Tales from times of exhaustion #4 – managing thoughts and feelings

The longer my physical struggles go on the more energy I have to spend on managing my thoughts and feelings.

Just did a mood intervention because I was finding myself spiralling downwards fast.

Body crashing, pain creeping into my neck and head, soft tissue stiffening up all over.

Thoughts of the pointlessness of it all, thoughts of the countless times when its been like this before, thoughts of giving up and just withdrawing – into myself, away from all my difficulties, away to some other world where I don’t have to deal with my limitations.

Feelings of intense inadequacy, frustration with myself – frustration with anything really, losing motivation to try to do anything, sadness about all the things I can’t do, anxiety about all the things I need to do and don’t know when I’ll be able to…

When spiralling down it can draw me into a state of mental and physical lethargy. In glimpses of clarity and awareness I realise I have to step back and try to shift things. Sometimes these glimpses are so short that I’ve forgotten about it the next moment. Other times they are long enough for me to actually make a move.

I had a big cup of sweet, creamy coffee and a big bowl of dark cherries (anti-oxidants, muscle recovery and sleep), melon (hydration, fibre), vanilla ice cream (combination of cold and sweet seem to stimulate my brain and clear my thinking, smell and taste of vanilla calms me) and dark chocolate (flavanols). And some pain killers.

It can feel like a failure when I can’t manage my pain and I have to take pain killers during the day. I try to manage my pain through a mixture of activity, stretching, heat and distraction and then only take pain killers in the evening to help my muscles relax in the night so I’m not too stiff in the morning.

My back is really vulnerable at the moment and the pain is draining me. I want to participate in a ballet performance this coming weekend and have been trying to pace myself. I have been struggling with my feet as well lately and my calves have been tight. So I skipped ballet Monday evening in order to have the energy for a class Tuesday and for the weekend. Tuesday evening I try and do all I know to keep my muscles warm and subtle and not strain anything. I’ve got my ankle support bands on. The room is warm and its generally a gentle class. Yet I manage to strain my left calf… It happens so quickly that I can’t do anything about it.

So now my mobility is even more limited. Forget about intense exhaustion, soft tissue that stays stiff no matter how much I stretch and move it, in-explainable pain everywhere and tightness that gives me internal claustrophobia. This is just a plain, stupid injury and it seems so unfair.

I feel infuriated and hopeless. Even if I wanted to do gardening or walking I couldn’t. I can just about walk around the house and up and down the stairs. As long as I don’t stretch my leg it seems ok.

I’ve got my feet up and am resting my calf in the hope that it will get well enough for me to do the performance on Sunday. It’s naive and ambitious but I am not willing to accept that something I actually feel like doing – when I generally don’t feel like doing much of anything – might not be possible.

It’s incredibly demoralising to do everything you know to look after yourself and yet your body seems to keep deteriorating… My bouts of low mood come on quicker, go lower and are more tricky to disperse. Shifting my state of mind means I have to believe its worthwhile. My energy is so limited that I am continuously prioritising and hoping that what I am choosing to do will be helpful.

When I feel low my thoughts and feelings seem to circle around themes like

  • me not feeling able to contribute to my community
  • me not being able to do practical chores
  • me not being able to relax
  • me not being able to socialise
  • me not being able to enjoy things I normally take pleasure in
  • me not being able to be present and kind when with my partner
  • me not being able to engage with things I feel passionate about
  • me not being able to do physical exercise without feeling significantly worse
  • me not feeling part of life around me

So overall feeling quite disabled and overwhelmed by internalised ableism… When I look at my feelings of inadequacy I find that there are certain areas (or needs) that I can focus on to help myself choose ways to shift my state of mind.

I feel disconnected and isolated so I try to think of things that can help me feel more connected without feeling overwhelmed. I feel purposeless so I can try and do things that are meaningful to me. I am experiencing so much pain and discomfort that actively creating pleasure for myself can bring temporary relief.

