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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Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight…

My mood had been steadily declining as the week went on.  I had made a bargain with myself to get to Wednesday.  The fact that I had to make that deal with myself indicated in itself that things weren’t going well.  I got to Wednesday.  There was never any doubt that I would.  It was my niece L’s third birthday and I was hanging out for some ‘L-time’ and I admit it, I didn’t want to create a family crisis around her birthday.

L-time was perfect.  L, her father, her grandmother and I went out for coffee (and fluffy for L).  In a bit of a daze, having taken some extra meds to get through the day, L and I played with the toys she had with her… teddy, little monkey and Sally, not to mention the cafe’s range of toys available.  We were at a local cafe that had its buildings collapse in the 2011 Earthquakes, and now runs primarily outside (it’s spring here but they provide blankets for warmth in the winter and sun hats in summer).  There’s nothing unusual about that in post-quake Christchurch and it’s good when you have kids (and adults) who need a bit of space.  Oh, and delicious cake.  For local readers, visit Under the Red Verandah Cafe (a shameless piece of advertising).

Spending a few hours with L made a significant difference to my state of mind.  I mean it went from ‘I’m not coping‘ as I (strangely for me) posted on Twitter a few days before, to ‘I can do this‘.  I concluded once again that I must get myself into the presence of L when I feel that bad.  Do not stop, do not pass go… go directly to L’s home and have some quality time with my favourite person.

The thing is I came home feeling better but I still somehow posted this picture on my Facebook timeline that night (with no explanation):

sad_teddy_bear

Image credit: The DawgPoundFreeWeb
I have been unable to find more detail of image credit but would appreciate being advised accordingly if known.

I am not sure exactly why I posted it, but usually I am very careful about posting pictures or comments that could be disturbing and/or worrying to others.  I wasn’t thinking.  I posted it with a sense of being flushed down a toilet, or maybe jumping, and turned off the computer and went to bed.

By morning I could tell that a few friends were concerned about what I posted, but perhaps more so, I realised that for me, what I had posted was concerning.  Time with L hadn’t quite improved my state of mind as I thought it might.  I was still very depressed and struggling for hope.  Living one day at a time, although it had cut down to one hour at a time.  Time to admit there was a problem and get some help.  And time to apologise to to friends.

I guess the thing for me is that earlier in the week I had tried to ask for some help (twice)  from someone close to me, but they didn’t pick up on it.  Perhaps I wasn’t direct enough.  Perhaps there were just other things on their mind, but I had to accept responsibility for the need to keep asking until I got the help needed.  That’s something that is really hard to do with you’re depressed, hopeless and you’ve already tried without success.  You probably know that feeling too.

Yesterday I saw my doctor.  Actually he wasn’t my doctor (who was away) but a very good locum who I have seen on a number of times before, and trust more than my own doctor.  The first thing he picked up on was that last month’s lithium blood tests showed that I was only just in the therapeutic range.  He felt my meds should have been increased at that time the tests came back, considering that I was already showing as depressed at that time.

What worked for me was that I was heard.  The doctor heard that my mood was dropping by the week and that I needed some help.  I am terrified of returning to my years of hospital admissions, suicide attempts and self harm.  It was a never-ending cycle in one hospital door and out another.  I will do anything to avoid going back to that lifestyle (if I can call it that).  My mood might have dropped dramatically but I still had enough life in me to do anything I needed to do to avoid that.  My doctor acknowledged that, as he increased my medication.

I have also now been given six therapy sessions (free) which may help me deal with some of the family issues going on for me right now, and affecting my state of mind.  Meanwhile, today I am going out to see L.  ‘Therapy‘ of a kind for me, and her chance to show me her new scooter and balance bike (birthday presents).

Someone said ‘fall down seven times, get up eight‘.  I don’t know who but I know it’s true.  I just have to keep getting back up.  I know this is a recurrent illness and every time I get back up is another claim of hope that tomorrow will be better.

“Needing help doesn’t make you weak, in fact quite the opposite. It makes you strong, smart, resourceful, and realistic. Being prideful is a weakness. Asking for help when you know you’re in over your head is STRENGTH. Don’t ever forget that!”

 - Unknown

You Should Have Protected Me

Since I started to write about my life experiences and journey with mental illness, I have had a variety of responses to my experiences from friends and family.  That’s not surprising.  Often I reminded them of things that had happened in the past, people who had been in our lives, and often too, they have also gained a different perspective to our shared histories.

