Saturday, 17 September 2011

Twenty: And then some

At the age of 22 it feels like I'm finally coming to terms with what it might be like to be an adult.

Being dependable.  Having people of my very own to look after, albeit only my boyfriend and our cat.  Visiting Ikea to buy wardrobes for his room.  Having to plan meals in advance and cook. Cleaning and doing laundry not because someone tells you to but because actually, if you don't, it starts to get to you.  Keeping in touch with family.  Learning to express your needs in moderation, and to give a fair hearing to those of others.  Leaving difficult situations in time to keep yourself safe when you feel overwhelmed.

Only four months ago things were very different.  Loneliness combined with perverse "coping mechanisms" I've had a lifetime to learn and perfect imposed a Jekyll and Hyde like structure onto my existence.  The days would be spent pushing down tempests of anxiety -  an almost compulsive fear that worsened if any sort of attention was paid to it. I felt, almost always, on the edge of calamity.  Danger lay in every unoccupied moment, and no matter how carefully I planned my day, there would always be more than one. My classes done, at night (or, on bad days, late afternoon), I dived into chaos.  I was exhausted and I just couldn't contain myself anymore.  The GP on campus had told me that if I continued to starve myself I would not be able to remain at university, and for once I had listened.   During the day I would eat enough to satisfy my appetite and give me the energy to work - but I managed this partly (and problematically) only by shutting my eyes to it. 

I knew the nutritional content of what I was eating.  I knew what constituted a healthy, balanced diet, and I aimed towards it.  My body, however, was aiming for more.  It was aiming for curves, periods, and everything else a healthy woman should have - but for me these things also possess unpalatable and still mostly unexplainable psychological implications.  As soon as it got dark I let go.  I would spend £10 to £20 on food and spend the next two hours eating and vomiting  - gorging also on the kind of trashy tv my day-time schedule would never allow for.  When I was done, and I was reassured that my stomach was entirely empty, I would eat a small meal and go to bed.  Ultimately I knew I couldn't afford to lose weight. 

But it was draining.  Sustaining any sense of self in the midst of a raging war between bits of you that you still don't really understand and  that insist on their fulfillment with ceaseless cruelty is difficult.  It's even harder when you're trying to work towards a first-class degree.  Luckily I was able to get through the term.  Two arterial bleeds and two visits to A&E in ambulance, days when I just couldn't muster the energy to get out of bed and clear up the mess (blood, food and vomit) of the night before and recommendations to take leave of absence from university -  regardless,  I got through.  But my God - it feels a world away from now.  I have enjoyed four of the most healthy months I have had since I was sixteen,  and I'm terrified - terrified - to let them go.

Term begins on October the 10th.  I may have more support  in York than previously, since the psychiatrist I saw on Thursday who works for the psychotherapy service thinks I do need psychiatric reviews and a support worker and is writing to the CMHT in support of both.  Briefly, I would say that this was the single positive of  a difficult and frustrating meeting.  More will follow later.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Nineteen: Adventures of Poland

Mostly of the emotional kind, I'm afraid.  It was on the whole a successful trip, but being away with someone else's family brought a lot of stuff up for me.

29th July

Just crossed the Polish border.  M and I committed the cardinal sin of going for lunch at McDonald's when we stopped at a petrol station - M's mother and her partner seem to want to drive non-stop from 9am to 7pm for some insane reason - but barring the occurrence of any tragedies of the natural or human kind we should reach Gdansk in good time this evening.  I'm going to attempt to use the rest of the journey productively, and finish Volume I of "Le Morte D'Arthur".


Is M's mother still cross with me? (for stopping to eat lunch at McDonald's.) Her silence says that she is.  Why do I suddenly feel so small?  Guilty, fearful and tense.  The pull of negative energy is so strong it's as if we were the only two people in the car.  It's exhausting.  Imagined or otherwise, I wonder what the setup here reminds me of.


It was probably inevitable that this car journey would remind me of going away with my parents as a child.  My mother would drive, and my father would use a map to get us hopelessly lost.  They would fight.  Sometimes it got nasty.  Nevertheless, I remember it fondly.  Sitting in the back with my brother, a bag of sweets between us, being lulled to sleep by the motion of the car and the BBC World Service rumbling low on the radio.  Secure in the care of the adults in front of us, who (mostly) knew where they were going and would always get us there safely.

The later journeys weren't so peaceful.  Either there was more fighting, more tension, more silence, more failed communication and a greater sense of discord between the four of us (well, three - my brother never really featured in my emotional configurations of the family) or I simply became more aware of what was present all along.  My mother became a vicious, relentless harpy, wounding with words chosen for their lethal precision, the threat of real violence never far away.  My father would either become the bleeding martyred target for her poisoned arrows, or beneath a shield of heavy silence emanate a violence of his own.  His aggression erupted rarely, but when it did it was with an amplified and eventually disastrous effect.

Childhood perception is not wholly trustworthy.  After continuing a while in this vein I find myself explaining my father's suicide in the following way:  as she had almost done to me, my mother lashed out one too many times at the most vulnerable part of my father, and unable to cope with what she had discovered, left him alone with it until it consumed him entirely.  Ergo, my mother killed my father as she had wanted to kill me.  (It may be of interest that, after much provocation, my brother did once actually hurl this accusation at her).

