I’m Alive, I’m A Mess

It’s been a physically and emotionally exhausting few days and I really ought to be asleep right now. It’s 4.30am at the time of writing, yet, inspite of being tired in the extreme sleep evades me.

Things have been shaky in the last few weeks, to say the least. A lot of flashbacks, and on top of that I’m on a hormone triggering treatment which makes me even less stable than normal. We are talking an emotional rollercoaster of going from blue skies to pitch dark in seconds flat, up and down, round and round. Not an enjoyable ride in any way, shape or form.

And at some point in the midst of all that my poor impulse control won over the utilisation of coping strategies; I decided that having a bit of ethylene glycol would be a good idea. I think it was only a tiny amount to start with, certainly less than a mouthful. I knew that was a really bad idea, and the following night when I felt the urge I rang the mental health crisis resolution team under whose care I’ve been the last three weeks (with a break in the middle, where I went to stay with my sisters). It was about 1am when I rang and talking seemed to help; by the end of the call I had agreed with K., (the person who was working the night shift), that I would come in to see them at ten that morning and bring the bottle of ethylene glycol for safe disposal. That felt both scary and good. It’s kind of hard to explain, but there is something about having the means to kill myself readily available that feels like a safety net of sorts, something that gives me a feeling of being in control. Twisted logic, for sure, but there you have it. But, it also felt good, the idea that someone would relieve me of this deadly stuff,would, in a sense, save me from myself.

Two hours later I once again felt myself plummeting into darkness and I picked up the phone again, since I had found it helpful the last time, and talked again to K. for some time. I may have come across somewhat incoherent because she asked me if I had ‘tasted’ any more of ‘that toxic chemical’. I said I hadn’t but in the same instance shot a glance at the plastic bottle and it was immediately clear that there was a whole lot more than ‘less than a mouthful’ missing. Alarmingly, I genuinely have no recollection of downing a large amount of this sickly-sweet substance. In fact, and I said as much to K., I wasn’t even sure if I had actually drunk it or maybe just spilled it. Or when this had happened. Still, as there was certainly more than a lethal amount missing from the bottle I agreed to let K. call for an ambulance – but, not before saying ‘Can you wait half an hour to call so I can have a shower first?’, to which she calmly explained that having a shower at three in the morning when you have potentially consumed enough poison to kill yourself was hardly a priority. So instead I started stuffing things into bags: iPad, iPod, mobile, chargers, clean underwear, toothbrush, EpiPen, my journal, a random bunch of puzzle cubes and even my prayer book. I have no idea where this sudden organisational skill came from, I normally have to write lists to make sure I don’t forget things when I pack a bag, but there I was, five minutes later, fully equipped to spend a long time in hospital, should it come to that. Then I told K., who was still on the line with me, that I was going to go outside to wait for the ambulance, promptly grabbed my bags and made it down two flights of stairs and out onto the pavement outside my house.. where I laid down to sleep while I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive. K. kept talking to me, trying to convince me that while it was OK to lay down, if I was too dizzy to stand up, I really needed to stay awake.

The paramedics arrived and got me into the ambulance with some difficulty as my legs refused to carry me properly. They asked a tonne of questions, all of which I answered in something of a drunken stupor. K. had already told them what I had taken, which was probably a good thing as they would more than likely otherwise have assumed I was just another overly refreshed Saturday night party-goer, and might not have realised that time was pretty darn critical. Also, I had brought the bottle with me so they could see exactly what I had drunk and how much was missing. I mainly just remember babbling like crazy in the ambulance before passing out, and the paramedic pinching at the nerves on my shoulders over and over to get me to stay awake.

In A&E I was first put on a drip of pure ethanol, which is one of two antidotes to ethylene glycol poisoning, followed by a number of rounds of Fomepizol. Hurt crazybad, I can tell you that much for nothing. (Imagine the sting of cleaning a wound with rubbing alcohol, and then imagine that kind of stuff going straight into your bloodstream, and you’ll get a fair idea).

