Treading Water

I’m having trouble writing.

Yes, again.

It’s not because i’m going through a bunch of crud and i’m waiting for it to be done so i might over analyse it and package it up prettily, replete with a spiffy bow for your easy consumption. I’ve shared before that i struggle with this – i hesitate to share when i’m in the trenches, because it can get so damn dark and cold down there, and i’m trying to bring a message of hope. But i’ve learned that the truth can bring hope, even if the truth is ugly. I’ve also learned that it’s not my responsibility to save the world. As all my children are now grown, i’m no longer responsible for anyone but myself, and my dog.

The best i can do is throw life buoys in the water. They’ll keep you afloat for a while. Allow you to rest. But i can’t make you swim over to it, or grab onto it, or keep holding on. I hope you do, though. I want us all to make it.

I’m having trouble writing because i’m tired. The effort it requires for me to stay present in my body and resist dissociation is maximal. I don’t seem to have much left over for anything else. That’s okay, because i’ve tailored my life to accommodate this kind of thing. I have a very supportive partner, my kids aren’t kids anymore, and i live on a farm. I enjoy private space all around me, and the people in my life all know that “just popping by” is not an option.

So yeah, i’ve got an excellent setup for the work i’m doing, and i’ve settled into a groove. Well, it’s less groove than zombie-shuffle, but i’m gettin’ through it.
Except life has this way of happening, and life has gone and done happened on me.
My life has absolutely and utterly changed. To what extent, and whether for good or ill i don’t yet know, but i’ll never be the same.

It’s not appropriate to talk about it yet. I’m gathering information and sitting with it for a while, first. It’s not a diagnosis; i’m not sick. Well, nothing has been added to my current laundry list, and nothing has intensified or become life-threatening, at least. And my primary relationship is solid. So for any of my readers who’re inclined to worry – don’t. It’s a big deal, but it’s not bad. It’s just BIG. I don’t have any energy left over for anything besides functioning in the day-to-days, listening to my body and trying not to dissociate.

But life isn’t a consciousness. It has no feelings or intents or plans. It’s not trying to mess with me. It’s not laughing at me. I’m not a rat in its maze. Life just lives until it doesn’t. It doesn’t care about timing. It isn’t concerned with how many spoons i have in my coping drawer. It just rolls along and happens. And oh boy, has it ever happened.

What i’m going to do here is just update. Just mention some things and check in with how i’m doing. Living stuff. Coping. Processing. Thoughts and sundry.

My physical health is okay. Not great, but manageable. I’m learning to live with osteopenia (low bone density, not severe enough to be classified osteoporosis) by taking prophylactic medication and the right exercise. The result has been a reduction in pain, and far less of the “crunching” that i was hearing by late afternoon. The pain wasn’t terrible, but the noise was quite disturbing. I’m currently working on bringing up my fitness level. I started with walking.

Walking is something i’ve been doing a lot of, since i was able to do it. When we lived in cities, my mother would send me to the corner store for snacks and cigarettes, and out to panhandle. One of the best ways for me to escape from my home life for a while was to be outside, so i was outside a LOT. Whatever the weather, and long after other children had gone home, you could find me outside. When we moved into more small town living, we tended to live far away from the school. We were a wrong-side-of-the-tracks sort of family, so there was usually a few miles between me and the school. Another thing i did to stay out of her hair/way/path (although i didn’t see it that way at the time), was to join clubs. I was in lots of clubs growing up: girl scout type clubs, choirs, drama troupes, sports clubs, military clubs… I didn’t do too much school oriented after school activities, because bullies, but other clubs seemed mostly populated with nerds and misfits like me, so i didn’t get picked on much.

Walking is where i come closest to a quiet state of mind, too. Meditation is beyond the capabilities of many multiples. My brain is never silent, even when i’m dreaming i can pick up background chatter if i’m lucid enough. After decades of having professionals and non alike tell me that meditation could fix a number of my issues (even cure my anxiety, tap into my deeper intellect, and become a spiritual giant!), i finally found a therapist i could work with, who told me straight away that my being unable to meditate at even the most basic level was not at all uncommon for those diagnosed with DID.

Walking is also my system’s response to extreme stress. I was programmed to “go home” if i got in a bad spot, and it’s still a hard reflex inside me. I’ve taken off hundreds and hundreds of times, and probably logged thousands of kilometres.
All this to say – i can walk, honey.
So i’m walking, and it’s good, and i’m good at it, and it’s good for me.

Except for the fibro flare it’s causing, of course. That’s the crap part of it. I’ve been living with this chronic pain since 1995, so i’m fairly educated on my condition, and i know this is to be expected. The key is to increase gently, with long periods of status quo in between. I’ve also taken up some beginners yoga stretching, which i’m finding calms me rather nicely, while warming up my muscles for the distances i put in during the day.

(This is where my dark and twisty sense of humour comes in handy, because it’s just so **ME** to be working on my fitness and pushing through the resultant uptick in pain, while also trying to cut back/eliminate dissociation. I have this built in ability to distance myself from pain, and i can’t use it. I mean, i can, but i choose not to. Ah well, the hard way is just a way in the end, amirite? Heh.)

