Yet another apology post!

Hi guys, just another apology post for not writing much recently! Not been feeling great and been a bit dissociated a lot of the time which hasn’t helped ūüė¶ back to work next week though which I’m REALLY hoping will help…

Got a few blog posts which I’m halfway through writing though so will hopefully post properly again soon. I attempted a run across Scotland which was really tough and had to withdraw partway through so trying to write about that, and been doing a lot of thinking about ED, recovery and what it actually is (kind of following from the post I wrote last year¬†Thoughts about ED recovery¬†but probably more confused by now!) so also trying to make enough sense of it to write about that too. ¬†Fingers crossed I‚Äôll have a proper post written soon and thanks so much to anyone still reading this blog!

More SVN Challenge runs!

Hi guys, I’m really sorry I haven’t written a blog post in so long; haven’t been feeling great recently and getting really frustrated with (lack of) mental health support, and I don’t like posting non-positive writing so thought it would be best to give blogging a break for a while. ¬†Also haven’t been running much recently since I cracked a rib a couple of months ago but FINALLY getting back into it and ran two awesome Saxons Vikings and Normans events last weekend which were, as usual, amazing, well organised and massively supportive. ¬†Thanks Traviss, Rachel, Karen and everyone else who helped to organise and run the events!

I was really nervous about running the events because I hadn’t run properly in over two months and I tried to run an ultra event a couple of weeks ago but only managed 16 miles due to rib pain and cold weather, and I drove down to Kent half-expecting this weekend to be similar. ¬†I’d had a busy week at work and was exhausted before I even got there but when I arrived in Deal and went to the B+B (which I’d booked because it was the cheapest), I was mega excited to find out that it was on the seafront! ¬†The sunrise walk before the runs and moonlight afterwards made the trip to Kent worth it even if the running didn’t work out at all, and I was looking forward to seeing friends from other runs who were also taking part so I started to feel a bit more optimistic although still very, very nervous.

Saturday was the Betteshanger Challenge and I kept reminding myself that some (crazy) people were doing 10 marathons in 10 days and this would be their 9th so I didn’t really have anything to complain about! ¬†I still wasn’t sure if I should aim for a marathon or ultra so I channelled my inner teen and asked the collective wisdom that is Instagram via an insta poll and the results came back as 70% ultra. ¬†So that pretty much decided that!

One of the things I love most about SVN events is how friendly, accepting and welcoming the people are. ¬†It’s amazing when people not only recognise you but also seem happy to see you, and it’s like you only ran with them last week instead of months ago. ¬†And everyone is so inclusive that even though I’d one of the slowest runners on the planet, it really doesn’t feel like it and everyone is equal even though there are people there with crazy records!

When the run started it was FREEZING and I ran the first lap wearing pretty much the amount of layers you’d wear on a ski slope. ¬†It warmed up *slightly* by the second and third laps though so I swapped my ski jacket for a lighter windproof running one and took off one of the pairs of gloves, still cold but definitely better than running like I was doing some sort of polar marathon.

The course wasn’t the most exciting in the world; it started up a hill past the visitor centre then followed a two mile cycle track and back to the start which was a bit monotonous after a while but at least you couldn’t get lost and the views weren’t terrible. ¬†It was also really, really cold (although I was told it was much colder during the week) and my temperature regulation is a bit rubbish so I was really feeling it as the race went on. ¬†I couldn’t seem to get into the usual rhythm but managed to settle into a relatively OK state of half-jogging and brain slowedness if not totally quiet, which seemed about as much as I could hope for. ¬†So I carried on longer than I thought I’d be able to and started to connect more with the run as the time went on.

Part of the reason I didn’t quit at half marathon (which I seriously considered) was that I was fortunate enough to run into the awesome and inspiring Nick Nicholson who I’ve run with before on previous races and who never fails to amaze me with his pretty much constant running and amazing world records. ¬†I’d been feeling a bit demoralised and exhausted but Nick put up with several laps of me talking pretty much random crap at him (until once again, I ditched him for coffee- I promise it’s not personal, Nick!) and decided to go for the ultra after all. ¬†Then the sky decided to showcase its awesomeness and there was one of the most incredible sunsets I’ve ever seen which, coupled with David Bowie, made the last couple of laps feel like a sort of religious experience. ¬†Amazing!!

As anyone who’s ever seen my Instagram page (@ultrarunning.geek) will know, I’m a bit obsessed with taking pictures of the sky and nature but this was seriously incredible. ¬†It made the freezing start and icy wind absolutely worth it and I almost didn’t want to stop by the end even though I was physically exhausted and emotionally drained. ¬†There’s something magical about running when the light’s an intense gold and the world seems strangely magnified and detailed, and that’s the point when I start feeling fully connected with the world around me and with God. ¬†Took way too many photos so here are a few more!

I was absolutely exhausted by the time I got back to the B+B and after porridge, coffee and a hot shower (because my body felt like I’d spent the day in a walk-in freezer!), I was ready to go to bed at about 7pm! ¬†I forced myself to stay awake for a few hours though, did some drawing and wrote in my diary (because I really am a throwback 90s kid!) and went to bed finally about 11pm in the hope that I might actually get some sleep. ¬†As usual for the moment, I couldn’t get to sleep and had several fights with the duvet in an attempt to get warm (even with hot water bottles and blankets!) and it seemed like ages of listening to Harry Potter to actually fall asleep but I must have done because next thing I remember it was 3am and I was awake again.

The second day was much harder than the first. ¬†I was physically tired even after three cups of coffee and achy from the day before, and I’d started to get a cold which didn’t help (apart from the amusement of being IDd for Lemsip!). ¬†My mood was also pretty rubbish for no particular reason and I kind of wanted to crash and hide in Homeland DVDs for the whole day but obviously that wasn’t an option. ¬†So I used my usual strategy of using Instagram for accountability and asked via a second insta poll if I should aim for marathon or ultra. ¬†THANKFULLY the vote was ‘marathon’ at 57% to 43% so I set that as my target and it gave me a legitimate reason not to push for an ultra.

Sunday wasn’t quite as cold as Saturday and I didn’t have to start in a ski jacket and two pairs of gloves which was a relief! ¬†The course was also nicer- it was a 4.3 mile loop with undulating footpath and trail which was really good to run on and again, you couldn’t really get lost. ¬†So on one level I was enjoying the run much more than I had the previous day but I was also physically exhausted, still cold and irrationally anxious which made it really hard to settle into the running.

Then the weather decided to make things even harder with icy rain and wind. ¬†I had a waterproof with a hood and several layers but it was that horrible smeary rain which seems to penetrate through every layer you have so it was pretty much cold and wet whatever you did. ¬†I was literally shivering as I was running which wasn’t fun and I’d also started to feel a bit dizzy and nauseous with tiredness which I tried unsuccessfully to combat with chocolate and Haribo- you know the run’s not going great when Haribo doesn’t work!!

One of the things that really does help when you’re feeling rubbish when running is supportive texts because it makes you feel more connected and like you’re not totally on your own running in the middle of nowhere, and thank you so so much to everyone who sent messages. ¬†I was ready to quit at halfway again but I’d got some lovely messages from close friends and really wanted to get to at least marathon so carried on with the help of lovely friends and family. ¬†Thank you!!

I didn’t take many photos on the second day, partly because I was exhausted and partly because it was so cold and wet that I didn’t want to take my gloves off to take a photo. ¬†But I did get a few good ones in between rain showers and it really was a typical, damp autumn run in beautiful scenery.

By the end, I was so tired that I could hardly run straight and shivery cold, and I just wanted to finish. ¬†The last part of the lap was a bit hilly and I could really feel it in my knees as I tried to complete in under the time limit, and the last stretch seemed to last forever. ¬†But finally it was over and, being a Lucky Dip Challenge, there was a choice of random medals. ¬†I didn’t really have much of a preference and couldn’t decide, and then one of the race organisers asked me if I wanted a Formula One medal!! ¬†I’m a MASSIVE F1 fan and said yes if there was one, and she said that she’d saved me one because she knew I liked F1! ¬†It was so so nice of her and I got a bit over-excited, acting like a ten year old on Christmas Day, jumping up and down and showing random people (ridiculous post-run emotions even for me!) then I suddenly wanted to cry. ¬†I was still absolutely freezing which might also have contributed to the over-emotion so I went into the visitor centre and got out my blanket, hot water bottle and hand warmers which were an absolute godsend!

Once I’d warmed up a bit, I could drive home and after nearly 5 hours of driving (M25 traffic then accident on M40), I was ready to crash out. ¬†I had a quick shower and some porridge (with blueberries, thanks to a friend’s suggestion) then went straight to bed. ¬†Amazingly I actually fell asleep relatively quickly but that meant that I woke up ridiculously early so you can’t really win… ¬†So worth it though!! ¬†Was awesome to see so many people I knew and to catch up with people, and can’t wait to see you all at another SVN event soon!

