Scaffolding

I was supposed to be dead by now.

It feels kind of strange to write it, but it is true, nonetheless. A little over four weeks ago was when it was supposed to happen. I had booked the hotel room where I was going to go to, to end my life. I had everything I needed to do it. I was completely at peace with the idea of going through with it, felt satisfied that I had tried my very hardest to get onto a different path. There was only One Last Thing I needed to do before setting my plan in motion. Except chance intervened and stopped me from being able to do that One Last Thing, and there was no way I could go ahead with ending my life without that.

So, instead I ended up going another round at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I was offered a place, having initially been turned down for it, as I was deemed too high risk to be safely contained there. Nothing had really changed between the time I was initially assessed and when I eventually took up a place, but, I banked on my good personal credit that if I made an absolute promise that I would not act to end my life as long as I was staying in the house, staff would trust me enough to let me have a place. As long-term followers of this blog will be aware, I made a very serious attempt at ending my life the very first time I stayed at Drayton many years ago, and ever since then I have developed a rather special relationship both with the staff and with the place itself. It has been a go-to place for me in times of real crisis, a place to sort out my feelings, to create space for myself without having to worry about anyone else, somewhere I feel safe enough to really stay with myself, if that makes sense.

This time was very different. Not because the above things were no longer true – they still were – but because in complete contrast to all other times I have gone there, this time I went into Drayton Park with absolutely no belief whatsoever that anything was going to change while I was staying there. The reasons for wanting to end my life were – and still are – things that could not change through short term crisis intervention. But, I decided to take up a place at Drayton Park, in spite of this. I went there in part because I wanted my loved ones to know that I hadn’t just given up without one last fight, and partly to buy myself time, because as much as I didn’t believe that anything would really change, I also accepted that I haven’t got a telescope to the future, and consequently couldn’t know for sure that I wouldn’t be proven wrong. And I desperately wanted to be proven wrong. I desperately wanted something to change.

A number of big things happened during my time at Drayton Park.
Firstly, counselling with Z. came to an end on the day I took up residence. Secondly, I made a decision that long term therapy with A. will have to come to an end after more than four and a half years of working together. A. made it very clear to me earlier in the year that she is not able to work with me under the threat of suicide, and as I am someone who simply will not make a promise I don’t know I can keep, the only fair thing to do was to set an end date to therapy. Finally, in the last few weeks I have been under assessment of the personality disorder services to see whether or not I should be offered a place with them. I have had very mixed feelings about this from day one, have very little hope that there really is anything in it for me, but again, I try to keep an open mind rather than closing doors.

With all of these things going on, and feeling completely stripped of any hope that there truly is anything out there that could change how I feel about ending my life, I decided to use my time at Drayton Park to go against what my heart was telling me – a very foreign concept to me. To hold on, rather than to let go.

I spent my three weeks at Drayton Park actively putting up scaffolding around my life, in spite of the very real and painful belief that it was utterly futile to do so.

I put scaffolding up by carrying on with the assessment process with the personality disorder services, even though I was reasonably certain that neither DBT nor MBT were really for me, that I don’t quite fit the bill. More scaffolding went up by re-arranging the end date with A.; it has now been planned so that rather than going from twice weekly therapy to nothing from one day to the next – which was the original idea, and which on reflection felt unnecessarily harsh – we will instead carry on with twice weekly sessions until A. goes on her Chrismukkah break later this week, and then go on to do one month of weekly sessions at the beginning of next year to allow for a tapered, more emotionally gentle, ending. Further scaffolding was created by contacting Z. and asking her and her supervisor to have a think about who they might be able to refer me to, for longer term trauma focused work. Someone who might be willing to work with me, knowing what the full situation is, in terms of suicidal ideation.

I also threw myself into expressing myself through writing, taking part in two creative writing workshops facilitated by the most fabulous Leah Thorn, and was able to share some of my feelings about life and death at a poetry reading during the annual Open Day, which happened to be held during my stay at Drayton Park. [Click here to read one of the poems I read that day].

I was discharged from Drayton Park a week ago today.
I don’t feel any different in terms of wanting to allow my very tired soul to rest. I wish I did, but I just don’t.

