Updates From the Front Line

Rough day Sunday, and the night before reflected that. I had to handle a personal interaction where a lot of fear is involved, and my Bits N’ Pieces were all stirred up over it. I don’t sleep well to begin with, but anticipation made sure i got next to none (my Fitbit said, “2hrs 26mins, 2X Awake, 10X Restless”). Ugh. But it was another opportunity to learn and grow, and i took it, so i’ve got that going for me. /s

Because therapy has me so hyper-focused on myself, i got some insight that i know will help me in the future. First, i felt how intensely i wanted to dissociate during this interaction. I did numb out a bit, but i think it was more of a normal reaction, like how some people put a little emotional distance between themselves and what’s happening when they’re in a difficult situation. I didn’t switch at all, nor did i have that pulling back/shrinking away in my brain feeling that i call “sliding”. I think i was just emotionally reserved.

And then there was the aftermath.

Later in the evening the fibro hit me, hard. I could barely turn my head, my neck ached so badly, and my head started thumping like the bass drum in a marching band. As the evening progressed, the fibro spread, and the body memory pain i’ve been dealing with, intensified. I tried to lie down and sleep a couple of times, but wasn’t able to manage any until the night was nearly over. I was sitting there in the dark at 3am, playing games and futzing around on social media when it occurred to me. I mean, it’s obvious here now where i’m going with this (the spoiler being “aftermath”, heh), but i’ve lived a largely unconscious, unconnected life, so it can take me a while.

I’d been tense for many hours before, the hours during, and even after the interaction i’d had. Growing up in an abusive household, i was always tense inside, always steeling myself for the next attack. I couldn’t relax, and once i learned that i functioned in this way: constantly walking on eggshells with everyone, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, subconsciously anticipating whoever i was with to hurt me, i realised i didn’t even know how.

Over the years i’ve had some success, but it takes diligence. I can’t meditate, at least, not like non-multiples can, because there’s incessant chatter in my brain. I can, however, become aware of my breathing, slow it down, drop down into my body,* listen to what it’s telling me: scared, angry, hungry, tired, etc., and then attend to my needs. In so doing, i’ve been able to establish a kind of calmness i’d previously found nearly impossible to achieve. I didn’t even know how tightly coiled i was until a few years ago, and it wasn’t until i felt what it was like to be relaxed and not afraid, that i saw how i was never not on alert for danger.

So the tension i held in my body regarding this meeting had caused a fibromyalgia flare, one thumper of a headache, and a state of high anxiety.
When i told my husband the next morning how bad my night had been, he was mildly surprised. He’d thought everything was fine because i seemed okay – and there was insight number two: As a multiple, as a survivor of child abuse who was raised with lies and secrecy, i can appear fine on the outside while i’m having a meltdown on the inside.

— Next time i interact with this person i will be better prepared. I will calm myself as much as i’m able, i’ll breathe through, i’ll do my best to be present and mindful.
— Next time i’m feeling something intensely or just not feeling “well”, maybe i’ll tell someone i trust?

One more thing i’ll just mention in passing is that i cry every day now, and if i’m not crying, i’m feeling pretty close to it. And i hatehatehate it, and i’m gonna keep dododoing it until i’m donedonedone. Fuuuuuuuu…

Try to have a good day y’all.
I’mma do my best.

Love and Peace,
~H~
*My therapist’s phrase, quite apt i think, considering i’ve lived most of my life like a disembodied head.

I’m Not A Bitch, Pt. II

Growing up with very few safe spaces contributed greatly to my hypervigilance, my distrust of others, my obsessive need to be liked and accepted, and my extreme emotional reaction to anything that looked remotely like rejection.

Once i left home i had a few roommate situations, which i eventually learned were not for me. I preferred being alone, and when my first son was less than 6mos old, i moved in to my first apartment on my own. I didn’t live with anyone else until i met the man i married, years later. Having my own place, my own space, helped change me in many positive ways. I began to relax a little, internally. I wasn’t so tense physically, i wasn’t so busy mentally, and i wasn’t as close to meltdown emotionally.

