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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Addy and the Day of Pure Evil

Something many people have problems with are anniversaries.

Not the happy, fuzzy-bunny-feeling filled anniversaries of marriages, birthdays and first sexual experiences, but the miserable, hell-would-hurt-less filled anniversaries of deaths, traumatic experiences and (I suppose in some cases) marriages, birthdays and first sexual experiences.

Amongst the plethora of ‘bad memory’ days that fill my year (e.g. the day I became homeless, the day of that psychiatrist appointment, the day my sister attempted suicide) there are four dates in particular that are excruciating for me;

  • October 11 (the anniversary of a suicide attempt, aka the day I should have died)
  • July XX (the anniversary of when I was assaulted, aka the day I wanted to die)
  • May 7 (the anniversary of another suicide attempt and the anniversary of Stephanie’s suicide, aka the day I nearly died and the day a friend did)
  • February 26 (the anniversary of the beginning of my breakdown, aka the beginning of the end).

The most astute of you, my dear readers, will have noticed that three days ago was one of these dates.

So if you’re itching to know what calamities (if any) befell me, read on! :p

very bad day

Seven out of Ten (3am-4am)

The day began as most of my days do; being woken from a fitful sleep by a vicious nightmare. On this occasion it was a recurring dream that has been haunting my sleep for several years.

In this dream I am being attacked by the man who assaulted me in Adelaide. We are in the same motel room, we are wearing the same clothes, we are basically reliving the events of that traumatic night. The only difference is Grace and Kathy are sitting on the bed watching the events unfold. Sometimes they are munching on popcorn; sometimes they are sipping glasses of champagne. Other times they are sharing a box of chocolates or recording the events on a video camera. What they always do is ‘score’ the assault upon its completion; a simple ‘out of ten’ rating of the pain inflicted on me.

The scores change from dream to dream but some things remain constant; Kathy always scores less than Grace, they always write their scores using my blood and they rarely give anything more than an eight. Even if he amputates multiple limbs or flagellates me with a strip of barbed wire, the pain he inflicts on me is never ‘good enough’ for the audience.

As per usual when this dream disturbs my sleep, I woke up startled, screaming and gasping for air.

Unlike usual, I woke up with someone else lying in my bed.

Stop peeking, pervert! (4am-5am)

Vanessa knows that this day is her day. For the last five years she has relished in it, using my ‘vulnerability’ to increase her presence both audibly and visually. When I woke up on Tuesday morning she was lying on her side staring at me.

VANESSA: That dream again?
ME: What the fuck do you want?
VANESSA: Your soul, idiot. Did you have that dream again?
ME: You know I did.
VANESSA: Tell me about it.

So I did, just to shut her up, but the problem with Vanessa is that no matter how much information you give her, it’s never enough. After nearly fifteen minutes of interrogation – erasing any hope I would get back to sleep – I began rearranging my blanket so I could make myself more comfortable.

VANESSA: What the fuck? Don’t you dare.
ME: It’s my blanket!
VANESSA: But I’m naked under here.
ME: So? I’ve seen it all before.
VANESSA: But I don’t want you seeing it now. Have some decency, dickhead!
ME: If you don’t want me seeing you naked, why are you naked?
VANESSA: Because I don’t want you seeing me naked, moron!

From there she bombarded me with questions, comments, observations, insults and hopes for the day ahead, including: “It would be beautiful if you sliced your arm open today”, “Please tell me you’re going to kill yourself today” and “But meltdown first, you know, one of those panic attacks that leaves you a cowering, dribbling fetus. Preferably in public!”

This continued until Audrey woke up and demanded I ‘get my lazy ass out of bed!’.

It was 5am – not exactly the greatest start to the day!

When distractions aren’t distracting! (5am-1pm)

In my recent post about coping skills, I mentioned that ‘distraction’ was my primary method of coping with emotional distress. Whether this is whacking on a DVD, reading my favorite websites or blogs, listening to music, playing Scrabble on the DS, completing jigsaws or just writing blog posts, sooner or later I will become engrossed in my chosen activity and forget about the chaos that drove me there.

On Tuesday, this forgetting didn’t happen. In fact, my mind was so focused on the events of 26 February 2007 that nothing I did provided any relief from the bad memories or consistent badgering from Vanessa. I wasn’t intelligent enough to read Conversation articles, I was too childish for playing on the DS, I was too old to complete jigsaws, I was too untalented and boring to blog. No matter what I tried to do, she slipped in and tore me to shreds, leaving me sitting on the carpet staring at the wall wondering whether I should drink, self-harm or commit suicide. Perhaps all three!