Meaning/purpose

  • doing small manageable bits of work like respond to one or two emails or messages
  • talking through work with my partner and requesting he take more of a lead on specific tasks so that I still feel involved but not overwhelmed with responsibility
  • set realistic standards for myself in work I have to do – simplify things
  • finding meaning outside of work e.g. appreciating days when I am able to do some weeding and caring for my plants
  • personal writing when I can even when it means postponing work writing

Comfort/pleasure

  • treat myself – finding a balance between eating and drinking things that comfort me but also sustain me (nutrition dense, supporting steady blood sugar levels etc)
  • check in with my body whether things I think are nice for me (to eat or do) are actually nice at the time. At the moment I can’t always rely on my previous experiences of pleasure. Being sensitised things I normally enjoy can feel very uncomfortable and overwhelming
  • being pain-free is not the goal. Pleasure and comfort coexists with pain – I can experience pleasure and comfort at the same time as I experience pain. So I cannot measure how successful an intervention is by whether it relieves pain but rather by other effects it might have – like lifting my mood, giving me a bit of energy, clearing my mind, making me feel calmer or helping me laugh
  • singing along to music I like. Most of the time I can’t cope with ‘the noise’ of music but when I can I find it helps me to sing
  • watching some familiar tv series – familiarity is comforting and it saves me from the unpredictability of watching new stuff
  • I am so grateful that the world cup is on at the moment. It gives structure to my day and I have something to watch that I don’t feel attached to so it doesn’t overstimulate me
  • buying stuff… This one is tricky and I need to do it discerningly as my decision making is really poor at the moment which can lead to more frustration than pleasure

Connection/belonging

  • accepting that socialising usually causes a minor crash but I have to believe it is worthwhile
  • being discerning about social media because at the moment it can make me feel more disconnected
  • forgive myself for not remembering or not having the head to respond to people I care about. Responding when I can and accepting that my responses are going to be short. Luckily most people I know don’t seem to take offence
  • savouring the views where I live and try and focus on the joy of living here rather than the frustration that I can’t get out into it much
  • connecting with myself and with parts of me that don’t get much space at the moment. Self-connecetion is tricky because it generally means connecting with uncomfortable feelings and sensations and then I have to spend a lot of energy on self-compassion. But I try and tune in and see if there is anything I can do to give space to parts of me – like my playful self – without it being too exhausting

Tales from times of exhaustion #3 – rapidly fluctuating

Having a rubbish day.

Have left the kettle boiling away 4 times now… Kitchen is well steamed. Have no attention span what so ever. And my coordination sucks so am constantly dropping things and misjudging my movements.

Don’t have much patience with myself on a day like this. Wish I could just lie down and sleep and not be aware of anything. But if I lie down I start thinking about all sorts. Especially all the things I want or need to do but can’t. So I am up and about trying to keep myself distracted without doing too many stupid things…

Last week I was in a swamp of exhaustion. This week I am fluctuating rapidly which is frustrating to deal with. In a different way than the full on collapse. Last week I was readjusting to a massive change in ability and energy. This week I am having to constantly readjust to my fluctuating mood, fluctuating energy levels and fluctuating tolerance of my environment. I can go from feeling alright to feeling completely overwhelmed within minutes.

I want steady linear progress. I want certainty and predictability. I want to know that if I do A then I will feel like Z or C… But no. Because factor K, P, X, F, Y etc plays in. It’s a bloody mess. If I do A at one time I might feel Z but if I do it an hour later or in a different room or on a full stomach or after having done B then it affects me differently. There’s no knowing when things are going to be ok for a while and when they’ll suddenly go to pots.

I am forced to be patient with myself and deal with the here and now as it is. Whatever the here and now is at any given time.

I’ve had good days and bad days this week. Good hours and bad hours.

Bad times are annoying. But good times have their own challenges. The temptation to start doing loads and getting a bit high from relief. Where as I should be keeping a low activity level and rest as much as I do on a bad day… But the restlessness has been stored up and is overflowing. So when my energy is better I inevitably do too much and then there is a backlash. I do need to take advantage of energy ups – I need to move and socialise because it helps my overall state. But I need to pace myself. Constant trial and error.

I can’t make plans and I can’t commit to anything because I am not reliable and I don’t like disappointing people. Luckily I’ve got a friend who lives around the corner who is understanding and who I feel comfortable around even when I feel rubbish. It helps me to avoid complete isolation. Because the less I socialise the harder it gets. Socialising don’t come easy to me anyway so I have to keep practicing otherwise it just becomes this massive hurdle to get over and I have to re-train myself to be around people which can take a while.

