Feeling stupid

You know what I hate? I hate when I really want to understand something and the way to get to understand it is plastered with lots of reading of stuff that contains big words and complicated thoughts and biology and all those things that I have no clue of. I feel really stupid and want to give up and feel like maybe the people who gave me the ‘borderline IQ’ diagnosis (like bordering on retardation or something) were right. 😦 I mean I know they weren’t but wanting to understand something complicated and just not getting it in any way because even after struggling to read the first paragraph of something, I have no clue what I just even read… that sucks real bad. I mean I really *want* to understand the stupid text, and I want to write for my blog about it, but it seems like I’m too stupid to understand it. That’s such a rotten feeling.

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The Sexual Healing Journey, Chapter 3, Part 1

SexualHJ_03_1

Here we are again. Hello back if you’ve been following. Hello and welcome if you are new to my journey.

On yesterday’s part of the journey I realized (formally) that I have sexual issues. This was the first of four chapters of part one of the journey, which is “becoming aware”. This is the part I am still at.

Today I will look at the second chapter of “becoming aware”, which is called “acknowledging the abuse”.

The central statement of this chapter is that it’s important, but not always easy to recognize sexual encounters as having been (or being) abusive when they really were (or are). It says that the areas important to acknowledging sexual abuse are:

  1. Understanding sexual abuse.
  2. Overcoming blocks to recognize sexual abuse.
  3. Remembering sexual abuse.
  4. Telling others about the abuse.

The book deals with all of those separately and at quite some length, so it’s too overwhelming for me to work through everything at once. Therefore I’ll start with the first item on the list.

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

1. Understanding sexual abuse

I know from experience that sexual abuse comes in many shades. The book confirms that and provides information on various different kinds of sexual abuse, to make it easier to recognize sexual abuse. It names and explains all those kinds of abuse, which can overlap. I’ll mark the ones that I think apply to me with an (X):

  • getting involved in sexual acts as a child with other children
  • incest (X)
  • molestation (X)
  • stranger rape
  • date or acquaintance rape (X)
  • marital rape
  • sexual assault
  • exhibitionism or exposure (X)
  • voyeurism (X)
  • obscene phone calls or e-mail massages
  • sadistic sexual abuse (X)
  • sexual exploitation (X)
  • sexual harassment
  • gender attack
  • gay bashing
  • sexual violence (X)

Phew. To be honest it gives me no little shivers to see that many X-marks there. I have a strong tendency, almost an urge, to downplay the gravity of the sexual abuse I experienced. All those X-marks don’t really agree with that, so I have a hard time not going back and erasing most of them, only leaving one or two. So maybe while I have no problems with acknowledging that I was sexually abused, I do have problems with acknowledging the seriousness of it. Ah well. That’s probably why there is a chapter that is called ‘acknowledging’. I’ll leave all X-marks and see what happens.

Anyway, the book also names four key features of sexual abuse to determine if sexual abuse took place:

a) lacking ability to consent
b) betrayal of a trusted relationship
c) violence or control
d) that you felt abused

For me, personally, those are all true. I don’t think a child can in any way consent to sexual activity with her stepfather, and I have memory snippets around from when I was very young, like three or four years old, so I wasn’t even anywhere near being able to consent. I think if someone who’s supposed to be a parent gets sexually involved with his stepdaughter that is a betrayal of a trusted relationship – except that I can’t recall ever trusting either him or my mother. I also have memories of violence and control and yes, I felt abused. At least in a certain way. I don’t know.

I grew up believing that that’s what girls are there for, period. My mom knew about it, it happened openly within the family. It wasn’t ever really hidden. That’s so sick. But it made that I didn’t feel abused, but more like I was a bad girl for not liking it. Gosh, and then it seems like I DID like it, but didn’t like it at the same time. It’s so confusing. Everything moves around in my head, this way and that, while I think, and I go from ‘I felt abused’ to ‘I never felt abused’ to ‘I hated it’ to ‘but I liked it’ to ‘crap, nothing makes sense’ within seconds. It’s all a jumble and it feels like crap and makes all those conflicting sexual thoughts come up. In one moment I feel like if somebody wanted to fuck me right now, I’d want it too, and the next I feel awful and want nothing to do with it. 😦

Sigh. But I guess the bottom line is that I can probably safely say that I have been sexually abused. And probably a lot more than I want to acknowledge. Acknowledging that seems like a first good step for today. The rest is probably still riddled with blocks. At least it feels that way. And I will look at the blocks, too, I promise. Tomorrow.

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

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

 

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

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!

Understanding is not possible if you have not been there yourself?

I remember this one day in treatment, which was shortly after I’d been diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder, so several years back already. I was at the hospital at the time and seeing this psychiatrist, who put me on lots of drugs and I had to have regular talks with him. Among other things he demanded I stopped self harming, to prove I was serious about wanting to get better. I was still kind of serious at the time, but what he demanded was near impossible and I asked him can’t he understand that I can’t just stop?

His reply was that it is impossible for him to understand this kind of thing. That all he could do was try to help me, but not understand me and that I could not expect anyone in a helping position to understand me, because it’s impossible to understand crazy. That if people understood, they would be crazy themselves.

At the time I did not question what he said. After all he was a psychiatrist, so I assumed he knew what he was talking about, and I felt misunderstood anyway, so he at least confirmed it. I just accepted that anyone who was not there himself could not understand what I was going through. That all anyone could do was throw whatever they considered help my way, but that understanding was out of the question.

The first time I started thinking about the statement again was after I moved in with the people who are now my family. I remember one thing my mom – back then I was still calling her by her first name – always said whenever we were having trouble was “Talk to me, Lola! I want to understand! Explain to me what’s up!”

Convinced that understanding me was impossible anyway I was quick to tell her to go away and forget it because she’d not be able to understand me anyway, after all how could she?! She had never been in my situation! She had no idea how it felt to be me! So she could not possibly understand anything!!

But you got to know, my mom won’t accept that for an answer. She will back off if she sees her insisting is making the situation worse, but she will come back to it, and she does it in a way that never fails to make me WANT to tell her, sooner or later. So eventually I always did try to explain to her what was up.

And now here comes the truly crazy part – I feel like she DOES understand. That even when I am most fucked up, she is able to make sense of it. Without ever having been there herself. To stick with the original example of self harm, I’m pretty sure she does not self harm and never did . . . but she understands why I sometimes have to, in order to cope. That doesn’t mean that she thinks it’s good, but just that she understands why I do it. And while she demands I use the more sophisticated coping strategies that I am capable of when I am capable of them, she allows that I cut, for example, if I can’t cope in any other way. Because she understands. And she’s not just saying it, I can tell that she does. Because she knows things about how I feel that she’d not be able to tell, if she didn’t understand.

So now I’m really wondering if that psychiatrist simply bullshitted me!

After all, if “understanding is not possible unless you’ve been there” he doesn’t ever need to try and understand anyone. Which sure is convenient and makes his life easier. Why bother?! But then I wonder, how can he claim to be able to treat people, when he can not even understand what he’s treating? How is that responsible?

I’m baffled.

So either I’m getting it wrong or he was getting it wrong. What do you guys who read this think? Do you think people are able to understand things even when they never went through those things themselves? Or is understanding not possible? And would it then be possible to be understanding towards someone, when you can’t really understand him in the first place? Would it be possible to help someone if you don’t even understand him? And do you really need a full understanding of every last little detail in order to understand someone?

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