What puts meaning into my life?

I have been skyping with my oldest sister yesterday night. We’ve been talking about how I’m struggling with all this extra shit every Christmas and New Years’ and I explained a little about how it felt. She listened and then asked me ‘That sounds so hard, what makes it worth it?” She is direct like that.

I was cross with her for catching me off-guard with the question, and because I thought it sounded criticizing, somehow. So I didn’t reply, but kept thinking about the question anyway. What makes life worth the crap? Worth the pain? Worth the seemingly unending struggle?

I don’t really know for sure, but something makes it worth it. Something makes it meaningful.

I’m wondering what it is. I need to go back to the question, it seems like it would be beneficial to know. Right now I only have this vague feeling that somehow it’s worth the struggle. I didn’t always feel this way, but at the moment I do.

I really need to give it some more thought.

In the meantime, I made another snapshot of my Christmas pressie doll. Just because I felt like it. I think she’s pretty. She also smiles like maybe she knows the answer to my question. If only I could figure out how to make her talk. 😉

Lola's doll

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My New Mantra for 2013

This is me, looking as happy as I feel today, along with my new-found mantra for this year. I’m determined to hold on to it.

BeYourOwnRockstar

(Drawn with a no 2 pencil, scanned, then colored and processed with photoediting software. Because you all wanted to know that. I’m sure. Admit it.)

What does “mental illness” mean, really?

Mental Health 2

This is something that I have found myself struggling with for a really long time now. I am classified as having a “mental illness”. I got diagnosed. A lot. Plenty of labels have been stuck on me. I am mentally ill. But what exactly does that say?

I have no ready answer to that, so I’ll just think out loud instead.

Most of all it seems to say that something is wrong with me. And the term illness suggests that maybe I should be quarantined, separated, put into bed, treated and cured, if possible. That’s what you do with ill people after all. But then, it’s not any old regular illness. It’s a mental illness. Sick in the head. And ooooh, wait, that could be dangerous. Surely it’s debilitating. Could it also be catching?

“Children, quick, come inside, stay away from that girl! Damnit, Jenny, don’t touch her! Her brain has got cooties! Do you want to go crazy, too?!”

While being a little bit loopy, eccentric or dramatic can be quite modern or fashionable, being properly mentally ill is a different story, just like it is one thing to add an ostrich feather to your hat, and quite another to have the whole ostrich tagging along.

With having a proper mental illness there comes stigma and prejudice. And while people consider it offensive to accuse a paraplegic of laziness for carting around in a wheelchair, or a deaf person of willfulness for not coming when called, many people have no such inhibitions when it comes to mental illness. Here are a couple of the prejudices I have personally encountered, that people were not shy to voice.

The mentally ill live off the honest men’s taxes.
The mentally ill are dangerous and violent.
The mentally ill are lazy / over-indulged / selfish / …
The mentally ill are irrational and should not be listened to.
The mentally ill are retarded / deranged / crazy/ …
The mentally ill should get locked away.
The mentally ill don’t know what REAL problems look like.
The mentally ill are abnormal.
The mentally ill should never be trusted.

There is very little true understanding around about what mental illness really means. Which I find a really sad thing, especially bearing in mind that what, one out of every four, six or ten people is believed to have mental health issues? And if that is so, is it really such an abnormal thing? I think not. And I think an improved understanding of what mental illness is would be very becoming.

Here’s what I think mental illness is:

Mental illness is an umbrella term. It’s devoid of any particular meaning beyond saying “this person is struggling with a longer-term condition that causes psychological distress”.

Mental illness is involuntary. Sure, there can be secondary benefits to mental illnesses. But I doubt anyone would choose those over the benefits of being psychologically healthy if the latter was a true option for them.

Mental illness is an amplification of normal conditions, which everyone should at least to some degree be able to relate to. It’s not some otherworldly, alien or devilish ‘thing’, but just very severe and intense versions of stuff everyone knows. Yes, even the weird and grotesque looking crap. Even stuff like delusions and hallucinations. Or have you never, not even briefly, thought you’d heard or seen something that ended up being just a trick of your mind?

Mental illness is often the reflection of shit the person has had to figure out to live with somehow, not a genuine trait of the person. Kind of like that: if I taped a pin, point up, under the sole of your foot, you’d pretty darn quickly learn to limp without putting pressure on the pin. And after limping long enough you might even grow so used to limping that you’d still limp, even if I removed the pin. It wouldn’t be you having a physical disability, just your familiar and safe way to walk. Your muscles would have developed accordingly and therefore you’d probably have a hard time suddenly walking “like a normal person” again. Mental illness is similar. Except you often can’t even see or recall the stuff it developed as a reaction to as clearly as you can see a pin. Which means that often the person with a mental illness will not even know why some things are so difficult, why she is reacting this or that way, or why she can’t just behave “normally”.

Mental illness is different for everyone. Just as working for company X is probably a little different for every single employee. There are different kinds and severities of mental illness, just like there are different fields of work in company X. And even two colleagues who share the same workspace can have a fundamentally different experience, just like two people who suffer from the same mental illness can. So don’t assume to know what it’s like for someone else. Not even if you are a doctor, shrink or therapist and have seen plenty of people with the same condition already. Despite the possible similarities, it’s still a unique experience for everyone.

