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When You Can't Take Time Off Without Trauma Resurfacing

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Recently, I’ve felt like I’ve been unable to take a holiday — or even a few days off from work — without being haunted by trauma and depression as if it’s some kind of specter, rattling its chains in the attic.

Case in point: I had a few days off last week thanks to public holidays in the United Kingdom, and I was determined to rest, to disallow my mental illnesses to intrude and steal more time from me, as they’re prone to do. Things started off well — I was able to rest and relax until, on Thursday evening, I spotted a message from somebody who knew me in childhood and who knows my mother — my emotionally and verbally abusive mother, with whom I’ve cut all contact.

It was a reasonably simple message asking if I’m in contact with her again, but it was enough to allow trauma an opening. I haven’t had therapy to properly deal with my childhood, so until I do, anything that makes me delve into it is hazardous.

I asked her not to contact me again, and then came the invalidation, telling me that there was no emotional abuse in my childhood, denying my mother’s significant part in my trauma and my depression. I was suddenly forced to defend myself, in great detail, to the person on the other end of those messages — sending voice clips to explain the many things they apparently did not see in my childhood, picking apart the lies my mother has told them, like not being there the morning my father died — a despicable lie, especially considering I was there that morning and for days afterward, comforting her through it. It’s typical behavior from my mother, spreading lies about people whom she believes have wronged her — but it packed a particular emotional punch.

I felt extremely vulnerable the rest of that right, and through the whole of the following day. The specter of my trauma had risen, rattling its heavy chains in the attic, moaning and wailing in the background as I tried, desperately, just to enjoy my time off. I cursed it for once again intruding on my relaxation, my sacred recuperation. I couldn’t shrug it off no matter the self-care methods with which I tried to combat it.

I woke the next day feeling bitter. It was the weekend, so the actual scheduled time off from work had largely been wasted battling a ghost that had no business there. Once again, I felt the universe conspire against me. “The best-laid plans of mice and men often go awry,” they say. Awry, they went.

Maybe, when you live with trauma, depression, or any illness that can affect you when you least expect it, it pays to expect the worst-case scenario. Perhaps it’s a case of practicing radical acceptance — the idea that suffering comes from one’s relationship to pain and not the pain itself. If I had begun my time off with the expectation that my mental health would be unstable, would Friday have been such a bust for me? The message I received and my reaction to it were extraneous circumstances, yes, but I felt just as vulnerable and sickened by the confrontation as I felt bitter and angry that I was being robbed of my holiday. Removing my bitterness cuts that pain in half.

It’s a lesson I’m still learning, but it’s an important lesson for us all. Mental illness doesn’t take a holiday, so perhaps we shouldn’t be entirely surprised when it shows up out of the blue like a ghost in the attic. Maybe, then, we can treat it less like an unwanted visitation and more like a roommate, ever-present, as much as we may not get along and I really wish they’d move out already because all that chain rattling keeps me up at night, and makes it really hard to get things done.

The next time I have a holiday scheduled, I’ll try my best to practice radical acceptance. Will you join me?

Getty image by Reno Sakti Devissandy

Originally published: June 6, 2022
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