Deep Fried Mars Bars Pt 4: The Strangers in My Head [CN/TW]

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10 (NIV)

This post discusses intrusive thoughts associated with PTSD. Intrusive thoughts are also associated with other mental health issues including (but not limited to) OCD,  Body Dysmorphic Disorder, depression and ADHD.  

It has been a really difficult couple of weeks dealing with a bombardment of Intrusive thoughts.  It started a couple of weekends ago at work – a comment made by a customer on the telephone: a nasty, unnecessary comment which maybe some people would be able to ignore, and which I don’t doubt some people would excuse or justify in some way.

It was enough though. More than enough, and it is only in the last day or so that the severity of them has started to lessen again.

It is hard to describe what it’s like. The best analogy I have found so far is that it is like waking up in the morning to find a stranger in your kitchen, offering you a cup of coffee and an image of some appalling awful thing happening to someone you love. Worse, this stranger is telling you that this awful thing is something you are going to do. (No, it does not help to know that you would never do it).

Then you find another stranger in your bathroom, and this one offers a different image of something really horrible, being done to you by someone you love.  (And no, it doesn’t help to know that the person you love would never ever do such a thing).

And as you walk around your home you find that your house is full of strangers, all offering up different grotesque, vile images until there is nowhere you can go; even closing your eyes and pulling the duvet up over your head does nothing except make you feel totally alone with all these strangers, who seem to really really want these awful things to happen, because they wont shut up about it.

Those strangers steal everything: energy, emotion, sense of self, feeling, words – until inevitably, you break down, melt down, screaming and crying in a desperate effort to purge yourself of these … well, for want of a better word, demons running around your head and your house wreaking havoc.

Which, of course, doesn’t work, and all the demons are still sat around your table, eating your food, making a mess and plastering those horrid images everywhere you look.

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Those images – all of them, every single last one of them – are lies. Black, twisted ugly lies whose power is rooted, not in their falsehood, but in the veneer of truth that they steal from the past trauma(s) which have given birth to them.  These lies are not just meant to rob me of life, and of love: they are meant to steal those things away from the ones I love too.

For if I were to believe those lies, (and sometimes it is very hard not to), then I would tell my children I could not be their mother. I would tell my family I could not be their daughter, sister, niece, aunt. I would tell my friends that I was no good for them, I would tell my lovers that I am bad and a waste of time. I would live my life in hiding – and in fear.

I would (and sometimes have) push my friends, my family and my lovers, as far from myself as I possibly could, because the single biggest lie those intrusive thoughts tell me is that pushing them away from me is the only way to protect them.

But of course, by pushing them away, I am doing the very opposite of protecting them.

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Some days, most days, faith is all there is: not even religious faith – just a basic, hanging-by-a-thread-faith, that somehow, one day, or one little step at a time, there will be one less screeching demon with its vile images running around my head tomorrow.

Music helps – if music be the food of love, the play on (and on, and on please). Books don’t help (I love to read but simply can’t focus), but writing can – not poetry though: I need a quiet head for that. Increasingly, looking at paintings and photography helps. Anything really, that takes me out of my own head and takes focus off the thoughts and images that so belittle and undermine me.

Anything that stops me being so afraid to love.

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On @PiersMorgan and The Power of Ignorance About #PTSD [CN]

Piers Morgan, who "fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory".
Piers Morgan, who “fears [PTSD has] become the latest celebrity accessory”.
I was accused of witchcraft once. As in an actual, the-spirit-of-Matthew-Hopkins-is-alive-and-well, genuine “I truly believe you are witch who suckles at the devils teet” accusation. It went on for a good few months – I got followed by people in town saying it loudly and pointing at me, for all to hear, on occasion.

I was okay, eventually. Took me a good few years not to get twitchy around that particular religious community, although truth be told I withstood that particular bout of spiritual abuse because I decided, in my own slightly… idiosyncratic… way, to embrace the role to which they had ascribed me. And, having ignored and ignored their ridiculously medieval brand of misogyny (and trust me, the women were way more vindictive about it), I turned round just one single time to see what would happen, if they thought I was about to actually (in whatever way they imagined it) cast a real (in whatever manner they interpreted it) spell.

