Image credit: Healing From Trauma: Welcome To My World

Watched**Stalked**Traumatised

He was watching, from across the road, as I stepped off the bus.

He was (also) watching from across the road, as I came out of church with my friends.

He watched as I walked down the hill from the school gates.

He drove past, three times in half an hour, as I was sitting in my friend’s car chatting.

He was sitting on his motorbike watching as I came out of work.

It took about one to two weeks for him to track me down after I had shifted house. And there he would watch as I arrived home.

He sent flowers. My skin crawled. The flowers were ugly and I gave them away.

My flatmates were interrogated, either on the phone or at the gate. What was their relationship to me?

I was visiting my friends and he saw my car parked outside. They were his friends too. As he knocked on the front door, I snuck out the back door. I never visited my friends at home again.

I came out of a church from my friend’s funeral. She had died in a car crash. He was across the road, on his motorbike, watching waiting for me. He “just wanted to talk”.

He was watching, waiting, always. But he never touched me.

♦♦♦

I was stalked by two men at the same time. They weren’t aware of each other. They never touched me while stalking me, and in those days that meant the NZ Police couldn’t do anything. The Police gave me advice, but I knew all that by now.

Constantly trying to avoid, trying to hide where I was, confidential phone numbers. The only friends I spent time with were those who would support my demand for privacy. The stalking went on for around 14 years in total. It started when I was 14, and I finally brought a stop to it when I left the city permanently at 28. It was a long time to convince myself that leaving town wasn’t giving in. It was taking control.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) was diagnosed some years later, when I finally sought help (when I knew that help was actually available). You see, it wasn’t until after the stalking that I let out a breath and could finally feel my fear. I crashed. But relief didn’t come until I had the help. Meanwhile, I was still hiding, mistrustful of all.

♦♦♦

The triggers started to play on me… they included, but weren’t confined to…

Every man, who wasn’t a blood relative, was potentially unsafe to me.

Anyone who expressed a romantic interest in me, especially if they were ‘too keen’.

A gap in the curtains still meant someone could be watching me.

Motorbikes, especially the sight of them.

Going back to the city where it happened brought on terror in some suburbs and hypervigilance in all places.

Church

Dreams, nightmares.

The gift of flowers.

Later on, ‘friend requests’ on social media.

And many, many more.

After years of therapy for these and other issues, I really thought I’d finally beat the PTSD. The triggers controlling my life had lasted much long than the stalking, even though that had been long enough. It had been a long time since I had felt that all too familiar fears.

Then a few weeks ago, a man shifted into the house next door. Because of where I am living (temporary housing for earthquake recovery) our houses are very close. His kitchen looks into my bedroom. Our lounges look in on each other.

When I first shifted here there was a woman living in the house, and it was her practice to keep all her curtains pulled shut all of the time. Now I could start to understand why. I didn’t want anyone looking in on my bedroom and I have taken to keeping the curtains permanently shut for the windows facing his kitchen. Regardless of who he is, and what he does, I see him as a threat.

I hadn’t met him at this stage… but when I eventually did, I felt that familiar feeling. Elements of his personality ring warning bells for me. The fear instantly builds, and I admit that I don’t have much rational thought. I’d describe the type of man, but I can’t. And it wouldn’t be fair. Rationally I know he has done nothing to make me afraid, but this is exactly what PTSD does to me.

I just don’t want to be anywhere near that sort of man.  I’m simply afraid. It’s difficult to know that this is about memories, and feelings, from a long time ago.

I’m afraid, and while I thought I had completely dealt with PTSD, I realise I haven’t. It’s not over for me yet.

Since meeting the man I have simply done my best to stay away, but I irrationally want to move out. I’m terrified that this man is going to do what I refer to as “turn into another stalker”. I know he has done nothing to stir up this fear. I know it is completely irrational. And actually, I irrationally think that every man will eventually “turn into another stalker”.

And do you know what? It really pisses me off that those stalkers of years ago can continue to have such a hold on me. I thought I was truly over it, but this man has shown me (by doing nothing) that I’m not. And that is so disappointing.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Both images contained in this post remain the property of  Healing From Trauma: Welcome To My World. I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit this great Facebook page.

 

 

 

 

 

Fighting Tooth And Nail

That’s what I am doing. Fighting ‘Tooth and Nail’. Nothing seems easy and it’s as if it’s one thing after another. Know the feeling?

When I was at high school I read a book that affected me profoundly. It was New Zealand book Tooth And Nail: the story of a daughter of the Depression by Mary Findlay. I read it firstly because at the time I was interested in the era of The Great Depression. I think we had been studying it in History class. My second reason for reading it was that the author, Mary Findlay was the great-grandmother of one of my closest friends.

