Friday, 10 March 2017

The Distracted Parent

I have recently finished reading Eating the Elephant  by Alice Wells. I approached this book with trepidation, her story is disturbing and compelling, and beautifully written and constructed, which helps enormously to digest the content.  Her journey of discovering the vile world her husband assisted to perpetuate, using his own very small daughter to do so, is unspeakably horrific. He died before she was able to confront him.

Slowly it unfolds that he took hundreds of photos of his daughter and subjected her to abuse, very similar to my own experiences, although I hasten to add I was not abused by a family member.  I found the story of her daughter to be so comforting and helped me understand myself as a child that little bit better.

Alice, in the book, and in an interview I saw with her, describes her life before the death of her husband, that she was permanently distracted. We learn in mindfulness class that autopilot and distraction are the enemies to fully living, to fully live we must be fully present, and the same in parenting. To truly parent you must be present.

Modern life is hard, together with the regular pressures of feeding your child and keeping a roof over their head are so many demands. Holidays, toys, experiences, education all this stuff requires paying for. We need to work. We want jobs that are meaningful, that use our skills and capabilities. We need to be out of the house very often in order to do this, perhaps we have long commutes. We may have older relatives that need our time too, friendships that need nurturing and in all this we need our own play time and releases too.

Distraction is where potential child sexual abusers (PSAs) can flourish. Allow me to take a step back at this point.

When I first entered therapy for child sexual abuse in 2012 at the age of 40 one of the sessions was around why I was chosen to be abused. I felt sick at the thought. I genuinely thought that we were going to look at me, and what was it about me that made him want to abuse me.

A PSA requires two things to be successful. Firstly they require the desire to abuse a child. That desire pre exists, which is important to remember. It is nothing about the child, a normal person doesn’t see a child and suddenly have the desire to abuse, their desire is there already. It is never the child’s fault.

Secondly, that PSA requires access. The child needs to be accessible to abuse. Being a distracted parent gives a PSA potential access to the child.

What we need to consider here is what is being present? Being present is not the same as being there. You can be next to your child and not be present. Being present covers many bases. Do you know who your child’s friends are? Do you know their parents? Do you understand your child’s normal patterns? Do you understand the games that they play, the apps they use? Do you take a genuine interest in what they do? Would you recognise a change in behaviour? Would you know how to respond?

Being present also means being approachable. There is a sickening scene in Eating the Elephant where Alice recalls her daughter disclosing, prior to the death of her father and the subsequent discoveries, and Alice inadvertently shuts her down. She is repulsed by what Alice says, and changes the subject. At no time did she consider that Alice might have first hand experience of what she mentioned. I don’t blame Alice and there is a discussion in the book about how this came to be, that Alice, a trained doctor, missed a key disclosure.

A present parent is a paedophile’s worst nightmare and your best defence. You cannot wrap your child up and protect them from evil. You don’t teach your child the statistics about car travel. You don’t make them feel fearful every time they step into a car that they could be in an accident, that there are drunk and drugged drivers on the roads, people without licences, over tired truck drivers, busy motorways, boy racers, the list goes on.

Which brings me to the internet. Our children are growing up in a digital world. It is essential that you understand this world. I saw an article the other day about a parent horrified about Roblox and their child receiving messages. Joseph plays Roblox, however he does not have an account, he has to play as a guest, and even then Roblox has some issues. One day I was horrified to see Joseph making a hockey mask and talking about Jason. I had to Google to find out what this was all about, I had never watched a horror movie, and still haven’t, and it took some time to unravel all this from Joseph’s mind.

It’s easy to become distracted and lose track of your child in an online wormhole. As children get older and learn to cover their tracks it’s even harder to keep an eye on what they are doing and who they are talking to.

On Facebook many of my friends shared this video made by Leicestershire Police about Kayleigh, a true and highly distressing story.

What this brought to my mind is what if she had spoken to her parents. Are parents equipped to have a conversation about concerns regarding online behaviour. I’m not sure I would have known what to say if Kayleigh had come to me and told me she had met a boy online. I like to think I would have been open, encouraged discussion, and engaged with her over it. Or maybe I would have completely lost my shit and forced Kayleigh deeper into the arms of this monster. I don’t know.

