I have been somewhat absent here. Anxiety has engulfed me. There is a very specific reason for the anxiety, unfortunately it is not a thing that I control or fix.
Theoretically being able to pinpoint the trigger means it I should have a definite end point. However, since resolution is not within power the uncertainty persists. I can’t even begin to address the issue until next week, which leaves me endlessly playing out scenarios in my head. It is sickeningly stressful. The fear that has been sitting on my chest for a week feels like it’s attempting to climb up & grab for my throat.
I’ve tried every calming weapon in my arsenal to little effect. When I managed to leave the house every sensation was painfully amplified. I was both submerged in sound & every noise was taking place inside my body. Likewise, every living being in my approximate vicinity seemed claustrophobically close. I felt dangerously on display & incapable of making a quick retreat. Sitting still was impossible, but moving left me gasping for breath. I couldn’t decipher if it was Pots or anxiety related. The more I worried about it, the less able I was to catch my breath.
Outside was brutal. Inside is merely a more measured torment. The slow drip of water torture rather than the ripping out of finger nails. I remain on high alert. For what I don’t know; there is no physical threat. My mind stubbornly refuses to divert course. If I pull it astray thoughts quickly revert to dissecting worse case situations. This is very much a wait and see kind of issue. Strategising & replaying every possible outcome cannot help me.
Still, I lie awake at night with my heart pounding. When I finally dip into sleep my subconscious conjures catastrophes that aren’t even feasible. I awake in a panic that fades to dread. An awful gnawing fear the dark summons in the certain absence of slumber. I never feel more inclined to screaming than when imprisoned in insomnia. 3am worries are no one’s friend.
Of course I reassure myself that I can survive subpar outcomes. I do know that this extreme horror level of anxiety will not last forever. I’ve coped with worse & there will be much better days. My mind simply doesn’t care. We’re hyped up to life or death threat defence and it has no intention backing down. If I had a bunker, I would be in it.
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In the latest of my body’s ridiculous tricks, I have shingles. When I’m run down I often succumb to random bonus infections. Shingles is also brought on my stress, which makes sense because January was a shit show.
I think I’ve had some lucky for once as I don’t seem to have a really severe case. The rash is painful (although not as bad as I’ve heard others describe it), but all the cold/fluey symptoms were short lived. It feels like a burn and if anything even slightly touches my skin the sensation is akin to a shock. My GP has added some pain killers to my usual lot, which are making it all manageable. They’re also making me super tired and a little spacey, which is having an effect on my creative output. I hope you’ll bear with me as I try to get back to match fitness.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I went to mass every Sunday, made confessions, took communion. I attended catholic schools. My primary school was flanked by a chapel, a missionary monastery & a convent. By virtue of attending those schools most of my friends were also catholic. We all prayed before lunchtime, sang hymns in assembly and had regular R.E. Classes. What I mean is I understand how organised religion works. I was immersed in dogma throughout my childhood.
That’s not to say I always liked it. Even early on I remember having the distinct feeling that some it was icky. I didn’t like the bullying ways of my school chaplains. Some of the things my teachers hammered home did not fit with the whole peace & love vibe. Mass was never anything other than a thing to be endured. Catholicism always felt too rigid.
It wasn’t until I hit secondary school that I really started to call bullshit. I didn’t believe much of what I was being taught. More importantly I hated the intolerance. Catholic views on sex, sexuality, gender roles, abortion and so much more simply did not align with my own. Neither did they fit with what I had learned at home. I couldn’t bite my tongue in the face of bigotry dressed up as god’s word. Nor could I bring myself to do the cherry picking that many religious folks do. The catholic faith felt like a straight jacket & I would not be restrained.
Thus, I drifted away. I stopped going to mass. I let myself question everything I had absorbed. I dug into the history of the church and its current practices. The more informed I became the less respect I had for any of it. It’s all steeped in atrocities & injustice. Organised religion it seemed was just a way to control the masses. What better way to impose your will than to tell people it was in fact, god’s will. By the time I finished school I no longer considered or described myself catholic at all. I had & have no use for any organised religion. I believe there is a higher power of some description, but not some patriarchal judge in the sky.
Most of my family still belong to the church. I have friends of various faiths & none. I’m very much a live & let live type of person. As long as no one is trying to impose their beliefs upon me or actively do harm in the name of religion; I don’t consider it my business. I do however retain a distrust & distaste for the institutions. I want no part of it.
I tell you all this in order for you to understand how I felt when I received this comment on something I wrote on the anniversary of my baby’s due date.
Anger was my main reaction. I removed the comment & blocked the (blank) account. I hated the thought of someone more vulnerable than myself receiving such a comment. I felt angry that this so called church elder was trawling for people they thought they could manipulate. However, I didn’t want to give it anymore time or energy. They were blocked; end of story.
