The Hole

The Hole

Prompt: 15th May 2021 – Solid vs Liquid

There was a fine layer of dust on the surface of the sun-hardened ground. Even at night, the heat could still be felt rising from it. The clouds were doing their utmost to hide any star or moonlight from the earth, and the animals were silent, seeming to know what was about to happen here. 

He had no tools with him, but he had no choice. He fell to his knees and, in a blind panic, began to claw at the dirt. He scratched and picked, and felt for sharp stones that he could use to leverage the ground open. The dust rose up and rushed into his panting mouth, choking him, but he couldn’t stop. He pleaded and begged the dirt to move aside and let him in. 

With broken nails and aching hands, he managed to form a small basin. Once the top layer had been removed, the earth gave way more easily. His digging became more frantic and his fingers started to bleed as they caught on unfriendly edges. His mind was set on his only goal and he dug as if his life depended on it. 

The night was getting colder but he was warm from his efforts. And still, the hairs stood up on the back of his neck. He dug deeper and deeper, becoming more manic and desperate the further he went. Every now and again a whimper escaped from him as he tunneled his way down. His eyes wide, trying to see through the dark and the mud. His hands were covered in clay and blood. The ground, he was pulling out in clumps now, was tacky and moist. Flecks jumped up and splattered his face but any attempt he made to brush them away just pushed them further into his eyes.  

Down and down, he went, and the soil got wetter and wetter. The mud began slipping through his fingers as he scraped it up the walls and out into the night. Then his jeans were soaked through and his boots began filling with water. His hands were washed clean every time he reached down for more. 

Relentlessly, hand over hand, he scooped out the masses of mud. The water level rose with every scoop. Before long, he had to submerge his head to reach the floor, and still, he kept on digging. It took longer and longer breaths, and he began to spatter and cough every time he came up for air. Finally, he lost his footing and had to dive down to the never ending task, then tread water as he tried to catch his breath. 

Time and time again he dove, dug, and rose. He had long lost reach of the top of the hole, so had resorted to sticking the mud to the sides of the walls to stop it from undoing his hard work. The air became dense around him as the hole above his head narrowed. He returned to the base, pulling it free then sticking it to the roof he’d now created above himself. The fear and exhaustion had taken over his senses and all he could do was all he had been doing. His small pocket of air shrunk as he committed himself to his endless task. 

* * * 

He floated with his back brushing against the ceiling on the tomb he had created for himself. All around him was finally still. His broken hands drifted, weightless. He blinked and the tide took him out to the ocean.  

Using my public platform as therapy (again)

Using my public platform as therapy (again)

I had my second jab (Pfizer) on Friday. It was fine. My arm was killing me for a day and I felt slightly more fatigued than usual, but that was all. Now I have no more excuses to stay home. After 1 year and 2 months of being almost exclusively confined to my home, I now have to re-join society.

I’ve spoken to the HR rep at work and we have agreed to a phased return (starting with 3 days a week until I feel able to do more) beginning on May 10th 2021. I am terrified.

I want to specify, I’m not afraid of the virus. I mean, I am, but only mildly. I have faith in science, in my workplace, and my colleagues to keep me safe. I think my chances of catching the virus are slim to none. What I am experiencing is a generalised anxiety that I haven’t felt for many years. It’s a fear of being away from my safe space and of facing the unknown. This is a fear that I have faced before, and has always been a part of me but, with practice, I was able to ignore it and live life anyway. But I’m very out of practice, and the idea of my home being my ‘safe space’ was intensified by the fact that people are literally dying by the million outside. So the general anxiety has become more akin to a phobia.

Problem solving time. I often talk about having two brains. I have an emotional, irrational one, that feels all the things with or without reason, and I have ‘Logic Brain’, who does all of the thinking and rationalising. When I was young, Emotional Brain was in charge of everything, and would shut up Logic Brain with “If that’s true, then why does it feel like this?”. As I grew up, I thought that the goal was rid yourself of the irrational feels by logic-ing them away (turn the light on to prove to yourself that the shadows aren’t real and can’t hurt you). Now, as a psychologically mature adult, I realise that neither brain is more right than the other and that communication between the two is key.

