Friday Dangle Design, anti-stigma talks, CPTSD and emotional hangovers.

Dangle design 15 March 2019 © Angela Porter
Dangle design 15 March 2019 © Angela Porter

I officially have a post-therapy and post trio of antistigma talks emotional hangover/headache.

I’m so tired today. Headachy. Feeling quite sad. Finding focus is difficult.

A big, big mug of strong Yorkshire tea, clementine segments, banana and some French bread with butter and marmalade is being had for breakfast.

I was so tired when I got home yesterday from the last anti-stigma talk of this week that I ordered in pizza and garlic mushrooms. I watched most of Attack of the Clones while beginning to crochet a market bag. And when I felt I could sleep I went to bed.

To find that I couldn’t sleep, not straight away. My mind was still way too busy.

So, I thought I’d sit in bed and do a little drawing, which is the one above.

I knew today would be Friday, so I added some really simple dangles to the bottom of it for dangle day.

I used my R2-D2 Sheaffer fountain pen on some Claire-Fontaine mixed media paper. I have managed to smudge the ink in some places.

However, this did let me settle down to sleep. It was a meditative practice for me, if not mindfulness meditation itself. No matter what, it helped me calm and quieten my mind so I could sleep.

The anti-stigma talks have a part that is about Time to Change Wales, a bit about stigma and discrimination and mental illness, and the main part is my story of mental illness and how stigma and discrimination has affected me.

Self-stigma has always been the worst for me. What others would say to me such as ‘just pull yourself together’ or ‘don’t be such a misery’ or suggesting that I have a lot going for me in my life and I shouldn’t feel the way I was the same as I was telling myself. In fact, I talked to myself worse than what others could say.

I was really resistant to the idea that I had problems with mental and emotional wellbeing.

“It’s been a long, busy term. I’ll be fine after the holidays.”
“We’ve got an inspection coming up, it’s really busy.”
“I had that difficult pupil again today and it just wore me down, I’ll be ok”.
“I’m not crazy.”
“I’m not weak.”
“I’m not mad.”
“There’s nothing wrong with me that a weekend won’t fix.”

That was, and still is me to a lesser extent. Always trying to put a brave face on how I’m feeling. Trying to hide behind a mask of smiles and laughter and competency. Doing my best not to be a bother to anyone, not to worry anyone. Not wanting anyone to think I was lying/attention-seeking/making a fuss over nothing.

Always denying I had a problem. Until I could deny it no more.

That happened in steps.

Being physically confronted by two pupils led to me receiving counselling for the first time and with me finally admitting some things about grooming in my past, not only to the counsellor, but to myself.

Counselling kept me in my job. When it ended, the decline in my mental health resumed and continued until I had to have 8 months off from work, accept anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medication to give my brain a break from the constant worrying, thinking, panicking it was doing.

One of the hardest things I had to do was to admit to myself I needed help. Not just admit, but accept that help.

Talking about my childhood, where those patterns of thoughts, the very negative, critical thoughts and beliefs I have about myself have come from. Not talking in depth, mind you, just touching the surface of it. This is emotionally draining for me. It awakens emotions in me that are only just surfacing and being recognised through EMDR therapy.

Yesterday, I wrote a post about why I do these talks. Today, I’m writing about the aftermath of the talks.

The aftermath won’t ever stop me from doing the talks. I can cope with it. I need a day or two of self-care (and ice-cream).

Self-care is doing things that are familiar, that calm me and bring me pleasure. So that’s art, crochet, Star Wars, ice-cream with a friend. It’s quiet time for myself, without the pressures of people. It’s sleeping when I need to sleep. My body isn’t tired, but my emotions and mind are. They need time to rest and recuperate.

And that just doesn’t apply to me, a CPTSD survivor on a healing journey towards recovery. It applies to each and every single person.

Me. You. Everyone.

We all have mental health. We all have emotional health. We all need to take care of them as much as we do our physical health.

Just as we seek help if we have a problem with our physical health, such as taking a painkiller for a headache, surgery for appendicitis, dental work for teeth problems, a cast for a broken bone, chemotherapy for cancer, then we also need to seek help if we’re having problems with our emotional and mental health.

