Saturday, 20 June 2015
Well isn't life funny?! Just when I thought I had things pretty sorted out everything changed. Yesterday.
Nothing is the same anymore. Not even remotely the same.
Like... what did I used to think about before yesterday?
I thought I knew how this would feel. I thought I could imagine. But, as it turns out, I was wrong.
I had no idea.
My granddaughter came into the world. My granddaughter. Granddaughter.
Who would know that 3.7 kilograms could make such a difference? How on earth did we live without her?
Don't get me wrong. I knew I would love my grandchild. I have three children I love with all my heart. Three children who still make my heart skip a beat when I see them.
But my heart suddenly got bigger yesterday. It actually got bigger. And fuller. I can feel it.
And that is what is amazing about life. And impossible to actually explain. Our emotions. And they are all tied up with the people in our lives. And the good and bad experiences we have with those people in our lives. Our family and our friends. Sometimes these relationships last a life time and sometimes they don't.
I don't have a relationship with my family of origin. But my husband and I created our own family and, through him, our extended family of sisters, brother in law, nieces, nephew and great nieces and great nephew. My husband became the source of my family. He gave me that gift. And I found my own 'sisters'. And then my son found his beautiful soul mate. So our family grew. Then we became related to her family. And what a blessing they are. But now that we share a grandchild (and all the siblings share a niece) we are really, really related. Like forever. So whether we are in laws, second cousins, related by marriage, we are really, really family. This precious little girl is now that link. She is the link that joins all our other links to become the chain that we call 'our family'. And some of the relationships don't even have names. There is no name for the relationship I share with my daughter in law's mother. So, if we ever needed proof, this goes to show that naming a relationship does not increase it's value. Our 'nameless' relationship is one I treasure. And what about my husband's brother in laws' family? No names. And what about my daughter in law's mothers' husband and his family? No names but you get my drift. But what about my girlfriends? They are more than girlfriends so I think of them as the 'sisters' that I chose for myself. They are my family. Everyone likes to think that they have some of their 'own' family. And they are mine.
When my son married his wife there was a pew in the church that was empty. It was labelled 'family' so no one else sat in it. And it made me realise that that was where my family of origin would have sat. And it made me sad. Even though it was my choice it still made me sad. Sad that I had to make that choice. Sad that I had to learn that that was the best thing for me. Sad that I hadn't been worth protecting. Sad that I hadn't been worth fighting for. Aren't all children worth protecting? Aren't they all worth fighting for? So what was wrong with me? And because I was only a child there is a part of me that will always believe that there is something wrong with me. Because that's what child abuse does. And that's what makes it insidious.
But this means that I have a special value for all the links, named and nameless, friends and family, in my life. They are there by their choice and mine.
And I know that we would all say that, of course, our family and friends are the most important thing in our lives. Careers, holidays, real estate, cars, dollars don't come anywhere near it.
But it is when something as miraculous as a new life enters your world that you are really confronted with your beliefs. And your blessings. And the importance of being well and healthy in order to appreciate what your 'links' bring to your life. My granddaughter has created a whole set of new links in my life. Links with no names. But links nevertheless. Because all her links, her other grandparents, her great grandparents, her aunts, uncles, cousins, her great aunts and great uncles and all the ones without names, they all become my links.
Because she is my granddaughter. My granddaughter. Granddaughter.
So every so often try counting your links. Actually counting them.
They are everything, everything that matters.
Saturday, 13 June 2015
In previous blogs I have talked a lot about the importance of seeking help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from any mental illness. As a result I have received some emails asking what sort of help I received. Can I say at this point that I am so pleased that people are feeling comfortable to email me (email@example.com). Not only does it give me direction for what people are interested in, but it indicates that those difficult conversations are happening. That we are opening up those channels of communication. That we are demystifying the topic. That we are shining the light on the secrecy. Woo! Hoo!
OK back to the help that I have received.
The first thing that helped was being diagnosed with depression by my GP. I knew nothing about depression. I wish I had. It would have made a difference. I had no idea of what was happening to me. All I knew was that I felt like I was imploding. That I had no control of anything in my life. The feeling that I was shattering into a million pieces. I was crying uncontrollably.
And I was frightened by the way I felt. Frightened of what was happening to me. Frightened of what I was feeling.
Once diagnosed I was put on medication. Many, many different types of medication. Like with many illnesses medication can sometimes make you feel worse before it makes you feel better. But you need to persist if this is what you need. In milder cases things like exercise, changing your diet, being mindful and giving yourself a break from stressful triggers if possible is all that is needed to turn things around. Diagnosis at least means you can start making a plan and therefore taking back some control in your life. It also means that you have started building your support system. Just like with every other illness, the earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment can begin and the better the outcome. Don't wait.
I was trialled on a variety of different medications. Many had side effects. Unfortunately, I became very ill very quickly and was hospitalised in an attempt to get the right medication and the right dosage. Being in a psychiatric unit will be a whole other topic for another day.
