Saturday, April 7, 2018

What's The Problem?

We burned a letter to my ex in therapy this week. It was sort of a cathartic experience, but I've had similar before so I was interested to see if that feeling of a weight lifted stuck around. I was eager to discuss the experience with friends.

It's something I've known since the beginning. A big part of why I benefit from therapy is that I feel safe to talk honestly about myself knowing I won't be judged, disliked by my therapist, or have the information used against me. This is a totally novel experience and the visceral feeling of relaxation I get walking into that room is alone worth the experience. My whole body unclenches and that is the only time I've experienced that happening including during sleep or massage.

Because the truth is that people don't like me and use my weaknesses against me. So I don't trust them. No one I know (or don't) has asked me about my experience in therapy so far and I don't feel comfortable bringing it up myself. I want to debrief about what I've been learning and working through so far and I don't have a resource for that. It's just screaming into the void.

I check social meeting and see people I know making posts about nonsense like how wrong you are if you like those grocery store cookies and that gets more reaction that my pleas for help. I see people I know posting pleas for help themselves and those posts get more discussion than mine to an exponential degree, from mutual "friends." Supposedly you shouldn't compare, but I don't know how to avoid feeling bitter and resentful when I see the exact same setup play out completely differently just based on who's asking for support. My support system is crushingly small and family is great for tangibles like childcare and bringing over meals, but less gifted for things like a shoulder to cry on or talking through heavy emotions. Mostly I get Bible verses, prayer guides, and/or ignored.

I just don't feel I belong anywhere. My whole, minuscule friend group has started pulling away as they all now share a hobby that I don't. I have no hobbies anymore. We joined a church that I genuinely love for its liberal, accepting message. But it's been over a year and I haven't connected with anyone there. My worldview is so disparate with my family's that I'm not able to discuss anything of much substance there without disagreement. I just want to feel connected and I'm not sure what to do about it. My life is just the necessary chores to make it to the end of the day before starting over again the next. Cook, eat, work, pee, clean, cook, eat, bed. There is nothing I look forward to, no one I go see, no fun in my life. I enjoy spending time with my daughter (generally, toddlers have their bad moments, as everyone knows) and.... that's pretty much it. I was terrified of my identity being consumed by motherhood, and my worst fears have come to pass. What's so sad and infuriating about it is that it's not because I walked away from my life but because it walked away from me.

Seriously, what's the problem? What is it about me that is so repugnant? I realize people don't want to here complaints all the time, but look through my post history and you'll realize that's not me until lately. I make a conscious effort online and in person not to be negative very much both for my personal health and because I know people find it off-putting. Also, as I mentioned, I know people who do complain all the time and our mutual relationships continually rush to their aid while steadfastly ignoring me.

Why doesn't anybody like me?

Monday, March 26, 2018

Therapy

I had my first therapy nightmare!

Let's start at the beginning, shall we? Some of the basics I've learned in therapy. PTSD has 3 key diagnostic categories: Intrusion, avoidance, and hyper-vigilance. There are other areas of importance - obviously having suffered a trauma is one - but you have to have significant symptoms in those 3 areas to be properly, officially diagnosed.

Intrusion: These are the things that throw you back into the trauma in the course of your every day life. Flashbacks, nightmares, physical or emotional reactions to triggers. Some of my triggers that I've uncovered: People who look similar to my abuser, the Big Bang Theory theme song (long story), a certain house, condescension, and phone calls. For real, do NOT call me unless absolutely essential. For damn sure leave a message about why you called if you don't get me because I will have a panic attack.

Avoidance: Pretty obvious, this means avoiding triggers, distracting yourself from memories or physical reminders such as photos. This is actually a potentially healthy way of coping if you can avoid taking it to extreme levels. Ex: texting over calling can be a hassle at times, but it's still less disruptive than a panic attack, right? A version of this is actually a skill I'm working on with my therapist. The problem comes when I avoid significant things, like important conversations because I'm scared of confrontation or paying certain bills because they are tied to his financial abuse and therefore might trigger me.

Hyper-vigilance: This feels a lot like a panic attack. All my senses get cranked to 11 when I'm triggered and I look for signs of danger everywhere. My therapist mentioned that if you can learn to exercise conscious control over this symptom, it can actually become a useful tool. But when triggered unexpectedly it overloads my system and I shut down (dissociation).

So since my trauma includes assault, I was/am an at-risk person for re-traumatization due to labor and delivery. I feel reasonably confident that childbirth did worsen my symptoms as I had what many would consider a perfect delivery but I still hate thinking about it and avoid doing so. Probably didn't help that I wasn't given time to myself afterward as I requested. That will go differently next time, I promise you (and myself) that much. Plus the hormone dump and changes were bound to exacerbate the crap that I've had hanging around for years now.

Depression and anxiety are typical parts of PTSD (and PPD for that matter) to the point that they are basically diagnostic criteria on their own. My therapist said that depression is a focus on the past while anxiety is a focus on the future. So the way to address them is to be in present. That makes a lot of sense to me, though we'll see if it helps. In short, there are 3 possible ways to get myself out of a bad spot when I find myself in one:

1. Safe space: a visualization technique where I craft and practice existing in a space that brings me peace and comfort. I'm not sure I'm comfortable sharing the specifics of my safe space yet, largely because I am alone in it. That could be because I genuinely desire and seek solitude or because I have trouble connecting to others and taking comfort from them. While I, like anyone, certainly do crave time to myself, I believe I fall into the second category. I don't trust people enough to open up to them as my weaknesses have too often been thrown back in my face.

