Flashbacks, Therapy & Change – An Entry About Finding My Way Back To Life

I had an email from someone who has clearly been following my blog for some time the other day. He [or she – could be a she] asked “What happened to your real blog? The one about your life? I mean it’s interesting to read about Reform Judaism and all that, but I kind of miss the real updates. Like, what happened after you left Drayton Park? How have you been doing? What’s happening with your therapy?”

Now, firstly, I would like to point out that to me the posts about Judaism, and my conversion in particular, are every bit as real as any of my other updates. Being Jewish is part of who I am, and a big part, at that. But, I do take the emailer’s point: it has been a while since I’ve written about what’s going on with me. And it’s not by chance. I’ve simply needed some time to reflect without sharing, rather than reflecting while sharing, if that makes sense.

About two months have passed since I left the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. And it’s taken me all this time to slowly, slowly get back to myself. In fact I’m still not there yet. I still have days that are very very difficult, have days when I just don’t make it out of bed at all. But I also have days when things seem a little bit better.

The flashbacks still come, but usually it’s a case of having maybe one flashback every few days, and as horrible as it is to have them, it doesn’t compare with the torrential flashbacks I was suffering from a few months back. They still disrupt my life, still make me feel like absolute crap, because being thrust back into an abuse situation without warning is just never going to be a pleasant experience, but on some level they are manageable in the sense that there is enough space between them to be able to look at them and think about why they are happening.

Mostly, they tend to be about things I remember happening, and I think the key in these flashbacks lie within the feelings they evoke, not necessarily the content. I try to allow those feelings to surface, and to – hard as it can be – accept that there is a lot of fear and shame. My conscious memory of the abuse, particularly the abuse my brother subjected me to, doesn’t really conjure up images of myself as a very small, powerless and frightened little girl, but through the flashbacks I can tell that I must have been, even if I at the time was too cut off from my own emotions to recognise this. So I guess what I am doing now is to acknowledge this side of me, this truth which I have kept under wraps for a long long time. To allow Little S space to truly exist.

Therapy is going well, feels helpful. It’s my space to just think out loud. That said, the other session I talked about how when I really get going, when I feel I’m on to something, I often drift off – almost as if I forget that I’m supposed to share my thought process along the way. I just grow silent and still and think inside my head, and I’m sure this must be frustrating for A. at times, but I guess it’s just the way I work. Also, the fact that I am aware of it, that I’ve been able to talk to A. about this tendency to just go quiet, means that I can work on it. And it’s given me the opportunity to talk about why I think I do this, what it is I find so frightening about sharing thoughts that aren’t fully formed, what it is I might be trying to protect or prevent from happening, through leaving A. [and others] out.

While I was at Drayton Park, A. told me something I already knew, but had not wanted to think about; she’s pregnant. I knew this even before going home this summer, but because A. hadn’t said anything about it, I essentially buried it, chose not to think about it. But now that it’s out in the open, well, naturally, it has an immediate effect on my therapy, both in the here and now; the themes that come up in my sessions, and the more practical side to it: that there will be a major break in my therapy in a not too distant future.

There is no getting away from it: there are absolutely days when it is really really hard to come to session and see A. sitting there looking oh-so-very-pregnant, when all I’ve ever wanted for myself is to have a child, feeling very aware that time is slipping away from me and my worst fear; that I may never get to be a mother, forms an icy shell around my heart. There are moments when I feel insanely jealous of her, her baby, her life. But there are also times when I feel genuinely through-and-through happy for her, excited about this amazing little miracle growing inside of her, and noticing subtle changes in the way she responds to the things I talk about – a soft gentleness in her tone, especially when I talk about that frightened little child I was back then.

So, there is progress in my therapy and in my life in general. Tiny tiny steps forward, towards a better understanding of myself, of who I am, of how I relate to others, and how others relate to me. And I feel I’m on the right track. Feel I’m getting somewhere.

But it’s not easy.

And it isn’t over.

There is much to be done.

Be kind to yourselves,

xx

A tiny musical gem; Janet Devlin singing Adele’s Someone Like You

Beit Din, Mikveh & Conversion – My Big Day

It has been nearly two weeks since my formal conversion to Judaism, and I have been meaning to post an update about it ever since, knowing full well that I will never be able to find ample words to describe what the day was truly like.

I was incredibly nervous on the day, much more so than I had thought I would be, and I am really glad that I had both Dev and my friend D. with me to help keep nerves in check [or at least be on hand to make sure I was where I needed to be, when I needed to be there].

