It Was A Bad Day (But I’m Grateful)

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Today was a bad day. It still is – I can see all the hallmarks of spiralling downwards. I can’t find the pen in my bag and I get immediately, deeply frustrated, so I tip the bag upside down, scattering the contents everywhere. I couldn’t find the words to say goodbye to my colleagues, and I accomplished nothing all day, because I was simultaneously floating outside myself and feeling panicked, and wanting the pain of a cigarette lighter to ground me. I feel completely exhausted and tearful, but I know I’ve had more than enough sleep. I’m just overwhelmed.

R is going to see Jen tomorrow. I was in the office with his assistant while she made the appointment. They’ll talk about me – they always talk about me. Either outcome of their session is going to be bad – if she hears again that I’m struggling and still doesn’t reach out, or if she does contact me and all those messy painful emotions get triggered again. But imagining their conversation is the worst.

“Yeah, apparently she expected me to call her after Anna quit, and she got pretty upset and told me I wasn’t being supportive enough, so I just went ‘okay, I need to take a step back from this’.”

“I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that, Jen – she’s being really unreasonable.  That’s unfair after everything you’ve done for her. She’s just pushing everyone away at the moment. If she doesn’t want help there’s nothing we can do about it.”

I hate being in limbo. I hate that I won’t know what he’s told her, and I hate that I’ll be back to waiting and wondering about an email that’ll probably never come.

Kind of the way I was waiting today. I was so desperate to hear about the new psychiatrist, just so I know. Can she see me? Do I have to go back to searching, again? But, nothing.

And then I found out that one of the managers at work, one of my two “Jewish mamas”, is leaving in June, on bad terms with R. Obviously this time it has nothing to do with me, but still. Everybody is leaving. She’s been such an important maternal presence in my life. When I had surgery last year, she was one of only 3 people who knew. After I was discharged, she helped me dress, drove me two hours to my first follow-up appointment, came in to sit with me while the dressings were changed, never once flinching at the wounds, then took me home and put me to bed. I can always go to her with anything, and she’s never afraid to talk to me. She hugs me, close, holds my face in her hands while she kisses my forehead, touches my arm and rubs my back. She tells me I’m funny as hell, smart, gorgeous, and she cares about me. And she’s going.

But all of this is still in my head. I say the words – she’s going – and my brain knows this is a bad thing, that it hurts, but I don’t feel it hurting. I feel empty, and flat.

At lunch, I went to the park with Everest. Normally a friend or two would come along, but today I was by myself. Everest was scared, and I was sitting cross-legged holding her, trying to comfort her, when a little Russian boy came and sat down, cross-legged, in front of me. And we talked.

He was very mature and self-possessed, with an amazing ability to hold a conversation and ask appropriate questions, but he had that beautiful innocence, too, with a touch of little-boy bashfulness. I felt very connected and grounded, sitting on the grass in the sunshine, looking into the eyes of this little stranger and talking about pets and loss, love and family. He called his babushka over to us, and we moved into a little semi-circle. She took Everest onto her lap and tucked her completely underneath her shirt, against her skin, and Everest calmed.

You must have the magic touch,” I told her.

I have it, the magic. Children and dogs. They never cry when they are in my arms.”

He made me a bracelet out of small yellow rubber bands and slipped it on my wrist, then decided we should put it on my key chain. He told me solemnly that I could never take it off, and equally solemnly, I promised him that I wouldn’t. He was so disappointed when I eventually told him I had to leave, half an hour after my lunch break was finished. He reached out as if to shake my hand, but when I took it, he just held it.

You are very pretty,” he told me.

I’m grateful to them both. The rest of my day was bad, but my time with them was simple, and good.

It Was A Bad Day (But I’m Grateful)

Still In Limbo

I feel too humiliated to go back to Jen. I didn’t get a response to my email telling her that I felt hurt and unsupported, and the thought of her reading it, going ‘Eh – delete’ and then not giving me another thought is so much worse than the original hurt of her not contacting me after Anna quit. This is what you get when you expect people to support you. 

I do know that I have no real idea of what is going on for her. Maybe if I went and saw her she would be supportive. But it’s humiliating. Being ignored and going back anyway feels desperate, and that’s humiliating. The very real possibility that she’ll tell me, gently and kindly, that I overestimated our relationship and that her support is only available on her terms, when she offers it, is unbearably humiliating. Imagining being back in her office makes me feel exposed and ashamed and so desperate to hurt myself.

