The Creatives’ Guide to Living With Bipolar Disorder: Hey, My PTSD Triggered and I Can’t Write (Fiction)!

These two help.
These two help. A lot.

Well, crap.

This weekend has been all about my PTSD. Normally I can keep it locked down because I know my triggers and actively try to avoid them to the extent of all others. Control is everything, as if the medication I carry on my person and the friends who know why certain things have such a devastating effect on my mental state.

I was anticipating a nice weekend of lie ins and writing, chilling out with Netflix and just trying to get over the last of my chest infection.

On Saturday afternoon, a disturbing period in my past got raked up and then I had to endure the annual Mother’s Day hell of ‘be nice to your parent because society/family say you have to be’. It was never going to be a positive mix.

And my ability to write went up in smoke.

Like literally.

Then I bought some alcohol because it tastes better than Valium which put paid to my editing.

I don’t drink and edit, so I didn’t edit and I couldn’t write either.

To summarise: while I was training with Uni, I endured a slew of abuse from my instructor. He started, innocently enough, by enquiring why I thought it was okay to use a disabled loo (erm … well I am disabled; also I had extensive gastric surgery which has left me incontinent and without a gallbladder). To deflect, I asked him if he’d ever tried getting a dog into a stall in the ladies but I was mortified he thought it was okay to enquire about something so personal.

Then I qualified and got really sick; to the point where quick visits to Norwich and safe places were the only way I could rebuild my stamina. Especially as I had, technically, qualified. He thought otherwise.

In the end, it was so bad I refused to work with him, actually ringing his boss and demanding someone else. Our relationship ended when he spent fifteen minutes screaming at me in the street outside a shopping complex. People walked passed, no one came to my aid and he actually thought it was okay to shout at a mentally fragile (which he was well aware of) blind woman who was coming to the end a stressful period of training. Also getting a guide dog is mentally and physically hard as hell, there’s so much to learn and I qualified in just twelve days, as opposed to the ‘usual’ three weeks.

Then, after leaving me for half an hour to sob into my dog’s fur (which felt like a punishment in itself, being left on the naughty step), he took me into the shopping mall to do some final training and ended up leaving me in an unfamiliar corner of the mall. He just lost his temper and stalked off without so much as a by your leave.

Oh and he threw some paperwork at me before stalking off. That was, thankfully, the last I ever saw of him.

This event was the final trigger event for my post-traumatic stress disorder. I kept an eye on this person’s career, dismayed to see them rise in the ranks after my abuse was effectively ignored by Guide Dogs themselves. I now have a much lovelier trainer who I trust and did so much to repair my confidence, he’s a tremendous improvement in his predecessor and has always been there for me, from Uni being attacked to our more recent middle-of-summer-and-hottest-day-of-the-year catch up. This guy even cleaned up Uni’s heat-induced vomit for me … twice.

But back to the weekend. A fellow GDO told me my original trainer had resigned and it all came flooding back. Especially when I was directed to a public, assessable by anyone who knows this person’s name, Facebook group in which he detailed how his treatment of me and other GDO’s I know was tantamount to abuse. He apologies to me, personally, but he has no idea I’ve changed my name and did so in a place where I never would have seen it, except for someone telling me about it.

Oh and Guide Dogs apparently know about this group, he’s certainly told them and appears to be trying to create a place where GDO’s can be disillusioned together. I admit, I’m not enamoured with Guide Dogs, they’re far from perfect and dealing with many aspects of their day-to-day stuff (mainly relating to food and Uni’s vital medication) are a pain in the arse. That said my instruction from New GDMI and the office staff have never been anything but helpful and lovely.

If I’m disillusioned by the charity then it’s all because of my original instructor.

It transcended into ‘trigger territory’ a couple of hours after I discovered the group when he tried to justify his treatment of us by informing the assembled Guide Dog Owners he’d invited to the group—many of whom were singing his praises in a way which made me feel physically sick—that said treatment was unofficial Guide Dog policy. Oh and yes, it was also abusive.

Well duh.

