Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

This week, not surprisingly, there has been a whole lot of talk on our screens about mental illness and suicide.  Having those subjects ‘out there‘ is a good thing, but I can’t deny that unwise words and ill-formed arguments have not helped anyone, most especially those personally affected by the tragic death of Robin Williams, and also importantly, those people struggling with their own mental illness battles and suicidal thoughts.

I read a lot that I really wish I hadn’t read, but one article I came across perhaps summed up the issues for me more than ever.  I have shared that article in several places but if you haven’t seen it I urge you to read the wise writings of Molly Pohlig:

When the Illness You Live With Becomes Breaking News
(I Bet Robin Williams Knew He Was Loved. Unfortunately, Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness)
http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/08/12/robin_williams_and_mental_illness_when_depression_is_breaking_news.html?wpsrc=sh_all_dt_tw_bot

One thing we perhaps know from this week, is that fame, fortune, a great sense of humour, laughter, family and perhaps above all, love does not cure mental illness.  Robin Williams appeared to have all these things.  Depression is not magically spirited away by the possession of such things, and the struggle with suicidal thoughts is not relieved.  Oh, that it could be.  Wouldn’t it be great if mental illness was so easy?

If love were enough, my depression would have been cured years ago.

If love were enough, along with maybe a plate of my favourite food of course,  then perhaps my Anorexia would never have got the dangerous point it did, not to mention halting the permanent damage it did to my body.

If love were enough, I wouldn’t have struggled with chronic suicidal ideation for so long, several times plunging my body close to death.

If love were enough just maybe Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) would never have become the major stumbling block in my life that it is.

And perhaps finally, if love were enough then Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) would have been cured.  But then for me PTSD was triggered into a perhaps worse state by the presence of love in my life.  Now that’s confusing if you believe love will solve all.

Love certainly made the last 20 years of my life better than it would have been without it, but only because in spite of the pain I was in, I knew someone cared and perhaps I wasn’t quite as alone as I felt.

But love didn’t fix the pain for me.  It didn’t cure my mental illness.  I had a family surrounding me who loved me.   It was hard for them to know that their love couldn’t fix me.  I guess that hurt like hell.

As I have said before (An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree), I tried very hard to prove for myself that my family didn’t really love me.  They did.  I can’t deny that.  Some of them (at least) probably thought they could help me if they could just love me a bit more and provide for the needs I had.  Maybe to sit down with me and watch a Robin Williams’ movie to make me laugh for a while.  I should say that just because I might laugh, doesn’t mean I am cured either.

I had friends who loved me, and though I tried very hard to push them away, some of those people are still my friends today.  No, they didn’t cure me, but they’ve stayed in for the long haul.  Mostly they simply kept being there.  But that didn’t cure me.

And then there was my marriage where for years a dedicated and caring husband tried harder than you could imagine to love my suffering away.  No one could fault him for the effort he made during what were the worst years of my suffering.  Strangely, the more he loved me, the more I kicked up my heels and pushed him away.  He loved me so much yet it wasn’t enough to save or cure me.  In the end was a broken marriage and still a mentally ill woman.

Why?  Obviously this is just my opinion but I think the reason my ex-husband’s and others’ love, weren’t enough to cure my mental illness was because:

I knew that I was unlovable

It wasn’t that I felt unlovable, but that I knew I was unlovable.  It is that certain.  I knew in my heart.  From my earliest days I knew I was unlovable, and actually I would go so far as to say that I knew this before I was born.  That might seem extreme and you’ll have to do without the reasons this time.  Some things are too private.

All the love around me meant nothing to me because I knew that it couldn’t be real, and I knew that eventually I would prove it to be false.  There was no way (in my mind) that those people really could love me like they said.  It just wasn’t possible.  I knew.

It’s certainly not the fault of the people who tried to love my mental illness away.  They didn’t understand that their love meant little because I was unlovable.  I couldn’t have explained it if I tried and so instead, the more they loved me the more of a fake I felt.  The more guilty I felt for not getting well.  This was not something any of them could fix.  It just was.

While I needed the love they were offering,  it was never going to be enough to cure my mental illness.  I can’t speak for others and I don’t pretend to.  This post is about me, and not the thousands who suffer from mental illness.  I can’t say if more love would have saved Robin Williams’ life.  In spite of many contrary opinions voiced this week, I believe that only he could have said what, if anything, could save his life.  And I suspect that he, like me, didn’t know if anything could cure us.

Mental illness affects different people differently.  And what is needed to cure it, if indeed that is possible, varies. To generalize simply isn’t fair on anyone.  I simply know that love was never going to cure me.

Thank you to those who tried to make love enough.  I am lucky to have you on my side and I’m sorry if I disappointed you.  There was nothing wrong with your love, it just was never going to be enough.