Thinking that I was worth more than I really am is horrible to realise – not only because of the impact on my relationship with Jen, but because it feels like I’ve been tricked, that I trusted in connection and reaching out and my trust made me pathetic.

No response from Aisha to my termination email. No surprise there.

But I do think that I will go back to Jen at some stage. As much as I hate bodywork, it’s an important part of my therapy, and probably not one that can be achieved by working with a psychiatrist. Before I started seeing Jen, I literally had no idea that I had body-related triggers, not even the obvious ones, like things in my mouth or having someone holding and moving my head. I didn’t know that I can’t lie on my stomach because you can’t put your hands up to defend yourself and it takes longer to get up and get away, and it never would have occurred to me that it’s fine to be touched by strangers because if they hurt you you only have to endure it once, but being touched by people you know isn’t okay because even if they hurt you, you still have to keep seeing them and keep being hurt.

So far this knowledge hasn’t helped me a whole lot, I guess. Maybe I was better off ignorant, or maybe I’m just making it up. But it feels important to know.

With all the intense pain and emotion and anger at Anna and Jen and Aisha, it’s been hard to really stop and think about me. I know that sounds stupid – this whole situation is fundamentally about me – but I get caught up in those thoughts of ‘no decent professional would ever act this way’ and ‘how could she do this to me?’, which are focused on her and what she’s doing. I forget to stop and think about what I’m feeling, about why I’m so hurt and what need isn’t being met.

So when I eventually faced the question of whether to go back to Jen and Aisha, I worked through the following questions:

Zanifesto - decision tree

With Aisha, the answer was no – our relationship has too many barriers to be able to meet my needs – time zones, her schedule prohibiting ability to be responsive when I need support, her travel cutting us off for 9 straight weeks a year, her inability to connect me with other services because she isn’t local and isn’t aware of them, and just the physical distance.

With Jen, I think the answer is a maybe. If she is completely unavailable out of session, then I think that could be functional. If that had been our understanding from the start, I don’t think I would have had any issues with it. The challenge is in adapting. She gave me her mobile number soon after we started working together and has repeatedly told me to contact her whenever I need her, and she’s initiated calls and texts to check in whenever things are bad. She was the second contact on my crisis plan, which meant being available for contact 24/7 for the 12 weeks of my DBT course. (I contacted her once, while Anna was on holidays, because I had to take Everest back to the shelter to be adopted out the next day, and I desperately wanted and needed to keep her but my lease doesn’t allow pets.)

This feels childish and petulant, but I don’t want outside contact unless it’s consistently okay for me to contact her and she can consistently be responsive. That feels like such a ridiculous overreaction, and so unrepresentative of real life – people aren’t consistent. But our relationship isn’t representative of real life either and I would prefer to just call for an emergency appointment if I really need to see her or talk to her.

So that sounds pretty settled, right? Why haven’t I gone back to see her and start figuring some of this out with her? Well, because I don’t have any other sources of support to fall back on right now. I feel guilty and wrong for using that as a reason, because most people only have one practitioner and they have no choice but to make that leap and deal with it if it goes badly. But that hasn’t been my experience. My very first week in therapy I started with both Aisha and Jen, and steadily (though reluctantly) added more and more, to the point that at the end of last year, I saw 5 professionals weekly plus a DBT group. When I’m having difficulties with one provider, I’m used to having at least another one there as a secure base. That’s going to have to change, now that I’m looking for one psychiatrist only, and I’m glad it will, but I’m not there yet.

Of course, that’s assuming I actually manage to find a psychiatrist. Today I resorted to trying to sign up for an online psychologist through BetterHealth, but that failed because I don’t have a credit card (and they don’t take PayPal). One of the psychiatrists on my short-list returns from overseas tomorrow, so maybe that will go somewhere. Honestly, I don’t really want to see anybody. Part of me is afraid that I won’t self-harm so they won’t be that invested in helping me, and part of me is afraid that I’ll be so triggered I’ll escalate into severe self-harm and more suicide attempts. At the moment I’m kind of passively suicidal, in that All I’m doing is trying to get through each day so what’s the point of being alive? way.