Unfortunately not. A couple of weeks later, on my birthday, I received an email. This time from a church elder named Liam McIntosh. It was more of the same. Insulting & ignorant comments about my life, offers of ‘support’ and that suspicious claim of referral from a concerned friend. There is not a single person in my life who if concerned would ask the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints to help me. This contact enraged me. I have an excellent support system, a sense of purpose and lots of joy in my life. However, I am aware that many people do not. I remember how little it took to overwhelm me when I was in the depths of mental illness & grief. I am also cognisant of how easily some people who feel desperate may be manipulated. Both messages utilised abuse tactics; belittle, claim to be doing so for the victim’s benefit and then purport to have all the answers. A church setting out to prey on vulnerable people in this manner sickens me.
This kind of behaviour is exactly why I do not like organised religion. It is predatory. This organisation is clearly seeking out people they believe to be vulnerable in order to manipulate them. I am not that person. I share my experiences in order to dispel stigma. I find the ‘concerned friend’ tactic particularly disturbing as it purposely exploits the guilt & shame that many people in difficult circumstances already feel.
After receiving that email I felt sufficiently angry & concerned to act. I tried to track down both men who contacted me. I could find no trace of either on official church websites etc nor could I find any record of professional training that would qualify them to offer such advice. The only COFLDS that I could find in Hamilton has disbanded. I called Edinburgh & Glasgow branches, but neither wanted to comment. Nor would they provide details of anyone in a senior role to discuss these communications. Some elders though are obviously reading this blog, perhaps they would like explain themselves?
I’m not finished with this. I am worried about the harm these unethical strategies could cause. As a result I am working on a more in depth piece for publication. If you or someone you know has been contacted in this way, I would like to hear from you.
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Several weeks ago I came across a word I’d never previously encountered. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about. It encapsulates a feeling that lives with me, but has eluded succinct definition. The word is Hiraeth.
It’s Welsh and doesn’t directly translate to English, but it means a homesicknesses for a home to which you cannot return or perhaps never was. It was in an article and I didn’t understand. I had to look it up. When I read that definition it felt like I breathed it in and it found a spot inside me where it fitted perfectly. It explained something I already knew.
It is exactly what I feel in those moments that I’m not sure what I am doing or who I am. The thing caught in my throat when I hear children shout for their Mummy. It’s the longing for a world that only ever comes to life in my head. Except I can feel it. I know the intricacies. I have plans for every eventuality (& even strategies for the inevitable unknowables). Pet names, values & handed down treasures thump in my chest. The sensation of heavy sleeping breath and hot ‘it’s not fair’ tears. The music I play, the books I read them. Dancing in the living room for no reason just like I did with my Mum. I close my eyes and conjure how crushing the responsibility can be. Losing my patience, the swamp of guilt that follows. The days I am certain I said absolutely the right thing. The pain of knowing I missed the mark. I’m not imagining it; I can recall the emotions. They’re fizzing under my skin. The flick of hair from a face or a tut of exasperation are as decernable as memories. I long to go home.
Homesick for the home I couldn’t build. That’s the feeling that perpetually lurks. Now I know it’s name.
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Of late I have been bothered by much of the therapy speak I see cropping up everywhere. I’ve always been slightly irritated by the therapy buzz words, but it used be reserved to certain arenas. Now it feels impossible to get away from it. Some are impenetrable, some misapplied and some a little stupid. So, come with me in a little therapy rant.
Sit with it.
The ‘it’ being emotions. I doubt there is anyone who has ever sought mental health treatment who is unfamiliar with this phrase. I have been advised to ‘sit with’ all manner of feelings. I’ve never been entirely sure what this means. Nor has any explanation ever satisfied me. Let yourself feel it makes sense if you are actively avoiding emotions. I used self harm, disordered eating and occasionally alcohol to block emotions that I wasn’t able to deal with. However, when I moved past avoidance it was still the guidance I was given. When I was ready to acknowledge and tackle those feelings I needed more. ‘Let yourself feel it’ is redundant. I am feeling it; that is the problem.
Once you are sitting in all that emotion you will often be advised ‘not to judge it’. Just feel it, they’ll say. Well, I’m sorry, that’s impossible. I have already judged it. Judging is a prerequisite for finding something problematic. The judgement is automatic. More than that, it’s involuntary. The minute I find the emotion unpalatable it has been judged. I came to the (sometimes correct) conclusion that perhaps what these therapist meant was don’t judge yourself for having that emotion. That makes sense, I can work on not attaching negative connotation to what I feel or how uncomfortable that makes me. I can even get on board with attempting not to label specific emotions intrinsically negative. I’m not convinced, but I do see how in some cases that could be fruitful. However, removing the intuitive I DO NOT LIKE THIS just doesn’t strike me as a realistic goal. If I were able to control my brain in that way, I wouldn’t have a problem.
