Tag Archives: mental illness

Wounds to Dress

This blog was originally going to be talking about handicrafts and gardening and cooking and learning to ‘homestead’ through the lens of Janeway and Chakotay finding themselves marooned on New Earth in the Delta Quadrant. I thought it was a good metaphor for my isolated life in rural Cornwall. I still hope to include those aspects – part of me longs for that ‘Good Life’.

But there are other issues which have come to the fore recently – related to my self-named status as a “progressive fundamentalist” which are forcing me to look long and hard at who I am and how I got here.

I have been speaking recently with another Star Trek RP account – Christian Janeway – and I have been amazed at how much we have in common. Conversations on Twitter, and with my children over the last week, have prompted me to recognise just how damaged and damaging I became as a member of a fundamentalist church in my youth and again as a young mother, and so I thought that, in the first instance, I would write a brief summary of what that has entailed. I wasn’t expecting to bare my soul or look deeply into difficult and painful corners, but I think it needs to be done; and as I have said elsewhere many times, my two favourite forms of therapy are Star Trek and writing. Even if nobody reads this and it helps nobody else, I hope it will help me to move on.

Beginnings

When I was very young (this was in the mid 70s through the mid 80s), my parents were happily attending a lively Pentecostal church in a small town north-west of London which happened to have a US ex-pat community. Somehow my parents came in to contact with American fundamentalist Baptist missionaries to England who dazzled them with personality, charisma and authoratative confidence and persuaded them to leave the Pentecostal church – which they convinced them was at best fake and at worst, probably of the devil – and start a new fundamentalist Baptist church with them. Before long there were a number of families and additional children associated with the new church.

I was mostly too young (approximately ages 6-13) to fully comprehend the depth of what was going on, what was being preached, and how my parents were more and more controlled in every area of their lives – to  my conscious mind, all was good, these were the best days of my life – because we saw so much of them, because they often stayed at our house, we were practically living in community with them. Our whole week was in some way or another controlled by the church. It wasn’t just Sunday morning and evening, it was Sunday lunchtime, midweek dinners, Bible study evenings, prayer meetings, members’ meetings, social calls. It was completely engulfing.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that my parents’ mental health was suffering in different ways (my mother later had a mental breakdown, my father expressed it as physical ill health).

We eventually escaped the church in two stages – firstly, the American Missionaries went home on furlough for a year, fully expecting my father (who had been partially trained, for about three years for the pastorate with their organisation) to keep the church going in their absence. What actually happened instead was that my father rebelled and pretty much immediately after the Missionaries left, allowed the families to go to another church during that time.

I don’t know what ire this behaviour invoked when the absent Pastor found out – I’m sure my father would have been on strict instructions to contact somebody else here in the UK from the organisation for assistance rather than allowing the church to close; my father kept everything close to his chest so I don’t know his thought process or decision process. I probably don’t know the half of it. I do know that my father never really ever recovered from the damage they did to him.

When the missionaries returned, they were obviously furious about what had happened and again although I don’t know the details, I can only infer that they made my parents’ lives a little bit hellish and so stage two was to move away from the area altogether. The missionaries were never able to re-establish the church in that area, and were eventually re-located by their organisation.

Initial Results

Right before we moved, I had a serious bicycle accident which was probably a hit and run (my memory of it is very hazy but my bike was definitely run over), in which I sustained a head injury which has affected my health ever since. This led to my mother becoming mentally ill. Around the same time I became mentally ill myself with Anorexia. I always thought that it was linked to my head injury, which it might be, but I am beginning to suspect that it might be an after-effect of the church. I will explore that at a later date.

My parents, prior to my mother’s breakdown, embarked on a search for the perfect church. Still affected by the fundamentalist teaching they had, and despite all the damage it had done to them, the new church had to measure up in some way to the church they had left, so after rejecting several perfectly nice churches, we ended up in another strict Baptist church with its own issues. (No doubt the most serious being that the Sunday School Superintendant was ‘having an affair’ with a 13 year old child. Note it was the 80s, so that was how it was phrased at the time).

When my mum got ill, the church were pretty incredibly useless and unhelpful, not being able to deal with mental illness, so that turned out to be a blessing in disguise and we were able to leave there.