But I’m doing okay. I’m still here. I may not be happy, but I’m still here.

Still In Limbo

Three Down, None to Go

* Trigger warning for thoughts of self harm

I replied to Jen almost straight away last night. Before I lost my courage, before I lost my mind from sitting with the pain, and (I hoped) before she went offline.

“No, I am not seeing the new psychiatrist and am not seeing Aisha any more either.

You’ve been a great support over the last couple of years and I really appreciate everything you’ve done – thank you.  But I am feeling very hurt and unsupported by you and am not sure when or if I’ll be back.”

I don’t regret it. It was honest, and as skillful as I knew how to be. I didn’t get a reply, and I’m not waiting for one.

I thought about cutting myself. I could see the blood, pooling around me while I sat in the bottom of my shower, and that triggered another thought – maybe I should overdose, too. I could already hear exactly what I’d tell myself: Jen hates you, you stupid bitch. She thinks you’re needy and clingy and too demanding and she wants you away from her. You’re a pathetic whiny little piece of shit and she doesn’t.fucking.care about you. I hate you, you bitch. You deserve this. You deserve this. 

I stopped, though.

Do you really want to hurt yourself? 

I pictured drawing a razor across my arm, and inwardly recoiled.

No. But I don’t want to feel this feeling and hurting myself will push it away. 

Already I don’t know how, or why, but I decided to stay with the feelings. It was probably Rachel’s fault. I sobbed until I was gasping, and I let myself feel all the rage and the hurt and the disbelief – how can this be happening again? why is this happening again? what did I do?

An hour later, I got another email in my inbox; from my friend R to Aisha, my last sort-of-remaining therapist (and his), with me cc’d. He and I are fighting, and he’d taken a screenshot of our text conversation and sent it to her. I was instantly diverted from my hurt over Jen to fury with him, and I decided it was time to terminate with Aisha.

I did hesitate, wondering if I was being reactive to Jen’s rejection and I’d regret it in the morning, but I felt very strongly that this was the push I’d been needing. I’ve been reluctant to contact her because I was scared of the feelings. I still am; I know there are a lot more to come. I love Aisha. I’m crying now, writing this. She’s given me so much unconditional affection that even with all my fears and insecurities, I really believe every part of me is accepted with her. I want her, so much. But that doesn’t mean she’s good for me. And while I’m already feeling crushed and devastated about Jen, I might as well get it over with.

So I typed out a quick email, Goodbye and thanks, and I sent it. The malicious part of me hoped that when she first opened her email, she would see the subject line and think it was a suicide note.

***

Hi Aisha

This [R’s email] has prompted me to write to you to formally terminate our therapeutic relationship.  It’s been 6 weeks since we spoke and 4 weeks since I got in touch to let you know Anna quit and you haven’t responded.  I feel very hurt and abandoned and it has brought home to me that I need a much higher level of support than you are able to provide.

I really regret that we are parting under these circumstances but I’m trying to remember that it’s not about right or wrong, just the reality that our relationship isn’t meeting my needs.  That said, I so appreciate all your patience and kindness and all the humour we’ve been able to share.  I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with you; I’ll miss you and I wish you all the best. 

Everest also sends her regards – or she would, if she wasn’t busy trying to eat one of my pens.

Rea

***

I haven’t got a response, of course. If I do, it probably won’t be for weeks.

So this month has been a series of cascading failures. Anna, then Jen, then Aisha. I’m swinging wildly between emotional states – numb to angry to sad to relieved to self-loathing and back again. I don’t know what I did. It feels like it can’t be a coincidence, but I don’t know what I did. I’m trying to tell myself that even if it was because I’m too much or too hard or too something, that doesn’t mean that I’m bad or they’re bad, just that we aren’t the right fit for each other. It’s not helping much.

I was awake until 4am last night, restless, idly playing fetch with my kitten, but woke at 7am feeling okay, and determined that I have to start moving forward. I texted my GP, and asked her to call the psychiatrist I’d picked as my preference and see if she was available.

