Ways to Higher Ground

I haven’t posted to this blog for ages.  In fact, I haven’t written at all for months.  Truthfully—because I aim always to tell the truth here—I have been stuck in the realm of negativity.  It sounds odd (or melodramatic) but even the weight of a biro between my fingers has felt like too much of a responsibility to bear.  And so, at least in terms of the written word, I have stayed silent.  Or is it better to say, invisible?  For a long time, as a kid, if you’d asked me to choose a superpower I would have asked for invisibility.  But in the real world, outside fantasy, for me, that isn’t possible.  Whether or not I feel seen, my actions have consequences and impacts that ensure I am perceived.  It is up to me, like it is up to everyone else, to try through those actions to shape positive impacts, worthy consequences.  One thing I do that I know has some small impact is this blog so, in the spirit of growing visible again, I want (for the first time in months) to write.  To write honestly.

In the realm of negativity, I felt I encountered a split path.  “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood/ And sorry I could not travel both/ And be one traveller, long I stood” (Robert Frost).  I have stood here a long time.  Except, unlike Frost, I saw many splits in the path and for all I squinted through the yellow wood, I couldn’t see past the trees.  I still can’t.  I recognise (and thank) the fact that I have so many choices in my life.  But choice can also be overwhelming.  I feel overwhelmed.

I’ve always been a “big picture” person.  Take the mundane example of housework: I often feel like things are done when other people can (apparently) clearly see that they are not.  I notice the general gleam.  Others notice the smudge on the skirting, the dust in the corners.  It has its benefits and its drawbacks, this big picture view.  The thing with being a “big picture” person, is that you learn to see the picture even when there is none.  It’s a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle.  Even though large chunks may be missing and the image may be fragmented, you know that this is temporary and so you hold in your mind a vision of the image that should be there and disregard the pieces that aren’t.  This is uplifting in some ways.  It lends hope because you know that no matter what, all these pieces (even the missing ones) are part of something greater.  On the other hand, though, it is impossible to go through life simply not noticing that there are vital things missing from the picture.  When you step closer, you notice the flaws and they can floor you.  That’s how I’ve been feeling.  Floored by flaws, unsettled.  A person without a plan.

I’ve been here before, in this wood with the diverging paths.  I’ve been here so often you’d think I’d have built a treehouse by now.  But I haven’t, so is it a wonder I feel exposed?  Is it a wonder I have the sense of having failed?

That’s it, though.  The old clichés, the crappy Facebook memes, are true: if I haven’t given up, I haven’t failed.  I almost gave up.  In almost doing so, I could almost have lost everything and yet… here I am.  Standing on shaky legs, sure, but standing nonetheless.  It’s bleak sometimes, it’s dark sometimes, it’s hard always, but I’m here.

I wasn’t going to write.  I was going to stay invisible.  And then, last night, I was giving another person subtle advice and as always when giving another person advice, it felt easy.  There’s time to figure things out, I said.  It’s not over, I said.  Nothing is ever perfect, I said, but that doesn’t mean things can’t be good.  It doesn’t even mean they can’t be great. I looked at someone else’s tangle of paths and I saw a multitude of futures in them.  It would be hypocritical, then, to look at my own and see none.  Really, I still can’t see my own clearly.  I am exactly as lost as I was before.  But there are ways out (compasses, maps, guidance).  Ways to higher ground from which, I hope, I will be able to see the bigger picture once again.

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People

A few years ago, I got chatting to somebody on a mental health forum online.  We exchanged poems and kind words and, in an online-only kind of way, we became almost close.  I didn’t hear from her for a long time.

Yesterday I chanced upon the site where we met whilst looking for old poems.  I posted a message on her last thread to ask how she was.  I received a message from a moderator to let me know that she had passed away at the start of this year.  From the messages posted, I can more or less conclude that she died from suicide.

I feel so sad.  Although I never got in touch for such a long time, I did think infrequently about her and wonder where she went.  It seems I only just missed speaking to her again, though this year is already halfway in.  All I can do is hope the best for her loved ones.

