Breast-pumping Blues

Whir clack
Whir clack
The pump churns out its rhythm

Stretch slack
Stretch slack
My breasts worked by the system

Perusing the dream
Keep mining the seam
Of milk the colour of cream

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How It Didn’t End

Trigger Warning: This post contains references to rape, assault, and suicidal thoughts.
This is a personal story being shared as part of personal recovery.

Two and a Half Years Ago

In moments of particular emotional stress I seem to regress back to the time of a previous abusive relationship. I hate that it happens and it actually hadn’t occurred for months until last week. During these moments I seem to get very disorientated as to where I am and who I am with. I start confusing facts and memories and muddle Samuel with aspects of my abusive ex. It’s stupid little things, mainly revolving around food for some reason. Food seems to have been one of the greatest impacts that my ex had on me, until a few weeks ago I actually hadn’t cooked anything for over two years. Whilst he hated everything that I made, I am still not sure why the relationship had such a drastic and lasting impact on this aspect of my life.

In the general I start muddling likes and dislikes, subconsciously remembering things about my ex and projecting them on to Samuel. This is not the only way that the past invades our marriage. In more severe instances I will actually flinch when Samuel approaches and recoil if he touches me.

None of this is conscious. I am not afraid of Samuel. He is the one man that I feel safe around and the one person that I trust completely. I wasn’t even aware of the flinching until recently when he observed that I had started doing it again. I can’t even imagine how it must feel for him when this happens and I hate the fact that my ex still lurks in my subconscious and even now infiltrates my marriage. Especially when, I at least, am certain that if it wasn’t for Samuel, I wouldn’t actually be here at all.

From Anxiety to Suicide

As I have become increasingly aware of my mental health over the past few years, I realised that anxiety and suicidal thoughts have been constant shadows. I  developed anxiety in childhood and contemplated suicide on a number of occasions throughout my teens. Creative writing seemed to maintain an equilibrium and although I  experienced panic attacks which at times culminated in suicidal thoughts, overall I my mental health was stable.

The stresses and pressures of starting university had no qualitive impact, but when I entered into a relationship during my third year, the panic attacks started becoming more frequent  and started to interfere not only with my studies but my daily life. I would struggle to leave the flat, attend lectures and had no concentration for studying. My grades started to fall.

There is still so much of that relationship that I just don’t understand. To ourselves and, to my knowledge, to others we seemed a perfectly happy couple but when we disagreed it could become very vicious. Lots of couples argue, some even fight, and there were wrong-doings on both sides. But (I realise with the power of hindsight), as the relationship developed, he began to get subtly manipulative. What really should have been an alarm bell for me was when we’d had a discussion about what would happen if I became pregnant and he told me that he would feed me abortion cookies if I was adamant about keeping the child. I have no idea what he planned to put in these, or why I didn’t recognise this as a severe lack of compassion and respect for my body or my rights, but a few months down the line I was going to learn exactly how little right he considered I had over my body.

I paid for missing that warning. It is an example of what can be very difficult for many listeners or observers to understand, that individuals experiencing any form of abuse do not always recognise it as such, especially if it is not physical and escalates very gradually. I don’t know why I stayed with him or how I missed these earlier signs, but eventually it evolved into stalking, coercion and, eventually, rape.

At that point, I finally packed a bag and walked away, ending up homeless for a few months and fortunate to have friends who were able to let me stay for a couple of weeks at a time.

When I found a new flat, I thought that everything was behind me. Although my grades and university attendance had suffered, I was entering my final year with a recoverable average. But then I was sexually assaulted on my way home from work on Halloween and harassed by two individuals for the following six months.

These events had an accumulative effect and my anxiety reached a point were I was relying on adrenaline to function. As I mentioned above, my panic attacks are frequently accompanied by suicidal thoughts and these were growing increasingly invasive.

Deciding Not to Die

I was fortunate to have not developed a plan and that my encounters with suicide remained contemplative and not active. I believe this is due to the timing of meeting Samuel.

Samuel and I first met in the last few months of my degree, just as my dissertation was falling due. My coping mechanism is avoidance, which is very far from ideal when you have 12,000 words to produce and are rapidly running out of time. I had not been taking care of myself at all over the past semester, I wasn’t eating proper meals and my flat had no heating throughout Edinburgh’s experience of February. Samuel and I had just started dating and he suggested that I stay with him and his brother so that he could make sure I ate whilst I spent the last two weeks before my deadline finishing my dissertation.

I have very little recollection of what occurred over those final two weeks. All I know is that despite what felt and appeared like focused hard work, I did not have a dissertation at the end of them.

After a final weekend of very little sleep and a 12 hour long panic attack, I was at crisis point. Alone in the living room of the flat Samuel rented with his brother, I was hysterical and exhausted, feeling that I had let everybody down, feeling unable to face my family and feeling that I had no way out of the situation. The fear and desperation in what felt like a frozen moment was agonising.

