A whole lotta grief

GRIEF!! That word should be writ large with exclamation marks permanently attached.

That’s how it feels when it hits you.

Actually, grief is complex. Studies have been made to try to understand it in greater depth. There’s even a model postulating that there are five identifiable stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’m not sure that I can put myself firmly at any of those stages right now, but I suspect that I’m somewhere between depression and acceptance. I’m feeling the pain of grief – and boy, does it take your breath away – but, after last weekend, I’m not feeling so hopeless about it.

Why am I grieving?

I’m tempted to call mine Uber or Ultra-Grief because I’m not grieving for a single loss rather multiple (mostly major) losses and because the process feels akin to attempting a hardcore endurance event, like the Marathon de Sables (If you’ve never heard of it, do read about it and let your mind, like mine, boggle over who would want to attempt such a thing :-D). I think I’ll go with Ultra-Grief, like my Ultra-Jigsaw, it seems a good fit … ha! See what I did there? Jigsaw … pieces … fit … oh, never mind.

How the flip do you even begin to recover and rebuild yourself and your life, when you’ve lost so much, let alone begin to grieve when you’re busy enough trying to survive?

Well … if you’re determined, proactive, resourceful, able to be gutsy and have words that help you to achieve many things … you think yourself damn lucky, for a start. At least, that’s how I look at it.

I lost all my family, all my close friends – they had either upped and left or I’d put huge distance between us, my much beloved and hard won career, my self esteem, confidence, my health and my fitness, my marriage, the chance to have children, my smile and even a lot of my hair (more on the latter two in the post The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and I’d found myself in poverty, having lost any element of financial security. Make no mistake, I was lucky, I didn’t lose the roof over my head as others have, but at worst I couldn’t afford food and had to rely on the charity of strangers, likewise I couldn’t afford to heat my home and wore many multiple layers indoors that winter, including hat, scarf and gloves, and retreated to bed when that wasn’t enough.

Leaving my marriage gave me a certain amount of ‘head space’ – as once things were straightened out I was no longer being impacted by its dysfunction. I felt stirrings of grief when my marriage ended but I had to throw myself into finding somewhere to live and all manner of other vital stuff. Grief hit me like a train when a loved one – not a relative but the closest I had to it – died a few months later after a six week illness. Suddenly, I was alone in the world.

It was early last year on a remote ‘retreat’ for a convalescence break that I started to realise that I couldn’t ‘feel’. I’d found this wonderful wee place run by a psychotherapist for incredibly small prices and managed to save a bit from back-dated benefits and obtain a small grant from a charity, in order to go for five days. I ate simple but delicious home cooked food, slept well, walked in ancient woodland, worked in my art journal and undertook some therapy and related exercises. (As an aside, I am hoping to go again later this year.)

As I’ve often said on here I’m a natural ‘Tigger’. I’ve boundless enthusiasm and I freely enthuse about all manner of things –  nature, architecture, art, theatre, and people, to name but a few. Yet, I began to realise that, for the most part, I couldn’t feel my pain, despite the enormity of it. There had been so much that I’d unconsciously shut it down in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’d begun by discussing with the therapist how I longed to be able to cry. It upset me (not that I could show it) that I couldn’t cry and I felt like a cold fish as a result, something which is very much at odds with my character. I could, at a push, shed a couple of tears. My eyes did ‘fill up’ sometimes, but to sob was pretty much beyond me. I came to realise that through all the therapy I’d undertaken, and which I credit with saving my life after my initial disclosure, and also getting me through my marriage and to such a place that I was able to leave it, despite having no money and nowhere to go; I had never cried. I could discuss the darkest of experiences, detail abuse after abuse, and traumatic events such as my father’s suicide and his violence towards my mother, but I couldn’t ‘feel’ them. I intellectualised my way through therapy and I did learn a great deal and make a lot of progress. But, what I learned late last year is that, in the words of my current therapist: If you can feel, you can heal. 

Two things happened in the weeks immediately after my time at the retreat. My GP of a couple of years, with whom I’d developed a solid relationship, particularly in the preceding six months, relocated to a new area. Two weeks later, the support I’d been receiving for six months from a housing support officer was cut overnight. It’s a short term service and was put in place when I was at risk of losing my home. Having that consistent support for the first time in my life, going on retreat and feeling ‘peace’ for the first time in my life, and having the realisation about ‘needing to feel’, all seemed to instigate an ‘unlocking’ in my mind.

