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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SOC: How do I live the life I deserve to live?

This post was written as a Stream of Consciousness on Tuesday 8 September 2015 between 9:52 – 10:24am. Apologies for any grammatical or spelling errors that occur throughout, they are part and parcel of stream of consciousness writing.

Federation Square Abstract

Before going on holiday, I was apprehensive. Melbourne has been the staging ground of some of the worst, most abhorrent, actions that have ever been inflicted upon me.

It was in Melbourne where I was emotionally abused to the point of suicide and homelessness; emotional abuse that cost me my tertiary education, my income, my social and support network, every possession I’d ever owned and left me a terrified, hollowed out shell of the person I once was; emotional abuse that has caused a lifetime of lost opportunities and trauma of the like I’ve never before, or since, experienced.

It was in Melbourne where I found myself homeless, eking out an existence on the streets of Victoria’s capitol, scrounging for food in bins, begging for loose change on the streets, and doing whatever I could to survive in spite of my new-found station in life as the world’s biggest loser. This too caused untold psychological damage and trauma that I haven’t even begun to deal with.

It was in Melbourne where I was physically assaulted, not once, not twice, but several times. On some occasions I was doing nothing but sitting in a park when a gaggle of alcohol/drug fueled sociopaths set upon me for their own entertainment. On other occasions the assaults were warranted; when I intervened upon seeing a boyfriend beating up his girlfriend, when I refused to hand over money in a run-down boarding house. But whether warranted or not, each assault inflicted emotional damage, each assault traumatized me.

So before going on holiday I was apprehensive. How easily would my traumas be triggered? What emotional pain would I find myself revisiting? How would I control the surge of PTSD symptoms that would inevitably overpower me? How much of my holiday would be lost to the memories of nightmares past?

So colour me surprised when nothing happened. Walking around the Kings Domain, my old ‘home’ throughout my homelessness, brought back memories, but they didn’t come close to overwhelming me as much as I thought they would. Traipsing around my old haunts of Carlton and Fitzroy, major locations throughout my abusive relationship, became more nostalgic than triggering. Even lazing around the city’s alleyways and open spaces, key locations of my various assaults, were more relaxing and subdued than nightmarish or painful. The PTSD that I expected to overwhelm me was only a problem for a brief few hours, brought on by tiredness and exhaustion instead of memories and triggers. And even when the PTSD overwhelmed me, I was able to control it, I was able to occupy my mind with beautiful art or a canister of Cherry Coke, instead of losing myself to the pain of times past.

All of my fears. All of my apprehension. All of my nervousness about Melbourne. Everything I feared proved unnecessary; a complete waste of energy.

My time in Melbourne, rather than being a carefully balanced nightmare of trauma and psychological distress, was a wonderful escape from the terror that (usually) dominates my mind. It was not Melbourne that I should have been afraid of…it was Wodonga.

Since my return two weeks ago, I have been so stressed, so wound up, so overcome with nervous energy, that I’m surprised I haven’t had a heart attack! Not a single minute, not a single second, has seen me as calm, relaxed and happy as I was in Melbourne. I’ve just been well and truly overwhelmed by anxiety, by depression, by PTSD symptoms and the resultant stress that these conditions create.

Hours have been lost to violent, volatile conversations with the ghost of my abuser. There are no triggers in this town of her sociopathic narcissism. There are no reminders of the vile, cruel attacks that she used to direct upon me. But flashbacks, reliving and nightmares have dominated since I returned to this quiet, sleepy little town.

In Melbourne, I was regularly walking past hundreds of people a minute, but not once (not once) did my anxiety present any problems with this. There were no anxiety attacks. There were no panic attacks. There was just me, losing myself into the breathing heart of the city. But since my return, the anxiety has reigned supreme. Within an hour of returning I walked to the supermarket, passed one person, and suffered a crippling panic attack that left me a jittery, bawling wreck on the side of the road. Hundreds of people in Melbourne I could deal with; but one person in Wodonga overwhelmed me.

Throughout my week in Melbourne depression never entered the equation. I was happier than I’d been in years. I was skipping down the street, singing songs to myself and, unless I was taking selfies (I never smile in photographs), had a stupid grin plastered to my face. But back in Wodonga? I don’t remember how to smile; I walk around with a glum and gloomy expression on my face because happiness has escaped my soul; replaced with a dark, black, bleakness as I topple on the abyss between life and death.

I never once though of ending my life when I was in Melbourne; but since being back in Wodonga, the suicidal thoughts have returned, overpowering my belief that I’m a decent person and leaving me convinced that this world, and everyone in it, would be better off without me. After all, what do I bring to the world? What magic do I pass on to the lives of others? I’m just nothing. A nobody. This world would be better off without me. That I’m convinced of; when I’m in Wodonga.

