Shouting “STOP!” in retrospect (content warning: rape)

a cure for what ails you, abuse, personal experiences, ptsd, relationships, therapy

Hey readers!

I had a great, if intense, EMDR session this afternoon. I’ve mentioned X a few times before, especially in my last post, and he was the subject of today’s sessions.

I’ve mentioned before, in very vague terms, that I have a long history of sexual abuse. Those of you who have listened to the RISK! episode have heard me say it directly: I never talk about it. I’ve been to literally a dozen other therapists in the last eleven years, but due to insurance issues or money in general or whatever, I was never able to see a single counselor for more than a few sessions.

As a result, I am extremely uncomfortable discussing any of the rape-and-what-have-you in anything less than broad terms. I can vividly describe everything else–the physical and emotional abuse, what it did to me psychologically, how the effects have rippled through time and still mess with me to this day. But if you sit me down and ask me to tell you exactly what happened, to describe it? Then I clam up and can’t even say the word “sex” without looking at the floor.

I had to do that today. I had to lay out the details of a memory that I very recently had a flashback about. I had to describe how we were positioned, to talk about that rolltop desk and how I used to lean into it and stay absolutely silent because I knew if I made a sound or asked him to stop, he’d be angry. And when you’re in abuse-victim-survival-mode, avoiding that anger is pretty much all you think about. I just had to get through that moment and then things might be better. (This is called “conditional assumption” or “deferred happiness” and is extremely common in abusive relationships.)

I want to pause to make an important distinction here, since we are talking about rape and consent–by “had to,” I mean that my therapist (who we’ll call S from now on) invited me to talk about my flashback in very general terms: “Can you tell me what the flashback was about?” She never probed for details, and her sensitivity was much appreciated.

We began by identifying my negative false belief: He is raping me and hurting me but I’m not saying anything because “I don’t matter. I have to do this.”

She asked me, as is typical by now, to rate how disturbing I found that belief while I was thinking about the scene I’d described. Then, she asked what I’d like to replace that belief was (and how believable it was to me as I was sitting in her office, pre-EMDR). This is what I replaced that thought with: “I do matter, and I don’t have to do this.”

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I prefer to use the hand buzzers for EMDR–I’m migraine-prone so the lights don’t work well, and because I have that thing where sudden and/or loud sounds in my left ear trigger an uptick in the dissociation. So, I relaxed (as much as I could) into the couch, a buzzer in each hand, and willingly stepped back into that moment.

It was like entering a time capsule. I was disturbed and amazed at how easily I could reenter the memory. I saw myself, leaned against that desk, slipping my fingers, one at a time, into the grooves in the wood as a distraction. My abuser–my rapist–was not there, only a strange, smooth grey nothingness behind me. It was like my mind wasn’t even going to let me go there, to see his face. I’m actually grateful for that. I imagine my mind saying, “Okay, so you have to relive this a little so you can rewrite it and feel better, but you do not need to see his face. I’ve got your back.”

I was standing in the corner of my bedroom, just at the foot of my bed, and looking across at that girl by the desk, that girl who was me-and-not-me. I saw our dresser. I saw the window–the light outside was, as in most of my memories of X, a strange grey-blue that could have been dawn, dusk, or midnight. In my memories, it is often all three.

S. stopped the buzzers and had me draw a deep breath, as is our custom by now. She asked what I saw, how I felt. Then we started the second round.

This time, the details were clearer–the way the yellow light cast shadows at the corner of the desk, the frayed edges of the area rug behind the dresser. I began to feel angry. I wanted to scream at him to get off her, to let this girl–this child–go. To stop filling her head with bullshit and lies.

I was 18. I’m 29 now. Looking back, I was a baby. I was coming out of this intense childhood full of abuse and anxiety and no one had taught me what a relationship was supposed to look like. The only relationships I saw were dysfunctional ones; later in life, I sought out and clung to what was familiar to me. Unfortunately, what was familiar was also rape-y and weird, which are two words that could pretty accurately sum up my life from ages 17 to 19.

I told S. about my anger. We chatted for a few minutes to decompress, then jumped back in.