Therefore, the first questions are always, what are you feeling and why? The first one is pretty easy, fear and anxiety. The ‘why’ is more difficult. Logic Brain tells me that there is nothing to fear, nothing that I will encounter will harm me, and I am not in danger. But that doesn’t help, never does, never has. When I’m struggling to pinpoint the cause of my fear, I run through the scenario in my head and pay attention to which parts trigger the fear. When I think about the work, I’m actually really excited and looking forward to it. It’s what I trained to do and I love it, and even though it’ll be unfamiliar work to me, I love learning, so that’ll be fun. When I think about seeing the people, some I will have worked with before, some I will have worked with remotely but not met in person, and some will be completely new. I’m not a fan of socialising and meeting new people, but I know the atmosphere of the company is a friendly, respectful one and it will be nice to be able to mix with people who share my interests again. It turns out, the things that are scaring me are; getting to and from work, how well my health will hold up (i.e, how painful will it be?), and having nowhere to retreat to if things get too much. So let’s unpack these, shall we?

Number 1. Getting to and from work. I had planned to be driving by now but, long story short, I’m not. I used to get the bus(es) into work, but they are now at the bottom of my list, partly because lots of people in a tin box is a breeding ground for all kinds of things that can kill you, and partly because I had to get up at 4am to get to work on time, and that will negatively effect fear number 2. Currently my plan is to carpool with a fellow employee coming from the city. If they are unwell or unable to make it for some reason, then a £40 Uber is my backup plan (app downloaded and addresses saved and at the ready). It’s not ideal, but it’s a stop-gap until I’m able to drive myself, which is the official plan.

Number 2. My health is not as bad as it could be, but by no definition is it good. It won’t hinder me in doing my job, I have struggled through Uni when my health was much worse, but I am afraid of pain. I can take painkillers before, during and after work, but they only take the edge off, they don’t rid me of the pain completely. My best defence here (besides the painkillers), is to adjust my diet and adhere to it strictly, rest as much as possible when I’m not at work and, don’t be a hero, ask for a chair if there isn’t one. Experience has taught me that I will get used to the extra activity, as long as I care for myself properly.

Number 3. This is another thing that having a car would fix. Sometimes, being around people and noise and smells and places gets too much for me and I need to retreat to a confined space that is silent, where no-one can see me. Usually, this would be a bathroom stall, but I’m not sure about the safety rules that have been put in place regarding toilets in the building. This is something I will need to look into, but stairwell is also an option. Solutions to this problem require extra research, but it’s not information that is difficult to get hold of, and I can definitely prepare for this beforehand.

So there we have it. Emotional Brain has calmed down a bit because instead of telling it that there’s nothing to be scared of, Logic Brain had put plans in place to ease the fears. The anxiety is still there, but it’s less, and over time, with repeat exposure and further developments, it’ll become pea sized and manageable again.

Thanks for helping me with my therapy today. I hope you’re all well. :smiley face emoji:

Stupid Trauma Brain

Stupid Trauma Brain

Trigger warning: I will be talking about flashbacks and other trauma responses and referring to (but not detailing) sexual assault.

Last weekend, I had a flashback. The trigger was being out of breath and getting light-headed. Needless to say, I have experienced these feeling many times before and they have never triggered a flashback, so I was taken by surprise (to say the least) when it happened.

The last time I had a flashback was just before Christmas. I saw a duvet cover in a shop and I felt my brain going to ‘the dark place’. I tried to ignore it, then realised I was being triggered quite badly and was likely to have a flashback, so I found the fiancé (who was elsewhere in the same shop), left the shop and clung to him while I rode it out. And this is generally how this kind of thing goes. I have been working on my PTSD for 5/6 years now, I have dealt with my known triggers and I’m self-aware enough that if something does start coming up I’m able to make myself feel safe, ride it out, then self soothe after it has passed. The flashback before Christmas lasted only a few minutes, then I was able to pull myself together and we finished our Christmas shopping.

Last weekend was different. I didn’t know I was being triggered, I thought I just couldn’t catch my breath (something that frequently happens to me with my M.E). Then I started crying and wasn’t sure why, then I began having a tactile (aka somatic) flashback. In the early days of my PTSD I would have full, visual, auditory and tactile flashbacks, completely reliving the trauma. Now I tend to only get one kind, depending on the trigger. The duvet cover forced a visual flashback, shouting can cause an auditory flashback, struggling to breathe and feeling lightheaded apparently triggers a tactile flashback with a few scattered images and my own inner-monologue repeating some unsettling phrases that I have associated with the event. I struggled to calm myself down and get a grip on reality again. I am used to focusing on my breath to bring myself out of panic attacks and it’s become an automatic muscle-memory kind of response when I feel emotionally or physically distressed. But every time I started to slow my breathing and start coming round, I was triggered again. Maybe because my breath was the original trigger, I got locked in a cycle, I don’t know for sure, just speculating. I don’t know how long it went on, but it felt like the longest one I have had in many years. Eventually distraction became the way out, forcing my mind to focus on something in the real world so I would keep getting sucked into the past. Afterward I felt embarrassed and guilty, because the fiancé was with me through it all, and angry that I’m still traumatised after all the work I’ve done on myself.

