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 ūüôā 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 ūüôā 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.

Thank Christ(ine) for Christine

A lot happened this week, but I have neither the time nor inclination to discuss it in detail. Perhaps next week. In summary: I saw Paul on Tuesday for our first ‘proper’ therapy session of the new stint. A bit of a weird dynamic was present – I babbled relentlessly, flitting from one random tangent to another rather than discussing anything remotely meaningful. Not that he agreed, of course; he opined, as he always does, that anything that runs through my mind (aside, perhaps, from “oh, look, the sun’s out” – though could that be read as an example of avoidance?) is worthy of raising in the therapeutic setting, and can give insights into my psyche. That said, he did admit at the end of the appointment that things had been a bit up in the air (I forget his specific terminology), and said we’d get down to some proper work next week. I await it with interest – but not at all without trepidation.

Last weekend I decided I was going to turn a corner of the kitchen into an office. I don’t think I can do much about it right now, but I think if I have a future, then I ought to have something to aim for – and I’ve decided that this will be professional writing. My dream: to register as a sole trader business, and make at least a part-time income from writing – and no longer have to claim at least some of my welfare benefits (I would like to think I could keep my Disability Living Allowance, on the grounds that the disability remains, but that in having my own workplace I don’t have to engage with general office tradition, which would exacerbate my illnesses). I know I’m capable of professional writing now – or, at least, I know other people think I’m capable, and that matters much more in this arena than my own self-assessments – and I’m building a few contacts. For now, that is all it is – a dream. A few commissions here or there doesn’t really mean much, but I’ve narcissistically (why is that not a word, spellcheck? Incidentally, why is spellcheck not a word when it’s the precise term WordPress uses to refer to this utility?) got it into my head now that I can achieve this if I don’t do myself in any time soon. When I mentioned the proposed office to A, he suggested that instead of setting it up in the kitchen, I actually reconvert our former study – lately, since the advent of The Everythinger, nothing more than a place for dumping stuff we can’t be bothered to sort out.

It seemed more palatable than the kitchen, admittedly: for one, it’s fucking cold in the kitchen no matter how long the heat stays on. Secondly, as I am not wont to be in the former study much, with a bit of re-configuration, it will feel more like an office than part of this house. Currently I do all my work sitting on the sofa with the laptop on my knee – but I do all my fucking about in this fashion too, and ergo it is difficult to associate the environment with work specifically. The study in many ways resembles – or will resemble, when I have it sorted – my office in my last job: small, but with everything necessary to get on with the task at hand. As such, I feel that I can ‘trick’ my brain into thinking that the proposed office will actually be a workspace, rather than a mere spare room.

We ordered a new desk, which arrived on Wednesday. I sat down to it last night and, aside from a few side panels that A had fitted, built the entire thing from scratch. It is (optionally) an ‘L’ shape, and has ample surface area, meaning that aside from the PC and laptop, I’ll have plenty of room to write by hand, consult the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, or study the professional writing course materials I bought several years ago.

All of that, particularly my suggestion about setting my writing projects up as a business, is a long way off – because right now I’m not a professional writer, but a professional mental. I even get paid for it! Though for how much longer?

As you may have gathered from the last couple of posts, things are dreadful. It’s at the point now where people are noticing: when I can no longer maintain a fa√ßade, then I know things are bad. My mother has even realised that the excrement has been liberally sprayed in the general direction of the thermantidote, and that is a tremendously dangerous sign, since I have always attempted to muster every last atom of energy my mind and body possess into convincing her that everything is fine (the reason being that she shouldn’t have to worry about me all the time).

As if things were not bad enough, therefore, when I got up yesterday morning and found an ESA50* form waiting for me, I thought I was literally going to have a heart attack – I hyperventilated so fucking much that I could see no way that my heart could continue to pump blood around my not-insubstantial body.

My ma immediately said, “we’ll take it to the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.” Reasonable advice, to be sure, but she’d missed the point; the point was that, re-fucking-gardless of how competent the CAB may have been in the completion of the bloody thing, I would almost certainly still have to attend a medical examination with the fuckwitted social security agency. I know I’ve written in passing about one of my previous exposures to this immense trauma…where?…ah yes, here it is. (*This post also explains a bit about ESA ((which stands for Employment and Support Allowance)) to those of you outside the UK. Basically, it’s a disability/illness benefit – but it has two components that complicate it, which the aforelinked posts discusses). After that experience – and even regardless of it – I genuinely don’t think that I can go through another assessment of this ilk (or of any, come to that). Not any time soon; pipedreams or not, I’m still really ill. I told my mother that if I had to go through such an encounter, that I would end my life.

Fortuitously, I had an appointment with Christine in the early afternoon. Since the hospital in which I see her is close to the CAB, I took the form with me. I went in, sat down, when asked reported that since our last encounter everything was still appalling, uncopably (new word) terrible, and that “the icing on the fucking cake” had just arrived, at which point I pulled the ESA50 out of my handbag.

She shook her head in frustration – “everyone’s getting those bloody things!” – and I repeated my promise that if I was called to a medical I would commit suicide.

Christine said, “I’ll complete it for you. At least that will be a weight off your mind.”

“That would be brilliant, thank you,” I replied, “but won’t they still send for me anyway?”

She told me that she is getting the impression that the Social Securitcunts have been sending out the forms to weed out the few “scroungers” that exist in the system, and also to catch out those with a mild to moderate illness, who they (quite possibly erroneously) perceive as being able to work. She exemplified by telling me about a patient of her’s that has mild, borderline moderate, depression. “She’s been found fit for work,” Christine explained, “but honestly, Pandora, there are things she could do. Not everyone’s in that boat, and in fact most of my patients haven’t even been called to a medical, and these forms have been arriving through their letterboxes since the start of January.”

“Are you saying that you think I won’t have to go to an examination?” I checked.

“I’d make an educated guess that when I’ve finished with this” – she nodded with contempt at the form – “it’s highly unlikely.”

She smiled conspiratorially at me, but I pressed on with my concerns. She wasn’t saying definitively that I’d not have to go to the fucking thing, after all.

Eventually she said, when I had finished yet another monologue of social security-driven angsty misery, that if they did call me to an examination, that she and NewVCB would write to the bastards advising them that I would be unable to attend, as to do so would be “severely and dangerously detrimental to my mental health.”

I stared at my CPN in something akin to wonder. “Really?” I murmured in a small voice laden with disbelief.

“Yes,” she said definitely. “So don’t worry. I’ll deal with this, send it off to them, give you a photocopy at our next appointment – and if an ‘invitation’ letter turns up at your door, contact me, and we’ll make it go away.”

