What I Did And Didn’t Want

Do I exaggerate? That’s a rhetorical question for most of you.  My family (who might or might not be reading) are welcome to try to answer that question but you must be kind.  Very kind.  Your purpose in attempting to answer must be purely to educate me and not to, in any way, attack me or get back at me for some random, unrelated misdemeanor.  The question is really one for myself if I am completely truthful.  It won’t be the first time I try to answer, and it certainly won’t be the last.

I just have got the impression over the years that those people close to me have the impression that yes, I do exaggerate.  Personally I don’t think I do.  I think that I feel things strongly and that I notice a lot of what is happening around me.  Perhaps more than others.  But when I express it, it’s not exaggeration but simply what I am seeing and/or experiencing.

This past week I have been through a lot, and for some of the people around me, they have been through even more.  It has been really hard.  Emotional, soul-searching and stressful.  And no, that’s not an exaggeration.  It has been hard on us, and it’s not over yet.  Actually in some ways I suspect it is only just beginning.  For some of us, it has been something that we always knew might happen, going even as far back as childhood.

It comes down to what I did, and didn’t want.  Clear as mud, I know!

It’s always important to me that just because I am a blogger, that doesn’t mean those around me must have their lives printed here too.  As such, there are no details.  If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you will know that is how I sometimes write in order to protect the privacy of those people.

For what seems like a long time, I have been very concerned about something that others around me seemed to not see.  Of course, we see not only what is apparent but also what we are open and willing to see.  In addition, we can only see what is there.  If it comes and goes, if at times it gets hidden, it is pretty hard for others to see.

No one has said it out loud but I got the impression that they thought I was exaggerating.  Maybe they thought that was because of my mental illness.  I don’t know.  No one has ever said.  Maybe they thought I was simply too emotional and reacting too strongly to what I could see.  Again, I don’t know.  No one has ever said.

This week finally, some other people told me that they could see what I could see.  Wow!  That was such a relief (in some ways!).  As I watched them, watch what was going on, I was quietly terrified that they would say they couldn’t see it.  They didn’t.  They could see it clear as day.

It’s hard because I wanted them to see, but at the same time I wanted to be wrong.  I know that will make little sense, but I guess it’s just human nature.  I wanted to be right, but I also didn’t want to be right.

I was right, and actually those other people assessing what was happening, were even more concerned than I was.  I didn’t know how to feel then.  I wasn’t quite ready for the depth of their concern, even though I was glad they could see and were concerned.

What had been sometimes unspoken, and sometimes barely whispered, had now come amongst us.  I had really hoped it never would.  Others around me had hoped it never would.  Even those who had passed on hoped it never would.  But now, here it was, and there was no denying it… for any of us.  I got what I wanted.  I wanted others to see.  But now I really didn’t want what I had got.

I can’t wind back the clock, and that is painful.  I want the clock set on today when everyone concerned can see what I see, but I so don’t want it.  It’s totally thrown me off-balance, even though I wanted this, I also knew that what I wanted was the last thing I would ever want.

If you’re confused, then I apologise, but just imagine how I might be feeling with all this in my head.

I think I need a rest.

“Because that’s life, you know? Good and bad. You can’t have one without the other. The bad brings out the good in us, and the good can be corrupted by the bad. It’s always a struggle—to fight for the good, so it tips the scale. – Jet Phoenix”

― Rachael Wade, Repossession

 

An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

Caution: This post contains a (small) mention of self harm and eating disorders.  Read at your discretion.

Today my family are gathering together.  No special reason, except that it is a rare opportunity when we are all in the same place at the same time.  My memory is a little hazy but I’m guessing that it is about 18 months since we have been altogether.  Of course, one important person will be missing.  My father who died over three years ago is a very big absence in the room.  Perhaps especially because Dad was always my reason for being part of the family.  Now I feel a little lost without him there.

Family gatherings are something I find hard.  I have fallen near the tree yet I struggle to find a place for myself amongst that basket of apples.  I don’t fit.  Perhaps I should say I don’t feel I fit.  Actually I have never felt I belonged there.  I guess, that I have felt an outsider in so much of life, and the family context is just one more.

In the past I have tried very hard to get my family to reject me.  I grew up with this notion of unconditional love, which I didn’t believe really existed and also didn’t really understand.  I spent years doing and being something that I expected my family would reject.  I would prove that this unconditional love thing was a hoax.  To my surprise, they didn’t reject me.  Perhaps they didn’t like what I did always, but they never rejected me.  I admit I was surprised.  I was sure I could prove them out, but I never did.  For some reason, largely beyond my understanding, they kept on loving me.

