Tag Archives: Moving on

Resolutions & Stepping Stones

The leap year of 2016 is also the year of the Fire Monkey on the Chinese calendar. Mercury makes a rare transit between the sun and the earth, and many have already sailed through the first week of their New Year resolutions.

Many of the New Year resolutions we pledge each year can be a little on the ambitious side. Nevertheless, we press ahead with sword and shield, eager to prove they can survive beyond the average four-week lifespan. It’s not long before our Christmas inspiration encounters the cold, procrastinating winter months, and we begin to question just how realistic our goals were.

I sound like the New Year Scrooge, casting a shadow of doubt over the resolution party. But, as with the festive alcohol, naughty nibbles, and gut-busting meals, we need to apply equal amounts of moderation to our plans for improvement.

Many countries across the globe have conducted research into the success of New Year resolutions. Some of the more optimistic findings come from a University in Pennsylvania, where 77% of their participants made it through the first week. 55% stuck with it for one month, and 40% squeezed their way through six months.

Introducing healthy changes is hard enough, but breaking bad habits can be extraordinarily difficult, sometimes impossible. An old Therapist used to say, “Change is a process, not an event, and each stage of that process is preparation for the next.” Unfortunately, I’ve never been very good at self-discipline. Add depression to the challenge and it’s not long before the mix becomes toxic with failure and self-doubt.

Battling with mental health problems can be a destructive journey for anyone. My own self-esteem tumbles to an all-time low and faith in any prospect of change becomes distant and weakened with time. Even though I plan and exercise different steps to recovery, it’s hard to maintain motivation, when depression zaps every ounce of strength to function on the bad days.

The advice offered by millions of google articles on how to stick to New Year resolutions, sound similar to the strategies I learned during the therapy programme. Be realistic. Be specific and be prepared to divide each target into smaller goals.

I used to make the same annual resolution of enrolling on a full-time Diploma or Degree course. Somehow, studying became a gauge to recovery. But, I would lose a little more faith at the start of each term time, when my name failed to appear on a college register.

The ‘college’ word hasn’t come up on this year’s ‘to–do’ list, although the smaller goals aspire to the same objective. Weekly support groups, trauma therapy, and short vocational courses, comprise a set of sub-goals that feel more solid and doable. This doesn’t mean the process won’t escape the usual apathy, or the prospect of failure. It doesn’t seem to matter how small the goal, most of us fear any kind of failure, even though we should be embracing it the most.

Failure forms a necessary part of the human experience. They encompass a wide array of wonders, from the miracle of a child’s conception, to every invention witnessed by humankind. Yet, despite witnessing a solid record of success, we still regard failure as the enemy.

Whenever plans take an unexpected nose-dive, I’m soon berating my good-for-nothing-abilities and interpret the minor setback as major defeat. I’m guilty of one-track thinking and fail to see that there are other options, sub-goals… stepping stones.
Sometimes it’s better to hold off on some of our aspirations, until we acquire a better position. This doesn’t necessarily signify procrastination. We’re still moving forward, advancing on the same objective, only from a different angle. One of the group Therapists once said, “We need to step back and ask ourselves what can be done differently… what will help to conquer the hurdles?”

One of the most intriguing articles on New Year resolutions appeared in last week’s Independent newspaper in the UK. Scientists behind a study claim that people were more likely to stick to their goals if they discard the statements and present them as questions instead. Apparently, a question creates a psychological response beneficial to willpower and self-discipline.

Wishing everyone a very Happy and Healthy New Year and many answered Questions!

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The end of Therapy

I often contemplated the end of therapy, anticipating a time of fear and doubt. Now that I’m here, the experience isn’t the Armageddon I imagined. This might be due to exhaustion, or it could be the wobbly relationship with my Therapist, Paul.

I would say that our therapeutic relationship has been a comfortable one. His calm, laid-back character oozed an impartiality and empathy that only encouraged conversation to flow effortlessly. The initial months of therapy were testament to a life that had wadded through its fair share of trauma. I don’t know whether to cringe or laugh at some of the dysfunctional beliefs and statements from those earlier days, but it’s comforting to realise that I’ve come a long way.

It will take some time to appreciate the finer details of the therapeutic journey, but one important element missing, is my Therapist Paul. His absences have littered our therapy space since the beginning of the programme. The first few didn’t mean too much, but the strain intensified slowly, as we climbed through six, eight, and then twelve cancellations.

