An update for those cheering on from the sidelines

For those playing along in the ‘what shit has fallen on Judith’s head this time’ stakes at home, the last three months have been pretty off the wall. I went manic and lost everything, is the short version. The long version is considerably longer!

About four months ago, mania reared its ugly head, with its favourite companions restlessness, agitation, and hypersexuality. This went about as well as can be expected, and as of July 1st I lost my husband. I had to start my life over again, and that was hellishly expensive. All the debt I’d crawled out from under in my time of being married fell on me again like a tonne of bricks. So I’m . . . fiscally challenged, shall we say. But I still had my job, so there was a way through this.

‘Had’ being the operative word. I parted ways with my employer on September 22nd. I’d had some inkling something was wrong, but it was still unexpected. I now have a few weeks to find a job, before my savings run out and I lose my apartment. I don’t know what happens from there. It’s a 13-week stand down for the dole, and I don’t have 13 weeks of savings. Perhaps I should chuck in the apartment now and go live in a hostel where it’s cheaper? That would stretch my savings further.

On the child front, the child that I got the hellishly expensive apartment as a sanctuary for has decided that she doesn’t want to live with me any more, but she wants me to fly down every 2-3 weeks to see her:/ . I have a bunch of flights already booked and paid for, but once they are done I don’t know if I have the resources to keep doing that. It all depends on me getting a good job, fast. Which in turn involves the investment of money – I need to get my hair dyed back to a natural colour, from blurple. It’s not as easy as just colouring over or lifting the dye out – I need to get it professionally done or I’ll turn green.

The other child? Oh sweet mother of Jesus. Her new diagnostic papers have her with Valproate Syndrome, ADHD, and a provisional diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum. Holy shit. It feels like a weight has been lifted, as something I’ve been saying for years is vindicated, and then dropped back down, as I realise that she’s not just a little special, and she needs a lot more help than she’s getting. On the school from they’re putting a ‘behaviour plan’ in place as she gets more and more unmanageable in the wake of the split. How far that is from disciplinary action is not entirely clear, but her teacher seems to be of the opinion that she’s deliberately defiant, not just not understanding. This may be true, but on the other hand, with the autism diagnosis, what new things do we need to understand about her? What new ways do we need to devise to deal with her? These are important questions, and I feel like they’re already not handling the ADHD diagnosis well, so I worry about how well the school can really cope with her. We have referrals to child mental health for her in the works, maybe that will help? She was also kicked out of after school care for the rest of the term, but with any luck she will be ok when she goes back next term, because otherwise I’ll have to be a mother from 3-6pm every day, and that’s not ideal for getting a job.

On top of all this, I had a series of seizures, after about 5 years seizure free, and now I’m back to not being able to drive and trying to get my anticonvulsant medications right again.

In better news, I’m seeing someone, who is rather sweet and lovely. I don’t know how this will play out, as there are significant challenges in our future, but this sensible, sweet man is who I need to stay grounded in this moment.

So that’s what’s new in my world. The shit hit the fan, and it’s currently still spraying out in all directions. I’m waiting for the next blow. Death of a friend or family member? Inability to get a job? Child kicked out of after school care, or worse, out of school? Troubles with the other child? There’s so many ways the shit could splatter, most of which I haven’t even thought of yet but will kick myself for not foreseeing earlier. I just have to roll with it and hold on, hoping that it gets better.

Sexual assault happens to people you know

It happened to me. Four times I have been raped, the most recent only a bit more than a week ago. This is my story and my feelings. It is graphic and confronting – take care of your own mental space if you read this.

I am happily married to a monogamous man, but I am polyamorous. For a long time I have been burying that part of me, but with a recent bout of hypomania it has resurfaced. I struggle to love just one person, and my husband has been very understanding about this. Thus, recently I began dating again.

I made the call to try Tinder, and initially it worked really well. I was looking for casual hookups that I hoped would sometimes develop into friendships that would last, and this has happened. But the world is a dangerous place, and it was only a matter of time before  met someone who was not as good a human being as I credit them for.

I met Suman in a hotel off Queen Street, and he was incredibly respectful and caring. I was running late because of family stuff, and he was considerate and understanding. He had a clear understanding of consent – he asked if it was ok to hug me, to take my sweatshirt off, everything. He was the most respectful man I have ever had the pleasure to meet, and we had very nice vanilla sex.

