My Letter To America

It’s pretty clear to me that readers of my blog from United States outnumber all other countries by leaps and bounds, and because of that it’s important for me to say that I know what I am about to say might not fit too comfortably with those readers.  I know my country of New Zealand and yours, are quite different.  It is over twenty years now since I visited your country and I know how different what I saw then was from where I live.  Even though we might look the same, or similar, I think it is fair to say that our culture and society is quite different.  This post, which is basically about the use of guns, is not my attempt to sway your opinions on gun laws but rather I want to acknowledge that your environment is different to mine but clearly both have some issues to address in terms of guns.

In the past few days, New Zealand has been rocked by the news of the murder of two children, aged six and nine, (by their father) followed by the suicide of their father in Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s four largest cities.  It was not a mass shooting.  It is 24 years since we had a mass shooting in New Zealand (Aramoana, 1990).

The father shot dead the children in their beds, before turning on gun on himself.  Those children come from a school now in mourning, and while I hate to say it, I suspect this type of incident happens every day in your country.  In my country though, it is not common, thank God.  The mother of the children, the man’s ex-wife, had run next door to get help.  It’s hard to begin to imagine the hell she must be going through now.

The man apparently had a mental illness and was on medication for it.  To his family’s knowledge he did not have a firearms licence, necessary in New Zealand to own a gun.  It’s hard to imagine how he would have held a licence with a string of breach of protection orders in the past year.  Questions that are all being asked now.

Personally I am very glad that it is not easy to obtain a gun in my country.  I won’t pretend to be anything other than anti-guns, although as I said already I recognise that my society and yours are quite different.  But I will always stand up for more control on gun ownership.  I have no desire to live in a world where owning a gun is necessary, or even desirable.

I was 15 years old when my ex-boyfriend J loaded a rifle, gave it to me and told me to kill him.  He didn’t want to live if I wouldn’t be his girlfriend.  He owned a gun (he was 18 at the time) for hunting but I strongly believed both then and now that he should not have access to one.  Why?  He was too impulsive.  I knew he could shoot himself, or me for that matter, without too much thought.  The thought would come later, when it was too late.  And that is the problem I have with guns.  Act now, think and get the facts later.

I can still remember thinking how easily it would be to pull the trigger.  By then J had been creating a lot of problem for me by stalking.  Fear thankfully got the better of me, aside from the fact that I’m not the sort of person who could fire a bullet at anything, anyone. Harming anything is difficult for me.  I just wouldn’t do it.  Instead I dropped the gun and fled, running about three miles home.  He followed me on his motorbike.  Who knows where the gun was by then.  I didn’t stop to ask.

In spite of the fact that I would have arrived home hot, sweaty and out of breath I didn’t tell anyone what had happened.  My family was all home, it was Saturday night, and no one knew a thing.  It was many years before I ever let that burden go by telling my family (when I wrote my book).  The trauma of that night was something I carried with me from then on.  I didn’t tell anyone because I thought it must be my fault.  What’s more I had been told I must show Christian compassion to J, and frankly that seemed so unfair.  It still seems unfair and totally wrong to me.  I hate the thought of people being guilted into this Christian compassion.

That night was over 30 years ago now and, in spite of a lot of therapy, I still carry it with me when I see things like the Dunedin shooting reported.

It’s too easy to pull a trigger.  From what that man had with him, he had apparently gone there to burn the house down.  Who knows whether the shootings were part of the deal.  Maybe it was simply too easy.  I don’t know, and I guess no one will ever know.

I don’t want to get into a gun lobby debate but when this story hit me I needed to say that while I hate that those children have died, and I hate that their mother is now alone, I am very glad that guns are not common in New Zealand.  Tragedies like this happen but not often.  Thankfully.  Frankly I wish it was harder still to get our hands on guns here.  I simply don’t believe there is a need, although I accept that maybe your country is different.

“I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley near the frozen creek. That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out. Looking back now, I realize I have been peeking into that deserted alley for the last twenty-six years.” 

― Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner

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Will A Haircut Transform My Life?

