The January Post, or, ‘Hello I’m Still Alive’

Why oh why is it so darn hard to sit down and write updates for this blog? I have a million and three ideas flying around in my head at any given moment for things I’d like to write about, posts I’d like to upload – in fact one of them has been mentally written in my head since October last year [Harry Potter and The Mental Health Issue], but I’ve just not been able to make myself sit down and focus for long enough to actually write and arrange things into a cyber publishable format.

I suppose that part of the issue lies in the very nature of this blog – it’s not just about psychotherapy and mental health in general, it’s about my mental health, my journey. It’s about the PTSD, the depression, the suicidal ideation I struggle with, all of which severely impact my ability to focus, to knuckle down and just do things. Even when I really really want to write a post, when I am sitting there with an absolutely brilliant idea for a post, I often simply can’t write it.

In the last few years, because I’ve struggled so much with my mental health and the aforementioned difficulty in being able to concentrate I’ve had to make a switch from writing – something I have been doing my whole entire life in order to make sense of myself and my world – to drawing and painting. For years and years writing was What I Did to express myself, to explore what was going on, to give my imagination and creativity a chance to run wild. And then, somewhat suddenly, with the entrance of PTSD in my life, that was no longer an outlet I could count on. It’s hellahard working on a book, or even just part of a dialogue when you are constantly interrupted by traumatic memories in the form of PTSD flashbacks. So, I had to find another medium, one that wasn’t quite so badly affected by interruptions as writing is, and the medium that came to me most naturally, was art. So, that’s what I’ve been doing: I’ve been art-ing. Sometimes alone, sometimes with friends, I’ve been art-ing and art-ing and art-ing. Some of the drawings or paintings I’ve incorporated into random posts on this very blog, but for the most part I have been posting privately to friends and family on closed[-ish] social media. It was only in October last year that I finally got around to starting a public Instagram account. Shameless plug: If anyone is interested you can find me here. I’d love to have another follower or two. [SPOILER ALERT: the drawings that were supposed to go with that blessed Harry Potter post are on there].

One final reason [read: Exceedingly Lame Excuse] for my severely dwindling number of posts in the last few years is the very fact that I’m in therapy. I see the Greatest Therapist In The Known Universe [sorry you missed out, folks!] three times a week. On top of that I see my care coordinator every three weeks and my social worker about as often. Plus, I am blessed with the most amazing, insightful and supportive friends in the world. So, between the professionals [Team Scout, as I like to call them] and my friends I do a lot of talking and reflecting on what is going on for me. In fact, one of my sisters recently raised a concern that I wasn’t talking to her and my other sister about how I am doing. She was worried that maybe I was either trying to protect them, or that I somehow didn’t feel ‘allowed’ to tell them about the more difficult aspects of my life, when in reality it’s just that I’ve already got plenty of space to let the difficult feelings out. It’s not about wanting to – or feeling that I have to – shut anyone out, it’s just that sometimes – even when I’m really really struggling – I get a bit talked out. I’ve filled my need for expressing myself, I have felt heard and seen and cared for – so by the time I get to talk to my sisters I’m ready to just have a laugh. And, I think something similar has been going on with this blog.

You know how I said “one final reason” in the paragraph above, as if it was going to be the last reason given..? Well, if I’m honest with myself, there is one more very obvious reason for why you, my lovely lovely readers, have been left so badly neglected; I am an Expert Procrastinator. With everything. If I can put off doing something, I will. In my world, things get done as close to the deadline as humanly possible. And when there is no deadline..? Well, quite often things don’t get done at all.

Towards the end of last year, just around the time when I had to finally accept that that ruddy Harry Potter post wasn’t going to happen that side of the new year, I made a promise to myself [I hesitate to call it a new year’s resolution, because those are clearly made to be broken, right?]; that I would manage to upload one post a month in 2018. So, here I am, at just gone 6 a.m. on a Wednesday in the second to last week of January, writing something to kick the year off.

I know this hasn’t been the most inspired or thought provoking post, but, it’s a start.
And, hey – February is just around the corner!

Although, knowing me, you can probably expect the next update on or around the 28th….. And that’s only because this isn’t a leap year. ;)

Anyway, until then – loyal followers and new arrivals alike;

Be Kind to Your Selfs

xx

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From Swan Lake to Daft Punk – A Post About Psychotherapy Breaks

Every time I upload a new post I do so with the intention of posting another update soon thereafter, but it just never seems to happen that way.. I suppose I will have to own that this happens in part because I slightly lack the discipline to stick to a set publishing schedule, but, also, it happens because – well – life happens. I’m sure you know what I mean. It is hard to write about your life at the same time as you are experiencing it. Especially when the going is tough.

So, what has been going on in my life since my last post? Quite a lot, it feels like, and at the same it is rather a lot of the same that is pretty much always going on; flashbacks, crises, therapy breaks, family stuff.
I’ve been under the care of the crisis resolution team six or seven times already this year and had one stay at Drayton Park. That’s a lot, considering we are only in the eight month of the year.. And I have a feeling that another stay at Drayton Park may be on the cards in the near future. I am actually seeing the crisis resolution team later today, and my guess is that they will suggest to start a referral for some residential care. To keep me safe from myself. Without going into too much detail, the going has been exceptionally tough this year in general, and recently in particular.

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P. has been on annual leave for about two weeks now, with another two still to go. I know that I have written about therapy breaks many many times in the past, but it is for good reason: they really are that difficult to cope with.

And I know for a fact that I am not the only one who experiences breaks in therapy as major triggers for all manner of extreme abandonment, attachment and separation issues. A quick look at the stats for how people find this blog tells me that some of the most commonly used search terms are variations on the theme of How To Cope During Therapy Breaks. This is also a topic that people frequently email me about. [Much appreciated, and – as always – apologies if I’ve not been able to respond to your email yet]. 

So, this is clearly not something I alone struggle with.  