My diet is good. I’m calorie restricting for weight loss, but i eat soundly. My FitBit is helping with keeping me mindful of what i eat, although i don’t use any of their programs – that stuff can easily trigger obsession in me. I’m just logging my calories so that i can keep track. Sometimes i weigh and measure just to give me a better idea where my calories are being spent. Sunday i take the FitBit off, i don’t exercise per se, and i have a slight cheat day, food wise. I don’t go all out cheat though, because i find that hard to bounce back from sometimes, and i need the momentum i’ve built up to cruise me through while i’m dealing with this overwhelming exhaustion.

Socialising is hard for me right now. It happened suddenly, but that’s not out of the ordinary. I don’t want to go out and i don’t want to see anyone, but it’s slightly different now; i’m less extreme. In the past, i would hole up in my Little Crooked House and just hermit. No phones, no answering the door, no leaving the house except when unavoidable. Now i can see someone if i need to, for instance, i know a lovely woman who’s helping me with eyelash extensions while mine grow out after nuking them and my eyebrows in the Burning Barrel Incident that i mentioned a few posts ago. She’s softspoken and very kind and low key, and i don’t want to scream when she touches my face. If only there were eyebrow extensions. <insertruefulexpressionhere>

A dear friend invited me out to supper last Saturday  and i said Yes. When i got there, my body and brain started acting up immediately, and i knew i couldn’t stay. I did a quick negotiation with my Peanut Gallery: Yo, if y’all will just STFU and let me touch base with my friend, i won’t stay any longer than an hour. So i ordered my food to go, and had a nice chat with my friend while it was being prepared.
That’s some gold standard problem solving for me, right there.

I think what i’m seeing is, i can do one-on-ones, but i’m finding any more than that quickly saps what little energy i have. I love humans and enjoy their company – except when i don’t, and these last couple of weeks i’ve occasionally felt almost misanthropic. That’s a neon sign that my stress level is high.

I don’t like ending on a low note, but yeah… As i mentioned to my online group of friends yesterday, i’ve gotta look up to see dirt. Depression is seeping in, making me sluggish and mopey. These last couple of days i’ve felt sad and alone. There’s some self-pity there, sure. I can hear the sad trombone. But i’m going to allow myself a bit of ass-dragging, because i’ve learned if i don’t acknowledge what’s happening and just let myself BE™, a little, my condition will just get bigger and bigger until i pay attention. I must give it some space to breathe, and move, and act in accordance with my emotions (scared, mad, sad, etc.) and sensations (pain, ache, emptiness, etc.). I must listen to what my brain and my body are trying to tell me.

I haven’t been this down and heavy in my bones for a long time.
I can hang on until therapy tomorrow. Little goals.
My body is heavy and slow, so i do a few things around the house, with long breaks of doing sweet fuck all in between. My brain is foggy and fuzzy and full of low thoughts, so i read for entertainment only, and limit who i share space with, and i curate conversations to avoid topics that will feed my depressive feelings. I’m watching emotional stuff that helps me cry, because tears want to come, but i have trouble crying for myself. I can always cry for someone else, so sappy movies it is. I start crying because The Fisher King or RENT, but i keep crying because holy shit am i ever going through it right now.

This work is hard and it’s taking everything i have to do it. And life just has no heart, no mercy, no grace for me – it just keeps doing its thing and that’s just how life does things and i’ve gotta get with the program, man.
I’m plodding along, but it’s forward.
I’m doing the minimum, but i’m DOING.
I’m standing here on the shore as the tide advances, lapping at my feet, then swirling around my knees, and now it’s pulling me out, out into the deep…
And i’m letting it pull me.
I’m treading water for now, but i’ll get to swimming at some point.
I will.
You watch me.

Love and Peace,
~H~

Huh.

I missed my last counselling appointment… Kinda. My body was there, but i was not in the face.* At the time, i was in full-on chaos mode, and my therapist had to deal with some Littles and some Angries. Yesterday, she filled me in on how it went. I came in small, got very big and pissy, and tried to leave.
I’m a leaver, a take-off-er, a skedaddler of the highest order. I get stressed, anxious, scared, and i vacate the face and then the premises. Fortunately, my therapist deals with people like me for a living, and has done so for more than 20yrs. Apparently, she used mom-voice on me and it worked.
Mom voice.
Huh (not the question huh, the onomatopoeia huh). Who’da thunk it?

She ordered me to sit back down, told me i wasn’t going anywhere, and then informed me she was putting her weighted blanket on me.
Dudes – i do NOT do weighted blankets. I do NOT like any heaviness on me at all. In bed, i’ll usually even throw off the duvet and just use the sheet, my nightwear, and my husband’s body heat for warmth, because the weight on me triggers anxiety.**
Apparently, i tolerated it, and although i pouted and wore a sour face, i admitted that it made me feel a bit better.
Huh. Well, don’t that beat all?

While i don’t remember arriving there or leaving, when she described the part of the session with the blanket a bit of it came back to me. Sometimes, i’m completely gone when someone else is in the face, and i can’t find/feel an internal connection to the goings on being related to me, that i was involved in. Sometimes though, i’m not fully switched, and it’s like i’m in the corner of my brain, half asleep. When i’ve withdrawn but not left completely, a report of events can often trigger some recollection, or at least a tangible emotional connection. It’s like when you burp hours after a meal and are reminded of what you ate, maybe? Heh.

