I gave two talks of my own at the conference. They are both on Thursday which makes life easier for me. I’m frustrated that they are scheduled at the same time as some really interesting talks I’d been hoping to attend.
I have to take the train in to the city where the conference is being held early on Thursday and Friday mornings. I am very short of sleep, and I start the day with breakfast and a coffee. The sleep deprivation, not being able to get a seat that faces forwards, and feeling the coffee slosh about inside me for the 45 min train trip leaves me feeling pretty travel sick on the journey in. I am so relieved when our conference bags have mints in them and suck on them until my tummy settles. I know only three people in the entire conference. Some of the spaces are small for the crowd and I am surrounded by a lot of strangers. I am starting to float over myself.
My first one is ‘Voices and Dissociation’, talking about voice hearing from the perspective of multiplicity and dissociation rather than psychosis. I’m standing in a room 5 minutes before I’m due to start. There are about 4 people the room and I’m mentally immediately adapting the talk to become more conversation rather than a lecture. The nervous energy is now high, I feel like I could climb mountains. I’m anxious and also so excited to be here doing this! I check the laptop there to make sure my power point presentation is on it. It isn’t. I get out my backup copy on USB and transfer it over, relieved by my policy of assuming everything will go wrong. I get a glass of water and pull a chair up rather than stand over the small group. Someone comes in and says ‘Why are you in this room’? It turns out my room has been changed. I gather up my gear and rush across the corridor to another, smaller room. This one has most seats full and a generally expectant air. I check the laptop here. Still no sign of my power point. I get out my USB again and transfer it over. I’ve been rehearsing the talk and simply cannot bring it below 24 minutes without losing important steps in the train of thought. I’ve checked this earlier in the day with Indigo, one of the organisers of the Conference. She’s fine with it, as long as I exit the room on time for the next speaker. It just reduces the question time a little. I mentally shift gears again back to a lecture to suit the larger audience.
I try to start a couple of minutes early to compensate for the time issues, but as soon as I’m introduced more people arrive. Then more people. We fill up all the seats. People stand up the back and sit on the floor at the front. I’m aware that as I’m starting from a foundation and building my way up, anyone who misses the first few slides will be at a huge disadvantage so I delay and try to make sure everyone is comfortable and has somewhere where they can see. We start a couple of minutes late, I launch into the talk.
When talking to my supervisor the previous week I expressed my frustration at the level of exposure anxiety these talks cause for me. He’d suggested briefly mentioning in my introduction that I need a bit of sensitivity around these topics, just because I come and talk about them in this format doesn’t necessarily mean I want to discuss them if we bump into each other on the bus. There’s a quiet chuckle from the audience when I say this and I’m pleased that it goes down well. It does take the edge off a little. I break all the rules about pacing and power my way through the talk, aiming for coherency and humanising and hoping people can keep up. I rely heavily on the artwork I’ve painted to help me express complex concepts in a simple way. The room has that intense quiet of a whole bunch of people listening intently. At the end there are more questions than I have time for. I put the address of this blog up as the last slide so people can contact me to ask questions later or look up more in depth information here. I also have business cards there and some paperwork; fact sheets, Bridges flyers and so on. There’s a rush to the front of the room as people want to look at them, and people gathered around me wanting to share their experiences, their concerns about dissociative clients, to express what they thought about the talk.
I am trying to keep eye contact and give all my attention and also drag the group out of the room so the next scheduled speaker can begin. In the corridor people need to talk. The breathless rush of words that sometimes fill Bridges opens up, there is so rarely any opportunity to talk about these things and the talk has pulled the cork from the bottle. I am trying really hard to focus on every person, to give them full attention, to commit names and faces to memories, to write notes on business cards given to me as memory aids later. I know the need, I know the fear, the discrimination, the need for information, for sensitivity, to feel heard and understood and normal and relevant and I’m trying to make sure everyone, everyone, and especially those who hang back, who find it hard to make eye contact, who tell me in quiet tones about their struggles, feels those things even if it’s only for a moment.
Then it’s done, the weeks of work towards this point are done. I am shaking with adrenaline and anxiety, I feel breathless, my vision is blurring. I feel like I’ve just done an intense sprint. My voice is becoming slightly hoarse. I find somewhere quiet and get a very sugary cup of tea and sit on the floor against a wall. I am so excited, it feels like finishing a work of theatre after months of preparation, or handing in the final exam and it has all gone well and I know I’ve done well and people are telling me thankyou and that it was useful or helped in some way.
In a couple of hours I give my second talk with co-presenter Jenny. It’s less personal, less exposing, easier to do. It’s about the development of our groups Bridges and Sound Minds and I’m passionate about the topic, and Jenny is passionate. In our short time we seem to transmit that and the audience is focused, interested, asking questions, following us into the corridor to follow up. People are inspired by our groups, our work, want to learn more or form their own or adapt their own.
I’ve pulled it all off. It doesn’t matter what happens now. I’ve done my bit. All these amazing people have had a chance to hear about dissociation and multiplicity in a way that isn’t sensational, is easy to grasp, has a framework that makes sense and validates and calms fear. People that were alone with these things have words and a language to describe them, have discovered that there is a community out there to connect with, learn from, share with. People tell me they already have people in their voice hearer groups struggling with these issues and now they have some ideas how to support them and where to go for more information. It’s the perfect place and exactly the right people to launch my first talk about the nature of multiplicity.
Sleepless and wired that night the come down is hard. There’s a bizarre culture clash in giving talks for me, an abrupt shift from anonymous and unknown to someone people approach and talk to, a move from work and life that is often solitary and where I have to remind myself that who I am and what I’m trying to do counts, to a sudden flood of appreciation. I love it and I love being able to approach strangers, to suddenly being able to talk to anyone at the conference, not struggling to feel like I fit in drinking tea and listening in on other people’s conversations. And I hate it, can’t believe it or really take it in. And I do take it in, try to lock away in my head to think about later the things people are saying, the flood of positive feedback, hope they will help me keep going. I’m proud of myself, to have created a voice, to have been offered these chances to share my knowledge, my journey, my hopes, to be able to connect with all these strangers, to have their faces become familiar in just a few hours and be able to smile and make eye contact and share lunch together. The whole experience is like breaking a fast with chocolate mudcake, magnificent, unsettling, overwhelming. In my journal that night I write:
Dark and hollow
Deep in the pit
Where I am alone
Empty and solitary
Only the sounds
of water dripping
that lays on the wall
like a slash of ice
it’s empty and hollow and
I’m empty and hollow and
I feel all dead now
Numbed and untrusting
Alone and alone and alone and alone
such sadness and such emptiness
no fertile soil here
here, nothing grows
all gone, all gone.
Doubt drags me under, fear sucks me empty. I write and I listen and it eases a little, eases enough to sleep, the nightmares just the usual background noise, not too bad tonight, not too bad.
Part 3 here.