Tag: flashbacks

The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 2

This is Part 2 of a 3 part post. You can find Part 1 HERE

I wonder how much of my misinterpretation of emotional facial expressions is because the people I grew up with, my current family members and I myself express emotions in a different way from the typical?

It occurs to me that I’m told that often I show no emotion outwardly, or that people can’t work out what I’m feeling. In a family member’s words, “we just have to have some kind of reaction out of you,” and “we have no idea what on earth is going on with you so it feels like – aargh – we can’t be dealing with this!” I’m often told this when internally I’m having really strong emotions of loss, hurt, upset, abandonment and fear, and having flashbacks. Sometimes I’ve wanted to keep my emotions hidden. Almost always I’ve tried to turn my feelings inwardly so as not to bother or hurt anyone else with them.

However at the same time I’ve frequently thought other people understand what I’m feeling inside (but don’t want to discuss it so I just have to keep going) when it may later transpire they had no idea what I was feeling. I will then find it really hard to believe they had no idea. I will also be upset because my attempt to keep inside the sad feelings I have, to keep going as you’re meant to and not draw attention to myself, then backfired and seems to cause anger and upset and accusations of being childish, spoiled, rude or disrespectful, and of making other people responsible for me. People have said things like “It looks like you’re accusing me of not looking after you,” “I’m not responsible for how you feel,” “Its not anyone else’s job to make you feel better,” “You’re a spoiled little brat”; I’m told I have to stop thinking about my own problems, should push them aside, should think what other people have gone for me, etc. Which is often exactly what I’ve been trying to do and nearly broken under the strain. I don’t know how I get it so wrong. I don’t know what other people are seeing at these times that is childish or rude etc. If I did I would have some chance of correcting it.

This reminds me that as a child being abused, I was daily really distressed, inevitably expressed it (til I learnt better) and got no help. I was at best ignored. More often the punishments redoubled and threats got worse – more threats of how I was breaking up the family, of how the couple of people I had and loved would die because of me and graphically how I would find them, of how my parents would be taken away. I was told I was a liar, faking what I was feeling, behaving as I was in order to cause worry and hurt to my abuser, to punish them because in some way I didn’t get what I wanted. One of my abuser’s paranoia about us being watched increased too. Her bizarre, possibly psychotic behaviour, and ridiculing of me, came to the fore. I tried my hardest not to express any feelings, even physical feelings. When I got ill I was terrified what would happen when my abuser and others complicit in the abuse found out. Basically I got no response or a terrible response, and none of the help I needed, from my main abuser and the person enabling her.

Both my abuser when I showed my emotions as a child, and family members now when I try not to show my emotions, said/say that I am childish, spoiled and hurting others.

When I do express my emotions now, the reaction from my family is rarely positive. Occasionally it is, but often it isn’t. The fact that it fluctuates is really hard to deal with. But that’s another story for another post.

My abuser’s emotions could change in a couple of seconds so I had to be constantly on the alert and do what I could to stay safe. She was either emotionless in all her expressions, or furious, or distraught, or ridiculing me. Occasionally she was happy but you got the sense it was only on the surface and sometimes it seemed like a trick, especially when it quickly flipped to anger or ridicule. (Her severe psychotic episodes were somewhat different.) Whilst I had to be on the alert to her emotions, I didn’t learn anything from her about normal emotional expression.

My other immediate family members’ emotions are also hard for me to judge, in facial expressions and verbally. I can fail to spot the onset of anger with me. At other times I’m overwhelmed by how they express it. I often interpret anger when they are actually feeling concern or upset. I interpret disinterest or rejection when they say there is none there.

So…. on the whole that does seem quite messed up, doesn’t it!?

To be continued in Part 3 (which will be what I thought I was going to write about originally!)

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The guilt I feel when I’m met with no response – Part 1

I was reading about how people with borderline personality disorder interpret emotion in facial expressions. I came across a study that had found that people with BPD are quite similar to people without any personality disorder in how we perceive emotions in facial expressions, however, those of us with BPD are likely to perceive neutral facial expressions as communicating “negative” emotions*. If someone is not displaying a positive feeling in their expression, we are likely to interpret a negative feeling. Of course, facial expressions are a somewhat personal and subjective thing. Additionally, I am not sure whether the finding was that we tend to interpret the perceived negative emotion as directed at us (eg the person is fed up with us) or as a non-personally-directed emotion (eg the person is sad, the person is frustrated after a bad day). Perhaps the study didn’t differentiate. I must try to revisit the study online and I’ll post a link in the comments if I find it.

