emotions

How Tomorrow Makes Me Feel – Back in Therapy and Dealing with a Depressed Father

Too Much Information OverloadThis is my 3rd attempt at composing and publishing a short post.

I seem to be pathologically unable to compose a short blog post. I always have too much to say. This comes from years of being forced to keep quiet and not express my true thoughts and feelings, which is unhelpful when the atmosphere I grew up in was so unstable and traumatic.

When I do start to open up and write from the heart and soul, everything just floods out. I am desperate to let it all out and to be listened to, validated and comforted.

The problem is that we live in a world where image is everything, and the stigma around mental health issues is still really powerful. I am lucky to have come across lots of recent campaigns to increase awareness of mental health issues and break down the stigma’s attached to them. However, when it comes to telling my own true story, my anxiety gets triggered just thinking of any unintended and negative consequences of being open and honest. “Outing” myself (as suffering from mental health issues) and then being negatively judged, mocked or side-lined for doing so, scares the living daylights out of me.

To try and prevent this, I have spent the last few days trying to build a barrier of anonymity around this blog and my online presence. A virtual wall to protect myself from exposing my true vulnerability and being attacked (I am always on red alert for being attacked) which ironically maintains my alienation mental health issues. I am the same in real life. I create and maintain emotional walls to defend myself from being hurt, but the side effect is being continually disconnected from developing meaningful social interactions and relationships.

This is really ironic, as opening up, on this blog, has made me feel free, energised, and excited. The point of posting my true thoughts and feelings, my story, on this blog, was to connect with other people. I didn’t originally set up this blog with a view to chronicling my battle with mental health issues. It just happened. I still plan to post about other facets of my life. I am more than just someone with mental health problems, but those conditions are a big part of where I am in my life right now.

I currently feel very alienated in my life, so trying to connect with people I can relate to or who are in similar circumstances can only be a positive thing right? If only it was that easy. Anonymity comes at a price, it can maintain alienation, but opening up in a truly honest way, though really brave, can have its costs too.

With all this in mind, let’s try to push back the flood waters of my suppressed inner thoughts and summarise.

I really wanted to post something today as tomorrow is significant for 2 reasons. I will summarise these 2 events now and then publish 2 separate posts expanding on these summaries.

Tomorrow is my father’s 80th birthday. What should be a day of celebration is shrouded in misery and depression, which is exactly what my father, who has depression but denies having it (even though he is on anti-depressants), or that all these “made-up” mental health conditions actually exist, wants it to be.

I have been at my wits end trying to cheer him up over the last few days, weeks, months, years in fact. Nothing makes him happy. No matter what you do for him it is never enough, and he always finds a fault in it and with you. If I buy him a Strawberry trifle he will let me know that Raspberry is his favourite. If I buy him an Apricot Torte he will mention how he only likes Apricot Tortes form a certain patisserie. I offered to take him for a birthday lunch at his favourite café, but he told me he no longer eats lunch (which is not strictly true) and he doesn’t want me to take him out until I have a job (which is his way of guilt tripping me into going out there and getting a high flying well paid job I am actually too mentally ill to be able to hold down).

He has been bullying me and putting me down my whole life. That is at the core of my low self-esteem, which is one of the drivers of my depression and anxiety disorders. He is like the mother in Woody Allen’s most serious film, “Interiors” or like Livia, the mother from The Sopranos. He has constructed this idea that he is a victim and everything and everyone is out to make his life miserable. He has to discount and push away any evidence that counteracts this constructed idea. I completely sympathise with him as a person suffering from depression, but instead of admitting that and trying to work through it, he denies it exists as a condition, denies he has it, and focuses the blame on me and other people around him for his misfortunes in life. He mocks my own attempts to seek therapy for my depression and pushes back any attempts I make to be compassionate towards him.

The question is not about what to do with him. The question is about what to do with me? Why should I be responsible for making him happy and saving his soul from the darkness of destructive depression? I love him and have enormous compassion for him.  Yet for all I do for him he just bullies and mocks me and is a destructive influence on me. I think I need to stop now and elaborate further in the main post about this. So look out for my post about my father, me and his 80th Birthday non-celebration.

The second important thing happening tomorrow is my assessment session for counselling talk therapy. I have had various forms of talk therapy over the last 10 years. Not continuously, but for different periods of time, with big gaps in between. The last therapy I was in lasted for 3 years. I really connected with my last therapist and we built a really positive and insightful relationship during 3 years of weekly sessions.

