Changing With the Leaves

October 5, 2016 § Leave a comment

It’s a new season for me. I’ve decided that I’m reaching the point in my life where I am an adult. A human that is no longer just a morbid collection of childhood hurts, teen angst and treasured disappointments languishing in the dusty trophy cabinet where badness lives.

After so many years of being puppeteered by fear, guilt and a need to change myself, I’m now a collapsed pile of limbs and costume, relieved and resting.

That need to change. I was always trying to improve myself, based on my own bizarre list of personal standards. Not improve; CHANGE. Erase what was there and replace it with something better.

And now I’m not. The work I do now is acceptance. I like who I am. I can put time and effort into buffing up the good ’til it glows, and I can sandpaper the not-so-good to a smoother finish if I fancy a spot of DIY. But I’m not a problem to be overcome. I’m a maze, a puzzle; the whole point of my life – any life, I think – is the adventure of exploration as one figures out the next turn.

I guess this means therapy works. It’s been tricky and not always nice, and it’s taken a lot of mind-bending. A lot of shouldering open stuck doors in the cobwebbed old library I keep upstairs.

There’s books in there I could burn, but I won’t. I’ve sorted them, bundled them – then put them aside. I’ll keep them like old text books from school; they’re how I got here and they taught me everything I know, but I’m not going to build the next 40 years on them.

A big stack of obsolete books. Theories disproved, authors forgotten and covers faded to grey.

Recycling the Files

September 12, 2016 § Leave a comment

​Tonight my counsellor asked me what the ‘rubbish’ in my head looks like – what kind of bin? – and I pictured it as piles of dusty old files that look like they’ve spent 40 years in the back of a dentist’s office. Fairly mundane and irrelevant trivia that should be digitised and uploaded to the cloud where necessary; safe but not taking up space.

I swear that man’s a genius. 

Going to Get My Head Shrunk

August 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

Though the NHS has really done a very nice job of keeping me alive and relatively sane, it couldn’t give me any kind of counselling beyond internet-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. As I’ve said before, I find CBT very easy to game – a nasty drive of mine – and therefore nearly useless.

Tonight, I begin with the Christians. My session is at a 1917 tuberculosis sanatorium set up by The Congregation of the Daughters of the Cross of Liège, for God’s sake. Oh, I’ll have to try to curb that. In my assessment hour, I crossed myself for effect (a prop I often pull out of the box) and was asked not one minute later if I belonged to a local church.

Not going to let that put me off though. A shrink is a shrink is a shrink. I don’t think they’re allowed to let their personal leanings influence their dealings with me.

But I’m afraid. I was so affected by just my assessment that I backed my car into a brick wall. Gently, mind, but I was dead shaken. I don’t have the same guy this time, which I’m glad about because, although he was perfectly nice, I found him unsettling. He did that silent staring thing. I didn’t find it easy to be honest with him.

I’m worried about that bit. There’s literally no human on this planet apart from your therapist that you’re expected to tell the absolute minutest detail of your ugly, twisted life. He’s supposed to not care if what you share is criminal, selfish, jealous, hateful, shaming or frightening. I can only liken it to when you have to wee outside and your body’s like, “Um, no? This is not what we do. I ain’t weeing here, love.” How does one go about letting go?

Phil reckons this analysis I’ve been doing is exactly what’s wrong with me. But that’s another part of my worry: what if there’s not enough wrong with me?

I don’t know how they’re supposed to fix me when I’m fine. I am fine. I’m medicated, aren’t I? Sure, I have nervous habits but generally, I’m happy. So – what are they going to fix?

Dermatillomania Take 2

March 31, 2016 § 2 Comments

I wrote a while ago about my skin picking thing, which is a thing that sucks. Or it was a thing that sucked.

Yes, that’s right. I have a HEALED scalp. Picking in general remains and I’ve returned to throat clearing (remove one and another pops right up) but for the first time in two years, I’m not directly hurting myself.

I went to the doctor, you see. So simple! The thing one is supposed to do when one has a health concern.

I was ashamed; this is what perpetuated the problem for those two years. Two years of hiding it even from my boyfriend. Hiding the pain from my mam every time she dyed my hair. Not writing about it, in this place where I’ve been so honest.

Shame has quite a beautiful distinction from embarrassment – remorse. It’s a valuable emotion in the human range but so often it stops us taking steps that would relieve us of it.

