Monday, November 21, 2011


I think a lot about the past. The things I regret. The actions I made, the naivety, the ignorance - perhaps forgiving others more than I forgive myself. Arriving unsure of where to place boundaries, when to lend myself a kind hand when others would not. I think of the relationships I severed with otherwise close friends, afraid of how toxic they could be when my own emotional habits remained unchecked - distance becoming my safe house, ever uncertain of where love existed. I think of these patterns - how, for years, I was angry at myself for the assaults against me - how I blamed myself for being naive, loathing myself for being "intelligent," an "empathetic doormat," but not keen enough to label abuse and put it in its place, not courageous enough to feel no self-doubt, self-pity, self-destruction, living in a perpetual nightmare where I was afraid I would wake up alone and unsuccessful, waiting for people to proclaim their hatred towards me, to walk away. I blame myself for things, constantly - as if I were always supposed to be aware, hyper-vigilant, unwaveringly kind and sharp - not the girl who bumbles through flirting, butchers intimacy and boundaries in any form of relationship, blaming herself for not being better/faster/stronger (thinking of close-minded and ignorant blog posts such as "trauma feminist" post, wondering if the world of advocacy could forgive me when I mislabeled myself and shamed others efforts with my own ignorance). Pacing, restraining, biting my lips until the right words come out - I grow more and more aware of my privilege of everyday, and saddened by the fact I have it better than a majority of people in this world and still come home feeling exhausted, regretting things, blaming myself, body-tired mind-heavy, remembering in the thickets of my skull of all those who have less resources than me who work harder/receive less/stick out as a knave in the corruption of the economic and politically oppressive systems.

I do not sleep on nights like this. It's almost a punishment, reminding myself of the wear and tear. It's almost like the series of suitcases in White Oleander. Except I cannot pack myself into these boxes, sleepless over the graves of the future, the past that remains unburied with motives I still question, wondering how the symbols fall into place, when the past will end.

I think of sitting in a mental health professional's office, listening to her tell me my depression isn't severe enough to qualify for inpatient hospitalization, as she remarks "getting into inpatient hospitalization is more difficult than getting into an Ivy League college these days," too stubborn to say the words I would've easily said (and meant) years ago, depression so deep that thoughts of suicidality were pervasive. I somehow stopped qualifying the more I learned to deviate from the past, crudely coping on my own. She tells me she's been working with "women's trauma for years," but will not listen to me as I say I cannot afford that type of time off work that she is recommending for a separate program. She acts as if my job is an inconvenience - she does not ask about my coping mechanisms. She is putting me into a box, ignoring the vastness of trauma, and the reality that "women's trauma" is based on a series of oppressions including economic oppression (insert easily found statistics about how little land women own/how many hours women work/how much less they receive than men). I do not say anything: she is putting me into a box, one where my depression, my coping skills, my identity does not adequately fit into.

I remember not knowing my abuser, what abuse was. Being afraid Child Protective Services would find me. Scavenging homes in the spare rooms and blow-up mattresses and couches of my friends. Cutting so many classes they would almost not let me graduate high school. Over 20 medications. Over 15 therapists. Crunching down to bills and $1 in the bank account. Smoking cigarettes and nude modeling. Being involuntary hospitalized once (and almost again). Being recommended rehab. Drinking so much coffee, taking too much classes, working too many hours that my body would not shut down - falling asleep at inopportune times against my will, 2 hours a slot, dropping down to 100 pounds: hospitalized again. The thumb of economic oppression, waiting to lose all that I had been given because I had refused to lie and accept an abusive reality as one that was okay. I remember feeling nothing the first time I had sex - knowing I was nothing but a thing. Scraping the system, body exposed, scavenging for money amidst mood swings. I could not regret how I didn't feel anything, because most of the time I felt too much. Desensitized through vodka, my memories would not leave me alone. Being told of my greatness, my strength, my talents, my intelligence - feeling none of these things: feeling survival, knowing that others have survived "worse."