There’s no stigma attached to having a physical illness. But there is with mental and emotional illnesses and problems. There should not be.

It’s about being kind to ourselves. Learning how to be kind to ourselves. Taking that time to give our minds and emotions a break. That’s what self-love is. It’s kindness to ourselves.

Something I never learned in childhood. All I learned was that I was unworthy, useless, stupid, ugly, fat, unloveable, a failure, an embarrassment, the reason everything went wrong.

I’ve lived most of my life believing that was so, trying to prove it wasn’t and to earn the love and respect of someone who is incapable of love and respect – a narcissistic mother. Not only her, but so many others in my life.

It’s never too late to do something to help myself have a better relationship with myself in the first instance. That’s what EMDR is helping me with.

If my talks help others recognise some of the same things in themselves, workout that their relationship with themselves, that their mental and emotional health isn’t good, and they determine to seek help when they’re ready, then every day of this emotional tiredness/hangover/headachyness is absolutely worth it.

The difference colour makes …continued

©Angela Porter 2019 Artwyrd.com
©Angela Porter 2019 Artwyrd.com

I thought I’d show you the progress I’ve made on this drawing. I hope you find it interesting to see how things are progressing with it.

Yesterday, I didn’t get much done as I was whacked out after EMDR therapy in the afternoon. It was very intense with some very powerful physical pains as well as some emotionally upsetting insights. Tears flowed. An hour of discomfort to help to release years and years of emotional/mental pain and suffering isn’t too bad is it?

Today I’ve not done anything. I did an anti-stigma talk to a group of health-care employees for the ABMU Health Board at Singleton Hospital in Swansea. This was on behalf of Time to Change Wales in my role as a champion.

The drive there was horrendous. The rain was absolutely hammering down. Then, it was really difficult to find somewhere to park. I did find somewhere eventually. Then, there was the walk to the hospital and the problem of finding my way to the Chapel/Multi-faith Centre. By that time, the stress of not finding parking easily had caused me to flip into hypervigilance mode and it wasn’t easy to see or decode information.

Eventually I must’ve looked totally lost, a nice man asked me if he could help. When I said the chapel, I noticed another chap had come over and he had a Time to Change Wales badge on and it turns out he was Martin, one of two new champions who had come to observe me.

We had directions to the chapel and the other champion was waiting outside.

I did my talk, became, for me, quite emotional, and left, after chatting with people and Martin and Connor, the other TTCW champion.

I was glad to find my way back to my car, and started to feel a bit spaced out as I drove home. Thankfully the rain had mostly stopped though the spray was horrible.

I’ve eaten and had some tea but I still feel drifty and floaty and I really, really could do with a long nap now. It’s taken nearly 4 hours for me to feel ready to nap. However, I can’t take a nap as I have to drive to Hereford this evening for around 7:15pm. My sat nav said it would be an hour and a half journey there. Perhaps I could have a quick nap …

I know tomorrow I have another anti-stigma talk to do – this time with a group of police officers at Ton Pentre police station – and a medical appointment later in the day. Thursday I’m doing another antistigma-talk to a group of trainee nurses and midwives over in Abergavenny.

I foresee some early nights ahead of me, though most probably not tonight!

Self-care

©Angela Porter 2019 - Artwyrd.com
©Angela Porter 2019 – Artwyrd.com

I drew this one with Uniball Unipin pens using both black and dark grey pens, though the difference betwixt them hasn’t shown up all that well in the scan and the digital wizardry that followed to add colour, texture and watermarks!

The glyph in the box is the Zibu symbol for ‘self-care’. Most appropriate for me today as I’m reeling more than a tad from yesterday’s EMDR session. I keep thinking I’m ok, then I get overwhelmed by a wave of sadness, despair and such like. The wave eventually passes and I feel ok, but a tad light headed. Then, the wave returns …

I had some appointments this morning and after a quick lunch I thought I’d draw something small and found this blank postcard template in my pile of stuff, with the symbol already drawn upon it.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve done a good job with this one. The overall design has a feeling that it is disjointed, that the parts of it don’t flow from one to another at all easily. It feels stilted and stiff.

Perhaps that is just how I’m feeling at the moment and I’m just projecting it onto my artwork.

