The Inevitable 'Goodbye' Post

Not Dead, Just Sleeping…

Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday to me
Happy birthday, dear Confessions
Happy birthday to me!

Confessions of a Serial Insomniac began exactly three years ago today with the first incarnation of the ubiquitous About page. It seems fitting and right that it meets its pseudo-demise on its birthday. It’s a nice, round timeframe.

Those of you that are regular readers will have seen this coming for months. Indeed, I’ve discussed it with several of you over the last…I don’t know, eight or ten weeks, maybe more. My passion for this place – once overwhelming – has waned profoundly, and it would feel a disservice to the blog to simply abandon it, rather than tying up its loose ends.

There’s so much I want to say that I hardly know where to start. I’ll jump in, then, with practicalities.

  • I said in a recent post that I intended to discuss my new set of sessions with Paul on the blog. I’m not going to do that after all, for which my apologies are due. I’ll outline the primary reason for this later.
  • I never did finish my series on my aunt Maisie’s demise. Again, apologies for those of you that were mad enough to be interested. To be honest, although I could have made the further details of the funeral into an epic yet dull piece of prose, not much of note really happened. Her coffin was carried up the road a bit, the eight men underneath it bulking under its weight. I once again, inexplicably, envied my cousins’ comforting of each other. Maisie was buried, atop a hill, in the sunlight. I cried again, like the sad cunt I apparently am. We went to the tedious, oppressive wake (on which, ironically, Maisie would have completely thrived). The only real out-of-the-ordinary incident was to do with Aunt of Evil. After hours of successfully avoiding the accursed woman, she managed to catch me out whilst I was aimlessly talking to her brother-in-law, Uncle of Boredom. Long story short: although she apologised to me for “whatever it was [she] ha[d] done” (as if she didn’t fucking know!), I ended up apologising to her too! I raged with myself for weeks, because I had done nothing to the heinous witch to warrant any words of atonement, but then I remembered she’d gone back to USistan without my having seen or spoken to her again, and I settled a bit.
  • Twitter and Facebook. I’ll keep them both ‘officially’ open, I think – Twitter especially holds so much history for me – but I’m very unlikely to be updating or checking either. Don’t unfollow them, though (unless you’re sick of me, which is obviously reasonable enough); you never know where and when I may re-crop up…
  • Although I’m finishing my writing tenure here, I’m not taking the blog down; it’ll still be fully accessible. Many of the search terms over the years – and the regular readers I’ve picked up therefrom – have suggested to me that some people have actually found parts of this rubbish useful, or at least enjoyable (!). I don’t want to deny others the opportunity to explore it should they so wish, and in any case the domain name and hosting are paid up until at least January 2013, so they might as well be made use of.
  • You can still contact me, though I’ll be disabling the contact form soon and, as observed, will probably not be hanging about Twitter. Instead, email me at pandora dot urquharthuxley at gmail dot com. This arrangement will most likely not be permanent either, but it will bridge a gap at least.

Now then. I suppose I should try to outline my reasons for leaving this place, my much-loved home for three years – the place where I met so many amazing people, garnered so much support and spouted so much crap that offered a surprising amount of catharsis. As I sit here and write this, it almost feels like folly to quit; Confessions has brought me so much, and here I am rejecting it. I will mourn it, and do so profoundly; it has shaped my life beyond my wildest dreams during its course, so how could I not?

But I am not this person any more.

I think there comes a time in the lives of most mental people where they realise, or accept, that they are defined by something greater than their diagnoses. For the most part, I have seen my life since 2008 – and, to a lesser extent, since I was a teenager – as an experience which was shaped by my diseased mind and its treacherous idiosyncrasies. Of late, though, I’ve begun to think differently of myself. I’m not naive, and I’m not an idealist: I have a mental illness, and although that can potentially be managed, I will almost certainly always have it. My views have not changed so radically that I now see myself as someone who has ‘pathologised her humanity‘ or some such other patronising fucking nonsense. Nonetheless, ‘mental’ is no longer the first word jumping from my lips when someone asks me about myself.

I suppose I could adapt Confessions to reflect this – I could write about gaming, books, pubs I like, holidays I’ve been on. But it does not, in any fashion, feel right; this has always been a blog about mental health, and I feel it more apt to let it stay that way. So as I as a person move on, so must my blog.

There are wider issues than just this, of course. Logistically speaking, I don’t always have time to write here any more, at least not in the essay-ish style to which I’ve always been prone. Again, I feel it would be a disservice to the legacy of what I’ve done with this journal to modify my writing style to facilitate shorter posts; it’s just not what this all became over the course of its life. I’ve had it said to me by a few people that my longest posts – probably because they’re the ones in which I’ve become most immersed – are my best, and I’d rather be remembered for that than for something that just dribbled dry over time. At the risk of employing a vulgar cliche, as Neil Young (and, more famously, Kurt Cobain) put it, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.

Additionally, to quote one of my favourite writers who has also lately bowed out of anonymous blogging, I am tired of pretending. I’ve long-since hated the anonymity that this place affords me – not because I hate the persona that you all know as Pandora, for she has become an irrevocable part of ‘me’, and despite it all, I actually don’t hate myself (and am not sure that I ever truly did). It’s because I am not ashamed of who I am, of who I have become, of what I have, and of what I don’t. The matters discussed on this journal have actively required that I cloak myself behind a pseudonym, but, again, I no longer see myself as someone solely prescribed and designated as a victim of sexual abuse or vicious hallucinations. To that end, I presently don’t need my anonymity (at least for pursuits unconnected to this website).

The final straw was in therapy recently. Nominally, Paul and I were having a proper therapeutic conversation, though he did at the end comment that it had been a strange session. It was, because I was not properly in it. Thankfully – or not – that had nothing to do with fucking Aurora; it was me playing games with myself. To get to the bloody point, I was sitting there considering in detailed terms how I could frame our discussion in dialogue-driven, prosaic terms – did he raise an eyebrow here, did I sneer at something there? – for this blog.

That is not healthy. I knew right then that I had to stop writing here. Therapy is meant to be a life-enriching, remedial experience; it’s not fucking blogging fodder. In the sessions that followed, having made up my mind to close things down, we were able to do much more fulfilling work together.

Naturally, this has a downside; I am unable to express to A, for example, the kind of material covered in session. I regret that, but I feel that healthy psychotherapy is more important for all concerned than others having insight into the process as it happens to me. If that sounds blunt, please forgive me: my point is that if I am unwell (as, without adequate, concentrated treatment, I will be), then everyone around me is affected. That’s no more fair on them – and probably you, as a reader – than it is on me.

I am a horrendously jealous person – I freely admit it. When I log on to that bloody curse that is Facebook – I really should deactivate it yet again – I see people I went to school with having brats and developing the careers they always wanted. I’m not envious of the former per se because, as you know, I’m childfree. But I am jealous of them having what they want, and of their apparent happiness with their lives.

But, you know, when I think about it all in context, when I think of all I’ve faced and all I’ve done – or at least tried to do – it doesn’t seem quite so bad.

I didn’t have the best start in life, whether through social factors, chemical ones or ones relating to my own psychology (or, in my view, a combination of all thereof). I could have let my resulting mental illness fuck me entirely – and at times it nearly has, and indeed it still might – but I fight with every weapon my arsenal allows me; I actively try to help myself get better. I engage with all services available to me – psychiatry, nursing and therapy (indeed, I had to go out of my way to secure the latter, after NHS Psychology shat on my face, rather than lying down under it like I could have done). I co-operate with them all despite the fact that they – like almost anything – are not perfect, because I don’t want this non-life any more. I want that sense of contentment that those twats on Facebook appear to have.

Although I’m still ill, I refuse to tolerate the idea that I should stay on state benefits indefinitely. That is most indubitably not to say that mentals (or anyone else with a serious and/or enduring illness) should be forced off ESA and other benefits. Fuck the Coalition and their myopic, dangerous biases; our first concern as a society should be to support individuals who are disabled, ill and/or vulnerable, rather than lowering taxes for people who can afford to fucking pay for them.

Still, I ultimately want to be self-sufficient, despite the perhaps precarious position in which I find myself. It may not happen any time soon, but I want to, when possible, try.

I’m pragmatic enough to realise that my illness can’t be cured, merely managed, and as such although in an ideal world I’d go back to a more traditional job, I realise that it may (and only ‘may’) not be possible (or at least sustainable).

So, for now at least, I write. I consider myself a writer now, regardless of whether others think the title narcissistic or grandiose. This is partly why I don’t have as much time as I once did for Confessions; it’s sad, but it’s real. As my best mate Dan (himself a full-time staff journalist) discussed the other day, I’ve made genuine in-roads into turning what was once a vague fairytale idea into a reality. I’m talking to Editors, engaging with the low-paying but still useful services of guru.com and eLance, getting my (real) name out there…and I’ve applied for a voluntary job which will involve, if I get it, writing for the local rags about mental illness. Most of my writing to date has been in relatively specialist publications and websites, so writing for the papers – a more mainstream pursuit, with wider readerships – would be a welcome challenge, and indeed a useful addition to my portfolio.

Oh, and The Book? It’s back on 🙂 I’m also half-minded to try and novelise this blog at some point, but that would be an immense piece of work – even harder than a random piece of fiction, because it would require endless re-working of Confessions, rather than putting a bunch of ideas down on paper and formulating them into prose. If The Book ultimately has any success, I may be buoyed to work on such a monolithic task, but we’ll just have to wait and see.

My writing ‘career’ may fail…but, again, I’m trying to make something of my life. It’s very difficult right now, what with not being fully well, and there are days when it’s impossible to face. There are days when anything is impossible to face. But I’m starting, and that’s got to count for something. If it goes tits up – yes, that’ll be disappointing. That much goes without saying. But I’d rather have that potential outcome than that in which I didn’t give it a damn good go.

And I feel a little better each day. A bit less depressed, a bit less despairing, a bit more positive, a bit more hopeful. My current medication cocktail, combined with an ever-excellent psychotherapist, has brought me closer to wellness than I’ve been in a very long time, despite the truly abysmal year this has been, circumstantially, so far. As I said way up above, I no longer see myself entirely through the lens of a mentally ill kaleidoscope.

In the years since my most recent breakdown, I’ve often cursed my psychic misfortune (aside from the fact that no, I still probably wouldn’t flick the sanity switch were I offered the option). Further, I’ve cursed this blog (sometimes for valid reasons, sometimes just in rage-fuelled piques). And yet…look what both my madness and my blogging have brought me.

  • A half-credible chance to use my afflictions to facilitate a respectable career, whilst simultaneously advocating for others in the same shitty boat.
  • Most importantly, I have met some of the most wonderful people in the entire known universe – people who (God/Buddha/Allah/Flying Spaghetti Monster/Richard Dawkins willing) will be lifelong friends.

Throw in the gratifying fact that I’m in a long-term – and, more crucially, happy – relationship with a loving, accepting partner. Multiply that by the other genuinely meaningful and life-changing friendships I have managed to forge throughout my life – Dan, Brian, Aaron, lots of people that are not close friends but that are certainly more than acquaintances. Minus the disastrously dysfunctional family, but add to the list a loving mother – something that not everyone is fortunate enough to have.

When I think about things thus, when I examine my life as though it were the Bayeux Tapestry, looking at the ‘bigger picture’ (I hate that fucking term) – well, I feel privileged.

And at the risk of repeating myself, in these circumstances, I find myself sometimes thinking, “do you know what, Pan? You ultimately did well, girl. You did well.”

And, for now at least, that’s enough.

Is this completely ‘goodbye’? Not necessarily. A number of you already follow another blog I write, and I will consider requests for the URL from others (email me as per the details at the start of the post, though please do not be offended if I don’t respond with the address; I don’t write exclusively about mentalness there, and don’t want it to become what this blog has). Furthermore, I may add the odd update here once in a very occasional while. And let’s not forget that when Maisie died, despite my pre-existing intention to wind down Confessions, I immediately gravitated here and ended up writing quite a lot; as it had been so many times before, the blog was my haven and lustration. Right at the top of this entry, I used the words ‘not dead, just sleeping’. So, when things inevitably go downhill again, or when some other life event once again sends me down the figurative shitter, this place could be resurrected. So do keep me on your RSS Readers and social media profiles just in case 🙂 I’m not offering any guarantees, and I’m certainly not saying it’s even likely. It would be folly to rule anything in, or rule anything out, though, so there you have it.

