Don’t Wait Wait Mister Postman

Hello, hope all is well with you, or at least getting better.  If not, let’s try to make it better.

I took a mini hiatus from here these past few days.  I could feel a relapse coming on.  The housework was becoming sloppy.  I was taking less and less interest in things around me.  I was frustrated with myself and self critical.  Exercise and trips outdoors were stopping.

I’ve no idea why things suddenly go like that.  It’s almost like a switch goes off in my mind and there it is, my self confidence falls through the floor, a feeling of uselessness envelopes me, and negative thinking kicks in.

It took a lot of determination to keep saying to myself “I won’t let this beat me.”  So I went and sorted out annual membership of a tennis club.  If I’ve paid for something I’ll damned well get my money’s worth out of it in my situation!

I concentrated a lot on job searching too, even applying for those I thought I had no chance with and had no experience of.  13 applications.  A couple have responded positively.  Including one that I thought I had no chance with.  Just goes to show.

I’m in a better head space mentally again.  Not quite as strong as I was before the weekend but definitely through that little setback.  There is one thing, however, that still makes me flinch, whether I’m in the depths of depression or on top of the world.

As I passed by the front door this morning, I shuddered.  There they were again, taunting me from the humble door mat.  Yet more letters.  My heart sank.  At least today I felt strong enough to open them.

Which, of course, had nothing untoward in them.  An acknowledgement from my uni that the degree course I’m on has been temporarily put on hold while I battle through the mental illness.  And a pin number for my debit card.

It’s something that Lesley touched on weeks ago.  She said it’s one of the first signs people are falling into depression or other stress and anxiety related issues when the post remains unopened.  I’m not so sure.  It’s been a fairly constant feature of life.

Unopened_mail

It first started three decades ago.  Admittedly it was when I was in the grip of a frighteningly deep depression that I let go untreated for years.  I was young, distressed, and spending more than I had coming in.

Letters started to arrive with alarming regularity from the bank.  At first, I went in to see the manager, who was surprisingly kindly.  He felt I was being taxed too much bearing in mind the gross income I was on.  He also was happy that a bonus coming in would cover the overdraft, which had run to over a month’s wages.

Soon afterwards, however, the ongoing vicious circle of depression meant I didn’t face responsibility or use common sense.  Those letters started arriving.  I was frightened of seeing the bank manager again, ashamed of being so weak and useless with my money.  I went down the route of the ostrich, and left the letters on the floor while I buried my head.

Inevitably, the account was frozen until I sorted myself out, and I’m pleased to say I have.  I don’t have any credit cards and no overdraft facilities on my bank account, at my request.  I spend only what I can afford thanks to a lesson learned all those years ago.

What has remained with me, however, is a real aversion to opening post.  When I see even one letter, a chill goes through me without even knowing what it’s about.

Looking rationally, it’s crazy to feel like that; as I said earlier, I have no overdrafts, only outstanding bills which I’m disputing, and still paying in instalments while the Citizens Advice Bureau fight my corner.  I’ve not so much as had a parking ticket, so there’s no legal matter hanging over my head either.

I can’t explain it.  All I can say is that over 90% of anyone’s post isn’t going to convey particularly nice news.  It will be mostly bank statements, bills, and junk mail though.  Nothing fun but not exactly life threatening stuff.

What I do know, too, which is where Lesley has a point, is that my mental health can be gauged by what I do.  Today, as a sort of “I’m not letting you win today, Ms. Depression”, I opened them straight away, after the initial surge of fear.  It’s what I also do when I’m feeling good and have no worries psychologically.  I confront my fear and move on.

When things aren’t so good, though, the fear overwhelms me.  They’re left on the landing, or on the bottom of the stairs, or in a draw, or in my bag.  Out of sight, not exactly out of mind, but out of the way.  It’s irrelevant as to what’s in it, too.  If I’m depressed but expecting some good post, it’ll be left unopened.

It really is significant too.  I truly feel if I can conquer the aversion I have to receiving mail, it will be a breakthrough to permanently better mental health somewhere along the way.  One day, one day, this WILL happen, too.  In the meantime, I’ll work on this little demon I have.

Second class of course.  I can’t afford the new first class rates.

Advertisements

Sprawling Under The Magnolia Tree Petals

Have to stop these late nights before Therapy Day.  Not that it was by design this time round.  Cleaning up the floor, the wall and the radiator of vomit, and making sure the home was properly fumigated was an unexpected and obviously unwelcome way to spend the early hours of Friday morning.

Not to worry, what’s done is done.  The clothes, towels, and bathroom mats were in the wash, being cleansed, and almost as good as new as I wandered off to see Lesley.  Another day, another fitting metaphor for my own mind.

As ever, another route as well.  Take a turning at a crossroads or go straight ahead.  Easy choice.  I’ve been up and down the other two turnings so it’s full steam ahead.  It’s nothing exceptional, apart from some fairly pleasant housing.  It is different though.  Different is good.

I’d mislaid my ‘homework’, only finding the sheet of paper late last night, which I’d put in my tablet cover and forgotten.  It was a journal of an event, the initial feelings and thoughts you felt, what you said to yourself, what may be a more reasoned take on it, and how you felt after that reasoning.