Two things rang true to me. First I agree that I’m likely to infer from an expression that isn’t warm / positive that the person feels negatively. I’m not sure whether I actually see the expression as negative, or know it’s neutral (maybe “not letting anything on”) but a neutral expression for me means the person’s feeling is negative. Second, once I interpret a negative emotion (from whatever expression) I will usually be absolutely sure it’s directed at or because of me. Even if there are abundant clues that it’s because of something else, even if logically it can’t be because of me, this is my default assumption. Cue massive guilt and a desperate urgency to put things right. My first thoughts, my deepest emotions, my bodily reactions, are all based on that. Even flashbacks or memories involving deep guilt (where I know I hurt someone in the past) can follow.

This can all happen before any words are spoken.

However, I do the equivalent with speech and writing too. If anything is left open, ambiguous or ignored, I often feel I’ve done something wrong, or caused irritation or anger or displeasure, or that the person doesn’t believe me.

To be continued in Part 2.

* Note: by “negative” I mean feelings like sad, angry and so on. I don’t like using the word “negative” as it suggests something wrong with the feeling. This isn’t what I mean. All feelings are valid. I couldn’t think of another word. Perhaps “unhappy”?

Looking for an app to track mood and pain

I am seeing a psychologist at the pain clinic for a short number of sessions. When I was first sent an appointment to do therapy I was really worried and almost angry about it, feeling I’d had enough of therapy in other services where I couldn’t trust the therapists or the community team and I couldn’t risk making myself vulnerable again. On top of that I was sure the therapy would be from the point of view that nothing is wrong with me, the pain I have is unnecessary and my fault because I’ve rested too much and not pushed myself enough, which is an attitude I’ve encountered too many times on so-called pain management courses. Amazingly it has turned out to be a very different experience.

I don’t tend to find pain is terribly related to my mood, beyond the fact that I’m more anxious and low when the pain is worse. It’s also connected to flashbacks but I don’t quite know how. We identified in therapy today that I find awareness of my body very difficult. Maybe that is common in personality disorder and certainly in dissociative identity disorder.

I want to try tracking my pain and my mood together to see if this may show up any links I’m not aware of. I’ve done the two separately before as part of learning to pace activity (I did not find the recording gave me any new insights) but I’ve not really done the two together, not over an extended period anyway.

Phone apps exist to track your mood but I’m looking for an app that tracks mood and pain. Ideally I’d like an app where I could record a numerical score for my pain and my mood every couple of hours through the day, with space to make a brief note if something very significant happened (for example if I have flashbacks or an event triggers traumatic memories or dissociation).

Have you used an app like this and did you learn from it? Any recommendations would be very helpful.

Ginny xx

Brave

“Brave” by Sara Bareilles / video by SaraBareillesVEVO (c) 2013 Epic Records a division of Sony Music Entertainment

In my lowest times I look back and wish I had just stopped speaking. I think the idea took hold about a year before I was first in hospital but I used to think it as a child too. I know partly why but I don’t want to think about that right now.

This song tugs at my mind. Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out… I couldn’t. I feel my throat close over when I have the flashbacks, or when the voices are loud, or my mind is spinning as the multiple possibilities of disasters I could cause wrap tight around me. Even though my history of silence never did any good.

Some of healing is letting out the words I need to say. It is not an easy fix. It is not as simple as “get it all out and you’ll feel better”. Often getting it out isn’t okay. It’s almost never okay. I wish I could speak and live sure that I wouldn’t cause terrible harm to other people. I wish I could be sure that I’m not all bad really, after all. I wish I were untangled. Perhaps I can never be sure unless I’m brave enough to risk a little more.

To be continued.

Ginny xx

The worst thing they can make you fear

TRIGGER WARNING for discussion of abuse and control

The worst thing my abuser made me fear was not what she would do to me. Actually I accepted that without question.

The worst thing to be afraid of is myself. That’s what my abuser made me most afraid of. Me. What I really am. What I can’t stop. What I would do to her. What I would do to everyone I loved. What everyone would find out in the end about me. What the people watching thought and how they’d take my loved ones away because of me (the watchers didn’t exist, I’m told, but it was too deeply engrained for that to make any difference now).

I was supposed to love my abuser, and that made it worse, because the revulsion I felt showed I should be repulsed at myself.

When rarely, I told what had happened, nobody heard or nobody believed, but she’d already told me they wouldn’t.

I escaped from my abuser, in physical terms. And I know I’m very fortunate because so many don’t.

