Optimism and me

I like to think of myself as an optimist, hopeful and as Monty Python said ‘always look on the bright side of life’. I like to see the best of people and I do not like to give up on anyone.

However, when you have depression this is harder to do. Part of me wants to remain upbeat and hopeful of a better day ahead. But another part of me is telling me it is all doom and gloom.

I am a realist and I know that the world can be awful. I have seen, experienced or read about some of life’s darkest moments. I am a history teacher so death, war and disease are in every one of my lessons. I have felt some very dark emotions and experienced abuse. However, I also know many people have life so much worse, it is all relative to our own experiences.

So how can I be optimistic when the realist in me sees the world for what it is? Well, through all my pain and sadness I also see kindness, love and joy. I find it hard to not see them in the world. In children, in nature and in human stories. To be those are the emotions to look for and dwell upon. Seek out the moments and remember them.

When I am sad or lonely I try to go for a walk and see nature. Nature is neutral in its emotional state but it’s beauty can evoke such joy in a human heart. I watch my puppy play and bound with the happiness of freedom. The trees remind me that year in and out they will remain, growing silently with other footprints around their roots. Somehow their longevity is uplifting and inspiring.

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Near where I live is one of the oldest trees in Britain. It is a Yew tree called the Ankerwycke Yew and it is believed to be around 2,000 years old. This amazes me, this tree has stood here from sapling to towering tree for longer than the years past since Jesus. Through eras, wars, heartache, peace, storms, religious changes, inventions, and so much more. It has no idea what is happening but it continues to grow and give shelter.

This tree has not done anything special and yet it is significant. It is possibly under which Magna Carta was sealed by King John. Possibly under which King Henry VIII proposed to Anne Boleyn, triggering the English Reformation. It is where I walk my dog. Without eyes it has seen so much, bearing witness to history whilst being history itself.

When I was in Cambodia many trees have grown around the ruins of temples. It is like nature wants to take back the land, it is almost disrespectful of the ruins. However it is also amazingly beautiful and somehow it feels so right that it should take them back.

Maybe it is the wonder of nature and the world that keeps me optimistic. Whatever it is I will hang on to my optimism. If a tree can thrive for over 2,000 years I can make it to tomorrow in this mental world.

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A Woodland Walk

I walk through the woodland, an excited puppy running around my feet. Headphones placed in my ears, a voice tells me to slowly breathe in and out. Each muddy step feels like a journey in a novel, a wander through an enchanted forest. I feel my heart beats growing faster, so I focus on the breeze as it swirls through the leaves above me and across my face.

The raindrops feel refreshing as they fall around me. I watch as they flow down the leaves to the woodland floor. Each droplet has a journey, a destiny as it tells a story washing fears away. I look at the many greens and browns that surround me. Degrading autumn leaves fallen are beneath my feet, the puppies paws disappear into the squelching mulch.

The ground goes up and down as I follow the path into the depths of woodland. My mind turns inside and I feel the pain within. In this woodland I am alone in its peace and the loneliness closes in. I can feel each scar and wound left on my heart. Damaged over and over by the loves and losses of my life.

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Thirty-three years of heartache; wounds, scratches, bruises and stabs. Betrayals, insults and losses have taken their toll. My heart feels battered like it has had a long career as a boxer. Round and round of fists until hearing the bell ding. Family, friend and lovers leaving their marks. Stabs, although no longer a seeping wound they have left deep scars.

Sometimes I feel these scars will never heal completely. Memories cannot be erased and self confidence is hard to regain. The wall of protection around my heart is concreted in place, yet lately I see the cracks appearing. I feel my heart calling from it’s locked box, yearning to be free. Screaming out for another love to nurture it like it has never really known.

I enjoy my solitude. I like to take my dog walks bathing in nature. It is like I crave my space and time with me. However, I also wish for someone to share this life with me. Supporting each other. To share a cup of tea. Friends are amazing but a love is something transcendent. A love not to cure-all, but to provide additional forces in the fight for our lives in this mental world.

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Money makes the world go round

Everyone has an experience with money and I don’t think anyone I know anyone who likes it. However, money is a fact of life we all have to deal with, from counting pennies as a kid to paying bills as an adult.