Anyone for a haircut? "Image courtesy of [franky242] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net".

Anyone for a haircut?
“Image courtesy of [franky242] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

 Among other things, it has been on my mind this week that I need to get a haircut.  Badly.  I hate getting my haircut.  It’s worse than going to the dentist for me, so even thinking about it is difficult.  Actually I hate it so much that while I know a haircut would improve my appearance, I’m sure it does nothing else for me than raise my anxiety levels, not to mention the trauma of putting myself through the ordeal.  I even wonder if Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a possibility.

So I was curious when I saw this story was the ‘most shared‘ on Facebook on Veterans Day this past week.  This You Tube clip has been viewed almost 14 million times.  A haircut has gone viral on social media.

Here’s a homeless veteran with a history of alcoholism. He was given a makeover back in September, and the results were scheduled to be released on social media on Veterans Day. It was timed to fit with a campaign to raise funds for veterans (by getting a haircut).  The social agency (Dégagé Ministries) involved happened to also make a substantial amount from donations from the social media activity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m really pleased for the man.  He got his haircut, some new clothes including a leather jacker apparently, and he finally got listed for some housing  And he’s started going to AA meetings.  That’s great.  Except I’ve got this nagging sense of ‘there’s something not quite right here‘.  I’m wondering was it the haircut that meant this man finally got some help?

Why does he have to change his appearance in order to hit the big time on social media? He’s still the same person inside.  Why does a trimmed beard and highlighted hair enter him into the great social media hall of fame?  I just don’t get it.  14 million people watched this particular clip but there are plenty of other news sites also carrying the story, and particularly the haircut.

In my mind what matters is the person inside.  His appearance doesn’t count for anything.  Somehow because he put on a tie, he has become acceptable and maybe even ‘one of us’.  I wonder though, how he feels.  Social media are raving about the haircut (as I am, ironically) but who cares about the obviously broken man inside?  That’s what matters, surely.

I could go on about this but really I just wonder, am I the only one who thinks we’ve got something wrong here?  What do you think? Is it necessary to get a haircut, in order to access welfare services that should be available regardless of how he looks?

Social media is really good for lots of things, but I really wonder whether we’ve lost sight of what matters.  In my mind the haircut means nothing.  It’s healing the wounds inside and meeting the basic needs of life that will really make this man’s life live-able for him.  If the rest of us want a makeover show then there’s plenty on reality television.

As for me, I guess I’ll eventually get that haircut, but I doubt it will go viral.  I won’t be putting it on YouTube.  I know you’re disappointed, but I’m relieved.

“Beware lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow.” 

― Aesop

Scared Of The Dark

Today in New Zealand, is Guy Fawkes Night.  It’s a tradition that is celebrated in a number of countries and has its origins back in 1605 when a man by the name of Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the British Parliament.  Apart from the fact that New Zealand is part of the British Commonwealth, I really don’t see why we still ‘celebrate’ it.  Afterall it’s nothing to do with my country is hardly an honourable event.

Celebrations come complete with bonfires and fireworks, and what kiwi child can’t remember their father tying Catherine Wheels to the clothesline, and setting off Skyrockets out of the old glass Fanta bottles?  The fireworks were always pretty but the fear of the noise and fire was overwhelming for me, and I was usually glad it was over.  The bullies after school would set off Double Happy and Tom Thumb firecrackers, throwing them at anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Again, not something I enjoyed.  Thankfully firecrackers are no longer legal.

Nowadays there is a move to official, public firework displays down at our local New Brighton Beach.  I’m quite okay with those, although I don’t ‘do’ crowds so tend to stay away.  Crowds in the dark, with loud explosions, is not my idea of fun, even if it’s professionals out on the sea lighting the fuse.  But still many people choose to let off their own fireworks in their backyards, and last night it seemed that my whole suburb was doing this (perhaps leaving them free to go to the official display tonight).

