Tag: mental health and relationships

How do you love someone who is hurting his/herself when it feels you can only watch?

WARNING: this post mentions self-harm and suicide and the point of view of carers of people who are struggling.

How do you love someone who is slowly hurting his/herself – and you wonder if actually, they’re taking their life gradually – when it feels like you can only watch?

I don’t mean how do you feel love. That’s not in question. It’s your love that aches and burns and cries inside you.

But how do you give love?

When it seems you can only watch. Watch, wish, long, weep, beg, scream, shake (you – and them?), speak but only shout into the distance, only shout up against a rubber wall that bounces your words of concern and pain and fear and help and whatever it may be right back at your heart – where they metaphorically stab you and mock you with their futility.

And the love you want to give is lost somewhere.

Your loved one get relentlessly weaker with irresistible self-consuming power. And you are powerless. Love does not force or fight and does not demand to control another person’s choices. Love can not force another person to choose the healing of their body or to choose life. The pain-and-longing part of your heart, when you love someone who’s breaking, might for a time wish it could force it, but the very centre of love knows really that it cannot be forced.

And then you cry.

Even if you cannot and do not want to make them choose, you wish you could at least penetrate the rubber wall, so that love could be heard for a little while.

****

I’m in this situation right now, actually with two people dear to me, and I don’t know how to give love.

Ginny xxx

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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!)

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”?

Panic about planning

My partner and I had to go into town today to buy some items for Easter and for volunteer work next week; also to meet a friend for coffee. There were 5 items on the list, to be bought in a couple of different shops.

Why did I go into a full panic attack?!

The task seemed completely insurmountable, more and more insurmountable as the minutes passed; and the more insurmountable it seemed, the angrier I got with myself. If it hadn’t been for my partner I would not have left the house. I’d have hidden away under my blanket at home. Yes, like a three year old.

I could not make any decision on where to go. Nowhere would have everything. There was a potential problem with every potential store we could go to. There was a reason not to go to this or that place, but also to go to this or that same place. I was exhausted. I wanted sleep. But I had to get everything on the list or I’d let people down at work. If I did go, what order should I go to different shops? All the possibilities made a desperate screaming noise in my head and it was impossible to choose and any choice felt disastrous.

Why? Why am I so unable to cope with the simplest choice and task? Decisions are always harder than I think they should be but not usually this bad.

There seemed to be too many combinations of possible outcomes to make a choice but I don’t know why this was so paralysing. Why there was so much noise and crushing pressure in my head. My reaction to not being able to choose was very much a child’s – want to stop, want to hide and so on. Had I dissociated and my little-child-self was in the fore and unable to cope with the decision-making? Or is my adult self so overwhelmed I can’t go through a normal choice process? Or both….

My partner made the choice in the end. We made it out. I had two other near panic attacks when things went wrong while we were out. We were glad to see our friend. I’m home now, utterly wiped out, pain off the scale. On days like this I’m astounded my partner wants to be with me.

Ginny xxx

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

Voids between my mind and others’ minds

I feel so sad and I’m doubting my mind. I clashed with someone I care about. It doesn’t feel right to put the details here much as I want to. Basically I felt we need to make a fact very clear to someone we are working with, a fact that ought to have been made clear from the start. In itself the fact isn’t right or wrong but it does totally change what we are offering the person and what they will expect and it’s absolutely necessary to say it. The person I clashed with thinks there’s no need to say it, it doesn’t change anything, nothing was ever promised. I tried to explain what I believe and he said he would write off working with the person completely.

There’s more to it but that’s all I can say here.

It sounds like a tiny thing but it’s shaken me and got me lost about how I see things and how others see them and the gulf between that. What I see as a clear duty when others don’t. What I expect. How I deal with uncertainty (rather, don’t deal with it). The gap there is between my mind and the people I care about. It’s brought back the ever-near memories of people telling me I expect other people to look after me, or that I didn’t keep my word, my responsibilities, when I was doing all I could to get it right for everyone and hurting myself to punish myself for my failings and still wasn’t good enough.

I’m sad. It probably doesn’t help I’ve been ill physically this weekend.

I know this blog has been too down and negative lately and I need to change that. I’m sorry.

Ginny xxx

Frozen, slipping, returning

I’ve a list of things I need to do. Call my energy supplier as my current gas and electricity plan is coming to an end. Write Christmas thank you notes (I always have them done by New Year so this is late for me). Type up notes for some admin I do to help my fiancé’s work. Read the material to prepare for a meeting on Friday. Clear up the house. Sort the TV licence payment.

