Memories of Pain beyond Pain

This morning I was sitting on the bus with my wife on our regular morning commute to Belfast when, for some reason, I started to drag up some very old memories of being in first year at school. One memory in particular came to mind; I remember staring at this girl in my English class and I obviously looked a little too long; I think I had started to daydream about something, when she snapped, “What are you looking at?”

I must disclose that I was still dealing with the trauma of my dad’s murder just 3yrs before. In addition to this, I had lost a full years’ worth of memories, my mother had moved a new partner in, we moved from Belfast to Antrim, I then had my 11+, changed school again for the 3rd time in 3yrs, my self-confidence and self-esteem were at all-time lows, I was dealing with the beginnings of survivors guilt, my mental health problems had begun to accelerate, I didn’t trust anyone, I thought people were all out to make fun of me, I was starting to self-harm in different ways and I was also dealing with anger issues that were directed entirely towards myself.

In an instant I was able to examine all the different ways this could go wrong for me if I had told her the truth. My initial thought was to reply, “something beautiful looking back.” But I already knew nothing would ever happen between us; I was unpopular and a bit of an outcast. I was never tall or muscular or popular with the ladies (I am nearly 40, happily married, but even now I would struggle, if my marriage ever failed, to meet someone new as some issues have never been examined nor dealt with). I also read the tone of her voice – the venom and warnings it contained and the clear message that I was shopping where I could never afford, and even if I could, it was not for sale to people like me, and the aggression that told me to clearly back off as far as possible as quickly as possible. It was something I have heard often before and since, when I have been attracted to girls my age or slightly older/younger by a year or 3. 

I also knew that if I told her my initial thought, meaning it as a compliment and nothing more, that she would seize upon the chance to humiliate me as I think she would feel like I had made her feel unclean by even considering looking at her in a way that denoted any sort of attraction or appreciation of beauty. All this went through my head in less than half a second and I realised I had only one option open to us both was to tell her something that would allow her to verbally get her point across and, having dealt with the situation to her satisfaction, despite the pain I knew it would cause me, I needed to lie to her.

So I replied, “something ugly looking back.” She replied, “Well you must be looking in a mirror then!”

Back then I was never good at reading between the lines, and even now that still applies. What I was and always have been, however, am deeply respectful. I always knew that if I was told “no” then I that would be the end of it and I would not pursue the matter.

However, in another window of insight into my developing mental health problems, I never always obeyed this rule. Don’t get me wrong, I never physically touched anyone or forced myself upon anyone – that would be something I could never forgive and I would self-harm until I felt I had been suitably punished, even if other people did. But I didn’t always take no for an answer. I was 11 or 12 and hormones were starting to compete with my level of self-control over my mental state. When I finally gave up, I made myself write 100 lines as a punishment. In a few years this would progress to starvation, cutting with a blade, punching walls (I once went 34hrs without drinking any liquid and I wanted to go much much further), mentally beating myself to a pulp every day and night and l began to think of ways to end my own life. I prayed that day would come very soon.

As the years were to go on through my teens and my defeats grew ever higher whilst my successes remained at the Zero mark (13+ strikeouts (I stopped counting) versus ZERO successes), my mental health problems within this area were to get ever worse and also contribute to other destructive behaviour aimed at myself to cause as much internal pain as I could. I must also point out that when I mean I struck-out, I don’t mean on an intimate level, I mean on ANY level. And it wasn’t just the continuous rejections; it was the way they were handed out.

I could never figure out what I was doing wrong, but I was also never told what, if anything I was doing right either. I was destined to keep making the same mistakes, but also hoping for different results every time (the very definition of insanity). I got to be beyond desperate. I prayed every night for nearly 2yrs, without answer. In the end I had to assume that the thing that was wrong was…me. My very existence was what was wrong. I represented everything a person DIDN’T want in a partner.

I took advice from everyone I could think off and when I wasn’t asking I was observing. I tried being upfront and asked people out = FAIL. I played the friend game = FAIL. I played the long game = FAIL. I played the waiting game in the hope that someone would ask me out = FAIL; and this was partly because when it did happen I was always distrustful (see the contradiction in behaviours emerging again?) and thought that they wanted to humiliate me as others have done, so I was too quick to reject them. And then I self-harmed as a result of blowing another chance. That anger that came as a result…is just…WOW!!! Like a nuclear blast going off inside my ribcage. Mental pain beyond pain; mental agony beyond words. I would scream my head off, and had enough control that the sound that escaped my lips was a mere whisper. I always felt that if I fully let it out that the only way to stop the pain would be to kill myself. And it wasn’t just the pain; it was the energy that came with it. It was more than my physical body could cope with or contain.