“I wish there was something I/we could have done”

“I wonder if I/we could have helped”

“Perhaps I/we could have protected you”

Sometimes their responses were affirming for me, but other times I admit I wished I hadn’t written it in the first place, because now it seemed that some were holding guilt for something past (whether or not it might be warranted).  It’s hard, because it wasn’t something I was seeking.  For most of the bad things that happened along the way, I wasn’t consciously blaming others, although I know that, mostly, unconsciously there was a conversation going on in my head of “if only“.

“If only it could have been different”

“If only someone had been there”

“If only someone had protected me”

But ‘if only‘ didn’t happen.  Or perhaps if ‘if only‘ had happened then I wouldn’t have been writing about it.

For that conversation in my head, I have had to travel a journey of forgiveness and letting go.  Sometimes it has been easier than others, and I admit I am far from completely through that journey.  Sometimes I think I’ve got there, but then it hits back and I know I have more work to do.

Perhaps the bigger battle though, has been the statement that I see now that I have spent most of my life telling myself…

“You should have protected me”

I should have protected me.  Right or wrong, that’s what I’ve been saying.  I should have made sure the harm I came to, or the experiences I went through, didn’t hurt me.  I should have protected me.

What strikes me is that even as a child I expected myself to be the one doing the protecting.  That seems like an awfully big ask for a child.

I realise I continue in my life today saying I should have protected me.  If I look at the events in my life of the past year or so, I have struggled more so with somehow letting myself down, than with what anyone else might have done to me.

As I have written recently, I felt let down by my gut instinct (see Gut Instinct).  My gut instinct appeared to have not warned me of danger.  I felt so sure of what I was doing, certain I was on the right path… only to crash and find I was ‘wrong’.

I put that in inverted commas because I felt wrong.  I was certain I had got it wrong, but I’m starting to accept that while my gut instinct didn’t lead where I thought it was going, it wasn’t necessarily wrong.  And that is a huge thing for me to be able to start to say (actually a friend said something similar to me a while ago and I couldn’t possibly see what she meant).

Right now I have little idea how it can be can be ‘not wrong’, but I’m willing to let it be a possibility.

While I have had another outstandingly, horrible week, I’m learning in the process of pain.  I’m learning to forgive myself.  To remember that I am human too.  I am allowed to make mistakes, and I don’t have to punish myself for a lifetime ever after.  I admit I know very little about self-forgiveness because I’ve never given myself that chance.  I’ve been so hard on myself that self-forgiveness was never an option for me.

Today, I realise that I can forgive myself.  I can allow myself to be human.  Just as I allow others to be human, it counts for me too.  I think I’ve turned a corner.

“Therefore, you really need your inner protector to stick up for you: to put your weaknesses and misdeeds in perspective, to highlight your many good qualities surrounding your lapses, to encourage you to keep getting back on the high road even if you’ve gone down the low one, and – frankly – to tell that inner critic to Shut Up.”

 - Rick Hanson, Wildmind

Those In Peril On The Sea

Going back a few years, I remember having to sing hymns in high school Assemblies, three times a week.  The hymn that springs to my mind right now is this one (well, this is the first verse):

Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For those in peril on the sea!

I knew it was a hymn often related to the Navy, and I knew it was old (written in 1861) but I really had little idea of what the words we were singing meant.  Wikipedia tells me it is something related to Psalm 107 about those being shipwrecked and calling for God’s mercy.

My thinking is that those in peril on the sea had no hope, and the issue of being no hope (sometimes) has been weighing heavily on my mind this week.

It was two and a half years ago that a man collapsed in my house and I had to perform Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) on him in an effort to save his life.  I did CPR for 20 minutes.  If you’ve ever had to do it, you will know that it is an extremely physical procedure and in that time I completely exhausted myself.  But I had no thought that there was no hope, and so I kept on.  At one stage I heard a rib crack, and I thought ‘Dad is going to be really sore tomorrow with his cracked ribs I’ve just given him‘.  Still, I believed there must be hope…    and so continued.

Eventually paramedics arrived and took over.  They continued to perform CPR for another 20 minutes before telling me (and my mother who was watching all this) that there was no hope.  He had gone.  My Dad had died.

What was I hoping for?  I guess that the treatment I (and then the paramedics) were giving him, would revive his heart and bring him back to the person I knew. To bring recovery. I wanted him to be saved from his ‘peril on the sea’.