I’d quickly scribbled about an obvious event in the fortnight, going to see my doc and being told something unexpected.  I duly wrote down the details, how I felt and thought before and after the ‘reasoned’ view of it.

Lesley, to my pleasant surprise, said there was nothing to add to it, that it was a great usage of the thought journal, so instead started reading through the blog.  After the comparatively easy start to this session, it became tougher and more difficult with each passing minute.

We focused on my suicidal thoughts, what I feel immediately after it.  She told me that, in the end, I am in control of these thoughts.  That may be in a literal sense, with them being from my own mind.

There’s definitely something out of my control at the moment, though, otherwise I’d gladly filter these suicidal thoughts completely.  If I indeed have this control, then the control panel itself has been fused for a good number of years.

It doesn’t get any easier.  One thing that is touched upon is when I become distant to my friends.  It’s a recurring theme.  I meet up with people, start to go out socially, see them in between and keep in touch, yet before long I start to drift apart from the friendship and eventually stop meeting up altogether.

I look for reasons for it to happen.  The most recent example of this, I convinced myself that they included the children in most conversations, and took them to places that were unsuitable socially.  There’s perhaps a tiny bit of substance to it, but it really is a minor irritation.  It’s used by me as an excuse for how I behave towards them though.

Lesley asks me why I do that.  I think hard and come up with something along the lines of ‘Somewhere along the line I think it’s going to go sour, so perhaps I’m cutting my losses while I’m ahead.’  My lack of self esteem is painfully evident.  I take a gulp or two.

American-Beauty

She then asks about what negative traits I see in myself.  I talk about my apparent lack of enthusiasm about things.  A lot of it stems from the media these days.  Whether it’s to do with sport, or political goings-on, there’s encouragement to be loud, brash and bold.  We live in a world where, whatever you do, it has to be done with “passion”, where enthusiasm has to be seen over and above any other quality.

By contrast, while not shy, I’m introvert, only coming out of myself when I’ve gained the confidence of those around me.  I don’t like parties, and on the rare occasions I go to one, I try to stay in the background.  I enjoy politics and sport as much as anyone, I just don’t like shouting it from the rooftops.

When I confess that I’ve stopped exercising as much as I’d done the past few weeks, and hadn’t thought about any successes in my life for a while, Lesley asked if the unenthusiasm has stretched to my job searching.  For the first time since we started therapy, she’s irritated me.  The question was misjudged.

It may be suitable for a tiny minority of people, but for me, and millions of others, depending on a tiny welfare allowance, something for which I paid into for decade after decade, is far from a lifestyle choice.  I struggle to make ends meet, and often don’t, going without food or shoes with no holes in the soles if need be.

I search every single day, scouring websites, looking through papers, walking around shops and industrial units, searching for that place who can and will take me on.  So no, I am not unenthusiastic about earning my keep providing for family, to make a living, to feel the pride of being in work.  And I feel damn insulted for even being questioned about it.

There are one or two other things talked about, notably being dumped on my 18th birthday and how I coped with it as well as I did, but I really just want to go home now.  Lesley means well, and has to ask these questions to help me get well again.  But I am annoyed, though I hide it well.

Time to go, and Lesley talks about the petals on her magnolia tree falling off now.  I venture that if she wants something online to go viral, she might want to be covered in nothing but magnolia petals and roll around, just like that woman from American Beauty.

I’m glad we end on a fun note, both of us laughing.  Lesley has already done me a lot of good, and I’m not going to let one question I didn’t like spoil the great work she’s doing with me.  I have a million more far more difficult questions ahead to answer in this life.  Thanks to Lesley, it’s a life I’m starting to take control of.

And onward to home.  Via the shops.  More vomit to clean, more washing to be done, no washing powder left.  Sometimes life is good, but when it isn’t, you have to get through the drudge.  Via a washing machine surrounded by magnolia walls.

I can live with that.

I Don’t Really Want To Die, I Only Want The Pain To Stop

Therapy day tomorrow.  I wouldn’t say I’m looking forward to it, as facing up to the demons in your mind are always uncomfortable to say the least, but it no longer holds any fears.  I’ve accepted I’m mentally ill, have been for a long, long time, and that Lesley is here to put a stop to that.

One of things I’m about to  do in preparation for our session, as almost any patient will have done (and mentioned throughout my therapy logs) are the ‘scores on the doors’ questions to gauge your levels of depression, stress and anxiety.

A question on the form has put me in a bit of a quandary.  It’s asking that have I in the past fortnight had thoughts I’d be better off dead or hurting myself in any way.  I have done once.  The columns, however, only have no, several days, most days or every day.

Not to worry, how that turns out will be part of therapy.  The issue, we all know, is having suicidal or self harming thoughts in the first place.  How the hell does life get to the stage where death is the favoured option?

I can’t be sure about anything prior to leaving school but I do know that soon after starting work, I was made to feel so useless, so ugly, so frightened, that suicide was blessed relief.  I’d stand at a subway platform and think how quick and easy it would be to jump and end it all.

Another time was a lot more puzzling.  I’d left my long term partner a few years ago and over the upset, was in a steady, well paid job, seeing plenty of friends, and dating when I wanted to.

