Remember September & Stepping Into The New Year

It’s been a while since I posted a proper update, I know. Things have been very difficult and it’s all felt too raw to put it down in black and white. To pick up where I left off: I went to the assessment at Drayton Park Women’s Crisis Centre and was offered a place the same day. It was very hard going back there, having not needed that kind of help in quite a few years. So much of my time at the therapeutic community I was staying in was designed to keep you away from the NHS mental health system, to find other ways of getting the support you need, preferably away from medication and hospital. So it was a big decision going back to Drayton Park. But needs must sometimes, and sometimes you have to swallow your pride and just accept any kind of help you can get.

The whole first week and a half at Drayton I spent virtually all of my time in my room, feeling unable to be around people other than my named support workers. I simply felt to embarrassed to be around people while I was fighting the near constant stream of flashbacks, as the things I do to ground myself can look quite odd if you don’t know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. I did have quite a few people come visit me, which felt more OK, because they were all people who know what I’m usually like, and who I knew could handle seeing me in that very very difficult emotional place. I know it’s hard to see someone you love struggle in the way I was – constantly having to fight this torrent of intrusive flashbacks.

Flashbacks aren’t a new phenomenon to me; regular readers will know that I suffer from single flashbacks frequently, and experience periods of sequential flashbacks every so often, but this was on a scale I’ve never known before. I’ve always understood the single flashbacks as an indicator of sorts that I am ready to perhaps deal with that specific incident in my therapy, and the periods of flashbacks tend to begin either when A. is away or when I am very stressed out about other things. But this, it was just something entirely different. A whole different ball game. As I said earlier, initially I was experiencing an incessant flow of flashbacks, most of them reasonably short and all of things I already knew had happened. Though never a pleasant experience, I was able to come out of them fairly quickly. What was really wearing me down – apart from the re-experience of the abuse situations – was the fact that they were so frequent. It felt very much as if as soon as I had worked my way out of one flashback another started, like one flashback triggered the next, and it took essentially all of my energy to remain fully in the present.

Then, one day – and I still don’t quite know why – the flashbacks changed. They became less frequent and were about things I had no conscious memory of. Although the reclining frequency was a welcome break, making it possible to at least go out of my room and spend time in the art room, it was absolutely terrifying. I always knew that there were gaps in my memory, pertaining to one specific person, but some of the things that came out were things I had absolutely no recollection of at all. I know that what emerged in those flashbacks did happen, that they weren’t figments of my imagination [although at times I tried very hard to convince myself that maybe they were].. The best way I can describe it is that it felt like I was remembering things I had forgotten I knew. These flashbacks tended to be more like long sequences, and were a lot harder to come out of, I think, in part because they caught me so unawares, memorywise, but also because the content of them were cruelty on a whole new level, and I felt paralysed by fear, unable to do the things I usually do to come out of the flashbacks. And I have to say, I’m still dealing with those memories now, feeling utterly traumatised by what those flashbacks unveiled.

I ended up spending a full three weeks at Drayton Park, and throughout those weeks, being stripped of the release and relief my various means of self-harm offered, they were probably the worst three weeks in my entire life. Every day I would ask the staff – pleading with them – to please, please let me have my scalpels, just for a little while, just to get a small break from the flashbacks. And each day my support workers told me no, because although their policy is that they recognise self-harm as a genuine coping-strategy for some people, they felt that my cutting would not be safe and could end in me, accidentally or intentionally, cutting to kill myself rather than to just relieve pain. Also, owing to my previous track record at Drayton Park, downing a pint of anti-freeze in a bid to end my life, my trust/credit rating with the staff isn’t the greatest, so their decision to not allow me to use any form of self-harm to cope, is entirely understandable.

I am now back home. Things are still difficult. The flashbacks aren’t as frequent, but I still have them fairly regularly, and it seems that an underlying depression is rearing its ugly head, and I am often struggling to get out of bed at all, unless I have to. I push myself to get to therapy and to not completely disappear in my own misery, but it’s hard work.

One thing that is good is that we’re now in the middle of a period called Yamim Noraim, [lit. Days Of Awe, commonly referred to as the High Holy Days, is the period between Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur] – so there are a lot of things going on at shul, and so I have more things than usual that I need to get to. Also, on the days I simply haven’t been able to go to service I’ve been able to follow it online, and I’ve made a point of always making sure I am up and appropriately dressed, even if I’m only attending service via the internet.

All in all, it’s still a bit of a roller coaster; one good day, one bad and so on, but I suppose that it’s better to have some better days than none at all.

