In Athens

In Athens

I thought I’d share with you some of the beautiful things we’ve seen and experienced in Athens so far.

There are countless interesting churches. In the rear of this picture is the main Greek Orthodox metropolitan cathedral, The Cathedral of the Annunciation, recently refurbished, whilst in the foreground is a centuries-old church known as Little Metropolitan, really St Eleftherios Church (which we haven’t managed to go into yet as it is often shut, unusually for this area). On our last trip here my fiancé and I prayed outside under the moonlight, giving thanks for each other and asking God’s guidance during our engagement.

This past Sunday we were able to go to Mass at the Catholic Cathedral of St Dionysus where we found this very peaceful portrayal of St Joseph and the Christ Child.

There are several people we need to buy gifts for and also we are going to bring some non-perishable Greek foods home to form part of the meal after our wedding. So we went through the Monastiriki which is a set of narrow, winding streets packed with little open-fronted shops selling jewellery, leather bags and sandals, T-shirts, traditional dresses and embroidered shirts, icons, crosses, ornately covered Bibles, food (olives, baklava, Turkish delight, sweets, herbs, stuffed vine leaves, olive oil), drinks (lots and lots of Ouzo and Metaxa brandy miniatures), replicas of Ancient Greek artefacts and statues, toys, and countless souvenirs (some tackier than others – apparently you can fit a picture of the Parthenon onto everything from a teacup to a wooden replica of a certain part of the male anatomy!!).

It’s worth looking up, as well as at the shop fronts, because there are often pretty balconies above you and twisting grapevines where doves sometimes sit.

With new sensory experiences around all day long, I have needed to balance busy hours with down time, and we are so fortunate to have a pool at the hotel to cool down or rest beside.

My fiancé has been utterly impressively amazing at getting me and my wheelchair around – not at all easy when the streets are cobbled and up / downhill. I’ve been really concerned he will wear himself out caring for me. I walk where I possibly can but it is not much at all. My fiancé’s love is a deep blessing I never could have imagined existing. I want to help him rest and care for his own needs too.

I will post another Greece update with more photos soon.

Ginny xxx

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This time next week

This time next week

This time next week we will be in Greece, God willing. My fiancé and I are going away for a few days. It will be the second time I have been abroad before which I hadn’t been for about 14 years, so travelling is still new for me. My fiancé’s family on one side were Greek so it’s important to him. I’m still extremely nervous about the journey but I’m using what it means to him and the good it will do for him to motivate me to continue past the anxiety. I know what beautiful places we saw last time and we have plans of what to do this time.

We are both much in need of rest and it seems impossible to get it at home, where the next medical appointment, the next task, the next step preparing to move house, the next unforeseen problem, always cuts into whatever downtime we plan. It’s been impossible to have quiet to listen to God, or calm and free time together or alone.

“We must never let the noise of the world overpower and overwhelm that Still Small Voice.” – Elder L Tom Perry

Maybe going away will allow us to find some stillness and re-establish a routine starting with prayer. We are longing for freedom from the spiral of pushing through the latest crisis then collapsing exhausted. Having a day out locally doesn’t seem to afford us that and brings more stresses. This temporary escape will help.

In terms of travel anxiety I think I’m feeling pretty much as I did before last year’s trip to Greece. Maybe I should expect to be feeling much more confident now but it’s still a new thing and it might take lots more travelling before my feelings change. Or maybe it’s a feeling I need to accept experiencing and it might vary according to how otherwise strained or ill I am. When I’m less well with my physical disabilities, for example, I know my anxiety about leaving the house for even familiar journeys can be huge. What has changed since the last trip to Greece is that alongside the anxiety, I also have a lot more happy emotions, like excitement and curiosity about what we will see and where we will stay. This motivates me to want to go, rather than it simply being a question of trying to push aside frightened feelings.

I’m full of thanks to God for bringing me on this path and for the amazing understanding my fiancé shows me. I never wanted to go anywhere before but I do with him.

Ginny xxx

Image from patternpictures.com with thanks

What do you do when you see someone you love being hurt by another person?

What do you do when you see someone you love being hurt by another person?