Yesterday wasn’t one of my better days.  Actually on the fibromyalgia front, it was a pretty good day (finally) but there were a few emotional triggers, a few ghosts from the past,  that set off several (private thankfully) meltdowns of tears.  It was one of those days I didn’t want to be awake anymore so headed to bed early.  Unfortunately at the same time my suburb was letting off fireworks.

See?   I can admit it.  I’m scared of the dark.  Actually I wasn’t as a child, but as life has gone on and trauma has come my way I have come to dread the dark.  I simply don’t like not being able to see what is around me.  I need to be able to see if there are any threats to my safety or sanity.  Some nights are better than others but last night was one of those where I was sleeping with the light on.  What’s more I couldn’t bring myself to close my eyes.  I desperately needed to see.  That doesn’t help in the getting to sleep process.

As I lay there, trying to go to sleep, fireworks were exploding nearby sending both light (through the curtains) and noise into the room.  I was anything but relaxed.  I knew it was probably a window of about half an hour (as it went dark outside) that the fireworks would continue.  I grit my teeth (don’t tell my dentist) and sat it out.

“Someone once told me that none of us are actually afraid of the dark; we’re scared of what it conceals from us. We’re afraid of having something with the potential to hurt us standing right before our eyes and no registering it as a threat. People can be like that too.”

- Unknown

For me, these words are quite accurate.  I wasn’t scared of the dark as a child and generally wasn’t an anxious child.  I’m 48 years old now and I struggle to sleep in  the dark.  Even my darling L (who, by the way,  turns three next week) sleeps in the dark, with an occasional visit from mum.  But not me.  I go through stages of needing a light on somewhere, but right now it’s not a good stage.

I have learned what the dark contains, and what is hidden in the shadows.  I have learnt that there are people and things that can hurt me.  I have only just got over the whole ‘earthquakes in the dark‘ thing that has been hitting my city for three years now.  Imagine a 7.1 quake in the dark if you can, and you soon learn of what you are scared.

More recently though I have discovered there were people standing right beside me, that were a threat to me… but I had no idea for far too long.  They were there to abuse me, and lie to me, determined to ‘play’ with me and perhaps even destroy me… and I had no idea.  Let me be clear.  I knew they were there, but I had no idea they were such a terrible threat to me.

That’s why I’m scared of the dark.  I need to know what, and who is there.  I can’t close my eyes because I might miss their approach.  Now that I know of their existence and threat, I can do (and have done) what I can to protect myself.  But trauma has visited me again, and I remain fearful of anything else that might seek to harm me.

I have some work to do, but meanwhile the light stays on.

“There are wounds that never show on the body that are deeper and more hurtful than anything that bleeds.” 

— Laurell K. Hamilton (Mistral’s Kiss (Merry Gentry, #5))

An Anniversary I’m Not Celebrating

Twenty years ago this weekend, I dived off the platform into the murky waters of mental illness.  Twenty years!  It does seem like a long time ago, but twenty years?  That is a good chunk of my life down in those muddy waters, trying to hold my breath and not drown.  I celebrate that I didn’t drown, but twenty years?

I had won a weekend holiday in Queenstown (a tourist trap for kiwis and plenty of overseas tourists).  My boyfriend, D and I chose this particular weekend to take the trip because it had been my birthday during the past week, we had just got engaged the weekend before, and we both needed a break.  Over the past couple of months I had Glandular Fever (mononucleosis) and was still feeling pretty fatigued.  A weekend away (from Auckland where we were living then) was just what was needed.

The weekend started okay.  We flew to Queenstown and picked up a rental car.  We were feeling pretty lucky to have won this weekend because money was tight and it’s not something we could have afforded.  I had been off work for about six weeks and was only back part-time.

But life was pretty good.  I was a career girl in a job I loved, I had shifted to Auckland the year before and so had finally escaped the stalkers who had plagued my life.  I had good friends.  I owned my own home,  I was a committed Christian who was at church twice on Sundays, and most of all I loved the lifestyle I had.  But wow!  How life can change?  Twenty years on and I am a completely different person.