I’m not at all sure that they necessarily like me, or actually ever liked me, but that is a different thing than love.

I don’t fit.  I’m not sure that I fit anywhere in this planet (except maybe surrounded by another family of stuffed animals) and so when I am in a group (whether it is my family or any other) I feel out of place.

While my siblings were creating marriages and families (very lovable families at that), I was creating a canvas across my body of places I had dragged the razor blade, not to mention destroying my own marriage.

When they were building careers, I was focussed on starving myself  and plans for death.

When they were building lives, I was gradually destroying mine.

Admittedly I am not in that destruction phase now, but I know it still hovers not far from the distance.  That’s just what chronic mental illness does.

When their children are growing up (fast), I am by choice, alone.  I don’t know how to be anything else, nor do I think I want to.

My life has turned out (so far) very different from my family.  Practically, I have no idea what to talk about with them.  My interests, let alone my goals are so very different.  But more than that, I just feel like I have no right to belong.  My achievement for life is to still be living today, and while that is big for me, I know it is not easily comprehended by others.  Nor is it something to talk about around the dinner table while the children play.  It’s a conversation stopper rather than anything else.  I just don’t know how to fit into the conversation in the room.

I’m more comfortable outside with my good canine friend Duncan.  He will no doubt be locked in his kennel today, to protect unfamiliar children and Grandma who risks being knocked over in his exuberance and friendliness.  Frankly I would almost be happier out in the kennel with Duncan.  He’s not worried about social niceties, careers and school reports.  He’s not worried about having conversation.

But it’s not like that, is it?  I can’t hang out in the kennel, and to be honest sometimes Duncan’s kennel needs some ‘housekeeping‘.

It’s another time when I have to be with the people, yet I feel so out of place.

My family are good people and I know they love me.  I want, and need them in my life.  I’m still not convinced that it’s unconditional love but I’ve stopped trying to prove that.  I’m not sure that humans are capable of unconditional love, but maybe that’s another topic.

I know my family have suffered in a different way, during the years of my destruction.  But they seem to have little understanding of my life of chronic illness, both mental and physical.  We are two types of apples, from the one tree.  I want to be with my family today, but yet again I have no idea of how to be with them.  Somehow Duncan is so much easier.

“The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk grow away from it.” 

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Cure Me, I’m Depressed

Recently I had the opportunity to watch the UK television documentary Cure Me, I’m Gay in which a gay doctor (Dr Christian Jessen) subjects himself to a whole range of treatments and therapies designed to cure homesexuality.  Wow!  I chose to watch it because I find it interesting that some people can see their role as to judge others (who are doing no harm to anyone else).  Personally I find it sad, but that’s me.  I know many people will disagree with me, and that’s okay too (although it’s not really the point of this post).

Let me be clear that no one has ever seen the need to, or tried to cure my sexuality (that they told me anyway) but they have tried to cure my spirituality.  As I watched the Cure Me, I’m Gay programme there were elements of familiarity that sprung up unexpectedly for me.  I realised that back when I was first being diagnosed with mental illness, in some ways I was put on a journey of ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘.  It was all seeming a little familiar to me when I watched the last ‘treatment‘ that Dr Jessen underwent.  That of exorcism of evil spirits and demons.

I should add that at the age of about 15 I witnessed an exorcism of demons from a girlfriend.  I wasn’t meant to be there (judged too young to see such things) but circumstances determined that I had no choice.  The Christian people praying for this were doing so because they believed a demon was the cause of her chronic suicidal thoughts and self harm.  What happened that night was dramatic and downright terrifying for 15 year old me to watch, especially when it was my friend it was being ‘done to‘.  It was something I will never forget, and frankly wished right then that I didn’t have to watch.   Did it work?  Others there told me it did but I had no knowledge on which to base a conclusion.  That said, my friend is alive and well today and eventually overcame that part of her life.

The apparent existence of evil spirits and demons in my life was seen by some as the root cause of my depression.  I should add that I was also being treated for Anorexia Nervosa and Post traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) but most people (including those who were taking this approach) were either not aware of that or ignored it.  I might have been literally skin and bone but mostly this was either ignored or actually praised (many thought and said that I looked great and that my diet and exercise regime must be working really well). I suspect they would have had a field day if they’d known of the other issues.