This time, I was furious. I was screaming at him, telling him that I am a human being, not something to masturbate into and that I do matter. That I don’t need to perform for anyone. That I am not a dog that does tricks and licks its owner’s boot even after being kicked. 

That my body is mine, and that my ownership means something.

By the end of the session, I found the false belief, the “I don’t matter and I have to do this,” disturbing for a different reason. I find it disturbing that I ever felt that way. And above all, I find it disturbing that another human being was not only capable of doing that to me, but that he enjoyed it.

We’re going to pick up again next Monday. In the meantime, S. told me to keep yelling at him in my head. I left her office with a smile.

You know how in Dogma, Alanis Morissette plays God and absolutely destroys Bartleby with her voice? That’s how the scene with X is going to play out in my head from now on. I’m also picturing the final stanza of “Lady Lazarus” by Sylvia Plath:

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
And I eat men like air.

I am wishing you a wonderful week filled with ferocity, dear readers! Y’all come back, now, y’hear?

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Reclaiming my body, or: ¡Viva la Revolución!

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

Sometimes, EMDR can take a while.

This week, my therapist and I tried to pin down a common theme in some of my more disturbing memories of X. We essentially started freestyling at each other, throwing out possibilities and ultimately ending up…pretty stumped. She thinks it all goes back to what she calls “the rabbit hole”–dysfunctional patterns with my mother and my other relatives that began when I was a child and are coloring how I interact with the world even now, twenty-odd years later. We also had a really great conversation about body autonomy and ownership, and how I’ve been seeing myself as a commodity for so long and “going along to get along” for pretty much my entire life.

My existence has been defined by one thing: the need to protect myself at all times, to defuse all the bombs, to take all the right steps so I don’t fall into a crack or a lava pit or inadvertently provoke someone else’s rage. I make myself as pleasant and agreeable as possible because I grew up learning that rocking the boat meant someone screaming in your face.

I am a nice person, yes. The whole thing isn’t fake or some survival mechanism from long ago. I don’t see a reason to be unkind to people, when giving a stranger a compliment takes less time and brightens someone’s day. But I am gentle with others because I am so often afraid. As a child, survival meant being quiet, being kind; never confronting, never correcting.

My therapist and I have also spent the last few weeks working with my deep-seated body image issues. It’s a topic I don’t often talk (or write) about because there’s a mountain of shame that comes with it. However, I try to be transparent in my posts and other communication with you, readers, so let me bring you up to date.

My family-of-origin is weird in a bunch of ways. Even if you’re relatively new to the blog, you’re probably aware of this. But one of the most pervasive and insidious messages I received as a child was that my stomach was ugly and needed to constantly be “held in.” You know, like how you sometimes suck in a bit to zip up a new pair of jeans? Like that, except all the time.

Long story short, we were at Disney World when I was nine or ten and was wearing this cute little biker-shorts-and-crop-top deal, neon green and black. I thought I looked so cool with my white bucket hat, despite the fact that it was 95 degrees and I was wearing, well, a bucket hat. We were posing for a picture in front of some palm trees and one of the relatives who’d brought me on the trip poked my stomach and said, “Suck that in.”

Again: I was, like, nine or ten when this happened.

And I had been holding in my “gut” every day for the next twenty years. I was terrified to let anyone see me not “holding it in.” Even as a 90-lb freshman in high school, I still held it in. I was terrified of sleepovers–with friends in school, and with lovers later in life–because I knew I would not have complete control of my body and what it looked like while I slept.

It took two long, very difficult EMDR sessions, a ton of self-care, and lots of encouragement and positive feedback from my fella, but I am slowly letting go of the compulsion to suck in my stomach at all times. As I write this, I’m slouched over like an overstuffed possum* (thanks to our wedding food tasting this weekend!) and I do not care. I know no one here is going to judge me. I am comfortable that I am not some hideous trog if I’m not pretending like I don’t have organs in my abdominal cavity.

The way I view my body changes from day to day, of course, but the last week has felt effortless.