I welcomed this at first, I was ready to take this on, and work through whatever was to come. Until suddenly, I was again without support …

Since then I’ve been increasingly feeling grief, but without support and in very difficult circumstances, I wasn’t able to cope with it. A close friend died just before Christmas. She had been ill but was expected to recover, she was only in her late forties. She was the best friend I’d made since my moving to my adopted home city six years earlier. Other friendships were made, but when I ignored my ‘gut feeling’ again feeling that this ‘beggar’ could not be choosy and should take what was offered. My late friend and I knew each other for a little over two years. The time we could spend together was curtailed by our respective illnesses. In some ways I hardly knew her but we connected and there was great deal of potential in the friendship. I’ll always remember her sitting for me as I was teaching myself to draw (she was a talented and exhibited artist), my first life model. Alas, I was so nervous, it wasn’t my best work! Discovering that she’d remembered me in her will, floored me. I genuinely miss her terribly. I’m not one to bemoan ‘Why me?’ Stuff happens. Still, I found myself asking why, if I had to lose a friend, it had to be her. I don’t feel comfortable admitting that, I wasn’t really wishing someone other dead, was I?

I cried at her memorial service, more freely than before. This was because I know how much of a loss she is and how much she could still have lived. It was also because of my own grief at losing her from my life. What I didn’t expect as I sat in the large city centre church, which was packed, and listened to all the wonderful words and memories that were being said and shared about her, and as I met and spoke with several members of her family afterwards, was the barrage of grief of a different kind that assailed me. My friend had faced many challenges in her life. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had a huge impact on her life, medication used to treat it ultimately caused kidney failure which contributed to her death.

That day I saw what you can achieve, despite challenges, when you are loved or more specifically when you grow up in and continue to be enveloped by a loving family. It was wonderful to behold … and it was also agony. It took my breath away. After spending around 90 minutes at the small gathering for family and close friends after the service, I realised that I really didn’t feel right. I felt ‘spacey’ and had a nebulous sort of sense that I wasn’t OK, that I was no longer coping. Leaving some time later I set off for home. I intended to pick up a few errands en route before catching a bus the rest of the way. I was aware of the first few minutes of the walk and then arriving at the mini supermarket where I intended to shop, but not the 10 minutes in between. In the shop I wandered and wandered aimlessly, returning again and again to stare at the same things but I couldn’t seem to process or complete the task. I remember seeing a Big Issue seller outside the store and rummaging for change in order to buy one, only for him to have completely disappeared a moment later. I wondered if he’d even been there in the first place. The bus stop was close by but I had to cross two busy roads to reach it. I remember waiting to cross the first and there was a bus about to pass in front of me. I remember seeing it and seeing myself, in my mind’s eye, going under its wheels, although I had no thoughts of suicide at the time. Although in my mind, it was vividly real. I felt shaken, dazed and disorientated. I know I caught a bus and got home, but I don’t know how. It took me four days to re-orientate myself.

Seeing my dear friend on Saturday after so many years and feeling such connection is SUCH a happy thing. I’m loathe to describe it as bittersweet, because it was SWEET. SWEET, SWEET but challenges did arise from it. I feel grief that so many years were wasted when we could have been closer. I feel grief that I wasted time on some other friendships where there was no real connection. I feel grief that the memory of her knowing that I was unhappy as a teenager and was there for me and hurt for me, was somehow lost. I feel grief that I wasn’t able to confide in her – and through her, her lovely Mum – to greater depth. The past is the past and cannot be changed so there is no point in dwelling on it, still the sadness demands to be acknowledged and that perhaps if I had, I might have recognised that I was being abused and found a way out of my family much earlier, instead of in my thirties, by which time much more damage had been done.

Despite the grief, I am not AT ALL sorry that she and I discussed these things, and I hope in time that we’ll discuss more, because it is validating, it is helpful for me, and it is something that has the power to help me to heal.

Before the State of the Heart address (thanks you know who, for that inspired phrasing) that was Heart Set on Dying?, grief, when it hit, was unbearable and I shut down as far as possible in order to cope and keep myself safe. It was unbearable because I was alone with it and had no sense of belonging anywhere or being ‘tethered’ in any way. I’ve felt it in a big way once since Saturday, it was undeniably very hard but I went through it WITHOUT shutting down. I truly hope that those of you who read this who have stepped up for me in recent days can understand just what a difference you make.

I don’t know yet what the future holds in terms of dealing with this grief. I don’t know whether I’ll be doing it with my current therapist (voluntary sector) or whether if NHS trauma therapy is offered, now that I’ve reached the top of the 18 month waiting list and am due to assessed next month, that will be the place to do it, or whether I’ll seek out specialist grief services such as those offered by Cruse. I’m still finding my grieving feet …

Thank you for reading. This is waaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than I had intended.

Heart

x

 

 

 

Heart REset on living (a.k.a the power of hope)

I do love that title but I can’t take the credit for it – thanks my friend for coming up with it, it’s inspired, you know who you are.

Well … what a difference a day makes!

Writing the post Heart set on dying?’ on Friday was excruciating. On Twitter, I likened it to performing open heart surgery on myself. Certainly readers who are familiar with my blog noted it to be my most ‘raw’ post to date. It left me feeling very exposed. I even toyed with the idea of deleting the post an hour or so after publishing it, which is, I think, a first. I’m not afraid to explore difficult stuff, but I’ll do it with a smile, with humour, anything to deflect, otherwise I might be troubling you; you might judge or reject me.