Perhaps my subconscious intervened.

Through a renewed panic attack with my chest tightening and feeling unable to breathe, I stumbled to Samuel’s room.  It was still early in the morning and he was asleep, but suddenly, for the first time since I was 13, death no longer felt like an option.

Samuel didn’t physically say or do anything that changed my mind, he simply represented a future beyond that moment of immense despair. As far as I am concerned, he saved my life.

‘my suffering reached a critical mass of desperation: either I was going to kill myself or a completely different way was going to be revealed’
(
Women Food and God, G. Roth, 2011, p.24) 

Because of the pause that seeing Samuel, the person who had provided me with a safe space, had created, and with suicide not being an option in that moment, I suddenly had to do something else. I finally reached out to the mental health support services at the university and the medical profession and together they opened up an alternative future.

I didn’t submit a dissertation in 2016, and I almost had a complete relapse when I finally submitted something and graduated in 2017. But by that time I was married and now am expecting a baby, and living a life that following my experiences of 2015, I had given up all hope of ever having.

If you are seeking mental health support, the Samaritans are free to call from any phone, any time, on 116 123. You do not have to be suicidal to call them. 

 

Signs My Body is No Longer My Own: A Draft

Let me begin by apologising for how barren my blog has been of creative thought recently.

In my post about blogging and creative writing, I talked about the connection between my writing and mental health. Thus, my poetry has always been inspired from strong emotions, the numbness of depression meaning that before starting this blog I hadn’t written a thing for two years.

For those of you who have been following my journey into writing, you will be aware that other than my first efforts (which were essentially homework) my poetry has come from a place of uncertainty, illness, pain and grief.

There are still some earlier pieces that I hope to share with you, but it has been far too long since I produced anything new, that I liked. I wanted to change my creative drive from a place of darkness to one of positivity.

That is at the heart of everything I feel throughout this pregnancy, even with all the recent unpleasantness, I feel incredibly positive and uplifted by being pregnant.

With the awareness and deep appreciation that not everyone finds joy and security in their pregnancies, I wanted to capture how I feel about my situation.

I have received criticism in the past for being too personal in my poetry, but I was so thrilled to have written something this morning that I was too excited not to share.

It is essentially a piece of free writing, my favourite, and I do hope that in some way it will resonate and perhaps bind the two different aspects of this blog; the public and the personal, together (#Idonthaveaniche).

As always, your thoughts and feedback are greatly appreciated, I look forward to reading them in the comments!

Signs

I feel nauseous
As my organs
Shift, squeeze
Into the narrowing space
Around my womb.

I am weary
With a tiredness I have never known
Physical, mental, emotional
It feels eternal;
Pregnancy’s constant companions.

I vomit
Retch
Rinse and repeat,
But whoever said that
Miracles came easily?

The midwife called him a parasite
But this is not a hostile take over
My body is a vessel
A cradle
Carrying a new life forward.

The marks on my body
Are not weakness.
They are not cracks or fractures
But glaze on my porcelain sides,
They bare the truth of my task.

 

 

The Light of Life

Sitting in a dark room,
Surrounded by an eerie blackness of despair,
For days and days.

Suddenly I see a light up in a corner of a room,
Is it a window or my imagination?

I get up and go over to the corner.
It’s a window of light in all the despair and darkness.
I struggle with the rusty lock and open the window wide.

I look through the opening
And feel the warm glow of the sun.

I see the sunlight, I hear the birds,
I smell the flowers, I feel the cool breeze,
I taste the flavours of freedom.

I climb through the window
Leaving the darkness far behind.

When a door closes, there is a window somewhere
Leading to somewhere wonderful:
a place you never knew was there.

A New Creative Project

I have a new creative project which I am so excited about, I am sharing it with you before it’s even started.

The Church I go to has a number of youth groups attached to it, and at present time, a good friend of mine is one of the leaders. They have activities every week and she thought it would be fun to have a Murder Mystery Night. I was the President of The Murder Mystery Society (MurderSoc) whilst I was at university, and so volunteered to help her write it.

However, although I have been loosely involved in the conceptualising and writing of mysteries before, this one is going to be significantly different.

This particular group is girls only, so there are not the typical relationship dynamics to play on, and (as it is a church activity for youth), the usual ‘motives’, such as adultery, cannot be used. Usually, murder mysteries and their players do not bat an eye at men playing female characters or women playing male characters, in fact it usually adds to the fun. The church, however, is not so amused. So we are having to rely a lot more on power dynamics, greed and self-interest to drive the characters.

The Importance of Taking Time

It has been a long time. A very long time.
Since I wrote anything.
A blog post, a short story, a poem.