Whatever happens, thank you for sharing this madness with me. Your support, tolerance, friendship, and even love has made my life better – and literally saved me on occasion. I’m pretty convinced I’d either be dead or much more seriously ill than I presently am had it not been for the amazing people I’ve met through writing here.

In the parting words of the Ninth Doctor: you were fantastic – absolutely fantastic. And do you know what? So was I!

Farewell, my loves. Cue trite, manufactured, but tackily appropriate song from (who else but?! ;)) Lunatica.

Ending Therapy: How To (Mostly But Not Entirely) Do It Properly – Paul: Week 25, Part II

This post is continued from here. What follows will not make a great deal of sense unless you’ve read that first; however, it mostly likely won’t make a great deal of sense if you have. I disclaim any culpability for the boredom, confusion and irritation at the mammoth self-indulgence that you will find in the forthcoming. If you want to ruin 20 minutes of your day by continuing to tolerate this complete and utter nonsense, then you do so at YOUR OWN RISK. Now, rather than bother with this bullshit, why don’t you have yourself a nice pint instead?

After a contemplative silence, Paul moved back to discussing my writing projects; he wanted to know what they were about. I was forced to admit that everything I have been doing in this sphere has been about mentalism. Even my proposed novel is going to be about mental health issues.

I defended the piece for Rethink on the grounds that it is about my recovery from borderline personality disorder. As I stated to Paul, there is a false perception that BPD is incurable and that, furthermore, there are a billion myths out there about how people with the disorder can’t have loving relationships, or that they’re abusive, etc etc, ad infinitum (Zarathustra noted that I’d debunked some of this bullwank in my writing of this blog, which I hope is true). In that way, I think that article was a very important one to write, because these fallacies need to be corrected, and people afflicted with BPD deserve to have some genuine hope of recovery.

However, as I’m sure many of you will agree, living a life narrative entirely dictated by one’s mental illness is a potentially dangerous idea. I should, at least sometimes, write about normal stuff (insofar as anything is ‘normal’). I told him that I was considering resurrecting the Not as Smart as Pandora Braithwaite blog, which had once been my haven to bang on about telly, the arseholery of Facebook, gaming – normal things in which I take an interest, rather than being devoted to the exclusive domain of mental health or the lack thereof.

Indeed, at about the time of this session, when I was feeling so much better, my prolific posting here on Confessions went notably down. This was because I was living in that fabled place called real life and, y’know…doing stuff.

“Well,” he said, looking piercingly over his glasses at me, “I take what you’re saying, and mostly agree. But you don’t want to be too sane in your writing. That would see you suppressing that pained part of yourself yet again.”

Ha. Would it really. I don’t often use this blog to ‘let loose’ with feeling and emotion, and I am certainly not going to do that with any published pieces. That is just not me.

Rather than labour the point, though, I returned to my old favourite Freudian dictum about the transition from “hysteria” to “ordinary unhappiness.”

To my considerable consternation, Paul started quoting that arsehole R.D. Laing whose tolchock, were he still alive, I would take pleasure in punching. Paul claims that, as per Laing’s advice, he suspends his concept of normality when working with clients. At some point or another, he also alluded to Adam Philips and his book Going Sane. In short, he was blathering about how we are all mad in our own way. Laing-hatred notwithstanding, I did have to concede that point to him.

“The problem I face,” I sighed, “is that I have been out of work for so long now that all I know is mentalness and the pertinent issues surrounding it. It has entirely become my life, yet people in the real world don’t care. They don’t spend their days talking about psychosis or manic depression or borderline personality disorder. They talk about the weather, last night’s shit TV, politics and salary cuts. They don’t care.” I briefly (and anonymously) alluded to a post that Seaneen had written on this subject (a second excellent article she wrote on the issue for One in Four can be found here).

Seaneen is still highly involved with organisations like Rethink, but her own mental health is not the sole kaleidoscope through which she sees life these days; her life is about her boyfriend, her family and friends, and her mental health nursing course, which is an amazing thing, and something to which to aspire. Could it ever be that way for me, though? I have no idea, but one thing I do know is that I have a right gob on me, and whether normals care or not, I will end up talking about mentalism. I mean, I just won’t walk into a room and go, “hi, my name’s Pandora. Yours? … Nice name, I like that. Anyway, I’m mental. … No, I mean really mental. I had borderline personality disorder and still have manic depression and complex PTSD with psychotic and dissociative features. … Hey! Where are you going? … What did I say?!” No, obviously not like that. But if someone says, “where did you get that scar from?” or “so, what were you doing before I met you?” I am going to tell them the truth (see my posts on speaking up here and here).

Having babbled all that out, I concluded my monologue to Paul by saying that although I’m not sure about the accuracy of the perennial ‘one in four’ statistic, that at least it serves as a sort of motif to highlight the prevalence of mental health difficulties in society. “So why not speak up?” I pondered. “Fuck stigma. Fighting it is my cause célèbre.”

He said, “I work five days a week, and I’m off for two – so I get a break from the intensity that inevitably comes with my job. You, however, never get a break from your mind.”

I nodded pointlessly.

He went on, “so wouldn’t it be nice if you could not be mental for, say, two days a week?”

I nodded pointlessly again.

“So…could you take a break from your cause célèbre for a couple of days a week?”

Of course I can. I already do. I don’t spend every single sodding day trying to play some sort of omnipotent mental health warrior advocate. However, that does not mean that I can somehow turn off my mind during those non-advocacy periods, as his penultimate comment had insinuated. If it were that simple, I would have no mental health problems at all, would I?!

Nevertheless, he asked me in what activities I could engage that did not pertain to madness. I monotoned out the usual list you might expect to see on the ‘what are your interests’ section of a social network or dating profile. For some reason, that led to a short discussion around my frequent disconnections from the world at large – how I push this laptop away, religiously ignore my phone, and hide alone in my living room, pretending that no one else exists.

I shrugged. “That’s not healthy, is it?”

“There’s a fine line there,” Paul replied, cocking his head in muse. “Overall I think that whether or not it’s healthy, it’s more normal than not – but I suppose it depends on the extent of it.”

“You see, I struggle with this a lot,” I complained. “If you will permit my use of psychiatric parlance for once, where does pathology end and idiosyncrasy begin? Or, indeed, vice versa.”

As you know, most darling readers, I’ve been grateful for my diagnoses, and have found having a name for the various aspects of my insanity to be helpful in several ways. However, I still think this issue is a very valid criticism of the practice and more general discipline of psychiatry. I suppose the line is where the ‘idiosyncrasy’ becomes distressing to the ‘idiosyncrasist’ (indeed, for this reason, there is an ongoing debate about the validity of schizoid personality disorder as a discrete condition), but even that line can be blurred.

“My wife has a great-uncle that the family frequently describe as ‘eccentric’,” Paul told me. “When they mentioned it in front of me, I responded by saying that that simply meant that he was mad, but with money.”

I laughed. A fair enough assessment – most people I’ve heard described as ‘eccentric’ would broadly fit within that bracket.

Anyway, he had reminded me of a conversation I’d once had with Mike, my erstwhile teacher. For some reason Mike and I had been talking about how well (or indeed badly) we fitted in with social norms, and I characterised myself as, indeed, “eccentric.”

“No, Pandora,” he’d responded. “Not ‘eccentric’. You’re individual.”

Paul liked this little anecdote. Apparently Mike’s “eloquent” distinction had touched upon Paul’s perceived truth that psychiatry involves a certain amount of repression of one’s individuality. He banged on that sanity and insanity are concepts created by times and places.

He’s right – to a point. Psychiatry is an imperfect science, if indeed it can be said to be a science at all, and if we consider the inclusion of homosexuality as a mental illness as recently as the DSM-III, I can agree that some supposed diagnoses are societally constructed. Despite my general support for this field, I do accept those criticisms of it, and have never denied them. But, as I said, there’s a point, surely, when that can no longer be true. I’m told, reliably so, that hallucinating gnomes and being so severely depressed that all you can think about is killing yourself on a chronic basis are not normal states in which to exist…and I would believe that that, at least, transcends times and places.

Not that I had the balls to say any of that to Paul. I sat there, nodding pathetically compliantly. What the fuck, Pandora? Am I afraid of him unwitting me or something? Of looking less intelligent than him (which, frankly, I probably am)? Why can I debate my points intelligently and coherently online or even in the fucking pub, but not do it with Paul? What a stupid bitch.

As I allowed his anti-psychiatry rhetoric to progress, I found myself becoming vaguely irritated with him again. Not because of his opposition to that field per se, but because of how he related it back to me. One thing that had apparently been “big” in his engagement with me had been “peeling back the layers” that were “enforced upon” me: diagnoses, medical examinations, medication.

“It’s like it’s been forgotten,” he intoned with an infuriating earnestness, “that somewhere in there is an abused little girl.” [Emphasis mine. I am SO unutterably fucking sick of that fucking fucking fucking term. Jesus hot jumping Christ sliding down a shit-stick. Just. Fucking. Stop. Fucking. Calling. Her. Fucking. That. GAH!]

(Hypocritical) Ranting about terminology aside, this assessment of my situation was not fair. NewVCB has been really good about the abuse bullshit; she usually asks me at some point during each appointment how things are in my head in relation to that subject. She doesn’t just wank endlessly on about my current symptoms, blindly throwing medication at me as a result. OK, so she doesn’t go into intimate, cringe-worthy detail about the whole sordid mess when I’m with her – but guess what, Paul? She isn’t fucking meant to. That’s your job. You’re the therapist, she’s the the psychiatrist. Simple.

More irritably than I’d intended, I retorted that I had not been a “nice little girl,” as he appeared to opine. As I said, “I was precocious, and because of that I was haughty and arrogant at times. In that way my current predilections toward so-called intellectualising are entirely in keeping with my child self.” My point in saying so had been to infer to him that this constant bollocking on about me v my repressed self was not as clear-cut as he might like to think.

He hammered on for a bit with a story he’d told me before. Little boy falls in the playground, maintains a stiff upper lip all day long, eventually sees his mother and then bursts into tears. Containment, blah de blah, yadda yadda.

“It’s a harsh judgement to describe yourself as precocious. You had to be precocious to survive,” he declared.

Oh really? I mean, seriously?

  1. This particular elucidation implicitly suggests that being precocious is an inherently bad thing. Why the fuck should that be the case? Surely being an intelligent child is something to be welcomed, something that both that child and those around it should find gratifying?
  2. I can’t prove anything, but I’d be stunned if precociousness and abuse are directly correlated. I’m all but certain that not every smart child has been/is being abused, and I’m equally sure that not every abused child is demonstrably highly intelligent.
  3. On a related note, why does everything have to come back to abuse and spurious psychodynamic interpretation? Can’t some things just fucking be?

Palpably uncomfortable with the direction in which this conversation was headed, I tried to shift the subject – but I did it subtly, so that it was still ostensibly related to what he’d said. I said that, in a non-literal sense, from what I could remember I had been a Jekyll and Hyde type of kid. The weird, insular one that despite her then-popularity couldn’t relate to her peers – and then the ordinary, outgoing person that most of the world saw.

“I don’t recall having any distressing examples of mental illness until at least my late childhood,” I told him, though now that I think about it, that can’t be true. I tried to strangle myself when I was nine, and I had that constant, horrid somatic feature of itchy feet with such sickening frequency – so evidently some shit was definitely hitting some fans there. But then, I have so many anamnestic gaps when it comes to my brathood that I can’t easily tell you what the conditions generally were.

“In retrospect,” I continued, “obviously I was a bit barmy – I mean, I lived nightly with pseudo-hallucinations and a delusion that a terrorist was right outside my door, every single night. But I don’t recall being chronically unhappy.”

Paul jumped on the terrorist comment with a force that could turn this metaphor literal. He said, “‘terrorised’ is a pretty good word to describe what you must have felt about the abuse, isn’t it?”

It depends whether you subscribe to the etymological or legal definition of the word ‘terrorism’, I suppose. Me, I tend to view terrorism as a macro phenomenon, ostensibly carried out for political or religious reasons (but really carried out simply because you’re a fucking cunt). It’s all very well for Paul to draw parallels between Paedo and my horrified dread each night that I was about to be murdered, but perhaps he forgets my age and my origin. I grew up in Northern Ireland in the ’80s and early ’90s. Terrorism was a very real issue here and then. Could there not be some connection to that, rather than everything always being about being a paedophile’s plaything?

