Judgement

“So, Lola, have you been cutting up your arm?”

That was the comment from the Customs and Border Patrol guard at the USA/Canada border last Friday.

While my partner and I sat in our car and answered the usual questions, that one was unexpected. We were all set for the usual questions about her status as a permanent resident and her non-Canadian passport. All ready for the direction to park the car and head in for her to get the required entry document. All set for that. Standard procedure for crossing the border for her.

Not at all ready for the question directed at me regarding the scars on my arms.

I had no choice other than to answer his question though. So a simple answer of “yes” and I hoped that he was just a not-so-sensitive person who chose to make a not-very-appropriate comment and that would be that. No such luck.

It was followed up with, “Looks like those must have hurt”. Again, my measured and as-simple as-could-be response was provided.

“It was so long ago, I don’t recall”. Trying to hide that I am incredibly uncomfortable with this attention and line of questions. He, I’m sure, knows exactly how uncomfortable he is making me though. Which starts the feeling of anger that I know is not going to be helpful.

He flippantly hands back our documents and directs us, as expected, to park and head in for my partner to get her document.

 

As we park and walk, I try to pull myself back together from the shock of the two questions and my partner and I agree as we chat that it was out of line and inappropriate. But, we also agree, what can you do? They can ask what they want. There is a huge line up inside and it takes enough time to get to be seen that we have both calmed a bit.

 

We approach the guard to have the usual done. The standard questions of where are you going, what’s purpose of your trip,how long are you going? His demeanor is a quiet mix of boredom, annoyance and general irritation towards the entire process. He dismissively tells us to sit and he will get back to us. He keeps our passports and documents and the paper I had given him with the address of where we are heading for the weekend.

We expect the next step will be, as usual, my partner to be called back up for fingerprints and a picture and the paper slip to pay and then we will be on our way.

Not today though. After a few minutes, he calls me up.

“Lola, come here”. I look at my partner and we both are a little taken aback but I get up and go to the counter again. The questions come fast and bluntly.

“Tell me the story of what’s up with the cuts on your arms?”

There’s no story. They are scars from some cuts.

“You need to tell me more.”

I’m not sure what you mean. They’re old scars from cuts, that’s all.

“Were they self-inflicted”

    Yes

“What medication are you on?”

None

*He looks up from where he is sitting and tilts his head*

“You expect me to believe you aren’t on any medication?”

Yes, I’m not on any medication.

By this point, my heart is pounding and I am doing my best to keep my voice level and my mannerisms as normal as possible. It is becoming very clear where he is going with his questions and my mind is racing along with my heart.

“What’s the name of your psychiatrist?”

I don’t have a psychiatrist

*again, he looks up at me and sighs*

“The name of the physician whose care you are under?”

I’m not under a doctor’s care

“Were they from suicide attempts?”

No *I briefly think of making a joke that if they were, I could win the prize for worst attempt ever for where I cut, but I think better of it and just go with the “no”*

“Then why did you cut yourself?”

It was a particularly rough time in my life and I just did

“Were they done more than 5 years ago?”

Yes *lying, it’s clear at this point that I am actually running a risk of not gaining entry is how it is starting to feel*

“If I check your permanent medical file, will I find records of suicide attempts that you have not told me about here?”

No. There aren’t any.

*He sighs loudly and asks me to read out loud the address where we are going that is printed on the paper we are heading* I do so and think the questions are done. No, they are not. He’s not giving this up that easily apparently.

“What do you do for a living?”

I manage a clinic. A paramedical clinic in Victoria BC

*He smirks a little* “You hold down a job huh?”

Yes

 

Now at this point I am seething with anger inside but trying to stay calm. He then starts asking again about medications in the car etc and brings my partner up. After some standard but still insulting questions, this time directed to her (“16 years in Canada and STILL not a citizen huh?”), she is fingerprinted, photographed, pays her fee and we are on our way.

