Get over it

‘Just get over it.’ Those four simple words are like jumping into freezing water, or chopping vegetables and accidentally chopping your finger, or grabbing a plate, only to realise it’s only just come out of the oven. The effects are similiar. There’s this entire body shock, then the realisation of pain, then shock as you process it, then pain again. It’s a fast process, but the pain is all encompassing. A moment so slight of wishing to god you could go back and undo what you did/un hear what you heard. Because like the scar, these words are ever going to haunt you. To make you question yourself, question the person, leave a pain so deep, break a trust, hurt, never really leave your already broken soul.

So why must people utter those words?

Why must time frames be allocated to trauma and grief? Who is to clarify the definition of trauma and/or of grief? Does a car accident involving a fatality get allocated a certain amount of recovery time? Child abuse another? Death of a relative depends on how close the relative and cause of death? Who possibly thinks that they are entitled to make that call?

Trauma and grief are personal journeys. They are complex. They have many variables. If a person chooses to share their story, their truth, they deserve at the very least an acknowledgement.

We are not all equipped to deal with the horrors and the realities of the world. We are all to an extent on our roads. Sometimes I have heard terrible things, not always from close friends. Instinctively, I would love to put my hands over my ears. Please, save me hearing how awful your journey has been. But I would never do that. Because a persons voice deserves to be heard. They have chosen to speak their story and I will listen. I have nothing to say, I can’t help, I feel I have nothing to offer. But I can say, I HEAR YOU. I can say KEEP GOING, YOU ARE SO STRONG. Because those are the words most people want to hear if nothing else.

To suggest that someone should simply get over something, is insulting. It’s degrading. It’s not hearing their pain, it’s not acknowledging the depths that they have been to, the fight and the struggles that they have. It’s not acknowledging that they lost their power and control and have fought to get it back. It’s not identifying the number of tears cried, the number of tears still not cried, the nightmares, the screams, the stifled screams, the residual damage; medical, psychological, emotional, physical, mental.

It’s tantamount to walking over a dead body in the street. If you don’t acknowledge it’s a person, that that person was a living breathing person, that had a family, that had thoughts and feelings, experienced joy, and sadness – you, yourself have the lost the ability to connect with people on such a basic fundamental level.

Are you too full of self? Are you simply not interested? Surely no one believes they have the god given right to allocate time frames to a persons profound experiences of trauma and grief?

As I go along in my journey, gradually I let more people in. I’m fortunate. I have good friends in my life. Kind, understanding souls. But then I come across one that reminds me, some people change. Kindness and warmth isn’t a trait that lasts forever in some people. And although it saddens me, it’s another lesson for me.

Perhaps if those words came from someone I didn’t have higher expectations of, it wouldn’t grate so much.

So no, I won’t just get over everything that’s happened to me. I deserve my time. I deserve to find peace. I deserve to be true to myself. And I pity anyone that has the misfortune to experience grief or trauma around someone like that.

A good day (incl a therapy day!)

Today I wanted to note because good days need to be held onto with both hands. They need to be valued, they need to be held, they need to appreciated and referred back to. Either by way of a written note like this, or by hearing it relayed back by people you care about. Because when you are in the storm, it is so hard to remember terra firma.

The things I have observed is that I am mostly present. I converse with the people around me. I’m not drifting, I’m interacting. It’s such a small thing, but a spontaneous smile, idle, natural chatter, in the moment, it’s life. My soul is awakening. The difference between existing and being.

Of course, like anyone that weathers these brutal storms, I am cautious, because there is always the eye of the storm. And I must be careful. Not negative about progress, not doubting myself, but just taking a moment to breathe the air that I can finally be part of. To feel, to taste, to participate for the briefest of moments. To not be forced to move, to not be on autopilot. To not drift through days.

