I was about 22 when I got my first apartment without any roommates. I was in my second year of college and my mental health was at an all-time low. Some of things going on in my life included sabotaging a really healthy relationship in exchange for a toxic one, breaking up with not one, but two of my best friends, and discovering both my mom and brother were very, very sick. I was breaking down crying multiple times a day, sleeping for 14+ hours per day, and experiencing tons of depersonalization and dissociation (like not recognizing myself in the mirror or losing hours of time in the blink of an eye). I had no idea how to cope - being unconscious was the only way I knew how to pass time pain-free and my brain used this constantly to protect me. Respect.
“Muscle memory is not a memory stored in your muscles, of course, but memories stored in your brain that are much like a cache of frequently enacted tasks for your muscles.” (Lifehacker)
It was in this apartment that I started a very peculiar ritual - one that I wouldn’t be able to explain for about 4 more years. To preface this story - let me give you a quick run down of the layout of my apartment. I had my dining table in front my window, so when sitting at the table, 2 people would be sat facing the window, and 2 would be sat facing away from it. The window was in a corner, so one of the short ends of the table was up against a wall, and the other end was close to a bulkhead, so you can imagine that the two people facing away form the window would be very… contained.
When I was incredibly sad - completely inconsolable, and none of my other “coping” mechanisms were kicking in, I would go into my bedroom and take the comforter and pillow of my bed and carry it back into my living room. From there, I would move the two dining chairs out of from in front of the window and - very carefully - fold my comforter in half like a sleeping bag and lay it on the floor there. I would place the pillow against the wall the table was on and tuck myself in. At this point, my head would be against the wall, my feet would hit the bulkhead at the other end, the kitchen table was above me, and the window was facing me.
I have no idea when I started doing this, or if I ever stopped to ask myself why but this was my go-to spot whenever I felt so unbelievably sad and I had no other way to cope with it. I would do this semi-regularly, I’d guess around once or twice a week and I would stay there usually until I fell asleep.
When I started group therapy, I was asked a couple things. One was “Where do you go when you’re sad?” and while most people said “My bedroom” or the like, I had this super weird story in my head that I couldn’t explain. The second question was “When you’re sad, how old are you?” This was another thing I never thought of, but after reflecting on it, my answer was about 6 years old. I felt like I was six: scared, sad, and alone, and needing to feel safe.
The memory came flooding back to me as soon as I put these two things together.
When I was about 6 years old, when I felt sad or scared or alone at night, and I needed to feel safe, I looked to my big brother. I would take my comforter and my pillow off of my bed, and take them into my brother’s bedroom. He had what’s called a “Captain’s Bed” which meant one side had drawers, and the other side had a cubby space. I would go between the window and his bed, and - very carefully - fold the blanket in half like a sleeping bag, and fall asleep under his bed facing the window. Even though he was sound asleep, and probably had zero clue I was there, I felt safe there, like he would protect me.
Almost 20 years later, muscle memory and my subconscious recreated this safe space.