I’m really happy to tell you that I have joined a great group of writers at A Canvas Of The Minds, a site used to write about mental health, through different voices and different perspectives. I’m going to use my voice to share one more perspective.
I will be writing different material for my Canvas posts, but will share with you the link when I do, so that you have the opportunity to read it too.
My first post (posted today), is about why I choose to blog using my real name rather than a pseudonym. I know that’s quite different than a lot of bloggers. I’m sure you’ll find it interesting and… You’ll find it here.
“I am looking for someone to share in an adventure that I am arranging, and it’s very difficult to find anyone.’ I should think so — in these parts! We are plain quiet folk and have no use for adventures. Nasty disturbing uncomfortable things! Make you late for dinner!”
Across my life I have had many people try to define who my friends should be. Some were successful in their attempts, probably because I wasn’t strong enough to stand up for what I wanted and for what I knew I should have.
As a child, I had a number of adults who deemed that their offspring were not allowed to be friends with me. What had I done wrong to get this judgement? I was a Preacher’s Kid, and Preachers Kids had a reputation for being ‘off the rails‘ and generally a bad influence. I wasn’t ‘off the rails‘ at the time, and if anything their offspring were probably a bad influence on me. But the ‘jury’ had me announced to be bad news, simply because of my father’s profession, and so it was difficult to have the friendship we might have wanted.
As a teenager, and then as an adult, I spent many years being the victim of two stalkers. Society seems to have this idea than stalking, and being stalked is a bit of a joke. It’s not. Among other things it plays serious havoc with the mental health of both the stalked, and the stalker. Stalking is never a joke!
It was difficult not to let my friendships be defined by the actions of these two men. Friends were an access point to their victim, and so I constantly had to be careful about who I spent time with, what I told them and where I went with friends. Some of my friends at the time were amazingly supportive, and I will always feel much gratitude to them for the way they supported and protected me. But other friends fell by the way side. It was simply necessary for trying to maintain that mental health, but I feel sad that I have missed out on much because of this.
By the time the stalking terror was over, I was married and again, I was told who my friends should and shouldn’t be. Perhaps most memorable to me is the friend who was ‘barred’ from our house, particularly while my husband was at work. She was barred because she smoked (he didn’t realise that I had started smoking by then), she too had a mental illness, and perhaps the most dastardly ‘deed’ was that she was a lesbian. All of that made me more angry than ever, for so many reasons. This particular attempt to define my friends very nearly ended in tragedy. Thankfully it didn’t, but it was certainly not without lasting harm to both of us. And to my marriage, which is long since over thankfully.
All of this came to mind in a disturbing manner this week when I discovered (I’m probably months behind most people) that Facebook has decided for itself who my ‘close friends’ are. What’s more, without my permission, Facebook will tell these ‘close friends’ of my activity on Facebook. The cringe factor sky-rockets for me instantly, and what I want to do is run as far away as possible from Facebook.
This might seem extreme to many, but not for me. Again, I am being told who my friends are, and scarily similar to the many years I spent being stalked, I find that those ‘close friends’ get information about me which I have not agreed too. Remember too that these ‘close friends’ are not my close friends. A few maybe, but they are simply Facebook friends I have contact with regularly on Facebook.
I object strongly, Facebook.
Now that at least some of these people get a notification when I am ‘on-line’ (even though I permanently have the chat function turned off), I am starting to feel stalked again.
People know what I am doing, and when I am doing it. This is the scariest thing when you have been stalked. The stalker knows more of what I do than even I know. Somehow they seem to know before I do something. They constantly know everything, and I have little or often no power to stop that. I am left with that familiar feeling that there is someone standing outside my windows just watching me. I lived with that reality for 15 years, and many years following as I tried to recover from the trauma of living this way.
Yet again, my friendships are defined by others. Just when I’m learning to define myself, I have a social media that wants to do that for me. That completely freaks me out. It seems that I have little control over who Facebook determines to be my ‘close friends’ and I have no control over what they get told about what I do.