After the update, she asks me how i’m doing. I shrug and say, “Meh. But it’s a good meh.”
And it is good.

I think (hopehopehope) i’ve emerged from this period of pure, unadulterated panic that i’ve been operating in. It might be more accurate to say i’m hoping to avoid another one, because i don’t feel panicky, although my sense is that it’s not as far away as i’d like. These last few months have been exceptionally difficult as far as my mental health and maintaining a decent level of day-to-day function are concerned.

Way back i knew what i was undertaking was going to be hard, but not this hard.
I knew it was going to hurt, but not this much.
And i knew it would be scary, but didn’t anticipate abject terror.
I suppose i couldn’t have known until i was in it, and i was as prepared as i could have been. I’ve put in one heckuva lotta work.
It ain’t easy to bring a dead body back to life.

Yes okay, i’m the first one to admit i’m a bit on the dramatic side (my name is Histrionica after all), but when you spend most of your first decade of life literally trying not to die – i think you get some accommodation. I gave myself permission regardless, and i try to keep it on a relatively short leash, except in times like these. Therapy. Digging deep. Performing surgery on myself hurts like a motherfucker, and i get to emote, damn it.

Reestablishing the connections between my brain and my body is the hardest inner work i’ve done to date, and i’m never not exhausted.

Let’s backtrack a sec.

I was raised religious, but more than that, i was created by my parents to be obedient, above all other things. So, although i’d had it suggested to me a number of times, i rejected the MPD diagnosis (never went back to any p-doc type that suggested it). Dogma said it didn’t exist, and my mother both counted on me being multiple, and relied on it being hidden from me that i was one. It wasn’t until my mother’d been dead for some time that i considered it. When the social worker from my church who was counselling me told me i clearly was, and the psychologist who also attended our church agreed with her diagnosis, i finally accepted (or at least began the process) that i “had multiple personalities”. (Ooh, that stuff in quotes makes me cringe hard. I’ve developed my own slang surrounding multiplicity over the years, or i might never have been able to talk about it; my reaction to commonly used words and phrases regarding it is still so visceral.)

The lady who treated me was kind and sweet and worked with me for a few years, but it was still heavily centred on our shared faith. I think i was switched most of the time. I was starting to believe i was a multiple, but i still wasn’t really aware of it happening. Along the way i had weight loss surgery, became an apostate, and stopped seeing her.
I also went batshit crazy.

The bipolar disorder became obvious first – being thin for the first time in my adult life brought up a tonne (harhar) of issues that being in a food coma and surrounded by a wall of fat had kept at bay. Before the year following my surgery was up, i was tits-deep in mania. Mania is characterised as “a state of heightened overall activation with enhanced affective expression together with lability of affect” (Source: Wikipedia), and labile is an adjective meaning unstable, fluctuating wildly. Sounds about totally, yep, uh-huh.

It is my uneducated and purely experiential opinion that the mania blew the doors off in my brain that were keeping me from knowing my system, and kept them somewhat controlled in their behaviour. What followed was a free-for-all that kept me scrambling for the face, for years. I barely slept and mostly ran on booze and drugs and manic juice.

Back to present, now.

The thing that has thrown me for a loop is just how much i dissociate. I had no idea until i took on this work of being as present in my body as i can be, which becomes harder the further i am from the face, that i’m at a measurable level of dissociation most of the time. This all leaves me invariably exhausted, with no special juices to keep me going.

So i tell my therapist about how tired i am, and how much my body hurts, but how the fear no longer has me in a chokehold, and i’m strangely fine with it all. I say i think i might have an idea why that is, and i share my hypothesis.
That’s for next post, though.
Have the best week you’re able to, and i’ll do the same.

Peace and Love,
~H~

*For the uninitiated, “in the face” is a phrase i use to describe who’s currently in control of my system, i.e. the part who’s seeing/speaking and has physical agency.
**Upon proofreading, that’s a bit of a misnomer. I also sleep on an old disco waterbed where i keep the heat cranked – it helps my fibromyalgia pain. So i’m nice and warm and don’t need the duvet, even if i was fine with the weight of it.

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.

Hang On

WARNING: This contains intense descriptions of a current state of anxiety and stress. Know that i am okay, and take care of you.

**********

We never left you
We never left you that day
We never left you
Even though we felt far away
~ Hang On, Amos Lee

I’m having trouble leaving the house again, lately. Being around people is scary. Sometimes it’s physically painful.

My anxiety level has been higher than i’ve ever felt outside of a mania. My heart beats so fast. I can feel my guts burning and pushing up into my chest, my throat, taking my breath. I’m barely sleeping because i’m certain i won’t wake up. I sleep maybe 20mins at a time, and i wake up alive, but i still fight the next sleep with the same overwhelming certainty i’m going to die.

I’m being tortured by obsessive thoughts. How i’ve accomplished nothing in life. How i’ve failed my children. How i’ve been a constant source of worry and concern for my husband. How i never went to college, or travelled, or had a career, or found a “passion”.
It’s been eating me alive.

When i’m dealing with my childhood trauma, hygiene can be difficult. I’m afraid to be in the bathroom, i’m triggered by the shower, the toilet, the smell of soap and toothpaste.
Last week i was either switched or too exhausted to cook, so my family ate a lot of take-away.
There was a massive blowup in my home around the issue of personal safety, and it had been a long time coming. I’m already so tired from this therapy i’m currently working through, that i had zero ability to handle it without switching. It’s not how i would have liked to handle it, but at last i feel heard and some important changes have been made.

