Welcome to my nightmare…

I didn’t sleep last night (shocker, right). Actually, I did kind of sleep. I was so dog tired by 11pm that I decided to try going to bed like a normal person. I read for a bit and much to my relief, I fell asleep. For about 45mins.

I was awoken by the first nightmare around midnight. By half three and the fourth nightmare I had given up on the idea of sleeping. Nightmares are the part of PTSD that I don’t really talk much about. Maybe because they are an intermittent problem. Probably also because it’s not something that people (in my experience) take seriously. Responses to my attempts to discuss my nightmares have ranged from vaguely dismissive to full on belittlement.

I think when I say nightmares people hear bad dreams. You’re probably thinking of anxiety dreams (teeth falling out, failing exams, getting fired etc) or standard scary dreams (trapped somewhere, being chased, really bad person creeping around your house horror movie type stuff). Maybe you’re even imaging those childhood bad dreams that are terrifying in ways that are incredibly specific to you. All of which are horrid, but not at all debilitating. I suppose I do understand why folk say things like ‘well, they’re not real’ or ‘as soon as you wake up it’ll be gone’; that’s their experience. Oh, how I wish it were universally true.

Creepy face

PTSD nightmares are a whole other thing. They are related to trauma. For me, they often mirror my flashbacks. Sometimes they’ll get creative and go abstract. I’m trying to get some rest and my mind will just be replaying amplified versions of the most distressing moments of my life. My head is a terrible editor; it just rapidly cuts from one horrendous image to the next. All of which are graphic. Blood and dead babies are the common denominators. They’ll begin in a very realistic & upsetting fashion and degenerate into gruesome bloodbaths (sometimes literally).

Blood splatter

As I mentioned the nightmares are a sporadic problem. They almost always have a trigger. That can be a really tiny thing that I possibly didn’t even pay that much attention to until it starts becoming a pivotal detail in my dreams. It can also be a major life event. My nightmares are usually accompanied by & linked to flashbacks in my waking hours. They always come in clusters. I never have just one upsetting dream. They plague me every time I close my eyes. All of which adds up to a significant disturbance.

The torment doesn’t melt away when I regain consciousness. There’s always more to come and it is real. Every scene is drawn from my reality. I end up scared to sleep and just as scared to be awake. I can’t be alone in this because nightmares are close to the top of every PTSD symptoms list. Any psych evaluation or questionnaire will ask about them. Yet, I don’t see much discussion of the topic. I include myself in that. It’s an aspect of my mental health that I feel really uncomfortable being honest about. I don’t know exactly why we’re all so tight lipped, but I’d bet stigma plays a part.

Sleeping ly

It’s always the messy parts of mental illness that we shy away from. Anything that feels uncontrolled or dark or too close to crazy is glossed over. Those who haven’t experienced it don’t want to think about. Those of us who have don’t want to deal with judgement. Where the nightmares are concerned I think there’s also an element of feeling stupid. Kids get frightened of bad dreams. It’s hard to shake off the feeling that you should be able to handle it. Especially when that’s the message the world is giving you.

I’ve yet to discover anything that’ll chase the dreams away. Sleeping pills aren’t helpful because they make the nightmares more vivid. Thankfully they occur less frequently than they used to. Keeping quiet certainly isn’t helping. Perhaps if people knew what I was referring to when I say nightmares they would be less patronising. A little empathy can go a long way, but you have to understand someone’s experience before you can offer that.

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Don’t speak…

I’ve talked about the misguided things that people say in the wake of a miscarriage. Although these things can hurt, I understand that no harm is intended. I’ve been hesitant to tackle the other side, the people who say things they know will cause pain. Try as I might I cannot understand what they gain from this. Bear with me, I’m going to do a little blog therapy.

I can’t believe this has to be said, but here goes. A person’s stance on abortion is not relevant if the have a miscarriage. After my most recent loss it was suggested that my pro choice beliefs made my devastation over the miscarriage incongruous. Actually I think they were insinuating that it was hypocritical of me to grieve the loss of a foetus when I support the right of someone else to terminate one. Let me be clear, I support each individual’s right to choose. My experiences of pregnancy and miscarriage have only strengthened my pro choice convictions. Carrying a pregnancy and giving birth is an undertaking of such enormous magnitude that it should only ever be done willingly. My desire to have a child is not in conflict with my refusal to deny others bodily autonomy. I don’t want or need an abortion, but I will fight for those who do. Using that against me at my most vulnerable moment is cruel. Choice is the operative word. I had no choice in losing my wanted pregnancies. My dead babies are not a debating point. Attempting to litigate how upset a person is permitted to be is disgusting.

