Relationships & Mental Health

January 24th, 2021 by Kat Kingsley-Hughes

I read this quote earlier and it just clicked: “the reason that distress in a relationship so often plunges us into inner chaos is because our hearts and brains are set up to use our partners to help us find our balance in the midst of distress and fear. If they instead become a source of distress, then we are doubly bereft and vulnerable.” – Dr Sue Johnson.

Feeling safe in relationship is such a gift. And it is a gift I have given to myself, but if you’re reading this you probably helped. Thank you.

I wasn’t safe in relationship before. I cried every day and for much of the day. People tried to get me to see what was happening, but I just couldn’t let it in. I was wilfully blind and it played into my childhood rule that goes: ‘if someone says or shows that they don’t love you, then you love them all the more and work all the harder at it.’

Boy did I work hard. In truth I drove myself crazy. I can remember the constant tension in my body, the agitation, the effort, the lack of a space to settle or to just be. There was no settling. Even sleep did not provide the rest that I desperately needed.

In truth, the same or similar is probably true for my former husband. I am sure it felt as bad and toxic for him. That’s his journey, not my business, but I accept that the other side of the experience was likely equally stressful and depleting. I can only speak of my own journey and it’s been long and painful. And so confusing.

Healthy relationships make a huge difference. I used to have just one person in my world. I often visualise this as fitting like a giant virus onto my attachment needs receptor, taking all the oxygen from the room and leaving very little space for me. It felt complete and abundant but also was so damaging and unsupportive. I felt criticised down to my bones, while I played mother to his needs and utterly neglected my own. And I needed people. There was a whole world of them out there and I couldn’t reach them. And I needed not to be chastised for needing that connection. I needed relationships to be plural not singular. For me that one person stood in the way of 7.8 billion. And I felt so guilty for wanting to connect with others besides him. Even as I am writing this I am worried that maybe you’re thinking I mean sexual partners or lovers outside marriage. No I just mean friends, acquaintances. To be able to say: ‘I met a nice lady at the shops today. We talked about the weather’ without getting that look or that lecture like I had broken my marriage vows. I was isolated. Social distancing and isolation during the pandemic is nothing like my life as it was.

Having relationships is healthy and, as I’ve discovered, it is essential to mental health. Gradually people populated my world. And again, I feel compelled to thank you for this. Whoever you are. (Even now, even if I don’t know you, this is still relating. Even if you’re thinking I’m the biggest arse on the planet, that is relating. And I am still grateful for it. I do think you’re wrong, mind, but that’s just my opinion. You are entitled to your own. And I love you for that too!)

For a long while, having other people in my world felt strange. I felt like I didn’t have enough spaces for them. Like each one needed a ‘slot’ or a ‘pigeon hole’ to fit into my heart. I worried constantly about forgetting people, letting people down, or not making enough effort. I even kept lists of names just in case someone I had met dropped off my radar. Gradually this feeling has subsided. Now people can flow in and out of my awareness and it seems easy to bring faces and hearts to mind. I feel grateful for every single one. You each had an impact that I value.

And I am grateful for something else which helped with the process. It was the worst pain I have ever felt: my kids cut off from me. For the largest part of 2019 I was alone. And I admit I was a wreck. People who met me that year will likely agree. I was like a tiny ship at sea on a huge turbulent ocean. To those people who stuck by me, even though I was such a shipwreck in the making, I am so deeply grateful. Sometimes people are going through huge things that we cannot see, and are definitely hard to be around. But if you can be the land that stays solid and stable while the little ship learns to steady itself, you have done a huge service to them. And I am learning in my own efforts to be that sturdy shoreline, that just being present is often healing enough.

So back to my kids. They gave me space to do that journey. They’d grown up seeing their mother as not quite a person, not self-actualised or whole. And they suffered too for having a mum that was never quite able to settle. Or at other times struggled to haul herself out of bed. If Mum can’t feel safety within herself, how can she offer safety to you?

So they knew I needed to go that journey alone, not just to switch my attachment to my kids instead of to my partner as so many of us are apt to do in midlife. And it was wise of my kids to look after themselves in that way too. It’s not their job to provide emotional support to their mother, and that is especially true where a mother is struggling to find her own sense of self. I am grateful that they looked after themselves. I learn so much about life and about boundaries and wholeness from them. Things my mother was never able to teach me. I feel guilty at times that my kids seem to be the teacher and I the student, but maybe that is how it always is as we go on this parenting journey, just as therapists have a parallel journey with their clients. We are all learning as we go. As Ram Das said: We are all walking one another home. In 2020 my youngest told me she hoped it would work out that I would find myself and that she is proud of me. I couldn’t be prouder of all of us!!