I had a place to decompress after a day of peopling. I had somewhere to escape when i felt overwhelmed. I could figure out how to be a grownup and a mother privately, without other pairs of eyes always on me, and to my mind, constantly judging me. I had a safe space where no one hurt me, no one blamed me, no one wiped their unwanted emotions off onto me or made me carry their past baggage. It allowed me to be more who i genuinely am, albeit still unconsciously.

I rarely had people over. It was me and my kid, and i loved it.

Associations with friends and family would be done in their homes, or parks, playgrounds, restaurants, malls, wherever – as long as it wasn’t my place. The only people besides my son that i regularly wanted in my space were my siblings.
I took the occasional lover, but they weren’t permitted to come around until my kid was asleep, and they had to leave before breakfast.

This home base allowed me to grow as a person. I made closer friendships, and began allowing others more access to where i lived. I still couldn’t figure out how to be in an intimate sexual relationship, although i tried. I ended up hurting a few young men, and eventually found myself pregnant again.
The recovery home that had helped me years before, offered me a nice, cheap apartment in a great neighbourhood that also housed other women who’d been through the program, but could still benefit from the financial and emotional support they offered. They also hooked me up with free counselling, and access to other programs to help me continue to try to deal with my childhood trauma, and to figure out how to be a decent single mom to 2 wee boys.

In this 4-plex, i made the most intimate friendships i’d ever had. We visited each other daily, and everybody was always welcome in everyone else’s apartment. It was a busy little commune, and it was the happiest i’d ever been in my life. It taught me that there were good, kind, SAFE people in the world who wouldn’t hurt me – who just wanted to be my friend and love me. We did practically everything together, and we were first on the scene when any one of us were struggling or in need.
Without them and their friendship, i’m not sure how much longer it would have taken me to be able to trust anyone enough to have a serious romantic relationship, if ever.

We all eventually moved out of our safe little “halfway house” – they got a place together, and i got a place which was soon filled with the man i’m over 20yrs married to today. They both approved of him, and i trusted their judgment even more than mine then, because the guy before was a hard lesson in why one shouldn’t date bad boys.

They’re both gone now, and i wish i’d had this insight sooner and been able to share it with them. My gratitude is boundless, and my grief, ever-deep. As we drifted away from each other (the reasons were quite serious then, but now seem so unimportant), we all fell apart, tired and winnowed huskless. Trying so hard to figure out who we were, what we had to offer, and move past the constant pain, sorrow, and dysfunction that had resulted from our childhood traumas.
I ache so to be the only one still here.
I’m swollen with the need to speak with them, to say Thank you! and to touch them, to hold them close and feel the heat of their skin, to clutch their hands in mine and to cry and laugh and talk too loud with them.

None of us knew how to be a good friend. We were all closed in on ourselves, curled tightly around our wounded cores. Trying to find love, acceptance, understanding, belonging… Somewhere. Anywhere. We all knew how our families expected us to behave, and we knew how we should act when we were out and about, around other people. However, it took a great deal from each of us to do so, and we all needed long lengths of solitude to rest and recover from each encounter with the world outside our slapdash treehouses.

We’d hibernate in our dark, chilly caves, padding ourselves with the protection of food and eating, the escape offered by reading and movies. We were the only people who could fairly easily enter each others’ sanctuaries, with the least amount of effort to engage, the most genuine kind of engagement, and the lowest level of fallout after our encounters. We tried to talk to each other about things that mattered, we sifted through old boxes of memories together, and even peaked into the occasional old attic trunk, whose lock had been bashed off by our ham-handed counsellors*.

We tried to relate to one another. We tried hard to be friends to each other. And none of us were particularly good at it, but we’d laugh at ourselves and keep trying. The stories i could tell of our adventures. Late night rescues from addictive behaviours. Hospital visits. Life skills classes and religious retreats. Police. Lousy boyfriends. Falling in love. Christmases and birthdays and cooking and cleaning each other’s homes when we got too low to do it by ourselves.
In each other’s spaces, we learned there were people who could come in and not take away from us. Someone who would add to us, and not deplete our resources. They brought warmth to my chill and pulled back the curtains on my dim, grey spaces, letting light in. The sun of their smiles. The safety of their understanding and respect when they didn’t touch me. The depth of their love when they delicately asked if they could…

It was all unconscious, then. I was so dissociated. I lacked the diagnosis, the knowledge i needed to knit it all together, a key insight that would finally be a flashlight into the dark places inside me, the places where other people hid.
Little people, big people, young, old, broken bits and fully fleshed out persons.

