Another Heartbeat

I’m the first to admit that my heart has been firmly closed off to all other heartbeats for a number of years now. There was no way I wanted to even know that another heartbeat existed.

There was the terribly hurtful, disastrous relationship from a few years ago. Most of that I never breathed a word of my pain to anyone (although if you can handle cryptic you could check out here and here). That’s about as forthcoming as I chose to be, for a whole host of reasons. But what I can say is that I firmly zipped up my heart and determined never, ever to let it free again.

And then about a year before was a grief of another kind when my dear cat, Penny (see here) got her angel wings and left this earth. She was sick and suffering, and as hard as it was to let go, I had to let her free. Penny and I had been together for twelve years. We had got each other through thick and thin, and to go through her final days and then to grieve when she was gone took a very big toll. I wondered whether I would ever be able to bear that burden of love for an animal again, knowing that at sometime heartbreak would come again.

As time has gone on I have struggled to think of allowing myself to love another animal. I had decided, and have no doubt that I won’t be loving another human in that intimate way again, but I tossed and turned about a pet, and each time deciding that I just couldn’t go there.

There were good excuses too. Money, earthquakes (yes, really!), housing, money again, and of course the fear of loving and then losing again. I came to the conclusion at one point that I would like to get a dog instead of a cat, and so then there were all sorts of excuses why that wasn’t going to happen either. Money, earthquakes, housing, even more money, would my health limit my ability to exercise a dog adequately, and the age-old fear of loving and losing. It was looking like it was never going to happen.

Until about three weeks ago, when for some reason I didn’t really understand I drove out to the local SPCA Animal Rescue Centre just to look at the cats. I wasn’t at all prepared to adopt a cat that day; I was “just looking”. I saw two cats that I was instantly attracted too. One of them was adopted by others later that day. I was certain the other would go within days.

And then I got sick (a long story not for this post) and I just assumed that ‘Zion’ as he was called, would be happily adopted and settling into his new home. I told myself I would have adopted ‘Zion’ if I hadn’t got sick, but now I (and he) would never know each other beyond that afternoon together on the floor of the SPCA.

But strangely ‘Zion’ waited. I finally got back to the SPCA Centre two weeks later and I was sure he would have gone. He was a two-year-old, healthy and friendly male and I couldn’t see any reason why he wouldn’t have been snapped up. But as the SPCA staff explained animals often choose their owners and perhaps ‘Zion’ hoped/knew I would come back. Either that or my guardian angel had kept him out of public view for two weeks.

‘Zion’ and I have been cohabiting for one week now and I think we are both happy with our new arrangement. After a long discussion (admittedly a little one-sided) he has changed his name to ‘Hobbes’ (after my favourite cartoon character) and he is settling down nicely. He’s fast asleep at my feet as I write.

What felt good was to having some ‘thing‘ else in the house with a beating heart. Something else, alive with likes and dislikes, good and bad habits, and of course a unique personality. I hadn’t banked on any of that. I had forgotten the joys of pets and to find another heartbeat near mine is a good thing.

It’s odd because when I think of another heartbeat, what comes to mind is that beating sound and sight of the ultrasound of a pregnant woman’s belly. I have never been a maternal person. I never wanted to have children (for lots of very good reasons mostly documented somewhere across the years within this blog), and actually, the thought of another heartbeat within my body actually freaked me out a bit.

As it is, I’ve got another heartbeat, not inside me, and not a human one thankfully, yet one who still takes up half of the bed. I am growing quickly to love him. He doesn’t yet understand when I am in pain and so don’t appreciate that some of his endeavours to express his affection, and I guess that is much like a young child. I do believe though, that in time he will come to understand my needs of him as much as I understand his needs of me.

We are a partnership. If my theory that he waited those two weeks for me is correct, I hope he will soon come to the conclusion that I was worth the wait. That will be something I can only guess at.

Maybe my desire to keep my heart safe isn’t altogether that healthy. I don’t know, but it’s necessary to keep my mental health intact for now. It’s taken me just over five years to get another pet, and I hope that has allowed me the time to find within myself what I need to be able to give to Hobbes. He deserves the best of me, and I hope he gets it.

Before I forget, meet Hobbes:

“Our perfect companions never have fewer than four feet.”
— Colette

Thanks for reading

Cate

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.

