Dona Nobis Pacem – 2019

(Grant Us Peace)

When I was thinking about what I would write today for BlogBlast4Peace, my mind kept coming back to this unfinished quilt on the image above. It seems to symbolize how I am thinking of peace. How I am thinking about the way in which we all contribute to peace in this world.

I have made many quilts across the years, all completely hand-sewn. This one came to a halt about 10 years ago. I was unable to finish the quilting on it because my health had deteriorated. Tremors meant that I couldn’t hold a needle still enough to make every stitch and I was also having trouble threading a needle because my vision had also got bad. Eventually, it got put away unfinished. I was disappointed but the work involved in a hand-sewn quilt meant it was unrealistic to ask anyone to finish it for me.

I came across it recently and wondered how I could get it finished. The health issues are still at play, but I have some ideas to how it could be done. But I’ll put those aside for now.

Writing about peace each year on 4 November is important to me. There have been some years that I’ve missed but it was important to me that I take part this year. With generous help from Mimi, I have got this quilt on screen so that I can share my ideas with you.

Regardless, of your knowledge of patchwork and/or quilting, you can see in the images that different fabrics and different shapes are sewn together to form a pattern. Even beyond this, many, many individual stitches work to bring it all together. It seems to me that this is much how worldwide peace can be reached.

Each of us, can not only work to obtain our own inner peace, but our shape whether we are a triangle, a square or an appliqued heart, can join together to make a bigger square. And then those squares join together with others, to become a much larger shape and eventually the whole quilt. If we are not a pieced fabric shape, we might be decorative shapes on borders to add to the overall look of the quilt. And if all that seems too big to comprehend, perhaps we are an individual stitch that holds it all together along with millions of over stitches.

Is this a crazy idea? I don’t think so. We work together with others, both same and different, to achieve something wonderful. Something we can call peace. Something our planet and its people need both now and for the future.

I have renamed my unfinished quilt as my Peace Quilt. It is my aim to get this finished and get it on my wall so that it reminds me of how my small contribution can contribute to peace in this world. My health has stood in the way of completing the quilt, and sometimes I think my health stands in the way of doing much. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Maybe I’m a small triangle on a very big quilt. Maybe I am just a single stitch. But my contribution, no matter how small, it is counts. Your contribution counts too.

We all need to understand that it is our individual contribution that will work towards word peace.

As an aside, for those who are wondering what the whole unfinished quilt is, I have added another image below.

Thanks for reading!

Cate

And That’s What Matters

It was six weeks ago. A phone call from the Nurse Manager, at the hospital where Mum had been for the past three months, on a morning when I had decided my fatigue was too much to go see Mum. The Manager told me Mum had collapsed moments ago. We had long since planned for this moment and she was wanting to check my ‘end of life instructions’ for Mum. But I didn’t really get it.

A few moments later I did get it. I dressed faster than I thought possible. I drove there, wishing that there had been a dementia facility nearer. When I got there, the nurse on reception told me Mum was in her room with paramedics. She told me to run!

She told me to run! Then I really started to get it.

Mum’s room was a long way down the corridor. We had been amazed when she had managed to walk down that corridor, twice a day. I knew it was Mum’s fierce determination, in spite of complex mobility issues, in spite of Alzheimer’s Disease, in spite of recent Congestive Heart Failure.

As I ran, staff members stepped back out of my way. A couple touched me on the shoulder as I passed. It was almost surreal.

I really got it when a Paramedic held her hand up at me to stop me as I ran towards Mum’s room. What was my name? I told her. She knew it was me she was waiting for. I couldn’t go in. Mum had just died, minutes ago and I needed to wait a few minutes while they finished up. But I didn’t want to wait. I needed to be with Mum.

Mum had just died. I hadn’t been there with her. My wish had always been to be there with her in her last moments. But I hadn’t been there.

I had not made it to be there with her, but apparently, she knew I was coming. They had told her that I was on my way. Mum was not alone, instead surrounded by staff who cared and paramedics. No matter how much I tell myself that, there is also a sub-text saying “it’s not the same. I wish I could have been there with her”.

Mum was not alone. But I was quickly realising that I was alone.

That morning was the beginning of the weirdest time. For years now, my focus has been on Mum. Caring for her. Making sure that her every need was met. As her Alzheimer’s Disease has progressed and her mobility has regressed, I attempted to do, or make happen for, everything she needed.

I always knew in my heart that when Mum died she would finally be free of illness, disease, pain, confusion and suffering. Finally free. And so her death came to me as a relief. It was over and while I don’t have clear theories about life beyond death, I had a feeling that she would be free and she would be with my Dad who died eight years earlier. What’s more, I recently thought that she would know who Dad was (she had forgotten both him and her 53 years marriage thanks to Alzheimer’s).

But back to me. Many people had questioned me, especially in the past year. What was I going to do when Mum died? How would my life change when Mum died? Actually, the questions came thick and fast to a point where I was getting annoyed. Yes, my life would change but I couldn’t focus too much on that right now. Mum needed me to focus on her. And I did.

