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.
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.
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.
So, I potentially have good news. I’ve gotten to the final round of the interview process for a new job in my same city. It’s what I do now but with a different organization. I’ll update eventually whether I got the job, but talking about it right now feels a bit too much like tempting fate. I’m not a fan of pure CBT, but even I’ll admit I’m engaging in a bit of magical thinking by staying silent. I know, I know. However, PTSD and its sense of foreshortened future mean talking about anything positive that hasn’t happened seems like it will only make me look like a fool when it doesn’t happen.
I have no such qualms, though, about talking about my fears of what will happen if I get the job. C-PTSD is fine with that. The commute will be just far enough that I won’t be able to make it to my therapist during her normal business hours. She was able to do a limited number of phone sessions while I was in the 9th Circle of Hell last summer because she knew that was an active trauma crisis, but she can’t, unfortunately, do regular phone sessions. I’ll also have to go to trauma yoga on Saturdays instead of during the week. That’s…not terrible. But, it will mean a bigger class in front of which to modify my yoga-for-hypermobility. There will probably be social anxiety compared to the three people that regularly go to the class I currently attend, but I guess I can live. How unsettled I feel not being able to attend weekly therapy, though, is one reason why I never fully wanted to develop trust with a therapist in the first place. Not all therapists are the abuse-permitting social workers of the 9th Circle of Hell, but, in the end, they are all running businesses. They’ll only modify so much, so my brain (bully and other parts) says don’t depend on someone for whom helping me lasts only as long as I am convenient. (Alongside the issues I wrote about in the first three parts of this series.)
Forget attachment. I’m still a survivor of enough systemic abuse that I’m shocked I even got to trust with anyone who is part of a system. But, shockingly, I did, and I don’t see myself being the kind of person for whom lightning strikes twice. My therapist attempted to suggest there might be others closer to my potential new workplace whom I could trust, but she shut up quickly upon seeing my look. She then switched to, “Ok, I think you are strong enough that you could do more like once a month. I think you’ve been through enough with irregular support during the Crisis of 2018 that you can manage in 2019.” I’d be willing to take a half day to see her once a month during her hours. I’ll admit to being scared of tapering therapy, but not scared enough to contemplate finding another therapist. The legacy of systemic abuse runs deep, and the system she is in – and the others that both my insurances have covered for outpatient therapy – are really not trauma-informed. She’s the rare exception in a clinic I’d otherwise bitch about. (My psychiatrist, who is not necessarily trauma-informed for most but likes me, has Saturday hours. I could keep seeing him.)
I’d actively choose once a month therapy over trying again with anyone else. But admitting out loud that therapy was an important part of my support system during the Crisis of 2018 was terrifying. What if I’m not really strong enough yet to taper? Last year was pretty damn re-traumatizing.
What if I shouldn’t even be looking for a new job at all because I don’t have the spoons? The commute isn’t just too far to make therapy: it’s also a commute at all. I’m currently a remote worker, and that saves a lot of physical spoons. It doesn’t save mental spoons, though, I’m only a remote worker because I exist within a limbo wherein my boss finds me too useful to purge, but too much of a hassle to talk to.
When I started to panic-think maybe I should just stay with my current company, my therapist very quickly shut me down by reminding me how many of my boss’s communications she has read while I cried. As she has stated, she “can’t ethically diagnose someone” she hasn’t met. But, while she can’t speak clinically, she did suggest that I do some serious research into the various presentations of narcissism and think hard about why my current boss was able to trigger full-scale PTSD episodes when I still saw him in person. 2018 wasn’t the first time I had to testify to ongoing abuse in the 9th Circle of Hell. I testified against the Thesis Defense Rests Stop the same week as my thesis defense (hence the moniker). Yes, each successive trauma adds a straw to the camel’s back. But my boss…also reminds me of someone who abused me personally in a way no one outside the 9th Circle of Hell ever has in my entire life.
The day of my end-of-year-review – which perhaps I will eventually write about – was a perfect example of my the way my boss can start the day in such a towering temper I wonder if I will still have a job at the end it, but then whiplash to being conciliatory to the point he asked if I could use more physical accommodations. What changed in between? A combination of a) something I produced being very well received by clients on a call between the beginning of the day and my review and b) letting him take all the credit for it. With my history, my instinct is to roll over and hand off intellectual credit for anything I do to anyone who scares me because C-PTSD says “stay safe by staying out of sight.” That…works with my boss. It’s probably a big part of why I got concessions and the rest of my office got fired last year.
But, as my therapist notes, he exacts a cost in mental spoons that is likely more damaging to me than the cost of the physical spoons from commuting. It’s not generally a smart idea to work for someone who pings your PTSD to flashback to childhood abuse. Even if I hadn’t experienced childhood abuse, working for someone who can flip moods so drastically and so quickly is not a great idea, period. Nor is working for someone who has flat out stolen the academic work of all those who are under him in a field that typically recognizes subject matter experts as experts. There’s also the pesky fact that I still have the gut instinct that the company itself isn’t financially stable, and I could lose my remote job by 2020 even if I’m able to keep my boss perfectly happy until the day the doors close for good. I’d rather choose my own adventure now, while it still is a choice.
Therapists don’t usually tell you what to do, exactly, but mine seemed worried enough by the prospect that I’d not take a job if I got it because of the fear of losing one piece of my support system that she ended with “we’ll work out what happens with therapy, but I really don’t think you should trust your boss longer when you have another option.”
