Long Walks and Candlelight Zen-ers

I sometimes think my Partner missed his life’s calling as a therapist, but whenever I mention this to him he reminds me that the only “people” he wants to be observant of and “people” with on a regular basis are me (and maybe the cat, who is unofficially a “people,” too!)

As I’ve said before, my Partner was instrumental in helping me to identify that my “personal flaws” were really indications of ADHD, in obtaining my formal ADHD diagnosis (functioning as my “family” interview in lieu of my family of origin, who should never be trusted to speak on my behalf, ever) and also helping me come to terms with the idea that having ADHD, which is sometimes classified as a “learning disability,” doesn’t invalidate my elite school undergraduate degree or the grueling work I did to complete my thesis. In fact, we largely worked out that ADHD was even something to consider because he read an Atlantic article about an Ivy League-graduate female writing about her experiences, handed it to me, and went, “That’s you, and before you freak out, note the ADHD didn’t mean she didn’t graduate from a top tier university and work for a competitive magazine. So, it doesn’t mean you are stupid at all.”

He has never really stopped knowing me better than I know myself since that first insight. He worked out a lot of my personal trauma history from context clues before I ever felt comfortable sharing it (or even acknowledging to myself that those experiences “qualified” as trauma.) He also originally came up with many of my core grounding techniques. He’s the one who worked out, for instance, that stating the date and time isn’t as effective as one might think during a dissociative episode for someone who also has ADHD, as even when I am completely “in the present” I am often still completely obvious to the date and day! He’s the one who suggested instead simply saying, “You are here. This is now.” And – when I asked him in 2018 what the point was of reminding myself that it was the “here” and “now” (date non-specific because I wouldn’t have said any date in childhood, so if I’m saying anything at all, it’s already not childhood) when 2018 was so damn close to those other childhood and previous 9th Circle of Hell adult trauma memories that it felt indistinguishable – he is the one who calmly replied, “This year is shit. It’s 90% the same shit as the shit you’ve been through in the past. But, that makes it even more important that you remember that it is, at the same time, still 10% different shit. If you must live through current trauma, don’t torture yourself further by also reliving your past similar trauma all at once.” ADHD all-or-none non-linear conceptions of time do me no favors on that front.

He’s the one who came up with the idea of wearing beaded bracelets, keeping a reality journal, and recording my own “guided meditations” in safe, happy places to remind myself that happiness is possible when in the depths of Hell. I still fill out my reality journal daily. I still wear beaded bracelets and remind myself that, “You are here” and “This is now.” And, I still struggle with feeling triggered – without necessarily confusing whether I am actively safe for the moment – because traumaversaries are a thing.

Standard therapy for trigger management, dealing with emotional flashbacks and grounding bugs me for multiple reasons. The biggest reason tends to be it always starts from the assumption that a person is safe in their present. That was not the case for me in 2018, and it is not the case today for many others who are suffering from complex PTSD and/or dissociation while simultaneously living in poverty, chronically ill, of color in an intolerant neighborhood, disabled and/or still too young to live independently to escape their childhood abusers. It is entirely possible to have PTSD while still also being actively (re)traumatized.

Another thing that bugs me is that grounding techniques tend to be very one-size-fits-all. The same techniques are recommended whether a person is currently experiencing an active mental health crisis, engaging in day-to-day mental-health management, or “just” feeling a bit more triggered than normal because of a traumaversary. I don’t understand why therapists assume that engaging in the same things that grounded me in 2018 – the big guns of my mental health management – couldn’t actually re-trigger me back to those unpleasant memories of why I needed those big guns if I used them again in 2019 – especially if I’m trying to use them to stop thinking about 2018 to begin with.

Yes, my beaded bracelets were “new” in 2018 compared to prior crises, so they were helpful for grounding last year. And, yes, I’ve gotten used to wearing them, and they remain a useful societally acceptable wearable fidget in 2019. But – since I was wearing beaded bracelets on my worst days in 2018 as well as my best – they no longer quite distinguish between the 2018 “then” and “now.” I said, “You are here; this is now” in 2018 as well as in 2019. So, that too, can only remind me that (at least) I am no longer a child and that I have adult options – but it can’t distinguish this year from last year. My reality journal is great for identifying why I feel triggered in 2019 seemingly out of the blue, and it is great for day-to-day maintenance. But, it also isn’t enough by itself for a traumaversary. None of my daily maintenance tools by themselves are enough.

