Month: October 2015

Hearing things

Hearing things

This post contains discussion of experiencing hallucinations, or sensations, which are not “really there”, as well as in very general and brief terms touching on self-destructive ideas. I put this as a warning because I am not sure whether this may be disturbing, distressing or triggering to anyone. I have discussed this very little before. Please consider not reading further if it may not be helpful to you. Thank you.

I have a question on which I would be very grateful to hear any thoughts or answers.

My understanding is that in borderline personality disorder, heightened states of emotion for a prolonged period of time can cause transient psychosis and that people who have Borderline may experience hallucinations.

A few other people I’ve met who have Borderline have shared that they experience things which I think might be termed hallucinations, for example, hearing voices, sensing presences, seeing people or things, sensations of touch, and so on. These seem to be with varying degrees of – I cannot find an adequate term – solidity? For example, ranging from the sensation of a presence with you or a sound, to clearly and specifically seeing another person in the room.

I’m frightened by hallucination experiences I have.  I know I am more likely to have them when I am in a state of high emotion. Until recently, I was more likely to have them when alone. Most commonly (I think) they are auditory – hearing someone calling my name (most commonly my mother’s voice), hearing something happening or being said again which happened a long time ago (this is closely bound to my experiencing flashbacks as part of my PTSD), hearing a voice which I am aware is in my head but which appears to come from outside of me telling me to do self-destructive things or telling me how stupid, disgusting, ridiculous, greedy etc I am, or hearing non-distinct voices but knowing that it is accompanied by a sense of pain / anger / urgency in some way. Sometimes I am aware that what I am hearing is in my head (like the voice telling me to do things to myself), but increasingly, sometimes I am certain it was in the world outside (like my mother calling me). More recently, the hallucinations are visual as well, for example, inanimate objects seeming to move or shine. I am always aware immediately afterwards that this cannot be real. Or they can be sensory – this tends to be bound up with the flashbacks again, for example, during a flashback believing that the people present when the traumatic thing happened, the people I feared, or just a non-specific sense of terror that is much more an external sensation than emotion should normally be.

These things are all intensifying. I am scared. I fear am I developing psychotic symptoms? I know my mother’s illnesses started to worsen when she was just a little older than me. Is the same thing happening to me? I would like to know, does anyone else with PTSD or personality disorder experience this kind of thing? Or even, if you are not diagnosed with a personality disorder or PTSD, have you ever experienced anything similar? How do you deal with it? At the moment I have an awareness on some level that these things I’m experiencing aren’t real. How do I make sure that I do not lose that?

I know that these are hard questions and personal questions and I understand you may not feel comfortable to answer. Anything you would like to share, I would be very very grateful for. I really do not want to distress anyone or trigger anyone in any way and if discussion of this kind of thing is not helpful for you I do not want to draw you in.

Ginny xx

With thanks for image to: http://freewallpaperdekstop008.blogspot.co.uk/

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“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

“When God closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” Then again, if one door closes when another one opens, your house is probably haunted.

What a week of decisions and emotions rocketing out of control.

I resigned from my job on Wednesday. (My post “not working out” explains some of the reasons behind this.) It has to be one of the hardest decisions I have made and I can only begin to describe the feelings around it. It wasn’t a hastily made decision and came after months of trying to make things better and stay in my job. I am very sad because I had wanted to stay in that role for a long time. I wanted to be able to give back to the firm, to thank them for keeping me on after I was off sick with three hospital admissions at the end of last year and in January 2015 and for letting me come back part time (in principle at least). I owed them. Also as I am longing for some stability and security. Also because I had met two colleagues who were very special and I felt privileged to work with them, clicheed as that may sound. They were kind and compassionate and thinking and brought something much needed, special and rare to the team. I learned from them. I really hope we stay in touch.

Having said that, I do know I feel that this choice is going to be better for my health. I have had to leave jobs before, but it has been a question of giving up at the point I am totally exhausted and cannot cope anymore, my health is spiralling down (well that part still applies, I guess!) and have lost all hope and there just seems to be nothingness. This time, it doesn’t feel like nothing. Making this choice, I have borne in mind being able to be stable and being able to find a job I can sustain whilst also having some balance in my life – being able to do some work but also not being so utterly drained from coping with it that I can’t do anything else (I stop eating properly, can’t look after my home, don’t do housework, cut myself off and have even less contact with friends than I usually do, can’t manage my finances because I’m so vulnerable to giving in to impulsivity). I have also borne in mind being able to fully participate in the treatment programme I’m in at the moment – getting to appointments, being able to be present in them not having to keep part of me shut off because I will not be able to bear the pain of openness and exposure necessary to examine thoughts and emotions and relationships, if I am then to rush back to work afterwards and somehow keep it together.

Admitting my limitations and my fragility at the moment takes humility and trust in the support systems that are there at the hospital community team and willingness to make myself vulnerable in order to begin to learn. Knowing what I fear, what I love, what I care about, what I struggle with, what I feel, what I think; learning to understand what is in other people’s minds and hearts and how to be able to reach out and walk forward, to respond to what I feel from them without being terrified or crushed and without the spiralling storms of thoughts in my head obsessionally spinning, trying to prevent disaster…. This takes energy, hope and a space in which it is possible to be vulnerable but not crushed and somehow also hold on to hope despite knowing all I cannot, at the moment, do.

