Day After

The night was a restless one. Woke up countless times with my heart beating like crazy, frightened, feeling like someone had touched me, actually feeling the warmth of the hand that was there only in my mind. Woke mom, snuggled up with her and cried until I fell asleep again, only for the whole crap to start over soon thereafter. After many repeats got up feeling tired. Mom, too.

Now I’m feeling on the verge of tears all the time. Arms still wrapped up in bandages. Put some on Little Lola, too.

LittleLolaDayAfter

I think my little me feels the way she looks a lot of the time.

 

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Not Even My Social Anxiety is Clear-Cut

One label among my mix of diagnoses is ‘Social Anxiety Disorder’, which is also called ‘Social Phobia’. It’s probably hard to differentiate it from the PTSD at the same time, but it’s got all the markers of a social phobia. For those who are not familiar with it, the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for Social Phobia are (for adults, shortened):

A. A marked and persistent fear of one or more social or performance situations in which the person is exposed to unfamiliar people or to possible scrutiny by others.
B. Exposure to the feared social situation almost invariably provokes anxiety.
C. The person recognizes that the fear is excessive or unreasonable.
D. The feared social or performance situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety or distress.
E. The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in the feared social or performance situations(s) interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine or functioning.
F. In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.
G. The fear or avoidance is not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance or a general medical condition and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder.
H. If a general medical condition or another mental disorder is present, the fear in Criterion A is unrelated to it.

As far as I can remember back, I have always had a social phobia. My threshold for anxiety in unfamiliar situations in general is very low and if they are social situations, I often feel physically sick with all the anxiety. My heart rate accelerates, I get sweaty palms, I feel nauseous and like I’m frozen.

School was never fun for me. Interaction with others was the most awful thing. I was always a shy, lonely child. Some teachers were concerned about me and it was the most mortifying thing when they tried to talk to me about stuff. Tried, because I didn’t really talk. I’d nod or shake my head, but rarely talked, or at least no more than a soft ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Most teachers didn’t notice, though, because I was quiet and didn’t draw any attention in class and they probably were happy with that.

When I lived in group homes and attended therapy groups, it was pretty much a repeat of how it had been in school. Only there it started to cause problems, because I was expected to interact with the other girls, to talk in front of them and to share things about myself while other people were watching. That was horrific. I was nervous only being in the same room with them, forget talking. So I remained mute, avoided eye contact and they seemed to understand that as a sign of defiance more than anxiety. And I guess part of it was defiance, but it was protective defiance because I was afraid.

Today I’m still wary of situations where people who I don’t know might talk to me and I’m extremely nervous about going to unfamiliar or busy places. It’s somewhat easier today because I don’t need to go places alone, though. I feel comfortable and unafraid at home, especially with mom, so having her with me helps because I feel like I’m safe in her presence and can “hide” with her. Not physically, but by knowing she can tell how much I can take and will take over when I can’t take any more. That’s fairly liberating, because I feel much better about new situations when I’m not facing them by myself. I feel like it’s safer to be a bit more courageous, too, because in case it gets bad or overwhelming, I’m not alone.

Strangely, at the same time, I also have this whole other, opposite side to me. (Like, because things being easy and unambiguous for once would be boring or something.) Sometimes I go into what’s like an entirely different personality mode, almost, for which social anxiety isn’t a problem at all. I think it’s a semi-dissociated state or something, and it kicks in when I go into a “fuck all the world, I don’t care, bring on the destruction” state. That was the mode that took over when I ran from the group homes, for example, or the mode that ended with me having sex with perfect strangers. I’m not shy at all about talking or being in social situations then, but it’s like I’m not even really being “me” in those situations.

And once more I’m left feeling like a fraud when I suffer from social anxiety symptoms, because I know that I’m also capable of being perfectly anxiety-free at other times. How can two so opposite sides be really there? That’s what I ask myself then and feel like I can’t even trust my own behavior or thoughts or feelings.

Lately those anxiety-free episodes have become far and few in between, though, and I think that’s even kind of a good sign, because those socially uninhibited person that I can turn into is a very unhealthy person for me to be. Kind of a protective, tough persona that I picked up as a means of coping along the way, not my true self.

But I feel like I’m starting to ramble. This post doesn’t really even have a point other than “it’s complicated” maybe. Ah well, I’ll post it anyway. Because it IS complicated and weird, being both extremely afraid socially, and able to just ditch all anxiety in other situations. Complicated. And social anxiety sucks.