This time social media has gone too far for me. I know that most people won’t even get why I am so disturbed for by this, and in a way, I am glad because it tells me you haven’t had to live as a prisoner of another. As for me though, I need to work out what to do. I can’t live like this. Time for some thought.
“I cried for all of those things that should have just been for us…”
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.”
But I still want to finish with a wonderful piece of music, shared with me by my good friends at Bullying Is For Losers It’s a message I needed to hear yesterday, and will probably need to keep listening to. I’m not going to hide my True Colours. Somehow I’m going to find a way through this.
In a random moment, of completely unrelated thought, it occurred to me that it is exactly twenty years since I packed up all my possessions, put most of them into storage, rented out what I considered my modest, dream home that I’d only bought a year earlier… and shifted cities, from Wellington to Auckland (8 hours north). Twenty years! Wow! No one could have predicted was what to follow next.
The reason this is significant to me is that this shift spelt the end of the trauma I experienced from being stalked (you can read more about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me). The journey wasn’t over, but I was finally doing something people had advised me to do for years.
Leave town. The reason it took me so long to leave town was that I am stubborn, very stubborn. And I didn’t want the two stalkers to win. I felt that if they drove me from the city where I loved living, and away from my friends and family, then they would have won somehow. I resisted what seemed like the easy option for a long time… until it simply got too much, and I couldn’t take living my life in hiding and a kind of raised alertness anymore.
What I had no awareness of at that time, but now completely understand, is that when the trauma ends, the journey is only just beginning. I beg to disagree with people who might tell you that now it’s over you can simply get on with living. It’s finished.
Actually it’s not. It’s simply a corner I had turned towards recovery. But the journey would continue to be just as painful for a long time to come.
When I no longer had to keep looking over my shoulder to see if they were there watching, I could relax (actually I had to learn how to stop looking over my shoulder). And when I relaxed, that’s when the fear struck home. For nearly 14 years I had lived with the reality, but I couldn’t afford to let myself feel fear. I couldn’t for many reasons. Partly I had to remain alert of danger all the time. Somehow I had to tell myself that I could cope with this, because if I didn’t I would crash, and be vulnerable, not just to the pain, but to the stalkers themselves. It was a risk I couldn’t take. It would destroy me.
Now that I was away from the stalkers, it was safe to let my guard down… and weep. Actually even then it took a while to happen.
I was in a new city, with a great new job. I was catching up with old friends and making new ones. For 10 months I was great, and then sickness (Glandular Fever or infectious mononucleosis) struck and then, because I was vulnerable, my mental health completely fell apart. The defenses I had built up over so long could no longer carry me.
I had to think long and hard before writing this post. The last thing I want to do is discourage others who are fighting their own battles. Twenty years is a heck of a long time. I know. I lived it. But I think we need to be realistic too. And to know that taking time is okay.
After all the damage that may have been inflicted on us in a variety of means of abuse, perhaps over a long time, it is going to take time to heal. The damage probably wasn’t done overnight, and we’re not going to heal overnight. Just because the abuse (of any kind) is over does not mean the pain comes to an end. Actually for me, it was only just beginning.
I hasten to add that I haven’t spent 20 years continually trying to get over this, and actually it was about four years before anyone started to use the words Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). What could be seen was Depression and Anorexia, but unfortunately no one stopped to pay attention to the trauma I had faced for so long. And actually I was pretty much too traumatised to be able to talk about it.
When a therapist started to talk in terms of trauma, I knew I had finally found someone who ‘got it’. That was a life changing event, if ever I had one. This man understood me. Unfortunately this was in a final interview with him, as my then husband and I were on the move again (actually back to Wellington). I never had the opportunity to speak to this man who ‘got me’ again.
For the first few years I was being treated for Depression and Anorexia, although it was continually said that I wasn’t responding to treatment, nor did I fit what was seen as classic profiles for these issues.
About six months into my treatment, my eldest brother who has always been great at supplying me with books to read, sent me one about Depression. A Path Through the Sea by Lillian V. Grissen. It was a very good account of the author’s journey through Depression, and was the first book I read which was a personal account. It is written from a Christian perspective – she was a missionary – and if that’s your thing you might find it interesting. I did at the time.But I was also completely mortified by her account. She was depressed for two years! At the time, I had been unwell, and being treated for depression for six months. The thought of two years of this was completely beyond me. I just ‘knew’ I couldn’t do two years of this hell.
