Heart REset on living + SEVEN WEEKS

I think it feels as though more time has passed since that wondrous day following that fateful post. Certainly a LOT has happened.

I have always prided myself on capitalising on both hope and opportunity and I hope that this is evident.

I posted an update 14 days after my friend’s visit and I went on to post, on the 26th June, about the BIG PLAN that I was formulating and putting into action. I called it Operation Thrive. Here it is as it stood then, at that point all Priority 1 tasks were already complete or underway:

As at today, all Priority 2 tasks are now either complete or underway … yay! I have also taken a couple of tentative steps towards actioning some Priority 3 tasks.

I have had no further support since my friend’s unexpected intervention on the 10th June, except for the monthly visit of the woman I pay to help with cleaning tasks. I had three relatively good weeks then had three very challenging weeks due to a number of stressful events and by the end of the week before last was again struggling with suicidal feelings partly because I was overloaded and lacking support, but also because of the apparent impact of perimenopausal issues on my mood (I’ll cover this in a separate post). However, I managed to hold on and pulled through. Last week was altogether better and had a moment of real high! I’ll cover that in a separate post.

Priority 1:

  • I am writing most days – if not here, then in my journal. I haven’t done any work on my novel project recently but still without support my capacity is much reduced and there’s only so much that I can do. I am doing as much as I possibly can.
  • I have felt much less lonely overall, although I am aware that I am still largely isolated. In the seven weeks since my friend’s intervention, I’ve had one other visit from a friend and maybe five phone chats. I have taken the initiative and I am connecting much more with friends (almost all of whom live at a distance) via social networks. I post daily updates. I reach out when I need support and usually receive comments with virtual (((hugs))). Sometimes someone will chat via a messaging app. I am keeping in touch and not allowing myself to withdraw. One friend hopes to visit in September/October which would be lovely. Today has been difficult. I reached out specifically asking for contact yesterday and today, but there hasn’t been anyone around for anything more than a virtual (((hug))) or wave. When loneliness creeps in it does make things harder, but I keep busy and distracted as much as my ‘spoonieness’ will allow. At the worst moments I hunker down for a while. My calendar is as full as I can sensibly make it for the coming month. Perhaps by the end of the month or the start of the next, we can hope, social care support will finally be in place to pick up the slack, allowing me more freedom to get and out and build more of a life, and giving me regular twice weekly contact at home.
  • Rarely are two days the same so daily routines do vary but are generally good now. I’ve only failed to shower on a handful of very difficult days. I am mostly on top of chores – but need help to catch up with the mountain of laundry and some cleaning tasks. Luckily, I am very tidy and organised and that helps a lot.
  • Self care has improved steadily in the last seven weeks and exponentially so in the last week following a couple of significant appointments (more in a separate post)
  • My ability to get out and about has also approved steadily and continues to do so. I am  happy with my progress.
  • The routine inspection by my landlord’s agent was successfully carried out some weeks ago. My landlord himself, who lives overseas, will make an annual visit at the end of next month. If support isn’t in place in time, I will no doubt stress and overstretch myself ensuring that the flat is in entirely immaculate order.
  • I’ve been to the GP a couple of times and had the necessary tests. There are ongoing issues, I’ll cover that in a separate post at some point.
  • I am still without support for my eating disorder. However, I have made progress by myself. Progress has been steadyish and, more recently, certainly significant. I hope to join a local branch of OverEaters Anonymous but at the moment I don’t have the ‘spoons’ to attend its evening meetings. Evening outings are only possible if I rest for most of that day and each Tuesday I’ve had other commitments. I’ve recently discovered that Beat, the eating disorder charity, runs an weekly support group online. I’ve registered and I’m waiting for my registration to be processed. I will write a separate post about my weight and eating issues; they warrant it.
  • Psychotherapy/Trauma Therapy – there is a lot to say about that! Suffice to say for now that some significant progress has been made both in terms of provision and with my interim therapist.

I have resumed physiotherapy treatment – again a separate post is warranted. My treadmill routine got derailed by a lack of ‘spoons’ and being so busy elsewhere with appointments but I am determined to restart it on Monday.

I saw my dentist last week, had a fabulous appointment, I will blog about it soon and its relation to my recovery from abuse. I have a further appointment next month.

