therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: behaviour

Grace. The unconscious mind. Personal religion.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about being in any way spiritually enlightened, because I’m not. I’m no guru or saint, I’m just starting out and I’m learning a lot of things. I like to keep them safe and close to my heart by writing about them. I hope to remember my learnings and make them part of me. The Road Less Travelled has obviously made a big impact on me, as I don’t seem to be able to stop writing about it.

There are a couple of loose ends from Peck’s book that I’d like to tie up. We have discovered Peck’s belief that the ultimate aim of personal evolution is to be like God. Spiritual growth is how we as individuals evolve. And love is the force that overcomes the entropy intrinsic to the natural law of the universe. I wanted to explore the idea of God being a force within our unconscious, as this really stood out for me while reading this book.

We still have no idea why the unconscious mind possesses knowledge that we have not necessarily already learned. Peck suggests that the interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious. Perhaps we can go further and postulate that where God inhabits is Jung’s collective subconscious that we all share.

I find it very interesting that Peck’s view flips around the beliefs of the preceding age of psychotherapy, which held that the unconscious with its tumultuousness, nightmares, mental illnesses and assorted demons, is the seat of psychopathology. In Peck’s version, diseases of the mind occur because our conscious self resists unconscious wisdom and it is amidst this conflict that the unconscious seeks to heal. Far from being dark, unruly and fearful, our unconscious mind is an expression of a far greater power.

But, we are in the dark about what our unconscious mind – God – is telling us. Dreams are open to contradictory interpretations, dark nights of the soul seemingly serve little purpose except making us miserable, and we are very quick to discount those situations when we intuit something but cannot figure how we could possibly ‘know’ it. Perhaps on occasion we are being assisted by a force other than our own conscious will. This is where grace comes in.

Grace is a “powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings”. Examples of grace include near-misses in potential accident situations, dream phenomena where revelations are made; miracles of health; examples of extra sensory perception; and other fortuitous incidents, peculiar coincidences, synchronicity or serendipity that we cannot explain. The following four conditions define them:

  1. They nurture human life and spiritual growth.
  2. They are incompletely understood by scientific thinking.
  3. They are commonplace among humanity.
  4. They originate outside the conscious human will.

Peck goes on to assert that the fact of grace basically infers the existence of God. Whether or not one believes in God is a personal matter which no argument from a book is going to change – but unbelievably it can and does change over time. This got me thinking about my own faith and asking the question, how did I go from being a hardline atheist who pretty much felt like punching every devout religious person squarely on the nose, to someone who only today over breakfast, told my flatmates that I believe in a God as a soul of the universe, a oneness, source, a spirit that unites us all?

There’s no simple answer to this. I didn’t see any huge signposts pointing me towards God or grace. I didn’t dodge death or see Jesus in a watermelon. I can only conclude my faith was slowly awakened during the fourteen months I’ve been publishing and asking questions. In searching for mental peace and desperately wanting to shake the problems I used to have with anger, violence, neuroses etc, I found that there was much more blossoming within me given that I had made a commitment to change. I had no idea when I started how much potential I have to be joyful and spiritually whole. This is my therapy.

There was one final point that Peck makes in the ‘Growth and Religion’ section that really hit home. From the theologian Alan Jones “one of our problems is that very few of us have developed any distinctive personal life. Everything about us seems secondhand, even our emotions. […] I cannot survive on a secondhand faith in a secondhand God. There has to be a personal word, a unique confrontation, if I am to come alive”. And if sitting around waiting for God to show himself to us won’t do, we must each of us forge our own religion. This is “a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.” I love this idea, and I think it’s what I am doing in my myriad ways.

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Spiritual growth.

“Genuine love is self-replenishing. The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

Spiritual growth as the ultimate aim of human existence crops up many, many times in Peck’s seminal work, The Road Less Travelled. It has got me thinking about what is meant by such a far-reaching and lofty concept as real spiritual growth. Could it be, awareness of universal truths? Truly understanding and accepting the self? Behaving out of love unwaveringly? Knowledge and insight into the nature of God? Cultivating the spiritual growth of others? I have a few ideas, but for now let’s stick to what I understood from the book.

Spiritual growth is the one and only will of love. Love, we remember, is defined by Peck as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When real love occurs, we cannot help but extend our limits into a larger state of being. Self-love and loving others go hand in hand because ultimately they are indistinguishable. Loving is self-evolution.

If spiritual growth is the purpose of love, what is the purpose of spiritual growth? It is evolution. The phenomenon of evolution shouldn’t exist. It violates the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy flows from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation – or entropy as it is known. Entropy is the force of decay, of homogenisation, of chaos. Evolution is nothing short of a miracle in our cosmos.

Spiritual growth is the evolution of the individual. While the decline of physical competence is an inevitability, the human spirit may evolve throughout one’s lifetime. Such growth is so difficult and effortful because it is conducted against a natural resistance. The natural inclination is to keep things the way they are. Growth entails embracing and seeking change – not merely for the sake of change, but in as far as making changes allows us to become better and better versions of ourselves, and there is no end to this process.

So, what is the force that pushes individuals and the whole species to grow in spite of our natural lethargy, and against our instincts to keep things the same? It is love. Love is a struggle, it is work. It is the extension of the self, and it is evolution in progress. Love is the force that defies the natural law of entropy which is present throughout the known universe on the micro and macro levels.

I wonder if without a significant other or others to love, can an individual grow? The kind of love that Peck is talking about isn’t the general ‘love they neighbour’ sort, nor the ‘in love’ feeling. By love’s very nature, an individual has only enough energy to manifest real love to a few chosen individuals. Vast amounts of energy are required to extend the self truly to others, and our individual stores of energy are as limited as hours of the day.

I am not nurturing another’s spiritual growth at the moment. I wonder if I ever have. My own growing process is stalling, like all aspects of my life now. I have had some bad times lately and have struggled to identify where they have come from, and what recent experiences or run-ins may have triggered them off. At the end of the day, it comes down to a lack of connection and simple loneliness but this is what I expected as I am in the middle of a huge giving-up/ growing up process. I live a transient lifestyle. So, this lack of soul connection is a hard reset. I know I am lucky to have possessed the wisdom and guts to do something about what I lacked.

If spiritual evolution could be said to have a goal, what is that goal? This is where Peck loses a lot of his readers. The goal of spiritual growth is Becoming God. Peck writes, “We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination.” Peck concedes that it would be putting it mildly to say this is a terrifying idea. But think about it. While we deny our godliness and shirk our responsibility, we don’t have to worry about the responsibility of spiritual growth. We can reject the hard work, relax, grab a beer, watch TV, stick a hand down our pants and just be human. Of course the idea that there is a path to godliness sounds crazy, because that’s just it, it’s the road less travelled. But once you’re on this path, like I am, you realise you might as well enjoy it because after all, the journey is the destination.

Giving up & growth.

