therapy

My double life

I worry about this double life I’m leading. I have it easier than some, in that I’m not out working and mixing with people all day, every day.

In fact, it was trying to work and function when very ill that led to me completely unravelling a couple of years ago.

But I still put on a front, a false me, in company.

False me is: cheerful, capable, talkative, smiling.
Real me is: miserable, scared, hopeless, ashamed.

Or is it the other way around? Is my current state influencing how I feel about myself, stopping me from going out and working and doing things that make me realise I don’t have to be ‘real me’ all the time?

What is real and when is it the depression talking?

In therapy, you get told to sit with your feelings rather than push them away. This week has seen me spend a lot of time in my head back in the house where I grew up, feeling how I felt as a child, connecting with a lonely little girl.

I can definitely see how taking that time makes me more aware of what I went through, and what I’ve lost. It helps me understand why I am so angry, changeable and messed up.

But getting the balance between acknowledging pain and getting on with life can be very difficult. Impossible, at the moment. I really struggle to see how I will get back to a ‘functioning me’ – whether it’s real me, false me, or a combination of the two.

I struggle to know where to even start. All I know is that writing helps, and so maybe a bit more of that before I try to get everything back.

childhood

They stole my mum

Trigger warning: the following contains memories of child abuse and neglect.

I am an eight-year-old girl.

I feel uncertain most days. I am bullied at school. I have few friends. When I get home, my mum doesn’t ask me about my day.

She doesn’t ask me because she has been taken from me by two thugs called Orap and Stelazine*.

They covered her with a blanket and stole her away. It happens every time she gets ill. My dad rings my gran and they go into a room and whisper. The doctor is called. My mum goes to hospital and when she comes back, she is there but she is gone.

She is dead-eyed and mute. Her face is frozen in a mask. She is expressionless. Nothing I do or say meets with any reaction.

If she doesn’t take her medication, she becomes frightened. She is convinced the IRA are hiding out in the wardrobe, that there’s a gunman in the loft. It is the 1970s and there is a lot of news about Northern Ireland. The world is a scary place, and my mum brings it into our home with her whispers.

One time, I go into the kitchen to find her hunched over a cassette recorder. I ask her what she’s doing. She tells me she’s recording the voices she’s hearing, because nobody believes her.

My 44-year-old self knows how terrifying that must have been for her – to hear a whole crowd of people in your head, some of them terrorists… to experience what they say to you as real, to be frightened and alone with these voices because nobody listens to you when you warn them.

My eight-year-old self, watching my mother, feels frightened and alone.
I stop telling her about things. There’s no point. She isn’t interested.

She brings me food, she washes my clothes. Friends never come to tea. It just wouldn’t work. We watch television in the evenings with my sister and father. But there’s little conversation, and there’s no joy.
There’s no joy in our house.

And once a week, a music teacher comes to teach me lessons in our front room, and he puts his hand in my knickers.

He can tell from the way my mum is that she isn’t at home.

Halfway through the lesson she brings him a cup of tea. She always knocks. He’s usually finished by then.

*Orap and Stelazine are psychiatric medications given to treat schizophrenia. My mother spent most of my childhood on one or the other. If you are on either of these, please understand I am writing through the eyes of my eight-year-old self. This is how I saw these drugs as a child. I do not advocate coming off medication, and I do not reject use of modern antipsychotics to treat psychosis.
daily life, therapy

Too many labels

The discomfort I feel at the current thinking behind my diagnosis is reaching fever pitch.

They keep trying to stick me with new labels and I keep resisting. In particular, I’m resisting Borderline Personality Disorder, because it’s such a bullshit concoction of ‘symptoms’.

Symptoms of what? It’s not an illness, is it? So what is it then? It seems to me that it’s a marker used by the medical profession to flag up difficult, volatile patients who are:

  • usually female
  • have suffered trauma
  • aren’t afraid of sticking up for themselves.

I know I have PTSD, that’s been confirmed. I am wondering about bipolar disorder, but then I think that PTSD and depression covers it just fine.

Anyway, the more I resist, the more of a tangle I get myself into.