Back to our weekend away, I wasn’t really aware of anything but at one point D said to me that I had been really negative all day.  It wasn’t about anything specific, just everything.  I hadn’t realised but now that he mentioned it, I started to realise he was right.  So I stopped talking.  That seemed like the best way (at the time) to fix the problem but by the end of the day everything had got too much and we were back in our hotel room, me bawling on the bed.  For hours.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop.

D had no idea what was wrong, or even why I was crying.  Neither did I, really.  I just knew my life had crashed somehow and I couldn’t stop crying.  The glass in the mirror had shattered, and somehow I knew I couldn’t put it back together again.

And so began 20 years of mental illness.  It seemed my mental health had got on a plane to Queenstown, but didn’t come back.  First, I was diagnosed with Depression and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  Next, those two triggered Anorexia and that became a whole different ball game as not only my mental health but my physical health was under fire.  Much later came the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Adult Attachment Disorder.  It seemed like once it started, there was no stopping it.

As I said earlier, up until that weekend it seemed like I had life together.  Sure, bad things had happened in my life but I had held myself together and survived.  The thought that I would dive into the mental illness pond was the furthest thing from my mind.  It wasn’t anything anyone else seemed to expect for me either. My parents had only recently given me a birthday card which said “for the woman who has everything“.  I never thought of myself that way, but life was pretty good at that stage.  I assumed it would just go on that way.

But life has a way of surprising us, doesn’t it?  Really, I had a lot of things go wrong in my life and my strategy was to hold it all together, rather than deal with it.  The years of stalking had a price to pay, and now I know that when the trauma ends, that is the time the effects of it really hit.  Until then you’re just fighting for survival.  But I could finally relax.  Perhaps it was finally safe to let go and cry. But then I couldn’t stop.

I remember in the early days reading a book about a woman who had depression for two years.  I was appalled by the idea of two years of this hell.  I couldn’t consider I might be depressed for months, let alone years.

Contrary to popular opinion I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason.  I also don’t believe that, as I was taught as a child, I should be thankful for all things.  What I do believe though is that I can learn from all things.  I have learnt many things across that twenty years.  I have learnt that kindness and compassion extend to all people, regardless of who or what they are.

I’ve learnt a lot of things I’d rather not have learnt too.  But that’s how life goes.  We don’t always get to pick and choose.  I’ve seen a lot of things I’d rather not have seen.  I wouldn’t choose this route.  I would never choose mental illness over health and life, but having gone down that route I choose to let it be.

I finish with this thought.  For a (very) long time I wished for my life back.  I wished for a return to the ‘old days’.  I know that’s not going to happen now.  This is my life as it is.  That old life is gone and wouldn’t be relevant to me now anyway.  I went to Queenstown as one person, and came back as another.  If twenty years of mental illness has taught me one thing it’s to live one day at a time and accept what I have.  I won’t always have the answers to why, but I can just let it be.

“An infinite question is often destroyed by finite answers…To define everything is to annihilate much that gives us laughter and joy…If I try self consciously to become a person, I will never be one. The most real people, those who are able to forget their selfish selves, who have true compassion, are usually the most distinct individuals” 

― Madeleine L’Engle, A Circle of Quiet

I’ve Joined Canvas

I’m really happy to tell you that I have joined a great group of writers at A Canvas Of The Minds, a site used to write about  mental health, through different voices and different perspectives.  I’m going to use my voice to share one more perspective.

I will be writing different material for my Canvas posts, but will share with you the link when I do, so that you have the opportunity to read it too.

My first post (posted today), is about why I choose to blog using my real name rather than a pseudonym.  I know that’s quite different than a lot of bloggers.  I’m sure you’ll find it interesting and…  You’ll find it here.

“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’ 
I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!” 

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit

Blessed… And Otherwise

If you’ve been following my posts (and I know how hard it is to stay updated) you will know that, for a variety of reasons, I have been having a tough time lately.  Because of the need to protect privacy I haven’t been able to go into the details of what’s been happening.  Regardless of that, you as readers, reached out to me in the past few days in a way that has left me feeling very blessed.