Yet, I simultaneously wouldn’t want to haul out my biggest guns – such as my personalized guided meditations – for anything other than a true crisis. I don’t need to be reminded that a place outside of Hell exists and that happiness exists in 2019 the way I did last year. I’m present enough, even when feeling floaty lately, to still know that I’m generally happy and that it’s weird that I’m feeling something in my body that doesn’t match my mind or my external circumstances. I just need a little boost because my nervous system sometimes decides to hijack that happy brain for a bit.

Most grounding techniques don’t seem to consider the different tiers of grounding-type interventions that might be required for different circumstances – or different years or times of years – at all. And – despite the years of therapy and all the many books on complex trauma, dissociation and social justice that I have read – in the end it still ended up being my Partner who realized that tiered interventions might be required in self-care, just like tiered interventions are common in acute care.

Continue reading “Long Walks and Candlelight Zen-ers”

Advertisements

Messages in a Bottle #14: If You’re a Poet and You Don’t Know It…

Traumaversaries are weird. I have learned that it is entirely possible for me to feel stressed, anxious, rejection sensitive and floaty for days with no overt understanding of why I am feeling this way – even throughout events that should otherwise be fun in present-day 2019 – because my subconscious mind still remembers what my conscious mind has chosen to forget.

In my conscious recollection, the first week of June will always suck, and I probably should additionally be wary of early July this year. July will mark the one-year anniversary of that casting off of my fragile sense of safety and my “here and now” to go on not-FMLA and dive again into the horrors of the past in seemingly endless present-day loop. In my conscious memory, I’m aware of these dates as potential “traumaversaries” (from both 2018 and accumulated triggers), and I wouldn’t have been surprised if I had had rough mental health episodes earlier this month. I plan to take extra care of myself in early July.

But, I was surprised by how quickly and painfully those old PTSD symptoms crept up on me these past few days because – as far as I understood – these middle couple of weeks of June were a relative period of quiescence in the general storm of 2018 (and the 9th Circle of Hell in general.) But, apparently, my body remembered what I, myself, did not. Because, after it became apparent I was struggling even in the midst of otherwise enjoyable events, I finally sucked it up and looked up what was happening this time last year.

Trauma memories can affect the subconscious mind (and body) as well as the conscious one, and reality journals don’t lie. This time last year, I had a particularly unmemorable (aka dissociative) day in which I had to take a call with the 9th Circle of Hell that was demeaning and demoralizing, and then be screamed at by my bully-of-a-boss for four hours afterward as further demoralization.

What was my offense that led to his hours-long recasting of every bit of work I had ever done for the company as worthless trash? Well, I had had a meeting with him, and I had been particularly fragile, given how poorly I had been treated on the phone by the 9th Circle of Hell. He insulted me – just the normal amount he always did (and always does) – but on that day I couldn’t quite take it. And, I committed one of the cardinal sins of workplace unprofessionalism in his eyes. I cried. And, when he pointed out that I was committing that egregious sin, I only managed to stammer out that my sibling had nearly been lost from abuse by people licensed to take care of him, the 9th Circle of Hell didn’t care, and I had no clue how to find safety when the very people who were supposed to oversee this stuff were turning a blind eye. Instead of having the grace to stiffen up and grovel for my initial offense, I said more about myself, and admitting such additional “inappropriate” personal details required, apparently, that four-hour spontaneous meeting wherein I was further dehumanized and demoralized as he pretended that I was some sort of imbecile who had barely functioned at my job for the years I’d been there. 

Perhaps if I hadn’t already dealt (unsuccessfully, at that point) with the demons of the 9th Circle of Hell that day, I might have gathered my wits enough to challenge how – if I were truly so egregious an employee – I’d been marked highly by him at each of my past evaluations and had always received merit-based raises to boot. Perhaps if I’d not been treated so egregiously by the 9th Circle of Hell that day, I might also have had the foresight to record his own tirade such that – by the time I went on not-FMLA at the end of the month – I might have had that recording of his own meltdown as leverage to ensure he took me back. (Given he fired the rest of my office while I was on leave and his last words to me before I left were to “fix it in the next few weeks or you are no longer any use to the company,” that leverage probably would have been very reassuring, even though, as my regular readers know, I ultimately survived both Hell and my boss and was rated high-performing again at my last review of 2018.) Perhaps any one of those things might have gained me a bit of a handhold as my entire life crumbled around me last year and prevented this time of the year from now also becoming a traumaversary. But, I did none of those things last year.