Insomnia 24

Sorry this blog post is so late! ¬†I ran Insomnia 24 back in August but have been so busy with going back to work, sorting out stuff for Open University and trying to deal with a pretty persistent mood crash that I haven’t had the energy or motivation to write a post after the race. ¬†But it was such an amazing, magical run that I can’t not write one so going to attempt to use photos to try to channel the amazing feelings and moments over an amazing 24 hours…

The run started at midday and was in Leicestershire so for once, I didn’t have to travel too far. ¬†I drove there on the Saturday morning and set up my tent with two hours to spare, so got chatting to some other people doing the run who were lovely as always and started to get excited. ¬†It was hot already so I decided to leave my backpack by the start line instead of in my tent (because everything would melt) and put on sunscreen- REALLY didn’t want a repeat of last year’s ridiculous sunburn from a summer 100 miler! I wasn’t too nervous about the run because it was my fourth ultra over the summer holidays, I didn’t have any specific goals or targets and just wanted to enjoy the weekend of running. ¬†So as midday got closer, the pre-run nerves never really got past the jittery stage and I was definitely more excited than terrified. ¬†The course looked awesome, it was a six mile loop and the weather was amazing which is pretty miraculous for an August bank holiday weekend!

The course genuinely was amazing! ¬†It started with a gentle downhill run across a field with a windmill then looped back behind some woods, through the trees, up the other side of the field, through more trees, over a pumpkin field, past farmland with strawberries, blackberries and probably more crops that I didn’t recognise then down through some more woods and back up to loop round yet another field. ¬†It was undulating but not massively hilly although it was one of the most technically challenging courses I have ever run- very uneven ground in a lot of places, overgrown nettles and (obviously, since it was an ultra) mud. ¬†But the scenery made it worth it a million times over and it was so well organised that even I couldn’t get lost!

It was HOT!! ¬†It took a while to get used to running in the heat and was drinking a lot more than I usually would even during an ultra, but it was close to 30 degrees and hardly any clouds in the sky so definitely needed. ¬†I’d thought ahead enough to bring a cap and sunglasses (super organised for me!) and had electrolyte tablets so was about as prepared as I could be but was still tough running across exposed fields in the heat. ¬†But considering the last 24 hour ultra I ran was postponed overnight because of torrential rain (see Hope24 2017), this was definitely preferable and once my body had adjusted, it wasn’t anywhere near as bad as previous hot races I’ve run. ¬†Possibly because I’m not taking risperidone or quetiapine any more but it’s amazing the difference it makes!

The first few hours passed pretty quickly and it was awesome to listen to Harry Potter with no interruptions or distractions apart from amazing scenery which made it feel like I was actually running through the story. ¬†I started to feel more relaxed than I had done in weeks (it was the last week of the summer holidays and my stress/mood levels were pretty much at breaking point by then), my brain was finally starting to slow down, the bitch in my head’s voice was less intense and I was actually beginning to feel ‘real’ and connected again. ¬†After a couple of hours of magical running, I met a guy I’d run with on previous races and ran a lap with him which was awesome as always (thanks Nick!) and crazily inspiring given that he’s currently holding the Guinness World Records for most marathons and most ultras in a year. ¬†By then, I was getting seriously caffeine-deprived so ditched Nick for coffee after the lap and took a quick caffeine break to fuel up for the nighttime part of the race.

After an energy boost of coffee and peanut butter, the sun was starting to set so I set off on a ‘photography lap’ which is my version of a recovery lap- slow running and lots of walking to take photos, and basically just enjoying the incredibleness of nature, God and calmness. ¬†It was a seriously amazing sunset- genuinely one of the best I have ever seen and that’s including Aberystwyth! ¬†The only word to describe it is MAGICAL ‚̧ clear skies with horizon clouds meant that the whole sky turned orange and pink, and you could connect with everything around you in a way that I’ve only ever felt mid-ultra when nature’s doing something incredible. ¬†Can’t find the right words to describe it so I’ll stick to sharing photos instead (photos still don’t do it justice!).

After that, it got properly dark so headtorch and layers time. ¬†Given how hot it had been during the day, it was a bit of a shock how quickly the temperature dropped thanks to the clear skies and pretty soon I was running with a growing amount of layers culminating with two long sleeved tops, a fleece, an anorak and a fleecy blanket towards dawn! ¬†Nightrunning is my least favourite part of ultrarunning :/ not because I don’t like running at night (I actually love some aspects of it) but because I get scared and a bit paranoid on my own in the dark, especially on a course like this which was all trail and a lot of wooded areas.

I’m really lucky though that I have some seriously awesome ‘text buddies’ who are AMAZING people who don’t mind random (usually over-excited or panicky) texts during ultras and who always reply with encouraging or inspiring words, and which sometimes have been the only reason I’ve completed some of the runs I’ve taken part in. ¬†It’s weird, even though I know that they’re nowhere near me and that even if something did happen it’s seriously unlikely that they’d be able to do anything, it feels infinitely safer to know that they’re ‘there’ even if just through a Nokia 3210 (or running in spirit if you happen to be an awesome inspiring running guru!) and it makes such a massive difference to running on your own at night. ¬†Can’t express enough how much it helps and how amazing it is to get those texts especially when I’m physically and mentally exhausted- you know who you are and thank you so so much!!

One close friend texted some quotes about darkness which really resonated with me and helped so much with running on my own in the dark: “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must also be present”- Francis Bacon, and “I used to be afraid of the dark until I learned that I am a light and the darkness is afraid of me”- Ephesians 5:8. ¬†Can’t put into words how much that meant when I feeling nervous running on my own through trees at night and it really, really helped. ¬†Another amazing friend texted to say that she had run two hours and so I wasn’t running alone, and that also really, really helped because it really is scary and lonely on your own at night! ¬†Even though there are other people doing the run, you spread out so that you don’t really see people especially on the nighttime part so feeling connected to people in any way makes a massive difference.

I can’t remember a massive amount about running overnight apart from a few, very vivid moments which made the run probably the most magical run I have ever taken part in. ¬†The clear skies meant that the temperature dropped quickly and it was like running through Narnia with more stars than I’ve ever seen outside of a dark sky park, cold, clear air and absolute quiet. ¬†The stars were incredible. ¬†I saw Orion for the first time this year which was pretty special (Orion is my all-time favourite constellation and I always use him as a ‘grounding point’ because whenever you are, you’re always looking at the same stars and he’s always roughly south-west which makes me feel safe because it helps you locate where you are, and west leads to Aberystwyth), the usual constellations like the Plough and Cassiopeia and could even see the Pleiades.

The most magical moment was when a shooting star shot across the sky so fast that I thought I’d imagined it. ¬†It was seriously amazing- I was listening to David Bowie’s Blackstar album while running across the open field and it was totally unexpected. ¬†Then not long after, there was another one and I could feel the amazing, infinite oneness that I can’t describe fully in words- it’s like you’re connected with God and the world around you with an intense energy that makes you feel real and safe and connected all at once. ¬†It’s the most amazing feeling I’ve ever experienced. ¬†The rest of the night passed in a bit of a blur and pretty soon, the sun was starting to rise and it was time for another coffee/porridge break!

If I’d thought the sunset was amazing, the sunrise was even more incredible. ¬†It happened as quickly as the evening- quiet pre-dawn seemed to morph straight into flaming sun and morning mist. ¬†It was equally magical as running across the stars but in a totally different way- this was surreal and unnerving, and it was a relief when the sun cut through the fog like a flaming dagger. ¬†My absolute favourite part of a 24 hour run is the sunrise especially on a midday to midday race because the start of a new day seems to ‘reset’ any tiredness or negativity, and I could feel the underlying nighttime fear and tiredness start to ease off.

Physically though, I was starting to feel the impact of running for God knows how many hours (my brain was mush by then) and was feeling exhausted, dizzy and nauseous. ¬†I was 10 laps in and needed to decide if I was going to stop at 12 laps or try to aim for 14 by the end of the 24 hours (I can’t stop on 13 laps because it’s bad luck). ¬†It was pushing it a bit tight to aim for the 14 laps and I was feeling physically horrible but mentally I was feeling better than I had done in months and I really, really didn’t want to lose that feeling. ¬†So I decided to go for the 14 laps and see how far I could go. ¬†The dizziness was a pretty big problem though and I walked the remainder of that lap to see if it would help. ¬†I tried to eat a cereal bar but immediately felt more nauseous, and ate some Haribo in mild desperation and amazingly, I felt better almost straight away! ¬†It was incredible so I ate some more Haribo then started to run slowly again, and pretty soon I was feeling like I’d just started the run instead of being nearly 20 hours in!