My therapist has talked with me about a concept called ‘the window of tolerance’ which I am finding quite useful. Thinking about my fluctuating mood and energy in terms of over- and understimulation helps me accept what’s going on and readjust in more appropriate ways. Finding that space where being me feels tolerable. Where I am not understimulated (feeling low and sad) and not overstimulated (irritable and confused). My window of tolerance exapands and shrinks. Sometimes it takes nothing for me to start fluctuating. Other times I can test my limits a little bit.

Having to rest and slow down is a lot hard work…

Tales from times of exhaustion #2 – how a day might go

Food is my focus. To eat at least 2 good meals throughout the day. But this takes a lot of planning. No energy for spontaneous creative cooking or hours of shopping and preparations. Also I have to cook things I will actually eat which can be tricky as my desire for food is diminished and changeable.

I don’t want to eat junk food – it’s tempting. Quick and comforting. But I know it will prolong my exhaustion if not make it worse. I do allow myself to have treats like ice-cream because it helps my mood. Overall I try to get vegetables and protein into my body.

Sometimes I prepare breakfast in the evening. Sometimes it works out that Rufus makes porridge and I’m up early enough to have some too. Then I don’t have to worry about eating for a couple of hours. If neither of those work out I’m likely not to eat till midday or early afternoon.

In order to have a proper evening meal I cook in intervals. Sometimes I start in the morning. I do some preparations for 20 min. Then a couple of hours later I’ll get a bit more done. My aim is to only have to do 20-30 min in the evening before we eat. On a bad day I leave the cooking to Rufus.

I try to slowly stop or lower my intake stuff I know can be straining for my body to deal with. Caffeine, sugar and dairy. One thing at a time. Caffeine is usually the easiest. Sugar and dairy I just try to minimised as much as possible without going cold turkey.

I loose my sense of time. I’ll get up between 8 and 9, figure out food in between rests and suddenly it’ll be afternoon. I try and remember if there is anything urgent I need to do or messages I need to respond to. I might get 1 or 2 things done – like a wash or some writing – before it’s time to do the last preparations for dinner. We eat around 7.30pm or 8pm and then I rest again.

Getting outside is tricky – too much going on, noises, people and bright light. It’s easier if I go with Rufus or a friend or if I have a task like getting cream from the corner shop or checking on the plants in the garden. I try and get out at least once doesn’t matter if it’s just 10 min. On a bad day I dont get out at all and I don’t always realise.

Any energy I have after sorting out food I spend on tidying and washing up. External chaos causes me anxiety and panicky feelings which are draining so I try to keep things around me as non-stimulating as possible.

Any rest I have usually means half lying down on the sofa and watching something. Something just entertaining enough to keep my mind from thinking and simple enough so I don’t need to really pay attention to follow it. I need to be in a state somewhere between distraction and low level stimulation. Too much stimulation and I have a melt down. Too distracted and I forget too many things and have a melt down.

When I’ve been still for a while it hurts like hell to get moving again. So it’s tempting to stay still. But I know its just a downward spiral of further exhaustion and pain. Too much rest creates problems too.

Figuring out what to do and how much to do is a constant puzzle. I have to try and trust my experience of having gone through this before. Because a lot of the time there is no instant effect of anything I do. No relief, no sign that it is helpful. So it’s hard to stick with what is sensible and what I believe works. Daydreams of drug induced highs or oblivion starts coming along. Dealing with physical exhaustion is as much about looking after my thoughts and feelings as it is about looking after my body.

Tales from times of exhaustion #1 – the initial readjusting

I wish my body collapsing on me would be as intriguing as this house collapsing. But it’s really not.

 

It’s been coming and it’s understandable but it’s still frustrating and depressing. I had hoped to catch it in time and I slowed down but no luck.
I am now trying to settle in to the state of things. Readjust to the current level of tiredness, pain and cognitive limitations.
My days more or less consist of thinking of something I need to do and then forgetting it. This include basic things like eating, drinking, getting dressed or going for a pee… Then remembering it again, try and decide if I am able to do it. I usually have a time frame of 20 min of activity before I will have to rest for X amount of time…
Am still managing to get out of bed every morning which is good. Mainly because the pain means I can’t keep lying down. Silver linings…
I am not able to get outside much which makes me feel sad. Having to do as little as possible and yet just enough to keep me from getting caught in unhelpful thoughts. My main mantra is ‘you’re exhausted and that is understandable’ – cause dealing with my body collapsing also means dealing with all kinds of internalised judgemental crap that I’ve been socialised to think.
Cooking and eating are my main priorities as well as keeping my environment neat so that it doesn’t cause anxiety, overstimulation and panicky episodes.
I am having to rethink my plans for the next months. Simplify, slow down and be sensible. And worst of all ask for help with stuff and rely more on Rufus than I’m comfortable with.
Hopefully this first week will be the worst – I know I can make a difference if I just focus on food, rest and manageable movement and I’ll eventually get out of this absolutely awful sense of being caught in sand. Like when you are dreaming and you want to speak, open your eyes or move and you just can’t no matter how hard you try. Same sense of heavyness and confusion.
Then I’ll just have to wait and see how long it takes to recover to a more acceptable level of limitations…

