Fathers Day awareness

Sunday was Fathers Day in New Zealand.  As the day was approaching, a friend asked me how I reacted to the day – whether it needed to be something on my radar of potentially rough, or triggering days.  My response was a rather confident and nonchalant…  “Oh, it’s no big deal.  I usually hide out and withdraw, but am fine”.  I wasn’t minimising anything with my response; I was answering from a place of honesty, based on what I remembered from previous years.

This year however, was different…  Very different…  I was swept away by overwhelming emotions, lost great chunks of time, and felt the need for demeaning forms of self injury.  On some level, I remained functional… I tweeted, cleaned the house, did some gardening, and finished some chores.  But, I also had flashbacks that left me curled up in terror, I easily became disorientated as to time and place, and experienced an emotional roller-coaster that left me shaking like a leaf.

I say that this year was different, but I wonder if it really was.  Did I react differently to it; or, was I just more aware of my reactions to the day?  This is the question that I’ve been asking myself… I wonder about it because if I’m more aware, then that indicates a level of healing that is positive in the long-term… But, if this year was bad purely because I approached it in a different way, then that could indicate that I’m back-sliding by “looking for triggers”.  Either option is possible, but the latter seems more likely.  I feel less connected to everything and everyone than I did at the start of last year, so find it difficult to believe that the awareness is about positive healing…

As soon as I type that, a voice of dissent that speaks up… Allison has seen improvements in my functioning, and being aware of the chaos has to be a good indicator, doesn’t it?  And so it goes on… this continual to and fro.

Then, I see the internal arguments for what they are… another form of distraction.  If I get caught up in an internal argument over my progress, or lack thereof; then I can avoid reflecting on the weekend…  Instead of paying attention to the pain and associated feelings, I can start intellectualising.  Climb back into my comfort zone of internal debates about what constitutes healing, defines progress, etc…  That’s one step away from beating myself up for not being “healed” yet (whatever that means).

Ahhh Distraction Land, I know you well…

I know that we all need to distract sometimes; but, I need to learn to face my experiences as well.  No matter the reason why I had such a rough weekend, it was rough.  I need to learn how to cope with that… to learn how I can manage those times better… to heal…

In this instance, it was my emotional reaction to Fathers Day.  It would be really easy to now put that event in a box within my mind, label is as a triggering day, and store it away.  Yes, that plan of action would help me prepare for next year, but what can I learn from it to help my everyday life?  I think that’s where my healing will come from… I’m already really good at compartmentalising things, and what I really need to learn, is how to ease those compartments so that they blend into my everyday existence.  I’m always going to experience triggers – that’s just life.  I need to learn how to cope with those triggers better every single day, not just on triggering days…

An indication that I still have a long way to go in my healing, is that I deliberately chose to go to the lake on Fathers Day to take photos… On one level, this was a good decision, as I often feel a sense of calm by the water; but, on other levels, it was such a bad choice…  It was Fathers Day, after all… that means families playing together, and in particular fathers being the centre of attention within those families.  At times these images can be positive, and act as a reminder that not all fathers hurt their children… at other times, they can cut like a knife through my wounds.

Was it wise to go to the lake?  Probably not.  Another friend once told me about looking for the windows of opportunity in a situation… the windows where there is the possibility for you to choose a different option, or way forward.  I had one of those windows when I was deciding where to go to take photos… I could have chosen somewhere less triggering, but I didn’t.  This was reflected in the photos I took… Some reflected my pain…

While others reflected my ability to be in the moment…


I’m not so good at being in the present moment…

Now playing: Eddie Vedder – Don’t be shy


Connections and control

During the past week, I’ve had periods of feeling “good”… I’ve felt as if I’m together, emotionally consistent, and as if I can do this thing called life.  It’s at these times, that I wonder what all the fuss is about regarding my mental health.  I don’t remember the periods of disconnect, and everything seems to be going really well…  But then, someone tells me of something that happened a few hours previously, and I have no recollection of it.  I sort of know the event happened, but I have no connection to it, and don’t remember it as something “I’ve” done.  This throws me into confusion… am I being consistent now, or then?  Am I in denial?  Am I attention seeking?  I’m left wondering what’s going on…

It seems more and more as if my life is becoming a series of sound bites.  Each bite is disconnected from the previous one; but could be connected to one that occurred yesterday, or last week…  It’s all very confusing, and yet not.  That’s the odd thing about it all…  part of me thinks that there should be some panic about my functioning, but I don’t feel it.  Sometimes, I’ll feel a sense of confusion… but, its minor.  The disconnect seems to be minimising the emotional impact of it all, thereby increasing my apathy.