Perhaps it was finally having real and true friends who’d been through things i’d been through and were trying to “get over” them as i was, that helped me put that last piece of the puzzle in the right place.
I know they gave me my first taste of what it was like to not be alone.

I wasn’t the only fucked up person.
I wasn’t the only person who didn’t act “normal”.
I wasn’t the only one to feel weird, different, odd, other, strange, outside.

And i can see now that we probably unconsciously supported each other in creating a safe space around ourselves, as individuals, a place where no one could approach unless we wanted them to come closer.
And i can see now how wounded and broken we all still were; we didn’t have the right tools yet, and hadn’t all the information we’d require. So we still let in the wrong people – ones who crossed the line and then broke the circle – who penetrated our barriers and broke down our defenses.
And i can see now, them being overcome. By the past, by people, and finally, by life.

It’s breaking me, but it’s girding me, too.
I was so closed off from how deep my feelings were for them, because it was scary, dangerous, to feel so much. I see now, both absolute shit reasons and self-preservation reasons for my pulling away.
I could wax poetic about why they aren’t here now, but i’ve learned too much to do something so selfish and grandiose.
I don’t know why they aren’t here anymore and i am, still.
I do know that i wish they were, with all my heart.
I also feel a deep regret that things went the way they did, but i know i did my best, and i don’t in any way blame myself for their absence.
I believe now that they were the best friends i’ve ever had, until i met my husband.

There wasn’t much light in our lives when we found each other. I’m so grateful that they grabbed on to me and pulled me close, and then let me run away, and come close again. Over and over. Accepting me for who i was, letting whatever i could give be enough, and never being angry over what i could not.

I know now that they taught me so much that i needed to know in order to be where i am right now, today. They were there, helping me lay my foundation for friendship. They helped me know how, when i knew enough and was ready, to build strong walls around me, and what kind of door to put in, and that a good security system was necessary and smart and right… They taught me, with their lives, that it’s okay to be careful, vigilant even, to whom i give entry and to whom i do not.
I have a safe space today, and they’re part of my blueprint.

Their friendship, their personal struggles, and their lives are forged into my armour and their memory stands at my battlements, as i fight for my safe space today. And i am fighting and will always fight, against any and all comers.

I’ll fight to protect this, my safe space, my motherfucking castle. Most don’t even get across my moat, but i’ve found over the years that sometimes, even those i’d once welcomed in must be put out. I’ve pulled up the drawbridge on many, and you bet i’ve tossed some over the wall and pushed them from the turrets.

I’m the queen of my castle.

*We’d met each other through a home for women in crisis, run by the religious. Understand that, while i’m most grateful for all those religious women did for me, and they did a LOT (fed me, clothed me, taught me how to cook and keep a house, and address my past), they did it according to their religious beliefs, which included bible-based therapy. Also know that i cannot and would not speak for my friends with regards to the guidance and advice we received from them. I’m referring to myself specifically and only when i say it was just mildly helpful, and in some cases, although i have no doubt they loved me and wanted so much to help me, was actually quite harmful.

Eggshells and Soliloquys

They had developed a new dimension to conversation. They ended every speech with the word hiro, which means: like i said. Thus each man took full responsibility for intruding into the inarticulate murmur of the spheres. To hiro they added the word koué, a cry of joy or distress, according to whether it was sung or howled. Thus they essayed to pierce the mysterious curtain which hangs between all talking men: at the end of every utterance a man stepped back, so to speak, and attempted to interpret his words to the listener, attempted to subvert the beguiling intellect with the noise of true emotion.
~ Leonard Cohen, Beautiful Losers (1966)

This is stream-of-consciousness. A bit of what it can be like inside my brain. I was thinking about how unconscious of my obsessive overthinking i used to be; how ever present my hypervigilance, how ingrained my desire to please.
I was also thinking that, with awareness i’m now able to change these things, or at least, i’ve been able to slow them down and lessen their intensity.

