Monthly Archives: February 2013

I Am An Adult Now- Misery, Whimsy and a Dash of Hope.

I have a lot of moments where I think, fuck it, this is too hard, I’m sick of this, I want this to end, I want to die.

What is ‘this’? It’s having to look after my body, to self-care. Sometime’s it’s the realisation that I need help, and I don’t want to have to admit that, so I want to run away/ hide/ put the happy face on. ‘This’ is having to be alive, contained, having to keep on going when I feel like I missed out on getting a copy of the ‘how-to’ manual, when I don’t know what’s around the next corner, and whether or not I can cope with it. ‘This’ is living with uncertainty, being vulnerable and open to life rather than killing myself.

I spend far more time thinking about death and dying than I do about life, both current life and also what I want to do in the future. I talk about the future, big things like finishing my degree and having kids one day, and smaller things like I’m going to a music festival with a new friend and it’s going to be awesome. But I don’t really feel committed to it, like I’m always carrying around the thought of, ‘well I don’t want to invest my energy/ time/ emotions in X because I’m going to be dead soon anyway’. My mindset is not, what’s going to be next and how do I get there? It’s more, at what point this week/month/ year am I going to pull the plug?

I feel so out of control and overwhelmed by the things that have happened to me that I want to reclaim some tiny little bit of it by saying, I am the one who gets to choose when and how I die, I can choose to do it at any point. But conversely, what is stopping me from spinning that around and instead putting energy into choosing to live instead? What if I’m not really happy with only having choice in death, no thanks, I want more than that. Because I do want more than that.  

I want to be more than the scared little kid who had no choice about what was done to her. I want to do more than play to the roles of ‘peacekeeper’ and ‘sacrificial lamb’ and ‘good girl’ and all the other things I had to do just to survive in my family. I want to do more than just survive, damn it. I spent the whole time surviving and thinking, today she really is going to kill me, and always being on edge and waiting for it and it never came, but that was always the feeling, I’m going to be dead soon, either she’s going to kill me or I’m going to suicide to get the fuck out of here. And I’m nearly 24 now, not ten or twelve or seventeen, but I still slip so easily back into that mindset.

I am an adult now. I did survive and now I am here and it’s my life that I have control over, not my death. I think I’m still waiting to be told that by my parents. Hey, thanks for copping all that shit, sweetheart. You can get on with your life now. Knowing that my parents won’t, can’t, ever do that is really hard. I feel like screaming at them, You didn’t help me! You just LET her do all those things! And now I’m alive and I don’t know how to be alive as an adult because I never got the space to even think that I would be still be here!’  But what would that achieve? I’ve kinda missed the boat on the ‘being an angry teenager’ phase, and they missed the chance to intervene, to nurture and protect me. They still want me, or need me, to be that person I was, that quasi-adult, good-little-girl, not making a fuss, not questioning, taking the crap, no boundaries. Looking to them for nurturing, understanding, acknowledgement is like looking for fish in a desert- not going to happen, I just get hot and frustrated and ultimately sick, waiting and digging.

So I have to commit to being the adult now.  I have to find other family figures, role models, mentors, friends, people to support me. I have to learn to trust people. I have to learn to look after myself rather than continuing the hurt. To write my own stories, my own future, instead of trying to adapt myself to theirs. To be authentic and true to myself. I’ve talked before about it being like walking in a black maze with only a tiny spark of light, only really seeing the tiny space in front of you but having to keep going anyway.

It’s scary. So scary. No certainty, lots of worries. Anxiety dreams and lots of nights laying awake thinking I can’t, I can’t, what if…? And then sunshine and moments of happiness so wonderful that even the Negative Voice gives up and admits, hey, this is pretty sweet. And the extraordinary everyday mashup of life, each day in between those hard nights, and I never think I can do it no not me not ever surely not- but hey, would ya look at that, it’s already mid-Feburary.

