Bonfire of the Books (Part Two)

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post is part of a series of posts dealing with the emotional and physical abuse I suffered as a child. This post contains specific references to acts of violence and as such may be triggering to those who have suffered similar experiences. Please proceed only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

I started having regular nightmares after The Trouble started. All sorts of strange images in vivid colours filled my head during the night. I started having this recurring dream that lots of old ladies in funny hats were climbing into the flat through our windows. I tried to tell them that they didn’t live here and that they had to go back to their homes but they didn’t listen and they kept coming in, more and more of them.

That might not seem very scary, but it was to me.

Meanwhile, my mother got more and more distant towards my father. She started to pick petty arguments with him for reasons that I couldn’t quite understand. I heard her talk to him about that “strange perfume smell”.

“Who’s been in the house?”, she asked him. My father found this to be a puzzling question too and told her that she was being silly.

Over time my mother’s hallucinations got worse. The loose fibres that she looked for on her clothes became mysterious female hair. “A blonde woman”, she said. “It must be a blonde woman.”

I would watch as she would empty her wardrobe in distress scattering the clothes everywhere. One by one she would sniff them and pick fibres off the items of clothing as if to gather “evidence”.

When she was done with the ritual, she would pray to her ancestral gods that the people responsible for this trespass would go to Hell.

One morning after having had the dream about the old ladies again and being in a distressed state, I made the terrible mistake of telling this to my mother.

She listened intently.

She asked me what the ladies looked like, what coloured hair they had, what they smelt like and whether they had any names.

“But they’re not real mummy, they’re just in my head”

“Why didn’t you tell me about this before” she demanded. “Why did you open the window to let them in you wicked, wicked child! It’s them isn’t it? They’ve been stealing all my clothes and wearing them and putting them back in the wardrobe to taunt me!”

“I didn’t mummy, I didn’t. Its not true”

That protest of mine led her to slamming her barefoot into my stomach. She kicked me again and again on the legs. Pinched my arms before unleashing another barrage of punches over my arms which I used to protect my head.

“Yes, mummy it is true. It’s all my fault. Please forgive me”.

I said it purely to stop the beatings, but sadly this started the compartment of guilt and lies in my head which haunts me to this day.

Bonfire of the Books (Part One)


 Photo credit: mark3186 / Foter / CC BY

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post is part of a series of posts dealing with the emotional and physical abuse I suffered as a child. This post contains specific references to acts of violence and as such may be triggering to those who have suffered similar experiences. Please proceed only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

My first love had always been books.

I wasn’t the fastest or most gifted of readers, but it was (and is) something I enjoy to this day.

I remember every weekend my father taking me to the local Woolworths store to see what I wanted that weekend. I’d get myself a small box of Lego bricks and then onwards, excitedly, to the book section.

The first book I remember reading was a book called Tell The Time, but soon I had several books on Rupert The Bear which I also enjoyed. However, my favourite books as a pre-school child were the Mr Men books. I used to be in fits of laughter when my father would read to me about the antics of the naughty Mr Tickle and the bizarre Mr Silly.

Soon I amassed the whole collection. I stored them in very neatly on a book shelf. I was proud to have them and looked forward to my father reading them to me every night.

On the other hand, I always had difficulty bonding with my mother. Even at this age I had a vague sense of her distaste for me. She would spend hours fussing over my outfits and hair in the morning which I always hated.

Around this time mother had started getting worried about all sorts of things which weren’t real. She would wander about the house sniffing the air. “Do you smell that very strong perfume?” she would ask me repeatedly.

She started hoarding lots of clothes and would become distressed when she could not immediately locate an item. “Rosie, you bad girl, where have you hidden them?” she’d ask. When I helped her to look for the items and then later found them, she would get distressed over again. “Its different!” she said. “They’ve been changed!”.

She picked the clothes up and examined them in close detail and started picking fibres off the clothes. “Look!” she said. “Look, someone has been wearing these clothes”.  “Well, of course”, I said, “you have”.

The next thing I remember was a sharp pain to the back of my head as she slammed my head against the bedroom wall.

This was when all The Trouble started.

The pain hit me by surprise and of course I started crying.

“Who’s been wearing my clothes?” Mother screamed raising her fist.  “I don’t know Mummy I don’t, please stop”.