She’s not. I don’t even remember why, but she doesn’t feel she’s a good fit for me. She recommended a psychologist in my area she thinks would be perfect, and S pushed me really hard to do it, but the reality is that I can’t afford it. I’ve found 5 psychologists I would love to see, but even with the private health insurance that costs me $55 a week, it would cost another $400 to go twice a week. With what I earn, even if I went back to how I made it through law school, living in a condemned house and dumpster-diving/boiling pet bones for food, I couldn’t do it. Seeing a psychiatrist will cost me $40 – $80 to go twice a week. I know how lucky I am to have access to any level of care, but I’m still angry that my options are limited.

But I stayed calm, and gave her the number for my second preference. She got an international dial tone, and no message bank.

And then I started spinning out and catastrophising. There’s nobody else I can see. I can’t go to another male psychiatrist. Nobody is going to be able to help me. I should just give up. The universe hates me. Why do I even try when nothing ever works out? 

Being activated is full of contradictory states, for me. My head feels empty, but so heavy. My stomach feels like there is a rock resting at the base, but I feel the urge to eat, to fill it. My arms and legs can’t move but they want to flail and kick and lash out. I need to be very quiet and still but the silence feels blurry. I don’t know how silence can feel blurry, but it does.

I’m trying to be kind and gentle with myself. And when that doesn’t work, I play fetch with Everest. It has become apparent that the pen lid needs to be subdued with all possible force.

Three Down, None to Go

So It Turns Out Everybody Sucks

Hi Rea,

Good to hear you are going okay at the moment.

Did you meet with the new psychiatrist and if so how did it go?

When you cancelled a couple of appointments in a row I assumed you had then also gone on to [home state].

You can definitely make appointments to see me when you wish.

Kind Regards

Jen

I just…can’t even believe it. Is this as bad as it feels?

So It Turns Out Everybody Sucks

Jen Finally Reaches Out

I just got an email from Jen, and I feel awful. There’s a knot in my stomach, my throat feels tight, my chest aches and it seems like I’m not quite getting enough air. Everything is blurry and my head feels light. When I look at things in my room, it doesn’t feel like I’m behind my eyes. I don’t know where I am, but I’m somewhere else.

It was a short, simple message. “We haven’t seen each other in a little while. Just checking in – how are you? Kind regards, Jen.”

I’m angry. Or hurt. Maybe angry because I’m hurt. Finally hearing from her reminds me of how long she went without contacting me. Calling it a little while? It’s been over 5 weeks. I’ve been seeing her weekly for almost 2 years and I’ve only cancelled a session once. A little while? Really?

I want to send back something unhelpful – like “I’m fine. It’s been five weeks, though – not exactly a little while.” I want to test her, I guess. If I’m snarky, will she keep trying or will she just let it (and me) go? Will she apologise or get defensive?

Will she make it better?

I might feel vindicated sending something that pushes her away and tries to make her feel guilty, but after the initial relief of lashing out, it isn’t going to make me feel better. And if I didn’t get a response, I would be furious with myself for sabotaging the only professional support I have left.

So I’m thinking of sending something a bit more real. I’m uncomfortable about it, though. Her emails go to her reception staff, who read them and either respond on her behalf or print a copy for her to look at. This is not really something I want to share with them.

“I’m doing okay at the moment. It’s been over 5 weeks since we saw each other – in context of seeing you every week (bar holidays) for almost 2 years, I don’t really consider that a little while. I’m surprised and sad that you didn’t check in with me after Anna quit. I was very devastated that she gave up after promising to be around for the long haul and I now have to start all over again. I know you’re busy but I guess I thought you’d find time to check if I was coping.”

I’ve been crying as I’ve worked through this post, but my body feels more settled now. I guess I’ll sleep on it, and make a decision in the morning.

Jen Finally Reaches Out

Fuck Everybody

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It’s been over three weeks since I saw Jen. Over four since I talked to Aisha. That’s my choice, and I’m so mad at them for it.

The day Anna sent me the first termination email, I forwarded it on to Aisha and Jen, with a simple ‘FYI’ at the top. I didn’t want to talk to either of them, felt angry and oppositional at the thought of even being near someone who would want me to talk about my feelings, but I wanted some empathy and caring in a safe, contained way. I wanted an email that said “I’m so sorry, Rea. I’m here whenever you’re ready.” Just that.

It’s been 11 days, and neither of them have responded.

