Some personal posts

This post gathers together links to some personal posts about the trauma related depression I have been suffering from. as I edit this in May 2018 there is something of a narrative arc now that wasn’t there when I started.

It’s partly a series of posts about friendship, partly about the background to and development of some debilitating mental health problems, charting the disintegration, the steps to counselling and therapy, and some early steps to what I hope will be a recovery.

 

 

 

Circles

Afterwards 

Memories remembered

Train trip

Silence

Before talking 

I don’t have the word

Beginning

The questionnaire

Thought for the day

Talking

Talking again

The Spielvogel moment

Writing

The appointment – I

The Appointment – II

be kind to yourself  

The Appointment – III 

Today it begins 

The third session 

The memory dump 

Schrodinger smiles

A sensory four dimensional jigsaw 

Dream

Days of the hedgehog

it

Conversation before the light work 

Salvation 

Reaching out 

Trust

 

 

 

 

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Trust

 

– How have you been?

– Fine, I guess.

– Last week seemed a bit more emotional for you.

– It was. It was harder than the weeks before. I struggled. I got upset during it, and was a bit upset after. It’s the positive stuff. I can’t

– The positive connotations might be wrongly phrased. We need to think about

– I have. All week. I just. I just don’t believe it.

– We tweaked it during the session. From “I have value” to “I can have value”.

– I know. I don’t know what to think, what to want. It’s hard.

– It’s hard.

– It’s about the potential. And you have evidence. There is all that evidence.

– I just don’t feel it. It’s like. You remember the old Warner Brothers cartoons and Daffy Duck or Bugs Bunny would have two little characters, one whispering in each ear? And on this side there’d be the one with the halo. And on this side there’d be the one with the horns. It’s that. The rational side. I. I know. But I don’t feel it. I don’t believe it. It’s that. You know when we did that last week during the light bar bit I said I felt like there was a wrestling match in my head. It reminded me of the cover for The Satanic Verses, the hardback. Angel and devil wrestling. Thinking about it made me

– I just don’t believe it. I don’t feel I have worth. Negative core beliefs?

– Negative core beliefs. People often take a time to think about the negative associations, to formulate them when we do the light bar work. But you were quick to

– The counselling. It was the counselling. About week twelve. The articulation. I knew.

– Formulating the positive connotations can take time too.

– Why is it so prominent in your thinking at the moment?

– Work I think. Being back.

– I used to find it easy. I was good. I divorced, detached my personal issues from my work. For ages. It worked. The two were discrete. I might be a mess, but it didn’t dominate my thinking. The degree went well. And after, I could write quickly and well. Things would be done. When our eldest was born I wrote my part of a book in six weeks. A hundred thousand words. No problem. And it was fine. Useful. Properly done. But somewhere later it stopped. The barrier broke down. I used more and more bandwidth because it was in my head. Increasingly in my head. I stopped believing in my work. I’d start stuff, part write it, but just think why would anyone care? Why did it matter? No one was interested.

– When did it stop?

– When?

– It was just in head more.

– Negative core beliefs are there. They underpin things, but they can lie dormant. But they only dominate when there’s a trigger, something that pushes it to the front

– It just expanded. I kept thinking more and more about what happened. It was in my head. News stories. Just constant reminders.

– But was there anything that made you doubt?

– Two things. There was a death. Back home. You know the thing? When you get the phonecall and you’re told people who’ve died. “Do you remember Mrs X?” “No” “Oh, she’s died.” And the list can go on some times, and there are one or two people you remember, but most you don’t. They mean nothing. No recollection. Anyway, she mentioned a name. It was her mum. It jarred.

– Why?

– She used to look after us. Why they were there that night. Why they.

– And if I mention her to you what do you think?

– Laughter.

– But that’s good.

– No. No.

– Outside the room. Downstairs.

– They were laughing.

– Catastrophising. You’ve called it catastrophising. That she was laughing with him about what. That they were laughing at.

– It’s assumption.

– They were laughing after.

– And the other?

– there was a job. I’d applied for. I wasn’t encouraged to go for it, but I felt I could contribute something and. Well, I didn’t get it. And it was fine. But. Timing wise it mattered, I think. From then I doubted what I was doing. That it wasn’t, that I wasn’t, producing anything worthwhile. That it didn’t matter.

– But it was two things together. There was bleeding, leeching from the personal to the work. That these things that had left me for years feeling worthless. That I deserved what happened. That I deserved being treated badly. That I was nothing. It bled through that divide, the divide I’d kept up for years. And the space to deal with that growed and growed. It was in my head. What happened. It was there. In my head. And I needed more space to cope. More energy. And it kept getting bigger and I functioned, operated. The things that didn’t require any effort, any thought, I could keep doing. Low level operation. But that space got more cramped, eaten up. I. I stopped. Everything stopped.

– But you had no evidence your work was worse.

– But who cared? Why did it matter? Why would anyone care what I said?

– But it was fine before. What changed?

– I

– I don’t know. I was lost. I am lost.

– So when it was okay what was the difference?

– I didn’t intend to come in and talk about this. I was going to tell you about this week, about meeting.

– I’m not going to let you evade it. What was different?

– I

– I had hope.

– Why?

– Why did you have hope?

– If I tell you about the meetings it might make sense.

– I met a friend from work. It was nice. You know how I’ve said that I’ve not felt engaged with. I mean, been a bit semi-detached. Well, we had a coffee. She’s on maternity leave at the moment, told me that I was the only person that had kept in touch throughout, the only person that had asked about her baby when I contacted her. And she. She’s been supportive. She’s been there. Understands. It was nice to see her, and her baby.

– This is more evidence. About worth. About value. Isn’t it?

– I

– I saw her. We met.

– You met?

– The first time in nearly twenty years. I arrived early, worried. I’d gone inside, and was going to wait, but went back out. I was worried she wouldn’t turn up. That I’d be abandoned.

– And was there any likelihood she wouldn’t turn up?

– ?

– No.  Up here.

– Catastrophising?

– Catastrophising.

– She’s not changed. She told me I hadn’t changed. She was lying. But it was lovely. It was so nice to see her. We talked about children, spou. The plural of spouse should be spice really. Spouses doesn’t sound right. Spice. We talked about our spice. About jobs. And it was comfortable, relaxed. I felt

– I felt safe. I always felt safe.

– We talked, just sat and talked. And it was lovely. I told her I was here, why I was here. What had happened. About the counselling. She knew of course. She was the first person I told. And I told her because I wanted to not because I needed to.

– She’d suggested therapy then. Afterwards. That it would help. I told her she was right. And she knew she was.

– I told her. I thanked her. I told her she’d made a difference. That my life would have been different.

– I’ve missed her being there, being my friend.

– It feels ridiculous now, the worries. It was so nice. To reconnect, to get another chance.

– We’re going to meet again. We’ve exchanged some messages after meeting. She said that when I’d said this she’d felt like a fraud. And she wasn’t. Not ever. Then she said she didn’t want to negate my experience. And I got it. Remember the other week when you asked what she got from it? From being there? From being my friend. And I couldn’t see. It’s. It’s this solipsism. This process. You’re in your own head all the time. Just there, looking at yourself, focusing on yourself. And you can’t see. I know what she meant to me. She gave me hope. I felt worthwhile. Valued. She trusted me. She trusted me for a reason. I mattered. And she mattered. And I gave her something.

– For those years I mattered. I felt safe. Being safe meant so much.

