Monthly Archives: July 2012

She just wants attention…

These words haunt me, and I find myself saying them in relation to the girls I work with…  One girl had a crisis and it triggered a few of the other girls.  At first I agreed with the staff that said she was doing it for the attention, but I hesitate to keep agreeing. Having been in a congregate care situation myself, I know that even the littlest thing that hits home can spark a tidal wave of emotions that wash over and bring to the surface so much other shit.  So no, I don’t agree anymore that she cried because she wanted attention.  I was not the one to talk to her, so I do not yet know what it was about, but it was not about attention.  Some of the other girls pestering staff, yes, that was for attention. But not the girl that cried.  Something stirred in her. They are not here just for shits and giggles. They are here because they are forced to be; because something has gone horribly awry in their lives and it is no longer safe to be at home with their families.

Why is it that we jump to the conclusion that everything is done for attention? Is it so unfathomable to think that something can just be that wrong?  How is it still acceptable to think, by any professional, that our drastic actions are always to get someone to notice.  We are supposed to work from a trauma-informed foundation – one that ascribes all behaviors to a very real contributing factor… How is it then that we can get away with saying the girls are negative attention seeking when they act out, and attribute it only to that. Is it not more in line with our theories that these actions are in response to a stimuli or trigger?  Triggers are just that: they bring up a reaction that is primal. It’s for survival, especially with trauma survivors.  Whether we think them manipulative or not, they are trying to get what they need. We are trying to get what we need.  We act on instinct to alleviate some immeasurable hurt.  I know why she ran. I know the anxiety she faces; the actions she is forced to take. I can’t say I would do it much differently in terms of doing something I know will ultimately make things worse, but they alleviate shit for the moment. In that instant, that is all that matters.  While I know for myself, in this state of rational thought, I could talk myself out of something stupid. But what if I were suddenly faced with what I saw as a terrible future? I can’t guarantee I would make a rational choice. Yes, I am miles from last year, but if the same triggers came up, with the same intensity and desperation, I cannot be 100% sure I could handle it with more poise then last year…

So again I ask: why do we ascribe it to attention-seeing… Or more accurately, why do we make it such a crime?  What is wrong with looking for attention, for care, when we are in distress?  The methods may be unhealthy, but we are simply trying to ensure survival… Or an escape from that to which we can’t accurately give voice…  It brings me back to thinking about that day last week when I so desperately felt the need to share my trauma in vivid detail… In reality, no words could describe what it was that I went through. I could tell you the events. I could put vague words to the emotions, but nothing could truly describe what it was like… And on many levels I hope no one would ever know that for themselves… But the truth is that it happens to more than just me. It happens. Other things happen. Others know the intense weight of it.  But the one thing we all share is the knowledge that words and actions are not enough to fully convey the experience. Pictures and sound cannot fully evoke the level of violation, terror, hopelessness… I can’t even find the right words to describe everything that is impacted.  Thought patterns change. Reactions change. Your brain changes.  I may not remember every detail in my conscious mind, but it’s there. It’s buried deep down so that I can function on a daily level. I can wake up in the morning and not implode or explode from it.

Another thing I think all trauma survivors have is an ability to dissociate in some way. Be it getting lost in what we do every day, or actual dissociation, we all must leave parts (if not all) of it behind. During the dark times, it’s closer to the surface, but I can’t imagine anyone knowing the full impact of the hurt (whatever it may be) and not dying, literally.  I feel that to know the full impact at all times would lead to destruction.  I think moving on has an element of disconnect. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but a needed thing.  To be able to leave a hurt behind, we have to step back and not sit in whatever it brings up; we have to break from it and move away from it.  Other professionals will not accept it as dissociation, because that is seen as a negative, but that is what it is.  We disconnect from the full impact and start to heal the wound.  We pull out that which caused the hole and encourage ourselves to step away to allow healing to happen.  This is a necessity. Call it what you will, but we all do it…  When we stop doing it, we start to have problems.  When we unlock that closet, we take the risk of being bowled over by the messes we stuffed in there… Packing it away requires distance. Distance requires a disconnect, a dis-association with it. If we don’t dis-associate with it, we are mired in it.  My dissociation is different then yours or your neighbors, but it all accomplishes the same thing.  Ok, so maybe mine is not packed away as effectively as the next person’s, but it’s away.  I can breathe in the mornings. I can sleep at night.  If it comes crashing back again, I will deal with it again. But for now, my closet door is closed (remind me to keep the cat away from the door so she doesn’t accidentally open it on me). I have dis-associated from it to be able to live my life. I deal with it from a safe distance and with those who can help me stuff it back away again.