Migraines

Post migraine exhaustion…
Been trying to finish this tiny portion of apple-cinnamon-porridge for the past hour or more… Some migraines leave my body in a right state and it takes a couple of days to recover. I feel hungry but too nauseous to eat. I know that eating is the only way to stabilise my body so I keep trying.

I get different kinds of headaches. Having had headaches since childhood Ive learned to distinguish the different types and sometimes that helps me look after them better.

I also get different kinds of migraines. I get hormone related ones which are pretty awful but usually I can do some stuff. They feel like my liver has decided to stop working and my body is full of toxins and the migraine is a kind of rebooting of my body.
Then I get migraines from eating stuff I shouldn’t have though it’s not always easy to predict if I’ll get one or not… They feel like my stomach is shouting at the rest of my body and my gut stops working so everything else stops working too. It literally feels like the pain in my head has travelled from my stomach up along my spine and into my head. These ones often pass if I manage to get some salt and sugar and stabilising foods like butternut squash, potatoes and sweet potatoes. (That kind of food can also help with the hormonal migraines I find)
Then there are tension migraines that usually start as a headache and develop into a really bad headache with migraine like features.
And finally there are the m*****f***** evil migraines. The superior migraine of migraines. The ones where there is nothing I can do. Nothing brings relief. And I just have to wait and wait and wait. Time stops existing because there is only this moment of pain and then the next one. And the next one… And I whine and I moan because I don’t know what to do. But that doesn’t change anything and it’s too loud anyway so I stop. And even though I’m in a dark quiet room, everything is too much. My own breathing is too much. The sensations of my body is too much. Movements make me throw up. The throwing up is not like normal throwing up. It’s like my body goes into spasms and I can barely breathe. My body will keep trying to throw up long after it’s emptied itself. These migraines seems to be like a trauma response. If I’ve been doing too much and gotten too intensely overstimulated. It’s my body’s way of stopping me and screaming at me. At times it can feel like my body is incredible furious with me and that there is nothing it can do but go into migraine mode.

With some of the other migraines it’s a relief once they start receiding. But with this one the pain goes away ever so slowly and I continue to feel weak and nauseated. I also feel like it could get worse again if I do too much so recovering is a slow and careful process.

So I have to be patient and I try to accept that I have to slow down for a couple of days. Not easy, though. Things I need to do. Things I want to do.

In the aftermath of a migraine I try to appreciate the migraine as a teacher. It tells me about my limits (however annoying it is to become aware of limitations) and it teaches me patience. It also helps me refocus and think about what my priorities are – what is most important for me, here and now. It also teaches me to have a very nuanced perspective on pain and appreciate times when I am in less pain.

Real lives, real experiences, real wisdom

There is such an untapped wealth of knowledge and wisdom that comes from people’s personal experiences of finding their way through life.

Integrated Voices (its current working title) is a website being developed by Hearing the Voice in Durham and when I first heard about the plan to create this online resource, I got really and properly excited.

I don’t often get really and properly excited. I’m not an excitable person – I am more of a reflective and calm (outwardly anyway) kind of person.

When I do get excited, several of the voices I hear will start commenting on my thoughts and feelings. Especially one voice will get very active, telling me all the reasons why getting excited about anything is a bad idea. I am pretty sure she sees herself as ‘the voice of reason’ but I just find myself feeling more anxious when she comes along. I don’t like feeling anxious. She thinks a bit of anxiety is healthy and will keep me safe. We have debates about this, her and I, in my mind.

