River of Flowers, 2014

“What’s all this talk about an earthquake?” says Mum.

That was my 86-year-old mother’s question for me when I arrived at her home a few days ago.  I was astounded that she didn’t know.  It was pretty much ‘the’ topic here in the past week.

Today is the 3rd anniversary of the deadly earthquake that struck my city of Christchurch at 12.51pm on 22 February 2011.  Naturally the anniversary has been in the news this week, but Mum couldn’t remember an earthquake being at this time of year.  Actually, I was really thankful.  This woman had lost so much in that earthquake.  More than most.  She deserved to have it lifted from her memory for a bit.  I was glad, for once, that she had no idea what I was talking about.

As we then talked, her memories came back, but we had over 12,000 earthquakes over a period of about 18 months so it wasn’t surprising that she couldn’t remember one of them. Then she was confused as to which quake she had fallen over in.  I assured her that in that quake, thankfully, she had already been sitting down when it struck and she managed to remain in her chair as her home fell to pieces around her. My father though, was thrown to the floor.  So was I.

Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013

River of Flowers, Heathcote River, Christchurch, 2013 (Used with permission)
Image credit: River of Flowers, Healthy Christchurch and Avon Otakaro Network
See:  Healthy Christchurch on Facebook or their website Healthy Christchurch

As part of a range of commemoration events in the city, there is one that I find draws me each year.  The River of Flowers is an opportunity for the public to share their experiences and hopes for the future by throwing a flower into one of the two rivers that flows through the city, and by writing a message of hope and tying it to a tree as various points.  Throwing my flower into the river which has always been important in my life, is for me, letting go for a few moments of the sadness, trauma, loss, and worries about the future.  It feels healthy to me, and I like that.

Natural disasters, like our quakes, happen across the world all the time.  Something that had never occurred to me until I lived through this, was that the aftermath goes on for years to come after a disaster.  When the media and their cameras have all gone away, and the rest of the world isn’t hearing anymore, the sad reality is that people go on suffering.

Three years on and my life is still unsettled (to say the least).  I now have a chronic illness (fibromyalgia) which is attributed to the trauma of the quakes.   I live in a severely damaged house and still have no idea how that will be fixed.  My house is pretty cold in winter because of the damage, but aside from that, I’m simply used to the damage.  That said, don’t suppose for a minute that I like living in a house that is now tilted on a bit of an angle.  Or the curtains blowing in the breeze even though no windows are open.  But it’s just life here in Christchurch and I know there are people here worse off than me.

I know full well that mental health is a major issue in my city.  Children are still badly traumatised, as well as many adults.  Free counselling sessions just don’t go far enough.  Three sessions per person is not enough.  The use of anti-depressants has risen significantly.  The psychiatric hospital is overflowing and they’re talking of putting inpatients into caravans out on the lawn.  Suicide statistics tend to run behind by a few years, but I understand the numbers are sadly picking up in my city.  Let’s not forget too, that there is a major housing shortage here now as well as significant poverty.  These both contribute to the state of mental well being.

But this is what really disturbs me…

A year before our deadly earthquake, Haiti (Port-au-Prince) suffered a quake too.  220,000 people are estimated to have died on 12 January 2010.  In Christchurch, there were officially 185 people died.  At the height of the Haiti quake, one and a half million people were displaced and sheltering in tent villages.  That’s just huge.  And it makes me say “what have I got to complain about?”.

While I wonder about the ongoing mental health of those who lived through the quakes here in Christchurch, I wonder even more what is being done for the people of Haiti.  Do they get access to free counselling like we have?  Are the children getting the resources that are being pumped into Christchurch.  It is so difficult to know what is being done for victims of natural disasters when the lights go off on the media bandwagons.  That said, I have a fair idea of the answers to my questions.

Whether it is an earthquake (or 12,000), a volcanic eruption, a hurricane, a bush fire or any other devastating event somehow we need to remember that life afterward is changed and will probably never be the same again.  Not just the physical welfare of victims matters, not just the infrastructure and buildings that have to be rebuilt, the mental health of victims will continue to be a major issue for years to come.

