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.


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



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.







Lessons I Must Have Missed

Do you ever get the feeling that perhaps you missed some of life’s essential lessons?  Somehow you just weren’t there for that lesson, or maybe you had something distracting you, so you just weren’t paying attention?  I’m not talking about school lessons but rather lessons in the things we needed to know to be able to function adequately as a human being.  Lessons in things that would substantially help us get through life.

I’m coming to the conclusion that I very definitely missed some lessons which could have made life a whole heap easier and maybe even less traumatic for both myself and those close to me.  The missing lessons for me centre around emotions.  I seriously don’t think I ever learnt anything useful until I was very sick and depending on a very good therapist to get me through.  It’s more than a little sad really, and it goes along way to perhaps explaining where my relationship with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) came from.

BPD is a hard disorder to get your head around simply because there are so many variations. We are certainly not all the same, as many websites suggest.   There are usually many things going wrong to warrant a diagnosis, but in my mind it all centres around emotions and the ability to express and manage those emotions.

So here are a few of the lessons that I may have missed, and which may have contributed to the existence of BPD in my life.  They may seem a little disjointed, but bear with me.  There is very definitely a pattern.

Lesson Missed #1
It’s okay to feel hurt

Remember that awful little rhyme that has wrecked havoc on the minds of so many girls with curly hair?

There was a little girl
Who had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead
When she was good, she was very, very good.
But when she was bad she was horrid.

Who quotes that at their daughters?  Who tells their little daughter that they are horrid?  It’s horrid that anyone should even write such a rhyme let alone quote it at small girls.  And yes, it was quoted at me.  Apparently it was written for me.  My guess is that I was around four or five.

It’s difficult to remember an emotion back that long ago but my guess is that there was no expressed emotion.  I just knew that I was bad. It was a fact, indisputable by the presence of that word ‘horrid’ being applied to me by people I loved and trusted.  Did they think it was funny?  There is nothing funny in name-calling.

If I was that five-year old again, I hope that I would feel hurt, even betrayed.  It seems only appropriate, but then appropriate emotions were something I didn’t know about for a long way to come.

Lesson Missed #2
It’s okay to feel angry

By the time I got to around 15 I was struggling for a number of reasons. Not that anyone outside my immediate family would have known.  To the outside world I was a good teen who seemed to be doing all the right things.  I turned up at school (and anywhere else I was supposed to be), I passed my grades, I had friends, there was nothing I was doing wrong.  But my family knew differently.

I was a bomb waiting to explode but I had little idea of what was going on.  I guess now that I was mostly angry and frustrated but I had no idea how to express that.  I didn’t even recognise what that meant.  I would simply explode and physically lash out.  That was the only means I knew of getting what was inside out.  It would literally be an exploding bomb with no words.  No words because I didn’t have a clue how to attach words to what I was feeling.

Eventually I didn’t trust myself.  I didn’t understand what was happening, so why would I?  Being unable to temper that lashing out I made some big decisions at that point which have significantly impacted the rest of my life.  I was simply doing the only thing I knew how.  I was holding myself in.  Protecting myself, and more importantly, others.  Too scared to express anything.   Only my family know who bore the brunt of that, aside from me.

Lesson Missed #3
Feelings are NOT thoughts

Fast forward to 30.  I’m in residential treatment for a variety of mental illnesses (although not BPD).  Sitting in my therapist’s office, he has asked me how I felt about something that had happened in my life.  I tell him what I think about it.  He asks me again, and this time points out to me that how I feel about something is quite different to what I am thinking about it.

Bingo!  It might seem obvious to you, but at 30 I had no idea.  I was so shut off to my feelings that I didn’t even know they existed.  I literally thought ‘feelings‘ was another word for ‘thoughts‘.  I am an intelligent person.  But I simply hadn’t had that lesson.

That was a very big day of learning.  Life didn’t get easier because now that I was feeling, I felt every one of those emotions eventually.  It hurt like hell, but at least I was on the right road.  There was some hope.

There were more lessons to come.  I was completely closed off to experiencing what I felt.  It seems I had been right from childhood.  Why?

There are lots of possible answers to that ‘why?‘  I’m not going to get into blaming anyone, including myself.  Right now that just wouldn’t be of any help to me or anyone else.  It just was.  What I can do with having worked through this is to understand better where the BPD diagnosis eventually came from, and continue to work from there toward recovery of some sort.  I think too, that some of the other attributes of BPD which I also have perhaps came about as a means to coping.  If I went into that now, this post would become book length.  But maybe it’s time to explore those in future posts.

“Your perspective on life comes from the cage
you were held captive in.”

— Shannon L. Alder


“That’s Nice, Dear”

Excuse me for a moment while I rant.