True to form we arrived ridiculously early, meaning we had time for a stop at The Bagel Café before my appointment. Not sure if this was a good idea or not, really, as I had a Twix, and sugar-rushing myself just before going before the Beit Din may not really have been the wisest of things to do.

Having all but choked on my Twix we made our way upstairs to where the Beit Din convenes and had a bit of time to wait around before it was my turn. The person going in before me happened to be one of the women from my J-Prep group, so that was quite nice.

Then all of a sudden [or so it felt] it was my turn. Rabbi D. escorted me into the room and slipped me a “They are going to love you” on the way in; a really kind and warm touch.

Was a little jolted by the fact that this was an all-male Beit Din. Not because I mind male rabbis, or because I felt strongly about having a mixed Beit Din, but because I simply don’t do well being alone in a room with only men, regardless of who they are. Had to take a moment to steady myself and mentally focus on the fact that this was a completely safe setting and that there was no real danger, regardless of my internal warning bells going off like crazy.

I really wish I was able to remember who was on the Beit Din that day, but honestly, I haven’t a clue. Well, that’s not entirely true, one of the men was someone who I sort of knew, or at least have met previously, only I was far too nervous in the moment to recognise that.

My meeting with the Beit Din is all a bit of a happy blur, but I do remember one of the rabbis starting out by saying that this wasn’t really one of those tests where you pass or fail, and although this was of course something I had been telling myself over and over in the past few hours, I found this exceptionally reassuring coming from someone other than myself.

What did they ask? Well.. I’m not entirely sure. I know that there were a lot of questions, many more than I had expected, and that they asked about how I had found my way to Judaism, [why not Islam or Christianity?] and that I gave them a run-down of that, including why, for me, Reform Judaism was the natural choice.

I was also asked if there was anything I had struggled with or found difficult, and I explained that I had had a conversation with one of my rabbis about the exceptions to the principle of Pichuach Nefesh, because I was unsure if I understood it correctly and was finding some interpretations I had come across somewhat hard to stomach. I also mentioned how I find the somehow socially acceptable interdenominational slagging off quite offensive, because although I could never be anything other than a Reform Jew that doesn’t mean that I think of other denominations as somehow lesser. That, just as we work on interfaith matters, perhaps some work is needed on intrafaith dialogue.

I only had one properly ‘factual’ question, and that was to talk to the Beit Din about the festival of Simchat Torah which was starting the evening after my conversion. Had no problem with that, since I had pretty much assumed they’d ask about that, and also Simchat Torah happens to be one of my absolute favourite holidays.

The other more precise question I was asked was regarding my own observance; I decided to talk about making Havdalah at the end of Shabbat and also how I had made a special Havdalah upon leaving Drayton Park, to mark the transition between going from this very very difficult period, to something more positive. As a follow-on question, or perhaps to check I wasn’t just making this up, one of the rabbis asked could I recite the blessings for Havdalah? My immediate reaction to that was to panic as I normally use my siddur when I make Havdalah, but then I just firmly told myself that I do know these blessings without reading from the siddur and went on to recite them by heart.

I also talked about how, for me, action is a very important expression of faith; that praying and going to shul are only two ways of being observant, that I think that social action is every bit as important as other more conventional ways of practising religion. Talked about tikkun olam both in terms of green thinking and in terms of looking out for others less fortunate than myself.

I have a feeling that my reciting the Havdalah blessings, may have been the reason why I was not asked to read anything in Hebrew to the rabbis. I was, however, asked what I would have read, so I told them that I had decided just as I stepped into the room that I would like to read the Modim part of the Amidah, since that seemed appropriate for the occasion, and – really – there is no time when the Modim isn’t appropriate, in my opinion.

Was asked to step outside for a moment while the rabbis conferred, so I did, being greeted by Dev, D, and rabbis D and H outside. Have no idea how long I had to wait, not too long though, I think, and then we were all filing back into the meeting room, crowding it somewhat.

My conversion certificate was read out to me, but in all honesty I was still buzzing so much I can’t say I really remember much of what was said. I was mainly just really moved by the occasion and only truly remember the moment I was called by my Hebrew name for the very first time. That felt like a very powerful moment.

Following the meeting with the Beit Din we made our way down to the mikveh for my ritual immersion. Rabbi H. was my Jewish witness and came with me as I immersed in the water and recited the blessing for tevilah and the Shehecheyanu, marking my entry into the Jewish people. I have to say that I’m not great with people seeing me naked, especially my various scars, but it still felt OK. The mikveh at the Sternberg Centre can, admittedly, not by any stretch of the imagination be accused of being a particularly serene place [think septic tank meets oversized foot bath..], but making tevilah still felt deeply spiritually moving.

