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.

 

 

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.

 

*

 

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. :)

Scaffolding

I was supposed to be dead by now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Much love,

 

xx

A Fork In The Road – Choosing A Path

A. has been away since the Friday before last, and it feels like it has been our longest break ever. There is just something about this particular break that has felt sort of endless. Of course, this hasn’t really been the longest one, seeing as she was off on maternity leave last year, but it has felt incredibly long.

I think one part of it is the fact that I have been living in a heightened state of fear ever since I ran into M., and not having A. there to talk it through with has been hard. Yes, I’ve still had Z., but since that’s the place where I’ve seen M., I haven’t been able to relax at all, and that – naturally – has had a direct impact on my ability to open up and talk about things; it is very hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable in a place where you don’t feel safe. That isn’t to say that I haven’t tried to do just that. But, still, it’s in my sessions with A. I usually feel most safe, more sheltered from both external and internal storms. In fact, this is where I am least likely to experience flashbacks. Sure, I do still have the occasional flashback when I’m with A., but it happens a whole heap less there than anywhere else.

A. is back tomorrow, and that’s a good thing, for sure. I feel that there is a lot that has happened in the eleven days since I last saw her, and there is a lot of catching up to do. Prior to A. going on leave I had a session where I tried to be brave and share my concerns regarding not feeling sure about where our therapeutic relationship and work is headed, or even where I would like it to go.

There is one part of me who is listening closely – perhaps even a little too closely – to other people, who all seem to be suggesting that perhaps I am overly attached to A., and that I have really come as far as I can, working with A. That I may have outgrown her, in a sense, and the time has come to start over with someone else. And at the same time there is the intense pull in the opposite direction: that while there are many things that are less than ideal in our relationship and the way we have been working together, there is a golden opportunity here to work things through, to have a different experience to what I have had in many previous therapies.

I think what troubles me most is the fact that I feel so completely in the dark about my own motives for wishing to go in either of these directions. Is thinking about terminating my work with A. really a result of outgrowing something, or is it a case of the exact polar opposite? That, actually, having spent years only dipping my toes I am now dangerously close to allowing myself to dive in head first? Perhaps terminating is a way for me to avoid having to do that? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that happened. In at least three previous therapies I’ve managed to find an ‘out’, when things have got a little too hot. Maybe I am really just repeating a pattern here? To cut and run, rather than stay and face my fears?

And, at the same time, is my wish to stay with A. purely about this opportunity to go deeper than I have done before, or is it rooted in fear of letting go of the emotional safety blanket A. has been providing for me in the last four and a half years? Change can be a pretty scary thing, and sometimes we all need a little push in the right direction to dare take that final step off the beaten path.

I definitely feel that working with Z., alongside A., in the last few months has been a very positive experience, has made me reflect on the work I have been doing with A. It has helped clarify in my mind what I feel has sometimes been lacking. But, equally, it has highlighted the things I really appreciate in my relationship with A., the things I find a little overbearing in my work with Z.

In many ways, therapy with A. is a very independent endeavour; I am most definitely in the driver’s seat, choosing which roads to go down, which ones to avoid, and what speed we should be travelling at. Counselling with Z. is a lot more directed, something which became very clear when she expressed concern that we may be dipping too deep into things. And, at the same time, Z. is a lot more head on than A. She often asks very direct questions about what’s going on for me, what I am feeling, and, particularly – what I feel about our relationship, pushing me to go to a place where it is a little scary to be. And, this is an area where A. and I don’t really manage to communicate all that well. I am not sure if this is down to me and my fears, or if it is a situation A. and I have created jointly, but I do know that it is absolutely one of the things I would like to change.

A. made a comment when I talked about this, among many other things, in one of the last sessions before this break, which I feel is both valid and makes me worry. She said that all these questions I have about our work together, the uncertainty of where we are going, the not knowing where I would like to go, echoes very loudly in the rest of my life: there is a lack of clear direction and a strong feeling of being pulled in two opposite directions [the wish to live and work through things, and a darker pull towards giving up and ending my life].

As I wrote earlier, this comment does have some validity: I can see the echo, and I get what A. was trying to tell me. And at the same time, there is some frustration on my part about the way A. tends to see most everything I say about our relationship as a direct echo of something bigger in the world outside of her consulting room, the way she sometimes seems reluctant to allow me [us] to fully explore what’s there inside those four walls. My general view is that, yes – there are often echoes of the outside world being reenacted in A.’s and my relationship, but, that this doesn’t mean that what is going on between the two of us isn’t equally real and in need of being worked through. One doesn’t negate the other, and sometimes a rubber duck is just a rubber duck.