Life has changed and I’m still working out how and what to do about it. It’s only been six weeks and I’m in a state of wonder. Wondering what the hell just happened. Not only has my mother gone. But I’m an orphan now. And I did not expect that. And gone too, it seems is my purpose.

Okay, so I knew in my mind that when Mum passed on that I would be an orphan. I just did not expect that I would be hit by that. I hadn’t given it a moment’s thought. But now I can’t stop thinking about it. It has hit my heart. Ouch!

I don’t have (living) parents anymore. They’re gone. How do I deal with that? Does that mean I have to be the grown-up now? It certainly means I can’t ring Mum and Dad when I get stuck or have a problem I don’t know what to do about.

The thing is that since my Dad died suddenly, my focus has been on Mum. You could say that Mum’s Alzheimer’s Disease meant that I didn’t really have her to call on anyway. Some people have gone so far as to say that I was ‘the parent’ in my relationship with Mum. Some people have said that she was ‘the child’.

Does that mean I was already an orphan? Does that mean I was already alone? Does that mean I already had to be the grown-up? I blame no one for taking that approach, but it’s not my approach.

In my understanding of Mum’s illness, I chose not to see her as a child. Or me as the parent. Yes, there were aspects of her behaviour and thinking that I could see were childlike, but she was always my mother. While I couldn’t turn to her for support like I might have when she was well, it was important to me to respect her dignity as an elderly woman. Part of me doing that was to choose not to see her as a child.

And so back to me. I have found myself alone. It’s weird. And scary. I’m really alone. Right now, there are dark clouds in my sky. I don’t know when the blue skies will be back. Or even, if they come back, what shade of blue will they be. I don’t know what is ahead.

I knew all this was ahead of me when Mum died. I knew she would die some day. I always knew that’s the direction we were heading. But still, I did not expect this. I knew I would grieve for Mum. I knew my life’s direction would have to change when she died. But I didn’t expect it to be like this. I didn’t expect to be so lost. I didn’t expect to wake up the morning after and wonder what I’m doing here (as I did).

I was finding things pretty hard going at the time Mum died. It was really tough balancing Mum’s ill health with my own ill health. It didn’t seem like there was room for both anymore. The problem was her health was getting worse and so mine seemed to be. How did I continue to make her the priority when my health was needing me to make it more of a priority. I had no idea how much longer Mum would live, but I had to focus on her needs like she might live forever. She might live for ten days and she might live for ten years. It just had to be that way to see her day to day needs met. It was completely illogical but completely necessary.

Obviously, I don’t have the answers worked out. It’s only been six weeks. I know what it’s like to live through a major earthquake, and this feels a little like that. I don’t know what life is anymore. The land has shifted and I’m trying to see where the goal posts are now.

I chose not to speak at Mum’s funeral. I had wanted to but my brain fog was really bad that week and words were coming out of my mouth that weren’t what I expected. I was worried about what I might say (even if I had written in front of me what I intended to say). So I chose to read a poem instead. I’m in no way a poet, and so found a poem that I was able to change a little to say what I needed to say to Mum. My intention was to share with you a link to the original poem, but the link I had accessed has been removed and I haven’t been able to find another. So I share my words, but please know that I didn’t write most of them. I just altered to what I needed. I hope the original author didn’t mind.

They are simply something of what I said to Mum when I finally spent time with her after her death six weeks ago. They might seem a little strange, but Mum would now understand. And that’s what matters. Mum would no longer have any difficulty in understanding or being understood. That’s what would make this all worthwhile.

It took away your days and nights
And time became a blur
It sucked your speech right from your mouth
And your words became only a few

It slowly imprisoned you from your life
When you couldn’t walk for miles
It haunted your sleep and made you scared
And wiped away my smile

Because it’s not just memory loss
That dementia brought your soul
It gave you torturous unwanted gifts
To replace the ones it stole

It added to your radiant laughter and joy
Agitation, fear and silence
It stole your independence
And made your world become less clear

I daily watched you disappear
A little more each day
I wished, but all so helplessly
As it stole you right away

And in the end are precious memories
That you possess no more
But instead I treasure them
Deep within my core

I do not know if you remembered me
Or if I’m stolen from you too
But Dementia will never ever steal away
The love I feel for you.

(If these are based on your original verse, please let me know so that I can give you full credit)

 

** Rest In Peace **
Norah Evelyn Reddell
1928 – 2019

Thanks for reading!

Cate

How Much Mud?

Do you feel like your feet are stuck in mud? You know, that feeling when you try to pull your boots out of the mud and a suction is formed? It is either the mud or your boots. What will it be?

Right now I feel very much like my boots are stuck in mud. The mud won’t let me go. And let’s face it. Even when the mud subsides, my boots will never be the same again. Actually, maybe I will never be the same again.

“Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow. There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”

― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Just how much mud will it take to grow a flower?

I admit I hadn’t stopped to consider that a beautiful flower might be formed in the process. I just haven’t been able to see that far.

A while back I bought Thích Nhất Hạnh’s book ‘No Mud, No Lotus‘. I admit I haven’t yet got past the introduction. That’s brain fog for you. What I know is that I really need to read this book because it offers a way of looking at suffering that I had never considered.

