I have spent many years traveling on a graduate student’s budget. Travel was – and is – my preferred way of handling the Christmas holidays, which would rank second after the week-that-shall-not-be-named (aka this one) on my list of least favorite times of the year, except for the fact that my travel tradition actually makes it one of my favorites. (At least, in those years when I can afford to travel.)
Traveling for mental health is my way of flipping the script on what would otherwise be a traumatic time of year, but given that I spent years making an income as a graduate student that didn’t quite leave me destitute – but also didn’t qualify as “comfortable” either – I never got used to the luxury of rental cars. I have never rented a car in any city that had viable public transit. I’ve had my fair share of ridiculous moments trying to navigate unfamiliar transit as a result, but I can’t at this point imagine ever renting a car in a transit city after so long getting by without one. Why pay eighty bucks for parking when I can pay ten dollars for a day transit pass?
I certainly can’t imagine renting one in my own city. I never learned to drive here. We had a car when we first moved, but the lack of street parking, the prospect of “parallel parking” if we ever did find parking, the feet of snow dumped on cars in the winter, and the extortionary private garage parking fees required to avoid dealing with any of the former quickly led to us giving it up. Even for the brief period that had a vehicle, we never drove to any popular tourist locations.
My Partner’s grandparents were traveling with childhood friends who had moved to another Southern state as part of an annual get-together tradition, and their stop in our city was one among several on the East Coast. (I continue to be amazed that there are people in this world who have maintained friendships for more decades than I have been alive, but this, like young marriage, seems to be the norm in the South.) Their hotel was outside the city because hotel costs are possibly the only thing more disproportionate than parking (or rent) in our city. They asked us to show them around, and we (naively) assumed they meant by subway. However, they were not comfortable using public transit, even with locals to personally shepherd them from Point A to Point B. They seemed convinced that the subway would be unsafe, dirty, and unreliable.
ADHD is known for “all or none” thinking, which also translates to “out of sight/out of mind.” It’s basically the reason our infamous desk piles are productive for us. If we put something away in a “safe spot,” we’re guaranteed never to look at it again!
The right amount of color in an organization scheme is similarly distinctive, but, if I color coded everything in my Passion Planner by its due date, as the true bullet journal fanatics will, then nothing would ever be urgent because everything was. In the end, I have two highlight colors only: blue for “due by end of the week,” yellow for “due by the first couple of days of the new week.”
Thanks to histrionicbutterfly of Life As Me, I was reminded of an obvious fact I had still managed to completely overlook: this kind of out-of-sight/out-of-mind” and “all-or-none” thinking can occasionally be neuroprotective. The easiest way to avoid difficulties from two masks falling off when trying to wear them simultaneously is to only ever wear one at a time in the first place! I sent my Partner off to entertain the grandparents-in-law and “revised” my call time extra early. Between not having to put on my “dealing with family is still scary” mask at all and the fact I am still photosensitive and can’t actually make out the audience behind the stage lights even when I want to, it felt like performing normally. I was happy with how the show turned out.
The only thing I was disappointed by in the show was that we didn’t get to play a game called Lyrics Only, which is exactly what it sounds like. Performers must run an entire scene speaking only in lyrics from songs as their answers. I love word games in Improv generally, but I am usually less fond of that one – not because I’m terrible at it in absolute terms, but because I’m terrible at it in relative terms. The audience connects best with lyrics from popular songs, and my musical tastes run a few generations too old for my audience (and me, by my age alone.) The audience usually can tell they are lyrics but don’t quite know the songs to truly appreciate them because they can’t mentally sing along. However, since I usually have the lyrical stylings of someone’s grandmother, I was hoping that I’d get to trot out this “relative” strength the one time I had honest-to-goodness relatives of appropriate age to appreciate in the audience. Alas, it was not to be.