Choice clouds

Equally repugnant and heartbreaking was the proffering of surprise that I would be hit so hard by a fourth miscarriage. The reasoning being that I should have expected it may happen (I did of course) and that I should have become hardened to it by now. I can’t comprehend the lack of empathy it would take to think such a thing let alone say it loud. I don’t understand how one comes to the conclusion that reliving the worst time of your life over and over would make it easier. I can’t understand how anyone would imagine that having a worst fear realised is any less awful because you knew it could happen. Forcing someone to defend their distress is cruel in a way that must be deliberate.

I also wanted to touch on a group of platitudes that are offered frequently. Variations of ‘everything happens for a reason’, ‘god moves in mysterious ways’ or ‘it’s a blessing in disguise’ are never ok. I have been repeatedly assured that good intentions lie behind these phrases and I’m calling bullshit on that. They’re just lazy and ignorant remarks. Even a moments thought would uncover how inappropriate it is force your religiosity on someone. If you somehow take comfort in believing that ‘god’ purposefully snuffs out specific unborn that’s bizarre, but your business. To impose those ideas on fragile people in the midst of trauma is wilful ignorance. It is choosing to prioritise your own comfort above that of someone who is suffering.

Blurred light

I’m incredulous that I have to say any of this. It hurts to be forced into these unnecessary conversations. These aren’t blunders, they are examples of selfish agenda pushing. There is no kind reason to pursue these topics. It’s callous & inexcusable. Don’t do it.

Look back in anger…

I’m angry. So angry that it’s hard to contain. The problem is there’s no specific target for my rage. It’s a generalised, tear everything down kind of fury. There’s no release. I can’t spew my anger over unsuspecting bystanders. Keeping it in doesn’t feel like a viable solution either. Where does one put all the free floating resentment that no one is actually to blame for?

Life isn’t fair. I came to terms with that fact a long time ago. I’ve accepted a lot of bullshit. Fought crazy & illness & disability & mistreatment & loss to build some sort of something. I’ve struggled, but I’ve rolled with the punches as best I could. There’s only ever been one thing that I’ve felt I couldn’t do without. One single imperative. When you’re willing to get by without so many things, it feels so desperately unfair to be denied the thing that would make it all ok.

I watch everyone around me do the thing I cannot. Some with such ease it leaves me breathless. For others it’s a harder journey, but they reach their destination. I love those people and I love their babies, but it’s so hard to be the only one stranded.

I’m angry that I have to do this again. I’ve been tricked into hoping. Now I have to deal with the fall out. I am mad at myself for being stupid enough to believe. I resent having to submit to medical interventions. I didn’t ever want to hear someone say they can’t find a heartbeat again or look at another bloody speculum. I’m furious that I’m still bleeding and that I have to cope with all that triggers. It’s agony to be constantly reminded that my body has failed again. It’s exhausting to face the nightmares and flashbacks of all other blood. I don’t want to relive each of the worst moments of my life whilst trying to get through this one. I’m sick of blood tests and transfusions and putting on a brave face. I hate that I don’t get to opt out. I’m not strong, I just don’t have option of walking away because it’s too hard.

I don’t understand why it has to be me. Why my babies keep dying when I want them so much. Why does the universe give life to those who can’t or won’t love their children? Every time I read a horror story of abuse it feels like a personal attack. I think of all those terrified pregnant teens, the adult women who can’t feed another mouth or just never wanted to parent and I wonder why it couldn’t be me instead. I’m not angry at the individuals; everyone should have the right to choose. I’m furious at whoever or whatever makes decisions. What could I possibly have done that disqualifies me?

I see people smoking as they hold their child and I have to restrain my scream. Each impatient, inappropriate or lazy exchange between a parent & child kills me. Even the standard complaints about bring tired and tantrums make me feel like punching someone. I know I’m not being fair, but it’s like bitching about your diet to the starving. Don’t they know what a miracle they’ve created? How can they forget how much that little person needs them to do the right thing. I know it isn’t easy. Kids are exhausting and all consuming, but they’re worth it. The joy outweighs the sacrifice.

I’ve had enough therapy to know that burying your feelings is never helpful. I know I can’t dig a deep enough hole for this much emotion, but I have no idea where else to put it. I can’t lose it with every person who is rude or mildly inconveniences me. I have no desire or intention of venting on the people I love. I used to work this shit out with a scalpel. That’s no longer an option. What do I do?

Dear Baby…

Dear Baby,

You’re not a baby anymore. Or you wouldn’t be. Today would have been your 18th birthday. I’ve been thinking a lot about all the things you could have been. I’ll never know what your talents are. What you loved & hated will always be a mystery. Our life together will forever be unknown. I’ve watched so many others mark the milestones in their children’s lives & my thoughts invariably turn to you. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the blanks.