And that is the crux of the issue, the life lesson that my holiday in Melbourne taught me; the major problem in my life isn’t my anxiety, isn’t my PTSD, it isn’t my depression, bipolar or suicidal ideation. My major problem in life is Wodonga, this sleepy hamlet where there is nothing to do, nothing to feed my passions and nothing to occupy the cravings of my mind. For me to get better, for me to recover, for me to live the life I deserve to live, I need to leave this place. And I need to leave soon, before the stress-caused heart attack strikes and I am taken from this world forever.

But how?

How does someone living in abject poverty move house?

Yes, I’ve reached the conclusion that I need to leave this suffocating town, but there is no way I can. The money I receive from the government doesn’t  cover my costs as it is. Last week I had to humiliate myself at the food bank as I couldn’t afford to feed myself. Whilst I’m walking around with a hole in the crotch of my jeans so big that I can put my hand through it, but the measly DSP I receive won’t allow for the cost of a new pair. So how do I realise my realisation and leave this unhealthy place when I can’t afford accommodation, can’t afford deposits, can’t afford anything?

The thought of being trapped here stresses me out something rotten, but that’s exactly when I am; trapped. Enslaved within a town that is damaging and detrimental to my mental health because, as I live in abject poverty, I have no choice of where I live or what I do with my life. Life. I don’t have one in Wodonga. I just have pain and trauma. I just have stress and depression. I could have a life somewhere else. Somewhere like Melbourne or London or Glasgow or Edinburgh or Inverness. Somewhere where my heart would be allowed to sing and I could occupy myself with cultural, artistic and inspirational pursuits. Where I could distract myself from the trauma of my life and allow myself to skip and sing and be happy.

But how?

Before going on holiday I was apprehensive. I thought I would be overwhelmed with pain, but instead I was showered with happiness. The pain came when I returned to the town that I hate; the town that, for better or worse, I have been forced through poverty, through lack of choice, to call home.

A town that will continue to suck the life from me until I’m nothing but the empty, worthless, shell of the man I once could have been.

 


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Addy Lake vs Writer’s Block (and the World!)

One of the many downsides of bipolar depression are the crippling bouts of writer’s block that permeate each episode. For the last several days, ever since writing my last substantial post, I have been experiencing said writer’s block. No matter how much I want to write, no matter how brightly my post ideas burn, I just can’t find the words to express my emotions. A post on forgiveness has been sitting in my drafts folder for a week now. A post concerning my anxiety over my impending trip to Melbourne is begging to be written. Yet the moment I sit down to write…nothing. Not a sentence. Not a word. Not even a syllable. Nothing. It’s infuriating. It’s frustrating. And there doesn’t seem anything I can do about it other than ride out the episode and hope it dissipates sooner rather than later. In the meantime, you’ll have to make do with song selections and random streams of consciousness. Like this one.

handandbook

It’s been a rough old week. Last Friday I was incapacitated by an annoying little stomach bug that saw me seek refuge (and comfort) on my couch. I didn’t move from it for days. I just lay there, cocooned under a blanket, watching the good Doctor battle minions and mercenaries. I didn’t eat (wasn’t hungry), I didn’t blog (wasn’t inspired), I didn’t even social media – which I’m becoming frighteningly proficient at. I just lay there, cocooned under a blanket, feeling sorry for myself and wishing that I had the energy to do something, anything, more productive and worthwhile.

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day,”
~ A.A. Milne ~

This incapacitation lasted a few days. All through Saturday and Sunday the couch was my only destination. I did force myself to blog on Sunday, I did force myself to social media on Monday, but my heart was in neither. I just didn’t want the illness to overcome me. To be honest, I’m kinda over being sick this year. What with my pancreatitis and cyst taking up most of the first five months of the year, I could do with a substantial period of time that my immune system isn’t being assaulted by nefarious parasitic bacteria. I need a period of time where my energy is overflowing in order to combat this stubborn, unrelenting depression that has been gripping my mind for the last fifteen months.

And principle in my war against this depression is my trip to Melbourne. Over the last few weeks my plans have been coming together and it looks increasingly more likely that it will be going ahead. At this stage I plan to go the week of 21st August, so I can attend the social gathering I’ve been invited to. Not only is this social gathering something that I would love the opportunity to do, but it is something that will challenge my social anxiety head on, and anything that does that is worthwhile in my book. In addition to this social gathering, I’m eager to walk the streets of Melbourne again. I’m desperate to roam the laneways, eat street cuisine and overwhelm my psyche with the hubbub of city life. I want to explore the art galleries, watch the fishes at the aquarium and laze amidst the gardens of the King’s Domain.

