I’ve been fairly quiet on the blog front. Clearly we’re all under some pressure, but I’ve also been dealing with some bonus pain. I’ve had episodes of awful symptoms which signal that my pancreas may be acting up again. It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with pancreatitis and I am scared of a comeback.
The pain triggered some really desperate memories. It also gave me lots of time to ruminate on how PTSD never stops giving me unpleasant surprises. The nature, frequency & severity of my reaction to trauma stimuli is forever changing. In my (also unending) quest to de stigmatised mental illness I thought some recent triggers might be worth sharing.
Waking up in the middle of the night to pee is not a thing that I do except during pregnancy. I’m a hold ‘til morning girl. The frustrating sensation of leaving a comfy bed & stumbling to the toilet in the dark is one I associate with pregnancy. Sitting on the toilet half awake looking at my painted toes I had the trauma version of de javu. My body remembers this. The exact emotion. The precise thoughts. I’m ok, but I know I won’t be getting anymore sleep. I’ll be distracting my head from going back there. Lying still in the dark would be asking to feel things I don’t want to feel.
Sometimes to occupy my mind through those sleepless hours I watch crap tv. Ideally something I don’t have to concentrate on. Mildly entertaining 90’s sitcoms work a treat. That is until the wife in King of Queens is unexpectedly pregnant & then just as they’re getting happy about it, not pregnant anymore. Numb viewing to uncontrollable sobbing in 20mins or less.
A fun park adventure with the rascal is momentarily derailed when someone calls me his Mummy. I smile, correct them & return to my role of bad octopus pirate. I feel the impact, but I look steady. Until much later when the memory of all the babies who’ll never call me Mummy knocks me flat.
I wake up bloody because my period has started in the night. I’m not inconvenienced I’m terrified. Those cramps ripping through my pelvic region signal disaster. It takes a bit of time to centre myself in the now. Repeat, ‘I’m ok’ over and over as I drag myself through a shower. Tampon, comfy clothes, paracetamol. I’m almost calm by the time I return to tackle the bedding. I’m genuinely shocked when the sight of blood on sheets sets me trembling. I was devoting all my attention to not getting sucked into one trauma hole that I forgot about another. I have to sit on the floor but I’m still watching an old iteration of myself. Younger, sicker me is ripping bloody sheets from an entirely different bed. More than the sheets are stained. My body is raw & dripping. I feel as exhausted now, in my healed, safe body as I did then in that recklessly butchered one.
My stupid period tracker with its stupid unwanted alerts. High chance of pregnancy. Such a simple sentence triggers such complex crazy. The stress and hope of trying. The heartbreak of failing. The unwanted reminder of how few of these high chance days may be left. Fleeting recollections of disappointing perfunctory sex and an even more disappointing man. Wearily buying tests. Angrily buying tampons. Wanting the monthly reminder to be over and fearing that end. Wrap it all up in a hollow ache in my middle that never leaves you, but echoes as I read those words and you have my condition.
My ridiculous cat managed to injure his paw and now I must try to keep dressings on until it is healed. If you know anything about cats, you’ll know what a challenge this is. I have experimented with various ideas none of which preserved his dressings for long. I started thinking he needs a sock & then remembered I had some baby socks. They must have belonged to one of my nieces or nephews. Baby bits and pieces will end up in your hand bag/pocket after a day of auntying. I seized upon the long lost sock as the solution. I didn’t feel sad or even link the tiny item to anything painful until I started trying to put it on my cat. Then from nowhere I was flooded with too many feelings. I love my boy, he’s wonderful. Still, I couldn’t avoid the fact that he’s the sole recipient of my mothering.
A character in the book I’m reading is trying, with difficulty, to explain why she feels guilty for various past events. I feel as though I have taken a deep breath & inhaled fictional strife. My own twisted guilt is equally hard to comprehend. For me, self reproach is as essential as oxygen. The chord of perplexing guilt could catapult me into a multitude of memories. This time I land flailing in the aftermath of standing up for myself. I can feel the certainty that so recently fizzed go flat. That overwhelming sense of this must somehow be my fault returns. I feel angry about all shit I put up with, but I still can’t fully convince myself I’m not blame. Now I’m full of guilt for events long passed. Today is ruined as I attempt to untangle things that never made sense to begin with.
Triggers lurk. Sometimes entirely unexpected things stir up pain. It can be fleeting or set off a chain reaction. I have adapted to a life with booby traps. I often appear untouched, but only because I work so incredibly hard at hiding the mess.