Over the years, I have found that I have to be in certain moods to write effectively. Throughout a swing of emotions, or in the moment of extreme feeling, positive or negative. I have written before that creative writing is, for me, a means of expressing, processing and coping with my mental health. As a teenager it helped me channel the pain and confusion I felt about my father’s illness and eventual passing and to navigate the new emotions and hormones I was experiencing.

Creative Writing enabled me to transform negative thoughts and feelings into productivity that felt positive (even though the poetry seldom was).

Since I started blogging, my writing is no longer purely stemming from emotional extremes. But at the heart of blogging are topics that the writer feels strongly about, moved by and it is still (for me) an emotional and personal writing experience.

Hiatus: A Break From Blogging?

A lot has been happening recently. It has been a really positive and exciting month.

So why am I not feeling it?

In my last post, before this unplanned hiatus, I detailed some of the challenges I felt I have experienced as I began to use blogging as part of my recovery.

For me personally, the most persistent is pressure; the meeting of self-set or recommending posting deadlines, and frequently the stress that is self-imposed. I don’t think anyone other than myself is really keeping track of how frequently I am posting or whether I am posting at the same time of day, on the same day of the week and the same amount each month.

To be honest, this month I thought about giving up, packing in blogging. But when I began to give it serious thought, I knew I would be losing something that I enjoy, that builds my confidence and motivates me to be creative.

I am not stopping blogging. But I am stopping putting pressure on myself to fit into a self-created blogging timescale. If I feel like writing, I will. If I don’t, then I am not going to turn it into another thing to stress and be anxious about.

Instead, I am starting to take time.

Time and Creativity

At present, my creativity is appearing in short, sporadic bursts. I am having ideas but not the energy to fully pursue and sustain them. I am lacking consistency (even more than usual) and although things are beginning to move forward (at last), I still feel as if I am going around in circles.

I did manage to write my first poem for about two months however. It’s very simple but satisfyingly sums up for me this particular moment of creative stagnation:

Why do ideas never emerge at sensible times?
When you have a notepad, envelope or pen/pencil
Why do you get them, when these are not at hand
When you are trying to sleep
Are in the shower or on the toilet?

Why can your brain seem so dusty and empty,
Deserted by all and any reasonable ideas
Then awash with a tidal wave you can’t keep up with
Trying to grab at shavings to keep the idea afloat.
Is it just a distraction from that big meeting tomorrow?

I did indeed have what felt like a huge meeting the next day. I was presenting a new research proposal to the company that I work for and I wasn’t sure how it was going to be received. Of course, accompanying this concern were all the usual niggling doubts: would I remember my points, would I be sick, would I make my point persuasively?

Amidst all these thoughts and doubts, a blog post suddenly presented itself. It was almost a completely formed entity, but I always struggle with endings. That is were the post remains, a neat demonstration of my point – of not being able to sustain momentum for an idea.

I have been experiencing the same feelings with blogging as well; should I keep it up, will it ever be more than a hobby, can I continue to be creative enough to make it worth pursuing? I listed the pressures and challenges I have encountered throughout my brief time as a blogger in my latest post.

A great many of the people I talk to compare how they feel day-to-day with the familiar metaphor of being a hamster on a wheel. It’s not even to do with the notion of seeing the same four walls everyday, or the same sawdust and plastic beneath your feet. It is that we are continually moving from one project to another, sometimes almost simultaneously, never pausing to absorb or reflect or even fully enjoy what we are experiencing. We all have so much going on, at the same time, that we feel we are constantly moving at top speed, flat out, and wondering all the while how long we can sustain that pace.

Taking time is becoming increasingly challenging.

I know that I am not the only one who looks forward to a day, an evening, or elusive weekend off at a time that coincides with my husband, consisting of long dog walks through the woods or along the beach, to suddenly find that I have agreed to additional shifts, volunteered for activities at church or youth groups and suddenly that precious time is gone.

These are, of course, worthwhile and enjoyable activities, but with the ever-increasing pace of the world around us, it is becoming more important to take time to relax, replenish, refresh. To take the time for our friends, our families, our loved ones.

Technology, Work and Time

Technology is a wonderful, marvellous thing. It holds so much potential for connections, old and new, for information and knowledge, but it also has the ability to eat time. We have all seen the statistics for how much time we spend on our phones, on social media, and we have all experienced how technology makes us available all the time. We can constantly be contacted, connected with, and it has become expected that when we are contacted that we respond within a smaller and smaller window of time.

This is overwhelming at the best of times, but especially if you are already feeling overwhelmed by mental illness. Recovery takes time. From physical and mental illness and injury alike. It can be even more challenging to take the time required for healing mentally, because the injury is not visible. If you have a broken or sprained limb you will have a bandage or a cast, from an operation you will have a scar. Even if you have a virus your body presents observable symptoms.