lacking…

I’ve been struggling with coming up with something inspirational and deep to write.  I’m at a loss.  I’ve been distracted lately.  I play with my animals in hopes of keeping the crankiness at bay, but it doesn’t work.  I’ve been a bitch lately.  It comes with the territory of being a woman – hormonal roller coaster every month; gotta love it.  I thought walking the dogs would help, but I just caught myself being very short and rough with them.  That is not “me” (at least not the picture I have of myself in my head).  I try not to let my frustrations out on anyone, but I trip up and… well, it makes me angry at myself,  once I get over being angry at whomever or whatever I snap on that is.  I feel like shit and I want to make up for it, but that throws me into feeling like I’m just as bad as all the abusers out there.  Then I’m reminded of my training: everyone’s actions are driven by a past.  Everyone has a history that influences them.  Everyone has a reason for their actions, no matter how awful the action, or the reason…  I’ve been trained to look for the underlying motivation/trigger for the action… It helps me understand the world a little better.  It helps me find compassion for others, but I still have trouble seeing myself in a less-harsh manner.  We are our worst critics and greatest enemies.  But knowing that and realizing that help to motivate for change.  So I’m working to keep that little voice toned down.  It is not easy, but I’m trying…


More balanced

The weekend with the girls passed without incident. It had somewhat renewed my confidence in myself. I still think I should switch fields (or at least focus) as the anxiety can be intense and debilitating, which ultimately hurts not only myself, but also everyone I work with.

It’s funny how little things that used to not phase me can suddenly bring my confidence to a grinding halt… I think it’s time for a change in my life; I just have to suck it up and take the plunge… Doors don’t open on their own, you have to turn the handle (or at least unlock the door if it’s got a motion sensor)…


Past Tense

I used to be good at what I do. My instincts were dead on a lot of the time. I used to know what I was talking about. I used to go with my gut.

These days, I second guess myself and find myself shying away. I don’t want to be the one they look to for direction (not to mention they don’t pay me for that). I don’t want to make all my stupid mistakes and see the consequences.  I should have called on-call last night like my gut told me to, but then I worried about bothering her for something stupid. Turns out it would have saved a lot of headache today. 
The past comes back to me a lot these days. It freezes me and makes me hide away.  I think I just need to decide once and for all that this is no longer the right line of work for me. I need to find something else and walk away from this… I need a new career path. I once was good at this, but that was then, and this is now… I’m no longer good at this.


Triggers that aren’t… Or shouldn’t be.

Work got a little tense tonight. One of the girls got upset and slammed several doors very hard. I froze. I know I should have confronted her, but my heart leapt 20 miles into the sky and imploded from the fear triggered by the sudden outburst of anger.  There were 2 other staff on, so I let them handle it and I sat with the other girls in the living room… I shouldn’t be reacting this way. I’m paid to handle things like this… but no one told the scared little kid in me that this was the deal. He froze and hid away (She? He? My inner child is sometimes genderless)… I’m still shaking inside, even though I’m out of work and away from the situation, separated from it by hours… But it struck something in me that just won’t give up.  That gut reaction was triggered, and I’m left shaking as if it had been my dad doing the same thing (he had, on many occasions, done the same thing).  I wish I could shake the feeling. Maybe sleep will help.  Sometimes the past comes up fresh and raw when you least expect it.  It can suck.


Striking a balance and sticking to putting yourself first.