To ride safely in a car you need the right seats, the correct seatbelts, you need a car in good working order. You need knowledge, about yourself, your own capabilities, your vehicle, the roads around you and an awareness of other road users. Not just other vehicles but pedestrians, animals, wildlife, changing road conditions etc.

So too with the internet. Driving can be highly pleasurable, as can internet usage. I love the internet and it has enriched my life in many ways. But I am an adult, even so I have made mistakes online, and no doubt Joseph will make more along the way. But by being present and connected I can help him make sense of the digital world, and he can help me make sense of his world too.

Being fearful of PSAs is the worst thing you can do. Fear can lead to distraction. Being knowledgeable, confident and present is the best thing you can do to protect your child from harm.

To be able to tackle an elephant you first need to know that it is there.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Missing: Personality

Entering Bangkok airport I feel into my bag. I feel again. I lurch my hand into the pocket in my rucksack. It was there this morning now it’s gone. I go to a bench, travellers everywhere, the airport a symphony of conversations, and I rifle through my bag. Not only my passport but my wallet has evaporated out of my bag.

I have lost my money, my credit cards, my picture of my son, my identity. My identity. How do I prove who I am?

The above isn’t true. I have never been to Bangkok sadly, although it is on the list, I haven’t stood in any of the world’s airports rifling through my bag desperately searching for my documents proving who I am.

I have, however, been in a frightfully busy accident and emergency department falling to pieces in the waiting room desperately in search of my identity. In the height of 3 month long mental health crisis I lost my passport. That thing in your brain that makes you you. I lost my personality.

It seems inconceivable that a personality can just go missing. Passports make a lot more sense. They are small, slippery, covetable. A desperate person can steal it in order to create a new identity, to conduct criminal activity, to escape a life of misery and obtain a new one.

I didn’t understand what was happening to me. I quite literally felt like I was in a movie watching someone else. I could feel myself sitting on the ceiling watching this woman in obvious distress crumble beneath me and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. The NHS response? Put me in a locked ward as a voluntary patient.

There I was met with kindness and compassion. A nurse gave me a pile of Mind printouts about dissociative disorders and depersonalisation. I had no idea. I had lost my personality and dissociated from myself.

I was sitting in the communal room with this pile of paperwork on dealing with distress wondering how to get my personality back.

I only needed to be in hospital 3 days. Whilst losing one’s personality is distressing it isn’t a mental illness. It’s a psychological one. No support, no medication, an unceremonious discharge back into the “community”.

I sat at home for weeks on end only leaving for essential trips. I lost my job. Having a job is a key part of having identity. I lost my relationships with several friends as I couldn’t relate to them as I had lost the thing that makes me me.

I could barely relate to my mother who travelled all the way from Tasmania as I needed her, but I didn’t know her because I wasn’t me. I was like an empty vessel of memories but with no identity. The only part of my identity I retained was that of mother. Joseph, as always, my anchor.
I remained under psychiatry for a time but the answer wasn’t there. I didn’t fit their categories. I wasn’t in psychosis, I didn’t have bipolar, I wasn’t schizophrenic, I wasn’t depressed. I couldn’t be depressed as I didn’t have a personality to be depressed.

I did some research and together with the psychiatrist the finding was that there was something wrong with me due to childhood trauma. So I made the brave decision to unpack it.

I finally got a brilliant psychologist and I set to work with the brilliant book Breaking Free and dissected my childhood bit by bit.

I had to shelve the bits that made me me when I was being abused. I couldn’t be there for that, it was too painful, too frightening. I used to sit on the ceiling and watch this monster devour the object beneath me, but it wasn’t me so it didn’t hurt.

Until child abuse hit the news, I could be completely objective about what had happened to me. It was seeing other people distressed about what had happened to them and feeling upset for them that made me realise that actually I had to be upset for what had happened to me. I had to grieve for the childhood that had been damaged by the monster.

I went to see a police officer locally and as I calmly explained what had happened to me his colour went white and he swallowed as if he had been sick. Actually, the stuff I deemed to be minor would get 7+ years in this country. This was serious. I had been abused for years by a monster. That took some getting used to.

