Welcome to Day Twenty of Blogmas 2022!
Today, I’ve teamed up with Visit York (all of their links are at the end of the post) to bring you some photos from their Christmas Market which I attended at the beginning of the month, as well as some links for the items I bought at it. The actual content of this post about acknowledging when you’ve lost time and making up for it; was inspired by the fact that I went to the Market with my Mum, and after my experiences with my mental illness, we’ve both voiced the need to ‘make up for lost time’ by wanting to be together more often...
HOW THE ABUSE STOLE MY CHILDHOOD, AND WHY IT ISN’T IN THE WAY YOU MIGHT THINK:
Blogging in the mental health industry, means that I’m incredibly aware of making statements that are rare and pretty unheard of. This also means I’m conscious of the opposite happening; and so, the above subtitle feels like a very stereotypical, cliché kind of statement to make and it therefore doesn’t really leave you wondering what I mean but – like many things in life – there’s actually likely more to it than you might assume there to be. I mean, it’s actually not referring, or intended, to mean I’m feeling like the abuse has ‘aged’ me in some ways – which it has – but I’ll get to that later!
I really just wanted to start with the beginning of my time loss and whilst the abuse wasn’t until I was fifteen, it has actually had an enormous impact on the many years before that. Because rape and abuse shouldn’t be assumed to be referring to solely one particular incident. Nor should they be thought of as purely affecting the present and future. You know, as horrendous as the time has been since the rape and abuse; I think one of the most saddening elements of them is that they have impacted my childhood… Part of this is because it’s a time when the abuser wasn’t even in my life; and so I hated the thought of him having some sort of power over it… It was kind of like; “he doesn’t deserve to be in control of my thoughts and feelings around my entire childhood!” and I felt that those people who were in my life during those years, are – or at the very least, should be – far more entitled to having some sort of influence over it.
So, I think that the abuse – and my abuser – affected those years in this one massive way that centres around how I coped with it whilst it was happening. You see, when I have been asked to recall the abuse – whether in therapy or in giving my statement to the Police – I actually remember it from a completely different perspective than my own! I recall every single detail of it as though I was on the ceiling watching it happening to some poor girl who I couldn’t help. And of course, looking back I understand this was a coping mechanism – that I felt I had to distance myself in whatever way possible in order to get through and to survive what was being done to me.
At the time, it was really frustrating because I was just watching all these horrible things happen and I couldn’t do a damn thing about it – as though even if it were happening to me, I would’ve been able to fight back or something?! It was also really annoying after the abuse that this had been my perspective because it meant some details I could give to the Police, were limited. Like, they asked for a description of body parts that I should be able to describe if it’d happened… And I couldn’t tell them as much as I probably might have, had I been capable and willing to accept my reality.
In using, this dissociation – as it was labelled by numerous professionals – to cope with the trauma of this experience, it ended up being the cause for my childhood memories (almost all of my memories before the abuse) to fade away from the clarity I had usually seen them in. They faded until I finally began to experience them as I do these days – with absolutely no actual recollection, just the memory of others telling me about some particular happy and funny instances. And do you know what I think is the hardest part to this? It’s that this – having little to no memories of your childhood and growing up – isn’t normal. I think that this; the notion of finding yet another way in which my abuser had made me different from everyone – different and alone – was really the most upsetting factor.
The second most difficult factor about this, was that it meant I felt robbed of the one truly safe and happy time in my life. Like, I knew that once the abuse started, life would never be the same again. I would never be the same again. I mean, how could I ever be perfectly content with anything in my life after these things had been done to me?
HOW MY MENTAL ILLNESS AFFECTED MY THOUGHTS ON TIME:
When my mental health first deteriorated in 2009, I would have never – in a million years – guessed that things would get to the point that they did. I mean, new readers may not know, but when I made my first suicide attempt in 2009, I was actually, literally in the middle of taking my A Level (since I’m NOT Disordered’s readers are totally scattered around the world, here’s more details and an explanation as to what this means in the UK education system: A-Level - Wikipedia) examinations at School. So, I was at a pivotal point in my life because I actually also had an offer to study Law at University (something which I really wanted to do after recognising that Lawyers can aid in getting justice in cases of abuse and rape), but it was under the condition that I pass my A Levels.
As it happened though, I was scheduled to take three A Level exams in one day (with short, ten minute breaks in between) and I think that this would be a lot of stress and pressure for even the most well and stable person. But, of course, it being just two years since the abuse ‘ended,’ with no one knowing yet, and having just started to experience auditory hallucinations, I was so much more vulnerable to struggling to cope with such an important and tense situation like this. I mean, knowing all that I did – knowing what was going on in my head – should I have been surprised that throughout the entire morning of the day of the three exams, I continued to swallow tablets until I just completely passed out in the middle of a corridor at School?!
From the very beginning of the auditory hallucinations starting (ten days before the suicide attempt) the voices had persistently told me that I needed to kill myself… They differed between why – sometimes it was that I should die as a punishment because I was deserving and blameworthy of the abuse, and sometimes death was meant to achieve peace and be free of the memories of it – but other than that, they were completely consistent, and it left me wondering whether that would literally continue for my entire life… Unless/until I did something about it. I mean, even just those ten days of the hallucinations felt unbearable; how would I survive any longer with them?