Strains in relationships in my family are becoming ever more apparent. It’s not just strains. For my part I’m watching two people I care about in the family and worry about be knocked down, put down, undermined and controlled by another family member. I’m on the receiving end too. Right now I’m more worried about the two other people. I can get a little more distance. I’m struggling myself and upset and every anxiety is worse because I find myself in situations that resemble my traumatic childhood and that’s triggering – and the very fact I find it upsetting is used against me to say I am the problem. Yet I have someone else who loves me and a day to day life full of so many blessings with them.

When you see someone you love being hurt, even emotionally abused, by another person, what do you do? When do you speak up? When do you ask them something about it or tell them what you’ve noticed? This is is a situation where the two people suffering seem in one case accepting of being treated like that (even as they are upset by it) and in the other case totally oblivious to it and actually idolising the person doing it to them (likely because they have come to accept it, think it’s normal, actually believe themselves to be the problem).

I’m sure some people would tell me it isn’t my business and I should not interfere. The two people I’m worried about are both adults with their own decisions to make, although if this were a professional environment, one of them would be classed as “vulnerable” because of her mental health. However, in my personal and even work life, I’ve seen too much terrible behaviour and even abuse continue when, if someone had spoken out earlier, it might have been stopped. When I was a child more than a couple of people who knew our family had concerns I was being sexually abused but did not say anything, or when they did say something the person they told didn’t act. (I found all this out as an adult.) In my previous jobs, on two occasions I saw colleagues be victimised and bullied and accounts of events be twisted by other colleagues and superiors who disliked them; after months this led on one occasion to the person leaving and on the other to the person being dismissed unjustly. I’ve also been treated like that by a boss who intimidated, bullied and lied daily, until I was forced to leave my role. Almost everyone saw how the bosses in these situations were behaving but nobody did anything about it; it was accepted because of the bullies’ enormous power and threats. Recently there was a TV programme about a couple who kept over 10 children prisoner in their house in two different towns, neglected and malnourished, sometimes restrained and tied to their beds. It was years before the alarm was raised and the children rescued. In this time neighbours and locals had realised something was wrong, sometimes when one or other of the children managed to get away and ask for help, sometimes when the couple’s bizarre behaviour was observed. Again, for the most part nobody spoke up about their concerns. Could the children have been rescued sooner if they had?

Basically I’ve seen too much abuse go unchecked and nobody saying a word about what they see. I’m hyper aware of this because it would have taken very little, in a way, for the abuse that I was a victim of through my whole childhood to have been uncovered. How might things have been different if the GP who suspected the physical abuse when I was 6 had contacted authorities, if the school had followed up why I was suddenly withdrawn from the education system and isolated at home when I was 4, if the family friend who saw signs I was being sexually abused by my mother had said something to someone other than my dad or if my dad had believed her… might the abuse have been uncovered? Might I have been taken away from my abusers and kept safe when I desperately needed it?

Possibly not; I don’t know. Someone reporting concerns doesn’t guarantee action will be taken. If action is taken, it doesn’t guarantee that the extent of the abuse will be uncovered or that the right help will be given. Abusers are very clever at covering up the truth and twisting explanations and beliefs. I should also emphasise that in most circumstances I don’t think anyone who does not speak up about their concerns is responsible for the abuse continuing*. The responsibility and guilt for abuse lies with the abuser alone, not with the victim or their friend, doctor, neighbour etc. People who don’t speak out often don’t for the best-intentioned reasons, such as not wanting to accuse someone falsely or not wanting to make the situation worse if the abuser finds out that concerns have been raised.

I recognise that the situation today for the two people I’m worried about is not the same as in my childhood. I’m conscious that the traumatised me may feel similarities a lot stronger than they actually are, when my memories surface. This situation isn’t about a child trapped and controlled by an adult who has total power over them. It isn’t the same intensity of abuse. But it is about power and control being used to manipulate and exploit people’s vulnerabilities – vulnerabilities made greater by previous worse abuse they’ve lived through.

It hurts to see loved ones being treated like this. It hurts that they can’t see what’s being done to them or that they think it’s okay they are treated that way. I wish they could leave the relationship but it’s not up to me what my loved ones do. I can’t make them see the situation how I do. Nor should I try.