16730420_575462969313755_7719776991444878516_n
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

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

 

Love Doesn’t Cure Mental Illness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I knew that I was unlovable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

― Elizabeth Wurtzel

 

An Apple Never Falls Far From The Tree

Image credit: Wikipedia.com

Caution: This post contains a (small) mention of self harm and eating disorders.  Read at your discretion.

Today my family are gathering together.  No special reason, except that it is a rare opportunity when we are all in the same place at the same time.  My memory is a little hazy but I’m guessing that it is about 18 months since we have been altogether.  Of course, one important person will be missing.  My father who died over three years ago is a very big absence in the room.  Perhaps especially because Dad was always my reason for being part of the family.  Now I feel a little lost without him there.

Family gatherings are something I find hard.  I have fallen near the tree yet I struggle to find a place for myself amongst that basket of apples.  I don’t fit.  Perhaps I should say I don’t feel I fit.  Actually I have never felt I belonged there.  I guess, that I have felt an outsider in so much of life, and the family context is just one more.

In the past I have tried very hard to get my family to reject me.  I grew up with this notion of unconditional love, which I didn’t believe really existed and also didn’t really understand.  I spent years doing and being something that I expected my family would reject.  I would prove that this unconditional love thing was a hoax.  To my surprise, they didn’t reject me.  Perhaps they didn’t like what I did always, but they never rejected me.  I admit I was surprised.  I was sure I could prove them out, but I never did.  For some reason, largely beyond my understanding, they kept on loving me.

I’m not at all sure that they necessarily like me, or actually ever liked me, but that is a different thing than love.

I don’t fit.  I’m not sure that I fit anywhere in this planet (except maybe surrounded by another family of stuffed animals) and so when I am in a group (whether it is my family or any other) I feel out of place.

While my siblings were creating marriages and families (very lovable families at that), I was creating a canvas across my body of places I had dragged the razor blade, not to mention destroying my own marriage.

When they were building careers, I was focussed on starving myself  and plans for death.

When they were building lives, I was gradually destroying mine.

Admittedly I am not in that destruction phase now, but I know it still hovers not far from the distance.  That’s just what chronic mental illness does.

When their children are growing up (fast), I am by choice, alone.  I don’t know how to be anything else, nor do I think I want to.

My life has turned out (so far) very different from my family.  Practically, I have no idea what to talk about with them.  My interests, let alone my goals are so very different.  But more than that, I just feel like I have no right to belong.  My achievement for life is to still be living today, and while that is big for me, I know it is not easily comprehended by others.  Nor is it something to talk about around the dinner table while the children play.  It’s a conversation stopper rather than anything else.  I just don’t know how to fit into the conversation in the room.

I’m more comfortable outside with my good canine friend Duncan.  He will no doubt be locked in his kennel today, to protect unfamiliar children and Grandma who risks being knocked over in his exuberance and friendliness.  Frankly I would almost be happier out in the kennel with Duncan.  He’s not worried about social niceties, careers and school reports.  He’s not worried about having conversation.

But it’s not like that, is it?  I can’t hang out in the kennel, and to be honest sometimes Duncan’s kennel needs some ‘housekeeping‘.

It’s another time when I have to be with the people, yet I feel so out of place.

My family are good people and I know they love me.  I want, and need them in my life.  I’m still not convinced that it’s unconditional love but I’ve stopped trying to prove that.  I’m not sure that humans are capable of unconditional love, but maybe that’s another topic.

I know my family have suffered in a different way, during the years of my destruction.  But they seem to have little understanding of my life of chronic illness, both mental and physical.  We are two types of apples, from the one tree.  I want to be with my family today, but yet again I have no idea of how to be with them.  Somehow Duncan is so much easier.

“The boughs, without becoming detached from the trunk grow away from it.” 

― Victor Hugo, Les Misérables

Christmas Resolutions

Image credit: By Kelvinsong, via Wikimedia Commons

Twas the night two days (in NZ) before Christmas… and all through the house world, not a creature was stirring (well, that’s just wrong!) and every Kiwi (and probably Australian too) was hard at work baking a pavlova (staple Christmas food Downunder).  Me?  I have no pav to bake, and my contribution to Christmas dinner can’t be made until the day.  So I’ve been writing and here’s my Christmas post…

You maybe thinking that I’m a week early on setting New Year Resolutions, as is the usual practise for many people.  I’m not though.  I don’t do New Year Resolutions because they never seem to last, and I never seem to be enthusiastic enough.  But as Christmas has approached I’ve realised that I’ve quietly been setting Christmas Resolutions instead.  The great thing about Christmas Resolutions, in case you didn’t know, is that they come bearing a little Christmas magic with them.  A perfect way to make sure they come true.

