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Sunday, July 23, 2017

"Is there something someone could have done?"

Recently I had a friend contact me asking for advice. She is a teacher and has noticed a girl in one of her classes displaying behaviour that fits into the category of anxiety/depression traits (gloomy, not achieving within her abilities, noticeably 'down' body language and facial expressions, negativity, poor self esteem etc etc). My friend asked "Is there something you wish a teacher had done for you?" She added that as part of the health curriculum, the students are addressing things such as self-regulation, resilience and conflict resolution strategies, body language and leadership skills, but she wanted to know if there was anything more that she could do. Was there more than being available to listen, and giving her extra time and support to complete tasks etc?

Firstly, I was surprised to be asked. My friend excused herself for the personal nature of the question, and allowed me the option to decline discussing it, but truth be told I was moved. Someone had recognised someone struggling, and had thought of me, thinking I could help. I have always been open about my struggles, in the hope that this very ripple effect could take place. Now that it's here, though, I'm not really sure what to say.

I didn't know whether I could make any real valuable additions to what was being done, but I offered the below response:


I’d love to be able to say that someone saying or doing any one thing (reminding me that there are people who love me, challenging my negative thoughts) would have pulled me out of the gloom, but the reality is that her brain is likely going to reject any evidence that you give her that says she is liked or capable etc, and it won't be a quick, transformative moment of "Oh. Right. Good point. Thanks." and skipping into the sunshine.

It’s a strong as hell voice in those dark corners of the mind.
Even when the rational side of your brain makes logical and evidence-based arguments that 100% disprove the ideas of ‘nobody likes you, you’re just a failure anyway, everything is pointless’, 9 times out of 10 that tiny, imperceptible voice will override them.

It’s like a gut feeling.

Ever had that sliver of a fear when you’re walking in the darkness of the hallway, and you know, truly and rationally, that you are safe and no one is there, but that little gut feeling says you need to quicken your step and get to the next lightswitch… just in case?

That’s the override.

BUT

That doesn’t mean that your efforts will go unnoticed.

I can vividly remember being called out by another student who gave me a firm but caring ‘not everyone is out to get you!’ and I hear her voice often, even as an adult.
And getting some kind of piece of paper that we had to pass around and write on, and discovering at the end of my school time that so many of my peers actually did like me and found me funny. I remember thinking why the hell did no one say anything before??
Because they felt I wouldn’t hear them. 

I would have heard them. Even if I dismissed it at first, I’d have shelved it.

It's common that your own gloom makes others uncomfortable, and they don't really know how best to approach you, especially if you've knocked back their efforts before. If the voice has spoken through you, biting back at their kindness, dismissing their offerings of any kind of light, it does make people think twice about reaching out again.

So, I guess the only thing I can suggest, as the girl on the other side, is to keep on reaching out. 
Teachers and other school staff were actually the people I took the greatest comfort from during that time.

If she says ‘nobody likes me’, a gentle ‘I think you’d be surprised’ could go a long way.

I was surprised in later life to find out that that inner voice had been lying to me all those years.

The depression and the anxiety go hand in hand. They lock you up and exhaust you, and encourage you that everyone has an agenda, and tell you that the only way to survive is to build walls even if those walls keep out the flowers with the arrows.
Anxiety can say "There are enemies at the door. Lock the windows, be on guard."
Depression can say "This is somehow your fault."
They're best friends, but not to you.

Keep reaching. 
Even if the hand is left hanging, keep it out there.
It will be frustrating, and exhausting, and it will seem like you’re wasting your time. But keep doing it. 
Remind her that you are there. Remind her that you will listen if she needs you to. Remind her that its okay to not be okay. 

I had a teacher who would tell me to smile, to cheer up, to put on a happy face. That last one was done via song so it did make me crack a smile briefly, but no it did not ‘cheer me up’. 
It made grumpy: I was allowed to feel down, I was keeping to myself and not bothering anyone goddammit, and these people were telling me I couldn’t/shouldn’t.