I grew up in an environment where you were hastily reminded that other people had suffering worse than yours. I’m sure it was, and is, true but it did nothing to help me get through my suffering. My suffering was apparently hardly what you would even call suffering. I wasn’t stuck in the mud while hoping for lotus flowers to bloom. My suffering was simply wiped. Well, that’s how it felt. No one gave a damn.

I promise that I’m not about to tell you all the ways in which I think I am suffering right now, suffice to say that there are a number of suffering-type things going on. My feet are firmly in the mud, mostly that which I never asked for and perhaps, even in my opinion, didn’t deserve. That said, I know that some dodgy decision-making on my part hasn’t helped. I can admit that but I hope you will understand that I’m not quite up to telling you about the dodgy decision-making. That’s just way too hard right now.

Hobbes2 (2)

For now, let me tell you about Hobbes, and the suffering that he and I are experiencing right now. Hobbes is my gorgeous, three-and-a-half-year-old black cat. We both have a great deal of affection for each other. He needs me and I need him. Sadly, that’s not the end of the story.

I have had to make the extremely hard decision to place Hobbes up for re-homing because I simply can’t afford to care for him anymore. Actually, I haven’t been able to afford his care for a while now but I have been blindly hoping that he didn’t need to go to the vet. Recently Hobbes did get sick and needed a trip to the vet. This threw me into a wild panic, and while in the end, I could pay, and even better, Hobbes got well very quickly, I ‘knew’ our time was up. This ‘blind hoping’ wasn’t going to work anymore.

And so, yesterday Hobbes and I made one last trip together. This time to the local Cats Protection League, who has kindly taken on the task of finding a new home for Hobbes and in the meantime, pouring as much love and attention as they can on him.

My heart is broken. In the past couple of weeks, when I knew this was happening, all I wanted to spend every minute of the day with Hobbes, just to make the most of the time we have. Over the last few days I dreaded that Hobbes might choose to spend all his time outside, but somehow he knew as much as I did. In the end, I got just 24 hours notice that it was time to give up Hobbes. Perhaps he picked up on my stress, or perhaps he really did know somehow, but he chose to spend that time with me, mostly on my knee.

Hobbes used to sleep near on my feet but in the last week, he chose to sleep as close as possible to my head. We have found a compromise on that one, thankfully. I was still ‘allowed’ to breathe but he was very clear in wanting a space on my pillow. The ‘rule’ used to be that he couldn’t ever be on the pillows. Sometimes this worked, sometimes it didn’t. But rules pretty much went out the window as we treasured our last days together.

I have always said, to anyone who would listen, that people shouldn’t have pets unless they can afford to care properly for them. When I adopted Hobbes and promised him a home for his lifetime, I believed I would be able to do just that. Perhaps I was a little short-sighted. Perhaps I have just made some really dumb financial decisions since. What I do know is that I have broken my promise to him of a life-long home. Hobbes has already once gone through being given up for re-homing. That time was because his first family were moving away and for some reason, couldn’t take him. I hate that I am putting him through that process again. This time pulled away from his second home.

To those who say, “he’s only a cat!” I have heard that argument for a lifetime, but don’t accept it. I will never accept it. Hobbes is NOT only a cat. He was part of my family. Animals are such an important part of family life, and for me, that has been cats.

Not only do they form part of the family, but for me, I know just how much animals contribute to my mental health. Actually, one of my biggest concerns for my own wellbeing now that I have lost Hobbes, is what this loss might do to my mental health. It feels like it is on a landslide right now. It feels like my world has broken. Actually a little like I remember the aftermath of major earthquakes. The world has shifted and it will never be the same again.

I know that Hobbes will be okay eventually. I know that his needs (and more) will be met. I know that he will have a home with Cats Protection League for however long it takes them to find a new permanent home for him. While I hate to be breaking my promises to him, I know that eventually, he will be okay.

But do I know that for myself? Will I be okay? I don’t know. What I do know is that there are people worse off than me. Cats worse off than Hobbes. But right now, we are both anything but okay.

But we are both suffering right now. I hate what I have had to choose for Hobbes (and myself). I hate that we are apart. It’s weird. It’s not like it was when my last cat, Penny died. Hobbes is not dead, but we can’t be together. I hoped for a miracle, but my miracle didn’t happen.

Our feet firmly stuck on mud, wondering when there will ever be a sign of lotus flowers.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

Related Reading

Another Heartbeat (Infinite Sadness…or hope?)

Rest in Peace (Infinite Sadness… or hope?)

 

 

 

World Suicide Prevention Day 2018 (Late)

Yes, I’m late. World Suicide Prevention Day was last Monday, but I didn’t quite get there. My excuse? Well, the short version is a bad toothache followed by really bad fatigue. It doesn’t sound like much of an excuse on a particularly important awareness day, but it was at the time. It completely put me off track with my writing. My apologies to the organising committee for not getting it right this year. Better late than never!

But hang on. Don’t we need to be talking about suicide every day? I think we do. We need for it to become part of everyday conversation. (Although we can do without the graphic details thanks, MSM.)