But money scares me a little. The power it has on our lives. Money does not bring us happiness but it can sure help to make us feel comfortable. Money is not more important than our health, but we have to pay for medical care. Even on the NHS paying prescriptions and things you cannot get on the NHS, like I pay for my private therapist and a chiropractor.

Without money life can be bleak. However I also think that happiness gained from money plateaus after we have the essentials we all need; home, water, food, warmth and a few comforts.

I think my fear comes from my childhood, as probably most of our relationships with money were formed. My parents were not good with handling money and they also had very little. They did not seem to budget and ended up with loans they could not pay. I remember sitting in the car as they went into offices or banks to discuss loans. I do not know their full situation as this is just from my childhood memories and I am sure they did the best they could.

However, I also remember the arguments, lots of arguments about money. I am not sure my parents really argued about anything else. I have no idea who was right or wrong, probably both and yet neither. I just remember the family never having enough money and the arguments.

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I also have no judgement on my parents as I find it so hard to stay in budget with my own money. You would think seeing my parents would make me meticulous about looking after my money. But no, I think it might be because as soon as I earnt my own money, it was always gone on things my teenage self felt I needed. I could never keep up with my friends but I tried and having my own Saturday job helped me to have my own money for the cinema or a new top. I could finally buy clothes that were not from a charity shop or car boot sale. I felt so grown up.

Now as an adult (apparently) I try to be more careful. My bills come out at the beginning of the month. I try to budget and I love a good spreadsheet. However recently I took a pay cut to help my stress and mental health. It was the right choice but it does mean I might need to keep a closer eye on the budget and take out some of my luxuries.

The pay cut has stressed me out and has me anxious about living and not getting into anymore debts. Yet I cannot change it and have to move forward. I remind myself I am on a good wage as an experienced teacher, although living alone does make things costly.

Anxiously I have balanced my spreadsheet and now comes the challenge – to stick with the budget I have set. Somehow I feel I have already failed, before I have eben started. I cannot seem to believe in my own ability to do this. How do some people find this so easy? I admire people who put money into their savings account no matter what, I am jealous even.

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For me money makes me feel like I have failed even before I have begun. Like I will be told off or find myself in trouble. My mum was always worried about bailiffs and she had promised they would never come to her door as they had her parents. I think I feel that fear and I do not know how to let it go. I feel ashamed I cannot just be better at this. I have an A Level in Maths, it was my best subject in school. I can do the maths ,yet I do not have control.

I also know I am an emotional buyer and my amazon account is littered with purchases on a whim. I hope they will make me feel better and it is always something I feel I need. But the parcel only bring guilt and anxiety in the end. Don’t get me wrong I have never even had a letter threatening the bailiffs. My fear might be irrational and inherited but it is real in my life in this mental world.

Life is exhausting, each and every day

Life is exhausting! Getting up each day and living is very tiring. Having depression and fibromyalgia makes my body ache and feel so very heavy. Weighted down by feelings of numbness and sadness.

Sleeping through my seven alarms, I scramble out of bed. I take my pills and brush my teeth. Brushing my hair seems like a marathon of effort, mile after mile of strokes until it is up and out-of-the-way. Dragging any clothes I can find, onto my limbs. Choosing what is comfortable, closest and clean.

I feed the bunnies and the puppy, as the kettle boils to make tea. A travel mug and breakfast bar in hand, I head out to the car. The door slams and I feel my world get small, Volkswagen Polo sized. With the radio on I navigate the traffic, focused on everyone’s moves as the world swirls around me.

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I park at school and get through the day. I travel back in time as I teach, jumping from Norman England, to Nazi Germany, to Tudor Britain and to many more. Grounded with my feet in what I know, the past. The day ticks on and my mind pushes everything else away. In some moments I even feel echoes of my passion for teaching. That feeling which seems to escape me most of the time, it feels like a reminder of a long-lost friend.

The students leave and I feel as empty as my classroom. My mind fills with clutter, memories of laughter float around. I am back in the car and fighting rush hour traffic wanting to be at home. Encapsulated in my car I listen to soothing music as I breathe my way home, in…out…right…left…home.

