So I’m in therapy, right. And you know how I was all the good student and knowing all the answers and doing all the homework and kind of missing the point? Well, actually I’m getting into it now. And kind of having to nibble at a few of my cynical words over the years. What’s that you say? MINDFULNESS? *Coughs*
We have to do these mindfulness meditations. I have a CD with nine short thingies on it. A few different people, bit of a taster. There is the usual focus on your breathing stuff, notice the thoughts, don’t judge the thoughts, gently guide your thoughts back to the breathing, you know the drill. And I was trying but not really getting what all this wanky stuff is really about, mind wandering, judging the mind for wandering, judging the judging of the mind wandering, getting bored, pfffft. And then one of the mindfulnessy people said that the mind wandering is not doing mindfulness wrong, it’s actually fine because that’s what minds do. They’re training us to notice what the mind does, to become more intimately familiar with our own minds! Ooooooooooh, never heard it put that way before.
And that’s some of what we’re doing in therapy. They’re trying to help us know our minds better. We, groupily, have a tendency to find ourselves feeling something and not really knowing why or how we got there. We just feel all the feels and then get stuck. So stage 1 is notice what the mind does. THAT’S IT. Whoa.
Then last week the therapists went into some stuff about “de-fusing” ourselves. Un-sticking. Become a bit more observant and start to notice the thoughts, the feelings, the images, the memories. Then do some stuff to help un-stick ourselves. I’m not going to describe this because I just tried to and it does look wanky and it still feels kind of wanky and I don’t want whoever reads this to be all frowny about the wanky. Anyway, I’ve been practising and it’s fucking hard work.
And I’m still doing the mindfulness practices. There’s an American woman who annoys me because because she’s telling me to do something, like focus on something that feels really shit but she doesn’t stop talking so I can’t do it because her voice is prattling away in my ear. I’ll listen to her again because the stuff she says is interesting but I frown at her a lot. She’s going on about actually focusing on difficult things. So doing the breathing and thinking about the breathing and then when the mind wanders, actually poking our noses into whatever shitty thing it decides to spend time on, instead of just noticing it and then focusing on breathing again. Like, actually look at the scary things? For whole minutes at a time? Feel them? :O It’s really hard and I suck at it so far. I can be panicking about all the things, thinking about all the miserable things but when some woman tells me to do that I go blank. I can see why we’re doing it though so I’m keeping on. There’s no challenging of thoughts, no changing anything, but instead it’s really feeling all the everythings, and you know what? THAT’S WORSE! Wouldn’t it be great if CBT actually worked? We wouldn’t bitch about it so much if it did. If we could change our thoughts and then change everything else then our lives would be rosy. This is seeing the worst our minds can conjure up for us and then going there and poking it! *Stares*
But I’m doing it because I feel like I have a chance now. There’s a fuckload of stuff yet to come in this therapy so it’s not all about the breathing – HOORAY, because I have a lot of reservations about mindfulness, particularly when used on its own and when people sing its praises from the rooftops, telling us all how recovered we’ll be if we do everything mindfully. *Rolls eyes* There is no mention of recovery in this therapy. In fact, the pessimistic bastards tell us we’ll be fucked in the head forever.
This was going to link into summat else but I can’t be arsed now. Maybe later. DON’T JUDGE ME ON THE MINDFULNESS STUFF, K?
So I started therapy, right. Three sessions so far. And I’ve been having a really shitty week, right, with a fairly shitty week before that, and standard shitty the week before that.
I might as well have been the fucking therapist this week. We were asked to recap for someone who wasn’t there last week, some people hesitantly offered a thing, then I gave a rundown of the whole thing, practically memorised as if from a text book. Eternal student, anyone? I got nods and smiles from the therapists. Go me, star pupil. [ETA: I've just remembered that I even referred to our home practice as a test and then froze in horror, which made them laugh.]
I can see past what people say to what they mean and I can tell when people just don’t get what the therapists are saying, with their words and metaphors and shitty little drawings. (Not that the therapists are shit, they’re not. I like them. This isn’t a post about the actual therapy.) I know exactly what is someone’s sticking point, and even holding myself back, sometimes I have to explain the thing, even if it’s just with a better metaphor, FFS. Again, nods and smiles from the therapists.
