Flashbacks, Rubik’s Cube & Replacement Therapy

Had a couple of pretty good days this week. A blessed change, let me tell you. Even managed to go into town one day to do a bit of shopping. Can’t even remember the last time I did that. Didn’t stay out for a particularly long time, only a bit over an hour, but it was still good.

I’m flying out to Sweden in a couple of days time. I’m a bit nervous about it, the actual flight. I really hope it will be a good day of fewer flashbacks. That said, I have come up with something that does help me cope with them when I’m out and about; repeatedly solving the Rubik’s cube.

I kind of discovered it by accident. The Rubik’s cube had until January of this year been one of those puzzles I had never been able to solve, but always felt I should be able to solve. Then in late December I came across a video of Justin Bieber solving it. In about a minute and a half. Justin. Bieber. That really was the drop for me. I mean, seriously, if Justin Bieber could do it, then surely so could I? Right? So I set about figuring out how to do it. In fact, I even set myself a goal of being able to master the cube in less than 2 minutes, by the time this break in therapy is over.

Took me four hours of straight and stubborn trial and error before I finally cracked it the very first time. After that it took me more than ten minutes to do it, start to finish, so I carried on working at it. Slowly I got faster. I learned a few shortcuts and solve-time went down even further. And still I kept at it. Until I felt confident I could out-cube young master Bieber any time of the day. I’m now down to a semi-respectable personal best of 51 seconds. [I say semi-respectable, but of course I’m nowhere near the current world record, set by Feliks Zemdegs, at 5.66 seconds] (Ed.: New world record set by Mats Valk at 5.55 seconds in March 2013).

In the process of doing this, I realised that I had been having significantly fewer flashbacks, and that those that I did have, were much shorter, because my brain was already kind of half-way out of them, focusing on solving the Rubik’s cube.

So, in the last several months, I’ve brought my cube with me pretty much everywhere, and it really does make things easier. Up until I discovered this I would usually just stay in, because the things I needed to do to come out of a flashback were things that were either self-soothing grounding techniques, which – while very effective and calming – look very odd from the outside, if you don’t know what I’m doing – or they were things that could be done fairly discretely, but were down-right unpleasant for me [like using smelling salts or sharply snapping a rubber band against my wrist].

Yes, I look like the biggest geek ever sitting on a bus or train solving my cube over and over, but at least it is something that both works and isn’t nasty. Also, you’d be surprised at how many people strike up conversations with you, when they see what you’re doing. It’s such an instantly recognisable and iconic toy, most people have something to say about it.

Anyway, I’m hoping that this little trick of mine will make the flight to Sweden a bit less difficult. My sister and nephew will be meeting me at the airport, so once I land, I should be OK.

I’m staying with my sister for a week, and my other sister is also coming over, so I’m really excited about this trip. I’ve not seen them since my birthday last year. Also, I am hoping that spending time with my sisters will help me out of this pretty serious dip I’ve found myself in.

I’m also going to stay at my father’s for a couple of days. Feel a bit nervous about that. I’ve not seen him in about two years. We do keep in touch through occasional phone calls, but I’ve not visited him in the last couple of years. I’m hoping seeing him will be OK. I think going to visit him is a lot less emotionally charged than going to see my mother, who still lives in the house I grew up in, where there are reminders of the abuse I experienced all over the place. My father’s place is very different, in that respect. At the same time, of course it’s not just the place that is the problem with going home; it’s also the inter-personal conflicts this family trauma has caused that I have to deal with. And that, of course, is the same regardless of where I see my family. So, we’ll have to wait and see how it goes.

Really missing therapy at the moment. Actually not just therapy, but A. It’s hard trying to find a good balance; to not switch all emotions off in order to protect myself, and at the same time not allowing myself to go too deep into my feelings and risk getting stuck and acting out. So, a therapy session or fifty would be pretty darn dandy right about now.

