One of the Gateways to a Suicidal State of Mind

As World Suicide Prevention Day was on the 10th, I would like to write a couple of posts this coming week about one of the gateways to that suicidal state of mind, depression.

One of the worst things about depression is the uncertainty of just how low the mood will go or the duration of each episode. That sense of losing control of our own mind can quickly become a terrifying prospect.

thVMG1QV7RWhen I first became clinically depressed in 2000, it felt as though a bus had just hit me from behind. I was completely drained of emotion, exhausted, and hung out to dry.  My entire body was suffering from chronic pain, eventually earning a Fibromyalgia misdiagnosis. Days rolled into weeks, months became years, and I steadily lost track of time.

The only routine I could muster was a simple structure based around a minimum of 16hrs sleep, an inadequate junk food diet, and lots of time caring for my two adorable cats, who sadly passed away last year. The quality of sleep was poor due to endless night terrors and I would start each day feeling as if I had just lived through every minute of those nightmares.

What I didn’t realise was that the SSRI antidepressants I had been using for a decade were renowned for vivid dreams and perhaps not the best choice for nightmares associated with PTSD. The Doctors held little interest in my recovery and seemed more concerned if I was suicidal. Their questions were more to do with covering their own ass than any genuine interest in my wellbeing.

I haven’t met one person that suffers from depression who has never experienced a certain degree of suicide ideation, but I was petrified of psychiatric wards and it was shameful to admit those morbid fantasies of killing myself. I will say a little more about this in my next post.

If I had been more honest, or possessed enough strength to find new Doctors, maybe there would’ve been more opportunity to manage the depression and recovery might have transpired sooner. When our mood is this low, we’re definitely not thinking straight and paranoia over losing more control can lock us tightly within that revolving door of depression and ineffective medication.

Of course, everyone’s experience of depression is different and we need to find own slow route to recovery. If you’ve ever been depressed for years, it’s easy to forget what life feels like without a degree of despair looming overhead. A perfect example of this happened to me on Friday.

I returned home from group therapy feeling unusually hyperactive with racing thoughts, rapid speech, and a general feeling of wellbeing. At one point, I wondered if someone had spiked my water with speed and even considered taking a benzodiazepine to help bring me down. While it wasn’t a bad feeling, I didn’t know what was happening or how I should respond.

After a few hours of buzzing around, doing additional spring-cleaning and bribing the dog to go for yet another walk, I realised that for the first time in fifteen years, I was actually feeling free of depression.

I was desperate to share the experience with my neighbour and friend, Sarah, but every time I attempted to say the words, “I feel happy,” I burst into tears. Sarah must have thought I had already lost it, but the tears were an expression of my relief to have come so far. This might be difficult to understand if you’ve never lived in the dark world of depressive illness.

black dogIt doesn’t seem to matter what stage of recovery we’re at, one of the biggest fears and major obstacles to reclaiming our lives is relapse. We’ve all been there, feeling relieved at that faint glimmer of improvement, only to open our eyes the next morning to find the black dog of depression is growling at the door once more.

It doesn’t seem to matter how often I’ve experienced this, each episode is fraught with grave disappointment and that familiar fear of the unknown. According to some internet figures, in a small minority of people who suffer depression, the symptoms seldom go away entirely. Those who experience two episodes of depression are more likely to have a third.

When we’re depressed or only just recovering, the last thing we want to consider is the prospect of relapse. However, a recurring bout of depression or a temporary worsening of symptoms is a very real probability and I find this knowledge has helped me to deal with the life-sucking disappointment whenever it happens. Even though I feel relatively good today, that awareness is always on standby.

Unfortunately, I’m not a lover of self-affirmation techniques at the best of times. The trouble is, I become so consumed by the depression, I just can’t be bothered telling that sad face in the mirror how wonderful and capable he really is. It just doesn’t cut it for me.

My technique has always been to accept the mood as it is for today, although I appreciate this may sound a little too much like giving up to some people. Stressing over the process was never helpful, but by accepting those backwards steps as inevitable and even an integral part of our healing, did remove a proportion of the sting.

One of the most important tactics for my own stability is to maintain a simple routine. This may only be within four walls or a short distance from the front door, but having a basic purpose in our day is enough to plant the small seeds of recovery.

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Seeing Beyond the Void

As we go through life, each of us develops defence mechanisms that help dealth1W15UEW3 with a wide spectrum of stressful situations and to protect us from painful memories. Two clever tactics that I know very well are suppression and repression.

Suppression is something everyone does. It’s when we think about something, but then consciously squeeze it to the back of our mind. This doesn’t need to be in a negative way and can act as an aid to filter out one thought while we deal with something else.

