I was in therapy last week, talking about various events in a busy couple of weeks, and how I’m keeping on top of some things, and how other things are knocking at me, and otherwise having a mental and emotional check-up.
As anyone who’s worked their way through counselling can tell you, it’s hard work that spares no blushes when everything clicks – and your relationship with your therapist can be as intimate when it comes to knowing each other as a long term partner. They learn what makes you tick, your tells, your buttons, and at their best when to back off and let you do the heavy digging.
That’s certainly the relationship I have with my counsellor – leading to more than one conversation where we’ve talked about her being as much my partner as either Lady M or lady s when it comes to our therapeutic relationship.
One of the things we explored was my sexuality, and in no small part how the attack so long ago has impacted on how I’ve expressed it over the years. The conversation veered between romantic and platonic connections past and present, and while contemplating it, I said the following (slightly paraphrased):
“For years I’ve not been comfortable showing or talking about myself, let alone exploring what it means to be me. Fear has been with me literally for decades, mixed up in the memories of the assault, but it’s only been the last couple of years that I’ve been able to start to reconcile things in my head.
Over the last couple of years I’ve met and got to know such a wide range of people at kink events and general social occasions that it’s helped me to start to separate the pain and violence of the attack from the sexual aspect and honestly come to be more comfortable in who I am and how my attractions manifest.
It’s my partners, metamours, and friends that have surrounded me with love and accepted me as I start to let go. I’m still having hard times, by more and more I’m just getting irritated and angry about them than being overwhelmed.”
Now, we talked about a lot else and the above is mildly edited for brevity, swearing, and other material that I’m either not going to talk about or that is irrelevant right now.
When I finally stopped talking, my counsellor gave me a picture to consider and think on, based on what is been saying – telling me that it matched the mental image she had of me while I talked.
The picture, if you hadn’t guessed, is the lion in the picture in this blog entry. It has a lot of resonance for me – and for my partners for various aspects they have experienced of me.
There’s all sorts of symbolism of fierceness, nobility, pride (and indeed Pride), polyamory (multiple lionesses tolerating me), and protectiveness. There’s a lot more to unpack, and I’ll probably have a whole string of blogs as I pick over the various meanings, projections, and inferences that I bring to it.
So that’s what I’m quietly ruminating over at the moment
You may have noticed a bit of a slow down in posting of late, and if I put my hand on my heart it’s been because I’ve not really been feeling too motivated. There’s been an awful lot going on recently, on top of the recent winter bugs, and more than a little of it has been – well, personal and private.
Hang on a minute, I hear you say, aren’t you always writing about life events and emotional moments? Some of it’s pretty good reading, and you’re always going on about writing under your own name as transparency. You’ve talked about some pretty intimate and private things already, so why the sudden coyness?
Well firstly, being human, I reserve the right to change my mind. Secondly, I’ll usually only write about things when I’ve had a chance to work it out in my head first so that you get the edited highlights. Thirdly I’m pretty circumspect about other people’s privacy, and it’s this last area that has been taxing me somewhat. That’s because I have no problem talking about my health, past, sexuality, misdemeanours, plans, triumphs, and oddness – but I’m also wary of betraying confidences or broadcasting other people’s intimacies.
Frankly, there are a few people that I’ve been worried about for a variety of reasons. For some the worries have been health-related, where I have been concerned about serious ongoing conditions worsening. Others have been around work-related issues for people, and then there’s the generalised everyday relationship anxieties that always try to sneak into the mix, no matter how confident and committed you are.
Now, most of these worries are things that are either in hand, or are so out of my sphere of control that it doesn’t matter if I worry or not, but they are all issues being faced by other people that I care about. My coping mechanism has been to do what I can, where I can. Failing that, to distract myself with games and books and the company of people I love. Blogging about it has been fairly far down the agenda.
That said, this little self-referential grumpiness has reminded me that there’s more in life to write about. I have games, reviews, observations and silliness in mind. I also have interest from a number of people in more general articles, so I shall link to any of those projects as they come to fruition. Time to get busy again in the final push to the end of the year…
One of the things I did when ill back in the early 00s was become enamoured of social media and blogs. I set up online journals and didn’t care who knew about it. I wrote caustically about life, illness, and the people who upset me, often all at the same time and with no regard for who it might hurt. It never even occurred to me that it would come back to bite me. This was partly because it was a relatively new medium of expression and there were few codified workplace sets of guidance, and partly because I was very ill.