I felt her fist connect with my stomach. The pain hurt so badly I started screaming.

Luckily the neighbour from the flat upstairs had heard the noise and came banging on the door. My mother went to the door and I heard a conversation.

I didn’t catch or understand everything being said but soon the neighbour went away again and mother came back.

“Don’t you dare disobey me”, she said.

“Soon The Wheel of Life will turn round and you will be a mother just like me and know how bad it is to have such an ungrateful child. You are going to Hell: don’t ever forget that”.

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POST-SCRIPT

Although, as with most people my memories of childhood are incomplete and sometimes fragmented, I have a peculiar amount of recall for certain events. I experience certain memories as though they were a black and white film reel complete with sounds, visual and physical details. This can be somewhat advantageous in certain situations but as regards my childhood abuse it means that every time I tell the story I relive that pain almost as if I was still in that situation.

This is a long post so I will continue the next part tomorrow.

Mommie Dearest


Photo credit: spratmackrel / Foter / CC BY-SA

TRIGGER WARNING: This is the first in a series of blog posts dealing with the physical and emotional abuse I suffered as a child. Given the subject matter it may be triggering for those with similar experiences. Please proceed only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

Society tells us mums are a special class of super-being. There is meant to be nothing more profound and wonderful than a mother’s love for her children.

A classic wildlife photo always shows a proud maternal creature nurturing and caring for an adorable and adoring brood.

The way this story goes is that the mother, like Mary Poppins, is “practically perfect in every way.” Mothers are worshipped in religion. Shakti, the Hindu Divine Mother, the Earth Mother Gaia, Mary Mother of Jesus. Mothering is said to be the ultimate act of feminine power.

I grew up in a multi-heritage household with my maternal side of the family being Asian and mothers in that particular Asian culture are worshipped like some kind of demi-goddess. Taboo anyway to openly show criticism of people but multiply that many times over as far as mothers go.

Not only was my mother “perfect” in virtue of being a mother, but she wielded yet more power through her beauty. When I say beauty I don’t just mean in the general fashion that most people think their mother’s beautiful, but as in exceptional physical beauty.

Look at any number of famous Asian female Hollywood/Bollywood film-stars. She was right up there. A crude heterosexual man might say she was a near “10″. As beautiful as Nicole Scherzinger.

Although short, she had a slender figure which curved in and out at the “right” places. Flawless honey-beige skin. A mouth with a starlet smile that would rival Angelina Jolie’s, a small neat symmetrical nose, huge round eyes, silky straight black hair that flowed past her shoulders.  And she knew about it. She knew exactly how to use that to her advantage.

I remember each and every day random men would shout and whoop at her in the street. Some of them would run down the street after her proposing marriage. The boys at school would crowd round just to look at her when she came to pick me up at the school gates. If she went into a shop and got served by a male, chances are she’d leave with “complimentary” goods.

Yes. That level of beauty. Beauty as a weapon. I discovered that beauty combined with her mummy status gave her unassailable power over me – the chance to hide her terrible and vicious campaign of cruelty against me. Who would believe a gawky, ugly child over her beautiful, long-suffering, practically-perfect-in-every-possible-way mummy?

No one.

No one at all.

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POST-SCRIPT

To even think about posting this blog (and writing the blogs that are to come) have filled me with extreme guilt that it could be seen as anti-women and anti-mothers. It’s not intended to be at all, although I will certainly admit to having had a lot of conflicted feelings and hatred towards my own gender as a result of the abuse as will be explored in forthcoming posts. I’m working through all those feelings and I hope by writing about them I will come out safely through the other side.

Changing directions

I’ve now come to realise that I’m no longer posting in line with the original blog purpose which was to record a specific recovery challenge.

It’s not because I have given up all hope of getting better even though I have have slipped way below even unhappy period which prompted me to start the blog. Its because I’ve come to realise that the original task I’ve set myself was far bigger than I had originally conceived.

I still want to do The Challenge (hopefully I will return to that place sometime soon), but I feel as though I need to piece together certain parts of the puzzle. Who I am, how I came to be.

I feel that the key is for me to be able to accept the whole of my emotional side. Accept my weaknesses and not be alarmed at the dark places my mind wants to take me.

The next few posts are likely to veer off into some very dark territory. It will be interesting not just to write but to explore my emotional reaction to the writing itself.

