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  • Charlotte John

Living in survival mode

I find it hard to relax. Always have. My self-care skills are awful. I find it hard to be kind myself.

I have been aware of this for years. But I always have a voice saying “You need to do….” Or “What about ….”

I have been saying for 2 years “When I finish my MA I’m going to do ….”

The dissertation is handed in and I find that since then my mind is rushing. I thought I would hand in my dissertation and I would feel a sense of happiness and spend a few months watching Netflix and lay in the bath with candles and rejoice in my new found freedom. Instead I find myself lying awake at night worrying, remembering…planning,

It was in a conversation with a fiend this week that it truly hit home. That I have been living in survival mode for so long that it is going to take time to shift out of that gear. And I do want to.

This year, the pandemic and lock down, has been horrific in many ways. But for me personally, alongside all the worry and fear, in the middle of the lock down, I found the pause that I have been craving my whole life.

A safe pause where no one could hurt me and I could just …think.

Initially that was hard. I had to face a few demons but from that “Blondy’s people” was created. And if I am very honest, Blondys people was the start of this truly reflective journey and why I have come to realise that I have not stepped out of survival mode for years.

I think any child that faces any kind of abuse will turn on survival mode. It is activated to keep you safe both mentally and physically. A defensive mechanism of sorts. Your brain is switched to high alert.

However, if a child has a safe place…home, school, a friend’s house, they may be able to turn off that survival mode at times. Like if a child knew at Nanny’s everything was ok calm and safe, the may be able to go there and almost de-armour for a moment.

Growing up, there was no safe space for me. Not that my house was not a loving place. It was. But living with a parent with mental health means you never know what od going to happen. You watch them, looking for signs of the next episode or panic attack. You learn to cover up a lot of things or, even worse, many things become normalised to you.

I guess the only place I went that was safe to me was the local Library. From a young age I would take myself to the liber and spend hours looking at books. I would tuck myself away and read in a corner for a while. Sometimes I would take a book out. But once I left that library I would be back in survival mode.

I guess at some point I switched to living in survival mode full time. I could not tell you when, or what event caused the final switch. But I know I was very young, because I can’t remember a time when I did not feel anxious or over observant.

Over observant…. is that a real thing?

If not, it’s the only way I can explain how my mind works constantly. I am always watching and assessing situations, reading body language and watching what is happening in the back ground. I feel like I am always ready for attack and am never often just in the moment. It ruins, or me, many events as I an unable to just emerge myself in what is going on.

Until recently.

Lock down brought many of my fears to the surface all in one go. Can’t see my sons, can’t get everything I need for my daughter, can’t go to work…. The list is endless. But many feelings that I have tried to suppress came flooding all at once. And it was not a nice feeling.

But as I worked through them, and allowed myself to feel each feeling, allowed myself to acknowledge the fear and I had no choice bit to deal with it…. something else happened.

I started to de armour.

In my mind’s eye I have been wearing this heavy clunky amour all my life. Its old and rusty in most parts, is too small for me and restricts my movements. It’s so weathered in some places, where I have been wearing it so long, that it is brittle to the touch, if someone knew just the right part to hot, then it would shatter into a million pieces.

And since 23/3/20 I have been slowly taking it off. Bit by bit. Not totally aware of what is going on but knowing that suddenly I don’t feel so heavy. That I feel like I can breathe better. I can swing my arms and run again.

In my mind’s eye, once again, I have not taken each piece of armour of and thrown it to the side with hate. No. I have slowly removed each part and looked at it, in all its glory. I Have looked at each part of my amour and held it to my cheek, maybe splashed it with a couple of tears and then slowly placed it in the ground. Like laying a lifelong friend to rest.

Because even though this heavy armour has restricted me both mentally and physically and has had me live a different like to the one I would have chosen if had my time again, each piece was in place to protect me. And some pieces have been with me for many years.

This process has taken a while.

And now I find myself, if you will, standing in my chain mail vest over my normal clothes. Because I will never fully de-armour. I need the chain mail vest to protect my most vital organ.

However, despite standing here quite in my normal clothes and chain mail vest (You may never get rid of that imagine now) I don’t know what to do. Because I only know how to operate in survival mode. And I don’t want to any more. I want to live in the moment and enjoy life.

And the fact I have not just stepped into that lane has overwhelmed me a little, Panic thoughts such as “What if I can’t slow down”.

Until now.

As I sit on my sofa with my heated blanket (yep….40 and I have a heated blanket…say something) typing this blog and feeling quite content. My anxiety will always be around to just remind me to worry, but anxiety is also silenced much of the time now.

I stated that I would enter my 40s in the way that decade would pan out. And spent my 40th birthday sobbing and thinking the end of the world was coming

But actually…

These first 9 months of being 40 have been the biggest game changer and area of growth I have ever experienced. I am grateful for the pause. I needed the pause

I no longer have to live in survival mode, bit also know that the amour is there for me to pick up, in a parts if needed.

Bit I no longer have to dress for war every day, Because I am safe now.

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