The March Post

To say that this hasn’t been my favourite month ever would be a grave understatement; March has been seriously rough. But, then again, I always knew that part of this particular month would be a real challenge, as this happens to be the month in which one of my abusers’ birthdays falls, something which is always a big trigger for me. A truly awful day with masses and masses of flashbacks.

On top of that, I was sent one of those dreaded brown envelopes from the DWP that I mentioned in last month’s post, one which contained a form for me to fill out, relating to benefits. This is something that always sends me into a complete tailspin; the anxiety that these forms provoke is enormous, because they force me to have to think about all the things I can’t do, leaving me feeling like an utterly useless human being. Even at the best of times I find it hard to think myself worthy of any form of financial support (even though, in healthier times, I used to work crazy hours, and paid equally crazy amounts of income tax, earning national insurance aplenty) – but when I am already feeling low – well, those DWP forms seem to be designed to give one the experience of being kicked while already being on the ground..

I am very fortunate, I have a therapist, a care coordinator and a social worker who are all more than happy to help me with these forms and support me through the emotional turmoil they cause, but even so, my risk level increases incrementally with every page of questions on those forms. I spent a session with my care coordinator, filling out as much of it as possible, but even though – in all honesty – she did most of it, and even wrote on the form for the DWP to contact her if there were any questions – I was overcome with horrible thoughts of how the people at the DWP would rather I kill myself, than having to keep paying out money to me. Of course, the rational part of me understands that absolutely nothing about these forms is personal – that lots and lots of people are sent (read: tormented by) them every single day – they still have the power to reduce me to one giant suicidal self-harming mess. In the month and a half I needed to fill out that ruddy form, I lost count of the number of times I took it out – fully intending to manage at least a couple of questions that day – only to have to put it away again, as my urges to self-harm got too strong.

So, this, in combination with my abuser’s birthday, meant that I desperately needed the support of the crisis resolution team. I was having such strong urges to end my life – even though parts of me really wanted to live – that I was struggling to keep my Self safe from me. And, even though I was reluctant to work with them to start with, I know that the extra support that they offered this time around, is what kept me safe, kept me alive.

So, no, March 2018 hasn’t been a great one.
But, hopefully, April will treat me with the kindness I deserve.

xx

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The February Post – Anxiety…

Anxiety. That’s the word of the month for me. Not just the usual anxiety that I struggle with, about clearly identifiable things like ‘Will there be a horrible brown envelope from the DWP in the post today?’ or ‘What if the new flatmate turns out to be really scary?’, but that awful non-specific thing we like to call generalised anxiety. It been coming over me out of nowhere several times a day, gripping me with its icy cold claws, digging into my skin, even my soul – and there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. My heart pounding so hard and fast it makes me think that there is a genuine chance it might explode in my chest. That sense of doom, of just knowing that no matter what I do, something very very bad is going to happen, and there is no escape. That horrible fizzy feelings behind my knees that makes me feel simultaneously completely paralysed and as if I can’t be still for even a second.

That. I’ve had an awful lot of that this month.

In therapy P. and I try to slow things down, try to work out what it is I am reacting to – but, unlike anxiety about something tangible and definable, this fuzzy whizzing fog of fear won’t be so easily captured and analysed. Of course we know that if there are a lot of things going on for me, I am much more likely to experience these episodes of panic and anxiety – but more often than not, it feels as if it’s been triggered by something so microscopically small that we can’t even distinguish it with our emotional super lens trained directly on it.

I can’t remember a time where I’ve suffered quite so much with anxiety (that wasn’t caused by something specific). And this constant fighting off an unseen enemy is exhausting. Recently I have even been considering whether or not I may need to look into getting prescription meds to help me manage it all.

