To discuss trauma or not?

Over the years I have encountered many therapists, I have seen people of varying levels of expertise and the way they work has been very different. Most of those who I saw in the past had a keen focus on the trauma itself, desperately wanting me to regurgitate the events of my childhood. But is that the best approach for recovery, does it help to go over and over the bad things that happened.

 

image

Due to my dissociation I have many gaps in my memory of my childhood, my brain has been good at protecting me and locked many horrors away. I have found over the years those memories spilling out into the here and now, snap shots of trauma which often haven’t been the full details of an incident. The memories have often been just enough to give me a clear idea of the event, what happened without all the terrifying finer details. Sometimes they have been drip fed to me, so a snippet of the event one day and then a week later another piece of the event. Weeks pass and eventually the whole horror of an abusive event has been revealed. Other times the memories come flooding back in an instant, with a flashback or body memory overwhelming me and sending me into a bit of a frenzy.

 

There are times when I really can’t cope with what I’ve remembered, it becomes too overwhelming, too consuming, and yet I have learnt to process in a better way too. So I can say I can’t deal with this particular trauma memory now I need to wait till therapy to think about this in any detail, it’s my way of protecting me. I can now accept sometimes that I’m not at risk right now, but it’s not easy and any trauma memory holds feelings of terror and pain.

 

Trauma and abuse have been a significant part of my life, it started when I was small and continued for years, in fact all through my childhood. I can’t name all my abusers but I can at times see their faces, I can tell you much of what happened because my memory has now revealed many of the horrors I endured. But I still have gaps in time and I still have periods of abuse were I only have part of the memory.

image

In therapy for much of the early years of treatment, the professionals who treated me wanted me to share that trauma with them. They felt that me and in turn my alters revealing the past trauma was important to recovery. I would be encouraged to share the past, to regurgitate the horrors in all their gory detail, often through tears and great pain. Yet I never had the ability to process those memories, I never felt attached to them.

 

For much of my early years of treatment I felt irritated at the thought these people wanted me to share my inner most secrets. I recall one therapist and I falling out over the fact she would push for more graphic detail, when I felt it wasn’t needed. I didn’t feel able to share my secrets and I knew I didn’t have them all, my memory had stored them well away, locked out of even my reach.

 

 

One would push for information which I didn’t have, causing me to dissociate in session and thus losing time. She would expect me to spill the beans as she put it, yet I didn’t know what the fragments I had meant and I just wanted to understand. Throughout this time I wanted to know what had happened in my past, why I lost time and why I would dissociate. It just led to more and more confusion and concern, which at the time didn’t help me or my recovery.

image

One therapist insisted on naming my parts and seemed to want to give them identities, I felt that my alters were totally different people and their memories were not mine but theirs. I now realise of course my alters are parts of me and the memories they carry are mine, locked away from me to ensure my safety and sanity at the time. I also now understand we all dissociate every single one of us, you and me, when we drive a familiar route and suddenly realise we are further on than we thought – that’s dissociation.

 

Of course I dissociated in a bit more of an extreme way, I switched off as a child to avoid the horrors of my abuse and it probably kept me alive. I know now that my alters are just parts of me, not separate people as such but fragmented parts of me, they formed when I dissociated as a child. Unlike most people who grow up in a seamless way, my 5 year old me wasn’t able to become 6 year old me she stayed locked inside of me – held by the terror of that time. Hence why I have lots of parts, lots of different bits of me who today are my alters, they carry memories of my past that I didn’t know. They need time, nurture, parenting if you like and they have skills and talents which I so value today, but until recently didn’t realise I had. Some have a function, like my protector whose job was to carry the frustration of not being able to protect myself as a child. I couldn’t protect me back then, but today she ensures we are safe and protected especially when threats similar to the past come to the fore.

 

So the idea of giving them separate lives and detailed identities wasn’t in reality so helpful, the memories they hold are my memories. I need to process those memories as my own not someone else’s. But do I really need to regurgitate my past in all its gory detail, do I need to try and reassemble each trauma memory in order to recover from my abuse.