Baby steps.

**********

I scan your face, looking for signs. Fluidity of motion in the facial muscles, or is your face tense, set. Do you smile, and if so, does it reach your eyes. Do you smile too much – could it be forced. Do you scowl, frown, do the lines on your skin give any indication what you do more frequently. Do the corners of your mouth slant up or down. Hard elevens between your brows, deep parentheses around your mouth, arrowheads around your eyes. Are you animated or stoic.

I listen intently to your voice. Not so much your words, but your tone. What are we talking about and are you invested. Inflection, pitch, volume. A nervous swoop up. An imperious monotone. A frustrated dip.

I watch how you perform an activity or duty. Are your movements confident or tentative, careful, incautious, cocksure. Swift, slow, do you want me to go, or to stay and compliment.

I check out what you’re wearing and how you’re wearing it.
What style, if any. Are your clothes clean, should they be clean, do they fit properly, have you arranged them appropriately across your limbs and curves. Are things riding low or hitching up anywhere, and do you notice or care. Do you pick at your clothes, constantly smoothing and rearranging. Are you bothered by exposed flesh.
Do you look like you fit inside your skin.

Do you look at me when you’re talking, and if you do, what part of me are you looking at: do you stare directly into my eyes, do you stare at my mouth when i respond, do you scan my face as you speak and listen. Do your eyes dart about. Are you aware of what’s going on around us or are you focused on me. Is it an appropriate amount of focus, or too much. Are you distracted, are you just paying lip service? An arched brow. Pursed lips.

Add it all up. Does it match, make sense, or is it incongruous. What might that mean. Are you having a bad day, bad year, bad life. Maybe some recent, awful event. Some wonderful thing so you’ll be nice to me today. Do you want to talk to me or just anyone. Should i banter or nod silently.

Do we have friends in common, what do they think about you, and what do they think about me. Do you have family/friends accompanying you. Are they inching away. Are there children hanging off of you or around you. Are they of a certain age that will trigger a cacophony of voices. Will you notice my wince, my pained expression.

Did you get enough sleep. Are you rested.
Do you want something from me.
Do you like me.
Will you hurt me.
How long will this interchange last. How long should it last.

Lather, rinse.
Repeat on self this time.
Add in:

Do i look clean/nice today.
Am i making appropriate faces, do i look weird or appear awkward.
Am i too loud, talking too much, saying boring things, making bad jokes, being odd.
Trying too hard.
Am i making them uncomfortable; should i excuse myself.
OMG can i please excuse myself? Would that be rude, am i being rude.
Am i sweating, did i stutter, am i making sense, am i repeating myself, have i told them that before, should be saying this, am i talking too much. I should shut up now, right. Was i too personal, too detached, how does my smile look, am i smiling too much, do i look crazy.

Do they expect a hug, how long do we hug for, when can i break away, am i being standoffish, am i hurting their feelings, am i making them uncomfortable.

Lather, rinse.
Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, with added commentary from the Peanut Gallery.

She doesn’t really like you, remember at that thing when you did the thing.
She just frowned, she doesn’t like you.
Her eyes are darting around, she wants to get away, tell her you’ve somewhere you have to go.
She doesn’t like you, she’ll just be being polite, turn down that aisle and pretend you don’t see her.
She hugs, and we cannot be touched today, change direction now, get away.
Omg you look like shit today, you can’t go in there, you’ll see someone you know.
We can’t remember her name, how ignorant. You can’t talk to her, what if we have to use her name – we don’t know it and you’ll look ridiculous.