So the focus was on the depression.  As I’ve said before, I was an active Christian at the time and had grown up in a Christian family (although it wasn’t my family that were involved with this search for answers to my decline in mental health).  I knew very well that there were many people praying for me, although I had little idea of what most were actually praying for.  I appreciated their commitment (mostly) but left them to it.  I had no desire to join this prayer effort.  At the time I was sure that nothing, including prayer, would save me.  I simply knew that for many Christians to be able to tell a person that they are praying for them, absolved them of any other responsibility (is that too harsh?) and also put their mind at ease.  They’ve done something to help.  They don’t feel quite so helpless.

My (soon-to-be husband) was very anxious to find a spiritual reason for my illness (the cynical me would suggest that he took this approach to get the heat off his role) and arranged for me to see a Catholic (BTW I was not Catholic) priest who was well known in the city where we lived for having a “successful healing ministry”.  There were about five people in the room including this priest.  Before they prayed I was asked many questions in their attempt to understand the evil forces that were apparently in my life.  They were keen to know how I had sinned and how I might have let ‘the Devil‘ into my life.  They eventually found no reason why there should be such forces in my life until they started to question me about my family background.

The short story is that my grandfather had been part of the Freemasons during his life (by this stage he had died and actually I don’t think he was a part of this organisation during my lifetime).  Some Christian people believe that the Freemasons are some type of secret, evil religion and according to the people I was with that day, they were a completely evil influence.

I was told that it was my grandfather’s fault that I had Depression, and from memory I think they prayed for me that ‘the evil spirits let into my life by my grandfather‘ would be gone.  There was so dramatic exorcism this time, maybe because I was sitting thinking  ‘how the heck can my grandfather who loved me and would never, ever have done anything to hurt me… cause this?’  My heart was definitely not in what they were doing, and no doubt if I went back and questioned why I wasn’t healed of Depression, it would have been my fault.

I don’t believe for a minute that my grandfather contributed in any way to my mental illness.  He would have been devastated to be blamed for my suffering.  Furthermore I think it’s sad that they searched until they had something to hang a nail on, but never once asked me anything that might have lead to the real reasons for my mental illness.

While I do believe that there can be a spiritual element to mental illness, I don’t and never did, believe that to be the case for me.  At the time I probably couldn’t put words to the reasons for my emerging mental illness, it took years before I could even begin to find words.  Now that I have a much better understanding of my illness, I know it was nothing to do with spiritual forces and more importantly nothing to do with my grandfather.  They were grasping at straws, and in my mind were doing so dangerously.

Much like the documentary on homosexuality where ‘therapists’ seemed to be grasping a straws too.  Homsexuality was apparently caused by sin and/or abuse.  It all leaves me sad for those who must carry the weight of those straws.

Postscript
While I was an active Christian for more than half my life, I have since removed myself from any organised religion mostly because of my experience as a person with a mental illness trying to be find a place I would fit.   I still hold Christian beliefs but they are personal, and I have no desire to push them onto anyone else.

I see my own spirituality as a personal expression of belief and I respect whatever beliefs you may or may not have as your right.  All that said, I write about my experiences such as that above, because it has been a major influence in my life and I admit, some of the force behind my illness.  It’s not something I want to deny.  Nor do I have much desire to get into a criticism of beliefs different to my own.  I hope that I have largely avoided that here.  It is simply that what I have  labelled the ‘Cure Me, I’m Depressed‘ approach to my mental illness did not work for me.  That said, if a similar approach has worked for others then I am happy for them.

Who’s Going To Look After Me?

Who’s going to look after me?  Well, I guess that’s Me!

(If you’ve got this far then you’ve got the answer now, so if you choose to skip the rest of the post below, I’ll understand ;-) )

I live on my own and have done so for a while now.  Actually to many people’s surprise, I like it that way.  And I’ve learnt how to look after me, simply because there is no one else who is going to do it.  That means that I know how to do many things that others assume need two people.  Chronic illness (and low income) mean I know how to fend for myself with whatever is in the house, and whatever is missing.  Sure, sometimes it would be nice to have someone look after me, but I don’t need it.  And that is a huge advantage in my life as it is right now.

Today was one of those days where I woke up immediately knowing that fibromyalgia was here for a visit.  With an anthem of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy ringing in my ears (thanks to the still ever-present music hallucinations) I can’t say I was overly enthused about the day.  Played once is lovely but when it’s gone on repetitively for about 30 times, any music turns to beyond ugly.

Add to that, a feeling around my head that brain fog was back (oh yay!) and my body feeling the presence of a hundred rocks and shards of broken glass.  Nothing was looking good, although I don’t want to misrepresent things.  There are plenty of days which are worse, I just knew that today I needed to rest.  Otherwise bad would probably become worse.

As usual there were things that weren’t going to happen.  Perhaps most important (to J anyway) was that I wasn’t going to get my nephew’s birthday present wrapped and posted in time for his birthday on Saturday.  Sorry J.