Image credit: John Desjarlais/Wikipedia.com

 

Then I started thinking about hope and how it applies to mental illness.  It’s something I talk about regularly because I believe that having hope is what makes the difference to me getting through my mental illnesses.  For me, there is hope of treatment, both pharmacological and psychotherapeutic.  My main diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is a little tricky because as it forms part of who I am (my personality) it can’t just be removed.  For me, management of the symptoms of BPD is what I hope for, and right now I am pretty much achieving.

But is there that hope for all mental illnesses?  Most of us at least have hope of management of symptoms , if not complete recovery but it’s occurred to me recently that actually that hope is not there for all illnesses.  What if there is no medication known to treat the illness, and what if therapy is not known to be particularly effective?  What if most sufferers actually aren’t motivated to seek treatment, even if it was available?  While again, I need to emphasise that I am not qualified in psychology or psychiatry, and so I am speaking of my personal thoughts rather than proven fact, it does seem that there is little hope for those people.  And I’m talking about four in every hundred people.

This fills me with sadness because it is hard enough to live with mental illness when at least someone can see hope.  It also fills me with sadness because people close to me are in that number and I desperately want hope for them.  My heart is also filled with sadness because these people perhaps struggle against the stigma of mental illness the most.  I haven’t named the illness purposely, because as a society there tends to be little, to no compassion for these people.  They’re hardly even treated as people.  But what if it were us?

It’s not my role, or my desire, to be dictating who we should, and shouldn’t feel compassion for but I will tell you my own way of looking at this.  Sometimes even people with mental illnesses (like me) do things that aren’t nice, aren’t acceptable and aren’t what healthy human beings would choose to do.  I don’t like their behaviours one little bit.  I don’t like it when innocent people get hurt.  There needs to be appropriate punishment when crimes are committed.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that the people with mental illnesses who did these things are human beings.  Look at it another way.  We were all once innocent babies, who needed and deserved the best care in the world.  For a million reasons things can go wrong, but we all still need and deserve care and compassion.  They’re not monsters, but babies.  That’s my way of looking at it anyway.

I don’t write this post today because it’s a good topic to debate, but rather because it is something weighing very heavily on my mind right now… because of my personal experience.  I can’t quite get my head around there being no hope for someone’s mental health, mostly because I had to cling onto my own hope (and others’ hope for me) for so long (and still).  Maybe someone will tell me it doesn’t matter because the person probably isn’t motivated toward treatment anyway, but we all have families.  While they might not always be perfect families, at least some of them would want hope for us.  Some of them would not want us to be at ‘peril on the sea’.  And I just can’t accept that these people should simply be left at peril.

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.”

― John Bradford (1510–1555)

“It is often in the darkest skies that we see the brightest stars.” 

― Richard Evans

Fathers Day

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Today is the first day of spring down here in New Zealand, although the weather in Christchurch has been pretty good lately so I have been thinking it was already spring.  Anyway, I have my daffodils in a vase, and outside my kitchen window there are birds frantically building a nest in a tree which used to be the domain of my cat, Penny.  She’s probably looking down from heaven horrified that I’m letting this happen.  After all that was HER tree.  But I’m fascinated watching the progress.

Today is also Father’s Day in New Zealand, and I admit I find that a little more troublesome.  I loved my father dearly and used to enjoy having a day for him, but now that he’s gone I feel a bit like being at a party where the guest of honour was a no-show.  It just doesn’t work.  It doesn’t seem right.

In the past week I have seen lots of advertising telling me to buy everything from socks to chainsaws for my father.  It is all wasted on me.  It was anyway, as my family never went in for the commercialisation of Father’s Day (and Mother’s Day).  A card, a hug and a family dinner was it.  And it was enough.  My father was never going to appreciate a chainsaw anyway.

Actually when I think about it, he would have.  In his last years he had a bee in his bonnet over a neighbour’s tree hanging over my property.  The neighbour refused to do anything and Dad refused to let it go.  Had I given him a chainsaw he would have found his way over the fence (the mind boggles at the thought) and chopped it down himself.  Then all hell would really have set loose.

The thing is that I was lucky with my father.  I might not have him around now, and I continue to miss him every day.  But I had a father who loved me, was there for me and made sure I had my physical and emotional needs met as I grew up, and long into adulthood.  I know that there are too many people who don’t, or haven’t had fathers like that.  How do you handle Father’s Day when your memories, or even your current reality is either no father, or an abusive, neglectful or unloving father?  It’s pretty tough to be grateful for a father like that and I think the commercialisation of such an occasion only succeeds in rubbing dirt in the wounds even more.

