The Struggle Continues

Please accept yet another apology from me for my absence from the blog. It was my intention in the beginning to post twice a week, and I haven’t kept that commitment to you.

I haven’t blogged, because I’ve been struggling myself. When I started this blog, I wanted to share my success story, my journey of recovery with you. Now it seems that I’ll be sharing my own struggles with you. I hope we can encourage one another. At the same time, I will be sharing what is and is not working for me. Perhaps we can be of help to one another.

For such a long time, I’ve been out of therapy, partly because I thought I didn’t really need it anymore and more recently because I just couldn’t afford it. Now that I’m back in treatment, after several visits, my psychologist and my psychiatrist agree that I am probably not fully integrated. As I have shared previously, I thought I integrated 11 years ago. However, when they told me, though I was disappointed, I can’t say I was terribly shocked. Several occurrences had caused me to wonder if perhaps someone or “someones” were still there.

I think it’s possible they’ve been afraid to rock the boat, because I was so convinced I was integrated. Lately, though, I think part of the reason my life has become so difficult may be because I haven’t allowed them to “be,” to share what they need with me.

The fact that I also have bipolar disorder muddies the waters of my symptoms and treatments. The dual diagnosis makes the work and the decisions of my psychiatrist and psychologist that much more difficult. Now, I’m beginning to wonder if perhaps I don’t have bipolar disorder at all. Perhaps the symptoms are caused more by the parts inside rather than dysfunctional brain chemicals. 

As I share this, I wonder whether this blog serves anyone’s needs. Please comment to let me know whether you want to me to continue and perhaps we can walk down this path together, though it is different from what I expected. I don’t want to continue posting if no one finds my words of comfort, encouragement or value, and my posts may be infrequent as I’m struggling to have the energy to write or the ability to think and communicate clearly.

Thank you for your caring and sharing.


The Truth of Mental Illness

By now, you may have heard of the death of Rick Warren’s son by suicide at the age of 27. This is just the most recent of several people I know, or know of, who have made this choice.

Because of the high profile of this man and, therefore, of the tragedy of the death of his son, I decided it was time to speak out on Facebook. This is not what exactly what I posted, but it is basically the same. I wanted people who don’t deal with mental illness to grasp what it’s all about in the hope that it would dispel some myths and grant a measure of understanding. And here I want people who do deal with mental illness to find hope to hang on to when they see there is someone who does understand, in fact, there is a whole community that cares and wants to offer help.

I want to make it very clear that, in spite of my comments regarding compassion for any person who takes his/her own life, I am in no way endorsing it. God knows the number of our days, and He is perfectly capable of knowing when it is time to call you out of this life. He does not need our help!

I am in recovery from dissociative identity disorder. The PTSD is a remnant of the abuse I lived through as a child. This sometimes causes me to be gripped by the memories of the past, unable to find my way back to reality. I relive the awful events all over again. Sometimes at night I awaken, heart beating rapidly, “feeling” the presence of one who is attempting to attack me, his hand clamped around my arm. I swing at the empty air trying to claw my way free from my invisible assailant, attempting to scream as no sound escapes, only to wake up still trying to determine whether the dream or the waking is reality.

I also have bipolar disorder II. This means that, at best, I’m only slightly depressed. I’ve learned to accept that that is just the way I have to live my life. On rare occasions, I have felt good, which is what most people would call “normal.” Others, I experience what is known as hypomania: times during which I become irritable and sometimes can’t turn off my thoughts, my constant activity and find myself thinking of doing things I would not otherwise consider. However, like most people who have bipolar II, I live most of my life depressed. Medication and therapy make a tremendous difference and are the only reasons that I am even close to the self I was born to be. Without those, I would either be impossible to live with, permanently in an institution or dead.

Those are the facts of mental illness. Those of us who deal with this are not weak, lacking in faith, demon-possessed or oppressed or anything else but suffering from faulty brain chemistry. Our disorders are no different in essence from diabetes or the disease with which I am most familiar, cystic fibrosis. Our family and my friends need to understand this and offer us grace and understanding.

The disorder affects my daily life: my ability to work, interact with other people, activities of daily living to the point of sometimes being unable to get out of bed or leave my house. I hate it. I hate that God has chosen this path for my growth and sanctification. Depression is my nearly constant companion. I rarely get a break. I wake up with it. I work with it. I go to sleep with it, knowing that tomorrow I’ll wake up and live it all over again.