He got up, and pulled out a pipe and some pot. I figured, why not, he’s a bit tense and this will relax him. He had admitted to having OCD and anxiety, and to smoking pot quite often to help deal with it. We went outside, and smoked up. I had only a little, but he drew deep and often. Before long he was buzzing and floating, happy as anything, and relaxed. We went back to the room.

As soon as we walked into the room, things changed. I took off my boots and stood up, and he wrenched my clothes off and threw me onto the bed. I was scared, and I froze up. What happened next is a mess of flashes. I can’t put it in any logical order. He forced me to go down on him, grabbing my by the hair and forcing me deeper and deeper until I choked. He pulled me by the hair til I lay on my back again and choked me. He slapped me. He bit me, and the bruises are yet to fade. He licked me all over, and that makes my skin crawl. He masturbated over my body, dripping sweat all over me. He penetrated me. All this, while I pretended to enjoy it so that I could get out of there in one piece.

Perhaps I should have said no, perhaps I should have fought. I was terrified, though, not knowing how far his violence was going to go. I shouldn’t have to excuse not fighting a sexual assault though – it’s not on me, it’s on him.

Finally, he collapsed, buzzing out, and I gave him the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert to watch. It was perfect, he was enthralled, and I got dressed and left.

I got home, threw everything I was wearing in the wash, and showered and scrubbed the sweat and stench of him off my flesh. Twenty minutes in the shower, and I felt clean enough to step out and begin the road to healing.

My husband has been amazing through this, supportive and loving. I proceeded into a four-day bender, kicked off at a wonderful friend’s place who helped me write a note to Suman telling him why I would never see him again. She poured me G&Ts until the pain was numbed, then another friend took me to dinner and poured cider down my throat.

That night, a lovely man helped me get totally plastered in a safe place, and showed me respect and kindness. It was the first step in trusting again, and I am grateful to him for how he treated me that night. The following days were spent in Wellington, soaking in wine and tequila and being cared for by wonderful women and men, and my journey continued.

Thank you to all of the people that have helped me to move forward. I’m not going to name you all, because some will want to remain unnamed and I’ll inevitably forget someone wonderful and important but I am ever grateful and I love you all.

There have been questions raised about going to the police, and it’s simply not going to happen. I know what it’s like, I’ve seen people go through it and supported them, and I will not risk my mental wellbeing for it. I will brook no condemnation for this decision. It is mine alone to make.

To the men who accept that I’m a bit broken, and deal with my freakouts and freezing up when they touch a trigger they didn’t know existed, thank you and thank you again. You’re helping me heal, and I value you deeply. To the women who have listened as I poured my heart out, you are my rocks and I appreciate you. You stand in the swirling waters of my emotions, and you hold me tight. It is wonderful beyond measure.

I will not let this stop me loving and trusting. I have known for a long time that there is no such thing as a completely safe person, after my oldest friend raped me. I choose to trust and to love, deeply and passionately. I will not let this change my heart.

Parental notification about abortion – no thanks

Today some dipsticks called Right to Life called for the government to make parental notification for teenagers having abortions mandatory. They said cute things like “The Denial of Parental Notification is child Abuse” (weird capitalisation theirs). Well. I am of the considered opinion that this is bullshit.

I have reasons to have an opinion on this. I had a child when I was 17, and another when I was 20. Between those I had an abortion. The results of those two pregnancies were two wonderful girls, and the elder is almost a teenager. This is a topic highly relevant to me.

My twelve-year-old is a lovely girl, and she as every right to bodily autonomy. I think she’s too young for sex, and I hope she thinks so too, but if she were to end up pregnant and wanting an abortion, she should have access to it. Maybe questions should be asked, because I don’t want her to be a silent victim of rape or anything, but she should have that access. I hope she would be able to tell me – but if she can’t, her health and her body is much more important than my knowledge of what she’s up to.

She can trust me to be sensible about this – but she cannot trust her religious father, who could try and force her to keep the baby. Notifying him could be a complete disaster for her, and I am utterly against it. She’s also a sensitive soul, and she needs to be able to tell me when she’s ready, not because she’s forced to.