The side effect of this, having bare spirit pumped into me was that I got drunker than I have ever been in my life. I’m not someone who drinks particularly often, so I have a very low tolerance to alcohol, and here they were giving me as much as they could based on my weight. Suddenly absolutely everything was hilarious beyond comprehension. I was giggling and rambling and apologising left right and centre, trying to explain that They were making me drunk. In the midst of that I decided that sending a text to let people know I was in hospital was a good idea, only – I discovered later – the text made very little sense, and I managed to send it to a whole bunch of people I wouldn’t knowingly have sent them to.

At one point a friend of mine, having seen my text, rang me (this was as I was being wheeled into a ward, still apologising profusely for my drunkenness) and all she got was me laughing, unable to explain what had happened. Later, when she came to visit me, she said that it wasn’t exactly what she had expected when she called to hear if I was still alive..

Whilst being drunk was not all that bad, it did mean that I was sick a lot. I have a sneaking suspicion that there was a miscalculation as to how much ethanol they were giving me, because last time I was rushed to hospital for having done something very similar (that time, completely on purpose), I remember screaming in pain as the ethanol went in my arm, but I don’t remember being drunk, nor being repeatedly and violently sick.

I had to stay in hospital for a day and a half, on constant drip, most of the time in both arms. It’s still too early to say if I have done any permanent damage to my kidneys and if so, what the extent is, all I know is that I my vision is extremely blurry and I have been sick a number of times even this morning.

I am out of hospital now, back under the care of the crisis resolution team, but as neither I, nor they, think it’s a good idea for me to be on my own just now, an assessment has been set up for later today at Drayton Park Women’s Mental Health Crisis House. As regular readers will know, I have stayed there in times of acute crisis before, and have found it helpful in turning a negative trend, so I really hope that following the assessment they will offer me a place.

Sorry for making this a somewhat long-winded entry, but I think I just really needed to get it all out.
I think I am still a very long way away from truly absorbing how close I got to dying, and writing is often the best way for me to process things.

Do be kinder to your Selves than I have been to my Self.

Much love,

xx

PS. If you are one of my many wonderful friends who received my drunken text and who tried to get in touch with me later, but couldn’t get through and didn’t hear from me: something went wrong with my mobile and I could only send texts, not receive them, and incoming calls only worked sporadically. So, please don’t think I was ignoring you, I simply didn’t get your messages and consequently didn’t know to respond to them.

For some reason this song is playing in my mind. (Although the title of this post is actually from another Heather Nova song).

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At The End Of A Difficult Year

The new year is almost here. Time to reflect, I suppose. [As if not all posts are reflections, really..]

This has not been an easy year. In fact, it may actually have been one of the hardest thus far, so I hope the new year will bring a bit of happy change. One of the things that I have been really struggling with this year, and which very nearly pushed me over the edge, is something I haven’t really shared on here. I am hoping that as time goes on, this too, will become something I feel comfortable sharing here. I mean, considering the things I do share, there really shouldn’t be much of a problem, but for whatever reason, I’ve just not quite found it in me to write openly about it so far. Too painful, somehow, seeing it in black on white..

I remember myself at this time last year, on the verge of a minor break in therapy, which I knew would soon be followed by a seriously major break; my therapist’s maternity leave, and I can still feel that horribly cold, hard lump at the bottom of my stomach, which would turn every time I thought about it. The horrendous abandonment issues I was battling with and the separation anxiety I was trying to keep under control. I remember desperately trying to come up with ways to convince myself that I would indeed be able to survive this break, and although I can’t say I truly found any one method that worked wholeheartedly for me, I did make it through. Was brought to my knees a number of times, for sure, but somehow I managed to get back up again.