After I got out of the mikvah Rabbi H. asked how I felt. I had to take a moment to feel it through before answering that I felt like I was exactly who I have always known I was, yet everything was different.

I know this has been a bit of a blow-by-blow account of my big day. There is so much more I could write about it, and chances are that I will, but for now I think this is what I can offer.

All the very best,

xx

PS. If you are interested in reading my letter to the Beit Din, please click here.

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My siddur (prayer book) - complete with nail varnish flowers..

Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.

Long-term therapy vs. short-term crisis resolution

I’ve been thinking about how to update my blog the last few days, but I’ve not felt able to do it. Partly because all my energy has been channelled towards fighting my way out of a flashback. Again and again and again. Times a million. It really has been kind of never-ending – and the only way that has worked to give me any kind of longer break has been to either make myself black out or to cut, neither of which is particularly healthy.

To say that it’s been a difficult few weeks would be a severe understatement. It’s been pretty relentless, and at times I’ve really just wanted it all to end, because there is only so much a person can cope with. The crisis team have been quite good (well, the nurses more so than the pill pushing doctors) – but it’s also been hard to find myself back in this system. Also, I’ve felt that the crisis team has been quite critical of the therapy I’m doing with A,, and they have frequently asked me if it’s really helpful to have this kind of therapy when it’s made me have such terrible flashbacks. Also, my relationship with A. has been questioned. More than once have they asked me if I’m not a little bit too attached to my therapist. My answer throughout has been that it’s not the therapy which is causing these flashbacks, it’s a combination of going home and then returning a week before therapy resumed, in conjunction with a number of other factors.

I’ve defend both my choice of therapy and the relationship I’ve worked so hard to form with A. on numerous occasions, but it’s tricky when you’re talking to people who see medication and CBT as the cure for all ills. It’s not so easy to explain that the whole point of therapy is that you form a close relationship with your therapist, and that it allows you to look at other relationships and see how they may be played out as little echoes within the therapeutic relationship. That in my veiw CBT is a bit of a band-aid, masking deep-rooted problems, and wouldn’t be at all appropriate for the kind of issues I’m dealing with. That, yes – this is really hard work, and yes it does bring difficult things up, but that it’s my feeling that the only way for me to be able to find some sort of peace within my past is to dare look at all those difficult things and realise that I can in fact survive the pain. And that’s what the work I do with A. is all about.

Despite this difference of opinion, having the involvement of the crisis team has also been of value – I’ve felt held by the fact that I’ve been seeing them on the weekends, when I don’t see A., and that they’re available to talk to on the telephone 24/7. It does help. But, that does in no way mean that I’m any less committed to the work I’m doing with A. I see it more as a crutch between sessions – for the time being – so that I can carry on with what I do in therapy.

Following yesterday’s adventures at A&E when I had my cuts stitched and SteriStripped – with a tetanus shot thrown in for good measure – R. from the crisis team came down to have a chat with me, and she said that she felt that my self-harming behaviour was going in the wrong direction, that it was escalating rather than subsiding, and that she felt I needed more support than what the crisis team can offer, and she suggested she make a referral to Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre.

I’ve stayed there in the past – years ago – and it has been helpful, so I agreed to R. making the referral. I think Drayton Park could be a safe option while I’m in the middle of this crisis. To me it seems like a happy medium – I’ll still be able to see A., but rather than going home to a lonely room battling flashbacks and urges to self-harm, I’d be going back to Drayton Park, where I’d be able to talk to someone about my urges to self-harm. Also, I know that they will be a lot more encouraging in terms of doing the type of work I do with A. han the crisis team has been.
Fair enough, I’ve never actually been at Drayton Park when I’ve been in therapy, but I have several friends who’ve stayed there and have felt that the Drayton Park staff have been very much in favour of them carrying on seeing their therapists while they’re staying at Drayton Park. Essentially what they say is that your therapist is your long-term support and who will help you with long-term goals, and Drayton Park is a place to feel safe while being in the middle of a crisis. It’s a short-term add-on support system, not a replacement for your long-term aims and goals.

Anyway, I’m meeting with one of the workers at Drayton Park tomorrow for an assessment, and it still remains to be seen if they’ll deem it appropriate to offer me a place for the week.

Think it’s time to hit the hay now – hopefully I’ll be able to sleep a little more than I have been in the last few nights..