I simply dissociated.  After I checked out of my own mind, my body was apparently able to parrot the right amount of kowtowing to appease my bully-of-a-boss and shut him up. I did enough not-imbecilic work in the next few weeks that when I finally asked for not-FMLA, he remembered why he’d hired me and offered it to me (albeit with those delightful parting words to terrify me on the way out…) I pretended I was fine, and – thanks to the miracle of dissociation – I absolutely believed this week wasn’t the one year anniversary of anything terrible until my own imbecilic mind betrayed me and I went hunting for why I have been feeling so re-traumatized lately. 

Dissociation was probably the only way out of that mid-June day that I didn’t-want-to-remember-that-I-remembered from last year. It is also, however, just as weird as any traumaversary. I said and did the right things to somehow set myself up as an employee worth granting not-FMLA to a few weeks later. I looked and behaved like a human – and a competent one at that. I just don’t happen to remember any of it. Thus, the weirdest thing I have now learned about trauma and dissociation in 2019 is that even I didn’t quite realize just how well I pretended to be human while taking leave of my brain temporarily in 2018.

In the process of attempting to work out why I have been so triggered this week, I discovered that – sometime during either the dehumanizing and the demoralizing that was that call with the 9th Circle of Hell and/or the dehumanizing and demoralizing that was my boss discovering I was upset by that phone call – I wrote a poem.

I. Wrote. A. Poem.

That is very weird. I clearly had to have written it in a very dissociated state, because – while I was lucid enough to record in my reality journal that I had been severely dissociated enough to have lost cohesive memory of portions of two events that day – I was not lucid enough to record anything in my reality journal about having written a poem. It’s definitely my poem in my handwriting in my locked leather journal that only I know the passcode. Yet, I’m the kind of person that is terrified to write poetry even in my locked journal because my own-bully-in-my-brain would still be able to find it. I must have seriously needed to distract myself with something else equally scary to have resorted to poetry to hold on to my pretended connection with humanity on that particular day in June 2018. I’m half terrified of just how much I clearly did to maintain my human mask while dissociated and half proud of just what all I accomplished even if I don’t remember it.

I would ordinarily be too terrified to ever share a poem I’d written – especially one that I clearly didn’t proofread as I didn’t remember it existed! – and I wouldn’t post Messages in a Bottle two weeks in a row. But, whether I like it or not these next few weeks all have the potential to be “surprise” traumaversaries for me, this year at least. I’d like them not to be traumaversaries forever. My fear of the internet’s response to some potentially bad poetry this week in 2019 is nothing compared to what I was dealing with this same week in 2018. I should celebrate that with a bit of fearlessness. That means reminding myself that I am safe in the “here” and “now” in 2019, and also that – even when I was trapped in Hell in 2018 – I was still resourceful enough to survive it (again.) If writing a poem was part of that survival, I probably should at least post that poem in commemoration.

A fair warning, though, that poetry written in a dissociative despondent state is not going to be full of rainbows and butterflies. Any readers who are sensitive to descriptions of feelings of hopelessness and depression might want to stop now while they are still just reading about reading a poem written in a dissociated state, instead of reading it!

For everyone else, enjoy my (untitled, because I was apparently not quite that thorough in my trance state) poem from 6/14/2018 below. I did cheat a little bit. I added the punctuation in post hoc because my original handwritten version had none.

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #14: If You’re a Poet and You Don’t Know It…”

Messages in a Bottle #12: Six Degrees of Kevin Broken

CW: descriptions of systemic abuse, abuse statistics, speaking out about past abuses

This Message in a Bottle was literally previously a published blog post in March. But, the original version of the post was first password-protected, because, at the time, I worried that putting it out there simultaneously would somehow undermine the credibility of what I was attempting to accomplish in the non-blog world.

