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 set on dying?

I want to die. I really want to die. I just want this to end.

Those thoughts have been uppermost after months of waxing and waning. I’ve continued to fight but my ongoing deterioration is undeniable.

I long for someone to tell me to sit down, to say ‘let me do it’, to take the strain if only for a few moments, and for them to bring me a cup of tea and a sandwich. I long for someone to let me curl up under some ‘comforter’ and pour it all out. I LONG to feel connection to someone. I long to be heard. I long for kindness and support. I long not to have to do everything by myself, to be able to stop having to continually fight horrors alone. I long not to feel that on occasion I have to inappropriately ask support of people who should not be giving it, because I am desperate. Like the person you know only to nod hello to at work only to then find yourself suddenly having to ask them to wash your smalls or some other indignity – and no, I haven’t actually done that one. I long to be asked: What do you need? What would help right now? and to feel that the person asking was willing to try, amid their own limitations be they geographical, health or time or otherwise related, to try to work with me to make some progress.

At some point during the night, a friend on hearing of my suicidal despair told me to ‘stay with him’ and that we’d ‘try to find a way through’. Such powerful words when you’ve lost hope and need something to which to CLING. Those are just the words you need from friends at the worst of times. Certainly I was glad to hear them, only I couldn’t take comfort in them.

We have never met. We live many miles apart. We are online friends, although we have come to chat on the phone in recent months. I haven’t had the gut feeling that there is something to fear from the friendship and that it would be dangerous for me to proceed, as I’ve had many times in the last 15 years. I trust my ‘gut’ but have forced myself to ignore it since loss and illness narrowed my world to such an extent that I came to feel that this ‘beggar’ couldn’t afford to be choosy. Every time my gut instinct proved right but not before I’d paid the price for ignoring it. This friend, of last night’s words, and I have some shared experience and this friend undeniably has empathy. Although it’s a relatively new friendship, this person appears to have a good grasp of what I’m about and a reasonable grasp of my complex circumstances. Finally, after the last year, too many damaging encounters and friends who have betrayed my trust have left me unable to trust and connect. I can now only see that this friend, and any others, will come to stop caring.

One thing I know about you is that this isn’t your fault, more that it’s an unholy concoction of circumstances … You’re my friend and I’m very proud to know you. How can this friend – an ordinary bloke, said with no disrespect but a worry that perhaps I am under-estimating – say that where other friends can not? If older friends* – those in whom I can still feel something, could say words like this, the power would be extraordinary and could catapult me into new connections with some confidence. Does anyone understand what I mean? If people who have known me for years, who were once very close to me can’t say/act like that I matter, on top of the betrayals of family, can I ever really matter to anyone else? *They are now so very few, admittedly this is a very small sample.

It seems ‘crazy’ to think that when my abuse was first revealed more than 15 years ago and I became so very ill, I consoled myself with the thought that friends would rally …
I didn’t expect that I would lose so many of them because they couldn’t or wouldn’t understand and so rejected me, or found my situation too uncomfortable and so distanced themselves. I pushed away the stragglers who remained on the periphery, too terrified to confide for fear of more of the same. A few years ago I reconnected with one such friend lost in that way, someone I valued very much and trusted, but ultimately there is now only more distance. This is alienation in the truest sense, my situation and suffering (I hate to apply that word to me; it feels to reek of self pity) too alien to comprehend, and waaaaay too alien to ever want to embrace. I long for that ’embrace’, some connection. I belong nowhere …
It seems crazy because in spite of all that, deep down inside somewhere the desire for friends to rally still lives on.

Picture me, if you will, clinging to a perilously lofty cliff face with no safety lines and ever-crumbling hand and footholds, frequently flailing, slipping and falling, before grasping and clinging on again by the merest margin.

I want to let go. I want nothingness to engulf me.

Count your ‘pegs’, or whatever climbers call those things that they tap into rock, your ‘ harness’ and other ‘safety lines’, for me now, will you, please? Perhaps there’s a spouse or partner, a pet, a home of your own, children, a job, sufficient income, food in your fridge, connections and pleasures, colleagues, friends, wider family, history and memories, a safe place, a trusted professional. Things that amid stress, and even at the worst of times, to which you can cling and feel grounded, tethered, held in place – pinned to that cliff face even though you are terrified, even though your predicament is hellish, you are held in place. I ask this because in all these years I have never yet encountered any other ‘struggler’ without tethers. Plenty who can feel that they are without them, who can struggle to see them, yes, but no one without any in actuality. A GP once told me that those people never make it. I like to defy odds but in the last year I have feared I’ve been stupid in my dogged belief that I could.