 

My current therapy does involve trauma work, but not in all its minute detail, the aim isn’t to regurgitate the past as such, it’s to process the emotions that are attached to those memories. I don’t need to divulge every moment of a trauma event, but I do need to explore how that trauma impacts in my today. So I am having to process the emotions that go alongside the trauma itself, but I don’t have to start going through incidents in the way I was forced to years ago.

 

Processing trauma is an integral part of therapy but how that’s done can vary greatly from one professional to another, I know for me the key hasn’t been to regurgitate the past, it’s been to process the emotions that go alongside the trauma, those emotions that co-exist with the trauma. Emotions matter more than the actual trauma itself and learning to understand that and deal with them is so important on the road to recovery. I do not see myself ever regurgitating the past trauma again, it will be discussed in a more generalised way. Instead I will be focusing upon the feelings and how it impacts me now, rather than trying to remember every little detail of my past.

 

 

Copyright DID dispatches 2015

Delays in posting

I just wanted to update people, Sorry I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks now but life’s been a bit chaotic. I had a bit of a relapse a couple of weeks ago due to a trigger and so have felt quite fragile. I’m ok and trying to focus on just getting on with life, I am aware I’m  cramming my days full as a coping mechanism.  I need to stop and have a good old cry and then I should be able to get back on track. I realise this is all a part of me, my Dissociative Identity Disorder and the recovery process. Hope you can bear with me. 

I will post soon I promise. 

Thanks 

Carol 

Surviving a Therapy Break

For the past couple of weeks my psychologist has been on vacation and that has meant no therapy for me. Whilst a couple of weeks may not sound like a long break it hasn’t been easy and I find such breaks difficult to cope with. The reality is that a two week break has meant I’ve had no therapy now for approaching three weeks and that is an extremely long time. 

Now don’t get me wrong I know my psychologist is entitled to his holiday and I’m grateful he only takes a two week break, I’ve had therapists who take a whole month off. Yet it is never easy for despite all the stabilisation techniques I have learnt I always seem to find myself struggling, when there is a gap in sessions.

image

Now I’m fortunate in many ways as I can still email my psychologist if it’s desperately needed, though I am not guaranteed a response. Previous therapists have just gone off on a break and left me high and dry which believe me is much much worse.
The break this summer hasn’t been easy and I have tried to plan ahead in order to mitigate the impact of no therapy. So for the first week I took myself off on holiday, surrounded by family who I knew would support me if needed. Having something to distract me helped and the holiday did work for the first few days. The second week I made plans to go out for the day and took myself off to the middle of nowhere surrounded by the sound of a babbling brook and beautiful scenery. The fact it rained wasn’t an issue but despite the attempt to distract and fill my time I found myself struggling,
As more and more thoughts raced through my mind and I began doubting myself and my own self worth, I realised things were not going great. The longer the break the more I struggle or so it seems and by the second missed session I was floundering, in the end I had to resort to sending an email, disturbing my psychologist and admitting I was finding things tough. The main concern for me wasn’t a flashback or a memory as such, but the feelings of anger and frustration I felt about the abuse I had endured. I also found myself consumed with grief once again, grief about my past and grief that these things, these dreadful things hadn’t just happened to an alter, they had happened to me.

