The need for routedness 

Mummy turn here, R. instructs me from his pram, pointing up a little shortcut we often take to the park. My heart swelled with happiness: my two year old son has routes (roots?). He knows his way to his beloved aunties house, to the shops, to the local parks. The level of satisfaction I get from this is on par with pride in proper, actual developmental milestones: First steps, first word, voluntarily eating carrots, counting. It means allot to me-I fall asleep after difficult days, the ones where I mess up or doubt myself, comforting myself with this fact- that he knows where he is in space and time.

Sheldon Bach, a psychoanalyst, writes compellingly of patients who are chronically disorientated. He compares emerging from a dysfunctional family to coming out of a cult, plagued with questions, ‘about the nature of the world and the reality of their own thoughts.’ He traces this, ‘psychic disorientation paralleled or experienced as physical disorientation,’ back to having parents who ‘live in a world of their own to which the child feels he has no access,’and as a consequence, ‘the child is confused and at a loss: he feels that the world makes no sense, he cannot orient himself in it, and he does not feel at home.’

As someone who experienced my own parents as unreadably ‘Sphinx-like’ as Bach calls them, ‘whose mental and emotional experience remains a mystery,’ anytime I plunge into psychic confusion (which is less often these days, mercifully) I am susceptible to losing my bearings geographically. Recently, in my usual pre- church welter of adrenaline and memory and nausea, Hoxton became a pop-up labyrinth and I was utterly lost for a good ten minutes in the middle of an area I have walked many times and know relatively well. My twenties were riddled with these episodes, particularly when I was on my way to therapy. The landmarks I thought I knew are suddenly strange, and I find myself unable to de-code the map on my smartphone or read my surroundings. Nothing is familiar and I begin to doubt what I thought I knew. Many times, in the first few years, I arrived at my session with only five or fifteen minutes remaining in my analytic hour and lay down sweaty and panicked on his couch, breathlessly recounting my tortured journey just in time to leave again. Or standing on his doorstep, doubting I was here at the right time, compulsively checking my watch to reassure myself it was this day, this hour. I conceptualised his consulting room as a sci-fi portal that opened up and wasn’t quite part of this world. And when he started, after a year or two, asking me, ‘where have you gone?’ when I lay silent, lost, on the couch, I experienced this as a reaching out to me, a hand pulling me out of a chasm. Often I was indeed ‘gone’, absent from the consulting room, lost in my own thoughts, down some rabbit hole I couldn’t scramble back from, feeling alone and despairing in my inability to find my way out of my head, back to him, back to connection. I just didn’t have the skills.

I understand from recent studies that children who have been neglected or abused suffer from damaged hippocampuses, the locus of memory and spatial awareness. Anecdotally, this seems true. I think that part of my brain is all kinds of scrambled.

And so I am particularly heartened, in a maybe-I’m -not -making -all -the -same –mistakes- my -parents –made- with –me sort of way, when R. happily recounts which bus numbers go to his nans house. This boy has roots. I think, maybe he is not too confused about reality. Perhaps he won’t have to lug out the books on semiotics and theology and epistemology like his mother did to get to some Truth about Reality. What a relief. Maybe he can just be. Just take for granted what is. My hope for him is that day to day existence is not something that needs to be puzzled out all the time, it’s something to be enjoyed, lived from. He leads me down the pavement to the shops with confidence and decides whether he wants to go via the ducks or the car wash. He can assertively tell me which route to take because he can read his surroundings, because he can read his own heart. Maybe he feels connected enough to me and connected enough to himself to trust his own mind. Maybe he feels at home.

Copyright Diana Smith 2018

Sheldon Bach ‘Getting from here to there: analytic love, analytic process.’

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