Reflections: Part II

Yesterday I wrote a happy shiny summary on 2010.  It was accurate, and covered many of the positive things that had happened last year, but it wasn’t an accurate reflection.  The purpose of a reflective exercise is to put the past into a learning framework, and that’s what I failed to do.  By looking only at the positives, I sidelined and ignored the struggles I faced, and how those struggles influenced the positives.

When looking at the overall themes of last year, it’s easy to see that I was concentrating on safety and consistency.  To me, these issues are intertwined.  I’m at a stage in my healing where I need a consistent structure in order to find safety.  If this structure is absent, as it was when my therapeutic relationship with Liz disintegrated, and my friendship with Matthew fell apart; there were serious consequences for my safety.  I lost an anchor that I had relied on – no matter how dysfunctional it was, and I allowed it to push me into a downward spiral.  This was even more evident, when my cynical work friend started having an affair with a married man.  The triggers associated with the relationship were too close to my parents relationship, that I was unable to relax around her like I used to.  Unlike the rupture with Liz and Matthew, I was able to maintain an altered friendship with my work friend.  The key difference, was that with Liz and Matthew there was hurt in the present, whereas I had the awareness to realise that my work friend wasn’t hurting me directly in the past or present.  I may not agree with her moral choices, but the friendship was maintained, if somewhat modified.

Throughout the year, I’ve had ACC decisions hanging over my head.  This was one of the drivers which lead to my suicide attempt, and to my withdrawal from life.  The thought of a faceless case manager deciding my therapeutic fate, without having ever met me, basically did my head in.  This is a fairly consistent story across many sensitive claims clients.  The power imbalance in favour of ACC, is such a trigger to the old abusive situations, that it’s difficult to work your way through to a rational interaction with them.  Despite my fears, the assessing psychiatrist was incredibly supportive and gentle.  He gave me a significant impairment which should hopefully allow me to access therapeutic care for awhile yet.

This leads onto the therapeutic relationship with Allison.  I’ve avoided talking about her and what happens in therapy, mainly because I want to protect the relationship.  As with any human relationship, there are ups and downs, but the strength of Allison, is her ability to encourage me to slow down.  My default coping mechanism is to dissociate and rush through anything that feels scary; but Allison is helping me to realise that this doesn’t have to happen.  I can tolerate the emotions that are a part of living.  They may scare me, and I may not understand what I hear within sessions; but what is said and felt, is me.  It’s that simple, and that complicated.

I still struggle with denial, minimisation, comparisons and other circular thinking.  But, Allison helps me to work through this through validation and acceptance.  She doesn’t encourage blind faith, and is open to questioning about the validity of what is being said, and her experience with dealing with what I present.  Not that I challenge her on a regular basis or anything… well, actually I don’t as much as I did.  There is a sense of respect towards Allison, even if there isn’t consistent trust.

Last year, I also briefly saw WPT and an occupational therapist.  They were at opposite ends of the helpful spectrum… WPT helped me realise that by saying how strong the young ones within the system were, I was re-enforcing the idea that they were meant to stay strong and protect me.  This was so obvious, but yet, I thought I was showing respect by mentioning their strength.  But the young ones need care, not more pressure.  In contrast, the occupational therapist was not a good therapeutic match.  She reminded me of a cross between a cheerleader and an unskilled kindergarten teacher – lots of loud enthusiastic talk, with very little substance or experience.  Thankfully she discharged me after meeting one of the three goals we’d established.

One of the things that worried me about seeing these other therapists, was that I wondered if my life would revolve around therapy and healing.  Considering my work commitments; this would be unlikely, and it would probably have been helpful if they had worked out.  But, there was that nagging fear that I would start to define myself and my life through my mental health.  Which when I consider that I spent so much time this year caught up in self injury, the change of focus to healing, might have been a good thing!