I will continue to stand up and demand my safe space, if required to do so. Maybe i won’t ever have to again. Maybe if i do, the fallout won’t be a parade of switching. I have more than a small bit of hope.

This week i was able to cook, to clean my house and myself, but i couldn’t make it out the door for peopling.
So another phone appointment with my therapist.
<insertdeepsighhere>

At least i could do that much, so i’ll take it. And it bore good fruit.
She talks me through, not what’s happened this past week, or what i thought about it, but how my body felt when stuff was happening, and how my body felt as i was talking to her and thinking back on those events.
This is the work i’m doing. It’s constant, and sometimes it’s nothing short of terrifying and brutally painful.

But mostly, when i look back at it, it’s like a feeling of malaise, with the occasional intense bout of vomiting and diarrhea. Quite the image, i know, but it’s accurate.
What i mean is, i feel like shit all the time right now, but the times when i feel so sick i might die don’t last for very long at all.

If i can ground myself even the teensiest little bit with that knowledge, that belief, that experience (because that is how it has indeed always been), then i can maybe, just maybe — stay present in the moment and tune in to my body and just hang on.

–HANGTHEFUCKON–

I also had what feels like an epiphany, and boyohboy did i ever need one.
While talking to her, i suddenly realised that i’ve done all this work before, i just did it with regards to how my brain works.

Now i’m doing the same work, but with my body.
She said, Honey, you are in pain because you’ve done all the work that had to come before you could get here.

I’ve seen myself as a disembodied head when i was able to see myself at all.
Completely disconnected from my body. Nothing from the neck down.
My body exists in the land of the dead. It went there when i was a baby.
It hid from pain, from suffering, from unmet needs.

I’ve done the hard work with my brain, and it’s ready to dwell in the land of the living.
Now it’s my body’s turn. It wants to join with my brain and be alive, too.
But first i’ve got to do this work.

I must feel what it feels while knowing what i now know.

I can hang on for that.
I so fucking can.

We never failed you
Even though we might have felt that way
We never left you
Hurt to see you in so much pain
So hang on, hang on
Hang on, hang on
Hang on, hang on
When morning comes you won’t be here alone
~ Amos Lee

Love and Peace To You All,
HANG IN THERE.

~H~

Toast

Hunger has always been more or less at my elbow when I played, but now I began to wake up at night to find hunger standing at my bedside, staring at me gauntly.
~ Richard Wright

As i was saying yesterday – i woke up. I had a couple of tough days that involved more peopling than i’m comfortable handling right now, and by “more”, i mean any. I lost a bit of time on the second day, but it wasn’t too bad. I had a friend come and help me, and then i talked to my husband about what happened, and my feelings about it, and how things might have gone better and could go better next time. Because there will be a next time.

I went to bed and sleep took me more quickly than it has in some weeks. I woke up a couple of hours later though, and i was hungry. I was more than hungry, actually – i was starving. I used the bathroom before i went to the kitchen, and i was so hungry my hands were shaking, like i had low blood sugar or something. I’m sitting on the toilet and i have to pee but i can’t, because i’m panicky and tense. So i reach over and turn on the sink faucet, and the sound of running water has the desired effect of intensifying my need to urinate to the point where it overcomes my clenching pelvic floor. As my muscles relax a little and i feel relief, i have enough clarity to recognise that i’m having an intense physical and emotional reaction to something.

If it was a dream, i don’t remember it, but i don’t think that’s what’s up. I feel small. I feel young. My little Bits are up and active and upset. They need comfort and reassurance that everything is okay. When it hurt me to walk that morning it was more than a physical pain, it was a distressing emotional loss. Walking is an important and valuable tool in my coping kit. I work off stress and worry and i find peace and equilibrium in walking. It’s a place for my system to communicate more efficiently and freely. When they’re in upheaval they want to walk, and i get self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment from walking, so it’s mutually beneficial. It can be nearly impossible to communicate with my system when it’s particularly busy. Walking is a distraction. Walking deescalates. Walking is the oil that gets the gears moving in synchrony. As long as i get to be in charge of where we go, it’s worked exceptionally well for all of us.

But when my back signalled us that it was in too much pain to walk, we all cried out in my brain at once. It was too much for me, and BLINK i was gone.

Grocery shopping the day before had sapped too much of my strength; i had no stores upon which to draw. There was too much peopling and too much anxiety and too little sleep and some unmet needs that hurt and scared me. It’s hard for me not to see those things as rejection, and it takes effort to process it correctly.

Concentrate. I am loved. I have a history of being loved here. Experience tells me that this is a misunderstanding. Shhh. It’s okay. I know this feels like pain and terror and fury all at once. Breathe. This feeling will pass and another will take its place. It’s never not happened that way. I can ride this through until i’m in another place where i can look back and i know i know i know that perspective will come. It always comes. Breathe. Hug the pillow close. Adjust the fan so it cools the sweat on my face. Shhh. It’s okay. This feeling will end and another will come and take its place.

