Archive | September, 2012

Where Would I Be Without C-PTSD?

“In the course of a lifetime what does it matter?” ~ Sharon Creech

Since my psychiatrist believes that I’ve had complex PTSD and major depressive disorder since I was at least eight it’s perhaps impossible to say what sort of person I’d be, or what sort of life I would have had, without it. But it’s maybe a little easier to pin down some of the things that my condition is responsible for, or at least where it has been a contributing factor.

If I didn’t have C-PTSD I wouldn’t have grown up feeling like I was completely separate to the rest of the world and that I had no business trying to belong. While this made the entirety of the first sixteen years of my life almost unbearably lonely, it did make me desperate as all hell let loose to break away from the community that I grew up in, a cross between Stepford and Royston Vasey, and meet some more liberal, less parochial people. Which was, y’know, probably for the best.

Never having experienced the feeling of ‘fitting in’, I haven’t experienced the pressure to conform when to do so would be contrary to my own wishes, happiness, or best interests.

Having C-PTSD means that I have no conception of a future. This makes saving, planning, dieting, or being otherwise responsible an almost unwinnable battle. But it’s also probably responsible for the irrepressible spontaneity that saw me take off to spend a summer as the only resident of a Rio hotel who wasn’t renting her room by the hour, purchase flights out to Beijing and out of Singapore, on a whim,  with no thought to what I might do in between, or move to the other side of the country at less than forty-eight hours notice.

Some of the best decisions I ever made.

If I didn’t have C-PTSD I’d probably have taken the sensible decision to remain with the same global finance company that employed me straight out of university. And my soul would have died long ago as a result.

I might well have bought a house and lived in it, instead of uprooting myself to a completely different part of the country every couple of years.

But then I would never have met so many wonderful and interesting people. And the part of me that still idolises the Littlest Hobo would have been condemned to living in terminal frustration.

If I didn’t have C-PTSD I would probably have never wanted to kill myself. I’m as yet undecided as to whether being able to write about it is enough to compensate for that particular trauma.

 

When I Was Younger, So Much Younger Than Today…

Some times I find it hard to ask for help.

It’s not that help is hard to come by, for me at least. The standard things that one would normally need help with, like moving house, getting to the hospital with a broken leg, making it to the airport for stupid o’ clock in the morning, and changing light bulbs that I can’t reach, people have all volunteered for.

People lend me things that I need to borrow, fix my gadgets when they’re broken, and sponsor me for the most trifling of sporting exertion. They forward me information about job vacancies and put in a good word for me where they work.

When I lose things, people will search their homes to make sure I haven’t left them there, even though they know before they start looking that the thing will be right in front of my face.

I didn’t even have to ask more than one person if they would mind being nominated, under my advance directive, as being  in charge of making any medical decisions that might need to be taken on my behalf in the, not at all unlikely, event that I ever lack the capacity to make them for myself.

But some things just seem too much to ask.

Like, ‘Can you help me find the will to live? I seem to have misplaced it somewhere’.

Calling someone up out of the blue in the hope that they might be able to supply me with a reason to go on living because I can’t quite seem to find any of my own today sounds so hugely unreasonable when I rehearse the scenario in my brain.

And the more I try to rephrase it the more unpalatable it sounds.

The leaden weight of emptiness feels just too heavy to share. A care too great to be put, unbidden, upon just one person.

So, rather than ask another person, and then another, and then another, until there are enough shoulders to manage the burden, I don’t say anything, to anyone, at all.

 

teenage_angst__suicide__by_saccharinesmile

We Need To Talk About Suicide

(Image Credit)

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.” ~ David Foster Wallace

This post is to mark World Suicide Prevention Day, but before I go any further I’d like to point all readers who are interested in this subject in the direction of this awesome TED Talk by JD Schramm, who does the subject far more justice than I can hope to.

I think I’ve done at least as much as my fair share of raising awareness of suicide this year. Firstly by talking to lots of people about my work for Samaritans, and secondly when I started telling pretty much anyone who’d listen that I’d become suicidal myself, had been hospitalised with suicidal ideation, and had taken overdoses.

