When The Mind Breaks

Rock-a-by baby On the tree top,
When the wind blows The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks, The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby Cradle and all.
                                                    – Mother Goose, c.1765

A nursery rhyme that has always struck me as (just a little) scary. Who puts a baby in a cradle, and then in a tree? What do you expect? The baby IS going to fall.

Right now (and actually for a long while previously), my life is dominated by minds that have perhaps been put in a metaphorical tree, the bough has broken and so has the mind.

Firstly, the onset and continuing existence of mental illness in my own life. Mental illness has been very obvious for around twenty years now, although thankfully (for now) it’s not quite the crisis that it has been previously. There’s always the possibility, though that the branch may break again. With the diagnoses and history I carry, I would be a fool to deny that possibility.

But now, I’m living the day-to-day reality of caring for my mother who has Alzheimer’s Disease. It is different from my own broken mind experience yet there are some very real similarities. Sadly, at this stage of medical knowledge, there is no light at the end of the tunnel with Alzheimer’s. Rather it is getting steadily worse and will continue to do so. People don’t survive Alzheimer’s. Not yet, anyway.

That breaking of minds is something I could write about endlessly. Both my own mind, and more recently my Mother’s. But it’s not where my thinking is today. Rather, I’m thinking about what is left when the mind has broken. That thinking comes from the image below, one I came across yesterday on a great Facebook page, Alzheimer’s Sucks – Memories for Joe Hennington. As an aside, I can tell you that Alzheimer’s does indeed suck, so that immediately tells me this page is a good one. It is worth a visit.

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Image credit: Permission to reproduce obtained from FB: Alzheimer’s Sucks – Memories for Joe Hennington

Let me say from the outset, that it is not my intention to conclude whether or not the message contained in this image is correct. I don’t know the answer to that, and I wonder whether anyone really knows. I share it because it made me think, and so I want to discuss it. To hopefully at least start to sort out my own thinking, and maybe find a little of what others think.

This image stopped me in my tracks. “The heart holds what the mind can not“.

I had seen a similar statement before but perhaps because of where I am at with my mother’s Alzheimer’s journey, it really made me ask yesterday:

“When the mind breaks, does the heart step in and protect what really matters (what the mind held)?

Is what was loved, sustained?”

Yes, that is what I want to know. I know the easy way to look at this. I can tell myself, “yes, my mother still loves me now and will continue to do so when she no longer knows me“. That is, of course, what we all want to believe.

And what about with severe mental illness? When my mind was so terribly broken (in an admittedly different way) and I didn’t want to know my family, I suspect they might have wondered “did she still love us?” Clearly, there were times when my actions and words indicated otherwise.

I can remember my then-husband wondering “do you still love me?” Such a question came at a time when he was having to watch me continuously, primarily because the mental health services were simply not available and someone had to make sure that I stayed alive and ate something. I hated it (and I’m sure he did too). I reacted in such a way that he must really have wondered. It probably appeared that I hated him. Perhaps I did.

I don’t think I had the capability to love him (or anyone) at that time. My mind was very much broken and was fighting for survival in such a way that I wonder if love was even possible. If you could magically take away the mental illness then, of course, I would say then that I loved him. But magic isn’t real life, is it?

My mother’s Alzheimer’s Disease is different. She’s not having to fight me for her survival, in the way that I had fought my husband. There is also not some hope that we will get her back, as she was. The mother I knew, has largely faded. I don’t buy the train of thought that the person with dementia has already died and that we are simply left with her body. But that’s a whole other post so I won’t go there right now.

A few days ago Mum and I were in her room looking at something that she has always loved. I said something about it, and I saw her looking at it as if she had never seen it before. Then she looked to me and clearly wanted some explanation. It was an object rather than a person but I found it startling because it was an object she had loved. Only in the last few weeks, she had referred to it with affection, but now she had no connection to it.

And so I wonder, what about when it is a person. When it is me? When the time comes that she doesn’t recognise me, will her heart still hold what the mind has lost? Will she still love me?

I want to believe that she will, even though she won’t even be able to communicate it. Who wouldn’t want to believe this? But I suspect that it’s not quite that easy. Maybe that’s the glass half-full person I am. I don’t know.

Perhaps too, it comes from my own broken mind. I have struggled to believe my mother loved me for most of my life. We haven’t had an easy relationship. It’s difficult for me to believe that her love will be sustained when I’ve spent nearly fifty years doubting the existence of that love.

What matters is that I will keep being there for my mother, even if that love has gone. More so, perhaps I need to turn all of this around. What I need to know is that she will still know that I love her.

And in terms of my own broken mind journey, perhaps what really matters is whether I could still somehow comprehend love from my husband and my family. Actually, I’m pretty sure that I couldn’t and perhaps that was part of the problem. I’m really not convinced that my heart could hold what the mind had lost.

I suspect these are questions for which there will perhaps never be adequate answers (for me anyway). Something I perhaps have to accept as it is, without understanding.

What do you think? When the mind breaks, what happens to what the heart held? But please don’t tell me that of course, my mother loves me. If you do, I will know that you have missed my point.

