Heart REset on living (a.k.a the power of hope)

I do love that title but I can’t take the credit for it – thanks my friend for coming up with it, it’s inspired, you know who you are.

Well … what a difference a day makes!

Writing the post Heart set on dying?’ on Friday was excruciating. On Twitter, I likened it to performing open heart surgery on myself. Certainly readers who are familiar with my blog noted it to be my most ‘raw’ post to date. It left me feeling very exposed. I even toyed with the idea of deleting the post an hour or so after publishing it, which is, I think, a first. I’m not afraid to explore difficult stuff, but I’ll do it with a smile, with humour, anything to deflect, otherwise I might be troubling you; you might judge or reject me.

You might think me weak.

I can feel a barrier in my mind when I try to really capture my feelings around that thought but I know this much; it’s a fundamental for me. Being consistently told when I was growing up that I was weak and lesser, in a multitude of ways, had a huge impact. I never wholly believed it, a life-saving grace, but I was deeply affected by my family’s apparent belief in it and it has left me with a deep-seated fear of being deemed weak.

Primarily, I wrote that post first and foremost to try to release the pressure in my head; its volatile contents were fit to explode. I did also hope to connect in some way, otherwise I could’ve just scribbled in a notebook. I didn’t, I chose to write here and publicly post. Secondly, I’m uncomfortable with the idea of dying without having put my ‘story’ out there, by that I mean without someone at least knowing what my life has really involved and who I really am. Third, I’d no expectation of being able to reach someone in a way that resulted in meaningful connection but the spark within that fuels me, held hope of it.

I knew there was every likelihood that my teenage best friend would read that post, as I introduced her to my blog earlier this year in what was a tentative step on my part to try to decrease the distance that I had put between us. I did not expect that she would read it late that very night and turn up on my doorstep the next day!

Yep, she did.

She lives almost 200 miles away – something like a six hour round trip –  and we last saw each other in 2002.

We use a messaging app to chat. When, yesterday, a photo of my friend, who is not given to selfies, popped up, the background of which looked like the distinctive city where I live, I was a little bemused. I assumed I’d got it wrong, or that it was an old photograph. I could see that she was writing a further message and calmly awaited further explanation.

I am on my way to put the kettle on … it began.

I gasped, for a moment I thought she was kidding before swiftly considering that she would not joke having read that post, which I knew for certain she had.

***

So, we hadn’t seen each other for 15 years – we’ve known each other for 33 years.

I don’t think a year has gone by without some sort of contact, even if just a scribbled note in a greetings card. We perhaps connected on social media between three and five years ago, I can’t remember. We’ve certainly chatted frequently online for the last year, if not longer than that. I curse my addled my memory here for not being able to remember.

They say that the best of friends can pick up where they left off, no matter the time that has elapsed, as though it were only yesterday. I’ve heard this, friends have said it of my friendships with them, but I hadn’t seen it until yesterday.

“Let’s have a cuppa”, she said.

“I haven’t got any milk”, I said, genuinely appalled … and fearing that I could never again set foot in our Lancashire homeland having committed the cardinal sin of not being able to offer someone ‘a brew’.

“You have now”, said she, revealing a pint of milk with a familiar flourish, swiftly followed by teabags, coffee, a choice of sandwiches, strawberries, chocolate, fresh juice, and dinners for the following three nights courtesy of M&S. She’d remembered that I’m vegetarian. There was also tissues  – in case we got emotional – and the softest, most ‘snuggle-up-able’ ‘comforter’ in one of my favourite colours. That girl got it covered!

If you read Heart set on dying? you can probably imagine that my socks had been well and truly blown off by this time.

Given the distance that I put between us, given that she was the friend that I seemed to have most feared confiding in as my ‘car crash’ of an adult life unfolded, I was staggered to realise that I felt comfortable, that there was not a moment of awkwardness. We chatted and meandered about my flat, like it was something we do every week.