Greeted by an excited puppy, I can’t help but smile. He races upstairs, with energy I wish I could steal. Behind him, I drag my feet up each mountainous step. Stripping off my hard protective shell of the day I can climb into my safe pyjamas. The kettle goes on to feed the tiredness that is growing.

The sofa envelopes me as the tv noise fills the space in my head. The sounds push any negative thoughts aside, for now. My puppy curls up on my lap, giving me all the warmth and love he can. I wish for the simplicity of his life, the peaceful day of  sleep with food and drinks provided.

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I look at the kitchen as if it might spontaneously produce a dinner. Preparing my meal for one feels like making a banquet for a King. I need the energy to breathe but I know I need to eat. A sandwich, toast, ready meals or maybe I will just order in. Someone else can make the effort while I use up my reserves just making it up the stairs.

I climb into bed as early as possible, beneath the duvet I feel warm and safe. Camomile tea and an interesting novel to calm my mind. Meditation, mindfulness or just music to sleep by. I hope tonight sleep will be easy to find. I hope it will replenish the fatigue and exhaustion of my life in this mental world.

A snow storm of pain and anxiety.

I do not like snow. I mean I do not mind it to look at, from inside. It is pretty and it glistens. I do like seeing the way it sits on tree branches. But that is it, that is where my like ends. Aesthetically pleasing but nothing more. I would love a picture of the snow much more than ever being in it. For all my fantasies from the books I read, I never wanted to go to Narnia.

There are several reasons that it gives me anxiety and makes me shaky. Firstly, I broke my arm a few years back in the snow. I slipped at the end of my garden path. One minute I was standing and the next I wasn’t. I knew it was broken before the X-ray. It hurt so much but it repaired as broken bones do.

Yet I have also had good memories in the snow, I was a nanny in Switzerland, I played in the snow with the girls and was sat in a jacuzzi surrounded by snow. But I was warm and it was sunny.

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The biggest problem I have with the snow is the cold. Cold sets off my Fibromyalgia, it is my biggest trigger. The chill when you step out of a bath can set it of, so you can imagine what snow does. The cold seeps into my bones. Last year when it snowed I had a duty outdoors at school then a walkabout (helping teachers with behaviour issues) around the site. Although wrapped up I still got very cold and it triggered a flare up that lasted weeks.

I do try to prepare, I wrap up warm and wear my snow boots. As soon as the temperature starts to drop I wear my thermal leggings and socks under my normal clothes. I avoid outdoors where I can. This year I even asked my mechanic to pump up my tyres as I did not want to try to do that in a cold garage. I just know it would result in me being in pain. Hands, wrists and legs are my biggest pain zones.

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I also feel judged by people around me. I have to explain how I know what is best for me to avoid certain situations, or to explain my growing anxieties.  Today I had to try and explain, to a collegue, how being outside as I have to move around to being outside for a longer period was different and so could cause my pain. It makes me question my own belief and knowledge of my own condition.

My anxiety does also heighten as a precaution and of course the cold might not cause a flare up. However, do I want to take the risk? We all know that pain is not nice, dealing with it is mentally draining and physically exhausting. Especially when it could last for so long afterwards.

However, I also have to be aware that the fear of pain can cause pain itself. I know this too and so try to avoid this as well. Pain is so subjective and psychological. It is not just physical. Pain can be the bodies reaction, a defence mechanism as well as a result. Not because ‘it is all in my head’ but because our brains are clever and they know the best way to get what they want. To save us or control us, pain is a tool the brain uses.

I have often said ‘pain is my game, it is my life’. As a fibromyalgia patient I am in pain everyday, to varying degrees. I have studied it, lived it and tried to understand it. This does not mean I know everything, far from it, pain still trips me up and surprises me. Mine is also subjective to me. However, I have always believed that ‘knowledge is power’ and by knowing my pain, the best I can, does help me control it as far as possible.

So back to the snow. I know it is not going to kill me. It might not even cause me pain this time. But I know I will deal with it each day, as this is my life in this mental world.

 

To teach or not to teach? That is the question.

I am often told, ‘Teaching is a calling’ and to some extent I agree. You do not get into teaching for the money, that is for sure. The hours are long and the pressure can be high. You can be shouted, sworn and even spat at sometimes, by students and sometimes by parents. My pay is dependent on students results and it does add an extra pressure.