As I began wandering home one afternoon I saw a bus heading towards me.  The next instant a voice in my head said “I wish I was under that.”  Clearly something subconscious was eating away at me.  What facade I was trying to hide I consciously never knew.  Even now, it’s still a bit confusing to think about it.

These were just a couple of highlighted occasions, at either end of the scale, showing that suicidal thoughts can strike at any time, for any reason, which may not even be readily apparent to you.  It’s a hell of a tough life knowing your mind can treat you like this at any moment.  An absolute nightmare.

magnolia not okay

What really doesn’t help is the myths spouted occasionally in everyday conversation if either a high profile or close to home suicide is in the news.  I’ve heard these things said:

“They’re just being selfish.”  So easy to say from the benefit of a non-suicidal mind.  In fact it’s the opposite.  A person in that state of mind believes, as I have done on numerous occasions, that their death will be worth more to those around them than their life.  Twisted logic it may be, but that is a pretty selfless act, giving your life believing it makes others better.

Suicide is the cowards’ way out.”  Again, said by people who have no experience or knowledge of suicidal tendencies.  If, like me, you are atheist, that is the final act you will ever do until the end of time itself.  Giving up everything, every beautiful sunrise, every moment of hope, of laughter.  Forever.  Hardly a cowardly characteristic.

It’s the easy option.”  Another well worn phrase.  If you’re scratching at your skin, with a banging headache, and vomiting, guess what?  You’re ill.  If you can’t get out of bed, in tears, believing that you can’t go on and better off dead, guess what?  You’re ill.   Dealing with physical symptoms is often simple.  But mental illness, hidden from the outside world, suffering in silence, tormented to the point of taking your life?  Just how ‘easy’ is that?

Cheer up.”  This often ends in the person saying that suffering one of those physical symptoms that are often simple to deal with.  But painful nonetheless.

Believe me, that theme from M*A*S*H is so so wrong.  Suicide is painful beyond reason.  It’s not something to be dismissed either.  For me, though, it’s not that I want my life to end.  It’s just that at certain times, the pain seems so unrelenting, so unbearable, it’s the best route to take.

It isn’t, of course, and I’ve been extremely fortunate to either have a small shred of reasoning in my mind that there’s another way, or I’ve had people around to stop me taking that step.  The plans, though, as well as the thoughts, have been there, on plenty of occasions.

I’m not sure where I’m heading with this.  It’s just something I wanted to get off my chest.  If any of it strikes a chord with you, and you want to, get in touch.  The four things you can guarantee from me is not hearing those damn phrases above.

I know where I’m heading now though.  To supper.  And then, tomorrow, to therapy.  If you’re reading this, Lesley, we may have some issues to cover.

And don’t forget the magnolia plant.

Therapy Log: 6 March 2014

Definitely an end of term feel to this evening.  The last group therapy session.

Still dark.  Still unlit and cracked pavements.  Still cold.  At least, though, I remembered the torch.  It lit the way ahead in the darkness by using my own common sense.  Maybe, just maybe, it stands as a metaphor to how I have to go about things in life as well as therapy.

We wait in reception and it seems everyone wants to get through the evening and try returning to whatever their normality of a Thursday evening is.  I will miss it though.  Not for the therapy itself as by its’ very nature it can only scratch the surface of all our stresses, anxieties and depression.

No, what I will miss is the time spent out of the home.  It’s a huge factor, I’ve come to discover, in how I drop into such negative thinking patterns.  The cold, the rain, the hours and miles walked getting to and from therapy isn’t something I’d want to experience again, but getting out for an evening has helped enormously.

We file in and, lo and behold, the same two therapists as last week for a change!  For the last time, the scores on the doors are added up.  15, 11 and 23, all going nicely downwards.  Slowly but surely, step by small step, I’m turning things round.

A fly in the ointment though.  A slightly increased stress level of 7.  Understandable though.  I’ve had all welfare help cut off, as it was decreed I’d voluntarily left a job, when I was actually laid off by my employer on health grounds.  Got my MP on the case, though, who’s pretty indignant at the shabby treatment given to the physically and mentally ill.  I’m not the first one he’s had to go into bat for this year by a long chalk.

All the session turns out to be is a review of everything that’s gone through before.  My mind goes back to Mr. Angry Man all those weeks ago, and his 25% useful, 75% useless rant.

Now, I know I’m in a much better head-space at this time, in spite of my scepticism each week.  Often I’ve been lost in my own thoughts.  Clearly, however, on a subconscious level, something’s worked.  I have no idea what ‘25%’ it is that’s done it, so by definition was worth being around for the whole 100%.  His loss, his angry loss.

therapy_group_1940495

On our handouts, and in the therapists chat, it’s implored to us to practice, practice, practice all the exercises, either conscious or subconscious, that we’ve learned.  I look around.  To my left, a poor, poor woman starts to cry and wail.

“Three of my family have died.  I don’t know how I can carry on.”  She dissolves into tears.  It’s a moment where there is nothing you can say or do to adequately console someone who’s so deeply tormented, and kept it all to herself all these weeks, suffering in silence.

The session is stopped.  The therapists, wisely, say this is something that needs much more support and one-to-one therapy that they can provide this evening.

