Walking On Eggshells

“Just saw that S has removed her relationship status from social media again. She claimed she didn’t do it, that Facebook screwed up, just like the last few times. I’m trying to make excuses for her, but it’s stupid. Obviously Facebook isn’t the culprit. I can’t trust her. I will never be able to trust her. When I confronted her, she said innocently, “I don’t think it’s good for you to snoop so much.” Like I’m the crazy one! I wouldn’t snoop if I didn’t have reason, and it’s not really the snooping so much as the finding, that’s the problem. Because I do always find something. Who doesn’t she want to know about our relationship? I’m hurt of course, and I’m realizing that this will never end. It’s like living in a constant state of watchfulness, and I’m too exhausted to keep doing it. I have to let it go, or she’ll do her walking out routine, and I can’t cope with that right now.” (Journal entry, February 2016)

img_0966There are many names for this constant watchfulness. Some people refer to it as ‘walking on eggshells’, or ‘having to watch your back’. In mental health it is known as ‘hypervigilance’ a  symptom of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that was  first observed in veterans returning from war. Their bodies and minds couldn’t settle down, and they behaved as if they were in constant danger. It’s a clumsy definition, but here is what Wikipedia had to say: “Hypervigilance is an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats. Hypervigilance is also accompanied by a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion.” Okay. It’s a mouthful.

But it fit. I certainly was in an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity. My nerves felt taut all the time, and previous betrayals had shown me that anything could and would happen with S. I was constantly scanning my environment for clues that the ground was once again shifting. Danger seemed to lurk everywhere, and I was jumpy and easily spooked. My heart started skipping beats, and eating made me feel instantly sick. I was physically and mentally exhausted.  As information was coming in, my brain tried to make sense of it and often couldn’t, adding to my growing sense of disorientation. And no doubt my behaviours were exaggerated and intense. In the dark recesses of my mind I was concerned about my snooping and the lengths I was going to, in order to obtain information. I excused it with “the end justify the means,” but I felt ashamed and dirty.  Maybe S was right, and I was indeed crazy.

In fact, I was behaving exactly like a soldier in battle. I was desperate for intelligence in order to preserve my safety, even at the cost of my sanity. Over the duration of our relationship the stakes had grown increasingly higher. In the beginning a disagreement was unpleasant and required me to take most of the blame, but it was still relatively easily resolved. Over time, arguments were often accompanied by screaming and extensive verbal violence, and almost always ended in ultimatums and bitter silences that could last for days. And because I had moved in with S, for me every fight had the potential to render me homeless.

In the end I realized that no matter how careful and discerning I was, it wouldn’t matter. Knowing didn’t keep me safe, and eventually I understood that she was never trying to hide anything  at all. She didn’t care if I stumbled upon her lies.  S wanted me to find out all along. Why? Because seeing me struggle and suffer made her feel powerful and in control. And she wanted me to understand exactly how dangerous she was, what she was capable of.

Months later I’m starting to feel more like my old laid back self. It didn’t happen right away, and I’m still not quite there yet. The anxiety and exhaustion subsided a few weeks after I left, and an odd kind of boredom settled in its place. This was quickly replaced by sadness, mixed with profound relief. I can tell the process isn’t finished, but these days I can allow myself to get angry too, and that feels good. Just because she got away with hurting me, doesn’t mean it was ever okay. When I worry if it’s taking me too long to ‘get over’ this, my therapist reminds me that I’m right on time and that there is no such thing. She thinks we incorporate our losses into a newer version of ourselves.  She is wise, and maybe she is right. No matter what happens. one thing I know for sure: once you have been touched by evil, you will never be so innocent again.

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