It’s been nearly two years since I last left Wodonga. Two years of being suffocated by this sterile, uninspiring town. I crave stimulation. I yearn to have my heart’s desires met. I need my boring monotonous routine to be eradicated, and I can only do that by leaving this boring, monotonous town. I’m not getting my hopes up just yet. I know from past experience that if I do that, they will only be dashed at the last-minute by some hitherto unseen obstacle, but I should know whether my planned trip is possible next week. And if it is. Then prepare to be dazzled by Addy’s dance of excitement!

Aside from stomach bugs and dreaming of Melbourne adventures, life has carried on in much of a muchness. My quit smoking attempt is trundling on. I have smoked cigarettes over the last week, but for the last five days I have been totally smoke free, which is quite exciting. My anxiety, however, has been taking a major hit without nicotine to counteract it. For the last couple of weeks my anxieties have been off the charts, impacting and effecting every aspect of my life. There have been days when I haven’t left the house in fear of what may happen to me in the big bad world. There have been moments of panic at the supermarket; attacks that prevented me from performing fairly mundane and tedious of tasks. I’ve been doing a lot of work with mindfulness to try to combat this increase in anxiety, but to little or no effect. It seems that without cigarettes, my anxiety increases, and I don’t quite know what to do about it.

Meadhbh tells me that, in time, my anxiety will decrease. That it is merely a reaction to being nicotine free. She’s probably right, but only time will tell on that. As per expected she has been a Godsend over the last couple of weeks, egging me on, encouraging me to remain smoke free, playfully chastising me when I slip up but quick to offer an inspirational word or two when I need it most. We’ve been doing a lot of colouring in (using our Van Gogh colouring book) to curb any cravings I may have, which she’s been enjoying, as well as playing lots of Yoshi’s Island and Lego Batman, which entertains and keeps her happy. And as I’ve said before, a happy voice means a happy Addy!

Audrey, too, has been in good spirits lately. She hasn’t been as supportive as Meadhbh with my quit smoking endeavor, but has offered the occasional sage like word of advice. She’s been thrilled by my recent resurgence in reading. Each night, before I go to bed, I will read a few chapters of a book. Over the last several weeks I’ve read ten books, and Audrey has loved every minute of them, even the crappy ones!

Top five books I’ve read over the last several weeks:

1. Scott Pilgrim (Bryan Lee O’Malley)
2. A Fringe of Leaves (Patrick White)
3. Smokeheads (Doug Johnstone)
4. Gone Again (Doug Johnstone)
5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Thinking (Susan Cain)

Vanessa, meanwhile, is as abusive and obstinate as always. Keen to tell me I’m a failure. Keen to remind me how useless I am. If only she’d cheer the fuck up and stop being such a grumpy, narcissistic bitch, things would be so much better – for both of us.

The last couple of days have been busy when it comes to external forces. Yesterday, I had a productive session with my psychologist. We discussed and dissected various PTSD treatments and therapies she believes could assist me. We didn’t go into detail on the source of my trauma – that will come in time – but she believes there is hope for me in this area. Which is good. Because I don’t think there is! I also had a good session with my support worker today. We decided to forgo the usual ‘sit in a room and talk’ session and went for a drive to Albury Library Museum instead. She had seen a photography exhibit was on and thought, rightly so, that it would be something I’d be interested in. The photographs – all landscape – were stellar. Some of the best I’ve seen in years. In fact the photographer, Peter Elfes, has skyrocketed onto my list of favourite photographers. So if you’re in the area, you should check it out. And if you are in the area, why not stop by and say hello to little old me? We could have a coffee or something! :)

Wow. 1318 words. Not bad for someone suffering from writer’s block. And whilst we’re back on the subject. Any hints, tips or advice you may have on vanquishing this silent, deadly foe would be greatly appreciated. I never know how to tackle writer’s block and could do with some suggestions!

The Road Not Taken
By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim
Because it was grassy and wanted wear,
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Wait! Before you toddle off to do whatever it is you wonderful people do, could you spare a moment to vote in my poll?

I’ve been trying to convince my Andrew that it would be a good idea to write to some of the beautiful people he met in Canada. He hasn’t spoken to them for many, many years and I know he misses them terribly so I thought it would be nice for him to write to them. Andrew thinks it wouldn’t be a good idea. He thinks he would be imposing on them and they wouldn’t want to hear from him but I think they miss him in the way he misses them. So I thought that if I created a poll, a simple yes/no/maybe poll it might convince him my idea is the best and he would write to them. What do you think? Should he get back in touch with them or should he just put the past behind him and leave things be? We’d love to know your thoughts! :)

Meadhbh xoxxox

 


