Slow Progress and Power Ups

“Sunrise” – a drawing I made to illustrate how I felt one particular morning

It’s been a few weeks now, and I thought it was probably time to post something on here to avoid dust settling on my domain, if nothing else.

Things have been reasonably OK-ish lately. Physically I am doing a lot better, which is a real relief. Had another few rounds of tests over the last couple of weeks and in the end the good doc declared that I’d reached “not perfect, but certainly acceptable levels”, adding that I may just have to accept that it takes time for a body to recover, and that until then I may be more tired than usual. In essence, it’s one of those scenarios where “slow progress” will have to do. 

Now, I’m not the most active person at the best of times, in part owing to general depression – meaning that I can’t seem to find the motivation to drag myself out of bed unless I have an appointment that I have to get to, and in part owing to the fact that I suffer from a huge amount of flashbacks, more often than not making it far too dangerous for me to venture outside. [It has been less than a year since that particular point was quite literally rammed home; I was hit by a car, because I had a flashback and didn’t notice that I was walking into oncoming traffic]. So, being fairly used to a state of houseboundness, it really shouldn’t have made much of a difference being too physically weak to go out. But, somehow, it did. It’s one of those “I don’t want to run a marathon, I have no intention of ever doing it, but I’d like to think that I could” kind of things, I suppose. No, I wasn’t likely to go for daily walks – owing to the above stated reasons – but the fact that I physically couldn’t still somehow messed with my mind, made me feel even more a prisoner of my circumstances than usual. So, yes, I am very thankful to be officially NHS-doc-certified on the mend.

I have noticed a definite change in myself since I came out of hospital, in that I am very aware of all the things I would have missed out on, had I not survived my most recent self-poisoning. Every time I bump into a friend or get a text consisting of nothing but emoticons from one of my sisters’ too-young-to-write-actual-words children, I find myself mentally pausing to marvel at the fact that I got to have that precious moment, that I didn’t miss out on it. Because I so easily could have.

I have a friend who killed himself. It has been many years now, and while it isn’t acutely painful in the way it once was to think of him, I do often still think to myself ‘I can’t believe W. missed out this’ when something happens which I know he would have appreciated and enjoyed. And, I guess what I am experiencing at the moment is something similar to that, but in reverse.

I have been in this situation more than once [having survived a serious suicide attempt], but as I wrote in a previous post, this time I felt immediately grateful to have made it through. And as much as I am still struggling with all of the things I was struggling with before [yup, every single one of them], being able to take notice of the little things does help. It’s like one of those video games where you pick up a gem and it gives you a Power Up. Yes, it is temporary, and I may well get frustrated and bored with the game again – but while my little avatar is in Power Up mode (think Mario Kart blinking star mode), I feel GREAT.

And it’s been a looooong old time since I’ve felt that way, so, “slow progress with the occasional Power Up” – heck, yes, I’ll take it!

:)

Do be kind to your Selfs,

xx

“Moonlight” – making a small adjustment to express how I was feeling at the end of the same day

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A Much Delayed Update

It has been such a very long time since I last posted anything on here, it feels all but impossible to try to catch you all up. And maybe it’s not really the most important thing in the world that I do? If you’ve been following this blog for a little while, you’ll probably already have some idea of what sorts of ups and downs you might have missed in the last few months. After all, there is nothing new under the sun. And if you have only just arrived on my site, well, feel free to hop on board as you are.

So, I’ll just begin with where I am at now. Literally.

I am at home, very slowly trying to allow my body to recover from the hell I have recently put it through. I suppose you could say that I had been on a slippery slope to nowhere for a long time, and a number of weeks ago, my therapist started a referral for me to go to Drayton Park. I was already with the crisis resolution team at this point, struggling enormously with trying to keep myself safe. Being at a very low point, the only way I could really manage was by taking sleeping tablets. Paradoxically not to kill myself, but to stop myself from doing so. Perhaps not the best way to manage, but it was all I could do at the time. The referral to Drayton Park took longer than usual for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with, and being asleep most of the time while I was waiting was the only way I could think of to stay safe. After all, if I was knocked out there was no way I could actually act on my suicidal impulses. Right?

A little over a week later I was finally given a place at Drayton Park, and that felt like such a relief. But it wasn’t all smooth and simple. The depression and the suicidal ideation, the flashbacks and the urges to self-harm came with me. And, although I have stayed at Drayton Park about a million times [OK, maybe not a million, but certainly enough times to feel at home there] this time felt like a distinct travel back in time. You see, the only room available was the one room I have always dreaded being put back in; the room I stayed in during my very first time at Drayton Park. Yes, I have stayed in other rooms there more than once with no problem, but this one holds some particularly bad memories for me; this is the room I died in. And this time it isn’t an exaggeration – I was found lifeless in that room, and while I have no actual memory of it, I was told by the doctors in ICU that I had been clinically dead for a number of minutes by the time the managed to bring me back.

The reason I was found lifeless in that room all those years ago was my own. I had brought a substance into the place that I shouldn’t have, and being the kind of person who – owing to deep seated psychological issues – is far more afraid of being found to have broken The Rules than to tell staff that I was afraid of what I might do, and that I needed help, proceeded to ingest said substance. So, this time around, being back in that room, I was overcome by memories of standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom swigging pure poison from a bottle, quickly followed by a handful of Smarties to mask the bitter taste, looking at myself, hoping to die.

