So, this week my therapist sat me down for an education on how PTSD affects the brain.
I thought she’d do a more professional version of what I did for the kids: amygdala. hippocampus. Prefrontal lobe.
When I look at those brain scans, showing all the damage that my mother and the world did– when I look at adult brain scans, it’s clinical. This is what I need to work on. This is what needs fixing.
But she instead went through it talking about how babies develop. How whatever happened affected my brain development.
I can barely stand to write these words.
The thought of myself as a helpless baby in my mother’s arms fills me with unspeakable dread. I am, right now, fighting back a gagging reflex and chills of nausea thinking about the fact that she nursed me. My heart is pounding. I am shaking.
I’ve seen my mother with babies. She does not . . . she is not attuned to them. She jiggles them awkwardly and holds them away from her face and she’s just absolutely unable to engage with them at all. She bellows cheerfully way too loudly in their faces and doesn’t notice them flinching. She scolds them in a sort of joking tone and calls them ‘naughty.’
That’s when, my therapist explained, the damage starts. And then when you reach the next stage of development, you are already behind, and abuse and neglect makes you unable to create the correct connections at that stage, either. And so on.
Do I need to do this another time? She asked as she saw my eyes fill with tears.
No, I said.
When is it a good time to hear that from the very beginning, right out of the gate, I was already being damaged? That after the initial damage, when I was already fucked up, there was more damage, layered on top of more, slathered with more? That even if I’d been plucked out of there, my development would be fucked up because I had already been damaged before — but I WASN’T plucked out of there, so the damage was just exponential? There was not going to be another, better, time to hear that.
So my shrink, showing me the sections in the book and a video, continued: When a baby does not have her needs met, she does one of two things, depending on how the parent reacts or doesn’t react: she gets louder and more demanding, or she gives up.
All of this before we even figure out how to properly focus our goddamned eyes.
My mother was a teacher. She went back to school the Monday after she gave birth to me, the Monday after she gave birth to two of my other sisters. I was born at the end of the summer; the other two, in autumn.
The one whom I fear has Borderline Personality Disorder? She was born in June. She probably had my mother as a primary caretaker for her first three months as my father was running after a toddler and my mom was right fucking there.
oh god I can’t do this. I’ll try again later.
Why can’t you talk about this? My partner asked me.
I can talk about ANYTHING. My problem is usually talking too much.
But when I tried to tell her about this session, and what I learned, I would shut down. Clamp my jaw shut. My throat would close over it, my body still.
Is it because hearing that this damage is on top of damage on top of damage? She asked. Does it seem like there’s just too much work to do?
I shook my head but kept my mouth clamped shut.
I am trapped in my mind, I thought frantically. I can’t get out.
And I had no idea why I was unable to talk about it or write about it. I felt like a person in a fantasy novel who has had a spell put on her not to talk about a certain topic. Nothing comes out. You are choking on what you want to say.
And I think what fills me with visceral horror– what causes me to shake and my heart to pound when I think about this — is that she got so far in.
“Die Gedanken Sind Frei” has been running through my head over and over these past few days. I thought it was in response to some things going on in the world that were upsetting (if you didn’t click the link, it’s a very old German protest/freedom song about thoughts being free no matter how much someone is locked up and tortured), but then I realized what it was: before that session with the shrink, I believed my thoughts were free. I believed that my brain — the seat of where I see myself, as opposed to my heart or my womb or wherever other people conceived of their selves dwelling — was damaged, but somehow untouched.
Yeah, yeah it makes no sense. I’m in therapy, see. ‘Cause I make no sense.
But I thought somehow that the essential kernel of who I was was MINE. She couldn’t get to that part.
But she did. And that thought is even more horrifying than the thought that I was a fragile baby in her hurtful arms. That I nursed from the breast of the woman who was later so sexually creepy.
No. It’s that she could pry open my skull and pour her poison in, even deep in there where I keep my REALness. And that it festered and corroded and destroyed my cells and my neurons. The very structure of my essence.
That is what is, right now, unspeakable to me.