Is there some way I can help them realise what is happening and that they don’t have to just accept it? For me, something of a turning point came when it was made clear to me how very much not normal my relationship with my abuser was and that the abuser’s view of me, the view she indoctrinated me with, was not the truth and was not how other people saw me. It took years to start to gain this understanding. It doesn’t happen in one conversation.

My main fear is that if I raise the matter now with my loved ones and tell them what I’ve seen happen to them or what the person does to me, they will become so angry or feel so insulted (bearing in mind they are in close relationships with the abusive person) that they no longer want to listen at all or even end our conversation or worse still, cut off / cut back contact with me. Thus they’d potentially get sucked deeper into the abusive relationship. If they told the abusive person about the concerns I raised, she would use it as further ammunition against me and to turn them against me. Our relationship would deteriorate and they’d be more isolated.

I don’t know what the answer is and I don’t know where to get advice.

Ginny xxx

*Sometimes, this can be complicated and I might write about it in another post.

***

Picture sourced with thanks, from istockphoto.com

Undermined

I’ve just had a family member to stay who I find it very stressful to be around. She rapidly and repeatedly undermines and dismisses things I’m experiencing and what I achieve. She makes it clear she thinks I’m faking my physical health conditions, that my mental health conditions are my own choice, that I’m lazy, a let down and a failure. She starts gradually drip by drip until nearly every comment makes clear what a waste of space I am, her hatred of me and any sense I have of myself apart from her statements and blame of me is gone.

Right now I wish I’d cut off all contact with her as I almost did 5 years ago then 4 years ago when her behaviour to me, along with the circumstances I was living in, repeatedly put me in situations too closely mirroring those I was in as a child trapped with my mother’s emotional abuse.

But – and I almost didn’t write this – she’s my step mother and my father thinks she’s wonderful, and what do I do if I’m to allow him happiness… and keep some relationship with him… which actually, I think she would rather I did not have. It’s something else she’s gradually tapping away at. Rather as my mother did.

What obligations do I have to him? To her?

I’m seeing far too many circumstances repeating here. It’s very hard to try to go forward building up my recovery with this going on. But this kind of thing always will go on, and I need to make my own choices and change my own behaviour so I don’t act in the same way I did as an abused child.

Xxx

This boat is sinking

This boat is sinking

I feel rubbish that all my posts are negative at the moment. Like I can’t say or do anything good anymore or be thankful when there’s so much I really should be thankful for – am thankful for – but I’ve lost touch with it all.

Every single time there’s going to be a short moment or peace or rest the next disaster happens. That’s been life pretty much since I remember and I don’t even have things that bad. It’s stupid. Stupid because it’s insignificant in the scheme of things; when there’s so much deeper suffering everywhere around; stupid because I’ve got this far so why can’t I carry on.

But I’m running out of energy and mind and hope and everything else.

My fiancé’s been rushed back into hospital again today after months of fight with the doctors and being dismissed and going round in circles. We don’t know what’s going on or what they suspect or why they are doing the tests they are now. I’m useless for him because physically I’m so ill at the moment I have been in bed, unable to get up for more than a few minutes at a time.

All I can see right now is confusion, being overwhelmed, people I love hurting, me letting people down, mentally breaking apart.

We are going under Lord, is it nothing to you, the apostles cried out to Jesus as the boat was overwhelmed with the waves. I don’t know how much more storm we can stand right now. Where are you, Lord Jesus?

Xxx

Losing Lily

TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of suicide, of deaths of people suffering mental health conditions, and of failings in mental health care. If you are in mental distress, caution is advised in reading this post.

A NOTE: This post mentions anonymously the death of a person who had recently left the care of a service I worked in. There was an investigation into the circumstances of the person’s death and the investigation has now concluded. I want to make clear that this post discusses solely my experience from my point of view and my knowledge of the situation, my thoughts and feelings. It does not reflect the position of the service I worked in, or of any other person or team involved in the person’s care.

During the time I worked in a specialist community and inpatient mental health service 7 or 8 years ago, two of our patients died. One lady had moved away to a different part of the country so hadn’t been in our service for a couple of years when she tragically died from an overdose. The other lady had just left our inpatient ward (as far as I know against doctors’ advice but assessed as having capacity to make her own decision in this regard) and gone to live independently, but deteriorated rapidly within weeks and died 4 months later. I’ll call her Lily*.