On one of my recent insomnia fuelled drives for distraction I stumbled upon an interview that persists in my thoughts. It was Anderson Cooper discussing grief & loss with Stephen Colbert. Both had significant losses early in life. Anderson talked of wishing he had been physically marked by the experience. This is of course a reality I am familiar with. Which led to some slightly self indulgent word therapy.
He talked about how he felt it might be easier to have a permanent sign of the damage so that others may be aware of his condition. An idea I suspect he’d soon realise the error of if he actually did bear a mark of loss. He continued that he thought people should know that he wasn’t necessarily the person he should be. Tragic events had diverted him from the person he started life as. This concept felt lifted from my very own brain. Of course much thinking ensued.
When Anderson talked of being marked he suggested a scar running down his face. His reasoning being that in the wake of his mother’s recent death people had offered condolences, but also shared their experiences of loss. He found this sharing to be comforting and it’s not a thing that generally happens. The scar would show his pain & people would feel able to have those conversations. Colbert agreed in part as he recognised the feeling of his loss being a continual part of his life, whilst the world at large rarely considers it. All sentiments I relate to. I do often struggle with just how often I think of my babies when they’re rarely acknowledged by anyone else. That led me to ask myself questions I had thought settled.
I understand their reasoning, my experience just doesn’t bear it out. The look of my self harm was never a factor I gave much thought. Outside of the need to hide it from others, the visual of impact was a non issue. I never cared. Ugly scars were just a by product of a necessary thing. The pain & blood & release & expiation were essential. If mutilation was a consequence of that so be it. I don’t think it occurred to me that I had another option. Yet, now, clothed in the aftermath it does seem fitting.
If I could exclude third party reaction it would make sense. I can see a twisted symmetry in my flesh being ravaged, but still living. At my core that’s how I feel. I contributed to my destruction and then I toiled to repair the ruin. Of course, you can’t escape the opinions of others. Those who care about you are hurt by the reminder of your pain. Those who don’t know you are as often cruel as kind. Carrying your story everywhere is a complicated matter. Anderson might end up preferring the anonymity of a metaphorical scar.
The second part is harder to reason. For a very long time I wanted nothing more than to be the person I was before. It took me years to accept that wasn’t possible & several more to realise that wasn’t my fault. I still missed that fun, capable, handle it all girl. Still wondered what she may have become, but I didn’t hate the me that life had created anymore. Little by little I learned to like myself. I started to believe that might be able to take all the broken pieces & make something beautiful.
The universe had other ideas. It really does enjoy smashing me up. Each time I lost a bit making a whole seemed less & less likely. Now that I know for sure how unlikely, those other mes feel important again. I keep thinking about who I could have been. Which variation of myself was I supposed to be?
I can’t help but imagine that original version of myself would have made a shinier, happier life. That 19yr old was a powerful force. She’d have been unstoppable at forty. Even if I’d sustained the original hit there all there a still multiple variants. All these possible lys that could have existed if you subtract chips along the way. Sure, that could probably be said for anyone; I just don’t know if everyone can so clearly identify the points of impact. It makes it easier to compare the before & after.
I had made peace with the person I am. I don’t reject her now. The what if’s have simply grown louder. There could have been so much more. In the end I don’t care about the scars. I’d even take Cooper’s imagined facial disfigurement if it gave me a chance at one of those parallel lives. The older I get, the more certain I become; I want the more.
CW: Self Harm
Lately I’ve been having regular checks for the heart rate thing. The nurse who took my blood & vitals last week was really familiar. I had that strange I’ve definitely met you feeling, but also knew I didn’t know her, know her. I couldn’t place her at all until a loud clatter startled her. Her sharp intake of breathe shot me back in time.
She was the nurse I stunned with my self destruction in this same hospital many years ago. She either didn’t recognise me or correctly judged it best not to indicate that she had. She was friendly & kind, but the sound of that inhale shook me. I was back there, covered in blood & guilt.
I can so clearly remember walking into that triage room. Concisely explaining why I was there & seeing the doubt in her eyes. I could tell she thought the large towel on my arm was overkill. I knew she was weighing up how to nicely dismiss me. I was too tired to do anything other than unwrap the makeshift dressing & expose the truth.
The inner layers were blood soaked & the final one stuck to the wound. When I yanked it off with same the lack of self care that had led me to that room, she gasped. An entirely involuntary expression of what; shock? disgust? fear? I couldn’t discern, but I knew it wasn’t good.