Now, I know that many people have strong feelings about the use of medication to treat mental health disorders. Some feel they are an evil that should be avoided at all cost, while others say that they are absolute life savers. Personally, I am not for or against using meds. I have not been on any kind of medication for a very very long time – but the reason for that is that I have had some very severe adverse reactions to a number of drugs (both ones to treat physical and emotional ills), and for that reason my GP is very reluctant to start me on anything I’ve not been on before. Also, the one psycho-pharmaceutical I have ever been on without having one of those aforementioned severe adverse reactions happens to be one that is frighteningly high on the toxicity index, so – owing to a proven tendency to not stick to agreed safe dosages – I am rarely allowed to have even that. But, as I said, at the moment the anxiety is so bad that I am seriously considering trying to persuade my GP to let me have some sort of anxiety reducing chemical prescribed. (I’m not terribly hopeful that she will agree to do so; she once told me that she ‘doesn’t prescribe sleeping tablets for sleep’ in an attempt to not have to prescribe me an untested medication).

This kind of anxiety is kind of new to me. Or, at least having such frequent episodes is. I’ve had panic and anxiety attacks before, and I am a pro at getting exceptionally anxious about anything that could possibly go wrong – but I’ve never had multiple episodes every day. I am very used to suffering from PTSD flashbacks – I have those all day, every day – but this is something very different. As horrible as the flashbacks are (and they really are truly disturbing, each and every one of them), at least once I have managed to come out of them, I know what they were about; there is a distinct traumatic event attached to each one of them. But these anxiety attacks.. I really don’t know what to make of them.

Of course P. and I will continue to explore them, and hopefully they will get better. But for now.. it’s really tough.

Anyway, I think I’ll end this post here. It’s not quite the update I would have liked to write, – but I guess it is what it is.

To all of you out there,
be good to your Selfs

xx

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

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

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.

 

 

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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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

 

 

 

Life’s A Dance You Learn As You Go

To me, writing is like breathing; a necessity for life. So, the fact that it has taken me this long to feel able to update my blog may be an indication of the degree of difficulty I have had in holding on to life itself. For the past several months the wish to just let go, to allow myself the luxury of that Final Rest, has been a minute-to-minute struggle. It hasn’t been a crisis as such – at least not in my eyes – and there has been a very definitive lack of urgency about it all. No mad dash towards the Ultimate Finish Line, just a steady step by step journey towards a glittering End ahead of me. It stems from walking around with a soul that is simply so tired, so emotionally exhausted that it naturally gravitates away from life. The strings I have used so many times in the past to pull myself away from the edge are either broken or have disappeared altogether.

I wrote in my last post about having a flat battery and a faulty charger, and that, to a large degree, is still how I feel. Like I am running on empty.

But I am still here, and not only that, I am here through my own very conscious decision to be so. It isn’t a case of Death all of a sudden having lost its vice like grip on me; I can still feel those cold skeletal fingers around my ankle.. but, I can also feel my other foot – the one Death has yet to reach, planted firmly, barefoot, on the soft grass. It is a defiant “I decide when I step across that line, not you.”

I have always felt that ending one’s life ought to be a decision, not impulsive acting out because things are so unbearably difficult in that one particular moment. I wouldn’t ever want my loved ones to be left wondering What if she had only just got through this crisis? Would she still have made the same choice?

I am not so naïve as to think that a ‘painless suicide’ exists – suicide always comes with pain in its wake – and I accept that whatever the intention, there will always, inevitably, be question marks forming for those left behind, but I would like to have done my best to minimise the suffering. I would like them to know that this was what I really wanted. And this is one of the reasons why I am still here today. Because I will not let go while I am in the middle of what is a very difficult period. You simply cannot make a rational, reasoned decision in the midst of chaos.

In the last week I have yet again entered one of those nightmarish periods where one flashback follows the next – ceaselessly, relentlessly. It is an incredibly painful place to exist within, a place where it feels as if nothing is my own, where I keep being pulled under the surface again and again and again, with hardly any time above water to catch my breath. And even though I know that this won’t last forever, it certainly feels endless.