I feel so many things right now. The actual meeting on Wednesday was made much easier for me than I thought that it would be. I was surprised to encounter compassion I did not expect. I was pleased to find that there is someone who has come as a temp into my post and who seemed very calm and very nice, so I know that the team I used to work for do have secretarial help. I was very thankful to get to speak to two colleagues in particular – and I really, really hope that we will be able to stay in contact – and to leave a couple of notes. I was reassured to be able to “hand over” on a few points of work  to be assured that things will not be lost or forgotten (though as ever I’ve remembered so many more things I should have let people know – where things are kept, where things are up to, etc, etc!).

It was a very very hard day with the highest anxiety for a long length of time that I have experienced for a while. I cried a lot. I walked a lot, trying to stay out of the flat where I’d be alone, to at least be around people if not with anyone, because I would be less likely to crumple completely that way and give in to the self-destructive urges.

It was done.

And somehow I did get through that night to the next morning, even though it was one of those nights where I hurt so much it blacked out everything else. I know it sounds so terribly ridiculous writing this. So childish and stupid and self-centred and incapable. It is no disaster or tragedy and it is a very very little thing in the scheme of things. Everyone else will move on in an instant. Yet that is the reality of what these things are for me at the moment. I am ashamed afterwards and feel ridiculous thinking how much I felt it would be impossible for emotion to pass but at the time it is absolutely that complete and total that it as if a cloud or a wall has fallen over every other factor in my world, enclosing me in spiralling thoughts and plunging emotions and frightening voices.

***

I can’t really describe what I’m feeling now. After the meeting on Wednesday, more happened, which left me feeling further conflicted and intensifying the guilt I feel over leaving and that I really should have been able to keep doing it. I think these will have to wait for another post.

This week there were many little gifts too. I started applying for other jobs. It is incredibly fortunate that I came to my decision at the time that there is an abundance of Christmas work which gave me more hope of being able to find something, at least temporary. Trying to keep focus I took a deep breath and a lot of coffee (not at exactly the same time 😉 ) and redid my CV, walked round town to clock the job adverts in windows and shopping centres and made several applications. Thanks be to God that once I had got over the initial frozen feeling (which was a hard fight) it was not as awful as I had felt it would be.

My confidence is very low right now and I was so frightened walking in to shops to give my applications, actually physically feeling I was shaking. It was not helped by a couple of very difficult experiences. I went into one store to give in my application and went up to the two assistants who were chatting to each other. Instantly I felt incredibly intimidated and uncomfortable and that they thought I was ridiculous. Swallowing my feelings I spoke with the supervisor and handed in my application and she told me she would pass it on to her manager and I thanked her and turned to leave.  As I was walking out I am certain that she and her colleague burst into laughter and made comments about me. I was shaken, not least because instantly I did not know, had that actually happened? Had they actually laughed and teased or had I imagined it and heard it all in my head because I was so much expecting that to be what people would really think of me? I still have no answer. I am just trying not to think of it.

That one clearly was not going to go forward, but I did have some better news and was extremely surprised and thankful to be offered two interviews, including one for a sales assistant in a department store. The selection process was scary for me because after quite in-depth online testing it involved a group task assessment as well as individual assessment. Though I did not feel that I had done well and looking back, could see so many things I had done wrong and ways I should have responded differently – and again, so many ways people would see how stupid I am – I did also somehow manage to enjoy some of it and enjoy being with the people I met, which had to be a good sign, I thought. It suggested I would find some common ground with colleagues and be able to interact with them. It was interesting too. The managers who were present seemed supportive and one was even encouraging when I needed to discuss my health/disability needs – straight away she said that she thought it would certainly be possible to adjust my hours so that I could attend all my hospital appointments.

A couple of days later, I was absolutely astounded to receive a conditional offer! In a very hard week this was a very precious gift! Not least because this means that things will not be completely terrible financially in the next few weeks, though this is a major source of anxiety, both because I will be working fewer hours so managing with a much lower salary, and because in times of distress and anxiety I can be much less able to resist the impulsive urges that come as part of BPD, and one area in which I can be far far too impulsive and irresponsible is spending money.

I still cannot believe it and it does not seem real and I do not think I will quite dare to count on it until I actually get to my first day. I’ve been completing the final questionnaires and going through the health screen, which was much less uncomfortable than I had expected – I’ll post about that another day soon because it certainly was food for thought – and was passed fit with a couple of suggested “reasonable adjustments”.

I thank the Lord for this opportunity. Yet again, it is a situation I did not think I would be in, which I really did not want to come to. Something I really counted on – being able to have a little bit of trust that I could do my work and do a good job and try to please and help people – was taken away and even seemed never to have been real, when I discovered how poorly everyone thought I was performing and how little they thought I could cope. But there is a better way forward being illuminated bit by bit and right now (since this is a moment of relative rationality!) I can remember that we may not be where we planned to be, but we are right where God needs us to be.

“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.” I hope it will be a French window because otherwise it’ll be a bit tricky to walk through, not that I’d complain at this point.

Ginny xx

(Title – first line from “The Sound of Music”; second line adapted from a funny meme someone sent me a while back – I am not sure whose was the original idea.)

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

Sitting with uncertainty – Part 2

I apologise for not writing this Part 2 yesterday as hoped.  I had a weekend away for a very dear friend’s 80th birthday. It was special and lovely but I was very drained when I got home and I did not manage to write. I’m sorry.