Please indulge me while I unpack these emotions.
Embarrassment: I take pride in presenting myself to the world as a strong, stable, well put together human being. No doubt I have my issues and mental health problems, but I am emotionally mature enough to acknowledge them and talk about them openly and honestly in a safe environment on my own terms. However, when something like this happens, I completely unravel and fall apart becoming an hysterical mess. Emotionally, it’s as if I’ve just soiled myself. And yes, maybe I’m unwell and it’s not my fault, it was out of my control etc etc etc, but it’s still embarrassing for another person to see you s*** yourself.
Guilt: I don’t know if you’ve ever seen anybody in severe emotional distress, but it’s really unpleasant. Especially when it’s somebody you care about, especially when there’s nothing you can do, and especially when your personality requires you to fix problems. Knowing that I put my fiancé through that makes me feel guilty. And again, I am aware of the logical arguments here; he loves me so he doesn’t mind going through that with me, he knows me and my history so isn’t shocked by my trauma response, he has been present for flashbacks before so is aware of what is going on etc etc etc, but I still wish he didn’t have to deal with it all.
Anger: This is the one I think most people will be able to relate to. As I already mentioned, I have working on my PTSD for years. For the most part, I consider myself over it. I mean, nothing will ever be the same again, but my trauma responses are manageable, when I have intrusive thoughts I’m able to push them aside, when I talk about the trauma I’m able to do so in a calm, logical way. I’m not angry that it happened because it changed me into a better a human being, and I’m not angry at him for doing it to me, because I know that he is a broken person too. I am angry at my stupid trauma brain and it’s stupid misfiring synapses. I’m angry because the trauma has left scars on me that I can do nothing about. After all the hard work I’ve put in to allow myself to live a good life, these scars will stay with me forever and, like a creepy Jack-in-the-box, will jump out and surprise me with my trauma and random times in my life. I am angry that I will never recover the control that he took from me.

Side note: I have heard that you can use binaural beats to increase neuroplasticity in the brain that can help breach the gap that trauma has caused. I don’t know if there’s any science to back that up, but it sounds legit to me, so I might try it.

Segway into a seemingly unrelated, but actually really relevant situation that happened a coupe of days later. Those of you who are friends with my on Facebook, may have seen this:

Now, when this first happened, I was very focused on the anxiety and the auditory processing issues that I have, but reflecting on it the next day I realised the link between this emotional response and my trauma. You see, I misunderstood a situation and thought that I was happy with what was occurring, then I realised my mistake and knew that I didn’t actually want it. Even so, I was about to go through with it anyway because it was my fault for misunderstanding in the first place. However, in this situation, I was able to say “no” (amongst many apologies) to the thing that I did not want. She did continue to try and convince me to change my mind and this was when the panic started setting in and I just kept saying “no” and “sorry” over and over before I eventually stopped talking all together. Then for hours afterwards I was overwhelmed by guilt and self-blame (“I’m so stupid, what’s wrong with me, I should have known better, I brought this on myself” etc). I guess this is proof that I’m not as “over it” as I thought, or maybe I have other issues that need to be addressed that may have allowed the trauma to occur in the first place, or maybe the recent flashback made me more vulnerable than usual and I reverted to behaviours that I wouldn’t normally display? Humans are complex beings.

So in conclusion, my stupid trauma brain is traumatised and causes stupid trauma responses that I’m not able to control. Just thought I’d share that with you.

Scratch for the Itch

Scratch for the Itch

Just letting you know, this post isn’t technically M.E related, but it is health related so that’s close enough.

For the last week I have been itchy from my neck to my toes. My hands and forearms also escaped so far but the longer this goes on, the more they are being effected. It’s been a week now and the itching is getting worse. I barely sleep because it wakes me up throughout.

The thing is though, there is no obvious cause. No rash or hives or dry skin. Nothing in my washing or cleaning routine has changed. It’s not a deep, burning itch, like you get with allergies, but like thousands of teeny tiny spiders crawling all over me, but scratching doesn’t kill them. Heat soothes it instead of making it itchier. I’ve not been out in the sun or under a lamp or anything. It has been a literally 24/7 itching all over my body and I have no idea why.

