Neverending Knot

My mother got me a season ticket to the local zoo for my birthday this year. It is one of the best presents ever. I love hanging out there. Only the addition of some pachyderms would make it better. The animals just are. For whatever reason they find themselves there (the zoo has several previously maltreated creatures) they live, they breathe, they sleep, eat, (roar) and repeat. 

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Watching them helps to calm the knots of stress and anxiety I seem to be permanently tangled within. Christmas has gone.  Christmas was stress-filled. 

Awake, I am *constantly*  wondering what the next thing to go wrong will be, scared about job security, housing, relationships, my parents’ failing health. Scared I should be doing more. Fearful of the sheer amount of academic work I have to do, and how the hell I am going to juggle it with cat-care and students, when it involves travel away from home in term-time. About how long the ethics panel are taking to process my research applications. Whether the funding will become defunct if they take much longer. 

Awake, I am ever hyper-vigilant to whom I might have affronted, offended or upset, by omission or commission. The anxious thoughts circle perpetually around my mind. A never ending what if. I want to scream. I did meltdown completely a few days ago. I am scared I did not work hard enough in therapy. That wouldn’t happen anymore, if I had. I would be able to cope with life. It feels like I cannot.

I am struggling to sleep. It is a farce to say I no longer self-harm. The skin on my hands is picked and peeled back, my feet are in tatters. Eating is hard again. I am exhausted and wary of the low mood baying at my door. Trying to be gentle on myself in this state is tough. 

I’m frightened of the consequences  of being and doing wrong. 

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Identifying the Imposter

Christmas is slowly approaching in Scotland. I say slowly, because in spite of the chill air that has been around for months, time still ticks past perceptibly. Once, in my previous home, it raced by. Now,  no amount of rhythm or routine seems to encourage its passage. 

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I have finished teaching for another year. Time moves a bit quicker then, in class. And my fear of student teaching evaluations seems unfounded. Some even commented that I am a good lecturer. That I make things interactive; am friendly and approachable. And yet. This doesn’t sit right with me. I wonder why they said that. Remind myself that more students than did, didn’t bother doing an evaluation. That I had attendance at less than a third in the last few lectures.

I don’t trust positive evaluation. In my head, running through those lectures was a commentary denouncing my ignorance, my stupidity for not having prepared harder. You don’t know what you’re talking about. I had meant to say more. Froze: couldn’t remember what I was trying to say. Surely some students must have picked up on this. The ones who stopped attending. 

Why do student evaluations matter so much? In spite of years of therapy why do I base my self-worth on what a cohort of 18 yos think of me? Objectively, 18 yos are not the most discerning evaluators of my teaching. I can barely remember, defined, any one of my lectures from my first degree, even though I attended every single teaching session on offer. I remember sitting through them in a quasi-daydream, counting the slides remaining, wondering at the lecturers’ lack of fashion sense, in paper notes swapped with classmates. Playing tennis with others as they paced the theatre. At the end of the day, I didn’t know if the lecturers were clear communicators, because I hadn’t paid enough attention to work that out. Module evaluations weren’t a thing then.

Therapy would suggest that it matters because my bottom line says ‘I am rotten to the core’. Therefore, what I do needs to compensate for that. If it does not, I am at sea. It is silly to care so much about what students think of me. 

I have exciting plans for teaching next year. New ways in which I will be allowed to develop modules. I have had two revise-and resubmit returns on my academic writing in the past two weeks. I need to have more confidence in my own ability to teach and research and know what I am talking about. I need to set teaching in its place as part of what I do, not as part of who I am. I need to remember what I am. That my judgement of myself is what matters, not what others think. I am not an imposter in my life. I am the one living it. 

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Am I OK?

Proprioception is one of the senses you probably didn’t learn about at school. The ability, without looking or touching, to know the whereabouts in space of different parts of your body. My ‘proprioception is a wee bit skewed but generally speaking, I know my body exists in space. 

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I know (at some level) that my mind exists, too. When I talk to someone, they chat with me. When I teach, students (sometimes) respond. I play a role- they play a role.  When I post to social media, the posts are viewed and people react to them. When I get on a bus, the driver acknowledges my bus ticket. 

Each to each a looking glass. 

These days, I am OK when I am in the company of others, sometimes even euphoric. I nearly wet myself laughing with my girlfriend this weekend. Thanks largely to the TC, where once being in company was simply draining, now, I might find it tricky, but there is real joy in being with others.

The hard thing is being with myself, and only myself. I find that very hard to bear. Sitting with myself, even in the distraction of work email or crochet, renders me vulnerable to the voices of self-loathing and fear and doubt. And to endless rehearsals of long-past conversations that could have gone differently, if I’d been kinder or more generous or less selfish. The person in my head is not a nice person to be around. Nothing seems to quell her negativity. 

When I am with others, I know I exist. People’s presence reassured me that I am OK. When I am alone, I struggle to believe it. Alone, I  am not OK. Everyone else is OK. I am not. 

The challenge is to remember that I am not nasty to others as I am to myself, in my head. That I am OK, alone and in company. The challenge is to be kinder to myself. The challenge is real. 

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Loving constant

Object constancy is one principle of psychodynamic developmental psychology. The basic idea is that as infants grow older, they come to realise, and can remember, that their caregiver loves them (is a constant in their lives) even when that caregiver isn’t physically present. So, infants who are securely attached to a caregiver will show distress when they leave – but can be comforted – and show joy at reunion. If the attachment process goes wrong because of neglect or abuse of an infant, that infant won’t necessarily develop object constancy. They will be inconsolable when their caregiver isn’t physically present, or else perhaps, equally nonchalant to their presence or absence.

