To say that this hasn’t been my favourite month ever would be a grave understatement; March has been seriously rough. But, then again, I always knew that part of this particular month would be a real challenge, as this happens to be the month in which one of my abusers’ birthdays falls, something which is always a big trigger for me. A truly awful day with masses and masses of flashbacks.
On top of that, I was sent one of those dreaded brown envelopes from the DWP that I mentioned in last month’s post, one which contained a form for me to fill out, relating to benefits. This is something that always sends me into a complete tailspin; the anxiety that these forms provoke is enormous, because they force me to have to think about all the things I can’t do, leaving me feeling like an utterly useless human being. Even at the best of times I find it hard to think myself worthy of any form of financial support (even though, in healthier times, I used to work crazy hours, and paid equally crazy amounts of income tax, earning national insurance aplenty) – but when I am already feeling low – well, those DWP forms seem to be designed to give one the experience of being kicked while already being on the ground..
I am very fortunate, I have a therapist, a care coordinator and a social worker who are all more than happy to help me with these forms and support me through the emotional turmoil they cause, but even so, my risk level increases incrementally with every page of questions on those forms. I spent a session with my care coordinator, filling out as much of it as possible, but even though – in all honesty – she did most of it, and even wrote on the form for the DWP to contact her if there were any questions – I was overcome with horrible thoughts of how the people at the DWP would rather I kill myself, than having to keep paying out money to me. Of course, the rational part of me understands that absolutely nothing about these forms is personal – that lots and lots of people are sent (read: tormented by) them every single day – they still have the power to reduce me to one giant suicidal self-harming mess. In the month and a half I needed to fill out that ruddy form, I lost count of the number of times I took it out – fully intending to manage at least a couple of questions that day – only to have to put it away again, as my urges to self-harm got too strong.
So, this, in combination with my abuser’s birthday, meant that I desperately needed the support of the crisis resolution team. I was having such strong urges to end my life – even though parts of me really wanted to live – that I was struggling to keep my Self safe from me. And, even though I was reluctant to work with them to start with, I know that the extra support that they offered this time around, is what kept me safe, kept me alive.
So, no, March 2018 hasn’t been a great one.
But, hopefully, April will treat me with the kindness I deserve.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PARTICULAR POST DEALS WITH CHILDHOOD SEXUAL ABUSE AND MAY THEREFORE BE UPSETTING AND/OR TRIGGERING
During the last two weeks the frequency of flashbacks I’ve been having has been steadily on the increase. This is never a nice thing and inevitably makes me very anxious that I might be heading for one of those truly horrendous periods where the flashbacks become relentless and I get no respite from them at all. Thankfully, things are not at that stage, but the fear is still there, and I am having significantly more flashbacks than I usually have in a day. So it has been hard. Especially since A. has been away, and I’ve not had my usual space to process things. [A. being off isn’t the reason for the increase in flashbacks; the escalation had started before she went away, but lacking a place to talk things through doesn’t help].
Now, having flashbacks is something which I live with all the time [to a greater or lesser degree], but there is one thing which has been very different about this particular increase of flashbacks: normally, my flashbacks tend to be very random in terms of which abuse situation they are about. There might be one from when I was four and a half, then one from when I was seventeen, then one from when I was twelve. Some will be of things my brother did to me, others of things that the foster child who lived with us made me do. In short, it tends to be a completely random mix, with no specific order to them.
But this time, nearly all of them have been about a very specific situation, something which happened over the space of about twenty hours when I was nine. The flashbacks haven’t been sequential, it has been bits here and there, and it has all been absolutely sickening. What happened over that period of time are some of the most traumatic things I have ever experienced, and so it follows that the flashbacks are equally horrendous.
A few days ago I tried to desensitise myself a little by saying out loud [to myself] what happened, but I simply couldn’t do it. It felt too frightening and the words were too charged. Instead I turned to another form of expressing myself: drawing. I drew the whole situation, and I drew it in a very specific way, I drew it from his point of view. In other words, I drew what he would have seen: me, tiny, naked, frightened, tied to the radiator [which he had cranked, just because he thought it was funny when I was in pain], the various objects he was using [when he wasn’t using “his body”] – the whole situation. I won’t go into any more detail than that, because, writing about it – like talking about it – is a bit too much for me [and may also be a bit too much for you, the reader]. I did think about posting the picture I drew, but in the end decided that it is simply too graphic for general view. [Also – although the intention with the drawing is very different – legally, in some places, it would be considered child pornography, as it clearly depicts a young child being sexually abused.]
I really don’t know why so many flashbacks have been centring around this particular situation. I mean, yes, the things that happened were incredibly traumatic and cruel, but that has always been the case and it doesn’t explain why this kind of ‘zooming in’ of flashbacks is happening, or why this change is taking place now. I am still trying to work that out.
The idea to draw it, to really focus on it – allowing the emotions – was something I did in the hope that it would decrease the frequency of flashbacks, but that’s not really worked; it hasn’t at all influenced the number of flashbacks I’ve been having. [For the better or for the worse].
