Making Sense Of Abuse & The Need To Feel Heard

I really shouldn’t be writing this. I ought to be writing an essay on attachment. Especially seeing as I’m working to an absolute deadline, having already exhausted all opportunity for extension. Only I simply haven’t got the head space to do any studying. Or anything else, really. In fact, if you find this post a bit fragmented that is because it has been written in fragments; a sentence here and there whenever I’ve had a short break from the hellish onslaught of constant flashbacks I am currently experiencing.

I’ve spent a lot of time in these past ten days [or however long it has been] talking both to the Samaritans and the Rape & Sexual Abuse Support Line. Talking to them doesn’t stop the flashbacks; I will often continue having them even while I’m on the phone, but at least, when I come out of them I’m not alone. Also, I’ve come to realise that what I really crave is to be allowed to tell my story. To share what happened to me. And, more importantly, to feel heard. To hear the reaction of others, when they hear what happened to me has played an important part in coming to see that what went on while I was growing up was actually quite bad.

Rather unsurprisingly, I’m very good at minimalising the abuse that I was subjected to as a child and teenager. Minimalising what went on is in essence how I got through it. I genuinely believe that had I allowed myself to see the magnitude of what was going on at the time there is no way I could have survived it. At least not with my sanity intact. So I dissociated and numbed myself to the whole experience.

But, there comes a point when you have to begin to look openly and honestly at what really happened. There is no way that you can forever keep running from it. Sooner or later you have to find the courage to look the past in the eye or you will never be able to heal. By that I don’t meant that it is necessary to explore in minute detail every single abuse situation you were ever in, but that one has to face one’s own emotions about what happened.

When I think back to the things my oldest brother did to me – not through flashbacks, but simply by normal recall – I can’t say that I remember feeling much at all. Maybe, very early on, when I was little, I have a vague memory of feeling confused, but that’s about the extent of conscious emotions. The rest is something of an emotional void. What is happening now with the flashbacks – and what makes them so terrifying – is that it is as if I am now reliving what happened, with the emotional response I should have had, but couldn’t have, as a child.

As a child, even from very early on, I always knew what was happening didn’t feel right, but in order to cope with it, I very soon began to understand ‘not feeling right’ as a the normal state of being. The abuse became so routine that it seemed no less normal to me than going to school or doing my chores. It was just one of the many parts that made up my day-to-day life.

I think the abuse began around the time when I was about four and a half, because that’s the earliest I can remember, and my brother says that was roughly when it started. Of course it could have started earlier, but I simply haven’t got any memories – happy or sad – from before that time.

It went on for a very long time – all the way until I was 17 – and only came to light because I tried to kill myself. There was one occasion, when I was about seven, when I did try to tell my mother about what my brother was doing to me [although my mother says this never happened, that I never told her], but unfortunately that ended disastrously with my mother unable to take on board what I was saying to her, and I never again tried to tell anyone. For years I held on to that question mark posed by my mother, that maybe I really hadn’t told her, because that idea was so much easier to cope with, so much less painful, than the idea that I did tell my mother and she was unable to do anything about it. There are definitive mitigating circumstances in terms of why my mother couldn’t cope with what I was telling her, but the unavoidable fact remains: as a consequence of my mother’s inability to intervene the abuse carried on for another ten years, which is – of course – and absolute eternity.

There was one year, when I was eight going on nine, when things could have changed quite dramatically. That year my brother was away from home, doing his military service – which was at the time mandatory. In a tragic twist, that same year – which could have been an opportunity for me to get to experience what life without abuse might be like – my parents decided to take in a foster child, a much damaged 16-year-old refugee boy from the Lebanon who had seen war up close and who was deeply disturbed by it. Cut a long story short, he began abusing me almost immediately after moving in with us.