In session today, P. revived the metaphor I used before of jumping into the pool, not knowing whether or not I would be able to swim, and she reiterated how it is her job to be the life guard. She said that we need to work together to create metaphorical armbands, to help me stay above water. My immediate response to that was that I taught myself to swim, without water wings, thank-you-very-much, that, in fact, I actually learned to swim under water, before I figured out how to do it with my head held above the surface.

I have often said that even though I generally learn new things quickly, I am an emotionally slow learner – but now I am sitting here, thinking that maybe it is really that I am a slow unlearner. In the months since I started seeing P. I have struggled with echoes of past relationships, with trusting P. to know her own limitations and have automatically and without thinking taken on sole responsibility for managing our relationship. I can see where this need to be in charge comes from, and I know what the original sources of those echoes are.. What I find difficult to do, however, is to make a different choice this time around. While I have needed to be solitarily strong and in control in the past, this may not still be necessary. It makes me think of a ’90s country song that goes “life’s a dance you learn as you go, sometimes you lead, sometimes you follow”..

You need to have that balance in a relationship; to sometimes lead and sometimes follow. I am pretty good at the first, but markedly less so when it comes to the latter. And maybe, just maybe, it isn’t such a bad thing to allow someone else to lead every once in a while..?

 

xx

 

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

Sometimes you lead

Sometimes you follow

Don’t worry about what you don’t know

Life’s a dance you learn as you go

 

Life’s A Dance © 1992 Shamblin & Seskin

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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Living With PTSD – Not Like The Movies

I managed to go to service this morning, for the first time in a long long while. Last week I couldn’t go because I had managed to give myself a concussion, before then it was down to running a temperature, and before then – for many many weeks – it has been due to simply not being up to it; too depressed, too submerged in my life/death battle. And then there’s the PTSD. Post-traumatic stress disorder. The bane of my life. A big reason for previously mentioned life/death battle.

I feel that a lot of people don’t really understand what post-traumatic stress disorder is. Or, more accurately, they may not be aware of how it affects people. I think that, at least in part, media is responsible for this. People have generally heard of flashbacks as being one of the symptoms of PTSD, and you often come across storylines in which characters suffer from this disorder, and the viewers are treated to an insight into the flashbacks that they experience in a variety of ways. Only, there’s an issue with this: having a flashback isn’t like watching something happening on a film screen. It’s about feelings. About re-experiencing the traumatic event, as if it is happening all over again, and having an emotional response to it. Again and again and again and again.

In the most recent episode of BBC’s Silent Witness, the storyline followed a former soldier suffering from PTSD. It was explained that certain sounds and situation could trigger flashbacks for him. So far so good; this is all true for many people suffering from PTSD. Later on in the program we got to ‘experience’ a flashback alongside the character: he saw a person on the street, it morphed into a flashback person – someone who wasn’t actually there – someone who had been part of the trauma. All of this is fairly accurate, I think, for a lot of people: flashbacks can very well be triggered by someone who looks like someone who was part of the traumatic event, and flashbacks can absolutely cause a person to see someone who isn’t really there. Happens to me all the time.

But then the character talked to someone about his experience of having flashbacks, and when the person listening to him said something along the lines of “That must be really horrible” the character’s reply was “No, it’s OK. It’s actually quite nice.”

And this, to me, is a huge departure from what PTSD sufferers truly deal with. I have yet to meet a single person suffering from PTSD who would describe having flashbacks as ‘nice’. Because the disorder is caused by traumatic experiences, often very extreme ones, you are not likely to have an emotional response which could in any way, shape or form be described as ‘nice’. Having a traumatic experience is not nice, thus, the emotional response will probably not include positive feelings.

Let me illustrate: say your previously wonderful and perfect partner rapes you. Very traumatic, very hard to deal with, extremely emotionally damaging. Let’s say the effects of the experience go so far as to cause you to develop PTSD. You now have flashbacks of the event. This is hardly going to trigger emotions related to the rosy honey-moon period of your relationship. Whilst you may still – in your conscious mind – remember that time when your partner brought home a dozen roses and your favourite chocolates, and the lovely feelings that gave you, those feelings will not be triggered by a flashback to the rape. They just won’t. Those lovely feelings weren’t associated with the rape, and so can’t be triggered by flashbacks to the trauma.

