All that I am, all that I ever was…

I am more than my mental health. I am more than my homelessness. I am more than any one aspect of me. I am Addy. And this is…


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 06

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 | WEEK 02 | WEEK 03 | WEEK 04 | WEEK 05 |

eyecontact

One of the big aspects of my social anxiety is my inability to make eye contact, with anyone; including this photograph!

Getting there…

Combatting my anxiety requires preparation. A trip to the supermarket needs at least one hour of build-up. In order to attend a social group I need at least three hours to ready myself. A munch, or non MH related social outing, requires at least a week for me to build the confidence and resolve to attend. My HVSG needs approximately five hours, thus, as is usual for me on a Friday morning, I set my alarm for 4am so I would leave myself enough time to ‘prepare’ for the assault on my self-worth and anxiety.

It turns out I didn’t need to set the alarm – what with the paltry amount of sleep I received that night – but even if I had needed to, it would all have been in vain anyway, for by the time I left my unit I was a raging battleground of anxiety, confusion and WTF feelings.

Ever since the second week of my HVSG journey, Meadhbh has been accompanying me to the group. She appears out of the ether at least half an hour before I’m due to leave, takes her place on my handlebars when it’s time, and natters incessantly to me along the way. Only this week she didn’t appear; not half an hour before, not mid-way through the cycle ride, nor at any point in the morning.

Truth be told, having a conversation free cycle ride was somewhat of a relief as it allowed me to focus on cycling safely rather than combatting the distraction (and frustration) her personality exudes. But through it all I was left wondering where she was; a question I’ve been asking about all of my voices over the last week.

The two extremes…

Last week, when I walked late into the group, there were fifteen odd deathly silent people staring at me. This week, as I walked late into the group, there were four not-so-deathly silent people staring at me. Over the following fifteen minutes two more people would appear, then, a few minutes later, a seventh.

The eighth – and final – person would appear forty minutes late, missing one of the most random (and monumental moments) of 2013.

Good God man, what the hell do you think you’re doing?

After the usual introduction welcoming us and our voices to the group we turned to the always anxiety producing ‘how was your week’ segment of the group. Regular readers of these posts will know that my reaction ranges from saying absolutely nothing at all to babbling a few incoherent sentences before quickly scampering out the door.

Following the group leader’s question so, who wants to go first? all seven of us sat in deathly silence hoping the spotlight wouldn’t fall on us. After she was forced to ask it a second and then third time, I breathed deeply and threw myself into the deep end. For the very first time in this – or any other group situation – I spoke first! :)

I explained how exhausted I was. How distracted I was. How shitty I’d been feeling. And how I hadn’t been sleeping in fear of nightmare and trauma triggering.

I explained how none of my voices had been around since the weekend. How confusing this was. How much of a relief it was. How unsettling it was.

I explained how my voices usually leap on me when I’m emotionally exhausted. How this state gives them more power. How I don’t understand what’s going on.

I explained how I’m terrified my voices are planning something big for it’s very unusual for them to be this silent for this long.

Then I answered questions: do I miss my voices? (yes to Meadhbh and Audrey, absolute no to Vanessa);  why do I think they haven’t spoken to me this week? (it has to be some sort of trap!); do I discuss the events of the groups with them? (yup, especially Meadhbh and Audrey); what do you think will happen when they show themselves? (who knows, but based on past experience, it won’t be pretty!)

All up, I spoke for approximately twenty-five minutes. Anxiety was definitely present, but no-where near as all-consuming as it has been in the past!

Woohoo! :D

Smoko…

So by the time the mid-way break came around, I was feeling pretty good about myself! I did a couple of circuits of the park beside where we meet, smoked a few cigarettes, had a cat-nap because of my exhaustion and spent fifteen minutes analysing why I’d been able to speak so much so early in the group.

Most of you will know by now I spend far too much time analysing every facet of my life. Where do these dreams come from? Why do I want to experience something that most people (erroneously) consider to be weird? What reason is there for me liking Honey Baked Ham Kettle chips so much when I despise the taste of actual ham?

As I returned to the group I came to two conclusions, both of which were insanely obvious:

(i) The group was small; and as I have all-too-frequently said, the smaller the group, the more I talk. Hell, you put me one-on-one and I’ll lead the conversation!
(ii) There was no trigger present (at that point); and in all the other groups, there has been!

Unfortunately, I have no way to control these two factors, so if I want to talk more in the group I need to re-empower myself to be able to share more frequently.

Shame it didn’t continue…

Unfortunately, talkative Addy didn’t last. By the time the second half of the group rolled around there was a trigger present so I reverted to the silent, stoic Addy most people know and hate. For half an hour the five other people in the room (the others had left) had a long and amusing discussion on everything from triggers to voice history to God to coping skills and strategies for dealing with mental health to how a woman would slap a man if he walked up to her and said ‘show me your tits’!

And yet even though I’m opinionated in all areas of the above, I said nothing. I merely sat there like a moron, sipping on my water, pondering how everyone in the room must think I was a twat for being the only person not saying anything.

The most interesting aspect of this discussion was about re-empowering yourself from triggers; something that immediately perked me up considering what I’d been thinking during the smoko. One of the other members of the group shared their experience of re-empowering themselves from serious triggers, in which they took the trigger and found a way to take ownership of it, leaving me realising I have an awful long way to go toward achieving this considering I am the King of Avoidance!