Yet, despite saying that I’m disconnected, I’ve had times of great connection.  Last Friday, there was a major rugby game played in town; because I talked to a friend, I left work a little later than usual, so met the rugby-bound traffic, and people walking to the stadium.  I was blind-sided by terror and flashbacks… memories of the past overwhelmed me.  I immediately started to look for ways to escape, and self-injure.  But then, I thought of the potential impact my actions might have on others… how would the friend that I was talking to after work react if they found out that I got hurt?  Would they connect my staying after work to talk to them, with my self-injury?  Would it hurt them to know that I was hurt?  I’ve often thought of the implications that my actions might have on others, so this line of thinking isn’t new… but, there was a different impact this time.

While thinking of my friend had an impact, the bigger realisation came by looking at the crowds walking to the stadium.  There was a high number of families amongst the crowd, many with children aged about 10 years, and above.  As I saw these children, I realised how small they were… walking in amongst these crowds, they looked so defenceless.  The adults were watching the children… making sure that they stayed with the family, that they watched traffic as they crossed the road… “normal stuff”.  But, that “normal stuff” is something that I don’t remember as a child.  I remember being alone.  I remember being taken places.  I wasn’t interacted with,  I was just “there”, left to my own devices.  Some would say that this encouraged independence, resilience, and all those good things… that may well have some merit, but it also taught me that I was alone in the world, that I couldn’t ask for help, and that no one would protect me.  The children in this crowd were different… they had families who seemed to protect them.  But the thing that continued to affect me, was their size… so small and defenceless… how could anyone that small stop the abuse?  I realised that if I self-injured, ones within the system who were smaller than the children amongst the crowd, would be hurt.  No matter how tough these ones say they are, and act… they are smaller than these children in front of me.  There’s no way that I would allow any of these children in front of me to be hurt, so why was I willing to allow myself to be hurt?

I decided that I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, allow the self-injury.  Anger towards myself, and my friend, hit…  I was removing the only way that some within the system get relief from the confusion and pain.  It’s now a week later, and I’m still feeling the impact…  There is a need to isolate and escape from the emotions stirred up last week.  Those emotions have been fuelled by the weekly stresses occurring within my life (work, family, etc).  When I look at it like this, the sound bite life, makes sense…  it’s the old way of coping with events that are beyond my control, or ability to deal with.  I know that a large part of my current state is due to a sense of control, or a perceived lack of control.  When I was a child, I felt the illusion of control through my solitary, insular existence… part of me is so very desperate to get that feeling back.

Never a child

This is the start of something written last night…

I was never a child
I never played
I never laughed
I never talked

I only watched
I only hurt
I only played
I was never a child

I’m finding it increasingly difficult to write, reflect, or do anything artistic… as soon as I try, anxiety hits, and I doubt myself.  I think that the main reason for this, is the continued compartmentalisation, and disconnect that I’m experiencing… On the surface, I appear to have everything “together”… yet, I’m struggling with feeling so overwhelmed, that I’m again in the suicidal abyss.

It’s easy to list off the things that are causing me to feel overwhelmed… it’s more difficult to address them.  My ability to verbalise anything during therapy is near zero.  I’m constantly assaulted with images of graphic self-injury, as I sit in silence…  What torture the mind can put you through, never ceases to amaze me.  A combination of my worst fears, horror movies, and flashbacks are now a regular Monday morning occurrence…

In theory, I know that the inability to write, speak, and the compartmentalisation, are all symptoms of the overwhelm… but, I’m very aware that I’ve been like this for a long time now.  It seems as if my “good moments” are further and further apart.  When people ask how I am, the only words I can say are “I’m ok”…  I’m not able to say anything that would explain what’s happening in my head.  Part of this, is my continued need for invisibility; but a larger part is that nothing I do seems to connect with reality.  In so many ways, I seem to only exist in the moment… not in a positive, mindful way; but in a space where I have no sense of anything as being real… I’m just “there”, with no connection to anything.  Intellectually, I know this isn’t good… it’s always been a precursor to serious bouts of self-injury… but, I’m at a loss as to how I can ease it.

