Tag Archives: support and guidance

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.

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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.


Mind Readers

Abusive families usually abuse in more than one way. For example, in my family, we children learned quickly how to gauge the feelings, thoughts and opinions of our parents. People say that no one is a mind reader, but we came as close to mind reading as anyone possibly could. It was essential to our survival.

We learned to listen carefully to everything they said openly or obliquely. We watched their expressions closely for clues to their moods and reactions. We paid attention to the way they moved: the turn of their heads, the gestures they used. When we saw a flying hand, we knew to duck. Even when away from them, we parroted their opinions as fact. We shut out the beatings or justified them by telling ourselves we deserved the punishment. I (being the only one who was sexually abused) forced myself to forget what happened during the daily naps.

When we could, we deflected the anger toward a sister or brother onto ourselves. I was much younger than my siblings, and when my mother was in a rage at me, my oldest brother would grab me up and run away from our mother. After she followed us outside and was running around the house to catch up, he would carry me inside, and lock all the doors to keep her out. He would only unlock them after she’d had time to cool down, and he was sure she wouldn’t hurt me as she had hurt him so many times.

When I grew up and left home and was finally safe, I didn’t stop trying to mind read. It had become an ingrained behavior. If a friend looked confused or perhaps angry or frustrated, I was on my guard. What had I done to cause it? What did I need to do to fix it? My mind raced to it figure out as my heart pounded. I tried not to let on, because it was crucial to figure it out without asking. Most of the time, it would blow over, because it was never about me to begin with. Sometimes, I would ask what I had done to upset my friend only to learn . . . it wasn’t about me to begin with. I was a bit shocked to learn that I wasn’t the cause of every negative feeling in those around me.

I have worked hard to internalize that and to wait until someone expresses frustration with me before starting to panic. I squelch the panic if I can, but it’s still hard for me to stay calm and control my feelings as we talk and work things out. I’ve learned that I can work things out with the people and relationships that really matter. But it’s work. It’s a process of retraining. And it can only be done with safe people who can be trusted with the precious person of me.

As you develop relationships with safe people, people whom you can trust, try out your wings. Don’t always jump to the conclusion that you’re causing the problems you sense in your friends. Try to stay calm and just wait. Healthy people who respect others will tell you if there’s a problem. Then it’s your responsibility to react as a mature adult: without becoming defensive or crumbling with guilt. Remember the Guilt Bucket? This is the time to use those lessons. You’ll find it much easier to respond in a composed manner if your Guilt Bucket is healthy. Your relationships will grow deeper with the mutual respect that builds between people who are respectful of one another through the ups and downs of relationships.

Growing up into a healthy, responsible, mature adult is hard for anyone, even from the best of families. For us, it’s a true challenge. But challenges can be overcome, and you can overcome this to become the kind of friend/spouse/parent who is capable of real relationships that are open, kind and loving.


Step 5: Healing

Step 5 — Healing

Woohoo! Now for what you’ve been working so hard for, and, most likely, it will be even better than you’ve imagined. For so long, you couldn’t imagine what it would be like to be healthy, happy, and when you get to this final stage, you will look back and wonder how it could have been so bad for so long. You will look back and know that all the pain, all the work was worth it. That’s how it’s been for me.

If you have DID, it’s time to begin welcoming the parts home where they belong, as part of you – a whole you. I won’t go in depth here about integration: that’s a whole other post of its own. But, I will say that it’s great. And, by now, it may have begun to happen as a natural result of the work you’ve been doing. Contrary to what some people believe, it doesn’t have to be a big deal, and I can tell you from experience, it does NOT mean death to the parts!

But, the beginning of health is not the end of recovery. That will continue for a long time to come. Don’t plan to quit therapy anytime soon! You’re still going to need support and guidance as you learn to navigate life as a healing person.

One important, life-changing aspect of healing means forever giving up the role of victim. Scary thought isn’t it? Not having everyone’s attention on you and your sad story is a real paradigm shift, I know. The up side is you get to have real relationships. You get to care about others and their problems. You’ll have conversations about all kinds of things and be amazed at what you learn from others. You’ll develop interests that have lain fallow for years, because now you won’t be spending all your time and energy on getting well. You can look outward instead of constantly looking inward at what’s happening with you.

Giving back, contributing to society, becomes important at this stage. Stepping outside yourself and your problems to contribute to others gives you a whole new perspective. I think it’s probably best to avoid becoming an amateur counselor, because you might get dragged back into your old stuff again. There are so many possibilities out there. What do you like to do? Consider volunteering at church, working at a food bank, joining Habitat for Humanity, rocking babies at a NICU, getting involved in your children’s activities. The possibilities are only limited by your imagination.

Find out what makes you you. Are you a quiet, indoor person who thinks a great day is to curl up in a corner with a good book? Do you thrive on being with people – going out to lunch and chatting the afternoon away? What’s your favorite color, your favorite food? You may never have been allowed your own opinion on anything. Well, here’s your chance. Grab it and run!

And here’s the best part. Live! Enjoy life. Laugh, relax once in a while and allow yourself to bask in recovery. This is not the end of the road. You may always have scars that cause you pain, and complete recovery is a process. Remember, Even healthy people grow throughout their lives, and you have so much time to make up for. Get with it!