– I told my wife that I felt safe with her before I told her I loved her. Because it was important to me. It meant so much. And when we married. Throughout those years I felt that I had a value. That period of time, those years, when the divide worked. I could keep the divide because the personal stuff was under control. Because I. Because I was trusted. Maybe that’s what the positive connotations should be.  Not about value. But about trust.

– Because when you are trusted you are trusted because you have value.

– And do you believe you have value?

– I

– Do you believe you have the potential of worth?

– I.

– Despite the evidence. All this evidence we’ve got. Meeting people, people getting back in touch with you, you making an effort and people wanting to see you.

– I

– The little Daffy Ducks on the shoulder. You know? There’s the rational one. And there’s the. You understand?

– It’s hard to believe. I am worth. It’s hard.

– I don’t. I can’t.

– Okay. Trust is good though. We can work with trust.

 

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Reaching out

– So, how are things this week?

– Fine. It’s been fine. Last week, it’s been different. The session last week, the light bar, it was different. I wasn’t in the event as long, not really. Not reliving. And I roamed a bit, my head was in various places. When you brought me back it was. You know?

– Quiet. Empty. There was low distress.

– And that continued. Through the session. Afterwards. On the train home. I was tired. But I didn’t have that hit, the inability to. And the day after’s usually bad. I’m tired, keep quiet, sit in front of episodes of Quincy because I can’t concentrate to read. But I didn’t have that dip. Not until a couple of days after. It was the weekend that was a bit worse. When there were more people around, and I was overwhelmed. I hid away for a while, let things quieten down a bit. And it was okay.

– And the days after. It’s been fine.

– The past few weeks, since that bad period, the drop. It’s been. I mean this week I. I did stuff six months, even a few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have. I’ll try to, you know? Explain. To explain.

– My wife says I look better than I have for five or six years. I feel it’s been longer. I. I started

– I started shutting down about ten years ago. I can see it now. When I was at Uni, when I started work, I could avoid. Distract and avoid. And keep going. And I functioned well. I functioned at a high level. I wrote. Poems. Stories. And looking at them now. The poems are rubbish, but some of the stories are okay. And there were exams and I was good. I did well. And I contributed to work, big things, big projects. And then there were books, lots of stuff. I was good. I could. And then. Things stopped. It was in my head. And I had to shut parts of me down to keep going. And the writing stopped. The concentration went. And I shut down. And over the years with flashbacks and the stuff in my head it was. It was too much. That circle of working contracted. It closed down. I stopped being able to do lots of things. The bandwidth to cope was increasing and I had less. There was less. I’d stuff half done. Things started. But I didn’t think they were worthwhile. Why would anyone care what I thought? Why would anyone bother? If I was worthless, what I thought, what I said was worthless. And so it contracted and contracted until I was left doing the stuff I could only do on automatic pilot. But even then, even then. That ground to a halt too.

– But that’s only part of it. I didn’t have lots of friends through school, through University and work. I found it hard. Giving myself. Because to have friendship you need to give yourself, to emotionally engage, to be open, to trust. And I can’t. I couldn’t. It was hard. So hard.

– I told when I had to. When circumstances made it unavoidable. I voluntarily told once. She’d trusted me so much. I. I.

– I couldn’t give myself. Found it, find it, hard to trust. I find it hard to give myself. I could once. Be there. Be open. But I cut myself off. Every step through life. I don’t keep in touch with anyone from school. There was a reunion I was invited to. I ignored it. Never replied. I couldn’t face it. For a long time the only people I kept up with from Uni were the people I worked with. And my jobs. I’ve lost contact with nearly everyone. And the people I work with now. I’ve come to regard them as people I’ve met. I never had massive heart to hearts. I keep up barriers, withdraw. It’s not necessarily deliberate. It’s benign neglect. Unanswered invitations. Social things I avoided. And so that circle of friends contracts. And there are other circumstances too. Families. Relationships. Children. You lose touch. It’s easy to lose touch. But you feel that no one wants to be in touch with you. You attribute motive. Requests are unnecessarily made. Someone pitying you. They don’t want the contact. And so you reject it. And as you feel more worthless, more valueless you shut off. And it’s tied to work too. As things go on I see it. The bandwidth to cope, as that expands, you lose belief in your self. You’re not worth it. You isolate. You close off.

– But these past few weeks.

– A friend from years ago contacted me. She’d got my out of office, the stark message. She was worried. She bothered. I arranged to meet her. And it was nice. Catching up. We met a couple of times. It was hard. I was tired. But it was nice. So a few years ago I got an email from a former colleague. I didn’t reply. But after. Well, I emailed her. Told her I was ill, that I’d lost contact with people, that I regretted it. And we arranged to meet. And we had lunch. And it was lovely. She’s married now. A child. And it was nice to talk, and she was so understanding.

– It’s all evidence you know. Challenging your negative beliefs, your negative assumptions. They contact you because they care about you. They think you’re worth bothering with.

– I’ve met a few other people, folk I’d had contact with on twitter. And I’ve been quite open. Sometimes they’ve worked it out. They’ve read the blogs or the tweets and. But it’s been nice. I wouldn’t have done that a few months ago. And it’s not always easy but.

– That’s great. You remember you always asked how you would know it was working, and I told you you’d know?

– You understand now?

– Yes. I’ve started reaching out. Reestablishing connections.

– That’s important for the recovery. After you’re well again. New networks. New old networks.

– Do you remember the woman who helped me at University? From my school?

– Yes.

– You know how important she was, how she.

– Well, I found her. A few weeks ago I’d not have thought of looking, but I was searching for her name and I found her.

– I told you I’d never told her how grateful I was. I wanted to write to her. But I was scared. We’d not been in touch since her wedding. That’s nearly twenty years. I was scared. I was worried about upsetting her, worried about how to word it, worried that she’d not reply, or would reply and

– I wrote to her. I found her and wrote to her. I told her I was ill, had been off for months, sick for longer. I told her about the PTSD, about the despair, the haunting. She knew, of course. I’d told her then. She was the first person I told. She told me then to have therapy, that it would help.

– and she was right

– And she was right. I told her about coming here, about the treatment, about the sessions before with the counsellor. And I told her I remembered what she’d done. I told her she’d come up. She’d come up in the counselling and she’d come up here. That I remembered she’d fed me, listened, cared for me. She’d made me feel that I’d mattered. So I thanked her. I told you the other week that she had saved me. And I told her. I told her she’d saved me, she had transformed my life. Without her I’d have left, maybe more. I wouldn’t have the job, wouldn’t have.

– I wouldn’t have

– And I told her that she didn’t need to reply, that I just needed to thank her, because whatever else she did she had made a difference. She’d made a difference and I just needed to thank her.

– She replied.

– It was lovely. It was so lovely. I.

– I got a bit teary. I wasn’t expecting.

– It was. It was lovely. And we talked about our families. And we exchanged email addresses and we might. We might try to meet. And I know we’d not be able to pick up where. But

– Thank you.

– No really. Thank you. You’ve been. This is being so. You’ve been so supportive. And this has been transformative, genuinely transformative. Thank you.

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Salvation

– so how was the past week?

– better I think. I had a dip after the session, but it wasn’t as deep and it wasn’t as long. But last week’s session was different. We went longer on the light bar, and moving beyond the event, it made a difference. When I left the session I didn’t feel as down. I’d gone beyond the event. Relived it again. But it wasn’t as visceral. It wasn’t in my head during the week. Maybe because I avoided stuff. Last week I’d read that article and was preoccupied. But this. I avoided stuff.  Usually it’s like a moth to the flame. I can sense it. Media stories. My counsellor had said that we’re drawn to them, that we can tell. She said a lot of the people she spoke with couldn’t avoid them. But last week.

