Isolation as a State of Mind

***Warning — Physical Violence, Burn Injury ***

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One of the things that I remember most about my childhood is the constant sense of isolation that I lived with. Even when I didn’t remember what had been done to me, I still felt like I lived in a world separate from everyone else’s.

I didn’t make friends easily, but even when I had a friend or two, I didn’t really feel connected to them. It wasn’t until I was in college that I made a good friend with whom I feel very close.

In some ways the feeling is hard to describe. It was like part of me was a terminal (sorry for the tech-speak, I can’t figure out a better analogy), the part of a public computer that users can access for certain functions. Part of me was the server behind the terminal, always monitoring what was going on, but not really engaging in the the interactions, and constantly making sure that the terminal’s outputs were correct and that the people interacting with the terminal couldn’t access any more than what the server made available to them, and couldn’t even know that there was more to the system than the terminal.

I still get this way sometimes, like there’s a dispassionate observer in my head that doesn’t get involved in what I’m feeling or doing. Until I started remembering the sexual abuse during my childhood, I always though this separate part of me was because I write (and have since I was six), that I’d somehow trained myself to be objectively observant of all events, including ones involving me directly.

Now, I’m pretty sure that it was a result of trying to live as if I were a normal kid when I was so thoroughly damaged. I remember lots of events — birthday parties, bike crashes, arguments with my parents — in a dual way, as if I had parallel cameras going that were recording different spectrums. One side of the memory just watched, the other side participated and felt.

I don’t get that feeling like I used to, but there are things that can set it off, and then it’s hard to get back out. I can also deliberately send myself into that state, but I don’t like doing that anymore.

Whatever it is I was doing, it was definitely useful on a few occasions. One was when one of the kids in our neighborhood (I think I was seven and this kid was probably about thirteen) liked to come into our yard and bully my brothers and I. One day, he brought a piece of rebar and went after my brother, A. lets call him. A. ducked the blow just in time, and I saw myself stand up, rush over to the bigger kid, and take the rebar. It was like watching someone else do it all. I’m still not sure how I took the bar out of his hands. I shouldn’t have been strong enough to do it, but I did. And then, I could see, not feel, really, but see that I was angry. I was going to kill the boy for trying to hurt my brother. I hit him with the bar, and he fell over. I hit him again, and again, and again. I only stopped when the observer part of me told me that killing him was a bad idea, and that I’d hurt him enough that he probably wouldn’t come back (he did, and I beat him up again, but that’s another story).

Even though this divided state of mind was useful to me sometimes, it left me feeling so disconnected from everything that I didn’t feel like I ever belonged anywhere. It kept me from connecting to people too. Worst, it messed with my ability to figure out what I was feeling about things. I often dismissed my own emotions as my imagination since clearly I wasn’t feeling anything, or was I? I had the same problem with physical pain. The more severe the pain, the farther I got from it. I burned my hand on the waffle iron one morning when my dad and I were making breakfast. It hurt right away, but nothing like it did later. Yet, I still made the decision to go play baseball in the park with my brothers even though I’d have to put that hand in my catchers mitt. Enough of me wasn’t feeling the pain that I couldn’t make safe decisions about my own health. The blisters all burst, bled a seeped clear liquid. It was hard to clean the glove out, and the burns took longer to heal because of that.

I pretty much lived in that state from about six years old until I was maybe ten. After that, it would fade out and come back depending on what was going on. When I started high school, I went back into that mode of living most of the time. I hated feeling that way, and it exacerbated the depression that had started when I was twelve-ish.

Now it only turns on if I’m triggered, or I have a memory resurface that I can’t handle right away. Living is getting easier. Though, some days, I have to remind myself of that.


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