An Explosion From a Lifetime of Being Manipulated

Spoken words are glaring and sticky,
With no canvas base for testing.
Emotions are not linear or following a pattern,
But a framed mess of jaunty angles;
Haywire, impossible, jostling,
All competing for human attention,
The room in my head not enough –
A dissatisfactory stage for their being.

 

 

Today I feel fragile and all my thoughts are tinged with guilt for letting myself feel so on edge and breakable. I am angry at myself for not being better, not being indestructible or able to rise above the white noise. Objectively, I know that I am setting my standards for myself way too high, almost like I want to have a reason to criticise and berate myself. Maybe this is what enduring a manipulative relationship leads to; the more time you spend being made to feel unworthy, the more you want to punish yourself for being so unlovable. In reality, I know these things, these judgements which are made about me are untrue and that I have pacified these waves of self-hatred which a toxic relationship has stirred-up before. I just need to find the courage to do so again. In the mean time, I will continue writing out my feelings to make sense of what I am going through and how I am growing as a person. I am sure that in the not too distant future, I will write more about this situation, to help educate others about the emotional torment of feeling trapped by a manipulative figure in your life. For now though, I will leave resources below for anyone who is being affected by this problem at the moment, as well as a promise to you that you are not alone.

NHS resources for cases of abuse

The Samaritans’ helpline and email address

Resources from Mind, the mental health charity

Battling The Need To Be In Control

My anxiety has manifested itself in many ways throughout my life. One of the ways in which my anxious brain has manipulated my actions is through ingraining in me that I need to be in control of every situation. For example:

1) To stay safe I need to know every detail about where I am going, what I am doing and how long I will be there.

2) I need to constantly know where my family are in case of an emergency.

3) To reassure myself I need to ask my loved ones what they are thinking all the time so that I can share their burdens. 

These impulses which I feel on a daily basis are all evidence of my need to be in control in every facet of my life so that I can pacify my anxiety. My brain tells me that if I am not in constant control then surely something bad will happen because of my negligence. I worry often about mine and other’s safety due to my desire to understand every possible variable which could result from any and all circumstances.

Not only is this undoubtedly annoying for the people I am around but it is also exhausting for me. My brain is constantly spinning as I try to battle the spiralling feeling of not having full control. When I get into this state, irrational thoughts rule my brain as I become convinced that something bad is certain to happen. This leads me towards tension headaches and panic attacks. Evidently, this is no way to live.

Over recent weeks, I have been taking active steps to reassure myself that not being in control is okay and that it is not my responsibility to constantly keep abreast of all the possibilities which my circumstances could generate. In fact, sometimes when you relinquish the iron grip of control, this is when unexpected things happen and good opportunities can arise from you being open to a situation rather than feeling threatened by it. I have allowed myself to believe that my anxious brain is tricking me into wasting energy on things which may never happen and worries which are illogical.

Now, I would much rather live in the moment and appreciate my surroundings than analyse them from a critical standpoint so that I can analyse potential threats. Being on high alert all day is much less rewarding than owning your actions and embracing the chance that things might not turn out how you want them to because these are the turn of events that you will learn from. Instead of being tense and apprehensive, remind yourself that you will feel so proud and accomplished if you relinquish control and do not base your actions on your anxieties.

The better way is possible. 

Here are some resources which go into more depth about the need to be in control and paranoid thoughts:

Paranoia – Mind, the mental health charity

Information from the NHS on Generalised Anxiety Disorder

RECOVERY

QUESTION: is the idea of ‘recovery’ helpful?

I have mixed feelings about recovery. Whether it is a help or a hindrance when so many people present it as an ideal which feels distant and unattainable to people who are in the midst of any type of illness. Sometimes when people reference recovery or being recovered, it just makes me feel more lost and hopeless than I was before. However, other times it can inspire me and give me the courage to keep moving forward with the comfort that others have weathered similar storms.

What is probably most frustrating to me about the idea of recovery is that it is so vague by virtue that it is subjective and hard to pin down in what it means to each of us individually. There is no specific route or journey that will lead you straight to recovery, the same steps and challenges do not work for anyone. Recovery does not look the same for everyone either, leaving me in the strange position of never being entirely certain of what I am aiming or working towards, meaning that my motivation begins to dwindle behind my uncertain mind.

Whenever counsellors or therapists have mentioned recovery to me I have felt myself recoil into my seat. Even the word seems so intimidating and far off in the distance. Also, I find the use of the term frustrating because who has the right or the knowledge to determine exactly what recovery is, what it looks like and what the time period for recovery should be? However much I want there to be a finish line I also do not know who I am without mental illness because I have let my mental health define me for so long. How do I separate myself from the characteristics of my illnesses and how will I know when this process is complete and I have recovered?