You can probably guess why I mention it. Because it is now 20 years on. What more can I say, without depressing every reader?
I took this opportunity of realising the anniversary to ask myself what impact the trauma I experienced was still having on my life. The first thought was that I still am somewhat scared of the dark and I still clip my bedroom curtains closed at night, so that they can’t fall back leaving a gap. My cat used to jump up on the window sill during the night and move the curtains. In the morning I would find a gap and be terrified that someone had been watching me through the window as I slept. I know it’s a little odd, but I can cope with needing to do that still. If I continue to need to do it all my life, so be it.
What disturbs me much more is the realisation that in spite of all the therapy and healing, every connection with another human being has me (usually unconsciously now) fearing that the result of knowing that person will be more stalking. Basically I view everyone as a potential stalker. It’s one of the reasons I married my ex-husband (18 years ago). As it was, when we divorced some years later, he proved me wrong by not going on to stalk me. It was only then that I could breathe peacefully.
I hate that I still fear the result of a relationship (of any kind) will be more stalking. I feel angry that after all this time, it still has such a big impact on me. I feel angry at the men whose actions taught me react in this way.
That said, I know that being angry isn’t going to help at this point. I have done the angry thing and I don’t believe it’s what I need right now. That trauma happened across a lot of years and I built up defenses to protect myself for very good reasons. Some might say “get over it” but that won’t help me either. What I need is to be gentle with myself. What I need is to give myself time. What I need is to say “it’s okay“.
I’m not saying that healing needs to take 20+ years after significant on-going trauma, and I’m not convinced that it needed to take me 20+ years. It’s just that for a large chunk of that time I was on a self-destruct mode that really didn’t allow for healing to take place. There were other things going on too, and there are for most of us.
What I am saying is that healing takes time. When we’ve been hurt over a sustained period of time, the pain won’t be over when the trauma stops. It takes time. I’m no psychologist to be able to say explain some psychological theory. I just know it doesn’t happen overnight, and I believe it’s important that I be gentle on myself and give myself whatever time it takes. Hopefully those around me can give me that time too.
“And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving, until I didn’t have to anymore.”
― Anne Lamott, Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year
A discussion with someone recently about the stigma of mental illness as I have personally experienced it, has led me to do some soul searching. I think both of us eventually came to the same conclusion… that perhaps self-stigma has been the biggest issue for me. That’s not to say that I haven’t suffered at the hands of the cultural distaste of anything related to mental illness, or that institutional stigma hasn’t affected me. There have been times when social stigma has hurt, and often the result has been damaged, if not ended relationships. But I realise that I have consistently applied self-stigma to myself for as long as I have had a mental illness, actually probably longer and that may have prevented me from getting the help I needed earlier.
The Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, in their document Fighting Shadows suggest that self, or internalized stigma is:
“…internalised feelings of guilt, shame, inferiority, and the wish for secrecy experienced by those who live with a mental illness… Self-stigma is a belief in negative stereotypes about a group to which one belongs and the application of those beliefs to oneself, thereby undermining one’s self-efficacy.”
(Watson and Corrigan, 2001)
My guess is that what this means is that I internally hold negative ideas about mental illness, which I apply to myself (and that if I was applying those ideas to others then it would be social stigma). That’s the understanding I’m going to use for now, and I have to say I feel less than comfortable with this thought. Regular readers know that I have discussed the issue of stigma regularly. It is something that I feel very strongly about, and wanting to fight it, is the reason behind a lot of the things I do.
What I need to understand is why I have those stereotypes and why I apply them to myself. I don’t pretend to think I’m going to satisfactorily answer that for myself here, but it’s a good place to start.
My mother always used to tell me that I was my own worst enemy. I’m not sure exactly what she meant by that, as Mum and I have never been known to have the sort of conversations that might see that answered. Reality was more that the statement was made and that was the end of the conversation. No doubt both of us were contributors to that.
