Some thoughts.

abuse, ptsd, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, suicidal ideation, therapy

It is physically painful for me when people thank me for writing, or helping them, or tell me I’m brave or a role model. I’m not a role model. I wake up most days hoping to die. I don’t know how or why I’m still alive. D.’s theory is “sheer dumb luck,” and I think he’s right.

I am a junkie. I cold-turkeyed it over a year ago, but not for noble reasons. I stopped because it was no longer taking away the physical and emotional pain in one fell swoop. It simply stopped working, so I quit. That’s all. I still think about it every day and I think I always will. This is one thing I’m proud of, however—that I was able to stop and stay clean despite all the awful things that have happened in the last year.

My therapist told me last night that I’m the toughest woman she’s ever met. She’s in her 60s, so I’m guessing she’s met quite a few people. I’m not tough because I want to be or try to be. I’m tough because of my animalistic survival instinct–in other words, I’m tough because I’ve had to be, not because I want to be.

I vacillate between strong feelings of self-loathing and guilt and equally strong moments of self-esteem where I actually feel good. But those feelings are always tempered by the fear that my meds have stopped working, that I am manic again, that I am going to ruin things and use people up like I have countless times in the past.

Right now, my pride is wounded and I feel terribly alone. I know I have good people in my life who care about me, but none of them can relate to being raped innumerable times and having people blame you for it because you were too afraid to actually say “no,” to trusting someone completely for the first time in your life and having it unravel all at once, to visiting your mother in prison as a child.

On top of it, I’ve been having horrible nightmares again and the partial memory that strongly suggests I was molested by one of my mother’s boyfriends when I was five is beginning to come into focus at a time in my life when rehashing sexual abuse is the last thing I need.

My therapist referred me to a clinic that specializes in sexual abuse and PTSD. I didn’t take it personally—as an aspiring counselor myself, I understood where she was coming from when she said that she didn’t want to risk making things worse because she doesn’t have much experience in sexual abuse or trauma. I’ve been through enough therapists to know that I wasn’t being “fired” as a patient. Therapists, it seems, are the easiest group of people for me to trust. Their motives always seem to be pure, and the confidentiality helps, I think.

I’m thankful for all the support I’ve been getting, both for the blog and in my personal life. Words cannot express how much I appreciate each message and each person who reaches out, whether it’s to reassure me or tell me how I’ve helped them. That’s what keeps me going—fighting the good fight. I want to feel strong. I want to beat this thing. I want to help people. If I can make things even a little lbetter for everyone living with a mental, I’ve accomplished more than I could have ever hoped for or imagined. If you’d told me what I’d be doing now when I was a motherless, lonely child being bullied and dealing with the prodromal phase of bipolar, I wouldn’t have believed you for a second.

My family, for all their dysfunctions and refusal to discuss the dark side (the way bipolar disorder has spread like wildfire down through the generations), has been immensely supportive. While there was a rough period when I first started my column in my hometown’s newspaper at age 19, they quickly warmed to it and realized that I was doing something most nineteen-year-olds wouldn’t be capable of and that I was taking all the pain and trying to turn it into something positive.

Some of my earliest memories are of my grandmother and beloved great-aunt and other aunts telling me that I was talented, that I had something special that I needed to hold onto. It’s difficult to believe some days—as we all know, knowing something and believing it to be true are two entirely different things.

But I’m trying. I do what I need to do in order to get through the day. Some days are easier than others. Some feel impossible. I’m a big believer in the “fake it ’til you make it” mindset; while it doesn’t work for everyone, it’s served me well over the years. At the very least, it allows me to save face and present as “normal,” even if I’m completely falling apart on the inside.

It’s another bad weather day in my head, which I guess is my reason for writing this. I also wanted to reach out to all of you and say that I’m here for you, too. I’ll always listen if you need to talk—all you need to do is reach out and I’ll be there. It’s the least I can do.