A very helpful therapeutic excercise

I saw F for therapy this morning. I was in a rotten mood when we arrived because while we were in the car my mom had told me we’d have to stop by the supermarket on the way home because my jerk brother had helped himself to our fruit basket when he had been over to pick stuff up this morning. I always have difficulty with spontaneous changes in plan and was angry at mom because I felt like she never considered me with anything she did.

Mad at her, I didn’t want her anywhere near me during my therapy, so I went into the room with F alone, while my mom waited. (Sometimes I want my mom along, and F lets me.) Anyway, so I was alone with F and in a bad mood and of course she could tell and asked what was up. So I explained to her how I felt like mom didn’t take my feelings seriously, yada yada yada.

Then F introduced me to a therapy technique that I found surprisingly helpful in the end – so much that I want to share, because who knows, maybe it helps someone else, too.

F asked me to conjure up before my mind’s eye what we call my “safe place”. My usual safe place includes my mom, but today I was mad at her and didn’t want her at my safe place, so I visualized my safe place without her. We do the “safe place” visualization often, so that by now I’m pretty good at going there in my mind and noticing when I need to return there if the stuff we work on during therapy gets overwhelming.

Anyway, so I was at my safe place. F then asked me to focus on the situation that upset me again, and to identify my thoughts and feelings as closely as possible. I ended up with:

  • feeling ignored
  • unloved
  • worthless
  • overpowered because the decision had already been made and I hadn’t even been asked
  • helpless
  • panicky
  • angry over feeling helpless and panicky
  • angry at mom for not doing her job as a mother right
  • abandoned

The next step was that F asked me to keep holding on to these feelings, but let the present day situation fade away at the same time, so that just the feelings remained. That was a bit challenging, but I managed.

Then F asked me to allow my mind to wander and see if it recalls a situation from when I was younger where the same feelings applied.

I did and it didn’t take very long before a situation from a group home came to my mind. It was the group home I had been in after my first hospital stay aged 15, and I had been at the group home for three weeks (or so) at the time when suddenly the woman who ran my group, a social worker or something, decided I was going to be moved to another group home outside of town. Just like this. I had only just settled in with this group, only just started to open up to some of the caretaker people there, and suddenly that woman just said “pack your things, you’re going to move later today”.

Apparently they had only taken me temporarily while they were waiting for a longer term placement to become available, but nobody had told me this. Anyway, so that was the situation that came to my mind when F asked me to see if I could find one that matched the feelings I had.

F made sure I still felt safe, and then asked me to remember the situation from the group home and my feelings in this situation as vividly as I could. And once I had that she asked, if there was anyone who I wanted to be there with me in that memory situation to help me or to give me what I didn’t get for real back then.

I nodded and really wanted my mom (like, my mom now, not my birth mother) to be there. So F asked me to imagine what would happen if she went there. So before my mind’s eye I saw myself all upset and confused and feeling helpless and afraid and angry because I was getting pushed around and shoved off to another home because not one single person in the world even cared for me. Then I had my mom come into the room with me. I made her come in, be very gentle and respectful, like she is in real life, too, and she looked at me in this way that says, without ever speaking a word, that she sees me and feels for me and wants to be there with me. Then I had her talk to me and explain to me how she is going to be my mom one day. Not yet now, because we don’t really know each other yet, and that she’s sorry we don’t, but that she’s gonna be there for me and loves me and that I’m going to be fine and that she looks forward to when we meet for real.

F asked me to monitor what my feelings did while I was imagining that, and go figure, they went away. I felt sad and unhappy for having been in such an unhappy place, but also better not like nobody loved me anymore. More sorry that I’d been so bitchy to mom.

I asked F if I could get mom for real and she was fine with it, so I went to where she was waiting and while mom was all surprised and a bit concerned that I was coming out before the time was up, I just put my arms around her neck and suddenly felt so overwhelmed that I couldn’t help crying. In the slightly-confused-yet-relieved way. It’s embarrassing, actually. I bet mom had no idea what the hell had happened.  LOL

I really liked this exercise. I felt a lot better afterwards. I can’t even explain why exactly. We stopped by the supermarket and it was okay. Once we were home again, I even felt good enough to continue with the sexual healing journey a bit. And even now I still feel kind of elated and like my family loves me and look forward to the rest of the day. Life is good. 🙂

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Me (a poem)

Zentangle8

ME
by Lola

Who is this “me”?

the pieces are falling,

skittering, sprawling

all over the place

at an unsettling pace

Who am I to be?

 

How am I to feel?

Discombobulating,

feelings luring and baiting

ready and waiting

to make me reel.

 

What is the time?

Past, future, present

with fraudulent intent

mix up to confuse me

to bruise and abuse me

outlasting the crime.

