Things

Good things. Bad things. Yet-to-be-decided things. Bit of a random assortment.

Cats first. Definitely a good thing. Waking up with Kit curled next to me, purring, is just – nice. Really nice. He’s turning out to be quite an affectionate little beast. Kaboodle remains wary and stand-offish, and recoils in horror when I try to touch her. I suspect she may always be a bit that way inclined, but I love the little noises she makes as she runs from room to room, a constant commentary of squeaks and chirrups.

And I can buy as many catnip mice as I like, but Kit’s favourite toys remain the paintbrushes he steals from the art room. There are paintbrushes everywhere! Perhaps he’s trying to tell me something? Start painting again Sage! Kaboodle seems to prefer crystals and shoes. She’s a New Age cat with fine taste in footwear.

And, through the cats, I seem to have a new friend. Which is good and scary all at the same time. You know, there’s all the old stuff, which my CPN calls my “cognitive biases” – just, why the fuck would anyone actually like me and want to spend time with me? I don’t understand! But I’m going with it, and accepting invitations.

My landlady came round. I had the house really clean and my essential oil diffuser on. She was pleased. She thanked me for taking care of the place, she said I was a good tenant. I currently feel like an enormous fraud, because everything is in a bit of  a mess again, but I’m also determined to get it tidied up. It’s very important to me these days to keep my house clean. I lived in utter chaos and squalor for so long, and there was a huge amount of shame attached to that. A friend once yelled at me that I was DISGUSTING. The worst thing was that it was true.

Another thing that happened was that my new friend came round and as she was parking her car my neighbour was coming home and he commented on her parking – because of course he would, that’s what he’s like – but then he said I was “the quietest neighbour I’ve ever had”.  And that was good, it was reassuring, because I have an ongoing anxiety that I am somehow too noisy and disturb everyone and they all hate me.

So those are things. Some not-so-good things are that my eating is getting decidedly out of control. There’s been a lot of throwing up lately, and I’m feeling a little desperate. Although I’ve told MH professionals about this before, several times, they don’t seem to have picked up on it as a problem. At least – they never offer me a chance to talk about it, and I’m too ashamed to bring it up again. Therapist guessed though, and she said it was fine to bring it to that space.

She also guessed about the drinking. Which I probably ought to address. Just not today. But I’m getting embarrassed about the amount of alcohol I’m buying from the shop down the road, so I need to do something. Go to another shop, probably. I’ve just been in full-blown flight from the realities of my life. I’ve been diving into alcohol and other substances, I’ve been plunging into books and things to watch. Unconsciousness is the answer!

Except it’s not. Not really. Not long-term. I know that, but right now I’m deep into avoidance. Don’t think and don’t remember! Just survive, and eventually you’ll die, thank God!

Therapist gave me a stone to hold during the last session on Friday. Then she said I could take it away with me, and use it to remind myself that she doesn’t perceive me as evil. A primitive kind of magic, but a powerful one. I have the stone with me now. But there are so many doubts – because how can she be sure?

She’s away next week. I’m telling myself this is okay, this is fine, but it seems such a long time until I see her again. When she sent me the email telling me she was going to be away, she also let me know that she’s going to be away one Friday in late September, but on that occasion she can offer me a session on the Thursday. It freaked me out. Like – to think about September/October. And yes, I’m going to be living here, I’m going to be living here a while, and I’m going to be going to therapy, I’m going to be doing that a while too. And it made me wonder how I would be, how I would feel, what would be happening.

I am running out of things (yay, everyone breathe a sigh of relief!). Just one more – I think I may have found some voluntary work that would suit me. I’m going to talk to them on Thursday. Just that I need something, something to organise my life around. I think it would help to have some kind of regular commitment. Because at the moment I have endless empty days, and although I have many projects I want to get into, I seem to mostly be paralysed. Which really isn’t great.

 

 

 

 

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Therapy

So some of you may know I’m having art therapy. This may create an impression that I am creating elaborate images of my conflicts and problems. I know some people can engage in art therapy in this way.