At any one time we were working with several other patients in my eyes dangerously close to death – because of their drive to harm themselves (by overdose and substance use and so on), because of their suicidal intentions, and/or because their organs were so damaged physically by the effects of their mental health conditions (starvation and other eating disorder or self-neglect symptoms leading to heart failure or diabetic coma, for example).

We were working constantly short staffed, physically and mentally unwell ourselves because of the workload and emotions and conflicts and fear of making mistakes, within constraints of time and policy that often felt out of our hands, trying to provide a service fair and the best for everyone, but knowing we could not give enough.

Lily has never left me. She’s come to my mind every week or so since the winter she died. I was a secretary, not a clinician. I didn’t know Lily as much as I got to know some of our other patients. She was intelligent and wanted to do well and was very driven for her goals. She made close friendships with a couple of people on the ward. Yet, she really needed love which I think she often didn’t find where she may have most expected it. She really did start to get better but something very painful remained impossible to reach. Sometimes I wonder if she was hurting so much she’d had enough. If everything was so locked in and disconnected from the people she needed and wanted to trust, that in her pain it felt like time to go – if she didn’t choose exactly when but she did know she’d quietly slip away.

We didn’t reach her. Even as she got a little better, we couldn’t reach through her pain. We didn’t catch her. We didn’t keep her safe when she was slipping. We lost her.

There was an investigation – many investigations – after Lily’s death. The final investigation ruled that the harm she suffered, and her death, were avoidable. I just now read the start of the report of the last investigation and horror and panic and confusion took over. The room swayed and spun and I couldn’t breathe. I’m still freezing cold.

Her life is on my hands. Not mine alone, and not the service I worked in alone because several other services were involved – but I was there.

Of course we had not wished to reject her or abandon her or disown her or her care. One of the worst things is that a lot of what was judged harmful in the report, were either actions in line with procedures we were taught to follow to give safe and fair and consistent care to every patient in the service, or matters that within the constraints we faced, we could not personally control. But whichever, it wasn’t right or safe for Lily. Consistency and guidelines and constraints are one thing but every individual patient is in very individual circumstances at very individual risk. Procedure under huge constraints imposed from outside, doesn’t make account of that.

What do we do when the steps that were supposed to have been good or safest or standard, or following established guidelines, or the best we could give, or taken in faith in the decisions of those we work for and trust, were actually steps that led to a death?

Personally, what should I have done and what do I do now? My heart is screaming at me, you did not speak up, you did not speak when you had concerns at what you heard, you did not act, you did not follow your gut – you followed instructions instead, and you know this wasn’t the only time.

Good intentions or having tried to follow what was supposed to be good enough, or even best, count for nothing now.

I’m reminded of my mother and her care and deterioration; how we were locked in an agonising cycle of her discharge, the same crises repeating, her deterioration and readmission, worse and worse every time, all of us knowing what would happen but all held powerless by legislation that didn’t allow us to put in place a few simple steps that would have kept her safe. Ultimately an adult judged to have capacity to make a decision is allowed to make a decision that will harm herself, allowed to cut herself off from sources of help, allowed to deceive everyone who wants to help. Even when those decisions and actions are the work of a delusion founded in deep-rooted, severe psychosis. My mother couldn’t be more different from Lily but I see similarities in how the hands of those who wanted to help were rendered powerless.

In my head when Lily stares at me, slowly fading, I don’t know what to say, and everything I should have said back then echoes around me.

(*not her real name. Again please note that the opinions and thoughts and experiences mentioned in this article are mine alone.)

Ginny xxx

How do you love someone who is hurting his/herself when it feels you can only watch?

WARNING: this post mentions self-harm and suicide and the point of view of carers of people who are struggling.

How do you love someone who is slowly hurting his/herself – and you wonder if actually, they’re taking their life gradually – when it feels like you can only watch?

I don’t mean how do you feel love. That’s not in question. It’s your love that aches and burns and cries inside you.

But how do you give love?