So I called the GP and she says “Hmmm… Let’s get some blood tests and check out your liver function and things, and then we can stop worrying.” Before she said that, I didn’t realise that we were worrying.

The closest blood clinic didn’t have an appointment available for 2 weeks, so I had to get one a little further away, and the current state of affairs means busses aren’t an option for me, so I had to walk the 40mins there and 45-50mins back (I’m tireder now).

But before that I made sure that to worry sufficiently, as the doctor had told me to do, I looked up all the things it could be. In the end I decided it was either a dormant virus rearing its ugly head (shingles for example), hypothyroidism, or some kind of cancer. I put those in order of likeliness for you too. Of course the other option is that it’s a new undiagnosable chronic illness that shows up on no tests and has no treatment, but I’m currently refusing to accept that possibility.

I’ve just come back from having my blood taken now. I asked the nurse what “liver and things” actually meant so I knew what I could rule out if the blood tests showed nothing. She confirmed that I was getting the full works. That means full blood count (red cells, white cells and platelettes), blood glucose levels, liver function, kidney function, thyroid function and calcium levels (to check heart health).

I’m supposed to get the results tomorrow and it can’t come too soon. I’m starting to get some bad bruising from the scratching that I’m doing (mostly subconsciously in my sleep). I need this itching to go away. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tangent: I forgot my keys because I’m not sleeping and was running late for my blood test and, after the locksmith let us back in, he looked at my cane and said “What have you done to your foot, did you hurt yourself?” and I realised that’s the first time since March that I’ve had someone ask me a stupid ableist question. I was annoyed with a hint of nostalgia.

Cold Feet?

Cold Feet?

I am engaged. My partner asked me to marry him and I said yes. We have begun planning our wedding.

On day one, I was excited and so happy that I couldn’t stop smiling. On day two, the anxiety began setting in.

I love this man and have wanted to be his wife since our first 6 months together. He will be an amazing husband and father and I would spend the rest of my life with him without thinking twice, but then he asked me if I would spend the rest of my life with him.

The proposal didn’t come as a great surprise, we’d talked about it a lot before and I even knew that he’d bought me a ring and was having trouble with getting it delivered during a pandemic, so I knew it was coming and never worried about it. I have looked forward to being his wife for years and never felt anything but happy and confident about it, so why am I feeling like this now that I’ve said yes?

I keep asking myself, as is my practice, what is this feeling and why am I feeling it. The first thought I had, in it’s rawest form was, if I swear on all that I believe in to be with him for the rest of my life, then I actually have to do that. I only make promises I intend to keep, I will only consider divorce in the most extreme of circumstances. So then the questions follow; do I not want to be with him for the rest of my life? Do I imagine us splitting up? Is there someone else I’d rather be with? Or would I rather be alone? But as I already said, I do want to be with him and only him until I die. I’ve wanted that with surety and steadiness for a long time. So it’s not that.

I delved in a little further and found a fear that I would lose my independence. Every decision I made in life would have to include or consider him. I wouldn’t be free to do whatever I wanted without first considering the impact that it would have on him. But I already live like that, and have done for the past two years. I don’t want to do anything that would impact him negatively, and everything I do want are things he wants too. So that’s not it.

Perhaps it’s the idea of the ceremony. I am religious and he is not, nor are either of our families, but if I’m going to make these solemn promises to him then I want it to be in my tradition and with blessings that mean something to me. He is more than happy for us to do that and is helping me to plan that kind of event, but it still feels self-indulgent. To stand up in front of our friends and family and say “this is who I am and what I want so this is how we’re going to do it” makes me feel uncomfortable. But then again, the wedding is about my partner and I making promises and commitments to each other, not about putting on a show for our guests, and as I said before, I would want to make those promises in a way that is meaningful to me, otherwise they won’t mean anything. So I guess it’s not that.

I have always feared change in my life and getting married seems like a big one. Except it’s not really. My name will change and some other legal formalities (nothing major, nor detrimental) will occur, but other than that, we will still live in the same house, with the same cat and the same jobs and hobbies, we’ll just be married, that’s all. So it’s not that either.

Currently, I believe that what I’m feeling is a generalised anxiety that comes with making any large decision in your life without having certainty of the future. We cannot foresee what may happen in our lives and making a commitment so big on faith is a scary thing to do. I have experienced similar anxieties when choosing a university to go to, or buying a car. The difference with those things is that the commitment was short term and reversible, this one is not. Therefore it is not completely unreasonable to expect a higher level of anxiety.