Why do I feel like I’m drowning… no, stuck in a block of ice too frozen cold to move again? I can’t do any of it. Waves of exhaustion, vacancy, cold, fear, dread, crash over me even though I can’t find any immediate cause. I slip in and out of presence and dissociation. The guilt intensifies on every return.

My to-do list is an insignificant lot of things to most people, I know. I know if I told someone I am struggling with this they’d say it’s nothing and just day to day responsibilities. This brings back so many memories of times I’ve struggled before and family members have told me I have no responsibilities and I’m a spoiled brat. Here comes more guilt and fear wrenching inside.

What I have to do overwhelms me but it’s not really what overwhelms me – the waves, the cold, the dissociating and returning do. It hurts and takes all of me and if it weren’t for my fiancé I don’t think I’d be able to come back at all. I’d have no strength left.

Why now? When so much has been so good? (Ungrateful little brat, look what everyone’s done for you, why isn’t it enough – the voices scream, preventing me telling anyone about what’s happening because that’s what they’d say again.)

Is that just what trauma and depression and borderline do?

How can I try to escape from this ice and reach out and reach forward again? I know sometimes doing even the tiniest thing can make a difference at first. I forced myself to get up this morning, get dressed and put on makeup. Afterwards I was shaking and exhausted. Being more ill physically than usual doesn’t help. After some rest I made a little start on the paperwork I’ve just been sent that needs to be read for Friday. My mind was a blank for hours after that and I was gone for much of the time but at least I had achieved something not absolutely nothing. I’ll write this down in the journal I resolved to keep, to see if this helps me when I look back. I will be able to acknowledge what I did and somehow find a way to see good in this day and give thanks. Creativity sometimes breaks through the ice so I made a paper origami ball and did a few steps towards decorating the photo frame I’m giving my dad as one of his birthday presents. Then I really, really struggled with so much pain in my head and inside me, anxiety, hallucinations and unbearable voices and just… numbing cold.

I want to sleep now and I will soon and hope rest can shut off this state for a while. I don’t know if I believe even that right now. I forced myself to write this post bit by bit over a couple of hours because when I wake up tomorrow and read this, I’ll know I got through it thanks be to God, and something, however small, will be different in the morning.

Ginny xxx

Anger management courses – do they help?

I’m scared that I’ve become increasingly angry and less able to control it. Maybe I never could control anger. Under my abuser’s control I never felt it, except for a very few occasions where some feeling that probably was anger exploded, always severely punished. When I did start to feel it, when rebellious feelings grew, fear of myself almost always grew stronger, and so I channeled it towards myself with anorexia and self-harm. I lost control eventually, years later, but bulimia and binge eating, overdose and cutting still did well to numb my most frightening emotions. But then, and I don’t know why, I started to scream. Rage burned and exploded and my control was gone.

I did not learn, in the therapy I undertook for my personality disorder, how to control the anger.

It may not be the first emotion that takes hold of me but every difficult, unwanted, feared, painful emotion seems to work its way to uncontrollable anger that I can’t control. I still turn it against myself but it explodes outwards as well. Dissociation possibly gives me and others some protection but my “others” can get angry too and that’s so dangerous.

Recently, someone suggested to me that I could try an anger management course.

I’d never thought of this. On one level it’s an obvious thing to try. Why hadn’t I thought of it before?

I’d be very interested to hear about your experience if you’ve tried an anger management course, especially if you also suffer with PTSD or personality disorder/s. How did you do the course, for example a self help course or taught? How did it help or not help you? Is there a particular kind of course that will help those of us with PTSD or PD?

Thank you in advance.

Ginny xxx

House clearance

The house clearance turned out to be more emotional than I expected. The small local firm that did it were very good. Three guys came in a big van and 2 hours later I was looking at my emptied home. Unfortunately I was also looking at the large patch of hairball sick the cat had left under the bed without my knowledge which the workmen politely didn’t mention. Guess I can always hope they thought it was an unusual pattern in the carpet?! Actually I felt utterly disgusted. How badly had I been living that I could be unaware of a pile of cat sick?! That the damp in the bedroom had taken hold on even the one piece of furniture in that room I wanted to keep?