Yes, my old nemesis… self injury.  It also bumped into my suicidal ideation and intent this year, which wasn’t a pretty sight or feeling.  But a shock can sometimes be good for the system, and near the end of last year, I got one.  It wasn’t the suicide attempt, but instead the health of a friend bringing up all sorts of memories.  Consequences, accountability, fears and reality all collided.  Repercussions were felt throughout the system, and as a result, one dangerous form of self injury has been largely controlled.  There is yet to be any sense of accomplishment about this, and there is a fear that the triggering presence of the mother is going to release a tidal wave of self injury this weekend.  All I can do is plan for it not to happen…

So much of my life now, is about trying to live from moment to moment.  I had hoped to be further along in my healing than this by now, but I’m not.  This isn’t to take away from the accomplishments that I have achieved, but rather a sense of “not again”.  This Christmas, I did cope better than the previous year; but then I had hayfever, so could barely speak or raise my head.  The hayfever has eased, and with that, the triggering memories and intolerance of the mother has returned.  The mother has been here two weeks, and that’s about three weeks too long.  Wish me luck for the rest of the week…

As so much of my year has been on exploring the creative arts, I thought I’d do the following summaries of the positive, and difficult work that I’ve been doing.  As a warning, the second (Polyvore) video may trigger.

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Now playing: The Beatles – Here Comes The Sun
via FoxyTunes

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Now playing: Yo-Yo Ma – Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 5 in C minor, BWV 1011: IV. Sarabande
via FoxyTunes

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Expressive Arts Carnival: Walls

The activity for this months Expressive Arts Carnival is to:

Draw a wall using any medium, and show what is on one or both sides. Please also write a couple of sentences saying what the process was like for you.

When I was seeing Liz (about a year ago), I created a Polyvore set which I titled Barriers, and showed what my defense mechanisms and walls were…

Barriers

This shows my walls as being the razor wire fence, behind which hurt and angry ones can be seen.  What’s interesting, is that an abusive event can be seen fairly clearly, almost as if the memory is the defense against looking closer at the hurt ones and their emotions.  A hidden, and shameful part of the wall is sex; while the more obvious things that make up the wall are my education, work, food, perfectionism, alcohol, cutting and the idea/memories of the perfect family.  The protector with the knives, is one of our more heavy handed protectors, and indicates how out of control we were at the time…

Today, I drew another wall with oil pastels.  I love oil pastels because of their tactile nature.  But I also hate them, because they’re not “precise” enough for me… they have this annoying habit of not having straight lines and bleeding into each other.  Ok, so may be I don’t know how to manipulate them correctly to get the blending done precisely… or, may be that’s the point of them, to be imperfect.

This is what I drew…

Wall

The green and purple are the colours in front of the wall.  These are the colours that protect the rest of the system, and the outside world, from the wall and what is behind it.  The purple acts as a warning, and the green as a grounding colour.  Then there is the black wall.  This wall must be strong and impervious.  The bright red, or anger, is the first thing bashing against the wall, then the shame of blue; before the black emptiness of the unknown.  Each of the colours is separated by mini black walls, to try and keep layers upon layers of protection occurring.

I’m struck by the contrasts between the images.  The first is controlled, yet descriptive; while the second is controlled and abstract.  I often describe my internal world behind the wall as either a gaping chasm of nothingness, or a swirling mess of emotions… neither quite fit the image that I’ve drawn.  I’m not particularly grounded today, so that could be the reason for the disparity.

To add to the oddity, I deliberately chose Missy Higgins’  version of Stuff and Nonsense to go with this entry – a song about knowing/loving in the present, but not being able to guarantee anything in the future.

I sometimes wonder if I’m looking for meaning when there is none, or whether I’m missing the point.  One day, I may find out, but not today.

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Now playing: Missy Higgins – Stuff and Nonsense
via FoxyTunes

The big stuff

Ok… so, the big stuff… the stuff I’ve been studiously avoiding for the last probably two to three weeks… maybe even that last couple of months.  I can’t analyse or reflect on them yet, but I need to write them down so that they lessen their hold over me.

