Letting Go


Photo credit: alibree / Foter / CC BY

 

In recent weeks, my mental health has taken a further downturn. This was exacerbated by a couple of mishaps at work which triggered a particularly bad episode of OCD over the last few days.

Somewhere in a parallel universe there is a version of me who lives happily without mental health problems. She has bundles of energy, she is a polymath and is an all-round extraordinary success. Meanwhile in this universe there’s the original version – trying to run the same software on stuttering, faulty hardware.

Reality hurts.

Successive upgrades have only been partially successful. I am riddled with bugs and  fragments.

Perhaps it is time for me  to uninstall the old software which doesn’t work, which is no longer compatible – that which makes my system slow and prone to crashing.

It’s time I rid myself from the clutter which weighs me down:

  • Think carefully about whose opinions of me really matter (i.e. people who have my best interests at heart) and forget about everybody else’s.
  • Fight my battles carefully. I am ridiculously over-sensitive to conflict and differences of opinion (even on trivial matters). I need to carefully choose the key topics over which it is worth me risking a spike in anxiety to defend.
  • Stop spending money on binge foods and material objects which serve no purpose other than to take up space in my stomach or home.
  • Stop spending so much time aimlessly surfing the internet. I seem to do this as a “soothing” activity but it doesn’t help me that much – it drains a lot of time which I could spend doing other more useful things.
  • Also much as I love Twitter I should prioritise my time on there to focus on the dozen or so people who regularly take the time to check in with me and spend less time on frivolous “hash-tag hunting”. I also need to take care that I don’t allow Twitter to feed my OCD compulsion to seek reassurance (this, I recently discovered, can be a form of “checking”).
  • Continue fighting against OCD so that I can reclaim all those hours which are normally lost to compulsions.
  • Give away or sell those items which I don’t use on a regular basis (except for seasonal items).
  • Develop more useful habits such as cooking in advance.
  • Think about what my true values are and discard any behaviours which deviate from those.
  • Spend time everyday on activities which recharge my mental and physical self.
  • Recognise that I’ll probably only be able to get one or two really important things done everyday.

I imagine the feeling of the load feeling lighter.

It feels good

How I Lost My Blogging Mojo

Like all of my OCD behaviours when they start, this one crept up slowly. Typically most “normal” human interaction leaves me puzzled on a daily basis, but it doesn’t usually stick. I accept my limitations  in terms of social skills and turn my mind to other matters

However I started noticing that I started dwelling on every social incident where it had not gone as I had expected. I began to get troubled by the idea that I could cause distress and harm to others through the words I use and the views I express.

A familiar sense of fear and doom crept in, along with a compelling need for questions to be answered.

The gentle hum of doubt became an insufferable din.

This was particularly distressing as I consider Twitter and WordPress to be “safe spaces” for me. Spaces where I could explore the day to day realities of living with mental health problems in a largely supportive and diverse community.

If you are not familiar with coping with OCD, here’s a handy translation guide to my latest OCD thoughts relating to my interactions on and off-line:

X hasn’t spoken to me for a couple of days” = “I must have accidentally said something extremely hurtful and offensive to this person. Perhaps they have harmed themselves in some way as a result of what I have said. I must check to make sure that this has not occurred.

“X has ‘unfollowed’ me” = I must have said something so utterly repugnant that they cannot stand to be associated with me any more. They are probably telling lots of other people about how terrible I am. I must check for evidence that this is happening and think up ways to avoid upsetting more people.

I haven’t seen X here for several days” = “I must have accidentally said something to that person which has caused them to be ill. I hope they are still alive and haven’t hurt themselves because of something I said.

I haven’t checked in on X today” = That’s because I am a dreadful and selfish person. I don’t deserve to have anyone be my friend. What if my omission has caused them to harm themselves.

No one is saying hello to me today” = I must have accidentally used a word which could be considered offensive or triggering so I am rightly being shunned. I must go back over all my previous posts and remove anything which could possibly cause harm.

To a certain extent, just about everyone I know has doubts and insecurities. Some people with comparatively low self esteem think about these issues in more detail and for longer but, for me, the OCD line is crossed once the notion of harm and disaster is invoked and I have to think of all the ways I can to prevent the potential disaster from occurring. That’s a sure-fire way to developing a checking/prevention ritual forming!

Yes, indeed. These thoughts are ridiculous. I know they are ridiculous. However the Bullshit OCD Voice has other ideas.

The Bullshit OCD Voice doesn’t like me being active on social media. It doesn’t like me giving opinions in contentious areas such as politics and religion. It wants me to stay quiet to”make sure” that I don’t harm people.

The Bullshit OCD Voice doesn’t like me writing and expressing myself. It thinks that I am an objectionable and dangerous person who can’t be trusted not to cause distress and uproar.