Be kind to yourselves.

xx

Little S At Six Months

Little S At Six Months

Beryl Markham

When I was little I was Beryl Markham
Or Amelia Earhart
Sometimes even Amy, Wonderful Amy

I opened my mind, like I opened my window
And just flew

I flew my plane over the African plains
Over snow-covered Mount Kilimanjaro
Close, so close, to the Victoria Falls

Hour after hour, day into night
I flew and flew and flew

Away from you..
..and the things you made me do

xx

PS. This poem, I have subsequently discovered, has now been printed on the wall at the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre, only they’ve chosen to leave the final two lines off. Kind of changes the poem into something completely different. You be the judge.

On My Own – An Entry About Finding New Ways To Cope

I’m at The New Place now. I moved my stuff here on Saturday and myself today. And so far it feels ok. Had a house meeting today and that went well. We had a visitor who’s also looking to come here and after the meeting me, T and C sat in the lounge talking about him, realising that we had all made almost exactly the same observations. I’m not going to go into any details about that, because that’s not really the point – I just mentioned it because it was really nice to sit there together talking. Both T and C have really made me feel very welcome. They had even put up curtains in my room and flowers on my chest of drawers. Very sweet. The other person who lives here hasn’t been around since sometime last week. In fact I’ve only met him at two meetings. T said that he has been finding it difficult being in the house and so he has been away quite a lot lately.

As I mentioned earlier I split the physical moving of things and actually moving in myself over a couple of days. It wasn’t what I had originally planned to do, but the closer I got to the big Moving Day the more stressed out I got about the physical move. So much so that I began to notice that I completely shut off all emotions I had regarding moving away from Dev and into this completely new place. So, that’s why I, in the end, decided to do it this way. Once I had moved my stuff over (and that went ridiculously smoothly) I was able to go back to the flat and spend the weekend with Dev, firstly letting go of the accumulated stress regarding the packing and unpacking etc, and then slowly allowing myself to think about what my feelings are in terms of the mental change this move will mean.

I was saying to my friend (who came over to help me with the move on Saturday) that had I still been in counselling I could probably have managed to deal with both aspects of the move in one go, but since that’s not the case I think it’s a very positive thing that I was able to work out another way to cope with it, without going back to my old habit of simply shutting down.

Having said that, I must admit that I don’t think the move has really sunk in yet. In fact I think it will be quite some time before it does. But, as I said at the house meeting today; I’ll let it take as long as it needs to. There is no need to rush anything. I have all the time in the world to wait for whatever reaction is to come and to deal with it as and when it does.

Had to go back to the flat today to get my duvet and a few bits and pieces I wasn’t able to carry when I came here this morning. Going back to the flat, seeing it looking so empty, now that all my clutter is gone – it was pretty emotional. Just before I left I switched on my iPod, and what comes on if not the piece of music Dev has composed for me. Needless to say I then had to take a moment, to just listen to the music and remember all the things we’ve been through in our five years together. Not just the difficult stuff we were so desperately dealing with for the better part of last year, but also the fun bits. And I realised that more than anything I will miss the laughter we’ve shared. For better or for worse, Dev is the only person in the world who can make me laugh so hard it sets my asthma off.

Anyway, it’s getting rather late now. I really should be going to bed. I’m just finding it a little bit difficult to settle down. There are two main reasons for that. One that it’s a different bed the one I’m used to (don’t ask!), and secondly that there are no locks on the doors. That doesn’t bother me in the day time – and I certainly don’t distrust my house mates in terms of going into my room or anything like that, it’s just that, well, with my background I just find it difficult to relax in a new place at the best of time, and I think I would have found it easier had I been able to lock the door. Again, as I said before, this has absolutely nothing to do with my house mates, it is basically old ghosts that haunt me.

Still I’m sure I’ll be able to deal with it. I remember having similar feelings both when I moved into my first flat in Sweden and the first few nights I stayed at Drayton Park. Sooner or later I’ll get used to it and it won’t bother me anymore.

It’s just a matter of finding a way to tolerate feeling a bit unsettled for a while until normality sets in.

xx

Under The Influence Of Music – An Entry About Setting Boundaries

Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy“.

That’s a line from the track “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M. which has been playing very nearly non-stop on my computer today. It’s one of my “listen and forget the world”-songs along with The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Walk This World” by Heather Nova. My I haven’t a clue what I’m feeling but whatever it is it’s too much for me to deal with right now-songs. The kind of music that allows you to just melt away from the world, if even for a moment. The sort that offers you a safe haven in the midst of all its noisiness. No need to think, no need to feel – just sink into oblivion and let it wash over you, sound wave after sound wave crashing over your head.