You might think me weak.

I can feel a barrier in my mind when I try to really capture my feelings around that thought but I know this much; it’s a fundamental for me. Being consistently told when I was growing up that I was weak and lesser, in a multitude of ways, had a huge impact. I never wholly believed it, a life-saving grace, but I was deeply affected by my family’s apparent belief in it and it has left me with a deep-seated fear of being deemed weak.

Primarily, I wrote that post first and foremost to try to release the pressure in my head; its volatile contents were fit to explode. I did also hope to connect in some way, otherwise I could’ve just scribbled in a notebook. I didn’t, I chose to write here and publicly post. Secondly, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of dying without having put my ‘story’ out there, by that I mean without someone at least knowing what my life has really involved and who I really am. Third, I’d no expectation of being able to reach someone in a way that resulted in meaningful connection but the spark within that fuels me, held hope of it.

I knew there was every likelihood that my teenage best friend would read that post, as I introduced her to my blog earlier this year in what was a tentative step on my part to try to decrease the distance that I had put between us. I did not expect that she would read it late that very night and turn up on my doorstep the next day!

Yep, she did.

She lives almost 200 miles away – something like a six hour round trip –  and we last saw each other in 2002.

We use a messaging app to chat. When, yesterday, a photo of my friend, who is not given to selfies, popped up, the background of which looked like the distinctive city where I live, I was a little bemused. I assumed I’d got it wrong, or that it was an old photograph. I could see that she was writing a further message and calmly awaited further explanation.

I am on my way to put the kettle on … it began.

I gasped, for a moment I thought she was kidding before swiftly considering that she would not joke having read that post, which I knew for certain she had.

***

So, we hadn’t seen each other for 15 years – we’ve known each other for 33 years.

I don’t think a year has gone by without some sort of contact, even if just a scribbled note in a greetings card. We perhaps connected on social media between three and five years ago, I can’t remember. We’ve certainly chatted frequently online for the last year, if not longer than that. I curse my addled my memory here for not being able to remember.

They say that the best of friends can pick up where they left off, no matter the time that has elapsed, as though it were only yesterday. I’ve heard this, friends have said it of my friendships with them, but I hadn’t seen it until yesterday.

“Let’s have a cuppa”, she said.

“I haven’t got any milk”, I said, genuinely appalled … and fearing that I could never again set foot in our Lancashire homeland having committed the cardinal sin of not being able to offer someone ‘a brew’.

“You have now”, said she, revealing a pint of milk with a familiar flourish, swiftly followed by teabags, coffee, a choice of sandwiches, strawberries, chocolate, fresh juice, and dinners for the following three nights courtesy of M&S. She’d remembered that I’m vegetarian. There was also tissues  – in case we got emotional – and the softest, most ‘snuggle-up-able’ ‘comforter’ in one of my favourite colours. That girl got it covered!

If you read Heart set on dying? you can probably imagine that my socks had been well and truly blown off by this time.

Given the distance that I put between us, given that she was the friend that I seemed to have most feared confiding in as my ‘car crash’ of an adult life unfolded, I was staggered to realise that I felt comfortable, that there was not a moment of awkwardness. We chatted and meandered about my flat, like it was something we do every week.

That fear of confiding seems to have been rooted in shame, a perception that she must surely see me as a ‘failure’, a ‘dropout’ or a ‘loser’. She and I went through our teenage years together, closely entwined, with different dreams and ambitions but with a path mapped out through O level and A level examinations and on to the hallowed territory of university. Amid the abuse, I fell at the first hurdle and I had long been left behind by the time I fought my way back onto the path and ultimately made it to university. Perhaps I feared her reaction most because she mattered most, I don’t know. I am sure that it will be healing to explore those feelings in future therapy. For now, they are difficult to access, I’ve had to ‘shut down’ a great deal over the years in order to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Now I know that I am accepted, not judged but embraced. It’s a new feeling and I sense it will take some time to embed itself and take root.

I was shocked to be reminded that she knew more than I thought, as she recounted, among other things, my often reluctance, and fear of, going home. She knew, back then, that I was unhappy, and that my surviving parent was ‘odd’ to say the least, but nothing of the violence or details of other abuse that was the basis of my daily life. Abusers school in silence. This was the first time I’d discussed my situation, my abuse, in any detail with someone who was in my life at the time. It was emotional, it was powerful, it was tough but I was really glad to do it. It was validating, and it’s also helping me to begin to fit together some of the pieces of that ‘Ultra Jigsaw’. I’d like to write more on that, but I am time pressed today and I have a mountain to climb tomorrow and I need to prepare for it.

I wish I could tell you my friend’s maiden name. I have always known it but only this afternoon did it suddenly loom large in my mind making me gasp and then laugh. I am not superstitious but to think that through those terrible teenage years amid the horrors of my abusive home life, I had a best friend with a name to suggest that I should, that I could hold on to her. We used to read our horoscopes with glee and anticipation back then, and asked burning questions of a sort of a pendulum constructed of a necklace and a ring, you know that thing? You’d think they might have nudged me to note the obvious!