Remember the venom I spoke about? That was something I came to know the pain off only too well. The disgusted look on their faces, the tone of voice used; it wasn’t just heart breaking…it was soul destroying. It was also something I look and internalised. When I looked in a mirror I saw the most disgusting, humiliating, inhuman and unworthy of life, thing looking back. I wanted to kill it!!!

You have to have experienced this and more to fully realise the power of a simple kiss on the lips can be. On those unbelievably rare occasions when it happened, it had the power to drag me from the depths of my own self-induced personal hell and sent me to heights that would make an Eagle jealous and at speeds that would dwarf any rocket NASA ever launched into space.

And this was just ONE KISS on the lips, from ONE person, ONCE every 15-18months on average (I never got any further than a kiss, for a long time, but that is a different story). I needed these EXTREMELY rare victories as proof that I am worthy of some affection. That I am not a waste of time; that I deserved a chance to continue to live.

Things got so bad that I made a plan to end my life when I turned 25 as this pain was everything and every day. I knew roughly where I would do it (see plan below), I knew I wouldn’t be found on time, I knew how I would like it to happen and I didn’t give a fuck about the pain it would cause because no-one ever gave a flying fuck about how I felt, only to twist the knife to maximise my pain. The world had fucked me over and I was done being everyone’s punch bag. I was expected to absorb the punishment and not complain. Well…FUCK YOU!!!

I will also say this…I was a coward. As 25 approached I thought it was a little soon. I thought 30 would be a better number and by that point, if things hadn’t changed, the pain would be so all-consuming that suicide would be a relief!

I met my wife just a month before I turned 26.

Inspiration

OK, so my laser engraver will be arriving ahead of schedule. This is good news as it’s lighting a fire under my arse and getting my creative juices flowing.

I’ve some raw materials (blank wooden key rings & wood slices) which I’ve used before. I’ve sold a few hand burned pieces and also made gifts. Everything starts as a stencil as I can barely draw a straight line with a ruler.

The handmade stuff takes at least 20mins and a lot of concentration. I will still offer this, but at a reduced cost, even though it’s more time consuming, due to the fact that the quality won’t match that of a machine.

But, the machine has its limits and some things just need to be done by hand. However, the machine can also produce engravings faster than I can and more constantly and in greater quantity; meaning I can offer more variety and potentially take on more requests.

I’ve also downloaded a book on simple tattoos from which I can get images and inspiration.

So, what am I planning on doing with all the stuff I hope to make? I’d like to make a few 💷, but I don’t want to run a business. I don’t have a head for business. I’d just like to make enough to pay for the engraver, cover my base costs and earn a little extra cash.

But I am also hoping to offer a service to my viking group so I can potentially laser engrave swords, daggers and axes as well as some raw leather before it’s made into clothing or other gear.

Basically I just want to make stuff because it interests me and is therapeutic.

A Message to a Killer

You took my yesterday
You’ve robbed me in every way
It’s been 30 years this year
Now you’ve had my final tear

I’ve fallen on the floor
I don’t want this any more
I’ve finally had enough
My life til now had been tough

Now I’m making my last stand
I’ve found my helping hand
I have finally found a way
With my new voice I now say
That I’m giving up my sorrow
So that you can’t steal another tomorrow

Hope

The thing that was broken
Has now begun to mend
My hope has been awoken
As I near journeys end

My path has been rough
And filled with much emotion
I knew it was tough
Like sailing a stormy ocean

I do not regret my past
For without it I would not be
Able to move on at last
And finally be free

I can see in plain sight
The end of my plight
The dawn has broken
Now my hope has awoken

A future lies before me
Unwritten and totally free
Whereas before I could not see
That the best is yet to be

I will give it my all
And defiant I stand
Because I will never again fall
For upon my feet I will always land

Self-Harm – Origin

person uses pen on book
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This is one of those complex stories that I am not sure how to fully get across, so I will undoubtedly revisit this topic in the future. 

Such is the nature of Mental Health that when I began to write about this I had forgotten just how complex an issue it was. So this is going to be the start of a series of posts on this topic as there is far too much to cover in one post and those reasons aren’t straight-forward.

So, lets start with the simplest of reasons for me doing this – WHY???

Less than 12 months after I witnessed by dad being murdered (don’t forget, I was a young child when this happened), during the year where I have no memories, we moved to a new town, I started a new school and just when I needed the most stability I had the least.

I had to deal with the trauma of dads murder and now I had to deal with starting a whole new life in a new house in a new town and going to a new school and trying to start making new friends.