2. Grounding: this is the part where I focus on the present. I assess my senses; what is going on around me? What do I see, hear, smell? Am I hungry, tired, thirsty? I focus on the current and the concrete. I've tried it a little and didn't find it especially helpful. Yet.

3. Meditative breathing: I'm a big believer in meditation. It's been scientifically proven to provide health benefits. Plus, I am bit of a sucker for yoga which is often meditative. I actually use that anxiety gif to slow my breathing at work, and it does help in the short term.

The idea is that we will use these techniques to help me cope with talking about my trauma. If I can tell my narrative, it should help me move on. But bringing all that stuff up is risky and can cause side-effects, so I have these techniques to use as needed. I've already told a large chunk of the story on this very blog, and apparently it didn't help, so we'll see how this goes. Herein comes the nightmare in which I was trapped in a version of The Walking Dead with my ex and literally ran out to be eaten to get away. (My dog saved me so... happy ending?) I could not move my body for about 10 minutes after waking and tried to use grounding to help me overcome the visceral feel that my abuser was standing behind me.

Theoretically, after we tell my "trauma narrative" and I get a good handle on my coping techniques, a lot of the depression and anxiety symptoms should fade. We will deal with what's left. Here's why I call bullshit. If you've ever taken one of these mental health questionnaires, you are familiar with the fact that they specify what symptoms you've experienced in the past week. I don't know about you, but if I'm in a decent enough place that I'm able to ask for help I haven't had a particularly bad week. So if I answer honestly, things don't look so bad. But if we were surveying the previous month, they'd be a lot worse. One of the darkest times of my life was several years after the wreck trauma (no PTSD there because I don't remember it) and several years before the abuse related trauma. I mean, we'll see. Maybe I'm totally wrong. I don't have great self-awareness.

I'm not feeling great, but I do feel a little more positive in the sense that at least I'm working on it. So far I like therapy. If nothing else, it's nice to dump all my fears and neuroses on someone else without feeling guilty for talking about myself.

Friday, March 23, 2018

March Check-in

Hello again!

I really am trying to get better about this. I think I'm already topping 2017 so progress!

March goals include:

1. Basic body care: drinking at least 48 oz of water a day, washing my face 2x/day, and eating at least twice a day. You'd be shocked how often that last one falls off.

2. Garden: Plant seeds/seedling, check daily, and weed at least 2x/week.

3. Mental Health: keep attending therapy and note each session in my bujo.

Yeah, I use words like bujo now. That's the kind of asshole I am. Honestly, all three of those general areas will probably stay on for the rest of the year, but the execution should change as I make progress. Let's do the check-in part of the check-in and see what progress I've already made! From February, I was working on:

1. Research skin care options and start investing in them (including drinking water). I'm still working on the water part, but I have a decent routine established now. I'm doing a 10-step Korean system, or at least working my way up to one. I've got both cleansers, a moisturizer, eye cream, toner, and some masks. I just ordered my first ampoule and my sunscreen. And a mom-bud is sending me some exfoliator samples. I haven't noticed any difference yet, but that's not so odd.

2. Explicitly target my mental health by finding a therapist. Found, and I've been 3 times!

3. Improved sleep hygiene: develop and implement a nighttime routine one step at a time. One of the biggest things I wanted to do was to stop sleeping with my phone. I ordered and now use and actual alarm clock that has sunset/sunrise simulations designed to help with more natural sleeping and waking. It's hit or miss whether I bring my phone to bed or charge it elsewhere. I'm also still pretty inconsistent about a decent bedtime, but I have been getting to work an hour earlier so the net effect is what I was hoping to achieve! At least until I die from sleep deprivation.

4. Make my peace with turning 30 (therapy should help). In my 3 whole sessions, we haven't had time to talk about this much yet. I'm still pretty hurt, especially considering that all the same friend group who blew me off are out tonight celebrating someone else's birthday without me because I had no idea there was anything planned until a day before and got stuck with baby duty.

Since we're already approaching the end of March, I'll go ahead and break that down a bit as well. I'm very inconsistent about the water and eating thing, but I've done pretty damn well with the skin care. You might point out that of those 3 things, skin care is probably the least important. You are not wrong, but I don't really care about or like myself and I'm not suuuuper invested in my own survival and skin care is the only one that is somewhat entertaining. I swear I'mma do a post soon about the details of my (current) routine. I have tilled our not-so-little garden patch - bonus! it was a good workout - and planted a few things in pots indoors. Next weekend is a long weekend and should put us past the worst of these steep temperature drops, so I'll be transitioning some pots outside and planting the remaining seeds.

Therapy... well that's a whole special beast. I have done well about documenting sessions but there's only been 3 so still plenty of time to screw that up. Shockingly, it turns out that I have anxiety, depression, PPD, anger issues, and PTSD! There is a lot of overlap in all of those things so probably the most salient is PTSD. Theoretically, once we address my trauma at least some of the others should diminish. I personally suspect that my PPD is a result of my PTSD as childbirth can be traumatic for assault victims. It was. Also shockingly, one of the reasons my PTSD has been so long lasting and severe is that I have difficulty connecting to people! Who would have thought I'd have trouble trusting and confiding in others with my interpersonal history? (Is the sarcasm clear in these statements? Should I italicize?) I've got a ton more to say, but we'll save that for another post. Fingers crossed we make it to two this month! I'mma try to be proactive and type it now. Come yell at me to get to work if you want.