 

There ends the most blatant example of judgement and what I took as a personal harassment.

 

When I try to take apart the layers of what exactly it is that I am so angry about in that interaction, I find that it is so many things.

 

The fact that two border patrol guards felt that they could openly and without any reason, interrogate me on something that has nothing to do with my legal request to enter the country is clear. They felt that they have every right to question me, or anyone, on anything – no matter how personal or applicable (or not)  to the situation. The disgusting truth is that they can do just that. They hold the power to deny entry, to turn you away. Possibly for more than just that one time even. As my partner pointed out when I asked “who the hell does he think he is???” … he has the uniform and the gun and the power. It really is that simple. And it really isn’t right, but it is the way it works.

 

It was tears that I held back as we left the building and made our way towards the car to leave. As we walked past other guards I made a point of smiling and chatting and looking as unaffected as I could. Acting as opposite as I felt inside. The overwhelming sense was to just get as far away from there as I could, as quickly as we could. I felt embarrassed and I felt shame, but most of all anger was building up.

By the time we reached a rest stop two minutes away, the tears hadn’t come and they weren’t going to. Instead I had discovered just how furious I was over the questioning. Who were they to make a judgement about who I was based on my scars? Because the truth is, that is what they did. They saw scars that are clearly from self-inflicted cutting, and they made an immediate and decisive judgement that I need to be, essentially, screened. Screened for what? To determine if I am mentally ill? If so, how so? Am I going to be a danger to myself or others? Am I going to harm myself – or kill myself – while in their country? Is my mental health status something that should be a deciding factor in whether or not I can be given entry to go camping in their country? If I go by the questions that I was asked, then the answer to that is yes; and that is disturbing.

I have struggled with shame about my scars. I do hide them at work, and for reasons similar to this. I know people judge and assume when they see them. I know they are viewed as physical evidence of mental instability or weakness. So I keep them hidden when I am at work because I am in a position of management. I can’t be seen as weak or incapable or unstable. All things that we all are, from time to time, and all things that these scars are perceived as proving. My moments of weakness do not, in any way, diminish my strength. Ever. Yet that isn’t how our culture sees this.

So we drove away and I was angry and felt violated in a way. I was offended and indignant at how I was treated and questioned. I am a 44-year-old woman, I know and own my strength. I know what demons I fight and what road I walk every day and I am finally at a point where I hold my head high and rarely ever feel shame anymore. I have my moments but they are fleeting. What if I had been a young person though and had to face that? What if I was still very much in the midst of trying to not look at my scars because of the repulsion I felt towards myself when I saw them? What if I already was judging myself and feeling myself to be unstable, shameful, broken and wrong, like those guards tried to make me feel? What then? Who gives them the right to humiliate and belittle and almost casually decide to cause that kind of hurt to a person?

I could walk away and, while those feelings swirled and whispered, they were silenced and soothed by my resolve that I know I’m not those things. Even with that resolve though, I slipped on a long-sleeved shirt today to go into the store. Last week I wouldn’t have. And that makes me angry. Angry that no matter how I may see my scars and no matter how much I know I cannot be judged by what society says they mean – I still will be.

End the stigma of mental health concerns? Still looks like there is a hell of a long way to go.

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Where is “me”?

It has been three years since I have known the person who lives inside of my head.

When Willie starting down that spiral, I became nothing more than instinct. Raw and simple. I focused on what needed to be done. Day after day it was just survival. Appointments and meetings and trying. So much effort and so much energy focused into that one singular goal of keeping him safe and getting him help.

Then he died. The person inside my head shunted to a new level of survival. A focus of one foot in front of the other.

The months passed, the years now pass.

I sit now tonight and wonder where I am hiding inside of me. So buried underneath the hurt and the grief of missing him. Anger, so much anger, fills me, hiding me.

I don’t recognize myself anymore. I have spells of time that I am me again but they never last.

