Dissociation

So here is my theory on the past few weeks of crazy:
Hearing someone was in love with me and not confronting the issue immediately led to a loss of taste. Dissociation. Extreme stress.

This happened immediately after I was overwhelmed with emotions that did not fit the situation. PTSD emotional flashbacks caused by a trigger.

So what happened was some sort of inner tape went on replay. Emotional flashbacks that lasted days. Then I reacted to the stress of this skew in reality by dissociating (losing my taste) and that caused me to not want to eat at all. The lack of calories kept me in the stress reactions and also nixed my ability to sleep. Like: What? We are starving? Must be an emergency!! No sleep! Need to be alert! My really experienced stress hormones kicked into overdrive and would not calm down until I force fed myself a healthy amount.

The morning after I wrote a post on it, the morning after I had a conversation with him where he assured me he had zero plans to visit me, I woke up with the tape off, and my food was food again instead of tasteless cardboard.

I have dissociated before, the year after I left I did not even once recall any abuse or abusive incidents. I had a few dreams of being afraid but no recall was available to me. I was just surviving, trying to take care of the kids and starting over from nothing.

So I can’t say I don’t have dissociation any longer. I think I do. I thought one could only have dissociation from childhood. If that is true, I wonder what happened to me? The therapist calls it emotional neglect. Surely that is not enough to create dissociation.

I knew dating would be a bad idea for me. I am so glad I don’t try. Not everyone is going to wreck my life or kidnap me- but apparently my lizard brain believes the opposite.

Trust as Illusion

I don’t understand trust. Why are people suspicious of those they just met, and not those they live with?
Surely we have all had experiences where people we have known for ages and trusted became dangerous to us.
There is no guarantee someone will not attack you or betray you or steal from you.
All of us have experienced some sort of betrayal from people in our lives that we felt as close to as our jugular vein.
People change. You must constantly reassess your trust, anyway.
Trust, to me, is a decision. Not to be suspicious in that moment, not to look a gift horse in the mouth. I decide to trust. Anything else is me allowing myself to be lulled.
I don’t talk about this sort of thing much, others get uncomfortable with the concept. What do you think?

Replay: PTSD

So a few weeks ago a long time online friend messaged me that he was in love with me. I played it off and made light as I fell down the rabbit hole.

Fifteen years ago I was talking to an IRL friend I was helping with a legal case and he told me he loved me on MSN Messenger, which I was using for the first time. That relationship ended five years ago when I ran from him with our children with only hopes of staying alive long enough to see them safe.

Living with an abusive unpredictable monster for a decade has given me a lot of skills. Unfortunately it took me quite a few days to figure out what was going on, but in those days I did:
Come to a conclusion to be honest with my feelings instead of just deflecting his.
Spent an honest hour in therapy discussing my own trauma instead of telling jokes to my therapist as I have done for the past four years. She was stunned, I swear.
Treated the friend like an adult who I can trust despite wanting to protect him. Okay, so I did mention my various flaws in every casual conversation with him… some things never change.
Madly coped by listening to music, a lot of music, and I found some good new stuff out there.
Forced myself to eat a sustainable amount even though all food tasted like cardboard, and only lost five pounds.
Worked, every day.
Took perfect care of the children without them knowing I was rattled- though I was a bit lenient on the schedule.
Did all my self care, except sleeping, which the forced eating helped cure. Insomniacs, take note of the above and check your caloric intake.
Cleaned all the places I hate cleaning, like behind the stove and under the fridge.
Decided to purge. Got rid of half the contents of a closet and a couch I hated.
Debated intentionally with trolls daily and adequately defended the rights of women in a public internet environment instead of doing nothing with my insomnia.
Overcame some sort of sore throat virus with the help of turmeric heated in milk (thank you, internet friend’s mother).

I swear I was a superhero.

I finally pinned him down to a real conversation today and he did not mean it. When you are in love with someone, you plan, right? He has no plans, never had any plans, did not even consider any plans. He downgraded love to attraction, most notably. It was very sweet, I suppose. He, as always, was quite kind.

I always, always! fall in love with people who say they are in love with me- despite everything. This time I will never have to explain it, embrace it, or deal with any fallout. Some feelings I can keep to myself, right? The relationship it affects is mine, with myself. My life will be unchanged. I will be back to normal shortly, I expect. I am looking forward to my tastebuds registering again. Still have some purging to do in the house, though.