But this is only the first step. My body has never been truly my own. Over the course of my life, I have allowed others to pick at me like gulls on a whale carcass: this one takes my body but nothing else–they use my flesh and forget that I am human. That one only likes me when I’m not sad. This person takes for granted that I will always forgive them. And it goes on and on, the give-and-take-but-mostly-take that made up all but the last three or four years of my life.

Think about that for a moment. Twenty-five years of feeling vaguely “other” in my body, like I was driving a leased car. Mine, but not really mine.

And I have allowed–even willingly participated in–this parceling-out of me, of my body, of my mind, of my experiences. I have done this because submission means safety. If I don’t really care either way, I’ve long said, what does it hurt? Why not let someone else make the decision? Why even bother giving an opinion, if it will make this person happy?

It’s funny that I am just now realizing how dysfunctional this mindset is. Having those thoughts on occasion is natural. Having those thoughts form the basis for every interaction you have with another human being is probably not the healthiest way to go about this whole “life” thing.

Those patterns are why it’s so scary to have finally found a partner who wants all of it at once–even the parts of myself I find the ugliest and most shameful. I am learning that it’s okay to express my opinions, even if I’m not 100% sure the other person shares them. Wedding planning has, on the whole, been full of great opportunities for me to test out the whole “assertiveness” thing without the stakes being too high. For the first time in my life, I feel safe disagreeing with my partner because I know it will not immediately lead to a breakup or abuse.

So, my assignment moving forward is to nurture myself, to keep being me, to keep doing the things I enjoy without worrying so damn much about how it’s going to look or who’s going to judge me. I’ve been doing this, to some extent, for a while (my guy and a certain friend can attest to me publicly howling and barking like a dog through a bronze metal sculpture last summer). I vowed last year to make absurdity common in my life and to ask “Why not?” more often than “Why?” when thinking about doing something. I want to be freer. I want to feel that my body is my own. And most importantly, I want to keep being stable and happy.

Now that you know a bit more of my tragic backstory, readers, how many links have you been able to make between your early childhood experiences and the person you are today?

* This guy right here:

possum-150200

We came home from the tasting and just kinda slouched on the couch like this while the cats prowled hungrily, begging for leftovers.

 

How to feel feelings

abuse, anxiety, personal experiences, ptsd, relationships

It occurred to me the other day that I do not give myself permission to experience the full range of human emotions. In fact, I don’t think I ever have.

As a child, I learned that expressing anger, frustration, or sadness in a visible way (tears, lashing out in age-appropriate ways, and so on) meant being yelled at, often brutally. The yelling often came with personal attacks–most frequently, the dreaded “You’re just like your mother!” Since everyone in the family was quite vocal about their dislike of my mother, that phrase packed a particularly potent emotional wallop, especially for a child not even near the cusp of adolescence.

Later, when I was dating X in my late teens, I was met with the same type of response, although more overt emotional and psychological abuse was the result (and occasionally, the abuse also carried a more tangible element).

I am often described as even-tempered and “sweet.” While I do my best to be kind to others because the world is already a brutal enough place without me adding to it and want to be liked more than almost anything, these traits are due in no small part to my early experiences with learning to stifle my less-desirable emotions.

Earlier this week, I had an evening where I was feeling particularly testy–my post-surgical pain from May 4th was giving me trouble, and Sunday was Mother’s Day, which is always a rough day for me for obvious reasons. I also had an IUD implanted during my surgery earlier this month, so my hormones are in major flux right now.

I remember responding to my fella in ways that I considered “snappish,” though he has since disagreed–I tend to think the worst of myself and perceive myself as ruder or more hurtful than I probably am. Anyway, the end result was that I got massively depressed and disappointed with myself because he is wonderful and does not deserve to be hurt.

I’ve learned since that one of the after effects of being abused is the overwhelming fear that you’re being abusive to your current partner–after all, we constantly hear about the cycle of abuse and how abuse survivors often become abusers themselves. When that fear collides with my already harsh self-evaluation and my tendency to worry about my partner’s well being and satisfaction with our relationship, it creates one hell of an emotional mess.