So here they are.  Completely unrelated, but of importance to me…

Image credit: Connie Bowen (used with permission)
Facebook: I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations

Christmas Resolution #1
I believe (again) in the magic of Christmas!

I admit that I gave up on the magic of Christmas a while back.  Actually, I had almost given up on any Christmas.  I didn’t enjoy it, couldn’t really see the point, and just hoped it would be over sooner rather than later… with as little pain as possible.  But actually, Christmas is kind of cool.  There’s the Christian Christmas Nativity story, which I’ll get to in a minute, but there is also Santa Claus and reindeers…

I’ve been watching a few Christmas movies lately, my favourite being the one my friend Kathy very kindly sent to me.  That is ‘Miracle on 34th Street‘.  It makes me sad when children, through the ideals of their parents usually, are taught to believe that Santa Claus is not real.  I think those children miss out, on a lot.  I think it’s good for children to use their imagination and experience such tales.

I can remember when local television stations used to track the progress of Santa around the globe.  What amazed me was just how Santa made it around the whole globe in just one night.  Well I understand that better now and it helps that some places don’t celebrate Christmas, so he can zip past those places.  But again, it is sad that those children (and adults) miss out on the magic of Christmas.

So what is this magic of Christmas.  I think we need to get away from it being about gifts and start to see it as being about spreading peace, joy and love around our whole globe.  If each person, adult and child, could have a piece of that this Christmas, then I think we’d be going a long way.  And if it could apply to the whole world, and not just those of certain religions, then that too would be a great move to seeing the world be kinder to each other.  Now I believe that is something Santa Claus would support.  Throw in a few reindeers, and a bit of mistletoe, and we’d be getting somewhere.

One more point on the magic of Christmas.  For a few years now I have been aware of a debate within the Christian church of whether the virgin birth (at Christmas) was really a virgin birth.  I was raised in a Christian home and spent a good chunk of my life as a practising Christian (although I’m not now).  The Christian story of Jesus’ birth was what I was raised with.  Santa Claus took a very definite second place, and I know that many people reading may also see it this way.

So what of this virgin birth?  Was Jesus’ mother really a virgin?  This is far from a theological stance(my argument would probably not hold up anywhere) but I’ve come to my own conclusion that if I can believe in the magic of Christmas, then I can believe in the virgin birth. Maybe it takes a little imagination, but imagination is a very good thing.  And why should we confine it to children believing in Santa? In my mind, it is sad when we limit our experiences to what we see as literal.

So yes, I believe in the magic of Christmas, including the virgin birth.

Christmas Resolution #2
I support the survival of the rhinoceros  (and I did tell you these were unrelated!!)

Image credit: Andrew McMillan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It broke my heart a few weeks ago when I read that the black rhino as a species is now extinct.  Rhinos are wonderful animals.  In my mind they are part hippo, part dinosaur and part unicorn (yes, I did say unicorn).  That spells a wonderful mix.  The thought that we as human beings have killed off a species because ‘we’ wanted the ivory from their tusks, is a tragedy.  It’s happening to elephants too, another animal I like, but I won’t get side tracked.  Why can’t we salute the rhino?  Why can’t we put an end to the hunting, and celebrate the unicorn in the rhino.  That little bit of magic.  If you look closely you’ll probably see a rainbow too.

One species are extinct but we can’t afford to lose more.  As for me, I will do what I can to support their survival.  What about you?

Christmas Resolution #3
I must stop crossing oceans! 

This third resolution comes on the basis of the quote I read some months back and knew instantly that it was ‘my‘ quote for 2013.  Anyone else might read this quote and think “oh, that’s nice advice” but after this year, it is imperative that I get on board with it… and not on board a plane either.  I did something like 75 hours (there and back) of that before I learnt my lesson).

The quote is:

“There comes a point when you have to stop crossing oceans for people who wouldn’t even jump puddles for you.”

I have no idea who uttered these wise words, but I’m sure they were speaking metaphorically, and not literally.  Only I could do this literally, crossing many, many oceans (and lands) before I read this quote. Sure, you can say I was in love and had my head in the clouds.  It’s true.  But from now on I check first on the ability of the person in question to ‘jump puddles‘.  I checked many things, but alas, I forgot to check whether he would jump a puddle for me.  Even if he’d lay down his coat in a puddle so I could walk over it (as I remember my Dad telling me that a gentleman would).