Everyone, else, the few of us that have gone the distance, give a nod, or a pained smile, or a hug, a few words, even a hankie, to let her know.  Even if we can’t imagine how deeply awful what she’s going through is, we’re here if she needs us, and do feel at least a tiny amount of her pain too.

The rest of the evening is understandably subdued.  We fill out our staying well plan.  Mine involves girlfriend insecurities, debt, and employment.  At least I have a clear pathway for these issues.

Girlfriend – it’s over, I realise that.  I’m still deeply in love with her, though, and will be for a long time.  I’ll need to find ways of living with that realisation.  And will do.

Debt – I have a debt charity involved.  They’ve given me great advice.  No longer will I feel bullied or harassed.  I’ll repay what I can and stick to it.

Job – Keep on plugging away.  I have the confidence of knowing I can apply for and be offered paid employment, even if it came to a premature end.  Someone will want to make use of a brain as smart as mine.  It is, too.  It’s about time I acknowledge the good things about me.

Eventually we’re given those magic words.  “You are now discharged.”  We slink off into the night.  Back into our realities, back into our own little worlds.  A few weeks ago, hearing that may have frightened the life out of me.

That torch, however, lighting the way ahead once more.  Not now.  Reality will be what I make it.  From now I’m going to make my mine light up the skies.  I’m not just going to be someone.

I am someone.

Story Of The Blues

Do forgive me.  I’ve talked so much about how I’m feeling, about events in my life leading up to it, and so on, that I’ve neglected the one shining light, the one constant in all of this.

Music.

It’s consoled me when I’m sad, given that get up and go when I’m brooding, added to my joy in happy times, and generally just been there, asking for nothing in return, just pleased you were there to hear it.

Instead of wittering on today, well, this isn’t the soundtrack to my life, but these songs have at some point been so, so important in my life.

Enjoy  🙂

 

A seminal gay rights activist and artist of the late 70’s, he was hugely influential to me in my teenage years with the TRB album ‘Power In The Darkness’.  When I mellowed out politically and emotionally, but still found relationships hard going, so did Tom.  I love the laid back feel to this, coupled with bittersweet lyrics.  This has been played a lot recently!

 

An unusually aggressive track of defiance from Elton, a sort of message to the world that I may be down, but I’m not out, and now I’m fighting back.  Usually the first song I hear in the morning, it gets me into the perfect frame of mind to face the world down every day.

 

Simply a beautiful, beautiful song.  Makes me sad, yet somehow at the same time so blissfully happy to hear it.  If I ever get married this will be the wedding dance song.  Wonderful.  Thank you Buddy.

 

The first time I cried over someone dying.  I adored Marc Bolan and was thrilled when he had his own tv series especially for children.  One week his guest was David Bowie and they jammed together.  I was agog.  A week later he was gone.  His music, though, is as inspiring and inspirational now than it has ever been.  Marc has got me through some dark, dark times even though he’s been gone for so long.

 

And, of course, I had to include this!  Hopefully music is as uplifting for you as it is for me.  Long may it be so too!

xxx

Ring, Ring, Why Do You Give Me A Call?

Ooh, it’s been nice and relaxed today.  Still having the odd negative, and at one point suicidal, thought.  That damn broken heart of mine.  A good bank holiday, though, sitting back, watching trashy tv.  Not only that, blessed relief from the phone.  Not a call all day – bliss!

I don’t know about you, but the phone, whether it be the old-fashioned cabled up at home, or the all singing, all dancing, 17g nuclear missile launcher mobile version, has been a constant source of anxiety, paranoia and stress for me.

Why is that?  I still don’t know.  Yet every time I hear either the mobile or landline ring, I flinch, and a momentary wave of panic rips through me.  Who are they?  What do they want?  Why me?

I guess it all started around a dozen years ago.  I was in a relationship where she was married.  Not the happy-ever-after married just having a bit on the side sort.  Their marriage was over, and I even knew the other partner fairly well, who also knew we were seeing each other and was fine with it, but neither could afford to live on their own, so kept to the own areas of the house.

He had the landline so she had the mobile, at a time when calls were expensive, so we would often text between dates as it was much cheaper.  At first it was great, the messages were as relaxed and easy as our relationship was.  Asking how each other were, with one or two bits of humour thrown in.

After a while, though, I felt a need to somehow keep up a standard, to keep her entertained, to make her feel wanted, so the texting became more frequent.  I would also begin to feel paranoid if I didn’t get a reply within a short while.

Very soon, days were being lost, just by me looking, waiting for a little envelope diagram to appear on my mobile screen.  Nothing else mattered so long as I got that reply which validated my existence.  I became dependent, needy, and a completely different soul to the person she met, confided in and started to see.

In the end, I stopped sending texts, realising what a shell of my former self I had become, and a while after we split up.  I know a lot of that was due to the complete change in me because of that phone.

I made a conscious note to never use a mobile phone after that when dating anyone.  Which of course lasted about a month before the cycle started again.

Soon after that, however, the landline had become just a big a thorn in my mind’s side too.  I was going through a depression, with some agoraphobia manifesting itself.

I couldn’t face going out but did nothing except get a prescription for antidepressants.  The counsellor I saw, well, we simply didn’t click, and I stopped going, preferring to stay indoors, only peeping out when absolutely essential, and only for as short as time as possible.