Mostly I’ve been ranting inwardly about how there’s absolutely no possible excuse that could justify Aisha not getting back to me because no competent therapist could possibly not realise that after being abandoned by another practitioner, their client absolutely had to receive affirmation that the therapist cared for them and was still here for them. But that argument is really just avoidance. I’m trying to skirt around owning my feelings by saying that it’s always wrong in every situation and therefore the impact on me is beside the point, she’s clearly a monster, case closed.

It hurts. I feel like I’m a little girl who fell off her bike and is on the ground wailing, blood dripping from both knees. I could get up and hobble over to my mother and tug on her sleeve and she would probably give me some affection, but I don’t want that. I want her to come over and pick me up. But I’ve been sitting alone bleeding for too long now. If she comes, all I’ll do is hit and scream because there’s too much hurt for her to comfort.

I just don’t understand. I know they both care about me. Why would they just let me disappear for weeks? Part of me feels stupid – maybe I thought they cared more than they actually do. Part of me is terrified and devastated that maybe they understand me so little that they don’t even realise how upset I am about Anna quitting, or they think they should just give me space until I decide to come back to sessions. Part of me is furious that maybe they’re trying to train me to directly ask for help, that they’re choosing this moment to withhold any response until I tell them exactly what I want.

Fuck them. Anna has her faults. Too many of them. But if Aisha had quit, and I’d sent her on the email, she would have been in touch within hours.

Fuck Everybody

I’m So Lucky (And It’s Still Not Enough)

TW for non-specific mention of self harm

I have been given so much support over the last week. (Originally that sentence said “more support than I deserve this week” so I had to go back and rewrite it – I wish someone would invent the therapy equivalent of a spellchecker that would automatically correct invalidating and self-deprecating statements to positive self-affirming ones.)

It’s been a hard week, and frustratingly, half of what’s been hard is completely in my head. Yes, the crisis plan finished last Tuesday, so I no longer contact Anna when I’m intending to act on self harm urges, but that doesn’t mean that anything in my life that would trigger me to self harm has actually changed. In the four months we had the plan, I only contacted her three times anyway, and all three ended with her calling the police. A bunch of uncomfortable men in uniforms standing in my bedroom asking me where I bought my artwork is really something I can do without.

My trip home to see my cousin and her kids last week was taxing, though not quite in the way I expected. I knew the kids would cling and cry when I left, and ask me why I couldn’t stay. What I didn’t expect was the honest, connected conversation with my cousin about her social phobia, about the way her parents spoke to her when she was a child and how her mother shamed her father for his depression, about how isolated she is and how frustrated she gets with my oldest niece. There are probably two people in the world she’d have that conversation with, and the other is her husband. Her trust in me brought our connection alive again, and the more connected we are, the more guilt I feel about betraying her. She still won’t get help from a psychologist, even if I pay, even if I go with her, and I had to do something to protect the kids, but I’m doubting whether it was the right choice.

And my army has rallied. Last Wednesday, I spoke to Aisha in the morning, and then spent most of the rest of the day barricaded in my bathroom, telling myself I wasn’t allowed to come out until I’d harmed myself severely, but struggling with the physical pain in a way I never have before, to the point that I ended up screaming. I reached out to Jen via text that night, and despite having four kids, two dogs and a new puppy, she got back to me just before midnight, checking if I needed medical help or support and asking me to touch base with her the next day. Which I did, but not in the way she expected. I’m experiencing major inner cringe as I write this – my friend had an appointment with her in her capacity as a chiropractor, and suggested I come along, so I did. A whole new level of gatecrashing. I sat in on their appointment, then my friend basically demanded that she see me before her next patient, and she was incredibly gracious about it and did. It wasn’t that helpful in the “wow I feel better” sense (unsurprisingly since at the time I was having a bad reaction to a new medication I’d forgotten I’d taken) but it was really reassuring to see her and know she was still there. I felt a little like a child sitting on the floor playing nearby while her mother chats with friends. I didn’t really want to talk to her, I just wanted to be with her.

From the same friend who took me to Jen, Aisha heard that I was struggling, and sent me an email on Thursday to say she was thinking of me and sending me a big hug, and then reached out again to offer me an extra session on Saturday, which I took gratefully. Again, it wasn’t so much about the content of what we discussed as it was about reminding myself I’m an adult now, I have support now – I’m having experiences which are scary but I can talk about them with someone now.

