Itchy Feet, Overthinking and Why I Cut Myself

My maternal grandfather was a farmer.  He lived in a big farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, with an scattered array of outhouses, fields, evil cows*  and tractors. (*Literally; I don’t mean a group of cancerous old women – I actually think cows are deeply sinister creatures.)

In one of the outhouses, out the back of the main house to the right near the top of the yard, he stored wood (and peat and whatnot).  He had a carving machine for the wood (he loved to make little sculptures and recepticles from said wood), as well as an axe to chop it.

Even though I loved him deeply, I was slightly scared of his house when I was a child.  There were several rooms in particular that seemed to me to be full of a malevolent haunting.  There were actually a couple of incidents that convinced me the place was genuinely infested with supernatural forces, though I no longer subscribe to any sort of superstitious beliefs at all.  Nevertheless, I still can’t explain a couple of the events in question.

It was in this place that I first considered physically harming myself, but not for the reasons you may think – at least, not obviously so.  I was a relatively stable child, ostensibly at least.  I was popular at school, precocious, confident – the near-perfect little girl, on the face of it (aside from the fact that, in my view, I was an ugly brat – but I don’t recall caring one way or the other at the time).  I certainly can’t say I ever felt significant childhood depression, though thinking about it of course the sense of betrayal and letdown I felt as a result of some of V’s behaviour is still palpable when I think about it, and I became more socially inept the older I got.  I always blamed the latter on the fact that most of my peers were my intellectual inferiors with whom I had nothing in common, but perhaps that was not really the whole truth?

I’m writing all of this because one weird symptom of stress that I have is itchy feet.  When I get stressed, the itching goes out of control and drives me to distraction.  It seems an unlikely connection, but the correlations between stress and itches are just too coincidental not to be directly linked.

I would sooner be waterboarded than experience these itches, so extreme are they (well, maybe not waterboarded, as drowning is probably my ultimate fear.  Put it this way: I would sooner experience extreme pain for ten minutes than experience 10 seconds of these severe itches).  This was my very first known physical manifestation of any mental health problems.

The reason for the contextual references about the physical environment about my grandfather’s house is that I once seriously considered chopping off one of my feet with his axe, so utterly desperate was I to rid myself of the fucking stupid itch.  In fact, not only did I seriously consider it, but I was on the verge of bringing the said item down on my ankle when providence intervened and I heard my mother and grandfather calling me from the yard.  I must have supposed that they would prefer I did not chop off my foot in front of them (though bizarrely I hadn’t really thought about what they would think if they found me with my foot already detached from my body), so I put the axe down, made some excuse to them for being in the woodshed, and begged my mother to help me find a solution to the itchy feet problem, not that the poor cow could come up with any.  I don’t remember what happened afterwards, but presumably the itching must have eventually passed, and I was probably glad, in the end, that my foot had not been severed.

This is not meant to be an analogy for my present situation, though it could be read as such, I suppose.  The reason I brought it up was simply because the foot itching is back; not quite to the extent of the day I wanted to chop off my foot, but enough to be bothersome in any case.  These days, of course, there are all sorts of creams and lotions that minimise the distress, but I think that over the course of the years this symptom of my madness has broadly declined anyway.  Why?  Well, to start with, there have been so many other symptoms of my long descent into madness that perhaps my body had deemed the itching a redundance.  There have also been a few periods of relative stability in my life since then.  Not many, but certainly a few.  So I suppose what I am getting at is that my body has not felt the same need to express itself in this way in the last 10 years (though this is not to say that the problem went away entirely).

Yet here it is again, with some severity, so clearly my body is looking for every possible way of exhibiting its disgust with me.  Fair enough.  If I go completely mental again whilst that’s happening, at least I can justify cutting the soles of my feet to shreds, as the pain of doing that is better than the alternative.  Why cut my arms on Thursday night, though?

I have, of course, been post-morteming this to death since it happened.  The thing is, Thursday night was not an un-enjoyable night for the most part.  A and I met his brother and several of his mates and went to see two bands in a local live gig venue, and the atmosphere was great and we all had a laugh.  Looking back, though, I now believe that I was in a state of exuberance that was at least bordering on mania, so no doubt that didn’t help.  This shit is becoming more common, which is rather disturbing in itself.  But alone, that probable mania was only one precipitating factor in later events, if it even was one at all.

