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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"I'm allowing this to be part of my story. It's not my only story..." --Beth Stelling

This is a quote from a celebrity who was a domestic abuse victim. I'm not sure why, but when I read her story, those words felt like my own. When I look through my blogs, I realize that for many years they were about me - my past, my present, my friends and family, things I found funny or joyful. And I think I wanted anyone visiting those blogs to notice that I had many stories; abuse and rape were only a part, not the whole.

And then my life became unmanageable and I allowed PTSD to become my closest companion. My blogs became a place to vomit the symptoms and thoughts and feelings I could not control. There were no other stories to tell.

I think the people in my life, those who are a part of my daily or weekly existence, know well that PTSD is not me. I think they understand that the part of my story that is horrible and frightening is not the whole of who I am. I believe I am the one who is making it my only story.

There is a part of me that is grateful I was able to do the therapy work that moved me beyond the pain and desperation of living silently and never speaking of trauma one has experienced. But there is also a part that is embarrassed that I "allowed" the dissociation that had to be mended. I understand it was a defense mechanism required so that I could continue to live. I understand that the daily abuse put me, as a child, in a position where I could not thrive without forgetting what that child endured. I understand all that.

Still, there it that part of me that is ashamed I couldn't hold it together; a part that is embarrassed to talk of dissociation and the pain and work of integration - the part that labels me "crazy" because I did not know a better way to survive.

It's a small part of me, but one that is destroying my self-esteem and robbing me of the desire to interact with people who know about that small part. It convinces me that I am less. Other people go through difficult circumstances. Other people endure trauma. Most of them don't dissociate to the point that looking in the mirror is terrifying because they do not recognize the person looking back at them. It feels as if something is terribly wrong with me because I experienced that.

I don't experience it anymore.

That last sentence was written in a frenzied need to reassure myself and anyone who happens to read this blog that I am less crazy today than I was then. Again, I am mortified that I needed such a coping device.

I think this should not embarrass me. It does. I think I should not worry what people will think, should they find out the lengths I went to for survival and the things I had to do to become whole. I do.

The conflict surrounding this is confusing, to say the least. On the one hand, I know what it took to proceed through the integration process. I understand how difficult it was to say that the experiences that child went through were my own. The enormous amount of strength and courage required to embrace that child and make her me still leaves me breathless and exhausted.

This was a huge accomplishment. And I did it.

But there is still the lingering belief that if I was truly strong and courageous, the dissociation would never have happened at all. That belief leaves me feeling that I must protect everyone I love from me. Something is wrong with who I am. I need to limit time with them, and above all, I must not allow them to touch me. That would not be good for them.

Protect. Always the need to protect.

I purposely provoked the abuser in my life so that my younger siblings would not have to feel the emotional and physical pain, or would feel it to a lesser degree. For many years I remained silent about being raped by a cousin because I needed to protect the people I loved from feeling anything about what happened to me. Many of them had good relationships with that cousin. I feared their disbelief, but I also feared what would happen if they did believe me. It would cause them pain. I needed to protect them from that.

But mostly, throughout my life, I've been protecting people from me. From the wrong parts of me. From my responses to the things that have hurt me. I'm still doing it.

I believe this is one reason for the sadness from which I've been unable to emerge during the past year. I think I'm too tired to protect people anymore. And there is part of me that longs to stop apologizing for dissociation, for sadness, for being the person I am and having trauma as a part of my story.

Recently I've been thinking about safe people and safe places. I did not reside in a safe place as a child. When I was nine I found safety in the solitude of my backyard mountains. Prior to that, we lived in cities where that was not available to me, so I was the child who disappeared beneath my bed or inside a closet, or in the branches of a tree. I sought out places that felt safe. As a young adult, I could no longer rely on my physical safe places so, through dissociation, I left the part of me behind that needed one. When I was integrated, the need for a physical safe place reestablished itself. I have found some safe places, but none that feel impenetrably safe. It causes me distress.

I don't believe I've ever thought people were safe. Even after marrying Darrin, I wondered if he was a safe person. I think, after 20 years, I finally believe that he is. But I'm fairly certain the real reason I struggle with believing people are safe is because I don't believe I, myself, am a safe person. Because I'm unstable and crazy. Because I have PTSD. Because I was dissociated and integrated, and real people don't really do that.

So my tentative plan is to return to therapy. Therapist has not agreed to counsel me through this next portion of my journey because he is unsure that he has the expertise to guide me. But he has agreed to meet with me, listen to my goals, help me draft a plan, and refer me, if necessary.

Almost a decade ago I was diagnosed with PTSD. At the time I insisted that this would not be a lifelong disorder. I would figure out how to manage and recover from the trauma such that PTSD would be gone, or at the very least, completely unnoticeable. My diagnosing psychiatrist said that was unrealistic and pointless. It would be better to accept the disorder and take steps to learn to cope with it the rest of my life. I knew he was wrong.