This time around I used my one-to-one sessions at Drayton to talk about these memories, about the sense of being thrust back in time and the feelings evoked, and I was immediately and repeatedly offered to switch rooms. But, me being me, I thought there might be some therapeutic value in being able to stay in the same room, look at myself in the same mirror, but having a different outcome. I thought that the feelings brought out by staying in this particular room might be used for healing, for psychological growth, even. Sadly, I seem to have completely forgotten that the reason I was back at Drayton in the first place, was that magnetic lure of release from life – and that I wasn’t strong or stable enough to do this kind of work at this particular time. And it proved to be a costly miscalculation on my part.

Prior to admission to Drayton Park I had purchased another bottle of a similar but far more lethal poison, and it was still sitting at home, waiting for me. Thus, part of the objective of my stay this time was to get me to a place where I would be stable enough to be able to safely go back to my flat and pick up the bottle to hand it in to staff, without having the urge to down its contents on the way back. I was working very closely with both P. and staff at Drayton to get to this place, we talked about my feelings, about the reasons for those feelings and how best to keep me safe – we really were doing everything possible to get me out of this perilous place I had been perched at when I first arrived.

Admittedly, at first there was a fair bit of pressure for me to bring the bottle back at the earliest possible opportunity, but this plan was thankfully changed, when I – with the help of P. and staff who have known me for a long time – were able to to explain that bringing back the Bottle before I was ready to do so wouldn’t necessarily make me any safer; I’d just order another one online, or I’d feel pushed to act out in some other equally dangerous way. [Having a severe nut allergy means that I am never further than a chocolate bar away from having the means to end my life]. Instead we planned trial runs to my flat where I would go into my flat but not into my bedroom [where the bottle of Poison was kept]. I’d pick up post or a change of clothes, but there was no expectation that I bring the poison back. This worked. Twice. In fact, during one of my visits home I managed to – relieved of any pressure to perform, so to speak – bring back the anti-sickness tablets that were also part of my suicide plan. It was hard going back to the flat; in spite of our best efforts to have strong safety plans in place and in spite of never staying longer than ten minutes, I never quite felt safe.

Partway through my stay P. went on leave, as did K. This meant that most of my usual safety net was no longer available to me. And that, too, was hard. Destabilising, is the word that comes to mind. I knew that I would not be able to stay at Drayton until they were back from their respective leaves, and that didn’t feel good at all. So, fear of going home – having still not been able to hand in the Bottle – intensified. Towards the end of week two I was asked to make a Week Plan, to add structure to my stay, which I did. Knowing how hard it had been the two previous times going back to the flat, I only planned visits home for every other day, so as to not overwhelm myself.

But on the very first day of following my Week Plan I knew I wasn’t stable enough to be able to go home, even for a short visit. It was one of those very bad days with lots of flashbacks and thoughts of how much better things would be if I were dead, so, I switched days on my planner, did my Tuesday plan on the Monday. And it would have worked out fine, except the next day was just as iffy as the previous one, safety-wise. I wanted so badly to be able to stick to the plan, though, since otherwise there would be fewer opportunities to go home before actually being discharged. And I knew discharge would be coming, whether or not I had brought the Bottle back.

I want to pause here to make something perfectly clear: there was absolutely no pressure from staff for me to go home that day – none, zero, ziltch – and that is really important to understand – they were all working hard to keep me safe. All pressure to go home that day came from me, and me alone. But, in the end I did decide to push on through. And that turned out to be a near fatal mistake.

When I first got to the flat on that third trial run I felt anxious, but sort of within the realm of what I could manage. So, before entering I rang Drayton to say that. All was good, I sat in the kitchen for a bit, I even wrote an angry note to my flatmates about the washing machine not having been fixed during my two week absence. Everything felt normal.

And then suddenly it didn’t.

I know that I went and took a sleeping tablet in desperation. At the time I really thought it was just the one, so, that is what I told staff when I called them in panic. They stayed on the phone with me until I was out of the flat and I got a taxi back to Drayton. I saw my main worker when I got back, and prepared to go to bed [after all it was a sleeping pill I’d taken]. We agreed that they would check on me every hour, just to make sure I could be woken up, since I have a history of taking overdoses in a state of dissociation, and I couldn’t say with 100 per cent certainty that I hadn’t done so this time, too. [Entering a dissociated state is actually far more common than you might think, especially for people who have suffered severe abuse and have used dissociation as a coping mechanism all their lives]. About quarter of an hour later I knew that I must have done more than just taking a single pill, because I was feeling nauseas and drunk and was losing control over speech and movement. So, I went straight to the staff office and knocked on the door. [This is, incidentally, the exact opposite of what I did that very first time at Drayton]. The last thing I remember is lying on the sofa in The Quiet Room with a member of staff next to me, being told that an ambulance was on its way.

I woke up in hospital. I knew immediately that I was in hospital, because nowhere else on earth are you met with those cold harsh lights, and those ugly tiles in the ceiling. That is my first memory. My second one isn’t so much a memory as a feeling, a feeling of immense relief that I was alive, that I had in fact woken up. And I knew that was a big deal. Every other time I’ve woken up in hospital I have felt nothing but sheer anger that I hadn’t died, wondering what I had done wrong, thinking about when I could do it again.

I spent a number of days in hospital being given antidote every twelve hours. And that was one of the most scary experiences ever. The relief of being alive soon wore off, and the fear of not knowing whether or not I would actually live – and what that life might be – took over. I knew that things were bad, really bad – not just from the vast number of tubes coming out of my body or the urgent frequency with which blood tests were taken day and night – but by the fact that when I tried to ask doctors and nurses would I be OK, they avoided eye contact and would generally mumble something along the lines of Let’s not worry about that right now, sweetie.