I have dreamt of every minute of your life. Waking from those beautiful fantasies feels like a stab in the heart. Every single time. I hope those dreams are snippets of how our life would have been. I don’t want to think of us as anything other than happy.

So, today you’d be a man. I’m sure you would be wonderful. The kind of person I’d be proud to have raised. I’ll always be proud regardless. Proud that my blood ran in your veins, thankful that your heart beat in me & grateful that we had any time at all.

Big love,

Always,

Mum.

Xx

Woman of the week…

It’s been a while, but a truly incredible woman inspired me to bring back the honour roll . This week’s epic woman is the fearless Hannah Gadsby

I had picked up on a little social media buzz about her latest stand up show, Nanette & headed onto Netflix to give it a watch. I expected some laughs. What I got was the most raw & uncompromising show I have ever seen. Hannah Gadbsy is a feminist hero. She begins by mixing jokes about her trauma with humour & explains how she balances tension to create relief with a punchline. Then, she bravely recounts her stories without relief. She gives us her reality.

Hannah Gadsby

She rails against violent misogyny & homophobia. She describes unflinchingly how being raised in an environment that teaches you to hate who you are cripples a child. She throws in the quips, but she never let’s the audience off the hook. She forces us to recognise her truth and her anger. She exposes her (& all our) need to honestly tell our stories. Her pain is palpable. Her courage is beautiful.

I beseech you all to watch Nanette. It is a masterpiece

Wake me up inside…

Today I saw another one of those social media that purports to offer alternatives to self harm. This time the post also claimed that sharing this information would save lives.

I’m just going to be completely honest, this bull isn’t saving any lives. These are not credible alternatives to self harm. They will not stop an ill person from hurting themselves. They don’t solve the problem of why a person might feel the need to hurt themselves; they don’t even address it. In fact, in some cases they reaffirm the idea that hurting yourself is a good coping mechanism (just so long as you do it in a socially acceptable manner).

I’ve talked & written about why these suggestions are insulting until i’m blue in the face. I see others giving excellent arguments against such advice & yet this sort of thing is still the only information disseminated in the mainstream. So, I thought I’d try to talk about what actually can help one refrain from hurting oneself.

My suggestions are more complicated & time consuming & bloody hard. They don’t lend themselves to becoming a jaunty list to share in Twitter. The grim reality is that self harm is a grind and so is quitting.

Blood stained foot

For me the first step in getting anywhere close to stopping was understanding why I started in the first place. I truly believe understanding why a person self harms is crucial to recovery. Self harm isn’t the illness, it’s a symptom of it. From the outside identifying what is distressing you might seem simple, but trust me, it isn’t. There can be layers of trauma & hurt. A person may have a lifetime of issues woven into a complex fabric of pathologies. Picking that apart is intensely painful. Having pulled on that dangerous thread, you’re going to have to find ways address those underlying problems. They don’t simply disappear under a bright light. It takes time, professional guidance & huge bravery.

And that’s just the beginning. Next you have discern what you get from self harm; how is it helping you cope. What function is inflicting pain serving. Again, this is no simple puzzle to solve. My self harm had many roles. I was punishing myself, I hated the body that had failed me, I was avoiding emotions I couldn’t cope with, the blood was cathartic, I became addicted & a multitude of other reasons. Predictably totting up all the pay offs doesn’t negate them. There is more work to be done. One must weigh how healthy each function is and decide if it enhances ones life. For instance, probably not a great idea to be continually forcing myself to do penance, however it is a good idea to not be completely overwhelmed by sadness. You must find away to live without the unhealthy whilst also establishing new mechanisms to maintain essential uses. Of course all the time you are working away at your inner self you are dealing with addiction. Self harm is habit forming. So, your journey of self discovery/healing/madness has a background of overwhelming urges & powerful compulsions. To begin with you have to fight the full force of addiction every single moment of every single day. Plus, of course, everyone has their own additional problems to throw into the mix. Maybe you have co morbidities or financial problems or a family you’re trying not mess up with your illness. Life doesn’t stop when crazy calls.

None of this easy. It does not and cannot happen over night. It involves breaking down long held beliefs & opening yourself up to being scared and vulnerable. This post is just a simplified version of a process that takes years. It involves psychiatric professionals, medical intervention, medication, therapy, a support network, a&e visits & most of all trying to be honest. I understand why it’s easier to pretend you can draw on your skin or scream at a wall until you’re better. It is terrifying to a/ begin trying access the kind of intensive help needed & b/ expose yourself to pain you’ve been desperately trying to suppress. Believe me, selling yourself & others a lie is not the answer.

