Baby, I’m On Fire

I set myself on fire last week. Yes, literally.

This last 2wks i’ve been either slidey* or outright switched. I’ve required near constant supervision, lest i leave, or get up to other sorts of destructive behaviours. Unfortunately, after 5 or 6yrs of no interventions, the police and ambulance were called to determine if i was a danger to myself or others. Although it was determined i was definitely not a threat to others, i did a small stint in the hospital, where i received good care. The doctor offered (or perhaps urged, heh) that i stay longer for more assistance, but i was allowed to leave when it was clear i have family/friend/therapist support at home. He prescribed some medications to help ease my anxiety, and they’ve helped.

I saw my therapist and she always calms me. She helps me see my path more clearly and refocus, but unfortunately, she’s a real, live human, with other clients, a family and a life of her own, and thusly i cannot carry her with me wherever i go.

If you’re a regular reader, you know that this stage of my therapy involves learning to feel my feelings without dissociating. I’m not looking for perfection. I’m not looking for “integration” (i’m not even sure what that word means with regards to multiples), but i am looking for a higher level of day-to-day functionality, and a greater degree of healing.

To put it a little more clearly, when i was abused as a child, my brain severed the connections between my thoughts, my emotions, and my physical sensations, in order to survive trauma so great that i simply had no ability to understand, let alone process it. Without connection, without the means to apprehend what had happened/was happening to me, some of those thoughts and emotions, even some moments frozen in time in my mind, developed their own personalities, from flat and static, to a couple who’re more fully rounded than some people i’ve known. (That was snarky i know, but i’m leaving it, because it’s true. Pfft.)

Continuing on then, i leave the safety and support of my counsellor’s office, and step out into a world that is currently full of triggers. I’ve lived my life either not noticing, or quickly dissociating from these things. I had to, or i simply wouldn’t’ve been able to function at all. I would’ve been stuck in trauma-response, unable to work, to have relationships, to care for myself or others, in other words, to participate in what it means to be alive. I myself would’ve been frozen in time.
The gazelle that freezes when she sees the tiger.

The ability to dissociate not only saved my life growing up, it allowed me to be somewhat effective as an adult. However, as time passed i could see it was only minimally helpful, and in certain cases quite harmful. I wanted more from life, especially once i had children.

I learned to live my life as a multiple, the insight into how my brain works making my life easier and better than it had ever been before… Until a little over a year ago. I was living a reasonably happy and successful life, when i suddenly crashed. It wasn’t like my Thelma&Louise crashes of the past, thankfully. (I play both parts, just fyi.) But i wanted to party, which is something i don’t much care for now, and i felt that old childhood imperative that my abusers had programmed into me to GO HOME; a place that doesn’t exist anymore, and would be beyond dangerous for me if it did.

I had the sense to get my ass back into therapy. When i asked her what i was doing wrong, she said, “Not a thing. You are taking such good care of your brain that your body is now wanting that same care and attention.”
My body is tired of being numbed out and alone. It wants to rejoin my brain. It wants me to listen to it as diligently and lovingly as i did my brain.
And i want to. I know it’s the good and right thing to do for me, but it is a haaaard thing.
It is perhaps, the hardest thing i’ve done in my life, to date.

I stay in my body and feel my emotions and physical sensations, while knowing what i know — that i was repeatedly traumatised from birth, until my mother died when i was in my early 20s.

This was a difficult concept for me to grasp, so i can imagine that it may be for others, as well. I’ll provide an example to help explain:
One of my abusers would always jingle the change in his pocket. As an adult, i would often hear the sounds made by coins jingling together, and when i’d hear it i was bothered, unsettled somehow. But the memory of the man who did that was held by a part of me that i wasn’t personally connected to, and so the pain of what he did to me didn’t consciously affect me, it just left me with a vague sense of unease. The reason it upset me was kept from me by both the little girl bit that lives in my brain who remembered, and the part of my body that he had hurt, and while i’ve now connected to the girl who’s held that memory, i hadn’t yet connected to the pain that he’d caused in my body.

So now, today, when i hear change jingling, i remember the man and what he did, but i also feel the pain in my body: the terror making my heart beat faster, the violation of my genitals, the itch in my legs to run away. I don’t just remember, i feel it, and although this may not make sense, in a way it is for the first time.