Oh, and my abuser, who messaged me his love on MSN so long ago? He didn’t mean it, either. He was lying that day, as he told me years later. He was fishing, and I got caught. Caught good.

Still Looking Backwards

It was a short-term goal my therapist and I set for me, well over six months ago, to look back at my life and try to see it through “the lens of autism” in the hopes that it would make sense.

It doesn’t, still, and I have gotten in the habit of looking back and analyzing frequently.

What I talk about in my sessions with my therapist is about the feelings of isolation or being misunderstood. I can explain that as being symptomatic of autism but what stands out to my therapist is neglect.

I know I am a different sort of parent from my own.

I try to figure out what is going on with my kids in school, I play with them and their friends, I encourage them in things I don’t care for – growing out their hair, playing social video games.

I don’t always do this because I am interested, though I am. I sometimes am motivated by what I remember of my own childhood, because I don’t want my children to ever feel as I did. I felt a lot of self-loathing, and as if I were never good enough. I want my children to feel validated, to feel that their own interests are legitimate, that they matter as their own selves.

I look back and I remember always feeling as though people did not understand my intent. My intentions were often announced by me, and still not understood or accepted.
I think this is how things work, actually. I think we assign our own motivations to others and rarely accept their stated intentions as truth. For we see others through our own lenses, our own frames of reference, rather than through their eyes.
I think we also deceive ourselves quite frequently, even regarding our own intentions. So maybe it is not that people did not understand my intentions or feelings, but that I did not understand their interpretations of me- why or how they were so off.
I remember feeling gutted by the assessments of others.

This all looks like autism at first glance. But the therapist says that a skewed or dysfunctional attachment to the primary caregiver creates a bit of disassociation like this, for instance:
I have always felt closer to people who talk a lot about themselves. I often feel as though I have a better picture of them, as if they were “more real” than others who are more conservative or discreet in their self praise. This is not the healthiest, but it is instinctive, I cannot help it. I know, now, that this is my tendency, and so I try to lean away from those I am trying to lean into. If that makes sense. Because I know now that self absorbed people are not good for me (or really anyone) and that their endless chatter on their favorite subject is not necessarily the truth.
So the therapist’s assessment is that I am attracted to people who convey a false sense of intimacy (immediate intimacy) because I did not have real attached intimacy with my primary caregiver as a child. Deep shit, right? Makes for a complicated life and a lot of bad judgement of character. Like being autistic.

How can I untangle all that?

And my therapist, in case you were wondering, is pro-neurological diversity and not in doubt of my autistic assessment last year. So it is not even a simple matter of her throwing her own disbelief into it.

Boundaries Between Identities

Most often when I try to explain emotional things my tongue dries up and my mind goes blank and I crack a joke instead.

I wasn’t always like this. I used to write poetry, free form stuff that drew pictures in the mind of the reader and also created emotional response. I used to be in touch with myself, I think.

I haven’t been able to write poetry for years. I think I stopped during my second marriage. I don’t know if it was about the marriage or about being happy or about embracing religion or about being so busy working that I put in fifty plus hour weeks. I just stopped and never started again.

I don’t know if I ever explained myself properly, emotionally. I just know I used to write it down pretty clearly. I could write rants, too. Those emotional rants you write while crying, the ones you never wanted anyone else to see. I don’t cry anymore, either. I stopped crying and talking about emotion while I was with their father.

I joined a PTSD forum a few years ago and was flagged as being in violation of the rules because my paragraphs were not double spaced on my intro (see how I am doing it here, remembering this). I made maybe four comments and never went back. It hurt my feelings, to not be able to follow the rules. It brought up some deep pain in me that I know has been there since childhood. I was always in trouble, socially.

I was in touch with myself when I was very young. I knew what abuse was, from outside, when it was being done to others. I had boundaries and I had terrible crying fits that could last hours when I realized someone didn’t love me or had cheated or had hurt me in some way. My boundaries eroded from constant battering, on all fronts. Abuse wasn’t abuse anymore, it was how things were. It was what was to be expected if I wanted to keep my religious beliefs, my husband, my everything. It wasn’t until the children were being battered that I woke up and I remembered where the boundaries should be.