But, overall, things went well. However, “going well” still meant far more “peopling” than I am used to. I’ll write more next week, but for this week I claim the “peopled out” privilege. I also haven’t forgotten that this week remains the week of the b-word that shall not be named and also the one-year anniversary of the most recent reason why that date continues to live in infamy. I did seriously look into taking the advice of another blogger, Vixxy Rose of Crazy Little Things and renting a rage room to “celebrate” that fact, but it seems that the idea is too popular for its own good. The one that would be nearest to me is closed for the next few months while it remodels to accommodate the “unexpectedly high demand!” (Though, when it reopens, it will, I note, let me pay extra to smash some unwanted mementos of my own to my own custom playlist for a little extra. I briefly wondered what soundtrack could ever accompany the 9th Circle of Hell, then realized I had already unintentionally created one in the form of my Zombie Apocalypse playlist from last year.)
Since I can’t go apocalyptic on any remaining evidence of the last year, I guess I’ll fall back on another old standby for this week for when I want to be an introvert for a week but still post something remain balanced during a frustrating anniversary. I’ll respond to a blog award! This week’s episode is graciously provided by justsaltwriter.
Because I’ve got lyrics (or rather, the lack of the chance to enjoy them on either stage or smash) on the brain and also because the ADHD brain – in addition to being all-or-none – has a tendency to take a very generous interpretation of what qualifies as necessary and sufficient for appropriate storytelling, I’m going to answer all of the questions in the form of Lyrics Only. Why? Because a ) it’s my birthday blog award and b) I have expended more spoons than recently than usual trying to rein in my tangential ADHD storytelling tendencies to play tour guide in a way that doesn’t literally bounce between three centuries of colonial American history within five minutes – with a dash of subway sociology thrown in for good measure. I’m letting my tangential flag fly here in recompense.
“Oh, Then, I guess I heard you correctly the first time. I was just kind of hoping I was wrong…”
“Surprise! We are here to support you!”
*Slams door in faces*
Things to know about rejection sensitivity in ADHD: 1) We’re sensitive to both real and perceived rejection. For instance, we’re sensitive to rejection even if it’s explicitly been established that the insults are a part of a comedy bit. 2) We’re also entirely capable – and probably most adept out of anyone – of triggering our own RSD spirals. Since I also have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome, I’m pretty sure I can claim I am adept enough at self-sabotage I could literally shoot myself in the foot with both arms tied behind my back (and maybe both feet, too, while we’re at it!)
Don’t believe me? I was once in a scene wherein the first actor entered the scene with arms outstretched to indicate he was a wall poster in an office building. Since effective scene painting is all about symmetry, I then had to keep my arms stretched out at my side when I also came out to play a poster. We were “demotivational posters,” so while other players acting as office workers read sweet affirmations about kittens hanging in there on our imaginary pages, we were secretly mocking them and sharing their darkest secrets. We’d whisper in their ears and make them think that their officemates were the ones insulting them. Finally, the humans in the scene got wise to us and started whispering insults back at us, making us turn against each other in our poster posse. One of the insults whispered at my poster was that it smelled stale.
This was directed at the poster itself, but I was at that moment standing there with both my arms out at my side while in real life someone was technically sniffing me. On the one hand, individual improv scenes only last around 1-2 minutes per scene on average, so even though I wasn’t in the most comfortable position for a spoonie, I hadn’t really been hanging out there long enough to be sweating in a gross way yet. Or, you know, so I told myself. On the other hand, we were about halfway through the set. Rejection Sensitivity meant I still felt anxious for the rest of the set until I could dash off to a bathroom and sniff under my armpits. Just in case the last insult had been directed at me, not the poster I was portraying.
Things to know about my birthday: Nothing at all, preferably. It’s very demotivating all on its own, and I’m quite comfortable pretending it doesn’t exist. Frankly, I’d be ok with excising the entire month of May from the calendar, just to be thorough.