Teenage

I spent some time at a very good church during my teenage years which was gently charismatic. A nice balance, not over-the-top crazy Pentecostal. (It was a Salvation Army by the way – they’re variable, and have their own issues, but I have to say that this was my happiest time and probably the healthiest church I ever attended.) The fact that it was charismatic would have bothered my parents considerably a few years earlier but by that stage they were beginning to realise that some of the fundamentalist teachings had been wrong and harmful, so they let it go. My mother even attended there for a while.

Marriage

To cut a very long story short, I hastily married the first boy I slept with and promptly regretted it, and hastily got into another relationship (with Chakotay). I was pretty consumed by guilt and shame which I had learned under the teachings I had learned early on, and so when I started home educating my children (for totally non-religious reasons!) I soon *put myself* under the teachings of extremely conservative fundamentalist teaching again. Everything was so familiar that I lapped it all up – quiverfull teaching, headcovering, submission for godly wives, corporal punishment for children (which I totally disagree with and regret btw) etc. I literally could not find a physical church conservative enough for me!

Messianic

Probably as a result of that irrational drive to find the most conservative form of Christianity, I started looking at the Messianic movement. I actually spent ten years in Messianic Judaism (one year of which actually involved rejecting the whole thing and seriously trying to convert to mainstream Judaism – another story, for another time), and I hope that I have taken and absorbed the best and most positive aspects. The actual physical fellowship I was involved with were absolutely lovely and kind and generous and unfundamentalist! But there is in Messianic Judaism – principally online, for me, as I’m in the UK – a very fundamentalist thread which is every bit as damaging as mainstream fundamentalism (if that’s a thing).

Unfortunately, I was under those two strains of teaching for long enough (20 years in total plus the original 6 or so) for me to perpetuate some of the abuse that was visited on me onto my children. It was totally unconscious and unintended, and I am utterly mortified at the damage I have done. Icheb, my eldest, seems to have borne the brunt of it all, while the others seem largely unaffected, thankfully.

I don’t quite remember how it happened, but something snapped at some point and I realised that I was part of something really very nasty and unhealthy that was replicating some of the exact same abuses that I had been part of as a child (being told that you must separate from every other sort of Christian, that the rest of the Church is wicked and evil and not of God etc for example).

Exile

Chakotay, who is not a religious man at all (alas, my Chakotay doesn’t even go in for spirituality) tolerated all of the above, mostly blissly ignorant of what was going on in my head, but he could see that I was getting physically and mentally ill and that was affecting the children. So he unilaterally decided to move us – hundreds of miles away from where we were, to a place so rural and isolated that there was no internet. I’m still a little bit angry with him for doing that (and I have mentioned my inability to speak up for myself earlier today). But in actual fact, it was a good call. The last six years have been long and hard and lonely and painful, but removing me from that whole social circle has enabled me to re-evaluate everything and begin to heal.

In many ways, he is my hero, and I am so grateful that he is such a gentle, kind, slow-to-wrath kind of man. He is certainly not without fault, but he has been so much more gracious and godly than so many Christians I have known.

Anyway. That is enough for now. These are some of the issues I want to work through here on this blog. I hope you will stick around and I hope it will help some people to heal too.

LLAP

Kathryn

Advertisements

Caretaker

It had occurred to me a while ago to start posting using the titles of the Voyager episodes, but life has been overwhelming over the past 6 months while I myself have – in a sense – been co-opted into the position of caretaker.

My (fairly) elderly mother moved in with us 6 months ago due to ill health at the time. But it transpired that much of her physical ill health was due to toxicity from her prescription medications, and now that that has been addressed, she is feeling physically well enough to go home again.

I can’t say how relieved I am.

We moved house into our new home with my mother, but consequently it has felt as though we were living in her house rather than the other way round. And I can’t begin to tell you how excruciatingly stressful it has been to have an effective stranger living in our home. Yes, she is my mother, but I have lived independently for almost 30 years, having left home at 16.

That’s not even to mention the fact that mother’s illness is not primarily physical but mental. I really don’t want to dwell on that here, but suffice to say that being a carer for a mentally ill person put extreme stress on me personally and my own mental health as well as the family generally.

One good thing that has come out of mother living with us has been that I finally admitted that I could not cope on my own with the housework (without putting to fine a point on it, none of the other 6 adults and teens in the house really do their fair share), and so I decided to employ cleaners to pull up the slack.

I wish I had been able to get over my pride/ guilt/ shame ten years ago when the children were little and I really needed help. Why do we women do this to ourselves? Struggle on, berating ourselves, assuming we have to do it all?

