Surviving An Ending: Starting Over

Finishing with A. was always going to be immensely painful and would inevitably leave me with a whole host of scary feelings, and nowhere to put them. So, in a bid to keep myself from harm’s way I decided to give myself a time-out immediately after The Ending.

Chickening out of allowing any kind of time or space for those Scary Feelings to rear their ugly heads, I made sure to book a seat on the first morning flight available after The Ending – and – looking back, I think that was a wise choice, indeed; getting through even just an afternoon and evening after my final session with A. was a momentous task, and didn’t feel like something I could have coped with safely for any length of time at all, to be perfectly honest. Far safer to spend time with sisters and nephews and brothers-in-law, all of whom provide sufficient distraction, and help me find some balance between being hit at full force by the painful loss of my relationship with A. and shutting down altogether. In short, I made a conscious choice to be around people who I knew I would feel OK to not be OK around, if that makes sense.

But, now I’m back. And – fearing that reality is about to strike – I have purposely thrown myself into all things Olympic in order to buy myself some more time and shelter myself from the whirlwind of emotion which is sure to soon come sweeping across my soul.

*

I had my first two sessions with The New Therapist this week, and that was both absolutely emotionally draining and a huge relief. The New Therapist – who I have decided to call P. [as that was the letter that immediately came to me the very first time I met her, at the initial consultation], is very different to A. Although she is a psychoanalytic psychotherapist, just as A. is, she is also attachment-based. And that is a whole new ballgame for me. It’s all very relational, very direct and very open. Even at our first meeting I noticed that she actively wants to make eye-contact with me, and seeks to engage in a completely different way. And that will take some getting used to. As much as I have often found myself frustrated with what I have experienced as a certain lack of closeness or intimacy with A., now that it is being served to me in this way, it is quite a scary thing, because in that slight distance between A. and I, there was also safety: for better or for worse I could opt to hide in that space if I needed to, and I have a feeling that is something that will be a whole lot harder to do with P. There is something about this open invitation to attach that leaves me feeling vulnerable and somewhat exposed. And allowing myself to enter into a relationship in that way feels strange and more than just a little scary.

I will say that, instinctively, I rather like P., and I think that – once I get more used to this new way of relating to The Therapist, this could be quite fruitful. But, at the same time, I do have a lot of ambivalence: I find myself going back and forth between ‘Go on, dare to trust. Everything you have seen of P. so far points towards you being in safe hands. Try to not hold back so much’ and ‘Don’t do it. Don’t let her in. You’ve been wrong about people in the past, and ultimately you’ll be let down, and you’ll end up being hurt’.

*

As I am writing this post, I suddenly feel very aware that with every difference I note between A. and P., the realisation that I won’t be seeing A. anymore knocks on the door – makes my eyes tear up – and I am also struck by the feeling that I am somehow being disloyal to A. in writing about anything even remotely hopeful about P.  Almost as if I am cheating on her with another therapist. I remember feeling something very similar when I started seeing A., having learnt so much from my work with D., and worrying that in one way or another moving on to a new therapist meant that I didn’t value what D. had offered or the hard work she had done with me. I know that these feelings will eventually subside, and I also know that in some ways I had outgrown A. – or perhaps we had both outgrown our relationship – and the time to part ways had come. But for now, each reminder that things have come to an end in my relationship with A. hurts. Because I really miss her.

I suppose that in a way, ending with A. – and the fact that I really won’t be seeing her again – is a bit like dealing with a death, and I suspect that over the next several months I will be going through all the different stages of grief.

But, hopefully, I won’t be doing it on my own.

xx

Ps. To those of you who know about my trip to Sweden: I know that I am missing out two absolutely massive things about my time there, both of which deserve some proper analysing; I will return to those things in a later post, but for now, I am choosing to leave it out. *hangs the STILL PROCESSING sign on the door*

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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..