Thank you to those who read ‘Heart set on dying’, and sent messages of comfort and support. Please know that you are valued.

Yesterday’s visit meant more than I say and has given me yet more still. I began to capitalise on it immediately and when I’ve the ‘spoons’ , and the time … there is always so much to do, I will write here, in explanation.

Thank you, as ever, for reading. Comments welcome.

Heart x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Getting my s*it together, as I believe is the expression, and publishing a post!

WordPress loves to remind me how many posts I’ve drafted but not published. I know this, dear WordPress, it’s not for the want of trying. Today, I decided that I would prioritise writing a complete post AND publishing it, over just about everything else.

My current situation is so complex and there are so many things happening that it’s impossible to explain it in a few lines, even though writing about it and sharing that writing is very helpful to me. Doing so takes a lot of time and even more energy, and ‘spoons’, that’s chronic illness shorthand for energy and ability to function, click the link for an easy explanation), are currently in very short supply.

Yesterday, I managed to shower and dress in order to be ready to answer the door to receive a delivery from a parcel courier. I have had to force myself to allow ‘Pharmacy Bob’ (who I’m certain is the antithesis of his more famous namesake) to see me in smelly dishevelment but fear negative judgement too much to ever make a habit of it with others. Afterwards I had to get back into bed because I was so physically depleted by chronic fatigue and pain. I longed to be productive, there were things to do, so much I wanted to do; it was a struggle to limit the impact of my lack of capacity on my mood. I managed to get a bowl of cereal and kept hunger at bay for the rest of the day with dry crackers, risking a flare up of a painful stomach issue that occurs if I get too hungry. That seems to have been triggered when struggling so much last year I went, at worst, eight days surviving on only sips of water. (I ended up in A&E some weeks later with urinary retention, a complication thereof, which is, I discovered, a medical emergency.) I didn’t sleep after my return to bed, despite having only managed a little over three hours the previous night, but I rested and by evening, had at least the capacity to watch the BBC Question Time election special and engage in some lively political ‘repartee’ on Twitter, as it aired!

I’m aware that to some people that much of this post could sound like I’m moaning, feeling sorry for myself, demonstrating narcissism, or focusing on the negative. Actually, anyone really getting to know me understands that I am relentlessly positive and also hugely enthusiastic about grabbing life by the horns and making the most of it. Call me a snowflake, but sometimes it hurts to be thought of as otherwise.

We so often shy away from hearing difficult stuff, we hyper-focus on the positive, often because we realise the difficulty or horror of something, and perhaps that a positive outcome may not be possible, and sometimes we don’t know what to do or we can’t deal with that so we shut it down, don’t really listen and we fire out the positive platitudes.

I love blog comments, tweets and interactions in general. I really do. I love hearing from you. Please just don’t tell me to be positive, if you’re tempted, even though I know that you mean well. If you want to be supportive, hear me. Tell me that you understand that I’m facing grim circumstances. Tell me that you appreciate my determination to try to keep going. Offer help if you’re able, and I appreciate capacity for this can be limited in all sorts of ways, anything from a friendly word on a postcard, a poem or a film you think I might love, or a chat to a ‘care package’ or a visit. I’m fighting the urge to delete that last line – and I’m going to leave it there however uncomfortable it makes me feel, the reasons for that are for another post.

I’d woken, yesterday, with a very red, swollen and itchy face. It’s the second time that’s happened in the space of a month, but it hadn’t ever happened prior to that. I’ve had eczema, relatively mildly, since I was child, although as a child my family didn’t recognise it as such. I was screamed at when I scratched, punished if I dared to get blood on my nightclothes or bedding, and asked if I had fleas. It’s only really been in the last few years, since I entered my forties, that I’ve begun to experience severe episodes of eczema, at first on my hands, later on other parts of my body, and then on my face, particularly around my eyes. At first I assumed that this month’s sudden flare up was eczema, only the worst to date. The skin was red, itchy, and a little scaly. The area around my eyes was also puffy and swollen. I used the usual emollient treatment for eczema but it burned and felt sore. It took several days for my skin to begin to settle and clear up. The episode that began yesterday got me thinking. Severe redness and swelling/puffiness were the main issues, the majority of the area was not itchy and it isn’t scaly. I suspect I’ve developed an allergy to a skin product that I’ve happily used for some time, and is in fact the only thing I found that actively helps to reduce the impact of my Acne Rosacea. (Yep, I’ve got that too. Apparently, chronic conditions like to party together.) I’ve only used the product twice recently, the night before the two reactions. Phooey! I would get it checked out by a doctor or a pharmacist – but getting to see either is an issue just now, one that I’m working hard to surmount – more on that, again, in another post.

