I’ve been away on a trip, both physical and psychological. The former to visit family and the latter it’s bewildering after effects. And then when I returned my hens behaved as if they did not know me. I was once again a stranger to them. They were not the only ones. I didn’t know who I was either.
What is it about being around families that makes us slip into the old patterns? It doesn’t seem to matter how old we are, once we’re back it’s as if the intervening 20, 30, 40 years simply haven’t happened. We take up our former roles like old timer’s claiming their chairs in working men’s clubs. There can be no deviation.
I come from one of those families that express any affection they may or may not feel through ridicule and sarcasm. I also had the misfortune to be born into this environment sporting huge, sticky-out ears. I’m sure you can already see where this is going. Each time I entered a room it was like ringing a bell and lighting up a huge neon sign with the legend ‘mock me’ flashing in time with my blushes. It didn’t help that I became a stressed child and would clench my fists and shake uncontrollably when under persistent barrage. This, of course, was hilarious to my older siblings who would try even harder to get big laughs at my expense (I’m fairly sure I would have joined in too if this had been anyone else but me. It was a dog-eat-dog world after all). They probably have very fond memories of all of this. My ears were pinned back when I was eight but patterns were set.
As we grew up, this mockery turned into a kind of blanket dismissal. This is probably understandable too, why would you take seriously anything that such a ridiculous person said? I combated this by leaving home at 17 and building my life at a comfortable distance of at least 100 miles, usually more, and often putting oceans between us. In this way I became someone I was ok with.
But I still can’t help feeling disappointed and hurt by my family’s absolute refusal to see any kind of mental ill health as anything but malingering and whining. I cannot tell them any of the things I have written in this blog because they invariably dismiss anyone who doesn’t display the same fake happy-go-lucky persona they work so hard to portray. This has continued even with the most benign of my remaining family. It means that I stay silent about my history and feelings in their presence. Now that I’m finding my voice elsewhere, this proved to be incredibly disorientating.
Then I came home and Doc, Rita and Sylvia wouldn’t come near me or speak to me. I wasn’t permitted to stroke any of them. They all ignored me. This too was disorientating. Like Dr Who, I’ve been trying to regenerate but the world around me seems unwittingly set on impeding this transformation. It wasn’t until they got used to me having the food again that their attitude began to change. They are only chickens after all.
So what have I learnt from all this? I’ve learnt that a sense of identity, even one built through the hard slog of childhood bullying, once lost through trauma is hard to rebuild. No matter how diligently you try to stick together the pieces they can never go back how they were and any new shape is vulnerable to knocks from the people who surround you. But the new shape can also be bolstered by others. The trick is to try and spend more time with people who hold you up. My partner, my children, a few select friends and, lately, the kind and fascinating WordPress writers who visit this confessional, are all in this group.
Chickens, I guess, are an optional, if joyous, amusing and sometimes confusing, extra.