At The End Of A Difficult Year

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xx

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

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

A Long December lyrics © EMI Music Publishing

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

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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

Bin Laden, Reflections & The Value of Human Life

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.

So.. here’s to change!

All the very best,

xx

TAUK6H2RJ2R8

Reflections

Christmas has come and gone for this year. And I survived it. (As did everyone else, as far as I can tell). Still, being Family Occasion of the Year, it does rather hightlight the fact that I didn’t spend it with my family. At least not the family I grew up with. I spent Christmas with my More Than Family, and it has been a good one. That said, there is no denying it that celebrating Christmas away from your own mum, dad, siblings and so on – well, it is undeniably attached to some sadness. That sense of I wish things were different. That they were more stable and straight forward. Naturally, that’s not to say that things are bad the way they are; only that they could be a different kind of good.

Also, being away from home (home being London, for all intents and purposes) and more importantly, away from Dev, it makes it that much more clear how difficult it will be to get used to that change, too. Yes, we very much agreed that our separating is more or less a necessity, but it is still a huge change, and something that will take some getting used to. In short; I miss him. He is my best friend, and the thought of not seeing him every day – well, it’s hard to accept, not only intellectually but emotionally as well. We have been on a huge roller coaster this year, and now that the ride is coming to an end – well, it’s filled with complex emotions. There is a very positive sense that this will allow us both to move on, and at the same time there is an almost tangible wish to hold on to all the good things we have created together. The silly inside jokes, those special moments when everything felt absoltutely right. I really hope that, looking back, those memories will be at the forefront. Because I have learnt an awful lot from him. And I will always be grateful for the part he has played in my life.

Today is my mother’s 65th. I gave her a ring earlier today. Just to wish her a happy birthday. And although it was a rather stiff and awkward few minutes I’m glad I did it. Because, no matter how complicated things are between us, well, I do hope she has a lovely day. And I hope that, maybe another year, we will be able to celebrate together. I don’t think things will ever be simple, but I do hold a firm belief that we will – eventually – find a way to communicate better, and that that will lead to us being able to find some common ground to build on.

Being here, in my home town, it is quite emotional. Even though I may not have expressed or verbalised it, I think that it’s been pretty clear to those close to me. Thankfully I’ve had a lot of support, both from those who are here, and from my friends back home. In fact, I’ve had tons of sweet and encouraging text messages from my friends, and they do help. They remind me that even when I return to England I won’t be alone. That there are people waiting for me there, too. People who are looking forward to my coming back.

xx

Reflections – An Entry About Buying More Time When It’s Needed

I am aware that it’s been a while since I last updated my blog, but there is good reason for it. I’m not merely neglecting my blog writing duties for the fun of it; the last few weeks have been somewhat overwhelming, and thus I’ve needed some time to myself to think things through.

Normally I write my blog and it helps me understand things. This time I really needed to understand things before writing about them in my blog. Hence, the delay in serving you the portion of S-related news I know you have all been so eagerly awaiting.

I don’t quite know where to start, so I’ll start where my mind is at in this very moment; Christmas. I’ve decided to go home for Christmas. I know it doesn’t sound like much of a decision to make, but for me it is. It’s been a huge decision. As you may be aware I haven’t been in touch with my family since April, so, a trip to the small town that is home is pretty big for me. I haven’t told anyone in my family about this yet; I’ll be staying with my bonus family – my More-Than-Family, and haven’t even decided whether or not I will tell my own family that I’ll be around. I think, going home and all that that may entail will be my focus for the remainder of my counselling sessions with D.

That’s something else I’m dealing with; my beloved fifty-minute hours with D. coming to an end. I obviously always knew that the counselling sessions would have to end at some point – in fact – they’ve already expanded far further than anyone could have anticipated when I first began counselling. (I think I’ve been seeing D. for something like five times longer than what the original deal was.)

December 19th is to be the last session. And I’m dreading it already. It doesn’t matter that I am well aware that the cessation of counselling is as much part of the process as actually undergoing it – it still freaks me out. Not only the uncertainty surrounding what help and support I will have in place when that day comes, but the actual saying goodbye to D. (Even as I am writing this I can feel my brain and my emotions completely separating; the brain calmly stating “It is normal to feel this way, everyone does” and my heart going “I don’t care if everyone goes through it, no one has everstruggled more with this issue than I am right now, no one has ever felt such pain.”) So, that’s another big thing going on in the little person that is me.