Discussion of Samaritans has mostly provoked interested questions. Many people assume that all the calls to Samaritans are people who are either in the act of or on the verge of suicide, and believe that the role of a Samaritans listening volunteer would be too much to handle.

This is far from the case. I’ve listened to quite a few people who have been thinking of committing suicide within the next hours or days, but in my year as a volunteer – I’m currently on hiatus – I never took a call from a suicide in progress.

Many callers were people who struggled to cope with mental health issues or other major problems in their lives, and they seem to find that speaking to Samaritans provides much-needed support to prevent them from reaching the ultimate suicidal stage.

There are also an awful lot of ‘snap’ calls. Which is where the caller hangs up without actually speaking to you, presumably because they lose the courage to reveal their feelings to a faceless stranger.

I also had a few inappropriate calls to deal with, but I get those in my day job.

New Samaritans have to undertake a three-month training program before they are let loose on unsuspecting callers. One of the points addressed in that training helped me to identify why it is that some people tend to struggle to find the words to discuss with you your own thoughts of suicide.

That is that many people are afraid that by talking about the idea of suicide, or asking if someone has contemplated, or even planned their own suicide, they might inadvertently cause a suicide. That they may somehow implant an idea into someone’s head that wasn’t there before and make it sound like a legitimate option.

If you are one of those people I am here to assure you that this is not the case. You will not increase the likelihood of someone committing suicide by discussing the issue of suicide with them. 

You may inadvertently increase the risk of someone committing suicide by refusing them to let them be open with you about the fact that they are experiencing thoughts of suicide.

If people feel isolated with their feelings of despair and fantasies of ending it all by taking their own life, if they fear that there is no help available and that there is no hope for improvement in their lives, this can increase the risk of an actual suicide.

I appreciate that it can be very hard to find the words to discuss the subject of suicide, especially if it is not an issue that you are familiar with tackling. You want to be able to say the right thing, you desperately want to avoid saying the wrong thing. It can seem safer just to say nothing at all. But at the end of the day, the words you use will have less of an effect than whether or not you chose to listen and offer support.

If somebody is at the point where they are thinking of, or planning to, take their own life then the situation is already as bad as it can get. You cannot possibly make it worse. There is no lower point for this person to reach, they are already at rock bottom.

So just say something. Anything. The first words that come into your head. If nothing comes try opening with these:

  • ‘Okay, I’m not sure exactly how you want me to approach this, but I’m here to help, what can I do?’
  • ‘Have you made any plans to take your own life, or do you feel like you can see yourself doing so very soon?’
  • ‘How long have you been feeling like you could be suicidal? Have you spoken to a doctor about this?’
  • ‘How would you feel about us getting you some help if I come along to support you?’

If the person decides that they do not need to seek help immediately it might be a good idea to arrange to check in with them at a pre-arranged time. Or for you to agree to check up with them that they’ve at least made an appointment with their doctor, and offer to go with them.

When I was suffering with suicidal thinking it helped me a great deal to have a number of people who either checked up on me or asked me to send them regular updates to let them know that I was still alive. In a way that it may not be possible to relate to unless you’ve been there, it broke the time down into more manageable chunks.

Instead of feeling oppressed by the painful enormity of having to live another forty, fifty, sixty years even, enduring the same degree as of pain and hopelessness as I was currently experiencing, I was able to set myself the more manageable goals of making it through long enough to give the next update.

I know there may still be a few people reading this who struggle with this advice, as there were people who struggled to handle my situation, because they can’t get past their own idea that suicide is selfish. Or because they believe that people who are really going to take their own life will just get on with it, and that people who talk about it are somehow not serious about it, or are only seeking attention.

I’ll address the second point first because I think that it is the most pernicious.

The belief that people who are really suicidal just get on with is demonstrably untrue.

If every single person who had ever decided to take their own life had bottled up their feelings, sharing them with no one, and just plowed determinedly ahead with their own plans, then there would be no Samaritans. There would be no Nightline. There would be no network of suicide prevention hotlines the world over. Because they wouldn’t work, they wouldn’t be necessary.

There would also be no Mental Health Crisis Teams, nor legislation allowing doctors to place patients under a ‘section’, ‘psychiatric hold’, or whatever other term is used in your country.