Suppression and repression are very similar, although repression is a little trickier to identify because much of the avoidance takes place on a subconscious level as we deny the memory or emotion even exists. I’ve only just become aware of my own repression, which unravelled during a poignant moment in therapy last week.

When I became a victim of an attempted murder, which I wrote about here, I was extremely lucky to survive, but what I hadn’t realise until now, was a fundamental part of me died inside. While the experience was particularly traumatic, the history of my assailants past crimes, including murder, would only add to the horror and hinder any path to recovery.

I’ve always abhorred any kind of violence because abusiveness has been a prominent pattern in my life since early childhood. Each incident of physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse would slowly hamper a willingness to recover, while placing significant strain on my ability to bounce back. My traumatised brain soon interpreted life as dangerous territory and wise to be devoid of trust.

Trust is the necessary ingredient for all human interactions, from casual acquaintances to personal relationships. Losing the ability to trust means everything about life feels unsafe. Meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar places eventually becomes something of the past.

th43ZJN5J0The more vulnerable and withdrawn I became, the more I developed an unhealthy need to protect myself from any kind of attachment. My need for love and affection or to trust and be trusted, had sunk beneath years of repression and there was no awareness of just how cold and distant I had become.

I painfully recall the pleas of significant people to consider their feelings and wishes, even if I had none of my own. It felt like they were on the attack, rather than trying to save me from an emotional black hole. As time progressed, the empty space became so vast, it was impossible to see beyond the void.

The dissociation from reality eventually made me inaccessible to those who had spent years trying to hold on to the person they once knew. The consistent pleas meant nothing and I slowly cut everyone meaningful from my life. The diagnosis of Depression, PTSD and Agoraphobia were my new companions in life, but the Disorders also became my shield against any expectations to change.

In the last fifteen years, venturing beyond a two-mile radius of home hasn’t been on the agenda and there are only six places I can visit, anxiety free. While I do believe in my ability to overcome these phobias, I’ve made little effort to push the boundaries. In all this time, I cannot recall boredom or loneliness ever featuring within my comfortable agoraphobic cocoon.

For reasons that may always remain a complete mystery, I once believed this dysfunction lifestyle was not only justified, but also acceptable. I had repressed my emotions to such a depth that I forgot they even existed.

When I learned of my friend, Anne’s, death recently, via the extraordinary coincidental telephone call, my mind became flooded with memories of a time when I viewed life very differently. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, these new realisations are like awakening from a fifteen-year coma to find that I’m living an unacceptable reclusive lifestyle.

There were a number of stark moments in therapy last week, as I recalled the pain caused to othersthAQ8EK2XX and the injustice I dealt to my own potential. Repressing the fundamental emotions necessary to human existence only blocked the flow of healing and tainted my perception of trust.

Fifteen years of extreme isolation is a very long time and I’m careful not to get ahead of myself. I’m excited, fearful, and fragile, all at the same time. It’s impossible to find a way back to something familiar, any previous point of existence no longer exists. The unknown feels a scary place to be and the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but somehow I need to find the courage to move forward.

Therapy and Healing

I’ve not been writing a lot about therapy lately. My last post about Paul’s absence was actually twoWP_20131116_001 weeks old. I’m not sure what’s going on for me right now. In the days leading up to this therapy programme, I often wondered what healing from trauma might actually feel like and what shape the process might take.

Each one of us have our own route to healing, but my own journey  feels as though I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of reflection and rumination, writing and talking… anger… regret, and many stages of grief.

We learned early in our group how important it is to observe the feelings. There were months when I seemed to exist in a weird trance like state with a whirlwind of emotions circling inside my head. I thought acceptance, healing, and change might never come into focus, but this is beginning to feel much more likely.

The last group I attended was two-weeks ago. I had only just received the bizarre telephone call, which brought news about the death of my long lost friend, Anne.

I’m still trying to grasp how extraordinary that coincidence actually was and the news has been difficult to come to terms with. However, the experience came to mean so much more than synchronicity or grief.

In the days that followed the news, my mind was awash with long forgotten memories of the past. It took a few days to realise that beyond the nostalgia, was a clear view of how I once viewed my existence.

I recalled the enthusiasm and heaps of confidence that would eventually become lost beneath years of mental health problems. I have able to taste what life once meant to me and what I meant to life.