*

Recently, I made over 700 followers on this blog.  It feels amazing to have reached so many people.  Twitter, too, is proving fruitful in terms of furthering the small online mental health community I have around me.  Because that’s what it is, what we are: a community.  We look out for each other.  Drop messages.  Tweet across the Atlantic.  Pop cyber-hugs on the end of blog posts when we don’t know what else to say.  It is something I feel privileged to be a part of in my small way, something I am proud of.

Today’s sad news makes me all the more aware of how real the people are behind their words.  How concerned we should be, how we should look out for each other.  That’s why the mean comments about attention seeking upset me so much before- you never know how much sadness is really lurking behind another person’s seemingly throwaway words.

So this is a sad post, and a happy one.  I am happy to have known that person.  I am happy to be in touch with all the people I have come into contact with through WordPress, through Twitter, through whatever other sites.  And I am grateful.  But I am also very sad.

 

Triggers and Strengths

I have been more sensitive recently.  More easily hurt, as though I were covered in small wounds and other people were salt.

As a consequence of this, I have found more things triggering.  I can’t shy away from those things that trigger me because it is my job to deal with them.  So I have struggled at work, struggled to listen to the high emotional frequency in the air, struggled to listen to the ache behind other peoples’ words.  Struggled, in truth, even to get up in the morning/ afternoon (shift-dependent).

Things happen at work that inevitably trigger me because I have shared experiences with others.  Because others are not always as empathetic as I try to be in dealing with the problems faced by residents.  That hurts me because I think of how they would perceive my own struggles and I know, overwhelmingly, that their perceptions would be negative.  I become angry, I fight not to become jaded.  It’s hard.  every.  Single.  Day.

A GP prescribed an antidepressant to which my mind and body reacted very badly (I looked/ felt too stoned to go in to work), so I am waiting for a referral to the psych services of North West London.  They said it will take about a month.

Along with this have come negative thoughts and feelings, inwardly directed.  I struggle with this becomes I am no good at this.  I am triggered becomes I must act on this.  Sometimes my thoughts are loud enough to wake me in the night.  Sometimes I drink to blot them out, only to find they become more insistent.

I am coping but I am not coping well.  My coping strategies are not healthy ones.  My thoughts are not always reasonable ones.  My attempts to thwart the thoughts are often thwarted.

I drink to drown the dreams that died of drink, is a thought that cropped up in my head one day on the Tube.

And so, I have been trying to come up with something positive.  This is what I have come up with:

I am strong.  I may not feel it (I often don’t feel it) but I am.  I have an unwavering drive to survive, despite not wanting to at times.  I make efforts to stay safe, even when staying safe seems the least viable option.  I struggle… but to struggle is better than to give up.  I think of all the times I “failed” to die and try to see them not as failures but as successes: I am alive.  That is beautiful and I cannot dispute that.  I think of the relationship I am in, of how wonderful it is, how I have fought to maintain it. I block out the memories of past disasters, to be dealt with a later time.

So for all that I feel weak by being triggered, and by hearing the thoughts that call me useless and pathetic, I have to remember that to mainly resist the triggers takes a strength I do not always realise I have.

I need to try to hold onto that.

The Politics of Scars

 

At work, I keep myself covered up.  Still, there are the occasions when my sleeves slip up and I wonder whether anyone- staff or resident- has noticed.  Nobody has ever said anything but I have my defensive responses at the ready:

What do you think happened?
Well you know [insert resident name]?  I used to do the same.
It’s nothing to do with you.
I did battle with a tiger.
[burst into tears]
It’s a long, boring story.

I have no idea, if it came to it, which of these things I would say or do.  I also have no idea what the response would be.  There would probably a lot of “whys” and so on.  Probably a lot of judgement, too.  You would think that there was less judgement when working with people with mental health problems.  There isn’t.  My workplace is as judgemental as any other place. Sometimes more so.