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Life is hard, sometimes…

One of the strangest things that has come from my quit smoking attempt is an addiction to cheese. Ever since going smoke free on Wednesday I haven’t been able to get enough of the stuff. I’ve devoured toasted cheese sandwich after toasted cheese sandwich. I’ve feasted on jacket potatoes slathered with lashings of cheddary awesomeness and snacked on savory biscuits adorned with cubes of tasty cheese. Part of me feels I should be worried about this new obsession. That I am merely substituting one addiction with another. But the other part of me laughs in the face of such thinking. Cheese, after all, is not known to cause cancer. It is known to increase your waist size, but as I’m already a big fat person (okay, not that big or that fat) I’m not too worried about this. I’m just thankful for the fact I’d gone three days without cigarettes…

…and yes, you read that sentence correctly. I had gone three days without cigarettes. For this afternoon, after a brutal night of PTSD nightmares and little to no sleep, after a morning of confusion and melancholy, I turned to the sweet drug nicotine to ease my troubled mind. I know what triggered it. I know what caused the onslaught of memory and flashback. And there is nothing I could have done about it. I’m trying not to see this as a setback. I’m trying to look at it with positive eyes. Yes, I smoked a cigarette. But I only smoked one cigarette. I could easily have smoked two, three or four. I could easily have said to hell with my quit smoking attempt, give me more of that nicotine drenched goodness! But I didn’t. I smoked one, blissful, cigarette and then placed the pack in the trash before returning to my quit smoking endeavor.

You might want to give me a bollocking. You might want to turn me over your knee and give me a sound spanking. But before you take such extreme, flirtatious measures, remember that at least I’m being honest about smoking today. I could easily lie about it. I could easily ignore the fact I smoked today and go on making everyone believe I was still smoke free. But that isn’t me. I’m an honest soul. Sometimes too honest. Every quit smoking attempt is littered with setbacks and relapses. Nicotine is, after all, one of the hardest drugs to give up. It’s grip is vicious, strong and vice like. I do feel bad about smoking today, but I’d like everyone to remember how difficult my life is before scolding me.

I’m not saying that for sympathy or special treatment. I’m saying it because it’s true. My life is difficult. I live alone, I have few friends in close proximity and I battle bipolar affective disorder, complex PTSD and severe social anxiety disorder with little to no help. Just being alone all the time is enough to drive most people to despair, let alone having to deal with complicated mental illnesses at the same time. The smallest, most inconsequential thing can trigger me. I could be watching a movie that features a rape scene and bam I’m back in Adelaide being anally penetrated by a grotesque stranger. I could be walking down the road and smell a scent that sends me hurtling back into my abusive relationship. Or I could read an online article and be sent spiraling into the depths of poverty and homelessness.

Over the years I’ve come to realise just how precarious my life is. So many triggers. So many things to avoid. It amazes me sometimes how I have lived as long as I have. Chewing gum, gin and tonic, Buffy, Fitzroy, cigars, Harry Potter, The Dark Knight; all are things that I have to avoid. All have the power to pull me away from the present and send me tumbling into the abyss of panic, terror and nightmare. Just think, for a moment, how difficult that can be. How many times is Harry Potter mentioned in the media, on blogs? People who read Harry Potter don’t just like it, they obsess over it. Hundreds upon thousands of online hours have been dedicated to writing about this fictional wizard. He regularly appears in the mainstream media, on Buzzfeed, on blogs; and every time he does, my mind is triggered and I stop functioning.

Just the other day I was in the supermarket when a father asked his daughter “Would you like that?” and I was rendered almost non-functioning. For this was the exact assortment of words that my rapist said to me. And that’s not the first time that’s happened. Once, many years ago, I was in a similar situation, heard those exact words, and an ambulance had to be called to assist me as I ended up lying in the fetal position, unable to move. Can you imagine how difficult life can be when a simple four word sentence holds such power over someone’s functioning? It’s exhausting. It’s debilitating. It’s painful. It’s so many bloody synonyms I could be here til Doomsday typing them all out.

But I do the best I can. I get out of bed when it would be all too easy to remain there all day. I walk to the supermarket when all I want to do is remain in the comfort and safety of my own world. And I push myself to perform tasks that, although difficult, aid and assist my life. Just the other day I discovered that there is an event being held in Melbourne on the 21st August. A gathering of like-minded souls, congregating to celebrate their passion in a club like environment. There is going to be hundreds of people there. Hundreds of strangers that have the power to render me panic-stricken and comatose. But I put my hand up to attend. I, Addy Lake, social anxiety extraordinaire, volunteered to attend a function with hundreds of people who could render me unable to function. All because I want to go. All because I yearn to break through the hold my anxiety and PTSD hold over my life.

That’s why I’m not beating myself up for smoking one cigarette. My life is hard, it’s painful and it’s every day. There is very little joy in my life and very little relaxation. I exist in a constant state of hyper-vigilance; endlessly on the lookout for the next thing that could send me cascading into the past. But I keep fighting. I keep pushing myself. And I keep seeking out new and hitherto untried strategies that could break the hold mental illness has on me. And that is something to be proud of. Regardless of the occasional slip-up or setback.


