I’m a pretty big fan of salad, particularly if someone else makes it for me. Usually, even if it’s a bit average, a salad is crunchy and tasty, and gives you the satisfaction of knowing it’s good for you. But the other day, I made a really bad one. It should have been delicious. It had all the yummy ingredients – chargrilled capsicum, walnuts, fetta, pear, rocket. But for some reason it was just gross. Maybe I overcooked or under-seasoned something. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for the soggy bitter-sweetness of it. I went back to it again and again over the course of a few days, and every time it was nasty. Still, I persisted. I hate throwing away food even more than I hated the salad. And in the end I got through it. Well, most of it. I did feed some to an unsuspecting friend, and some to the worms.
This got me thinking about ‘my salad days, when I was green in judgement’ (Shakespeare quote!) and some of the choices I have made or been effected by that have led me to the point I am now at. I am currently single, and have been for longer than at any other point since my first teen romance. It hasn’t been all that long in the scheme of things – less than a year, in fact – but it has been long enough for me to wonder if this might be a long-term arrangement, and to consider how I feel about that.
When I left my husband, I was so traumatised by the last leg of our marriage that I wanted to be single for an extended period. I wanted time to go through the grieving process, to figure my sh*t out. It didn’t last long. For the first time in my life, I felt free to do what most sensible people do in their teens and early twenties: explore, try things out, fool around. I felt liberated, and unafraid. So I powered through a couple of relationships and casual romances, and I learned a lot about what I wanted and didn’t want, and I hurt people I genuinely cared for, and I successfully avoided the grief and hurt I was carrying. I packaged it up and hid it away under stories of an amicable separation, and joy in my newfound freedom, and stress from work and study, and a myriad of other things. And there it waited, ever so patiently.
I don’t express negative emotion easily. I think I’m better at it than I used to be, but my instinctive reaction to anger, frustration, jealousy, whatever, is to deny it. This is partly to do with my risk-averse nature (confrontation = risk), and partly to do with a lack of modelling when I was growing up. Overt expression of anger was not welcome in my familial home – our tradition was to repress negative emotion into passive aggression and the silent treatment. There were very few visible fights, and there were fewer visible apologies. I remember being at a friend’s place when I was about 9, when her parents had a fight about who should have turned off the kettle. One of them was on the toilet, the other was laying down, but they each thought the other could have got to the kitchen quicker, and the whole neighbourhood heard about it. I can remember pausing in the game we were playing and asking my friend if her parents were alright. She looked at me as if I was crazy, shrugged and said, “Yeah – they’re just having a fight.”
I felt so sorry for her. I was sure her parents were moments away from a divorce (still a bad word, when I was a kid). And I remember feeling so glad that my parents never fought. Of course, I didn’t realise at the time that no fighting didn’t mean no anger or frustration. In any relationship, there is going to be those things. But in my home, growing up, they were kept very tightly lidded. This left me with quite an impressive talent for setting aside negative feeling, and carrying on as if everything is fine. I’m sure I’ve written about this ‘skill’ before – it’s something I will be unlearning for the rest of my days.**
Last year, when my most recent relationship ended very unexpectedly, I decided to be actively single. I thought it would be good for me to be alone for an extended period, even after my heartache had eased. On some level, I knew that I needed time and space to process all the feels I had set aside for so long. I promptly developed a massive crush and used it as a cheerful distraction for the next six months. When that petered out, I was finally left to face the prospect of being actually, properly, single. Probably for a long time. Possibly for good. And it was then that I rediscovered that carefully hidden package of bleargh, mouldering like a forgotten bag of lettuce in the crisper.
Over the last couple of years, it has grown somewhat. Parts are condensed, compounded. There are new lumps and bumps to it. It is bulging at the seams. Bits of it have begun leaking out at inconvenient moments, causing me to cry, a lot, for no apparent reason. I have started having panic attacks again, waking in the night to the sound of my racing pulse, unable to get back to sleep. I have spent years distracting myself, allowing myself to ignore all these unprocessed feelings. I can’t do that anymore. I want to, I find it much more pleasant, but my body/brain won’t let me. These days, even when I’m having a great time and everything is going well, I can feel that bundle pressing against the edge of my mind. At first, it terrified me. I was a mess. But now, after a few months, I’ve grown used to it being there. I have taken steps to manage it – I booked a holiday, I went on a silent meditation retreat, I’m more actively managing my workload. I am working on acknowledging the presence of this bundle, without letting it overwhelm me. I am trying to co-exist with it. I know I can’t unpack all this history on my own, so I have enlisted professional help – in a few weeks I will start seeing a psychologist again. I am not looking forward to sifting through the detritus of my mind, but I know it needs to be done. Like eating a walnut and pear salad you don’t really like, but you know is good for you. And I am hoping that, in time, I will be able to answer some of the big questions that have begun raising their heads, as I move beyond my salad days.
**I don’t mean this to reflect poorly in any way on my folks. I have no doubt they did what they thought was best for their ever growing family, just as I have no doubt that I am messing with my daughter’s psyche in unforeseen ways. We can only do the best we can.