image

In the end as I typed my email I realised I needed to vent, I needed to let go off the anguish that was consuming me, overwhelming me. I knew that the best thing I could do given I had no idea if or when I’d get a response and that even if I did my psychologist wouldn’t be able to rectify how I felt was to vent. So in true style I opened my car window and screamed at the top of my lungs and poured out the anguish and anger. I cried buckets in the process and I guess most of all I admitted to myself these feelings of grief that I held.
My screams and tears helped a little but they couldn’t take away my fears or concerns about messing up, or my worries that I’d get it wrong with my teen alter. Thankfully my psychologist responded the next day and his words well they kind of resonated within me. He told me not to forget I wasn’t meant to be my alters therapist, that I wasn’t in this alone and to remember we were a team. The fact that he can assist me in my sessions and help me to process the anguish, the pain and the grief is reassuring. The fact I’m not alone of this journey of recovery is a positive, the reality is I have a therapist willing to help me on my journey and together we are a team.
Yet of course the break in sessions has been difficult and I have found it at times over whelming, currently it is a team of just me and my alters for my psychologist isn’t here, he’s away. This coming week sessions will reconvene but as is normal I am likely to find it hard for the first couple of sessions after the break. I can’t help this its just a fact of life, for me a break impacts upon my trust levels and my therapeutic relationship with my psychologist.

 

image
Breaks in sessions are never easy there have been times in the past when I have spiralled out of control and resorted to negative coping strategies. Yet today I find myself more able to cope and the fact I have email access is a huge benefit. The truth is being able to see myself as less isolated helps me and the stabilisation work we have done is really beneficial too. But an absence of two sessions is as much as I can cope with currently, I am so relieved that after this weekend my sessions recommence.
Looking back I’m glad I now work with someone who isn’t off a month at a time, the impact of that would I know cause me much more difficulty and hinder my long term recovery. I wonder if those therapists who choose to take a month long break realise the impact on their clients if they did maybe they’d think again.

Copyright DID Disptaches 2015

Care Plan Meeting – treat me as an equal

In recent days I have begun planning for my CPA early next week and I started to think about the things I need to cover in the meeting. After all this meeting will involve my new care coordinator from the new team my care is transferring to, I haven’t met them yet. It will also involve my existing social worker and my psychologist as well as my daughter, who goes to represent the family and support me.
I know that in the past my interactions with health care professionals haven’t always set off on the right footing, I usually find it hard to trust new people. I certainly have difficulty when professionals treat me like some second class citizen and not the equal that I am. My last experience of the new team dates back some 8years; it wasn’t so great and so I do have some reservations.

image
I so want to explain to these people that I am not like many of the people they will have worked with, I have a condition they may never have heard of for starters. I am at times able and capable to do most things and then there are times when I things are too overwhelming and hard, times when I need support and help and times when I need them to step back and let me get on with it. Of course those times fluctuate from one day to another, in fact from one hour to another, depending upon which part of me is up front and driving this body we share.
I want them to know how I find each day, what its really like to be me and yet I’m not sure how I tell them that. The fact is I’m not sure my current team get how complicated and complex life can be for me. I’m certain they don’t understand the juggling I have to go through each day just to stay on an even keel, so how can I really expect my new team too. Yet I’m desperate that they do get me and they get the real me, why, well if they misconstrue me then they will judge me wrongly. They will like many before label me, stigmatise me and make assumptions about me which aren’t true and yes that does bothers me.

 

image
I know I need to say things at the meeting about how I’m doing, what’s going on in my life right now and yes I can tell them about therapy and what’s happening. Yet I feel drawn to tell them about the things I’m really struggling with, because I need them to know. Yes I have made huge progress in the past 18 months and I’m really glad that I have, but there is still so much I need to do. For starters I want to be able to understand why I’m crying when I cry and yet there are many times I don’t. I want to be able to stop worrying about being judged but it feels like a mission impossible currently for me.
I want so much to be able to sleep in Bertie bedroom, that’s the name I’ve given the room in order to make it feel less scary, yet right now I’m able to just manage sitting in there for short bursts of time and then I need to leave. I visit the room a couple of times a day to get dressed and undressed but that’s all really, I can’t face sleeping in there and I can’t say when I will. It is as I’m often reminded a work in progress and it’s been months of hard work and effort just to get this far, that’s the joy of fearing a room because of linked memories. My bedroom of course is safe; I know that, but bedrooms and beds weren’t always so safe and that’s the issue. I have to overcome a fear that is ingrained in me from when I was young and sadly it still affects my life.
I want to be able to sleep in a real bed and not face struggles doing that, and yet currently I can’t. In fact I’ve slept on a sofa for 9 months now and that’s not so easy to admit to a random stranger; who I want so desperate to see me as an equal. In fact admitting or discussing most of this to someone who can impact my life in either a positive or negative way isn’t easy at all. So my dilemma is do I tell them at the CPA what’s concerning me or do I sit and pretend everything is perfect just because I have a new team.
How do I really trust these professionals who have the power after all to detain me against my will, give me treatment I don’t want and who can forcible medicate me or lock me in institutions all under the guise of healthcare. The power imbalance that exists between me and the professionals is a bit like having a pink elephant in a room, we all know it’s there but no one talks about it.

