Sunday, 31 May 2015

On Elections, Weather & Other things I can't Control

I started writing this post a few days after the Election Results. I broke off as I realised I was wholly in emotion mind and focusing on my emotional response to the whole campaign was not helpful in managing my emotions. Wise mind decision! Since then, I along with most of the country, have been trying to make sense of the re-election of a deeply unpopular government and waking up to the realisation that really so many felt they had no choice - despite being offered a choice of arguably the most varied range of political parties with a realistic prospect of gaining seats in parliament.

I will leave the politics to others who enjoy such things, but I need to make sense of some deeply troubling effects on my mental health from feeling helpless and hopeless about a process which is supposed to make me feel a part of society.

Don't get me wrong, I have encountered many people, including, presumably, those who voted for the current government, who have felt anything but optimistic and happy about the result. For me as someone with BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder), emotions are heightened and extended by the atmosphere around me, in addition to connecting with pre-existing feelings of despair and helplessness based on my life experiences. I am aware that Radical Acceptance is the right skill to use to move forward without becoming bogged down by my own self igniting feelings. Before I am able to do that I need to be able to identify the feelings that are affecting me most deeply.

1) Frustration - It has taken me three weeks, but I recognise that throughout the six weeks of campaigning I was in a near permanent state of frustration at the lack of real debate.

I was brought up in Northern Ireland, where political debate was highly emotive and strongly argued. No matter which political point of view was being represented it was always from the heart. Irish rugby teams are renowned for the 'fire in the belly' and relentless fight until the final whistle. I was weaned on such fight and passion in my politicians, whether I agreed with them or not.

Throughout this year's election campaign I was constantly dismayed by the lack of challenge from opponents of the government. More than that, there seemed to be a lack of real feeling for the impact of decisions on real people. I feel that important issues weren't aired in a truly Northern Irish level of debate - fiery and insulting, yes, but at least giving vent to strongly held opinions as well as based on facts. Another frustration was being well informed on important issues such as Health, Education and Justice and realising that, either by omission or design, the media allowed itself to be sidetracked into unimportant fripperies instead of pressing home on key points with all parties.

I felt no one was hearing my voice - and there in my frustration is where my past has met my present. As someone with BPD who for all my life has believed that I am to blame for every fault in life, either my own or others, the sense that I could not make my voice heard echoed back to the most painful moments of my life.

2) Injustice - because of the lack of real debate many who have suffered greatly in the past five years of austerity politics, again had no voice. All my life I have felt deeply inequality and injustice. As a survivor of CSA (Childhood Sexual Abuse) and in observing the scape-goating of some of our most committed public servants, I feel deeply any sense of injustice. I need to recognise when my own emotional sensitivity builds the sense of injustice to the point of being unbearable. Radical Acceptance seeks to take the sting out of that by acknowledging that actually, I cannot carry the sense of injustice for whole parts of society, on my own. Nor am I the only person who feels that injustice. Hard to hold on to when such a government has been returned to power. However, in seeking to manage the effects of these emotions there is a point where I must stop feeding the rising emotional stress and anxiety about the national situation and allow that I am powerless against it. Without wanting to fall into the cliche of 'Frozen' to 'let it go'.

Some years ago I had the privilege to work with displaced people in Northern Sudan. I don't think it is possible to find a better living example of injustice than the African tribes who were facing systemic genocide, and indeed, still do. As someone on the ground, it was impossible not to feel overwhelmed. Again, my emotional sensitivity meant that I automatically identified and joined my own suffering with the suffering around me. It resulted in me contending with culture shock alongside crippling emotional paralysis. Six weeks in, a colleague working for UNICEF spoke to me about how she coped. I now recognise the wisdom of Radical Acceptance. She said, 'Alma, you cannot change the world, but you can try to change the world for one person.' This along with the relationships built up with some war widows allowed me to see, that even the presence of outside observers able to point out the injustice was a boost to those we were working alongside. In essence the realisation that someone had just noticed there was an injustice, was a relief. I know a little of that from the moments when people have persisted with the message that it was okay to feel that what was done to me as a child was unacceptable. I also know how many times you have to hear it before you accept that it is true.

