Goodbye Allison

Last week I had my final session with Allison. The person who has listened to my secrets, encouraged me to talk, tried to understand my experience, and connected with me on many levels; is no longer in my life. I’m not sure how to deal with that reality… or, if it’s even possible to deal with at the moment.

We departed on amicable terms, in that I’ve moved from the area; but, that leaving was oh so difficult. I’m not sure that I fully comprehend what it meant to work with Allison. We formed a therapeutic relationship that allowed me to explore my experience in a safe environment. There were times when we got frustrated with, or misunderstood each other; but there was a desire to keep working on that relationship and find out why things were difficult. This gave me a valuable framework for my relationships outside of her office. I came to understand that people could be frustrated with me, but not want to hurt me… I learned that people were affected and effected by my actions and my past… That realisation was incredibly difficult, and I’m still not sure that I fully accept or understand it.

Allison walked with me as I tried to heal. At times I lamented that I hadn’t made any significant changes in my healing or reactions… but, then we would discuss seemingly little things like now being able to identify and talk about things that are causing me anxiety. I say this is “seemingly little”, but it isn’t. To put it into context, a few years ago when Allison would ask me what issues were affecting me, I’d say “everything… work, neighbours, family, relationships, healing… everything”. I meant it… everything seemed so overwhelming and beyond me, that I wanted to give up… it was all too big to deal with… But, more recently, I’ve been able to break down that overwhelming “everything” statement into more manageable and accurate descriptions of the problems. I’d be able to name the issues associated with that stress; rather than bundle it all into this huge “everything” statement that wouldn’t be able to be addressed until much later – if at all.

Addressing the issues within a therapeutic framework is difficult. I’m not used to being the focus of a safe person’s attention… I’m not used to the empathetic responses that Allison exhibited… I often railed against her attention and response; but, that was about my inability to cope with my emotions. I’m still learning how to cope with that safety… I hope that one day I’ll be able to understand what safety is, and what it feels like to exist within a safe environment…

During my last session with Allison, I began to get an understanding of some of the fears about no longer seeing her, or going to her office… There was a young and vulnerable fear that everything I shared in her office would disappear… At the time, I thought that meant that there was a fear that the secrets that I shared with her would be forgotten. On one level this forgetting was considered an advantage, as it would mean that the pain the secrets held would no longer have an impact on Allison. Another advantage of the loss of the secrets, was that Allison wouldn’t be hurt or bothered by the people who hurt me – I was told that the people who knew the secrets would be hurt, or killed. Then, there is the flip-side to the secrets disappearance/being forgetten… Does that mean that the telling didn’t happen?? Does it mean that the events described within the secrets, didn’t happen?? Does it mean that we don’t exist??

The question “Does it mean that we don’t exist” is still the hardest one to contemplate. Allison bore witness to many of my secrets, and has reassured me that she won’t forget me or my secrets… A part of me doesn’t believe her reassurances, and another part is hopeful she will remember… But the fear that my time with Allison was all a fabrication and didn’t really happen is very present. I have a dissociative coping mechanism where I quickly forget people and places… especially if they mean a great deal to me. This dissociative coping, means that I’ve already lost most of my memories of being in Allison’s office. I can see glimpses of it, but nothing lasting or meaningful. It’s crazy-making… How can I so quickly lose something that was important to me?

This brings me to another of my huge regrets during my time with Allison… I can only remember looking at her face once in all my time with her. I know that may sound silly, or even impossible, but it’s true. I have so much shame, that I can’t bring myself to look people in the eye… especially someone, like Allison, who knows some of my secrets. I can usually look people in the eye at work, but rarely in any other setting. I tried to talk myself into looking Allison in the eye during our last session; but couldn’t do it. I wish I had…

So now, I find myself in a strange city without a therapist. I initially rejected the idea of finding a therapist soon after arriving here, as I wanted time to grieve my relationship with Allison. But now, I’m not so sure… I seem to be coming apart at the seams… Denial and dysfunction are high on my list of coping behaviours… So I’m struggling to look for ways to move forward within my new life…

Please let me find a way…

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Now playing: Enya – Only time

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A dance to the edge

A good friend recently mentioned that she felt like she was going to fall, and fall deeply.  Part of her was expecting, and almost wanting the fall to happen.  Thankfully, her fall hasn’t happened, and I hope it doesn’t; but what she describes is a feeling I know all to well.  It’s like standing on an edge, waiting for that last push to send you over into a mental health free-fall.  The scary bit about standing there, is that you have an awareness about where you are.  You know that one more negative thing is going to push you over, and part of you wishes that it would come so that it’s over with; but another part of you hopes that you can still claw your way back to safer ground.  It becomes a tug of war between different parts of you…  This alone is so tiring that it can be enough to tip you over…

