Paul’s Testimony

Testimony by Paul

 “I admitted I was inadequate or malajusted to life”  Rather than being a defeatist statement this is the gateway to new beginnings in the grow programme of growth to maturity.  Before I tell you about my journey, let me first say that what I am about to relate is limited by the ability of words to capture deep feelings and emotions and ,express experiences and also the limits of my own understanding of my mental state over the years.

My early childhood years are but dim memories and all I can say is that I was a very sensitive child who frightened easily and tended to live in his imagination. When I look back to my early school going days I now see a child that was shy anxious and fearfull. Even in primary school I became deeply anxious in classes where standing up and reading out loud were a possibility. I became distressed if I became the focus of attention.  As I grew features of my behaviour  were indicative of emotional disorder.  This is obvious to me now but as a young person lacking in understanding and trying to be the acceptable norm as I saw presented to me by peer group pressure and society in general I just put up emotional protective barriers around my vulnerable self .

I seemed to experience deep discomfort in social settings. Avoidance of common everyday activities became a ritual and I compensated for this inadequacy by playing mind games with myself and others in a sad attempt to conceal my weaknesses.

An event which happened one day in secondary school can highlight an element of my behaviour which was to persist into my adult life and was to have destructive consequences for my personal mental health. I was walking across the school yard, by myself as was usual when I was hit on the lower back by a hard object from a sling shot. The pain was intense and shot up into my head. It must have hit a nerve. I could hear boys sniggering somewhere behind me but instead of turning around and confronting them as a normal teenager would do I absorbed the pain and humiliation into myself and walked on as if nothing had happened. I would rather suffer than stand up for myself even if I was totally in the right to do so.

Family life has a huge part to play in a childs present and future mental wellbeing and our prisons and psychiatric hospitals are ports of call for many young people who have experienced dysfunction at some level in their upbringing. When I speak of my family life and my formative years, let me first say that anger regret and selfpity have been replaced by understanding and forgiveness. Forgiveness is a necessary and powerful key to recovery and growth to maturity in the life of a grow member.

My father and mother had each been raised in families with a lot of difficulties emotionally and financially and I suppose that commonality drew them together at first. They were damaged by their experiences and my mother in particular was vulnerable to mental illhealth and an inability to cope with lifes stresses. Her mental illhealth expressed itself in neuroses, paranoia and obsessive compulsive disorder. The problem for the children was that it was not treated or diagnosed by medical professionals in the early years. My father had his difficulties too and was a distant non communicative figure. My mothers illness was never discussed or dealth with by him and his source of escapism was his work which could take him away for weeks at a time. The children lived in an unhappy environment and relatives and neighbours never called.

As a child already with an oversensitive nature these experiences had a deeper effect on me than it would on other children One thing I will say here is that argument and friction in a family are far better for a childs sense of identity and wellbeing than non communication and not facing lifes problems. My teenage years were fraught with social anxiety, lack of direction and a sense of not belonging. I became totally inhibited in social settings where I felt vulnerable or was expected to compete. I could perform well academically however and always did well in exams but in the currency of life, relationships communicating in a competitive environment, workplaces etc I suffered terribly and survived by being a doormat subservient to every one I worked with or related to. This caused constant conflict and stress within me and resulted in debilitating low moods and exhaustion.

Teenage years are difficult for every one however in my case there were other factors which imposed limitations on my ability to cope with life. I was deeply sensitive and carried around my family dysfunction with me. I did not make friends easily and those I did make were lobsided with me playing the role of the one totally devoted to making the other person feel good about themselves. My low self esteem and social anxiety meant that I never had a girlfriend into my early twenties. During this time I had the persistant thought that I would be better off confined to a wheelchair. This reflected how emotionally disabled I felt and often felt desperately lonely even around people.

I avoided team sports or activities but in many ways other areas opened up for me in which I could express myself in a non threatening environment.These were playing musical instruments and an interest in the natural world. I also jogged a lot and all of these interests probably kept me from going over the edge during this time. During this time I got involved in playing music at a charismatic type prayer meeting. I suffered deep social anxiety even in the prayer meeting and one evening in the midst of prayer and song I opened up and risked everything by sharing about my personal pain. All I can say is that I experienced a huge emotional release that night with deep weeping which carried on even as I slept in bed that night.

