Somebody asked me the other day, what I had been up to. How had I been enjoying my free time on a lovely sunny Sunday? I answered semi-truthfully, that I had not done much. That it had been a low energy, lazing-about kind of day and that I was recouping my strength. It was a nice nothing-day. Their reply was ‘Is that a thing?’
I wasn’t sure what they meant. Is it a thing to have days which are lower energy than others? Is it a thing to feel fluctuations in energy and emotional reserves? Is it acceptable to allow yourself to flow with the fluctuation? Is it ok to do nothing sometimes? Is it ok to do nothing brazenly and openly, or do we have to qualify it to ourselves and other people?
I don’t know, honestly. I find myself in conversation with my own thoughts on this. Or more accurately, in heated discussion with myself as I argue the toss internally. On the one hand, it is absolutely acceptable to do nothing. To schedule doing nothing into a timetable of doing things. Purposeful, planned nothing. In fact I think it is a necessary part of staying sane. I have no qualms about this. But my problem is the guilt I feel when I look at all the non-nothings that I have not achieved during my nothing-time, and I don’t know what to do with that. I become a mass of shoulda-woulda-coulda, spiralling with guilt and anxiety, as I stare around the demanding mess of my home, the piles, the stuff, the living to-do list. And so my lovely nothing becomes a state of uncomfortable paralysis, overwhelming me to the point where I couldn’t achieve anything even if I tried.
I thought back to the point where the paralysis took over my life most recently, and I realised that I was fighting it still.
Coming up to three years ago, I split up with my partner W of almost 3 years. These things happen, and we survive them. I got through an earlier divorce ok and relatively untraumatised. It was painful of course, but it had its own explanations and I understood the process fairly well. It was what it said it was.
Except that when I split from W, it was in a whirl of mystifying events and discoveries that cascaded into an avalanche of trauma, and shock and it knocked me right down. Like a comedy piano falling on your head and killing you, you just don’t expect that to happen to YOU. I lived in an out of body state for months after the non-move, the day it all fell apart. In those first shocking days, when I was dealing with the practical, logistical fall-out of the Non-Move, and all that it entailed (massive debt, no money to buy food or petrol, no job, no schools for children, no explanation as to why W had suddenly informed me that we had no house or money, my traumatised kids, everything we owned packed into stacked up boxes, all of our furniture in a removal lorry, the ensuing mortification of explaining to family and friends why we were still here, not being able to explain to anyone else why it happened..) I went to my doctor to get advice for my children and myself. I had stopped sleeping, had constant palpitations until I thought I was going to pass out pretty much all the time, was nauseous and vomiting, unable to concentrate. The children were the same. We cried all the time. We lived off biscuits and lemonade for days, as it was all we could keep down. If I did fall asleep, I would wake up sweating, in a panic, sure we had been attacked. I had nightmares, every night, throughout the night. My lovely doctor listened to me, took me seriously and prescribed me beta-blockers as a stop-gap, which helped me sleep and function. Like another, smaller piano on my head, he diagnosed me with PTSD, acute anxiety and depression: better than the heart failure I thought I had, I decided. He told me that PTSD wasn’t just something you suffer post-combat or from near-death experiences, but I felt fraudulent anyway. He told me I had been abused. I just stared at him.
We got through those first few weeks in a blur. I found schools again for the children, though my eldest found the shocking change of plan too hard to cope with at school, starting A levels and spent the next academic year mainly in his bedroom. I couldn’t blame him. He needed the security of no change whatsoever. I started to unpack the boxes one by one, the most necessary and unavoidable first and tried to make everything ok again. The children couldn’t face opening boxes. So I did it for them, trying to make their bedrooms nice and safe again. I used to vomit doing it some days, just retching, like I needed to get rid of poisonous stuff inside me. Weird. I wondered if I was ever going to wake up. Cliché cliché cliché.
Luckily for me, throughout this grimness, I had the love and practical support of friends and family, who stepped in and bailed me out when I needed it the most. I honestly could not have survived those days and weeks and months had I not known my sister believed me, my brother in law believed me and my closest friends believed me. I barely believed myself. They held me together like string round a badly wrapped parcel. I discovered from my super-sleuthing sibling that W had never inherited any of the money that was “coming, next week probably”, that he never had any in the first place. He could never have bought the house he had told us we were moving to, or paid for the school fees that he’d so wonderfully, grandiosely suggested (“you’re so lucky to have him in your life!” Quotes from numerous folk up to this point) and that my children had sat exams to be admitted for. My sister told me too, persistent bloodhound to the end, that he could not have sold his cottage for many hundreds of thousands of pounds, as he had told me, since he had never owned it. She was so sorry to tell me the awful things, but she wanted me to know the truth. Nothing made any sense to me at all. Truth or lies. In fact, the truth was so insane it made the lies look boring.
