EULOGY: A POEM

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

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

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

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

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

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 A week later my housing support officer was withdrawn overnight, with only 24 hours notice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I live to fight on …

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

EULOGY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She alone would be enough
She doubted
Her tenuous grip weakened

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

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

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

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

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

She longed to know safety
She tried
They misunderstood her now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Copyright ‘heartsetonliving’ May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Medication … miracle?!

TW: This post contains discussion of suicidal intent and a suicide attempt.

So, after stepping back from the brink, how are things now?

Well, by goodness, there is a LOT going on in my life, a great deal to manage and to process but I have some support and may yet have more to come. For the first time in my life that support is appropriate and reliable and it’s paying dividends. There remains a long and challenging road ahead, more of that in later posts, but the outlook is positive.

I have a long history of depression, I’ve lived with episodes of it for more than 25 years, since I was around 18 years old. Mine is always reactive and triggered by major stress. Alas, when you are survivor of abuse and trauma, life does rather tend to have more than its fair share of that!

I wrote about the attempt I made many years ago to end my life by suicide, here. It happened in the years immediately following my disclosure, to a GP and subsequently a counsellor, of my experiences of trauma, physical and psychological abuse within my family over many years. I was not well supported then and was lucky to survive the attempt. I was discharged from hospital with no follow up support. I tried to be proactive and so sought it out but soon realised there was nothing doing. I feel great dismay when I read accounts by others who are still having this experience in the 2010s.

Finding myself at risk of homelessness was at the root of the prolonged episode of depression in the year from December 2014, but there were other contributing factors. I had been pushing myself much too hard, for one. The prospect of losing the roof over one’s head would be stressful for anyone. As a result of my experiences of abuse, loss has loomed large in my life. I lost all my family, many friends and with those losses connections to my history. I’ve lost some memory. I’ve lost some hair (!) as a result of alopecia. I’ve lost my beloved career. I’ve lost my marriage and I’ve lost the chance to have a family of my own. I’ve lost health and fitness and I’ve lost a great amount of time to illness and recovery. A few things can be recovered, others are gone for ever, others can be replaced with a great deal of flexibility and endeavour. Throughout it all I have hung on to a home – there have been many of varying types scattered around the UK – this one is mine and mine alone and with that has come a fledging sense of safety. The threat of its loss became unbearable.

Depression threatened me again and as its impact intensified, I was disturbed to find that it was once again very difficult to access support, despite effort and honesty on my part. [I’d like to discuss this issue in more detail but will do so in a later post focusing on issues around suicide prevention.]

Medication was mentioned but I was very reluctant to go down that road. Having previously been prescribed various anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medications over a period of four years. I never felt they had any benefit or served to ease my psychiatric symptoms in any way. The doses were regularly increased to no effect, in my view, except to ensure that I had a veritable pharmacy on hand at home. It was while on the highest doses that I made the attempt on my life all those years ago, by swallowing a massive overdose of more than 100 tablets.

I came off all medication in the year following my suicide attempt but continued to pursue counselling and other forms of psychological support that I found in the voluntary sector  and which were hugely beneficial to me.

When my friend made the call to my GP that brought me back from the brink, a few short weeks ago. medication remained the only treatment option on the table. I was told I would not be allowed to access further psychological support – such as specialised trauma therapy – on the NHS, without having first tried medication. My GP, whom I have known for 18 months, remained convinced that it could help me. Knowing that something had to change if I was to continue to stay alive and after lengthy discussion with my GP during an hour long home visit, I made the decision to try medication again.

I didn’t want to be able to accumulate medication at home, knowing myself to be at risk of suicide, so we agreed that I would receive my medication weekly and that since I am having difficulty getting out and about it would be delivered to my home each week.

After just two weeks on a relatively lose dose of anti-depressant medication, I realised that my mood had been steadily improving during the preceding seven days. Side effects were unpleasant at first but manageable with the help of my GP and they have subsided. We increased the dose after those two weeks and I’m due a final increase next week. My mood has remained stable and this is despite receiving some devastating news four days prior to Christmas and, additionally, having an encounter that forced me to relive episodes of terrifying violence in my childhood.

When considering whether to try medication again it didn’t occur to me that something is different this time around. Although I’ve been experiencing the most severe depression again, I have come a very long way in the intervening years and I’m in a very different ‘place’. It certainly seems as though the medication is doing its job this time – ironically, I am taking Sertraline which is the very first of the medications I was prescribed all those years ago. (That news very nearly had me running for the hills, I can tell you!) Perhaps the fact that I have moved on so very much, has made the difference.