I realised to get my personality back I had to stop being a survivor. I had to become a victim. This sounds counterintuitive. It was a dear friend in Australia who shared a piece by a doctor talking about his patients with chronic illnesses that wouldn’t get better as they wouldn’t rest, take their treatments and allow them to work. They insisted on being well people when actually they were sick.

To be a survivor you first have to be a victim. The process of acknowledging what had happened to that girl, allowing me to remember, to feel sick, to feel afraid, to be repulsed was the key to getting better. To realise that my parents had been totally unaware, that they weren’t to blame. To realise that safeguarding procedures, such as they were decades ago, completely failed me.

I had to be a victim and it was horrible. I have always identified as a survivor and a fighter, but that is what did me in, albeit temporarily.

Slowly I pieced together the things that made me me. My positivity, my kindness, my ability to talk to people and make them feel better about themselves and their situation, my creativity and my daftness. All the things that had been under the spotlight as possible symptoms of a psychiatric disorder were just the bits of me, that in isolation appeared weird but in the package of my personality completely fit.
I will never forget the brutality of being admitted into hospital, the first admission I had was so frightening that it deserves a post of its own, however that second admission brought me to a place of healing, of self acceptance and to realising what I had lost.

I’m not entirely sure it has completely returned yet, but bit by bit I am coming back into myself to be the person I was created to be.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

A Bolt from the Blue

I have been very quiet blogwise this year. Since becoming poorly in November a lot has happened and I didn't want to put things out on my blog that would be here forever. I have had a lot of help from unlikely sources, such as the DWP who have been nothing short of amazing, and have had high quality therapy and am feeling much stronger and ready to start moving on again.

Today I have had some information which has given me a bolt from the blue.

My mother has been painstakingly tracing our family history for many years. She is now at the stage where she knows quite a lot about her family and we are travelling to Ireland together later this month to see what more we can find.

The line we are looking at is my mother's maternal line and she has found her Great Great Grandmother Catherine Dinnen. As I was speaking to my mum this morning I wanted to find out more. And to my great surprise I found we had something in common.

Catherine was from County Cavan in Ireland, it sounds like she worked very hard from a young age. She came to New South Wales and then Tasmania as a free settler sponsored by her ex convict brother. She married and had three sons.

Very sadly she died at the age of 27 having her third son William, who died when he was 18 from meningitis.

Catherine died of convulsions. Eclamptic shock. A bolt from the blue.

This was 1871 in Tasmania, in a very rural and remote area. We don't know much about maternal care she would have received, but I doubt that there would have been a doctor present. William was baptised on the day of his birth. He must have been in very poor condition and the fact that he survived until 18 is quite something, many babies even now, do not survive a pregnancy where pre eclampsia is present.

There are three competing emotions for me right now. A feeling of solidarity, that I am not the only one in my family to have been visited by severe pre eclampsia.

The second a huge feeling of gratitude to the researchers, the doctors, the midwives, the nurses, everyone who plays a part in ensuring the safety of women in pregnancy and childbirth now. How very fortunate and blessed I was to have come through this experience physically unscathed with an extremely healthy child.

And thirdly, that feeling of obligation. In many countries in the world they haven't come as far from 1870's Tasmania as we have here. That women are still very vulnerable to pre eclampsia without access to medication, safe caesarean sections and high quality aftercare. Too many women do not have access to safe medical facilities and medical personnel.

Maternal healthcare is a huge issue and still massively important to me.

To my great great grandmother Catherine, thank you for your bravery, your tenacity and for giving me my great grandfather, and this proud Irish family that made their home in Tasmania.

Campaigning on maternal health is something that took a back seat when I was in my previous job role, but now it can be back on my agenda.

This trip to Ireland will, perhaps, be a turning point in my own recovery and an opportunity to refresh, regroup and get ready for what is ahead.


Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Year 2 SATS Strike

Can you believe my son is now in year 2, and about to take Year 2 SATS. It weighed heavily on my mind whether to take part in the Year 2 SATS strike today as this write up in the Independent explains.

I have deliberately not written much about Joseph since he started school. There are a couple of reasons for this, mainly that I asked him about blogging and whilst he was largely ambivalent about being the subject of blog posts he did have concerns about his digital footprint when he becomes a cardiac surgeon.