Now, a couple of months have gone by. We’ve received our reply, and our story, for whatever it is worth, is in the hands of one of those task forces charged with “getting to the bottom of things” in hopes that the failures of the 9th Circle of Hell will at least teach the East Coast how to clean up their own act for vulnerable populations. Will it accomplish anything? I don’t know. I’m justifiably jaded, and I know that systemic abuse within and by state-funded agencies across the nation has no easy solution. But, injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. So, in theory, taking action anywhere is metaphorically striking a blow against the 9th Circle of Hell, as well? Or something like that? I don’t know. But, my Partner and I tried offering our experiences as an example of what never, ever should happen to those in care facilities in any state anywhere in the U.S. – or across the globe. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Individuals with disabilities experience sexual assault and other abuse at rates at least seven times higher than the general population – making them the most at-risk population – even before rates of assault in institutions and other state-funded agencies are factored in. As this NPR article states, accurate statistics can’t even begin to be reported for such places. I know this first hand – because I’ve tried to get them – so I concur that the true rate of abuse and neglect are, in reality, almost certainly even higher than what is reported.

I also know that PTSD is an incredibly common response to traumatic experiences such as abuse and neglect. PTSD is a common mental health challenge across demographics, and individuals with disabilities aren’t somehow immune to it as they experience these unconscionably high rates of abuse and neglect. PTSD is a response to trauma, and individuals with disabilities experience a disproportionate amount of trauma. It is no surprise that many disabled individuals develop trauma triggers and PTSD as a result.

It is unconscionable that there isn’t more awareness that a more frequently traumatized population will also be more likely to require sensitive, trauma-informed mental health care from caregivers and agencies. It is even more unconscionable that – rather than getting such care – that those same trauma responses that Mental Health and Trauma Awareness campaigns try to normalize within the wider population are still dismissed in individuals with disabilities as unexplainable, meaningless “bad behaviors.” Then, these “bad behaviors” are not only misattributed but are commonly used by agencies as an excuse to evict clients who have already been through plenty (quite possibly at the hands of the agency trying to use their trauma responses to evict them in the first place!) 

For Mental Health Awareness Month this year, I want to remind people that the toll taken on my own and my Partner’s mental health by the evil actions of the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 were also extracted on my sibling. I may have to be the one to tell the story because the system isn’t really set up to give my sibling a voice, but I want to be clear to people that just because I am the one writing the story, that does not imply that I was the only one scarred by the events of 2018. I’m just the one with the most current capacity to shove it in the system’s face in an attempt to create change.

The post below was written as I worked through my own trauma responses in an attempt to use our experiences in 2018 to shove such awareness into the faces of some of the members of the “system” on the East Coast. I write most frequently about Hell itself, but I am well aware of the East Coast’s failings in the same areas that have recently come to light in a 2019 report on my current state’s “behavioral health” system. I don’t know if my story of being spurned by the East Coast while desperately seeking a way out of the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 will ever help reform either state’s system, but, well, I keep banging my head against the wall.  The East Coast asked for personal narratives of systemic failures.  I’m perfectly fine with both relaying the literal Hell we went through last year and how if any of their state services – which I guess were busy continuing to fail in the ways outlined in that recent unpleasant report of their own – had gotten off their behinds when I requested emergency placement, we might have been spared several iterations of last year’s Crisis. I also blame the East Coast for failing to be the resolution to the Crisis the 9th Circle of Hell created.

Shockingly, the One-Horse Townhouse remains a genuinely decent-seeming place. I’m as jaded as they come, and I am forever waiting for the other shoe to drop. But, at the moment, they seem like a rare exception to the literal nation-wide travesty of care. I won’t claim anything other than blind luck led us to them. I mean, in the 9th Circle of Hell (as in too many other states) there is no way to look up whether and how many prior abuse cases a provider has had. So, clients literally have nothing but blind luck to go on when attempting to keep themselves or their family members safe from those sky-high abuse rates I described above.

Maybe sharing the trauma echoes I had to work through in March in an attempt to create broader awareness of the trauma and mental health needs of disabled individuals across state systems will somehow up these odds for families. Or, at the very least, maybe it will at least raise “awareness” during Mental Health Month of the need for trauma-informed mental health care for one of the most marginalized demographics this May as long as high abuse rates remain their norm. 