***

I am starting to realise that it is terribly difficult for me when I realise that my thoughts or emotions are different from someone else’s about a certain situation or matter.  It could be about a particular situation or experience we are both sharing in right now, or a memory of something that happened before, or a matter of belief (religious belief, a principle, that kind of thing), or any case of sensing someone’s strong emotion. It was my therapist and someone else in a therapy group I’m part of who identified this first, then went on to identify that this difference of emotion/thought between individuals is another instance of uncertainty we must learn to sit with.

I sense other people’s emotions more strongly than my own. I find it hard to identify and name my own emotions. When I do feel them they can be very frightening and overwhelming; I may feel them so strongly that they block out anything else, becoming to me everything that there is, frightening me about what will happen and what it means about who I am. They can feel as if they physically pain me. I may feel physically utterly drained or consumingly panicked and driven, unable to sit still, pacing constantly for hours (compulsively, despite the physical pain this causes by aggravating my joint conditions). Times of overwhelming emotion are times I often self-harm.

Other times, I may feel numb and nothing at all. I may be painfully conscious that the other people I’m interacting with feel very strongly but I feel unable to reach out, to come to any connection with them. I may want to say something and know I should and know I should and want to empathise, but feel frozen and unable to respond, and know that by this I am hurting the other person still further.

Or, despite not knowing at all what I feel, I may feel the other person’s emotion (especially sadness, anxiety or anger) so strongly that beyond what I think would be described as empathy, I actually feel their emotion myself to a level that I cannot stand it. It can happen very fast and I do not make any conscious decision or any particularly strong attempt to pick up the emotion. It just happens. Sometimes, I have as little as passed people on the street, sat beside someone on the bus or had a minimal “meeting and greeting” interaction on the reception at work, and this wave or wall of emotion will hit me and stop me in my tracks. I passed someone on the street the other day and was suddenly hit by a wall of such strong anger and hurt that I stopped walking. It was like a physical presence around me and in my lower chest and I gasped and this was swiftly joined by extreme fear. The person had done nothing to me, not even noticed me nor interacted in any way.

A couple of people who share my religious faith have told me that it is a particular gift to be able to empathise to a particularly great extent – it could allow me to help someone, be there for them, pray for them, understand their needs, know if they are in danger, and so on. I think perhaps it can be a gift and could be something from which good can come. Not that I think I have any particular ability, certainly not any power, but it is a sensitivity that could lead to good.

The problem is the intensity is so great it is frightening – as frightening as my own emotions can me. It can be there to such an extent that I can no longer continue to be with the person / people, and withdraw completely in exhaustion and confusion and fear and feeling huge guilt that I cannot resolve what is happening to the person and can’t be sure – there’s the uncertainty again! – is it my fault they feel this way and how should I respond? Then I end up back in the numb place of then not knowing how to respond and not being able to give anything at all.

Whichever of these happens, I’m left unable to interact socially. I haven’t yet unpicked quite why sitting with the uncertainty of the differences and unpredictability of emotions between people is so very frightening and overwhelming to me.  However it does seem to be shared by several people I know who suffer with personality disorder.

A particular problem where thoughts, emotions, intentions and communication are involved is that you can never check enough. You can never get to be completely sure what the truth is and what is right or wrong and if you are good or bad.

In Part 1 of this post, I gave some examples of other kinds of anxieties in situations of uncertainty. All of these are around things that are more concrete, if that is the right word, where eventually you will find out some answer.  For example, to go back to the same examples I gave: tomorrow will come and I will find out what will happen, I can ask my friend which colour she prefers and be sure to choose the mug that colour, and in time I will eventually find out the interviewer’s opinion of me and whether I get the job or don’t. If I’m trying to overcome an obsessional activity or belief, for example, if I don’t wash my hands 10 times before I speak to my friend she will get sick because of me, it is possible to test out this belief in the concrete world – it will be extremely distressing to me at first and cause a huge amount of anxiety, but I can if I dare to, not wash my hands 10 times the next time I speak to my friend and see what happens. If she does not get sick, and if I dare to keep testing this out, eventually perhaps I may be able to see that I do not need to keep doing this ritual to keep my friend safe and I will be able to stop washing my hands so much. I have suffered and still do suffer to some extent with this kind of obsessional checking and in the past, CBT therapy I’ve tried has focussed on changing behaviour and seeing that the awful things I fear do not come to pass.

But where the internal world of thoughts and feelings are concerned, I find it is not possible to check or “see what happens” in the same way and I never find peace.

For example, in the above instance I can see at least to a large extent without doubt that my friend does not get sick physically. But if I am fearing that I have hurt someone emotionally, how can I be sure? If I ask them, how can I be sure they are not just saying something to reassure me? If I think that someone is having a particular thought or a particular emotion, can I be sure that I got it right? Often it’s harder to ask in these situations (and I suppose I feel that it would be socially inappropriate to do so in many situations – I don’t want to inconvenience other people with my own obsessions and fears). If I say something, can I be sure that the other person understood it the way I meant it?

