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Tuesday, 21 July 2015

When You Open Your Eyes

When you open your eyes, what do you see?
I see you. And you see me.
And the deeper you look, the more that you see.
They say that the eyes are the windows to the soul. If so, isn't it interesting that that's where our tears come from? Our tears that carry our emotions.
Tears of happiness. Tears of sadness.
I have done a lot of crying in the last ten years. During one of my hospital stays I cried for weeks. Almost non-stop. Almost until I couldn't breathe. It was exhausting. I remember sobbing with one of the psychiatric nurses and asking her why I couldn't stop crying. And she said something that I will never forget.
She said, "Every single one of those tears has to come out".
And from then on I stopped feeling guilty about crying. There was a reason for my tears. And at that time I had no voice so my tears became the words I could not find. From then on I stopped being ashamed of my tears. And this was a good thing because sometimes they had a life of their own! And I had no control over when the stream might start or stop. It felt that sometimes I would just get so full of those emotions of sadness, despair, hopelessness, anxiety that they would leak out through my eyes.
And that's the funny thing about emotions. They will come out. No matter what you do to try to stuff them down they will show up in some form. I have heard depression described as these emotions turned inward. That it is anger and hurt and sadness turned inward. So, logically, if all these emotions are turned inward, then something has to turn outward! And for me it was tears. I was so blessed to be allowed to cry. I had people who held me, quietly passed me tissues and even worried about the damage I was doing to the skin around my eyes! Tears are not a sign of weakness. Sometimes it takes an enormous strength to let those emotions out.
And you can find understanding people in the strangest of places. About five years ago I decided to report the crimes against me to the police. I knew that I could not put myself through legal proceedings but I wanted what was done to me to count. Literally. I wanted to be part of the statistics. The statistics that are frighteningly understated. I wanted his name to be recorded. And I wanted to do this on my own. I cried all the way to my local police station. When I got there I walked to the front desk, crying and apologising. Apologising for being there. Apologising for taking up their time. Apologising because what I had to say wasn't nearly as important as other things they may be doing. Apologising for crying but also reassuring the officer (who looked about 12!) that I was okay, I just had no control over my crying. It makes me smile now when I think back to the "deer in headlights" look this poor young fellow had on his face. Clearly he had no idea of what to do with me so scurried out the back to find help. Out came a more senior officer who could not have been any kinder. And, of course, this kindness made me cry even more! She took me to a private little room and instructed that we were not to be disturbed. She offered me tea, coffee or water. She spent several hours taking my statement whilst I cried and blew my nose for the whole time. She explained everything to me, she told me that the crimes committed against me were every bit as important as if they had been committed that very day. She commended me for reporting them. She acknowledged what a difficult thing that was to do. She offered to get me a counsellor. She replenished the supply of tissues. She gave me her card and on the back wrote her personal mobile number. She told me to call her any time, day or night. She rang me the next day to check if I was okay.
But there was one thing that she did not do.
She did not say "don't cry". Because she knew. Just like the psychiatric nurse. Because they had both been trained. They didn't say "stop crying". They didn't say "don't get upset". They didn't say "don't worry". They didn't say "pull yourself together". They didn't say "don't dwell on the past".
Because they knew. They knew that every one of those tears needed to come out. They knew that those tears were important. Those tears were healthy. Those tears were a sign of recovery. And they were right. Because slowly I became able to find the words. And instead of the tears becoming a flood the words started to take over. And with the tears and the words came the healing. And when the healing happens the memories didn't go away.
But they did stop rolling down my cheeks.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Streets of Memories

