Will these memory flashes fade? Coping with the coping mechanism

Coping Mechanisms

Following Ade’s recent blog on loss, Tom considers how we walk through the maze of healing and tries to understand how the brain reacts to loss.


Ade’s recent blog about death and how we cope with such things has made me think about the ghosts and shadows that haunt my life. It has been almost 12 months since I separated from my wife and the pain of that event is still present. Ade wrote that ‘much in life becomes trivial and is rendered superfluous in the wake of a loved one’s permanent absence’. I have said many times that it would have been easier to cope with my wife’s death, rather than the circumstances under which we parted ways. In that scenario there would have been an end to our story, but there wasn’t one, there was just a sudden transition to a different form of life.

I am still haunted by her. Not long ago I left an important work meeting and drove away in my car, really pleased with the day’s achievements. I turned my gaze to the passenger seat, where she often sat, and I was ready to tell her what I had done today, but the seat was empty. I had to go and sit on my own for a while after that and process this lingering memory of familiarity. That was a very direct version of such hauntings, there are others that are subtle, but more frequent. Certain colours that held some association with her were difficult for me to cope with, but this issue is starting to leave me. TV programmes, films, sayings… anything that allows access to some of these abandoned memories of our relationship often bring a sudden rush of images and sounds and emotions that I can no longer abide. As time has passed, I have started to accept these experiences as part of a healing process and have felt more comfortable in the knowledge that these things will dissipate with time. I have tried hard not to run away from such experiences and tried to face them and accept that I will, of course, meet people that like similar things or wear similar clothes. I think I have put some barriers in place that I consider to be ‘too similar’, but I assume I will know them when they occur. I think people who haven’t experienced such loss find it difficult to understand the mental effort required to push past such issues and avoid shifting into a very negative and defensive mental space.

It’s funny how you can make yourself believe that you have overcome something like loss or trauma and then you find yourself moving into a new stage of the healing process and struggling to overcome an aspect that was previously beyond your understanding. This recently happened when I started to re-engage in relationships with others. My friends had told me that I would have difficulty trusting people again, which I knew would be the case, and I thought I had coped well with this, but it was only when I entered into a new relationship that I could actually see the amount of damage I needed to fix in my own internal wiring. It takes all I have to convince myself that other people will not treat me the same way as I have been treated before. What helps with this process is knowing I don’t actually need anyone else in my life, that I can survive quite comfortably on my own and I can maintain my own self-sufficiency, and that the people in my life are there because I want them to be.

I don’t want the events of the past year to define my life, so I am annoyed when unwanted thoughts careen back into my consciousness, but those friends that are close to me, tell me that it is still early days for me and that I should talk about these things when I want to and allow myself to feel the emotions that come forth.

Ade also wrote ‘in a world of opposites the more you experience one side, the greater the secrets of its opposite are revealed’, this is so true to my recent experiences. The feelings of freedom and peace that I have felt around the darkness and trauma have been so uplifting that I wouldn’t change a thing. I have met so many new friends and experienced so much, that I can’t conclude that all of this has only brought me pain and suffering. Anyone that has been through a similar set of events knows how far reaching the fallout is. It effects everything in your life, but it also cleanses at the same time. I have enjoyed losing the set predictable patterns of my old life and following this bumpy completely unpredictable one. I can see things differently, hear things differently. The world just isn’t the same.

You do have to be cautious of the type of people you communicate regularly with, as some types of discussion can be hard to cope with if there is a lot of difficult things going on in your life. Some people’s attempts to empathise can be damaging, as some people can’t help but reinterpret your issues via their own insecurities. I have been the recipient of some astronomically damaging advice and support over recent months. I include some of my favourites below with a few of my internal reactions:

It must be so difficult for you, you must see no future’ – all air in my lungs suddenly departs, and all I can say to myself is ‘wow, just wow, I totally don’t agree’

I feel so sorry for you, you have had such a terrible year’ – I don’t think it has been a terrible year actually, but I get what you mean.

The loneliness hasn’t kicked in yet, you’ll feel it in another couple of years’ – How patronising, thanks for the support, this assumes that I require some kind of permanent ‘other’ in my life, maybe you should read my blog about solitude.

I would have killed myself if I was in your situation’ – ummm… that is a bit weird to say and isn’t that helpful, because I immediately have to consider that specific train of thought. I’ll internally reform this into a sentence that says ‘wow, you are doing really well’.

You have plenty more years to start a family’ – another patronising comment and making further assumptions of what I want my life to be in the future. Thank you.