Often, if I have said something that I intend as encouraging, helpful, etc, I worry afterwards that I have communicated a message that I did not intend, which is bad and that is going to be terribly hurtful and upsetting to the other person because they will get that message rather than the one I intended. Then I worry that I actually, unbeknown to myself, subconsciously intended and thought the bad interpretation, and that’s why I said what I did. This must show that I’m actually evil and nasty and need to punish and hurt myself to make sure I don’t hurt anyone else. Then I will self-punish or self-harm. For example, a friend was worried about her baby girl who could not be with her during her medical appointment, and was instead with a babysitter in the waiting room outside. I said to her something like, “It looks like she is with someone who’s looking after her very well,” intending to reassure my friend that her baby was well. Immediately I’d said it, I panicked that this sentence could have implied “she’s with someone who’s looking after her well, because you don’t” and that my friend would think I was saying that she didn’t look after her baby properly. And my mind spiralled out of control thinking that although I didn’t know it, I was really being nasty to my friend and judging her as a bad mother and my intention, although I thought that I wanted to encourage my friend, was actually to upset her because I’m such a bad person inside. I wanted to check with my friend and say, oh no no I didn’t mean this, I meant… etc, etc, but I didn’t dare to, in case that would only make it worse, because if she had not seen the bad interpretation, it would only make it even worse to mention it. I felt the desperate urge to self-harm immediately to punish myself for being so bad inside.

In these kind of instances, nothing whatever will ever reassure me as to what my intention or thoughts really were (whereas, in the earlier example about obsessional hand-washing, I could obtain the concrete proof that my friend did not get sick). There is no way to check for certain what my real intention was, that it is not unconsciously something terrible which I’m not aware of and can’t control. There is no way to check for certain what effect emotionally I’ve had on someone else, or what they have understood from something I have said.

So I don’t know what the way out is.

For some reason, self-harm does seem to be the only (maladaptive) way that I do cope with this kind of uncertainty. When I can’t check enough that I’m not actually doing bad, or intending bad, then I have to hurt myself. The one thing that does seem sure is that if I’m doing something to hurt myself, it will somehow keep other people safe, because I can make sure I’m hurting myself, not other people. I can make sure I’m punishing the evil greedy part inside me so that it doesn’t burst out.

I don’t know how to begin to deal with these kinds of uncertainty. In time I think I am going to give this a Part 3, to look at ways of trying to sit with uncertainty in communicating with people. I’ve a feeling that it’s going to be an important part of my therapy as so much of my interpersonal problems, and perhaps for others with personality disorders too, are connected to these themes.

Thank you for reading, as ever.  I would love to hear your thoughts and experiences and what you find good, or difficult, in interactions with others and in communicating about emotions.

Also, an important note: I know that in this article, I have contrasted examples of anxieties and obsessional thoughts surrounding what I have referred to as things I can check in the concrete, external world, with obsessional thoughts and fears about what is going on in one’s head / emotionally / internally. I say that it is harder for me to find the way out of the latter obsessional thoughts and fears. Please note that in no way do I wish to belittle or minimise the distress experienced by those who are struggling with OCD thoughts and actions and fears relating to the external world, for example checking doors or switches, or cleaning. I know from my own experience and from hearing loved ones’ experiences, that these struggles are deeply distressing and the thoughts just as consuming. I empathise very much with what you are going through. All I wished to do here is draw a distinction which I have come to in my own mind and to suggest that the way out of the two sides of these obsessional thoughts may perhaps be different. As I’ve said from the start, I am neither a clinician nor medically trained, and these are just my own thoughts.

Ginny xx

“What did we do in the War?” (and other unexpected questions…)

“What did we do in the War?” (and other unexpected questions…)

Just a little lighter-hearted anecdote…

If you’ve read “Not working out” you’ll know that I’m looking for a new job at the moment; something that I can do part time and that I might find less mentally stressful and less triggering to my obsessional thoughts and voices.

I’ve applied in several stores and I went to an interview today for a sales assistant position in a family / fashion high street shoe store. I always try to do some preparation before an interview to find out about the business but I have to say that in this case I was totally unprepared for this question out of the blue, “So, what did we do in the War?” ! Not your typical interview question when applying to work in a shop?!

Just wondering if any of you have any funny / puzzling interview stories? I enjoy these unexpected and funny sides of every day life no matter how small. They give a bit of lighter-heartedness and make us laugh even when things are rough. Which is important to hold on to.

A psychiatrist once told me that when we struggle with anxiety, it is like a bucket filling up faster and faster with water inside us and weighing us down or we feel we are drowning under it. We can’t tip the bucket over and we can’t stop the flow of water when we’re struggling with anxiety and depression and fear but we can do little things to punch holes in the bucket and let some of the water drain out so that we can live a little bit more easily. Humour is one of the things that’s good at punching holes in the bucket.

(And in case you were wondering, the answer to today’s question was that they made Army boots. Didn’t get that one right but some of the rest of the interview went okay and even felt like a good conversation in places, dare I say it, so perhaps I can hold out some hope. I’ll find out next week.)

Wishing you as good a day as possible. (Perhaps I’m practising for my store job. “Have a nice day now…” ;-)….)

Ginny xx

 

 

Sitting with uncertainty

“Sitting with uncertainty” is a phrase I first heard one of the psychologists for whom I used to work use.  The department that we worked in was going through a lot of change at the time and I think we were all anxious about what was to come – changes to our jobs, changes to service users’ treatment plans, worries over how we would continue to give good care and whether or not the changes would bring good.

As we talked, it struck me it is a challenge and a skill valuable to acquire across so many fields of life, particularly therapy and social interaction. It is a theme coming out prominently in my therapy at the moment.