I saw my GP on Friday, and she was the same lovely mix of completely unhelpful advice and totally warm support that she always is. She’s just not good at talking to me about emotional issues, but while my injuries were being dressed, she sat next to me on the bed, bumped her shoulder playfully against mine then leaned her head against me and said “You can come every day if it helps“. When we walked back through reception, she called out cheerfully to her receptionist “Who can we cancel so Rea can come again on Monday?“, then stood rubbing my back while we made another appointment. After I left, she texted me to say “it was really good to see you today – didn’t realise I’d missed you until you left“. Her level of affection for me does make me anxious, because I feel like I always have to be “on” to make sure I keep it, but I feel very cared for with her.

I am so lucky. And it still doesn’t stop me dramatically spiraling when I get a response that isn’t what I hoped for. Last Wednesday, the awful day, I texted Anna to ask if we could set up an appointment for the next week (the good old scheduling excuse), when really I just wanted contact with her. Thanks to Rachel, I at least considered just saying I was struggling and wanted some kind of nurturing from her, but the whole point of the crisis plan ending is that we don’t have an agreement for that any more and I just couldn’t. She texted back three options, two of which were impossible (which you SHOULD KNOW, Anna, why don’t you have my schedule memorized?) and the other option she knows I hate (we refer to it as the Devil’s hour). And I totally flipped.

Why didn’t she check in on how I’m doing when she knows this is a bad day for me – hell, two weeks ago she wanted me on 24 hour watch today! Why is she offering me session times she knows I won’t want -is she trying to stop me coming in next week? She doesn’t even care about me. I hate her. I hate her! 

She asked whether my appointment with the new psychiatrist had been scheduled for that week, and then asked if I was going to follow up with them or if I wanted her to do anything about it. By now, I was petulant, but still passive-aggressively reaching out.

Thanks, but not right now. I can’t cope with anything else at the moment, I’ll think about following up next week.”

A couple of hours later, she responded “Really sorry to hear things are tough. If you need me to ring that Dr I will.”

Of course, what I read was: “I am not providing any support other than calling the psychiatrists office. End of conversation“. I felt so angry at her for abandoning me and fell into that place of despair mixed with rage, and immediately turned it against myself: “Anna hates you. Anna doesn’t care about you. You’re such a stupid bitch.” And plenty more.

Even at the time, I knew (again, thanks to Rachel) that I wasn’t communicating in a way that was going to get my needs met. And yet I was still triggered as hell when they weren’t. I think this is the negative side of having so much support offered by Aisha and Jen and my GP – when it’s not forthcoming from Anna, it feels even more punitive. Which isn’t fair to Anna, because everyone gets to set their own boundaries.

And then I was in tears tonight. I thought I was so secure in my relationship with Jen that I couldn’t be triggered by any perceived rejection, but I was wrong. This morning I took Everest to my appointment with my GP (at her request), which made me think that maybe Jen would be open to me bringing her too. Tomorrow morning I’m taking Everest to my office and will have to go straight to Jen from there, so I texted her to ask if Everest could come too. Why not, right? The worst thing she can do is say no.

Turns out the worst thing was harder than I expected. When I read her reply I felt like the breath had been knocked out of me: it was a moment of pure shock.

Hi Rea. Apologies, but no pets in the clinic. Thx. Jen” 

Innocuous, right? BUT IT’S NOT. She never uses my name in texts – she always opens with “Hi there” or something similar. And she never signs off with her name and it feels weird and distancing and the whole tone just seems off. So I’m spiraling into a mess of criticisms for texting her last week (even though I checked and I’m allowed), for showing up without an appointment, for being too much and inappropriate and crossing boundaries and needing to be put in my place.

Part of me knows that this is crazy. That I’m talking about a woman who offered to come to my house last year to throw out my pills to make sure I wouldn’t overdose. Who has offered for me to stay at her practice all day when things are really bad so she can keep an eye on me and make sure I stay safe. Who texted me back on Christmas day even though she was in the hospital with her teenager daughter who had just broken her leg. That she has four kids and an incredibly busy practice and that even if she is or was frustrated with me, it’s temporary and it’s okay. But it’s not okay. It hurts. And it’s so frustrating that even though my army prove time after time that they care and they’re there for me, it only takes one little perceived misstep for me to fall off the edge.

I’m So Lucky (And It’s Still Not Enough)