Just as I am

Thirteen years ago today, I was baptised. As the minister preached of times of loneliness to come, alongside the joys, I was sinking into my first fully fledged episode of depression. Having a relationship with a personal God had meant opening up to Her. Being real and honest about how I was feeling. Together with Joni Eareckson Tada, her writing, I was treading a path into overwhelming emotion that had never before been verbalised, let alone expressed. I was angry, angry angry with a God who knit me together this twisted way in my mother’s womb.

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There were other prayers, too, prayers that were written in cipher, lest anyone should get hold of them. Please God, why did you make me this way, please God, You have to make me different: help me change.

The irony of the baptism, the deliberate choice to be baptised under the hymn,  Just as I am seemed lost. I hated who I was. I needed to be different, in body and mind.

Today, the prayers are not about wanting to be different. That’s not because I no longer get overwhelmed with emotion or hatred. Nor because God, or God’s capacity to handle my strength of feeling, have changed. But because I am beginning to accept me – just as I am. To realise that being disabled does not mean being lesser, or being more sin-filled. Being angry is OK. Knowing that, in spite of what the church were teaching in 2005, I don’t need to feel ashamed of my desire for intimate relationships with women; I can set that down. I can’t yet leave it. But I can work towards that.

And that’s OK, too. God’s got me. Just as I am. I need to allow myself to be that person.

 

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Eye of the Storm

All the time I have been writing this blog, I have been on anti-depressants. (Although I should note that there was a period a few years ago, when I was with my ex-partner, and I tried to taper them. I came off – and then three months later entered a suicidal crisis and was back on them again). I’ve been on them for twelve years this month.

But I might not (technically) have depression. Rather, the severe symptoms of clinical depression I endure, might be underpinned by the personality disorder.  In spite of being on a relatively high dose of meds, they keep me just afloat at the surface, with the worst of the symptoms at bay, rather than swimming through most days with blips.

So – given that I have learnt of skills in the therapeutic community for dealing with low mood and hurt and suicide ideation in ways that don’t harm me – I am trying reducing the meds.

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Only a little at a time. I have returned now to the dose I was on before my ex-partner was arrested. And I have found that added to the emotional milieu over the past three weeks has been a whole whirlpool of anxiety and stress. A kind of “too much coffee” or “performance nerves” anxiety now rests semi-permanently in my chest. I am sleeping even less than before.

And this might be attributable to other things. To teaching new classes of students; to a more acute sense of “I need a job soon”; to therapy stuff. It might not be the meds at all.

Or it might be. In true ironic fashion, I am scared. I am scared because historically anxiety is a go-to; a defence against other, more difficult feelings; an emotional maelstrom. I have been outwardly calm through all of this. I have not cried in two weeks. I fear the oncoming tide.

God, be with me in the storm.

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Order of the Phoenix

Therapy is hard. Most of the past week has been spent entombed in grey and fogginess and gloom. Aside from one day, when I had to be at work out of necessity, for teaching, I remained in bed for as long as possible, so that mornings stretched into afternoons, my cat utterly confused by the state of affairs, and lamenting her hunger to no avail.

I could not be bothered to get up to face another day of feeling (politely put) rubbish, with zero motivation to work upon an increasingly maudlin excuse for a career. I felt hopeless and trapped, because the therapeutic community was my last chance at working on being a better human being, and my mood and behaviour were demonstrating that I wasn’t tolerating the therapy. And the unhelpful coping strategies were repeating themselves. And the way I was seen in therapy was bearing no resemblance to the way (people say) I am seen in other places; home; work; socially. Rather, the way I am seen seems to have faint echoes of the way my parents used to see me as a child: a view I have fought long and hard to dis-empower; put to rest. I didn’t see how I could continue with the therapy, nor how I could keep going without it.

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Someone in the therapeutic community once drew a phoenix coming “out of the ashes” to speak to their journey. When I saw it, I was lost to see how that, or anything like it,  would ever be true of my experience. But, this Sunday, on a birthday visit to the Harry Potter film set, I reconsidered this.  Fawkes, as imagined by J.K.,  bursts into flames and is born of the ashes. But before that, the order is for him to weep, (and heal) and to carry very heavy loads, and to sing to mourn the loss of Dumbledore, restoring courage and calm to those listening.

I am low, and feeling loss and lost, and the weights that I am carrying feel far from light. I am spending an inordinate amount of time in tears. And things feel so, so painful. But maybe this hurt and burden and loss is healing. I am assured that there is more pain to come. But I am more hopeful that it will not be for nothing. That change might be possible.