I like the phrase “sitting with”, in particular, as it describes living in/with and encountering uncertainty without judging or supposing a particular response.  We might more commonly think of “resolving” uncertainty, “dealing with” uncertainty and so on.  However, sometimes it simply is not possible to do this. We cannot find a definitive answer, we may not be in a position to change (at least certain aspects of) our situation, or we may not yet, or even never, be able to be “sure”. Especially in interpersonal sharing of values and thoughts and emotions. Then, we might also commonly talk about having to “accept” uncertainty and say we have to learn to do this as part of growing up.  However, can we always do this? Perhaps often we feel that we cannot truly accept it, for instance, because it may be intensely uncomfortable, or something we really wish was not there, or something we feel frantically, painfully driven to eliminate. Hence, I like the words “sitting with”, because it describes the situation and at the same time acknowledges there may not be a resolution and attaches no judgement or obligation to either resolution/removal or acceptance.

In the language of the MBT therapy I am participating in at the moment, perhaps we would say it describes the situation and allows us to explore or be curious about the existence of the uncertainty.

I’m starting to be more alert at identifying uncertainty, and it’s effects on me.  It’s clear there is uncertainty about events that have not yet happened (I can’t be certain what will happen tomorrow), or that we do not know about (I can’t be certain if my friend would prefer me to buy the pink or the red mug for her birthday because I don’t know which is her favourite colour), or that are for now out of our control (if I have just had an interview and I know I did my best, but it’s now with the interviewer to make their decision, I can’t be sure if I will get the job or not).  And so on.  These are just some categories that sprung quickly to my mind which I think we might recognise are particularly difficult for someone who suffers a lot of eg anxiety or depression. For example, if we have a sense of dread something awful is going to happen, we might be terrified about what will happen the next day.  If we are socially anxious we might worry a lot about doing or saying the wrong thing or upsetting someone or being thought stupid because we do the wrong thing. If we are desperately seeking a job and have had lots of rejections we might feel very low waiting for the outcome of an interview and frightened about what will happen if the interviewer thinks we are rubbish and we don’t get the job.

It took me longer to consciously recognise how much uncertainty is going on all the time, particularly interpersonally, and how much – even though I did not recognise it – this affects me.  This kind of uncertainty seems to me to be a difficulty often encountered by people with personality disorders like me, and no doubt, many sufferers of anxiety or other conditions as well.

There is just so much that it is not possible to be certain of. This can be a frightening thing to me.

If we are speaking to someone, can we really be sure that the meaning they have understood is exactly the same as the one we intended? Probably not – every person expresses him/herself differently, and words hold different connotations for all of us in different situations. Could there be implications in what we have said that we did not intend, but that the other person infers? Probably. Could this hurt or offend the other person? Possibly. (For example, if I come home after work and my sister is sitting in the living room reading a book. I say, “Oh dear, this room is a bit of a mess.” I could be thinking that I really left it in a tip that morning because I rushed out to work late, and I shouldn’t have done that. If my sister were already feeling guilty that she had intended to tidy up that afternoon but had not been able to because she hadn’t felt well, she might make the interpretation that I had been intending to imply, “Why haven’t you tidied up, you’ve been at home all day whilst I was out at work?” It would not have been my intention, but she might have taken that understanding, and so without intending it I could have upset her. And if I then realised that, I would feel bad that I should have chosen my words more carefully or not said anything at all.

If we have an emotional reaction to a comment, an event, a situation and so on, can we be sure whether we should communicate it? What effect communicating it , or not, may have on another person? Can we be sure what their emotional reaction really is, and whether they are being open about how they feel? What if we feel something very different from what they do? Does that make us wrong? Or stupid, or bad, or… the list goes on. How do we respond, what do we do, when our emotional reaction or our thoughts are very different from everyone else’s? Does that mean there is something wrong with us?

And the ever, unanswerable, uncheckable, frightening question – have I done something to hurt someone? Am I really evil inside? Have I done any good, even though I think I want to, have I done good or have I done bad? Have I done something awful without knowing? Does everyone know I’m bad really and I just fool myself if I ever think I do good? Is there a terrible evil thing in me that I can’t control? We don’t always know even what we ourselves think or feel or intend – do we? Can we ever be sure enough that we are good not bad?

It is much, much harder to ever definitively answer these questions than it is to answer some of the other kinds of obsessional thoughts or anxieties which have a more “external” or “practical” element.

In part 2 of this post, coming soon (tomorrow, I hope!) I will continue with this thought to describe some of the thought processes and actions that this then triggers off in my personality disorder, and to think about how to learn to sit with these kinds of uncertainties.

…..More soon!….

Ginny xx

Not working out….

“I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days!”

“Yes, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh?” said Fred.

“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy. “It was nothing personal!”

(JK Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”)

 

Well, I haven’t found any dragon dung yet, but I certainly have been having problems with my in-tray.  It has really not been a good few months at work and now everything has finally come crashing down.

All my life I’ve found a kind of escape in work.  As a primary school age child, I was taught at home by my mother who suffered severe mental illness.  Achievement, excelling and perfection was of such importance to her and the only way to avoid her accusations, threats, shouting, violent distress, which would erupt when I could not do something or did not do as she wanted. It was the only way to be safe by avoiding this explosion and avoiding the harm I appeared to cause, escaping the danger and catastrophes I believed would ensue or did ensue. (This probably warrants another post at some point.)

