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))

Dona Nobis Pacem (2013)

(That’s what ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ means)

Today I am participating, for the second time, in Blog4Peace…   because peace is something that I strongly believe is desperately needed in our world.  Bloggers from over 200 countries are participating today, and that just says to me how important our quest for peace is.

Sometimes I’m not too good at sticking to ‘the rules’, especially with blogging challenges and the like.  Hopefully Mimi will forgive my errant ways.  Usually bloggers create a template of their statement of peace, and post it on their site on 4 November.  I have borrowed a template (above) for this post, but came to the conclusion that firstly, I’m a better writer than an artist, and secondly, I had something to say that I couldn’t contain in a template. As well as that my brain isn’t quite functioning straight right now and to achieve both tasks is simply beyond me.

The Mission (1986 film)

The Mission (1986 film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was watching a movie the other day.  A favourite from years ago, of which I have just managed to get my hands on a copy.  It is The Mission (1986) starring Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro.

The brief summary of what this is about is that some Jesuit priests are living and working with locals above the Iguazu Falls in the South American jungle in the 1750s.  There is some outstanding music in this movie, probably one of the reasons I love it, but there are difficult moments too when Portuguese rulers take back the land, destroy the mission built with the Jesuits ,and try to enslave the locals.  The priest, played by Jeremy Irons, believes that God is love, and violence is a direct crime against that love.  He argues that they should trust God rather than fight back.  He chooses to stay with the villagers in peace while other Jesuits decide to renounce their vows and fight with many of the male villagers.

It’s hard to fit a movie into a paragraph, but the reason I raise it is the two choices that are made, effectively between peace and war.  I sat watching the movie, and there were villagers, priests and soldiers representing the Portuguese rulers dying everywhere.  Most of it was played out beside the river and I was struck how easily dead bodies were cast aside, out-of-the-way, so that the fight could continue.  It seemed to me those bodies meant nothing, and I was struck with a knowing that I could never kill another being (human or animal), in such a situation because I simply couldn’t allow myself to let them mean so little.  It was difficult enough to stand and watch my cat being euthanised last year.  I knew it was taking away her pain, but it was so difficult to let a life be taken.

That said, that’s an easy statement for me to make.  I’m not back there in the 1750s with the threat of my village being destroyed, and I’m not even in a position where I have to consider that I might be sent to war here in the 21st century.  I live in a country (New Zealand) where military involvement is not mandatory. It was for young men (including my grandfather) in the first and second world wars, but as a woman, that was never something I would have had to face doing.  Yes, it’s easy for me to say.  My choice not to bear arms would not have any affect on my family and/or loved ones.  Saying no is definitely an option for me.  But I get that for so many, it’s not that easy.

Peace is one of those things that I think we all have our own views of what it is about.  For me it is about respecting the value of each human being to a point where that person deserves to be saved.  This post isn’t directly about war, although obviously it is not ignored because without peace we often have war. My personal belief is that war is never necessary.  There is always another way of solving a dispute, and every effort should be taken to preserve life.  Maybe it’s more difficult, maybe it takes longer.  Jeremy Irons, in his role, chose to take what he viewed as God’s way.  That’s not why I like it but rather what I do I like is the respect a peaceful solution offers to each individual.

We are all worth saving.  None of us deserve to be left dead or injured on the side of the road, or permanently traumatised by the horror that soldiers, and the indigenous and local people have witnessed in the name of war.  My belief is that peace values each of us.  It says we are all too important to be cast aside as I saw in the movie.

That’s why I have taken time out from my usual blogging to take part in today’s Blog4Peace.  All of the bloggers taking part in this event believe that if words are powerful….this matters. The wider we spread this message, each in our own way, the more people will see that the right thing to do is to lay down arms and live at peace.

What does all this have to do with blogging for mental health?  If we had peace world over then we could all let it be.  I am convinced that our overall mental health would be significantly better.

Music drew me to that movie, just as I believe that music draws us in peace toward togetherness.  That’s why I’m finishing this post with music from Playing For Change Songs Around The World.

“Dad, how do soldiers killing each other solve the world’s problems?” 

― Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages 1985-1995

Image credit:  Shannon Pinkley-Wamsley

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

It’s All In Your Head!

What are we so afraid of?  Why does being told ‘it’s all in your head’ fill us with terror and completely write off any sense of being validated as a patient in need of help?

My view is that it’s all about the stigma of mental illness.  Somehow we’ve interpreted the message ‘it’s all in your head’ to mean ‘it’s not real’.  And we’ve done that for very good reasons.