This has been my life for the last few months. I’m triggered frequently, repeatedly, daily, and i sit with it and i remember and i feel it and i hang on for dear fucking life, until the connection has been made. My Bits N’ Pieces are being reconnected to my body and so am i.
I’ve lived my life playing dead so the bear won’t eat me, but the bear’s long gone and it’s time for me to rise up and join the living.

It’s terrifying, painful work, and i’m physically and psychically exhausted.

So last week, i get it in my head that i must purge the clutter in my house. I’m convinced that i’m drowning my entire family in hoard (i don’t come remotely close to such a diagnosis), and i’ve got to get it out of the house or everyone’s going to get sick and die. While my family’s been great at helping me with this (we’ve been slowly decluttering over the last few months), i had some angry, protective parts come out and start throwing out everything they could get their hands on, including some heavy items that i have no business lifting, given my current fibro flare and the osteopenia in my lumbar region.
Once their rage was spent, as is my system’s way, a little part came out to be a “good girl”, to try to assuage any hurt feelings the angry ones may have caused. She came out to help.

I was raised part urban, part rural, and i know how to use a burning barrel. It was my job as a kid to use it, and save us a trip or 3 to the dump.
But i didn’t know how to do that when i was 5.
She wanted to help, and there was some paper/cardboard trash that needed burning.
So she poured gasoline all over everything in the burning barrel and lit it with a little cigarette lighter.

I was slammed back into the face by her terror and pain and i heard the WOOF! as the fumes lit. I felt the fire kiss my face from my hairline to my top lip. The fire lingered a little longer on my right hand and danced about halfway to my elbow. It took a couple of seconds, no more, but it seemed longer. Every emotion was intensified by me having not been there before it happened.
Which has happened to me countless times, and it’s never not been scary.
To find myself in a completely different situation from the one i last remember, with no consciousness of the passage of time, where in fact it seems like 1 second one thing is happening, and the very next second i’m somewhere else entirely doing a completely unrelated thing… Well, i would imagine that would scare just about anyone.

I singed off a fair bit of my hairline, and most of my eyebrows and eyelashes. (Which i’ve spent time and money regrowing due to trichotillomania. /majoreyeroll) The tip of my nose got it pretty good, so i’ve referred to myself as Rudolph for the last week, heh. There’s a bit of scabbing on my upper lip, but not noticeable, i just feel it. It was my hand that got the worst of it, with significant blistering and lizardy feeling skin across my hand about a third of the way to my elbow, plus 2 second degree burns on my fingers, and a third degree on my thumb.
I’m sure we all realise this could have been much, much worse.

In this blog i share my day-to-days: adventures, misshaps, and ho-hums all, to help myself sort my shit out, to help foster understanding of those of us living with mental illness (like me), and those of us considered neuroatypical (also me). I also write to reach out to those like me, to let them know they aren’t alone, and to offer hope that they might too, find their way to a place of functionality and happiness that works for them.

My point with this post is quite specific, and of utmost importance for me to understand.

Sometimes, no matter how much work i’ve done or how far i’ve come, shit’s gonna happen. I’m not a danger to others – for instance, if i’d been around children, angries and littles wouldn’t have come out that day, only protectors.
But sometimes, sometimes my brain is just gonna do what my brain’s gonna do.
I am who i am, and i’m finally starting to like me. Not just accept, not just love, but i’m growing attached to me. I’m rather fond of myself. I’d hang out with someone exactly like me.
Crazy, broken, occasionally completely dysfunctional me.**
Yes, i’m working hard AF to get to what i consider to be a higher level of function – i’m seeking more happiness and more usefulness and just, i don’t know, more presence and availability to the world around me and the beings sharing space with me in it.

BUT

I’m absolutely fine and right and good already.

Love and Peace,
~H~

*What i call a dissociative state where i’m some level of conscious of what’s happening to and around me, but i’m unable to affect my own actions and have little to no agency – it’s sort of like watching myself on tv.
**I know some of these descriptors don’t work for everyone, but they do for me.

I Win

… it’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
And you’ve got the choice to get off anytime that you like
It’s just a ride
It’s just a ride
The alternative is nothingness
We might as well give it a try
The Ride, Amanda Palmer

I let him touch me.
Okay hey, i used to let anyone, everyone touch me. But that was by rote.
I am nothing if not a good girl.