Given the explanation they gave of their re-empowerment journey involved support from friends and support workers, I also realised that doing it alone will be almost impossible. But hey, isn’t that the story of my life?

Eye contact…

One of the big aspects of my social anxiety is my inability to make eye contact, with anyone.

When I’m purchasing things from shop assistants, no eye contact. When I’m walking down the street, no eye contact. When I’m at my munches, no eye contact. When I’m talking to my people, no eye contact (this seriously annoys Meadhbh and Audrey, who think that my refusal to look them in the eye means they have ugly eyes or that I’m just not interested in them). When I’m talking to my counselor or support worker, no eye contact.

The rule is: no eye contact with anyone ever, otherwise chaos and armageddon will ensue!

As the (quite inspirational) member of the group continued their advice on re-empowering, she advised me of a way I could try to communicate with my voices and bring a semblance of control to my relationship with them. This involved making eye contact with them, which meant I had to make eye contact with her so I could properly understand what she was talking about.

Cue a sudden surge in my anxiety that refused to dissipate for at least thirty-six hours!

Back to normal…

This surge in anxiety ended the group as all the others did; with me a barrel of nerves, sweaty palms and self-criticism. Thus, because of my solo cycling, I had to stop several times on the way home in order to combat the ever-increasing panic overflowing within me. Fortunately, extending my trip home by nearly three hours enabled me to keep the panic-volcano from erupting until about five minutes after I got home; an explosion of nerves and stress that has been fed by my exhaustion and caused me to do nothing all weekend.

As usual, I haven’t left the house once.

Not even for a minute.

One of these days I hope I’ll be able to just cycle to the group, talk when I want to, cycle home unphased and be able to function over the weekend. But from the quick deterioration of my mood from awesome-Addy to panicked-Addy on Friday, I feel this is a long way off!

~|~

Things I learned from the group this week:

  • I need to research more on how to re-empower myself from my triggers.
  • I need to find someone I feel comfortable enough around to help me with re-empowering myself from my triggers, for I fear this is something I am not going to be able to do alone (due to the – well – triggering aspect of my triggers!)
  • Eye-contact still freaks the shit out of me for no good reason!
  • Absolute proof: the less people around me, the more I talk.
  • Absolute proof: the more triggers around me, the less I talk.
  • I become a useless, pointless, incoherent wreck around one of my primary triggers!
  • I fucking hate triggers!
  • If you walk up to a woman you don’t know on the street and ask her to ‘show me your tits’, chances are you’ll get slapped. Good thing too! :p
  • I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 05

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 | WEEK 02 | WEEK 03 | WEEK 04 |

ZZB

How have my voices been this week?

Following last week’s ‘date-deal‘ with Vanessa and Meadhbh, this was the first week since I began going to the HVSG where my people never once tried to talk me out of going.

In fact since causing me to have a freak-out on Wednesday, they’ve all been reasonably well-behaved. Which, truth be told, is a little un-nerving!

Getting there…

For the last few weeks only Meadhbh has been accompanying me to the HVSG. However, following our lengthy conversation on Saturday last week – where I reiterated to her this endeavour was not about erasing her, but finding ways to build better relationships – Audrey decided to come along to find out for herself what it was all about. Fortunately for me she decided to bring her own bike – as cycling with two hallucinations perched on my handlebars would have been a mite difficult!

Thus – because of the three-way conversation I was engaged in – I didn’t have time to become anxious or nervous about the coming events. Meadhbh was telling Audrey about her life as a Dragon Slayer, Audrey was doing her best to ignore Meadhbh whilst asking me questions about the group and what she should expect and I was doing my best not to ride into any cars, walls or inconveniently placed trees with so many distractions around me.

As a result I was late to the group. As the three of us walked into the room we were met with a circle of fifteen people all sitting in an uncomfortable silence.

Has someone died?” Audrey asked.

Zip…Zap…Boing!

For those of you who haven’t worked it out yet, Meadhbh can be a bit ‘childish’. There’s nothing wrong with this, in fact, her wide-eyed excitement over the little things in life is one of the things I most love about her. So, when this week’s warm-up game revolved around saying zip, zap or boing with excited glee, Meadhbh was in her element.

The object of the activity was to move around a circle saying one of those three words. If you said zip, you kept going around the circle. If you said zap, the direction changed and you went back the other way. If you decided to use boing, you bounced to the person opposite you and it resumed going around the circle.

It was kinda weird, and a little boring, but goddamn did Meadhbh enjoy herself. She was adamant that I had to do whatever action she decided and was having a gleeful time of it.

Meanwhile, Audrey sat back wondering what on earth she had got herself involved in.

Record breaking time!

By the time we finished the warm-up game more people had arrived, meaning the group was now bulging at its twenty-person strong seams.

As regular followers of my HVSG posts will know, this section of the group is the one most likely to create immense (at times uncontrollable) anxiety. As I have stated frequently in the past, the larger the group, the less likely I am going to say anything. So when my time came I pulled my “I’m not in a very communicative mood at the moment so I have nothing to share” trick and sat back to listen to everyone else.