Our disorders and illnesses affect every aspect of our lives. I have, at times, considered taking my life. In fact, as recently as a few weeks ago, I felt the temptation for days. I fought it day and night until I realized that fighting it alone was too risky and called friends who truly “get” it. I made a commitment to God, my family and myself on May 18, 2001, that I would never again try to take my own life, and I was determined to live up to that promise. My friends picked me up and let me stay with them until I made the decision to go into the hospital, where I spent a week getting daily therapy and adjusting medication. I came home much improved.

Why am I telling you all this? I am doing it, because you all may deal with similar issues. There are so many of us who suffer silently, because it is not acceptable to discuss mental illness. Cancer is OK. People have sympathy and understanding for that. CF, diabetes, MS and the multitude of other terrible diseases and disorders are acceptable. Mental illness is considered taboo. The stigma attached to it prevents people from getting the help they need, from picking up the phone, from asking for prayer. I’m telling you about my struggles to be part of the movement to de-stigmatize the many conditions that fall under the umbrella of mental illness.

Many, many people, especially Christians, negatively judge people with mental illness and especially those who have made the awful decision to take their own lives. A common statement is: “It’s the ultimate selfish act.” I have, in the past, been completely and thoroughly convinced that if I loved my family, especially my children, as I said I did, I would remove the evil (me) from their lives, so I would no longer influence them for evil. 

These are the kinds of thoughts that people who choose suicide experience. Yes, it is an unspeakable tragedy that leaves those left behind with the worst kind of pain. A pain that I can’t even imagine as they believe that the one who died didn’t love them enough to fight. I know those are the thoughts, the feelings of those left behind, but they are not the actual reasons suicide was chosen. In fact, just the opposite is likely true.

However, those of us who are here and dealing with our problems must realize that there is hope, and there is help. I hope that through this blog, I can be a beam of light in a world of darkness that many of you inhabit. I seek to be the hand that reaches out for you to grab and hold onto as you climb out of the deep hole of despair.

 


Lifelong Recovery

I haven’t been posting, because I originally envisioned this as a blog in which I would share my wisdom gained during my recovery process. I saw myself as being healed and looking back on my recovery. However, God has shown me very clearly that I’m still right smack dab in the middle of recovery. I can’t speak for others who have gone through the recovery process from childhood sexual abuse and DID, so I’m only speaking from my own experience. I have the added component of bipolar disorder, so that complicates the situation considerably. So, I’ve decided to tweak the focus of the blog a bit as I deal with the continuing process of recovery. I’ve been severely depressed for about a year now. Routine personal care and housekeeping has become extremely difficult. I’ve spent most of my time lying on the sofa, which is also where I sleep. As I mentioned in a previous post, I was hospitalized in August 2012 for two and a half weeks, and I was just discharged from another hospital a week and a half ago. I decided that perhaps it could be beneficial to others to walk this journey with me as I learn to navigate the rough waters of lingering PTSD and the ongoing problems that come with bipolar disorder. A friend of mine is working on a blog about dealing with bipolar disorder, so I will refer you to that when it is up and running.

I’ve often heard the “joke” about the man who died at 30 and was buried at 70. Sometimes I feel like that person. You know, the individual who stops living, stops contributing, enjoying, touching other human beings with love and care, doesn’t enjoy laughing and loving and lives as though she has died even when the heart continues to beat. What a tragedy. As long as God gives us breath, we have an opportunity, a responsibility to live to the best of our ability, whatever that happens to be.

I hope you will join me on this journey and find encouragement in knowing that you’re not alone in your struggles. I will share what I learn, what works for me and what does not. My desire is that we can offer hope to one another as we proceed through our lives and strive to overcome the constant challenges we face.


Sorry for my absence

Please forgive me for my extended break from blogging. This is not how I envisioned this blog when I began, but, as with most things worth doing, it is harder than it looks!

Life has been especially busy lately with both happy and difficult circumstances. I’ve had more work than usual, and my daughter has been sicker from the illnesses I mentioned in another post. I am hoping to get back to regular posting as soon as possible. I hope you can bear with me through this.

During my most recent therapy session, my therapist suggested the possibility that not every alter integrated when most of them did 11 years ago. If I had heard this a year ago, I would have been devastated, but I had begun to suspect that it might be the case. My hospitalization in August revealed hints that perhaps I still had parts holding onto information they had not previously been ready to share. 

Whether or not there are more parts still there doesn’t really matter to me. I know that I still have work to do, and I intend to do that work. The healing I have done so far has been so worth it, that I’m not willing to quit now. I have lots of living to do, and the healthier I am, the better I can take advantage of what’s to come.