Gone, seemingly, is the woman who believed in – and knew -her strength. The woman who didn’t doubt that she would be ok, that she could be ok. The woman who had sought out her own dreams and hopes and who had the drive to know she would make them happen… disappeared now it feels like.

I look in the mirror and see eyes looking back that I don’t know. Windows to a soul that is changed and that I can’t quite connect with anymore.

I wonder if who I am now is this…and that thought scares me.

Uncertain

After a blog entry last week that was written about how it was three years ago that day that I had taken a note my son wrote about wanting to die to our doctor, I received a private message. This message was, I’m sure, well intentioned and meant to help me but it has, instead, caused quite a bit of conflicted thoughts.

The sentiment of the message is one that has been voiced to me before in the 2 and a half years since my son’s death. It’s a message that states that I need to let go; I need to stop dwelling on the loss and the hurt and that I need to move on and put this behind me. that, of course, it’s ok to grieve and to remember (and even to write about mental health issues) but that, by bringing up the past and reliving and “celebrating” and “honouring” the dates that are associated with painful memories I am simply self-inflicting torment on myself. That I, and my actions, are the cause of me continuing to be having a hard time with grief.

Good point, and one that gives me pause to wonder. I have seen parents lose children and turn that loss into an all-consuming life path to the exclusion of anything else in their life it seems. I was at a mental health symposium last year and met a couple of mothers who had given up careers and everything to make the crusade for their child’s death “mean something” a focal point in their lives. Conversations were only on their children and their deaths. There was nothing else in their lives seemingly.

I guess, if someone only read my blog here, they may assume that my life is like that. That all I ever write about or talk about is loss and missing Willie and how hard it is “after”. The truth is though that while that is in my life, my life is about so much more. My other blog, lolabits , is one of all-encompassing “life to the fullest”. Silliness and heavy topics abound in equal parts over there. Those who are friends with me on Facebook know that the vast majority of my posts are the here and now and that my life is very much with an awareness that joy is a part of that. So is the grief though and sometimes that is shared too. But not as much as the person who messaged me seems to think.

There is a balance that is walked in loss. A balance between being told not to bottle things up, that it’s healthy to express grief and to talk about it and to heal however you need to… and the flip side of being told to put it behind you and not “dwell” (oh how I love that suggestion).. to not make every day about missing him (when the reality is that every day it is simply there, that he is gone)… You need to let it out and feel it… you need to just not think about it… you need to remember… you need to forget…

I have lost friends who I just cannot have in my life anymore because I know that they don’t agree with how I grieve. I have had friends who have told me that “for my own good” I need to be told to stop the “pity party” and be made aware that this blog is just me indulging my grief and contributing to depression. These friends are no longer in my life like they were.

Which, after the message last week, makes me question if I should continue with this blog. I question what the purpose of it is. Is any good coming of it? Is it doing anything to promote understanding or acceptance and education about mental health issues? Probably not. IS it merely a vessel for me to indulge a pit party of grief? I don’t see that but then again, would I, if it was that?

I have been told that I need to accept that my life will go on with grief and hurt as a part of it. Plain and simple. That it won’t go away. That I will learn to live with it and not have it be the biggest part. I already know that. The grief and the hurt are there but, and this is a big one for me, but my life has joy and promise even so.

I’m not sure about the future of this blog right now. If the purpose it is serving is to help me process then it’s becoming apparent that more than a few in my life may be feeling like the person who wrote the message and telling me it’s time to shut it down and just do it privately because everyone is tired of hearing it.

No, not kitten scratches

Kitten scratches? That’s how my therapist/colleague addressed the scars on my arms today. I had to change into a gown at work today to have some work done on my neck and the gown had short sleeves, exposing my arms.

I’ve been pretty open on this blog that cutting has been something that I have done over the past couple of years. This, https://truthfreedomjoy.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/a-story-in-scars/ has some explanation, but to summarize; I have cut. Cut enough that there are scars and the scars are very visible.