I became frozen with fear.

Every time the words came out, there was fresh potential for more harm to be caused. I found that it was impossible to be able to fully reassure me that I was not going to trigger a trauma response in someone as an unintended consequence of my writing. Sadly this left a trail of half-written draft and abandoned blog posts in its wake.

To break the spell I had to start. I had to start despite my thoughts being disjointed and lacking focus. I had to start even though I felt exhausted. I had to start even though I wasn’t sure how others might react. I had to start even though by doing so I might upset someone. I had to start despite being uncertain of even finishing the post.

I’m glad I started blogging again but it will be a long road back in. I have to re-learn the art of writing as self-care.

Surviving The Storm


 

 Photo credit: Juliana Coutinho / Foter / CC BY

I started typing this blog by the soft glimmer of candlelight.

Sounds romantic, however moments previous to that the lights had started flickering and then went out entirely – my flat along the entire street had lost power.

Darkness had descended and my senses focussed on the howling gale outside. The rain lashed violently against the windows, as yet again I struggled against the oncoming tide of emotion.

Moments like this remind me, yet again, that I am entirely alone in this world. I have no one around for immediate physical comfort and every day I feel that absence keenly.

“Get the box, get the box” I reminded myself.

The Box” is basically a survival kit for panic attacks and all sorts of emergencies. Current contents:

  • Portable gas stove and spare canisters
  • Assortment of puzzle books and a pen
  • A wind up torch/radio
  • A large scented pillar candle
  • Pot noodles
  • Instant oats
  • Large bar of chocolate (usually a 200g bar of Dairy Milk)
  • Powdered milk
  • Box of Diazapam (these are prescription-only tranquilisers).

It was the first time I got to use the wind-up radio. What a delight! I managed to get excellent radio reception and the torch could have had a wider beam but was adequate for it’s purpose.

There was few nervous moments as I fumbled about with the canister to order to power up the gas stove (which, by the way, should not be used indoors – I sat outside on the small partly sheltered landing outside my doorway), however it was exciting to see the flames dance on top of the stove and I was able to boil enough water for a pot of oats and a cup of tea. Not quite Bear Grylls survival level but nonetheless I was quite pleased with myself.

It struck me that I had managed this uncomfortable episode by a combination of sensible preparation and an attitude of exploration.

The preparation aspect is important to me. It is one way of asserting control and a level of predictability on my surroundings. That particular state of comfort and certainty is something that I crave. It makes me feel sane, calm and relaxed. I had chosen well with the contents of The Box and it soon returned me to somewhere near that ideal state

The exploration aspect is about being able to deal with an unexpected situation by being curious about it, using it as an opportunity to learn. Allowing myself time to think about new ways of looking at things, new answers to problems.

It might at first glance seem that these two aspects are divergent as one seeks to minimise uncertainty whereas the other is about immersing oneself in it. However, for me, the preparation allows me to have a secure base from which I feel able to extend myself and gently extend the boundaries.

I wondered how this insight might also extend not just to dealing with power-cuts but to my mental health management in general. The two main questions are:

1) Are there ways in which I could better prepare myself for potential problems ahead?

2) How can I best explore my current situation?

I aim to explore these questions in more detail sometime next week.

Rx

Looking Ahead To 2015


Photo credit: Aldaron / Foter / CC BY-SA

I thought I’d break up the recent blog post series to do a recap of my progress since I started this blog and how, ideally, I’d like things to progress into 2015.

I haven’t fully written off 2014 as yet, but there’s less than a month to go and I have to be realistic in acknowledging that Christmas often triggers very bad memories for me. As such, while I don’t want it to be an excuse to not “try” and make progress with my mental health, I have to recognise that it is a significant obstacle and it will drain my mental resources accordingly.

I have a sense that finally I’m starting to crawl back out of the pit that I’ve fallen into these last six months.

I still get days where I feel very distressed, but I have started on a skin care routine which has boosted my self-esteem somewhat and most days I manage to do some housework and get the rubbish cleared in good time.

These sound like very small things but it is often the accumulation of such small things which make a day-to-day difference. It is too early to be anything other than cautiously optimistic but I will allow myself that minor luxury.

  • I would like to resume the blog challenges very very soon. Perhaps in a week or so’s time when I have caught up with some of the backlog from my day job. I would be so wonderful to get through that list and see where it takes me instead of focussing all my energies on my OCD and other unhelpful behaviours.
  • At some point I would like to meet someone romantically, but this will probably be at a time beyond the completion of the challenges. I am gravely disadvantaged in the dating pool for a number of reasons (part of which is the requirement that a potential partner is very close to me in age and of a quiet, gentle temperament) – I think it’s safe to say that any decent opportunity is much more likely to arise through organic measure rather than putting myself on display in a dating market which rewards only instant appeal. To be honest I think I will consider 2015 the Year of Me and put all concerns about these matters to one side until I have rebuilt my self-esteem and daily functionality.
  • I would like to start putting more money aside for long term goals rather than frittering it away on unneeded or harmful purchases. I believe if I save hard enough I will be able to afford my dream cottage and a decent car to drive around in (well – I need to tackle the driving OCD at some point but I will try).
  • I’d like to draw a line under the past events in my life (and this doesn’t necessarily mean I have to forgive anyone – apart from me) and try to look forward to the future. This is easier said than done but it must happen.