I’m due to have my eyes tested and get much-needed new specs next week.

I should be making a renewed application for Personal Independence Payments (P.I.P) in the next two weeks.

I have tried to return to a weekly support group for women who’ve experienced mental illness/trauma in the last couple of weeks but was thwarted by my ‘spoon’ count. Third time lucky this week, I hope.

Still without support, it is very difficult to keep all the necessary balls in the air. Some things are working well, while others are not. Some things work well for a time then fall by the wayside because something else has to take priority. The advent of support should see the emergence of some consistency and sustainability … both of which currently feel akin to the fabled gold at the end of the rainbow!

Thank you for reading. I’m sorry that this turned out to be more than a bite-sized post. Either I am just a waffler or there really is masses going on! I actually feel like I’ve written a lot but failed to convey all that is going on. Perhaps because I am tired.

Comments as ever are very welcome and appreciated. Do let me know that you are reading and that I’m not just talking to myself 😀 .

Heart x

 

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Heart REset on Living + 14 days

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Heart x

A whole lotta grief

GRIEF!! That word should be writ large with exclamation marks permanently attached.

That’s how it feels when it hits you.

Actually, grief is complex. Studies have been made to try to understand it in greater depth. There’s even a model postulating that there are five identifiable stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I’m not sure that I can put myself firmly at any of those stages right now, but I suspect that I’m somewhere between depression and acceptance. I’m feeling the pain of grief – and boy, does it take your breath away – but, after last weekend, I’m not feeling so hopeless about it.

Why am I grieving?

I’m tempted to call mine Uber or Ultra-Grief because I’m not grieving for a single loss rather multiple (mostly major) losses and because the process feels akin to attempting a hardcore endurance event, like the Marathon de Sables (If you’ve never heard of it, do read about it and let your mind, like mine, boggle over who would want to attempt such a thing :-D). I think I’ll go with Ultra-Grief, like my Ultra-Jigsaw, it seems a good fit … ha! See what I did there? Jigsaw … pieces … fit … oh, never mind.

How the flip do you even begin to recover and rebuild yourself and your life, when you’ve lost so much, let alone begin to grieve when you’re busy enough trying to survive?

Well … if you’re determined, proactive, resourceful, able to be gutsy and have words that help you to achieve many things … you think yourself damn lucky, for a start. At least, that’s how I look at it.

I lost all my family, all my close friends – they had either upped and left or I’d put huge distance between us, my much beloved and hard won career, my self esteem, confidence, my health and my fitness, my marriage, the chance to have children, my smile and even a lot of my hair (more on the latter two in the post The Creature from the Black Lagoon) and I’d found myself in poverty, having lost any element of financial security. Make no mistake, I was lucky, I didn’t lose the roof over my head as others have, but at worst I couldn’t afford food and had to rely on the charity of strangers, likewise I couldn’t afford to heat my home and wore many multiple layers indoors that winter, including hat, scarf and gloves, and retreated to bed when that wasn’t enough.

Leaving my marriage gave me a certain amount of ‘head space’ – as once things were straightened out I was no longer being impacted by its dysfunction. I felt stirrings of grief when my marriage ended but I had to throw myself into finding somewhere to live and all manner of other vital stuff. Grief hit me like a train when a loved one – not a relative but the closest I had to it – died a few months later after a six week illness. Suddenly, I was alone in the world.

It was early last year on a remote ‘retreat’ for a convalescence break that I started to realise that I couldn’t ‘feel’. I’d found this wonderful wee place run by a psychotherapist for incredibly small prices and managed to save a bit from back-dated benefits and obtain a small grant from a charity, in order to go for five days. I ate simple but delicious home cooked food, slept well, walked in ancient woodland, worked in my art journal and undertook some therapy and related exercises. (As an aside, I am hoping to go again later this year.)