It wasn’t until the very last day, the day I was due for discharge, that I finally found out the truth of just how close it had got. I didn’t ask the doctors or nurses this time because I didn’t trust that I could deal with what they might have to tell me, instead I reached for the journal folder at the foot of my bed. And there it was in black and white. Multiple organ failure. Prognosis: poor.

Of course, by the time I read those journal notes, I was out of immediate danger, but it was still a shock to see it. This was what I had done to myself.. I had put kidneys, heart and respiration at serious risk. When the first tox screen came in they didn’t think I’d live, and if I did I’d likely have reduced function of at least some of those organs.

I have now been at home for about two and a half weeks. I am extremely fatigued and am sleeping most of the time. Any little thing exhausts me. I have had follow up tests and the results are not great. They aren’t anywhere near as bad as they could so easily have been, but I am also not recovering at the rate the doctors would have hoped. So there will be more tests to come. In short, I still don’t know the full extent of the damage I have done to myself.

But, I am alive.

And I have a lot of feelings about that.

 

I hope that I will be able to write more about those feelings soon. –ish.

xx

 

 PSI want to make a special mention that I have chosen not to share what has happened with my immediate family, in an effort to spare them pain and worry. At least until I know for sure what I am dealing with. So, should you be someone who knows me in person – and knows my family  – please make sure to keep this information to yourself. This blog is semi-anonymous, not for my sake, but for the sake of those close to me. It is also a place where I can safely share my feelings, and that means a lot to me.

 

 

What Happened Next

The Ephalant In The Room – A Real Talking Point

So.. What happened next..?

Well, it turns out I was right. A stay at Drayton Park was indeed on the horizon. A long stay. Four weeks, to be precise. It was a difficult stay, but, then again, by its very nature going to a crisis house is never going to be all that easy. I struggled hugely with life and death, or perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that I struggled with life to such a degree that death seemed a better option? Also, in the midst of a all that I developed shingles, which is of course exactly what you need when you’re at a stage where death seems a better option. Let me tell you, the pain is excruciating; I should know, this was my fourth ride on the shingles merry-go-round.. And, because things are never straight forward, the antiviral meds I was given this time to help with the shingles made me violently sick and ended in an ambulance ride to the hospital, being on a drip for 12 hours, to rehydrate me. Also, there was strong suspicion that I had suffered a mini-stroke [a TIA], as both a friend of mine and staff at Drayton Park had observed my speech being intermittently slurred in the two days prior to my becoming ill from the antivirals, something which couldn’t be attributed either to the shingles or the medication. So, you can see what I mean when I say that this was a particularly difficult stay. – There was also a racist incident which had a big effect on my stay, but I don’t really want to go over that right now, because it will only upset me, and for the time being, any upset I can spare myself is good.

 

There Is Often Much Going On Beneath That Which Seems Crazy And Fantastical On The Surface

 

The life-and-death dance aside, when I was offered a place at Drayton Park, I made a conscious decision to try to actively balance out the destructive impulses with creativity, so, as always seems to be the case when I am at Drayton, out came the paints and canvases, and I spent many many hours doing art. Particularly when I felt overwhelmed by urges to step over the edge into nothingness. The fruit of my labour is dotted throughout this text..

Child And Giraffe

 

Four weeks later I was discharged from Drayton Park, except it was a discharge back into the care of the Crisis Resolution Team, whom I have now been with for almost three weeks.

Crisis houses, even the ones that are as therapeutic as Drayton Park, aren’t magic cures for all emotional ills; some wounds are too deep, bleed too heavily to be stopped even by a four week super absorbent bandage.. But, they do a lot to help stem the flow. And the referral back to the Crisis Team was another step to try to further slow the bleeding.

IMG_3549

Three Ephalants And A Tree

Also, thankfully, P. is now back where she belongs; in her chair opposite me. [Although, owing to the High Holy Days sessions have been swapped around a fair deal. – The great thing about having a Jewish therapist is that you don’t have to cancel sessions over this period, as they will most likely already have arranged to be on leave on those days. That is if you yourself are Jewish. If you’re not, I imagine that it would seem like a series of extremely random short leaves every year as we go into autumn..].

But, I digress.. Where was I? Oh yes.. P. is back. And, man, does that feel good. As difficult as things still are [I’m not with the Crisis Team for the fun of it], it is incredibly helpful to have her to talk to. And email. And text. [I’ve come a loooong way from the days of seeing A. and only emailing in extreme emergencies]. In these last few months, P. – and also K., my social worker from shul – have been absolutely amazing. I mean, they were of course amazing even before this, but these last few months, by golly they’ve done some mammoth work with me.

 

Polar Opposites – When Olaf Met Elof

 

Things are still very very difficult, but with the amazing support of P., K. and the Crisis Team, I am doing the best I can to make it through each day. I would be a liar [and those who know me, know of my acute allergy towards being just that] if I said that I am not still sitting on the very edge of life, with one foot dangling over it.

But, whatever happens next, no one can say that I haven’t done my very best.

xx

Twenty-fourteen – A Year Of Changes & Challenges

I thought I’d make one final push to get an update out before the end of the year. I’m not in a great place, hence radio silence on most channels, but sometimes that’s when the best blog posts come out, so let’s hope for the best. Could be nothing, could be something.

It’s been a rough year. There are no two ways about it. At the beginning of the year I ended with my therapist of five years and started over with a new one. It’s a big transition, moving from A. to P., and a huge emotional undertaking. It’s a bit like being asked to switch out your parents. Sure, your parents might not always get you, might be unfair, might make mistakes, might be downright unsuitable to parent anyone, but at least you know them, right? You know their habits, their triggers, their blind spots and you know how they react to the things you say and do. And you also know how you react to the things they say and do. It’s that comfortable – if often less-than-ideal – Familiar versus the scarily unpredictable Unknown that I’ve written about so many times in the past.