As I said the EMDR yesterday had me reeling both yesterday and today. My therapist took up the role of ‘blind therapist’ where I chose a memory that is too difficult for me to speak about, and we just went with the emotions, feelings and thoughts about myself as the EMDR session progressed.

There were some observations made yesterday that were quite upsetting, okay very upsetting to me. They’re not something I can talk about at the moment.

Even though it’s upsetting, I still think progress is being made. That is all that really matters at the moment, I think.

Entangled Quote

©Angela Porter 2019 - Artwyrd.com
©Angela Porter 2019 – Artwyrd.com

This is a postcard sized drawing with some not very good hand lettering. The pens I used were a Schaeffer R2D2 pen for the broader lines and a Pilot Kakuno for the rest. Oddly, they both have medium nibs, but the width of medium nibs vary from brand to brand. Both pens are, however, smooth writers and a pleasure to hold and use.

Part of my self-care over the past week has been pulling together my favourite patterns and motifs into my visual dictionary. I find something soothing in repeating something that is familiar to me. Perhaps because I know I can do it. Perhaps because I feel I’m organising, taking control of something I can organise and take control of. Perhaps it is just the familiarity of the process and knowing the outcome will be a positive one.

However, in doing this, I rediscover patterns I’ve used in the past that I’ve forgotten about and it’s nice to use them once again.

Of course there are some of my old favourites in this drawing, but there are some that haven’t seen the tip of my pen in a long while, and couple that have only been added to my visual dictionary and not used in a piece of art by myself.

It’s very easy for me to fall into the familiar, especially when I’m having a bit of a tough time with my mental and emotional health, when EMDR or life has provoked a response in me that affects my ability to believe in myself and my art. These past six days have been a period of time just like that. I’ve gradually been recovering over the week, in general terms, but there have been some rather tough times too.

I think I’ve mis-written the quote from Christine Langley-Obaugh though, but the meaning is the same. I’m increasingly becoming aware of myself and the repetitions of feelings and thoughts and events in my life that cause me emotional and mental pain. Sometimes even physical pain when they’re revisited in EMDR or even in loving-kindness meditations too it seems.

This kind of reorganisation of my visual notes is just like how I used to write and rewrite and rewrite again and reorganise again and again my notes when I was in school, university and as a teacher. Trying to make things better, perfect and starting over again if I made a single mistake.

What I have noticed is that in my A5 dot grid journal from Claire Fontaine is that I’m not so ‘perfectionist’. I want to gather together my favourite patterns and motifs, doodles and alphabets in one place for a quick and easy reference, as a way to spark my creative juices when I feel I need that happening. There’s mistakes in them. They’re drawn with different degrees of precision and neatness. I’m working hard on not starting over, again, even though I know I’ve most probably got repeats of the same pattern or motif in there. But that’s fine. I’m telling myself that is perfectly fine.

That is a huge change in how I would call myself stupid and useless and a failure if I made one mistake in my pristine page of notes during my educational years or time as a teacher.

Working digitally allows me to achieve a level of perfection in my drawings as any ‘mistakes’ are easy to change.

Working with pen and ink on paper, with few pencil lines, means I have to live with the ‘mistakes’ or adapt them to be part of the design. I can edit out smudges if I scan the artwork in, but I rarely make changes to it unless it is at the behest of the publishers.

I think shows how I have a bit of a healthier relationship with myself now.

It’s always good when I can make connections between present behaviours and those in the past and to see how they have helped me but also how I have healed and made positive progress in my journey to CPTSD recovery.

The past affects the present…

©Angela Porter 2019 - Artwyrd.com
©Angela Porter 2019 – Artwyrd.com

Francine Shapiro is the person who developed EMDR therapy and this quote from her exemplifies what I’ve becoming more and more aware of through my three and a half years of EMDR.

Today, I am really ‘not with it’ and feeling quite spacey and vague and very tired. I had a broken night’s sleep with very, very weird and disturbing dreams. This often happens after EMDR.

I know that I need some self-care time today, and maybe tomorrow given how I’m presently feeling. I’m also in need of a walk outside, but I’m awaiting a delivery from Amazon. I hope it arrives soon so I can get a walk in early this afternoon.

EMDR yesterday

There were two particularly significant moments during my session yesterday.