An emotional transformation took place within me and this lasted for several months. I did finally come back to earth but the experience was emotionally earth shattering and led to years of spiritual seeking trying to find that state of composure and wellbeing that I had tasted. This spiritual seeking was unbalanced and in many ways fuelled by dysfunction and I lacked guidance in understanding my emotional illhealth. I was 24 years old and in my mind I lived a double life. One side of me worked and carried on a routine of what I thought was acceptable to others. The other side of me was dominated by a deep spirituality in which I took refuge when I became overwhelmed by my difficulties in coping with life. It was during this time I attracted the attention of a girl that was older than me. I had no experience of boy girl relationships and had always longed to meet someone who could accept me. The relationship that followed was determined by my own lack of experience, my total lack of self esteem, and my personal emotional disabilities. To cut a long story short, this girl set her mind and heart on me and at the age of 25 I got married. I did not marry for love which I deeply needed but to play a role iIthought was expected of me denying all I truely valued and all that I truly believed in. There were children born into this situation of immaturity and they were affected by this. Thankfully they have all matured and got on with their own lives and I feel blessed by them and love them unconditionally.

After years of personal struggle, regret and unhappiness the performance for everyone as husband, Father and provider collapsed around me.

Even with all my emotional problems I have still managed to find and hold onto work over the years and keep my life financially above board. You can do things you hate in order to feed and cloth your children nomatter how bad you feel. My inadequacies meant that I always sought out jobs which gave a sense of anonimity, responsibility and being the centre of attention were to be avoided even though my educational achievements would suggest more demanding positions. When I got married at 25 I was in employment in a large public service company which employed thousands. The nature of the work involved close group interactions at certain times of the day and these caused me great distress. The work itself was relatively interesting but due to a large workforce there were long periods of inactivity and in order to pass the time people took part in group activities which involved group interactions which caused me deep discomfort and stress. I was deeply unhappy in mt job when i got married and the combined factors led to me breaking down when I was 29.

A series of emotional setbacks within my job ontop of the accumulated stresses of trying to be something I wasent within my marraige and my own underlyimg emotional dysfunction led to a nervous collapse.  I ended up in hospital for 6 weeks. Rather than sorting out my life my spell in hospital only scratched the surface. It did however give me the first glimpses of insight into my deep seated problems  but it would take many more years of suffering for me stand up and take action.

Events which occurred during my stay in hospital were to sow the seeds of years of further suffering and would eventually lead me to the door of a GROW meeting. It was while I was in the protective environment of the hospital I was visited by two people with input into my job from which I was now out on sick leave. Both were not trained in the area of mental illhealth and in my vulnerable stateI I innocently tried to tell them how I felt about the job and about my experiences there. In my vulnerability and naievity and dysfunction I thought these people were safe to talk to and express my fears and anxieties. My belief was that if I behaved perfectly in the job god would make all my suffering go away. I said things to them that no one in their right mind would express openly in the workplce.

To cut a long story short everything I said to these men was misinterpreted and worse still was fed directly back into the hands of the men I had to return back to work with.  I did return to work but the naievity and innocence of a sick man had been given into the hands of ignorance and looked on as a threat. During the 2 weeks that I lasted back in the job I was bullied undermined in my work and driven to the point of wanting to take my own life. Finally after 2 weeks of blind terror for a socially anxious person  I got off my bycycle on my way into work and jumped off a seawall to try and injure myself. Luckily I just sprained an ankle but I went to a doctor and he gave me a sick note.  I never returned to the job took a small redundancy package and basically became unemployed. That was many years ago now but the trauma of deep betrayal has taken a long time to accept and overcome.