Fantasies and fear are my only ‘tethers’. I want to write more on this but I’m flagging. I’ll try to do it in another post, except to say that in the absence of psychosis and with depression only rarely removing my rationale, I fear a suicide attempt failing and landing me in a worse situation. I’m not living, I’m existing, but I’m failing to die.

I live with the knowledge that if I were to go missing there is no one to notice or to raise an alarm, and that if I were to die it could be weeks before I would be found. I don’t dream up these thoughts to dwell or wallow or feel sorry for myself. They are facts I’ve been forced to face in the last couple of years. Realisation slow in the making but helped along by having to beg a near stranger to help me to get to A&E in December and the days that I’ve gone without food since 2015, either through lack of funds or lack of capacity due to illness to prepare something, because there was no one willing to help – for eight days at worst. It’s immensely difficult to lay bare these examples as the circumstances surrounding them are complex and there is much left unsaid. I fear misunderstanding and negative judgement.

I’d never heard those words before last night, not in all those years or the preceding years of abuse and trauma. Not one of the people I loved and cared about ever said those words or any remotely like them. I’ve said those words VERY many times. I’ve actually lost count of the number of times I dealt with someone else’s suicidal crisis between 2011 and 2016 alone. I have quite a record and, given that I’m not a Samaritans volunteer or mental health professional, it’s probably a fairly unusual one. I jump in, a LOT, always hoping to make a positive difference but sometimes for misguided, even unhealthy, reasons, mostly a desperate need to try to prevent others feeling what I feel.

I have had not a single regret that I cut myself off from what remained of my family as it was only, and could only ever be, abusive. Likewise I have never regretted leaving my marriage a little over three years ago. It was dysfunctional, deeply unhealthy for the most part and has been described by others as sometimes being abusive; I find it difficult to claim that. The hugs were wonderful, as sometimes was the kindness and the connection, but the damage it was doing, ultimately to both of us, was too great. I am sad that illness and my circumstances have isolated me. I am angry that chronic under-funding of health and social care has killed many and severely worsened my own health and circumstances leaving me to suffer acutely, unnecessarily, and unable to ‘grab life by the horns’ and thrive. Again, that’s so difficult to say. Ultimately, I’ve been rendered housebound for the past four months – no longer able to leave my flat either psychologically or physically due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and issues of pain, fatigue and mobility.

Inside my mind I am as proactive as ever, as hard working, as determined, as enthusiastic, as ‘can do’, as ‘grab life by the horns’ but now mostly only when I unconsciously dissociate from reality. Reality that includes a sick body; a mind tormented by loss, grief , loneliness and desperate desire to thrive; hunger; and isolation so complete that I don’t know when I’ll next see or speak to another human, and I’m struggling to remember when I last saw someone. I am permanently online, often now too lost to connect to anyone but still ‘seeing’ the world, if only virtually, remains a sort of tether but one without comfort. Without it these past few months, I think I would already be dead. It’s kept me from completely losing my mind.

I hoped that writing this would provide some sort of catharsis. I have written it to try to let it out of my head. I have written it while trying not to try to hard, trying not to think of the audience or worry who might judge, feel offended or otherwise react negatively. Part of me doesn’t want to receive comments on this post but another part cannot allow me to enter my WordPress ‘dashboard’ and turn off that function on this post. I fear judgement and disdain. I fear troubling anyone. Another part wants people who know me to read this post, and wants to find ways to encourage that. I know I welcome questions and would welcome the attempts of others, especially my friends, to learn and understand. I am thoughtful and reflective and my depth of insight is frequently noted but I think I may currently lack the wherewithal to isolate my motivations, comprehend and marshal them in my best interests. Perhaps I am setting myself up for more hurt? Part of me feels that I should let people grow ever distant, set them free.