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Affirmations.

a cure for what ails you, ptsd, three hopeful thoughts

Last summer, I met a wonderful woman completely by chance. I was heading home from a nearby gas station after a cancer run and wished her a good afternoon. I wandered over to her patio, noticed she was reading a book called “Fuck It Therapy,” and struck up a conversation.

Over the next few weeks, I continued to drop by for chats, and she revealed that she’s been journaling about her life for several decades—no small feat! I was particularly impressed because I’m notorious for purchasing pretty journals in hopes of actually sticking with the one-entry-a-day plan, only to give up after a week or two. She invited me to leaf through them, and I happened upon an entry where she’d written a list of affirmations.

They resonated with me because she’d managed to put to paper the types of things I tell myself when I’m feeling particularly low—things I’m good at, things I like about myself, and so on. But her entry contained one vital piece that my own thoughts were lacking (disclaimer: I’m paraphrasing here) : I am worthy of being loved not because of who I am or what I’ve done, but because I am human.

I’ve been even more introspective than usual over the last few weeks (if that’s even possible) and have been ruminating about what’s behind these words. It occurred to me that while I may tell myself these things, I’ve never stopped to digest what they mean, particularly in the context of my life.

It’s an important thing to consider, but it’s been particularly helpful recently because I’ve been feeling pretty low and down on myself. I’ve been having nightmares about the rapes almost every night and on top of it, the formerly repressed and still-patchy memory of possible molestation that I’ve been carrying around since I was five years old is starting to come into focus.

My ex-husband is seeing someone new; this person is wonderful, but I’ve been comparing myself to vim a lot, and as a result, my self-worth and self-esteem have been taking a huge hit. Combined with my brain “thawing out” and the defense mechanisms lowering a bit, life hasn’t exactly been easy lately. We had a good chat this afternoon, the first discussion we’ve had since we split in September that’s left me feeling loved and cared-for. I’d been seeing myself as a failure, something not meant to be happy or loved because I’ve been through too much. I am spiky and emotionally cagey and, as of the last few months, unable to handle physical touch from anyone outside my family without having a mini panic attack and dissociating even more. (It’s worth noting that I still consider D. family, and vice-versa; you can’t go through what we’ve been through and not remain close to the other person, even if you’re no longer romantically involved.)

But I have bright spots most days, even if they don’t last that long. I’m starting to see my worth as a person, totally independent of the J. who survived decades of abuse and plays the piano well and is bilingual and a writer and applying to grad school to become a therapist, the J. who is pretty and funny and interesting and outgoing, even if the “outgoing” part is often affected.

Humans deserve to be loved. We need love. We need affection. Every person on this earth, no matter how objectively terrible they may be, is worthy of love and care.

This revelation makes me feel better about my decision to become a therapist, as “misanthrope” and “counselor” are a somewhat unusual pairing. But I’ve been capable of stashing my inner life away in favor of objectivity for most of my life, so I’m hopeful that my ability to compartmentalize will help me in the long run. The fact that I can think of literally every person other than myself in such a positive light seems laughable, but I guess we’re all our own worst critics.

Baby steps, baby steps. Where are you in your journey to loving yourself?

Trigger words.

explanations, ptsd

From what I understand, it’s not at all uncommon to have trigger words— if you spend a few seconds on Tumblr, you’re likely to see tags such as “tw: rape” or “tw: abuse.”

I feel what makes my trigger words unusual is that words with negative associations don’t set me off at all; rather, words generally associated with positive things trigger the hell out of me, provoking a wave of despair and guilt so strong that it’s sometimes hard to withstand.

For years, I wondered why certain words and objects/occurrences made me feel so horrible. The sound of an ice cream truck, for example, never fails to bring on the bad feelings. Seeing an ad in a crossword book for a personalized name poem–”A special gift for a beloved child,” the ad proclaimed–made me wish I were dead so I wouldn’t have to feel so sad and guilty. I recently had to take Wite-Out to the back of a bag of milano cookies after seeing the phrase “You deserve” printed on the packaging.