“Thank you,” I almost-sobbed. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

Christine dismissed my gratitude – not in an unappreciative way, just in the sense that she was happy to provide the service and information that she had – as part of her job. Then she said, “you’ll be horrified when you read what I’ve written. Try not to be. They need to hear the very worst aspects of your illness; yeah, some people could accuse me of extending the truth, but I don’t think that’s the case. The case is that all of what I am going to write has happened and even though you’re taking measures to control these things, the unfortunate truth is that they also have the potential to happen again…possibly at any point.”

“Why would I be ‘horrified’ that you accurately explained the most severe symptoms of my illnesses?”

She sighed. “The voices tried to get you to kill yourself. They tried to get you to kill your baby cousin. Cameras follow you wherever you go and GCHQ are obsessed by you. You’re endlessly suspicious of people, and are cripplingly anxious when you’re forced to be in any proximity to them. Some days you can’t get out of bed due to overwhelming depression. You have, at times, to be watched to make sure you don’t harm yourself. There will be occasions on which people have to remind you to take your tablets – or even make you do so.”

She paused, flicking through the form, then added that one of the key parts of the mental health section of the ESA50 was about interaction with other human beings. “Given the aforementioned symptoms, that’s not…er…well, it wouldn’t really work for you, would it?” Ah, the sweet scent of diplomacy.

We talked about other stuff. Paul. Writing. Mum’s cancer scare. Rhona’s operation (with which there were no complications but lots of pain followed by a hook-up to morphine, which was removed five days after the procedure and even then caused quite significant withdrawal symptoms). An increase in Lamictal to help me with this current vault of depression (she’s going to discuss this with NewVCB on Monday). The exact nature of how low I felt, not that I could quantify it in words. I was acutely aware that I was acting very differently around her from my norm; regardless of how I’m feeling, I usually witter on and on and on, engaging with her non-verbally too – often it belies the reality of my mental (ill) health, but it seems to come naturally around her anyway. This was completely different. I steadfastly avoided eye contact, one of their favourite observations, and apart from issues surrounding the ESA50, I didn’t speak much at all. In fact, to my abject horror and disgust, at one point I believed I looked like I was close to tears. I didn’t cry, thank fuck – I can’t imagine the shame that would have been wedded to that – but I suspect that Christine thought I was on the verge of it.

Anyway, she was brilliant. My current episode continues, and no doubt will not abate for quite a while – either more Lamictal will help, or the vileness of the low will end itself in some sort of cyclical fashion, or I’ll off myself before any improvement manifests. But for now, what would have been one of the most serious stressors this year – as if there have not been enough already – has been removed from my responsibility. I didn’t thank her enough, because I can’t thank her enough.

The only downside to her brilliance is that it makes me even more sad and distressed that thanks to non-sensical bureaucratic bullshit I may well lose her. Good mental health professionals like her, ones that actually seem to care about you, are sadly uncommon ūüė¶

I’m in a rush so haven’t proof-read this, for which my apologies are due to you. Please forgive the probable multitude of errors of grammar, punctuation and spelling in the foregoing. Thanks x

Perspectives from the Mentalist's Partner (5): Thwarting the Downward Spiral

I should preface the following by noting that this post has not been written by Pandora. Rather it is a guest post by her partner, known to regular readers of this blog as A. The views expressed, needless to say, are not necessarily those that are held by the Serial Insomniac herself. Now, with that disclaimer out of the way, I’ll proceed.

Over recent months, I have sometimes found myself wondering to what extent worklessness, quite independently of Pandora’s mental health issues, breeds the kind of motivational collapse that this blog so often and so effectively chronicles. The question seems particularly apt with the Coalition government taking forward very significant changes to disability support and out of work benefits.

Let’s get something straight from the outset; in raising this question, I’m not for one moment suggesting that Pan is in any position to work at the moment or that she isn’t deserving of the support that she currently receives. What I am asking is this: is being away from work for such a long time a contributor to the difficulties that now stand in the way of Pan resuming a ‘normal’ life? (Cue all the usual reservations about the word ‘normal’.)

In speculating on the life-deadening impact of worklessness I speak to an extent from personal experience, albeit not a long stint of same. When I completed my university education some years ago, I naturally went job hunting. I didn’t think I’d get anything quickly, and in the interim determined to enjoy myself, drink in (sometimes literally) the freedom that being away from full time study could bring. Without a care in the world, I could begin on any number of projects I’d always thought I’d like to do – writing some short stories, composing music, improving my guitar technique, learning to program a computer in a much less amateurish manner, honing my understanding of the world and its most important issues through wider reading. Sounded good. And yet I’d been warned that prolonged exposure to the dole could be psychologically debilitating. A friend of mine, a long term doleite, told of the fact that he had come to the stage where he couldn’t even be bothered getting up or having a shower on many occasions. I dismissed such thoughts; that was him, I was me. Nothing like that would happen to me.

Well, for my first four or so weeks of freedom, I was right. I had a whale of a time. No commitments. No pressures. I could go out when I wanted. I could stay up as late as I wanted for some deeply interesting all night philosophical conversations. I could catch up on series upon series of the good TV shows I’d missed, read good books, experiment with writing, compose bits and pieces on the computer, and so on. I could pursue what I wanted to pursue, all the while job hunting, attending a few interviews – not having much success – but oh well, time would sort that out, wouldn’t it?

Week five brought a niggling feeling that things were starting to veer off course. I’m obviously an impatient person, because by the time I’d reached this stage, the boredom had subtly, insidiously started to set in – and with it, the transformation of my motivation into molasses. That morning shower? Bah! Showers were for losers! [Pan – yes, they are. I’m actually scared of them, and since I am soooo awesome, anyone who thinks that showers are cool is wrong. Matter closed]. It could wait. Going to the shop to get milk? Black coffee would do just fine. Tomorrow, maybe. Getting up? Well, surely past midday was perfectly respectable. Maybe I could even practise some lucid dreaming! In short, postponement and procrastination gradually became the order of service, and with this development, the ebbing of creativity marched dolefully in step. Days blended into other days. Weekends were the same as weekdays. Friday afternoons weren’t the great escape they once had been. Time to do stuff was, well, just more time. And I had plenty of that, so why rush?

By weeks six and seven, my brain was beginning to atrophy. By week eight, I was finding it an achievement to force myself to take a daily walk into town – I’d even set this as a bloody goal, so pathetic was my motivation by this stage. That was the height of my ‘achievement’.

Luckily for me, I’ve always been driven by some sort of guilt trip which prevents me from giving up entirely – so far, at least. I continued the job hunting, somehow, and eventually secured a position.

But enough about me. The point I am trying to make is that worklessness – or so it seems to me – creates its own challenges which are generated separately from, or at least contribute in a separate way to, the challenges brought about by what I will call, for want of a less generic description, clinical depression.

I’ve now had this conversation with Pandora on a number of occasions. What part of her is unable to get out and about, to find motivation, to look for work, etc, as a result of her condition? And what part of all that is the result of being in the situation she has been in – without work, without what one might call external responsibilities – for around three years?