Having permission to not be okay has possibly been the greatest, most helpful thing about this journey. The growing awareness of these types of conditions today means that as an adult, I can now say to my boss or my friends or some of my family “Sorry, I’m not doing okay, but I’m safe.”
And both they and I know it will pass, to give me support or distance if I need, but most importantly, permission. I'm not allowed to apologise to the people who truly understand. Even if I try to, because that voice is saying how much you've disappointed everyone, those who really get it tell me put my apologies away. It's been a long and hard lesson to learn, but permission is a key pointer.

It takes a layer of stress and guilt away. 

Especially as a kid, I felt weighed down by people telling me about how I shouldn’t feel this way or that I didn’t deserve it because someone else had it harder. I found myself saying a friend had died, or it was the anniversary of a death or something similar just to get some peace from the questions. Only then did people say 'oh okay, yeah that’d suck, I’m here if you need/until you stop feeling so down, okay?' when that was all I'd wanted.

So I guess all I can really say in response to the question is:

I wish more people would have kept reminding me that they were there for me, should I ever feel the need/motivation to accept the invitations, and not been discouraged by my initial dismissals. Nothing more than a small reminder, stating that the offer was still open. That voice is quick to interpret the passage of time as a waning interest from others. Sure I probably would have gotten sick of hearing it, but when the time came that I wanted someone, I knew who I could approach.

I wish more people had said that it's okay to not be okay, that they wanted me to be safe but didn't demand that I be happy when I wasn't.

And I wish more people were brave and gentle and tactful enough to call me out when I was being ridiculous in my self-loathing. It's a delicate tap-dance of a kindness, but if the right person can find the right time and do it the right way, then it's something that can be useful down the track, and I thank the girl who first took the time to gauge where I was at and poked a hole in my defensiveness. 

I can't say that all or any of these things will be applicable to the student in question, but these are the things my reflections have brought to mind. 
I wonder if my healing would have started sooner had they been in play.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Crossroads

I am a polymath, a scanner, a renaissance soul.
It means I have not, and likely will not, settle on one career path. I sample at the tapas of life's dinner table.

The great thing is that because I've done a lot, I can do a lot.
But it means that once I've found a niche and I am no longer challenged, I grow bored and listless.

Now imagine that with the looming threat of occasional bouts of depression on the horizon: the lingering laziness and stolen motivation, where even changing from dressing gown to daytime outfit seems daunting.

It means that while I'd like a role where I can constantly be challenged and feel like I'm worth my salt, I know my eventual limitations when the inevitable knocks on the door. The inconsistency of it means it's challenging to navigate. I could fly in my work, and my life, for months with nary a bump in the road, but at some point in the future the black dog invites himself home again, for some undeterminable amount of time.

It's things like this that draw me to factory work. The repetitive mindlessness of it all; it appeals to the safety-seeking moments when I need nothing else but steady work to pay the bills.
But when the days clear up again. I seek challenge and conquest.

I am becoming very good at playing dodgeball in this life.

Monday, February 13, 2017

I have been playing with the idea of this post for a while: mostly what I want to say but also whether it needs saying at all.

Some people who read this may already be aware that I have, in the past, been involved with a person who did not treat me very healthily. It has taken many years to actually recognise and correctly name this relationship as abusive. I suspect most people in similar situations have trouble identifying such until later. It's easy enough to dismiss oneself as being silly or oversensitive, but when you are being actively conditioned to do so, it's a lot harder to acknowledge in the moment.

The situation has been on my mind a fair bit recently for a few reasons. Perhaps the most striking to me at the moment is that I am fast approaching the anniversary of our first meeting. A decade has past, and I am so changed from the 'me' that became involved with this person that I am barely able to relate to any old diary entries or blog posts that I read. After moving house, I have been able to dig up old materials of this nature and read back over the period in question.
I don't really want to detail the exact specifics of the abuse, but I have some hindsight, context, and rueful wisdom.