“I’m reminded of a client I used to work with,” he said, as I sat there wondering silently when he might realise that not everything should be narrowed down to Freudian analysis. “When he first properly started communicating with me, he said, ‘I’ve put a bomb under your car’.”

I regarded Paul with an expression of complete revulsion. What a vile thing to say – especially to someone who’s meant to be helping you!

“It was his way of saying, ‘how would you feel if your life were threatened?'” Paul explained. “He had to find some way of expressing how his deepest fears affected him, and that was it.”

Maybe so; I can understand the context of the remark, I suppose, but it feels re-abusive to me – and much as I sympathise and empathise with any abuse victim, re-enacting what happened to you by abusing another is not on in my book (there’s a lot I could say on that, but this post ((and its predecessor)) is ((are)) already stupidly long and way too introspective vis a vis what it’s ((they’re)) meant to actually be discussing).

“In the same way, your most buried terror was expressed – perfectly appropriately – as fear of a terrorist,” Paul was continuing. “Do you remember when we first commenced this therapy that I told you that all clients are geniuses? Well, there’s a perfect example of it. That was a genius thing to do.”

Whilst there can be no doubt that the human mind is capable of great things, I’ve always been slightly uncomfortable with the assertion that it simply doing its unconscious job is something worthy of being considered ‘genius’. Surely genius involves intellect, which involves thinking, which surely involves conscious consideration? Still, I’m not a psychologist. A widely-read layperson, maybe, but by no means an expert.

“I firmly believe,” Paul continued, “that all delusional stuff is based in reason.”

I can see what he’s saying, to be fair, and I acknowledged that. The connection he was making in my case is at least arguable. However, what about the cases where a person believes that he or she is Jesus Christ or something? That’s not me rejecting Paul’s claims outright, by the way. It’s a genuine query; in all seriousness, where does that come from, and in what way would it be functional?

In any case, I went on to tell him that I’d gone through very little psychotic experiences in the couple of months that had led up to this session – a few whispers from fringe facets of the odious ‘They‘, but nothing more than that. Rather than simply be glad of it, though, he irked me a little by stating that he was sure that NewVCB would “chalk that up to the wonders of Seroquel.”

Again, this was unfair. As she had openly stated to me once, she only cares about ‘what works’ – and for me, that seems to have been a combination of therapy and psychopharmacology. Moreover, I would chalk my lack of psychosis up to Seroquel myself in many ways – but I’m willing to acknowledge that therapy has also played its part. What’s so terrible about a dual approach?!

He ranted a bit about how Seroquel in particular was being “handed out like sweeties” these days (first I’ve heard of it), but when I actually went to defend both it and psychiatric diagnoses – as useful adjuncts and guidance in the treatment of mentalness respectively – he curiously backed down.

And this is why he’s not a dick. We may disagree, and I may rant here about issues over which there could have been minor conflicts, but he’s not a dick. Ultimately, despite some of his more sarky reactions to my defence of psychiatry in the past, he is willing to respect me as an individual, with individual views. And while, in another time and place, the disagreements we have may have merited longer discussion, that was not possible here, and it was of the upmost importance to him – and me – that we parted on a convivial note.

And suddenly, that note of departure was finally realised. Paul said, his voice deep with regret,”we’ve come to the end.”

As I stood, he told me that it had “really been a pleasure” working with me, and that he would “truly miss” our sessions. I advised him that the feeling was entirely mutual, and went on to tell him that I intended to re-refer myself to the organisation come September or October (as I now have done). I asked if that was too soon, but he said that it wasn’t – as long as I was comfortable with that timeframe, then he was too.

“I look forward to working with you again,” he assured me, as he opened and held the door for me for the final time.

The last bits of these things are always the most awkward. How do you say ‘goodbye’ in a professional but affectionate manner? Rarely have I felt so horribly exposed as the socially awkward knob that I am. After handing him his pound of flesh, I suddenly grabbed his hand, shook it and said that it had “been a pleasure” working with him. Almost before he could respond, I smiled idiotically at him and told him to take care.

“You too,” he said unsurely, but with palpable warmth.

We said our goodbyes, and I left hurriedly. My car was close, and as I had done when things ended with C, I sat in the driver’s seat for quite a while ruminating on the ramifications of the (thankfully temporary) cessation of the relationship. Rather than bawl my eyes out though, I allowed myself to shed one single tear of mourning, then wiped my eyes, shot myself a reassuring grin in the rear-view mirror, and drove away.

Ending Therapy: How To (Mostly) Do It Properly – Paul: Week 25, Part I

“So this is it,” he declared, his tone swathed in unwitting drama.

“Yes,” I pointlessly confirmed.

Paul and I looked at each other – what does one say when one comes to the end of a relationship? If the relationship is romantic, although the words are difficult, they’re clear (mostly). If you’re ending a friendship, you generally let it peter out without any particular show-down. But when you’re ending a relationship whose very point is its ending – so as you can live a better life without it – what do you say?

I never did write in detail about my final session with C in August 2010. In short, I sat there defiantly, refusing to tell him my future plans. He whinged a bit about not knowing what would happen to me (something that NewVCB, much to my chagrin, revealed to him – bloody bitch!), and I took satisfaction in his ignorance. When it was over, instead of the normal, “we’ll have to leave it there for today,” he said, “we’ll have to leave it all there.” I stood up, with dignity I think, reluctantly shook his outstretched hand, bade him goodbye, and walked down the corridor with my head held high.

When I got into my car, however, I sat and cried for 20 minutes before finally driving away, but – unless he’s been reading this bilge, which (given the Mind Award nomination and a piece I had in a national publication that I know he reads a few months ago) is actually not impossible – he doesn’t know that.

Anyway, the End of Times with Paul was much more amiable and respectful (as if you couldn’t have guessed that!), excepting a few niggles that I’ll play up later for the purposes of rant material (I’ve noted from my archives that my bitching about C was far more entertaining than my appreciation of Paul, so…). I didn’t piss about trying to keep my future plans secret; Paul made it very clear that he had found working with me to be a challenging but fascinating (!) and enriching (!!) experience; I concluded that ultimately, psychotherapy with him had been greatly beneficial to me. 25 weeks with him compared to 63 with C, the latter having left me in a worst psychological position than when I’d first met him (though the extent to which C is to blame for that is, of course, debatable).

I hope you don’t think I’m employing some sort of apotheosis in the regard I hold for Paul. As the last session (and, to an extent, this one) demonstrate(d), he is not perfect for me; but our differences and any potential conflict points are minor enough that they can be mostly overlooked, and although I still view the concept of therapeutic transference as a beneficial phenomenon in terms of long-term therapy, in terms of a short-term interaction, I think that I shared a healthier relationship with Paul than I did with C. Time has numbed the agony of the bitter wounds I felt so profoundly regarding the latter, to the extent where I feel a bit bad saying that, but overall I can only speak my truth, and that’s it.

Anyhow, in an entirely predictable twist of fate, Paul finally asked me how I felt about the end of the process. “And how well have we done?” he added.

“Fairly well,” I concluded. “I mean, I don’t think 25 weeks is an adequate timeframe for any psychological therapy, but that said, within the weeks that we’ve had, I think a lot of progress has been made – at the very least, we’ve made a good start.”

I also observed that the fact that I was able to return to Nexus in future was a reassurance and, further, that perhaps a break was actually a good thing, given how intense the process had at times been.

He reported (and I concurred) that in his view we had had a “really healthy” relationship, and he stated how much he’d enjoyed working with me. The experience was “very powerful”, apparently. An intriguing comment, I felt; what is even remotely ‘powerful’ about talking to an intellectual snob that loathes the child she used to be and is ambivalent towards the person that abused that child? I personally think it’s fucked up, but who am I to question the judgement of others?

Paul broke into this internal train of rumination. “It’s always great when you’re able to strip away layers, and meet the real person,” he was saying. “And when you get there, you see that there’s a really nice person sitting there.”

I winced at this, and it must have been visible to him, because he laughed at the implied self-invective inherent in my expression.

“You know I have an aversion to compliments,” I hissed, almost spitting the final word out of my mouth.

He laughed again and said, “yes, that’s why I said it!”

Cheeky sod. I am so not ‘really nice’. I mean, even if I were likable – and I don’t necessarily believe that I am – ‘nice’ is such a pathetic word. Paul meant well in his employment of it, I know, but seriously. Before I met A, I went on a few dates that would never have led anywhere. Through same, I met one bloke in particular who seemed genuinely interested in me: the reason that it would never have worked, though, was because he was just so nice. There was no passion, no fire. Just…niceness. I wouldn’t even describe my best mates as ‘nice’. My best friends are smart, funny, witty, irreverent, yadda yadda. They’re not nice. ‘Nice’ is not a ‘nice’ word (as a general rule. There are exceptions – how else would you prove the rule?).

Anyway, that was a pointlessly stupid tangent. I eventually responded to Paul by saying that I had been at a stage in my life for a wee bit where I could accept compliments by saying “thank you,” as opposed to my previous automatic responses of, “oh, you can’t be serious – have you not seen how ugly/fat/boring/stupid/inept at cutting hedges/unable to operate a unicycle using only my tongue/whatever I am?!” Nevertheless, despite my newly found skills in using the words ‘thank you’, being complimented still leaves me squirming.

I exemplified by talking about a mate of ours, who has made no particular secret of the fact that he has something of a crush on me (something I don’t get in itself, mais oui). After imbibing a few too many on-offer pints in his company one evening, I made a thinly veiled reference to the sexual abuse to him. He started wanking on and on and on about how ‘brave’ and ‘courageous’ and ‘intelligent’ and ‘charismatic’ etc I supposedly am. Despite the lowering of inhibitions contingent upon the consumption of alcohol, I still felt horrified by all his gushing. Yeah, there was a part of me that was intimidated by the fact that he has an attraction to me – but it was more than that. It was the praise itself that perturbed me; had it come from someone without an ostensible ‘thing’ for me, I’d have felt the same.

Paul – for the second time, I think – alluded to The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo novels. Apparently, the protagonist interprets all support as having an ulterior motive or as being a trick. This led to her being viewed by others as paranoid, but Paul contended that she was responding contextually appropriately in light of her previous relationships, which had been used to manipulate and deceive her.

I empathised entirely with this position; as I told him, one of the rules I’ve lived by for pretty much as long as I can remember is that “everyone is a {insert expletive noun of your choice here} until they prove otherwise.”

“Is that as bad as it was?” he asked.

“No,” I replied – and I am surprised by how genuinely I felt (and, I think, feel) that. “And things in general aren’t as bad as they were.” I told him about the non-Confessions writing projects I’d taken on. An article for Rethink’s Your Voice magazine, for example (not sure when that’s being published, but as and when I know, I’ll advise any readers that care). Latterly some articles for Mind’s blog. Being able to do these things was testament to my improved psychological condition.

“But I think the best measurement of my recovery is exemplified by A’s experience of things,” I mused. “I can’t externally assess my condition, whereas he can. We went from my intention to poison myself with helium to going out geocaching, writing articles and even considering voluntary work.”

As I told Paul, A had also considered my ability to drive in Fuerteventura as an almost perfect metaphor of how far I had come.

[Incidentally, in an entirely predictable reversal of fortune, it’s a measure of relapse that I haven’t been geocaching for months, have only done a little writing and have not applied for the proposed voluntary position. But at the time of this session – June – I was feeling positive and was looking forward.]

There was a silence for a minute or two, then Paul asked what I was doing for me. Apparently that which I had detailed previously, with the exception of geocaching, was about stuff I was doing for others.

“There’s a certain amount of self-interest in the writing,” I admitted. “It all builds into a portfolio, whether it’s under my real name or my pseudonym, and as I’ve been told I have some talent [!], that might be useful in terms of securing some ‘proper’, paid writing jobs. I’m not delusional about it – I’m never going to make a fortune out of the pursuit, nor do I think it’s a viable full-time job – but you never know; it could be a potential supplementary income.”

“Beyond that? Any other things you’re doing for you?” he queried. Humph. I was ever so slightly miffed – I had that thought the whole writing thing was really rather good!

When I didn’t immediately answer he spoke for me, saying, “well, at least you’re not self-harming. That’s a good thing not to be doing for yourself.”

I shrugged non-committally. I wasn’t self-harming at the time, but even now I just can’t view it with the same horror that he seems to.

He decided to pursue a different vein. “Have we got the balance right? You know, discussing your abusive experiences but also including the whole mental health and psychosis stuff.”