What happened with this person was something I was completely unprepared for. You see, with my brother, what he got off on, was the idea that what went on was something we both wanted. So he would constantly be asking me questions. Do you like this? Does this feel good? What would you like to do? And I soon learned what was expected of me, learned to step into the role he wanted me to play. With this other person, there was something entirely different that motivated him. What he enjoyed was to see me terrified and in pain. Whereas with my brother I could choose to either step into a role – in a sense choose to not be me – or to dissociate and go somewhere else in my mind while he was doing what he was doing, with this other person, he wouldn’t allow me to do that. If he noticed that I was zoning out, he would slap my face to bring me back to the present, or he would hold my chin and peer into my eyes, thereby ensuring I couldn’t escape him or what he was doing to me. He had a knife strapped to his leg, concealed underneath his jeans – he called it his Rambo knife – which he would hold against my neck while he was raping me. Not with the sharp edge, but with the blunt back of it, just as a mind game making sure I could never be sure if this would be the time he would finally kill me. Even in completely normal situations he would play these horrendous mind games with me. For example, we would all be out in the garden, him, my brothers and I, playing football. He would then kick the ball far away, my brothers turning their backs to us, running after the ball, and as soon as they did, he would grab me by my throat and throw me against the wall of the house, choking me – and then immediately let go the second my brothers were turning back, as if to drive home the message that it doesn’t matter where we are or who is around, I can do whatever I want to you, whenever I want.

I had a very good session with A. earlier this week, where I for the first time ever, talked about the way the abuse happened. Not details of what actually happened or specific incidents, but the ways in which I was made to be compliant with it, both through things that were said, and through things that didn’t need to be said.

I spent an entire year in fear of this other person, and what happened with him; the violence, the threats and the psychological mind games matched exactly the stereotype painted by media. It took years for me to appreciate that what my brother did, the subtle grooming, coercion and indirect coaching, was also abuse.

But it’s all coming back now – all the pent up emotions – in the form of flashbacks.
And it’s really really scary.

xx

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Self-Harm & Self-Piercing

Not very long until A. is back now.

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

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

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

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

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

The end result is a freshly pierced nose.

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

A piercing to me is different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First and foremost;

remember to be kind to yourselves.

xx

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

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

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

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

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

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.

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

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Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back – An Entry About Slow But Steady Progress

As you’ve probably noticed reading my blog, I have been increasingly struggling with some very dark thoughts of self-harm and suicide. I’ve been doing my very best to be able to contain myself, to keep myself safe and to not act on my impulses. I’ve been calling various helplines at all hours of the day and night and using tens of different distraction techniques. Basically, I’ve given it my all to make it through, to hold it together, until D. comes back and I’ll once again have the space and the guidance I so desperately need.

But sometimes, as hard as you try, it’s just not enough. Lately I have felt myself seriously slipping and losing my focus, forgetting altogether what it is that I want to achieve.

So, I decided to do something for me drastically different. I decided that rather than tell people I need help by acting on my impulses, drinking anti-freeze and suchlike, I would simply reach out and ask for it. I spoke to a very close friend of mine who called up the Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre to start a referral. There were a few ifs and buts, but the sum total is that I am back at the centre now for one week, to give me the chance to re-discover what the real me is like. I remember reading Freud’s metaphor for regression where he likened the phenomenon to that of an army retreating to the last safe stronghold. Much in the same way have I now retreated to the last place I felt I could get the help and support I need. This is not in any way criticism towards any of the many wonderful people I have in my life, who have all been worried and tried to help to the best of their ability – but merely stating a fact; The last time I felt really safe and able to express my fears was at Drayton Park – at my sessions with D. and also during my residence there earlier in the year.

I have been allocated two key workers – both of whom I have not worked much with in the past, but I have also had one-to-ones with one of my main workers from my last stay, and I think the combination of new input and ideas and talking to someone who knows me reasonably well is very helpful for me.

I have changed a lot since my last stay there, and also my stay this time around will, as I mentioned before, be decidedly shorter; one week compared to the five weeks of my previous stay. So, it’s different. It’s different also because there are different women staying there at the moment. However, there are two people there from my last stay, and that’s really nice – it means I don’t get as shy as I normally get around people I don’t know very well, and it helps me challenge myself to interact with the people I don’t yet know.

Another change, and one of the really major changes within is how I really feel about myself. I suppose that it goes hand in hand with starting to allow myself to feel things about the actual abuse; it alters the way I feel about myself. And although some may argue that I’ve always had a somewhat weak self-image this somehow feels different now. Whereas I may previously have disliked aspects of myself I now genuinely loathe everything that I am, and I feel absolutely disgusted by myself.

