Category Archives: PTSD

Crafting a Relationship

Today is therapy day, which I am a fan of a solid 99% of the time. That 1% is usually a wandering, crabby, (frankly) pissy sort of day… and with the weather so nice today I don’t think I could be too crabby if my life depended on it!

My therapist is working on an internship, she just finished her degree -which is why her services have been so readily available to me. She is less experienced, which means she is something of a discount therapist (I think they keep those in the bin at Walmart behind the discount dvd bins) but her lack of field experience has not been an issue for our relationship.

For the most part.

And perhaps part of me likes the idea that I am teaching her something while she is teaching me. A swap, if you will, of screwed up information.

The trouble with this set up is that her internship ends in August, which means we only have a handful of (maybe 4?) appointments left. I readily agreed to this plan when I started going to the clinic, but now that I am almost upon the end of this relationship I find myself very sorry to see her go.

My relationships with medical professionals (and therapists) has been spotty at best. My income and insurance situation (i.e. none, right now anyway) has fluctuated wildly in the last 10 years, which has not provided me any stability in the realm of doctors or therapists I’ve seen. I have been on a series of at least 4 or 5 different insurance plans, while phasing in and out of those plans I’ve had nothing. On top of that, I have a pretty significant distrust of mental health providers (and all doctors, really) that has stemmed out of various advice from bad ones, and my own (admittedly) irrational paranoia after being abused by my caretakers in a mental health facility at the age of 17.

It has taken me an exceptionally long time to realize that not everyone is going to attack me for no apparent reason, but I spent years showing up to doctors or therapist offices with vague inclinations that they didn’t know what they were talking about, or that they didn’t have my best interest at heart, or that they really just didn’t get me at all. Of course, I didn’t give them a chance to know me, so I was setting myself up for failure in that department, but my tally of doctor or therapist one night stand sorts of visits is off the charts. For whatever reason. For every reason. Etc.

So this relationship I have currently with my therapist is one for the record books. I don’t recall entirely when I began seeing her (I was in a pretty wicked place at the time, I don’t remember most of last year due to the ultra-intense depressive episode I had) but there was a point where I said,

“you know, I’ve made it past the hump. The point where I’ve always quit therapy, and I am amazed at how different this day feels as opposed to day one.”

I will really be bummed to see her go, mostly because the notion of having to familiarize yet another person with the goings-on of my life sounds absolutely exhausting. I find it agonizing sitting across from someone who has a completely empty concept of me that I have control of pouring things into. I have a knack for getting a little creative with the pouring, if you know what I mean… and I have a hard time not creating a mold for a character instead of me. It isn’t that I want to hide the truth, I just find it too much fun to create fiction.

I am hoping I will find some wisdom about this when I get there today, something about re-creating this kind of relationship with a therapist. I know it is fairly straightforward, but my mind wanders sometimes… and unless one of us is on track, I have trouble getting over that hump.

A Biopsy, Emotional and Otherwise

About a week ago I visited the dermatologist for the first time. I wasn’t really sure what to expect (getting poked with cold metal sticks? A giant skin magnifying glass? Maybe I watch too many science fiction films…) but I knew I wanted to ask a few questions.

After my general skin questions were answered (yes, the dermatologist said the most likely cause of my acne was the lithium I have been taking the last two years, surprise surprise) I asked about moles. Who should get them checked? When should they be checked? How does it work?

Instead of telling me she just began to look at them, and then quickly decided (though I am not at big risk for skin cancer, living up in Seattle where the sun never reaches my skin anyway) there was one mole that she wanted to biopsy.

For those of you (like me) who have never been to a dermatologist, biopsy just means they want to cut it off and study it, apparently.

I had no problem with it, jumped up on her table, she did her thing, and I walked away with one less mole.

The thing was, though… as I walked to the bus I found myself feeling increasingly alienated.

This is the first physical piece of me, I quickly concluded, that has ever been removed. Well, apart from teeth. But really, how often is a slice of your physical being removed?

Nausea crept in, and by the time I reached the bus stop the world began spinning and I had to collapse on a bench, sharing it with a silver life-size cast-iron statue of a naked man.

Over the course of the last week, this horrified feeling about a portion of me being taken has returned any time I needed to clean the area and replace the dressing.

After thinking long and hard about it, I don’t know that this is necessarily an unfamiliar feeling. True my horror and slight up-chuck reflex is a bit more present on the physical side of things, but that mental feeling of something being taken is what really bothers me the most.

I can’t help but wonder if anyone else has associated this feeling of loss, or damage to one’s being in response to receiving a diagnosis of mental illness?

I don’t remember many of the moments where I have been handed a new diagnosis of mental illness, bipolar disorder, OCD (which I remember slightly I think), PTSD, the anxiety disorder… but I do remember a range of different feelings upon hearing these things.

Initially;

  • Disbelief
  • Skepticism
  • Excitement (as weird as that is, I found it exciting to have potential explanations to what I was dealing with)

The same reactions I had when I heard the dermatologist wanted to remove my mole.