This thought process of mine should not be interpreted as a suggestion, as some would have it, that people struggling on benefits are necessarily work-shy and simply need a good kick up the backside. Do such people exist? Certainly. Are they typical? I doubt it. The long term unemployed who have lost hope need help back to work – a carrot and a stick, probably – but at the same time there are plenty of mentalists who, for various reasons, are unable to work, who want to work but are simply not currently in a place where they can do so at this moment. Let me put it like this: would you want your colleague having paranoid delusions, or bursting into tears/storming out of the office or off the building site because they can’t cope with what might seem an ordinary task? I have an acquaintance who sees conspiracies everywhere and who is working. Or was. Until he was fired. For threatening colleagues. On more than one occasion. Even after formal warnings. Because he erroneously thought that people were engaged in a conspiracy against him. He needed help. He ultimately couldn’t stay in work. He needs help now to get him back to a place where he can resume work. (That he fails to acknowledge this [I’d say ‘doesn’t realise he needs it’] does not negate the fact that he needs it.) I’m sure about this: a person like him should be nowhere near a workplace until he has had an opportunity to deal with – and be helped to deal with – whatever conditions afflict him.

I’m somewhat worried that the proposed changes to the system will fail to recognise cases like this; the medical assessors, as I understand it, won’t be specialists in the field they are assessing. Does that make sense? Not to me.

To return to Pandora’s case, and I can’t and won’t generalise about others, I still wonder how much her chances to get back to a ‘normal’ existence are constrained not alone by mentalism but also by having become stuck in a rut – through no fault of her own – for so long. Adjusting again to the concept of work, after the passage of a long time sitting in the house, will almost certainly be very difficult. It would be difficult for most people, I’d venture. For me, definitely.

So what’s the point of this post?

I’m not sure, really. I suppose I want to reassure myself, and Pandora, that a return to work will be possible, but I need to acknowledge that, independently of mentalism, it will be a gradual process, perhaps starting with some very light voluntary commitments and working its way up to some part-time, low pressure role. Eventually, of course, the objective will be a return to a full-time and, ideally, fulfilling career. You may have observed that Pandora is a smart cookie, and I think she’ll do very well for herself as a professional, provided she is able to reach a sound level of stability and find something that she really doesn’t mind (or, dare I say, enjoys) doing [which is all I’ve ever really wanted out of life].

I don’t have the answers, but would certainly be interested in the views of others on the ‘worklessness breeds worklessness’ theory.

You can follow A on Twitter at @TheNyarlathotep.

Apropos of Nothing

Writing is a lonely profession (if indeed it can ever be turned into a ‘profession’). But that loneliness is somehow comforting in its own paced-ness, in its ability to protect one from the perils of the outside (some would say ‘real’) world. The pursuit, whilst thoroughly without guarantees and assurances, is still a safe one – published or not, you still have the pleasure of composition, and of knowing, eventually, that you have completed something that at least has potential, if to no one else but to you.

What this amounts to is this. I’m writing a book. I’m not wont to discuss it in detail on a public forum like this blog, but it is going to be mental health related. Many of you have inexplicably but kindly asked me if I would turn this very blog into a book, but that isn’t my plan at this stage, for two key reasons. One is the simple fact that the intended book’s concept is already very clear in my mind, and I don’t want to deviate from that while it’s so vivid. The second is that going through everything written here – post by post, word by almost-endless word – is one hell of a task to take on, especially when my mental health is still relatively fragile. I’d like to maybe do it some day, but not now. Sorry ūüė¶

Also, you see, in doing all the factual writing of late that I have – here, and in other arenas – I realised that I hadn’t done any creative¬†writing since…fuck, I don’t know. Since I was at school? Maybe even since my GCSEs? That’s a horrible realisation, to know that I’ve neglected a passion of mine for such a disgustingly long period. I used to love writing fiction, and I’ve only recently realised that I miss it.

So, The Book will be a fictional narrative. Whether it’ll turn out to be a novel, a novella or a short (as if!) story, I don’t yet know, but I don’t really mind whatever the case may be. I also don’t really care if anyone is willing to publish it or not; I mean, it would be lovely if someone did, that much is self-evident – but I’m doing primarily for my own pleasure. I had genuinely forgotten what escapism and what joy comes from such a simple pass time, and I’m revelling in it at the minute.

So I haven’t written much here this week, since the idea for The Book came to me. It isn’t just¬†The Book that is keeping me away, though the other factors are still within the literary realm – I’ve been reading voraciously, planning a few pieces of non-fictional writing, and even the odd non-writing bit of so-called creativity too.

I just thought I should post something, drivelsome and dull as this is, to show you that I’m still alive, and that I’m doing relatively well. Since I cut back on the Seroquel, I haven’t been sleeping well (unsurprisingly) and have had to resort to take Zopiclone on many nights. The new neighbours and their screamer are not assisting in my quest for slumber (they keep the strangest hours, especially for a family, that I’ve ever encountered. They arrive home, child in tow, about 11.30pm, then proceed to talk half the night on the phone, child still in tow. What the fuck?). However, beyond that, I’m OK. Things aren’t amazing, and I might be slightly depressed – but I’m managing, and given everything that’s happened over the last three years, at the moment I really think that that’s good enough.

And it is¬†three years. It’s just over three years now since I left my own little office for the last time. I noted above that writing is lonely, and it is. But having your own office,¬†glamorous¬†as it may sound, is¬†lonely¬†too, yet it doesn’t have any of the advantages that working from a laptop on your own sofa does. Nonetheless, I miss it in some ways: at least the people who worked in the offices bordering mine were, generally, good people, and were I feeling a bit lost, I could normally wander in next door and have a quick chat with them, before returning to my own quiet domain. I can’t do that when I’m sitting here typing all day.

To that end, as well as writing The Book, I’m applying for a voluntary job. I think I might have mentioned this before, but I’m finally going to do it, and whilst I’m extremely nervous, I’m also quite excited about its potential as well. I haven’t put in the application yet, but I plan to this week…and then we’ll see. At present, I’m only going to offer the organisation a few hours a week, but for the type of position I’m hoping to get, I suspect that for the moment that’s more than adequate. If not, and if it works out, and if I even get it¬†for that matter, I might be willing to increase the hours a little bit further down the line.

I don’t know why any of you like this blog, but since some apparently do (thank you!), please be assured that none of this means I’m winding it down or anything. I’m trying to plan the final posts on Paul, and a few other bits and pieces, so you can’t get rid of me that easily ūüôā I just won’t promise that I’ll post once a week or more, as I usually try to do. We’ll see how it goes. But Confessions¬†will remain, so worry not ūüôā This is very far from ‘goodbye’; it’s simply a boring “here’s where I’m at right now” update.