The support I have had through, both this blog and, other social mediums has been amazing.  Thank you so much.  You remind me that human beings are really very good beings, and that we are lucky to have each other.

Something that has really helped me is the number of people who have told me recently that I, through this blog, make a difference in their lives.  Wow!  I don’t care about being ‘freshly pressed‘ (okay WordPress, go ahead if you insist, but it’s not what I’m here for) and I don’t feel the need of thousands of readers.  If I make a difference in simply one person’s life?  Then that is absolutely enough for me.  That makes it worthwhile.  More than worthwhile.  So thank you to those of you who took the time to tell me how my blog helps you.  That helped me enormously.

Actually Sunday, the day I last posted, was the first day I had felt some peace for several months.  Nothing was fixed, healed or even put right.  But I knew I was supported, and that was enough

But unfortunately this time there is the ‘otherwise’.  Sometimes we do things with the best of intentions, and in those times we would never mean for anyone to be hurt.  But sometimes because we don’t know all the facts, or the history behind the situation, or even the personal histories of the people involved… it can backfire.  We meant to support, but in reality, harm was caused.

This is what has happened for me this time.  I’m not upset with the person involved (I don’t actually know, or want to know, who it was) but some things were said in support of me, which actually triggered a whole lot of historical fears and worries and well as some interpersonal issues I could have done without.  Think Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  These traumas have a habit of repeating on us, often when we least expect it.  Especially when we think we’ve finally got through it.  Slam!  And it’s back in our faces again.

I’m only sharing this because it has been a lesson for me, and I thought maybe someone else might gain something from it.  It’s one thing to be careful with words that we use, but we also need to think through the consequences of what is said.  Sometimes that’s out of our hands, but other times it is in our hands.  I also don’t believe that we are responsible for the actions of the person we speak to, but I do believe our words and intentions should always be made with kindness and compassion as their core.

The person involved could probably have never foreseen what happened, but that simply reminds me that we need to be aware of what we don’t know.

I am very blessed by the support I have had, and that includes the person who spoke up seemingly on my behalf.  I appreciate the good intention and so thank you.  I guess we just need to be careful with each other in so many ways.

“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding… And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy” 

― Kahlil Gibran

Defining Friendships

Across my life I have had many people try to define who my friends should be.  Some were successful in their attempts, probably because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for what I wanted and for what I knew I should have.

As a child, I had a number of adults who deemed that their offspring were not allowed to be friends with me.  What had I done wrong to get this judgement?  I was a Preacher’s Kid, and Preachers Kids had a reputation for being ‘off the rails‘ and generally a bad influence.  I wasn’t ‘off the rails‘ at the time, and if anything their offspring were probably a bad influence on me.  But the ‘jury’ had me announced to be bad news, simply because of my father’s profession, and so it was difficult to have the friendship we might have wanted.

As a teenager, and then as an adult, I spent many years being the victim of two stalkers.  Society seems to have this idea than stalking, and being stalked is a bit of a joke.  It’s not.  Among other things it plays serious havoc with the mental health of both the stalked, and the stalker.  Stalking is never a joke!

It was difficult not to let my friendships be defined by the actions of these two men.  Friends were an access point to their victim, and so I constantly had to be careful about who I spent time with, what I told them and where I went with friends. Some of my friends at the time were amazingly supportive, and I will always feel much gratitude to them for the way they supported and protected me.  But other friends fell by the way side.  It was simply necessary for trying to maintain that mental health, but I feel sad that I have missed out on much because of this.

By the time the stalking terror was over, I was married and again, I was told who my friends should and shouldn’t be.  Perhaps most memorable to me is the friend who was ‘barred’ from our house, particularly while my husband was at work.  She was barred because she smoked (he didn’t realise that I had started smoking by then), she too had a mental illness, and perhaps the most dastardly ‘deed’ was that she was a lesbian.  All of that made me more angry than ever, for so many reasons.  This particular attempt to define my friends very nearly ended in tragedy.  Thankfully it didn’t, but it was certainly not without lasting harm to both of us.  And to my marriage, which is long since over thankfully.