My sense of self came gradually during 2019. I gathered a piece here and a piece there. Many shorelines helping me along the way, as I put out to sea again and again, all the while learning to find that strength inside myself.

And one day it was there. My sails unfurled and I realised I felt for the first time in a long time like a person. ⛵️

Then about five minutes later, Covid and lockdown happened, but I am grateful that I had found that spark in those months before. And truthfully lockdown has only helped to ignite it into something that feels sustainable and self-sufficient.

And now relationships feel so nourishing, knowing that I can give and also receive. So many of my friendships before were paid ones – the nail technician, the yoga teacher, etc. There is nothing wrong with those relationships, but at the time I felt like I only had the choice to buy friendship. Now I realise the friendship came for free. I was the one putting a price on it, because I truly believed I had nothing to offer. Give and take is beautiful. Having friends I can rely on is so comforting. Having friends who rely on me feels wonderful. It’s all so nourishing and wholesome. It feels good!

And now I know: there is nothing to be ashamed of in seeking connection. In truth, if I hadn’t held the belief deep inside that needing others was somehow shameful, then my ex could not have fanned those flames with judgement that there was something wrong with me if I sought connection with other people. As if talking to a friend on the phone or sharing a good morning wave with a stranger was somehow a perverted and deceitful need. I laugh when I look back. It does take two to make a toxic relationship. I already had what he needed to hook into. I swallowed it willingly. It felt amazing when he was loving towards me, like our relationship was an impenetrable fortress. But it felt awful when I was alone behind those fortress walls. It was unhealthy and wrong, but I was a prisoner of my own love – which incidentally is what the plaque his sister gave us on our wedding day read. 😱

Now, I am happy to say that my relationships support my other relationships. My friends even get to meet each other! I feel part of many communities and those communities get to join together through me. Your vibe truly really does attract your tribe. I feel like I am surrounded in belonging.

I remember Deirdre teaching me to fill up the whole of myself, to take up the whole room. I hadn’t realised I was squashed into a corner inside my own psyche, my own body and my own home. (Thank you to her and Jack and all the community that I’ve met through them.)

Paul helped me to take back my home, to smudge the love from those communities all around my house. Yes I carried my laptop around all the corners with all your faces on the screen. You are all my sage!! (Thank you!)

Francis my therapist provided a secure gestalt at the same time every week of my fragile process. He knows me better than anyone else on the planet, probably including me! He has witnessed my change and my growth and kept me aware of my progress. (Sending out huge thanks to him across the ether as he is far too ethical to be reading this.)

All the Hakomi community made me so welcome. They are my family now. Finally a place to be that feels completely safe – and what’s more I know that if it didn’t feel safe I can bring that feeling and work with it.

My hypnotherapy and well-being coaching friends have been so supportive. My screenwriting friends have been stalwarts and they’ve witnessed me through some of my worst so huge kudos to them for sticking around!! I like to think that if nothing else I provided some fodder for writing their more insane characters! 😂

My school friends going way back – thank you. It’s been some journey hasn’t it? Just knowing you are there keeps me grounded.

And to one relationship in particular (who isn’t quite ready to come into the public eye just yet, but some of you may guess who he is) has been so steadying, so strong and nurturing, so wise and so vulnerable in equal measure, he has taught me what it really means to be loved – thank you!

Now I’m not saying my ship is completely steady, or that my crew is well trained or that the sails aren’t luffing about in the breeze at times. Or indeed that the boom doesn’t come about and smack me in the head and dump me in the ocean all too frequently. But I am beginning to feel seaworthy at long last. And I have a whole bunch of tools and resources to shiver me timbers to help me carry on. ⛵️(Ok ok I am letting the nautical metaphor go, it was useful but then it wasn’t. At least it may provide my ex with some nifty ‘my ex wife was a battleship’ jokes should he be reading this. If so, have at it, sir, and be on your way! I don’t feel any animosity but may we keep our distance from now on.)

My divorce came through last week. I am finally – and legally – a whole me.

And I’ve never really been one of those before.


This entry was posted on Sunday, January 24th, 2021 at 1:53 pm and is filed under Flotsam. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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