 

image
That power imbalance though is concerning to me, I don’t like feeling out of control and the fact the new care coordinator and her team can take control away from me is frightening. So as I plan ahead for the meeting that in truth can go one way or another, that could be either a huge success or a terrible failure I need to find ways to stay focused. I need to remember these people are not the enemy, they are professionals whose task is to help me recover and deal with my mental health. In truth they are as at much risk of being sectioned as I am, that power hangs over everyone of us no matter who we are, Doctors, nurses, service users we are all able to be sectioned if we are deemed unwell enough.
This meeting maybe a scary prospect but I realise it also allows me a chance to educate people about Dissociative Identity Disorder and about me. It offers a chance to show them that actually I am working hard, it offers a chance to demonstrate my desire to recover and live an effective life with DID. I know parts of me are frightened by the upcoming meeting, trust is a big issue for us and so getting to know new people is hard. But my job now is to stay calm, reassure my alters and focus on showing these people who I really am and how I expect to be treated as an equal partner in my care.

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

Looking Back Life was worth fighting for

My first night in a Mental Health Hospital

The other night as I was settling down for the night I realised that day held a special significance, though not neccessarily in a good way. This day will always remain with me after all the first time I encountered a Mental Helath in-patient unit was a culture shock to my system.

I took to social media pouring out my thoughts as I reflected upon that day, upon my past and it seems apt to share those tweets now in their entirety.



  

 
I realise that 11 years ago I felt life was not worth carrying on with, but looking back I can see that what I needed was the right help, the right support. I guess I had got to a point were I no longer believed that help or support was readily available, my family deserved better than the burden that I really felt I was.

It took a while to get the right diagnosis and the impact of time in psychiatric services wasn’t easy for me or my family. But it came eventually and thankfully I was able to start taking those small tentative steps along the path towards recovery. I am still on that journey, yet I know now that I am stronger, more determined and more focused upon reaching that goal.

That first night wasn’t easy neither were many of the approximately 1400 other nights I spent as an in-patient.  But I can’t regret that night for without it I wouldn’t have recieved my diagnosis or the right help and I doubt I would have made it this far without either of those.
Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

Having Dissociative Identity Disorder Doesn’t Mean Life Is Over. 

image

Just a few years ago at my lowest point I felt my life was over, I felt as if I would never be any good at contributing to society anymore. I didn’t feel like a great mum or wife or friend in fact I felt worthless and pathetic, I used to think about what my life could have been and how I’d failed. Of course the failure I felt back then was not really justified at all and yet I couldn’t shake of those feelings of worthlessness or of guilt.

I blamed myself for that breakdown point when life became too overwhelming and I could no longer hide the truth of my past. I blamed myself for that point when suddenly people were noticing I wasn’t ok and that I kept losing time and forgetting things. Of course now I know that really I was dissociating and as the wall of amnesia began to leak and my past hit me head on, well it all became too overwhelming.

That led to my self harm and my suicidal attempts, attempts I don’t regret but am glad we’re not successful. You see I don’t regret falling apart for by doing so I learnt what was wrong and I learnt the truth of my past.  I’ve learnt who I really was and the childhood I endured and I understand now just how strong I really am. The self harm and suicide attempts are just moments in my life, visual scars of the past I hid for too long and today they allow me to see how far I’ve come. There markers in the sand that show me where I was and where I am now and that is important.