Wait. I think that i might not actually be a good girl anymore.
Wait.
Holy shit.
I have believed for nearly the entirety of my life that to be good is all.
I was told to think that.
One day, not long enough ago, i realised they didn’t care what was good. “Good” was a dog whistle; merely a means of control. They would have what they wanted, regardless of the cost.

Oh wait.
I should specify.
Regardless of the cost to anyone save them.

It is not hard to know what good is, and it is sososo easy to not be good.
This seems to me a contradiction.

Wait, though. Hold on. I am a good girl, i was always a good girl.
First, i was good because their definition was all i knew, and i twisted and bent and remade myself to fit their requirements.
Not just for survival.
Not just because there was no other choice.
Because love.
Because goodness.

Then i had a baby, and i knew that they’d lied.
I didn’t know what good was. You would think it would be easy.
And okay, it kind of is.
But when you’re told that no is yes and wrong is right, and if you want something to eat and a bed to sleep in you need to subvert your intellect and your instincts or you will be alone and you will die…
You become the bestest girl ever.

But i had a baby and i looked at him and he set me free. He saved my life. I knew the things they’d told me were good and right were actually bad and wrong, but i had no template for goodness.

Religion failed.
Family failed.
Classes failed.
Books failed.

I tried and i tried and i tried so hard. If you are reading this i want you to know that, although i have failed my child in multiple and terrible ways – i loved him. I started working on being better because he came out of me and when i looked at him, i suddenly knew that i could be good.

And even if i couldn’t, that he was worth every effort.

I love Rupaul’s Drag Race, but when he asks for an “amen up in here”, while i understand the concept and believe it has merit, i cannot amen it, because it wasn’t until i had my wee baby boy that i wanted to love in the best way i could, and knew that there was work for me to do before i was able.

I could not love myself until i truly loved someone else.
And because he opened me up to want to love, and loving him never hurt me in the way that loving my progenitors did, i stumbled across an amazing, life-changing, just-for-me love one day.

And i had the sense, and the unmitigated gall, to pursue him without reservation.
I don’t know how. It is completely incongruous to the person i was raised to be.

But wait. I was raised, i know now, to be bad, evil, wrong… at the very least compliant.
Yet somehow, i am here, and i know what good is and i know that i am and i have finally, finally, let him touch me.

Think what you want, of course, and interpret it how you will, but i have figured out how to let him in and really touch me.

Things are tougher than they’ve been in years. There have been doctors and police and dangerous behaviours that i wished with my whole heart were long past. But i am who i am and i have done the absolute best i can with the cards i’ve been dealt.

He can now touch me, and i am not afraid.
I know how to be good; no one needs to tell me.
And if you think i’m not good, not only does it not matter, but my dear motherfucker – you are wrong.
And also, i’m not a girl anymore, i’m a woman.

I WIN.

NOTE: I’m sorry i stopped writing for so long. I’ve been struggling harder than i have in many years. But i knew it was coming, and i said so, didn’t i?
I’m back to writing through it, no matter what. I’m doing the best i can, and every day, my capacity gets a teensy, tiny bit bigger.

Thank you for sticking with me.

I hope what you read here is:
If i can get through it, maybe you can too.

Love Always,
~H~

Moments

There is life in the small moments.
I try not to use up my allotment of breath and heartbeat before another one comes.
I pace it out, put the softest parts in secret pockets.
Slow. Sloooow.
Diminishing, starving, thirsty. Getting smaller and drying up like an autumn leaf.

Then it comes. It’s a small thing, probably unremarkable.
It fills me up, it restores me. Pumps my blood. Softens my skin. Lights my eyes.
I see that i am not dying so much as i am living, and i wash myself in it. I take out my tender bits and put them back where they’re supposed to be.

And i tell myself. This. Now. Remember.
Another now will come. It will.
I promise.

Raggedy Ann

I am stuck in this place where the sunlight of tomorrow shines so bright upon my face, but the grey pall of yesterday is a weight that makes it hard to move, to breathe.