That was pretty much what I was going through with A. at the beginning of the year, as we slowly neared and then reached The Ending. Things had been running along the heading-for-an-irreparable-relationship-breakdown route for some time – probably for far longer than I was ready to admit to you, or myself, at the time – but at least I knew what to expect, knew when odds were that my words would be met with silence, knew when there was potential for disappointment. I also knew what not to say and what not to do to keep the status quo, to keep us from falling off the edge. In addition, I was standing on the bedrock of our previous years together, all the times we had communicated really well, spoken a similar emotional language. I had a good sense of where we had one another, of how big or small the distance between us was at any given time, how close we could get, how much trust there was and where the boundaries of our relationship were; all those things that had made our work together so meaningful and fruitful for such a long time. So, it was with a lot of sadness that I had to accept that the time for us to part ways had come.

I had met P. only once before we actually started our joint therapeutic journey. Fifty shared minutes during an initial consultation to decide whether or not we could be A Match. I left that first meeting in December last year feeling that, yes, she could potentially be someone I could learn to trust, given enough time and space to Thoroughly Test what sort of stuff she was made of. But, apart from that gut feeling I didn’t know much about her [or attachment-based therapy] when I went for my first real session in February. I knew that there was something about the way she actively sought to make eye contact in that first meeting that both scared me beyond reason and made me feel that she genuinely wanted to get to know the real me. Actually, let me rephrase that: the way she actively sought to make eye contact with me scared me beyond reason, because she so clearly wanted to get to know the Real Me. Not just the Me she could glean or guess at from the polite introductory phrases or the bullet pointing of my fragmented, chequered and often painful past during this initial meeting, but the Real Me hiding behind all that – the Me that only comes out after the Thorough Testing has been done. The Me that even A., after nearly five years, was only just beginning to get to know.

I took the plunge, and it turned out that the water was far more calm and warm than I had expected. As K. put it only the other day: ‘When you finished with A. I didn’t think you’d ever be able to build a relationship with another therapist. I thought the trust had been shattered for good. I’m amazed at how quickly your relationship with P. has developed.’ I get exactly what K. meant, because it was what I, myself, was thinking at the time. How would I be able to trust? Why should I?

I suppose the answer to that lies in the way P. is, really. I wasn’t at all ready to trust, and P. was able to accept that completely, without any expectation that this would change. Was able to meet me where I was at. She was able to accept that I simply didn’t know if I really wanted to go on with therapy, or even with life. The exact thing that had ultimately caused the breakdown with A. The very thing A. had made clear she couldn’t accept; that I may not only feel that life wasn’t for me, but that I might actually act on it. P. made me, almost immediately – without the Thorough Testing – feel that this was a part of me she could accept. She in no way gave me license to act, but she simply accepted that this could be one of the paths our journey might take.

Then, of course, only a few months later this was put to the test. A splash of a toxic chemical on my tongue, the swallowing of some tricyclics – which I still to this day don’t remember taking – an ambulance ride from the women’s crisis centre to A&E and eleven hours in a coma.

Some might say this was part of my Thorough Testing. I’m not going to argue for or against. All I know is that we survived it: P. didn’t break, didn’t conclude that the reality of acting out was so different from the theory and phantasy of it that she could no longer work with me.

And our relationship grew a little stronger.

The aftermath of this overdose – along with a previous, more serious, intake of that same ototoxic chemical – was the loss of most of what remained of my already damaged hearing. Another big thing to deal with; the knowledge that my actions would have a lifelong effect – near deafness. But, also, in a backwards kind of way, the realisation that even when I mess up it is still within my power to do something about it; the decision to hop on the not-so-joyful steroid ride, the slight but miraculous recovery of some hearing, the sorting out of hearing aids [even though it at times makes me feel I’m ninety-something rather than thirty-something].

And all year long this journey has of course been fenced in and intercepted by flashbacks, by horrendous memories of a past that is never really in the past and by nightmares that don’t go away just because I wake up. Post but-never-quite-over traumatic stress disorder. The stuff that makes day to day life all but impossible to plan. The never knowing if a day will be a 40, 100 or near continuos flashback day. Making plans, cancelling plans, scheduling and rescheduling – because I simply can’t know in advance if any given day will be one where I can leave my house without putting myself at risk.

At the moment it seems worse than usual, more 100-a-day days than 40s. I went to visit my father for the first time in two and a half years at the end of November. That may have something to do with it. I don’t know. It might be related to the fact that both P. and K. have now gone on their respective Chrismukkah breaks, leaving Little S. feeling sad, scared and abandoned, and Adult Me struggling to cope in their absence. Or it might be chance. But, whatever the reason, it’s not so easy to deal with.

Anyway, I want to take the time to thank all of you who have faithfully stuck with me through the ups and downs of this year, in spite the updates being few and far between. It does make such a difference to me. It touches me deeply every single time one of you takes the time to post a comment or write me an email to share a bit of your Selfs with me. I know that is how most of my replies to your communications begin, but it is for a good reason: it’s the truth. I am very grateful for your support.

So, wherever you are in your lives, whatever is going on for you right now, good or bad, I do wish you all the very best.

xx

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Out Of Control – Me On Steroids

There I was, having been told that there was a good chance that my hearing loss was due to my own actions. Not an easy thing to deal with. Part of me absolutely felt angry with myself, was blaming myself; I have a natural tendency to be very hard on myself – especially when the consequences of my actions turn out to be severely negative. But, there was also another part that just felt confused, because whilst the second most recent overdose was certainly a serious one, the most recent one was one where I didn’t ingest more than about half a teaspoon of the chemical, and I couldn’t quite understand how it could have had such a drastic effect on my hearing. But, clearly it had.

