Warning:

This blog could potentially contain triggers. Please make sure you are emotionally safe before continuing.

Monday, August 30, 2010

PTSD Leftovers

PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) leaves so many things behind.  The way you respond to various situations.  Fear, just waiting for its chance.  Memories you'd rather not have.

But there are other remnants.  Things you may not realize are part of PTSD.  Things like those is the lists below.

These lists are taken from an article, Three Levels of Victimization.  (I have no idea who the original author was; I've found it several places.  If you want the entire 9-page article, email me and I'll send it to you.)

Victim Thinking:
• I have to accept bad situations because they are part of life, and I can do nothing to make them better.
• I don’t expect much good to happen in my life.
• Nobody could ever love me.
• I am always going to feel sad, angry, depressed, confused, etc.
• There are situations at work and at home that I could do something about, but I don’t have the motivation to do so.
• Life overwhelms me, so I prefer to be alone whenever possible.
• You can’t trust anyone except for a few good people.
• I feel I have to be extra good, competent, attractive, etc., in order to compensate for my many defects.
• I feel guilty for many things, even things that I know are not my fault.
• I feel I have to explain myself to people so that they will understand me. But sometimes I get tired of explaining, conclude it’s not worth the effort, and stay alone.
• I’m often afraid to do something for fear I will make a mistake.
• I can’t afford to be wrong.
• I feel that when people look and me, they know right away that I’m different.
• Sometimes I think that those who died during the traumatic event I experienced were better off than me. At least, they don’t have to live with the memories.
• I am afraid of the future.
• Most times I think things will never get better. There is not much I can do to make my life better.
• I can be either a perfectionist or a total slob, depending on my mood.
• I tend to see people as either for me or against me.
• I feel pressure to go along with others, even when I don’t want to. To avoid such pressures, I avoid people.
• I am never going to get over what happened to me.
• I find myself apologizing for myself to others.
• I have very few choices in life.

Shoulds:
• I should be the epitome of generosity and unselfishness.
• I should be the perfect lover, friend, parent, teacher, student, spouse, etc.
• I should be able to find a quick solution to every problem.
• I should never feel hurt; I should always feel happy and serene.
• I should be completely competent.
• I should know, understand, and foresee everything.
• I should never feel certain emotions, such as anger and jealousy.
• I should never make mistakes.
• I should be totally self-reliant.
• I should never be afraid.
• I should have achievements that bring me status, wealth, and power.
• I should always be busy; to relax is to waste my time and my life.
• I should be able to protect my loved ones from all pain.
• I should not take time just for my own pleasure.

In other words, thinking errors that can really screw up our lives.  Like the original trauma wasn't enough, now we have behaviors and beliefs that lead us to contiue to wreck things for ourselves.

When I list these, they may sound common.  You may never have had what you'd consider real trauma and still experience these.  I'm not talking about occasional struggles.

I am talking about debilitating.  I am talking about constant.  I am talking about overpowering.  Most or all of them.  Most or all of the time.  They dictate your entire life.

And I don't know if it's possible to get rid of all of them entirely.  But it is possible to start to doubt them.  To start to see them as a possible lie.  To challenge old thinking styles.

And it's worth learning how.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My First Day of Therapy

The decision to go to therapy was a difficult one for me.  Although I'd long believed I needed it, I just couldn't make the decision to go.  It would be expensive.  It would take a lot of time.  Maybe I was making a big deal out of something that wasn't so serious after all.

So I waited.  I tried so many ways to take care of things myself.  But the pain was still there.  I still shut down because of it quite often. 

There came a time when my husband agreed to go to therapy.  Things had been really rough between us for a while.  And all of his issues were driving me crazy.  I was suffocating, trying to live my own life while being ruled by his illness.  In a good moment, a moment when we were communicating and could both see the problem, he agreed.

I knew we needed to find someone who specialized in OCD.  Even though, for me, the anger was more of a problem.  He didn't see the anger as really being an issue, but he could acknowledge the OCD.  If we attacked from that front I hoped we would find solutions to other problems as well.

