When You Have No Voice – Making A Decision To Communicate

It’s been a long time, I know, but I’ll try to put you all back in the picture, as I know you will have all been eagerly awaiting my next update. [What? No?]

In the last few weeks I have been dealing with one of those much dreaded periods of flashbacks, and things have often felt completely and utterly hopeless. The flashbacks have by no means gone, but there have been a few days every once in a while when there have been fewer, and I’ve been able to find at least a little breathing space in between. When things are bad, that’s the time to focus on small blessings.

At the beginning of last week I had to go into hospital for a whole battery of tests and examinations. Part of these was a gynaecological exam, which for me is essentially an equivalent to psychological torture through physical means. I always try to prepare whoever is doing the exam by explaining that I come from a background of having been sexually abused as a child, and that these exams are pretty much garanteed to trigger off flashbacks; in short that they may need to brace themselves for my emotional response. They then usually say something along the lines of “Don’t worry, darling, I’ve seen it all before”, which is of course very kind and much appreciated, but it generally tends to become apparent that this is not really the case. When they’re faced with the sobbing heap these exams turn me into, it’s often clear that I react worse than most people they’ve examined. This then spirals into this odd cycle of them feeling sorry for me, and me feeling sorry for them having to carry out the exam on me..

So, not nice at all.

This particular nurse was absolutely fantastic, though, I have to say. It was very obvious that she was affected by my reaction to what she was doing, but because she was very open about that, I found that somehow reassuring and it in many ways it helped bring me out of the flashbacks and back into the here and now where we both were.

Concurrent with the flashbacks and general depression I have this week come down with some seriously nasty bug. This bug, by the way, is completely unrelated to the hospital thing, unless I have really lucked out and managed to contract MRSA while I was there..

At first I thought it was just hay fever, as this is the season when I usually have to stay indoors with my inhaler close to hand at all times. Had a very painful throat – not sore – painful, something I don’t usually get with my hay fever, but initially I just assumed that my body had decided to take my allergies to the next level. As it turns out this wasn’t it. Came down with a 39C temperature [that’s 102F, if you’re so inclined] in the middle of the week, and it’s been going ever since. So, what with the painful throat and the fever I’ve essentially had to be on paracetamol non-stop. It’s not great, Ibuprofen tends to be more effective, but for various reasons I am currently banned from taking that particular pain reliever, so there you go.

Feeling miserable on all levels is not a great place to exist and things have been unbelievably difficult. I know my last entry was pretty dire, and from there I suppose you could say things went south. Having no therapy has been really challenging, it feels like years until A. returns from maternity leave. But, I am still around, still fighting – even if the evidence of this has not been posted on my blog.

This Friday I had been invited to two sedarim – the special meal eaten by Jews on the first night of Pesach, but instead I spent the evening in bed, fighting flashbacks and this blasted bug. Last night I had booked a place at the communal 2nd night seder at my shul together with many of my friends. I did make it there, in fact even went for a pre-seder drink with one of my friends, but didn’t make it through the meal. Was feeling incredibly rough and then began having flashbacks, and I had to make the decision that I needed to make sure I could make it home safely before things got even worse. Hated having to leave, but as it turns out it was probably a wise choice.

This morning I woke up having absolutely no voice.

I have lost my voice in the past, but never quite this completely, and it’s kind of an interesting thing; the second you discover you have no voice [in my case when I began recording a voice message for my sister] you realise how much you rely on it.

I don’t usually use my phone or computer on Shabbat or during religious festivals. This is not so much because it’s biblically and/or rabbinically decreed that one should not use iPads or Blackberrys during festivals, as much as – being a modern reform Jew – I’ve made the informed decision that for me stepping away from all my techie gadgets and disconnecting for a bit makes those times different to other times. I am normally contactable at any given moment, day or night, be it through texts, Facebook updates or tweets, and so I like to make Shabbat and festivals different and special to other days, through unplugging in this way. Admittedly, most of my friends think this is completely bonkers, but hey, it’s just the way I roll.

However, since that accidental-on-purpose over-dose the other week, I decided that it’s actually a lot more life-embracing to temporarily break that self-imposed rule than to keep it. Which is why you are seeing this update today, during a week I would normally steer clear of modern technology.

To help me through particularly rough patches over these past few weeks I have often sought support over the telephone from my sisters, my friends and the Samaritans, regardless of whether or not this has been on Shabbat. Being able to talk about what’s going on, both physically and psychologically, makes me feel less like I’m on my own in this.

So, as you can imagine, waking up this morning, with no voice at all, has come as a bit of a shock, and has left me feeling very vulnerable. Which is why I’m sitting here now, writing this..

I guess that even when you haven’t got an audible voice, you can still find ways of making yourself heard.

Do be kind to yourselves,

xx

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Three Key Rules For Surviving The Present

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“..when all I really want, I said to myself, is to survive the present..”

