On Vulnerability

a cure for what ails you, abuse, anxiety, memories, ptsd, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

There are so many words in the English language relating to innocence and vulnerability, and most of them can bring me way down if I’m not careful. They provoke some ancient anxiety that I’ve come to realize, with the help of my excellent therapist, are linked to what she calls my “wounded younger self.” (I was incredibly skeptical of inner child work at first, but it is incredibly effective and incredibly healing.)

“Little” is an adjective that, when paired with certain words that also remind me of innocence, usually messes me up emotionally. That’s the word that got under my skin tonight.

I’ve been feeling kind of “off” the last few days. I recently blocked my mother completely on my phone–including the second number I thought she’d deleted until she used it to contact me after I blocked the first number–and was treated to some really unsettling dreams on Monday and Tuesday night.

Monday’s main feature involved me skipping my grandmother’s birthday party because my mother was going to be there and I knew she’d be drunk. Tuesday’s late-night horror show involved a healthy helping of guilt because I was hiding from her (in a Target, of all places) while she wailed and lamented that she “couldn’t believe [I] didn’t want to talk to her.”

Naturally, this put me in a pretty weird headspace today. Wednesdays are my big clinical days and I do group as well as individual client work. As such, I generally store my feelings away to deal with later and do a pretty good job of not thinking about them at all during the day because I’m 100% focused on my clients. (Side note: I adore them, and I’m bummed that I’m leaving my practicum site in a few weeks!)

On the drive home from class this evening, though, those neglected feelings reared their ugly collective heads and roared.

The anxiety and guilt were so powerful that I considered just going to bed early and sleeping it off.

Instead, I took a shower.

I focused hard on those thoughts and attempted to get a good, cathartic cry in. Nothing happened.

I turned the focus to that wounded younger self I mentioned and took the opportunity to literally hug myself while I waited for the conditioner to work its magic on my decidedly unruly hair. I decided to speak aloud because I’m home alone most days during the week and hey, I knew the cat wouldn’t judge me. (Audibly, anyway.)

I told my younger self that it’s okay. I told her I love her and that I’m sorry she felt like no one could keep her safe. I told her that I’m going to do it. This changed into me speaking to whatever hypothetical future child I’ll end up having. I promised that child to take the best care of it I can and to make sure it never feels afraid or lonely.

And I cried. Instead of stifling it or trying to be tough, I gave myself over to it completely–ugly, wracking sobs. After a while, those sobs turned into relieved laughter that I’m sure sounded like I’d finally gone completely ’round the bend.

I think there’s something to be said for having a good cry.


On Monday, I spoke to my clients in group about the concept of “ghosts”–they had all shared some intense and profound stories about their deepest wounds, their secret shames, their most painful memories. I told them that while they can haunt you, they can’t physically hurt you. You can start to let go of them.

I led them in one of my new favorite exercises, which is “HA!” breathing. Basically, you take a deep breath and push that breath out while making a “HA!” sound. I opened the group with the exercise and invited them to imagine themselves yelling at someone or letting frustration out. I demonstrated (because I am not afraid to look silly anymore), and they loved it. After the big, intense sharing session, I led them in the exercise again, this time instructing them to imagine the “HA!” on the exhale as them blowing out part of their ghosts.

I’m glad it was a hit, and I encourage you all to try it, readers. Howling into the void or, as I called it, “therapeutic yelling,” is incredibly cathartic.

 

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Archaeology

a cure for what ails you, abuse, anxiety, dissociation, memories, ptsd, therapy

This afternoon, my therapist and I had planned to do some EMDR related to X, but we started talking about my birthday (which was last Tuesday, which means I survived another trip ’round the sun, which is excellent!) and the somewhat messed-up present my biological mother sent me.

I won’t go into details on the gift because details are irrelevant. The important part is, we started talking about The Night My Mother Tried to Kill My Grandmother™.

I’ve written (and spoken) about it pretty extensively before–or at least made reference to it–but the gist of it is, there was a huge argument that culminated in my (very drunk) mother assaulting my grandmother.

(There is a brief, yet potentially disturbing description of assault below, in white; please mouse over only if you are comfortable with and prepared to read it.)

My mother knocked my grandmother’s walker away.

Side note: My grandmother had broken her hip a few years before and was still having trouble getting around. Plus, she was around 73 years old by this point. My mother stood on my grandmother’s feet and punched her repeatedly in the face.

