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Monday, May 23, 2016


Okay, let's lay this out and look at it carefully:

1. I've been under a lot of stress for a very long time. That's not changing very soon, so I need to find ways to manage the stress and still live.

2. PTSD symptoms have been increasing over time because I've not taken the steps necessary to recognize and minimize them.

3. New PTSD symptoms (or perhaps old ones I just didn't notice before) have been cropping up and becoming more and more distressing.

Number one is something I just have to organize. I've become more adamant about including rest, running, and some sort of downtime activity (reading, practicing music I want to play - not what I'm paid to play, and spending time with my family, for example) in my days even when they're busy. I've finished my performance schedule for now and will not be contracting more for awhile. I've cut back on my students (down from 15 to 9, currently) for the summer and that will decrease even more in June and July. I'm taking more breaks when I work online - real breaks, not just substituting different work. The trees are in bloom, the weather is gorgeous, and I want to be outside. That helps.

The remedy for number two is linked to number one, and since I've begun to address number one, number two has become less obnoxious. Also, I have to admit to simply refusing to recognize the symptoms occasionally. Sometimes I don't have the energy to decide whether someone is trying to get rid of me, or really wishes to be with me and I've misinterpreted something said. That takes a lot of emotional stamina. So when I don't feel I can figure it out, I just don't. I'm guilty of hiding for awhile until I feel ready to talk again. That being said, I've also been careful to allow the other person to know I'm doing that, and why. 

Example: Tabitha's car has been rear-ended twice in the last three months. Needless to say, she needs a new car. But when she talks to me about it, I get frustrated and panicky. So I told her I can't talk about it with her right now. That was about 10 days ago (actually, before the last accident happened , which was last Tuesday). But on Saturday, I went with her to test drive cars because she had allowed me enough space to process what was happening and at that point, I could address the topic without losing my mind. Thanks, Tabitha! Side note: We both found a car we're in love with. That's bad.

But number three is the kicker. I'm not ready to deal with new symptoms. And if they're not new, I'm not ready to deal with unfamiliar symptoms, or ones that have been lurking in the dark and have chosen now to rear their ugly heads. But I will. Because I have to.

So looking at the most insistent of those symptoms:

1. Sometimes when I'm with people, I feel like they are no longer the person I know. These pictures illustrate what it feels like to me. They arouse the same feelings that occur when I'm experiencing the phenomenon with another person: 

I talked with Therapist about this when I saw him last month. He identified the phenomenon as depersonalization/derealization, and my homework was, of course, to do research on that. So I did.

In my first day of research, I discovered the above pictures. And there was a lot of information. I'll admit that I became completely freaked out and scared when I was viewing all of it. And I couldn't do it alone. So I called someone and made him look at the stuff with me. I think I might have cried. I don't remember. And then I became completely overwhelmed and had to stop.

I've been revisiting the research bit by bit this month. When I feel scared or frustrated, I stop. I regroup. Then I try again. 

This is what I've concluded:

1. My symptoms align more with derealization than depersonalization, although I definitely experienced the depersonalization symptoms years ago. These are identified derealization symptoms (from Mayo Clinic website):
  • Feelings of being alienated from or unfamiliar with your surroundings, perhaps like you're living in a movie
  • Feeling emotionally disconnected from people you care about, as if you were separated by a glass wall
  • Surroundings that appear distorted, blurry, colorless, two-dimensional or artificial, or a heightened awareness and clarity of your surroundings
  • Distortions in perception of time, such as recent events feeling like distant past
  • Distortions of distance and the size and shape of objects
2. All my research suggests that derealization is upsetting and can be frightening, but does not indicate that I'm crazy or dangerous and is only harmful if the feelings escalate and cause more distressing symptoms or behaviors. 

3. While some medication helps a few individuals, better results are achieved through talk therapy, which is what I would have turned to even without the research. 

So I see Therapist on Thursday. And I'll present my research and ask what I should do next. And he'll say, "What do you think you should do," because Therapist learned a long time ago that if I don't believe it's my idea, I probably won't buy into it. He's not stupid.

Except I don't know what I think I should do yet. And I'm tired. I'm thinking maybe I should let Therapist make the suggestions this time. And maybe I should take his advice and do my assignments. Because the truth is, I'm pretty sure I don't want to keep doing this derealization thing anymore. It's a little bit terrifying (please see pictures above).

Monday, May 16, 2016

And now a word from our sponsor.