I think part of the reason why it is so hard to manage while one’s therapist is away is that Everyone Else [friends, workmates, family, even mental health workers] find it seemingly impossible to grasp just how important and intimate a therapeutic relationship is, and what huge emotional waves the absence of your therapy partner sets in motion. So, we are left feeling that the pain we experience because of our therapist’s absence goes unheard, thus redoubling the pain.

I have some absolutely wonderful friends, I am very very close to my sisters [by golly I love them more than I could ever express!] and I really wouldn’t describe myself as a lonely person per se [although I do perhaps crave more alone time than most] – but my relationship with P. is different to every single one of my other relationships, no matter how good, close and meaningful they are, and it takes up a huge amount of emotional spacetime in my day-to-day life. Even on the days between sessions. 

So, when P. goes away for any length of time, that is going to be hard to cope with. I am used to being able to voice thoughts I don’t share with anyone else three times a week. I have 150 solid minutes every week that are there for only me, to express whatever I want to or need to. 9,000 seconds a week to experience being heard and seen by a pseudo-parent who genuinely wants to understand and help find ways to ease the pain. And that’s not even counting the email and text contact P. is encouraging me to maintain in between sessions and over weekends. So, of course her absence is going to be massively felt.

It isn’t a case of my being needier than most, it is simply that this is a big change to the structure of my week – and I think that most anyone who had that kind of drastic change to their life [even if it is temporary], would find it quite challenging to get used to. 

And – of course – we are none of us in therapy for the sheer fun of it. Something has brought us there. There are Issues to be worked through. Usually more than one, and hardly ever the easy-to-resolve variety. [If, indeed, such a variety exists.. I have my doubts..]

During a break the therapeutic process gets put on hold. Or – perhaps more accurately – the format of the therapeutic process changes during a break. Of course we don’t go into a period of zero growth during a therapist’s absence [in fact, in my experience breaks more often than not bring growth in its wake, both for me personally and in my relationship with P.], but the rhythm is upset. There are no two ways about it. It’s like listening to Swan Lake for a solid month and then suddenly having that musical loop switched to Daft Punk. It’s not bad for us [I would never call Daft Punk bad!], but it IS vastly different. And even if we know that the switch is going to happen [having bravely attempted to talk about the upcoming break and the feelings it brings to surface], going from Swan Lake to Daft Punk is going to affect us. Different feelings will be stirred up, often difficult, deep-seated ones. And we will be on our own to cope with them. 

Or, as in my case, you’ll end up working with the crisis resolution team for the umpteenth time.. ;)
So, that’s where I am at right now.

Getting used to Daft Punk. 

xx

Reconnecting

I’ve been writing this update in my head for about a month, only I’ve not got down to typing it up. I am struggling to remember where I was at, emotionally, when I posted my last update, but I know that it wasn’t a very nice place.

Things sort of spun out of control for a bit. I went into the worst period of constant flashbacks I have ever experienced and ended up, once again, at Drayton Park. The whole first two weeks of staying there I more or less only ventured outside of my room to see P. for therapy. I didn’t eat, didn’t sleep and didn’t socialise with any of the other women who were staying there, so this stay was very different to many of my previous stays at Drayton Park. I simply found it too much to be around others when I was being thrust back into the past again and again and again, in an endless waking nightmare of relentless flashbacks.

Something very serious happened while I was at the crisis house, something I still don’t feel I have properly processed or understood, and I may come back to that another time, but for the time being I won’t go into it. I need more time to think about it.

In my third and final week at Drayton Park the frequency of flashbacks began to decrease and I was able to be my usual self a bit more. I had a few really good conversations with some of the other women staying at the project, feeling privileged to be allowed hear their stories and to get to know them a little. It is always a very special thing when someone decides to trust you enough to share of themselves.

I saw D., my ex-counsellor, in passing a few times during my stay [since she is based at Drayton Park one day a week] and we had some good, honest banter over lunch one day. In fact, it must have been really good, even to others listening in, because after D. left one of the residents asked me if D. was my mother, because we had such a ‘natural and easy way with one another’. How anyone could associate ‘natural and easy’ with a mother-daughter relationship is beyond me, it certainly doesn’t fit with any experience of a mother-daughter relationship I’ve ever had, but it was a very nice thing to hear, nonetheless.

Good banter aside, as D. and I were ending one of our little mini-conversations she told me to take good care of myself. Force of habit I shot a semi-automatic “I always do” coupled with a bright smile in her direction. Only, this being D. on the receiving end, she didn’t just let that statement slide, but immediately lobbed a “No, you don’t” back at me. She then paused, looked me right in the eye and slowly repeated “No. You don’t.” And there was so much feeling in those words. There was an unspoken – but clearly received – message of ‘I so wish that you did take good care of yourself. Because you really, really matter.’  And that meant a lot to me.

 

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It has now been four weeks since I left Drayton Park, and there have been both ups and downs. The frequency of flashbacks seems to be back to normal, more or less. It is in no way easy to deal with the flashbacks, regardless of the less intense frequency, but it is a lot better than what it was. As I explained to a friend of mine; it’s a bit like my breathing. While my breathing is never really all that good, immediately after a bad asthma attack the ‘not so good’ still feels like a relief, by comparison.

Therapy with P. is going well and we are continuing to build our relationship, making sure to take plenty of time to do so, so that all of the different parts of me – especially Little S., who is so terribly afraid of anything that resembles trust and care and attachment – feels both seen and heard. Little S. gets scared, because she learned very early on that all of those things will inevitably lead to pain and hurt, and as much as Adult Me wants to challenge that fear, wants to show her that this relationship with P. can be safe and won’t necessarily lead to pain, it takes time and patience to get there. It takes a lot of work to truly alleviate fears that are that deeply rooted.