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[NSFW] My kink and its effect on my mental health

WARNING_SPANKINGS

I’ve always been interested in the world of kink. How it relates to our personality. How it reflects on who we are. How it impacts on various aspects of our life. And how, if any, it links to the world of mental health. For someone who has battled mental illness since he was a teenager, and for someone who has struggled with his kinky self for even longer, the world of kink and how it relates to mental illness fascinates me.

In this post I ruminate on how my kinky self has impacted, or been impacted by, my various mental illnesses. From the ups and downs of bipolar through C-PTSD via social anxiety and self harm, I cast an eye over how kink has affected my life.

Given the subject matter, it should go without saying that this post is not for familial eyes. So any members of my family who just happen to stumble upon this post, please respect my need for privacy and read no further. Everyone else, feel free to join me on my journey with kink! :)

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31 Days of Bipolar: Day 14. Ruminations on friendship

Day 14: What would you say to your younger self if you could?

friendship

Dear Younger Addy,

So where are we? If this letter has been delivered to you at the exact time and date I specified the postal service, you’re currently sitting in a backpacker hostel on the Isle of Skye. You’ve just had an encounter with the SLWCB – don’t worry about screwing up, only Meadhbh will hold it against you – and you’re about to embark on a bicycling adventure to the castle that is known as Eilean Donan. At this precise moment in time you’re just being your shy, elusive self. You’re sitting in your dorm room, nonchalantly writing adult fiction, wishing you weren’t so introverted and anxious so you’d be able to talk to some of the people you’re sharing your space with. And that’s why I’m writing to you; to impart some words of wisdom when it comes to friendship and relationships.

Given that I’m you, I know how much having friends means to you. I also know how mind-shatteringly difficult it is for you to communicate with people. Most of the time you’d rather gouge out your own eyeball with a wooden spoon than settle down to have a conversation with a complete stranger. I know how much your anxiety controls your actions. Preventing you from opening up in case people laugh at you, in case they criticize your words, your actions, your everything. You hate being the center of attention and spend much of your life believing people are going to do their utmost to humiliate you in public for just being you. So you do whatever it takes to protect yourself from such humiliation, even if that means never talking to people, even if that means spending your life alone.

And we need to do something about it now, otherwise you are going to experience a loneliness that you couldn’t possibly comprehend at this point of your life. To give you a glimpse into the future, I am currently running on eight years of being alone, I don’t have any friends, I don’t have any acquaintances, I have no-one and will probably have no-one for the remainder of my life. Sometimes I accept that. Sometimes I believe I don’t deserve to have anyone in my life. Sometimes I think I’ve got what I deserve. That this is my punishment for past indiscretions. But then there are the times I think the opposite; that no-one deserves to not have friends in the life. After all, if serial killers and rapists can have friends – which they do – why can’t I? Because I’ve never done anything in my life even bordering on the nastiness of such crimes. You know that, Andrew, because you are me; only younger, more naive and open to change.

And it is this openness to change that we need to tap into. There is little I can do now to change my life. My anxiety is too entrenched. My PTSD too controlling. It is doubtful I can foster the change that I need to make in order to open up to people and allow them into my life. But you? We can change you. So listen well, my dear friend, and take heed of my words otherwise you will end up as lonely and isolated as I am.

Firstly, in a few weeks time, you are going to decide to long-term at a backpacker hostel in Inverness. This decision will change your life, because it will see several important people enter it. People who will come to mean the world to you; not just in Inverness, but for the remainder of your life. But you will allow your anxiety to control you; you won’t open up to them, you won’t trust them with your inner-most personal intricacies, and you will share almost nothing about your life with them. By doing this you are ruining a major opportunity to make friends. They won’t care that you’re a virgin. They won’t care that you battle anxiety and depression. They won’t care that you’re shy and introverted. These people are good people, they will accept you no matter what, so you need to trust in that and allow yourself to open up to them. It’s going to be hard, I know that, but these people have the potential to be life-long friends, so the more you trust in them, the easier things will be.

This is the fundamental lesson you need to learn. It is your anxiety that is stopping you from opening up. But opening up to people is the only way to make friends, so you need to find ways to overcome your anxiety and allow yourself the opportunity to trust people with who you are. I can’t help you with that. I can only impart advice and tell you what you need to do. But from someone who has been there, someone who has felt the pain you have, I can tell you that it isn’t going to kill you. Quite the opposite. You will feel more alive than ever before when you finally open up to people.

There are going to be opportunities. One person in particular is going to give you opportunities to open up. They are going to ask you questions. They are going to give you moments. They are going to take an interest. So show it back. Answer their questions. Seize every moment. And take an interest in her. It will be worth you while, trust me.