As far back as I can remember I have heard and sensed things that other people don’t. Invisible beings – both friendly and scary, critical voices in my mind, disembodied voices from my environment, repetitive voices, loud voices, supportive voices, annoying voices, presences using non-verbal communication and many more experiences like this.

When I was about 8 I realised that not everyone has these experiences and for the following 15 years I tried to figure out what was going on for me. And I was trying to figure it out on my own.

Back then the internet was just in its infancy, so most information came through books. I ended up reading books on spirituality, psychology and psychiatry without finding much that seemed useful to me. Eventually I started reaching out for help from others and in 2005 I joined a project in Aarhus (Denmark) for people who had experiences similar to mine.

It was such a relief to find a community.

Connecting with others, sharing stories, ideas and strategies and getting creative together about ways to cope when things were difficult. Sharing difficulties and joys, supporting each other and witnessing each other’s journeys. It was a new experience for me because I was used to feeling like a bit of an alien and on the outside of things going on around me.

Being part of the project fired up a passion in me for destigmatising experiences often seen as ‘abnormal’ or ‘psychotic’ such as hearing or sensing things that others don’t.

I know that I was lucky to find community and information that was useful to me. I have heard many people talk about how difficult it is to find information that feels relevant to their personal situation.

Even though the internet has come out of its infancy and is now bursting with all sorts of information, it is striking that there still isn’t a website such as the one Hearing the Voice is aiming to develop. There are particularly two things that got me wanting to get involved; the team at Hearing the Voice is looking for diverse experiences and they are wanting to make the website as engaging and accessible as possible.

We believe that it is important that this section of the website is developed by people with personal experience of hearing voices and includes a variety of different perspectives and experiences. We want the website to reach out to as many people as possible, to feel accessible, engaging and ‘real’, and to showcase knowledge gained through lived experience, alongside that which comes from research.

Hearing the Voice

From now and until May 4th I will be trying to collect as many stories, quotes and ideas about coping as possible. These contributions will help shape the Integrated Voices website and hopefully make it feel relevant to a diverse range of people looking for information.

I am getting support from my partner Rufus and help from the team at Hearing the Voice to do this work – and so far I am quite enjoying myself.

To contribute

I am aware that calling it ‘hearing voices’ doesn’t resonate with everyone. We would love to hear from people who have experiences such as djinns, spirit guides, schizophrenia, auditory hallucinations, persecution, electronic harassment, intrusive thoughts, thought transmissions, inner voices, ancestors and invisible presences.

If you are reading this and you have personal experience of hearing and sensing things that others don’t, please consider if you want to contribute in one way or another.

If you are supporting someone who hears or senses things it would be great if you could make them aware of this project and find out if they want to contribute.

There is also a questionnaire for family, friends and supporters which you can find HERE.

Online questionnaire

We have launched an online questionnaire. It consists of about 10 open ended questions about everyday life with experiences such as voices, coping with these experiences and talking about them with others.

Go to questionnaires HERE

If you prefer a word document or paper version of the questionnaire you can contact me to arrange this.

Focus groups

We will be facilitating two focus group sessions – one in Manchester on Friday May 4th and one in London on Thursday May 3rd see more HERE

Interviews

If you would like to share your experiences and ideas about coping in a 1 to 1 interview you are welcome to get in touch. We might be able to meet to do the interview depending on where you live but we could also do it over the phone. We would like to audio record interviews to make sure we don’t miss anything or misunderstand. Any material we collect will be kept securely and won’t be shared with anyone without your permission.

If you are interested or have any questions about interviews, please contact me by email openmindedtraining@gmail.com

Visiting Hearing Voices groups

I am arranging to visit different Hearing Voices Groups in the UK to have informal sessions where people can share their knowledge and stories. If you are a member or a facilitator of a group and you want to contribute you are welcome to get in touch and we can look at different possibilities.

Deadline for participating will be May 4th

Contact me by email openmindedtraining@gmail.com or phone 07926685432

 

Information about Integrated Voices and Hearing the Voice

Hearing the Voice is currently working with members of the voice-hearing community to develop Integrated Voices – a new online resource that will help people find clear, balanced and comprehensive information about hearing and experiencing things that could be understood as ‘voices’.

The hope is that Integrated Voices will make it easier for people to find information about different approaches to hearing voices and ways of supporting those who are struggling with the voices they hear.

