Boarding the Social Care Merry-go-round

Hello again ūüôā !

Please note that I wrote this post several weeks ago following a social care assessment by a social worker that had taken more than a year to come about following an urgent referral. Lots has happened, and changed, since then as more recent posts evidence, but I wanted to post this to update this part of the story and so that I can next post a more brief update on the social care front.

This is an intense post … very raw

*** TRIGGER WARNING – this post contains mention of suicidal ideation and brief description of planned method – but with an optimistic outcome, I promise. It also contains a sweary moment.***

I’m afraid to get too excited. I’m scared to hope until it’s all been verified and approved. And yet somewhere inside me it’s bubbling away, small but unbridled, fizzy excitement.

It’s keeping me on¬†top of a precipice, by keeping hope alive.

Since my collapse in mid February, it’s been quite the job to stay alive … too many times I’ve almost tumbled over the edge.

****

Having experienced significant trauma and having been abused for many years, I’ve experienced suicidal feelings on and off since my late teens – that’s almost three decades – due in part to mental illness caused by the trauma and abuse. They call that being ‘passively suicidal’, which sounds rather like there’s some relaxed, chilled vibes going on. In actual fact, feeling suicidal, regardless of whether you’ve reached the ‘actively suicidal’ stage of making and seeking to execute suicide plans, can be HORRIFIC.

Sometimes suicidal despair is less about mental illness and more a human, albeit extreme, reaction to devastating circumstances. It’s often a desire to end the most terrible pain, and to end life appears the only way to do that.

I’ve been actively suicidal around four times in all those years. I’ve made only one actual attempt to end my life (a survived attempt is known as a parasuicide) and that was a little over a decade ago. At that time I was very mentally unwell and poorly supported as I tried to come to terms with the recent realisation¬†that the family members to whom I was devoted, hadn’t loved me at all and had sought only to harm me. Furthermore, that estrangement from them – what remained of my family – was the only way forward.

Since then¬†I’ve become far less mentally unwell on account of a lot of psychotherapy and a lot of hard work. I’m lucky that’s worked for me, it’s not the same for everyone. Mental illness can be as individual and as complex as those who experience it. I’ve also¬†become¬†extremely well practised at keeping myself safe even in extreme circumstances. I know that if I can’t keep myself safe, that that’s an¬†emergency situation. The difficulty comes when the¬†system does not have the resources to provide appropriate support.

In July last year I set up a noose in my flat, carefully balanced I tested it to ensure that it was fit for purpose. As, during this test, I settled it around my neck, the phone rang suddenly – loud and shrill. I started and almost fell off the object on which I stood, and which ultimately I was planning to kick away …¬†It’s not funny, it’s really not, but still I find myself laughing now. You could not make it up.

I could just have gone with it but instead I fought to right myself and hurried to¬†the phone. My phone rarely rings. I answered to hear the voice of someone who has rarely called and never without being asked to do so. I do not believe in divine intervention but the interruption gave me sufficient pause. The ‘spark’, as I think of it, inside me that’s kept me alive through everything¬†yelled … Do not fucking extinguish me. I am not done yet. It’s pretty difficult to ignore ol’ ‘Sparky’.

That said, in spite of the urge to fight on, I knew that I was under a great deal of pressure in very difficult circumstances. I knew that I was losing the capacity to keep fighting by myself. I knew to ask for help and I did, but it didn’t come. I had my first ever direct experience then of a mental health assessment – carried out in the large and somewhat forbidding psychiatric hospital in the city where I live. I was found to be ‘too well’ for inpatient care (much to my relief, I admit) but also for the support of the community based Intensive Home Treatment Team or ‘crisis team’. I was told that there was nothing else. The assessing doctor did suggest that I try volunteering as a means to ‘occupy myself’. The irony that I’d spent the previous four years volunteering, first for two years in that very hospital, setting up and running a not inconsiderable project by myself supporting ex and current patients, and a further two years working with a mental health charity, was not lost on me. I didn’t need to be occupied, I was more than capable of doing that for myself, sometimes to excess in a bid to keep myself going. I needed some practical and emotional support, for I had none.