The speed that she whipped through the triage routine was more about her discomfort than mine. I had long lost my objectivity. I sought treatment as a means of calling a halt to that cut. I had given up seeking enough. I knew that enough was a lie. When I looked at my arm I really couldn’t tell anymore if it was any worse than anything else I had done to myself. It was just another failed attempt to carve out some peace.
Peace that I knew was never coming. I already felt stupid & ashamed & so horribly guilty. For all the usual reasons and now also because it was obvious I had ruined this women’s night. She hadn’t bargained for my level of determined self loathing; I’d upset her. I felt selfish for not being more clear. I shouldn’t have allowed anyone to be caught off guard.
I wanted to be better. Do better. I wished I could give this nurse & everyone else the explanation they needed. I yearned to be somewhere else. I didn’t even want to do this anymore. My blades had long since lost efficacy. I could never cut deep enough. Never shed enough blood. The quiet I needed was evermore elusive. I was desperate and so fucking tired. Yet, I still couldn’t stop.
As I waited for her to finish with my blood pressure I was stuck in the past. Mired in the dread. Reliving the experience of having my arm stapled shut whilst already planning the next assault. Knowing I couldn’t escape the nagging voice in my head that insisted I must cut. I must earn any rest. I had to atone for sins I wasn’t able to articulate. I had to release all the fetid emotion with my blood.
When I left I felt blessed. And cursed. Blessed that I was wrong. I did escape. I have hushed that internal need for penance. Cursed because I still haven’t silenced it. There will always be triggers pulling me back. Days when my scars itch to be opened. You can’t play with fire & not get burned. The magic is remembering I know how to make it stop. I just have to wake up every day and choose this new, better life. Easy, right?
I used a hand sanitiser in a train station the other day. It was one of those super strong types that you find in hospitals. As soon as it hit my skin I was whisked back in time. For a second or two I was somewhere else. Somewhere I didn’t want to be.
The cold sensation drifted through my body. A zoetrope of mixed up images spun in my head. Blurry flashes conjured by the clinical scent. I felt dizzy. I sat down, took some deep breaths. It passed. I was grateful.
It wasn’t entirely gone. That night the whirl of disjointed scenes dipped in & out of my dreams. Random words have jarred memories. My mind has wandered mid thought or conversation. I have felt the panic rising. Spells of forcing my head to connect with my physical reality have emerged. Struggling to focus on what I can actually see, hear, smell in this moment. Ignoring the feelings climbing my throat.
Tonight in the shower I couldn’t shake the feeling that the hot water streaming down my legs was blood. I couldn’t wipe the hospital aroma from my nostrils. Nor soothe the ache that spread from my back to my thighs. The hand sanitiser has triggered a reaction. My body is recalling the trauma stored deep within. It’s a phenomenon associated with PTSD known as body memories.
I haven’t experienced this symptom in quite some time. It lies dormant; rising unpredictably. Sometimes reacting to obvious & painful stimuli. Or, like this week, triggered by a tiny insignificant detail. My olfactory senses seem particularly attuned to old wounds.
This time it’s the initial loss. I feel my body failing. I know it isn’t happening. I have learned how to pull myself back to the here & now. Still, those moments when I’m dragged to the past feel completely real. I am not just thinking about unpleasant events. I am feeling them. My flesh & nerves & senses are reacting to something that happened 20 years ago.
Body memories are excruciating. It becomes a battle between what you know & what you feel. Fighting strong emotions is a challenge. When you add physical sensations grounding yourself is an onerous task. I have experienced these episodes replicating the sensations I felt during miscarriages & pregnancy. At times these physical memories are accompanied by flashbacks & other PTSD symptoms. Other times they occur in isolation. They mirror my actual experience so completely that I’ve found myself taking multiple pregnancy tests when I knew it was almost impossible for me to have conceived.
It’s another aspect of PTSD that I rarely see discussed in the mainstream. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not only (or even mainly) associated with combat trauma. Yet, it’s the link most people draw. The violent outbursts in media portrayals of the illness are not accurate. New studies are highlighting how prevalent PTSD is in women who have experienced baby loss & birth trauma. For most of us, managing PTSD is an internal process. Distress may leak out, but the grind is with yourself. Accessing the right help, surviving that help (trauma therapy can be brutal), learning to manage symptoms, accepting the parts you can never fix & the impact they will have on your life.
It’s painful & exhausting & many of us never completely recover. To stand any chance of healing specialised therapy is essential. There are so many barriers to reaching that help. It can take years to obtain any psychological intervention without the resources to pay privately. Even longer to receive the specialised therapy that can actually help. So many people can’t afford to wait.