My fingers are also being attacked by pompholyx, and feel as though they’re getting more raw and painful to use by the second. I also have the more usual eczema on the rest of my hands, although that flare up does, mercifully, seem to be easing. Added to that I’ve had a infected thumb for a few days, and I’ve had an extensive flare up of something – again, I think this is eczema – on my neck and chest for several days. My skin is a rebellious teenager – raging out of control.

My ‘spoon count’ is generally very low just now because a series of challenges including bereavements, divorce, low income, the emergence of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – involving flashbacks, dissociation, nightmares, depression and suicidal feelings, and the absence of sources of support. These have left me unable to maintain the rigorous regime of self management that keep me ticking over as best as I possibly can while still living with chronic illness – that’s ongoing illness for which there is no cure – it’s not my fault I got it, it’s just something that can happen to people. I’d barely been near a doctor bar the odd routine visit until it happened to me, then suddenly my medical notes looked like War and Peace in triplicate.  Chronic illness can become acute and be life-threatening, often it’s debilitating and life-altering. It may not kill you but it can decimate your life.  My self management regime includes physiotherapy exercises (very many ‘reps’ per day), graded exercise, diet management, medication, meditation, and a lot more. Without that rigorous regime, and with added stress, difficulty, lack of available support etc, the conditions flare up and begin to rage. It’s fair to say that I’m far from at my best just now … she said in the best tradition of understatement :-D!

Today, I’ve managed to shower and dress in order to receive a further package. Beyond that I’m prioritising this blog and keeping in touch with friends online because isolation is a major issue just now that’s jeopardising my safety. More on that too in another post!

Taking a break just now to nip the loo stole another a ‘spoon’ because, as is often the case, I needed to clean it due to the, shall we say, explosive emissions associated with the condition Bile Acid Malabsorption. Sometimes I leave it a while, when just getting to the loo was challenge enough, sitting on the fear that someone somehow will want to use it in the meantime!

I have no compunction about discussing toilet ‘doings,’ pain, ‘oozings’, ‘leakages’, ‘blisterings’ and boils, despair, compulsive binges and skin picking, and urges for self destruction; I make no apology for doing so. That’s not to say that it’s easy to do. It can be really difficult because you’re often met with negative judgement and a lack of empathy. It’s not the most fun when you’re positive, enthusiastic and determined in the face of adversity, hearing that you’re lazy, boring, narcissistic, not trying hard enough or ‘milking’ the system …

I believe that education, communication and understanding of experiences outside of our own are vital to society, and speak and share accordingly.

I need to have something to eat today. I can make a bowl of porridge, but if I want to eat more than that then I will have to cook more extensively. I have the ingredients to make a veggie chilli ‘non carne’, but it will require a lot of ‘spoons’. I hope to have a phone chat with a friend later. I also hope to manage to do a load of laundry and ‘reboot’ (empty and reload) the dishwasher. I’ve yet to have a drink (Edit: I’m drinking a cup of tea as I do a final read through) and, much to my discomfort, I left my bed unmade to save a ‘spoon’, but finally I have something to publish, and another step on the road to telling my story has been made.

This has taken longer to write and waaay more ‘spoons’ than I hoped. Even telling you where I am just now, with little mention of how I got here takes an age. Arrrrgh! Admittedly, fear of people not ‘getting it’ probably does lead me to say more than I need.

Thank you for reading, I really appreciate it. I hope to continue with more frequent, shorter posts. Things are happening. I have a lot to say! x

 

Self-styled ‘abuse survivor’ … and proud?

I came across this statement on Twitter recently. It pulled me up short.

Abuse survivor opinion tweet

I hadn’t gone looking for it or anything like it. It appeared in my timeline, ‘retweeted’ by one of the people I follow.

As I read the words of the tweet, I remember thinking that I’m a ‘self-styled’ survivor. I also remember that I didn’t have the slightest urge to rage at this tweeter and that made me smile. There have been times when I would have felt very angry indeed, as were many of the people who replied to the tweet on Twitter, hurt on behalf of all ‘survivors’, and so got myself very worked up in spirited defence.

It’s perhaps a measure of how far I’ve come that I was able to quietly reflect and focus first on reaffirming for myself why I sometimes choose to declare that particular status and, with another smile, realise that I feel confident in it. I have gone on to wonder in the days since I read it what might have prompted such a statement from the author of that tweet. It could simply be the work of a ‘troll’, someone who gets a kick out of making inflammatory statements online seeking a reaction, particularly one of hurt, from others. I deliberately chose not to look up the author of the tweet, for the sake of self-preservation, at a vulnerable time. However, since writing the bulk of this post I have now taken a look. I saw that the author defines herself as someone who writes about false accusations and ‘pseudo victims’. Sometimes people make things up, some people do generally like to play the ‘victim’ in life. I’m not deriding the woman, I haven’t looked deeply enough to know what she’s really about. I’ll just say that I think the tweet that prompted this post was misguided.