However, I am carrying on with the building work I started while at Drayton Park: I am working with the crisis resolution team to have some extra support for the first few weeks of being back home. The extended assessment with the personality disorder people has come to an end. In the only way the NHS knows how an Expert was brought in [in the shape of a clinical psychiatrist I had never met before in my life] to try figure out what the heck to do with me. It was ultimately decided that I was probably right: I don’t quite fit the bill and neither DBT nor MBT is going to be particularly suitable for me. However, although I won’t be enrolled on the personality disorder programme with all that that would have entailed, I have been given a care co-ordinator [henceforth called E.], who I will be meeting with somewhat regularly, to have someone within the blessed NHS who knows me and who I can turn to in a crisis.

Z.’s supervisor also got back to me with a name for a specific psychotherapist who she felt might be a very good match for me for long term work, and I will be having an initial consultation with her tomorrow to see if her gut feeling proves right. Although I don’t necessarily feel that even this type of work will really have the power to change anything, I am trying my best once again to at least be open to the possibility that it could have something to offer – and – for a naturally analytically minded person such as myself, at least this type of therapy [trauma work with an experienced attachment based psychoanalytic psychotherapist] makes far better sense than either DBT or MBT.

In my therapy with A. I have tried to be brave and really explore what this big change, this ending of our work together, means to me, and how it makes me feel, the deep sadness it brings out in me. It’s not easy, but I am hoping that through being as open and honest about my feelings as I can, it will make for a more manageable ending.

So, that – dear readers – is where I am at:
In the process of building something that may or may not stand the test of time.

I do hope that it will, but right now, it is simply too soon to tell.

 

Much love,

 

xx

Nuts, Allergies & A New Perspective – An Anaphylactic Adventure

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Allergies. Always a fun thing, and something which I have lived with all my life. I mean I am allergic to pretty much everything: apart from having bad asthma and being lactose intolerant I am also allergic to tree pollen, grass pollen, dust mites, strawberries, kiwis, pineapple, cats, dogs, horses, rabbits etc etc…..and NUTS.

Up until fairly recently I’ve always been pretty ‘lax about it all. I mean, sure, it’s annoying having to chug down antihistamines by the bucket load all year round, and being all itchy and stuff is not much fun, but all in all I have been pretty unconcerned about it. In spite of having been rushed to hospital a number of times, I’ve just never really taken any of my allergies particularly seriously, never thought of them as something potentially life-threatening. That is until a little while ago, when, having inadvertently eaten something which contained nuts at a seder meal, I went into anaphylaxis.

It was a delayed reaction, so I was already on the bus on the way home, when it struck, and when it did, boy did it strike hard and fast. Even though I could instantly feel that this was very different to an ordinary reaction or to an asthma attack, I of course got my inhaler out and started puffing away. Only it wasn’t helping. At all. And this is when I got really scared. My tongue was swelling up and my throat was closing, and I really didn’t know what to do. Thankfully the guy who was sitting next to me [who didn’t know me at all] must have also realised that something was very seriously wrong, because – without even asking me if I needed help – he got his phone out and called 999 while at the same time [incredibly impressively] had the presence of mind to call out to the driver to stop the bus so he could tell the emergency service where we were. Within only a few minutes the paramedics arrived [one of the definite advantages of living in a big city], gave me a shot of adrenaline, transferred me to the ambulance, hooked me up to an IV drip and took me to the hospital. They gave me another shot of adrenaline and added some sort of steroid – I think – to the drip. To be honest, even though they told me exactly what they were doing, I wasn’t really with it enough to properly take it in. All I know is that by the time I got to the hospital I was breathing fine, and so as soon as the doc came to see me I was like “Can I go now?”

Not knowing all that much about anaphylaxis I figured that all was fine and well; the adventure was over, I was exhausted and just wanted to get home and to bed. But the doctor insisted on me hanging around. By the time I finally got discharged it was just gone 2 a.m. Had I known at the time about the high risk of anaphylactic relapse once the adrenaline stops working, I probably would not have badgered the doc to discharge me ASAP.

I was clearly in shock, because while waiting for the doctor to agree to discharge me I updated my Facebook status with a comment about being at A&E of Hospital X, when in fact, it later turned out I was actually at Hospital Y. Just as well that I turned down my friends’ very kind offers of coming out to see me, ‘cause I would have sent them to the wrong hospital.

