Category Archives: psychological stuff

Two Types of Flashbacks

The last time I was cleaning 5 days a week (my goal) except for dishes/food clean up was last month. On the 15th, I wrote this blog saying, “I’m doing it!” and started waking up in full panic: heart pounding, palms sweating, shaking, the whole thing. When I have a full, emotional flashback, it’s a two-week readjustment, but not a cleaning flashback. Those take longer, about 4 weeks.

What I’ve done successfully, is to make the routines, at least a minimum of them just habit. So, for the past 4 weeks, I’ve done some laundry, but haven’t put it away consistently. Done some dishes every day, but rarely are all of them done, etc. There aren’t 4 weeks of accumulated laundry and dishes to do. I haven’t gotten much sleep and my stress levels are up, but I’ve dealt with it.

My challenge is to either 1)try and add to what I can do in the “bad times.” or 2)lengthen the period when I can clean. The problem with either and this challenge is that if I notice what I’m doing, the panic starts.

I’m really sick of fighting this stuff! I’m in my 60s — I am honestly, truly tired of being affected by things which happened in my childhood. But they gave me PTSD and all of it, the mess to hide in and the other events or adaptations I made to protect myself, are all wrapped together as my flashback. Push on any piece too hard and there I go down the flashback rabbit hole. The only difference is that when I’m pushed emotionally, I have a successful route I forged back. From something like the movie thing, it takes a day or two. If someone attacks me? It takes two full weeks.

I don’t have such a mechanism for the panic attacks/cleaning flashbacks. What I originally did with the emotional ones was to recreate my growth, one step at a time away from the painful place I used to live. I haven’t managed anything except the very first steps away from the panic/stress.

  1. I understand the root of the panic.
  2. I also understand that the reason it was and is so hard to fight was that when it occurs, I’m in full fight/flight panic mode.
  3. I have realized that the only way I know which might work is to habitualize the cleaning.

That’s worked to some extent or the other.

What hasn’t worked? Finding a way to notice that I’m cleaning and not go into a full-blown panic attack/flashback.


There’s hope. Until I typed what’s above and remembered what I’d done for the emotional attacks, I’d forgotten that I ritualized the steps away from the bad old days. I did that for years until my therapist said, “Do you really have to recreate each step, one after the other these days? Next time, see if you can’t condense some of it.” And I could!

So, hope exists. But it took me 20 years or so to heal enough that I could conceive of the  recreating the healing route. Twenty months longer on this is about 18 months more than I want to spend….

But, of course, the being dictating the rate I can go isn’t my conscious, adult brain, but that wounded little girl, whose body remembers all the trauma. She and the body run the roadways and determine how much I can do successfully and how fast. train image from target

My adult self just has to sit back and be patient, and wait. It sometimes feels as if I’m a passenger on an electric train. I got on, the doors closed and locked, and all I can do is wait until it stops.

trolley

 

Advertisements

Interesting!

I never thought there was more than one kind of stigma? To me, it’s all of a piece. People think less of me if I talk about the events, etc. which formed much of who I am. If I had a famous parent or such it would be interesting, but I don’t. Anyway, here’s an article about stigma, fyi.

 

Top 10 Mental Health Stigmas #MentalHealthAwarenessWeek

My other comment about stigma can be found here.

Philosophy of Clean

It seems to me that there are “truisms” about cleaning. Some of these I’ve discussed:

  1. Clutter is usually made of “stuff.”
  2. “Stuff” is frequently made up of pieces you can pick up with your hand.
  3. Hard surfaces are easier to clean than soft ones.
  4. The only way to get an area clean and keep it that way is to keep cleaning.

My new one is related to #4. That people who manage to get and keep areas clean don’t see cluttered or untidy as acceptable.

For someone in their 60s who’s trying to learn to live differently, that last piece is not easy. Even when I clean regularly, I just don’t have that muscle. I’m so used to mess and clutter that I often just don’t see it.