However, it is a steady income, above average salary, with long and frequent holidays. You can see students learn, progress and achieve. I have helped students though bereavement, abuse, physical and mental illnesses and more. Support them as they deal with learning difficulties. Inspire them to enjoy my subject, history.

Every job has its highs and lows. In teaching this can frequently happen in just one day. I understand the demands of the job. The emotional ties to wanting the best for your students. Leading to late hours of planning lessons, researching new ideas, preparing resources and marking, marking, marking. It is no surprise that media headlines show that teachers are leaving the profession at the highest rate ever recorded (Huffington Post).

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I went into teaching to help students who might be having a similar childhood to mine. Even when I told a teacher what my home life was like, I was not believed. My mother worked at my school and she was very well liked. Do you believe the angsty teenager or the parent, who is also a friend? Behind closed doors she was different; emotional abuse, gas-lighting and neglect. I was made the family scapegoat and bullied by my siblings too. I did not know all the terms then, but I knew it was wrong. Although I believed it was all my fault.

As a teacher I want to save all those unheard ‘child Becky’s’ out there, yet I never can. I was programmed to be our family resucer and I can help and support my students. But I have had to accept that I can not save them from their lives. I can; report what I see to social services when needed, I can teach healthy lives and relationships, provide emotional support, teach resilience, model survival, recommend counselling and even make recommendations to parents. I am a pastoral manager within the school to be more involved in doing all these things. But I cannot save them.

Not only due to the fact I am not their parent, but also the restrictions on social services and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services. Both overworked and understaffed, so they are putting out fires. They have to prioritise physical and high urgency cases. So the mental or emotional are left dropping down the list. I am sure this is not the whole picture and I have simplified their struggles, but I do know this is how it feels to me.

I say I have to accept this but I am struggling, I find this so difficult. This failure to save them all then triggers my childhood feelings of worthlessness and not ever being enough. Their stories set off memories of my own. I empathise and relate to their lives as they happen. I wish I could do more for each one but I am not their parent or from social services.

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Currently I am suffering with depression. I can not seem to shake it and have had to have two different periods of time of school/work. No single case has caused this but an accumulation of seven years of teaching and supporting young people and feeling like I have not saved one. I am not even sure what I mean by ‘saved’.

I am now re-evaluating my life and my choices. Do I keep teaching? Is it just the pastoral side, do I just drop the management role? Is it our catchment of high social care needs? Do I try a different school? Do I teach private or sixth form only? Do I do something completely different? Is this the time to decide? So many thoughts, going around and around in my head. Who do I turn to for advice?

I have started researching the options out there, knowledge is power. Should I start to apply? Then anxiety hits; interviews, meeting people, telling my Headteacher, letting people down, abandoning my current students, new curriculum, new friends, new students, moving house and so much more. Can I go through it? Will it help?

I keep thinking ‘what would I do if money was no object?’, apart from the luxury holiday I would take. I think about writing, getting into publishing, retraining as a counsellor, doing my Masters and so many other options. Then reality kicks in and I know I have bills to pay. I need a good regular income as I do not have anyone to lean upon. I having no partner or family to support me and nor would I expect this from someone. I have great friends, but none are rich and I would not expect support like this from them.

Today I have no answers, I will continue to research my options and maybe I will apply for a few. I will keep going through these thoughts and hopefully I will find some answers. Hopefully I will make a decision about my life in this mental world.

Magic and Hope

I have loved the idea of magic for as long as I can remember. My favorite of Roald Dahl’s novels was Matilda and I devoured the Harry Potter series. I then progressed onto Sabrina the Teenage Witch and then Charmed. Even at university as a historian the history of witches appealed. Recently the Witches of Eastwick and Sabrina Spellman caught my mind and now the A Discovery of Witches.

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So why am I so obsessed by witchcraft? Sometimes I wonder if it is laziness. I could conjure a cup of tea without moving, dress with a click of my fingers and travel in a blink of an eye. I could enchant objects to do all my housework. It would make the mundane parts of life so much easier.