These last few years, I have learned the hard way that I need to keep my work and play balanced.  I’ve found I have a tendency to over-work myself. It probably comes from that survival skill of trying to please everyone all the time. The truth is, just like that sarcastic office sign, you can’t please everyone every time… I have to keep reminding myself of this.  That meme that’s been going around the internet has be my mantra of late: when you say yes to someone else, make sure you are not saying no to yourself.  I’m constantly reciting that in my head. I have to; it goes so much against everything I did as a kid (and young adult) to survive the chaos… Its like re-learning to walk… I recite the words over and over again to drown out the gut reaction to help out.  I’m not saying it always works, but I keep reminding myself of it.  Listening to the thought is the harder part. While I can do well with considering myself first on most days, there are some days that it just feels selfish and wrong. Earlier today I committed to working at another job 4 days next month. At least I will go right from one job to the next. I managed to get that far: not taking away one of my weekend days every week in August. This weekend I am faced with the prospect of having to potentially come in for 3 extra shifts because we are understaffed and I am the one on-call for the week. While I toy with the idea of offering to switch with a first shift staff and come in for 2 doubles on friday and saturday, I review my mantra in my head. My responsibility as an on-call staff is to help cover the shifts that are out of ratio… Fortunately, they are all my regular shifts, so I am already on duty at the time. Potentially, they have to call in a temp agency to fill the holes, or I swap with someone on another shift, and I do doubles… Luckily my boss is someone I know for many years, and she has my back to a degree: she doesn’t want to burn me out and lose me. She knows what happened when I crashed, and she was a supportive friend through that time and beyond. I know though, that she still has a responsibility to make sure the house can operate safely… That makes me want to offer my help up, bending over backwards because I care about her and respect her… At times more then I do myself… I just have to keep remembering and believing that I do come first sometimes…


remembering to play

Today was the start of my weekend. I enjoyed the day. I kept it light. It’s important to keep days light when there’s so much shit in the world. The last 2 days were spent on a roller coaster of emotion ignited by the craziness in Colorado. I don’t normally cry for things not directly related to me, but this struck a chord. I cried for the people who died, and their friends and family… then I started thinking about the shooter. I began wondering what had happened to him in his life to make this seem like a reasonable and viable option? Was he abused? Did he get traumatized in some way? Or did he just snap? What led up to this? Do we all have this dormant deadly streak in us? Is it something that we can escape? Or is it something that was different in him? It brought me back to the trauma question… if it is trauma, does that mean i might snap at some point?

All these questions made me a bit unsettled. I had to remind myself to play. So today was it. I woke up late and lounged around. There were things to be done around the house, but i ignored them… I spent a wonderful day being blissfully ignorant of things that needed to happen.  We went to dinner for sushi.  And now I’m indulging in tv.  Ignorance may be bliss, but play is way better.


Little Victories

I managed to make it through the day with very little thought to the trauma that had haunted me these last few weeks. I consider that a victory.  And I made it through work unscathed… I work in direct care with kids in the state system, sometimes making through a work day with no battle scars is a huge accomplishment. Today, its a little victory because these kids were more even keeled.  I’m ok with that.

With so little to say myself, I will now take the time to direct you to some words of wisdom from a uniquely fresh therapist: Dr. Glenn Doyle


Please hear me…

Have you ever so desperately wanted, no needed, someone to hear all the gory details that you felt like you might come apart? I go through this sometimes. I go through fits of needing to have someone hear exactly how horrible these things were, and truly understand. I’m not quite sure why the current trend in therapy is to hold off on the gory details, because I know myself better then you do, and I know I desperately need someone to hear this… Someone who is stronger then I am, that can listen to all off this and not crumble under the immense weight. Well, maybe I just answered my question. Clinicians are ordinary people who, day in and day out, don the hat that forces them to be witness to some of the greatest suffering… to incredible worlds of pain. They can crumble too…

I had written some things out in detail, full of emotion, and they were lost when a call came through.  I so needed to get it out, and so hoped I could share it with my therapist, but I guess that’s the universe’s way of telling me to back off. She’s only human, and I shouldn’t burden her with the details… Some things are not meant to be repeated.  At least the writing was somewhat of a purging.


Touching the fire without igniting the blaze & learning to walk within the wall

Lesson objective: how to access the dark without falling into it.

Step 1: allow yourself to see the pictures

Step 2: feel what comes with it

Step 3: talk to someone you trust (that can help keep you safe) about it

Step 4: let them help

Step 5: step away from the flame before you ignite.

___________________

I don’t know if I’m doing it on purpose, or really my intention with it, but I’m doing it none the less.  It’s only in her office that I allow myself to get that close to the past.  It’s a safe way to do it. It’s a safe place to do it.  I allow the pictures to come, but I’m not at a space yet where I allow the torrent of feelings that come with the images. I manage to only let a trickle of that through – not quite sure how, but I guess I learned somewhere along the way.  The pictures I see are graphic.  The end result is always the same: violation as a means of getting care.  She pointed out today that, while I only noted the one tiny sliver of good, she could identify others that I wasn’t considering: an escape, being cared for, a way out of a place in which I feel trapped… Maybe I was simply being ignorant about those, but part of me thinks it was a way to keep from fulfilling the pictures.  If I only recognize the one tiny benefit, I can more easily keep from acting.  But the insight was good: there are more benefits to the self-destruction then I immediately recognize.  So I guess it makes sense that I jump to that thought.  But it was safe to explore that in her office. It’s not safe to explore here, at home.