I know I’m also moving closer to the edge.  The stressors in my life have kicked into high gear and I can feel the pressure building.  At the moment, I’m far enough away to know that I’m in danger without being too close to it.  A part of me niggles that I’m thinking myself into moving towards the edge – why do I think of my ex-husband, why worry about the ACC assessments etc.  But the rational part of my brain knows that I’m experiencing PTSD flashbacks and my worry is justified based on past assessments.  This is the beginning of the tug of war that intensifies over time.  Soon other issues will come in to muddy the waters – denial, and a need for validation have already started to appear.  All of this increases my anxiety levels.  I’ve experienced this often enough in the last few years to notice the pattern…  It becomes like a dance, to and fro… ever closer to the edge…

The problem becomes, how do you stop the dance?  If I called a crisis line, they would take me through the individual stressors I am facing and encourage me to break them down into solvable chunks.  This would work for some of the issues I’m facing, but they can’t help with the PTSD symptoms.  I saw Jo today, and she was recommending trying to ground in the present, and while I agree with her reasoning, I also know that I can be very grounded in 2010 and still keep on dancing towards the edge.  Some of the grounding work can make the situation worse – repeating “it’s the 26th of January, 2010 and they are just memories” can morph into a denial statement about the memories all being made up.  The most effective way of keeping the anxiety at bay is to consciously breathe deeply – this also tends to by one of the first things I forget to do.  Like many survivors who experience anxiety, I have a form of hyperventilation syndrome, with my breathing being short and shallow.  It takes a conscious effort to alter my breathing pattern to a healthier depth and pace.  Changing my breathing will temporarily ease the anxiety, but often this isn’t enough to stop the dance towards the edge.  I’m not always sure what moves me away from the edge, I think this time it will be the formal dissolution of my marriage and completing the ACC assessment.  If this is the case, I’ve got about another three weeks of doing the dance around the edge.  I don’t think I’ll fall, but a part of me thinks I will…  A part of me wants to fall, because they think that this is what I deserve…

And so the dance continues…

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Now playing: The Feelers – Stand Up
via FoxyTunes

Personal space and abstract thinking

I noticed a very odd thing yesterday while playing FarmTown on FaceBook…  My issues with having a large personal space, seem to translate to my online avatars.  In FarmTown, you can go to market to sell your produce and see if someone wants to hire you to harvest their crops or plow their fields.  If you’re waiting to be employed, your avatar can be “standing” with a number of other avatars for a period of time.  There is a certain amount of psychology that goes into the strategies behind being hired – the “spammer”, where you repeatedly ask to be hired; the “dancer”, where you move around or get your avatar to dance on the spot; or the “loner”, where you get your avatar in a spot alone so they’re easily noticed.  I’ve always adopted the “loner” strategy, and have always attributed this to my game strategy.  I now realise there might be something more to it.  I can sometimes cope with another avatar being near or overlapping mine for a short period of time, but never long – even my ugly little avatar must have a large personal space.  For those of you who think I’m being cruel about the relative ugliness of the avatar, you obviously haven’t seen FarmTown graphics – they’re UGLY!

I wonder if this is an indication that I’ve been playing the game too long and are therefore personalising it too much, or whether I have extreme boundary issues.  When Carol (previous therapist) asked me about arranging the room in a way that I felt comfortable, we did an exercise about personal space.  In order for us to feel even mildly comfortable, we had to be in one corner of the room and she had to be in the opposite corner.  We would’ve preferred for her to be outside the room, but that wasn’t feasible.  During therapy with Carol, we’d often end up on the floor tucked around behind a cabinet that she had – this was mainly when the young ones were present.  They often felt a need to hide and create physical barriers between us and Carol.  During sessions with Liz when the young ones are present, there is still a pull to sit on the floor in the corner, but we’re too scared to do it in case it makes us look too odd.

We felt that need to sit in the corner today during our session with Liz, Aimee and SO were strongly present and felt like hiding.  It was a rough session in many ways – the main topics of conversation were denial and self-injury.  It brought up a very odd concept of how to cope with the denial.  We’d tried to construct a basic timeline of events to try and create some order out of the memories, but had found it too difficult to write them down.  We got about four events written, but then the derealisation started.  As this way of coping and “getting the memories out” hadn’t worked, Liz suggested something which is too bizarre for my very literal brain – think the memories or whatever is bothering me onto a piece of paper, fold it up and give it to Liz to keep.  This will mean that we don’t have to worry about those pieces of information again as they are being kept safe and separate from us.  To us this didn’t make sense…  How do you “think” something onto a piece of paper without writing it down?  How does giving Liz that piece of paper signify anything?  It was all too abstract and alternative for our very concrete, narrow way of thinking.