What it has done, is allow me to see that I really was a very young child. I don’t remember ever feeling that I was a child, I always felt like an adult, but I think it is important to recognise that although I didn’t feel like a child, that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a child. The other thing that it has done, is that it has made it possible for me to see the whole situation, meaning that I could see for myself how truly awful it was. And that helps, because it makes me feel that maybe it isn’t so strange that I am still struggling with what happened; it tells me that I am not over-reacting.
Sadly, in contrast to all of this positive recognition, all this self-awareness, there has been another change inside of me. A very different one. One which isn’t nice at all, and is almost the polar opposite of what I just described..
Up until now, if anyone has ever suggested to me that maybe I carry some sort of guilt feelings about what happened inside of me, I have always vehemently denied this. I’ve always maintained that this is not the case; that I am not a typical abuse victim who blames herself for what happened. I am perfectly able to see the abuse for what it was.
But in the last two days, I’ve been completely overwhelmed with self-doubt. Doubt about whether or not maybe, just maybe, there was something I did to make this happen. A sense that, because there were two different people who abused me – separate from one another – there might be something wrong with me, that maybe I was sending out some sort of unconscious signal. That I didn’t do enough to make the abuse stop. Etc etc etc.
I can honestly say, that I have never felt this way before – certainly not on a conscious level; when I have protested to any suggestions like those mentioned above, it has never been in order to purposely mask my true feelings, or to make myself clever or anything like that. I have simply never felt this way before.
This isn’t a case of suddenly feeling 100% sure that I must somehow be to blame for what happened, rather it is an ambivalence about it, an uncertainty about who is to blame, which is now coming into the open. It is more than likely a fear that has always resided deep down inside of me, but it isn’t until these last two days that it has been allowed to enter the realm of the conscious. What I am trying to illustrate here is that all of a sudden there is a very tangible discrepancy between what I can intellectually understand [that being a child I couldn’t possibly be to blame for the abuse, that I was powerless to stop it etc], and what my inner child emotions are telling me. And it makes me feel awful. It makes me feel like I am not as far along the road to recovery as I had thought.
Of course, I can see that having my true feelings surface is probably a good thing, that this could be viewed as “a step back in order to ultimately move forward” [you can only work through things that are in the open]. In the short term, however.. well.. it has me on my knees. Completely. And, as much as I hate to admit it, on three occasions, I have resorted to escaping these very painful feelings through self-harm. This worries me, since my favoured form of self-harm is coiling a cord round my neck and pulling until I pass out, a variant which is undeniably dangerous, as there is no way of knowing that the cord will release once I have lost consciousness.
I am trying to not be too hard on myself about the self-harm. Firstly, being disappointed and angry with myself doesn’t help the situation, it only serves to make me feel even worse. And secondly, in some ways it makes perfect sense to act out like this; for as long you are unconscious you can’t feel anything. You could even go so far as to say that this particular form of self-harm is a desperate attempt at putting these now conscious feelings back into the unconscious.
But, of course, it would be much better if I didn’t feel a need to do this to myself, and I am hoping that when A. is back, being able to talk all of these different things through will be enough to help me cope with these new emotions without putting myself at risk.
“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..”
Sitting here, alone. Trying to somehow keep it together. And failing miserably. I feel like I’m a prisoner in my own life, and while there may well be a key to the lock, it seems impossible to find. Or maybe I’m just looking in all the wrong places?
I haven’t been able to attend service for weeks, owing to flashbacks. Haven’t even had enough head space to follow them online. Still, as my therapy is on now on hold, I know that it will be important to find other, non-destructive, ways to cope, so this morning I decided to brave it and just push myself that little bit extra to get there. Which I did.
I now regret that bitterly. As lovely as the service was, I was struggling throughout it, trying to stave off the flashbacks that insisted on popping up, and it took all I had to somehow stay in my seat and not just rush out. I tried to focus on the music, on the words, the prayers, and to a degree I suppose you could say that I succeeded, but what is normally something that feels naturally easy and enjoyable, today took a lot of hard work. By the time service was over and it was time to exchange the customary Shabbat shaloms [“have a peaceful day of rest”] I was exhausted, and I only barely scraped by during kiddush. Feel very bad about it, because I know I probably came across as a bit off to others, but it was the best I could do. Having greeted the people I know, I made my excuses and left as quickly as possible. The second I got on the bus home I just broke down in tears.
Of course, tears are not the enemy, if anything they are an entirely appropriate response to the difficulties I’m facing, and they’ve been waiting to fall since I left my final session with A. But it’s not nice when it happens in public. It just isn’t.
It was hard saying goodbye to A. The session in itself was reasonably OK. I managed to talk about the extreme separation anxiety I was [and still am] experiencing, and I think that was important. To be able to say how hard and frightening this long break feels, to be honest about how uncertain I feel about whether or not I have what it takes to make it through to the other side of it. To talk openly about why it’s so hard, this effective re-experiencing of every other time I have felt abandoned, neglected, second-best and left behind, with no one to care for me. To feel that there is no one I can truly trust to see me through.
