Life is a mix of all things wonderful and painful right now. It’s a healthy mix; the right mix. I’m neither overwhelmed with pain and despair as I once was, and neither am I on such an unreal high that would only mean I’d dissociated the pain or was dis-allowing the pain to exist, and in that disrespecting my right to feel sad for what has happened. The wonder and the pain both have their purpose and right of existence, and it feels good somehow to know I am finally in a healthy balance of the two. It’s taken such a lot to reach this point. I know there’ll be periods of course of very dark places, and also of very high places, but I also now have the safe knowledge that a balance is achievable and allowed.
The massive excitement in my life right now is that I am now engaged to my partner, as of Sunday. We are both thrilled, and I’m still marvelling at the fact I am going to spend my life with someone so beautiful, inside and out. A couple of years ago I stood for abuse from a partner because she convinced me it was what I deserved. Even when I broke out of it, I wasn’t sure if I had deserved it or not. If you’d said to me then, at the point of breaking up with her and ending up in hospital after a suicide attempt, that in just over 2 years I’d be engaged to an amazing woman and doing well in my degree, I would have laughed. I had just quit my degree, and it was all I could do just to get up in a morning. Now I wake up and wonder what the day ahead will bring.
The proposal itself took place with some of our friends around, and was a mix of very moving and special, whilst also very funny! (I ended up virtually proposing underneath a keyboard, don’t ask!) It’s a memory I will treasure always, and one I can laugh and smile about with my partner (now fiancee!) and also with our friends.
I think part of the reason in the past why pain drowned me so much, was because there wasn’t a lot of beautiful memories to counter them. Of course my childhood wasn’t 100% black, but even the most precious memories (holding my baby after giving birth, hugging the children, laughing with my siblings) are tainted from the environment around them. Yes I have the most beautiful memory of holding my baby; the empowerment of knowing my body was incredible and did it, and her eyes staring into mine as I fed her. Yes I have that. But I also have the intense grief from losing her. I also have the terror. I can hold the memory and cry with both the maternal love from that moment, and the excruciating pain I just carry in my chest. The pain from her and the pain from the children… it’s always there, a dull ache in my chest. I can sometimes be busy and forget about it, but the moment I stop…it’s there.
Now I have wonderful memories like proposing to my partner which are not tainted in anyway. With memories like these, I can start to balance pain. After the proposal, I stared at the stars and wondered if they’d seen – the children. I smiled at the thought of them watching, smiled in the hope that they could see I am safe, and loved, now. For my babies, I wondered if they could have seen their mummy rebuilding her life, fuelled by my determination their grief will not be a tool used to harm me, but my love for them will never cease. I wondered.
Otherwise, I’m not only managing my degree but doing very well! I have been stunned and emotional at having received 3 firsts for my coursework recently. Managing my mental health with my degree is hard and I sometimes panic that I won’t be able to do it, but having got those marks I am more determined than ever that I can do this, and I will do this.
I am excited for the future and career-planning now. My partner and I are going away over summer and after that will start planning our wedding for next year. I also graduate next year. 2016 looks to be amazing!!
But the pain has its place too and I’m not trying to ignore it or make it go away. It would be wrong not to cry. I have a right to these tears. Last night I cried on my partner’s shoulder about some of the children; a sudden outburst of grief and survivor’s guilt taking me by surprise. I wanted to hold them again, to breathe in their hair, to play with them as we used to – the survival game that is ‘stuck in the mud’. That game taught us so much; how to assess if it’s safe to rescue someone else, and how to respect someone’s decision not to save you without hard feeling. I cried on her and my friend held my hand too, and I just let the tears come. After a while I stopped, and we started talking about the proposal again – an anchor to pull me back out of the grief, out of the magic mirror and ‘what if’ land, and into the present. I struggle tremendously with survivor’s guilt and sometimes wobble and panic that it is wrong of me to have a ‘normal’ life. Through a mixture of pure luck, determination and circumstances I survived and others didn’t. Sometimes I ask myself ‘why me?’ I feel wrong sometimes to have made it. Those of us who did make it are scattered all over the place. Who knows where they are or even if they have their memories back yet – I never forget that I am exceptionally lucky to have the friends, partner and professional support that I do, and that my memories would not have surfaced if I had not been so safe and loved. I can only hope other survivors’ have the same, and that they regain what is rightfully their’s – their memories, emotions, identity and mind.
Sometimes I hear their screams again. I am haunted by their screams. Or I feel my child’s hand on my cheek, or a little friend’s hand in mine. I have nightmares about us cleansing each others’ wounds in our ‘room’ at that place, singing softly to each other to try and distract them from the pain. I remember sitting with other children, only small myself, and talking about how we’d all visit the man on the moon when we die. I remember my heart in my mouth, but also the acceptance. We had to try and normalise the possibility of dying. If we didn’t, the terror would have sent us insane. We might have only been children but this much we had already worked out. At least I had school to escape to, but some of them lived there (in the place). Sometimes that realisation of having lived endlessly wondering if the day would be my last hits me, and the terror I repressed hits me, and I’m suddenly overwhelmed with panic and fear and utter heartbreak that was my life.
So the memories and pain haven’t gone away, and I’m glad of that. I need to process them, I need to grieve properly, and I need to make sure I recover rather than repress again. I jump at everything and in some ways PTSD seems to be worsening. But I have the most extraordinary heroic friends who I am eternally grateful for, and my partner, and the professionals. Between them I have the support, compassion and care I need and was starved of, and I learn from that I am an equal. With my friends I have remembered what it feels like to really laugh, to really smile. I have dared to let myself grow close to other children, dared to separate my grief from innocent children in my present life who have no idea. I have dared to start accepting that I was never a bad mother; I was a *child* forced to have babies, there was nothing more I could have done, and at the very least…those who I did hold, who didn’t die for being too premature, experienced my most pure and overwhelming love with my gaze and touch. At the very least their short lives were not all fear and pain. It is hard to let myself believe this, I often feel extreme guilt, but I’m getting there. It is highly unlikely I will ever be able to carry again, the damage internally is too much, and so I treasure the memories even more.
So overall, life is a perfect balance. I am well enough to manage my degree and excited about the future with my fiancee and also the memories I will continue to make with my friends. I have crucially learned that pain isn’t bad, tears are not dangerous, and I have a right to cry a thousand tears for what happened…but also the right to live, and enjoy living.
Life is challenging, funny, difficult, moving, empowering, and emotional. Life is good, despite the tears and memories and fibro pain. I love life now.
I love wanting to live. I love knowing now that every time a friend told me “it’ll be worth it” as I screamed and sobbed through raw periods of pain, that they were right. Thank you to everyone for encouraging me and helping me. Thank you for helping me reach a point where I love life.