A Twitter pal has been expressly wishing me miracles in recent months and continues to do so. It looks like that wishing worked 🙂 …. I needed a miracle and I think I got one … thanks LongJohn 😉 !

This cannot be fixed by relentless positivity and boundless enthusiasm.

I turned a corner again yesterday.

The previous three days – Friday, Saturday and Sunday – were incredibly difficult; hellish. Lying in bed in the early hours of this morning, trying to switch off and sleep, I found myself feeling as though someone else had lived those three days. I had some memories from those days and yet, in those moments lying in my bed, it didn’t feel as though the me lying in bed was the same me who lived through those three hellish days. I haven’t considered it as deeply since, I’m slightly afraid to do so.

I was certainly very depressed during those three days, triggered by further bad news about my financial circumstances that has, for now at least, eradicated all hope of avoiding becoming homeless in December – with nowhere to go or stay. It is a harsh reality. Coming after so much loss – almost entirely due to the abuse I endured in childhood and beyond – losing all family, friends, my career, previous good health, the chance to have children, my marriage, independence, a significant amount of memory, even a not inconsiderable amount of hair due to alopecia, and more related to those losses – the prospect of further loss is terrifying. More than that, it’s unbearable.

I’ve survived all the rest and coped, often alone, I feel unable to cope now. Finally I’m saying I can’t take any more. Despite intensive efforts, I’ve as yet been unable to find support to avoid this feared loss becoming reality. I need a miracle …

In that terribly depressed state during those three days and yesterday too, before I really started to emerge from it, I was more readily accepting of that harsh reality. I am generally a realist. I don’t tend to shy away from harsh realities or stick my head in the sand.

The me that has emerged, from those three days and more, is still very much aware of the horrid reality that I’m facing. It’s a me that is still very much depleted and strugging, but it’s not deeply depressed. That ‘not-deeply depressed’ me (something far closer to the essence of me – some might call that my ‘authentic self’) wants to go ‘Tigger’…

You remember? A.A. Milne’s terrific tiger with boing. He of relentless positivity and boundless enthusiasm. I’m a bit Tigger, certainly relentlessly positive and possessed of boundless enthusiasm, deep depression notwithstanding. Lying in bed last night, thinking as I was, I felt Tigger me, desperately wanting to find hope, desperately wanting to find a way to live.

With the best will in the world and despite having ‘where’s there’s a will, there’s a way’ as a life maxim, logic tells me that I cannot Tigger my way out of this situation.

My own collection: Tigger is the one with THE tail, much as I am the one with a heck of a tale. I'm increasingly afraid that my story cannot have a happy ending.
My own collection: Tigger is the one with THE tail, much as I am the one with a heck of a tale. I’m afraid that my story cannot have a happy ending.

It’s been a heavy week.

The words don’t want to flow today.

I hate the way that depression can suck up my creative juices, leaving me dehydrated. A husk: dry, brittle, barren.

Without low mood, the words come thick and fast, their passage from mind to fingertips fluid and free. It is THE best feeling in the world. I feel alive and, at one with myself.

I’m feeling weary and raw, after a week of events that have weighed heavily on my shoulders. There was an extended appointment with my GP and a four hour appointment to begin the process of dealing with my financial circumstances, and trying to avoid becoming homeless. The bad news I had expected was confirmed, because of issues with my husband, from whom I have separated, great obstacles loom large on the path going forwards. My newly-appointed housing support officer, and the adviser at the homelessness prevention charity with whom we both met, were kind. I felt supported, an unfamiliar feeling after years of having to go it alone. They didn’t sugar coat the pill, but encouraged me to delay taking it! In other words, I must continue to take things no more than one day at a time, and despite knowing what difficulties lie ahead and what awful outcome I may face, I must try as far as possible to put that out of my mind for now.

Meditation helps. I discovered the, in my opinion, brilliant Headspace a few years ago. I’ve used it first to learn about meditation and how to do it, (Clue: it’s not much to do with sitting cross-legged on the floor and muttering ommh … ) then to practise it … albeit in fits and starts. I’ve found it difficult to commit to consistent practise, having had so very much going on in my life – which is, of course, why regular meditation would be particularly beneficial! Since I’m making more efforts to prioritise my own needs, from this week forward I’m setting about making that vital commitment.