What else? The Everythinger is gone (YAY!), I’m seeing Christine on Monday, NewVCB at the start of September, and I’m probably going to re-contact Nexus some time next month to re-embark on therapy. Part of me dreads that for what I assume are obvious reasons, but mostly I feel reassured and hopeful about the potential of it, given how useful my last course with Paul was. I’m back into something of a routine now that both Aunt of Evil and The Everythinger are gone, A seems a little less stressed at work than he had been, and I’m relieved that both Daniel and CVM are both alive and well and that the stupid riots in England appear to be over.

And that’s about it really. That’s what’s been happening in Pan’s world of late. I hope your existence has been more interesting but at least equally stable, and that you’re all well and happy ūüôā

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Silence is Dolescum – Paul: Weeks 19 & 20

Week 19

I have lost every last word of my notes on week 19. Fuck! This has caused me considerable frustration, but it could be worse. I do remember the session as being a rather frustrating one – it was characterised by a lot of silence and little discussion. If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may remember that this happened a lot when I was seeing my previous psychologist, C, and it used to do my head in. In my interactions with Paul, it had not seemed anywhere near as common – but in fairness, I suppose it’s inevitable from time to time.

Paul doesn’t think that this economy of verbal expression is necessarily a bad thing. I know that when I vituperated against myself for same in this session, and the following one (below), he defended me. From a psychodynamic perspective, which I suppose this therapy broadly speaking is, there is, he holds, a lot to be drawn from sitting quietly, just experiencing whatever one is experiencing.

It doesn’t make for a particularly fascinating blog post, however, and even if it did, devoid of my notes and with five sessions in between now and then, there’s little I can remember specific to that day anyway. So I bring you, instead…

Week 20

He opened the appointment by asking me to fill in one of those wanky questionnaires that therapists routinely present to clients – you know, scales of depression, anxiety, that sort of bollocks. Apparently he’s meant to do them every six weeks, but the last time he’d done one with me was either in our assessment session or in the first week or two of actual therapy. He says that their main function, unsurprisingly, is for Nexus’ statistics; it keeps the funders happy, but Paul himself thinks it is “a load of old toss forced on [him] by [his] manager”.

This exercise completed, he asked me if it had been “intrusive”. I responded by stating that no, it had been nothing of the sort – but I did wonder, “why now?”

“I’m quite conscious of the fact that when I first approached this organisation, I was advised that I would have therapy of about 26 weeks,” I told him. “This being week 20, y’know…”

“Yes,” he nodded, resignedly. “This is about the time that I start thinking about this with clients.”

He asked me how I felt we were getting on when measured against the reasons that had brought me to Nexus in the first place. What were those reasons?

I hate it when therapists ask this kind of question. Surely the answer, simplistic and uncomplicated as it is, is to feel better. I said so to him.

“And are you?” he asked me.

I shrugged, which was perhaps not an entirely appropriate response, and gave him my usual spiel about not believing in cures, etc etc. I added, though, that I believed that things could improve; life will never be easy, and what happened will always have happened, but perhaps it can be made a little more ‘in the past’.

He agreed, but did note that much more could be achieved if we had longer than 26 weeks in which to achieve it. Ideally, he stated, we’d work together for two or three years.

“But we do have to stop after those 26 weeks,” Paul sighed. To my own surprise, I felt great sadness as I let this statement sink in. It was partly about the relationship that’s been established, but it was more about regret that the progress being made would now be struck down. As things stand I don’t think there will be a regression [at the time of publication, the therapy has ended, and there’s no regression yet], but there could be a lot more moving forward if the opportunities were there.

But wait! Perhaps there could be some opportunity?

“You can always come back,” he said casually.

I felt my brows furrow. “Can I?”

“Yeah. You’ll have to wait a few months between leaving and returning, and you’ll have to go through another assessment and all that shite, but then I’ll just pick it up again anyway.”

Splendifourous! In the weeks that have passed since this appointment, my current relationship with Paul has been and gone, but I confirmed with him several times that I wanted to come back, and he himself confirmed that he would be happy to work with me again. So, in a way, it’s a win. I get a break for a few months, then get to pick up largely where I left off.

I used the ensuing pause to consider how things had changed in the time since I first met him. One key issue is that I mostly know now that everything I’ve said about Paedo is true. I mean, I always knew that some of it was, but as well you know, o my little brothers (and sisters), I doubted myself on many of my memories, despite their vividness, despite their striking detail. This is no longer true, and I really think Paul has helped to guide me to this position. His faith in me, his explorations of my child self (Aurora, whatever) have been strong and in-depth, and that has in turn given me the strength to face the truth and stop running away from it with allegations of False Memory Syndrome and similar wank.

Another issue was that my self-harm had “improved”. Writing this now, reading the word “improved”, kind of makes me laugh at myself. I haven’t self-harmed in months, and it reminds me just how far behind I am on writing about these sessions. I must still have been doing something self-injurious at the time, though I note with interest that I haven’t scribbled the specifics of that down on my nigh-illegible immediate-post-session ramblings. What I have noted is that I then stated to Paul that I still fail to see why self-harm is so inherently bad. Even though I’m not doing it right now, and don’t have any particular inclination to do so, I still largely agree with my stated take on this.

He said, “it’s not bad compared to what?”

I looked at him curiously. I hadn’t considered it to be somehow comparable to something else. Eventually, I shrugged and said, sincerely, “boredom.”

Then my intellectual mind kicked in, and realised what he was trying to get at. “Of course,” I continued, “that doesn’t work from a psychodynamic perspective, does it?”

Used to this kind of inappropriate interruption, Paul immediately returned with, “let me worry about that. What does boredom mean to you?”

I shrugged. “Self-harm is something to do. Blood is something to watch.”

“Isn’t it about feeling something?” he asked. “Don’t you see the repetitive nature of what you’re doing? Stabbing? Penetrating?”

Well, I do, yes. I also see the repetitive nature of this particular conversation with you, Paul, but let’s not get bogged down by pedantry, eh?

I was silent for what felt like forever. The fact that we’ve had this particular exchange so many times frustrated me, and I didn’t want to confess that to him, but at the same time, Aurora was faffing about in the back of my mind and I kept, internally, telling her to shut the fuck up. She wanted her say, as she often does. I didn’t (and don’t) want her to have it (as you might imagine Paul finds this particular issue to be unhealthy, but that’s a story to be told in more depth on another day).

But she kept on and on and on and on and fucking on, until I could bear listening to her no longer. So I tried to speak for her, but each time – for ages, over many attempts – the words stuck in my throat. So I instinctively resorted to a more standard version of communication, and berated myself (whilst beating myself and Aurora about the head) for my inability to verbally convey the matters in my mind.