As I’ve often said on here I’m a natural ‘Tigger’. I’ve boundless enthusiasm and I freely enthuse about all manner of things –  nature, architecture, art, theatre, and people, to name but a few. Yet, I began to realise that, for the most part, I couldn’t feel my pain, despite the enormity of it. There had been so much that I’d unconsciously shut it down in order to keep putting one foot in front of the other. I’d begun by discussing with the therapist how I longed to be able to cry. It upset me (not that I could show it) that I couldn’t cry and I felt like a cold fish as a result, something which is very much at odds with my character. I could, at a push, shed a couple of tears. My eyes did ‘fill up’ sometimes, but to sob was pretty much beyond me. I came to realise that through all the therapy I’d undertaken, and which I credit with saving my life after my initial disclosure, and also getting me through my marriage and to such a place that I was able to leave it, despite having no money and nowhere to go; I had never cried. I could discuss the darkest of experiences, detail abuse after abuse, and traumatic events such as my father’s suicide and his violence towards my mother, but I couldn’t ‘feel’ them. I intellectualised my way through therapy and I did learn a great deal and make a lot of progress. But, what I learned late last year is that, in the words of my current therapist: If you can feel, you can heal. 

Two things happened in the weeks immediately after my time at the retreat. My GP of a couple of years, with whom I’d developed a solid relationship, particularly in the preceding six months, relocated to a new area. Two weeks later, the support I’d been receiving for six months from a housing support officer was cut overnight. It’s a short term service and was put in place when I was at risk of losing my home. Having that consistent support for the first time in my life, going on retreat and feeling ‘peace’ for the first time in my life, and having the realisation about ‘needing to feel’, all seemed to instigate an ‘unlocking’ in my mind.

I welcomed this at first, I was ready to take this on, and work through whatever was to come. Until suddenly, I was again without support …

Since then I’ve been increasingly feeling grief, but without support and in very difficult circumstances, I wasn’t able to cope with it. A close friend died just before Christmas. She had been ill but was expected to recover, she was only in her late forties. She was the best friend I’d made since my moving to my adopted home city six years earlier. Other friendships were made, but when I ignored my ‘gut feeling’ again feeling that this ‘beggar’ could not be choosy and should take what was offered. My late friend and I knew each other for a little over two years. The time we could spend together was curtailed by our respective illnesses. In some ways I hardly knew her but we connected and there was great deal of potential in the friendship. I’ll always remember her sitting for me as I was teaching myself to draw (she was a talented and exhibited artist), my first life model. Alas, I was so nervous, it wasn’t my best work! Discovering that she’d remembered me in her will, floored me. I genuinely miss her terribly. I’m not one to bemoan ‘Why me?’ Stuff happens. Still, I found myself asking why, if I had to lose a friend, it had to be her. I don’t feel comfortable admitting that, I wasn’t really wishing someone other dead, was I?

I cried at her memorial service, more freely than before. This was because I know how much of a loss she is and how much she could still have lived. It was also because of my own grief at losing her from my life. What I didn’t expect as I sat in the large city centre church, which was packed, and listened to all the wonderful words and memories that were being said and shared about her, and as I met and spoke with several members of her family afterwards, was the barrage of grief of a different kind that assailed me. My friend had faced many challenges in her life. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which had a huge impact on her life, medication used to treat it ultimately caused kidney failure which contributed to her death.

That day I saw what you can achieve, despite challenges, when you are loved or more specifically when you grow up in and continue to be enveloped by a loving family. It was wonderful to behold … and it was also agony. It took my breath away. After spending around 90 minutes at the small gathering for family and close friends after the service, I realised that I really didn’t feel right. I felt ‘spacey’ and had a nebulous sort of sense that I wasn’t OK, that I was no longer coping. Leaving some time later I set off for home. I intended to pick up a few errands en route before catching a bus the rest of the way. I was aware of the first few minutes of the walk and then arriving at the mini supermarket where I intended to shop, but not the 10 minutes in between. In the shop I wandered and wandered aimlessly, returning again and again to stare at the same things but I couldn’t seem to process or complete the task. I remember seeing a Big Issue seller outside the store and rummaging for change in order to buy one, only for him to have completely disappeared a moment later. I wondered if he’d even been there in the first place. The bus stop was close by but I had to cross two busy roads to reach it. I remember waiting to cross the first and there was a bus about to pass in front of me. I remember seeing it and seeing myself, in my mind’s eye, going under its wheels, although I had no thoughts of suicide at the time. Although in my mind, it was vividly real. I felt shaken, dazed and disorientated. I know I caught a bus and got home, but I don’t know how. It took me four days to re-orientate myself.