This creates an all-too familiar situation for me: that I clean/cull an area and within a week or so, it’s a mess again.

I noticed this because of yard work. I’ve been working on raking out the beds, specifically, the bulb bed. For weeks I’ve had piles of leaves in the yard. I’ve been pulling them up and taking them to the dump, when I can get to the dump, at a rate of about 8 bags a trip. The piles aren’t there forever, and I finally have one more trip and that’s it to finish picking up those leaves. (It will be 4 trips when I finish.)

I’ve restricted myself. I’ve been slowly, but surely cleaning out the leaves in the other areas, and piling the leaves into neat piles. If I keep it up, it will still be another month or so before I manage to clean up most of the yard. This is an acre and I’ve never done this before; we’ve lived here 20+ years. Lots of dried leaves!

My neighbor’s yard always looks neat. Both of them work on it, instead of one person. And, whatever yard work they do is entirely cleaned up, before they quit. It occurred to me that there are some reasons for this: they have more storage than I do (a garage and a basement) also, they ALWAYS clean up and put away whatever accumulated mess and tools before they quit.

Also, in this neighborhood, we almost all have wood piles. There’s a neighbor who has a wood-fired, exterior furnace, with large wood sheds, as you might imagine. His wood piles, even when it’s a grapple load, are rarely messy. The wood is almost always cut to size and stacked in the sheds. The neighbors with a garage and basement have a small pile of wood for power outages, it’s tidy. Us? We have the end of two cords in a pile in front of the porch — which just looks messy.

The difference is that the large pile and the mess is something we live with, and the others won’t, for whatever reason.

I’ve been pecking away at that pile, a log or two here or there. I’m very aware of my weakened elbow and the potential for permanent injury if I’m not careful. Otherwise, I would have tackled it long since . . . .

But my observations are what got me to item #5.

5.  Keeping an area clean requires the attitude that a hodge podge isn’t visually acceptable.

J

I am so lucky

By sheer dumb luck (?) I didn’t get disassociation; Gawd knows, I’d never have come back. Likewise clinical depression, I avoided it too.

I think if I’d been physically or sexually abused one or both of those would certainly have been my reality.

The journey I took was hard enough because of a variety of factors: the biggest one being that no one seemed to think (including my early shrinks) that there was anything really wrong with me I couldn’t just change. Little girls didn’t get PTSD in the 1950s. I was white, upperclass, etc. What problems could I have? Well, yes I didn’t have a mother, but I had caretakers, dorm mothers, camp counselors, doctors (and more doctors), shrinks . . . .  what was my problem?

The description I’ve got in the memoir is that it was like I was a balloon, with a large rip underneath, which no one else saw. They all expected me to soar! I had all these things going for me: beautiful home, enough $, educated family, etc. etc. etc. But I couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried  —  they didn’t get it. No one did. And that just layered atop the Abuser’s narrative: there was something wrong with me, at my DNA or such. And for whatever reason, for 42 years before diagnosis, I just kept trying to prove her wrong. I kept trying to get my family to tell me they approved of me. I kept trying. I’d win once in a while, but I’d lose more often. Then I’d despair. I became increasingly more bitter and cynical.

Then this 6’1″ miracle happened to me. And things started to change because I believed one person didn’t think I was horrible. I called him my “shield against the world” for most of the first 10 years we were married. Whenever he was out of town, my anxiety went back up to the old levels  — I was back in the hell I’d lived in before: the hostile universe, the world where people would take anything and everything they could from me, because it was me.

It took a long time and a lot of work on his part before I really got that people didn’t see some devil mark on me, that said they should be nasty or whatever. That many people in the world would like me, if I gave them 1/2 a chance. That I wasn’t sub-human, stupid, ugly, and inherently unlovable.  I was starting down that path when my hormones went ape for the 2nd time and I had my midlife crisis, over 20 years ago now.