Most of those boundaries never came back. I tell my children all the time where their boundaries should be, how to respect the boundaries of others. But I haven’t got them anymore, myself.

I think it is a good thing I don’t date. I think it is the best thing I have done for my children apart from separating them from their abuser.

I worry all the time that it is not enough. I worry every time I am angry that I am abusive, that my children are being scarred. My own mother was pretty cold. I don’t remember much anger from her, or much feeling, really. She compliments me all the time now and I have no idea where it is coming from. She was not like that when I was a child. I have always responded to very verbal and very intense people, like my father. Which is not a good thing, necessarily. Very verbal and intense people are often self absorbed or abusive. I just couldn’t feel people who were more low key. So I worry that I am setting my kids up to expect outbursts from people, or scolding, or punishment when I make them clean up their messes or go to their rooms. Am I being hard on myself? Maybe. I don’t know the proper boundaries. I feel a sense of panic if they have no consequences, too. I am terrified to go easy and frightened of coming down too hard.

I don’t know how or where being autistic plays into this. I don’t know where I and autism differ (perhaps we do not) and I often do not find the PTSD until retrospect kicks in. I hate it, I hate the PTSD. I was the most patient person in the universe until PTSD. Now I am tired and I am distracted and I am irritable often enough that I worry how it affects my children.

I was sick with food poisoning for the past few days. None of the last minute Christmas stuff got done. There is no one to do it for me. I have to get it done and I have to do it while being tired and meeting my prior commitments. I have to keep the PTSD at bay. I don’t want to spend Christmas yelling at my kids, like I did this evening. Kids will goof off and break rules and violate boundaries with each other. Why do I expect more? PTSD is always so much worse with stress or fatigue.

Maybe I should try EMDR. Maybe I should talk about what happened to me.

Happy Holidays.

Triggers- How Can You Tell?

When I was evaluated and treated by a psychologist for PTSD he corrected me on my perception of ¨being triggered¨.

I had always thought of it as experiencing emotional distress or panic in reaction to something that brought on memories of undergoing trauma. He told me I was profoundly mistaken, that ¨being triggered¨ means you are reacting inappropriately, in any way, to something- and that you can trace the source of that reaction back to your trauma.

He informed me that I was triggered pretty much all the time. Just most of my reactions were internal and not visible to an observer.

That blew me away. I thought, you know, that my PTSD was pretty controlled and that I had no problems. But it turns out that seeing dads of children in the grocery store and wondering if the mothers knew where their children were is me being triggered. Assuming most couples have an abusive relationship is me being triggered. Being nervous around strange men is me being triggered.

I never could tell him what happened to me, and I have told my therapist only a couple of stories in the two years since I saw the psychologist. I suppose if I talked about it more, I would trigger less. That is the theory.

But the therapist gave me some homework. She wants me to identify my triggers. It seems impossible, since everything triggers me. Has anyone else had to do this? Any advice? My list is crazy long. Is everyone´s list ridiculously long?

 

How We Are Formed

Are we born perfect, to spend the rest of our lives trying to heal the wounds that this world carved into us after birth?

Are we born susceptible to wounding?

Are we at fault for being wounded, even as children, even as the disadvantaged?

Can we grow without being hurt by our parents?

I don´t know.

I keep reaching back, trying to discern what it was that made me like this.

It is so easy to just throw up my hands and say ¨There was no diagnosis for verbal high functioning autism when I was growing up¨ and just insist that I was misunderstood.

But that does not explain the extent of the misunderstanding, the wounding ramifications of it, the mental and cognitive disorders and the problems I had with comprehension and safety. That does not spare me the curse of repeating the cycle with my children, of misunderstanding them to the point of causing them pain or driving them from me. I spend a lot of time trying to make sure I am connecting with and appreciating them, instead of just working the time away. I am diligently trying NOT to go through the motions of appointments and meals and cleaning. I am paranoid about showing love. I am consciously loving them as much as I am unconsciously loving them. I am always forgetting to teach them to care for themselves, because I am so anxious to show them love by caring for them.