It was prematurely cut short, just when I was really exposed and opened up emotionally, when she got pregnant and had to end her practice. I felt like a patient in hospital being left cut open on the operating table, mid-operation. That was in April 2013. The last 11 months have not been easy. I realised I needed to continue therapy, for the sake of my own emotional well-being, my marriage and career prospects. My social anxiety has only gotten worse. I only feel safe and comfortable locked up in bed, the toilet or at him, alone, watching TV, or in my study. When the telephone rings I get nervous. Having to deal with other people makes me anxious. I assume everyone hates me and is out to get me. That I always fail other people, let them down, and they will punish me for it. I am also really struggling with containing all my negative thoughts and finding the focus and motivation I desperately need in order to finish my courses and get a new job.

I am very apprehensive about starting therapy with a new counsellor. I really believe in psychological therapy and think it’s far harder than anyone realises. I will elaborate further my thoughts on talk therapy and my own experiences in another post. So look out for that!

Enough! I have already gone past my limit of a one page word document blog post! I need an editor.

Nightmare Under The Garden

Last night I had a strange dream.

I was in my garden at night, taking to my next door neighbour. I noticed a headstone in the corner of my garden. It was a brand new, clean, light grey stone, without any markings on it. A blank headstone. For some reason I was holding a shovel. I asked my neighbour if he knew anything about the sudden appearance of this worrying addition to my garden? He had no idea how it got there. He suggested I start digging to see what was under it. I started digging and after a short while a large hole appeared in front of the headstone.

Thing One and Thing Two

There was a large open bunker under my garden. I had dug into it. There were lots of strange people in there buzzing around and smiling wickedly. They looked like Thing one and Thing two from the Cat in the Hat children’s books by Dr. Seuss. They had orange jump suits on and were all pointing at me as they rushed around the bunker under my garden. They also seemed to be taking orders from someone else. Someone with a long dark shadow.

All I could see was the shadow, not the leader himself. The strange orange-suited creatures started shouting at me to “Jump! Jump!”. They wanted me to join them in the bunker. I could feel a chill running down my spine. I heard a familiar voice trying to call me from within the bunker, being drowned out by the horrid squealing creatures. It sounded like my father’s voice. He is turning 80 next Tuesday and I am paranoid that he is going to die soon. He’s pretty depressed and keeps talking about just wanting to die, but I have always wanted to be the one to save him. To try and give him back the desire to live and embrace life. I have always had a real Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker thing with my dad, with me trying to save him from himself. Was his voice asking me for help or was he the Dark Leader? Who knows.

It was dark outside and I knew there was some form of powerful evil down there, in the bunker under my garden. I didn’t want to go down there. I felt a force trying to pull me down into it. I shouted to my neighbour to help me. He ran and got some strong rope and threw it to me. I grabbed the rope and held on for dear life as he pulled me away form the hole in my garden by the headstone. The stronger he pulled the rope to save me the stronger the dark forces in the bunker pulled at me. I closed my eyes and used all my power to pull away form the darkness. I gathered all my energy and made one big jump away form the hole. I felt my face smash into the cold hard ground. I blanked out.

When I came to, I was in my hallway. There was a knock at the floor. All I could see was a tall, black shadow again. I checked that the chain was on the door. I franticly searched for my house keys to check that the locks had been activated. I saw visions of criminals with killer eyes at my door, desperate to get in and commit some sort of horror. I was full of anxiety and fear as I turned the key in the door lock to make sure the door stayed closed. the people outside started pushing at my front door. They were eager to get in. Something dark wanted to grab hold of me.

I heard the clock radio turn on. the music playing was the Calvin Harris Remix of Spectrum (Say My Name) by Florence and The Machine. I love that song and it empowered me enough to get out of bed.

What was that dream all about. It was some form of nightmare, playing on my real fear of burglars and having the safety of my home invaded. It felt like one of the Doctor Who serials I have been watching every day for the last few months. Strange alien creatures in an underground lair. Like Doctor Who and The Silurians (a great serial from season 7, Jon Pertwee’s 1st Season as the Doctor).