The first thing I want to get off my chest is an apology.

I am sorry to all of my friends and family who were also affected by my relationship with this person.
I know they will say that the apology isn't warranted, but still I feel the need to impress upon them my sincerity: I am so sorry.

I'm sorry I didn't listen; that I dismissed your concerns; that I allowed myself to be shepherded away from your genuine and protective love; that I deprioritised you even in the days when I could see that I was being influenced, but decided to choose the easier path because continuing to fight to keep you by my side drained me of any energy I had left for myself. I remember some of the decisions I made out of self-preservation that hurt you and I still struggle with it.

Secondly, and I cannot stress this enough, I want to implore anyone reading this to make a concerted effort to stay mindful of their situation. There were a lot of warning signs and gut feelings that I ignored. There were also positive things I ignored too, like the concerns tentatively voiced to me by others that I cast aside; I fiercely defended my unhealthy relationship, even against my own inner qualms.

It is only now, with the strength of retrospection that I am able to see that I would have had support, but I had slowly been isolated. I was, whether consciously or not, cut from my herd.


People have often asked me why we got together in the first place, or at least stayed together after the first concerns were raised. The answer is somewhat two-fold itself: I was in a low place when we met, and this person could be very charismatic and good at saying what I wanted to hear. I can even remember a conversation we had after a group outing, whereby they accused my accompanying friends of not caring about me like they do. A case was presented, and I was swayed. Their debate was convincing, their evidence sound. Of course they knew what was best for me, after all they were my partner.

I don't necessarily believe this behaviour was deliberately malicious. I actually believe that they believe they were doing the right thing by me. I was slowly convinced that I owed them my dedication, my defence, my protection; after all isn't that what I also receive from them?

Possibly the most dismantling harm was the effect this had on my sense of self-assurance. Whenever I would gain enough confidence and felt the need to stand up for myself, my partner was very good at martyrdom and victim-playing. Again, I have reason to believe this wasn't a conscious and deliberate action, but simply a result of having no other emotional maturity or capacity to do otherwise.

It meant that I would eventually apologise for my moments of self-defense. They were held against me in a mental ledger, and I was confronted with the tired adage of "If you really loved me..." more than I had prior.

Eventually, this taught me that my indignation at unfair or unhealthy situations was disproportionate. I had been convinced that I was the one overreacting; that my outbursts of emotion or rage, the result of compacted and repressed frustration or a sense of injustice, were standalone incidents: I was the powder-cake.

I was not completely broken down. There was enough resilience in me to occasionally want to rally and say my piece, to voice that I was not happy with our circumstances or relationship. I had the inner fire to defend myself occasionally, but unfortunately in that relationship, and perhaps because of it, I also had an inability to do this more effectively than simply letting all the anger and hurt and frustration pour out of me in verbal and emotional tidal waves.

My partner did not lash out like this, my partner did not rant with a whirring mind and racing heart at me. They were a measured and quiet presence, with a withdrawn and sometimes unwavering air. Surely, of the two of us, it was I who was unstable? If anything, my partner would openly cry and become upset because of something I had done out of momentary inability to emotionally regulate. To the outside world, with my stronger personality and fiery volume once at tipping point, I seemed the dangerous one.

And that's how it felt.

I was singlehandedly being manipulated into believing myself to be the sole instigator of disquiet. I am not claiming, by any means, that the outbursts mentioned above were appropriate, but simply a result of months and eventually years of emotional games, and the need to demand respect when I felt confident enough to do so. As I said, I wasn't as well equipped to emotionally handle the situation more appropriately than to sit on my frustration in an attempt to keep peace until it became too much and resulted in an argument.

My partner was very good at being upset. There was always some issue or problem, whether emotional or functional, in our relationship or just in our home, that needed attention to 'make them happy'. I spent countless hours and immeasurable energy on trying to 'fix things'. I was constantly baffled why the exuberance I was expecting never came. If something in the outside world had gone wrong, I was hysterically and tearfully approached to deal with it. Someone sent you a nasty message? I'll handle this. You lost your job? I'll put your resume together. Can't afford your rent? I'll pay half. Favourite band isn't coming to town? Let's fly interstate to see them.
They were very good at making me feel needed.

