Friday, 12 September 2014

Feeling lucky?

I consider myself one of the lucky ones, yet to many of my friends I'm 'the girl with the bad luck' - I've lurched from one chaotic disaster to the next for the entirety of my adult, as well as my adolescent life (not that I ever made it into adulthood emotionally). You may have already read about some of the things that verge on the ridiculous. The first thing the last psychiatrist I saw said about my diagnosis was this: "I could've diagnosed you as soon as you told me about your teenage years". Apparently, chaos is a given with BPD. I'm not sure how my mental health could possibly have influenced most of the events I've experienced, unless you actually believe that one can project one's emotions on a very physical level via some sort of telekinesis. What I do know is that by a simple comparison with mostly everyone I know, something major is going wrong for me.

Often, I feel like a fraud. I have very few physical problems when compared with the people I work to help in the disability sphere. I'll give you two specific examples: the first is someone who was blown up by terrorists in a club in Bali. After the blast, he found himself alive, but surrounded by the remnants of others who weren't, including 5 of his friends, and a man desperately trying to hold his own intestines in. I asked him how it had made him feel, which to my surprise he confirmed that nobody had done before. I guess fear and tact is the reason most steer clear of being so direct, but I have neither of those when it comes to difficult subjects - I'm straight in there with the questions, because I'm genuinely interested in the answers. The second is someone who lost 3 limbs to an IED (improvised explosive device) whilst serving in Afghanistan, aged 19. I've also met Simon Weston, who was the most injured soldier in the Falklands conflict and has since managed to rebuild his life very successfully. I'm willing to assume, from the way they talk about it, that unlike Simon, neither of these two friends have come to terms with those events yet, which is unsurprising and also upsetting when you care about them and wish you could heal them. I often try to imagine myself in that situation, just after an explosion has ripped my body and the bodies of others around me apart as if we were made of inconsequential material. I feel angry and yet determined on their behalf. My mental scars are like paper cuts compared to theirs and yet here I am, twenty years later, so moulded by the past that I am childlike in my emotional responses to normal life.

Naturally I will say out loud that I understand how everything is relative. Of course I'll frame it the way everyone else does - but inside I still kick myself daily for falling to pieces when I have all my limbs in tact. I'm someone who chooses to ignore my mental health, because to acknowledge it would be like admitting I left my mind back in 1996 (I did). But it's like trying to compare apples to oranges - we each have a unique experience of life, and what one person breezes through effortlessly, another finds an impossible mountain of emotional turmoil. Maybe with the more widespread access to FMRI scans that can reveal which parts of a brain are used during a specific action, we'll be able to understand what the hell is going on. 

From time to time I wonder whether there'd be any physical manifestations of the inner turmoil - the brain is plastic after all, and over time one can alter one's physiology just by thinking. It seems a little odd to me that BPD is so damn stubborn; it's generally caused by trauma during childhood, but it doesn't respond well to any form of medication for the most part - only 5% of those diagnosed get any relief with drugs. Having been a human guinea pig for a psychiatrist in a rural area with no experience of diagnosing or treating my condition, I can say with a pretty large degree of certainty that I don't respond to medication AT ALL. If only he'd known enough to not have put me through what was essentially a pointless battery of psychotropic/psychoactive/serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and benzodiazepines, perhaps I'd have managed to stay awake for long enough to pass my A Levels. As it was, I went from being a straight A* student, to barely scraping a pass mark. 

I've already talked about the many unfortunate things that happened during my school years, but I was expected to do well at sixth form college, the bullies weren't there anymore and I had 11 GCSE's under my belt, only two of which were below an A grade. I thought, and I'm sure my mum thought, that I'd sail through college in the same way. I hadn't counted on flunking every subject, including music, which I lived and breathed and spent every spare second doing (FYI I only got a C because my performance was A standard, whilst my exam was terrible - I remember writing my name on the paper but nothing else). 

It seems perverse that the 'treatment' I pushed for at the time ended up rendering me useless and costing me my education. And I did have to push - I finally annoyed my psychiatrist enough for him to do some research and then ended up at The Priory, where I was offered 4 months as an inpatient by a doctor who specialised in his own version of borderline personality disorder. By the time the NHS agreed funding to cover the £60K it would cost for this programme, I'd lost interest and decided I wanted to get on with my life. It was only very recently that I realised I needed to prevent my son going through any of this, and therefore mummy had to sort her shit out. You might be thinking that it was my own fault for not taking the opportunity, but that's sort of the thing with mental health - it influences how you think about everything

I actually think it was a good thing. Now that I can look back and reflect, I would've ended up as another out of work session player had I gone to music college, not that I'm in any way implying that it's not a worthwhile career, but one needs a good head to make it work. I'm the one who dealt with the tumultuous years that led me here, and I'm also the one who ended up with a job and private medical insurance to cover a treatment programme I probably should've had at the beginning.

