Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Unwelcome Intruder - True Story

Image: Microsoft

When I’m not writing psychological suspense thrillers, I’m a Psychotherapist. Having a consulting room in my own home means I don’t have to pay room rent, but it also has its down side: unwelcome visitors – and I don’t mean the ones who turn up ringing the doorbell, trying to sell me alarm systems (and I’ve had a lot of those recently).

Let me set the scene. My consulting room is quiet, the phones are switched off, there are long silences and the conversation is difficult. My client is upset – she has post-traumatic stress syndrome and she’s talking about panic attacks. She had one only yesterday when the postman suddenly appeared behind her when she was watering her front garden. She’s shaking throughout the session, her eyes are bright and on full-alert and her voice quivers.

I hear a noise behind my chair – a kind of scratching sound, like a piece of paper slowly sliding down the wall. It stops. I’m listening to my client, my eyes are on her, but my mind is trying to figure out what’s behind my chair. Then I hear another sound – a scrabbling. It’s under my seat this time and my heart jolts, racing at twice its normal speed.

Image: Microsoft
We have a cat called Tigsey. Occasionally he brings in ‘gifts’, but from time to time these gifts – a mouse, a frog, a bird – are still alive. Tigsey is a rascal; he plays with his toys for a while and then gets bored and walks away. My husband and I have found mice behind bookcases before, wings and body parts on the front mat under the mail.

Then it hits me. I had a brief conversation with my neighbour yesterday and had thought no more about it. It was about poison. She’d put pellets down in her backyard after discovering she had rats in her raised flower beds. My brain darts through the likely course of events., meanwhile I’m still trying to empathise and console my client. Poison means rats who are on their last legs; it makes them easy prey and Tigsey isn’t one to let an opportunity like that pass him by. A fresh worry occurs to me. Tigsey is in danger, not only from picking up the poison himself, but from secondary poisoning if he’s got hold of a rat.

But I’m not in a position to act on anything, just now. We have twenty minutes of the session left and my heart and brain are doing overtime. The last thing my client wants to see is a rat idly padding across the room. She would no doubt erupt into some kind of manic seizure. It could seriously damage her, psychologically, and would ruin our therapeutic relationship – this is one of the few places where she feels safe, right now. Besides – there’s health and safety - I could get struck off.

It was the longest, most strained twenty minutes of my life, I can tell you. I was begging the rat to stay put under my seat. I didn’t know whether to sit perfectly still (would it venture out, thinking the coast was clear?) or to shuffle around a little in my seat so it would be wary. What would happen when the session ended and we both left our seats? Would the rat sense movement and make a dash for it? Should I warn my client now, before she saw it – or suggest we continue the session in another room? Had she already heard the strange scraping sounds, herself?

All the while, I was trying to stay engaged with her; offering suggestions, talking her through hyperventilation techniques - ones she might need to call upon sooner than she expected. I was serene and terrified all at once. Talk about a split personality!

My inner pleas were answered and the hour was over. My client left, oblivious to the situation. I pulled out my chair and sure enough a large rat darted across the room. I shut the door and rang for humane pest-control to come as soon as possible. My next client was due in an hour. I went to the bathroom to splash cold water on my face. On my way, I passed Tigsey curled up on the bed. He opened one eye as if to say, ‘You found it, then?’

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Tuesday, 22 October 2013

A Woman who kills her Baby - anything but a Monster?

As a Psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many individuals who have committed serious crimes. In my experience, these offenders are not predominantly ‘Psychopaths’ or ‘Insane’ as many people imagine. Many of them  do have social issues or mental health problems, but often these are behaviours the rest of us share - albeit to a lesser degree.

Take Anger, for example. What do YOU do when you’re brimming with frustration and rage? Storm out of the room? Yell at someone? Slam the door? 

In the recent documentary, Women Behind Bars, Sir Trevor McDonald spoke to Dawn Hopkins, a woman convicted of killing her baby, coming to the end of a sixteen-year sentence at Rockville Correction Facility, Indiana. She told Trevor that she still doesn’t know the reason for killing her baby. All she can say is, ‘I don’t know…I lost my temper…and I should have been better than that.’

It happened in a flash of blind rage, she goes on to explain – one minute she was on the phone to her mother, watching The Simpsons – the next, she was shaking her baby to death. She had post-natal depression. The baby had a cold and was 'fussy'. She couldn’t cope.

Image: Microsoft
Sometimes, as a mother, it must feel as if the crying never stops. You need to sleep, you’re running on empty, maybe you’re a single mother without support or respite. The crying goes on and on. There are times when even the most calm and relaxed person would freak out. What do mothers do in a desperate attempt to stop their baby from crying?
Image: Microsoft
When you’re at the end of your tether with a screaming baby, the advice is to change the nappy, check their temperature and look for any signs of illness. If in doubt, call the doctor. ‘Rock or walk with the baby’, ‘sing or talk to the baby’. ‘Put the baby in a cot and go into another room’. Mothers with enough money might hire a nanny or regular baby-sitter to give themselves regular breaks. What if you can’t afford this luxury? Run the vacuum cleaner or play music? Call someone? Try to calm down? 

Shaken Baby Syndrome 

A huge part of the problem is that people have no idea of the harm a furious shake can do. It doesn’t feel like a deliberately decision to go all out to kill your baby. But, because the baby’s head is heavier and larger in comparison to the rest of the body, and the neck muscles are not fully developed, the head moves rapidly and unnaturally back and forth. The brain hits the inside of the skull causing permanent brain damage. Education for a new mother in these crucial details is often lacking.

Dawn Hopkins was forced to give up her first two children because she ‘abused’ them. I wish I knew more about those earlier cases – was their ‘abuse’ a result of similar fits of fury? How come she was allowed to keep this third child? I wish I knew more about Dawn’s background and history, too – was anger a theme in her life as she grew up and prominent in the people around her? Did she have a particular relationship with anger during her upbringing? My hunch would be Yes.

The Source

Individuals with anger problems usually have a 'history' involving anger. They are often a victim of anger themselves, having suffered deep seated hurt, violence or injustice. In some cases, anger becomes a currency in which to deal with family problems – a surrogate language. It can become the hidden monster in the room always ready to pounce. Individuals brought up where anger is constantly in the air often have a shorter fuse than other people and when the fuse blows it causes far more damage than your average outburst with a few curses and broken plates.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, more than 70% of ex-offenders commit another crime and return to prison within three years of their release. Indiana appears to have strict laws about which jobs are made available to ex-offenders as well as restricted access to key services such as housing. After release, most ex-offenders receive a court order to receive some kind of therapy - for anger management, conflict resolution, drug or alcohol addiction, or mental illness. They are ordered to pay fees for the therapy themselves.

The Answer?

Like my last post, I arrive at similar questions about Dawn’s future. What will be different about Dawn’s life outside that will prevent this ever happening again? Is the anger management therapy helping her? Is the only answer to ensure she is never alone - ever - with a young baby? Will she never be allowed to be a mother? Click to Tweet this Post

If this post touches you, you might be interested in a project at Booktrust, to help children including those from families of offenders, to 'change their story' and help stop the cycle of re-offending.

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