Clearing through my possessions in the days before the workmen came, as well as the hairball incident, left me with a question. How could I have let my home fill with clutter and hoarding, yet despite this frighteningly surging tide of possessions, I am still without certain much needed items? So many things incomplete? For example, though I’ve been over 2 years in my flat, I have not got the painting done and the walls are still patchy and stained just as they were when I moved in. The same shelves are broken in the cupboards, just as the day I moved in. I still don’t have a table to eat at. Yet I had 14 nail polishes pretty much untouched, baskets of broken jewellery, pieces of ripped paper I might supposedly use in a craft project one day, clothes stuffed tight in cupboards (shamefully hidden and many of them purchased in dissociative or irrational episodes for an identity other than “me”), and cluttering nick nacks covered in a film of dust.

My head was full with disgust at myself, confusion, failure, not knowing who I was. Who, what part of me, unquenchably acquired all these things? I am wholly responsible for it, but frighteningly out of control and unable to connect with who or why.

***

The neighbours must have thought I was moving out with all the bustle.

Despite the exhaustion and disgust I am gradually starting to see that this is a new start. My home is emptier. It is different now. The furniture I have left is not broken. It matches together as much as I can manage. Surfaces are no longer jam-packed. I can see space and calm and bit by bit I am attaining some of the mental quiet I so desperately need and I have been trying to achieve.

This is going to be a home I can make good for my fiancé and I; when we get married please God next autumn our home will be my flat. He has not had a home of his own, at least not one where he feels safe, for a long time. It needs to be different now for both of us. I need to look forward.

Ginny xxx

Getting stuck on a loop

I’m gradually coming to notice when I re-experience feelings associated to long past experiences of abuse. I’ve described this as emotional flashbacks. They can include re-experiencing physical sensations of events, but also and often more overwhelmingly, emotional experiences. This often leads to certain thoughts being triggered and impulsive, uncontrollable actions that aren’t necessarily helpful for me or others. (I say uncontrollable. I must still take responsibility for them though I do not yet manage successfully control them and the impact the feelings have on me.)

I’m also noticing that I re-experience feelings and thoughts associated to more recent events; events which are not nearly as damaging as the abuse and trauma I experienced as a child. Sometimes, I can identify that the event triggered a deeper memory, which to some extent explains my reaction. But frequently, I can’t identify this. It is like feeling stuck on a loop. It causes me a lot of guilt and anger at myself. I feel I am being childish and self-centred because I should just get over it. I feel guilty, especially when it leads me to think over and over a time when somebody upset or hurt me, because I ought to be forgiving them. If I am repeatedly thinking of the hurt and wrong caused to me, I am holding it against them, not truly forgiving and I am keeping a barrier between them and me. God forgives us fully and it is as though our offences are blotted out. When we receive his forgiveness, we are washed “whiter than snow” and He does not look any more on our transgressions. Who am I to think I’m so important that things that hurt me play over and over in my mind? I’m reminded of someone close to me telling me “nobody else is responsible for making you feel better” “I’m going to be completely straight with you and I don’t have to think about what you’re feeling”. Am I making other people responsible for my feelings by my inability to move on? Am I making everything about me? I really fear that.

An example of such an event and consequentially getting “stuck in a loop” occurred this weekend. It’s a fairly low intensity example. Yesterday, I was in the street when I was stopped by a charity fundraiser – there are many of these people in shopping streets in my city, stopping people and wanting to take their personal details and sign them up to make regular donations. This person both irritated and intimidated me immediately. I watched him approach a lady who was a little way in front of me and follow her up the street. He then came up to me, coming uncomfortably close and half-blocking my path. I think this kind of approach is particularly intimidating to me since I’m disabled, unsteady on my feet and walk with a stick (and in my mind it is insensitive and inappropriate to approach in this way someone who you do not know, especially someone who is clearly physically vulnerable). He started to ask me questions and I simply replied “no thank you,” and carried on walking as best I could. I am in no position to give money at the moment and do not want to be signed up to anything, and think the best approach is to firmly but politely refuse to engage with this kind of approach. He then continued to follow me up the street, very close, muttering behind me sarcastically “oh, well that’s just charming” and so on. I was at once frightened and suddenly angry. I turned round and by no means shouting, but firmly, told him “Would you please stop following me. I am not obliged to give you my details. I do not want you to follow me.” “Well that’s incredibly [*&$% expletive deleted] rude of you” he retorted. I told him this was highly inappropriate and asked for the details of the organisation he was working for as I would be making a complaint. Fortunately, I was able to get sight of the ID badge he was wearing as he told me “Good, I hope that you do, because you’re incredibly unpleasant!” and noted the details.