I want with my whole heart to be the person that people love: bouncy, ebullient, sweet, the flouncy sharing tree-hugging hippie goddess,
and i think i am her, or, i almost was…

But today today i am Eeyore and it is not a cute cartoon or story.
I am a little piece of cloth that could have been a quilt. But instead, i’m a dirty piece of fabric, that may have once been a dress worn by a queen.

I am now dirty and tattered and my pattern is barely marked.
There are no laundering skills that can make me clean enough for it not to be obvious.

What good is fabric that is too worn to even service as a patch?

You Can’t Hold Down A Hurricane

This is not a safe piece.
This is not a safe piece.
This is not a safe piece.
CW: This contains repeated and specific references to sexual abuse and rape.

 

Hand over mouth, shhh.
Arms and legs held so mouth could be uncovered and filled.
Hands holding mine became vises when i didn’t want to go.
Being sat on a lap with arms criscrossed in front of me.
Pulling my legs apart for pictures.
Always wearing dresses.
Easy access. Always throwing away the creamy greenish yellow. Panties are evidence.

Held down in the shower so if i bled it would wash away. My dress a flowery, reusable shroud.
Thrown in the tub and restrained by the fear of more, washing pain and blood and piss and shit down the drain. Scrubbing the bruises and scrapes so hard it made them worse. scrubbing the open bits of me so savagely i couldn’t stop myself from resisting them.
The soap burned.

Held down in the car so no one would see me enter the garage in the affluent neighbourhood. Held down while driving in case i tattled.
Held down for… other things.

Held down, face into the bathroom floor, to smell and taste what i hadn’t cleaned properly. Held down, face pushed into the ice cream carton with one spoonful left. Held my face into the hot ground beef that i’d clearly been eating while cooking it. Face bashed into the stovetop until someone pointed out my nose was bleeding and i’d get blood in the food.

Held down in school, by the kids who’d make me pick up what they’d drop, or lick the toe of their shoe, or the dogshit stuck to the bottom. Held down by teachers: stop asking so many questions, we’re here for learning not discussions, held down because i couldn’t speak unless i’d completed my homework. Held down because i’d been made to walk with their textbooks on my head for hours. Held down because i’d held those textbooks perpendicular to my body until i couldn’t anymore – and then get beaten with them.

Held down by teachers who told me i couldn’t do the one thing i was good at, because it made the other girls envious. Held back from school politics because i took it too seriously but didn’t look the part.

Girls would invite me into their closed bedrooms for rare, and therefore strange afterschool get-togethers. They would get on top of me and hump me until they came. Boys who hated or ignored me during school would hold my hands and escort me home, throwing me down in carragana bushes and humping me until they came. I choked on the bugs until i vomited. They’d laugh. Later, i’d be held down over a lap and beaten for my dirty dress.

In later years, telling boys NO meant ridicule and shame. Held down and having my pants pulled off and being laughed at for my fat thighs. Or being held down and beaten. A former family member who always had easy access to me before, held me down on his bed and raped me the first time i told him NO, and then his brother that was watching, beat me and did the same thing.
Another tried to suffocate me.

Do not ever lay your hands on me without my clear consent.
Yes, you can hold my hands.
Yes, you can hug me.
IF YOU ASK FIRST AND I SAY YES.
FROM TODAY UNTIL FOREVER.

You cannot ever, EVER, in any way, physically restrain me.
If i’m going somewhere you don’t want me to go. Tough titties.
If i’m doing something you don’t want me to do: like self-harm, call the ambulance, like destroying property, call the police.
Like hitchin’ a ride with a sketchy truckdriver, call the police.
Like some behaviour you’re fairly certain i’d regret in the morning, call my husband.

DO NOT TOUCH ME WITHOUT MY PERMISSION, AND DON”T EVER TRY TO RESTRAIN ME. You risk a shitstorm of my people and we’re like a fucking hurricane of destruction.
And to my knowledge, no one’s ever held down a hurricane.

Well, Ain’t That A Kick in the Head?

Mid-October 2016 is the last time i wrote about my physical pain at any length. It hasn’t gone away. In fact, it’s been steadily, yet thankfully slowly, building since back then. This new therapy has intensified my fibromyalgia pain, but it’s more than that. Sure, pain can be based in psychic trauma, and the stresses of day-to-day living can amp it up, but there’s more going on.

I’m just not dissociating as much.