As to whether or not people who talk about suicidal feelings are doing so for attention, that’s a slightly more complicated question.

Was I seeking attention when I first approached my friends and told them that I was worried by these overwhelming feelings that I was having that it would be better if I wasn’t alive any more, and that I had made plans to take my life?

Absolutely.

I wanted attention. I needed attention. I needed someone to pay attention to the fact that I needed help.

I had a life threatening mental health condition for fuck’s sake!

And I’d decided that the best chance I had of surviving my condition was to have as many people who I trusted as possible looking out for me to make sure that I was alright. In much the same way as everyone in the room will watch a small child to make sure that it doesn’t accidentally do anything dangerous.

At times my thoughts of suicide were so strong that I genuinely, completely forgot that taking two hundred tramadol pills or slashing your own wrists are generally considered to be really bad ideas.

And as to whether or not people make false reports of suicidal ideation in order to gain attention, well, there’s not much I can say for certain with regards to the frequency of such occurrences, being that I’m not a doctor or a researcher.

What I can say is this.

I have your attention.

I’ve had your attention for a good five minutes now. And all it took me was to sit down down with my laptop for half an hour and write pretty much the first thoughts that came into my head.

And I don’t even know you.

It’s not difficult to get people’s attention. Most of us do it without thinking at least several times a day.

Every time we purchase something in a store, show up for work, make a phone call to a utility company, send out an email, drop round to visit friends or family, we get their attention.

So why would anybody go to the bother of inventing suicidal ideation to get yours?

If they feel that to be necessary does it not, for the most part, suggest that either;

a) this person nevertheless has some serious issues that really need to be addressed through the appropriate treatment or support,

or

b) that you really need to reexamine what it is in your own behaviour that would make someone close to you feel that it was necessary to go to such lengths to get your attention?

I would also hazard a guess that you aren’t a doctor either and are in no better position to judge whether a person is genuine than I am. So do you really want to place your bet on a vicarious game of Russian roulette on the basis of ill-informed, uneducated guess work? I know I wouldn’t.

Now, to come back to this idea that the act of suicide is inherently selfish.

Well, I became suicidal because I had a chemical imbalance in my brain. I don’t know that it’s possible for a chemical imbalance to be selfishly acquired. But people did suggest this to me when I raised the subject of my illness, so I did give it some consideration.

And the conclusion that I came to was that, yes, in some ways suicide is selfish. In that, at the times when I was seriously contemplating suicide the only thoughts that I had were for myself, my own feelings, and the prospect of my own, as I saw it, intolerable future.

The definition of selfishness is after all – ‘characterized by or manifesting concern or care only for oneself’.

But I think it’s only selfish in the same way that someone who has just been run over by a car is  selfish. At the particular moment of having been hit by a car that person’s primary concern is for their own injuries; their own need for treatment and pain relief. And given the circumstances their self absorbency is entirely legitimate.

I think that’s ultimately how I reconciled my own belief that I was being selfish with the fact that I was on the internet every day researching ways to kill myself. I found living to be unbearable, I could not stand the thought of having to continue feeling the way I did for the rest of my natural life, and so I felt that it was perfectly reasonable for me to seek a way out of my misery.

In fact I started to think that everyone else was being selfish in wanting me to continue living when I hated it so much.

If that sounds crazy to you, it probably is. Did I mention that I had a chemical imbalance in my brain at the time that was stopping it from working properly?

That being said, I did refrain from killing myself at my lowest point because it coincided with the death of a friend’s mother. I thought that it would be unfair to put him through two bereavements so close together. And because, despite all that I said earlier, I was worried that I would push another friend who was experiencing depression over the edge into taking her own life as well.

I’m not telling you this to suggest that you should start trying to emotionally blackmail any one who approaches you and confides that they are suffering with thoughts of suicide. But giving them someone or something else to focus on, or some reason to hold on at least long enough to see a professional who can help, might not be a bad idea.

Of course this post is no substitute for qualified medical advice. If you are reading this and worried about either your own thoughts of suicide, or concerns that someone you care about might be suicidal, please seek help from the your local emergency medical facility.

