Trauma

So, it’s a day for speaking out. (PS: I still haven’t stopped smoking) One of those blogs that says nothing and something.

Some people who have known me for a long time are surprised I am still alive. In a nice way, but they are. One friend in particular, who has known me for a decade but who I see very infrequently, is flabbergasted that, generally speaking, I’m an optimist.  I believe things will work out.  More than being an optimist, I believe I have been lucky. That’s what caused him to drop his fork and go guppy-mouthed for a minute.

This isn’t a cheery, “Why, aren’t I brilliant” entry where I list just how my Positive Mental Attitude has helped me overcome. It hasn’t.  The uncomfortable truth is that I’ve been through so much traumatising bullshit that I think I exist in a permanent state of being dazed. I overcome because nothing affects me so deeply anymore that it feels world-ending. I overcome because I have built a wall over my heart so thick that the plonky arrows tipped in flame and shit just bounce right off now.  I have killed a part inside me so that I can continue living.  Some call that strength. Sometimes, when I let myself feel and am curled up in a corner (rarely, so very rarely), I would call it sacrifice.

The childhood traumas which we have gone through, and which I don’t discuss here but which I bought up with a therapist who chuckled, thinking I was exaggerating, then went silent when it became clear I wasn’t, have affected me and my siblings in different ways. I have always downplayed the effect trauma had on me developing a mental illness- I wanted to believe it was all biology, all chemicals. Then I could mute and numb and realign my neurons and be normal.  It didn’t work that way- no matter what you hear, it never does. My mum very likely has bipolar disorder, and my dad was yer classic alcoholic depressive, so there’s probably something amiss in my genetics. The wick was there and trauma lit the fuse. Or, the kindling effect. 

Trauma continued into my adulthood- my dad’s death, my own illness wrecking havoc on my life, some losses, some recent stuff I do not wish to discuss but what my GP thinks turned my panic attacks into full-blown panic disorder- but I never really talk about it. I’m more comfortable with moods, with the sterile language psychiatry gave me.  More comfortable with saying I have avoidant personality disorder than I am messed up due to trauma. There are times when I realise-acutely- that I am the walking wounded. Some things remain.  A complete shutting down if someone shouts at me. The panic and despair I feel if I can smell alcohol, anywhere, when I wake up (if we have been drinking, I put everything in the bin before bed). Always preferring to drink bottles instead of cans because the “ttssst” makes me foetal, and being hyper-aware that I am honest, always honest, exposingly and stupidly and nakedly and anxiously honest, because I was a teenager that lied and don’t I don’t want to become a mother that lies.  I panic when something I’ve said turns out to be wrong or false in case it looks like I lied. Terrified to make friends in case they all turn on me again. A general feeling that nothing and nowhere is safe, a horrible gaping need for someone to be proud of me.

I move in mental health circles, with fellow mentalists and fellow people employed in mental health, and retain a unique respect for people who talk about trauma, who talk about PTSD. I’ve been completely inspired and awed by some people I’ve met recently.  And I have a certain jealousy, as I wish I had the bravery to be someone who could talk, and, because they could talk, get help, get comfort, and love and hugs and understanding which I cannot get, because I cannot talk. Because I can’t talk, I can’t open up, because I can’t open up, I can’t belong, because I can’t belong, I have no-one to talk to anyway.  I am wary of putting everything on my husband. It backfires, and it is too much.  When I do talk, it’s inappropriately, to the wrong people, at the wrong time, so I don’t want to talk anymore. It squeaks out sometimes. Usually when someone is telling a story and I get rushed by a memory. But I despise people pitying me and want to be judged on my merits and not as a some sort of sad sack who needs to be coddled, so I usually follow everything up with a joke or a laugh.  Because I don’t want to be pitied, I can’t spend more than a minute feeling an emotion that would instill pity, therefore, the kind of, “That was shit, have a hug” validation that I probably need will never come. I can’t ask for what I need because I can’t bear to be pitied because I am self pitying enough as it is and don’t want excuses to be more so. Sometimes, I ridiculously feel I am not pretty and delicate enough for a hug, or to receive sympathy, or pity, or anything else.

Don’t get me wrong- I know how hard it is to talk. That’s why I am awed.

But I am lucky. You can have a shit past and be traumatised and still be lucky. I feel lucky. Things do generally work for me. Jumping off my nursing course, with no safety net, I jumped into jobs I loved. I was lucky. I am still alive, and I am lucky. My trauma isn’t as bad as so many other people I know, and I am lucky.

On the last point, people close to me say, well, it is pretty bad.  And unless you begin to feel that it’s pretty bad, you’ll always be traumatised. But what if I have? What if I have just accepted it’s awful and shit and I’m okay now?  Is this okay? Am I kidding myself I’m okay or am I kidding myself I’ve constructed a defence mechanism? Maybe it is nothing so elaborate than just being over it. Maybe, when I find myself ducking and shaking on a train, or staring at my scar suit, it is not.