“You’re so beautiful,” said Alice. “I’m afraid of looking at you and not knowing who you are.”
“I think that even if you don’t know who I am someday, you’ll still know that I love you.”
“What if I see you, and I don’t know that you’re my daughter, and I don’t know that you love me?”
“Then, I’ll tell you that I do, and you’ll believe me.”

— Lisa Genova (Still Alice)

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

I was sitting outside (okay, so I admit I was having a cigarette) when I saw one of my neighbours walking up the back path towards me.

I said: “Hi”
He said: “How are you?”
I said: “Good”

And that was it. I had lied through my teeth, but it was okay because he just kept on walking and then walked in his door, leaving me to contemplate what I had just done. The conversations (if you can call them that) I have with this neighbour never amount to much more. I have similar conversations with another neighbour. I lie to him too. But that’s how we talk to most neighbours, isn’t it?

This time I was struck with how easily the “good” rolled off my tongue when actually I was feeling anything but good. Would it matter if I said, “good” in answer to any such questions, for the rest of my days? Does anyone actually want anything beyond this lie?

It’s easy to say, and it’s easy to hear. I’m not requiring anything of you when I answer your question this way. You can just keep going about your day. Even for friends and family, it’s easier that way. No need for you to do or say anything. I’ve given you a ‘free pass’.

But I could get side-tracked by that as I write. It’s easier for me if I don’t tell you how I really am here, on my blog, either. Maybe it’s easier reading for you too. But I’m going to push myself to not opt for the easy. You see, I’m not good. Actually, I’m struggling.

I know you want to read positive stuff on a blog that refers so often to hope, but right now I’m struggling to find my hope.

My mood is dropping and I am fairly sure it has to do with the stress in my life right now. The more stress, and the more I struggle. My stress comes mostly from caring for my mother. She needs more from me now, but has less to give me in return. She mostly knows who I am. She certainly always still recognises me, but clearly has trouble connecting that recognition to the right person. Me. Sometimes she thinks I’m her sister and she used to mistake me for my father. That doesn’t happen so much now. She struggles to remember him at all (he died nearly six years ago). Nearly 54 years of marriage seemingly wiped from memory! This illness is so cruel.

It’s hard. I don’t have expectations of her, but it’s not easy day after day, teaching her the same things. Telling her stories of her life. It would be heartbreaking no matter who she was, but this is my mother. All the things she taught me as I child, I now teach her. And I feel very alone in this.

There’s more, though.

My eating is considerably off track, and to even admit that much takes an enormous amount of courage. Much more will require more than simply an empty screen before me. You’re just not going to get the details, this time anyway.

In the last year, I have lost 17 kilograms with no conscious effort. I know, lots of people would love that to happen, and true I love that I have lost it. I needed to, I was overweight (yes, people who have had Anorexia twice can be overweight!) but I hadn’t done anything to lose it. It has really gone through firstly ill health back at the middle of 2016, and the rest I guess, has been through stress.

The reason I’m telling you this though is that unless you have been where I’ve been you have no idea how tantalisingly dangerous it is. Seventeen unconscious kilos are tempting me to consciously step back onto the eating disorder ‘merry-go-round’ (don’t think for one moment though, that such a move would be the fun of the fair!).

I don’t make it a habit to weigh myself, mostly because of this reason. It’s too easy to get taken in by one kilo lost and before you know it I’ve been sucked into losing 20 or 50. I was weighed when I was admitted to hospital briefly back in July. I saw then that I had lost seven kilos. Then I was admitted to hospital briefly a few weeks ago for an minor procedure. The deadly mistake was looking down at the scales. And I choose to use the word ‘deadly’ because that’s exactly what it can be when you have an eating disorder.

So I admit it. I am back to considering every mouthful. And part of me hates being back there, but I admit, part of me loves it. That’s the ‘deadly’ part.

But then, there is more…

  • My black and white thinking is very definitely more black and less white.
  • There is no light at the end of the tunnel. Whoever said there was, was fooling me.
  • Everyone is against me. I struggle to think anything different. I can’t believe that anyone would be on my side.
  • I said a few weeks back that I would write about anxiety. Meanwhile,it’s just getting bigger and bigger. And yes, more consuming
  • Is the sun going to rise tomorrow? Right now, I just don’t know.
  • I’ve come to a new appreciation of people who choose to keep their curtains pulled shut through the day. Sometimes it’s a way to cut the world out. They can’t get me! I fool myself so easily!

I’m sorry if you came here for a post full of recovery and hope. I guess what I need to say to you is that recovery and hope is not a linear journey. Sometimes the dark overwhelms us. Sometimes people are throwing so many lemons at us, that it is almost impossible to make the damned lemonade. Sometimes all we can do is throw the lemons back. Let someone else make the lemonade, I’d rather have a coke.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

We Let Each Other Down

TRIGGER WARNING:

This post is about a recent suicide that has reported and commented on in many different realms of social media.

There are no images in this post. There are no video images. And there are no links. This is done out of respect for the family and a desire to keep from encouraging the triggering nature of this disturbing and distressing story.

This morning I was waiting in a hospital waiting room. If you’re not too nervous about what you’re waiting for, waiting rooms are great places for surreptitious people-watching, and I did my fair share while I waited. What I immediately noticed was that every adult (except me who was busy watching) in the room had their eyes and fingers glued to their phone. What’s more, the organisation in whom whose waiting room we were sitting, was advertising on the wall, their ‘free wi-fi’ to waiting patients.