It certainly did bite me in the arse though, largely because one of the people following my blog was my manager, and they didn’t take my blowing off steam lightly. It was one of those horrible self-sabotaging things that depression made so easy to do, and I must have been horrifying to manage at the time. As it was, it led to mistrust, stress and nearly the ending of my contract as we all fumbled around and tried to work through it. Things said in jest were taken seriously, and pain best kept private was broadcast to the world, and those were the good days.
I did at least learn from the experience – eventually – and it is what led to my resolving to blog under my own name, and to talk openly but carefully about topics as they wandered into focus. I wrote a while back about how, for me, blogging under a pseudonym just wasn’t an option, largely because it risked being a shield for my delusions and encouraged an imprecision of expression.
As long as I don’t mind writing as if anything I say could be splashed across the world’s news (technically a possibility, though I fear I’m not likely to have hordes of people interested in me), then this is where I can be Foolish in public while honing my professional skills.
These days there’s generally more awareness, or at least publicity, when things go wrong. I can see examples in news feeds every day of people falling foul of the interface between work life and social media, and sometimes encounter it in my day-to-day work. Fortunately these days it’s usually people coming to me for advice (which amuses me, given the history disclosed above), and if I can help people on either side of the ‘whoops’ moment then all my mistakes have some purpose and reward.
I may still call you a number of inventive names, but you’ll know it was coming from a place of bitter experience and my eagerness to spare your potential blushes.
This moment of whimsy brought to you by “she said what?”, ” he posted what now?” and “I thought they said they were sick?”
I’ve always been a night owl, and it takes a real effort sometimes to settle to sleep at the same time as Lady M. I do it because it’s the only way to guarantee that we’ll remain more or less active and alive at the same time, because I know my body clock is constantly wanting to switch back to being fully nocturnal. Quite aside from the household disharmony being active at different parts of the day would bring – and indeed has brought in past relationships – I’m told that there is a tendency for night owls to be more depressed, have a higher dependence on caffeine and use alcohol more
This doesn’t surprise me in the slightest, and as I don’t need any help in experiencing depression I’m trying to avoid activities and situations likely to exacerbate my condition. The unfortunate thing is that many of the people I know socially are also night owls, or are on the other side of the planet. Thanks to the joys of the internet, we can reach out and chat to each other, but one or the other of us at any one point is likely to be at the wrong end of their working day. Sometimes we have the time to indulge it, sometimes we don’t.
They do usually end up being fascinating conversations, even if for one, the other, or both of us it results in a late night. A recent conversation for example got onto the thorny subject of high intelligence – and my usual instinct is to try and not get drawn into long debates about what common traits may or may not go with whatever method of quantification is being used. If pressed, I quite often point people at this Cracked article on the downsides of high intelligence, with my tongue pressed into my cheek to varying depths depending on my mood.
Every now and then though, those late night conversations go down rabbit holes that you just don’t expect. These are the conversations where you both get unapologetically deep, or honest, or both and its usually in introspection about yourselves or in trying to clear up long-standing issues that you’ve been skirting around. I had one earlier this week with an old friend who, for various reasons, I’d not really gone into any detail about my condition. It wasn’t through any concerted effort, we’d just never had a suitable conversation about it.
It started with my making a reference in a shared chat channel to my requirement to inject Bydureon once a week as part of my diabetes control regime, which led to a discussion of pain thresholds. My friend volunteers as a St John’s Ambulance driver, so he was fascinated to hear my take on the process because of the varying reactions that he encounters when he’s on duty. He gets called out to help people having a hypoglycaemic incident more often than he likes because people cant stand injecting themselves.
I’ve always taken the approach that if its me doing the injection its a lot easier to handle because I’m in control of it. I can either push through discomfort, or back off and try another site if I inadvertently hit a fat pocket. I did however make a reference back to when I used to self harm, and how my high pain threshold had made it a lot more difficult to get it to “work” as a coping mechanism.
Now, this freaked him out a little – not for the self harm reference or the direction the discussion had turned, but because I’d done it in a semi-public channel. We took the conversation private at his request, and he expressed amazement at my, for lack of a better word, bravery in this respect. My response was that I refuse to let shame colour my responses when it comes to mental illness any more.