I’ve done all this work and it’s brought me here. I know i refer to it in nearly every piece i write, but i’m not sorry for the repetition. It’s important, i think, to hammer it home for anyone reading my blog. It’s one of the most important things i want to get across. Not that this kind of thing takes a lot of work; this dealing with childhood abuse, and the way the brain and body copes with the devastation.

You already know that.

What i’m driving at is that it’s all work that we’re doing – this surviving it.
It’s all good work.

I hurt, and i had a dysfunctional and unsatisfying life and i wondered why.
I thought about it and i asked questions and took suggestions and tried things. And then i thought some more and i talked to people – professionals, friends, mentors, religious and lay folks, gurus, anybody… everybody. And then i thought some more. I pondered and i marinated, and i tried some more stuff and read books and went to lectures and joined groups and took courses, and i drew a smidge of wisdom from this and a pocketful of encouragement there and a wee cup of self-awareness from that, and i kept on going.
I picked up tiny jewels of truth here and there and i locked them up in a vault inside me, guarding them carefully, watching over them like treasure, like innocent babies who only had me to keep them safe.

All this movement, all this questing, all this work, all this surviving i did over the years, and yet i despaired a thousand times that i was getting nowhere, changing nothing, and learning little, fearing that i would be forever lost and broken and rudderless.

I kept looking back and seeing only the passage of time and my footprints.
Plus lots and lots of mess.
There were times i stopped. Sometimes frozen with fear, sometimes collapsed with exhaustion, sometimes consumed with rage, and many, many times weighed down to immobility by the cruel and crushing weight of my past.

But i learned to weather those tonic storms, to honour them, and as i’ve worked and persevered, i’ve drawn closer to the light.

There’s enough light now that i can look back and see, with emergent clarity, that nothing i did or did not do was in vain. All the mess was garbage that needed to be tossed: structures that needed to be torn down, toxic relationships that needed to be ended, hoarded memories that needed purging. The swamps filled with poison that i swam around in – it was poison that had washed out of ME, and i left it behind when i finally crawled out, cleansed. It was all good work.

Because i sought, because i wanted, because i tried, it all mattered.
Here, in this moment, i have both peace and confidence. I am, at last, at a place where i am no longer at the whim of unconscious and reflexive coping skills and protective actions that ceased being helpful long ago.
I am leaving behind my life in the land of the dead, and moving into the light, to live with the living. Yes, there are bits and pieces of me that are still afraid, but i’m not anymore.
I’m no longer stuck in a feedback loop, replaying the horrors of my past.

I’m in this current bit of business now because i want to be. I’ve done enough to manage and be okay, both for myself and my loved ones. But i want MORE. I want the next level, whatever it is that is more than just enough – and i suspect that is usefulness.

And to that end i am telling you, that i think, that as long as i keep seeking and wanting and trying, that nothing i have done or not done will be in vain.

**********

I was talking about physical pain. Right. Heh.

I was officially diagnosed with fibromyalgia in early ’98, after a car accident in August of the prior year. I tried many different treatments, all to little or no avail. I suffered tremendously – and then suddenly i didn’t. I mean, i still had pain, for sure, but it wasn’t like before. The intensity lessened and i was no longer consumed by it, every day, all day, where it even chased me into my dreams and i would moan and cry myself awake.

At first i thought it was a supplement i’d been given to try, but when that stuff was scientifically debunked, i stopped taking it and my symptoms did not intensify. I still had the occasional flareup, but my pain levels didn’t spike nearly as high as they had. I thought maybe i’d just become acclimated.
I watched other people with the diagnosis suffer far more, and i told myself i was fortunate to not’ve been afflicted as terribly as they.

This was shortly after my massive weight loss, the mania that followed, and the more conscious and chaotic experience of my multiplicity that quickly took hold of me whilst in that state.

It’s probably obvious where i’m going with this, but i’ll spell it out anyway.

As i’ve become sounder of mind and clearer of purpose, so has my pain become bigger and harder to ignore. I’ve tempered the voices in my head and adjusted their various volumes, only to have the confusion they brought replaced by so-called “fibro fog”, which happens when pain saps my energy and robs me of deep sleep.