When I went to secondary school, I physically escaped her illness for a portion of the day. Soon I worked out that if I stayed at school as long as possible (extra clubs, volunteering, staying on to do some of my homework at school rather than going straight home at the end of the day of classes) I could escape for longer. Working in my bedroom in the evenings was preferable to staying under her intense gaze, or risking conflict if I was around her. Being used to the need for excellence, I worked as hard as I could, so though I was nothing particularly special or noteworthy I got good marks by virtue of the time I put in, and this too was “safe”. It secured her approval too sometimes.

I continued to work as hard as I could and give my all in every job I’ve had.  Perhaps it’s something that comes fairly naturally to me in my character.  If so it’s a gift I am thankful for.  It is very important to me to do a good job, give my best, serve the people I am working for properly, offer my work in prayer and dedication.

It has been a way to escape from the noise in my head, the hollow emptiness and uncertainty, flashbacks and panic attacks. Focussing on work takes me away from myself, to look outside and to others, to keep my concentration on the task in hand. Although I have never had much self-confidence, I have gradually learnt there are some areas I have some strengths and where, even if I may never be satisfied, my managers at times do seem to be. So whereas pervading most areas of my life I have suffocating fears that I am going to hurt someone, that I’m bad inside really, at work at least I can hope objectively to do some good, give a good service, help someone.

All that has come crashing down in the last few weeks. I’ve been on a phased return to work since I was last off sick after being in hospital.  I’d got up to about 4 days, to accommodate therapy appointments at hospital.  For several months the pressure of the workload seemed to be increasing.  I was getting more and more stressed and though it was agreed in principle for me to go to my appointments, there was not any support in terms of managing the workload or anyone covering during my absence, so work built up, causing more stress for me and more anger from my managers.  I tried to address this, together with the general atmosphere, which was becoming more and more uncomfortable and hostile.  I did manage to have a few brief discussions with managers and was never told that there was a problem with my work and my appraisal earlier in the year was, to my surprise, good as well.

A month or so ago the pressure built up to a point I could not cope with and I insisted that something needed to change.  At this point, I was told that there is not much on, it is not busy, nothing much is expected of me, everyone knows I cannot cope with the work, and people hold back giving me work because they know I can’t cope with it. The fact I do extra hours was used as a fact to support the idea I cannot cope with the work because it shows I can’t get the work done in the standard working hours (whilst I would say there was simply too much work to get through).

There were many other things said that were very upsetting which I won’t go in to here, partly because I don’t want to say anything directly identifiable to my employer.

But basically, I was told that I’m rubbish and I cannot cope with the job an don’t get through the work, and that I am not providing the kind of service that I am supposed to because people know I won’t be able to cope with it.

So many feelings went and are still going through my head over this.  Partly anger and shock, because I had found that it was busy and was giving everything I good even to the detriment of my health.  This was so contradictory to all the feedback I’d had before – why? Then fear and anxiety. I didn’t even know I was doing so badly or that people were so unhappy with me.  I mean, I knew they were unhappy with me, and thought they think I’m stupid and don’t do what they want quickly enough, but I hadn’t realised how incompetent I actually was.  It’s even worse that I did not realise how bad I was, because I fear so much in my life that there is something horrible and bad in me which I’m not aware of and can’t control, which hurts people and I don’t even realise it, means that my family even can’t stand to be around me.

I had hoped work was one area in which I could do some good but now this is gone too.  It was what I was clinging on to and trying to keep going.  Even though I could see in a way it was doing no good to me because I was so stressed and couldn’t cope with other areas of my life at the same time (not looking after my flat, not cooking, getting mixed up over bills, so drained I did not socialise with anyone outside of work).

I know that my concentration is not good, that I dissociate for periods of time and lose track of time when I am stressed and very upset.  I know I do not work as quickly as I used to.  I didn’t realise the extent of the effect it was having.  That I can’t do my job.  That my perception of the situation should be so different from other people’s – I thought I was giving everything, I thought there was pressure, when other people are saying there is no pressure, it isn’t busy, and I can’t do it. That is frightening to me.  According to my therapist, a disconnect between one’s own experiences and other people’s, and a difficulty dealing with this, or dealing with situations in which our emotions and feelings are different from others’, is common in personality disorders.

I don’t know where I go from here.  I called a couple of advice lines and they told me that possibly I have some case to say that more could have been done to support me, with more “reasonable adjustments” at work.  I looked into this and wrote down a case around this but I couldn’t go forward with it in the end.  I doubt my own perceptions and feelings too much and even writing it for myself, I felt like a complete fraud, that I’ve invented everything and the problems lie all with me not my employer.  The voices in my head are telling me I’m nasty, disgusting, invented it, liar, fake, you’ve invented a story to accuse people of things… I just cannot cope with that and know how much more intense it would be if I actually tried to put anything in. Crazy, I know, but that’s what goes on in my head.  I’m scared in the end that I’m just bad and evil and greedy inside.

In the end, my employer has told me I’m not coping with the job and not competent and I think I’ll probably be dismissed.  Even if not my GP and specialist have told me it’s too stressful an environment.  I need to get out of this role and do something less pressured and stressful and where I can engage in the therapy I’m doing at the minute, get to appointments and get support. I agree with them.  Even if I am dismissed or do have to take the decision to leave, the one good thing I can see is that at least I am choosing to try to do something to put my health first, for the first time. Not admitting what I need to do in the past has just led to things getting worse and worse.