Part of me thought this was for the best. If I had forced myself to share there could have been a repeat of week two’s babbling ramble that precipitated a panic attack. Plus, due to the size of the group, I thought the less people shared would mean we could get around everyone without it taking up the entire group. The problem was, pretty much everyone else seemed to have the same idea!

Less than thirty minutes later everyone had had their chance and we were left wondering how we’d managed twenty odd people in such record time!

Cue a smoko.

For those not familiar with this term

Smoko” (also ‘smoke-o’ or “‘moke-oh’) is a term used in Australian English, New Zealand English and Falkland Islands English for a short, often informal, cigarette break taken during work or military duty, although the term can also be used to describe any short break such as a rest or a coffee/tea break.”

The history of my people…

You may remember that in week 02 of my HVSG adventure, I began working through a workbook that allows me to explore my voices from various angles. In that week, I looked at my dreams, whereas this week I tackled the ‘history of my voices’ segment of the book, which asks: “Can you describe for each voice, the circumstances you first heard them? E.g. where, when, how old were you? What was happening in your life?”

Now, I’ve stated in the past that my initial meetings with my various voices is something that I struggle to recall. So much has happened over the years that remembering every last detail is something I can no longer do. So, as I sat down to complete this section of the workbook, I didn’t quite know where to start. Until Audrey began to nostalgically reminisce about our first meeting…which prompted Meadhbh (still a little jealous over the time Audrey and I have been spending together) to do the same.

The things that always pisses me off about you, Addy, is you always get it wrong! Did I really mean so little to you? Piffs. You weren’t thirteen. You were twelve. Twelve years, five months, eighteen days and four hours, to be more precise. You were sitting on the playing fields at school after playing football, gazing lustfully at that vixen’s ass. Remember? How her knickers peeked out from her netball skirt as she cartwheeled across the grass? C’mon! I know you do! Don’t you? You must. You do. Piffs. Anyway, I told you that you should just waltz the fuck over there and say hey, great ass and take it from there. You were hot, she was hot, you both were hot, what’s the prob? Piffs. But I didn’t know you back then, not like now. You wouldn’t ignore me now like you did that day

The problem is I don’t remember that. I (rather blissfully) recall sneaking glimpses of Natalie’s posterior during various gym classes (god bless netball skirts!) but I have no memory of hearing Meadhbh during those times. However, as I would often think back then that everyone could hear her, perhaps I thought nothing of it.

My own first memory (of sorts) of hearing Meadhbh was much later. After I’d started slicing my leg with compasses, after I’d started writing self-hate fuelled messages into my flesh with scissors.

So, your first memory of me was that night? The night with the fork? I don’t want to think about that. Don’t make me think about that. I’ll fucking hate you if you make me go back there. Makes me wanna cry. You were such a beautiful boy. So kind. So sweet. So passionate. So I told you that. And you heard me. Didn’t you? Admit it. So why didn’t you believe me?

What I did with the fork was heat it up with a lighter before pushing the burning prongs into my heel. That’s when I first remember Meadhbh coming into my life; her petite form lying with me on the bed, soothing my tears with her infectious Scottish lilt.

Not much of a fairy tale, is it? Piffs. But you were so sad. So lost. You always were. And I hate you for that. Sometimes I want to watch you burn, Addy. But. But. What was happening to you wasn’t your fault. Not back then. Your sister’s illness, the bullying, your mum’s pain. See. I can answer the questions. None of that nor the neglect or shit you had to deal with was your fault. Not always. You thought no-one cared but I cared. I did. Yes. Piffs. I still do.

Like you cared in oh-seven?

Unfortunately, I had spent so long reminiscing with Meadhbh I hadn’t noticed everyone else had finished their section and gathered back in the main group. Thus, in order to not piss Audrey off, I promised I’d let her tell her story later in the week.

Don’t give her ideas!

By the time I rejoined the group I realised for the first time how many people had left early. In the space of ninety minutes we’d gone from twenty odd people, to eight. This meant that when we began discussing the workbooks and soul-searching we’d been undertaking, I was able to speak a little more freely. The simple fact is, the smaller the group, the easier I find it to open up.

So I spoke about how the workbook is similar in many respects to the interview I’m working through with my support worker regarding my voices. I admitted that I had been using it to write (as yet unpublished) blog posts and that so far, the hardest section has been the ‘triggers’ section. For some reason, even though I am aware of my major PTSD/anxiety/bipolar triggers, I’ve never been able to put my finger on the things that set my voices raging.

One of the other members of the group then shared a story in which a woman who had undertaken the same interview process as I am currently doing was much like me in not being able to identify the triggers. However, one of her voices could, so sent an email to the counselor to explain them.

This immediately set Meadhbh off: I want an email…I want an email…you have to set me up an email…I could email you…I could…ohhhhhh, I NEED an email!

So, in order to appease her, she now has an email address!

Under the bridge (reprise)

On the way home from the group we decided to stop under the same bridge Meadhbh and I had stopped under two weeks ago. As I rolled a cigarette, Meadhbh told Audrey about the scolding I’d given her in this spot, something that amused Audrey no end as she’s long believed Meadhbh gets away with way too much.