*

Summer.  Both at work and outside of work, summer has always, always, always (we’re talking sixteen years of always) been a problem for me.  I want to wear short sleeves, do what other people do, look how other people look.  But the truth is I don’t- will never- look how other people look.  In certain situations (work, certain family gatherings, meeting family of partner) it is basically the smarter thing to stay sleeved (and wearing long trousers).  The thing is, that starts to seem unusual as the year grows hotter and hotter.  People start to ask, and the excuses tend to get more and more bizarre (“I’m cold,” I tell people as sweat starts to bead at my hairline).  Truth be told, I am dreading the hotter months at work because I don’t know how long I’ll be able to lie.  People have a terrible habit of intruding on personal space.

*

I am planning a wedding (yes readers, you heard it here first- Becky Bee is engaged!)  Yet I have fears around buying a dress.  Why?  Because I want a long-sleeved dress to cover my arms.  Because I want a short-sleeved dress because I have seen some I liked.  Because I don’t want people looking.  Because I don’t care if people look.  I don’t want my partner’s family to thing that she is marrying some kind of a crazy (although, of course, she is).  And I don’t want my own family to feel embarrassed/ surprised/ hurt/ whatever.  But I do want to be able to choose a dress that I love because I love it, and not because it adequately covers parts of me of which I am ashamed.

*

What is it that fascinates/ horrifies/ alarms/ disgusts people about the scars of self-harm?  I know for many people it is simply inconceivable that a person would want to hurt him/herself.  It doesn’t make sense.  Sometimes even I, when I think about what I’ve done, feel a kind of detached disbelief.

But as M (partner… fiance) always says: every scar represents a story.  A story where you might not have made it, but you did.  When someone asks, you can say “I fought a long battle with myself, where I could have lost, where I could have failed to make it through, and these are my battle scars… because they remind me that I made it.”  And, she says, “you’re my tiger.”

Baby Steps

Runnin’, runnin’, runnin’
I’m runnin’ from the South Pole
– My little cousin’s take on Beyonce

It’s not laziness that keeps me from running; it’s fear.  Fear of not being good enough.  Fear of being conspicuous.  Sometimes I look outside and I long to be out there.  Then I remember.  I am not fast anymore.  There will be people, yes, people out there!  I don’t look the way I used to.  And plus, doesn’t that look like rain?  Probably.  It probably does.

So I sit inside feeling guilty about my choice, looking at myself and not liking what I see.  Feeling unconnected to the world because I can’t connect the way I used to, trainer to pavement, pushing off from the kerb into the sky.

I need to learn to be less of a perfectionist.  To remember that to be amazing is not the be-all-and-end-all.  What I could do before, I can’t do now.  So what?  Maybe I will one day and maybe I won’t.  It shouldn’t matter.

What advice would I give another person?  To get out there.  Feel the sun/ breeze/ drizzle.  Feel the connection.  Worry less about speed and more about enjoyment, enjoy it!  But I am not another person.  I cannot see another person’s birds-eye view of him/herself, and s/he cannot see mine.

Where I live it is hilly and it slows me even further.  I look at my time and I feel disappointment and it’s hard not to give up hope/ give in to despair.  But step, by step, by step, I will climb.

Just not today.

Hope

I always imagined that my cause of death would be suicide.  I couldn’t have been 100% sure when, or how, or what the final trigger might be but I (thought I) knew, with absolute certainty, that that is what would happen.  It wasn’t something I hoped for, it wasn’t something I feared, it was something I accepted.  I felt this way from 14 to 27.

I don’t feel that way any more.  I couldn’t tell you how I’m going to die any more than anyone else can.  Sadly, I can’t even tell you with certainty that I wasn’t right for so many years.  What I can say is that I hope I was wrong.  That when I am forced (by my over-ticking brain) to think about death at all, that is no longer my go-to place.  I think beyond fifty.  My deep-seated belief has been shaken to its core.

By hope.