If they won’t jump puddles for me, my feet are staying firmly on kiwi ground.  And I expect them to jump big puddles too.

That’s the end of my resolutions.  There’s no point making so many that you can’t keep up.  New Year Resolutions are made to be broken, but these Christmas ones are firmly embedded in my mental ‘it’s happening‘ list.

So sit back, look out for Santa Claus and his reindeers flying past. Oh, and keep a very big eye out for any flying rhinoceros.  I think that would be a sight to see, but also one to perhaps avoid if you can.  Have a lovely Christmas.  Forget the stress of families and money and food (especially for those of us who battle eating disorders and know this time of the year is the absolute worst).  Have a little magic instead.  Have a little peace.

And while you’re about it, check out the wonderful Facebook page where I got the image from.  It is I Create My World: a Children’s Book of Affirmations  A big thank you to Connie for her permission to use her work.

“Christmas magic is silent. You don’t hear it—you feel it, you know it, you believe it.”

― Kevin Alan Milne, The Paper Bag Christmas

Perspective

Image courtesy of [Rawich] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net 

 The more I age, the more relative age becomes.  Today would have been Dad’s 78th birthday.  Happy Birthday Dad.

I remember when I was 12, my maternal grandfather turned 78, and I thought that was really impressive.  Wow!  Granddad (and he always insisted it was spelt that way) was 78.  That was so old.  I don’t know why 78 stuck in my mind as being an impressive age to live to, and actually he lived until just short of his 90th birthday.

Granddad was a kind-hearted, but outwardly seeming austere man.  Well that’s how he seemed to me and that might have been that because of geographical distance I didn’t see him that often.  I was a little scared of him.  He wasn’t scary.  It’s just that even at my young age I somehow thought I wouldn’t be good enough for him.  I find that sad now because I think I missed out on a wonderful person, simply by not being confident to be myself around him when I had that opportunity.

There are three unrelated things that stick out in my mind about Granddad.  Firstly, he smoked a pipe.  The little girl, who would eventually take up smoking cigarettes herself, loved that he smoked a pipe.  I think it suggested to me a little bit of rebellion from the ‘nice’, Christian lifestyle led by most of the family.  I loved the smell.  I loved watching him prepare, and smoke his pipe.  Actually it seemed like so much work for a few moments of smoke, but it was Granddad.  He always has his pipe and tobacco.

The plaque reads: “Presented on the occasion of the running of the last electric tram in Christchurch. 11 Sept 1954” (exactly 11 years before I was born).

My grandfather was a Chartered Accountant by profession, and through that he was on the Christchurch Transport Board when the electric trams in the city were finally stopped (and replaced by buses).  He was given one of two old tram bells in 1954, as a commemoration of this event. As a child, we would stay at his house when visiting Christchurch on holiday and it was tradition that the tram bell would be rung to signal meal times.  It was so exciting to be allowed to ring the bell.  I loved it.

When Granddad died in 1989 he left me the tram bell, because he knew how much I loved it. It remains one of my most treasured possessions.  To anyone else it is probably just an old bell stuck to a bit of oak, but to me it reminds me every day of the great man who I was lucky to have in my life.  Actually it hangs on the wall just above my computer.

The third thing that comes to mind when I think of Granddad is what he taught me about love.  My grandmother, his wife, had Alzheimer’s Disease .  In time, caring for her was too much for Granddad, and she was moved to a geriatric hospital.  For 13 years, my grandfather drove across the city to go and visit her every day.  Eventually she no longer recognised people, and there was no conversation was possible.  Granddad always suspected she knew it was him, when he visited, but there was no certainty of that, and really not much in his visits for him.  The woman he had known was gone.  But he kept going anyway.  His day was structured around going to visit, simply to be there with her.

For my young mind I admit I wondered why he bothered.  It appeared that she wouldn’t know whether he had been there or not.  What could possibly be the point?  With age I have learnt that love was the point.  He never stopped loving her, and he continues to be an inspiration to me in loving through the hard times.

Both my grandparents died a long time ago now.  A few years ago I became friends with someone who was a carer in the hospital where my grandmother had lived.  One day we worked out that she had actually cared for my grandmother regularly.  Again it was years ago, but the thing my friend remembered was how much my grandfather loved my grandmother, and how he came to visit anyway, regardless of his visit not even being acknowledged.