So, for a better and sweeter new year,

שנה טובה ומתוקה

~ Shanah Tova Umetukah ~

xx

OK – so this isn’t for this new year, but this Rosh HaShanah video from Michelle Citrin still makes me smile. I mean, c’mon – I named my blog after one of her songs, after all.

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Fortune Favours The Brave – An Entry About Daring To Change

*

“I’m so sorry, Geri. I’m so sorry that happened to you.”
“Don’t be.” She shook her head. “Like I said – it’s in the past. It’s OK.”

She shrugged and her sudden calm frightened me. She seemed so distanced, so disconnected from it all. As if what she had gone through was the norm, nothing special – not worth thinking about.

“No,” I said quietly. “It’s not OK.” I steadied my voice. “It’s not OK at all, Geri.”


*

The above is an extract from DGB, from a chapter called “Honesty”, and it rings truer than I realised when writing it. The book is not an autobiography, but I guess it’s fair to say that there is a lot of me in it and to a certain extent I suppose it can be justifiably argued that the character of Geri is largely biographic, or at the very least semi-biographic. The way she acts and reacts is sometimes much more close to the bone than I was aware when writing it.

A prime example of this is the passage above. Geri’s behaviour, her way of acting, is what is really at the very heart of what I’m currently trying to work on; the sense of complete detachment from the traumas in my life.

I guess it’s a defence mechanism that’s kicked in to shield me from the raw reality of my own story. “If I don’t feel it, maybe it didn’t happen. And if it didn’t happen, then I’d be happy.” Something like that. That’s basically how I’ve got by all my life.

Only now I’m trying to break this habit of switching off, and it’s proving much more difficult that I’d imagined. I’m so skilled at keeping my guard up that I don’t really know how to lower it anymore, and more often than not I need someone to steer me in the right direction.

I’ve spent many nights throughout this past year on the phone with a friend of mine, and I’ve talked to her about things I haven’t really been able to talk about with anyone else before. There is just something about her that makes it possible for me to do it. Not only the fact that I feel she’ll be able to handle whatever I throw at her, but also that she has this way of listening with an intensity that is almost palpable. It’s so vibrant I feel I could reach out and touch it. She’ll hold back, listen and think, sometimes letting the silence hang heavily on the line between us for minutes before she’ll relay her opinion to me. And, during these nocturnal conversations I’ve come to see that more often than not she’s right. Not in the sense of her being right and me being wrong, but in the sense that her ideas and suggestions seem to link in very closely with what I need to be doing; they tend to be both valid and valuable.

I’ve found myself dropping off the cuff remarks, and rather than just letting them slide, like most people would, this very special friend of mine will hold on to them, examine them and return them to me in a more manageable form.

Counselling works a lot like this for me also. I make a statement, not really thinking it holds much meaning, and D. will grab hold of it, turn it around a little bit and help me explore it. Sometimes I’ll argue myself silly to prove her wrong only to leave our session and slowly, over the coming days, realise that things are exactly as she had suggested.

It’s not that I’m unintelligent or particularly blind to my own situation. It’s just that emotionally I’m something of a slow learner. Or rather, I learned some lessons much to soon, at a much too early age, and I now find myself struggling to unlearn them. And, I guess, like any scholar I need a mentor to point me in the right direction.

There are many, to other people, basic skills that I find myself lacking. Take trust, for example. I learned very early in my life that if you trust someone it can leave you enormously vulnerable. The consequence of this is, of course, that I avoid doing this. I keep people at arm’s length. They can come knocking at my door, and I’ll help them as much as I possibly can, standing on the threshold, but I won’t let them into my home. And I certainly won’t let them help me.

Or at least that’s how I used to be. I am trying, as I said earlier, to unlearn some of my habits. And I feel I have made some progress, especially in the trust department. Although I am still a far cry from being trusting, I do try to let people take at least a few steps into my life. And it makes a huge difference, I’ve found.

In a counselling session some weeks ago I said that I have always had very high expectations of myself, always strived to be able to manage everything I set out to do. Following this statement D. pointed out that it is almost the polar opposite to how I treat everyone else around me. That, in fact, I seem to never expect anything from anyone. She used herself as an example, asking me what I expected from her. At first I drew a complete and utter blank, and I had to really think before I finally came up with the answer “That you’re here when you’re meant to be here.” I didn’t express any hopes or wishes that she’d be able to help me or that she should care about what I tell her, care about me – nothing like that sprung to mind at all. And I think that says a lot about me. About the way I have been relating to people all my life. And I know that it is something that I need to make a conscious effort to change.

Luckily I am blessed to have a lot of people in my life who are more than willing to let me practise on them, who will hold on tightly to my hand as I test the waters for the first time in a long long while.

xx