At the moment we’re pretty good at writing (and maybe even verbalising) when there has been a so-called celebrity who has taken their own life. Then we start stirring the pot, but maybe a week later? It’s gone deathly (and I chose that word on purpose) quiet again.

In my country (New Zealand) it is only a few weeks since popular newsreader, Greg Boyed died by suicide. Perhaps because he was in the media and known to many writers, the country went wild on speaking about suicide. One writer even used the occasion to say that mental illness had gone mainstream. Personally, I’d refute that. Sure we might have John Kirwan speaking depression and anxiety, and for a week we spoke of depression and suicide, on account of Greg Boyed’s death, but there is no way that most of mental illness is mainstream.

But let me not get side-tracked. We are pretty good at speaking about suicide when a “celebrity suicide’ happens. But who is there to speak to an eighteen-year-old who is desperate and suicidal? Or the forty-year-old farmer? Or the thirty-year mother? Or anyone who is at the end of their tether and doesn’t know where to turn.

It is my opinion that we need to be speaking about suicide every day, and so while this Awareness Day is a very good thing, it doesn’t so much matter if I am a week late. What matters is that I speak of suicide today. And tomorrow. And the day after…

We all need to be speaking of suicide so that the people around us know they can speak about it with us.

I get worried though when I see media report on suicide and offer telephone numbers of helplines afterwards. It’s not that it’s not a good thing to be offering, but it’s no good if we think that those numbers are enough. Take an example of what I’m talking about, taken from a recent NewZealand article on suicide. This or similar is now, pretty routinely,  tacked onto anything that mentions suicide. We need to do better.

If the content on this website is distressing or triggering, or, if you are worried about your or someone else’s mental health, we have provided in contact details below for you to speak with a professional. If you or someone else is in danger or endangering others, call the police immediately on 111.

• NEED TO TALK? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor (available 24/7)
• LIFELINE: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
• SUICIDE CRISIS HELPLINE: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
• YOUTHLINE: 0800 376 633
• KIDSLINE: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
•WHATSUP: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
• DEPRESSION HELPLINE: 0800 111 757

It’s great that we put this information out there, but we can’t stop there and think we have done enough. We haven’t. We need to be out there talking to our friends and family. Maybe we need to be volunteering for those organisations. We have to do more than rely on the occasional article to put the merest information out.

There’s one more thing I think we need to be doing. For years, we have been telling people who are suicidal to reach out and ask for help. Actually, the rest of us need to reaching out and offer help. It’s time to stop expecting struggling people to ask for help…  because I can tell you that they won’t.

I spent a lot of years struggling with chronic suicidality, including two suicide attempts. In that time I (mostly) didn’t ask for help when I needed it. I didn’t know who to ask and I feared the consequences if I asked the wrong person. The consequences could be anything from being punished and ostracized to being locked in a psychiatric hospital. I didn’t want any of these things and more. I simply needed someone to talk to, someone to trust with what was happening to me. Asking for help would more often than not, not give me what I needed.

Asking for help when you’re struggling with suicidal feelings is too much for us to expect. What is needed is for us  to be willing to say “how can I help you?” What is needed is for us to reach out to those around us and ask “how are you?” “what can I do to help you?“.

I come from a place of experience on this one. Please don’t expect a suicidal person to ask for help. It’s too much for them. They simply won’t. They often can’t. They need you. It’s necessary to try to understand that living with suicidal feelings is quite unbearable.

Mostly it is likely that a person would have some type of mental illness, and it is quite an intolerable experience, particular alone. To expect them to ask for help on top of what they are experiencing is quite ridiculous. We must turn the tables and offer help.

“The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne. The prevention of many suicides will continue to be hindered until there is a general awareness of the nature of this pain.”

— William Styron (Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness)

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

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Don’t Call Me A Monster

I knew I was a monster by the time I was fifteen. Everything had gone bad. I had no understanding of the things I was doing and saying. Neither did anyone around me. Well, the people who knew and that was only my immediate family. I would be too ashamed to admit it to anyone else, even though I desperately needed help.

My parents wanted to help me but had no idea how. They wondered whether this was simply normal teenage stuff. It wasn’t! They should have got me some help. But hindsight is wasted. They didn’t get me help, and it remained a secret. I had become a monster! I was sure!

What followed were major life decisions I quietly made according to my belief that I was a monster. I quickly concluded that I should never be a parent. I couldn’t inflict myself on a child, nor could I pass on any rogue genes. You see, I had no idea what was going on with me. I couldn’t risk ever becoming a mother.

I must be a monster for real! I continued to hold that secret monster close to my chest. My friends must not know because surely they would reject the monster. Even those with whom I would be in an intimate relationship would never know.

It was my secret to hold and use against myself for what has been most of my life. I was full of self-loathing and hate. I was terribly ashamed of what my family (but no one else) knew of me.

Terrified of what might be if I didn’t maintain a tight hold over my monster. I couldn’t let anyone see, for that they would surely hate me if they did.