Probably the most obvious, is the therapeutic rupture with Liz.  It destabilised me.  It re-enforced all the old messages about me being too difficult to cope with, and made me feel as if I would never heal.  I still don’t think that the new therapist will cope…  She says she’s one of the top therapists in the small city where we live; but then, Bob was one of the top clinical psychologists, and that didn’t turn out well.  We’re still not sure if ACC will fund us to see her; so until funding is established, we’re seeing her fortnightly.  I know that isn’t often enough, but we can’t afford weekly therapy.

Once you get past the obvious of therapy, there’s the other given… work.  We recently had a change to our union negotiated employment agreement.  The new agreement meant that we ended up with a negative sick leave balance.  We’d used up so much sick leave in the short time we’ve been there, that we’d used the equivalent of an extra years allowance.  This basically meant that we were going to have to go for over a year, with any sick leave being unpaid.  There’s no way we could afford that.  Our union is incredibly weak and unable to fight for the rights of the worker – if you wonder why I’m in such a weak union, librarians are traditionally left wing, socialists who believe in unions, and so there’s a great deal of pressure to join.

So, ignoring the union, we researched the law and questioned work on the validity of the negative balance, when according the the Holidays Act, each employee must have five days paid sick leave per year.  We sent through an email outlining the law, and asking what that meant in regards to our negative balance.  This resulted in a meeting with HR (hence the entry about the panic attack).  The meeting was mercifully quick and resulted in HR apologising to me for any distress caused.  They also gave me five sick days immediately, and another five in six months time.

We had been expecting a written warning about our excessive sick leave.  During the negotiations, our employer had been talking about “sick leave abusers”.  When we saw that negative balance, we immediately knew that we were one of the people being targeted.  We doubted all of the work we’ve been doing.  We don’t feel as if we’ve been performing to an even half descent standard lately.  So again, all our fears and inadequacies were thrown into the spot light.

The other obvious stress has been the divorce.  We got the papers served on the ex-husband, and immediately started to get hang up phone calls.  They were at odds times of the day and lasted for a week, ending only when we picked up the phone once and asked who was there.  This led to all sorts of flashbacks and activation of parts who used to deal with the ex-husband.

Which probably leads into the other issue I’ve been facing… increasing amounts and severity of self injury.  It’s been a really tough few weeks, lots of lost time and negative coping mechanisms being used.  I know I’m going to have to tell the new therapist about this, but it’s so shame inducing that I don’t know how.  I keep thinking that I should be “strong enough” or “healed enough” not to do those old coping mechanisms… but yet fall back into them when the going gets really bad.

Then there’s the last big thing which feels so awful and… just yuck.  I’m friends with the younger of my two brothers on FaceBook.  A few months ago, a photo was added to his profile.  It’s not an awful photo, it’s actually a really good one, which shows his body language as I remember it.  The thing that sends the system into chaos however, is that the lower half of his face is almost exactly the same as the fathers.  The mouth is the same… as is the chin.  It drives some in the system crazy.  My brother is now the age that the father would have been when we were in our early teens.  As I write this, I feel the dissociation coming.  I know this is a huge trigger.  I know that sometimes one of us looks at this photo of our brother as a punishment.

Far out… that’s all I can write… sorry, I know this doesn’t make much sense.  But I needed to get it out in some way.

In all the craziness, I’m reminded of the lines from Hymn to Her…

She will always carry on
Something is lost
But something is found

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Now playing: The Pretenders – Hymn To Her
via FoxyTunes

What does dissociation feel like?

Over at Polyvore the group Adult Survivors of Abuse are running a friendly competition to come up with the sets which represent to you “How does it feel” to dissociate.  This isn’t an easy question to answer, as it can depend on the trigger, type of dissociation and the severity of the dissociation.  As an example, I can sometimes tell I’m about to dissociate as I get a tingling at the back of my head and neck, or the world tilts and it feels like I’m falling into a black hole… other times, the dissociation is so quick that I don’t notice anything until I come back an hour (or more) later.  When I discussed my dissociation with the first therapist that I saw, we talked about it being like a train that is speeding out of control…  it’s hard to know how to slow the train down, or whether you’re trying to get on or off it.  This was before I knew many of the grounding and distraction techniques I now know, but the dissociation still feels like an out of control train…  Hence the reason for my entry into the competition –