The internet is something that we watch from morning ’til night, and then into the night for many of us. We can’t put it down, and that’s exactly what the designers of social ap’s want. They want every adult in the room glued to their screens. They’d probably like children too, but in this waiting room, the only children were babies. This is what those babies have in store for them in the years ahead.

The internet and social media, in particular, is great. There’s no denying that. Until a 12-year-old girl films her suicide on a livestream, and no one stops her. No one gets to her in time. Then we let each other down, her most of all.

Many people have written about this since it happened, and maybe you’re sick of the subject. Maybe you think it’s time to let this 12-year-old rest in peace. And there’s no doubt in my mind, that she deserves some peace. It’s okay with me if you choose not to read this post as a result, but I simply have something that if I never put into words, I will never get peace.

We let each other down if we are glued to the internet but we don’t use it to save a 12-year old’s life.

It’s likely that most of us learned of this tragic and horrific event after the fact. I certainly did, and I immediately made a decision that I was not going to watch the tape of this girl’s death. It wasn’t going to serve any purpose in hindsight. I could do nothing. I also resolved not to read too many articles, posts and comments (that’s why I don’t mind if you don’t read mine). They would simply upset me further than I was already upset. Why? Because human beings can be cruel, and it’s in this instance that I believe we see the worst of it.

Perhaps what has upset me the most is the people who commented on the livestream at the time and egged the 12-year-old on. Suicide baiters. People who see a potential suicide and encourage the person to ‘jump’. In a ‘nice’ society it would be good to think that such people didn’t exist, but they do. And they did, in this case.

A friend of mine lost her son to suicide some years ago, when people watching him on the edge of a building shouted at him, encouraging him to jump. What’s more, several uniformed police were watching and did nothing. He did jump and he died. My friend has lost her son forever. The suicide baiters got what they wanted, although for the life of me I can’t imagine what it was that they wanted.

Whether we egg someone on or do nothing, we all carry that person’s life in our hands for the rest of our days. Even if we simply did nothing, I believe that we let this 12-year-old down and we let each other down as fellow human beings.

We have the ability through the internet to make sure that 12-year old human beings are safe. When they choose to record something like this and put it on some form of social media, we have the opportunity to keep them safe. When that doesn’t happen, I have to wonder whether it has lost its point.

Sure, social media is not simply about suicide prevention and keeping at-risk people safe. Sadly, it seems such stories simply become entertainment. But when we have that opportunity, surely we have to grab it with both hands.

Facebook is currently being criticised for refusing to take down posts which give a link to the livestream, and I think the criticism of the company is warranted. It serves no healthy purpose now other than as a statement of the day we as a human race let down this child with irreversible consequences. Now, it is voyeurism. And if anything, it eggs on other people at risk of suicide and self-harm.

Facebook say that the posts in question don’t violate their community standards. I am inclined to think that if their standards allow this to be posted, I’m not sure I want to be part of their community.

On a good note, apparently a few days ago, a man in Thailand tried to livestream his suicide attempt. A friend intervened and his life was saved. If only it had been this way for our 12-year-old.

It breaks my heart that young people are dealing with such heartache and trauma that they are considering, and acting, on suicide. I don’t have children, but I do have a 12-year-old niece and several nephews who have been 12 in recent years. I can’t bear the thought of them suffering to this degree, and reaching out without anyone reaching back with help.

Our twelve-year-olds deserve our protection. Whether we know them personally or not, they deserve at the very least that we don’t let them down.

At the point in which the 12-year-old posted this video, we as a society should have responded more than we did. Apparently, it is possible to hear friends and family calling out for her. But it wasn’t enough. They didn’t get to her in time. We human beings didn’t do enough.

And now that this 12-year-old has tragically died, the record of her suicide needs to be taken off social media out of respect for her and her family. Any viewing of her video now is outright voyeurism. It’s wrong, and it will only distress people who are probably already distressed or provide some sick sense of satisfaction to people who need their heads read (and I’m not talking about people who have valid mental illnesses). But we do have to ask as a society, what did we do wrong and how do we make sure this never happens again. We need to talk about this in all aspects of society.

We have to stop letting each other down. We have to keep our 12-year-old’s safe.

“there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
mutilated
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn’t told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place
alone

untouched
unspoken to

watering a plant.”

― Charles Bukowski, Love Is a Dog from Hell

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

What I Missed Out in 2016

Even though we are into 2017, at least in my part of the world, I do have a nagging thought on my mind. The posts I should have written in 2016. Of course, it’s too late for regrets and rather a time for looking forward, but I know that I take, drag these unwritten posts with me. They are posts I still need to write.

Let me be clear that this post is not those unwritten posts, if that makes any sense at all. Rather it is a commitment, at some time in the near future, to write those posts and share those parts of me. They may end up with different titles than I use here, but the content will be there. My commitment to you as readers is also a commitment to myself to get those issues out in the open, and in doing so hopefully shed the weight that they currently are on my shoulders.

Reckless Compulsion (Another Addiction?)