I’m not consciously trying to numb myself, I’m really not, I’m just so frustrated with things that I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel stuck and tied down and at the same time so spun out of control I don’t know how to rein myself in, how to find my feet again. That feeling you get when you start out spinning round and round because you want to, but then when you stop the world carries on spinning around you whether you want it to or not and there is nothing you can do about it other than to wait for the world to slow down to a manageable pace.

I’ve been thinking a lot about love and life and death and everything in between lately, trying to figure myself out, trying to make sense of it all and coming up with very few, if any, answers.

I haven’t succumbed to self-harm, not really. Not since that time when I tested the scalpels. But I’ve been doing other things I shouldn’t be doing. Like researching suicide methods, for example. Not because I necessarily feel any more, or indeed less, suicidal than I have in the last week, but because it works something like a drug for me.

I could probably give you a detailed run-down of up to ten fail-proof ways of ending my life without even having to leave the flat. So it’s not a case of actually needing to find new and exciting ways of offing myself (if there is such a thing as needing suicide methods). D. suggested that it is similar to the way some people get addicted to pornography, and I guess there is some grotesque truth to that.

But even more than that I think it’s about control. Akin to how a person with an eating disorder may gain a sense of control from being able to decide when to eat and when to throw up, knowing all these methods allows me to feel that I have at least some sort of control over my life. Or my death, at least.

I am fully aware that this is not a good way to deal with things, but much like you start craving that drug high after the first few innocently experimental hits I get a craving for new information. I can’t just know a little bit about this method or that, I need to know everything about it, and so, what was meant to be a quick checking up on a fact turns into hours of research.

Thankfully D. is now back and at the end of my session today we made a deal; to try not to do any research at all for the coming week. And I intend to stick to that. Hence listening to my safe-music.

I know, I know – it’s hardly a unique or hard-to-come-up-with idea this Just-knock-it-on-the-head-technique (to use one of D.’s favourite expressions), but this is exactly what I mean when I say that I need direction and guidance in order to cope. Without someone to check up on me, someone to help me re-focus week on week – I just seem incapable of sticking to the healthier option, even when I know what it is.

Having lived the better part of my life without many rules to follow owing to the, at least partially, self-imposed big sister/good girl/self-sufficient reliable daughter-syndrome I find it incredibly soothing to be given some set rules to stick by. Adult supervision. It makes me feel cared for. Looked after. Safe.

I suppose that is the reason why I find my sessions with D. and Drayton Park as a whole so comforting. A sense of home, of something steady and clear and – yes – containing, where I can let go of the responsibility for a moment. Because, as much as I like having all of the above qualities attributed to me, if there is no let-up ever, it can easily become incredibly over-powering and I lose track of what is reasonable and what is over-doing it, and I end up thinking that those things are all that I am. I lose sight of what is me and what are merely aspects of the person that I am.

I forget that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.

xx

 

I Try My Hardest Not To Lose It All – An Entry About Help And Support

For those of you who haven’t heard from me – and owing to an immense wish not to communicate with my fellow humans lately that will be the vast majority of you – as of Friday last week I am out of the Drayton ParkWomen’s Crisis Centre.

And what can I say? Well, for better or for worse this stay was very very different to my stay there earlier in the year. As this was meant only as a short term intensive intervention style stay the main focus was put on helping me use and acquire distraction techniques to enable me to better cope with my urges to self-harm once returned into the wilderness that is my home life.

Did it work? Yes and no is the honest answer. Yes, because I’m still here now, and apart from very lightly scratching myself with a scalpel purchased on my way home from Drayton Park on the day of my discharge, I haven’t actually physically harmed myself. No, because my mind has now moved on to a much darker place. A place where self-harm for the sake of release is no longer my primary urge.

I suppose that in order to understand what’s going on in my head one would need to understand the reasons behind the change in my urges, and the best way to do that is something like this (forgive me for detaching myself somewhat emotionally in composing this explanation, but it’s the best way I can think of to be able to write it and at the same time keep myself safe and away from harm); Some people self-harm for the sake of scarring themselves. I guess you could say that it is a way to show the outside world how much they are hurting on the inside. Others do it to allow themselves to feel a different kind of pain to the one they are experiencing emotionally. Finally there are people who use it as a means for breaking the pent up tension inside of them to avoid having a panic attack, physical outburst or other extreme reaction.