The temperature rose almost as quickly as it had dropped the night before and pretty soon I was running in just a T-shirt and shorts again. ¬†It was so hot that the Haribo had melted which made it taste like food from Heaven (seriously- melted Haribo is actually the most amazing food ever and even beats peanut butter!) and that fuelled me of the rest of the race. ¬†I didn’t want to stop running ever- the light was like golden syrup, the mist was like running through somewhere Gothic and magical, and the whole world was amazing. ¬†I was seriously hyped by that point (probably Haribo-related!) and having the most amazing run of my life. ¬†It passed way too quickly though, and suddenly it was midday and I was finishing my final lap. ¬†Really, really didn’t want the race to end!

Then the weirdest thing of the whole race happened: I was first female!! ¬†That was so, so strange and felt totally wrong- I had to get it checked several times over before I could believe it. ¬†I have never won a race in my life, and definitely not running! ¬†The closest I’ve ever got was 3rd in hoop skipping on sports day in Year 2- every running race I ever took part in at school, I was last or close to last and I am really not a natural athlete. ¬†But I actually did come first female in this one (still can’t believe it!) and got a ¬£50 voucher for a running shop which is amazing given that nearly all my money goes on running stuff! ¬†Such an incredible feeling, and really does show how positive and inclusive ultrarunning is.

THANK YOU so so much to everyone from Go Ultra events for organising such an amazing race and can’t wait to take part again next year!! ¬†INCREDIBLE running event, so well organised, so friendly and amazing people ‚̧

Quick apology post!

Hi, just a quick post to apologise for the fact that I haven’t posted in months! ¬†had a bit of a rubbish summer, decided to try to come off medication because I was fed up with the side effects and feeling rubbish for relying on drugs which really wasn’t a good idea and my mood started swinging from totally jittery-hyped to wanting to not exist on a nearly daily basis which was exhausting and nearly lost any friendships or close relationships I actually have. ¬†So I’m taking them again and have just about settled back into ‘normal’ or whatever that means when you’re on high doses of psychiatric meds! ¬†But I feel ‘real’ again, my mood’s more stable and I’m nowhere near as paranoid as I was over the summer so definitely a good thing. ¬†And am hoping to get back on track with blogging! ¬†Sorry again for disappearing off the face of the blogosphere ūüėČ

Horcruxes

Just a short post today because my brain is frazzled, I’ve been awake pretty much consistently for the last four days, got up at 2am this morning and keep needing to remind myself where I am, why and what day it is! ¬†Been a bit of a stressful week, feeling rubbish and getting meds withdrawals (on day five without them) so actually writing this feels like processing thoughts through peanut butter but I really want to get one last Harry Potter post in before the Cursed Child release at midnight tonight!!

So, Horcruxes. ¬†I realise this is a bit of a random topic to write about but the more I’ve been thinking about the bitch in my head and how I’m trying to manage her constant arguments and influence, the more I’m realising that it’s closer to the concept of Horcruxes than I’ve ever thought about. ¬†It’s taken a while to conceptualise the horrible thoughts, urges and brain arguments as anything other than just ‘me’ being a horrible person and for the last year or so, I’ve seen it as a ‘bitch in my head’ (see¬†Inside my head‚Ķ¬†for a proper explanation about that) and she has direct access to my thoughts, feelings and urges which I need to identify and try to manage, and one of the ways I’ve found useful for that is through¬†Occlumency¬†and other strategies from Harry Potter which I wrote about in¬†Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Part One: HARRY POTTER.

Thinking about that made me realise that the bitch in my head is actually close to a Horcrux- a part of someone else’s soul which is evil and sometimes takes control of my thoughts and emotions in a way that I don’t like but, importantly, it ISN’T PART OF ME. ¬†This is really, really important as a way of conceptualising it which has taken a long time to actually accept and try to believe- when I have paranoid, obsessive thoughts about other people or about myself, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a horrible person because I try really hard not to act on the thoughts/urges and I don’t want them in my head, and that means that there must be a ‘me’ outside of those thoughts/feelings/urges that ISN’T weird, obsessive or horrible and that’s the part I want to keep and is actually ‘me’.

Not sure if that makes sense? ¬†I started to realise it after a conversation with a friend I’ve known for years but don’t get to meet up with that often, and who is someone I really look up to and trust. ¬†We met for coffee a couple of months ago and she was talking about spirituality and the idea of a ‘still space’ inside you which is the part you need to connect with and that doesn’t judge or anything like that, and I really liked the concept even if I still don’t fully understand it. ¬†When I knew her ten years ago, she recommended Paulo Coelho’s books which I read and loved, especially Veronika Decides to Die and Eleven Minutes which taught me that it’s OK to be different and not fit in, and that ‘normal’ is relative and actually conformity is the worst thing people can do because it goes against the natural ‘self’ and who you actually are. ¬†There are so many amazing quotes from those books and I’ll list a few which I found really useful at that time (and still do now):

“You have two choices, to control your mind or to let your mind control you.”

‚ÄúHaven’t you learned anything, not even with the approach of death? Stop thinking all the time that you’re in the way, that you’re bothering the person next to you. If people don’t like it, they can complain. And if they don’t have the courage to complain, that’s their problem.‚ÄĚ ¬†(THIS IS SO IMPORTANT AND TRUE!)

‚ÄúWe all live in our own world. But if you look up at the starry sky – you’ll see that all the different worlds up there combine to form constellations, solar systems, galaxies.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúWhen I took the pills, I wanted to kill someone I hated. I didn’t know that other Veronikas existed inside me, Veronikas that I could love.‚ÄĚ ¬†(Kill the Horcrux, not yourself)

‚ÄúAt every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúThat‚Äôs why I‚Äôm telling you: don‚Äôt get used to it, because it‚Äôs very easy to become habituated; it‚Äôs a very powerful drug. It‚Äôs in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams. Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it‚Äôs seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial. Or cowardice. However much we may reject it, we human being always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives.‚ÄĚ ¬†I’ve put part of this in bold because when I first read it aged 19, I could identify with it so strongly and wrote an intense diary entry about it which I’ve since lost which is maybe a good thing but I would be interested to re-read it. ¬†Definitely worth a blog post at some point…

Having written out those quotes, I really want to re-read Paulo Coelho now and I think it deserves several blog posts of its own! ¬†But the point I’m trying to get clear in my head is that ten years ago, the realisations I got from reading Paulo Coelho probably set the framework for the way I’m thinking about the bitch in my head and Horcruxes now, and it’s amazing how your thought processes can grow and develop over your lifetime. ¬†The recent conversation with my friend (which was actually one of the first proper conversations I’ve had with her in ten years which is pretty incredible considering how much I’ve learned from her and how much she’s influenced how I view my life probably without even realising it) has helped to solidify it and she mentioned some more spirituality-type books which I’m going to read and hopefully be able to learn from… ¬†I really like the idea of connecting with a part of ‘you’ which isn’t the obsessive, paranoid part and I think it’s similar to the way you sort of ‘zone out’ in a good way during long runs and get an amazing feeling of freedom and calm- trying to learn to manage that without having to run 40 miles first!

Sorry this is a bit of a rambling post, brain really not focussing clearly at the moment but I wanted to try to explore a bit the idea of Horcruxes and how Occlumency can be useful in trying to stop the direct access to thoughts and emotions. ¬†It links to Paulo Coelho because it’s a lot like mindfulness- focussing on the present, trying to ‘close your mind’ to paranoid or obsessive thoughts, not fixating or focussing on them. ¬†Harry uses mindfulness consciously in Deathly Hallows when he tries to stay fully ‘present’ as a way to stop Voldemort being able to access his mind and to manage pain or intense emotions that aren’t his own, and this is really useful to learn from and apply in a DBT-type way to managing thoughts or intense emotions from the bitch/Horcrux in your head. ¬†Will try to expand on it when my brain’s a bit more functional but wanted to introduce it as a concept! ¬†Hope at least some of it makes sense ūüôā

What I’m relearning from Sweet Valley High…

OK, I’m going to start this post by saying that yes, I know Sweet Valley is not ‘real’ literature, it’s commercialised teenage rubbish that people have told me a ridiculous amount of times over the last twenty years that I shouldn’t be reading, but I’ve been obsessed with SVH since I was 9 and have actually learned a lot of life and social skills (really) from various characters in the series as well as having the ‘safety’ of an alternate fictional world which had characters I could relate to and ‘talk’ to (via Sims or writing) and this was really important to me as a teenager in a similar way to how I used Hogwarts pre-Voldemort as an escapist world. ¬†Once Voldemort came back when I was in Year 9, Sweet Valley seemed a lot safer than Hogwarts and for years I carried a Sweet Valley book in my bag ALL THE TIME so I could read it whenever I wanted to.