But, that’s not the family I had, and, well, that’s a relief sometimes, like when I do want to perform in public. One of the few upsides to a family that doesn’t care that is that I have never had to worry about my RSD tendency to panic spiral whenever people I know are watching me at improv. My Partner doesn’t trigger that kind of spiral (*cough cough* anymore, at least most of the time), and nobody else has ever watched me. I am incredibly socially awkward around small groups, feel that way about my own teammates watching me, and can trigger my own RSD spirals about my performance (or just about anything else!) But, I am pretty much okay with big faceless audience masses who don’t know me personally – and never will – watching me. If Lavender sucks on stage but nobody ever actually knew her name, then it isn’t a permanent indication of her worth, or some such. The primary trigger of any of my current performance rejection spirals is thus me. And, I can (with a dash of “clinical strength” deodorant just in case I get sniffed on stage again) mostly manage my own demotivation.
Things to know about my in-laws: 1) They don’t know any of the things above about me.
CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, descriptions of child abuse, discussions of death and systemic abuse, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.
I’ve said before that I’m open to being challenged on even very sensitive topics on this blog, as long as basic trust and safety is maintained. One blogger I really respect, Mishka of Crafts, Chronic Illness and Adulting, challenged me with her comments on my last blog post exactly because she never doubted me when I said that, in the 9th Circle of Hell, a profoundly disabled minor child in the foster system would probably have died without a protector. If that same disabled adult nearly died from systemic abuse as an adult even with multiple guardians attempting to protect him, what hope would the same child split up from his sibling have had?
And, since that is true, what choice really did any “family” member have but to stay silent about my own abuse – the same way I did – to protect him? I was struggling with that question in the post itself, and, knowing more now about Mishka’s history, I can see why she was struggling. The stereotype of the “abused child” is that they become the abuser. But, really, that is quite rare. The vast majority of us only abuse ourselves. And, well, was that adult who warped my reality by not only staying silent really not also destroying herself? How do you “choose” between one child’s possible death and the warping of another child’s soul, sense of self and continuity of memory through denying what is true until they have to fragment their reality into a dissociative disorder to survive it without tearing off pieces of your already tattered soul too?
I struggled with that question when I wrote the post. I struggled again when I thought how to answer Mishka. I – who has written on her own Glossary of Terms that ADHD’s one upside is that it enables me to think so far outside the box that I “don’t know where the box is” – couldn’t think outside of “pick one abusive situation or another.”
Trauma keeps us in a box of our abusers’ making. We are ever so good at convincing ourselves that we are both all-powerful and powerless at the same time. We are so powerful that somehow if we’d just said the right thing, done the right thing, recognized the tells, and played the game, we could have prevented what happened to us. We are so expert at controlling others that if we fail to keep them from abusing us, we believe at heart that we are to blame. Yet, we are simultaneously so powerless that when an abusive system sets up two abusive choices, we are too powerless within our abusers’ reality to ever question the foundations upon which it was built.
My Partner, who has no ACES, has no such coercively imposed limitations, and no such moral doubt as to whether my “family” member should ever be excused. My Partner called my life the ‘Murican Red State version of the good-old philosophical “Trolley Problem.” If an out-of-control trolley is going to run over five people if it stays on the track it is on, but you could flip a switch and have it only run over one person, would you? Most people would say yes, but the vast majority of people never even consider any of the other options. Most people never think outside the box to realize that staying within two fundamentally abusive choices is victimizing to the switch-thrower as much as it is to the six people on the tracks and that perhaps the only solution is to break the rules themselves. A person could throw themselves in front of the trolley. They could daringly leap aboard the train and try to speed it up to the point where it derailed when it hit the track switch at a dizzying rate of speed. (I live in the Northeast. More than one Amtrak train has derailed by taking a track change at too high a speed. It could work!)
CW: keeping secrets about child abuse, the aftermath of systemic abuse in the present day, family secrets, intergenerational trauma, swearing, and standard “never go to the 9th Circle of Hell” trauma.
I’ve run away from this topic for a good three posts now, but I guess it’s time to return to our regularly scheduled shit show. It’s time to give an update on life in the 9th Circle of Hell. One might assume I’ve been running away from the topic because it involves more of the same present-day Hell, but I’ve honestly gotten pretty damn used to calling out abusive group homes on this blog. I’d feel no compunction against describing the latest in the series if needed.
