2 envelopes 8 years apart – from suicidal to survivor mum 

Trigger warning : please exercise self care. 

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This week I came upon an envelope, on the outside were handwritten instructions of desired funeral arrangements and the envelope was addressed to three young teenagers. Shaking I gripped hold of this envelope as thoughts raced through my mind. Was it wrong to read it, would it stir up memories and emotions I wouldn’t be able to deal with or was it best to leave this well alone. Yet as I sat transfixed my eyes focused on this emotional heartfelt letter I knew what I needed to do, it was time I read the words that I once had written to my own three dear children.

As I carefully unsealed the envelope I examined every word written on the outside, it hit me that these were my funeral plans, plans I had at one time felt so vital to record on paper. I hadn’t wanted my children to have to make those difficult choices so I told them simply what I would like. The letter was long, it started with an apology, and those familiar words of I love you, I am sure many people will never understand the thoughts that raced through my head when I had written this letter, but 8 years ago when I wrote it I didn’t feel like I could survive.

You see back then my trauma, my past were destroying me and I felt I could take no more, the turmoil and anguish I felt were basically consuming me. Each day was a torment, painful and soul destroying, it felt like I was being abused over and over again, as the flashbacks consumed every minute of every day. If not the actual flashback, the fallout from them filled every day and I couldn’t take anymore of this anguish. I can recall the feelings of desolation I had felt at that time, and then the decision which seemed like a rational, sensible one to me was made. I’d end my suffering, I’d end everyone’s suffering and instead of being the nuisance to my family; that I felt I was, I’d give them a fresh start. They wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore, they wouldn’t have to watch me being consumed by the past or see my torment; which was the result of my memories. Suicide I had felt gave me the best solution, best for me and most certainly best for my children.

That was my mind set the day I wrote lovingly to my children, fast forward 8 years and here I was sitting with this letter I had written them. I digested every line, each word and I sensed the anguish and the torment I had been in when I wrote to them. It seemed somehow to seep out from within the pages, it was palpable and so clearly evident that I was suffering. I recorded the distinguishing traits of each one of the children, the things that made me proud and their individual strengths. I told each one how much I loved them and why this was the best outcome for them. I apologised numerous times for all the pain I had caused them and how I just wanted to make things right for them and I  begged for their forgiveness. By the time I had finished reading it all, tears streamed down my face and my body was shaking as I sobbed and sobbed uncontrollably.

You see I know how close I had come, how close I was at that point to no longer being here with them. I had planned so much, it wouldn’t go wrong and yet somehow it did and somehow I’m still here looking back retrospectively at that dark time. No longer in that dark unforgiving place, that once overwhelmed me and made life seem impossible to live.

I couldn’t help think of all the things we had done as a family since that time, all the highs and the lows. This was written before my stay in forensic psychiatric care, before my being sectioned under the mental health act. But it was also before any of them had graduated, before I even began to study for my degree and before they had celebrated milestone birthdays. There is so much we have done since that time, so much I so nearly missed out on.

I have had the joy of watching these teenagers grow into amazing adults, seeing them all receive their degrees and feeling such motherly pride as they did. We have shared so many Christmases, birthdays and holidays together, things that I’m so glad I didn’t miss out on. I’ve enjoyed learning to have fun, to laugh at myself especially when I splash in the sea and I now gaze in awesome wonder at the beauty that I see in this world all around me. I appreciate it from a different viewpoint today, as I see things from the perspective of my little parts of me.

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But when I wrote that letter I didn’t see any light, I didn’t see any hope, just pain and I thought it was best for us all for me to not be here. Now looking back I see that whilst it hasn’t been an easy journey and I have a long way still to go, I’m aware that I’m stronger than I ever believed was possible. I’m now aware that you can with the right help overcome those dark days, learn to live with the pain of the past and carve a new way forward. I’m learning the skills I need to cope with my life, with the damage that was once done to me.

Looking back isn’t easy, but it was important to do, it reminded me of how far I’ve come and of how much I have achieved. It’s allowed me to reflect and be glad that I’m still here, that I can tomorrow open other envelopes this time address to me and not my children. These envelopes will contain cards to celebrate Mother’s Day and I have no doubt that I will cry with joy as my wonderful children’s card tell me how much they love me.