I’ve Been in Denial About for Years (Anxiety)

Eventually, there will be links above to the written posts.

Both posts-to-be-written are deeply personal and perhaps that goes some way to explain why they have been on my mind, yet not written, for a few months now. It’s hard to put them on ‘paper’, yet I know I must do so in an attempt to take some of the weight off my shoulders. In an attempt to begin to heal. And that is all that my posts are ever about.

Keep reading…

 

Cate

This Is My Fight (Song)

This is my fight (song) right at the moment. It feels like I am fighting all the time, which is a little ironic because I can’t stand fighting.

Put a television scene of any form of violence in front of me and I visibly flinch. I can’t bear to watch so will look away, to the extent of moving my head AND covering my eyes. I just can’t face (excuse the pun) it. Whether it’s violence against human, animal or if it is being self-directed, I can’t go there.

Even violence conveyed as sport is too much, and perhaps that’s why I am a rare kiwi who doesn’t like rugby. There is just too much violence in the game for me.

But then there is one type of violence that I don’t flinch at, and that is when I direct violence at myself. I’m not talking about self-harm, although as I’ve written often enough, it is a battle I lost for many years. It’s not even violence per se that I am referring to, but rather a fight.

I’m fighting my body right at the moment. Imagine this:

An about one inch (two and a half centimetres) below your eye is a one inch round lump. But you can’t see it when you look in the mirror. No one can see it, but if you feel around your cheek with your fingers, you can feel it. It’s solid and it feels enormous. Only you and your doctor know it is there. To everyone else, it can’t be anything because they simply can’t see it.

Yes, I am talking about myself. The lump is on the left side of my face, and it’s really doing my head in. I first went to my doctor about this about nine months ago. She told me that it didn’t matter and that no one (she meant specialists) would remove it because there were more important matters to deal with. I’m not exaggerating.

Well, that doctor and I parted company not long after. It wasn’t the off-hand way she dealt with this and another issue, but rather her inability to understand sufficient English language (my native language). We were constantly struggling to understand each other. I was seeing her because my previous doctor had retired, and I was given little choice. But it got to a point when I realised it was REALLY important that I have a doctor fluent with my language. It sounds silly, until you end up in the situation.

Anyway back to my fight. My new doctor has recently referred me to a specialist to get the lump removed and analysed. Great. (It took me a while to raise the issue again, after being fobbed off the last night.)Although the New Zealand Health System can operate at a very slow pace (usually when you want immediate results) and I have yet to learn how long I might wait.

Meantime I am fighting with myself, because while no one else knows, or wants to know, how important the immediate removal of this lump is to me, it is tearing me apart. In addition to being able to feel the lump in my fingers, I can now simply feel that there is ‘something‘ on my face and the need to get it out is at times unbearable.

I admit I have always been a ‘picker’ (not quite to the extent of dermatillomania ever being diagnosed) and I have a great deal of trouble letting lie any perceived imperfection on my skin. I struggle to let any wound heal itself without needing to pick at it. As early as I can remember I would frustrate my mother by picking at my childhood scabs and so it would take longer to heal and leave a larger scar.

This picking was perhaps the innocent start of my self-harming days. When mental illness started to take over, I simply became more violent and picked up a blade.

Do you see the problem? There are times when I just want to rip this lump out, but a rational me doesn’t because… well, this is my face and I could make a terrible mess. Sadly, other times I don’t feel anywhere near as rational as to  be able to caution myself.

I did tell my doctor of this. I didn’t want to confess to her lest she choose to send me direct to the nearest psychiatrist rather than a plastic surgeon. But she needed to know how urgently I need the issue addressed. Knowing her as I am getting to, I doubt it would make much difference. I just doubt she understands how volatile my mental well-being can be. She has never seen that side of me, and I’m sure she hasn’t had time to read back 20+ years of medical records.

And so I fight, even humming the tune. I fight to be rational about this. I fight to protect my face from unnecessary injury. I fight to preserve what mental health (health not illness! There is a difference.) I currently have.

Every time I do something (or don’t do something) to preserve that mental health, I win. No one else sees the lump. Or no one else sees the fight. But it’s in me, and I will win. I have to.

And all those things I didn’t say
Wrecking balls inside my brain
I will scream them loud tonight
Can you hear my voice this time?
This is my fight song
Take back my life song
Prove I’m alright song
My power’s turned on
Starting right now I’ll be strong
I’ll play my fight song
And I don’t really care if nobody else believes
‘Cause I’ve still got a lot of fight left in me

[from ‘This Is My Fight Song’ by Rachel Platten]

Has this been a completely weird post? Perhaps. Certainly, my mind has gone everywhere while I’ve written. But then, for me, that’s exactly how it is. I hope you’ve been able to follow me. One final note that sadly, this is not the only lump which my body is fighting right now. More about the other one in time.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

“To Carry The Universe Or Be Crushed By It”

Very timely was the day of posting about peace on 4 November (see my last post Dona Nobis Pacem – 2016). Just four days before the American Elections.  I am a strong advocate of peace, and of peaceful interaction amongst individuals. I simply don’t see any other acceptable way. But I tell you, beyond this desire for peace is a desire for all people to be treated kindly and with compassion. It breaks my heart that this is not happening right now.