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Sign and Promise

CW: #suicideideation

New years are times I find scary. As we, as a house, lit sky lanterns and let them go into the skies, to see in the new year, I was trembling. With cold, for sure, but also fear. Fear, because, as last year, and for several other years in my adult life, I am not convinced that I can face the challenges that I know lie ahead of me, and am even more afraid of the wilderness of unknowing lying in September and beyond. I have no idea where I will be this time next year.

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This uncertainty is not unfamiliar. I’ve been here before. But each time, it feels renewed in vigour, and strength, and impossibility. The challenges seem less surmountable. This time, as I waited for the year to turn, my mind urged death. Told me that I could not face the year ahead. That I would not survive the challenges of the therapeutic community – and even if I did – life challenges would be too much – and I would be leaving TC with several death sentences (read: PD diagnoses) anyway. Every medical problem henceforth “imagined” on my part; deferred to poor mental health. Such is the stigma: I would be leaving labelled ‘untreatable’, ‘awkward’, ‘nuisance’. Why bother?

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These days, I find it hard to sleep. I do get to sleep – eventually – and then have no will to get out of bed in the morning. So morning turns to afternoon, as my mood sinks below the sun. Sometimes, I cry. Mostly, I cannot. I am too rubbish to be useful to anyone. Anything else is an exhausting act.

What are you looking for? Jesus asked his disciples.

What do you hope for in 2018? I asked the congregants on Sunday.

Some kind of trust that I can do this, in God’s strength, if not my own. Trust that death is not a better choice than facing what lies ahead of me. Patience to see the therapy through to its conclusion. Hope that it will be worth the pain that I am in, that there is a life worth living beyond it. Trust that this is going to be OK in the end. God sends a rainbow over the playground. Maybe it will be OK, this year, as I am learning and growing, to be me.

 

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The Princess and the Pea

The first time I can remember ‘acting’ was at my sixth birthday party. A friend, knowing how much I loved reading, gave me a copy of the Ladybird title ‘The Princess and the Pea’. I already had a copy. But, rather than state that, I thanked her for it, expressed pleasure in it.  Afterwards, I was praised by my parents for this reaction. Acting, like this, is what we do, to maintain social bonds. Something we learn to do in childhood, to spare feelings, save ourselves and others from embarrassment. We couldn’t function in a social milieu where everyone was 100% honest at all times about their every need and desire, and judgement of another person. Could we?

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As I am struggling in my professional life, to think of creative ways of dispelling the taboo around disability: ‘Mummy, why is that lady wearing that thing on her leg? Shhhh!’,  in my therapy-life I am struggling to know when to hide, and when to share, what I am feeling and thinking, or wanting. I have had a lifetime of hiding what I truly  feel or want, favouring others’ wants and opinions as more valid than my own. When I was six, I had friends; things were stable socially. I was confident and stated what I wanted; at least at school. By the time I hit nine years-old, that had changed. I was not wanted as a classmate – let alone a friend – and what I wanted mattered even less.  At the same time, my feelings weren’t allowed either. Any threat of their appearance was suppressed at school, and punished at home.

Now, I have very little touch with what I really want and feel. And it is often strange, vis-a-vis normality: I am recharged through being alone, rather than in company; would choose a simple meal over cordon-bleu cuisine; an early morning over a late night. People think me weird; tell me this can’t really be what I want. My emotions, too, feel wrong; morally, socially, intellectually.

So, I act. Even alone in the house, I will keep my hand by my side, ‘act normal’, because I have been told that is where my hand is supposed to be. It is not where my hand naturally  falls. At work, I take on the role of an academic; elsewhere I turn congregant, customer, daughter; conscious of the expectations of these roles; wary of saying anything that might upset the people with whom I’m interacting. Previously, there has only been trouble when I have done.

In the therapeutic community, I try to be more authentic.  One of the quintessential principles of such a community is the ‘freeing of communication’. I try to act less. I am still wary of moving around; keep an eye on my posture. But, I try to note when things have jarred with me, explain why that was the case. That is hard. I am scared of feeding back the wrong thing; ending up being hated. And there simply isn’t time to bring in everything. Someone in the TC queried if I am always acting. I feel as if I am always ‘on guard’. But I am not always acting. To the extent that there is space, I am as authentic as I can be. I am not always sure of my own mind.

I am trying to be honest about the lumps I feel beneath the mattress, when the night has not been a peaceful one. To express anxiety and disappointment and annoyance. I am scared of losing people, inside and outside the T.C. But I haven’t lost anyone yet.

