Tears

I awoke this morning with this song in my head, and it’s created a tailspin of memories.

 

I don’t know why it was in my head. I haven’t heard it for years. But it was very firmly stuck on a loop in my mind.

I first heard this song when I was about ten, I think. It may not have been this version. I remember falling in love with the lyrics, and feeling like they could have been written about me. I think a small part of the ten-year-old me believed they were.

I learned at a very early age that tears were not acceptable. Actually, there was more than one reason why. My grandfather, firstly. (He always seems to work his way into first place, doesn’t he?) I don’t know exactly when I decided to stop giving him the satisfaction of seeing me cry, or begging him to stop. It was shortly after my sixth birthday. I remember that because Percy, my purple teddy bear, was still brand new, and I got him when I was six. I made a promise to myself to never let the monster see me cry again. I understood how much he got off on it. And so I stopped. I toughened up.

My dad comes second in the story of my lack of tears. He had no time for weakness, probably because it was the thing he hated most about himself. He told me on many occasions that I had to be a good girl and not cause any trouble. When I cried, he would mimic me. God, I hadn’t thought of that in a lot of years. It’s brought a lump to my throat right now. He belittled my fears and sadness by making fun of me. That’s so sad. He also told me that if I cried a lot or made a fuss or did anything vaguely naughty, he would take me to the children’s home and leave me there. I believed him with all of my heart.

I also couldn’t cry because of Mum. I don’t blame her for this. But she was always ill, and I had to be a grown-up five-year old and look after her. I was not allowed to upset her in any way, for fear of making her sicker.

So, I didn’t cry. At least, like this song; not out loud. Actually, I don’t think I really cried on the inside. I stopped feeling everything, except for fear. The world became a terrifying place. Nowhere was safe. Everything was always at stake. I felt on the brink of losing it all.

I saw a counsellor for a little while a few years ago. She told me I was the only patient she’d ever seen who didn’t cry once. Counselling, she said, is a fairly wet business. But I couldn’t cry.

When Dad died in 2007, something shifted. I cried for, like, a year. The slightest memory of him could send me into uncontrollable sobbing. I was an emotional wreck. I stayed really emotional for a few years after he died. I remember watching ‘The Green Mile’ and crying for about two hours after it finished! It was like I was making up for the decades of no tears. It was ugly.

Today, I am married to a wonderful man who I love with all my heart. But he criticised my tears so much that they are once again hidden. I feel them inside, bubbling under the surface. But that’s where they stay. It makes him angry if I express any sadness at random things (like TV shows or songs). I think it’s because he’s afraid of sadness. Anger is a much easier emotion for a man to feel.

Well, this was not the blog post I had planned for today. It’s been rather self-centred. But, it’s helped to write about it, so I guess that’s good, right? I’m sure there are people out there who can relate to this. To you all, I say: cry. If you need to cry, then do it. You’re emotions are yours to do with as you wish, and if that means having a good cry, then do it. Cry out loud!

 

My Mental Illness Story

disindetification1

 

My Mental Illness Story

 

I thought it was probably time to give my blog readers a bit more of an introduction to my mental illness and were it comes from. When I began this blog, I intended it to be a platform for my writing. I do share my poems and stories, but I’ve gravitated toward writing about mental health. I guess this is my passion. I wasn’t sure what it would be when I started out, but mental health (and women’s rights and safety) has come to the front. So. Here is my introduction. (There are parts I’ve left out for reasons I don’t really want to go into right now. Maybe later.)

I’m rubbish at introductions. I either clam up, or speak incessantly about nothing and freak the other person right out. At least, I get to write this one down.

Where to start? I guess my main mental illness is depression. That’s the one that’s suffocated me since I was a child. Although, today, PTSD is the beast that slashes at my heels. Anxiety became a huge problem after my Dad died in 2007. He had cancer, and I was with him for every appointment, and at the end. When he died, fear took over every aspect of my world. My long-standing, fluctuating OCD kicked in, and I saw germs in everything. I almost drove myself out of my mind with this fear. I still have problems and germs today.

There are lots of things from my childhood that contributed to my mental health issues. I was abused by my grandfather and a couple of other men. My relationship with my parents was complicated. That’s not to say it was all bad. I had some happy times with Mum and Dad and my friends. But the overwhelming sense that I would never be happy just kind of strangled everything else. 