I was in a job and every so often they would call me asking when I was returning.  They had seen my not being able to go into the workplace as a refusal to do so.  After a while, their calls were becoming more persistent, and I feared that dreadful, urgent ringing sound.

Eventually, their patience ran out, and I was sacked just before Christmas.  Strangely, although I worried for my future, my initial feeling was relief.  That dreadful ringing, cutting me to the bone, would stop.

If I thought that was bad, however, it was nothing compared to early in the new year.  Out of a job, frightened of going out, and unaware I could get any help for the numerous bills I had to keep up payments on, I was soon getting anything up to 10 calls a day from finance companies, regarding my mortgage, loan, credit cards and bank account.

phone depression

Every day was the same message from me.  I’m ill, I’m out of a job, when I get money, you’ll get your money.  Each response though, was the same.  We don’t care, we’re going after you, and take you to court and get your house sold and you on the street if we have to.

I’d lie by the bed, crying, as the shrill of the phone ringing would hit my senses again and again.  When I eventually replied, the tone and language of the voice at the other end of the line was more and more threatening.

When I began crying down the line to one company, saying I felt like killing myself, he laughed, and threatened all the more.  I had to take the phone line out of the socket before feeling like killing myself became actually killing myself.

Whenever I did put the socket back in, though, within a few minutes, that God-awful ring resurfaced.  The phone really was driving me to the point of suicide.

In the nick of time, I realised I needed practical as well as psychological help.  I got in touch with the Citizens Advice Bureau, who took on my case.  It’s amazing how accommodating finance companies became when they were threatened with court action (due to their bullying and harassing conduct to a mentally ill person) instead of them doing the threatening.

The first thing the debt counsellor told me, though, had nothing to do with the legalities of where I was.  It was something that probably saved me more distress than anything else.  “Get everything in writing, insist you only correspond in writing.  If you do things on the phone, they’re onto you like sharks.  Throw the bloody phone away if you can.”

She was right.  I no longer had that grey cloud of waiting for a call hanging over me.  My anxiety, my paranoia, my tears, my nightmare, gradually subsided.  At long last, I felt in control of things.  And those loans, bills, overdrafts?  Paid every last penny.  Which I would have done had they waited instead of ringing.

It’s something I’ve adhered to ever since, not using the phone unless absolutely necessary.  Of course, I have a mobile phone.  In times when stress is building up, or in bouts of depression, though, it’s left at home when I go out.  If I have it on me, it’s always on silent.  If I notice someone ringing and don’t recognise the number, it’s left unanswered.

As for the landline, it comes with the broadband package, but nobody knows the number except for myself.  I use it purely for free calls to friends and relatives during evenings at weekends.  I know full well if it rings, it’s not someone I know, so remains unanswered.  It’s rung about twice as far as I can remember.

Frankly, life is so, so much more relaxed now I have that balance of needing to have a phone but without being needy of it.  Believe me, if you don’t get that balance right, it can drive you to distraction, perhaps even over the edge.

Don’t let it get to you the way it did to me.  To paraphrase a money-grabbing phone company’s ad, it’s good to talk.  But so much better to talk in person.  Just this once, leave it at home, or leave it off.

You’ll feel so much better for it.

Therapy Log: 27 February 2014

As cold as it ever was.  As dark as it ever was.  This time, however, something had changed.

Everything that can go wrong in the past week, had gone wrong.  My energy suppliers were after an outrageous amount.  Any allowance I had been granted while I fought my ill health had been cut off.  And, inevitably, no word or sound from my girlfriend.

It really may have finished me off after the weekend I’d endured, feeling my life falling away.  Instead, though, thanks to keeping in touch with the Samaritans, and my own sense of burning injustice, I began to fight back.

The energy company were essentially told to do one until they hauled their backsides over to do a meter reading in my presence.  My MP was soon on the case to appealing against an inherently unjust decision to cut off any allowance, which would have essentially put a mentally ill person onto the streets.

It paled into insignificance with my shattered heart.  12 days without hearing anything from her.  That’s what caused the intervention, via a bathrobe and a tear stained face, from the Samaritans.  I had stayed in contact with them every day.  I needed to.  Soon enough, the sadness was turning into a turning point, to fight back.  Stuff the world, don’t get in my way.

So that’s where I was as I sat in reception for the fifth Thursday in a row.  People were becoming more chatty in the group.  At least among the women.  Perhaps it’s a genetic trait for men to keep quiet and women to discuss.  I don’t know, I’m no psychiatrist.  I’m clearly good at cliches though.

As we take our seats, yep, another therapist, but this time we’re promised he’s staying with us for the last session next week.  I’m annoyed, not just by the lack of continuity, or by how inconvenient they’ve made it for me to get therapy.  No, that’s mellowing to mere irritation.

I’m annoyed because I bought a torch to guide me through those dark, cracked pavements from the station to therapy.  And had left it at home.  Such a minor thing but I kept harking back to it.  How stupid am I?  What a waste of money, money I can’t afford.  I’m just so damn useless.  What an idiot.