I'm forever turning on the TV to see friends I studied with performing on enormous stages in stadiums across the globe, and wondering why I didn't work harder. I suppose the point here is that I am truly one of the lucky ones, because now I know I can actually make a real difference to others in sharing my mistakes. Creativity is a dangerous beast - it sparks at the first signs of danger, yet switches allegiance as soon as the chaos calms. Maybe I will write a new album, maybe I won't. But for now I'll channel my leftover mind into as many distractions as possible. Recovery is still a long way away, but at least now I'm on the stretcher being pulled into a rescue helicopter.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Part two.

The mind can often hide behind a clever face, but once you take what's hidden and carve it into your flesh, well then people don't react quite so well. Please don't read on if you think reading about cutting might be a trigger for you. 

I should begin by saying that this particular method of self-harm is not something I still engage in - and I'm going to tell you why.

I was extremely squeamish in my teens, as many of my schoolmates will confirm. I passed out watching a video of kidney dialysis in a science lesson once, much to my embarrassment. I would actively avoid any sort of experience that might involve needles or blood, and that caused all manner of issues when it came to vaccinations - especially ones that were to happen at school. They used to lay out the crash mats from PE for wetties like me who couldn't bear even the sight of a needle. Despite this phobic reaction, after the incense stick experience, I must've retained that feeling of relief somewhere in the back of my mind until the day I tried to smash a pint glass against a wall. If you haven't already, you can find a whole post about this on my blog, 'Inside the actor's' studio'. 

So, why did I stop? Somewhere during the mess of time that was university, my favourite method of self-harm was transformed from a way to relieve my pain, into a way of inflicting pain on me. One of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder is a tendency to be in abusive relationships, and I certainly lived up to that expectation. I'm sure that whilst you read this, whether this is the first post you've read or one of a few, you'll have felt a sense of chaos and a distinct lack of chronology. That experience you're having right now is nothing more than a reflection of the chaos of my life over twenty years of lurching from one disaster to the next. University was three years long. Just three years. Yet I managed to amass an impressive amount of chaos in that time. 

It was during my second year that I answered the ad that would kick off events even I couldn't have imagined could happen in a soap opera, let alone in my painfully real life. 

It's hard to know where to start explaining this, so I'll just give it to you straight - I met a 'man' with what I can only describe as 'the gift of the gab'. He wormed his way into my life and into my home, my friendships, my career, my whole world. He conned me, and many others around me. He stole an enormous amount of money that had been left to me by dead relatives. He physically (and sexually) abused me, sometimes in public, yet nobody ever intervened. He was very clever about it all - that was the most terrifying part. If I tried to get out, he would smash things. He forced me to cut myself, saying he was a real life vampire - and yes, of course I'm aware of how crazy that sounds - but I wasn't given a choice because if I refused, my room and I would be smashed to bits. He hacked into my emails and sent abusive messages to my entire contact list alledging that I was some kind of sexual deviant. He pretended to be someone else to lure me into communication. He broke into my car. He threw a brick through my bedroom window. He showed up on the doorstep of my student house, and convinced my housemate to let him in by fabricating a story of his mum being run over, before proceeding to cut his wrists and wipe blood on the walls. If I tell you that this particular incident came after I returned from my mother's funeral, I hope you can imagine the pain that caused me - and was intended to cause. 

On four occasions, he gained access to my student house and swallowed enough paracetamol to constitute an overdose. I duly delivered him to A&E, expecting that he'd be taken off my hands and sectioned. Instead, I was forced to stay and deal with bowls of vomit and urine, alone, because despite what he'd done to me I cannot leave another human being to die. He received no medical treatment, they did not administer any antidote, and no psychiatrist was called. I wanted to get on my knees and beg them to section him so I didn't have to suffer the abuse anymore. I've given you the potted version of this story because it's too awful even for this blog. Suffice it to say that I lost the last weeks of my mothers life to this utter coward and it still affects me every single day. I still don't know why nobody helped me - perhaps they were all completely fooled too, but one would have expected at the very least for someone to see him hit me in a bar and do something to stop it.