I’ve had about a million people asking if there isn’t anyone else I could see while A. is on maternity leave. The truth is, that if I really wanted to, of course I could find someone to see short term. In fact, I considered seeing our newly appointed social worker at shul, for a while. But, the thing is – I do have other people to talk to. I have my sisters, my friends, even the Samaritans. So, it’s not just talking I need. It’s something else, too. It’s that special space that therapy creates, and most importantly, it’s the therapeutic relationship I have formed with A. over the last three years. [Three years today, I just realised – Happy anniversary us!] It’s not something that can be easily emulated. And I think that, as hard-going as it is – not having therapy, not seeing A. – it would frustrate me to no end, trying to create something similar to what I get from therapy. Looking for something different feels much more productive.

Anyway, it’s getting late.

Thanks for staying up with me.

All the very best,

xx

For more posts tagged Rubik’s Cube, including one using the Rubik’s Cube to talk about identity, click here.

My Life Today

My Life Today

When You Have No Voice – Making A Decision To Communicate

It’s been a long time, I know, but I’ll try to put you all back in the picture, as I know you will have all been eagerly awaiting my next update. [What? No?]

In the last few weeks I have been dealing with one of those much dreaded periods of flashbacks, and things have often felt completely and utterly hopeless. The flashbacks have by no means gone, but there have been a few days every once in a while when there have been fewer, and I’ve been able to find at least a little breathing space in between. When things are bad, that’s the time to focus on small blessings.

At the beginning of last week I had to go into hospital for a whole battery of tests and examinations. Part of these was a gynaecological exam, which for me is essentially an equivalent to psychological torture through physical means. I always try to prepare whoever is doing the exam by explaining that I come from a background of having been sexually abused as a child, and that these exams are pretty much garanteed to trigger off flashbacks; in short that they may need to brace themselves for my emotional response. They then usually say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, darling, I’ve seen it all before”, which is of course very kind and much appreciated, but it generally tends to become apparent that this is not really the case. When they’re faced with the sobbing heap these exams turn me into, it’s often clear that I react worse than most people they’ve examined. This then spirals into this odd cycle of them feeling sorry for me, and me feeling sorry for them having to carry out the exam on me..

So, not nice at all.

This particular nurse was absolutely fantastic, though, I have to say. It was very obvious that she was affected by my reaction to what she was doing, but because she was very open about that, I found that somehow reassuring and it in many ways it helped bring me out of the flashbacks and back into the here and now where we both were.

Concurrent with the flashbacks and general depression I have this week come down with some seriously nasty bug. This bug, by the way, is completely unrelated to the hospital thing, unless I have really lucked out and managed to contract MRSA while I was there..

At first I thought it was just hay fever, as this is the season when I usually have to stay indoors with my inhaler close to hand at all times. Had a very painful throat – not sore – painful, something I don’t usually get with my hay fever, but initially I just assumed that my body had decided to take my allergies to the next level. As it turns out this wasn’t it. Came down with a 39C temperature [that’s 102F, if you’re so inclined] in the middle of the week, and it’s been going ever since. So, what with the painful throat and the fever I’ve essentially had to be on paracetamol non-stop. It’s not great, Ibuprofen tends to be more effective, but for various reasons I am currently banned from taking that particular pain reliever, so there you go.

Feeling miserable on all levels is not a great place to exist and things have been unbelievably difficult. I know my last entry was pretty dire, and from there I suppose you could say things went south. Having no therapy has been really challenging, it feels like years until A. returns from maternity leave. But, I am still around, still fighting – even if the evidence of this has not been posted on my blog.

This Friday I had been invited to two sedarim – the special meal eaten by Jews on the first night of Pesach, but instead I spent the evening in bed, fighting flashbacks and this blasted bug. Last night I had booked a place at the communal 2nd night seder at my shul together with many of my friends. I did make it there, in fact even went for a pre-seder drink with one of my friends, but didn’t make it through the meal. Was feeling incredibly rough and then began having flashbacks, and I had to make the decision that I needed to make sure I could make it home safely before things got even worse. Hated having to leave, but as it turns out it was probably a wise choice.

This morning I woke up having absolutely no voice.

I have lost my voice in the past, but never quite this completely, and it’s kind of an interesting thing; the second you discover you have no voice [in my case when I began recording a voice message for my sister] you realise how much you rely on it.