By mid-morning my day was already shaping up to be worse than last years…unless I took affirmative action.

VANESSA (as I grabbed my bike helmet): Where the fuck do you think you’re going?
ME: Out.
VANESSA: But it’s my day.
ME: Not anymore!

‘Distraction’ is worth 14 – or 64 if you use all seven tiles – in Scrabble (1pm-3:30pm)

For the second week in a row I was the only person at the Scrabble group I attend. Vanessa was quick to point out this was because no-one liked me and couldn’t stand being around me. I was quick to tell her to piss-off because she was seriously starting to get on my tits!

I’d originally told the organisation that runs these groups that I wouldn’t be at Scrabble, that I thought I was going to be hiding away as I usually do on these hell-would-hurt-less anniversaries. But as none of my distraction techniques had worked and my self-harm urges had increased I needed to do something to pull my mind from Vanessa and the memories.

For two hours I played Scrabble against the group leader. With Vanessa blathering in my ear it’s no surprise that I made several tactical errors early in the game, all of which amounted to me failing to reach 400 points (I ended with 387) and sending my mind into a tailspin of negative thinking about how useless I was at Scrabble (totally untrue!) Vanessa relished in this thinking and used it to fuel further abuse as I walked around town following the match.

To put the frustration (and annoyance) of this cycle of self-hate into perspective; I had won the game by over a hundred and fifty points and been able to play a seven-letter word during the match – not too shabby, all things considered!

coopers

Coopers and Comfort (3:30pm-7pm)

Within thirty minutes of leaving Scrabble, the cycle of self-criticism I’d become locked in over my failure to reach 400 points, coupled with Vanessa’s constant presence drove me to a local bar. However ashamed I am to admit breaking my three-week plus sobriety, I sat with Vanessa in the corner of the bar and drank through a couple of bottles of my favourite beer; Coopers Pale Ale.

Following this, the shame continued, as I moseyed around town purchasing things willy-nilly in a rare ‘retail therapy/comfort buying’ binge.

After sixty-two minutes I’d spent $112 and become the (not so) proud owner of:

  • A (fourth hand) Wii with seven (fourth hand) games.
  • A hairbrush.
  • Two bottles of white wine.
  • Michael Ondjatte’s XXXXX
  • A block of Rolo chocolate
  • Todd and the Book of Pure Evil (seasons one and two)
  • A bag of Kettle Honey Baked Ham potato chips (my second favorite flavor of chips)

The sheer number of carrier bags I had weighing me down, coupled with Vanessa sitting on my handlebars (what is it with hallucinations deciding to ride on my bike?), led to my cycle home becoming a carefully orchestrated balancing act!

Seriously…filthy…mind…! (7pm-9pm)

Pretty much the moment I got home I cracked open one of the bottles of wine and threw myself onto the couch to slurp it straight from the bottle. By the time I’d drunk half the bottle I’d connected up the Wii and whacked on Lego Batman (one of the seven games I’d got, the others being: Twilight Princess, Skyward Sword, Metroid: Other M, Link’s Crossbow Training, Mario Kart and EA’s Grand Slam Tennis).

After two levels I had to stop playing; not because I was drunk, not because I wasn’t enjoying myself, not because I felt bad about buying the Wii, but because Audrey was freaking me out with her seriously filthy mind and all the things she wanted Lego Batman to do to her!

I can’t really go into them without password protecting the post, so just think Fifty Shades of Grey meets Harry Potter meets Twin Peaks meets (JG Ballard’s) Crash meets Batman (where does he get those wonderful toys?).

Even I don’t have that dirty a mind…and that’s saying something! :P

The Book of Pure Evil (9pm-11pm)

By this point I’d finished one bottle of wine and was feeling relatively tipsy. I’d lost the ability to focus on the Wii and was being driven nuts by Vanessa’s constant bullshit; so I cooked some coconut rice with tofu and vegetables then whacked on the DVD I’d purchased.

For those of you not in the know, Todd and the Book of Pure Evil is a Canadian comedy-horror TV show that centers on a disparate group of High School students who band together to take on the bloody consequences of the Book of Pure Evil.

Think Buffy the Vampire Slayer; only with a miniscule budget, more blood and a deliciously warped sense of humour!