All of this came to mind in a disturbing manner this week when I discovered (I’m probably months behind most people) that Facebook has decided for itself who my ‘close friends’ are.  What’s more, without my permission, Facebook will tell these ‘close friends’ of my activity on Facebook.  The cringe factor sky-rockets for me instantly, and what I want to do is run as far away as possible from Facebook.

This might seem extreme to many, but not for me.  Again, I am being told who my friends are, and scarily similar to the many years I spent being stalked, I find that those ‘close friends’ get information about me which I have not agreed too.  Remember too that these ‘close friends’ are not my close friends.  A few maybe, but they are simply Facebook friends I have contact with regularly on Facebook.

I object strongly, Facebook.

Now that at least some of these people get a notification when I am ‘on-line’ (even though I permanently have the chat function turned off),  I am starting to feel stalked again.

People know what I am doing, and when I am doing it.  This is the scariest thing when you have been stalked.  The stalker knows more of what I do than even I know.  Somehow they seem to know before I do something.  They constantly know everything, and I have little or often no power to stop that.  I am left with that familiar feeling that there is someone standing outside my windows just watching me.  I lived with that reality for 15 years, and many years following as I tried to recover from the trauma of living this way.

Yet again, my friendships are defined by others.  Just when I’m learning to define myself, I have a social media that wants to do that for me.  That completely freaks me out.  It seems that I have little control over who Facebook determines to be my ‘close friends’ and I have no control over what they get told about what I do.

This time social media has gone too far for me.  I know that most people won’t even get why I am so disturbed for by this, and in a way, I am glad because it tells me you haven’t had to live as a prisoner of another.  As for me though, I need to work out what to do.  I can’t live like this.  Time for some thought.

“I cried for all of those things that should have just been for us…” 

― Kate Chisman, Creep

Hurtling In CyberSpace

This post was removed on 30 December 2012.

But I still want to finish with a wonderful piece of music, shared with me by my good friends at Bullying Is For Losers  It’s a message I needed to hear yesterday, and will probably need to keep listening to.  I’m not going to hide my True Colours.  Somehow I’m going to find a way through this.

Healing Takes Time

'Healing of the Paralytic'    Image credit: Wikipedia.com

‘Healing of the Paralytic’                      Image credit: Wikipedia.com

In a random moment, of completely unrelated thought, it occurred to me that it is exactly twenty years since I packed up all my possessions, put most of them into storage, rented out what I considered my modest, dream home that I’d only bought a year earlier…  and shifted cities, from Wellington to Auckland (8 hours north).  Twenty years!  Wow!  No one could have predicted was what to follow next.

The reason this is significant to me is that this shift spelt the end of the trauma I experienced from being stalked (you can read more about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me).  The journey wasn’t over, but I was finally doing something people had advised me to do for years.

Leave town.  The reason it took me so long to leave town was that I am stubborn, very stubborn.  And I didn’t want the two stalkers to win.  I felt that if they drove me from the city where I loved living, and away from my friends and family, then they would have won somehow.  I resisted what seemed like the easy option for a long time… until it simply got too much, and I couldn’t take living my life in hiding and a kind of raised alertness anymore.

What I had no awareness of at that time, but now completely understand, is that when the trauma ends, the journey is only just beginning.  I beg to disagree with people who might tell you that now it’s over you can simply get on with living.  It’s finished.

Actually it’s not.  It’s simply a corner I had turned towards recovery.  But the journey would continue to be just as painful for a long time to come.

When I no longer had to keep looking over my shoulder to see if they were there watching, I could relax (actually I had to learn how to stop looking over my shoulder).  And when I relaxed, that’s when the fear struck home.  For nearly 14 years I had lived with the reality, but I couldn’t afford to let myself feel fear.  I couldn’t for many reasons.  Partly I had to remain alert of danger all the time.  Somehow I had to tell myself that I could cope with this, because if I didn’t I would crash, and be vulnerable, not just to the pain, but to the stalkers themselves.  It was a risk I couldn’t take.  It would destroy me.