My mind already felt like it was a scrambled egg and now that scrambled egg was put in the microwave and turned up to the max.

All I knew was that everything I once knew was no more and I realised just how little control I had over my life and my choices. 

I don’t blame my mother for this; she was doing the best she could having now been widowed with 3 children all under the age of 10. I can’t imagine that anyone could have done better.

By this stage there were no arrests nor convictions for my dads murder and as I started to form new memories my young mind was in chaos trying to make sense in a senseless world where justice seemed to fail and it just wasn’t fair.

I was angry and that anger was just growing and growing and growing. 

But being the quiet reserved kind of child that I was, and still am as an adult, I turned that anger (I will post more on my anger later) inwards until I could not contain it and it exploded outwards. I also felt huge guilt and blamed myself for my dads murder as, when he asked if we should move house several years earlier and I said ‘no’, we never moved and had that move taken place then he would still be alive.

Because I could not target my anger and frustration at the person whom I knew was responsible for my dads murder, I turned my anger towards the next person whom I felt was responsible – me.

So, just to recap, within 12 months of my dads murder:

  • Witnessed murder of my dad
  • No memories for first 12 months afterwards
  • No chance to grieve or come to terms
  • Moved to new town
  • Started new school
  • Had to make new friends
  • No arrests or convictions for my dads murder
  • Survivors guilt
  • Held myself partly to blame for his murder

I began to self-harm partly to punish myself for my dads murder and also partly to show externally all the pain I was feeling internally. I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, what I was supposed to do etc.

In the years that followed, from then to now, I have:

  • punched walls / floors / doors
  • carved words and sentences into my arm with a variety of blades
  • headbutted walls etc
  • ate too much
  • starved myself
  • ate all the wrong types of food
  • refrained from drinking any fluids for 34hrs and could have pushed this to at least 36hrs easily 
  • exercised beyond pain
  • beat myself up mentally for each and every mistake I made
  • told myself I was ugly, pathetic, I deserved to die, was useless, weak, total scum, better off dead, waste of air, didn’t deserve to live – I HATED MYSELF AND FELT PHYSICALLY SICK WHEN I LOOKED IN A MIRROR
  • looked up suicide websites for ideas and one idea was called ‘psychological suicide’ where the goal was to ‘kill’ your emotions to the point where you don’t feel anything. You basically become a Zombie
  • became suicidal and began to make plans for my own death

This was the beginning of my journey into self-harm and anger.

Job Search

There may be plenty of jobs being advertised but there is also a lot of competition for those jobs. I don’t apply for jobs, I apply for interviews and I interview for jobs.

But despite my best efforts, interviews are few and far between and in the meantime I am wondering what it is that I am doing wrong. 

I know I am a good worker, reliable, punctual, skilled, I listen to and follow instructions and I even learn new skills on my own time whether it be my lunch or even when I am at home so that I can be a better worker. Feedback is always welcome and I always take on board what I am being told to do.

I understand employers are busy and cannot respond individually to every application they receive and I understand this completely. But what does annoy me is when I go to all the effort of taking time out to go to an interview and I never hear from the employer again. And the lack of feedback is maddening.

It falls into the definition of insanity being that a person constantly repeats the same actions and yet expects different results. 

How can I improve when I don’t know what it is that I am doing wrong?

Then there is the interview itself and whether or not to make the decision to disclose that I have mental health issues. I am always worried that the employer may be marking me highly only to suddenly change their mind if I were to make this disclosure. I have seen and felt potential employers look at me differently once this disclosure is made. Their reaction is so subtle that I cannot pinpoint exactly what it is that has changed, and yet the reaction is so strong that it’s unmissable.  

This in turn has an impact on my health as I have been looking for another job for about 3 years and every now and again I feel a tidal-wave of despair washing over me when I either get another rejection after an interview, hear nothing back from the interview or count the large numbers of jobs that I apply for and the months (at 1 point I went 7 months between interviews despite constantly applying throughout this time) that pass without result.

The last job offer I had was the one I accepted to start with my current employer.

All the while I struggle with my current role. I can do my job, there’s never been any doubt about it, but it’s not conductive to my long-term mental health and this is why I have been looking for so long.

I’m just tired of looking, but the same tenacity that has kept me alive means that I cannot give up on my search.

In addition to asking myself why I keep failing, I also turn my gaze, and sometimes fury, towards the heavens and cry out:

Why are you punishing me!? You know what I need and yet despite my best efforts I am not getting what I need. What wrong have I done that requires this constant punishment? Have I not suffered enough during my life that I am undeserving of such a simple wish.!?

To date my prayers and cries for help remain unanswered. But…I could be worse because at least I have a job…for now.