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

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

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

End of rant.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

I am thawing.” 

― Laurie Halse AndersonWintergirls

Let’s Do That One Again

It might be New Year’s Day here but I am ignoring that.  I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, as I have said before.  It just so happens that I woke up this morning and it’s a different year.  Someone let off a lot of fireworks last night(think what could have been done with that money), some people won’t remember last night, but hey, big deal…

I did something yesterday that I don’t often do.  I went back and read my last post.  I don’t often do it because by the time I hit ‘publish’ I’ve usually read it so many times that I nearly know it by heart.  Not to mention how many times I wrote it in my mind before pressing fingertips to keyboard.  But this time there was something bugging me about it.  And when I looked, I found it.  A case of paranoia building, along with a case of ‘blame myself for everything’ coming through.

Why is it that I do that?  Pretty much every time even something minor happens, I am quick to blame myself.  Someone does (or doesn’t,for that matter) do something, or says something, that doesn’t sit right for me?  Yeah, every time I blame myself.  I’m the one with the mental illness, so it must be my fault.

The instances I was referring to in my last post were pretty minor, but I felt upset.  I felt that someone in my life didn’t want to be near me.  I have no idea whether that was true.  It was simply an assumption based on their actions.

Through many years of psychotherapy, group therapy, and every other kind of therapy possible, I have learnt to examine my thoughts, feelings and reactions.  But sometimes I think I take that too far.  Maybe what they did, had absolutely nothing to do with me.  Maybe they were having a bad day (or six).  Actually, maybe the whole thing was nothing.

On the other hand it could be to do with me.  Now that’s getting confusing, isn’t it?  I guess the conclusion I’m coming to is that therapy is great (usually… and that’s another post I really must write) but we can take it too far.  We can turn everything into being about us, when actually it may have nothing to do with us.

I say lighten up, Cate.  If it was about me the person concerned can tell me and then I can decide if I need to do anything.  Meanwhile relax.  The whole world is not about me!

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives…not looking for flaws, but for potential.” 

— Ellen Goodman

Fall Down Seven Times, Get Up Eight…

My mood had been steadily declining as the week went on.  I had made a bargain with myself to get to Wednesday.  The fact that I had to make that deal with myself indicated in itself that things weren’t going well.  I got to Wednesday.  There was never any doubt that I would.  It was my niece L’s third birthday and I was hanging out for some ‘L-time’ and I admit it, I didn’t want to create a family crisis around her birthday.

L-time was perfect.  L, her father, her grandmother and I went out for coffee (and fluffy for L).  In a bit of a daze, having taken some extra meds to get through the day, L and I played with the toys she had with her… teddy, little monkey and Sally, not to mention the cafe’s range of toys available.  We were at a local cafe that had its buildings collapse in the 2011 Earthquakes, and now runs primarily outside (it’s spring here but they provide blankets for warmth in the winter and sun hats in summer).  There’s nothing unusual about that in post-quake Christchurch and it’s good when you have kids (and adults) who need a bit of space.  Oh, and delicious cake.  For local readers, visit Under the Red Verandah Cafe (a shameless piece of advertising).

Spending a few hours with L made a significant difference to my state of mind.  I mean it went from ‘I’m not coping‘ as I (strangely for me) posted on Twitter a few days before, to ‘I can do this‘.  I concluded once again that I must get myself into the presence of L when I feel that bad.  Do not stop, do not pass go… go directly to L’s home and have some quality time with my favourite person.

The thing is I came home feeling better but I still somehow posted this picture on my Facebook timeline that night (with no explanation):

Image credit: The DawgPoundFreeWeb
I have been unable to find more detail of image credit but would appreciate being advised accordingly if known.

I am not sure exactly why I posted it, but usually I am very careful about posting pictures or comments that could be disturbing and/or worrying to others.  I wasn’t thinking.  I posted it with a sense of being flushed down a toilet, or maybe jumping, and turned off the computer and went to bed.

By morning I could tell that a few friends were concerned about what I posted, but perhaps more so, I realised that for me, what I had posted was concerning.  Time with L hadn’t quite improved my state of mind as I thought it might.  I was still very depressed and struggling for hope.  Living one day at a time, although it had cut down to one hour at a time.  Time to admit there was a problem and get some help.  And time to apologise to to friends.

I guess the thing for me is that earlier in the week I had tried to ask for some help (twice)  from someone close to me, but they didn’t pick up on it.  Perhaps I wasn’t direct enough.  Perhaps there were just other things on their mind, but I had to accept responsibility for the need to keep asking until I got the help needed.  That’s something that is really hard to do with you’re depressed, hopeless and you’ve already tried without success.  You probably know that feeling too.