I responded, truthfully, in the affirmative. “I see why we need to focus on the former at times, obviously,” I opined, “but the two aren’t mutually exclusive, are they? My mental health issues have more origins than just those of the abuse, and I think it’s helpful to examine those as well. In terms specifically of psychotic presentations, well – those can’t go unaddressed, can they? So yeah, the balance is good.”

Paul nodded, but went on to say that “when we’re touching on the abuse and feelings related to that, there’s lots of you ‘keeping a lid’ on everything. You have a lot of uncapped pain there, that we’ve only really started to get close to.”

He mentioned the concept of ego-splitting again (ie. the more functional me versus the pained, dissociated mess that Aurora is and that I, myself, often am too), and stated that when dealing with the dissociated part, we had had to tread very carefully during our work together. He seemed to be wondering if he’d pushed too hard at times, or if he hadn’t pushed enough at others. Personally, I think he judged each incidence of this really very well.

He went on to say that he’d experienced the full force of repressed rage projected onto him by other clients – never me – and that it was “pretty horrendous” (though ultimately beneficial). He wondered aloud why I’d never done that; was it to protect myself – or was it to protect others?

The latter is, by and large, the reality. Now, this is an odd one. I have a bolshy, extremely stubborn streak in me when I’m being treated unreasonably, viz the Health Trust saga – but by and large, anger and I are not intimate acquaintances. It lies dormant within me, I know, but it’s only rarely expressed in its rawest form. I will almost never get properly angry without an obvious, here-and-now reason, such as how the Trust failed me, or being falsely charged for something, whatever. Of course, Paul would argue that I have every right to be angry in terms of that to which Paedo subjected me. Rationally, of course, this is a perfectly reasonable position to hold, but I can’t seem to agree. That was 20 fucking years ago, you know? I am calm and collected and calculated. I am zen. *practices mindfulness*

…..

Nah, you guessed it – mindfulness is one thing that could actually wake that hibernating anger, so it can get away to fuck. Anyway, yeah; I rarely feel that visceral sort of fury, and even when I do, I actively attempt to suppress it for, in the main, the sake of those around me. I pointed out to Paul that the (very few) people with whom I deal in everyday life have nothing to do with Paedo’s sexual fascination with little people – so why on Earth would I want to subject them to anything even vaguely relating to it? Besides. I simply don’t feel anything other than a sneering disdain for the man. Bizarre and substantially fucked up? Probably. But true, despite it all. In my conscious mind at least, it just isn’t there.

What I did admit to, though, was my penchant for being very easily irritated. For instance, I drop a pen. I yell expletives at the poor inanimate thing, then kick it across the room in a fit of pathetically infantile pique (oh and then I feel guilty for being so irrationally nasty, catalysing me into – yeah, wait for this one, folks – apologising to the pen. Sane? No. I shouldn’t imagine so).

“Perhaps,” I psycho-babbly posited, “what should come out as a kind of righteous anger towards my uncle instead reveals itself as acute but in-the-moment strong annoyance at very silly little things. I mean, I’d never thought of that potential connection before, but I can see that in context it might be some sort of projection of more profound issues.”

I paused, then decreed that my previous assertions had been “nothing more than pseudo-psychological straw-clutching” because “everyone gets outrageously pissed off when they drop a pen, don’t they?” Well, readers – don’t they? You know it’s true. You know!

This post has (unsurprisingly) got out of hand. It shall ergo contineth on the morrow (or rather, later on, given that this is after midnight, but let’s not quibble over niceties). Nighty night, loveliest people! x

Continued here.

World Mental Health Day 2011

If you suffer from mental health problems, how open are you about them to your friends and family? Those of us that blog and comment here in the online community that has come to be known as the Madosphere write candidly and in detail about our mental illnesses – but is this translated into our so-called real-lives?

For a long time, in my case, it wasn’t. I maintained a façade, where possible at least, that I was still a contentedly functioning member of the rat race, as sane as anyone else that has a similar way of life (albeit, perhaps, a little more cynical!).

Even when I became rather more open about having experienced, and about my experiencing, severe depression, I still withheld information from most people regarding the multitude of ways in which the other facets of my madness manifested. I tried to avoid mention of psychosis, dissociation and mixed episodes. I would certainly not reveal anything about the main issue that led to my having developed complex PTSD.

And as far as the latter goes, I doubt that I ever will – but that’s because it will ruin the lives of others, and there’s only one of them that even comes close to deserving that. However, the symptoms that I habitually experience are not going to directly impact upon most individuals – other than those that, due to their proximity to the situation, already know about and have seen frequent examples of the crazies anyway.

So one day, I thought, “fuck it. What am I hiding from? It’s me that has to endure this, and if others can’t deal with my reality, that’s their issue. I’m just going to be honest.” And I was. And I am.

The voices and visions, the amnesia, the GCHQ and other paranoias, the fugues, the simultaneous hysterical laughter and despairing tears. I’ve ‘fessed up to it all, and much more besides. Granted, it’s rare that anyone actually asks about specifics – but when they do, I tell them the whole truth.

If they choose to deride, stigmatise and make false assumptions based on erroneous and sensationalised information, then I correct their misguidedness. Most people mean well, I think, but are understandably apprehensive, thanks to the way our culture has demonised mental health trouble and attempted to brush all references thereto under the carpet. All you can do is to try and separate myth from fact, and show that despite ‘having issues’, you are still essentially ordinary. In my experience, people are more tolerant and accepting than you might originally think.

Of course, there are some who are truly disdainful of mentalness and will not be persuaded that you are not a knife-wielding freak, hell-bent on sadistically torturing everyone that crosses your path, no matter how much evidence you show them or normality you personally exhibit in their company. If people elect to maintain positions such as this, based only on moral panics, media sensationalism, and wilful ignorance, then I don’t need them in my life. Fuck them.

Yes, it sounds so easy written down here in nice, black-and-white words, and of course it’s not in practice. However, if you have a long-term mental health problem, there will probably come a time when you face a similar scenario: keep hiding behind an overpowering wall of shame to which you feel undeservedly bound, or break free of it, realising that you’re tired of the pretence, that you deserve better, and that you have nothing for which to be sorry.

You are not some sort of fucked-up, freakish aberration because you have a mental health difficulty. Some statistics state that the incidence of same is one in four in an average lifetime – I’ve read reports that dispute that, but regardless: the point is that the chances of experiencing mental ill health at least at some juncture are reasonably high.

How many people do you know – in general and overall? Even if we dismiss the one in four statistic and, for the sake of argument, adopt a much more conservative estimate of a lifetime prevalence of mental illness at a mere one in 10…well, anyone who’s ever studied, worked or even been part of an extended family is bound to know someone (else) with mentalist issues.

So why do we silence ourselves so? Do we do so in consideration of cancer or diabetes or migraines? Of course not, nor should we. But why are physical maladies considered the more acceptable relatives of mental ones, when the latter are arguably just as common? And how can an unconsciously ignorant society learn, en masse, that mental health problems rarely resemble the over-blown melodrama perpetrated by biased reporting and established stereotypes…unless we speak up to contradict them?

Of course, there are times when such honesty can destroy opportunities such as job interviews, the development of potential new friendships or partnerships, whatever. It may not always be possible to admit that you’re mental, and this is not a condemnation of people who choose not to be widely open about their conditions. I just wonder how we can eradicate stigma for good unless we have an open dialogue in public around issues of mental health, illness and recovery.

No where has this been better underlined to me than in this post by Lori at Random Ramblings of a Stay at Home Mum. Lori’s husband, after a brief but serious psychosis, hanged himself in front of his wife and baby daughter.

In the linked post, she discusses her speech at his funeral. Had he spoken up, she wondered aloud, could he have been treated?

I can say nothing more prescient and eloquent than what Lori already has. If you are experiencing mental distress, if it’s too much to cope with, if you feel you have nowhere to turn – you do. Speak. Please, on this – World Mental Health Day – at least consider speaking up to help raise awareness of mental health problems. In a small but important way, you could well be helping millions of others that suffer in silence, and indeed yourself, when you speak.

The Evolution of Goldfish – Paul: Week 22

Right. For absolute God’s sake, Pandora, just write this fucking post and stop finding procrastination-borne ways of avoiding it.

It’s not that there’s anything particularly traumatic about what I’m intending to write, but these session reviews are long and tiring in their composition, and moreover, because it’s from a couple of months ago, the feeling is not as ripe in my mind as I’d prefer it to be. That’s entirely my own fault, of course; I have had plenty of opportunity to finish writing about Paul well before now. Instead, I’ve chosen to dick about – oh look, *shiny thing*! Fuck’s sake. Anyhow, the notes do remind me of some of the nuances and subtleties of the sessions – the way he might peer over his glasses, the palpable expression of hurt or rage within the room, my constant hair-playing – but I’m not sure if I’ll ever nail them quite to the standard I would have had I written them up in the afternoons immediately following the appointments. But therapy is a draining pursuit, and so it’s hard to summon the internal mental energy necessary to engage in such writing; to that end, I’m not going to promise to hold to that ideal when I return to Nexus in the next couple of months. I’ll try, but for at least some of the time, I will fail.

Anyway, here we go…

Paul was met with my usual opening gambit of complete, hair-fiddling silence, though it was eventually me that broke it by castigating the living shit out of myself for my failure to speak. He responded with some remark about my feeling that I ‘have to’ speak, and about how that made me ‘trapped’. He went on in an entirely predictable fashion: I still frequently behave as if I’m helpless and have to do as I am told. I am reminded of how submissive I really am in ‘real life’. Everything – well, most things – are given deferential consideration before I dare to respond, and generally I will kowtow to the other party’s wishes in the end anyway, even if I loathe them for it. My last-but-one job, of which I’ve never really had reason to speak here, is a glaring example that still (four and a half years later) sends shudders through my body.

After a great deal of fairly repetitive discussion surrounding Hotel California and my aforementioned submissiveness, he eventually went on to say that my current methods of coping with things and defending myself were such that I was ‘trapped’ in this world, and that Aurora was ‘trapped’ in her world, which is full of pain. “To you,” he continued, “she’s just a nagging problem. She buggered up your life, so although you’re intellectually aware of all the facts – that she was abused and badly hurt – you can’t really empathise with her, can you?”

It depends when you ask me, actually, which in and of itself is progress to my mind. I said that I had written an awful lot on this blog (I can’t be bothered to look for the link((s)) right now, sorry) about how my position shifted about, on how I recognised that I didn’t deserve any of it at all, and, crucially, about how I really felt all of that, rather than just knowing it as an abstract sort of concept.

“But,” I said, inevitably, “then I think of my fat five-year-old face and I feel nothing but disgust. If you put my mere outline in place of that image, I can pity and empathise with and wish to protect her, but not if it’s actually the young me. And then, of course, that leads to tremendous guilt because regardless of what I was like, I should still feel that concern for my younger self.”

Paul asked me to put Paedo into this mental vision that I’d conjured up and which was fucking with my head. In that time-honoured fashion of therapists everywhere, he asked me, “how does that feel?” (At least the emphasis here was on something specific, rather than on some amorphous abstract as it so often was with C).

I closed my eyes and let the image consume me for a minute. It wasn’t at all pleasant, but I tried to walk him through it.

“I feel fear, I suppose. Not intense terror in that Lovecraftian horror sort of way [Jesus, how up my own hole am I?], but…well. It’s more like I’d respond to a hallucination. Trepidation, perhaps?” Self-created Paedo leered at me in my mind. Aurora took a step back. I – the envisioned adult me – looked at him with an examining and curious sort of contempt, but none of the three assembled psychic (non-)personnel spoke.

Paul went at me again for trying to over-analyse the scenario, though he did admit to my description being a realistic one (in the sense that, the first time or two, rapes that are the start of systematic abuse are met with overwhelming terror – but that gives way a resigned stoicism as the abuse continues). “What else?” he pressed. “What is she feeling?”

I ‘looked’ at her. She didn’t look petrified at all, but I felt a sense of dread emanating from her. I suddenly knew what she was feeling, even if there’s not a specific name for it.

“It’s a sense of ‘oh no, not again’,” I told him.

“Not the reaction of a blameful child,” he mused. “More like a helpless wee girl.”

(Completely off-topic, but does anyone else find it odd – not bad, just a bit weird-sounding – when someone who isn’t Scottish or Irish says the word ‘wee’? I remember reflecting on this that day: how interesting it was to hear a Brummie say ‘wee’ ((utterly disregarding the fact that Paul has lived here for years, of course)), yet I say it a hundred times a day. Funny the little things you pointlessly ruminate upon whilst in therapy).

