Social Distancing Can Bring Fears Closer

Last night, I had a dream that spoke to my deepest anxiety… more on that anxiety in a bit. First, the dream:

I was attending a work session with a group of teachers with which I currently work. I could see their faces, or at least my brain’s mashed up version of their faces. There were tables set out. I was going from table to table, trying to find a seat. Everyone was very nice, saying hello, being so sweet. However, no one had a seat for me.

The entire dream was me trying to figure out which table had room for me. Where did I belong? 

So often, dreams are hard to interpret. What did that ice cream cone with spinach (or something like that) mean in my dream?  This one was clear as a bell for me. Of course, it meant I was searching for my seat at the table. I was trying to fit in this world somewhere. Most of the dream, I was trying to wedge in sideways as these happy people exchanged stories and looked up to say hi to me. I was liked, spoken to with kindness, yet I could not find my seat at the table.

It doesn’t take an expert to know I am trying to figure out where I fit.

This is not a sad story. I have so many friends who love me and show it. My husband is the best person in the world. My kids are fantastic, and getting along surprisingly well as we finish out 4 weeks of quarantine for the COVID-19 virus.

However, as we all isolate and practice social distancing, there is a section of the population that are not getting the affirmations they need so dearly. If you are one of them, I want you to know you are not alone.  Those simple affirmations are fewer now: daily hellos, funny stories in passing, a smile on a friend’s face because they are happy to see you.  Isolating and distancing so we can stop the spread of a deadly virus takes away those simple moments. Distancing from others is bringing our fears closer.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve done surprisingly well these four weeks. As an extrovert, I was curious as how I would react. Day 29 is starting and I find joy every single day.

This dream, though, shows my deepest fears still roam my brain.  The anxiety that fills me is that I am not worthy of the love given to me. I am more of a burden than a blessing.

To me, it makes no sense. I know I’m loved. I feel needed. The school district for which I substitute teach could have cut me loose a couple weeks ago when we realized for sure we would be distance learning. However, they kept me on as the interim sub for a 7th grade science and math teacher through the end of the school year.  My supervisors were so kind and expressed joy that I was staying on.

I could go on, and on. None of it takes away or stifles that little voice that says I don’t deserve any of it. Those of you reading this that suffered childhood trauma may be able to see why clearly, I don’t know. Sometimes I can see where this negative energy originates.  Other times I just run down the rabbit hole.

Like for instance, this nagging fear that resurfaced this year. To help you understand… I will need to take you back to when I was very young and already feeling like a burden in the world.

My earliest memories of me feeling this way started around the age of 4. I don’t remember being told this directly, but I was reminded by many that my mom had to work very hard to take care of me on her own.

I knew how hard it was for her.

So, I was 4 years old and my mom had finally found a babysitter she could afford.

I can remember the first decision I made to avoid becoming more of a burden to her. My abusive babysitter’s husband had instantly started sexually abusing me. He was also sexually abusing his daughter.

Besides the fear and shame I had, I also knew my mom needed that family to babysit me so she could work to support us. They didn’t charge too much, so she could afford them. I knew that at a young age. 

That wasn’t the only abuse I hid from my mom.

I will never forget the sunny day, as us kids played outside, the fear I felt well up inside as I stood next to the air conditioning unit, having to go to the bathroom, trying to hold it all in because my babysitter said no one could go back inside.

I ended up having an accident of epic proportions. My sitter yelled, and then… as a punishment to me… spanked a foster child with a wooden spoon, because she could not hit a child who was returning home that night.

I cried and apologized to him and knew I was an awful kid because I couldn’t hold it in. Because of me, he got a whooping. The guilt still swells up when I think about it.

My mom was pretty upset that I messed my pants, worried the sitter was so upset that my mom wouldn’t have a place to take me. I could tell she was anxious that she wouldn’t have a place to take me or someone to care for me. That day is forever in my brain. I began to hide everything from that nightmare of a house. I took the blows. I absorbed the pain and acted as happy as I could.

I knew I was loved, don’t get me wrong. However, I also knew my dad wasn’t helping, and my mom had to work hard. That feeling sticks with me today.

A person in my life let me know several times this year that I was a burden on her. 

I knew she wasn’t being fair. I knew it wasn’t my fault. I knew she was overwhelmed and stressed by the change in her life. However, I also have a child inside of me who worked and still works so hard not to be a burden. I spent every day crying for weeks.  

I am not proud of that. In fact, I’m embarrassed. I share it with you anyway because I hope if any of you still carry these childhood pains in your heart, you can read this, say I was being ridiculous, and then apply it to yourself.  

Maybe others can understand that when a seed is planted during someone’s childhood, the roots have longer to take hold and grow stronger than an adulthood of love and happiness. Those roots can permeate all positive thoughts and just spring up their own flowers of doubt within an instant.

I think people misunderstand our baggage as a weakness. I know I do sometimes. However, the amount of strength it took me to not quit, to smile every day, and to hold in my flood of emotion was so much more than the strength of walking away or fighting.

As I continue the work on overcoming abuses from decades ago, I still see the fears creep up in the middle of the night. I know some of you do as well. For some, this isolation may work to bring a good excuse as to why you have to avoid social interaction. For others, it may work against you, as you usually feed off others’ energy.

What I worry about is that I know many who have survived, and even thrived, after childhood trauma may be currently trying to find your self-worth. Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you haven’t seen loved ones. Maybe you haven’t been able to see your support group or counselor.

I want you to know, you are not alone, even if you physically are. People without any trauma, without this baggage, are struggling with our world’s current realities. You are ok when you struggle as well. 

If a dream crops into your night, reminding you of your lack of self-worth, please try not to let it overcome you. I don’t know the perfect formula for you to get you out of that negative head space. I first did a puzzle. Then, I wrote this blog. Now, I am planning on taking my kids to my in-laws property… keeping a social distance from Mom and Dad… and walking around one of my favorite places. (no people around)

I hope you can find your formula and you don’t get lost in the silence of this social distancing. I hope instead this silence can help you find a better voice… one that tells you to love yourself a little more.

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