– Anyway, last week was different. You left me with her. So she was in my head a lot. I’ve not see her for years, twenty years near enough.

– She saved me, you know. I was in a bad way. I wasn’t eating. I wanted to leave. If she’d not been there I don’t know what would have happened. I’d self harmed before. When I was younger. To feel. I wanted to feel. That numbness that overcomes you. That numbness. That void. And there was nothing. I felt nothing. I could feel nothing so I. To feel. To feel anything. If she’d not been there I wonder

– We’d met. I’d known her from school. Not well. She was in the year above, and I’d see her in a classroom a few times when we saw the teacher. But we didn’t really speak. Not until sports day. We spent a day then avoiding it. In a small room. I can’t remember exactly where, but somewhere no one would disturb. We spoke. It was odd. We’d not spoke to her before but I told her about my grandfather dying, about Lockerbie. It felt normal. And she didn’t judge, didn’t intervene. I felt. I was safe. I felt safe.  And I didn’t see her for ages. Fifteen months, sixteen months. And then I met her. Bumped into her opposite the law school. Literally. I was crossing the road and. So we spoke. And she asked me round.

– I saw her every week. She knew I wasn’t eating. Knew I was trying to assert control over some part of my life. But she cooked for me. Looked after me. We’d talk. And she made sure I’d eat. And we shared things we’d written.

– Talking mattered. I felt safe. Safety matters. I felt safe with her. And I planned to. I planned to tell, to say why, to tell her what had happened. And I did, eventually. But when I was going to tell her she told me. She trusted me more than anyone had ever trusted me. And I. I didn’t know what to do. I loved her and I wanted to. But I couldn’t tell her I loved her. I couldn’t hold her. I didn’t want to, to intrude. I. I didn’t know what to

– I don’t know details. I didn’t ask. I couldn’t ask. But I sat there. I just sat there.

– She loved poetry. She loved Ted Hughes. At one point, years after, I was in a second hand shop and found a book I’d not seen before. Cave birds. With drawings. I. It was just to tell her. To let her know I was.

– Anyway, months later, I told her. I told her that something had happened. And she. She understood. And she

– Afterwards as I walked from her flat I felt like I was walking in a spotlight. I felt everyone was turning and staring. That everyone knew. That everyone looked at me and knew. The old ladies coming out of the bingo, queueing for the bus. I felt the eyes of each of them on me. I

– I trusted her.

– I felt safe. I felt

– And in telling her I was exposed. It was telling her how much I trusted her. It was telling her she’d

– She changed my life. Her friendship genuinely changed my life. Without her I’d either have left University or I’d have.

– There are life changing moments. Some people talk about religion. That instant they find God. I’m not religious. But I’m aware, conscious that the language I use about her has connotations. Saved. Salvation. But she did. She saved me. If I’d left law I wouldn’t have met my wife. I wouldn’t have ended up in the job I’m in. My life would have been so different. She looked after me. She trusted me. She saved me. And she had no need to.

– But don’t you think she might have been helped by you too?

– She did this for so long. Don’t you think that you were helping her?

– I

– I don’t feel. I mean why would she think that? I’m. How could I help her?

– Why did she do it?

– Because she was unnecessarily kind. Altruistic. She tolerated me, put up with me.

– You don’t see that she might have been getting something from this?

– When I did the counselling we talked a lot about negativity. That I. I feel worth nothing. I am nothing. I can’t understand why people would want to be with me. And when I am close to people, when I was close to her, I. I cut people off. I push them away. I’ve never thanked her. We lost touch twenty years ago. I want to speak to her, to tell her she saved me. That I. That I started counselling. That I’m doing this.

– But she’s not the only one. Friends from University, from school, even from early jobs. I’ve cut them off. Not made an effort. Now I know that getting married, having children, it changes things. You lose contact. Things become strained. Your focus changes. But I made no effort. I cut myself off. I couldn’t afford to be exposed, to let myself be known. I.

– I can see myself doing it again now. Not replying to people. Avoiding phone calls. When people arrange things not responding. Vanishing.

– You know the Homer Simpson gif, gif. One of them. I’m not sure how you pronounce it. By the hedge and he slopes back in. I do that. Vanish. Hide.

– Seeing yourself doing it means you can do something about it.

– no?

– perhaps. I

– This week I contacted someone I’d not seen for years. An old colleague. A friend. We got on. She’d contacted me, god, two years, more, ago. We’d not seen each other for nearly ten years, maybe more. She said she’d been thinking about me and we should meet. I replied and did nothing about it. I contacted her this week. Told her I was doing this, that I’d been ill, and that I felt guilty for having no contact.

– so?

– so?

– people don’t contact others after ten years unless they think the other person is worth something.

– Sorry for rambling. I.

– This week has been different. I feel.

– Remember when you asked me how you would know it was working and I said that you would know.

– do you understand now?

– ha! Yes.

– Ready to begin?

 

 

 

 

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Conversation before the light work

– when I started this, when I went to the counsellor, I wanted it all to vanish. If I’d had a switch and I could have flicked it and erased everything up here and in here I would have. But now

– It’s part of me. It’s a big part of me. I wouldn’t. If it hadn’t happened I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t be who I am. It matters. It’s impacted on my relationships, on my life. I wouldn’t have bonded with certain people. I wouldn’t have had that break, the awkwardness – trying to explain. The tears. The. I wouldn’t have ended up where I did, met my wife. Taking it away, excising it, it would change me. And I might need changed. Hell, I know I need changed. But it made me. This. This thing shaped me. I can’t wipe it. I didn’t realise that at first. I thought this was about a fix, about a panacea. Not living with it any more, not putting it in the cupboard, pretending I can’t hear the noises. I thought that addressing this, confronting this. I thought it would be about deleting it. Like Total Recall. Finding some new memories, dropping them in. But I realised. I knew it didn’t work like that. But I realised that I didn’t want it to. That pretending it didn’t happen wouldn’t make me normal, wouldn’t make everything happy.

– My counsellor spoke about acceptance. But acceptance is wrong. The word’s wrong. Acceptance connotes assent, satisfaction. A degree of happiness. I don’t want to be happy about it. I don’t want to be happy that this happened. I don’t want to be satisfied with it. It was wrong. It shouldn’t have. It shouldn’t

– No-one should have to. No-one should ever

– I can’t accept it. I can’t.

– I told her the word was wrong. I preferred acknowledgement. Awareness. To acknowledge, to remain, to be, aware. That’s fine. I can live with that. It doesn’t mean I have to like it.

– There are other things too. The language. Victims. Trauma survivors. They’re not adequate. The connotations. They define you. You’re left in a permanent state, defined. The victim. Always the victim. It perpetuates it, your agency removed. You’re passive. It happened to you. It always happens to you. Always. But survivor. Survivor is wrong too. It defines you by what happened. That that is who you are. That your experience determines everything about you. You don’t want to be defined by that. That’s not who you are. You are more than that. You are much more. It’s an experience. Just an experience. We are experiencers. Neutral. No connotations. Not constantly harking back to something happening. You can’t avoid it. You can’t pretend nothing happened. But it’s not what tells the world who you are. And I know it overwhelms, that it, that it is why I’m here, why I was there. I know that these things matter. That it’s in my head. It’s there. Not all the time, never all the time – but it’s there. It sits there. And I couldn’t see before it. And sometimes what came after was obscured, hidden. It reached back, tore what was there before, clawed it, shredded it, until all that was there was. Just it. Sitting there. Squatting. Just there. Always there.