I was alone in the room with the Physiotherapist and the concept that the scars on my arms had been caused by kitten scratches was ridiculous and I knew he knew that. So I was honest and I said they were caused by self-cutting. And every bit of fortitude that I had went out the window. As his manager, I am in a position of being seen as competent and strong and in control. Cutting doesn’t exactly exude those qualities and I found myself feeling like crawling under the bed instead of the usual sense of strength that I have at work as I tried to give him an understanding of the issue. He was understanding and we had a brief conversation but I could sense that he was somewhat uncomfortable so the discussion was short. It isn’t any different from it ever has been; discussions surrounding mental illness makes people not all that comfy.

I was brought face to face with the fact that there is no way to explain or describe the “why” of cutting without sounding like it, and you, are pretty much “crazy”. No matter how much I know that it is a safer outlet for dealing with the emotional pain of loss, grief and depression…safer than a more permanent option to get away from the pain…when you try to offhandedly explain it to someone you are suddenly very aware of just how not “normal” it appears.

My psychiatrist worked very hard with me about not feeling shame or embarrassment about the cutting. He took so much time to explain that sane, healthy, “normal” and rational people cut. That cutting is a coping and processing mechanism. That yes, how I described the need to transform the emotional pain to a palpable, tangible form of pain to process is valid and is not “crazy”. That’s all well and good but the truth is that society and our culture and the vast majority of people I will ever run across will look at the scars and hear my attempt to explain and they will see it for what it is perceived; a physical representation of weakness, instability, unreliability and mental illness. The truth is that mental illness is still equated with all those attributes and that doesn’t bode well for those of us who know that we aren’t any of those things.

Yes, I live with mental health issues. The majority of people do at some point or another in life. Does that make me unstable or weak? No. Do the scars scream that to people. Yes, sadly. What’s even worse though is that, regardless of my journey and my education in these matters and my work within myself, there are times that I see them for that. And I feel the embarrassment and the shame. I feel the weakness that they proclaim to everyone else. I feel that deeply and intimately, and it hurts. Today is one of those days.

Walking meditation musings

Walking home today and my mind wanders along with my feet. After Willie died, walking became of form of moving meditation for me and today felt very much like that.
I have made a conscious effort to not dwell… to not focus on what has been lost but rather on the present and what I have in my life now. For the most part this has been a good thing and it’s worked in letting me try to move forward.

Today though all I could think about on the way home was Willie. I miss him. It hurts. On so many levels and in so many ways.
I catch myself chastising myself for doing what I “shouldn’t”. I realize that I’m sad and grieving now not only for Willie and what I lost but also for what won’t ever be now. I grieve for things that never happened and for things that never will. It’s bad enough to feel the pain of loss but to feel pain for things that never were seems not only ridiculous but indulgent and selfish.

So I get mad at myself for doing it. I get angry that I’m not grieving “properly”. The anger turns to hatred and then the tears come… and the truth that underneath all that anger is simple hurt.
I miss him.

I muse over the fact that suicide is something that isn’t fair. The simplicity of it is that a life has been taken. Just like murder; someone is to blame. With suicide, it’s even easy in a sense; we know exactly who was responsible for the death. In our case, we even had notes and reasons, of a sort, explained by him. The unfortunate part of this is that there is no one to blame, really, except for Willie. We can’t vilify bullies or predators who harassed him and drove him to kill himself. He’s not a victim of anyone’s malicious intent or ignorant brutality. I can argue that the “system” failed him or that his doctors or counsellors didn’t do what they should have or that this or that or this or that could have, would have, should have…that mental illness clouded his judgement and altered his mind to the point that he chose actions that he would not have, had he been healthy. After all the conjecture and hindsight the most basic of all truths is that Willie took his own life. That at the second when he had to make a choice to do it or not, he chose to take an action that would result in his death. I believe that his mental illness contributed to his choice and his actions but I also believe that he knew fully and consciously what he was doing, and that it was his choice.