And the usual support I give to another human being most days, was also not going to happen.  She’s used to this.  She doesn’t necessarily understand the existence of chronic illness in my life but she knows the consequences for her.  And that’s what matters in her world.

I rang and made my apologies.  Right now is the time I most need to hold onto looking after me.  It would be very easy to give in, regardless of how bad I feel, when I hear on the other end of the phone:

What About Me?

followed shortly after by

Who’s Going To Look After Me?

Those are really hard questions to answer, especially when you’ve had almost a lifetime of wonky learning that I have had to re-learn for myself with many hours of therapy and self-talk.  I should stick in right here that actually there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with the teaching I got.  It simply wasn’t detailed enough.  You see I learnt half the message, and more often than not, failed to get the important part.  While I don’t have children and so I don’t know a whole heap about teaching them, it strikes me that many times something I needed to learn as a child was simplified so much that I entirely missed the point.

I’m not blaming anyone for this. It just happened.  I missed the point so many times, but I know many children taught the same lesson, got it.  Maybe I just learn differently.  Maybe I just needed more specifics.  Maybe… anything.  It’s simply that what I got in the way of teaching didn’t work for me.

One of the things I learnt, rightly or wrongly, was to put other people ahead of myself.  My lessons with Christian based and there is plenty in the Bible that I could misinterpret to believe (as a child) that everyone else was more important than me.  This isn’t a biblical post so I’m not going to get into what the lesson really was meant to be.  What matters is what I learnt.  Anyone on this planet was more important than me and I had to put their needs first.  It’s just a shame that no one realised how wrong I had got this.

While I’ve now learnt that I matter and that I need to take care of myself, the damage was done and in spite of many hours therapy, and many hours talking to the person who taught me as a child, if I’m not careful I still find my thoughts going back to putting everybody else first.  It’s nothing to do with selflessness either.  Just me not realising that my needs mattered.  Actually the line I learnt (from a Sunday School song) was “Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between”.  It spelt J-O-Y and I was under the impression that I would be happy if I put myself last.  It is still very firmly stuck in my mind, and I have to consciously change my thinking.  It’s really no wonder that I ended up deeply depressed years later.

So today when the question “Who’s going to look after me?” came through the telephone I had to consciously stop myself from leaping to look after her.  I had to put my needs first, and I know that if I hadn’t it would be longer before I could be back to her.

Maybe it seems so simple, and I know there have been a few therapists in my time who didn’t seem to understand how much I had this stuck in my mind.  I guess when I learnt this as a child, even though I got it wrong, I held onto it.  Tight.  So much so that many years later, it is a constant battle in my head to change that almost automatic thinking.

Today I’m looking after me.  Tomorrow I will be too.  And for the third person in this post?  I left her with a few ideas of how she could care for herself today.

“If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I’d do less correcting, and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less, and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I’d run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging, and less tugging.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I’d build self esteem first, and the house later.
I’d teach less about the love of power, and more about the power of love.” 

— Diane Loomans

 

Going Around In Circles

For a while now this song has been going around in my head.  My head has been going around in circles.  It’s getting tiring.  I just want it to stop.  I just want some clarity about what do I do now.

 

“Oh, Delilah Blue, what do we do now? What do we do now?
Magnolia memories fill my eyes and the sweet bird of youth done flown away
But don’t let anybody ever say
This old dancer never had her day
’cause this old dancer always knew we’d make it through, Delilah Blue.”

There is a growing amount of stress in my mind.  It’s caused by a number of things.  Health, wealth (or absence of it), family, oh and let’s not forget life in general.  Admittedly the first three are perhaps giving the biggest stress, and then because the stress grows inside my head, it eventually becomes a case of everything.  Everything has my head turning in circles, and it don’t feel too good.  It’s time to take some action on the things that I still have a little control over.  Maybe that will make the uncontrollable things seem less daunting.

Some of you might know that I started another blog recently.  If you didn’t know, it’s just that I hadn’t got to you yet.  For those that did know, the blog no longer exists.  I quickly realised that it wasn’t going to serve the needs I had.  Everything is now gone, so if you missed my most recent posts there, then you’ve missed.  Apologies if you think I messed you around.  That wasn’t my intention.  It’s just sometimes it’s easy to see that “this ain’t going to work“.  It didn’t.

For those of you who didn’t know I started a new blog, life goes on as it was.  In time, I may (or then again, may not) publish the material from there on here.  Meanwhile I’m still answering my question “what do we do now?“.