 

When will it end?

the strength-sapping fighting

my attempt at re-writing

this future foregone?

I’m not yet done.

 

My mind is unsteady

but I am not ready

to bend

 

anymore.

Dissociative Recoil

So I finally finished writing the post about Experiences and Gene Expresssion after mom took pity and helped me comprehend the matter. I looked forward to that, because I had prepared for the post for days now. I thought I’d feel good after I finished putting my thoughts into words and proud of myself and all that. And what happened instead?

Ever since hitting the submit button I dissociate like crazy. I can feel my attention drifting away literally ALL the time, as I detach from reality. I don’t hear it when I’m being spoken to. If I’m lucky I get a faint, vague echo in my head that tells me someone could have said anything, but it’s way after they are done speaking already, and of course I have no idea what has been said. I also stare off into space and just stay like that until I notice and make an effort to focus back on reality, but right after I did that, I feel the same pull towards staring again.

That sucks so bad. I mean okay, staying focused and writing that post was a bit exhausting, but goddamnit, can’t I do something exhausting and be OKAY??? That sucks so bad I feel like crying . 😦 I want to be in control of whether I dissociate or not, but no, I get this massive dissociative recoil and have no say in the matter. Either I’m gonna cry or I’m gonna scream, it’s so terribly frustrating!!!

Resilience – too stubborn to stay down

Duncan (nobodysreadingme) said yesterday that he admires my resilience. I found that a curious thing to point out, but sweet and touching, too. It has also helped me realize, looking back, that I actually must be kind of resilient. I’ve had my flirts with depression, and I certainly get low and desperate moments with a hopeless mood that makes me feel like my whole life is shit and maybe I should die. When they are there those feelings are really strong, but those moments don’t usually last and never really have. Sooner or later I always feel like ‘fuck all, I’m not gonna do anyone the favor to just go away for good’ and that ends the depressive mood.

It’s a feeling that I have known for a long time already, and I remember having it towards my mother mainly. She made it no secret that she hated me for being alive and often said things like ‘I wish I had aborted you when I still had the chance’ and while that always made me real sad and I felt like I shouldn’t be living on one hand, I also had the ‘fuck you’ reaction. Maybe that was because I knew that while I was getting hurt, I also had something my stepfather wanted. I remember being conscious of that fact. I remember knowing that that was why my mother both hated me, and couldn’t afford to lose me, because without me, my stepfather would probably not have stayed with her.

In some perfectly weird and twisted way that gave me power. It was power I wish I would never have had, because look at the mess my life turned into because of how fucked up everything was, but even so, I think that’s where my resilience comes from. I was aware that despite all the pain it caused me I was important, even when it was in a sick way, to both my parents. I think that was what gave me the leverage to develop my ‘fuck you’ attitude that keeps me from staying down. I’m somehow too stubborn to. Weird how life works.

Anyway, I’ve made a list of the things that I think contributed to my ability to stay alive and not give in during the three major phases of my life so far:

1. The time during which I live at my childhood home (0-15)

I HAVE: what my stepfather wants, everything my mother hates, myself.

I AM: an involuntary sex object, a scapegoat, a loner, different, secretive, distrustful.

I CAN: die inside, tolerate pain, read subtle changes in people, tell which is the safer of two options, hide from harm, wait things out, distract myself.

2. The time I spent in mental health care (15-23)

I HAVE: several diagnoses that tell me who I am, myself.

I AM: a mental health case, a calculating sex object, a loner, secretive, distrustful.

I CAN: dissociate, ignore people, rely on myself and self-destructive acts to keep a certain balance, self-medicate.

3. The time after I met my real family (23-now)

I HAVE: myself, a supportive family, my mom, a good therapist.

I AM: a daughter, learning to trust and how to be trustworthy, recovering, artistic.

I CAN: think about myself and my behavior, accept my mom’s help, keep from self-medicating and increasingly from self-harming, too, let myself in for safe relationships, look towards the future.

Life sure is weird and complicated.

The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 6 – Collage Day

SexualHJ_06

With today being something of a rotten day, I still decided to have a go at continuing with the sexual healing journey. I have entered the first chapter of the second part. The second part of the book is all about “making changes”. It introduces various ways and areas in which changes can be necessary to go from an unhealthy idea of what sex and sexuality is to a healthier one.

I didn’t feel up to much writing and reflecting today, but the book suggested to make a collage of the unhealthy view on sex that I have, as well as the healthier view I would like to develop. You know, to get a better idea of what my current understanding is, as well as to get an idea of what I’d want my future understanding to be like. So that was what I started the day with today.