Allison also seems at a loss as to what will help.  Considering how little I’m able to verbalise what’s happening, that’s understandable.  Last week, Allison had assumed that I’d put her back in the “useless” basket… but, I know that she can’t work with someone who can’t talk.  This is all on me, not anyone else.  In case you hadn’t noticed, my self-loathing and intolerance are at new heights…  But, I know that unless I can start to communicate, I’m going to continue down this negative path.  I need to stop isolating, and reach out… I need to start caring…  I need to stop playing the game…

It hasn’t escaped my notice that I’ve reverted back to the dysfunctional behaviours of the past… outwardly appearing fine, and hiding the chaos.  The piece I wrote last night was about never being a child because of that disconnect… if I’m not able to make any positive changes soon, I’m not going to have a life because of that same disconnect.

The fallout

In my last post, I sound as if I had “dealt” with the visit to my hometown… I was wrong.  What I’d done, is stuff it all in a rather large room in the back of my mind, and closed the door.  My main thought was that I’d gotten through the past two weekends, and that was all that mattered.  I had expected that once those weekends were over, then the anxiety and dissociation would magically disappear… because I wanted that so much, I started to live it.  The trip became a “good, healing experience”, and I couldn’t even remember the weekend of the conference… they became like another couple of headlines in the newspaper, nothing more.

On Thursday, the little fantasy that I had created for myself, came crashing down.  I saw Allison, and we talked about the trip.  She didn’t force anything, but it ripped open the door that I had firmly shut.  We talked about my family not recognising me as I got off the plane… my sister-in-law who talks about her abuse history as if it’s a badge that everyone has to see, and know about… the doubts created when places weren’t exactly as I remembered them…  The session was “intense” according to Allison’s parting words.  So intense, I had to sit in the car for over an hour, talking to a friend in order to ground myself and stop the shaking.

This was when the real fallout began… flashbacks; lost time; constant internal chatter about how bad I am; images of self-injury; and so on.  Intellectually, I decided that the main issue was the denial created when details of the pub weren’t exactly as I remembered; so decided to do some research.  The pub has a history page on their website.  When looking for old photos of the building, I found a photo of my father.  I also found out he’d been given awards for his input into the organisation.  Again, denial slammed into me… was I falsely accusing this man, who was respected in his community, of horrors that had never happened?  It didn’t matter that I wasn’t accusing him in court, or that I have no intention of doing so… all that mattered was whether it happened or not.  I’m used to the dance of denial… it’s one I’ve experienced throughout my life.  In some ways, it’s comforting to know that the denial and doubt touch every single aspect of my life… it’s not just the abuse that I doubt, but everything.  At times my life just seems to be a big question mark.

I realise that I’ve already glossed over the impact of seeing the photo of my father.  I remember seeing the photo as a child… one of my brothers is also in a photo nearby.  It’s disconcerting to see those two, who look so similar, so close.  To say that it’s disconcerting to see how much I look like my father, is an understatement.  I hate genetics.  I hate knowing how much I look like him.  That’s part of the reason I can’t look in the mirror… I see his face and the cross that he wore around his neck during my teens.  Yet another reason to hate how I look, and who I am.  When I see him in my reflection, I become him, and part of the things that he did – not just to me, but to the family, and community.  He is an alcoholic narcissist, and has left a trail of destruction behind him, fitting of such labels.

Sorry, I know this is becoming disjointed… I need to write it out.  I need to try to make sense of it.  But, I don’t know if that’s even possible anymore.