This was a post I didn’t want to write, because it may contain negativity. However, in the interests of honesty and dealing with the rough as well as the smooth, I’m going to attempt an understanding and acceptance of my current mindset. And I’m going to be as positive as I can while dealing with its inherent negativity.

In Peck’s psychology as propounded in The Road Less Travelled, a principal reason why people seek psychiatric help is because of depression. When we give something up, depression is the feeling associated with that process. Since mentally healthy humans must grow, and giving up a part of the old outdated self is an integral part of growth, depression is reframed as a normal and healthy phenomenon. It only becomes unhealthy when something in the giving-up process is unresolved or interfered with. On a fundamental level for me personally, the giving-up process has started in my psyche.

It is quite common for individuals not to know why they are feeling down, but my subconscious knows, for it has already kick-started the process that will prefigure the next phase of my life. The idea of the ‘stages of life’ or identity crises was explored by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. The stage I am at corresponds with Love: The Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict which is emphasised around the age of 30. This is a stage at which young adults seek to blend their identity with their social group. Our egos have had experience of rejection, which for some is so painful that we will do anything to avoid it, including cutting some of the ties that bound us.

In his 1950 book, Erikson writes, “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation: the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations”. When I read that, it was another one of those Eureka moments. What I used to call freedom has turned into isolation. What used to be exhilarating is now meaningless. Life was for a time a dazzling blank canvas full of too much possibility to have to tie down just one experience to each moment, but it has become stifling and I have briefly considered jumping in the Thames.

Since excelling at one’s current stage involves mastery of the previous stage, this leaves me in a pickle. I don’t feel that I emerged triumphantly from the Fidelity: Identity vs. Confusion stage. Studies have shown that those with a poor sense of self (me) tend to have less committed relationships (yes) and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression (yes, yes and yes). Damn me for being a late developer.

So what is my subconscious trying to tell me – what am I giving up for Lent and indeed for life? To keep things very broad, this is a time in my life when I am realising just how many of my social peers, that I’d previously relied upon for validation and support, have grown divergently from me – or have stayed in exactly the same place. We’ve outgrown each other. Eventually we all have to choose with whom we want to surround ourselves, because like it or not, they’ll influence what we believe is possible for ourselves. Obviously this growing apart process is going to hurt, and in seeking the new connections I’m yet to make, I’m exposing myself to more hurt. And in between, yes, it’s going to be lonely.

What else am I giving up? Cherished notions, I suppose. A safe, cosy view of the future which I now believe isn’t my destiny. Closing my eyes and hoping for the best – that was always a favourite. I realise how much work I still have to do on myself before I can feel that I am truly authentic and ready to give the world, or at least those close to me, my gift. The gift that is the best of me.

Lastly, I became aware yesterday while stomping through London in a huff, that I am saying goodbye to this city, where I have spent on and off the last 12 years of my life, or to put it another way, my entire adult existence. In just over a week I will no longer be a Londoner, and it is my choice not to return to live here again.

I know in my rare strong moments that this too shall pass. I give myself a pat on the back for giving up my old ways of doing and looking at things. And not a moment too soon, some of my old behaviours. It’s not in my nature to cling to the past for comfort and reassurance. I’ve always been the sort to dream about the future. I’ve not experienced a yearning for ‘the way things used to be’ – perhaps because things always turn out kinda sh*t. Many people are unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up what has been outgrown. They cling forever to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, failing to negotiate the crisis of their time. To grow up is to experience the joyful transition that accompanies our many transitions into greater maturity and I for one am pleased to be on this journey, as f***ing hard as it is at times.

And then I realised I was the earthchild.

The title of this post comes from a creativity meditation I attended a couple of nights ago. I felt it strongly and powerfully and it made my aching soul sing just a little bit. I’ve been feeling strangely misaligned recently – that really is the best word for it. My intentions are out of kilter with my reality, my perception isn’t in accord with true nature, and I’m failing to see abundance and joy some of the time. I’m experiencing anger rising sometimes. I’m rubbing up against people’s bad sides. And I’m experiencing that most ungodly of all emotions: fear.

However this is just one small part of who I am today. Yes there’s fear, neuroticism, panic, worry, anger, paranoia and doubt. But there are also measures of true authenticity, joy, laughter, the ability to see absurdity, as well as magnetism, happiness and the pure sublime. Above all the feeling is freedom, which propels me forward in a world without limits.

My wishes for this most sacred of times, the winter solstice of the year 2014, are to trust myself, to live with authenticity and to see the abundance that is all around. I also wish to be kind to myself, although I find this concept the hardest to understand let alone put into practice. I wish to acknowledge some of my struggles of the past as I work hard to put them behind me. There is literally no time for the past.

A friend sent me the link today to an article which puts everything I wanted to say better than I ever could on this auspicious day. We learn that by facing up to our deepest, darkest emotions we can move forward.  I believe that no-one is broken and ‘healing’ is a redundant concept but I agree with the sentiment that self-forgiveness leads to the release of toxic and self-sabotaging patterns. However challenging this may prove to be, writing about it here is one of the steps to making it reality.

As part of the ‘releasing the darkness’ stage, we are urged to write an intention, and then burn the paper on which it is written, followed by smudging sage. I am not doing this myself because I can’t get my head around rituals yet, coming as I do from a tradition full of them, and finding pain and inauthenticity there. Rituals still freak me out. Nevertheless the words Syma Kharal uses are beautiful and I wanted to share them here:

“Dear Higher Self/God/Spirit/Universe: No matter what has happened in the past, I am now willing to release everything about it that brought me fear and pain. I surrender to you all that no longer serves me for healing, cleansing and purification. Help me to forgive and be forgiven by all involved. Align my vision that I may see everything from your enlightened perspective and move forward with wisdom, grace, strength and love. So be it.”

Speaking of rituals, it is my fond hope that in the future I overcome my fear of ritual and prayer, and participate in spiritual rituals in order to experience what’s called “liminality”, derived from the Latin limen meaning boundary or threshold. These boundaries might separate the sacred from the profane. A ritual is a dynamic and engaged creative prayer that allows us to set aside the time to recognise, honour and celebrate seminal aspects of life. I’m currently reading about this in ‘The Red Book’ by Sera Beak. The book is all about igniting one’s divine spark and is intended as a no-nonsense guide for young women.

It’s a very inspirational book that I wish I could have read fifteen years ago. But – no regretting the past in any way, shape or form, as the present time is all we have. That’s why the present is a gift. Beak writes that when we open ourselves up to the divine,

“[…] life becomes much  more flavorful. Profound meaning illuminates even the most mundane of events. My relationships deepen. My voice becomes clearer. My work excels. My personal issues become less draining and dramatic. I am less affected I require less outside approval. My self-confidence beams. I laugh more. I judge less. My sexuality roars. Random acts of kindness become a necessity, not just a whim. […] My perspectives are amplified. I see the world around me at much more than face value, and as a result, I make clearer choices across the board […] I realize I’m not just some well-dressed biped trudging through life but actually an incredibly powerful and integral piece of the divine pie.”