But it’s not like that for me. For me, the work is about being to express myself in any way at all in the presence of someone I don’t entirely trust yet.

Today I went in angry, frustrated with my inability to control my life, to do what I want to do.

We talked about that a little, then she suggested we try some art making, using watercolour, which is hard to control.

She gave me a brush, and brought over a piece of paper, and moved some water near me. I picked up the brush and dipped it in the water. She suggested we make marks just with water, so they wouldn’t last. I still hesitated. She asked if she could hold my brush with me. And slowly, together, we began to put water on the paper. Sometimes she was directing the brush, sometimes I was. This brought up such a mixture of feelings in me I couldn’t speak, and had to stop.

Then I just went really small. There’s no other way to describe it. I was rocking in my seat, and then suddenly taken over by shaking. She gave me a cushion to hold onto and I clutched it for dear life. She asked if I felt scared or sad and I heard a high pitched, childish voice say “Both”. I felt like I wanted to cry, except I don’t know how to cry.

She kept talking, in her soft voice, reminding me where I was, and that I was safe, while I rocked and shook.

Then the session was approaching its end, and she started to bring me back to the present, to an adult self who was able to leave, and carry on with life. “I don’t want to go”, I said. And I didn’t, I wanted to stay with her, with her voice and her acceptance, and the sense of safety she offered.

“Yes, it’s hard to stick to timings”, she said, “but I will be here next week, and I will be here for as long as you want me and need me”. And I was able to come back, to hand her the cushion, to say good bye and thank you, and walk out the door.

That’s the kind of art therapy I’m doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Project Reboot

I seem to have got out of the habit of blogging, but I’m thinking I should start again. The blog functions as a memory for me, and a way to meet myself in some of my different mental states. Without it my ideas of what has been going on are hazy. I know things have gone a little haywire lately, but when and where and why I just don’t know. I can’t give a convincing explanation in terms of triggers and reactions. I can’t remember the sequence of events.

I just know I got stuck again in a big “I CAN’T”. When I’m like that I can be stubborn in my misery, resisting anything that might make me feel better, denying that things are highly likely to eventually change again. I need to find more acceptance, cultivate the awareness even during those times that there are other parts of me that have an entirely different take on things. I’m never going to banish those feelings forever, they are part of the fabric of my life. But I think I could approach them in another way, so that I didn’t so entirely lose myself and come back to consciousness sometime later, wondering what happened, and feeling more than a little ashamed.

Not-so-new-now CPN came yesterday. We’ve had a slightly rocky road, had to work through a number of misunderstandings. She has a much more intellectual approach than my previous CPN. Sometimes that works for me, sometimes it doesn’t. Yesterday, for instance she was talking about stories and archetypes and redemption and religion and confession. I could feel part of me – an articulate self – wanting to respond, to engage in the discussion, but that part of me was far away and I couldn’t find her thoughts. I felt confused and vague and muddled and found it hard to focus on what my CPN was saying. I feel this way a lot with her. But I did appreciate her stating that it was not about willpower or strength of character, that they understood that sometimes this was just the way it was – difficult and shit – and that she didn’t want me to feel I was under any pressure from services to recover, that they understood it wasn’t as simple as doing x or y and in three months you’d be better.

This, of course, is the polar opposite of the Crisis Team’s approach. They told me last week that I just needed to think positive, push myself, and start participating in some activities. That I should go to the Recovery College, because, obviously, a six week course in managing anxiety would be revelatory and all my problems would be solved. But I think now that Crisis Teams can’t be any other way. They don’t know you, they don’t know what kind of person you are, or what your strengths might be, or what you’ve already tried, or your history, so what can they really offer except for the standard stuff, the same old same old, the impossibly simplified? It’s built into the structure and the system.

So CPN helped me find a little space within myself, as did my recognition that however desperately parts of me want to die others just as fervently want to live. After all, I’m not dead yet, and I’ve been suicidal more times than I care to remember. There’s something to be learned from that. And so today I got up and went back to trying to cope with my life and what happens inside me, instead of clinging to last week’s decision to give up. The house – which had been sliding into squalor – is half cleaned up. The Garden of Shame has become the Garden of Weeds, in that there is now a vague, rough apology for a lawn, surrounded by beds of weeds, rather than the previous jungle and chaos. And I am thinking again about projects and plans.