I don't know how I got through that time and even now it feels like I imagined it all. I remember going to the police after he posted a suicide note through my door, but after giving a statement that took a full 6 hours to write, it was decided that if he wouldn't accept an 'invitation to interview' then the CPS wouldn't take it any further. It was my word against his, and back then email evidence wasn't deemed relevant if it was over 30 days old. I find it really hard to admit what he did to me, and only recently have I allowed the words to come out of my mouth, during my most recent psychiatrist appointment, when I knew if I didn't get it out my son would suffer for it.

You can read between the lines, right? You know what I'm getting at. I can't bring myself to type it. I remain convinced that he wasn't 'clinically insane', he was 'criminally insane'. There was far too much forward planning and engineering for it to just be a case of being mentally ill. 

I wasn't able to grieve for my mother because of what he did. Yet I feel guilty for not trying harder to get him locked up. Others have gone on to suffer because of that, and I can't forgive myself for that. And that was why I stopped cutting myself. I couldn't allow him to hold that over me ever again. In 2006 a dear friend tattooed over the scars on my arms and finally I didn't have to deal with the stares of strangers, or the abuse dished out to me by strangers with no shame. 

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Incense, alcohol, and the birth of escapism

I said I'd write more about self-harm, so here we go. Don't ever say I didn't warn you - my honesty is sometimes a gift, but often a blunt instrument. 

The term 'self-harm' is a bit of a misnomer actually. For me at least, it was a way to avoid harm - it was more self-care. I imagine around 70% of people reading this will have absolutely no idea what I'm talking about (or they think they don't) and the remaining 30% will completely identify with this nugget of truth. So, I'll start at the beginning and I'll make an attempt to explain how such a dichotomy exists. 

At 14 I had my first run in with it; at 34 I can still see the tiny round scar on my left wrist. I was in my bedroom, it was 1994 and I'd spent an entire night meticulously plastering the walls with every single picture of Kurt Cobain I could lay my hands on. I'd even bought somebody else's bad photos from a gig I never went to - you could do that by post then, by responding to adverts in music magazines. I remember vaguely that I was angry about something, which was a fairly common occurrence for me given that I was a teenager. Days of bullying sometimes got too much and when I came home to a level of expectation I felt I couldn't satisfy, I had a tendency to feel trapped in a life I couldn't control. This particular evening was not in any way different, but it just so happened that as I was holding a smoking joss stick (one of those incense sticks you light and then blow out), I wondered what it would feel like to put it on my skin, so without really thinking about it longer than that one moment, I pressed the glowing tip into my wrist. As I did, I felt a stinging pain as you might imagine, and then smelt that unpleasant burning flesh smell. Needless to say it wasn't a very positive experience, but somehow I felt calmer afterwards. This was the first of many very similar moments.

I didn't do anything like that again for a few years. What I did do, however, was watch someone very close to me do it, day in, day out, whilst I stood by feeling helpless and completely ineffectual. Perhaps that makes what happened later on worse - because I knew how much it hurt to see someone you love destroying themselves in reaction to something that wasn't their fault at all. But self-harm takes many guises, and even though deliberate physical injury on the outside didn't start happening until later, I found other ways to quash those painful moments. 

It was around this time that I first experienced what I now know was a panic attack. I'd developed a fear of going to bed at night, which in hindsight may have been as a direct result of bullying - going to bed meant that getting up and going to school was the next thing that I had to do, and so I developed nausea every time I lay down in my bed. I spent many nights sleeping on the bathroom floor after retching violently for several hours, and eventually my mum dragged me to see the family doctor, who prescribed what I now know was an anti-psychotic. I was living life in a fantasy world where I was a tiny person living inside a human-sized vehicle, looking out through eye holes and driving my body around from inside the control room in my brain. That way, I was invincible. I had vivid dreams that people at school reacted to me in exactly the way I wanted them to - including boys. I often daydreamed during lessons, and in my last year there I became fixated on one particular boy who I'd seen at the choir I went to in the school holidays. He attended the sixth form college attached to my school and I often saw him playing pool through the window of the portakabin that housed the student common room whilst I was in art lessons. I was besotted, but he was 16 so I knew I didn't have a chance of even speaking to him. As a feminist looking back can't help but wince at the level of importance I'd placed on this boy. I have an amazing imagination though, so the world I'd fabricated inside my mind felt more real than my actual life, and it was there I sheltered myself.