Quitting smoking- anyone want to join me?

Fnar fnar. I am six.

Fnar. I specialise in making mildly amusing images.

So I’m starting, once again, Allen Carr’s Easyway to Stop Smoking (which you can download for free as a PDF here). I’ve read it before and it was the closest I’ve come to being smoke-free. Then a very stressful few months hit and I started again. Then I enrolled in an NHS stop smoking group, took Champix, descended into terrifying suicidality within a week, and started smoking again because I figured it was better to smoke than to kill myself.

But I spend a fair whack of my waking hours thinking of how my 20 a day habit is going to kill me,  then paradoxically reach for the cigarettes to calm me down. I know this is bullshit- I know the cigarette is relieving the craving, that the simple, present and solvable anxiety of a lack of cigarette moves into to try to swallow the darker, irresolvable, unfixable and eternal anxiety about mortality.But then feeds it, and so on.

I want to stop. To be free of at least one anxiety.  I’m also ashamed of the fact that my husband started smoking when we first got together having never been more than a social smoker. I would never, ever forgive myself if he got sick because of his smoking. I want us to be around for each other as long as possible. Forever (that it can’t, it slays me). Yes, he’s a free person, but it is hard not to smoke when someone you’re close is constantly puffing away- when waking, after dinner, after breakfast, in the street, for celebration, for commiseration.

And that’s a fallacy, too.  I do something catch myself on the logic and go, “What the feck am I doing? Smoking a killing cigarette to celebrate this (anything)?” I feel like a total dick when I do, but then, I’m already smoking, so may as well just carry on.  It’s the same when I see people huddling under some awning in the rain (where I am, too) and just befuddle at our collective madness. And the stench of a heavy smoker in a lift and the realisation that this might be what I smell like (but I can smell bugger all anyway, thanks to cigarettes).

So does anyone want to join me? I know smoking and mental health stuff is a bit complex (which I wrote a lot about in March. MARCH?! How was that March?! It was yesterday! What the hell has happened to this year, it’s flipping terrifying). But I’d be happy to sticky this post or make it a page and we can chat and support each other, or if you’re on Facebook, I have a page for this blog or could make a group (Mentalists against Menthols?). And have a Twitter circle when we’re feeling cravey.

And if not, that’s fine, too, but I’m writing this statement of intent anyway, because it means I can have my arse kicked if I don’t. Hooray!

EDIT: Made a Facebook group here called the Secret Life Smoking is Rubbish Rabble.  Feel free to join in! It’s a closed group so I’ll approve membership and we can talk in super-secretness. And if not, then me and my sister will have our own cool group.

Remember Forever

Have a few things I want to blog about, including Lethal Discrimination:

For years we have been shouting about how people with severe mental illness are at risk of dying up to 20 years before the general population, often from preventable physical health problems.

Today we’ve published a new report to demand that the Government takes immediate action to stop Lethal Discrimination against people with mental illness. But we need your help – will you write and ask what is being done to turn the tide?

Which I’ll get round to and which you should go and read.

LOL at annual health check. I’ve been on antipsychotics since 2007- still waiting.

But I’m feeling quite low and have been all this week. I’ve been off work with the physical ills, so it’s probably a lot to do with that. Got so much I want to say and no energy to say it. Having that feeling of shyness when you’re up on a podium and you’ve forgotten your notes.

I just feel quite low and I hope it’s just a little thing, but I can’t help but glance at the calendar and sigh.  I went to see my GP on Wednesday and she had some interesting things to say. The CMHT didn’t do my CBT referral, but had sent a letter questioning whether I needed straightforward CBT or something more complex.  Just straightforward CBT, so she did the referral.  I hadn’t really explained things properly to the psychiatrist when I saw them (about actual moods- June last year, when I was fine) because I was in a good place. I forgot my entire history. Crisis teams, hospitals, being so depressed I dropped out of university.

“You have to forget”, she says. “If you remembered all the time, how could you carry on living?” And a discussion about how

you can’t feel pain once it’s been felt. It only existed in those moments of feeling. You can remember the pain but never re-experience it.  I remember, vividly, the pain of riding my dad’s bike with him. It was a bloke’s bike, so had a crossbar. It went, “thump” down a kerb and impaled me onto it with such force, I stiffened and fell onto the ground and my dad had to hold me while I wailed. I can remember that pain, but I can’t relive it. I have almost 40 stitches in my leg and arse. Half torn apart by Lassie’s teeth (and it was, hilariously, Lassie.  A long-snouted collie). It hurt. I remember that it hurt. But I don’t remember how it hurt.