So at home I put the bricks back in their place. I leave the curiosity in her office, that safe place, that place in which it can be contained.  I try to reflect on it quickly, before I wall it all off again.  I’m learning that balancing act of walking within the wall.  Little glimpses of hell can happen only when I’m safe; when I can ensure my safety.  At home, it has to be all rainbows and sunshine.  I can’t afford to give in to the pictures and urges, so I box them up neatly and toss them over the wall.  I do this to keep functioning.

I have a problem with being able to ask for what I need; with knowing exactly what it is that I need.  I was not quite sure how to do it today, so I opened my mouth and voiced that I never seem to know how to appropriately get my needs met.  I know either how to shut up, or scream without screaming.  I do not necessarily know a middle-ground on that; only today I did.  Even though it wasn’t tactful or direct, i was able to tell her i needed something (I needed to be able to voice something) that I wasn’t getting at the moment.  I needed to voice the pictures in my head (sort of).  I needed to let her know that I was afraid of going there, but that I was also afraid I was on that path.  We talked a bit about the pictures (amorphously, as I still can’t describe them to others).  We talked about the consequences, and better yet, we talked about how to stay away from acting them out.  I got a little of what I needed.   She said I can call her if I need to.  I appreciate that she says that, but the little voice in my head denies that.  I don’t want to bother her outside of our hour together for fear of pushing her away: that I will become too much and she will throw her hands up and run just like others before her.  So I smile and nod and walk out to the real world.  I do this after having made another appointment.  While I may not be at the point of such instability that I need to see her more than once a week to keep from killing myself, I want to keep treading that thin line between functioning and oblivion.  I fear if I step off that tightrope, I will surely fall onto the oblivion side of the wall and fear no return.  So I’m asking for what I need without listening to that little voice in my head that says I’m being too needy. And I ask for it without realizing I’m asking for, and getting, what I need in the moment.


building walls

i can feel them going up. my brain is getting fuzzy and heavy. i know i’m trying to protect myself from the blackness… i’m not consciously doing it, but it’s a gut-level reaction that has kept me going all these years. when I did give in and fight the urge, it resulted in almost 2 years of steady hospitalizations and incredible pain that few can imagine.

my brain literally feels heavy and wet. yes. i can feel it in my head. or at least, that’s what I imagine it to feel like. it’s heavy and drowning, but the walls are going up. like wet cement, it’s not an ache, but a weight. it’s the walls going up. i don’t really know how else to explain it. today has been spent being extremely tired and drained. I slept through most of it, but not as an escape, simply for the reason that I could not keep my eyes open. i was TIRED. It’s not the depression, it the anti-depression – that which keeps me on the light side of things. it hides the thick, comfortable blackness from sight. it keeps me together. it’s the dissociation manifesting in a physical sensation.

and it’s gone now… the gate’s down. I’ve lost what my point was for this post, and i don’t know what else to write. sorry.


An introduction of sorts

I’m constantly dealing with PTSD, depression, self-injury & dissociation.   This will be a documentation of my journey to integrate the light and the dark in my life…  I have little or no access to one or the other on a given day.  This is how I survived.   I built walls.  Big ones.  And they did their job: mostly it was keeping the dark times at bay, but when I’m lost in the dark they also serve to keep out the light.  While that disconnect has served me well in the past, it’s working to my detriment now.  I lose sight of the happy times and the progress i have made any time my depression looms or my PTSD rears its ugly head.