Whilst Meadhbh sulked over Audrey’s curt words, Audrey apologised for her initial reaction to my HVSG attendance. She told me that the initial introduction (in which the group leader welcomes any voices who may be present and tells them they’re in a safe place) made her feel all warm and gooey. The zip-zap-boing game, although geared more toward Meadhbh’s childishness, was amusing. Whilst the workbook helped ease her fears over her belief I was trying to eradicate her. She’s still not one-hundred percent sure about the group and believes it will ultimately lead to my humiliation and destruction (so I should reconsider my attendance to protect myself!)

I told her I would think about it; but that because I’m (slowly) beginning to feel less anxious about attending, the group may very well help, rather than hinder me.

~|~

Things I learned from the group this week:

  • Meadhbh’s memories of the first time she talked to me.
  • Audrey is the most well-behaved of my voices.
  • I (still) really don’t like playing the warm-down ball game (that sounds dirtier than I mean it to!)
  • You never know what’s going to happen at a support group.
  • An undeniable truth: the less people around me, the more I talk.
  • I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 04

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 | WEEK 02 | WEEK 03 |

monsterhunter

“Well, personally, I kind of want to slay the dragon.” ~Angel (Image from the cover of Monster Hunter Tri)

However frustrated I am to admit it, my people and anxiety got the better of me last Friday and convinced me not to attend the HVSG. Which isn’t altogether surprising given it was the week of the 26 February 2013.

Thus, this week’s update will not be about the group, but my people…who have been driving me completely insane over the last several days!

How have my people been this week?

~ Audrey

After her obsession with Lego Batman last Tuesday, Audrey disappeared for a few days before returning on Saturday dressed as Harley Quinn. This came as somewhat of a surprise, especially as I was in the supermarket at the time! As it was late in the evening and I’d walked rather than cycled to the supermarket, Audrey decided to walk home with me so we could talk.

She wanted to know how I’d been since Tuesday and, although suspicious of her intent, I shared my heightened anxiety, flakiness, lack of concentration and overall ‘tired of life’ feelings that had been overwhelming me. Eventually we stopped at a park bench and began talking about other things:

◊ The literature of George MacDonald, Irvine Welsh and Wally Lamb.
◊ Which Bronte was best (Audrey is adamant it’s Anne, I’m steadfast in my love of Charlotte)
◊ A rather lengthy conversation about my assault in 2007 (not a happy part of the converstion, truth be told!)
◊ Audrey requesting I give her thirteen reasons why I should kill myself (she was challenging me as she didn’t think I could); I gave her twenty-two before she stopped me from continuing!
◊ Audrey’s love of Fifty Shades of Grey; and there was me thinking she had good taste! :p
◊ Kathy. Somehow it always comes back to her. Grrr!

When we got home, five hours after the supermarket, I stayed up with her to play Lego Batman. Although I was tired, I was also nervous about going to bed. Plus, it was nice to have a conversation with her that didn’t descend into insult and criticism; although she did occasionally do the latter.

~ Shay

In my last HVSG update I mentioned that I hadn’t heard from Shay for several days; I still haven’t.

Given one of the last things he said to me (over two weeks ago) was a death threat, I’m a little on edge about how he’s going to be when he does reappear!

~ Vanessa

Ever since Audrey scolded her and sent her to the corner, Vanessa has been somewhat shitty with Audrey. Normally the two of them are BFFs who defend each other without a second thought, but over the last couple of weeks they’ve barely said two words to each other and seem to have entered into a competition over my attention, with Vanessa annoyed that she seems to be losing; especially after the conversation Audrey and I had on Saturday.

As a result, on both Sunday and Monday, Vanessa was pissed off and abusive in her actions and behaviour. Especially as during another session with my worker I was defiant to Vanessa’s wishes by describing her actions and behaviour. Vanessa doesn’t like being talked about so her retribution was swift, vicious and lasted well into the early hours of the morning.

However, in a rare moment, I was able to reach a ‘bargain’ with her. Over the last week or so, both Vanessa and Meadhbh have been annoyed with Audrey monopolizing my attention with the Wii and wanted to “get in on the action”. In a rather public conversation between the three of us, I struck a deal; I would let them each choose a video game and then I’d set aside a few hours of ‘personal time’ to play that game with them (and them alone) if they accepted that I needed to go to the HVSG this Friday. Any attempt to talk me out of going would instantly negate the deal and our ‘date’ was off.

Meadhbh agreed without argument; Vanessa took much more convincing but, given her current jealously over Audrey, eventually agreed.

In the store, I told them to choose only from the ‘3 for $15’ bin. Immediately they both chose games that weren’t part of the offer and were pissed off when I put the games back and told them I couldn’t afford those titles. If they wanted me to buy them a game, it had to be part of the offer, otherwise I wouldn’t buy them anything and the deal was off. Several tantrums later they eventually decided any game would be better than no game at all and made their choices, with Vanessa annoyingly choosing a game she knows will trigger me (but, as she pointed out, “you did say any game from the ‘3 for $15’ bin”).

Thus, tomorrow night, Vanessa and I have a date to play Lego Harry Potter…and I swear to God, if she starts trying to out-filth Audrey with sexual fantasies involving Lego Harry, I may just throw up! :p

~ Jessica

Jessica has been more vocal than usual over the last seven days, with her cryptic comments including:

  • The spirit of the Gruntesk lies in the belly of the tulip (Saturday afternoon)
  • Panhandle the wallaby nostril (Monday evening)
  • Overload the milking station with the remnants of the river (Wednesday lunchtime)

As per usual I have no idea what she’s talking about, although I did notice that the ‘milking station’ comment was said shortly after milk had been spilled.