“If you could relive mania once it was over, then nobody would ever get the crushing lows that follow. If you could just will it, then you’d live there forever”.

Which is true if hypomania didn’t become the tearing destructive force of wandering the streets with a bottle of wine and talking endlessly and banging the walls screaming in rage and willing the vicious energy into the brick on your third day awake. And the same goes for depression. Once it’s passed, you can’t remember, not really, how it felt. At least for me.  A murky Other person. (Hypo)mania is remembered never by me, but by others. It’s probably the bullet loading the gun. The shame of not remembering, and of being remembered when you don’t. Of having a part of you not in your own possession. That doesn’t belong to you. Not again.

So she’s doing the referral, and we had a happy little conversation about death.  About the, “essence” of people.  I’ve never felt it. I wish I did. While she was talking, watching her face melt into beatific peace, I wondered if I’m just failing to feel the essence. Surrounded by little ghosts. Maybe there is part of me that still hasn’t come to terms with my dad’s death. And Brendan only a year later. And Vicky when I was 15, and it was my introduction to violent death, to what suicide really is, and now what I can’t forget.

I kept a grin and willed myself not to have a panic attack on the blue (always blue) chair. And dug my nails in. It’s an interesting intellectual conversation. Keep talking about you- not me.

And physical stuff.  A disbelief I’ve gained another stone. Sticking me on the scales (I wish doctors would just take my word) and measuring my height (I am 28- I have not grown). An acknowledgement it’s probably my medication (I have had to increase the dose of Seroquel). An investigation- mostly for my sake, I think. Not for my health, but for my vanity. Surely if I was really in control I wouldn’t now be 81kg? (And I’m 4ft 11″).  The medication is definitely a part of it. I ate a whole trifle in my sleep.  I woke up to its remains. I was quite impressed by that.

More blood tests. I’m an old pro with needles now.  And it’s not so horrible visiting the nurses with my arms as improved as they are. Four years! And yet, people still ask, as irrelevant as asking what your four year broken toe means. It means nothing now. It’s healed. The bone is back in its cradle.

Let me be.

Mentalism and Motherhood

I get emotional over the tree in our tiny garden in Peckham.  Which is silly.

But I watched it bloom into beautiful blossom in the spring…

and drizzle pink flowers every time the breeze blew…

…and, to my surprise, the delicate butterfly-blossoms became apples, which twatted me on the head every time I went to hang the washing up…

Not pictured: me swearing.

Not pictured: me swearing.

…and grew big enough to be picked (or picked up, as in this case) and eaten.

And the apples will disappear, and the tree become bare and anonymous like it was when we moved here last year, then it’ll blossom again and, again, become laden with fruit.  And the cycle will repeat. We didn’t do anything to make it happen. I thought the tree was dead when we moved in. All it’s had is rain and sun, and it lives on.

My friend Ben insisted it was just a useless little crab apple tree, but it wasn’t. (And crab apple trees aren’t useless anyway). 

I want to be part of a cycle.  Of that cycle: of renewal and birth and endlessness.  Even though I have PCOS, I just assume it’ll happen. Granted, those aren’t great reasons to have kids. But recently, I’d been broodier than usual (as has my husband). Awwing at the photos of babies my friends post on Facebook, wanting to be part of that seemingly perfectly imperfect life. My friend, a mother of two, wisely told me, “Having kids is like a bomb going off in your relationship”. But I want to be standing in that wreckage. Not the sometimes-inconsequential feeling neatness of now.

If you follow me on Twitter (I am there as brain_opera), I probably depressed you the other day by posting the heartbreaking Daksha Emson inquiry. Daksha Emson was a psychiatrist who committed suicide, in the violent way horrifyingly typical of women with postpartum psychosis, by stabbing herself and her baby daughter, Freya, then immolating both of them.  Daksha survived for 3 weeks before succumbing to her injuries, and Freya died at the scene. They were both found by her husband, David.

Daksha died in the perfect storm.  A psychiatrist, she worked in a profession with stigmatises their own having mental illness.  Whose illness was downplayed, “doctor to doctor”. Daksha had bipolar disorder, and, although she experienced periods of unwellness where she was hospitalised (and had ECT, on one occasion), she managed to excel in her field. She took medication and didn’t have a relapse in the 8 years she and her husband were married until she became pregnant.

When I was a nursing student, I attended a conference on perinatal psychiatry.  If I’d stayed in nursing, it’s where I’d have liked to specialise. It was a fascinating day.  Firstly, we looked at how infants develop, and how vital those early attachments are.  It’s why mother and baby units, which keep them together and help support the mum and partner, are better than just chucking the mother into a psychiatric ward.