And I did gain ground as I worked to heal and to rid myself of PTSD. But then life happened and that ground was almost completely lost. But as I have read and researched during the past decade, more and more experts are agreeing with me that, not only is severe PTSD avoidable in some cases, but it is looking more and more like complete recovery from trauma and resultant PTSD can be a reality.

Armed with the information and current research, I'm believing again that I don't need to cuddle with PTSD the rest of my life. And I also think it's time to figure out how to become a safe person, unembarrassed by the survival techniques employed by me throughout my life. And one day I want to feel that it's okay that I once spoke in third person of the child and teen who was me, because I don't do it anymore. And I want to be able to recognize that the process I went through to become whole was admirable - maybe even a little bit heroic. I want to be able to speak of it without excuse or apology.

Mostly, though, I want to figure out how to believe that the people who love me most don't condemn me for my need to survive, regardless of the path I needed to take to do so. And I want to be able to believe that they're proud of me for taking the steps necessary for me to reclaim that part of me I discarded. I want to be able to believe they're really glad that I chose to live, that I'm alive today, and that I have many more stories yet to be told.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I didn't have a lot of time this semester, so rather than dealing with PTSD, I ignored it. Which means I lived on low-level anxiety and panic for about 90 days. It's a bad idea and I know it. But it's also something I've done all my life. I'm a performer.

Performers learn that we'll be in stressful situations, but if you concentrate only on the thing that must be done now, the stage fright and performance anxiety can be successfully ignored until after the performance is over. A successful performer learns to channel the anxiety into controlled energy which is consumed throughout the performance, but that doesn't always happen. So between that training and my life experiences, I'm a pro at putting off dealing with emotions and stress, regardless of whether or not that's healthy. And sometimes it's necessary.

So now that my teaching is on hiatus, I'm allowing the procrastinated stuff to manifest itself. It's worse than I anticipated. Panic attacks are strong enough to cause chest pains, shaking, and vomiting. I'm using all the breathing and calming techniques I know, but they don't seem to be helping. So I just wait. Usually after about fifteen minutes the worst is over and I can function again. Along with the panic attacks are PTSD symptoms. Because of those I alternate between suspicion, anger, numbness, and hyper-awareness when it comes to people. I seem to be unable to feel affectionate at all.

I suppose that beneath all of this I am afraid. It's difficult to see an end when you're in the middle of everything. I'm afraid I won't be strong enough to make it through the panic and distress - that at some point I'll break and I don't know what that means.

I'm afraid that Darrin won't get a job and I'll have to work 60 hour (or more) weekly for the rest of my life. Or that he will get a job, but I won't be able to stop working anyway because I don't know how.

I'm afraid that if I don't keep being pleasant and delightful, people will leave. And I don't know why I worry about that because part of me wants them to go away so that I can figure out what is happening to me without interruption.

I'm afraid that some people are already gone. And, again, confused about that fear because I'm pretty sure that if this is the case, it's the best thing for everyone involved.

I'm afraid to talk - to sleep - to rest. I'm afraid if I don't schedule every second of every day and night, I'll have to

I don't even know how to finish that sentence. I have no idea what I'm afraid of.

All the roads leading into or away from my small town are "closed indefinitely due to weather." That hasn't happened in all the time I've lived here. But it feels metaphorical and fitting.

I had a friend once who needed help with her life for a number of reasons. And I wanted to help her. So I spent time with her, and recommended a couple of therapists, and we went for walks and talked a lot. But she never got better. And she never went to either of the therapists. And eventually, it seemed that she didn't want to get better. I didn't understand.

What I understand now is that it takes energy - lots of it - to get better. It takes courage to see a therapist. It takes both to continue afterward, and I'm running on empty. Literally.  :)

Monday, December 14, 2015

I suppose this old blog is nearing the end of its existence. That's probably as it should be. I've been emotionally attached to this place. It has been the recipient of my PTSD tantrums when my feelings have exceeded that which is socially acceptable. It's good to have a place where one can scream without harming anyone else. So my blog has served me well and allowed me a place to express those things I could not otherwise.

I closed up my blog a couple of months ago. I needed privacy for a little while. I understand that's silly, since this is not really a hub of activity. Still, closing the door was helpful for me.

Today I wish to write the thoughts that have finally made it into words during that time. The ideas are not necessarily connected - just random realizations and wonderings that have yet to find answers.

Love Language:
I've always believed my dominant one was Quality of Time. I've blogged about how I don't really believe in the love language philosophy because everyone needs all those things and the level of such need increases or decreases with circumstance and individuals. But there's definitely a credible foundation for the love language idea. So I played the game and decided that my dominant love language was Quality of Time. I need to be with someone, to talk and listen, and to know that I'm important enough to have him or her make time for me.

But it is also true that this is where I hide. I connect through Quality of Time because I am often unable to use the love language the speaks most profoundly to me. There are times when I cannot receive nor give it. My true dominant love language is touch. I think I've known this for a long time, but it's a tiny bit agonizing to know that I sabotage my ability to give and receive.