Another issue was the fact that we were drinking, and, I have to confess, fairly heavily.  Again, though, that in itself cannot be used as an excuse.  I haven’t gone out on the razz like that very often in the last few years, but it’s certainly not unheard of either, and before Thursday I hadn’t self-harmed in what must have been a decade.

I was having a laugh with the lads, but after the two bands had finished – which was actually fairly early – I ended up in a long conversation with A’s brother, DI.  DI is an advisor with the CAB, and, after my having decided a few weeks ago not to hide my insanity from A’s family any further, he has become aware of my situation.  I’ve even asked him for casual advice a couple of times, on top of own recent visit to the CAB, and found him to be very helpful.  However, as those of you that were reading on Thursday night will know, the discussion with DI on this occasion turned darker and less helpful.  I would like to make unequivocally clear that DI did not set out to insult or offend me in any way.  My going off my head is in no way his fault.

This is probably pointless repetition from Thursday’s post, but I am sober (if exhausted) now, so hopefully can more clearly articulate myself.  Basically he told me I should just go back to work and get on with it.  Attitudes like this have always annoyed me, as it assumes that you can control your mentalism, that you just click your fucking fingers and it disappears.  It is an ignorant attitude, but that’s not the fault of DI or any other individuals that subscribe to this viewpoint; it’s a generic societal fault for making mental illness a stigmatic taboo.  I know there are presently lots of initiatives and campaigns to challenge this situation, which I fully support and which I think are paying dividends, but will any amount of work in this regard ever truly eliminate these reproachful and deeply entrenched beliefs?

Anyhow, DI continued that I was digging a grave for myself (if only), and that my continued absence from work and the fact I that I am benefit-claiming dolescum piece of cunting fucking hateful disgusting lazy useless bullcrap (my words) will fuck up my prospects in future.  There are two issues here: one is that I was already aware that my circumstances do not bode well for a future career, and he is sadly all too correct.  The second is that one of my major issues over the last few years is my sheer disillusionment with my so-called career.  I spent five years at university trying to better myself, eventually causing myself a (previous) breakdown, and didn’t I then merely up with a glorified administrative job (despite the fact I ran the entire fucking department because by boss was either not there or was just generally incompetent).  That is not to denigrate administrators in any way, as they are essential to the operation of any organisation and frankly do the majority of the work for a fraction of the salary of their cunt managers.  I am not demeaning for a second any of those who have supposedly ‘inferior’ jobs – without these hard-working people, nothing would ever get done, and the so-called important gobshites who earn the big salaries but generally do fuck all of the work would not retain their golf-club and gold-card statuses.

All I am saying is that I am an intelligent woman.  I have post-nominal letters and miscellaneous qualifications flying out of my arse and a tested IQ of 148.  I thought I might have been able to make something else of my life.  I did try, I really did try.  Alas, to no avail.  Not only did my first third-level alma mater misrepresent the course I took and its potential prospects, any more general graduate positions for which I applied, even after my postgraduate course, virtually sneered at my application.  Oh well – I digress as usual.

In short, DI really hit a nerve.  My present dolescum status and my career disillusionment are two of my really big bugbears at present.  It is not his fault; he was just an external party verbalising everything I’ve ever thought about these matters and, indirectly, about myself.  It was upon conclusion of this conversation that I posted this rant on Twitter.  Reading it now, I think it was maybe a little unfair; it made it sound as if I’d had a terrible night, which I hadn’t until that point.  It was, however, an accurate reflection of my crazed state at the exact point at which it was posted.

It was a mercy that the two bands had finished as I was cracking up, though I think I internalised this quite well.  A and his friend DB suggested going to a rock club, and I agreed – DI (and another attendee, BM) had disappeared, DB doesn’t do deep and meaningful, and A doesn’t do deep and meaningful in front of DB.  So I thought that since I wasn’t likely to have any further in-depth, self-aware chats, I might be alright and so off the three of us went – but the so-called rock club was completely bollocks (no rock, no atmosphere, just shite) and full of what appeared to me (and the two blokes) to be children (obviously they were students, and I am only a couple of years older than the majority of them.  However, I was born old).

