Monthly Archives: November 2015

C&Q Writers on Mental Health #6: Chloe Hammond

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This will be, for the moment, the last in our mental health series. We’re interrupting it to have a daily advent calendar, from 1 December on, with recipes, flash fiction, and random outbursts of art. Hope you’ll enjoy it!

Now over to Chloe Hammond, who tells us about life with anxiety, and how creativity helps her to pull through.

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I have had periods throughout my life when my anxiety levels have been high. It was a huge relief when I realised that these feelings of stress weren’t logical, and were just my body’s reaction to too much cortisol over too long a period. I realised I didn’t have to take my worries at these times seriously; I learnt how to challenge them and learnt how much daily gratitude and reframing all my thoughts into the positive helped my mood. For example I would concentrate on what I did want to achieve rather than what I wanted to avoid. I also found that herbal remedies like valerian and 5htp helped me sleep, so the cycle would be broken and I’d get back on my feet in no time. Very few people were aware I had a problem at all, and as I got better and better at recognising the warning signs, I was able to help myself sooner and I knew enough to ignore or challenge the negative thoughts. I bought a hypnotism CD and used the relaxation tracks on that to soothe and relax me any time I felt my stress levels rising. In my lines of work you have to accept that stress is par for the course.
However, last year was abnormally stressful in both roles. quote price of loveIt was consistently and persistently horrible in a wide array of ways. I felt my stress levels rising, and tried my usual techniques to calm myself, but I didn’t have long enough between each blow to recover. I found myself having extreme physical stress reactions to something as small as going into a shop. I remember one time in particular standing there in the middle of the entry way to the shop unable to decide whether I needed a trolley or a basket. Everything seemed too loud, too big, too close. The whole word was tilting and splintering off at crazy angles. I tried to remember what I was there for, but my brain just felt like a cold, lifeless lump of clay that wouldn’t respond to my desperate attempts to activate it to save me. My chest felt like it had been torn into a huge vacuum so I would never be able to get enough air, and without enough air, I was going to float away. The feeling only lasted a few minutes, but it was horrible, and from that point in May, until December when I finally sought out help, I didn’t feel like myself again.
I was absolutely exhausted, desperate for a good healing sleep so I could start a day at zero, instead of already exhausted and overwhelmed when I woke up. Every time I fell asleep I’d be woken up by terrifying dreams that were so vivid and realistic they shook my sense of self, as they decimated everything I held dear. Then I started hearing things in the middle of the night. Several times I got up and ran downstairs to let the police in in the middle of the night (not uncommon in my world), only for there to be no one there. I heard my phone alarm go off, or my phone ring. I heard the door bell, and people knocking on my bedroom door. All were just aural hallucinations. All woke me up with my heart pounding. It would happen several times a night, every time I fell into a deep sleep. It was like my brain was so used to frequent crises it was creating them before they happened, as though it was trying to take control in a very twisted way.
I tried all the things that normally worked for me, but instead of helping, they seemed to actually make things worse. It was as though as I relaxed and dropped my defences a twisted voice would come forward from inside me and whisper horrible things to me, that were utterly illogical, but shook me too my core. It was terrifying. I couldn’t trust my own head anymore. I tried giving it more time to see if I would get better on my own, but lack of sleep was impacting every area of my life. I had started bumbling my words, I’d think I was saying one thing, but something entirely different would come out of my mouth, or I would type something completely different from what I was supposed to be composing.
Finally I went to the doctors. I hate going to the doctors. I always expect them to treat me like I’m making a fuss over nothing- which was what happened when I went for my tests to diagnose Glandular Fever and Toxoplasmosis. This was very different though. As soon as I started telling the doctor what was happening to me I received his full and undivided attention. Which was scary! Then he asked me the suicide question. No! That was all wrong. I’m the one who asks that! I denied ever feeling suicidal. Which was of course untrue. I didn’t have any specific plan or anything, but I had been so miserable and exhausted for so long that death had started to appear like a more attractive option than life, if this is what the rest of my life was going to be like. I just wanted a rest.
The doctor immediately diagnosed anxiety and depression, and prescribed some antidepressants. I went and got into the car with my husband, crying too hard to even fill my prescription. I was supposed to be going straight to work, but once I had started crying it was impossible to stop. Eventually my boss told me to stay home for the day and my husband got my tablets and tucked me up in bed. The tablets were complete knock out drops. I had to take a week off work to try to learn how to function on them, but I couldn’t. I described my difficulties to my sister who explained she knew someone who had had the same problems, and suggested the name of one that she felt would be better for me. And indeed they were.
I still get bad days, sometimes I can’t sleep, sometimes I feel very low, but I’ve learned to just give myself a break on those days and ‘roll with it’. I’ll feel better in a day or so. One of the best decisions I made was to be completely open with everyone about what was happening to me. This is not my normal style, I’m normally a very closed book, and I only share information about myself carefully. However I have enough experience of supporting others with depression to know that depression likes to segregate it’s victims off, and I was determined that was not going to happen to me. The result has been suprising. When I’m open to others, they have responded by being open about their own experiences, and this has helped me feel less alone.