All of this was relayed to me, years later, by one of my aunts.

When it happened, I was seven years old.


At this point, you may be wondering why in god’s name I would want to go dredging that up. After all, memories are repressed for a reason, right?

Basically, we mapped out the first few years of my life and discovered that my grandmother was my strongest attachment figure, which is kind of a no-brainer. The woman was the one constant in my life. When I was four and she broke her hip shoveling snow and had to spend months in a rehabilitation facility, I was gutted. Sure, my great-aunt was around, and I loved her dearly, but she wasn’t my Grandma. She wasn’t my mom.

Side-side note: Anyone can be a mother, but not anyone can be a mom. Also, anyone can be your mom–it doesn’t matter whether they gave birth to you.

We’re finding that a lot of my anxiety–most notably my fear that something bad will happen to my fella or someone else I care about–stems from my overwhelming terror that on that night, my grandmother was going to die.

She didn’t, thankfully. But from that point on, I was a different child. True, unfettered happiness no long existed. It was tempered by a constant watchfulness, the fear that she would be taken from me again.

I couldn’t sleep in my own bedroom for a year or so after that night. My grandmother, in her infinite wisdom, noted that there were two twin beds in her bedroom–she’d previously had them pushed together and was using the space in between as a quick place to stash her books, a flashlight, tissues, and so on. However, she cleared all of that out and I started sleeping down there, which helped.

A little.

There were many nights when I would wake from a dead sleep in a panic and watch her closely to make sure she was still breathing. More than once, I ran upstairs and woke my sleeping aunt in tears, afraid that my grandmother had died.


My therapist and I also think that this whole attachment thing is the reason I experience love (and most other positive emotions) cerebrally rather than in a true emotional sense. I can’t process those feelings anymore. It’s not that I don’t want to, or that I don’t try. I just can’t access that part of myself and it’s been decades since I last could. I am, in essence, a little bit dead inside.

Our hope is that by filling this gap, by finding the missing pieces that are hidden under the fridge, behind the bookshelf, between the cushions of the couch, I will be able to begin healing and connect my head with my heart. That has always been one of my primary treatment goals. I want to be fully present. I want to feel things instead of having a general awareness that I’m having feelings (and sometimes having brief flickers of actual feelings).

I want that block gone, and I’ll pay just about any price. I’ve lived too long with my head down, shouldering through every obstacle, focused only on getting to the next checkpoint. I’m tired of surviving. I want to live. If my quality of life has to momentarily suffer for that to happen, I can live with that.

For the greater good, right?

Right?

Life as a haunted house

a cure for what ails you, abuse, anxiety, dissociation, memories, personal experiences, ptsd, relationships, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

I’ve been having the nightmare again.

In it, I could be seventeen or twenty-nine. In it, I am standing in my childhood bedroom, looking out the window at the front lawn. There’s a weird unstuck-in-time feeling; it could be morning or late at night, but the sky is a flat indistinct expanse over the rooftops and trees. The lighting is confusing, too–is it dusk? Dawn? Just a cloudy afternoon?

His old, beat-up white Buick rolls up to the curb and my stomach twists in on itself, the knots fluttering like anxious birds.

What did I do this time?

He could be in a good mood, or a bad mood, or both, or neither. He could be smiling while walking up to my front door but then want to talk to me, right up close (as Stephen King wrote in my favorite novel of his, Rose Madder).

Or maybe it’s fine. Maybe he’s just going to pick me up and we’ll go hang out with friends or sit in his car down by the river, just talking for hours.

But I know damn well it’s not fine.


I am all ages, all the time. My therapist says that I need to nurture my wounded inner child, which I thought sounded stupid and New Age-y until I actually started trying it out. It’s effective–when I get anxious or depressed, I look at my younger self and pull her close.

You didn’t do anything this time, or any time. It’s going to be okay.

I wish believing was as easy as speaking.


On Thursday, the anxious snakes took up residence in my belly as I cleaned the apartment. My fiance had had a rough day on Wednesday and I knew he was feeling crappy, and also that it had nothing to do with me. He wasn’t rude or snappy with me, but he wasn’t really in the mood to spend much time talking during our nightly phone call. I knew this wasn’t my fault.

But the ghosts, the echoes, they spun a different story. As I swept and cleaned the kitchen floor (which, with two cats, is a neverending chore), the words kept flowing into my mind.