I began stealing alcohol from my parents' booze cabinet in my last year at school. My house was right opposite my secondary school, which was both a convenience and a nightmare. Once we were in year 11 and allowed to leave school during breaks, my circle of friends and I would go back to my house to smoke cannabis and mess around. I never quite knew if I'd even have a friendship group if I hadn't've had a house to offer as a refuge. I never felt like part of that group, as desperate as I was to be accepted. I'd pour spirits in a glass and add squash neat to take the taste away, before necking it. I don't recall any of the others doing that. 

By the time I was 16 I started going to the pub a few doors down from my house and drinking every night, despite being under age. Rural Somerset wasn't somewhere that checked identification, and I still don't know if my parents knew. For them, the final straw was when they left me in charge of my younger step-siblings one evening, and I drank a bottle of whiskey whilst waiting for my friends to arrive. After they'd stopped me dancing in the garden in pyjamas, they had to put me to bed before my parents arrived home, and I'd given myself alcohol poisoning. I spent the following day (a Saturday, when I attended a morning music club) puking my guts up in front of younger children. My mum dragged me back to the GP and I was subsequently forced to attend alcohol counselling with a wrinkly prune of a woman, who had tar-stained skin and a croaky smoker's voice. She would smoke, I would smoke, and I don't remember much else, other than drinking a pint of Ouzo the weekend after the whiskey babysitting debacle.
Around this time I'd also started smoking tobacco. The first cigarette I ever smoked was a disgusting herbal variety meant as a healthy alternative to normal cigarettes, which was a harsh and nauseating experience, but one I had convinced myself I needed to have. I would hide around the side of the house with my step sister in my dressing gown after my mum had left for work (but before we had to be at schoo) smoking these horrific herbal fags and coughing and wheezing. 

It didn't take long to graduate on to tobacco and from there on to cannabis. Of course I'm not for one minute suggesting that this is a logical and expected progression. The irony was that a few years earlier I'd chastised my mum after catching her smoking in the school staff room. I'd been convinced that both parents would get cancer and die, yet here I was forcing myself to learn to smoke. It's there the self-harm instinct becomes more obvious. This is how it all began.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

The potter's wheel

I am truly a product of stigma. I'm made of the misshapen clay that is spat out by a culture of silence. 

Perhaps you are mildly irked by the melodrama of those two sentences, and probably rightly so. I could list the friends that will read that opener, and think of any of the thousands of times I've behaved like a hormonal teenager, only without the excuse of puberty.

Yesterday I went to a psychiatrist for the first time in ten years. He came with high recommendation from a couple of colleagues and friends, both with their own struggles. I always like a road tested doctor, so I had high expectations - of what I had no idea - but I felt positive about it just the same. Keep in mind that I also recently saw someone I had been led to believe was a consultant psychiatrist through the NHS, but who subsequently turned out to be a trainee GP with very little experience in diagnosing mental health conditions. It's at this point I want it noted on the record that I have absolutely no issue with people dedicating their careers to working in the NHS, least of all on the frontline of mental health. I've done it myself (let's ignore the irony for now, shall we?). But given my long and jumbled history, I would've thought I'd be the least suitable candidate to be foisted upon some poor sod still learning the ropes. He was angling to either diagnose bipolar, or not, and I'm definitely not bipolar. I even told him so. I mentioned possibly a touch of cyclothymia, but I felt that it didn't fit either. I hinted at my previous diagnosis as a clue, but he still managed to come away with an inaccurate account of my life, and a diagnosis of mild alcoholism, not before calling my long-suffering other half and frightening him silly by asking probing questions about how fit I was to care for my son. 

When I hadn't heard a peep over a month later, I called the centre, who informed me that he was only a trainee, and he had now left. They had no access to my records. Then I got a voicemail from him (he'd called during working hours, so of course I'd not picked up) asking me to call back - only when I did, a very befuddled chap on the other end of the phone told me that despite this being the number of 'integrated psychological services', I was definitely not through to the right place. After several similar exchanges and further bafflement, I gave up. I imagine that due to the pitiful lack of funding for NHS mental health services, many less bull-headed than me would've thought this was indicative of the treatment they may (or may not, as it's questionable whether persistence would've resulted in any sort of suitable care plan) consequently get, and fallen deeper into whatever mental ailment they were experiencing. 