When you have PTSD [as I understand it, and put in layman’s terms] the memories of the trauma are stored in a different part of the brain to where other, ‘normal’, memories are stored, and the response flashbacks produce completely bypass the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thought. Thus, even though some part of you may be aware that the trauma isn’t really happening right now, and most of the time you are able to remember both positive and negative aspects of a relationship [assuming there have been both], because rational thought is taken out of the equation, your emotional response to a flashback will be as if it the trauma had only just happened, and will involve the feelings you either had at the time, or the feelings you may have had to repress at the time in order to survive. It won’t involve feelings related to an entirely different situation.

I mentioned earlier that flashbacks are often caused by triggers. But there is more to it. While a majority of people with PTSD have flashbacks caused by external triggers [sounds, smells etc – things that in one way or another remind them of the trauma], some people – myself included – have flashbacks that are caused primarily by internal triggers. Internal triggers are tricky, because they are difficult to identify. And if you can’t identify triggers, it is almost impossible to avoid them.

For me, personally, it is often a case of one flashback triggering the next, in a continuous chain, and I am just as likely to have flashbacks if I am out having an absolutely fantabulous time ice-skating with my friends, as I am sitting with someone talking about really deep and difficult things. In short, if I’m going to have a flashback, it will happen, regardless of what I am doing, where I am or who I am with.

One of the first things people [professionals in particular, actually] tend to ask is “What do you do to stop the flashbacks from happening?” to which I answer “Nothing”. They will then in one way or another convey to me that I have a very negative and defeatist attitude which isn’t helpful. Or they will suggest that I do something nice and relaxing – light candles, have a bath, listen to music, and so on. So, I tell them, oh, I do all of those things. Because they are very nice things to do. But I will still have the flashback, only I will have it in the bathtub, with the music playing and the candles all around me. I then say “You know when you go to sleep..?” adding a pause to allow the person I am talking to to nod, since this is something everyone has an experience of, before continuing “Well, you know once you are asleep, yeah?” Another nod. “At what point do you choose not to have a nightmare?”  You see, I can’t choose to not have a flashback any more than you can choose not to have a nightmare. No amount of positive thinking or relaxation is going to change it. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen, and it simply isn’t caused by a defeatist or negative attitude. I know a million different grounding techniques to help me come out of a flashback, all of which I employ on a daily basis, and I am working very hard at finding ways to cope with the emotions the flashbacks bring out, but there is no way I can stop the flashback from happening in the first place.

I have somewhere between 30 and 40 flashbacks on an average day. On a particularly bad day, when it seems like one flashback triggers the next, I can have over a hundred. That means re-experiencing, re-living – the abuse over a hundred times in a day. It means dealing with the emotional impact a hundred times in a day. To me, the fact that I am still here, in spite of this, is proof that I absolutely do not have a defeatist attitude.

If you would like to know what it is like [for me] to have flashbacks, there is a drawing (What Words Can’t Express – A Visual Representation Of Sexual Abuse Flashbacks) that I posted a number of years ago, trying to visually explain that sense of being in two places at once – the past and the present, simultaneously. I feel pushed to warn, though, that it is somewhat graphic, and could be potentially triggering.

I want to make it clear that I am in no way an expert on PTSD, and what I have written here is based on my own experience of living with flashbacks, and on what others with PTSD have told me. Of course, as with anything, different people react in different ways, and there may very well be PTSD sufferers out there who disagree entirely with my take on what PTSD is like. And that’s OK. I just wanted to offer my view of what it’s like.

 

All the very best,

xx

 

PS. In case you happen to know me, I’ve recently added a little section on the right, appropriately called “For People Who Know Me”. You may want to check that out. Not in any way saying that you can’t check it out even if you don’t know me, it just won’t be all that relevant to you. :)