We’ll see what happens. I don’t know if I will know yet by next week whether I’m their final candidate. Whether or not I do, next week’s post will be a review of the strategies that kept me sane while testifying to abuses in the 9th Circle of Hell in 2018 without consistent access to therapy. Maybe if I write out what helped me then, it will help others unable to access good therapy now, whether because of a therapy break, because they only have access to those horrible therapists in their area that are the reason I’m so afraid of ever starting over with someone new, or because they can’t afford decent care. (The U.S. sucks at mental health, did I ever mention that?) And, maybe it will also help to reassure myself that I can eventually return to working in a real office – with its increased physical demands upon my EDS/dysautonomia – because the mental benefits from reduced anxiety, depression, PTSD and panic are worth it. Maybe it’ll convince me that I can be strong later since I was strong enough before.
Also, if I flat out state that I won’t be writing about what happened with the job next week, then perhaps I won’t feel internal pressure to “follow up” with the “bad news” my brain thinks it will inevitably receive. I write a lot about failure on this blog, but I’m trying at least this week to tell myself someday I might also write about success.
Need a recap of anything I’m talking about in any post? Check out the Glossary of Terms.
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.”
Did I ever mention that my Partner and I are weird people? Like “gallows humor” and “eat anything on the planet at least once” weird? Or that we’re advocates for social justice? If not, you have officially been warned.
I may have mentioned before about how my kitty has PTSD from being abused, starved and abandoned before we got her. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned that she also has kidney issues, old injuries that limit her mobility, and even more allergies than I do. If the abandonment anxiety alone wasn’t enough to prove she is my spirit animal, then the rest ought to guarantee it.
We suspect that her complicated medical issues might, unfortunately, have been the reason she was ultimately abused and abandoned. I mean, we’ve seen it done to vulnerable humans. It’s not much of a stretch of the imagination to assume it happens even more frequently to vulnerable kitties.
We didn’t know about her issues when I first started fostering her. I was just told to shove as much food and liquid into her as possible. She was too sick to eat, so anything I could tempt her with was automatically approved. I fell back onto gold-standard kitty addictions: tuna water and Fancy Feast. She ate both with gusto, and my Partner and I both quickly realized never to combine cheap cat food and smelly tuna in her tummy again. Let’s just say what she produced was thick enough to mortar a bunker and lethal enough to weaponize to use to clear out the bad guys holed up in that bunker at the same time. She put my two-ply lullaby to shame.
Nothing says a “third date” like an emergency trip to the grocery store to buy every possible form of air freshener in the aisle at nearly midnight. I say she’s “our” foster failure. And, in her mind, she is. She met both of us on the same day. But, technically my Partner and I hadn’t even DTR’ed at the time I got her, and her adoption papers are under my name alone. She’s “our” cat in hindsight, but, at that time, I think my Partner really showed his character by helping clean up after her when he had no official responsibility towards her, or me. I don’t regret it. That experience didn’t require half the strength that actually marrying me and handling my caregiving responsibilities demand. Heck, by the standards of my life it was humorous. It even had an actual resolution, which is particularly unusual in my life. One veterinary specialist, some kitty Prozac, and a lifetime commitment to buying her expensive allergen-safe cat food later, and her tummy troubles cleared up. (However, if her special food ever goes off the market, please send gas masks. We’ll need them.)
That experience has become a running joke for the trajectory of our relationship – and spawned another running joke that our kitty eats better than we do. How many people can read right on the can that their pet’s food is safe for human consumption?
We also watch a lot of Food Network, and while we were dating my Partner dared me to make him a meal that “highlighted” her wet and dry food in the same dish, Chopped-style. If I could successfully fool him into going back for seconds, he’d fork over for a Michelin 3-star restaurant willingly. I never quite remembered to do it when he’d remind me. We’re now married, so any gourmet meal would be funded out of pooled money anyway now. But, the challenge has always stood. And, I’ve always had on my mental bucket list – at least I have every 6-9 months or so when something reminds me of it – to undertake it anyway.
For anyone wondering, the Thanksgiving turkey turned out great. Cooking a turkey is like cooking a whole chicken. If you want to practice before next year’s big day, cook whole chickens. Then, do the same thing on Turkey Day for about 3-4 times as long. (Also, turkey enchilada stew and buffalo turkey sandwiches feel much more like a “change” from a week of all-turkey, all-the-time than the standard turkey pot pie and stews that are usually recommended.)
Unfortunately, my Partner sent our only photos to his parents when he last spoke to them. Now there’s a remote chance they could someday identify me as the author of this blog if I recycled those pictures. I used an herbed-butter rub and baked the bird with roasted vegetables for aromatics. The pictures, through the magic of Google image search, could theoretically be vaguely identifiable. Every picture of the same natural feature looks about the same. (I did some digging to prove that to myself before posting Iceland pics last year.) As long as I pick out different photos for his parents and my blog, I can share travel photos here and still keep my worlds separate. But, I can never share the same photos, or my worlds might collide, right?
Not really. All Thanksgiving turkeys also look about the same, so there’s nothing truly stopping me from posting the same pictures here except my ingrained need to keep my worlds separate. There’s nothing except my ingrained need to control to whom and in what situations I reveal just how not normal I am. I am still masking in most of my life, and, though it sucks, I don’t think I’d know how to fully unmask in daily life if I tried. Unmasking hasn’t been safe in childhood, in my workplace and in advocating for my neurodiverse sibling within a regressive, systemically abusive state.
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!)