I wonder how long it will take me to regret this entry, laying myself down before the internet, vulnerabilities and truth: the fact that I think every night of the people I have deeply burned in my own attempt to survive, the fact that I think walls mean protection. So tired I bottom out below the looking glass. I know my whole life people have been telling me (and likely will continue to do so) who I am, who I'm not, what I should do with my life - trying to stick me into a box, label me, give me an identity. I know they will find a way to make a definition stick. I know that I, too, have engaged in these behaviors. It is my greatest hope, amongst all my mistakes and re-learning, that these identities begin to slip away until there's nothing left except the narrative of truth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Preserving Your Sanctuary: Reality with PTSD, etc.

A lot of things have happened to me within the past few years, even within the past few months - and it's been more than a test of resilience. I find that with, having PTSD, every present moment becomes a test in and of itself - a question of awareness and hypervigilance. Being hypervigilant has a negative connotation, in the sense that it presents an over-alertness and intensified awareness of surroundings and motivations. Hypervigilance is sick - people who are hypervigilant have issues - they don't settle into their skin, they don't settle into the moment, they do not trust things to stay the same, constant, welcoming. I am admittedly quite hypervigilant, and half the time I'm not even aware of how hypervigilant I am. But it should be noted that I work in the mental health field and pursue the methodologies of writing and art with the idea that these otherwise troubling aspects associated with "mental illness" can simultaneously be our best gifts and our most creative assets if used properly. So, in this moment, I am very grateful for my hypervigilance: it keeps me alive, and more importantly, it keeps me from repeating the past. It maintains the progress I've made in looking back at my past littered with various abusive relationships, most of which masqueraded as love and self-blaming inadequacy. I mentioned to a coworker the other day that I don't trust anyone or any company or anything that masquerades as "perfect" or "above the others" or "a fully healing process," an organization or person that presents him/her/zeself as the only solution and best solution and full solution to any problem - those people and organizations trouble me. My coworker joked that this was because I was a cynical New Yawka. I responded that it was because, no, I just learned everyone has flaws and chances are, if you're masquerading as a person or company above and beyond flaws, you have some insecurity complex to work out because no one is perfect, and if you look closely into anyone's past, you will assuredly find one moment they regret or misstep. To err is human.

I may be cynical, but as this NPR article on mental illness and leadership postulates, I am also likely very realistic. In all my life experiences and mood swings and flashbacks, I had to find reality and define it every day - and still do. I learned to gauge: is this the bipolar? Is this the medications? Is it that time of the month? Was what that person said actually offensive - was my personal space and integrity violated and insulted? Is this happiness a fleeting euphoria linked to mania, am I genuinely happy? What does this feel like, why am I feeling it, is the feeling justified or biochemical or linked to memory/situation/projection and transference from trauma?

I get that most people don't live the way I do, or perhaps think the way I do. But this is the way I think most days - and I try to respect the world with the mindset I come in with and be fair to everyone else who has the distinct possibility of crossing me. And I try to treat my clients with the same respect and encourage them to fully consider things both objectively and subjectively, so they can channel their emotions in the proper direction.

And being an individual with PTSD, realizing your triggers and channeling your emotions in the proper direction is infinitely important to me and the way I cope with both the present and the past, respecting both and acknowledging the individuals in both - being hyper-aware and hyper-vigilant of myself and my surroundings helps me preserve the present, enhance my future, and help stifle the past from letting it dominate my judgments negatively when it could actually affect me positively through all the warning signs my life provided me.