Yes, Sweet Valley books aren’t written particularly well (overuse of adjectives, too many exclamation points, superficial writing style) but they’re accessible and easy to read which I think totally outweighs the actual style of the writing. ¬†I’ve been able to read Sweet Valley books nearly my whole life, even when I’ve been feeling rubbish and had the concentration span of a hyperactive fly, and they don’t need a lot of focus or brain capacity to read. ¬†They’re actually a lot more complex than most people realise thanks to being a series of close to 500 books in total, and you get to know the characters so well that you feel like they’re a part of your life. ¬†And that means that, weirdly, you learn a lot from them and that changes throughout your life depending on who you can identify with at the time. ¬†I might get struck down¬†by the literature gods for saying this (especially since I did an English degree!) but I’ve actually learned more from Sweet Valley books and Harry Potter than from ANY book I’ve ever studied at school or uni and I think more people need to appreciate that there is more to ‘good’ books than heavy themes or symbolism. ¬†Yes, that’s important and it’s good for analysing/studying, but sometimes learning real, applicable life and social skills and being able to relate to and feel safe with fictional characters is just as important and, for some people, can be even more beneficial. ¬†I might be slightly biased considering I wrote my undergrad dissertation on Harry Potter, my MA and PhD on fairy tales and The Little Mermaid in particular, and one of my MA essays about Sweet Valley but I did the whole ‘literature’ stuff too and found it really interesting but nowhere near as useful for ‘real life’ than books I could really relate to and with complex, escapist worlds where I felt safe. ¬†So that’s why I’m not embarrassed at all to say that I still read Sweet Valley books when I’m almost 30! ¬†I’ll probably still be reading them at 50… :p

One of the things I really like about Sweet Valley books are that they’re set in the 80s- pre-internet and mobile phones which feels amazingly safe and there’s much less anxiety and paranoia because of it. ¬†They write letters and call each other or arrange to meet at specific places and there’s none of the Facebook-based paranoia or bitchiness or problems with over-texting etc that there are now. ¬†When I first started reading SVH, that was how the world worked but now technology’s taken over and there’s a lot more anxiety about than there was 15 years ago (for me, anyway). ¬†I think one of the things I find ‘safe’ about Sweet Valley is that reading the books is like going back to the pre-internet world without the constant paranoia or anxiety of mobile phones and Facebook. ¬†Although, ironically, the reason I can re-read the whole series now is because they’re available to download for free on Kindle Unlimited which is pretty incredible!! ¬†When I was younger, I could only get the ones that hadn’t gone out of print yet from The Works or from charity shops, and I can still remember the MAGIC feeling of being able to order them from Amazon when that because feasible. ¬†Now it’s even more accessible through Kindle which is genuinely amazing. ¬†I was re-reading one of my exercise books from primary school where we had to write about magic inventions we wished existed and I wrote about a magic book which could become any book you wanted it to…I think it’s called a Kindle!! ¬†BEST INVENTION EVER.

Anyway, back to Sweet Valley… ¬†I’m about a third of the way through the SVH books at the moment and I’m just as hooked as I was when I was a teenager but in a different way. ¬†The description of the twins still bugs me (sun-bleached hair, turquoise eyes, perfect size 6 figure) and it annoys me that all the characters seem to be “petite”, “slim” or “willowy” unless specifically mentioned as otherwise in which case it’s usually in a negative context but I think we just need to accept that this is ‘perfect world California’ and that’s not real anyway. ¬†But weirdly, the perfectness of it is part of what makes it feel ‘safe’ and it really is a perfect escapist world. ¬†When I was a lot younger, I used to want to paint the walls of my bedroom like Sweet Valley so I could feel like I was actually there and part of what I love about re-reading the books is that the setting is STILL THE SAME in my imagination.

The reason that’s weird is that it hasn’t changed visually at all since I was in primary school and it genuinely feels like revisiting an actual place from when I was younger. ¬†I think it’s linked to brain processing- it’s something I really need to look into properly but I think that when you imagine something, your brain can’t tell the difference between reality and not-reality so you feel like you’re actually experiencing it and in general, this is stronger in children than adults and when you re-imagine something from when you were a child, it feels like an actual memory. ¬†It’s definitely a topic I need to explore properly! ¬†Would also be really interested to find out if it’s different in autistic brains than neurotypical- most people I know don’t have the same intense, almost physical recollections of memories/imagined events that I do or difficulty distinguishing imagined events and ‘real’ memories (I often think dream events have actually happened) but I don’t know if maybe I’ve just got an over-active imagination?!

Sweet Valley Middle School is visually almost exactly the same as my primary school and that’s still how I imagine it but the high school is a bit different- it’s partly based on the building my classroom was in in Years 7 and 8 and a lot of SVH classes (in my mind) take place there but it’s also mixed with the school field, lunchroom and library from primary school and a few extra corridors I seem to have made up in my mind but probably came from TV shows about high schools. ¬†The front of the school is partly based on primary school but mixed with the front door from (I think) the school in The Princess Diaries so I have no idea how that happened! ¬†It’s so weird revisiting it though because it really does feel like going back to an old school and I keep wanting to go to the Oracle office (which is the same as a classroom in my primary school) or go to find Olivia Davidson in the art room (which is the same as my secondary school).

The town is the same- the beach is like Sandbanks¬†in Poole which was where we used to go on holiday when I was little, the shopping mall is the Royal Priors in Leamington except as is used to be before it was redone (complete with the peacock which anyone from near Leamington over the age of 25 will probably remember), Guido’s is basically Pizza Hut from Tower Park in Bournemouth, Casey’s is Henley Ice Cream shop… ¬†They’re not exactly the same because some of the details from the books are mixed in with real-life places (the shopping mall is based on the Priors but the shops are from the books, the pizzas in Guido’s are bigger and more American than Pizza Hut, the beach has white sand and aqua water etc) but it’s amazing how your imagination basically works like a synthesiser using actual places and described details to make a whole new imagined world which is constant over time. ¬†That’s what I love about re-reading book series or books you read over and over as a child- it’s still the same world. ¬†I have a very similar experience reading Harry Potter but won’t go into that now, but it’s one of the reasons I don’t like seeing films of books because it’s never the same world and feels ‘wrong’.

The other awesome thing about Sweet Valley is the characters. ¬†There are a few ‘main’ characters (Jessica and Elizabeth, Todd, Lila, Enid, Bruce) who appear in nearly every book but each book focusses on a particular, more minor character and something that’s happening in their life and because it’s a series, you get to know the characters so well by their appearances in other books that it’s nice to get a real look into the life of someone you’ve ‘met’ through other characters but don’t know a lot about. ¬†Once you’ve read the whole series, you know most of the characters’ back stories and that’s nice too because when you re-read them, it gives you a whole new context. ¬†My favourite character is Olivia Davidson who you don’t really get to know properly until quite late in the series (she’s just known as an arty, quirky sort-of geek) but in the special edition Mystery¬†Date, she uses internet chatrooms as a way to meet people and you realise that she’s actually really shy and insecure. ¬†I could relate to it a lot at the time because I used to use internet message boards as a ‘social life’ and it was nice to meet a character who had a similar experience. ¬†It’s weird thinking about it now because SVH was originally set in the 80s and the internet didn’t exist then but because the writing went on into the 90s and early 00s, the internet was becoming more mainstream and a couple of the later books mention it although there are still no mobile phones or social media which I think would have ruined Sweet Valley for me.

Re-reading as an adult, you realise again how unrealistic and overly dramatic the books are (not even halfway through and we’ve had three kidnappings, two deaths, a plane crash, drugs, attempted rape, attempted suicide, depression and a ridiculous amount of teenage drama) but that’s what makes SVH so interesting and even though you know that no teenager would actually be able to experience all that and still have perfect mental health at the end of it, the way the books deal with each individual experience is surprisingly sensitive and well thought out. ¬†It’s ¬†bit unrealistic how quickly the characters appear to recover from whatever’s happened to them but the actual experience is pretty well described. ¬†I remember as a teenager re-reading some of them over and over because I could relate to the characters strongly although at the time, I didn’t know why (Wrong Kind of Girl, The Perfect Girl,¬†Too Much in Love and Alone in the Crowd are the ones that spring to mind straight away). ¬†I’d be interested to read Sweet Valley book with an autistic character though- I know autism wasn’t particularly well understood in the 80s and Asperger’s didn’t even exist as a diagnosis but there are some characters who show strong autistic traits (Bill Chase, Randy Mason, Olivia Davidson among others) and it would be interesting to see them more accepted rather than ridiculed for being ‘different’. ¬†But this is perfect world California 80s!

The other thing that really struck me when I started re-reading the books is how controversial they actually are in the topics they discuss. ¬†Considering the books were aimed at a teenage/pre-teen audience (I was reading them from when I was 8 or 9), they deal with some pretty heavy topics and a lot of my first ‘exposures’ to things like mental health issues or drugs were actually via Sweet Valley books. ¬†I know I’m not the only person who’s never even been tempted to try drugs as a result of Regina Morrow’s death after trying cocaine (see¬†Regina Morrow is the reason I never tried cocaine, The death of Regina Morrow¬†or just google ‘Regina Morrow’ and see what comes up) and that’s a pretty major positive effect on a lot of pre-teen lives. ¬†The second link sums it up perfectly by saying “The death of Regina Morrow in Sweet Valley High #40 On the Edge influenced my life more than any other fictional event in the history of my entire reading career thus far. Twenty-five years after reading about her death, Regina is still the first person I think of when I hear about someone dying from a drug overdose. ¬†‘Oh, I think. He/She must not have read about Regina Morrow.’ ¬†Yes, my brain seems to believe that nobody would ever struggle with drug addiction if only they had read On the Edge when they were fifteen.” ¬†I AGREE. ¬†And anyone who says that Sweet Valley books are just ‘junk food’ for literature can f*ck off as far as I’m concerned. ¬†The book series has genuinely changed people’s lives for the better and that’s not junk.