To give you a bit of a flavour of just how wrong that appointment had gone, here's a summary of the 'facts' he'd managed to make up: 'Her father was violent' - he wasn't, never has been, and. I sure as hell didn't say he was. 'They had little contact after the divorce' - nope, I saw him regularly. 'Helen has no contact with her step-siblings' - not true at all. 'She was on a heroin detox programme in 2007' - categorically, I have never taken heroin, and never will. As I explained very carefully and in great detail, I was put into a detox because I struggled with the physical side effects of coming off over the counter codeine, and rather than help me with a weaning plan, my GP somehow thought that sending me to a heroin clinic for hardened users of illicit street drugs would be the best course of action. There I was given Subutex (a synthetic opioid that is usually given to aid withdrawal and for very short amounts of time) for over A YEAR completely unnecessarily, and I've been since told by a doctor that this was abuse. I agree. I spent a month unable to eat, drink or sleep and lost a third of my body weight in the process. They refused to give me anything to help with this. That black hole in my life also lost me a relationship, although that would have inevitably happened anyway.

Let me clarify here that I don't judge addictions based on what the drug of choice is - what I do do, however, is judge someone who works in a heroin clinic based on their ability to decide how to treat what is essentially a very minor physical dependence caused by a lack of accurate diagnosis or adequate pain management. If you read yesterday's post, you'll know what I'm referring to here. It stands to reason that you don't treat someone who takes a measly 8 non-prescription codeine tablets a day (I.e. The recommended dose) with the same blunt instrument approach as you do a person who takes £100 worth of heroin a day, and then leave them with a new addiction to a drug with such a long half life, it takes them a month to detox in cold turkey, alone, with no medical supervision of any kind. I've never come as close to suicide as I did at that time.

I haven't yet decided what to do with the letter containing all these wrongs - it's also gone to my GP - and I may send a copy to my GP myself, highlighting these inaccuracies in my horribly pedantic fashion and suggesting they do their own investigation into what's going on at the centre. God help anyone who gets referred there in crisis, that's all I can say before I get so angry I bang out a load of expletives...

So, on to yesterday's private psychiatrist - there couldn't be a more stark contrast frankly. This guy sauntered in to the oddly decorated waiting area to collect me about 30 minutes after my appointment time, and led me to an upstairs room with one of those giant desks old school doctors have. I noticed that one side of it was wonky. I wanted to be annoyed by his tardiness, but as soon as he started speaking I forgot to hold that grudge. 

I had a hunch he might ask me the popular ice breaker: "What do you want to get from this?", and he didn't disappoint on that score. This is my least favourite part of any appointment. I don't know what I 'want', I've never experienced it before. I've experienced plenty of things I didn't want though. That's exactly the sort of question that trips me up in job interviews too. He asked me if my referral letter was accurate, so we went through my chequered medical history, and he asked me about each entry in detail. We corrected all the fabricated parts, and then he began to delve, enquiring into my life chronologically as well as asking very specific questions that would've normally made me very uneasy. Something told me to just give it up though, and I told him all the gory details, knowing that this time it might actually help.

He knew the last doctor I'd seen, the one who'd diagnosed 'multi-impulsive personality disorder' before I'd turned down my chance of treatment in favour of pretending for a few more years. I wasn't ready to move into a clinic for a year where you had to eat alone and shit in a commode for the first fortnight, and then ask to use the toilet after that. I was residing alone at the time, doing my own thing, indulging in my self-harm however the heck I wanted and I wasn't about to give that up; besides that, I asked if I could bring my rat with me - the answer was "No" - so of course I didn't go. I didn't care that the NHS had stumped up £60K, and yes I'm aware how stupid that sounds. But I had, and still have the emotional intelligence of a teenager and I'd already decided to go back to study in the time it had taken to get this one appointment (and that was about 2 years, FYI). I know now that it wouldn't have been the right treatment programme anyway - it was an eating disorders unit, and I didn't have an eating disorder - at least that wasn't all I had.

Back to the new psychiatrist. He asked me what treatments I'd already had. He asked me if I felt I had an 'empty void I was trying to fill'. Basically, he got it. At the end he just looked at me with raised eyebrows and a knowing look, and said "Borderline personality disorder". I laughed nervously. I'm not sure why, because I already knew that he'd say that. Reactions are one of the parts of social interaction I struggle to make sense of. Then I asked how severe I was in comparison to his other patients with the same diagnosis; "I knew you'd ask me that" he replied, "You're at the most severe end of the scale, but you've got some balance at the moment". He went on to use an analogy of a lump of clay on a potter's wheel - the hands shaping the clay in one's formative (note the 'form' part of that word) years, are the hands that make what should be a nice symmetrical smooth vase. They might be family, teachers, peers etc. Only sometimes they poke holes in, or press into it too much instead. BPD is a vase with one side much shorter than the other. The taller side is cognitive development (I'm not lacking in intelligence at all) and the shortened side is emotional development, which is stunted. When I say I'm still 16 in my head I'm not joking. I never left secondary school.