Somehow I think we forget, once the media have gone, and even more so we forget when the media never really got there.  It seems to me that third world countries recovering from disaster, do it very much on their own.

While today, I remember a day I never want to experience ever again, I want to remember people in other countries doing similar recoveries.  I have been fortunate to have access to welfare, Red Cross funding and the like.  I never ended up in a tent city.  I have insurance cover to rebuild my home (when they finally get to it).  But for so many people there is none of this, and those people are the ones I have on my mind today.

“How strange it (the earthquake) must all have seemed to them, here where they lived so safely always! They thought such a dreadful thing could happen to others, but not to them. That is the way!” 

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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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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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))

Blessed… And Otherwise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Kahlil Gibran

Defining Friendships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I object strongly, Facebook.

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

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

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

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

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

― Kate Chisman, Creep

Hurtling In CyberSpace

This post was removed on 30 December 2012.

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

Healing Takes Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cover of "A Path Through the Sea"

Cover of A Path Through the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Tale Of Plonker The Pig

A ‘relative’ of Plonker’s                Image Credit: thornypup / Flickr.com

I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that people (and animals) come to us at exactly the right time.  I have long struggled with the phrase that there is a reason for everything.  I knew in my head that it was probably true but there were some things that really stumped me.  How could there possibly be a reason for some of the terrible things that happen?

Last year I developed a rather good friendship with Plonker, one of two pigs then living on my brother’s farm.  Plonker was named by  my nephews.  I’m not exactly sure how he earned this name and I can’t remember what his friend’s name was.  No doubt something apt to their then, thirteen and eleven year old’s minds.

I admit that I have been known to talk to inanimate objects (selectively) and so to talk to animals is not strange for me.  My cat Penny and I used to have long conversations, each taking turns to speak.  We didn’t necessarily know what the other was saying but we at least had our timing worked out.  And I always felt she understood.  So when I met Plonker and his mate it was quite natural for me to strike up conversation with them.  One can get a lot of sense from talking to animals.  Often much more than humans.  For some reason Plonker has a special character and he became very special to me.

The time was the days immediately after our deadly earthquake in February, 2011.  I had my parents staying with me, after they had lost their home and belongings  in the quake.  I had temporarily lost my car (for a few weeks) because it was parked trapped between two damaged buildings in a cordoned off part of town, and so I was reliant on my parents for transport.  We were asked not to move around the damaged city if we could help it but because I had no water, no sewage, and for a while no power we opted to go out to my brother’s farm during the days.  For some reason my parents wouldn’t go and stay out there.  I think they wanted to be near their home, in the hope that they might gain access.  That didn’t happen of course, and so for the sake of everyone’s mental health, we went to the farm (where water, sewage and power were operational) during the day and returned back to my home to sleep.

It was very stressful, and that is a big understatement.  Actually it was probably the most stressful time of my life.  Aftershocks continued, as we listened to news reports of bodies being dug out of collapsed buildings.  The personality of both my elderly parents changed markedly at that time (my father died six weeks later as a result of the stress).  The change in their personalities wasn’t really any surprise, considering what they were going through, but it was difficult for all of us, grandchildren included, to adapt.  It was almost like suddenly having completely different parents to those we had known before.  The only one who didn’t struggle seemed to be 10 week old L.  She slept on regardless.

I quickly took up walking around the farm to get some space from everyone.  It was also a chance to have a smoke (a habit I had taken up again when the quakes started several months earlier) which I attempted to do away from the kids.  I regularly went down to the pig’s hangout to visit Plonker and his mate.

Finally someone talked sense.  Plonker was interested to know if I had food for him.  He would start to get excited about company when he saw me walking his way.  I hadn’t completely forgotten that he was a pig but I felt appreciated, especially when I brought food.