***

In recent years, a complex set of circumstances including marriage breakdown and later divorce, two major bereavements, unexpected severe financial difficulty leaving me unable to afford to heat my home and dependent on food bank for three months and in fear of losing the roof over my head, had threatened my mental health again.

Added to that, was the fact that I was driving myself into the ground by working my socks off to get myself through all of this and onto a better future. I drove myself to breaking point. Support did materialise for six months, in the shape of my GP, a housing support officer and a friend. I made huge strides and began to thrive. Then my GP relocated, in the same month my housing support worker was withdraw overnight … the service is limited due to budget constraints.

By this time, a little over a year ago, I’d begun experiencing flashbacks¬†to abuse of which I’d previously had no memory. I experienced intense anxiety that I hadn’t felt in years, and I also began to realise that dissociation had likely long been some part of my experience. The friend who been supportive, began to back off at this point, seemingly unwillingly to believe in flashbacks and dissociation, because they were outwith her own experience.

It seems as though having finally got out of my marriage, which wasn’t healthy, having some support in place and space to be myself, something unlocked in my mind. I already knew there were some things that I still needed to process in therapy, but I came to realise that there was more than I knew. In addition to the flashbacks and anxiety, it was as though I could suddenly feel the impact of all of the loss that I have experienced, and the attendant grief. That’s everything from the loss of my whole family, through losing my career, close friends and my marriage – all as a result of abuse/trauma, through the loss of the opportunity to have children, and right down to the permanent loss of a¬†significant amount of my hair due to alopecia.

The pain was off the scale and unable to obtain any support despite, even if I do say so myself, valiant efforts, my mental and physical health deteriorated rapidly, until one day in February this year I could do no more and was left with the barest of function.

***

When I moved into my second floor flat a little over two years ago, I could run from the street below up the numerous stairs to my front door, in a one-er. I was EC-STAT-TIC the first time I managed it. I might as well have run the London Marathon … in record time … such was the size of this¬†achievement.

I’ve never been what you’d call ‘sporty’ and, although I love to walk, I couldn’t ever imagine having any desire to run. It took among other things a broken back; the loss of my family, close friends, my career and my hair; a suicide attempt that left me in cardiac arrest, and finally a broken marriage to send me in search of my very own running machine.

My health is a bit wonky these days. I say these days. The wonkiness set in before I was 30 and I’m now approaching 50.

Aside from the umbrella of ‘Complex Trauma’ – which for me includes¬†Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression, an eating disorder and compulsive skin picking known as Dermatillomania; I have several physical conditions¬†for which there is currently no cure. The former is a direct result of my experiences of abuse and trauma.

Lots of bits¬†hurt; bits squirt, leak and splutter. Bits fall out and bits malfunction in such a way as to leave me feeling as though I’ve gone 10 rounds in a centrifuge. Among other things, I can be incontinent, my¬†mobility can be impaired, I experience memory loss, pain disrupts normal function and, when this lot really means business, I cease to function.

I’m great at faking wellness and pretty bad at showing sickness. It kills me to tell you – unless you’re in the same ‘club’ – how bad I’m really feeling. I’ll really try but I’ll skirt, feint and increasingly hesitate. It’ll be like pulling teeth and you’ll probably end up none the wiser.

Right now, I haven’t been able to leave my flat for almost four months and an attempt to run up those stairs would foolhardy to say the least. The treadmill is gathering dust but I still yearn to run.

I’m always going to be limited in some ways by health issues, but careful self management – to be fair, a rigorous regime of physiotherapy, graded exercise, medication, diet, meditation and more – has in the past meant I could make more of my ‘spoons‘. That’s what got me in a position to be able to run a mile several days per week. I don’t mind putting the work in, far from it, but support is necessary to sustain it.

The responsibility of care/support falls first to families, no matter their age, then friends … neighbours … the world and his dog. Social care is not readily provided by the state. Hoops must be conjured, immolated and resurrected before then being jumped¬†through so accurately as to achieve a perfect score.

At the time of writing – popping between this and Twitter as all good writers do (!) – two tweets appeared on my timeline¬†both, although carrying dispiriting messages, suitably illustrate this post.¬†Cue a further frisson of excitement, stirring music, and … and … the … the …THE STARS ARE ALIGNING!