*TRIGGER WARNING: the ‘now’ part of the collage is graphic and contains explicit imagery.*

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

Okay, so here we go. Here are the two collages I ended up with next to each other:

CollageBoth

And if you want to see better, here is my current, unhealthy idea of sex:

Collage01

And here is what I would like my healthy version to be like, the goal I am working towards:

Collage02

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

What’s interesting is that when I started out, I had absolutely no idea of what my ‘goal’ side was going to look like, but then it kind of came together easier than I thought it would be. So I guess the good the collage making did was that I realized that my current idea of sex is really nasty, but also that I actually do have something of an idea of what I want to work towards. That’s more than what I thought I had before I made the collage. So I guess that’s a good step into the right direction.

Okay, off to do something nice with my mom now.

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

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

A project for 2013
The Sexual Healing Journey Begins, Chapter 1
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 2
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 3, Part 1
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 3, Part 2
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 3, Part 3
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 4
The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 5

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

Signs of good therapists + warning signs of bad ones

After the statement about “good” therapy with which I did not agree, I want to write down my thoughts regarding what I actually consider signs of good therapy, or rather of good therapists. I’ll add things that I learned to recognize as warning signs, too.

GoodRorschachSigns of good therapists:

  • a good therapist explains how she works and why she works that way
  • a good therapist is interested in helping me figure out what my therapy goals are and in helping me achieve them
  • a good therapist is a genuine, authentic and decent human being
  • a good therapist’s office feels safe and comfortable
  • a good therapist contributes to a feeling of hopefulness
  • a good therapist accepts my feelings and helps me explore them
  • a good therapist is respectful and professional
  • a good therapist is interested in establishing a positive, safe and empathic relationship with me before going anywhere in therapy
  • a good therapist is able to maintain this positive, safe and empathic relationship with me, even when she says things that might challenge or upset me
  • a good therapist can help me feel safe during the sessions and makes sure I am in a good place before I leave her office
  • a good therapist is knowledgeable on the issues she wants to treat and will say so, if something exceeds her abilities
  • a good therapist is *there* with me, I can feel her be genuinely present
  • a good therapist stays calm and on top of things even when I become chaotic
  • a good therapist is a mature person whose behavior speaks of her having morals and ethics
  • a good therapist knows how to laugh, too
  • a good therapist is honest with me
  • a good therapist can read my nonverbal cues and reacts to them
  • a good therapist is willing to give me feedback and answer my questions, as long as they are relevant to therapy
  • a good therapist steps back from power games
  • a good therapist respects it if I disagree with her or refuse to do something
  • a good therapist will admit to a mistake if she made it and apologize

 

BadRorschachWarning signs that I have encountered in past bad therapists:

  • therapist is repeatedly late for appointments (or does not show up at all)
  • therapist does not explain what she wants to do or why
  • therapist crosses physical boundaries (like by hugging or touching, euuuuuwwww) without asking for permission
  • therapist talks a lot about herself and the hassles of her own life
  • therapist talks not at all
  • therapist follows her own agenda and does not consider my goals / wishes / requests etc.
  • therapist is judgmental of my behavior
  • therapost does not take me and / or my objections seriously
  • therapist tries to manipulate my feelings (like by inducing guilt or making me feel bad about my behavior)
  • therapist blames my family (or, I suppose, other people in my life)
  • therapist thinks my opinion is uneducated and not worth listening to
  • therapist understands everything I say as evidence of my lacking mental health
  • therapist openly admits to bordering-on-illegal stuff like fraud (for example by charging the insurance for different services than she actually provided me with)
  • therapist wants to become personally involved in my private life and/or answers to invitations along those lines
  • therapist agrees to having sex with me or even invites me
  • therapist tries to feel better about herself and tries to meet her own emotional needs by helping me
  • therapist tries to talk me into / out of things
  • therapist makes unprovable claims regarding what causes my issues
  • therapist empathizes so much that I feel like I need to protect HER, because she can’t cope with the bad stuff
  • therapist identifies with me and / or my situation too much
  • therapist pushes me into the direction she wants to see me go
  • therapist leaves me feeling unsafe and unstable
  • therapist insists to muck around in issues that I don’t feel ready to face
  • therapist conveys that she does not like me, that I am annoying or a pain in her neck

Wow, I noticed that I could go on and on and on, especially with the warning signs list. I really have met my share of crappy therapists! I’m glad that my therapist F, however, has given me some faith in therapists back. The signs of good therapy all apply to her. 🙂 Even so, it’s rather outrageous that so many crappy ones are out there and allowed to mess with people. It always makes me very sad when people speak about crap their therapist did.  😦

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