Back to the injustice apparent in the UK, I have a choice. Remain in my emotional paralysis. Or seek support from others of like mind and join together to make our voice heard. I have considered joining a political party, but I need to be free to vote according to my conscience rather than imposed party political ideas. So, I have decided to keep speaking as I am able about issues that matter to me. When I am stable and when it is unlikely to affect my emotional and mental health.

3) Fear - This week, I have suffered my most disruptive panic attack in months. In reality I have been living with a low level anxiety since the turn of the year. Most of my anxiety connects to my belief that I am worthless, something which has been reinforced by the divisive rhetoric which went on for over two months during the election campaign. At times I felt stabs of fear, as politicians divided human beings into groups of 'them' and 'us'. Having fought my mental illness over my lifetime and only been given a diagnosis which helped me access appropriate help at the age of 42, I have been dependent on state payments for three years now.

Having belonged to the 'hardworking' for most of my life - and paid into the state welfare system through tax and insurance for over 35 years, I now find myself vilified and disregarded by those in power. No major party spoke up for me effectively. At any point, because people in this country believe that the working poor, the disabled and those of us with mental health issues are 'undeserving' I could see the means to keep my head afloat pulled from under me. I am grateful for the provision that has been made for me, although would point out I have paid towards my own needs for many years. I am afraid to let people know that I am in receipt of benefits. I am afraid that I cannot keep up with my house repayments. I am afraid that the best option is for me to regress towards relapse than keep struggling to manage my condition. Having my basic needs provided for allows me space to do that.

The current 'new' government wants to increase the cuts to welfare, so that I don't become 'comfortable' on 'state handouts'. It believes, as do those who have voted for them, that all I need to be well is a job. I had a job for 35 years. I had excellent, well paid jobs for years. Finally, I was a shell of a person, because they did not address my underlying emotional and mental health needs. Because I have struggled to keep up with payments on all bills I have now fallen into fuel poverty. That means that 25% of my income is taken up with maintaining heat and light. Don't get me wrong, I have made major cut backs in an attempt to cut my costs. The fuel company has acknowledged that I have reduced my indebtedness and my annual energy costs are less than a third of those of an average household. Nonetheless the roll over deficit from winter to summer has not been cleared for the past three years, so here I am being told that I am in fuel poverty. That is hard for someone who has pride in self sufficiency to take. Such emotional struggles weary me. I am doing my best to find work that is sustainable and realistic. I cannot at present work five days a week. I am expensive for some employers due to my professional qualifications and work experience. However, the reality of managing my condition means that I need space in between periods of work - spaced out part time hours in order to prevent relapse. I have learned this over a long period of time (nearly 20 years) when I was most unstable.

What hope do I have of being allowed the time and space to fully manage my condition, when people who have terminal illnesses with a longer life expectancy of six months are being required to seek work? (one proposal from our caring government).

Behind these personal, practical fears is another more instinctive fear that as a nation we have moved beyond caring for one another, simply for being fellow human beings. Without being over dramatic I recognise in the dehumanising nature of some rhetoric and the blaming of specific groups for societal ills, historic echoes of the most heinous crimes against humanity from Germany, to Cambodia, to Rwanda. If you consider me as less than you, simply because I belong to a group 'other than' you, then that gives you permission to treat me as you will. It is hardly surprising that I have allowed this fear to grow as it has connected with the fears and realities I have already experienced as a survivor of CSA - a number of people in my life before have considered me as 'less than' and therefore given themselves permission to treat me in ways they would not wish to be treated themselves.

I have worked hard against these fears and against the labels that seek to push me down. In short, I have overcome more than anyone will ever know and I have the strength of recognising that I am more than, that I am precious because I am loved. I am not measured by how much in financial terms I can contribute, but in the person I am, the value I bring to my relationships, whether I have strength to help others less fortunate than me.

Despair - It is easy to despair and I fight against that. I need to relearn the art of hearing the positive in good relationships around me. I need to see the positives in the number of people dissatisfied with the election result. To know there are others close to me and unknown to me who recognise the injustices and the same fears for our nation.

My starting point has to be to accept the situation as it is. Just as I have to live each day in either rain or sunshine, without being able to determine or control either, so my task is to live my day to day as best I can in the society and circumstances I find myself.

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