The best support has come from people that accept that I will have difficulty coping at times and that I should take every day as it comes, and have emphasised that I am doing well. Positive support, patience and positive distraction is just fine to help me along the way. Someone recently showed me a David Attenborough documentary about bioluminescence when I was feeling particularly low, which allowed me to refocus my mind onto other things. These experiences are so important.

‘Time will save you, you don’t need to save yourself’

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Isolation and the Social Network

Toms-Isolation

Tom discusses his recent experiences and thoughts about Facebook and other social networking apps and ponders how social the social network really is.


Modern communications confuse me. This social networking thing confuses me more.  For years I was very cautious of including any personal details on the internet, but a few years ago I gave up and entered the Facebook and Twitter-spheres.

Although I have found some positives of using these mediums of communication I have also found that they carry with them a burden and a loneliness that isn’t easy to describe. Facebook is a medium that demands attention. The way it highlights who has ‘liked’ or ‘commented’ on your posts creates a tally that carries faux social-kudos. Studies have shown that there is an addictive characteristic to this type of social networking and that people start to crave this type of attention. That might be the case, but this type of interaction seems like a very pale shade of what it is like to interact face to face.

Last year I decided that I was just too busy to waste time looking at Facebook and I was in the process of taking all of my photos and posts down, so I could shut down my account. That was until the divorce began. I then started to rely on Facebook to maintain communication with friends. It started acting like a surrogate relationship, but Facebook isn’t a real relationship, is it?

My friends have told me how it is useful to see photos of myself to help rebuild self-esteem, so I quickly uploaded all of my photos again. So here I am, back where I started with Facebook and it still feels hollow. My feed is populated by friends uploading holiday photos, smiling faces, drunken good times or people expressing hurt and loss and crying out for attention. I find it a very strange forum to discuss things, but like everyone else I stay with it because what is the alternative (and I don’t mean what is the next social network, I actually mean: How else can you stay in touch with people these days)?

I have noticed that people’s real personalities and their internet personalities can be quite different. You can meet someone that seems quite confident and chatty in real life and when you make friends with them on Facebook you discover that they continuously post strange needy posts. Comments below these posts including ‘hope you are okay’ or ‘PM me’. These posts often never have a conclusion or explanation, like a story with no ending, so you just feel confused. I don’t think anything represents the loneliness of the modern world better than Facebook.

Tom Social Media

You can make friends with people you have known for years and reacquaint yourselves with what they have been up to since you last met, but there often comes a point when you feel that you should probably bring the discussion to a close, or look like you are becoming some strange internet obsessive (it is probably unfair to generalise here, that is probably just me). Any subsequent contact with these friends then resorts back to the default of ‘liking’ other peoples Memes and images. Although I was late into the Facebook fad, I have watched a lot of the more tailored, personal posts slowly be replaced with the sharing of feel good Memes and heart felt words written by strangers. I find this fascinating. It is almost as if people feel more comfortable expressing their emotions if they can create personal distance from those feelings.

Then there are those moments when you don’t really want to broadcast your emotions across the social network. What do you do then? Private messaging, I suppose. I admit that I also find direct messaging or private messaging confusing. All of my friends have different preferences. Some of my friends use the Facebook Private Messenger App; others like emails (my preference); others like text messaging from a mobile phone; some use Apple’s ‘iMessager’; and I was recently introduced to ‘What’s App’. Very few actually want to talk on a phone anymore. It is quite common for me to not get any response from my friends when I use these forms of communication and I start to wonder whether the message ever made it to the recipient. I then start to wonder whether I have forgotten that particular person’s communication preference.

I suppose the reality is that these messages haven’t been lost, they are just being sent to people who are just as busy as me. I do it too. There are messages I don’t read (which normally involves passages of text as long as this blog).

It is a shame to think that this is where we are in modern life. We are left tapping at keyboards and mobile phone screens and posting out things to no avail with no audience and no contact. We have statistics instead of friends.

On the other side of the virtual/physical divide someone might have been looking at you, thinking that you were attractive or interesting, but you were too busy on your phone or iPad to notice. Is there any more complete form of isolation than this?

So how do we resolve isolation within the social network? Maybe I should go and meet up with all the people I like on Facebook in reality? That sounds like a good idea, or maybe I will just carry on writing blogs about how social networks do not reflect normal social interaction.

Only time will tell, but I suppose most will never know what I do because they never clicked on this post or they stopped reading after the first paragraph.