If you are someone who has suffered with thoughts of suicide in the past you may find The Ten Minute Suicide Guide entertaining. I think it can be best be described as a satirical look at suicide. It has actually kept me from hurting myself on more than one occasion.

And for anyone else I hope that I have done at least a little to either inform you about suicide or make the subject a little less scary.

If you have any comments or questions please feel free to share them.

 

pretty lady in China

The Fairest Of Them All

I see Samantha Brick, who created an internet sensation back in April when she wrote an article for MailOnline in which she claimed that all other women hate her for being beautiful, or some such rubbish, is back to troll us all a second time.

This time she’s interviewed five other women, who contacted her in response to her original article, and who also feel victimised by their fellow women folk, who, they believe, feel threatened at having to ‘compete’ with them. The thrust of the article is that all women will hate on any other woman who has the audacity to be good-looking, friendly, and confident to boot.

I’m not going to comment on any of the women in the article except to say that none of the examples they give seems to come close to  confirming their assertions. For example, one woman states that she had a close bunch of friends, all of whom were couples, who all used to socialise together on a regular basis. The woman then explains that when her relationship broke down she stopped seeing all those friends. She asserts that  this is because the women were jealous of her new-found confidence, and worried that she would try to steal their own partners.

Now, this might be the case. I don’t know her, or them, so I’ve really no idea. But on the basis of the information she provided it seems the explanation could just as easily be that the friends sided with the woman’s partner over the split, that the social group was composed of couples and she was no longer a fit, or that they were her ex partner’s friends to begin with and they never actually liked her.

I’m also not going to dwell on the numerous studies which have consistently shown that beautiful people are more likely to excel at work, be acquitted if they stand trial, and generally report that they find the world to be a warm and welcoming place, because we see beauty as a virtue and treat those who have it more favourably as a result. All of which directly contradicts the assertions that Brick makes in her article.

What I do want to talk about is a good friend of mine who we’ll call Nicole. Mainly because I don’t actually know anyone called Nicole.

Now, Nicole is a very beautiful woman. I mean Hollywood starlet beautiful. The kind of woman who, even if she’s not your type, you would never deny was incredibly pretty.

She’s also very confident. She knows she’s good at what she does, she’s secure in the love of her husband and family, and she’s always happy to meet new people.

She is also universally loved.

Contrary to everything that Ms Brick and her cronies would have you believe she should expect, I don’t believe that one single person Nicole has encountered in the whole of her life has found it in themselves to dislike her.

And it’s because she’s adorable. She’s a very warm person, and at ease with herself in the way that people who got more than enough hugs in their childhood are. She has the openness and generosity of someone who has always found reciprocity from others.

She’s also sweet-natured, caring, adventurous, and funny. Overall, she’s just incredibly easy to like and get on with, and so many find that she ends up being one of their favourite people.

I’ve known a few Nicoles over the years. And I think they give the lie to the assertions of people like Samantha Brick who try to paint all women as competitive and insecure. If that were the case then the Nicoles of the world wouldn’t stand a chance but instead they get along swimmingly with everybody.

They’re incredibly lucky. Few people find that they are exactly everybody else’s cup of tea. The rest of us have to aim for being liked by a healthy majority of the people we meet, and rubbing along tolerably well with the rest.

Because there are some people who, no matter how hard you try, you just won’t gel with. Not because those people feel threatened by you, or are jealous of anything at all about you, but because the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is pretty accurate.

Although, as I’ve said before, if you go around expecting that people will be hostile towards you, as the women in Brick’s article seem to, you’re probably increasing the odds that they will be.

If you treat all other women as though you assume that they’re jealously competing with you a lot of them are bound to think you’re a bit of a dick, because, well, you are.

I’m very sold on the idea of karma. Not in the sense that if you do good deeds someone will eventually do something good for you, but in the idea that you will, for the most part, get the same vibes returned to you as the ones you put out.

So if, like Nicole, all your vibes are sweet and serene, people will tend to respond to you in kind. Whereas, if you give out prickly awkwardness, that’s how people are likely to feel and behave around you.

It really is just as simple as we were taught as children.

 

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