Of course – and I said that, too – in my final session, I know that I’m not really all alone. I know that there are lots of people in my life who care about me and who want to see me make it through, people who are more than willing to offer me support. But, at the same time, as I’ve described many times in the past, a therapist is in many ways a pseudo-parent, and so, having a break – especially a big one like this – is bound to cut pretty deep. And when you cut deep, you bleed, and it inevitably leaves a scar. It’s impossible to just pick up where we left off, as if nothing’s happened. So there is a fear of that, too. Of what it will be like once A. is back. Will I ever feel able to trust her in the way I was? Because, unlike other breaks, at the end of this one her whole world will have changed. That moment when she goes from being a pseudo-parent to her clients, to being an actual parent will be unlike anything else. And even if we manage to reach that Winnicottian good enough place together again, the fear of another abandonment will linger, as it’s likely that in due time she will want to have another child. In fact, whether or not she does, the fear will be there, regardless.
So things are distinctly uphill right now. I keep thinking Oh, I’ll talk about this in my next session, and then I crash with the realisation that that next session is so desperately far away.
I told A. that I would do my very best to stick to my usual 3-rule therapy break survival plan:
1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!
That made A. smile, and I will try to keep that in my mind and in my heart, because I do want to make it through.
I just don’t entirely trust it that I will.
Some of you will know that I recently moved. I did a straight room swap with someone, and when this someone else moved, she – let’s call her K. – left behind a great big goldfish bowl with accompanying goldfish. Now, I told her straight off that I didn’t want it; I could never keep fish like that, in an un-oxygenated bowl with no black-out sides and nothing inside the bowl for the poor fish to hide behind. She told me she was going to get a smaller tank to fit in her room and come back for her fish. Being the friendly [if somewhat horrified] person that I am, I told her fine, just put it in the hallway for now, but make sure to come get it as soon as possible. No worries, K. replied and went on her way.
A week passed. Nothing. I started googling to find out what the heck to feed my un-invited flat mate [finely chopped spinach and orange, apparently] as I couldn’t just let it starve. I texted K. Nothing. I put a tea mug in the tank so the fish would have somewhere to hide from the world. Another week went by. Another text. Met by even more silence. And then, yesterday morning, a text from K. saying “Sorry about the late reply, I was busy with exams until Friday and now I’ve gone abroad. Won’t be back until January”. What the flying BEEEP..!?
Needless to say, I wasn’t much pleased with this development, so I texted her back saying that I understand she’s been busy, but really, sending a text takes seconds – anyone can fit that in no matter how busy – and wouldn’t it have been a good idea to check that someone was actually going to be in the flat over Chrismukah & New Year to look after her fish? Apologised in case I sounded harsh, but honestly I wasn’t very impressed.
Now, I’m not someone who habitually sends out even remotely angry sounding texts, so having sent off the text I sat down to reflect, realising that this was probably about something bigger than just the poor goldfish. I mean, I’m not actually going away, and feeding a fish isn’t exactly hard labour. So what was it about all of this that was really upsetting me?
Seems pretty obvious from a distance, right? What was really bugging me was – of course – the fact that she could so easily leave this living being behind without a thought, without making sure someone was going to be there to make sure that it was OK.
Fast forward to later in the day, still thinking about the fish, feeling genuinely upset by it being abandoned like that, I realised that I was very much identifying with this poor fish, and that my anger with K. was probably more accurately a misplaced expression of anger with A. leaving me behind, with no one to look after me.
So that’s what yesterday’s session – the final one before a two week Chrismukah break – was spent on. Trying to explore the feelings I have, not only around this break, but also about A.’s maternity leave – which I feel, ought really be re-named eternity leave. How I feel, much like this little fish, left to my own device in this not-great-but-won’t-kill-me place, where all I can do is to swim round and round in circles.
I feel that being in therapy gives me a sense of direction, like – although progress is often excruciatingly slow – I’m going somewhere, I’m moving. But with this massive break coming up, well, I’m not sure what to do with it, what to do in that huge expanse of time. Do I retreat into the tea cup of my mind? Do I try to move forward on my own, risking getting myself into territory I’m not at all ready to cope with outside of the safety of the therapeutic setting? Or do I just stand still? I genuinely don’t know, and that makes me feel lost and frightened.
A. gave me the breakdown of her plan for her maternity leave on Tuesday. She’s planning to keep working until the fourth week of February [but, naturally, there is no guarantee that that will happen] and then she’ll be off until some time in July when she will go back on a part time basis, meaning I will have only one session a week, in contrast to the three I’m currently having. And, of course that makes perfect sense, from her point of view, to start over slowly. But for me, I’m not really so sure. Going from thrice weekly therapy to weekly sessions, it’s one heck of a drop, even if it is temporary.