I don’t know whether it was the strange mood I was in, the alcohol I had consumed or the junk food I was pigging out on, but after half a dozen episodes I was loving the show. Audrey and Vanessa, not so much! Where they thought the acting was “squirmily bad”, the writing “a rip-off of the far superior Buffy” and the humour “totally unfunny, much like everything Canada produces”; I thought the acting improved with each episode, the writing showed moments of inspired genius and the humor was laugh-out loud brilliant on many occasions.

VANESSA: I don’t like it when you laugh on my day.
ME: Do I look like a give a fuck?

todd and the book of pure evil

Threesome (11pm-12am)

It’s unusual for me to head to bed so early but my desire for this day to be over was overwhelming. By eleven ‘o’ clock I was lying in the middle of my bed with Vanessa to my left and Audrey to the right.

And yes, I get the symbolism behind the positioning; whenever Vanessa and Audrey are around they will adopt these positions.

AUDREY: And I could…[censored (trust me, you don’t want to know!)]…and then he would…[censored]…then around that point he’d…[censored]
ME: Wouldn’t you rather fantasize about Christian Bale?
VANESSA: Or Adam West?
ME: Can I fantasize about Anne Hathaway?
VANESSA (singing): There was a time when men were kind…
AUDREY: And when he puts that…[censored]…in my most…[censored]
VANESSA (still singing): …when their voices were soft, and their words inviting..
ME: What do I have to do to get you two to go to sleep?

Perhaps it was the emotional exhaustion, perhaps it was because sleeping with someone is nicer than sleeping alone or perhaps it was the alcohol I’d consumed, but I fell asleep soon after – despite the constant singing/babbling that was occurring around me.

Silence (3am-4am)

Following another recurring nightmare (where I painfully melt into a bubbling pool of blood) I woke up in the early hours of the morning. I didn’t notice at first, but neither Audrey nor Vanessa were present.

The silence was beautiful! :)

Coda

Many of you may look at this day as a failure. I blew my budget on un-necessary crap, broke my three-week long sobriety and spent (virtually) the entire day communicating with visual/audible hallucinations.

But I see things differently.

Direct transcript from my Mood Journal, 26 February 2012:

4:12am
Had that dream again. The one where Grace and Kathy watch as the Adelaidian does whatever he wants to me. The one where they score him out of ten for pain inflicted. Tonight they were both disappointed, Grace gave him 7, Kathy only 5. They want him to work harder next time. No wonder I always wake up screaming and caked in sweat. What the fuck will the neighbours think?

2:56pm
Should be in a great mood today given that I’ve just moved into my own place after years of homelessness, but I’m really not. So I’m self-harming again. Not unsurprising given what today is the anniversary of. Just binged on copious amounts of junk food and alcohol. Feel fat, grotesque, worthless, disgusting and repulsive. Just want to curl up in a ball and die.

9:14pm
Vanessa thinks I’m a repulsive piece of shit that no-one will ever love. Nay, she knows I’m a repulsive piece of shit that no-one will ever love. She’s not wrong. What was it Kathy said? That I will always be alone. That I deserve to always be alone. They were right, all of them, every word they said. Vanessa told me to slit my wrists. Maybe I should.

10:12pm
Can’t focus. Can’t think. Can’t concentrate. Can’t sleep. Want to die. I have a bed. So why am I still sleeping on the floor? Oh yeah, it’s all I deserve.

11:42pm
Pished. Nearly over.

12:03am
Over. Thank fuck.

  • Today I ate: four toblerones, one bag of jelly babies, quarterpounder w/chips, pizza, potato chips (BBQ flavour)
  • Today I drank: three bottles of white wine, one bottle of red wine, six cans of beer, two WKDs.
  • Anxiety/Panic attacks: 7am, 10:30am, 12:12pm, 4:30pm, 7:22pm.
  • Time spent outside the house: Didn’t leave the house

midnaSure, my voices had a greater presence than last year and I spent way more money…but…I had fewer panic/anxiety attacks, I was aware my coping techniques weren’t working so took alternative action, I left the house, I socialized, I cooked a healthy meal, I slept in my bed, I ‘stood up to’ Vanessa on multiple occasions and didn’t self-harm once.