The complication here isn’t about what’s happening in the present. It’s the fact that the moment the present vaguely stabilizes, there’s always,always ways the past can still betray me in the 9th Circle of Hell. It is the land of betrayal, after all. Writing about the past abuse that happened to me – or anything that relates to it – is always so much harder than writing about the systemic abuse I substantiated in this very year 2018. A “family” legacy of secrets and lies is so very hard to shake…
You know what they say: if you’re stuck in bowl hole, don’t keep pigging digging.
I grabbed a few spoons – and I don’t mean of the good kind – and dug in this week. That’s the nature of executive dysfunction coupled with a tendency to dissociate.
I am not the best at self-care in general, and I am generally worse at it when I’m alone or dissociated. My Partner has left me in the awkward position of being alone in our apartment on the East Coast (well, alone except for our kitty*) twice this year.
The first time he didn’t leave because of an active crisis, and I was generally aware and present the entire time he was gone. Or, at least I was as aware and present as anyone with ADHD ever is. I have now entered into my second year living on the East Coast, but I haven’t quite gotten used to having to keep food on hand for Nor’easters in March. By the time my ADHD brain worked out we were having one the last time I was alone – which was, basically, as the snow was starting to fall – our grocery delivery service had already stopped deliveries. I had to resort to stock ups for the next three days from what I could find at the CVS on the way home from work.
On three separate occasions recently, I have found myself writing about apologies. I wrote about how my Partner always apologizes for hurting me in an argument – even when we have both said hurtful things – because he knows that wasn’t something I ever heard growing up. Then I wrote in another post how abusers never truly apologize. (Saying “I’m sorry you took it that way” doesn’t count!) Never receiving a true apology – even when I begged for anyone to understand just how badly I was hurting – is part of my personal abuse history. Heck, it’s part of my abuse present. I haven’t yet met an official from the 9th Circle of Hell who gives a damn about the hurt that has been done to my sibling and to those of us who have to deal with the guilt of not having been able to stop it. I’ve only met abusers, bullies, and officials who wanted to sweep the issue under the rug as quickly as possible.
But, there’s another side to talking about apologies that I haven’t written about until now. I haven’t written about how I was never allowed to truly apologize. I made mistakes as a kid – of course, I was a lonely, neurodiverse, traumatized kid – and I learned early on to respond to others using all my weak spots against me by trying to do the same to them before they could hurt me first. If someone had shown they’d go for my jugular, I tried to go for theirs first. (Spoiler alert: it’s actually virtually impossible to truly hurt those who are willing to do that to you, so it never did much good.) I’ve also said stupid, impulsive things just because I have ADHD, I’m hyperactive, and rejection sensitivity hurts like Hell. I’ve responded to my Partner like he was part of my past because arguing itself made me forget my present.
My current therapist would say that I didn’t really need to blame myself for the hurtful things I said to people who had a history of saying hurtful things to me, especially when there were rather large age differences and power dynamic differences. But, when I truly decided I didnot want to recapitulate my own family dynamics in another generation, it felt like I had to at least try to reach out my hands. It felt like maybe the first one to show vulnerability could make the change. We were a family broken by The System, and, thus, maybe – since we hurt each other because outsiders had hurt us first – we could find our way to healing once we understood trauma dynamics.
Another spoiler alert: showing vulnerability just made going for my jugular easier. It just opened me up to another long list of all the ways I’d screwed up over the years – dating back to age 6 at least – and how all of my failings justified anything that “might” ever have happened to me. Maybe vulnerability might have worked with one family member who is no longer with us (or maybe not) – I’ll never know – but it didn’t work with one with whom I tried it.
I’ve never received a genuine apology while growing up, but I also was never given the chance to offer one, either. I wrote in a previous post about how I was upset and triggered by some things another blogger wrote about ADHD. It hit me in a lot of the “it’s okay to hurt you because you should be normal but aren’t and it’s your choice” abuse buttons. That blogger apologized. She broke the cycle. She saw that I was upset, and she cared enough to write. That really was enough for me.