But it’s scary right now. I’m signed off sick at the moment. I feel empty and frightened and anxious all at once and there’s too much space for the spiralling thoughts and fears in my head.  I’m trying to focus on positive and creative things. I don’t know how to trust myself at all because even in the last things that I trusted I could do properly, it seems actually I wasn’t doing a good job at all, and everyone except me knew it. So many jobs have ended in the past  and I so want to find something that is sustainable but where I can engage with my therapy as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on work if you’d like to share them. Is work a good experience or a bad one for you? What kind of work you find is good for you and something where you can give your skills and abilities? If you find part time work is helpful and how much flexibility you find employers can give to be able to go to therapy appointments as well as working?

It seems like a very anxious and uncertain path at the moment.

Ginny xx

Thank you!!

Thank you!!

Wow. Thank you so much to all of you who have liked / followed / commented on here.

This is my first time blogging and sharing more freely my experiences of mental health is also a relatively new thing for me.  When I began this blog, I really hoped that I would be able to post things which are of interest, which readers can relate to and so in some way help.  I know how much that has helped me.  But I didn’t know where to start.

So, it means a lot that you have taken the time to stop by here and to leave comments and feedback. I know from personal experience when I’m struggling that it is often not easy to share or even to read something so I particularly appreciate what you do.  I’m encouraged that this is a place to find solidarity and share experiences along our paths. Thank you very very much. It has not been a great couple of weeks for me and so it means all the more to me right now to find this encouragement here.

***

On a related note, I’d love to know what you wonderful visitors to this site would like to discuss / me to post about – what topics are particularly interesting or meaningful to you. It’s often comments that friends, some of whom I meet in support and therapy groups, that spark off a new train of thought, a different way of looking at something, a discovery of an unexpected experience in common or a connection I had not made before, and I certainly find this interesting myself when I write and reflect on it.

I’d love to hear from you with any thoughts you’d like to share, questions or suggestions.

Again thank you so very much

Ginny xx

An early morning surprise visitor

It had been the most horrible night, with repeated flashbacks. I felt surrounded by danger and panicky emotions boiled to the surface and repeated self-harming had only numbed it for a few minutes at a time.

I was exhausted but gave up on going to sleep in the early hours as I knew I’d soon have to get up for work.  As it got lighter, I was in a numb state where I was not sure any more if things were real or if I was watching everything through glass (this happens to me sometimes after an intense period of distress).  I was standing staring out of the window into the communal garden.

Suddenly, the tiniest little deer (muntjack?) came walking very slowly and calmly across the lawn.  He stopped to nibble some grass and stood for several moments looking around before, just as calmly, walking on and following the path round the side of the building out of sight.  He showed none of the timidity deer often have round people and what he was doing so far into the city centre, I don’t know.

Coming after the strain of that night, it was a most precious moment.  I don’t know what I felt.  It seemed ethereal.  Just I knew I was not quite so numb and disconnected the rest of that day, and I often think back to that little deer, walking in the early morning.

There really are beautiful and unexpected things everywhere, no matter how much pain we are feeling. Perhaps the times we are startled into watching them and drawn out of the pain by their beauty, will help our recovery.

Ginny x

A shapeless piece of steel… a burn that burns much deeper – “Why do you self-harm?”

I have written this post in answer to the question I was asked of why do I self-harm and what purpose does it serve. In my opinion it definitely serves an important purpose and it is not a “cry for help” or to get attention as stereotypes hold.  It’s a coping strategy – a harmful, or “maladaptive” one, but it’s a strategy.

It’s necessary. It’s the only way to carry on. It’s a compulsion, a need, and a blessed release.

It can be almost grounding. When the voices are screaming, the guilt is exploding in me, I am crushed by anger and fear and disgust at myself and running out of breath – I know what those cuts will feel like. It’s the same every time. It’s release. I know exactly what will happen no matter what a mess everything is. I get the scissors or the razor and I know what I must do and I know what I will see as I scratch and bleed and I know what I will feel, the familiar sting, redness, throbbing. I know what that is. There it is before me and it can’t be doubted.

It’s better pain than what’s in my head and it stops the noise and hurt and racing thoughts and voices and rising anger and crushing terror and revulsion that wants to tear at my skin to get away all the bad that I know is inside me.

I can be sure that I’ve hurt myself. There it is, I can see it. It’s not good enough. I’m very weak. I need to do it more and more. But it’s something. It’s some way I can be sure I hurt myself, so I won’t hurt someone else. So I’m not such a danger to everyone else. Not so disgusting.

Sometimes it’s so that I can continue with the day.

It shuts off, for a few minutes, the frightening memory, the frightening emotion or the disgusting thoughts. Especially violent anger or the sadness that blacks everything else out and hides everything good. It literally cuts through it, a little bit, fights the way upwards.

It can end some of the dangerous dissociations where I lose time, forget things, make irrational decisions, disappear from reality into my safe escape worlds.

Perhaps sleep will come afterwards.

Perhaps numbness or quiet will come afterwards and it’s a little bit of a way to get a break.

People say it’s a cry for help. It’s not. It’s not something I threaten to do to get my own way or pressure people. It’s secret. It is the help. It is the way to keep going. If I couldn’t do it, I’d have had to die a long time ago. I’d have given in and (though it’s against every single one of my personal religious and moral beliefs when I’m in my rational mind) the darkness would have consumed everything and I’d have had to do it. I hide it from everyone, make sure I do it where they can’t see, and I very reluctantly tell my therapist about it. One of my friends says call her when I feel I’m going to do it, she’d want to know. I could never do that – I would not want to put her in the position of feeling she must stop me.