We watched a video of some mothers who were experiencing psychotic and depressive symptoms while caring for their children in a mother and baby unit.  We saw the baby’s increased agitation due to the lack of reaction from the mothers.  The Still Face experiment illustrates this:

Then, we saw the improvements, in both mum and baby, a few months later when the women had recovered.  We learned (or at least, I did), how peri/postnatal mental illness can often strike those who one would least expect; first time, middle class mothers in their thirties. And this in itself is where women like Daksha were let down. How could this high-achieving psychiatrist and mother become mentally ill?  As the inquiry says, isn’t mental illness for, “the great unwashed”? And when the great unwashed do get pregnant, they don’t experience the trauma those professional women do of becoming a mother, the role that’s been created for them since the universe began, which they must now inhabit fully, and which everyone is else is watching you shape yourself into. Surely?

Dr Margaret Oates (who has a mother and baby unit named after her) was there. She spoke acidly of cases where women, clearly unwell, were discharged from services with the label, “personality disorder”. One mother, who was previously diagnosed with bipolar disorder, was deemed to instead have a personality disorder and sent home with antidepressants.  “And what happens to a woman with bipolar when you just give her antidepressants?”, she snapped. She got worse, walked into incoming traffic and died.

Daksha Emson had bipolar disorder.  Postpartum psychosis is so closely linked that it’s sometimes called postpuerpal bipolar disorder. The inquiry into her death states that doctors must assume one will become ill, not the other way around. Therefore, it’s all about that lovely phrase we all know so well as patients and practitioners; risk management.

But that’s complex in itself. A woman who becomes unwell in pregnancy, or who was already taking medication for a pre-existing mental health problem, might be limited in her choice of treatment.  Then they may have to- or want to- stop taking medication so they can breastfeed their child. They can become unwell astonishingly quickly.  There’s also the shame factor. The shame factor that permeates all mental ill health, but especially mental ill health when it’s supposed to be the happiest, most wonderful, shiny, Mothercare advert time of your life.  Where do you even start with that? We’re shamed anyway for having mental health problems, then further shamed for being women- how much shame and guilt must a new mother feel?

Then the father of the child, if he’s employed and you’re with him, might have to go back to work after two weeks.  It becomes easier to hide how bad things have become. In the shadows, they disintegrate. And the stress of looking after a new life, utterly dependent on you, would take its toll on anyone- lack of sleep, worry about the infant, recovering from childbirth, financial implications, everything.

Afterwards, I asked to spend the day with the perinatal psychiatry team at a local hospital.  The nurse explained who was referred to their team.  I felt the blood rush to my head as I read:

Referrals are essential for women with:

  • Bipolar Affective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia / Schizoaffective disorder
  • Previous Postpartum Psychosis
  • Severe Depression
  • Other psychotic illness
  • Family History of Postpartum Psychosis

I have (or probably have, I haven’t had a hypo/manic episode for 2 years and my recent psychiatrist who has only seen me well and heard me speak with a very, “I’m okay” now spin on things) bipolar disorder and my mum had 2 episodes of postpartum psychosis. It was strange to see it in black and white.  Here is your future.  This is what your pregnancy is going to look like.  Someone asking you questions.  Somewhere, you’re going to be a file and they’re going to be watching you. Someone’s going to come and visit you and someone is going to know more about you that you’re comfortable telling them. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away. They might take your baby away.

I should have felt relieved.  Isn’t for the best that I’d be referred if I was pregnant?  Isn’t it good I’d be looked after and had some support? But it still scares me because it feels like an intrusion- another intrusion in a lifetime of intrusions- by mental health services into my life.  Resenting bitterly that mental illness may steal another part of my life, that mental health services may be the ones who define it at all.

When I was initially diagnosed, I was advised to think twice before even becoming pregnant. I did, briefly, a few years ago and I did become unwell, first with depression, then with hypomania, but that could have been the circumstances of the pregnancy rather than any sort of organic reason. What would happen now?  No matter what has gone before, I have imagined myself pregnant and beaming with a wanted child. Well, happy, blooming then fruitful.  I blot out the fact that pregnancy and having children is one of the most stressful things a couple can do and that a quite shocking amount of partners have affairs during these periods.  And that my husband isn’t great at coping with me when I’m not very well (but he’s getting better, and I know he’d be an amazing dad).  And that I live in a tiny flat and I’d have no money and wouldn’t be able to cover the rent on SMP. And that I take antipsychotic and antidepressant and mood stabilising medication and have tried to kill myself. And suicide is the leading cause of maternal death.

Oh, that.

But then I wish someone had been there when my mum was suffering when she had my brother and sister. I can’t remember what happened (particularly when my sister was born, because I was still a far-off idea at the time), but I do remember she thought there were rats in the bath, blood, that my brother was some sort of god and that she was mad for years after- still is, really- and that my dad’s drinking got worse and worse until it killed him.  I try to tell myself that just because it happened to her, it doesn’t mean it will happen to me.  I’m not married to my father, and my father was an alcoholic, and I’m not. I’m not living her life, in her circumstances. I’m not her. I’m not her.