She fought Tooth and Nail.  Amazon describe the book as this:

“This a the true story of Mary Findlay during the bitter days of the Depression. When her mother dies and her drunkard father harasses her, Mary is forced to fight tooth and nail for food, work and a place to live.”

It affected me profoundly not just because of the connection to my friend but also that it was a life lived much harder than anything I had ever known. My life seemed easy by comparison.

Right now nothing seems easy. There is one thing after another. I’m sure there are those in my life who still think I have it easy. I don’t have a 60 hour a week job, I don’t have, say four children, nor do I have a partner to think about. It’s true. Compared to Mary Findlay’s life I perhaps have it easy. But to me, nothing seems easy right now. And when it all boils down, it is the person’s own perception that matters.

I could easily write a post about each of what I see as my current hardships. But I haven’t. Mostly because at the time there haven’t been words, and so you won’t have seen posts from me since before Christmas. But here is a taste.

  • My 88-year-old (yes, she had a birthday) is deteriorating fast. Her physical health continues to be great, but her mental health in the form of Alzheimer’s Disease is going down hill fast. I’m learning as I go. Some days there is little to recognise the woman she was in my growing up years. And tomorrow? I face what happens to Mum next in terms of the care she needs now.
  • My doctor stripped me of Fibromyalgia. He says I don’t have it, even after four years of being treated for it and having originally been diagnosed with it by a doctor with more qualifications and experience. Apparently I simply need some Art Therapy (yes, really!) to cure my symptoms. Thankfully a few weeks after this pronouncement he announced he was leaving the country permanently. I am to be assigned a new doctor, and time will tell just what s/he will have to say.
  • My dentist has just presented me with a whopping $2,000 (that’s a whole lot of money in NZ) quote for the work I need to stop some corrosion happening in my mouth. Hear this, if you take medication regularly. The $2,000 problem is caused by dry mouth and having been on lithium for the last 12 or so years. Both of these have a terrible effect on teeth. Right now I’m still trying to pick myself up off the floor. I was gobsmacked! I am likely to have these dental issues for the rest of my life (if I listen to my Psychiatrist and stay on the medication for life, as we have previously agreed). I have no idea how I will possibly pay for this work but meanwhile, I am eating only soft foods to avoid further corrosion to my teeth (particularly my front teeth).
  • And I can’t forget the fibro symptoms of mainly pain and fatigue. You know the fibro that I don’t have? Well, those symptoms continue with more fatigue than ever. I go deal with whatever needs dealing, and then come home and collapse, literally. Day after day.

That’s just a taste, perhaps the really big issues, and maybe that doesn’t seem like a ‘tooth and nail’ battle. But it is. Like I suggested above, it’s how it seems to me that really matters. I might not be in the middle of the Great Depression like Mary Findlay, but it seems like my own ‘tooth and nail’ battle (emphasis on the ‘tooth’ because if I don’t find $2,000 soon I’ll be looking at whatever a pair of dentures cost).

It was a long time ago that I read Mary Findlay’s book but I still remember the impact it had on me. Maybe I didn’t learn this at the time I read the book but I know now that we can’t compare our hard times. As a 15-year-old reading that book, I thought her life was incredibly hard and mine incredibly easy. Actually, I was having my own pretty hard time back then, but I gave no value to my hardship. Now I have learnt that behind the scenes other people can be having incredibly difficult times. Harder than we can imagine. And it really isn’t possible to compare.

If I was to ask each one of you what are the hard things in your life right now, you could probably come up with your own list (like mine above but different). We all have our hardships, and all of those can have a bearing on  mental and physical health. Whether we tell others of our hard stuff or not, it’s there and we’re probably fighting a ‘tooth and nail’ battle to simply keep afloat.

I haven’t listed my current hardships out of wanting sympathy. Or wanting you to say you’re sorry for me. Rather I share it with you because maybe it reminds you that we’re not alone. We all are probably fighting ‘tooth and nail’. Life is hard, but we don’t do it alone. Just because your hard stuff is different from mine, it doesn’t stop me from being aware that you’re having a hard time. And that, makes a difference to me, so perhaps it makes a difference to you.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Image credit: "across enemy lines" Flickr.com newkidontheblock/4884118391 Creative Commons 2.0

How Borderline Personality Disorder Feels To Me

CAUTION: This post contains issues of self-harm and suicidality, although not in any great detail (but you have been warned).

I have Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

That’s no big news for regular readers but if you’re new, it is important that I say this from the outset. I have BPD. That’s the angle that I am coming from.

Many people with BPD choose not to admit to having it, mostly for the simple reason that there is a great deal of stigma attached to the disorder. But that’s not what I want to talk about, although I hope that what I say might be in some small way helpful towards smashing that stigma.