New development, sort of. It's a shift in paradigms that's been taking place over the last couple of years. I've been unwelcoming, but there are certain changes I don't embrace well. However, the shift is clearly finished, and it's time for me to figure out how to navigate this particular change.

And it's a good one. I just don't want it. Not unusual, since I usually don't want that which is good for me.

So, therefore, I'm taking a short break from therapy stuff so that I can look at the big picture and decide how I fit. Or how I don't fit, as the case may be. Either way, it's okay.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

I don't really know how to write about this. It's been hanging around for a long time, but words escape me. When I try to explain verbally, I end up embarrassed, fumbling, certain that I'm not expressing anything close to reality. But if I can't write it, I can't solve. This is my curse. Until I'm able to clearly express the problem, I cannot find a solution or, at the very least, a management device.

The topic I'm addressing seems to have multiple facets, so I'll probably post a few times on different aspects. Also, talking about it seems to be panic inducing, so if the same thing happens when I write, I'll probably just stop when it no longer feels tolerable. This post is partial attempt number one. There may be many attempts before I get it right.

I have difficulty visualizing people. I know who they are. I recognize them. I just don't always remember what they look like. I think I have always been this way, I've just chosen never to think about it unless I had to. Situations constituting a need to remember people's faces:
1. When I'm introducing someone.
2. If I see someone in the store or restaurant who talks to me as if we know each other.
3. If I have to pick Tolkien Boy (or anyone) up at the airport.
4. If Lolly (or anyone) is picking me up at the airport.
5. If I initiated a group get-together at a restaurant.

Further explanation:
1. My wedding reception was a disaster when it came to introductions. Normally, I don't believe I would have failed quite as miserably as I did (this was my hometown - I KNEW these people), but getting married was stressful for a number of reasons, all of which are awkward and frustrating to talk about, so I won't. But the gist of this is that when people came through the reception line, I didn't recognize them so introducing them to Darrin was impossible. Thankfully, they introduced themselves.

2. I've lived in my small town for many years so most people who know me also know that when I'm shopping, I'm rarely looking at people. They believe it's because I'm very focused. It's actually because if someone stops to talk to me, probably I'll leave the store not knowing who they are unless they're a person I see and speak with frequently. About a year ago, a former student from one of my classes stopped to chat with me. I'd graded his comp exams, too. But I couldn't remember him. I do know, however, that he passed and was applying to some Canadian universities to pursue his PhD. That's something, right?

3. I have known him for nearly 10 years. Outside of Darrin and my kids, I probably know no one better. I have picked him up at the airport so many times I've lost count. But I still panic every time because when there are hundreds of people around, I can't remember what Tolkien Boy looks like. This could be because there are hundreds of people around. Regardless, if I'm picking him up, I have his photo on my phone screen. And I make sure I know what he's wearing in case he's changed a lot since that photo was taken.

4. I chose Lolly because she's the last non-family member to pick me up at an airport, but the problem is the same as in number four--lots of people, my panic, fear of nonrecognition on my part. In this case, I can watch for a car, but my automobile recognition skills extend no further than a color and whether I'm looking for a sedan, truck, or van. It's dismal.

5. I do this on occasions when I'm traveling and  I want to see a large number of people, but I have a limited amount of time available to me to do so. I'll contact all of them and say, "Let's have lunch!" And then we do. And while the time spent is not as long as I would like, nor am I able to visit with each person individually, I still get to see them and that's better than nothing. However, I don't always recognize them immediately, so I try to have someone with me to watch for them. I have also been known to arrive a few minutes late so the Friends are already there. I can identify the group better than the individuals.

It has been suggested to me that I might have prosopagnosia which is a real disorder. I don't know if I have that.

Monday, May 9, 2016

"Despite everything, I believe that people are really good at heart." - Anne Frank

My mother has dementia. I'm not sure how many times I've written about this. She seems perfectly normal. If you met her today, you'd not notice the small things I do, the telltale signs that the woman before you is losing her brain function slowly each day.

Her short term memory functions at minimal capacity. This means that my mother will repeat things often. She'll become confused about who said what and when it was said. She gets lost on the way home from the store. 

Time has no meaning for my mom. This has always been a problem. Now it's out of control. She goes to bed when she feels sleepy and arises when she wakes up. That might mean bedtime is at 3:00 a.m. and morning comes at 1:00 p.m. As she sees a large number of doctors for many reasons (not the least of which is that she believes she is ill most of the time), being on time for appointments is problematic.