Now that I was away from the stalkers, it was safe to let my guard down… and weep.  Actually even then it took a while to happen.

I was in a new city, with a great new job.  I was catching up with old friends and making new ones.  For 10 months I was great, and then sickness (Glandular Fever or infectious mononucleosis) struck and then, because I was vulnerable, my mental health completely fell apart. The defenses I had built up over so long could no longer carry me.

I had to think long and hard before writing this post.  The last thing I want to do is discourage others who are fighting their own battles.  Twenty years is a heck of a long time.  I know.  I lived it.  But I think we need to be realistic too.  And to know that taking time is okay.

After all the damage that may have been inflicted on us in a variety of means of abuse, perhaps over a long time, it is going to take time to heal.  The damage probably wasn’t done overnight, and we’re not going to heal overnight.  Just because the abuse (of any kind) is over does not mean the pain comes to an end.  Actually for me, it was only just beginning.

I hasten to add that I haven’t spent 20 years continually trying to get over this, and actually it was about four years before anyone started to use the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  What could be seen was Depression and Anorexia, but unfortunately no one stopped to pay attention to the trauma I had faced for so long.  And actually I was pretty much too traumatised to be able to talk about it.

When a therapist started to talk in terms of trauma, I knew I had finally found someone who ‘got it’.  That was a life changing event, if ever I had one.  This man understood me.  Unfortunately this was in a final interview with him, as my then husband and I were on the move again (actually back to Wellington).  I never had the opportunity to speak to this man who ‘got me’ again.

For the first few years I was being treated for Depression and Anorexia, although it was continually said that I wasn’t responding to treatment, nor did I fit what was seen as classic profiles for these issues.

Cover of "A Path Through the Sea"

Cover of A Path Through the Sea

About six months into my treatment, my eldest brother who has always been great at supplying me with books to read, sent me one about Depression.  A Path Through the Sea by Lillian V. Grissen.  It was a very good account of the author’s journey through Depression, and was the first book I read which was a personal account.  It is written from a Christian perspective –  she was a missionary – and if that’s your thing you might find it interesting.  I did at the time.But I was also completely mortified by her account.  She was depressed for two years!  At the time, I had been unwell, and being treated for depression for six months. The thought of two years of this was completely beyond me.  I just ‘knew’ I couldn’t do two years of this hell.

You can probably guess why I mention it.  Because it is now 20 years on.  What more can I say, without depressing every reader?

I took this opportunity of realising the anniversary to ask myself what impact the trauma I experienced was still having on my life.  The first thought was that I still am somewhat scared of the dark and I still clip my bedroom curtains closed at night, so that they can’t fall back leaving a gap.  My cat used to jump up on the window sill during the night and move the curtains. In the morning I would find a gap and be terrified that someone had been watching me through the window as I slept.  I know it’s a little odd, but I can cope with needing to do that still.  If I continue to need to do it all my life, so be it.

What disturbs me much more is the realisation that in spite of all the therapy and healing, every connection with another human being has me (usually unconsciously now) fearing that the result of knowing that person will be more stalking.  Basically I view everyone as a potential stalker.  It’s one of the reasons I married my ex-husband (18 years ago).  As it was, when we divorced some years later, he proved me wrong by not going on to stalk me.  It was only then that I could breathe peacefully.

I hate that I still fear the result of a relationship (of any kind) will be more stalking.  I feel angry that after all this time, it still has such a big impact on me.  I feel angry at the men whose actions taught me react in this way.

That said, I know that being angry isn’t going to help at this point.  I have done the angry thing and I don’t believe it’s what I need right now.  That trauma happened across a lot of years and I built up defenses to protect myself for very good reasons.   Some might say “get over it” but that won’t help me either.  What I need is to be gentle with myself.  What I need is to give myself time.  What I need is to say “it’s okay“.

I’m not saying that healing needs to take 20+ years after significant on-going trauma, and I’m not convinced that it needed to take me 20+ years.  It’s just that for a large chunk of that time I was on a self-destruct mode that really didn’t allow for healing to take place.  There were other things going on too, and there are for most of us.