Before I started that meltdown I had been productive, I held a job that I enjoyed and I contributed to helping others too. I found myself being a person who ran at 100mph, working, running a home, volunteering and being actively involved in community life. I had some physical issues that slowed me down at times and my mental health was never fully ok, yet I still felt I contributed to life and that was important for me.

So when I became really unwell and my mental health deteriorated it wasn’t easy, in fact being hospitalised felt as if my world had come crashing down. Suddenly I couldn’t participate in the things that gave me an identity and a purpose, rather than helping others I became a burden. I couldn’t sustain work and so was made redundant, that didn’t help me especially as it happened whilst I was in hospital. I was hoping to leave hospital pick up my life and carry on like before and then I didn’t have work to return too, I was deemed too mentally unwell or so it felt.

Ever since then I’ve either drifted from one crisis to another, one hospital stay to another, or care package to another. I haven’t really been able to move forwards, well not until about 18 months ago because then life began to change. It’s continued to change at such a pace that at times its felt surreal and I often pinch myself to ensure I’m not dreaming this. 18 months ago I felt desolate and confused and I had full time care, it felt like I just couldn’t understand D.I.D and I never would.

image

Fast forward 18 months until today and life is beginning to change again, I now feel far more assured of my skills and of who I am and I have less support. It’s not easy having D.I.D but I now know enough skills to understand that it’s not impossible to live with either, it’s just slightly more complex but that’s ok. Yes I have to do far more than many will do just to ensure I function each day and to ensure that the day goes well, I doubt most people need to give so much time to the things I need to. Mornings are a crucial part of that daily process of stabilising me and that means all of me, including my alters the other parts of me.

I now have a fairly structured approach to my days, well mornings at least and I know that I need to pace myself, take time to do art and other activities. I’m learning each day and I can now deal more successfully with some things that used to send me into disarray, I cope more often than not with body memories and flashbacks these days. That doesn’t mean there aren’t  times when they overwhelm and cause chaos, it’s just it happens less frequently than it used to.  Instead of being an unbearable part of every day it’s once every few days now, for I have the skills to rationalise and cope better with them.

I’m still fragmented and I’m still not there at the end of the journey of recovery, but I’m moving forward and making progress. My attitude to life has changed dramatically and now I’m far more focused on my recovery and on my treatment than ever before. I’m able to have fun, to laugh, to feel and I don’t feel bad about giving myself time, or saying no to people. I’m learning that I’m an ok person and I’ve gained some ability to be more patient and less of a perfectionist. I don’t take things for granted though and know I have to work hard to sustain the progress I’ve made and want to continue to make.

I certainly don’t feel like my life is over or that I can’t contribute to society anymore, I don’t feel like life isn’t worth living in fact far from it. Even when my moods dip and I’m low I know life is still there for the taking, it is worth living and it’s worth fighting for. I’m starting to see and accept that I’m a good parent and a good friend and I’m starting to believe I can once again contribute to society.

Whilst I am getting involved in village life and doing things, I clear in my mind what is most important and that’s my recovery and my treatment they do come first, I’m also clear that any involvement I have is to be non-detrimental to me and that for every meeting I attend or project I’m involved in, there is me time afterwards. Art, fun, feeling, these are key parts of this and my approach to life now is so different from the past, it’s so much more healthy. I realise now healing is possible it’s not however a simple task, it’s an ongoing mission, a daily mission of recovery.

image
Copyright DID Dispatches 2015

Feeling flat and unsettled

Last week I felt excited, I had had a day of little me’s playing and having fun and I had a whole new week to look forward to. Fast forward 7 days and I’m sitting here feeling flat and unsettled and I’m not really sure of why, it seems so unfair to suddenly find myself overawed by everything once again. I realise that I have had a busy week it’s been full of builders coming and going as they work on creating a safe space for me. There hasn’t been a spare moment really and at times I’ve felt like I’m juggling way too much and I’ve just wanted the world to stop so I could get off.