Thursday night, I decided to clean out my wardrobe.  During the clean out, I found jewellery that my father had given me, as well as the lingerie purchased for my wedding night…  I don’t know how these items had lasted so long.  But there they were… a cruel reminder of my doubts, pain and confusion.  If you’re wondering why I doubt the abuse from my father, yet still react to him… well, apparently I’ve always reacted to him.  My mother once told me that one of the factors which caused her to separate from my father, was talking to me in the kitchen when he arrived home… she said that as soon as I heard his car, I looked to confirm it was him, then my face changed, and I walked away to my room without finishing the conversation.

While my reaction to finding those items didn’t help ease any denial, it added another layer of stress and provided more fodder for flashbacks…

What does all of this mean?  Well, the short version is that I’m a mess… the long version is that I’m a total and utter mess.  I’m reacting to the slightest of triggers… unable to concentrate on anything for even moderate timeframes… want to go out and get totally drunk… the list goes on.  I’m trying to remember that the world keeps turning, and that means that this turmoil will pass… please, pass soon… please.

Visiting the past

This past weekend, I visited my hometown.  It’s the first time I’ve been back in over five years. Being back there was awful, healing, confusing, and so much more.  I’m still trying to make sense of it all, but need to write something down in order to start the reflective process, and ward off it being lost in the dissociation.

There were some beautiful moments, such as going down to the beach near sunset.  There was humour, with my mother, brother, and I talking about movies we’d seen… it soon became obvious that our respective approaches to movie going is very different!

But, there were also endless triggers…

On Sunday morning, my mother met my sister to go to church.  I had never connected it before, but this reminded me of when my father decided to “find God” when I was a teenager.  This was the final trigger that prompted me to visit places of importance from my past.  The main place I wanted to see was the bar associated with my father… the place where I have different memories that are so disjointed…

As I drove out to the bar, I passed a factory filled with bad memories… or rather, where the factory once stood.  There was a wave of relief to see that it was now totally different, filled with various industries and businesses.  I passed my old high, and middle schools… and again, so much had changed.  They were still recognisable, but it was obvious that 20+ years had passed since I walked across those fields.  Even though the suburb that was my home for so long has changed dramatically… new roads and malls; it still has the same feel.

Then the bar itself… The first thing that threw me, was that the entrance had changed.  I can now see where the extensions were added; but at the time, I was totally disoriented.  As the place was closed, I could walk around and peer through windows undisturbed. I started off by looking through the main entrance windows, and saw the short corridor that had the toilets going off each side…  That was enough to create a sense of panic, and an immediate free-fall into dissociation.

I walked around the building in a depersonalised state… looking at the different parts of the building and clinically ticking them all off on my internal check-list.  When I got around to the changing room entrance, things shifted… it was locked, and I was unable to see down the corridor.  I could tell each room based on the windows outside, but this wasn’t enough… I needed to see down that corridor.  But, it was impossible.

I looked into the main hall, and saw so many changes… some of them were about perspective (the hall looked so much smaller than I remembered); but other things such as the new carpet and different tables, were more tangible… But then, I saw the kitchen area, and it acted as a grounding moment.  I snapped back to some sort of awareness, and started taking pictures… I took pictures of all of the areas that I remembered, then wandered around the streets, trying to ground myself.

During my walk, I found this mural…

At the time, I called it “Don’t Speak”…  There seemed something fitting about the red being painted over the mouth.

After the bar, I visited my old elementary school, the kindergarten, and a couple of significant houses… Again, there were so many changes.  I found one of the houses, only to see that the wood shed was being pulled down.  Another now houses a charity; and while it still looked the same, the entrance was totally different… where there was once an opening in the fence for the driveway, framed mosaics are now hung on a continuous fence.

In so many ways, these changes were disorienting… But, there was still enough of the old elements present, to allow me to see the historical context.

I know that memory is not an exact thing… I know it can be influenced, and change over time… So, in many ways, going back to these places was meaningless.  But, it was also healing, in that many things were confirmed, and I could also see how time had changed the places which once housed so much pain for me.