DB suggested we try an alternative rock venue – a favourite place of A and myself, so this was agreed.  I was incensed, however, when we got there and the power-crazed bouncer said I was too drunk to enter the premises.  A bit of background: the place in question has long-since been known in Northern Ireland for being the venue for underage kids, for getting your drink spiked with Ro-fucking-hypnol (I actually did get my drink spiked there once – a story for another day though) and for blow-smoking (folks used to openly sell and smoke it in the bar, now they do it in the small outdoors smoking area).  (This begs the question – why do I like it?  Well, it’s a big complex with a number of different bars, and I like it simply because it is one of the few places locally that has a good rock venue in it.  The vast majority of places in this town are full of spides/millies or trendy knob-jockeys smarming up to each other with cocking R n B playing loudly in the background).

Thus, I was stunned that they were turning me away.  It was there, for Christ’s sake, I wasn’t attempting to get into the American Bar at the Savoy Hotel!  And I am not saying I was sober, but I was not off-my-face-shouting-at-everyone-and-generally-behaving-like-a-twat inebriated either.  In the grand scheme of things, being turned away from a bar is really not a big deal, and perhaps I need to get some fucking perspective.  People are dying in Africa.  The world economy is up shit creek without a paddle.  Gordon Brown is still in charge of the UK.  Cancer hasn’t been eradicated.  The world is shit, and this is not a big deal.

But I was hopping mad, and boldly declared to my associates that we would take our business elsewhere instead, which we actually successfully did.  By this time, though, I had overthought everything that had gone on in the preceding hour or so, and thus had gone completely loco (or, more accurately, loca, since I am supposedly female).  So shortly after we arrived at the other bar, without finishing even a quarter of my drink, I stood up and declared that I was going.  I think DB was a bit taken aback, understandably.  A downed his pint with the intention of coming with me, but I told him to stay.  Why ruin his night?  Just because I am crazy does not mean it has to be inflicted upon all the key personnel in my life.  He did try to insist on coming, but I counter-insisted, and I won.  Then I walked home alone, which was an potentially dangerous thing to have done given the time (about midnight, I’m guessing?), but I couldn’t have cared less at the time.

I arrived home, paced up and down the kitchen in a bizarre, ritualistic derangement, saw a knife, and had an epiphany.  I remembered how watching blood stream down one’s arms, how feeling real, demonstrable, raw physical pain, felt – how much focus it took away from hideously disordered and frantic thoughts and the causal (or resulting?) mental agony thereof.  You know the rest, as my babble was published shortly thereafter on Twitter and here.

Of course, ever since this all happened, I have mentally engaged in plenty of self-objurgations.  I’m not happy with myself for giving into it, but my particular disgust was not so much that I did it; it was the aghast I felt when I learnt the next morning (and later) how much worrying and distress I’d caused.  My blog hits shot up that night, and ‘Fucked Up‘ is still one of the most read posts on this (admittedly very young) website.  I received a multitude of supportive messages and emails.  I had one lovely lady urging me to phone her just to let her know I was still alive.  People cared, and I had let every single one of them down.  I had let A down, Mum down, D down, B down; AC, DL, C, DI, DB, BM, my multitude of lovely internet friends and everyone in the world that had ever shown me any form of interest or support had been let down.

It brings tears to my scornful, vicious little eyes to even write this.  People cared, and I let them all down.  A was distraught on Friday morning.  Yesterday evening, when I confessed to D, he begged me to phone him the next time anything like that happens, day or night, just to scream and rave if that is what is needed.  Not that if it happens again, I’ll be in any way connected with reality so I doubt my capability to do such a simple thing – but never mind, it’s the fact he cared enough to offer this emergency service that matters.

