ULTRA Jigsaw

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

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

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

The pieces are vulnerable …

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

*****

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued …

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The third floor …

The third floor is out of reach

Beyond a wall I cannot breach

Only if escorted may I proceed

Life beyond my front door to lead

 

Anxiety has imposed these limits

To beat it will take more than minutes

For now I must accept my life curtailed

and that in doing so I have not failed

 

I’ve watched scaffolding contractors outside the windows of my second floor flat, working today to reach the floor above, and beyond. I realise that despite the safety harnesses, teamwork and effort involved to scale this extensive Victorian building, they are able to reach the third floor far more easily than I can at this time.

As the summer of 2015 arrived and illness took hold of me I found it increasingly difficult to get out and about. At first I chose to retreat as a form of self protection. Severe depression led to self neglect which led to feelings of shame and a fear of exposing myself. I didn’t feel like me and didn’t feel able to face much of the world, once more so vulnerable and reduced. Broke and with my home at risk, I struggled too to confront reminders of the life I’d been so assiduously working to build. Later, anxiety, rather than I, chose to restrict my boundaries still further.

My world shrank, as my illness grew. I stopped travelling the mile or so into the city centre. I stopped making the 15 minute walk to my GP’s surgery. I went no further than the pharmacy at the end of the street where I live. I only got as far as the bins right outside this building, to put out my rubbish. I stopped being able to go outside. I found myself trapped behind my own front door.

I didn’t go out at all for five weeks. I’ve ventured out three times in the last three, each time escorted by my friend, but no further than a shop in the area immediately surrounding my flat. I’ve put goals in place to stretch my boundaries and to make at least one solo journey to the pharmacy by the end of this month. Next month I’ll push the boundaries further still. I can’t Tigger my way of out of this, at least not to the extent of pushing myself too hard too fast, as I am oft’ liable to do. Slow and steady wins the race. Pacing? Yeah, I think I’ve heard that word … a few gazillion times. Crash and burn? Not this time!

Something over a decade ago I experienced life living with Generalised Anxiety Disorder (G.A.D.), Social Anxiety and Agoraphobia, alongside my severe depression and physical health problems. Life was such fun back then 😉 .

I have discussed the question of which is worse, depression or anxiety, with others who have experienced these illnesses. It’s like asking how long is a piece of string. They are both difficult to endure. However, some have told me they feel, as I do, that if they were forced to choose to live with one; they would choose depression. My reasoning for this is that with depression at its worse I feel I have to die. With anxiety at its worse I feel that I am dying, horribly and perpetually.

I highly commend No Panic for its support in the face of anxiety. The charity has expanded in the years since I used its services and appears to have even more to offer. Clinical anxiety is much more than worry or concern. It is a pervasive, debilitating and life-diminishing condition.

After discovering water dripping through the ceiling in my bathroom this week. I knew that I had to visit my neighbours living in the flat directly above, in order to try to discover the source of the problem. I don’t actually know who lives there and, as the configuration of that floor is slightly different to this, I am uncertain even which door belongs to which flat. Anxiety doesn’t appreciate uncertainty or unfamiliarity!

I had a very productive day yesterday, in spite of limited #spoons after little sleep. I tackled some stressful tasks with aplomb, but I could not open my front door, let alone venture upstairs. I tried repeatedly, deploying various strategies, but my feet might as well have been set in concrete. Shame and a sense of failure crept over me and, try as I might, I could not shake it. I tried to compose a blog post but found I couldn’t write, so consuming was the anxiety. I went to bed at 9, feeling gloomy and weary. I slept fitfully.

Today, I have once more been productive. I succeeded in opening the door to the postman and a further delivery. I haven’t tried to venture out.

I consider myself lucky that this time around I am not experiencing panic attacks frequent or otherwise. This time I think of my anxiety as ‘the wall’ – a sturdy but temporary fixture – that is blocking access to certain aspects of life. I learned a great deal as I sought to conquer the anxieties of old. I’ll use that knowledge to take down this wall, brick by brick.

That anxiety has sneaked back into my life is a bind. It is no more than that. I will get past it as I did before.

Coming next: Poor Self Care 

 

 

 

 

 

Peace and Loneliness

I’ve been seeking peace of mind for some thirteen years, since my abuse came to light and I finally broke.  I hoped to find it with my husband, but the marriage brought more fear and sadness. There was also laughter, sharing and wonderful cuddles ( I shall miss those) but the shadow of that fear and sadness loomed large above two people who in order to be themselves could not be together.

Peace of mind to me means living free from threat and fear; it’s a sense of safety, security and wellbeing.

I’ve yet to find that but in the new life I’ve made in the three years I’ve spent living in my adopted city home, I have experienced happiness, joy and contentment. Above all I’ve found me and quite frankly that’s really something to shout about. The freedom, the contentment that feeling comfortable within yourself can bring is immeasurably marvellous; it makes my heart sing.