Actually, that's not true. I don't sabotage. I think the truth is that when you've been abused through the love language that speaks most loudly to you, you shut down that part. It hurts too much. And you reroute to a place that feels comfortable and acceptable, even if the impact is not as great. You learn to mistrust and fear the former love language. Each time it is given, you make up reasons why it can't be real, and you remind yourself that it is not to be trusted.

So touch has become something that causes me incredible distress. There have been times when I have allowed it - because the desire and need to receive does not go away, ever - only to be followed up with intense mental and emotional anguish. The cost rarely justifies the indulgence.

In spite of all that, I have put myself in situations where touch, on some level, must be given and received. I did that last weekend when I attended breakfast with a large number of friends. We hug. That's what friends do. So I did. I don't really have more to say about that. It takes awhile to sort through all the crap that crops up when I am hugged by that many people. Especially when I love each of them.

Then there is the added dimension of learning to trust a few people. They are the ones with whom I can have physical contact and sometimes it's okay (okay = I don't have PTSD symptoms caused by the touch for a couple of weeks following the contact). And then I almost feel normal. Almost. Because I know that with friends, touch becomes less frequent as familiarity increases. Except I don't want it to. I want it to continue. Feeling normal is amazing. So as time passes and touch decreases, I find myself understanding that their feelings of comfortable companionship are normal, and my feelings that I have become distasteful, annoying, or that talking with me is fine, but touching me is disgusting-- those feelings are probably not. That understanding only increases my anxiety about people and relationships, in general.

Being a Delightful Person
I'm fairly certain no one intends for me to retreat to the entertainer personality when they're with me. I also understand that they REALLY do not want to know what's going through my head when I'm socializing. I also do not believe that the person I become in that instance is artificial or fake. She's just surviving.

That makes it sound as if I dislike being with people which is untrue. It's just difficult for me to maintain what is authentically me in that circumstance. It's just safer to make sure whomever I'm with remains feeling that I'm happy to be with them and I want us both to enjoy our time together. Which is true. I am and I do. It's just complicated. Mostly because I don't trust people even though I want to. And when I look at all that, it's amazing that people who know me at all want to spend time with me, understanding that I'm stressed and confused and conflicted and I don't trust them.

But I love them. A lot.

Managing PTSD Requires Time, Courage, and Stamina
All things that I do not have right now, and have not had for awhile. Which means I've not been managing PTSD. Which means there's a lot going on inside me that makes my life feel nightmarish and frustrating. Which means my depression level has dipped into suicidal and stayed there longer than I ought to have allowed it. Which means I'm being stupid about this.

Sometimes that happens. Sometimes it's not really in my control. I know people who would tell me I always have a choice. In these moments, while I acknowledge that they are correct, I also acknowledge that they aren't living my life and they're stupid, too.

I Don't Do Passive Aggression
Unless I'm tired, feeling trapped, and losing the inherent ability I have to communicate like a sane person. I've been guilty of passive aggressive words and behaviors in the past month. I'm deeply ashamed of that. I'd like to say I don't usually do that, but I'm aware that I've done so before. It is, however, something I passionately avoid. I dislike (and usually ignore) it when people lash out at me with passive aggression. If I love you, I'll call you on it and suggest we find a more constructive way to talk about what's bothering you. If I don't love you, I'll probably walk away and pretend it didn't happen.

However, when I'm the culprit, I want to die a little bit. I know better. I understand that indulging in bad behavior to garner someone's attention usually backfires in very awful ways. I've been wondering why I do it all, and I've come up with the following reasons:
1. I'm tired and the thought of using the energy necessary to fill my needs makes me more exhausted.
2. I feel ignored when I try to fill whatever need is causing me distress.
3. I feel I have nothing more to lose - the relationship is waning or already gone.
4. I don't realize I've done it until after the fact.

That last one doesn't usually happen unless I'm overwhelmed to the point that I'm no longer thinking before acting. It's an occasional lapse, but one that has taken place more often lately, which makes me deeply uncomfortable. Regardless, when I realize that I'm speaking or acting passive aggressively, I feel like I'm not me. Then I don't want to talk with or be with anyone until I can control that ugly part. And I probably won't talk about it, even if asked. The thought that I might do it again makes me want to vomit. And I need to pull myself back together. That's best done in my own company. It's not a pretty sight.

This isn't part of the above topic.
Darrin is still unemployed. I was hopeful that I might get to rest a bit when the semester ended, but I can't yet. There are so many other complications going on, as well, that I often feel that I'm losing my mind. I'm not, though. And I'm dealing with the depression. Probably the suicidal feelings happen a few times during the day, but I think that will decrease at some point. I try not to be alone. I used to try to contact people to talk, but that's not a good idea. If I do that when I'm having a real need and the person is unavailable, I'm not always rational in my response to that. So I read, or go for a run. I'm looking forward to the time when those feelings will be, maybe, once a week. That will be a relief.

This week I will decorate for Christmas and do some baking. Thursday I have a lunch date with a friend. And today we have fresh snow and bright sunshine. It's beautiful.