I had an abortion. I do not regret it for one moment. It was absolutely the right thing to do at the time, and having two children under two would have been catastrophic for my mental health.

My girls are their own people, even though they are young. I hope they trust me – but I care more about them making the best choices for themselves than I do about knowing about it. I want them to be able to trust their health care workers and counsellors to help them and give them good advice, not be scared that they will tell me or their fathers and drop them in a pile of shit.


Suicide attempts in the elderly

The New Zealand Suicide Prevention Strategy had a little to say on suicide among the elderly. It says

While suicide rates in the elderly have been declining over time, they remain relatively high, and the risk is often overlooked in this population. This is a concern because elderly who attempt suicide usually have a strong intent to die and are more likely to make attempts that are fatal; elderly people who attempt suicide usually choose more lethal means and more often live alone, which decreases their chances of being discovered. Because of their physical frailty, an elderly person may be less able to survive or recover from a physically serious suicide attempt (p.19)

Suicide in the elderly seems to me to be a complex problem. Much of the ‘problem’ may be a simple case of checking out before the pain gets any worse, before the confusion takes over, before they have to go into a home. Should we be trying to prevent that?

Suicide due to mental illness should be fought at any age, because dying before your time when things could get better is a tragedy at 17 or at 70. Intervention strategies for mental illness should be designed for people of all age groups, and screening for mental illness should be applied to the elderly as much as it should to any other age group. Losing anyone to mental illness is tragic, and it should be actively prevented if possible.

What should we do about people who are making the calculated and conscious choice to check out? I think we should be respecting that decision, not finding ways to make people who have lived their life and have a reason to go live on against their will. Sure, it’s probably impossible to make someone who really wants to die safe, especially one who has made a logical conscious decision to die, but interventions can make it more difficult, can change minds that were made up for good reasons. When someone wants to die on their own terms rather than waste away to a cancer that will cause them debilitating pain and disability, who am I to say that their choice is wrong? Or someone in the early stages of Alzheimer’s wanting to die before they become a shell of themselves, alternately blank and distressed, and no longer the person their loved ones remember.

In short, instead of preventing elderly suicides that are not the result of mental illness, I believe that we should give them the choice to die with dignity, on their own terms. Not putting barriers in their way, not judging their reasons for dying and finding them wanting, but allowing and even facilitating a good death. Perhaps a thorough mental health check – one that does not include ‘wanting to die’ as an automatic symptom of mental illness – but then, freedom and means to die on their own terms.

Assisted dying campaigns focus on allowing the terminally ill to end their lives gracefully. I think that being old and intensely aware of your mortality, as well as the reality of the way your life and death will play out, is reason enough to allow people to die in the time and place of their choosing.

I have no practical answers for how this would work, having not thought about it in much depth before now. I do know, though, that I want to be able to die rather than lose my body or mind to disease or frailty. I want to live a good life, and have a good death.

Society conditions people to be disgusted by suicide

I read that quote, that ‘society conditions people to be disgusted by suicide’ somewhere recently (but failed to write down where). It really resonated with my experience of suicide. People really are disgusted by suicide, and that’s a shitty reaction – but it’s the one we’re groomed to have by our society.

I do not feel disgust at people who commit suicide. There’s a deep sadness, sometimes anger if they’re close to me, but disgust just isn’t on the radar. I don’t think it should be, either. Someone being so unwell, so desperate, so sad, or so angry that they cannot see another way out if tragic, not disgusting. Why is there so little compassion?

I feel like I should have some deep insight into why people are conditioned to react with disgust, but I don’t. I’m just disappointed in society for having such a stupid and useless reaction. When I lost a friend to suicide several months ago, I resented people who thought of it as the easy way out, who showed that disgust. They have no idea what that place is like, and yet they spit on it. For shame.

When someone is suicidal and they see the reaction of disgust to another’s suicide, or just ot the topic in general, it communicates to them that because they have these thoughts, they are disgusting too. It’s not often going to be a deterrent – if you’re having disgusting thoughts anyway, then you are disgusting, and what does it matter any more? It’s just another layer of self-loathing to add to a person who is already very unwell.