The truth is that not all fathers are good fathers.  I wonder how we acknowledge that, in a way that doesn’t exclude people who have this reality?  It seems to me that as a society, when Fathers Day hits (and Mothers Day for that matter) we forget that reality.

As I mention Mothers Day, I think this is an even bigger issue because some how society paints a picture of the wonderful, loving mother who provides for our every need.  We get a picture from the media of mothers who would do anything for their children.  And sure, that is an accurate picture for many, but not for all. For many the abusive, neglectful or unloving mother is a reality.

For many, mothers weren’t there for their children and failed to provide for their physical and emotional needs.  Mothers can be as abusive as fathers, but I’m inclined to think that society hides from that truth.  Somehow it’s easier not to think of women in that way.

Again, Mothers Day as we know it simply serves to isolate those who have had less than ideal relationships with their mothers, almost more than it isolates those who have poor or no relationships with their fathers.

Unfortunately I’m not sure there is an easy answer, except I know that it is terribly hard to live with the reality of poor parental relationships anyway.  It is simply made more isolating and difficult when as a society we paint such rosy pictures of the traditional nuclear family.

I miss my father today.  I will probably go and put some daffodils on his grave later, but mostly I will simply be thankful that my father loved me, and perhaps even more so, believed in me.  I know I am so fortunate.

This one’s for Dad…

“All parents damage their children. It cannot be helped. Youth, like pristine glass, absorbs the prints of its handlers. Some parents smudge, others crack, a few shatter childhoods completely into jagged little pieces, beyond repair.” 

― Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Disappointed In Me

This is where the hard stuff starts.  It’s easy (well, relatively easy) to say how I am Disappointed By Humanity.  But since posting that a few days back, I’ve realised that a much deeper disappointment is in myself.  I don’t plan to beat myself up through this post, begging that you feel sorry for me.  Rather this has to be about finding a way to forgive myself for the times I do disappoint me.  Forgiving myself for my weaknesses and shortcomings has to be the key to being able to move on.  Anything else and I’m inclined to think I would be wasting both your and my time.

It’s been a difficult week.  Actually that’s an understatement.  It’s been absolutely heartbreaking, and I’m sorry but I’m not in a position to be able to tell you about it.  The week is not over yet, and I admit that I wake each morning to see what has happened next, because it’s highly likely that I will have lost something, or someone, more.  Go on, tell me that it reminds me who are my real friends.  It’s true, but trite.  Actually it just hurts like hell and right now I don’t want to hear it.

It’s occurred to me since my last post that whether I call it depression, sadness, grief, disappointment… or something else I have yet to name, doesn’t really a matter.  It’s just a name, and for a while I thought it was helpful to be able to label it for myself.  I’ve changed my mind.  The reality is that my mental health has taken a huge dive. That’s what matters.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt this bad and I hate that.  Sure, I always knew and said that my mental illness would come and go, but I still hate that it’s back with a vengeance.  It’s hard to stop myself thinking I’ve failed.  I know on one level how ridiculous that is, but I’m only human (much to my disappointment) and that failure feels strong because I’m struggling with hope.

The blogger who chose hope is struggling with hope.  Feelings I haven’t had for years, are back and it scares me senseless.  It scares me because I fear where it might take me. I so don’t want to go back to the places my mind and body have been in the past.  That’s why I’m disappointed.  Because I thought I was strong enough to fight this and now I’m bloody terrified.

What to do about it is hard.  I have no therapist now, my doctor doesn’t appear to care, Mental Health Services discarded me as ‘impossible to help’ years ago.  I think this is why I am missing my Dad so much too, because he was the person who backed me.  He didn’t fix anything but he helped me to work out what I needed.  He helped me think straight when that seemed quite impossible.  I miss that.

So right now, all I can do is go back to my own words.  Borrowed Hope.  Sometimes when we struggle to have hope ourselves, we need to borrow it from someone who has hope for us.  It’s what I did.  My Dad always had hope for me and I used that to keep me going.  When he died I had to find another place to find my hope.  It’s not that Dad’s hope didn’t count anymore but I needed a physical representation of that hope.  I found that in my youngest niece L.  She might be only nearly three, but she gives me so much hope just by being her.  She has no idea of what she does for me but she’s always pretty excited to see Aunty Cate, and that does the world for me.  It keeps me going, literally.