When I first approached a Psychiatrist five years ago, almost begging for help, the distress came from a realisation that I didn’t want to get any better, “not if it means interacting and trusting other people again…” My perception of life had been utterly dismal for so many years, it was easy to lose track of what existed before the days of mental illness.

th0UQOMD3LIt feels as though these long forgotten memories form part of the missing jigsaw and now I can see a lifestyle that is worthwhile aiming for. Of course, everyone changes with time and there is no return to a former self, but I finally envisage what life could look like.

We return to usual sessions next week, but already my time is running out in therapy. We finish group in December and from January until June, I will be on a rapid sliding scale with my Therapist, Paul.

It might sound strange, but my least problematic condition in recent years has been Agoraphobia because it kept me safe and comfortable within an isolated cocoon. At the heart of the debilitating phobia is a fear of venturing into strange places with the prospect of meeting unfamiliar people. This brings me full circle to the very place I started with my Psychiatrist five years ago, only this time, I do want to face those fears and I will ultimately find a new life, but the prospect of change is scary and therein is the next stage of my therapy.

Dr Gerald Stein writes a nice post on avoiding our fears, taking control, and making the best of life here

Contrary to Christian Scripture, spanking is abuse

I am quite sure there will be many who disagree with me, but my blood ran cold when I read thisth (7) statement “Is your child unruly, undisciplined, or disrespectful?” It immediately raised questions over how much love and respect the child might be receiving at home, or if the lack of mutual reverence is behind a lot of the unhappiness.

I shouldn’t have read this particular blog post and it was probably wrong of me to comment, but it’s not okay when Christian’s use Bible verses to justify abuse against children and, yes, I do consider spanking a child as unnecessary and cruel abuse.

The author of this blog was promoting a 20-page booklet, which seems to be the miracle cure for children with behaviour problems. The more I read, the clearer it became as to why this type of parent is experiencing problems in the first place.

If one follows the draconian steps of beating and intimidating a child into obedience, then I’m quite sure the parent’s life may well be a little easier. But, will this approach contribute to a psychologically balanced child who grows into a secure and happy adult?

When I was a Christian, I enjoyed pondering the teachings of Jesus. I remember how he viewed children as innocent and certainly never “little monsters” that deserve “the rod” to teach them the error of their ways.

In the Bible, Jesus said, “Unless you are like little children, you cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” This doesn’t sound as if he condoned the physical or emotional abuse of a child, so why do some Christian’s justify this by quoting Biblical scriptures that date back to a time when sacrificing your child on a alter was a Godly thing to do?

The author then goes onto say that a child will act like a heathen with no moral standing if they don’t reflect God’s authority. Of course, this is completely incorrect, as well as ridiculous. I’ve witnessed more morals among non-Christian children and adults than those who attend church on a weekly basis. In my opinion, the following statements are testament to the “moral standards” contained in the author’s post.

“We must strive to teach our children to honour and respect the parent, no matter how sick, weak, or incapable we are as parents.”

“The rod is a useful tool for a foolish child”

“Spanking your child is a good and Godly act.”

“Love your child by spanking them.”

“The parent who spares the rod hates their child.”

I don’t see anything in there about Jesus’ teachings of love, honour, respect, and forgiveness. Jesus said in the bible, “Whoever humbles himself as a little child is the greatest in heaven.” This doesn’t imply that it’s okay to humiliate and terrify your child by using violence to address behavioural issues.

I had behavioural problems as a child, which spiralled as I grew from toddler to teenager. I don’t ever remember my parents trying to help ME understand why I demonstrated little ability or willingness to obey any type of rule.

Slaps on the legs as a toddler soon escalated to dad holding me down on the bed as a five-year old while pounding my bare bottom black and blue. By the time I reached nine-years old, until I left home at seventeen, I would get a slap, punch, or kick and sometimes all three, whenever I broke the rules.

Obviously, I didn’t like the violence and I was petrified of my stern father, so I was confused as to why I was unable to be perfect, rather than misbehave and face another potential leathering. It never occurred that a lot of my misbehaviour was actually quite normal, but the expectations and discipline were not.

What their violent discipline did do was create secretiveness and distance. While growing up, I was never able to trust or like them enough to sit in the same room and share family time. When neighbours were sexually abusing their child and then teenager, I was unable to approach either parent for guidance due to fear of a beating.

My parents will defend their actions as unconditional love and guidance, but this does nothing for the psychological damage I’m still trying to repair in therapy today.

th4AG1UDCTSmacking children is a lazy option to parenting and does little to encourage healthy development. A child needs the support and guidance of a loving parent, but fear of physical punishment will only discourage them from discussing and learning from their mistakes with mum and dad by their side.

We wouldn’t smack another adult for misbehaving or making a mistake, hitting out at children is an extreme abuse of power and this is not okay.