And even if I was, how badly did having two parents with a mental illness affect me?  On a good day, I’d say, “Ach, hardly at all”. On a bad, I’d be flung back into a cobwebby corner of my memory where I’m hiding behind a door with my hands over my ears listening to my parents scream at each other, and the years that followed where I spun in my mother’s confused untruths, not sure what was true, not sure what wasn’t and remember my joyful time in CAMHS.

I have my brother and sister, though. I have them.

On balance, though, I think my experiences have had a positive impact on my personality rather than a negative one. I grew up to be compassionate, to want to help people, to be independent since we largely had to look after ourselves, to value creativity as a way to express myself when I lived with people who could be wordless, and to be someone who stands up for themselves and for others. On the downside, I’m one of those people who struggles to make close relationships (and this scares me about having kids- who would help me? Who could I ask?), who runs away when people try to get close to her, who is super-sensitive, who seeks validation too often, who feels overburdened with a sense of responsibility and guilt for things I can’t control, and who shuts down if someone shouts at me as it throws me back into the centrifugal force of my parents rage. (And yes, I’m aware that my traumatic upbringing and subsequent traumas have probably contributed a fair bit to me being mentally interesting. But I certainly don’t blame my parents for that. They’re people, first). But those things don’t hold me back to any huge degree and the slightly reclusive part of my personality is one I’d miss having, too.

And they weren’t always like that. Sometimes, my parents were wonderful.  It was something I was wildly jealous of when my dad died- other peoples’ memories of their parents. I had friends who lost their parents to cancer at similarly young ages to when I lost my dad.  But their parent, “battled”, was, “brave”. Was proud, was strong, had friends, were blissfully and memorably ordinary. They had coffee with their parents and bought them places, to events that didn’t end with them screaming at them to stop, slumping into sobs.  I was so jealous that, then, all I had left of my dad were horrible memories.  They were the ones that floated to my mind when I thought of him. Memories that drenched me in shame and regret, regret of such a short, wasted life, and shame that we weren’t enough for him to want to live for.

But as time has passed, I remember more good about him.

I understand he couldn’t, “just” stop drinking. I thank him for the good influence he had on me. To be silly, to be strong, to read. I mourn that my children won’t have him as a grandad, to be bounced on his leg like he used to do me.  Now whenever I talk to my somewhat transformed mum on the phone, I ask her to think about getting herself a wee fella.  I hate the thought of another life not being lived, being wasted without love, without someone, even a good friend, to share with.

And on the plus side of me not really being close to many people, I have a lot of love.  Tons of it, pouring out of me, for anyone to have if they want it.  So that’s something.

But my parents were never really helped for their problems.  No-one really supported them when they needed it, when we needed it. How different things might have been if someone had recognised they needed help. These somewhat self-regarding entries are a protection.  A way of acknowledging what could happen.  Save yourself by being self-aware in case there comes a time when you can’t be.  So it doesn’t come.

So I think I need to give up any expectations I have of pregnancy or motherhood, both good and bad. I may not suddenly have a giant gleaming kitchen and long, russet hair (it’s purple right now, but for some reason, when I think of my hair when pregnant, it’s long and not falling out like it does during pregnancy and russet and smells of apples, the latter being a probability considering we are currently buried in them) and have that kind of flattering slimness that accentuates my bountiful bump (I’m newly obese again, so that’s not going to happen anyway).  I may not have a husband who’s endlessly patient with me and who listens to my stomach like a shell for the sea and sings to me (I fucking hope not- he’s the most effortfully bad singer I’ve ever heard) and keeps everything clean and is never bad tempered and never misses sex or the nights out with his previously young wife and the nights in with his previously girlfriend. He won’t become depressed himself and will continue to bring me coffee and breakfast and call me beautiful.

Likewise, I may not go mad and may not end up struggling to bond with my baby, and may not be like my mother, and may not spend every waking minute thinking I’m a shit mother and a shit person and shit feminist, and may not have to come off my medication and if I do, I may be fine, and it may, may be, just a gloriously ordinary time of my life, like it is in the lives of lots of women, like it is for lots of women with mental health problems, too. Apart from panic attacks, I’m fine now. I may continue to be fine. And even if I wasn’t, it’ll all be worth it in the end.

I hope so.

P.S: I’m not pregnant, don’t worry.

P.P.S: Daksha Emson is an exceptional case, hence the inquiry.  Although women can be so unwell they commit suicide and take their children with them, it’s incredibly rare.  And what has changed since they inquiry?  Not much.

P.P.P.S: If I’ve depressed the shite out of you with this entry, here’s some Eddie Izzard:

Mind Media Awards/You Take It With You

Hello!