As you can see there are a whole lot of questions bouncing around inside of me at the moment, and very few solid answers to counter them, but I hope that in the next few weeks I will be able to use my sessions with both A. and Z. to look at them closer.

xx

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: "Draw, Don't Cut"  [..the slightly more creative version..]

Self-Harm Distraction Techniques: “Draw, Don’t Cut”
[..the slightly more creative version..]

Being Safe vs. Feeling Safe – The Power Of The Past

Ever since my run-in with M. last week, I have been on extremely high alert. Like many people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder I am hyper vigilant at the best of times, but in the last week I have been a million times more nervous than usual, any sound I’m not expecting making me jump. From Monday when it happened until Wednesday night I didn’t sleep. Not as in I’ve barely slept a wink, but I literally didn’t sleep, at all. In fact, getting to A.’s place on the Wednesday afternoon was a real challenge as I was battling the symptoms of sleep deprivation, being confused, nauseas and very unsteady on my feet.

I used both my Wednesday and Friday session with A. to talk about what happened when I saw M. and how it’s really affected me quite badly. In the Wednesday session I was close to tears, just thinking about it, because I felt like any sense of security I had been able to create for myself had been totally and utterly shattered. My jitteriness was so bad that even the sound of A.’s voice made me jump more than once in session. [My relief upon realising it was A. and not someone else each time, on the other hand, was immense].

I have been trying really hard to calm myself, to tell myself that although I don’t feel safe, I am safe. Only it seems to make no difference whatsoever. My feelings out-power my intellect with frightening ease, in complete contrast to how I normally deal with any extreme emotions by rationalising them away. Also, one could argue that the reality of being safe holds very little, if any, value if you don’t feel safe.

Needless to say, my anxiety level has been on a steep upward curve every day since last Monday, doubling again and again the closer I got to my next session with Z.

Z. telephoned me on the morning of my session, just to reassure me that she would definitely be there to meet me at the reception, to let me know that I didn’t have to worry about having to walk through the building on my own. So, I picked up whatever fragments of courage I could find and set out. I had to stop several times on the way, because I was so anxious my legs didn’t seem to want to carry me. I kept looking nervously around, to see if he might be there.

And then it happened. Only fifty metres from the relative safety of the reception I spotted him. He was on the other side of the street, slightly behind me, accompanied by a woman, talking and laughing as if the world was a beautiful place to be. I stopped being the grown woman that I am in that instant and turned into 8-year-old me, hiding behind a tree as he walked past on the other side of the street. I went from Adult Me to Little S in seconds flat.

I hung back, watching him enter the building, not really knowing what to do. It was time to meet Z., but I just couldn’t go into the reception, in case he stopped to talk to someone there. So, I waited a while – I’m not sure how long – and then, on unsteady feet, made my way across the parking lot. As I cautiously approached the door, hoping to take a peek through the glass panes to make sure that M. had left the reception, a man came out through it, holding the door politely open for me. Ready or not, I had no choice but to enter.

I collapsed on one of the chairs immediately inside the door, bending forward, hiding my head in my hands, forcing myself to keep breathing. Z. came up to me right away; I guess she may have been sitting behind the receptionist desk, looking out for me – I wouldn’t know, because I never looked around when I entered.

I somehow managed to get it out that I knew M. was there, because I had seen him go in, and there was no way I could walk through the dining hall, even with Z. by my side. Z. thought for a moment and then told me to wait while she went back into the reception to ask another member of staff to open the fire exit for us, so we could enter the building that way; the only way you can get to the stairs leading to Z.’s room, without having to go through the dining hall.

I made it up to Z.’s room on shaky legs, and as soon as I was in there, I sat down on the chair. I didn’t do any of the things I usually do: put my backpack down, set my Rubik’s cube aside, take my shoes off. I just resumed the position I had had in the reception, head buried in my arms, bending over, sobbing violently without tears. It took me a good while before I was able to get back to myself enough to do those things, to bring myself back to where I was, and even then I left my shoes in such a position that I would be able to just step into them, should I need to flee.

I explained all of this to Z. That, even though she was there and I had made it to the room safely, I was ready to run, to jump through the window if need be. I just wasn’t at all able to catch hold of the fear or rein myself in. Throughout the session that feeling never left. At one point I could hear male voices in the hallway outside the room, and in panic realised that I might not be able to recognise his voice, as he would be speaking in English, and that might not at all sound like the very distinct way he spoke Swedish, with a strong Arabic accent.