I did see my therapist today. Something happened in the waiting room. I saw a woman there, she was crying. I felt immediately anxious. In the space of concerns I was considering, do I ask if she is ok? What if she panics and jumps through a window? What if I scare her away? Should I stay quiet? Should I wait somewhere else? Should I summon help from the office discreetly? As I ventured more into the waiting room she was holding her wrist. Was she injured? Had she hurt herself? The kettle had just boiled, was she burnt, did she need medical attention? Now of course, in ANY other place I would instinctively react and offer help. But remember this is a place where people get therapy, it’s confidential. Who knows want the etiquette is! I felt very sad for her and very useless. I could see by the way she bowed her head and gathered her stuff she was very awkward. Don’t worry, my thought process was nano seconds, I wasn’t stood there gawping at her trying to work out what to do! She obviously wasn’t anticipating anyone coming into the waiting room. She was anxious to get out of there. I decided to head to the office as she was scuttling out and mention that someone looked distressed and potentially with a minor injury. They obviously knew the client and were able to catch up with her much to my relief. As my therapist came to check on me, I found myself feeling like a rabbit caught in headlights, spilling coffee everywhere. I felt so socially awkward, almost childlike. Inept. Clumsy. Unprepared. It seems other people can express their emotions, cry and grieve, but I cannot. I could never cry like that woman. In public nor in therapy. She was visually indicating her distress. Mine is internal. Aside from obviously spilling coffee!

The session was relatively relaxed. Relief on both sides that I was making progress with my mood and energy. Less two dimensional than previous sessions. Although it’s frustrating because I do want progress quickly. I want to be rid of these demons, get these memories and all these shadows of pain out of my body. My therapist was curious about my experience in the waiting room. How can someone so clearly independent, assertive and usually so vibrant and friendly seem so off balance when greeted with someone so emotional. She feels that it’s because deep down I have so much grief, so much sadness that simply when confronted with someone that exhibits that emotion I simply struggle and need to bury my own. It’s both a survival instinct and a learnt behaviour. My parents didn’t believe in expressing emotion at all. Emotion is a weakness to them.

It is so hard to tap into the depth of reservoir of what truly makes me the person I am. There are so many barriers, so many layers, so much distrust, so much protection. Years of pain, anguish, silent suffering, un cried tears, muted screams, fear that was never consoled, nightmares that were never placated, simple, uncomplicated affection that was given. No appropriate affection that was given.

It has taken months for Anne to establish this rapport with me. Sometimes she breaks through. Sometimes she doesn’t. I work very hard with her. Even when my mind pushes hard against her. Today she used the word, ‘shame’ and I disassociated for a lot of the session. We have identified a huge trigger word for me. And I guess I have learnt another Achilles heal.

So today, yes, therapy was hard. But I did it. I’m committed to my therapy.

And yes, I consider today a good day because I’ve had energy, because I’ve engaged. Because I’ve been present. Now I need these periods to add up. I need these times to become days. To become weeks, to become months.

And if a bad day follows, I need to hold onto days like this.

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Past and the present, secrets and lies

I often refer to Demons. That’s what they are. Ugly insidious parts of my history that lie within my soul like tumours. They taunt me, eat away at me, sometimes quieter than other times. But ever present. I feel that I can never be free of what is inside of me. Although therapy has been an excellent way to confront these dark shadows, to name them, to face them. But every fear is very much current, it grows with me. I can never be safe. I can of course take actions to enable a sense of security, but I never feel truly safe.

We all have a point in our lives when we meet a significant juncture. Some of us have a few. I have a few. One most pointed is deciding to leave someone without offering an explanation. Leave with the good memories. Protect them. And our lives go on and things change and as happens with the accessibility of social networking, connections are established.

Then the situation becomes further complicated when you see danger in the midst of the people you care about. Every time you wish to bask in the beauty of the fond memories, a shadow is lurking not too far beyond. A reminder of what you are. Where you came from. That you are vulnerable. That there are very thin veils between all that is good and evil.