I have gone through a period of such anger at him for what he did. That’s dissipated though. Having endured and lived through the hell of the last 2 and a half years I have come to be able to understand, in a sense, his choice. The feeling of just wanting what is, to not be. His journals made it clear that he didn’t necessarily want to be dead, he just didn’t want to live like he was anymore. That is certainly something that I have been able to relate to. With that understanding comes the release of the anger. Replaced with the pain and the hurt of losing him.
Feeling some days like I’m back where I started… but knowing now that, as bad as today is, the belief that tomorrow can be better is there. So, I cry and let the hurt be felt… and try not to turn the hurt inward to anger at myself for feeling it… couch and blanket tonight … up and moving forward again tomorrow.

Another Day in Paradise

I wrote recently about the need to reboot and to reset my Self. About the need to have a bit of a retreat and to allow the indulgence of self-care and self-focus and attention with the intention being to actually make me, my priority. Not only that, but to give me a chance to reconnect with who I am… that being lost in the shuffle of the last couple of years while dealing with grief and eventually depression.

The utter frustration that sits with me now daily comes from seeing the glimpses and feeling the energy of my Self and just as fleetingly seeing and feeling it retreat again, swallowed up by waves of depression and walls of grief that hit me hard enough to knock me back onto my ass… over and over again.

That frustration that, for me, turns inward to anger and hatred. Self-loathing that encompasses my thoughts and at times, my actions. Choosing seclusion as an answer to the question in my mind of how to re-balance my Self. Knowing that no matter how much support I draw from those that I love, it’s the energy and support that I will find within me that is going to make the difference.

Having spent 3 days off from work last week in an attempt to stall the crash that I could feel coming I chose to try the option of an at-home retreat. 3 days dedicated to me and my care and attention. Finances right now don’t allow for me to do what I know I need to – distance and solitude and being gone from “home”… neutral environment, nature based… away from everything. So the option I chose was attempting that but at home…. I can safely say that was a bust. Sure, it was nice to not go to work for a few days and have a relaxed schedule but being in my home, surrounded by the nuances of my day to day life…feeding the cats, changing the litter box, shopping for groceries and getting gas for the car. Still answering work emails and phone calls remotely… not exactly the disconnect I needed to achieve what was necessary.

So I sit here now, finishing up my “retreat” and my rest and dreading work tomorrow. Feeling defeated and beaten down by it all – again. Feeling like I failed – again – at doing what I needed to do.
It has been feeling more and more lately like the way it was last year at this time. The mask goes on in the morning and it’s a fight all day to push through and focus and be “ok”. And I do it – so well that almost no one has any idea what’s under the mask. Then it’s back home and the sheer amount of energy it has taken to carry that mask and wear it all day leaves me depleted to the point that I have nothing left to be there for myself… nothing left to try to store up and rebuild what’s been lost… I have just enough left to be able to drag out of bed in the morning and slip on the mask and count the hours until I can take it off and rest.

I long for this to be over and for it to be better. I want nothing more than to wake up and want to face the day. To look forward to events rather than forcing myself because I *have to* or because I *should*. Yes, I have sparks of that now… but they are so few and so distant from each other. It’s not “me”. This isn’t who I am at my base level. I miss “me”. The dilemma being that I can fake “me” outstandingly well. After all, I now me pretty well. But I can’t fake it to myself for very long… and deep down, I know it’s an act.

This is one reason I have, and continue to, isolate myself from friends and from those who would like to be more to me than friends. They see the glimpses of me that I can pull together for short periods… but I can’t sustain a relationship – even a friendship – if it means me keeping that up… right now there’s still too much time spent re-charging … and no one wants or deserves to be with someone like me – someone who can’t make arrangements because I never know if I’ll be up to what I planned. I have lost one of the integral “me” parts – I have always been reliable and trustworthy… I now look at myself and see someone who can’t be trusted to follow through with a date or with plans… someone who may want to – with all my heart – but just can’t. And “can’t” was NEVER part of my vocabulary.