What I am saying is that healing takes time.  When we’ve been hurt over a sustained period of time, the pain won’t be over when the trauma stops.  It takes time.  I’m no psychologist to be able to say explain some psychological theory.   I just know it doesn’t happen overnight, and I believe it’s important that I be gentle on myself and give myself whatever time it takes.  Hopefully those around me can give me that time too.

“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.” 

―    Anne Lamott,    Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year

Choosing To Be Fully Alive

Image credit: Lk1997863064/Flickr.com

I came across these great words from Dawna Markova:

Fully Alive

I will not die an unlived life.

I will not live in fear

of falling or catching fire.

I choose to inhabit my days,

to allow my living to open me, 

to make me less afraid,

more accessible,

to loosen my heart

until it becomes a wing, a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance;

to live so that which came to me as seed

goes to the next as blossom

and that which came to me as blossom,

goes on as fruit.

Let me explain why they caught my eye.  I’ve spent a lot of years not being fully alive.  There are many reasons for that, and one of them sprung to mind when I read this poem.  Some years ago I had the unfortunate, and very traumatic experience of seeing another person catch fire, and I was unable to stop it happening or even to help.  I’m not going to go into the details because it would be traumatic for me, and maybe for you too, but I read:

“I will not live in fear of falling or catching fire”

You might be able to imagine that after an experience like that, everything about catching fire would catch my attention.  It did.  Any words about fire tend to do that for me, although I can say that at this stage it’s not the traumatic re-living of the event anymore.  Otherwise I wouldn’t be writing about it now.

What strikes me is that back when that happened, it affected all of my senses.  My sight, smell and hearing all caught their own record of it.  What’s more, I could taste the burning in my mouth and I could feel the soot on my clothes.  I guess that’s what you could call experiencing it fully, and as a result it was very hard to get away from.  Not only were all my senses affected that day but also my heart.  The person involved wasn’t someone I knew personally, but a little of the pain they experienced had to touch those who had to watch helplessly.  How could it not?

I have lived since then afraid of catching fire, or seeing the experience repeated.  I don’t even use candles anymore, even though I consider myself to have largely recovered from the experience.  Candles also aren’t such a good idea when you’re living with earthquakes, so again my fear of fire is stashed away with the candles, and I can tell myself that it is ‘sensible’.

I suspect that to some extent I will always be a little fearful of fire, but the thing is that when I start to guard my life from one danger, then it is easy to start building protective barriers around myself from other dangers.  I don’t want my senses to be invaded in such a way that they were.  And I don’t want my heart to be hurt like it was that day too.

That occasion was thankfully the only time I have had to deal with such an event but my heart has been being hurt, and burnt over and over again across the years.  I’m no different from anyone else, and I’m sure most people have had their hearts burnt at times.  It’s just that when it happens repeatedly then you gradually shut down from the world, and that’s what I did.  I shut down so that no one could get near my heart.

It seemed like the sensible thing to do at the time, but I’m realising that when I shut down my heart then I shut down my life and how it is experienced by all of my senses.  I don’t want to die having lived only half my life, and so I’ve come to the conclusion that I have to take a few risks in order to bear the fruit.

I’m not about to light candles because our earthquakes continue (although admittedly they are lessening in their frequency).  A damaged house is one thing but a burnt out house would leave me homeless.

But I can consider my risks, and take a few.  I want to fly.  In any situation that we face there are risks.  I’m not blind to that but I think now I’m at a point where I can jump.  If I don’t fly, then I know there will be people around me now to make sure I have a smooth landing.  I’m still going to be careful.  I don’t want my heart burned unnecessarily.  And when those earthquakes have stopped, I’ll be pulling out the candles again.  It’s time to move on and not be paralysed any longer by my fear of fire.  Fire can be a good thing too, and I intend to experience that.

“We are young, but We already know that in life’s great game those who are
most unhappy are those who haven’t taken the risk to be happy.
And I don’t want to be one of those” 

―    Guillaume Musso,    Que serais-je sans toi?