We were very blessed in choosing a therapist.  I was working at a treatment facility and knew that the psychiatrist there worked with OCD issues.  So I asked him for a recommendation.  Who would he say are the best therapists for OCD in the area?  He recommended two.  One of them was on our insurance.  We were off and running.

He's a wonderful psychologist.  And really knows OCD.  But he was also able to help my husband with other issues.  He seemed the perfect fit.

Because my husband was okay with it, and his therapist recommended it, I attended therapy with him.  This helped my husband to have a support system and helped the therapist have an accurate picture of what was going on at home.  It also helped because I could keep track of my husband's assignments.  My husband also has ADD, so his ability to focus and remember isn't great.

One day, after we'd been going several months, something came up about my past.  Just a tiny hint.  But it was enough.  His therapist suggested that maybe I should see someone, that it could be part of my problem with my husband.

That was all I needed.  Someone to tell me to do it.

Most people don't know this about me.  For so many years, I couldn't do a lot of things without permission or instruction.  Part of it was him; part of it was my past.  I had spent so many years in trouble for my decisions.  I had spent so many years trying to appease the dominant male in my life.  I was frozen.  Unable to move without being told to.  It didn't really show in settings outside my house much.  A little at work maybe.  But for the most part people thought I was confident and in charge of my own life.  They were wrong.

So when the therapist told me I should talk to someone about my history, I obeyed.  Not just because I thought I was supposed to, but because I wanted to.  I was being given permission to do something I wanted to do.

I asked my husband's therapist if I could see him.  He already knew so much about my life I thought it would make it easier.  He told me the pros and cons of both of us seeing him.  He said that if we were in marriage counseling it wouldn't be a good idea.  But at that time we weren't.  We were both working very hard to get along and didn't really feel like our marriage was in jeopordy.

So he agreed to see me.

When I arrived the first day I was nervous.  Even though I'd been there a lot and talked to him a lot, this time it was about me.  And he would be judging me and my life and my choices.  That put me into a state of fear.  Too much like my childhood.

But I trusted him.  And I trusted the process.  So I went.

He knew I was nervous.  I didn't know what to expect or what to do.  So he laid out the plan for me.  He said that first day was kind of an evaluation.  To see how bad the wounds are.  To assess if I really needed therapy.  We take the bandages off and examine it.  See what we need to do.

He asked that I tell him my story.

And for the next 45 minutes or so I did.  I told him things I had been holding in for decades.  Things I hadn't told anyone.  And I only got up to about age 8 or 9.  Time was up.

He said you can tell how many times someone has told their story by how long it takes them to tell it.  It ended up taking me three entire sessions to tell my story.

He said he thought I should see him once a week.  That there was definitely an injury there.  And that we could work to try to heal it.  Just the validation that I was really injured meant so much.

He praised the hard work I'd done.  Said I'd done well.  And told me to celebrate.  To mark my success.

And I just stared at him.  I didn't understand.  I had no idea how to celebrate.  I asked for clarification.

He told me to do something I loved to do.  Or buy something I loved.  Anything to remind me of what a great job I'd done.

I was still clueless.  I had no idea what I loved to do.  Buying something for myself seemed ridiculous.  I hadn't been in charge of what I did or bought things for myself in so long.  Probably only for a few years in high school did I even come close to this.

He made some suggestions.  A pedicure.  A massage.  I laughed at him.  Not my style.  Okay, he suggested a sports magazine.  That was closer.  I told him I would try.

He also told me to let it go.  We would get back to it next week and I was supposed to be happy with my work and not think about it anymore until I came back.  Again, I told him I would try.

On the way home I stopped at Village Inn and ordered food to go.  Bacon, toast, hashbrowns, and a piece of coconut cream pie.  That was my celebration.  I took it home and ate it as I sat on my bed.  And enjoyed a few moments of peace.

I later got better at marking my successes.  As I worked through different issues, I bought a charm.  I wear these on a necklace.  A simple black cord with silver charms.  And each of them means something important.  Each of them is a symbol of strength.  Of doing the hard thing.

Because, apparently, that is worth celebrating.