I’ve been hospitalised a couple of times on a psych ward. The last time, they persuaded me to have ECT. I didn’t want to, but they (doctors, nurses, NAs) told me I was so ill, it was the only thing that could bring me back from the edge (or some other such nonsense!). I had two sessions that went okay. Just a headache and a little loss of memory afterwards. The third time, the anaesthetic didn’t work properly. I awoke in the middle of it. I couldn’t move because of the muscle relaxant they gave me. There was something in my mouth and nudging my throat, so it felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was terrified! Somehow, I managed to move my little finger on my right hand and one of the NAs noticed and they put me further under. After this, I refused to have any more ECT. But they all worked on me (doctors, nurses, NAs) saying it had never happened before, and it wouldn’t happen again. I gave in. It happened again. After this, I flat out refused to have any more. The result was that I was kicked out of hospital as I clearly didn’t want to get better. The psychiatrist said, “There is nothing more hospital can do for you.” His exact words. I did wonder why keeping me safe from myself wasn’t important, but I was just glad to get away from that terrible place. I swore, as I exited the main doors, I will die before I go back there again. 

Dad was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in June 2005. It devastated Dad, Mum, and me. My Mum was disabled since before I was born. I spent most of my childhood looking after her in one way or another. When Dad was ill, I found myself caring for both of them, taking him to all his appointments, and holding down a full time job. I burned myself out. So when Dad died, I crashed. 

This is when I met a man online. Sounds dodgy, no? He lived in Tucson, AZ. I lived in South West England. But we clicked. Instantly. After a few months of emailing and speaking on the phone, then Skyping, he flew over here so we could meet. This year, we will have been married eight years. He is the most wonderful man, and he’s made a big difference to everything. He loves me, you know? Just, loves me. I’ve never had that before.

I thought I would be “all cured” when I met him. That my past would be erased and the darkness brightened. But it would appear that aint gonna happen. My mental illness is part of me. I have to live with it, rather than keep fighting it. Easy to say . . .

Where I’m at right now is dependent upon the day. PTSD, depression, anxiety, agoraphobia. They all stick to me whatever I do. Somedays (rare days), I can shake them off a little and take the dog out on my own. Not far, but on my own, nonetheless. Other days—or weeks—I can’t leave the house at all. Writing helps. But, when I’m ill, I can’t concentrate enough. 

The main thing I struggle with is PTSD. I have the voice of my grandfather in my head all the time. He mocks me, shouts at me, instructs me to do things. On good days, I can dial him down so that he’s background noise. Bad days, it’s not possible. I also have a lot of issues with sleep. Going to bed scares me. I have horrible nightmares every single night, and when I wake, sometimes I don’t know whether I’m awake or not. The dreams are real, and he’s in my room. It’s not just in my sleep that I remember. Flashbacks plague me, especially when I’m not so well. It’s like my childhood is stuck on a loop in my head. I don’t know how to make it disappear. I don’t think it will. 

All of this affects me physically as well as mentally. My body acts like it’s constantly on alert for some kind of incoming danger. It’s ready to help me to survive the attack, which I know will come. At least, my body knows it will. I know—rationally—that’s not going to happen. Just as I know my grandfather isn’t really in my head or in my bedroom. It doesn’t stop the fear, though. 

I think I’ll leave it there for today. I just really wanted to talk about this a little. I wanted to talk about PTSD a little. 

Alfie

Do therapy animals have a place in your life? Would you like to have a therapy animal? Do you think it would help?

I don’t have a therapy animal, and I’ve never had a therapy animal. In terms of physical capabilities, I don’t need one. I’m not really sure how they would help me mentally. I guess, the main way is through relaxation and reducing anxiety. Perhaps, through being a companion when I leave the house.

So, with that in mind, I have to mention my (not so little) scallywag, Alfie. Here is a picture of him that sums him up pretty well.

Alfie is the best friend ever. He’s a very cuddly dog; the most cuddly I’ve ever known. He’s also the funniest dog (and the naughtiest, but I won’t go into that!). Just stroking his soft ears and rubbing his tummy always soothes my mind at least a little. I also find leaving the house easier when he’s by my side. So, he’s kind of like a therapy dog. Apart from the fact that he’s desperate to say hello to everyone he meets and always wants to play with every other animal he meets. And he really doesn’t like to listen when I tell him no. So, he’s not the kind of dog who could steer me through the trials of a panic attack while away from home. He’d probably leave me in a heap on the floor to say hello to that hedgehog that pricks his nose every time he sees him. Although, to be fair to him, the last couple of times he’s pulled me over, he has stood over me, sniffing my face and sneaking in the odd lick for good measure. That’s an improvement because he used to run off with gay abandon whenever I fell over (I’m quite a clumsy person).

So, I feel I’ve gone off on a tangent with this topic. To summarise, I have no experience of therapy dogs. But Alfie sure does help me a lot.