We are coming up to our first therapy summer break by the end of this week and as a consequence anxiety has been running high both for Little S. and for Adult Me. Regular readers of this blog will know that psychotherapy breaks is a topic I have written about a lot over the years, because it brings to the fore all of my fears about being abandoned and forgotten. It is also one of those things that people who haven’t been in therapy never seem to fully understand or appreciate. And, to me, that is also part of what makes breaks in therapy difficult; the sense that others don’t understand how hard they really are. Whenever I mention to ‘non-therapy’ friends that I feel really anxious about an upcoming break, I always get the feeling that they are thinking that I am worrying over nothing. And if I, during the actual break, say something along the lines of finding it hard that my therapist is away, the immediate response is invariably ‘When will she be back?’ followed by an equally predictable ‘Well, it’s only X weeks left’. This, of course, feels terribly invalidating, since a therapy break isn’t really about length of time at all, but about strength of emotions and how to cope with them in the absence of a safe place to explore them.

P. and I have been talking about this upcoming break and how I will be able to manage while she is away. P. had a few different suggestions of things we could do and I felt incredibly touched by them. I know that it probably seems a little silly, but it had never even entered my mind that she would have spent time thinking of ways to make this easier. I am so used to doing all my thinking and coping on my own, and I feel simultaneously grateful and overwhelmed by the care she has shown me leading up to this break.

 

I think I will end this update here.
Hopefully it won’t be quite so long before I post another one.
[I always seem to be saying that, these days].

Just before I leave you for this time: Thank you all so very much for the many moving and kind words posted in the form of comments and emails during this past blog hiatus. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to respond to all of you, but please know that I do read every single email and comment, and they really do mean a huge deal to me.

Namaste.

 

xx

 

 

 

A Flat Battery, A Broken Charger

You know that mode where you get so overwhelmed by things that your whole system simply shuts down? That state where everything tangles and intertwines into an almighty tied up, knotty, gnarly mess and you can’t find an end to start, even though you are staring at a million and one loose ends [either one of which would do], but you just can’t seem to be able to pick one up? That is the mode I have been in lately.

Today I finally managed to pick one of those loose ends up: writing something about what has been going on. It’s not the one that should be at the top of my list, or even in the top ten, but it is the first one I have felt able to pick up in a long time, and starting somewhere, I suppose, is better than not starting at all. Perhaps.

My sessions with P. have been progressing in a squiggly upward curve. I have challenged myself to share things that I would never have thought possible, and I have very very cautiously began to accept – maybe even trust – our emerging relationship and the terrifying intimacy that comes with it. There is something very gentle about the way P. works with me. I don’t mean that she takes things unduly slowly or that she doesn’t challenge me, because she does, but there is a lot of focus on doing things in such a way that there is always time to experience the emotional impact of what we are talking about. There is space to explore both how it is for me and also, crucially, how it is for her to enter these dangerous minefields, where each tiny step can so easily explode into painful memories or full-blown flashbacks. I think [even though something inside of me feels afraid to put it in writing, lest I jinx something] that I am in fact beginning to feel safe with P., and it is such a deliciously unusual feeling, so delicate and precious, that I find myself softening my grip on Control to ensure that I don’t accidentally break it.

Some weeks ago I said to P. that beginning this journey felt like standing on the very edge of a pool knowing that I need to dive in, but feeling uncertain whether or not I would be able to keep myself from drowning once I hit the water. So, P. looked right at me, in that way she does when she wants me to really listen, to truly hear her, and gently suggested that maybe I could try to remind myself that I am not alone and that she is actually quite a good life guard.
P. often talks of how desperately Little S. – my inner child, the child me – needed to be seen and heard and cared for, and how this, our relationship, is a place where that can happen, where it is safe to let Little S. out.

So, I have been pushing on, have been trying really hard. Yesterday, I even brought Doth to my session, because I knew it would be an immensely difficult one, and I thought having her in my arms might make it a little easier.

But at the same time, there is this other part of me that can’t help but to ask why I am even doing this. What the point of it is.. Because lately I am struggling to see one.

You see, all my life – even while the abuse was still going on – the one thing that always kept me going, that got me through, was the thought that one day I would have children of my own. It made it worth soldiering on, made it worth living through the abuse. Later on, it made it possible to cope with the daily onslaught of flashbacks, made it worth going through the often very painful process of being in therapy. All because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. That thought, that one day I was going to be somebody’s parent, is what has always kept my heart beating; as noisy as the difficulties and struggles have been at times, that thought always beat louder. One day I was going to be somebody’s parent.

Only, for the last five years I have been trying for a child, have discovered that I have fertility issues, have had fertility treatment, and have had it fail. And as much as I have been trying to fight it, slowly the knowledge that this – my one dream, the one thing that has always kept me going – has dissolved, has died and no longer exists, has truly sunk in.

Please, refrain from telling me that It may still happen, you can’t know that it won’t or Have you thought about adoption? or Lots of people have no children and still have fulfilling lives. Yes, I have thought about all of those things, of course I have, I have had years to think about it, but the bottom line is that the one thing that I have ever wanted for myself is something that I will never have. And the one thing that has made it worth working so hard all these years to keep my head above water is no longer there. And rather than well-meaning, but ultimately empty, encouragement, I need space to mourn. Because, for me, this is a loss greater than any other. It is the loss of hope.

The motivation for going through therapy, for wanting to get to a place where I am as whole as I can be, has always been because one day I was going to be somebody’s parent. I wanted to get through as much of the difficulties as possible, for the sake of my future child. But, if that is never going to happen, then, what is the point?

I know I am supposed to want to do it for me, but that has just never felt important enough. I have never been important enough to me. And, yes, maybe that can change. After all, that is part of what P. is trying to do with me. It is just that all of my energy is draining from my soul and the hope that once helped recharge my battery isn’t there anymore, and soon I will be running flat.

So, do forgive me if I have been a poor and absent friend lately. I really am truly sorry that I haven’t been able to be there for you in the way that you deserve. I am so very blessed to have people who care so deeply about me and I am incredibly thankful for having you all in my life. But, right now, I suppose I need to preserve whatever energy I have left in my tank, to fuel whatever it is that it takes to be me.

xx

 

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The Greatest Joy & The Biggest Sorrow

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I’m Alive, I’m A Mess

It’s been a physically and emotionally exhausting few days and I really ought to be asleep right now. It’s 4.30am at the time of writing, yet, inspite of being tired in the extreme sleep evades me.