I recently read an article about some work being done in understanding Gulf War Syndrome, which has many symptoms similar to fibromyalgia.  They have found that there is clear evidence of brain damage in sufferers, and one of the hopes is that in developing a test (a fMRI) to diagnosis the illness, it will lead onto the more accurate diagnosis of Fibro and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Here’s a quote from that article:

“Many veterans have had difficulties getting benefits and treatment for a service-connected condition because doctors assumed they were either faking it or suffering from post-traumatic stress. “That’s a problem with all physicians — VA, military or civilian,” Baraniuk said. “If it doesn’t fall within their small world of known diseases, then the patient is nuts.”

It’s actually the same with Fibro (and I assume, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome), that patients are sometimes thought to be faking their symptoms, or somehow worse still, thought to be psychologically based… and therefore assumed to be somehow not real.

Maybe I have an advantage because I have both mental illnesses and physical illnesses.  I haven’t seen it as an advantage until now but it must be because I know that mental illnesses are real.  That means that I also know that if a doctor sees fit to tell me my physical illness is psychologically based, then I know that their opinion doesn’t remove my symptoms, and therefore my suffering, being real.

My Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is real.  The Anorexia I struggled with for years was real.  The Depression was real.  The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was even real.

They were also ‘all in my head’.  They were all psychologically based, although some of them also affected me physically too.  No one could realistically deny that I was suffering, or that I needed real help to either fight, or manage these conditions.

To add to that, there were very real physical consequences to some of those illnesses.  For example, it is difficult not to accept that Anorexia, as well as being a mental illness, has profound effects on the body which need to be medically treated.  The fact that it is a mental illness does not take away the doctor’s need to treat the patient medically.

If those conditions that I have had or currently still live with, can be identified as psychological but still be treated, then does it really matter whether my fibro is seen as a psychological or a physical illness?  Personally, I don’t think so.  The symptoms are still there, as is my suffering.  Is it ‘all in my head’, or in some other part of my body?  In terms of how it is treated there maybe a considerable difference, but there isn’t a difference in terms of my very real need for help.

My opinion is that the problem with issues addressed by the quote above does not lie with the veterans who are suffering.  The problem is with the medical professional who deem it fit to view that something isn’t real if it is psychological.  Either way the patients with symptoms need help, but it seems too easy for doctors to cast someone aside because their symptoms are from a particular basis.

Even if the doctor wishes to put symptoms down to ‘attention seeking’, my view is that there is still a need for that person to be treated.  Maybe treated differently, but the person still needs help.  Right now it seems that a seeming psychological cause, let alone fake, is simply dismissed often.  That is so wrong.

I actually had a similar issue to this problem a few weeks back with the medical specialist who monitors the auto-immune condition I have called Graves’ Disease.  Graves’ Disease affects a number of parts of the body but primarily the thyroid gland, leading to hyperthyroidism and eventually something called thyrotoxicosis (when levels get toxic and life threatening).

My endocrinologist examined my blood results which indicated that my thyroid levels are currently in a safe range.  The problem for me (and I’d like to think it had been for her too) is that sitting in front of her, I had many of the symptoms of thyrotoxicosis. I can tell you that those symptoms were not pleasant and I was hoping that she would help me to address some of them.  I could accept that the blood tests suggested I wasn’t dying, but I was definitely suffering.

Interestingly she was seemingly interested in helping me to alleviate the symptoms until she went to check my case with her supervisor.  Then she came back and told me that because the blood results were fine, there was nothing that needed to be done.  I was shown the door, and actually later I found she had then formally discharged from the Thyroid specialist service I had been under for several years.

My point is that I was still suffering, but she wasn’t interested.  There’s something wrong when doctors dismiss patients when there is clear evidence of suffering.  Just like the Gulf War veterans.  There is suffering, and whether it is faked, ‘all in the head’, Post-Traumatic stress, or clear sign of physical brain damage (as the fMRI will detect)…  there is a patient who is suffering, who has lost quality of life…  and needs help.

I think it’s sad that the general view is that if something is ‘all in your head’ that somehow the pain and suffering is not real and does not need treatment.  Somehow we need to move away from that view because while it remains, it increases the stigma of mental illness because that too, is seen as not real.  It also increases the likelihood that people won’t seek help when they need it.

But as well as the general population view on this, I am convinced that it is medical professionals that need to lead the way in change.  What they have in front of them is a patient who needs help.  That’s actually what matters.

PS.   There is evidence that the situation with my Graves’ Disease is actually quite common, where the blood results indicate everything is ‘normal’ but the patient reports a very different reality in terms of symptoms.  I’m not aware of a substantiated reason for this though.  Unfortunately many health professionals choose to deny the existence of such an anomaly and so patients end up going without the help they may need.

