Driven to distraction before languishing in limbo

Distraction was the order of the day yesterday. I’d slept well on Thursday night and woken feeling relatively refreshed, but I soon began to feel decidedly uneasy.

I knew that I was troubled both by having posted this the previous day and by having emailed an acquaintance to ask if she might possibly visit me and help out with a few chores. I felt increasing guilt and shame, and a rising sense of that damn fiend, terror.  

I took my digestive meds, ate some generic ‘Weetabix’ and caught up with some undemanding telly. While watching the new series of MasterChef, to keep track of who’s who, I gave contestants names such as Ms Bullock (when she smiled she reminded me of actor Sandra), Mr Citrus Chicken (his dodgy dish), Ms Berry (a dab hand at baking), Mr Rochdale and Mr Experimental. 

With terror still making its presence felt and preventing me from doing anything useful, I let myself fall asleep and napped for a couple of hours. I woke after a series of dreams, in the last of which I was having a heart attack.

Despite the anxious dreams, terror seemed to have slunk away while I slept. I ventured into the kitchen and made some Porridge Berry Bakes. They’re quick and easy to make and are a healthy way to satisfy a sweet craving. (Thanks are due to the person who shared her recipe on a Facebook group dedicated to eating well on a budget.)  

Beat two ripe bananas (mashed) with two eggs and some vanilla extract. Separately, mix two and a half cups of porridge oats with some cinnamon and one and half teaspoons of baking powder. Now mix everything together then add one and a half cups of milk (I use skimmed cow’s milk, soya, almond etc also work). Divide the mixture into greased muffin tins (or silicone if you prefer) and add your berry toppings of choice (I used blueberries, as my photos illustrate). Bake at 180 for 25-30 minutes. N.B. Choose a non-diary milk and replace the eggs with another banana for a slightly more dense but vegan-friendly cake. These are good for children’s lunch boxes, or so I’m told.

Porridge Berry Bakes ready for the oven
Porridge Berry Bakes ready to eat

More MasterChef came later and the appearance of Ms Pastry, Ms Cabin Crew, Ms Muddle, Ms Sour and Mr Bland among others. I also spent time reading the memoir of a woman who took her fight for ‘the right to die’ to the High Court

I was determined that today I would work on part two of that significant post (if you’ve been keeping up then you won’t need the hyperlinks ūüėč) . I also needed to think about how on earth I might proceed from here. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool planner. I’m never without goals and plans of action, at least I wasn’t until now. After much brain-wracking and head-scratching, I felt as though I was languishing in limbo.I had no bloody clue what to do. Terror still lurked and threatened to pounce, somehow I kept it at bay. Somehow, slowly, very slowly at first, I started to write. I made two lists: What Does My Life Look Like Right Now? and How Should It Look? Alternative titles might be Existing vs Thriving or Deep Crisis vs Getting Better. I titled a third list, yet to be written, How Do I Get From One To The Other?  

Successful Scribbles

After a catch up with an online buddy and a few cups of tea, I wrote part two of that significant post, ‘Bullets 2016’, roughly in the order that they hit! From there this post began to take shape. While I was writing, an email arrived from the acquaintance I was worried about having asked for help, happily agreeing to do so. When you’ve nowhere to turn and you’re left having to ask for help from people you shouldn’t really be asking, the guilt is enormous … at least it is in my case. 

I don’t know the way out of all this, a few days before I found the strength to start blogging again I’d have felt the way out would be ‘in a box’. Now I only know that I think that writing is key.  

I’ve just re-read my post Silence Is Not Golden, for the first time since I published it. I’m surprised to find that it’s not quite so together as I felt it to be as I wrote it.Although it’s accurate and my story, it’s almost as though someone else wrote it, and that feels a little disconcerting. By contrast, as I’ve written this post, I haven’t felt as though the words were almost writing themselves nor as though writing was akin to pulling teeth. I just feel like me, writing  What that all means, goodness only knows. 

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Silence Is Not Golden

I’m waiting for Bob, the smiley man from the pharmacy, to deliver my weekly package of Fibromyalgia medication. Only he’s not so smiley anymore; instead he looks both disconcerted and slightly disgusted, faced each week as he is now with my shambolic self; undressed, unwashed and sometimes smelly. 

I automatically summon a smile and good manners, but with my increasingly poor dental hygiene and dead-eyed dissociation neither can offer much reassurance. 

I’m unsure as to whether it’s a fear of intruding or an absence of community spirit that prevent him, in recognition. of my dramatic deterioration, asking if I am OK or if I need anything.

Weeks ago I couldn’t have dreamed of answering the door, allowing someone to see me in such a state, with Bob it’s become the norm. 