I know that my approach to treat all people with kindness and compassion, even my enemies and those intent on harming me, is a little unusual. I know a lot of people don’t understand my thinking. But then I know that I’m not alone in this quest for humanity. It may be that you consider me weird that I have no desire to harm those who might harm me or my loved ones.  I can assure you that people greatly qualified in weirdness have said previously that I am weird. It’s okay with me.

And maybe you think “what does a (white, heterosexual) kiwi from somewhere at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, thousands of miles from the United States know about anything?” Fair call, except what is happening in the US affects me too. What is happening there affects our whole planet. But perhaps more than anything the US political scene affects me because my American friends are suffering. I hate that. I hate that some of them are in the minority groups targetted by the President-elect.

Over the weekend I learnt a Facebook friend of mine had been told to kill herself by trolls commenting on a post about the Klu Klux Klan’s planned parade in North Carolina. Complete strangers (yes, more than one) telling her to kill herself! I was beyond shocked. I had earlier read it was happening, but when I learnt it affected my friend I admit I was crushed. It literally stopped me in my tracks, and I found it difficult to function for the rest of the day. Firstly, out of concern for my friend but then just pure horror that people treat each other with such disdain.

I kept asking myself, where is the compassion? And you may think that compassion has no place in what is happening in our world. I respectfully disagree, as I have suggested above.

“Compassion hurts. When you feel connected to everything, you also feel responsible for everything. And you cannot turn away. Your destiny is bound with the destinies of others. You must either learn to carry the Universe or be crushed by it. You must grow strong enough to love the world, yet empty enough to sit down at the same table with its worst horrors.”

— Andrew Boyd (Daily Afflictions: The Agony of Being Connected to Everything in the Universe)

I admit that I have been swaying between being crushed by what is going on in the world, and by being able to “carry it”. It’s tough for all of us. Especially those people in the US and people targetted by the President-elect. But for a moment, I need to take a slightly different angle to perhaps explain why it is so hard for some of us.

People with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) usually have a great deal of trouble with feelings they experience to the extreme. That is, we feel it perhaps more deeply than people without BPD.

Whatever your understanding of this personality disorder, and whatever your experience of people you know who have it, let me say that when there are such terrible things happening around the world, even in our own backyard, we have a very hard time. This can show itself in a variety of different ways, but for me, I have this overwhelming need to express compassion and to want to see other people do that too.

For the life of me, I can not understand this hatred, contempt, and antipathy for fellow mankind. I can not understand wanting to hurt another human being (or animal, for that matter). I even can not understand this desire to strike back at someone who harms, or threatens to harm me. It’s just not me.

I am no better than any other person on this planet, but I simply do not get it. I am sure that my particular BPD (and it is slightly different for all of us) is to blame for my desperate need for compassion to spread. And while it doesn’t, I admit I am crushed by it. It is completely overwhelming.

Last night I started to go through my Twitter feed, something I admit I have put off for a few days. There I came across a list of fifty people who were being targetted by those spreading hatred. These were innocent individuals who had done nothing wrong. They had maybe expressed fear or weakness in a recent tweet and that was now causing them to be targets of this movement to encourage people to kill themselves. I put myself in their shoes, and immediately had a sense of how they must be feeling. Punished for feeling afraid. It is simply wrong.

I can’t tell anyone else how to act, I can only choose for myself how I will be. But please, think about it. Don’t spread fire with fire. Just because another chooses to spread hatred, don’t be pulled down to their level. I am convinced that if I treat each other (including our enemies) with kindness and compassion then I can contribute to what can be a peaceful world.

Don’t get me wrong, though. I will still speak up against what I see as wrong. Always. But I hopefully do it in a way that doesn’t seek to harm anyone. I’m sure this is possible.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

— Martin Luther King Jr. (A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches)

PS. Last night, after I started to draft this post, a 7.8 Richter scale earthquake struck New Zealand, north of Christchurch where I live. There has been major damage and so far, two people have died but I am happy (and amazed) to say that I slept through the whole thing. I have no idea how that happened.

Thanks to those people who have expressed their concern for me and my family today. I am a little shaky to be back in an active earthquake region. Here in Christchurch, we could definitely do without that.

Wishing those kiwis cleaning up after this, much love, a speedy end to the never-ending aftershocks and a peaceful night’s sleep tonight. Kia kaha (Be Strong).

Thanks for reading!

 

Cate

 

One Small Stand Against Stigma

TRIGGER WARNING: this post contains general information of a self-harm event but has no graphic details. There are no images.

I said it was small, and it is. But it’s gigantic for me.

This week I swapped which wrist I wear my watch on.

Earth shattering, isn’t it? And surely not much to do with the stigma against mental illness. But there’s more to it than what meets the eye.

Fifteen years ago I was self-harming pretty regularly. It was probably a daily occurrence at the time of this event. Sometimes I knew what I was doing, but others I was  dissociated and really not aware of the harm I was doing to my body. I would realise afterwards when I was mopping up the damage.

On one occasion I cut my (right) wrist. I wasn’t aware of what I was doing, but I know for certain that it was not some kind of suicide attempt. But don’t ever believe that this makes it better. I don’t believe this [although I acknowledge that some readers might find my thought concerning].