However, this post isn’t really about that tweeter. This post is primarily about me. I know, I am such a narcissist …

I wanted to write this post because communication is hugely important to me. I believe that good communication is fundamental and can be a real force for good by facilitating greater understanding, Unfortunately, in the years since my status as a survivor of abuse became apparent I’ve learned that many people don’t care about much beyond themselves and their own. Empathy and understanding are too often in short supply, while intolerance and ignorance proliferate. What are prejudice and intolerance if not a lack of knowledge, more specifically a lack of understanding and the absence of empathy? Add fear to ignorance, and watch intolerance and prejudice spread like the proverbial wildfire.

I want to reach out to those people who do care enough to want understand more than their own immediate experience … those who can see past the end of their own noses. I know, now who’s making inflammatory remarks?! What the hell: I’m not perfect and I do despair of reluctance to take a broader view.

I don’t wear the label ‘abuse survivor’ like a badge. It’s not who I am or what I’m about but it is a large part of my experience. I was abused for many years, and beyond childhood. The effects of those abusive experiences have been devastating and have pretty much decimated my life – wrecking my health and costing me, among other things, a career, relationships and a family of my own. I don’t say that lightly. For me, to ‘whinge’ is to cringe; I’m relentlessly positive, driven and upbeat and find it difficult to be otherwise. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails that have anyone think me a negative or downbeat sort of person.

I don’t declare myself abused and decry the terrible impact of it for fun or attention. I say it because those are the facts and because the impact was so great that recovering myself and my life became a full time occupation. I use the term ‘abuse survivor’ when I need to begin to explain my circumstances and also to connect with other survivors.

My Twitter bio. includes the phrase ‘abuse survivor’. Despite the title of this post, I actually don’t see myself as being a ‘self-styled’ abuse survivor. I am a ‘self-styled’ Wordsmith. That word, a cheeky nod to my love and life of writing, also appears in my Twitter bio. Describing myself as an abuse survivor is nothing more or less than a statement of fact. I use it on Twitter because it’s there, and via WordPress blogs, where I’ve found it possible to connect with other survivors – for mutual support and learning. It’s not to say ‘oh poor me‘ or ‘oh look at me‘. Given the amount of shame that survivors feel – that one is pretty much universal – that’s hardly likely. It is to say here I am, this is a part of my experience and I’m here if you’d like to connect. 

Where does pride come into it? Well, I imagine that ‘survivor pride’ … no, as far as I’m aware that isn’t a thing nor am I trying to make it one. I use the term loosely for the purposes of this blog post only … is something akin to Gay Pride. Once again, it’s not about narcissism. We don’t have ‘Heterosexual Pride’. We don’t have it, because we don’t need it, anymore than we need ‘White Pride’. Homosexuality, however, has long been the subject of oppression, abuse, ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. It remains illegal in parts of the world, and persecution is not uncommon.

If I’d held on to my sense of self faced with that lot, I’d be damn proud too.

And that’s how I feel about being proud to be an abuse survivor. I can’t change what happened to me, it was vile and appalling and has come close to killing me more than once. I’m not proud that it happened but I’m proud that I am not bitter, that I am a kind, caring, empathetic, inclusive, creative, vital … and witty(!) … person in spite of it. I’m extremely proud that I’ve achieved that after such terrible experiences and in an ongoing fight to thrive in the face of a scarcity of empathy and appropriate support and resources.

Like so many things in life, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not apply to ‘abuse survivors’. We are not a homogeneous group. Each survivor’s experience of abuse is different – abusers too have abuse in common but are otherwise varied. Abuse is often a life-altering experience with recovery sometimes life-long, but there are some for whom the impact is smaller. There’s no right or wrong way to be an abuse survivor. It is what it is according to each individual’s experience.

I have encountered enormous strength of character, courage and kindness among survivors. But that’s not to say that these people are ‘saints’. They are real people – as complex and varied as anyone else – who happen to have also endured something truly terrible. Abusers don’t discriminate, they’ll abuse whomever or whatever they can get. Abuse happens in all areas, all walks of life.

I could describe in graphic detail some of the abuse that I have experienced and that of other survivors I have got to know, either through work or friendship. I have knowledge that bleach couldn’t sanitise, but bluntly disgorging it here to attest to the veracity of the ‘abuse survivor’ would be crass. That’s not to say that I don’t think greater awareness of what people have to endure, survive and how they can struggle to go forward in life, and why, wouldn’t be helpful.

I believe in freedom of speech. That author of that tweet exercised hers. I’m happy to say that I’d fight for any abuse survivors right to declare themselves as such, and for their freedom of speech.

I feel like I just ran a marathon 

9:55am I’m in bed, heart racing and body exhausted as though I’ve just collapsed over the finishing line at the end of an arduous race. 

I’ve just completed my first session with my trauma therapist since the 8th of February. I’ve phoned in for our regular session (this is a voluntary sector trauma therapy service that is delivered by means of a 50 minute weekly telephone call) most weeks in the intervening period but have been unable to utter a single word, not even so much as hello, and have felt utterly compelled to hang up. This is not a natural course of events for a chatterbox like me who is ordinarily an engaged and proactive therapy client.