A wonderful friend came over the night my sister told me this insane stuff, and stayed with me while the locksmith changed all the locks. I just shook uncontrollably for hours. It was so frightening to think that a person I had trusted completely and lived with for years had lied to me systematically, methodically, remorselessly, and denied it all, right up to me presenting him with documentary evidence of the truth. Nothing made any sense at all, and I was frightened he might come back in the night and I would have no way to keep him out. It still wakes me in the night in a cold sweat, though I know that it is both highly unlikely he’d try and completely impossible he’d succeed.
Over the next few months, W texted me constantly. He was full of remorse, but would not or could not give me an explanation for what had happened. I stayed in touch because I needed answers. He said he would try to explain as soon as he could. I wanted and needed repayment – I had people I needed to repay large sums of money back to, when they had bailed me out, for example, to pay the removal men £2500 to load and then immediately unload their lorry. Twice. And I desperately needed to know why someone I thought had loved us would treat us so wickedly badly. Even then I didn’t see the behaviour as abusive: I just couldn’t understand. And, incomprehensible as it may seem, I still loved him. Christ what a freak.
W revealed over those autumn weeks of 2015, that he was undergoing psychiatric assessment, that he had been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. He was having twice weekly therapy sessions, he told me the name of his therapist and where he went to have it. I was really glad for him! It was a kind of explanation for the incomprehensible. He described to me the kind of things he was learning during the sessions, and his behaviour appeared to change radically. The mood swings lessened, the aggression seemed to be gone. He swore he was only telling me the truth now. But when I asked him why he had behaved the way he had, why he had lied, he couldn’t or wouldn’t explain. He would shut down on the phone, wouldn’t speak to me, only would text. His explanation was eventually that he had been in a type of psychotic fugue-state and couldn’t tell me reasons why he had lied about everything. I researched BPD and psychosis. I looked up therapy and read as much as I could. I felt really sorry for him. What a dreadful diagnosis to receive, I thought, to be told that your personality was actually disordered. He told me that as soon as he was able, he would explain everything to me, he would pay back the thousands and thousands of pounds he owed me and I took him at his word. So I waited.
And gentle reader, you guessed it, I kind of forgave him. I allowed him back into my, our lives. Such shame and anger at myself for this now. But I loved him. My children had loved him. He had been such a huge part of our lives. And he made it very difficult to live without him actually: I was terrified of everything without him. God, I hate writing that. But he had made me weak on my own. Now of course, with so much more knowledge of narcissistic and abusive behaviour, it makes complete sense to me why I let him back. He literally tugged the strings he’d attached to me and used the fear, the insecurities, all those little cuts and jabs, to put me back in my box as well as he could. I followed the script I knew best I suppose.
His behaviour seemed better, his mood swings less erratic, but I had these persistent alarm bells ringing and ringing. He started talking about buying houses again. He talked about his family deciding to cut him into a share from the will. He thought he’d buy a cottage near me. I would not let him move back in with us, but he was still here often. He started working in London, in a bakery and I was happy that he had found something practical and wholesome to occupy his days. I was touched too, as I had introduced him to his first baking of sourdough, lent him my baking bibles and kitchen. Baking seemed like something you couldn’t do dishonestly. Bread rises or it doesn’t, but it doesn’t lie.
But of course it couldn’t last. You can only keep up parallel lives for so long – and things will go wrong. Texts arrive when they shouldn’t and someone (especially someone who has already had the worst happen) might phone a rental company to confirm the date of a family holiday. Imagine the feeling of “oh no, not again” as I hear a long pause on the line and the embarrassed woman saying, “oh I’m afraid you don’t have a booking with us, as we never received payment from your partner. I emailed him 3 months ago.” Daughter and I listened in disbelief, sitting in the car in the dentists car park, both crying. “That’s it,” I said to her, “That is the end. The absolute end. No more.”
The following day he came back to my house, having ignored my phone calls. I told him what I had found, that he had lied again. That once again, we had believed him. Believed his utter bullshit. He couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why he had said he was paying for a holiday that wasn’t going to happen, or why he’d kept the fantasy going right up to the week before we were leaving. Right up to organising suitcases, dog beds, swimming towels.. no explanation. That morning it took all of my strength to get him to go. He begged, he cried, he shouted, he hung onto my arms and shook them. He said he’d break me. I said, you can’t do that twice. He threatened to kill himself if I made him leave. I said, I’ll take the risk. He said he’d probably be dead by the end of the day. I just pulled his hands off me and flattened myself against the kitchen units. Turned the radio up to drown his horrible crying.