Identity – Being Adopted & Missing Pieces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

:)

xx

Being Unwell And Feeling Cared For

Cure For The Ill

Cure For The Ill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psychology..
It’s interesting stuff.

xx

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

Square-1

Square-1

At The Beginning Of A Brand New Year

So I’ve walked into the year 2013. And, thus far, it’s been quite good. But then, it’s only been three days. Still plenty of time for disasters, minor and major. But, let’s not be negative. For every risk of disaster, there is also a potential for good fortune.

I’ve spent the last few weeks, like many of you, I’m sure, summing up the past year. The good, the bad, and all the stuff in between. I can’t say I’m sad to see the back of 2012. It’s not been particularly friendly to me. But there are some things which I’m glad of, and which I wrote about in my previous entry.

This year I am hoping for major change. And I mean major. As in life-altering. Of course there is no way of knowing if the changes will be the ones I’m hoping for, but they could be. Right?

In my last pre-break session with A., I was talking about how I worry already now about having to go home next December, for my mother’s 70th, an occasion where, whether I like it or not, most probably my oldest brother will be present. But then I caught myself, and recognised that in a year’s time things could have changed radically, and there is no way of knowing if the prospect of going home is actually going to feel so bad, or be quite so anxiety provoking. Things change. This might, too.

I’ve been living in the UK for almost exactly ten years now. It seems a long time, and yet it also seems like only yesterday. So many things have changed in that time; me, most of all – and there is no reason to think that I won’t continue changing. Growing.

I think there are parts of me that will always stay the same; the core of who I am, the backbone of my being. What makes me me. But I think how I respond to things may change, as may my focus. What seemed important ten years ago, seem a lot less important now. What seemed to matter not much at all, seems to be what I desperately want now.

And then, of course, there are those things I’ve always wanted, those things that will likely never cease to be important to me, no matter how much I or the world around me changes.

And maybe, just maybe, I may have them yet.

xx

Candle Lighting, Ice-Skating & Honouring Thy Mother And Father

A painted chanukkiah on my window

A painted chanukkiah on my window

Tonight is the first night of Chanukkah (Hanukkah, Hanukah, Chanukah..whatever.. you know.. the Jewish holiday.. חנוכה), and thus time to light the first candle. The mitzvah of lighting Chanukkah candles states that one should not only light them, but that one should publicise the miracle of Chanukkah, thus it is customary to place your chanukkiah on the windowsill so that it can be seen by people walking past. Now, I would love to do that, but unfortunately where I live there are no windowsills, so I can’t do that.

Wanting to still fulfil the commandment, I did the next best thing; I painted a chanukkiah on my window. This is something I get from my mother, who used to paint advent candles on our kitchen window every year, “lighting” another candle each Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas. So, choosing to publicise my chanukkiah in this way feels doubly good, because it can also be seen as a way of honouring my mother. And that matters to me, not only because it’s a commandment, but because it is so easy to, when thinking back to my childhood, focus on all the things that were less than ideal. As much as there were a lot of things that were not right, there were also many things that were really good. Happy memories, which need also be allowed space in my heart.

Another happy memory came to life for me a few weeks ago, when I – for the first time in ten years – went ice-skating. Prior to going, and in spite of having not skated for such a long time, I was thinking How hard can it be? Growing up in the very north of Sweden, I got my first skates when I was something like two and a half, and I’ve been skating reasonably regularly every winter all the way up until I moved to London ten years ago and took on the shape and size of a baby whale.

Baby whale attributes aside, I really didn’t think skating would be a problem. Bit like riding a bike, right? Wrong! I stepped onto the ice and for the first time ever I felt aware that there was a chance I could fall. I mean, I was properly scared. I was like Bambi on ice, only less graceful. It was like learning to walk again. And yet, as surprising as this was, there was something else that also hit me straight in the chest, and that was an utter sense of freedom, of happiness. I felt like a child again, like the kid I used to be, when things were good.