It’s not just drug use that’s addressed pretty directly- Jess’s boyfriend Christian is killed in a gang fight, her boyfriend Sam is killed in a drink driving accident (which was also the reason Elizabeth ended up in a coma after a motorcycle accident earlier in the series and both of these events have meant that I would never, ever get in a car with anyone who has had even a tiny amount of alcohol which has been my rule since I was a teenager and first read the books), John Pfeifer attempts to rape Lila Fowler and then sets fire to her house before being killed by one of his own bombs and so many other pretty controversial events. ¬†Not just over-drama either- Tom McKay’s realisation of being gay was dealt with sensitively and would have been a pretty big deal in the 80s, and it’s amazing that Sweet Valley chose to write in a teenage, gay character. ¬†The stigma is clearly shown as well as Tom’s feelings and that’s pretty impressive for ‘junk’ literature.

For me, the most intense storylines that really ‘got’ me as a teenager were the ones involving mental health issues. ¬†They were never explicitly described as mental health issues in the books which was partly why they were so accessible I think, and it made it feel more ‘normal’ because characters you know and accept are experiencing similar issues. ¬†The ones that really stand out are Robin Wilson’s struggles with weight and with eating disordered behaviour, Annie Whitman’s feelings of being cast out and attempted suicide and Lynne Henry’s experiences of depression. ¬†Although they appear to be ‘cured’ unrealistically quickly, the actual experiences are really well described although brief, but trying to cram something like that into 137 pages is a pretty big ask!

Robin’s experiences are particularly interesting because her character has had so many ups and downs already by the time she developed an ED (weight problems and bullying, falling for George Warren then dealing with her feelings through food) that the plotline seemed to develop naturally from what we already know about her. ¬†The book itself doesn’t go into too much detail (thankfully) about her actual ED thoughts although the line I remember clearly from reading it aged 12 was that her top tip for losing weight is “WATER” underlined several times and I went through a phase of drinking a bottle of water every lesson at school after reading that in case it worked (it didn’t, I just ended up needing the loo a lot!). ¬†But what it does do is show a wider picture of Robin’s ED issues- not being able to eat in front of people, obsessive fixation on ‘safe’ foods, controlling behaviour and snappiness around other people, her jealousy around George, general obsessiveness, excessive exercise, constant exhaustion… ¬†Even writing about it now, I can feel exactly how Robin felt and how I did as a teenager but without realising that’s why I related to the book so much. ¬†Even though it’s very unlikely that Robin would have been that ill and not had to go into inpatient treatment, it’s still a well thought out book.

I could go on about mental health in Sweet Valley for ages and might save that for another blog post! ¬†It’s also interesting that there are other, more complex mental health issues alluded to and shown in characters (Nancy the librarian’s sinister obsession with the 70s and trying to recreate it, John Pfeifer’s arsonist tendencies and sexual harassment/obsession, Margo’s delusional behaviour, Philip Denson the “messed up” ex-employee of Nicholas Morrow’s dad, John Marin’s attempts to kill the entire Wakefield family and probably a million others I’ve totally forgotten about. ¬†It’s interesting how, as a ‘light’ teenage book series, it’s actually more psychologically complex than nearly any YA book out at the time and deals with such a massive range of issues. ¬†Especially since in the 80s, a lot of mental health issues weren’t fully understood or known about which makes the depiction in Sweet Valley even more interesting and because it’s not given a ‘label’ or ‘diagnosis’, you’re given a real insight into that character’s thoughts and behaviours without judgement. ¬†Even if the novels are ‘easy read’, 137 page long teenage books, they cover a lot of pretty intense topics without seeming forced or fake and that makes it more accessible and easy to relate to than if it¬†were explicitly explained.

Will end the post now before I get totally carried away and write synopses of every book in the series! ¬†Definitely more Sweet Valley posts to come… ūüôā

Week review: DBT in practice- ACCEPTS

Last week was pretty rubbish emotion-wise.  I’ve been struggling a lot with feeling overwhelmed and vertigo-y, and it’s been getting worse over the last few weeks.  I’m also coming to the end of my current job and am about to start a new one, which is making me feel really anxious too so quite a lot going on at the moment.

After the losing a close friend, I had a pretty intense emotion crash which resulted in a lot of bingeing/purging and compulsive exercise which I’ve been trying really hard to manage over the last few months (after moving into a shared house and obviously don’t want my new housemate to know about that sort of thing) and I made a conscious decision to use DBT skills at every possible opportunity, not just when I’m feeling desperate or paranoid.  I’ve also decided to focus on one DBT skill a week in a blog post every weekend so this can be my ‘skill of the week’ for last week…

One of the distress tolerance skills I’ve found really useful this week is ACCEPTS.  DBT is full of acronyms which I kind of like because it makes it easier to remember the skills, and this one’s been particularly useful because it’s mainly about managing intense feelings/thoughts even if you can’t totally identify them which has definitely been true for me this week.  A stands for Activities, or doing something you enjoy.  I’ve been posting way more blog posts than people are probably interested in this week but it really has helped as a distraction technique and to try to express or regulate how I’m feeling.  I’ve also started drawing again which I’ve been really lazy about recently and am in the process of rereading the entire Sweet Valley High series which has actually become my go-to distress tolerance technique because it’s accessible via Kindle, easy to read and I ‘know’ the characters so well thanks for obsessive reading and fanfiction as a teenager, and it kind of feels like going home which is an amazing feeling.  I’ve kind of missed some of the characters (Olivia Davidson in particular- I’m avoiding the earthquake books!!) and it’s nice to read about other characters who feel ‘weird’ or like they’re getting things wrong as well as constantly aspiring to be more like Elizabeth Wakefield.  I learned a lot of social skills from SVH and I’m relearning some now, which I might end up blogging about at some point…

C is for Contribute- helping out other people.  I volunteer at Mind which I love, and recently started helping out again.  I love it for so many reasons; partly because I learn a lot from the groups too and from listening to service users, partly because the people who run the groups are awesome and I get a lot from listening to them too, and partly because I like feeling ‘useful’ or that I’m actually doing something constructive.  I’ve been doing voluntary work for nearly 17 years and it’s part of my life that I can’t imagine not doing, and I’ve got more from that than nearly anything else.  It’s amazing for everything from learning skills, acceptance, self esteem to basically anything positive you can think of!

The second C is Comparisons, or comparing where you are now to where you have been in the past.  This is a really useful one because it makes you realise that you have actually achieved stuff even if it feels like you’re constantly messing up.  A few years ago, I couldn’t keep a job and was ‘fully’ bingeing every day whereas now, I’ve had a job for over four months, I’m not living at home any more and the bingeing has reduced massively to low-level a few times a week.  I’ve also managed to be more assertive with relationships that aren’t healthy and am managing paranoid or obsessive thoughts so much better than a few years ago where they would literally take over my brain to the point where I couldn’t think about anything else.  Yes, I’m still feeling rubbish and get paranoid or obsessive on a regular basis but it’s nowhere near as intense and I’m hoping it’ll keep getting gradually less until it’s actually manageable…

E is the big one- Emotions, or more accurately OTHER emotions.  The point of this is to try to ‘displace’ the intense negative emotions with something positive that can distract from the intensity and make it more manageable.  My go-to way to do this is to watch The Big Bang Theory which is one of the only TV shows that is guaranteed to make me laugh and it really does work!  By some amazing coincidence, this week was the finale of season nine and had me in absolute hysterics which was AMAZING for temporarily getting rid of the vertigo and heart-clogging feeling I’ve had a lot over the last couple of weeks.  Won’t give it away for TBBT fans who haven’t seen it but it really is very, very funny!  Sometimes I wish I could watch TBBT several times a day to get the serotonin hit and to help to manage intense negative emotions, but playing scenes in my head does sometimes help (particularly if I pretend that I’m acting as one of the characters) and that’s something that might help other people with similar experiences?

P stand for Push away, or distracting your mind from whatever it is that you’re obsessing about or from negative emotions.  This is where I’ve been using my emotion card (see Opposite Action in action for more about that), and my rule is that I have to try at least two things from there before I can do anything potentially not-helpful.  Sometimes it works and it distracts for long enough for the urges to binge or cut to reduce to a more manageable level, sometimes it doesn’t.  But definitely worth a try!