I explained to them last week that I am perfectly capable of understanding what they’re teaching us. I pick stuff up quickly, I know exactly what I’m doing, how it relates to the therapy, how the therapy is supposed to help, why I like the therapy in theory, and that understanding stuff has absolutely no effect whatsoever on my particular brand of crazy.
I can’t help but want to help the others in the group. I unexpectedly like being part of a group. I like not feeling lonely. I’ve never come across people I can identify with like I can with this lot, not even fellow mentals. Almost with one friend, but not quite like this. I have more compassion for these people than I do for myself and my insight combined with compassion turns me into a pseudo-fucking-therapist.
And then there’s my life outside the ‘classroom’.
The really shitty week. There was the neurotic and then there was the depressed and this week there’s been the meltdowns and the not sleeping and the slurred speech and the getting out of bed but not functioning. I think I *might* not have been as prepared for my colleagues moving over to me as I thought I was. I thought I was doing quite well with it, until I didn’t sleep at all on Monday night and then had to sit down before I fell down at a train station the following morning. I thought maybe I was just feeling sick and dizzy because of the lack of sleep, but I started crying when I finally made it onto the tube and then froze in another train station and realised there was a chance this was a panic attack. Course, I went to work anyway. Sitting with my head between my knees in the middle of London is not a good enough reason to go back to bed.
Colleagues moving here has made me feel like I’ve gone back in time. Working with them, but not actually with them, was stressful and horrible before. Noise is always stressful. Time spent with my boss is usually stressful. I manage this by seeing him as infrequently as possible, and keeping myself reserved while I’m with him. My mentor has even been coaching me in this. All her advice is to keep both bosses as far away from me as possible, giving them what they need and nothing more. Now he’s next door to me, watching, disapproving.
My brain is behaving as though I have actually gone back in time. My mentor has been unable to meet me for a few weeks so I’ve had no one to help boost me. Going into therapy, knowing that if my GP saw me now she’d sign me off work immediately, and then being a good little student completely unable to make the link between understanding and ‘getting’… that does my fucking head in and amuses me in equal measure. :D
PS. I felt a strong urge to blog about this because I had to stop myself laughing like a loon in the session yesterday but I feel a bit weird posting it, for reasons entirely neurotic, so I might delete it. :P
I’m sinking. Again. I had a week of trying to do all the things that I’ve been too scared to do (and most of them are very silly things) and I managed some but not all. Then last week I teetered a bit, got very emotional, thinking about the dead friends and the risk of other dead friends and just thinking about death and the death of people I love and my death and death death death. And still trying to do the things but really wanting to just see some of these friends and reassure myself that they’re not dead and they are real and not just in my computer. I’ve been messaging some of you computer people instead, so am convinced that at least some of you are real, y’know, in a real, living, 3D sort of way.
Then this week I’ve hit the bottom and feel miserable and can’t think straight and struggle just to get out of bed but struggled out of bed anyway and went to work and tried to do things but failed most of the time and had a horribly unproductive week filled with fear because I have to do the things and I’m messing it all up. And I probably shouldn’t even be in work if I’m not actually able to do anything when I’m there but how do I know I’m not able? Maybe I’m just lazy. People have had flu-type things recently and I wished I had flu so that I could take time off work. But today I have anyway, because I couldn’t face leaving the flat for the eighth day running. I’m relieved but also guilty and also worried because I have to face this mess again on Monday. I don’t have the option of, well, anything other than going to work and doing the things.
And I’m in a bad frame of mind, twisting all the things in my head, knowing they’re not true but knowing they are true and resenting all the things. So today I’m thinking I’ll knit and eat chocolate, because that’s just what my ever expanding body needs, and watch some comfort TV. Ooh, and have a bath and read the Hyperbole and a Half book. So the week’s not a total fuck up then.
I listened to a sermon on Sunday, and for once I even took notes. Later that day I found out that one of the friends who lives inside my computer has died. Another friend who lives inside my computer has died too – two friends in a month – and our little community of mentals became very sad and distressed. I don’t know the details of how they died, but the risk of suicide is always high with these friends who live inside my computer.