What I want most for 2015 is the ability to look in the mirror and feel glad that yet again I see me.

POEM: Life In The Twilight


Photo credit: E Dina PhotoArt / Foter / CC BY-SA

Branches naked, gnarled

A pile of twigs snapped upon the forest floor

The trunk twisted, rough bark

Stark against the shadows

Of approaching dusk

Velvet blanket of twilight descends

A rustling within

The body of the tree

Young owlets barely feathered

Awaken and call out

For the sustenance of the hunt

Meanwhile mushrooms

Release spores in the damp

The cluster grows large

At the base of the tree

The upper branches host

A flock of crows

Their noisy chatter dimmed

By the light of the moon

Life pulsating through

Every branch, every root

Life in spite of it all.

The Outcast (Part Five)

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 references to 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.

It was around this time that I first started having thoughts about what it would mean to be dead. To not exist any more. I thought about what level of pain my mother would have to inflict on me before I got to that point and what it would be like to have suffering as my very last thought. These matters weighed heavily on me even though, at the time, I was not even eight years old.

The summer holidays were coming up and whilst everyone else seemed very excited by the prospect of no school-work, all I could think about was being in That Room all day long with no escape from the daily tyranny and humiliation heaped on me.

However, I started to throw my energy levels into devising an escape plan.

Hopefully I could go and find a nice kind person who could help me go back to live with my Asian cousins. I would just have to convince someone that mother was bad and everything would be alright again.

I decided that I would tell Mrs Jenson, the classroom assistant. She was kind to me and I thought her to be clever and trustworthy.

I planned everything I was going to tell her. I hoped that the police would come to take my mother away (as they did my father after the broken plate incident) and then I would not have to think about being beaten and not have to pretend that things which weren’t true were true.

And so I told her.

After that, she began to tell me a story: it was about the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

“You mustn’t tell lies about your mother”, she said “I’m sure she would be very upset to hear you telling tales about her”.

I lifted one of my long sleeves to show her the series of bruises down my arm.

“Yes, I know”, she said.

“Your mother said you had an accident and fell down the stairs.”

I was very upset that my plan had failed and from then on I distrusted Mrs Jenson. However, I did not give up hope. My friend Serina would believe me and perhaps her kind mummy could help me.

Serina listened and she said she would talk to her mummy to see if I could stay over. My hopes began to rise considerably.

However Serina’s mother said that I would need to get permission from my mother first. My heart sank as I knew this would never be possible. I remember running down the road after them on the last day of school before summer holidays pleading and begging. What they thought of it I do not know exactly, but I do know that not one person I told believed me.

Mother was always pleasant and charming to the other parents and their children. It was her word against mine and she won.

The Outcast (Part Four)

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 woke up the next day to a loud hammering on the door.

“Hello, hello! Anyone in there?”

I had to get out as one of the other people in the building wanted to use the shower. By now I was used to sleeping on the floor but this was a new low for me.

I got out of the shower room and went to sit back in the stairway again. I became conscious of my empty stomach and began to cry again.

There was a lady who lived in the building had a little dog. I can’t recall what breed it was exactly although it had some poodle-like features to it. I had always liked animals and used to look forward to the lady letting me pet her dog (much to my mother’s disapproval).

I was very much cheered to see them both this particular morning and I ran to greet them both.

“You’re up very early” said the lady. “You shouldn’t be wandering round in your night clothes, you’ll catch cold you know”. I went to cuddle the dog, but I must have approached it in the wrong way. Startled it plunged it’s teeth into one of my hands and starting growling and barking. The barking for me was far worse than the bite and I started to cry again. The lady went to knock for my mother immediately.

My mother yelled something abusive back through the door.

“Your daughter is out here and has been bitten”.

My mother flung the door open, her face contorted with rage. She grabbed me without saying another word and slammed the door shut.

After she had cleaned and bandaged the wound, she said to me “That was one of them, wasn’t it? One of the bastard old women*. I will kill you if you ever speak to her again”.

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*NOTE: Some of the references in this post will make a lot more sense if you go back and read my previous blog posts in the series. The reference to the “bastard old women” has to do with one of my mother’s persistent paranoid delusions which I was forced to collaborate in.

The Outcast (Part Three)

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.