T is for Thoughts- trying to manage the thoughts or make yourself think about something else.  This is the one I still haven’t managed to do properly so don’t really have much to add about it except that the theory is that by ‘making’ yourself think about something else, it sort of displaces the negative thoughts already there but my problem is that when I’m having obsessive or paranoid thoughts, I genuinely can’t get rid of them or think about anything else so I’m trying to find an alternative strategy…  For me, a couple of things that have helped are to ‘talk back’ to the thoughts like another person- I have a ‘bitch in my head’ who shouts at me a lot and a lot of the thoughts come from her, and I find it really useful to try to respond to her in a more compassionate or rational way, not to criticise her but to accept what she says and listen to her without actually believing her.  It sometimes helps, and the paranoid thoughts in particular are starting to reduce in intensity…

Last one is S: Sensations.  The idea of this is to use sensory stimulation to distract from the emotions, and it’s something I find especially useful because I tend to experience emotions ‘physically’ through vertigo, feeling like I’ve been punched in the stomach or chest, stinging feelings, dissociation, dizziness, feeling vacuum-y etc.  I have a few techniques I use a lot but smell is a big one- I carry smelling salts in my pocket and use them whenever I start to feel zoned out or dizzy and it really does help to ‘bring you back’ quickly and help you feel more ‘real’.  I also burn scented candles a lot to try to calm down, and play music to alter moods (I have a ‘mood stabilisers’ playlist as well as ‘happy/positive’ and ‘feeling rubbish’).  Taking a cold shower also helps if I’m feeling angry or overly hyped, or a hot bath if I’m feeling low or zoned out (careful with having a bath is you’re feeling dissociated, can make you feel worse and be dangerous- only if you’re just a bit ‘zoned’ or ‘unreal’ and not actually out of your body!).  I also use ‘soft’ things a lot and that’s really useful if I’m feeling low, vertigo-y or shaky; somethings wrapping up in a soft blanket and hugging a soft toy really helps to neutralise the vacuum or vertigo feeling.  There are obviously a lot of not-as-helpful sensation strategies which I won’t go into here, and it’s definitely best to use more constructive ones first if you can and see if that helps.  I tend to avoid taste-type ones because of ED issues but a lot of people find drinking hot chocolate good for feeling low or anxious, or eating something strong-tasting if you’re feeling zoned out.

Hopefully that makes sense and some of it is useful!  Will try to do a post like this about a different DBT skill every week…

Counselling

Recently, I started to see a new counsellor which has got me thinking a lot about different approaches to counselling and therapy, and how it’s so different for every person. ¬†I’ve seen various types of therapists over the last fifteen-ish years and I’d never really thought much about different approaches but the person I’m seeing at the moment has a very specific way of working- person-centred counselling which I’d heard of but I’d never really come across before. ¬†As anyone who’s read my blog posts before will know, I’m a massive advocate for DBT and approaches that have a direct, structured way to manage intense thoughts or emotions and the person-centred approach is about as far from that as you can get, so I’m not overly surprised I’ve found it difficult but it’s taken a few sessions to realise what it is about the approach I don’t really get on with.

In theory, person-centred counselling is a really good idea. ¬†It works on the idea that a person’s experience is individual and that they should be in control of the sessions and what is brought up- the counsellor/therapist is a facilitator who encourages the person to talk about how they feel and their experiences while being empathetic, non-judgmental and accepting of what the person is saying. ¬†There’s no ‘set’ format for the sessions and the idea is that the person talks about whatever they are feeling and want to discuss, and the counsellor/therapist listens to and empathises with the person so that they feel validated and can explore their feelings more openly in order to facilitate changes in themselves. ¬†I can see how, for a lot of people, this could be a really useful approach and could effect real change in how a person is feeling in a supportive and non-threatening way, but I’ve found it really difficult to get used to and I don’t think it’s the right approach for me which is a bit frustrating because I really do want to change the way I’m thinking and feeling and learn better ways to manage it.

I found the first session particularly difficult and uncomfortable. ¬†It was partly due to seeing someone new which is always scary and awkward, but also because of the unstructuredness of the session and the whole concept that it was up to me to decide what to talk about and I genuinely had no idea. ¬†There were a few things that made me uncomfortable and I think the counsellor was feeling similar, and I started to feel really, really anxious which didn’t help because I’d started to fidget a lot and dig my nails into my arm without realising it which is my automatic way to manage anxiety in social situations but I don’t think the counsellor realised that. ¬†She kept saying that I was in control of the sessions and that I should talk about how I’m feeling but part of the problem is that I don’t know how I’m feeling or what the feelings are and they’re too intense anyway, and I just want to get rid of them not talk about them! ¬†And I really need structure, which was making me really anxious.

At first, I thought that it was the lack of structure and focus on ‘feelings’ which was making me uncomfortable and in the second session, I was totally honest with her and said that I didn’t like the approach, I needed structure to the sessions, I didn’t know how I was feeling or if I even had ‘real’ emotions and that I didn’t like the idea of life as a ‘journey’ because it doesn’t feel like that, it’s just like existing at any given moment, and to be fair to her she did try to adjust to that and wrote a list of things to talk about. ¬†It didn’t really help though, it just felt artificial and she was still asking me to come up with the things on the list, but I know she was trying so I didn’t say anything. ¬†I realised pretty quickly though that the lack of structure wasn’t the main thing that was making me really anxious and uncomfortable- it was the ‘connection’ between the person and the counsellor that I really didn’t like and I’m not sure if I can keep going to the sessions if that’s an intrinsic part of the approach.

A big emphasis in person-centred counselling is the relationship between the person and the counsellor, and it’s meant to be a genuine, empathetic and unconditional sort of relationship. ¬†I really, really don’t feel comfortable with that at all- I’m not an emotional-type person, I very rarely get ‘close’ to people (even people I trust) and the whole idea makes me really anxious. ¬†She keeps talking about ‘walking with me’ which I don’t like or want- I’m really not comfortable with anything like that and she hardly knows me, and I’d much rather have a professional-type relationship where there’s no emotional connection at all. ¬†I can count on one hand the people I currently feel ‘close’ to and the fact that there’s more than one person terrifies me anyway, and I don’t like it.

The relationship idea¬†makes me really anxious and I can feel my defences going up when I’m talking to her- I’m minimising everything, shutting down any emotional reaction, being very matter-of-fact about anything that makes me even remotely upset or emotional, and I don’t think it’s helpful in any way at all. ¬†A few years ago, I saw a psychologist who used an integrative approach and sometimes veered into psychodynamic which has a similar feeling of unstructuredness and focus on ‘you’ and your experiences, and she used to comment that I “intellectualised” everything which I didn’t understand at the time but I’m more aware of now- it’s the way that I can actually feel my defences going up and I’m shutting her out without before I’ve even realised it. ¬†She doesn’t see that (thankfully) and I think she thinks that because I’m on the autism spectrum, I don’t get upset or anything like that in the same ’emotional’ way as a lot of people do, and I’m OK with her thinking that and I’ve even found myself encouraging it by agreeing that I don’t have ‘feelings’ (whereas actually, I do have the intensely but I don’t know what they are).

The other thing I’ve realised that I really don’t like about the approach is the ‘unconditional positive regard’ aspect of it, which is one of the foundations of person-centred counselling. ¬†The reason I think that I’m not comfortable with it is because I need boundaries and to know that the other person will tell me if I get something wrong or if I’m annoying them or anything like that. ¬†The problem with unconditional acceptance is that it kind of takes boundaries away because there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’, and that doesn’t feel safe. ¬†I know that a lot of my thoughts aren’t OK and I don’t want them to be ‘accepted’, and I need to know that she’s going to be direct about that except that I know she won’t because of the approach. ¬†She’s said a few times that nothing’s ‘wrong’ and everything you say is ‘OK’ but some thoughts aren’t OK, and that makes me feel really uncomfortable because I need to know that she’d say that, otherwise I can’t trust anything she says because I know she’ll just say everything’s OK and acceptable even if it really obviously isn’t. ¬†It’s like friendships- I feel much, much safer in a friendship if I know the other person will be direct and honest with me if I’m annoying or being too intense, and I need the same boundaries in counselling.

I could go on about this for ages but I think the main thing I’ve realised is that person-centred counselling really isn’t the right approach for me, which is frustrating but at least I’ve tried it. ¬†The counsellor said that I need to get a psychiatrist appointment to try to access more structured support so that’s the next step, I think… ¬†Would be really interested to hear from anyone else who’s had experience of person-centred counselling and hear your thoughts! ¬†Or any tips for being able to engage with it??

Run

Sometimes you feel like

you want to run forever

away from yourself.

 

Others you want to

curve inwards like a black hole

away from people

 

or stay forever

in fluid space between thoughts

where you don’t exist.