Too much time in my head is distinctly bad for me. Not getting stuck amongst all the crap i’ve crammed up there is an ongoing project. It is not an endeavour that is aided by inaction.
Staying home alone all day, everyday is not ideal. I require distraction. I need people who make me feel swell and to do things that help me feel worthy. I like knowing that I could jump in a taxi and go anywhere. Having a sense of control is massively important.
Being entirely reliant on others for almost everything makes my insides jitter. I feel more of a burden than ever. Which activates my guilt & anxiety. I’m obviously also worried about myself or someone I love getting ill. Plus the horror of all the people who are suffering & dying every day. I’m basically a big ball of negative emotions.
I’m struggling with pain. I miss my little ones. I miss all my people. I can hardly sleep. There’s very little work. There’s too much time to think. All this on my own time thinking about what I miss inevitably highlights the major omission.
When left to its own devices my is brain predictable. It clings to trauma. If not occupied with the business of living, I regress. Slip back into dreams of the births I’ll never labour through. Flashbacks of the blood & pain I did. Haunted by the over used phrase that always signaled it was over.
There are so many what ifs. Too many of my own actions to question. Huge & tiny alterations that could have changed the outcome. Things I never said. Words others can never unsay. Blame to place. Regret to carry. Penance to complete.
I feel trapped with all I’ve lost and every little thing I can’t share. The good memories are as painful as the bad. The selfies I took when my belly began to change shape. That magical second line on the test. Marking midwife appointments on my calendar. Blood tests with the right numbers. Making lists. Checking what ridiculous object the app tells me my baby is now the size of. Plans & scans & the bam bam of heartbeats.
My body remembers it all in such intricate detail. I recall the fractionally altered taste of mint tea. Sex felt different and the smell of everything intensified. I was heavy with fear. Dulled by fatigue. Yet still floating on hope and entirely delighted to experience whatever this new life threw at me.
It never goes away. I can never take my foot off the pedal. I’m always close to skidding off the road. Lockdown is like a battle not to drift to sleep at the wheel. Spending too long contemplating my past or the what might have been is dangerous. Finding ways to keep my eyes open is getting harder.
There’s nothing like a nation wide quarantine to really hammer home the fact that you’re childless. All anyone can talks about is their kids. How the silver lining of all this chaos is extra time with their cherubs. How being stuck in the house with them is driving folk crazy or all the creative ideas for activities to keep them occupied. It’s a non stop child frenzy. Unless you’re barren.
I hate that word. It feels accusatory & cold. It is, however the descriptor that keeps pushing itself into my head. Being alone in my house for over a month has contracted my world. There’s nowhere to hide. I’m content in my own company, but I’m accustomed to regular interruptions. Being unable to see friends, family or get involved in any outside work projects is tough. Those are my escapes. Adventures with little people. Laughs with big ones. Putting my skills towards something worthwhile. When you take all that away the only bit that’s left is empty.
There’s too much opportunity to be in my head. I’m not sleeping well, which facilitates bonus peak anxiety hours. Plus all this stress & uncertainty has opened the door to nightmares. Mostly relating to being pregnant & threatened by various dangers. With little snippets of real flashbacks thrown in for extra distress. When I’m not feeling powerless, I have a sense of being robbed. This strange, crazy time has necessitated hunkering down in family units. I don’t have one.
I have plenty of amazing people. I’m grateful, believe me. Lockdown has reinforced my belief that a husband is so not for me. With a little help from folks who are allowed outside I can manage my life just fine. If anything, it’s people to care for I want. I can’t stop myself from thinking how old my children would be now. I unintentionally look out for age appropriate lockdown activities. I imagine baking my Gran’s fruit loaf with tiny helpers. I caught myself constructing a home school lesson plan in my head. Fantasising about passing on one’s insights of the works of Lewis Grassic Gibbon is a lonely pursuit.
I have this sensation that I spend my life trying to squash. Hollow and raw. It’s as though someone scraped out all the essential parts of me with a dirty, jagged instrument. I occupy my time trying to keep the chasm sufficiently full. Packing in as many beautiful moments as I can find to prevent an inward collapse. Now my world is on hold, that void is ever present.
I know I am fortunate in many ways. I am able to stay safely at home. My housing is secure. I can video call the people I love. I will have access to healthcare if I need it. Life will resume. I do know that. I’m just struggling with the realisation that I’ll never fully heal this. Every time I think I have accepted my situation the wound is reopened & it feels fresh all over again.