“I agree with you,” I admitted, “it’s just…” …I started my usual carry-on of being unable to articulate the words I wanted to convey… “it’s just that I can’t…can’t throw off this…this persistent self-disgust. That picture of me when I was five that I mentioned…Jesus, it makes me cringe.” Pause. “But…being cringe-worthy does not equate to being at fault for being used as a sex toy.”

“Indeed,” he nodded, his head cocked, his eyes unblinkingly fixated upon me. I wondered what it was that he was so intently looking for. A manifestation of how I was feeling? A tell, as we call it in poker circles?

“Indeed,” he repeated. “You could have been the worst child on Earth and you still woundn’t have deserved a second of it.”

“Do you remember I told you about the picture of the baby?” I asked.

“Yes. That was hugely significant, I thought. You looked at that little baby and thought, ‘You’re just an innocent baby – yet you’ll have that taken away from you before long. I know your future’.”

“I still think there’s something terribly sad about that,” I confessed, fixating my own gaze upon Random Point A on the off-green, non-descript carpet. I could feel his eyes upon me, but I refused to look at him. A lot of stuff was circling in my whirlwind of a mind, and it was frankly quite horrible to think about the issues this conversation raised. I don’t know why. I don’t like babies any more or less than I like five year olds, so my reaction to this one seemed wholly out of character.

“There is something sad about it,” Paul replied, “tremendously so. I recall the sadness in the room when we talked about that before. In fact, when I was writing up my notes on that session, ‘sad’ is the word I used. I think…I think you have some sort of separation from the baby. You can’t remember yourself then, you can’t see any of the physical characteristics you now have [wanna bet, Paul? The baby is certainly fat, so we have that in common], so perhaps you don’t think of it being really yourself.”

He’s right. I don’t.

But the picture of the baby was only once facet of therapeutic discussion that I thought particularly relevant: the other was the session in which we pretty much ignored the sexual abuse and focused on my parents and their tumultuous relationship. In the aftermath of that, and in particular in my writing it up here, I was a complete heap of psychological spaghetti, and at one point, seeing me in a flood of proper tears, A opined that “the therapy [was] finally starting to work.”

“I am given to believe that crying is a more appropriate way of expressing distress than other ways I have I might have chosen,” I self-decried.

Paul cocked his head. “You still view crying with contempt, then.”

Um…yeah. Of course I do. As I said to him, people look strange when they’re crying, and I don’t want to look any stranger than I already do.

I laughed then. “That coming from the girl who dyes her hair pink, blue, green, purple, etc.”

“What’s that about?” he queried. “The hair dying.”

Fucking psychology. Why does something always have to reflect something apparently deeper?! I drolly and cynically responded that presumably I was ‘seeking an identity’, and waited for him to lap the comment up in scrutiny.

Instead, for once he surprised me in dismissing the potential psychoanalytic ramifications of this most ordinary thing. He said, “maybe you just like dying your hair. My former mentor once told me that you don’t have to analyse everything: he said, ‘sometimes a fart is just a fart, Paul’.”

Whilst I laughed at the remark, I was ever so slightly pissed off that I looked like the one that was over-analysing. I mean, of course I do over-analyse, but oftentimes I am wont to dismiss psychobabble, and this was one such occasion. I’m not convinced he picked up on the derisive tone which nuanced my original comment.

As if to confirm this, he suddenly said, “sometimes it’s like you live your life in a goldfish bowl. Everything is there to be watched and examined, and there’s nowhere to hide.”

I snidely returned that if a goldfish was removed from its bowl then it would cease to have oxygen, wouldn’t be able to breathe, and would eventually die – thus, the goldfish bowl is a necessary place to be. Internally, I smiled at what I perceived as my clever comeback, and I looked at him with a smug and challenging expression adorning my facial features.

Right enough, he hadn’t planned for such a point, and was forced to concede it. It was desperately hard for me to hide my cocky satisfaction.

BUT! The man is too fucking quick for his own bloody good. After a few seconds, he ably destroyed my egotism by asking, “what about evolution, then? What if you don’t want to be a goldfish anymore?”

I resisted the urge to point out that merely wanting to evolve does not necessarily mean actually evolving, thinking I had already pushed my luck with my awkwardness. Instead, I went back to a more therapeutically pertinent form of dialogue. “This is the thing. If I didn’t want all this crap to stop, I wouldn’t be here – I would never have been here – in the first place. And I think things have changed a bit, or at least are doing so. Maybe I’m less of a goldfish than I once was.”

“It’s like there are two goldfish in two bowls,” he offered. “One gets its water regularly changed, and it’s well-fed. The other only receives the very minimum possible to keep it alive.”

“That’s self-inflicted,” I commented.

“Perhaps, but maybe when that fish was first hurt, it couldn’t deal with any more than that – it could only concentrate on its most basic needs of survival.”

“Yes, but it wants to deal with everything else now, and it’s brain won’t co-operate. That is so frustrating.”

“Interesting,” he said thoughtfully. “The fish still blames itself for everything. It forgets that it was hurt by abusers and is faultless in this regard.”

“I think its point is that other hurt goldfish progress to a level of not being hurt any more…Well, OK, not entirely – this kind of thing can never just go away. But said other fish somehow capably manage their lives, whereas this one does not.”

“Perhaps the best it can hope for is to move into a bigger, better tank with its healthier friend from the other tank, where that friend can take care of it. It won’t make previous events go away, but perhaps it could make them easier to deal with.”

This was striding into difficult territory for me, which I proceeded to explain to him. “This is a stupid thing to say, I know, but it’s so unfair. Surely people (or fish) who’ve been hurt the most deserve the most relief – and yet they’re usually the very ones that continue to experience the greatest pain.”

“It’s not stupid,” Paul replied reassuringly. “Of course the world doesn’t work like that, but it’s still unfair.

“One of the hardest things in this kind of arena is having to get clients to deal with the bereavement of it all. The pre-abuse person that they were – he or she is never coming back, and that results in a tremendous amount of grief.”

Something about the statement resonated deeply and painfully with me – probably particularly because I don’t really remember much from before it all started. I have no frame of reference of who I was, and who I ‘should’ have become. “Obviously I was always aware of that,” I told him, “but there’s something about hearing it here, in those terms, that’s really big.”

“Huge,” he nodded. “For some people, though, it gives them a reason not to bother with therapy. If I can’t give you your childhood back, what’s the point?”

An understandable but obviously fatalistic view. I said, “but recovery – insofar as that’s possible – is surely better than perpetual misery. Sure, tinges of regret that you can’t make it unhappen are inevitable, but…don’t you have to make the most of what you have?”

After a brief pause, I had to laugh at my own hypocritical optimism. I am the last person on Earth who believes in the ‘count your blessings’ response to depression and related difficulties. How crude of me to patronisingly bring it up in this context!

Paul didn’t respond directly, though. Instead he said that he felt that whilst we were still occupying the bowl of the healthy goldfish, we were at least looking over at the other one. I wasn’t, for once, trying to ignore it, and I could see through the stagnant water that permeated its enforced domicile.

It’s hard to articulate the kind of feelings that were bouncing around the room. As I told him, I was indubitably affected by the analogy and, presumably, aspects of transference and whatnot, but when he asked me to describe said effects, I found it exceedingly hard. I could hardly speak – not a first in therapy with Paul (so much not a first, in fact, that it could almost be described as entirely normal in that circumstance). After a lot of stuttering and idiotic gasping, I eventually concluded that I was sad. Perhaps grieving.

“I had DBT forced upon me once,” I complained. “One of the aspects of it is some old wank about knowing what you feel and accepting that. Accepting, I get – but knowing? There genuinely aren’t always adequate words to describe some of this stuff.”

He shrugged. “I don’t think we do always need to explain. ‘Sad’ is enough.”

After a few silent moments of apparent reflection, he added, “you know, ‘sad’ is big for you. It represents a transition from anger, which is incredibly noteworthy.”

I nodded, but felt no need to reply. We avoided each other’s gazes for another quiet few minutes, before Paul continued by stating that he felt that there was a “softness” to me in those moments.

Needless to say, whatever spell had been temporarily cast was suddenly broken. I was repulsed by the idea of appearing “soft”, and in horror begged him not to “say that”.

“No,” he protested. “It’s OK to be that here.” Pause. “Or is that a step too far for now?”

“No,” I robotically replied. “I’m being stupid.” Then: “I have this life narrative, I suppose. I’m a bit of a bitch, harder than a fucking coffin nail [anyone like Papa Roach? I think they’re utter shit, but I do love that lyric]. You know. Misanthropic, a miserable sod. That’s me. A bitch.”

“I don’t see any bitch,” he responded. “Would it be easier if I did?”

There was a long pause before I randomly asserted that I was a child in a woman’s body. I told him that I took very little responsibility for myself, that standard practice in adult domestic living scared the living fuck out of me (example). I admitted to him about the dozens of cuddly toys I’ve ammassed over the last three or four years, despite having almost no interest in them as a child (save for Mr Friendly, of course). I confessed to the childish little ways I will sometimes privately talk to A (though mercifully I’m apparently not entirely alone in my experience of this phenomenon – Maybe Borderline reflects on her similar mannerisms with her husband here. Though I am nine years old than her…).

“Well,” Paul said, with a tone of exculpation. “You had to live as an adult when you were a child…”

“So am I trying to somehow vicariously relive my childhood?”

“Well, you’re trying to reclaim what was stolen from you.”

He brought up the concept of regression, which he says is sometimes used in trauma work. He said, “I wouldn’t ever do that here. You have to accept the loss, whereas reliving it in a therapeutic context only succeeds in avoiding the reality of the here and now. You are an adult – but you have an unheard child inside you, and the ongoing challenge is to allow her to speak.”

“I do think we’ve made some in-roads there,” I replied.

“Yes,” he agreed. “And the thing is, you’ve consistently turned up here each week. On time. That alone speaks volumes.”

“I must be getting something out of it, yes. I’m way too cynical to have kept at it if I wasn’t doing so, and I’m hardly engaging in the process because it’s fun.”

“Indeed. You do appear to be able to see the value in what we do, despite its inevitable difficulties. And that in itself is therapeutic.”

And, I think, so it is. I know I’ve had something of a relapse recently, but revisiting this session reminds me that progress has been made. I am intending to return to Nexus in the next few months to attempt to advance that further, and despite the current bleakness of my world, I am reminded, sometimes, that hope can and does exist.

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Writing for the Rockstar CPN

Sorry for yesterday’s pathetic rant. I’d initially made it a private post, but then decided to go ahead and publish it; what’s the point of a blog but for people to read it? That said, despite its moderate success (and as I am always harping on), Confessions is still written primarily for my own benefit, so I do still occasionally write private material, if I want to keep track of particularly personal issues. But by and large I like to have things available for others to read and comment on, as it’s a huge source of support and insight. Anyway, thank you for having the kind diplomacy not to tell me what a silly bitch I was being 🙂

I’m feeling a good bit better today. The Everythinger is still here and the house is still a tip of epic proportions, but I’m a bit more rested than I was. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it here before, but I suffer from relatively frequent migraines, and when I got up this morning I felt one coming on. I’m relatively fortunate compared to some thus maligned in that if I act quickly, I can sometimes prevent it developing into a full-blown, lie-in-a-darkened-room-for-three-days attack, so I threw 2,000mg of paracetamol down my throat (yeah, I know, I know) and told the Everythinger that I was going back to bed for a few hours. This I did, and though I still felt rough when I did get up, another dose of paracetamol (yeah, I know, I know x2) and a few minutes to myself seemed to curb the problem. Now the sun is shining, the cats are not being their usual indifferent, offhand selves and the Everythinger is working outside, so I’m feeling relatively OK.

Anyway, this was going to be about Christine, was it not? I saw her a few weeks ago, the day after I went completely doolally thinking that there were secret, governmental cameras all over the house etc etc. Frankly I was petrified of seeing Christine because I know she remains surprised that I’ve never been hospitalised for my psychotic difficulties. To be honest, to be sectioned in Northern Ireland it seems to me that you have to run at a psychiatrist with an axe and 13 AK47s (which is odd because so many of you in the rest of the UK and, indeed, other jurisdictions have written about how a mere idle mention of, say, suicidal ideation can see the quacks telling you to accept an informal admission or be forced into the bin), and since I am hopefully unlikely to ever do such a thing (I have no idea where to get an axe or even one AK47 anyway), I’m hopefully safe. Yet it was still a passing concern because Christine has mentioned it a few times in the past.