Fear, even terror, and shame forced the silence, exacerbated by my having not yet established a relationship with my therapist, as I only became her client at the very end of last year. There’s much to unpick within that fear and shame. In the simplest terms, it’s fear that, after the terrible events of last year, there is now no hope of receiving any support, and shame at being who I  am, where I am. The terror is at potentially being hurt again by a ‘caring professional’ and, worst still, that if no help is possible, my fight to not only survive but to thrive could have been in vain. 

It’s taken a lot of work on my part to get to the point where I could today regain my voice. For a moment there as I wrote that I had the urge to cry hang out the flags … I did it! 

I may write some more later about the content of today’s session but my focus here is on the result of the session.

I feel glad that I was able to reconnect with my therapist today. We don’t yet have any real connection and I wish we could have talked for so much longer than 50 minutes but it was something, and it was helpful if only in as much as I could share some things and feel heard. 

I feel a renewed determination to try to finish the, to date, 75% completed pair of blog posts telling the story of the last year. In order to write about it, I must confront the events of the year and that is proving to be traumatic. 

Realistically, I’m unlikely to wotk on those posts today as I’m shattered having only slept for 90 minutes last night. I’m genuinely struggling to keep my eyes open and my brain focused. I’m looking forward to an early night. I hope to work on completing those blog posts tomorrow. 

Feeding Myself

Note: I  wrote most of this post on Sunday but became swamped by trauma symptoms and wasn’t able to finish it until today, Wednesday 5th. 

My belly is full of wholemeal toast, eggs scrambled with spring onions and cheddar, seasoned with a dash of sea salt and lashings of black pepper.
I’m not a food writer nor do I aspire to be one, but I am inspired by at least two of them. My favourites, Jack Monroe and Ella Risbridger started out as bloggers, before books and the world of traditional publishing beckoned.

Until I reached ‘middle-age’ I had no real cooking confidence. I blogged about that and how that changed, here.

I have a difficult relationship with food. I have an eating disorder. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t all that difficult was it? Actually, you know what, it really was; it’s difficult for me to be open about it.
I’ve probably had a tendency to struggle with food for most of my life, but there have been two periods where that struggle became a full blown eating disorder.The reason it’s so difficult for me to discuss isn’t because I feel ashamed about it in myself. I recognise it as an illness and accept that the trauma and abuse that I’ve experienced lie at the root of it. However, I am aware of the stigma that it carries.

Many people, including some medical professionals, scoff (I know, I couldn’t resist the ironic pun) at the very idea that binge-eating disorder is described as an eating ‘disorder’ at all. I’m just fat and greedy, right? If you don’t agree with that last statement, you might be surprised by how many people would.

Beat, the UK’s leading charity providing support for, and campaigning about, eating disorders, has this to say: “Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and overeat on a regular basis.”  You can read more on the Beat web site, here.

In recent years ‘fat-shaming’ has become ‘a thing’ and some have fought back against those who seek to mock, deride or in any way bully someone who is overweight. An element of ‘fat pride’ has emerged, with a rise in plus-size bloggers and models.

I’d like to be fat and proud. That’s not because I’m happy being so overweight, I’m not in the least, and that’s entirely because of the impact that it has on my health and fitness. I’d like to have that ‘fat-pride’ while I remain this size because I do not want to feel shamed or otherwise negatively regarded because of my size.

I’m never going to be without curves, that’s the way I’m built. I’m a pear-shaped woman with an ample bosom. I’ll gladly celebrate those curves, in the way that I’d encourage anyone to be body confident; body positive.

I want to beat my eating disorder and lose weight. I want to regain, and revel in, my fitness because of the positive impact that is has on my life. I did beat the disorder the first time around. I did it without help, not because I was trying to go it alone but because I wasn’t offered any. After regaining some control over my eating patterns, it was some years before I was able to lose the weight I’d gained as result of the disorder. I did it between 2011 and 2012, losing five stone.

I was inspired by the ‘Hairy Dieters’ television programmes, they focus on that old chestnut, a low calorie diet and increased exercise. The hairy ones aim to make low calorie options that taste good and satisfy. It takes effort to lose weight and every bit of incentive you can muster really helps.

After leaving my husband, I took up running in early 2014. In reality I took to walking on my treadmill and slowly built up to being able to run a mile a day, but ‘I took up ‘treadmilling” doesn’t have the same ring to it. (Click on ‘treadmill’ in the tag cloud on my blog homepage, if you’re interested in reading about my route to running.) I’ve NEVER been ‘sporty’ but I really grew to love running, or more likely the endorphins that the activity released, that and the vast improvement in my fitness and my body confidence.

I’m probably not quite back at my heaviest ever weight, I can’t be sure because my scales have broken and I can’t afford to replace them, but as a result of this relapse into an eating disorder, and so months spent in the grip of compulsive eating, I’ve gained at least six stones in weight over a period of around 18 months.