I remember my doctor sending me to our city’s FMS specialist, for an official diagnosis. I don’t know if it’s still done this way, but one of the things he checked was my response to certain trigger points in my body. All but 2 of them were very tender.
The pain was terrific, sometimes all i knew. There were days i couldn’t move without tears. I gained a prodigious amount of weight. I slept my days away, yet never felt rested.

Then i had another baby and i needed to do better. So i had weight loss surgery, and well, i’ve already mentioned here what followed: thin begat bipolar mania begat dissociative chaos begat a parade of people who live in my brain coming out to experience life in the face and wreak not a small amount of havoc.
But my fibro had become easily manageable. I figured the weight loss had done it.

I spent years learning how my brain worked and how to coexist with my Bits N’ Pieces and live a decently functional life.
And i got there and thought i was done.
But i wasn’t satisfied after a while, and more than that, i became unsettled, my carefully constructed wa was rattled. I then did what i do — i thought about it and went looking for answers and for help finding them.
And what i found was that there was more work to do if i wanted, and i knew right away that i did.

This work involves being in my body and feeling my feelings -both emotions and physical sensations- while being present in my brain and listening to what it’s saying. My thoughts and my emotions and my sensations have been disconnected from each other since i was a baby enduring trauma.
I’m bringing myself back together, and the physical pain is a sign that it’s working.

Well, ain’t that a kick in the head?

It’s all coming back to me now. The pain, the insidiousness of it, the gaping maw of it. I see how it swallowed me whole back then, and i looked up hopelessly from the bottom of its belly as it slowly digested me.
This time ’round it’s different.
The pain is still incredible. I’ve woken to a painful throat from moaning in my sleep. Mornings are awful, the pain and the stiffness at times barely tolerable. I often wake as tired as i was when i fell asleep, or more. It’s advanced in severity over the years, quietly and unbeknownst to me. I can feel it seeping into the bones of my hands, like i’ve been in subzero temperatures with no gloves. I was recently diagnosed with osteopenia in my lumbar region, and i can feel the fibro ache radiating like an electric sun. I’m going in to see the doctor after a bunch of tests that were ordered because i’m now telling her about things i used to ignore, like chronic UTIs, like plummeting blood sugar, like maybe tennis elbow?

And friends, writing is a misery. I have little energy, and my brain is cloudy. I can’t find the words to formulate a cohesive sentence, and i get frustrated and tired out so quickly. Grrr. Argh.
But i’m learning too, and it’s not as hard as it once was. Because i’m in my body and feeling the pain, i can figure out where and how much i can push through it. I’m finding ways to still have the quality of life i desire, according to my current set of limitations. I’m being reasonable, and careful, and conscious. One of the most helpful things i’ve learned over the years is that small tweaks over time is what works best for me. Don’t push too hard or too fast, jumping in with both feet doesn’t tend to work well.

All the work i’ve done prior is coming into play. The small tweaks, the slow pace, the mindfulness, sharing my thoughts with a safe person, breathing, gentle self-talk, hygiene, and today, finishing a piece for my blog in spite of wicked pain. A piece that took many more days than i’d wish, but a thing that wouldn’t have been conceivable, let alone doable, all those years ago when fibromyalgia first made a meal out of me.

One more thing – i thought the urge to dissociate from this pain would be a constant battle, but amazingly, it’s not. Once again, i believe it’s all the work i’ve done that’s making this possible. I’ve been careful and diligent with the others who live with me in my brain. I’ve gotten to know them and addressed their concerns and met their needs as much as i’m able, thus winning their trust and earning their compliance and assistance. We’re as close to one mind as we’ve ever been, and so my desire has become theirs. My work, their work.

I’m not looking to suffer, i don’t think there’s anything redemptive or rewarding to be found in it, but it’s what some people do, every day. They learn to cope, to live, with suffering and pain, emotional and physical. They don’t leave their bodies, they don’t perform psychic surgery on themselves, they don’t play dead – they deal with it.

I want to be more like regular people, like normal people. Let me immediately follow that statement by saying a couple of things:

1) I don’t want to hear about What’s normal? Who’s normal?
While i grok the sentiment behind it, i know what i mean when i say that – to be just a little bit more like other people. You are of course, free to not want those things.
And,

2) I’m both mentally ill and neuroatypical, depending on your definitions, and while i’d love to ditch the Bipolar Disorder, that’s not how it works and i’m okay with that. Being a multiple is considered by some to be more neuroatypical than a disorder, and although i’m moving in a direction that some might call integration, i personally don’t see how my brain works in that regard as a “disorder”.
NOTE: I am not a professional, these are just the thoughts and feels of someone living with it, not someone who’s gone to school to understand and treat it.