Yesterday I saw my doctor.  Actually he wasn’t my doctor (who was away) but a very good locum who I have seen on a number of times before, and trust more than my own doctor.  The first thing he picked up on was that last month’s lithium blood tests showed that I was only just in the therapeutic range.  He felt my meds should have been increased at that time the tests came back, considering that I was already showing as depressed at that time.

What worked for me was that I was heard.  The doctor heard that my mood was dropping by the week and that I needed some help.  I am terrified of returning to my years of hospital admissions, suicide attempts and self harm.  It was a never-ending cycle in one hospital door and out another.  I will do anything to avoid going back to that lifestyle (if I can call it that).  My mood might have dropped dramatically but I still had enough life in me to do anything I needed to do to avoid that.  My doctor acknowledged that, as he increased my medication.

I have also now been given six therapy sessions (free) which may help me deal with some of the family issues going on for me right now, and affecting my state of mind.  Meanwhile, today I am going out to see L.  ‘Therapy‘ of a kind for me, and her chance to show me her new scooter and balance bike (birthday presents).

Someone said ‘fall down seven times, get up eight‘.  I don’t know who but I know it’s true.  I just have to keep getting back up.  I know this is a recurrent illness and every time I get back up is another claim of hope that tomorrow will be better.

“Needing help doesn’t make you weak, in fact quite the opposite. It makes you strong, smart, resourceful, and realistic. Being prideful is a weakness. Asking for help when you know you’re in over your head is STRENGTH. Don’t ever forget that!”

 – Unknown


Sometimes depression is referred to as an elephant in the room.  I always feel a little sad for the elephant.  I like elephants, and to associate them with depression seems unfair.  That said, I understand why people do.

Today I’m not talking about depression and I’m not talking about elephants.  I’m talking about the unspoken.  To give you a metaphoric picture of the unspoken, I’ll call it the grizzly bear in the room.  Grizzly bears are also animals I like (at a distance) but when they’re in the room you sure know they are there.  Strangely enough though, often no one else realises the grizzly bear is in my room.  No one sees it, no one expects it, it’s just this quiet, seemingly docile being in the corner that you could be mistaken for thinking it would harm a fly.  But then we all know that grizzly bears can do a whole lot of damage given half the chance.

What remains unspoken is something that most people prefer to think of in terms of fairy tales.  Most people don’t want to know the damage the unspoken has done in the past, or continues to do.  It’s easier to think of the unspoken only as far as it eats a little girl’s porridge.

We can talk about the unspoken in terms of fiction, because it’s somehow easier that way.  I wish I was a fiction writer and could do that here.  Because I know it would be easier to read, and more acceptable.  Instead it remains unspoken.  It has to.  Because experience tells me that no one wants to hear that fairy tales aren’t true.  People say they want to hear, but then change their mind, once they know.  No one wants to hear that the grizzly bear can inflict lifelong damage, that goes on day after day.

If I speak of the unspoken, then I am likely to be judged.  If I speak of the unspoken, I will become not a very nice person.  “How could she say things like that?”  “Surely that can’t be true?”  “It can’t be that bad.”  Actually the unspoken has spoken that last one to me on many a time.  And it is that bad.

Sometimes it seems that fiction is easier to read.  I can accept that.  Non-fiction can be more than we ever wanted to know.  I get that.  But while the non-fiction remains unspoken it builds in the corner, to be a bigger, uglier and more dangerous grizzly bear.  Sometimes it gets so big that the seemingly innocuous becomes just plain dangerous.

I don’t speak of the unspoken here for lots of reasons.  Out of love maybe.  Out of fear too.  I used to have one place I could speak of the unspoken, and that was with my therapist.  There, he could handle the dangerous grizzly bear for me, and keep both me and the grizzly bear safe.  Therapy ended for  a few months back (see ‘Being There’ in Psychotherapy)  It was a good move in terms of other things that were going on at the time, but right now I miss the ability to address the unspoken.  Now it’s just me and the grizzly bear, and some days that scares the hell out of me.

“All of these are layers of layers of unspoken words that we never said that we rather ignore and stay in comfortable superficial layer” 

― Vira Luna

‘Being There’ In Psychotherapy

Here’s a tip.  It’s free, and well worth taking if you’re going into psychotherapy (or any type of counselling-type relationship):

Make sure you know what you’re paying for.

It sounds sensible, doesn’t it?  Actually it’s kind of obvious.  The thing is that I thought I knew what I was paying for (for eight years)… but I was wrong… apparently.

I should add that even if you’re in the very fortunate position of not having to pay for your therapy, it’s also worth knowing what is on offer before you start.

Jump back a month for a moment, and I was in England visiting my boyfriend.  One morning I was sitting in bed, drinking very nice, and very strong coffee, while I checked my emails that had come in overnight.  I was surprised to see one from my psychotherapist.