Back to the real purpose of this post though.  There’s one thing I really hate and that’s not being in control.  I spent years with an eating disorder all about that issue.  I couldn’t control aspects of my life so I chose to control how little food I put in my mouth and how many hours exercise I did each day.  So I know control has the potential to bite me (excuse the pun).  Not just on food though, I know it has the potential to destroy me… if I let it.

I seem to have little control over my physical health right now.  I have got into a pattern of going from (fibromyalgia) flare to flare, with nothing in between.  Where are the good days?  They don’t happen and still having not resolved the issue of pain medication, it isn’t fun and it’s doing my head in.

Wealth?  Well most of us have that issue don’t we?  Especially if having to rely on government welfare.  Especially having to face medical costs.  I guess I find winter even harder for the wealth issue, thanks for power bills.  A house that constantly leaks warm air (thanks for earthquake damage) is not helping.  I seriously considered this week shifting myself entirely into just one room of the house.  Impractical as it was, I was reminded of a children’s story I loved when growing up.  The main character broke her back and was shifted, bed and all, into the family lounge so that she could be part of the family.  Considering this for myself left me unsure whether I wanted to laugh or cry.  Anyway, I didn’t do it.

And as for family?  Sometimes, and more often than not right now, I feel exceptionally helpless.  I can watch but can do so little.  This week I have felt incredibly alone with this burden.  Loving someone but not being able to make it better, hurts like hell. And it seems like when I’m not there because of my own health, their health suffers too.   It’s a lonely road, and I know there are few answers that I can actually make happen.  I just have to be there, and often that’s harder than anything.  I guess my family had to watch me fade from their eyes for what was a very long time (thankfully I eventually came back).  I think what I feel now is a little like that.  Watching someone fade.

It hurts.

“Are the days of winter sunshine just as sad for you, too? When it is misty, in the evenings, and I am out walking by myself, it seems to me that the rain is falling through my heart and causing it to crumble into ruins.”

— Gustave Flaubert

 

Flared

Today is day two of my latest fibromyalgia flare.  There seems to be less and less space between one flare to the next.  Actually I’d go so far as to suggest that I have had a bad case of brain fog (it usually partners a flare) for at least a month. I am shamed to admit that the other day I couldn’t do a three-year old’s jigsaw puzzle for the life of me.  My niece, L was keen for me to ‘participate’. I realised quickly that what she was after was for me to do the puzzle and she would ‘assist’.  Hmm.  The only problem with her plan was that I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. My brain was out to lunch.

Eventually L’s father, who was watching this, came to my rescue.  Brothers are so good… when they want to be.  Anyway he had the puzzle sorted in a matter of moments and while I quietly swore at brain fog, I was equally glad that L’s teenaged brothers hadn’t arrived home from school yet. They would have loved that Aunty Cate couldn’t do a three-year old’s puzzle.  They laugh enough when they have to show me how to use my phone.  If it’s not too late I might have to take out a confidentiality contract with L and her Dad.

But back to the flare. I’m used to these.  More often than not they spring up unannounced and unwelcome when there is something going on in my head. No wonder I get fog, there’s simply not enough space in my head.

Today has been Mothers Day here, and I admit it is always a difficult day for me. Last year I skipped the issue by being on the other side of the planet.  Not so easy this year.

I’m not a mother. Never have been, never will be. Aside from pets and the odd ( not that odd) teddy bear.  And don’t think I’m somehow mourning for the mother I am not. I’m not. I am perfectly satisfied with having opted not to have children.  Actually I am relieved I saw sense at another time when my brain simply wasn’t working.

What is difficult for me is my own relationship with my mother. Out of respect for her, I’m not going to go into details except to say that we have always had a difficult relationship.  We have impacted each other’s lives in ways we probably didn’t intend and possibly regret.   At this stage it is something that I don’t expect we can ever resolve for a number of reasons.  It just is.

Actually my mother, at 86, relies on me a lot now. A situation I would never have imagined, but then sometimes life has surprises for us along the way.  I am the person she most relies on, and just as that’s not easy for me, I don’t imagine for one instance that it is easy for her either.  We simply go on from day to day, doing what has to be done.  Personally I think that is more important than grand gestures.

But I draw the line at Mothers Day. It’s not the occasion itself but more the hype.  As we fill lives and screens with pink sparkly images of perfection… Me? I cringe.  Perfection is not always what is real, and it seems to me that we are more able to accept that not every father is perfect than every mother being less than the ideal.  The hype, drummed up by marketers usually, ignores what is real.