Ultimately I am grateful for this experience of hitting rock bottom. It has made me reassess my life, and concentrate on what is important to me, rather than trying to twist and contort myself to please others. The vivid dreams have presented me with a story to pursue- I dreamt several of the key scenes in Darkly Dreaming.

I dreamt the scenes and wrote them up because I felt compelled to. I had always planned to be an author. I just had a problem believing in myself enough to make the leap from one day to today. Feeling so low had left me at a point where I felt I had nothing to lose anyway, so I may as well have a go. I had a lot of extra time as well, seeing as I couldn’t sleep. I wrote up the back story to the scenes I’d dreamt, so that they would make sense, and I wrote a very basic plan of where I expected the novel to go.

Then I completely disregarded the plan and got hauled through the novel by the characters. It was such a relief to have something else to think about. I realised that the only times I slept well were when I wrote. If I had an idea for part of the story, but wasn’t sure how to get the characters there (stubborn so and sos!) I’d go and lie in the bath and picture them at the point I’d left them, and then imagine how they could end up where I needed them to be. Sometimes I’d manage to get them there, but just as often they’d demand a different course of action. Either way I felt hopeful again as I felt the story take place. I hadn’t told anyone I was writing. It was still a step too far to expose my secret hope. Most people knew I had always wanted to write, but I wasn’t going to tell them, in case I failed.

When I had written my first few chapters, I was having a self-doubting day, wondering if anyone would be interested in what I was writing. It was still a secret at this stage. No one at all knew I was even thinking about writing a book, never mind that I had started. I was at my hairdressers getting my hair done when I overheard a conversation between one of the other customers and her hairdresser; she was talking excitedly about her favourite vampire book, and I closed my eyes and imagined I was listening to her talking about my book. I imagined she was this excited about going home to read something I had written. The thought of giving someone so much uncomplicated pleasure kept me going anytime I doubted what I was doing.

I’ve been amazed by the help and support I received from both expected, and unexpected quarters. One thing I have learned from the whole experience is that I need to write. It is essential to my wellbeing to be creative.

*****

chloe hammondChloe Hammond

Born in Liverpool in 1975, she grew up in West Wales. She studied Behavioural Sciences at the University of Glamorgan, but pestered her lecturers to allow her some modules of Creative Writing. Married, she now lives by the sea, just outside Cardiff, with two bonkers dogs and a suitably lazy cat. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression, she finally made time to write, finding writing a stimulation to help her through every crisis. She recently published her first novel, Darkly Dreaming.

 

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C&Q Writers on Mental Health #5: J. Cassidy

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Today J. Cassidy is here to tell us how easy it is to spiral downwards when the one you love is a sociopath, and how quickly you can lose your grasp of reality.

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The best way to deal with a sociopath is to avoid them altogether but that isn’t always possible and of course, you have to realise that is what he is before he takes your brain and turns it into a bouncy-ball. And that they’re not really as fun as the TV makes them look.

It might be you. It could be even now, you realise something is horribly wrong with your relationship but you can’t exactly think what it is. That even though he never outright says anything concrete, he has a way of showing you how useless, helpless, stupid and ugly you are. You’re lucky to have him, he knows that and makes sure that you do too. Even though there is nothing there that you can grasp and point and say… “But this.”

You could be looking for any reason to leave the relationship, hoping against hope that you catch him cheating so you have a legitimate reason to walk out on him and it will never cross your mind that you don’t need a reason. If you’re not happy you can leave him, and you don’t owe him any explanation even though he will insist you do. That person could be you. Once upon a time it was me.

He was all charm

At first, he was everything I could want. Polite, helped with the housework, didn’t have a job but was looking so hard I couldn’t fault him. He designed himself to be the man he thought I wanted and got it very right. The change was so gradual I couldn’t see it.