And now I want to write this blogpost, even though I’m becoming more neurotic and emotionally ‘fragile’ every day. I wanted to write a similar post to this at Christmas. But didn’t.
Churches have a habit of presenting a ‘vision’ at the start of every year. A direction the leaders think God wants the church to follow. That’s fine. Our church leaders are being very enthusiastic about this so far. I sort of like the point of it – I can see that our minister wants to shake the church up a bit, out of its suburban sleepiness. But I have rebelled against the ‘vision’ so far. Admittedly, I missed the first sermon of the year and haven’t bothered to listen to the recording, but I have seen the strapline:
“We exist to help people to become fully committed and equipped disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Whether that’s individually or collectively… er, no.
So then I listened to this sermon. I don’t like this preacher. I’ve had a go at him before about his lack of humility and judgemental attitude (he’s the poster boy for evangelicalism). But his skin is so thick any criticism just bounces merrily off. Meh, he deserved it anyway. I even gave him homework, haha. I told him to read the gospels and see how Jesus treated sinners. I am a contradictory creature – scared of all the things but bolshy enough to give a church elder a severe bollocking. :D
So anyway, he was preaching on this vision thingy. We’re going through Acts, which is all about the first church. They did all these exciting things, woo. And from the beginning of this book, our dear elder was telling us what our purpose is. It’s to PROCLAIM THE KINGDOM!! and MAKE DISCIPLES!! I’m telling you, everything he says is in caps lock with many exclamation points. I’m taking earplugs next time. What do all these exciting Christian words even mean anyway? Proclaim the kingdom? Right, Ima get myself a megaphone and yell up and down Oxford Street, “I’M PROCLAIMING THE KINGDOM! PROCLAIM IT, BABY!”
And then he went on to talk about the Holy Spirit. Apparently, God gives us the power of the Spirit to empower disciples for witness. I’m not even going to go into what that stuff means, I think in our preacher’s head it’s some sort of very shouty Bible bashing. This dude said that the Holy Spirit does lots of things, but the fundamental thing he does is this empowering thing for all the witnessing.
And I thought, you’re wrong. You’ve got it the wrong way round. Jesus described the Holy Spirit, the one who came after him, as the Comforter. Other translations are Counselor, Helper, Advocate and Strengthener. One of the most famous quotes at Christmas is this:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Our preacher only mentioned the word love once. ONCE. In a sermon about our purpose as disciples of Jesus, the man who was described centuries before his birth as a wonderful counselor. The context of this is as one who is wise and can guide, one we can trust to listen to us and help us. A disciple follows Jesus, emulates him, he’s our friend and guide, and he left his spirit to be our counselor and comforter.
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Come on, man! How can you not get this? Two friends are dead. What is my purpose? It’s to love my friends. Not that I do all the time, y’know? Two other friends who live in my computer have behaved really badly recently and I’ve been angry. One in particular pushes all my buttons from being bullied and I’ve drawn my line. But I still care. I still care about my step-daughter who bullied me and I try to show it from afar.
So I edit our church’s strapline to:
We exist to be loved by Jesus and to love like Jesus loves us.
*Quote from a friend who shall remain nameless. *Narrows eyes*
This post comes to you courtesy of 4am panic. It’s long. Feel free to skip it.
I left the blog for a while. Actually, I hid the blog, deleted my Twitter and the frog’s Facebook and limited myself to liking things, which then got me a reputation as parent of the internet (along with Mr Narky), which amused me. None of you seemed to realise that I was trying to unmute myself. :D I’ve crept out and run away every now and then but actually talking, hard innit?
This started with the posts I wrote trying to decide about therapy. I got a lot of feedback on my last couple of posts (one of which is private now), which I valued a lot but then I couldn’t figure out what I thought about the whole therapy thing. Y’all said different things, which is natural, everyone has different experiences and opinions. I feel guilty almost all the time and it’s hard to know what I want when I feel like I should do what other people want me to do. I felt guilty for being reluctant to take the NHS offer of therapy and thinking of going private, like I was flinging my good salary in my friends’ faces. But I felt guilty for being offered NHS therapy in the first place, because I’m taking up space that someone less fortunate than me could take. And, of course, I felt guilty about even thinking about therapy when other people, many of my friends included, have far worse problems than I do.