I don’t usually use my phone or computer on Shabbat or during religious festivals. This is not so much because it’s biblically and/or rabbinically decreed that one should not use iPads or Blackberrys during festivals, as much as – being a modern reform Jew – I’ve made the informed decision that for me stepping away from all my techie gadgets and disconnecting for a bit makes those times different to other times. I am normally contactable at any given moment, day or night, be it through texts, Facebook updates or tweets, and so I like to make Shabbat and festivals different and special to other days, through unplugging in this way. Admittedly, most of my friends think this is completely bonkers, but hey, it’s just the way I roll.

However, since that accidental-on-purpose over-dose the other week, I decided that it’s actually a lot more life-embracing to temporarily break that self-imposed rule than to keep it. Which is why you are seeing this update today, during a week I would normally steer clear of modern technology.

To help me through particularly rough patches over these past few weeks I have often sought support over the telephone from my sisters, my friends and the Samaritans, regardless of whether or not this has been on Shabbat. Being able to talk about what’s going on, both physically and psychologically, makes me feel less like I’m on my own in this.

So, as you can imagine, waking up this morning, with no voice at all, has come as a bit of a shock, and has left me feeling very vulnerable. Which is why I’m sitting here now, writing this..

I guess that even when you haven’t got an audible voice, you can still find ways of making yourself heard.

Do be kind to yourselves,

xx

Whitney Houston, Eating Disorders & The Greatest Love Of All

“Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfil my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone’s shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I live as I believe

No matter what they take from me
They can’t take away my dignity..”

The words above seem more poignant than ever today, as news of the death of one of our generation’s greatest voices spread around the world, via texts, tweets and status updates. My own reaction was not, I imagine, dissimilar to that of many other people who, like me, grew up listening to her music. A sense of sadness and loss, not only of a fine singer, whose life was cut short, but a loss of the era she represented. For all the fanciful make-up and hair spray [not to mention those horrendous shoulder pads], the 1980s were also the time when I discovered the joy of music for real. It was a time when music sounded like it had a life not only through the melodies or the words, but through the very record, with their unique individual kinks and scratches. Back in the day when such imperfections could not easily be remedied in a computer program, and listening to my father’s copy of Whitney Houston’s now iconic 1987 album was a completely different experience to listening to the same record at a friend’s place, since their copy had different scratches and kinks. I was only 11, but I remember the feeling as if it were yesterday..

The picture of Whitney Houston on that album cover trigger other, very different, memories, too. It reminds me of one of my cousins who had a large poster with that picture on the wall in her room. I only ever visited her once in her home, as she and her family would normally travel up north to see us [and the rest of our family] for Christmas and Midsummer, and I didn’t even know her that well, because she was almost ten years older than me, and would usually hang out with my other older cousins. And yet, she left a big impression on me, and I think of her often.

My cousin died young.
For much of her life she vacillated between battling anorexia and bulimia, and in the end, even though she had got to a stage where she was ready to accept the help she so desperately needed and had begun the twisting road to recovery, it was too late; her heart was literally broken and it gave out.

I don’t often talk about her. I may mention her, but I rarely say much more than what I just wrote. That she died young, of an eating disorder. But, she’s often in my thoughts.

I haven’t got the best of relationship to food myself; I tend to comfort eat when I feel down, or to not eat at all – and being a survivor of sexual abuse I am automatically at higher risk of being caught in the claws of an eating disorder.

Physical abuse [sexual or other] has been shown to have a huge effect on the way we view ourselves, not only in terms of our personality traits, but also in terms of body image, and I know that my own need to be in control of things could easily encompass my eating habits. So I have good reason to be extra aware of thoughts of this nature. The memory of my cousin helps with that, helps me to not just brush it off and think of it as not a big deal, but to recognise that anorexia and bulimia are real illnesses, illnesses which people die from.

I remember my cousin and honour her memory by making myself at least try to improve the way I relate to food [and by extension, my body]. It doesn’t often last very long, this improvement, but long enough for me to catch myself before getting stuck in that very unhealthy pattern where you feel you have to be in absolute control over what you eat..