~ Meadhbh

After disappearing for the period around the 26th, Meadhbh returned to go for a walk with me last Sunday night. We ended up roaming the back streets of my suburb talking about my niece, my nephew, the Isle of Skye, whether I should return to Scotland (Meadhbh wants me to as she misses her home) and girls.

Meadhbh and I haven’t had a conversation about girls since I was a teenager, when she would give me advice on how best to talk to the one’s I fancied. She thinks I need a girlfriend and has decided it’s up to her to find me one. I’m fairly sure she won’t succeed in this self-imposed task, but hey, I kinda want a girlfriend as well so if she wants to try find me one, I’m not gonna stop her! :p

However, she was back in bitchy negative form yesterday during a focus group with some academics from Melbourne asking some of the HVSG members questions about the group and what we get out of it. In true Addy fashion, I said three sentences in the ninety minute session. Go me! :p

As my anxiety and self-hate grew, Vanessa and Meadhbh appeared to offer their opinions of my behaviour and uselessness.

Vanessa used my silence and anxiety to prove my worthlessness. Listing dozens of reasons as to why I didn’t deserve to live.

Meadhbh was also using my silence and anxiety against me, not to prove my worthlessness, but to inform me I was a “pathetic cock” who was sabotaging her attempt to find me a girlfriend. Eventually deciding that she’d be better off-putting her energy into more meaningful, achievable goals, such as proving I was a waste of space.

After this onslaught I ended up self-harming to alleviate the pain and frustration growing inside me, something that upset rather than amused, Meadhbh. When she reappeared for our ‘video game’ date last night she was silent, sullen and guilty. I explained to her that when she talks to me like that it does nothing but amplify all the negative self-hate I feel all the time – and I don’t deserve to think like that as I’m, on the whole, a half-decent guy.

So she apologised. Perhaps the apology was genuine, perhaps it was merely manipulation because she didn’t want me to cancel our ‘date’, either way it is something my people very rarely do, so that’s something! :p

Anyway, once we started off on our video game adventure, Meadhbh returned to the more playful friend she had been on Sunday night. The game she had chosen was Monster Hunter Tri, because her favourite Angel line is “Well, personally, I kinda want to slay the dragon.”

Thus, for a few hours I did exactly what she wanted me to do. I designed our character based on what she wanted, I went to the places she wanted, I fought the creatures she wanted me to fight. Even after we kept dying repeatedly because of our lack of armour, Meadhbh steadfastly refused to allow me to dress our avatar in anything as she thought it made her look like a wanker!

So far, Meadhbh has stuck by her word and not in any way tried to talk me out of going to the group this Friday. She even asked for my permission to go with me (another first, considering she normally just tags along regardless of what I feel!)

How have I been this week?

Tired, flaky, unfocused, shitty, cranky, angry (at myself) and not at all (in any way, shape or form) with it. In fact, I’ve felt that the last week and a half has been pulling me back toward the depressive state I was in throughout December/January, a place I do not want to return to!

Predominantly, I’m becoming increasingly upset that I can’t talk to people outside of the safety of ‘therapy’ settings. This has manifested in a multitude of ways; not being able to write on my blog (what am I supposed to write about when nothing worthwhile ever happens?), drinking two bottles of wine (still better than during that depressive episode), turning down an invitation to have coffee with a couple of people from the HVSG after the meeting (even though I really wanted to, I didn’t want to make a bigger fool of myself) and my first self-harming incident in four weeks (nothing serious, just annoying).

So, yeah, not all that spectacular right now!

Sorry.

~|~

Things I learned from NOT attending the group this week:

  • If you try to slay the Great Jaggi in Monster Hunter Tri wearing only skimpy underwear, you will die. Frequently!
  • If I’m going to bargain with my voices I need to be more careful and strategic with my wording (especially given Vanessa is a manipulative bitch!)
  • My voices still don’t like being talked about to other people and react with anger and viciousness.
  • Visually hallucinating a woman wearing an exceedingly skin-tight costume is incredibly distracting, especially in public.
  • I really (really) need to find a way to talk to people as my inability to do this is seriously getting on my tits.
  • I didn’t die as a result of not attending the group.


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 03

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 | WEEK 02 |

Under-the-Bridge

How have my voices been this week?

The most interesting aspect of my voices this week has been Shay’s disappearing act. Normally I will hear from him several times a week – and converse with him even more – but for the last seven days I’ve not heard so much as a peep from him. I’d probably be more worried about this if I hadn’t heard so much from Meadhbh, Vanessa and Audrey, who have been even more demanding, and obscure, than usual.

As we approach the six-year anniversary of the day my life ended (aka the beginning of the breakdown) Vanessa’s abuse has been evasive, persuasive and continuous. For the last six days there has barely been an hour where she hasn’t slipped in to attack me anyway she can. Whilst, throughout yesterday and today, there hasn’t been a minute where she’s left me alone – something I fear will be the norm until Tuesday’s anniversary has passed.