I can remember when I was first diagnosed with depression, one of my most common thoughts was:
“I can accept anyone else having depression
but I can’t accept it in myself.”
Somehow I thought I was immune. It would never happen to me. I was 28 at the time and right through my life I had been surrounded by people with mental illnesses. A lot of that exposure came through my father’s job which extended to having church people in and out of our home. At high school, I was friends with a girl who had Anorexia. We were never close, but she was the only person I was aware of in a school of one thousand girls who had a mental illness. No doubt there were others, but it wasn’t something ever discussed.
When I left school I went straight into a job where I was working closely with a lot of people with mental illness and addiction issues. Actually I gained a reputation in the office for being one of the few staff who could handle the particularly difficult clients, and so I was often assigned clients that no one else wanted to handle. I enjoyed working with these people, and other staff couldn’t quite understand that.
Then I got to 28 and discovered I was sitting in a psychiatrist’s office talking about my failing mental health. Straightaway I could accept it for anyone else, but not for me. Things like that didn’t happen to me.
I think that all these people with mental illnesses, who surrounded me from a young age, were also a step removed from me. They weren’t my family, and they weren’t my personal friends. Mostly they were clients of my father’s or later, my own clients. It’s almost like it wasn’t personal so it couldn’t affect me personally. By that time I had a number of friends who had mental illnesses, and again that was perfectly okay. I could accept their illness and often did a lot to support them. But that was them, not me.
Why was it okay for them,
but not for me?
At this point I admit that I am guessing. I don’t understand why I set one rule for others but another for myself. Why could I have compassion for others, but be angry at myself for what I see as weakness?
What springs to mind is the first person whose mental illness had a direct effect on my wellbeing. I was only 14 when I became the target of a stalker who had schizophrenia. He was one of my father’s clients. Dad would welcome him to our home because he wanted to help the guy. The problem was that my father didn’t realise what danger he was putting me in. When I left home at 18, the man followed me, as he did every time I shifted trying to keep one step ahead of him for the next 14 years.
I was literally afraid of this man. He threatened me ,but never lay a hand on me. But the damage he did to my mind in that time, along with other things happening in my life, was huge. Actually it was only nine months after I finally felt I was free from him (by shifting cities) that I was being diagnosed with my own mental illness. I’m sure that’s not simply a coincidence.
The man was regularly in and out of the local psychiatric hospital because of his illness, usually because he had taken himself off his medication. The times he was in hospital were the best times for me. Sometimes I got phone calls or letters, but mostly I was free while he was behind a locked door.
It make senses to me then why the last thing I would want would be to be diagnosed myself, as I might end up in hospital with him. Even figuratively a diagnosis would put me in the same camp as him. If I was the same as him, then somehow I was in more danger.
The second thing that comes to mine is that on several occasions I tried to talk to his mental health workers, to help get them to help me be safe from him. Actually each time I tried I had the Privacy Act quoted at me, and they wouldn’t even listen to me. I didn’t want information about him. I wanted them to know what he was doing. But the mental health system was not interested in the harm he was causing me. Again it would make sense why I wouldn’t want to diagnosed myself, because clearly (to me anyway) the system was not interested in helping or protecting me.
What you’ve just read is me thinking out loud. Obviously there is no audio link with this post but I’ll leave you to imagine that I have been tossing ideas with you. This self stigma hindered me from getting help from medical services but even when I began to accept that actually it was okay for me to have a mental illness, I perhaps unconsciously used the stigma to make it hard for myself to get other types of help. There was a lot of help at university for people with disabilities, including mental illness, but I struggled to seek it out because I didn’t look sick. It was me that put that barrier up, no one else.
Considering self stigma is not an easy one. I am a little embarrassed, but I wonder how many others might struggle, unknowingly even, with our own attitudes that prevent us getting the help and support we need. It doesn’t take away the problem of the stigma we get from other sources, but I’m realising that I have to start with myself. How can I expect others not to stigmatize me when I do it to myself?