I don’t in any way want to be critical of any mother, including mine. I simply think we need to be real. Mothers Day for me today meant picking my mother up after her church service, as I always do, and then back to her home for a shared lunch. Mothers Day wasn’t mentioned.  If that makes me a cruel, heartless daughter, then so be it.

The cost, of course, for me bas been this latest flare. The rest of the day has been spent in bed in a lot of pain. I hope it will ease tomorrow.

“She preferred imaginary heroes to real ones, because when tired of them, the former could be shut up in the tin kitchen till called for, and the latter were less manageable.” 

― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Remembering Trauma – Anzac Day 2014

 

Image Credit:  Aaron Campbell Photography See his Facebook page at:   https://www.facebook.com/AaronCampbellPhotography

Image Credit: Aaron Campbell Photography
See his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/AaronCampbellPhotography

Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we commemorate Anzac Day. It is a national day of remembrance in both countries that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders (including animals) “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations”.  It particularly honours those Army soldiers who served at Galliopli in 1915.  

There are many commemoration services held around both countries and at Galliopli, but I have to admit that it’s been a while since I have been to one.  I simply don’t ‘do‘ crowds.  That doesn’t stop me from remembering though.  While I am an advocate of peace, I have great admiration and respect for those who have served in the past, and those who still serve.  I just hope and pray that one day such service will no longer be necessary and we will find a way of living in this world in harmony.

My chief memory relating to Anzac Day lies with my paternal Grandfather.  Let me tell you about his war service.  Don’t worry.  It won’t take long.

My grandfather joined the Royal New Zealand Navy  (RNZN) Intelligence Division as a Lieutenant to fight in World War Two.  He was stationed at home in New Zealand but was required to go overseas regularly.  He was injured in an accident (in New Zealand) and those injuries left him unwell for the rest of his life.

That’s it.  We don’t know anything else.  In the approximately five years my grandfather served, and in the years after, he was never allowed to tell anyone of what he did, and where he went.  Granddad died about 25 years later and took his secrets with him.

It strikes me this year as I remember him, and others who served, that the trauma they witnessed must have been immense.  Now days we are becoming more aware of the affects of the trauma soldiers face.  We recognise the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the havoc that can play on their lives in the years following their service.  I know we still have a distance to go in understanding the need for help and treatment but awareness in itself has to be good.

But today, I am struck by the lack of this knowledge and understanding back in the time my grandfather served, and before in previous wars.  I suspect war was very different then, to what it is today, but no less traumatic.  Not just for those who served either.

My father was a child at the time his father was away at war.  Neither he, not my grandmother were allowed to know anything.  Not then, not ever. The hardship and fear they must have carried with them must have been huge.  Remember too, this was a time of no emails, no Skype, simply no communication but the odd letter.

My grandfather, and many others with him, lived both then and into the future with no assistance in dealing with what they had seen, done and heard.  The affect on their lives must be beyond our modern comprehension.

Granddad died, from his war injuries when I was three.  I have just one memory of him playing in this front garden with me.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

 – Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen

 

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Involuntary

‘Involuntary’ is a word many of us feel uncomfortable using in terms of mental illness.  Personally I have always hated the fact that sometimes an involuntary admission to hospital is exactly what is needed.  I’d like to think that we are always in control of ourselves enough to make the appropriate decisions on care for ourselves.  Unfortunately it’s not the case, and it’s something that has come to my mind this week.

I think I had about four times when the decision to hospitalise me was taken out of my hands.  That’s out of many more ‘voluntary‘ admissions – more than I can count over nearly 10 years.  A couple of times my (now ex) husband made the decision for me, the others saw the decisions made my the hospital staff because there was simply no one around to make that choice for me.

Of course there was no ‘choice‘ for me.  I kicked and I screamed.  Literally.  I was a totally different person than the person I am today, simply because I was so unwell.  I hated my husband, although usually I loved him.  How could he do this to me?  He knew hospitalisation was the last thing I wanted, but he did it anyway.  Ouch!  That really stung!

When it wasn’t D making that choice, it was people who didn’t even know me.  That stung too, and it felt like the whole world was against me and there was no one around who loved me enough to be able to save me from what I dreaded.  Of course, no one was going to ‘save’ me, in the way I meant.

I had all the psychiatric treatment you could imagine across the years, but each time I knew that it boiled down to being my choice.  The ironic thing though, is that even when you are voluntary patient, you know how easily that can change. Strangely you only know that once you are inside the walls of the hospital.   ‘Involuntary’ can get slapped on you so fast that you wonder what ‘voluntary’ really meant anyway.