The website will have 3 key sections:

  • Understanding Voices
  • Living with Voices
  • Working with Voices

Each section will have modules linking to a variety of resources, multi-media, freely accessible research articles, personal narratives, reviews of the evidence base for specific therapies and (where appropriate) sources of support.

Hearing the Voice (HtV) is an eight-year multidisciplinary research project based in Durham, UK.

It combines insights from the humanities and sciences to provide a better understanding of the experience of hearing voices.

The project is funded by a Wellcome Trust Collaborative Award in Humanities and Social Sciences until 2020.

More information about Hearing the Voice: www.hearingthevoice.org

Transitions

After two weeks on the road and working intensely in Ireland, I am now back home.

I am fortunate that I love where I live and I love my home life with my partner. I feel like I have been away from home for too long. Despite my relief and gratitude I also notice feelings of anxiety and restlessness.

Very unlike me, I got up quite quickly this morning after waking up and got a lift with my partner into the little town we live nearby. I had a meeting later in the morning and thought I might as well go to a cafe and wait.

I am finding myself still in the cafe – nearly 5 hours later. Been catching up on work, responding to emails and getting an overview of November. But I am also idling… Not really wanting to go home.

I think I am surfing the wave of energy that I have created while I was away. For me to cope with working intensely it is necessary for me to create these waves. And its exciting while it lasts – I get a lot done. But I cannot maintain such high levels of energy.

Sitting here, feeling my restlessness and noticing my reluctance to go home, I realise I am struggling with the transition. I don’t want to get off the wave.

I know I am overstimulated from all the experiences and inputs I had while in Ireland. I also know I am anxious about the coming month. And because of the busyness of the past 2-3 months – and the awareness of the busyness of November – I get a slightly constricted sensation in my body. A feeling of not being able to breathe or think – like I can’t hold the things  that I need to prepare for in my head. As if these things are just out of reach within my mind and a fear of forgetting something important starts creeping in. I find myself beginning to make lists to help me remember. I go over my diaries and plans repeatedly. I feel my ability to focus is slipping away.

Surfing a wave of energy – even when manufactured by myself – creates a sense of focus. I take one thing at a time and accept that I cannot prepare for the next thing until the present work is over. I find myself determined and capable in ways that are slightly unfamiliar. I was – amongst other things – able to deliver a 2 day workshop with my partner despite being ill with the flu. And in the 2 days off I had scheduled in for myself between work, I ended up being out and about rather than resting. While I realise some people might call this ‘flow’ to me it feels like a somewhat compartmentalised state of being.

Coming home I can feel how this compartmentalisation is crumbling. Daily life with daily chores, concerns and responsibilities, daily life dynamics with my partner and daily life dynamics within myself – it all makes me aware of the parts of me I have had to push to the side to ride this wave.

There is grief in transitions, I find. And frustration of having to let go of a certain state of mind. Learning to be aware of transitions and honour them has been important to me, but to do that I have to slow down.

I am apprehensive about the next couple of days. Will I crash? Will I feel caught in limbo unable to crash because we are going away again 3 times in November? What will this crash look like (physical illness, low mood, exhaustion or something else) and how will I manage it? What if I don’t crash – what will I do?

Earlier in the year I had plans to take 3 months out – a sabbatical. To clear my head, step back from my life and try to create space to rethink how I do things and see if I need to refocus. I had hoped it would be November, December and January. But work related things have come up that feel too important to pass it up. And then I planned a trip to Denmark and suddenly November and December feel full. Of good things but too full for me to properly take that step back.

I wonder if I will find the determination to make my sabbatical happen. I will have to commit to saying no. Maybe part of me feel anxious about stepping back from work. Like now – the fear of missing out when I don’t stay on the wave. But just in a bigger way – 3 months seem like a long time…

Gallery

Who needs a father anyway?

Who needs a father when there are so many good men in the world doing their best to relate to women (and men) in kind and meaningful ways…?

It was father’s day here in the UK very recently and as always it makes me feel slightly torn. I enjoy the posts I see on Facebook where friends share their love and appreciation for their fathers, stepfathers, grandfathers and any other kind of father one could think of. I loved the look on my partners face when he came to tell me his sons had brought him chocolate because of father’s day. I just generally feel joyful when people show each other that they care.

But another part of me gets annoyed with father’s day and I catch myself having inner dialogues about “how superficial and commercial it all is”.