What else? Well, Dev and I have decided that although we’ve had five incredibly good years together, the time has come for us to move on. Separately. It’s been in the pipeline for some time, especially since we – even before my depression reared its ugly head – had the Baby Issue laying between us (the Baby Issue being that I want nothing more than to have a child; it’s all I’ve ever wanted, what has always kept me going, what gives meaning to my life – and he not having the remotest desire to ever become a parent.). But, I guess the reason why we’ve decided to split now, rather than earlier, is that we’re no longer getting what we want from one another. And we’re not able to offer what the other needs. We’re not arguing, we’re not at each other’s throats (save last night when I – having not slept for God knows how long – threw a fit after dropping a plate of grilled cheese sandwiches face down on the table, and in sheer frustration blasted a “No, it’s not bloody ok!” at Dev, who foolishly had tried to be understanding and calming..). It’s just one of those things that happen.

To say that we’ve had a rough year would be a serious breach of the generally accepted definition of the term ‘rough’. Between my two suicide attempts, Dev’s mother passing away and my not being in touch with my family things just got too much, and it’s not healthy for us to stay together. There is absolutely no blame placed between the two of us. It just got too much. It’s sad, and it will be painful as hell to get used to, but it is nonetheless inevitable. The “I want from you / I wish I could but I can’t”-cycle can so easily turn into a severely destructive “I demand / You refuse”-pattern. And, if possible, we’d rather like to avoid that.

Unfortunately it puts us in a very tricky situation from a practical point of view. As I haven’t been working for more than about seven weeks since the beginning of December last year I have no savings to fall back on. At all. Also, I have, since my last blog entry had to leave my job. And even putting that aside, it would be completely and utterly void of any form of realism to assume that I will be able to go back to full time employment any time soon. It’s not for lack of trying – because I did, and it’s certainly not from lack of want – but the reality is that where I’m at now I can already barely get myself through the day – and any added pressure is likely to be detrimental to me.

So, the ideal scenario that Dev and I had naïvely thought out was that he’d be staying in the flat, (since he’s the one with an income), changing the contract from a joint tenancy when it comes up for renewal at the end of the month, and me being given help with re-locating, based on the fact that we are no longer together, and so I should qualify for income support, housing and council tax benefits etc.

But, as always seems to be the case, things just don’t run that smoothly in S-land.. Not even when it comes to something like declaring yourself as at risk of becoming homeless.

Enter the phenomena of legal Catch-22. Since it’s a bit of a jungle of rules (none of which seems to help anyone, I might add) I’ll break it down for you:

– The council doesn’t feel that I fit the criteria as a being at risk of becoming homeless, as I – from a legal point of view – have an interest in the property where I am currently staying. They are therefore unable to help me.

– I can’t simply move out or allow Dev to take over the contract without fight, since that would mean that I have relinquished my right to the property, and I have thus made myself intentionally homeless. Again meaning that the council has no legal obligation to help me.

– Finally, I can’t sign the tenancy agreement on my own, since doing so knowing that I can’t afford the rent will lead the landlord to evict me – and again – I will have made myself intentionally homeless, and the council gets away with not offering me any kind of help.

So what are my options? Well, according to the council; to remain in the 1 bedroom flat that is also occupied by my former partner until such a time as I am able to secure alternative accommodation on my own.

Seems crazy? I’d say so. But who am I to argue? I am, after all, suffering from a mental illness and my view carries little or no weight. And the fact that I have been paying taxes all my life in order to help people in my situation, well – forget it.. Apparently the fact that you have done your bit doesn’t mean that you have a right to help when you need it.

I have been in touch with Shelter, a charity helping people who either are or are at risk of becoming homeless. They have decided that they will try to help me, but unfortunately, no matter how you turn things around, I do have a legal right to remain in my current accommodation. So, we’ve had to come up with a different argument in order for me to get the help I so desperately need. The argument is that it is not reasonable for me to occupy the property on the grounds that doing so would have a detrimental effect on my mental health condition. In other words; staying in an environment which has previously been highly supportive but no longer is, is very likely to make me more depressed, and is therefore equal to putting me at risk. As such I would be considered an adult at risk, and the council would have to house me.

As I’m sure you can understand, this is, no matter how true, a horrendous thing to have to do, knowing that there is no way I would still be alive, had it not been for Dev sticking by me up until now.. Although reality is that it isn’t healthy for me to stay where I am, it just seems such a harsh thing having to argue this point against someone who genuinely has given his all to help for as long as he has been able to.

There are a few other really big things going on in my life right now, but, again, I need to allow myself some more Thinking-It-Through-time before sharing this with you.

Although the basis for this blog is to be as honest as I can about what is happening in my life – I think that it is of equal importance to sometimes reflect before sharing. I’d rather wait and be able to write nakedly and honestly about it later on, than to tell half the story now, leaving too much to the imagination, too much to chance..

SO, once again, thank you for your patience

All the very best and more,

xx