Which led us on nicely to this week’s theme / therapy / lecture.  Self esteem.  Pah.  Not something I’ve had even moderate amounts of ever since childhood.  I’ve got by on life low on self belief, lower on self love.  Hey, it’s okay though, that’s going to be cured in 90 minutes.

group therapy 2

I’m full of cynicism and anger, clearly, but I feel I have a purpose, that I know which direction to be travelling in.  Alcoholics call it a moment of clarity.  Me?  I just see it as getting my own back on life.  Soon the bitterness will fade, I’m not that sort of person.  I hope the drive stays with me.

It’s reflected in my Generation Game scores on the doors this week – 16, 12, and 24, with a stress level of 6.5.  Significantly lower on all depression and stress counts.  I’m on my way.  I feel that anger turning towards determination, maybe even to a slight self-belief.  Good grief.

We go through definitions of self esteem and where it comes from.  I’m asked what I would do if my self esteem was higher and how I might think differently.  The answers are straightforward.

First of all, I’d be able to see myself as not as ugly as I do now.  Despite many years of being in relationships, and the odd fling.  I still truly believe I’m physically unattractive, with a downright ugly face.  It’ll take some work to get me to think otherwise.  Maybe it’ll happen though.  But my mind doubts it at the moment.

I’d also be able to confide in family in friends about my depression, instead of suffering in silence for months on end, and may think I can lean on them with any problem, feeling more confident and secure in the process.

There’s then a whole page of filling in about positive qualities about myself to fill in.  I’ve always found that difficult.  Perhaps it’s a typically British way of mistaking liking yourself for blowing your own trumpet.  In any case, I fill up the whole page.  I surprise myself with how many good things I can list.  My legs especially.

Comfort zones are also talked about.  The less we go out, the more the comfort zone shrinks, so the less we do, the less we go out, etc.  It makes sense.  I’ve been cynical and angry this week, but I know what they’re saying, and have been saying, is right.  Perhaps it’s all seeping in, bit by bit.

I head off home, the walk filled with thoughts about how I’m going to fight back, how I’m going to get through this, how I’m going to be me, rather than an empty soul inhabiting an aging body.  This at long last, is my time.

The world had better watch out.

Mind Games

I keep telling myself, every time it happens.  Does it really matter?  Nobody died, nobody lost their jobs, nobody were made homeless, nobody starved because of it.

Yet none of that matters.  One of the sports teams I follow (I don’t just like football) lost a vital relegation match today.  The useless so-and-so’s.   Gaaaaaah, I’m so damn angry, despite knowing how meaningless it is in relation to those world problems I listed.

Up until then I’d had a lovely day – to a point, at least.  Another of those wanders by the beach, with once again clear blues skies and cooling breezes.

This time, however, my thoughts were positive.  Of seeing where I want to live, and get a job well enough that will enable me to afford it.  I was concentrating on when, not if, too.

I then stopped by the park.  I went to see my local non league football club.  As I wandered through the leafy grounds, over to my left a cricket match was going on.  Just in front of me some shinty players were warming up.  If you didn’t know it already, we are a nation of sport lovers.

It was always going to be that way with me.  My father was a rugby union internationalist so it came to be that every Saturday and Sunday, and a few midweek evenings, my siblings and I would be out of my mother’s hair, Dad taking us to whatever sport we were into.

We had varying levels of success, but even at such a tender age, my mind was battling against me far more effectively than any opponent.  I enjoyed my hockey, shinty (similar to hockey but with mixed martial arts thrown in) and rounders, even joining in with cricket as well.

I really did excel at cross country running and especially tennis, where I was often put into competitions for age groups well above my own.  I did not, however, think that at the time.

I was always so self critical and kept telling myself I wasn’t any good.  What didn’t help, looking back, was coming home one night to find my siblings giggling at my less than dazzling performance earlier.  That I could expect.

I didn’t expect to hear my own mother on the phone to a relative mocking and laughing as heartily as anyone else.  At that point my confidence, as low as it already was, shattered into a million pieces.  I soon gave up playing sport competitively for a number of years, and until well after I’d left home.

That, however, isn’t the motivation for relaying all of this to you.  It was as I was strolling in the park earlier.  All those people warming up or playing competitive sport.  Yet barely 50 people were there to watch any of the proceedings, though admittedly more came along as the football began.

An awful lot of that is down to the media these days.  In the papers, on tv, online, and blaring from the radio, the constant message all around the UK, not just England, is that the English Premier League is the best league in the world.  And that you can’t miss out.

For many of the media outlets, it’s important that you don’t.  They have little interest in sport, but want your money, and since Sky came on the scene all those years ago, have cranked up coverage to the so-called elite in British and world club football to almost hysterical levels.  That can’t be healthy.

Wimbledonfan-590x320

One national radio station spends its time hiring presenters to debate English Premier League issues with a deliberately provocative viewpoint.  Designed purely to engender an angry, negative response.  Then, of course, the texts come rolling in.  Money in the bank without a thought given to the potential damage they do to their audience’s minds.

As you can probably guess, I don’t subscribe to any cable or satellite sport channels, which is probably a contradiction in terms with being so immersed in sport in my childhood and carrying on that love of it ever since.

I’ve seen the coverage on those channels though.  They’re dangerously addictive, without a doubt.  Just like a soap opera, it’s like a storyline they weave to draw you in, then all of a sudden, instead of a Sunday afternoon walk in the spring or autumn, you are drawn into to City against Villa or Albion v United, even though you support none of them.  And you’ve lost hours off your life for no reason.