I want to understand what went wrong in my own life to such an extent that my own mother  and father did not want me, even as an employed teenager who followed house rules and kept a good academic average. I know many parents now, as I have been an adult now longer than I was a minor, and I don´t know any personally who have done what mine did. I know I had some difficult years in my early teens, where it was easier to leave my home and live on the street than it was for me to stay where I was feeling unloved. I did not try to make up for that, there is not much you can do to make it up, but I did change my tune and stay put at home where there was usually raw fixings in the refrigerator and I had access to medical care. I bought Christmas and birthday presents for my mother. I thought I was doing alright, with following the rules. But it was not enough. I know people my own age who live with their parents, and it seems to be an arrangement everyone is happy with. Even my own cousin does this.

My therapist has her theories, but those theories are born of my recollection, not of the facts of my childhood. I cannot trust such theories. She is too willing to forgive, too willing to remove the blame from me, she would, I often suspect, make me innocent as well as naive. I was never treated as innocent when I was a child, she must be mistaken.

I can safely blame many things in my life on my religious convictions, my personal convictions, my misplaced loyalties. But childhood things I cannot. None of those things were formed yet, when I was a child, all came later.

I am so terrified of hurting my children. I am petrified that they will reach an age, as I did, where they want to be far far away from me. I don´t want them to feel haunted, lifelong, by my actions. I want it to be transparent, my love for them. Transparent and tangible, something solid they can build on- forever. I am frantic to puzzle out the key to this, the rejection of my childhood self, so that my children never know it.

 

 

The New Normal

At Thanksgiving I had pulled a name for my Christmas gift (there are too many of us to give everyone a gift) that I wasn´t familiar with, it was someone about twice removed, and a boyfriend of that someone to boot. I knew where he lived, what his interests were, through heresay and so I bought him a gift card to a very popular hunting supply shop.

He was hugely impressed, it seems.

I told him I know how the town is and what the favorite pastime is there, having lived there myself for a year or so and he kept smiling at me and struck a weird posture. I stood there, trying to figure out what was going on and then I worked out  that he was trying to hug me, in that respectful sort of sideways style that young men would give older women. I was stunned, really, though I complied without much hesitation.

A few years ago I would have been beaten bloody for that. I wouldn´t have been able to walk for at least a week. I am sure it would have been worse than all the beatings I had endured before, because there was no provocation, no justification for any of them. I never looked at anyone, spoke to anyone unless it was a basic politeness, or went anywhere unless it was to obtain food or education for the children. Every beating I had suffered was because my ex had made up a story about me in his head, a fantasy of my imagined guilt. An excuse to hurt me, to punish me, for being in his life and being a package deal with his children when he had found someone he liked better- who knew nothing about us, his family. He would beat me, but he could not separate from me, because he had no reason to. I was doing nothing wrong, and his cultural norms taught him that a man had to take care of his chaste wife forever. So this would have thrown my ex over the edge, for sure- to touch a man, and a man I did not really know, at that. It probably would have been the excuse he was looking for, the excuse to kill me, in the name of his honor.

The intention of this young man was not bad. He meant to show appreciation. He is young enough to be my son, and he was being respectful per his cultural norms. Hugging is part of American mainstream culture, and it is becoming more common rather than less. But even without taking all that into account, it is not something that deserves a beating, or an unkind word, or even a sharp look. Showing affection, even between those who are unrelated, is a good thing. It is human, it is humane.

Today I was, after short work weeks and multiple days off due to the holiday, relaxed. I was relaxed, completely. I played with my children, for hours, and in the house, not out in the parks like we do in the summer. They sang songs for me and we got silly and I was truly enjoying them, not telling them I hadn´t time or that I had to do this or that. I had actually done all the cleaning I could. I was with them, in that moment, clapping in time to their songs and laughing with them.

It was one of few moments I have experienced where I have no symptoms at all of PTSD. It gives me a sense of freedom, of hope, and it is always bittersweet, because if I were so at all moments, all of the time, I know my children would heal better and faster than they have.

I spent the first eighteen months after we left feeling as if we were still there. I was afraid to smile in public, could barely speak, and I never laughed. I feel so sorry for that time. My children did not have it easy, either. We were all still trapped back there. I have been trying to talk about it, what happened to us, for years, but failing. The last few months I have not been trying at all and I feel better than ever. Supposedly I have PTSD because I did not process my trauma- that is the definition of PTSD. The first year after we left I did not even remember what it was like before, my mind would not recall anything of any abuse or any memory involving my ex, but my body remembered. I was always back there, always terrified, hushing the children from habit, so we would not be punished for the noise. I don´t want to remember. I don´t want to go over it with anyone, even my therapist. I want to continue to move away from it.