I saw a meme yesterday which said that love can cure everything.  I don’t believe that.  If only it were so easy.

“That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”

― Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

“That’s Nice, Dear”

Excuse me for a moment while I rant.

Here’s a bit of free advice.  Well, anything here is free but this is worth taking if you’re not too strong in the ‘wise‘ department.  Don’t under any circumstances say “that’s nice, dear” to anyone unless you’re absolutely sure that ‘that‘ is actually ‘nice‘.  If you say it just to be ‘nice‘ but haven’t checked whether it is actually nice, haven’t even heard what was actually said, or just making conversation… you’re getting yourself into hot water.  Being told “that’s nice, dear” is not at all nice when ‘that‘ is anything but nice.

What does ‘that’s nice, dear‘ mean anyway?  Nothing.  It’s simply something to say when you can be bothered saying something real.  In other words, it’s not worth saying, so don’t say it.

And just while we’re at it, forget about ever saying “I told you so“.  That might seem obvious but I heard that one this week.

End of rant.

It’s been a trying week in Cate’s world.  A little too much of ‘Cate versus Cate’s mind’.  A few ‘that’s nice,dear‘s didn’t go down too well, especially followed up by “I told you so“.  They never do, but this week I just wasn’t in the mood for meaningless words.  I would rather have had silence.  Actually I always prefer silence.  Silence in a wonderful thing… until you start thinking too much.

I know that it is often said that we should let go of the things we have no control over.  But that is so hard.  I have so much in my life right now over which I have no control, and actually letting some of them go is not an option.  I’m the first to admit that I could let go of some of those things, the problem is that I don’t want to.  Yes, mindfulness would work… if I wanted it to.  That might sound crazy but I’m one of those people who likes to have worked everything out in my mind before I let it go.  I want to understand the puzzle, understand what I could or couldn’t have done differently.  I want to know that others in the situation are okay, and even if I have no control over that, I still want to work it all out in my mind so I can get some peace.  If I simply let it all go, my mind might be easier in some respects but I feel like I don’t have closure.

For a moment, let’s go back to my last post, Claiming My Voice Back.  It wasn’t the easiest to write, let alone press ‘publish‘.  Once I had though, I began to feel pretty good.  I had done it!  It had taken me a year (minimum), but I had finally done it.  That felt good.  But then I started thinking, because in that situation of my atrociously awful internet relationship there are a whole heap of unanswered questions, which ultimately I have to simply let go.  I’m never going to be able to know for sure.  I know that, yet my mind that wants to ‘work everything out‘ wants the answers anyway.  So by the next day my mind was spinning wildly.  And frankly, it was making me emotionally sick.

It’s a bit like when you know you want some more ice cream, but you know you’ll explode if you eat anymore.  You give in to one side of your brain, and end up later feeling sorry.  I did this to myself.  I made myself emotionally sick , yet I couldn’t stop trying to piece together the puzzle.

The other issue in ‘the things Cate can’t control‘ discussion, is those things that I might not be able to control, yet backing away isn’t an option.  Just sometimes we have to stay in the situation anyway.  Those times are hard.  I’m not sure if I’m sitting waiting for the train wreck in front of my eyes or just watching the sun go down.  The one thing I know is that I can’t back away or for that matter, turn my back.  It’s really hard to handle those situations.  Much as I like having control in my life, I realise that I can’t have control over everything (damn it!) and I have no control over the lives of those I love.  I simply have to watch.

With all these things going on this week, I’m starting to think I need some help.  The atrociously awful internet relationship has had a huge impact on my life in so many ways, and while I have dealt with so much of that in the past year, I am still find it incredibly hard to trust people.  Anyone.  Fairly intense paranoia would be a good description and I can feel myself pulling away from humankind.  I realised this week I might just need some help with this.  Maybe I can’t do it on my own.  So I’m thinking about whether to go back to therapy for a while.

I’ve done a lot of therapy in the past and I don’t think I need anything long-term, but I am starting to realise that I can’t do this alone.  It is too big.  Too much went terribly wrong and it’s finally dawned on me that it is too much for this one woman.

I’m not sure how I’m going to make therapy happen, but I realised one thing this week…

When something bad happens in my life, I can use it as an excuse to destroy me… or I can get back up, tend the wounds and keep going.

If more therapy is what I need to be able to keep going, then I will find a way to make that happen.

And if anyone says “that’s nice, dear“…

“Another page turns on the calendar, April now, not March.

………

I am spinning the silk threads of my story, weaving the fabric of my world… I spun out of control. Eating was hard. Breathing was hard. Living was hardest.

