Right now I am in the middle of what has turned out to be a very challenging ‘holiday’. I used the inverted commas, because although I am in another country, and not at work, I don’t feel at all relaxed.
Almost a year ago, my sister moved to Germany. We’ve kept in touch on Skype, and she’s been back to the UK a few times, but this is my first trip to see her in her new home. I struggle when I am away from my familiar comforts, even when it’s a low-key work trip and there is very little to be stressed about. But here, I am fully immersed in family dynamics. And that is really wearing me down.
In hindsight, this trip was not a great idea. I don’t quite know what I expected. I travelled here with my mum, and without my wife. And since arriving, I’ve not had much time at all away from the company of her and my sister. At times, I’ve felt like the emotional tension was almost palpable. I guess it’s all magnified by the fact that my sister is 6 months pregnant and has a lot of hormones to contend with.
I have a loving relationship with both of them. My sister is one of my best friends. And I do enjoy spending time with my mum. But when the three of us are together, I find it exhausting. I feel as though my mum is torn between the two of us, and my sister takes up so much space.
My sister has always occupied the majority of the space in any situation. She has a big personality. She’s fiery and she thrives on drama. She likes being the focus of the attention.
When I was growing up, this was difficult to manage. I never had the forcefulness or the courage to compete with her. Or maybe I just didn’t believe there was any point in trying. Either way, I let myself become small and insignificant. I made myself quiet and compliant, so there was room for my parents to cope with her being metaphorically huge, and literally loud.
I have been aware of all of this for a long time. I resented it, and I suppose I still do. But when I planned to spend these 5 days here in my sister’s apartment, it seems I forgot about it. I forgot how hard it is to feel so unimportant.
Maybe that’s why I am finding this trip so difficult. I feel isolated, because the people I am with don’t understand me, and don’t really have the capacity or will to try. My sister is obsessively talking about her pregnancy. I can honestly say I know more about growing a baby than anyone who isn’t pregnant has ever really needed to. Her lecturing on the topic is uninvited and relentless.
And then she seems to constantly find ways to shout me down and prove me wrong. I have reverted to my childhood state of being as quiet as possible unless I am asked a question. Because I so quickly tire of being ‘educated’ and told I don’t know what I am talking about. It even happened when I told her the weather forecast earlier today. She almost accused me of lying about it, until I showed her the app I was looking at on my phone. I seem to need to prove myself all the time.
The other thing that’s making this time away hard is managing my eating disorder. At home, I have a regimented routine when it comes to eating. Following this feels safe and comfortable for me. I eat alone, or just with my wife, and so I am not pushed to eat more or different things. My wife worries that I am not eating enough, but she doesn’t criticise me for it.
Being in a situation in which other people are in charge of my food is really creating a lot of anxiety for me. I am anxious I am being judged. I’m anxious I will offend people if I don’t eat enough. I am anxious that I am eating more than usual, or the ‘wrong’ foods – things outside of what I allow myself to have at home. Yesterday evening, all of this got really unmanageable and I ended up eating so much that I was ill all night. I did that purely because I wanted my family to think I am normal. And because I felt like if I didn’t eat with them, I’d be somehow spoiling their enjoyment of the food.
I’m really missing my wife. I’ve been away from her since early on Thursday morning now, and I won’t see her until Monday night. Even then, my mother in law will be at my house, so we won’t have any quality time together. I just want to curl up with her and have a cuddle. I want her to wrap me up in blankets so I can sleep close to her and feel secure and accepted just how I am.
I know I will have that, and I am focusing on how good it will feel to be back with her and in the sanctuary of my home in a few days. I guess it all feels a bit more gruelling because I’ll only be home briefly before I have to head to France for a work trip on Thursday. I will be so glad when that’s over and I can settle back into the safety of all my routines and habits in a week’s time.