PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 |
At the end of last week’s account of my first (ever) Hearing Voices Support Group I posed a series of playful questions:
Will the sweat monster make an even bigger fool of himself at the next meeting? Will he actually speak and dispel the belief that he’s mute? Will he have to stand in the middle of a circle again? Will he drop the ball during the warm-down game? How many times will he U-turn on the Lincoln Causeway?
Now, I would be untrustworthy if I didn’t answer these questions, so…YES (OH HELL YES!); YES; NO (THANK GOD!), NEARLY, ONCE (BUT NOT FOR THE REASON YOU MIGHT THINK)…but you’ll have to read on to learn the whys, wherefores and whatthehellhappeneds during my second visit to this group.
…there’s something you need to know!
Following last week’s group, the counselling session I attended on Monday and the subsequent post I wrote introducing them to you all, my voices have reacted in wholly expected (and unexpected ways).
Vanessa, as per usual, is intensely angry and abusive that I’d even dare talk about her without obtaining written permission first (think about it!)
Shay thinks the whole situation is hysterical to the point of being farce and has informed me that if I don’t take steps to rectify the situation, he will.
Audrey is, on the whole, greatly amused by the situation and is looking forward to see me humiliate my ass off when things play out as she expects.
Whilst Meadhbh…how best can I say this without making me look nuts?…Meadhbh seems to be having some sort of meltdown. Over the last several days she’s gone from pissed off, to annoyed, to amused, to epicly angry, to bargaining, to scared, to silent treatment (i.e. visual hallucinations, no talking), to clingy child.
Since Thursday she’s wanted to accompany me everywhere, which in all honesty has been incredibly exhausting!
So given her prevalence over the last couple of days she will probably feature heavily in this post.
Sorry ’bout that :/
Meadhbh sat on the handlebars of my bike for the ride from my house to Albury. This was incredibly frustrating regardless of how cute she thought it was. About five minutes after I left my house I caused a minor traffic jam by turning the wrong way down a one way street, purely because I couldn’t see the sign indicating the one way nature of the road as it was blocked by her giggling body.
For the duration of the trip Meadhbh was constantly asking me “are you sure you want to go? are you sure you want to go? are you sure you want to go?” in the same annoying tone a child says are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? At one point I was yearning for the days of her barked insults and abuse, in the next I came close to pulling the bike over so I could smack her bottom in the hope it would teach her to stop pestering the ‘driver’. Obviously I didn’t do the latter as she doesn’t really exist but the ‘realness’ of my hallucinations sometimes makes it difficult to remember I’m the only person who can hear/see them.
Anyway, however infuriating this sounds it actually worked to my advantage. Last week I spent the entire trip panicking over every last possible thing that could happen whereas this week, Meadhbh’s constant yammering was acting as a distraction from my anxiety. Thus there weren’t any incidents of self-harm this week and the only U-Turn came when I realised I wouldn’t make it to the next public toilet in Albury courtesy of my IBS so had to double back to the Tourist Information Center.
And yes, Meadhbh accompanied me there as well!
The Owl and the Pussycat
Thankfully, this week’s warm-up activity was a far cry from last week’s ritual humiliation.
Instead of having to stand in the middle of a circle being judged and assessed by a group of complete strangers, we were all given a sheet of A4 paper, some coloured pens and then told to draw various objects.
The first object we had to draw was a “tree”; so I drew a tree…and then Meadhbh told me to draw an owl in the tree because owls are ‘cute’, so I drew an owl to keep her amused.
The second object we had to draw was a “ship”; so I drew a ship…and then Meadhbh told me to draw a pussycat in the ship because the owl was waiting for the pussycat to take her out to sea.
The third object we had to draw was a “golf ball shaker”; so I drew a golf ball shaker, or what I believed a golf ball shaker would look like, but given Meadhbh was too busy reciting the poem I couldn’t concentrate on being ‘creative’ so gave up without fully realising my creation in all its artistic glory.
Note: as I don’t have a camera I can’t photograph the exact images I drew, but the picture at the top of this post is a computer drawn copy of the warm-up exercise.
One of the reasons behind my fear of going to last week’s group was the inevitable (and rather quite common) ‘fear of the unknown’. I had no idea how the group worked, what they did or how each session would be worked. Would it be a two-hour free-for-all? Would the group leaders have every minute planned? Would it vary from week to week?