I have to shake myself back to reality. After suicidal depths and isolation, so perpetual as to rival purgatory without the promise of heaven, real¬†hope can send one a tad giddy …

This tweet pictured below is from a psychiatrist working in an NHS Accident and Emergency Department. Whether a real or an ironic example, the message is the same. Resources are very limited, ever more strict criteria is applied to determine who may receive them. People in need can and do slip through the widening cracks in the system. The second tweet contained a link to this article in the Guardian.
Tweet 24 May 2017 to use to illustrate a HSOL blog post

This is not a great time to be vulnerable or disabled. 

After completing the lengthy assessment – in two visits of around 80 minutes each – my newly allocated social worker tells me that she thinks her request for support for me – four hours per week delivered in two hourly sessions – will be approved.

To have real possibility of a support worker or personal assistant (PA) – appropriate, flexible support — dangled, like a diamond encrusted carrot, right before my very eyes,¬†feels like the winning the lotto, the big money, life-changing bucks. But forget that, who needs it?!

I will feel like a millionaire for having won the social care lottery because it will afford me the luxury of being able to do more than survive … and instead to thrive.

 

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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 ūüėÄ ¬†. 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 ūüôā .

 

 

‘Painsomnia’ and a painful mind

Yesterday was, to be frank, a bit rubbish. Pain disturbed my sleep on Monday and kept me awake for the greater part of the night. Lack of sleep caused other physical symptoms to flare; this ‘symptom siege’ coupled with fatigue, felled my body but allowed my mind the freedom to perform a fandango!

Fandango
noun
  1.  a lively Spanish dance for two people, typically accompanied by castanets or tambourine.
  2. an elaborate or complicated process or activity.

There were no castanets or tambourines. This was more lively storm, than jamboree. Grief was first to step onto the floor and whirled around with emotional pain, anger and depression in the ‘fandango’ that was my mind trying to process recent events and their relationship to the abuse and trauma I experienced in the past. This is, as I’ve said previously, a welcome process but it is painful. This is especially true when it occurs unbidden AND when support – which is twofold (someone/some people with the experience, professional or otherwise, to help you with the process and someone/some people who can listen, be kind and offer a hug – essentially comfort you) – isn’t readily available.

My interim therapist is on leave this week – 12-12:50pm on Wednesdays is my usual session time. I say interim because it’s not ideal. I’m accessing therapy via weekly telephone sessions via a mental health charity, while I’m continuing the, to date, 17 month wait for trauma therapy on the NHS. I’m due to be assessed on 10th July so that the NHS may decide what, if anything, will be offered to me.

I actually don’t have clear recall of all of the ‘processing’ that my mind got up to yesterday. ¬†A lot can happen in a short space of time – it can be a violent but relatively short-lived ‘storm’. My lack of recall could be because …

  • There was a lot going on – too much to fully take in
  • My memory was impacted by the low mood that came with the storm
  • In the absence of ready support, my mind ‘shut down’ or has ‘dissociated’ from the thoughts and feelings involved because of their traumatic/distressing nature

I know that suicidal thoughts occurred.¬†Please know that on this occasion no action is required in response to those; I am safe.¬†These were passive thoughts. There was no active planning, there wasn’t even a desire to die, this was a sense that perhaps suicide¬†might¬†ultimately be my only option because of the pain and the difficulties I face. The feelings passed and I don’t have any suicidal thoughts or feelings at the moment.

I know that I was at times distressed because of new understanding regarding my abuse. I know that I cried, which is still something I can’t do easily.

I know that at least one point I felt real anger about what was done to me. I very rarely feel anger. In fact, last year a psychotherapist suggested that I might translate anger into guilt and so feel that instead. This makes some sense to me but is something that I’ve yet to explore.

I managed to sleep better last night. I don’t know what caused Monday night’s severe pain. I don’t think I had done too much. The only ‘new’ activity was the wee stroll that I took up to the shop and the postbox at the top of my road. It won’t stop me trying again, but I have to be mindful that, at the moment, this may be a pain trigger.