However, I think it is more than that. I think I love the idea of being magical. Being special and having a unique power that few have. Throughout my life I felt unworthy, unloved and insignificant. As a child, I also had little to no control over my life. I was being emotionally abused by my mother and was the scapegoat in my family.

I think my love of magic was because it would be a way out. A magically door to a land of happiness. I could escape to a land that felt almost possible. It is not like these lands do not feel almost believable. Each story shows how the magic can be hidden to the ‘muggles’ or non-magical people.

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Through the eyes of my nieces, I also see the innocent joy of belief in magic. Eyes lighting up at the sight of Father Christmas at a supermarket or shopping mall. Gasps of wonder at what the naughty elves have got up to overnight. I would love to go back to that innocent times, wouldn’t you?

Each story I read or watch about magic brings me a little of that feeling. The hope that it is possible for magic to happen. That is it, hope. Things will get better, life will be great and who knows what might be possible. We all need hope in our lives in this mental world.

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I’ve no love for the Drama Triangle

I am trying to escape from a triangle, it is known as the Karpman Drama Triangle or the Dreaded Drama Triangle. The triangle has it’s three points; Rescuer, Persecutor and Victim. It is a social model conceived by Stephen Karpham in 1968.

The Dreaded Drama Triangle consists of three roles: Victim, Persecutor, and Rescuer
The Drama Triangle (powerofted.com)

In my family this triangle has been playing out without me knowing it. My mother often played the Victim and she lives the mentality of a victim, however she was a persecutor to me. I am the victim of her abuses and so I should be the victim. However, as her scapegoat I was not allowed to be the victim and so I became everyone’s Rescuer.

This leaves me running to the rescue of my family, no matter how big or small the problem. I do not know when this started but an instance that comes to mind was when my Granddad died.

I was fourteen and I remember going to the hospital to see, the once stocky veteran of the Second World War, a man who wore braces to hold his trousers up over this enlarged beer belly. He was now a tortoise like creature, without his shell wrapped in the clean white sheeted bed. He had pancreatic cancer and he died.

After his death I remember everyone else’s tears and thinking ‘I have to be the strong one’. I refused to cry and stayed strong for everyone. No one specifically told me this but I felt this belief like this was my role. It was like a rule I had to follow and I am a stringent rule follower. I remember, I was able to not cry until I was in his funeral, two weeks later.

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My role was cemented, Rescuer I was and Rescuer I am. Today anyone has a problem I am your girl. I will suggest solutions and support its implementation. I am at my best in this mode of operandi. Maybe I even crave it, I became a teacher to save children who might be in the situation similar to the one I was in as a child.

My therapist alerted me to the Drama Triangle in one of our sessions. We were discussing a nightmare I had experienced a few nights before. I now know I need to stop rescuing my family. Then I break the triangle and take back control, then they can no longer persecute me and make me a victim.

Easier said than done, of course. I want to help and the urge is fierce. Also, I like the fact I am a nice, helpful, generous person. I have to tackle with the idea of saying no against a key part of my identity. I need to gently remind myself that things are not black and white, I can say no and still be the kind, generous, helpful person I want to be.

It is a true self-care to say ‘No’ at times like this, because if I give into it and rescue it always bites back. My family members are unable to be grateful, they believe it is to be expected and so cannot be sincerely thankful. I am then hurt and feel unfulfilled by the process. If I cannot find a solution then I feel ashamed and a complete failure.

So anyway I play the game I seem to be burnt at the end. Therefore, I need to break the cycle of this triangle and be free of the pain it brings. However, in the short-term holding it in affects my health and increases my pain. In the long-term it will make things better, I hope.

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I am finding holding back hard at the moment. My sister-in-law is struggling and I want to be there for her, I am. The issue is not this but the fact some of their issues are my brother and I want to fix him to help. I want to tell him some truths he won’t like. But I know doing this is my Rescuer wanting to help my sister-in-law and protect my nieces and nephew. Would it help? The short answer is no.

With narcissistic traits, like my mother, he would not hear me. He would resent the fact comments came from me, the family scapegoat. His ego would be wounded and so he would lash out at me and probably his wife, maybe even his children. So I know I need to stay out of it, I need to walk away.