I have to do this right or he’ll be upset.

My fella? He never gets upset with me, ever. I think we’ve had maybe one argument in the entire three years we’ve been together. He is sweet and gentle and kind. We coo over the cats together, make a game out of going grocery shopping, laugh at hideously dark things that we know aren’t supposed to be funny.

But the trauma said,

Do it right, or else. Or else he’ll be mad. Or else no one will love you.

I paused many times during my cleaning spree to speak aloud to myself, to that wounded, younger part.

He is not like X. You were a baby. It was not your fault.

Sometimes, it works, but I’m pretty sure it’s just me handing a squalling child a piece of candy to shut it up. I don’t actually deal with the feelings. I invalidate and suppress and push, push, push until they go away.

My therapist and I have done three EMDR sessions now, and it seems to be a magic bullet for me. The first two sessions dealt with my childhood and centered around two specific disturbing memories and the phrase, “My mother’s anger is not my fault.”

Today, we dealt with X and the nightmare, which has been occurring with alarming frequency. I recently took an elective on domestic violence, and I know that’s what’s stirred all of this up again.


The ghosts are not happy when you call them out. They want to stay hidden and rattle the windowpanes, throw a few dishes when you’re not watching too closely.

And they expect to get away with it.


Today, we embarked on a grand journey of the hell I lived from ages 17 to 19. We worked on the phrase, “I didn’t do anything wrong.” I’m mostly believing it now, but only as it pertains to that one image. I know we have more work, so much more work, to do before I’m healed.

But the most upsetting part isn’t the actual image or the memory. The worst part is how young I was, how vulnerable. X saw that. He latched onto it. He told me his tales of woe and wept insincerity, and I bought it. He took my kindness, my urge to nurture and pacify, as weakness.

I don’t often cry in therapy, but when I do, it’s because that girl back then was so young. She was a baby, even at 17, and I feel overwhelmingly protective of her, this past-me. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m more self-aware now or if it’s some sort of misplaced maternal instinct, but when we’re focusing on a memory in EMDR, I see myself standing beside her. By round three of EMDR*, I have my arms around her and I am holding her close. I am telling her that it’s okay, that she didn’t do anything wrong, that she is good and lovable and so much more than what the trauma says.

And as the session progresses, the frightened, anxious self–the part that believes she did something wrong–becomes defiant. It was amusing the first time it happened in our first session, when the five-year-old self in the memory we used actually kind of yelled back at my mother.

This time, the wounded self snapped, “If he’s pissy, it’s because he’s an asshole. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

This defiance, my therapist says, is a good sign. I think it is, too. Also, it makes me chuckle–I’ve always been pretty stubborn, and time and time again, I’ve seen that if I’m pushed and threatened enough, I will gain the strength and courage to fight back.

As much as I hate that I’m going to be in therapy for a while (my insurance is awesome, but the co-pays add up), as much as I hate that other people dealt enough damage to put me there, I recognize that I am fighting back. That is so much. That is everything.

I am fighting the ghosts. One day, I will drive the last of them from my house and I will finally feel the peace most people take for granted. Right now, I’m actually feeling pretty peaceful–I went into therapy feeling very tense, and as I drove home, every muscle in my body felt loose and relaxed in a way I don’t often get to experience while I’m awake.

I’m going to leave you with this thought, readers. People may have done damage to you, but you are not damaged. You can fight. And I’ll fight right alongside you.

We’ve got this.


* We typically do three or four rounds with the same memory and the same phrases. Your mileage may vary, but my sessions go like this:

  • On a scale of 1-10, how distressing is the phrase (for example, “What did I do this time?”) to you now?
  • On a scale of 0-7, how believable is the phrase you’d like to replace it with? (For example, “His anger is not my fault.”)

I use the hand buzzers because I’m migraine-prone so the blinking light isn’t great (and I find that closing my eyes helps me visualize the memory we’re using). Headphones with alternating sounds between the left and right side can also be used, but since unexpected or loud sounds in my left ear makes the dissociation spike for some reason, we ruled that out.

Bilateral brain stimulation is awesome! The brain is so amazing, how it can bend into impossible shapes, at impossible angles, and not break.

Love your brain, your beautiful “broken” brain, readers.

 

Strange Flavors!

authoress in motion, bipolar disorder, dissociation, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder

Hey readers!