It wasn’t until just a few weeks ago that I realized what all these happy, terrible things had in common, and I’m pretty sure it stems back to my inappropriate and often overwhelming feelings of guilt. From what I understand, it’s pretty common for people with PTSD to suffer from these emotions; unfortunately, it’s not something that the mentally healthy can really understand, much like my friends who aren’t depressed can’t comprehend my indifference to my own existence.

The guilt–the “dark core,” as my therapist calls it–tells me that I am unworthy of happiness, undeserving of good things—that it’s so far beyond my grasp at this point that yearning for it is pointless, not to mention pathetic.

Love, happiness, deserve, special, beloved—all of these trigger the hell out of me. Even things like ice cream can set me off because even though I know the “dark core” is, frankly, full of shit, there’s a part of me that still believes I don’t deserve good things. Years of abuse and trauma have all but ruined innocent pleasures for me, and while I’m trying very hard to correct the negative automatic thoughts, it’s a slow process and is often frustrating. Since I haven’t nailed down every single trigger (and I doubt I ever will—there are far too many of them), it’s difficult to avoid everything that triggers me, and when I’m triggered, the rush of negative emotions is strong enough to set me back and nearly undo all the progress I’ve made.

PTSD is such a bitch. Trauma is a bitch. Feeling “out of it” all the time because my defense mechanisms are operating on high-alert 24/7 is incredibly frustrating, eclipsed only by the terrible feelings that come from being triggered. I seem to be unable to handle happiness—take a moment to imagine what that must be like. But as terrible as it is, it motivates me to fight even harder to get better. I know there are so many things I’m missing out on because years of trauma have conditioned me to shy away from happiness and positive experiences (probably because I’ve experienced time and time again how fleeting happiness is). It’s easier, my brain tells me, to avoid good things than to experience them for just a moment, only to have them snatched away and replaced with heaps of horrible shit.

Can anyone relate? I hope this makes sense—it’s surprisingly difficult to articulate what it’s like to be triggered, what it’s like to live in my reality. But my hope is, as always, that writing about it (even if the writing comes out abstract and difficult to follow) will help people understand what it’s like to have PTSD, to fight against crippling depression every day.

I am trying to stay alive. That takes up most of my energy on a day-to-day basis, and trying to overcome the triggers and seek out happiness and positivity in my life is sometimes exhausting. But I’ve never been one to shy away from a challenge or give up on something just because it’s hard.

Even though I’ve never thought I’d live a particularly long time (another thing that’s pretty common among PTSD sufferers), statistics say I’m going to be here for a while—I might as well try to make my world a brighter, better place. I don’t want to be miserable forever.

Is happiness a struggle for you? Please let me know I’m not alone.

Sending love into the darkness.

major depression, ptsd, self-harm, therapy, three hopeful thoughts

I met with my therapist last night after work, and she had some very good advice for me. I told her how I’m trying to make myself believe that my body is not the only thing worthwhile about me, the only good thing I have to offer other people. She countered that statement by saying it’s the “dark core” we all have that’s sending me those messages.

“But I want to fight it,” I protested. “I want to believe that I’m smart and pretty and funny and that those things, like the depression, are just a part of who I am. Right now, I feel like sex is the only way I can atone for being so fucked-up.”

She made me sit with those feelings for a while and over the course of the hour, we broke the false beliefs down in a less judgmental way. Instead of “fucked-up,” we said I was “sick but trying to get better,” which is a lot more than most people do. She told me how brave I am for making the effort.

She also advised me to stop fighting–fighting comes from a place of violence and hatred, and the darkness will always win. Instead, when the dark place tells me that I’m useless and a burden, I should look at it and say, with open arms, “I’m so sorry you’re feeling that way.” If I try to counter it by saying, “Well, I’m good at X, Y, and Z,” the automatic thoughts will come back with, “No, you’re really not.” But if I offer the pain compassion, I might be able to reduce the hold the thoughts have on me in the long run.

I cried a lot during our session. I think that’s going to be a recurring pattern, but I don’t see it as a bad thing–maybe it’s a sign that I’m starting to connect to my baggage and heal.