As for the rest of the trip… well, it had its ups and downs… I had a panic attack in McDonald’s, and had to go for a walk to try to calm down… I did some dissociative shopping, and had to return some rather odd clothing choices…  I had a fun birthday evening with my brother and mother…

But, probably the most important thing happened on my last morning there…  My mother and I went to have a coffee, and started talking about my sister.  It seems she has moved past the idea that I had the best childhood known to mankind, and has instead started seeing things in a different way.  My mother relayed how much sorrow (guilt?) my sister feels for “abandoning” me when she moved out at the age of 16.  This seemingly simple admission stirred so many emotions… a feeling of validation, that I wasn’t imagining how bad it was growing up in that house…  compassion for my sister, who was burdening herself with responsibilities that aren’t hers to hold…  compassion for my mother, who was obviously now looking back on the damage done by the past…

There is nothing simple about a trip down memory lane… but, it can be healing.  It helped me to see that, although I live with the effects of those events every single day; the events were a long time ago.  That doesn’t make what happened right, nor does it allow me to forgive, or forget… but, it does mean that I can help ease those fears when I’m caught in the flashbacks…  If nothing else, that knowledge made the trip worthwhile.

Now playing: Taylor Swift – Safe & Sound
via FoxyTunes

Path to self-destruction

Every now and again, I stand back, and wonder what in the world I’m doing.  This is one of those times.

I’ve just made it through the first of the two stressful weekends that I have previously mentioned.  I don’t remember much about the past weekend… just the noise (a group of librarians is very noisy), the suffocating crowds, the alcohol, and the panic… the ever-present panic.

People laughed during my presentation, but apparently it was because I was funny… go figure!  I was even congratulated afterwards by my bullying ex-manager… although, I always wonder what her motives are for anything that she does, doubly so when it seems positive towards someone else.  Yes, paint me suspicious.  She did seem genuine though… it was a little unsettling, to say the least.

I tried so hard to stay safe… I went back to my room early, I went for a walk to take photos… I avoided obvious triggers.  But, by Saturday night, things were starting to crumble.  The drive to get hurt was incredible.  The pressure of presenting to a large group of influential people; trying to act sane; and having to eat dinner in front of others, was too much…  The only thing that kept me safe, was an inability to access methods of self-injury.

People have tried to tell me that getting through the weekend uninjured was an accomplishment.  So, why does it feel like a failure?  A part of me is very confused, and feels rejected by the lack of pain… in some warped way, it’s almost as if I wasn’t “good” enough to be hurt.  Allison tried to explain the theory behind the feelings to me, but that brought little comfort.  Instead, it has upped the stakes for the coming weekend…

This weekend, I’m returning to my home-town for my birthday.  There are positive plans, such as wanting to see the ocean, and taking photos of some of the parks around the city; but there are also plans to go to the rugby club, and school where I was abused.  I need to go alone to these places.  I need to see what they look like… are they as I remember them?  Have they changed?  Will being there trigger any memories?  Will I see any of the men who abused me?

I read that paragraph, and realise the insanity of it.  What do I hope to accomplish?  Nothing positive can come from it.  If they look the same, what will it prove?  I know that memory is influenced by a variety of factors, so it wouldn’t ease my denial, or magically resolve my questions… so, what is the point?

All I can think of, is that it is a futile bid for acceptance over the past.  But, it’s unlikely that the men who abused me will be willing to sit down and reminisce.  It’s not really a fit topic of discussion to have over drinks on a Saturday afternoon, is it?

Strangely, the part of me who wants to go back to the club, doesn’t want to see the abusers.  I want; no, need to see the building, that’s all.  I want to see the men’s toilets, the changing rooms, the downstairs bar, and the office.  The place must be empty.  If there were people there, it would make it too real.  It would give faces to the shadows, and that isn’t wanted.

There’s a clinical detachment in knowing their names, without seeing their faces.  A form of safety… denial.  I’m a librarian, I could find their pictures if I wanted… but, I destroyed all of my childhood pictures, so why would I want to see their faces?  Seeing their faces would be like having proof that I remembered them for something… that they mattered…

I know that so much of my thinking is a study in contrasts, as well as a dash of very young logic. It’s becoming a constant struggle to stay grounded in the present…  The past and present seem to be merging more often.  I’m losing more time.  The intellectual part of me is struggling with the infirmity of it all… there’s a need to get back on solid ground now, and ignore all of these diversions… The thing that is so confusing, is that I don’t know what is the diversion anymore… is it work, the dissociation, or the past?