And that was half the initial enticement. I was needed and wanted, at a time when I had craved the feeling.

In my diary of the time, the last entry before this person enters my life, is two lines. It reads simply:
I feel so unloved. Unloveable.

I was a sitting duck for any charismatic character to enter my world and begin making me feel these things again. I ended up in a worse place because I started a relationship, with an emotionally immature person, from a bad place.

The diary, and my personal blog at the time, details events that my memory has shelved. It starts positive, written in coloured pens with scrapbook items. Then gradually introduces more and more negative recounts of the days.

Some years later, my diary sees another succinct entry, which is incidentally the last entry in an unfinished notebook that grew less and less embellished and decorated as my creativity and motivation waned over time. It is written in plain black ink, and reads only:
I'm getting very tired of fighting. Very tired.

Judging from the timestamp, that was a few months before I was freed.
But I was not released entirely...

In the years that followed, living in small city meant that we had mutual acquaintances. We also had shared interests which meant occasionally I would find myself at the same event as my former partner. This in itself would be fine, but on numerous times they would seek me out and stand nearby apparently oblivious and coincidental, trying hard to be nonchalant. It happened more often than coincidences would have one believe. I was trying to move on with my life, and they were actively trying to reinsert themselves into it in any manner in which they could pass off as chance if confronted. Plausible deniability.


Another reason I find this topic on my mind lately is new information that has come to light about others who came after me.

I was not the last to be subjected to the manipulation and emotional & psychological abuse of this person. I have discovered other parties who were also subjected to it, some of whom are lucky to still be alive.'

I'm torn by this news.

On the one hand, I want to be proud of myself that I was strong enough and resilient enough to not have my mental health pushed quite this far. Perhaps that fire that would be used against me helped keep me safe?

On the other hand, these other relationships with my former partner and these parties were significantly shorter. Whilst I feel like I may have gotten away unscathed in comparison because I did not require hospitalization or need to be put on suicide watch, these events helped them recognise the unhealthy place they were in.
I feel somewhat stupid to know that I remained in a situation that was hazardous to my mental and physical and social health for so long.

It's challenging to process, because the journey I've been on since having the relationship removed from my life has allowed vast progression and growth, and I keep judging myself in the past by my wisdom of the present. I have to remember to be kind, and forgiving, to the person I was.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Big Anxiety in a Small Person

After reading this link about kids with anxiety, I have some thoughts that have been in the back of mind for a while now.

Firstly, I wish this kind of awareness was around when I was a kid.

I remember my mum telling someone that I 'worried a lot' and I remember 'feeling worried' about random things that I couldn't always articulate.
This was the only word I was ever given for what I felt.

I also remember watching some movie with my family and there was a scene where someone was called to the stand in court and I told my mum that if that ever happened to me I would just cry. Even if I had done nothing wrong and wasn't in trouble, I just knew I'd instantly burst into tears under that scrutiny. Even recalling that memory threatens to overwhelm me, I can place myself exactly back into that kid-me's emotion.

Whilst I've come a long way, that 'worried' kid still kicks around sometimes. I had no idea that it was anything real; I always thought I must be broken for worrying... about nothing. I was always wise enough to know that these were irrational anxieties, even if those 2 words were unknown to me at the time.
On the flipside, we always (lovingly) tease my dad for being a 'worry-wart'... So I guess the argument of genetics vs learned behaviour can kick in there. I've always maintained that it's a little bit of both - especially evidenced by the fact that as I grew older, I've stumbled and learnt my way around my anxiety depression. At least to (more recently) lessen its grip on me than the incapacitation I vaguely recall as a smaller person. But the DNA is still there, and it still raises its head when my methods fail.
Dad was/is prone to anxiety (over being late especially) and we all just learnt to accept that if there was a crisis, he was not the person to count on because he would simply panic. He would visibly reduce into a muddled, flustered being full of breathy exasperation. Meanwhile, precious seconds could be ticking by. Writing that, I am thinking of an instance when I wrenched the phone from him as he struggled to relay information from my mother, bent over the crumpled unconscious frame of my grandmother on the floor, to the 000 operator on the other end.