Their words mean so much to me, because they know how close I came to not being here, they know we so nearly didn’t have this day. They have been through this nightmare with me and we have had to rebuild our relationships after the prolonged periods of my hospitalisation. I’ve kept the letter I wrote it’s hidden away in a box, I think one day when my treatments over I will burn it, till then it’s there and it’s my reminder of a time that once was desolate but now has beams of hope shining through it.

If I could have written to myself back then, it would have said quite simply ‘hang in there, it’s not going to be easy but you will get through this, you will get the help you need one day. Most of all you have a future, you will laugh again and even when you cry that’s ok, because often they will be tears of joy and of motherly pride.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

 

 

Healing Hurts!

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They say that time is a healer, and maybe just maybe that will prove to be true, but I have realised this week that sometimes that to heal from the past means hurting too. For years now I have been plagued with memories and flashbacks from my childhood and I’ve spent decades blocking out the past. Whilst my mind is allowing me to slowly break down this amnesic wall I erected as a child it also means confronting the emotions I have blocked out.

As a child I dissociated when things were too overwhelming, it was my sane reaction to the insane circumstances that were my life. But I also switched off my feelings of that time too, they weren’t forgotten but stored away deep inside far enough away that I could cope with the nightmare that was my reality.

It’s hard to face the past, it’s hard to process the painful memories that I can no longer deny, that I can no longer block out. Because to face the past, to process the trauma I need to feel the emotions of the past, that means dealing today with the anguish I should have faced as a child but wasn’t able to.

Today I have spent the majority of time feeling awful, feeling such turmoil and anguish because I am dealing with the feelings that I carry from an event that happened some 34 years ago. 34 years ago the trauma that happened I couldn’t cope with so I dissociated, I disappeared and another part of me took the trauma, the pain and the memory. 34 years ago that part of me dealt with the horror but I didn’t and I have never faced up to the horror of that incident. In fact it’s only in recent years I have been aware of the whole incident, of what happened to me as a child. I was a vulnerable child who couldn’t prevent what happened to her, who sadly was abused by someone far older, far stronger and intent on hurting me.

Over the past years I have been plagued by the recurring flashbacks of that time, it’s one of many incidents from my chaotic childhood. Those flashbacks render me frozen in terror, it has felt at times like it’s all happening to me all over again. The first time I had the flashback it felt like I was being raped by this particular man for the very first time. I had no memory of the event at the start, another part of me held that memory. As the flashbacks came and went I would struggle to accept, to believe and I felt shame and guilt on a scale you never think humanly possible. I have felt guilty and I felt angry too, but not at him, but at me for not stopping it.

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I’ve learnt recently that in order to prevent these memories, this flashback from gripping me in fear every time I relive the nightmare that I need to process my emotions from the past. That means today I have grieved, I’ve cried, I’ve screamed and shouted just as perhaps I ought to have done 34 years ago. I am processing my feelings from this time, I’m slowly learning that it wasn’t my fault, there was nothing I could have done to prevent it happening to me. I’m feeling the emptiness and sorrow that comes I guess from knowing I was violated, I was abused. I’m grieving for what I never had, I only ever wanted to be safe, to be like all the other kids in my class. I wasn’t after an idyllic childhood but one where I was safe, loved and respected.

At times today I have just wanted to hide, to bounce off into the wilderness and never return, today I have wanted to escape this pain and I have had thoughts of self harming. Harming in order to express the pain I feel inside in an outward way, because at points today that internal pain has overwhelmed me. Yet I so desperately do not want to resort back to old habits, I know I am stronger than that even when it all feels too much to bear.

I’m also coming to terms with the fact this happened to me, I can’t deny the truth anymore nor can I pretend it was an alter he abused, because my alters are still parts of me. 34 years ago I should have felt bereft instead I feel like that tonight, 34 years ago I should have felt anguish and in turmoil instead I have felt like that today. Yet all the while I know this isn’t a current threat or risk, I am processing a memory from the past.