When I take a closer look at my annoyance I find that it is just self-protective palaver designed to keep certain feelings at bay. Feelings of sadness and confusion – a deep grief that never really eases or shifts.

When new people come into my life – or when I do training and talk about my life – at one point people will ask about my family and my parents. And I will often just talk about my mother and my siblings. Some people will continue to talk about my parents in plural or they will ask about my father and this is when I say “I don’t have a father”. And I really, really mean that; I grew up without a father – or even a stepfather – and I still don’t have a father. Because the man who contributed to the creation of me has never taken an interest in me.

My mother decided to raise me on her own and she also decided not to get into a relationship again, which meant that there were no male role models close to me as a grew up.

Even though my mother’s feelings towards my father must have been complex, she never said a bad word about him to me; when I was young she would tell me very simple stories about him when I asked. Stories about how he looked and how he worked on ships.

My mother also seemed very aware of her own limitations raising me as a single mother. She made sure I spent time with my great aunt and uncle as well as families of friends so that I could experience different kinds of family lives and learn social skills that she couldn’t teach me.

As I got older life got more complicated for me and I began to wish that I had a father – someone who would love and support my mother but also someone who could help with the conflicts between my mother and I. I started to wonder why my mother was on her own and why my father wasn’t interested in me and in my powerlessness to change the situation I started believing that I was cursed. That there was something evil about me and that this evil had put a curse on my mother and I so that neither of us would ever be loved.

This belief was in some ways easier to cope with than the anger I felt towards my mother – the anger just caused me more pain and shame while the belief that I was cursed gave me something to work with.

If I could just be “a good girl” and keep the evil under control, then things could change.

The irony is that knowing my mother as I know her now, I am pretty sure she never wanted me to be “a good girl”. My mother has always supported my self-expression, autonomy and uniqueness and I know she noticed it when I began to struggle as a kid.

She did what she could to support me but I imagine it was difficult as I began to withdraw emotionally and refused to talk about what was going on. Looking back, I also think it was near impossible for me to express all the thoughts and feelings I had as I was only 8-9 years old and didn’t have a language for it.

I have a very clear memory of deciding not to talk about the things I was struggling with because I didn’t think anybody would understand (I barely understood myself) but also I was worried about contaminating others with all the horrible things I felt inside.

Keeping the belief that I was unlovable alive, wasn’t difficult – it’s pretty easy to make sure you love people who can’t or won’t love you back and there it is: proof that you are unlovable. I’ve done that a lot. Also I used to avoid building friendships that I wanted to last because I couldn’t cope with the pain of separating from people.

But I didn’t get to control everything in my life – luckily! So somehow people started coming into my life who just seemed to like me and care about me without me doing anything to deserve it…

As the years passed I slowly got more comfortable around men who were nice to me – though I still get pangs of paranoia and think to myself that they are only kind to me because they want something from me. But I kept finding the courage to trust and little by little my experience of having meaningful friendships with men helped me create a new belief system within me. Belief in my own worth and my own strength; that I could trust my own judgement about what I needed, about my boundaries, that I had the skills to look after myself in a gentle way and that I had something valuable to bring to the world.

Most importantly I began to receive the love that was offered to me.

I don’t know what my life would have been like had I had a father – somethings might have been easier and somethings might have been harder.

I do know that I deeply treasure my relationship with my mother and had I had a father it would not have been what it is today – simply because the dynamics between us would have been different.

I also know that I really like how I am (well, most of the time anyway); I like the values I have, my outlook on life and the way I experience the world. And I would be a different person had anything in the past 35 years turned out differently than it did.

Part of being who I am, is living with this grief in the pit of my stomach; it is not quite loss, not quite longing, not quite abandonment or rejection. It is more like an emptiness or nothingness, a not knowing but at the same time it has density and a certain heaviness to it and its dark, dark blue…

This blog is written to celebrate all those men in my life – past and present – who have related to me in ways that made me feel loved and valuable.

Men who were able to meet my needs for safety, joy, choice, nurturing, respect, mutuality, acceptance, consistency, integrity, openness and growth.

Thank you!

The black-blue pain may never dissolve but your presence in my life has made it easier to carry.

The list of men who have helped me on my journey is actually surprisingly long. I have begun to write it out in more details and with stories but it suddenly felt too personal and exposing so maybe that list is for another post on a later occasion…