Of course there are no guarantees, I – like anyone else – could slip, could forget; if it was easy to avoid the trap of eating disorders then no one would suffer from them.. But, I really feel that the memory of my cousin, and the way she struggled, gives me that extra kick to keep my alarm bells powered up.

So I guess, in a backwards kind of way my cousin has been a role model to me, and even in death she has left a legacy.

As has Whitney.

‎”..I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be..

Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all ..”

xx

Extracts from The Greatest Love Of All © Michael Masser & Linda Creed

Fears And Desires – An Entry About Conflicting Emotions

Things ain’t going so great. You might have guessed. Just feels like no matter how hard I try I can’t find a way to keep my head above water long enough to find that final something to pull myself out of the water entirely and onto dry land.

I’m trying to be brave. [That is, by the way, very different to putting a brave face on it.] I’m trying to be brave in therapy. To do things that scares me, do things that make me feel. But it’s hard.

The other day, in therapy, I finally shared a drawing I made back in August, back when I was staying at Drayton Park. It’s a crayon cartoon picture drawn in a childlike style illustrating my relationship to my father growing up and the frustration I experienced [although at the time I was far too busy doing that thing of putting a brave face on it to recognise it as that], about feeling second priority to most anything, but particularly his work. With a slight twist of the caleidoscope it is easy to see how this is also an illustration of my own fears about how my relationship to A. might change once the baby is born, once she is back after her maternity leave. [The drawing was also, not incidentally, drawn in the days after A. told me she was pregnant].

Of course I’ve talked about this, about how worried I am about the long break in therapy and the changes that [I both feel and fear] will follow, but for all the carefully weighed words and cautiously constructed sentences and feeling statements I’ve put out there, in the therapeutic space we share, a picture can say more than a thousand words.. so, sharing my drawing – although I’ve desperately wanted to do it for months – felt very risky indeed, felt frightening beyond words, in fact.

Naturally, there are those bog standard feelings I have blogged about before; the jealousy because I’m not pregnant, the wish to be A.’s number one favourite client – no person – in the world etc etc etc, but beyond that is that extra layer, brought on by – at least in part – my own experience of feeling second to my father’s work. Of having his clients come up to me, saying [and this happened with surprising frequency] “You are so lucky to have HIM as your father!”, because they were his client and assumed his work self corresponded exactly with his family life self, finding myself smiling back at them all the while thinking You don’t know him, you think you do, but you don’t. And, of course, simultaneously wondering if maybe it is really I who don’t know him, because, after all, they probably spent more one on one time with him than I have throughout my entire life.

So, A. becoming a mother – as opposed to being a transferential/counter-transferential parent through her working relationship with me – brings out all manner of conflicting emotions.

In every single therapy I’ve ever been it’s always been a major issue, this acute awareness of the balancing act between work life and home life for the therapist, but with A. it’s been more intense than ever before, especially as she works from home and I feel über-aware of every single time I hear her husband walk through the door during my Tuesday evening session. Of being the one stopping him from being able to call out Honey, I’m home!

On the one hand I – like, I imagine, every person who has ever been deeply engaged in therapy – want to be special, want to be the only really important client, the centre of my therapist’s universe, yet, at the same time I absolutely and genuinely hate being the one to push A.’s family life to the side, to potentially make them feel second priority.. Yes, I realise that not everyone manages this balancing act as poorly as I sometimes felt my father did, and of course I know that not everyone will feel pushed out the way I did, and sure I know that it is actually A. [and hopefully her husband] who has made the choice to run her practice from her front room – but, as we all know, there can be a huge discrepancy between intellectual knowledge and emotional understanding, and A.’s pregnancy has definitely brought this to the forefront.

I genuinely have no idea how I will be able to cope with this internal struggle once A. is back to work, once the baby is really here. Considering how hard it’s been all along to deal with these feelings, I really don’t know if I can do it..

And that’s where my last session ended..

xx

Boxes, Bin Liners & A Pregnant Therapist – An Entry About Preparing For A Major Therapy Break

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

Started a bit shakey on Tuesday, feeling very anxious, and stepping into a mode of not wanting to engage, not wanting to connect and deliberately steering clear of potentially explosive material. There was a definite wish to keep it simple, to not touch on anything that could be even remotely emotionally triggering.