Anyway, as you can see from my continued bilging here, on Twitter, etc, I was not put away. In fact, I was very surprised by her reaction to my episode; yes, it was disturbing, she felt, and yes, it must have been very unpleasant for me (no shit), but given all that had been happening (the burglary, Aunt of Evil, not seeing my mother because of the presence of Aunt of Evil, etc), she felt that I was still doing remarkably well. She was of the opinion that because I had managed to retain some insight, however small that had actually been, and because the whole thing had been fairly short-lived, that it was probably a response to the stress I had been under, rather than a mentalist episode per se.

She did ask if I felt it was the start of something more, but I found myself rather inclined to agree with the sentiments she’d already expressed. Nevertheless, when she said that I was to contact her urgently should it develop into anything – even the following week, when she was on leave! – I was most reassured. I laughed lightly and said, “it’s nice to know there’s someone professional I can talk to if this all goes tits up.”

Christine cocked her head, and asked me if that had not always been the case. I wryly recounted a redacted version of a conversation I once had with C, my ex-psychologist (I’ve made reference to it here, though I can’t find the specific post on the session in question):

Pandora: Who am I supposed to contact in a crisis? I mean, no one has given me the number of the crisis team, no one has referred me to a CPN or social worker, my psychiatrist [OldVCB at the time; her successor is completely different] doesn’t want to know. So what am I meant to do when I can’t cope? Who do I contact?

C: The Samaritans.

Someone commenting in the afore-linked post aptly stated that “…The Samaritans comment was particularly wank.”

Christine laughed when I told her about this, as I did in memory of it. I don’t recall what she actually said (I don’t keep the in depth notes on appointments with her and NewVCB the way I do with therapy sessions), but there was a derisive (of C) quality to it which made me feel both dryly amused and smugly vindicated. Since I’ve been discharged from Psychology and have a proper, decent psychiatric team looking out for me, I’ve been surprised and pleased by how many times they’ve either directly criticised NHS mental health services, or delivered loaded, highly implicative statements about same with coy but suggestively raised eyebrows. It delights me no end.

Anyhow, that was the last appointment, and I didn’t go completely batshit in its wake, so didn’t need to contact her urgently. Perhaps this is a case of the stick in the drawer is the biggest stick of all, in the same way that having a stash of Zopiclone and Diazepam is. In other words, having the option there is reassurance in itself; with that very reassurance, one does not need to access the option. So instead of having to arrange an emergency appointment, I instead saw her as normal yesterday.

Those of you that read the nonsense I wrote yesterday will know that I was absolutely fed up, so I just went into the appointment and told her so.

Stress and Routine

“It’s ordinary fed up, having said that,” I added. “About normal life, and the challenges it brings.” Yet again I find myself reminded of Sigmund Freud’s dictum that recovery from “hysterical misery” means an advancement into mere “common unhappiness”. I am finding the vicissitudes of “common unhappiness” more and more starkly present in my life as I find myself to be relatively symptom-free. There’s a small part of me that rejoices in that – she’d rejoice even more if I could be symptom-free (thanks, overpowering anxiety) enough to go back to work, mind you – it’s ordinary, it’s real, it’s a part of a proper life. The larger part of me sneers at this saccharine idealist, and laughs a bitter “fuck away off” in her general direction.

In any event, I moaned and moaned about my stress pertaining to the Everythinger and the state of the house in much the same way as I did here yesterday and in the post before that, citing the unmitigated exhaustion I was feeling pursuant to my defiance of the instructions of my demanding custodian, Seroquel. I left a very important detail out until the end of the appointment, however, which I will leave out until of the end of the review of this appointment, however. However, however, however. It’s a nice word.

We also discussed how I have hardly seen my mother at all over the last few weeks, initially due to the presence of Aunt of Evil and secondarily thanks to my having to be about A’s house so frequently to accommodate the Everythinger. She asked me how I felt about that, and I felt guilty saying that it was a probably a good thing – but, all things considered, it is.

Christine asked if my levels of irritability had gone up, and I admitted that they were at an all-time high. The thing is, little things my Mum does – perhaps unfairly – wind me up to the point where my entire body seizes up in a red-blooded, silent scream. By the same token, she loses it with me quite a bit (and doesn’t try to hide it) for reasons that are rarely clear to me – a tone of voice she has (in my view) misinterpreted, or something inane like that. And at present, I’m not the only one that is stressed and irritable as a result of circumstance; my mother pretty much hated every second of Aunt of Evil’s visit, and is only beginning to recover from the stress of it.

Aunt of Evil Visitations

One of the few times I have seen her in the last few weeks was when Aunt of Evil was still in the country. I met my mother one Friday afternoon and spent about three hours listening to her ranting about what a cunt AoE is (which was a bit of a failed conversion really; she was already preaching to the choir on that one). To cut a very long story short, AoE lashed out at everyone except her offspring, his bitch, and their young offspring. Everything was someone else’s fault; she demanded service and opportunities that should only be available to someone staying in a five star hotel with spa facilities; she complained when something wasn’t up to her perfect USian standards; she patronised anyone that she perceived as being less intelligent or interesting than her and her twats; etc blah yadda. Even her husband, of whom I’m not the biggest fan but whom I also don’t utterly loathe, was apparently not exempt from her fuckery – I was interested to learn that he was even heard to complain about his wife to my mother.

They all fucked off again back to America last Tuesday, to my mother’s, the McFauls’ and even Aunt and Uncle of Boredoms’ evident and expressed relief.

(Aside: in one of her less ranting moments, Mum advised me that despite all the Amazonian-scale water under the biggest bridge in the multiverse between AoE and me, AoE considers me “the daughter she never had.” I responded cruelly: “her attachment to me makes my hatred of her all the more amusing,” or some such. I mentioned this conversation briefly on Twitter, to which @bourach expertly replied, “next time she says that say, ‘well, she’s the aunt I never wanted’.” PLUS ONE, Ms bourach :D).

So in short what I’m saying is that, thanks to my aunt’s pavonine exploits, my mother is stressed too. Putting her and I together in such a potentially double-charged situation could lead to a few sparks flying in the heat of an ill-thought-out moment. I don’t like arguing with anyone, and least of all her, so it’s for the best.

Even so, Christine argued, I have an established routine of seeing her regularly, and that’s being broken. I do feel regretful of this, but more from my mother’s point of view than my own; she is getting on in years now, and lives alone. Yes, she has the golf club and the family to visit, but of course it’s not the same as living with someone and having the comfort of coming home to them. So I feel guilty about not seeing more of her, but there’s not a hell of a lot I can reasonably do about it when I have to keep to the schedule of the Everythinger.

Depression?

I must have seemed down to Christine, because she seemed concerned that my mood had dropped (overall, in her estimation, since the burglary). I think it has, in her defence – not like the body of the condemned dropping suddenly and sharply from the gallows (sounds like fun!), but slowly and insidiously trickling and meandering its way down a mountain. I’d say I’m only a little bit down that particular hill as of yet, but the fact that this is a concern to Christine in turn concerns me. I thought I was Almost Proper Well, Like.

So I responded to her apparent worry by insisting that even if things were slipping, that that was all they were doing. No avalanche, no impending disaster. “Indeed,” I continued, “I think today’s particular frustrations relate to being so overwhelmingly exhausted. I think it’s normal – or at least normal on 600mgs of Seroquel – to feel this bad as a result of this exhaustion and stress.”

“OK,” she said cautiously. “But I want you to call me if this gets any worse, OK?”

I casually nodded my apparent assent whilst averting my eyes from her cross-examining gaze. Despite my witterings earlier about knowing she’s there for me being a reassurance, realistically I have no intention of calling anybody. I don’t do phones. Why the fuck can’t they give out email addresses?! I would, happily, contact her then.

She later commented that she didn’t notice any other deteriorations, and I assume she was referring to hallucinations and delusions. Barring what I’d told her at the previous meeting, there have been none for a long time. This is undoubtedly positive, but it was never psychosis that put me in danger. Well, it was, but not in the chronic, soul-crushing fashion that the true black treacle of depression was, can do and – let’s fucking face it – probably will (though hopefully not any time soon..?). So, if my ‘mood is slipping’, I see that as a greater problem right now than the odd voice or delusion-induced panic, cruel and heavy as those of course are.

Non-Confessions Writing Projects

Bah. This is turning into an introspective examination of my mental health problems, rather than a report of yesterday’s meeting with Christine. What followed the above was a discussion about writing, and I told her that I had completed and submitted my piece on recovery from BPD to Rethink. For those interested, by the way, I’m not sure when it will be appearing in the members’ magazine, Your Voice, but it won’t be the Autumn edition because the editorial committee had something already lined up for that. The Editor – a lovely, helpful and supportive lady called Natasha (Tash) – will advise me of its publication date, and so I’ll keep you apprised. Tash was even nice enough to tell me to keep in touch with her and send her other interesting (as if anything I write could be termed ‘interesting’!) articles, which I thought was a really delightful parting gift 🙂

Christine was all smiles about this. In a moment of madness – that, thank God(s)/Nagi/Vishnu/Allah/Morrigun/Xuan Wu/some pantheon combination of the lot of them/common sense, I managed to keep silent – I wondered should I take her in a copy of the magazine so that she can see her little writing protégée in action. This would be what is known in the trade as A Very Bad Idea. The article links to this blog…do I want the professionals reading it? Nope; no matter how much they help me, no matter how much I feel I owe them (and I do have a strong sense of recompense towards her and NewVCB ((and, of course, Paul)), despite the many previous vacillations of the Health Service when it came to my care), I don’t think it a particularly wise idea for them to come across this nonsense.

Anyhow, what Christine didn’t know about – because it had all happened very quickly, and took place after I’d last seen her – was about how it wasn’t just Rethink that contacted me. The evening after I’d previously seen her, I was checking Twitter and found a direct message from @MindCharity, which is the account of that other big UK mental health charity, Mind (incidentally, they and Rethink co-run the Time to Change programme – if you haven’t already done so, you should follow the link and sign their pledge to end discrimination against mental illnesses). The tweet asked me if I’d be interested in reviewing one of the books Mind have short-listed for their 2011 Book of the Year Award. Um…yeah?!!

I wrote back and expressed enthusiasm, which was rewarded with an offer to send out an advance review copy of my choice of one of four (out of a full eight) titles. After a bit of dithering, I elected my tome, and it arrived the following Tuesday. I finished it on Wednesday last week, and sent the review off back to Mind, who will later publish it on their blog. I’m not giving any details away until then, however 😉

This impressed Christine greatly – she seemed genuinely thrilled that I had been contacted in a completely unsolicited fashion by a major organisation about a fairly major event in their calendar. I have to say that I was similarly pleased – not to mention rather stunned. Why do you like this blog? What have I done to garner (potentially influential) people’s respect with my blatherings here? I don’t get it, but it’s flattering, humbling and exhilarating in equal measure. Thank you. ‘Thank you’ doesn’t seem enough, but it’s all I have.

On a roll of positivity, I then told her something that I’ve not really mentioned to anyone but A yet. I’ve actually decided to pull my finger out and look into a voluntary placement somewhere. I have a position in mind, but I haven’t applied for it yet, so won’t give out any details, suffice to say that it’s in this same general arena – writing about and awareness raising of mental health issues. I’ve no idea at all if I’ll get it, but the two projects detailed above must surely stand me in good stead, as must my current editorship of TWIM (yeah, I don’t know how that happened either!).

Clouds

However, all those silver linings belong to clouds. They don’t just shiver and shimmer around a perfect blue sky by themselves, much as that would be desirable. The following issue pertains to a friend of mine, so I don’t want to discuss the details here, but I will state that her difficulty is directly affecting me too – and could, in a peripheral but still intrusive sort of way, be contributing to any whisperings of depression on the wind that is my life. However, Christine was extremely supportive and reassuring in relation to this matter, so I mostly feel assured that I can cope with my friend’s problem.

So, all in all, it was (as usual) a good appointment. “But!” I hear the eagle-eyed amongst you mutter. “You said there was a very important detail to share, Pan! Do tell, or we’ll spam your inbox from here to eternity.” I’m very wary of any so-called meat put into cans – a feeling surely shared by anyone else who played GTA III – so I shall, indeed, oblige.

As things were drawing to a close, she said, “so, is there anything else we need to discuss?”