It wasn’t until the moment I’m alone and faced with whatever obvious wound remained after the discussion;

  • Racing thoughts
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks

Suddenly I could see it in the face, this oozy, gross place, uncovered by the emotional biopsy done by whatever psychiatrist, Doctor X. 

And my response is the same as looking at the place where that mole was. Horror, a grimace, and the overwhelming nagging feeling like I have just been robbed of a piece of me. A piece of what would have been a normal life, perhaps.

What confuses me the most is that I’ve had time to look at this yuckiness enough to get used to it. The emotional yuckiness, anyway, -the mole thing still grosses me out. Over the last 10 years, I’ve had time to adjust (though, somewhat slowly) to living with this “missing piece” or “wrong piece” or whatever one might call it (maybe just an odd piece), and it is something I’ve integrated into my life.

So I admit, when the mole biopsy happened I didn’t think right away of that old emotional biopsy of a mental illness diagnosis. My thoughts went straight for the idea that there may be one day I could go to the doctor who would do an emotional biopsy that slices off my bipolar disorder. They will check it in the lab, and I will receive an envelope in the mail that says everything went well.

If these irregularities in me are removed, would I react in horror? Would I feel overwhelmed with the notion that a part of my being was now lost, the way I felt about a little meaningless brown piece of skin?

They say the mind grieves when a diagnosis of mental illness is given because of the loss of a life and many dreams that will no longer realistically happen. We have to adapt, to evolve as our lives continue -with whatever comes our way.

So would the mind grieve the loss of mental illness if it was suddenly removed? Absolutely.

Part of me feels terrified to think about that, but the answer is just the same as in the opposite situation. We adapt. We evolve. Life continues.

So I will adapt and evolve with my (minus one) mole situation. Maybe I’ll be gifted a really cool scar, but until then I’ll just keep cleaning it and throw a dab of ointment on there.

Confronting Trauma

Over the last three weeks I have quit practically everything that could be considered a crutch cold-turkey. Even donuts. And I effing love donuts.

I have been allowing myself a cup of tea now and again though, because seriously. This is painful.

It all started for two reasons.

1. I wanted to see just what exactly was effecting me, and how.

and

2. I have started “working” (and by working I mean being tortured) on dealing with issues of past trauma.

Apparently, the story with trauma is that people are supposed to grieve it before they can move on. When it is particularly gruesome, however, a lot of folks just cram those feelings in a bottle, stick a cork on it, and shove it in the back of the mental closet somewhere.

Meanwhile, over the last few years whatever was in that bottle has fermented, and it is stinking up the place. From what I understand, I am supposed to uncork the bottle, experience all of the negative emotions and memories (without me repressing them again) a little bit at a time, and then dispose of the bottle in some biohazard area.

So grieving + cleaning = potential elimination of (at least some of) my PTSD problems that have been getting quite bad.

I am no psychologist, so this is a very rudimentary understanding.

Taking in the upsetting information in chewable bites has been tricky. Part of me wants to absorb as much of it as I can at once to try and get it over with, but it doesn’t work that way.

It is like treading water, and someone hands me a bowling ball with some magic healing words on it. I try, as fast as I can, to read the words on the ball before it pulls me to too far down to safely drop the ball and swim back up to the surface. If I hold onto it for too long, I could potentially drown.

Then I keep getting handed a hundred more bowling balls.

Anyway, there are also theories that partaking in anything that will numb my emotions will only prolong the process and make it worse, because seeking solace in anything that will numb things will ultimately just repressing them again, even though it feels better. 

I have only been working on this for about two weeks now, but it took months to whip myself into the sort of mental frenzy where opening pandora’s box seemed like a good idea, rather than something that should stay hidden for all eternity.

I really find the idea of this whole experience terrifying, but I know that is how PTSD operates. It keeps me from getting help by instilling in me the terror associated with having to re-live the ordeal(s) over and over again, while screwing around with my life in silly-yet-serious ways in the meantime.

Of course, one of the books I have says I will likely get depressed while I’m trying to work out all of these negative emotions swirling around, which is just peachy. I am not entirely convinced that this intense ball of conflicting emotions really got the ball rolling on the mixed episodes I had been having. The whole thing is extremely unpleasant and makes me want to flail around, and then my face has been hurting from clenching my jaw so hard. This week has been easier, I am working on some kind of dance I can do to step into and out of the ick.

At this point, like with the Lithium, I am being handed a model of something that has worked for other people. It is rather unpleasant (and definitely yucky), but this is something I have to try because there is the chance it might work. 

Right now in my life, the universe is being somewhat stingy about the opportunities it gives me to improve my symptoms -for bipolar disorder, for anxiety, but for PTSD especially. There isn’t a pill for PTSD, unfortunately, and pretty much all of the “helpful” sorts of drugs associated are antidepressants, which I clearly cannot take.

I’ve been trying hard to keep an open mind about this, and I know it will ultimately feel much worse before it begins to feel better, but at least there is a chance it will feel better.

Because leaving that bottle to rot certainly did more harm than good.