Alone, you must make a decision about what is revealed, what isn’t and how you can handle the ramifications. There is guilt of tremendous proportions, because all that is good don’t deserve this misery, but they deserve to be kept safe. There is guilt because you should never have gone back. There is fear. There is heartache. Who knows what the right decision is? 

I believe in honesty, directness, most of the time at my peril. I believe in loyalty and as I don’t have extended family, my friends are my family and I want to protect them as a wolf does their own.

The medication is working, so please don’t think these are the ramblings of a mad woman! My energy levels are very gradually rising. I’m taking extra care to rest and eat. I’m owning my current state. I take each day as it comes. There will be good and bad days. My hope is that the good days gradually outnumber the bad days. I realise it will take time. But I’m fighting.

But today, today I must face a cold hard truth in my blog. You can keep secrets to protect the ones you care about, you can keep secrets for years, but they eat away at you, they give more energy to the demons. It all hangs there. Unspoken, but there. Secrets are lies. They are omissions of the truth. And you can only hide that for so long. Especially when the veil between all that is good and all that is evil is so very thin.

Today, protecting the ones I care about has ended in me being hurt again. And yet, I am the one that was hurt in the first place.

Demons 1 Penny 0
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Nightmares

As a child I used to suffer terrible nightmares. I’d wake screaming and my parents used that old adage, say it out loud and it won’t happen again. Which isn’t true. My nightmare was always recurring and I’d wake terrified and screaming. Most children grow out of nightmares or night terrors and of course most nightmares are innocent. A normal part of brain processes.

But nightmares have plagued me my entire life. To extent I became somewhat of an insomniac learning to survive on less sleep, until falling into an exhausted sleep where I suppose my brain was literally too exhausted to dream.

This has been a problem for me, backpacking around many different countries, I’ve been confident but I’ve been worried about waking in a dorm flailing around screaming – not exactly shared dorm etiquette. Fortunately as any seasoned backpacker will tell you, rarely are hostels deadly quiet and pitch black in the night!

Now as I am older I no longer stay in hostels but when I go away for my weekend breaks or have been away for work I have routines in order to help. Like keeping the television on silently for that soft light, I know that if I wake in a panic in the night I need to be able to identify exactly where I am. It’s funny because this is my life. This is normal for me. I don’t like to sleep at other peoples houses because I’m not familiar with their security routine, what if they’re not as security conscience as I am? Typically, I must sit awake on guard. Also, power cuts- always a worry. Fortunately major hotels have generators. And at home I know where all of our torches and candles are.

I was a conference once in Hamner Springs (South Island) beautiful place. But power was low that year and in order to conserve power they were cutting electricity between certain times in the night. A town plunged into darkness. Fortunately, although my colleagues had taken a shared bus, I rented a car. And for those hours in the night, I sat in my car!

I wake in the night and I can be in the past. I’m terrified. Fortunately these don’t occur too often, just at the moment there has been a spike. Sleep is very important, integral to mental health. I can see or hear something so minor and that can be what is called a ‘trigger’ which sets the motions for a bad night.

People associate nightmares with kids. But the truth is, as an adult, it’s an embarrassing affliction. How can you explain an irrational fear to your peers? How do you explain that the monsters in your head are far more terrifying than any other perceived threat imagined under the bed? Waking up gasping for breath, feeling that loss of control, for a moment, not knowing where you are, heart beating wildly, eyes only seeing fragmented memories, a fear so raw, so child like, flight or flight – but from what??

So the brain tortures you, day and night. The demons, they never give up. It’s a battle, it’s tiring.

But, the medication, now at 300mg I hope is hitting its target. The nightmares are coming. I’ve spent most of the weekend hiding away – I’m not going to deny it. But I’m still fighting. Still going!

Therapy and the reprieve

In the thick of the fog, it can be easy to forget there are clearer days. And those you must hang onto for dear life.

On Tuesday when I’d asked my husband to come home early, although defeated, I did rest. I did need it. In the evening I was able to eat some dinner and watch some TV. A small thing isn’t it? But a push of energy from me. Plus TV can be over stimulating and/or triggering for my poor old brain. But it was nice to feel a bit more normal.