Things have been shaky in the last few weeks, to say the least. A lot of flashbacks, and on top of that I’m on a hormone triggering treatment which makes me even less stable than normal. We are talking an emotional rollercoaster of going from blue skies to pitch dark in seconds flat, up and down, round and round. Not an enjoyable ride in any way, shape or form.

And at some point in the midst of all that my poor impulse control won over the utilisation of coping strategies; I decided that having a bit of ethylene glycol would be a good idea. I think it was only a tiny amount to start with, certainly less than a mouthful. I knew that was a really bad idea, and the following night when I felt the urge I rang the mental health crisis resolution team under whose care I’ve been the last three weeks (with a break in the middle, where I went to stay with my sisters). It was about 1am when I rang and talking seemed to help; by the end of the call I had agreed with K., (the person who was working the night shift), that I would come in to see them at ten that morning and bring the bottle of ethylene glycol for safe disposal. That felt both scary and good. It’s kind of hard to explain, but there is something about having the means to kill myself readily available that feels like a safety net of sorts, something that gives me a feeling of being in control. Twisted logic, for sure, but there you have it. But, it also felt good, the idea that someone would relieve me of this deadly stuff,would, in a sense, save me from myself.

Two hours later I once again felt myself plummeting into darkness and I picked up the phone again, since I had found it helpful the last time, and talked again to K. for some time. I may have come across somewhat incoherent because she asked me if I had ‘tasted’ any more of ‘that toxic chemical’. I said I hadn’t but in the same instance shot a glance at the plastic bottle and it was immediately clear that there was a whole lot more than ‘less than a mouthful’ missing. Alarmingly, I genuinely have no recollection of downing a large amount of this sickly-sweet substance. In fact, and I said as much to K., I wasn’t even sure if I had actually drunk it or maybe just spilled it. Or when this had happened. Still, as there was certainly more than a lethal amount missing from the bottle I agreed to let K. call for an ambulance – but, not before saying ‘Can you wait half an hour to call so I can have a shower first?’, to which she calmly explained that having a shower at three in the morning when you have potentially consumed enough poison to kill yourself was hardly a priority. So instead I started stuffing things into bags: iPad, iPod, mobile, chargers, clean underwear, toothbrush, EpiPen, my journal, a random bunch of puzzle cubes and even my prayer book. I have no idea where this sudden organisational skill came from, I normally have to write lists to make sure I don’t forget things when I pack a bag, but there I was, five minutes later, fully equipped to spend a long time in hospital, should it come to that. Then I told K., who was still on the line with me, that I was going to go outside to wait for the ambulance, promptly grabbed my bags and made it down two flights of stairs and out onto the pavement outside my house.. where I laid down to sleep while I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive. K. kept talking to me, trying to convince me that while it was OK to lay down, if I was too dizzy to stand up, I really needed to stay awake.

The paramedics arrived and got me into the ambulance with some difficulty as my legs refused to carry me properly. They asked a tonne of questions, all of which I answered in something of a drunken stupor. K. had already told them what I had taken, which was probably a good thing as they would more than likely otherwise have assumed I was just another overly refreshed Saturday night party-goer, and might not have realised that time was pretty darn critical. Also, I had brought the bottle with me so they could see exactly what I had drunk and how much was missing. I mainly just remember babbling like crazy in the ambulance before passing out, and the paramedic pinching at the nerves on my shoulders over and over to get me to stay awake.

In A&E I was first put on a drip of pure ethanol, which is one of two antidotes to ethylene glycol poisoning, followed by a number of rounds of Fomepizol. Hurt crazybad, I can tell you that much for nothing. (Imagine the sting of cleaning a wound with rubbing alcohol, and then imagine that kind of stuff going straight into your bloodstream, and you’ll get a fair idea).

The side effect of this, having bare spirit pumped into me was that I got drunker than I have ever been in my life. I’m not someone who drinks particularly often, so I have a very low tolerance to alcohol, and here they were giving me as much as they could based on my weight. Suddenly absolutely everything was hilarious beyond comprehension. I was giggling and rambling and apologising left right and centre, trying to explain that They were making me drunk. In the midst of that I decided that sending a text to let people know I was in hospital was a good idea, only – I discovered later – the text made very little sense, and I managed to send it to a whole bunch of people I wouldn’t knowingly have sent them to.

At one point a friend of mine, having seen my text, rang me (this was as I was being wheeled into a ward, still apologising profusely for my drunkenness) and all she got was me laughing, unable to explain what had happened. Later, when she came to visit me, she said that it wasn’t exactly what she had expected when she called to hear if I was still alive..

Whilst being drunk was not all that bad, it did mean that I was sick a lot. I have a sneaking suspicion that there was a miscalculation as to how much ethanol they were giving me, because last time I was rushed to hospital for having done something very similar (that time, completely on purpose), I remember screaming in pain as the ethanol went in my arm, but I don’t remember being drunk, nor being repeatedly and violently sick.

I had to stay in hospital for a day and a half, on constant drip, most of the time in both arms. It’s still too early to say if I have done any permanent damage to my kidneys and if so, what the extent is, all I know is that I my vision is extremely blurry and I have been sick a number of times even this morning.

I am out of hospital now, back under the care of the crisis resolution team, but as neither I, nor they, think it’s a good idea for me to be on my own just now, an assessment has been set up for later today at Drayton Park Women’s Mental Health Crisis House. As regular readers will know, I have stayed there in times of acute crisis before, and have found it helpful in turning a negative trend, so I really hope that following the assessment they will offer me a place.

Sorry for making this a somewhat long-winded entry, but I think I just really needed to get it all out.
I think I am still a very long way away from truly absorbing how close I got to dying, and writing is often the best way for me to process things.

Do be kinder to your Selves than I have been to my Self.

Much love,

xx

PS. If you are one of my many wonderful friends who received my drunken text and who tried to get in touch with me later, but couldn’t get through and didn’t hear from me: something went wrong with my mobile and I could only send texts, not receive them, and incoming calls only worked sporadically. So, please don’t think I was ignoring you, I simply didn’t get your messages and consequently didn’t know to respond to them.