Seeing my dear friend on Saturday after so many years and feeling such connection is SUCH a happy thing. I’m loathe to describe it as bittersweet, because it was SWEET. SWEET, SWEET but challenges did arise from it. I feel grief that so many years were wasted when we could have been closer. I feel grief that I wasted time on some other friendships where there was no real connection. I feel grief that the memory of her knowing that I was unhappy as a teenager and was there for me and hurt for me, was somehow lost. I feel grief that I wasn’t able to confide in her – and through her, her lovely Mum – to greater depth. The past is the past and cannot be changed so there is no point in dwelling on it, still the sadness demands to be acknowledged and that perhaps if I had, I might have recognised that I was being abused and found a way out of my family much earlier, instead of in my thirties, by which time much more damage had been done.

Despite the grief, I am not AT ALL sorry that she and I discussed these things, and I hope in time that we’ll discuss more, because it is validating, it is helpful for me, and it is something that has the power to help me to heal.

Before the State of the Heart address (thanks you know who, for that inspired phrasing) that was Heart Set on Dying?, grief, when it hit, was unbearable and I shut down as far as possible in order to cope and keep myself safe. It was unbearable because I was alone with it and had no sense of belonging anywhere or being ‘tethered’ in any way. I’ve felt it in a big way once since Saturday, it was undeniably very hard but I went through it WITHOUT shutting down. I truly hope that those of you who read this who have stepped up for me in recent days can understand just what a difference you make.

I don’t know yet what the future holds in terms of dealing with this grief. I don’t know whether I’ll be doing it with my current therapist (voluntary sector) or whether if NHS trauma therapy is offered, now that I’ve reached the top of the 18 month waiting list and am due to assessed next month, that will be the place to do it, or whether I’ll seek out specialist grief services such as those offered by Cruse. I’m still finding my grieving feet …

Thank you for reading. This is waaaaaaaaaaaaay longer than I had intended.

Heart

x

 

 

 

Heart 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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Small comfort(s) – friendship in the face of trauma and illness – PART TWO (first lost then rewritten!).

*PLEASE READ PART ONE BEFORE READING THIS PART :)*

I had a close group of friends from university, and others from different areas of my life. I tended to be the linchpin of the university group, the organiser, the one who brought us together. We each went off in different directions after graduating but would congregate at my home. They were like a second family to me, but my disclosure of abuse and mental breakdown was not well received.

There were mutterings about how abuse only happens in ‘terrible families’ and that seemed to lead to the conclusion that I must be terrible by association and so was best avoided. Some shared their disbelief with me that someone they considered to be so strong, bright and capable, could be so weak as to have depression. At one point I was told to get down on my knees and beg God for forgiveness for my terrible sins (after my attempted suicide). Some of these reactions were repeated as more friends became aware of my circumstances.

Illness, of any chronic or acute kind, can be isolating when it leaves a person unable to live as they once could. Mobility and energy may be compromised, together with many other aspects of normal life. They may become housebound or even bed bound. Friendships are tested, strained, and may even break down. People are often unsure what to say or do in these circumstances. They will often back away, for fear of doing the wrong thing and contact can ultimately be lost. Others are just not good around illness, while others are fair weather friends – around for the good, but not for the less so. For a decade my life revolved around healthcare appointments, depression and panic attacks, psychotherapy, pain, and my loo – thanks to a debilitating, progressive, and during that period, untreated, digestive disorder. The condition led to my becoming agoraphobic for a lengthy period, and further isolated.

*Over time I cut myself off from the very few friends that remained, for fear of having to face more rejection or misunderstanding and stigmatising judgements that, ill and traumatised as I was, I didn’t have the strength to challenge.

I came to realise that I had never been particularly discerning where friendships were concerned. Devoid of self-esteem, because of the abuse I’d experienced, I took all comers. I’d grown up without my needs being met, brainwashed into believing my purpose was to serve the needs of others. Anyone who wanted me to be a friend, got me, I didn’t stop to consider whether or not this friendship was right for me –  it’s perhaps no surprise that these friendships broke down in (my) extremis.