I’ve spent a lot of time in my last few sessions with A., exploring this, because I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt so free and happy. The closest thing to it is when I write or paint, but this was way more than that. It brought back the memory of going skating with my family as a kid. Either my mother or my father would take my brothers and I down to the rink, and it was the best thing ever. Often we’d go to one of the many outdoor rinks which most schools in my home town had at the time. These were rinks that hadn’t been Zambonied to perfection, rather, it wasn’t unusual for us to get to the rink and find it completely snow covered. So – as a family – we would have to clear the rink before we could even begin skating. It would be pitch dark all around us, even if it might not be late at all, only the floodlights at the rink cutting through the darkness, making me feel as if the only thing that existed was my family and I, and the sheer joy of speeding across the ice.

Happy memory trigger

My Beloved Skates
Happy Memory Trigger

Being back on the ice again brought all of this back to me. I remember how my father would have us do ten laps clockwise and then another ten counter-clockwise as a warm up, before we were allowed to free-skate, and how we kids would do it without questioning him, despite the fact that my father happens to be possibly the worst skater in the history of ever. It was, as I explained to A. in session, special – because – growing up I didn’t have very many rules given to me by my parents, and this, well, it allowed me to be the kid, rather than the responsible little person I had to be at most other times. Another ice-skating memory that came flooding back is from when I was really little, back when I was only just able to stand on the ice in my skates, and my mother would hold my hands to support me. It may seem like a very small thing, in the grander scheme of things, but – as I said to A. – it must be important, because I remember it. I have a million memories of worrying about my mother, feeling like I was the adult, and plenty others where the child/adult boundaries were blurred, to say the least, and this – in contrast – was a situation where my mother was unquestionably the adult, and all I had to do was to be a child, safe in the knowledge that she wouldn’t let me fall.

So, as I light my Chanukkah candles this year, at the very darkest time of the year, I am challenging myself to remember the brightest, happiest memories.

Happy Chanukkah!

xx

PS. Just in case you didn’t know, the Holiday armadillo – as introduced in Friends – is a myth. The Chanukkah GECKO, on the other hand, is clearly real. See photographic evidence below.

Chanukkah 5773 - Day 1 The ACTUAL chanukkiah

Chanukkah 5773 – Day 1
The ACTUAL chanukkiah
..and the very real Chanukkah gecko..

Stepping Away From The Edge

First of all, I would like to thank all of you who have commented and/or emailed me since my last post. It really means a lot to me hearing from you, and it never ceases to amaze me how people can show such warmth, care and concern for someone whom they have never even met.

A lot has happened since that last post. I’m not quite ready to go into detail just yet, so please forgive me for withholding the specifics. For now things are, well, somewhere in between. There is no nice straight road ahead, free from twists and turns, but some hope has been given back to me, and as long as there is at least a little hope to hold on to, I can keep fighting. And I will.

There are many things which are still very uncertain, and will remain uncertain for some time, and so I don’t feel I can quite relax. I keep worrying that the little hope I have been given will suddenly be taken from me again. It’s hard to strike the right balance between daring to hope and being realistic about things.

The last month or so has been stressful beyond anything I have ever experienced before, and I can honestly say that I have never walked quite that close to the jumping off edge before. Not in this way. I pray I will never ever find myself in that hideous place where someone else takes hope away from me.

Meanwhile, I am trying to live my life to the best of my ability; going to shul, seeing friends, doing course work and popping into work to say hello to my wonderful workmates. And, of course, there is therapy.

I spent my birthday at my sister’s place, as I always do, and that was great. It was better than ever before. My other sister, her partner, my sisters’ brother and his partner all joined us, as did a close friend who showed up to surprise me. A whole week with those closest to me, celebrating having made it through yet another year.

Prior to going, when things were still so terribly dark and lacking of hope, I genuinely thought this would be the last time I would ever see my sisters [and co], and I was dreading going, because I knew it would be so terribly hard to say goodbye. As it were, that glimmer of hope had been given to me, and so I felt entirely differently about going to see my loved ones, and as a consequence I was able to enjoy every second with them, and not worry about things coming to an end.

