CPTSD

A positive mental health story

When we talk about mental health it’s always about the suffering that goes with it and the judgments other people make about the mentally unwell. We very rarely talk about recovery and the magic that sometimes happens when you achieve the unexpected, without even trying it would seem. I might be underestimating the work that I’ve done or perhaps I’m not sure what exactly triggered it but I’m going to share a couple of things that have happened to me recently that can only be linked to a traumatic event that I’ve somehow neutralised.

For over 30 years I could not eat strawberries. I’d manage a strawberry yoghurt, enjoy a strawberry milkshake but the actual fruit, bleurgh, it made me feel nauseous. I thought they were too tart and when overripe smelt a little bit like death. The pockmarked flesh can’t have helped, I do have moderate trypophobia. It was strange because my twin sister adored them and would eat them by the punnet load. I wasn’t always like this, as a small child we often went on family trips to local farms where we’d pick fruit and veg and spent an entire day rolling down hills in the sunshine (these being some of my fondest memories) sneakily eating strawberries along the way as we overfilled our baskets but I also recall the sick bag that inevitably featured when we’d overdone it, in the car on the way home. It was usual to go off a food if I’d suffered as a result of consuming it but it never lasted very long so I didn’t think this explained why I hated strawberries so much. That is, until I suddenly found them palatable again and examined what had changed.

I’d hit a stage in my recovery where I was actively healing the wounds that had left me so isolated and started naming the cover ups that had ensured my descent into mental instability. You lie about who you are long enough, you either buy into it or you suffer a breakdown, the latter being my destiny. Naming my own faults and vowing to rid myself of false virtues I’d picked up like fleas and having the opportunity to reconnect and share and lean on others, I felt safe enough to delve into memories that were too painful to bear, up until now, because I was remembering who I was before the labels slapped on me damaged my sense of self. I know in my heart that my dislike of strawberries came from an event that was cruel and played on my bonds with my loved ones. I know that as a small child it probably felt like dying and I made this association with the nearest thing to hand. All organic things smell a little bit rotten when they’re at the riper end of their shelf life, mangoes for example, but I can’t get enough of them because I’ve only ever had good connections, like my mum lovingly handfeeding them to us with the sun beating down outside, refuelling her brood with good energy. Food is very much connected to our interpersonal bridge with our parents and early hardwiring can affect us for the rest of our lives unless we work intensely to strip it back and start again.

My dad dying a few years ago coupled with the opening of sealed doors in my mind changed something in my perception of strawberries. They’re really actually rather good. I don’t need to know exactly what it was that created this barrier in my baby brain but I’m choked that I can do something about it if I stick with it long enough. Our dad favoured my twin and strawberries were her thing I guess? Perhaps with his passing I can have them too? He snatched food out of my hands on a number of occasions, laughed at my distress. I can’t help feeling this is connected.

The other tiny miracle that just kinda randomly occurred to me, I can suddenly do percentages in my head without panicking at my complete inability to do anything with numbers, save basic arithmetic. Aged 10 I was coached for the 11+ and the times table was drummed into our heads by our father who resorted to violence if we stuttered. I was actually in the top set of maths all the way through high school until aged 15 I ran away from home. When I returned after a few months, because the school in London was so awful, my previously motivated and interesting maths teacher had had a complete personality change and was suddenly a bit of a dick. He’d been off sick with shingles in my absence and came back completely disinterested in his students. It must have really knocked my confidence because I became convinced I was bad with numbers and didn’t care because I was obviously more creative anyway.

I think I’ve proved to myself since my breakdown that I am capable, and remembering the past, how I was brimming with self esteem aged 12, which was the last time I remember feeling sure of anything, has reminded me who I am at my core: someone who stands up in the face of injustice to my own detriment because the alternative is unacceptable. I feel personally responsible for the world we find ourselves in, for all the years I toed the line and enabled coercive power, all in the hopes for a seat at the table. Coming to terms with a world that doesn’t reward talent or integrity and actively sets out to destroy it, that has been healing I guess? Resolving the past and coming to terms with my elders exactly as they are not as I would have them, has unlocked parts of my personality I’d long buried, to appease the green eyed patriarchy and minimise myself so I was never a threat to anyone which ultimately bit me in the butt when I was that much easier to victimise.

Learning that it is possible to change instilled behaviours, all it takes is a couple of weeks to lay down new pathways, making the past the road less well travelled every time you do things in your new way, has been liberating. Others might still judge me for the person I was aged 25 but that’s because they’re incapable of changing themselves. They judge others as they would judge their selves.

I’m excited to see what other things become available to me on my recovery journey.

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I Won

CN for suicide, self harm, mental health

13 months after my personal independence payments were cut, I won my 2nd tribunal. 13 months of crowdfunding my rent. 13 months of reducing my food intake, buying the cheaper brand, going without, and feeling humiliated but on Friday, a panel ruled in my favour. There was no objection from the DWP representative who, I could have sworn, was even crying at one point. I felt bad for scowling at her after that!

I self harmed 4 times during that period, when I absolutely could not comply with the measures I’ve worked at to protect myself. I dissociated more frequently. I got as far as buying the instruments I would need to end it. Drew up a plan. Resisted writing the suicide note because that would make it final, and only because the people around me pulled through when I shared my invasive thoughts (a thing I was only able to do because I’d been taught, by my first therapist). They reminded me I’d managed to survive this long because people wanted to help me. They made me think about the people who look to me for strength and how my demise would impact on them. I didn’t really care in that split second but when the feverish urges passed I felt a bit sheepish I’ll admit. People do take strength from my courage.