“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”
A few days ago someone, who has been using my blog as a means to track me down personally, took a step to contact me directly. I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted since then. I have written, but I just haven’t quite got as far as pressing ‘publish’. I am still a little reluctant to hit the ‘publish’ button because I guess it has left me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth.
I can’t go into the details, because there are others involved, and I’m not prepared to cause them hurt. I stand by my friends, always. But I’m also not prepared to run and hide.
Writing a blog in my own name also had some risks for me, which I have explained in previous posts. In spite of those risks I got to a point where I had hidden for long enough, been silent for long enough, moulded my life to fit those fears for long enough. It is my opinion that by writing what I do in my own name, that I am taking one small step for stamping out stigma associated with mental illness, and while I totally respect that others don’t do this (for their own good reasons), for me it is important to keep writing in my own name. I have literally hidden from my own name for long enough.
I’m not going to run and hide. I don’t believe the person who contacted me is actually looking out for my best interests, but rather that they are doing it to serve their own purposes. Yes, their use of my blog for these purposes leaves me feeling like it has been tainted. But I know that I have a wonderful set of connections through this blog and I’m not willing to stop speaking, and risk losing those.
If you are completely confused by what I have written, I apologise. I realise it is a little more cryptic than I would like, but now that I know for certainty that I am being watched again, I am trying to be careful at the same time as attempting to explain my silence.
For long enough I have been subjected to people who want to watch and listen, to see what I say, and what I do. To those people I say, you just keep that up if it makes you happy. I’m not changing my life to suit a few who like to tell themselves they have my best interests at heart. As we often say in New Zealand, as an ode to a familiar beer advertisement…
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
I grew up in a pretty traditional, nuclear family and was fortunate to have both parents, who lived together and loved each other. I was pretty lucky really as I know so many children don’t have that experience. I in no way want to disrespect the wonderful job that sole parents do, but I know that to have a loving relationship in front of me every day had to be a good thing for me in terms of learning about love.
I also grew up in a strongly Christian family as I talked about in Preacher’s Kid. This also influenced what I knew about love and perhaps the strongest influence there was this Bible passage:
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV)
If I speak in the tongues[a] of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,[b] but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
I wouldn’t normally be quoting the Bible in my blog. I consider myself a Christian but I do not attend church and haven’t for a long time. It’s a personal thing for me, not anything I wish to force onto anyone else. That’s just not me, but the reason I quote it now is that I learnt this so young, and it is so firmly drummed into my mind, that this is my first thought of what love is. I know it’s a Christian perspective, and that’s not always acceptable to some people but it is actually some pretty sound ideals. Maybe I don’t accept all of it, maybe not all of it is relevant, but it is what I think of when I think about what love is.
This is, of course, all fine and dandy in a perfect world, and I’d like to think I can work towards this idea. But it’s not a perfect world and the real difficulty for me is the what love isn’t. While I am grateful to have had this learning to create my own version of love, what love isn’t has tripped me up far too many times. Let me explain.
My parents were good, but they weren’t emotionally demonstrative people. I saw very few displays of affection, and all that I really observed was the odd peck on the cheek. I knew in my head that they loved each other but as a child, it wasn’t something I could see or comprehend. Also, emotions were rarely talked about in the family. Feelings were a completely foreign word to me until well into my twenties, because we never talked, or were asked how we felt. How we might feel just wasn’t an issue. There wasn’t much conversation about relationships or growing up either and when I got my first boyfriend at fourteen, I was in for more than a few surprises.
Aside from those surprises this relationship turned for me into a perfect explanation of what love isn’t. I was excited to have my first boyfriend but was soon overwhelmed and feeling trapped. I couldn’t breathe. I felt like I was losing grasp of who I was, and I was being somehow swallowed up by this person.
I made my escape after about nine months. It took that long because I had been taught to be nice, and I somehow thought being nice meant accepting something that wasn’t me. I can remember vividly that after we split I was running down the road with my best girlfriend shouting “I’m free”. It was the most amazing feeling (it was a feeling but I didn’t recognise it as such at the time). I just knew I was relieved to be free. To be perfectly honest I don’t remember a lot of the content of the relationship. It was a long time ago and much has happened since. I only knew I felt trapped… and that would repeat itself throughout my life in the years ahead. Constantly trapped, always feeling like I couldn’t breathe in the relationships I later went into.
