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..

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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

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

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

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

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

Powerlessness, Asthma & Echoes From The Past

Feel like I ought to be given some sort of medal or badge today. It’s been one week since my last therapy session, and so far it’s been manageable. Moments of feeling somewhat lower than usual, but absolutely within the range of what I can cope with without freaking out.

That aside, today I feel like a prisoner in my own home.

The last few Fridays I’ve not been attending our Friday meetings, because B. – a former therapist of mine, whom I chose to terminate therapy with – is doing a student placement as part of her training at those meetings. I have been trying to explain both to others and to myself why I feel so strongly about her coming here, but it’s really hard to put it into words, aside from stating the obvious, that I chose to end therapy with her for a reason, and to not want to have to see her again, even in a group setting, seems – at least to me – a not unreasonable request. I would have thought that most people would not be particularly keen on having to see an ex-therapist once they have terminated therapy with that person. No?

But, of course, it goes deeper than that. It’s not just having to see her; at a stretch I could possibly, maaaayyyybeee, cope with that. No, I think this is tied in to the fact that I’d not just be seeing her anywhere, but actually in my home. And I have a feeling that this is a large part of what is getting to me; that living in this therapeutic community I ultimately have no choice in who to let in or not into my own home.

Now, let’s put this into context of my own background.
I grew up in a house where I was put through some pretty severe abuse by people living in my home; my oldest brother and also, for a time, by a foster child placed in my family. At the time I didn’t feel able to stop it, didn’t know how to speak up [lots of complex issues, as anyone having experienced abuse will know]. In the end, the only way out I could find – and not before having already suffered through twelve long years of abuse – was to kill myself. It was the only control I felt I had over the situation; the option to live or to not live. So, at the age of 17, I opted to take a cocktail of painkillers and my mother’s various medications.

Needless to say, I didn’t succeed, and – in fairness – looking back, I can see that this was probably a cry for help, for someone to see that something wasn’t right.

To an extent it worked; the abuse came to light and it stopped. Would I call this a happy ending? No. Absolutely not. While the abuse stopped and things came to light; even went to court, I couldn’t call it a happy ending.

You see, even after all of this came to light, after by brother was convicted for what he had done, and despite the fact that everyone believed what I said had happened, I was still expected to carry on seeing him at family dinners and holidays, essentially giving the message that what happened to me didn’t really matter, and his place in the family was still more important than mine.

Me being me, having spent my whole life acting as if everything was fine, of course reverted back to that old habit of acting as if I was OK, as if these messages did me no harm. Not good.

Going back to the present situation, with B. coming into my home [even though this time I have expressly stated that I don’t want her here] it evokes in me the same feelings of being helpless, of having no power over who is let into my life; that what I want doesn’t matter.

Realising that the situation wasn’t going to change, that whether I felt OK with it or not, D. would be doing her placement with us, I was faced with a choice. A) To go to the meetings, reverting to the old pattern of pretending that things are fine, putting a brave face on it. Or, B) Not go to the meetings, feeling somewhat driven out of my home, as I don’t want to be around when she’s there, even if I don’t actually attend the meeting.

So far I’ve chosen option B. I say so far, because, of course, there is an option C) Going to the meeting, and not pretend that things are OK, but to speak up with her in the room.

Now, I can certainly see that there would be some value in option C), but – and this is a big but – I honestly don’t feel I am at a place yet where I would be able to do that. And as long as I feel that way, as long as I feel that going to the meeting would make me go back to acting OK, I simply don’t see how that would be a healthy choice. And so, for now, I do the second best; I preserve the boundaries I have set up by choosing not to attend the meeting. I accept that I can’t change B. coming to my house, but I don’t need to be around when that happens.

Except today.

Today is a beautiful, hot, sunny day here in London. Gorgeous, really. It is also the perfect weather for death-by-asthma. The government has even gone so far as to issue a smog alert for this bank holiday weekend.

Despite this, not wanting to be in the house when B. is here, I still tried to brave it this morning and went out. Unfortunately, I had to turn around and head back to the house, because I just couldn’t get enough air in my lunges; the weather and the pollution was simply too much.

So at the moment, I’m in my room, using my inhaler, feeling more than ever as a prisoner in my own home.

Oh well, at least I have the internet here, and I can spend my time exploring where my feelings stem from, and then plague the world with my findings in the form of a blog entry!

Happy Easter, Passover or Spring – whatever floats your boat!

All the very best and much much more,

xx

PS. The trick is to keep breathing.

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