The only thing is that I’m not sure I’ll be able to afford them when mother leaves. But to be quite honest, I think that having my house and my life and independence back will be so wonderful that it won’t matter. I am really just looking forward to being alone together again.

I wanted moving to our new place to be the beginning of an adventure. It’s not quite the ‘homestead’ that I had dreamed of but it is our own place finally – with a garden where we cook grow food and do all those homemaker-y things I imagined I’d be able to learn here. It hasn’t been possible while mother has been living here, because all my energy has been focused on her. I feel terribly guilty about being selfish letting her go. But it is what she wants, and I am looking forward to resuming my “journey toward home”.

Perhaps, when we are more settled and have a solid routine, we could manage to let her return. But for now, I just need space and time to recover myself.

LLAP, Kathryn

Roundup of the Summer

I just thought, as the sun is streaming in where I am sitting and brightening my spirits, that I would do a quick (ha! Sorry it got long!) roundup of what’s been happening to me over the summer.

I’ve been very quiet, I’m sorry. I have noticed a pattern of becoming ill just as the summer is starting and getting a bit better as the weather and the seasons turn to autumn, but this year I have got progressively more ill as the summer has gone on – perhaps it’s due to the ‘Indian’ summer we’re having down here in Cornwall? (Which is lovely by the way!) I actually love the heat and the sunshine, but for some reason it doesn’t agree with my body.

Somebody suggested I might have reverse SAD, and I have struggled with depression and mental health issue this summer, so I don’t know if that is the cause of my summer lows, but it definitely wasn’t helped by some blood pressure tablets (Amlopidine) I was given. They did nothing to help my hypertension, but they totally flipped me out mentally. I stopped them and tried again three times so I know they were definitely the cause – I was experiencing racing thoughts, ultra-rapid changes of mood, agoraphobia and suicidal thoughts. I even contacted Outlook South-west for help, but they were only interested in the agoraphobia. I have had a series of telephone therapy sessions but it hasn’t really been very helpful. The racing thoughts and mood changes stopped as soon as I stopped taking Amlopidine, but the rest has stuck around. I think that all the stress and upset of eviction and the last few years made me vulnerable and susceptible to mental illness and Amlopidine pushed me over the edge.

At the same time, I was feeling very extremely ill physically, with increasing numbness, tingling, balance issues and migraines in addition to all my other symptoms. After being told for the umpteenth time by my GP that “there is nothing we can do for you”, I made the decision to change surgeries and get myself a new GP.

It was SO totally the right decision. Already I have been offered referrals to a Neurologist to rule out MS and a Rheumatologist to investigate the possibility of RA or Sjogrens with the promise of further referrals to come. Finally I am hopeful that it will be possible to get to the bottom of what my health issues really are and then move towards healing and health after so many years. (12 and counting)

On medical advice, I agreed that the vegan diet was doing me no good, and I have moved back to a paleo / primal style low carb diet. At first I only added fish but now I am back to eating meat as well. I began to feel better for the first three weeks and then crashed very badly. Having started to read Dr Sarah Myhill’s excellent book “Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Mitochondria not Hypochondria”, I have realised I was probably going too low carb (under 20g per day) and on her advice I am starting to take a supplement of a specific sugar called D-Ribose which she says is needed for certain hormonal conversions in the cells. It is a sugar which the body can normally synthesise itself, but people with ME can’t make it so it becomes an essential supplement. I will let you know when I have read more of the book and if I see any improvement. I’m also looking again at the Trim Healthy Mama diet (you know, the one that I slated not so long ago), realising I may need to incorporate some E meals (with light carbs) due to my health issues.

Incidentally, since going back to wheat-free, low carb / paleo / primal my blood pressure and cholesterol have almost normalised. Sadly, the weight is not shifting at all. (But at least it’s not going up any more as it did on vegan and vegetarian diets)

I haven’t been able to go to church since about May and that has definitely contributed to my feeling of malaise mentally. Even though we are living in town, I have been very isolated indeed. On the few occasions I have driven out to meet people I have been very ill afterwards so I am having to take it very easy and pace my energy out carefully.

On the housing front, I am not happy at all. Yesterday we went to see a house. It was big, but dark inside and it’s far away from husband’s work, so he didn’t like it and I can’t seem to persuade him to move. But it was beside a beautiful babbling brook that you could hear from inside or sit outside and watch it. When I got home I cried and shook with rage and grief. I feel so angry that husband moved us away from our home 5 years ago to seemingly never-ending stress, and doesn’t seem to care that it has made me so much sicker, that I haven’t been able to make friends, that I’m miserable and ill and that a three storey house is so totally inappropriate for somebody with ME.