I don’t even regularly watch the Beeb’s iconic Match Of The Day.  The coverage is awful, sending out the same, almost hypnotic, message that the English Premier League is everything, showing a few minutes of highlights followed by a lot more inane chat from bloated former players.

I do tend to watch the equivalent north of the border, Sportscene, regularly, though, even though my team (thankfully neither of the Glasgow clubs blighted with religious intolerance) are having a stinker of a season.  The presenters and pundits know Scottish football isn’t exactly cutting edge, accept it for what it is, and give an honest account after the highlights.

And that permeates itself to the viewer.  You feel better for having watched it, whether your team have won or lost.  Almost relaxed and happy.  Which is similar to what it feels like after playing a sport, providing you’re not obsessed with just winning.

Which is what the English media are.  You either win or you are nothing in their eyes.  They encourage people to be outraged, to be unhappy, to be in tears, because their side kicked a ball into a net on a bit of grass less than someone else.  They discourage people from taking part in sport, and instead try luring you into just siting at home or in a pub to watch it.  Then put a negative slant on it all.

The sad result of this was seen this afternoon.  Cricket, shinty and football.  All being played enthusiastically, with verve, vigour and a bit of skill, by players doing it for sheer love.  Yet people were too busy watching a little vidiprinter, or an illegal internet stream, watching multi millionaires who couldn’t care less about them, to turn out and see it.  And probably feeling worse for it afterwards too.

Whether I like it or not, though, the mind games played by the British media to keep you indoors, to keep you watching their hype, and to pay good money for it, is here to stay.  With all the negative psychology that goes with it.

Why not, if you love your sport, try avoiding that?  Even better, why not be involved?  Go and see your local team.  Even better, just try a sport out.  Just taking that step, getting out and about, will help you feel better in mind as well as body.

As am I now.  My team may have lost, but I didn’t stay in to hear it all unfold.  And what do you know, my anger I felt at the start has gone!

There’s always another game.  But you only have one mind so take great care of it.   Because if you do, everyone’s a winner.

Except perhaps Sky.

Stop Right Now, Spice Helps Me Very Much

First thing’s first.  Happy Easter.  I spent Good Friday trying my best to make myself better.  I had a choice of a 20 minute wait for the train into town or a leisurely wander overlooking the shore.

Nope, I didn’t choose the former either.  It was lovely, the walk.  Just the thing I needed to blow away the cobwebs.  Then when I returned home I used the phone – a real step forward for me – to get help with my bills, and then set up a facebook page for this.

I’ve already started up a twitter account too, @magnoliatreeluv .  If I can help just one person prevent what I’ve been through (and even then my woes have been nothing compared to others) it’s been so, so worthwhile.  As far as Good Fridays, go, it’s been very good.

I’m sure however that, like me, you encounter not just negative thinking, but overly negative thoughts, that threaten or do overwhelm you.  Days like today would have been a pipedream just a few short weeks ago.  Until I learned of some type of blocking technique.  Goodness knows where it came from.  Yet somehow it works.

In the mid to late 90’s, nobody could have failed to have been irritated by five fairly talentless women, with varying degrees of attractiveness being outweighed by the inanity and boorishness of their personality.  The perfect ingredients for pop superstardom.

That’s exactly what the Spice Girls were too, superstars across the globe, conquering America in a way not seen since the Beatles.  Who they outsold and had more consecutive chart topping singles than.

I’m not sure what rankled me more.  Their eagerness to be gobby and full of misguided self confidence.  Their awful voices in their abysmal videos where they strutted arrogantly throughout.  The dreadful but catchy songs, forcing you to hum it subconsciously.  Or that, despite it all, I still felt an attraction to at least one of them, hating myself it in the process.

There was no escape, either, having a toddler with my long term partner at the time, who when sat in front of the tv, watched nothing but Tweenies, Steps, Teletubbies and the Spice Girls.  Christmas 1997 was one of the worst ever, purely because the latter two were vying for the number one single.

Any therapist worth their salt will tell you, though, that having so much antipathy towards something or someone belies a subconscious appreciation.  Which manifested itself in the most unlikely of ways a couple of months ago.

spice girls stop

Another day started grimly and was getting worse as it wore on.  I’d not long started therapy and was trying various things to counteract it, trying to get my mind and body occupied.  I was determined to say no to my mind while it threatened to overrun me.

I was halfway through my first suicidal thought, when from nowhere came an image in my mind.  Five talentless Spice Girls, all in a row, smiling, giggling, with their palms outstretched in front of them, screeching : –

“Stop right now, thank you very much, I need somebody with a human touch now.”

My initial thought was “Where the hell did that come from??!!”  But, for whatever reason, the suicidal thought dissipated.  All of a sudden, I felt a tiny bit better so made a mental note of trying to do that with every self critical or other negative reflection I had.

The next time, a short while later that day, up they came again, doing their Stop routine from that classic Scorsese film, Spiceworld.  Once more it worked.  The negative vibe went.  I smiled to myself and became curious.  Why?