Wednesday, I had an old tattoo that I had when was 18 covered over by a wonderful, talented artist locally. I’m so pleased with the result, although I could have cancelled the appointment, I didn’t want to let her down. So a few hours of a passionate artist tidying an old tacky tattoo was really inspiring.

An early night followed. With my phone strictly turned off!

So today I felt refreshed, ready for therapy. I’m by no means through the worst, I realise that. But when I can take a moment to feel the heat of the sun, see the city landscape and feel at home, I relish those moments. They are tender kisses of life. A promise of what I can have.

Anne commented there was a spark of me today.

Don’t get me wrong, 15 minutes prior I’d just argued with someone via text, they thought I was unreasonable, and vice versa, but that happens a lot at any time in my life, it comes with me being feisty and passionate. I don’t apologise for who I am. I have many, many faults, but I love, and I’m loyal and I’ll fight for those I believe in, because god knows, when you have been knocked down and left for dead as many times as I have, your instinct is not to walk away. Unfortunately that means I’m often the one putting a lot out and left standing alone. Something I really need to work on.

So we kept therapy light today. Being low it’s not healthy to push through the trauma work. I need to feel better in myself, stronger. But it’s frustrating! I wish to purge myself of all this ugly inside.

It feels a bit like a false economy, I get better only to work on the trauma again. I won’t get so low again because I’ll be on the correct medication for one. Plus there were a lot of contributing factors to the increase in PTSD symptoms. They have been identified and managed now.

Looking inwardly is a very difficult thing to do. We all aspire to be better human beings – except narcissists and psychopaths of course! Some of us, ok, ME (!), feel the need to over compensate on perceived weaknesses by helping others. Constantly. In all of my previous work I gave EVERYTHING to my clients. And I could never really shut down. I worry about my friends a lot. I cross the line with my incessant meddling and I forget about empowering people and kind of just take over instead. It’s not all altruistic, I get the pay off knowing I helped someone, distracted from my own issues and I have a sense of control.

This blog is the first time I’ve been completely honest about my disposition. There’s a lack of control – I don’t know what people are going to think. There’s the inherent fear, I will be perceived as being weak. Will people think of me differently? Slightly more insane than initially thought?!

My entire life has been about half truths, saving face, keeping up the good fight, sweeping things under the rug, not letting emotions show, no freedom of expression at all. I’m only just really learning how to cry. In the last couple of years I’ve become more affectionate.

So I must conclude that I’m evolving. And there are going to be terrible bits and not so bad bits and ok bits and hopefully good bits. A lot of other people had their childhood and teenage years for this.

I didn’t.

Bad day

“Killing oneself is, anyway, a misnomer. We don’t kill ourselves. We are simply defeated by the long, hard struggle to stay alive. When somebody dies after a long illness, people are apt to say, with a note of approval, “He fought so hard.” And they are inclined to think, about a suicide, that no fight was involved, that somebody simply gave up. This is quite wrong.”
― Sally Brampton, Shoot The Damn Dog: A Memoir Of Depression

“If I can’t feel, if I can’t move, if I can’t think, and I can’t care, then what conceivable point is there in living?”
― Kay Redfield Jamison, An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness

“I saw the world in black and white instead of the vibrant colours and shades I knew existed.”
― Katie McGarry, Pushing the Limits

“It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of feeling— that really hollowed-out feeling.”
― J.K. Rowling

“The brief relief of seeing other people when I leave my room turns into a desperate need to be alone, and then being alone turns into a terrible fear that I will have no friends, I will be alone in this world and in my life. I will eventually be so crazy from this black wave, which seems to be taking over my head with increasing frequency, that one day I will just kill myself, not for any great, thoughtful existential reasons, but because I need immediate relief.”
― Elizabeth Wurtzel, Prozac Nation

This morning I rose begrudgingly as usual. The usual routine. Kids ready. Drove to school. Youngest day’s off. Usually our special day. I’m tired. I have no energy. I have managed to tidy the house. Do the laundry. But my levels are low. Fortunately he is tired and I put him down for a nap.