I am aware that this is an enormously common way for abuse survivors to feel; in fact I talked about this this very morning with my previous key worker. That in order to overcome and heal I need to acknowledge, in the true sense of the word, the fact that what happened really was abuse, and much like how people mourning go through a series of comparatively predictive phases, so do people who have experienced abuse, often starting with questioning their own role in it, feeling as if they haven’t done what they could have to make it stop and so on and so on – ending up where I am now: sheer self-hatred.

But as much as I can intellectualise and analyse this, it doesn’t help one bit when it comes to dealing with the actual feeling. And that is where the asking for help comes in. I need someone to put things into perspective, to in a sense hold my hand. Help me chop things up to bite-size portions, rather than biting off so much that I end up choking on it.

So, to sum up; although it doesn’t change how I feel about myself or where I’m at right now, I’m glad that I did decide to ask for help before I got to the stage where I forget that I can.

Anyway, dear friends and random readers; I’m going to leave you now – I’m only home for a bit and I want to go cuddle Dev. Thank you all for your lovely and encouraging text messages. They mean a lot to me.

All the world has to offer and more,

xx

I Stumble, I Tumble, I Spin, I Fall – An Entry About Losing Control

Remember that little voice I was talking about in my last entry? The one that tells me that I’m just gonna have to get through this? That there’s no other option? It’s gone AWOL. Completely muted. It’s been nowhere to be heard this week. Not good. At all.

I am really struggling at the moment. Not just a little, but to the point of wondering if it’s really worth it. All that darn talk about light at the end of the tunnel. Yeah yeah. Sure. Whatever. What I want to know is when?? How long am I supposed to hang on to the ridiculously vague hope of things getting better? Seriously?

I feel like I have really given it my best shot. No two ways about it. I couldn’t do it any better than I am. I really couldn’t. I haven’t self-harmed for a very long time, I stopped researching suicide methods entirely, I got myself back to work and I even managed to be good to myself by deciding that working full-time is not the best thing for me right now.

I’ve ticked every single box on the “Rid yourself of depression” step-by-step list. I genuinely feel I have. And yet this depression keeps rearing its ugly head, reminding me of all the things that I am up against. No, I’m not after a free ride. Not at all. I know that there is no such thing as a free ride when it comes to depression and over-coming emotional trauma. But couldn’t I at least be allowed to have a good streak that lasted long enough for me to actually catch my breath before being pushed head first below the surface again?

I am so incredibly sick of this illness. And this whole thing with diagnosis. Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder. Big words, but what the bleeding heck is that supposed to mean? That I have been experiencing more than one depressive episode? Well, duh? Really? I’m glad you told me, ’cause I sure hadn’t noticed.. Or even worse, does it mean that I am doomed to have recurring depressive episodes forever? Honestly? Because if that’s the case, why even try to get out of the one I’m in. For the sheer joy of getting knocked down again?

I had an appointment with S., my care co-ordinator on Wednesday, and being the happy little helper that I am I agreed to allow a third year student nurse to sit in on our meeting. Big mistake I’m sorry to say. Not only did S. spend half the time explaining to him why she had wanted to meet with both me and Dev two weeks earlier etc etc etc (could she really not have gone over the background with him before actually meeting with me?) but also, – and I’m trying to put this in an as gentle way as I can – the poor fella just didn’t seem quite mentally capable of grasping the basic concept of depression and kept coming up with these annoyingly naïve positive comments to whatever I said. This, naturally, made me feel like I wasn’t being taken serious (when talking about having suffered some pretty horrendous flash-backs at work) and also I had to – yet again – practise my skill of holding my frustration back. In other words, the exact opposite of what I have been trying to do. Great! Enormously helpful.

Later in the session we ended up talking about my family and I said that I really really miss them at the moment, especially my nephews – and this guy goes “So, does that make you feel like getting back in touch with your family? Maybe they are exactly the reason you need to get back with them? Does that make you feel hopeful?” Again, surely S. could have had the foresight to have given him at least a the bare essentials on my history before inviting him to join in? Or am I being unfair?