Please, God, help me to trust my own mind, to express it, and to know that it is OK to take the space to be heard, in and out of the T.C. 

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Illusions of Perspective

I am clinging to academia by the case of a very jaded laptop battery. A laptop that moves from institution to institution, coffee shop to coffee shop, awaiting students and marking and upfront teaching, whilst trying to ignore the pile of research papers that lurk menacingly  on its desktop. I should have been written months ago.

 This clinging means that I have just marked a set of fairly abysmal essays on the topic of optical illusions. Illusions like the Ponzo illusion where two identically-sized objects appear different sizes, because we are so used to viewing the world in 3-D.

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Identically sized Ponzo monsters in a tunnel

Reflecting this week, I realize that my relation to academia has shifted some in recent months. Before, I had an illusion of perspective. I knew, at some level, that taking 18 months away from research wasn’t going to end my career. That people are worth much more than the sum of their working life and professional identity. I would be the first person to tell someone else to take a break for the sake of their health, if they needed to do so.

But, at the same time, that  didn’t apply to me. I needed to stay linked in, to write papers in the background, to have contact with students; otherwise my career would fade away. That’s why other colleagues on breaks were staying in touch with their role. And, unlike them, I am utterly dislikable, so I really would be forgotten if I stopped being useful and cooperative.

The papers became true monsters. Publish or perish. Publish or perish. Publish or perish. So much of my interview feedback was about not having published my recent research findings. If I didn’t do so soon, I really would dissolve. The greater the stress I felt, the less I felt able to write. Colleagues were moving miles ahead of me; I was falling further and further behind. I was failing, and it was all my fault. I was being lazy, lazy, lazy.

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Until, I let go. Until, I accepted that I was simply no longer able to apply myself academically with the same force as I did before, and that things would have to be slower, because therapy is hard, hard work. Until, I took another step back, and started to think about the things that I love about academia, and started to focus more on those things: the things that I wanted to be doing, rather than those that I was told I should be doing.

And, I started to feel more motivated again. Not just to do the things that I am contracted to do (for the sake of a sense of mastery, when faced with a pile of essays to mark) but the things that before were terrifying me, for the not doing them. And, as contracts have ended, I have not actively sought to replace them, but rather to focus on the bits of academia I can engage with, in the spaces in between therapy. I am writing a little, again.

And that feels  – OK. It feels OK not to be actively pursuing academic opportunities, but to muddle along with the ones that I have. And it feels OK to say to myself that this is precious time – time when I am working – just that I am working on other things:

There is a time for everything,
    and a season for every activity under the heavens:
        a time to be born and a time to die,
    a time to plant and a time to uproot,
    a time to kill and a time to heal,
    a time to tear down and a time to build,
    a time to weep and a time to laugh,
    a time to mourn and a time to dance,

Ecclesiastes 3 (NIV)

This is time that is a gift from God. A time to allow others to work with me, to work with myself at a different level. A time for healing. And that feels OK.

 

 

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Unravelling

This week  marks the halfway point of my time in the Therapeutic Community. Over the first three months, I made tangible changes; moved house, reduced working hours, withdrew myself from my parents’ “let’s divorce each other as inhumanely as possible” drama triangle. I learnt how to talk openly.

Over the past six months, I am not sure what I have opened up. Multiple issues around rejection, and fear of abandonment, and sexuality, and friendships, that I did know about. But also others, around clarity of emotional expression, and identity, and loss, that were buried deeper still.

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It feels like I am unravelling, more and more, and with each unwound thread comes more pain and fear and desperation. More needs that are unmet, more behaviour that I am at a loss to explain beyond the simple psychological theory: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, perhaps: everyone has a need to feel that they belong. 

A child’s behaviour is not a problem. A child’s behaviour shows us that they are trying to solve a problem.

That’s the maxim we worked with, when I was LSAing in schools. With those children, with some thought or simple enquiry, it felt like the answers would become readily apparent. Lack of sleep; dealing with parent’s new partner; hiding that they can’t read. I can’t find my own answers so easily. I don’t know why I need reassurance that I am liked before I will dare share anything with you; why I bury anger with colleagues, or feel ashamed in churches. I can guess at these things.

And sometimes there are no straight answers. Nobody knows the answers. The threads of my life are all over the floor, and I am at a loss to know where to begin untangling them; to wind them up again in a more sensible order; return those that belong to other people’s lives, to them.

Nine months. God, please take this time, and use it. Help me to rewind and reorganise the threads of my muddled and messy life, as You see best. 

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