She’s a spunky chick and I aim to go deep with my learnings into my divine spark and how to enhance it and be true to myself. Remembering always that authentic divine truth never separates people from each other, countries from each other, religions from each other. I’m receiving the tiniest spark of divinity but it’s possible to smother it with too much kindling, or to let the fire go out without the right nurturing. I want to see this through. Intention is everything. There will be times when I am rude to people. There will be times I am frustrated and utterly disappointed. I will continue to be angry some of the time, because this is a divine part of me, but these will be fewer and further between, I hope, as intentions and reality align. I am the earthchild, I am divine, I am myself, I am everything and nothing.

“It’s all about paradox, mystery, meditation, sexuality, long walks, and momentous haircuts.” – Sera Beak, ‘The Red Book’.

abundance

Monoculture.

Tuesday 4th November 2014

The monoculture tells the story of the time we are living in. Certain patterns of life emerge, rise to the top and dominate culture until they shape every aspect of our lives and we are unable to see an alternative. The monoculture informs our ideas about how the world works, what we can expect from our lives and from other people. In the seventeenth century, the prevalent monoculture was of science, machines and mathematics. Before this, it was a religious age, ruled by the Church, superstition, angels and demons. Our story today is an economic one. It infects every aspect of our lives from work to relationships with the natural world, community, health, education and creativity.

This is research carried out by F.S. Michaels, author of Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything, a penny-dropping, jaw-dropping read that seems to connect the dots which create a picture of all-pervading economic beliefs that shape our beliefs, values and assumptions at every level of our society. We are so entrenched in our monoculture that we forget our other stories and fail to see our culture in its totality never mind question it. The associated beliefs of our time include rationality, the ability to analyse, and efficiency. The best choice is always the most efficient option that is self-interested and the least extravagant, least scenic, fastest and pleases us most. Entrepreneurs, a phrase coined by French economist Jean-Baptiste Say, shift resources from one place to another to create higher productivity and greater yield, increasing profits and adding value.

Being part of the economic monoculture means our appetites are never satisfied. We’re driven by the desire for satisfaction, but because our individual wants are unlimited, resources are scarce. The gods that rule over our world are the markets. The forces of supply and demand set prices and wages. Peak efficiency is reached when both markets and the competition that occurs within them are as widespread as possible throughout the world. Anything can be bought and sold, and unless it can be shown to be ‘uneconomic’, its right to exist, grow and prosper is not called into doubt.

Competition on a personal level is of course a vital component of the story on a personal level. You compete with others for jobs and with other buyers for sellers’ goods, and other sellers for buyers’ dollars. Relationships with others in markets are impersonal and transactional. The quality of the information we possess gives us an advantage with which we can make the most efficient choice. Economic growth, measured by GDP, is an unequivocally good thing and translates to better standard of living, even if citizens are unhappy, feel unsafe, or live in areas rife with crime. Choice continues to grow, giving us the illusion of freedom and prosperity. One story changes everything.

For me personally all of this seems incredibly sad, but true. I struggle with buying new things as am often plagued with guilt by having made purchases, the momentary satisfaction so fleeting. I have fallen into the pitfalls just like anyone else – striving to define myself by what I own, giving into desires to buy a big-ticket item or unfeasibly cheap fashion piece that will make my life complete, and competing with others over promotions at work.

Now, the way we work has changed. Gone are the days of loyalty, commitment and reciprocity between workers and their employers. In the increasingly global marketplace, companies want a flexible workforce consisting of employees who are themselves expendable, like the products they peddle. Job security is no longer to be relied upon, and less training and investment is made than previous generations. The companies play a clever game by institutionalising values and investments in environmental, social and arts projects which bring higher stock valuations, a more motivated workforce and a boost in corporate reputation.

Markets encroach on our home time as well. In a society where women go out to work, domestic work is outsourced. Researcher Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote, “Efficiency has become both a means to an end – more home time – and a way of life, an end in itself”. Efficiency and flexibility are key. Family life in its traditional sense runs counter to this, making people less available to service the needs of the markets. The markets in our monoculture want us to remain individuals without close long-term relationships: thus ready to relocate, work harder and longer and less likely to defect due to personal commitments.

As well as community, work, education, creativity, public life and health (there is an enlightening chapter on the changing obligations of medical professionals, not just here in America but all over the world) being treated as markets, even our spiritual needs are being met in the marketplace. A church is an efficient and eager firm that exists to create, maintain and supply religion It operates according to the laws of supply and demand, with no particular code of morals, except what consumer preference demands. We are customers with requirements that might be strictness or permissiveness, exclusive or inclusive, geared towards older people or children. America’s most successful churches model themselves on businesses, with MBA-staffed management teams, strategy teams, consulting services and thousands of customers.

Isn’t all of this deeply cynical? That’s one way of looking at it, but the evidence speaks for itself. I, like many others, feel there is something wrong with our society. Something is rotten. I can’t put my finger on it exactly but it encompasses overconsumption; fakeness of people and things; single-minded preoccupation with accumulation of wealth; over-competitiveness; disengagement from others; and the expectation to be able to define exactly where we are in our lives, who we are and what we ‘do’. We live in a throwaway society, each of us ruled by markets and self-interest, that much is sure.

“[The] independent life begins with discovering what it means to live alongside the monoculture, given your particular circumstances, in your particular life and time, which will not be duplicated for anyone else. Out of your own struggle to live an independent life, a parallel structure may eventually be birthed. […] The goal is to live many stories, within a wider spectrum of human values. This is what it looks like to live free from the economic monoculture’s manipulation, to live the breadth and depth of all our stories, to live with dignity.” – F. S Michaels, ‘Monoculture’.

our way

How to be a social dynamo. And then some.

Thursday 30th October 2014

As part of my ongoing journey which has encompassed research on academic subjects, therapy for mental healing, and ideas for spiritual wellness, my personal development quest has taken me to the realm of social intelligence, and how I can improve mine. My interest was piqued when I heard about a group called Jaunty here in San Francisco that promises social mastery through use and understanding of social science, psychology, the science of attraction, neuroscience and human behaviour. The organisation calls itself ‘Higher education for social intelligence and people skills’ and is run by Eric Waisman.

It’s a really simple premise and one that is definitely in demand in this city – the class participants numbered over 20 and places were filled up well in advance. A lot of these people were at the top of their games in various fields, and wanted that edge that sets them apart. Social anxiety is an increasing problem for many individuals, and is it any surprise with the varied forms of communication in which we all partake, and the resultant disconnect from actual human beings?

It all starts with our old, reptilian brain which is responsible for our basic survival needs – feeding, fighting, flight and f**king. From that we evolved into our mammalian, ‘middle’ brain where love and bonding come from, with a decreased number of young and a long gestation period. Lastly is the newest part of our brain, the uniquely human logical brain which we use to analyse.