It’s disappointing for me, who is a bit of a perfectionist, to find myself having to return to someone else’s belief in me.  But if it works, then what does it matter?  I know that depression comes and goes, so I know it will ease again and I will find my own hope again.  Meantime L is like a back-up for me.  And she is better than any mental health service I’ve ever encountered.  I just need to let it be.  I need to let myself off the hook.  I need to forgive myself for being human.

Music is also doing an excellent job of keeping me going.  This is the one I need to hear today:

“Everyone, at some point in their lives, wakes up in the middle of the night with the feeling that they are all alone in the world, and that nobody loves them now and that nobody will ever love them, and that they will never have a decent night’s sleep again and will spend their lives wandering blearily around a loveless landscape, hoping desperately that their circumstances will improve, but suspecting, in their heart of hearts, that they will remain unloved forever. The best thing to do in these circumstances is to wake somebody else up, so that they can feel this way, too.” 

— Lemony Snicket (Horseradish: Bitter Truths You Can’t Avoid)

Letting Go Of Balloons

CJR - 1968.2

This little girl follows me around quite a lot.  She’s been doing it for a while now.  The image of her is purposely very small. Not to make you squint but to remind both you and I, how small (and precious) she is.  Behind her, you can see there is a man in a suit.  That man was her favourite person in the world back then, and was her father. The picture is part of a complete family photo.  I’ve removed them because the little girl is my focus for now.

I find it helpful to have this image in my mind because that little girl is me.  That little girl grew to become me, but she’s still a very big part of who I am.  If you like, she is my representation of my inner child, and it is my job to protect her, and ensure that her needs are met.  Having a photo of her helps me to remember that she is not as grown up as I am, that she is vulnerable, and that her needs are very important to me.  Actually she’s much like me, because she is me.

Usually photos of her, at that age, show her with a doll in her hand because her dolls were her world.  This was part of a formal family portrait and it seems she had to put the doll down for the photograph to be taken.  I suspect she might have not felt quite as sure of herself without the doll, but standing in front of her Dad would have made up for that.

This little girl took her cues from her parents.  They taught her how to behave, and how to live in this somewhat scary world.  One thing she learnt early on in life, is that when you are lucky enough to be given a balloon, then you have to hold on tight.  The balloon on the end of a piece of string was a pretty exciting thing to have, and she was taught that if she let go of the string then the balloon would be gone for ever, and “that would be it“.  There was no chance of getting another balloon.  Obviously then she clung onto the balloon, knowing that it was indeed a one-off treasure.

Balloons for me are still something precious.  Something that means a lot to me.  They’re important, but sometimes most of the balloons I have been holding lately have been things of which I really had little control.  I might be holding the string but I have little, to no control of what happens to them.  And that’s really tough.

This week I have been holding onto some balloons.  All with strings attached.  Some of them are perhaps not even my balloons to hold, but for a number of reasons, I have them, and I am concerned for their wellbeing. These balloons were a number of unrelated issues in my life that have been causing me a mixture of pain, stress and worry.  That’s as far as I’m going to go in describing what the balloons are.  Because I blog in my own name it is important to me that I respect other people in my life, who probably don’t want me blogging specifically about them.  I hope you can understand this.

It’s when I am in this boat that sometimes contributes to me finding myself getting depressed.  I want control over my life, and mostly I do have it, but other people’s issues and situations might be of concern (and worry) to me and I can’t do much about that.  I don’t think I am anymore of a control freak than most of us, but it is hard to be concerned about something precious which I have no control of.  The control is either in someone else’s hands, or something that there is just nothing that can be done to get control.

As that little girl above, I was taught to hang onto precious things tight.  If I let go of the balloon, I was told it will blow away, and not only will I have lost my balloon, but I won’t be able to make sure the balloon is okay, and doesn’t burst.

What was so wrong if my balloon did blow away?  I might not have it, but someone else might find it and be able to enjoy it.  Or perhaps the balloon could just be free to go where the wind blows it.  I guess my parents wanted me to take care of my possessions.  A balloon was  a treat, so should be looked after.  But I never learnt that sometimes it is best for both me, and the balloon, if I let it go.

Image credit: Jane Lee Logan. Used with permission.
http://www.facebook.com/princesssassypantsco

I’m learning, painfully, that sometimes I have to let things go.  As much as I might want them, maybe they’re just not mine to have.   I can’t control the outcome of everything, and sometimes even, the outcome for me might be better than I imagined if I just let it be.