My psychologist tells me that over time I will lessen the hold these memories have on me, that time will heal. Other survivors tell me that too and their words of support and understanding have been a lifeline today, knowing others comprehend these feelings I have really does help. Healing hurts I can’t deny that fact, it simply does and I need to slowly learn to accept that. In time I can only hope that I will process enough of the past to stop it having the hold over me it currently does. In time I can only hope that I will gain strength and move forwards on this journey that I find myself currently on.

I’ve spent a lifetime blocking out the horrors of my past, I’m not prepared to let it destroy me anymore, I’m not prepared to let it rule me or my life. I want the future I deserve, to be able to fulfil my potential in life, I don’t, I won’t let the legacy of my past control me, control my future. That’s something I can achieve,  to have control of the future.

Someone posted today on social media that ‘ there is healing in tears and strength In facing anger, there is so much hope no matter how confusing or chaotic it maybe right now’.  I can only hope that I find my tears healing, for I know I deserve a future, a chance at life beyond the memories, beyond the legacy of my past.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals

Self harm and the attitudes of medical professionals

 

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This week I heard from a friend who had to attend her local hospital to receive treatment as a result of self harm and her treatment was unfortunately not very helpful. This led me to thinking about the times I either attended A & E or was taken there by the police for treatment, usually as a result of self harming or being deemed mentally unwell and requiring treatment.

It is nearly ten years since my first ever hospital admission, but for many months before I had hidden the self harm that was taking place. I tried hard to wear long sleeves to hide the cuts and dressings which I needed to stem bleeding etc. I was determined not to require anyone to know that I felt so desperate and confused that I could only survive by self harming. This was in the form of cuts, burns, starvation, restricting my fluid intake or overdoses, by the time I was admitted to hospital my self harm was a daily occurrence such was the turmoil I found myself in.

I hid my self harm from medical professionals, my family and my friends no one but me; I thought, knew I was living this life. I can recall going out for days with the children carrying implements in my bag ready to harm, and hibernating in bathrooms and cutting during these days out. I would feel myself getting so distressed during the day that I couldn’t survive any longer and so self harm took place. Yet once it was done and I felt a wave of release that I had punished myself which I felt I deserved I could then calmly walk back out and carry on with life.

I was confused to such an extent that I believed I needed to punish myself because that way I would be safe from others hurting me, and I was terrified that past abusers would come and hunt me down and hurt me. I even had a notion that because one of my abusers was my mother that I was bad as I had her blood inside me, thus if I bled enough I would rid myself of her badness.

Now all this time no one knew how much I was struggling, the GP knew I wasn’t too great but all they kept saying was ‘take time out and relax more’, and ‘all women go through these phases’.
They never asked if I felt suicidal or what scale my mood was, they did eventually arrange for me to see a doctor and thereafter just told me I was on a waiting list to see a psychiatrist. Yet in the meantime I was continually told to ‘hang in there’, occasionally they’d tell me things would improve.

Of course things just kept getting worse and when I attended the GP one day and I saw a different doctor who asked to test my blood pressure; because I looked like I was going to faint, he saw the wounds that by now littered my arms. Recent cuts had been deeper and the blood loss alongside starving myself wasn’t helping me feel any better. It was then that he made the call and I was suddenly being sent to the local psychiatric unit for assessment. At this time I realised my eldest child had sensed something was wrong and had suspected I was self injuring, but we had both said nothing until I was en-route to the unit.

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A & E staff from the start were slightly arrogant and mainly uncaring, if I had to attend as a result of cutting I lost count of the times I felt to blame by their attitude towards me. It was as if they weren’t best pleased to be treating me after all in their eyes I had self inflicted this injury upon myself, they never looked beyond the injury to the person. On only one occasion can I recall a doctor being helpful, he was actually concerned for me wanting to know why I hurt and was I getting help for my mental health. He treated me like a human being and not an attention seeking time waster which is what many other medical professionals seemed to treat me as.

The sad fact is the attitudes that I faced ten years ago still exist today, that means the medical profession has failed to learn about or understand self harming behaviours in a decade. That concerns me because I am aware of the efforts of so many different groups including government health organisations whose aim was to educate about self harm and improve outcomes for patients. A decade ago these organisation were trying to produce guidance to end the stigma that exists around those who self harm, if attitudes haven’t changed does that mean their efforts failed?

