For I have learned how to soothe the hot spots, how to salve the soreness on my skin….”Shhhh,” I whisper to the hurting part, hidden here. You can call her borderline – call me borderline – or multiple, or heaped with posttraumatic stress – but strip away the language and you find something simple. You find me, part healthy as a horse and part still suffering, as are we all…What sets me apart from these “sick” ones – is simply a learned ability to manage the blades of deep pain with a little bit of dexterity. Mental health doesn’t mean making the pains go away. I don’t believe they ever go away…I have not healed so much as learned to sit still and wait while pain does its dancing work, trying not to panic or twist in ways that make the blades tear deeper, finally infecting the wounds.

Lauren Slater, Welcome to My Country

Lauren Slater is a psychologist and works with people with severe mental difficulties. A visit to a new patient in hospital sends her hurtling back in time, to when she was admitted to the psych ward in this hospital herself, diagnosed as borderline. She reflects on what it was that enabled her to escape and mature and to put together a life for herself, while her patients are mostly not so lucky.

This is something I wonder about also. I’m kind of in between – I’ve never been admitted to a psych ward and don’t carry a heavy diagnosis. At the same time, my childhood and resulting dissociative disorder were so damaging, I’ve struggled to put a life together that’s worth living.

Slater goes on to muse that her memory is kind, in that she also remembers good things from her childhood, beyond trauma. Times spent in nature or laughing. Being  able to hang on to good things has given her a measure of sanity.

Also, she credits a loving foster family who took her in at age fourteen and stood by her through many hospitalizations. Having that one person that was kind and believed in her potential. A gateway out of trauma and abuse.

She’s learned to sit still when pain hits, knowing it will pass if she doesn’t make it worse by ‘twisting the blades’. Cool. I like how she sees everyone as having pain, even horrendous pain. It’s not the pain that does the damage on its own though. There are other factors that can help. How we respond to the pain. Some goodness from the past. And that gives me some hope.

    • Ellen said:

      You’re very welcome. Thanks for commenting.

  1. catherine said:

    beautiful selection from her book (*note to self: must get this book*), and a beautiful post. it really resonates with the work i’m doing at the moment in dbt and also with mindfulness… how to sit with difficult emotions (mine are grief, shame and loneliness) and not respond in a way that increases suffering. the thoughts have not left, and the emotions are still there, but i am slowly finding a way to breathe through them.

    i hold lots of hope for you, too.

    • Ellen said:

      I can see how this could resonate with mindfulness. Just a note on the book – it can be a hard read. Most of Slater’s patients do not improve much. I like the downbeat nature of it, and she doesn’t give up hope, but not one to read if you’re feeling low at the time.

      Thanks for holding hope for me! take care

  2. Ruth said:

    I found the same thing. To sit quietly through the pain. It subsides after a time. Looses its edge and becomes less painful in time. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. Gel said:

    Wow! that was a golden quote. Thank you. And I like your reflection on it too.
    It’s helpful to me because it reminds me that the goal isn’t to get rid of all the pains, (not possible anyway). The goal is to learn how to live well despite the pain, (and I think some pain can be reduced)

    What kind of flowers did you plant?.

    • Ellen said:

      I think some pain can be reduced also.

      I planted just regular plants – large pink begonias with a low white spreading flower, don’t remember the name. Then coleus, dark leaved and cream leaved. And impatience, purple. Because I left it so late, the smaller plants where pot bound and aren’t doing that well. Note to self – if buying late, splurge on larger pots.

      take care

  4. Cat said:

    This is a powerful post for me as it echoes my own thought process in recent months. My CPN has mental health problems, which are largely under control through meds, therapy and hard work. I have no idea how some can achieve this position while other do not.

    Putting a life together “that’s worth living” is difficult enough, but finding the enthusiasm to re-join life is even worse. I wonder if the answer to the above lies within…?

    Not so long ago, someone said that it might help if I to try remember the good times with my parents. It wasn’t all bad and abusive, but I seem stuck in an eternal cycle of the same bad memories. Perhaps that is another key issue in any recovery.

    Sitting still when depression hits is exactly what I do. I often feel guilty for believing that I am lying down to it. Trying to fight against it never works, but usually results in me beating myself up even more for failing. It only serves to increase this great sense of worthlessnessI

    Is this quote from a book you are reading?

    • Ellen said:

      Not sure what CPN stands for? It is a puzzle why some can get better and others, who also try, can’t seem to.

      I think in the above quote, or elsewhere in the book, Slater is not trying to see the good in her parents or in people who hurt her. I think that’s a really tricky thing to try to do actually, but more power to you if you can do it. She remembers other happier things that happened despite the parents she had. But I see what you mean, recycling bad memories over and over is not helpful.

      I like how you say fighting against depression doesn’t work. At least, fighting the wrong way certainly makes it worse. Self acceptance is key.

      Yes, it’s called Welcome to My Country. I enjoyed it, but as I said to Catherine, it can be quite a dark read at times.

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Cat said:

        CPN = Community Psychiatric Nurse ;0)

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