I have continued to engage with my online friend since we connected late last night. I am in the sitting room at my desk writing this post. I emailed my recently allocated social worker, ostensibly my key worker, around 8 this morning to let her know that I am in dire straits. I have been told there is nothing that can be offered right now, but I forced myself to ask her directly if there is anything at all  that she could do to help me at this time. Occasionally, pushing hard reveals that actually something is possible, but my experience is that pushing alone, however skillfully, is rarely enough. You’re easily dismissed when alone and without others to back you. I had to do something having failed to find the courage to attempt to kill myself. I’ve not yet received a reply but continue to compulsively check my email. She might even be on leave. The working day is all but over as I write this sentence, at any rate.

I could say more; I still feel compulsive urges to do so, particularly around the suicidal ideation, and also expanding on reasons for the dearth of support, in a desperate attempt to make readers understand. I shall refrain from doing so, and deploy my inner ‘Tigger‘ to publish and be damned.

Final note: I have just received a reply from the social worker. It is kind enough but offers no support, just tells me to keep keeping on by myself and reminds me of the usual crisis lines. I will try to write specifically about the health and social care support situation soon.

Thank you for reading.

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.

Silence Is Not Golden

I’m waiting for Bob, the smiley man from the pharmacy, to deliver my weekly package of Fibromyalgia medication. Only he’s not so smiley anymore; instead he looks both disconcerted and slightly disgusted, faced each week as he is now with my shambolic self; undressed, unwashed and sometimes smelly. 

I automatically summon a smile and good manners, but with my increasingly poor dental hygiene and dead-eyed dissociation neither can offer much reassurance. 

I’m unsure as to whether it’s a fear of intruding or an absence of community spirit that prevent him, in recognition. of my dramatic deterioration, asking if I am OK or if I need anything.

Weeks ago I couldn’t have dreamed of answering the door, allowing someone to see me in such a state, with Bob it’s become the norm. 

His deliveries have always taken only a moment or two, perhaps because in this largely ‘permit-only’ zone, he is parked on double yellow lines below, or perhaps his speed merely reflects efficiency. I’d guess his age to be beyond that of average retirement. He has a handsome, healthy appearance and sprints up the stairs to my second floor flat with the ease of a teenager. In the wake of my escalating disarray, he’s shaved seconds off his time. 

I did write for several hours on Sunday and into Monday, working on that significant post, mentioned here. I am trying to tell the story of the past year. It looks as though it’s to be set out in two parts, with the first giving background, context; setting the scene. The second a planned to be a bullet pointed list giving details of each trauma as they came, in rapid fire succession. 

I’d have said perhaps that each bullet left clear entry and exit wounds. They passed through and I carried on, like cinematic villains or monsters that just won’t lie down and die, but continue to advance while riddled with bullet holes. 

Now, I wonder about the impact of those bullets. I see now that they must have torn me apart inside  I knew I had been hit, repeatedly. I didn’t ignore it and I did ask for help … repeatedly … but none came. 

I think I was shattered. I realise I was silenced as surely as though a bullet had sliced through my vocal chords.

Bob has just made his delivery, the door is locked once more. My focus is now solely on completing this piece of writing, catching the words as they flow. 

I know that it feels good to write like this – as I couldn’t for so very long. Writing for me is like receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. I’m not sure I can assess the quality of this writing but it feels very good! Instantly I fear that must mean that it is in fact far from that. Yet it’s as though I’ve tapped into a natural spring that flows with exuberant ease. Clear. Fresh. True. It flows, seemingly without effort, almost certainly without strain. 

It’s as though it has to be written, would write itself if it could, and that I’m merely a conduit. Except I am connected to these words, they are telling my story.

On Sunday the pace of progress was rather more sluggish. The flow murky and stilted, like a tap turned on for the first time after the supply has been turned off, to allow the water company to attend to a burst pipe.The cloudy flow splutters, disgorges a flurry of debris into the sink. The tap-turner’s nose wrinkles in distaste.

I found the writing process increasingly stressful. I couldn’t tap into the feelings associated with the traumatic events of the past year without experiencing increasingly acute distress. I determined to press on feeling that this work was vital, the key to progress. I felt that if I could find the words here then, perhaps, I could find the words out there

With ‘part one’ nigh on complete, I reviewed and edited it until I could take no more. I wanted to publish and see the achievement of at least 50% of the task completed, but something held me back. The words felt forced, although they were not inaccurate, they did not feel true. Perhaps that makes no sense? 