I hear the sound of church bells. We don’t live near in church. In therapy once bells started, after six months this was a rare occasion, it rendered me into a disassociated state. Memories of my childhood came like a tidal wave. My brain couldn’t handle it. I lived near a church growing up. This hasn’t happened before, but presumably being therapy, being open, I am more vulnerable to such triggers. It had been a powerful therapy session.

Shaken, I searched the house for various laptops, iPads, iPods, etc, something that might have given that noise. I found nothing. Perhaps it wasn’t it my head (my worst fear) perhaps someone outside with a cell phone or something. Unease didn’t shift. Feelings of creeping anxiety and a sense of unease. Eventually I decided to take diazepam which I usually leave as a last resort. I took a few moments to calm myself and had planned to call my husband. He coincidentally called me at that exact moment. I told him the situation. He explained that our eldest daughter has a church bells notification thing on her iPod touch. I felt relieved that I recognised the sense of unease came from the noise, also that this noise had actually occurred.

I felt so tired. I looked at the news and saw that Mick Jaggers girlfriend has killed herself, L’Wren Scott. How awful. Yet I can understand, as with, Charlotte Dawson, those last few moments, when the despair is just so great, when you yearn for peace and can take no more. I hope they are at peace now.

I received an email from the select committee, the government is hearing submissions for funding into rape crisis centres. I, along with many others, not only pushed for funding, but said I wanted to appear personally to the committee, in the hope that a personal appeal would add greater volume than just a letter asking for money. I received an email today, confirming my attendance in April. I submitted back in September! I’m quite anxious now. But it’s a cause I believe in, so will pursue.

The girls’ principal called today as well. We have already locked horns. A 14 year old went onto school grounds during after school care and my 7 year old during a conversation lifted her skirt. A cleaner saw and intervened. I’m furious that a, there was no supervision, b, the cleaner told my daughter off, c, no one knows who the boy is, d, the boy has visited a few times and established a rapport with a daughter, which I had to ascertain as the teachers didn’t, and e, the principal feels my daughter should take some accountability. I had to initiate the meeting, I had to request they try to find out who the boy is and I had to recommend a trespass order against the boy, also to better manage their after school care as currently the numbers can be 30-40 children with two staff, one of which is really old man, and most of the time they don’t know where the children are and this is a user pays service. So we are going through the motions of a proper complaint. Unfortunately it means that we get a call every time the girls do anything slightly naughty.

– a threatened detention for picking paint flakes off of an old park bench
And today I got called because he doesn’t like where I park. Apparently it’s where the school bus stops, but I have never seen the bus. The principal thinks the others mothers will think I’ve been given special dispensation! It might be because I’ve asked the mothers a couple of times to use their indicators!

I held my own on the phone. He’s an idiot. It’s just a typical small town school with people with nothing better to do.

After the call I felt sad though. It wouldn’t usually bother me at all. Nothing usually bothers me. I’m feisty and can hold my own. But everything is crumbling.

My son woke up in a terrible foul mood. Crying and having tantrums – which is not like him at all. I suspect he might be over tired or coming down with something. Again, usually I can use the right method, be it cuddles, play, a drive, a walk, we are extremely close. But today it’s like I’m almost a new mother again. I feel alone, lost, how can I comfort my little boy when I, myself am such a mess.

My husband calls again and I tell him. I’m failing today. I don’t think I can do this. He knows I would rarely ask him to leave work unless it’s that bad. He makes some excuses and comes home.

He sets our son up on the couch. Our son is still grouchy. But I feel relief that I am not dealing with him alone.