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.” 

―    Norman Cousins,    Anatomy Of An Illness

“A doctor, like anyone else who has to deal with human beings, each of them unique, cannot be a scientist; he is either, like the surgeon, a craftsman, or, like the physician and the psychologist, an artist. This means that in order to be a good doctor a man must also have a good character, that is to say, whatever weaknesses and foibles he may have, he must love his fellow human beings in the concrete and desire their good before his own.”

Auden, W. H.

Blog For Mental Health 2013

blogformentalhealth20131

I am joining the project to Blog for Mental Health 2013, a project speared-headed by the wonderful  A Canvas Of The Minds, where some good friends of mine hang out and come up with brilliant material on mental health issues.  I realise this is the second campaign I’ve joined in a week (the other one you can check out on Still Standing Up To Stigma), but I see them as both being important and want to be part of both.  Also when my good friend Ruby pledged me, I just knew I wanted to get involved.

Blog for Mental Health 2013 is catching on like wildfire.  Everyone wants to be part of it and that’s fantastic to see so many bloggers committed to talking about mental health.  So here’s what you need to know:  This is not an award, but rather an exciting project to get a community of mental health bloggers to show that they are proud of their lives, that they are writing for themselves as well as for those who have not yet found their voices, that they are ensuring no one ever has to feel alone when dealing with mental illness. For me, those are some excellent reasons to be a part of this.

The badge that goes with this project, is designed by Lulu and you’ll see that repeated over on the right of this screen.

The next task is to take the pledge, and therefore:

I pledge my commitment to the Blog For Mental Health 2013 Project.  I will blog about mental health topics not only for myself, but for others.  By displaying this badge, I show my pride, dedication, and acceptance for mental health.  I use this to promote mental health education in the struggle to erase stigma.

Step two is to link back to the person who pledged me, Ruby Tuesday of I Was Just Thinking. . . and also co-owner of A Canvas Of The Minds.

Step three is a short biography about my mental health and what it means to me.

My mental health tends to revolve around labels such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Depression with frequent visits of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and eating disorders.  That said, labels don’t actually mean much to me apart from a way for me to identify reasons for some of my behaviours, thoughts and feelings.  I am me, I have a mental illness, and to me, that’s what matters.

Mental illness makes achieving mental health harder than usual.  There are extra bridges to cross, there is stigma to face, and there are battles to win.  But it is possible. 

The mental illnesses that I have are with me for life (BPD is part of my personality) but I view myself as having mental health when I can manage the symptoms and live the life that is important to me.  Right now, I’m doing that and it makes me happy.  It doesn’t mean that there are no struggles, but it does mean I can enjoy mental health just as much as the next person down the street.

Am I crazy?  Probably.  Is it ‘all in my head’?  Absolutely, that’s where my brain resides.  Is it easy?  No, it’s damn hard but living this way is so much more fulfilling than the life I barely existed in over years past.

Being part of this project is important to me, because I know how hard it is to live in this society where mental illness is not seen as okay.  I want to do my bit to spread the word that it is totally okay.  I not only want to make life easier for other people who have mental illness, but I also want to contribute a message that prepares our world to be more accepting of mental illness in the future.  May the next generation not have to fight with stigma.  May they be able to find the acceptance and peace they deserve.

Was that short?  Probably not.  Sometimes I just can’t help myself.  The final step is to pledge five bloggers who have “proven their mettle in my eyes as mental health bloggers”.  Hmm.  Actually this is a bit that I find hard.  I know that it is a way to get other bloggers involved, but personally I don’t want bloggers I could pledge to feel somewhat obligated.  I know obligation is not the intention, but I also know how easy it is for some of us to feel obligated.

So I’m not going to pledge any, except to say that if you write about mental health, even just some of the time (like me) then please consider getting on board with this project.  I honestly believe the more we all speak out about mental health, then the better place we create for ourselves and others to live with mental illness.  So check out the initial post – Blog for Mental Health 2013 and get involved.

One final note from A Canvas of the Minds, if you are getting on board…

“we are launching a Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll!  So, in addition to linking back to the person who pledged you, please include the link to the original post in your piece.  As this gets passed along, link back or click here and leave a comment containing the link to your pledge, and we will put you on our Blog For Mental Health 2013 Official Blogroll page!”

Show the world our strength, show them our solidarity, show them what we are made of.  Take the Blog for Mental Health pledge and proudly display the badge on your blog!

“Sometimes the world is so much sicker than the inmates
of its institutions.” 

―    Joanne Greenberg,    I Never Promised You a Rose Garden