I was biting my thumb, I remember, during the moments of silence that preceded and indeed followed this childish outburst. Acting out, anyone? Paul observed at one point that the transference emanating from me was “very childlike.” Funny that, when I’ve got this fucking infernal brat in my head trying her damndest to take over my body as well. You folks with DID and multiplicity of other descriptions – fair play to you for coping with that kind of thing all the time. Dealing with one alter on an occasional basis (at least, as far as I am aware it’s occasional) exhausts me entirely.

Eventually he said, in that time honoured fashion of psychotherapists the world over, “how do you feel?”

I made a non-committal facial gesture in response.

“You looked angry,” he prompted.

“Of course I’m angry,” I spat, the vitriol in my tone almost palpable. “I sit here and waste both my time and yours by being unable to open my stupid fucking mouth. What’s the point in that, Paul? Of course I’m angry. I’m angry with me [and, not that I said this aloud mind you, I was angry with her too].”

“OK,” he replied, “you mentioned psychodynamic work earlier. In psychodynamic work, silence can be useful. A lack of words can say an awful lot. You know that.”

What can it say?” I begged him, sounding pathetically desperate for answers.

“Usually I come to your rescue at about this point,” he said. I waited for him to follow this comment up with the rescue itself, but he didn’t.

After another infernal millennium of no speaking, I blurted out, in a laughable squeal of apparent anguish, “please help me here! I’m stuck!”

Eventually, he began to respond, carefully. “One of the hardest parts of my job,” he said, “is having to sit here not having answers, nor knowing what to say. I have to sit here and let my clients suffer at times. The reason is, they were damaged as children and need an adult to be with them who won’t tell them how to think, what to say, how to feel. Sometimes they just need to sit with the pain.”

Another pause.

“OK, but what do I do?” Reading this comment back has amused me somewhat. He had already said that he wasn’t going to prescribe my comments nor my words, and when he responded with a simple, “I dunno,” I shouldn’t have been surprised.

He added, a few minutes later, that perhaps there was some value in not knowing what to do.

“And how does that achieve anything?” I enquired witheringly, looking out the window behind me at the frustrating normality of life outside the therapy room.

“It enables us to have a comfortable, honest relationship.”

“Right, that’s good and everything, but how does it advance matters?”

“It allows a unique relationship. It’s different from your psychiatrist, wouldn’t you agree? Does she ever not know what to do? Does she allow you not to? It’s even different from your relationship with A [well, I’d like to bloody hope so, yes]. You have to, at least on occasion, live in the real world with him. You don’t in here.”

When I didn’t answer, he went on: “the disorganised part of you is allowed in here, yet it’s the part you fervently fight to keep out. What can that tell us?”

“Well, I’m obviously uncomfortable with that side of myself,” I conceded.

“Yes – but why in here specifically?” he pressed. “I think there’s enough trust between us [yes] that you know that you’re safe here, that you won’t be judged or hurt or whatever, but yet you push it away nonetheless. Is it that it’s not needed in here?”

“It’s very destructive,” I responded, avoiding the question posed. “Sometimes I want to kick and punch the living shit out of things…wait, I haven’t done that have I?” I cried, suddenly panicked. “I didn’t dissociate and kick the fuck out of that wall [the wall has some paint peeling off it in a curious fashion]?”

He shook his head whilst suppressing a wry smile. “What brings those times about?” he asked me.

“It’s just…it’s just so profoundly un-fucking-fair. And that makes me angry.” I cleared my throat. “But so what? Life’s not fair; shit happens.”

“I think you’re allowed a bit of leeway on that,” Paul responded. “Most people thankfully don’t have to go through what you’ve gone through. That’s more than mere ‘life’ – that’s having shit kicked in your face and then some.”

“But I’m not angry with him,” I whined. “The anger is there, it’s just…not pinned down to one specific person. I don’t like him, but I don’t wish him ill.”

“Why?” (Inevitable).

“I just don’t,” I said pathetically, looking intently at the non-descript carpet. “I just…don’t.”

More silence befell the meeting, but I uncharacteristically broke it without it going on for 18 chiliads. Instead, a few minutes later, I admitted that I had lately been torn between feeling sad, and feeling bollock-bustingly furious.

“The problem with either anger or sadness is that neither gets you anywhere nor does anything,” I lamented with a philosophical sigh. “I mean, other feelings serve as uncomfortable but nonetheless useful catalysts or warnings, just like physical pain. Look at anxiety, for example – it’s horrible but it’s there to protect you, or scare you into a fight or flight response. Anger and sorrow do nothing.”

I went on to tell Paul that, a few months prior to this meeting, especially early in our acquaintance, the primary feeling I experienced was one of a low-lying but paradoxically paralysing terror. Or perhaps horror. Or dread. Or a curious alchemic mix of all three at the same time. See this post, for example. But as I said to him, that really isn’t true any more – or, rather, I don’t have that constant horrordread hanging in the air wherever and whenever I walk.

“What scares you now, then?” he queried pragmatically.

I thought this through out loud.

“Family? No. There’s just…well, again, there’s just a sort of sadness there [which is weird to read back as, aside from my mother, I mostly don’t much care about any of them]. Let me see…well, crowds. Obviously. Don’t do crowds well at all. And…work. That scares the absolute living fuck out of me.”

“What’s frightening about a job?” Paul asked.

What’s frightening about anything? I never said any of this was rational! As I said to him, it is just a vague, unspecific sort of anxiety that overwhelms me whenever I consider it. However, I did attempt to pick it apart for him.

“I’d theorise that my fear of failure is so profound as to be debilitating. I’m petrified of failing others, of letting them down. I’m scared of people, and in the vast majority of jobs there are – regrettably – people.

“More practically, there’s my pathological phone phobia. My concentration, whilst better than it was a year ago, is still rubbish. There’s no point in doing a job if you can’t concentrate, as it simply won’t get done or, if it does, it will be shoddy, and that is unacceptable. Also, I can’t deal with confrontation, no matter how civil it may ostensibly be, and in my experience even the best job in the world carries the risk of that arising occasionally. So, in summary – there are a number of practical concerns, and a few more abstract ones – but whatever the case, the anxiety about it is crippling.”

“Overwhelming,” he added, apparently having garnered that word from the fear he heard in my voice.

“Yes. But then, I hate myself for not being at work. I hate it. I just don’t want to go back into work, not be ready for it, have another breakdown and be back on benefits again. That would be no good for either the employer nor myself, and would probably set the progress I’ve made mentally back about a decade.”

I sighed. “But then, that makes me feel guilty. I should be able to return to work and just be able to fucking do it. I measure myself so strongly by the concept of a career. I have no idea why, because I’ve never had a career – only jobs.”

I told him about my abject rage when I hear of people I went to school with – stupid people, nasty people, whatever people – doing law degrees and being lawyers, doing computer science degrees and being computer scientists, doing engineering degrees and being engineers. Or the ones who had the bloody sense to jack school in at the age of 16 and become plumbers or electricians. God, if I could live my life over again, I would surely choose that path.