I want to continue to have these moments without fear. Not being afraid to receive a hug from a relative, no matter how removed, and not afraid to laugh with my children in my home. I love the feeling of being unafraid. I love it. It lets me show my children how much I love them, it lets me be myself. It allows me so much room to grow.

 

 

Freedom to…

Today the children asked many questions about Buddha. We are not Buddhist, in case you were wondering. I put on ¨Little Buddha¨ and answered whatever questions the film inspired.
I had used Buddha as a teaching tool when we first left.
My boys were so violent in those early days, I had to point to a figure that practiced a radical form of nonviolent living as an example worth following, just so there was another point of view. We spent early mornings, before anyone had a chance at misbehaviour in that chaotic and oppressive shelter, removing snails from drainholes in the lawn, so they would not ¨fall¨ or ¨drown¨ or ¨be crushed¨ by anyone stepping on the grate. While I talked about Buddha and why we should care if the littlest thing is harmed.
I have lately read the ¨One Minute Mother” which is short, but gives positive parenting from a very simple view. It was a nice little refresher.
My goal with my therapist was changed, from integration into Western culture to self acceptance, which has prompted the following recollections.
I had horrible insomnia as a child. I would count how many times I could go around the perimeter of the playground before the bell rang, because most days no one would play with me. I became a bully, beating up on boys larger than myself who looked to be ¨bothering΅ girls. I realize now, it was probably play for them, both genders. I tried to kill myself at age eleven. I really hated myself, and I always had this sense that who I was and what I wanted to do with myself was not acceptable to anyone. I am very careful to embrace my children’s interests as part of them, and not dismiss their passions, because of this experience. I had two pairs of pants, four shirts, and two sweaters one year, and my far wealthier classmates noticed-and made sure I knew they had noticed. I did not learn how to wash my hair properly until I was much older, and I remember my father forcing me in the tub to try to teach me at age eight, and I was so mortified that I remember only the shame and the terror of it, not anything learned.
The flip side was that I was responsible for myself completely at age six. I cooked, cleaned, and etc. My mother claims that I raised myself, to this day. I had no respect for either of my parents as a child, though I was afraid of my father’s displeasure. At age thirteen they kidnapped me and had me committed, because though I obeyed all local laws, such as curfew and doing nothing illegal, I did not obey my mother’s house rules. I left home shortly after I was released from that facility, which was the month it took to eat up my insurance coverage, because returning home and discovering my room had become a storage locker for the lover that my mother had moved into the house in my absence was just too much for me. A session on the streets of the city and a lecture from a juvenile court judge got me home again, though I continued to help homeless youth for years after. I tried to live with my father, made it for a few months, but they sent me back to my mother when they found my cigarettes, which I suppose was illegal, but common where we lived. That summer they sent me to survival camp, and my father informed me that he would never speak to me again if I did not pass with flying colors. I did, and he stopped speaking to me for four years, anyway. I called him shortly before I lost my home at age eighteen, when my mother planned on me being out. I maintained a relationship with him but never took his offers to move in and follow his rules, even when homeless, for fear I would lose my father again through my own mistakes.
For fear of causing them pain, I never talk to them about these things, unless they bring it up. My mother once commented that she was horrified by children fighting, and I asked her why she just walked away when my brother was beating on me as a child-every day. She said she wouldn’t do that now, and the little girl in me just about died from the futility of that statement.
My parents never spoke much about when they were children or even young adults. They did not talk much to me about myself as a child, either. I tell my children many things about themselves, and I tell them about how I grew up, too. I want them to have a sense of place, of continuity, of being wanted, cherished, celebrated, noticed.
I woke up ill today. I still feel awful and I should be asleep. I had reserved a spot for my daughter at a local kid’s play place, for her birthday party, and we went, despite how I felt. It went well. I hope she remembers that she got what she wanted. Someday they will ask me for something that I cannot give them, I am sure.
I was not allowed to take my kids to parties, or outside much at all. I was not allowed to talk about myself. I was not allowed to introduce peaceful concepts to the children. I was not allowed a therapist he had not met and approved of and interrogated me over mercilessly after each session. Not until we left.