It’s just as well by coffee was good because his email attached his account for the six weekly therapy sessions I was missing while I was away.

My therapy is not cheap.  On the basis of the health system in New Zealand I really don’t think I should have to pay anything, but I realised (eight years ago) that if I wanted something that was actually going to make a difference, then I would have to pay cold, hard cash (not helped by the publically funded mental health system telling me a few years back that I was basically beyond their help).

And so I have paid myself, for around eight years now.  I’m not even going to dare to add up all that has cost.  That would be too mind-boggling, except to say that I know it has helped save my life, and therefore it must have been worth it.  It has meant living on an extreme tight budget for that time, but I dont’ regret that.

As I said, what my therapist offers is not cheap, and so the account was sizeable.  He wanted me to pay for each session I missed, regardless of the fact that I was out of the country, and regardless of the fact that I had given him three months notice that I wouldn’t be at those sessions.  Ouch!  That was a bit of a shock to my morning.  More coffee needed.

Right from the start of seeing my therapist I understood that if I missed, or cancelled the odd session, because I was sick or for any other reason, that I would have to pay for that session.  My understanding of that, for eight years, has been that this is a regular practise for many health professionals, used when a client doesn’t turn up or cancels the appointment at the last-minute.

I accepted that.  It’s hard to pay so much money for something you’re not getting, when you’re lying in bed sick and have to miss an appointment, but I could understand it from his perspective.  I just never expected that after giving three months notice of my intended absence from the country, that he would still charge me for those appointments I would miss.  And that’s where we have come undone.

Since receiving that email, and then in my weekly appointments when I got back to New Zealand, we have discussed this.  His expectations and mine are vastly different.  Apparently even though I wasn’t there for those appointments, and was not even in the country, he sees that he was providing me with a service.  He was ‘being there’ for me… even though I wasn’t there.

It made me ask the question of what it is I’m actually paying for.  From my perspective I always thought I was paying for a 50 minute appointment for therapy.  Outside of that weekly 50 minute appointment, I didn’t think I was paying for anything other than it being helpful if he would remember (in the way that works for him) the details we discussed from week to week.

He has always said I could telephone him in between appointments if I was really struggling and needed his help.  I guess (although am still not entirely sure) that was what he meant by ‘being there’.  It took a long time before I got a specific answer to my question… and then it wasn’t at all specific.

In eight years I might have rung for help outside appointments twice.  I find it very difficult to ask for help and have never felt comfortable with doing this, even though he made it clear that I could.  Actually that’s an whole other post just to cover why I haven’t used this.  But  it’something he and I have been very clear about in terms of my need.

As for the six weeks I was away, he had said (before I left) that I could speak to him by telephone, Skype or email if I needed to, although I made it clear that I wouldn’t telephone or Skype (I’m not good on those mediums), and doubted I would have the need to email him.  I guess he was saying if I needed help, then he would ‘be there’.  And from what I can ascertain, that is the basis on which he charged me for appointments I wasn’t there for.

Is this getting confusing?  Apologies.  It’s taken a bit of brain power for me to get my head around this but at the end of the day, it appears that he is charging for one thing, but I have been paying for another.  Yes, for eight years.  I actually don’t see any reason why I would pay anyone to ‘be there’ in this way for me.

My therapist knows that I am not willing to pay that money (nor do I have such funds).  I am also not prepared to be charged on that basis, anytime in the future.  I have never heard of anyone having to pay for therapy on that basis, and would be interested to hear, if you have.  Is this as odd as I think it is?  I’d also like to know what any therapists who might follow my blog, make of this arrangement of paying to ‘be there’, even if not there physically.

I’ve decided that I need to end this therapy relationship, because I’m not prepared to pay on this basis.  I’ve told my therapist this today.  Why is it that when you have to talk money that people start playing mind-games?  I have nothing I against my therapist but don’t appreciate the way he has handled this particular issue.  It was a relief to finish and leave today.

While this is a really big step for me, because I know this therapy has helped me considerably over the years, I know too that I can make it without his help from here on.  It’s not going to be easy to not have that sounding board or the unique understanding of me that he has had.

My therapist has been really good.  I have no doubts about that.  But I feel that while everything is not perfect in my life, and never will be, I am at a good point to do this.  Hindsight is always a great thing, but I don’t think I would have gone into therapy with him, if I had understood what it was I was paying for… some obscure idea of ‘being there’.  I’d go so far as to say that it’s a little spooky for me.  But that’s just me.  I like to know that someone is there in front of me, and that is what I pay for.  I actually don’t want anything else.

I think I will do more writing, and drink more tea (or coffee).  Maybe I will finally take up meditation.  Oh, and talk to my teddy bear more.  He doesn’t charge for ‘being there’…  regardless of whether he is (or I am) there.