Last year I asked for help via my GP surgery and the Intensive Home Treatment Team (mental healrh out patient crisis service) many times, and with increasing desperation. I knew that this time I needed help to beat it. Despite my massive weight gain in a short space of time and a new diagnosis of very high cholesterol levels, I’ve been offered no help ar all.

My trauma therapist said we could do some work around my eating issues, but given we already have so many other high priorities stacked up, that’s not practical. The Intensive Home Treatment Team psychiatrist promised to speak to the local eating disorders service about the possibility of support for me there. She told me that she’d get back to me. I chased it up when she didn’t and was rudely told that I’d already been told “NO”. I wasn’t in a position to argue and didn’t receive any fuller explanation.

At least my GP’s urgent referral for trauma therapy had got me onto a two year waiting list … I love the NHS but have long found its mental health services to be chronically underfunded and often poorly staffed, and it’s trauma services (that’s the psychological version not A&E) rarer than hens’ teeth. Again and again I’ve turned to the voluntary (charity) sector, itself often cash-strapped with services oversubscribed. As a result, services often receive scant advertising.Many hours of research can be required to uncover what might be available, and then often complicated application processes follow. Recently I bagged a place on a waiting list for a ‘trauma support worker’ – essentially, someone to meet once or twice a month who can provide moral support, guidance and practical help as you work to rebuild your life. I’m due to reach the top of that list in early 2019.

But back to the impact of the eating disorder, I think that I’m now the most unfit that I’ve ever been, and that does not feel good AT ALL. In fact, it’s really rather frightening, the detrimental impact on my health is evident.

I am beginning to cultivate a more positive connection to food, and the beginnings of this new relationship were nurtured by those food bloggers, Jack and Ella.

Jack’s engaging blog began when poverty forced Jack to feed themself and their toddler son (Jack identifies as non-binary and so prefers the gender neutral pronoun ‘their’) for £10 a week. Jack’s no-nonsense style and inventive recipes are budget-conscious and also an excellent resource for.anyone seeking the confidence to cook from scratch.

Ella’s writing is more lyrical, hers is the poetry of food writing. Sometimes high-falutin’ ingredients could be off-putting if you’re a beginner or more especially if you’re low on funds. I’ve yet to try an Ella recipe, but still I savour her blog. I’m along for the ride, vicariously living her altogether nourishing relationship with food and cooking, and learning from it.

What both Jack and Ella have in common is that they have both introduced me to the idea that preparing nutritious food for myself can be a healing endeavour. The process of preparing and cooking food, chopping, stirring, whisking, can, and should be, a mindful, meditative experience, allowing for calm concentration and a break from a traumatised, troubled, or simply busy mind. You savour the process as much as the end result. There’s also achievement and satisfaction in both admiring and eating your creation, however small or simple! Cooking for oneself can be a nourishing experience, not just for the body, but also for the mind.

I particularly enjoy making Jack’s easy peasy Coconut Milk Soda Bread. Jack’s description of rocking a warm, snuggly bundle is my idea of a great twist on ‘comfort food’!

This weekend I’ve discovered the joy of baked eggs all kinds of ways.

Baked Eggs: Mushroom and vegetarian-style ‘Pepperoni’ and Spring Onion and Cheddar, perhaps not the prettiest dishes but certainly very tasty!

I also tried a Sainsbury’s recipe for a healthy snack – roasted chickpeas – simply a can of chickpeas drained, patted dry and mixed with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon of  both cumin and ground coriander, then roasted in the oven  I really fancied these savoury nuggets but was disappointed with the results. I’d been expecting the promised crunchy snack but in reality felt I could’ve been eating cardboard!

Chickpeas: drained, dried and spiced
then roasted to look great … and taste like cardboard

Put chickpeas to better use and make your own houmous, it’s a gazillion times more healthy than shop-bought versions and tastes great. The easy recipe in the Healthy Living Yearbook is another favourite of mine.

Homemade houmous

I may have Complex Trauma but I’m not a complex cook; I’m a ‘spoonie’! Unfortunately, cooking often falls off the bottom off my to do list when ‘spoons’-  a.k.a energy and the capacity to function – run out.Quick and easy recipes are my way to go.

I’ll discuss my efforts to again overcome an eating disorder together with my hopes for and also my reservations about seeking support via Overeaters Anonymous, in a later post.

.

Making the leap

I’m almost surprised that the cogs of my brain can’t be heard clanking with all the wrangling, wracking, worrying and wondering that’s going on in there. 

Momentarily inspired, I’ve just jotted a few suggestions under the title of that third listHow Do I Get From One To The Other? 

  •  with the help of the local advocacy service 
  • by knowing my rights
  • by recognising my worth
  • by being helped to assert my needs and secure ways to have them met
  • by learning to be confident that I an deserving regardless of how some have acted as though I was not 

I can be very assertive and can advocate for the world and his dog, but the effects of abuse and trauma impede my ability to do it for myself.