That fear of confiding seems to have been rooted in shame, a perception that she must surely see me as a ‘failure’, a ‘dropout’ or a ‘loser’. She and I went through our teenage years together, closely entwined, with different dreams and ambitions but with a path mapped out through O level and A level examinations and on to the hallowed territory of university. Amid the abuse, I fell at the first hurdle and I had long been left behind by the time I fought my way back onto the path and ultimately made it to university. Perhaps I feared her reaction most because she mattered most, I don’t know. I am sure that it will be healing to explore those feelings in future therapy. For now, they are difficult to access, I’ve had to ‘shut down’ a great deal over the years in order to continue to put one foot in front of the other. Now I know that I am accepted, not judged but embraced. It’s a new feeling and I sense it will take some time to embed itself and take root.

I was shocked to be reminded that she knew more than I thought, as she recounted, among other things, my often reluctance, and fear of, going home. She knew, back then, that I was unhappy, and that my surviving parent was ‘odd’ to say the least, but nothing of the violence or details of other abuse that was the basis of my daily life. Abusers school in silence. This was the first time I’d discussed my situation, my abuse, in any detail with someone who was in my life at the time. It was emotional, it was powerful, it was tough but I was really glad to do it. It was validating, and it’s also helping me to begin to fit together some of the pieces of that ‘Ultra Jigsaw’. I’d like to write more on that, but I am time pressed today and I have a mountain to climb tomorrow and I need to prepare for it.

I wish I could tell you my friend’s maiden name. I have always known it but only this afternoon did it suddenly loom large in my mind making me gasp and then laugh. I am not superstitious but to think that through those terrible teenage years amid the horrors of my abusive home life, I had a best friend with a name to suggest that I should, that I could hold on to her. We used to read our horoscopes with glee and anticipation back then, and asked burning questions of a sort of a pendulum constructed of a necklace and a ring, you know that thing? You’d think they might have nudged me to note the obvious!

Thank you to those who read ‘Heart set on dying’, and sent messages of comfort and support. Please know that you are valued.

Yesterday’s visit meant more than I say and has given me yet more still. I began to capitalise on it immediately and when I’ve the ‘spoons’ , and the time … there is always so much to do, I will write here, in explanation.

Thank you, as ever, for reading. Comments welcome.

Heart x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

Getting on with it and why sometimes you really shouldn’t

When s**t happens, that’s life and you’ve just got to get on with it … right?

Yes, and no.

I’ve experienced so many shattering events, I could make a world record winning mosaic from all the pieces.

I’ve picked up those pieces and I’ve carried on time and time and time again.

In yesterday’s blog post I mentioned ‘a straw and camel event‘ that happened earlier this year, so called because it followed a series of awful events but was the one that broke me. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although, reading about the origins of that idiom, I realise that my ‘straws’ were actually rather more ‘tree trunks’, so it’s really not surprising that this camel’s legs buckled.

I know a lot about getting on with it.

Events such as losing a parent to suicide at the very moment I reached double figures and simultaneously being cut off, without warning or support, from all connection to that side of my family, were treated with about as much gravity as a broken fingernail. So what? Get on with it! The message was clear. It became a familiar pattern and I learned to ‘suck it up’ no matter the tragedy, trauma or difficulty. It’s part, but by no means all, of the reason why I endured an abusive family situation well into adulthood (I was tempted to write horribly abusive, but there is no need to clarify. Abuse is abuse, no matter the type or form; it’s all horrible.). It became normal to me to have devastating things happen – witnessing extreme violence; being assaulted; losing all my family  – yet put a smile on my face and get on with it without complaint. Despite having no real understanding of how bad things were, I still felt the effects of the bad stuff. For a long time I just didn’t know why I felt them.

I know that years later I am no longer the closed book that I became, as a result of the culture of silence so often encouraged, or imposed, in an abusive environment. I know that in different circumstances I would always have been an open and honest person and I’m glad to have at last been able to grow into that person. I know that I am often very matter of fact about things that have happened in my life, things others would deem alarming at best (ironically, I am horrified by similar events happening to other people). I know that stems from having to just get on with it. That experience normalised terrible things for me and put me at further risk.