Text the man. Ask him to do the thing. We can’t go out. You can’t go out. Everyone will see how wrong/weird/bad/crazy you are. Let’s stay home. The man will do the thing, he’ll get the thing, he’ll fix the thing. Let’s stay home. Oh, i’m so tired, we’re all so tired, aren’t you tired? You’re tired. Let’s go lie down. Put on the telly. Lie on the couch. Text the man. Omg, don’t answer the phone. Close your eyes, we’re tired…

Remember that time when you did that dumb, embarrassing thing?
Wow, you should have gone out and got that stuff done today. Why do you have to be so screwed up. You should be over all this now. No one cares. The man and the kids have been through enough. You should be doing more stuff. What about that room downstairs and getting the cupboard doors back on and the painting and the quonset and the garage, and your skin is really starting to sag, and your thighs look like bellows but you’ll always have tree trunk legs and no man will ever be able to carry you in their arms like in the movies and your kids’ problems are because you’re so messed up and you tricked the man into marrying you and you should have way more friends at 52, but all your friends left you because you’re lazy and weird and full of crap.

I don’t know if this post will help anyone at all, but it is a glimpse into the thoughts and chatter that regularly occupy my brain. I’ve only become aware in the last few years that other people don’t experience constant words/thoughts/chatter/commentary the way i do. My brain is never silent, not for a single second when i’m awake and conscious, and even when i’m sleeping, if i’m dreaming, i’m think-talking the entire time in the background – sometimes it’s lucidly so, sometimes not.

Weird post i know, but that’s what you’re getting today.
Let’s try to have as good a week as we can, shall we?

~H~

So, That Happened

The other day everything exploded. Why doesn’t matter. It happens to everyone. A bomb goes off in your life and then you lay there dazed and check if all your parts are still attached. I went immediately into shock . I was numb, but really panicky. I recognised the gravity of what had happened and i knew right away, that THIS MOMENT is where the rubber hits the road. All the work i’ve done in order to beat the odds. To find a way to live with my past and to live with my crazy and be useful and good and happy. These things happen to everyone and one major reason for all this work i’ve done is so that when crisis hits, i handle it without wrecking my world. I made an appointment with my therapist for the next day.

After Tuesday’s dazed, numb, and panicky, was Wednesday’s hurt. It reopened that pit inside me that sucks everything into it. That ache that begins way back in the ether of my emotions that i imagine filling up my insides instead of my guts. Emotional pain always has an affect on Fibromyalgia, and so my flare-up, well, flared up. Anxiety was there too, of course. Sitting on my chest and somehow reaching inside and squeezing everything with frantic fists. It hurt to breathe. I went to a group of online friends that i’ve had for over 10yrs now, to let them know i was going through something awful, and could really use their support in the coming days. They’re perfect for me because, as i discussed in my prior post – i don’t people much anymore, but i still like and need people. They’ve been there for me since it happened, and i return to them daily just to check in emotionally and reaffirm that i’m okay. That part is important for me, of course. I’m not really telling them I’m okay, so much as i’m telling myself. I’m still here, still breathing, and the world is still in one piece.

I had a phone appointment with my therapist, and as soon as i heard her voice i felt more grounded. Her voice reminds me of years of work. Years spent figuring out how to deal with the ugliness and pain in my past, along with all the resultant dysfunction. Learning and practising new ways to think and to cope with thoughts, feelings, people, life. How to stay present at all times, no matter what’s happening around me or to me. It was an opportunity to speak directly to the crisis itself, and i felt heard and acknowledged. I listened to her suggestions and felt calmed. I had some educated and trustworthy perspective outside of my own. We made another appointment and i promised to touch base.

On Thursday i got angry. The first thing i want to say about that is how amazing it is that it took me so long. See, when i used to get hurt, you could count on one of two things happening. One, i shut down and disappear, or the other, I feel angry and i get mad. I go on the offensive. I attack. You hurt me and you’d better run, because i’ll come for you and hurt you. Not physically, but i’ll say things that will deeply wound you. I learned from a very young age how to read people. It was a survival mechanism that carried on past the constant imminent danger of my childhood. I didn’t know i was doing it, let alone that it wasn’t always particularly helpful in my quest for good relationships with other people, but it persisted and it’s only been in the last year that i’ve been making an effort to stop. So before around a year ago, if you hurt me, and i might read your personal mail to you. Strip you naked and make you look like a fool. Say things that might very well haunt you for a long time. Now, i only did that on a rare occasion, i usually just closed myself off from you and that was it. But the closer our relationship was, the larger the latter possibility loomed. Someone very close to me was the one to toss the grenade, and yet i didn’t even see the need to make a choice between get mad or dissociate until Thursday. That’s good.