Firstly, hooray! This blog was nominated for a Mind Media Award in the digital category! Thanks so much to whoever nominated me, it’s lovely.  I feel a bit awkward and have that Irish tendency to shrug off praise with, “Aaaah” then starting a conversation about how grand the weather’s being, so I’ll leave it at that, but thank you.  Thanks to the shortlisters, too, for not printing out a copy of this blog and then setting it on fire to show your displeasure.  It’s a bit nervewracking as aceness abounds on the shortlist, such as Purple Personage. They’re new, exciting, well-written and switched on, whereas this blog is now six.  Six, in digital terms, is when t’was all fields around here.  Things have changed so much in the digital world, in such wonderful ways.  I’m glad, somewhere, my increasingly mumbular witterings still resonate with someone, and, hopefully, help others who are stumbling on their way.

So thank you!

If I don’t win, I have awarded myself this. I thought these were a myth. But they’re a crispy, slightly off-tasting reality.

If you want to read more mental health blogs, go to the World of Mentalists where there’s a weekly round up and a generous, afternoon-sucking blogroll.

The nomination has prodded me to update this blog. I continue to stumble a bit meself.

I wish when we haul the overstuffed suitcase out the door, we left the mentals hidden and small somewhere under the clothes strewn across the floor, to gather fluff and dust while we saunter, tanned and trouble free, in a Somewhere Else. (I am aware, too, of the ridiculous privilege in being able to go Somewhere Else, even just for a few days).

I hadn’t slept before we left and my anxiety kicked in at the train station.  A man was being frisked down by security, then his bag popped open.  It contained at least 50 bottles of shampoo and 20 tubes of toothpaste.  Robert tried to reason with me that maybe he just really liked being clean, but I was convinced (irrationally) he must be a terrorist with bombs in the tubes, some squirty, white bombs. I’d been looking forward to the surrealness going through a tunnel into Paris on my birthday for ages but it was ruined by my white knuckling paranoia and almost having to be forced onto the train.  The whole time I was hypervigilant and almost fainted in relief when we got to Paris unblownup.

I panic-checked my bags for my medication- another thing you can’t leave behind.  It meant that we didn’t do anything til late afternoon every day, which was okay as it was incredibly hot. I had to keep pretty much the same routine as home- being hoisted awake by Robert and fed coffee under I was marginally more coherent, then waiting another hour or two before being able to walk and talk in public without being hit by a car or mistaken for being drunk. I’m used to this by now as it’s been my life for 5 years, but on holiday, I just want to be normal. I want to be like everyone else and not drugged and exhausted and floaty from anxiety.  I wanted to fall asleep listening to the sounds of the Parisien night, and not to whatever I’d put on my laptop to stare fixedly at to stave off a panic attack.  It’s why I find Christmas, Easter, birthdays and every holiday hard, and I know I’m not alone in that.

My actual birthday, for all I worried, was fantastic though (and only one panic attack, hooray). I was awoken by a lovely pastry, we went to the park and drank beer in the sun, got lost in the Marais and were then led by a kindly French man to a restaurant he liked, had dinner, went back to Montmartre and opened the fizzy wine Robert had sneaked earlier, sat on the steps of the Sacre Coeur and Robert put candles in an eclair, kept aflame by Parisien youths singing, Joyeux Anniversaire, then met an artist and went back to his flat and listened to music, then asleep by 6am. It was a good ‘un.

31 and 28

31 and 28 and stupid faces.

 

I am trying to make a conscious effort to will myself into the present so I don’t just let myself float away on anxiety. If I think too much I start to panic (or not at all- if my brain empties, panic moves in to take the space, because my brain’s a total dick) and I feel completely exhausted by it.  I’m also trying to keep myself a bit present as I’m entering my mood-danger zone.  This time of year I always become depressed, and I don’t think I can handle that on top of the panic stuff, so I am trying very very very hard to keep my head above quicksand.  This week hasn’t been so great as I’ve been tearful and hypersensitive but we’ll see eh.  I’m sure you’ll all be riveted when you read my yearly depressive breakdown post.

Otherwise, though, things are good.  I’m still waiting for therapy and beginning to think it’ll never materialise.  It’s the panacea of CBT, which, although is the first thing tried for panic and phobia, I’m inherently cynical about as it seems to be the psychiatric version of paracetamol, just chucked at everyone, for every ache, no matter how sharp, no matter how persistent.

I’ve known people who’ve had fantastic experiences and people who’ve had dreadful ones.  What worries me if that the model is is making sense of the irrational, whereas my problem is I have rationalised myself- rightly- into a corner. So, I’m not sure how it’ll go.