The children all hid in their rooms upstairs. He ranted in the kitchen, begged to say goodbye to them. They did not want anything to do with him. I said he could not. That he had to go. And go now. Eventually he left, refusing to take any of his clothes or things with him. Just him, his phone and wallet and car. He walked out the front door in July 2016 and he disappeared. I never saw him again.
For several weeks I wondered if he had actually killed himself. I wondered if I would ever know. Then I got a text out of the blue asking for his stuff. Could I put it on the doorstep. He’d collect it in the middle of the night as he was working full time at the bakery. He would pay me a thousand pounds. He would explain. I felt sick. Most of his stuff I left outside in bags. Locked the doors, put the chain on. The next day they were gone. Some stuff I kept, as a kind of insurance policy. Just in case he never paid me back. Just in case.
Fast forward to January 2017, 6 months without explanation or repayment. I decided to cut my losses. But then via serendipitous contacts and chance conversations, I found myself in contact with people for the first time, who had known W before I had met him. Very quickly it became clear that he had never been honest with me about any part of his life, nor had he stopped lying after the Non-Move.
I discovered that he had, in fact, been living with his wife for the entire time that he had been in a relationship with me. Even before we met, he had lied about how long they had been married, and weird little irrelevant details. Despite him telling me she had moved out and that they were separated. No. Not at all. He had been leading one of those classic double lives that you read about in crap reality magazines. Those stories where you think, “How did she not know? Surely you can’t lie to that extent for all those years and get away with it?” I felt so stupid and duped. Every time he disappeared and couldn’t answer his phone, of course he was at home with his wife. Money that he spent with her, he’d got from me. What he spent with me, he had got from her. She was working two jobs, I was teaching full time and trying to pay off credit card bills, look after three children and run a house, and he was flitting between the two of us, living off the proceeds. I expect he had also moved on to the next person somewhere towards the end with me, but that frankly, is irrelevant.
According to W’s ex-wife, they are now divorced. She left the country penniless and went back to the country of her birth last autumn, to live with her cousins. She lost everything. Ironically, she and I are in touch now. I like her. I like her a lot. She is sweet and funny and compassionate. We get on well. We are perhaps the only people that we know who can perfectly understand the position of the other one. We have been able to fill in many gaps that on our own we couldn’t have made sense of. She said to me once, “You know, if there was ever going to be another woman in my marriage, I am so glad it was you, because I like you.” I apologised to her. I told her that had I known that truth, I would never have had a relationship with her husband, and I was so sorry that she had suffered so dreadfully too. We agreed to stop apologising to each other, that it wasn’t either of our faults. We are helping each other to recover and get stronger. It’s nice, but weird. I like talking to her. When she wonders where her kitchen chairs went, she asks me if I know. “Yes, they are in my kitchen,” I say. I offered to send them to her, but she doesn’t want them. This week I’m packing up a rather nice painting that she bought on holiday with W, during a two week period in 2013 that he was off-radar for us, and I was going out of my head with worry that I couldn’t get hold of him. Of course he was on holiday with his wife and having a lovely time! Why didn’t I think of that? Silly me.
But of course I did think of that. I just didn’t believe it. The numerous times I said to him, “Is that’s why I am NEVER allowed to come to your house then? You’re actually living with your wife!” And he would have a whole list of plausible answers or strategies ranging from, the classic, “oh for fucks sake, of course I’m not. Why are you so fucking suspicious all the time? You are such a headcase!” to his favourite line, “but why would I do that? Why would I lie to you?”and I would think, Well indeed. I still don’t know why. Why would anyone lie and lie and lie? Why would he think I needed him to tell me he was wealthy? Why would I care if he rented or owned his cottage? How could he imagine he could simply lie to his wife, lie to me and live two lives simultaneously without it going horribly fucking wrong? He was clever, but seriously, nobody is that clever. Because the truth DOES always out. Eventually. It does. It seeps out like jam out of a sandwich. Like pus from a wound. Like an over-full nappy. You cannot juggle the cognitive dissonance of multiple selves forever and you cannot ever fully control the puppets you create. Shit goes wrong. People get a funny feeling, and alarm bells will eventually ring. Whether you choose to hear them or not.
So now I have some truths. They are my truths. They do not come from W. I don’t have the answers I have sought, and I won’t ever get them from him. I have worked hard over the last two and a half years to reprogramme myself. To rewrite some of those broken scripts and to listen to myself keenly. I am not in direct contact with W now, other than receiving a small monthly repayment that I calculate will take another 12 years to pay off entirely) that I see on my bank statement. It was my last message to him, when I suggested the least he could do was attempt some reparation by paying a minimum sum to cover the loans he needed me to take out, to bankroll his fantasies. I don’t feel grateful he sends it to me, or guilty that I don’t feel grateful. He bloody well should be taking some responsibility to help mend the damage he caused. He carries on, happily involved with someone else, his new life all bread and seaside happiness. Yes, I am bitter about that, when I struggle with flashbacks and palpitations, nightmares and paying bills. I try not to be, but honestly, it isn’t fair. Occasionally, his name will pop up on social media and I will have a panic attack, and a few more nights of awful chasing nightmares, running away, anxiety dreams. Takes me a little while to calm back down. Each time is a little easier I guess.