Now I’ve been to two groups, unless the groups leaders are lulling me into a false sense of security, I have a much better idea of how each week is formatted. Once the warm-up session is out the way we move onto the dreaded round table. Now, I’m sure having the opportunity to share how your week has been would be incredibly comforting for some people. Personally, I would love to be able to purge all the pain and frustration that’s been consuming me.
However, as with this blog, as with conversations with counsellors, as with pretty much everyone I communicate with, I always sugar-coat how I’m feeling so that I don’t push people away, scare them off or make them think I’m just a depressing tosser. This act of putting on a mask has been something I’ve done since I was a young teenager. Why else do you think my self-harm and depression went unnoticed? My sister is also exceptionally good at it, as are many people I’ve known who have issues with mental health. We have to lie in order to – amongst other things – avoid being alienated and discriminated against.
And I’ve never been able to move past this fear and just be honest with people about how I’m really feeling.
But even if I did feel comfortable talking about exactly how I feel the ’round table’ format is something I truly cannot stand. I have in the past shared the embarrassing moment when I announced my name was Mitchell during my first night of college, purely because the anxiety of the ‘waiting for my turn’ grew so intense I couldn’t focus on any of the words coming out of my mouth.
In fact, every ’round table’ incident of my life has seen me reduced to a rambling, incoherent, twat.
Last week, in a rare moment to be proud of, I admitted my anxiety and opted not to speak. This week, I felt I had to, if only to dispel the belief that I was incapable of speech.
For the fifty minutes leading up to my turn (in true ‘the universe hates me fashion’ I had to wait until last) my anxiety was slowly growing. Every minute that passed my legs trembled that little bit more, my stomachflies multiplied ten fold and Meadhbh became equal parts amused and louder. By the time I had to speak to a group of twelve relative strangers she was sitting on my lap whispering tales of my failures into my right ear.
So as I tried to vocalise the pleasures, pains, frustrations and achievements of my week, Meadhbh was reminding me of the Mitchell incident, of when I nearly threw up at a first aid training session, of when my friends looked at me with ‘who the fuck is this pillock?’ expressions for failing to adequately share happy stories of my life.
Instead of carefully constructed paragraphs replete with pop culture references, random metaphors, insightful commentary and pathos, my words became a blur of incorrect diction, painful grammatical mistakes and far too many lies for my liking. I played down my achievements (groups, counselling, blog return, munches), I played down my failings (anxiety attacks, increased voices, nightmares and lack of sleep) and in the process made myself look like a complete and utter twat.
And I’m not just saying that because I’m always so hard on myself – on this rare of occasions my self-criticism is 100% deserved! Not even Meadhbh wanted to talk to me after that shocking performance; for she was far too busy laughing up a lung at my ineptitude.
Moments after my atrocious performance in the round table a break was called so I exited the room instantly. I walked quickly around the building and hid behind a small wall where no-one would see me. Meadhbh was seconds behind, taking up a spot cross-legged in front of me where she began reviewing my performance and pointing out all the things I needed to do to ensure I repeated this in the future. She was talking so fast, so loud and so confusingly my brain began to melt. My heart was already racing. My breathing rapid. I couldn’t focus on anything or anyone. Not even the cigarette I was trying to smoke, normally a primary weapon in my fight against anxiety.
For twenty minutes I sat motionless behind that wall thinking if I stayed hidden people wouldn’t even realise I was gone. Then I could sneak back in at the end to get my bag before making a hasty retreat to the ‘safety’ of my house and never return to this most awful of ideas.
Alas, I’m an emotional-masochist. If I’ve set my heart on achieving something I’m going to do whatever I can to make it work – or die trying!
So once I’d managed to drop my anxiety from a 13 to an 11 (my normal day-to-day functioning level is 7 out of 10) I returned to the group.
The second hour of the group seems to vary from week to week. Last week we listened to an interview and then discussed it, this week we were going to watch a video but the AV equipment wasn’t working so the leaders handed out work books that we’re going to be working through.
The purpose of this work book is to support you in your choice to explore your experience. This wor book is for people who hear voices to work through alone, but, preferably with someone they trust. It will enable people who have difficulties with their voices to discover a different side to the voices.