Over this and another two very lengthy hospitalisations my condition was still not stabilised so ECT began. Electro Convulsive Therapy (used to be known as Electric Shock Treatment) has a new level of stigma all of its' own. It is a last resort treatment where a brain seizure is induced in an attempt to release important hormones in the brain which are missing when a person becomes severely depressed. It is used when medication is unable to substitute these hormones. The average number of treatments required is between six and twelve. Some people find just one treatment results in a drastic improvement. I had over 50. Another topic for another day.
Eventually my condition was stabilised and then the counselling was able to kick in. From there, even though it was sometimes two steps forward and one step (occasionally 3 or 4!) back, I was always moving in the right direction. There were a few major setbacks like when my counsellor became ill and eventually died. We had formed a very close relationship and she had promised me that when she retired I would be the one client that she kept on. That wasn't to be. And even though she died over 2 years ago I still miss her and think of her every day. It took finding another wonderful therapist to help me come to terms with this loss. Interestingly, my first therapist came up as a suggested person on LinkedIn (which was weird in itself because technology was definitely not her strength!). And I sent a request to connect. Nothing weird about that. So, even though I haven't had a response yet, I think it is an indication that apparently there is LinkedIn in heaven.
And being loved and cared for helped.
So no matter how bad things get. There is help. It comes in all shapes and sizes. For me to stay well it includes exercise near the beach, yoga, spending time with family and friends, counselling, monitoring by my GP and psychiatrist and the knowledge that I will always be on medication.
And for each individual there is the right combination. It is there. I know it is.
Saturday, 6 June 2015
How can you tell who you might have been?
What would have made a difference?
I often wonder who I might have been.
What would she be like?
How would life have been?
I know it would have been different. And just accepting that has been a big hurdle.
For over 40 years I lived with the mantra that I was 'lucky'. That my past hadn't affected me.
But then there is that old saying that, in my case, proved to be true.
And that is, "you can run, but you can't hide".
Of course we all have our fair share of 'what ifs?' Just like in the movie Sliding Doors.
But when brain chemistry is involved it becomes something different to synchronicity.
It's not just fate.
It becomes something that needs to be processed and understood. At least it did for me. Understanding has had a major impact on my recovery. Understanding the psychology and the physiology. Understanding that childhood trauma has changed the wiring of my brain.
And accepting that. Not fighting that. There was a reason. And that made it okay.
Apparently I have a high IQ. But I know now that hyper vigilance and the effects of trauma were always going to limit my academic abilities. I have maintained my Emotional Intelligence though. And I am more proud of my EQ than I ever would be of my IQ.
Hyper vigilance is an abnormal, heightened awareness of the environment and detection of threats. It's living your life on 'high alert'. It is constant. It is unrelenting. It is exhausting.
It is a common thought pattern of those who have been abused. Of those who have experienced trauma.
Psychologists and psychiatrists have a ranking system for degrees of damage caused by trauma. It is dependent on the age the trauma begins and the length of time it is sustained. Trauma apparently has the greatest effect on children because their brains have not fully developed.
And trauma disturbs brain development. (Which is why being told to 'get over it' or 'look at the bright side' isn't too helpful).
For more detailed information regarding the damage which occurs to the physiology of the brain a great FACT Sheet is available on the ASCA website http://www.asca.org.au/About/Resources/Impact-on-the-physiology-of-the-brain
This is a must read for teachers and anyone wanting to understand the links between trauma and mental illness (particularly self-harm, anxiety, suicide and depression).
Also in this article it sites research which establishes that there is a 113% (!!) increase in the rate of limbic (the emotional brain) abnormalities for children who experience a combination of abuse. By it's very nature sexual abuse often also includes physical abuse and emotional abuse and neglect.
Whilst this article is written within the context of abuse, it also applies to trauma. And trauma for children can include so many things. It can be being involved in or witnessing an accident, being hurt, being involved in a natural disaster, war, experiencing the loss of a significant adult either through absence or death, lack of attachment as infants and many other circumstances, both known and unknown.
Of course this is very dependent on individual circumstances. But what is certain is this.
We must look after our children. All children. We must protect our children. All children.
Our children deserve to grow to be who they were meant to be. That is a right. A right that should not be taken away by adults who perpetrate physical, emotional or sexual abuse against children. Because it doesn't stop when these children grow up. It never stops. But the great thing about having all this information and starting the conversations like the one we are having now is that things can change. With the support of trained well-informed professionals recovery is possible. We cannot delete memories or change the past but it can find it's rightful place. It can stay exactly there. In the past. No longer in the present. No longer to be carried into the future.
So the aim of this blog and this conversation is to encourage those we care about to seek help.
It is never too late to seek help.
So, back to the original question. Who might I have been? Who might you have been?
I have no idea of who I might have been. But I do know this.
I have no desire to be anyone other than who I am now. I love the life I have now.
I have fought hard for it.