Which brings me back to the not talking. I want to. I think all the things all the time and there’s very little order to owt in my mind so writing makes things look a bit neater than they actually are. ;-) But I’d write a bit then see a tweet, feel guilty, delete words, write again, see a FB status, feel guilty, delete words… I have been able to tweet my sleeplessness recently with only having to delete occasionally so that’s good innit.
Guilt has got a bit out of control over the last couple of months. And I went on a day-long training course on developing resilience a while back that, although irritating and pointless lots of the time, gave me a wee insight into a possible reason for ALL THE GUILT. The woman was talking about empathy and people who don’t have it (she works with psychopaths) and encouraging people who may not have thought about stuff like this before on stepping into other people’s shoes to help with work relationships, blah blah, you know the drill. You see a lot about empathy in the madosphere, people who don’t have it or it doesn’t come naturally to them. It gets a bad rep, not having empathy, but I know people who don’t really get empathy. I’m thinking of one friend in particular, who can only relate to me if it’s something she already has experience of. She’s warm and caring, but just goes blank if I talk about something outside her experience. And that’s fine. I know the boundaries of our friendship. It’s not the big baddie it seems to be.
Having said that, I’m not like that. I have lots. Too much. So when the woman showed a photo of someone wearing shoes and socks and then said that empathy is stepping into some else’s shoes but keeping our own socks on I was intrigued. She asked what would happen if we took our own socks off and I knew. If we truly step into someone else’s experiences, feel what they feel, enter into their heart and mind, we can forget ourselves, become enveloped in their life and end up losing all perspective. It leads to guilt. I was totes the star pupil here, and then she switched the light bulb on. She said that empathy without our own socks on leads to guilt, shame and fear. Sound familiar? Fucking hell, those are my balloons. I’ve been losing myself in other people’s experiences and feeling guilty about my own, ashamed of my feelings, afraid that everyone judges me. I can’t really explain empathy, because it’s subjective. I might think I am feeling what someone else feels but maybe I’m experiencing my own projection of how they might be feeling and combining that with shame all of my own. Anyway, probably best not to get too drawn into that, could be here all day! I believe that I am an empathetic person but it’s so distorted now that it bears very little resemblance to the real thing.
An example. A stupid example, feel free to laugh at me. We were with my family for Christmas (no dramas this time, hooray, just quite a bit of peace and lots of baby cuddles). My sister is a mother at just 18 and man, she’s blossomed. She’s such a sweetheart. She puts me to shame, with my prickly shell. There was a tiny conversation with my mum about her, it was a throwaway thing that has probably been totally forgotten now. I can’t say what it is, partly because I still get upset thinking about it and partly because I’m such a loser for getting upset about it. It was a tiny comment from my mum that made me feel bad for my sister and then bad for my mum. I felt how my sister might feel about such a comment and I wanted to cry and put my arms around her and protect her. Then I felt how my mum might feel if she knew what I just thought. I blamed her for the comment about my sister but she never meant it like I thought it and I wanted to apologise and say it’s OK, I didn’t mean it, I promise. But I was still mentally holding my sister and apologising to her and saying it’s OK, mum didn’t mean it. For crying out loud, that is mental! So when I got in the shower about half an hour later, I was still feeling all these things, reliving it and feeling bad inside and ashamed of myself, like I had said the comment and had to apologise and fix it and make everything better. About a tiny comment that my sister didn’t even know about! So I stood in the shower and burst into tears. I don’t want to live like this. I somehow feel what someone might feel about something, anything, then feel guilty as if I’ve done it and then take on responsibility for fixing it. And it doesn’t go away. This happened two weeks ago and I still relive it as if I said the comment and I hurt my sister and as if my mum heard my thoughts and I hurt her too – just to make it clear to myself, I did not make the comment, my sister didn’t hear it, I didn’t berate my mum, nobody’s feelings were hurt except mine and the whole thing is totally imaginary.