I realised pretty quickly that this large wound was going to need sutures and I didn’t seem able to control the bleeding, so took myself to the local hospital. At the Emergency Department, I encountered a doctor who had perhaps had his fill of self-harmers. I’m not going to make excuses for him, even this much time later but I do acknowledge that the job of an emergency doctor is a difficult one.

He told me what he thought of me in no uncertain terms and that I was completely wasting his time. There were, apparently, more important people than the likes of me. He said that as I had cut myself without anaesthetic, he was going to suture my wrist (15 sutures) without anaesthetic too. He proceeded to do so, although he left me waiting for what I’m guessing was as long as he possibly could.

That night I was vulnerable and scared. It was the first time I had gone to an Emergency Department after self-harming and had no idea what to expect. What I did know was that my self-harming was getting out of control, and I desperately needed help.

What I got was stigma. Against self-harmers and against mental illness. I concluded what I guess I already knew but was hoping that help might tell me otherwise. That I was a bad person, and I had wasted his time.

As soon as the wound healed I switched to wearing my watch on my right wrist for the sole purpose of hiding my scar. I knew some people would think I had attempted suicide. Others would think it was self-harm. There was little chance that anyone would think it was accidental. I was best to hide the evidence. From the world, and also from me. Hiding it from myself as much as possible would save me from the graphic reminder of the person that doctor had said I was.

Fifteen years later and most people in my life wouldn’t know that the scar even exists. I’ve hidden it that well, from everyone. But this past week I came to the conclusion that it’s time to stop hiding the scar from myself, and from anyone else who might see it. I’ve switched the watch back to my left wrist. It just seems right.

I don’t self-harm anymore. I’ve been about five years free. I know that if I got myself into a bad space then maybe I might again. I hope not, but I’m just honest with myself.

Because I have shifted cities and changed friends, most people aren’t aware of either this scar or the many others that litter my body. I’d have to virtually tattoo my whole body to be able to hide all of them and I don’t have that much money or that many ideas of what designs I’d choose.

But I’ve come to a conclusion. Those people who really matter will cope with the sight of my right wrist if and when it comes in front of them. For anyone who doesn’t cope with it, won’t matter anymore. And for those who don’t know me, they don’t matter anyway.

This is one small part of my voice against stigma. People who self-harm are important and do matter. Every time I see the scar on my wrist I am saying that doctor’s attitude doesn’t count because it was so wrong. I don’t have to let him keep telling me that I’m a bad person. And that’s what was happening every time I put my watch on.

Okay so that’s easy to say, but in reality this week I have felt exposed and vulnerable. Everytime I see the scar, I want to hide it again. It’s going to take a while to be comfortable with it. One day… it will come.

And that doctor? Well, he could have helped me that day, and probably avoided a few more scars. But he chose not to and I believe that was because he had stigmatized his patient. He didn’t see me as a person in need of help. God, I hope there aren’t too many doctors like that in Emergency Departments around the world. Sadly, I know better.

“Other times, I look at my scars and see something else: a girl who was trying to cope with something horrible that she should never have had to live through at all. My scars show pain and suffering, but they also show my will to survive. They’re part of my history that’ll always be there.”

— Cheryl Rainfield (Scars)

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

What, You Too?

It was a few years back now that someone very close to me stomped badly on my feelings, and abused my trust. It left me re-assessing how I shared myself, both with others in my life and also on my blog. What I was prepared to share in order to say “this is me”. In some ways it left me incredibly sad that there are a few people ‘out there’ who will disregard the sacredness of my words so much. But it happened, and changes were made. I consciously cut back on what I share. The biggest shame of this is that it removed an opportunity to say “what, you too?

The connection of being able to say “so you feel this too?” is perhaps the biggest disappointment for me, because it is that which is what blogging is all about for me. The opportunity for a writer and a reader to connect and share a common thought.

When my feelings got stomped on in such a destructive way, subjects became off-limits, and I suspect I lost something as a blogger. Of course, there were always a few off-limit subjects, but now there were more. And with a couple already shared here, it was necessary to back-peddle and even change the privacy rating on posts which now went too far in exposing the real Cate. Now you were getting perhaps a slightly sanitised version of me. And that disappoints me, even though I feel safer.

One of the biggest changes in what I was prepared to write about was the issue of what comforts me, and what I use to self-soothe. It was too hard to put that ‘out there’ for fear of being laughed at, and simply being stomped on again. No one likes being stomped on, me included. I will do everything I can to avoid it now, even to the point of withdrawal. You see, it’s not just you that misses out when I choose to protect myself and not write about subjects close to my heart. I also miss out, as I lose the opportunity to connect with another who might say those few words “what, you too?

Perhaps it has been through a lot of therapy in years gone by that I have looked at what comforts me, particularly what I can use to comfort and self-soothe myself in times of distress. But also simply as I live and breathe. I know that I am perhaps a little weird in this. That was confirmed by my last psychiatrist. It felt okay to be described by him as such, simply because he heard me. I realised I didn’t have to be like everyone else, if someone I trusted with a part of me, heard and accepted who I was, what made me tick and what I used to comfort myself.