Unfortunately, life still wasn’t perfect and the boyfriend I just thought I was free from became obsessed. I wrote about that in Stalked… But Still Hiding Some Of Me. Suddenly he literally couldn’t live without me, and tried to kill himself (stating loudly that the reason for this was that he couldn’t have me). When that didn’t work he persisted, and eventually gave me a loaded gun and asked me to kill him for the same reason (that’s where my objection to firearms comes from). I was followed constantly and it was a regular for me to see him just waiting for me… anywhere and everywhere. He was completely obsessed.
It occurs to me as I write this that, as I was 14, so I have a 14 year old nephew; one of my favourite people along with his younger brother and sister. The idea of something this traumatic and damaging happening to him at 14 appalls me. I would move heaven and earth to do all I could to protect him from such harm and make sure he was okay. But no one did it for me, and leaves me feeling rather tearful for that 14 year old girl (me) who was pretty much alone.
I described above what my family dynamics were and that is pretty much why no one really knew the extent of what was happening to me, and no one stepped in to help me. I just assumed this was normal post-relationship behaviour. As a Christian I had been taught to be nice to people, feel sorry for them if they’re struggling, and to forgive them if they hurt me. The problem with that was… what about me? Who was looking after me? Actually no one was. I now just had this completely screwed up idea of what love was, let alone having any idea of a healthy relationship.
The stalking continued actively for years, and while it stopped when I left the city some 14 years later (in my last ditch effort to get away) I know it would still be an issue for him today, if he knew where I was. My first experience of love (or a 14 year old’s version of love) was a long running nightmare and I learnt quickly to expect that with every future relationship. Even when I married, one of the reasons I did was that I feared my future husband would do the same. If I didn’t agree to marry him, he would haunt me for the rest of my days. That wasn’t because he did anything to make me think that but I just thought that’s what men did.
I got two lessons in what love isn’t. Actually more, but I won’t go into that now. Firstly love was a trap. Secondly, my needs didn’t count. The people who said they loved me were more interested in Christian compassion for others (the perpetrator) than in protecting me.
It’s really not surprising that I opted to be alone eventually, if that was my understanding of love. It was a safe thing to do. To be alone was the best way to protect myself, and you know, in that respect it worked. It was probably the best course of action at the time. Nobody could hurt me, because I didn’t give them a chance.
But alone has drawbacks. Not only can no one hurt me but I can’t experience loving someone, I know I can do the ‘alone’ thing if that’s how life works out, but do I want to? Actually I think I’d like a chance to change my understanding and experience of love. That has to be the healthier option and the more enjoyable one. To put away what love isn’t, and find my own version of what love is. It’s a chance to live again, without the fear. This is all pretty weird for me right now. I’m just becoming a bit more open to life (and love) than I was, and that has to be a good thing.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Is it just me? Am I the only one who feels like I’m stalking people? That is probably near the worst of things I personally could do to some other human being, and I accept that my reluctance to ‘stalk’, or even ‘follow’ has been heavily influenced by those who had no hesitation to stalk me.
It’s not a nice experience being stalked. Being followed, watched, talked about, threatened, generally unable to live your own life without knowing full well that everything I do is noted. I had a shadow hanging over me. Actually I had two shadows and that just made the intensity greater.
Recently I (finally) signed up with Twitter. This is a big step for me. I knew it would be good to get my blog further out into the wider world but had been putting off the big step for a while. It took me forever to join Facebook, as a few of my in-real-life friends can tell you. I only joined because one friend was constantly on at me that this would be a great way for us to stay in touch (we don’t live near each other). The ironic thing though is that it hasn’t really worked that way. Sure, she sees my posts and I see hers, I see what she likes and she (I guess) sees what I like. I see updated photos of her kids and that’s nice. I can’t believe how fast they grow. But that’s about it. We really don’t communicate directly with each other much. And I have to admit that lack of direct communication, coupled with the ability to simply watch is a little off-putting for me. Probably some of that is just that neither of us have the time. I think that’s okay because our lives have headed in different directions that are perhaps hard for the other to comprehend, but I still feel a little sad that it didn’t turn out like it was promised.