POEM: Reaching Out


 Photo credit: Cosima’s Digital Designs / Foter / CC BY

 

I am a singular unit

Trapped in a noisy cage

A place of darkness and conflict

Accessible through trails

Of unsatisfactory clues

Of fragments and hints

Pointing towards

But not quite explaining

The mysteries to the world outside

 

But then they found me

Through the thickets and brambles

The confounding labyrinth

They solved the puzzles

Followed the clues

Knew which way to go

And shone their light within

The dark recesses of my prison

 

Some of us live here, some of us visit

Some of us wanted you to know

You are not alone.

 

This poem is dedicated to those who keep searching for those left behind

Rx

Weapons of Self-Destruction


 Photo credit: steve9567 / Foter / CC BY-ND

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains frank discussion of disordered eating and body image issues which may be triggering for some people. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with this type of material.

The trigger

Angered with yet another morning of failure to resist my OCD behaviours, my mind swirled with agonies and a desperate longing for peace and quiet.

For the noise to finally stop.

” A failure, a big fat failure” I told myself, staring in the mirror in rage and hatred.

A roll of fat spilled out over the top of my jeans. I grabbed at it with both hands feeling the billowing softness – a visible sign that I was an utterly useless human being.

My eyes travelled upwards.

There were marks everywhere on my shoulders, chest and belly. Angry red weals and miniature scabs. When I get particularly anxious, I break out in hives. Unbearably itchy. I scratch and I scratch and I scratch until they all bleed.

My face.

Oh my face. Ruined. My skin stretched and saggy – the onset of middle-age and a life of invisibility lay ahead of me. Among that humiliation were wounds, scabs and revolting pus everywhere.

I am a monster.

Tears flowed down my face and the salt stung at my wounds. Distress. Overwhelm. What to do? What to do?

Choosing a weapon

I threw on my oldest graying pair of leggings and a cheap sack dress. That was all I was worth. And it covered the fat. That was the main thing.

I used to have this ritual whereby I would spend over an hour carefully applying foundation to hide the marks.

F**k that.

My face wasn’t even worth that effort any more. The blood was yet to properly congeal. They would see. They would know my dirty rotten secret.

I tied my un-brushed, unwashed hair away from my face. A battered pair of trainers went on. Then a large thick cardigan. Still covered in skin flakes from my last relapse. (What did I care?)

I peeked through my curtains to see if it was safe to venture out. Neighbours are in. “Good”, I thought.

I tried hard not to cry as the fresh air hit my face. Time for another of my ghastly rituals.

Loading the gun

The shop was always nice and quiet this time in the morning. The mums and dads, fresh from the school run, had been and gone. The aisles were peaceful.

I gingerly grabbed a basket and continued.

Fat. Sugar. Fat. Sugar. Sugar. Sugar. Fat.

My basket somehow became two, filled to the brim with doughnuts, croissants, and cheesecakes.

“Ooh!” said the shop assistant. “Are you stocking up for a party?”

I felt myself redden.

“Sorry”, she said “that was a bit nosey of me”.

Ready, aim, fire

I carefully placed all the items on napkins and arranged them in nice neat rows on my long mahogany desk.

It reminded me of that scene in Twin Peaks. Rows of doughnuts and a mystery of a dead girl to solve.

I felt like I was dying inside. That was no mystery.

Those cakes and “treats” would make it all go away. I stuffed them down, one by one. The sweet fatty spongy soft textures made me forget.

I drowned all the violence in my head through the sensations in my mouth.

I kept going. One after the other until my stomach felt so distended I was nauseous and could feel the sick rising at the back of my throat.

The immediate mission was done, but I felt no sense of victory. Just sorrow, loneliness and shame.

Mental Health on the Internet 02/11/2014

There is a common perception that mental health conditions are romanticised or glamorised, particularly by celebrities. I’m not entirely sure how this belief has arisen – after all celebrities are people as well and mental health conditions do not have a habit of discriminating.

For me, the very act of “coming out” as a someone suffering from a mental health condition can be helpful. I remember Tulisa (N-Dubz Lead singer) doing a programme for the BBC talking about her experiences caring for her mother (who was unwell from bipolar and schizophrenia) and her own battles with her mental health. I felt validated and recognised – living with mental health conditions can feel quite isolating and someone else coming out with similar challenges takes the edge off that.

