hand sticking out of a grey ocean, with the blog title 'trouble get behind me now, trouble let me be'
Photo by Mishal Ibrahim on Unsplash

Trouble
Don’t you see
That in your bed
I find no sleep
I confess you came because of me
Trouble get behind me now
Trouble let me be

Dave Matthews ‘Some Devil’ album 2003

I’ve been reflecting on what healthy communication looks like and how to ask for help, as part of a vague New Year resolution to be pro-active in getting out of the doldrums where I feel I’ve been stuck for the last two years.

The timing is interesting. It’s not the first time that this two-year cycle has come up in my life in the context of recovery from a particular ‘the shit has hit the fan’ moment. I’ve also noticed that the big ahah moment of ‘ahah! Here it is, trouble!‘ comes not when hardship first occurs. Sometimes, that first experience of trouble is merely the beginning of a journey down an emotional well, one that’s less ‘sudden drop into the abyss’ and more of a very slow trip down to the bottom of a black hole before starting the climb back up.

What I mean is that experiencing difficult emotions like grief or fear at the onset of trouble is expected. The real trouble comes months down the line, when your difficult emotions are not only still here, but they have not diminished in intensity as much as you thought they would, and instead have gone up incrementally and now affect your ability to do normal. It is then that comes the ahah moment, when you realise that you really are in trouble, when the normal emotions born of trauma have taken over your ability to function as you once did, and you suddenly realise that you are at the end of yourself.

Often, that moment of realisation comes as a genuine surprise, and this is hugely important in the context of asking for help. When trauma occurs, be it expected or not, the need for support is obvious. Relationship problems, bereavement, work changes, any such event brings about strong emotions and people understand if you are not at your best. You may not know what you need but friends and family understand your fragility. Less understood is the time it takes to recover from trauma, and the fact that often such recovery will go through ups and downs over weeks, months and years. Sometimes you may find that you are coping better at the onset of trauma than you do months later. It doesn’t mean that you are complacent and wallowing in the struggle, but that it is real and you need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

You need to go through that muddy valley of emotion to the point of immersion before you can begin the climb up onto the other side. You need to be able to own that pain and name it before you can start to move on.

A lot of people are uncomfortable with the reality that you might not be yourself for years, or even that you may never be your old self again. It’s hard to have patience for the complexity of human emotion that follows no path or pattern but its own.

To use a current example, some people are finding Remainers and EU nationals’ obsession with Brexit disturbing. Everyone is sick of hearing about it. ‘Get over it already’ and ‘What about the real issues going on in our country?’; ‘What about the NHS, and the homeless and the food bank crisis?’ Jeremy Corbyn has turned this into an art form. Whenever an important issue on Brexit is being discussed, he is somewhere else, talking about everything but Brexit.

I jest, but frankly, I am there too. I wish I could stop thinking about Brexit altogether and put it behind me like a bad case of cheese-induced vivid dreaming. Unfortunately, since June 2016, there hasn’t been a single day without some bit of news in relation to EU nationals, be it from the tabloids or the government, slagging off foreigners, blaming the EU, blaming Remainers for the failure of Brexit, blaming EU nationals in the UK for stealing jobs whilst telling us that we should be f*cking grateful for them or go back where we came from, blaming us for claiming benefits and for making the NHS queues longer. Well-meaning supporters tell us that we shouldn’t let it get to us, that it’s not about us but if it isn’t about us, who is it about, this ‘other‘, this mythical foreigner who does all these things because they’re only here to send money back to their backward foreign town. In person, we are told that we are wanted, but whenever we listen to the news or look at the Home Office website, we know that we are not welcome, that we are barely tolerated, a pawn in a government plan to drive the immigration statistics down.

The unwanted emotions all of this causes, well, they have to be managed somehow in the midst of lives that have their normal share of every day trouble. Sometimes they have to be managed on a daily basis. These days I can’t turn the news on without first taking a deep breath, bracing myself just in case Jacob Rees-Mogg comes on the screen and I have to restrain myself from throwing stuff at the tv. There are particular people whose voice I literally have to switch off because I can physically feel the tension rise; I can only watch them on silent with subtitles on (Donald Trump and Theresa May in particular come to mind).

None of this happens overnight, and talking about your struggle to maintain a normal life when nothing much seems to be happening may come across a bit snowflakey, like you’re not trying hard enough, like you are being oversensitive and overdramatic. God know I am not offended by every single thing that has been said in the last few years. It is the accumulation of these now innumerable moments of irritation and disappointment that upsets the balance: it is death by a thousand cuts.

And that’s the trouble with trouble. It takes way longer than you think to name it, and even longer to come out on the other side. It is literally only now, two years since the onset of this ‘accumulation of things going badly wrong’ (the relentlessness of Brexit bad news being only a part of it), that I have enough in me to reflect on what has happened from a sense of having come out on the other side, of having seen the worst of my emotions and being able to look at them and contemplate rising up.