Throughout the week Audrey has been pottering away being her normal self. The highlight of our interactions came on Thursday evening, when she intervened during a particularly vicious assault from Vanessa by scolding her (literally sending her to the naughty corner) for going way too far with her abuse. Vanessa’s sulking reaction is something I think I’ll always remember! :)

Meadhbh, on the other hand, has continued her decision to accompany me everywhere. On Tuesday she was distracting me so much during Scrabble I wasn’t able to play to the best of my ability; on Wednesday at pool she kept distracting me as I was about to take my shots and on Friday she sat quietly in the corner of the room observing everything that was happening, pointing out each and every mistake I made and giving ‘helpful’ (read: annoying) advice as to how I should act.

One of these days I’ll have to transcribe one of our conversations…

Getting there…

This week, Meadhbh decided to wear a red/black corset and leather pants to the group. She told me this was because if I rode fast enough she could pretend she was riding pillion (did you know this was Scottish Gaelic for ‘little rug’? I didn’t, until Meadhbh pointed it out) on a motorcycle.

So rather than annoy me with are you sure you want to go, are you sure you want to go, I was inundated with faster…faster…faaaasstteeerrrr throughout the thirty minute ride to my group. Or at least I was for the first fifteen minutes of the ride, for after last week’s near-accidents and Audrey’s inspired bollocking of Vanessa, I pulled the bike under a bridge so I could scold Meadhbh without fear of causing an accident. Being spoken to like this is not something Meadhbh is used to, so after an initial giggling fit she decided to be on her ‘best behaviour’ for the remainder of the ride and I didn’t hear a peep out of her until we got to Hungry Jacks.

Although I’m not a fan of fast food, I will admit to having a taste for the Sausage and Egg muffins at Hungry Jacks. So, in order to alleviate the anxiety of the previous two weeks, I decided to treat myself to one before the group. This way, I could spend the ride thinking of this fattening piece of food rather than the fact I was heading toward almost certain public humiliation.

Fortunately, this plan worked (sort of, but I’ll get to that later), although I can’t take the credit for the idea as it was Audrey who suggested it on Friday night.

Jackanory…

This weeks warm-up activity was something that should have seen me in my element but because of the social anxiety I was unable to participate.

The premise was simple. One person began by speaking the opening sentence of a story, the next person then had to make up the next sentence, and so on, and so on, until everyone in the group had contributed to a rather random little tale.

However, by the time the story reached me, I had nothing to offer so quickly passed to the next person; feeling annoyed that I can’t even do something I’m usually so good at when I’m in a group environment!

Second in line…

After last week’s appalling ‘how was my week’ group share, I was making a concerted effort this week not to come across like an ass. In preparation for what was coming I spent the majority of Thursday evening preparing my ‘speech’ with Audrey and Meadhbh (whilst Vanessa stood in the corner!) so when it came to my turn, Meadhbh was able to prompt me the words as if I were an absent-minded actor on stage.

By a stroke of good fortune I was second in line so, unlike last week’s mind-numbingly frustrating wait, I was able to get it over and done with straight away. I mentioned I had become an uncle again, that I was blogging more regularly and that my anxiety had been lesser than normal. This latter point being a complete lie as my anxiety has been higher than normal for the last few weeks, but I tend to ‘hide’ how I’m feeling so as not to make people worry. Something I really need to stop doing!

After my few minutes were up I felt strangely proud of myself, even though Meadhbh kept pointing out I’d strayed from our script.

Anxiety increasing…

One of the most likely things to increase my anxiety is feeling trapped. When I go to a cinema, theatre or air travel I need to be in an aisle seat (something none of my girlfriends could support, regardless of how many times I explained it), similarly, when I’m in a restaurant or pub I can’t be trapped in a corner or against a wall. In these situations – and situations like them – I need to know I can get up/escape without bothering too many people if things get too much for me.

Due to the sheer number of the people in the group this week (fourteen) the ‘how was my week’ session went on much longer than it normally does. After an hour, I was itching to go outside, after ninety minutes I was practically clawing the walls. Even though I was in an aisle seat, I felt compelled (through good manners) to remain where I was until an official break was called.

So after surviving my speaking, by the time a break was called my anxiety was climbing to annoying levels, causing me to walk up-and-down in an alleyway for ten minutes hoping the repetition would calm me down.

It didn’t.

My Dreams

Fortunately, the second ‘half’ of the group was only fifteen minutes long. All we did was finish the ‘how was my week’ segment before group reading a passage from a book. The book (I forget the title) was a collection of personal stories from people who have heard voices and learnt to deal with their experiences.

Much like last week, I read my part of the story as quickly as possible to get it over and done with. After all, as Vanessa keeps reminding me this week, my voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to!

Warming-Down

At the end of the group, like previous weeks, we played the ball throwing warm-down game. Once again Meadhbh tried to intercept the ball (failing miserably as she’s not the most ‘sporty’ of people) whilst I babbled something about ‘how it’s okay to not be feeling okay’.

This part of the group was probably the most anxiety inducing because, as usual, I can’t deal with being the focus of attention!

Under the bridge…

It wasn’t just me thinking this week’s group had been a little strange. On the way home, following a short meander around the op-shops, I stopped under the same bridge I’d scolded Meadhbh under on the way to the group. This time, our conversation was less angry parent/naughty child and more friend/friend (a word I’ve hesitated to use to describe my voices given how they normally treat me).