I think one of the hardest elements of the hallucinations were that I felt that I had no control over them and what they said. And that’s where the time thing began to come in… Because that loss of control meant that I felt as though I had no say over how my time was spent. First, I couldn’t control what was being done to me with the abuse, and now I couldn’t even control what happened in my own head. During the abuse, my only escape was really just trying to distance myself from it, and that took a lot of imagination. But how could I escape when my head was unsafe now too? And losing that – feeling completely trapped in this body and hating every minute of it… Well, it changed ‘time’ in various ways. You know? Like, sometimes it felt as though I was going through all this hardship for an enormous length of time that seemed to just keep going slower and slower; as though it was dragging on and it felt like the pain and the upset and the hurt would never go away. Other times, time seemed to just race by. One minute I was living my life – I had my weekend job and I was going to school, spending time with my friends; and the next thing I was in hospital on a drip of medication to counter-act what I had taken in my suicide attempt. And I was left completely baffled, thinking; ‘how the hell did I even get here?!’
WHY BEING A PSYCHIATRIC INPATIENT CHANGED MY THOUGHTS ON TIME
In the Summer of 2012, I made another suicide attempt and after waking from the coma that had left me on life support, I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Back then, my local NHS mental health Trust, didn’t have any services (and therefore no training or understanding) to help or support someone with my diagnosis of a Personality Disorder; and so, my Community Mental Health Team had to apply for funding for me to be hospitalised to a ward that actually specialised in the diagnosis.
Unfortunately, because of my ‘flight risk’ I couldn’t be admitted to the nearest hospital which specialised, so I ended up in one in Bradford… Which was over 100 miles away from my home and all of my loved ones. And at that hospital, their statistics for the ‘average length of admission’ there, was 12 - 18 months. At that time and point in my mental health journey, the prospect of such a lengthy time away from all the favourite and important people in my life, wasn’t hugely concerning. And I think that was the case because of three reasons:
1. My mental health was so poorly that I struggled to really experience any sort of emotions around love and compassion, to the point where I couldn’t even appreciate or be grateful for the people around me. So, why would I be sad or scared to move away from them for such a potentially lengthy amount of time?
2. When I appealed against being detained to the hospital under section 3 of the 1983 Mental Health Act, the professionals from back home travelled to the hearing and declared the number of hospital admissions I’d had between my first suicide attempt in 2009 and the one prior to the admission in 2012. It was 60. That fact – that I had been in physical and psychiatric hospitals over 60 times in 3 years – coupled with the fact that the time had flew straight past me, made me question why 12 – 18 months would be any different.
3. I used to be pretty convinced that I was destined to commit suicide – that I had been put on this earth to do that so that it would highlight the faults and flaws of mental health services. And so, I believed that nothing anyone did – or tried to do – would stop that from happening. So, that meant that I saw my time in the hospital as just a waste… I was confident that nothing that happened – or didn’t happen – in the hospital would change things in the long-run, so why bother?
HOW THERAPY CHANGED TIME
One of the main points and reasons for going into this hospital was that they facilitate the recommended therapy for someone with a Personality Disorder; Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT). The way things worked though, I couldn’t begin DBT as soon as I was admitted; I had to learn to cooperate with the staff and experience a period of stabilisation where I wasn’t self-harming (because let’s not lie; it’s still possible to do that when you’re an inpatient) and I was taking my medication and attending all of the therapeutic activity groups, first.
So, I think it was after around five or six months – maybe longer – that I actually began DBT and found myself almost immediately introduced to the coping skill of Mindfulness from the Distress Tolerance module of the Therapy programme. Just as quickly as the Therapist and entire ward staff were promoting it, I was just as fast completely turned off by the idea! Initially, I (and the other inpatients when it was a group DBT session because we also had 1:1 sessions too) was taught that it was about focusing on your current situation and everything about it. It meant being ‘in the moment’ and in doing so, it meant not only taking notice of your surroundings and what your five senses are experiencing, but also of all your thoughts and feelings. Now, my greatest rationale for detesting the entire thing and being completely reluctant to even attempt it; came from the conviction that if I really let myself think about my reality, I would end up worse off. I’d want to be dead to a point where I would be actively trying to make it happen, fighting any obstacles protecting me; as opposed to just kind of waiting for the opportunity to make an attempt.
In all honesty, I can’t remember how it came about, but after some time of having DBT, I came to learn/find out that Mindfulness could also refer to putting all of your attention and time into doing an activity to distract yourself when you’re struggling. It meant that a coping skill of reading or doing a puzzle when your mental health is proving difficult or unbearable, was done less half-assed than it might be if you’re doing it out of sheer desperation to get through the next few hours when you know you’d otherwise be unsafe.
Learning this important aspect of mindfulness, led to my realisation that it would be a fantastic tool to use if I was in a really amazing place or situation that I wanted to remember. And so, I utilised it when I’m NOT Disordered reached over 100,000 readers in 2015, and I hosted a party to celebrate (to see the photos and a video one of my best friends put together: #100kwithimnotdisordered | I'm NOT Disordered). That entire party was – for a long time – literally the greatest night of my life, I loved seeing all the important people in my life meet each other, I loved the thought that I was encouraging so many people to talk about mental health, and I loved having the opportunity to thank people in my speech in front of the one hundred guests. My most favourite moment however – the moment I really used Mindfulness, was at the end of the party when there weren’t many people left but the musician was still there and he sung Mr Brightside by The Killers and me, and two of my best and oldest friends; Lauren and Sophie, danced to it with me! I’m so grateful that the photographer, was still there too so I have photos of the moment too!
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
Now that it’s eight years since I was discharged from the hospital admission (after 30 months as an inpatient), I’ve had so much time to look back and no matter what my current mood, I don’t see it as anything different to being a waste of my life. No, ‘waste’ is the wrong word… I mean that I think of it as a long period of time when I could have been doing so many amazing things with my life. Rather than mull over that and have it really knock me down and leave me feeling completely unmotivated, I try to look at it as actually being motivation. Motivation to do some amazing things with my life. To make up for lost time.
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