I want to live as present a life as i can, including feeling pain, both physical and not.


Yeah, i’m still a bit crazy.
I like me this way.

IMAGE: Without Hope (1945), Frida Kahlo

Sometimes I’m Just Wrong

As people with a history like mine often do, i’ve had severe dental phobia most of my life. To have to hang my mouth open and have someone poking around in there, sometimes causing me pain, can be a brutal trigger. As a child, my mother stopped caring about my dental health around the time she was committed; i was in grade one. The only time she’d bring me in was for an emergency, which happened occasionally. I wasn’t much for brushing, which resulted in a few abscesses and a couple of pulled teeth.

Once on my own i just dodged the dentist. I finally paid attention when i found an excellent family physician during my pregnancy with my second child. She urged me to attend to my teeth, which were becoming problematic.
I required many appointments to get my teeth cleaned and a number of fillings followed. Neither the hygienist nor the dentist seemed to realise or care about my severe anxiety, and i was shamed and lectured every visit, guaranteeing more avoidant behaviour. It wasn’t until i was well into therapy with my current counsellor that i finally dealt with my fear head-on.

I found a nice lady dentist who’d been doing it for decades, and i went to talk to her. No cleaning, just x-rays, and a chat about what i was looking at to get my teeth shipshape. I told her of my phobia. (No, really? Like my huge, watering eyes and clenched fists didn’t already announce it.) I indicated as delicately as i could that it was trauma-based. She was immediately receptive, kind and gentle in her response, and assured me that i wasn’t her only patient with these issues. She said she’d work with me, to help me overcome my anxiety as much as possible (at my pace), and to attain and maintain healthy teeth and gums.

I know a fair number of people who use sedation dentistry to handle this issue, but i wanted to at least try to do it without drugs of any kind. I prepared as best i could; going over what was going to happen in my head, looking at pictures i’d taken of the dentist’s office, and the chair that i’d be sitting in, the ceiling that i’d be looking at (they have tellies up there – how smart is that?), i thought of how i feel in a dentist’s chair, and went over the different methods i could use to cope:

– focused breathing,
– body mindfulness,
– reminding myself that the intensity of the feelings are a response to trauma that’s no longer happening,
– stopping the hygienist and asking for a break,
– stopping the hygienist and talking briefly about the feelings,
– stopping the hygienist and rescheduling,
– using an anti-anxiety med beforehand,
– sedation dentistry,
– maintain dental health as best i can on my own, do more therapy around the issue, and try again at a later date.

I was stiff as a board the first time i sat for a cleaning; eyes as big as saucers, hands and feet clenched hard enough to cramp. The hygienist had a soft, soothing voice, and she calmed my jangled nerves with banter about her children, a recent move, a holiday. Her demeanor was quiet and kind, and i knew she wasn’t going to hurt me. Cleaning my teeth properly would take a few visits, they’d already told me, but i never sensed any disapproval from her, and there was never the slightest hint of a tsk or a tut-tut in her voice.

Then it’s time for my dentist to do some fillings, some caps, and even a root canal, to preserve my teeth for as long as possible. Her voice is also soft (i think dentists may cultivate this voice – also smart) but her vibe is jovial, even goofy. Her assistant is sarcastic, with a deadpan delivery, and between the 2 of them, they provide a great service and a show besides, which distracted and delighted me so much that i came to look forward to seeing them. Not even kidding.

I settled in to regular maintenance, and then the recession hit. We had to let go of our dental insurance, and i didn’t want to stress our already squeaky budget, when i knew my teeth were in good shape, and i was now diligent and conscientious with care. We still had a son at home who required extensive orthodontic work, and so i stopped going for a couple of years. When our financial situation improved,  i went back, thinking there’d be no problem.

Oh, but there was.

I missed a number of appointments, for which i provided lame excuses, and i’d call after and reschedule with a self-deprecating chuckle. Six months later i did the same thing, i missed my first appointment and called, saying it had totally slipped my mind and i’d be there for sure next time. The receptionist fixed another time with me, but i noted something in her voice before we hung up – a hesitancy. I felt uneasy.