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Moment

This post contains possible triggers for self-injurious behavior.  Please do not continue unless you know you are safe.

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It was a moment.  It passed.

The last post was something I would normally not write.  But if I am truly going to share what happens to me so that others will know they are not alone, that includes the scary moments.  Review is one thing -- in the midst of it is quite another.

The emotional pain hit me today.  Out of the blue.  And it slammed me hard.  Like a body slam to the ground with 300 pounds on top of me.  I sobbed and sobbed and had no idea why.

When it hits like that, it is terrifying.  It is overwhelming.  It feels like a demon is pulling me into hell.

Those are the moments when I want to hurt myself. 

Yes, I know that makes no sense.

But this is one of the coping mechanisms.  A way to feel something and numb the pain that is out of my control.

People who indulge in self-injurious behavior almost always have a history of sexual abuse.  I'm not saying that is where this pain is coming from; I don't know where it's coming from yet.

But self-injurious behavior has been a part of my life. 
*  I have scratched; it's like cutting, but instead of using a blade I used a broken plastic spoon and sawed into my arms or legs until I got through the skin.  I have many scars because of this.
*  I have burned myself; with a flame is harder than with a curling iron.  I've also grabbed a hot pot on purpose.  I have scars from this, too.
*  I have taken various sedatives; over the counter and prescription (mine or someone else's).

All of these things were done in an effort to make the intense, overwhelming pain go away.  They were NOT suicide attempts.  They were, in fact, a way to keep myself from taking that route.  When the pain won't stop, won't go away, won't lessen suicide starts to look appealing.  Anything to make the pain stop.

I don't know if I can describe the pain.  It's emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual all at once.  An attack on my entire being.

I have had lots of suicidal ideation (thoughts of suicide) since I was a teenager, even a few plans.  But the likelihood of me actually trying anything is very slim.  Because of my beliefs, my connection to my children, and just who I am.  It is not, however, non-existent.

I had the desire to hurt myself today, to make the pain go away.  But I didn't. 

I am communicating my feelings to my support system, which includes a couple of therapists.  I am talking about it, letting people know that I'm having a hard time.  Because that's the healthy thing to do.

I used to think it was healthy to handle everything on my own.  To hide my pain and my struggles and put on a happy face.  It's not.

We are meant to rely on each other and help each other.  And true mental health is being able to ask for help.

I feel better.  It's not gone, but it's back under control.  And many people are watching over me.

The Monster

It's a monster.  A horrible, awful monster.  And it has me.  It's squeezing so tight.  I can't breathe.  I have no power.

It's pulling me under.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A Place of Fear

Fear has been a common element in my life.  It's something I'm very familiar with.

And I usually know why I'm afraid.  But not always.

You see, when memories that have been lost to me start to return I feel the emotions long before I know the reason.  I am flooded with feelings and have no experience to connect them to.  And the primary emotion is usually fear.

I know different people have different ways that lost memories resurface.  It's not the same in every case for me either.  There are those times when it's a flash.  But they are rare.

When a memory starts to come back, and I become aware, I sometimes shut it back down.  Nope, I'm not ready for that right now.  And it goes away for a while.  But not for good.  The memory is there and it will not be silenced.

There are times in my life when I am more ready to deal with them than others.  If they surface during one of these times then I can do the work.  The really tough work.  I can let them come, examine them, process them, and let them be a part of me.

So a while back I awoke with fear.  Not fear from a nightmare or real life or anticipation of something impending.  This was a memory fear.  I don't know how to explain the difference but it is real and reconizable.

When I feel the fear, it is almost always most present in my shoulders.  They tense.  They become hypersensitive.  If someone touches my shoulders when I am in such a state it is likely to cause a panic attack.  An intense anxiety.  A desire to run.

Once the fear starts it rides with me.  It will sometimes slide to the background, but it is still there.  And it remains until I am ready to do the work.

I am carrying the fear with me now.  Waiting until it blossoms into what I need to see.  Waiting until my soul says I'm ready.

It is impossible to force it.  I can only prepare myself and wait.  In a place of fear.