Mother was always careful to “keep up appearances”. Despite our now evident poverty and the struggles with her mental health, she fed us all rather well and no matter her level of distress that day she would always wear a full face of make-up. Her nails would be carefully painted and the clothes, of course, had to be immaculate.

Despite the fact that I did not enjoy it, she would always spend a lot of time combing my hair in the mornings, making sure that my clothes for school were clean and that my fingernails were free of dirt.

She was also careful to ensure that any evidence of my beatings were covered up so as not to invite any unwanted questions.

With my father gone away, my mother now had much more opportunity to indulge in her cruel treatment of me.

My only respite was school during the day. Although I was an unusual child, I hadn’t by that stage attracted any serious bullying but neither did I have the social capabilities to form many friendships.

Initially I spent most of the play periods counting and walking round in imaginary squares around the playground. When the autumn came, much to my mother’s irritation, I started collecting leaves and worms. But still these were pleasant enough diversions to get me through the day.

However, I still recall the increasing sense of dread towards the end of the school day.

I found out from chatting to Mrs Jenson*, the classroom assistant, that she had a nice mummy and I began to ask other children about theirs. Another girl in my class, Serina* made friends with me and we started spending time together drawing luxury homes and outfits. She also spoke fondly about her mummy. I would always remember her running to her mummy at the end of the school day to give her a big kiss and a hug. Serina loved her mummy.

It began to dawn on me that my mother was somehow different to all these other mothers, yet I could not shake off the intense feeling that I was somehow to blame for all this. I knew that I was different to all these other children, I was weird, I was Other. I deserved everything I got.

Mother’s moods became increasingly unpredictable. Her delusions and rituals worsened. Whilst she remained attentive to my brother her treatment of me became worse and worse.

One weekend, I must have got the answers wrong in her daily interrogation of me and she threw me outside the bedsit into the landing in just my nightie. I pounded on the door and begged to be let back in but the usual refrain about my wickedness and having to be taught a lesson was shouted back out at me.

I remember sitting on the mouldy carpet on the stairway crying and asking God what I had done to deserve such cruelty.

Summer had come and the school holidays were fast approaching. I thought of Serina and her excitement about all the fun outings and things that her family had planned for her. As for me this was the first time that I thought about whether or not I would be better off dead. All I had to look forward to was a summer of misery. She was so violent and hateful that I started fearing for her life.

I remember nightfall came. I gave up banging on the door some time before (and there was part of me that considered that it might be a good thing not to be let back in). I ended up going across to the communal shower locking the door and laying down on the cold hard tiles.

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*I have changed the names for privacy reasons.

The Outcast (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.

The image I recall directly before my father left us for the first time was one of my mother standing out in the street, with a large cut to her head where a fragment of porcelain from a broken plate had struck.

The arguments between mother and father had been escalating again ever since my mother decided that my brother had been harmed by being dropped on his head. I was terrified daily from the loud sounds of them shouting and throwing objects at one another.

Soon after the broken plate incident, my mother packed a couple of suitcases and we left the family flat for ever.

We left to go to my mother’s home country where, for a couple of years, I got to experience the love of my Asian relatives and mother seemed to forget about her earlier preoccupations with clothes and thoughts about my father plotting against her.

So this was a brief moment of time in my childhood where I felt happy. It didn’t matter that I struggled at school with learning a foreign language and trying to make friends. I just remembered feeling happy that my cousins were kind and loving to me. They would bring me my favourite hot pandan tapioca dessert from the markets to have at breakfast early in the morning. They would let me play with the house lizards and construct Legos to my heart’s content.

However this did not last. I don’t know why we ended up returning to England, but we did. We went from a life of Asian middle-class contentment to desperate poverty. At first we  stayed at a Salvation Army refuge and later in a dingy bedsit in the other side of the city that I grew up in.

I remember the flat was dirty with peeling wallpaper. There was a semi-blackened one ring stove where my mother cooked our food. If we had to shower or go to the toilet we had to go across the landing to a communal shower and toilet facility.

Unsurprisingly my mother’s mood quickly deteriorated. Very soon she was back to the old preoccupations about the state of her clothes and ideas that I was letting old women into the bedsit at night-time through the window.

What also made the situation uncomfortable was that we all had to sleep in one double bed. I was never a physically demonstrative child and it distressed me that my mother would put her arms round me and hold me whilst I slept. Soon the old nightmares returned, and worse as soon I started wetting the bed.

It became a daily thing for me to be beaten in the morning for bed-wetting and beaten after school for not saying the “right thing” in terms of her pre-occupation with the imaginary old women ruining her clothes.

She got tired of me wetting the bed and seeing that her beatings did not cure the problem she forced me to lie on a layer of newspapers with only a small towel to cover me. I remember laying there freezing at with only my tears to keep me warm.