This post is a mess of rhetorical questions and abstract thoughts but what I have learnt from it is that I need to narrow down the specifics of what I am striving towards and what progress I will be satisfied with so that I could call myself recovered. Abstract and vague goals only lead to more frustration and motivation leaving me like a deflated balloon.

“I wanted to tell her that I was getting better, because that was supposed to be the narrative of illness: It was a hurdle you jumped over, or a battle you won. Illness is a story told in the past tense.” – ‘Turtles All The Way Down’ by John Green

I AM NOT BROKEN!

As I approach my 19th birthday, I’m beginning to realise the absurdity of the amount of labels people have and continue to pile on me. Whether people know me well on a personal level or not, once they get a glimpse of my history and the classifications of mental health problems which come along with it, they make-up their minds about me; I’m ‘damaged goods’. Either I am someone to be wary of in case they get swallowed into the dark, depressive rabbit hole I have been known to disappear down during portions of my life or I am someone they feel that they have to fix. However, what is glaringly obvious to me is that I am not broken!

I am going to be 19 soon, I have suffered and I have isolated myself from the world for vast patches of my existence but what is more important is that I have recognised my mistakes, I have had various rounds of therapy to learn about my brain (note: not to fix my brain) and I have come out the other side more determined to move on from my past and grow. Labels do not have a place in my life at this age. I am young and I am exploring the offerings of the world rather than cementing my place as one thing or another within it.

blog personal growth 2

When people view me as ‘damaged goods’, they assume that I must be ashamed of my past or that it must have had a permanent negative impact on me and my character. What I would like to tell people is that I am a better person for what I have been through, if I didn’t have to struggle with the weight of mental health issues, I would not have learnt half of the valuable life lessons that I have gathered and continue to gather along my journey. The world has various ways of teaching us things, of pushing each of us to our limits and stretching our personal growth which comes to all of us in different forms. Whatever the world throws at us, we have the power to accept it rather than let it drag us down forever more.

Millions of people across the world have been through things vastly worse than what I have and for them I can only try to give my most powerfully positive affirmations. However, my being a more positive presence in the world can only be facilitated by laughing at the idea that I am ‘damaged goods’ and appreciating all of the negativity I continue to go through for all of the gifts I know it has given me.

DIARY #2 – SELF DOUBT

Today, I find myself staring at my blank computer screen, the brilliant white of a draft blog post staring blatantly back at me. And I feel intimidated. What I am looking at doesn’t seem to be a computer screen anymore, it’s taken on it’s own lease of life, masquerading as the many faces of people I dearly wish will never find this indescribably small corner of the internet that I inhabit. All of these faces leer at me, telling me that my writing isn’t good enough, that everything I say is cliched and that I should be embarrassed to spend my time pouring out these immature words. So, I feel afraid to write and my hands keep hovering hesitantly over my keyboard, frozen in a panic about whether or not they can trust my mind to give them good enough words to type out.

I’ll be honest, most of these faces take the appearance of people who have taught me over the years. People who have seemed to me to be impossibly clever, even scarily so as I remember their Oxbridge certificates taking pride of place on their walls, almost as if to prove my own inadequacy to me. Their faces contort into amused sneers in my mind’s eye as they look at me with the knowledge that what I write is absolute drivel that could never impress anyone. The way they look at me feels paralysing.

I don’t whether the force of their intimidation in my head is so strong because I got my first semester University results on Friday. The crude grading of my supposed intelligence and understanding has always felt frightening to me, as if the sum of my parts is presented on that results page in a disappointingly low percentage which classifies me as simply average. Whatever the mark, results are always a distinct bash to my confidence because it reminds me of how my future is in the hands of other people who are undoubtedly intellectually superior to me and probably marked my papers thinking how basic my work was. The most I can do is stick a figurative middle finger up at these pretend critiques which my mind has twisted out of the faint shadows of people I either used to know or barely know at all and continue to write in spite of the faces which drift across my consciousness.

STRANGLED…

Vocalising is the stumbling block
Which I am persistently made to re-visit.
My vocal chords are like knotted wires,
Entangling themselves in sheer panic
And choking my words.
I am dumbstruck, dumbfounded,
Suspended in time
By the immobility of my lips
And the vacuum they leave
While pairs of eyes-bewildered-
Ogle at me from perfectly formed faces.