The fog was closing in again. The clearing where I’d stood while I blogged for those few days last week, swallowed up. I was left with only terror and desolation for companions. I imagine their laughter deadened by the cloudy cloak but still perceptible. They roared at my gullibility, my willingness to hope that there might have been a way out. 

I soon as I try to write or speak about the trauma of the past year, the flow becomes stilted and murky, and then it stops. 

I was schooled in silence. As tools of the trade go, it’s pretty essential to an abuser. Without it they must rely on apathy or disbelief on the part of anyone hearing, or else they themselves must rely on the tool of discredit to save their skin. When the reality of my family life was finally disclosed, well into adulthood,  to a locum GP, the only one to act on suspicions, and with the gentle telling that followed that this was abuse and I didn’t have to live like that anymore, I knew. I knew that I had to learn to open up, that to begin to heal I had to tell. I did so. 

So, last year, I kept going, bullet holes and all, until a small event on the 13th of February this year (I’m not superstitious, the date is purely coincidental) became a monumental trigger. 

Having concluded that I should hold off publishing ‘part one’, on Monday this week, an hour before I was due to receive a visit from my advocate I sent a desperate, terror-fuelled email cancelling my appointment. I was and remain petrified of the consequences of speaking out. I’ve lost count of how any times I’ve cancelled in recent weeks. 

All I can say now is that among the traumas of last year was an incident in which I disclosed significant trauma and detail of significant risk to myself to two trusted professionals. I was not believed, and lies were told about me. I was not treated with respect but rather with contempt. I was mocked. I was refused support. I was left sobbing like I’ve never sobbed before, traumatised and feeling dirty in a way that I hadn’t felt since the abuse that occurred within my family.

The whole event had an element of the surreal about it. It was such an appalling abuse of power, a disregard for professional standards and duty of care.so shocking, that it was difficult to take in that it really was happening. To make matters worse the incident happened in my own home, the only safe one I’ve known. 

I don’t know how I’ve managed to write parts of this post. I can feel both shame and terror lurking, waiting to pounce the moment I hit publish. 

Thursday into Friday 

Good morning 🙂 

I’m feeling positively breezy this morning but I think I may finally have learned not to get swept along by my need to be positive, and to understand that my current ‘breezy’ is a long way from the ‘breezy norm’. 

Any improvement, however slight, on being locked into the fog of dissociation with only terror and desolation for company is wondrous. That ‘wondrousness’ is  a bit of blighter actually because it can leave me feeling guilty, that things are not so bad after all and that I certainly ought not to be requiring, or even less, seeking any help. 

I grew up believing that I wasn’t suffering at all, despite experiencing appalling trauma and abuse. I notice that as I wrote those words I felt a twinge of guilt that made me cringe. Was it really so appalling? Am I exaggerating? I say that as someone who aged nine witnessed one parent actually trying to murder the other and, while still a child, lost a parent to suicide on my birthday. Those are but two of many more examples that I could give. 

I grew up with that belief partly because these events were given no more significance than a broken fingernail in terms of their impact on me, by those around me. It was also drummed into me that I had it so good and that there were so many people in the world worse off than me. Consequently, I can struggle with the distorted perception that if someone, anyone, is worse off than me then I am not struggling/suffering/in need and should just ‘get on with it’. 

Yesterday, I made and ate a plain omelette,  ran two dishwasher loads – making a sizeable dent in the accumulated kitchen ‘crisis detritus’ – ate some kidney beans with tomato, black pepper and cumin, and, when late yesterday evening hunger was still a problem but food was scarce, a bashed together a banana loaf which, despite being missing a couple of ingredients, turned out to be my tastiest yet. 

I also took the huge step of introducing my oldest friend to this blog, *waves hello to her*, and thoroughly enjoyed watching the final of the Great Pottery Throwdown. Although, I’ll be experiencing withdrawal symptoms now it and the Great Big Painting Challenge have both concluded this week! 

Today I will be focused on cleaning myself up (a far greater task than it may sound) and receiving a supermarket delivery of some groceries this evening. I hope to work on a significant blog post. It may prove challenging to compose but I believe the benefits of doing so will outweigh the challenges. 