I think the thing that helped me the most was doing what I have always done when things get tough: writing. Writing this blog, or even just thinking about what I might want to write on it, should I find the words and the energy, helped a lot. And more than that, your lovely emails and comments.. well, I couldn’t even begin to explain how much they have meant to me. To have someone who has never even met me, reach out and show that they care. That’s really something.

Then there’s that other kind of writing. The writing I do when I need to completely escape; working on my book. That’s been useful, too. To allow myself to go to another place, to think about someone else’s problems, to focus on someone else’s daily comings and goings, trying to paint it in words. Still, as I said to A. in my most recent therapy session, although in the moment it feels very much like escapism, when I read back later on – even years later – I can often see that I was working something of myself out through the characters I create, only it happens in a way that is somehow more free, less constrained by the emotional red tape I may put on myself.

And, in the midst of really struggling with near constant flashbacks, I finally found something that helps me with them; my beloved Rubik’s cube. Yes, I’ve turned into even more of a geek than I was at the beginning of the year, but, hey – if it works, it works. I’d much rather look like an absolute 80s retro nerd on the tube, than not being able to go out at all. Now, of course, solving a puzzle like this, no matter how many times you do it, it doesn’t solve the puzzle of your Self, but – honestly – it really has made a difference to my life this year. It may not get to the root of the flashbacks, but it does help me get through them, and sometimes that’s all you can ask of yourself; to get through.

And, of course, faith has got me through, too. Even when it’s felt impossible to look ahead, there is this space inside where I can go to, where I can be still, and just breathe, and know that whatever happens, there is someone who is looking out for me.. And it helps. I can’t explain it, it just does.

Sitting here, thinking back, I am – as always – struck by how lucky I am to have the friends that I have. Not to mention my absolutely amazing sisters, who I could not manage without even for a single day. To be surrounded by people who are there for me, to whatever extent I feel able to let them be. People who won’t give up on me, even when I myself have. That is a true blessing.

So, as hard as this year has been, there are also many, many things for which I am grateful.

Thanks for staying with me this year.
Hope to see you in 2013.

xx

Once again, a favourite quote at the end of the year..

“..and it’s been a long December
And there’s reason to believe
Maybe this year will be better than the last
I can’t remember all the times I tried to tell myself
To hold on to these moments as they pass..”

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

PS. If the world does indeed come to an end tomorrow, could someone please let me know, as we’re an hour behind most of Europe here..

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

Self-Harm & Self-Piercing

Not very long until A. is back now.

Looking back at this break I can honestly say that there were definitely times when I didn’t think I would be around to see her return to work. I had some very very low points, where it felt entirely impossible to think that I could make it through. As you know, early on during this break, I did accidentally on purpose overdose, and even though this may sound weird, that wasn’t even the lowest point I got to. In fact it wasn’t even near to being the lowest point.

Then I had a bit of a breather, where I went to spend time with my sisters, where I reconnected with my faith, where I felt a little less frightened. Went back to only having the normal amount of flashbacks. And that was nice. And much needed. I count my blessings that I do have those times when things are a little easier. I try to take notice of the good in life, I really do. I know that reading this blog, it may seem that I only focus on the hard times, but I really do try to balance it out, to see the bigger picture.

I have to admit, however, that these last few weeks it has felt a little as if I am starting to slip again. I’m not sure if that is perhaps because, knowing that this therapy break is nearing its end, I am allowing myself to feel a little bit more than I have during the majority of this time. It’s possible. People keen to criticise my choice of therapy and therapist will, I’m sure, draw the conclusion that going back to therapy is what is making me worse; that therapy is itself the culprit. Needless to say, I disagree. Strongly.

Still, I do have to take these dips seriously; I am very well aware of my tendency to sink hard and fast, and to try to waive it off as nothing would be decidedly unwise. So, I’ve reached out. I’ve talked to my sisters, my friends, the Samaritans, just to make sure that I don’t plummet.