But this isn't the whole story.  My mother loved my father.  The silence and the distance he forced between them hurt her deeply, and the final silence was devastating - she lay immobile on the sofa for days, refusing food and literally wasting away.  After he died, I could find no trace of the former spite and malevolence I thought I had detected in her.  Even in the flashes of anger that sometimes came over her when she felt most painfully her abandonment, the "evil" of before was absent.  She was just another fragile hum being, who had loved too much.  However slowly and reluctantly, I have come to accept that who we were and who we are, what happened and why is a puzzle that may never be pieced together - least of all by me.

                                                                       Botanical Gardens.  Wrocław, Poland.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Eighteen: Recapitulation

I need to write here again, if for no other reason than that after three months essay writing-free I'm beginning to lose my grip on my grasp of the English language.  I'm perhaps three quarters of the way through the mega-reading list I set myself for next term, and I find when I'm annotating texts that there are words I need which were familiar once and now escape me completely.  Not so great if you happen to be doing an English literature degree.

There is still another month to go before I return to York.  As the weeks wear on I realise more and more that I need to cherish the time I have at university.  It is really very little.  Being that bit older than the other students on my course, with friends who graduated last year and are struggling to find their feet in a job-market that is smaller and more competitive than ever, I know just how lucky I am to have this opportunity. 

I don't feel particularly lucky at the moment though.  My reading distracts me, as does my boyfriend, as does the oblivion-seeking sex, drinking and occasional drug use I turn to when I'm really itching to hurt myself.  Apart from one cigarette burn inflicted in Poland I have been self-harm free for months now.  Tomorrow it will be 90 days since I last made myself sick.  I am a healthy 60kg for my 67 inch height, and I try to remember that I have made peace with my body.  But it was always a very tentative peace, and right now it feels particularly fragile.

Diary entry, 3rd August 2011 (I was still in Poland):

It just keeps getting better.  After a call from Dr S of York Psychotherapy Services, in which I was informed that my therapy at the Tavistock would cease to be funded in October, I found out from A (my therapist) that even this may be in question.  There is something of a row developing between the Finance Department of the Tavistock and York, who are apparently refusing to pay for any of the psychotherapy I have been having at the Tavistock since I moved from London. (I have since been told that the reason they are giving for this is that the Tavistock have prevented me from engaging with their local services - the only problem with this argument being that said local services proved on several occasions to be unwilling to engage with ME).  I don't know quite how this will affect me, but it does mean that money-wise my therapy with A is even more in the shit than before, and it is unlikely that the Tavistock will themselves finance any extension to the October deadline.  I did feel a glimmer of hope when A (I called her from Poland when I received the news, and we had a brief conversation over the phone) hinted at our previous discussion about paying (her?) privately.  But only a glimmer.  I'm sure A will think of a dozen different reasons before I see her again at the end of August as to why this arrangement would be unworkable.

As I understand, A is still fighting to build a case as to why my therapy with her needs to continue.  I have been invited to a meeting in York on Thursday with Dr S (consultant psychiatrist/psychotherapist) and a therapist to discuss whether the group therapy or individual therapy they may be able to offer me would be suitable.  Talking to these people is not at the top of my wish-list at the moment, to say the least.  I envisage throwing things - if not objects, then hard words.  It's childish.  But I am not inclined to give them any more of my time.  There are a number of reasons why I do not think it will be beneficial for me to either enter group therapy (again) or establish a new, short-term psychotherapeutic relationship.  Experience has taught me however that my opinion falls on deaf ears - if anything, it will be seen as further evidence that I am refusing to co-operate, possibly as a result of an unhealthy dependency on my therapist in London.  My boyfriend wants me to go to the meeting, and has said he will accompany me. I still haven't made my mind up.

This brings me to the question of what WILL happen if my therapy at the Tavistock is terminated at the end of October.  A has tried to discuss this with me in our sessions.  She says we need to talk about our options.   I am,in effect, stonewalling her - it's just to painful.  I cannot see any "workable" options being made available to me - rather, in anticipating the conversation I see my last hope, of her agreeing to see me privately (at a cost I would be able, if only just, to afford) being crushed.  Again, M (boyfriend) says I need to have a frank conversation with her.  Not knowing is draining me.  I don't know how much longer I can go on in this state without resorting to the ways of coping I swore (sort of) to forsake once and for all at the beginning of the summer.

I dread Sundays, because they signify two full days until Wednesday, when I have my session.  I dread Mondays and Tuesdays proportionately more.  A keeps apologising to me for what is going on.  It doesn't help.  I have a lot of rage inside of me - rage I do not want to direct at her, but which seems to be blocked whenever I aim for more appropriate channels.  I cannot help but feel that I am just not being heard.  I have come so far, and I refuse to give up something which has helped me so greatly -something that has given me my life back and which I believe needs to continue to fully restore me to health - without a fight.  But there seems to be nothing to take on but smoke and mirrors - the thin veils of bureaucracy.

If there were a God I could believe in, I would ask him to help me through this.  For the lack of one I must try to believe in myself, and my strength - which has surprised me before and may surprise me again.

                                                           Street art, Wrocław Poland.