The one thing we can certainly never ever escape from is ourselves. The one way my abuser ensured her power over my present and future as well as my past is this terror of myself. Add to that my “alters” (the child that screams unendingly because no-one heard her when it mattered; the violent lunatic full of anger as I’m tricked again and again by those who supposedly love me) – and my abuser is not only in my mind now but sickeningly in every current relationship and interaction.

I can feel her laughter and ridicule now. I feel surrounded.

X

The peculiar significance of treacle

Every year I forget how evocative certain Christmas smells are. Not just the more obvious things like candles and oranges and mincemeat and brandy, but certain specifics. It was black treacle and spices the other day, as I was making gingerbread dough. Suddenly as I counted out the syrupy spoonfuls I was taken back to being stood in front of another cooker, aged maybe 7, stirring the pan dissolving the sugars, with my mother watching. Chain smoking, of course. A knot of emotions expanded inside me as they did then. Excitement for Christmas. Some kind of enjoyment of doing a grown up thing. Delight at wanting to make pretty biscuits. Wanting to get it right and please my mother…. well, the desperate need to get it right, impeccably following the process she had shown me. That meant tenterhooks and anxiety and churning emotions, too often teetering on the edge of me ruining everything again (I thought). One mistake, one deviation from her instructions, her watching would explode into anger, ridicule, accusations and threats. Hours of shouting and violence would follow. And everything, I had made her do, and each time I’d have that sick terror inside that this time it was over and the threats were being fulfilled. Looking back and seeing how little was needed to tip us into that disaster, it’s bizarre. Laying a biscuit onto the baking tray in the “wrong” way (ie not the precise arrangement she required), not getting the bow on a package right fast enough, touching the wrong switch on the oven – even simply letting any of my anxiety show. It sounds almost as if it should be funny. But it isn’t funny when someone has you isolated, under their power and in fear; not in fear of them but in fear of yourself. Because one sure thing to me at the time was that it was my fault.

So, standing there measuring the treacle it all came back. As I’ve been making the biscuits over the last day or so, I keep being catapulted into so many emotions and suddenly reliving snatches of good and bad … And to tell the truth I’ve been pulled into the bad too much. Exhausted.

I’m fighting it, because there’s no way my abuser’s having this Christmas. This Christmas is for God and the present and my fiancé and it’s about all the good we can do and are thankful for today. I speak briefly, quietly to God as I roll the dough, cut, bake , ice, package these cookies. I’m pushing through the dissociation to do all I can to hope for this Christmas and for every flashback find twice as much I’m thankful for today.

Ginny xxx

They’ve found her

My mother has been found. My abuser has been found.

It has been a little over a year since I first reported to the police the abuse done to me by my mother in my childhood and early adulthood.

Since I made my statement, the police had been searching for my mother to question her. It had come to the point that with her not being found for so long, part of me felt perhaps she never would be. Had she chosen to disappear? She had gone from her last known address, disappeared and ceased contact with the hospital that was treating her, no information about her whereabouts was known by the very few former friends and similar, and none of the few leads I could think of helped (a relative she might have had contact with, a place she worked a very long time ago and so on). Even the police’s searches of records held by places like the DWP or tax office yielded nothing (very strange since she must surely be claiming a Benefit, or a pension, or working). The police had even searched the death and marriages registers and were talking about the possibility she may have passed away. It was in my mind whether the time would come that I might have to accept that, though bizarrely without ever really knowing what happened to her.

Then at the weekend I got the news that the police have found her.

Shock. I was stunned.

So, now I am to meet with the DC who is working on my case, the same person who took my statement. He has spoken to my mother. I don’t know if he has interviewed her. I expect he must have. He has things he needs to tell me but felt we need to meet face to face to talk about it.

I’m in a sort of suspense til our conversation. There are so many questions and uncertainties and fears. Where was she? Probably the DC won’t be allowed to tell me. How did they find her? Perhaps he will be able to tell me how. What state is her health in? She was not in good physical health when I last saw her and her mental health conditions are severe; she never believed she was ill though. Has that changed? I doubt it – but perhaps that’s too much of an assumption. No, actually, it isn’t; given the years and years history anything else would be astonishing. What has happened to her since our contact ceased? She disappeared from contact with the hospital team – not surprising, sadly – so has she had no treatment since? What’s she doing? What danger is she in? And what danger is she to others, that’s in my mind too, because of what she did to me, and because of her violence when she is ill.

For me, what now? If she’s been questionned, what happened? What did she say? What do we do now? I can imagine what she will have said to the police about me. I’m trying not to imagine too much in general about this, as it can lead to no good. There is no point in imagining scenarios until I meet the DC. A big issue will be her mental state now, I think, and whether she has capacity to understand proceedings. I think another big issue will be how will there be any evidence of what I went through? So much happened when I was alone and isolated with her. The lack of evidence gives the voices in my head power and I’m stifled and paralysed quickly with the flashbacks on the one hand, the voices telling me liar, disgusting, your fault, you wanted it….