Psychology Today on Smacking

Why does everything always have to be about me?

If I walk into a room and greet someone, but they respond with a grunt, I automatically take it personally and assume it must be something I said or did.

Likewise, if someone cancels an appointment or treats me with less respect than I reckon I’m due, I will often take it as a reflection of who I am. If the cancellation was important enough, I might feel disregarded, and maybe even rejected.

Last week my Therapist Paul cancelled my session. Well, he didn’t exactly cancel, but I turned up at the service only to discover he wasn’t there and the staff had forgotten to let me know. The whole palaver felt hugely irritating because we have now missed six sessions within eight months.

I will not make excuses why this came at the wrong time or how grumpy I was to begin with. Recent therapy is learning to be honest about my feelings, especially the unhappy ones. I expressed annoyance at Paul’s secretary and then I stomped my way through Thursday before blowing off more steam during group therapy on Friday.

I was tired of allowing people to walk all over me as though I’m an idiot. I moaned about how difficult it is to have an unreliable Therapist and how rude of Paul not to call the next day to apologise, “It just proves what he thinks of me,” I whimpered along… “And if he can’t be bothered calling before next week’s session, then I won’t bother attending.” Sometimes I forget how old I am.

I was giving it a good old run for its money and in the process of my tizzy, something inside my mind suddenly switched. I’m not usually good at taking a step back to identify my own feelings or those of my opponent, not when there’s steam belching from my ears.

Of course, I was feeling rejected, disregarded, disrespected, and maybe even a tiny winy bit emotionally abused. However, it finally dawned that the therapy services weren’t going out their way to cause this distress on purpose. My unreasonable and erratic response was associated with triggers from defending my early life from narcissists.

Narcissistic parents exert a wide spectrum of violence and intimidation towards their children, but another tool they use with skill is rejection. They see misbehaviour or criticism as a major challenge of their own perfection and will subsequently withhold love, conversation, and even presents, in response to questioning or not living up to their flawlessness.

How do I know Paul wasn’t responding to another client’s crisis, or one of his own? Who am I to judge the service for being so overwhelmed they forgot to call me, just this one time? Why does it always have to be about me?

Growing up in a controlling and abusive environment hardwires the brain into assuming that whenever someone is abrupt or when things don’t quite go our way, it’s a personal reflection or rejection of who we are as individuals. If those early caregivers abused, rejected, or humiliated us, it’s easy to assume other people are doing the same.

Sometimes people are too busy to be perfect all of the time, other people are simply just having a bad day, but this doesn’t reflect how they feel about me. Maybe their budgie died or they might be responding to someone who has more needs than I do.

This change of thinking is one of a few transitions going on at present. They are just in time for our two-week therapy break. While I miss the sessions, it feels an important time to just sit back and allow the process to take shape. I don’t have a clue what this “process” is all about, but I am distinctly aware of its presence.

A Tale of Remarkable Coincidence

I am one of eight million people living in London and there must be a few million landline telephones beginning with the city’s 020 code. What are the odds of a complete stranger mistakenly phoning my number from 500 miles away, and then revealing information that ends my search for a long lost friend?

As I arrived home on Wednesday afternoon, my home telephone was ringing. I’ve been struggling with a little anxiety over unknown numbers, so answering can often be a challenge.

To my relief, I realised the caller had the wrong number, although the woman was very friendly and explained how she is elderly and partially sighted.

I’m from Scotland and my caller had a very soft Scottish accent, so in no time we were conversing like old acquaintances. Neither of us could guess the remarkable turn our conversation was about to take.

“Where in Scotland are you from?” I asked.

“I’m from Montrose.”

“Oh that’s a real coincidence…”

It was as if a dam exploded inside my brain and all the memories came flooding back at once. Anne is a very special person and there was a time when it was hard to imagine our lives apart. But, my sexuality became the elephant in the room and our intended marriage was slowly squeezed out.

While friends shunned my sexuality and the Church stood in judgement, Anne remained by my side. Perhaps she secretly feared her selfless love would ultimately spell our demise, but she continued to help me understand that I was still the same worthy person, regardless of sexual preference.

“I used to visit Montrose with a friend back in the 1980’s… at the time, we lived in Perth.” I told the caller.

“Oh, I was born just outside Perth.”

“Wow, this is amazing. You might know the college I attended in Perth, St Paul’s?”

“Yes, of course I know St Paul’s.”

There are over 60 million people in the UK and it almost felt scary to consider if this random caller knew Anne. We had remained close friends for another 19 years, but then she married in 1995 and we both relocated to opposite ends of the country. Anne had been on my mind a lot lately, but internet searches had proven fruitless.