The argument I put forward and that I live by is that I wouldn’t be ashamed of a broken leg, and I’m not ashamed of being diabetic, so why should I be ashamed of an illness rooted in the operation of another part of my anatomy, namely my brain? Whether caused by chemical imbalances or the reaction to trauma, my approach is that mental illness is just that – an illness and nothing to be ashamed of.
Now, my counsellor would nod and then remind me at this point of the number of times where I’ve struggled with shame over my conduct and actions when ill; if only to reaffirm the work we’ve done on recognising that I had no more control over being ill in that respect than of being feverish with the ‘flu. Obviously there’s a question of a matter of magnitude there, but bear with me here, let it fly.
The reason for his reaction to this conversation soon became clear with a number of disclosures about his own health, followed by the challenge to lay out clearly what I’d been struggling with. From there we twisted and turned through all sorts of discussions about friends and family, and I think both came away with revised opinions of each other that informed and contrasted sharply with the sometimes superficial observations we make of our friends.
I’m not going to go into any detail here, because they’re not my facts and opinions to disclose – it was a private conversation, so that’s where it stays. What I did find interesting was the process of writing down the elements of illness that I’ve been dealing with, and that by and large I have a handle on these days.
At various times I’ve had diagnoses of clinical depression, cyclothalmia, PTSD, bipolar and non-specific mood disorders. Some of these were made worse by undiagnosed and untreated diabetes, which forced mood swings on a truly titanic scale. Getting the diabetes under control was one of the major steps in getting a measure of control and peace, but then again I’ve also been using talking therapies for the best part of twelve or thirteen years too.
It should be no surprise to hear that I get a bit irate when people are actively dismissive of people with mental health problems, especially working with the public as I do. I can understand where some people are coming from – exposure to the irrational, as embodied by people who are ill – is a scary thing. There are times where I have to check myself when I’m dealing with someone who is in a chaotic state in the library, and my memories of how I was when ill do make me wonder sometimes how certain people kept their cool with me too.
But then, for those friends that have fallen by the wayside in response to my actions when ill, there are those friends who have stayed and continued to be an integral part of my life. I have a feeling that for at least one person this week, I’ve stepped into that latter category myself, and that feels kind of cool.
Maybe it’s a result of my unabashed geekdom, but I’m increasingly aware of how few of the people I grew up with seem to have embraced technology. While I’m sure they are still out there, it does seem sometimes as if most of them have dropped off the face of the planet. On the rare occasions that I meet up with anyone from school, I come away with the distinct impression that they are by and large rather unsure and worried about this newfangled interwebs thing…
This amuses me on several levels – not least of which is that home computing was in its birth throes just as I was growing up. I might therefore imagine that my generation might be more likely to have grabbed hold of and embraced computers and the online life that has grown up around us. Apparently not, even among those who showed an interest at the time.
At age eleven, my school had a couple of ZX81 computers in a fledgling computer lab, and at home we had a Dragon32 and later a BBC B micro that I played with and even tried to program on. My dad and I both had an interest in making these remarkable things work for us, and we pored over the BASIC manuals, swapping insights and working out ways that these strange things could be more than doorstops.
Then I fell out of involvement with computers as there weren’t any O levels or GCSEs at that point to take, and I ended up flirting with the on-line world when I got to university just as on-line MUDs and bulletin boards started to spring up. It wasn’t a huge part of life, but I remember it being significant enough that I adopted an on-line identity at the time that matched my tabletop D&D interests.
Not too long after I graduated and started to work, this strange thing called the Mosaic browser was released, and modems began to appear in the shops. My work place very reluctantly invested in one or two for individual machines about the time that I moved away from working on the library frontlines and into backroom systems support. I eventually got involved in writing web pages for people because I’d happened to pick up an HTML reference book and started to toy with files in my spare time. I worked a lot of evening shifts by this time, and was largely unsupervised, so finding ways to make HTML mark-up do interesting things was a good way to pass the time. I again started to have an occasional on-line identity, using nicknames and eventually a recurring name based on a character I’d made up for a series of doodles.