The last 2 days dissociative episodes have taken hold scarily often. I’m fighting them, sometimes. But often that makes me break too much or I’m too far in.

If I have to make some decisions over what happens next, how can I choose for good?

Ginny xxx

Unenchanted April

I have wanted to post but not been able to find what to write. I’m sorry it has been nearly a month. Even this post I started nearly a week ago. I don’t know quite what’s making it so hard to express how I really am.

My friend’s health continued to deteriorate. I was fighting desperately to get him help as the danger he was in increased. Everyone in a position to keep him safe seemed oblivious to tune dangers and I could see how close he was to the edge but with no professional’s help I could not do anything more than what I can as a friend and that is not enough. It’s terrifying to be the only one knowing and believing the risk and I know that sounds like I am very arrogant thinking I know better than the doctors, but time and time again now I’ve known what’s happening or going to happen, the doctors have done nothing, refused even to listen to my concerns, and the thing I’ve known will happen, happens. The toll is greater each time. He has liver damage, blood clots, he’s starving himself, he is barely even drinking anything, there’s much more I wish I could write but it’s too personal to him for me to feel I can share here.

I don’t know how to carry this knowing.

I cannot save him alone. What someone else can give you, or trying to carry on for someone else, will not ultimately be enough to keep you safe or even alive. (I know this from my own darkest times, when I’ve been irretrievably low, hurting myself and planning to end my life, and someone close to me – who didn’t know the half of it – screamed at me, look what everyone is doing for you – why isn’t this enough for you? The answer is a post for another time but I know if he continues it must not be for me, not just for me in any case, so I alone cannot save him.

I can pray. I can try to give comfort. I can try to give compassion. I can try to show I love him and that he’s a good person not as he sees a problem, a burden, someone who frightens people, is bad, is not wanted, is no good. I can try to help him find some ways to build a safe, stable home and life. We can find short times of hope, happiness and laughter together. He has an immense capacity to love others, care for them and about them, to rejoice when they are happy, to fight to help them when they are hurting and share their pain. But none of that can he do towards himself.

He may die. He may end his life. I don’t know how to hold this knowledge and all the feelings that come with it.

****

I have been in crisis myself in the last few weeks and was in hospital for a couple of days. Then I had help from the crisis team at home for a week. When crises come I still flip out and instinctive reactions and thoughts take over along with the hallucinations just as much as they ever did before I had therapy. My “little child” gets out and she really isn’t very nice sometimes. It’s scary. I feel like a failure.

***

I’m realising that my mobility has got a lot worse in the last year. I’m particularly weak physically at the moment. I was diagnosed with POTS a little while ago (a heart, blood pressure and autonomic nervous system disorder). I’ve a lot to learn on how to manage the symptoms. Being very faint, muscle spasms, digestive problems and poor circulation have been hard to deal with this month. I’m now very fortunate to be in touch with a pain clinic at the hospital and there are some good possibilities from what they can offer, so I must be hopeful.

I really will try to post more regularly again and share happier news next time.

God bless you.

Ginny xxx

 

What is it okay to protect for ourselves?

I still can’t figure out why I’m crumbling so much trying to support my friend. Partly it’s because the trauma he’s suffered and needs to talk about is so close to my own experiences and I don’t know how to cope with my own emotions about my trauma, and bad as I feel about this, I can’t always cope with someone else’s experiences, the even stronger emotions this gives rise to in me and the overwhelming emotions they are also feeling. It’s as if I absorb the pain and feel it 3 times over – my own pain and distress, my pain for them, and their pain and distress.

But this isn’t the only reason. When there’s no link whatsoever to my experiences I’m still feeling panic, dread, boiling frustration (inappropriately), unease, fear… and terrifyingly, too many emotions that are too close to those I felt when I was caring for my mother (who was also my main abuser). My conscious feelings towards my friend are nothing like what my feelings towards my mother were so why are these experiences occuring? Very raw feelings, as well as flashbacks, hallucinations and panic attacks are increasing. For some reason the situations with his health deteriorating out of control, hopes for things being understood resolved and treated then being delayed time after time, his near desperation, his rapidly overtaking weakness and physical degeneration, even his need for me, is triggering the feelings I had when I was with her. This scares me. It’s nonsensical. He’s nothing like her. The situation is not the same. Yet I can suddenly feel just as desperate to escape. I don’t know why because he is generous, good, caring, honest, he wants to help me, he does not judge me, he worries for my wellbeing and he supports me greatly in the faith we share.