I shrugged ambivalently, and looked away.

#lyingfail

Unfortunately for me, I must have looked away in the wrong manner, because she picked up on some sort of vibe of dissent. Examine the following scene from L A Noire:

LIAR!!!

LIAR!!!

Observe how our suspects angularly holds his jaw and avoids the gaze of the interrogator. Moreover, observe how he directs his eyes upwards. (This is actually a bad example, because he’s looking up and to the left, whereas I understand that looking up and to the right is more indicative of falsifying statements). Do you press Truth, Doubt or Lie?

I do have a vague recollection of looking up, to the right, whilst sort of biting my upper lip, at which point Christine had licence to hit the figurative ‘Doubt‘ option. (She can’t press ‘Lie‘ unless she has clear and present evidence to back it up, mwhahahaha! Oh, how I wish life were as simple as gaming).

I am absolutely disgusted with myself. I used to be a fucking excellent liar – what the shit has happened to me?! OK, so that’s an admission not to be proud of, but let’s be (ironically?) honest for a minute here: lying does come in useful when dealing with certain individuals and certain circumstances. How many times have you lied to a mental health professional? How many times have you told a so-called white lie to avoid hurting someone? How many times have you lied by default? Yes, just like that time your boss came in and said, “here’s 50,000 pages of turgid fuckwittery to proof-read and edit. Can you do that by yesterday, please?” and you merely smiled in response, leading him or her to believe that that was absolutely hunky-dory.

Seroquel Manipulation

Right, right, OK, I’ll get to the point. Christine realised that my shrug meant that there was something else I had to bring to the fore, even though I didn’t want to. I screwed up my face in an expression of embarrassed expectation and said, “I’ve decided I’m a consultant. I’ve cut back on the Seroquel.”

I waited for her to wince, or to bollock me, but instead she said, “by how much?”

I bowed my head and looked up at her meekly. “By half,” I admitted.

Then she winced.

In the end, she had mixed feelings about it. She said that it’s not always the worst thing to decrease a dose of something, particularly something that so potently affects one’s ability to do anything, but by the same token she did (reasonably enough) opine that to cut a dose of an anti-psychotic in half is potentially conducting playgroup in an incinerator.

She instructed me to call her “the second anything happens”. In this case, assuming I’m not …told… not to, then I actually will. I asked her should I just start taking the higher dose again if anything happens. Curiously, she said no – again, I was to call her first. I reluctantly agreed to this (reluctantly because it’s the cunting, fucking, shitting, bastarding phone), and also agreed to discuss it in full with NewVCB next month. I’ll see Christine before that though, on 22nd August.

And that was really that. I have to admit that, generally speaking, things have so far been fine since I cut my dose of Seroquel. No voices, paranoia, no significant mood drops other than that which has been already discussed and accounted for. What I’ve noticed, though, is that whilst I’m still stuffing my fat face, I’m slightly less out-of-control on that front than I was, and I’m slightly less lethargic than I was, say, last week. It’s not a huge difference, but (a) it’s a start and (b) it’s very early days.

Bye

Anyway, well done to anyone who got this far. It’s after 11.30pm now and I’ve been writing this on and off since about 4pm – in between bouts of reading, examining the crimes of H H Holmes and random mysterious disappearances, plus other silly, mostly self-inflicted intrusions. But I’m still in relatively good form, all things considered, so I’ll depart on that hopefully-non-shit-for-you note. Goodnight x

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Blog Carnival of Mental Health, June 2011: Hope and Despair

Welcome to this month’s Blog Carnival of Mental Health, on the topic of hope and despair. They are, ostensibly, a simple couple of concepts – but within each, there is a lot to be said across the Madosphere.

So let’s see what our entrants made of it. Please be aware of potential triggers in the following, particularly in relation to suicide. Thank you to everyone that has taken part, and to all that tweeted, Facebooked or otherwise promoted the Carnival; it was much appreciated. In no particular order:

Turquoise, author of theurbanworrier, discusses the liberating feeling of travel…and how, sadly, her senses of wonder and triumph have been replaced by her descent into depression:

…it’s like a journey of life: how on this 300/800/more kilometre walk on pilgrimmage routes that have been travelled by thousands of people over hundreds of years, you just have to take each step as it comes, and meet each challenge as it presents itself, live with just the stuff you can carry (ie, literally in your backpack as well as mentally). That although there is reasonably good signage *you* will get lost sometimes. You will have problems, sometimes the worst ones you as a person could cope with. But you will learn to deal with these, and learn that you *can* cope. How you have to trust that your needs will be met; that you’ll find water, and food, and somewhere to sleep. That language is no barrier; that we are all people with a common ultimate goal, with the same needs, hopes, and desires. That you can only walk at your own pace; sometimes that means your journey is solo, but at the end of the day, you are never alone, and your camino family is like all the relationships you will ever have.

But that was then. As anyone who has had the misfortune to be traipsing around in my blogland recently, the optimism of hope just hasn’t applied. That whilst I’ve *been* in great places, and was hopeful I’d get back there, it really ain’t gonna happen. This month has seen little cause for hope, and much much more for despair. I seem to be pretty stuck in a downward spiral with the madness really taking over, but the really sucky thing is that it’s been contrasted by some things and people which are so damn rock you wouldn’t believe it. But you don’t want to read about despair, mine, or anyone else’s. It’s shit.

Ash, a commenter here, has emailed the following contribution, which has left me sad but encouraged in equal measure:

‘D’ is for despair and also depression. In my case I naively thought it was a one off event; post-natal depression after the birth of my child. How could this be happening to me? We had wanted this for so long and yet when it finally happened it came along with a side order of depression. I struggled to admit to it. I refused at first to take any medication but then I had to surrender to the truth and -take time off work!

A few years ago my husband suffered a stroke at the age of 37 which left him registered blind. Immediately my symptoms returned.

Here entereth despair. For me now it seems that when something traumatic or stressful at all occurs, depression tightens its grip and I hate it. I was a confident, outgoing person who ok, worried a little about “stuff” but was very positive. Now my head is constantly filled with negative thoughts. I can’t look on the bright side anymore and the rage within me is unbearable. I have lost myself and hate what I’ve become…but hold on…

…Hope – it is out there. Over the past eighteen months I’ve been going to a therapist who has been guiding me along this difficult path. I have the support of my family and close friends. I have my faith. Most of all I have realised that I am not alone. As I trawled the internet I read similar stories. Depression I have found is something that people find difficult to understand if they’ve never experienced themselves, but by reading other sufferers’ blogs and accounts it has given me hope.

I’m so glad the Madosphere (amongst other things) has restored some of your hope, Ash 🙂

sanabituranima, author of <a href="Sanabitur Anima Mea, takes an insightful and fascinating look at mental illness within the context of her religion of Catholicism:

Depression is not a sin. It has never been considered a sin. It is an illness (and usually a treatable one.) When my Church tells me despair is a sin, it does not mean depression, extreme sadness, or a lack of joy and enthusiasm are morally wrong. These things may be, and often are, things that make me tempted to despair, but they are not despair in the theological sense of the word. If you are a Catholic, despair means that you allow your emotions to stop you trusting in God. I may not feel like God is on my side and that I might as well give up and die but as long as I let my faith and my reason to overpower that feeling, I still have the virtue of hope. It is important to understand that, because I have come across Catholics and other Christians who believed they were sinning by experiencing a mental illness. This is like believing that coughing is sinful.

I have faith that Jesus will pull me out of this. Not that He will magically make it go away. In the early days, I hoped for an instant, miraculous cure – but I really wanted a miraculous escape. I believe God has a purpose I cannot yet perceive in testing me in this way. As Saint Paul said ”We glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; And patience trial; and trial hope; And hope confoundeth not: because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.”

Astrid, on her DID-focused blog A Multitude of Musings, discusses her fears surrounding death, and how she now has hope for the future despite them:

Three years ago, I was convinced I would not make it to the end of the year 2008. Everyone kept telling me that I’d find a good place to live in the long run, and yet I believed I was going to die before then. So the hope that people tried to give me, turned to false hope and despair.

Now, I’ve made it three years since then. I still feel sometimes that I’m having a foreshortened future, but I realize this is probably a PTSD trait coupled with despair from it having taken so long for me to find a suitable living place.

Now in September I’ll be moving to a new place that is hopefully suited for my needs. It took years for me and my staff to find this place, but I think it will finally be somewhat safe there. I will also get married this September. Finally, it seems there is hope for the future. Now if only I could overcome my fear that I’m going to die as soon as I finally feel better again.

Jonathan Alter, who chronicles his story of life with mental illness and after trauma here, thoughtfully describes the development of the tumour he thought he had on his brain:

Not long after my son’s birth, around the age of 47, I started to get sick. I was a pastor of a small church in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia where I could be hiking on the Appalachian Trail in a matter of minutes. It was an absolutely beautiful place to live! This small country church where I served was filled with the greatest people on the earth. I loved them. We grew close together through suffering; like a family that comes together at the death of a parent or a child. Once I arrived at my new church, it seemed that everyone had waited just long enough, so that they could die and have a pastor there to care for them and bury them properly. The old started dying one after the other. There were suicides. There were strange diseases brought about through environmental pollution. Cancer was everywhere. And we held each other, cried together, and relished the beauty of joy when it came to us amidst so many dark days.

Finally [after experiencing a range of somatic as well as psychological symptoms], I came up with the only solution that made sense to me. I was dying of a brain tumor, and it was growing at a pretty good pace. My father was a surgeon and I had heard of some of the symptoms before… The headaches were increasing. I couldn’t read. I couldn’t concentrate. My ability to write was deteriating. I was having trouble walking and standing. I couldn’t sleep. At times it was hard to understand what others were saying to me, and my environment started to take on a kind of surreal nature.

He asked me a couple of strange questions such as, “Do you find that you cry all of sudden? Have you been thinking about death more than usual? What has your mood been like?” And incredibly, about five minutes into the exam, instead of being sent immediately to get an MRI, I was being diagnosed with Depression. I was stunned! “How could that be? What about all the physical aspects of my symptoms? What about my headaches? Are you absolutely sure!” The doctor was confident of his rendering and looked concerned. My wife joined in with the doctor and pronounced, “John, can’t you see that this church is killing you?”

Ten minutes into the examination I was being prescribed my first antidepressant famously named Prozac. Twelve minutes into this mind bending revelation I was ordered to take some time off. Fourteen minutes into this, I was still an unbeliever, but regardless of my personal disbelief, the doctor referred me to a therapist. After fifteen minutes I walked out of the doctor’s office numb, confused at what had just taken place. In one hand I carried a piece of paper to give to the pharmacist. In the other hand I held a card with the name of my first therapist. Fifteen minutes ago I had this picture of dying from a brain tumor with grace and dignity, now, I had to continue to live in my messy life battling some unknown force named depression.

Mike, from the Unhappy Happiness blog, talks about a recent depressive episode and how structure can help him retain (and regain) stability:

Up until that point I thought I had everything under control–that is, I had developed a set of routines that I thought were impenetrable. However, I went from only going to school online and being subject to few real social situations to having a full-time job and an internship. It was too much. They broke down my structures so much I couldn’t recover. And so I gave up.

I let myself be taken by chaos. I let myself fall further and further down. Granted, I started planning for suicide, which ironically in itself brought structure. But for the most part, I let all structure go.

I am learning that there is a balance between structure and chaos; it’s not an either/or situation. There will always be hope and despair in my life, sometimes at the same time–and I’m learning that that’s okay.

Lis, writing at Seesaws and Roundabouts, has found that recovery is a double-edged sword (something I remember writing about a long time ago too):

I’ve been ill for more than ten years, this is part of me now. It’s who I am. My illness, by it’s nature, gives me moments of sheer bliss and moments of total sorrow. It’s easy to forget the despair when I feel amazing, it’s easy to dismiss it when driven with manic energy. I can live life at times so full of hope and expectation. It feels like a gift. That’s why there are times when I am well and yet I’ll be craving an episode, a relapse into mania. I want the thrill, the joy, the hope it gives for something better than just mere life.

…[W]hy would I say recovery causes me despair? Well, as I said, this is now part of me. It’s shaped me. It’s who I am, or at least so strongly tangled with who I am I don’t know how to separate the two. What if I lose part of myself?