I’ve been in weekly therapy before [albeit not with A.], and it is incredibly different to having more sessions in a week. My experience of weekly therapy is that, although it is helpful – and certainly better than nothing – it’s very.. hm.. choppy. Because so much can happen in the week between sessions, there is both a sense of wanting to cram as much as possible into that one session, and also there is very little flow between sessions. What you started talking about last week can easily be pushed to the side, in favour of new exciting events and thoughts, and deeper exploration often suffer as a consequence. And if you are, as I am, prone towards avoiding digging too deep, this can be used as a way to get away with not looking below the surface of things. So, that worries me.
Towards the end of last session I was really finding it difficult to speak, feeling very emotional and tearful. I just felt utterly overwhelmed by this feeling of being left completely on my own, and feeling that I really haven’t got the tools to stay above water. Like I said to A.: Forget about that nice sturdy IKEA bag I was hoping to find, right now I’d settle for the flimsiest of Morrisons carrier bags to help somehow contain my emotions. I feel really worried that, lacking a time and place to express what’s going on inside of me, those horrendous flashbacks will start coming back again, in the way they did earlier this year. I just don’t feel I’d be able to cope with that. Not without resorting to self-harm again.
A. pointed out that despite things being difficult, I was still managing to look after that goldfish and taking steps to make things as comfortable as I can for it, given the situation, to which I had to admit that I had, in all honesty, thought that I really ought to put that poor fish out of its misery, as I can’t bear watching it live out its life in this depressing little tank. I realised then that this could easily be interpreted as my expressing thoughts of wanting to end my own life, because it just feels too miserable and closed in, and so I felt I had to reassure A. that this wasn’t my plan, that I simply wouldn’t have been able to kill the fish, or myself. I’m not entirely sure if this is true, but metaphoric suicide didn’t feel like a very good note to end the session on, and after all, the woman is pregnant, so I felt I needed to smooth things over.
Don’t worry, I’m not saying I’m suicidal, only that it’s kind of hard to know with me. Even for me.
At points in this final session I felt very strongly that I needed A. to reassure me, to play the good, nurturing therapy mother, and tell me that things would be OK, but, for whatever reason A. didn’t seem to pick up on that, and said very little when I felt I needed it most. [Yes, I do recognise that this is the child in me being angry at not getting instant gratification]. But then, at the very end of session, as we said our goodbyes, she gave me this very warm smile [which, for all I know she may have been giving me all through session, but since I rarely look at A. during session I wouldn’t know] which made me feel so much better, and I wished her a good break. And I meant it.
All the very best and more,
PS. Once again, thanks to all of you who have voted for my blog in the TWIM Awards. The polling station is still open, so if you haven’t but would like to register your vote there’s still a little bit of time left. Just click here. :) Voting closes at mid-day on December 31st.
I’ve been thinking about how to update my blog the last few days, but I’ve not felt able to do it. Partly because all my energy has been channelled towards fighting my way out of a flashback. Again and again and again. Times a million. It really has been kind of never-ending – and the only way that has worked to give me any kind of longer break has been to either make myself black out or to cut, neither of which is particularly healthy.
To say that it’s been a difficult few weeks would be a severe understatement. It’s been pretty relentless, and at times I’ve really just wanted it all to end, because there is only so much a person can cope with. The crisis team have been quite good (well, the nurses more so than the pill pushing doctors) – but it’s also been hard to find myself back in this system. Also, I’ve felt that the crisis team has been quite critical of the therapy I’m doing with A,, and they have frequently asked me if it’s really helpful to have this kind of therapy when it’s made me have such terrible flashbacks. Also, my relationship with A. has been questioned. More than once have they asked me if I’m not a little bit too attached to my therapist. My answer throughout has been that it’s not the therapy which is causing these flashbacks, it’s a combination of going home and then returning a week before therapy resumed, in conjunction with a number of other factors.
I’ve defend both my choice of therapy and the relationship I’ve worked so hard to form with A. on numerous occasions, but it’s tricky when you’re talking to people who see medication and CBT as the cure for all ills. It’s not so easy to explain that the whole point of therapy is that you form a close relationship with your therapist, and that it allows you to look at other relationships and see how they may be played out as little echoes within the therapeutic relationship. That in my veiw CBT is a bit of a band-aid, masking deep-rooted problems, and wouldn’t be at all appropriate for the kind of issues I’m dealing with. That, yes – this is really hard work, and yes it does bring difficult things up, but that it’s my feeling that the only way for me to be able to find some sort of peace within my past is to dare look at all those difficult things and realise that I can in fact survive the pain. And that’s what the work I do with A. is all about.
Despite this difference of opinion, having the involvement of the crisis team has also been of value – I’ve felt held by the fact that I’ve been seeing them on the weekends, when I don’t see A., and that they’re available to talk to on the telephone 24/7. It does help. But, that does in no way mean that I’m any less committed to the work I’m doing with A. I see it more as a crutch between sessions – for the time being – so that I can carry on with what I do in therapy.