ULTRA Jigsaw

The experience of trauma, particularly abuse, can fragment a life, and a person.

The process of recovering could be likened to tackling a jigsaw or crossword puzzle, the number of pieces or the complexity of the clues individually determined, as each individual’s experience of trauma is unique. Recovery too means different things to different people and can take many forms.

My recovery jigsaw is complex. I opened the box and tipped out 1000 puzzle fragments to be painstakingly pieced together. A combination of original and replacement pieces may be required if some are missing or too damaged to use. Rogue pieces may thwart progress appearing to fit in one place while their true location lies empty elsewhere.

The pieces are vulnerable …

The goal is a correctly completed puzzle, a myriad pieces picked up and put together to reform a whole. 

*****

Life as I knew it blew apart as surely as though a bomb had detonated within it. I lost my family, friends, my career, my health, and any semblance of normality. I was 30 years old. Subsequently, I almost lost my life too.

In the years immediately afterwards I met a woman, I’ll call her Eartha, at a community art project for people experiencing mental illness. My diagnoses then were Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Agoraphobia. Latterly my symptoms and experiences have been neatly bundled under the term ‘Complex Trauma’ which, as I understand it, is variously described as Complex PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) or Complex Trauma Disorder.

I don’t remember much about Eartha’s particular circumstances but I do remember asking her how long it had taken her to get her life back on track. 10 years, she said. I did a double take, stepped back in amazement, sank into a dramatic faint, and just about every other astonishment cliché you might name.

I jest, but I was truly horrified. NO WAY was it ever going to take me so long. My career, dreams, passions, and goals -none of which were inconsiderable – were waiting, and they were becoming impatient.

I’m now approaching 50. Never in my wildest nightmares did I imagine that almost 20,

years later, I’d still be struggling to compete that puzzle and stride forward into life again, much less that I’d yet again be fighting for my life.

This, is ULTRA Jigsaw: The Epic Endurance Event! It’s set to test my mettle, as though the original trauma weren’t challenge enough.

 So, why has it taken me so long?
Am I just slow and lazy?!
I’m actually very proactive, determined and driven.

I think the answer to the question of what’s taking so long is threefold.

I’ve been rebuilding my life on quicksand. I don’t yet have any firm foundations but that’s not for the want of trying. For a number of reasons, I’ve  lacked reliable consistent support. Mostly I’ve had to go it alone. The scale and complexity of the task itself is problematic. 

I was abused for decades.I lived in a situation of recurring trauma for more than 30 years, and then spent more than a decade in a damaging marriage on top of that.

I’ve been ‘free’ for just three years. 

I imagine that someone reading this might wonder why on earth I didn’t get out sooner. There is no quick answer but if I’m able to tell more of my story it will become clear. 

To be continued …

EULOGY: A POEM

TW: This post features themes of abuse, trauma and suicide. It may make difficult reading, however it is, ultimately, hopeful. 

Support is vital in all our lives. Appropriate support is paramount to survivors of abuse and trauma, and people living with mental illness.

I’m both, and know many others in the same boat. It is notoriously difficult to obtain – for reasons including, but not limited to, funding cuts; policy; limited awareness; and the constraints of symptoms and circumstances.

Last year I gained appropriate professional support for the first time, the resulting impact was life-changing.

Finally, I could do more than survive, more than fight, more than exist, more than toil, more than tolerate, more even than live. I could begin to thrive. I could, for the very first time be entirely myself … more than four decades into my life. I am rarely lost for words but there are none to describe how that felt. There was intense, profound, unadulterated JOY, but so much more.

In early April my trusted GP, the first to have seen and heard ME, relocated to a new city. A week later my housing support officer was withdrawn overnight, with only 24 hours notice.

At the beginning of that month I’d come to understand that now that I finally knew a sense of safety and some peace of mind, my mind was beginning to unlock trauma, pain, grief, anger, all yet to be processed. Also, thriving at last, I came to realise the extent of what had been stolen from and kept from me, for so very many years, and the impact of opportunities, such as motherhood, forever lost.