What else? (As I’m going on a monster moan I may as well do it properly. This is meant to be honesty-focused after all). Oh yeah – as great as my boss has been in helping me out with sorting out my working hours and such, it seems my working part-time is breeding contempt in my two closest colleagues. On the one hand I can understand it – they can’t see that my day off is actually my toughest day of the entire week, but on the other hand it’s really none of their damn business what the reason for my absence is. I’ve told them that both Den and the MD of our company are aware of them, and that should be enough.

Finally.. I was meant to see D. tomorrow. But I won’t be. Unfortunately a family matter has arisen and she’s had to cancel the next two weeks of counselling. To start with. Obviously I feel for her, it’s never easy when those things happen, whatever they are, and ultimately we are all only human and sometimes we have to prioritise. But as much as I accept this, it doesn’t stop her prolonged ansence from having a pretty bad effect on me. I mean, of course that’s a mere side effect – but it’s still there. So I had a bit of a breakdown today.

I had already been struggling a good deal with thoughts of self-harm and suicidal ideation in the last few days, and in order to motivate myself to resist my urges I kept repeating to myself that I’ve made it through nearly four weeks without counselling and I just need to hang on for another few days and I’d be back on the road to normality again. That, if I think about it, it’s only hours, really, until I’d have my time back again. And that although there is no miracle cure, at least that should ease the pressure a little. The space and place that is there just for me to vent whatever is brewing in my head.

And then I was told that that’s not happening.

I was sort of ok with it for a few hours, while I was still at work. But then on the way home I just started crying. All that pent up sadness and loss and confusion just bubbled out of me. Surprisingly I actually had the mental awareness to realise that this might be rather a good thing; that allowing myself to express these feelings is precisely what I need to be doing. But, of course, me being me I quickly reverted to the safer path of checking myself out of this emotional turmoil, turning it back on myself in the way I’m most comfortable with; the self-punishing thought pattern of Blithering heck, woman, get a grip! What’s there to cry about? You have no reason to cry. Only weak people cry, and you can’t afford to be weak because people will take advantage of you. So, literally within minutes, I had switched from indulging in self-pity to absolutely bursting to find a razor and start carving up my arm.

I didn’t. God knows how, – I guess my tattoo and the lack of razors in my flat helped somewhat – and I didn’t. Instead I picked the phone up. First I called the Samaritans and found myself having another good cry over the pathetic mess that is my life, how stupid I am to even think that good things would ever happen to me and how I’m never going to get away from feeling this way. Then I called Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre. I’m not even really sure why. It was just something I did. One of the workers picked up – the one who’s always so cheerful I can’t help but to think of her as being chemically imbalanced no matter how sweet she is – and even though I’ve never actually had a one to one session with her I just started to cough up how badly I was wrestling with the idea of harming myself. She assumed that this was a direct result of having been told that I won’t be seeing D. earlier in the day. I didn’t even get a chance to tell her that this urge has been intensifying over the last few days, but maybe that doesn’t really matter – because I’m pretty sure that although this explosion of emotion isn’t purely down to my disappointment with this setback, it was more than likely the final trigger.

Hm.. Odd.. As I’ve been writing this seizmically proportioned rant I think that little voice has returned. Fair enough, it’s still very faint, and my demons definitely still outshout it. But at least it feels like it’s there.

And I guess that’s something.

I just hope I can hold on to it.

xx

“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..” [Nuala O’Faolain]

Moving At My Own Speed – An Entry About Accepting My Limitations

I’m struggling.
As I was saying to someone recently – I’m better than I was a couple of months ago, but worse than I have been in the last few weeks. I’m sure I’ll pull through, but it’s still difficult at the moment.

D. has been away for two weeks now and will be away for one more, meaning that I will have had no counselling for nearly a month. And it’s taking its toll. I miss having that fifty minute hour every week that’s there just for me. The safe place where I can talk about whatever is playing on my mind, where I can open up and think out loud. And, yes, damnit, I miss D. herself, too! I miss her a lot. Classic transference syndrome, I suppose; the mother I always wanted, the one who would listen and understand and more than anything react to what I say. React in a way that is appropriate to what I am telling her.