People who die by their own hand are a tragedy, and a lesson. Not an object of disgust. Our society needs to grow up and gain some empathy around the matter.

Dealing with barriers to employment

Reading around the web today, I came across a Ministry of Social Development working paper on the barriers to employment for long-term beneficiaries. There’s plenty to unpack, but one quote stood out to me.

A comprehensive understanding of the employment barriers faced by long-term beneficiaries requires attention to personal, family, community and institutional factors, as well as their interactions. A comprehensive approach to addressing these barriers requires a mix of services and individualised case management.

Attention to personal, family, community and institutional factors. A mix of services and individualised case management. That’s what it takes to help long-term beneficiaries find long-term employment. They’re not easy things, but they’re simple enough to grasp. We need a good understanding of a range of factors that affect long-term unemployed people, and a personalised approach to overcoming these things.

So how does that leave us with a government bent on pushing as many beneficiaries off the dole as they possibly can, as fast as they can. with no follow-up as to their positions and outcomes anywhere down the track. I know that we don’t have that data, because it has been requested by researchers and nothing is available. OIA requests mean that if that data existed, they would have to at least say it was withheld for whatever reason. The data just doesn’t exist.

People are not being assisted off the dole into stable suitable employment. They’re forced to take whatever jobs comes along, whether they can practically work it or not, whether it’s short- or long-term, there are no choices and no logic to it.

It;s a scheme that’s really designed to get people off the benefit, not to keep them off. Forced to take whatever job around, people start and then find that, unsurprisingly, they aren’t fit for the job, and within their 90 days they’re off again, back to the benefit. Or they’re punished so often, and made to jump through so many hoops that they drop off, only to have to sign up again when things get really desperate.

The way forward is to understand the things that stop beneficiaries from working, and to work through those things in a way that is best for the beneficiary – whether that’s continuing income support while they raise their children, or a skills course that readies them for work, or family therapy, or a grant to get them work clothes – the permutations of help needed are endless, but we could step up and make it work for people. Instead? Well, let’s not compare the possible with the real. It gets depressing.

Why can’t we trust them?

There is one great need in a poor person’s life, and that is money. With money, all the problems of hunger, of cold, all those things go away, because money solves them all. So what do we give poor people? As little money as we can! Instead, there are all sorts of assistance programmes, and homelessness, hunger and misery where those fall short. Instead of giving poor people money, we try to give them food, or clothes, or cheap doctor’s visits. I think this approach is both wrong and insulting.

The idea behind giving poor people stuff instead of money is that if we give them the things they need rather than dollars, they can’t spend their money on wasteful or frivolous things, and they will actually get what they need. And I say that’s a crock. It’s incredibly patronising to assume that poor people will go and spend their money on ‘bad’ things like they don’t know the needs they have. For all the fringe cases that are appealed to, of drug addicts and gamblers who spend money they don’t have on their vices, there are thousands of people who know exactly what they need and would go and get those things if they only had the resources.

Stop painting poor people as irresponsible, as children who can’t be trusted with more than their wee bit of pocket money. Poor people are expert budgeters and bargain hunters, wringing every last drop of value from every penny they have. It’s demeaning to force them to use food banks and other such initiatives. It’s an insult to their skills, giving them money only in the form of emergency chits that can only be spent in certain places on certain things. It’s humiliating, and it’s wrong

Who are policy-makers to say that they know better than people living in the trenches? What rich person understands what resources a poor person needs? There are times when food is nice, but money would have been better, because you can live on rice for a few days while you pay the power bill so the lights stay on. Having Weet-bix and milk in that time is really nice, but it’s not essential, and you could have used that resource to be eating hot rice in the light, instead of cold Weet-bix in the dark. Other times, subsidised power is nice, but you could have sat in the dark a bit more and made rent this week, rather than sitting in the dark on the pavement, surrounded by your belongings.

Budgeting an inadequate income is a balancing act, one that many poor individuals and families are very good at. Why do we not trust them with enough money to make the balancing act a little less precarious? What kind of smug superiority complex says that people with adequate resources know what’s best for people without adequate resources?

People know what they need, and if they have money they can buy it. It’s really that easy. Give poor people money, and watch them thrive, and pump it back into the economy.