I was able to get up within an hour or so of waking, and shower and dress. I was about to type that I was looking forward to a visit from a friend this afternoon … when she arrived an hour early … so here I am again, post-visit. We had a lovely afternoon, a really good natter and catch up. She brought fancy biscuits that went down well with our cuppas ūüôā and some lovely flowers. I really love flowers and was just thrilled.

We haven’t known each other very long, but I think this has the makings of a good friendship. I think of her as a ‘breath of fresh air’. It’s taken me a long time to understand that I have a tendency to attract people who are drawn to my energy and enthusiasm … but who want to ride on the back of it, weighing me down. This friend has energy and enthusiasm and a ‘grab life by the horns’ attitude to match mine. She’s keen to introduce me to some of her friends – one, a former GP, who writes and the other a fellow trauma survivor who loves arts and crafts as much as I do. I look forward to meeting them both.

I had thought of taking another wee stroll today, but decided against it, my friend was here for three hours. I’ve been doing laundry and chores, and writing, and I’ve still to do my treadmill time and prep a stuffed pepper to throw into the oven for dinner. I’m having it with some microwaveable broccoli ‘rice’… it’s good, honestly! Hopefully, I’ve just enough ‘spoons’ left to accomplish that.

I had some news earlier from the social worker that wasn’t great, but not terrible, we’ll cover that in another post.

Thanks for reading.

TTFN,

Heart x

 

 

A look at the BIG plan …

With me, there’s ALWAYS a plan. I discovered Bullet Journalling last year … and was as happy as the proverbial pig in muck/mud/sh*t – however you choose to term it, having discovered a cool system to both simplify and maximise my planning activities!

I was in some pretty deep doo doo at the time and struggling to keep afloat, 2016 being my annus horribilis,¬†but at least I had a ‘customizable and forgiving organization system’ to help me… And one, according to the creators of the system, that will ‘teach you to do more with less,’ surely that’s got to be a goodie for a¬†spoonie?¬†

Tea is oft purported to be the cure for everything. Personally, although I like tea, I think stationery is the answer to everything. A nice new notebook, PENS, lots of lovely PENS, and paper, and labels and stickers too … oh the joy! Give me those and I’ll scribble and doodle my way to a master plan. If you’re a stationery/planner geek, you probably already know the joy of just doing a Google image search for ‘bullet journal’ …

A Bullet Journal is essentially – diary/planner, journal, to do lists, notebook, budget tracker … and anything else you need … in one. For me, a bullet journal keeps me on track but does away with the need for a multitude of ‘systems’, and it’s simplified approach does allow you to ‘do more with less’. Click here for a quick lesson if you want to learn more or start your own.

wp-1498496147605.jpg
Journal Geek-ery right there: Just looking at them makes me smile, I am THAT bad

I hadn’t named this latest plan until it just struck me that I usually do – others have been Operation Self Care and Operation Fight Back –¬†and then I knew that I wanted this one to be called Operation Thrive. I feel a bit emotional having just written that, because thriving means so very much to me. I had a taste of it earlier last year – when I had some support for a time. I survived but I plan to thrive is this blog’s tagline. Thriving is my recovery goal. Abuse recovery to me = thriving. I can’t wave a magic wand and cure my chronic health issues but when I’m living my life to the fullest alongside them, that’ll do me! When I’m thriving I’ll know that I’ve won, that despite all the pain, and grief, and terrible terrible loss, and so much time spent just existing let alone living, I’ll know that I’ve made it. I know that I’m already a winner in that I’m not bitter, and because I’m a good person and I am, by choice. very different to the people who abused me. BUT thriving, that’s the ultimate WIN.