After the straw and camel in late spring, life stopped. I withdrew. I could no longer cope with doing … with living, much less with seeing others able to live their lives. I retreated into my own special sort of stasis. It’s a coping strategy that’s sometimes helpful, sometimes not. (I long to get to a stage where I can abandon it) A wonderful psychotherapist, who helped me a great deal, described it as being something like a animal frozen with fear at the point of an attack. Unable to take more pain, hurt or disaster I disconnect from the world, it can’t get me if it can’t reach me. I lost the entire summer that way. What a waste, right? I agree, but* …

My username here, and on Twitter, is borne of a desire to live life to the full, to be true to myself and to really live, not merely exist. I am very much a ‘do-er’. I love to be productive, creative, busy and active. I am ambitious. My ‘modus operandi’ is very much to grab life by the horns and, given half a chance, ride the heck out of it. I don’t want to waste a moment …

*With the best will in the world, it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you can’t just get on with it. Sometimes you need time out. Sometimes you need help and support. A little compassion and understanding go a very long way.

There are those who will argue. Like the person I saw claiming on Twitter this weekend that depression (just one of the many effects I’ve felt) is a choice not an illness. Grrr.

Please don’t judge. It’s a cliche, but I do believe that, for the most part, you cannot judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Sometimes you just can’t get on with it and nor should you try to do so.

When I am vulnerable, I do worry about being judged. I worry about it very much. I know it comes of being told I was useless, weak, filthy, dirty and more … ad infinitum. That was abuse, it wasn’t fact. I have learned enough, developed enough and recovered myself enough to know that I am not ‘lacking’, but I still fear being deemed so, vulnerable as I am. I fear I won’t be helped or treated with kindness but could instead be blamed. I have to try to hang onto the better part of me that says … You think you could do better in my situation? I’d darn well like to see you try!

Jack Monroe has given me, as a survivor of abuse, a freedom from fear and I really want to thank her.

I have never wanted to devour a recipe book. I don’t suppose they taste too good, do they? I have owned and perused many a cook book from slim guides to hefty tomes, by the lesser known and the ‘celebrity’ chef, offering everything from simple suppers, one pot dinners, veggie delights, vegan cooking made easy, low fat, low stress … low fun. No matter the brilliance within those pages, those books couldn’t excite me.

I’ve never found cooking in any way thrilling despite being far from devoid of enthusiasm generally (I’m something of a jump up and down, beam broadly and talk the hind legs off a donkey with great passion on many topics, type. Enthusiastic hardly covers it.). I do enjoy food. I’m mindful of the importance of healthy eating. I don’t want to rely on processed foods and have often wished I had a love of cooking from scratch.

My lack of excitement for cooking, stems from a lack of confidence rooted in an old fear. I recall the swipes, slaps, pokes, verbal batterings and other punishments that accompanied the cooking of my upbringing. Nothing I did, in learning to cook or otherwise, was ever deemed acceptable. I’ve worked hard to build self esteem and confidence, but my relationship with cooking remained affected. Perhaps because it’s such a fundamental skill, and I was for so long deemed incapable of even that. I instilled my ex-husband with the confidence to learn to cook, and mentored his efforts – planning menus, gathering ingredients and lovingly encouraging. Still I cooked without enjoyment, with a lot of fear and to no more than a basic level.

The blog, devotedly largely to cooking on an impossibly tight budget, I found at agirlcalledJack.com caused something of a stir. I refer not to the stir in the media or in a bowl filled with a magical mix of low cost kidney beans, a square of dark chocolate, tomato puree and a pinch of cumin. This was the makings of a stirring deep inside of me (ooer – I have heard tell that food can do that to some folks).  Instead of wishing that I could tackle these recipes, that I found I was avidly reading, or feeling that I ought to tackle them; I started to find that I wanted to tackle them. Soon I found that not only did I want to tackle one or two basic budget recipes, I wanted to tackle quite a few. Then came my first encounter with A Girl Called Jackthe book* …

I devoured it in one huge gulp, reading from cover to cover with mounting EXCITEMENT. I wanted to make these things, because they excited me and because, finally, I felt I could. Then, after cooking one day, I found myself thinking I enjoyed that, then it happened again … and again. Now I look forward to cooking and it seems I enjoy it every time and best of all the fear has gone and in its place is a growing confidence.