The ENT specialist had prescribed a high dose of Prednisolone which I was to take for a week in the hope that it may reverse some of the recent hearing loss. The name of the medication did ring a bell at the time, but not loudly enough for me to clock why, so I went down to the hospital pharmacy and picked the medicine up. It wasn’t until I got home that I remembered that this was a medication which a previous GP had refused to prescribe when my asthma was really bad, because she felt it was too much of a risk, putting me on it. There were two reasons for this: firstly, that people with a history of serious mental health issues are particularly prone to react badly to this medicine, and, secondly, that I have in the past had extreme adverse reactions to three other medications [one of which I was reacting to when I took the second most recent overdose], so the doctors are always very cautious about prescribing any non-essential new meds to me.

But, there I was with the medication in my hand, not knowing whether or not it would really be a good idea to take it. Yes, this medication could potentially save me from needing cochlear implants down the line, but, at the same time, if I did have a really bad reaction I could end up putting myself at considerable risk. The ENT specialist wasn’t someone who knew me well [or at all, really], so when he prescribed it, he did it on the same premises he would for anyone else; ‘Worth trying, no harm done if it doesn’t work’, whereas I knew that this medication could spell real trouble for me.

There was a part of me that was genuinely scared of a bad reaction; I knew perfectly well the horrible feeling of being out of control because of a medication. I had been through it three times.. Yet, there was another part that so badly wanted to be able to do something to reverse the damage I had apparently caused.

I spent a week going back and forth, unable to decide what to do, talking it through with lots of people, knowing full well that, ultimately, it was still my decision to make. I did speak to my GP [well, technically, the receptionist spoke to her on my behalf], and she said that it would be ‘perfectly fine’ for me to take the steroids, and – after all – I had had no adverse reactions to the steroid injections I was given when treated for anaphylaxis.

In the end I decided that I would give it a go, because I knew that if I didn’t I would always be wondering ‘What if..? What if..?’.

Still, to be on the safe side, I decided to start the course early Monday morning, so that if I did have a bad reaction I would be seeing P. later that day. [With two of the three medications I had previously reacted badly to, it had happened literally within a few hours of taking the first dose]. I also had a doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, and scheduled a ‘just-in-case’ appointment with K., my synagogue social worker who I have been seeing semi-regularly, for Wednesday afternoon.

Monday came round and I took the first dose, which – as this was a high dose treatment – was a good handful of pills, making me feel as if I was actually overdosing on tablets. By the time I was due to see P. – about six hours later – I already knew something wasn’t right. I could feel things firing in my brain, rapid electric sparks in my head, and it was as if I couldn’t keep track of my own thoughts. It was a truly bizarre experience. – Anyone who has ever been seen by the mental health crisis team knows that one of the questions you will be asked during the assessment is ‘Are you having racing thoughts?’. Being prone to deep depression and suicidal ideation rather than mania I have always answered ‘No’ to that question, not really knowing what ‘racing thoughts’ actually were. I’m telling you, by noon that Monday I knew exactly what they were – and it was freaking me out, big time!

So, I had a crazy rambling session with P. that day, very unlike any other session I have ever had. I also spoke to H., my care coordinator, that same afternoon and she sorted out a referral to the crisis resolution team for Wednesday, as it was clear I was not in a good way and would likely need the extra support, particularly over the weekend.

On Tuesday morning I went to see the doctor – an absolutely lovely F2 who I hadn’t met before. By then I had taken the second dose of Prednisolone – more out of a sort of manic compulsion than anything else – and consequently the reaction was getting worse. I had also used a surgical scalpel and cut myself very badly in two places; enough to warrant stitches. The doctor’s reaction was ‘Come off these meds immediately – this is a really serious and abnormal reaction!’.

I explained to her the reason why I was on the treatment in the first place and why I was finding it hard to ‘just stop taking the meds’, and this young doctor was absolutely brilliant. She sat back and listened to me carefully and then took the time to make five or six phone calls – while I was still in the room – to get hold of an ENT registrar to find out what the implications of stopping the treatment would be for my hearing, so that we’d be able to make an informed decision. The ENT registrar told her that as treatment had been delayed by several months already [Urgent NHS referral, remember?] it was unlikely that my hearing would improve, that the specialist who prescribed the steroids probably felt it was worth a shot – even if it was a shot in the dark – because sometimes people do respond, even with delayed treatment. But, the registrar concluded, in light of the extreme reaction I was having it certainly wasn’t worth staying on the meds, as the odds of success were so small.

I felt really reassured in that moment that I wouldn’t be missing out if I ended treatment prematurely, because the odds of any improvement were so small. It made complete sense to stop taking the meds.

But, then I got home, and I was still hyper and there was so much in me saying that firstly I was already dealing with the adverse effects of this medication [the GP had explained that it would more than likely be a few days, maybe even a week, before the chemicals in my body would stop messing with my brain].. and it was only a few more days to go.. and what’s to say that I couldn’t have an equally abnormal positive reaction to these meds..? After all, my body is clearly highly sensitive to small chemical changes..

So, the next morning I took the third dose, against medical advice. This time it wasn’t manic compulsion that made me do it, but that part of me that just needed to hold on to hope, that simply couldn’t give up, even though everyone around me felt this was a very bad decision, indeed.