At 13, my family came to Christchurch for a gathering to celebrate my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary.  Wow!  50 years!  My grandmother was living in the hospital by then, and she certainly had little idea of who I, or any of her grandchildren, were but she came out to their home for the day.

That was actually one of my final memories of my grandmother.  Granddad wanted his grandchildren to remember her as the woman she had been when she was healthy, and not the shell she deteriorated to, so while she lived for another 12 or so years, he didn’t want us to visit her in the hospital.  I visited her a few times after that but largely we respected his wishes and didn’t go.  I still am not sure whether I agree with what he wanted, but I respect it, and know that now, most of my memories of her are of the very capable, good woman she had been.

As a teenager all this was almost a bit much for my mind.  I didn’t really understand the extent of my grandfather’s love, let alone what had happened to the grandmother I had previously known.  Today, my Dad would have been that ripe old age of 78, and I realise that I am well over half way to 78 myself.  Suddenly 78 just doesn’t seem that old anymore.  Of course I still think I’m 28, like I’m stuck at that age permanently, but that’s okay.

There’s not much point to regret, but I do wish that I’d had a closer relationship with Granddad.  I wish I has been able to tell him how much I loved, and respected him, and how much he taught me.   When I think about what love means, I always think of Granddad.  He showed me by his life, what love was about.

I was fortunate that I had a good relationship with my Dad, and apart from some hard times at the time of his death, he knew how much he meant to me.  But one thing I have learnt is to say the things I need to say to the people I love when I have the time, because we never know if that time will come again.

“There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless.” 

―    Milan Kundera

How Do I Love A Human?

A few weeks ago I read a really interesting blog post, How to love someone with a mental illness.  It’s well worth popping over to have a read.  But falling out of my mouth, at the time I shared it on Facebook, was “love them the same way you would love someone who didn’t have a mental illness“.  Isn’t it obvious?  Well, maybe not.

First let me be clear that I’m not at all critical of the post.  I wouldn’t be recommending you read it if I was.  Actually I think she describes very well some of the difficulties of loving someone with a mental illness.  I guess though what concerns me is why is loving us any different?

The writer says of her husband something that my ex-husband experienced too:

“He has watched the women he fell in love with, the happy, go lucky, larger than life lover drop into a deep depressive
hole with no escape.”

Many of us have been that person who fell into the deep hole of mental illness, but many of us too, have been the one to watch helpless as the person we love and thought we knew, almost disappear before our eyes.  The person we knew appears to have vanished, and we are left wondering just what is real, what can we do to help this, and will we get the person we knew back? 

Maybe I’ve been fortunate to have been on both sides of the fence.  It at least gives me some perspective on what is happening, although for each person the experience of mental illness is different, so just because I have been through depression doesn’t mean I will completely understand someone else’s depression.

I can vividly remember when I was depressed, fighting for my life, and was still in my marriage; I would regularly be told by ‘well meaning’ (don’t you love that term?) people how lucky I was to have my husband.  They told me that he was so good to me and it was so great that he had stood by me.  I knew I was probably meant to be grateful but it actually just left me feeling angry and belittled.  What I heard them saying was that I was too much, and that I didn’t deserve the love my husband had for me.

Actually it just gave me more ammunition to hate myself (and my husband).  Had I simply become his social project?  Was he simply ‘doing good’, even his duty ,by sticking with poor Cate?  I’m quite sure that’s not what the people were saying, but mental illness has an incredible way of distorting everything and so that is what I heard.  I used it as a way to hurt myself, and my husband.

Mental illness does make the relationship road a very bumpy and potentially heartbreaking one, particularly when it is a life-long issue.  But so do other difficulties in life.

We don’t have the exclusive rights to ‘difficult’.

Other people, with other challenges, can also be ‘difficult’ and can make relationships hard work.

Try loving someone:

♦  with a chronic physical illness.  Throw in on top that it is a so-called ‘invisible illness’ and it is difficult for anyone.  It’s not just the physical symptoms that feature but the emotions surrounding the symptoms, and the lack of hope for recovery.

♦  at the same time as trying to love and care for a disabled child, or an ageing parent.

♦  who works 90 hours a week and just isn’t there.  Maybe they travel for work regularly too, so they’re not even there at the end of the day.