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No Side Effects Podcast 1: Isolation, Loneliness and Anxiety

 Podcast Icon NSE Tom and Adrian Icons

The debut podcast sees Tom and Adrian chatting around a variety of subjects and questions including; external happiness, social interaction, social anxiety, social avoidance, being overweight, divorce, holidays and custard doughnuts. This is a relaxed, informal discussion with a dubious level of understanding and sense.

Please click on the links below for either YouTube or Bandcamp.


The following articles and organisations are also discussed in the podcast.

Links:

The Age of Loneliness is Killing Us‘ article by George Monbiot in The Guardian

Black Sabbath’s Tony Iommi in Glass Box for Cancer Awareness’ article on BBC News

Combating Isolation‘ article by No Side Effects member T Haynes

How To Completely Lose Social Anxiety‘ Youtube Video by Noah Elkrief

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)‘ information from the NHS Choices Website

A Step by Step programme for dealing with Social Anxiety‘ from the the CCI.

Depression Alliance UK

The Samaritans

Podcast 1 is now online

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At last, you no longer have to wait to hear the incredible insights into various topics including isolation, social anxiety, loneliness, holidays and custard doughnuts. Have a listen to the mediocre ramblings of Tom and Ade, a perfect way to waste 50 minutes.

Combating Isolation

Isolated Tom

Tom discusses his feelings about relationships and isolation as part of new series of blog articles about isolation.


 

Me and Ade decided a while ago that as we released our No Side Effects singles we would share some writing and discussions about some of the themes that influenced our music.

Our first release is called ‘Isolation Explosion’ and we were both interested in discussing social isolation in its many forms. This is a wide ranging subject and encapsulates elements of social anxiety, the disconnect between our online and real lives and maintaining effective communication and maintaining or losing belief systems in a modern world.

With the imminent release of this song I have found that the world has shifted beneath my feet and given me my own understanding of isolation due to a sudden divorce.

The sensations that come with such a sudden change in status quo are quite odd. I immediately feel more connected to the world and less able to communicate to anyone about it. I have such a great group of friends and they are all looking out for me, but they can’t truly fill the void that my wife once occupied and it is unfair to expect them to. Everyone has their own lives to lead. Any time they can spare is greatly appreciated.

But what do you do with yourself in those moments in the void? I suppose for many these are very dangerous moments. Do you let you mind wonder into the past? Considering what went wrong? I do this from time to time. It is terribly un-constructive, but sometimes it is necessary. We were together a long time. There are so many memories to explore and redefine. In a perfect scenario you would leave these memories as happy and content moments, but we aren’t perfect.

My mind cycles fiercely, it always has. It likes to find answers to problems. That is what I do in my day job. That is what I do all the time, but this puzzle is the master puzzle and it can never be solved.

This is where isolation creeps in. While trying to find answers to these questions you end up isolated within your own mind. You have no external stimuli. You just have your own problems to torment you indefinitely. This isn’t healthy.

The breaking of trust can also lead to isolation in these instances. A failure of being able to trust seems to be a common theme when relationships fall apart. How long does it take to trust people again? How do you know your friends from your enemies? It is too early for me to tell.  I can only work on my instincts at this stage and I know the people I can trust, and they are the friends I am talking to right now.

There is also a trepidation of moving out of my isolation. My relationship was attentive and didn’t really cater for the more social aspects of human interaction (dinner parties, gigs etc.). Now that such things are likely to occur I have to adapt. Pre-divorce me wasn’t interested in such things, I was comfortable and happy, but now I have to try and step out of this restrictive mindset and enjoy myself.

That doesn’t sound difficult does it?

But I am someone that can spend considerable amounts of time on my own while surveying the Scottish coastline. I’m someone that is quite comfortable in my own company. I prefer an open grassland in winter to a drunken night out.

Despite this I cannot retreat fully, because if I do, who do I talk to about such places? Who will ever listen? More importantly, how will I learn about what other people care about?

I am combating this by getting out and about in public.  I am usually on my own, but sitting in a coffee shop or a bar helps (like I am while I write this). Listening to other peoples conversations, receiving the odd smile from a passerby. This is how I combat loneliness when I am field surveying, so why shouldn’t it work when my relationship has fallen apart?

This modern world is demanding and distracting and leads us to forget who we are.  Maybe sometimes it is important that these events happen so we can reassess ourselves and consider whether we are on the right path. This is much more constructive than wallowing in loss and pain.

No one can save you but yourself.

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