Then, on Wednesday, my second session of the week, the second I sat down I was overcome by this very intense need to retreat into myself, to shut everyone and everything out, to protect myself from making myself vulnerable. To, in essence, stop all processes and just deep-freeze everything. A. responded to this information by stating that that’s quite alarming, and I went on to spend the rest of the session trying to explain this reaction, to dress in words what this fear looks like. Did a bit of waltzing around, but eventually, in my own unique roundabout way, I arrived at the fairly obvious conclusion that a lot of this wish to cut and run comes from the worry about what will happen once A. goes on maternity leave.

I used the analogy of unpacking my moving boxes to try to illustrate what the worry is; how, as long as all my things are still in the boxes there is a certain order to things. I know exactly what’s in each of the boxes, and although the contents may not be immediately accessible, I can get to them, with a little work. On the other hand, were I to empty all the boxes, even if I arranged the contents neatly on my bookshelves and in my wardrobe, well – the contents wouldn’t change, but in an emergency situation, it’d be that much harder to grab everything and run for cover. That, yes, in day-to-day life it’s easier to have things within reach and in the line of vision, but, having spent so much of my life in survival mode, it’s really hard to trust that a fight or flight inducing situation isn’t forever lurking just around the nearest corner. I keep hearing the voice of Little S desperately urging me to not lower my guard, to make sure that I have a clear escape route at all times. And although Adult Me is trying hard to keep hold of Little S’s hand, to steady her and to show her that things are different now, it’s hard. It’s a fine balance to allow Little S’s voice to be heard, to exist, without giving into it – because, after all, she speaks from years of experience and from a place of almost unimaginable pain, and her voice is in no way trying to halter progress, but simply wanting to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. It’s a kind of poorly calibrated and somewhat mis-directed self-protective impulse.

Now, Adult Me knows that in order to move forward I have to somehow find the courage to keep at it, to keep sharing, to keep expressing, keep unpacking those boxes – even now when things feel so very fragile – knowing that, should things come crashing down around me, I can always grab a couple of bin liners and chuck my stuff into them to make possible my escape. It won’t be as neat, precise or efficient as if all of my things were still boxed up, but it would still work as a temporary measure. The only problem is that, as I explained to A., unlike with my actual, material possessions, when it comes to my emotional property, I don’t feel that I have that bin liner to hand; the fear is that I lack that quick-fix temporary container to make things manageable. I can have things out, look at my emotions, experience them, especially in the safe environment that therapy offers, or I can keep them in the box for now, until I feel ready to un-box, but, once they’re out – it’s not very easy to re-package. That, although I do have some practical outside tools, should things get really bad in A.’s absence; Drayton Park, the crisis team, shul, Samaritans, my friends and family, I just don’t trust it that I have the inner means to keep myself safe without shutting down. And that leaves me feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Little S pipes up, reacting strongly to thinly veiled abandonment issues popping up in the face of A.’s impending leave, pushing for me to keep on the well-beaten path of trusting no-one but me, to rely on myself and myself alone, to let no-one in and let nothing out.

History shows that I often find myself struggling to keep things together during therapy breaks, that flashbacks and nightmares tend to increase at a maddening rate when I haven’t got that safe space to unload my emotions in, that the risk of self-harming behaviour sky-rockets, and so, with a break of this proportion on the horizon, well, it’s bound to drive my fears to boiling point. In some ways it would be more worrying if they didn’t.

A. reassured me that she has no interest in making this break any harder than it needs to be, and although it felt really good to hear her say that and I genuinely appreciate her wanting me to know this, it’s still incredibly daunting to know that I have such a big break ahead of me. And finding that courage, well, it’s something only I can do.

This week’s final session – Friday – was spent doing some further exploration into the constant internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. We looked at how Adult Me very much wants to do everything in her power to ensure that I don’t start going back on the progress I’ve made thus far in my therapy, while – at the same time – Little S is deeply invested in that tried and tested path, pulling in the opposite direction, wanting to go for what is known and what feels safe.