Lecture over. The reason I explain this is because it went wrong for me the first time around. I wasn’t securely attached. And the Therapeutic Community, in one frame of thinking, is a process of re-parenting. I became securely attached to the therapists as I learnt to trust them, and came to rely upon them, and the rest of the TC, to meet my emotional needs.

One thing that can help infants develop object constancy is a transitional object. This could take the form of a teddy bear or comfort blanket, that they can cling to, to help them remember their caregiver’s love for them when that caregiver is absent. 

3bb52230-5ce4-400d-a6ec-4fe3fb9911be.jpegWhen I left the TC, I was given a necklace, with a message on it, to help me remember the people there. Old patterns die hard. Now that the TC aren’t physically present, I am struggling to believe that they will remember I exist; that they will hold me in mind. I miss them terribly, five weeks later. The necklace reminds me they are there. 

My challenge is to believe that I will be remembered over the next few months, and recontacted, in time. That people want to know me, that I am worth knowing.

There is progress. I don’t need to be constantly with my girlfriend, although that would be nice, to believe that I am loved by her, as I did with previous partners. I can send messages to friends and not crumble if (when) they don’t reply immediately. It isn’t that they hate me, it is that they are busy. 

In the TC, I worked on healthy ways of relating to others, asking for things, and getting them. But I still don’t have a healthy relationship with myself. That’s the ultimate challenge. To not hate myself when others don’t meet my needs. To believe that, whilst I have flown my previous town, I am held in mind there. To soothe myself without the physical presence of those whom I love. 

God loves me. God holds me in mind. God, help me to remember that others do, too. 

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Silver Linings

E08935EA-B920-4278-8C72-E0B487A23E88When I was in the Therapeutic Community, I had a pair of lace-up silver shoes to wear round the building; far better for me than keeping my orthosis on all day. I can wear those shoes out and about now. And they match most of my outfits and look smart and (vaguely) sensible and – I love them. 

But wearing them reminds me of the Therapeutic Community: that I am not in in anymore. I miss it terribly. I miss it because I could be real and I was real and I made firm attachments – and this missing it is healthy and normal, unlike when I have left places before and tried to pretend that it didn’t matter when really it did.

Things are going well at work in Scotland. I have forged collaborations, am getting on with things, getting on with students. I am getting things together in the house, too; and I am growing in and nurturing a relationship with a woman that feels Godly and good and wonderful. She is wonderful. 

At the same time, I am scared about losing momentum; about someone hearing me ticking, “No!” or “I want to die” ( I don’t – it’s just a verbal tick, they shock by design) and reporting their concern to line management. Or, if not that, then the anxiety of trying to stay on top of everything will overwhelm me and I’ll meltdown. I’ve already found myself fighting tears at my desk over a frustrating non-email exchange with someone from pre-TC days who I am trying to work alongside. Using the skills I have learnt in order to cope is not easy. 

Things are hard, emotionally. I am trying to give space to the emotion, to allow tears when it is safe to cry, to look forwards rather than back. To be glad that it happened, for all that I got out of it. To see the pain  positively, because it is the result of months of healing and hard work and hope. This piece helped some: 

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It is okay I feel. I am human.  I want to be able to crochet again, go swimming, go shopping, watch films, without the weight of remembering. I am told that things will get easier with time. I need to allow myself time, be gentle and kind. I need to see the silver linings. 

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Ridiskulus

Over the time I have spent in the TC, my temper has calmed some. It is not the case that my emotional responses have lessened in intensity: intensity of emotional experience is part of who I am. Not being able to cope with that level of intensity, and being rejected (sometimes viciously) by people whom I tried to lean upon for support with it, leading to more distress on my part, made life unbearable, pre-therapeutic community.

Now, instead of chiding, and despising, and deriding myself, my emotional experience (because it is pathetic and silly to feel so strongly about such trivial stuff) I have learnt to acknowledge the emotion for what it is, and accept that (for whatever, even unknown reason) that is the way that I feel right now. Trying to force the door shut on the way I feel, is just going to make the gale-force of feeling more likely to blow the door down with intent.

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My move to Scotland is not going smoothly. Objectively, this is the farthest distance I have ever permanently moved house in my life. Objectively, more has gone wrong with arrangements for this move than with any other. Objectively, I have more stressful things going on at the same time as moving, than at any other moving house time in the past.

When a bank that will remain nameless refused to print a bank statement for me, when I needed proof of address (I have paperless banking) because printing a statement is not a service they provide, I had had enough. Maybe I am being unreasonable. But I think that not meeting that simple request is ridiculous. I turned and left without saying a word.

I am trying to be kind to myself when I feel frustrated and overwhelmed, and tired and low and tearful. To see the emotional response as understandable. I came off my medication entirely, earlier this week. These are the effects. It is understandable to feel this way, even without the pharmaceutical underpinning, given all that is going on right now.

As I spent time trying to source proof of address, the tasks I am meant to be doing, for work, were mounting. I am struggling to see how I am supposed to meet all the deadlines I should be meeting; what possessed me to think I was capable of taking a lectureship, even a part-time one. What on Earth let me think that I am up to living alone, miles from most of my friends. I’m not good at making new friends. I am ridiculous.

These thoughts are borne of tiredness and low mood and overwhelm. But it is f***** hard to hold that in mind and to be kind and sensible. These past few weeks, I feel I can’t cope. And that feels ridiculous.

 

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