I have always been able to picture the real me or my true self, my authentic self, if you prefer. The abuse I experienced could not obliterate that image but it did severely compromise my ability to be me.

In the last two years I’ve lost a lot of weight –  much of that piled on some years ago in the aftermath of my initial breakdown – and it’s meant shedding a physical and psychological burden. I was trapped inside somewhere, by losing weight I’m breaking out. I no longer cringe when I catch sight of myself, in fact I often beam! Photographs are still difficult because of issues with my teeth – which I hope to soon address – and my ongoing alopecia. My hair loss is permanent, I am teaching myself to just ‘rock it’! At last I have the confidence to wear clothes that I love and finally begin to develop the sense of style I could always picture. Shapeless cover-ups are long gone. I’m experimenting with make-up – not to hide but to enhance and most of all for FUN. Last week, for the first time, I had my eyebrows waxed and I loved it! I did it because I wanted to do it; I felt pampered. I grew up being schooled to ignore my own needs and to believe that self-care was a bad thing – self indulgent, selfish, an unnecessary frivolity.

It took a lot of hard work to recover from an anxiety disorder and agoraphobia and until very recently I still found it difficult to go into small shops. I live in an area with a fabulous old fashioned style high street filled with independent shops – an artisan bakery, a greengrocer, a cheesemonger, a health food store among them. I was too fearful to enter them because their small nature, their intimacy, felt too exposing and left me with nowhere to hide. I felt I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t worthy of being there. NOT ANYMORE!! I stride out with a funky basket on my arm (bought some years ago and saved for just such a moment that I was determined would come) and away I go. Now in my forties, I’m beginning to live.

 ****

Yesterday was difficult. I felt acutely lonely. Those feelings began on Friday evening and I felt bad about being so affected on a day when I’d had a considerable amount of meaningful contact. I rarely get so much and usually would ensure it sustained me for days.

There was an appointment at the GP surgery with a nurse with whom I have connected. During my mammoth weight loss programme she offered, unprompted, to accompany me to a local pool to fulfill a dream to swim again after a gap of many years; to ‘hold my hand’. Her compassion and willingness to engage quite took my breath away. My burgeoning self confidence received a bonus boost. I haven’t yet taken her up on the offer, although I did buy a swimming costume last year, but I hope to do so later this year. I still have a lot to do and limited spoons with which to do it and have had to accept that I can’t do everything at once. She was pleased to see me yesterday and recognised me although we have only met twice, the last time some months ago. It’s a simple thing but being recognised, feeling a connection, means so much. I’d lived so very long in isolation having lost all links due to illness and the abuse. I have no family, having had to cut myself off from what was left of it because I was being abused. Friends had distanced themselves then disappeared, some outraged that I’d had a ‘breakdown’ believing mental illness to be not an illness but a weakness or character flaw. Others were suspicious, appearing to think I had ‘gone a bit weird’ claiming abuse that couldn’t possibly be, so dazzled were they by the polished veneer expertly laid over our family to hide the soiled lives beneath. For years it blinded me too. Perhaps others just didn’t know how to deal with me. I distanced myself from the few who remained fearing further rejection or ridicule.

Back to Friday and I arrived at a lunch date with a friend, buoyed by my encounter with lovely nurse and it too was lovely – another connection and growing friendship. Our conversation was lively and varied. Talking about my situation and the realities of Operation Fight Back (my endeavour to recover from a recent set back and continue my lengthy ‘rebuilding programme’, in the wake of my marriage ending three months ago) was, is, helpful. Without an outlet, pressure builds to dangerous levels. However, talking and sharing as oppose to silently getting on with it, brought my isolation into sharp focus. My friend talked about being ‘adopted’ by older friends following the deaths of her parents. I’ve long dreamed of that happening to me – that may sound a bit drippy! I’ve had little experience of relationships with a parent figure that wasn’t toxic. I feel the absence of healthy versions of those relationships. I don’t have someone to look up to, to turn to, to seek advice from, or feel loves, cherishes, knows and accepts me. That’s how it is, I live with it, I seek to keep developing myself and my life … then who knows what might happen? Still, sometimes that loss, that absence, that pain, punches me on the nose … really hard. Watching Sport Relief  that evening I was undone. It featured a report about a 92 year old gentleman’s sense of loneliness following the loss of his much beloved wife to Alzheimer’s Disease. I felt for him so much but when the television  presenter spoke of the terrible problem of loneliness among the elderly, I wanted to shout at the telly you don’t have to be elderly to experience terrible loneliness. 

I ran yesterday (stats at the end of this post) morning but that and the bare basics were all I could manage. I felt low and I was hurting. Texts from two friends later in the day offered welcome respite. I hung on and today dawned more brightly.  The *?!*?’* is back in its box.

Treadmill stats for Saturday:

12mins 20 – all run = 0.73 distance and 67.1 cals