Shame and self-hatred surrounds the knowledge that people who used to care about me and be close to me now barely even touch base because of my patterns of behaviour. Knowing that I have no one to blame but myself for choosing to be isolated and distanced now. I try every now and then to make an attempt but then after a day or two, or a couple of outings, I run out of steam. I seclude a bit and retreat and everyone else just keeps going and I’m here, alone still… but by my choosing. It starts a cycle that makes me wonder if maybe I should just remove myself entirely from my social circle… it’s getting smaller and smaller as it is anyways.

I have some who are adamant that I can just be who and how I need to be and that’s all that matters. No expectations, no demands, no “standards” to meet. I appreciate that but the vast majority of those people are gone from my life… I have turned down coffee dates and walks and movies and… the list goes on. It’s my fault, not theirs. I have a surprisingly lonely and quiet life for someone who, on the surface has so many “friends”. The reality is that beyond 2 people in my life, I see and socialize with no one. Sure the odd group get together – that leaves me walking away feeling more alone and secluded and ostracized than ever, knowing that I don’t connect with any of them the way they connect to each other. SO I have slowly started to avoid even the group get togethers. Again, not their fault, all mine.

No real answers… no pretty way to tie up the musing and rambling… no hopeful quip that ends on a bright note. That’s not how life feels for me now. Not going to fake it for writing. I’m doing enough of that in person.

Ignorance is bliss?

The truth is that in order to heal you have to let the pain be felt. The question is how do you feel AND function when the pain is so great that it’s all-consuming when it is allowed out to be felt?

I am expert at keeping emotions and feelings bottled up, to be dealt with “later” when I have time or when it’s convenient. My first thoughts when I was told that Willie was gone were that I needed to be with my other boys and tell them and make sure they were ok. I pushed any reaction other than shock away to do what had to be done at that time; and in the weeks and months that followed.

Since I moved and have been on my own I have found ways to keep emotions at bay and to not face and deal with grief. This, obviously, doesn’t always work and I have spent the last year swinging in and out of depressive episodes and grief-fuelled spirals. Facing the reality that in order to be able to move forward that I have to stop trying to turn away from the hurt and actually let it in and acknowledge it and experience it.

Couple this awareness with well-intentioned people who keep telling me to not dwell or think about Willie’s death and that I need to just put it behind me and you have a recipe for disaster.

The pendulum swings inside of me between the extremes of despair and hopelessness and the public face of “I’m doing better”. I have learned the new art of not trying to be “fine” necessarily but instead letting just enough show so that people will think I’m doing ok. The reality is that inside, the hurt is still the same. Yes, I function better… Yes, I have more “good days” than bad… Yes, I laugh more easily and do have joy in my life again. I’m thankful for all these things and do recognize them. Inside me though is still the pain and the hurt that I can’t even describe because it’s so much and so deep.

Inside and hidden, is the fear that comes with knowing that I’m still taking that hurt and just burying it. That I haven’t grieved… all I’ve done is pushed it down harder and with more resolve to not let it affect me. That I AM moving forward, but not because I’ve dealt with the loss… but because I’ve just managed to figure out how to hide it even better than I ever have before… than I have been able to with anything else before this.

The fear that comes from knowing how overwhelming it is when it does peek out. When a glimpse of what is there is seen and felt… that glimpse brings fear of how to cope with it and IF I can cope with it if I let it out. The panic overcoming me at times as I fight to keep the emotions down enough that I can keep on doing what needs to be done. Panic of whether it will one day just be too much and break the dam holding it in no matter how hard I try. The fear knowing that I need to let it out if I want to heal. A seemingly no win situation that results in me turning away, again, from the glimpse and looking forward more resolutely as I ensnare the loss and pain even more firmly in the grip of ignorance within.