For as long as I can remember I have had a yellow blanket. My baby blanket was yellow, and my replacement baby blanket was yellow when the first one became unwashable. As an adult, I have fuzzy yellow throws . I just like them. I really never thought about why. Yellow is a happy color and goes with everything. God this story is hard to tell. Not because it is painful, but it is hard to convey the part I need you to get. It’s important.
But the most memorable yellow blanket was my bedspread in the room across from Billy’s during one hospital admission stay circa late 1978. So – as I have previously mentioned- inpatient visiting hours were from 10-12 and 2-6. On this particular day, I had been checked in to the hospital around lunch time and my mom had left because visiting hours were over. I wasn’t unpacked or in my gown yet, but I had refused my lunch. Billy and his friend Ricky had IVs in their head or feet and were racing on the poles to the nurses station and back. (These were the days when an IV pole did not have monitors) Billy was swiping my mayo and ketchup packets off the discarded lunch tray outside my room and cackling. Oh how he loved to hoard condiments.
I memorized every line and bump in that yellow bedspread. Hollow, hopeless, full of dread at the 5 days to come. Chemo every day at 3 pm. Vomiting all night conveniently beginning right after visiting hours, ending right before dawn. It was the gas crisis- people could fill up on “odd” or “even” days. I hoped mom could come to the hospital every day, she certainly tried and almost always succeeded. On the drive over, I always begged my mom to take us anywhere but the hospital. I know now she thought about driving us both off a cliff- as any good mother would. I tried to use my biofeedback skills to lower my white count so I would not have to stay in the hospital- and sometimes my white count would be too low to get treatment, and then more fear would take its place- the fear that I had done something on purpose to make the cancer come back.
That little yellow blanket was all I had that day- and many days. Too tired to read, watch TV or talk. It absorbed all of the fear and want I had. I just wanted my mom, not my mom of a 9 year old but the mom of a baby. I wanted to be held and rocked in a safer time when none of this had ever entered our lives.
My treatment ended a few months early due to failure to thrive. I was empty. I don’t remember being sad, I just didn’t care.
Flash forward a few years and enter cognitive therapy. I was SMART. Graduated 15/667 in my class in High School, got into all of the colleges I applied to. Worked. Went to Grad School, got a doctorate in psychology. Cognitive therapy taught me that I no longer had cancer and to look at things more brightly. Like my favorite fairy tale, the real Little Mermaid (READ IT)- I was dancing my heart out on the outside while experiencing tremendous physical and emotional pain inside.
Emotionally, I felt empty, as if something were missing, like I would always be seeking something just out of my grasp. A desire to be held and rocked (except that my skin hurt so the practicality of that would be difficult). And it seemed to me that the empty space was part of my psyche- not a depression or anxiety that comes and goes but part of my personality.
Well you could have fooled me. I started doing EMDR therapy for PTSD related to past hospital events. And that made sense to me. My idea about memories were that memories were like movies in your head- like I remember that vacation last summer, traumatic memories- I remember waking up in pain. I knew traumatic memories could be triggered by things like smells and taste- for example cherry cool aid reminds me of the taste of chemotherapy and it makes me want to hurl.
What I did not understand – and remember I am a shrink- is that emotions themselves can be memories. Let that sink in. And the empty/my life is meaningless/I don’t want to live/ thing that I thought was part of my psyche was actually just a memory that I woke up to every day and re-experienced like that movie 50 first dates.
I want to highlight that because I was a therapist and had been trained in trauma and EMDR, and I knew of course that emotions were parts of memories- but I did not fully understand that they just could be the main catch. I did not understand that clients don’t always know that that empty space inside of them can be changed – because they see it as part of themselves.
That is crazy shit.
Because when we did EMDR on that “memory” of wanting – it went away, and I have not felt that way since.
So many people go through life feeling empty or with deep seated insecurities or inadequacies. And so many therapists back away from tough emotions that are hard to pin down to a place, time and thing.
I am telling you- if you have felt this way or know someone who does, there is hope. It took me 14 years to figure it out- but it was worth it. Keep trying and don’t give up.