I also remember when I was very small, I slipped outside and lacerated my leg on a piece of metal. It was bad. I still carry the thick, fat scar on my upper thigh. 
I called out for my brother to help, since my mother was not home and knew Dad would rapidly turn into a useless ball of stress. I was young but sensible enough to have recognised this (and to know that walking inside was probably a bad idea since I'd get blood everywhere!). I was in shock and pain but I tried to keep my voice relatively even so Dad did not know there was any kind of emergency. My brother did a brilliant job of patching me up and although neither of us mentioned it, we knew to keep it from Dad. 
Even when he came into the living room later, as I laid on the couch, bandaged up under the blanket I was wrapped in, resting... He asked what was wrong (had he heard me in distress after all?) and I simply said "Nothing" as innocently as I could. My brother and I went back to watching TV. Mum came home after I went to bed that night and she was informed when I woke up in the middle of the night due to bad dreams, and I went to the doctor in the morning.
 
This. This is in my blood, my genes. And whilst I ruefully comment that today's kids have more resources than I did growing up, I am suddenly struck with the fact that he had less. None, even.

I don't envy the increased anxiety in our young people in this world, but I do envy the fact that due to its (ever increasing) widespread reach, at least anxiety (and depression) is slowly becoming more recognised, treated, and reduced in stigma. I may have missed out on the early help that I would've perhaps gotten (or not, who knows?) but at least I know that before we teeter too far on the border of becoming too much of an over-sensitive, coddling bunch -as the media an others would like to paint us as a society- there are other kids in pain who are getting help.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

long time between drinks

I remember the last time I was about to write here, it had already been quite a while between posts.

Ironically, the reason I never got around to writing that positivity-filled post updating you all on my world is because suddenly the fragility of it all became apparent and the mind-world crumbled for a few days or a week and my motivation to check in subsequently died.

And here I am, between smooth sailing once again; caught in the shifting of tectonic plates as I try to calm my racing thoughts and stay grounded amongst my erratic emotions. Right now I am a little down. Winter is officially here and I'm cold and tired and it doesn't help things. I sit with a mindful smile and try to keep the negativity from sinking in.

This the most important part: knowing that how I feel right now is but temporary.
It too shall pass.

This is just a wave and I will ride it out.
It's a long way from where I started. And I guess that's something to be proud of in itself.

On that note, I will update you on one thing: I recently just passed my first year of working in a steady job. That's a big accomplishment for me in recent days. I am lucky. I have good people around me and am part of an understanding team there.

Customer service is involved too. Who'd have thunk it? Me back in the saddle.

So I guess amongst these dreary feelings I nurture a small flame against the wind. It is a tiny, ember of hope and pride and sanity. I am stronger than I ever suspected.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

the dark is where the demons are...

It's nearly 3am and I have work 'tomorrow.'
I sit here on the couch in the darkness, thinking about nothing and everything; just a still, quiet meandering mind in the night.

It conjures up two memories, which revisit me not infrequently.

The first: a brief, fleeting image of being holed up years ago in a roadhouse motel alone by some interstate highway, listening to the trucks drone past as sleep escaped me. I stared into the moonlight and took dark 'artsy' photographs to pass the time, waiting for morning and the new workday, a sentence repeating over and over in my head - the answer to a question I hadn't bothered asking about why I could always sleep better in the daytime:
"The dark is where the demons are..."

The second memory is one from childhood.
I'm at a friend's birthday party. We're all perhaps about eight years old. Maybe younger. We've been playing in the backyard, and I've not been hugely interested in the games but joining in regardless.