And I never saw them again.

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Piers Morgan is what happens when the opinion of the journalist becomes more important than the news the journalist is supposedly reporting. Piers Morgan thinks he is the news.

So now that you have a pretty clarified idea about what I think about Piers Morgan, let me get to how that plays out, in the context of his recent tweets about PTSD, and the possible interview with the Lady Gaga, whom he had essentially accused in those tweets of being (at best) dishonest.

First, lets just recall for a moment, what happened when Mr Morgan interviewed Janet Mock – and then what happened where constructive and genuine criticism was met by a rousing performance of Piers Morgan, the aggrieved white liberal man, without whom we could not possibly do without.

I only mention it because, whilst Lady Gaga wont have to deal with Morgans brand of racialised transphobia dressed up as ally-ship, she will be dealing with a man who will frame the interview as a ‘debate’; ostensibly on the ‘hook’ of PTSD being treated too lightly by celebrities, but in reality because women who don’t report the abuse, assault or rape are laying themselves open to suspicion of lying, and that therefore the claims they make about having PTSD must automatically be considered equally dubious.

Because woman = liar is a pretty hoary old trope, and Morgan’s interviewing style can be pretty accurately be described as the journalistic equivalent of “if she sinks, she’s innocent, if she floats then she’s guilty.” Its a nasty little trick that can be made too look like justice (or in the this case ‘journalistic balance’) in the hands of a self important showman, and the eyes of the frightened and gullible.

It’s not witchcraft, to be able to see Morgan’s argument for what it is: misogyny, dressed up as entertainment, presented in the guise of liberal tolerance. And just for kicks, let’s make it a ‘debate’, because another humans life and reality is supposed to be ‘debated’. Or something.

Whether or not the interview with Lady Gaga happens, I am willing to put money on it being a dumpster fire: and even more money on Morgan refusing to take any responsibility for that afterwards.

I could be wrong.

But I doubt it.

Deep Fried Mars Bars (Pt 3): Battle Scars [#TW/#CN]

This post includes references to flashbacks, and how I experience them. I am finding writing therapeutic again, but reading what I write may not necessarily be so helpful, so please take care.

At least once a week, on or offline, someone will ask me why I ‘claim’ to have PTSD, since I have not served in the armed forces.

To start with, the question bugged me: we live in a society that deems people ‘scroungers’ for the least sign of ‘weakness’. The assumption in the first instance, systemically, is to disbelieve. If you own up to a disability, its because you want a way out of work. In an of itself, that’s a brutalising system under which to live, so on first glance, accusations of lying because you haven’t been on a battlefield, a battleship or war plane, is just another form of disbelief.

What really rankled, however, was the sexism, misogyny and homophobia behind the question.

I am perfectly capable of taking a step back from my anger and seeing the moving parts of the bigotry: sexism, misogyny, homophobia and abelism are all present and correct; but I have also noticed that the men who accost me with the question (and its been exclusively white men so far), have never themselves served in the armed forces either.

Not a one of them.

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In the grand scheme of things, fools who will not stop and think before speaking are merely an annoyance. There are days when all the various forms of bigotry that are encountered when you live in a body that is not so valuable, do sometimes pile up. At times like that it is important to see something as clearly as possible, lest your vision get so narrow that you fail to acknowledge some of the many other burdens to which you are not subject.

This condition to which I am subject – with its various attendant symptoms – is not something I need to justify, in either its cause or effect. I will – in the right context – share about how some of those symptoms manifest and how they impact. Flashbacks, for example, are a full body experience and not simply something in my head: the trauma’s (and that is the right word) did not occur on a literal battlefield, but the impact on the pysche and body was still very real. When your whole self finds itself jerked back in to that trauma, repeatedly, that is not the result of ‘weakness’.

We live in flesh and blood bodies, imperfect ones that are not built to withstand the kind of violence to which we subject each other when groups of people (and so often those people are white), try to assert dominance over another group of people because they do not meet with some ideological dogma about what a body should look like.

When your identity does not match that dogmatic ideal, that identity is suspect and subject to erasure.  Where those who assume I am lying about PTSD do so ‘because I haven’t served in the armed forces’,  it is not ignorance of the impact of violence that drives the question. Were that the case, then they would instantly recognise refugees (so often escaping the actual battlefields they claim to be the only place one can be exposed to something which would cause such a condition) as being traumatised people.