At some point in 2009, my walls crumbled once again (remind me to tell you about the first time in another blog entry) while I was trying to go back for my Master’s Degree in Social Work.  My first internship placement failed through no fault of my own (my advisor told me so right after she & I found out I had been booted from it), so I looked elsewhere.  It was already a few weeks into the semester, so my choices were limited.  I took the first place that called me in for an interview: a domestic violence services center.  This I would love to call a mistake, but a few good things did come of it: 1) I made a few good friends along the journey, and 2) I realized that I am not cut out for that work right now (maybe not ever, but I’m not at a space to make that judgement just now).  Anyway, I worked my little butt off quite successfully for a number of months, until my depression and suicidal thinking landed me in the hospital for the umpteenth time, and I decided to take a break.  I don’t mean to give the impression that all the depression came out of nowhere.  It has always been with me, this blackness… As long as I can remember, I was either running from it or curling up with it.  But at the time I had attempted grad school, it had been hiding for about 2 years.  The experience of working closely with these battered women hit home though, and my wall started to disintegrate.  There was one client in particular whose story hit close to home… I struggled with that relationship in supervision every week (heck, it would have been every day if my supervisor had the time).  It ended up being the straw that broke me.  Almost a year after I started my grad work, it came to a grinding halt.  I dropped out of school, quit all my jobs, and fell head-long into a massive depression/flashback/self-injury/suicide attempt/hospitalization vortex.  For a year and a half, I think I practically lived in one hospital or another.  They did not help (as evidenced by the revolving door), but they were all that people could come up with to (try to) keep me safe.  I was hopeless, literally – I had lost all hope of anything ever getting better for very long.  I only consciously tried to kill myself once, but there were many other close calls from self-medication via pill or self-injury.  Towards the end, my main focus had become the self-injury, and the sick way it kept me feeling safe & “normal.”  I would do it for the high and the pleasure (here you may ask yourself: but didn’t it hurt? didn’t she realize it might kill her? WTF?!).  It never once hurt, even when I hurt myself so badly that I required a transfusion in the trauma unit if the ED.  the thing with self-injury is that it doesn’t hurt when you are doing it… most people who self-injure don’t register the pain, there’s too much other crap going on.  The only thing that registers is the relief from the emotional pain, and the flood of endorphins that course through your system.  It becomes a chase to keep it going.  Much like drugs or alcohol, it can become an addiction.  It did become one for me.  I didn’t see the damage it was causing to those around me, let alone myself.  I just wanted more.  Only it became harder to achieve the same “high” so I had to do it more… yeah, like I said, classic addiction.  In the end, it was yet another traumatic experience that pulled me out of it: my last hospitalization at a local (though “respected’) psychiatric unit.  I had the pleasure of having a real pompous jack-ass as my attending psychiatrist.  He was also the head of the ECT department of said hospital.  From the moment I met with him this time around (yes, I had him just a few short weeks prior to this admission), he was going to try to get me into ECT no matter what.  I’ll admit, it’s an ok last-ditch effort if you have solid foundation for it… but the thing was, NO WHERE is there any study proving the efficacy of ECT with trauma patients OR addictions.  Yes, it works for depression and bipolar and maybe even schizophrenia, but there is nothing ANYWHERE stating it works to cure addicts (at this point, I was self-injuring for the high it brought, NOT to kill myself).  Our battle lasted the entire time I was there (a little over a week & a half), during which time he tried every method possible to get me onto the table, including bullying me, having his friends (2 other psychiatrists) literally yell at me to scare me, and trying to deem me incompetent and get a judge’s order for the treatment.  I don’t know what you know about ECT, but to me it’s scary shit.  You lose memory (I really don’t need help in that department; that’s where a lot of my symptomology blossoms from), you change personality… it’s basically re-setting your brain artificially via heavy-duty “controlled” electrical current… I don’t know about you, but that creeps me out.  Anyway, after that ordeal (he was not able to take it in front of a judge.  he would have needed 2 other independent psychiatrists to also deem me incompetent, and nobody else was able to do so because I was not in fact suicidal at the time, just a “junkie” of sorts… fittingly, my knife had dragon on it. I re-purchased the same kind of knife 3 separate times after I gave it up for one reason or another), I was able to finally get into a trauma-specific program in another part of the country.  It was by no means an awesome place (though it did help a lot and I am grateful for the people I met there), but it was miles above what I had been getting locally.  They helped me detox from the plethora of useless meds I was on and from the cutting (I’m not sure which was worse…).  The difference there was that they actually listened to me, and did not push their agenda.  They put the patient, as messed-up as we all were, first.  And they helped begin treating the trauma…  From that point, I was able to once again build a wall between the blackness and the light – not healthy necessarily, but very important at the time.

That was almost a year ago.  Today, I’m starting to work on lessening that wall and integrating the past with the present.  And maybe somewhere along the way, I can flesh out a future too.