I’ve lain in bed the last few nights, plagued as usual by my signature insomnia, analysing all of this to death, analysing to death all the key figures in my life (I hope I haven’t literally analysed any of them to death?!), analysing where I am and where I want to be, analysing my psychotherapy, analysing how I will maintain long sleeves for weeks, analysing TV, analysing books, analysing the cats’ fucking feeding patterns.  Some years ago, I bought a self-help book called Women Who Think Too Much: How to Break Free of Overthinking and Reclaim Your Life.  I’d seen the book author, Susan Nolen-Hoeksema, interviewed on the TV, and everything she’d said so completely resonated with me that I felt compelled to read her book.  Unfortunately, I have always found self-help books a load of patronising wank, and sadly this wasn’t much better than any of the others.  I know that I should be thinking x.  I can tell myself x.  What I cannot do is convince my mind to really feel x (and it pains me to even use the word ‘feel’ in this context, as it admits that I do, and probably need to, feel emotions.  I don’t want to.  I DON’T WANT TO!!!  *throws toys out of pram in all directions*).  Self-help books in their condescending tones fail to tell you, despite reams and reams of rhetoric and new age faff, how exactly you get to the stage where you completely convince both the rational and irrational sides of your brain that x is how you think and how you feel.  This is why I think CBT is a complete pile of bollocks, though it has to be said that it obviously works for some people.

I’d inexplicably forgotten to mention in my post-C dissection yesterday that he said at one point that he thought I was guilty of overthinking.  “Yes!  Definitely,” I responded, enthusiastically, pleased that he had developed such a strong understanding of me.  He half-smiled enigmatically and looked over his glasses at me.  “I’m concerned now that you hang on my every word,” he replied.  Maybe I’m exaggerating this for dramatic effect, but he said something like that.  Part of me was utterly taken aback, almost insulted, by this and I think my surprise was probably evident to him.  Does he think I am so completely besotted with him that every possible thing he can ever say to me is treated as a statement of fucking reverence?  So I defended myself to him, told him about the book to which I alluded in the previous paragraph, said it was something I had long thought myself.  But did he believe me?  To me, it seems fair to have argued this, but thinking about it now it may have seemed a case of ‘the lady doth protest too much’ to him.  In any case, is this a double-edged sword?  (Perhaps the wrong metaphor to use in a post with so much reference to self-harm, but you know what I mean).  Is there a part of me that does hang on his every word?  Honestly, I don’t think so.  If he says something with which I disagree, I tell him.  I have a mind of my own, regardless of the fact it is riddled with non-physical disease.  Hasn’t he been listening?

Nevertheless, I do think it’s very evident that I do let him pervade too many of my thoughts.  He asked me a couple of weeks ago to consider the goals that I wish to achieve throughout the course of my meetings with him.  I am going to set myself my own short-term goal; I am challenging myself not to mention him in this blog for another week – next Wednesday night (the evening before our next session), to be exact.  Run down to your local bookies and you might get very good odds on this 😉

Maybe I shouldn’t care if I think too much about he whose initial I cannot type.  Transference is normal, though I can’t define exactly the nature of mine towards the nameless one (it is not erotic, it is not angry, it is not ((consciously**)) parentification, it is not my placing him on a guru-like pedestal.  It is ‘just’ a weird and horrible dependence).  Maybe I am right and that I should care.   (** Of course, the whole point of transference is that it’s unconscious; however, I believe that that’s in the sense that you are not aware of the forces that drive it until you reveal them through therapy, which in my case is largely  ((though not exclusively)) of a psychodynamic bent ((which apparently involves a lot of client-therapist-relationship analysis)).  What I am saying above is that I don’t consciously feel any parentification, regardless of which part ((conscious or unconscious)) of my mind that creates such transfered properties.  Does that make any sense?  Maybe I should leave the psychology to the psychologists.  Here I am again, overthinking…oops…)

Maybe I shouldn’t have written three and a half thousand words of meaningless narcissism for no real reason.  Maybe I should be sectioned.  Maybe I should get a life.  Maybe maybe maybe.  Ah well.  My mind is conflicted, confused and erratic as usual and as a result most of this post is likely to have been rambling nonsense.  I ought to be used to it by now.  I will end on a positive note, though, and remind my lovely readership that my mood is good-ish at present and, once again, that I am so grateful for all their help and support.

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