Dissociation train

But the feeling of dissociation is more than that… it’s also about contradictions existing at once.  Over the past month or so, we’ve noticed our food issues coming back.  We’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder, and most of our food issues are generally hidden.  One therapist described our food issues as being tied to a sense of entitlement regarding our health. I’m not sure if she’s right or not, but our dissociation means that we can perceive our body as being different ages, shapes and sex.  With the return of the food issues, there is an internal battle raging between those who see themselves at either end of the weight spectrum…

Food food food

One day I know I’m going to have to work on the food issues. I have raised it with several therapists, but they never seem to consider it a problem worthy of attention. I think this time the food issues are going to be a rough trip, the battle lines are firmly entrenched and there is serious retribution for any action which is perceived as going over those boundaries.

But probably the most consistent issue I have experiencing dissociation is the noise. There seems to rarely be a lull in the constant level of background chatter… I’m not sure how different this is from the usual level of internal noise that non-dissociatives experience, but it can at times be overwhelming, scary and confusing.

Noise

This is what happened to me last week with the “rupture” in the therapeutic relationship with Liz. It’s also the reason why I’m often left incapable of speech while in therapy. The conflicting messages and noise are so intense that it’s impossible to work through what the real message is that needs to be discussed.  This had become more of a problem during my sessions with Liz… it could be seen as progress, but so much of the noise was negative that I’m not really sure what it meant.  The noise has died down over the last day or so – except the noise related to the body’s weight, and I think this is tied to everything going back on “lock-down”…

Last week we saw the Mental Health Team psychiatrist and she asked that we write a letter to Liz outlining our concerns and reasoning behind our departure.  We did that, but haven’t heard a response…  The psychiatrist said that they will offer support for a one month period, and by the end of that time we have to have found another therapist… or gone back to Liz.  This has given us a deadline for either having ourselves sorted out to the point of everything being behind the dissociative walls again, or with a therapist.  We’re preparing ourselves for being without a therapist for quite some time…

The week that was…

To put the last week into context, it would help if I explained a little about the past month…  Probably 3 or 4 weeks ago, one of the young ones became convinced that she was an abuser.  We were part of peer sexual abuse from the ages of 3-10 or 12; and some of that included, what she considered to be, causing abuse towards other innocent children.  This was mentioned in session with Liz, but she dismissed it as learned behaviour from adults that was usual for a child with my history.  Our intellectual response to Liz was to agree, it made sense… but not to the young one, as she has no memory of being hurt by adults, only her peers and some teenagers.  This meant that the young one decided that we needed to die for hurting others – people often say that child abusers should be killed, so what made her any different?

Her belief that she was an abuser, was re-enforced by a recent newspaper article that stated children as young as 5 were being picked up by the police as sexual offenders…  Add on top of this, the on-going anxiety about having to go for an ACC assessment; the memories stirred up by the dissolution of the marriage; and hating our current job.  It all added up to a overwhelming mass of conflicting messages and emotions.  The end result was a suicide plan which was to take place yesterday.  On the way to this date, we ended up in the Police Station last weekend…  Sophie called the crisis line and said we were suicidal, which resulted in the Police being called out, and us ending up in a Police holding cell/interview room being assessed by a Police psychiatrist.  He was a very nice psychiatrist, and again tried to convince the young one that she wasn’t abusive, but she had the newspaper article as proof that she was evil…  To make it worse, she now had further proof of her evilness – she had been picked up by the Police…

Last Monday, we went into therapy with Liz needing to work through this belief about us being abusers and the suicide plans for the coming weekend.  Instead, Liz introduced DBT skills.  This isn’t anything against DBT, but it was like throwing a bucket of water on a forest fire… too little, too late.  Liz tried art therapy to try and get us to see that life was worth living, but she kept on hitting a brick wall because she was skirting around the issue and we needed to hit it face on.  Liz’ attempts were frustrating us both, to the point where she said “Do you want to stop therapy”.  She has said this to us on several occasions before, and each time we got the feeling that she was testing us, but this time it was the last straw…  we said “Yes” and left the office.