As for me, well, I suppose I’ve gone through stages of all of these variations, and at the moment I am stuck on the last; I am overwhelmed by powerful urges to cut myself in order to relieve the pressure.

Naturally, this is a pretty perilous place to be, in all senses of the word – and I have been working very hard at not giving in to this need for self-harm by distracting myself through various mind-numbing activities such as boxing, painting and re-painting my nails, writing lines etc. (In fact I went a bit crazy one evening at Drayton Park – spending half an hour covering the entire slated patio of the garden in pastel chalk drawings and random bits of lyrics, until one of the workers came out and helped me settle down with a hug and a good talk – an act of enormous kindness, and one I will never forget.)

However, using distraction techniques to refrain from self-harming has its downside as well as the obvious positive effect of not injuring yourself; whilst they do keep you safe for the time being they don’t actually do anything to manage or reduce the intensity of the emotional turmoil inside of you. That, I believe, can only be achieved with additional guidance where the underlying feelings and, peeling back yet another layer, the reasons for those feelings are explored and dealt with.

In the absence of my counsellor this has become increasingly more clear to me; that distraction alone is not enough to keep safe in the long run. Yes, employing distraction techniques will keep you safe for the moment – but unfortunately, without the extra direction that counselling and therapy offer, the emotional strain still keeps building and thus you may, as is the case for me, find yourself moving from the stage of wanting to self-harm to actually wanting to end your life altogether, simply for the sake of escaping the pain you are experiencing.

For me – and I have said this repeatedly – it is not a case of actually wanting to die – I just don’t want to live. In this way. And without the help I need to make sense of all those underlying emotions I mentioned earlier, I can’t see myself breaking away from it. I am more than willing to admit that I simply don’t have the tools yet to be able to do this on my own.

I have spoken to my care co-ordinator about this on a number of occasions, but she seems not only unwilling but unable to understand the severity, the depth, of this problem.

Two weeks ago, when I, for some inexplicable reason called her, naïvely hoping that she’d be able to help me make the referral to Drayton Park since I didn’t feel able to do it on my own, she actually gave me the oh-so-insightful advice “Just think happy thoughts!” – as if that would somehow magically make things ok for me, would enable me to pick myself up and put myself back together. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of You’ve just got to stay positives aimed at me – and in all honesty sometimes it’s even been helpful, but, that – “Just think happy thoughts!” – really drove me over the edge.

This same woman, by the way, made the unbelievably bright statement that “we don’t want to overcrowd you with support” when she met up with me and one of my named workers at Drayton Park for a review last week. Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s been a good ol’ while since I heard about anyone stating “overcrowded with support” as a reason for giving up on themselves and on life, so I’m not entirely sure how she reached that conclusion. Then again, she is apparently also the kind of person who thinks that a pat on the head is an acceptable form of encouragement, rather than a decidedly condescending gesture. (Yes – you guessed it – she actually, physically, patted me on the head as she was leaving the room..)

Ok, so I’ve lost the track a bit here, but on the other hand it does rather perfectly illustrate the fact that not only do people suffering from depression and other emotional difficulties have to deal with the actual difficulty in itself, but often – and I’ve heard this said time and time again by people who are in a similar situation to me – find themselves having to also struggle to convince the people who are meant to be there to support them that lending an occasional helping hand will not necessarily render them completely dependent on others from here on out.

There is a lot more I could write on this subject, but I think that for now I’ll leave it be and just concentrate on the things that are going my way, rather than the things that aren’t. Things like having people around me who picks up the thread and helps me where the system seems to have failed. And friends I can call and just cry and not say a word to and they will still understand me.

How’s that for positive thinking?

xx

PS. No need to freak out over the scalpels, they are no longer in my possession; I called Drayton Park and the workers helped me calm down and have a breather before supporting me to dispose of the offending objects.

Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back – An Entry About Slow But Steady Progress

As you’ve probably noticed reading my blog, I have been increasingly struggling with some very dark thoughts of self-harm and suicide. I’ve been doing my very best to be able to contain myself, to keep myself safe and to not act on my impulses. I’ve been calling various helplines at all hours of the day and night and using tens of different distraction techniques. Basically, I’ve given it my all to make it through, to hold it together, until D. comes back and I’ll once again have the space and the guidance I so desperately need.

But sometimes, as hard as you try, it’s just not enough. Lately I have felt myself seriously slipping and losing my focus, forgetting altogether what it is that I want to achieve.