“So you describe your former classmates by their job titles. How do you describe yourself?”

“Dolescum.”

“Dolescum?!”

“Dolescum, yes. Oh yeah, I may try and re-invent myself as a writer [ha] or whatever, but really – ‘dolescum’ reigns supreme.”

“Isn’t ‘dolescum’ a little harsh?”

I ignored him, and went off on some impassioned rant about how I wanted to change my ‘dolescum’ status, but that I couldn’t, not yet, not now.

“Everything makes sense in context, as you know,” he said, which I initially found to be quite cryptic. “An interview panel, a set of colleagues – they’re all judging you, in your eyes…”

Of course they’re judging me,” I interrupted. “That’s the point of interviews.”

“…they’re judging you as adults. You feel like a demeaned kid in front of them – who can you trust? What will they do to you? It seems perfectly natural to me. The problem is, you judge yourself far more harshly than they will judge you. Do you think a colleague of yours is going to carve ‘bitch‘ into your stomach?”

Well, it’s a funny old world, Paul. Who’s to say there isn’t such a colleague out there, just waiting for me? I responded by saying, simply, “it feels like it.”

Time for another self-directed rant. “It wasn’t always like this! 10 years ago when I was first properly applying for jobs I was confident, cheerful, even charismatic in interviews. It came naturally to me – none of it was an act. Now all that comes naturally is stammering and floor-watching.”

“Is that how ‘Dolescum’ [he made a gesture denoting that he was, with irony of course, referring to me] has handled interviews?”

“Dolescum can’t have done that badly. Dolescum went back to work after breakdowns before.”

“How is ‘Dolescum’ dolescum, then?”

“Because Dolescum isn’t working again. It was all very easy when I was off for six months to make up some bollocks on my CV that I’d be travelling. I can hardly spin that yarn over three years.”

“OK,” he said, trying to ‘ground’ the conversation. “I don’t think it’s about unemployment, to tell you the truth. It’s about you. You don’t work now – you’re dolescum. If you were sitting behind a desk right now, you’d be office scum. If you were in a factory, you’d be factory scum. Etc etc etc. It’s the ‘scum’ bit that’s entrenched.”

“That seems reasonable,” I admitted, which led to the inevitable narcissistic whinge about the just-sort-of-Mensa-level-IQ bint with qualifications flying left, right and centre out of her arse who ended up as a receptionist or glorified typist* (though admittedly, my typing speed is very good – I can usually rack up about 90wpm, which is a bit unfortunate for you, a reader of my blog, as it helps facilitate the ludicrous verbosity of these self-obsessed ramblings).

(* Actually I should state that my last job in particular was a lot more than this, but it was not considered so by my superiors – but let’s not go down that route again. Past is past and everything, yadda yadda).

“Well, it’s my own fault,” I sighed. “I shouldn’t have done the courses I did.”

Pause. Then: “it’s his fault I don’t have a doctorate.”

Paul peered at me over his glasses. “Who said that?”

I shook my head in self-surprise. “I have no idea. It just came into my head.”

“Is there any truth in it?”

“It’s my fault I don’t have a doctorate,” I clarified.

“But did he [there was an implicit understanding that we were referring to Paedo] have a role in it? Didn’t he have a role in everything?”

I avoided his gaze.

“Your mental health issues,” he offered. “Whose fault is that?”

“It depends who you ask,” I said evasively.

“I’m asking you – you’re the only one that counts. Oh and please – don’t give me any bullshit from the medical model.”

I rolled my eyes a little, but shot him a wry smile.

“OK then, you’ve lain down the gauntlet. It’s not just him. There’s some residual issues with my mother, there was a whole pile of fuck with my ex, I still haven’t got over the death of my grandfather. But mainly – well, I attribute most of my mentalism to my father and Paedo, yes.”

“And to what extent did your mental health difficulties prevent you studying for a doctorate?”

It’s impossible to know the answer to such a question, of course, but I replied by stating that I reckoned they severely impinged on my failure to achieve one of the few things I ever really wanted in this world.

I saw Paul glance at the clock. “Shit,” he muttered irritably. “Just when we’re getting into some really meaningful stuff, we have to end the session.”

For some reason this took me right back to therapy with C, and his weekly mantra of shit of “we’re going to have to leave it there.” Shit-tinted glasses show me a glint of satisfaction in his eyes, as if he enjoyed throwing me out of his room like dirty dish water when I’d got into the midst of something gritty and murky with him. Of course, I know rationally that this is absolutely horse shit. But it was how I felt, and I responded accordingly.

“Am I game-playing?” I said, genuinely concerned.

Paul tilted his head and studied me, as if to look for clues as to where my odd comment had arisen from. “No,” he said finally. “If you’re ‘playing’ at all, then you’re safe-playing.” Before I could counter this, he went on: “it’s interesting that you put so much blame at your father’s door [it’s not interesting to me. It just is]. It underlines his failure to provide safety and security for his child – both in the context of your life as a whole, and in the context of allowing the abuse to happen.”

He sighed and looked contemplative for a minute, as if he were taking on the guilt that my father should have carried. Then he turned to me reassuringly, made some non-verbal gesture of, “we’ll pick it up next week,” and then it was – for another week – a meeting consigned to history.

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Will I be Forced Back to Work?

***Beware of triggers: self-harm and (potential) benefit loss***

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about how the delightful Social Security Agency (SSA) had managed to fuck up my ongoing claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) rather epically.  The bloke to whom I spoke on that occasion advised that I would get the money owed to me since the fucking 12th of October within a week.

Did I?  Did I fuck.

In light of their continued failures, I sent my ma a text message from the Republic last week asking her to ring them and find out what was going on. ¬†I was fairly sure that they wouldn’t tell her anything – a correct assumption, as it turned out – but¬†still, I figured that it was worth letting the fuckers know that I hadn’t forgotten that they owe me over a fucking grand, so I got her to ring despite the likelihood that they’d reveal fuck all to her. ¬†In the end, they shockingly did advise Mum that they would get one of their people to phone me by Tuesday of this week; ie. 1st February.

No such phone call was forthcoming, of course, but as I was driving home yesterday (Wednesday), a blocked number did call. ¬†Of course as I was behind the wheel I didn’t answer it (though I’ve been known to do so in the past, to my shame), but when I got home I checked the answering machine straightaway. ¬†The message that had been left confirmed that the call was from someone who, it seemed, was allied to the¬†relevant¬†governmental department. ¬†On those grounds – ie. because I wanted to know when I was actually going to be deigned worthy of payment – I returned the call.

Oh dear.

I should have recognised the woman’s name from back in 2009. ¬†I should have known that she was not ringing about the SSA’s pathetic yet monumental fail. ¬†I should not have called her back.

Because she is not involved with payment of ESA, or any other out-of-work benefit.  She is there to get people back to work.