To enhance our social intelligence, we need to understand how all of these parts of the brain fit together, and sometimes overcome the more primitive parts which threaten to overwhelm us. For example a car crash seems to happen in slow motion because one’s senses open up, everything is on high alert, meaning you take in visual and auditory information that you wouldn’t normally. This was how it was for me when I was involved in a minor car crash twelve years ago, I remember each and every moment of it like it was yesterday: the other car not stopping, the sunroof shattering, the airbags inflating, the sound of the crash.

With practice we can avoid falling into the traps of the reptilian brain, which evolved to deal with threats to survival in a hostile world. Social intelligence is the ability to connect with and get others to get along with you. Let’s say we meet someone new. At the bottom of the attraction pyramid, the foundation on which everything else rests, is our status and our health. So we look at a person’s relative position in the social group, confidence, skillset and belief system, as well as external status such as wealth, possessions and power. This relates to the reptilian brain. Next up is the emotional connection which encompasses their intelligence, uniqueness and the uncertainty of what could happen, which we thrive on as humans. Right on top is the logical part in which we can apply our own rational analysis of this person. (Just as a tangent, confidence is defined as ‘getting as close as you can to mastering a skill’.)

Interestingly in the online dating game which I have had some experience of, this pyramid of attraction is inverted, as the first thing we use to make a judgment is our logical brain, then we make an emotional connection and finally when we get to meet them we can judge their status, health and hygiene! This theory of social dynamics is to my mind just one of the many reasons why online dating doesn’t work, except if you get two people of matching desperation.

We were taught seven skills which will hopefully help us to be social dynamos. They only work if they are practised regularly as by exercising the skills, you break the neural connections that the old reptilian brain has forged unhelpfully in response to non-existent threats – which results in social anxiety.

1. Body language
Anxiety is betrayed by the way you hold your body. Defensive stances cover and protect our vital organs. Open body language helps other people feel relaxed as well. Humans are contagious!
2. Conversational agility
Always have good stuff to say. It’s only awkward if you make it awkward! People respond to whatever you present them with. Make a situation seem like the most normal thing in the world! People will be like ‘Oh this is how we’re doing it, cool’.
3. Assertiveness
The ability to express your views, opinions, beliefs and feelings while respecting the other person. There’s aggressive, passive and assertive. If you truly have good, respectful intentions you are simply not responsible for the feelings of others. So just be assertive!
4. A sense of humour
5. Magnetism & charisma
The art of storytelling. The use of touch to create bonds. Sexual presence.
6. The approach & introduction
First impressions matter.
7. Mental pattern shifting
Positive reinforcement. The attitude ‘what’s stopping me?’

One thing I was surprised to learn about is the strength in vulnerability. We say snooty people stick their noses in the air but what they are really doing is exposing the most vulnerable part of their body – their throat. Moving slowly and deliberately helps to create an air of dignity and grace. I’m known by my friends for my jerky and unpredictable movements, which says it all really!

The exercises were awesome and this is where it really took off. Standing in a big circle, we locked eyes with someone across from us for a few seconds, then caught someone else’s eye. There was a lot of tittering. Then we paired off and were asked to look our partner in the eye for five whole minutes. A lot of people expressed difficulty at first, and the awkwardness seemed to come in waves before settling down. We were told to put aggression into our stares, then gratitude. We all really felt it, and my partner reported feeling a twinge when I first turned up the aggression. Regrouping in a circle, we repeated the staring-across-the-group exercise. This time, guess what, it was so much easier and everyone was happy because we’d spent five minutes overcorrecting, and thus crossed the boundary that made it awkward.

The next exercise was in verbal dexterity. It was a game of ‘threading’, or using our partner’s last conversational titbit as a springboard into one of our own stories, opinions or trivia on a totally different subject. We would latch onto one word they had said then turn it around on us, using the phrase ‘speaking of…’.Very simple and we all learned a lot even though some people said it felt a little weird to commandeer the conversation rather than overcoming nerves by asking questions about their partner’s conversational subject matter.

The final exercise was a ‘cold-reading’ and quite revealing. This is something you can do to bolster a person’s ego because you get to complement them! We followed a script which began ‘so what do you enjoy doing?’ they answer the question, and then it’s ‘so what is it about that activity that you like?’ And when they’re answered, your response is ‘It sounds like you’re a really [insert incredibly perceptive adjective here] sort of person.’ Repeat to fade. I got a comment back from someone that I was ‘introspective’, which kind of riled me a little because while pretty close to the bone, wasn’t that complementary. I said she was visionary.

I’m not sure if I’ll remember to put all of this into practice in my day to day living but I will try. The energy and the vitality of the group’s leader, touched us all and inspired us. There was something about the zany start-up culture that was evident in the company’s cool offices, way over-subscribed session and Eric’s infectious humour that I aspired to.

start with yourself

Living with borderlines: anger.

I first started writing this blog in January of this year. The very first thing I ever wrote was in regards to my anger problem:

“I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.”

Back then, I didn’t know how bad things would get. I couldn’t have predicted my ever more violent rages, bouts of drunken grappling and harsh words spoken with the intention of wounding. Nor did I know how much hope I would eventually muster up from within, which would help me to face my demons. Being understood (albeit by a textbook) is a great relief.

I am thinking about anger in relation to borderlines – what makes their anger different, at whom it is aimed, how and whether it can be understood and what can be done to help them, at least as a damage-control measure. Of course, what I’m about to discuss will be a generalisation and for every rule there are a great many exceptions, but the following certainly rings true for me and was originally written about in greater detail by Kreisman & Straus in their book Sometimes I Act Crazy, about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, or surviving a loved one who has it.

What sometimes distinguishes borderline rage is its concealment and its unpredictability. Some borderlines supress anger, believing its expression will lead to what is most feared: abandonment by a significant other. It has also been said that depression is anger turned inward, and in fact BPD has a high rate of comorbidity with depression. However, interestingly there is a trend for anger to be less intense in those borderlines who are depressed, in contrast with other psychiatric patients, studies have shown, in whom high levels of depression are correlated with increased anger and violence. How can this be? Perhaps depression somehow diminishes the experience of anger, or maybe anger is a defence against depression. After all, both are associated with serotonin irregularities and are two sides of the same coin.

Aside from supressing rage, other individuals deflect their rage back on themselves and become self-destructive. For others still, anger is unplanned and startling. There appears to be no observable progression from minor incident to violent eruption. What is clear though is that borderlines feel angry much of the time, even when the anger is not expressed. Frustration and self-reproach can unleash rage which is often directed towards the borderline’s nearest and dearest. A study of male domestic violence perpetrators demonstrated that they had a greater likelihood of exhibiting borderline characteristics than control subjects.

Anger is one of the most enduring characteristics of BPD and intertwines with other criteria that define the condition such as mood instability, destructive and self-harming behaviours, unstable relationships, fear of abandonment and persistent sensations of emptiness. One study found that over a two-year period, intense anger remitted in only 7% of subjects in contrast with suicidal behaviour resolving in 54% of cases over the same timescale.