It’s Friday night. I’m watching Bridget Jones’s baby (again) after which I shall go to bed & continue re reading Persuasion. Probably a pretty nice cosy night in, but Bridget & Austen are red flags for me.
I always read Austen when I feel wobbly. I find the manners & gentle wit soothing. Whenever I read about Elliots or Dashwoods they seep into my dreams. Georgian heroines winning happy endings is a definite upgrade on what’s usually swilling around my subconscious. Bridget Jones offers a similar, but slightly more bittersweet comfort. Echoes of Austen, shadows of my own experience. Sadly, sans the fairy tale ending. They amount to my mixed media version of a junk food binge.
I love some good old fashioned romance, but my own Mr Darcy is not what I’m longing for. I don’t know that I’m actually cut out for the conventional vision of love. I’ve given it some good tries; satisfaction never abounds. Perhaps what I miss is just more innocent times. Younger me believed in things I can’t muster the faith for anymore. That is both freeing and, well, sad.
I feel like I’m standing on the edge. I can’t see what lies beneath. The uncertainty scares me. I’m grinding through the days. Fighting the urge to stay in bed. Backing thoughts of blood into corners. I’m teetering on the brink of that big blank something.
Maybe this is how you feel when you’re prone to crazy and about to turn 40. Or perhaps this is just always going to happen. Remission & Relapse. Almost sounds like a novel a 21st century Jane Austen would write. She’d probably find a way to lighten to the mood. Alas, I lack her talent.
Instead I’ll borrow some well-being from her work. Mansfield Park can follow Persuasion. I might even dig out the Bridget books too. I’ll take light relief where I can get. Hold my nerve. I’ve survived steeper falls than this. There’s always safe ground waiting.
It’s been a fairly standard day. I got some writing finished, sorted a little admin & did a food shop. No exciting hijinks. Nothing horrible either. Why then do I find myself feeling so overwhelmingly sad?
An hour ago I was just getting on with the daily grind. I wasn’t jumping for joy, but I was fine. From one moment to the next my equilibrium vanished. For no discernible reason I am flooded with melancholy. It is one of most baffling aspects of my mental illness. It extends beyond feeling miserable. My inability to comprehend what is happening leaves me powerless to combat it.
Control is a big thing for me. I think, because there have been major parts of my life in which I lacked significant sway. That leaves me uneasy with the uncertain components of my mental health. It is very frightening to know that my mood may descend at any moment. It’s even more alarming when I don’t know why. I can’t tackle a problem when I cannot identify the cause.
All that’s left is trying to ride out the low. With no clue as how long the trip may last, it is hard not to lose hope. It’s hard to compute how much of a hold these periods take on me. This isn’t deepest, darkest despair. It’s what I think of as everyday depression. More grey than black. A persistent ache rather than unbearable pain. Yet its unpredictability looms large.
So, how do I combat the urge to believe there isn’t any point fighting a battle when I know I’ll lose the war? This is good a starting point. I write about my crazy head in an effort to exert dominion over it. I try to talk about it or at least just label it out loud. Not having to pretend that everything is a ok can help. I remind myself that I can and have exited these dips. There is colour in my life waiting to reappear. Of course I take my meds and then I just hold tight.
Long term mental illness is a slog. It leaves you no option other than to dig in & get dirty. My heart goes out to anyone else who is stuck in the trenches.
Self care is a phrase that makes me boak. It has so many bullshit connotations that I just can’t be doing with. I’m not interested in the healing powers of green tea, crystals or turmeric. A cup of tea and a chat won’t fix my crazy head. Neither will congratulating myself for brushing my teeth. If any of that works for, knock yourself out, I’m genuinely happy for you. It all just leaves me with a bad taste (literally in some cases) in my mouth. However, I do believe that you have look after yourself. It’s important to pay attention to the little things that make a difference to your day/life. And every now and again you have to go BIG.
That’s exactly what I did last week. I’ve been walking the tightrope of mental & physical health flares. I’m tired, I’m sore, I’m sad and with the arrival of my 39th birthday I’m old too. I was in need of a treat. So, I gave myself a 5 star escape.
I booked a couple of nights at a boutique hotel in my city. Checked into my beautiful room and checked out of reality for a few days. I told no one. I drank champagne cocktails in the epic roll top bath. Ordered room service and watched old movies in the gigantic bed.
It did me good to dip out of my real life. It hasn’t solved any of my problems, but man alive was it good to have some respite. It also felt really amazing to be able to do a lovely thing for myself. It’s great to be treated by others, but there is a deep satisfaction in giving yourself something you need.
My advice would be less ‘self care’ and more taking care of yourself.