I sat beside my bedroom window this morning and tried to imagine that the rumbling noise and clatter of building trucks and machinery was a babbling brook instead.

So my situation now is mixed. I am very happy and hopeful about my change of GP, but desperately unhappy about my living situation (and none too happy about my marriage).

I’m not sure whether I’m hopeful that things will improve as the autumn rolls in. I feel that I can’t be happy in this house, it’s just so stupidly arranged. Kitchen on the ground floor, living room on the first floor and bedrooms on the second floor. I just can’t cope. If I moved down to the tiny single bedroom on the ground floor, I’d need to go to the second floor to wash. I could go on and on but I won’t. Suffice to say, this house is making my life and health much worse, and I can’t wait to get out of here. The prospect of staying makes me desperate.

To finish on a light and happy note…. I try to come up with a list of 5 things to be grateful for every day (I sometimes post them on my @health_Shmi twitter account). Sometimes I struggle to come up with anything, in which case I am grateful for the 5 other people in my family. But here is today’s list: sunshine, hifi playing random CDs (Youngest son is my DJ), happy fat cat laying in the sun, daughter made me a coffee, and finally it is Friday and the weekend is coming 🙂

Enjoy!

Finding a Trail

I don’t normally make a big deal of Easter – I normally try to keep passover and if it coincides with Easter, well and good, but if it doesn’t, it’s just another weekend.

This year though we have relatives visiting over the long weekend, with all the attending issues of a family holiday. It has also become much more like Christmas since the weather changed and we’re all stuck indoors.

I would have liked to do things ‘my way’ in a much more Jewish context but with family visiting, I’ve been inundated with all the Eastery things I dislike about the Christian festival – chocolate eggs and bunnies and the temptation to gluttony and selfishness and bad tempers.

The issue of mental health, or rather illness has reared its head as well, and I can’t help feeling, in the context of Christ’s work on the cross supposedly including healing our diseases, just very frustrated and a little bit angry (with God? With the Church?). Why is there not more healing? Why are some faithful believers never healed?

Then there has been the inevitable holiday telly. We’ve been watching “Dances with Wolves” this afternoon.

One of the themes of the film is Identity, with American / Anglo culture clearly portrayed as lacking soul and integrity in comparison with the Lakota Sioux Indian culture.

Whilst there is undoubtedly some historical revisionism going on for the film, it does seem to be an ongoing theme of shame or guilt over historical English misdeeds, all related to the idea that somewhere along the way we lost that soul and lost who we were meant to be.

It’s an old film, but it still raises the questions (for me anyway) What does my name mean? Who are we? What is English culture? Is there anything of value that’s worth saving, redeeming, re-discovering, protecting? Is it a hybrid culture anyway, a mixture of Celtic, Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman, is it natural to carry on absorbing other cultures into our own?

But there is a deep longing, I think, to find deeper roots, so people are looking all over to find a solid path – in Buddhism or Paganism, atheism, politics, or even dare I say Judaism or Celtic Christianity.

I do believe that underneath it all is God the Rock, who is Jesus and He is solid and reliable. But in terms of health and mental health, the Rock seems so slippery, so covered in moss or seaweed or something that stops us quite getting hold of Him. How do we scrape away all the things that prevent us from holding on to the solid place?

“I was just thinking that of all the trails in this life, there are some that matter most. It is the trail of a true human being. I think you are on this trail, and it is good to see.” – Kicking Bird in Dances with Wolves

Open Letter to My Former Friends

For over ten years I lived and worked as a home educator in my former town. I worked tirelessly to run the Christian group, organising events and activities (mostly for free) in friendly co-operation with the secular groups. It is a deep regret that the group I set up did not continue after I left.

For a few years, it was absolutely great. Additionally, I started and briefly ran a home education learning co-op, and I ran several websites supporting, helping and encouraging people who wanted to start home educating.

I am told that ‘nice people’, and voluntary organisations in particular, are prone to infiltration and harassment from Dangerous People: twisted, troubled, manipulative individuals who may even have mental illnesses such as Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Fair enough. I’m sensitive, I hope, but I was also a fairly tough cookie, a good judge of character, and really not about to be troubled by That Sort of Thing because I’m basically pretty strong, I have a solid foundation, and I have a great circle of friends.

