtual restaurants marketed and usable. I was in the restaurants a few hours later to pack, deliver all of these orders, and on top of that, train everyone who is not tech-savvy.
I had no reprieve. No plane ride to a favourite island to switch-off.
The only form came through coming home and seeing Ben prepare a warm bowl of soup or a cup of warm tea on the table, ‘Hey, sit down and have some before you begin working again’. I usually give a couple of calls to my business partners by the time I got home, and had to strategically manipulate them to agree to keep the shops open and manipulate them further to agree to pay all the staff 100% of the salary.
I remembered anguish nights that the business partner will say “I will only pay them 75% of the salary.” I manipulated. I lied that it was illegal. All in my mind was, these Singaporeans working with us, I will not forsake them, and I will not, under reasonable government wage subsidies, see them drawing lesser salary during this difficult times. They shall not fear. They will work hard in the virtual restaurants, we will churn out food, we will deliver, we will get paid and we will in turn pay salaries.
After a long day, lying next to Ben, it felt safe, a sense of closeness, and this strong guy watching me through my tears and holding me and feeling all the trepidation of my heart and telling me that my kindness inspires him, that he is so proud of me, and stroking me to sleep. I sleep and rouse awake to battle another day.
We decided on our own terms that Ben will leave Singapore in mid-December, and unexpectedly and without warning, my system went on a crash. I did not know how to survive without his presence.
“Am I co-dependent? If I am, that is a problematic behaviour I am exhibiting in relationships.” I thought to myself. I googled co-dependency. It didn’t quite sync , doesn’t sound like me.
I met Ina for the second time in January and casually told her about my tiredness, thoughts, immobility and resentment. She told me it might be a small t-rauma.
How can it be? I am born in the safest, cleanest country in the world. I came out of 2020, alive, earned the respect. Does it render me to be traumatic? Or was I dramatic.
The week went by, and I found myself bursting in tears whenever I or the team tried to push me to plan for year 2021 or if the previous year was mentioned in any way, shape or form.
Even when business has recovered (and profitable) by now, my business partners will without mindfulness, yet with no ill-intentions chip in, “We could have saved more money if we had let go of more staff during the lockdown. We didn’t need that many of them. What a waste!” My mind went on a red-alert- I know how it feels, because the back of my eyes were burning and I retort with no restraint, “Then, if we had let everyone go, god forbid, who are we left for manpower when we were given 48 hours to reopen into restaurants? Would these staff wait for us and stay with us? Weren’t the revenues we reaped so well in the last two quarters of the year not because we have kept crucial important staff during the pandemic?” My tone was rude, uncourteous. Unbeknown to many, this particular moment was the cliff-drop for everything within me. My guts that I was daily sewing back together, almost felt like it spilled open – and nothing could piece me back together. Principles clearly did not align and there were irreconcilable differences- stark ones. The relationship was terribly fractured on my end, and on theirs, they clearly felt my attitude issue- and this hostile defensive attitude of mine continued for the next few weeks.
Topics would get halted, my tears continued to trickle. I consider myself high-functioning, but I started to lose myself and making a fool of myself during professional meetings by being emotional- over something almost so irrelevant already – the past year.
Reaching out, finally
My tears flowed, my head ached. May be I was tired. I took a week off, as every of my peers suggested. It was futile, I came back work energised for a day but deeply troubled the next. This is very unlike me.
I reached out to Ina – can I see Reshie, please? He is her husband and a trained clinical psychologist in trauma. I read through his profile, I wondered if I was facing PTSD. Sounds like it.
Meeting him for the first session was easy. He was familiar. We had dinner together before in Bali. I know his background – the downs he faced with trauma, and if he could come out of this hole, I was already convinced I was going to be ok.
So first up, was to open up. I narrated all of that to him. Very soon the tissue box was whipped out. I have seen this before. I did not spare myself to use it. I drank some water and continued my story. I am ok to open up, that part wasn’t hard – sounds like complaining and ranting isn’t it.
I looked at him to wonder if there was a diagnosis. He very scientifically explained the science behind Complex Trauma and told me, I ticked not one, not two, but all of the boxes.
“Feeling better that you know what you are facing?”, He asked.
“Oh you mean, complex trauma? Well I did not think I did not have it, I searched about it and thought I was close enough, but I also did not expect you to confirm it.” It truly brought me no comfort or relief or any feeling to know that Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) was my diagnosis.
“Am I making a molehill out of my situation?” I asked that maybe three times during the session. He reassured it was not.
In short, he explained, the basal ganglia (found at the center of the human brain) has overtaken all of me at this stage and overpowered all of my neocortex (which is implicated in conscious thought, language and reasoning), and of course, we have the limbic system (which consists of various component brain structures, such as the amygdala and hippocampus). I was neocortex > basal ganglia for the most of year 2020 = extremely high functioning. Now it is just inverse.
For more understanding, in MacLean’s triune brain model, the basal ganglia are referred to as the reptilian or primal brain, formed since 200 million years ago, this structure is in control of our innate and automatic self-preserving behaviour patterns, which ensure our survival and that of our species. The primal brain is also in charge of, example… Feeding, Fighting, Fleeing, and… Reproduction. Notable behaviour patterns include defence of self, family, and personal property, physical communication, and socially approved actions, such as handshakes, head nods, and bowing.
We might not be living in the same world as primitive man, but we are still met with threatening and potentially dangerous situations. The brainstem is responsible for keeping us safe now, as it was for early man. The health and functioning of this brain region largely determines our ability to detect and respond to threats. At the most basic level, the brainstem helps us identify familiar and unfamiliar things. Familiar things are usually seen as safe and preferable, while unfamiliar things are treated with suspicion until we have assessed them and the context in which they appear. In my case, all the series of things have put this reptilian brain on threatening alert, way beyond my control and emotions and put me on a path of avoidance, distrust, negativity towards moving forward with these surroundings.
Some pen notes from his session:
“How shall Integrity face Oppression?
What shall Honesty do in the face of Deception
Decency in the face of Insult
Self-Defense before Blows?
How shall Desert and Accomplishment meet Despising, Detraction, and Lies?
What shall Virtue do to meet Brute Force?
There are so many answers and so contradictory; and such differences for those on the one hand who meet questions similar to this once a year or once a decade, and those who face them hourly and daily…
Some are born with trauma, some walk through trauma, and some have trauma thrust upon them.”
I am now tearfully spent after the session. I texted the only person I knew that knew all of what I was facing- Ben. He was juggling his Friday meetings and my outpour of texts after the session.
Once again, I doubted myself and asked him if I was self-victimising or am I making a fuss out of nothing. He reassured me right away and with certainty, “No no not at all. It is important that you recognise the trauma. I know you, and I know it is overwhelming, and for all that I see you take on last year, I think this is serious and quite complex.”
Yes, the question of what is wrong with me is answered.
Now is just a week of empowering myself with the truth that I am facing CPTSD.
I booked in next Thursday’s session with R.
I think we might need lesser tissue paper now that the story is thoroughly narrated. I am keen to just sort this out. It is 5th February today. I felt like I wasted the first month of January just on the pendulum of still in the tracks and anxiety and resentment.
R passed me a book he rushed out in the year 2020 on how to deal with trauma. It will be a binge-read. I might not feel too far from the truth or block myself from all the feels.