TOO MUCH EMOTION

This is a bit of an unfocussed post so I’ll apologise in advance for that.  I’ve been feeling intense vertigo and stinging in my chest over the last few weeks which are hard to explain properly, and this post is kind of about that and the loss of a close friendship and ways I’ve been trying to deal with it.  A lot of it will be about DBT skills because I’m finding more and more that it’s the only approach I’ve found that really does seem to have any sort of positive effect and at the moment, my life feels like a constant attempt at emotion and occasionally crisis management which is EXHAUSTING and horrible but I’m trying to trust the DBT philosophy that emotions eventually peak and subside and I’m trying to be mindful of that and the way it’s affecting my body and thoughts as well instead of acting instinctively or impulsively to reduce the intensity.  It’s been a bit up and down but I’m still writing blog posts and haven’t totally quit everything so that’s a definite positive!

This scene from ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ is, for me, one of the most emotional scenes of the whole HP series and one that’s definitely underrated.  It’s from the end of the book after Sirius has died and Harry’s struggling to cope with the loss and with his guilt about Sirius’ death.  In this scene, Dumbledore is annoyingly calm and detached which makes Harry feel even more angry, hurt and alone and when I first read it aged 16, I could completely relate to Harry’s violent urges to hit Dumbledore and smash his things because that intensity of emotion is HORRIBLE especially when it involves feelings of hurt, guilt and loss which are three of the hardest negative emotions to manage even on their own.  Harry’s reaction of ‘I DON’T CARE’ is a completely natural and typical response to being unable to deal with intense and conflicting negative emotions in a situation that you don’t understand and can’t control, but Dumbledore’s reply of “You care so much you feel as though you will bleed to death with the pain of it” describes exactly how that intensity feels physically.  There’s so much emotional complexity in this scene that goes far deeper than the loss of Sirius- Harry’s feelings of intense hurt and confusion from Dumbledore’s apparent indifference towards him over the year, his guilt in being a part of the situation that killed Sirius, his fear of being completely alone.  It all culminates and builds up inside him in a way that he can’t express or manage, and his experience of intense emotion is something that a lot of people who experience intense, overwhelming or conflicting emotions that they can’t understand or express can relate to.

A while ago, a close friend asked me not to keep contacting her which really, really hurt, and I’ve been finding it increasingly hard to manage my feelings about it.  At first, I felt really upset and cried a lot which was (I think) a typical reaction to the loss of a close friendship, but it started to hurt more intensely as time went by and the urges to contact her again became stronger.  It felt like intense vertigo and like there was a ‘vacuum’ inside me as though someone had sucked out all my organs and gradually that emptiness became filled with a heavy, cement-like feeling which is still there.  I started to feel more zoned out and ‘slowed-down’, and have found it hard to concentrate on anything much over the last few months which hasn’t helped with starting a new job (which, thankfully, I’m nearly at the end of the contract for now).  Then, over the last few weeks, I started to get a stinging feeling in my chest which feels like someone’s opened a wound there and is tipping salt into it, and I keep randomly crying with no real trigger or becoming so exhausted and overwhelmed with the feelings that I fall asleep which is both a massive relief and annoying because I feel zoned out for the rest of the day.

It also hasn’t helped that there’s been a lot of (unrelated) stuff going on recently which has involved a lot of things that remind me strongly of my friend, and that’s made the urges to contact her so strong that they’re sometimes so overwhelming that I’m physically hitting the side of my head to try to get rid of them and last week, I acted on the urge and sent her a message which she didn’t respond to and although it helped to reduce the urge at the time, I felt like the worst person in the world and so guilty about it the next day.  The feelings are so horrible at the moment that I can totally relate to Harry’s ‘I’VE HAD ENOUGH…I WANT OUT, I WANT IT TO END’ but I know there’s no constructive way to do that apart from the obvious which isn’t an option because of children I’ve worked with and am very close to, and the possible impact that could have on them.  I’ve also had a lot of thoughts recently about distancing from the kids and from the two people I’m currently ‘friends’ with, but I think that could hurt them even more and I don’t want to hurt anyone at all.  So I’m not really left with many options but I REALLY needed to do something because I genuinely can’t deal with it much longer and I’m scared I’ll do something impulsive and stupid to manage the feelings- I’ve kept it at low level bingeing/purging and superficial cutting at the moment (using DBT skills to manage the intensity which I’ll come to later) but I’m a bit worried the bingeing will swing to full-scale bulimia if I’m not careful or I’ll stop eating completely in the hope of getting rid of the emotion completely (see Obsessions for more info about that).

It’s been particularly bad over the last couple of weeks and I’ve been thinking a lot about unfriending my friend on Facebook so that I don’t have her updates on my feed but also so that I can’t act on the urges to keep messaging her (I don’t know her current email or home address and she lives abroad so texting’s out).  It was a really difficult decision for several reasons- I didn’t want to completely lose touch with her because even though she’s hurt me a lot over the last year or so, I still really miss her and the connection we had; I really, really don’t want to hurt or upset her, or make her feel the way I have done over the last few months and I’m not sure I could cope with the guilt if she did; we were friends for nearly 20 years which is a really, really long time and she knows more about me than anyone else ever including mental health professionals I saw for seven years; it’s my fault the friendship broke down because I was too intense/clingy and I really don’t want her to be upset because I’m shit at managing relationships and get paranoid.  But last night, I spoke to an old friend I haven’t seen in nearly ten years but who I was close friends with at school and she pointed out that if my friend had realised the impact asking me not to contact her would have, she wouldn’t have said it the way she did and that shows that the close connection we had’s already broken, and that made so much sense so last night, I unfriended my ex-best friend.

It was genuinely one of the hardest things I’ve ever done and I feel like such a bitch about it.  I couldn’t stop shaking and spent most of last night fighting urges to email her via her old email address, send her another friend request or try to message her but someone I really trust told me not to email because it would make her more upset so I didn’t contact her but I feel like the worst person in the world and a really, really selfish, bitchy and horrible person for unfriending without an explanation.  I’m feeling less shaky today but still really, really guilty and a bit zoned out.  I HATE my brain and how selfish I am.  I know that now it’s up to her if she wants to contact me and that she knows my email address and phone number so if she wants to, she can but I’m really, really hoping she won’t be feeling upset or hurt that I’ve unfriended her.  It’s not that I don’t like her- I do, but I can’t cope with this sort of feeling any more and I need to do something for self-protection and so that I don’t lose any relationships I currently have.  But I hate myself so much at the moment- I know it’s totally my fault and if I wasn’t so selfish, clingy and paranoid, it wouldn’t have got to that stage in the first place but this happens with nearly every relationship I have and I don’t know how to stop it.  I hate the way my brain (and body) react to situations like this and how intense it is, and I especially hate the intense urges which swing from ‘I need to contact this person NOW’ to needing to binge/vomit or cut to try to force out the guilt and horribleness inside my body.  I HATE MY BRAIN and I hate the way my body reacts physically.

Since I unfriended her, the vertigo has intensified and it feels like someone’s trying to pull my stomach out through my chest, and the intense stinging is like my heart’s being twisted and ripped out.  It’s horrible and it’s affecting the way I’m feeling in general- it took four attempts at getting dressed this morning to find something I felt OK in to go out the house and my mood’s even lower and more ‘shaky’ than it’s been over the last few weeks.  I’ve slowed right down to present moment and thankfully I don’t have work today, and I’m focussing on getting through each hour at a time.  I still feel like such as bitch though and I really, really want to apologise but DBT interpersonal skills say that you shouldn’t apologise unnecessarily even if it feels like you should.  So that brings me to the first DBT skill I’m going to look at- FAST.

FAST stands for fair, apology, stick to values and truth.  The aim of the skill is to manage interpersonal relationships without compromising your own self esteem or emotional wellbeing, and I think it’s a really useful (as well as really difficult) skill to use.  Being ‘fair’ applies to the other person but also to yourself, and involves being assertive and also listening to the other person.  I’ve tried this already and although I haven’t been as direct as I’d like to have been with her, I’ve been open with her in the past and she knows me well enough to know that I wouldn’t unfriend her in a passive-aggressive way.  It’s self-protection and although I haven’t said that directly, it would probably make things worse if I did.  I genuinely have tried to be as fair as I can.

According to DBT, over-apologising when it’s not completely justified can have a detrimental affect on self esteem and self respect, and make negative emotions worse.  It also points out that by apologising unnecessarily, you negate the effect when you actually do apologise which is something I hadn’t really thought about but is probably true.  I’ve been thinking about the situation a lot and although I still think I should apologise for unfriending her, I can see that by doing that, I’m emphasising my ‘fault’ in the whole situation and that’s not going to be helpful for trying to reduce guilt and get over it.  So I’m trying to be mindful of the guilt and urges to apologise without acting on them which is HARD but I think that if I can manage it, it could be a really positive thing.

Sticking to values means keeping to things that are important to you.  I find the concept of values hard but I know that being fair, direct, accepting, honest and assertive are qualities that I really respect and value in other people so I’d hope that they are values I can try to embody too.  In this situation, I don’t feel like I’ve really stuck to those values but I can’t see any way I could do without actually contacting her and explaining.  I have been accepting of her decision to stop the contact though and I think I’ve been as fair and direct as I can be, so maybe I’m halfway there.  It’s a hard skill though and I think I need to practise it a lot more before I’m able to actually use it properly.