The truth is there are no tips & tricks for beating self harm. There is no magic fix or complete cure. I look at it like any other addiction. I will probably always want to cut, I have to do whatever I can not to. No amount of extremely cold water will ever change that harsh fact. When it comes right down to it, for me, the driving force in abstaining is knowing that I want other things more than I want to pick up that scalpel. Oh & sheer will power. I couldn’t have come to that realisation without more than a decade of therapy. I absolutely could never have exercised this level of control over the voice in my own head without putting in all that work.

I’m not going to say everyone’s story is the same as mine. I can’t guarantee that you can ever get completely better. I’m not. I can only offer you the hard truth of my experience & my certainty that there aren’t any shortcuts. Don’t share false hope. Let’s be honest with people who really need it. Trying to quit self harm is a nightmare, but there is hope that you’ll wake up.

Keep your rosaries off our ovaries…

Today I joined the counter demo against catholic anti abortion group 40 days of life. Regular readers may remember that I also attended this protest last year & I am incredibly frustrated to have had to return today.

40 days of life are an international group who use their faith as an excuse to harass vulnerable people outside hospitals. They have taken American style anti abortion protests global. It both saddens & enrages me to see them operating in my city. During lent the group protest outside the maternity buildings of various Glasgow hospitals. Their claims of wanting to help people planning abortions are belied by their actions. I have seen this group standing outside my local hospital & they are helping no one. Their chosen location is outside the maternity building, but also at the main entrance to the hospital, providing maximum opportunity for intimidation. Regardless of the situation no one is happy to discover an unwanted pregnancy. To seek to cause distress to people in an already difficult situation is cruel. To add to the burdens of persons who may be traumatised or desperate is sickening. Their talk of kindness & love are incongruous with their actions. As is the fact that their hospital vigils cause unneeded stress & upset to expectant mothers, women who have miscarried, women with seriously ill & premature babies. All of whom use the building they protest outside. Their signs & prayers can be seen & heard from various wards in the building. Their presence causes untold harm.

Photo Credit : Elaine Graham

I was truly sickened today as I listened to their lies, inaccuracies & smug self congratulation. I could barely believe my ears as I heard Robert Colquhoun (40 days of life, international director) praise the group for their work. He talked of how happy he was at protests in Argentina & how he hoped they might prevent a proposed change in abortions laws. For the record Argentina currently only permits legal abortion in cases of risk to mother’s life or rape. In practise even in those cases abortion is by no means guaranteed. The influence of Catholic Church is a major factor in current abortions laws in the country. The result of which laws is huge numbers of illegal abortions. Many people die as a result of unsafe illegal abortions. Many suffering treatable complications also die because there are legal penalties for those caught undergoing ‘back street’ procedures, thus many are afraid to seek medical help. As always those living in poverty are hardest hit. The poorer the person the less likely they are to be able afford decent care, making them more likely to experience serious complications, death or be plunged further into poverty by the responsibilities of additional children. This is a situation that Coluqhoun & his cohorts are actively trying to maintain. To call such an organisation pro life is laughable.

Colquhoun went on to identify a clinic in England that performed the majority of late term abortions in England. He talked of wanting to protest that clinic in an attempt to stop those procedures. Let me remind you that late term abortions (after 24 weeks) are performed in the UK only in extreme circumstances. Namely that the physical or mental health of the mother is at extreme risk, that continuing with pregnancy would pose a threat to their life or that the fetus is found not to be viable or to have a condition or disability that would severely impair their chances of any quality of life. In plain speaking those who have late term abortions are about as vulnerable a group as it is possible to find. We are talking about abused children, raped & tortured adults, people who want to continue with their pregnany, but face death if they do so & those whose unborn child will be still born or so severely ill they are likely to live only short lives filled with pain. Is there anyone amongst that group who you would wish to see harassed? To have possibly one of the most painful periods of their life debated in public? These are the very people that 40 days of life today cheered the notion of obstructing. That they would pin point a clinic performing such essential procedures is evil. All their talk of God’s love & the sanctity of life amounts to deliberately tormenting & shaming people who have already suffered more than anyone should ever have to bear.

These are just two of the selfish speaking points. There were many more disgusting acts celebrated. Many lies told. It is crucial that we do not let this go unopposed. These American tactics are new to UK & we must not let them take hold. Religious extremists (for that is what they are) must not be allowed free reign to abuse people undergoing lawful medical treatment. We have to stand up & protect the right to choose. Access to safe abortion saves lives. Beyond that every child should be born to parents who both want to & are able to properly care & provide.

I passionately believe that everyone has a right to quality sex education, access to contraception and complete bodily autonomy. I am absolutely prepared to fight for those rights. I hope that you are too.