His deliveries have always taken only a moment or two, perhaps because in this largely ‘permit-only’ zone, he is parked on double yellow lines below, or perhaps his speed merely reflects efficiency. I’d guess his age to be beyond that of average retirement. He has a handsome, healthy appearance and sprints up the stairs to my second floor flat with the ease of a teenager. In the wake of my escalating disarray, he’s shaved seconds off his time. 

I did write for several hours on Sunday and into Monday, working on that significant post, mentioned here. I am trying to tell the story of the past year. It looks as though it’s to be set out in two parts, with the first giving background, context; setting the scene. The second a planned to be a bullet pointed list giving details of each trauma as they came, in rapid fire succession. 

I’d have said perhaps that each bullet left clear entry and exit wounds. They passed through and I carried on, like cinematic villains or monsters that just won’t lie down and die, but continue to advance while riddled with bullet holes. 

Now, I wonder about the impact of those bullets. I see now that they must have torn me apart inside  I knew I had been hit, repeatedly. I didn’t ignore it and I did ask for help … repeatedly … but none came. 

I think I was shattered. I realise I was silenced as surely as though a bullet had sliced through my vocal chords.

Bob has just made his delivery, the door is locked once more. My focus is now solely on completing this piece of writing, catching the words as they flow. 

I know that it feels good to write like this – as I couldn’t for so very long. Writing for me is like receiving a life-giving blood transfusion. I’m not sure I can assess the quality of this writing but it feels very good! Instantly I fear that must mean that it is in fact far from that. Yet it’s as though I’ve tapped into a natural spring that flows with exuberant ease. Clear. Fresh. True. It flows, seemingly without effort, almost certainly without strain. 

It’s as though it has to be written, would write itself if it could, and that I’m merely a conduit. Except I am connected to these words, they are telling my story.

On Sunday the pace of progress was rather more sluggish. The flow murky and stilted, like a tap turned on for the first time after the supply has been turned off, to allow the water company to attend to a burst pipe.The cloudy flow splutters, disgorges a flurry of debris into the sink. The tap-turner’s nose wrinkles in distaste.

I found the writing process increasingly stressful. I couldn’t tap into the feelings associated with the traumatic events of the past year without experiencing increasingly acute distress. I determined to press on feeling that this work was vital, the key to progress. I felt that if I could find the words here then, perhaps, I could find the words out there

With ‘part one’ nigh on complete, I reviewed and edited it until I could take no more. I wanted to publish and see the achievement of at least 50% of the task completed, but something held me back. The words felt forced, although they were not inaccurate, they did not feel true. Perhaps that makes no sense? 

The fog was closing in again. The clearing where I’d stood while I blogged for those few days last week, swallowed up. I was left with only terror and desolation for companions. I imagine their laughter deadened by the cloudy cloak but still perceptible. They roared at my gullibility, my willingness to hope that there might have been a way out. 

I soon as I try to write or speak about the trauma of the past year, the flow becomes stilted and murky, and then it stops. 

I was schooled in silence. As tools of the trade go, it’s pretty essential to an abuser. Without it they must rely on apathy or disbelief on the part of anyone hearing, or else they themselves must rely on the tool of discredit to save their skin. When the reality of my family life was finally disclosed, well into adulthood,  to a locum GP, the only one to act on suspicions, and with the gentle telling that followed that this was abuse and I didn’t have to live like that anymore, I knew. I knew that I had to learn to open up, that to begin to heal I had to tell. I did so. 

So, last year, I kept going, bullet holes and all, until a small event on the 13th of February this year (I’m not superstitious, the date is purely coincidental) became a monumental trigger. 

Having concluded that I should hold off publishing ‘part one’, on Monday this week, an hour before I was due to receive a visit from my advocate I sent a desperate, terror-fuelled email cancelling my appointment. I was and remain petrified of the consequences of speaking out. I’ve lost count of how any times I’ve cancelled in recent weeks. 

All I can say now is that among the traumas of last year was an incident in which I disclosed significant trauma and detail of significant risk to myself to two trusted professionals. I was not believed, and lies were told about me. I was not treated with respect but rather with contempt. I was mocked. I was refused support. I was left sobbing like I’ve never sobbed before, traumatised and feeling dirty in a way that I hadn’t felt since the abuse that occurred within my family.

The whole event had an element of the surreal about it. It was such an appalling abuse of power, a disregard for professional standards and duty of care.so shocking, that it was difficult to take in that it really was happening. To make matters worse the incident happened in my own home, the only safe one I’ve known. 

I don’t know how I’ve managed to write parts of this post. I can feel both shame and terror lurking, waiting to pounce the moment I hit publish. 

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!