Presently we're called inside: the party food is ready, probably cake too.

The other kids, maybe another 5 or 6 children, bustle through the back door to the kitchen and I linger at the back of the single file line. When I get to the door I let it shut in front of me and veer to a chair propped just alongside. I sit and I ponder without pondering - as I am right now - looking out over the now empty yard drenched in sun, and listening to the clamour of munching juveniles just within.

Someone notices I'm missing - the birthday girl, or perhaps her mother, and she opens the door to look for me. Seemingly startled to find me just outside, she asked "What are you doing??"

I reply, distracted "I'm just ...thinking".

Before she can respond her mother calls out to find out what's going on, and my friend relays over her shoulder: "She's thinking"
"Thinking!? What about?" the mother hollers, and my memory lets the rest of her words trail back into my mind and as the image fades to black I recall that I got up then and joined them, embarrassed.


Just being. Just seeing and feeling and thinking without thought. Numb, without the hopeless undertones, - though, she's still there somewhere.

Earlier this evening my partner and I had argued, and I suspect I am simply drained as always after such a challenging time. So I just sit. And am. My body claiming to want sleep, but my mind not surrendering to it, and my body only mildly convincing anyway.
I am not exhausted, I am just being. Just thinking.

A third commonly recounted memory surfaces:
I am in early highschool and the deputy principal has become a sort of mediator between another student and I in the midst of an emotional quarrel. She asks me what I do when I go home, after the conflict at school, and I reply that I do nothing: I do my homework and what tasks needs doing, but otherwise I just sit and think about things. Perhaps I include that I stare at the ceiling and think, I don't remember.
"Hmm" She nods slightly as she considers this. "That's dangerous."

I didn't reply at the time, and don't recall anything else as clearly from that conversation in her office.

"Is it?" my head still asks her today.

Are the quiet moments like this really dangerous? Do they really cause me as much harm as being emotionally heightened sprawled on the floor? Or kicking furniture and yelling?

Usually this type of quiet is the shell that's left when I'm tired and I've spent all the fight in me. I'm not depleted of anything but some energy, and lots of fight.
I'm submissive, passive, pliable.

If my partner is patient enough to wait for the objection to burn out of me in the form of tears and fists into floors, sometimes for hours... in this quiet time, even after the flares of shame and guilt if there's any to spare, I will do whatever it was I was rebelling against to begin with. Whatever tiny, insignificant last camel straw set my balanced brain on fire in the first place.
I become obedient, for the sheer reason that there's nothing left in me in this moment.

Dangerous?

Sometimes I agree with her. But this is not one of those times.
I think she means those times when the darkness is like a vacuum. When your head is not quiet, but full and noisy and repetitive. When the broken record tells you how hopeless and useless you are, and how selfish you are for feeling hopeless and useless. When the dark is where the demons are.

But this is not one of those times.

The demons are still here on nights like this, but they sit beside me. Not tormenting me, but not ignoring me either. We sit together and gaze out into the shadows like two strangers watching the same sunset on the same park bench, in polite silence.

Quietly appraising and respecting each other.

It's as though we have a truce this night: I don't try to stifle my demons, and they don't try to suffocate me.
This must be a sample of what living in peace with your inner demons must feel like.

I pause from finishing this post on that note as one last thought strikes me:
It's not as though I am scared of the dark, but quite the opposite. The night makes no demands. It is peaceful and quiet, and so, so many people are asleep. The day, however, brings harsh light to renewed worries. People and their demands awake. The world stirs.
It's easier to sleep past it all. With a bonus of a soul-lifting charge that only sleeping in sunlight can bring.

Perhaps I've had it wrong all these years, where my demons sleep.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Today it hailed.
I ran straight outside to be in it, and to take a photo.

The shower was intense but short. Soon there was an even smattering on the ground outside.

I watched the ice melt into the earth, losing its shape and colour, before becoming absorbed entirely.