A therapist once told us that our education was lacking because we hadn’t studied any of the Arts.  That’s true, we don’t understand the beauty in art, music or philosophy.  In many ways we deliberately avoid studying them, because if the intellectuals amongst us get hold of the ideas they have this tendency to strip away the magic and enjoyment.  So we take photos because they’re fun… we listen to Beethoven, Foo Fighters, Brooke Fraser or any music because it moves us at the time… But when it comes to having to think through an abstract idea, we need the intellectual ones to come on board with some assistance.  This is fine, unless they get faced with something which they can’t dissect or reason through logically, then it sort of gets lost in their cynicism…

A denial sort of day…

Last week I knew that I was going to talk to Liz about denial.  In many ways I see my denial as attention seeking – like I’m wanting Liz (or whomever) to say “of course it happened” or “you’re right, it didn’t happen and you’re just attention seeking”.  It feels manipulative to be in denial, like I’m playing games.  But then, when I’m in the denial, it seems as if I’m playing games when I say that the abuse happened.  It’s an awful place to be in.  You have the clarity to see your actions in the past and you judge those actions, every word or behaviour is analysed and destroyed.  As a perfectionist, I’m my own worst critic, so nothing is spared.

Liz questioned me as to why this was happening now, when 2 weeks ago I said that I needed to turn and face the past, instead of continuing to run from it.  I’m not sure of the answer to that question.  I think it is partly due to the stress that I’m faced with – wedding anniversary, disastrous visit from my mother, yearly performance review at work, etc.  Objectively I understand that I may be stressed and this is what has caused the denial/lock-down, but I don’t get any sense of being stressed.  When I’m like this I don’t feel much of anything, sort of like I’m on auto-pilot.

In order to sort through some of the issues, Liz said that I needed to try and re-frame the anniversary into a new context as a way of trying to move forward.  We were nearly out of session time, so this was very much a passing comment.  I know what she means, but this year it was impossible to do.  I’m not aware of any real reaction, other than losing great chunks of time.

I almost broke through the denial yesterday by listening to Beethoven’s Grosse Fugue, but it didn’t last.  As it’s a long weekend in New Zealand, I’m not seeing Liz this week.  Possibly the wrong time to have an interruption in sessions, but it couldn’t be avoided.

I’m dreading looking at the dissociative walls again – whether it be to knock them down, or to reinforce that they never existed to begin with.  I know that this is not a positive place to be in, but I’m not sure how to move beyond it.  I also know that living like this is full of contradictions…  How can I be losing chunks of time and not be dissociative?  How can I have no personal history beyond newspaper headlines and not be dissociative?  It’s confusing and yet meaningless all at once, for when I’m like this, I only live in the present moment with headlines as reminders of what I need to do.

It feels very odd and very normal all at once.

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Now playing: Sting – Fields of Gold
via FoxyTunes

Are you safe?

Please note that this entry may trigger.

“Are you safe?”

This is the question I’m often asked by a friend who knows the extent of my self-injury.  I often hesitate in answering, not because I don’t want to answer, but because I don’t really know what “safe” means.  When you’re a survivor of abuse, your goalposts surrounding the concept of safety often shift – it could be that “safe” becomes not being physically assaulted, but still experiencing psychological abuse.  This is what most of my marriage was like.  He rarely hit me, so I thought I was “safe”.  This sort of understanding ignores the broader definition of safety as being secure from danger, harm, or evil.  Many survivors wouldn’t know what that sort of security means or feels like.

It was interesting when I was asked this question today, I hadn’t been safe over the weekend and I realised that I didn’t particularly care.  This isn’t because I’m suicidal or tied to a feeling of deserving the self-injury, but because I don’t have any sense of it being negative or being “me”.  Up until last week I was actively trying to work through the self-injury so that I knew what had triggered it and could potentially prevent it in the future.  That’s all changed.  I’m no longer worried about preventing it, because I don’t have any sense of it impacting on me in any way.  I know this is a dissociative event and compartmentalisation, but I can’t move beyond that knowledge into any solid concept of it doing harm.  I know that this is probably tied to the denial that I’m currently experiencing, but I don’t get a sense of needing to move beyond that denial.  This all could also be contributed to ACC still not approving any further sessions with Liz, I’m not sure.  I know that this is a potentially dangerous place to be in, but it also has it’s benefits.  I’m moving back to my high functioning at work, I’m enrolling for another qualification and am getting back to exercising regularly.  This is close to my functioning during the middle years of my relationship with my ex-husband, when I was considered high-functioning and an asset.