Following yesterday’s adventures at A&E when I had my cuts stitched and SteriStripped – with a tetanus shot thrown in for good measure – R. from the crisis team came down to have a chat with me, and she said that she felt that my self-harming behaviour was going in the wrong direction, that it was escalating rather than subsiding, and that she felt I needed more support than what the crisis team can offer, and she suggested she make a referral to Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre.
I’ve stayed there in the past – years ago – and it has been helpful, so I agreed to R. making the referral. I think Drayton Park could be a safe option while I’m in the middle of this crisis. To me it seems like a happy medium – I’ll still be able to see A., but rather than going home to a lonely room battling flashbacks and urges to self-harm, I’d be going back to Drayton Park, where I’d be able to talk to someone about my urges to self-harm. Also, I know that they will be a lot more encouraging in terms of doing the type of work I do with A. han the crisis team has been.
Fair enough, I’ve never actually been at Drayton Park when I’ve been in therapy, but I have several friends who’ve stayed there and have felt that the Drayton Park staff have been very much in favour of them carrying on seeing their therapists while they’re staying at Drayton Park. Essentially what they say is that your therapist is your long-term support and who will help you with long-term goals, and Drayton Park is a place to feel safe while being in the middle of a crisis. It’s a short-term add-on support system, not a replacement for your long-term aims and goals.
Anyway, I’m meeting with one of the workers at Drayton Park tomorrow for an assessment, and it still remains to be seen if they’ll deem it appropriate to offer me a place for the week.
Think it’s time to hit the hay now – hopefully I’ll be able to sleep a little more than I have been in the last few nights..
This morning I woke up to the news that Osama Bin Laden had been killed. My initial reaction was that of disbelief, but as the same piece of news seemed to be reported on all fronts reality began to sink in.
As I switched on my computer to watch some live news I was struck by the scenes of celebrations being broadcast, and I have to admit that I found it rather shocking. Whilst I have little sympathy for what Bin Laden chose to do with his life and what his network of terrorists stand for, it seemed to me somewhat obscene to be rejoicing at the news of his death.
In my mind, celebrating the death of another person, even if it is your enemy, is NOT cool. It’s taking it that one step too far.
This is a time for reflection, not a time for celebration.
Someone I follow on Twitter offered an update along these lines: “Spurred on by the successful termination of Bin Laden, the U.S. announce plans to kill another million people, one of which may be Gaddafi.” The words, of course, drip with sarcasm, and urges us to ponder how many lives are worth sacrificing in the pursuit of the death of a single person.
I am not a forgive and forget kind of person; some wounds cut too deep for me to be able to afford the inflictor this generosity, some actions too painful for me to grant this ultimate charity. That said, I do still believe that despite those actions, at the basic level of being human, all of our lives have the same God given value, and therefore celebrating the loss of a human life is wrong. So, whilst I may not necessarily mourn Bin Laden’s death, I will not stoop so low as to celebrate the loss of his life.
* * *
In other news: A. is back tomorrow.
Well, in fairness, she was probably back today, but tomorrow is the first time I will see her after the break.
I’m not sure really what to say about this break.
In some ways it’s been OK. To a large degree it’s been a lot less difficult than some other breaks. At the same time, some days – or nights, rather – have been very very hard. I had a few flashbacks last week, and as always it sent me into this blind panic that I’m going to spiral out of control, that I won’t be able to cope.
So far that hasn’t happened. As I said, it’s been very very hard at times, but I think I did manage to not get entirely swept away by my own fears. Instead I texted the Samaritans. Just so I wouldn’t get to that stage where things get so bad that I turn to self-harm. I talked to them about this fear, about not entirely trusting myself to not fall back to my old ways, and that in itself seems to have been enough to keep me from acting out.
I think this has been a good and very valuable experience. To realise that having a few flashbacks doesn’t automatically mean I’ll resort to destructive behaviour or that I won’t be able to cope. It just means that I’m having a few flashbacks.
Of course, in the moment, while having those flashbacks, any thoughts of coping strategies are blown completely out of mind, but – and this is important – coming out of them, feeling as sick and frightened as I was, I was still able to quite quickly recognise that I had come through it, and that there were more than one way for me to deal with the fear of further flashbacks. Ways that didn’t involve scalpels or choke-chords.
Clearly, something has changed.
Something which makes it possible for me to make good choices, even during therapy breaks.
Ten days now since my last session with A.
So far sticking to The Rules (as stated in my previous post).
But it’s hard. Really, really hard. Having had a break from flashbacks for a few months I seem to have entered another period where I keep having them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s to do with A. being away.
It’s almost as if whenever I haven’t got somewhere safe to put my thoughts they start building up inside of me, in the shape of stress. And when it gets to a certain level, something breaks and the flashbacks come back. Like clockwork.
Of course, there are other ways of relieving pent up pressure than through talking therapy, but, sadly, for me one of the easiest ways has traditionally been to get a scalpel out and cut myself. I’m trying very hard to avoid going down that road this time around, but it is incredibly hard to resist, knowing that as little as two or three small cuts would instantly calm me down.