Anger for borderlines stems from frustration and as a preemptive measure to guard against perceived expectation of disappointment at a later date. This was how it was for me, if you can imagine a person who feels she is utterly empty, that everything is pointless and worthless, so get it over with already. In other cases the anger may be camouflaged by opposite behaviour such as attempting to please everyone, though ironically this fruitless quest only leads to more frustration as the need for reciprocal nurturing isn’t met.

According to the authors of Sometimes I Act Crazy, it is essential to understand that in some situations the borderline needs to be angry. This is quite a difficult subject to write about, much less to do, as it seems counterintuitive to encourage a person experiencing irrational anger to let it out. Rational argument, apparently, doesn’t work – logic goes out the window during a borderline’s debate. He may even switch sides halfway through. So what is the proper response to a temporarily insane person’s uncontrollable rages?

The advice given sounds very simple on paper but must, I fear, by almost impossible for anyone not noted for their Mother Theresa-esque appearance.

1. Understand
Anger usually is the outward expression of fear and pain. It is easier to be angry than scared. Anger can be a way of gaining control over an unmanageable situation. Anger might be used pre-emptively or in a variety of different ways.

2. Prepare
Borderline rage is like no other in its intensity, irrationality and apparent whimsy. But you can prepare for it, and learn to read the signs and the cycles, as you both begin to unpack the triggers of rage.

3. Communicate
Communicating with a furious borderline is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, empathy and self-control are needed. On the other, he must be made aware that his outbursts are unacceptable.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Borderline rage feeds upon itself and off that of others.

5. Don’t tolerate anger.
If you show that rage is acceptable, this will only reinforce this idea in the mind of the borderline

6. Leave
If the borderline refuses to settle, take a brief respite until he calms down. Accept that change takes time.

It sounds a bit like training a dog, and it is just as absurd probably.

Right now I can honestly say that I have never been less angry in my entire life. I was an angry child that grew into an angry adult. I believe I have truly changed for myself as I continue learning how to appreciate what is around me, how not to feel everything is pointless and worthless and ugly. I am in love with nature, I love animals – even insects! I can control my moods far better now, in large part thanks to previous relationship issues being over. I know the beauty of the universe and the beauty that is me.

Living with borderlines: identity disturbance.

“If you can learn to accept disappointment yet maintain commitment, you are establishing an identity – because you are accepting yourself .” – Jerold Kreisman, ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’.

Picking up from where I left off last time, I believe I may have Borderline Personality Disorder though I have not been in a position to seek a psychiatric evaluation yet. I know that just as you shouldn’t try to diagnose your own heart condition, it is not productive to set about finding out what’s wrong with your head. I however feel that I am acting bravely but cautiously, helping myself sort out a prickly issue without being convinced about anything. I could be wrong about it all – time will tell.

Reading the chapter on Identity Disturbance in the Kreisman & Straus book, Sometimes I Act Crazy, was one of the hardest because it sliced painfully close to the bone. ‘I don’t know who I am’ is something I’ve often felt in my heart. It’s even become a recurring theme in my artwork without my realising it. I put together an 80-page portfolio entitled ‘I don’t know what I want’. The diary that details my sexploits is called ‘I didn’t mean it’. And a beautiful Postsecret that I sent in back in 2006 read ‘I’m terrified of people getting too close… they may realise how empty I am’. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just as borderlines’ perception of others whipsaws from glorification to vilification, their own self-image often oscillates between extremes. I have felt at times that I am the greatest artist who has ever lived, and at others, that I am thoroughly, laughably worthless, undeserving even of life.

The DSM-III definition of identity disturbance requires “uncertainty about at least two of the following: self-image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values”. For me, I can honestly say that I currently struggle with all of these matters except sexual orientation. Knowing that I’m not the only one brings huge comfort and relief.

Like the case study in the book, I often feel I am borrowing a self from someone else. The subject in the example realises, due to the unwelcome attentions of others involved, that he unconsciously mimics his boss’s mannerisms, walk, even his accent. It is deeply embarrassing and hard for the borderline to identify, but when he does it only feeds nihilistic feelings of emptiness.

Theorists speculate that identity diffusion, or ‘splitting’ emerges from disruptions in consistent mothering. Healthy attachment to the mother figure from which individual identity develops is disturbed.  Deprived of acceptance from the most important figure in his life, the child perceives the world as unpredictable. The developing borderline, unable to connect past experiences to future occurrences, develops ambivalence and confusion. The security of feeling accepted by others is based solely on the present. To escape this anxiety-producing chaos, the child splits the world into ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I can see this in myself and other close friends who have had difficult early relationships with their mothers. Everyone deals differently with the hand they are dealt, but this kind of early upset can, for some, sow the seeds of various identity disturbances.

This can take various forms. For one grouping, called role absorption, their very identity is defined in terms of a cause. Cult members reflect this pathology. Others experience painful incoherence which leads to a person feeling unreal or describing a false self. This is highly correlated with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Others who experience identity disturbance experience a lack of commitment and constantly change their educational interests, jobs and relationships. It is as if they are constantly seeking to define or discover themselves.

I would like to quote from Sometimes I Act Crazy, this passage on the subtype of inconsistency.

‘The individual transforms into a “chameleon”, whose opinions and values depend on who is in his company at a particular moment, much like the title character in Woody Allen’s Zelig [that I have mentioned before!]. He may assume inconsistent, even contradictory, positions. There may be a strong attraction to a controlling, charismatic figure who offers the hope of consistency.’ – Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Straus

A few days ago I had a second session with H, my current therapist. I talked about my need to have faith in myself and that going to the US represents a massive step for me in trusting my intuition and asserting my own freedom for the first time in my life. After having been in a recent relationship with someone controlling and arrogant, who wanted to mould me into his idea of the perfect woman, my recovery takes the form of embracing who I am, and being sensitive to my desires. After all, I trust and respect myself and I deserve to satisfy my inner needs.

After hearing a little about the nature of my last relationship, and being involved with others in the past who sought to ‘rescue me’, H understood how damaging that was. It really meant a lot to me that she realised for herself what the upcoming trip represents to me.

We talked for a while about Borderline Personality Disorder and she mentioned that these disorders are very new. I wondered whether they are real – as surely everyone experiences such universal emotions and behaviours as anger, depression, impulsivity, changeability etc. H responded that it is the degree to which these behaviours disturb one’s life that makes one a sufferer or not. A very simple but crucial point.

I think the best advice I can give myself after reading this chapter is to talk to others, to step outside my comfort zone, and do things that bring me closer to who I really am. It is there, but it is covered in so much self-doubt, fear, neuroticism, laziness and confusion. I would like to join healthy groups which work toward a worthwhile goal. I would like to be part of a team. I would like to maintain perspective and consistency.  I would like to feel part of my community. As I open up to people – strangers, friends and therapists – I will feel accepted without needing to guard my words. When I realise gradually for myself that others value and cherish me, then this will go a long way towards cementing a firm idea of who I am to myself.

Living with borderlines: unstable relationships.