Slowly, less and less of the housework was done while I was at work. I would come home to: “I’m so tired from all the cleaning I’ve done today, do you think you could make dinner?” Even while I had been working all day, it wasn’t an unreasonable request. Soon it was “Do you mind doing the dishes, too?” and “I didn’t get to the hoovering today, what with there being so much else to do. Could you…?”

The sad thing is the person that drew me in wasn’t real. It was someone he pretended to be and I had to mourn the loss of someone who never existed.

Friends disappear

One of the first things he did was spread rumours about me to my friends and about my friends to me. So-and-so made a pass at him. Miss what’s-her-face was telling people I had herpes. Who’s-she-called laughed behind my back. And so on. All the while he was telling my friends similar things about me. It didn’t stop with friends, either.

My mother hated him and was trying to break us up, my sister also tried it on. It was awful that my family could treat me like that and maybe I should reduce contact with them, just to protect myself from their evil ways (that was actual wording… seriously). He went to great lengths to make sure I was completely alone. And now I have ‘ronery, I am so ronery’ stuck in my head. Thanks, brain.

Sometimes friends aren’t as good friends as you thought they were and sometimes a friend can be pushed too far. Mine got sick of telling me what he was doing and getting nothing but “He wouldn’t…” from me.

Is your friend really so jealous of you and him that she would make it up? Has she always been that poor a friend or has she always looked out for you? If your friend has been around longer than he has, for goodness’ sake listen to her. Don’t put love and lust above friendship. That is a good way to drive away the people who could have rescued you ’cause knights in shining armour are in short supply.

Manipulation

When he was young his family died and he was adopted. That I know to be true, his adopted parents confirmed it and I saw the paperwork. What I have come to doubt is that his adoptive parents abused him in horrible ways. I never questioned his allegations at the time, I mean, why would I? Who would make up something like that? He would. I had to make allowances for him. Sometimes he got angry and it was because of the abuse. The foul language that came my way would make a sailor wince. There were always apologies afterwards and promises that he loved me. So sincere that I knew without a shadow of doubt that he was trying hard to be better, that he truly regretted saying and doing those things. Every, Single, Time.

Every time a new apology with compliments on how amazing I was for putting up with it. The old charmer who caught my attention came back out to play as he applauded how well I dealt with his insanity in a way that no one else could. He told me over and over that I was special because I knew that those awful moments were not the ‘real him’ and I wasn’t easily scared off by them.

But I also needed to be more understanding of how he felt. I needed to show compassion. When he felt tired and couldn’t do his share of the housework I needed to step up and take care of him because he was depressed over his childhood and couldn’t help it. When we had a disagreement I needed to step back and stop making reasoned debate that he couldn’t counter. When I pointed out that we couldn’t spend seven times what I brought in I needed to realise he was damaged and needed me to make an exception for his behaviour and spending habits.

Another manipulator was the what I’ve come to think of as Topping. One time I dislocated a finger, which is more painful and a bit funnier than it sounds. It was nothing compared to the arm he broke in four places as a child. My father was a rather unpleasant fellow, which is when his abuse story was first told. I was bullied at school but he was bullied so badly he was hospitalised several times. You get the idea. I was never allowed to complain because compared to him, I had it easy. I couldn’t be allowed a day off to feel sorry for myself (we all do it, don’t lie) because he needed me to be strong so that he could take part in the pity-party.

Lastly was his unshakeable belief that he had a super-brain. It was quite frequent that he made claims to intelligence, with no proof of this, and that he was better than me because of that. While it wasn’t a manipulator on its own, coupled with manipulators and Gaslighting, it turned out to be fairly effective in decimating my confidence in my braining abilities.

Gaslighting

“You remember it wrong. You’re too sensitive. You’re too emotional. You’re overreacting. Stop being so defensive. It was a joke. I thought you had a sense of humour. Are you just trying to get me in trouble? You’re a drama queen, just chill out.” The implication with different varieties of the above is that ‘normal’ people would find his abnormal behaviour…. normal. That I was the one at fault, not he. It’s hard to explain how it can come about that anyone would fall for that.

Imagine living where friends were no longer around so there was no one who could say ‘that is wrong.’ That it had been happening for months and at some point you have to wonder why he would be so insistent that I was being too sensitive if there wasn’t at least a small grain of truth in there. Imagine being told that everything you remember, you’ve remembered wrong. And that he loves you, so he wouldn’t lie.