Although it is just a glimmer of a possibility for you right now, in six months time you are going to venture to Canada to continue your backpacking journey. Much like in Inverness, you are going to stay in hostels, and you are going to meet people you like, and who like you in return. The same advice I advised above needs to be heeded; don’t be afraid to open up to these people, don’t be afraid to share your life with them, they are worth it.

It is not going to kill you to share more of your life with these people. And remember, if they have issues with your anxiety, if they can’t deal with your depression, if they hold these things against you, then they are not worth knowing. The people you are to meet are trustworthy. I can speak with the ease of hindsight. These people will not hold your conditions against you. I assure you.

But once you’ve opened up to these people, once you have allowed them entry into your life, you are going to need to do some work. All friendship, no matter how serious or intimate, requires work. No friendships exist without it, for like everything in life, there will be ebbs and flows, and the people you meet whilst traveling are not always going to be around. They will be overseas. They will be away from you. So write to them. Email them. Find the time and energy to phone them. Work on keeping the friendship alive. And don’t let anyone tell you that it isn’t worth it; don’t let anyone get in the way of the importance of these friendships.

And they will. I assure you. You’re going to meet people who want you to stop talking to your friends. Who give you ultimatums on who you’re allowed to communicate with. These are the people who you need to jettison from your life, as they are being selfish, they are not caring about you, only themselves. They don’t care that your friendships are important to you. They don’t care what they mean to you. So ignore them and stay in contact!

You’re also going to meet people who you think are friends, but are not. They are lying to you, manipulating your goodwill, and you need to be wary of this. These people don’t deserve to be let in, these people don’t deserve to see the real you lying beneath the shell of anxiety and introversion. They will do their best to convince you they are worthy, but you need to see through the lies for what they are. I could give you names, I could tell you who these people are, but I won’t, for you need to work this out for yourself. I’m just saying it because you need to be cautious about who you let in.

But in much the same respect as keeping in contact with your traveling friends, you need to understand that once you have let someone in, you’re going to need to work on the friendship. You will need to stay in touch; don’t let them always call you, seize the initiative and contact them. Make sure you are there for them when they need someone; for remember, a friendship is not defined by the happy times you share, but by the times you share when things are shit. And don’t allow your mental illness to convince you that the friendship isn’t deserved; no-one deserves to be alone.

For if you don’t heed these words, then you are going to end up like me; alone, forgotten and unloved. And I know you don’t want that.

Hopefully these words will have given you something to think about. Hopefully these words have not scared you further into your shell. Together, Andrew, we can work on your anxiety and create the social network of caring, wonderful individuals you deserve to have in your life. Together, we can achieve the impossible; you just have to want it enough.

Love and hugs,
Older Addy xox


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Roadblocks to Recovery: #3. Social Isolation

Over the last eight years, my hope has been on the decline, so it is no surprise to me to find that it has now completely evaporated. What caused this decline in hope began when I lost my social network in 2007, following my breakdown and the subsequent emotional abuse I received. For without people with whom to share our life with, there is little hope left. Hence today’s roadblock to recovery is the isolation I have found myself existing in.

Social Isolation

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There is a difference between loneliness and isolation, just as there’s a difference between isolation and solitude. What I experience is not the serenity of a few hours spent in solitude from the hustle-bustle of contemporary life, what I experience on a daily basis is the soul-crushing state of being completely isolated from the rest of the human world. I have no friends. I have no acquaintances. I have no-one. And over the course of the last eight years, that’s something few people have been able to comprehend.

We live in a world where friendships are common place. Everyone is supposed to have ‘friends’ on Facebook, everyone is supposed to have a cavalcade of followers on Twitter, and everyone is supposed to have one or two people in the real world that they consider friends. People with whom you can catch up with over a beverage or two, people who you can confide in, people with whom you can wile away the hours and validate your own existence. So when someone – such as myself – comes along who has no-one, people react with complete confusion.

Over the years, everyone from support workers, psychiatrists, psychologists and telephone counselors have reacted with disbelief upon being told I have no friends. They were unable to comprehend that some people have no-one they can share life with; that no matter how hard some people try, they just don’t have any friends.

The problem I have making friends stems from the first two roadblocks I have looked at; PTSD and social anxiety disorder. My abuser worked her genetically blessed arse off to convince both myself and the world that I deserved no-one in my life. She deliberately isolated me from my friends through a series of lies and manipulations, she informed me that I was an orphan that no-one could ever love and took great glee in informing me that I should move into a cave where I wouldn’t inflict myself on the world. Her incessant abuse also rendered me unable to trust a living human being – including my parents – and without trust it’s almost impossible to make friends, let alone sexual relationships. Even if it wasn’t for the psychological damage my abuser inflicted on me, making friends has always been something I’ve found difficult to do. Ever since I was but a wee young thing in school, talking to people has been difficult for me. This is why it took so long (five years) to make friends after my arrival in Australia, and why I find it so difficult to forgive my abuser for destroying this social network I’d created.