To the world, it appears,
I must have no thoughts or opinions
As behind my face lies an airy space
From which no substance can be emitted.
But give me a pen
And a room of my own,
Then, again, my eyes will see
And I will awake from a dormant sleep.
The footfall of ink on paper
Will give me the energy to connect
With the heart I too often forget.

MY EXPERIENCE OF CBT…

I had a 12 session course of CBT in 2016 on the NHS when I was 16.

For those who don’t know, CBT stands for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and it aims to change the way you think and behave by talking through situations which you find triggering. Personally, my course of CBT focused on my anxiety because it was thought that if this was tackled and I could gain more independence, such as travelling on my own and such, then this may decrease my experience of depression and OCD because it would give me more freedom and lessen my tendency to worry about everything.

This is a difficult topic to talk about for me because I don’t believe that I got everything I could of out of my therapy experience. Whilst I seemed to make progress during my course of treatment, as soon as the treatment stopped after the 12th session I regressed back to my old ways because there was no-one working with me to maintain my progress, therefore there was nobody for me to disappoint with my inaction and hibernation in my house.

I have always found talking therapies a tricky experience anyway because part of my anxiety centres around talking and explaining myself in front of others. Therefore, it seems ironic that, in order to reduce my anxiety in the long-term, I have to put myself through hours of anxiety provoking treatment and talk about my deepest thoughts and feelings with a complete stranger! My fear of judgement and my embarrassment about my own wild thought patterns meant that I found it really hard to properly open-up to my therapist.

A lot of what my therapist told me was a repetition of the familiar refrain that my thoughts are illogical and not reasonable. When I told her about my feelings of impending danger whenever I left the house, she would reason ‘but there is only a very small likelihood of you coming to any danger by just leaving your house – it’s not rational to think that some crisis is going to descend on you when there are so many other people walking the streets right now who aren’t facing any danger at all’.

Every single session she would bring me back to the fact that my fears and anxieties were irrational, therefore there was no point in focusing on them and letting them rule my life. The problem with this was that I already knew that my thoughts were irrational. I know that my fear of leaving the house is neither plausible nor founded on any factual basis. Everyday I can see people walking outside my window without a care in the world or any threat of doom hanging over them. I wasn’t blind or stupid. The whole reason I wanted therapy was to find out why my life was so dominated by illogical thinking, why I am the way I am, not to just be told that my thoughts don’t make any sense. Instead, my therapist just continued telling me that my thoughts weren’t rational (as if this were a revelation) rather than giving me any practical advice to navigate my way around them.

So, for me, CBT didn’t offer me a route of a solution to my problems, if anything it just left me feeling more lost than beforehand. I felt like a failure for not leaving my course of therapy having been ‘cured’ and transformed into a carefree individual. The disappointment of my therapist who told me that I wasn’t making enough progress was, and still is, a heavy presence in my mind, telling me that my struggles are my own fault and that I am a lost cause.

I have no doubt that CBT works for lots and lots of people and it was definitely something worth trying because at least now I can say that I have tried it and I can cross it off my list of possibilities. It’s just a shame that it didn’t have the effect on me that I was hoping it would.

 

I WAS BULLIED…

For years I have distanced myself from people I used to be friends with.

Since the experience of moving schools, being bullied and isolated in this new setting and falling under the weight of mental health problems which I could neither appreciate or understand at this point, I have made a conscious effort to keep my distance from people, including people I have bonded with in the past. I have gotten used to the idea that I can only be a disappointment to people because the accusations and opinions of my past bullies still burn at the forefront of my mind, demanding to be heard even all of these years later. Their words, the way they looked at me, the smirks they gave their friends when I entered the room and the sarcastic comments on social media that I would only hear about after they had trickled through the grapevine of the rest of the year group still remind me in every social interaction that I am inadequate, the weirdo, the outsider that no-one could possibly like.

When I look in the mirror and see my face scourged with acne scars I remember the boy who appeared next to me in the lunch line, laughed and told me that I should wash my face – it would stop me looking so weird he said. When I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a train window, I am transported back to the time when the boy who sat next to me in Biology burst out laughing when he saw my glasses for the first time and encouraged his friends to all have a good gawp at me, right there in the middle of the lesson.

When I am walking between lectures at Uni, I suddenly speed-up and look around fervently as my mind is cast back to the time when I was chased across the school courtyard by a group of boys who were laughing and shouting at me about how ugly I was. When I’m in my dorm room at Uni, I double check that I have locked the door before I can properly relax because my chest tightens when I recall the numerous times a group of boys burst through the closed door of the music room I was in alone and refused to leave, taunting me incessantly, knowing that I had no-one there to defend me and they could say and do whatever they wanted without any teachers in earshot.