I spent time in my session with P. that day, exploring why it was so terribly hard for me to stop taking the tablets, even though the rational part of me knew that the chance of a positive outcome was incredibly slim – and that was really helpful, even with the chaos raging in my head.

I also had a good chat with K. that afternoon. She was characteristically open, direct and honest with me both about her anger and her disappointment that I had carried on taking the medication in spite of what the doctor had told me, and in spite of the fact that I had felt completely reassured at that point that I wasn’t missing out. I told her that I would think very carefully about handing the meds in to P. the next day, but I was also clear that I wasn’t prepared to make any definite promises, because I simply didn’t feel that I could. So much of me felt out of control and I just couldn’t say that I’d be able to do that, come morning.

Oddly, the thing that made me realise just how out of control I really was wasn’t the fact that I had cut myself so badly, but the fact that I found myself at a McDonald’s having a Big Mac.. I’ve been a vegetarian for something like twenty years, and I keep sort-of-kosher, so for me to sit down and eat something like that goes against so much of what I believe in. It is something I simply wouldn’t ever do, if I were in control of my actions..

I did end up giving P. the tablets the following day, but not before having taken a fourth dose that morning, this time – again – in a very compulsive manner. There was no reasoning whatsoever, just acting: I simply couldn’t not take them. This made me realise that I really needed to view the tablets in the same way I did my scalpels and cords [all of which I had handed in to P. two days earlier, feeling too out of control to be safe with them]; while I was still having this strange reaction I just couldn’t manage the tablets responsibly.

It took a good while after that final dose before I felt completely back to my normal in-control self, and I carried on working with the crisis resolution team through the weekend and most of the following week, just to be safe.

I am really glad that I had as much support available to me as I did during this time, because it was incredibly frightening to be so out of control. The experience was very different to other times when I have felt out of control. Whilst what came out in the midst of this whole ordeal – feelings, thoughts etc – were things that were almost certainly already brewing inside, it was – at least the way I look at it – triggered by outside factors. And that’s quite a scary thing.

All the very best,

xx

Consequences Of One’s Actions

A lot has been going on in the last few weeks [or is it months?] since my last proper post. There have been some serious ups and downs, and I don’t quite know where to start.. So, I’ll just start with what’s on my mind right in this moment: my hearing. Or, rather, the lack thereof.

I’ve not really written about this before, because up until about a year ago, it’s not really been too much of an issue, or at least it has been an issue I have had the luxury of being able to ignore.

As my long standing friends will know I lost a big chunk of my hearing many many years ago, when I was about twenty. I was doing voluntary work at an orphanage in a village outside a village outside another village, in the Middle Of Nowhere, India. It was Diwali, the Hindu festival of light, and as a special treat for the children we had bought fireworks and penny crackers, which they were allowed to set off. All was going great, big bright smiles all around, lots of happy dancing and singing.

Until one of the kids threw a firecracker up in the air and it exploded right next to my left ear. My whole world went silent in an instant. It was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life, that sudden and complete absence of sound. I remember screaming, but not being able to hear the sound of my own voice.

Over the next hours and days some hearing in my right ear did come back, but the hearing in my left ear was almost entirely gone. I managed to see a doctor when I went into town a few days later. He very carefully examined my ear and hearing and confirmed the damage with a simple “This is not good” and a slow, sad shake of his head.

And that’s pretty much how it’s been until recently. I knew I could probably be helped by wearing a hearing aid, but I simply wasn’t ready for it, and since I was able to use the remaining hearing in my right ear well enough to compensate for the loss in the left, I just left it at that. Something was broken, but not enough to bother fixing it.. There has been a lot of “If you want me to hear you, you’ll need to walk on my right – if you’re only going to talk rubbish, stay on the left” going on over the years, but all in all, through a combination of lip reading, context deduction and plain ol’ guesswork, I’ve been able to fake hearing pretty darn well. It’s amazing how easy it is to just laugh when everyone else laughs at the end of a joke you haven’t even heard, or to cover up giving the wrong answer to a question..

However, a bit over a year ago I started noticing that I was no longer as able to compensate with my ‘good’ ear as I used to be, and – being fifteen odd years older – I decided that it was kind of silly to routinely pretend being able to hear when I couldn’t, and that I should really do something about it. So, I went to have a test.

The results were shocking; not only was the hearing in my left ear really poor, my right ear was also significantly worse than I had thought. I was advised that I was a prime candidate for double hearing aids, and that I should get my GP to sort out a referral [private hearing aids are horrendously expensive].

A number of months later I was finally given an appointment at an NHS hospital. Only by the time I had that second round of hearing tests there had been a distinct further drop in my hearing, particularly in my right ear, and as this wasn’t normal I needed to be seen by an ENT specialist. The audiologist told me that this kind of drop could quite possibly be down to an acoustic neuroma – a fancy way of saying that I might have a brain tumour affecting my hearing. Consequently, an Urgent Referral to an ENT specialist was made. For those of you who don’t know, an Urgent Referral in NHS/ENT terms means ‘probably around three months’. Thus, I spent three months trying to not give myself cancer by worrying about this possible tumour, while not being able to hear what people were saying, since hearing aids can’t be issued while you are still under investigation.

The three months passed and I very nervously went for my appointment, having absolutely no idea what to expect. It turns out that in those three months since my last appointment a second drop in hearing had occurred. More bad news. On some level I kind of knew this, but I had talked myself into believing that the drop was ‘just in my head’, that it was simply down to a higher awareness of my hearing loss, having now stopped pretending to be able to hear when I can’t – but – the audiogram clearly showed that this was a genuine drop, and not something I had imagined.