The conclusion is, of course, that what we need to focus on in the next few months, is to find not only a bin liner, but preferably a nice sturdy IKEA bag, to ensure I have what I need get me through once A. does go on her leave. To find that something which will allow me to resist listening too much to Little S – without completely ignoring or silencing her – and to not give in to the temptation of going down that comfortably familiar path of keeping myself safe through shutting down.

So, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But – hopefully – I’ll find that I have what it takes.

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

I was utterly surprised to find out, earlier in the week, that my blog has been nominated in two categories of the TWIM Awards this year. The TWIM Awards is an annual award given to blogs focusing on mental health issues. My blog is nominated in the categories “Best PTSD/Extreme Emotional Stress Disorder Blog”, and “Best Therapy Blog”. Feel honoured to have been nominated (especially considering how incredible some of the other nominees are) and would like to send out an absolutely massive thank you to those of you who have voted for me. I’m chuffed beyond words! Truly.

If you would like to support me, or any other blog, you can do so by casting your vote here.

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.

Looking Back, Moving On & Holding On To Your Dreams

Once again I find myself packing my stuff up; I’m moving on Sunday. All of about thirty metres down the street. So, in many ways, a minor move. I’m moving into a larger room in what, at least on the surface, looks like a nicer flatshare. Hard to know for sure until you’re actually there. I’m looking forward to moving out of this place. It has, without comparison, been the worst place I have ever lived. And I’ve lived in a lot of places, including spending a night on the streets of London, not knowing where to go next..

So, from that point of view, moving is a good thing. And at the same time, I can’t help but thinking that this is not how I had imagined myself living at age 35. My picture looked more along the lines of a nice flat with my man and my three children. I’d be focusing on my writing, maybe having already had a break or two, literary wise.

Instead, here I am, in a rented room. Utterly single, painfully childless, and my writing.. well, I really don’t know what happened there. So, of course there is sadness in the realisation that there is such a discrepancy between what I had been hoping for and what I’ve got. And of course it hurts to not have those things, to know that I was pretty close to all of those things only a few short years ago.

This is not to say I’ve given up on that dream, that picture. I believe it could still happen. Maybe not in the order I had initially imagined, but still recognisable as an altered version of the original image.

I don’t regret the choices I’ve made in the last few years. I think had Dev and I chosen to stay together, knowing that we ultimately wanted different things, well, I don’t think we would still be friends the way we are now. I think bitterness may have started to sprout between us. And I would never want that to happen.

Moving into the therapeutic community a few years ago was a big decision and although I’m not sure it was ever really going to be quite right for me, I do feel that I got something from being there, even though I struggle to put it into words, exactly what. Maybe space to grow? Maybe to appreciate how strong my need for independence is? Maybe realising that I can be accepted for me, even without being the good girl, without having the great job, without being the most responsible one? Even the decision to move out, I believe, was a step in the direction of feeling allowed to say “This is not good enough for me, this is not acceptable to me”.

Going into therapy? Well, that’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever done. Yes, I know – I’ve been in therapy before. Some good, some not so good. But this time around is the first time I’ve felt on a very deep level that it’s time to go that extra step, dig a bit deeper, to not run when things get scary, but to stick with it. That, painful and terrifying as it can be, I want to keep at it, want to look at those bits I am most ashamed of, the ones that are the hardest to own, to accept as my own.

So, although I’m not where I thought I’d be, I think it’s been time well spent, hours well invested. And, as I said earlier, those things that I dreamed of; that I still wish for – they could still happen.

I leave you with a few lines from a Dawson’s Creek era song:

“..I’ve got the greatest admiration
for the way that you got through it
couldn’t ask nobody else to do it
better than you do it

stay you
– that’s the toughest thing to do..”

xx

 

Lyrics from Stay You © Wood

Reform Judaism, Conversion & Finding My Own Path

It is now less than two weeks ’til I go before the Beit Din, the Jewish rabbinical court, for the formal completion of my conversion to Judaism. Prior to that I had to sit down and write a statement to the court about what this means to me.

I thought I’d share it with you.