– I’ve not had flashbacks for a while, not had that violent transportation – the time travel – moving from here. The touch. The story. The sound. The smell. There was a time where I was jerked out of today – even for an instant. I would be aware of where I was quickly enough but I was transported. Ratatouille. I told you, I think. Like that scene in Ratatouille. Where the critic is served with the dish and as he tastes, as he smells, he’s instantly small again. The last time was a couple of weeks ago. It’s not to say there haven’t been intrusive thoughts, that it’s not been on my mind, that I’m not thinking about it. But the flashbacks have toned down. And as that’s happened it’s been accompanied with the memory dump, that thing between, during, sessions where thoughts emerge – people, places. When they come back to mind. As the distress in reliving lessens, as the flashbacks ease, it’s not obscuring as much. Some of the fractures are healing. Fragments are joining up.

– It’s slow. I wish it was quicker. I wish it was much quicker. I’d like to be back to whatever normal is going to be. But it’s moving. Things are moving. Forward. And then back. And to the left. But it’s moving. It’s change. Things are changing. Change is good.

 

 

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it

they laughed

you heard them laugh

you heard them laugh downstairs

and as you heard the laughter that night it was there

it was there in your room, large, dark

it forced its way in – snarling

you lay – quiet still scared

reaching back it uncurled its spindly large jointed fingers, clawing – frenetically clawing – ripping what was there, shredding what had been, taking what it could

you felt each scratch, the wounds rough edged, soon septic

it squatted, waited – and you could feel it waiting

you flinched as it lashed out occasionally, wrestled others for your heart, pulling you away from them

it never slept but watched – and you could feel it watching

you couldn’t see behind it, knew there were fragments there, sensed them, half remembered, were unable to bring them into focus

you caught glimpses of its shadow as you lived, as you loved

until it rose, limbs flailing, kicking, punching, screaming – breaking you

 

 

 

 

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“the barrister interrupted and queried why she was using the term “You” instead of “I”.”

The report of the conduct surrounding the trial of the rugby players is horrible in various ways.
Others will comment on other aspects but for me one line stood out.
“the barrister interrupted and queried why she was using the term “You” instead of “I”.”
In recent months I’ve spent a lot of time with counsellors, and therapists, and GPs.
I have spent a lot of time talking, revisiting events from long ago, traumatic events, that distressed me then, and distress me now.
Talking about traumatic events can be difficult.
Talking about traumatic events that affect you, where you are directly involved, moreso.
Meeting a stranger, albeit someone with whom – over the weeks – you hope to build up a rapport, and talking about things which are deeply personal is not easy.
Dealing with traumatic events from your past is not easy.
And in talking about it, or in dealing with it, people develop various protective mechanisms, ways to avoid confronting the things which most affect them, which most haunt them.
And one natural device is language.
I’ve done it a lot.
“you”
There is comfort in the second person. There is distance, but familiarity.
To describe what happened to “you” – directed to yourself – allows you to know what is going on in the head. But it acknowledges that time has passed. That you now are not the same as you then. And it can be a means of dissociating – to detach from the worst aspects of the traumatic events.
To treat the use of language, to treat the use of the second person, as some sort of game, as some admission that a victim is talking generically rather than about him or her self makes me queasy. People who have had experience of those who have suffered trauma realise this.
I believe her.

 

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Days of the hedgehog

Same day.

Same time.

Same place.

I sit.

She opens the file, asks about the week.

– The last session was upsetting. It’s hard to. You see things had been progressing. I’d felt things were progressing. I was going through the same event. Feeling it. And it was. It wasn’t as visceral. The heightened response, reactions, they’d toned down. It wasn’t the same. And anticipating it wasn’t as bad. And

– Your feedback was more detailed. But you were describing lower levels of distress.

– Yes. And so last week was a shock. I’d thought it was getting better. I thought I was getting better. The vivid livid memories were toning down. There was more detail, more of a narrative. A move from fragments, from instants, from instamatic photos to a flickbook. And the detail was deadening things. But then during the session I.

– The touch, the response. I know it’s not my fault. I know. But.

– I feel responsible. And what does it mean? What does that response mean? What does it say about me? And I know, I know rationally this doesn’t make sense. That this is outside my control that blame lies elsewhere, that guilt lies elsewhere. But.

– And you feel responsible. That it’s you. It was your fault. That somehow you deserved it. That this reflects who you are. That because you’re. well, you deserved it.

– I felt it. And it was so upsetting. The gaps. Filling the gaps. I.

– I

– It’s been there this week. In my head. I had a bad flashback. First in weeks. I was on the sofa and. It was an accident probably. But it felt deliberate. A touch on my face like. Like. I had such a strong reaction. I was angry and upset. Transported. I got short tempered, anxious. Knots in my shoulders and neck. My breathing quicker. A tightness in my gut. I. I had to hide. To get out of the way.

– And so I’ve been feeling sorry for myself, all versions. Me then for it happening. Me now for the effect on me now. And for the impact over the years. It feels self-pitying, self indulgent. The sadness, the sorrow.

– But is it? Isn’t it okay to feel sad?

– I know it’s about guilt. About it happening. About letting it. About not dealing with it sooner. It’s guilt. I know this.

– Someone told me it was dwelling, that I was dwelling on it. That’s wrong. The word’s wrong. Dwelling implies there’s a revelling in it, a volition. But this is involuntary.

– It comes from the process. You are being exposed to it every week.

– Yes. I don’t want to think about it. Well, I come every week. I am trying to deal with this. There is volition to that extent. But it’s not that I’m revelling in this being in my head. That I’m seeing everything through. Well, not even everything. I watch television. I read books. I can think about other things but it’s there. It’s there a lot. I.

– You know the Berlin thing? The fox and the hedgehog?

– It’s like in normal life, when I’m normal. Normal. Not this new normal. Normally I’m a fox. Lots of things on the go. I’m interested in and working on lots of things. Juggling stuff. But now, for the past few months, since the breakdown. Well, before. Yes. Before. For ages I’ve been a hedgehog. This one thing – one big thing that is there. Perpetually there. And you can try to do other things and you can engage with other things but you keep coming back to it. The one thing that is there. Dominating how you think. Dominating how you feel. And however you avoid it, try to engage with other stuff, it looms. You can be reading about anything and it’s there – back in your head pushing other things out of the way. You can be watching something, listening, and it’s there.

– and you deserve this. This is who you are. This is what you are worth. You are nothing. I. I am nothing. I have no value. I deserve this. I.

– I am nothing.

– not even a hedgehog.

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Dream

EMDR has knock on effects. Sometimes there are intrusive memories during the week between sessions – things you covered in the session, things you did not.

This week there have been dreams.

I do not usually remember dreams. But as EMDR has progressed my sleep has been increasingly disturbed. I wake most nights. I wake at the same time most nights. It may be related to the trauma. It may not. This may become apparent with more sessions.

But this week there have been dreams. Vivid dreams. Unrelated to the memories in session. But leading me to wake, heart racing, breath shallow. And leaving me awake. Sometimes for ten minutes, sometimes for an hour, longer.

My therapist has asked me to note changes. I have noted the dreams.

 

Dream

 

There is a wooden box filled with blank tiles and a notebook. Each page of the notebook is written on, fragments. The writing is faded. I know this although I do not have them. I have left them in a library.

There is an alarm. It jars, but is silent. I feel it. I feel the bell.

I need back in.

I am held back. By something. No person though. No one. There is no one around me.

The alarm stops. I am allowed into the library. I cannot tell what is on the shelves. They are higher than me. I am running surrounded by books, looking for the box, looking for the notebook. They are not there.