Anyway, just wanted to say, “hello” and thanks.  Excuse the listlesness of this post but I feel a bit listless today, it’s been a weird (nicely so) one.

And if you’ve followed a link and it’s your first time here, hello, and here’s some posts to have a read of.

Time marches on

I’m 28 in 2 days.  Or possibly tomorrow, since nobody knows when my birthday is. (I was not, contrary to rumour, found in a bin).

Me running towards my daddy, behind the camera that was his 5th limb for a decade.

27 has defined, “the best of times, the worst of times”.  Absolute aceness mixed with arseness. I’ll be glad to see the back of it, though things have been looking up. And yet, to see the back of any year fills me with dread.  I sat today in the park near my house and read (Primo Levi- cheerful stuff!) and cursed myself for not appreciating the summer sooner. How many we will see? And etc. But I’ll be in Paris with Robert so shall enjoy that.  And have had a lovely few days celebrating our first wedding anniversary. One year already! What the hell.  Life is brief and strange.

I’m a ray of sunshine, me.

I feel quite apprehensive about this one, due to my recent freakouts.  Is 28 old? Oldish? How was 28 for you?

And I have been writing this blog since I was 20. OH DEAR. This blog is older than some little people I know.

When Fear Becomes Phobia

The doctors call it panic disorder.  I’m trying to medicate away an existential crisis.

It’s not working.

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.

Waking to soundless dark, I stare.

In time, the curtain edges will grow light,

Until I see what’s always there.

There’s been a programme on Channel 4 recently called, “Les Revenents”.  In English, “The Returned”.  The Returned are those returned from death to life.  My husband was an avid fan.  I couldn’t watch it.  It wasn’t just because they were dead.  It was because they were dead and returned to life, their death a mistake, a mishap, reversible. Something that will never happen. Not to me, and not to you. And that’s why I couldn’t watch it.

There’s a difference between knowledge and belief.  Up until recently, I’ve always known I was going to die.  The fear would grip me and squeeze my heart from my chest to my mouth. A scream caught in the throat, my body, convulsing with the pressure and the pain, flung across the room. When I was two, I had an asthma attack that almost killed me.  And on first waking, I threw my doll into the face of the doctor.  And twenty five years later, I’m still that doll.

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

But my heart would return to my chest.  It was needed.  Life was happening. It had to be lived.  The small victories and failures of every day would bring me back to clockwork human, walking, talking and being alive in the world. Arguments to be had, worries to worry over. Futures to think of, anniversaries to drink of, dishes to be done and cats to be fed.   A car almost hitting me would quicken the pace. I’d pull back from the road and swear and shake my fist and then carry on my way.  I smoked cigarettes and watched TV and visited cemeteries and went to funerals and took flights and slept.

A week ago, I was crossing the road to work and a hearse passed by. My legs turned to jelly, I felt myself dissociating, leaving my own body. (Maybe this is why there’s a belief in the spirit, the out of body experience.  Sheer, cold fear forcing the ghost from the host).  It’s not the first time that’s happened lately.  Do you know what else elicited such a response? Father Ted.  I turned it on at 3am to help me sleep after another night of panic attacks had rendered me a shivering wreck and had to switch it off again because Dermot Morgan is dead and I will be too.

So now I can’t watch Father Ted. Or Monty Python. Or Not the Nine O’Clock News (because Mel Smith just died).  And I was late to work because I had to sit down before I collapsed, the kaleidoscope world sucking in and out of my vision.  People were just drinking their coffees, hurrying by, and I wanted to scream, “DON’T YOU REALISE WHAT’S GOING TO HAPPEN?” But I lit a cigarette instead (bland irony; they’ll kill me) and gathered myself together to stand on my fawn legs and walk.

The mind blanks at the glare. Not in remorse
—The good not done, the love not given, time
Torn off unused—nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb
Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never;
But at the total emptiness for ever,
The sure extinction that we travel to
And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
Not to be anywhere,
And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

I’m scared to call my granny, because I know she is going to die soon. I’m scared to talk to her then remember the voice in the afterwards, and I’m scared because I know I’m going to be too scared for her funeral. I’m scared to get a plane, sometimes, too scared to get the train. Too scared to talk, and scared of my bed. Scared to leave the house sometimes, as walking home with a pint of milk is so gloriously ordinary and unpermanant that I can’t bear it and fire flushes through me once more, and I find myself running, running. Without embarrassment as my screaming bursts through the door. My world is getting smaller and smaller and yet, I can’t do anything about it.

