One day, when I was five years old, my grandparent picked me up for a visit, and just… kept driving.
I didn’t come back for another 14 years.
Here’s the deal. What I know of my life between born and five is hearsay from several sources, pieced together, and heavily influenced by bias and personal opinion. What little facts I can corroborate come from court and hospital records, and to be honest- I don’t want to dredge that stuff up with my family. My siblings don’t deserve it, their kids don’t deserve it, and I certainly don’t want to have that fight. I’ve been doing really well in my endeavor to not go back on anxiety meds, and I don’t want to relapse. I like being awake for the majority of my life.
So, for some backstory.
I had lived with my grandparents for as long as I could remember, until a social worker showed up to the only home I had ever known and asked me if I wanted to go get ice cream. This seemed to be some secret social worker code for ‘remove you from the only stable home and constant parental figures you have ever known,’ because that’s exactly what she did (and she lied about the ice cream, too). I didn’t have a very close relationship with my mom, and it wasn’t easy for me to think of her house as my home. I would often ask when I could go home again, which I’m sure she hated.
I don’t have a lot of memories of my dad during this specific period. Previously he was a very angry man that would yell at me for random things, and is probably where my anxiety comes from. He wasn’t necessarily a bad man, just that the marines failed to teach him that you don’t scream at your toddlers for things they can’t understand. He doesn’t scream anymore, which I’m grateful for.
The basic facts are that after my parents split, my dad and I went to live with his parents. At some point his parents kicked him out, and kept me. My mom sued for custody, and there was a battle in court that my grandparents lost. They asked for, and were granted, visitation. During one of these visits, they took off with me.
And it wasn’t a spur of the moment thing. They had planned this for a while. Making friends out of state that would help them change their identities and get new social security numbers. In fact, when we finally settled in a state, they both worked regularly and paid taxes like any other citizen. I went to private schools and got a really good education. My early years with them were like an adventure, and I had a lot of fun. But the fantasy only lasts for so long.
After a while people notice you have holes in the story of your life. That you get nervous when people ask you about your family. I had kids in my class tell their parents they thought something was wrong, and suddenly I had to go to another school, again. Or we had to change our names again.
As I got older, the controlling behavior got worse. I got in trouble for the most innocuous of things. They would threaten me with boarding school if I didn’t conform to how they wanted me to behave. I wasn’t allowed to be angry or sad. I wasn’t allowed to have negative feelings of any kind. They forced me to go to endless psychologists, but never supported the therapy and undermined everything they tried to help me with. They would go through my things, looking for any small thing they could punish me for. Even if it was a gift from a school friend, if it was the wrong color I was grounded for a month. Even as a young adult, this behavior never changed. I was 12 minutes late coming back from my 21st birthday, and I honestly thought I was going to die that night. The only thing I could do to escape all of it, was read. And thankfully books were one of the only things I was allowed to consume with very little screening.
From the beginning my mental health suffered as my brain tried to simultaneously assimilate to my reality while also protect me from it. And unbeknownst to me, I had an undiagnosed brain condition that was affecting my body and adding more stress to my situation. Puberty completely sucked.
To put this in context, I was a child and young teen put into a cook pot full of water, and someone was slowly turning the temperature up. My body knew it was boiling, but my mind thought everything was normal. I didn’t realize I was a complete mess until after the facade ended and I had to become ‘myself’ again. But until then, I had almost a decade and a half to develop some really dandy problems I dealt with by using extremely unhealthy coping mechanisms.
The anxiety manifested itself around the age of five, and I was diagnosed with dissociative issues at seven. Because of this I have large gaps in my memory, and a hard time recognizing the memories I do have as belonging to myself and not some other person whose life I just happened to observe while growing up. I have always had a very hard time having a sense of self. This is also rooted in my self esteem. I don’t feel like a person. I am a placeholder for another being that doesn’t exist anymore. Fighting against the depression that inescapable mentality brought on has been a lifelong challenge for me. Even now in my mid thirties, in the most stable my life has ever been, the fight is ongoing. It is better now, as at one point about ten years ago I was very suicidal.
I no longer feel the urge to end my life, which I see as proof that I have a healthier mindset now. But I don’t think I will ever actually fully shake the feeling that I have no reason to exist. I have that longing for a loving and supportive family, which I do not have, and will most likely never have. The lack of it makes me feel quite worthless. And yes, I know that this isn’t logical. That’s why they call it a mental illness.
The numbness that my younger self used as a way to quiet my personality and be more compliant with the demands placed on me by my grandparents has slowly lifted, leaving in it’s place a lot of uncertainty and confusion. The anger I was never allowed to express now has an outlet, and I have no idea what to do with it. I am not by nature an angry person, but I am more reactive now, and I don’t like it. Which has basically made the anxiety worse. Actually, to save time, let’s just assume everything has made the anxiety worse. Because it has.
I cannot describe my mental state when I was diagnosed with Chiari Malformation. To go through everything that had happened to me, to struggle with the consequences of the choices of the adults in my life, and to finally have found some semblance of peace- only to be hit by a truck (literally), and then told my brain was deformed and I was lucky to be alive. I have never felt less lucky than in that moment. My diagnoses robbed me of a lot of my personal triumphs, and forced me to let go of a future I had worked hard to build for myself with the support of my husband. I was back to being powerless again, and a lot of my issues resurfaced afterwards. Surgery did not help my mental state.
As a result of everything, I have had to restart my life a few times. Each time feels like a failure. And I am so tired of failing. Because of my strange history, I feel very awkward around other people and find it very difficult to make genuine connections with them. I have a hard time relating to normal life experiences, and my personal anecdotes usually freak well adjusted people out. So I tend to keep to myself and most of my friends are online. We talk about video games and politics. Less terrible topics than my actual personal life.
If it weren’t for my husband, I don’t know where I would be right now. I most likely would not be alive. If the Chiari hadn’t been found when it was, it’s more than likely I would have died without surgery. And if I had not made the decision to be with him, it would never have been found. So I guess I owe coincidence and probability a favor and a thank you. And him too.
As for the little girl I used to be, I have no idea where she went. I have no idea who she could have been. I regret taking part in the destruction of that potential. logically I know the guilt is not mine, but since both my grandparents are dead, I am the only one left to blame and others don’t seem to have a problem with blaming the victim for her own kidnapping and manipulation. That was totally sarcastic, by the way. I have enough problems without having to deal with other people’s irrational crap. As for little me, she wanted to be a vet. Or a lawyer. An archeologist! She wanted to make people happy. Live a life of freedom and adventure. At least I was able to stop the horrible perms. she hated those. Maybe one day I can figure out how to make her proud.