They are not there.

I am anxious, hunt for them, pulling books from the shelves.

They are not there.

I am guided to a place to find them through an archway. It is light, bright, clinical. Hospital clean. I cannot tell where the light is coming from. As I walk through the arch the notepad remains out of reach. The tiles are spilled on the floor. I try to pick them up, drop them.

The lights stay on. My breathing shallows, speeds.

 

 

Awake.

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You know what? The hat really is a secondary issue

 

hat hat hat filtered hat hat altered hat tinted background hat hat hat filtered red hat fisherman’s hat red hat tit for tat hat hat red hat hat hat red red tint background filter hat hat red hat hat red red tint background filtered hat hat hat hat hat hat red tint hat hat hat red hat red hat hat hat filtered hat red altered tinted hat darkened hat hat filtered hat hat hat red hat hat hat fisherman’s hat darkened hat hat hat filter alter hat hat hat hat hat hat but it’s not about the hat hat red hat but seriously look at the hat in the original I mean hat hat hat hat original hat fisherman’s original dark hat darkened hat hat background Kremlin hat hat hat filtered Kremlin stooge you know what? hat hat really is a secondary hat hat hat issue hat hat hat hat red filter not about the hat hat hat titfer couldn’t care less about the hat but look at it I mean look the hat has been altered hat hat hat altered hat red background BBC propaganda hat hat thick stooges they think we’re too stupid to realise the hat doesn’t matter Porton Down hat hat sauce for the goose sauce for the propaganda hat state suppression hat hat filtered background hat hat red tint hat hat not about the filtered hat but real evidence hat condemn hats on all sides hat hat hat red hat filtered hat hat hat hat red hat filtered hat hat hat but that’s not the key point hat hat hat

 

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A sensory four dimensional jigsaw

another week

same day

same time

same room

same chair

we chat

– and how was this week?

same questions

same chair

same room

left hand behind my head, scratch my right ear, tell:

good days, bad days; restful nights, restless nights; walks, train trips

She stops me.

Change. Notes a change.

Analyse.

same chair

Rationalise.

same room

Look back at the week.

same questions

Discuss memories, insights from this week:

fragments – instants from last session – sounds – smells – sights – a full sensory four dimensional jigsaw puzzle – no memory dump, no oddities

She stops me.

Change. Notes a change.

Rationalise.

same room

Analyse.

same chair

– Are you ready?

Nods.

swap chair

move chair

new chair

same chair

same room

same light bar

same buzzers

same chair

– Bring up the event.

same event

– What do you notice?

same question

same event

eyes narrowed, tell:  

sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – describe

She stops me.

– You seem a little later now.

Yes. Later. Moved from anticipation.

Change. Notes a change.

Sensing – hearing, smelling – describe

She stops me.

– It seems more vivid. Clearer.

Yes. Clearer. Fragments slotting together.

Change. Notes a change.

– What emotions do you feel?

Fear. Upset. Fear. Pain. Fear. Guilt. Fear. Shame. Fear. Anxiety. Fear.

describe

– And how distressing is this on a scale of one to ten?

tell

Change. Notes a change.

– And where do you feel this on your body?

Tension in my shoulders, and upper arms. I circle my neck left, pull my chin to my chest. Tension in my calves. Tension in my thighs. Mouth dry. Tension in my shoulders. I circle my neck right, pull my chin to my chest. Chest. Tightness in my chest. Knot in my gut.

describe

– Bring up the event.

I do. I am there. Reliving. Outside watching. I am there. I am here.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights start.

Buzzers start.

to right to left to right to left to right to left to right to left to

Buzzers stop.

Lights stop.

– What do you notice?

Sensing – seeing, eyes right, eyes left – smelling – hearing – feeling. Then. Feeling. Now.

describe

– Notice that.

Lights.

Buzzers.

Start.

Stop.

Notice.

Describe.

Again.

Again.

Circles neck.

Pulls chin to chest.

Again.

Start.

Stop.

Again.

Tears.

Same event.

Same tears.

– We’ll stop there.

Breathing. Slow. Inhale through the nose. Exhale through the mouth. Again. Breathing. Same breathing. Grounding – feeling the chair – feeling the ground – feeling the room.

Same room.

Same chair.

– We’ll just round up.

Swap chair.

New chair.

Old chair.

Same chair.

– You’re doing well. There are changes in your feedback. It’s going well. It’s hard, but you’re doing well.

Fragments slotting together.

describe

Analyse.

Fragmented memories joining. A four dimensional jigsaw. The edges are done. A beginning. A muddle. An end. Fitting. It’s fitting.

There are questions.

– New insights bring questions. Some of them might clear up.

We chat.

We check diaries, make new appointments.

Same time.

Same day.

Another week.

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Schrodinger smiles

You are present. Wholly present. Here. You know that. Aware that only minutes ago you were conscious of sitting on the hard backed chair, your feet grounded, the draught at the window, the tripod supporting the light bar.

But you are absent now too. Wholly absent. Elsewhere.

And you don’t notice the lights.

You’ve talked about it with her. She’s explained that you need to be in both places at once. You need to connect with both. Then. You need to relive it. You need to be there. More than a slow motion replay – catching glimpses in your peripheral vision, suddenly noticing furniture, curtains; hearing the sounds outside, the whispers, the breathing; and the smells – the short sharp stench. It’s time travel. And you cannot alter it. Not one line. You know what will happen. You know how it ends. And that hits you now. Feeling. The catch in your throat. The tension in your body – shoulders, thighs, calves, gut. Breathing speeding. The tightness in your chest. The rhythms erratic. You feel.

You felt. You feel.

Then and now merge.

And when they do you don’t notice the lights.

Trapped in your head, knowing how it ends, you cry. For you now. For you then. And you can’t see the lights.

Or you try to escape. Closing your eyes against your past. Clenching them tight.

Or the memory. No, not memory, memory is wrong. It is time travel. But with no sound of thunder. You are reliving. Re-seeing. Re-feeling. Re-experiencing. You are experiencing. Sometimes the experience is foregrounded, so dominant, you don’t notice the lights.

You are there. You are. Then.

The pads continue to buzz in each hand though. Sometimes sensing their vibrations against your thighs as you grip tighter, nails in palms.

You are here. You are. Now.

Schrodinger smiles.

 

 

 

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The memory dump

It does not end when the lights stop. It does not end when the rhythm of inhaling and exhaling has calmed. It does not end when you open your eyes.

You’d been told, of course. Warned. But it is still unsettling when it happens. When in full widescreen glorious technicolor and surround sound that trailer (carefully selected by the projectionist as age appropriate for the intended audience) during the session becomes something more substantial.

A relived experience from the session can haunt you through the week. You are not aware of it all the time – but it is a glass prism in your consciousness refracting certain day to day actions. So you glimpse a memory from decades before the reflection on the freezer cabinet, recollect the tone of voice and what was said when the checkout assistant asks if you’ve a loyalty card. But there is more than simple momentary flashbacks. Some of it is sustained. That half remembered event becoming something more vivid. And as it does the weight increases on your chest and your shoulders tense and you are – physically, emotionally, mentally – simultaneously absent and present watching you watching you.

It’s unnerving.

And it’s unpredictable.

A day can pass with nothing.

The next can begin to relive the session, roll the film past the reel you saw while the lights flashed. Begin to explain.

But while the time before the lights nudges these memories from experiencing to experienced there is collateral damage, some related, much unrelated. Some makes no sense. Why remember the accountant with the curled fair hair sitting crying in the office where you had the summer job? Why is she there? Why remember the next door neighbour from four decades ago – brown haired, moustache, checked shirt?