Another reason people with BPD don’t talk about their disorder is that it is a very difficult disorder to talk about. There are many variations (think over 200), and that means that what people feel and experience is going to be different for practically every person who has it.

If there is one thing I have consistently failed at as a writer, it is to describe what BPD feels like for me in a way that satisfied my desire to get it across to others. I have tried many times. I just haven’t managed to describe it as I really feel it. Every time I have written a post about BPD I have finished feeling dissatisfied. I might have got some aspect across, but I didn’t describe how BPD is for me.

While I was diagnosed as having BPD some five years ago, I admit that for as many doctors who have said I had BPD, more said I probably don’t. They said I wasn’t typical of people with BPD. Even more said it wouldn’t be good for me to have that diagnosis (in my mind a strange thinking for diagnosing a health issue). Only those who said I do have BPD were willing to listen and hear that my experience is that BPD matches both my emotions and behaviour.

To me, it wasn’t specifics that spelt BPD but rather an intrinsic way in which I deal with my emotions and my relationships with others. Face it, that’s hard stuff to talk about.

But here are the issues for me (in no particular order).

I  am completely paranoid. I expect that friends/family are about to leave me or say awful things about me. They are constantly (in my mind) one step away from leaving me or hurting me.

You name it, a lightbulb might blow… to an argument with a friend/family member, and I will (over) react by thinking it’s time to kill myself. Yes, it’s time to kill myself because it is an assumption that one day I will commit suicide and people would always be better off without me. It’s just a matter of time! Remember this is thinking rather than actions, although given enough thought and common depressive thought, BPD will drive me in that direction.

I think that the best thing for me is to leave you… before you leave me. It would be best to quit my job just in case my boss is about to sack me. Actually this is exactly what I did in my last job. I thought they were about to sack me, so I quit. Actually I later found out that they had no intention of sacking me and were disappointed when I suddenly left.

While I haven’t self-harmed for about four years, I regularly mull over thoughts of self-harm, particularly if something in my life goes bad. It’s not that I ever got any form of high from my years of self-harming (it was about control), but I just don’t value my body enough to say “no!” to myself. Thankfully it has been four years of fighting the urge rather than actions, but to be honest, it doesn’t get easier.

Self-harm, for me, is not just cutting, etc but also includes substance abuse, extreme dieting, smoking, and excessive exercise. That’s my way of thinking about it and I accept that you may not agree. For me, it is all the negative ways I use to control myself and my body, not to mention exerting pain on myself. Not surprising now that I experience more physical pain through fibromyalgia, I am less likely to think about exerting physical pain, through self harm, on myself.

I constantly think in ‘black or white’. Good or bad. Right or wrong. I can’t for the life of me even comprehend ‘grey’. It would be so much easier if I could. I try, but I am yet to master seeing the whole spectrum.

It is possible for me to have no idea what I feel. Is it happy or sad? Is it hate or love? It is difficult, at times, to know. Maybe I feel both, at the same time. It can be right on the borderline.

My emotions can cause me pain. The great Marsha Linehan says that people with BPD are like emotional third-degree burns victims. Personally I’m not fond of that analogy, but perhaps because I don’t see that my emotions hurt me as much as physical burns victims suffer from their injuries. I hasten to add though that I claim that statement as my own but not for others. I get that for others their emotions cause as much pain as physical pain. I know many people who have BPD who would say Marsha Linehan’s analogy is completely appropriate for them.

I admit, with some reluctance, that I am inclined to think that everything is about me. In a time of extreme unwellness, I thought that 9/11 was about me. I can’t remember my reasoning but it made perfect sense to me at the time. But more commonly I assume that negative events, such as arguments and the like, are my ‘fault’. Interestingly I don’t apply the same logic to positive events. Perhaps I am only interested in destroying my health, happiness or well-being.

I have a tendency to be impulsive. I admit I have shoplifted (ok, so only once). As a child, I regularly stole from my parents. I constantly have to be careful not to engage in compulsive shopping, spending, drinking and thinking. All that said, I have rarely been impulsive in relationships, even if at times, I have failed to think things through as much as I ought

And lastly, because this is one that appeals to me, people with BPD are sometimes prone to, what one author I read called, magical thinking in which they use unrealistic thoughts and beliefs to solve problems in their life (Robert Friedel in Borderline Personality Disorder Demystified, 2004). I admit that I do this (I’m not going to go into detail), although have never before seen it attributed as relating to BPD. My psychiatrist prefers to call it my ‘weirdness’.

Having written all that (and apologies for the length), I think I have gone somewhat closer to describing BPD as it feels to me, but, I am somewhat terrified. Firstly, how are you going to treat me now that you have seen inside? But secondly, I need to remind you that this is me. It is not how it is for others with BPD. Maybe some of it might apply, but just as easily, some of it won’t.