It’s not that I’m not afraid. Therapy is scary and difficult, but I’m determined. I have children and grandchildren who motivate me. I want to be there, all there for them, and I will be!

 

 


Living With the Aftermath

It’s over. It’s in the past. I know that. That’s the good news. And it is good news. Really good news. It’s the present that gives me problems.

The results of the abuse are always lurking. They show themselves in the fear of the future, the “knowing” that what’s coming is going to hurt and more than what’s hurt in the past. The sense that, in spite of the horror of the past, the other shoe still hasn’t dropped, and it’s only waiting for me to make a mistake. One mistake and it will all fall apart, all the good that I’ve worked so hard to build — my home, my family, my life. And I will be responsible.

That’s why I work so hard to keep all the balls in the air. I have to be good enough; I have to pray enough; I have to work hard enough; I must be the perfect mother. No stone must be unturned. I’m sure that the one time I forget to buckle a child’s seat belt will be the time there will be an accident, and I will be responsible for the results. I will miss one essential plea before God’s throne and a daughter’s brain tumor grow beyond treatment. I forget a job contact and my career is unsalvageable.

I think I can take whatever life can throw at me; after all, I already have (or so I think). Then PTSD steals up from behind and brings the awful memories to life in living color complete with sounds, the sense of being touched and the smell of the people and things around, and I realize I’m not prepared at all.

The dissociation steals my mind away and I have car accidents. Then I realize that I am not in control at all.

The nightmares from which I cannot wrench myself suck me back into my position of vulnerability, and sometimes, in my sleep I whimper or beg for mercy. I wake up drenched in sweat.

I wonder. Am I losing my mind? And what do I do to get it back? Can I get it back. Does anyone care if I get it back? Or do I just let my head fall on my pillow and allow the nothingness to take me away. Would it be a relief? And yet, even when I give in to the temptation, my thoughts will not allow me to just abandon my sanity. They bring me back to the now of how do I do this life, and I find there are no easy answers. So, I let the tears of sadness, loneliness and fear soak my pillow with salt water.

I may not be alone, but the journey of clinging to sanity is walked alone. Oh there can be people who support, who love, who encourage, and I have learned to let them. But, the journey in my head is made alone with only my voice trying to be the voice of reason tepeating the words of others, though always wondering how they know that what they’re telling me is the truth if they’ve never walked this journey themselves.

This is the sojourn I have been on that recently resulted in two and half weeks in a psych hospital. I had gone in for what I thought was a deep depression brought on by very difficult circumstances. However, once inside, my wise mind let me know there was so much more to be dealt with. Namely, years of memories that had lain untouched since the last time I had been in the hospital and had seriously addressed them in therapy.

You see, I had thought all that was in the past. I had thought that once I had integrated, I had dealt with all the memories, the hurt and the pain of the past. And I was anxious to put it behind me, so I walked away. I put that part of my life neatly in a box and set it on a shelf in a dark corner of a closet that I never entered and tried hard to forget. I seemed OK and I wanted to be. I wanted to be “normal.” I wanted to be the Jessi that I once had, the Jessi that people remembered. The Jessi that was all together.

But the “monster of abuse” refused to stay locked away. Now, I know that it is not a monster, maybe not a friend, but a companion that will probably always walk with me. I think there will be times, when it will be content to keep her distance and others when it sidles up to me and whispers in my ear. I’ll probably never get used to or be happy with its presence, but, as a survivor of abuse,it will most likely stick by my side. And now I know that I CANNOT ignore it. It has a tendency to throw tantrums. And they’re not pretty, and I seem to end up the loser.

So, I have committed to ongoing therapy that I had been neglecting because of financial problems. Now I know that my therapy is as important as my phone or electricity. I cannot function without it. I am working with my psychiatrist to adjust my medications. And, I have learned to “never say never” when it comes to going back to the hospital when I need it. It may have saved my life, and I’m so glad it did.

Now, that I’m doing what I need to: journaling, seeing my therapist and my psychiatrist, and working with my meds, the PTSD seems to have subsided, the dissociation (at this writing) seems to be at bay, my nightmares have gone away for now and I no longer think I’m losing my mind.

Life is not a panacea. Loneliness comes and goes. I miss my children. But I see a hope for the future. A hope that promises life does not have to be filled with only the remnants of a painful past but also with the threads of a promising future.


Can You Trust Your Friends?