Your therapist tells you that too long thinking about rationales is unproductive, anxiety inducing. You know this. You know that it is best not to scrabble around in the memory dump between sessions. What matters will be there next time, or the time after, or the time after that, when the lights start. It does not end.

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The third session

I move to the other chair in front of the tripod. After she adjust the tripod and switches on the light she hands me two pads. She sits to my left, file open, pen poised.

The two lights in the middle of the light bar on. I stare at them, eyes looking back.

– We’ll just check the pads.

As the lights move to the right the pad in my right hand vibrates. I clench the pads tighter. After the light passes the central point and moves left the pad in my left hand buzzes. My grip tightens.

– Same signal if you want to stop.

I raise my right hand.

– Now, we’ll begin with the same event. And we’ll begin at the place where it is worst. Tell me what you notice.

I.

I remember.

I tell her.

What was around.  Objects. Light. What I saw. I close my eyes as I talk. The image is more vivid than last week, later.

– And just notice that.

I do. I saw. I see.

– And what emotions do you feel?

I remember.

I tell her.

The anxiety. The distress. The fear. The

– And just notice them.

I do. I feel those emotions. I feel.

– And where do you feel this?

There is a tightness in my shoulders. At the back. In the front. I jerk my head to the left, push my head to my chest. I feel a tightness in my thighs, in my chest. My breathing shallows.

I

I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

– And remember that.

She turns on the light bar.

The lights move

The pads vibrate

Right

I am there

Left

I see

Right

I feel

Left

I am there

Right

Images flash

Left

A cine film in my head

Right

There

Left

I am there

Right

My shoulders tighten

Left

The lights stop.

– Breathe in.

Inhale through the nose

– Breathe out.

Exhale through the mouth

– What do you notice?

I see something. Vivid. I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

I do.

The lights start.

Right.

                There

Left

                I

Right

                I am

Left

                There

Right

                I am there

Left

                I feel

Right

                I

Left

                I

Right

                I am there

Left

The lights centre.

– Breathe in

Nose

– Breathe out

Mouth

– What do you notice?

I describe where I was, where I am.

– Just notice that.

The lights start.

Right

                There is a smell

Left

                A strong smell

Right

                I twitch.

Left

                My leg jerks

Right

                I

Left

                I am there.

Right

                I clench the pads harder

Left

                I feel my nails in my palm

Right

                I start to cry

Left

                My eyes narrow

Right

                The lights, the smell, the feel, the weight on my shoulders. I twitch. Slide

Left

                Down in the chair. The weight. I am

Right

                There

Left

                I am there.

Right

                I cry. My breathing shallows. My

Left

                Chest tight.

Right

                I close my eyes. I feel the pads

Left

                There. I am

Right

                The pads vibrate

Left

                Eyes forced open. The lights

Right

                Unfocused, jewels. Through the tears the lights are like jewels

Left

                I am

The lights centre

– Breathe in.

Nose

– Breathe out.

Mouth

– what do you notice?

The physical sensations. I tell her.

– Just notice that.

I do.

The lights, the vibrations, start

Cycle after cycle.

The lights, the vibrations, stop

I am aware of the room, sometimes.

I feel the chair beneath me, sometimes.

But as I watch the lights, feel the pads, I am transported.

I notice the physical, the pains in the shoulders, the thighs, the calves.

The lights, the vibrations, start.

The lights, the vibrations, stop.

I notice the surroundings,

the colours,

the objects,

the smell.

The lights, the vibrations, start.

The lights, the vibrations, stop.

I notice the upset.

Start.

Stop.

I notice the fear.

Start.

Stop.

I notice the anxiety.

Start.

I notice.

The lights centre.

I notice.

The lights stop.

She talks me through the relaxation.

As she did last week. As she did the week before.

Concentrating on breathing.

As I did last week.

Thinking of a comfortable place.

As I did last week.

Thinking of that environment.

As I did last week.

Thinking of reading.

As I did last week.

Concentrating on breathing.

– And feel your feet on the floor.

And I become aware of my shoes. My feet were on tiptoes. I lower my heel.

– And feel yourself on the chair.

I become aware of the support on my back.

– open your eyes.

I do. I hadn’t been aware that they were closed. I blink.

– And notice one or two things that are familiar in the room.

I see the desk. The door. I blink. I clasp my hands, place them between my thighs, bow my head.

We sit, quiet, for a few moments.

– Shall we?

We move back to the other desk.

– You did a lot of processing there.

– It’s hard.

She nods.

– Lots of eye movements.

I clutch my right wrist with my left hand.

– You’re very engaged. From a therapist’s point of view you are really engaged with this.

I nod.

– It’s hard though. It’s hard. It’s much more

She waits.

– physical. It’s much more physical than I. I’m there. It’s like, like a flashback, but not

I click my fingers.

– It’s prolonged. A flashback where you’re.

She makes a note.

– It’s hard,

I say.

– It’s hard.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Today it begins

The light bar is on the floor when you enter the room. The length of a fluorescent office light it sits on a tripod. And although you both move to our usual place you remain aware of it.

Today it begins.

Last week she explained how it worked. Inside your brain something is stuck. Overwhelmed by the enormity of the experience the brain refused to process it. And it’s there. Stuck. And you cope. For years you cope. You have strategies, ways in which it does not dominate day to day life. Avoiding. Ways to push it out of the way. But the effort of doing that wears you down. Until

Until

The barriers were breached and the raw emotion, the distress, the fear, that raw emotion flowed, flooded. And it was there. It is there. Every day.

And to progress from functioning to living the brain needs to move this, to process the overwhelming visceral experience into memory – upsetting memory, but a memory you can reflect on rather than relive. And the light bar is intended to help nudge it along.

You talk. How has the week been? Any stresses, upsets? You talk, pause, stumble over words as you recall the conversation on new year’s morning where you were back in the kitchen, opened the curtains, saw the

– I was trying to avoid. You’d said to try to stay calm, relaxed, but

– This process only works with exposure. You might not have planned it, but you’re in the place. Ready.  And this exposure will help.

– Is there anything?

– It’s the anxiety of anticipation, not knowing what I’ll feel, what will happen.

– We don’t have to start today. Any questions, any worries, just ask and I’ll

– I want to. The longer I wait the worse I’ll feel. So I want, no, need to.

– Shall we begin?

You nod, change seat. The room lights are switched off, the window closed. The light bar is raised, and a buzzer placed in each hand. As the light moves left then right then left then right you feel it vibrate in each hand in turn.

She opens the file, checks the notes and takes out a pen.

She asks you to think about the incident, to focus on an image.

It is in your head.

Your breathing shallows.

It’s there.

Stuck.

In your head.

You feel a tightness in your shoulders, in your chest.

– What do you feel?

– Fear.

– Guilt.

– Worthless

– Any other emotions?

You whisper, inaudible. Your eyes prickle. The heat of tears.

Her voice is quiet:

– can you formulate this as an “I am” statement?

You feel the tears.

– If you can.

– I am nothing.

– I deserve this.

– I am worthless.

You become aware of tears on your nose.

– And what do you want?

– I want

– I want to matter.

You are aware of her writing a note.

– I’m going to put on the lights. You follow them and concentrate on the image. Focus on that. And on the emotion. “I am worthless”. Focus on that.

And she switches on the lights.

And you watch them

Right

And left

And right

And left

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And the light stops in the middle

– And what do you notice?

– My shoulders are tight.

– Take a moment to notice that.