I wanted to swallow the bitter seeds of forgetfulness… Somehow, I dragged myself out of the dark and asked for help.

I spin and weave and knit my words and visions until a life starts to take shape.

There is no magic cure, no making it all go away forever. There are only small steps upward; an easier day, an unexpected laugh, a mirror that doesn’t matter anymore.

I am thawing.” 

― Laurie Halse AndersonWintergirls

Claiming My Voice Back

I haven’t shared this journey on this blog, mostly because until now I didn’t think it was my story to tell.  I posted Grieving For My Red Balloon about a year ago, but that is as far as I went.  It was a very carefully constructed attempt to say “help, I’m hurting” while strangely enough trying to avoid stepping on anyone’s toes.  Was I kidding?  Avoiding trampled toes?  It was far too late for that. But then I was still being manipulated… into silence.  That was all part of the game.

I’m healing now and part of that includes claiming this as my story.  It doesn’t belong to anyone else because I’m the one who lived it.  I’m the one who was played with like a toy.  I was a game. Manipulated, abused, lied to and cheated on.  It’s my story and I’m choosing finally to share it with you because I can.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

 ― Anne Lamott,Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

I’ve been kissed by a…

Rose

Monster

Person With A Mental Illness

Take your pick.  You could say that I have been kissed by all three. I could go with the words of the song.  If a man can be a rose (and why not?), then that is exactly how he seemed.  He was a beautiful person with a very loving heart.  Caring, understanding of me and my world, he promised he would never play games with my heart.  He challenged my thinking and he supported my growth as a person.  He wasn’t perfect, like any of us but he was a person right for me.

But later I’d know that I’d met a ‘monster‘.  His term, not mine.  Personally I don’t like calling human beings monsters, regardless of what they might or might not have done. But I’m using the term here simply because he used the term of himself.  I regularly told him that to me he was no monster.  Actually he still isn’t (in my mind).

Eventually, what I only knew is that I had kissed a person with a mental illness.  For that matter, so had he.  No harm in that.  Is there?

Here’s the story,

Back in 2012 Blogger (boy) meets Blogger (girl) in comments section of a Third Blogger’s Post.

(BTW Third Blogger has no responsibility for anything here, except for yet another very thought-provoking post or two.)

Each blogger liked the other’s comments and so a friendship developed, followed quickly by a romance.  I should add here that we were many miles apart, me in New Zealand and him on the other side of the world.  Neither of us were looking for any kind of relationship, let alone one on the internet.  Surprise!

We lived happily ever after…

Hang on a minute.  That’s how it seemed.  We were both very happy and eventually we spent some time together ( I went to visit him) and after that we were planning on a life together.  And this wasn’t an impulsive thing, it was all carefully considered.

It was what we both wanted. I was his ‘soulmate‘.  That’s what he said, regularly.  I’ve never been too sure on the whole ‘soulmate‘ terminology but if there was such a thing, then this was him.  He was the ‘one‘ for me.  I was never more sure of anything.  My gut instinct told me that this was right.

Then one day he announced to me via the internet waves that we treasured so greatly, that he was “too sick to be in a relationship“.  Time out was what he wanted.  My compassionate heart sprung into action and understood completely.  I thought it was a break (that’s what he said) and that we still had a very bright future ahead of us (together!).  Yes, it would hurt but it seemed like the best thing for a apparently very depressed man.

Just days later though, he announced to his Facebook friends (including me at that point) that he had a new ‘soulmate‘.  He was in love with another woman (any mention of me was completely gone).  And they were very happy together.  To add to it, she was married.  That didn’t seem to be an issue though.  Two relationships gone with one hit.

The short version of the rest of the  nightmare is that as well as cheating on me, he had lied.  Actually he had lied the whole way through the year long relationship.  Everything was a lie. He had manipulated me for his own deceitful purposes.  He had abused me in more ways than I care to count.

I discovered that his diagnosed mental illness was not Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) as he had always said, but was Antisocial Personality Disorder (that’s right… sociopath/psychopath).

It all hurt like hell.  I felt deranged and paranoid.  I no longer knew what the truth was.  I didn’t know what to believe.  Just how he wanted it.  Perhaps worst at that time was that I couldn’t go bang on his door to find out what the heck was happening. I eventually learnt many things.  Others I simply pieced together.  And yet others, I will simply never know.  One of those big revelations was the reason why he would never have visited me in New Zealand.  It boiled down simply to the fact that he is a convicted criminal and wouldn’t have been allowed into my country. He had never admitted that.

So that’s the very brief story of the last two years of my life.  I fell in love with a man who simply didn’t exist.  Oh sure, there was a man, complete with body, but aside from the body, everything was fake.  Everything he said to me was simply a story, all part of the game he was playing.  The extent his lies would go to was simply limited by his acting abilities. And even before anything went wrong, I knew he would make an excellent actor.