~ * ~

Nearer to two years ago a lovely lovely lady called P. was the designated meeter-and-greeter at the doors of my shul. It was also the very first time I visited a synagogue. I introduced myself to her and openly admitted that I was very nervous as I had never attended service before and was worried about doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Without hesitation, and with what I now recognise as characteristic generosity, P. asked would I like to sit with her and her husband so that I could just copy what they were doing?

I’ve been sitting with them ever since.

These days P. likes to embarrass me by introducing me to people as “their star pupil”, when, really, the truth is that they – alongside the rabbis and my fellow J-Preppies – have been star teachers; have been people I have learned and continue to learn so, so much from. I have been exceptionally fortunate to have been befriended by long-standing members of the congregation as well as newbie J-Prep students, allowing me to not only stand on the sidelines, but to feel genuinely part of the congregation and synagogue life. A true blessing.

This past year has been a big year of learning, of spiritual growth and understanding, yet at the same time I firmly maintain that my Jewish journey did not start with the J-Prep course, nor will it end with it. Certainly, this year has been different to any other year, and my life has been truly enriched by it, but rather than seeing the meeting with the Beit Din and the formal conversion as the end goal, I feel that it marks the end of the beginning of my Jewish journey.

I came to the J-Prep course having never lit Shabbat candles, never made Kiddush, never affixed a mezuzah and so forth; I had a very bookish understanding of what Judaism is. I now feel that I have much deeper insight into what it really means to be Jewish, and have discovered that the things I had connected with prior to J-Prep; my faith in the one true God, the Torah as a religious compass and so on – all the things that had brought me to the J-Prep course in the first place – have held true for me and haven’t changed. But, I now also know and appreciate that Judaism offers so much more on top of that. I have discovered that many of the core principles of Judaism hold the same moral values as those passed down to me by my parents; the pursuit of justice, championing democracy, being generous to those less fortunate and being open to those different to myself.

I have been struck by the strong sense of community, the constant strive to make informed choices and decisions – even the freedom to challenge the texts we’ve studied – and they have all added a whole new dimension to my life and to the way I think about faith and religion.

Being Jewish means, especially this time of the year, to stop and reflect introspectively, to take a long, hard and truly honest look at what I can do to better this world through bettering myself. It means doing that very difficult thing; asking forgiveness. From God, from my friends, sometimes even my enemies, and, maybe the hardest thing of all; forgiving myself for those times when I have let myself down. To, rather than simply berating myself for my shortcomings, accepting that I am not perfect and never will be, but also recognising that I have been given the blessing of making a different choice in the future.

Even my choice of Hebrew name – Emunah אמונה – serves as a reminder to keep faith in my mind and to remain faithful, not just through words, but through actions and deeds; through actively doing what I can to help heal this very precious and beautiful world we have been given, whether it be through choosing Fairtrade products over products of unknown origin, making sure I recycle things rather than just binning them, or through taking on an active role in the setting up of a refugee drop-in centre rather than leaving it for Mr & Mrs Someone Else to do. It is a reminder that it’s not enough to just tell people that I am now Jewish. I need also recognise for myself and demonstrate to others that I am Jewish not only when I attend service or say my prayers, light my Shabbat candles or study Torah (all of which are, of course, integral parts of living a Jewish life), but that I am living Judaism in all aspects of my life.

To formally convert to Judaism is the difference between looking at someone else’s photograph album and being alive and present in the very moment that snapshot is taken.

Being Jewish is not just an adjective, it is also a verb.”

~ * ~

Click here to read about my meeting with the Beit Din.

Below is this year’s film from The Movement for Reform Judaism.


Expectations, Failure & Second Chances

I’m back . Staying at Dev’s. In need of an in-between place, I suppose.
I’ve not done much since getting back, feeling a lot lower than I had expected; it usually takes a while before this happens.
Before the Post-Holiday Stress Disorder rears its ugly little head.

I try to watch things on iPlayer but can’t concentrate, try to read but can’t focus.

I’m feeling very disappointed in myself. Feel I should have been able to do more with my time at home. Feel I ought to have been braver, ought to have got further on my journey.