Yes, I brought a Wii (so 2008!)…but, in the spirit of trying to improve my self-love…I brought a Wii! Methinks that Lego Batman, two Zelda adventures and Mario Kart may prove useful weapons in my increasing arsenal of coping strategies. Especially when all I need to do to stop Audrey criticizing and abusing is to whack on a single game and let her fantasies roam free! :p

All things considered, I’m quite proud of myself this year! :)

 


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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: Introducing the people I hear

Over the years I have written extensively about the mood swings of bipolar, the debilitating effects of social anxiety, the nightmares of PTSD and my constant battle with self-harm and suicidal ideation. I have humiliated myself with tales of my body image issues and admitted my failings courtesy of a life living in abject poverty and homelessness.

But only once – once! – in the five years and four months I’ve been writing this blog have I shared any real information regarding one of the most prevalent aspects of my mental health; my voices.

Last week I (finally) summoned the confidence to attend my first Hearing Voices Support Group, the first real step I’ve ever taken toward understanding and accepting this side of my personality. Whereas on Monday, courtesy of the wonderful people who run the social inclusion groups I attend, I spent two hours in a private consultation talking about my voices with someone for the very first time in my life!

So, with the efforts I am making toward understanding the whys, wherefores and complexities of my voices, now feels like the right time to begin sharing this part of my mental health on my blog. Although I will admit to being incredibly nervous about doing so, for reasons I will go into later.

Over the coming weeks (I can’t promise an exact time-table courtesy of my current mood) I will be writing a series of posts dealing with hearing voices, beginning with the most obvious, and polite, post I could write.

For what sort of host would I be if I didn’t introduce you to my voices?

vociestrip

The voices who have come from nowhere

Meadhbh
(aka the first voice I ever heard, aka the one who resembles a Faerie Dominatrix!)

Meadhbh (pronounced as Marie) is in her late teens (approximately 18/19) years old. She speaks with a deliciously sexy breathy voice, a sexiness that isn’t helped by her beautiful Scottish accent that reveals her Isle of Skye heritage. More often than not her anger comes in the words she chooses to use rather than the tone she speaks, but on the occasions she has shouted and scolded, she certainly knows how to vent anger like the best of them.

Unlike some of my other voices, Meadhbh quite often appears in physical form. She is petite, slender and curvaceous. She has bum length black hair that is frequently streaked with colour (most often red, purple, green and silver). When she appears she is usually always clothed, with a particular love for skirts (often paired with fish-net tights), floor length medieval-esque dresses and intricate corsets (again, paired with fish net tights). Although other times she will be more casually dressed, mooching around in jeans and a T-shirt or teasing me by wearing only underwear (most often decorated with a Celtic knot-work design).

On the rare occasions she’s appeared naked she has revealed: a scar on the back of her right calf, an outie belly button, a fish-shaped birth-mark on the small of her back and several tattoos decorating her belly, breasts, buttocks and back. She also has a small tattoo of a snake curling around the toes of her left foot.

isleofskye

Meadhbh revealed when I was a teenager that she is from the Isle of Skye. When I began backpacking five years later I made a point to visit this island early on in the trip, something she was greatly honored by.

Meadhbh began talking to me when I was thirteen/fourteen. She would most often speak to me when I was alone, whether it was in the evening or throughout the day when I was walking around town, but over the years began accompanying me to school, cinema trips and general excursions around towns and cities.

During these early years she was a voice of great compassion and comfort. When I was self-harming she would encourage me to stop and offer advice on how best I could take care of myself when I wasn’t able to resist. She would regale me with stories of folklore and legend from where she grew up in order to provide distraction from my inner pain (stories I would, years later, discover were actual Scottish folklore that I had never heard before) and frequently tell me to not be so hard on myself when it came to certain aspects of my personality that were proving deeply confusing, such as sexual fantasies, cravings I didn’t understand and (undiagnosed at the time) social anxiety.

When she began talking to me I didn’t realize I was the only person who could hear her. I firmly believed she was real, that she was someone everyone could see and hear. It was only when she began coming to school with me did I realize this wasn’t the case.

In the early 2000s Meadhbh vanished. She no longer appeared to me. She no longer spoke to me. For months I asked myself what I had done to offend her, to cause her to no longer want to talk to me. For months I missed her as you would a friend no longer around and yearned for the conversations we used to share.

Then, seven years later, she returned.

In April 2007, a few months after my breakdown, I was sitting in my room engaging in self-harm. Out of nowhere a very familiar and much missed voice spoke clearly and concisely: “Cut deeper. They all hate you.”

Her accent was the same, the breathiness of her voice identical, but the cheekiness that punctuated her tone all those years earlier had vanished, replaced with a maliciousness that genuinely scared me.