I’m not sure if I ever explained exactly what happened about this matter. ¬†I did rant a bit about it here, and a little more here. ¬†To cover it again in a very¬†rudimentary¬†sort of way (more details are here), there are two ‘groups’ of ESA – the ‘work’ group and the ‘support’ group. ¬†If you are placed in the former, you are considered to have ‘limited’ capacity to work; if the latter, you are essentially considered incapable of employment for the¬†foreseeable¬†future. ¬†I was initially placed in the work group; I appealed against this, and I won (see the second link at the start of this paragraph), thus seeing me placed in the ‘support’ group.

Those in the work group are required to undertake wanky “work focused interviews”, which are allegedly voluntary for those in the support group. ¬†When I first received correspondence from the woman that rang me yesterday, she had invited me to one. ¬†At the time, I wrote back and said that I was way too batshit to cope with such an eventuality, and she kindly agreed to postpone it for 18 months.

So here we are, o my little brothers. ¬†The 18 months is fucking up. ¬†Which would be terrifying but at least understandable if I was still considered to have ‘limited capacity’ for work – but I’m not. ¬†I’m supposed to be too mental to work at all, as the SSA themselves fucking decided.

I rang the woman – let’s call her Pamela – and quite innocently started wanking on about my ESA claim, wondering if she could confirm when it would be paid. ¬†She listened to me without interruption, to be fair, but when I finally shut my gob, she explained that she effectively has nothing to do with social security payments and was in fact¬†calling about work focused interviews. ¬†Did I recall, she asked, the correspondence with her about a year and a half ago in this regard?

My blood ran cold. ¬†I could almost visualise blocks of deep red ice falling out of me, tantalising me into a deeper madness. ¬†In a reverse of what are apparently cultural norms, I saw my future – not my past – flash before me. ¬†A Mental Bird being talked to by things that aren’t there and dissociating into a fucking child nervously opens the door to a large, cold office. ¬†The assorted, hard-nosed personnel turn to see The New Girl, staring her up and down, making crude and probably cruel judgements within seconds. ¬†The voices, probably rightly, scream at the Mental Bird about how much her new colleagues already regard her with utter contempt. ¬†They chatter, chatter, chatter – louder and louder – until the¬†cacophony¬†builds to a sickening¬†crescendo¬†that sends the Mental Bird running out of the office screaming. ¬†Bye, job. ¬†Bye, sanity. Bye, benefits. ¬†Hello, increased dosage of anti-psychotics. ¬†Hello, crisis team. ¬†Hello, hospital. ¬†Hello…suicide?

I must have thus ruminated for a few seconds, because Pamela broke through my thoughts. ¬†“It’s not a job interview or anything like that, Pandora,” she was saying.

“Right,” I murmured, pointlessly, pathetically and frustratingly submissively.

“It’s just…well, its just to see where we are with things, and how I can help.”

“Right.”

“I’ve sent the appointment letter out…if that date doesn’t suit you, sure you can let me know.”

“OK.”

In fairness to her, she is actually quite nice.  Having explained the situation with my lack of ESA payments to her, she said she would ring the fuckwits responsible for same and attempt to ascertain what had happened Рand when I should expect to receive the back payment.

“Can I call you back on this number?” she queried.

“Yes,” I said, with that same empty,¬†obedient¬†blankness.

When I had hung up, I sat down on the sofa and stared into space in a sickened daze. ¬†I simply can’t go back to work. ¬†I mean, I want to go back to work, and as noted with Paul in week 11, that is what I’m trying to work towards. ¬†But I can’t do it yet, no matter what the consequences. ¬†I have to sort my head out first, otherwise not only am I screwed, but my potential employers aren’t exactly going to have gained much advantage either.

So much ran through my mind, though if you’d seen me, you could have been forgiven for thinking I was catatonic. ¬†I thought of Ali Quant’s post on her proposed way out if her benefits were removed (ie. suicide), and how I now identified even more than ever with what she’d written. ¬†I thought of the lovely Phil Groom and his admirable idea to save her, which has now morphed into the wonderful charity-to-be, 5 Quid for Life. ¬†I thought of One Month Before Heartbreak and my own post for that campaign.

I had always known that all this stuff was worryingly close to home Рbut I thought I had a little bit of breathing space before it was knocking right on my own door.  That particular illusion has now been well and truly shattered, as if someone has thrown a rather large rock at a rather small mirror.

Once again, my nihilistic thoughts were interrupted. ¬†This time it was Pamela phoning back, having contacted the cunts at the ESA branch. ¬†She said that they were unable to give her any explanation as to why things had fucked up, but that they had claimed that they were checking the final details of the claim (given that the backpay is so large), and that I would get the money by what is now today at the lastest (I haven’t). ¬†I thanked her for looking into the matter for me and rang off.

I spent the rest of the afternoon lying on the sofa with a tension headache of migraine-esque proportions. ¬†Not only can I not go back to work, I don’t know how I can even so much as meet this woman. ¬†I can’t bear the idea of it. ¬†It’s alright for her to say that it’s informal and friendly, but when speaking to anyone beyond your partner, therapist and, arguably, mother seems an impossible task, how can it be reasonably done with a complete stranger who by virtue of her job is meant to at least encourage you into something that is, for now, inherently dangerous?

When A arrived home, he had already read my despairing tweets on the matter. ¬†He offered to attend the meeting with me, which may be beneficial, and believes that it’s probably an exercise in civil service box-ticking. ¬†Maybe so, but it seems horrific to me that the simple act of a tick on some cunt of a form is allowed to create such appalling distress in those to whom it relates. ¬†I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again: can’t they just contact one’s consultant or GP if they need to confirm your illness or disability? ¬†And in any case, if I’m supposed to be in the ‘support group’, why the fuck am I apparently required to do this? ¬†As noted above, it is supposed to be voluntary for such claimants. ¬†Have they fucked up my particular group designation as well as the last three months of my income?

I couldn’t sleep last night, so at about 3.30am I knocked back a Zopiclone. ¬†Mercifully, it worked – but when I awoke today it was with great horror and dismay. ¬†Out of the corner of my eye, I happened to notice my old friend the scalpel sitting there. ¬†I thoughtlessly picked it up, and within seconds was cutting my lower arms to complete shreds. ¬†When I say ‘thoughtlessly’, I mean it in the most literal of senses; I didn’t think “oh, I should self-harm here, yay” – I merely acted. ¬†Perhaps it was as if I were a robot – behaviour on rote, I suppose, with apparently nothing to actually consider. ¬†As I later sat with disinfectant and bloodied paper towels lying all around me, in a classic example of “too little, too late,” I considered what I had done. ¬†I had cut my arms,¬†which not my MO at all. ¬†The actions of my subconscious now seemed cynical, even manipulative; if I was self-harming to relieve anxiety (and, to be fair, I think at least to some extent I was), then why not cut my abdomen or upper legs as normal? ¬†Why slice my arms? ¬†Stupid, pathetic, borderline,¬†attention-seeking freak. I have clearly cut myself in this particular location in order to ensure that people will see the fucking things (even though this evening, when out for coffee with A, I went to great pains to try to hide the fuckers).