Mental illness can and should be understood. Because it is an amplification and sometimes distortion of the “normal” experience, it can be very confusing or grotesque looking. Most of all for the person who has it, but also for others. Yet whatever the symptoms, they usually are meaningful, because humans generally don’t pick their behavior at random by spinning their lucky action wheel of fortune. Since it isn’t random, it can be understood. It is also worth understanding. Yes, even the weird stuff. Because often it will stop seeming so weird once you come to understand it. So instead of marveling with an open mouth in wonder or horror or disbelief, try to understand what’s going on. It helps.

That’s all I can think of at the moment, and I’m sure there is more. But at least it’s a start. I’ll add more if I can think of more. I’ll be happy if you share your thoughts on the subject, too!

The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 2

SexualHJ_02

Okay. Here we are. The journey proper begins.

But before I start, let me just say that there’s this big part of me which is all like this:

SeekingSafetyWanting to hide, feeling unsafe, wanting to protect myself, dreading everything that might be about to come. Unhappy that it has to be so difficult. Wanting to just cover my eyes and pretend to not be concerned by any stupid journey. But despite those feelings, this part of me is still being good, keeping silent, at least. No panic, just a littke unwillingness. And it’s just one part. The other part still wants to go ahead. So here I am, setting out for the journey.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Part one of the journey is called “becoming aware” and consists of four chapters. This is the first of those four and it’s called “realizing there is a sexual issue”.

The central statement of the chapter is that it says many survivors of sexual abuse don’t realize they have sexual issues and/or don’t want to face the fact that they do, because it’s embarrassing and personal and hard to face. Yeah. I agree. The chapter also said that often there’s a key moment or “flash of discovery” when people realize they do have a sexual issue.

Then the book prompted me to consider if any of those four apply to my own life:

  1. I’m acting in strange ways that don’t make sense.
  2. My sexual problem isn’t getting any better.
  3. My partner is hurting.
  4. New circumstances have made me more aware.

And that’s basically the chapter.
Phew! I’m relieved. Nothing too bad yet.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

So here I am, giving those questions serious thought, even when I am pretty sure that I already realize that I do have sexual issues. But it can’t hurt to add some structure to the realization, so here I go. If you are sensitive to sexual content or feel offended by it, you might want to stop reading. Please make a safe decision for yourself.

1. I’m acting in strange ways that don’t make sense.

Bull’s eye. That’s pretty much the most obvious thing about my sexual issues. I am often acting in strange ways that don’t make sense. But that puts it mildly. I’m acting and reacting in strange ways that make me feel utterly disgusted and sickened with myself. I feel deeply embarrassed over many of those behaviors. At the same time I can’t switch them off. I’ll name a few, despite the embarrassment, so I don’t end up beating around the bush, as I guess that’s not the goal of “realizing”.

So what strange ways do I act in?

  • I have a sick tendency to look for sex with random men as a form of self-punishment. I make myself available for whatever they’d like to do, kinky stuff, stuff that hurts, whatever.
  • Imagery of sexual violence haunts me and torments and arouses me at the same time. I hate it. Sometimes it stops at the mental images, sometimes they come with urges to act upon them.
  • I misunderstand innocent affection within the family for sexual attention and react accordingly. Or I get ideas all by myself and behave inappropriately towards dad and sometimes mom, too.

There are more things, but those are embarrassing me enough already and you probably get the idea. All those things don’t make sense, because I’m in no way living in an environment that appreciates or promotes those behaviors anymore, I really don’t want to behave that way and the behavior generally has unpleasant results. Even so, I behave that way.

2. My sexual problem isn’t getting any better.

I have been having those issues ever since I was removed from my family. That’s 11 long years ago this January. During the time I lived in and out of hospitals and group homes the problems haven’t changed one iota, but then, I never really cared about it. Ever since I came live with my new family, I have tried to keep the behavior under control, but it’s often not successful. Still. So it’s not really getting any better. Check.

3. My partner is hurting.

I don’t have a partner. I’m not anywhere near having one. I don’t even want one. I’m glad. So that, at least, isn’t a problem. But if I had one, that partner would probably be hurting.

4. New circumstances have made me more aware.

Well, the circumstances aren’t brand-new anymore, but even so: check. Coming to live with my family has definitely made me more aware that I have, indeed, issues. See, when I was living in hospitals and group homes, I was living with all those other people, other girls mainly, who were also a few cards short of their full decks, many of whom were not behaving that much differently from myself. So even when I was having problems because of my issues, I wasn’t the only one and I could still feel like this was somewhat normal. Well… now, living with my family, I’m definitely the odd one out.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Okay, so altogether this was a fairly gentle start to the journey. The realizing part is okay with me. It’s embarrassing to write about, but even so, still okay. So it was an easier start than I thought. I’m doing okay. I’m relieved.

Tomorrow’s chapter is called “acknowledging the abuse”. We’ll see how that one goes. Tomorrow.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Missed the past episodes of the journey? Here they are:

A Project for 2013
The Sexual Healing Journey Begins, Chapter 1

 

Book source:
MALTZ, Wendy (2012): The Sexual Healing Journey. A Guide for Survivors of Sexual Abuse; Third Edition; Harper Collins. New York.

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