With mental illness the changes in personality, in posture, in expression, can be so subtle that even those who know us well can miss them. Often we even miss them ourselves. We continually try to push on and through the mental strains and obstacles, which can result in denial and further injury. We can end up exhausting the resolve and energy that we had left to keep pushing through the illness.

Which is why this post is all about taking time. Taking the time to check in with ourselves and see how we are feeling. Taking the time to rest, physically and mentally, during and between projects. Taking the time to spend time with others, to observe them; how they are feeling, how they are acting, so we don’t miss the onset of severe mental strain in ourselves or those closest to us.

Taking the time for ourselves and for others.

Lessons from Blogging: Blogging and Mental Health

So the Month of Writing didn’t happen, and it’s not looking good for this month either.

All advice to new bloggers focuses on regularity of posting and consistency of content. This blog is eclectic at best and irratic at most. Thus, my apologies to you generous souls who have taken the time to read, like, comment and follow this blog. You are greatly appreciated by me.

For a young woman who was drowning in depression at the beginning of the year, who felt she had no voice and nothing to add to the mass of information media, the past few months have been astounding. Thank you for being part of a blogging experience that has led to increased confidence and value of self.

Benefits of Blogging for Mental Health

I have posted a few times in the past about the benefits of Blogging and Creative Writing for mental health.

For me, blogging provides a  space for focused reflection and increased freedom of expression. It can be a platform to help you feel connected rather than isolated through your thoughts and writing.

The anonymity of an unpersonalised site, such as this one, can help you feel secure enough to explore the personal, whilst keeping the most intimate details – the when, where, who – private. You are in control of sharing your experience and choosing to reveal your blogging identity to others.

This security for exploration and expression can build strength and self worth and empower others to reflect on, or even share, their experiences.

Blogging Challenges 

There were (well, are) two main difficulties I encountered when I started to seriously consider blogging.

1) Anxiety.

It can be very daunting to put anything online for the world to see (coupled with the worry that no one in that world is looking). This feeling may decrease or diminish over time, but personally, I still get an adrenaline rush before I press ‘publish’ and I am always editing and agonising over individual words and phrases (even after publishing!).

2) Consistency.

To be frank, that I jump about with the topics I cover doesn’t really concern me. This blog was always intended to be a personal exploration, and as I detailed in the post Dreaming of the Temple, I deliberately chose the name because of the scope I felt it had for content.

I do, however, find myself getting a bit jittery if I haven’t posted for a while.

Partially, this is because I really enjoy blogging, it has become my cathartic hobby, but also due to concern for blogging reality.

There is so much information media that without regular new content even the most dedicated visitors to your blog (again, thank you!) will slip away and your site will lose interest. This introduces yet another pressure for those who are trying to use blogging as part of a process of healing.

It is challenging, especially for those affected by ill mental health, to maintain an established posting frequency. This may be due to a whole range of personal life factors; a new/additional job or increased workload, a change in circumstances or situation, or any other element that you feel impacts upon your ability to post at the time or frequency you had intended.

Stop the Vicious Cycle

I have yet to encounter anyone who has not, at some point, felt that they should have done something differently, or better. But the truth is, for most of us, most of the time, what we did was the best that we could do in that particular moment, in that particular situation, with that amount of time, and those resources.

Consequently, we all need to stop telling ourselves that we could do better. This results in the negative Thought Spiral  that culminates with us not only beating ourselves up over the unchangeable past, but also being pessimistic about the future.

Stemming from the idea ‘I should have done that better’, leading to the notion ‘I should be better’, resulting in unrealistic, unmotivated targets that we then beat ourselves up for not achieving and perpetuating the cycle.

Whilst I am confident that if you truly have an element of yourself or your life that you are eager to work on or improve, that you will achieve your goal, it needs to be a positively motivated change to succeed. The cycle described above is not positive. It drains your energy and diminishes your capacity to achieve your goal.

This is my most recent lesson from blogging. 

Whatever your motivation for blogging, personal or business, it can be tough going in the beginning. To develop a voice, a niche and a sense of regularity. Therefore, you need to enjoy it. Blogging can be stressful but also great fun. Let it be fun.

I was getting jittery because I didn’t post at all last week. My mum and her partner came up from England to help us decorate four rooms ready for the new arrival. It was fast-paced but we did it. I was in what my colleague refers to as the ‘dormouse phase’ when the developing baby makes you want to sleep all the time. At times, the pavement has looked quite comfortable!

I was exhausted, covered in paint and had no clue what to write about. I felt I had lost my voice, I had nothing to say, and that this was it for me and blogging.

However, as with anything else creative, it needs and takes time. It’s not something that you can knock out in 5 minutes, it usually takes me 2 hours to just draft a post that I am content with. It isn’t something that you can force or squeeze into a tea break. The more pressure you feel the harder it will seem. Take a walk, a deep breath, and suddenly something will spark inspiration. Let it be fun.