Wednesday, 31 May 2017

This is what recovery feels like.

On Monday I had the most amazing day.  I looked at everyone with kindness and love. If someone had something I’d have felt envious about in the past, I looked at it thinking, wow that’s cool, I’m going to work towards having that one day. I didn’t feel any resentment towards anything/anyone and most amazingly, if someone said something sensitive or cutting, it didn’t hurt me.

Furthermore, I felt so confident that I was able be a 'part of’, I belonged. At orchestra rehearsal in the evening, I joined in on conversations in the break, I was comfortable to just listen, I didn’t feel like I had to be impressive or please anyone in order for them to accept or approve of me, I knew I was enough and worthy. 

This feeling was surprisingly odd, I’d never felt like this in my life, it was so new. I sort of walked around bedazzled (yes that is a word) because nothing was frightening me. I was curious at to why the boogey man hadn’t jumped out at me, but I quickly understood that he didn’t need to, nor was he going to. I understood for the first time ever why people wanted to live, why they were afraid of dying. 

Since Monday, I have become used to this feeling very quickly. It’s like a drug, if you have something that makes you feel so good, you want it again and again, one possesses a new level of expectations. I have felt good every day since Monday. It’s feeling normal now. Four consecutive days of feeling 'normal'. Just two days ago I was explaining to my therapist, how I was feeling the most remarkable sense of ecstatic joy. She explained to me that I was not feeling ecstasy, rather how people without emotional disregulation experience healthy happiness. 

It is remarkable how people react to me. They smile and look at me with kindness and love. They are happy to be in my presence. It is very subtle, but for me it is so loud and clear. I am a pleasure to be around. I had dinner Tuesday and Wednesday with people. Friends invited me to eat with their partners and children. It felt like I was a part of a family. Just being me was a contribution.

I am so filled with gratitude and humility. I feel like God has said, ‘Kate, welcome to the human race, you are one of them.

The combination of a Twelve Step Program and Dialectal Behaviour Therapy together with my sheer determination and courage have made this all possible. For this I am truly grateful.

Mountains of love to my DBT therapist and AA. Thank you for accompanying me on this journey of recovery.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

You have to be happy to discover you are depressed.

Years of preparation and dreams were invested in winning a place in the class of a renowned baroque bassoon professor in The Netherlands. I had arrived. I was so happy. Everything could not have been better. So I guess at this stage I had nothing to explain the frightening anxiety, stress and depression I was suffering. Previously, I had many environmental explanations for being unhappy. With those factors whittled away, the mental ill health lay as exposed as a reef at low tide.

For years, I had understood I was ‘being silly’, ‘overreacting’, ‘attention seeking’. Since the age of one I was known to react outrageously. As a toddler I would smash drinking glasses with my teeth or storm around on all fours imitating a Sherman tank. At primary school I was the ring leader of the playtime games one day and hiding in the library the next suffering social anxiety. I so longed to be someone else.

From the age of eighteen I escaped this pain with alcohol and drugs. So many fun nights were fuelled on self-medication. Breaking into the Sydney Botanic Gardens to play with the nocturnal animals and hug the life sized muscly statues. Jumping the fences of the Municipal Swimming pools in Paris for midnight skinny dips. All night partying in roof top spas in Reykavik's midnight sun. Not to forget the aforementioned Bicycle Thieves of the debauched Amsterdam night. I also tried escaping geographically. Out to dinner one night on Oxford St Darlinghurt, living in London three weeks later. My friend likes to hold himself responsible for this fast relocation with guilt, but I know deep down he is proud to have made such an awesome suggestion. A former Viennese resident, he exclaimed his excitement at how easy it would be for me living in Europe now that my newly issued British passport had arrived. I was gone!

Well, 'gone' didn't go quite as fast as a I had intended. Another friend, said, 'Come on Wal, there's a cheap flight leaving in two days, come with me.' Well despite sleeping at Sydney airport to assure a front spot in the queue, we didn't get on the flight. Nor did I the following week, the third week I did. So it was a great way to have lots of farewell parties.

There we go, I've diverged. Back to the depression. So I was furnished with a valid medical complaint and therefore felt justified in seeking medical assistance. My symptoms were taken very seriously. I was happily surprised not to be fobbed off as being ridiculous. I was assigned a team of three mental health clinicians who observed me weekly over a period of six months. During this six month period I was forbidden to drink alcohol, smoke cannabis or avoid exercise; I was to run (not walk, run can you believe it?) for a half hour period every second day. 