She called me mid-morning the next day.
She told me that they wanted very much to continue providing me with dental care, but in order for that to happen they were going to require the cost of the appointment up front. She explained that my dentist couldn’t continue losing money when i didn’t show up, that it wasn’t fair for her or anyone.
I bristled. Feelings flooded my body, and i reacted with offense.

“This feels like i’m being punished for being mentally ill,” i said.
“I’m going to have to discuss this with my husband and i’ll get back to you,” i said.

To my credit, before the end of the phone call, i knew she had me dead to rights. But shame is a massive trigger, and i was dissociated and edgy for the rest of the day. It took me a while to bring it up with my husband, but not too long, and he understood right away. I called the receptionist back within a day or 2, and told her i knew they had to do what they were doing. And then i paid them.

I was anxious about the cleaning. I thought about why. It wasn’t just being embarrassed – it was a few things. There’d been a break in my association with them, one where i wasn’t in therapy, and i hadn’t had to deal with some of the triggers that dentistry touches on. I was now back in therapy, and learning to stay in my body during times when i feel emotions and/or physical sensations that i don’t want to feel. I understood why i was dodging. I knew i was setting myself up to miss my dates with my dentist.
I was trying to avoid all the feelings.

I showed up on time, and prepared. I knew i was going to feel awkward and embarrassed, which was normal and appropriate to feel, because i’d done them wrong. I hadn’t meant to, and i knew that. I knew they would all be gracious and kind, as they had always been, and they were. When the cleaning was done, my dentist was there at reception, and she gently asked me, “Do you understand that we had to do what we did?”

I told her that i did, and i told them all that i was sorry. I told them that it hadn’t occurred to me that i was costing her money, or inconveniencing anyone – but it should have, and i was ashamed about it.

She said, “You know, we just wouldn’t have had you back if we didn’t like you so much, eh?” And i could see that that was true.

I could also see that, while i’d fucked up, i’d also done some things right.

I’d been honest about my mental illness and my fears and anxieties from the jump.
I’d carefully built relationship with them, so much so that when i started behaving poorly, they tolerated that behaviour for as long as they could – perhaps longer than they should have done, and only for my benefit.
And when they finally called me out, i accepted responsibility for my actions.
Yes, for the briefest of moments -the space of a phone call- i reacted badly, but i knew almost immediately that i was in the wrong, and why, and that i could and would put it right and it was going to be okay.

I got caught doing something shitty, and i reacted by trying to avoid taking the blame. To assuage my chagrin by haughtily providing an excuse.

I’m not bad – i’m sick!

While that is true in a way, it’s neither appropriate nor is it helpful to apply that in this instance. After i hung up the phone i felt it right away – i was convicted in my heart by a jury of me. I’ve identified myself to these people as someone who lives with serious, multiple diagnosis mental illness. I’ve done so first for my benefit, but also for others like me. I want to bring awareness and exposure to those around us, in service to us and apart from that, who have little or no experience with us (or knowledge that they’re having such – because they certainly are, am i right?), and by so doing, help pave a way for fellow neuroatypicals and those living with mental illness to do the same. To see that it can be done, and perhaps they might do it, too.

I feel the weight of that responsibility. It’s a good weight, one i’ve willingly and purposefully shouldered, and it’s a right thing and a steadying force in my life. It gives meaning and provides balance and even serendipity. I would not so inadequately, so boorishly represent a community that has my love so easily, and needs help and understanding so desperately.

The love and life that i’ve found there made my path clear, and set my shoulders squarely towards it.
Yes, part of the reason why i behaved the way i did was the way i was raised and the way my brain responded to try and save me, to help me cope and to perhaps spare me some of the worst of it, that i might survive. And survive i did – and in these last years, even more and better.
Yes, there are reasons -childhood causations- for my behaviour, but in the end, today, right now, at this moment, i am as free and autonomous and aware as i can possibly be, and i am happy and grateful and relieved indeed, to be solely responsible for my choices and actions.

And sometimes i’m just wrong. And i was.
I accepted the consequences, which were fair, and no one abused me and i didn’t die.

I can hardly wait to screw up again.
Heh.