I have been thinking over the past few weeks about Borderline Personality Disorder – a condition that I might have. I blogged about it here and the more I have read around the subject, the more pieces of the jigsaw puzzle fall into place.

The book I am reading currently is ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’ by Jerold K. Kreisman & Hal Straus and it offers a source of guidance for sufferers of BPD and the people that love them. It contains practical advice on how to manage mood swings, develop lasting relationships, keep negative thoughts and destructive impulses at bay, and treat the disorder clinically. For me this would have been invaluable when I was drowning in waves of feelings I didn’t understand. I would experience states that seemed so palpably real at the time, only to dissipate moments or days later.

An individual must exhibit five of these nine symptoms to receive the BPD diagnosis:

  1. Frantic efforts to avoid real or imagined abandonment
  2. A pattern of unstable and intense interpersonal relationships characterised by alternating between extremes of idealisation and devaluation
  3. Identity disturbance: markedly and persistently unstable self-image or sense of self
  4. Impulsivity in at least two areas that are potentially self-damaging (e.g. spending, sex, substance abuse, reckless driving, binge eating)
  5. Recurrent suicidal behaviour, gestures, or threats, or self-mutilating behaviour
  6. Affective (mood) instability and marked reactivity to environmental situations (e.g. intense episodic depression, irritability, or anxiety usually lasting a few hours and rarely more than a few days)
  7. Chronic feelings of emptiness
  8. Inappropriate, intense anger or difficulty controlling anger (e.g. frequent displays of temper, constant anger, recurrent physical fights)
  9. Transient, stress-related paranoia or severe dissociative symptoms (feelings of unreality)

For me, the symptoms of the disease that threaten to undermine and overwhelm me the most are unstable interpersonal relationships, identity disturbance and anger. I want to focus on the first of these facets, but before I do, I just wish to voice what some people may already be thinking: doesn’t everyone go through these states? Isn’t every member of the human race affected by conflict with others, feelings of inadequacy and difficulty finding one’s own self, and feelings of rage? I would have to say that yes, BPD in that respect probably does touch everyone’s psyche in some deeply personal, unique way. It is one of the most common disorders that exist. I have had well-meaning friends saying to me things like this:  ‘there’s no definition of “perfectly fine healthy human being personality” nowhere in psychiatry, hon. Everyone has these personality disorders, more or less pronounced, often more than one at once even, it’s more like traits that form our characters, I think.’ Totally agree and just for the record I personally think I am brave in tackling something that I perceive as real, in the sense it frequently threatens to derail me.

I’m going to cut right to the chase and give Kreisman & Straus’ practical steps for dealing with intense relationships for those who love a borderline. Firstly don’t try to win the ‘no win’. Defer to the borderline. Demonstrate unflagging constancy no matter what. The borderline often feels worthless and expects to be abandoned. Trust is a precious commodity. Much more valuable than what is said is the reassurance that you are going to be there.

Secondly predict the unpredictable. Borderlines live in a confusing, impenetrable world. His reactions may not be foreseen by the borderline himself, but may be easily predicted by those that love him. Tame the chaos. The upshot is, predicting his behaviour and letting him know sensitively, may discourage him from acting in the way you predicted.

Next up, detach occasionally. I would say ‘more than occasionally’. The more time you spend together, the more you end up frustrated and resenting his ‘unwillingness’ to change or to see the errors of his ways. You cannot be everything to him all the time Reassure him of your unconditional commitment to him by reminding him of your need for space – and implicitly, his own need for space, which doesn’t equal a break-up.

Number four is examine your own actions and motivations. Many partners of borderlines adopt a ‘saviour complex’. By trying to become his hero you may only succeed in becoming his goat. Examine your own need to be a hero, which may reflect your needs more than his. You are with this person to love and help him, not to rescue him. Empathy is more helpful than blaming others, blaming the borderline himself, or denying those feelings.

At number five, challenge unrealistic characterisations only when they are negative. The borderline’s closest personal relationships follow cycles of idealisation and devaluation. While unrealistic idealisation oughtn’t be fostered, it needn’t be contradicted. When the inevitable devaluation occurs, proffer reminders that emphasise the difference between the borderline’s feelings and actuality.

The sixth, and in many ways the most difficult, is learn how to communicate effectively with the borderline. There are all kinds of templates and models which offer help as to go about sustainable and mutually beneficial communication, including the SET system which balances all interactions with statements endorsing personal Support and Empathetic acknowledgement of the borderline’s stress with Truthful confrontations of realistic issues.

Hyperreligiosity and mental illness.

“The beauty of religious mania is that it has the power to explain everything. Once God (or Satan) is accepted as the first cause of everything which happens in the mortal world, nothing is left to chance… logic can be happily tossed out the window.” – Stephen King, ‘The Stand’.

Before I launch into a tirade, I’m going to be honest about my vested interest in this subject. My mother is I believe a sufferer of an undiagnosed mental health condition characterised in part by extreme religious impulses and the need, as she sees it, to preach and discuss religious matters at length with all those around her, including those who actively resent it. Her religion dictates how she must do everything, from personal conduct to household chores to the order of her day. I have no doubt that she would die for her religion, as she honestly believes and has told me that nothing in this life is as important as one’s own continued destiny after death, and that the ‘trappings’ of this life such as family, wealth and happiness are but meaningless distractions from the ultimate goal achieved in the afterlife.

R. S. Pearson in his book ‘Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction’ defines the condition as:

‘…when the outward forms and other aspects of religion become life disabling. […] Hyperreligiosity is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one’s life. It is the disability that can lead to isolation from others because one thinks God is vengeful and punishing. Others who do not practise religion the same way are believed to be contaminating to the hyperreligious person, and this belief fights the drive to what are considered historic descriptions of authentic spirituality. […] Hyperreligiosity does not produce anything of personal or social value and in fact is often dangerous and destructive.’

The name hyperreligiosity is an uneasy one and makes the condition sound like nothing more than overenthusiastic piety. As our understanding of neuroscience and cognitive function grows it seems possible that this condition is in fact part of something more harmful and complicated. An interesting question is whether hyperreligiosity among the mentally ill is itself an illness, or if it is a coping mechanism in response to an underlying pre-existent condition, much like the cases of those who find respite in addiction to harmful substances or damaging behaviours.

In a paper written by an undergraduate student at Tilburg University, a link is drawn between obsessive compulsive disorder and hyperreligiosity. OCD apparently affects under 2% of the world population at any given time (with 3.5% being affected in their lifetimes) – figures I find startlingly low. Carrying out the obsessive behaviour is of course a means for sufferers to allay or reduce anxiety. So hyperreligiosity, if it is valid to term ‘extreme, destructive, narrow minded excessive religiosity’ that, forms a subcategory of OCD. At the risk of drowning in a diagnostic quagmire, another term, ‘scrupulosity’ gets a mention in the DSM-IV-TR (2000) in relation to obsessive-compulsive personality disorder. It is indicated by an exaggerated sense of morality, ethics or norms.