I still remember the faces and names of these bullies, clear as day. I remember the viciously appeased look in their eyes which appeared once they knew that they had hit a nerve in me. I remember the aggression in their voices and movements as they collaborated to gather round me, knowing that I hated to be touched by anyone, let alone them. I remember the way they gave me a long studious look up and down when I entered the gym in my PE kit, making every part of my exposed skin crawl and my stomach squirm, knowing how inevitably disgusting I must look.

All of these memories are stored in a fire-proof box in my mind which no amount of talking therapy can penetrate. Any friends that I used to have, I push away, keeping texts to a minimum and conjuring a myriad of excuses as to why I can’t meet-up with them. I scroll excessively through my friends’ profiles on Facebook to remind myself about how much better their lives are in comparison to mine as I obsess over their carefree smiles which they share in photos where they have their arms slung over the shoulders of other pretty friends, which remind of how there are no pictures of me with my friends because I have always refused to put my face in front of a camera, as the bullies’ catcalls about my ugly face continue to rebound around my head. I tell myself over and over again how different I am to these people I used to call my friends, there is no way that they could find me interesting anymore, I am just a hermit who stays in her room and hides herself away from the world.

The words of bullies still control my life no matter how much I try to bat them away or rationalise them. But, as I get older, I have faith that one day I will be strong enough to make their words stop having such an effect on me. One day, this torment will be a bad memory that I have since learned from and the details of their faces and actions will be a distant memory. For now though, I will have to continue working and struggling through the long-lasting effects which their ‘fun’ has had on me and try to cling on to the friends who are still trying to reach out to me, no matter how much I have tried to keep them at arm’s length.

RESTLESS…

Recently, I haven’t been able to sit still.

As I write this, I am shifting around on my chair and fiddling with my fingers. I just cannot relax. Every time I sit somewhere to do something, I find some element of my environment wrong; my chair is too high, I am too cold, too hot, I need something to fidget with, my desk is too messy etc. I am aware that all of these things sound ridiculous. They are such little, inconsequential issues but for some reason these silly problems keep forcing themselves into the front of my mind at the moment and the more I try to ignore them, the more prominent in my head they become.

So, I am finding myself unable to complete any tasks recently. I start doing one thing only to become so frustrated that I decide to start something else, to see if I can get further with that. This is a bad spiral to get sucked into. Before I know it, I have reached the end of the day and the dark of the night is closing in around me, without anything on my to-do list having been ticked off. As a result, this kickstarts the process of me feeling incapable of being a Uni student because I feel unproductive and unfulfilled. I sit on my bed at the end of the day and feel drained but without the consolation of having done well in anything, achieved anything.

LEAVING MYSELF ADRIFT…

Over the years, I have become a pro at avoidance.

Counsellors and therapists have been left exasperated with me because of the way I weave myself out of situations and wriggle out of any obligations which I know will make me feel anxious. At school, I used to make a concerted effort to avoid any teacher who took an interest in me, anyone who wanted to explore what lay behind my silent, passive exterior. For the most part, I have made my life an extensive game of hide and seek as I have consciously guarded myself against anything which could have the potential to brings things out of me that I would rather conceal. My sealed mouth and over-active mind act as an armour between me and the world, allowing me to pass through life with a minimum amount of confrontation.

Through time this has expanded to the way I dress and present myself. I make an active decision everyday to dress myself in a way that will act as the best disguise and which will reduce any individualism someone could associate with me. Essentially, I try my best to make myself invisible. I wear baggy black hoodies and jogging bottoms which cannot show my figure and cover as much skin as possible. That way I feel safe, for some reason. Protected.

The result of living my life behind a silent barrier is that I have left myself alone and without any interests that could draw me away from the confines of my room. My lifestyle is, by my own design, incredibly isolating. University was supposed to be a new start for me, a chance to re-create myself afresh but as I write this I have not been into any of my classes for the past three days because every time I think about entering a seminar room or a lecture hall I feel physically sick.

By trying to navigate through life as simply as possibly, I have made everything as far away from straight forward as I could have done. Many of the skills people have learnt during their time growing-up and experiencing new things, I have made sure that I have missed out on. I have made dead certain that I would always be on the outside looking in because I have always seen this as the safest place to be, looking at all situations from a distance in order to ascertain any ‘dangers’. Now I am finding nearly impossible to find my way back to a point where I can live without putting extreme restrictions in place between me and everyone else.