Forrest Gump was such a smart fellow.
There are not enough rocks in the world to tear down the houses and demolish the streets that hold my memories. My emotions are directed at houses and streets. I could even say that I hate those houses and streets. And I am not a person who hates. But there are streets that I hate. They are the only things I hate. But hate them I do. I can tell you their names. Virginia Street. Palace Street. Crystal Street. Fitzroy Street. Carlisle Avenue. Hate them all. And if I could, I would gather up all the rocks in the world and reign them down on those houses and streets. Not the people of course. Just the buildings that make up those streets. And dig up those roads so those streets never existed. When I think of those streets my heart races and I feel physically ill. I feel my legs go shaky. I feel that my emotions will boil over. I feel sadness, anger, outrage, disgust.
Now this will test you. Have you been following?
Because in my last blog I talked about only feeling these things for other people. But into my subconscious popped the realisation that I DO feel these things for myself. But instead of being directed at the perpetrator and protectors, these feelings are directed at the streets and the houses where the crimes took place.
In the world of psychology, for me, these houses and streets are known as triggers. That is, they are something that 'trigger' a range of emotions. For me these triggers activate memories of trauma and the feelings and behaviours that existed at that time. We all have triggers. These triggers can belong to good memories or bad. At the beginning they can be quite frightening. But when you can learn to identify them and then act on them they can be your best allies. They can warn you that something is ahead that might need your attention or action. They give you preparation time. So, in my case, I try to avoid these streets because I know that they are not good for me. I have the good fortune that they are no where near my home. They are very intense triggers. Geography is definitely a recurring theme in my triggers, even the less intense ones. Other triggers for me are feeling unsafe, secrets, feelings of lack of control and powerlessness and the feeling that I have no voice. I have been taught strategies to cope when these triggers show up. There are actions that I need to take. It has taken me a very, very, very long time to learn about my triggers, their messages, and the actions needed. One of my important tools is writing. This allows me to have a voice. Just sitting down with a pen and paper and seeing what comes out is very revealing. It is about allowing my subconscious to have a voice. For those emotions that have been stuffed down so deeply that they are no longer readily accessible to come to the surface. To be dealt with. To be released at last. To stop carrying them around. I experience a recurring theme in my dreams which warn me that memories or emotions are about to 'come up' or surface. I was also encouraged to write with my left hand, even though I am normally right handed. The theory being that different parts of your brain are able to be accessed. This technique was extremely successful and revealing for me. Like everything else some things work better than others.
Now if you are thinking that all this sounds a bit 'loopy' think again. I consider that my triggers are no different to people with other illnesses. If you have asthma you will understand. You may have triggers like pollution, change of seasons, pollens, smoke. Sometimes you are even warned about your triggers in the media. If there are bushfires in your area you may be warned to stay inside. Does anybody think this is weird? If you suffer from epilepsy you will be warned if there is flashing or strobe lighting being used. Loopy? If you have anaphylaxis there are warnings written on food labels. Crazy? So if you have asthma you may carry a puffer and avoid smoke, with epilepsy you may avoid discos and light displays, anaphylaxis you may need to avoid nuts. So you know your triggers. You get to recognise the warning signs. And you learn what actions need to be taken to minimise the detrimental affects on your health. Well I do too. But avoiding streets? Having no clutter in my home? Being unable to be in a unisex hospital ward? Quirky at best? Obsessive at worst?
Why? Why the difference? Why is learning to have a voice about these things so difficult? Because for me it's the fear of being judged. It's the shame and guilt thing again. Recently I 'tested' myself again (seriously, do I never learn!?) because there is still that little voice inside my head that says I 'shouldn't' feel this way. Get over it. I would never say these things to myself if I had asthma. I would never tell myself to 'get over' epilepsy. And guess what? I failed my test. So I am putting it in writing now. I am making a commitment to myself. I am never going near those streets again. Never. I don't care if I have to drive 20 kilometres to avoid them. They are not good for me. They are not good for my health or well being. And that's okay. So now I don't need the rocks. I just need my voice. And just like Forrest Gump - "that's all I have to say about that".


Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Cracks, The Light and The Gold

I just love this picture. I think it is so beautiful. Which in itself is a bit unusual for me. I like things clean and neat and preferably symmetrical. But I love this picture. And I love what it represents. Which means that I have come a long way.
It has always been very difficult for me to describe how I felt when I became very ill. The best way I could describe what was happening in my head was to use the analogy of a vase. A glass vase. All shiny, no scratches, no chips. Then this vase was dropped. And it shattered. Into a million pieces. And that's how I felt. That inside my head I had imploded and shattered into a million pieces.
And that ever since then myself and my army had been putting it back together again. We used glue. Lots and lots of glue. And, just like anything that is reinforced with glue, it becomes so much stronger. I am the strongest person I know. And I'm not the same anymore. There are cracks and chips where the broken pieces don't quite fit together. Cracks everywhere. But this vase now stands strong and true and proud.
So I love the sentiment in the above picture. That when something has suffered damage and has a history it becomes more beautiful. And maybe that beauty is not always obvious on the outside.
But depression has taught me so much. I have a strength beyond measure, a resilience that has truly been tested and passed the test, and a level of empathy for others that I may never have known. My priorities have changed. I've stopped striving for perfection. I have learnt that I am good enough. And that it is not my job to fix everything for everyone. Nobody else expected this- this was just how I saw my purpose in life. A permanent state of happiness for everyone in my life. Not too much to ask!
And because as a child I had created a perfect life in my head in order to cope with the actual reality, I was setting myself up for a big fall. And this creation had become the essence of who I was, my purpose in life, my sense of self. And to suddenly lose your sense of self, to feel the essence of who you are shattering is not only a painful, but a very frightening thing. After all, who are you when your soul is gone? That is what I began the process of finding out. Of rebuilding. Of reconstructing. And I feel blessed to have been able to do this. Although at times it was a very painful process because the demolition had to be completed before the reconstruction could begin, it nevertheless meant that the real soul could shine through - the light could come in. And the soul became authentic. With it's good and bad. It's not so good and not so bad.
Why was it painful? Because I was really scared. I was really scared of what I might feel. I didn't want any of the feelings. The feelings that went with the events. I knew they existed because they were there whenever I heard about other children being hurt in the same way. But they were never there for me. They still aren't. But the fear of feeling these things for myself was terrifying. I was only just surviving as it was and I knew that should the Pandora's box be opened that contained these feelings then I would go to a place from which I feared there would be no return. My therapist taught me to trust my brain. To trust that it would never take me somewhere that I was not strong enough to cope with. And she has been right. So one of the things that I know for sure is that, should the time ever come when I can feel these things for myself, I will be okay. But if I never do, then that's okay too. It doesn't mean that I don't feel these things for others so that is what is important to me. I can feel the sadness, the anger, the outrage, the disgust for what happens to some children.
The other advantage of the cracks is that they allow you to see what is inside. The inside is no longer hidden. It's no longer a mystery. Or a secret. Sometimes you have to look very carefully to see through the cracks. Sometimes it is only a little peek.. But it means that someone sees. Someone knows what is happening inside. Even when the mask is on, someone can see. If they take the time and they look carefully enough. They can see.
So when I look at the picture above I think about all the cracks in me. And if all those cracks had been filled with gold then I think that I must qualify for (literally!) being "worth my weight in gold". So instead I am worth my weight in glue!
Whether we like it or not, we all have our cracks. But to think of them in the context of light and shining and gold makes them so valuable. And the cost we pay for the cracks is what gives them a  value beyond price.