This week’s mental health digest includes some quite harrowing material on the realities of mental health challenges. The truth isn’t glamorous or pretty. The truth is that we need more resources, more compassion, more understanding when it comes to mental health

Blog of the Week

For many people there is additional stigma suffered from having mental health conditions and being a person from a particular ethnic or faith community. Indeed, from my own background brought up as a (half) Asian Buddhist (with a later conversion to Christianity) I know too well about many of the problems in admitting to mental health difficulties.

Whilst researching for material on eating disorder recovery (my eating habits are starting to become a serious problem), I came across the following blog post:

http://waragainsteatingdisorder.wordpress.com/2013/10/20/getting-sectioned-for-my-eating-disorder-detained-and-locked-away-for-my-anorexia/

It’s a very harrowing account of being sectioned and being treated for anorexia. The blog itself explores what it is like to be part of the Muslim community and suffering from eating disorders.

Many of the posts have helpful advice for people with eating disorders in general (not just from a faith-based perspective) – I have to applaud the writer for her fantastic work.

Links I Love

  • Gail Porter gives a frank interview to the Daily Mail of her experiences of depression and being sectioned.
  • Frank Bruno on dealing with stigma and his experiences of being sectioned.
  • A heart-rending account, from the excellent Sectioned blog, of the many indignities encountered from dealing with mental health issues.

Video of the Week

The Huffington post article in itself is well worth a read, but the real gem is in the embedded TED talk at the end. For certain reasons (which I will get round to explaining – although definitely not defending -  in my blog sometime) I have carried a lot of prejudice about schizophrenia and this video is one of many which have chipped away at that old view of mine.

It brought me near to tears at the end of it and yielded an insight pertinent to my own situation. Namely that my mental health problems, for me at least, seem to be a layer for covering up difficult feelings which I haven’t quite processed.

It has made me determined to continue with my blog, even though there has been many times when I have wanted to give it up recently, as I now feel ready to scratch the surface and face what feelings emerge.

After that digression, here is the link to this fantastic article and TED talk:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/katy-gray/the-real-dangers-of-self-stigmatization_b_3792441.html

My Week From Hell & The Antidote


 Photo credit: aussiegall / Foter / CC BY

One of the most dreadful things about being mentally unwell is the sense of isolation it causes.

Sadly this is also mirrored in my living conditions. I live on my own in a little village about two miles from the nearest town centre – as my depression has progressed and my OCD rituals around my skin worsened I have become almost house-bound. And lonely. Very very lonely.

Last week was marked by a growing sense of agitation and paranoid thoughts:

  • My reaction to my employers kindly offering to support me by outsourcing an occupational therapist (I work from home currently but even that has become problematic at times) is to assume that they think I’ve made all this up. That I’m a fake.
  • Similarly a flood of thoughts around my multiple problems led to a concern that this wasn’t real. That really I was “okay” that I was a bad bad person. That really I was just lazy and “attention-seeking”.
  • There was an increased sense of nervousness around my Asperger’s assessment day. “Fake, fake, fake Rose. You’re normal. Stop trying to make sh*t up and waste people’s time. You have friends, you have a job. Stop with this now!” And then I had to remember recurrent difficulties and some of the issues one of my exes drew attention to and suddenly I felt different again.
  • Extreme sensitivity. I’m not good with unsolicited sexual advances, particular from males. I don’t know why exactly. However, I had one and I “flipped”. The intrusive thoughts and paranoia multiplied out of control. I panicked.

What actually helped to calm me was spending time with a friend.

I don’t normally accept last minute invites but I did so after much coaxing. I distrusted the idea of being alone with horrid thoughts and therefore chose to spend time being fed (important when often I am too tired to cook anything nutritious) and importantly being listened to.

Just talking about the urges to rip at my skin and the intrusive thoughts which accompany them was scary. But I was met with a listening ear. Even if there wasn’t perfect understanding (and I’m not sure there ever can be without access to the content of another’s mind) there was acceptance and no judgement.

Acceptance and no judgement.

What a balm these things are! A perfect antidote to the sense of dread and isolation that I experience on almost a daily basis.