When he hit me hard enough to leave bruises and told me I was just too sensitive and was overreacting, I believed him. He made it seem as though other people wouldn’t worry about “Just a tiny bruise (the size of a tennis ball) that happened by accident while we were messing around.” Then he would get angry, accuse me of trying to call him an abuser and forbid any mention of said hitting again. “You promised you would let that go. Why do you always bring up the past like this?”

To this day I can’t find an answer on how to deal with Gaslighting. If it’s something that happens again, I don’t know how to protect myself from it. Probably with a less polite “Go forth and multiply.”

Financial Abuse 

He forged my signature, which can be proved so I am quite lucky there. But other times he just plain bullied me into signing loans I couldn’t repay or taking credit on items he would sell when he got bored with, but left me stressing over being taken to court when I couldn’t make repayments.

Because even though I worked, he kept hold of my bank card and he kept hold of any cash. According to him it was for my own good. He pointed out that I’m just a small girl and if I were to get mugged, we would have lost everything. No one would mug him, he was a big lad.

What with the Gaslighting, manipulators and his ample charm, I couldn’t argue and at first didn’t think anything of it until it came to paying for things.

It was humiliating asking him for money, never mind money that I had earned. Every time I wanted to pay a bill, buy some make-up (which later I stopped wearing because why would I wear make-up when I already had him, was I trying to attract other men?) or get some food, I had to ask him. And if he didn’t want, the answer was no.

I found out from my landlord he hadn’t paid the rent, the electric was cut off before I realised he hadn’t been paying them either and guess whose name they were in? He made sure that as much of the debt as possible was in my name, destroyed my credit rating, stole my pay and stole my savings. When it came to leaving him, I was in a very bad position. I’d lost my job, I had no savings and a mountain of debt I had no hope of repaying. It seemed my only chance was to stay with him and of course, that was the idea. I was dependent on him for money, even when the money was mine.

I was ready to leave the relationship a long time before I did. Money worries were a large factor in keeping me there.

No one understands and it wasn’t my fault

The self-doubts will never fade and the emotional scars are here to stay, though these days I have a clear head and I am now in a position to lead a happy life.

But to explain to my current partner why I let him get away with doing the things he did is impossible. I cannot get the concept across in a meaningful way. Even now, many people are likely wondering why I and others like me put up with it. The answer, however unsatisfying, is this:

He had me so twisted round, so upside-down and arse-backward, that I was incapable of thinking for myself. He had done so much damage to my head that I couldn’t do anything for myself. I couldn’t tell my elbow from Tuesday. Leaving him was miraculous because I was in no position to even think leaving him was something I had the option of doing.

That answer just doesn’t quite say what I mean. It doesn’t get across the sheer conflict of emotion, all bad, going through my warped brain. No answer will ever be enough to explain exactly what kind of state I was in, how I got there and why I didn’t know anything was wrong until it was too late.

I was lucky. I had friends who were patient and a family who understood. When I left him it was because of a friend, who though I don’t speak to these days, I am certain I owe my life to. It was him telling me “When you leave your partner, we should go get a drink,” that got me thinking about what kind of life I would have without the sociopath. This led me to thinking about the life I was presenting my child and THAT is what got me out of there. Leaving was only the start of the battle though. He didn’t take well to me clearing out and hounded me for months. I had to get the police involved. I was so badly damaged that if my mother hadn’t been there to pick up the pieces and forgive my sins, I shudder to think where I would be now.

It took quote never againa cancer diagnosis to clear out the cobwebs and pain that he caused, because there is nothing like “You have a disease that kills people” to put things in perspective. It emptied my head of everything but the cancer for a while, putting my broken brain in a position to start fresh and fix itself. Even so, it took me six years to come to the realisation that none of it was my fault. I was duped.

In retrospect

I used to look back and think “I could have done things differently.” I wondered why I had been so easy to lead down that dangerous path given that I had grown up with parents who had the exact same relationship. Everything he did to me, my father did to my mother. I had experience, I had seen it all before and I was convinced I should have known better.

There was no way I could know better, though. He wasn’t like that when I met him or I would never have stayed with him. He changed over a long time, a little at a time, twisted everything round and left me with nothing to hold on to and only a bare grasp on reality. I couldn’t have done anything differently because if I could have, I would have. I couldn’t have seen it coming because it was me he was fooling. I wasn’t watching it from the outside this time. It was never me, and it was never my fault.