Being taken seriously had a profound effect on me. Amazingly I had absolutely no difficulty abiding to these terms. I thought it was the cure and that that was all I had to do to be freed of my terrifying mental distress. I reported weekly like a diligent parolee. In place of drugs and alcohol, I took up tea and biscuits. My lovely friend from Munich who commuted to her studies in Amsterdam would bring me beautiful loose leaf tea. I purchased myself a china teapot and bone china cups. I invented my own form of tea ceremony. With the motivation of being cured, I was finding the task not a challenge at all. Those who knew me well were astonished at my abstinence and diligence.

With the six month period elapsed, I felt cheated. I had played my part of the bargain, why was that black dog still hanging around like he'd just rolled in excreta? It was because, drum roll, I had a condition called Borderline Personality Disorder. Personality disorder????? 'Excuse me?', I thought, 'well you have a dress sense disorder!'. There was no medication for this condition and it could not be cured, but with psychotherapy it could be managed. 

Funnily, except for the bad name, I was sort of happy to have a diagnosis. There was a reason I was in so much pain, a reason why it felt like no one liked me, a reason I hadn't been successful, a reason I wanted to kill myself. This of course meant I wasn't being silly’, ‘overreacting’ or ‘attention seeking’. What a fantastic relief. I wanted to tell everyone, 'hey I'm not useless, I'm ill!' I was terrific validation.

Why was it Borderline Personality Disorder? Borderline of what? I did my research as one does, and 'we' lived on the borderline of psychosis and neurosis. Well, that made a lot of sense to me, in fact it was a very good description of how I felt. Disorder with your personality? So I understood that to mean I was born (could've been some nurture in there too, wasn't sure) with a personality that doesn't work in your favour. This also make buckets of sense, as when I was in distress I would instinctively want to do something totally destructive, like put your hand in a blender and turn it on, cut all your hair off, break your good reeds before and audition. There were occasions I couldn't stop myself sabotaging or hurting myself. I'd watch myself doing it, unable to arrest the movements of my body observing incredulously.

And so began the psychotherapy. I was already 31 years old and the healing had only just begun.

Monday, 20 June 2016

Spiegel im Spiegel

Wednesday is the final group therapy meeting of my Dialectic Behavioural Therapy (DBT). It has been a 52 week course of intensive introspection and skill building. Others may arrive bearing wrapped gifts or cupcakes, I want to bring something much more reflective of my experience.

It is by chance that just a few days ago I heard a radio performance of Spiegel im Spiegel by Arvo Pärt. On this very first hearing I was taken aback by how similar this piece made me feel to how I felt whilst practising DBT mindfulness skills. It was immediately clear that I should perform this piece for my therapists and fellow group therapy members.

Spiegel im Spiegel is so named because of the infinite repetitions occurring when one places a mirror in a mirror, or Spiegel im Spiegel. These repetitions can be heard in the arpeggios performed by the piano over which the cello line plays repeated F major scales, the scales create long beautiful soothing melodies. Naturally, these melodies are essentially scales in contrary motion, a musical term meaning ‘mirrored’. As the piece continues they lengthen and lengthen. I understand this to symbolise the ever increasing images of the mirrors’ reflections. Pärt has cleverly created tension and release by choosing to commence or end the scales on notes other than the traditional tonic or 'do'. The cello melody commences on the supertonic ('re'), the second note of the scale,  this gives me the impression that the piece had started before the musicians had even arrived. Perhaps the composer wants to remind us that we exist in a tiny moment within an infinity?

This is precisely what I have done for the last twelve months. I have looked at myself in the mirror, again and again. I have become aware, through repetitive mindfulness activities, of every thought, physical sensation, emotion or urge. When the reflection within the reflection is examined and understood, the cause behind these thoughts, physical sensations, emotions and urges becomes clear, it's cathartic. With complete acceptance and/or willingness to change, I have been able to calm and validate myself. I have been able to see how normal it has been of me to do what I did in those challenging circumstances. Alas, my experience has been of much repetition. In these reflections I found beautiful soothing. One of the distress tolerance skills is to self soothe through the five senses. I use my ears to be soothed by music, my eyes to see the beautiful patterns the music makes on the page, I can smell the old aged wood of my cello and the rosin or tree sap on my bow. I feel the wood on my skin as the instrument vibrates with the resonance of sound. The dissonance and harmony comprise two opposing forces which can be simultaneously true, this is the dialectic. It's what suffering Borderline Personality Disorder is. It's wanting to live and die in the same moment; it's hating something because you love it so much; it's many strange things which I have learnt to radically accept.