And got a hugely lucky break. The marriage counseling we got was from a woman who knew about PTSD.

She diagnosed and helped me learn how to  deal with it. We learned to deal with the things we hadn’t been able to and I kept seeing her, over 12 years by the time she retired.

Somewhere around 55, I stopped hurting. That was so phenomenal! The really odd thing for me was that no one noticed! I wanted a parade, a statue put up, something !!! It had been my goal as long as I could remember: “Don’t hurt.”

I still carry the pain, but these days it’s not ever-present, it’s associated with my past. And, yes, I still chose every day to deal or cope with it, or not. But because it’s no longer associated with HERE and NOW I can make that decision nearly automatically to NOT deal with it, not have it be part of my narrative today. I finally have a life which is not wrapped around hiding the pain, excusing the pain, explaining the pain, showing the pain or denying its existence.

It’s there, and most days I don’t have to deal with it any more; most days. Of course, this is PTSD, which means that at any moment, life could just pick me up and throw me into the fun house and away we go. The Hallmark movie not too long ago was one. A bigger one was the knitting. Both completely unexpected — SURPRISE!!!!

Gee thanks.

 I still say I’ve been incredibly lucky. And that’s a good thing. I’m sure I would have otherwise not attempted suicide; I would have killed myself.

Without my husband, without diagnosis, without the work from all of us: myself, husband and therapist, I would still be living in that fun house, that hostile and pain-filled universe. It was unbearable at 16, when I first attempted suicide, because as I said at the time, “I can’t imagine living this way until I’m 40.”

It was hard. It was awful. And I’d love to find out if life has something else I can do? We’ll see. My luck may have been all been used up, getting here — or maybe not?

(The image below AND the quote (obviously) are not mine!)

P.S. I don’t know if I agree with the quote actually, but it fit the post nicely! (I’m enough of a writer/editor to find that irresistible.)

P.S.2: The more I think about it, the less I agree with the quote. It was good luck that I was born white, privileged and into an educated family. Had nothing to do with my work or willingness to work. Although if I hadn’t done the mental health work, yes, I would still be where I was. Change takes work AND luck, but luck (or lack of it) starts with things out of your control: skin color, relative amount of available money for education, educational levels of people around you, area of residence, etc. None of that has anything to do with a child’s work when it is born.

Walter Mosley, the author, was a McDowell scholar one year. He came in the bookstore. He is an educated, articlulate man, who was born and raised in Watts. We were the antithesis of each other, as I was raised in a white, well-to-do enclave in Los Angeles in the same period. My mental illness and such caused me to not make use of many advantages I was born into. His hard work and abilities caused him to become the celebrated man he is.  Which of us is lucky? Him for being able to become the person he was or me for becoming the person I have?

Without the money, etc. I had behind me, I could not have focused on my mental health. I would have had to focus on making money to eat and put a roof over my head. In that way, I was really, really lucky. And, again, I had nothing to do with it.

Quotation-Barbara-Sher-The-amount-of-good-luck-coming-your-way-depends-on-66-82-62

I find the “just work harder” notion promoted by many really bizarre. If you are working 3 jobs just to feed yourself and your kids getting a PhD or even an AA isn’t an exercise in hard work, but a magical ability to make 24 hours into more.

Equally, the “save 1/2 of your food bill” idea only works if you can do things like buy 5 lbs of flour instead of 1 or buy a pot roast to cut up, or go to multiple stores to buy things on sale, or . . . when you are truly on the edge of or just over a survival level that is not realistic.

It’s easy to forget that.

And that’s my problem with the quote above. It presumes that you have the resources to act on your behalf, not that you are doing everything you can simply to survive.

Stress Fest

So, the “I’ve won” post? Well, it triggered me, of course. I’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, full panic attacks: heart pounding, palms sweating, shaking, the whole bit, every night since.  The trauma had to work itself out somewhere, ‘eh?