“A combination of fine tea, enchanting objects and soothing surroundings exerts a therapeutic effect by washing away the corrosive strains and stress of modern life. [… It] induces a mood that is spiritually refreshing [and produces] a genial state of mind.” 

―    John Blofeld,    Chinese Art of Tea

I Matter

One of the things I battle with on a daily basis is that I matter, and whether I actually matter to anyone else.  Do I love myself enough to say I matter to me?  And does anyone else love me enough to say that I matter to them?  And will they show it by their actions?

Some of the struggle with this comes from the Christian upbringing I had which constantly told me to put others before myself.  Songs I sang in Sunday School taught me that I came last.  And I guess that’s where I always put myself.  As the youngest child in the family, my name always came last.  I’m not saying that my parents put my needs last, but that my brother’s and my parents names always came before mine.

In the school roll my name came near the end because my surname was Reddell, near the end of the alphabet.  I can remember wishing my name started with a A, so that I could be at the beginning.  But then the Christian upbringing  would no doubt have listed that as a sin.

Another thing I was taught was “pride cometh before a fall“.  That meant I couldn’t be proud of myself, I couldn’t take pride in my achievements, and actually no one else was ever going to proud of me.  It might not be what I was meant to learn from the statement, but it is what my young mind concluded.

My Christian upbringing even served to protect those who stalked me.  I was specifically told in relation to them that I should ‘love my neighbour and do good to them that hate you“.  What that meant in reality was I was supposed to be nice to them, and my needs for protection didn’t seem matter to anyone.  Christian love and compassion was what was called for.  When I was a teenager I thought that was just how life was.  My needs didn’t matter.  Now I am an adult I worry that teenagers might be taught this stuff now days.  I hope not.

Since my mental health ever became an issue (it’s interesting that it simply doesn’t matter until diagnosed with a mental illness) people have been telling me that it is okay to put myself first.  It’s okay for my needs to matter.  At this stage, after many hours of therapy I can tell you that I do matter, but I still find it hard to put it into practise.

At what point do my needs matter more than loving and accepting another person?  I still haven’t worked that out.  I still am not sure how to put this into practise in everyday situations.

I struggle with it in a number of places in my life, and still there is this little voice in the back of my head that recites ‘Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between’.  It’s so ingrained in my head that I don’t know how to say ‘well actually my needs come first’.  Even as I type that, I’m thinking “selfish“.  I’ve done the textbook learning but I still don’t have it totally in operation in my life.  I don’t yet know how to strike the balance between me and the rest of the world.

Last week in What Matters To Me This Christmas Eve I told you about my family starting a family meal before I had arrived.  As I sat there that day my thoughts were “I don’t matter to these people“.  It seemed to me that I didn’t matter enough for them to think/say “We can’t start yet because Cate’s not here yet“.  Now I can see a number of logical reasons for why it might have happened, but it still hurts.  Not that they started lunch without me, but that I didn’t matter to them enough for them to think of me.

What makes it more painful is that I look around for people who I matter to, and actually most people have their own lives, their partners and children, and I am just me.  I know that I mattered to my father when he was alive, and so it makes his absence is more painful when something like that happens with my family.

The thing that I wonder is ‘who’s going to put me first?’  Will anyone?  Or has everyone got greater priorities than me?  I promise I’m not having some pity party for which I need huge doses of sympathy.  I don’t.  But I know that learning to matter to myself is helped when I can know that other people say to me “you matter to me“.

Maybe the psychology of that is all wrong, and I need to be able to just matter to myself.  But don’t we all want to matter to other people?  And surely knowing that I matter to someone else teaches me about mattering (Is that a word?  It is now.)  to myself.

I know I matter to some people, and yesterday I spent time with some of those people, purposely because I desperately needed to feel I matter to someone.  I knew with them, I would feel that, and I did.  It was in complete contrast to the lunch I nearly missed last week, simply because I knew without at doubt that I mattered to them and that my needs were important.

PS.  I need to say this isn’t at all a criticism of Christianity.  It’s not.  All it is, is my experience.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the
person you are.” 

―    Marilyn Monroe

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.” 

―    Harvey Fierstein

What Are The Scars All About?

CAUTION: This post contains details of self harm (although no images) which may be disturbing to some readers.  Please take care of yourself in reading.

The sad truth for many.