Continue reading “Messages in a Bottle #12: Six Degrees of Kevin Broken”

Trust in Mental Health Treatment #5/Where’s Whoopsie #19: Ire of the Storm

The reason I am awake at 4am is below. It is also, apparently, in the papers (or, at least, the digital online copies of the “papers” since it’s 2019 and I don’t remember what any dead-tree paper looks like outside of my intimidating sketchbook…)

I’ve been noticing an uptick recently in the number of media reports of horrible things happening in psychiatric inpatient facilities and other state-funded “care” facilities of various types. There probably hasn’t really been an uptick in the number of them happening, just an uptick in the number of them that I’m immediately aware of given that I now follow a number of blogs that share such things. Sadly, many of these blogs have shared them because the blogger was/is a patient of one of the facilities involved in the scandal, and they aren’t surprised by it. Or, the blogger has shared a personal story of a recent experience at the hands of the system to draw awareness to how even facilities that aren’t in the papers can still act humiliating and degrading towards their clients. These bloggers are trying to create awareness of the full range of mistreatment that occurs at such places via their own past and present experiences. To these bloggers, I’m very sorry for what you’ve experienced and very proud of you all for speaking up, often non-anonymously.

Continue reading “Trust in Mental Health Treatment #5/Where’s Whoopsie #19: Ire of the Storm”

Offer What Light You Can

Content Warning: I began my Reality Journal on March 7th, 2018. Astute readers might realize that, if we are almost to the one-year anniversary of the creation of that journal, we have already passed the one-year anniversary of its inspiring event. I can somehow concurrently not remember enough details of that night because of dissociation and have vivid emotional flashbacks and nightmares about what could have happened. I’ve tried to process that night in therapy recently, and I’m revealing more details by default in this post. Those details are dark, but they are in the past. Though I write about something horrible, know at least that it is not something horrible from my present. With the 9th Circle of Hell, I know I must be very clear about time or it could be confusing. Be safe when choosing to read this post. If you are not in a good mental place to read about the abuse of the vulnerable in 2018, please don’t. If you do read, please read to the end. The emotions in this post are not directed where they might seem from a cursory glance. Given that this post addresses the Disability Day of Mourning, please also be respectful that, though the worst possible outcome of that night in 2018 did not happen for my family, it did happen for others. My nightmares are others’ realities. The Disability Day of Mourning honors those realities.

Continue reading “Offer What Light You Can”

Eek! Previews

<Image Text>: “You can’t make this shit up.” – Me describing my life.

Emotional flashbacks are tricky to recognize. You can become thoroughly caught up in the fight/flight/freeze responses of the past without even realizing you have shifted. And, even if you do realize you are in one, it can be tricky to recognize to what, exactly, you are flashing back. There are, after all, so many discreet instances of various types of trauma in C-PTSD that they all blend together into one continuous mess. Emotional flashbacks rarely have a clear visual component, whether projected in the real world as per the traditional public conception of a PTSD “flashback” or just replaying a memory from your personal mental mindfield.

Nothing about 2018 was unique, except possibly learning for sure that others knew all along about my childhood trauma and, frankly, my dear didn’t give a damn. I’ve had to testify against abusive group homes before. I’ve had my grad program tell me, “Defend the same week as I fought past abuse or forgo everything by dropping out.” That’s not really that different from a boss whose first words upon learning about the life-or-death stakes of 2018  were that bothering him with that knowledge constituted proof that I was a poor-performer, that I’d always been one, and that I’d probably always be one and whose last words before I went on not-FMLA were, “You have three months. Deal with the issue and return to being useful or this company will have no more use for you.” (Let it be known that his claims about my performance have no official backing. Threats aside, my boss has always managed to be in the right mood on my actual performance review day to rate me a high performer on paper, even if he gaslights that reality later whenever he finds it convenient. But, that doesn’t help much when it’s his company.) Hell, I’ve even had to testify to abuse enablers in the 9th Circle of Hell both of those times the same week as my birthday. And, I already hated my birthday because not correctly perceiving social schemas around birthdays as an undiagnosed ADHD child made them dreaded dates as far back as I can remember.

It really comes as no surprise, then, that it’s typically hard for me to determine what I am reliving in an emotional flashback (or even that I’m in one). It comes as more of a surprise when I do realize. There are only two instances where I can even predict that I’ll have an emotional flashback, much less to what specific memory.

Continue reading “Eek! Previews”

Messages in a Bottle #11: Scheissegeist

Content warning: mentions of past abuse and medical crises. Mentions of the 9th Circle of Hell.