Jack, I can’t thank you enough for that.

I’m never going to be contestant on the Great British Bake Off. I haven’t baked consistently since the cookery lessons of my school days of the 70s and 80s. I have baked since then but with fear, little success and more than a dollop of self-judgement. Last week * wait for it * I made a banana loaf. No, really, I really did … and bloody good it was too! I searched the terms ‘easy low fat banana loaf’ and came to this recipe from the BBC Good Food website – a site I believe also inspired you, Jack. I have to say that if I can successfully complete this recipe, anyone could, but boy did I enjoy making it. I positively revelled in it. By the end I might as well have conquered Everest, such was my sense of accomplishment and new found baking confidence. I’ve made it twice more since and, thanks to a gift of some apples, next week plan to bake Jack’s Apple and Cinnamon loaf.

A slice of MY banana loaf to sustain me as I write

As someone who lives with a number of diagnoses of chronic illness and is a ‘spoonie’, the amount of energy required to make a meal is of real importance. Before Jack, for two years (trying not to eat rubbish) I relied largely on expensive ready meals and ultimately, so burnt out was I, ended up living by snacking, not healthy, not good for the waistline and not at all satisfying or sustaining. My dysfunctional marriage had ended, I was continuing my extensive efforts to rebuild my life post-abuse disclosure and subsequent serious illness. I was dealing with the sudden terminal illness then death of the last person I had left who could be termed a ‘loved one’. I was studying, volunteering, making plans for self employment to revive the hard won and much beloved career stolen by the effects of abuse … and a whole lot more. Then after a final piece of devastating news it all stopped.The words straw and camel come to mind. I saw no light this summer. I stopped going out and my world closed down. Suicidal thoughts raged aplenty.

Now in dire straits financially, as a result of my marriage ending, and illness, I need Jack’s recipes all the more. My grocery shopping of late has almost entirely comprised products from the supermarket’s ‘basic range’, thanks to Jack encouraging me to try more than one or two. I’ve found I didn’t have enough money to buy tampons and put back food items to pay for them. Now I no longer have money to shop. Last week I was referred to a local food bank – a surreal moment and one that I’m still finding difficult to process. My first food parcel will arrive on Thursday.

My new found cooking confidence is helping to sustain me in more ways than one at this terribly difficult time. I’m sure I’ve cooked more in recent weeks than in the rest of my adult life and I’m using cooking implements that have long languished in boredom. I have a history of mental illness because of the trauma and abuse I have experienced. Reactive depression has returned with a vengeance, that alone makes me feel like I’m wading through treacle. It feels good to know that I am sustaining myself with good home cooked food. A bit of weighing, chopping and stirring goes some way to distracting my troubled mind.

I fear turning on lights and as colder days approach, I know that I can no longer afford to heat my home, despite the fact that the cold exacerbates my chronic pain. At risk of homelessness, I know that without a roof over my head, cooking will be the least of my worries. I hope there is a way I can be supported to stay in the one-bed rented flat I found last year and have grown to love so much, and keep on cooking and growing.

Thank you Jack for your brilliant recipes delivered in a gentle easy manner that means even the most ‘culinarily-challenged’ like me can be engaged.

I thought there could be no greater surprise than when I took up running last year (I am far from an athlete) but now … now I find I’ve added the category Food and Cooking to my blog :))) !

I still can’t make an omelette, despite Jack’s gentle instruction I still end up with scrambled egg. One day  …

With love and many grateful thanks to you Jack xx

*Thanks also to Jack for the introduction to the Hive, buy books online and support vital independent booksellers at the same time. Click here to buy any of Jack’s books – no, I’m not on commission 😉 !