I see clients in an office located in her home. We enter through the living area. The office is located just around the corner. Sometimes my mother greets my clients in her pajamas.

Testimony meeting in church is stressful. Mom often feels moved by the Spirit to testify. We never know what the subject of the testimony will be, but most of the time it's a life story of a family member, rife with wrongdoing and sin, always ending with conversion and perfection. I play games on my phone while she speaks. It helps me remain in my seat so I don't drag her from the pulpit and out the door. Always I feel huge stress as she walks before the congregation to administer her latest dose of mostly fabricated family gossip. She doesn't know she's lying. In her poor brain, everything is real.

I have spent more than a decade in therapy to learn to forgive and accept my mother. In the beginning I was trying to resolve anger and resentment stemming from abuse I suffered at her hands-- abuse that nearly caused me to lose my life. Abuse that resulted in eating disorders not just for me, but for all of my sisters. Abuse that causes me to reel in confusion because the voice that shouted demeaning, angry, attacking words which were mostly unwarranted, still resonates in my head. Now, a decade later, I can silence it when I have enough emotional stamina. But I don't always have that, so the voice continues unchecked much of the time.

I've had a few breakthroughs. I've also suffered defeat. A few years after I was married, I received an apology from a broken woman who understood what she had done to her daughters and viewed herself as a monster. She told me she expected no forgiveness. She said she had no understanding of why she had acted in such a way. She knew it was wrong to treat her children as she had. But regardless of her unforgivable behavior, she wanted me to know of the sorrow and remorse and regret she lived with.

I didn't forgive her. She said that was to be expected. But I was willing to begin again - to try to build a new relationship. I placed boundaries. My mother respected them. She allowed me to tell her and immediately changed her behavior when I pointed out words the were hurtful, judgmental, and/or demeaning. I insisted that my children would only be touched by her in love and never in anger. She was not allowed to reprove them. Instead, she might tell me what they were doing that she disliked, and I would be the person to deal with the misdeeds. Again, my mother respected that request. She wasn't perfect, but she was definitely trying. 

Eventually, after many years, the time came that I thought I was healed enough to discuss with her some of the abuse, that we might find some resolution. About that same time, my mother had a seizure. A scan of her brain revealed the dead spots caused by a physically abusive father who struck her far too many times while drunk beyond reason. And I became aware of the magnitude of the demons my mother had carried for her entire life. Not only had the dead spots in her brain caused the seizure as they spread, they had inhibited her ability to regulate her emotions and behaviors for her entire life. In addition, they were now causing mini-strokes. My mother was literally losing her mind and had been doing so for most of her life.

Medicine helped slow the progress and even allowed some slight regeneration. It wasn't enough to cure the problem, simply to allow her more time to live with a semblance of sanity. But I understood when the diagnosis was revealed, that my hopes of building or maintaining a relationship, talking through past problems, and becoming whole were not going to happen. And that was unexpectedly painful. 

When I recovered from my disappointment, I continued what I had begun. I needed to find resolution. I needed to stop being a victim of my past. I accepted the agonizing truths that stemmed from abuse throughout my childhood and teen years. I dealt with it ungracefully and resentfully without my mother's help. I found myself wondering why, after all I had suffered at her hand, I was still trying. I found no answer-- but I could not stop what I had begun. My disdain and aggravation toward my mother increased daily.

I doubled my efforts. I learned more about her past. I recovered the good memories that had been forgotten, held in check while I allowed myself to be angry and hurt. When the good memories returned, they increased the agony I already felt. Questions, unanswered and unhelpful, coursed through my brain. Why did I have to remember that she was sometimes wonderful? Why did I remain near her now that I have the autonomy to move? Why was I placed in her care? Why did SHE have to be my mother?

Those questions haunted me. They became especially piercing as I watched her speak to the church congregation we share, bearing her "testimony" that was filled untruths that would have been devastating, should they overhear, to whichever sibling she chose to defame. Thus far, her only stories about me consist of my delightful childhood behavior, my amazing intellect, and my limitless musical talent. In short, I have become the perfect offspring. Anyone who has met me knows that's an absolute impossibility. I am not a well-behaved grownup. I have certainly never been a well-behaved child. My intelligence is above average, yes, but I am not the smartest person alive. I have musical talent, but it might be noted that my fame ceases to exist outside of the small town where I live, and even here, such fame is limited to a small number of people who believe anyone who can successfully play a church hymn is a piano virtuoso.