The day after, I was still pretty blasé about the whole thing, joking about it with some friends I was meeting up with. Even their telling me off for not ringing them had much of an effect. It wasn’t until later that evening that it finally hit home: I could have died. In fact, had the stranger on the bus not acted as quickly as he did, I most likely would have.

As a consequence I have now been to see my GP and have been issued with an EpiPen and strict instructions to never ever take any risks with nuts. I have trained friends and house mates alike on how to administer the injection, should I be unable to do so myself, and I read food labels religiously.

This experience really has jolted me into action, into taking my allergies seriously. And it has also highlighted something quite important: that although I in an odd way feel almost OK with the idea of suicide, should life get me to that point, I would not want to die without feeling that I was ready for it.

I’ve spent a number of sessions with A. talking about this. About the difference between choosing to die and just dying. I know it’s a bit of an odd concept, but in many ways it makes sense. It’s not the dying I’m necessarily afraid of, it’s the not being ready, the fear of not being given the chance to say goodbye to those I love.

This, by the way, should not be interpreted as me saying that I am going to kill myself tomorrow, or even the day after that; it’s just a way for me to explain why, suddenly, I feel almost paranoid about eating things. It’s that unpredictability factor, the inability to control things. I can check and double-check food labels, but there are no guarantees. And it really scares me.

So, from now on, my EpiPen and I are joint at the hip.

xx

PS. Why oh why is word check telling me I mean ‘profylaxis’ every time I type anaphylaxis..?

Looking Back, Moving On & Holding On To Your Dreams

Once again I find myself packing my stuff up; I’m moving on Sunday. All of about thirty metres down the street. So, in many ways, a minor move. I’m moving into a larger room in what, at least on the surface, looks like a nicer flatshare. Hard to know for sure until you’re actually there. I’m looking forward to moving out of this place. It has, without comparison, been the worst place I have ever lived. And I’ve lived in a lot of places, including spending a night on the streets of London, not knowing where to go next..

So, from that point of view, moving is a good thing. And at the same time, I can’t help but thinking that this is not how I had imagined myself living at age 35. My picture looked more along the lines of a nice flat with my man and my three children. I’d be focusing on my writing, maybe having already had a break or two, literary wise.

Instead, here I am, in a rented room. Utterly single, painfully childless, and my writing.. well, I really don’t know what happened there. So, of course there is sadness in the realisation that there is such a discrepancy between what I had been hoping for and what I’ve got. And of course it hurts to not have those things, to know that I was pretty close to all of those things only a few short years ago.

This is not to say I’ve given up on that dream, that picture. I believe it could still happen. Maybe not in the order I had initially imagined, but still recognisable as an altered version of the original image.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in the last few years. I think had Dev and I chosen to stay together, knowing that we ultimately wanted different things, well, I don’t think we would still be friends the way we are now. I think bitterness may have started to sprout between us. And I would never want that to happen.

Moving into the therapeutic community a few years ago was a big decision and although I’m not sure it was ever really going to be quite right for me, I do feel that I got something from being there, even though I struggle to put it into words, exactly what. Maybe space to grow? Maybe to appreciate how strong my need for independence is? Maybe realising that I can be accepted for me, even without being the good girl, without having the great job, without being the most responsible one? Even the decision to move out, I believe, was a step in the direction of feeling allowed to say “This is not good enough for me, this is not acceptable to me”.

Going into therapy? Well, that’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, I know – I’ve been in therapy before. Some good, some not so good. But this time around is the first time I’ve felt on a very deep level that it’s time to go that extra step, dig a bit deeper, to not run when things get scary, but to stick with it. That, painful and terrifying as it can be, I want to keep at it, want to look at those bits I am most ashamed of, the ones that are the hardest to own, to accept as my own.

So, although I’m not where I thought I’d be, I think it’s been time well spent, hours well invested. And, as I said earlier, those things that I dreamed of; that I still wish for – they could still happen.

I leave you with a few lines from a Dawson’s Creek era song:

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration
for the way that you got through it
couldn’t ask nobody else to do it
better than you do it

stay you
- that’s the toughest thing to do..”

xx

 

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood

Precious Illusions And Letting Go of Them

“I’ve spent so much time living in survival mode..

These precious illusions in my head
Did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with childhood best friends..

But, this won’t work now the way it once did..