For some reason this song is playing in my mind. (Although the title of this post is actually from another Heather Nova song).

At The End Of A Difficult Year

The new year is almost here. Time to reflect, I suppose. [As if not all posts are reflections, really..]

This has not been an easy year. In fact, it may actually have been one of the hardest thus far, so I hope the new year will bring a bit of happy change. One of the things that I have been really struggling with this year, and which very nearly pushed me over the edge, is something I haven’t really shared on here. I am hoping that as time goes on, this too, will become something I feel comfortable sharing here. I mean, considering the things I do share, there really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but for whatever reason, I’ve just not quite found it in me to write openly about it so far. Too painful, somehow, seeing it in black on white..

I remember myself at this time last year, on the verge of a minor break in therapy, which I knew would soon be followed by a seriously major break; my therapist’s maternity leave, and I can still feel that horribly cold, hard lump at the bottom of my stomach, which would turn every time I thought about it. The horrendous abandonment issues I was battling with and the separation anxiety I was trying to keep under control. I remember desperately trying to come up with ways to convince myself that I would indeed be able to survive this break, and although I can’t say I truly found any one method that worked wholeheartedly for me, I did make it through. Was brought to my knees a number of times, for sure, but somehow I managed to get back up again.

I think the thing that helped me the most was doing what I have always done when things get tough: writing. Writing this blog, or even just thinking about what I might want to write on it, should I find the words and the energy, helped a lot. And more than that, your lovely emails and comments.. well, I couldn’t even begin to explain how much they have meant to me. To have someone who has never even met me, reach out and show that they care. That’s really something.

Then there’s that other kind of writing. The writing I do when I need to completely escape; working on my book. That’s been useful, too. To allow myself to go to another place, to think about someone else’s problems, to focus on someone else’s daily comings and goings, trying to paint it in words. Still, as I said to A. in my most recent therapy session, although in the moment it feels very much like escapism, when I read back later on – even years later – I can often see that I was working something of myself out through the characters I create, only it happens in a way that is somehow more free, less constrained by the emotional red tape I may put on myself.

And, in the midst of really struggling with near constant flashbacks, I finally found something that helps me with them; my beloved Rubik’s cube. Yes, I’ve turned into even more of a geek than I was at the beginning of the year, but, hey – if it works, it works. I’d much rather look like an absolute 80s retro nerd on the tube, than not being able to go out at all. Now, of course, solving a puzzle like this, no matter how many times you do it, it doesn’t solve the puzzle of your Self, but – honestly – it really has made a difference to my life this year. It may not get to the root of the flashbacks, but it does help me get through them, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of yourself; to get through.

And, of course, faith has got me through, too. Even when it’s felt impossible to look ahead, there is this space inside where I can go to, where I can be still, and just breathe, and know that whatever happens, there is someone who is looking out for me.. And it helps. I can’t explain it, it just does.

Sitting here, thinking back, I am – as always – struck by how lucky I am to have the friends that I have. Not to mention my absolutely amazing sisters, who I could not manage without even for a single day. To be surrounded by people who are there for me, to whatever extent I feel able to let them be. People who won’t give up on me, even when I myself have. That is a true blessing.

So, as hard as this year has been, there are also many, many things for which I am grateful.

Thanks for staying with me this year.
Hope to see you in 2013.

xx

Once again, a favourite quote at the end of the year..

“..and it’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass..”

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

PS. If the world does indeed come to an end tomorrow, could someone please let me know, as we’re an hour behind most of Europe here..

Talking Openly About Suicide

I hadn’t meant to leave it this long, but life got in the way, in a very real fashion.

Two weeks ago my life was turned upside down; a decision was made about me which affects my entire future. It was made by someone who doesn’t know me and without meeting with me or even letting me know that this decision was being made –.

I don’t feel quite ready to write about the details just yet, because I am still trying to process it. Also, it is excruciatingly painful to think about, hurtful far beyond anything I have ever experienced before. If this decision were to stand.. well, it is truly major, life-changing, stuff, and has hit me straight in the heart.

The past two years I’ve been on a very specific path, and now someone has taken an enormous, big, black boulder and placed it on what was already a twisting, winding and steeply uphill path, completely blocking my way forward. And, sadly, this is not a stumbling block that I can simply scale or find an alternative way around – I am completely and utterly dependent on the person who placed it there to remove it.

Therapy has been challenging since my last post. The honeymoon is definitely over. For both A. and for me. But in a strange way, that is probably for the better. Although this has required me to be braver than I have ever been in my therapy before, has pushed me to open up more than I ever have, in spite of the very real fears I have regarding what that will do to A., it hasn’t been without benefits; two weeks ago, after three and a half years of seeing A., I cried for the first time in session. It wasn’t a massive cathartic kind of outpouring of raw emotion, but it was real and naked.

In today’s session I made myself be brave again, forced myself to talk about something that is incredibly hard to talk about, something which isn’t easy to broach in an open and honest way.
The last two weeks, ever since that boulder cut off my way forward, I have been carrying a piece of paper in my journal, which I have been wanting to give to A. but haven’t quite had the courage to do it, because of what the implications of handing her that piece of paper are.

For whatever reason, when I first began seeing A. she never asked to have my personal details – you know – address, next of kin, contact info for my GP – the usual stuff. She has had my email and mobile number, because I’ve emailed and texted her a few times, but no more than that.

Since this boulder was dropped in my way things have been, well, pretty dire. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that my life has been hanging in the balance. And although I am trying to challenge this decision that has been made, it has also forced me to consider the possibility that it may not be changed, no matter how many valid reasons there are for that to be done. And, everyone who is close to me, who knows what this is all about, also realise that if that were to happen – if that decision were to stand – well, it would amount to having the one thing that has always meant more to me than anything else being taken away from me. It would mean taking all hope from me.

And without hope, I can’t live. I don’t think anyone can.