That aside though, joining Facebook was a good thing for me, and as well as putting me back in contact with people from the past, it has also given me the opportunity to ‘meet’ a whole lot of other people who have become very special to me (even though we have never met). It also enabled me to get involved in mental health support groups. This was very important in continuing to work on my own recovery as well as now being able to help others.Unfortunately, because I now run two groups on Facebook, I regularly come across trolls, or people who create a false identity in order to create chaos in social media sites. The chaos that is caused by these people, and I’ve had a few who were expert in their field, puts me off the whole Facebook thing entirely. I’m not about to leave Facebook because the good outweighs the bad, but it reminds me daily that we don’t really know who we are interacting with across the internet. Really nothing much can prove an internet identity and I am constantly wary. Gut feeling counts for a lot but even then, a couple of times I have been badly wrong.
So now I enter into the world of Twitter. Three days on, and I am following 12 people and I am getting tired already of being asked to follow the New Zealand All Blacks (our national rugby team). I’m a rare kiwi in that I am not interested in their every move but I suspect Twitter is going to keep asking me to follow them. No! Back to the point though, I have this feeling in my stomach that I am stalking those 12 I have followed. They didn’t give me permission to ‘follow’ them. I just chose to. I know what it is like to be followed and frankly I’m not comfortable with it.
The other side is, of course, that while only one is following me so far, I am kind of relieved. Don’t get me wrong. If you are a friend I am happy for you to follow me but… maybe if Twitter could just use a different term I might feel more comfortable. There is also a reverse to this that I must confess. One person is following me! Wow! How many people on Twitter have only one follower? How sad is that? I know, I know, I can’t be satisfied either way.
(And don’t get me wrong. I want to interact with both friends and yet-to-be-friends through social media. It’s just that this voice of caution is always sitting on my shoulder. I’m also not afraid of anyone in particular. It’s simply a cloud of, perhaps, irrational fear generated from years of looking over that shoulder.)
I’m going to say this although I fear what your reaction might be. This bind of not wanting to be followed, yet wanted to be followed is something that happens with real stalking too, and I am only too well aware of it. Not for one moment would I suggest that being stalked is a pleasant experience because it’s anything but. Somewhere deep inside, for someone who was full of self hate and doubt, the concept that someone (or two) thought I was worth stalking really did my head in. When I felt unloved by others in my life there was this tiny voice that said ‘well, they will love you’. Sick as it is, and I hate it immensely, it’s just one of the many ways that stalking really gets to you. It becomes impossible to know what is real and what is not. And they didn’t really love me. It was an obsession that was anything but love, but the mind plays powerful games.
But again, back to Twitter. :-)
What do I do? I don’t like the idea of people knowing what I’m doing, without me knowing that they are watching. Would I be better forgetting Twitter? Or should I stick it out? Is it just me? Even though I have come a million miles forward to recovery from my lengthy stalking experience, am I just letting it trip me up? If you have any thoughts on this I would love to hear them. I need some rational input into what is perhaps slightly irrational.
Meanwhile, my Twitter account is set up and my blog posts are going there, but do I feel comfortable? Not entirely.
PS. I should add that Skype totally does my head in too, although I can see benefits. The idea of someone, not physically with me, being able to see me sitting at my computer? No, that’s way to freaky for me. No doubt though, like Facebook and Twitter, eventually I will give in to this when I someone gives me a good enough reason to abandon such founded but still irrational fear.
All that said, I don’t find WordPress is a problem, so maybe it is all just irrational.