But refugees are often not white, and certainly not Western or Christian enough to be deemed worthy of such humanity.

Hence the question is – at heart – racist to its core: and whilst I am not subject to the racism at the heart of the question (or its colonial context), it is important to challenge it.  The world in which we live has become a much more dangerous place, and to be black, brown, Muslim, LGBTQ, disabled or a woman (or any intersection of those), means the horizon, never that welcoming, looks a lot more intimidating than it did.

Populism, nationalism, White Supremacy, Nazi ideology – all these things suffuse the air we breath and it is all too easy for it to infect those of us who aren’t black, or brown, or Muslim, or transgender, even if you are disabled and queer and a woman. It matters not to lose sight of that, because that’s where the trap is: its how you end up on the side of the Sith Lord, instead of the rebel alliance. Anti-trans feminists, for example, long ago failed to recognise just how easily they have found themselves in bed with Trump supporting bigots who are about to take control of the most powerful country on earth.

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When living in or with a body and/or mind that is considered dysfunctional, how clearly we understand the prejudices that entails we face, matters. And whilst it matters that I take care of myself for my sake and my loved ones, self pity is dangerous.

It is inevitable that someone else will – because of bigotry and ignorance – accuse me of claiming a condition for myself which (they will insist) I have no right to, and it will be important that I see what is behind the question as clearly as possible.

It matters.

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Deep Fried Mars Bars (Part 2): Let Me Be Weak [CN]

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 ‘Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’

Matthew 11: 28-3

As I adjust to the parameters that PTSD imposes – physically, mentally and emotionally – it is in navigating the responses of others which offer some of the greatest challenges.  I am very blessed – with so many friends in the disabled community, I am fortunate that those who have walked this or similar paths are ceaselessly generous with their love, and give freely of their hard won wisdom about surviving practically and emotionally within a society geared toward the able bodied and mentally ‘healthy’.

As a woman, and a parent, the intersection of disability and gender is brought in to sharp relief: in the patriarchal system under which we live, the ‘women as the weaker gender’ trope is an implicit standard, yet there is a perilous dichotomy under which we live. Women are constantly punished for any perceived weakness – disbelieved when victimised, yet parodied when performing ‘strength’.

In parallel to this, the ‘man as the dominant gender’ remains explicit, and males who do not conform to crude masculine cliches, or experience dysfunction emotionally or physically, are shamed: ‘man up’ is a phrase I loathe, carrying a toxicity which too easily grows to abuse. I have 2 sons, one of whom battles depression, who both bear the scars of a world that tells them they are ‘less than’ for being something which they are not.

It is a reality of living under capitalism that only those who can produce, sustain themselves, and contribute financially, are valued; as such, sexism and misogyny throw a sharper and more brutal light on those whose bodies and minds are perceived as ‘taking’.

Disability = weakness = burden is the equation that gave ‘austerity’ –  do not underestimate the brutality of the word ‘scrounger’. The writing, activism and creativity of the disabled is most usually treated with disdain – unless, of course, it is deemed to ‘inspire’ and even then, the price of inspiring others comes at a cost which is ignored.

From those outside of the disabled community, the reaction runs along a spectrum between assuming me a liar and a scrounger, offering pity, to expecting survival as though weakness were not an option.

Outright discrimination has been daily: for now I continue to work full time, but have been exhausted by work practices 20 years or more out of date. Whilst that now improves, it has taken its toll, particularly physically.  No doubt someone will think this reflects some degree of self pity on my part. It is not. It is a simple statement of reality.

There are still frequent indignities – having to sit on the floor of the toilet cubicle at work whilst having a flashback, because these things are no respecter of time and place, for example.

Other prejudice’s mask themselves as ‘reasonable questions’: why would I ‘claim’ to have PTSD when I have never served in the armed forces? (Discrimination is never more blunt when delivered in wilful ignorance).  The suspicion that I would prefer to absent myself of life’s responsibilities is odious. It is like sandpaper on the soul.