I had thought dreams were meant to be full of our unconscious desires, in order to keep us sleeping to keep enjoying the things we get to experience in dream-world but are denied us in the real world. This is because we need sleep to re-energise our bodies and mind, and dreams force us to take the time to switch off to allow the body to do its work. It’s sort of like defragmenting the hard drive of a computer, something we never bother to do until its too late. If we had our desires fulfilled every time we defragged a PC we would do it every night! Yet I have no desire to be sucked into a world of death and evil or attacked by burglars. Sure a lot of the unconscious fears and insecurities we bury deep inside our psyche come out in dreams. This just felt so powerful. I need to get round to reading The Interpretations of Dreams by Sigmund Freud.

I didn’t help that I have been fallen ill with an increasingly worsening cold that feels like it is a physical manifestation of how I feel psychologically/ mentally. I feel exhausted, burnt out, battered. I am not coping well with the fall-out from my sister’s decision to exclude me and the family from her wedding. From losing what I thought was a really close relationship, and had been at one time, for a long time. From realising that I have lost and am losing everything I used to rely on to keep me going in this harsh, cold, unjust world.

I wanted to sleep for longer to try and give my body more energy to fight the cold. My nightmare prevented that. Ironically sleep is one of the few things I still have that I can rely on to help me get through life. I also have blogging. Typing out my thoughts into this blog post has really helped. Blogging is really therapeutic for me. I am starting to get on board with the whole Blogging for Mental Health 2014 thing.

Anyway, on a positive note, no matter how bad real life gets, at least when I looked out into my garden there was no blank headstone and empty grave waiting to be filled.

Piercing the Bubble

My wife just pierced my bubble.

With just 2 words I’ve been forced to face the cold, hard truth of what lies outside all the bubbles we create to shelter us.

The bubble in question is a world full of strange symbols and programming code.

I am currently teaching myself back-end web development, specifically PHP & MySQL, and building a private social network to practise and hone the new skills I am learning. The more I get into programming and working with code and databases, the more I love it. I loved building IT solutions for business problems during my career as a finance analyst. I much preferred building the tools that would automate analysis to actually presenting what that analysis meant to high powered corporate directors. I’m a geek at heart. The great thing about all things geek is you can lose yourself in another world, cut off from everything going on around you, as you focus on trying to solve the problem at hand. The book I’m currently working through is great at explaining complex concepts, but does have one too many errors, but that actually helps force me to understand what I am learning and doing. Time flies as I lock myself away from the real world in my office cum study, immersed in code, concepts alien to people outside of programming and constant browser refreshes to check my progress.

It’s often hard to stay focussed and not get distracted at home, where I’m learning my exciting new skills, but today was turning out to be a very productive day. Until the bubble burst.

Lots of distracting thoughts constantly float about in my head, from suppressed emotional distresses we all bury deep to just keep going, to more mundane, yet just as important musings about how I would fix the increasing multitude of broken household objects falling apart around me. Add to that my perpetual analysis of what all the cultural matter I consume means, and you can understand that trying to keep a lid on distracting thoughts and focus like a laser on coding isn’t always easy.

I’ve been told that the very act of burying (and trying to bury) all these unprocessed thoughts and feelings actually makes it harder to remain focussed later on, probably because they will all still vie for attention until they are heard, like all the hyperactive children at my daughter’s 5th birthday party who were desperate to show me how great each of their magic fairy wands was (it was an art party, hosted by a professional artist/ party entertainer).

Old habits die hard though, and I come from an ethnic/ cultural background where you lock away what you think and feel to present an image society expects of you. Less talk, more action. Yet action is hard when you’re brain is fried from too many thoughts that need to be freed. The bubble of my study, full of programming books and technology to help keep my focus, sometimes needs to have all the air and thoughts inside it let out. That is why I started this blog, probably my 5th blog, maybe 6th? I have a lot going on in my life and in my head. I feel the need to let it out. I thought a blog would help out. Writing is a great outlet (i didn’t use the word creativity as I’m not as creative as I’d love to be!)

Yet I digress. The point was that for all that was going on in my head previously, i had been focussing on my work, until my wife told me the news.

I was angry at her for neglecting a lot of housework I had ended up doing, when i should have been working, and I went downstairs to make my tea in a grump. Its not her fault, she’s overworked, and the greatest wife anyone could have, especially me.

I asked her how she was and she said OK, and she seem OK, bar the fact she was distracted making dinner for guests who were visiting her and my daughter for a play date. My wife was grating lots of cheese on the four cheese pizza I ordered for the play date. She seemed a bit lost. I stirred the watery rice milk into my tea, making sure every molecule breaks down as i do (i stir for a long time, it helps me process thoughts).