Because of more and more celebrities being open and sharing their struggles with mental illness, the stigma is perhaps slightly less severe than in the past. However the misunderstanding of mental illnesses and their symptoms endures. When well-known figures talk about their illness, they do so when they’re well. Their stylists have carefully done their hair and make up, and helped them select their clothes, so they look their absolute best. No unwashed hair, sweat pants and pajama tops for them. Every detail is carefully orchestrated so that as they announce their illness, everything about them screams, “But don’t worry about me. See how fine I am. I’m still the star you’ve known. Don’t stop worshiping me, because I can’t afford to lose my status as a box office star.”

So, perhaps, people won’t fear us quite as much when they learn of our diagnosis, but they will still hold us to the same standards as any well person: smiles on our faces, cheerful attitudes, perfect attendance at work and full participation in social activities. We should be excellent housekeepers, good cooks, fit and, above all, disciplined.

We are held to the standards of healthy people with no allowance for our illness. Consider an individual with cancer. If he or she chooses to stay in bed and sleep to attempt to escape the pain awhile longer, housemates tiptoe around to ensure no one disturbs him or her. However, when someone with clinical depression is simply unable to get out of bed, we’re considered lazy and undisciplined. Why? Because mental illness is still seen as “all in the head,” no pun intended. In other words, if we would just make better choices, we could lead perfectly normal lives. The paradox is that people tend to be afraid of us if we let them know we have bipolar disorder or DID, but if we don’t run around leaping around the room and screeching like chimpanzees, we’re considered healthy. The general public doesn’t get the “illness” part of mental illness.

Some people with bipolar disorder, DID, borderline personality disorder, narcissistic disorder and other disorders are able to function pretty normally most of the time. They can hold down jobs and be active socially. Many others simply cannot no matter how hard they try. They wish they could. Most of them have tried and were either forced to quit or were fired. Either way, their self esteem undoubtedly took a serious nose dive, and they had to use every bit of energy they possessed to claw their way out of the depressive hole they fell into as a result.

Understanding friends are few. Most adults have, at some point in their lives, had a bad case of the blues, so they think they understand what it means to be truly depressed. Thus, they wonder why we can’t pull ourselves out if it as they did. You may have talked, explained, shown, shared books, even taken them to your therapist with you. But most still refuse to accept the reality of the severity of the symptoms we live with every day. Loneliness ensues, compounding our feelings of isolation and unworthiness. We begin to doubt ourselves. Are we really just lazy and undisciplined? We may set more goals and promise ourselves that this time, we’ll carry through. This time we’ll be like other people who can follow through and consistently discipline themselves to reach their goals. And again, depression, dissociation or a manic phase steal our physical, mental and emotional strength, and, in our eyes, we fail again.

The truth is, however, that we haven’t failed. We have simply been unable to live up to unrealistic expectations – our own and those of others. We have to accept that most of the people we love and who we thought loved us don’t understand; they just don’t get it. We must be careful to cherish those who get it and offer support when we need it, who encourage us when we’re down and who hold us accountable when we’re feeling sorry for ourselves. Very few people earn that kind of trust, and they must earn it. We can accept the input of people who have proven, over time, that they love us no matter what. They love us whether we get out of bed or stay there with the covers pulled over our head. They love us whether our house is clean or the place is a wreck. They understand that when our minds are disorganized, so are our surroundings. They don’t criticize when we miss church yet again. They understand the difference between what we want to be and what we’re able to be. They listen when we’re hurting and celebrate with us when we get back to the selves we want to be, the selves that can reciprocate their friendship.

I have learned to expect criticism. That doesn’t mean it hurts any less, but at least it’s not a surprise. Still, sometimes, I let my guard down and start to trust someone who I think has proven him/herself worthy, and my heart takes a blow when they let me down. Those occasions make me wonder why I bothered to trust. That’s when my self-talk says, “Haven’t you learned? Don’t you know better than to trust? How could you be so stupid?” And my self-esteem takes another blow. Then I have to take a deep breath and remind myself of the truth about myself and the person who let me down. Perhaps he/she is a real friend in some ways but not others. I have learned over time that few people get “me” – that is all of me. I have friends who I have lots of fun with, but I know they don’t want to share any of the burdens with me. I have friends who are understanding to a point, but they don’t get my illness. Then I have friends who love me with all my stuff. Those people understand me and love me just the same. Those are the ones with whom I trust my heart. They have earned it. We just have to use our wisdom to know when it’s safe to share our hearts.

We have to know what we are capable of achieving and what we are not. We must always strive to be our best but not beat ourselves up and accuse ourselves of laziness when our goals were simply out of reach – at least for now. We have to learn how to have thick skin, while keeping our hearts tender. We must understand that most people cannot understand what they have not experienced. And, most of all, we must, when possible, be faithful friends to them and give them the love and understanding we wish they could offer us.