I did have a night last week which was particularly bad, where I felt very very tempted to get the scalpels out again, to release the tension, to get away from the bad feelings surging through my whole system. I resisted. Sort of. I had them out. I looked at them. Held them in my hand. Then I put them down. Put them away. Decided it was a bad option. Thought some more, and decided that there was something else I could do, which was a little less destructive, a little more spiritually meaningful. Something which I had been thinking about doing for some time.

The end result is a freshly pierced nose.

I know, to some, this seems little better than cutting myself, but to me, there is a big difference. Self-harming through cutting is a way of making my body look worse, it’s almost like physically punishing myself, not just through the pain inflicted while cutting, but also in the way the scars will always be there [and, trust me, I have plenty]. They only serve to make me feel bad, because they make me think of how I was unable to control my impulse to cut. Make me feel weak. And I don’t like feeling weak.

A piercing to me is different.

Whilst people may have varying views on the aesthetics of body piercings, or religious reasons for opposing them, to me, they are pretty – plain and simple: I like them – and my interpretation of religious text does not cause me to see them as forbidden. And so, in my mind, choosing not to slash my skin in destructive desperation, but deciding to do something different [albeit similar]; it makes me feel that I can control my impulses, I can convert destructive energy to something much more positive:

A sparkling reminder, right in front of my nose, that even bad nights do pass.

I feel I need to write a little something here about self-piercing: I am not an advocate of it, despite having done it more than once myself. Each time I’ve done it, it has been done as responsibly as possible. No dirty safety pins, no pound shop jewellery. Always clean hands and/or using gloves, always clean work surfaces, always proper after-care. Never without thinking it through, and never without, in my opinion, a genuinely valid reason for doing it myself.

You can read a detailed piece I wrote about my first self-piercing and my reasons for doing it myself here. Some of the things I say there are not quite how I see things now; it’s been four years. But the key is that it was a thought-through and reasoned decision. Not an in-the-moment act. In contrast to self-harming.

Even this latest piercing wasn’t something I did lightly. The reason I had the appropriate equipment in the first place was that I had been thinking about doing it for some time. And by thinking about it I don’t mean in the middle of the night in a moment of feeling very low, but during the day, consciously weighing the pros and cons. I made the decision to do it that night, because I wanted to – perhaps even needed to – prove to myself that I could do something other than cut, something which for me had meaning, something which wasn’t a destructive and impulsive form of self-punishment.

If you do choose to DIY pierce; do the research. Then think again. Think about why you are wanting to self-pierce and the risks involved. Also, think about where you want your piercing. Not all places are ideal for self-piercing. In fact, most aren’t. [In hindsight, I would have to admit that the nose definitely isn’t particularly ideal for self-piercing. And it was darn painful!] Also, just because something can be done, doesn’t mean it should be.

If the reason you’re considering not going to a studio to have it done is that you’re underage, get your parents to come with you to give their consent. Or wait until you are legally able to give consent. If you want it that badly, you’ll still want it in a year or two. From a religious point of view, getting your parents’ consent also matters in terms of honouring your mother and father through not choosing to do something your parents directly oppose. I’m not meaning to be preachy, I’m merely pointing this aspect out. [For me this was always a non-issue, as my mother sports a sparkling lip piercing of her own.]

For most people, people who just want a piercing because it looks good, my advice will always be: Go to a professional piercer! You won’t end up accidentally mis-aiming and come out with a wonky piercing in a place you hadn’t meant to have one. Seriously. Going to a professional piercer will generally be a much better experience; quicker, more than likely less painful and much much simpler all round.

First and foremost;

remember to be kind to yourselves.

xx

PS. I do realise I am displaying an astonishing amount of double-standards when it comes to self-piercing, but in my defence: I am an adult, I had a valid reason to do it myself and it was a thought through decision. And, as I wrote earlier, looking through a rear view mirror: I wouldn’t recommend piercing your own nose to anyone. Anyone. That includes my future self.

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

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

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.