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j cassidyJ. Cassidy

J. Cassidy used to be an oak tree growing in a park in England. She still likes to be decorated once a year. Pink, sparkly fluffles and rainbows make everything better.

C&Q Writers on Mental Health #4: Angelika Rust

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Today we have Angelika Rust here, talking about depression, social anxiety, and the stigma of the mentally ill.

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I have a slight case of depression and social anxiety. I say slight because I get by without meds, and I never feel the urge to throw myself off a cliff. Doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games, though.

Imagine a nasty cold – runny nose, headache, limbs hurt, you feel tired. Not nice, but not really a reason to stay in bed all the time. You’re not even running a fever, so you might as well go to work. And anyway, a cold usually doesn’t last longer than a week or two. Get over it.

Now imagine the same cold for the rest of your life. Every. Single. Day. And you know you have to live with it, because it can’t be cured. All you can do is, wrap yourself in a warm pullover, drink tea and always have a box of tissues handy, so it won’t get worse.

That’s what it means to live with a mental illness.

I’ve been living with it since my childhood, though it took me a long time to figure out what was wrong with me. I would descend into some dark place, I would cry, be unable to speak, or feel like the entire world detested me.

People would ask me, why?

I never knew.quote wrong girl They kept asking, and kept asking until I believed that I needed a reason. So I invented reasons. I wasn’t even consciously aware I was doing it. At one point I got so bad, I developed constant headaches and stomachaches, just so I would always have an excuse. Shaking that habit, finally accepting that, no, you don’t always need a reason for those odd emotions, some things are simply beyond you unless you find a way to cope…that was the hardest thing.

Growing up in a household that still held on to the firm belief that a slap in the face never hurt anyone surely didn’t help. Neither did being the kid that sailed through most everything in school. So many kids around me struggled through exams, why didn’t I? Being used to my own lack of worth – established through the fact that if I deserve to be slapped, I must be worthless – it never occurred to me that those kids might be doing things wrong. No, the one doing everything wrong must have been me. Which caused me to think, if I can’t even manage something as simple as school in the correct way, how can I ever achieve anything? So much came easy to me, everything bored me, and yet, at the same time, everything posed an insurmountable challenge. Small wonder I became a university drop out and it took me years before I even realized what I’m good at.

I hardly talk about it. On the one hand, because I don’t want to bore people and I don’t want to be a burden. Imagine any other incurable disease. Multiple sclerosis, maybe. How are you? Oh, still dying a bit every day. Would you say that? Or would you say, I’m fine, thanks, and you? The other reason I stay quiet is that I tried and failed in the past. You see, I’ve learned to cope. I know my triggers, and I know how to keep functioning regardless. Those who don’t know me probably can’t tell, and those who do probably can’t either, because I haven’t told most of them. Because what happens if you tell people? They’ll look at you like you’re mad. Like you’re a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any given moment. We still have this image in our society of the mad people, shut away for their – or our – safety, hugging themselves as they rock back and forth, banging their heads against a padded wall. Well, I’m not mad. I won’t explode. Which makes it hard for people to believe me. You seem so normal, why tell something like that? Is it to brag or to try to convince people how unique you are?

No. Seriously, there’s nothing special about needing half an hour to decide what to wear to a simple parents evening in school (not because I’m so vain, but because I need to find the right balance between armor and camouflage), or about having to walk the dog through the woods because you can’t stand the thought of having to meet, let alone talk to other dog owners in the park, because every look you get feels like a judgement and you’re such an ugly, stupid failure, or about digging your nails into your palms so you can focus on the pain rather than the thought that you are letting everybody down, that you disgust everybody, that you’re the worst mother on earth…

If I tell you, I do it because I think I can trust you. On those occasions in the past where I tried it, I was rewarded with looks made up of equal parts disbelief and alarm. Which isn’t particularly encouraging. Over the past two years, I found a few people to whom I could openly talk about it, which is the reason why I’m slowly starting to completely open up on the topic. Because it’s high time we remove the stigma, reach out and help each other. Hiding away only fuels the bad emotions.

*****

green streak

 

Angelika Rust

Angelika Rust was born in Vienna in 1977. These days, she lives in Germany, with her husband, two children, a despotic couple of cats and a hyperactive dog. After having tried almost every possible job from pizza delivery girl to HR consultant, she now makes a living knowing a little English.