I do this all the time. The only thing that relieves it is telling Mr Narky. It feels like confession and he can reassure me that I’m being daft and then I feel better, momentarily, but it comes back and I have to confess and get reassurance again. I do it with you lot and real life friends and real life things and is it any wonder I feel bad about writing stuff?
Anyway, I am going for the therapy, which those of you who follow me on Twitter already know. It starts this month, sooner than expected. It’s a bit blurred in my mind now but I vaguely remember one of the women who leads it saying something about learning how to live with feelings without doing what I do in futile attempts to get rid of them. A lot of my stuff is that, I think. The feelings thing, the past memories, the worry, the fear, the middle of the night panic. Doing all the things, thinking of all the things, all the ways of fixing whatever may or may not be wrong, discounting possibilities, finding new ones, discounting them, going over the old ones, being unable to fix an unfixable and possibly imaginary scary thing. *Bashes head off wall*
I am now pinning all my hopes on this therapy thing, and trying to pull away from that because it’s not realistic. But I tells ya, I’m dreading 2014. Bugger, we’re already in it, aren’t we? *Shrinks* I was in church yesterday and there was a sermon and it made me want to fold myself up and disappear because I am so not feeling it. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11. I lost hope of a future last year. All I do is go from day to day, minute to minute, hoping to get to the end of the day without fucking up too much and collapsing onto the sofa with my knitting and Mr Narky. That’s it. I worry all the time and I barely sleep, even when I’m on the most relaxing holiday I’ve ever had (stormy weather is perfect for hibernating with knitting and watching rain from a comfy little window seat). I have no plans, I can’t see a future that’s any different from this. I’d quite like to hibernate the rest of my life away in a small house in the country, away from people and noise. Does that count as a plan? Or, y’know, the other thing. So I blinked back tears and left church as soon as possible before anyone could talk to me. Now it’s 5am and I’m awake, worrying about what’s to come tomorrow, this week, this month. Doing what I did last month and the month before and the month before that. Hope and a future?
Whoa, I’ve just passed the 1,600 words mark. Sorry. If you read all this way well done! *Gives you sweeties* I’m not going to close comments on this post just yet. I’ll post it later today, if I’m functional at all and please, I just ask any potential commenters to remember my unlimited capacity to freak out over very little. If I close comments or make the blog private again, don’t be offended. I already feel guilty about this, my neurotic little mind, and the day hasn’t even begun yet! ;-)
So, therapy assessment. I went, I talked, I made self-deprecating jokes. :)
I really did talk, once I got past my initial fright. I decided it was best to be as honest as possible so she had a fighting chance of figuring out what might help me best. And I can do talking as long as emotions are left out of it. So I ran her through the highlights of my life, what my life is like now and told her I’m desperate for help. I can’t live like this indefinitely, or at least, I don’t want to and that’s why I often want to kill myself.
I told her about my previous therapy. Technically CBT-based but actually not so much. I told her I have little patience for it and that I don’t think it’s good for me. The CBT elements of the therapy I’ve had were like a sticking plaster that lasted a while and then fell off when the rain got too heavy.
She asked me towards the end if I’ve thought about what sort of therapy might be good for me. I was stumped at first because I don’t really understand therapy, which is partially why I haven’t made effort to pursue it. There are so many different types, how am I supposed to know what is best for me? But I thought for a minute and managed to explain that I don’t think I’m ever going to be free of anxiety. There are things in my life that have contributed to the way I am now, but it seems to me that they merely exacerbate the anxiety I was born with. I was a placid baby, even tempered and pretty chilled out, as long as my life was nice and quiet and gentle. I was afraid of everything outside my home right from the start. How do you fight that? So I’m not interested in fighting it, and I don’t see the point in trying to get rid of it. I need to learn to handle it better.