For there are some means of comfort which I have been using for as long as I can remember. I can remember doing ‘this’ (I’m not sharing details because that’s not the point of this post, and I still need to protect myself) as early as three years of age. My earliest memories include this means of comfort, even though I probably didn’t consciously know it was comforting me. I suspect that it went back further than that, too. Maybe back as far as being a baby.

What strikes me is that I wonder about my need for comfort at that stage. I have some ideas about that, but perhaps most importantly I realise that we all need comfort right from infancy, but almost more importantly we all need the ability to comfort ourselves too. We can’t rely on receiving comfort from others.

This week I read an interesting article about adults who use stuffed toys to comfort themselves. They literally carry these ‘toys’ with them. Of the two people interviewed, one had Autism and the other Asperger’s Syndrome. But there is a point to this beyond simply people with those disorders. They had worked out what comforted them, what they needed to get through interactions with the world.

“Tilley says she has always felt slightly different to others and is aware of stares when she’s out, but sometimes having Del [a stuffed toy pig] on her side helps her gain control of the situation.”

The article can be found by following this link:
Jamie and his Lion: The adults who take their soft toys to work

I encourage you to read the article, even if soft toys are of no interest to you. I think the article goes beyond a stuffed lion and a stuffed pig. It goes beyond the Autism spectrum too. It challenges us  to ask ourselves “what comforts you to the point that it enables you to traverse that thing called life?

I admit that when I read this article I had a “what, you too?” moment. I understood, for my own reasons, just what was going on here. What these people do makes total sense to me, and I applaud them in finding a way to comfort themselves while participating in that thing called life.

Many psychotherapists recommend something called a Soothing Box (and other names for the same thing). A box of items which a person can use to soothe themselves when they are in distress. I think these are a great idea, but I think that sometimes we have to go beyond a box we can occasionally pull out. We need to have ways to give us comfort, or soothing, in our everyday interactions. What do we need to get us through?

I think this is a particularly important question for people with mental illness. It can be hard interacting with the world. It can be hard to simply walk out our front door. So what can we do to ensure we are able to comfort ourselves? Maybe we don’t carry a four-foot long stuffed lion with us, but how do we interpret this article into what works for us?

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

World Mental Health Day 2016 – Real People

world-mental-health-day-10-october-earth-globe-in-hands

World Mental Health Day. That’s today. It’s the day on which we come together, united in a call for better mental health around the world. It’s a day on which I usually know exactly what I want to say. This year has been different.

In the days leading up to today I have thought about writing about the WHO topic chosen of Psychological First Aid. Something that I have thankfully been on the receiving end of in the past. Those in the crisis and caring professions (for me it was the Police) providing psychological care. It helped, enormously.

Then I thought about writing about stigma, this time about sufferers of one mental illness stigmatizing sufferers of other mental illnesses. Yes, it happens and I had been on the receiving end of this just recently. I am, apparently, “a fruit loop”.

Then I was thinking about the people of Haiti. I wondered how their mental health was holding up. The situation in their country leaves me thankful for what I have, but I suspect that their need for psychological first aid doesn’t get a look in, the need for clean water and housing coming up as seemingly more important.

My friend, Motivating Giraffe wrote a wonderful post about the over-abundance of Awareness Days, and how they just don’t matter if we (including people at the top) don’t focus on what ‘really‘ matters. If you read nothing else on this Awareness Day, make sure you read this one (oh, and mine too).

But then heavy on my heart over this past week has been a story in the New Zealand news. It has unfolded as the week went on. It’s one of those stories that in other countries there might not have even been a raised eyebrow, let alone a news headline. But here, these things thankfully don’t happen every day. They can still stop the nation in its’ tracks.

A man with a mental illness went on ‘a rampage’ here. Only three weeks ago he was an inpatient in his local (Waikato) psychiatric hospital, but this week attacked his parents, leaving his mother dead and his father critically ill in hospital. No one knows what motivated this attack, except it must have been somehow driven by his mental illness.

For the next few days, his location was unknown. Police mounted a manhunt with no success. And then at the weekend came the discovery of more dead bodies in an unexpected location. The mentally ill man had killed another elderly couple and then taken his own life. The ‘why’s‘ will perhaps never be known but four people are dead and one still seriously ill in hospital.

What really strikes me is the emergence of this man’s mental illness. He had schizophrenia, and it might be easy to simply conclude “oh, that it explains it“. But that’s not fair. Not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go on to murder. Not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go on to commit crime. And not all people who suffer from schizophrenia go from there to taking their own life. But stigma will have us believing all these things.

This man had no history of mental illness (described in one article I read as a “nice young man”) and then apparently he used illicit drugs once. And ‘once’ was enough to trigger schizophrenia. You see ‘once’ is enough for some people and some mental illnesses. It seems it is a game of Russian Roulette. And that was enough to end four lives and leave hundreds in mourning. Lives changed irreversibly.

My point? That mental illness, and the tragedy that can follow, can happen to anyone. The stigma that too often is applied, is unfounded. It could happen to you too.

This story really hits home to me because I was a ‘nice young wo(man).