I have talked to A. about this in session; that if hope is taken from me, I can’t go on, and I think that she, too, can see that this is a very very serious situation. I have told her that if what is about to happen were to happen, I would come to session and I would say goodbye – and it really would be goodbye. I have talked about ending my life before, and it’s never been done lightly, but I think this time, it is almost tangibly different, and I think it is obvious both to myself and to A. that there is a very real risk that this time, it could really happen. And, I think that the thought of that scares her, that it really scares her. I think it scares her nearly as much as it scares me.

So, today, when I finally gave her that piece of paper, a piece of paper which doesn’t look like much to the world; some contact details written on the back of a random re-used calligraphy practise sheet, it was a key moment in our work together. I explained to her how I had wanted to give her this piece of paper in the last two weeks, but that it has just felt too hard, because, of what went along with it; the reality that if I were to go missing – as many friends and loved ones as I have, and as often as I talk to them – my sessions with A. are really the only things which are regular enough to trigger a definite knowledge that something was amiss. The way I put it to A. was that, were I to not show up for a session – having not missed a single session in three and a half years – and, were I to not get back to her, should she ring to find out where I was, there would probably be good cause for concern; just reason to suspect that I have taken drastic action to end my life, that this time I probably won’t be coming back.

A. went quieter than she ever has when I was saying this. I mean, she doesn’t talk a huge amount generally, but this silence felt completely different, felt like she was holding her breath, unsure of what to do with this. Frozen. Not uncaring or distant, but in a paralysed kind of way. All the colour completely drained from her face. And it really frightened me, because I’ve never experienced A. reacting in that way to anything I’ve said in all these years.

I can understand it; as I’ve said many times before, therapist or not, she is only a person like everyone else, and having worked with me for as long as she has – as closely as she has – of course it would be extremely frightening to hear me, in so many words, put her in a position where she would be responsible for raising the alarm that I may have killed myself, to make the decision to send police round to my place.

I know that having a client kill themself is every therapist’s worse nightmare, and yet, the nature of their chosen profession means that they necessarily have to find a way to stay with a suicidal client, in the hope that they will never have to deal with an actual suicide.

I truly regret having to put A. in this position; it was not an easy thing to do – I care about her, deeply – of course I do – and I worry immensely about what it may do to her, were she to have to actually do what I am asking of her.

But I had to have that conversation with her. There was no way around it.

I did make it very clear that I am not going to kill myself today or tomorrow or even at all, unless I know that all possible avenues of having this decision, which has brought me to this very sharp edge, have been exhausted. That I would not do it without knowing that all hope has been truly extinguished.

I’m not sure that made A. feel any better, but, maybe, at least for a little while, she can rest more easily.

Maybe I can, too?

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling – Delayed Reflections On Living In A Therapeutic Community

It’s been a year now since I moved out of the therapeutic community I used to live in. And I’m still processing it. The ups and the downs, pondering what I took from my time there, what more I could have got from it, what I’m glad to have left behind.

I can say without hesitation that I don’t regret moving in there. I can also say that it is the most stressful living situation I’ve every voluntarily put myself in. With three group meetings a week [on top of my individual therapy sessions outside of the house] it’s a pretty full on experience. Even though I often made the decision to stand on the sidelines, to keep myself at a distance, it was a pretty intense way of living.

Would I have got more out of living there, had I been more invested in it? I don’t know. Maybe. I don’t rule it out. Certainly it made a difference to the sense of community within the house that I chose to not engage as much as I could have, to not push for communal meals, to not easily join in with the household. Yet, at the same time, it just never made sense to me to bring my worries and desperation to the house meetings, to be looked at by people, who – although I liked many of them – didn’t feel particularly safe with. [This, incidentally, is solely a reflection on me, – not on them.] To me, it always seemed like the natural thing to do, to turn to my sisters and the friends I have always been fortunate to have when things got tough, to turn to them for extra support. And for the things I felt I couldn’t necessarily share with them [for whatever reason], well, I had my individual therapy with A. for that. Bringing it to the group sessions, it just seemed a bit odd.

That is not to say that I never shared anything in the meetings. I did. But not on a regular basis. It tended to be only when things were really really bad and I just couldn’t hold my tears back.

So, what was it that I found stressful? Well, in part what I have just written about; the expectation to involve myself, to engage and to share, and the feelings brought up by the fact that it was an expectation which I always felt I would never be able to live up to. Part of that was, as I said before, down to the fact that it didn’t quite make sense to me to share difficult things in a group of people I didn’t really know that well. But, of course, there were more deep rooted trust issues at work, holding me back. Other people, who may also have had friends and family they were close to, didn’t feel the same level of reluctance to take the plunge in the group meetings, and were much better able to let others see their vulnerability.

Another thing that was probably more stressful than I even realised at the time, was the constant stream of visitors to the house. Visitors who came to our meetings with a view to possibly join our household. This was a part of life in the house that I never got used to and always felt distinctly uncomfortable with. It was one of those things that made the place feel a lot less like it was my home as opposed to only being the place where I happened to be living.

People would come, share their story, share of themselves, [or in some cases not share] and we were, I suppose, meant to get a feel for whether or not this was a person who could fit into our house, who might benefit from moving in. It probably doesn’t sound particularly stressful, but it really was. Especially the decision making process, where – in theory – residents were said to have a big say in whether or not someone was invited to join, but which in reality often felt like a humongous and never-ending pressure to get new people in. Often at a time when all you really wanted was to find some headspace for yourself, to settle in the group you were already living with. I remember more than one meeting where one of the house therapists would say something along the lines of the process being about all of us reaching some sort of consensus about whether or not a person was suitable for our house, and in the next breath would not-so-casually mention how we needed to be X number of people living in the house for it to be financially viable. No pressure, right. :þ Also, I always took issue with the fact that the question “Is this someone I can live with?” seemed to be second priority to “Could this person gain something from moving in?”, which, it could be argued, sent the message that the gain of a person joining far outweighed the potential rise in stress level of those already in the house.

Clearly, there were times when the reluctance to accept new housemates were motivated less by worries about how a new person might impact the household negatively, and more about a strong wish to hold on to what was familiar. But, then, is that so strange? For a person to build a home, there arguably needs to be a level of familiarity and stability. A stream of new introductions allows little space for that.