Once I know who I’m not then I’ll know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim..”

Yep, you guessed it.
Ms Morissette again. This time semi-disjointed lines from her song “Precious Illusions”. Let’s take it from the top:

I’ve spent so much time living in survival mode
Alarmingly true. Having spent so many years as a child and young adult living in this way it’s as if my brain has got stuck in this mode. Long after the danger is over, my body, mind and soul still react to things as if I am still existing in a permanently heightened state of emergency. My defences spike at the smallest provocation.

Did not let me down when I was a kid
And parting with them is like parting with childhood best friends.”
A highly esteemed way of protecting myself; telling myself that no one knew and no one could have known. And, if they didn’t know what was going on, then they also didn’t fail in their job of safeguarding me. Simple and bullet-proof reasoning that got me through for years. No need to think that people simply couldn’t cope, didn’t know what to do, didn’t have the guts to act. Why in the world would anyone want to let go of that idea?

But, this won’t work now the way it once did.”
Maybe the idea isn’t quite as bullet-proof as I’ve been telling myself? Maybe through thinking about what happened, through talking about it in therapy, through hefty doses of reality-checking, a tiny seed of doubt has been sown, growing into a vine of “doesn’t quite add up“. And if it doesn’t add up – then that’s a massive challenge of my own home-spun defence of those around me. A big blow that is causing the coat of armour to crack. And if those oh-so-precious illusions are let go of, what does that mean? It changes everything, and at the same time it changes nothing – because, I’m guessing, maybe that seed of doubt wasn’t actually sown in therapy. Maybe it was always there. Maybe it’s something that has merely been uncovered, allowed to surface? And now I have to deal with this more real reality.

“Once I know who I’m not, then I’ll know who I am
But I know I won’t keep on playing the victim.

Not quite there yet, so the search for who I am and how I truly feel about the discoveries I make goes on. The struggle to understand and finding better ways of coping continues.

And off to therapy I go.

xx

Lyrics from Precious Illusions © Alanis Morissette

Strength And Determination – An Entry About Finding Your Own Way

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration for the way that you got through it. Couldn’t ask nobody else to do it better than you do it. Stay you -. That’s the toughest thing to do..”

I just got home from my last session of counselling with D. and I put some music on. The above lines are from the first song that started playing, and they seem fitting, somehow. So much of my counselling has been about exactly that; finding a way to stay me.

A friend of mine back home has quoted me those lines on numerous occasions throughout this year. In a way it’s become our song. The soundtrack of our friendship. And I think it is very slowly beginning to sink in that people do see something in me to which I myself have been blind to for a very long time; my ability to keep fighting. That inner strength and determination to carry on, despite everything I’ve been through. That I actually have all the tools needed to look after myself well enough to take charge of my own life.

My last session went well. It was a very good ending to what has been a very good round of counselling. I do think that it’s a real shame that I’m not able to carry on seeing D. because I think that the working relationship we have formed would have allowed me to go even further than I have, and I am very sad that it has had to come to an end. Also I will miss D. A lot. Not just the fact that she has offered a safe and stable place for me to talk and to grow, but her as a person. I will miss her way of responding to me. Especially those sentences starting with “Come on, S!” (as in “Don’t bullshit me – you can give me a better answer to me than that!”), and priceless comments like “You have no idea of the piss-offedness I’d feel if you went and killed yourself!”

But, more than anything, I will miss the calm encouragement she has given me week on week, often not even expressed in words, but in the silence between them, somehow. The pause and the look following whatever she has just said. That feeling of her genuinely believing in me. I will miss that something terrible. I feel almost tearful about it now, actually. But that’s ok. Actually, it’s more an ok. It’s both positive and natural to feel this way at the end of something good. And sadness isn’t the only thing I’m feeling. I also I feel really proud of myself for the work I have done in these eight months of counselling. I know that I still have a long way left to go – I have a whole life ahead of me, in fact! But I have made a pretty impressive start, I reckon. Comparing the way I look at myself and my life now to how I saw it at the beginning of this year.. It’s so different it seems almost unreal. And I feel so much better for it.

I went for hot chocolate with a friend of mine a couple of weeks ago, a friend who has very much been along for the ride this year, and we were talking about how much I’ve achieved. And in the middle of it all it suddenly dawned on me: I could have died. I could have not been sitting there, sharing a lovely, intelligent conversation with someone for whom I have tremendous respect. And that really hit hard.