The first one was a result of a suggestion by my therapist that I’m keeping secrets about things that have happened to me, particularly in my adult life. There are things I’m too, too ashamed and embarrassed about to talk about even with her. My throat closes up and becomes painful. I feel burning in my cheeks. There’s terror and huge anxiety in the pit of my stomach. She went on to say that in the article she had read it was suggested that clients write about these experiences. She suggested I do that. She added she did not need to read them or be told about them, that she can act as a ‘blind therapist’ where we just assign a code to the particular traumatic event and work with it that way. She even suggested I can burn the things I write after writing them so no one else can ever read them.

The relief I felt with this suggestion and discussion was immense. The discussion that ensued was enlightening in another way. That I’ve never ever really spoken to anyone about my feelings, especially when I was the one upset, hurt, abused in some way. I always put a smiley, brave face on and brushed all the emotions to one side, defaulting to the happy, funny, quick to laugh, person who chatters about faff and fluff.

By pushing away all that hurt and upset and so on I’ve also tried to tell myself that it’s ok, I can cope with this, that I’m incredibly caring about other people and their feelings and want them to be happy. Scared that if I spoke truly about how I was feeling that I would be rejected or that the other person(s) would become angry and would hate me and think badly of me.

So, instead, I brushed it all aside and swallowed it down, often with food, using the food to fill the emptiness within me, to hide the feelings of shame and fear and more. I’ve done this so much in my past that I’m having to learn what emotions feel like and what they are called as they crop up during EMDR.

I was with my older sister and younger brother visiting the British Museum and we stumbled upon the Sutton Hoo treasures. I was entranced by them, only having seem them previously in books. It was hard work to drag me away from the to go visit the mummies in the Egyptology section. My older sister said she’d never seen me so emotional and excited about something; she actually called me an ice maiden as I rarely showed any emotion at all, other than the happy, smiley, funny persona I put across. I was in my twenties then. No idea of emotions or how to express them, swallowing them down all the time.

So, writing about these experiences now, from a position where I understand more about myself, am more aware of emotions and feelings will mean that they are no longer secret, it doesn’t matter that others don’t know about them, but it’s important that I don’t keep secrets from myself and face up to the traumas and feelings I have suppressed from these events.

The second insight was during EMDR when I had a vision of myself looking into one of those mirrors that reflects things to infinity, but in this case it was like the reflections went around and around in a circle. The insight was that this is what has happened to me. I’ve got caught in a cycle of the same kind of things happening again and again – different but the same effects on me, the trauma they’ve caused me and continue to cause me as instead of knowing how to process them in a healthy manner I learned from a very young age to suppress anything I needed to talk about or needed help with because I was upset as no one wanted to know. I was bothersome. A whiner. An attention seeker. A liar. When I was upset the people supposed to care got angry with me. Or just ignored me. Or sent me away.

I am unaware of much of my past, particularly my childhood. I have few memories at all. That bothers me, but my therapist tells me I need to let it just be. People like me, who’ve had quite traumatic lives, often forget what has happened to them as a way of protecting themselves from that particular trauma, especially when there is no one they can talk to about it to help them work through it.

My past really does affect my present. However, I’m becoming more aware of the ways in which it has affected me, more aware that I do have emotions, and I’m trying to believe I deserve to think better of myself, that maybe I didn’t deserve any of this, and that although I’ve allowed things to happen to me I shouldn’t be so hard on myself as I need to understand why, what brought me to that point, why I can’t say ‘no’ easily.

So the quote is very appropriate.

About the art

This is very much a work in progress at the moment.

I printed out the quote and borders on Bristol Board. The design is a little less than A5 in size (4.5″ x 7.25″ approx). Then, I added the patterns around it using two Pilot Kakuno fountain pens – one with a medium nib and one with a broad pen.

After scanning the design in, I wanted to add colour to it, so I used my trusty trio – Microsoft Surface Pen, Microsoft Surface Studio and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro.

I think the dark stars at the top could symbolise those parts of me I’d like to ignite after they were extinguished a long, long time ago – confidence, self esteem, the ability to say no, valuing myself, being a good friend to myself, and more …

The tangled nature of the design, with many parts seeming to blend one into another, sometimes not in a very comfortable manner, is like all the trauma and experiences I have had – a tangled mess where I pull on one thing in EMDR and a whole host of others come along with it, all linked by a common effect or effects they had on me.