At the other end of the spectrum, are those who expect survival because, even where there is some degree of compassion, weakness is treated as a transitional state. My ‘brokeness’ is accepted on the assumption that I will be strong enough to overcome it, and return at some point to being ‘fully functional’ and ‘whole’ again.

Whilst I do not shun ‘strength’, I do not accept it in the form I am supposed to. On the days when I am weak, when my body, mind and spirit are battered by a flashback, strength is not an option. Acceptance of such weakness is all that allows me to survive. When my intestines and bowels constrict with the spasms brought on my IBS – a physical manifestation of the rigours of flashbacks – acceptance of my bodies failings is what prevents the corrosive bitterness  of genuine self pity from tainting my spirit. When intrusive thoughts mount another invasion, all I can do is wait until it passes.  My resources are not finite. My ‘strength’ is not endless.

As a society, we are collectively ashamed of what is perceived as weakness – and yet weep, pity or deride those who then feel shame when their body or mind cannot ‘perform’ as we are told they must.

Were my body also black, of colour, presenting as a gender other than that which had been ascribed to me – this perceived ‘weakness’ (through white supremacy and transphobia) would come with an even higher price.

Prejudice and discrimination is rooted is wanting to suppress (or erase) what is considered weakness, and that pressure is exerted financially, culturally and systemically, interwoven through white centred, patriarchal norms that demand binary bodies which meet some idealised notion of strength, and minds that conform to a ‘healthy normality’.

Talking ’bout stupid things
I can’t be left to my imagination
Let me be weak, let me sleep and dream of sheep
Ooh, their breath is warm
And they smell like sleep
And they say they take me home
Like poppies, heavy with seed
They take me deeper and deeper  Kate Bush – And Dream of Sheep

I am tired. I am weak. It is enough for me today.

Shadows and Ghosts and Deep Fried Mars Bars: on living with PTSD [CN]

What my brain looks like.
What my brain probably looks like.

 

I have been quiet for a while. Over the last couple of months I have stayed away from twitter and Facebook, and spent most of my spare time at home, avoiding people and life as much as I can. I am no longer a happy introvert. I am an unhappy hermit.

I have PTSD.

It’s very early days – diagnosis is recent. Assessments are being done, what treatments and support will be required are being evaluated.  The path to recovery has barely started, but at least now I know there is a path.

So I hang on, between the appalling sleeplessness, the incessant noise in my brain from flashbacks I cannot control, that tight constriction in my gut from the anxiety and fear, the mind numbing worry of how I might cope financially if I have to stop working, and the nerve shredding panic every day as I keep working. My short term memory is non-existent. Processing information and communicating is non-starter. The world appals me.

My brain might as well be deep-fried Gouda. Or perhaps a deep fried mars bar.

It was triggered initially last year, and I was only barely coming to grips with the fact I might need some serious help when events in May this year triggered a whole new episode. Now my thoughts ricochet like a pin ball, backwards and forwards between one shitty memory or other, drenching me in images that leave me shaking like a bad Bond cocktail.

I have never been more grateful for the wonders of modern medicine – the little white pills that are starting to provide some measure of calm in this storm, and oh! the joy of actual sleep. I crave sleep. If I had the choice right now I would curl up under my duvet and sleep through this whole damn thing.

So I hang on. I am not the first to walk this path – there are many (too many) out there who walk, and have walked, this way before me and I tell myself that this is something I can survive, because others have survived before me. This is a land filled with too many shadows, too many ghosts, too many memories that I would rather fling out to the farthest reaches of space and never, ever, have to live with again.

The threads that hold me together right now are not as bare as they sometimes feel. Hope holds on, however worn.

My sons, full of love and care and concern, keep my feet rooted to the earth. My faith keeps a flicker of hope and love alive in my breast. Prayers escape from lips like wisps of smoke, and I try and recall that these are the most precious of all prayers. Friends and family who have coped, and continue to cope, with so much, inspire me: you have such courage, such faith!

For those who have been kind enough to stop by and read this blog for the last few years – thank you, and please be patient with my silence.

I haven’t left. I am not leaving.

“I know that the whole point—the only point—is to
find the things that matter, and hold on to them, and fight for them, and refuse to
let them go.” ~ Lauren Oliver