This booklet asks you to answer questions honestly (often bravely) in order to gather information about the relationship between voices and voice hearer. The point of this is to develop ways of coping with distressing voices.
I won’t quote the entire introduction as I’m sure you get the idea. Basically, we’ll be working through this book over the coming weeks to learn more about our voices and experiences so we can develop ways to cope. It’s similar to what I began doing with my counsellor on Monday and after flicking through the work book, realise I’ve already begun to work on the one section with what I wrote in my earlier ‘Introducing my voices’ post.
The section we covered this week was about our dreams:
Close your eyes and spend some time thinking about what you would like to achieve by working through this work book? Spend at least thirty minutes allowing yourself to imagine what you would like to achieve in your life. (Don’t worry if negative thoughts come up, this is normal), just think some more of what you would achieve if you had the power to do so. These things may be small or big dreams.
And then, on a fresh piece of paper, we spent ten minutes writing down our dreams (I know the book said thirty, but we were on a strict time limit!)
This is word-for-word, bracket-to-bracket, what I wrote:
◊ To feel more connected to myself both physically and mentally
◊ To no longer be afraid of being homeless again
◊ To be able to talk to people without intense anxiety (that makes me look like a twat!)
◊ To acknowledge my achievements instead of constantly berating them
◊ To feel happiness again
◊ To see my writing published again
◊ Increase my confidence
◊ To no longer be isolated and alone
◊ To have a better relationship with my voices
◊ To love and be loved in return (cheers, Moulin Rouge!)
◊ To believe in myself
◊ To have a pet turtle (whom I shall name Magnus)
◊ To have a family
◊ To no longer be traumatized by abuse
◊ To be able to share my thoughts without fear of judgment, ridicule and humiliation
And this is, word-for-word, space-to-space, what I said when asked to read my dreams to the group:
(To fully realise how I spoke this take a deep breath and then speak the words as fast as you possibly can in a single, unchanging, monotonous tone!)
Did you spot them? Because I did the moment they left my lips…and Meadhbh did as well…so you can bet your cute asses everyone else did too!
And this is where I get frustrated. This is my world; sharing my heart and soul, I’ve been doing it for years on this blog and I’m bloody good at it. Look how personal and intimate I get from time to time. Look at how honest my 101 Things to Do Before I Die are. For fucksake look at my password protected posts! What the hell am I thinking there? Check out any post and it’s positively dripping with information most people wouldn’t share unless their life depended on it.
Yet in a group environment I can’t even speak properly, let along share anything.
It just makes me want to scream because goddamnit I’m so much better than this!
At the end of the group, like last week, we played the ball throwing warm-down game. However much I’d like to, I cannot for the life of me remember what I said about what I’d taken from the group. I think it had something to do with enjoying thinking about my dreams whilst wishing Meadhbh would stop trying to intercept the ball every time it was thrown because it was bloody distracting.
What I do remember from the warm-down was a quote one of the other members of the group shared. A quote that drew the only smile to my lips throughout the group.
“I’d rather have a life filled with oh-wells than what-ifs,”
So as I left the group for the second time, fully convinced that everyone in that room thought I was a complete and utter twat, I realised that I was leaving the group for the second time, so even if they did think I was a complete and utter twat, they were completely and utterly wrong.
Because no matter how bad I felt, no matter the heightened anxiety I was feeling, no matter what people thought of me, I’d once again proved myself capable of surviving a ridiculously painful situation. And, in an exceedingly rare occurrence, even Meadhbh acknowledged this as we rode home.
“So how many times do we have to do this before you realise how brilliant you are?”
“Fuck knows,” I said. “Hopefully not too many,”
Things I learned from the group this week:
- Kindergarten-esque drawings of trees always look better with fat owls perched on their branches :p
- I need to find a way to improve my ability to communicate in groups, and fast, otherwise all the work I’m doing is going to disintegrate!
- Unlike all other areas of my mental health, I have no coping mechanisms for dealing with my voices. I NEED SOME!
- It’s easy to forget that other people can’t see your hallucinations.
- I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.
- The work book is going to be an excellent resource toward exploring my voices. I am already planning working through the sections in blog format (for like the book says, it’s preferable to do it with someone you trust, and I trust my wonderful readers…sometimes ;)