I have some exciting news to share with you guys today. On Sunday night, I had the opportunity to hang with the crew of Strange Flavors and tell a little bit of my story about what it’s like to live with depersonalization/derealization; we also talked a little bit about living with bipolar disorder.

This has actually been in the works for a few weeks. As some of you know, I took a ton of classes during intersession, which is basically a one-month set of classes going at breakneck speed. It was madness, but I knocked out nine credits in a month, so I consider it a victory overall.

One of the courses I needed to take for my program was career/life development (something, something…the actual course title was pretty long and I’ve forgotten the rest of it). During that week, I connected with the fabulous Neha, whose brother and a few friends run the Strange Flavors podcast. She approached me on the last day of class, said I seemed interesting (which I found ridiculously flattering), and told me to shoot her a text about possibly making an appearance.

So, fast forward to Sunday. I showed up to do the podcast and was immediately welcomed by Amber and Faras, two of the podcast wizards. They made me feel incredibly comfortable and welcomed, and it was an amazing experience! We sat for about an hour while we did the standard podcast-interview thing; I found their questions incredibly helpful, because my thought train tends to majorly derail when I actually talk about this stuff.

I brought my fella with me for moral support. (He was also curious about how a podcast is made, and we planned to hit up Alewife on the way home. Spoiler alert: They were closed. At 7:30 PM. On a Sunday. Boo!)

I’d never been on an actual podcast before. I’d done the Risk! live show in 2015 and have, of course, made some really crappy-quality videos for my Youtube channel, but this was a totally different animal. They also recorded video of the session, which made me freak out a little bit because I cannot stress enough how unphotogenic I am. However, I’m looking at in a positive light and am excited to see the video once they throw it up on their channel.

Here’s the podcast–have a listen and let me know what you think!

So what’s next? I have a new video a-comin’ that I’m planning to upload probably next week, and I’m thinking of submitting another pitch to Risk!. Gotta keep that hype train rollin’, right?

Anyway, check out the rest of the Strange Flavors podcasts–they’re funny and genuine and I think you’ll really like them.

Another spoiler: The big thing on Strange Flavors is that at the end of each episode, they ask their guest to say what flavor they’d be and why. I chose violet-flavored hard candy, but you’ll have to listen to the episode to find out my reasoning behind it. Ha!

Until next time, readers, stay safe and sane. I’ll catch you guys in the very near future.

A Wild Blogger Recognition Award Appears!

Authoress, bipolar disorder, endometriosis, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

Jeanette at My Life with PTSD & Bipolar: Mental Health Matters kindly nominated me for
Write a brief story about how your blog began. I’ve been running The Dissociated Press for five years now (holy cats, time flies!) and have been documenting my journey to mental health–or at least, relative stability and improved daily functioning. When I started this blog in 2013, my life was a total mess. I was in an unhappy marriage and missing a lot of work because I was freshly diagnosed with bipolar 1 and adjusting to my new medications. I ended up losing that job, which was a major low point.

There have been a lot of low points throughout my blog-writing history, but things have dramatically improved in the last couple of years. I escaped from that unhappy, unsupportive marriage, enrolled in graduate school for clinical mental health counseling at a great school, and got engaged to a lovely, wonderful man.

I still hit depressive episodes from time to time, but unlike my pre-medication, bad relationship days, I take comfort in the knowledge that my life is so much better than I ever could have imagined. I have a wonderfully supportive partner, and his family is incredibly encouraging of me sharing my journey. My classmates have expressed appreciation for my candor, and I’ve been able to help a lot of people through my disclosures.

Advice for new bloggers is something I haven’t really thought about, but my main piece of advice is to write for yourself first and foremost. TDP has evolved over time–at first, it was a place for me to get my thoughts and experiences out into the ether in hopes of finding others who were also struggling.

Also, I like to focus on and directly address my readers as a group in my posts and always try to end a post with a positive thought or insight. It prevents the blog from feeling dreary and helps promote the overall message: recovery is possible, and recovery never looks the same for everyone. Your journey matters. Your message matters. Your experiences matter.

As I’ve gotten healthier and stopped focusing so much on my illnesses (which are still a main focal point of the blog, albeit in a different way), I realized that my relatively small following was a great audience for information about the stigma surrounding mental illness.