And one did. I slept fitfully. I made it to the point of drop off, where my husband drove to work in the city and i was to walk the rest of the way to the hospital to get my tests. But when it immediately became clear that i couldn’t walk, i had nothing left inside me to deal with losing something that i hold so dear. That we all hold so dear. I’ve got to feel my feelings and listen to my body to get to the next level of healing, and this is what i get? My emotions are hurting me and my body is hurting me too, and now one of my favouritest-best coping tools is no longer in the box.
Too much, World.
Too fucking much.

So i’m on the road trying to walk to the hospital to get my x-rays but i can’t walk and we all cry out and BLINK i’m gone. When the day is over and i’m processing the events with my partner, i tell him of my unmet needs and the feelings i had about it and how it took all the spoons left in my drawer, so that i had none left when i was standing there on the road, barely able to walk. It’s why he received a call from crying children wanting to go home, and it’s why they tried to jump out of the vehicle later when he picked us up, full of frustration and exasperation for being late to work on an important day.
I’m not easy and he’s not perfect.
So a raised voice and cuss words are heard and they’re further rattled, and they bounce around and wail and whine in my head all day long. And now older, caretaker types are pissed off and stompstompstomping through my brain…

After discussion between he and i it’s all good, but i’m spent and jangly.
I fall asleep feeling fairly content, and then wake up suddenly, so hungry i can barely focus. Another moment of toilet-clarity (i’ve had a considerable number of them), i know it’s my wee ones who need feeding so badly. I wash my trembling hands and head to the kitchen. I know it’s going to be a frenzy, and i make a conscious choice to let it happen; to do my best to stay present and watch, perhaps to learn and to be a better help next time.
I’m in the kind of dissociative state where i’m still there, watching, but i cannot affect what i’m doing.
They want toast. They want toast and the lamb gravy from supper. I sit down in my living room with no lights on, and they eat it so fast i think i might accidentally bite my fingers. Once it’s all gone the frantic feelings fade, and i’m able to talk to them again.
Concentrate. Breathe. It’s okay. There’s more. There’s enough. You can eat whenever you want to eat, and you can have whatever you’d like. Wash your hands and face. Look in the mirror. Hi. Breathe. It’s okay. Go rest now.

Tomorrow i want to talk about my mother, and food. I touched on it on my old blog, the one where i disclosed my story, but there is so much more now. I know and i see so much more. It may be triggery stuff for some. For me, i think i might be a little excited to get it all out. I’m done hiding and i’m through with glossing over it.
My body has been trying to tell this story since forever.

No I will not lay down 
I will not live my life like a ghost in this town 
I am not lonely swear to God I’m just alone 
~ The Sound Of, Jann Arden

Mind Your Pace

Let us explore it together. Each man hides a secret pain. It must be exposed and reckoned with. It must be dragged from the darkness and forced* into the light. Share your pain. Share your pain with me, and gain strength from the sharing.
~ Sybok, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier

I figured out that i needed to be back in therapy.
Great. Go me.
There’s not as much sarcasm there as you might imagine. I’ve become conscious/present/mindful enough that i knew something was up before things got seriously problematic.

So I return to my therapist and I find out that i’m an onion, just like everybody else on the planet; I have layers. Whoopee. (Now that was sarcastic.) This is the next level, deeper healing, my body and my brain trying to get back to where it’s supposed to be. I’m cold, so i shiver, i’m hot so i sweat, i’m hungry i eat, i’m tired i sleep, i’m upset, so i soothe.
Except that last one i’m not so good at.

Anytime i’m upset, my system is ready to do its thing. Now, i’ve spent the last few years practising being the head of my inner household, and that’s involved taking the lead as well and as often as i can when i experience anger or fear. It wasn’t easy. Dissociating is something i’ve done since before i could speak, and it’s nearly as reflexive as breathing. I had to learn what triggered it (no problem there – EVERYTHING!) and identify symptoms that sliding was occurring or a switch likely to happen.
Mindfulness. Mindfulness has been absolutely necessary in this process.

For any who aren’t familiar, Google states that mindfulness is “a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.” It’s the least pop-psychology, airy-fairy explanation i’ve found. It’s simple and practical, which often works best for me. My imagination is already over 9000, so something uncomplicated and workable can temper my inner chaos quite nicely.
Learning to turn my awareness inward, and listen to what my body is trying to tell me that it needs is going to increase the degree to which i can function in the world.
I seek fulfillment. I want deeper and more meaningful relationships, with reciprocity. I hope to bring more and better to humanity’s table.

It’s been a bit tricky to find the calm and dispassionate observer inside myself, without switching to a disconnected part of me that i made long ago to perform that function. A desensitised transmogrification i have, because i lacked the ability to stay and do it myself, save under the most benign of circumstances. I could pause and take stock if something physical was going on for me, like a cold, or something gastrointestinal, and i wasn’t too bad at it when my children needed that from me, but beyond that, i don’t think i was in the face for that stuff. Even a small amount of stress and anxiety could mean distance, for me. I might become a numb outlier, frozen in the periphery, watching only, affecting nothing.