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Actually, it would be thirty years (yes, I did say 30 years) before I had a medical professional offer me help with my monster. It was at that time that, after seeing many mental health professionals before him, one psychiatrist had the guts to diagnose me as having Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

 

Monsters. Hmm.

I know better now. I am not a monster, although there are still times of self-loathing in which I threaten myself with that label. There are also times when I lose that tight rein over myself and become rather monster-like. Jobs have been lost. People have been lost. But I understand better how that comes about, and I am learning ways of being in which monster doesn’t get a look in.

Monster aside, the psychiatrist who recognised in me the symptoms of BPD did me an enormous favour because finally, I had explanations for the me who had always been me (and not a monster).

There had been mental health professionals who had gone close to identifying BPD much earlier when I was being treated for depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)and Anorexia.

They had hedged around the issue but they told me cryptically that they didn’t want to see me labelled negatively. It would apparently negatively affect how I was treated in the future. So they continued to see me as having chronic depression. In my opinion, this was simply the BPD stigma I will address shortly.

It would have done me the world of good if I had that explanation of who I was. They didn’t understand how much the monster that I knew as me was actually killing me. Had they understood, perhaps between us we might have prevented two suicide attempts that would eventually come when I could no longer stand my monster.

Those of us with BPD live with all kinds of negative labels. Monsters. Drama Queens. Attention Seekers. Manipulative. Impulsive. Addicts. We get told we don’t have a ‘real’ mental illness because what we have is a Personality Disorder. We are likened to Narcissists and Sociopaths. Yes, some would go so far as to say that we are “bad” not “mad”.

There are plenty of websites out there that are dedicated to viewing people with BPD in this light. From what I’ve seen, most are run by family members who have seen the consequences of people living with BPD who don’t have adequate treatment or support. While I understand that those family members have had a lot of pain and hurt in their lives, I don’t accept the way that they paint us to be.

I am not a monster. I am not a Drama Queen. I am not an Attention Seeker. I do not seek to be Manipulative or Impulsive. I do though, accept that I am an addict and this continues to be a thorn in my side even though I have done a great deal of work to overcome it.

I do suffer, and I do struggle to know myself as anything other than these labels. Because believe me when I say, that the harm I can do to myself with these labels is much greater than the harm you do me.

It is clear to me that there is a great deal of stigma hanging over the two in a hundred people who live with BPD.

Just last week I read the words of another kiwi writer who said that the shroud over mental illness has been lifted. I think he was writing about depression and anxiety, for which I know are much more acceptable than in the past. But for BPD, there is a very long way to go.

Even amongst medical professionals, we are often viewed negatively. It was difficult to decide whether to let anyone know of my BPD diagnosis, and there are times even now when I wish I had not let it be known.

Am I a monster? No, I’m not but I need your support to believe in myself. Don’t write me off. I am a unique human being. I happen to feel my emotions strongly but who given the right opportunity can love and be loved as much as you.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Image credit: Facebook Page Anxiety Depression & I

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lucy’s Getting Married!

Recently I read on Facebook that the eldest daughter of a friend was getting married. I was totally thrown off track by the realisation that the only time I had met the daughter was when she was a baby, yet now in her twenties, she’s to be wed.

It’s not an issue of whether my friend and I not keeping in contact. She was a close friend with whom I had travelled the world (a long time ago), followed shortly after when I was one of her bridesmaids. It’s funny how you can be so involved in each other’s lives and then? Well, then, Cate took a dive into a very thick and murky depression (along with a few other things that sent us in different directions).

I pushed people away. I didn’t appreciate the advice some tried to give me, and I took it to mean that I was being judged for an illness that must be my own fault.

I was in my own world now. I had disappeared from my late twenties. I had dropped off a cliff somewhere, landing at what I never knew was rock bottom (or would I fall yet further?).

I had literally turned to skin and bone, and so social occasions around meals were something I did my best to avoid. The idea of eating with other people (watching me) was enough to send me into a panic attack. “Meeting up for coffee or maybe brunch” was something I refused to be a part of at a time when even the milk in my cappuccino was too much for me. The world had taken up socialising around food and drink, but Cate couldn’t cope!

Many years of self sabotage, followed by years treatment and therapy…

Time has gone on…

And suddenly I find myself 25 years on, when Lucy is getting married (how can this be?) and M is going to be a mother-of-the-bride. Let’s also not forget that S has been a grandmother for a year and the lives of my friends have moved on…

Can you see what has happened? I was 28. My life was ahead of me. It was a time when everyone ‘knew’ that some day you’d be “married with kids”

And now, 25 years on, I’m not married with kids. The closest I have to a child is a much-loved cat, Hobbes. Life didn’t turn out as anyone expected.

It’s really weird to pop your head up for air and find that you’re middle-aged. Everyone else has aged too, but for them their lifespan went on. For me, my life halted before abruptly coming up at 50.

There was never the plan in my mind that I would have children. There were lots of reasons for that, and I just knew it wouldn’t be a good idea. This post is not about regret, because there isn’t regret. What there is, is what I will call life-cycle shock.

