Learning to Be

knitting-time-smallI am fortunate enough to be having weekly counselling sessions with a psychologist through the NHS at the moment. We’ve been looking at my lack of an ability to assert a right to be. Living with M.E. and the threat of invasive thought patterns makes life a difficult trial of juggling balls. I had asked the psychologist for a letter explaining how I needed to pace myself with times in the day for doing nothing in order to maintain a calm presence in the world so I could show it to my partner. The question she asked was why I needed confirmation from an authority to justify talking about why the family need to work together in helping me through the day to day chaos?

Having a brain that is vulnerable to psychosis and the uncomfortable and loud thoughts that come with it occurs, I believe, because of an erosion of ego boundaries. It’s like looking at the world through a fish-eye lens. All the demands, needs, situations of the encroaching world serve to disintegrate a sense of self. As a child I learnt to put myself aside so much it’s as if the world and all the people who inhabit it take centre stage and I am somewhere floating on the periphery. Bringing myself back to reality is a constant game of hide and seek.

A letter from an outside agent confirming that I am at the centre of my own life is difficult to grasp when I don’t feel myself to be anywhere but outside looking in. I developed a powerful reflective capacity as a child as a survival mechanism to contend with all the delusionary thought patterns eg a belief that I was literally invisible. I learnt to understand that I couldn’t trust my mind or what it was telling me and that gave me an opportunity to be able to gain insight into my emotional make-up. A lot of that sense of disconnection can be seen in my drawings inhabited as they are by vague, half figures; forms like cloud-shapes that can be interpreted as one thing or another. The drawings mirror that fish-eye sense of feeling the world all at once in a chaotic whirl of thoughts and emotions.

I wonder if you, dear reader, can relate to this sense of what the psyche means to you? It’s a blessing to be able to empathise and to feel the world from a myriad of viewpoints; to be able to put yourself in another’s shoes, to coin a cliche. Where it becomes a problem is when you can’t put your own base level needs in focus. We all need a sense of ourselves to function in the world. But when the ego gets blurred there is a flip-side. Emotions like guilt and blame can easily become distorted, imposing irrational thoughts through the process of displacement of the ego. I never quite recovered from growing up with a belief in Armageddon imposed on me. All kinds of doom-laden news stories trigger a sense that the world is coming to an end. Intellectually I can tell myself that my thoughts are rubbish, but emotionally dealing with that level of distress is draining, to say the least.

I am glad to have this opportunity to put something of myself out into the world. It’s all a conundrum and I learnt long ago not to expect answers. I guess what I’m looking for is some reflection on how others relate to and experience their own minds.

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F2MN2MT and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at] btinternet.com
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9 Responses to Learning to Be

  1. bonkbipolar says:

    Learning to express myself in new ways has unlocked a portal in my mind, Teaching me that although i can be out going and forward to most people eyes, its mainly just an act and while i look strong and capable, on the out,,,, Infact its normally the opposite on the in.. moving along in life now and trying my hardest to cope under my own rules and not the meds.. using tools that i have acquired along my lifes journey so far.. knowing now that the thoughts and voices are not real-as iv spent the last 3 years actioning those voices and spent many nights sat in the dark listening to them, with great focus and interest!!
    Only to wear myself down and run those around me into the ground! The trips my mind has taken me on is unreal, and its only with strength and determination that im here now…. there still there as clear as day.. iv just changed the Chanel muffled the signal some what… Still involved in rapid thoughts and instead of acting on them,as i used to now just sit in a spiral of ideas and thoughts churning over and over and acting on nothing… Hiding from what??? Myself, Sat playing games inside a mind that is so fed up and fu*ked off with patheticness!! but yet still unable to change it..stuck in the rut and in the cycle that has no wheels, just pedaling fast and going nowhere.. Laughter i can do, making fun of myself or just being a clown!!
    Even through torment and pain ill defer from mind games with a joke or a laugh… Fantasy’s or reality’s there still in the memory banks, just hope with old age i can forget nightmares of past.
    im still learning to just be…..