Home & Feeling Homeless

Was meant to move yesterday.
Spent all day Saturday packing and preparing, didn’t even make it to shul for service because I was a too stressed out about the whole thing. Had several moments of panic throughout the day, thinking I don’t really want to move, it’s the wrong decision, I’m not ready for this, it’s too scary, etc etc. You get the picture. But, eventually everything had been packed up and carried downstairs, ready for The Big Move and I tried to get some sleep.

Got up early the following morning as the van was due to arrive around 8.30.

Sat downstairs, surrounded by all my boxed and bagged up things, nervously waiting for the van.

Which didn’t come.

At 9.05 my phone rang, so I picked it up expecting it to be the removal guys. It wasn’t. It was their boss calling to tell me that the van had broken down en route to picking my things up and unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to do the move that day.

Felt absolutely crushed by this. I was already stressed out about the emotional impact of moving, and not feeling too great about the place I was moving to, and then this happened on top of that.

The next several hours, in fact the whole day after that was pretty horrible. I was just crying, feeling absolutely awful. And, yes, I know – of course it wasn’t just about the van; it was the whole thing – having built up towards this move and mentally preparing for how I was going to deal with it. And it just all came crashing down on me.

Called both of my sisters, texted Dev, did lots of things to try to manage the disappointment of it all, sitting in my now empty, echo-ey room with no books, no computer, not even a desk.

I had had the whole day mapped out; how I would move things into the new place in the early morning, then spend time beginning to sort the room out, then meet with a friend, before going back and forth between The House and the new place with little things that needed to be brought over. And in the evening I was to go back to The House for my goodbye dinner which my housemates were holding for me.

Of course that plan went out the window when the move didn’t happen. I was just so sad and disappointed and stressed out I couldn’t really get around to doing much at all. Managed to properly clean out my old room, but that’s about it, and that was done with tears running down my face the entire time. I think, as A. pointed out in session today having heard me talk about all of this; what happened was that I suddenly found myself feeling that I didn’t have a home. I’ve moved around a fair amount, and what’s been constant for me have been the things I take with me everywhere; my books, my journals, my writing, and I’ll create my home around them wherever I am. So, with all those things boxed up and with nowhere to put them, it left me feeling homeless and lost.

Needless to say, by the time I was due to meet my friend S. for lunch, I was pretty emotionally wrecked.

Enter the power of a good friend.

Yes, I cried and I still felt awful, but it was also nice to be able to see that I was able to allow the tears to come, even with my friend around. Or maybe because she was there to support me. We talked about all the worries and fears I have about moving out, what I’m leaving behind. Lots of things, and it helped me see that the tears were actually an absolutely appropriate response to what I was experiencing, and that it was OK. Talking to my friend also helped me to recognise that while all these feelings were valid, they were only what I was feeling that day, not what I would always be feeling.

Went back to The House after seeing my friend and unpacked my bedding to make my bed up again, and that helped a little with making the room feel less bare and naked, and slightly more like the room that had been my safe haven.

A little later M. knocked on my door and asked how I was doing, having heard from another housemate what had happened. So I had another tearful conversation, being allowed to tell someone yet again how horrible I felt. And that was really helpful, too; to both say and show how much I was struggling.

Later I had my farewell dinner with my house mates, which was nice. I was very touched that they wanted to do this for me, especially considering how I’ve often not been very involved with things in The House. Also I felt incredibly thankful that they were allowing me to stay another night at the house, making things a lot easier for me. C. said to me that I’ve been a member of the household for over two years, of course I could stay another night – and that felt really good, because I never feel I can take it for granted that I’ll be welcome in any place.

Stayed up quite late talking with M. after dinner, and again, that was really helpful and made it a lot easier to settle down for the night.

So, I have to say that although living at The House has often been difficult, with many many ups and downs, and there are lots of things to reflect on in the months to come, I was left with the feeling that my housemates have seen me as part of the house; that for a time The House really was my home. And that felt really really good.

xx