I don’t think he could ever answer my questions, even if I asked him now or in the future, because I think that his psyche is so very fragmented and damaged, that putting all those parts of himself together, joining it up would be too dangerous. I don’t think he could do it without the absolute destruction of himself. He is a survivor, cockroach-like, protecting himself from the worst fall-out by moving onto another host, another source of emotional and practical sustenance. He has had to be this crawling thing throughout his life, created from chaotic, sad and damaged beginnings. So he will carry on. I feel sorry for the neglected child he was. I feel sorrow for the desperately lonely, unloved little boy that is still causing mayhem and chaos wherever he goes, in his fifty plus years of travel. His life is a broken thing. He doesn’t understand love, though he craves it. He needs to be needed and adored, but he cannot simply be with another person without damaging them. He loses every close relationship eventually and breaks everything he values emotional, because he has to hide so much of himself from every other person, just to present the sides of himself that he believes are lovable. He is a mixture of vanity and self-loathing, arrogance and a terrible, all-consuming fear of being abandoned.
My pity for him however, does not truly extend to compassion: I do not want to help him, nor do I care about his future. I care about me and my children and our lives. He has had everything he could from us: love, kindness, care and empathy. We absolutely cherished him. Now, I want to stay a million miles from him forever, because he is dangerous and destructive and remorseless. And plausible. Like all very exceptional liars, his personal charm is outrageous. He exudes confidence and makes you just WANT to believe him, because he knows what you most desperately want to believe too. For me it was that I was loved, I was safe, my children were loved and cared for, I had a warm, loving future ahead of me. Ironic, isn’t it?
Equally, I cannot warn others about the risk of getting close to him, because he has already explained me away as a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, as I knew he would. Of course. He has to protect himself. I understand this well. Gaslighting par excellence. DON’T BELIEVE THE BITCH WHEN SHE TELLS YOU HER LIES, SHES UNSTABLE, DONCHA KNOW?
But. I have digressed, haven’t I?
I started off talking about doing nothing, about nothingness. About not feeling guilty for doing nothing. And how the nothing begins, what it feels like inside. The weird niceness of the void.
I cling to the great big nothingness inside me, created maybe by the dissolving of what I thought had been true and real and mine. The story of me with the story of W. The paralysis I feel is perhaps the physical manifestation of the huge questions of what happened and why, that swim around my head all day and all night. The paralysis of not being able to trust my own judgments, to believe my own thoughts: how did I not work it out sooner? Can I trust my own spidey senses any more? What if I am just an idiot?
Writing is helping. It doesn’t answer the questions, but it is a way of creating something out of the nothing. It is a distraction from the nothing. It’s packaging. I’m not good at just allowing my thoughts to roll along, but I am learning. When I wail, I let myself wail now. It’s not fair! Why should I STILL suffer? Why did he pick me and my family? How could I let this happen? Round and round and round I go like a really shit and nauseating fairground ride. (Do you wanna go faster? No. I want to get off. Haha you can’t.)
My lovely therapist last year, helped me to allow the feelings and emotions (that are so horrible and scary and chilling and frightening) to exist, to just be. It is exhausting keeping the panic away and looking the feelings in the eye. I suppose that’s another reason for the nothing.
But, in the way that telling children scary fairytales helps them to practice emotional resilience, to have strategies for fighting their own dragons, I am retelling this narrative. Mine. Rewriting it. I feel in control of my own story. I am the author. It feels good. In a nasty kind of way. My words. My thoughts. Nobody putting them there, nobody to convince of anything. I can’t tell you how good it feels to create order in this black hole, even if I’d really rather forget the whole sorry fiasco.
And so I thank you for being my reader, for joining this dance with me: without you, it’s just an internal monologue, a rambling on by myself. With you, it is a story of me, an act of participation and the beginning of a dialogue. My steps and yours. You read, you listen, you see the picture I paint of the truths that are mine. In your own way. You think your thoughts, prompted by my words. You think your responses, whatever they may be, good, bad, harsh, kind, warm, impatient: I am ok with whatever you think. I am just pleased to be read, to know that the nothing is now something.
My phone rings. It’s my mother.
“What are you up to today? Doing anything exciting?”, she asks hopefully.
“Nope,” I reply, sniffing. “Nothing. I’m doing nothing at all.”
Which is just fine.
Continue reading Absolutely nothing is good for you