And so last month I watched with dread as my mother walked to the front of the congregation. Those haunting questions began their endless cycle through my brain as I attempted to drown out her voice while she once again embarked on her version of the life history of one of her unlucky offspring. The final question reverberated through my head: Why did SHE have to be my mother?

And God spoke to me. I know it was Him, because those words would never come from inside me. I don't have that capacity. Naysayers and doubters and unbelievers who encounter my words here are welcome to skip to the end, because nothing I write from this point forward will make sense to you. And I'm okay with that. It doesn't really make sense to me, either. 

God spoke to me and said, "You were given to her because I knew you would forgive."

And it was true. I knew in that moment that I had forgiven her long ago. I simply had to feel the emotions. I had to face the reality of who she was, where she came from, and the person and mother she wanted so badly to become - the person she could not be, because that ability was taken from her by her very own abusive parent. And I forgave her for the emotional, physical, and mental abuse that scarred me. Because to not do so would alter the person I am. It would place me in the same position she had long ago assumed; that of living my life as an abuse victim. 

One might say that an abuse victim is what I am. I am simply living in denial. That I am destined to continue the same path my mother has trod throughout her life. But that would be wrong. I am not a victim. I vowed I would never abuse my children. And I worked to keep that vow as I made choices that would benefit them through discipline rather than succumbing to the desire to punish as I had been, or berate or belittle. And the desires to abuse were real. They were all I had known as I grew up. People naturally raise their children in a similar fashion to the manner in which they were raised. But I did not. I refused to allow my children to live as I had. I would not be ruled by my past.

And I chose to get help. I spent years trying with my whole soul to move beyond the painful experiences and become a joyful, positive person. I have not always been successful. I still have moments - sometimes very long moments that last days, weeks, even months - when I am unable to manage PTSD and other resulting problems enjoyed by one who has abuse experiences in her childhood. But I'm still here. And I'm still trying. And I'm slowly becoming the person I have always wished to become IN SPITE of my past. I will not be hampered or deterred. I am more. 

You see, I have the advantage of a healthy mind, unscathed by injury-induced dementia. I am not my mother. And part of becoming the person I wish to be is allowing myself freedom from past pain, anger, and resentment. I grant myself permission to forgive. 

What I didn't understand was that my Heavenly Father knows me. The Big Guy has always known me better than I know myself, in the same way that I know my own children. I can predict with about 95% accuracy how my children will react to most situations. They surprise me occasionally, but only for a moment. Because I know them. And in the end, everything makes sense within the context of their individual personalities. I'm guessing that's the same for God when it comes to me. I don't really do anything unexpected. And a long time ago, before I was born, I'm guessing I knew what my mom would endure as a child. Knowing myself the way I do, I'm also guessing that I volunteered to be her daughter. Pretty much because I'm an idiot with a savior complex when it comes to people I love - and I loved her. And also because I probably wished to help her - to make her life better. But mostly because I knew, too, that no matter what she became, no matter the things inflicted on me by her, I would forgive her. 

And I think, somewhere, in that poor brain of hers, riddled with dark spots that stop logic and reason and encourage random emotions and panic and neuroses, she understands the depth of the pain she caused her family. I believe it haunts her. And the tragedy is that she does not have the mental capacity to understand that it's over. She's made changes - good changes. And the awful things she did were only part of the story. She did wonderful things, as well. 

Today the good things are on my mind so often that the abuse takes a firm back seat. I point them out to her. I remind her. I try, as gently as possible, to distract her from making up stories because I want her to remember the beautiful realities. It never works. She no longer has the capacity to differentiate reality from fantasy. But it reminds me. It reminds me to look at the whole picture. It reminds me that half of my genes come from the abuse survivor who is my mother. It reminds me that so many things I do well are because she believed I could do anything. It reminds me that my life is beautiful and she is a part of it. 

The day will come when she will no longer be the person who is my mother. There will be more parts of her brain that slowly die. One day she will no longer remember anything at all. Before that happens I will tell her I not only forgive her, but she is deserving of such forgiveness. I'll tell her I'm proud to have her as my mother. And even if she doesn't remember forever, she'll remember for a little while. 

Happy Mother's Day to my imperfect mother. On this day, for the first time in my life, I can say with all honestly, I choose you. And I love you forever.