And even better – i didn’t do either of those things. I did something completely different. Something i’ve been putting into practise for some time now. It’s taken a lot of practise, and will continue to take more. I have the angry conversation without the person being there. It’s a fine balancing act because i can easily dissociate, but if i couple the pretend conversation with grounding techniques (i.e. being present in my body and aware of my surroundings), it can be effective in deescalating any intense feelings.

I have a pretend conversation. Well, it’s one-sided in the literal sense, but mostly in the figurative one as well. I say -sometimes out loud and sometimes just in my head- the things i would say if i could let ‘er fly, so to speak. You see, my brain is never quiet. There are always conversations going on in there. So yes, now you know – i hear voices. (But they’re always mine, and they’re always inside my head, so i don’t hit on the shizophrenia spectrum, just in case you wondered.) My point is that my brain is always busy and always full. When something upsets me, the intensity of the conversations can rise, and even more voices can be added. This can cause what i call a “bursty” feeling, like my mind may explode. I begin to panic, partly because it’s overwhelming and frightening, but in recent years it’s also become because i know it leaves me vulnerable to dissociating, something i try not to do. So, i say all the vicious, hateful things that are inside my head -all the things that i would say if i really wanted to get under someone’s skin- within the bounds of an imaginary conversation, where the other person can’t be harmed. It’s like bleeding a pressure valve, which leaves more room for problem solving and positive thinking.

Which left me free to be sad on Thursday. Which i was. I felt heavy and hopeless and lonely. I felt numb and anxious and hurt. But i took care of myself and i took care of my house – we’re both clean. That is much improved from the last time i was hurt and upset this much. I was able to remember some of the things i’ve put in place and practised to live a better, happier life. I knew i’d feel even worse if i allowed my house to get messy, and didn’t try to cook some kind of meal for my family – even if all i could do was set the table and microwave something in a box. As i got up and began to do these things, only doing them because, while i didn’t expect to feel any better, i sure as hell didn’t want to feel any worse, i discovered i was able to do more than the bare minimum. And that did, in fact, make me feel better. Not just not worse, but actually better.

I kept in touch with my therapist and my online community once a day or so. Even just to say, Everything is awful, but i am alive and have no plans to change that. I was careful to maintain my schedule as much as possible, but i did allow more time in bed. I drank a bit too much, and i ate waaaay too much, but i knew i was doing it, that i was choosing it, that i was coping as well as i could while i processed what had happened and waited for the next appointment with my therapist. I tried to write a few times, but it was a minefield. I’ve banged out a bit here, but my mind fogs over really quickly, either that or i suddenly feel like crying, and i am currently avoiding crying like a junkie avoids their old neighbourhood. It’s a dangerous place to go, because who knows who you’ll meet and it’s hard to say No to some of those people.

***NOTE: This was the week of November 7-11. Although i’ve written something every day since, it’s devolved and not even as intelligible as this – if this is at all. I waited to publish it until i was certain it wasn’t just chock full o’ crazy, but i’m still not sure. In fact, i fear that i may be careening in slow motion towards some kind of head-on collision with something in the road that i can’t yet see… Something my son said to me yesterday encouraged me to post it anyway. I write this blog to try to help someone, to help anyone, to help even just one, by sharing how my brain works and how i try to cope and strive to be a happier and more functional human. I’m currently completely shut off from the rest of the world, and trying to piece together something to post for Monday the 12th of December at the latest. I’ve written a fair bit, but i don’t know what i’m willing to share and what i’m not. What would be helpful to me or you or both of us is hard for me to figure out right now. I’m not fully in control of my thoughts or actions as i’m in a highly dissociative state.

I’m hypervigilant right now. I’m easily hurt, and when i’m not quite myself, i’m liable to hurt back. I can’t do much about it except associate with people as little as possible.

And that’s where we’re at.