For half an hour Meadhbh and I discussed the brevity of this week’s group and how it had revolved mostly around listening to other people’s weeks. There was nothing wrong with this (in fact, I pointed out that it had allowed me to be less anxious) but Meadhbh had hoped the group would be more challenging. Mostly because she likes it when I’m anxious because it makes it easier for her to slide into my soul and ‘get at me’ as only she can. Around about then, just as I felt we were making headway with our relationship, my Sausage and Egg muffin idea came back to haunt me.

But let’s not go there!

~|~

Things I learned from the group this week:

  • It’s okay to not feel okay (or something along those lines!)
  • Scolding my voices not only works but is strangely enjoyable! :p
  • I really don’t like playing the warm-down ball game (that sounds dirtier than I mean it to!)
  • You never know what’s going to happen at a support group.
  • I still haven’t died as a result of attending the group.
  • However tasty Hungry Jacks’ Sausage and Egg muffins are, do not eat them if you value your digestive health and are miles from a bathroom!


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 02

PREVIOUS ‘HEARING VOICES SUPPORT GROUP’ ENTRIES
| WEEK 01 |

hearingvoicesgroup02

The Owl and the Pussycat © Addy

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.

But first…

…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 :/

Getting there…

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.

1…2…3…4…5678910111213!

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.

Anxiety Attack!

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.

My Dreams

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!)

TofeelmoreconnectedtomyselfbothphysicallyandmentallyTonolongerbeafraidofbeinghomeless
againTobeabletotalktopeoplewithoutintenssexualityToacknowledgemyachievementsinsteadof
constantlybeatingthemTofeelhappinessagainToseemywritingpublishedagainIncreasemyconfidence
TonolongerbeisolatedandaloneTohaveabetterrelationshipwithmyvoicesToloveandbelovedinreturn
TorelievemyselfTohaveapetturtleTohaveafamilyTonolongerbetraumatisedbyabuse

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!

Warming-Down

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 ;)


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Hearing Voices Support Group: Week 01

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~ Trigger warning ~
This post contains short discussions of self-harm.
Please exercise caution if you find such content triggering.

Getting there…

Under normal circumstances, it takes me approximately thirty minutes to cycle from my home to central Albury. On Friday, as I headed to the local Hearing Voices Support Group for the first time, it took me nearly an hour!

The reason for this duration was not because I was just a bit slow, nor was it because I had a flat tire or other mechanical issue, it was because half-way there I panicked, freaked out and turned back. After chastising myself I spun the bike back toward Albury only to find myself doing another U-turn a few minutes later. After performing two further U-turns, all to the amusement of passing cars, I threw myself onto the side of the road and lit up a cigarette.

I was a grown man terrified by the thought of sitting in a room with a group of strangers. The fact that they shared similar problems to myself (and thus would be nowhere near as judgmental as those with no experience of hearing voices) was irrelevant; my anxiety was firmly in control.

No matter how much I wanted to get to the group, my mind wouldn’t let me. The same arguments that had sabotaged my attendance since first learning of the group last October were back in force. Being around other people is just too damned hard, it makes me vulnerable, open to attack, abuse and ridicule; it’s just safer to be on my own. They would all think I was crazy anyway, a complete lunatic who spends hours upon hours locked away in isolated solitude conversing with imaginary voices, apparitions who resemble faerie dominatrixes in medieval inspired gothic dresses. My mere attendance at the group would render myself a laughing-stock, someone who would be unable to walk down the street without being recognized as the resident crazy person, someone who would be forced to leave the area to circumnavigate the guaranteed abuse that would follow.

As my thoughts swirled to hurricane strength, the voices increased in volume, rendering me motionless for nearly fifteen minutes; unable to continue on to Albury or return home with my tail between my legs. However pathetic it may sound, I could see only one option to break the vicious cycle my mind was falling into. Flicking my lighter on, I allowed the flame to flicker until the metal had heated up and then pressed it firmly against my calves. The pain was immediate and pulled me quickly from the chaos in my mind. For several minutes I sat on the side of the road, shielded by trees, burning my already marked calves until my brain had pulled away from the irrational fears of my anxiety and was focused purely on the distracting pain.

Slowly, I picked myself up and sat back down on the bike. With several deep breaths I cycled off in the direction of Albury, determined that this time my anxiety would not beat me.

My worst nightmare…

Within ten minutes of being at the group, my voices were quick to point out that I should have gone home. Although I don’t agree with them all the time, on this occasion they were absolutely correct, for I had found myself trapped in my worst nightmare.

As a ‘warm-up’ to the group, the leaders decided we should play a game. We all had to stand up from our chairs, one of which was removed from the circle, leaving the group leader without anywhere to sit. Standing in the middle of the circle she then made a ‘have you ever…’ statement, to which anyone who had undertaken the act described in her statement had to swap chairs with someone else who had undertaken the act. Because a chair had been sacrificed, this meant someone was left in the middle of the circle and this someone had to make a ‘have you ever…’ statement of their own.

Now, for those catching up, I suffer from social anxiety:

“Social anxiety is the fear of social situations and the interaction with other people that can automatically bring on feelings of self-consciousness, judgment, evaluation, and inferiority.

Put another way, social anxiety is the fear and anxiety of being judged and evaluated negatively by other people, leading to feelings of inadequacy, embarrassment, humiliation, and depression.”