I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, but it’s hard. After all, taking things out on myself is what I do best. I’ve not yet turned to self-harm, but I feel I’m fighting a loosing battle on that front. Like it’s a question of when rather than if. Oh, maybe that’s not true. I might be able to resist. But, it doesn’t feel good being me right now.

I could have predicted this outcome before I went. In fact A. and I talked about it in the final session before the break: how I keep choosing to not have that very difficult conversation with my family, how – in the immediate moment – it feels like the easier option, but almost without fail means I’ll ultimately turn it back on myself, this sense of failure..

I’ve been here before. I recognise that there is a pattern to my choices and the way I deal with them. Yet I can’t seem to make a different choice. Time and time again I let myself down.

I am trying to help myself, I am. I don’t want to take three steps back in order to move at all. I really don’t. But it’s hard.

Suffered from a lot of flashbacks when I was at home. Especially at night, meaning I didn’t manage to get much sleep. And I guess that ate into my ability to face things head on. I’m not talking about wanting to cause trouble for my family, I’m not interested in playing the blame game – all I wanted to do was to find a way to talk openly and honestly about all those things we as a family – myself included – have avoided talking about. Have refused to acknowledge.

I had hoped that this time I’d be able to be able to do it. To open up a dialogue with my family. Nothing too big, just a tiny little line of communication.

But I couldn’t. And here I am now, feeling pretty crap about myself.

Oh well, life goes on.
At some point or other I’ll get another chance to do what I couldn’t this time.
Life lessons are repeated until they are learned and we always get a second chance to get it right.

And one of these days I will.
Get it right.

xx

Up, up and away!

05:23 am.
Too early to be awake, really.
All packed and ready to go. Only waiting for the taxi to pick me up. I’ve looked out the window; it’s raining fairly heavily, but it’s not snowing, and judging by the temperature it probably won’t.

Anxiety reasonably under control.

So – off I go.

All the best to all of you,

xx

Jarring Aspects of Reality, Emotional Conflict & Reality-Checking

I’ve not done my nails. Plain green nails for almost a week. Time to analyse..

I do my nails somewhat obsessively when I’m anxious. It’s a natural way to focus on the here-and-now, while still being able to allow your thoughts to drift a bit. To stray, but not too far. Manageable emotional excursions.

Are my plain nails a sign that life is smooth sailing at the moment? Not necessarily. I have this thing where I sometimes simply tip over into don’t care, can’t be bothered-mode. This tends to happen when there is a lot of anxiety, but I’m working hard to suppress it.

So, what is it I am suppressing this time? Well.. I’m flying home next week. [Airport snow clearing team permitting]. I’ve been home twice already this year, and – on the whole – it’s been fine. Yet, as noted in previous entries, it’s not that simple. Because although these last two times have been essentially fine, there’s a psychological and emotional history to take into account.

There have been times in the past where things have been far from fine. And, as we all know, us humans have a tendency to be ruled more easily by negative experiences than positive ones. A bad experience is by no means cancelled out by a good one. Psychologically, a good one just means that it was OK this time. It leaves no guarantee that the less pleasant events won’t be repeated later. And thus, anxiety bubbles within, contrary to recent experience.

How can we master this? Well – if I had an absolute solution to that I would be a very very rich woman. But, there are things a person can do, reality-checking coming up quite high on the list. And by reality-checking I don’t mean a straight forward last time was fine so don’t worry about this time, because, although it is factually true that last time was OK, telling yourself that there is no reason at all to worry is in fact taking a step away from the reality of the situation.

I think it is far more helpful to say that Last time was fine, but I’m still worried because X-Y-Z.. To allow yourself to look at the reasons for feeling the things you are, to feel that it’s not wrong to feel that way, but to at the same time acknowledge that there have also been some changes to the experiences that makes you feel that way.

Aspects of reality don’t necessarily have to go neatly together. It’s a hard one to get your head around, emotionally – but, it is nonetheless true.

I could write for hours about the psychological conflict the different realities creates, but – sadly – it’s time to get off to work.

And tonight I may do my nails with no element of over-analysing whatsoever.

It could happen!

All the very best to you all,

xx