In order to manage the weeks of no counselling I have put in place a very simple coping strategy. We talked about it in my last session before she went away, since I in the past have been known to suffer in silence and then turn against myself in a radically destructive way. Basically, whenever I start feeling something, rather than pushing it away I will call one of the many helplines available to talk about it. It’s a pro-active way of avoiding going back to square one in D.’s absence. Still, as helpful as the helpline people are, they’re not quite an adequate substitute for talking to someone who actually knows my story and understands my way of thinking.

So, yes – it is tough.

Also, I started a new job a month ago. A job that is really perfect for me. Hand and glove. Or, it would be, really, had I been a hundred percent well. Ideally I had been wanting a part time job, but since it seemed such a well-suited role for me accepted it, knowing that it might be a bit too much too soon.

I made it very clear already at the interview that I would need to have Friday mornings off, since I have a regular appointment then. I didn’t tell them what the appointment was for at the interview; people have such unpredictable ideas about counselling and those in need of it – but I put it quite plainly that I would not be able to take on the job if they were unable to accommodate this. Luckily they agreed to my demand, even though I was something of an unknown quantity to them.

I started working and have really been enjoying it for the most part. I’m heading a quite big project, something I generally thrive on, and my work mates are great.

Still, I have been off work for a very long time, and reality is that it is hard to readjust. Not just mentally, but also physically. I’m not used to being out and about, I’m not tuned for a long day of thinking and coming up with creative solutions. So, while I had decided to give it a real go, I in the end had to accept that I’m not quite ready to be working full time.

One of the main issues was the fact that I felt it had an effect on my mental health progress. Although I have been able to carry on seeing D. on Fridays going back to work has presented a dilemma of sorts. One of the things that I am working very hard on, as I have mentioned before, is allowing myself to stay with my feelings. Trying to not close the door and run when I become a bit too emotional for comfort. The time immediately after my counselling sessions has been a great time for me to practise this, since it is a time where I am naturally somewhat more fragile than normal, and therefore more likely to experience strong emotions. The only problem is that now I have to go to work straight from counselling, and so I am forced to do the opposite of what I am meant to do; I have to distance myself from what I am feeling in order to be able to manage my job.

Another issue with already having a half-day off (which I, by the way, make up for by working half an hour later than everybody else every day) is that it makes it hard to be allowed time off for other things. Like seeing my care co-ordinator. I would fit it in on the Friday mornings if I could, but unfortunately she only works Monday through Wednesday.

So, last Friday I had a chat with my boss, Den. I was very open about what has been going on, and told him that unfortunately I wouldn’t be able to stay, since I’m just not up for working full time yet. I expected him to say that he was disappointed and that it would leave them in a very difficult situation since the project I’m running is such a central part of everything that goes on in the company.

Not so. Instead Den sat quietly for a few nerve-racking moments, before finally stating that he really didn’t want me to go now that he had finally found someone who not only was capable of doing the job, but who also fit in so very well with the team and that he’d simply have to persuade the powers that be to allow me to stay on as a part-timer.

After a near week of living in limbo, not knowing whether or not I should start looking for a new job, Den came back to me and told me that I’d be able to stay. I’ll be working Monday to Thursday, 9-17. Also, I will be given the flexibility to take extra time off to see my care co-ordinator. He said that he had talked to our MD and explained that basically they’d have to find a way or I would walk, and that he since I had told him my reasons for needing this he was absolutely certain that I wasn’t bluffing. Our MD had then basically said that in that case there really was no option – that I’d be doing part-time, because they couldn’t afford losing me.

Needless to say I’m more than just a little relieved at this.
I had mentally prepared myself, even before starting my new job, that I might not be able to handle it. To tell myself that it’s just a job, and there are more important things for me to focus on at the moment.

And I suppose that although I stumble every once in a while and I am struggling a bit right now, things are doubtlessly moving in the right direction and that, actually, I am coping. I just need to keep reminding myself of that. It’s so easy to forget the things you have been able to do and see only the things you have failed at, and it takes time to learn the skill of pointing out the good rather than the bad. But, I’m getting there. Slowly. At my own speed.

xx