Let it go.
Feel it and then let it go is definitely the aim. I’m not sure it actually counts as advice though. I know that getting stuck in difficult emotions is not good for me. What I need is help learning the way out if that. Restating what I should do is not helpful. I know the problem, I am here because I am looking for answers.
Many years ago when I first experienced therapy the inner child thing was kind of a joke. It never came up. Of course therapists talked about childhood experiences & being compassionate to past versions of yourself. However, a psychologist would never say the words ‘inner child’. Now it is everywhere; from woo woo spiritual healers to actual trained therapists. I’m sure it applies to some people, but it’s just not relevant to me. My inner child is a ok. I had a remarkably lovely childhood. I was loved, appreciated, supported, safe and very well taken care of. My ‘inner child’ is probably the healthiest part of me. I’m not carrying any painful scars from childhood. So, I have found it incredibly frustrating that everyone and their granny wants me to get in touch with my inner child and heal her. Even when I proffer my history and explain that my upbringing is not a problem area, I am still pressed to explore it. I don’t know how or why this happened, but I really don’t love it.
This is another one that totally has merit in the right situation. There have been times when I have been scared of touching memories and emotions that made me feel vulnerable. I did need to work through that. Being vulnerable can be frightening, but it is also necessary. I would argue that engaging in therapy is already submitting to vulnerability in many ways. The showing up is a great first step. However, the canonisation of vulnerability has gone too far. There is definitely a time and a place for vulnerability. We can’t and shouldn’t always expose weak spots. We live in a fairly brutal capitalist society and being completely honest about your vulnerabilities will not serve you in many situations. People will take advantage, they will bypass you based on their perception of that vulnerability and many folk will judge you. Still I hear professionals who really should know better urge everyone to embrace their vulnerability throughout their life. It drives me crazy; we need to protect ourselves. Let yourself be vulnerable in safe spaces only.
Am I just jaded? Or do you feel frustrated by these therapy catchphrases? Maybe you have your own therapy pet hates. I would love to know your takes.
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As I have mentioned, more than once, I having been some extra health issues. Yesterday I saw my GP and she gave me some answers. Unfortunately they were neither want I expected or wanted them to be.
It seems that long covid has become permanent a more of a problem. The tachycardia and breathlessness that I have been experiencing since having covid in Oct 2020 have been significantly worse over the last few months. I am breathless after a few steps. My head spins the minute I stand up. I faint daily. My heart tries to burst out of my body and my chest hurts. All the time. In the past when I felt like this it has been related to aneamia & b12 deficiency. I have had lots of issues with really low haemoglobin and although I never get to ‘normal’ my bloods aren’t dangerously low at the moment. We did a bunch of treatment, but I didn’t feel any different. I had some more tests, kept a symptom diary and recorded my heart rate a few times a day. My GP’s conclusion is that covid has damaged my heart function.
She is fairly certain that I have some kind of heart arrhythmia or PoTS. The prospect of neither fills me with joy; PoTS in particular is very frightening. I have been referred to cardiology and more tests will ensue. I really expected these issues to be related to existing conditions. It was a shock to be presented with a possible new diagnosis. The thought of these symptoms not improving or even worsening is overwhelming. I have enough health problems. I don’t need anymore.
All of this to say two things. Covid is no joke. Even if you get through the initial illness ok, there is no telling what it will do to your body. Please don’t pretend this pandemic is over. There are still huge communities that of sick and disabled people who are high risk. Even healthy people can be really badly effected. Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands! None of these things are hard to do. And, I am feeling scrambled. I don’t know how to process this new information. Physically I am a mess. I’m very apprehensive of what is to come & my head is all over the place. So, please bear with me if things get inconsistent around here.
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I’m stuck. Chronically stuck, you could say. My body has been refusing to behave for months. I’m operating at minimum capacity & maximum exasperation.
My pain levels are high and brain fog is impenetrable, but I also have a variety of ‘bonus’ complaints. This is a thing my body seems to do when I am particularly run down. A change in medication from injectable to oral about 18mths ago resulted in some messed up test results late last year (I had been against the change, but hey, what do I know?). Around the same time I had a bad cold that would not shift (definitely wasn’t covid) and culminated in Labyrinthitis. I was fairly lucky with that as I didn’t have pain, but the vertigo & nausea stuck around for ages. Into the new year the impact of that med change has made all my Long Covid symptoms more pronounced. The fatigue was never ending, a few steps left my heart rattling & my lungs crying out for air. Add a uti that quickly turned into a kidney infection. Then the three weeks of treatment required to correct the impact of changing the delivery of that medication left me vomiting all day & unable to eat. That of course messed up my electrolytes and landed me in hospital hooked up to a drip to get me back in shape. All in all it has been rough and I have struggled to get anything at all done.
