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.

Anger

nuclear-bomb-dirty-smallThis is a completely natural emotion to feel. It keeps us safe when we feel threatened, increases respiratory rate flooding the blood with oxygen and releasing adrenaline and our bodies natural painkillers; in preparation for either attacking a danger or running away from it – flight or fight.

I have some difficulty with this particular emotion as it conflicts with some of my personality traits in that I am not an aggressive person and I do what I can to avoid conflict and try to deescalate any increasingly hostile situation which life throws at me.

I have seen people get angry and loose their temper with people who are only doing their job or they get so engrossed and passionate about a sport that they easily take offence at anyone who disagrees with their view.

Anger also has its place within our society. Soldiers, martial artists, sports; any sort of situation where we are competing against or in conflict with another person and anger is useful in a controlled way as it improves our performance, increases our pain threshold and enables us to go that little bit further…or in the case of military personnel, helps keep them alive.

For me its different as it conflicts with my personality. I hate being angry. I don’t find it to be a pleasant emotion and it makes it easy to loose control of a situation and react negatively. But then again, that rush of endorphins flooding my body and increasing my confidence can be exhilarating lol.

Sadly my anger often times results in self-harm and emotional pain that’s almost beyond endurance. 

I’ve spent years learning to be on the lookout for warning signs that I am starting to get angry and as a result my anger rarely sneaks up on me. There are usually early warning signals. Maybe I am feeling more irritable than normal or I feel that adrenaline starting to be pumped into my blood and my breathing increases. I also use my eyes, ears and mind to assess what is going on in my surroundings to see what the stimulus is that could be impacting negatively on my emotional state.

In the meantime, having had these early warning systems being triggered, I immediately focus on my breathing to try to calm down. Deep breath in… hold… and slowly release. Repeat as often as is needed. I also take myself out of and away from any situation that is causing this level of distress. 

Sadly we all have a breaking point. I’ve found myself in situations where I need to have that physical release of energy and I usually end up punching a wall and damaging my knuckles or biting my arm until my teeth hurt all the way to their roots. 

This is a controlled, and destructive, release as I will NOT take my anger out on ANYONE as I don’t believe this is productive. And I rarely find myself in situations where my safety is in question. I am always on the lookout for an alternative to a physical confrontation. I pose a danger to myself, but not to others.

But like I said, we all have our limits and even mine can be tested to the extreme…

Many years ago I remember one night when I was supposed to be staying with a friend in their flat. They had a visitor from Scotland over and the 3 of us were supposed to be going to a fancy dress party. I had my dads leather jacket and was going to go as John Travolta from Greese. 

The situation that night took an unexpected turn before we even left the flat. My friends visitor had begun drinking and, having been informed somewhat of my past, he began questioning me about my experiences. I wasn’t happy about this and refused to answer. But the questions kept coming and were becoming more aggressive in nature. 

I could feel those familiar warning signs being triggered and I was becoming concerned. I began to employ calming breathing techniques. As the minutes went by the questioning changed and this visitor began to ask before demanding to try on my dads jacket. This to me would be the equivalent of trying on his skin and desecrating his memory.

I looked to my friend for help and asked them to help; but my pleas were ignored whilst they laughed.

I had to get out of there before I snapped. I began to pack up and was being told to stay by my friend whilst being called a ‘chicken’ and a ‘little boy’ by this visitor. 

Stay?

Go?

Stay?

Nah, fuck this, if I don’t get out of here I am going to loose my shit!

It took several trips to remove all of my belonging from the flat, but despite now being outside and away from these idiots, I was barely in control. I was physically shaking with rage.

Sadly, I seem to have somewhat of a delayed reaction in that even when I was finally out of that flat, my anger was actually increasing as the gravity of the situation began to fully catch up with me.

All I wanted to do was to kick a bin, but I didn’t do this in case the neighbours heard and began to ask questions.

I walked to my car, determined to drive away. I also knew that as soon as I got behind the wheel, this would not be safe and I could very likely end up in an accident or hitting someone; but such was the heat of my anger I decided to be selfish and not care about other people. With the distress I was feeling I just didn’t care about myself or others.

I think something must have clicked with my friend because they came out and grabbed the keys from my hand and threw them away before shoving me away from the car. I was so so close to hitting them. I wanted to. I felt justified in throwing that punch.

But the morals my parents instilled in me as a child came to the surface and they were my last line of defence.

I didn’t want to hurt anyone. I just wanted the pain to stop. Emotionally I was in agony and just wanted the pain to go away. And I will admit that had I gotten into the car in this state, suicide was most definitely an option I was actively considering.

Fortunately my friends shove, when combined with my own constant calming techniques, did the trick. I calmed down just enough to regain my desire to not do anything stupid. 

After a few minutes my anger had cooled from 100C to 98C. Still far from being safe and calm, but cool enough to regain that valuable control of my mind and actions that I so desired.

I still left. I drove away angry and alone, but now no longer carelessly so. I don’t remember where I went but as I am here writing this today, I clearly got there safely lol.

Self-Harm – Origin

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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.

Short Intro

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Hi, this is my first Blog and I am just posting a short introduction.

I am someone who has spent the last 30yrs living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of being a Victim/Survivor of ‘The Troubles’ in Northern Ireland. My PTSD has driven me to the brink of suicide more than once.

I am a fossil collector, avid reader, writer and photographer. I enjoy spending time with my family and spending days, and nights, out exploring the wonders of this little Emerald Isle.

I guess the main reason for writing this is to document some of my experiences living daily with PTSD or a Mental Illness. At least with a physical disability or wound you can see it clearly. Crutches, wheelchair, bandages, a limp, missing limbs etc. 

But with a mental illness you don’t see my struggles as easily. Sometimes I can be having a super bad day and I can walk right past you and you would have no idea of the fierce battle I am having with my thoughts within my own mind. 

When this mental pain gets too much, it actually turns physical. I can be in agony; but because my pain is not coming from the outside, though it may have been triggered by an external event, people cannot see it. 

Basically these are some of the thoughts that go through my head and rather than leaving them there I have chosen to share them here. 

Welcome to my world…