Flowers blooming, leaves all signs of growth though, even if some are hidden at the moment.

I’m sure there’s more that could be said about it in terms of my journey of recovery from cPTSD along with developing mental and emotional wellbeing. However, not today as the chap from Amazon has delivered the parcels to me. In them are some basic things for me to try my hand at paper quilling.

I’ve been fascinated with some youtube videos on paper quilling, particularly the more modern forms and I was also struck at how some of them seem to be similar to my kind of drawing that has lots of spirals and swirls in it. So, I thought I’d have a go and see what I can do with it!

But first, it’s time for a walk … to see if that can help clear my head a little. I think a little trip to Barry Sidings is in order.

A simple mandala

©Angela Porter 2019

Yesterday was very much a quiet, self-care day. Today, I’m feeling better in terms of energy and concentration.

This mandala was a product of yesterday’s quiet downtime doing art for arts sake. Though it was this morning I thought I’d like golden outlines to the design rather than the usual black. It took me a while to get my head around doing that!

I like the way I’ve repeated the simple spiral pattern in three layers. Keeping the colour palette simple has also worked nicely for me, even though the combination of colours is an unusual one for me. The colours remind me of cacti with flowers and a soft, golden sun.

I could mention that green is about achieving balance, the red is the energy I need to stoke up on, but a softer, more gentle kind of motivational energy. Golden sunshine is the healing I see. The way the spirals flow outwards and are unfurling suggests growth , springing forth from seeds long lain dormant in the ground of my soul. There’s hints of buds ready to bloom there too. Maybe the golden background and lines are suggesting that I am worth more than I think I am, that I do deserve better.

Oops, I have mentioned that! But somehow this mandala seems to show how I’m progressing in my recovery from cPTSD.

Now how’s that for an insightful piece of art?

No matter whether you agree with the interpretation of the mandala or not, it was definitely a calming and soothing experience, both the drawing and colouring.

It is a piece of digital art. I used my usual Microsoft Surface Pen, Microsoft Surface Studio and Autodesk Sketchbook Pro to create this mandala.

Phew! It’s been a week!

©Angela Porter 2019

It really has been a week for me. I seem to have dashed from one thing to another, sometimes seemingly without time to catch my breath. I’m still feeling dazed, mentally drained and emotionally fragile after it all, particularly the events of yesterday’s ‘Time to Talk Day’.

I do have, however, lying beneath all of this a sense of a gentle smile, a soft calmness that I have been aware of since starting loving kindness meditations to help me with self-compassion. It is this presence that I’m trying to focus on and find when I feel overwhelmed by tiredness and fragility.

The tiredness, the fragility will pass. Some of the fragility and the deafening shouting of the inner critic will need some help to dispel, and that’s where EMDR comes in. Bit by bit it seems EMDR is helping to disempower that inner critic, the beastie on my back.

Time to Talk Day – a review

It was good yesterday to be able to help out on Time to Talk Day as a champion for Time To Change Wales, draining as the anti-stigma talk in the morning was for me. I spoke to a lovely group of police officers from the South Wales Police at Ton Pentre Police Station. They even gave me two rounds of applause at the end of the talk.

Part of the anti-stigma talk is sharing my story of my mental illness, cPTSD, my life, how cPTSD has affected my life and the stigma and discrimination I’ve faced as a result of it.

The biggest stigma I’ve had to contend with is self-stigma. It was that which stopped me from acknowledging the thoughts and feelings I had about myself were not healthy and it stopped me from seeking help for a very long time – nearly 50 years of my life.

It is draining to tell my story. I get some emotional flashbacks. I’m letting people know some of the most difficult times of my life in terms of what I was thinking and feeling at that time, though I don’t share everything that has happened to me in terms of trauma. I still can’t talk about some of it, and some of it I have amnesia about – a coping strategy for those like me who have traumas they can’t speak about. There were traumas that were horrifying to me at the time and I had no one to speak to about it. I didn’t think anyone would believe me. That inner critic still tells me I’m making it up, attention seeking, swinging the lead, pathetic, weak, useless, and more ugly words it has about me. I sometimes feel a total fraud when telling my story, doubting what few memories I have of my past, wondering if people actually believe me.