Operation Thrive Рplan initiated 10th June, 2017

PRIORITY 1: 

  • WRITING – finally this is coming top of the list and it’s staying there.
  • Ending isolation and reducing loneliness by increasing connection
  • Reinstating routine and regaining function
  • SELF CARE!
  • Being able to get out of my flat – and then get out and about locally
  • Getting my flat ‘immaculate’ ready for a routine inspection by the landlord’s agent
  • Re-engaging with GP and getting vital health checks done
  • Taking steps to begin to tackle disordered eating
  • Psychotherapy/Trauma therapy – it’s difficult to know where to place this because of difficulties/delays with the provision of it

PRIORITY 2:

  • Starting to rebuild fitness – and taking steps to resume physiotherapy treatment
  • Visiting dentist both to resume my treatment programme to restore my smile devastated by a dental phobia caused by abuse, and also to assess damage caused by latest crisis and create further treatment plan. (Delayed by illness and financial difficulty)
  • Optician – ¬†have overdue eye test and purchase new specs. – also delayed by illness and financial difficulty.
  • P.I.P – make a new application for Personal Independence Payments

PRIORITY 3: – can only be undertaken once a support worker/P.A. is in place (assuming the local authority awards funding)

  • Back onto a calorie counted diet
  • Increased exercise – talking walks and going swimming – and once physiotherapy is complete joining an 10 week exercise management programme for people with disabilities/chronic illness – assuming I can get onto it, if not I’ve got a Plan B ūüôā !
  • Getting out and about beyond my immediate area and support groups
  • Restarting hobbies, building new ones and making new connections – join a choir (September) and an art group

There are sub-categories to some of the above – but you get the gist as it stands! Priority 1 is all now either underway or complete.

Getting back to work is a HUGE goal, but as I am not to try to run before I can walk, for a change, I’ve not yet included it on this plan. Once I’m settled into Priority 3s, I’ll add more!

The bulk of my Bullet Journalling is at the moment centred on ‘Daily Logs’ – a list of what’s happening and what’s to be done on any given day, and daily recovery focused journal entries that I’ve called ‘Recoverlogs’¬†– a term shamelessly snaffled from mental health campaigner and vlogger, Jonny Benjamin. You may have seen the brilliant Channel 4 film¬†Stranger on the Bridge about his own mental health story.

To do lists keep me on track but are also a great motivator. It feels SO good to tick … ‘done’ ! Budgeting goes in there too, shopping lists, ideas, thoughts and plans for blog posts, notes for and on therapy sessions, and so on. This plan is no small undertaking. There is no one working on it with me, no one to oversee it. My social worker is classed as my ‘key worker’ but is only involved with me as far as carrying out a social care assessment and managing the application for funding to pay for some support. My GP doesn’t know the half of it, as there is never enough time to fill him in on all that’s going on for me. I hope there’ll be an opportunity to share the plan with him at our next appointment on 3rd July.

 

 

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

 

 

 

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 clich√© 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 …

Eating Insoles

Since I posted Terror earlier this evening, or rather yesterday evening as I’ve just spotted as I write that it’s 12:01am, I’ve ventured into my kitchen, consumed a catarrh pastille, made up a large jug of powdered skimmed milk in the absence of any fresh, taken my daily medication for my digestive disorder, written and published a second blog post and fiddled about with some of my blog settings. 

Said catarrh pastille was rather pleasant, at least in the context of I’ve failed to clean my teeth for almost two weeks, I haven’t eaten or drunk amything in at least 24hrs, my mouth is like the bottom of the proverbial budgie’s cage … this pastille is nectar! 

Said meds should be taken first thing every morning, at least 20 minutes before I have anything to eat or drink. My usually highly organised routine went out the window as crisis took hold and continued to deepen. 

The powered skimmed milk is entirely palatable. That is except in tea or coffee, alas. It will be far more enjoyable than the Sainsbury’s ‘Basics’ Cornflakes which I’m about to pour some of it over. They taste rather like I imagine the insole of a shoe might taste … 

I’ve smiled more than once while writing this post. I amuse myself if not others ūüėČ . But, to be serious, I haven’t been able to smile in quite some while. I am aware that those very real terrors have not diminished let alone gone away, and that desolation still lurks with terrible menace, as though it were ready to pounce and suffocate the life out of me.

It seems that this evening since writing that first post, I’ve managed to make a space in the fog to just be for the time being. 

Inspired by an earlier commenter, I’ve also delved into my bedside drawers to retrieve this lavender sachet – a one-time gift – and am ‘partaking of its aroma’ at intervals!