New people came and went over the years. Isolated and desperate and so ever less discerning, I leapt into a number of unsuitable friendships, often made via the Internet – one of few means of contact with the outside world.

Finally, after all these experiences and additionally the challenges of a very unhealthy marriage, I came to a point where I could no longer imagine trusting anyone ever again.

I decided I couldn’t go on like that.

Small comfort(s) – friendship in the face of trauma and illness – PART THREE.

*PLEASE READ PARTS ONE AND TWO BEFORE READING THIS POST :)*

I knew that if I wanted to do more than just survive, if I wanted to THRIVE, building trust and building friendships had to be an integral part of rebuilding myself and my life. However, there were more difficulties therein. How when you’re continuing to deal with chronic illness and, for want of a better expression, chronically difficult, often traumatic, circumstances, how do you make new friendships?

New person: Hello! What’s your name. What do you do?

Me: Erm, I’m heartsetonliving, I’m recovering from decades of abuse and subsequent illness 🙂 

New person: *is thrown* Oh. Er. *falls back to the usual script* Do you have family?

Me: I lost all my family due to a combination of death, abuse and abandonment. I haven’t been able to have a family of my own due to illness and a dysfunctional and damaging marriage 🙂 . 

New person: Lovely! *legs it*
I jest. That’s NOT what I say! Smiley

But I hope perhaps you get the picture. For a long time my full time occupation has been coping with the aftermath of years of abuse, managing illness and rebuilding myself and my life. What I do end up doing is skirting around my circumstances, probably coming across as awkward and evasive, perhaps even furtive and untrustworthy – which is far from the reality of who I am.

It is possible to find friends in similar circumstances to yourself as Ruby Wax has said it can be a relief to find support and empowerment from your own ‘tribe’, people who can more easily relate to you, and you to them. In a mental health setting where I was a voluntary worker in a mentoring role, I unexpectedly made a close friend who has since given me more support than I can ever remember receiving. After the ‘straw and camel’ event of late spring followed by the desperate summer, I am still alive today, able to write this, because of that friendship. There can also be complications making friends ‘in your tribe’, with others like you having more than their fair share of problems, often limiting what they can offer.

*I walked away from one long-standing friendship that had been different, one of give and take, warmth and good humour. Ten years passed. While my life stalled, that person’s life moved on in significant strides as they continued to grow and develop in a typical sort of fashion. But they seemed not to let me go entirely and as technology progressed through those years, so they would pop up with a greeting from time to time via the Internet through one medium or another. I would look the other way, trying to pretend I couldn’t see, too scared to hope. Finally I took the plunge and responded. Having recovered some health and rebuilt a good deal of myself, thanks to extensive psychotherapy, and regained some confidence; I decided this was the time to tell all.

They knew little more than that I had been low. They didn’t know that I had been living a ‘double life’ throughout our friendship, let alone anything about the devastation to my life, ongoing consequences and the fight to recover and rebuild.
That must have been some shock I delivered that day!
They didn’t know what to say … anxiety gripped me as I thought, here we go again.

We have persevered, but it’s been quite the rollercoaster ride, for both of us. We have floundered many times, and just recently I thought we were dead in the water.

It’ll be 25 years next year since we first met. I hope we’ll celebrate that.

I thought if this friendship could work out, it would give me the confidence to reignite and better engage with another long standing friend to whom I was not so close but whom I had not discarded entirely. We’ve remained in occasional contact by post or online. I know I have often backed away out of embarrassment or an inability to explain my complex circumstances. Perhaps I might introduce that friend to this blog …

My reunited friend and I used to work together seeing each other almost every day, and socialising from time to time. After three years we both moved on to different circumstances, a hundred miles or so apart. We wrote letters and met when we could. It was a friendship I cherished, not foreseeing the chasm that would eventually open up between us. These days we live more than two hundred miles apart, we sometimes email (OK, I do a lot, often in great angst or worse), sometimes we text, sometimes tweet, occasionally natter on the phone.

I can’t help but wonder how our friendship would work if my life were less of a ‘train wreck’. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room and one around which it is extraordinarily difficult to negotiate.