And she switches on the lights

And you watch them

And you feel the buzzer

Right

And left

And right

And left

And right

And left

And you can barely see the light move right as you cry.

“I am worthless”

You have started.

This will take some time. 

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Hiatus

Over the past few weeks I have been touched by some very kind comments through this blog or through twitter regarding my recent posts, and so this is a placeholder to reassure my regular reader that my upcoming absence from blogging and tweeting is planned and intentional.

As I’m properly beginning treatment I am taking a break from writing on this blog and from my twitter account for a while to allow me to concentrate on recovery.

Normal(ish) service will resume in due course.

In the meantime in the sentiments of the twin beacons of modern life Jerry Springer and Derek Batey look after yourself and be nice to each other.

CppTsrkVIAEnKic

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The Appointment – III

– and with the anniversary soon do you do anything?

– No. I spoke to my mum about it the other day. There have been some documentaries repeated, but I. Well. There are times where it’s like a moth to the flame, you know? But just now, what with everything, I’m avoiding them. It’s a bit

– to cope. I meant to cope.

– not really. I’ve been avoiding it.

– Have you been doing anything else?

– A bit of writing. Here and there. It’s.

– I was going to say therapeutic, but it’s the wrong word. Cathartic. Sometimes. Just getting it down. Cathartic.

– And are you writing about what happened? Or later? Or something else, of course?

– It tends not to be about. It’s raw. I write about the telling, about remembering. But I use the second person. Often. It’s easier. Writing in the second person means you’re close enough to know what’s going on in the head, but you

– keep a distance?

– yes. You need to. It’s partly about remembering. What are you remembering? Are you remembering what happened? Remembering it? Or are you imposing now on then? Or imposing another then? Understand?

– Like the phone. When she phoned. When she told us about the plane. The phone. In my head, it’s an old phone. You know? The squat fat phone sitting there, with the curled cord to the hand piece. The? The receiver? Do you remember?

– Heavy.

– Yes, that big heavy phone. And that’s the one in my head. The one we had when I was small. That phone. The old one before we changed the number.

– In my head it’s that phone. But I can’t remember. If I was to go back, it might be the other one. But I don’t remember it.

– She phoned not long after 7. My mum got it. She laughed at first. My granny had asked about the bang, if we’d heard the bang.

– And did you?

– No. Later we learned a friend of my dad, he’d been out for a walk. Saw something. Heard something. He’d thought it was the nuclear power station. We lived near one, you see. And he panicked. But it was. Well, you know what it was.

– Anyway, my sister – well she was clumsy. When she visited my granny she’d break stuff. And so my mum asked what she’d broken now and my granny didn’t laugh. She told my mum there was a plane. It had crashed into the house a few doors along but they were okay. The phone was the only one working in the area. My grandfather had been a GPO engineer. He put the phone in. It was on a different bit of the line from the others. It kept working. Throughout the time. It kept working.

– We put the telly on. Channel 4. For the news. But there wasn’t anything. Nothing. Until later. And he said a plane had vanished. A jumbo jet. It had

– We’d not thought it was something that size. We’d imagined a small plane, a microlight, something like that, but a jumbo. That was. It would have taken a huge chunk of the town.

– We kept watching. Moving from channel to channel. And then there was a call for nurses, for doctors, any medical staff. My mum didn’t drive. She phoned a friend to see if she could get a lift. And they went up. They were stopped by the police and she explained why she was there and had a row with them that if they didn’t let her through she’d walk up – under the railway – and they let her in. Which is lucky. If she’d gone the other way there was a. A crater. An engine I think. She wouldn’t have

– And she

– We were still up when she got back. She’d not been needed. None of them were needed but she’d visited my sisters, my granny.

– Why?

– My grandfather had died that year. They were there to keep her company until my uncle stopped work. I should have

– I should have been there. I made an excuse. Revision. Prelims. I

– I should have been.

– When she got back she stank of smoke. Her clothes stank of smoke. They needed three or four washes to get it out. It was so strong.

– The smoke

– We couldn’t get up that next day. No one could. So two days later we went up. On the bus. It was odd. We couldn’t get in the normal way. We stopped. It was a bit of a walk. And there was press. Just intruding.

– We ignored them. But one

– My uncle. They asked my uncle, “Do you think it’s serious?” I mean. What were they? Serious. Did he think it was serious? A plane. A jumbo. Did he think it was?

– There was  a strong smell. Smoke. Fuel. It hung there. Lingered. You were aware of it.

– It’s still in my nose. Understand?

-[nods]

– We walked up to my granny’s. She stayed near the park. There were rows of houses. There was a row behind hers. A hill behind that. When we walked up you could see the.

– It’s the only time I’ve seen. When she died, years later, I’d had the call two, three times. And I went. And I saw her in hospital. But I wasn’t there when she died. Didn’t see her. But

– On the hill. Orange sheets. Bits. You could

– My granny’s house was at the park. Where we played. When we’d visit in the summer we’d play there. But it had row upon row of stuff. Bags. Clothes. Things. Just filling the park. It was so odd. And the smell. But her house had no broken windows. None. Not like the others.

– We went round the back. You always went round the back. That door stayed open. If you were visiting you didn’t go to the front door, but her kitchen that morning it was different. The curtains were shut. They were never shut. But, she’d pulled them to. They were closed. And her Christmas tree. She usually had it on a little sideboard thing in front of her window. It was there but the fairy wasn’t. It was usually there but it wasn’t.

– Out the back was bad. There was a tree near the bottom of her garden. A body in it. The British press didn’t publish the pictures but the Americans did. It was in Time magazine. My granny’s house. The body. I used to get it for school, stopped. It was

– And the hill at the back. Sheets. Lots of sheets.

– I realised why she’d drawn the curtains. The tree. The

– In the houses at the back there was a chair, an airline seat. It was in the window.

– I could see the left arm, lolling, the head. Like this

– The only time I’ve seen death and it was

– And in the house along the road, the one that had gone there were soldiers, not much older than me, bringing things out. Over and over again. To vans, I think, pulling up outside. I can’t even remember if it was ambulances. But they’d bring them out. Van after van.

– I should have been there on the night.

– Did you have revision?

– Yes, but I exaggerated. I. I didn’t want the hassle. I was sixteen. I was. I should have been.

– Sorry.

– Are you okay?

– Observing you, your voice was calm, kept a clear tone, unflustered But look where you are. When you came in you were upright in that chair, open, not like that. And your hands seemed agitated.

– Are you okay? Do you want to take a minute?

– It’s not your fault that it happened. You didn’t ask for it to happen. You didn’t want it to happen. You couldn’t stop it happening.

– But I should have been there.

 

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Trigger

It can be innocuous. A tone of voice. A word. A touch. A smell. It can be more overt. Descriptions. News stories. But the effect of both can be the same. That in one instant you are moved, transported, experiencing two events at once. It’s that aspect people find tricky when you try to explain. The notion that you are experiencing it.

You can be anywhere, wholly aware of what is going on. On a train: conscious of the announcements, the discomfort of the seats, the reflections in the window, the presence of your fellow passengers, the passing countryside. In an office: aware of the draught from the window, the cursor flashing on the monitor, the murmurs of phonecalls by those in neighbouring offices.

In telling friends that you are transported they seem awkward, not comprehending. One perceived that you left, that your mind had gone. That you were not there. But that’s not the case. You still sense your surroundings. But you are simultaneously somewhere else, somewhere long gone but present still – experiencing that. And when you are experiencing the other place you smell, you hear, you touch, you see. You feel. Oh, how you feel. The raw, visceral emotions burn through your body, through your head. And your body reacts. It is present, aware of now, but feeling then, feeling that overwhelming, that body and mind encompassing distress that you feel in your heart and in your lungs and in your gut.