I must grieve. These are necessary steps on the road to healing. It was a process I welcomed and was at ease with, as far as one can be with these things. It began happening at a gentle pace, but a deluge was be triggered. On top of the loss of  support and the ‘unlocking process’, unexpected and significant stressful incidences occurred – not least the sudden re-emergence of a figure from my childhood, who then turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing. The combined impact was devastating.

My housing support had been approaching its natural end, with my housing crisis over, and related financial issues close to resolution. However, I was not in a position where it was safe for me to be left without any support. A phased ending to housing support and a supported transition to new support were required, to safeguard my well being and my safety. Instead, the ending of my housing support was extremely poorly handled and these measures, although agreed, were not implemented. A number of other vital assurances were broken and my trust betrayed.

Betrayal sounds dramatic. To have the trust of a survivor of abuse is a privilege, to willingly compromise it is to betray it and the person who gave it. For me, it triggered latent symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and resulted in an incidence of self harm. Such harm was never common for me, and had not occurred in many years. The betrayal of trust has also had a negative impact on my friendships.

I have now been without any professional support for more than nine weeks. I am presently unable to access any because I am terrified to trust again. I know I must, somehow. I’m working on it. I’m working very hard.

A survivor of abuse is vulnerable in the extreme. Like abusers, there are many who will exploit that vulnerability to some extent, sometimes maliciously, often not, but instead as a result of carelessness. It’s likely, as in my case, that an abuser(s) will not be the last to betray a survivor’s trust. After damaging experiences of professional ‘support’, it took huge nerve and a gargantuan leap of faith to try again last year, ten years on from my last encounters with support professionals.

I was experiencing my worst depressive episode for a decade and increasingly suicidal. I don’t lack courage and I’m commonly quite gung ho. Regardless, I had to reach rock bottom before I dared allow a support worker into my life. I was blown away by the quality of the service, and it was good. It’s perhaps worth noting that I have a tendency to focus too much on the positive and be too grateful, so may not fully appreciate negatives.

As the impact of appropriate support was profound, so was that of the betrayal.

Eulogy is inspired by these recent events and my experience of them. It’s told from the perspective of a support professional. It describes how it was for me – only the death (by suicide) and the worker’s thoughts are imagined. It could have been my reality in its entirety.

I live to fight on …

I welcome comments and discussion. I’d love to hear from health professionals and professionals working in the field of support and encountering clients who are survivors of abuse and/or experiencing mental illness. This post is NOT intended to berate or malign those professionals in any way. I write it seeking only to be seen and heard.

EULOGY

To the funeral he came
Head bowed
Inside it a bell tolled

He felt guilt, yet he bore none
He cared
She knew and was grateful

Her suffering appalled him
He ached
Now she was at peace they said

She found peace with me, he thought
She thrived
She was happy then and safe …

Long buried pains sought freedom
Safe now
Let them come and be processed

And so the key was turned
Box unlocked
Fear not, now the time is right

She could not cry, could not feel
Pain unleashed
She longed to move through it

Freedom she knew lay that way
True healing
The hose not blocked, free-flowing

It came, drip by drip at first
She welcomed
Meaning was not always clear

Not all dots could be joined
Confusion hampered
Slowly her vision cleared

Sudden withdrawal, word broken
Triggers impacted
She braced and held tight

She alone would be enough
She doubted
Her tenuous grip weakened

Without safety net, she hung
Dam breached
Tears flowed, fears grew, hope died

Reinstate support, she said
He ignored
Amid increasing swell she clung on

Trusted support is vital
She pleaded
I’m at risk, no longer safe

You must understand they said
Protocol matters
We can no longer support you

He didn’t reassure her
Stayed silent
Had he cared? Did he still?

She longed to know safety
She tried
They misunderstood her now

They judged, her trust collapsed
Not seen
She couldn’t make herself heard

When it came she was ready
She accepted
The torrent swept her away

No lifeboat or rescue came
She drowned
Few knew it to be a loss

He came to show respect once more
She mattered
He remembered her light

For once he couldn’t cry
He swallowed
He endured, just as she had

He hoped she had known he
Liked her
Might even have been her friend

He wished she could have lived
Known it
Believed, enjoyed and thrived

She knew that, he told himself
Had to
Could not dwell, he must go on

He left, head bowed once more
Something stirred
Inside she smiled, he cried

Copyright ‘heartsetonliving’ May 2016