Zeitgeist means “spirit of the times.” It is the idea that you have to judge the past by the understanding of those of its day, not necessarily by modern conceptions. Scheissegeist…well let’s just say that is a term for how I judge 2018 by its time and leave it at that…

The following things happened (with a bit of obscurity thrown in to preserve anonymity) on March 7, 2018:

  1. My boss stated that he thought my branch office deserved to be closed and everyone in it fired. He stated at our staff meeting that “this is one of those days that I wish I didn’t have to work with any of you idiots, but, since I do, read this book for next week and reflect on why you all are so impossible to work with.”
  2. We had our meeting with X client.
  3. I practiced my statement about the abuse allegations we plan to file in the 9th Circle of Hell with my therapist because I was worried I was going to dissociate while giving it if I didn’t prep first.
  4. It was raining hard when I got back from therapy and I had forgotten my umbrella and wasn’t wearing my waterproof coat. I got thoroughly soaked on the way home.
  5. I read the management book my boss had assigned at the staff meeting that he thought would “fix” the problems with our office. (2019 post-script: the book itself was ok, but I don’t think my boss ever took any of its advice himself!)

How do I know for certain that this all happened on March 7th, 2018? Especially given that I don’t remember as much of the previous two months – including the night of a medical emergency that turned out to have been caused by the abuse I was practicing my statement for on March 7th – as a non-traumatized person would? I know because my lack of memory of the past two months was starting to seriously freak me out. How, exactly, was I supposed to file an abuse case over something so serious as medical neglect and use of medications for coercive control when I couldn’t remember large chunks of the night that my family member went into crisis as a result of that abuse? You’d think that given how close that night veered towards disaster – we were incredibly lucky we caught things when we did or I still can’t fully process what would have happened – the details would be forever seared into my brain. But, the human brain has many ways to respond to trauma. Some brains do etch every detail into their memory to the point that they can never forget any of them. Other brains, however, don’t.

Other brains survive by doing exactly the opposite. When trauma recurs, my dissociative brain falls back on the childhood survival strategy it knows best: blocking it all out because it’s too painful to remember and still function in day-to-day life.

I promised last week to share how I stayed sane without regular access to therapy in the 9th Circle of Hell during an entire year of fighting against abuse that ultimately went much deeper than even that first statement I was practicing for on March 7th, 2018. The above is my single biggest resource. On March 7th, 2018, I started what I now call my “reality journal.” I’ve experienced enough gaslighting and abuse in my life – not to mention pesky time loss from dissociation – that I have come to fear my brain’s ability to give abusers what they most want by pushing its own delete button. The fact that my boss was already making comments like those above routinely during staff meetings was further blurring the lines between the 9th Circle of Hell and my daily life last March in ways that I also recognized weren’t good. It’s hard to hold on to critical details during dissociation. I knew I had to, though, to fight back against the 9th Circle of Hell. My own dissociative memory has always been one of my secret Achilles’ heels in fighting that place. It’s hard to speak to what my brain wants so hard to never remember. My Partner figured out the reality journal workaround that is the best way I have found to date to help with grounding. On March 6th, 2018, he bought me a simple three-subject lined notebook from the nearest CVS and suggested I literally write down what happened to me each day 1) simply 2) linearly and 3) devoid of emotionally triggering language.

Writing simply, linearly and neutrally is much harder than it seems.

ADHD is known for a very non-linear conception of time. We can perceive “now” and “not now” – and pretty much all other emotionally salient times we have ever experienced get lumped into one or the other dichotomously. Whatever emotion is activated in the “now” concurrently activates all the other similar emotional times we have ever experienced all at once. If the emotion is the same, it’s in the “now.” And, anything emotionally different might as well have never existed. It’s in the “not now” that might as well be “never was and never will be.” That sort of sucks when the emotion currently activated is trauma, as it means I don’t just activate current trauma, I effectively relive every single similar experience as though it is all happening at once. I have had a lot of traumatic experiences.

I’m also rather verbose. Left to my own devices, my reality journal would contain all the minutia of the day to the point where I exhausted myself too much to keep up with it regularly. When I did manage to keep it up, it would inevitably be too detailed to actually pick out the important bits from the rest of the mess.