But how do you get there?

The unexpected smell of fumes from a car exhaust, a glimpse of certain Christmas decorations, the untrailed news report, each can transport you back to the town, to the park full of bags, to the house, kerosene and smoke heavy in the air, as you peer through the window. Feeling the touch of someone against you can move you years. An unexpected hand on the shoulder, a leg against yours while on the train, certain words, a voice, or a report recounting events. Each can punch you. Bend you double. Head here, and elsewhere. Looking in the mirror. Frozen.

And the incomprehension, the fear, is there again. And again. And again. Stuck in your head, relived, time after time after time. Stuck. In your head. And you can’t breathe. And you can’t think. And you can’t move.

Triggers they call them. Triggers. Events, sensory experiences, that transport you. That leave you debilitated, reliving, re-experiencing.

But there are ways sometimes to manage them. Instances where you expect something, and can be ready, can know that you will cope. Now this does not cover every scenario. The hands on your shoulders, the fumes, the throwaway reference in a news report, may arise without your expecting it, may prompt – however momentarily – the shift in perception, that moment where you are Schrodinger’s person. But sometimes a simple act indicating there are issues that will be addressed within a news bulletin (“coming up next”) or a table of contents in a book or, when a student, a wording in a handout or in a lecture that next time a certain topic will be dealt with can allow you mentally to prepare.

But if you were a student some years ago such civility allowing you to prepare might not have existed. Handouts were distributed on the day of a lecture. A much-loved lecturer would giggle his way through extreme tales of distress, egged on by those in the back row.

But such civility is common now. Handouts are distributed in advance, students are aware that certain topics are covered. Sometimes this basic decency gets a label: The trigger warning.

But the moment you use the expression you provoke certain zealots.

It’s the sneer that gets you. You know the thing. You’ve read it. The references to “snowflakes” or the “snowflake generation” where a man (bar a Hopkins or a Hartley Brewer it’s nearly always a man) writes disparagingly about the youths who can’t cope with modern life, who need “trigger warnings” (they italicise or use inverted commas for added snark). The contempt, the bile, they feel for those who have suffered trauma is uncomfortable.

It is bullying.

It is an attack.

Why are they so concerned by an institution or a lecturer acknowledging that where a student may face a visceral reaction that leads him or her to relive a trauma in a way that may render them unable to handle material and to miss an essential class or feel generally that a course or a programme is not for them? Why are they so offended by this? Why insult those whose lives are made a little easier by these warnings? Why do the journalists feel that those who have experienced trauma, who live with the events every day of their lives, are more worthy of contempt than others? Why do they hold those who have survived traumas, who have survived some of the worst experiences you can imagine, in such contempt? Column filed, coins for sneers banked, do they sleep easy? 

 

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I don’t have the word

Three, four months ago you sit in your office, a book open on the desk, next to it a set of photocopies and print outs ready to be scrawled on. You are meant to be preparing for tomorrow. A few moments ago you left the room. A radio story took you years before. You switched off, flinching. But it was too late. You were there, and here. And you are struggling to read. Words have shadows behind them. Often this is a sign of an imminent migraine, but there is no pain behind the eyes. No flashes. No spirals. But you can feel your need to hide. The letters jumble. The shapes becoming unrecognisable. You close the blinds. If someone passes and asks you can say it’s the late summer sunlight, maybe a glare.

And as you tense, on the pages where sentences can be made out their context vanishes. Words sit on the page with an odd look. Letters reaching up. Letters reaching down. Shapes do not relate to meaning. It is obscured.

And you fidget. You scramble through the papers, the book. They are the same, all of them the same. Black lines and curves on the page. An unreadable incomprehensible mishmash.

They’ve  gone. The words have gone.

You go to your door, lock it, and edge to the corner of the room where your coat hangs.

You crouch there, the coat over you.

Your breathing is erratic, your ears pulsing.

You close your eyes.

Try to concentrate on the rhythm of the breathing.

On the rhythm.

When you open your eyes a few minutes later you can make out titles on the spines of volumes on the shelves.

You unlock the door.

– I’m fine,

whispered to no one in particular, reassuring no one in particular.

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be kind to yourself

– So this week?

– I was at the GP again. And at hospital. I’m off, still off.  Another month. Too long. It’s bothering me. There are people having to step in and cover stuff and they’re stretched already and I’ve made things worse. It’s a bad time for them, just now. I should

– But you’re ill.

– It’s not your fault.

– I should.

– Be kind to yourself.

– It’s hard. You know? It’s

– The hospital?

– The hospital appointment was helpful. She explained the physiology. How it worked. Why I’m stuck. That something is so overwhelming that your brain can’t handle it. That it can’t process it, leaves it raw, a giant knot of emotion and it’s stuck and can’t move through to the next part, and you can’t process. And you deal with it in various ways. You ignore it. You cope by ignoring it. By developing things to avoid it. And so this. This.

– She said that it happened. The. Well. It was because my reserves had been worn down, that the body and the brain could not keep up the effort to keep it out. And so I. Normal coping strategies would break down. And when, you know, when you’re faced with it it overwhelms you because it’s the raw stuff that hits you, the unprocessed mishmash, with everything that went with it. Everything. The feelings. The hurt. The. Distress. Understand? That distress. That overwhelming feeling that meant you couldn’t cope in the first place. The unprocessed raw emotional punch. And it hits your head and hits your gut and

– It’s not there in my head all the time. It’s not.

– But it must be. Because things that years ago wouldn’t have mattered matter.

– It’s the transporting. The sense that you are fully here and fully somewhere else. And when I’ve tried to explain to people they look at me as if I’m. Well, you know. They do. It’s like.

– Do you know The Prisoner? The TV series?

– [shakes head]

– He was a spy, and he resigned and is kidnapped and wakes up in a place where his identity’s been wiped. The identity of everyone has been wiped. They’re numbers. Just numbers. And if they try to escape there are guards, giant guards like. You know those big balls that people can use on water – you go inside them and.  The guards are like those big balls. And it’s like having one of those in your head. Semi-opaque. You can see through sometimes in some lights, you can see round it, but there are times where you are very conscious it’s there. Hyper-conscious. And at those times you view everything through that. It distorts your view. Everything is seen through it, but you’re still aware where you are, and you feel everything that’s there. If you were cut or pricked you’d feel that sharp pain. But you’re somewhere else too. Feeling that. Aware of that.

– And it can be a smell. Or reading about something, where you can feel what happened because it.

– You feel it. Triggers, they call it. And it’s not a great word, but it takes you. That instant you are there, and not there. Schrodinger’s person. You feel it. You feel

– I feel.

– Or it can be a touch or a smell or a voice or a tone. Sitting there and hearing someone, or a particular way of speaking, and I’m off. I’m there but not there. I keep hearing what is around me, but I see the. And it’s so vivid. So visceral. You are there, seeing the room, and everything. And feeling the

– And it is overwhelming. Because that raw emotion of being there, of it happening, engulfs you, takes over you, and you are caught. You are stuck.

– And it’s there. In vision. In your head.

– All the time.

– In your head.

– And you can’t

– You can’t

– Breathe in now. Breathe in.

– Out.

– And again.

– It’s not your fault. It wasn’t your fault. And again. Think about how you’d be with someone else. What you’d do. What you’d think.

– And again.

– Be kind to yourself.

– Be kind

  

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