Also, Joseph had a lot of problems starting school. I am well aware this blog is a "go to" for many parents and I didn't want to make others frightened about sending their prematurely born children to school.

The debate about Year 2 SATS that's been all over the press has been very alarming. Hearing about children being stressed and upset about them is worrying.

Joseph has no idea Year 2 SATS exist. Yes he's sitting them, but he won't know the "importance" of the tests. The children have been doing preparation all academic year but the school haven't informed them of the reasons behind this increase in academic work. I totally accept and agree with the approach.

So the main reason we haven't partaken in strike action today is that Joseph is unaware SATS exist and if he didn't attend school today I would have to tell him why he is not attending.

The second reason is that Joseph loves school. He doesn't know of the controversy around curriculum, he just knows that he loves his teachers, his friends and enjoys learning. Our school are doing a fantastic job, within the restraints of this frankly ridiculous system.

I didn't want to keep Joseph off and send mixed messages to him. At the end of the day it is I who have a problem with the Year 2 SATS not him. No one is going to ask Joseph at his university interviews what his Year 2 SATS score was. It is meaningless to him, it's a judge of the school and the teaching, not his ability.

Another reason I haven't participated is that no one else is at our school. For collective action to be anywhere near effective it has to be collective, it needs to have impact. This government's track record on being held accountable to strike action is clear. If junior doctors withdrawal of labour for 48 hours doesn't force the government to change what is a few kids missing Year 2 going to do. Yep. Nothing.

The decision to take part in the strike was mine to make and I disagree with children being used to back up their parent's ideology. If Joseph new about the SATS and was concerned about them, my decision may well have been different. If he was older and able to way up the pros and cons of strike action I would have presented him a choice.

Joseph is a very sensitive bright child, with an excellent knowledge of sciences, beautiful reasoning ability and fantastic at playing complex games on the iPad. He is not a natural at maths and his handwriting has been on a long journey, although it's getting there now.

I don't care what the SATS say. However, hand on heart I do believe SATS play a part in ensuring standardisation for schools. I think they are an evil we are stuck with. I do believe Nicky Morgan and the Conservative government need to take a long hard look at their policies and make some serious changes for the sake of our children.

However I do not believe for one moment that today's Year 2 SATS strike will achieve that at all.

I sent Joseph off with the rest of his peers with a smile and a kiss and look forward to not hearing about his day later!

"How was school today Joseph?"

"Fine" he will reply

"What did you today Joseph?"

"Nothing", if he replies at all.

Familiar anyone?


Thursday, 10 March 2016

Walk in Her Shoes

Many of you know that I have been working on my fitness for the past year. A large part of my routine is my steps, I aim for at least 10 000 a day. Walking has become my therapy, a time for reflection, music, sometimes even tears.

When I heard about Walk in Her Shoes for Care International UK I immediately signed up. They are inviting people to walk 10 000 steps every day between 21-27 March to raise at least £100 to help communities around the world.

It's not too late to sign up to join in! Signing up is easy! Alternatively you can sponsor me here, every little does help, and even £1 will be a huge help to get me to my £100 target.

As well as my trusty fitbit, I have this dedicated pedometer ready. I aim to do my normal 10 000 steps but my 10 000 Walk in Her Shoes steps will be additional to this! I will post my totals on my Instagram account every day so you can follow my progress.
My trusty trainers will be put to one side. To truly walk in her shoes I will be doing my 10 000 steps in sandals or flip flops every day, in solidarity with the women who walk kilometres a day to collect water for their families. My own sponsor child Shwe Yi does this in Myanmar, collecting the family water from a communal artesian well. When I found this out my heart went out to her. I can't imagine how living without running water must be like.

I hope you enjoy following my challenge and again if you can spare a pound or two please sponsor me

Friday, 12 February 2016

Lent - Giving up Not Blogging

Oh my blog how I have missed you.

I've been going through a tough time since about September. I started to sense my citalopram had stopped working, I took time off work and begged for help from my GP who had just joined the practice and didn't know me. Sadly it took a hospital admission to get any form of help. They immediately took me off the citalopram that I had been on for two years which sent me into a bit of a tailspin.

A second admission has given me a bit more insight into what the hell is going on, but I am not totally well yet.