♦  who has a high-profile, public life.  Yes, they probably get paid better for it than you will ever be paid for having a mental illness, but money doesn’t make love any easier.

There are endless scenarios, and I’m not at all taking away the pain of mental illness but at the end of the day, it surely comes down to this.  We are all humans in need of the same thing. Love.

Maybe I’m being simplistic, and I certainly am no expert on love.   I’m more an expert on avoiding love, but now I find myself constantly challenged to think repeatedly about what love means to me.  When I say ‘I love you’, what do I mean by that?  Am I prepared to love the mental illness too?  Am I prepared to love all the challenges (other than mental illness) that this human being puts it front of me?

‘For better or for worse’ or ‘in sickness and in health’ (both in, and outside of marriage) is easy to say but not so easy to do, especially when the person we love is doing un-loveable things and maybe hurting us.

A while ago I wrote about my view of What Love Isn’t; about the difference between what I had been taught about love when I was growing up, and what I found love was not to be.  It was quite a difference, and I guess that’s why I have been an expert in the past at avoiding love.

I don’t want to dare to attempt to define love, because what I am sure about is that it is different for each one of us, dependent on so many factors.  But I do find myself always coming back to what I learnt as a child, while I continue to develop my own definition.

Image credit: Facebook – PositiveMed

I have to get past thinking that it is just a nice passage from the Bible  that I learnt as a child, and it’s just words.  For me, I have to break each part down into what that means in loving the person I do.  I have to make a conscious choice to do each part.  I don’t pretend that it’s easy to do, but it’s what I’m working on right now.  And actually, it helps me understand and know exactly what I mean when I say ‘I love you’.

What occurs to me though, is that if I take this definition and use it as a guide to how I love someone, I also have to use it in how I love myself.  Regardless of the situation, I deserve the same love from myself as I offer to someone else.  I have my own needs and in honouring myself, I have to try to make sure my needs are met.  That’s not always easy when the other person is consumed by mental illness, or any other ongoing challenge.  I don’t have the easy answer but I know I have to take care of myself.  It’s a ‘put your own oxygen mask on first’ scenario.  If I don’t ensure I am getting adequate oxygen there is no way I can ensure the person I love gets the necesssary oxygen too.

Loving someone with a mental illness is not easy, but then loving anyone is not easy.  It is even more difficult when we have our own issues and needs, which can’t always be met.  But again, that can be the case in relationships regardless of the presence of mental illness.  So how do I love a person with a mental illness?  Exactly the same way as I would love any other human.

“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”  

 –  Lao Tzu

“Those who love you are not fooled by mistakes you have made or dark images you hold about yourself. They remember your beauty when you feel ugly…your wholeness when you are broken…your innocence when you feel guilty…and your purpose when you are confused.”

– African saying

What Love Isn’t

This pretty much says it all!
Image credit: Anna Strumillo/Fotopedia.com

I grew up in a pretty traditional, nuclear family and was fortunate to have both parents, who lived together and loved each other.  I was pretty lucky really as I know so many children don’t have that experience.  I in no way want to disrespect the wonderful job that sole parents do, but I know that to have a loving relationship in front of me every day had to be a good thing for me in terms of learning about love.

I also grew up in a strongly Christian family as I talked about in Preacher’s Kid.  This also influenced what I knew about love and perhaps the strongest influence there was this Bible passage:

1 Corinthians 13
(NIV)

If I speak in the tongues[a]   of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy   and can fathom all mysteries   and all knowledge,   and if I have a faith   that can move mountains,   but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor   and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b]  but do not have love, I gain nothing.

4 Love is patient,   love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking,   it is not easily angered,   it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil   but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies,   they will cease; where there are tongues,   they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part   and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes,   what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood   behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror;   then we shall see face to face.   Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.   But the greatest of these is love.

I wouldn’t normally be quoting the Bible in my blog.  I consider myself a Christian but I do not attend church and haven’t for a long time.  It’s a personal thing for me, not anything I wish to force onto anyone else.  That’s just not me, but the reason I quote it now is that I learnt this so young, and it is so firmly drummed into my mind, that this is my first thought of what love is.  I know it’s a Christian perspective, and that’s not always acceptable to some people but it is actually some pretty sound ideals.  Maybe I don’t accept all of it, maybe not all of it is relevant, but it is what I think of when I think about what love is.