So, I decided to do something for me drastically different. I decided that rather than tell people I need help by acting on my impulses, drinking anti-freeze and suchlike, I would simply reach out and ask for it. I spoke to a very close friend of mine who called up the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre to start a referral. There were a few ifs and buts, but the sum total is that I am back at the centre now for one week, to give me the chance to re-discover what the real me is like. I remember reading Freud’s metaphor for regression where he likened the phenomenon to that of an army retreating to the last safe stronghold. Much in the same way have I now retreated to the last place I felt I could get the help and support I need. This is not in any way criticism towards any of the many wonderful people I have in my life, who have all been worried and tried to help to the best of their ability – but merely stating a fact; The last time I felt really safe and able to express my fears was at Drayton Park – at my sessions with D. and also during my residence there earlier in the year.

I have been allocated two key workers – both of whom I have not worked much with in the past, but I have also had one-to-ones with one of my main workers from my last stay, and I think the combination of new input and ideas and talking to someone who knows me reasonably well is very helpful for me.

I have changed a lot since my last stay there, and also my stay this time around will, as I mentioned before, be decidedly shorter; one week compared to the five weeks of my previous stay. So, it’s different. It’s different also because there are different women staying there at the moment. However, there are two people there from my last stay, and that’s really nice – it means I don’t get as shy as I normally get around people I don’t know very well, and it helps me challenge myself to interact with the people I don’t yet know.

Another change, and one of the really major changes within is how I really feel about myself. I suppose that it goes hand in hand with starting to allow myself to feel things about the actual abuse; it alters the way I feel about myself. And although some may argue that I’ve always had a somewhat weak self-image this somehow feels different now. Whereas I may previously have disliked aspects of myself I now genuinely loathe everything that I am, and I feel absolutely disgusted by myself.

I am aware that this is an enormously common way for abuse survivors to feel; in fact I talked about this this very morning with my previous key worker. That in order to overcome and heal I need to acknowledge, in the true sense of the word, the fact that what happened really was abuse, and much like how people mourning go through a series of comparatively predictive phases, so do people who have experienced abuse, often starting with questioning their own role in it, feeling as if they haven’t done what they could have to make it stop and so on and so on – ending up where I am now: sheer self-hatred.

But as much as I can intellectualise and analyse this, it doesn’t help one bit when it comes to dealing with the actual feeling. And that is where the asking for help comes in. I need someone to put things into perspective, to in a sense hold my hand. Help me chop things up to bite-size portions, rather than biting off so much that I end up choking on it.

So, to sum up; although it doesn’t change how I feel about myself or where I’m at right now, I’m glad that I did decide to ask for help before I got to the stage where I forget that I can.

Anyway, dear friends and random readers; I’m going to leave you now – I’m only home for a bit and I want to go cuddle Dev. Thank you all for your lovely and encouraging text messages. They mean a lot to me.

All the world has to offer and more,

xx

I Stumble, I Tumble, I Spin, I Fall – An Entry About Losing Control

Remember that little voice I was talking about in my last entry? The one that tells me that I’m just gonna have to get through this? That there’s no other option? It’s gone AWOL. Completely muted. It’s been nowhere to be heard this week. Not good. At all.

I am really struggling at the moment. Not just a little, but to the point of wondering if it’s really worth it. All that darn talk about light at the end of the tunnel. Yeah yeah. Sure. Whatever. What I want to know is when?? How long am I supposed to hang on to the ridiculously vague hope of things getting better? Seriously?

I feel like I have really given it my best shot. No two ways about it. I couldn’t do it any better than I am. I really couldn’t. I haven’t self-harmed for a very long time, I stopped researching suicide methods entirely, I got myself back to work and I even managed to be good to myself by deciding that working full-time is not the best thing for me right now.

I’ve ticked every single box on the “Rid yourself of depression” step-by-step list. I genuinely feel I have. And yet this depression keeps rearing its ugly head, reminding me of all the things that I am up against. No, I’m not after a free ride. Not at all. I know that there is no such thing as a free ride when it comes to depression and over-coming emotional trauma. But couldn’t I at least be allowed to have a good streak that lasted long enough for me to actually catch my breath before being pushed head first below the surface again?

I am so incredibly sick of this illness. And this whole thing with diagnosis. Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder. Big words, but what the bleeding heck is that supposed to mean? That I have been experiencing more than one depressive episode? Well, duh? Really? I’m glad you told me, ’cause I sure hadn’t noticed.. Or even worse, does it mean that I am doomed to have recurring depressive episodes forever? Honestly? Because if that’s the case, why even try to get out of the one I’m in. For the sheer joy of getting knocked down again?