With the distinct possibility that I have not succeeded in what I set out to do with this post, I am including a link to another person’s version of what BPD feels like. I found it very useful and the temptation was to post it simply as it is. But I needed to do the ‘Cate version’, which would only ever be written. I hope you take time to watch. For each person who chooses to tell what BPD feels like to them, I believe more will learn and experience what BPD really is, and maybe one day the stigma against us will reduce.

I have such an unstable sense of self that I fear my post will somehow destroy me and my relationships. Somehow it will confirm what I have suspected to be your earlier suspicions that I am a fake, a fraud and just too much work. I am posting it anyway because I know that writing this has somehow been a good journey for me. As much as I hope you have learnt something, I know that I have learnt. It is good for me to be able to say “this is how it feels to me”.

One last thing I need you to know. You don’t have to try to somehow assure me that I’m not that fake, fraud or whatever. You don’t have to assure me of anything. All I wanted to do is done. I have shared how it is for me.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

In-Real-Life-Friends

I know I will be ‘preaching to the converted’ in this post, but humour me and read this anyway. I want to write about the distinction that many people make between ‘In-Real-Life Friends’ and ‘Internet Friends’. As bloggers, it is very likely that there is a melting of the two terms because we know through experience that ‘Internet Friends’ quickly become ‘Real Life’ friends even though we might never have met them. For this reason, I don’t like these distinctions and prefer ‘Friends-I-Have-Met’ and ‘Friends-I-Have-Never-Met’. For me, it is much more accurate.

Some years ago I had a discussion with family members about this. They could not comprehend the idea of having friends they had never met. To them, such friends could not be friends. At the time, I was in a relationship with someone who I had never met. We eventually met, but even before that meeting the relationship was very real. Our friendship was very met. I maintained then and now, that friendships with that I have never met can be as real, satisfying and fulfilling as those friends I have known since school days. In many cases I maintain that because of the sheer nature of communication between those we have never met, it is possible that such friendships are even more intense and real than anyone I have known ‘all my life’.

This morning I woke to shocking news that a friend of some years, who some would consider an ‘internet friend’, had suddenly died. I had never met my friend, and I suspect we might never have met even if she had lived, but I felt like someone had taken a baseball bat to my chest as I read the Facebook posts which were accumulating in the hours since her death. I was struggling for air.

We had never laid eyes on each other, but we shared many things in common. She had been unwell for many months, but her death was completely unexpected. As her friends, we had followed her months of sickness, wishing that she would be returned to health soon. There was no reason to expect otherwise. Perhaps the greatest day in my mind was when someone took my friend’s much-loved dog into hospital to see her.

I had met my friend through an on-line support group some years back.  We had both since moved on from the group but maintained our friendship.  She was one of the most caring and ‘real’ people I am sure I will have had the pleasure to know. To her, there was nothing complicated about ‘In-Real-Life’ or ‘Internet’ friendships. It was simply that we had a connection and it actually didn’t matter that we had never, nor were likely to ever meet.

Whether we met or not, the friendship we had was real. Read ‘The Velveteen Rabbit‘ if you don’t believe me about what is real.

My friend has passed today and I am quite devastated. The world is truly a sadder place because of her passing. I loved her in spite of our never meeting. My life is better for her having been in it. Rest In Peace, Jill.

Cate

Halfway To A Hundred

Look at it that way, and it seems impressive. 50 years ago today at 1.30am my mother gave birth to me. My father had been sent home to sleep, as was the practice in those days. Much as I know he loved me when he eventually met me, I know he wouldn’t have needed any encouragement to go home.

I can honestly say that 50 is not a big deal for me. What is a big and slightly frightening deal is that 60 is only 10 years away. For some reason, that has hit me in recent days and won’t go away. Am I really that close to 60? Where has my life gone? I’m sure I was 25 last time I looked, but now look at me.

I’ve had a struggle with birthdays, really since I started battling for my mental health. It’s really hard to celebrate anything when you’re depressed, let alone the idea of celebrating your own life. And with experience, I can tell you that it is worst if you’re living with suicidal thoughts. Worst too, if you have an eating disorder and everything seems to focus on food.

The irony is not lost on me that World Suicide Prevention Day 2015 is the day before my birthday (that I don’t want to celebrate). What’s more, perhaps most of my friends are in a different hemisphere and so while they are acknowledging World Suicide Prevention Day, I am trying to avoid even  acknowledging my birthday.  They will want to celebrate my birthday tomorrow, taking it to two days. Add to this that my birthday is 9/11. A day on which even outside of America, it is difficult to find the will to celebrate anything.