“Everywhere Peter turned, he felt bombarded by misconception about self-harm. Why couldn’t anyone understand what he was going through? It was as if he had awakened to find himself on a different planet, where everyone spoke another language.  It’s not that he didn’t understand that self-harm can be scary and confusing to people who don’t harm themselves.  He did.  But the thing he couldn’t understand was why they couldn’t get beyond their misconceptions and hear what he was saying.  Just last week, he had got into an argument with an ER nurse about why he’d cut himself.  No matter how much he insisted that he had no intention of killing himself, she kept telling the other staff that he’d attempted suicide, and paged the psychiatrist on call to get him hospitalized.  Then, to make matters worse, the next day his father accused him of cutting himself to get attention, even though he’d tried to hide it from everyone.  Why couldn’t anyone understand that he was just trying to relieve some of his pain and cope with his depression?”

 – Kim Gratz & Alexander Chapman, Freedom from Self-Harm (p. 23)

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week I want to talk about self harm, because I believe that it is one of the hardest things for people to understand and get their head around.  It’s not often talked about, especially in polite company, but it’s out there happening, and literally tearing lives apart.

Perhaps one of the biggest issues in terms of it getting understood in the wider community is the shame that people who self harm carry with them.  It’s incredibly hard to talk about openly, especially if you don’t fully understand the reasons why you do it.  It’s fairly hard to avoid judgement, and even if you can, you are so fearful of what reaction you might get, that it’s simply easier to pull down your sleeves and pretend it’s not there.

This is how my self harm began, recorded in my book, Infinite Sadness:

“That night I started scratching my arms raw with my fingernails.  I would scratch and scratch with no feeling of pain.  Eventually I would look down and see the red, raw and bleeding skin.  I would realise what I had done and be horrified.  It wasn’t until I looked down at it that I would finally feel the pain.  The pain was bad, like a friction burn.

 I was disgusted that I could do such a thing to myself.  I had never had an urge to do anything like it, but had now just found myself mutilating my arms.  How?  Why?  Questions flooded my mind.  What was happening to me?  But then how could I answer those questions, for that would entail admitting to another human being the horror of what I had done.

 By the next day, I knew I needed help.  I wondered about the 24 hour Surgery but couldn’t bear the thought of a strange doctor questioning me.  Eventually I decided I would tell my friend Amy.  I knew I had to tell someone, and I thought that through her friendship and her nursing training, she must surely know what I should do. 

 I went to Amy’s house.  We drank coffee.  We talked for an hour and a half, but I couldn’t find the words to pull up my sleeves and show her the damage of the night before.  I left having not told her.  I think that I was so disgusted by what I had done that I just could not bear to admit it.” (p. 106,7)

I was 30 years old, so note that self harm is not just a teenage fad.  It’s serious, and it affects people of all ages.  Scratching my arms was never going to be a suicide attempt.  I simply made one heck of a very painful mess.  As for attention?  That was the last thing on my mind, simply because I was so disgusted by what I had done.

I didn’t even know what self harm was.  I had never seen evidence of it on anyone else, nor had a read anything about it.  It was completely new to me.  And in case you’re wondering, by that time I had spent a lengthy time in a psychiatric hospital, and while I accept that I was very sick at the time so might not have been very observant, I didn’t notice any sign of self harm amongst other patients.  The reason I say that is because a myth that exists is that people ‘learn’ self harm behaviours from watching others.  I didn’t.

Back to the story though.  Several days later I finally plucked up the courage to confess what I had done to both my doctor (a very wise, and trusted General Practitioner) and my psychotherapist.  By that time I had also self harmed again, but still had little idea of why I was doing it, or what I was achieving.

Both these health professionals immediately (and quite separately) told me that my self harm was a good thing.  They were both pleased that I had done it because I was apparently expressing my feelings.  I admit that I had great difficulty up until this point in expressing my feelings.  I simply didn’t have the words, and expressing feelings was not something I  had ever been encouraged to do.  Tearing my arms to shreds was apparently a good thing.  Of course no one, including myself, knew what those feelings were that I had been expressing but that didn’t seem to matter.

Image credit: FB-A Mental Illness Is Hidden

Fast forward 15 years.  In that time I graduated onto more serious, and dangerous methods of self harm.  At times I was self harming while dissociated, and this was the case in the worst damage I ever did to myself.  Now though, I have fought back and found other, healthy ways to express myself (if that was what I was doing), and to reclaim control over my life.

Beyond what was suggested initially I worked out that I self harmed because I felt totally out of control, and if I cut myself then I would somehow bring everything back into control   I also self harmed sometimes because I needed to see physical blood, and experience physical pain to comprehend the emotional pain I was in.  I self harmed sometimes to punish myself.  In this respect, it was more a case of thinking that I didn’t deserve to not harm myself.

While I don’t believe this is the case for all people who self harm, the self harm became a kind of addiction for me.  It was something I needed to do, and I had to break that pattern so that I could recover.