I started to realise this week just how grateful I now am, for those decisions being taken out of my hands.  I read (as you possibly have too) of a woman, who struggling with mental illness and the ongoing effects of prolonged domestic abuse  committed a crime.  She’s now facing charges for the attempted murder of her children.  Apparently family members tried to have her hospitalised the day before but she wouldn’t accept the hospitalisation.  Obviously I don’t know all the details, but I wish for her that decision was taken out of her hands.  It sounds like she was too unwell to be having to make that choice, and of course the choices she made in the next 24 hours were catastrophic.  I dearly hope that somehow she gets the treatment she needs anyway, instead of the current round of judgement and condemnation.

When I was admitted on an involuntary basis, my life was at risk and I’m ashamed to admit that one time, it was a life other than my own that was at risk.  Me being ‘locked up’ was to save that life.

To be ‘locked up’ at the discretion of a judge was the last thing I wanted.  But had that not happened, I probably wouldn’t be alive today.  And other possible consequences mount up in my mind beyond being able to put into words, nor is it something I want to talk about any more openly in such a public forum.

I am glad my husband signed my rights away those times.  I have no idea how difficult that must have been for him, simply because we don’t have a relationship now where we could talk about it.  It must have broken his heart to see his wife so unwell that he needed to take this step.

To commit someone involuntarily must be easier when the family don’t have to be involved, as was the case for the other two times.  I have never been in a position where I had to direct someone to take a loved one’s rights away but finally, all these years later… I can see that they did the right thing.

So to D, and to those hospital staff, thank you.  I hated you at the time, but you saved my life. For that I will always be grateful.

“The horror of the Pit lay in the emergence from it, with the return of her will, her caring, and her feeling of the need for meaning before the return of the meaning itself”.” 

— Joanne Greenberg

Seeking… Opinions

Caution:  This post contains discussion of suicide attempts and their effect on those close to the person who attempts.  However the post contains no details of specific suicide attempts and no images.  Please know that I am in no way offended if you choose not to read this post.

Sometimes it’s really necessary to gather the opinions of others  in order to find a way forward.  That’s where I’m at right now.

Recently someone in my life expected me to visit, and when I didn’t, she got worried.  I had said a visit would be unlikely because I was sick (fibromyalgia) but that was in some way misheard.  Next thing I get a phone call asking me whether I was killing myself.  She jumped to a conclusion that because I hadn’t visited, then I must be in the process of committing suicide.

At the time, my mental health was pretty good.  I certainly hadn’t been entertaining the thought of suicide or any sort of harm to myself.  It was my physical health that was the issue but I simply had to ride that out.  I had given the person no reason to think I was in danger, and she later agreed that there was no reason for her to be so concerned.  But I recognise that something must have triggered her worry.

I was pretty surprised by the concern she expressed.  I thought, “where did that come from?”  I knew that somehow I had to get my head around it and understand where she was coming from in order to be able to address her concern.

Jump back 16 years and I was clearly labelled by my psychiatrist and mental health workers as having “chronic suicidal ideation“.  That is, suicide was something I was pretty much constantly thinking about and planning.  I had a number of suicide attempts across a period of maybe four years, including two very large and ‘serious’ attempts (actually all attempts are serious).  Even when I stopped making attempts (the last was 16 years ago) I continued to have those chronic thoughts for a number of years yet.  It seemed no amount of therapy, ECT, medication or hospitalisation would shift the thoughts.  Even though I wasn’t actively trying to kill myself, I was still very much thinking about it.

Time has changed that though.  As I have written here previously, I have found some hope and purpose for living.  I am not having suicidal thoughts any more, although certainly there are still the tough times.

The person who raised concern for me the other day lived through all of this, although at a geographical distance.  I don’t in any way want to undermine the effect that my actions, and what she knew of my thoughts, had on her or other people close to me.  I know she (and others) literally waited for ‘the’ phone call, and at one stage she had every reason to believe she had got it.  That must be an incredibly painful way to live your life, not knowing what would happen next.

I suspect that the history of all my attempts and chronic thoughts had a much bigger impact on my family and close friends than I ever thought.  I was after all, caught up in my own hell and, at the time, had little appreciation of theirs.  Not because I didn’t care about what my actions were doing but simply because I was drowning in my own stuff.

A psychiatrist once told me that in his opinion, once you had carried chronic suicidal thoughts with you, that it isn’t something you could completely put behind you.  What I’m wondering is whether it is also impossible for loved ones to put behind them?

After all that happened to me all those years ago, am I always going to have a ‘suicide risk‘ label hanging around my neck (in the minds of those who love me)?