An Open Letter Regarding Mental Illness

MH2
Dear everyone,

I am writing this letter because mental health, or mental ill-health, is something I have quite a lot of experience dealing with. It would be good to use my experience to help others who might be going through the same kind of stuff. A lot of people who live, work, interact with people who are mentally ill don’t know what to say that might help. For that reason, it’s often the elephant in the room. People don’t want to upset the person with the illness or make things worse. Which is understandable. I get it; I really do. But, sometimes, it’s the most unhelpful response. So, these are my thoughts. They are things that do and don’t help me. Everyone is different, but these are my experiences, based on my struggles with depression, anxiety, and PTSD …

The most important thing to say is never, ever try to minimise what we are going through. All your, “Ahh, there are those worse off than you,” and, “Sure, you just need to make up your mind to get better, and you will,” speeches are the most unhelpful you can give. Don’t tell us, “Just get over it, you’ve been wallowing for long enough now. It’s time to move on.” You don’t simply move on from mental illness. You don’t just get over it. The amount of times my dad told me to do just that. Even though he constantly battled depression and anxiety, frequently giving in to it. If only it were as easy as just moving on. I suspect there would be very little mental illness in the world.

For me, the most important thing people can say is that they care about and support me. To tell me they are here for me if I ever want to talk, and that they love me whatever my illness makes me say and do. I appreciate this isn’t an easy thing to do. There are times, I’m not an easy person to like, let alone love. It takes a lot of patience to watch someone relive the same nightmares every night for years. It’s hard to understand how things don’t improve. Or, even harder to understand how they do improve, and then revert to a place that seems worse than they originally were. But, please remember, if it’s frustrating and heartbreaking for you to watch, imagine what it’s like to experience it first hand. You won’t understand, unless you’ve been there, but understanding isn’t necessary. You just have to listen and let them know they aren’t alone.

It’s important to remember we are speaking about mental illness. I know it’s been said many times before, but it is an illness. Physical or mental, if you’re ill, it isn’t your fault. Don’t judge mentally ill people. Don’t be afraid of them. You can’t catch their illness. Spend time with them. We are people who deal with an illness in the same way that someone with angina carries their spray around to help them out if things get bad.

I think it’s important you aren’t afraid to discuss difficult subjects. I know it’s easier to ignore the things that scare you. But, ignorance can have terrible consequences. Please, never be afraid to discuss subjects such as self harm and suicidal ideations. When people are experiencing these, I guarantee they are feeling incredibly alone. So, let them know you’re there. Hold their hand. Ask them if they have any plans to end their life. You may be surprised how big a difference getting them to open up and talk about their plans can make.

So, what helps? Patience. Support. Love. Friendship. Time. Being unafraid. Understanding. What hinders? Ignorance. Judgement. Unwillingness to try to understand. Impatience. Hate. Fear.

You know what helps the majority of the time, though? Being treated as though I’m a normal person. Because I am. Every single person on earth is unique. That’s how I look at it. My illnesses dont’ define me. But I do deal with them every day. I used to be ashamed, but not any more. I’ve been through a lot, with mental illness as the end result. But I’m not just mental illness. I’m a writer, a wife, a friend, a niece. All of this things come before my illnesses, and I want everyone to remember that.

Rachel

fragments

I’ve come to realise that free verse, dark poetry is my go-to place when things are tough. I’ve written a lot of poetry over the last couple of weeks, and it’s been dark. I first noticed myself retreating to this place of creativity when I was a teenager. It was the first time I really began writing. And I did it because I was desperately unhappy, and I needed an outlet.

Over the years, it’s always worked out this way. Free verse just seems to flow more—well—freely when I’m depressed.

So, with that said, here is today’s offering:

 

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fragments

secrets transmitted through
silence,
morse code in static;

tap

tap

stomp

insanity seeds sprout shoots,
instil doubts, and
truth—
that toothless, old man
with brandy-breath—
morphs into eggshells and
glass

fragments of memories—
sharp, vicious—
shatter, then dissolve;
taking with them what’s left of my
m

i

n

d

there are moments within these
stills of life that
p  a  u  s  e
long enough
for me to catch their truth …

how do i change this cassette which
l o o p s
my brain’s membrane?
how do i
stop
the voice who torments me?

fatigue violates my bones;
tearing down walls of ligaments and muscles,
draining blood.

i’m barely here

my fingernails are
starting to ache and
letting go
would be
so

e

a

s

y

help

I wrote this poem this morning, after a long conversation with my doctor. I don’t trust the mental health team. It’s not paranoia. It’s the experience of being let down by them more times than I can recall. But, my GP (who is the most wonderful lady) persuaded me I need extra help. I wrote this poem when I got home. It’s just the first draft, with no edits as yet. But I wanted to share it. It’s dark, and I should probably add there are TRIGGER WARNINGS.