My guy has been fantastic with comforting me when I cry–because the tears are rarely just about me being snappy and feeling guilty–and reassuring me that it’s okay, that we’re okay. I don’t often snap at others, so when I do, I feel godawful because it’s not the norm. And I’ve been doing extra little things to be thoughtful to soothe myself (and because I genuinely enjoy spoiling him).

Yesterday, I spent most of the afternoon baking a giant chocolate layer cake with Swiss meringue and homemade cream cheese frosting–all from scratch. It was delightful because it kept me occupied–I love baking–and I got to practice a few new skills (piping and making meringue!).

One goal for myself, which I will share with my therapist on Monday, is to allow myself to experience the full range of emotions and not feel bad when I do. Obviously, I don’t want to become a raging monster, but I need to learn that it’s okay to be irritable from time to time and that it doesn’t make me a bad person. I certainly need to address the root cause when it happens, but I am allowed to have those feelings.

How are you with your own feelings, readers? Can you accept them for what they are, or do you place value judgments on them (like me)?

I wish you peace and, of course, sanity and happy thoughts as we sail into the weekend. As always, stay safe, readers!

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.

 

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.

Recovery is a verb: It’s what you do!

a cure for what ails you, anxiety, call for submissions, medication, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, relationships, three hopeful thoughts, Uncategorized

I’m not going to lie–moving to Baltimore has been a bit of an adjustment for me. The whole new city, new places, new people thing doesn’t faze me, partly because I’m here with someone I love and care for deeply and can lean on, and partly because I was so desperate to get away from the Midwest, to start fresh and re-invent myself again.

The part that’s scary is not having much of a support system yet. I’ll admit it; I’m frightened because right now I don’t know many people and the ones I’ve met (and like immensely!) are my fella’s classmates. I’m in that awkward transitional phase where an introvert suddenly has to start over and find friends in the area to hang out with, and as someone who’s generally a homebody, it’s tough. It’s especially hard right now because I’m taking a gap semester to adjust, work on the blog and CTL, and find a grad school down here to continue my work toward a Master’s in Counseling Psychology. What that translates into is a lot of long days where I have to figure out what to do with myself.

I’ve had a rough few days. It always seems to hit around this time of year–I love autumn and it’s always been my favorite season, but as someone with relatively severe bipolar disorder, my brain chemistry doesn’t like the changing of the seasons so much. I’m hopeful that this year it won’t be so bad, as I’ve heard the seasons are a lot milder here in the Southeast. Still, I came to the realization last night that I need to change my meds a little bit, which is nothing unusual for me. (I have some beef with the texture of my uncoated lamotrigine tabs, which makes snapping them in half to add a half-dose for nighttime a little unpleasant texturally-speaking, but that seems pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.)

Important side note and disclaimer: I don’t recommend anyone tweaking their meds without the express permission and guidance of a psychiatrist–luckily, mine helped me develop a seasons guide to use in situations like this, where I’m unable to get in to see a doctor to make adjustments. I’m still within the prescribed dose range and am only doing this to get myself through until I’m able to start seeing a psychiatrist down here.

The other night, I finally opened up. My last relationship–a five-year marriage–was somewhat disastrous and left a ton of emotional damage. As some of you may remember, I was out of work for thirteen months because I was simply too ill to hold down a job with regular hours, and staying inside most of the time with little to do means I got a lot worse before I started getting better. I don’t want to become a dependent. I don’t want to be needy. I want to be a partner, a strong woman who is capable of supporting herself and living her own life and not feeling sad and lonely and, perhaps worst of all, soul-crushingly bored when I’m alone during the day.

To counter this, I’ve been making myself a little “schedule” for each day, just little things I can do to keep myself busy so that at the end of the day, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. It helps a little; I don’t feel as melancholy and like I wasted the day. But it’s still very much a process. Recovery is not something you either have or you don’t. It’s not like you either are or aren’t “recovered.”

Each of us has natural ups and downs in life, regardless of how well-medicated we are. We can take our pills every day and go to therapy and exercise and be social and do everything right, and we will still have low periods. It’s the nature of the illness. It doesn’t mean that we’ve failed on any level or that, as I believed for years, that we’re unsuitable partners, sons, daughters, friends. It just means that we have an illness and we’re doing everything we can to fight it. Despite our best intentions, it is always going to be there, and I’ve found that accepting that fact has it a lot easier to live with.