I don’t know much about pigs but I understand they are social animals, and so when Plonker’s mate headed for the ‘dinner table’ (my vegetarian tendencies start to struggle at this point), Plonker seemed  to be lonely.   I used that as an excuse to hang out with Plonker more often.  The thing about Plonker was that he had no expectations of me, and what’s more he didn’t seem rattled by the constant quakes.  He was in my mind, the perfect company at the time.

Plonker has since made his own way to the ‘dinner table’ sadly.  Thankfully I wasn’t told who dinner was until after I had eaten.  The thought still leaves me feeling a little unwell, and I admit I haven’t formed such a close attachment to subsequent farm animals.  Saying good-bye was not easy and while my nephews laughed at me giving Plonker a leaving present (a bag of fruit purchased just for him), he will always have a special place in my heart.

Plonker saved my bacon (pun intended).  Spending time on the farm with him soothed the trauma of everything else happening, and the stress of suddenly finding myself living with my parents again (after nearly 30 years).  Plonker was there at the right moment for me.

In the same way there have been special people along my way who have appeared in my life at just the right time.  One was my friend A who I came to flat with just months before first getting sick.  At the time she was recovering from a two year battle with depression and actually that was significant in helping me accept my own depression that would follow.  We were only in each other’s lives for a couple of years and since have gone our separate ways, but I firmly believe that she was there for a reason.

I’ve come to the conclusion that it is more than just coincidence that particular people (and pigs) come into my life.  There is a reason for these things, and actually I don’t need to know what that reason is, I simply have to accept them.  I’m slowly realising that I don’t have to understand, all I have to do is accept the gift I am offered.

“A friend is someone who gives you total freedom to be yourself-and especially to feel, or not feel. Whatever you happen to be feeling at any moment is fine with them. That’s what real love amounts to – letting a person be what he really is.” 

―    Jim Morrison

I Wanted To Be Sick

In more ways than one!

For the longest time I actually wanted to be sick.  I know I’m not meant to say that, but it’s true.

Not more mental illness, I wanted to be really sick.  I wanted a physical illness that could be seen and that could be put down to something going wrong in my body.  I was tired of this overwhelming sense that my mental illness was my fault, it was all in my head,  and so it wasn’t a real illness.

During the time that I have had a diagnosed mental illness, most of that time that illness was described as Major Depressive Disorder.  Depression.  There was a big part of me that said it was just an excuse.  I just couldn’t pull myself together.  It didn’t help when people said all I needed was… and that sentence could be completed with a man, a baby, a job…

Seriously people thought that if I had those things, everything would be okay.  No wonder I wondered for myself whether this was real.  Let me say that had I had those things I suspect I would have killed the baby (yes, really), killed myself to get away from the man (well, yes I tried that more than once), and the job?  I couldn’t have got myself a job if I tried.

I stopped eating when I became depressed and eventually I was diagnosed with Anorexia.  And that actually felt better.  It was something that could be seen and it definitely wasn’t something that would be solved with a baby (not possible considering my body weight and lack of ovulation), a man or a job.  The weird thing was that even though I was skin and bone (literally), and I looked awful, people continued to tell me how good I looked.  The most compliments I ever got about my appearance was while I was Anorexic.  There was nothing good about how I looked but some people think any weight loss is good.  The only problem is that Anorexia (or any eating disorder for that matter) is not about weight loss.  That’s just the by-product.

So I went back to wanting a physical illness.  It didn’t matter what.  A cast on my leg would do, anything that would show I was sick.  It didn’t happen.

Fast forward a few years and I have physical illnesses. In 2010 I was diagnosed with an auto-immune condition, Graves’ Disease, which mostly affects the thyroid, heart and the eyes.  That was caused by spending too many years taking lithium, and unfortunately a doctor who forgot (for a while) to check my thyroid and lithium levels.  I felt so sick that it really didn’t occur to me that I now had my physical illness.

Then last year came the symptoms of Fibromyalgia.  It wasn’t diagnosed until March of this year and one of the problems I had was that nothing could be seen.  It wasn’t until I convinced my doctor to send me to a Rheumatologist that I got a diagnosis.  Having the diagnosis helped me feel like this was actually real, but still it’s not something you can see, so how would one know whether it was real?