So, standing in the middle of a circle of a dozen strangers, all staring, all making sub-conscious judgments about this new person who had invaded their group, all deciding I was a pointless imbecile, is easily one of the most anxiety inducing nightmares I can think of. In fact, the only thing that would have made it worse would have been nudity!

After two incidents of being trapped in the center of the circle I refused to stand up again. Even when the questions were have you ever cooked spaghetti bolognaise (I make a damned good spag-bol), have you ever worn high heels (several times courtesy of drama productions) and have you ever dyed your hair (well yes, thanks to random irrational decision-making).

To make matters worse, the final question asked caused every single person to stand up, leaving me the only person who had never done what the person had asked. Under normal circumstances, fine, but when the question was have you ever completed year 12 (for those outside of Australia, year 12 is the final year of high school) it left me realizing that everyone in that room saw me as the only uneducated person in the group. Whereas in reality I didn’t attend high school in Australia so never technically completed year 12 – I completed the UK equivalent which were A-Levels, and in essence, an entirely different thing.

When the game finally ended I felt well and truly embarrassed and began to wish I’d never attended.

Sorry, I can’t…

After being ritually humiliated the group commenced proper. For about an hour we moved around the group allowing everyone to fill in the details of their week; how they’d felt, any issues that had arisen, how they’d coped with things, what they’d been doing. I listened as intently as I could (I’ve always considered myself a good listener) but because of the panic attacks on the way to the group and the anxiety I’d felt during the warm-up game, my voices had used this vulnerability to penetrate my mind. So as well as listening to everyone in the room, I was also listening to the party of voices in my head, which only served to exhaust and frustrate me.

When it came to my turn I muttered something about not feeling comfortable enough to share anything because it was my first group, apologized for this, and then spent the next forty-five minutes feeling rather worthless.

So far I had presented myself as a mute sweat monster (courtesy of the heat and bicycle ride) that had never cooked spag-bol, never worn high heels and never finished high school.

What a fantastic first impression!

Recess…

When we broke for a short break I walked away from the building, found a shaded spot, lit a cigarette and spent fifteen minutes having hushed conversations with my hallucinations; all of whom love it when I’m so vulnerable and humiliated as it gives them easy access to demean me and encourage my (negative) thinking.

Second half…

Much like the first half of the group, I said nothing throughout the second half.

We listened to an interview with someone who talked about visual hallucinations before the group had a short discussion about what we had heard. Because of the poor quality of the sound, even if I had wanted to take part in the discussion, I hadn’t been able to digest the interview enough to form an opinion; thus cementing the view that I was indeed a mute idiot sweat monster.

My worst nightmare, reprise…

Fortunately the warm-down game we played at the end of the group didn’t involve me standing in the middle of a circle of strangers. For a few moments we tossed a ball around the group in a set pattern. On the third cycle of the pattern, when you caught the ball, you had to share what you had learnt throughout that group. When the ball landed in my hands I mumbled something about how “glad I was that I had managed to summon the confidence to come to the group for the first time” and then quickly launched the ball to someone else.

Given that I’d expected a roar of laughter (thanks, social anxiety!) I will say that the ripple of applause that came after I made that statement surprised me a little and made me feel quite good :)

After the group…

Following the end of the group I spent an hour or so walking around Albury asking myself dozens of rhetorical questions.

Why am I so scared of talking to people? Why am I always so anxious? Why can’t I function as well as the rest of the group? Why do I sweat so grotesquely whenever the temperature reaches the mid to high thirties? Why am I unable to contribute to group discussions? Why can’t I just be someone who can talk, share and engage with other people? Why do I always let my anxiety win?

The simple fact is I don’t always let my anxiety win; despite the onset of panic and anxiety I had still pushed myself to attend the group, albeit with the aid of public self-harm. It would have been so simple to just go home and spend the day locked away in my isolated imprisonment or done a runner mid-way through the warm-up game. I was even able to recognize I wasn’t able to deal with sharing my story during this session and stated my inability to do so rather than ramble off on a tangent, which could have been even more embarrassing than what actually happened.

Yes, it would have been awesome to have made a sterling first impression rather than making everyone think I was a mute sweat monster.

Yes, it would have been wonderful to have been able to open up and engage with people.

But no matter how hard I am on myself (as I have frequently acknowledged in the past) the simple fact is I should be proud of my efforts to attend the group in the first place. Given that I have never publicly spoken of my hallucinations, even on this blog I’ve rarely written about them, I need to allow myself time to feel comfortable sharing them with others; even those who have had similar experiences.

And there’s nothing wrong with that.

~|~

Things I learned from the group this week:

  • My voices understand that the Hearing Voices Support Group is all about them. Cue them coming out in force, kindof like a bunch of horny college students to a keg laden pool party!
  • After leaving a support group, remember to remove your name badge before walking around a busy city.
  • There are many awesome people in my region who hear voices, some of whom I would love to get to know better. Perchance some new friends?
  • Cycling in full length jeans on a mid-high thirty degree day is not a good idea. But it’s better than wearing shorts and displaying your self-harm to the world.
  • I didn’t die as a result of attending the group.
  • I think leaving the area to negate the shame of being seen in public is a tad dramatic. For the time being, anyway! :p

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?

All will be revealed next week when Addy continues with the Hearing Voices Support Group!

hope