I started mindfulness with my therapist, here in my Little Crooked House. At first, i couldn’t even close my eyes, and she had to sit on the far side of the room from me. We began with easy observations, like whether i’m warm or cold, am i hungry, do i have a headache today, how’s my fibro pain… I could feel the calm flowing in just from an easy, surface check-in. I’ve always found these psychological exercises difficult – i can become snarky and eye-rollish. I feel extremely uncomfortable because my mother was into every new therapy that came around, and she expected me to perform for whatever group she was trying to fit into at the time. She wasn’t using these tools to deal with her issues and make a better life for us, she used the people in these groups for attention, for pity, for money. She also had a deep disdain for the practitioners of these various methods. I picked up that scorn and still struggle with it, every time my counsellor brings up something new.
Besides, it never did anything for my mother except make her more dangerous, so my reflex response is usually to cringe and call bullshit.

The breakthrough came in the shower. The bathroom is the most triggery room in the house for me, and i’ve had to fight to develop decent, regular hygiene. It’s not just a reminder of abuse, but also of its aftermath. And there are always mirrors, which are a delicate business. I always dissociate to some extent when i look in one. Touching my face, touching my body, toileting, all these daily activities that occur in the bathroom are minefields for me even when i’m doing well.

One day i’d had enough of feeling scared and repulsed every time i shower. I decided to use what i was learning in therapy. I felt the warm water on my skin. I felt my feet touching the bottom of the tub. I could smell soap. I looked at the shower curtain that i’d bought at the store because the colour calmed me. I reminded myself that i’m not a child anymore, and the people who hurt me in the bathroom are either dead or no longer in my life. My husband wouldn’t allow any of them to get near me. I’m big now and able to defend myself. I like being clean and smelling nice, because it makes me feel normal and capable and strong and grown up.

It worked. I can stay in the shower for longer than 10mins now. I can take hot showers if i want to, and talk myself through it if i get freaked out. I don’t even lock the door anymore. A few years of bathroom mindfulness later and i can stand naked in front of the mirror after showering and do my skincare regimen. I still recede a little to wash my face and do my makeup – but i don’t have to leave anymore and let someone else do it. I never thought i’d be able to use the bathroom like a regular person.

Mindfulness is an effective coping skill whenever i use it, but i still need lots of practise. I’ve brought it into my eating habits with great success. I ask myself if i’m hungry and check in with my body. If i don’t feel it physically, i try not to eat. (I will occasionally allow myself to soothe with food, but it’s rare.) I also try to eat at the table, especially when i’m alone, so i’m conscious of how much i’m eating. It’s also easier to catch myself if i’m gobbling it down. Then i remember that i’m no longer a child going through extreme poverty, nor am i being punished or rewarded with food. I’m a grown woman who has a full refrigerator and a stocked pantry. My mother’s dead and can never starve me again.

Social situations are where i still struggle to use mindfulness. It’s difficult to stop myself from shifting to automatic when i’m around people, but when i do the benefits are amazing and deeply impactful. Some friends actually ask if they can touch me now, and although i’ve come far enough along that i’m mostly okay with physical contact, being asked my permission heals broken parts of me on the deepest level. It gives my system a sense of safety they’ve never had, but desperately wanted. I’ve got a long ways to go, but peopling productively and successfully will require no less than my lifetime i reckon, so i’m reconciled to the work. I love people, and the better i get at being around them, the easier it will be to show them how much.

I brought up mindfulness because i believe it’s part of the reason i lost time on Thursday. The thing about it that’s perhaps the hardest part for me, is that it requires me not to be numb (freeze). I’ve got to find that sweet spot where i’m fully present in my body, but not being swept away by my emotions or overwhelmed by physical sensations, where fight/flight can kick in. I must venture out from the graveyard where my brain hides, and be manifest among the living. To not only see but to be seen.

This will take time and effort, which i knew, but there was a piece missing. My therapist had been gently trying to show me, week after week, but i kept missing her point.
I’ve done all this work over the years, all this incredibly hard work. And it took maximum effort and total commitment. It was arduous, but i did it assiduously. Some of it was nothing short of brutal. I can do time and effort.

So i came into this a little puffed up. I have accomplished a lot, and i figured that i was so experienced at this kind of inner work, that i was gonna power through it and just get it done. My childhood was hellish and i survived. I live with a bunch of other people in my brain and i make it work. I got this.
My body seeks homeostasis, so i must establish a baseline? Okay, lemme jus’ go back to my therapist for a few sessions, she’ll tell me what i have to do, i’ll do it – boom. Done.

I’m having trouble writing some transitional sentences to get you to the point i’m trying to make. I think my difficulty is a reflection of where i’m at with this bit of information. The knowledge that i can’t push or power through this next bit of treatment. This foul chunk of reality that i must chew and swallow if i want my dessert. It chased me right out of my own damn face.
I have to be mindful while i go through the traumatic events of my childhood. I must meet my Bits N’ Pieces where they’re at, join hands with them, and feel what they feel while knowing what i know. Mindfulness can’t be done quickly. Mindfulness is methodical. I can’t just take a quick dip in this slough. I can’t just burn rubber and rip through the neighbourhood.

Pardon me, but fuck, fuckety-fuck.

Back around 10yrs ago, i barfed up my story for my husband, and a few blog buddies. I shut that blog down tight shortly thereafter and i don’t discuss it with my husband unless i absolutely have to, which up until a few months ago, wasn’t very often. And one of my favourite things about my therapist, was that she never asked me to tell my story.