So, the only thing I know to fight this is well, there’s 2 things:

  1.  Stop doing whatever it is which is making me stressed.
  2. Go to sleep so late that I literally sleep through this. Works when it isn’t a full blown panic attack like these have been, and works sometimes with them.

So, I’ve been binge reading, playing games online, watching youtube, because any or all of those will keep me up/engaged way past being simply “tired” till I get to exhausted. Exhausted is the only way I can sleep through a full panic attack. Or, if I don’t sleep through it, I’ll wake up, roll over and go back to sleep.

Otherwise? All that adrenaline dumped into my system causes me to be instantly awake, really awake. When this first started, I woke up full-blown attack, ONE HOUR after I’d gone to sleep.

Several hours later, when I finally went to sleep again, I was so tired I slept through the night.

The first option, stopping what I was doing that caused the panic? Well that’s dishes, laundry, making the bed, and cleaning the bathroom counter. I haven’t entirely stopped, but I slowed down. The dishes aren’t all done now when I go to bed. The laundry isn’t all downstairs either in the washer or dryer, etc. I stopped being on top of it — I’ve let it slide, but I haven’t quit entirely — that’s the best I can do right now.

And that’s good enough — it has to be good enough because it’s all I can do.

Don’t know what I’m referring to? Here.

 

Depressed

I just watched part of a Hallmark movie. The daughter had some issue and her mother hugged  & comforted her. It occurred to me that I’d never had that. Never had a parent’s comfort, or I never let myself believe it was real, because it was just too dangerous.

That was the Catch-22 my abuser put in my head: that people who were nice to me were just being polite or faking it and/or that my family just tolerated me.

So, whatever familial comfort I may have been given didn’t work, because I thought it was bogus — meant to trap me into hurting more or showing more vulnerability, so they could laugh at me, again.

The world I lived in was hostile, uncaring, and somehow I was wrong and I had no idea why that was so or how to fix it.

Mostly these days, this sort of thing doesn’t get to me. Every now and then, something like this just hits me over the head.

My husband was gone, but came home as I stared writing this post. He looked at a piece online which had a link to a story about these ducks:

and if you can stay depressed after watching these useful clowns, you’re worse than I was!

My Friends

are people I admire, not surprisingly. That said, it occurred to me tonight that my friends, as diverse as they are: sf writers, bibliophiles, computer geeks, teachers, artists, antique/vintage retailers — all have at least one thing in common.

They all feel strongly about what they believe. Whether I agree with them, or not. Whether I share the perspective/history which got them there, or not, we share that. We’re passionate about our beliefs.

I’m not only talking about religion, although that’s included, but also issues related to the flow of history, societies, mankind’s future, etc. I think to be my friend requires the commitment to your own beliefs as well as the manners to help me find our common ground, if we disagree.

When the conversation starts “I’m right; you’re wrong.” It’s a pretty short trip to good bye for me.

That statement echoes abuse, right? Abusers all start with the notion that THEY are right.

I don’t require agreement, but tolerance — acceptance of differing opinions as having value, even when not shared. I don’t need you to agree with me, but I do need real manners: not couching your “acceptance” in such a way that is really isn’t. That’s what most of the people of my old life do — say the right words, in the wrong ways. The intellectuals sneer; the monied hold themselves superior. Me? I walk away.

Not surprisingly, I have no tolerance or patience for the underlying attitude which creates abuse in my life now. Yes, that makes me just as bad. I know it; I admit it. And no, I won’t change it. No matter who it might be, they aren’t worth the trip through hell that being around an abusive person, again, would bring.

There are relationships I mourn since I walked away. I’m sure there will be more still. I have this gut belief that all people are valuable, if you just know how to look. All people have a worthwhile story. All people.

Some people I can’t get away from my damnable past when they’re in my life, so I’ve removed them. It doesn’t mean I don’t love or care for them; it means I love me more, as I should.


I wrote this originally 4/4/2018, and I have no idea why I didn’t publish it? Should have!