The other reason that I find making friends so difficult, is the simple reason that I don’t have any friends. It may sound odd, or plain ironic, but the simple fact is it’s easier to make friends when you already have friends than it is to make friends when you don’t have friends. Firstly, you are more likely to meet new people through your existing friends, and secondly, people are far less likely to ask “what’s wrong with you”. For someone who doesn’t have friends is automatically (and wrongly) labelled as being ‘not friend material’ because they must be ‘crazy’, ‘needy’ or ‘just plain damaged’.

I am acutely aware that being so isolated is damaging to both my physical and mental health. A study in 2013 found that people who suffer from social isolation are more likely to die prematurely and it is commonly known that isolation can increase feelings of depression, anxiety and panic attacks. So it isn’t too difficult to realise how being isolated has become such a severe roadblock on my journey to recovery. We all need someone in our lives. Someone we can vent to. Someone we can share with. Someone we can spend time with. To have no-one is painful, debilitating and damned lonely.

The only social contact I have comes from my weekly appointments with my support worker. They last for approximately one hour each. Every single other hour of the week I spend alone; staring at the wall, roaming the streets, trying desperately to work out how I can make friends. It’s debilitating, painful and makes me wonder why I continue with this crazy thing called life.

So what can be done about my isolation? How does one even go about making friends at the tender old age of thirty-six?

Well, firstly, I need to do something about my social anxiety disorder. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be confident enough to talk to other human beings. There is far too much risk of humiliation and badness if I do.

And, secondly, I need to do something about my PTSD. For as long as this condition retains the control it does over my mind, I am never going to be able to trust other human beings to the point of making and retaining relationships with them. There is far too much risk of pain and chaos if I do.

But once I’ve done those, there are other things I can do:

Thirdly, I could join some local community organisations or social groups, this way I can enjoy my spare time doing something I enjoy doing whilst placing myself in a position to make new friends and connections. Perhaps a photography group or book club would be suitable to begin with.

Fourthly, I can make more of an effort to connect with people online. I find this method of communication less painful than real-world conversation and it could lead to making online friends with the hope of transferring the friendship into real-world contact, depending on where the people live, of course.

Fifthly, well, I honestly can’t think of a fifth option, for making friends basically boils down to getting yourself out there and just meeting people! No amount of counseling or therapy is going to make friends, it’s just something you need to do, regardless of risk. For without risk there is no reward.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery’:


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Roadblocks to Recovery: #2. Social Anxiety Disorder

To say that being without hope is a strange feeling would be an understatement. To be without hope makes me feel hollow, that something important is missing from my soul. I feel empty. Lost. A little confused. Being without hope is not something I would recommend. It’s painful, disconcerting and altogether mystifying. Yet it’s one of those things that’s easily lost, yet interminably difficult to replace once it’s disappeared from your life.

In this series of posts I am dissecting what is preventing me from navigating further down the road to recovery; all the things that have created roadblocks and zapped the hope from my being. Hopefully, I will be able to shine a light on what I need to do to rekindle hope, and with it, myself.

Social Anxiety Disorder

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It’s not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.
~ Stephen Fry ~

It’s true that social anxiety disorder has provided me with several positives in life. My love of writing, reading and literature. My love of movies, television and the moving image. Even my love of photography, a gloriously intimate act that can be performed quite beautifully in solitude. But for the most part, social anxiety disorder has been the devil that has destroyed me.

Since it’s onset in my teenage years, it has had a profound effect on my ability to make friends and retain relationships, to the point that I now find myself an isolated individual incapable of even talking to people, let alone making friends with them. Social anxiety disorder was also instrumental in destroying my educational career, affecting my A-level choices, ability to cope with examinations and my return to college in 2007 was also hampered by social anxiety, to the point I lost that course within weeks of returning (although glandular fever and abuse also played a large role in the loss of that particular course, it would be plain wrong to suggest social anxiety had nothing to do with it). Even now, as I contemplate returning to university, I find social anxiety rearing its ugly head as it convinces me I would be unable to perform the course or survive around so many other people. Social anxiety disorder plays havoc with the view that I have of my own body, feeding into preexisting body dysmorphic issues that have plagued me my whole life. It also renders simple, day-to-day activities, almost impossible to perform. For example, going to the supermarket has become a strenuous action that shouldn’t be anywhere near as complicated as it is. I have to go at a certain time of the day (early afternoon, when the supermarket isn’t as busy) and I have to go to specific supermarkets, ones which have self-service checkouts, so I don’t have to make ‘small talk’ with the checkout operators as they scan my food.