The life-cycle for my twenties friends has gone on as it should. But I fell off this darn cliff called mental illness and 25 years of my life just vanished. I’m still a 28-year-old at heart and at mind. My life has taken a different route and while fifteen years ago I couldn’t contribute to the kids’ achievement discussion that my twenties friends were now having, now I have no means of contributing to the comparisons of the grand-kids. Actually, at this point, I am probably better to go outside and catch up with the dog!

I can’t compare photos because you simply don’t take photos when you’re depressed and/or have severe mental illness. Okay, so that might be too much of a generalisation, but look at it this way: you don’t have those family occasions like graduations, engagements, marriages, and births.

I did manage one of those with a graduation, but I didn’t attend the ceremony, didn’t celebrate… and I didn’t have anyone take my photo. That was too much as I was barely hanging on at the time.

When you come up for air 25 years on, you have to expect that it will be different. You know that friends have moved on but, but how do you fit in? Anywhere.

It’s just beyond me to get my head around ‘baby’ Lucy is now to be a bride. Congratulations anyway, Lucy! I am really happy for you.

Thanks for reading!

 

Cate

 

 

Adopt-a-Pillar

I’m picking up on the completely different subject today, one that I feel more strongly on the more I realise how this impacts my life. It might be that you are inclined to pass on by but I urge you to take the few minutes to read. I believe it is something we can all benefit from, that for all of us regardless of the life we live, there is good to come from it.

I invite you to Adopt-a-Pillar.

The image below is taken from my mother’s church, Oxford Terrace Baptist in Christchurch, New Zealand. It is also a place where my grandparents on both sides and both my parents have grown up.

The picture is of pillars outside a new church building opened this year which replaced a much older church which literally collapsed in earthquakes that struck my city in 2010/2011.

The pillars were just a few resurrected from the old church building and stand as a reminder of what has been. I pass by this new building (also the site of the destroyed building) at least several times a week and it reminds me of something of a church that has held meaning for my family for at least a century.

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Image credit: Oxford Terrace Baptist Church, Christchurch, New Zealand

But perhaps of even more meaning is that these pillars have for me is the people who have been in my life who are now old or have passed on from my life. They have been pillars for me.

In the past few weeks, I have attended two funerals for men who have been pillars in my life. All of my life. The first was my uncle and the second a pseudo-uncle (for want of a better term). He and his wife were close friends of my parents and growing up, they were always Aunty and Uncle to my brothers and me.

Both men, one in his eighties and the other in his nineties, were true gentlemen, I had great respect for them, and while they might not always have agreed with what I was doing with my life, they were always interested and encouraging when I saw them. By simply being themselves, they offered me a lesson in how to be in this world.

How can you not have respect for people who have been married for sixty years? I couldn’t manage to be married for five years. They had so much to teach me if I simply paid attention.

Their deaths, so close together, made me stop and appreciate the older people in my life. Appreciate their wives who still live. I have been really fortunate because while growing up I didn’t see much of my grandparents, I did have other older people. I think of Mr and Mrs S, Mrs N, Mrs H, Miss B and more. They were elderly people in the churches where my father was the minister. These people were pillars for me. They stood tall and the encouraged me as I grew.

I know that many have had bad relationships with older people, whether parents, teachers, or relatives. I can understand any reluctance if you don’t want contact with the elderly. And I know that I while I have been so lucky in terms of having parents who stayed together and loved each other, others have not been so lucky.

I have been fortunate to have pillars in my life, supporting me, loving me and simply showing me how to be a good person.

If you don’t have elderly people in your life, go out and get some. Adopt-a-Pillar. Seriously, there are plenty of elderly people out there who would love to be your pillars.

There will be places in your communities that can put you in touch with older people whether in clubs or retirement complexes. There are plenty of elderly people who have no one and would love to have you in their lives.

People who have lived eighty or ninety years have an amazing take on life. They’ve been doing it for much longer than us, and in a world that was not easy on them.

When I drive past the church above and see those five pillars, I see my Dad, those two men who have died recently and others who are or have been pillars for me. I am seriously lucky to have/had them.

I know this is a strange post, but I know that I am a better person for the elderly people who have been, and are still in my life. Because of this, I encourage you to try it. Adopt-a-Pillar.

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

 

What’s In A Word?

If you’re like me, you’ll struggle to find the word. You might just hit a blank, and not for the life of you be able to come up with the word you want, or maybe you might blurt out a completely different word than the one you intended. Where did that come from?

It’s called brain fog. Or cognitive dysfunction. Or cognitive impairment. Maybe specific to your illness, it might be fibro(myalgia) fog or maybe chemo(therapy) fog. I’m sure there are others related to other illnesses. I battle with brain fog thanks to two chronic illnesses (fibromyalgia and Graves’ Disease).

They said it might be a problem when I have a flare of my fibro, but actually, it is a constant for me.

I used to be paid to talk. I was employed to train people how to be managers, and so I was either in front of a classroom, talking all day, or other days I might be on the telephone for most of the day planning training programmes.  Even outside of my work, I talked. Leading groups.