In the past few years, noting all the turmoil I went through (mostly family related, but largely focused on identifying abuse and extricating it from my life on every level), I sacrificed a lot of things I love for the sake of what I perceived to be survival. I slowly stopped writing or reading at all. I stopped singing. I was hospitalized in an inpatient facility, and the counselor asked me what I did for fun, and that was when I realized I didn't do anything fun as I was left to stammer out: "I just... work." (As I threw fits about them confiscating my laptop, preventing me from completing academic work ;) ). It continued for at least a year or so even after graduating undergraduate studies - reading, writing, singing, doing the things I love suddenly became anxiety prone and stressful. Along this journey, I learned to sacrifice these things because suddenly, they stopped being about me. I met people, who I'm sure had good intentions, try to lead me one way or the other because they saw my potential in various areas and were very determined for me to follow their instructions that would assuredly lead me to greatness. This happened repeatedly. While this attention is flattering and my talents and intelligence are repeatedly noted throughout the various sectors of my life, it doesn't stop these sort of conversations from suddenly turning into a matter that has nothing to do with your ideas or your actual potential, but rather, what people want to see you do with your potential as it will greatly benefit their plans for you, their happiness, their reality and life choice convenience. Which is to say, the things I loved quickly became an otherwise draining and invalidating pursuit as I frequently found my own thoughts on what I wanted to do with my life, what I found important, and what I loved to do became inconsequential if it did not address the other person's needs and desires. If I did not think or love or care the way they wanted to, I was somehow useless and insignificant and wasting my time. Which sounds awfully like an abusive dialect to me.

Something, thanks to my hypervigilance, I am able to pick out incredibly quickly these days. Notably, I've begun to read and write again in bits the past few months, and have taken up singing here and there - of course, nowhere near to the extent I want to be - but it's a start. And I also notably put up with a lot less bullshit. For disclosure purposes, I can say this post is largely motivated by the fact I've spent the past month arguing with an insurance company over getting coverage for my mental health providers.... and is also motivated by interpersonal conflicts at work, where I realized I was putting in ample efforts beyond my status and job description (and have been doing so for months) and have not been adequately compensated in terms of money or adequate respect. With both these instances, I have been very upset - my immediate response was to feel depressed and blame myself or feel victimized that I live in a world where I am "punished" for trying to obtain what I need for basic survival (emotionally and financially). However, briefly after, another voice bounced in, in both instances, wherein I became somewhat passionately defiant and confident and enraged. A voice climbed into my head and said "I don't need this. I know what I'm worth. Shit, they can't treat me this way. I'm better than this. This was my past. I'm not going back there - I'm never going back there. If they think they're going to treat me this way and get by with invalidating my needs and punishing me for demanding what I'm worth and for what I need, they have another thing coming." Which isn't to say this isn't still at least partially depression - because it is. The important part is that due to years of hypervigilance and assessment of reality, I was able to bounce back substantially quicker than I used to - and rather than blame myself for demanding what I need out of this life (to get by without being substantially stressed each month), I realized that the likely culprits who should be blamed are the individuals who are reacting to my expression for need in such a negative and defacing light, that, for a moment I forgot the difference between the past and present and felt my abuser come into the present and impact my mood substantially, forgetting I had survived that already. Because, frankly, I know a personal life trigger when I see one. And when I see the trigger, I know its place, and I know that those triggers come with certain agendas and that my life intention is to stay far away from those agendas, triggers, and power-manipulating attitudes. I am done with all that. And I've noticed the fact that I'm done with all that is very alarming to a lot of people - that this intrinsic self-worth and the "this is bullshit" trigger radar - are not very convenient for people who would like to see my skills and other wonderful qualities pan out the way would best suit them.

I write this not because the "me who suffered severe prolonged depressions throughout high school and college, who lived under an abusive victimized mindset" is totally high five-ing the "me who can now largely compartmentalize triggers, minimize the impact of stressors, and continue on with her normal ADL skills/life as you know it while simultaneously being aware of her worth and when people are stepping on her Personal Boundaries which should not be disrespected," but because it's important to consider. Preserving the sanctity of your reality from being haphazardly power-maneuvered by individuals who would like to conveniently micromanage your worth into something that benefits them more than you when you are living your own life agenda is something that should become daily meditation. This sort of conflict is the type of conflict I find peace in - because, despite it all, I know I'll find myself at the end of the day (again and again), the more I assert my right to live a life where I am safe, where my necessities are met, where I am not impeded upon by another person's agenda and have the freedom to live out my potential as I see fit.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am. I am. I am.” - Sylvia Plath.