Self harm is not something we should ignore or take for granted for behind every scar, every injury there is human suffering. I didn’t harm for the fun of it and if I wanted to seek attention believe me I can think of lots of better ways of doing that. I wasn’t time wasting either, I was in acute emotional distress and I needed help. I couldn’t explain the anguish I was going through, the only way I could find to deal with the turmoil that was my life was to inflict injuries upon my own body.

Be that cutting, burning, overdosing or restricting the amount of food or fluids I took in, each act was either an attempt to deal with intense pain and turmoil, or the result of irrational thoughts. I wasn’t doing this because I enjoyed it, truth be known I hated myself for doing it, in fact I loathed my scars. The reality was I tried so desperately to avoid seeking medical attention as the last place I wanted to go to was A & E where I would be made to feel even more ashamed and be stigmatised.

Self harm controlled me a decade ago and at times of crisis it can still take control of my life today, it is sadly my default position when the pain is too much. Now when I lapse back into self harming I tend to injure in other ways in the hope it’s less visual, but it’s still harming all the same. Now I am not proud of the fact I self harm and I don’t want these feelings either, I would like to be free of self harm and yet I now understand it is a symptom of the life I lived as a child. A life which caused untold damage and will take a long time to deal with and heal from, my self harming is a symptom of my mental health not the cause.

The cause is my past and today I am having to face the harsh reality that I was betrayed, abused and psychologically damaged. Currently I am feeling emotions for the first time and I am starting to grieve over the fact I was hurt, I’m starting to come to terms with the dawning realisation that the horrific memories I hold and continue to recall don’t belong to my alters at all. They just carry my memories, and it was this body, it was me as a child and a teenager who the abusers defiled. Believe me that’s tough, it’s a harsh journey survivors walk there is a lot of pain and anguish that has to be processed and dealt with.

Perhaps when dealing with a person who is self harming instead of vilifying them and judging them medical professionals should remember to gently seek out the cause of this symptom. They should in my opinion treat those who self harm with the dignity, care and respect they so badly need, and they should afford them the right treatment to help them move forwards.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2014

 

 

 

Making my journey with D.I.D bear-able

Making my journey with D.I.D bear-able

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My Little parts are keen for us to introduce our special friend

Ever since my melt down point a decade ago I have had the company of a cuddly creature to keep me feeling safe. Initially this was a rather large creature who filled my arms and to be fair wasn’t so easy to carry. After 2 years my children and I chose a new creature whose size made it easier for me to carry and to discretely transport around.

Now my cuddly creatures are not live animals, no there are teddy bears called Cuddles and Ted, between the they have been with me throughout my journey through the mental health system. Now cuddles was rather cumbersome due to her size, it made it difficult to carry her around and so she is now retired to safe storage but Ted she has been with me for 8 years now and is a daily part of my life.

I’m not afraid to admit I have her, in fact until a couple of years ago I couldn’t leave her at any point in the day. Ted was carried in my arms daily, at home and when we went out she has been a source of comfort and in many ways has given my little alters a sense of grounding and security which has been significantly helpful.

Ted has been with me in all bar two of my acute hospitalisations, she’s been locked in a forensic secure unit and a non-forensic one too, she’s endured being detained by the police when we were repatriated to hospital in the cage of a police van. She’s been with me when I have tried to end my suffering and when I have self harmed, in fact Ted has been through every step of the journey since 2006. She has spent some 130 plus weeks in hospital, her predecessor cuddles spent approximately 65 weeks in hospital.

I guess when I carried her everywhere I stood out, she and I were a partnership and yes she was my security blanket if you like and some patients and certainly some staff found it difficult to deal with this women and her bear. I was unable to cope with life, with the memories and the flashbacks which filled me with dread and fear, with the confusion and anxiety I felt I just wanted the ground to swallow me whole to stop my anguish and my pain.