I spoke fluently, without hesitation. It didn’t worry me whether I was speaking to one person or 200. Much of my speaking was off-the-cuff and I would only have minimal notes to guide me. I was good at this. It was my chosen career until severe mental illness cut me down, but that’s another story.

Now, I struggle to string a sentence together. I stutter, I hesitate, I lose the words I want to use, or completely wrong words come out of my mouth. It doesn’t matter whether I speak to one person or a group, I am constantly battling my brain to come out with the right words at the right time.

I feel like an idiot. I imagine what people must think of me. They would have no idea that I am actually an intelligent person because I really do sound like an idiot.

Worse yet, is speaking to people for whom English is their second language. Most of the staff in the dementia facility where my mother lives are immigrants. My problem is that I struggle so much to say what I want to say, but if they don’t understand me, I have to start all over again. They are trying to guess what I want to say, and I get flustered and my speech gets worse.

I am so frustrated by this today but it is like this every day. My inclination is to isolate myself, so that I don’t have to speak. But I can’t do that. I don’t want to answer the phone and actually fear that it will ring.

This is a constant problem for me. Anxiety is up, so is depression because I am so frustrated with the simple task of speaking. For those who think I should be out there working, I couldn’t work. I couldn’t do my job, because my job is talking. I retrained as a social worker, but wouldn’t manage to do that either. I just constantly stumble over my words. (By the way, there are other substantial barriers to me working, but my speech is just one more invisible problem.)

And that isn’t the Cate I always knew. What the f*ck happened to her?

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

Questions Of Suicide

TRIGGER WARNING: This post is a discussion that may be distressing to some people as it looks at suicide and suicidal thinking. There are no details of suicide and no discussion of methods. If you are distressed and don’t know where to access help, I recommend that you use the resource Befrienders Worldwide to find your local support agencies.

 

You’d have to be totally without wi-fi not to know that two American celebrities have died by suicide in this past week. I admit I hadn’t heard of one of them, but I still knew that it had happened.

I wonder how it is for their families to see, at least the western world, discussing the tragedies in so much detail. I wonder how it is for their personal friends also trying to grieve their loss with the media looking on so intently.

But also…

What about the families and friends of the other people who have died by suicide this past week? I haven’t sought out the statistics of how many people across the world die by suicide each week, but my guess is the number would be alarmingly high. How must it be for those friends and families to watch as the world focusses on only two deaths when every death by suicide is a tragedy for us all.

What about the people across our world who attempted to die by suicide in this past week? Again, that number is too high, whatever it is. While we talk of the celebrities who died by suicide this week, do we know who attempted suicide? Were either our friends or our families one of those who was suffering so much that they lost complete hope and tried to end their lives. That’s a really hard place to be. And what do we do about them?

What about the people we know who might have struggled to hold onto hope this week? Do we know if our family or friends are struggling that way? Do we know if those closest to us, might be thinking they can’t go on any longer? Maybe the struggle is too much and they’re thinking about ending it all. Dying by suicide. Do we know?

What about the people in our lives who live with depression? Do we know who they are? Have we considered reaching out to them, letting them know that they’re not alone? Or do they go on thinking it’s only the celebrities that matter?

What about the people who think they don’t matter? I suspect there are no statistics on this one, but I also suspect that the number would be higher than we might think.

What about the people who live with daily pain, disability and sickness? How do they feel seeing the world focused on two lives? What about them? Do they have enough hope to hold onto and keep fighting? Or have they had enough of their battle, and do they matter to you and me anyway.

There are a lot of questions that I have asked, with the sole purpose of thought. They are the questions I began to ask myself this morning. Where do I fit in amongst those questions, but also where are my friends and family in it? Do I know who in my world is struggling with life, and needs my support? Or do I just go on blithely living in my own world? It’s easier that way if I can ignore the fact that people around me are suffering. But should I? And could I do something to alleviate suffering?

What really worries me is how we get involved in discussing the tragedies of two celebrities who have died by suicide. We (particularly social media) will go on discussing it for maybe a couple more days and then we will be back to ‘normal’.

Back to ignoring the fact that too many people die by suicide every day. And too many people attempt suicide each day but don’t get any support to enable them to grab hold of life again. We ‘pump their stomach’ and send them on their way again. How will that help?

Are we ignoring the numbers of people suffering (and I mean suffering!) from mental illness. Stigma is a ‘great’ thing isn’t it if we can push those people into a corner and then forget about them. Are those people in your or my family? What are we doing to support them in life, or is it easier to let them lie hopelessly in that corner?

I hate that two celebrities died by suicide this week. I wish that we as a world could have reached out and helped them so that they didn’t see suicide as their only option. But we’ve been here before. Celebrities who die by suicide generate chat. But how would it be if we take this chat and turn the tables. Turn the conversation of a couple of days into the action of seeking out and supporting those of our circle who need our help. If we stop talking and reading our screens so avidly, for now, and ask the necessary questions of suicide. I believe we can do something of good.