 

image

But like I always do I’ve tried to push on, put on my fake smile and just keep going, but then that doesn’t seem to be as effective these days. My family seem able to see through this and my fake smile seems to wear off quicker these days too. My body starts to let me know when I’m struggling whether it’s aches and pains, upset stomach or painful headaches, it finds a way to communicate it’s unhappy.

Yesterday my plans to be at a training event were thrown into chaos as a headache overwhelmed and I just wasn’t able to keep going. Physically I felt drained but emotionally I was gone, I had nothing in reserve all I seemed able to do was cry. I conceded defeat, well more my family made me concede defeat and accept I needed to rest, I needed me time. I slept for most of the day struggling to stay awake and yet I was stunned by just how drained I really was.

In between the sleep I was thinking, thinking about why I felt so rough and why my mood was lower than usual. Having workmen in the house as been hard, it’s meant really early mornings and lots of intrusion, it’s been harder to just sit and relax. I haven’t found it easy to just sit and watch cartoons or do art, or many of the things that I’d normally do, I have been constantly aware of switching and worried more when I lost time.

On one day I couldn’t get out, I had to be in for the workmen and for a delivery, I found myself feeling restricted and couldn’t help feeling uneasy. All I could think about was not being able to go out, no fresh air or space either, I guess looking back I probably had ‘cabin fever’. It reminded me of days in hospital when there was no space, no place to hide from anyone and of being confined to the ward. I spent nearly six weeks at one point locked inside my secure unit, no fresh air or space or escape I hated those days and I realise that just one day of being stuck inside my own home made me feel back in that time.

image

I also realised that I haven’t had time as much for me or my alters; the different parts of me and that I think has played a part. I have tried to give parts time, but if I’m honest I haven’t been as effective at doing so this last week. So today I have tried a little harder, I’ve watched cartoons, done a few hours of art and I’ve taken time out from home. Just knowing I can go out even if it is for a cup of tea at the local coffee shop somehow seems to lift my cabin fever feeling.

I’ve sat and worked through my diary, it’s still too busy whilst the building work continues but I have marked out a couple of days for me. Time when I can be just me, a person living with alters, a person living with Dissociative Identity Disorder, no fake smile, no hidden emotions. I’ve also restructured the next few weeks so they are less chaotic and more self caring, after all I hate this feeling of numbness, of emptiness, that I have currently hanging over me.

I do currently feel flat and unsettled, I know that won’t shift overnight but I can try and help myself to make this period less distressing. I can be honest and say sometimes life’s tough, sometimes it feels just too much and that at times I want the world to stop so I can get off. I am conscious there maybe an underlying issue that I need to resolve, some of which I can’t  post in a blog, but I am aware of it and that is a start. I have therapy this week and I hope I can try and discuss some of the issues that I’m aware of in the hope it helps. I need to be truthful about how I feel and truthful about my fears, I need to be honest about the reasons deep down that I think might be exacerbating my current mood.

Years ago when I felt like this, I’d give up and I mean give up, I’d succumb to harming and worse, but not now. Now it’s different, now I’m able to rationalise things a little better, understand why I feel like I do and I have the skills to at least attempt to help put things back on a even keel. I’m able to know that this is just a phase in my life, a period of time which might be a struggle but which will pass eventually. I also have access to services that can help sustain me through this period, people I can talk to and people who can help me help myself.

image

Most of all I have a whole army of alters who hate me feeling like this and I know that they can in their own way help me too. Watching cartoons earlier with my little me’s gave me light hearted relief for a brief period, taking time to do art with my teen alter helped give me a sense of accomplishment. I guess I’m learning collaboration with my parts is beneficial for all of us, that we each have unique gifts and qualities that we bring to the mix. Yes it’s hard living with D.I.D but if I’m honest I can’t imagine being without my alters, they are all a part of me and together we make up the whole person called Carol.

 

Copyright DID Dispatches 2015