I think I will always live a backwards and forwards life, I think I will always be a bit messy and all over the place, I still have many memories I do not know how I will ever face. But I think I can learn to live with that, and hopefully with a bit more grace than I’ve demonstrated recently.

 

Therapy

I don’t even know how long I’ve been going to therapy. When did I start? January? February? It was snowing the first session, I remember that.

I have a regular appointment at half two on a Friday. I start getting ready at two. Pee. Put my shoes on, grab my coat or bag, lock the back door, fill my vape, pick up my cigarettes (Most days I just smoke one cigarette, first thing in the morning while I wait for the kettle to boil for coffee. On therapy days I smoke three, one in the morning, one on the way there, and one on the way back.). Pee again. Check the time. Wait if I have to. I leave at seven minutes past two. Precisely.

The walk takes 19/20 minutes, depending on how fast I walk up the hill and how long I have to wait to cross the roads. I wait outside, leaning against a wall, checking my phone. There used to be some very convenient trees I could half-hide in, but they cut them down.

When the time on my phone turns to 2.30 I walk through the gates and to the door and ring the bell. Look at the ground while she answers and says hello. She’s always got the tea ready, and we go up to the studio.  It’s a bright space, white walls with dark beams, full of art materials and books and toys and interesting objects. When I first went I always started off sitting in the red comfortable chairs by the door, but now I sit at the table with the paper and the pastels and the pencils and the paints and the inks and the clay.

Sometimes when people ask me about the therapy it’s clear they have some vision of me painting elaborate, meaningful pictures which the therapist then interprets. That there’s some kind of format. But it’s not like that at all. Mostly we just talk. Sometimes I grip a pastel, or turn a pencil over and over in my hand, and shake with the inner battle, the desire to express some of what goes on inside me, and the resistance to that.

And it’s all okay. Everything is okay here. I haven’t found anything yet that is not okay. It’s okay to make marks on the paper, and it’s okay not to. It’s okay to bring pictures in, it’s okay to bring writing, it’s okay to bring dreams. It’s okay to email her. She says we are all welcome there.

Today I managed to write down some of the words that were being shouted in my head. Ugly words. Difficult words. When she saw my reaction to seeing them on the paper, the eye fluttering and face twitching, she turned the paper over and then she took it away. She didn’t comment on them, she didn’t ask where they came from, but she knows them now.

And so I tell my story slowly, in bits and pieces. A few words here, a dream or a reaction or a scrap of memory there. It’s the only way I can tell it, I don’t have a neat narrative of trauma that I can pull out and present for healing.

I asked her today when it would start to feel better. Silly question really. She said she didn’t have a magic answer, that it would take a long time, but that what I had done today was a step forwards, that every time I came it was a little step forwards. She said she would be there for as long as I needed and wanted her.

I don’t know how this works. I’m used to people offering advice, coping techniques, self soothing strategies, suggesting mindfulness. But I know the sessions are becoming important to me, that I like her gentle, reassuring presence, the way she notices what’s happening with me, that more and more I am starting to trust her.

I have been mad. Absolutely mad. Not a little mad, but a lot.

I remember one morning in the hospital, going down to the garden for a smoke. Sitting on the bench and staring at the the plum tree and fence, and beyond them the carpark and the road and the hills of houses. And I saw them not as tree and fence and tarmac and houses, but as constructions, all of them formed from these little lego-like bricks that these beings in another realm were arranging. I felt I saw into the makings of the world. I felt I saw into the truth about reality.

And I kept seeing it, even as I went upstairs to the ward. The walls and floors and doors weren’t real to me. The other people were illusions. All of them were being built for some purpose I couldn’t grasp, but that I suddenly feared was just a game in this other realm. I had a vision of the being who had created this particular world. It had all been rather a mistake, things had got out of control, it was never meant to be this way. “Best to just close it down and forget about it” the officials said.