I had an appointment with S., my care co-ordinator on Wednesday, and being the happy little helper that I am I agreed to allow a third year student nurse to sit in on our meeting. Big mistake I’m sorry to say. Not only did S. spend half the time explaining to him why she had wanted to meet with both me and Dev two weeks earlier etc etc etc (could she really not have gone over the background with him before actually meeting with me?) but also, – and I’m trying to put this in an as gentle way as I can – the poor fella just didn’t seem quite mentally capable of grasping the basic concept of depression and kept coming up with these annoyingly naïve positive comments to whatever I said. This, naturally, made me feel like I wasn’t being taken serious (when talking about having suffered some pretty horrendous flash-backs at work) and also I had to – yet again – practise my skill of holding my frustration back. In other words, the exact opposite of what I have been trying to do. Great! Enormously helpful.

Later in the session we ended up talking about my family and I said that I really really miss them at the moment, especially my nephews – and this guy goes “So, does that make you feel like getting back in touch with your family? Maybe they are exactly the reason you need to get back with them? Does that make you feel hopeful?” Again, surely S. could have had the foresight to have given him at least a the bare essentials on my history before inviting him to join in? Or am I being unfair?

What else? (As I’m going on a monster moan I may as well do it properly. This is meant to be honesty-focused after all). Oh yeah – as great as my boss has been in helping me out with sorting out my working hours and such, it seems my working part-time is breeding contempt in my two closest colleagues. On the one hand I can understand it – they can’t see that my day off is actually my toughest day of the entire week, but on the other hand it’s really none of their damn business what the reason for my absence is. I’ve told them that both Den and the MD of our company are aware of them, and that should be enough.

Finally.. I was meant to see D. tomorrow. But I won’t be. Unfortunately a family matter has arisen and she’s had to cancel the next two weeks of counselling. To start with. Obviously I feel for her, it’s never easy when those things happen, whatever they are, and ultimately we are all only human and sometimes we have to prioritise. But as much as I accept this, it doesn’t stop her prolonged ansence from having a pretty bad effect on me. I mean, of course that’s a mere side effect – but it’s still there. So I had a bit of a breakdown today.

I had already been struggling a good deal with thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation in the last few days, and in order to motivate myself to resist my urges I kept repeating to myself that I’ve made it through nearly four weeks without counselling and I just need to hang on for another few days and I’d be back on the road to normality again. That, if I think about it, it’s only hours, really, until I’d have my time back again. And that although there is no miracle cure, at least that should ease the pressure a little. The space and place that is there just for me to vent whatever is brewing in my head.

And then I was told that that’s not happening.

I was sort of ok with it for a few hours, while I was still at work. But then on the way home I just started crying. All that pent up sadness and loss and confusion just bubbled out of me. Surprisingly I actually had the mental awareness to realise that this might be rather a good thing; that allowing myself to express these feelings is precisely what I need to be doing. But, of course, me being me I quickly reverted to the safer path of checking myself out of this emotional turmoil, turning it back on myself in the way I’m most comfortable with; the self-punishing thought pattern of Blithering heck, woman, get a grip! What’s there to cry about? You have no reason to cry. Only weak people cry, and you can’t afford to be weak because people will take advantage of you. So, literally within minutes, I had switched from indulging in self-pity to absolutely bursting to find a razor and start carving up my arm.

I didn’t. God knows how, – I guess my tattoo and the lack of razors in my flat helped somewhat – and I didn’t. Instead I picked the phone up. First I called the Samaritans and found myself having another good cry over the pathetic mess that is my life, how stupid I am to even think that good things would ever happen to me and how I’m never going to get away from feeling this way. Then I called Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I’m not even really sure why. It was just something I did. One of the workers picked up – the one who’s always so cheerful I can’t help but to think of her as being chemically imbalanced no matter how sweet she is – and even though I’ve never actually had a one to one session with her I just started to cough up how badly I was wrestling with the idea of harming myself. She assumed that this was a direct result of having been told that I won’t be seeing D. earlier in the day. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her that this urge has been intensifying over the last few days, but maybe that doesn’t really matter – because I’m pretty sure that although this explosion of emotion isn’t purely down to my disappointment with this setback, it was more than likely the final trigger.

Hm.. Odd.. As I’ve been writing this seizmically proportioned rant I think that little voice has returned. Fair enough, it’s still very faint, and my demons definitely still outshout it. But at least it feels like it’s there.

And I guess that’s something.

I just hope I can hold on to it.

xx

“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..” [Nuala O’Faolain]