Yet there are people who want to celebrate my life, and my birthday.  In spite of my struggles, I know that I am lucky to have these people who love and care for me. I know that when I see my four-year-old niece (and her family) tonight that she will be very much committed to celebrating my day. Her family are apparently also committed to this task.

Because of those people, I chose to celebrate my birthday this year. I struggle to see the worth of my life for myself sometimes, but strangely (to me) I know they do. So I will go with what they wish for the day, hoping that next year I might just see it differently.

Today I finish my post with a great kiwi song. My words for today. The lyrics are below.

Cate

Lyrics:

You call me up, I’ll say a few words
But I’ll try not to speak too long
Please to be kind and I’ll try to explain
I’ll probably get it all wrong

What does it mean when you promise someone?
That no matter how hard or whatever may come

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Play it once, disappear

Once in a while I return to the fold
With people I call my own
Even if time is just a flicker of light
And we all have to die alone

What does it mean when you belong to someone?
When you’re born with a name, when you carry it on

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
All at once, and I’ll show you how to get me there

Come on now, come on now, can you feel it, I can see it in ya
Come on now, come on now, reveal it, turn around won’t ya
The right time, the right place, right now, turn around

A chance is made, a chance is lost
I carry myself to the edge of the earth

It means that I won’t give in
Won’t give in, won’t give in
‘Cause everyone I love is here
Say it once, just say it and disappear

 

 

Let Me Tell You A Secret

Image Credit: Used with permission by Penny Redshaw. http://wwwmotivatinggiraffe.com http://www.facebook.com/motivatinggiraffe
Image Credit: Used with permission by Penny Redshaw.
http://www.motivatinggiraffe.com
http://www.facebook.com/motivatinggiraffe

Let me tell you a secret. Why? Because as my favourite giraffe (Motivating Giraffe) tells us, “If we knew each other’s secrets, what comforts we shall find”. It’s true, isn’t it? Generally if we share our secrets with another, more often than not, we find that we are not alone in that secret.

Sharing secrets (although maybe we word it differently) is one of the things that blogging can be about. Well, for me anyway. You might look at it another way, but for today I am going to share a secret with you.

My secret is that I don’t love myself.

I’d like to. Well in some ways, but I have no idea how to love myself and frankly, there is nothing I can see that is worth loving. After all the years of what I will loosely call recovery, I haven’t got this one sorted.

I don’t mean to get anyone down, or even myself, but it’s just the way it is. Books, websites, speakers, recovery programmes, even Facebook memes tell me to love myself but it’s just not that easy.

I have never loved myself. Actually I grew up in an environment that told me to love other people, not myself. As, say a three-year-old, I had little chance of understanding what that was really about but by the time I was 28, and leaving that environment, I was quite certain that if I had learnt one thing well, then it was this: I loved other people but I hated myself.

I was an expert at putting myself last. Actually I had loved other people and not myself so well that it eventually led to my depression and attempting to take my life.

Life has moved on since then.  Many hours of very good therapy, hospital and other therapeutic programmes have saved my life. But I still haven’t got it. I still read and hear that I must love myself, but actually…  I still don’t.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate myself now, except for the days when BPD and depression really kick in. But I still don’t like myself, let alone love myself. No one has actually sat me down and told me how to let go of the stuff I don’t like and find the stuff I do like.  I assume that if I did that then I would have some chance of learning to love myself.

What I learnt as a three-year-old, or four, or five, or six, and so on is pretty well fixed in my mind. While they might have been teaching me about Christianity, what I was learning was how to live my life. Actually nothing to do with Christianity, and I’m not convinced that it was what I was supposed to learn. They might not have meant to teach me to hate myself, but that is exactly what I  learnt. It’s just amazing that I got so far (to 28) before I crashed.

So what do I do here? Is this about repeating positive affirmations? Maybe reading the right book (it would be good if I could concentrate)? I just don’t know how to do this because whenever I try ‘loving myself’ I just feel like I am fooling myself.

What I know is that if this was about learning to love someone else, it wouldn’t be so hard. Just being with them would be a good start. But what if I had to learn to love a person I didn’t like? Would that work? You know there are times when I simply can’t bear to be with me. Let alone like or love myself.

I’m not so much looking for advice because I suspect I have to work this out for myself. I’m simply sharing my secret because I suspect I’m not alone in this.

There are a lot of mostly rhetorical questions here, so while I love comments, please don’t feel like I’m wanting you to share anything you’re not comfortable with.

Cate

 

4.35am

It is five years today since my city, of Christchurch, was shaken so badly that I seriously thought the end of the world had come and was happening right on my doorstep.  A shallow, 7.1 Richter scale earthquake began a rollercoaster of quakes which would last more than two years. What followed was four earthquakes over 6 Richter scale and a staggering 16,000 plus quakes to today.