I know it’s real.  I know that I am in pain all the time, that I am incredibly tired all the time, that I have unexplained rashes on my body, I am dizzy for no reason and more.  There are lots of things I know, but I still struggle to know whether anyone else thinks it’s real and will accept that I am sick.

I read an interesting article from FibroTV called When Emotional Pain Turns Into Physical Pain.  It tied up with what I’ve been thinking for a while now.  They say that Fibromyalgia is often caused by some sort of trauma, they also say it can be brought on by an auto-immune disease (like Graves’).

So I find I’m back to denying that my emotional pain is of value and is significant.  If the trauma theory is correct then I suspect that my Fibro comes from the trauma of our earthquakes in 2010/11 and my father’s death shortly after.  It’s interesting that I have never felt so physically exhausted as I did the day Dad died and I had to do CPR on him for 20 minutes, while waiting for the ambulance to get through a city blocked by earthquake damage.

If you’ve ever had to do CPR you’ll know that it is exhausting and that 20 minutes is a long time.  I have run 20 kilometres before (several times) and hadn’t felt so exhausted.  What I’m driving at is that it wasn’t just the emotional trauma but the physical trauma of that day.  But you know I’m still back to the realisation that my physical difficulties from fibro are perhaps caused by emotional pain, and to be honest I hate that.

For those of you that aren’t familiar with the ‘joys’ of fibro, it involves periods of worsened pain, fatigue, and what’s known as fibro fog (my brain doesn’t operate properly and feels like I’m trying to move it through a thick fog of resistance).  These are called flare-up’s.  My experience is that sometimes I can predict these coming on, and sometimes it’s just a case of waking up in the morning and discovering you’re in the middle of one.  Interestingly the first flare-up that I had (after I was diagnosed and knew what was going on) was at Easter this year.  The significance of it was that it was also the anniversary of Dad’s death.  I hadn’t done anything physically to bring on the flare up, like more exercise than normal, for example.  I spent the five days of the flare-up adamantly denying that the anniversary had anything to do with it.

Some weeks later I had another flare-up.  I crawled to my therapist, determined to keep an appointment I would have to pay for regardless of whether I was there, and came to the eventual conclusion that actually there was some emotional reasoning that could be given to that flare-up too.

As I’ve explained before I am unable to take medication for my fibro, nor am I able to afford alternative treatments.  If this pain and sickness, which is far from pleasant, is caused by emotional pain, what I am going to have to do is work through it with my therapist.  But to be honest, I’m having a hard job accepting that.  If this is caused by emotional pain I trust my therapist to be able to help me but it’s weird.  Getting my head around feeling so bad physically because of my emotions is really hard when I’ve spent nearly 20 years struggling to accept emotion anyway.

Does that make sense?  It’s like a whole new way of thinking for me.  It doesn’t help that I’m looking over my shoulder waiting for my friends and family to say “all she needs is a baby, man,  or job”.  I’m convinced they’re going to say it.  Maybe not the baby.  Hopefully they’ll accept I’m too old for that but only recently I was told to get a job and everything would be alright.  Somehow I have to accept for myself that actually it’s okay to be sick, and no, I might not have that cast on my leg, but I am in sick.

I’m coming to the conclusion that this attitude of mine is a kind of stigma.  Now it’s not just against mental illness but also physical illness.  I struggle to accept that it is okay to be sick, when no one can see what is causing the pain.  In my head, I can tell myself this is okay for anyone else in the same boat.  But accepting it for myself is so hard, but if I want to reduce stigma, I’m going to have to start with myself.  I have to accept that it’s not only okay to have a mental illness but it’s also okay to have an invisible physical illness.

After all, when a stone is dropped into a pond, the water continues
quivering even after the stone has sunk to the bottom.” 

― Arthur Golden,    Memoirs of a Geisha