My disorder is most symptomatic during periods of stress in my life, and those of you who know me will also know that I'm one of those unfortunate souls that people describe as 'unlucky'. The new psychiatrist described BPD sufferers as living a 'life of chaos'. We attract crazy. I'll gladly let you into some of those events later on - but for now rest assured that you couldn't make it up.

After that, he enquired as to whether any family members had mental health problems; and this is the point here - 'I am truly a product of stigma. I'm made of the misshapen clay that is spat out by a culture of silence'. The generation before me suffered in silence, enduring chaotic childhoods, teenage years rife with bullying, and less than happy adult lives; this led to many an ugly vase. There's nothing I can do about that, but what I can do is help my generation to break the cycle.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Can you feel me doing this?

Quite apart from my mental health, I've also had to come to terms with deteriorating physical health since the birth of my son. 

As a violinist, I was blessed to be able to count on keen dexterity, safe in the knowledge that my brain had successfully mapped larger parts of itself to the control of my fingers, but lately what had started about fifteen years ago as a pretty unbearable pain in my shoulder, has become a tendency for my hands to become useless lumps of meat, dangling on the end of flame-grilled arms. I'm now having intensive physio involving the insertion of large hollow needles into muscles and then electrifying them in order to break apart the spasms. 

If there's one thing that can never add a positive slant to one's sense of well being, it's pain. From the dull aching the day after particularly intensive gym session, to the lightning bolts cracking down through a nerve, pain can take the shine off even the most beautiful experience. Mine has built up to now unbearable levels - and despite my love of most self-inflicted pain in the past (voluntarily getting tattooed for 7 hours straight, cutting and childbirth), I'm now going to extremes to find relief - I didn't choose this pain, therefore it serves no purpose other than as an enabler - I am someone who uses self-harm as a coping mechanism - pain just gives me more of an excuse. I will write about this later.

It probably shouldn't be a surprise that spending hours gripping a violin under one side of my chin with my left arm held up, during every period of physical growth from when I was 7, has caused a level of spasm in my neck and shoulder that now aggravates the nerves there. I have a hypermobile spine anyway - although I only found this out recently - I'd thought that being able to look behind you without moving your body was normal. I thought that 'You look like an owl with a really long neck' was a fairly typical remark that everyone got, plus I do have a very small head (my mum called me 'pea head' before laughing hysterically on more than one occasion). 

I rely on medication in order to get through the day. Even then, if I try to go beyond my 6 hours to the next dose, my muscles tell me in no uncertain terms. I'm sure some would say I subconsciously make it so, in order to facilitate my reliance. Maybe that's true, but pain is pain, whether you experience it through physical or mental ailment. It's a shame that the only drug that helps my pain has also been implicated in one of my past battles. 

When I said 'quite apart from my mental health', I lied. Actually, my mental health is hugely affected by my pain levels. Music had always been my distraction, but I find that when I'm well mentally, I don't really have the desire to make music. The two are inextricably linked, in some sort of embittered relationship, as is documented in reference to many a 'tortured artiste'. I've written my best songs during the times in my life where I've been the most unstable. Right now I can't play my violin because it kicks off my pain, and this makes me both frustrated and liberated, in equal measure. I realise how that sounds. I know that music is a beautiful, universal, nuanced and emotive medium, but after so much effort over the years for so little success it's become like a slightly annoying friend to me - someone you gravitated towards when you had less ability to judge character. 

The other issue is that if I try to write music when I'm not in the midst of some chaotic mess, the result is terrible. I flip between desperately wanting to be well, and being reluctant to cut off my main source of inspiration. I can't win either way. The last time I wrote something good, my house had been burned down by an angry mob of rioters. As you can tell, this is not a level of chaos that can be kept up if one is to live any length of time. I can only ride one wave of chaos so far before real life kicks in again.

I'm willing to bet that the majority of the public think that physical pain trumps mental pain. I can categorically say that they're pretty much the same. After all, the brain is an organ - it's made of flesh. If you were to extract it from inside your skull, it would just be a lump of weird jelly stuff. I'm still perplexed by it frankly. 

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The final decision

Life is about the moment, keep that in mind when I ask: Where do we find the balance between honesty - the 'real', and triggering, or just too much? 