I want to say “can’t we put this in the past and move on?”  But maybe it’s not so easy.  Maybe they see the words ‘mental illness’, which will always be in some way part of my life, and continue to live in fear of getting ‘that‘ phone call.  Maybe when they expect me to turn up and don’t, they automatically now think ‘this is it‘?  I really hate the thought that they live in such fear for me, even after all these years, but is it something impossible to let go of for them?

I’ve never been in the situation my family were in for so long when I was chronically suicidal, but I want to see it from their perspective.  I admit I was just a bit affronted when I got this phone call.  I thought ‘can’t we let this go?’, ‘at what point do I become free to move on from that time in my life?‘ and ‘are we always going to have this hanging over us?‘.  To me, I want this to be the past, but is that too hard or even impossible for those who had to stand by and watch (and wait for the phone call)?.

So I’m wondering what you think?  Maybe you’ve been in the same situation as me.  Then again, maybe you’ve been a family member/friend who had to watch as your loved one went through this.  Or maybe you’ve got yet another perspective.

I know suicide as a subject is really difficult to discuss for all of us, and if you can’t or don’t want to, then that’s fine.   I just want to try to understand whether my loved ones will always carry this fear with them.  And is it something that is possible to resolve?

PS.  Please understand that I have absolutely no criticism of my family or others who loved me through this period of my life, and I have no desire to hurt them beyond what I have already caused.  I know enough to know that it was an incredibly difficult journey for them, as it also was for me.  I appreciate, beyond words, that they stood beside me at all.

“Time does not heal wounds. It’s a body’s ritual that does. The instinctual cleansing with rain or other waters, the application of salves. Despite the sting. Even neglected, the body begins to take care. To repair itself. Blood clots, tissues regenerate, flesh scars. Soon, the thin white line is the only evidence of the pain. It is the body, not time. Time does nothing except create distance between the body and that which caused it harm.”

― T. Greenwood

The Novelty Had Worn Off

I guess we like to think that every baby born is welcomed with a great deal of happiness.  I admit that I have never had a baby myself, so could be accused of being out of my depth… except that I was a baby once.  I know it from that angle, even if I have never had my own child.

I’m pretty sure that my birth was not welcomed with happiness, let alone joy.  There is only one photo of me as a baby.  You see, the novelty had worn off.  I was number three child, and I certainly wasn’t planned.  I came just ten and a half months after my next brother, and my mother will openly admit that my presence was an embarrassment to her.  Two babies in the pram was more than she wanted.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my childhood and wondering just how happy I was as a young child.  My first diagnosis of a mental illness didn’t come until I was 28 years old, but at that time everyone was pretty amazed nothing had shown before then.  I’m inclined to think that maybe there were signs but no one looked, or knew what they were looking for.  When I think about some of the (slightly) unusual things I did as a child, and then as a teenager, I am amazed that no one said “Wait a minute.  What’s going on here?”

But then this is the 1960/70’s I’m talking about and who went looking for signs of mental illness in their kids?

Deborah Serani, psychologist has written a book last year entitled ‘Depression And Your Child‘.  I think I’d like to read it, although the focus of it being about the reader’s child is not what I’m after.  She wrote a blog post, What Adults Need to Know about Pediatric Depression and I found that interesting, although I admit it also made me sad.  She reported that

“In the United States alone, evidence suggests that up to 1% of babies, 4 percent of preschool-aged children, 5 percent of school-aged children, and 11 percent of adolescents meet the criteria for major depression.”(1.)

Wow!  Even one in a hundred babies having major depression is huge, without stopping to think about the older age-groups.  She continues to list ten myths relating to childhood depression, which all parents should know.  It makes worthwhile reading, even for this non-parent here.

I don’t know whether I had depression as a baby or a child, but the odd things I started doing go back as far as I can remember, which suggests to me now that something was up at a young age.  I’m sorry but I’m not going to tell you what those odd things were.  Just know they were a little different from normal, and seem to me like a coping mechanism I used from a very young age.

I’m not saying this to in any way accuse my parents of anything, but I suspect there was something going on that they didn’t realise might give clues to my state of mind.  This is more about my own journey to work out what has made me who I am.  I’m not interested in blame, just in being able to understand myself.

Phew! It makes me sad for that little girl who was me.  There’s no denying that because if my theory is right, then it has had an enormous impact on my whole life.

I need music to finish.  As you will see the lyrics don’t go with the music.  Purposely.  I just had two tunes in my mind, for the child in me.

You with the sad eyes
Don’t be discouraged
Oh I realize
It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that’s why I love you
So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful,
Like a rainbow

 - Cyndi Lauper, True Colors

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