When it seems you can only watch. Watch, wish, long, weep, beg, scream, shake (you – and them?), speak but only shout into the distance, only shout up against a rubber wall that bounces your words of concern and pain and fear and help and whatever it may be right back at your heart – where they metaphorically stab you and mock you with their futility.

And the love you want to give is lost somewhere.

Your loved one get relentlessly weaker with irresistible self-consuming power. And you are powerless. Love does not force or fight and does not demand to control another person’s choices. Love can not force another person to choose the healing of their body or to choose life. The pain-and-longing part of your heart, when you love someone who’s breaking, might for a time wish it could force it, but the very centre of love knows really that it cannot be forced.

And then you cry.

Even if you cannot and do not want to make them choose, you wish you could at least penetrate the rubber wall, so that love could be heard for a little while.

****

I’m in this situation right now, actually with two people dear to me, and I don’t know how to give love.

Ginny xxx

“Music, sweet music, there’ll be music everywhere…”

It’s been a while since music has made me happy. Music is important for me. I don’t deal well with silence – something I’m trying to work on because it stems from trauma and what happens if I’m alone with my thoughts, my feelings and the voices. So when I’m home alone I tend to have either the TV on or music playing. Many songs help me get through the day by reflecting how I feel and even giving me some sense that someone is here who empathises. Others are effective at taking me away from the stresses I’m working through in reality. They may remind me of a good memory or something I like but more than this, they can be a super-highway into dissociation – not the scary dissociation but what I call the protective dissociation, where I can detach by becoming subsumed into one of my escape worlds.

It’s been a long time since music I’ve come across by chance has stirred up a simple feeling of happiness here and now. Today I was trying and failing to focus on work I want to prepare for seeing the psychologist tomorrow and on preparing a short talk I have to give on Friday. I was exhausted and my head couldn’t take anymore. It’s been a gruelling month. I decided to stop and do something else, a sort of example of the strategy “take the opposite action”. Feeling exhausted and overwhelmed I decided to act as if I were happy and in control of my life. I put on iTunes Dreamboats and Petticoats Diamond Edition – vintage and summery?! – and started cleaning my lounge of a week’s mess. After an hour or so it was as though a switch flicked in my brain and I started to feel mentally energised (if physically tired because of my disabilities and resultant muscle problems) and the panic receded. I hung out the laundry and actually felt happy for a little while.

Now I’m returning to my work for the psychologist and though I’m starting later than planned, at least I can use the boost the music gave me and actually face it.

Ginny xxx

Dancing in the Street by Martha and the Vandellas

Clearing out my flat and trying not to go out of my mind

I didn’t know it had been so long since my last post. Life is chaotic. Either I’ve been too low to write, dealing with flashbacks and triggers or scrambling madly to keep on top of more and more pressing demands.

Perhaps I’ve actually achieved quite a lot, with the unending support of my fiancé. We had to put in a “mandatory reconsideration request” with the DWP for his Personal Independence Payment (PIP), including a lot of extra information and details of everything they had got wrong in their report about him. This meant a huge amount of research and writing. In itself it was a daunting task. There were others we tackled this past fortnight too. Perhaps I should feel pleased we did it. Instead I just feel exhaustion, anxiety and upset (at the lies in the DWP’s report and the ramifications for us of his PIP being cut). If I could feel some sense of achievement I’d feel more thankful and encouraged; I’d see how God is leading us step by step. When despite hard work there is still a maze of uncertainty and upset and no conclusion to the situation – in this instance, we have to wait indefinitely to hear back from the DWP as there is no timeframe within which they have to respond – I find I can’t see what we have achieved. Even when others can and are optimistic.

This month several notably positive moments got lost in the anxiety and depression and desperate hamster-wheeling to meet deadlines. For instance I had a couple of great psychology sessions at the hospital. I need to take the time to build up from that.

Meanwhile as a way to try not to lose it completely I’ve been clearing through my flat – again – putting everything I can for sale this time. I haven’t sold as much as fast as I’d hoped but it’s better than nothing. At least it feels like I’m adding a little more to our savings for our future. Listing items for sale online takes more time than I’d expected, accounting for photographing, pricing, listing, checking postage and keeping on top of enquiries.