I don’t remember how I acted that particular day, but some days I paced the corridor of the ward, running my hands up and down the walls as I paced, Then other days I was filled with an inexpressible joy and galloped or skipped or simply ran up and down that same corridor. I was 41 years old. This wasn’t deemed appropriate behaviour.

But you see my problem, that joy I felt, and the love it seemed I had so much of it could heal the earth, I cannot label it as illness. Because it was a gift. And it carries with it the imperative that one must somehow work to share it, to manifest it in the world.

I am a long way from feeling that love at the moment. But it is behind my dissatisfaction at a dull routine focused on getting and keeping the house really clean and organised, and successfully pass time. I just can’t shake the sense that there is something I am meant to do in the world, a reason I have had these experiences.

And perhaps that is madness too.

Changes and Choices

There have been a lot of changes in my world lately.

The first one and the big one was moving house. Which is internally approved of by pretty much everyone. The Cosmic Sage did good. Maybe there’s something in this whole praying-to-the-universal-energy business after all? I mean, I joke about it, but we did get everything she asked for. And that’s not easy in a housing market that discriminates against those on benefits.

Then there was ending with the psychologist and starting art psychotherapy. That wasn’t much fun, and this is where the choices come in. Because various professionals keep suggesting I see the psychologist again. I don’t think they grasp that the art therapy is real therapy and not just some “therapeutic” colouring in. I did see the psychologist once – or someone saw her – it was all make up and heels and cheeriness. Then I read the discharge letter she’d drafted, and got angry with how much she’d misunderstood. That was bleak. But not unfamiliar. Story of my time with her, really.

Then OT left (I wasn’t sorry), then Lovely CPN left (I was sorry), and now I have two new workers. New CPN seems intelligent and emotionally sensitive, but I am perturbed by her references to the “work” she wants to do with me. Compassion-focused bullshit, I gather. Will probably involve a “self-soothing box” at some point. Ick. So I’m withholding judgment. New OT happened to meet Sage one day and was very enthused by her “level of insight” and “strong sense of self” (ha!).

There was a meeting. I was mute and stared at the floor. New consultant told me that she’s leaving too. Lucky I don’t have abandonment issues, isn’t it?! So there’ll be a New New Consultant, and I’m slightly concerned that whoever it turns out to be won’t be quite so willing to give me ample quantities of drugs. That would be a bugger. The only other thing I came away with from the meeting was some waffle about “keeping doors open”. At this point your guess is as good as mine.

But the big difference in all this is that they’re all talking openly and upfront about DID, asking me questions about it, wanting to know about it. New consultant is going to make it official and put it in writing. I kind of need that, because I’m still playing games with deliberate blindness and denial.

And this is why I think that however much parts of me want to see the psychologist again, I should stick with the art therapist. Because she gets it far more than anyone else ever has. She’s the real deal. She notices what’s happening. She sees/feels it. And so many parts want to talk to her. If I could only let them. Because I’m still caught up in trying to stay in control – even though my life demonstrates to me over and over that I can’t – because I have such a fear that if I let all the crazy out I’ll end up in hospital again. I have a horror of it. I lie here on my sofa often, in my warm, quiet, safe house, and I just experience such gratitude that I am not locked up.

I am not locked up. And I never want to be locked up again.

And I can’t think of anything else important to say.

Rage Against Recovery

“Are you enjoying your art therapy?” she said.

I shook my head, partly in answer, and partly in disbelief that a mental health professional should have so little understanding of psychotherapy. In what universe is exposing your screwed up self to another FUN?

But this is the world of Recovery, in which any vaguely pleasant or rewarding activity can be dressed up as therapeutic. So there’s therapeutic art, therapeutic gardening, therapeutic baking, therapeutic kindness to others. And from there, of course, it’s not such a leap – and this is already well on the way, inveigling itself into government policy  – to the concept of therapeutic employment. You can see the appeal. Cut the benefits bill and solve the growing mental health crisis in one fell ideological swoop.