I am, and always have been, blessed with having people around me who are truly there for me when it matters, and that helps a lot. While there is a very long road ahead, and I can’t know for sure that I will never sink as low again, I can say that – with the help of the people around me – I have taken a small step away from that edge.

xx

Post Trip September Babyland Depression Begins

I’m back!
Not just here on my blog, but in the country.
Got back on Monday. Feels like I’ve never been away; you know how it goes.

Except, of course, this trip does appear to have had an effect on me..

The main reason for going on this trip was so that I could meet my two newest nephews. Nope, not twins. My youngest brother and his wife had a little boy in mid-July, and my sister gave birth to another little fella on the same day I flew out there.

It’s been a good but challenging trip, once again coming face to face with the fear of never getting to have children of my own and wanting them so very desperately. The first week and a half I spent at my sister’s, with the rest of her family. As I mentioned, her little boy was born on the same day I got there, so he was only a few hours old when I met him. [My sister gave birth at 4 am, and checked herself out of hospital at noon(!)]

There is something very special about newborn babies. I mean, all babies are special, but with someone who is completely new in this world, well, it’s just different. They are so tiny – even the big ones – and so terribly fragile. So completely dependent on those around them. And holding my nephew that first day brought out all sorts of feelings, most of which I am still processing.

I spent many hours holding my nephew during my stay there. I’d just sit with him and look at him. Feel the weight and warmth of his little body, his special baby smell.. I also played with his older brother a lot – don’t worry, he was in no way neglected – and while I was still there it was pretty darn fantastic. [The older one has only just got into role/script-playing, so there was a lot of pretend play, which I absolutely love!]

But, as great as it was, when the time came for me to leave [I was flying across to stay at my father’s, to meet my other new nephew].. well.. it was hard. Really really hard. I don’t think I can quite put it into words just how hard it was. All I know is that when I arrived at my father’s, all I was feeling was that I was missing my sister’s little boys. Wanted to be back with them.

Prior to going, I had been worried about what it might be like to meet my new nephews, and had predicted that it would be, in many ways, harder to be with my brother’s little boy than to spend time with my sister’s kids, because, with my sister – even if it had felt really difficult to be around the boys – well, our relationship is such that I could have talked about it. With my brother, and – by extension – my family – that’s not really the case, and I knew even before going that there was a definite risk that, should it feel very hard to be there, I would fall back on old patterns of pretending to be OK, no matter what.

As it turns out, while I was there, it was actually fairly OK. Being with the baby, I mean. I always feel like something of an outsider around my family, like I don’t quite belong, but at least with the baby it was OK. I guess it’s that sort of thing where, with the kids in the family, well.. it’s not their fault that they were born into what is an exceptionally complex situation, is it?

But now that I’m back here, back at my place.. well, those feelings that were surely already bubbling under the surface are beginning to come out in a big way. And it’s hard. Really really hard. I’ve talked a little about it in therapy [only had one session since being back], but in these last few days, it feels like it’s starting to push through more and more. It’s nothing to do with the actual kids; I still love them to bits. But that doesn’t meant that the feelings they bring out can’t still be incredibly difficult and painful to deal with.

As much as I love being an auntie.. I just really want to be a mother. It’s the only thing I want.

So, post-trip, the truth is that I’m not doing too good right now.
Spent most of this week in bed, most of last night on the phone with the Samaritans, feeling frighteningly low and increasingly desperate.

It’s not a nice place to be.
Nor is it a safe place.

xx

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx

An Uneasy Dwelling by Paul Gordon

An Uneasy Dwelling
by Paul Gordon

Sisters, Study-Avoidance & Melting Crayons

So I’m back from my trip to Sweden, and at the moment it feels like it has done me a world of good. It was simply great to spend a whole week with my sisters and their little families and just enjoy being alive. The weather was great and although we all took turns taking ill, all in all it was just really nice to hang out. We basically ate, watched my youngest nephew run around and ate some more. That is, that’s what my sisters and I did. The boys were busy digging in the garden, planting a hedge around it. And in between that we managed to watch a film, teach my sister’s dog to go on the slippery-dip and get my youngest sister and her man to understand how to solve the first two layers of the Rubik’s cube intuitively.