Despair is then discovering I’m not naturally confident or articulate. I’m quiet and shy. Despair is losing so called friends as you’re not the person you had appeared to be. Monotony. Routine. Feeling tired. Trying to pick up all the broken pieces of your life and rebuild. That one is the hardest. Starting life from the beginning, picking up on life before sickness, being so far behind.

Steve has a harrowing post on his journal, Is There a Future?, about the day he fled in despair from a psychiatric ward:

Police baton hits windscreen hard. Hands up. Feet off pedals. People screaming at me. Engine off. Keys in passenger footwell. Reaching for door. Bang of baton on side window, hands around head. Baton through window. Baton hits my head hard. Other window goes in. Glass flying. Door open. Not resisting. Punched twice in face. Being pulled hard by arm. Seatbelt gets done. On floor. On glass. Cuffed. Police screaming at me. Still not resisting. Pulled onto feet. See damage done to car. Absolute pit of despair opens like a trapdoor.

I don’t know how hard that is to read but even after all this time it’s so very very painful to think about. I can’t help but cry as I remember it.

But where’s the hope?

A shred of hope was given that day when a different doctor changed my meds off SSRIs to something totally different. Which got me out of hospital. Which got me back from the abyss.

I despair that I didn’t die every time I remember that time. I just… it… I was ripped apart over several months from that day on.

I hope that others won’t have to go through any of what I went through. From the bad care to the lies of the police. The hell of bad meds choices. Everything.

I despair because I know that’s exactly what will happen.

La-reve, over at My Head Noise, poignantly discusses the relevance of today’s theme in her life:

So I guess all I can do is define what it means. Despair for me is the crash that follows the euphoria. It could be Digging lithium and paracetamol out of the ash in your car’s ash tray where you had to stash them momentarily as someone walked by and still chewing them longingly along with the soot.. Despair is standing with a ready tied noose looking into icy waters, at 3am. Despair is sitting in a crowded AnE department with a security guard within arms reach because you pose that high a risk. despair is being locked away in a cold 6 foot square box for 11 hours while people outside organise one of the 12 mental health act assesments you have had in just a couple of years. But despair really is realising you are treading that final line that your death is inevitable, having your consultant a specialist in your mood disorder, agree with you, hearing him say ‘when you die’ not ‘if you die’. Despair is knowing there is no cure nor may there ever be.

And yet here I am and things did get better. I wont say that things don’t get bad, I recently had another 8 related slip, but I don’t recall any moments of True despair in the last couple of months. I may not always feel so good, but I know there is another path, that with careful monitoring, some meds etc, I can live my life, I can have a family, see my boy grow and hopefully one day soonish I will be back in full time work. Now that is hope- a shy and cautious one but hope none the less and yes it is scary but nothing ventured nothing gained, and there is another world, beyond mental illness, blogging, appointments etc.. and I have lingered too long on its sidelines I want to get back in the game, and live my life as me, not a diagnosis thats all I want from hope, thats enough.

One of a number of people in the Madosphere who is both a patient and professional, Lothlorien addresses this week’s big mental health news story: Marsha Linehan, the creator of (my favourite! ;)) therapy DBT, suffered from borderline personality disorder herself:

I have spoken to my own therapist about my becoming a therapist and the fact that I would be a therapist who has had DID. I worry about people finding out. What would they think? Would they think I was less competent? My therapist views me as MORE competent, and she says I have so much to offer, not only to clients but to clinicians as well.

The article talks about how Marsha Linehan felt incredibly suicidal and engaged in various forms of self-injury for which she still carries the scars.

My favorite part of the article, which I can identify the most with and is exactly why I am persuing my MSW in Clinical Social Work is below:

….referring to her suffering, suicidality, and cycling hospitalizations which yeilded not much help for her, she says, “I was in hell, and I made a vow: when I get out, I’m going to come back and get others out of here.” (Marsha Linehan)

And she did exactly that. 🙂

What an amazing story.

Regular readers will of course know that I am not Marsha Linehan’s biggest fan, because of my lack of tolerance for DBT. However, the article in question did inspire in me a newfound respect for Linehan; just because I don’t like DBT doesn’t mean that it doesn’t work for others, and in any case – Linehan used her own experiences to help others struggling as she did. So I’m with Lothlorien on this 🙂

Lothlorian also submitted a revealing and fascinating series for this Carnival entitled Welcome to the World of Inpatient Care. It begins here.

Writing at trichquestions, the author shows us how important writing poetry is to her, and how she is hopeful that, through therapy, some of her muse will return:

The last time I went to see my therapist, I was talking about how I’ve stopped writing poetry, and how much I miss it. I’ve been climbing walls with how much I miss it, actually. It’s not that I’ve run out of ideas or gotten bored. It’s just nothing’s coming out with the same energy it used to. Most days I feel like I’ve got nothing to say (or nothing worth saying, anyway), and when I write anything down it sounds contrived and dull. I’m reading absolutely loads of it still, and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get rid of it completely. But something vital is missing at the moment and I have no idea what. It’s been over a year since I finished a poem, and about that long since I wanted to.

She [the therapist] mentioned last time I saw her that I may have been relating to myself back when I wrote the last poems in a way that I won’t be able to do now. I’ve moved on since then, in many respects things have gotten better, although more confusing in equal measure. I’m not the same person, so trying to get back something that I believe has been lost might not be the best way to go about this. It’s true that I have little idea how to relate to myself at the moment. A lot of things have happened very fast recently and I’m still struggling a lot. So trying to recreate a time that is essentially past is not going to bring back my work. The trouble is… I don’t know what will.

I’m going to keep talking about my writing in therapy, and I’m going to keep continuing to feel hopeful that it’ll come back. There’s just large amounts of frustration and despair in the meantime while I work on this. One thing I had an idea of more recently was that I do need to allow myself some space and time to write every day, even if it’s just for half an hour. I gave up on doing that when I thought nothing was coming of it, but I’m starting to see how important it is to allow yourself that space.

CBTish reports to the Carnival via his blog that he has encountered some cockroaches – and they’re not all very NICE:

NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) is consulting on a draft guideline on Improving the experience of care for people using adult NHS mental health services. Much of the guideline is based on other guidelines for specific conditions. The consultation is not public even though the documents are — only registered stakeholders can submit comments.

There is little or no mention of discharge from the system altogether. Even the small section on discharge from community care (10.3) emphasizes continuing support and the availability of top-up appointments and re-referral.

It’s as if the entire mental health system has become an asylum in the community, a grim institution that no one ever really leaves, with the hospital ward taking on the role of padded cell for those patients who become too troublesome. This ties in with the widespread belief, a false belief, that mental illness indicates a fundamental weakness in you as a person from which you will never recover, and that the best you can ever hope for is life-long struggle in the care of others.

Lest anyone despair at the bureaucratic numbskullery of the NHS, it should be said that this NICE consultation is hopefully one of the last to get away with a tick-box approach that sidesteps the question of whether people are actually getting better.

Although it may take years to arrive, hopeful new thinking is on the way — the thinking that the outcomes people experience are more important than the NHS’s internal procedures. NICE might have to change or be abolished to make way for the new thinking, but whatever it takes there is at last hope.

a_wry writes on her blog about the “glasses” she needed for an “astigmatism” she didn’t even believe she had:

I’ve been having “headaches” for a long, long time, and haven’t been able to “see” things nearly as well as most people I know.

My family doesn’t believe in “astigmatism”, and so I didn’t either, really, for many years. (I mean, sure, I bought that it happened to other folks, but my own life hadn’t been hard enough to give me cataracts. Yet. Right?) All of us squint constantly, for what it’s worth.

In the meantime, I tried doing eye-exercises religiously. I did all sorts of complicated things with the contrast and text-size settings on my computer at work. I switched to a diet high in vitamin A, and gave up reading in situations with less than ideal lighting. I wore polarized sunglasses, hypoallergenic mascara, and I did my damnedest to get enough sleep.

But the headaches and the encroaching blindness just got worse.

And then someone jammed a toothpick through one of my eyes, and I finally felt justified in going to the doctor.

I am equal parts hopeful that these glasses that so many people sing the praises of will help me, too, and fearful that the doctor will look at my eyes and say, “Your problem is that you just don’t do enough eye exercises.”

Yeah, I know that feeling 😦 I really loved this analogy, though.

BtF from Behind the Facade looks at the issue of raising suicide prevention awareness using the media:

Breaking down the barriers and creating change is hard. But it can be done, and it has been done in the past. As said by John Brogden, “Forty years ago I’m sure that people would have been aghast if you suggested that we should suggest to women to get their breasts tested. How could you use that word in public? Now cricketers play cricket in pink once a year or whatever it is to promote that you know – how could you talk to men about testicular cancer or prostate cancer – oh my god – we are big enough and smart enough to deal with this now rather than find excuses and I don’t want us to find excuses to telling people who feel this way – there is a way to deal with it. That’s the message.”

The closing message I’d like to quote was also made by John Brogden. “One thing I want to make sure that people watching this show understand and I don’t think there is a person here who would disagree with one message from tonight… it’s that you’re better off talking about suicide than not.. I’ve met parents who say I wouldn’t know how to talk to my kid…. You’re better to talk about it than not talk about it as that will open them up… you’re not going to put the idea in their head and that’s a great worry that too many people have and I’d like to think that people will turn off the TV after this and think about talking to friends and family and this very important issue.” I couldn’t agree more. The time is now to talk about suicide.

I couldn’t agree more either. Perfectly put.

Over at the blog My Crazy Bipolar Life, the author is also writing about suicide, but has an interesting take on the subject (and, indeed, the Carnival’s theme): does the perfect suicide note exist, she asks?

I have tried visualizing how I would feel if it was I who was reading a suicide note of someone I loved and it was through this that I realized that no matter what they wrote it wouldn’t make me feel any better about their death. I think it would be impossible to leave a nice suicide note because no matter how you choose to write it, the recipient is going to be just heart broken. If it were me sitting reading a suicide note from a family member my head would be spinning at a hundred miles an hour. I would have so many questions – why couldn’t they talk to me? did they try and get any help? if they did why did no one help them? why couldn’t they see that this mood would pass and wasn’t permanent? why did I not know something was wrong when I last saw them?

Then that brings the reader to the next point. When did I last see the person? They seemed OK. I’m sure they seemed OK. They weren’t overly happy but joined in with conversation here and there. They stayed a decent amount of time and didn’t seem uncomfortable. Why the fuck have they done this to their self? Confusion. Anger. Heart broken again. Maybe they would even blame themselves. How could I let my Mum or Dad ever think they didn’t do enough or could have done more?

The answer is I can’t. I can’t write the perfect suicide note. I can’t even write a nice one no matter how many times I tell them I love them in it. And ‘I’m sorry’ just seems so trivial, it almost seems rude that I didn’t give an explanation.

…[I]f I can’t write the perfect suicide note, then what hope is there for me having the perfect suicide?

Hopefully (from my point of view) none! Your life is worth an awful lot, you know 🙂

Finally, some odd woman called Pandora, writing at Confessions of a Serial Insomniac, has been driving on the wrong side of the road:

Remember how I was in February? I was such a mess, so enthralled with the idea of ending my life, that NewVCB considered putting me in the day bin…My point is, I was in no fit state to do anything. Lifting my head off the pillow was a genuine and concerted effort; getting downstairs was a fucking good achievement.

I wouldn’t even have been able to go on holiday in the first place, never mind committing to driving in a strange land, in a fashion diametrically opposed to that to which I am used.

And if I had got to that point, I’d have had a complete, full-blown panic attack at the first sign of trouble with the car. Having the various mishaps we did have would have probably sent me jumping into the nearby quarry. Having been told that I’d marked the vehicle and was liable to pay for it would have seen me collapse in the street, begging the bloke to forgive me for my (non-existent) carelessness.

I wouldn’t have dared speak anything other than the occasional “hola” or “gracías” in Spanish, and even that would have been delivered with a head-bowed meekness.

Instead, I behaved methodically, calmly and generally confidently throughout.

So I’ll continue to hope – hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and take what comes.

And that’s all folks!

(I don’t think I’ve forgotten anyone, but I ended up with far more submissions than I expected, so if I have omitted your entry, leave a comment here and I’ll add it straight-away. Please accept my apologies if this is the case!).

The next Blog Carnival of Mental Health will be hosted by Behind the Facade, and the theme will be stigma and discrimination. If you are interested in hosting a Carnival on your own blog, please contact Astrid van Woerkom, who is the facilitator of the project. I believe that she has monthly slots available from August onwards.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed reading the blogs here! Toodle-oo 🙂

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