F major is a beautiful choice of key. Before the common practise of equally tempering tuning in the late eighteenth century, key signatures would arouse desired emotions in the souls of audiences. So for the lessor musical scholars in my audience, what I am saying is that the note a composer chooses as his 'home' note can affect the emotion one feels in the music; depending of course how the musician chooses to tune his instrument. Temperament (are you seeing the emotional connection?) is a frightfully complicated mathematical phenomenon. Go and chat to Pythagorus, he can explain it so much better than I. F major is a key which evokes a pastoral setting, it places me in a forrest or upon a rolling hill. Mother nature is my God, it is the glory of natural instinct which tells a flower when to bloom or an animal to migrate. This for me is evidence enough of God's existence. My earlier religious experiences taught me to despise the word 'God', so mother nature she is for me. I guess this is all a long winded way to explain how F major places me in the midst of my higher power, in her greatest cathedral.

Learning to play Spiegel im Spiegel has required much skill in emotional regulation, the third of the quartet of skill groups one learns in DBT. Yet another dialectic, to remain detached from the emotion of the music in which I wish to swim. Maintenance of my rational brain, is a requisite of expert cello execution. In DBT language 'wise mind' is a place where the perfect balance of emotion and rational mind exist. This is where I must remain to affect the emotions of the listeners, yet maintain a high level of technical prowess.

I greatly hope this performance of Spiegel im Spiegel will bring great comfort, encourage further soul searching and celebrate the end of a truly remarkable year of therapy. Thank you Marsha Linehan, creator of Dialectical Behaviour Therapy.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

My names's Kate but I can't say the next bit.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to discover you are an alcoholic? It's hard.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to say, "I'm an alcoholic"? Even harder.

It transpires that saying it is actually the easy part, believing it takes months.
Everyone else was doing it but I couldn't do it. So at my first meeting that's what I said, "My name's Kate, but I can't say the next bit". No one judged, they just listened. What a beautiful group of people.

I only went to AA meetings to prove that I wasn't an alcoholic. But after ninety meetings in as many days, I learnt that alcoholism is a disease of denial and I was indeed an alcoholic.

I'm grateful to my friend who first suggested I go. She was very clever and discreet in her method. I had admitted myself to Christmas Island Hospital because I was so afraid of committing suicide, I felt safe at the hospital. She came to visit me and brought me some reading material. The book had a blank cover, very odd. When I opened it I saw it was a book from Alcoholics Anonymous. I was furious. I didn't want to divulge my fury to her as it would expose my denial. So I took the book and read it, showing that I wasn't afraid to meet my demons (believing I didn't have any). It was a fascinating read. I was horrified when I read that an alcoholic was someone who craved another drink after the first. I too craved more alcohol after I started drinking.

But no! I'm not an alcoholic. I wear pearls and drink champagne from flutes. Alcoholics were those who drank more than you, alcoholics were those who drank from brown paper bags and drank alone, or in the morning. Well, as I slowly became educated I learnt so many things about alcoholism. It was a disease that didn't discriminate, it chose poor people, educated people, famous people, my friend's mums. I saw all kinds of people at meetings. Some had lost jobs, families, dignity, pride, houses, there were so many different types of alcoholics and so many stories, but all craved another drink after the first and drank to get drunk. All were running away from pain.

At meetings I felt as though I belonged, I had something in common with those in the fellowship. After many many meetings I had finally completed the first of the twelve steps, I had admitted I was an alcoholic and that my life had become unmanageable.

The next eleven steps followed. It was just amazing what I did. It involved regularly questioning myself, holding myself to account for my behaviour. Once over the shame, one begins to carve out a self with which one becomes happy, content, even proud. Another relieving step was to apologise to all I had hurt. A monumental task, I'm sad to say. Firstly, I had to recall all the people I had hurt. This was not so easy. The people to whom I had caused grief, were fortunately not so numerous, but they continued to pop up, and for this I choose to continually make amends. It was rather unexpected the incredible love and forgiveness offered me. Perhaps they were shocked into it?

The final step was to help others overcome their alcoholism. This was a great honour. I was fortunate enough to have been one of dozens of women worldwide who went to the five metropolises in India to share our stories of recovery hoping to inspire women in India to do the same. This was like the jewel in the crown of sobriety. I shared my story with university students, doctors, rehabilitation patients and alcoholics. I was greeted with vast thanks, warmth, humility, dahl and chai. I found the people of India to be so spiritual, happy and generous. I was expecting to see poverty, but I found wealth; wealth of colour, wealth of flavour, wealth of community and wealth of acceptance. Meeting recovering alcoholics and their families in the slums of Mumbai I viewed, joy, gratitude, love and support. It was almost as though their detachment from materialism was their key to happiness.