I have made more effort to watch myself recently, particularly since Soul Survivor, when it really started to make sense to me that I have to stop fighting the way I am. I am a scaredy-cat. As I have watched myself since then I’ve noticed how obsessive I am in how I deal with anxiety. How repetitive. The things I do are useless and fuel the anxiety instead of controlling it but I can’t stop. It goes on and on until I’m rigid with fear or curled up in a ball crying. It becomes this tangled ball of
yarn thoughts and images in my head, consuming everything else and refusing to stop. I can get an image in my head, counter it with something else but it pops back and no matter what I do it won’t leave. Same with NO, THOUGHT, YOU’RE WRONG. Same with listing ALL THE THINGS to prove the thought is wrong. Same with BUT WHAT IF. Same with MUST PREPARE FOR THE WORST. Same with I CAN’T FACE THIS. Same with IF I JUST DO THIS ONE THING IT’LL GO AWAY. So I run around in circles trying to force myself to feel better and make the bad things go away, until eventually the only option left to me is avoidance, which is the most futile option of all but does at least temporarily allow me to not feel like a steaming pile of shit. I know myself, I know what I’m doing, I know it’s counter-productive but I can’t stop.
Amongst all this I’m tightly controlling myself whenever I’m in public (11 hours a day on weekdays) and often at home as well, living like a coiled spring. This week has been so bad that I made my ribcage and abdomen ache because I’ve been holding myself physically so tightly, as well as emotionally, once an afternoon of crying was out of the way.
So I told the therapist woman that I need to stop doing all these things. If I can’t make the anxiety go away then I really need to learn to live with it better or I might as well just kill myself now and get it over with rather than living like this for another I’d-rather-not-think-how-many years.
She nodded, smiled and said that our time was nearly up so would I like to come back next week to hear her thoughts? So back I duly went this afternoon, smiling politely, hiding the preemptive scepticism. She has suggested Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, which I’ve never heard of before. Turns out it’s group therapy, for 16 weeks, with a mindfulness element. Well, I expected mindfulness. I’ll try not to throw up as I breathe calmly and focus mindfully on whatever it is I’m supposed to focus mindfully on. Group therapy gives me the heebie-jeebies. Other people? Really? What if I just sit there unable to speak? What if they take up all the time or derail the therapy, wasting my 16 weeks? 16 weeks isn’t very long.
But, right, she explained what this thing is and it actually seems like it could be spot on for me. She gave me an article with a case study*, which I haven’t read yet because I’ve been too busy avoiding it, but here’s some snippets from its introduction:
ACT is one of the recent mindfulness-based behaviour therapies … in contrast to the assumption of ‘healthy normality’ of Western psychology, ACT assumes that the psychological processes of a normal human mind are often destructive … symptom reduction is not a goal of ACT … overview of ACT against a background of the suffering generated by experiential avoidance and emotional control … six core principles … developing psychological flexibility … defusion, acceptance, contact with the present moment, the observing self, values and committed action.
I actually quite like the sound of this. Destructive human mind, that’s a given and I’m glad they don’t bother fighting it. Oh look, it mentions avoidance and emotional control. Defusion, not sure what that means yet. Acceptance, yep, good. Present moment, that sounds like wanky mindfulness shit. The observing self, no idea what that is. Values strikes me as interesting, because my MBTI profile (I like MBTI so much I named my blog after my profile) is INFP and it’s all about living a life guided by my values. I’ve been thinking often that all the anxiety, depression, whatever it is that’s wrong with me, might have derailed me enough to not know what it is I value anymore, and it’s getting bad enough to erode my sense of who I am. I’ve written before about being a nothing. I’m just a walking, knitting blob of functioning disfunction. Committed action, I think that’s about the therapy helping you figure out what your values are and then driving your life in their direction. but I have to admit, I wonder if they just shoved the commitment bit in there so they could get an acronym they liked.
So I’ll read the article and try to work out if this thing is wanky bollocks or not.
In the meantime, my concerns are:
1) Group therapy. People. Do we have to sit in a circle? Am I going to be stuck with twats for 16 weeks?
2) From what the therapist woman says, this is quite practical therapy. She made it sound more like a training course than anything else. I suppose there’s nothing wrong with that, but I’m worried about it being too inflexible for me.
2) 16 weeks. It’s not like I want to be in therapy forever, I’d actually rather avoid it entirely. Getting things over in 16 weeks would be ideal. But what if it’s just another sticking plaster?
If anyone knows about this thing, feel free to pass your wisdom this way. :)
*Embracing Your Demons: an Overview of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Russell Harris