I know this could be seen as us lashing out with an emotional reaction, and it was in many ways.  But, there was also a feeling that Liz didn’t know what to do to help us.  This was confirmed on Wednesday when we went back for a meeting to see if the relationship could be salvaged.  Our position was that those words and actions made us feel rejected and as if we were too difficult to deal with.  Liz tried to assure us that this wasn’t the case and that she had been there for us.  But her actions and our expectations didn’t meet… that’s not to say that we were expecting 24/7 assistance from her; but many of our reasonable calls for assistance, were met with Liz passing us off onto the Crisis Team or ACC.

So, we’re no longer seeing Liz…

Due to the visit to the Police Station, the Mental Health Crisis Team have again become involved in our care.  This resulted in us having an emergency psychiatric appointment on Friday, where a very intense psychiatrist upped one of our meds and introduced another.  We’re very sensitive to medication – something I forgot to warn the psychiatrist about; so when we had the first night time dose of the new medication, we got about three hours of quite intense akathisia in the legs.  The next day we tried the daytime strength of the med and got about 3 hours of needing to rip our arms up, increased dissociation and anxiety.  The Crisis Team nurse tried to convince us that this was not tied to the medication in any way, and that we just needed to go for a walk…

So this brings us to today… the day after the young one had vowed to take an overdose.  Why are we still here?  Well, it turns out that the reason the suicide plans weren’t followed through was because of needing to fix our car.  I know it sounds silly, but all the motions were set in place for the suicide – house was cleaned, papers put into order and the final thing was to get a warrant of fitness for the car, but it failed.  Because we had to get it fixed, we ate into our savings which the young one had decided was enough for our funeral.  So now the suicide plans are put off until we can save more money for the funeral – she doesn’t want to leave any debt for others to be inconvenienced by.  I know that this is a tenuous reason to stay alive, but I’m hoping it will last us long enough to find some avenue for assistance.

So where to from here?  Well, I’m not really sure.  I see the Crisis Team psychiatrist again on Tuesday.  I was told by Liz that my ACC funding has run out, so the chances of finding a therapist who will accept a dissociative client through ACC is pretty slim.  I’m still waiting for the ACC assessment to determine what assistance I should be getting, and I just got the papers that I have to serve on the ex-husband’s parents to end the marriage.  So I’m in a fairly precarious situation and can’t really see a way out at the moment.  I’m not in any immediate danger – the fear of debt will keep the young one from acting on her plans for probably another few paydays… That gives me about a month to come up with something that will convince her that she’s not the most evil, disgusting thing on this Earth…

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Now playing: Green Day – Wake Me Up When September Ends
via FoxyTunes

Small acts of kindness…

It’s often been said that small acts of kindness mean so much. I don’t know where the quote comes from, but it’s truth is re-enforced daily.

Today I saw Liz for the last time, the “rupture” during therapy on Monday couldn’t be worked through to a point where we felt we could continue seeing her. I’m seeing the Mental Health Crisis Team psychiatrist on Friday to see what can be done to help me through the public health system.  Because of all of this, I was feeling pretty low.  As a distraction, M thought she’d check our work emails. Right at the top, was one from a lecturer we had done some information literacy teaching for last week.  We were expecting it to be some criticism, as it felt like such a bad session… this is what he wrote…

Hi

Thanks a lot for teaching my class the other day. I was very impressed by the amount of care that had gone into your presentation

Matthew

This on a day when we were at our lowest in a long time…

Small acts of kindness mean so much…  What may seem to be an insignificant gesture, can touch the person who receives it in ways you’ll never imagine.

I thank those who have commented and sent words/thoughts/wishes of support while I’ve been blogging about my healing journey…  At different times they’ve given me hope, laughter and pause for thought… Thank you.

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Now playing: Green Day – Time Of Your Life [Good Riddance]
via FoxyTunes