It was highly unlikely this random caller knew her, but it was worth a shot. “Did you ever meet the woman who took charge of St Paul’s in the early 90’s, her name’s Anne G.?” I held my breath.

“Oh my goodness, this is very strange indeed, I used to meet Anne in Perth Theatre.”

I quickly went into overdrive with a barrage of questions spilling from my mouth, but something about the caller’s hesitancy sank to the pit of my stomach.

“Um… Oh… I am so sorry, but Anne died… and it’s only within the last year.”

I felt utterly devastated. She must be mistaken. “Are you sure?”

“Oh yes, I am certain because Anne’s stepdaughter is married to our minister.”

It took me a couple of hours to come to terms with the news and the synchronicity of the call is extraordinary and quite difficult to grasp. After all this time, I finally found a direct link to Anne, albeit through her stepdaughter, Julie, who confirmed Anne passed away in February 2014.

For whatever unexplained reasons, I was destined to hear this very sad news. My mind is awash with memories of a time when life was the opposite of what it became, but that is another post entirely.

Only the names and location of this story are changed.

No Contact with the Narcissist… “But, she’s your mother.”

We were born into a culture of idolising our mothers. People expect us to sit themthYS3WK643 gracefully on a pedestal, regardless of what they did, or who they became. When a mother and child’s relationship breaks down, there seems to be a predisposition to place the blame on the offspring.

I appreciate how difficult it is for those from functional backgrounds to understand how I could cut my mother off in the first place. People imagine the scenario to be fraught with a wide spectrum of grief. Their lips utter the words without thinking, “But, she’s your mother.”

As soon as people realise my experience is not as they imagine, they view my attitude with a mixture of suspicion and sympathy, their eyes say it all, ‘Awe, poor man… surely he must feel loss’. Many of them say, “But, she’s your mother.”

“Why don’t you try something different,” one woman suggested at last week’s group. I guess my course of action must be playing on her mind because we hadn’t discussed my mother for several weeks. “Write to your mum and tell her how you feel.” She continued, “You might never hear from her again, but at least you tried… what else can you do?” She shrugged, “she’s your mother.”

When I admitted to everyone in the group that the only worry on my mind is regarding what to do if a family members dies, heads nodded enthusiastically, each assuming the devastation and guilt.

It’s not the first time I’ve listened to how I ought to be reacting and it will not be the last when I go in search of those elusive feelings of loss, guilt, or any prospect of reconciliation. I’ve asked many times, where is my sense of loss?

The no contact rule with my narcissistic mother has come as a last resort. The sole intention is to free up enough headspace to address the issues that affect me today. I tried to live harmoniously alongside mum for many years. The first and most important aim was always to please her first, until I eventually realised this was unlikely to ever be successful.

I next moved towards the healthy distance option, while attempting to rise above the manipulation and covert abuse. This only riled mum’s frustration to control and she would only try harder to tear down any boundaries that stood in her way. We would run through her familiar spectrum of volatile moods, and ultimately, the silent treatment.

My sense of loss encompasses all those years I grieved when mum said I was a mistake or when they used intimidation and violence, just because they had the power to do as they pleased. I wept as a teenager for the paternal bond that never was and cried in early adulthood for the criticism that spilled from their mouths. I even questioned if they really were my parents and bawled when I realised they were.

When the group member suggested that I email mum again, it came as a bit of a blow. Her flippancy seems to undermine the blood, sweat, and tears, but her ignorance is forgivable because it’s difficult to appreciate the full flavour of a narcissist unless you’ve been there.

Sending a more detailed email assumes I might appreciate a potential resolution and whenever a person imagines a family death might influence my guilt and grief, they are wrong. The truth is, a close bereavement is the only event that would bring mum out of the woodwork, and the expectations are what I dread the most.

Of course, there is still hurt and anger leftover from the abuse and dysfunction, but arriving at my decision has nothing to do with anger or an inability to forgive the narcissistic mother. It’s not a means to resolve and would never generate a meek response or entice reconciliation.

Staying in touch with a narcissistic mother who is incapable of unconditional love only generates toxicity, which links directly to the source of the emotional and psychological damage. Severing communication is about reclaiming control of my own life and creating a healthier environment to begin healing.

While it may feel unimaginable to ‘divorce’ from one’s own mum, it’s equally difficult for me to imagine what it’s like to experience a maternal relationship based on unconditional love and acceptance. When someone says, “But it’s your mother,” I only want to reply, “So what.”