The ENT specialist sat me down and took an extremely detailed medical history, after which he concluded that it was exceedingly unlikely to be an acoustic neuroma, as only 13 people in 1,000,000 have them, and that my sudden sensorineural hearing loss [SSNHL] was far more likely to have been caused by my two most recent overdoses, as the drops follow that pattern precisely, and the chemical I had taken is well known to cause hearing loss in those who survive the overdose.

Needless to say, to me, this was quite a powerful emotional bombshell. I had been medically cleared after those overdoses and there had seemed to be no lasting damage.. But, clearly, this was not so, and I was now seeing the consequences of my actions in black and white.

The ENT person said that it was possible that the SSNHL might not be permanent, and that a short, high dose, course of steroids might jump start some hearing cells in my ear, partially reversing some of the loss. Ideally this kind of treatment is given within days of the hearing loss occurring, rather than months later, so it was in no way certain that the treatment would work, but he felt that it was definitely worth giving it a go, because whilst there wasn’t really anything to be done about the hearing loss caused by the initial blast trauma, there was still a slim chance that the more recent drop could be helped. I’d still need hearing aids, he told me, but I might be able to avoid cochlear implants further down the line.

I’m going to end this update here, simply because this is already a massively long post, but, I will write more about what happened with the steroid treatment and my hearing in the next few days.

I feel very aware that I haven’t really talked about the emotional impact of not being able to hear, or the fact that part of my hearing loss may have been caused by my own actions, and I hope that I will be able to touch more on that in the second part of this saga, because – of course – this is a big deal.

Until then, do be kind to your Selfs.

xx

PS. I’ve yet to sort my PC out, so I do apologise if the formatting of this post is a bit rubbish; it was all typed on an iDevice, and that’s a lot fiddlier than one might imagine..

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).

Identity – Being Adopted & Missing Pieces

Dayan Zhanchi, Void Cube & Core(also Dayan seen through the Void)

Dayan Zhanchi, Void Cube & Core
(also Dayan seen through the Void)

You may be wondering what the above picture has to do with identity and being adopted, you may even fear that this will be an entry entirely about cubing, rather than my usual musings about life’s twists and turns. Don’t worry. It shall all become clear. Or at least I hope so.

[By the way, if you are a ‘cuber’ and happen upon this post, what will follow are metaphors, so absolute minute accuracy isn’t what I’m aiming for. Feel free to refrain from correcting me on technicalities. ;) ].

Anyway, earlier today I decided to bring the above ‘props’ with me to my therapy session. But it wasn’t just for the fun of it, therapy isn’t fun and games; there was some thought behind it. As you may know I’ve recently had pneumonia, and being stuck in bed, I’ve consequently had even more time on my hands than I usually do, and this time has largely been spent solving my various cubes and Thinking About Things. [I find that the two go very naturally hand in hand.]

It started in an ordinary enough way, just randomly solving cube puzzles and thinking about which ones I like better. The regular 3x3x3 [commonly referred to as the “Rubik’s cube”] was a given, but the other puzzle that stood out for me was the funky one you can see in the picture above, the one with a hole in it; the Void cube. I then started thinking about why I liked that puzzle in particular and eventually came to realise that I in a somewhat odd way identify with it.

Now, to make the philosophy which is to follow make sense, I need to explain a little about the regular 3x3x3 cube. One of the keys to this cube is that the centres are fixed, meaning that no matter how much you mix it up, just by looking at the piece in the centre you will know what colour that side will be. Thus, if a side has an orange centre, that will always be the orange side, once the cube is solved.

Now, the Void cube has no centres, and so once it’s scrambled you have no way of knowing what colour any given side is going to be. In short, you are left to guess and hope for the best. And this is the reason why I feel I can relate to this cube.

You see, most people can look at themselves in the mirror and say “Oh, look! I’ve got brown eyes, just like my father” or “Those dimples definitely came from grandma.” Just like the centre square of the Rubik’s cube gives a clue as to why that specific side is a certain colour, you may be able to identify why you look the way you do. At least to some extent.

But, me, I was adopted, so just like the Void cube, I have no clues as to why I look the way I do. Of course, it’s not chance for me, any more than it is for anyone else; we all get our DNA from our parents, but because I don’t know who my birth parents were, I don’t know what they looked like, or in what ways I am similar – or indeed different – to them. I simply have nothing to go on. When I go to the doctor, and she asks “Have you got a family history of diabetes?” I usually joke that “Yes, my mother is diabetic, but that’s nothing to do with me!”, before I explain that my mum is diabetic, but I was adopted, and I simply don’t know what my biological background is.

Taking the cube metaphore one step further, something else that makes me more like the Void cube than the Rubik’s cube is this: if you were to take a Rubik’s cube apart, you would see that all the little pieces are supported by what is known as a core, and no matter how much you mix them up they always swivel around this core. As you can see in the picture above, all the centre pieces – the clues to what colours go where – are firmly attached to this core, hanging at the end of the different branches, much like pictures of family members on a family tree. This is again something, I – and the Void cube – lack. There is no central core, no known family tree to hang pictures on, nothing for all the other pieces to revolve around.

To compensate for this lack of an obvious central core, I had to develop a whole different strategy for holding my pieces together. Rather than relying on a central core to support the pieces that I am made up of, they are instead held together by one another. One might think that would make it prone to easily coming apart, but in fact, it is the exact opposite. Whereas a Rubik’s cube is both easy to take apart and put back together [because of that internal family tree], the pieces of the Void are tightly held together in a way that is very very hard to prise apart, almost as if it is defending against the possibility of falling to pieces, knowing that it will be a real challenge to put it back together again. And that is how I sometimes feel, too; there is a very real fear inside of me that were I to take a few pieces of myself out to look at, as helpful as that may be, there is always a risk that I mightn’t be able to put myself neatly back together again. And this can sometimes cause me to hold back in therapy.