I’ve always known, but never believed.  It seemed so far off and distant, surreal and unformed. It doesn’t feel that way anymore. Now I know it and I believe it. It’s going to happen.  When I am lying in bed desperately trying to sleep and I feel my veins jumping beneath my skin, my heart-mouth almost chokes me with the terror that I’m going to stroke out- it’s happening, now, now, now, it’s happening. And I also know that it’s my own terror causing this, that my heart is beating so rapidly my veins can’t keep up, and the weight on my chest is another panic attack coming to smother another hour out of my finite hours. I know this, and yet it doesn’t help. It’s the same way I know that my fear of dying won’t stop it happening (it will hasten it), but I can’t help it.  Once you know, really know, you can’t unknow.  Once you believe, you can’t unbelieve. What should be freeing traps you. Every single twinge feels like a mortal threat. And the medication I’m taking to cope with this reality is making me feel sick and tired.

This is a special way of being afraid
No trick dispels. Religion used to try,
That vast moth-eaten musical brocade
Created to pretend we never die,
And specious stuff that says No rational being
Can fear a thing it will not feel, not seeing
That this is what we fear—no sight, no sound,
No touch or taste or smell, nothing to think with,
Nothing to love or link with,
The anaesthetic from which none come round.

I’ve prayed. I’ve vainfully resurrected my old Catholic self.  Not believing in god, but in prayer. How calm it used to make me. To feel as though I was doing something. To slow the frantic pulse of my veins. But it doesn’t do anything- it doesn’t change. Nothing does or will. 

I’ve had a big year; done those, “once in a lifetime” things, like getting married, having a hen night, those milestones in life that are supposed to mean so much. I’ve had a difficult couple of months.  Some people close to me wonder if I have PTSD. Maybe. It has certainly gotten worse since those events.  The realisation that I can’t go back. That things are what they are.  What has happened to me has happened forever. All of it.  Pain I have caused others have been done forever, and I can’t undo it. Crying doesn’t resurrect a father. He’s just bones now. When you have a child, you are condemning someone to death. You have a date of birth and on the stone will be the date you died.  That will be an event to other people, but not to you. I can’t read about space, or science, because I won’t be there to see any of it pass. How can it be that I can’t change it? Any of it? When egotism and insignificance clash.

And so it stays just on the edge of vision,
A small unfocused blur, a standing chill
That slows each impulse down to indecision.
Most things may never happen: this one will,
And realisation of it rages out
In furnace-fear when we are caught without
People or drink. Courage is no good:
It means not scaring others. Being brave
Lets no one off the grave.
Death is no different whined at than withstood.

My husband holds me and says, “Don’t think about it”. He tells me he loves me and I want that to matter, but it doesn’t. What is love? What is meaning? What is anything? Shouldn’t I just fuck off and read existentialist philosophy? Except I can’t. Now Camus is on a par with Father Ted. Finally! And when he sleeps, I panic. I can’t take that still face. He is alive! Alive and should be alive forever. I can’t bear it. And I take my antipsychotics and wait for the world to swim away.

Slowly light strengthens, and the room takes shape.
It stands plain as a wardrobe, what we know,
Have always known, know that we can’t escape,
Yet can’t accept. One side will have to go.
Meanwhile telephones crouch, getting ready to ring
In locked-up offices, and all the uncaring
Intricate rented world begins to rouse.
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.

But the only good thing to come out of all of this is realising that all you have, in the end, and if you’re really lucky, are your memories.  I love my husband, and it matters because this is his life, too.  He’s going to remember the love.  I am more careful in how I speak to and treat people now.  I don’t want to contribute to bad memories. I don’t want to be a negative force. I want to spread kindness and love because it’s all we have to give, and the only worthwhile things to give. When I am feeling unkind, I think about the body. The body is the life, and the scars are the bad memories. I don’t want to be a scar. I don’t want to add to the multitude of scars we live with and which will be there forever. Before I start to shout, or to say something in anger that might be scarring, I think instead, “Do I want to add to this?” And I never do. It doesn’t mean suppressing anger. It just means realising that it doesn’t matter, in the scheme of things.  Nothing does, of course.  But other peoples’ happiness matters, to me. I want people to be happy, and to be loved, and to remember that they are. And I am a particularly friendless type of person. Isolative, and often happier that way. I do want to change that. I don’t want to look back and have only vignettes of myself, alone, as always.  I don’t have a, “best friend”, you won’t find many photos of me doing stuff with other people at things I was invited to, and I don’t have close friends. I feel like it’s another fundamental of human experience I am missing out on. The speeding car flattens me to the wall.

And so, here I am, with another inevitability. That I must go to bed, and go to sleep, and wake up tomorrow, then go to work (which I enjoy and find value in because it involves helping other people, possibly the one thing I find meaning in) then have a weekend.  Medication to take, dishes to do.  I’m going to Paris for my birthday and trying not to remember my last birthday, one big scar.  Not to pick it. Not to open it. To not make a new scar. To not panic at the ticking up of the years. To hold a hand. Return a kiss. To walk in a street and try to be present. To be there. It’s all we have. It’s all any of us have.

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