Friday, 25 December 2015

I won't do it.

Currently at work, I am dealing with a client who is demonstrating really destructive behaviour. It's very self sabotaging, abusive and rude. I identify with it all. In fact I laugh because I've done exactly the same thing. This client is getting so much support from the government with doctors, social workers, cleaners etc etc. but the woman is just refusing to do anything and is being abusive to those trying to help her.

My heart goes out to the client because I can see how much pain she is in, and those trying to help her are getting really worn out and are therefore increasing the invalidation and causing her more grief. As a peer support worker, how do I get her from, 'I won't do it' to 'I want to do it'? We have to get the client to a place of really wanting to get on the recovery journey. I remember being there myself, I was in so much pain that I couldn’t do, feel or think anything. So anyone saying, ‘come on Kate, you need to do this’….I’d tell them to f*%# off because I felt like they had no idea how hard/impossible it would have been for me to do 'that', they just didn’t understand and they must have thought I was being silly and should just get over myself (after all that’s what I believe my mother has been telling me for forty five years). The only way for the pain to have stopped would have been to exit this world. My poor client is saying I'll have blood on my hands if she is successful in this. From my experience I do know however she is safe. 

In the end I had no help whatsoever, my friends were fed up with me, I was fed up with my family and I had ‘sacked’ any doctors/social workers trying to help. Typical Borderline behaviour. Perhaps my friends weren't fed up with me, but I believed they were, I didn't want that they would have to 'suffer' me anymore so I isolated myself.

Realising that I couldn’t seem to exit this world (after five attempts), meant that I would have to find a way to make life bearable. It was the first time I had reached the 'I want to do it' step. The first thing was that I had to find a way not to loose my house. I luckily found a job in which I used my experience as a mental health patient. I was a ‘peer support worker’, ‘peer’ meaning I also was a mental health ‘consumer’, a consumer of mental health services. I used my ‘lived experience’ to help others cope and recover. This was a great foundation to my recovery. I was a useful member of the community, the increased amount of time I spent with other consumers, helped me to feel less lonely and that my feelings and pain were valid. I felt so good about myself sharing my coping strategies to help others and I wasn’t going to lose my house. I was alone, but I had a great team and clients at work. My new employer was supportive enough to keep me afloat, not much more.

Finally the 18 month wait was over and I started DBT (Diabolical Behaviour Treatment…..ha ha only joking, Dialectic Behaviour Treatment). I think it was that first day in which I met my DBT individual therapist when I got to the ‘how do I do it' step. I had found someone who said, 'come on Kate, this is how you do it'. This person (Dr Fabbo), who was telling me what to do, did know how much pain I was in, did understand what I could and couldn’t do, was prepared to tolerate me when I tell her to f *^% off. God had given me the right help. This was my big opportunity. I felt confident that these clinicians were not ‘one of them’ (mental health clinicians). Well they weren’t ‘one of us’ (mental health consumers) but they were a ‘one of them’ who know precisely how it was to be ‘one of us’. We became, 'we are one'. 

The first day I went to group therapy I was terrified. I hid my face and cried the whole way through it. I just knew that I couldn’t leave that room, this was 'how to do it'. My commitment to changing and beginning to live a life that was bearable depended on it. The odd thing was that the other participants and clinicians in the room did nothing about my sobbing. It was awesome. They didn’t embarrass me by saying anything, making a fuss of me or giving me sympathy. Their silence was pure empathy and understanding. It was although my behaviour was totally normal. I felt totally safe and validated. So throughout the morning my crying changed from fear tears to soothing and relief tears.

My journey to recovery had begun.

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Mischa Maisky, not Jacqueline Du Pre.

I'm so fixated on Jacqueline du Pre that I rarely listen to other cellists. However when a great player comes to town I have the opportunity to challenge my narrow mindedness.