Of course, with therapy and cubes alike, the main object isn’t to take it apart piece from piece, but rather to scramble it, so that you get to see things from a different angle, and can then look for a natural way to get the different pieces back into place; to temporarily mix things up, so that you ultimately get some sort of understanding of why they go together in the way they do.

But even when you just scramble the Void, you have no set starting point, and as a consequence it is that little bit harder to figure out, because if you make an incorrect assumption about those missing pieces at the centres, things simply won’t turn out the way you had expected; when you think you’ve done it, when you only have a few more pieces to go, you will discover that the side you though was meant to be orange, is really meant to be blue, and you’ll have to go back and try again.

Now, of course I know that people, myself included, are not cubes; it’s not as black and white [or orange and blue!] as that; there are people who can trace their family back hundreds of years, who are just as lost, and just as frightened as I am, of mixing things up. Whether we have a known family tree or not, the core of who we are is made up of much more than just that. And, of course, it isn’t just people who were adopted who have missing pieces and blind spots; everyone does. Also, whatever our internal structure looks like, there is something there that holds us together, despite those missing pieces.

And most importantly, for us humans there simply is no permanent ‘solved state’. We are forever scrambling and un-scrambling, and having to sometimes go back a few steps to in order to better understand something about ourselves, really isn’t such a bad thing. And although we often wish we could solve the puzzle really quickly, in reality, we have our whole lives to do it.

So, be kind to your Selves; get a Rubik’s cube.

.. or a Dayan..
.. or a Fangshi..

:)

xx

Being Unwell And Feeling Cared For

Cure For The Ill

Cure For The Ill

I’ve been unwell. Still am, actually. Pneumonia. It’s a bit of a long-winded story, but in short it involves leaving a psychotherapy session early for the first time ever, thinking I was better when I wasn’t, and ultimately on Friday having to go see the doc urgently.

I had just left a session, and on the train home I suddenly had this terrible pain in my chest. And it was a pain I had felt before; two years ago I had a pneumonia, and this was what it felt like.

Anyway, once I got to the doctor’s, she had a good listen to my chest, took my medical history and told me she felt confident that what I had the previous week was more than likely a flu virus, but that I had milder symptoms than most, since I’d had the flu jab, and that despite this my immune system was compromised enough for me to develop a pneumonia. [Ironically, the reason I have the jab every year in the first place is so as to make sure I don’t come down with secondary complications, such as this..] Since I have a history of pneumonia, starting in exactly the same way [top right lobe a week after having had another illness] and because my asthma was kicking off like crazy, she decided that she’d rather start me on antibiotics straight away, than wait for test results to come through.

So, home I went, antibiotics in hand. Crashed into bed, and this is where I’ve been stuck up until just now. I have to say, antibiotics are a wonderful thing once they kick in. You really do feel so much better, very quickly. Of course there was always a chance that the pneumonia I had was viral rather than bacterial, in which case the antibiotics would have done nothing for me, but ‘thankfully’ it turns out that it must have been bacterial.

While in bed I have been thinking about being unwell. It’s something I have a fair amount of experience with. You see, I have a really poor immune system, and so whenever something’s going ‘round, I tend to catch it. I mean, I had swine flu long before it became fashionable. But, also – as I have mentioned in previous posts – I am prone to what I call psychosomatic fevers. Other people get upset tummies when they are stressed out; I get a temperature. And this is what’s been on my mind, these last few days; the relationship between having a genuinely poor immune system and getting psychosomatic illnesses.

You see, I don’t think it is entirely chance that I get ill very easily, weak immune system aside. When I was little I was always seen as someone who could look after myself, someone who was responsible and dependable and able, far beyond my years. My parents tended to assume I’d be OK on my own, and mostly I was. I’m sure it was sometimes hard for my parents, this fierce independence I had; not so easy parenting a child like that. But, at the same time, they were very busy people; three other kids, one of whom really rinsed them clean of any energy they may have had. So, as confusing as it may have been for them, I’m guessing it was also something of a relief that I didn’t seem to need much looking after, that in fact, I was perfectly able to look after myself as well as anyone else.

But, when I was unwell, it was almost as if my parents’ parenting instincts suddenly kicked in, as if this was the kind of parenting they could understand, could relate to. After all, they are both trained in healthcare professions. This was something they knew what to do with. And so, as a consequence, when I was unwell, those were times when I truly felt like a child, like they were my parents and I was in their care.

At all other times I always felt equal to my parents. I always felt like I was an adult, just like them. And to a large degree, I think that’s how they and other adults around me saw me, too. But when I was sick, well, I could allow myself to be the child I really was.

So, is it so strange that I am prone to getting ill? Even now, as an adult, when I am ill, both of my parents will call me, will want to know how I am, will maybe even worry a little. This in contrast to other times, when I am nearly always the one to call them, nearly always the one to ask what’s going on for them.

Of course, something like pneumonia is a very real illness, it’s not psychosomatic, not imagined, not exaggerated, but in the midst of feeling so terribly poorly, I also do feel cared for, in that very special way.
Just like I did back then.

Psychology..
It’s interesting stuff.

xx

How I’ve kept myself busy. The Square-1 cube puzzle. It’s a fair challenge, getting it back into a cube shape, and then getting all the colours right.

Square-1

Square-1

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