When I eventually arranged to have the internet at home, this on-line identity carried me along into all sorts of boards and chat rooms, but it became increasingly hard to leverage this nickname/handle into something professional. As a result I had to start running multiple email accounts and identities to cover professional and casual life and it all started to get a bit complicated, especially when those worlds intersected. Even then the debate about identities was starting to hot up, and on one memorable occasion I was threatened with a lawsuit over opinions stated in a private mailing list.
As my then-undiagnosed clinical depression grew into cyclothalmia, and I developed diabetes (talk about everything hitting at once), life became very difficult and I largely withdrew from on-line life apart from using Facebook and continuing to dabble in playing EVE Online and using my professional email address to search for work.
The eventual path this brought me to was the beginning of writing to try and make ends meet. It forced me to make a number of decisions about my relationship with the on-line world. What this essentially boiled down to was that I needed to make a conscious decision to manage my on-line identity – reputation management as much as anything else – which is why I’ve thrown myself into trying to claim and be active on-line under my own name rather than using on-line nom-de-plumes. From Twitter to Tumblr I’ve been slowly claiming my name, or at least amending the details of things like my XBox Live identity to include my real name.
In part this accompanies work done while in therapy on owning the consequences of my own decisions and words, and in part it is a bit of brand management. I try generally not to say things I couldn’t live with seeing on the front page of a newspaper, for example. It’s not always easy and I trip every now and then, but its curiously satisfying. From a mental health point of view it also helps me keep a tight observation on my own behaviours and attitudes, giving me far less places to hide from myself.
If this sounds a brutal way to manage my own mental health, you’d be right, but it works for me. One of the ways that my initial deterioration went unchallenged was in having a hugely compartmentalised life, especially on-line. Removing those compartments now that I’m in a healthier place helps keeps me honest. It can be a scarily vulnerable place too, but I think it’s worth it.
I seem to have developed an inability to remember my own passwords of late, and so have been resetting and changing the passphrases that I use on the various websites and services that I use. In general this is a good thing, both in terms of security and in terms of re-evaluating whether I’m actually using said website or service. As a result I’ve also been closing a lot of things down that I don’t need or use any more.
This site is not one of those – though I have been lax in getting round to it of late. Truth be told I’ve been working my backside off on paying work that has been both hard and not actually very well paid at all. While t’other half was in full time work, this wasn’t so much of a problem; but following some management shenanigans she has not been offered an ongoing role and so today is her last day in work.
I’ve managed to secure a part time job locally – pending people being nice in my references – which will go some way towards paying the rent. We also have our honeymoon money set aside as a safety net for a couple of months and whatever small amounts I can make from the paying writing work – so its not all doom and gloom, but its enough to set my teeth on edge a little while we tighten belts again.
As I sit here, wrapping Christmas presents and wondering why most of my US-based friends are acting a bit odd today it suddenly occurs that I’ve not updated in a week or so and I’ve actually had quite a lot happen in between trying to make up Nanowrimo word counts and track down presents for people – most specifically that at the tender age of 39 I’ve got my first tattoo, and certainly when I woke up yesterday that wasn’t immediately on my to-do list.
I’d not really had any pressing desire to get one growing up – partly as when I was growing up it wasn’t as socially acceptable as it is these days – the received wisdom being that only criminals and weirdos got them done, and particularly growing up as the eldest son of a vicar (yes, I’m the son of a preacher man as Dusty used to sing), it just didn’t even register as something I’d ever want or need. The second factor was that, for the most part, I didn’t want to get something done that I would see on someone else, picked from a book – so if I did ever go that route I’d be looking to get something custom made, and I knew from conversations with friends and extended family that that could get expensive. So that was another barrier.
Life threw its little curve-balls and I got ill, and fought back through to recovery, and eventually started liking myself again; and having met t’other half and started rediscovering who I wanted to be (ie a stubborn individual setting my own standards) – and finding that Jo was someone I wanted to continue standing up for, I started thinking about how to mark it.
I’ve always had a fascination with mythology and the past – I love legends for what they tell me about people and how similar we are; and I wander Foolishly through various mystic areas out of interest to find out what people believe – building on the semiotic and structural study I did during my English degree to dig at how people share interpretations of the unseen – a route into their psychology that I hope over the next few years to dig further by studying towards a Counselling career.
(ISBN: 978-1-84854-041-5) I found a page showing some of the anglo-saxon runes – quite distinct from the norse runes more typically used in tattooing and something about a couple of the runes just clicked with a previous conversation I’d had about astrological signs, and so I decided to design a sigil combining key elements that I could get to mark the relationship.