Tonight I'll hear Mischa Maisky. A real treat, really one of the greats, even dubbed the 'future Rostropovich' after his debut with the Leningrad Philharmonic. Due to my ignorance I thought I'd do a little homework. He is a Latvian born Israeli who now resides in Brussels. He has a very impressive list of recordings with Deutsche Gramophone and his concert calendar is very busy, changing repertoire for each performance. His critiques have mentioned however, that he plays with too much vibrato and always to loud, so lets see. I found a you tube recording in which he performs the first Bach suite. Well, I'm a baroque specialist and therefore a tough critic. Nevertheless I found his interpretation to be in keeping with what us 'specialists' believe to be how Bach would have intended it. He played with a fantastic understanding of the long phrases, his beautiful technical finesse permitted such musicality as well as giving the audience a wonderful view of the intricate and expressive harmonic structure. Except for the daggy French mordents he added to the cadences (they really did appear to be faecal pendulums on a sheep), it was a delightfully uplifting performance.

Tonight's concert will include Shlomo of Ernest Bloch and after the interval Richard Strauss' Don Quixote. Both pieces use the voice of the cello to represent the rhetoric of famous men. The interval provides time for a significant 'costume' or character change for this ambitious programme. Shlomo is the Hebrew word for Solomon and the piece was conceived as a piece for voice using the text from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Bloch had difficulty deciding which language to use for the voice of Solomon. At that time he heard the cellist Alexandre Barjanksy and found the voice of the cello to suit that of Solomon perfectly. In stark contrast to the wise and powerful King Solomon, Don Quixote is a self dubbed knight rendered insane after reading too many stories of chivalrous knights. The viola takes the voice of Sancho Panza, who is farmer that Don Quixote takes on as his squire.

The performance was stunning. As expected Maisky was in top form. He produced an exquisite and enormous sound, despite such a 'big' sound his range of dynamics in all registers were impressive. Delicate pianos in the lowest register which were audible during tutti sections and all up to fortissimo pizzicati all of which created the most expressive and engaging rhetoric. His technique was  'über' perfect allowing an intense focus on musical expression. Most impressive to myself was his ability to perform the role of soloist whilst maintaining a strong connection with the overall musical experience. A team player who shone as soloist. A very versatile, sensitive and sensational musician is he.

The orchestra rose to the occasion and shone. All string sections, unified making a beautiful sound. The winds playing in ensemble as one instrument yet the solo instruments jumping out with delightful solos from all sections equally; flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon. Very clean and perfectly in tune playing from the whole brass section. The ensemble between all sections of the orchestra was not far from perfect under the baton of their chief conductor, the magnificent Asher Fisch. BRAVO WASO, FISCH AND MAISKY!

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


It has taken me over twelve hours to recover from the 'WOW' of Shameem's performance last night at the Ellington. This is why.

The over arching theme of the evening was about how to be happy as individuals and as a unified society. The first song Boy, about her brother as he grows up, asks him to beware of what the world can bring and to stay firm in loving himself as he is. The second song Beautiful Soul is her latest release. It ponders why humans learn to be prejudiced. The video set in a skate park in Leederville, shows children playing and overcoming prejudice. The next song called Strawberry concerned her own challenge learning to love the pink birth mark on her face. Yin spoke of equality between mean and women, comparing them to two wings of the bird of life, who in perfect harmony achieves optimal flight. Disappointed  was all to do with forgiveness and the challenges of forgiving when we are really wrong done by. The night was rounded off with  a cover Man in the Mirror of which she introduced "long live the king!".

Technique went without being noticed as it was flawless. Not an out of tune note nor a miss-timed rhythm. Seated at the eleven foot Steinway, she looked as comfortable as lounging on a Chaise Lounge. Not surprising as her ability on the piano was as spectacular as her vocal feats. The range of sounds and registers that came out of that mouth were thrilling, stunning and entertaining. Her voice was even 'playing the drums in the absence of her band' as she told us laughingly during a keyboard introduction. The scatting in Strawberry was not a short twelve bars, but a lengthy creation full of inventiveness rendering me with an incredulous ear. Just amazing, the stuff of genius.

What was ever more impressive than her musical prowess, was her communicative ability. She took all of us on a ride. The variety of emotion in her set, was huge and well balanced. She took us deep into the story, but then jumped to a contrasting emotion refreshing us from sadness or grief. It was delightful, how she herself 'shook the sadness from her hands' in order to recover and move on.

This was not only a feast for the ears, it was a sumptuous visual feast. She presented herself beautifully, dressed elegantly with a glowing smile. She had beautiful stage presence, such a great rapport with the audience, so professional and loving. She invited us to be at that piano with her, it wasn't performer and audience, it was a group of people enjoying music as if it were coming from a higher being. It may be presumptuous to suggest, but I think she enjoyed it as much as we.

The generosity, humility, skill, musicianship, devotion and love that Shameem shared last night with her audience created one hell of a "WOW" performance. Thank you.