So far so good. Crazy person attacks, I fight back (with love to begin with, as much as possible, but make it clear that I won’t be walked over), problem solved.

What I wasn’t prepared for was how dastardly, cunningly clever the crazy people were (and we’re talking multiple crazies). Neither was I prepared for how easily my solid circle of friends could be swayed, poisoned against me and end up making the lies their own.

Character assassination is alarmingly easy to achieve. Social isolation, mental breakdown, even physical breakdown, easy-peasy. (It was at this point that my ME became much more serious, and I’m sure that stress is a major part of my health puzzle).

It obviously helps if your audience is slightly naïeve and a bit gullible, and perhaps prone to preconceptions and prejudice. (Not quite middle class? Not quite respectable? Must be suspect!)

But You – my friends – listened to the lies, believed them, maybe agreed with them (she is an insomniac, she is up all hours of the night on the internet, she’s can’t be looking after her children properly, easy couple of mental steps to “her children must be being abused”! She had post-natal depression, she must be mentally ill!)

You held a secret meeting to discuss me.

You lied to my face.

I hoped and prayed that the Truth would out, but it took years to do so; and finally, when the crazy people were revealed for what they were – manipulative, trouble-making liars (on a scale that would make you weep with laughter if this were fiction), you turned around and unapologetically laid all the blame for everything you had done at the feet of the crazy, disturbed, probably mentally ill person who actually, on reflection, had an excuse.

You had no excuse.

Three years ago, when I lost identical twins in miscarriage, my friends (and a couple in particular) – instead of supporting me emotionally or making any effort to understand how devastating it was (at my age, after so many years of hoping and longing and praying) – said the most appalling things to me. Amongst other things, they accused me of being selfish, self-indulgent, oh and a whole host of other things that I choose not to remember. “It’s not all about you!”

Wow.

I guess not.

I am told that the gossip ran along the lines that “she was never pregnant at all, she made it up.”

WHAT THE.

At this point we decided as a family to turn our backs on the whole toxic, bitchy, gossipy scene. This kind of constant battle really isn’t conducive to raising kids, or to home education, or to family. We left the city and moved away. Way away.

It has taken me three years to even begin to feel as though I am recovered.

Not once have I had a single apology.

Not a single one.

I tried my hand at reconciliation before we moved, but it really doesn’t work when a relationship is unbalanced with one side refusing to acknowledge their faults.

I am not twisted, and I’m not bitter, however easy that would be. I choose to walk in forgiveness whether or not you can acknowledge what you did.

But I sure do hope that you learned from the last few years – not only how twisted and dangerous the crazies are (that’s a given), but how vulnerable and easily persuaded and fooled you were. Because you were had. Not only did you contribute to emotionally damaging a friend and potentially destroying a happy family unit (remember how close you came to allowing the Crazy Woman to report us to Social Services?), you allowed lies to destroy a happy, supportive, stimulating social circle and home education group.

I presume the group itself recovered, moved on, has new people now. But what we had for those few years, that beautiful supportive, happy group of parents and children – is gone forever.

I mourn what I have lost.

I miss you.

I loved you.

I don’t do gossip, and I have always made it a rule to not say anything about anybody that I wouldn’t want that person to hear. I am still a nice person, I still volunteer and organise, and I always try to look for the good in people. (But I’m a little wiser now)

I know I’m not faultless in this, I know I said unkind things. I know I made bad decisions. I lost my temper. I hurt people. I apologised. I hope I have come out of this a little bit more mature, a little bit of a better person.

If you are willing to put your hand up and say, “Mea culpa”, I would be more than happy to reconcile.

There it is, an open door.

But if you want to argue, if you want to gossip and prevaricate a little bit more (I didn’t mention any names, you know who you are and which portion of this applies to you), I really don’t want to hear it.

I’m done.

Post-script

The night after I wrote this, I took it down after receiving some strange phone calls. It may have been an excessively paranoid reaction. I have re-read the post and decided to put it up again (minus the identifying locations). At the risk of possibly making me sound a little bit pathetic, and also possibly of upsetting and offending people, it is a chapter of my life that deserves not to be swept under the carpet. Lessons need to be learned, ultimately, and I feel that the best way for me to put this all behind me and move on is to make it public.

And so these three things remain: Faith, Hope and Charity (love) and the greatest of these is Charity. Love and forgiveness are paramount. I won’t waste my time bearing grudges.