****

It’s now just before 9pm. I started writing the above at around 2:30 today. I spent a little while on it and some words did eventually appear, then I was interrupted when my friend popped in for a coffee and we chatted while I made a banana loaf. She left me with a packet of fancy biscuits, a hug and instructions not to do too much. I had a wee break and then cracked on in the kitchen, replacing the banana loaf in the oven with an aubergine to roast. After some other kitchen chores, I set about skinning a batch of very ripe tomatoes to make a version of @JackMonroe’s Use-Me-With-Everything Tomato Sauce from the book A Girl Called Jack. You can read about my new found connection with cooking here, something I thought couldn’t happen after abuse disconnected me from it. It turns out skinning tomatoes isn’t great for my #spoonie pain. The whole thing took longer than I anticipated but it was worth it, and tasted great. I’ve eaten some, put a serving into the fridge and another into the freezer. I’ve just skinned the aubergine and mashed the roasted flesh with a drizzle of olive oil and plenty of pepper. I usually spread the resulting tasty gloop onto thin oatcakes. I can’t afford those right now, so instead I’m going to have it on some back of the cupboard, just past the Best Before date, organic sesame seed wholegrain rice cakes. We’ll see how that goes.

All this endeavour has helped my mood, but my body is complaining some. I feel sore and very tired. So, I shall post this, then clamber into my pyjamas and curl up with a cuppa.

TTFN x

Operation Self Care

Regular readers may remember Operation Fight Back  – my action plan of early 2014 to help me to cope following the breakdown of my marriage and subsequent illness – here’s a sample. I needed to be as well as I could be in order to cope with the impending search for, and move to, a new home, in addition to my continuing efforts to rebuild my life – studying, plans for self employment etc. As it turned out, there was much more with which I was going to have to cope.

My health, which is already an issue, has suffered greatly because of all of that and particularly the ‘straw and camel event’ of Spring 2015. You can read more about that here and here.

I’ve written about self care on several occasions – you can find those posts, should you wish, by clicking on ‘self care’ in the tag cloud on my homepage. Self care was once anathema to me. My experiences of abuse led me to believe that self care was self-indulgent and that to indulge oneself was very wrong – certainly, at least, it was very wrong to indulge MYself in any way. I learned that I should … must, flog myself, metaphorically speaking, until I bled.

I’ve undergone several periods of counselling in the years since my abuse was disclosed and I cut myself off from what remained of my family. In the early days of counselling I learned to do away with the word should, replacing it instead with could. I also learned to have compassion for myself and that self care is an essential part of life. I learned that I am worthy of care. I also learned, after years of giving from an ’empty place’, that you cannot take care of others if you do not take care of yourself. I do have a tendency to forget the latter, and need to be reminded of it!

I know that self care is key to my being able to keep going … and ultimately to fulfil that dream of truly living. (I also know that I can’t do this alone and will need the help of others, but that is for another post.) There is much to say about self care and I know I will return to it. For now here are the basic tenets of Operation Self Care:

  • I will take care of myself physically – that includes showering regularly and brushing my teeth (depression can make you smelly!)
  • I will not withdraw but will connect with others as far as possible – using Twitter and my blog to supplement RL contact
  • I will write, write and WRITE some more – you can read here why writing is so important to me. I realise now that I have been continuing to let it fall off the bottom of my to do lists and how unhappy that has made me. I can still struggle to prioritise my needs, but I am determined from now on to always prioritise my writing. For starters, that means blogging daily, as far as is humanly possible.
  • I will do all I can to nourish myself with home-cooked food, despite my lack of money. You can read more about my new found connection with food and cooking – after abuse disconnected me from it – here.
  • I will always PACE MYSELF, I will acknowledge that I am a #spoonie, and that I am facing really challenging circumstances that would challenge anyone.
  • I will try not to fear judgement and will remember to tell myself that if someone thinks they could do better, that I’d like to see them try 😉
  • In addition to writing, I will consider other ways to incorporate things that make me happy into my life.
  • Exercise will form part of Operation Self Care, as it did Operation Fight Back, more about that in a future post.

As I have been writing. a veggie chilli has been simmering nicely in the kitchen and a second load of laundry is doing its thing. I have twenty more minutes on the clock* before I know I must stop, take time to eat and make every effort to unwind (it doesn’t come easy), before an early night. My housing support officer, newly appointed in light of the ‘straw and camel event’ and my subsequent decline, is visiting me tomorrow morning and I need to be in reasonable shape to best cope with that. She will be bringing me my first food parcel, after referring me to a local food bank; I’m still trying to process that.

*I can feel my #spoonie symptoms starting to make more of a nuisance of themselves. I hope to publish this post, send a tweet or two and rustle up a quick email reply to a pal, before the sands run out…

TTFN x