Of course all this hurt.  I cried and screamed and yelled and felt so empty, used and abused.  Now days I’m moving on, but it hasn’t been easy.  It was far from easy and very traumatic.  I’m still working on recovering, but I refuse to be held back by this anymore. When I think about all that I have been through the fact of loving someone who really didn’t exist is perhaps the hardest.  I had no desire for the true person revealed.  That person I felt angry towards and then sad for.  Incapable of a real relationship. But I still loved the person I thought I knew.  How do you grieve for someone who wasn’t ever there?

Yeah, I guess I was kissed by a monster (his words, not mine).

Does it seem a little strange that I’m sharing this now, particularly when I’ve said so little in the last year?  I have realised that by staying silent, I am allowing myself to be manipulated further. I need to speak up to claim back control on my life. I have only shared the barest detail. There has been so much more, but that detail is not important.  I am simply saying this is my story to tell to whom I chose. It’s not done in malice but rather in claiming back my voice and with it some peace for myself.

“Just like there’s always time for pain, there’s always time for healing.” 

― Jennifer Brown, Hate List

Trauma Takes Me Back Again

It doesn’t take much, and more often than not, it’s something quite innocent.  There is no intent to harm or frighten me, but yet something takes me back to live trauma all over again.  In spite of the time gone past, the hours in therapy, the healing and forgiveness… it can be the most innocent thing and it feels like I’m right back there again.

For  me, there are such triggers as:

A smile from the ‘wrong” shape of lips.

A chance comment (which probably had nothing to do with me).

A television/movie segment that springs from nowhere.

Watching something happen in the street.

A physical resemblance

A part (or even just an observer) of a conversation.

A touch.

A lie.

And many more, usually random events

There’s so many more things that can trigger that emotional response in me that take straight back to the scene of the trauma.  It happened to me yesterday.  Little warning but bang, and I was scared and I was frightened.  I was ‘back there‘ with the person who had perpetrated my trauma.  I was re-living it all over again, although I am clear that this was never the intention of the person that triggered me.  Actually they had no idea.

Thankfully I was at home (on my computer actually) and could retreat to my safe place (in my bed with heavy covers over me and my teddy bear by my side).  Safe, where I know there is nothing of which to be frightened. I can feel it physically and emotionally.  I know this routine well.  Thankfully a few words from a very dear friend also encouraged both that sense of safety but also affirmed that what I was feeling was valid.  Perhaps the most important aspect for me in that particular situation.

Eventually my safe place worked and I could feel okay about coming out from there.  But I was shattered for the rest of the day.  If you’ll excuse another earthquake metaphor, it was like the remainder of a day after a large quake.  Shaken, bruised and wondering what the hell would come next.  Wandering around the house, starring at damage, not quite sure what to do now.

I know this well, and you will too if you have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  I’ve learnt the routine that works for me (eventually) and I know I simply have to get away from the trigger, and get to a safe place (for me).  But you know, what gets me everytime (after many years of this) is how the trauma keeps coming back.  How frightening it is… everytime.  That’s apparently the burden of PTSD.  While I know the triggers don’t affect me quite so often, it seems to come back full force, every time they do.  Not to mention how for some of us we seem to collect more trauma as we go.  That is so not fair.

When trauma takes me back I feel anything but ‘normal‘ (for want of a better word) yet I know only too well that it is ‘normal‘ for so many trauma victims.  This morning, by chance my friend Michelle  of Crow’s Feet (who knew nothing of yesterday) shared in my email an article about transforming trauma into creative energy and action.  It couldn’t have been better timed, thanks Michelle.  It wasn’t just the idea of transforming the trauma but the accompanying story of the therapist who came through the Holocaust and used her trauma to help others as a therapist.  It inspired me.  I’m not sure yet, how to make this happen for me but I like the idea and am sharing it with you.  The link to the article is:

On a good day she would kiss me back: transforming trauma into creative energy and action
by TED COMET

http://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/ted-comet/on-good-day-she-would-kiss-me-back-transforming-trauma-into-creative-energy

I’m okay today.  Just being cautious of screens I look at and people I see.  I know it’s a random thing.  No one meant be any harm.  It was just my brain travelling back, and ouch, sometimes that hurts.

“He asks, in a softer voice, “Does your arm still hurt?”
You touch it with your hand. The big ache is gone, leaving only the little, underneath ache that will gather and swell against the bone. The blood leaks out of the vein where he grabbed you. But you say, “It’s better now.” 

— Jim Grimsley (Winter Birds: A Novel)

Remembering Trauma – Anzac Day 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 – Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen

 

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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