I’ve met lots of mobility instructors. Some are lovely, others harsh but never in a malicious way. They do it because you have to start work with a guide dog on a certain step, with them seeing you as head of the pack and dominant. My experience with this person was distinctly sadistic, a power play that hinged on me being in a position where I was beholden to this person because of Uni.

They had to power to giveth or taketh away—and I genuinely believed he was going to punish me by removing my guide dog, just because he could. Plus screaming at a vulnerable woman in public is, in no way, anyone’s unofficial policy. It’s a terrible thing and certainly shouldn’t happen during such a vital time in the establishment of a guide dog/human relationship.

The kicker was his mention of depression. His own mental state apparently trumps the abuse he heaped on me and others, vulnerable visually impaired people that he knowingly abused for kicks. I accept he was in a shit place but where does he think he left me, exactly? My PTSD trumps his depression because he’s a part of the reason I have it.

So yeah, not good. I’ve actually made an appointment with my current instructor because, as well as wanting to talk about some of Uni’s newer quirks, I want to look him in the face and see if my original instructor is spilling bullshit. The whole thing has left me feeling ill, right in the pit of my stomach.

And then a family member started sending me passive-aggressive texts trying to guilt-trip me into someone who directly triggers my PTSD. I’d just taken my sleeping medication so wasn’t actually in a position where I could do much more than text. They always do this because, apparently, I need telling when I’m upfront. I don’t do phone calls, I certainly don’t do birthday/festive/Hallmark holiday phone calls.

I choose not do pay attention to these things because I have a reason. It’s a conscious choice that I made for my own sanity. And my sanity trumps anyone else’s attempt at making me feel like a ten year old who needs to be told things. I will text but I have a hard enough time trying to remember what day it is thanks to the sheer volume of medication I’m on. Literally I rely on my FitBit just to tell me the date, otherwise I simply have no idea.

And Mother’s Day, it’s a really hard day for me (nearly as bad as my birthday). I need to ignore it because otherwise I’ll fall to pieces. Again my sanity tumps everything else because I like being semi-sane.

My PTSD normally manifests as panic attacks or anxiety. This one decided to bubble up as an intense fear and anger due to the guide dog related stuff. Uni picked up on it and her mood changed, even as she plonked herself down right next to me. Even this morning, still dealing with the aftermath of a slew of text messages, she kept nudging me with her nose, her way of going. Uni might be a tart but she is also, very much, mine and almost painfully in tune with my moods, constantly going: ‘Hey, I’m here. It’s okay’.

I am so glad of her.

I have a best friend, and her beautiful guide dog, who are always there for me. I got to explain this morning and receive reassurance, as well as the benefit of someone who has been through the guide dog selection process and so is familiar with it. Both dogs spent this morning with their noses in my lap or snuggled against me. Bramble, in particular, adores me and she’s one of the most loving creatures I’ve ever met; she knew how traumatised I was and did everything in her power to try to help me get out of my funk. Looking at her makes me want to cry, she’s that compassionate and a completely unique treasure of a dog.

But not writing, it stresses me out, not being able to even more. I got into Starbucks at 7, having made it through snow and the pre-dawn cold. Monday is my day to sit with coffee (bad move, number one), check Submission Grinder and Codex and catch up on The Walking Dead. It’s an ingrained ritual which sees me update my diary, review stories, write or do edits while listening to Spotify. I value the quiet, the chatty baristas and, right now, the half price coffees.

Starbucks, first thing in the morning, it’s my sanctuary. My own personal coffee shop. I like it.

But this morning I just couldn’t write. Even Valium didn’t help (aside from to take the edge of my anxiety).

I’m painfully aware that anxiety poisons my muse, it’s not actually the anxiety rather it’s being unable to focus or distracted by whatever is bugging me, which prevents me writing. My Asperger’s doesn’t help, in fact the fixation on problems makes my anxiety worse. Blogging helps because it’s not fiction, it’s fact and I can choose the subject matter (hence the slew of blog posts; this one alone is nearly 2k in length and heavy on the catharsis).

Blogging is still writing so maybe I need to clarify that and insert (fiction).

But I also know tomorrow is another day, the words will return, as will my muse and it’ll be okay. I just have to hold on, take my medication and wait it out.

Tomorrow is another day.

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