I don’t accept that self harm is ever a good thing, and while I still have a lot of respect for those people who told me it was, I completely disagree with the stance they took.  Recently I read something (which of course I can’t find now) that suggested that self harm shouldn’t be seen as a bad thing.  The article I read suggested that by judging the behaviour of self harm as bad, then we are judging the person as bad.  I don’t agree with this either.  Anything that we do that harms us has to be a bad thing, but that is not a judgement on the person.

I also don’t accept that one form of self harm is better or worse than another.  Yes, some forms are more dangerous, and can have more lasting consequences, but any harm that we do to ourselves has to be bad.

There are a lot of myths relation to self harm, some of which include

  • it is the same as a suicide attempt
  • superficial self harm is fine, and is not dangerous
  • people use self harm behaviours to manipulate others. and to get attention
  • self harm is a female problem
  • if you self harm, you must have a mental illness (no doubt, Borderline Personality Disorder)
  • only teenagers self harm
  • self harm is a copy-cat behaviour
  • if you self harm you are a danger to others
  • self harm is a response to childhood abuse

Self harm is difficult to understand, if you’ve never felt the urge to do this.  If you haven’t, be very thankful because the fight that goes on internally is terrible.  It’s made more difficult because of the stigma related to self harm.  The inclination is to think that a person who engages in self harm is ‘completely screwed up’ and maybe even ‘beyond help’.  Nothing could be further from the truth.

There is hope.  Recovery is possible, but it takes a lot of work and unfortunately many of the people struggling with this don’t get the long term therapeutic help they need.  Because of some of the things I am involved in when I’m not blogging, I know many people (men and women) who are fighting this battle every day, and also many people who have won the battle.  It is possible.  It is a really hard battle to beat this, but it is possible.

Self harm is a dangerous activity but the people who use it in order to cope, are no different from anyone else who might use destructive behaviours.  They deserve compassion, acceptance and help… just like any other human being.

An interesting story to end with shows this isn’t always available.  It is my experience of seeking help after my worst self harm, about ten years ago.  I had cut myself badly while dissociated, so actually I felt nothing.  I went to the Accident and Emergency Department of my local hospital (it was after-hours) and the doctor who treated me refused to give me a local anaesthetic while he stitched the large wound.  He told me that I had done this to myself, so I could take a bit more pain.  And yes, it was very painful.  Whether he thought he was being smart, or teaching me a lesson, I don’t know; but there certainly wasn’t much compassion or acceptance of the struggle I was having that night.

“Do no harm & leave the world a better place than you found it.”

―    Patricia Cornwell

Gratz,K.L. & Chapman, A. L., ( 2009). Freedom from Self harm: Overcoming Self-Injury With Skills From DBT And Other Treatments. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.

Sutton, J. (2007). Healing the Hurt Within – Understanding Self-Injury And Self-Harm, And Heal The Emotional Wounds. Oxford: How to Books Limited.

Healthcare Kiwi Style

Image credit:
This is a kiwi. If you think a kiwi is a piece of fruit, that is actually called a kiwifruit. And to confuse matters further, New Zealanders are also known as kiwis.

A number of people have asked me about how healthcare works in New Zealand, and my friend Candida at candidaabrahamson has given me just enough (gentle) prompts to get me to answer this question.  Thanks Candida, you’re a star!

For kiwi readers (that’s people living in New Zealand and not our much-loved, but endangered national bird), you’ll know all this but I would love to hear if, and how, your experience differs from mine.  Consistency is not always available in probably any healthcare system, so I’m sure there may be some big differences in reality.

Just to clear up any more confusion that might exist, New Zealand is NOT part of Australia.  I know Australians often wish they were part of us, but we are actually two separate countries, much like the United States and Canada.   And generally we don’t like this issue of our identity to be confused or misunderstood, although I hasten to add that I love my Aussie neighbours (and readers) anyway.

I had to think about this topic because after many years in the health system here I know that my views are slightly tainted by reality.  And I guess that’s the case in whichever country you choose to look at their systems.  New Zealand has a public health care system, but a private system is also available, and in my experience it is necessary to use both.  In a promotion by the immigration service here I was told that my health care needs are in excellent hands.  Hmm.  I’m not totally convinced but…

I spent a very long time trying to insert in here an image of how our health system is supposed to work, but  I’m sorry to say my technological skills were just not up to the challenge of ‘WordPress versus the New Zealand government department responsible for such things’.  I don’t think they want me to point out that the government was firmly at the top of the diagram, and I and all the other 4.5 million kiwis were firmly at the bottom of it.  No wonder I have so much trouble.  Why do patients always come last?

Our healthcare system offers me subsidised access to a General Practitioner (GP) for my general medical needs.  I also have access to subsidised prescription medication.  Now subsidised doesn’t mean I can necessarily afford it though.  Because I am on a social security benefit and have to access both of these on a regular basis, I theoretically receive a disability allowance to meet these costs, but because I have other disability costs (there is a maximum), it actually doesn’t cover the cost of doctors and prescriptions for me. While I have never been unable to access prescription medication, I have regularly been in the situation of not being able to afford to go to the doctor, even though I needed to.

We also have a public hospital system, which involves inpatient, and specialist outpatient services.


I should be seeing the following specialists through this public system.

A Psychiatrist (& social worker/nurse)   ×

An Endocrinologist for Graves’ Disease  

A Rheumatologist for Fibromyalgia   ×


I was dumped (my word, not theirs.  I think the word they used was ‘discharged’) from the public mental health system about five years ago.  It previously included free access for me to a psychiatrist and a social worker, as well as access to the outpatient Eating Disorders Service, which included a specialist nurse).  I was ‘dumped’ apparently because I was treatment-resistant and wouldn’t respond to the help they had provided to date.  Apparently that was my fault, but I won’t get into that now.

Now days I largely survive without these services and pay a hefty price on the occasion that I need to see a psychiatrist (mostly for medication changes) through the private health system, because sometimes my GP just doesn’t know quite what to do.  My last appointment cost NZ$345.00 (you’ll have to do your own exchange rate calculations).

I was fortunate to get into the public service for Endocrinology because at the time I was diagnosed I was considered to be ‘acute’.  Had I not been, I would have probably waited six to nine months to be seen (during which time perhaps I would have died), or again I would have had to opt for the pricey private health care.

I went directly to the private system for a rheumatologist because I would have waited at least six to nine months to be seen publicly.  That appointment cost me about NZ$350.00.  It wouldn’t have killed me to wait, but it was not long after the Endocrinology experience and I was getting a little weary of my state of health.  Sometimes it’s just not worth the wait.

Mental Health Services

I need to say that most people’s reality of the mental health system is not as checkered as mine.  There is a free outpatient service, and generally I think they do a good job.  There is also a after-hours crisis service available, and I admit in years gone by I made heavy use of it.  Those crisis service staff are always run off their feet, probably like anywhere, and sadly there are people who end up falling through the cracks because of it.

There is free access to in-patient psychiatric hospitals, and I have used my fair share of these over the years.  The problem is that again, demand exceeds supply, and the hospitals become a ‘patch up and ship out’ service, rather than any type of therapeutic path to recovery.  Unfortunately there is very little in the way of inpatient care for people with eating disorders, and I have sat on waiting lists, but have never been near being admitted for this inspite of previously being dangerously unwell.

Very few private facilities exist for mental health care.  I know of one private psychiatric hospital, which operates as a therapeutic community.  I have had two admissions there, one for three months and the other for 10 months.  It was very helpful to me and it’s a shame that most people never get this opportunity.  The first admission was paid for by a family member thankfully, and I was fortunate enough to get rare public funding for the second admission.

Most people also don’t get much opportunity of access to psychotherapy.  This is not free in most circumstances, and while there is some government funding to people on low incomes, it tends to be very limited.  For example, I was given access to six visits to a psychotherapist to deal with an experience of sexual abuse.  Most people could tell you that six visits doesn’t go far.

I pay NZ$100.00 a time to see my psychotherapist.  He has kindly lowered his fee for me, as he knows I already go without other necessities to make this a possibility for me.  But that is still a lot of money.  While it makes for a very tight budget, I consider therapy to be the thing that lead me from death’s door to life again, and so it is worth it.  But for so many, this isn’t a possibility and I personally believe that it means that the other services are overused.

New Zealand has a free health service and when I hear stories from other countries, I am grateful for what we have.  It means that there is generally something available for everyone, regardless of income and/or insurance.  I know that if I am really sick and I need help, I will get it.  It’s just that it is difficult to access sometimes, and that sometimes means people continue to go without what they need.

Hopefully that answers some questions, without boring you to tears.  If you’re wondering about anything else, ask and I will answer…

To finish, something entirely unrelated to healthcare:

“The United States invented the space shuttle, the atomic bomb and Disneyland. We have 35 times more land than New Zealand, 80 times the population, 144 times the gross national product and 220 times as many people in jail.   Many of our big cities have more kilometres of freeway than all of New Zealand, our 10 biggest metropolises each have more people than all of New Zealand, and metropolitan Detroit has more cars on the road than all of New Zealand. 

 So how come a superpower of 270 million got routed in the America’s Cup, the world’s most technically oriented yacht race, by a country of 3.5 million that out-produces us only in sheep manure?” 

–  Eric Sharp (1995)

And apparently said of New Zealand.  I totally refute it:

“A country of inveterate, backwoods, thick-headed, egotistic philistines” 

– Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1909)