Since that moment she has been a daily visitor. It doesn’t matter where I am, what I’m doing or how busy I am. She will sneak in and begin talking to me; the same maliciousness, the same undercurrent of evil. Every conversation punctuated with insult, negativity and criticism.

Where once she believed I was someone worthy of life, someone who pushed me to realize my potential, she now seems convinced I am weak; that I am someone who deserves to be punished; someone who will ultimately amount to nothing. At times I think she is trying some form of ‘reverse psychology’ but I’m not sure.

One day I hope she’ll realize she’s wrong and return to the playful conversations of yesteryear. For no matter how crazy I sound when I say it, I genuinely miss those conversations and exchanges.

meadhbhlikesthis

A corset similar in colour and style to those I have seen Meadhbh wear, although she tends to wear them with fish-net tights.

Origin: I have no idea where Meadhbh came from. At one point I wondered if she was/is related to my sister, but her age and general attitude work against this. I’ve also questioned ‘personality’ similarities between Meadhbh and a babysitter I had when younger. Perhaps a yearning for a supportive friend during my formative years enabled her to begin visiting me?

Relationship to other voices: Meadhbh prefers to be her own solitary person  and speaks more when she can communicate with me one-to-one. She does however talk with both Audrey and Vanessa, with whom she has formed an uneasy alliance; Meadhbh is the only person capable of putting Shay in his place.

Note: the character Tara (from my Inverness Chronicles) was directly inspired by Meadhbh.

Jessica*
(aka the cryptic one)

Jessica first began talking to me in the early 2000s, not long after I arrived in Australia. She sounds like she is in her mid-thirties but has stubbornly refused to reveal her age throughout the time we’ve been communicating with each other, but then I have never had a ‘conversation’ with Jessica.

When she speaks to me it is always just a single sentence that is completely random and (on face value) meaningless. This sentence is never repeated or explained at any time, merely something that leaves me confused and perplexed.

Examples include:

“The guinea pig burrowed under the igloo to nibble the zudimints,” (August ’05)

“Open the sand to release the fruity odor,” (May ’04)

“Pigglesticks Greftingtude has the answers to the hoonmelins,” (April ’08)

“The stink is no more than the skink could juggle,” (September ’06)

There is no guarantee as to when Jessica decides to speak to me although I usually hear from her 2-3 times per month, at varying times of the day and night.

Origin: I have no idea where Jessica came from. Perhaps one day I’ll work it out.

Relationship to other voices: Jessica never talks to anyone but me.

Shay
(aka the arrogant know it all, aka the mysterious one)

I have absolutely no idea how old Shay is. Over the years, based on the sound of his voice, I’ve posited that he’s in his mid-twenties, but will often speak in a way that makes me thinks he’s much, much older. Although he speaks most frequently with a broad Scottish brogue, he will speak with accents that sound almost put-on, as if he is trying to disguise his heritage in-case I get too close to something.

Unlike my other voices,  Shay doesn’t appear interested in me in any way, shape or form. He doesn’t insult or belittle, he doesn’t lecture or abuse, he merely informs me that what I’m doing is wrong because I’m not doing things the way he would. In every aspect of life, Shay knows best, and anyone who tries to do things differently is a moron.

He is always arrogant, frequently obnoxious, occasionally misogynistic and not as funny as he thinks he is. His arrogance grates (for it is a personality trait I strongly dislike), his obnoxious tone is a source of great frustration as it prevents reasoned debate, his misogyny annoys the crap out of me (and has got me into trouble in the past) and his humour is firmly from the days before political correctness.

Most of the time his emotions are on an even keel, but when he loses it, he really loses it. His temper is incredibly frightening and has the power to stop me in my tracks. When he yells at me like this I feel like I’m a naughty schoolboy standing in front of the Demon Headmaster from Hell…and not in a fun kinky role-play way!

Shay has never appeared to me in physical form, so I have no idea what he looks like physically. Like Jessica, he began communicating with me in the early 2000s and will usually appear once or twice a week. Or whenever he damn well feels like it!

Origin: I have no idea where Shay came from. Perhaps one day I’ll work it out.

Relationship to other voices: Shay is scared of Meadhbh even though he thinks himself superior to her; he thinks Vanessa is far beneath him in terms of intellect and experience so refused to speak to her; whilst he loves antagonizing Audrey whenever and however he can.