Today has been interlaced with headlines; most, ill-considered and ignorant. Many discompassionate, and all horribly familiar. I'm sure there will be thousands of blogs about Robin Williams' death, and rightly so - he was a staple of my childhood and someone who symbolised emotive humour that appealed as much to me when I was a child as it did in adulthood. In recent years I'd particularly loved seeing him playing Zelda with his daughter in a TV ad - a place normally reserved for trivial capitalistic shit, but in his case transformed into a deeply heartfelt message. I could identify completely with his tender, yet funny explanation of his daughter's naming. I wanted to know him as a friend; to realise that sentiment. None of that has changed, even though he ended his life. But I have an ulterior motive.

I want to talk about suicide. I want to tell you, dear reader, about exactly how it feels to stand on the edge of a black hole that lasts forever. I long to tell you in fact. But I'm also petrified to appear to encourage you to empathise, because to empathise might be to stand beside me, at the edge. And therein lies the drama, and the dilemma.

I no longer remember the first time the thought entered my head. I was a teenager, a bullied teenager, with a less than perfect life at home. That much you may already know if you've read my previous posts. I was painfully aware that my struggles not only caused others pain, but also for some a near breakdown - especially my mother, who was more similar to me than I could fathom at the time. I have only one regret in my life thus far, and that is that I didn't make things completely right with her after what can only be described as an extremely stressful period in both our lives. I couldn't have known that for her, it was the last part, but I still think about it every day. I'm not a regretful person at all - I don't see any point in mulling over past mistakes, but this is one thing I would give anything to change.

For me, my self harm was a way to deal with my thoughts of suicide. It was a tool - it was my 'suicide-lite'. Please note I say 'for me'. I don't imagine for even a second that anyone else feels that way, and I'm not belittling self harm, or in any way saying it's linked to/it leads to/it's on a par with/etc suicide.  Through my self harm, I escaped just long enough to draw my attention away from the edge. To repeat, I am not for one second suggesting that self harm and suicide are linked. For some, they are. For most, they're definitely not. Self harm is often a coping mechanism; it isn't a cry for help, and it most certainly isn't an attempt at suicide. It was enough to keep me alive at times. It made me feel. I still miss it and I'm not sure I'll ever be free from the thought of doing it, or from the memory of the comfort it gave me. It was at the times where I stopped feeling that I contemplated what I thought would be the ultimate escape. Those were the times when I thought that my only option was not to be here anymore. 

I'm not ashamed to talk about it, my only concern is that I may be judged for writing about it despite not having made a 'proper attempt'. Of course I'm aware of the level of paranoia in evidence in that sentence. Many of us stand on the ledge at some point. Each time I stand on the platform waiting for a train I fear being witness to someone acting on impulse - and I fear my own impulses. 

I remember a dear friend once saying to me: 'Sometimes death is the only release from a lifetime of suffering'. There are parallels between this, and recent cases of assisted dying that have made us all shift around in our seats uncomfortably, wondering whether we agree that a person should have the choice to die and end their pain. After all, we put down our pets when they're suffering. But the difference here is that what can feel like a terminal illness, a lifetime of suffering, a blackened shroud over our lives and the lives of our loved ones, can actually be treated. All too often help doesn't come when it's needed, or it comes with conditions. 

Suicide is not 'the coward's way out'. I could write an essay just about that ridiculous statement. Nobody chooses to feel they have nothing left to live for. That makes absolutely no sense. We all like to think that everything we do contributes to the lives of others - our family, friends, colleagues - and in the moment we may feel like what we're contributing isn't what we'd imagined or built ourselves up for. That doesn't mean we're doing it wrong,

I heard a young woman talking about Robin's death at work yesterday. I held my tongue whilst she suggested that he 'had access to all the treatment he needed' and so he should've thought of his family. Let us briefly pick that sentence apart; firstly, treatment for depression is EXACTLY THE SAME as treatment for any physical illness, in that a cure is not guaranteed and it's not a 'one size fits all'. It's also exactly the same as any other illness, in that no one treatment works for everyone. Secondly, mental illness does not discriminate - you may have all the money in the world, all the notoriety, all the fame, but we're all reduced to flesh and blood eventually. Thirdly, mental illness, just like any other illness, can be resistant to treatment. It's a huge credit to Robin that he battled this far.

I'm an ardent atheist. I believe I have one life, one body, one chance to live. I've previously been religious (during times of uncertainty or upheaval when I was seeking comfort and somewhere to  belong) and I make a concerted effort to be as tolerant as I can be, but I no longer feel I need any higher power in order to find meaning in my life and if ,like me, you struggle to grasp that meaning, you might understandably wonder how you may fare when you strip it back to the basics. But I'll talk more about that another time.