Not to mention the physical and emotional damage, it is without exaggeration that I say my life totally changed that day. How I live, how I think, how I feel and perhaps most importantly (in my eyes anyway), what matters to me. I am more compassionate. More mindful.

Christchurch wasn’t a city that got earthquakes.  That was Wellington (head north).  I had grown up knowing how to deal with earthquakes (run for the nearest doorway and hold on!), yet that 40 second quake was beyond anything I knew or had ever thought would happen to me.

It was 4.35am, so it was dark and I was asleep when I hit.  When I woke to the bed rocking and rolling, I immediately knew I had to get to the doorway (some maybe two metres away). You have no idea how hard is to get to a doorway in the midst of such a quake.

As I left my bed I instinctively grabbed one of my most precious possessions which was sitting by my bed. But when I (finally) made the doorway I realised I had left another very precious item still beside the bed. I immediately wanted it with me but wasn’t sure I could get back to the bed to get it… and perhaps most importantly still be alive. I chose not to go back.  I didn’t think I could get back and then back to the doorway alive. I still find it incredible that all that was in 40 seconds, it seemed so much longer.

No one died that day but more quakes happened, and people did die,  I admit I moved my focus of what mattered.

When people died in the quake of 22 February it really hit me that lives were at stake.  As I stood in an office car park with hundreds of others, having been evacuated from the building I was in, I saw injured people. While I probably had no doubt by then of the risks we faced, I heard on the grapevine that other buildings had collapsed. I knew that lives would be lost today. That said, my parents were by my side so I knew they were safe.  It was only a few hours before I could speak to my sister-in-law and knew they were all safe.  This was bad, but the worst (death) was happening to other people. I know that sounds a little callous, but it is what I was thinking at the time.

185 people died that day, one was known to me.

Six weeks later, my thinking changed again in a very abrupt way. The quakes continued and as a result of extreme stress, my father suffered heart failure. I was down on the floor in my lounge (my parents were by now living with me as their home had been declared unlivable and would later be demolished) doing CPR on Dad. I had never expected to be here, but thankfully had learnt CPR some 20 years ago. It took 20 minutes before paramedics arrived and took over (many roads were still blocked and impassable), another 20 minutes before they declared Dad dead.

Now this ‘worst thing possible’ had happened to me. Earthquakes now meant death, what’s more, death of my father and best friend. I now had to look after my mother, and this time when the phone calls were made to the family, I could no longer say that everyone was safe.

Some seven months earlier, my focus was on my possessions.  Of my most valuable, I had one with me but had left the other just a few metres away. The death of anyone hadn’t really  occurred to me. While the quake was bad, I never thought someone close to me might die. Now the unthinkable had happened.

Draw your own conclusions, that’s really what we have to do in such situations.  But I’ll tell you my conclusions.  I’m reminded of them each time I feel yet another shake (last night).

I’ve concluded that taking one day at a time is not an option. It’s essential. It’s what I have to do because I simply don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I love you” tomorrow and I don’t know if I’m going to be able to say “I’m sorry“. I don’t know if my precious possessions will be gone, and whether my house will still be standing. Think that’s going too far, and in my opinion (now) you’re fooling yourself. My aim now is to take each day as it comes, because I really don’t know if tomorrow will actually come.

Five years on and I’m still waiting for my house to be repaired.  It is expected to start in November and will take six months.  I’ll be looking for somewhere else to live shortly. My brother’s business was all but destroyed five years ago. He’s still working hard to try to rebuild it. We are not finished with the aftermath. Not by a long shot. It will be a long time yet before we can breathe easily again. But meantime, kiwis (and especially kids) are now taught to “Drop, Cover, Hold” rather than trying to run for far away doorways.

Kia kaha, Christchurch
(Be strong)

Cate

Last Post (…Mile, Kilometre, or Lap)

Sometimes you know that your time is up, and this is that time.  It’s time to hang up my blogging ‘shoes’.  I have been blogging on this site for just over three years.  It’s been a great ride.  Well most of it, anyway.

In the few years before I reached my 40th birthday (a ‘few’ years ago) I was somewhat addicted to long distance running.  This was very definitely a stint of over-exercising for me.  Tell me that I was a “jogger” as some people liked to call themselves, and I was offended.  I was a serious runner, in it for the long haul… literally.

My very expensive running shoes in retirement.

I wasn’t much into events.  Running with masses of people destroyed the peace of running for me.  I did a few races but it just wasn’t for me.  However my great aim was to run in the Christchurch Marathon in 2005.

I did it, but only just.  Within the first kilometre I pulled my right hamstring.  Stubbornness (and addiction) kicked in, and although I was in an extreme amount of pain, I decided to keep running.  Actually I was used to running in pain.  My knees never coped with long-distance running.