I know I’ll be fine this weekend.  I know it will be a jolt to be back in my hometown, but I do have many good memories there…  It may feel like a path to destruction, but that’s my anxiety talking… I need to listen to it, understand, and acknowledge it; but also reality check it all.

Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Shadowfeet
via FoxyTunes

Anxiety vrs reality

One of the ways that anxiety manifests for me, is the fear created when I imagine the worst case scenario that could happen when facing a situation.  It feels all-encompassing.  There is no relief from its control.  This morning, all of my distraction techniques, grounding methods, and even my prescribed “emergency” medications haven’t helped ease its grip over me.

It feels like I’m in some invisible tug-of-war between reality, and anxiety related scenarios…  Anxiety is winning!

Here are some of the issues causing my anxiety…

Scenario 1:  My abusive ex-husband will be in town this weekend for a special event.

Reality tells me that he will obey the Protection Order that I have against him, and will not approach the house.

Anxiety shows me (in great detail), all of potential scenarios where he will come to the house… He might want to show the people he’s with, where he lived with the “fruit-loop”… He might want to see if I still live here…  He might be curious as to what the house now looks like…

Within my mind, the anxiety scenario becomes bigger, and badder.  I see him driving up and sitting outside in the car.  I see him standing at the door.  I hear the taunts that I know he can throw at me.  I see him in the house.  I see him hurting me.

My imagination weaves abuses from the past into the potential scenario, making them seem all to real.  It becomes more and more difficult to reality check what my imagination is creating; and anxiety hits in wave, after wave.

Scenario 2:  Next month I have to present at a weekend conference in another town.  There will be several people going from work – including the co-worker who has sexually harassed me on a couple of occasions.  Everyone from work will be staying in the same hotel.

Reality tells me that my presentation will be fine – it’s a small conference, and the topic of my presentation is interesting.  The co-worker will not do anything to harass me at the conference.

Anxiety tells me that the presentation will be a total disaster.  The person following me in the program, is my former bullying boss, and she will take great delight in telling everyone how bad my talk was, before starting into her own presentation.  I will lose all of the respect that my former team leader has for me, and the audience will try, but fail, to smother their derisive laughter during my presentation.

It also tells me, that I’ll be harassed by my co-worker in a more direct way.  It will evolve from verbal harassment, to physical.  I won’t be able to stop it, and I’ll end up dissociating in a strange town with no access to my usual support network.  I’ll end up self-injuring, badly.

Again, my imagination weaves images that I’ve seen in the media, or my own experiences, into the scenario.  It becomes bigger, and badder than any known reality.

Scenario 3:  I’m going back to my home-town for my birthday. 

Reality tells me that it’s only for a couple of days, and everything will be fine.  It might be a shock to return there, and possibly disorienting; but, it will be fine as long as I remember the skills I’ve picked up in distraction and grounding.  It’s all about staying in the present.

Anxiety tells me that I’ll be swamped with memories.  My mother will invade my space by going through my possessions – I have proof that she has done so during her latest visit.  I’ll be forced to interact with my sister, and my sister-in-law… both people I would rather avoid.  I’ll be overwhelmed, and end up self-injuring.

I know that my fears are driving these anxiety scenarios… fear of failure, being hurt, humiliation, and being seen.  At times, I can step back from those fears, and reality check them; but, at the moment, they are all I see.  I was hoping that by writing this out, they might ease their grip over me… that I could intellectualise the scenarios, and put the fears into the boxes on the shelves in my mind.  If there was only one of the scenarios happening, I would try to feel the emotions, and ease them that way.  But, with all three, it feels too big…

The first scenario was talked about with Allison this week; but it was more a process of giving voice to the fears, rather than establishing any action plans.  I’m going into the weekend anxiety filled, and unable to remain grounded.  I’m experiencing derealisation, and panic attacks.  Yet, I’m sitting here at work, as if I’m fine…

I’ll be fine… I always am.