Too often in these cases people try to leap in and “fix” and “advise”. To give a “good talking to”. To hope that people like me have the sense to “snap out of it”. To be “educate” and “inform” as our suffering surely means complete ignorance of how to live any better.

No, please. Just listen and hear me as I am. The feeling of acceptance is a great medicine and I’m definitely feeling the benefits from it this week.

Falling Down – How Did Depression Happen to Me?

TRIGGER WARNING: This post contains references to disordered eating practices which may be triggering to some readers. Please proceed with care only if you are comfortable with the subject matter.

It’s been a massive effort even to get as far as typing the first sentence to this blog post.

I’ve been having feelings of guilt and shame about not keeping my blog going. I had even thought of giving it up entirely at certain points over the last few weeks.

In the process I wondered why, yet again, things had been able to slide back down to this point – if you read most of the popular advice on living a healthy lifestyle, I was almost the epitome of it:

  • I used to work out six days a week, yoga, weights, running, dance practice and regular countryside walks. I used to do regular guided meditation.
  • Did I fuel myself properly? I sure did! One of my particular interests was home cooking. Almost all my daily meals were from scratch, delicious as well as nutritionally balanced. I drank plenty of water and drank alcohol on an infrequent basis (it interfered with my training).
  • Despite my social awkwardness I was involved in my local community, I did charity work, I’m on first name terms with most of my neighbours. I have a good day-job with a supportive organisation and I had just started up a personal training company in my spare time.

Okay my “romantic” life was less than successful but relative to the other areas of life that’s not something that you can have all that much control over (other than trying not to be a complete a**hole).

So I looked after myself far more than most people would but I still became ill.

These days I’m a clusterf**k of a number of different diagnoses – anxiety, OCD, body dysmophia and depression coupled with disordered eating behaviours.

The result being that I am mostly housebound.

When I get up in the morning I get that now familiar knot in my stomach – yet another “Groundhog Day”. The same dreaded routine of feeling extremely tired and taking about an hour to extract myself from under the dirty unwashed duvet.

  • I fill up on at least a litre of very strong coffee with a dash of milk. I need this so that my mind is able to string together coherent thoughts.
  • The thoughts remind me that the day ahead is likely to be the same drudgery as the previous day and instead of reaching for something nutritious – I open the fridge and binge on cakes until this feeling goes away.
  • I try to reach out to others in the mental health community on Twitter (you can find me there as @RoseWiltshire). Sometimes it alleviates the sense of guilt and shame I have for being ill – but increasingly it does not.
  • OCD exposure practice – this is the one thing I have been focussing on most days. As my health has worsened the intrusive thoughts accompanying the OCD and skin-picking have worsened and multiplied. However I must get used to being able to face myself in the mirror and touch my skin without the need to perfect it or “investigate” it to prevent cysts and other things that I dread. The exposure practice is never something I look forward to. I have had to deal with a lot of troubling thoughts which I had managed to previously suppress.
  • Dealing with waves of paranoia – chief among the new thoughts that have been troubling me. That somehow this is all “fake” and made up. I have written, on a couple of pieces of card, key evidence for why this is not the case, however an irrational part of my mind insists on telling me “fake, fake, fake”.
  • I cry even though I try not to. The freezer/fridge or cupboard is opened. More bingeing. Ice-cream, Pringles, and cake until the feelings deaden once more.
  • If its a work day, I try to get some reports done in between the alternate waves of fatigue and agitation, but it takes me so much longer to write reports when I am feeling rotten so often I am still writing at eight or nine pm at night.
  • If its not a work day, I try and think of something fun to do but the fatigue eats in to my enjoyment and I end up napping half the afternoon.
  • I finish around 10pm, take one look at the mountain pile of unwashed dishes and untidiness around the flat and feel more depressed.
  • I collapse into bed, sometimes not having even washed or brushed my teeth.
  • The whole miserable cycle begins again the next morning.

So there you have it. That’s the kind of pickle I’m in.

I’ve not yet given up hope of finding my way out again but life is a dreadful struggle right now.

I will try, as much as I can, to keep this blog going. The part of me that is still hopeful would like to keep this as some kind of roadmap for future reference.

Right now its not even a case of one day at a time, not even an hour at a time – I’m taking it down to trying to get through each and every minute so that I can get to a place where once again I manage to find some light.