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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.

xx

The quote at the top is from the book Are You Somebody? © Nuala O'Faolain

Being Wrong & Self-Elected Madness

No one likes to be wrong, right? Wrong.
Right now I’m ecstatic to have been proven wrong. As it turns out snowballs do have a chance in hell; Sweden just knocked the Czech Republic out of the Ice-Hockey World Championships and claimed their place in the battle for gold on Sunday evening. Can’t wait! Go Tre Kronor!

Later tonight Finland and Russia go head to head over the other slot for the final. I’m rooting for Finland in this game. I probably shouldn’t, because Sweden-Finland games tend to be very hard on the old ticker. Lots of history there. But – the games are usually well worth watching. Maybe we should strike a deal with the Fins if they make it to the final; if they let us win the ice-hockey they can win the Eurovision Song Contest.

All this ice-hockey excitement aside, there is something to be said about sport on an international level. It boosts our national pride and strengthens our national identity: we get together and celebrate or commiserate. We’re united, a team. And in a world where we are becoming more and more detached, where even our next-door-neighbours are often faceless strangers, this is not to be underestimated.

Also, sport is an excellent opportunity to express emotions. To let both victorious jubilation and devastating disappointment out, to let it show on the outside, to not hold back. Complete and utter release. It’s good stuff!

So, to those of you who don’t see the point in playing or watching sport, it’s actually a pretty healthy thing to engage in. There’s even been books written about the psychology of it all. More than one, in fact. One which I particularly liked was Football Delirium by psychoanalyst Chris Oakley in which he argues that football offers us the possibility of manageable doses of self-elected madness. This guy gets sport. He is also self-electedly mad. In a good way.

Whether you’re into sport or not, I’d recommend it:

Anyway, soon be time for face-off in the second ice-hockey semi-final of the day, and I need to do some manic last minute pre-Shabbat prep. As much as I love ice-hockey, Shabbat comes first.

That’s just the way I roll.

Be good to yourselves,

xx

Rough, Rougher, The Roughest

Another week gone by. On the whole it’s been a good week. Training, work, therapy and.. well.. those other things I do. Seems like a winning concept to me.

Had a rough session on Friday, though. Possibly the roughest one yet. Especially in contrast to the one I had on Tuesday, which was essentially me faffing about completely random things. [A. pointed out that they weren’t necessarily irrelevant things, but, honestly – to some degree they were].

On to the Friday session. I could feel it the second I walked through the door. It hit me straight off. In fact I struggled to say anything at all at the beginning of session. It happens sometimes. My mind goes blank. But this time the silence wasn’t down to a mental blankness. I could feel something very heavily in my head, and an almost physical gag over my mouth, stopping me from speaking.

Eventually, I did manage to speak. At first about something trivial: I had forgot to put my ring on, the one my parents gave me years and years ago, and which I go through periods of wearing. So, not wearing it, I felt naked. Felt like something was missing. Like there was nothing to hide behind. I often fiddle with that ring in session. A nervous habit. But it works.

And then I launched into the Real Stuff. Which lead on to even more Real Stuff, and ended with me actually talking about The Abuse. Something I haven’t really ever done, apart from during the court hearing years and years ago, and that – as I pointed out to A. later in the session – is very different, because it’s essentially presenting facts, it’s not really talking about anything. [Which is probably why, at the time, I was able to do it – I was just completely emotionlessly describing situations of abuse, without even properly reflecting on what I was talking about, or even that it was me I was talking about.]

So, yes, this was different. It was rough. Seriously rough. But, amazingly, somehow I did manage to talk about some things. Not through the use of pictures [as I did in that session months ago, talking about flashbacks], but through actual words. There were times when I stumbled, and other times when I felt like I was going to be sick, but somehow I still did talk about some of the things that happened. The extent of it. Even managed to talk a little about the feelings attached to talking about it.

At the end of it I felt completely emotionally exhausted, and, glancing over at A. I could see that she seemed to be in a similar place, which, in a way, was strangely reassuring. Felt like a real connection. Some sort of meeting.

Left feeling a combination of lightheadedness and nausea. Headed straight for the nearest shop to get chocolate. After-therapy comfort-eating. [Not that I actually ate it – I still have it here now].

Since FriSat is Special Day for me, I put all of the worries about the consequences of this session out of my head for the time being. But now that Special Day is over, well, those worries are re-emerging. I’ve got this fear lurking once again; Will A. be able to cope with this? What if I pushed too hard? What if I’ve broken her?

Please, hold your “It’s her job, she’ll find a way”s [and any variations on that theme]. The point here is not really how reasonable or not this reaction to sharing difficult stuff is. I can see as well as the next person that this is a reaction based on experience of how other people in my life have felt unable to cope with hearing my story. I know this. And I also know that A. is not them. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling this way. That doesn’t stop the What ifs. What if it turns out that this actually is too much? What if she really can’t cope?

Reality-based or not, this is how I feel. And so it is valid.

Hm. I really need to work on this whole I-know-how-people-will-respond-and-judge-thing. Yeah, yeah, I know.

But that’s a whole nother session.
Or ten.

Be well.

xx