Everything in my life is controlled around my social anxiety. From walking down the street to the actions I perform whilst there, everything is ordered so as to keep my anxiety as low as possible; no communicating with people, no socializing under any circumstances, no pushing myself into situations that I deem uncomfortable. Activities that I used to enjoy, that I used to garner so much pleasure from, have become no-go areas; for example, I can no longer go to the cinema due to the number of people present, I can no longer attend munches, which in 2013, were one of my few lifelines of social interaction. Even blogging, an activity I used to relish, has become super-difficult for me to perform. I worry continuously over people judging the words I have written, stress endlessly about commenting, even on my own blog, let alone other peoples and find myself censoring myself for the first time in eight years out of pure stress over what people may think of my output.

Although social anxiety has always played a tremendous role in my life, I’ve found that since my hospitalization earlier this year, it has only become worse. Since coming out of hospital I have been isolating myself more and more, refusing to go out unless I absolutely (unequivocally) need to. I have become, for want of a better word, a recluse. A hermit. Someone who refuses all social interaction due to the worry over panic attack, due to the worry over what other people may think of me, due to the possibility of making a complete and utter fool of myself. I don’t know why being in hospital escalated the symptoms of my abuse. Perhaps it was being forced to share a ward with other individuals. Perhaps it was the control being taken from my life. Perhaps it had nothing to do with hospital, and that’s just become a convenient excuse. All I know is that over the last few months, my social anxiety has been so out of control, so impossible to contend with, that it has become (even more so than it used to be) a serious illness that has a profound (and monumental) debilitating impact on my life.

It is holding me back. It is preventing me from living. It is sucking the hope from my being on a daily basis. It is destroying what belief I have left.

So what can be done? What possible avenues can I explore to try to fix this particular, debilitating aspect of my mental health? Well:

Firstly, there is talk therapy. I have spent very little time in my life talking about social anxiety. Psychiatrists have been uninterested in this aspect of my mental health, preferring to focus on the (perceived) more serious illness that is bipolar affective disorder. Psychologists, equally, have ignored this part of my illness. Instead choosing to focus on my moods and blaming my ineptitude (and lack of effort) for my isolation and inability to communicate and/or make friends. What I need, more than anything, is a psychologist who understands what social anxiety is, how it impacts on someone’s life and the damage that it can cause if left unchecked. I’m hoping that the psychologist I am planning to see will have this understanding, but only time will tell on that.

Secondly, there is exposure therapy. Of all my readings on social anxiety disorder, this form of therapy seems to have a particularly positive effect. For those not in the know, exposure therapy is when someone is slowly exposed to the source of their anxiety and/or trauma in the hope it will lessen the impact and help the individual cope with what is causing the pain. In the sense of my social anxiety, this means exposing myself to situations where other people are present, where I am forced to socialize and communicate with strangers, in the hope it will lessen the control social anxiety has on my life. Perhaps this means attending psychosocial rehabilitation groups again, perhaps it means forcing myself to go to the cinema (under controlled circumstances), perhaps it means just going to the supermarket during the busiest time of the day. Whatever I decide, exposure therapy could work.

Thirdly, there is CBT and DBT, which I’ve heard can work wonders for people with anxiety disorders. As I have attempted to self-teach myself these practices, to little or no effect, I feel that I need to work through these treatments with another individual – perhaps a psychologist – who understands them better than I.

Fourthly, there is simply being more kind to myself. I am immensely hard on myself in all walks and manners of life. In fact, it would be fair to say that I hold everything I do up to intense scrutiny. From the blog posts I publish, through to the meals I cook, and the speed in which I walk, everything is criticized, analyzed and torn apart by my perfection seeking mind. I need to learn to be kinder to myself, to understand that not everything I do needs to be perfect, that nothing anyone does is ever perfect. I need to find a way to look at my body with acceptance rather than revulsion; I need to find a way to blog without tearing myself apart; I need to find a way to act without criticizing myself into oblivion. I need to be kinder to myself; for if you can’t accept yourself, how can you expect anyone else to accept you? If you can’t love yourself, then other people cannot love you. It’s as simple as that.

Fifthly, there is seeking advice from people who are either living with their own battles with social anxiety, or those people who have successfully managed to control the impact it has on their life. But for that I need to get past my own insecurities over commenting and emailing and teach myself, once again, how to communicate with strangers. For the knowledge of other people is often the greatest knowledge of all – or at least, that’s what I’m led to believe.

Sixthly, well, I can’t think of a sixthly at this time, so these five goals will have to suffice for now.

Whatever happens with my attempt to manage social anxiety disorder, I know that I will not be able to live the life I deserve (see, starting to be kind to myself already) until I have learnt to control my anxiety. It is, without question, one of the biggest (and most severe) roadblocks on my recovery journey – and one I need to tackle quickly and definitively.

Previous installments in ‘Roadblocks to Recovery’: