Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There’s more, though.

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

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

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

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

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

But then, there is more…

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

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

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Let Me Tell You A Secret

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

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

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

My secret is that I don’t love myself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cate

 

4.35am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kia kaha, Christchurch
(Be strong)

Cate

Hope… I’m Back Writing It

It was six months back, my Last Post.

At that time I was sure that this blog had done its time.  I had my reasons, and they were enough for me to sign off something that I had loved for three years. But I missed it.  I missed you, and in time a certainty grew inside me, that just maybe this blog hadn’t done its time. Now I know I want to be here again, and so I’m back.

You’ll see that there are a few cosmetic changes.  It was time for a facelift.  What remains are the daisies, and that’s because daisies have always been a symbol of what I want to be writing about.

It’s not just hope.  It’s about what daisies stand for. Look at the image above and think about daisies for a moment. The daisies grow almost anywhere. In the grass, they get trodden on, and perhaps worse still get decapitated in a lawnmower. Yet they keep growing back. They are completely resilient and keep growing almost no matter what.

What better symbol for a blog about getting through some really difficult times (both mental and physical illness) with a sometimes underrated thing called hope?

Hope is explained in many different ways.  I don’t think it is possible to put just a few words into one definition. Rather I believe that we each need to find our own definition. Something that means something to me (or to you).

Perhaps most commonly used as a definition is the phrase ‘Hold On Pain Ends‘. If that describes your situation and works for you, then that is something you can use.  But it doesn’t work for me for one reason: the pain doesn’t necessarily end. I have come to a point where I have realised that I have to find hope in spite of pain. I’m working on that.

A little over three years ago, I wrote this about my understanding of hope:

“It’s a specific belief that the future looks better and I can make a difference in my own recovery.”

Hope Is A Four Letter Word I Use Now

Maybe it doesn’t work for you.  Certainly other writers will have penned it better.  That doesn’t matter though, because what matters is that it works for me.

“Better than this”

It’s simplistic, but it’s manageable regardless what type of pain I’m in, and what degree of pain is my current reality. I know that ‘better than this‘ can be and so with that in mind hopefully I keep on going.

So how do you define hope? What works for you?

After six months of very little writing and almost no reading, it’s going to take me a while to get going again.  My reading is completely affected by my concentration levels.  Brain fog, courtesy of fibromyalgia, is to blame for that. As I am able, I look forward to getting back to your blogs. Please bear with me.

Cate

PS: You may notice that I’ve changed my gravatar (see to the right of the screen).  My old one didn’t work for me after three years.  This new one is formed from a photograph of street art built around construction sites in Christchurch, where I live.  I love it, and I believe that ballerinas must from hope in pain as much as anyone.

Further reading

A New Look at Daisy (Bellis Perennis) PositiveHealth.com

That Pair Of Jeans

Caution: The subject of Eating Disorders and Body Image is raised in this post, so proceed with caution if that is a trigger for you.  I promise that there are purposely no numbers included.  No weights, no sizes.

That pair of jeans has been hanging in my wardrobe for a long time.  A very long time!  When I take them to the Red Cross shop next week, I am sure they will be sent to the ‘vintage’ section.  They are ‘hipsters‘ (before hipsters had their cool phase) and not ‘skinny‘ as we know ‘skinny jeans‘.  But they are ‘skinny‘ in all the wrong ways.

I am clearing out my wardrobe.  It’s something I occasionally do, but I’ve always resisted clearing out this particular pair.  You know how some items of clothing you just can’t bear to part with?  Well this pair have fit into that category, regardless of the fact that it is many years since they fit me.

I bought this pair of jeans from what was known as a ‘Labels‘ second hand shop.  They were meant to be the good quality clothes, and this particular shop was one of my favourites.  I didn’t know I had a brewing case of Anorexia Nervosa at the time I bought these jeans.  I just thought I was fit and slim.  Actually I was too fit (read over-exercising) and too slim (yes, there very definitely is such a thing).  It’s just that no doctor had yet the chance to raise the issue at that time.

As I lost more weight, I thought I was finally starting to look ok.  ‘Ok‘ is as far as I’d go because I still hated what I saw in the mirror.  Actually no matter how much weight I lost, and how loose the jeans became, I still couldn’t like what I saw in the mirror. I could slide the jeans off without undoing them, but I didn’t see a problem.  I didn’t appreciate it when a doctor finally raised the issue.

Eventually the jeans were too big, but I held onto them anyway.  But then in time, I started eating again, simply to keep the doctor quiet.  He had constantly been telling me I needed to put on weight.  He told me I looked terrible.  He saved my life.  Unfortunately friends continued to tell me that I looked great.  I can’t hold my friends responsible for my eating disorder, but they really didn’t help.

The jeans?  Well in time, and I’m talking a long time, the jeans finally became too small, and the doctor was pleased.  I, on the other hand, was not pleased and I had learned nothing of disordered eating and positive body image.  I admit that I’d only learnt to eat so that the doctor would drop the subject.

And that was a long time ago.  Since then I my diagnosis was changed to Eating Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (ED-NOS), which meant my weight was normal but I still had issues of disordered eating.  It’s still the same today, but no one (read no health professionals) talk about it now.  And the jeans have continued to hang in my wardrobe.

I couldn’t part with them.  The jeans nearly fit again when over-exercising (read too much running) featured in my life again.  I admit I was very happy.  You see, in spite of all the therapy I went through, there was a part of me (that I couldn’t express) who wanted to wear those jeans again.  And I certainly hadn’t learnt anything.

For some very warped reasoning, those jeans spelled ‘healthy’  in my mind.  And perhaps because once my weight was ‘normal‘ again (and even ‘over weight’ in time) no one was interested in helping me with my disorder. No one was interested in helping re-assign what ‘healthy‘ really meant. Unfortunately when the physical was dealt with, there was no interest in helping me with the emotional.  One thing I know now is that is completely the wrong way to treat an eating disorder, but I had to learn that for myself.

So those jeans continued to hang in the wardrobe.  I simply couldn’t consider discarding them.  Yes, a part of me knew I would never be that size again, and I never should be that size again, but another part silently couldn’t wish that size good-bye.

But it’s come time to shrink down my wardrobe.  Soon I will be shifting out of my home for five months while earthquake damage is repaired, and so the less I have in my wardrobe, the less I have to shift.

This time it came easy to give up that pair of jeans (and a whole lot of other clothes).  I doubt that my issues have necessarily become any healthier, but time really does heal.  And this time I can put them in the box to take to the shop.

I was never going to wear those jeans again, so it’s time to let go.

“Food is something I am going to have to face at least three times a day for the rest of my life. And I am not perfect. But one really bad day does not mean that I am hopeless and back at square one with my eating disorder. Olympic ice skaters fall in their quest for the gold. Heisman Trophy winners throw interceptions. Professional singers forget the words. And people with eating disorders sometimes slip back into an old pattern. But all of these individuals just pick themselves back up and do the next right thing. The ice skater makes the next jump. The football player throws the next pass. The singer finishes the song. And I am going to eat breakfast.”

― Jenni Schaefer, Life Without Ed: How One Woman Declared Independence from Her Eating Disorder and How You Can Too

“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

Who’s Going To Look After Me?

Who’s going to look after me?  Well, I guess that’s Me!

(If you’ve got this far then you’ve got the answer now, so if you choose to skip the rest of the post below, I’ll understand 😉 )

I live on my own and have done so for a while now.  Actually to many people’s surprise, I like it that way.  And I’ve learnt how to look after me, simply because there is no one else who is going to do it.  That means that I know how to do many things that others assume need two people.  Chronic illness (and low income) mean I know how to fend for myself with whatever is in the house, and whatever is missing.  Sure, sometimes it would be nice to have someone look after me, but I don’t need it.  And that is a huge advantage in my life as it is right now.

Today was one of those days where I woke up immediately knowing that fibromyalgia was here for a visit.  With an anthem of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy ringing in my ears (thanks to the still ever-present music hallucinations) I can’t say I was overly enthused about the day.  Played once is lovely but when it’s gone on repetitively for about 30 times, any music turns to beyond ugly.

Add to that, a feeling around my head that brain fog was back (oh yay!) and my body feeling the presence of a hundred rocks and shards of broken glass.  Nothing was looking good, although I don’t want to misrepresent things.  There are plenty of days which are worse, I just knew that today I needed to rest.  Otherwise bad would probably become worse.

As usual there were things that weren’t going to happen.  Perhaps most important (to J anyway) was that I wasn’t going to get my nephew’s birthday present wrapped and posted in time for his birthday on Saturday.  Sorry J.

And the usual support I give to another human being most days, was also not going to happen.  She’s used to this.  She doesn’t necessarily understand the existence of chronic illness in my life but she knows the consequences for her.  And that’s what matters in her world.

I rang and made my apologies.  Right now is the time I most need to hold onto looking after me.  It would be very easy to give in, regardless of how bad I feel, when I hear on the other end of the phone:

What About Me?

followed shortly after by

Who’s Going To Look After Me?

Those are really hard questions to answer, especially when you’ve had almost a lifetime of wonky learning that I have had to re-learn for myself with many hours of therapy and self-talk.  I should stick in right here that actually there wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with the teaching I got.  It simply wasn’t detailed enough.  You see I learnt half the message, and more often than not, failed to get the important part.  While I don’t have children and so I don’t know a whole heap about teaching them, it strikes me that many times something I needed to learn as a child was simplified so much that I entirely missed the point.

I’m not blaming anyone for this. It just happened.  I missed the point so many times, but I know many children taught the same lesson, got it.  Maybe I just learn differently.  Maybe I just needed more specifics.  Maybe… anything.  It’s simply that what I got in the way of teaching didn’t work for me.

One of the things I learnt, rightly or wrongly, was to put other people ahead of myself.  My lessons with Christian based and there is plenty in the Bible that I could misinterpret to believe (as a child) that everyone else was more important than me.  This isn’t a biblical post so I’m not going to get into what the lesson really was meant to be.  What matters is what I learnt.  Anyone on this planet was more important than me and I had to put their needs first.  It’s just a shame that no one realised how wrong I had got this.

While I’ve now learnt that I matter and that I need to take care of myself, the damage was done and in spite of many hours therapy, and many hours talking to the person who taught me as a child, if I’m not careful I still find my thoughts going back to putting everybody else first.  It’s nothing to do with selflessness either.  Just me not realising that my needs mattered.  Actually the line I learnt (from a Sunday School song) was “Jesus first, Yourself last and Others in between”.  It spelt J-O-Y and I was under the impression that I would be happy if I put myself last.  It is still very firmly stuck in my mind, and I have to consciously change my thinking.  It’s really no wonder that I ended up deeply depressed years later.

So today when the question “Who’s going to look after me?” came through the telephone I had to consciously stop myself from leaping to look after her.  I had to put my needs first, and I know that if I hadn’t it would be longer before I could be back to her.

Maybe it seems so simple, and I know there have been a few therapists in my time who didn’t seem to understand how much I had this stuck in my mind.  I guess when I learnt this as a child, even though I got it wrong, I held onto it.  Tight.  So much so that many years later, it is a constant battle in my head to change that almost automatic thinking.

Today I’m looking after me.  Tomorrow I will be too.  And for the third person in this post?  I left her with a few ideas of how she could care for herself today.

“If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I’d do less correcting, and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less, and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I’d run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging, and less tugging.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I’d build self esteem first, and the house later.
I’d teach less about the love of power, and more about the power of love.” 

— Diane Loomans

 

Remembering Trauma – Anzac Day 2014

 

Image Credit:  Aaron Campbell Photography See his Facebook page at:   https://www.facebook.com/AaronCampbellPhotography
Image Credit: Aaron Campbell Photography
See his Facebook page at: http://www.facebook.com/AaronCampbellPhotography

Today, in Australia and New Zealand, we commemorate Anzac Day. It is a national day of remembrance in both countries that broadly commemorates all Australians and New Zealanders (including animals) “who served and died in all wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations”.  It particularly honours those Army soldiers who served at Galliopli in 1915.  

There are many commemoration services held around both countries and at Galliopli, but I have to admit that it’s been a while since I have been to one.  I simply don’t ‘do‘ crowds.  That doesn’t stop me from remembering though.  While I am an advocate of peace, I have great admiration and respect for those who have served in the past, and those who still serve.  I just hope and pray that one day such service will no longer be necessary and we will find a way of living in this world in harmony.

My chief memory relating to Anzac Day lies with my paternal Grandfather.  Let me tell you about his war service.  Don’t worry.  It won’t take long.

My grandfather joined the Royal New Zealand Navy  (RNZN) Intelligence Division as a Lieutenant to fight in World War Two.  He was stationed at home in New Zealand but was required to go overseas regularly.  He was injured in an accident (in New Zealand) and those injuries left him unwell for the rest of his life.

That’s it.  We don’t know anything else.  In the approximately five years my grandfather served, and in the years after, he was never allowed to tell anyone of what he did, and where he went.  Granddad died about 25 years later and took his secrets with him.

It strikes me this year as I remember him, and others who served, that the trauma they witnessed must have been immense.  Now days we are becoming more aware of the affects of the trauma soldiers face.  We recognise the existence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the havoc that can play on their lives in the years following their service.  I know we still have a distance to go in understanding the need for help and treatment but awareness in itself has to be good.

But today, I am struck by the lack of this knowledge and understanding back in the time my grandfather served, and before in previous wars.  I suspect war was very different then, to what it is today, but no less traumatic.  Not just for those who served either.

My father was a child at the time his father was away at war.  Neither he, not my grandmother were allowed to know anything.  Not then, not ever. The hardship and fear they must have carried with them must have been huge.  Remember too, this was a time of no emails, no Skype, simply no communication but the odd letter.

My grandfather, and many others with him, lived both then and into the future with no assistance in dealing with what they had seen, done and heard.  The affect on their lives must be beyond our modern comprehension.

Granddad died, from his war injuries when I was three.  I have just one memory of him playing in this front garden with me.

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”

 – Laurence Binyon, For the Fallen

 

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River of Flowers, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But this is what really disturbs me…

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

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

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

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

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

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

― William Dean Howells, A Sleep and a Forgetting

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