The fear of loss and hurt is strong in me too. Maybe he’ll leave me, betray me, lie to me, and even if he doesn’t, eventually he’ll die, and I don’t know if I can handle a loss like that. There have been many times in my life where I wanted to avoid investing emotion so I would not experience such pain, but I was convinced by well meaning people to ignore my instincts and take the risk (“Life is risky”, “What if everything goes right?”, “If you don’t take that chance you might miss out on something great”). Then my fears would come true, and I’d be destroyed again. Every time I have trusted someone not to hurt me, they have hurt me, usually very badly.

It’s also worth considering that I have never seen a marriage that I coveted or admired. I was never a girl who dreamed about her wedding day and never saw marriage as wonderful thing to aspire to.

So there are no real reasons for me to feel so anxious, and yet many reasons why I am. I will try to meditate on these things and hope that I am consoled by the idea that these fears come from nothing substantial. I have to assure myself that the potential gains outweigh the potential losses and then take the leap of faith.

You Don’t Have to do Anything

You Don’t Have to do Anything

In this Covid-19 pandemic that we are all currently living in, there seems to have arisen a new social pressure to be productive and achieve. There’s a lot of emphasis of what new skills you will have acquired once the lockdown is lifted. What renovations you will have made to your life and your home. I have seen and heard many people say something similar to “You finally have the time to do all of those things you always said you never had the time for”, and while this may be essentially true, there is no reason why you should now be obligated to do those things.

The thing that these people are overlooking, is that this situation is unprecedented for most of us, and that what we are actually living through a massive shared trauma. For these people, their go-to coping mechanism is to keep busy so that they don’t have to sit with, and acknowledge their feelings about what is going on around them. These people will likely find that eventually they will run out of things to keep themselves busy, or that their thoughts will overpower their actions so that their ‘keeping busy’ tasks are no longer able to distract them. These people are often in denial about their true feelings, and their underlying insecurity requires them to validate their avoidance coping mechanism by shaming others into doing the same things as them.

A common feeling that is shared by many of us right now, is one of helplessness or uselessness. There is nothing we can do and nothing that can be done for us. We have no control over the virus or how our governments choose to react to it. Sometimes, these feelings can bleed into our other activities and soon we find ourselves thinking, what’s the point in doing anything if there’s nothing we can do. This apathy can quickly spiral into depression where we find ourselves wanting to do something but feeling too miserable and down-trodden to act on it. This then circles back to our original feelings of helplessness and uselessness.

Anybody who has suffered with depression before will recognise this kind of cycle, and if you’ve been lucky enough to get help, you’ll have your own coping mechanisms to dig your way out or to manage your feelings. But for a lot of people, this will be a new sensation.

For people who have never had to deal with this kind of depression and isolation, it can be terrifying not knowing what to do. Desperate to connect with people and know that they are not alone, these people go to social media where they are bombarded with all of the things that the “productive” people are accomplishing. They are asked “What have you been up to?” “What have you done?” and suddenly they feel like they have to justify themselves and defend their lack of activity. This will send them down one of two paths. Either they will force themselves to be productive, even though their heart isn’t in it, or the feelings of shame will confirm for them that there is something wrong with them and that they are lazy, useless and wasting precious time etc.

The first outcome will lead to frustration, exhaustion, possibly anger, and no task attempted will be given full attention or dedication and so won’t live up to the standards that the person is now expecting of themselves. This will eventually lead them to thoughts such as “I can’t do anything right even when I try” and a return to depression. The second option reduces self-worth and increases anxiety and depression as well as isolating them further by making them believe that they are the only people feeling this way. These feelings could easily lead to self-neglect or self-harm very quickly.

Depression is not an easy thing to overcome, especially if it’s your first time fighting with the beast, and I’m not going to pretend that I have an answer for you on how to break out of the cycle I described earlier. Honestly, the reason I’m talking about it in the first place is because I am stuck in it myself. But from my experience and knowledge I can present to you these thoughts and observations. I hope that when you read them, you believe them and that they can bring you at least a little relief if not show you the path out.

  • Processing trauma takes time and energy and is a different process for all of us.
  • This is something that has never happened to us before so there is no correct or incorrect way of dealing with it.
  • Just because a lot of people are doing something, does not mean that you should be doing it too or that it is the right thing to do.
  •  Acknowledging your feelings is the first step to accepting them.
  • You are the authority on yourself. Trust yourself, believe in yourself, focus on yourself. Don’t worry about anyone else. Their opinions can’t hurt you.