The evidence of the trauma is there in the way I think about myself and the way I speak to myself however. The trauma is also stored in my body and that comes out during EMDR, sometimes with a memory of something I had no recollection of until that time. That is extremely uncomfortable when it happens and it can challenge my view of my childhood experiences.

Why do I do this when it causes me some difficulties post-talk?

I want people to know what is mental health and what is not.

If I had known at a younger age that how I thought and felt and behaved wasn’t healthy maybe I would have sought out help sooner and maybe my life would have been different. I can’t do anything about that, though. I am doing my best to recover from all of this trauma and cPTSD. But if me talking about how my thoughts and emotions were helps them gain a better picture of good mental health vs poor mental health and perhaps even recognise in themselves that they’re struggling even a little and they get help, then that is a good job done.

That’s why I do this.

I want people to know that they are not alone in their struggles. Because mental health is something we don’t talk about, that people fear and fear talking about, it’s all too easy to feel that we’re alone. By talking about mental health, our own mental health, bit by bit we can change fear into understanding, stigma into acceptance and recognise that our mental and emotional health is as important as our physical health.

That’s why I do this.

I want to help break the stereotype of what someone experiencing mental ill-health looks and acts like.

That’s why I do this.

I battle with the shame of trauma that has been inflicted on me in my past, trauma that the perpetrators should feel shame about NOT me! I felt so shameful about struggling with my mental and emotional health as well. It’s enough to fight being ashamed of things others did to me without the shame of the stigma of mental illness too.

That’s why I do this.

I want people to know that it takes a lot of strength to live life when you’re not feeling well mentally or emotionally. It takes a lot of effort to do life’s daily tasks when you’re well, when you’re battling yourself, your mind, your emotions it takes a lot more energy and strength to do that. It takes a lot of energy to hide what goes on under the surface, what people can’t see – the storms in the mind and emotions – to appear that you’re coping well and can do everything. Doing that for too long and not recognising that I was struggling was what nearly broke my mind totally. I don’t want other people to experience that

That’s why I do this.

I am on the road to recovery from cPTSD. I want people to know you can recover. I want people to know that it is ok to ask for help.

As I explained to someone yesterday that if you want to learn to drive a car you seek out someone who can teach you and we’re not ashamed about this nor do we feel week about it either. However, if we’re struggling mentally or emotionally we don’t want to ask for help because of the fear of how people might view us – that’s the stigma and discrimination that exists. But if we need help and don’t know how to help ourselves we should feel able to ask for help for someone to help us learn the tools we need, tools we can add to our mental and emotional wellbeing kit, whatever those tools may be – medication, counselling, advice, help to see things in a different way, and so many more I’m sure.

That’s why I do this.

I’m sure there are many other reasons, but my brain is still tired and a bit addled from EMDR on Monday, which left me tired and drained and I hadn’t quite recovered from that for yesterday’s anti-stigma talk and then the stand at the ABM Trust Headquarters in Port Talbot.

Self Care Day

I do know that today I need to do a lot of self-care activities. That means doing things that are familiar to me. I think in artsy way I’ll be adding things to my visual reference Leuchtturm. I may also spend some time knitting and watching Star Wars. Again, these are familiar to me, there are no surprises waiting for me and I can just relax into them, and that is soothing to me when I’m emotionally drained.

I also need plenty of tea today. I have run out of milk though, so I’m going to have to brave the heavy rain and wild winds to pop out to get some, and some food that doesn’t take much in the way of preparation today as well. I think cooking, though it can be soothing could be annoying today.

The arty stuff

Usually on a Friday I’d post a dangle design. Today, I wanted to post a quote about mental health, and I decided to have a play with a similar very graphic style of art to place behind it. I’m not entirely sure the art works. No doubt I’ll have a go at another version later on today, perhaps.

For this one I sorted out the words and black boxes in Publisher and exported the page as a jpg file. I then used this file in Autodesk Sketchbook Pro along with my Microsoft Surface Pen and Microsoft Surface Studio to add the artwork behind the quote.