So it appears the PTSD has been resolved, that is the active part - the flashbacks and the nightmares. However many of the patterns remain, those that have built up since childhood. They are not calling it PTSD now. No one seems to know what it is, or if it is a "thing" or if it is just me. Personality disorders have been ruled out but traits seems to remain. Who knows.

What is clear is that I have periods of emotional distress. When I am very distressed I dissociate, no one has called it a disorder as yet, it's coping mechanism I learnt as a very young child. When very frightened I can choose to go outside my body. It's very odd to explain but I guess in a way it's what we are taught to do in meditation, to dissociate from the pain to be "with it" rather than "in it" I can just do it in a very fast and extreme way, but the real issue is it takes ages to get back "in" my body again, and that's when problems occur, I become visibly distressed and on this occasion, end up in a secure unit. Twice.

The upshot is, I have temporarily seemed to have lost my coping mechanisms and I am very emotional, which isn't like me. Normally I can choose when to express my emotions but at the moment I can't at all. Because I have discovered this dissociative disorder, I now no longer trust myself and my ability to cope appropriately.

It's not pleasant. So I am no longer working and am now on Employment Support Allowance whilst I try and get this sorted and back into employment again.

I have thought long and hard about whether blogging is "appropriate". Blogging has helped me in the past and it will help me now and if a future employer has an issue with the fact I have talked about my mental health online, I need to find another one. I am me, I am part and parcel of the things that have happened to me. I am strong, resilient and kind, and self kindness is where we start.

I need to blog to keep myself together so here I am!


Saturday, 26 December 2015

A Blessed Christmas

Christmas morning commenced with an excited 6 year old creeping down the stairs and 5 am. I was already up as I get really excited at Christmas. He wanted to open his presents and I reached a compromise agreement that he could open his stocking presents but the rest had to wait until dad awoke.

After present opening I walked to church and attended morning service. On the way I saw two women and a white dog acting suspiciously near a wheelie bin. I called out "are you ok?" They shouted back "we are homeless". So I went and said hello. One lady had been homeless but had a flat, the other sofa surfed.

What happened next chilled me to my bone "we are climbing in bins looking for toys for children. The children of crack addicts get forgotten as their parents won't access to the free schemes". These women had got up to search for toys. One of the women had a tyrannosaurus rex in her pocket. Turns out the scary white dog had no teeth.

After church I returned home. My husband requested prawn cocktail. I kind of knew the sauce recipe but tweeted on the #joinin hashtag for ideas. I got it made with some sririchacha sauce for extra zing.

I prepared the rest of the meal and tidied up a bit. As I was busy in the kitchen I heard a sound. I turned around and was immediately terrified as to what I saw.
I immediately Instragrammed it as I wasn't sure what or who it was. It transpires it was Kylo Ren from something called "The Force Awakens" I have lived to tell the tale.
In order to give thanks for my lucky escape from the clutches of Kylo Ren I attended Evensong. I was the only person there! Apart from the priest, so we did it together. It was incredibly moving.

On the way home I saw a family in the rain adjusting the cover on their pushchair. I spoke to them. It turns out they are Syrian refugees. I smiled and welcomed them to the UK. I explained I was from Australia and I had moved to escape bad memories back home. He said "You are refugee just like me."

I asked him if they were Muslim. (only because if we become friends and I cook for them I need to know to cook fish or buy halal meat), he said "we are Muslim but not Isis".

I felt sick. This family have been walking around thinking we all think Syrians are Isis. My dear God.
I said emphatically "You can't be ISIS and Muslim it's impossible. You believe the ten commandments just as we do. Murder is forbidden in both our religions, which have so much in common".

We exchanged pleasantries and they said "Merry Christmas".

I walked home. I started to hear footsteps. They were walking my way.

I insisted they come and see where I live.

I opened the door and said to my husband "look what followed me home". I had previously rung him to tell him what had happened. He welcomed this family, who had to go home or we would have invited them in. Joseph was upset as he was dying to play with the little boy and teach him about Kylo Ren.

I will help this family to have their first English friends. I will help them assimilate.

I am so blessed to have found this country and I have the best life ever.

Bring on the New Year!!!!! Bring it on I say!!!!