My friend is not with stress or strain in their own life but has an extensive network: a close family, children, friends and work colleagues. Aside from this friend and following the death of a loved one a year ago, I have no one close to me from my life before 2010. I have no sense of connection to my history. I’ve been isolated due to illness and my circumstances. There is no doubt that I am in need of support right now, probably more so than I have ever been. But it can’t be fair to put so much onto the shoulders of this friend, can it? Immediately there’s a huge imbalance in the friendship. I’m crying out for that friend to provide support of the sort, they might more likely find from family – something I don’t have. We’ve re-established contact after ten years, and been immediately thrown into a whirlwind of intensity (admittedly by me) because my circumstances are so intense, rather than say laid-back or easygoing, or at least more everyday.

How I wish I had all the answers. I keep pressing forward trying to learn and make progress, trying not to berate myself when I think, when I see, I’m making a hash of things and I worry my socks off that my friend will decide our friendship isn’t worth the hassle I bring.

Consistency in support is so important to me right now. I don’t have roots, or solid foundations on which to depend and so feel secure as I tackle whatever life throws at me. My life has been built on quicksand. I want to know where I stand with friends, feel solidity, security from them. A more ad-hoc or casual approach is unsettling, sometimes even frightening. A regular text – even just to say hello, thinking of you, offers reassurance and a boost. A seemingly small comfort, actually offers enormous benefits. A simple set of ground rules can similarly reassure. Not knowing when next you might hear from that person or even how on earth this friendship is meant to work becomes stressful and anxiety-provoking. But my friend doesn’t need this like I do, in their more ‘normal’ life.

What if a friend doesn’t feel able to deal with that? What if naturally, in more average circumstances, the friendship would never have evolved to be that way BUT you, in your circumstances, clamour for them to meet your needs in this way – because there is no one else to do so?

Who compromises??

As someone in need, and someone who knows others in similar distress some to whom I have reached out to try to support, I want to say that the friend should be the one to compromise. It could be argued that they are more easily able to do so because they are not the one in distress. On the other hand, I find myself saying that it isn’t right to pressure or coerce anyone to do something with which they’re not comfortable.

Friendships, for all of us, take work to maintain – the level of work required can be multiplied many times in the face of illness or trauma.

I know, I’ve written an essay! Many congratulations if you made it to the end. I’m afraid there is no prize 😉 ! I’d genuinely love to hear of your experiences of managing/making/maintaining friendships in similar circumstances – whether you’re the needy or the needed 🙂 .

TTFN x

Small comfort(s) – friendship in the face of trauma and illness – PART ONE.

Stick your hand in the air if, by virtue of being a survivor of abuse or someone who lives with chronic mental or physical illness – or any combination of those, you’ve had struggles with friendships.

I know I have. Oh boy, have I … Any friend of mine reading this, and there are precious few these days for reasons which should become apparent, will concur!

 putyourhandup

What about being a friend to someone who falls into one or more of those categories? Stick your hand in the air and wave it about if that’s you. How is it for you??
Have you stuck by a friend through thick and thin? put_your_hands_up_in_the_air_by_varganorbert-d32d7em
Have you struggled to know what to say or how to deal with a friend’s circumstances? Have you found it easier to distance yourself, although you might feel guilty about doing it?

I am, to use a cliche, a ‘people person.’ I can be shy but I can also be ‘Tigger’ . I am sociable and very interested in others. I’m warm, friendly, caring … and witty(or so I like to think!). So what’s going wrong, why do I have so few friends now and almost no one I can count on?

Disclosing experiences of abuse is difficult for a multitude of reasons. I began doing it in my thirties, at a time when I had many established friendships. It didn’t happen earlier because until then I didn’t know that what I had experienced, was continuing to experience, was abuse, and I was caught up in the machinations of life with abusers and stuck behind the wall of silence so often installed by those who abuse.

I remember so clearly. A locum GP had finally asked the right questions and discovered my real circumstances, not only those my brave front portrayed. She referred me to a counsellor, who told me so carefully and with such compassion …
‘This is abuse … you don’t have to live like this.’
I was assailed by a plethora of thoughts and feelings – everything from pain to confusion, fear to disbelief. I was clear on one thing. It was better this was out in the open, people would rally, I would be supported and loved through this.

It didn’t quite work out that way.