Today the balloons I refer to represent both people and thoughts.  They’re not just one balloon but interestingly (because I never got a whole bunch when I was that little girl) many.  Sometimes that’s what life is like.  Inside there is a fistful of balloons waiting for me to just let it all go.

One thing this little girl did learn…

 

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty, will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

When I was young, I fell in love
I asked my sweetheart what lies ahead
Will we have rainbows, day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome, will I be rich
I tell them tenderly.

Que Sera, Sera,
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours, to see
Que Sera, Sera
What will be, will be.

 - Doris Day

Invisiblity

I started this post a while back now and like many things at the moment, I just never finished. The good thing about that is that it has given me time to think and reflect. What’s really going on here?

I have got the distinct feeling that I am invisible.  I could have got a role in Harry Potter or similar, because somehow it seems that while I think I’m there in reality, I’m not there at all.  I am invisible to all those around me.

A visit to my doctor (my GP) was the start of all this a couple of weeks ago.  He was seemingly uninterested in my reality.  While I talked of having trouble getting to sleep because of pain, all he was interested in was that I was apparently using too many sleeping medications.  I wondered why he couldn’t take interest in my pain.  I wanted him to ask about the type of pain I was experiencing, and how bad it was for me.  In over a year of having a chronic pain condition he hasn’t once asked me to describe my pain.  That seems odd to me.  Maybe he could suggest some ways of managing it.  But as usual, there was no apparent interest.  I guess his bigger interest was getting me out of his office so he could move onto the next person.  So I left, invisible…

My mother has been in hospital over the past couple of weeks, and somehow I have turned into her next of kin.  The night of her operation the hospital staff rang me to ask if I would come into her during the night if she continued to be confused (a side effects of her anaesthetic).  I felt I had little option but to say yes.

Actually I find going out at night difficult.  I guess you could say I am a little ‘scared’ of the dark, so the idea of driving across town in the middle of the night was daunting.  It also meant that I would have to go without my night-time medication, because I would never to drive.  That was all okay except that no one was actually interested in how I felt, and how I would cope if I had to do this.  Invisible again, this time in favour of my mother’s needs and the hospital’s needs.

As the week went on, there were more and more demands on me.  And that’s okay, because my mother was not well and needed my support.  I guess it just felt like it would be nice if my needs mattered somehow, somewhere.  Instead I was just a daughter, serving a purpose.

At the same time as this, I have been reading a very good book about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) called The Buddha and the Borderline by Kiera Van Gelder.  One of the things I have picked up in reading this book is the Borderline’s tendency to all too easily feel abandoned.  The lack of a stable sense of self see us take all these things as a kind of rejection of us.

When those I am in relationship with have other priorities, or simply can not be there when I need them, I think that I have lost that relationship.  They have abandoned me.  And so when I am not the priority in my mother’s care, I also feel like no one cares about my needs.

I can choose to go down the track of believing that I am invisible and that no one is there for me.  I can choose to believe that the relationship is gone, simply because I can’t always come first.

Or, I can recognise this as Borderline thinking.  I can tell myself it’s not necessary to think my world has ended because I feel invisible.  Even as I write this I can see that is an extremist view, as well as one that will destroy me if I let it.

I am not invisible.  Sometimes I might need to remember my own needs so that they don’t get lost in other’s needs, but it doesn’t mean that my needs are not important.

If that sounds easy, it’s not.  Especially for a Borderline.  We are constantly trying to hold onto a shaky sense of self, and we have to work hard to see ourselves, rather than believe we are invisible.  Even if others don’t have the ability to give my needs priority, I can work on doing that for myself.

It doesn’t mean I get walked on, or ignored.  It’s just that I recognise that it’s okay for me to put my needs first, even if other’s don’t, or can’t.  A Borderline is likely to tell you that they can’t do that, but I am one who is determined to find a way.  I’m not going to give into my Borderline insecurities.  It might be the natural response for me, but it doesn’t have to be the way.

I remember in psychology lectures at University, object permanence was discussed.  At a certain stage of human development we learn that even though we can’t see something, doesn’t mean it no longer exists.  It’s something that I need to remember in my relationships with others.

Even if they can’t, or won’t be there for me, doesn’t mean they don’t still love me, or care for my needs.  Maybe just for now, I need to take care of my own needs.

“When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.” 

―    Donald Miller,    A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What
I Learned While Editing My Life