Why does his need for me scare me so much too? He tells me I’m the only person he trusts to tell certain things or to give comfort. I am thankful and sort of honoured that he trusts me but I don’t want to be the only person. That isn’t safe for him. I am only one person. Yes, I care, I pray, I do not judge (well, wish not to, with God’s help), I can empathise deeply; but I’m only a normal person. I can’t keep him safe, heal him, I am not the total good he thinks I am. God gives hope. God gives safety under His care. I am only one person. I am thankful he trusts me but I don’t want him to trust and confide in me and not the doctors or other professionals who can help. If I’m honest, I cannot be the only person because it isn’t safe for me either, as well as for him. I cannot be the only person who knows when he is in danger. I cannot carry that or keep him safe. I cannot be the only person he can turn to because despite my best desires I cannot infallibly be there and there will come a time I don’t do the right thing or the thing he most needs or that I hurt him unintentionally and I don’t want him to be in danger then.

Which brings me to: what time or mental or emotional resources can we protect for ourselves? He needs me desperately and constantly. As well as practical help, there is rarely more than a couple of hours that I’m not listening, emotionally supporting or encouraging him or at least trying to. I might be coping more stably, or having lower levels of the currently overwhelming emotions, if I had more breaks, time separate from him, time to meet my own daily tasks and duties, time to keep my commitments to others, time to pray, time just to rest. But what would he do then?

When is it okay to protect time and mental resources for myself? The Lord is with us always. He always listens, always answers and always holds us in His Heart. Jesus gives His life for us. We are called to emulate this, to join in the sacrifice He made and pour ourselves out in love. If I’m to follow Him, to offer my life too, then I need to be there for people in need, always not only when it’s easy or convenient. I have felt the hurt myself of people I’d counted good friends cutting off or cutting back contact when I got more ill and being alone when I most needed contact with friends and to know I wasn’t going to be left for my weakness.

So I just cannot limit my availability to someone in desperate need. But I’m crashing up against my own physical and emotional limitations. What is the loving response? Admittedly my friend is not my only calling and responsibility. I have a calling to my family, my volunteer work, to run my home responsibly, to manage bills and finances and so on. In a way I have a responsibility to my own health and wellbeing too, though that’s hard to admit. Though that’s a fight in my head to. I should deny myself to reach out to bring God’s love to others. Then again the Lord created me, wants me, loves me – perhaps not only so that I can be denied and weakened? At the moment every responsibility except to my friend is falling to the side. I have no reserves left for anything else. That really does not feel right. I feel more guilt for it, especially not having the energy for family, for contemplative prayer or for treating my home that I’m blessed to have with due care so everything is in disorder.

This is all very uncomfortable and I’m so tired. I need to seek guidance.

Ginny xxx

Getting ready for the day centre – trying to keep reaching out

I’ve had a really bad dissociative episode this weekend. After therapy group on Friday my mind just shut down and didn’t even seem to slide into my safe escape world. I was frozen and gone and my body wasn’t working either. I think I slept quite a lot and several times was locked into hallucinations, conscious but unable to move. This afternoon I started to be “here” again though I’m longing to escape into sleep. Every movement hurts so much. Returning from these episodes is scary. I’m fighting through fog to speak to anyone and I’ve lost so much time. Where have the last 2 days gone?

I forced myself to go out this afternoon and bought supplies I need for volunteering at the day centre tomorrow (I go every other week to do craft activities with a small group of elderly people). As I was leaving, I bumped into a neighbour who wasn’t well so I picked up a couple of things she needed too. This evening I’ve been preparing for tomorrow. I am dreading it and don’t know how I’ll be able to leave the house, I feel so bad. I feel guilty for dreading it because they need me at the centre and all the elderly people there are struggling with far worse than I am. By God’s grace the harder I have to force myself to go, the more love I will put into it, and in my weakness He is strong and He will lead me.

Tomorrow at the day centre we are going to make mini Christmas trees from empty squash bottles, tinsel and decorated card, and make stars for the top from felt and pretty buttons. If there’s time we’ll make paper stars (or snowflakes). Here’s one I practiced making with scrap paper just now. They’ll look much prettier tomorrow made from glittery paper.

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I thought it would be nice for people to have ornaments to take home. I particularly like the star because you can start with scraps and still make something pretty. It’s a bit like what I’m trusting in God to do with my life – bring something beautiful from the mess of my heart.

Ginny xxx