The point of my reality journal is to have it available to rely on when either my own brain tries to push the big red self-destruct button on my memories or when some asshole abuser tries to spin reality to protect themselves from retribution for what they have done. It helps, then, to write my cheat sheet without any language that could possibly trigger me enough to further encourage my brain to zone out when it is supposed to be keeping me grounded. Thus, the final guideline of non-emotional language. Despite my very best attempts at keeping my language neutral, many of those entries still make me cry to read. Some of them I even had to fill out with my Partner’s help because my brain had managed to push the delete button before the day even afforded me enough downtime to write my notes. But, every day is in there.

I have filled my reality journal out every single day since March 7th, 2018. It is now February 3rd, 2019. That means for almost 11 months – through Hell and occasional rain water  – I have written down what has happened to me in that same no-nonsense way. And, because I’m paranoid and have been in an apartment fire or two, I’ve backed that journal up every month to my trusty Evernote account. One of these days I will spill coffee on the thing, but I have a plan for it.

And, as horrible as 2018 was, there are some good things in that simple linear record. The good things are rare, but they are there. If I am to believe my own reality journal, the majority of the good things that happened to me in 2018 involved my Partner cooking for me! I wrote a lot about the various meals he made, including one time when he perfected Chick-fil-A knockoff sandwiches with homemade Chick-fil-A sauce. (Their sandwiches are pretty great, but their corporate morals are icky. They deserve to be plagiarized.) Left to my own devices, I’d probably only remember the bad news we got while eating those sandwiches, but, thanks to my reality journal, I also remember that he did make them and they were good. (I can also remember to pester him to make them again.) My ADHD brain may have overwritten the positive emotions from that dinner date with the terror from a later phone call, but at least I have written evidence that I felt them at one point.

I also suck at self-care, but there is something about seeing a “ledger” that is so far into the trauma red that it makes me want to at least try and add back in a rare good thing to fight back in black. Which brings me to the second important thing that kept me sane in the 9th Circle of Hell last year: I brought with me proof that I have a life outside of it.

The reality journal technique is something a person can start at any time. February 3rd, 2019 is as good a day as March 7th, 2018. (It might even be better. If I had it to do over again, I’d have started my journal on January 1st, 2018, when I was still in Iceland!) My second technique took quite a bit of advance planning, but when I finally pulled it off, it helped me enough to be worth recommending to even my brain fogged, ADHD or otherwise forgetful readers.

There are a lot of benefits to mindfulness meditation for mental health. However, as I have mentioned before, standard meditations don’t work for me. I don’t do “aspirational” or “gratitude.” I’m not awesome at emptying my mind, and I want to throttle most guided meditation leaders and mantra chanters. The only guru I apparently trust is myself. So, I made my own guided meditations.

I wrote out a play on a mountain meditation/envisioning a generic “peaceful happy” place meditation. Then I rewrote it to incorporate my usual mental snark. And, I took it a step further by making it actually visual instead of just “guided imagery.” The closest thing I have to a truly “safe place” is on the opposite coast. But, it is a place my Partner and I only ever return to once a year for a special event. I had to plan pretty far ahead to record my guided meditation there in 2018. Yet, it was worth it, because going there in 2018 might be the only time I can truly say I was “happy” – not just “not sad” or “relieved” – that year after the night of that first fateful medical near-disaster. (Iceland was pretty great, but that was pre-Crisis!)

I recorded myself in my “happy” place reading my own version of a guided meditation to myself. In the grey void of depression – especially with my non-linear ADHD brain – it can be pretty hard to believe I have ever felt any emotion other than mute horror. It helped to have the visual and auditory proof of myself sounding happy in the one place that is the most decidedly different from the 9th Circle of Hell that I can think of. It also helps that I recorded a “safe space” meditation for myself in a place that also isn’t quite the everyday world I live in, either. I like the East Coast. I like my life here on those days when I’m not talking to my bully-of-a-boss or anyone from the 9th Circle of Hell. But, the same townhouse in which we have made homemade Chick-fil-A in and watched dumb action movies with a bottle of wine is also the same townhouse where the phone has rung in the middle of the night and where I regularly speak to that bully-of-a-boss via webcam. There are many emotions permeating the air of my every day, where the place I recorded as my “safe” place is just…happy. It isn’t a trauma place, and it isn’t a complex “real world” place either. It’s a place where there was one dominant emotion, and that emotion wasn’t trauma.