Stressful was also the particular mix of people in the house at any given time. Without going into detail about any one individual, the people staying in the house – at least for most of my stay there – could be broadly grouped into either dealing with depressive and/or anxiety related issues, or difficulties which fell somewhere along the more psychotic end of the mental health spectrum. And, as housemates were supposed to support one another [rather than relying on the house therapists – who only come to the house for the meetings – to sort things out] it at points felt very much like the first group was responsible for the latter group.

It isn’t easy walking through the door, never knowing what you might be walking in to. I’m not going to say that I was in any way the person who most often ended up keeping track of others – I wasn’t – but, there were absolutely times when I had to drop what I was doing in order to help settle a very agitated housemate or, once or twice, call the police because someone had taken off, stating they were going to kill themselves. And I think this way of always being on the ready to put fires out, to some degree stopped me from being able to explore my own issues more. [Not the only reason for this, of course, but one of them.]

One of the really invaluable, yet hard bought, lessons from my time in the house, was having to seriously think and feel through what boundaries meant to me. Which ones were important to me, which ones did I feel able to be more flexible about? I had to work at asserting myself, when I felt the boundaries were being stretched beyond what was OK for me. Regular readers will remember that my decisions to ultimately leave the community came down to – in part – feeling that I needed to make a stand for myself, to not just go along with boundaries being pushed, but to recognise that what I feel OK with, or not, is important and worth holding on to. But of course, this was an ongoing battle, this getting a feel for when it was important to hold on to my way of living my life, yet at the same time question my reasons and motivations for doing so. When was there a valid reason, and when was I simply being stubborn and resisting change? When was it a case of me being the rebellious teenager I never got to be in my own family, when was it the adult me refusing to see things from another person’s perspective?

While I was staying at the house, one of the house therapists published a book about the community houses run by the Philadelphia Association. I made the conscious decision at the time not to read it while I was still living there.

Having now lived away from the house for nearly a year, I have read it, and I have to say that it’s a book well worth reading. I found it very interesting to read about the history of the houses [which I had some idea of, even before moving in, but, again had chosen to not explore too extensively], and how the philosophy behind the houses has altered and varied at different points.

I think it’s an honest book, even though I at times found myself smiling at the discrepancy between the idea of the community houses and the reality of them. At least from my point of view.

Anyway, if you are interested in reading the book for yourself, click the link or picture below.

If you would like to read about my time in The House: entries written between January 2009 and July 2011 were written while I was staying in The House. The first post I wrote having moved in is called “On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope“.

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling by Paul Gordon

An Uneasy Dwelling
by Paul Gordon

Flashbacks, Rubik’s Cube & Replacement Therapy

Had a couple of pretty good days this week. A blessed change, let me tell you. Even managed to go into town one day to do a bit of shopping. Can’t even remember the last time I did that. Didn’t stay out for a particularly long time, only a bit over an hour, but it was still good.

I’m flying out to Sweden in a couple of days time. I’m a bit nervous about it, the actual flight. I really hope it will be a good day of fewer flashbacks. That said, I have come up with something that does help me cope with them when I’m out and about; repeatedly solving the Rubik’s cube.

I kind of discovered it by accident. The Rubik’s cube had until January of this year been one of those puzzles I had never been able to solve, but always felt I should be able to solve. Then in late December I came across a video of Justin Bieber solving it. In about a minute and a half. Justin. Bieber. That really was the drop for me. I mean, seriously, if Justin Bieber could do it, then surely so could I? Right? So I set about figuring out how to do it. In fact, I even set myself a goal of being able to master the cube in less than 2 minutes, by the time this break in therapy is over.

Took me four hours of straight and stubborn trial and error before I finally cracked it the very first time. After that it took me more than ten minutes to do it, start to finish, so I carried on working at it. Slowly I got faster. I learned a few shortcuts and solve-time went down even further. And still I kept at it. Until I felt confident I could out-cube young master Bieber any time of the day. I’m now down to a semi-respectable personal best of 51 seconds. [I say semi-respectable, but of course I’m nowhere near the current world record, set by Feliks Zemdegs, at 5.66 seconds] (Ed.: New world record set by Mats Valk at 5.55 seconds in March 2013).

In the process of doing this, I realised that I had been having significantly fewer flashbacks, and that those that I did have, were much shorter, because my brain was already kind of half-way out of them, focusing on solving the Rubik’s cube.

So, in the last several months, I’ve brought my cube with me pretty much everywhere, and it really does make things easier. Up until I discovered this I would usually just stay in, because the things I needed to do to come out of a flashback were things that were either self-soothing grounding techniques, which – while very effective and calming – look very odd from the outside, if you don’t know what I’m doing – or they were things that could be done fairly discretely, but were down-right unpleasant for me [like using smelling salts or sharply snapping a rubber band against my wrist].

Yes, I look like the biggest geek ever sitting on a bus or train solving my cube over and over, but at least it is something that both works and isn’t nasty. Also, you’d be surprised at how many people strike up conversations with you, when they see what you’re doing. It’s such an instantly recognisable and iconic toy, most people have something to say about it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that this little trick of mine will make the flight to Sweden a bit less difficult. My sister and nephew will be meeting me at the airport, so once I land, I should be OK.

I’m staying with my sister for a week, and my other sister is also coming over, so I’m really excited about this trip. I’ve not seen them since my birthday last year. Also, I am hoping that spending time with my sisters will help me out of this pretty serious dip I’ve found myself in.

I’m also going to stay at my father’s for a couple of days. Feel a bit nervous about that. I’ve not seen him in about two years. We do keep in touch through occasional phone calls, but I’ve not visited him in the last couple of years. I’m hoping seeing him will be OK. I think going to visit him is a lot less emotionally charged than going to see my mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, where there are reminders of the abuse I experienced all over the place. My father’s place is very different, in that respect. At the same time, of course it’s not just the place that is the problem with going home; it’s also the inter-personal conflicts this family trauma has caused that I have to deal with. And that, of course, is the same regardless of where I see my family. So, we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

Really missing therapy at the moment. Actually not just therapy, but A. It’s hard trying to find a good balance; to not switch all emotions off in order to protect myself, and at the same time not allowing myself to go too deep into my feelings and risk getting stuck and acting out. So, a therapy session or fifty would be pretty darn dandy right about now.