That is something that has been playing in my mind almost on repeat during the last few days: the way he spoke. In particular, the way he used to say my name. He never used the short form of my name like everyone else, but would always call me by my full name, only his accent caused him to mispronounce it slightly.

It turned out to be a good session, all things considered. We spent time trying to explore the fear, and also talking about the circumstances surrounding M. coming to live with us. How we had a family meeting, talking about taking this badly psychologically damaged teenager in, and how, at first it had all been very exciting. He had three different foster families to choose from, but – much to our delight – decided on our family. He later said that the reason he chose our family over the other two was ‘because there were children’, and I couldn’t even begin to express the chills that sends down my spine thinking of it now, knowing what he went on to do.

We talked about changes that was made in my home prior to M. moving in: all toy guns, including water pistols, were banned – as M. was a refugee from the Lebanon and had seen war up close. The lock in the family bathroom was fixed, having never been in working order for as long as I could remember. I have a particularly vividly memory of my mother telling me that I was not to walk around in a towel after a bath or shower, as that wouldn’t be something he was used to, since it was something women from his culture didn’t do. It has stuck with me, that conversation with my mother, because even though I had never been someone who did that [always being very careful to cover up, never leaving my room without either being fully dressed or wearing pyjamas buttoned to the very top], I felt that there was some sort of indirect implication that were I to walk around in a state of semi-undress M. could not be held responsible for his actions. That it was somehow down to me to make sure nothing untoward happened.

We also talked a little about something else that I even now find difficult to deal with: the fact that while my parents have never outright said that I am lying about what happened with M., they have both categorically and repeatedly said that “it couldn’t have happened”. The reason they have given for this is that they were acutely aware, taking him in, that he was volatile and somewhat mentally unstable, and couldn’t necessarily be trusted as there was a violent and unpredictable side to him, and – according to them – they consequently made an agreement to ‘make sure that us children were never alone with him’. This – the idea that we were never left on our own with him – is of course highly implausible and falls to pieces at first look: my father was working full time and my mother, while being a stay-at-home mother at the time, certainly wasn’t ever someone who would be keeping her children in her sight at all times. We had always been allowed to roam free, and her own bipolar ups and downs would have had her sufficiently preoccupied to often not know where we were, or who we were with. And I know for a fact that I was regularly sent over to the guest house [where M. was staying] to fetch him. I know this because M. would often pretend that the intercom system wasn’t working when I rang to let him know dinner was ready, and my mother would tell me to not be so lazy and to just go over there and tell him myself..

Z. made a comment about this, about my parents deciding to take someone in who they apparently knew not to be safe, in spite of having three fairly young children at home. She wanted me to talk about how I felt about this, but, while I do have a lot of feelings about it, I simply didn’t feel quite able to, or – perhaps more accurately – didn’t feel quite ready – to express them.

I am not sure why my parents – who have no problem believing that their own son sexually abused me for more than twelve years – are so adamant that the abuse M. subjected me to could not have happened. Maybe the thought of having twice missed something like that is simply too much? Maybe the knowledge that he wasn’t safe, and the subsequent sense of guilt at not having protected me, stops them from being able to acknowledge – even to themselves – that it did happen? People often defend the hardest against the things that cause them the most pain, and I don’t think my parents are all that different in that respect. I have a few additional theories about their reasons for flatly denying what happened, all of them excruciatingly painful for all involved.. but, for now, I think I will keep the more probable ones to myself, as I don’t feel ready to deal with them just yet. I have on occasion talked to A. about it, but I feel that this blog is perhaps not the most appropriate place for me to explore it further. At least not for the time being.

After session, Z. walked me all the way through the building and across the parking lot outside, only saying goodbye when we got to the street, having first asked me how I was going to get home. It gave me the sense that it really mattered to her, all the things that have happened to me, all the fear I am carrying with me.

And that felt very special to me; very different to anything I have experienced before.

xx

Sharp eyed readers will have noticed that I have made no commented in this post as to whether or not the person I met really is M., or just someone who looks like him. The reason for this is that in so many ways it doesn’t matter whether it is really him or not. In my head it is him, and that’s what I am reacting to, so that’s what I have chosen to write about: my experience of what is going on. Whether the threat is real or not, the fear certainly is..