One thing I realise now after many years of suffering the stigma of mental illhealth  that in many ways you can never leave behind a job with such a large workforce and wide reaching structure that was in existance when I collapsed out of that job all those years ago.  I have suffered terribly mentally over the years because of this. Medication enabled me to carry on and when that did not work I self medicated with alcohol.

In so far as psychiatry can actually diagnose mental illhealth I have been labelled with different disorders by different people over the years but one of the greatest nurturing factors in the health of a human being is being accepted for who they are. To live with rejection and constant fear of threat undermines a persons mental health ,especially in the more sensitive ones.

I sought out a GROW meeting 12 years ago. I attended for a year but drifted away without applying or truely understanbing the GROW Programme of growth to maturity. I was not ready to face up to my realities and continued on in my own personal hell for several more years. However 3 years ago i returned to GROW.  This time I was ready. I now had a humble heart and a mind tired of sufferimg and willing to make the changes necessary to experience true growth and dare I say it moments of happiness.

GROW is like a life raft for who are suffering mentally and provides a safe place for expressing fears and  anxieties. It can provide a fouhdation for a new way of thinking and acting which leads not just to improved mental health but to maturity in a persons life. The suffering in the world is a bottomless pit and it is a far greater thing for person to make the changes in themselves that lead to personal maturity that to try and fix the world outside. Personal growth spreads out in that persons life like the rings on the surface of a lake.

It is often not possible to express in words the the intensity of mental suffering a person can experience and often due to persistant suffering a person can take refuge in the idea that they are special in some way. This is actually a barrier to growth and recovery in the life of and ill person and can lead to isolation. The GROW Programme talks about the importance of ordinariness in a persons life as this opens the door to reaching out to other people and puts value on the simple activities in life as stepping stones to a full and lasting recovery.

One day as I walked along a stoney beach I noticed that the most beautifull stones on the beach were down where the waves washed onto the shore. They were beautifully smooth and rounded and I was drawn to pick them up and admire them. These stones were in the rough and tumble of the tideline and were in continuous motion bumping off each other and being washed by the waves.  The stones up away from the waves were dull rough and covered with debris and were generally unattractive. I realised that this reflected many aspects of emotional illness,  Unlike the beautifull stones down in the rough and tumble of the waves of life the unattractive stones were stuck up away from the interaction of the waves. They were unable to partake in life  and thus had lots of rough edges and were stuck in dysfunction . The purpose of the grow programme is to lift up these unatractive stones and gently bring them back down to the rough and tumble of the waves were they can start to partake in life again..

It can be liberating to feel accepted and know that you are not alone in your suffering. In the early days of attending a grow meeting this may be all that an unwell person can cling onto and keep them coming back as GROW encourages that you move your muscles no matter how you feel. As time passes the sayings of the GROW Programme begin to become familiar to a recovering person and can become stabilising factors when a person encounters setbacks on their journey. For grow to work for someone they need a humble heart and a mind tired of suffering and willing to take the first tentative steps towards recovery and ultimately growth to a maturity which is the the wonderfull overall goal of the grow programme.

One of the primary goals of the grow programme is self activation and the active use of personal resources outside of the grow meeting. In my life I have started to play and practise music again and learn to play new musical instruments. I include tai chi exercises and daily walks in my daily routine. And I now have a more hands on approach and more mature  understanding of the role of spirituality in my life and practise mindfullness and meditation on a regular basis. On a personal level I have ended my old relationship and made reparation with people who I felt thought i had wronged them in my old job all those years ago. The grow programme programme promotes personal action as a key to recovery and states “If the rough road gets you there and the smooth one doesnt which one are you going to take” When you start to free up your mind from its mental prison of stress unhappiness struggle a new freedom enters into your life and this allows creativity to flourish in a new and wonderful way.

I will finish with a desciption of love written 1800 years ago and it is as fitting for today as it was all those years ago.

 Love is patient, love is kind
Love does not envy or boast
It is not arrogant or rude
It does not insist on its own way
It is not irritable or resentful
It does not rejoice in wrong doing
But rejoices with truth
Love bears all things
Believes all things
Hopes all things
Endures all things
All will pass away
But love will never end.