I was doing the half marathon so only had around 20 kilometres to go.  Of course, the further I ran the worse the pain got.  I never got to that “break through the wall” stage, but I simply kept running.

At the beginning of the last lap, the bell was sounding, just in case I didn’t know I was on my last lap.  Oh, I knew.  By then I was counting every metre, but the sound of the bell told me I just had to run through this park and down the road to the finish line.

I did it.  I couldn’t walk for the next three days.  But I did it.

I admit that this past year of blogging has been a little like that for me, sadly.  I was somewhat addicted.  I have loved blogging but I had hit some issues that were creating pain.

You see, as you will realise I have been blogging under my own name.  That has been very important to me, for a number of reasons but perhaps mostly because I have always believed that until we can speak out in our own names, we won’t crush the stigma of mental illness.

Ok, so I admit defeat (for now).

It’s not so much outright stigma that hit me, but the very real difficulty of protecting the privacy of those I care about.  That wasn’t just my family, but those who were having an impact on my life, and that I wanted to include in my writing here.  Mostly I just couldn’t, unless (as you would have witnessed on a number of occasions) I wrote a very vague, cryptic post.  Sometimes that worked.  Sometimes it didn’t.

Stigma came in as a second issue, in ways that I hadn’t expected.  Stigma is so much more than a public issue.  It is also very personal,painful and sometimes used against us in ways that anyone even realises.  That’s no excuse, but it is a very real explanation of some things that have gone on for me, particularly in the past year.

Calling it quits to blogging on this site is really difficult. My site is me.  Do you know that feeling?  It’s me in so many ways, but now I leave it. It is something that I have considered long and hard. Unfortunately it is my only sensible choice.  I have been silenced (for want of a better word).

To my readers, and perhaps particularly those who have followed this blog for a considerable amount of time, I want to say thank you.  Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments.  Thank you too, for the ‘likes’.  Whatever way you have opted to interact with me, thank you.  You are the people who made blogging worthwhile. Thank you for making blogging an amazing experience for me.

So what of the future?  I don’t know where the future will take me.  I simply have to admit that this race is finished.  My feet (and my hamstring) are sore, but there is a future (somewhere) ahead.  Time will tell where that future will lead.

 “Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

― Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World

Stand By Me… But Just A Few Will Do

When we live with chronic illness, either mental or physical, it’s all too often that we have to focus on those who don’t stand by us. Those who we thought were friends (or family), but don’t want to know us now.

Over the years there have been many friends like that.  They’re particularly those who didn’t like how I was choosing health treatment options, as if it was up to them.

Then there were those who objected to some of the changes I made in my life.  I can give you a whole list of those who run for the hills when I started smoking.  My overly enthusiastic drinking was always kept under wraps, so that never gave people the chance to exit stage left.  My self harm was also kept under wraps, or at least under my clothes so again, people didn’t have the chance to run.  When I stopped going to church, that was another trigger for some to go.  Over time, plenty just left.  They skulked away presumably just because I was different now.

My ex-husband was one of the first.  From outward appearances it seemed that I was the one who left him.  I was the one, after all who packed my bags and left the house.  My house. But that was only after several conditions that he laid down in front of me.  He wanted me to change, or I couldn’t stay.  I chose to leave.  I think he was surprised (did he think he was that good?), but I guess he got over it.

It’s easy to focus on those people who left.  Yes, it hurts very badly.  Yes, there were times I wondered if anyone would like me ever again.  There were great losses involved when any person who had been close… left.

Image Credit: Squelle, Wikipedia.com
Image Credit: Squelle, Wikipedia.com

But actually there were people who stayed.  Even when I tried to push them away.  While I was hurt by those who weren’t interested in being in my life anymore, strangely those who still wanted to be there, I pushed away.  I was scared that if I didn’t push them away, they might choose (after all) to leave.

The first friend who comes to mind, just kept on coming back.  I know the choices I made for my life were not hers.  I know that some of the choices I made, just made no sense to her.  But she kept being there.  I know some of the things I came to believe in were not her beliefs.  Actually I kept expecting her to walk away.  But she didn’t.  She kept being there.  Nowadays we don’t see each other often, but we can still add up 25 years of friendship.  We live in different parts of the country, and to some extent, we have drifted.  But I know she would be there if I needed her.  And to me, that’s what counts.

The other person who quickly comes to mind has been my friend even longer, and no matter how much I’ve pushed her away across the years, she too, is still there.  I remember not wanting to see her when she came to visit me in a psych hospital.  Visitors are few and far between in a psych hospital but she kept coming, even though I admit I would fake a headache or something so I didn’t have to see her.