When the DWP cut me off and sent me their decision, they said they were not disputing the fact that I had these disabilities just whether or not I qualified for personal independence payments. 13 months on and I’ve just been told I do. So was it really necessary to put me through this? What is its purpose otherwise? Survival of the fittest? It’s not strictly true anymore though is it? I’m nowhere near the fittest but I have recourse; to advocates, to friends who work in the public sector and health professionals who actually listen. Perhaps this mum didn’t?

Even with all the support I have, I came the closest I ever have to ending it. I didn’t enjoy asking for help, again and again, I was isolated and lonely as a result. I might be an anarcho-communist but I still have the hardwiring of a society that celebrates charity as a virtue but not if you’re on the receiving end. The shame still lingers. I didn’t want to die, I felt I had no other choice.

Recently I read about a young woman called Holly Cowlam who took her own life when she was diagnosed with depression. Holly had been studying psychology and so had some understanding of mental health. I get the sense, because she knew her chances in life would be greatly affected, as they are in a society that demonises mental health, she felt she had no other option. I know what that’s like; the shame and hopelessness. I refused to acknowledge my own mental health for 20 years, telling myself I was stronger than those others who had succumbed. In the end, you can’t really prevent it. I am the sum total of all the violence and treachery inflicted on me but with the right support, and freedom, and protection, I know I can get better.

holly cowlam

What I do not need, and could have really done without, was being treated like I’m making it up. As a repeat victim of sexual and domestic violence, gaslighting is a straight up trigger for my PTSD. Being treated like I am insignificant and somehow asking for more than what is my right, having paid into a system for many years and on an emergency tax code more often than not (I did a lot of temp work because I was sick even then only I wouldn’t admit it) eventually wore me down in a way my mental and physical conditions do not, because I believe I can overcome them (to an extent). I needed time and space to heal not to be hindered by a cruel and abusive process.

Advocates for humanity must ramp up the pressure on this government and demand justice for all those who’ve needlessly died in our country. The architects of social cleansing must be tried for their crimes against our humanity.

You can judge a country by the way it treats its animals/poor/prisoners/women/disabled folk.

So over the DWP

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It has been almost a full year since my personal independence payments were stopped on the 27th January, a whole year sat around waiting on a tribunal and I still haven’t heard anything. A whole 550 pounds taken off my budget, impacting my recovery in ways that have only become apparent this many months on. I was awarded the higher level, based on my conditions and medical reports. My spine is fusing at L5/S1 following two surgeries to remove a prolapsed disc that had caused marked damage to the nerves in my left foot, leg and buttock. The second op was an emergency and doctors were amazed to discover I wasn’t incontinent considering the position of the disc. A stroke of luck. Adhesions following the surgeries have left me with chronic pain in my lower back and surrounding areas. I also suffer from complex post traumatic stress disorder. Commonly affecting prisoners of war, this condition was inflicted on me. PTSD happens when a life threatening event causes trauma that is still evident more than a month later. Complex PTSD arises when your life has been threatened multiple times. I am due to see a rheumatologist, to find out whether I have lupus or rheumatoid arthritis. Lupus is an autoimmune disease that seems to affect groups affected by white supremacist imperialism, funnily enough.

Of course I would rather have a life filled with new experiences. I would have liked to do a bungee jump. I would have loved to travel the world a bit more, gone to more music festivals, and taken that foodie holiday I used to dream about. A tour of all the foodie heavens; Italy, France, Spain.. I also wanted to go on a walking holiday, Camino de Santiago, even as a non believer, because it sounds delightful and you get to meet lots of people along the way, and I love people, despite all their bullshit. I would have liked to take in the world’s ruins and visited Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. I would eventually settle far away from the rainy fascist island I was birthed on, once I’d got my bearings in the world.

Life dealt me another hand. One full of pain and suffering, of unfulfilled potential. I don’t like asking for my dues. I don’t appreciate having to reel off my trauma history every time my status is called into question. That’s what doctors are there for surely? To confirm the treatment you have been receiving, to give their expert opinions on the state of your health? I asked for a supporting letter to send to the DWP who were insisting I come in for another ESA assessment, a thing I absolutely could not do. They are aware of my mental health, they’ve been advised numerous times. The admin service said a supporting letter would cost £46, approx 1/3 of the emergency rate they have now placed me on (because I failed to provide a GP’s letter). When I explained my circumstances they sent an identical email reiterating the cost and clarifying that supporting letters are considered ‘private work’ and not available on the NHS.

So this is how they’re going to kill us now is it? Make it impossible to jump through the hoops they expect you to jump in exchange for their meagre offerings?

I’ve stopped talking to everyone. I’ve stopped asking the GP for help, stopped bothering the DWP, don’t see any point in talking to my therapist or advocate. I guess I’m resigned, hurtling towards the inevitable. I’m calm, eerily so. I just haven’t enough fight left in me to tackle the system. I haven’t even told my family, because what good would come of it? Nobody is in a position to carry me. I have survived this long only because of the kindness of friends and even strangers. I don’t really have that access any more. I can’t be bothered to do anything about it either.

The British government has wilfuly caused the deaths of many thousands of sick and disabled British citizens. I have seen firsthand how they’ve implemented this, every step of the way. I have only made it this far because of all the support I receive but even that is insufficient now. I truly have no vision for tomorrow. I don’t see how my circumstances will improve and more to the point, I am done trying. This isn’t a statement of intent, just a heads up that I’m sitting down now and I’m not getting up.