    • Thanks for your honesty. I think you’ve expressed how hard it is when find focus when your mind feels so out of control. Yet there’s something powerfully attractive about being out of control… the unpredictability can be creative, or it can be destructive. And sometimes it is hard to see the difference. The world / life is such an incredibly unfair place and much as we might rant and rail, we can only change it by accepting what it is possible to change. Anger is an energy, but ultimately it eats us up if we can’t deal with it.

  2. Kaite O’Reilly sent the following comment by email:

    I found the entry very moving. Im reading it on my iPhone in Berlin and couldn’t find a way to comment on the blog and so am doing so here to you, dear Colin.

    This is quite miraculous, to me, to have this kind of incredible sharing – to post something that enables me to have an insight into an experience and life other than my own.I think i appreciate it so much because i am a playwright, creating other worlds and voices and characters…
    Wonderful drawings
    Quite an extraordinary site
    Thank you Colin
    Kaite x

  3. I spent a lot of time in hiding, with nature, in North London. I lived for the parks, waterways and open spaces. The freedom of being able to be with nature gave me the strength to surivive.

  4. Dolly Sen says:

    Another beautifully written piece. I loved the line ‘Bringing myself back to reality is a constant game of hide and seek.’ as it resonates with me. I sometimes feel I am playing 2 hide and seek games at once, one from psychosis and the other one from ‘reality’, and I can hide in neither.

    • Hidingis so important. I remember special hiding places from special school where I would go on my own or with a friend jus to be quiet and alone, protected by trees. I heavily recommend hiding places

  5. Not that it matters to either of us but I know we value each other. And if I ever stopped to think about it or indeed if we ever stopped to think about it we could write a whole list of people who value us. But does it matter. The patterns, the cycles we have learned helps us to forget it, enables us to lose ourselves in a constant search for comfort that never quite arrives. When I was well I valued love and I valued the concept of love. Its not a hippy thing. Its a real thing. it is out in the world but it seems there is a great lack of it to go around. I dropped a little poem off in my DAO blog today. It touched on that thought. (couldn’t get the lines in – the enter doesn’t work – guess you know that). We conceptualise a garden so perfect we call it paradise and we can strive to reach that eden but, the snake continues to hiss and I bite from the apple that it leads me to and whilst I cannot believe in evil, or refuse to, or at least maintain the goodness will eternally outweigh the bad; there exists a major gap, a yawning chasm, that I fall into and fall into and fall into, so far it swallows me up and leaves me lost without even myself for company – it is numb, it is empty, has no feeling, and the more I know tat the further I fall. I think I am learning enough to stay of it but acts of repetition return me there far too often for my good or any one else’s good. I am a lazy, dirty, no good man who doesn’t want to do anything, who can’t do anything. I am prone to the words of the snake. Don’t let it bite ya.

  6. I am in a similar position. I am receiving 16 weeks of cognitive analytical therapy. 10 weeks to go. I am looking at similar issues. The loss of self. I am deemed to have no value. I assume I have no value. I am told not to feel. I assume that I cannot feel. This is long term and derives, like you, from childhood and the stories that I was told in different places; within family and without. Stories is used very loosely here. I think I managed really well for a long time but entered crisis a couple of years back. I have resided in a very dark place since. Complete close down. Sometimes the sunshine reappears. Usually when someone says something that gives me a task to do in which I find a usefulness, a value. Doing is ok by me. Not doing is ok too – or was. ANyway that’s my story for now

    • Thanks for responding Rich. I know too well what you mean about feeling a lack of value, no matter how unjustified and how hard on yourself you are being. If you are told it enough times as a child it never quite goes away. I was set an impossible task of having to be Jesus to prove I had value. It was daft. I ended up pretty daft as a result. My only salvation has come through being able to laugh at how daft it all is.

      Somehow the messages people offer about having a sense of value just don’t connect. It feels like I’m constantly fighting to do as much as time allows for others, to try to get that feeling of having a value. But it just never comes.

      I laugh it off. I laugh at the world. I laugh at life for being such a stupid and ridiculous thing. Laughter is perhaps the only way of accepting that loss of self. I don’t know what it would be like to have a strong sense of self. I know it is not something that’s going to arrive on my doorstep, no matter how much I ask for it.

      Equally, I know many people with what I perceive as a strong sense of self, and I so often find myself asking does it do them any good? They get what they want perhaps… but is what they want what they need?

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