I think people often underestimate the addictive quality of self-harm. It isn’t just a case of choosing not to do it; it takes an enormous portion of will-power to keep to your resolve. Especially when the effect of not cutting is that you have to deal with the fact that, sooner or later, you’re going to experience a flashback.
Contrary to most peoples’ idea of flashbacks, they are not like films playing before you or in your head. At least that’s my experience. Yes, I do sometimes have flashbacks which involve all five senses, but, what makes a flashback different to any other memory is firstly that they pop up whether you want them to or not. Which means that as soon as I feel pressure building inside of me I start worrying, because there is just no way of knowing when I’ll have one, or where I’ll be when it happens. Or how I will react to it.
Naturally, the flashbacks that are audio-visual are the most difficult to cope with, but, I have to say, only by a very small margin. For me, flashbacks are more about emotions, regardless of which specific traumatic experience they are linked to. And even the ones that are essentially just a pure raw re-experiencing of feelings (without the actual image, sound or smell of the abuse) are completely disorientating. Not in the sense that I don’t know where I am, but in the sense that I feel as if I’m existing in two places at the same time. I’m both Adult Me and Little S at the same time. And what’s more, they are all at once both separate and the same.
Also, although it may take a moment to realise that I am in fact having a flashback, as soon as I do, Adult Me gets enormously angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to stop this from happening, while, at the same time, Little S is busy trying to deal with the fear/shame/sadness that the flashback has brought out. In a way it’s like dealing with a past and a present trauma at the same time. And it’s very difficult to know which is which.
I remember having a particularly bad flashback in the middle of a one-to-one session at the women’s crisis centre last year. The person who was with me kept talking to me, and I could absolutely hear her; in many ways I knew exactly where I was. Yet, when the person who was with me asked where I was, it was Little S who answered by describing a room in my childhood home.
Needless to say this is not a pleasant experience, nor an easy one to cope with. Even though I have by now become reasonably apt at finding my way out of a flashback, they do still shake me. Quite badly.
Even when I am able to bring myself back into the present reasonably quickly, it is still a very disturbing and frightening experience. Also, I have a tendency to not realise I’m having a flashback, until I have already started acting it out in the present, by scratching my forehead until I bleed or digging my nails hard into my palms. In fact, it’s often the physical pain of those very actions that somehow kicks Adult Me into action.
So, as I said earlier – it is a struggle to not allow myself to, in the absence of A., go for the easier option and just get a scalpel out.
But, I keep trying.
PS. Just wanted to say a big thank you to those of you who commented on my last post. I really appreciate it.
I had my final therapy session today before A. goes away. It will be a full month before the next time I see her. And I’m reallynot liking this. Separation anxiety and abandonment issues galore.
If you’ve never been in therapy it might be difficult to understand why this whole ‘therapist going away’ is such a big deal, so I’ll try to – to the best of my rather limited ability – explain.
I guess most people think of therapy as a place to go and talk about stuff. Often childhood stuff. But, really, therapy is much more than that, it is a multi-level experience. Yes, you do talk.Lots. You talk about the here and now (that is what’s going on in your life at the moment) and you talk about stuff that has happened in the past. But, on top of that, one of the most important aspects of therapy is the relationship you form with your therapist. Not just in a she listens to me and she really gets me sort of way (although that is certainly an important part of it), but also on a completely different level.
Just like therapy is a multi-level experience, the relationship with the therapist works on many different levels, and one aspect is that the relationship with your therapist acts as something of a rear-view-mirror to the past, in that you will almost inevitably create a relationship with your therapist that either closely resembles a relationship from your past, or takes the form of a relationship you wish you could have had (or could have) with a specific person.
One of the more common re-creations of past relationships is to attribute the therapist with qualities which your childhood primary carer had (or that you wish he/she would have had). In short, many people turn their therapist into something of a mother-like figure.
Now, as babies and children we want our parents to be there for us. To be safe and secure, loving and nurturing. To make sure that our needs are being met.
Following on to the mirrored relationship with your therapist, the same is true here. We want them to be there, to understand, and to be ‘constant’.
But then the therapist goes away, be it owing to illness, annual leave or any other reason, and suddenly our needs are no longer being met. Our pseudo-parent is taken away from us. And, so it makes sense to react to this in much the same way we did as children when our parents went away; to feel anxious because we don’t quite know how to deal with this, to be frustrated because our needs are no longer being met, and to be angry, because, frankly, parents just aren’t supposed to go away.
I’m guessing that no matter how good or secure your relationship with your parents was, you will likely still have experienced these type of emotions, and so, by extension, you are likely to feel something similar when your therapist goes away.
Of course the level of distress varies from person to person, in part based on what past relationships have been like. Some people may be able to cope with separation reasonably well, while others find it very very difficult to manage.
Personally, I fall into the latter category and I very much struggle with this unwanted break in therapy.
There are, of course, many reasons for this, not all of them dating back to my early childhood, but almost certainly my experiences as a baby will have had an impact on how I now deal with separation.