I realized that everyone, but especially others living with my specific conditions (PTSD with depersonalization/derealization and rapid-cycling type 1 bipolar disorder) could benefit from learning about the latest news and treatment options. I’m building up quite the library of scholarly articles and studies, and if there’s enough interest, I plan to post a few quick-and-dirty rundowns of them.

Again, I can’t thank Jeanette for this nomination–it came out of nowhere and I feel very honored about the whole thing and appreciate being recognized for my work. Validation and recognition for what I’m doing always feels nice! Also, the badge image is really cute.

My Picks for Nomination:

The Global PTSD Survivor Blog

Bloomin’ Uterus (a blog about endometriosis, which I also have)

Ruth at PTSD – Accepting, Coping, Thriving

 

 

It’s okay not to go home again.

abuse, anxiety, personal experiences, relationships

For Thanksgiving, we flew back to my hometown in the Midwest to visit my remaining family–my mother, the aunt who was my legal guardian when I was a child, and another aunt who lives about an hour away from said hometown but visits regularly.

As I told my therapist this afternoon, “I don’t want to say it sucked, but…it sucked.”

I don’t want to get into any of the messy details, but I realized a few things during our brief Thanksgiving trip.

The first is that my grandmother is dead, like, for real-real. My “mom” is dead. Full stop. It’s not that I was pretending otherwise, but being in her house without seeing her there drove the point home in an unexpectedly painful way, and I had to hold it together while I was there because I knew if I lost it, so would everyone else, and then it’d be this whole terrible thing that I was just not equipped to handle.

The second is that it’s not normal to spend the week up to your flight being anxious and trying to brainstorm ways to defuse any potential arguments. It’s not normal to be five minutes from landing in your hometown and freaking out because you have no idea how many fights there will be this time or how bad they’ll get.

The third is that it’s simply not healthy for me to go “home” again. My therapist agreed with this assessment–there really is nothing there for me anymore. I’m 28 and am building my own life, my own family. If anyone wants to visit me, they know where I am. There are several large airports nearby. I never turn my phone off, though I have become more selective about when I answer calls–if I’m emotionally exhausted and have nothing left to give that day, I let the call go to voicemail.

It’s not like I’m unreachable. I just don’t want to make the effort anymore. I’m tired of throwing myself out into the wilds of my family-of-origin and hoping I come back in one piece. I’m tired of having to tell them, “Hey, I flew all the way here, can we all just get along?” I’m tired of having to put a dog into the fight. I’m tired of there even being a fight.

I went back “home,” and all I got was the flu and three days of crippling anxiety and depression.

Readers, it’s okay to set boundaries. If, like me, you’ve finally hit your breaking point, please try not to feel guilty about it. You need to take care of you first. You can’t pour from an empty cup, and life is too short to spend it with people who make you miserable.

An Audio Post!? 4-7-8 Breathing Exercise

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, authoress in motion, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Hey readers! I haven’t posted any sort of “There’s a real person in here!” content in a really long time, so here’s a quick clip of me walking you through an even quicker breathing exercise. Click below for the transcript and let me know what you think!

(Side note: I love transcribing stuff because it makes me uncomfortably aware of my verbal tics. Sorry ’bout that.)


Keepsakes

Authoress

Grief is a funny thing.

My mother and aunt have been gradually cleaning out Grandma’s house, which means that once a week or so, I’ve been receiving boxes of my childhood books and toys. They’ve also chosen to throw in our Christmas gifts for this year, and I’ve been instructed to open them whenever I feel like it.

I was going through one of the boxes a few weeks ago and found a pair of small presents. Intrigued, I started to open one, and then I saw the label. “To Jess; Love, Grandma.”

I basically lost it. I haven’t really cried much since she passed, but it hit me that I’ll never get another gift or card addressed from her. It makes me feel silly because she hasn’t personally addressed anything in years–she had Parkinson’s, so someone else always did the writing for her. But it made me realize that she’s actually gone; that she won’t be there when we go home for Thanksgiving, or around when I get married and graduate. Again, I know she wouldn’t be able to come to Baltimore for either of those things, but the knowledge that she won’t be around to hear about these events, that I won’t be able to call and tell her about them, really gets to me.

I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that opening those presents won’t make her any less dead. They won’t take away the fact that my other maternal figure is gone.

I think I’ll open them today. My mother told me that they’re a pair of salt-and-pepper shakers Grandma bought when she was on her honeymoon (all the way back in 1947!) and it might be comforting to see them on display in our apartment.

 

Grief is a funny thing.