Here’s where I’m at with my current thinking, inspired by disinterested psychiatrists and their lazy assumptions:

  • I have gone into a manic reaction (bipolar 2, cyclothymia) with rapid-cycling moods lasting several days at a time. I can’t sleep and am overthinking everything (bipolar, borderline personality disorder).
  • I feel hopeless and worthless (depression) and these feelings keep coming back (recurrent depressive disorder).
  • I have been feeling a lot worse since they started sticking new labels on me (reactive depression, generalised anxiety).
  • I got really angry at my clinic a month or so back when a psychiatrist cancelled on me, claiming I had previously said I wouldn’t see her (borderline personality disorder). I told them to go fuck themselves (borderline personality disorder).
  • Since then, I have been reluctant to engage with psychiatric services because I feel so worthless and am scared of being disliked (avoidant personality disorder).
  • I have retreated into myself and prefer the company of my imagination (schizoid personality disorder).
  • I have become quite fearful of attending my psychotherapy sessions because I’m worried about what is being said or thought about me (paranoid personality disorder).
  • I’ve had nightmares and outbursts at home, usually triggered by a remark or something on tv about abuse, and I’m totally exhausted and numb (complex ptsd).
  • I jump out of my skin when someone walks in the room (ptsd, anxiety, social anxiety) and oh yeah, I keep cleaning the kitchen (ocd, anxiety).

So, what label do you think they want to stick on me today? Therapy starts in an hour or so. Let’s see what they have to say.

daily life

Out of sorts

There are too many days where I feel at odds with the world.

When you are out of sorts, you end up with a self-fulfilling prophecy: ‘I’m going to have a shit day’ turns into exactly that. People react well to good humour and a relaxed nature, less so to someone who is irritable, snappy, hyped up and aggressive, even (on a really bad day).

What is hard to get across is that if you have a mood disorder or PTSD it is really hard to know how you are going to wake up, or how things are going to pan out after that. Often you are also sleep-deprived, or the sleep you get is really poor quality.

It’s not so easy to cheer up, or snap out of it, or make an effort, or any of the other things non-depressed and non-traumatised people tell us to do.

No, a walk won’t fix it. No, I don’t want to go for coffee with a friend. Listening to music won’t fix it either, or going to see a film because both of those can clutter up an already cluttered head.

Those days where I feel at odds with the world, I stumble through not quite knowing what to do to make it better. I feel wound up and extremely anxious, overwhelmed and like seeing people is the last thing I want. I wonder whether I should avoid everyone altogether.

I was told recently that the avoidant behaviours that go with PTSD can be much harder to treat than the flashbacks, involuntary memories and dreams.

Is this true? It seems hard to believe. I always thought that as my flashbacks aren’t all the time, or nearly as severe as other people’s, that I was less severe in general.

But at a recent asssessment for non-NHS treatment (I’m weighing up whether or not to go for specific, targeted trauma work rather than the analytical psychotherapy I’m getting at the moment) I was told that I scored very high for phobic traits.

I avoid all the people and all the places to do with a relationship that ended in trauma. Unfortunately, that’s all my local places and many of my former friends. I don’t even go to my local supermarket. I feel like I haven’t been living where I live… it’s like I mentally moved out four years ago. This leaves me very isolated and unhappy. It’s also very hard to talk about with a therapist.

I suppose avoidant behaviour is learned, and as such is difficult to unlearn.

My attempts to manage my condition(s) do feel pretty ingrained. I have a ‘way of living’ rather than a life.

I really want to get my life back, and the person who went with it. She wasn’t perfect, but she was nothing like the distrustful, antisocial, exhausted and miserable old woman I seem to have become. And I’m not even that old!

 

therapy

Working through grief

When it hits you just how much you’ve lost in life, it hits hard.

Many people who end up in therapy arrive there because their coping mechanisms have broken down. They  may have been super-efficient types masking a lifetime of pain, or people who were broken by a particular incident and stayed broken.

I tried very, very hard in the early months of psychotherapy to present the face I normally show the world. I held it together, as I did through work and through life for many years. I was unemotional and articulate, when all the time my therapist was observing how disconnected I was from my feelings.

It’s true. I switched my feelings off a long time ago. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but being numb and distanced became my protection.

The more stressed I became, the more rigid my protective structure felt. I started building it in childhood when I was being abused. It grew increasingly toughened during my teens, through rape and on through an unhappy relationship, the death of my father, the loss of two babies… and the eventual loss of my health.

I have to say at this point that life hasn’t been all bad. I have a beautiful son. I have friends I love, but I haven’t been seeing them lately. I’ve not felt up to it.

The final retreat came a few years ago when I was emerging from a not very happy relationship. This man was the love of my life, but I presented to him the same face I present everyone else, and he too had layers and layers of pain hidden away. We met at the wrong time.

When I found that I couldn’t get over him, I sought help. Now, having heard myself talk empty words over many sessions, I am starting to experience feelings.

I am wondering, several months into therapy, whether I am not only grieving for him… I am mourning all my losses.