I was adopted when I was six months old. Before that, I am not sure exactly what my life was like. I know that I spent at least the last three months before being adopted in an orphanage in India, being cared for by whatever staff happened to be available. I don’t know when or how I came to the orphanage, if I was given up at birth, if I spent some time with my birthmother before being given up or if I was simply a foundling.. there is no way of knowing.
Now, although I can’t consciously remember the first six months of my life, based on most commonly accepted attachment theories, I think it is safe to assume that whatever happened to me back then will have had an impact on me, and so I’m wondering if part of what I am going through now, dealing with A. being away, triggers a re-experiencing of the feelings I must have felt back then.
So.. Yes, this separation is bringing out some pretty extreme emotions in me. I’m not very good at naming exactly what they are, but I know that they really do rattle me in rather a big way.
I do feel reasonably strong in general at the moment, and I’m trying to accept that whatever feelings I have are ok. But there is always a worry that I might ‘forget myself’; even when you’re not feeling particularly depressed on the whole it can be difficult to manage negative emotions.
So, I’ve set myself three little guidelines to follow until A. gets back:
1: No matter what; keep breathing in and out
2: Try to find ways of coping other that resorting to self-harm
3: Even if I fail on number two, stick to number one!
So, watch this space: I’ll keep you posted on how I fare.
“Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy“.
That’s a line from the track “What’s The Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M. which has been playing very nearly non-stop on my computer today. It’s one of my “listen and forget the world”-songs along with The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane”, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Walk This World” by Heather Nova. My I haven’t a clue what I’m feeling but whatever it is it’s too much for me to deal with right now-songs. The kind of music that allows you to just melt away from the world, if even for a moment. The sort that offers you a safe haven in the midst of all its noisiness. No need to think, no need to feel – just sink into oblivion and let it wash over you, sound wave after sound wave crashing over your head.
I’m not consciously trying to numb myself, I’m really not, I’m just so frustrated with things that I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel stuck and tied down and at the same time so spun out of control I don’t know how to rein myself in, how to find my feet again. That feeling you get when you start out spinning round and round because you want to, but then when you stop the world carries on spinning around you whether you want it to or not and there is nothing you can do about it other than to wait for the world to slow down to a manageable pace.
I’ve been thinking a lot about love and life and death and everything in between lately, trying to figure myself out, trying to make sense of it all and coming up with very few, if any, answers.
I haven’t succumbed to self-harm, not really. Not since that time when I tested the scalpels. But I’ve been doing other things I shouldn’t be doing. Like researching suicide methods, for example. Not because I necessarily feel any more, or indeed less, suicidal than I have in the last week, but because it works something like a drug for me.
I could probably give you a detailed run-down of up to ten fail-proof ways of ending my life without even having to leave the flat. So it’s not a case of actually needing to find new and exciting ways of offing myself (if there is such a thing as needing suicide methods). D. suggested that it is similar to the way some people get addicted to pornography, and I guess there is some grotesque truth to that.
But even more than that I think it’s about control. Akin to how a person with an eating disorder may gain a sense of control from being able to decide when to eat and when to throw up, knowing all these methods allows me to feel that I have at least some sort of control over my life. Or my death, at least.
I am fully aware that this is not a good way to deal with things, but much like you start craving that drug high after the first few innocently experimental hits I get a craving for new information. I can’t just know a little bit about this method or that, I need to know everything about it, and so, what was meant to be a quick checking up on a fact turns into hours of research.
Thankfully D. is now back and at the end of my session today we made a deal; to try not to do any research at all for the coming week. And I intend to stick to that. Hence listening to my safe-music.
I know, I know – it’s hardly a unique or hard-to-come-up-with idea this Just-knock-it-on-the-head-technique (to use one of D.’s favourite expressions), but this is exactly what I mean when I say that I need direction and guidance in order to cope. Without someone to check up on me, someone to help me re-focus week on week – I just seem incapable of sticking to the healthier option, even when I know what it is.
Having lived the better part of my life without many rules to follow owing to the, at least partially, self-imposed big sister/good girl/self-sufficient reliable daughter-syndrome I find it incredibly soothing to be given some set rules to stick by. Adult supervision. It makes me feel cared for. Looked after. Safe.
I suppose that is the reason why I find my sessions with D. and Drayton Park as a whole so comforting. A sense of home, of something steady and clear and – yes – containing, where I can let go of the responsibility for a moment. Because, as much as I like having all of the above qualities attributed to me, if there is no let-up ever, it can easily become incredibly over-powering and I lose track of what is reasonable and what is over-doing it, and I end up thinking that those things are all that I am. I lose sight of what is me and what are merely aspects of the person that I am.
I forget that the whole is more than the sum of its parts.
For those of you who haven’t heard from me – and owing to an immense wish not to communicate with my fellow humans lately that will be the vast majority of you – as of Friday last week I am out of the Drayton ParkWomen’s Crisis Centre.
