Finding family

I could have applied to be on Long Lost Family with Nicky Campbell and Davina McCall. Instead, after my own extensive search proved fruitless, I turned to the Salvation Army.

The organisation runs a Family Tracing Service and will undertake, what are expensive searches, for a modest fee. From memory, I think I paid £25. I was looking for any surviving siblings of my father. To be frank, I’d have been happy to make contact with ANY relative on my father’s side, as I’d had no contact or knowledge of the paternal side of my family, since my father’s death when I was a child.

My surviving parent forbade me from going to his funeral and told me that from now on his family wanted nothing more to do with me. I was too young to really take it in, but I was devastated all the same. I thought I was at fault.

It was many years before I came to realise that I may have been lied to, as I had been about so very much else. Likewise, after my abuse was finally uncovered, I came to realise that I owed my surviving parent no loyalty.

I was nervous about finding my long lost family. I did fear rejection. I had no idea what they might make of contact from me, after more than three decades. I knew that one sibling had died for certain – the one with whom I had had the most contact. The Salvation Army were able to locate my father’s eldest sibling, who furthermore was happy for me to make contact. So I did, and I found my relative living in an area I’d known well as a young adult. We don’t have much in company, save for our ancestry, but I was able to learn some family history – I knew next to nothing – and I was loaned a HUGE box of family photographs and documents. Eventually, this relative put me onto my father’s other surviving sibling – an uncle – living on the other side of the world. I had been unable to find any record of him myself because I had incorrectly remembered his name, confusing it with that of my Godfather. Finding his contact details was not easy, but eventually by means of a daughter-in-law’s entry on the LinkedIn web site I was able to obtain an email address and I wrote to him. I received a warm and welcoming reply!

For the first time I felt a family connection. This sibling was closest in age to my father and they look similar. They also seemed to share a sense of humour. Looking at photographs gave me an idea of what my father might have looked like had he lived beyond early middle age. From my uncle I learned more about my father’s interests – most of which I happen to share – and he came alive again for me. I warmed to my uncle and liked him very much in his own right. I learned about his emigration journey, his new life and his second wife, my auntie. I so enjoyed our correspondence. This felt like relationship to cherish.

He rang me one Sunday and I chatted both to him and to my aunt for some time, sharing news and history and finding common interests. My aunt loves arts and crafts, as I do, and my uncle was learning to play the ukelele, as I was trying to learn to play the guitar. My aunt told me how delighted her husband had been when I had made contact. There were no recriminations, no hint of rejection, there was just joy.

They came to say that they loved me. I felt uncomfortable, finding myself thinking but you don’t know me and pondering whether this was heartfelt or just something that was said. The reason for this is that I don’t know what it is to be loved by family. I haven’t had that experience. My father may have loved me but our relationship had many complicating factors. My surviving parent was incapable of loving me, perhaps of loving anyone.

It’s not that I don’t welcome being loved by my long lost family. Family love is supposed to be unconditional and a founding fundamental that can be counted on as we grow. I didn’t have that experience and so this is all new to me. I am learning how to be with it.

The trauma and abuse that I experienced, and my continuing recovery from it, has impacted on our developing relationship. The email I had to write describing my father’s violence and the horrors I witnessed as a child was the most difficult. Nor was it easy either trying to explain how his suicide affected me, or how my surviving parent and a sibling had abused me, why it gone on for so long, and the resulting devastation to my life.

Describing my resulting experiences of mental illness, was hard. As I’ve previously written here, I fear being seen as weak. I fear people won’t see the real me. The last three years have been especially difficult, following the breakdown of my marriage, bereavements and further illness. I have not been in touch with my relatives nearly as much as I would’ve liked to have been, either because I haven’t had the capacity or because I haven’t known how to explain. Terminal illness, food banks, the threat of homelessness, bereavement, flashbacks and suicidal ideation have all touched my life in that time. These are not the easiest of topics of discussion.

Despite my nerves, I was determined to complete my search. My often ‘gung ho’ approach served me well here, as I forged ahead. Even if I had been rejected, I knew for certain that I would rather have tried. I didn’t want to be left wondering what if ..? 

I am genuinely thrilled to have found my uncle and aunt. Through them I also have contact details for some cousins in the UK. I had nothing before that in terms of family, everything I have now is huge bonus and I am so grateful for it. I didn’t know if any of my father’s siblings would still be alive. My uncle is, shall we say, a gentleman of advancing years. I’ve felt that time isn’t on our side and I’ve felt guilty about not doing more.

I wrote to my uncle for the first time in a few months just the other day. My aunt swiftly sent a lovely reply, but letting me know that my uncle was in hospital having had to be rushed in for heart surgery. I sensed her obvious worry and wanted him to be at home and well again for her. I felt worried for him and wanted him to be feeling much better soon and be back at home living life with his loved ones.

Inevitably, I also found myself worrying for us.

I don’t pray, I’m a Humanist, but I found myself wishing for more time. Please let us have at least a couple more years, I said aloud, please let us have that. Please let us have more time. It feels like we are just beginning. I am only just finding myself again and still have significant obstacles to overcome on this journey to recovery.

My uncle and I have met just once. I was just a few months old. He sent me a picture of himself holding me in his arms. Our conversation wasn’t up to much that day 😀  . I would love to visit them. I’ve even wildly thought of crowd-funding my airfare. Realistically, health-wise, it would be better for me to wait another year before attempting long haul travel. This all feels a bit ‘pie in the sky’, but who knows what’s around the corner.