I am scared. ¬†I am really, really scared. ¬†I don’t blame Pamela; she’s just the messenger, doing her job as dictated by our wonderful cunterngovernnment. ¬†But whoever is to blame, I am still – potentially – in a great deal of trouble here. ¬†I am making progress in therapy, but I am very far from recovery – nowhere near enough to even begin¬†to deal with basic human interactions, nevermind the complex stresses often observed within working environments. ¬†If I have to go back to work or face losing my benefits, I have no idea what I will do. ¬†The ‘s’ word strokes my mind from the fringes, despite the campaign that has resulted from Ali Quant’s discussion on same (see above). ¬†One way or another, I don’t think I can cope with the worry, the degradation, the anxiety and the results of everything that this impending meeting is likely to bring.

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Guest Post: Working With a Mental Illness

I was recently lucky to have my Disability Living Allowance claim renewed, but am presently in the position where the Social Security Agency are forcing upon me another claim for Employment and Support Allowance. ¬†This is to my chagrin as they only recently granted me my proper allocation to the ‘Support Group’. ¬†Alas.

Bearing this plus the current winds of change that seem likely to be made to social security laws and eligibility for benefits, I’ve been panicking about what’s going to become of me in the next few years. ¬†Will I be granted the benefits that I need, and to which I am entitled? ¬†Will I be denied them, but manage to survive through sponging off Mum and A? ¬†Will I have to kill myself? ¬†Or, with continued therapy / counselling (from¬†wherever¬†that may be) in conjunction with medication, will I be able to return to work before my benefits are ripped away from me?

I don’t know the answers and only time will tell. ¬†However, I did wonder what others might have to say on the topic of benefits and/or working and mental illness, and asked my Twitter followers if anyone who had views and/or experience in this arena would like to write a guest post for Confessions.

I was delighted when Kevin Friery, @therapeutic1, offered to do the honours on working with a mental health problem. ¬†Here is his very interesting article ūüôā

Introduction

There is a fascinating social survey that for some reason is not widely quoted in the media. Examining and quantifying Psychiatric Morbidity in England, it was published in 2009. Whilst acknowledging that it only looks at England, it still tells an amazing story. Three quick facts: In any week, 16% of the adult population experience common mental disorders, half of whom would benefit from treatment, yet only a third of the treatable group get any help. Four adults in a thousand have a severe mental illness in any one year. Finally ‚Äď over 30% of male adults (and 16% of women) drink to a hazardous level in any one week. It is a very interesting read and can be downloaded for free here.

My Story

I work for a living.

Perhaps nothing unusual in that, except that if you are one of the adults with Mental Health problems in the UK you are far less likely to be in the same position. Disadvantaged in terms of employment, housing, benefits and opportunity, people with an enduring mental illness can often find themselves severely marginalised. It was partly because of this that I decided with my employer to become involved in support for people at work who have a mental illness. There are a number of organisations trying their hardest to create opportunities for entry to the job market, but what about those who have a job and are keen to thrive in the world of work? What about the people who haven’t told their employer that they have a mental illness, and go to extraordinary lengths to keep that fact secret? These people often have nowhere to turn. This may now get even worse with the scrapping of Pre-Employment questionnaires; scrapped because they could be discriminatory, but they also gave an employee the opportunity to highlight their needs under disability legislation.

Although I am a psychotherapist and counsellor I didn‚Äôt want to provide therapy to the people I was going to work with; most people with a severe and enduring mental illness have access to psychiatric treatment and support in some shape or form. What they often don‚Äôt have is workplace support. What I set out to do was to identify ways in which we could identify the obstacles to workplace integration and to create systems that could overcome these. I didn‚Äôt do it alone ‚Äď I had the support of a major employer and also of a good team in my own workplace, but for reasons of confidentiality I can‚Äôt name them here. We talked to employees who met certain criteria (severe and enduring mental illness diagnosed by a psychiatrist, self-referred and wanting to be part of a programme that would involve sharing information across several parties) and found that almost universally they were highly motivated not only to remain employed but to grow and flourish, to be equals to their peers whilst having their particular needs met. We found that the adjustments needed to improve their situation were very often minor, with little or no cost involved, but made a huge difference. Flexible working hours was a frequent solution, especially for people who found that their medication impacted on their focus at the beginning or end of the day. Some people had specific severe phobias that, once identified to the employer, could be worked around. The introduction of Buddies or Mentors was also something that was often effective. The biggest single issue was, of course, stigma. So often what we found was that people had either been stigmatised by colleagues or conversely had kept quiet for fear of this happening. It was really very little effort to change this.

I‚Äôm not trying to self-promote here. What I am trying to say is that people with a severe and enduring mental illness are not aliens ‚Äď they are not drawn from some other population to which we don‚Äôt belong. At work they can be on the shop floor or the boardroom, they can be rough or they can be cultured, they can be friendly or aloof. All of them, though, can and want to be productive valuable employees who contribute to the efficiency of an organisation and in return receive the security that employment brings. It is not rocket science to understand why this is for the good of UK Plc, nor why it is good for the individual. Dame Carol Black highlighted the simple psychological truth ‚Äď Work is Good For You – in her excellent ‚ÄėWorking for a Healthier Tomorrow‚Äô. All we have to do now is help employers understand that it is good for them too.

Kevin

Here‚Äôs my self-promotion bit ‚Äď you can find my Fear of Therapy cartoon blog at http://therapophobia.wordpress.com

I should add a couple of points: although I’ve been out of work for two years, I do agree that working can be very good for people with mental health problems. ¬†Of course that doesn’t always mean that people who are still unstable or uncertain as to whether the worst of their symptoms can be adequately managed for the foreseeable future should attempt to make a return to work – it’s imperative for both the person in question and their employer that the person is ready to move back into the workplace. ¬†If you’re not at work at the minute but are thinking of returning to or looking for a job, please discuss the matter with your GP, therapist or psychiatrist.

I think it’s brilliant that Kevin has made such efforts to support those with mental health problems in his organisation, and hope that perhaps someone will read this (or otherwise learn of his work) and be inspired to discuss it at their workplace too.

Also, the Therapophobia blog has given me a good few laughs over the last few weeks, so get yourself over there if you need a bit of cheering up ūüôā

There hasn’t been much ‘normal service’ on this blog this week, and I still haven’t reported back on my first meeting with Paul which was on Monday. ¬†I’m hoping business as usual will be resumed tomorrow or, at the latest, at the weekend. x