Truthfulness is something that’s really important to me anyway and I think I’ve been as truthful as I can be.  Before we lost contact, I had mentioned to her that I was getting paranoid about people not actually being friends with me or wanting to keep in touch and I’ve always been open and honest with her, so I think she knows enough about how I think and react to know why I’ve acted like this.  If not, I’m h0ping she also knows me well enough to know that I’ll always be honest and truthful in emails so she can email me if she wants.

 I’ve also been using a LOT of the emotion regulation skills to try to deal with the intensity of emotion, both physical and emotional, I’ve been experiencing.  I won’t go into opposite action because I’ve already talked about it a lot in Opposite Action in action- more DBT!, but I’m going to look at other strategies such as seeing emotion as a wave and being mindful of emotions.  Both of these involve trying to distance from the emotion and seeing it as something that happens to you rather than being a part of you which I find really hard to get my head around in relation to emotions but I’ve managed in relation to thoughts via the bitch in my head (Inside my head‚Ķ), and I’ve been trying to link this to emotions by seeing my emotional state as something that the bitch in my head can hijack and gain access to via a skeleton key she’s got which gives her direct access to my feelings and emotions which she can then use to her advantage.

So for me, a big part of emotion regulation is trying to prevent her from having access to my emotions by accepting what she says without believing it, talking back to her and trying to be more compassionate towards her so she’s not as angry and sometimes that helps but sometimes she gets in before I’ve realised it.  That’s when the DBT emotion regulation skills come in and they’re a lot easier to apply when the emotions are a result of the bitch in my head rather than being an intrinsic part of ‘me’ and how I’m thinking or feeling.  Seeing emotion as a wave is based on the idea that emotions peak and eventually subside so if you try to distract or tolerate the emotion, it will eventually ease off to a more tolerable level.  I have a distress tolerance card which I’ve been relying on a lot recently to try to manage emotions, and it’s something I would recommend to anyone who experiences intense emotions- the idea is that you do at least two things from the card before any unhelpful behaviour and sometimes it does distract for long enough for the emotion to start to subside and (for me) the positive feelings associated with not acting on the emotion are often enough to help it subside completely to a point where I can manage it more easily.  It’s definitely worth making a card if you don’t already have one.  Mine’s colour-coded to make it easier to use when I’ve feeling intense emotion and that can help for some people.

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I’ve also been trying to be mindful of emotions which is really hard but it’s a skill I’m finding increasingly useful the more I practise it.  The basic idea is to observe and be aware of your emotions (even if you can’t identify what they are) and not judge them, and just ‘let’ them rise and fall.  It links to the wave idea and I’ve been trying to imagine emotional intensity rising and falling like waves, and sometimes this is easier than waiting for the wave to peak because it often feels like it won’t!  It’s really hard not to judge emotions though especially guilt or anxiety, and DBT thought and emotion defusion teaches you imagine the thought or judgement like leaves on a stream- recognise and acknowledge them but let them pass without fixating on them and this takes a LOT of practice but I’m starting to find it useful, especially with obsessive thoughts.

Outside of DBT skills, the other thing I find really useful for managing difficult emotions and trying not to act on them is use fictional characters as a sort of ‘channel’ or outlet for that emotion.  I’ve been doing this in various ways ever since I can remember but the most useful ones at the moment are the Sims and through Carrie Mathison from Homeland (I did a post on this a while ago called Learning emotion regulation via Carrie Mathison).  The Sims is a bit of a weird one because it can either be really, really useful or makes things a million times harder so I’m always a bit wary when I use it, but sometimes it can be really useful.  In a situation when I’m missing someone but know that contacting them would be too much, it’s actually really beneficial to ‘talk’ to that person on the Sims because it really does feel like you’re actually communicating with them and it can help you feel less lonely.  At the moment, that’s not a good idea in this particular situation because even seeing her as a Sim makes me feel really upset but what I have found useful on the Sims is creating an ‘ideal’ version of me and levelling up skills and career roles so it feels like I’m actually achieving something and that stimulates the same dopamine release as if you were actually doing something positive.  I know it’s not ‘real’ but as a short-term emotion management technique, it’s pretty useful and doesn’t involve annoying other people.

The other thing I’ve found really useful is rewatching parts of Homeland season five and trying to learn about relationship skills and emotion management from Carrie’s relationship with Saul.  Throughout the first few seasons, Saul is Carrie’s mentor and close friend and she really respects and looks up to him in a way she doesn’t with any other character, and there are several examples where they save each other’s lives or connect with each other on a deeper, more personal level and in season four, Carrie is described as “his child, practically”, and that really is the kind of relationship they have (although much more from Carrie’s perspective; there are also examples where Saul has ‘used’ Carrie to suit his or the agency’s needs).  But in between seasons four and five, Carrie and Saul have had a breakdown of their relationship and are no longer talking.  Carrie finds this difficult to deal with, particularly as Saul’s values seem to be diametrically opposed to her own, and throughout the season she attempts to reconnect with him.  When she is led to believe that Saul is trying to kill her, she describes their relationship as “someone I trusted more than I’ve ever trusted anyone” and there are a lot of examples of this throughout the series and of their mutual trust and respect for each other which, in some places, borders on an almost familial love.

In the other post, I wrote that “We don‚Äôt find out in Homeland what could have happened to make them split so intensely but I think from a self-protection perspective, Carrie couldn‚Äôt allow herself to become so emotionally vulnerable again which is why, when Saul tried to make up with her, she wouldn‚Äôt let him, telling him, ‘I‚Äôm not that person any more.’  When I first saw this, it genuinely made me cry but I really do accept why Carrie made that decision- she needs to protect herself and she‚Äôs come so far since season one/  Sometimes it‚Äôs really hard but you need to move on and accept that sometimes even very close, long term relationships end.  People change and you can‚Äôt do anything about that . It‚Äôs horrible, genuinely feels like you‚Äôre being punched repeatedly in the stomach and your chest is being ripped open but staying attached to the person that someone used to be isn‚Äôt helpful for either person.  Carrie made what is for her the right decision, and Saul needed to accept that.  It‚Äôs not going to be easy for either of them and there is an intense part of me that really, really wanted them to make it up but I know that wouldn‚Äôt have been possible and that one of them would have had to change and compromise themselves which wouldn‚Äôt be the basis for a healthy relationship.  Saul helped Carrie to grow and develop as a person and she provided him with emotional support and trust when he needed it, but they both changed and it was time for them to move on.”

I’ve been watching that scene over and over and although it’s made me cry and feel as though my heart’s being ripped several times over, I can see how Carrie needs to completely distance from Saul in order to rebuild emotionally and to protect herself from that intensity of feeling.  I’m guessing she must feel as guilty as I do at the moment, especially when Saul says, “Goddammit Carrie, I need you” and she replies, “And I said, I’m not that person any more”, and it must have been so hard for her to make that decision knowing that it was partly because of her that the friendship broke down and that she’s hurting Saul by cutting him off emotionally, but I think it really was the right decision.  She needs to protect herself and not allow herself to become emotionally vulnerable, and she can’t risk the same friendship break up happening again.  The emotional bond broke when they first became distanced from each other and that would be impossible to rebuild.

I found that really, really useful to think about because Carrie was as close to Saul as I was to my best friend, and they were close for a similar length of time.  Like me and my friend, they were very different people and the friendship was intense but also dependent on mutual communication.  Saul changed and moved on in a very similar way to my friend but Carrie stayed in the same emotionally intense state she’s always been in even if she’s learning to manage it more effectively now, and I think Saul just got to a point where he couldn’t tolerate it any more.  As Carrie grows, both as an officer and as person, she starts to act outside of Saul’s influence or instruction a lot more and doesn’t need his approval as much as she did in the past and Saul’s focussed on his career progression and the agency, so once they’ve split it’s really difficult for them to bond in the same way again.  I think it’s similar with my friend- we’ve both gone in very different directions over the last few years (or, more accurately, she’s moved on and I’ve stayed in the same place) and we don’t have the same sort of mutual connection any more that we had growing up.  It’s really hard to deal with and it really, really hurts but there’s nothing I can do to change that and that’s where the DBT skills come in.

It’s still hurting too much to draw any sort of line under it and I’m feeling like a mess of intense vertigo and stinging pain at the moment, but I’m hoping that I can get to the point that Carrie reached where, although there was a massive part of her that wanted to reconnect with Saul, she realised that it wasn’t possible, ‘real’ or healthy and made the decision to consciously distance herself and move on from it.  I have no idea how this will turn out and if my friend will even realise I’ve unfriended her, but I can’t do anything more and I need to distance from the whole situation.  So I’m going to try not to fixate on it or obsess over possibilities, and I want to eventually move on and accept whatever happens from here…