“There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’
No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”

— Dalai Lama XIV

Thanks for reading

 

Cate

 

“In Restless Dreams I Walked Alone”

It is a dark and lonely place, sat in front of the keyboard, ready to write, knowing not how one’s words will be read, whether they will be read at all, but hoping, maybe, to reach at least one person who also walks alone.

That’s me. I want to share with you something I don’t easily talk about. Something that keeps me restless. Something of which I am ashamed.

Drove the night toward my home
The place that I was born, on the lakeside
As daylight broke, I saw the earth
The trees had burned down to the ground

It was twenty years ago that I stopped drinking. There have been drinks since then, too many, but I finally stopped for good about five years ago when I accepted that one drink was never going to be enough. And no matter how much I drank I would never succeed in what was driving those drinks. I needed to no longer be me.

To cut a long story short, declared an alcholic I turned straight to another addiction. Smoking. Actually it was endorsed by my doctor. And I kept adding addictions as I sought to no longer be me.

I stopped trying to kill myself (to be honest, I’m not sure why) about the time I stopped drinking, but while I might have looked better to anyone looking, I was battling myself so hard that I needed a vice.

I’m not going to tell you what my vices have been. No one knows and it would detract from the point of this post. You see the point is that no one knows. You think you know me well enough to know? You’re wrong. It has all been hidden. From everyone.

Paint yourself a picture
Of what you wish you looked like
Maybe then they just might
Feel an ounce of your pain

Years ago, when I was battling severe depression, my mother used to tell me that I had to tell people how I was because they had a right to know. A sideline is that what she meant was they had a right to know because they were praying for me. That was actually one of the biggest points that put me off Christianity, but like I said, that’s a sideline for another day.

What happened instead, was that I withdrew. Pulled down the covers and hid. If they didn’t know then they couldn’t hurt me by their judgments, their meaningless comments and their complete inability to ‘get it’. Because let’s face it, who does ‘get it’ …unless they’ve been there themselves?

And more important to this post is who gets addiction? Who understands what can drive an addict to destroy themselves trying to achieve some nameless and often unknown goal?

I need(ed) to not be me. I need(ed) to distract myself from what I’m feeling.From the pain within. Maybe even destroy that pain, or just feel better… for a while (in reality, maybe a second).

It’s hard to take courage
In a world full of people
You can lose sight of it all
And the darkness inside you
Can make you feel so small

It might seem boring, but the only visible sign of addiction now is my smoking, everything else is truly hidden (but still destructive). Even my smoking, I do alone. I’ve given up telling anyone when I try to give up, because there have been so many attempts. Too many. And now I’m not just ashamed of the need for nicotine, but also of my inability to give it up.

The thing is though, that there are two sides to me. Always. One side wants to give up. That side needs to give up because aside from my health, cigarettes are really expensive in New Zealand and there are other things I could be spending my money on.

But then there is the side of me that wants to smoke. Yes, really. She’s still there, and I know that it is her that stalls the ability to stop. She likes smoking. She likes it when people cast judgment her way. She laughs when her neighbour coughs as she passes. The New Zealand Government wants to do away with smoking by 2025, and she is determined to still be smoking past then. Just because. Because she can.

She wants to stop herself from feeling, stop herself from being …her. She knows there are healthier approaches to life, but she also knows that she can change to a ‘healthier’ addiction but that any addiction can (and will) become unhealthy. She’s stuck on a treadmill. No matter what it is, she will take it to the extreme. Just another addiction. Just another attempt to stop herself from being her.

In this proud land we grew up strong
We were wanted all along
I was taught to fight, taught to win
I never thought I could fail
No fight left or so it seems
I am a man whose dreams have all deserted
I’ve changed my name, I’ve changed my face
But no one wants you when you lose
I never thought this would be me. You don’t even know the worst, but if you’d looked at me 30 years ago, you never would have thought it would be me either.
The short answer is that perhaps this is what trauma does to you. Trauma that keeps repeating, and keeps having you fight not to be you anymore. Because if you can do that, then maybe the trauma will end.
They don’t see the angel
Living in her heart

The good news is, there is an angel living in my heart. Actually, that angel is probably what nearly everybody sees. Because either they’re not looking, they see only what they want to see, or I don’t want them to see. Shame drives it all.

That angel wants to conquer her demons addictions. But it’s hard when shame pulls the curtains. Recently I metaphorically fell on a programme available in my area to help my angel conquer those addictions. All I have to do is go, at the appointed time. Tuesday at 6pm.

That’s not hard, is it? But it is. Three Tuesdays at 6pm have passed since I found the programme and I can’t get myself there. I can’t get there because I’m scared. The anxiety is enormous. There are too many “what if’s” and “yes, but’s”. Every Tuesday (so far) I choose to not go (because I know it is a choice) and choose to stay with my addictions. There is a fierce battle going on inside of me. I need the help but I just can’t quite do it. Yet.

So don’t be afraid to let them show
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Like a rainbow
Quotation Credits
‘The Sound of Silence’ by Simon & Garfunkel
‘Don’t Give Up’ by Peter Gabriel
‘True Colors’ Cyndi Lauper (Songwriters Billy Steinberg/Tom Kelly)
‘Skin’ by SiXx AM