‘What is striking about these symptoms is that the focus is not on central aspects of religion, like taking care of others, but on very specific, exaggerated tasks, emotions or perceptions,’ writes the author of The Neurobiological Basis of Hyper-Religiosity’, Daniëlle Bouman. Its domains are the Fear of Sin and the Fear of God. Additionally, hyperreligiosity and scrupulosity are both severe disabling disorders which may cause social and/or occupational dysfunctioning. Another aspect that scrupulosity and hyper-religiosity have in common is the abnormal focus on an aspect of one’s chosen religion, such as excessive ritualistic prayer. These are aspects that hit pretty close to home for me, and it saddened me somehow to read how textbook my mother’s case actually is.

There is undoubtedly a parallel between OCD and hyperreligiosity. Both indicate ritualistic behaviour, fear of what will happen if the itch is not scratched, comfort gained in the familiar, personal cycles of constant repetition. From my experience seeing a fairly normal person morph into one who is terrifyingly overzealous, I think there is an element of psychosis in her psyche, that expresses itself as hyper-religiosity. Psychosis is defined as ‘any of several mental illnesses that can cause delusions, hallucinations, serious defects in judgment and insight, defects in the thinking process, and the inability to objectively evaluate reality’. I am sure that somewhere within, the solution is to help my mother, but just like a person suffering from substance abuse, she must recognise she has a problem first. Unfortunately, I don’t think that will ever happen because to her religion is a life and death matter. For her, getting older means getting closer to meeting her maker. The only thing I can do is accept it, which is then part of my journey.

 

Edit Oct 2016: A more thorough list of the traits of those suffering with hyperreligiosity appears on a more recent blog post available here: 

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/06/toxic-faith-the-traits-of-hyperreligiosity/honest to god

A happy story from another planet.

It’s been about two weeks now since I started taking Seroxat. I live in Spain where it is called Paroxetina Cinfa and each day I take 10mg. We buy it over the counter here without prescription. My boyfriend J and I started the self-medicating process with 4mg per day and he still takes only 5mg. I have been upping mine a little every few days because I cannot perceive an effect, but I know it must be taking the edge off.

I had been warned about possible side effects including a metallic taste in the mouth and the flavours in food being altered, dry throat and the need to drink a lot more water, rushes, face ache because of too much smiling and feeling depressed even suicidal for the first few days or weeks.

Fortunately for me I have had none of these side effects. I haven’t strongly perceived positive effects like euphoria, I am not gurning my face off like I’m on E or anything like that – but being on Seroxat has certainly has kept a lid on my depression, panic and fear. I just feel more able to deal with my life now.

I am a lot less sensitive now too. It’s as if I am able to see the bigger picture at long last instead of getting bogged down with every last little detail. I can laugh things off easier, things that would have wounded deeply before.

I am laughing much more these days. Last night I let off an incredibly bad-smelling emission from my rear end, and my boyfriend said some funny things as he was so appalled, called me a foul-bottomed woman and made me stand outside. I laughed so hard even while I was on my own outside, I was bent double unable to stop the chortles and belly laughs.

OK so maybe this kind of thing is attributable to slight euphoria from being on the tabs – I’m incredibly stubborn after all and always refused to notice any effect even from alcohol and coffee! 10mg of Seroxat must be doing something, especially for me, someone whose system is not used to any kind of psychotropic medication.

In myself I am lighter and I’m far from being on the edge of tears. In the relationship, we have crashed a couple of times – this is when we hit a brick wall usually caused by oversensitivity or poor communication, but have got over it relatively quickly and generally nipped it in the bud. This is to be expected when we spend almost all of our time together, neither of us working, speaking the language or having other close friends. In fact we do very well to make efforts to get along so well despite our recent pitfalls, and I mustn’t forget to congratulate myself for that. Kudos!

I am considering upping my dose to 15mg very soon, as while things feel good right now, I know they can be just that little bit better. I would like life to be dreamier, not forever, just to feel what it’s like.

I take zero other mind-altering substances – no alcohol, no drugs. I would like Seroxat to be my little personal pleasure. I would like it to continue transporting me to ever-more exotic and special places.

Paroxetina

Seroxat. The Crash. Harness the Power.

My aim for today (as it has been every day for the past few days) is to have a nice day, without any tears. I have been crying every day. Today I realise I have nothing to be sad about. I have all the tools to change.

I made a start with my research and found out there are four main types of often-used mental health medication. These are antidepressants – to combat depression and anxiety. Secondly antipsychotics which treat psychosis and mania. There are benzodiazepines which treat anxiety. And lastly mood stabilisers are for bipolar disorder.

Looking at the list of symptoms I am not even sure what if any mental health condition I have and I’m not about to perform a self-diagnosis. All I can say is that I recognise some facets of every condition but my symptoms aren’t strongly aligned with any particular one. I guess the only condition that I know I have had in the past, and still feel to this day, sometimes very intensely, is depression.

Before I managed to get very far down my research route (I had been putting it off for some reason), I had a chat with my boyfriend, J, and he was extremely helpful in recommending an antidepressant to me. The drug is Seroxat and it’s an SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) which NICE recommends as SSRIs have fewer side-effects than other antidepressants.

According to the NHS website, Seroxat is used to treat anxiety, depression, panic disorder, OCD and PTSD. However, somewhat startlingly, some people “may find that it intensifies depression and suicidal feelings in the early stages of treatment. These people have an increased risk of self-harm or suicide in the early stages of taking Seroxat”. The tragicomic irony is not lost on me.

On paper, the drug is certainly viable for me. I have heard glowing reviews from J, who is very responsible in matters such as these. I have all but decided I will give Seroxat a go. But here’s the rub. I don’t live in the UK at the moment and so I doubt my GP back home will prescribe a drug to me knowing that I won’t be around for follow-up appointments and monitoring (and she already knows that I live abroad, as my respiratory consultant communicates with her). But it just so happens that in the country where I live, Seroxat is available over the counter.

It makes sense. I will medicate myself, with diligent research and close attention to my mental state, of course. I will err on the side of caution naturally and take slightly less than I think I can get away with. I can’t wait for the experiment to begin!

Something needs to change. I have a problem but I am by no means beyond help. Even day to day my mood is different and I wake up with incredible positivity some days which sometimes sustains for quite long periods. Life’s natural changes also contain healing within them. But I would like a break from what I call The Crash which brings with it so much pain, anger, confusion then remorse. The Crash with its endless, fetid aftermath is repulsive enough for me to resolve that enough is enough.

My new counsellor (!) my boyfriend, told me last night during a pep talk to Harness the Power. When I get the thought that I must control my emotions, it can actually be counterproductive as I end up shutting myself down and denying my feelings which only forces them out later in a violent outburst, like what happened on Robot Day. If I could only acknowledge the power of emotion, and convert it to productive ends.

The other takeaways were enjoy every moment, that’s what life’s for; be true to yourself, be kind to yourself and take consideration for those around you; you’re allowed to do whatever you want!