Now, my dear reader, well done for getting through that ramble of misery, whimsy and a dash of hope. Watch this awesome short film! It is full of six-year-old wisdom and beautiful imagery. And cookies! 

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The Last Bead Has Been Cut From The Thread

beads on string

And lo, it is over. Operation: Third Year Placement is finished. Huzzah.

It was a physical and emotional relief to walk out into the clear sky and warm 5pm sunshine on Friday, with a big card and lovely gift and (best of all) my final report complete and signed off.

The title and picture in this post are reference to the string of beads I kept hanging from my bookshelf for second half of the placement. I would come home each day and cut one off, hold it in my hand for a bit and then place it on the shelf. It served as both a physical acknowledgement and a chance to reflect briefly on the day, and then a way to try and disconnect and unwind at night. My dear friend J shared the idea with me as something she had used during her midwifery placements. It sounds a little bit melodramatic out of context but it really worked well for me as a self-care tool.

Developing stronger self care- and more specifically self awareness as to what I need to do to keep well- is the main achievement I will carry from this placement. It wasn’t the case load or the practice of counselling techniques or the endless filling out of forms (So. Many. Forms!) that was particularly challenging over this period, although I learnt a lot of beneficial things in these  areas. The challenge was negotiating with myself, or selves- the authentic me and the Negative Voice- to get myself to work each day, to focus, learn, engage, eat enough, push past self doubt and just try. Getting through nights where I endlessly played back conversations or comments from people and tore myself to shreds over what I should have done, could have done, didn’t do perfectly.

Perfectionism was a huge barrier to try and overcome, especially in the first half. Constantly berating myself because I didn’t know everything, couldn’t answer every question instantly, got things wrong. It was a big jump from university learning, where I have more or less mastered the academic/ research/ writing skills and therefore reliably do very well on assessments. I took about five months (out of seven) to be able to distinguish between criticism and feedback, and to let myself be a student- be definition, one who is learning and is not expected to know everything! Indeed, will never know everything, and if gets to a point where I think I do, it’s time for some serious reflection.

It was a longer than average placement because I took breaks. Two and a bit weeks in Nepal, a week with the not-so-fondly-named Death Flu, three weeks when I mentally and physically crashed to the the point of being admitted to hospital, two weeks compulsory leave when the centre closed at the Christmas/ New Year period. This was the hardest but most insightful lesson of placement- if I don’t care for myself, I simply CANNOT care for others. I am not present, genuine or helpful when in a state of acute hunger/ nutritional deficiency/ sleep deprivation,  which inflates depression and then eventually turns into intense, all-consuming suicidality. I can physically show up (sometimes), but I won’t be engaged, tuned in or of much use for anything really.

This tendency to crash has happened before during intense work and study periods. In the past (and my automatic response still is to do this), it was ‘Suck it up, push on, keep going, put your mask on, you weak piece of shit, you don’t deserve compassion, you deserve to die’. Which has the predictable outcome of more self-destruction, more days absent, more suicide attempts, dropping out of courses, disconnecting from the world. I think (hope) it finally clicked this time. I was suicidal most of the placement- still am, the majority of the time- but I got through it because I accepted support when I couldn’t support myself. Which was incredibly scary, made me feel very vulnerable and flooded with guilt/ shame/ disgust. But to my complete amazement, no-one ran away in horror. The Wise Woman was absolutely steady, totally non-judgemental and took over when I needed it. My friends were incredibly caring, and gave me lots practical and emotional support. My family did a better job than they ever have before. I took time off to look after myself and the world didn’t end, in fact it became noticeably calmer and brighter upron my return.

Lessons: I have learnt some.

Listen to people- really listen.

Ask questions with genuine curiosity.

Allow people to tell their stories as many times and in as many ways as they need to.

Be aware of how your own stories affect you, and how they play out in your life and practice.

Offer support and options, while sitting with the knowledge that people will make their own choices.