That’s where feeling stuck comes in. There are so many things I want to get done. From big career moves (finish the book) to everyday task (mop the floors) it feels like everything is on hold. I am so exhausted and sore and foggy brained that it really is baby steps all the way. I write to do lists that are never completed. Every task takes a ridiculous amount of time. Proof reading each email you send three times cuts into available working time. If I put some washing in the machine, I need to rest. Some days a shower will be all I can manage. Spend a day out of the house and I need two or three days to recover. The ‘to dos’ get longer, the ideas go unexamined and I am trapped by all the unfinished everything.
It’s impossible to break free. There are things that could make my life easier, but they are of course costly. Usually a person could take on extra work, get a side hustle, but I can’t keep up with the bare minimum. If one has a deadline they could work all night. However, I can barely get through an afternoon without a lie down. Pushing myself to keep going not only results in less than my best work, but also puts me out of work entirely for days. Chronic illness pens me in. I can’t afford to buy the services & items that would make my life easier. The lack of those things contributes to worsening symptoms and limiting my ability to earn. See how it goes around & around?
I also feel welded to the spot. There are jobs I would love to accept, projects I badly want to complete, but I just don’t have the capacity at the moment. Thus, my career feels stagnant, it is heart wrenching to so badly underperform. My life is similarly entrenched. I want to see more people, have nights out, try new things. Of course, I can’t. My body simply will not allow it. I am so tired of saying no or rescheduling. It’s a no win situation my mental health suffers from being home alone so much. My physical health declines if I do too much. Again, the balance seems impossible to get right.
Finally, there is the mundane. I’d really like to have an empty washing basket. I want to be able to spend a day tidying the spare room. Instead, I do ten minutes a day for weeks and never quite get it done. It would be lovely to go out spur of the moment; but having a shower and putting on clothes can wipe me out. I never thought I would long to walk to the corner shop for cat food. Yet, here I am stuck in my house unless I can get a taxi or a lift. It is exhausting and demoralising. There is no easy way out. All I can do is wait and hope that I feel a bit better soon. I ran out of patience a long time ago.
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We’re all familiar with those comfort zone quotes, yes? Basically the message being you have to step out of your comfort zone to achieve success. There’s a grain of truth. Sometimes you have to try new, scary things. There are certainly times when you must push yourself. What happens to that wisdom when comfort isn’t exactly part of your repertoire?
Perhaps I bring my own hang ups to this, but I’ve all read this kind of advice as a dig. To me it feels like being told I’m not brave or ambitious or working hard enough. Long before I had physical health issues I struggled with mental illness. As a result, comfort has been hard to come by. When your head is making you feel that everything is wrong, you’re never very comfortable. The world is an assault. Every decision is fraught, navigating daily life can be arduous. Living in that state makes running away from comfort the antithesis of healthy.
Jump to now, when I am somewhat healthier mentally, but much more unwell physically and it seems more nonsensical. I’m not sure I remember what real comfort feels like. I wake up in pain, I go through my day in pain and I lie down at night still in pain. My mind is continually balancing what I can do against what needs to be done. Even in moments when I am physically resting my thoughts are rarely in repose. When washing ones hair or making a phone call is ‘out of the comfort zone’ is doesn’t feel like the magic lies there.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say my best work comes when I can create as much ease as possible. I have a tiny office in my home with a desk etc, but I do much of my writing with my laptop on the sofa. I rebel against traditional work clothes and wear what I feel like me in. I say no to projects that I know will be too much. I give realistic timescales and I guard my boundaries. When my body/mind or both are screaming, I stop. I do so because I know what lies beyond that line is breaking point. I am aware that this may go against much of hustle culture, but I believe I produce magic when I am whole.
This doesn’t mean I don’t stretch myself. I give talks when public speaking is absolutely not my strength. I do so in ways that are safe for me. I spread them out, I’ll talk only on topics that I feel passionate about & to groups that I think are worthwhile. I lay myself bare in articles, but only on my terms. I have undertaken things that I doubted I was capable of; I did them when I was up for the challenge. I have never found bulldozing my limits to be productive.
I live in a world where comfort is rare and precious. Almost everything involves some kind wrestling with myself. I do not enjoy it. I am not prepared to make that a virtue. What’s more, I contend that this applies to most. You shouldn’t have to go to war to succeed. Your level best is good enough. We all need a hard no in our vocabulary. My best lives in a cocoon of measures that help me feel my best. I’d suggest that yours might too.
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