Robots in disguise.

Last night, at the end of a very difficult day, I inadvertently hit upon the root cause of some of my persistent upsets. I had spent the entire day behaving like a robot in an attempt to put the kibosh on those negative feelings that control me. It was an extreme version of the mantra to “act the way you want to feel”. I’d been reading about Gretchen Rubin’s attempts to do just this, and for her, happiness ensued. I wanted to feel thick-skinned, unshakeable, buoyed from within. I wanted to rise above the contingent circumstances of the everyday that constantly threaten to capsize me. I wanted to act in a generous way to my partner – apologising when I misunderstood or made a mistake rather than flying off the handle defensively as is my wont. I decided to stay quiet on the whole, waiting for my turn to speak not butting in or veering off-topic.

Unfortunately my efforts to be calm, considerate, polite and detached backfired hugely. J chided me for behaving like a robot and begged me to stop it. I could see it on his face, he grimaced with displeasure as I apologised for upsetting him and berated myself for the hundredth time that day. So that approach clearly didn’t work as no-one wants to be around a person who’s putting on a childish act. He would like me to be happy and light not to oscillate between one drama and another. And when I think about it that’s absolutely right; one of the traits I most admire in him is his steadfastness.

At the end of Robot Day I became very tired and realised (too late of course) that I was frustrated. I had almost managed to keep up the act for an entire day but at the very last moment, when I was halfway up the marble hill to Bedfordshire, J called me back saying it was rude just to disappear without so much as a by your leave. I had already squeezed every last drop into the day’s exertions so of course I lost it. I snapped. I can’t remember what was said but vitriol poured out. I stewed for a couple of minutes then headed upstairs in a stink.

I came down a few minutes later and apologised and this time I was me, not a robot. All I could say was that I was frustrated and didn’t know how to express myself. This was the root cause that I had been trying to arrive at for quite some time.

My communication is a problem. My verbal communication is slow, unintelligent and inarticulate. I write very well but I do not speak with authority and I’m unable to command the attention of my listener(s) in a conversation. As a result, I stomp my feet and shout “Hey! Listen to me! I’m talking!” which has the exact opposite effect of capturing the attention of my audience (my audience consisting of my boyfriend, J, nine times out of ten). As a result of that, I am thwarted and frustrated because I wasn’t able to get my point across effectively and the reaction of my audience was unsatisfactory. Often I just give up expressing anything. My communication needs are not being met. J has a habit of expressing one of these sentiments as a response to my best attempts at verbal communication.

“I’m sorry, what was that, I was thinking about something else”
“Do you think you could actually get to the point?”
“Anyway, back to what I’m talking about…”
“Do you mind rephrasing that more clearly?”
“I got lost halfway through”
“Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah I know all of that!”

And worse are the physical gestures that accompany his responses, such as turning away, looking out of the window, looking at his phone, sighing, avoiding eye contact, making a gesture which says “And…? Hurry up!” These gestures scream impatience and lack of interest loudest of all.

Most – and I really do mean a majority – of things that I say are interrupted and talked over. That is very hard for me to admit even as a very submissive sort of person by nature. I must do something to redress this balance and my suggestion was that when our communication needs are not being met, we have to say so by stating that that is the case. It’s very simple. Just say the words, “I feel frustrated by this communication”.

I am a person accustomed to silence and lack of talking for the most part. That is how I grew up and fashioned myself especially whilst single. I like art, reading, running, sewing, writing, listening to music, watching films and other solitary pursuits. I find myself in a full-time relationship with someone that crowds my head with constant speaking. Most of it is lovely talk such as exciting ideas, plans, stories, anecdotes, facts, friendly advice and hard-won experience being imparted. He is so gifted at painting a picture with words and he’s a great role model as a communicator for me as my verbal communication level is very low.

But this constant talking from him requires a reaction and complete attention from me which saps my energy. The fast pace of his thoughts (while not manic or anything like that) is very difficult for me to keep up with as I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed. I lack the mental headspace to contribute something original or interesting to the conversation as I need much more time to formulate a thought and turn that into a cogent sentence.

I spend way too much of my time in tears and it must stop. Redefining the type and quality of communication that we each need in the relationship might help to stem the feelings of helplessness and frustration that lead to dark nights of the soul.

Contemplation, medication & frustration.

I can scarcely believe that only a few short weeks ago I had the frightening complacency to write, as a concluding remark to a comment on the subject of therapy on a practitioner’s blog, “It’s traumatic to say the least but I have the sneaking feeling that ‘it’s working’ – whatever that may mean.” I really had the suspicion that the good relationship I had with my last therapist was enough to have changed me permanently. “I talk, she steers. She interprets, I listen. I confess, she challenges. She provokes, I contemplate,” I mused, smugly.

“I cannot overstate how different I feel now”, I enthused, daring to believe that all my problems had been magicked away by a few sessions of psychotherapy that in reality barely skimmed the surface. And in all truth, even a more sustained course of therapy is no panacea.

I realise now that with much sadness that my problems aren’t going away and I am looking at the possibility that no amount of positive thinking, therapy, being in love, moving to a different country, giving up alcohol, giving up having a job, and having ongoing physical health issues are going to change that. Yes all these things have happened in the recent past. Recent enough for them to take root but still to be novel, uplifting or humbling.

That doesn’t mean I’ll ever give up trying to be positive, but so often I am defeated by my simple inability to change. However, despite stubbornness, stupidity, immaturity and self-sabotage, whatever the reason, I am trying and I need to reassure myself of that. In my mind I am truly trying as hard as I can to be better, cleverer and happier but it doesn’t come across to the person that I am trying to improve myself for. My partner. I seem sarcastic when I try to be sincere. I seem absent-minded when I try my darndest to be smart. I smother when I try to be pleasant. I get angry too often and it grates. I am quagmired by frustration, self-loathing and anger and it is so horrible.

So in a last bid attempt to regain some kind of control over my temper and inner feelings of anger I wonder whether prescription medication would be the way to go?

I haven’t researched the specifics yet but I am aware that it’s certainly not to be taken lightly. I aim to use the Rethink website as a starting point. The sorts of issues that are swirling semi-formed around my head are of side effects, possible dependency down the line, and the risk of greater upsets before I find the right drug for me. I also foresee issues with my GP not being willing to prescribe a psychotropic to me – I speak from experience having gone to my doctor as a depressed 19-year old, begging for antidepressants and a “little bottle of confidence” as I wrote in my diary at the time. That was years ago. He didn’t give them to me but listened with kindness and referred me for counselling.

It’s funny, I’ve been on medication almost continually for three years now. In that time I’ve been treated for pulmonary tuberculosis twice followed by an invasive lung infection which I will have until it is cut out of me along with the cavity in my lung where it hangs out. All the time I wished for a time I could stop being on meds. In fact, I elected to stop taking my triazole antifungal for my invasive aspergillosis only a few weeks ago because I thought it might be affecting my mood. Just one of life’s little ironies I suppose.

make it work