My skin has flared up terribly, I had hives, now it’s eczema. I’ve never had skin problems before. The dr says it’s stress related. She gave me hydrocortisone cream. I feel like such a mess. My arms itch terribly, sometimes my arms and hands will bleed. And my face will be blotchy, but my skin has always been clear in the past. Although my husband has politely reminded me that not showering regularly probably doesn’t help 😉 I guess I have been pretty bad at taking care of myself of late.

Anyway, he is here now to do school run and manage this afternoon. The noise, mess and demands.

I have failed in all of my responsibilities.

I made a promise to my husband after a very real, and very painful suicide attempt for him, that I would never do that to him and our children again. I might be failing as a mother alive, but the damage I would do to them if I took my own life would be unforgivable. I made that promise a few years ago, and I owe it to my children. So I can only envy the people that are at peace and only hope to find my peace in the living world.

The Psychiatrist – part deux

“When you feel my heat
Look into my eyes
It’s where my demons hide
It’s where my demons hide
Don’t get too close
It’s dark inside
It’s where my demons hide”
– Demons
Imagine Dragons

A text extract of conversation between my husband and I, 16 March 2014

ME: “Seriously though, what if I don’t get out of this low? I can’t imagine being happy? I’m so tired and this stuff I’m dealing with now is all new to me, it’s different, everything is different. What if this is it?”

HIM: “It’s not!
You will come out of this. It’s been a very hard couple of years with all the moves. It’s a perfect storm of emotions right now. The rest is the same and you will come out of it.
You have been happy. When we got into this house, when you went to Taupo, etc.”

ME: “But what about the stuff I said to you and Anne? Maybe I should have left it unsaid”

HIM: “No, it was always with you, so there is a different dimension to it now, but it’s still something that you’ve been carrying around.”

ME: “That’s what Anne said!
It’s just so hard to imagine being normal.
To remember what it’s like.”

HIM: “I know. I always remember when you had come out of a long hard low and we were sitting outside the Martinborough hotel having lunch and a beer. You commented that it felt like forever since you had felt that normal and that you liked it. You were content. You will get that feeling back.”

ME: “God, it must be so awful for you. I wish i wasn’t like this”

Today I saw the psychiatrist for a follow up after week one of introducing and slowly increasing the quietiepine. Fortunately, she wasn’t expecting any difference. And I wasn’t showing signs of any improvement. She’s told me I need to be at least 300mg before it starts working for me, because my low is just so bad, and my symptoms of PTSD are really complicating the low. She’s recommended ceasing therapy until my mood has improved, fearing that the increase in PTSD is a direct result of the work I’m doing in trauma therapy. And the psychiatrist can see I have no reserves left.

In fact, she has even suggested finding childcare so that I can go into one of their respite facilities. She feels that I’m functioning at a level just enough to manage my children and it is, just for my children. But I have nothing for myself. And she’s anxious to work harder on my medication, but must take into consideration that increasing dosages too quickly could impair my ability to function, and I must be able to drive in the morning and look after my family. It’s finding a balance of getting medication right, so that I can improve but not at the detriment of anyone’s safety.

I’m naturally keen to avoid that route. I want to be there for my children. I have had no problem with changing my routine so that I can take naps in the day time, I am keeping stress low, I’m not drinking alcohol, and ok, I don’t remember to eat during the day, but I’m trying my best to at least have cereal or a snack.

Therapy has been so important to me. It’s the first time in my life I have allowed myself the opportunity to face my real demons and work through my trauma. I’ve been throwing myself into it full blast. Hoping that the pain will give me long term gain. Clearly my brain has been giving off signals of its distress and I have just ploughed along full steam. Impatient and wanting answers. Wanting to rid myself of what I feel are evil tumours attached to my soul, draining me, making me ugly, insidious that tarnish things around me.

In therapy sessions I have disassociated to quite a degree. It’s a horrible feeling. Anne calls it an important ‘off switch’ that the brain uses to protect itself. I get impatient. Yet I am equally scared. It’s like peeking behind your hands while watching a horror movie.

So the rusty old brain and I will go another week doused in medication, fighting for some normality. Whatever that it is!