I wrote about most of this in my last post, so I won’t go over old ground. By the time he returned to work last week, I had managed to plough through most of the transference and the anger dissolved into a minor irritation. His absences haven’t ruin therapy, but the constant dripping of disappointment, could corrode the trust within any therapeutic alliance.

When Paul and I met two weeks ago, it was obvious that he had been talking to the Psychiatrist of the therapy team. He knew already that I had seen him on his knees. Perhaps she asked him to justify praying during work time… on my therapy time. I pretended not to notice how our accounts seem to have different timescales. I’m not stupid and know exactly what happened that day.

He would’ve looked for me in the reception area at 2pm. I’m typically a couple of minutes early, but seldom do I run late. On this particular day, I imagine how he seized the opportunity for a quickie – a prayer that is – before returning to fetch me from the waiting room five minutes later.

I wasn’t expecting him to sit in a chair and wait indefinitely, but I arrived at the therapy room approximately three to four minutes late… this is hardly enough time to apparently form a conclusion that I wasn’t coming.

We had a frank conversation two weeks ago, but it can’t be easy for a Therapist to get an earful of transference, especially if they’re not okay within themselves. It would be so easy to assume that his unreliable history demonstrates a lack of investment in my therapy. I don’t believe he’s irresponsible. Some of his clients from the distant past, are as surprised as I am.

Paul said the therapy service is offering to extend my time, but my indecisiveness changed the subject quickly. Rather than leave on the 9th December, I can stay until the end of January. I was probably being flippant and bitchy when I doubted his ability to fulfil the commitment.

Two days later, Paul phoned to change the time of our next session. He called back five minutes later to say, “Thank you.” When our appointment day arrived, I received an email from his boss.

“Dear Cat,

Apologies, but your appointment today with Paul is cancelled. Please contact re any concerns

I should’ve been annoyed, but my time with Paul is over and that feels strangely satisfying. It’s not all negative. The value of our time together far outweighs his absences.

I replied to his manager’s email. My leaving dates are Wednesday 9th Dec with Paul and Friday 11th for the group. Paul’s still off sick and won’t be available for my last session tomorrow, but it makes little difference. The end is disappointing, but it has been a wonderful experience.

 

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.

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

Stuck in Therapy & Resistance

Everything was ticking along rather nicely in therapy, until circumstances took anthBPASDXP0 unexpected turn three weeks ago. I’ve managed to keep my head above the depression, but it has been difficult to write or read other blogs… my apologies. Thankfully, the worst of it’s slowly edging away like a stormy weather front.

I have spent months sharing past memories, edging through childhood trauma, recounting the years of sexual abuse, and trawling the effects of growing up with narcissistic parents has become one of the most enlightening and validating experiences of my life.

During those developments, my head felt as though it was in an endless chaotic loop. I steamrolled ahead and experienced a number of lightbulb moments along the way and even the odd bolt of lightning, but it was a relief to feel the intensity of the issues start to fizzle out.

I reached the end of that process and was surprised to feel completely empty, I still do. Last Friday, I missed group and then on Wednesday afternoon I dragged my stubborn reluctance along to my session with Paul, uncertain what we would talk about for 50 long minutes.

I’m still trying to understand what the terms, “letting go,” and “moving on” actually mean, which is one of the reasons why I came to blogging in the first place. I used to think they were two of the same; once we let go then we automatically move on.

My experience is that it’s not just about leaving the past behind and then skipping merrily on our way. To ‘let go’ is more about coming face to face with who I am in the present moment.

It seems to me that while we may recover from difficult experiences in our past, moving on from the emotional and psychological baggage does not necessarily happen simultaneously.

While I did recover from an attempted murder experience, it didn’t spontaneously change the PTSD and Agoraphobia diagnoses. It’s similar with childhood trauma, I may heal from the actual traumatic experiences, but it will take time to alter the effects that still ripple through my life today.

When I was thinking about this post, I googled “stuck in therapy” and came across a term I had not heard of before, “Resistance,” which is what we do to protect ourselves from our biggest fears. It’s when we convince the potential enthusiasm that something is not so important, when in reality, it is.

A perfect light hearted example of my own resistance – and I hate to make this admission – is my fear of creepy crawly spiders. I’m reluctant to admit the true extent of those fears because there are some big mother spiders in London.

untitled (2)When I lived with my ex-partner, if a spider happened to grace us with its presence, not only did I vacate the room, I would sit in my car until he apprehended the offender and then proved it.