Encourage reflection, including your own.

Look for strengths in people, situations and the broader community.

Accept that butchers paper, whiteboard markers and photocpiers are going to be an intergral part of your ‘social work journey’.

Also try to accept that here will never be enough resources, time or money.

Be creative with what you have.

Know the systems well so you can can work effectively within them.

Advocate and educate for individual and social change.

Try and promote social justice.

Know your limits.

Know also that you have entered a profession where you will do a fuckload of paperwork.

Keep an eye on your dreams.

Reflect some more.

Try and appreciate the processes as much, or even more than, the outcomes.

Take a break occasionally.

Study and attend to professional and personal development as much as you can. (There will often be free food- bonus!)

Be open to new ideas, and make changes in your practice when you need to.

Seek guidance and support from colleagues, teachers, mentors and any other wise folks.

Sleep is good.

Don’t check work emails at home.

Reflect.

Reflect.

Reflect.

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Thinking and Reflecting on Connection

star mandala 2

Connection to others is what gets me out of bed for another day when I would otherwise hide away. At many times when I have been right on the edge of life, my feelings of love and responsibility towards others is what has pulled me back. I believe in the power of connection as an antidote to loneliness and shame.

One of the reasons I make most of my blog public is so that it can act as a connector for people experiencing similar struggles, and to people looking to support themselves or others. I write for myself as a therapeutic practice, and what goes onto a notebook page is often very different to what is posted here. While this blog is deeply personal, my intention is still to ‘put it out there’ and share (connect) with others.

The preparing and sharing of food is one of the most simple, and most nurturing, ways I connect with people I am close to. It is the biggest clash of my authentic self against the Negative Voice/ eating disorder self. When I am restricting food, I am also restricting my ability to connect. I find myself going further and further into my head until I realise all my energy is focused on just another hour without eating, and inevitably that means hardly leaving my room, staying ‘safe’ from food but also totally isolated and disconnected from the people I love. The ‘real me’ really enjoys making food for others, hosting dinners, talking, eating together, re-wiring my brain to associate food with love and friendship, rather than punishment. Cooking for one is hard, boring and tedious. Cooking for a group of friends is a challenge but satisfying. I was taught to cook in bulk, all the better for either sharing then or freezing for leaner times. The smell of a big pot of onions frying is one of the most comforting smells in the world.

womens circle 1

Connection to other women is very important to me. My lesbian sexuality is a part of that, but it also encompasses female friendship, looking to women for wisdom and leadership, a philosophy of feminism centred around respect for women’s knowledge and contributions. Actively seeking out women’s voices, stories, experiences and perspectives within the world. I am surrounded by a number of older women- some a few years older, others decades older or even dead now- who act as mentors to me, who I reach out to and find inspiration and wisdom from. Some of these women are aware that I draw this support from them; many others are not- a connection that is strong enough that it is there even when it is not spoken.

tree circle 5I also draw energy from a connection to the ground, the earth. Depression often takes me far into my head, out of my body. I ‘float’ a lot, a technique learned young, a way to disconnect from my body and the pain it was going through. But this floating is double edged- it may block out the pain but it means everything else is also blocked out. Connecting back to the earth, feet on the ground, eyes open, reminds me, I am here, NOW, I am alive 

I take solace from the knowledge that I am a very small part of something far bigger than I can even comprehend, that we are all minuscule in the context of the universe and of time. Trees are representative of this to me- something very solid and grounded yet still growing; something that has been alive for hundreds of years before me and will be there long after I am gone, something that nurtures others while sustaining itself.

And to finish:

‘Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.’ Albert Schweitzer

‘When we know ourselves to be connected to all others, acting compassionately is simply the natural thing to do.’ Rachel Naomi Remen

‘We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibres, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.’ Herman Melville

‘Only through our connectedness to others can we really know and enhance the self. And only through working on the self can we begin to enhance our connectedness to others.’ Harriet Lerner

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