Category Archives: trauma

That Little Girl

I was who was so traumatized has caused me a lot of problems, because I don’t know what she decided or thought in many cases until there’s an issue. It’s my flashback to be swamped with pain, fear, or panic and possibly no apparent reason for the reaction.

For a long, long time, shame held me back, but I didn’t realize it until one day in therapy I blurted out, “I don’t deserve to heal; I killed my mother.”

I remembered feeling that way as a small child, but I thought it was survivor guilt, and I thought I’d dealt with it. I hadn’t. I did after that.

That same little girl has me trapped in the street car dealing with whatever it is related to cleaning or knitting.

train image from target

One of the most difficult things is at 60+ is to “get” that what’s going on with my body/mind has not much if anything to do with who I am now and figure out how to undo whatever it is. In many ways, it’s rather like trying to talk to an alien.

That said? She also did me a really, really good turn by her lack of understanding in one critical area. A few years back, I started to slide into clinical depression. I thought I was going insane, finally. My therapist and I talked about how I felt, and what was happening to me and she diagnosed it as clinical depression.

A while later, I put it together. What I had always been afraid of was losing control — “going insane.” That was what I’d fought internally for decades. It was keeping myself out of that. But it wasn’t insanity; it was clinical depression.

It meant that when I started to slide down that path in my 50s-60s, a remote part of me — at a distance — noticed and said, “What are you doing?”

My internal response was, “I don’t know. I don’t care.”

But that monitor said. “Hm. Maybe we’ll read this piece, it usually makes us feel better.”

“Nothing will make it better.”

“Let’s try.”

“If you insist.”

I did two or three other things: read the pieces which make me feel better, walked to the place which makes me feel good, etc. with no hope they would work. But eventually, they did.

So, yes, I’ve been depressed. And I’ve been close to succumbing to clinical depression.

But that plucky little girl wasn’t going to “go insane” no matter what! She kept finding ways to avoid it.

This puts me at a loss with people who ARE depressed, because my magic, most effective tool against depression’s devastation is that I made it absolutely illegal and forbidden for myself, when I was 3.

depression

 

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One Problem with Recovery

I just looked at the “laundry list” for the adult children of alcoholics or dysfunctional families. Here’s a link.  Almost all of that pertained to me in the past. Almost none of it fits me now, thankfully.

If you look down the page, you’ll find the flip side of that list.  My problem is with #5. This one:

We stop living life from the standpoint of victims and are not attracted by this trait in our important relationships.

That’s pretty easy to see. What I don’t see addressed here (and haven’t found elsewhere) is how you deal with those who were in your life before — getting them to change the unspoken “givens” in your relationship? Demands don’t work. At least in my case, neither does asking reasonably. My answer has been to cut off my family and all but one of my oldest friends. I’d like to have relationships with them, but in most cases I’ve moved on and they haven’t. Or, in a few exceptional cases, they’ve moved on and I’m not enough like I was to be “interesting” any more.

Says a lot about your value to someone, ‘eh? Either you’re valuable because you’re someone to be “better” than or “entertaining” or you have no value. If I did something extraordinary, that made me well known, these people would almost all in my estimation reclaim their relationship with me, whatever it is. But as an ex-victim, ex-emotionally unstable, non-victim, stable, older, housewife, who lives in the middle of nowhere, without drama — I’m unimportant.

And if I did something important, why would I want to be connected to these folks?

My old friends, I thought would be happy for me, because they cared about me, and I was stable and happy. Nope. Almost without fail, they were bored by me, because I wasn’t “exciting” any more.

My family? Well, that’s more complicated. I think they’d also claim their relationship with  me if I did something “important.” But it’s probably easier to call me “overly sensitive” or some such, now, than realize that the only way I will allow them to have any but the most casual contact with me is to rewrite the premises.  I’m not less than them. Different? Yes. Less? No!

Much of the problem of course is of my own creation. I thought for decades that being less and interesting/unconventional were some of the only real assets I had, as I was damned with some undefined piece. So, I started all relationships with the idea that I was less.

I changed, but that doesn’t mean that others want or need to.

 

 

Stigma & Shame Links

I found this about stigma the other day. You might be interested? link

And while we’re talking about the good or bad the internet can bring, you may want to listen to this TED talk I found last week which talks about shame as well.

My personal experience was that shame was the biggest single thing which kept me from healing. link

J

Defining the Job

I finally came up with a set of concrete goals for the house work. I’ve put it on the 7 levels site. You can find it here.

It was interesting to finally figure this out. The sliding scale of how much is enough has been an issue of mine for some time. It is possible to go way over the line from hoarding to OCD and the definition will also help (I think.) to keep me from doing that.

And, because of the need to find that “enough is enough” and not too much, I think the set definition will also help keep the PTSD anxiety at bay.

Another step,

HURRAH!!!

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 is 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  recreating the healing route. Twenty months longer on the cleaning/panic 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 and how fast. train image from target

My adult self just has to sit back, 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. All I can do is patiently wait until it stops!

trolley

 

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.

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 to simply survive.