I don’t think I do it very “badly” – several people in one of my therapy groups have far worse self-harm scars than I do. It’s nothing really, it’s no danger.  But it is a way to cope.

***

“…My dreams are not the issue here, for they, the hammer holds. The hammer pounds again, but flames I do not feel, this force that drives me helplessly through flesh and wood reveals a burn that burns much deeper, it’s more than I can stand…”

(This and the title quote are from Bebo Norman’s The Hammer Holds. For some reason this song always makes me think of how I feel when I self-harm.  I know this is not anything to do with the original meaning of the song and Bebo Norman is not making this reference at all (it’s a Christian song telling the story of the Crucifixion). Yet some of the lines express how I feel when I cut.  It’s a way to bear the pain; it’s something I wish did not have to be but is absolutely needed and drives me on, it’s the only way to live at the moment. )

 

 

 

Lullaby 3 – what I can never share

Warning – this post contains some of the thoughts that I have when I am pushed to self-harming or suicidal plans. It contains mention of some of the ways in which I self-harm.  If this may be distressing for you, you may not wish to read further.

There is nowhere I fit.

The rare times I felt any safety as a child were:

  • Talking to Dad about what had happened just before Mother went into hospital, when her behaviour had become so wildly bizarre it could no longer be ignored.  At last I was heard.  My fears were heard.  This was short-lived.  As soon as she was back home, the admission of the strangeness was lost, explained away, forgotten… her world returned again, her world consumed ours.
  • When I had some academic success. Did well in a test, or an essay, or an exam. Got good marks.

Now, perhaps, it’s also “safe” if I’m “recovering” at the pace and in the way my family want.  For a while, it’s as if a bridge of some kind of expression or understanding can be built.  Sometimes they startle me with understanding and acceptance and support and encouragement and say they are there any time I want to talk.  But it’s laced with fear because as soon as I can’t keep up the progression, keep “moving forwards” – so just when I’ve started trusting, and just when I most need help (maybe I’m distressed, anxious, the voices are worse again, something has gone really wrong in my life) – they pull away, they are angry, they limit contact, I’m the problem, I just have to make more effort and try harder, I have to realise how impossible I am to be around, I’m a spoilt brat, everyone says how rude I am, on and on and on. Shift into a different gear, we don’t know anyone else who’s done as little as you, reaffirming the embarrassment and failure I am.

So the only way to cope, to avoid yet more pain of starting to trust and then yet again failing, hurting – others, and myself – is to only have contact when I can act how they want me to, present what’s acceptable and what they want to see.  That won’t be rejected.  The rest I’ll hide, and when I cannot hide, I’ll make sure I’m alone.

I do not fit in their world and I do not think I will ever be a part of it.  Constantly I am too much to cope with.  “Why isn’t it enough for you? Look what everyone has done for you! It isn’t anyone else’s responsibility to make you feel better. Look what I’ve done. It would be nice if you responded.  It would be enough for most people.  Why isn’t it enough for you?”

I hear the voices joining in the chorus and the guilt settling like a weight crushing my shoulders, fighting with the anger rising within me, mixing to a block of lead in my chest.

Why isn’t it enough for you? You didn’t say sorry! You didn’t say sorry enough!

I don’t know. I don’t know why it isn’t enough. I don’t know how to say sorry enough for the failure and rubbish and disgusting thing I am.  Some part of me wanted to show you the razor marks then, the cuts down my arm, they still weren’t enough, but that was how sorry I was – though I still couldn’t do it well enough, I was too weak.

I don’t know why it isn’t enough. But there’s this weight on my heart and on my brain, there’s a noise in my head, the voices, screaming, white noise, sucking me back into flashbacks and memories of pain and fear and disgust and hurt and desperately, desperately wanting someone to protect me and see.

I don’t know why it isn’t enough.  But I did try to tell you, and I did really want you to see my fear, back then.  But all you could see was her, and she was perfect, and I was the problem, the one that had to change, that was acting weirdly, not trying hard enough. I did try to tell you and you were there, but now you say I didn’t speak and you didn’t see.

I don’t know why it isn’t enough. But inside every part of me is breaking and crying and I’m fighting the urge to run away and not stop, hope I will freeze or collapse or die, lie down and sleep to get away, because I am so, so tired, of what the voices say to me, of being so weak I can’t do what they say, when they tell me to pour the boiling water from the kettle over my hands, to cut deeper, to take the handfuls of pills not just look at them, to actually step on the train tracks this time, it would be so so easy, you vile disgusting selfish pig, why don’t you do it? You’re ugly, you’re dirt, you can’t ever get rid of the evil thing in you, everyone will see in the end, everyone knows you’re evil. Go on, do it, cut, starve, throw up, you disgusting bitch, what right do you have to this…

I don’t know why it isn’t enough. No matter how much I wash or cut or starve, it can’t be sure to get out the evil in me, that errupts dangerously and contaminates and hurts everyone around, and I don’t ever know when it’s next going to happen, that someone gets hurt. Mother told me for long enough that I was punishing her, plotting against her, deceiving, greedy, fat, selfish, getting my own way, hurting her repeatedly, driving her to suicide, driving her away from the family, going to have them sent to prison, and nobody would ever know it was really my fault, they’d think it was hers, but really deep down I’d know it was me, and so would she. So whatever they say, I know it’s me that’s evil really.

I don’t know why it isn’t enough.