I can recall being verbally attacked by a stranger who took offence to me and my bear, he said ‘people like you should be locked away’ and I guess that was easy for him to say but I wasn’t always this wreck. I am a mum and I was once a wife, I worked hard and contributed to society I never expected to find myself in a mental hospital nor carrying a bear and yet it happened. I knew I had a tough start in life but I hoped I’d managed to leave it all behind, I thought I had, but then the reality was that it was just hidden away. You see in truth much pain and anguish from my past was hidden deep inside of me waiting to reveal itself when I was least expecting it. I didn’t need a random stranger attacking me for carrying a bear I felt bad enough about myself who I was and the fact I couldn’t cope.

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Ted has been a comfort that I needed through the darkest of days she has been there and I am not ashamed that I needed her. She has kept me grounded at times especially when I have suffered flashbacks and memories. I could keep telling myself & all my alters, all the parts of me that when bad happened we didn’t have Ted and yet now we did and that meant we were safe.

As a child I only recall one teddy bear he came from a bad person as a reward for being ‘a good girl’ for not telling when the person hurt me and yet I loved that bear. I remember coming home from school and my bear being gone, my mother had decided I had to be punished for something and taking that bear away was my punishment. I didn’t have another bear, unlike most children for me toys were rare and they came and they went as a form of control.

When my children bought me Cuddles I was elated and so grateful and yes she served me well when I first hit melt down, but her size made her harder to carry. But like Ted she took so many of my tears as I could hold her and let out the pain that ripped deep into me at that time, I find emotions so hard that it’s impossible for me to explain them to others easily, to express them and yet I needed to.

My cuddly friends have been a part of each day now for a decade and I doubt I could have managed without them, it felt like they were attached to me, it probably looked like that to the world. We were this person who went everywhere with her bear and people became used to that, some became so accustomed to her they no longer saw her.

About two years ago I made the decision to put Ted inside my bag when I went out, she was still with me 24/7 but she was no longer a visual constant in my day to day life. I remember the first time I placed her in my bag I felt bereft, but I knew it was the right time to stop carrying her in my arms all the time. Part of my decision was based upon the fact that my constantly carrying this bear had caused me significant muscular issues which required physiotherapy treatment. For years I had held her in my arm so had held my arm in a bent position this had caused muscle weakness and tension and when I realised that all this pain and discomfort was a result of my needing Ted I knew I had to take action.

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For a further year Ted was still a constant, she was carried around everywhere I went, the doctors, the shops, even for a McDonalds. Then one day I forgot her she was left sat at home on my bed and I ventured off to an appointment, by the time I realised we didn’t have time to return to get her. I had to face the fact that we would have to survive without her for these few hours and of course we did, we managed and it led to more and more organised opportunities where Ted stayed home. I had some control over this so if I was struggling or facing a difficult time Ted came along, but if I felt we could manage well then she stayed home.

Now Ted lives on my bed and there are times she comes with us, so every time we attend psychology she comes along too. When I face Care plan meetings Ted comes too, holidays and other times away from home involving overnight stays she is part of my luggage. But I can now manage without her when I am shopping, or attending the GP’s, visiting friends or going for a coffee. Ted probably spends 50% of her time on my bed and 50% of her time in my bag or on the sofa, it’s a far cry from my carrying her 24/7.

This week I’m attending an event which means I’m away from home, so Ted comes too she will stay part of her time on my hotel bed but I know she’ll be with me when I need her. There will be times when I do need her, times when I feel vulnerable or I am switching more and I need to try and ground myself.

Now it maybe hard for people to understand why I a grown women need a bear but of course parts of me are little and need the comfort a bear gives. She also allows me to know that the past is over and that is so important to me. I am fortunate that my family accept her as a necessary part of my life currently, they don’t nor have they ever judged us. In fact my children who are adults themselves will often say hello to her and they occasionally buy a new outfit for her. It’s as if they understand the role she has and continues to play in our life.

I never expected this small bear Ted would become so important to me and obviously carrying her everywhere day in and day out she has weathered quite a lot, but I can’t imagine replacing her she will just age and become more loved as time progresses. She may not come out with me as often and one day she may just live on my bed, but for now Ted will keep playing whatever role I and all my parts need her too. Be that grounder, comforter or as a sign of reassurance Ted is a significant part of my healing journey and I’m glad she is part of our life.

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Copyright: DID Dispatches 2014