Feeling the Feelings, Part Deaux

If you’ve been following my blog, you may remember that in the distant past (April), I posted about the value of “Feeling the Feelings,” which I have been doing a lot of recently, and that has kept me from posting. These feelings happened to be physical as well as emotional, as I had a car accident recently. I’m fine, and my shoulder strap bruise has healed, and I’m driving a new (to me) car. My computer was quite ill for several days, and then, of course, I was kicked in the stomach with depression. I’m also under a physician’s care as we try to diagnose the cause of ongoing physical illness. At any rate, I hope to be getting back on track with the blog.

I had written about experiencing and working through depression. Next I wanted to talk about fear and anxiety, because they’re so closely related. However, I believe they are different enough to warrant separate posts.

Fear is rooted in reality or what we perceive as reality. A person or a situation causing, or threatening to cause us harm prompts that rumbling-in-the-stomach, heart-pounding, mind-twisting terror that takes over. We turn it over in our minds, and become obsessed with the fear. We lie awake pondering it. Concentration on anything else is difficult if not impossible.

Those of us who have been abused have had plenty to fear. Awful things that are unimaginable to a child have crept up out of the dark, making our worst nightmares come to life. We may now be adults with spouses and children of our own. We probably have locks on our doors and even alarm systems to keep out the unknown, as well as the familiar nightmares. However, none of those precautions can deal with the fear that lives on in our minds. Perhaps we startle easily. Perhaps we’ve developed full-blown PTSD that brings the horror back to life in living color, complete with the sense of being touched, hearing the sounds, seeing our surroundings and smelling the scents that were present when the nightmare was alive and real. How do you deal with these present manifestations of past people and experiences?

Actually, I think it is practically impossible to completely lock out the memories of the past that cause us fear in the present. However, there are steps that will help us deal with the memories in such a way that they will stay where they belong – in our awareness of the past, in our consciousness, to be dealt with when we can be calm, thinking clearly and able to put well-defined boundaries around the past.

How? Acknowledge the memories as real and valid pieces of your past. Running from them doesn’t help. In fact, running usually ensures that they will pursue you doggedly until you stop and look the truth. It may sicken you and disgust you and force your fear up to the level of terror at first. You may have great difficulty believing that people who were supposed to love you, whom you trusted, could choose to hurt you so much. To get through the process of facing the truth of your past, you’ll probably need the help of a professional who knows how to guide you through it without traumatizing you further. But you can learn how to cope when the memories come back unbidden again when you are not with your therapist.

If you’re experiencing an ugly memory that seems to take your breath away, try to ground yourself in the present. Feel the chair you’re sitting in, look at your surroundings, take your hands and rub them back and forth on your legs and listen to the sounds around you as you put your memory back in the past. Tactile sensations are helpful in bringing you out of the memory and into the present, so doing things like holding ice in your hand does wonders to banish the lingering memory. If you can, pick up a magazine or newspaper to verify the date to remind yourself you are in the present. Look in a mirror to see that you’re not a small, vulnerable child any longer.

Work to calm your breathing. First, exhale slowly and completely through pursed lips. Your chest should drop as you do this. Next, breathe in slowly through your nose as you focus on your diaphragm rising while your lungs fill with air. Repeat this slowly and gently ten times. If you begin to feel dizzy, stop for a moment, then begin again.

The scent of lavender works wonders for some people, like me, for example. You can find lavender in different forms at most bath stores. Put a dab on the pulse points, and then let it work its magic. I like to lie down, close my eyes and focus on the scent. Perhaps you have music that is particularly soothing to you. Try putting that on to play, and, again, lie down and let it wash over you.

Some people have relaxation CDs meant exactly for this purpose. Relaxation CDs are available at most music retailers. Many are available free through iTunes, YouTube, and other Internet sources. Or you may have the voice of your therapist taking you through guided imagery. I used to listen to one every night in order to fall asleep.

And some people have a prescription for anxiety medication from their doctor. However, reserve the meds as a last resort to be used only if and when you’ve tried everything else. Use them exactly as instructed by your physician and avoid alcohol! That is critical. No alcohol if you’ve taken an anti-anxiety medication. They do not mix!

Hopefully, by now your troublesome memories have dissipated and you are feeling calmer and more peaceful. The more you practice relaxation, the more adept and effective you will become at dealing with the nightmares of the past.


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