I tried to break the tension, and stop being such a child with my grump, so I asked her how her day was. She said OK, except, then she paused. She looked at me and told me she had seen our next door neighbour, a friendly, gentle giant British-Italian man who runs his own business and whose website I am building.

“Rachel’s.”

That’s all she said.

In that microsecond I knew exactly what she meant. yet I started thinking about the programming code I had been writing, so that I could distract my thoughts, and stop them growing into feelings. feelings I don’t want to experience. Intellectually I know that feelings must be allowed to do their work. To be set free and not suppressed. It may hurt, but taking the pain now, pain that will wash away, is better than storing it up and creating a monster of distorted pain within us. Yet old habits die hard, as I mentioned above. Even now, it’s easier to waffle on rather than type the simple fact. Rachel is dead.

Rachel was a neighbour who was friends with our next door neighbours. Her husband was British-Italian like my neighbour and they were friends. Rachel had 2 young children and we would bump into them all in the local park, which is a beacon of face to face community spirit in this age of cyber-relationships. She was always friendly and my wife, herself the queen of friendliness, would chat to Rachel often. Rachel’s life hadn’t been easy for the past few years.

She had been diagnosed with cancer, more specifically leukaemia, a few years ago. She had lots of painful treatment, and pulled through. Then she separated from her husband after a lot of issues came to the fore,and the separation was pretty acrimonious. She is originally from Australia and her family live there, so it must have been hard to suffer all she did without family support around the corner.

I found all of the above every sad. Yet that was not the end of it. Rachel’s husband, now separated form her, had been on a major weight-loss regime. I can;’t verify the exact details, but he had lost a tremendous amount of weight very quickly. He was on a date with someone else when he collapsed and died from a heart attack, suddenly. For his 2 young kids, aorudn my daughter’s age, to lose their dad, and so suddenly, out of nowhere, having suffered their mother’s cancer and their parents separation, that must have been traumatic. That was over a year ago.

Rachel had made it past the cancer first time round, but it came back. She underwent more treatment, and although the prognosis was apparently not great, we all hoped she would pull through. I saw her a few times in the local supermarket and park and she gave me the big friendly smile I found empowering. Even with everything she had been through she still carried on with life and pushed through with a smile.

My wife and I talked a lot about how sad it all was and what would happen to her kids if she died. We just assumed she’s make it. How much bad luck can those kids be dished out? I’m not a superstitious man nor do I believe in any supernatural forces controlling destiny or lives. yet I am human and I bend logic when i need to, to help me cope with a world full of cold, hard, painful truths. So when my wife mentioned her name, just 2 words, “It’s Rachel” my heart sank. I was about to burst out crying.

I didn’t know Rachel particularly well, yet I remember her spirit and that smile. And my thoughts immediately focus on her 2 children, both pre-teens. How does one process such a thing? We live very sheltered  lives here in the UK and modern western nations (at least a lot of us do, many people aren’t so lucky even in the communities around us). I’ve seen my fair share of trauma, but I block it all out and I’m lucky enough to be surrounded by enough false reality and middle-class wealth to create a bubble in which missing an episode of Community is the worst thing to happen to me in a day.

Now the bubble is burst. If I think about it, the sudden death of Rachel, who was doing better with her treatment until 2 days ago when she suddenly went downhill very quickly., is too much to process. I just want to let it all out. Yet I can’t. I’ve got good at holding back the tears and suppressing the emotions, I’m a real expert at it. When my beloved father-in-law (one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet in your life) died a few years back, i noted how little I cried at his funeral. I felt immense grief. I know I did. yet I’ve programmed myself, the first application I built, to push down those feelings of grief, and stand aloof, like some emotionless android. Yet I’m not an android. I’m a very sensitive individual, who can’t believe what his wife just told him. It makes everything else going on around me seem so irrelevant.

I had been shocked and saddened by the sudden death of my favourite actor, James Gandolfini, someone who touched my life in that strange way an actor you’ve never met does. I think about Nelson Mandela and all the good that he stands for, and how inspirational he is, and how he will leave a gigantic hole when he dies, as news reports abound about his worsening ill health. Death is all around us, an everyday fact and occurrence, but it actually rarely pops up and confronts me. Especially in such distressing circumstances.

My daughter plays with her friend in the room next door as if nothing traumatic has happened. She has no idea. Her bubble is still floating. God knows how Rachel’s children are coping. I can’t even bear thinking about it.