There are two runes symbolising unity/family (ING) and growth/fertility (GER) and they are flanked and included within the symbols of Scorpio (for t’other half), and Pisces (for myself). So yesterday, while dropping things off to post, walking off a migraine (told you I was stubborn) and feeling a sudden surge of curiosity, I took my design into a local studio that Jo has used before and who have a good reputation generally in the area (I think I know about four or five people who have praised them in one context or another over the years).
When the price offered was reasonable (thanks to the recent windfall) and he offered to do it there and then I mentally shrugged and thought ‘go for it’ – which is how I today have this interpretation of it. He’s lightly italicised the design to give some solidity to the sides so that the more delicate lattice inside contrasts without getting overwhelmed.
And it was interesting to compare the sensations with the phantasies that had built up over the years – occasional mild discomfort rather than pain being my main observation – and it was certainly far less traumatic than anything I’ve ever done to myself in the past, be it papercuts, accidents in the kitchen or doing stupid things while depressed. I’m also pleasantly surprised at how unfussy the aftercare has to be (ie, don’t be stupid, keep it clean and moisturised) – I think I’d been anticipating having a broken night rolling over onto it in my sleep – instead I just had a broken night because my mattress is at its life’s end and I swear its trying to actively cripple me before the new bed is delivered…
So yeah… not so much a rebel without a clue as casting my own spell on myself… right, back to wrapping presents and trying to write this story…
I may be a little late to the party, but I’m enjoying flitting around http://visual.ly/ a fair bit at the moment – in particular where their infographics concern blogging and social media and have been enjoying the song mashups and free music downloads on http://www.waxaudio.com.au/ – they’ve made a nice distraction between writing the curious crime/horror/urban fantasy mashup that my novel is becoming.
I spent some time last night chatting with a friend online and debating the fine line between muttering and complaining with friends and it turning into a stand-up routine.
Notable quotes from last night in that vein included the following:
“you know you’re in for a long evening at a wedding reception when you look at your daughter and her expression seems to be saying: I think we may be the most intelligent people here, and as you brought me here I’m not even sure about you”
and in trying to characterise my humour, coming up with the following snippets:
My therapist described my sense of humour as being not so much ‘close to the bone’ as ‘digging into the knuckle to see who will notice first’
Someone else once described my humour as ‘a bit Lovecraft’ – sounds normal at first but then the lingering sense of something wrong and not of this world creeps up, slaps you round the back of the head and sends you running back to R’leyh with your tentacles flapping.
We also talked about the rich vein of very black humour that resides with those who have struggled with mental illness – it led to the following sequence:
When I was ill, and self harming regularly, my boss did make the mistake of hauling me up after a fraught afternoon and saying “I asked you to go talk to the directors to update them and I didn’t appreciate the pained look on your face.”
Boy, that led to a long conversation with HR
My exit from that job wasn’t so much comprised of burning my bridges as dive-bombing the burning wreckage and kamikaziing the survivors just to be sure. Nice to know I made an impression. I think they thought it was an impression of Mr Pennywise from Stephen King’s ‘It’. I was originally going with saying ‘an impression of Jeffrey Dahmer’ – I wasn’t sure if I could spell Dahmers name properly so…
Weird how people get so scared of mental illness, but my biggest fear is spelling the name of a serial killer incorrectly for fear of waking up to find a very disgruntled critic wanting to discuss the matter with my spleen.
It kind of tailed off after that as I was getting tired, but I think there’s room for a routine in there somewhere…
There are some conversations you have with people that are light and airy, meandering from topic to topic little hummingbirds in search of the nectar of distraction, and there are others that start with a solid explosion and then lead you into dark alleyways where you wish you were only getting mugged by memories.
I’ve had both types in the last few days but there’s a set that is weighing on me at the moment because what I am hearing has me genuinely in fear for a friend’s life because of violence they are receiving from their partner.
Its hard to hear, harder to not start trying to badger them with what I want them to do. I’ve told them that I think they need to leave. I’ve told them how desperate a place it sounds they’re in… and now all I can do is be that unstinting support, reminding them that they are not a failure, that it is not their fault and that things don’t have to be like this if they don’t want them to be.
I don’t know what else I can do – but I can’t turn my back on them.