I’ve never had much time for gardening. In truth, I’ve never had any time whatsoever for it. As long as there’s a small patch of concrete attached to my house where I can sit and read in the sunshine, I’m more than happy. Grass, flowers, trees, hedges and shrubs certainly have their place in my world – it’s called ‘The Countryside’ and I love it. I love it because it’s always there when I need it to walk or cycle in, and the greatest thing is that it’s not dependent on me. It just gets on with being beautiful in my absence. It has no claim on me – it is entirely separate, and most of the time, it is completely outside my awareness. Perfect.
Gardens, on the other hand, are needy, complex, demanding and unreasonably visible – nothing, in my opinion, but a millstone around the neck of the foolish gardener who could be doing so many other important things, like working, or running, or trying to figure out what the hell is going on with folks outsidethe garden. All that pruning and weeding, trimming and chopping, sprinkling, watering and tending is for sorted people, like my husband, who trusts that life will tick along nicely, even without his active surveillance, while he neatens up the borders. He even believes that his friends and family will still be around whenever he finishes the pruning. Yes, gardening is just another luxury for the securely-
There seems to come a time in a survivor’s recovery when ‘psychoeducation’ reaches saturation point. In a desperate bid to get to grips with the chaos, like me you’ve probably read an enormous amount of material about DID. You may have been lucky enough to go on several training courses on ‘affect regulation’. Hopefully you will have had many fruitful discussions with a therapist about ‘triggers’, and accessed peer support online to discuss ‘shame’. I arrived at this point in September 2012. I’d waded my way through The Haunted Self, could almost recite Trauma and Recovery word for word, but I still had a sneaking suspicion that I still didn’t quite really get it. I could talk about ‘it’, write about ‘it’, reflect endlessly on ‘it’, but I was terminally bewildered as to the real root of ‘it’. You know, ‘it’ – my problem.
I was in a bad way. In early August I was (finally) invited to ‘Initial Assessment’ Number 3 (sic) with the ‘Senior Consultant Psychologist’ at the PSTD / Anxiety Disorders Clinic. I was buzzed into an intimidatingly old building with lots of loud swinging doors that locked securely behind me. The receptionist sent me to a run-
There ensued a discussion about the horribly circuitous route by which I’d arrived before her, and an almost-
And so, having successfully reduced me from client to patient, she showed me to the door.
I returned four weeks later, ready for action. She began by asking how I’d felt about the prospect of therapy with her. I smiled wryly and said that the couch thing was a little scary. She smiled back and, nodding sympathetically, suggested that maybe I wasn’t in the right place for therapy. Perhaps I was a little too ‘unstable’ and ‘resistant’ for the kind of long-
Unfortunately for her, my 12-
Before I could react, she added, “Come on now, Mrs Le Roux, as one public sector worker to another, I’m sure you can understand …” I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. She then proceeded to enquire as to whether I had considered the possibility of private therapy. “Oh no,” I replied, beaming. “No, you see, Ibelieve in the NHS, so I’m going nowhere.”
I was gutted, of course – we all were! – but I left her Clinic with a ‘Keep in Touch Appointment’ (an ‘Are you really not going away yet? Appointment’) booked for February. She tried to make it a ‘Keep in Touch Phone Call’, but I insisted on a face-
Six months after ‘The Second Ending’ with Sheila my ex-
Feeling uncharacteristically dejected, I met with Meera, my Care Coordinator. She was profusely apologetic about the embarrassing dis-
To add insult to injury, a week later I received the usual letter summarising my new ‘Care Plan’ from the PTSD / Anxiety Team. As I tore open the envelope, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The letter was a copy of one addressed to … wait for it … Ivan the Ponytail Man! What the hell?! So I still haven’t managed to shake him off, even though nobody knows why. And I’m prepared to bet money that despite his absolute, recognised, documented irrelevance to my case, some day soon in a small green room with Ikea armchairs, he and I shall meet again.
In early October I travelled to Huntingdon for the PODS Healthy Boundaries and Relationships day, more out of curiosity than perceived need. You see, at work I am well known as The Baroness of Boundaries, The Queen of Consistency, and the Dame of Appropriate Distance. No student of mine is left in any doubt as to who is in charge, what The Rules are, and what happens if The Rules aren’t followed. I make it 100% clear that my purpose is to teach them French or Italian, that I couldn’t care less what they think of me, and that I certainly have no interest whatsoever in going out for pizza with them. Texting young teenagers, Facebook-
Sometimes it’s the simplest of images that prove to be most effective. As I sat in the hall feeling cynical and hardened, jaded and all psyched-
The idea that caught my attention in Carolyn’s talk was the concept that between me and my treasured boundaries, there existed a space. Up to that very moment, I had been completely unaware of that space, so busy was I policing the Great Wall of my … of my … of my … Fortress! And that space could be thought of as a ‘garden’ (the analogy that Carolyn was using to describe what boundaries were there to do, and to protect). But really it was my life.
For the first time I focused in on what I had been so preoccupied with protecting: my very own ‘garden’, which I had never watered, never weeded, never tended, never even spent any time in.
My mind started to race: how everything I had ever done for myself – all my schoolwork, my time at university, my career, all my running, even having children! – had been motivated either by caring for, or even frantically trying to escape from, other people’s gardens. It was as if I’d been living in a high-
I have some memories of trying to establish my own metaphorical ‘plot of land’ as a child. There always seemed to be someone trying to smother me with cloying, suffocating, unwanted ‘affection’. If I tried to protest, I would be accused of being selfish, uncaring, cold, and bad: “just like your father”. I should be grateful for having such a loving brother and a devoted mother, having all my needs met before I was even aware of them – because my mother could “read me like a book”. The only way I could cope with my frustration was to savagely bite my own hands until they bled, an action mimicked by my parents, who found it hilarious. My developing body was the object of constant ridicule and contempt, but still I fought to resist their intrusions and to make space for myself outside of my home. As I grew older, I became a full-
As the PODS’ day progressed, I began to imagine for the first time what my ‘garden’ might look like. And I began also to fear my own responsibility for looking after it. And then there were my children, whose gardens I’d been happily growing for the past 12 years. I could now see that I had to teach them to care for their own mini-
As Carolyn continued, I couldn’t help but think of what my husband and children were doing at the same time. They had gone to meet with my father for the first time in three years. And yes, part of the reason for going on the PODS’ day was as a useful avoidance strategy to get me through that terribly difficult and painful day! When I arrived back home, my husband told me unspeakable news about my mother’s situation, gleaned from my father – news designed, no doubt, to motivate me to resume my previous role of family ‘head gardener’ and rescuer and stop pretending to be mentally ill once and for all.
While all this was immensely triggering, I had new insight with which to resist my urge to hop in the car, drive North and sort them all out. I will never really know the truth about what is happening in my parents’ lives, but armed with this new concept from the PODS day that we all have our own ‘gardens’ – our own lives – and we are each ultimately responsible for our own garden, not for the gardens of others, I realised now that it’s their stuff, and it’s in their gardens.
It saddens me to think about the state of my parents’ ‘gardens’ – the out-
Thanks to Carolyn, I am spending lots of time in my own garden nowadays. But I have someone else to thank as well: the NHS! Meera really did research alternative treatment options, and after an almost-