Suicide

 

help

i sometimes wonder if
at the end
we get some release,
or if it’s the most
a  l  o   n     e
we ever feel …
i imagine a warm
blanket;
darkness
settling over my
body,
swathing me in a soft, dark
comforter,
but will it bring the
relief i crave,
and will it cause
disappointment, or bliss?

never give in,
that’s what the
lady with almond eyes and
a mouth that cares
says;
this is all
transitory,
but what if it’s not?
what if the only words to make it out of my mind
tell me of another option?
well, maybe i have to listen
because those words are important,
that’s why they’re all that survived the
frying of my brain.

confused,    foggy,     bleak
all i really know
one last chance to
stop being me,
a less permanent solution—
help;
not my favourite concept
but one i have to accept
this one last time,
and if it doesn’t work,
well, who cares …

PTSD Essay

ptsd-symptoms

 

This is a short essay I wrote yesterday about PTSD. I’ve tried to keep my own experiences out of it for now, although I do draw on them a little toward the end. I figured, I’ll share my stuff at another time.

 

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been around for a long time. In World War I, it was called ‘Shell Shock.’ World War II referred to it as ‘War Neurosis.’ In the 1980s, it became more widely known as PTSD.

The simplest way to describe PTSD is as a memory processing disorder. We all experience multiple situations every day, and for most of those experiences, our brain processes them as they occur, filing them away as memories. However, when we experience a traumatic event, our body automatically suspends normal operations, shutting down our usual bodily functions, like memory processing. The reason this happens goes back to the old ‘Fight or Flight’ response. The body experiences whatever danger is happening and uses all its energy to prepare our legs for flight, or our arms for fight. Adrenalin floods our bodies, increasing our heart rate, and every part of our body is focussed on survival.

Which leaves the trauma floating around in our brains. But, the trauma isn’t categorised as a memory, so whenever it comes to the front of our brain, we experience it as though it’s happening right now. Smells, sounds, tastes, music; so many things that are associated (albeit, subconsciously, at first) with the trauma can trigger flashbacks and dissociations. We continually re-experience the trauma, as the brain is completely unable to recognise it as a memory.

I read a couple of articles before writing this. Did you know that 1 in 2 people experience trauma at some time in their lives? Traumatic events include: violent assaults, military combat, motor accidents, natural disasters, miscarriage, bereavement, being told you have a life threatening illness, terrorism, traumatic childbirth, plus many more.

Of the people who experience trauma, around 20% go on to experience PTSD. Some of the symptoms are: flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, hyper vigilance, intense emotions, outbursts of anger, exhaustion, amnesia, dissociation, relationship difficulties, fear, withdrawal from others. It doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? The worst thing is having no control over when your brain will decide to subject you to the horrors. At least, little control. You can work on your triggers, but it usually requires professional help.

About four years ago, I reached the point where I had no choice but to seek help. I saw a therapist for my allotted ten sessions (NHS: say no more). She worked with me on finding grounding techniques to help return myself to the here and now when I’m re-experiencing the trauma. I use these techniques every day, and they are a big help. The therapist also recommended I undergo an odd-sounding therapy called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation Reprocessing). I researched it a lot and agreed to be assessed for it.

Firstly, let me try to explain the theory behind it and what it entails. As I mentioned above, PTSD is caused by traumatic events that haven’t been processed properly as memories. So, EMDR evokes eye movements similar to REM sleep. This is achieved by the therapist holding their finger in front of the patient and moving it from side to side. The patient follows it with their eyes, whilst talking about a specific incident of the trauma. This is thought to help the trauma to be processed. It all sounds a little kooky, but I read the success rate is over 70%.

I never had the EMDR. The assessing psychologist said I have complex PTSD (meaning I experienced lots of traumatic incidents over a long period of time, going back to when I was really young), and so she didn’t think EMDR would help. What I read today, though, doesn’t state that as true. So I don’t know.

In conclusion, there are psychological therapies, most of them involving grounding techniques, and they can help you to feel better. I won’t say recover because I don’t believe it’s possible to ever be free from this illness. I work every day to fight flashbacks, and I have nightmares every night. I dissociate in the middle of conversations and—sometimes—want nothing more than to die. But, I am better than I was when I first got the diagnosis. PTSD is manageable. Never be too ashamed to ask for help.

Anxiety

Anxiety

After writing reading another blogger’s description of his anxiety and responding to him yesterday, it made me remember just why I started writing again, two and a half years ago. I had to do something to try to slay my anxiety beast that was living inside of me. At that time, I had tried many other things (like CBT, therapy, meds) and none of them helped for very long—if at all. Then I started to write, and everything settled down a little.

This poem is one I wrote right at the start. It’s maybe the very first poem I wrote, I’m not sure. Technically, it’s not my best. But it describes so well how I was feeling at the time.

Anxiety

Creeping across my chest,
Fingers tingling; numb
I can feel my heart racing,
It’s striking me dumb.

I know that I am rotten
I deserve all that I get
But—please—will you just let me breathe,
I feel so under threat.

I cannot think, my head’s all fuzz
It hurts to be alive,
My mouth feels dry, I cannot speak
I’m not sure I’ll survive.