Oh, and my sisters and brothers-in-law gave me the super-awesomest prezzie ever; the new iPad [which I am, incidentally, using as we speak, in conjunction with my bluetooth keyboard].

I feel that this trip has really helped to reset my brain. I feel so much happier than I have in the past several months, and although I am still having flashbacks it’s nowhere near as bad as it was, pre-trip.

Since I’ve been back I’ve started a new course, and – true to form – I’ve excelled at the art of study-avoidance. I am feeling a bit unhappy about having chosen the course I have; a very basic psychology course about stuff I pretty much already know, but just want to get on paper that I do in fact know it. It’s very hard to motivate oneself to read material about stuff you already know, when the main focus ends up being trying to remember sources for future reference, rather than actually learning. That said, of course anything psychology related will always push your little grey cells into action, and you’ll realise you have thoughts and ideas you might not have had when you originally read about a specific study. In short; once I actually open the book, I do get quite into what I’m reading.. it’s just getting to that point of opening the book, which holds me back. There are always a million other things I feel I need to read; blogs, news, tweets, facebook updates.. You know how it goes.. And that’s before I’ve even got to the various iPlayer programs I simply must catch up on, not to mention the millions of YouTube clips I feel will enrich my life to no end..

I do slightly regret that I didn’t decide to do the course on the autistic spectrum which was also on offer. I would really have liked to have been reading that right now. But, I’m trying to use it as a carrot of sorts. If I manage to get through this course [ie find a way to utilise good days of fewer flashbacks, days when I have a reasonable level of concentration] then I’ll be allowed to do the autistic spectrum one after.

So, I suppose that’s all good. Especially the part where I am actually, actively, looking ahead, into the future. The last few months have been so rough, it’s been very hard to think like that, to imagine a time when things feel different, but right now things seems to have swung around for me a bit.

Also, since I’ve been back, I’ve been feeling a lot more creative. I have been working on my book, which is ever so slowly taking shape, and I find myself curious to find out where the characters will take me. And that’s always a good sign.

On top of that very specific writing, my sister and I also hatched an idea about setting up a collaborative writing site online, the idea being that you could go to the site, read something someone has posted and then take over the writing, or join in. I for one have several writing projects which I have started, but which are now mainly collecting dust on my harddrive. What you could do on this new site is to upload what you have written and invite others to complete it, or to co-write it with you. Or you might want to be someone else for a day [come on, we all have those days].. Well, you could go onto the site as a character and join in some playwriting, adding lines on behalf of your character. This is all still in its infancy, but, I only posted the idea late last night on another blog, and I’ve already had people contact me to say they would be interested in joining or starting writing projects.

Observant readers will have noticed that while I have written about how great it was to be with my sisters and how that’s really helped resetting the serotonin levels I’ve omitted to talk about seeing my father the first time in over two years. This is, of course, not by chance. In short, it was actually really lovely seeing him and his boyfriend, and spending time with them. But, knowing me, I tend to only begin processing these kind of encounters a while after getting back to the UK. So, keep an eye out and there will more than likely be an update on this particular part of my trip to Sweden.

In terms of not having therapy, well, there is no getting around it – that is still really hard. I miss my space to voice my thoughts. Of course I talk to my friends and I do my writing and all of that, but there just isn’t a substitute for therapy. Therapists definitely should not be allowed to have children! [..says the Therapist’s Daughter..] July – or whenever A. in reality decides to go back to work – feels very very far away indeed..

Anyway, me and my new iPad and bluetooth keyboard need to get to the library now, so I’ll leave you here for now.

Do be kind to yourself, and enjoy the utterly ESSENTIAL YouTube video below..

All the very best and more,

xx

I really need to try this, but maybe on a black or gray canvas, 
and just letting the crayons melt organically in the sun..