I’m trying to make friends with my brain again. I’m trying to make friends with the ugly voice in the back of my mind that tells me I’m not enough. It’s the same one that brings up such tiny, insignificant things from decades ago and nags me about how these events, most of which I had little control over, make me bad or less-than in some way. I talk to the negative thoughts. I tell them to shut up if I’m feeling peevish or overwhelmed, but I also try to be sympathetic. I try to rationalize with the parts of me that are still trying to drag me down.

I still externalize what I’m feeling and pretend I’m a therapist and my client is me-but-not-me, a person who has the exact same concerns and emotions and neuroses that I do. If I separate myself from the negative feelings and thoughts, it’s easier to cope. I feel a sense of power over the thoughts. I counter them with the A-B-C-D-E method of learned optimism, which, thankfully, is effective more often than not.

And most of all, I am still working hard to be kind to myself every day. When I’m feeling bad, I try to remind myself of everything I’ve accomplished so far in spite of these huge obstacles and the weight I’m still carrying around.

On a happier note, I found out that Johns Hopkins offers free counseling to students as well as family members and significant others, so I’ve put in an appointment request for short-term counseling to get me through until my Medicaid (ugh) paperwork is finished and I can find a long-term therapist and psychiatrist again.

In the meantime, I’m trying to practice good self-care and take pride and enjoyment in the little things in life, whether it’s nailing a tough piano piece or simply tidying up the apartment. I don’t want to go back to my life being all about pain. I want to keep moving forward, to keep doing more. I have huge goals for myself in life, and I refuse to let this illness keep me from accomplishing them. My stubbornness has kept me alive for 27 years, and I need to harness that and use it as a recovery tool.

Where are you in your recovery, readers? Do you have any helpful tips to share?

As always, stay safe and lovely and well. I’ll see you all again next Tuesday for another exciting News Day! And keep those submissions coming–I want as many unique voices and stories on the blog as possible!

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News Day Tuesday: Digital mental health care

a cure for what ails you, News Day Tuesday, stigma, therapy

This week, I’d like to touch briefly on digital mental health care, which has become increasingly popular. I recently applied to work as a volunteer with Crisis Text Line, which is an awesome resource that allows people in crisis to communicate with trained volunteers via text message.

I’m still waiting for one more letter of recommendation, but if I’m approved, I’ll get to counsel others via text–how cool is that? It’s a four-hour-a-week commitment that lasts for one year, and I’d definitely encourage anyone with an interest or background in mental health to consider applying.

From Crisis Text Line’s website:

  1. We fight for the texter. Our first priority is helping people move from a hot moment to a cool calm, guiding you to create a plan to stay safe and healthy. YOU = our priority.
  2. We believe data science and technology make us faster and more accurate. See our Founder’s TED talk for more scoop on how we’re using this stuff. While we love data science and technology, we don’t think robots make great Crisis Counselors. Instead, we use this stuff to make us faster and more accurate–but every text is viewed by a human.
  3. We believe in open collaboration. We share our learnings in newsletters, at conferences and on social media. And, we’ve opened our data to help fuel other people’s work.

This article from Scientific American examines digital mental health care and its pros and cons. I’m a huge fan of anything that allows people to get the help they need, and many people simply don’t have the means to physically attend therapy due to income, transportation, disability/illness, or other factors.

The article also raises very valid concerns about “impression management,” or the tendency clients have to only share information that is likely to make the therapist think positively of them. On the one hand, many people find it easier to express themselves through writing; because there are barriers between the writer and the reader, people may share more freely than they would in person.

On the other, it’s hard to overstate the importance of face-to-face interaction, particularly in a therapeutic environment. Being able to see the client allows the therapist to assess the client’s nonverbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. This, in turn, can help the therapist direct the session in ways that make the experience as comfortable and productive as possible.

What do you think, readers? Would you be more likely to “talk” to a counselor via text, or do you prefer old school face-to-face therapy? Personally, I’m all for attacking issues from every possible angle, though I haven’t tried digital counseling myself (yet). If anyone has personal experience with digital mental health care and would like to share their story, please do! I’d love to hear from you.