And what can I say? Well, for better or for worse this stay was very very different to my stay there earlier in the year. As this was meant only as a short term intensive intervention style stay the main focus was put on helping me use and acquire distraction techniques to enable me to better cope with my urges to self-harm once returned into the wilderness that is my home life.
Did it work? Yes and no is the honest answer. Yes, because I’m still here now, and apart from very lightly scratching myself with a scalpel purchased on my way home from Drayton Park on the day of my discharge, I haven’t actually physically harmed myself. No, because my mind has now moved on to a much darker place. A place where self-harm for the sake of release is no longer my primary urge.
I suppose that in order to understand what’s going on in my head one would need to understand the reasons behind the change in my urges, and the best way to do that is something like this (forgive me for detaching myself somewhat emotionally in composing this explanation, but it’s the best way I can think of to be able to write it and at the same time keep myself safe and away from harm); Some people self-harm for the sake of scarring themselves. I guess you could say that it is a way to show the outside world how much they are hurting on the inside. Others do it to allow themselves to feel a different kind of pain to the one they are experiencing emotionally. Finally there are people who use it as a means for breaking the pent up tension inside of them to avoid having a panic attack, physical outburst or other extreme reaction.
As for me, well, I suppose I’ve gone through stages of all of these variations, and at the moment I am stuck on the last; I am overwhelmed by powerful urges to cut myself in order to relieve the pressure.
Naturally, this is a pretty perilous place to be, in all senses of the word – and I have been working very hard at not giving in to this need for self-harm by distracting myself through various mind-numbing activities such as boxing, painting and re-painting my nails, writing lines etc. (In fact I went a bit crazy one evening at Drayton Park – spending half an hour covering the entire slated patio of the garden in pastel chalk drawings and random bits of lyrics, until one of the workers came out and helped me settle down with a hug and a good talk – an act of enormous kindness, and one I will never forget.)
However, using distraction techniques to refrain from self-harming has its downside as well as the obvious positive effect of not injuring yourself; whilst they do keep you safe for the time being they don’t actually do anything to manage or reduce the intensity of the emotional turmoil inside of you. That, I believe, can only be achieved with additional guidance where the underlying feelings and, peeling back yet another layer, the reasons for those feelings are explored and dealt with.
In the absence of my counsellor this has become increasingly more clear to me; that distraction alone is not enough to keep safe in the long run. Yes, employing distraction techniques will keep you safe for the moment – but unfortunately, without the extra direction that counselling and therapy offer, the emotional strain still keeps building and thus you may, as is the case for me, find yourself moving from the stage of wanting to self-harm to actually wanting to end your life altogether, simply for the sake of escaping the pain you are experiencing.
For me – and I have said this repeatedly – it is not a case of actually wanting to die – I just don’t want to live. In this way. And without the help I need to make sense of all those underlying emotions I mentioned earlier, I can’t see myself breaking away from it. I am more than willing to admit that I simply don’t have the tools yet to be able to do this on my own.
I have spoken to my care co-ordinator about this on a number of occasions, but she seems not only unwilling but unable to understand the severity, the depth, of this problem.
Two weeks ago, when I, for some inexplicable reason called her, naïvely hoping that she’d be able to help me make the referral to Drayton Park since I didn’t feel able to do it on my own, she actually gave me the oh-so-insightful advice “Just think happy thoughts!” – as if that would somehow magically make things ok for me, would enable me to pick myself up and put myself back together. I mean, I’ve had my fair share of You’ve just got to stay positives aimed at me – and in all honesty sometimes it’s even been helpful, but, that – “Just think happy thoughts!” – really drove me over the edge.
This same woman, by the way, made the unbelievably bright statement that “we don’t want to overcrowd you with support” when she met up with me and one of my named workers at Drayton Park for a review last week. Now, I don’t know about you, but it’s been a good ol’ while since I heard about anyone stating “overcrowded with support” as a reason for giving up on themselves and on life, so I’m not entirely sure how she reached that conclusion. Then again, she is apparently also the kind of person who thinks that a pat on the head is an acceptable form of encouragement, rather than a decidedly condescending gesture. (Yes – you guessed it – she actually, physically, patted me on the head as she was leaving the room..)
Ok, so I’ve lost the track a bit here, but on the other hand it does rather perfectly illustrate the fact that not only do people suffering from depression and other emotional difficulties have to deal with the actual difficulty in itself, but often – and I’ve heard this said time and time again by people who are in a similar situation to me – find themselves having to also struggle to convince the people who are meant to be there to support them that lending an occasional helping hand will not necessarily render them completely dependent on others from here on out.
There is a lot more I could write on this subject, but I think that for now I’ll leave it be and just concentrate on the things that are going my way, rather than the things that aren’t. Things like having people around me who picks up the thread and helps me where the system seems to have failed. And friends I can call and just cry and not say a word to and they will still understand me.
How’s that for positive thinking?
PS. No need to freak out over the scalpels, they are no longer in my possession; I called Drayton Park and the workers helped me calm down and have a breather before supporting me to dispose of the offending objects.