If you have experienced trauma or depression for long enough, I will admit “happy” might feel too hard to come by to aim to record on a personalized guided meditation. I also acknowledge that traveling to the opposite coast is a bit pricy for a safe place. But, if you do happen to have a day or a place or a time when you feel any happiness – or even if you just walk through a new park that has no negative emotions associated directly with it and looks pretty – I recommend you pull out your phone and push the record button on your camera and record yourself telling yourself that things don’t suck right at that moment. The best evidence I have found that the past isn’t forever and that there is a world outside of the 9th Circle of Hell is my own voice telling myself that in a place that isn’t it. If “happy” seems a bit much to hope to capture on film – and, well, if I didn’t have years of memories associated with that one “safe place” I probably couldn’t have pulled off “happy” last year post-Crisis even there – “relieved” or “vaguely interested” would probably do in a pinch. The main trick is to record yourself in a moment when you sound and feel something other than emotionally numb. Those moments can be few and far between, so it takes pre-planning to capture them. But, once you have them, you have them for the next period of numbness.

I know the inherent nature of the 9th Circle of Hell and trauma itself means that I probably will return to numb as my baseline, but my reality journal and my guided meditations have at least helped me remember that there is a world outside of my own personal Hell. I fully intend to keep on filling out my reality journal ad infinitum and to record additional personalized guided meditations whenever I travel, go to an amazing new restaurant, or just have a moment when I am sitting somewhere visually interesting and realize “hey, life doesn’t suck right now.”

It helps to hear my own prior self reminding me to consider the full Zeitgeist of a Hell year like 2018, with all its complexity, instead of just its Scheissegeist and the various even older ghosts of my past that came before it in the 9th Circle of Hell.

Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.

 

Subway Sociology #3: Of Subways and Cigarettes…

CW: mentions of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve that did not result in any injuries or financial loss. Mentions of past acute traumas, including a threatened mass shooting, that I have experienced, fortunately also without injury.

Does acute trauma add to the mental trauma load if you’ve already experienced the 9th Circle of Hell? I know that every experience of abuse – past and present – in the 9th Circle of Hell has been one more piece removed from the fragile Jenga tower of my mental health. I know that 9th Circle of Hell trauma compounds, but should I count non-9th Circle of Hell trauma? Does something that I would definitely call traumatic if it happened to others – but that will never take up residence in my nightmares because the price of that mental real estate was set too high by the 9th Circle of Hell – count as part of my “trauma narrative?”

I read a post recently from a blogger with a severe trauma history who witnessed a guy open-carrying a gun in a coffee shop. She was triggered, but she had her coffee there anyway. She had to ask if she should have left or if she was overreacting. Go through enough childhood trauma and your perspectives can get very skewed on things. I commented that the statistics on mass shootings in the U.S suggest that it is wise to leave such situations as soon as it is safe, and maybe even to hang out down the block to call 911 if shots are heard. I almost added that I am very wary of guns “even though guns aren’t a part of my trauma history.” Then I stopped and realized I might be being an idiot. I do have a prior scary history with guns, though I don’t think it is contributing to my PTSD symptoms. I briefly considered writing a future post about whether it is possible to be “triggered” by something while thinking you were unaffected by an event. Then I promptly forgot about it, because ADHD, until my Partner was on the receiving end of an attempted robbery on New Year’s Eve.

We both recovered from the fear within hours, but I wonder – given that other post – if that’s completely accurate, or if we’re just a bit too numbed from the 9th Circle of Hell to respond normally to things that should shake us up for a few days. The robbery wasn’t successful – or I guess very successful – but threats were involved. My Partner did take them seriously until he was able to get into a place with others around to not take them seriously anymore. It was a scary situation while it was happening, even if it ended ok. What is considered “normal” for recovering from acute scares – as that other blogger similarly asked – if your baseline isn’t Hell?

We were heading home from dinner on the subway. Our subway system isn’t accessible in many places. In some places, it’s only “accessible” if you get off at a stop on a line close by, take an elevator, and walk through an underground ramp at a gentle grade that can handle a wheelchair at least a block to the other station. The alternative to walking a block is to have to climb what I unaffectionately refer to as “Stairs of Death.”

Continue reading “Subway Sociology #3: Of Subways and Cigarettes…”

The Trolley Persecutor

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!)

Continue reading “The Trolley Persecutor”