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Roar, roar, the thunder and the roar.

a cure for what ails you, Authoress, explanations, major depression, rapid-cycle bipolar disorder, stigma, three hopeful thoughts

I am in the throes of my first major depressive episode in over six months. I know exactly what caused it—money problems, worrying about my grandma (who is now 91, essentially nonverbal, and raised me on her own, which basically makes her my mom), frustration over the slow divorce process, trying to figure out what’s going on with my headaches—but remained wilfully ignorant of the warning signs because I hoped it would pass.

I finally accepted/realized what was happening in my brain last night. I’ve been really horrible to myself lately in terms of inappropriate guilt and self-loathing. I’ve been blaming myself for a lot of things, most of which are completely out of my control. Once again, it’s not that I’m unaware of these problems. It’s that I have no idea what to do with the insights.

But I’m trying to stay positive because I know this will pass. My depressive episodes tend not to last very long—usually a month or two, and I’m about a week and a half into the really bad phase of this one. The final divorce hearing is on November 5th. Last night, my ex and I had an appointment at Green Path to figure out the debt situation, which is bad but not as bad as it could be. My fella’s coming back from his latest business trip tomorrow night. I’m one step away from completing my graduate school application; all I have left is the personal interview.

And I’m reminding myself of my plans for the future, too. Once I have my license, I plan to work as a counselor for a while, then go on to pursue a Psy.D and possibly a degree in Criminology as well, just for kicks. It’s looking more and more likely, given the progression of my various illnesses, that I won’t be able to have kids by the time I’m ready—and even if I’m able to retain some shreds of fertility, it’s probably not a good idea because I have so many health problems that are heritable. In other words, I have no reason not to go ridiculously hard at the school/career thing.

Once I’ve attained a certain level of credibility, I want to combine my love of/talent for writing with my passion for psychology (and, of course, fighting the stigma) and gain access to a psychiatric hospital with the goal of eventually writing a book about the hospital, perhaps some of the staff, and most importantly, the patients.

I want to tell their stories. I want to show people that we’re really not that scary. Even when our brains are doing some freaky and perplexing things, we still have hopes and dreams and fears and all the other little things that make neurotypical people “tick.”

I want to paint a picture of the hospital to prove that Hollywood has it wrong—I had the opportunity to tour the state hospital in Independence, Iowa as a senior in high school and found the facility stunningly different from what we’re fed through popular media. I’m tired of cringeing every time I hear the words “multiple personality disorder” on TV or see a straitjacket Halloween costume. I’m tired of being “The Other,” and I suspect most of you are, too. I’m tired of being seen as exotic and dangerous and unpredictable and sort of otherworldly just because my brain tends to misfire sometimes. I’m tired of having my struggles used for shock value. I’m tired of seeing symbols of our oppression used as fashion statements by the oblivious.

I want to fix that obliviousness or die trying. This is the one topic that has gotten me consistently fired up, regardless of my mental state. Even when I’m so far down that I can barely get out of bed, I can still muster up enough passion to call out the horrifying things I see, to correct the misinformation, to have a meaningful dialogue where I and the other person walk away feeling as though we’ve learned something.

As a nihilist, I reject the concept that anything has any inherent meaning; therefore, I don’t believe in the idea that anyone has a “calling.” That being said, I find this to be a very hopeful philosophy because it means each of us can choose our path in life. I believe that the things I’ve been through, the abuse and my brain chemistry and the various horrors I’ve seen, were formative in such a way that I feel compelled to devote my life to psychology. I guess this is how theists feel when they decide to become members of the clergy.

At the very least, I have to believe that my suffering (though I hate using that word because it feels incredibly maudlin and self-absorbed) has meant something. I have to believe that it’s redemptive and that it’s not too late for me, that my life has meaning. I constantly look for motivators, little signs that I’m meant to be here and that my existence has a purpose. I think that when a person is pushed to their absolute limit, they either try to find a reason to stay alive or they completely give up on life. I’m not ready to give up.

I am tougher than Chinese algebra and I am going to be okay.