I’m not sure of what to make of it all and I get a sense that I don’t want to analyse it.  All I know is that the screaming inside my head has gone.  Everything is back in the boxes behind the wall.  I don’t even get a sense of that having occurring,  I just get a sense that this is what has happened.  It’s both confusing and totally clear at the same time.  When I saw Liz on Monday, I mentioned the denial and she responded that I wasn’t wanting to look at the past.  But I don’t have any sense of the past, I don’t need it or want it.  All I have a sense of, is my life becoming a tickable list of things to do – mow the lawns, check FaceBook, go to bed and read for an hour, etc.

Not quite sure what is happening, or how long it will last.  But it’s an easier life than the one filled with anxiety, flashbacks and suicidal ideation.

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Now playing: Brooke Fraser – Lifeline
via FoxyTunes

Unfit for work

“Unfit for work…” those words sting, they really do.  They’re the words used to explain why I won’t be able to work for the next 12 days.  They’re part of the standard form that the doctor fills in, so it’s nothing personal, but it means failure to some of us.  We know that our functioning at work has been so poor that there was no other choice, but it still cuts us to the core of what many of us perceive as our self-worth.  M in particular, is struggling with being put off work, yet she was the one who made the appointment and mentioned the problems we were having, knowing full well that enforced sick leave was the likely outcome.  M couldn’t hand the medical certificate over in person – it would be like admitting failure and having to face the disappointment of those around us; so we left it on the team leaders desk with an email message apologising for the inconvenience we were causing.  Some of us consider this the wimps way out… failing to face up to our responsibilities and the repercussions of our actions.

This morning we got a text message from our cynical work friend asking how we were.  I wasn’t sure how to respond, I know that in some ways I’m trying to protect her – she’s got enough on her plate without hearing my sob story.  So I sugar-coated what was happening.  No one at work was expecting us to have this time off, so it probably came as a shock.  I suppose this is one example of how we can appear so high functioning, but really be a total and utter mess.  What I fear the most is the reaction when we get back to work… will people alienate us, want to hug us, avoid talking about it?  At their core, the people that I work with are good and kind people, but they don’t understand mental health issues.  This means that I will odds are lie about what has happened when I get back to work, I’ll find some acceptable lie that doesn’t make them squirm.

This week we’ve also seen Jo and Liz…

Jo became quite worried about our safety after we did a collage with her.  It can be quite amusing on one level to see Jo’s art work which is all about love and happiness, while ours is dark and full of violence.  We both had mindless woman’s magazines to use as base material for the collage.  I had words like key, disappear, invisible… Jo had love and rainbow.  I had a picture of a puppet running through a door… Jo had a smiling woman on the beach.  She was concerned about our safety to the point of contacting Liz.  Poor Liz also now realises how much we were testing her when we first started seeing her – with Jo we go with the flow, but with Liz we resisted and argued at the beginning.  This wasn’t deliberate, but rather an unconscious way to see whether Liz was going to be able to help us heal and put up with what we could throw at her.

When we saw Liz, it was what I would consider a disaster.  Little Michelle came forward and made it almost impossible for us to speak.  She has such a problem with words and forming them that it’s like she is stuttering, but I don’t think it’s a true stutter, I think it’s more about not wanting to tell the secrets.  At one point, we were stuck on one sentence, and in particular one word… “I’m not special“.  We were so incapable of saying the word special, that we ended up having to write it down.  Little Michelle stuttered through explaining that she wasn’t “that word” to anyone, because if you were “that word” you then got hurt.  She wanted to runaway so that the pain would stop.  Liz offered to runaway with her, but Little Michelle said that no one else was allowed to come.  All the time this was going on, there were ones in the background yelling that she was telling lies and it’s all rubbish.  This was the first time the messages about it all being lies were so closely tied to someone saying anything.  Little Michelle shared no abusive events, but her presence alone was enough to stir-up the denial and nay-sayers.  That probably means something in psychology land, but to us it just felt crazy.

So we have 11 more days before we are allowed back to work…  We’re meant to relax and unwind…  This is terrifying!  Work is our structure, our safety.  Suddenly we’re meant to do this thing called relaxation and rest.  We’ve actively avoided doing either of those things for about 20 years…  Today we survived by going down to the gardens and taking pictures with the new lens’ we got the other day.  Not sure how we’re going to cope with another 11 days of this.

Here’s a random photo we took today…

Blossom

Cherry blossom

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Now playing: Shihad – Pacifier
via FoxyTunes