Having done that repeatedly embarrasses me now.  It was a long drive to come out to see me, yet I would regularly refuse to see her.  It was really about hating myself so much that I couldn’t bear to be seen.  I understand that now, but I still don’t know if she understood it.  Maybe not.  But she continues to be my friend. Again different parts of the country now mean we don’t get to talk often, but we caught up recently and it was great.  I felt completely accepted, just as I was.  What more could I want?

I don’t have a lot of friends now.  Just a few will do.  Should I say, I don’t have a lot of what we call ‘real life friends‘.  That’s partly been my choice, partly people who have left, and partly something that has come about because of the illness.  People leave just because they don’t ‘get it‘.  Even ‘internet friends‘ I’m not interested in having hundreds of friends.

What I am interested in having is friends like those above, who I know will stand by me.  As cheesy as it sounds I want friends who will be there for me, and will allow me to be there for them. I’m not interested in anything else.  I just don’t see the point.  Judge me and I’m simply not interested.

I think age helps.  In your twenties I get that it’s maybe hard to say a few friends will do.  Even harder to be satisfied with staying in on Saturday nights.  It’s hard again to have a quiet feed on all social media sites.

When I hurtled violently into the world of mental illness, I was in my twenties.  Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m not there anymore.  Frankly though, I’m glad I’m not.  Quantity doesn’t matter so much now, I’d rather have quality, or at least those who will stick around no matter what I hurtle through.

It’s a little bit cheesy now, but it’s true, so here it is…

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”

― Henri J.M. Nouwen

To Cope

cope

Pronunciation: /kəʊp

 VERB
[NO OBJECT]

1(Of a person) deal effectively with something difficult:
 

his ability to cope with stress; it all got too much for me and I couldn’t cope

(Source: Oxford English Dictionary)

And now that the English lesson is over for the day, let us get on to more meaningful issues around this word.  Like how do we cope?  What coping mechanisms do we use in order to get through life?  Are those means of coping, healthy or otherwise?

But here’s the catch… I don’t want you to tell me how you cope.  I have enough dealing with my own means of coping.  Tell yourself, instead.  Tell yourself what coping mechanisms you use to manage physical or mental difficulties.  Maybe you have both and so you need to tell yourself about both.  And check with yourself, are they healthy or unhealthy?  And perhaps more to the point, does it matter?  Be honest with yourself.  Know what it is that keeps you going.

And now I will get on with my post. I have had a means of coping with a particular aspect of my life, for a very long time.  Actually I have used this means for as long as I can remember.  I’m talking pre-school.  I can’t remember when I didn’t do this as a way to cope.  This is a very longstanding way to cope.  And it worked.  First as a child, and then as an adult.

There are only two occasions in my life where this coping mechanism of mine was denied (for want of a better word).  Actually they were similar but different.  One involved me sharing some small detail of my means to cope with another, and that other using it to abuse me.  Obviously that didn’t work.  The other refused to accept me if ‘me‘ included that means of coping

Both times I had to weigh up what was more important, my coping mechanism or the people involved.  Both times it required a potentially life-changing decision.  These people insisted I remove the coping mechanism from my life in order to have some type of connection with them.  Actually I chose my means to cope with my life, and it hurt like hell.  But… I never had a doubt that I had done the right thing.

For a third time, this week my means to coping was challenged.  Actually it was more than challenged because of the environment involved.  This time my means of coping was totally chucked out and I was told I ‘couldn’t use it anymore’.  Gone.

If I could go into details, then I could go some way to explain just how devastating that has been.  I can’t.  But maybe it doesn’t matter so much because perhaps my feelings are what are important.  I’m not sure if I can adequately put those in a few words but I will try.

Hurt, denied, shut out.  I was fighting for air to breathe.  Literally my means of life was being denied.  It hurt to the extent that it felt my skin was being peeled off.

I know that it is difficult to comprehend, but go back to your own means of coping.  Maybe one you used from childhood, or something you had to do to keep yourself alive as an adult?  One that actually meant a difference between life and death.  Now have that taken away from you, by someone important in your life.  Maybe it’s happened to you already.  Can you see now a little of how I might feel?

To be honest, I spent most of the week in denial.  There was too much to do, people to face, it couldn’t work any other way.  It simply was the only way to handle it, without totally losing it.  But then I had to go back to the person who did it.  That’s where it felt like my skin was being peeled off all over again. Fuck!

And I felt myself crumbling, not sure if myself even existed anymore…

“You think you’re lost but you’re not lost on your own. You’re not alone. I will stand by you, I will help you through when you’ve done all you can do.
If you can’t cope, I will dry your eyes
I will fight your fight, I will hold you tight and I won’t let go”

— Rascal Flatts