Well.
<insert Maximus Profanitatum here>

Everything inside me was created to hide the truth. I was hardwired never to speak about it, to denydenydeny. I dealt with that by mastering the way my brain works.
The leader of my pack.
The Wah-wah-wah teacher of my own Peanut Gallery.
I am Queen Face of Cuckoo Island.
But the first rule of Fight Club applies. (Yeah, i don’t care for the trope, but it was an excellent movie, and i saw it before i found my anger about it.)

I’ve become close with my system. With some i’m parental, with some i’m the boss, but i’m friends with them all, and i love every one: deeply, emphatically, and unconditionally. They’ve taught me how to love myself, because of course, they are me. Yet i loved them as a separate entity first. I looked at it like, they lived in my brain, but they weren’t a part or product of my brain. (Having mutant-level imagination made these concepts easy for me to grasp, but i think you’ll get the gist.) The time came where i’d learned enough about them and had enough conscious awareness as a multiple, that these partitions in my mind melted away, and i had a psychological experience of them as part of me and my brain.

That experience has made my life richer and finer by far, but the abuse is not discussed, per se. There are little bits that are trapped in a moment, and those that are not much more than emotion, but i gently care for them, and conversation about what or why they are hasn’t seemed necessary. Until now. And i understand why this process can’t be rushed and must be mindful. They are delicate creatures, and they’ve been through more than enough already. They need me to hold their hand while they tell their story, and so i will.

I know now why a good therapist had to let me walk away, knowing that i probably wasn’t done yet. Because it must all be my choice:

– how to live with how my brain works,
– how involved with other humans i want to be,
– how much real world function would i like to have,
– what is healing?
– what is successful?
– what is fulfilling/fulfilled?

And the most important thing of all is that it must be on my time. None of this can ever be forced* – not by her, not even by me. She said it a couple of weeks ago and it’s reverberated in my head ever since. She said that she would never, ever try to force us to do anything we didn’t want to do. She said that forcing is abuse, and we were forced, over and over, and that needs to not happen again.
This means that i have no idea how long this process will take, but it ain’t gonna be done anytime soon.

I love Star Trek, and i’ve seen all the movies (don’t even talk to me about the reboots, as they don’t count in my world). Since i accepted that i must move through this process slowly and meaningfully, i keep thinking about The Final Frontier. I see myself as Sybok, moving amongst these strange aliens and offering to share their pain.

It is through maudlin sentimentality, dark humour, and cheesy movies, that i will survive.

Stay tuned.

*It’s a great quote, and fits, except for his use of force. Sybok was a bit off, and he was wrong about god, so i think it still works for me. Heh.

The Push and the Pull

Get away from her, you bitch!
~Ripley, Aliens (1986)

I saw my therapist today, and it was both easier and harder than the last time. It was more uncomfortable, and also less. I hated going and i was anxious, but i was glad to be there, and relieved to be doing the work. I go about every 2wks. I’d like to go weekly, but man, that ain’t cheap, so i’ll take what i can get. About 3 days before my next appointment, feelings are bubbling up, percolating. I’m anticipating and fretting and winding up. I put it somewhere in the background, but not too far back. I need to be tuned in to what’s going on, but i keep it far enough away that it won’t keep me from seeing her. The day before can be dicey – my skin is thin and my restraint, low. The drive in is both a buildup of emotional tension and a hopeful sort of intellectual relaxation.

Today is the first day since i resumed therapy that she hasn’t asked me why i think i’m there. Last week i commented on it as i answered her -again- and added that i’d guessed her doing so indicated that i wasn’t getting it. I can’t remember what followed after her acknowledgment that it was so. She asked me if i’d done the homework she gave me last week, and i couldn’t remember what that was.

When i get to her office, the disparity, the ambiguity, the ambivalence, it’s all intensifying. When i see her, i’m standing on the 3m dive tower, and she’s the lifeguard at poolside telling me i can jump. I hold my breath and step off, landing in the rocking chair (is it a rocking chair?) as she closes the door. I’m holding my collective brain-breath as i’m putting my knapsack and my coffee down, my whole body is thrumming, fuzzy, like a heavy bass line played through shitty speakers.
She always asks me how i’m doing and i never know. I say “okay” without conviction, or “meh”, or i shrug, or just say “i’m here”. I now how to look inward and check in with my feelings, and i’m a decent communicator, but i’m suddenly unable to come up with anything that seems satisfactory. Nothing fits, or rather, nothing fits everyone, and i have a lot of Bits N’ Pieces paying attention.

Some of them are only barely there; they’re groggy, drugged, sleepy, and when they turn their attention her way, parts of my body feel the same. Some areas are numb, some are warm and buzzy-fuzzy, but it’s not in a pleasant way. It’s like bees all brushing up against each other, and i don’t like it and i’m afraid.
Others are laser-focused on her, but from a minimum safe distance. They are afraid, and angry too. They are Ripley, ready to nuke her from orbit.