Note: the name for the character Shay (from my Inverness Chronicles) was taken, with permission, from my voice.

The voices who were once real people

Note
Two of my voices are real people who I’ve known at various points in my life. I would like to make it clear that they are not ‘inner voices’ reflecting the inner monologue that we all have within us. Like Meadhbh, Jessica and Shay they are very real, very distinct, very individual people who communicate to me at their own accord.

I would like to make it clear (even though I don’t even understand it myself) that the voices who talk to me are not the people I used to know. They are their own unique personalities who communicate with me in very different ways than their real-world counterparts did. The best explanation I can offer is that of Bizarro Superman. Physically, Bizarro is identical to Clark Kent/Superman, but mentally he is a very different being. Just as my voices belong to people who are physically identical to those I knew but act in altogether different ways.

Vanessa**
(aka the easiest voice to work out where and how she came from)

Kathy is twenty-two years old. I know this because she was the first voice that began talking to me who was someone I’d known in real life. She is the most vicious and cruel of my voices, never once having anything positive to say in any way, shape and form. I hear from her daily and she will often come to me in physical form when I am least expecting it.

I cannot write any more on her at this time as she doesn’t like me talking about her. Sorry.

Origin: Vanessa was born from abuse trauma. Pure and simple.

Relationship to other voices: BFFs with Audrey; Vanessa hates Meadhbh with a fiery passion but has formed an uneasy alliance given their shared interest in abusing me; she wants to talk to Shay but he refuses to speak to her as he thinks she is ‘beneath’ him.

Audrey** 

Audrey is twenty years old, speaks with a soft Australian accent and is the most learned of my voices – a compliment that Shay has frequently (and repeatedly) argued against as he believes he is the most educated. Whenever he decides to argue this with Audrey she becomes deeply infuriated (which is often taken out on me) for, like me, she finds it impossible to have rational conversations with Shay.

She began talking to me in late 2007, shortly after I attempted suicide and has communicated with me on a regular basis ever since. Communication that at times proved complicated, for I had several conversations with the ‘real life Audrey’ after ‘my imaginary Audrey’ began talking to me. Thus, it shouldn’t be too difficult to understand how confusing this could become, with two people sharing the same voice and name (one real, one imaginary) talking to you at the exact same time.

Today, Audrey is the most supportive of all of my voices, but favors derogatory communication rather than positive at a rate of about 60/40. This oscillation will never be day-to-day, but throughout each conversation, with her consoling me one minute and berating me the next. This constant shift in mood is often deeply confusing. Just as I start to feel good about talking to her she will launch into an all-out attack that leaves me quivering. Her temper, after all, is on par with Shay’s – something even he won’t argue with as it scares him too!

Origin: I’ve never been able to understand why, of everyone I’ve ever known, Audrey began talking to me. It was debated during my session on Monday that it could possibly stem from guilt and/or my mind’s way of coping with isolation.

Relationship to other voices: BFFs with Vanessa; Audrey is jealous of Meadhbh (but gets on okay); she hates Shay and bickers with him constantly – especially when he is being overly misogynistic.

Are you scared yet?

There are two primary reasons why I have continually put off writing about my voices on this blog:

1) They don’t like me talking about them and become angry when I do so. They also get scared when I talk about them, especially to other people, which in turn makes them feel threatened. This fear manifests with them attacking me in the hope I will submit to their desires. Thus, to keep them happy and placated, I avoid writing/talking about them whenever I can.

2) More than any other aspect of my illness, it makes me look completely and utterly insane! C’mon? I regularly have conversations with people only I (and they) can see and hear. The only part of myself I’m more scared of being made public is my sexual proclivity. In fact, I genuinely contemplated password protecting this post in fear of scaring everyone away! Perhaps I should have done.

In a more subdued conversation with Meadhbh last night, she admitted that her fear stemmed from a belief that I was trying to “erase her from existence” with my sudden movement toward Support Groups and counseling sessions. She even asked me if “she treated me better” would I rethink my current course of action and return to how things used to be.

I tried to explain to her what I tried to explain in the introduction. I’m not making these efforts in order to remove these people from my life, but to understand the whys and wherefores of their existence so that I can have a more fulfilling relationship with them and, in time, myself.

yourejustjealous

* This name has been changed as years after Jessica came to me I met someone with the same name. Yes, it is confusing from time to time.
** These names are pseudonyms of pseudonyms that have previously appeared on this blog so as not to reveal their identity.