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I don’t know if it’s just me, but every day brings a dozen new Facebook memes. About empaths, and narcissists, and unresolved childhood trauma. About how all that trauma makes you this and makes you that. Just this week Facebook told me that all that trauma has made me a people pleaser, a good listener, a person who always looks for the emergency exits whenever I enter a crowded room. (All true in case you were wondering)

It’s Facebook though. No-one wants to look beyond the memes. If they did, they’d see that the kind of trauma that makes you a good listener also leaves you feeling like you don’t matter unless you’re listening. And that you can’t actually put yourself first – no matter how often the memes urge you to – because you don’t know how. It’s like learning to speak a really difficult language as an adult. It takes endless practice to be able to manage even the smallest of coherent sentences. I just don’t have the history of self-love to tap into. Like a lot of the people those memes are aimed at, I was too busy doing the listening, pleasing, looking for emergency exits thing to figure out what I might like to do for myself. And figuring it out at my age is as hard as it is delightful.

And trauma makes you anxious. The memes don’t mention that. I’ve had a lifetime of anxiety, of waiting for bad things to happen. And I mean WAITING. In capital letters. Not that kind of playing with your phone while you hang out at a bus stop kind of waiting. I’m talking about the dread and anxiety that comes from waiting for bad things to happen that you absolutely certainly believe are in your immediate future: that plane you’re taking that’s going to crash, that tiny pain that you know is definitely cancer, that loved one that’s going to walk out of the door one day and never come back. It’s called crippling anxiety for what must be obvious reasons. I was limping badly. My therapist (a wonderful, talented, sarcastic-as-hell woman called Anna) was like a physio teaching me to walk again. The first time I flew alone (across the fucking Atlantic Ocean no less) was like throwing my crutches away. The first year I managed without a single doctor’s visit was like running a marathon.

You know lots of people with anxiety. Even if you don’t know you know lots of people with anxiety. A lot of us hide it well. We’re a little too helpful, completely across the detail, and super fucking reliable (of course we are), but it comes at a cost. We find it hard to switch off, we worry (over every detail, reaction, over everything that could go wrong) and second guessing is our superpower. And the need to please that stems from all that trauma means that if you ask me what I want to eat, where I want to go, what I want to do, I don’t always know. Ask me again. Be patient, encourage me to choose, don’t let me deflect. I need the practice. To keep on exercising.


And in a crowded room, stick by my side, I’m always going to know where the emergency exits are. It might even be helpful one day

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