I began to look at things from another slant.  These five women clearly knew that they were far from great singers, couldn’t play a note of any instrument, and had dance moves more wooden than the set of Crossroads.

They also must have realised they were just another angle for other, extremely rich people already, to become even richer.  To be more of a PR machine than a pop group.

But why did they have to care?  They were young (maybe apart from one), were seeing the world, riding the crest of a wave of teenage and junior school popularity, so never had to take themselves seriously.  They could, and did, just enjoy the ride, and earn more money than they could ever spend in the process.

No wonder they were always so confident, always so happy, always so positive.  Dammit, I even fancied the pants off Ginger.  It was those green suede knee high boots that probably did it.  Or that she was very likely older than me.

I re-evaluated myself, and I saw that I was wrong all those years ago.  Sure, they were musically woefully inadequate, but they were relentlessly cheerful and positive, and showing you can achieve anything, no matter what anyone said or thought about you.

And thanks to them now, that terrible dance in the poor video from a dire film, their ‘positivity’ has become a constantly successful tool in my daily battle with negative thinking.  As far as I’m concerned, they’ve kept me sane.

I’ll say Viva Forever to that.

Therapy Log: 20 February 2014

Another dark Thursday evening.  Another cold Thursday evening.  At least it was dry though.  The trudge from the station to therapy this time, for once, will be in dry clothes.

That is perhaps the only consolation.  Since the last time my heart has been repaired, I was lifted, soared, then brought back down to earth, heart broken into a thousand pieces.

The previous week I sent a valentine text message, not thinking there’d be any reply.  Except I did.  “Where are you?  I f*****g love you.”  We spent the evening talking, the following Saturday morning together in each other’s arms, talking of where to move in together, days out, my mental illness.  All was well again.

Since then, though, the familiar no texts, no calls answered, no e-mails, nothing.  After five weeks without hearing from her, and then another 5 days from her declaring in my arms she would never leave me, I get that sinking feeling.

All I can surmise is that she’s gone off with someone else and can’t bring herself to tell me.  It’s the not knowing that’s killing me though.  I keep hanging on in hope, but know it’s the end of the road for us.  I’m still in love with her, though, so the pain is almost unbearable.

I sit in reception, having found solace in the dark, unlit pavements getting there, wanting to just disappear from the world discreetly.  I must have been giving off some signals, because a much younger woman, who I’d never acknowledged much before, thinking that she wouldn’t have much in common with someone a generation older than her, sits beside me.

We talk through my smashed up heart and screwed up emotions.  In return I listen intently to how stressed and anxious she becomes at everyday things, and how it affects every facet of her life, creating a vicious circle.  It’s probably done more for us so far than 3 weeks of group therapy, those 15 minutes in reception.

As we go in, there’s a fourth different therapist in four weeks.  To be fair, one of them has always been there, but there other therapist changing every week has an unsettling effect on the group.  You can hear the sighs as another one introduces herself, bouncing off her colleague and talking t us in yet another entirely different way to the week before.

It’s very apt for me this week as it’s low mood and depression.  I’ve hardly been lower than I am now.  My Depression Krypton Factor this week is 22, 16, and 29, with a stress level of 7.  I’m marginally less stressed, balanced out by being more depressed.  I wonder why.

We’re given a case study, Emma, and shown a vicious circle, where you think something bad about yourself, so feel down, so are unable to do something, so thinking something bad about yourself, etc, etc.

Group_Image12

I’m trying to listen but my mind wanders, inevitably to who I refuse to call my ex and hang on by the merest thread to hoping her still being my girlfriend.  There’s also increasingly serious debt problems and other things.

My mind is a mush.  Being forced to jump onto two trains, and that long walk, in the cold and dark, is doing nothing to help.  Try as I might to do the exercises suggested by the therapists during the week, real life comes along and digs me in the ribs more.

We are asked to fill in an aspects model form, which I cheerily fill in about how I brought in the New Year.  The thoughts, images, emotions, and behaviours are pretty much where I am this very moment.

Next up is a problem list.  I list out seven of them, with a goal to aim for to rectify them.  Nothing wrong with that.  My aspirations of solving them are so low I have nothing to lose.

There’s also behavioural activation and trying to prioritise them.  I have 16 of them to my surprise.  Disturbingly, I’ve listed snuggling with my girlfriend as medium difficulty.  When she’s left you it’s actually impossible but I’m so in denial, even though broken hearted and knowing it’s over, that I can’t help but write that in.  This is hopeless.

We go through 10 steps of beating depression, and something to do with a clown face, and also a flower, but I’m too lost in hurt, lost in the way my life has fallen away, that I don’t take it in.  I wish I was in a better place.  Literally as well as mentally.

I walk home in dark, eerie silence, trying not to make eye contact with anything but the pavement, the platform, and the window on the train.  Four weeks into group therapy and all it’s done is made me feel gradually and gradually worse.

I have to keep trying, though, have to somehow take in what the therapists are saying and apply it to everyday life.  If I don’t, I realise, I’m sunk.  And I can’t even swim.

Eventually I reach home, and head straight to bed.  At last I can dive under the covers, and hopefully drift off into unconsciousness, away from my mind, away from my thoughts, away from the pain, away from the distress.  But I can’t avoid it, it’s there.

That sinking feeling.