Don’t misunderstand me – it’s just a literary device for comparison, delivered via an injection of humour, which is always appropriate in my world. I am not, nor is any part of me, a physical danger to my therapist.
But i can feel them glowering at her from their hiding spots. When the people who made you rape and beat you, it wrecks you in catastrophic ways. With few exceptions, they are not well-developed or sophisticated. Some are moments in time stuck in my brain, playing over and over. Some are emotions that i could neither bear nor process. Some are a bit more, like flat characters – they aren’t intricate or well fleshed out, and they don’t change or grow. Like the good little girl in the frilly dress that always does as she’s told,  or the troubled teenager that hides in their room, listening to dark music and writing darker poetry. No matter who they are, how tangibly they exist, or what affect they have on me, those who hide and glower trust no one outside of my brain. Hell, they barely trust me, and i’ve been working hard at it for over a decade.

She checks in and asks how/what i’m feeling every few minutes. I sit there, combing through all the words, trying to say any of them, say one of them. Keep it simple: sad, mad, bad, good, scared… But the answer is YES and so, which one? I try to say just that, what i’ve just written here, and i can’t. I’m bombarded with opinions/feelings on what words to say, or if i should say any. I stumble and sputter and end up not saying much of anything. This is not like me. I regularly deal with explosions of emotion and/or chatter from my people. Even those who know me well often don’t know when it’s happening.

Before i knew i was a multiple, and long before i’d accepted it, i would have these explosions in my head and they’d cause me to act out. There were times i’d disappear. My mother mostly didn’t notice, but other people did. I got separated from my aunt in a Sears department store once, when a man approached me. I remember running outside and then walking around the neighbourhood for hours. I don’t know how i got home, but i do recall that it was late in the day, and the front room was filled with people and murmuring voices when i returned (was returned?) to Auntie’s house. I was 5 or 6. A year or less later i remember punching the glass of a framed print of my mother’s. Big red flowers with spiderweb cracks and my own fresh paint. I can see myself now, sleepwalking it into my bedroom and hiding it under the bed. She beat me when she found it. Then there was the time i put the kitten in the fridge. I was trying to hide her from a bad man who was coming and i knew he’d hurt my kittens. I can’t remember where i stashed the one, but i found the other in the fridge, mewling and covered in spilt Tang.

Stressor — brain overload — hide
By the time i was 8 or 9, i’d developed this way to cope, and before i hit junior high, i’d stopped breaking stuff and hurting myself.
I still went for long walks, though. Always with the walking. The internal imperative to GO HOME, but it was never the place i lived.
As an adult, even that stopped and was replaced with other things: food, booze, sex.
When i finally, officially met my internal roommates, i hit the road again with a goddamn vengeance.

She’s asking me how i’m feeling, and i don’t fucking know (ALL the feels! NOTHING!) and i can’t fucking say (too many WORDS!!) and i WANT.
the FUCK.
OUT!!

She sees and knows my head is exploding.
She draws my attention to my twitching feet, or my bouncing knees, or my arms crossed over parts of my body, or hands balled into fists, or switching tics. (If i can’t/won’t leave physically, you’d best believe i’m going to get out/away from this, regardless.)
She asks me what i’m feeling ( *eyeroll* FUUUUCK!)
-no-
Not an emotion – what physical sensations am i currently experiencing?
-oh-
– in my feet (walk! get away)
– in my arms (cover up! hide)
– in my fists (punch! protect)
– in my head/face (cantgetawayhideprotect SWITCH!)

So she says, Let’s give your body what it’s asking for, and she brings my attention to that part of my body and gives me something physical to do with it: movement of some kind, like stretching, or an object to use, like a pillow or blanket.
Then she asks, How does that part feel now? and i can get out a word or 2 like, “good”, “okay”, “better”.

When i was seeing her regularly before, one of my favourite things was that she almost never spoke to my system, even indirectly. In my long, storied history with mental health professionals, they all started out with having me talk about my childhood, which always led to what i saw as playing with my brain. When one of them would suspect i was a multiple, they would ask for their names and then ask to speak to someone. They looked at me like a cartoon mouse staring at a piece of cheese.

I know now she let me leave therapy, knowing there was more work left to do.
I wonder if she thought i’d be back.

I’ve come back to her, anxious and losing control because there are some voices that i haven’t heard for a while. My system and i all thought they were dead, and now we’re afraid that is to be the fate of them all. They don’t want to die, and i can’t imagine how life would or even could be, without them.
They saved my life, and helped me navigate being alive. Is getting better killing them?
Does being well have to mean being integrated?

She says: I want all your people in there to know that i have no interest in hurting anyone, or making anyone go away. I want them to know that it is impossible for them to die, or otherwise disappear.
She’s talking to them like a mother would talk to the room where she knows her child is hiding. Like, “I wonder where H could be? I hope she comes to the kitchen soon, because i’m making her favourite – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches!”

Before, they were watching her, watching how she treated me and watching my reaction. Now, some have moved beyond observation and are actively listening to what she’s saying. Some have had to move to be within earshot.

She asks me how i’m feeling, and i cannot speak.
But i can cry.

The push and the pull has been my whole life. Feeling one way but also it’s opposite. Knowing what is and yet that it is not. Not believing what i know to be true. Trying to keep back the things that would consume me. The encroachment of age and the return to innocence. Walking into the light, towards the black promise of entropy. Living on water and dust.
There is no dark or light side, only the force.
There is neither devil on my shoulder, nor angel – it’s just me.

Anyway, i’d better get back, ’cause it’ll be dark soon, and they mostly come at night… mostly.

Image shown: The Defiance of Entropy, Andrew Netherwood