And if these dumbed down “therapies” don’t work? The blame is easily located in the service user and their poor “coping strategies”. Treatment for mental health problems is increasingly merely instructions in how to live. Eat healthily. Exercise. Practise sleep hygiene. Make a self soothing box. Embrace mindfulness. But somehow simultaneously also distract yourself. Always distract yourself.

The message is consistent: We don’t want to witness your pain. We will bat it straight back to you. It is your individual responsibility. There is no healing to be had. You just have to learn to deal with it better. You have to learn to manipulate your thoughts and emotions into a more positive and acceptable mindset.

And if you express your doubts, if you dare to speak of your experience of decades of attempting to make these changes and failing, and your growing suspicion that these changes aren’t the magic answer, if you assert that these strategies don’t work, you are accused of not believing hard enough, you are told you must keep trying. The failure to recover from mental illness is an individual failure, a lack of determination and character, and labelled, more and more, as a personality disorder. You’re not trying hard enough to be good.

Enough.

Current theoretical frameworks of Recovery consolidate the grand fundamental denial of the traumatogenic nature of capitalism and current culture. Mental illness is built into the system, those who suffer (and there are increasing numbers of us) are collateral damage.

And while we are busily trying to fix ourselves, through diet or meditation or yoga or CBT or crochet, we are conveniently distracted from naming the real sources of our distress. Make no mistake, the Recovery doctrine has a political agenda. We are economic units, to be judged acceptable or otherwise by our productivity, and the prime focus of mental health services is to so adjust us that we better fit the mould. That is the measure of their success.

It drives the pain, the deeply human response to the inequalities and injustices in the world, underground. It “works”. I no longer phone the Crisis Team because I have given up hoping that someone will hear and acknowledge my brokenness and despair, because I am tired of being told to make a cup of tea and watch television, because I am sick of the assertion that the problem somehow lies in me. So am I “better”?

I am the child who believed in the power of poetry and was advised to pursue a career in advertising. I am the adolescent who believed that God had forsaken her, because all around her was the message and the pressure that to really succeed was to be attractive to boys. I am the twenty-something who was haunted by anniversaries of war. I am the thirty-something who ended up in and out of psychiatric hospitals, tormented by visions of a planet in pain.

I will not “recover” until the world recovers – and I can’t see that happening any time soon. For now I hold my coldness and anguish close to me. It is, at least, something real, and in this culture of consumerism and illusion I cherish the real. And it moves me.

I have a voice. I vow to use it. When the world ends you will find me singing there.

 

They Should Be Black

All my technology is failing me. My laptop won’t switch on, and won’t reset. The computer game I bought to fill some hours requires a code, but when I feed in the only code I can find in the documentation it tells me it’s not valid. My phone refuses to do more than vibrate, so I am missing most of my calls and messages. All the various chargers I have bought for my chromebook work only intermittently, and not for long. My new, and allegedly smart, TV doesn’t support Amazon Video, so I am unable to continue bleakly distracting myself with Law & Order: SVU . My superstitious paranoia convinces me that all these things are messages from the universe, external reality reflecting my internal state. And I feel completely unequipped to deal with them. Faced with these difficulties, I give up.

Yes. I give up. I have reached a dead end of the soul. It’s not just that I don’t have the energy to fight any more, it’s that I no longer have any faith that fighting will change things, or is any kind of answer. “You have to try”, my occupational therapist said. I nearly told her – and part of me dearly wishes I had – to fuck off out of my house. I am in a kind of rage, resisting the recovery doctrine she is such a proponent of, deeply resenting the parts of me that are so damn eager to be good, that have in the past chattered away at her about mind maps and coping strategies, knowing that this pleased her.

I am not good.

But she sees those parts as the real Jane, the well Jane. She doesn’t want to talk to me. I am just an illness, a low mood that must be battled with, altered by hot baths and bracing walks. I am just a thought process that must be changed.

When will someone understand?

I fear that no one will ever understand.

There is art therapy. I keep going, because I am all out of other ideas. But the forces that blank me out and shut me down are so powerful that I don’t know if anything can ever be different.

My psychologist broke my heart. It will be a long time before I dare to hope again.

I resist hope. Hope is dangerous.