I’ve had about a million people asking if there isn’t anyone else I could see while A. is on maternity leave. The truth is, that if I really wanted to, of course I could find someone to see short term. In fact, I considered seeing our newly appointed social worker at shul, for a while. But, the thing is – I do have other people to talk to. I have my sisters, my friends, even the Samaritans. So, it’s not just talking I need. It’s something else, too. It’s that special space that therapy creates, and most importantly, it’s the therapeutic relationship I have formed with A. over the last three years. [Three years today, I just realised – Happy anniversary us!] It’s not something that can be easily emulated. And I think that, as hard-going as it is – not having therapy, not seeing A. – it would frustrate me to no end, trying to create something similar to what I get from therapy. Looking for something different feels much more productive.

Anyway, it’s getting late.

Thanks for staying up with me.

All the very best,

xx

For more posts tagged Rubik’s Cube, including one using the Rubik’s Cube to talk about identity, click here.

My Life Today

My Life Today

When You Have No Voice – Making A Decision To Communicate

It’s been a long time, I know, but I’ll try to put you all back in the picture, as I know you will have all been eagerly awaiting my next update. [What? No?]

In the last few weeks I have been dealing with one of those much dreaded periods of flashbacks, and things have often felt completely and utterly hopeless. The flashbacks have by no means gone, but there have been a few days every once in a while when there have been fewer, and I’ve been able to find at least a little breathing space in between. When things are bad, that’s the time to focus on small blessings.

At the beginning of last week I had to go into hospital for a whole battery of tests and examinations. Part of these was a gynaecological exam, which for me is essentially an equivalent to psychological torture through physical means. I always try to prepare whoever is doing the exam by explaining that I come from a background of having been sexually abused as a child, and that these exams are pretty much garanteed to trigger off flashbacks; in short that they may need to brace themselves for my emotional response. They then usually say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, darling, I’ve seen it all before”, which is of course very kind and much appreciated, but it generally tends to become apparent that this is not really the case. When they’re faced with the sobbing heap these exams turn me into, it’s often clear that I react worse than most people they’ve examined. This then spirals into this odd cycle of them feeling sorry for me, and me feeling sorry for them having to carry out the exam on me..

So, not nice at all.

This particular nurse was absolutely fantastic, though, I have to say. It was very obvious that she was affected by my reaction to what she was doing, but because she was very open about that, I found that somehow reassuring and it in many ways it helped bring me out of the flashbacks and back into the here and now where we both were.

Concurrent with the flashbacks and general depression I have this week come down with some seriously nasty bug. This bug, by the way, is completely unrelated to the hospital thing, unless I have really lucked out and managed to contract MRSA while I was there..

At first I thought it was just hay fever, as this is the season when I usually have to stay indoors with my inhaler close to hand at all times. Had a very painful throat – not sore – painful, something I don’t usually get with my hay fever, but initially I just assumed that my body had decided to take my allergies to the next level. As it turns out this wasn’t it. Came down with a 39C temperature [that’s 102F, if you’re so inclined] in the middle of the week, and it’s been going ever since. So, what with the painful throat and the fever I’ve essentially had to be on paracetamol non-stop. It’s not great, Ibuprofen tends to be more effective, but for various reasons I am currently banned from taking that particular pain reliever, so there you go.

Feeling miserable on all levels is not a great place to exist and things have been unbelievably difficult. I know my last entry was pretty dire, and from there I suppose you could say things went south. Having no therapy has been really challenging, it feels like years until A. returns from maternity leave. But, I am still around, still fighting – even if the evidence of this has not been posted on my blog.

This Friday I had been invited to two sedarim – the special meal eaten by Jews on the first night of Pesach, but instead I spent the evening in bed, fighting flashbacks and this blasted bug. Last night I had booked a place at the communal 2nd night seder at my shul together with many of my friends. I did make it there, in fact even went for a pre-seder drink with one of my friends, but didn’t make it through the meal. Was feeling incredibly rough and then began having flashbacks, and I had to make the decision that I needed to make sure I could make it home safely before things got even worse. Hated having to leave, but as it turns out it was probably a wise choice.

This morning I woke up having absolutely no voice.

I have lost my voice in the past, but never quite this completely, and it’s kind of an interesting thing; the second you discover you have no voice [in my case when I began recording a voice message for my sister] you realise how much you rely on it.

I don’t usually use my phone or computer on Shabbat or during religious festivals. This is not so much because it’s biblically and/or rabbinically decreed that one should not use iPads or Blackberrys during festivals, as much as – being a modern reform Jew – I’ve made the informed decision that for me stepping away from all my techie gadgets and disconnecting for a bit makes those times different to other times. I am normally contactable at any given moment, day or night, be it through texts, Facebook updates or tweets, and so I like to make Shabbat and festivals different and special to other days, through unplugging in this way. Admittedly, most of my friends think this is completely bonkers, but hey, it’s just the way I roll.

However, since that accidental-on-purpose over-dose the other week, I decided that it’s actually a lot more life-embracing to temporarily break that self-imposed rule than to keep it. Which is why you are seeing this update today, during a week I would normally steer clear of modern technology.

To help me through particularly rough patches over these past few weeks I have often sought support over the telephone from my sisters, my friends and the Samaritans, regardless of whether or not this has been on Shabbat. Being able to talk about what’s going on, both physically and psychologically, makes me feel less like I’m on my own in this.

So, as you can imagine, waking up this morning, with no voice at all, has come as a bit of a shock, and has left me feeling very vulnerable. Which is why I’m sitting here now, writing this..

I guess that even when you haven’t got an audible voice, you can still find ways of making yourself heard.

Do be kind to yourselves,

xx