Now, this event should probably no longer be in my mind. I was not hurt. I was probably not in any danger despite his intimidating and verbally aggressive behaviour. Likely as not I will never see him again. I have never heard of the organisation he was working for and have no dealings with them. It was nasty but probably not personally directed at me. It is an unpleasant way for anyone to behave, and all the more inappropriate on the part of someone representing a charity. I felt strongly about that. But it isn’t really an important event. The damage caused to me wasn’t major or worth thinking about (beyond that tomorrow I may make a complaint to the charity as I don’t think he should carry on representing them so poorly or treating other passers-by in the way he treated me and the lady in front of me).

The intensity of the fear and anger I felt at the time was much more than it should have been. It flicked me to come very close to an outburst of upset and anger that wouldn’t have helped anyone. I was able to stop that by the grace of God. I went some way into dissociating, hurting, being out of it but thoughts spiralling in a way too much to catch, being on the edge of going into a nearby shop and impulsively spending, which is one of the responses I’m most at risk of when I’m suddenly angry or upset. Again, I was able to stop myself. Mixed into this was the thought, what if someone was watching me, what would they think of what I had done? Was it my fault and was I wrong? I went home. I felt very low and was starting to shut down and everything I’d planned to do that evening was too much. I’m ashamed to admit this.

I’m more worried right now though, that instead of this whole minor incident now being over, it has come back on this loop in my mind today, several times. My mind has compulsively played over the incident many times, very vividly, but until this has been going on for a period of time, I’ve been unable to acknowledge what’s happening, whilst also being detached from what’s occurring in the present (for instance, no longer hearing the TV that was on, no longer doing the task I was doing). The way my mind has been playing this experience over has been similar to the way obsessional OCD thoughts about bad things I’ve done or am going to do, take hold of my mind. All the emotions I experienced at the time of the incident have come back again. With each obsessional repetition in this loop, my doubt of myself and my own actions in the situation increases, so that I am more convinced that I did wrong, that it must have been my fault, that people were watching me and now know how nasty I am.

Why am I unable to move on from even such an unimportant event? Why are my feelings so extreme at the time and no lower some time after? Why am I so unable to limit the impact of the emotion and the memory of the emotion and event? Does it in some way I do not yet understand, send me back to memory of a more damaging experience? That would give some explanation at least. Or is my experience just totally out of proportion, making me self-centred, self-obsessed, childish?

This event wasn’t particularly emotive in comparison to events that take place with people I know and care about. When upsetting interactions with friends and family get stuck on a loop in this way, it can completely affect and impede my future interactions with them and feelings towards them. I feel this is all my fault through my faulty reactions, emotions and thinking. Ultimately I end up self-punishing and self-harming as the only possible escape and a desperate attempt to punish myself enough for my failure to be an adult and my failure to forgive.

Writing this, it occurs to me that this feeling of being stuck in a loop does not only apply to things done against me. It applies equally to hurt I have caused or fear I have caused others, and other mistakes I have made. Wrong things and stupid things I have done play over and over in my head. The intense feelings of guilt, shame, horror, pain, etc, play over in my head and diminish little in intensity over the years. I regularly have vivid memories of, for example, things said during an argument with my dad and step-mum 3 years ago, or something wrong I did in my work that I worried endangered a patient 5 years ago, a time I stepped out of line with something I said to my boss in a meeting 8 or more years ago… I re-experience all the feelings and they can really shake me. I become afraid of any situations similar to those in which these events occurred, maybe because I believe I’ll do the same wrong again.

Again I wonder if all the feelings I have, whether it be a situation of wrong done by me to others, or a situation of wrong done by others to me and consequential hurt, in some way are (a lesser intensity of) feelings that were overwhelming and terrifying during the years of my abuse.

I also know that in personality disorders, emotions usually reach a higher intensity more quickly, and stay at the higher intensity for longer, than in people without personality disorder. I guess that explains to some extent why the feeling hangs around for longer, though not the vivid mental replaying of inconsequential events.

I desperately want an answer and I think I’ll talk about this in my 1:1 therapy tomorrow.

***

I wonder have you had similar experiences? Have you felt stuck on a loop remembering experiences or having thoughts and emotions you want to let go, but can’t?

Ginny xxx