Now that I live alone, I resist admitting my fears in the hope of conjuring enough bravado to catch the bionic blighters in a pint glass. If all else fails, I can eventually retreat to bed pretending I don’t care if the hairy-legged-mother successfully navigates its spiteful way into my bedroom.

That may well be a funny example, but ‘resistance’ can also take the shape of much more insidious behaviours, such as recalling painful experiences but failing to connect with the emotion, or having dissociative lapses in memory during therapy. Some people might rewrite history to protect whatever fear they resist the most, or decide we are bored or disheartened with sessions and then feel angry with the Therapists when we perceive them as a threat or believe they no longer meet our needs.

Apparently, we’re constantly grappling with resistance throughout our therapeutic journey. Sometimes there are moments of fluidity and clarity, when we embrace new realisations that were previously resistant to our fragile minds. At other times, we just don’t get it and continue to subconsciously battle with the things that piss us off the most.

Of course, most of us are not aware when resistance is playing tricks with our minds,th9EDMWIXO which is a rather daunting prospect. The thought of reaching the end of my therapy programme before realising I’ve been avoiding the issue that needs the most attention, is almost discouraging.

When I started therapy, I imagined letting go to be the conclusion, but it’s actually just the beginning.

The Fear Depresses me the Most

It has been a long time since I experienced significant bouts of depression. I’m quiteblack dog sure many readers will relate to that jittery feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, never really knowing how low the depression will go, or if it’s merely just a passing blip.

My MH diagnosis’ includes Major Depressive Disorder so I guess it does what it says on the bottle. There was a time not so long ago when chronic depression became more than a regular occurrence, but it feels as if I’m out of practice, although this can only be a good thing.

Where did this episode begin? The largest part of it seemed to settle during my therapy with Paul yesterday. I was already exhausted and feeling pissed off on arrival, which just seemed to snowball during our session.

We briefly talked about a number of issues, without going into anything in depth, but those topics possibly held more significance than I initially realised.

I told Paul about my emails to the narcissistic mother and Sissy, the Golden-child, asking for no contact. There’s not one shadow of doubt or regret hanging over that decision, but underneath the certainty, is a weird sense of loss. I didn’t expect this to happen.

The fact is, childhood memories and dysfunctional family dynamics have dominated my life for such a long time and now that my mind isn’t so swamped, there’s this vast empty space just waiting… waiting… for… my… future. The fear depresses me the most.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I was always a worker and the opportunities were more than I could’ve ever wished for, I loved and breathed my vocation. But, fifteen years disappeared and there’s no way I would qualify for the same positions today.

Nevertheless, Cat does have something in mind, but the plan entails going back to college/university for four years. It’s not the time that feels daunting and I can handle the cost and even the debt, but the thought of returning to study at 52, feels humiliating. I know, I know, we’re never too old, but I just can’t snap out of feeling a complete failure for reaching this time of life without any solid roots.

The biggest hurdle of all is PTSD and ‘related’ Agoraphobia, which is something I don’t often talk about on this blog, but it’s hard to imagine being able to live my life as freely as before. The “related” part is not a medical diagnosis, but it’s entirely the aftermath of being a victim to violent crime, which I wrote about here.

There’s little point telling a victim of any kind of trauma that it might never happen. The fact is, it did happen, and sometimes the unimaginable becomes someone’s reality. .

Yes, I know how unlikely it is to become a victim of abuse or violent crime again and I’ve heard all about “statistically,” but I was once one of those statistics, so applying that kind of logic doesn’t seem to cut it for me.

When I first started therapy, many things were hard to imagine.

It would not have been possible for me to talk about childhood memories without recoiling in shame and trauma.

It was hard to imagine ever finding peace and acceptance for the childhood hurt and disappointment, and I never thought it possible to find the courage to ‘divorce’ my family.

thU6CGHWTTWhen I first asked the Mental Health Team for help three years ago, I shamefully admitted to the Psychiatrist, “I don’t want to get any better, not if it means re-joining life again or connecting with people” and here I am, anticipating and planning both.

It seems these “hard to imagine” scenarios have a habit of becoming reality and this needs to be my focus in the next phase of therapy, but that doesn’t mean every part of my senses will not still be screaming out “DANGER” whenever I try to push past those safe boundaries.