I signed up to eBay which I haven’t used for some years. It’s been helpful and I’ve sold a couple of things, as well as buying a couple of cheap smaller size clothes I needed as I’ve lost weight. However straight away I am faced by constant temptation to buy things I don’t need, or binge spend when I’m low. I’m worried what I might do if I shop on there when I’m “gone” (when I’m dissociating) and I spend impulsively, taking me back to the state I was in when I shopped and shopped and accumulated bags of things I didn’t recognise or recall buying. It would be worse to fall into this now when it’s not just me but my fiancé’s life that would be affected. I need to put some safety measures in place.

Ginny xxx

The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3 part post. You can find Part 1 HERE

I wonder how much of my misinterpretation of emotional facial expressions is because the people I grew up with, my current family members and I myself express emotions in a different way from the typical?

It occurs to me that I’m told that often I show no emotion outwardly, or that people can’t work out what I’m feeling. In a family member’s words, “we just have to have some kind of reaction out of you,” and “we have no idea what on earth is going on with you so it feels like – aargh – we can’t be dealing with this!” I’m often told this when internally I’m having really strong emotions of loss, hurt, upset, abandonment and fear, and having flashbacks. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep my emotions hidden. Almost always I’ve tried to turn my feelings inwardly so as not to bother or hurt anyone else with them.

However at the same time I’ve frequently thought other people understand what I’m feeling inside (but don’t want to discuss it so I just have to keep going) when it may later transpire they had no idea what I was feeling. I will then find it really hard to believe they had no idea. I will also be upset because my attempt to keep inside the sad feelings I have, to keep going as you’re meant to and not draw attention to myself, then backfired and seems to cause anger and upset and accusations of being childish, spoiled, rude or disrespectful, and of making other people responsible for me. People have said things like “It looks like you’re accusing me of not looking after you,” “I’m not responsible for how you feel,” “Its not anyone else’s job to make you feel better,” “You’re a spoiled little brat”; I’m told I have to stop thinking about my own problems, should push them aside, should think what other people have gone for me, etc. Which is often exactly what I’ve been trying to do and nearly broken under the strain. I don’t know how I get it so wrong. I don’t know what other people are seeing at these times that is childish or rude etc. If I did I would have some chance of correcting it.

This reminds me that as a child being abused, I was daily really distressed, inevitably expressed it (til I learnt better) and got no help. I was at best ignored. More often the punishments redoubled and threats got worse – more threats of how I was breaking up the family, of how the couple of people I had and loved would die because of me and graphically how I would find them, of how my parents would be taken away. I was told I was a liar, faking what I was feeling, behaving as I was in order to cause worry and hurt to my abuser, to punish them because in some way I didn’t get what I wanted. One of my abuser’s paranoia about us being watched increased too. Her bizarre, possibly psychotic behaviour, and ridiculing of me, came to the fore. I tried my hardest not to express any feelings, even physical feelings. When I got ill I was terrified what would happen when my abuser and others complicit in the abuse found out. Basically I got no response or a terrible response, and none of the help I needed, from my main abuser and the person enabling her.

Both my abuser when I showed my emotions as a child, and family members now when I try not to show my emotions, said/say that I am childish, spoiled and hurting others.

When I do express my emotions now, the reaction from my family is rarely positive. Occasionally it is, but often it isn’t. The fact that it fluctuates is really hard to deal with. But that’s another story for another post.

My abuser’s emotions could change in a couple of seconds so I had to be constantly on the alert and do what I could to stay safe. She was either emotionless in all her expressions, or furious, or distraught, or ridiculing me. Occasionally she was happy but you got the sense it was only on the surface and sometimes it seemed like a trick, especially when it quickly flipped to anger or ridicule. (Her severe psychotic episodes were somewhat different.) Whilst I had to be on the alert to her emotions, I didn’t learn anything from her about normal emotional expression.

My other immediate family members’ emotions are also hard for me to judge, in facial expressions and verbally. I can fail to spot the onset of anger with me. At other times I’m overwhelmed by how they express it. I often interpret anger when they are actually feeling concern or upset. I interpret disinterest or rejection when they say there is none there.

So…. on the whole that does seem quite messed up, doesn’t it!?

To be continued in Part 3 (which will be what I thought I was going to write about originally!)