This is, of course, all fine and dandy in a perfect world, and I’d like to think I can work towards this idea.  But it’s not a perfect world and the real difficulty for me is the what love isn’t.  While I am grateful to have had this learning to create my own version of love, what love isn’t has tripped me up far too many times. Let me explain.

My parents were good, but they weren’t emotionally demonstrative people.  I saw very few displays of affection, and all that I really observed was the odd peck on the cheek.  I knew in my head that they loved each other but as a child, it wasn’t something I could see or comprehend.  Also, emotions were rarely talked about in the family.  Feelings were a completely foreign word to me until well into my twenties, because we never talked, or were asked how we felt.  How we might feel just wasn’t an issue.  There wasn’t much conversation about relationships or growing up either and when I got my first boyfriend at fourteen, I was in for more than a few surprises.

Aside from those surprises this relationship turned for me into a perfect explanation of what love isn’t.  I was excited to have my first boyfriend but was soon overwhelmed and feeling trapped.  I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing grasp of who I was, and I was being somehow swallowed up by this person.

I made my escape after about nine months.  It took that long because I had been taught to be nice, and I somehow thought being nice meant accepting something that wasn’t me.  I can remember vividly that after we split I was running down the road with my best girlfriend shouting “I’m free”.  It was the most amazing feeling (it was a feeling but I didn’t recognise it as such at the time).  I just knew I was relieved to be free.  To be perfectly honest I don’t remember a lot of the content of the relationship.  It was a long time ago and much has happened since.  I only knew I felt trapped… and that would repeat itself throughout my life in the years ahead.  Constantly trapped, always feeling like I couldn’t breathe in the relationships I later went into.

Unfortunately, life still wasn’t perfect and the boyfriend I just thought I was free from became obsessed.  I wrote about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me.  Suddenly he literally couldn’t live without me, and tried to kill himself (stating loudly that the reason for this was that he couldn’t have me).  When that didn’t work he persisted, and eventually gave me a loaded gun and asked me to kill him for the same reason (that’s where my objection to firearms comes from).  I was followed constantly and it was a regular for me to see him just waiting for me… anywhere and everywhere.   He was completely obsessed.

It occurs to me as I write this that, as I was 14, so I have a 14 year old nephew; one of my favourite people along with his younger brother and sister.  The idea of something this traumatic and damaging happening to him at 14 appalls me.  I would move heaven and earth to do all I could to protect him from such harm and make sure he was okay.  But no one did it for me, and leaves me feeling rather tearful for that 14 year old girl (me) who was pretty much alone.

I described above what my family dynamics were and that is pretty much why no one really knew the extent of what was happening to me, and no one stepped in to help me.  I just assumed this was normal post-relationship behaviour.   As a Christian I had been taught to be nice to people, feel sorry for them if they’re struggling, and to forgive them if they hurt me.  The problem with that was… what about me?  Who was looking after me?  Actually no one was.  I now just had this completely screwed up idea of what love was, let alone having any idea of a healthy relationship.

The stalking continued actively for years, and while it stopped when I left the city some 14 years later (in my last ditch effort to get away) I know it would still be an issue for him today, if he knew where I was.  My first experience of love (or a 14 year old’s version of love) was a long running nightmare and I learnt quickly to expect that with every future relationship.  Even when I married, one of the reasons I did was that I feared my future husband would do the same.  If I didn’t agree to marry him, he would haunt me for the rest of my days.  That wasn’t because he did anything to make me think that but I just thought that’s what men did.

I got two lessons in what love isn’t.  Actually more, but I won’t go into that now.  Firstly love was a trap.  Secondly, my needs didn’t count.  The people who said they loved me were more interested in Christian compassion for others (the perpetrator) than in protecting me.

It’s really not surprising that I opted to be alone eventually, if that was my understanding of love.  It was a safe thing to do.  To be alone was the best way to protect myself, and you know, in that respect it worked.  It was probably the best course of action at the time.  Nobody could hurt me, because I didn’t give them a chance.

But alone has drawbacks.  Not only can no one hurt me but I can’t experience loving someone, I know I can do the ‘alone’ thing if that’s how life works out, but do I want to?  Actually I think I’d like a chance to change my understanding and experience of love.  That has to be the healthier option and the more enjoyable one.  To put away what love isn’t, and find my own version of what love is.  It’s a chance to live again, without the fear.  This is all pretty weird for me right now.  I’m just becoming a bit more open to life (and love) than I was, and that has to be a good thing.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

―    C.S. Lewis,    The Four Loves