Although my view on life changed drastically already back in April, I don’t think I had really allowed myself to fully understand how very close I came to dying. How very near I got to cheating myself of my own future. How many precious moments I could have missed out on.

This year I have really found out who my true friends are. The ones who will be there not just when times are good, but who will see you through the storm as well. And I am enormously thankful for them. Some friends I have known for a long long time, others are people I’ve only got to know this year. But they are all incredibly important to me. I would name names, but in the interest of relative anonymity I won’t. I just trust it that I have been a good enough friend back for them to know who they are.

So, even though life can, and doubtlessly will, be hard – it goes on. And so do I. With a little help from my friends.

xx

Ps. The lyrics at the top are from the song Stay You by Wood.

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood

This Little Voice In My Head – An Entry About Human Courage

I really genuinely think I’m going crazy. Losing it.
And at the same time I don’t think I’ve ever been more in touch with myself and how I’m doing. It’s hard to explain. Sometimes I think it’s really just the fact that I’m so unused to feeling things that it knocks me for ten, and other times I think Oh my God, how the flippin’ BEEEEP am I gonna get through this? And still, somewhere at the back of my head, even when I’m feeling really low, there’s this little voice that tells me that Ok, so maybe you don’t know how to deal with this, but that doesn’t matter, because you’re just gonna have to. That’s just how it is, girl.

And I think that’s a clear indication that I am getting better; that I am in fact dealing with things, even if I have no idea how. Because that voice is new. It hasn’t been there before. Or maybe it has, but if that’s the case I must have been utterly deaf to it, because I can honestly say I haven’t heard it before.

I think it’s to do with spending those weeks at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre earlier this year, working so desperately hard at putting in motion a change in myself. Not just on the surface, but through and through. Also, seeing D. every week, well, I guess it reinforces that idea. That, actually, the only real option here is to get myself through this, by any means necessary. And, I suppose that the reason why I’m struggling so much right now is that for the past few weeks I haven’t had that weekly dose of encouragement.

The last thing D. said to me before we parted after my last session in the second week of August was “S, I don’t want to come back and find that you are dead.” And I remember very clearly thinking that Why in the world would I be dead?, that it was a remarkably ridiculous thing to suggest, and so I went on to make a jokey comment.

I get it now. I do. Although I always knew that I liked my counselling sessions with D. I didn’t at all realise how incredibly important they really are. How being told something and then going home to think about it actually gets me through the week, and strengthens that survival instinct within me, ups the volume of that voice, if you wish.

Yesterday after work I was feeling a bit fragile. So, I went to see my friend P. and her little girl. That worked a treat at lifting my mood. I also spoke to two of my friends on the phone and spent some time just reflecting over all the difficulties in my life I have had, and marvel at the fact that I’m still around. I don’t mean to brag, but when I think about all the things in my life I’ve been through – how unconventional my life has been in many ways – well, I do feel proud to still be alive. And I think I have a right to be.

Now, on to something else that inspired me the other day. I was having one of those days where I really couldn’t think of any good reason to smile. One of those Yes, I’m alive, but so what?-days. You know what I mean. So I spent most of my day in bed, trying to, but not managing to sleep. In the end I gave up and reached for my iPod and started surfing the web and I came across this story about a little girl called Danielle. I read it, and what struck me the most was not how cruel a place the world can be, but an enormous sense of gratitude for the fact that there are people around – like Dani’s new family – who are willing to not just talk about it, but act to change that. So, please, visit the Lierow’s website. I suggest you also read the wonderful article by Lane DeGregory, sharing Dani’s story with the world. It is in parts pretty grim reading, but, I do like the way it’s been written and how it actually also offers Dani’s natural mother to give her side, indefensible as it is.

Having read Dani’s story I felt compelled to contact the Lierows to tell them how their courage has touched me, and to ask if it would be ok for me to link to their site in my blog, and yesterday I got an email back from Bernie, Dani’s new dad, to say that it was.

So, again, take a deep breath and read the story about this family. I am sure, that you, like me – will feel a bit better about the human race after. And feel that, after all – there are things worth smiling about.

Real love,

xx