I also know the legacy of my past is that – even if I try to no longer allow others to hold past mistakes for which I’ve attempted to make amends over me – I’llhold mistakes over myself forever anyway.
I’ve written a lot about fighting internal stigma within the chronic physical, mental, or developmental illness communities, but I initially forgot to include the most important caveat when we do so:
That’s ironic, given that the very earliest journal entry I ever wrote was about the right to be forgiven. It’s likely naive and dangerous to forgive those who hurt us intentionally – they’ll take it as permission to keep doing it – but it’s cruel not to forgive those who hurt us unintentionally. It risks making us into the voice of the bully-in-someone-else’s brain. I wrote in my earliest journal entry how I didn’t want to ever be that again. My subconscious thus thinks that I should post that earliest entry to make sure that I’m always truly keeping myself honest to advocating for calling out stigma in a way that opens arms, not closes fists, since I know too well how easy it is to wield a litany of past mistakes against yourself for years.
The song is by The Animals. There are a couple of their songs that hold personal meaning for me. Maybe I’ll write about the others eventually, but, per my notes, this is the one I was listening to when I wrote this first entry that I have never actually shown anyone until now.
CW: Anonymity is so inconvenient sometimes. I can’t, for instance, tell you the actual state motto of the 9th Circle of Hell. “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here,” while appropriate, is actually not nearly as morbidly satisfying as the true state motto. If I ever write a memoir of my experiences in Hell – or, better yet, find a way to channel its traumas into some kind of a black-comedy stand-up – the title will simply be the unadulterated state motto. Some things are just too darkly ironic in and of themselves to be able to be embellished by even the most skilled satirist.
That said, the aforementioned “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here” is appropriate enough as a placeholder that any post I write about the 9th Circle of Hell from now until eternity probably warrants a content warning. Keep that in mind. This post is a darkly ironic reminder that trauma really does affect everyone, whether they grew up in Hell or married into the family.
CW: Don’t read this if you are in any sort of a bad place. I’m physically safe. I’m mentally shattered. You don’t need to do anything. There’s nothing anyone can do anyway unless they had serious political connections. I am not a danger to myself or others. No, the danger, as always, is from others, and this post is more about trying to survive their latest devastation. This post is about how it feels like it’s getting harder and harder to try to survive. It just never ends. It’s a dark post – even though I promise I’m safe – so please read with caution. I’m the scant protection someone else has from the 9th Circle of Hell. I won’t ever abandon that responsibility to ease my own pain. I’ve been on the other end of that type of abandonment and still feel the hurt and weight of the responsibility it left me with. I will survive this and keep fighting as best I can. I just wish deeply right now that I didn’t have to.
I know the DSM-V no longer includes the term “nervous breakdown” anymore. I’m fairly confident even if it did include it, since the origins of my panic attacks, crying, dissociation, and depression are quite well known, I’d still just end up labeled with the “dissociative subtype” of PTSD (aka the compromise that is supposed to cover C-PTSD).
I have had to deal with the 9th Circle of Hell about this damn most recent abuse and medical-neglect-leading-to-multiple-medical-crises case three times within four weeks. I will have to go back to Hell again this month. I’m fielding calls on top of that. I’ve spent a quarter of my take-home pay for the past few months on that shithole, be it in travel fees, medical bills, lawyer’s fees, etc. I’m not even the only one financially contributing to fighting for “care”, but when the cost of failure is potentially life and limb, I’m not questioning it so long as I still have the money. The origins of my distress are not a mystery and fit neatly into the DSM-V trauma disorders bucket. I doubt I’d be said to be having a nervous breakdown even if the term was still diagnostic.
Add on top of the trauma situation itself a boss who lost it with me over email when I politely sent him a notice that I could no longer attend a scheduled internal presentation because I had to speak to state regulators in the 9th of Circle of Hell during that time and was given no choice of times, though, and – all technicalities aside – I think I’m having a nervous breakdown.