If just one thing comes out of me plastering my innermost secrets across the internet, I hope it's that somebody seeking an escape from the feeling of despair and inexplicable emptiness
 that often comes just before those thoughts of finding a permanent way out finds an alternative. There are support services ready to listen 24 hours a day. They will understand. 

To end, I want to at least try to communicate the other side of suicide. The side where those who become overwhelmed by their condition are simply seeking relief, seeking to relieve their family and friends of pain, to relieve themselves of the pain. We all employ escapism.

I know some cowards. They're nothing like Robin was. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

The thin woman line

So then - it has finally happened. The completely, yet still somehow surprising, expected. I've lost a lardy three stone in weight since the 29th March, and until today, I had been looking in the mirror and seeing somebody quite slim, or at least someone much slimmer than 3 stone ago, without an unwieldy double chin or a few spare tyres of apr├Ęs baby belly. These are things I only ever notice in myself. To me, everyone else looks effortlessly amazing in their shape; desirably clothed - the clothes being the desirable factor, nothing else - and at home in their own skin. I am of course not kidding myself that the feelings of everyone else match up to they way I perceive them, hell no. I know what it's like to watch someone you love unconditionally suffer because they view themselves to be the opposite of what they truly are. 

However you put it, I had been pretty chuffed with my 'achievement', although it was achieved under less than honest conditions: "Oh, I just stopped snacking/boozing/bread/meat (delete as appropriate)"; "I've been going to the gym 3 times a week at work". For the record, I did start out doing those things (obviously the booze being a notable exception), but I neglected to factor in my tendency to a) go to extremes, and b) see something other than reality in mirrors, shop windows etc.

As much as in my head I'm still churning out "I can only ever gesture towards the truth, lest I be revealed to be the ridiculous, petty charlatan that I am", I'm forcing myself to at least admit my short fallings, now that people (you, dear reader) have shown an interest in reading about my many and various 'quirks', shall we say. That is, assuming the stats don't lie, which we all know they do, and repeatedly. But this is not a tabloid newspaper, thank a deity, and although stats do not a fact maketh, in this case they do at least tell me that someone is reading a word or two of my blog. Once again, I've digressed quite spectacularly in the name of 'word smithery'. Whom as it happens is the only deity I shall give credence to under these circumstances.

Onwards to my point; I'd almost forgotten what it was, so no doubt you had. Today I looked in the mirror and I was three stone heavier again. The labels in my clothes didn't make sense anymore. Logic and reason became like oil to the water of perception and understanding - they had grown to loathe one another and separated. 

I had felt rather apprehensive at the thought of what might happen once I'd reached my goal weight - that magical number you see on the scales, the one that means normal service can resume again. In my heart I knew exactly what would happen, but it somehow hoped I might surprise myself. I wanted to attain my magic number and skip off into the sunset, feeling content and happy in my new slimmer self. Instead, what happened was I reached a goal of sorts about a month ago, and then decided that as I'd smashed that, I'd just keep going until I reached the weight the eating disorders clinic had once told me was what I'd need to get to before they'd discharge me. Having reached this new milestone, I stripped naked to get on the scales, and looked up to see my poor mistreated body as if it were the 29th of March all over again. 

Would laser eye surgery help? Is it something to do with the shape of my eyeballs that makes me unable to perceive myself as I am below a certain weight? Lately people have been remarking that I 'look really well'. I am, of course, suitably gracious, but at the same time suspicious, because I don't understand what they mean: I look red faced? Fatter? What?! I am very aware of how paranoid this must sound. Painfully aware. But I am also painfully aware of this belly I have yet to shed, the wobbly layer of fat around each thigh that I've never seen on another human being, and the enlarged upper arms that may, or may not, be as a result of having a very solid 15 month old son to lift. I will never be happy with my weight. At 6 stone I saw the same image of myself in the mirror as I do now.

I've picked up on people's subtle ways of asking me if I'm planning to trek off into the jungle of eating disorders again. I know how it works. "But you're eating normally again now of course?" They might say. "Well, I just don't feel like eating the fatty stuff anymore" I say. It all seems laughable, when you consider that I'm pretty much bang on normal weight now. That's the brilliance of it - people will keep telling you you look amazing until right before you've gone too far. That's how we're conditioned - a society hellbent on vilifying celebrities who get fat, and patronising those who lose it. You have to not be famous for it to be an eating disorder, and even then you're weak and selfish.

I'd love to be able to enjoy food whilst fitting into the template of what we expect women to look like, but frustratingly, those two things do not fit together. I'm sure one day I'll be too old to care.