Mental health is surrounded by shame. If I’d talked to my boyfriend or my mam a year ago, I would have come round to the idea of going to the doctor a lot sooner. It doesn’t matter now but it could matter in the future.

You see, this isn’t the first time it’s happened: four years ago, I had a seriously bad patch behind my right ear that I endured for at least a year and didn’t tell anyone about. When it finally gave me an ear infection, I went to the doctor. Antibiotics gave it a chance to heal and I didn’t go back to it.

I didn’t think I would be taken seriously. There is a pattern of projection with me: I don’t admit a problem fully so I don’t think other people will. Back in the panic attack days, it took two emergency ECGs to convince me that my mind was powerful enough to sabotage my body. That means it’s also powerful enough to stop too.

When I finally managed to mention it to my boyfriend, I started to break the barrier that had kept me in the cycle for so long. I began to write about it here, I discussed it with my mam and in my diary. At this point, the freedom of having admitted it allowed me to explore how sad it made me and realise I needed to stop.

It seems silly but it was making me so unhappy. This hidden pain, secret shame. I was being cruel to myself about it and not allowing any exploration of a solution. I really believed the doctor would say it was nothing – I even caught myself thinking maybe I should make it worse in the days before my appointment, so he would take me seriously.

He asked to see it and I thought “He’s going to think I’m being stupid,” but he didn’t. He said I’d caused a skin condition that would need treatment. He urged me to try CBT again. He asked if Citalopram was working for me.

I left so happy. I’d been listened to, I’d been given some solutions – in a 10-minute slot at an NHS health centre.

When I got home, I showed my boyfriend for the first time. His shock shocked me and I felt so stupid that I’d just dealt with it for as long as I had. I started with the steroid ointment I’d been prescribed, and the combination of it accelerating the healing and acting as a physical reminder was just enough for me to really try to give up the habit.

And I did. It’s been two weeks since I saw the doctor and I resisted long enough for my head to totally heal. Now there’s nothing to scratch and pick at, I’m barely thinking about it.

I think I’m free.


February 8, 2016 § 1 Comment

Over the last year or so I’ve endeavoured to share more about my mental health. I don’t really think anyone needs to hear my ‘truth’ but the idea of discussing mental illness and harmful feelings needs to become so mainstream that it’s frankly BORING and you’d go to your doctor at the smallest signals, just like flu.

So, here’s something I’ve never shared. I have something a doctor might tell me is dermatillomania. It means I find flaws in my skin that are basically not there or unnoticeable to another person, then scratch and pick at them until they become an actual problem – which I can then scratch and pick at.

I’m lucky enough to focus this mainly on my fingernails and scalp. Being blessed with reasonably good skin gives me less to pick at on my face (though Lord knows, I sure try) so I doubt anyone would guess who hasn’t noticed that one of my hands is nearly always at the back of my head, digging my nails into my scalp. It hurts – dying my hair with open cuts is a burning hell neither I nor Garnier would recommend – and it makes me ashamed. I loathe this about myself and wish I could stop.

When I went back to the doctor about my anxiety the year before last, I mentioned the scalp gouging but it got lumped in with the rest – filed under ‘Citalopram’. Yup, that shit works on the old palpitations and panic attacks. But the dermatillomania is still there. Worse than ever as I’m now back on the skin around my nails. As I type, my right forefinger is sore and red, bloody around the nail.

Having tried cognitive behavioural therapy, I’m afraid the NHS isn’t going to cut it for me, counselling-wise. I heard on the radio a while ago that thousands of children – some abused – are turned away without counselling each year. I can see why shoving pills at people like me is the easiest option. And I’m SO GRATEFUL for the pills. But I’m still bleeding and sore and ashamed, like any self-harmer.

Boyfriend says: “Just don’t do it!” Unfortunately, I often don’t know I’m doing it. And once I’ve started, it’s easy for me to write it off as a bad day and keep going. I’ll try again tomorrow. Every time I wash my hair, I feel like it’s a fresh start – today could be the day I manage not to hurt myself. It hasn’t worked out so far.

It’s not like I’m taking a razor blade to myself but the cycle is the same: release, guilt, anxiety, release, guilt, anxiety. Apart from my nervous cough, it’s the only physical remnant of my awful times, so things could be worse. I just wish they were this tiny bit better.

But hey – if a sore finger is the worst part of my day, that’s a good day.

Update: find out how it’s going with the old dermatillomania now.

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