My focus is of course on the positives but nonetheless, it is difficult and painful to know that someone wilfully robbed me of this relationship and left me without family for three decades. I had already lost my father in devastating circumstances and they ensured that I lost even more. Sometimes, I feel angry. I know that I have yet to fully heal from this because it’s only now in knowing some of my paternal relatives that I can fully begin to appreciate what I have missed out on. Now as well as celebrating and embracing these new relationships, I also need to grieve.

I’ve never had a happy family dinner or celebration. I’ve never been warmly embraced by a family member. I’ve never known what it was to have a family member feel proud of me or be there for me when I needed somewhere to turn.

I hope, as Operation Thrive continues a pace, that these family relationships can thrive too. Some much time has been lost. We can’t get that back. We can only try to make the most of what we’ve got.

Thank you for reading.

Heart x

P.s. How exciting that I’ve just been able to add the category ‘Family’ to my blog, for this post 🙂 .

 

 

Heart REset on Living + 14 days

Fourteen days on from the day that my high school ‘bestie’s’ unexpected appearance on my doorstep tethered me to life, a lot has happened.

I’ve made a lot of progress away from the suicidal depths and towards my goal of thriving. I’ve already written about my adventures in admin. I *think* I’m winning so far but there’s more to do!

Here’s what I’ve done so far. I’ll give you a bullet list, I’m going to write another post, perhaps tomorrow, about MY BIG PLAN.  With me, there is ALWAYS a plan … even if at the worst of times, it’s only a suicide plan. I thrive on planning, targets and goals, proactivity and productivity. Did I ever mention that I’m a wee bit driven …

Perhaps having to make the best of terrible circumstances when I was younger is what helps me to capitalise on every scrap of hope, opportunity or potential. Regardless of the reason I’m very grateful for that capacity.

  • I’ve showered 13 out of those 14 days.
  • I’ve been out twice to take out my rubbish, twice to visit my GP surgery and once to go to the hospital – having vital physical health checks. Bearing in mind that prior to this I had been completely housebound for four months.
  • I’ve started on the road to rebuilding my fitness and stuck to my plan for that.
  • Progress is ongoing following my assessment for social care (a personal assistant for four hours per week) – I’ll blog separately about that.
  • I’ve set the ball rolling for a return to the physiotherapy treatment I was about to begin when the crisis that left me housebound hit in February. I may not be allowed to resume – a funding issue – but it won’t be for the want of trying.
  • My eating is improving – another more in a separate post for that!
  • I’ve been keeping in touch with friends via email and social media and they are keeping in touch with me. I feel that I’m rebuilding some old friendships and developing new ones – if you fall into either category and agree, do let me know, my friendship confidence is still a little shaky :-).
  • Another dear friend stepped up two weeks ago, asking how she could help, her message moved me to tears. It’s gratitude, she said, for a “normal” life. This is because of the research I did that helped to crack the conundrum of the rare condition that was devastating her life. She said, “I have never nor will I ever forget what you have done for me.” I well remember her illness, and know I did research but much beyond that is lost to me. This was soon after my abuse was uncovered and the rug was pulled out from under me. I was all over the place but I’m so glad I seemed to have pulled it out of the bag then. Her words mean the world to me.
  • I asked a Twitter pal if she’d like to meet up next year – there’s reason for it being next year – and she said yes, which is lovely, and I look forward to our ‘day out’ .
  • I received a ‘care package’ in the post from another online friend, full of thoughtful items – either useful, fun or edible! From comedy dvds to batteries, a massage ball to peppermints.
  • On all the occasions that I left my flat I wasn’t wearing any make up (OK, except lipstick) this is also progress – and yes, more on that in a separate post!

I hyper-focus on ‘the bright side’ – that song could be my anthem, and I’ve recognised that in the last few days I’ve been having thoughts along the lines of … Look at you, you’re doing OK. You’re fine really. You don’t need support. It’s a familiar refrain.

I know a lot about ‘getting on with it’. I know a lot less about thriving within a supportive network. Growing up, trauma was played down and I was schooled to ‘get on with it’, to such an extent that it’s one of the main reasons that I didn’t recognise that I was being deliberately harmed.

Aside from that, having spent four months housebound, showering a couple of times a month, bingeing, starving and stinking, alone, dealing with flashbacks, grief and increasing despair, the last two weeks do look like nirvana in comparison!

I have to remind myself that while it’s great to applaud each step of progress and C-E-L-E-B-R-A-T-E the small things … it feels odd to call them ‘small’ because they are huge achievements when you’ve been struggling so much, but to most people showering, going outside, doing a little shopping, taking care of the basics, are small things … I have to have an eye on the bigger picture. That’s to say that I need to recognise the difficulties I still face, the burdens I carry and the mountains I have to climb, and allow myself to get help where I can AND feel worthy of it.

There’s more on the progress front but I think I’ve given you the highlights! I’m flagging, I’m low on spoons today. I plan to do my treadmill ‘5’ then allow myself to ‘flop’ and indulge in a telly fest of Doctor Who and Pitch Battle!

I don’t know where I would be now if my friend hadn’t made that mercy dash two weeks ago. I am glad that I don’t have to think about that.

Thank you for reading. As ever, I welcome comments, conversation and tweets.

Heart x

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.