There was a moment, during the art therapy session on Friday, a moment when my mouth spoke one of the voices in my head without any blockage or intervention. “They should be black”, it said. It was a moment of connection, between the inside and the outside of me. On the walk home that connection kept kind of sparking in me, and there was an urge trying to move me to unpack the art room and make the image that was forming in me.

But I didn’t. And I haven’t. And I don’t know if I can.

 

I have a complaint to make against Life

Ok, so I am trying really hard to tick all the healthy, wholesome boxes here.

I am eating. (Cold soup and dry porridge, but it’s FOOD, right?)

I am drinking water instead of beer.

I am not taking drugs, psych or otherwise.

(At least, mostly I’m not . . .).

I am even participating in social activities.

I should be fucking skipping radiantly through a fucking meadow.

AND I FEEL LIKE SHIT! Sick, achy, exhausted, and itchy.

I demand a refund!

Friday/Saturday

Selves have been chattering at me all night. No sleep.

My fault really. I’m trying to quit the quetiapine coma habit (not least because I only have one “sleeping dose” to last me till next Thursday, and I have to admit that while the lack of consciousness is bliss I don’t much relish what it does to my  heartbeat before it knocks me out.) So, of course, I also lose the quetiapine induced internal quietness that consumes the vast part of the following day (And really I want to be doing more than sitting on the sofa staring blankly into space for hours. Though it is quite peaceful.).

Friday started well. I had a letter from the DWP informing me they were no longer going to pay me ESA. Luckily stand-in CPN (Lovely CPN is currently off sick) was visiting so she called them for me. I wasn’t too sure about her to start with, but after she looked at the letter and said “Bloody hell, they’re buggers, aren’t they?” I decided I did like her after all. They say it’s somehow happened because I changed my address, and that my payments should continue as normal, but I don’t entirely trust the machinery of the system, so I won’t rest easy until a week on Monday, when I find out whether that’s true or not.

Then in the afternoon I went to my first art therapy session. I walked there in snow, and back in snow. The walk takes twenty minutes. I stood waiting outside the door, staring at the time on my phone until it was exactly half past two, then rang the bell. Didn’t want to be early, didn’t want to be late. I can see this is going to become a ritual.

The first thing she did was make me tea. And then we sat and talked. I’m not sure I can summarise what we talked about. Perhaps it’s more important how I felt? There was a distinct wariness to start with, an expressionless face and an inner watching, an assessing, a questioning. What is this going to be like? Have I made a terrible mistake as I have been intermittently stricken that I have, nearly overcome with the desperate urge to call Sarah up and beg her to take us back, complete with promises to “work hard” and “be OK” and “be a good girl”? Then a gradual relaxing into the conversation, even some smiling (though no eye contact, obviously.)

We talked quite a bit about blogging, because I’d asked her in an email if she minded whether I blogged about the sessions. She’s going to draw up a “social media contract” for me to sign. Essentially though, I am free to share my experiences if I wish, and she won’t go googling, though if I ever wanted to bring some writing with me, that would be fine. She just asked that I not identify her, to protect other people she works with. Slight problem there, in that I have previously, at least on Twitter, been open about where I live, and so people could, if so inclined, do a quick internet search and figure it out. There isn’t exactly a proliferation of art therapists in the city. Not sure what to do about that.

There were some slightly tricky moments – mention of dissociation (la, la, la, fingers in ears) and trauma (la, la, la, fingers AND thumbs in ears), but she did check with me whether she could “say the words” and I said yes, so okay. Difficult questions about why I had been in hospital, which I kind of fudged. I didn’t really want to get into the whole “I took an overdose that I have no memory of taking” etc, because I still harbour a fear I will scare her off, though I have so far imparted a fair amount of information about just how dysfunctional I can be and she seems to have taken it in her stride, which is reassuring.

There was more, much more, but I think this is enough for now. I left feeling quite cheerful, and with a sense of relief in me that I have an appointment next week, and the week after that, and the week after that, same day, same time. I have been craving that structure for so long.

(And as I said earlier, chattering about it all night.)