A few weeks back I wrote Imagined Ugliness as an introduction to my battle with body dysmorphia, an issue which means it is difficult, if not impossible for me to see how I really look. It was difficult to write and I was relieved to get to the end, but I did promise to pick up on it again…
The ‘Imagined Ugliness’ came from a title of an article I read about the subject, and it completely summed things up for me… except I don’t see it is imagined, I see it as very real. After sharing this post, a (in-real-life) friend wrote to tell me she always thought I was ‘gorgeous’. I’ve known her for a very long time, although we live in different parts of the country now so haven’t seen each other for some time. After the shock died down ( I was gobsmacked that she would describe me that way), I quickly told myself that she was wrong, or she was just saying that to make me feel better, or… well anything other than that she might be telling the truth. I still don’t know, although I know that I trust her opinion. I also know she wouldn’t say something unless she really meant it. That makes it hard because then perhaps I need to believe her?
I realised too why it was so difficult for me to write that last post. It’s because I don’t think I look like I should to have this issue. Crazy isn’t it? I don’t know what I look like but I’m already judging it as not appropriate somehow. And what right have I to say anyone with BDD should look a certain way? It’s a little like the eating disorder. When I was Anorexic I couldn’t see it and so concluded that I didn’t look like someone who would have Anorexia. I didn’t think I fitted the image. Interestingly, I can see that I looked the part alright. The odd photo tells me that loud and clear. There is no ‘right’ way to look with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), and it’s challenging for me to realise that actually I don’t only judge myself but also others who struggle with this. And that’s not something I want to do.
Today I got my haircut. I have mentioned before that I hate doing this, and actually it is beyond me to understand how some people love it. What it meant is nearly an hour of my image in the mirror right in front of me. I couldn’t get away. Plenty of time for self-examination and self-criticism. In between answering dumb questions about how many children I might have and what I do for a living (that’s all part of why I hate the process) I actually came to a conclusion that actually I couldn’t possibly look the way I was seeing myself. It was too distorted and… well I’ve never ever seen anyone else look that bad. So maybe it’s not possible. Maybe a part of my brain is lying to me.
Why am I posting all this? It’s not just for the sake of stripping bare my soul to you. It’s because I’ve realised that in a way I’m too comfortable with BDD. The way I see and feel about my body has been this distorted since I started to hear that I was a ‘big girl’ back when I was about seven years old. While it has caused some serious turmoil and distress over the years, I’ve got used to it. I have just accepted it, assumed it would always be that way and adapted my life around it.
Today I can see that what I see in the reflection is distorted and I have been making my life accommodate that. I’ve made a life where I hide from the world, keep myself separate from other people, and stay away from mirrors. And avoid the hairdresser.
Now I am realising that it’s not what I want for my life anymore. I want better. Maybe I will never absolutely love how I look, but I at least want to know what is real. The reason I am posting this is to in some way hold myself true to this. Work to change. It doesn’t have to be this way. I’ve come far enough to realise that change is possible, and now it’s time to find a way to change this.
I feel quite hopeful. I’ve got some work to do to turn around the distortion but I’m lucky enough to have good help to do this. What also helps (interestingly) is that I no longer feel the need to hide. That fear is being lifted somehow, although I’m sure that in the right location I would still be fearful. Being stalked over such a long period taught me that hiding myself was perfectly natural. Actually it made total sense because it kept me safe. If other people could see the real me (even if not the distorted image I chose to see) it meant to stalkers could see me too. That was the last thing I wanted if I was to feel in any way safe.
It’s a funny connection between the BDD and the stalking but it makes complete sense to me now (hopefully I’m making some sense in sharing about it here). I was almost ashamed of who I was, ashamed of what I looked like, because it was that primarily the physical way of seeing me that the stalkers based their obsession on. They really didn’t know the real me, how I think, what I feel, so it is logical to want to deny who I am physically. I blamed me for their actions, even though I had done nothing wrong.
I’m tired of hiding me from both myself and those around me. I’m actually realising that I’m tired of cutting myself off from life. It goes beyond the physical and involves the emotional/mental side to me. I’ve been doing it for so long now that it just seems natural, but it doesn’t enable me to be the person I can be, or experience the joy that I know in my heart actually does exist. I know this isn’t an instant transition but I feel more hopeful that I have for as long as I can remember. Somehow I am going to make this work.
I’ve posted this music to finish not because I need someone to sing it to me. I really need to learn to be able to sing it to me myself. This is a journey.
“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”