I wasn’t mentally ill. I had a good career, a nice home and I had prospects. I was ‘going places“. No one expected my life to change dramatically with the sudden emergence of mental illness. I don’t have schizophrenia, triggered by a casual single use of a drug, but I have another mental illness now. One for which sufferers aren’t often described as ‘nice’.

My friends and family had no reason to expect such a dramatic change to my life. And perhaps more importantly, I had no reason to expect that change.

I could accept a friend’s Bipolar diagnosis. I could even visit her in hospital. I had no difficulty in supporting her, because I believed it could never happen to me.

I could accept that a man known to my family had schizophrenia. But when he began to stalk me, I very clearly saw myself as a victim and him as the perpetrator. I didn’t once stop to think that he was a victim too. And I never once thought it could happen to me.

It did happen to me. I got my own (BPD) diagnosis and spent far too many times in hospital. My days in psychiatric wards and hospitals may not even be over. I don’t know what lies ahead.

If you gain nothing else from World Mental Health Day this year, please  know that it could happen to you. I don’t say that to scare you, rather that you don’t judge those who struggle with mental illness.

Even for the cases, we hear about in the news, those are real people who struggle/d with real illness. Maybe they were on the receiving end of stigma. And maybe they didn’t get the support or treatment they needed. I don’t know why Ross Bremner killed those people or himself this past week. Maybe we will never know. But what we do know is that they were real people, just like you and me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

You May Think That I Am Crazy

You may think that I am crazy by the time you have read this post, but that’s okay. As long as you don’t abuse me, I am finally (after 50 years) getting to a point where what you think of me doesn’t worry me. It doesn’t change me. You’re entitled to your opinion.

Do you believe in the divine? The supernatural even? Maybe you believe in God, or maybe you believe in some other religious or spiritual being. Do you believe that there is more to this earth than you, me and the animals who inhabit it? I do.

I believe that there is something more. I can’t give you a complicated explanation of why I believe there is something more. I just do. I believe there is something more than us, and there is even something more than our lifespan. Please don’t ask me for an explanation. My beliefs come from my experience. I have experienced what simply must have been a force beyond human kind. I will never be the kind of person who can give you a lecture on this. Maybe I’m copping out, I don’t have to have all my theories worked out, for me to be at peace with what I believe. That’s enough for me.

I started on this earth in a Christian environment. My family lived and breathed the Bible and its teachings. It was my father’s calling in life. My views have changed since then, and I know that some of what I believe wouldn’t sit comfortably with those Christians from my upbringing. That’s okay with me too. We don’t all have to agree.

Time to get to the point, though…

A few days ago I had a particularly hard day with my mother, who has Alzheimer’s Disease. We were talking about family and I was ‘introducing to her’ (for want of a better word) photos of family members whom her decaying brain had wiped from her memory. It was tough. I don’t think it was tough on her, but it was definitely tough on me. When I left I knew that there would be many days ahead when we would repeat the process of identifying the photos of family sitting on her window sill. Explaining why their particular photos were even there.

When I left I really wanted to be with those family members we had identified, but there were none close by. More so, the person I most wanted to be with was my father, who died nearly six years ago.

I did the next best thing and went to the cemetery to spend some time ‘with Dad’. Okay, so it wasn’t really Dad but I believe I can go there and talk to Dad. I don’t do it often. Just when I need to focus on remembering him and identifying for myself what advice he might give me.

I believe that where ever Dad is now, he can hear me. What’s more, I believe he can help me, particularly as I care for my mother. Before you start worrying, no I don’t see him but I guess I can remember being with him. Being loved. Being with someone who believed in me, and always importantly, had hope for me.

When I go to the cemetery I regularly take some coffee. I sit on the grass, drink my coffee and talk to Dad. I usually go at a time when the cemetery is pretty much deserted, just the gardeners maybe, somewhere in the distance. It’s peaceful. And after I have removed the odd weeds growing, I focus on talking to Dad.

That day there was no one there when I arrived. I really needed to focus on how Dad might help me if he were still here. I felt like something my mother had said had swept the wind right out of me. I felt lost and desperately sad.

After maybe fifteen minutes, another car pulled up. Two women and a dog got out and headed towards me. In a huge cemetery, they happened to be coming to a gravestone just two down from Dad’s.

The dog (a Jack Russell) immediately came over to me and was jumping over me and eventually sat down right next to me. The two woman were amazed that their dog was so friendly with a complete stranger. I asked the dog’s name. Her name was Hope.

This is where you might think I’m crazy. I believe that dog came to me as a messenger sent by my father. Hope was a reminder for me that there is hope. It was exactly what I needed, and once I realised this I felt an instant feeling of peace. I no longer had to worry about my mother. I could be at peace. And one day, my mother would be at peace. For a number of reasons that day, it was exactly what I needed.

A dog named Hope.

Think I’m crazy if you want to. It doesn’t matter to me. I believe that there is not just one explanation of the divine forces at work on our planet. There is space for us all to have our own beliefs. There is no right or wrong. If you want to laugh at my interpretation of my encounter with Hope (and hope), that is okay. That’s your choice. What matters to me is that it helped me enormously that afternoon to have that encounter. And so often such gifts for me come in the form of animals. I am so lucky.

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That’s the problem.”

A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Thanks for reading

 

Cate