Monthly Archives: March 2014

Hello guilt, my old friend

I find the idea of having a body hard to deal with.

There’s a pretty strong school of thought that how we feel about our bodies comes from our formative experiences; basically, it’s largely down to your childhood.

But I’m uncomfortable with that. It implies blame. And fault. And makes us out to be victims of our circumstances. It doesn’t sit with my view that some of us are made wrong, that things go beyond whether you had a happy childhood.

As a parent I know that we try our best – but that we’re not perfect and we make mistakes.

As a daughter I know that my parents made mistakes with me when I was growing up. I still love them. I am rock-solid sure that they want the best for me. I also know they don’t know what’s best for me.

I’ve just started art psychotherapy, well aware that it largely works on looking for reasons for the way we feel from childhood. I feel guilty about that. Deeply, deeply guilty. I’m also aware – having spent two years in talking therapy in the recent past – that things did go wrong in my childhood. Not cataclysmically, but enough to warp my feelings about my body.

My brain melts at the thought that this might be part of the mix. That the blackness within is magnified by the environmental damage without. I feel guilty that I am wasting valuable psychological services on something that I know cannot be mended.

So, guilt. Don’t you love it?

 

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Art therapy #1. Now with added art

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The paper was satisfyingly thick, almost asking to be touched. You’d think pristine white would shout: leave me alone! But instead it whispered: mark me, mark me. The clock ticked in the way that only NHS clocks can. I find the measured, metallic clunk-clunk reassuring. Sarah sat at an angle from me, managing to both watch and not watch at the same time. 

I think people would expect me to be a super-tidy, rather fussy drawer. I’m not. I like big pieces of paper and the opportunity to feel what I’m doing. To smudge, splat and smear. It’s liberating. 

It felt like a charcoal day. A grey and subdued day. A whimper not a shout type of day. 

I started trying to draw the damage, the part that’s missing. I wanted to show an amorphous, brittle cloud that’s both cold and powerful. But that was never going to appear on the page. Instead, I ended up with a swirly ball. Quite pretty, really. 

If you’ve read Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy this might make more sense: I think what I’m missing might be what some call a soul and what Pullman displays as a ‘daemon’, the animal familiar that sits on the shoulder of every child as its constant companion. And, when a child is forcibly separated from its daemon, the child becomes a faded shadow of itself – lost, confused and in pain. 

I sense my ball of blackness like that and tried to draw its connection to the cloud of malevolence that surrounds me. 

But here’s what made me stop. Panic a bit. Momentarily wonder about the capacity of the human brain. 

In drawing the cloud around me I drew, without realising, a foetal shape and a woman’s head looking down, holding the ball of blackness away from the figure. 

I didn’t mean to do that. I was drawing the cloud of gloom. 

Maybe there’s something in this art therapy lark, after all. 


Art therapy #1

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So today was the day; my first proper session of art psychotherapy. After three assessment sessions it was time to start and it was a frankly terrifying prospect – just me, a fully-stocked art room and Sarah, my therapist.

We started with that unavoidable question: how has your week been? I took a deep breath and answered truthfully (after lots of staring at the ceiling). And then I don’t know how it happened, but we were in deep.

What do I want to get from therapy? My heart thudded uncomfortably, like a mega palpitation. But I answered because I wanted her to understand and, probably, to validate my point of view.

I want to be able to say that I’ve tried everything to find a way to carry on living. That I’ve given it my best shot. To say: Look. I’m faulty. There’s no fixing it and there’s no way to live like this.

Turns out I’m looking for proof that something is missing and she’s looking for what’s missing to put it back in place. We’ve agreed to differ for now.

It wasn’t a day for colourful art. I picked up a piece of charcoal and tried to draw what the missing part of me looks like. Hard to draw something when you don’t know what it looks like. I tried. We talked. I put the mask back on and went back to work.

Hopefully going in next week won’t be quite so scary now I’ve taken the plunge.

Thanks for listening.


Cats know everything

Er hem. On top of everything else, I’m a crazy cat lady. My life revolves around four gorgeous moggies. I’d like you to meet them.

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I could tell you every little detail about their characters but I know that info is only really of interest to me.

What I’d like to say, to commit to the air, is how they give me a reason. That I am their human and they rely on me for their routine, for regular food and fuss and love. For lifting into the ‘towel house’ for a cosy sleep. For turning on the hot tap in the sink to dribble enough for them to lap up the warm water. For understanding the difference between a pick-me-up meow and a I’m-tired-let-me-sleep meow.

I can’t let them down. No one else loves them, or could love them, like I do.

Holding a cat in my arms and snuggling my face into her fur gives me a little bit of happiness.

So meet Thursday

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And Tate

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And Truby

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And my shy girl, Tolly.

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Thank you for listening.


Chemical war

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This is day eleven of the new chemical war in my body.

Eleven days closer to finding out if the right combination of drugs can make any difference to how I feel. Eleven days in to the chasm of wait that I have to cross to find out. Eleven days on from that first pop from an unfamiliar packet and that uncomfortable moment of pure panic that the mammoth capsule has got stuck halfway down.

I don’t know if I believe in drugs or whether believing in them is part of their success. I’m stuffed if it is.

I thought the old ones didn’t work. They said it was important to take them; that I needed to take them regularly to feel any benefit. The ones I trust said it was a good thing to do. So I did it.

But still I thought they didn’t work. They made no difference to feeling like an evil puppet who deserved to die; who needed to die in order to stop the blackness contaminating good, whole, made-right people. I managed to explain this and they listened.

A new psychiatrist came to my house, sat on my sofa and made me go through it all again. He was a bit deaf and I talk quietly so it was a laboured conversation about death and brokenness. Truby cat was really interested in his briefcase. I nodded in the right places.

Have some new pills that block more receptors, he said. Take this other stuff as well, he said. Don’t google it, it’s misleading, he said. We’re not giving it to you for the reason we give it to most people, he said. I just heard two lots of pills. More pills, more likely to work, yeah?

But to start the new pills I had to stop taking the old ones, and do it gradually because I was on such a high dose. No one warned me it would be such fun. Constant electric-shock feelings in my head. Shaking. Agitation. More palpitations than usual. Feeling sick but knowing I wouldn’t be; wishing I could be to make the feeling go away. And worst of all: the realisation that they had been doing something. Maybe not that much, but they had been doing something because without them I felt even lower. Who knew that rock bottom had a basement?

So here I am. In the basement. Waiting for day twelve to begin. Thank you for listening.