I will help my sister-in-law but I need to listen and support her. I do not need to be her rescuer. She does not expect me to find and implement solutions. But to be her friend, her sister in this mental world.

Letting Myself Cry

Dear teenage Becky,

I know things are hard. It seems like no one loves you or cares about you. You have the weight of the world on your shoulders before you should. Your mother is mean and yells, she tells you that you are not worthy. Your siblings and father call you ‘cry baby’, ‘lemon head’ or ‘melon head’ as you cry a lot. But you have every reason to cry and be sad.

Crying is absolutely fine. Cry away the sorrow of your childhood. The abuses and bullying you have to endure. Cry for the people you lost; loosing Nan and Granddad, when you were 14 and 15, was tough. Nan was the one person who seemed to understand your plight and then she died. It is ok to be sad about that, it is not blaming her. She had to go she was sick, you gave her permission to go, to gain relief from all her pain. But you have no relief from your pain.

You held back tears when people died believing you had to be strong for the family. You hold the family up, like the adults should. It is honourable, but you also have to look after your own feelings. Let out the tears. Bottling them up leads to pain, causing some of the migraines you suffer with and flaring up your fibromyalgia.

Crying lets out toxins and relieves stress. It is a natural bodily function that you should have and do. It expresses so many emotions from happiness to sadness (Wikihow – Cry and Let It All Out).

I know you do cry a few tears, for others and for happy occasions. You well-up at a wedding, when a baby is born or watching a romantic film. But you should also cry for you. Let out the pain and hurt from your own life story. You have suffered, and people have hurt you. You deserve those tears for you.

As an adult, I find crying almost impossible. I wish I was there when you started to hold back the tears to tell you “It is ok, let them out”. To counter the bullying and stand up for you. To come up with a witty comeback to the names they called you. I mean really ‘melon head’ what does that even mean? They were not the most intelligent of names.

Finally, also know that if you cry you are not your mother. I know she cries at every whim, at every argument and that she uses it to emotionally blackmail everyone. But when you cry you are not doing it with malicious intent, your tears are pure. Crying does not mean you are her. I know becoming her is your deepest fear, but you never could be her. You will come to learn and accept this in therapy.

With all the love and support you should have had.

Adult Becky

(Still no tears but I am working on it, in this mental world)

Dealing with criticism

When you feel like you are never enough, dealing with criticisms can be difficult. Any suggestion of a fault can be hard to handle. Corrective suggestions about my grammar recently sent me into a tornado of emotions.

Throughout my childhood and early adult life my mother told me, over and over, that I was never enough and not worthy of her love. This has left me with a hole in my soul which I am trying to repair. I have sticky notes around my house telling me; I am enough, I am worthy, I deserve love, and more. Four years of therapy have helped me to realise my mother was wrong.

However, one person’s opinion can still throw me back to the 1990s and my world as a worthless child. No one intends to trigger me, I know that. It is not their fault it makes me feel this way. But I do.

I need to learn my triggers and try not to let it not happen. But this is harder than it sounds. Especially when someone close to me, someone I care about, is the one giving me feedback. I want them to think the best of me, so I have to not show weakness or imperfection. Or they might not love me, like my mum.

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It might not seem logical, it isn’t, but to me not being perfect is a slippery slope to people leaving me as I am not enough. People leave. People decide they do not like me or love me anymore. They find out that thing my mum saw from the beginning. The thing that stopped her being able to love me as she should.

In this case I felt I was trying to help. Swooping in on my white horse in rescuer mode, helping when someone asked. Instead of feeling appreciated I felt deflated as my work was criticised. They had every right to make suggestions for corrections, it wasn’t really a criticism. Yet it felt so personal to me.

Of course, in therapy I have addressed this. My mind knows my premise is not true, I am not defective, I do not need to be perfect. However, in the moment my brain goes haywire first. How do you control those impulses? When will my mind learn? How do you stop being a perfectionist? Just because we have gone through it int herapy does not mean I truely believe it, yet.

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This I think is one of the biggest problems with childhood abuse, it programs your brain differently from such a young age. Scientists tell us that the brain is malleable and it can create new pathways. So, there is hope for my brain and yours, but trust me this is hard to do. I will keep working on it, to keep myself sane in this mental world.