Reflections on Life Thus Far

My life. My story: Exploring mental health, spirituality, meditation & random thoughts I have

Remembering…

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I found this image on Pinterest and really liked both the visual and message printed at the top of it.

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Changes

Discouraged. That pretty much sums up how I have been feeling lately. I think I am overwhelmed because I have been going through my possessions trying to become more minimalist; but in the process I have felt a mixture of emotions. Most recently, I parted with a garbage bag full of treasured books destined for charity and in doing so I wanted to pull some out and ‘save’ them…but I resisted. It feels like a loss to me because I love books and they’ve been my ‘significant other’ since I have never let real people close to me. So in parting with so many books I felt attachment to I went through a series of grief related feelings. Maybe not all of the grief related feelings/stages but definitely some anyway.

When you use books to satisfy your need for relationships giving away a large quantity of them feels horrendous. It’s not like I hoard books but I definitely value my books more than a person ought to. They aren’t historic relics suited to an archives department either so I don’t have any objective reason to view them so fondly. Perhaps it’s the fact I parted with books that had served as valuable references and comfort when I needed them; now I’m forced to either let go of anything I can’t remember or trust I will be able to call upon my brain to give me the knowledge when I need it. That’s scary given I dissociated for so much of my life to avoid pain. What if I can’t remember everything I read in the books I gave away?! Now I must trust myself to survive and have greater acceptance of my innate fallibility which also makes me face the fact I am imperfect. You see all these things connect to my sense of lovability and self-worth and that is terrifying territory. There’s little comfort in what I’m experiencing.

I want to crawl under my bed covers and not have to face the world. Maybe I am depressed but more than likely I am afraid of the fact I have nothing solid to stand on. All of my worldly identifiers are gone and I’m struggling to not concoct a new identity for myself knowing such a thing would be a production of my ego anyway. Part of the reason I fear social interaction is I’m afraid someone will ask me about myself and I don’t have any tidy, pat answers on tap to reduce my discomfort and the other person’s. The other reason for my social anxiety is I simply have trouble easily relating to everyone. Maybe most people don’t easily relate to others either and just hide it better than I do. Or maybe it’s a problem of ‘how’ I relate. I can relate at a human level but not at the social/surface level. After all, I don’t have a paid job, sports don’t interest me and I don’t have a husband or kids. So right there I am starting off from a disadvantaged position. Then again maybe I just overthink these things and should try to ‘relax’ more! Ha, if it were that easy I’d have done it by now. In some ways I have learned to relax about it a little bit but other times I get triggered by things like giving away some of my precious books. Who knew parting with a garbage bag full of my books would trigger me? Certainly, if I’d known it, I might have chosen to part with fewer books to ease the discomfort. The way I have done it feels like I just had a Band-Aid ripped from a tender sore spot. I suppose I shall have to go easy on myself. Trying to bulldoze my way through the pain won’t help me any if past experiences are anything to go on.

On a more positive note I did manage to dust my computer desk and tidy up my messy cords from my electronic devices. Well that’s it for now. Tomorrow I see my counsellor.

©Natalya, 2014. Reflections On Life Thus Far®


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Speaking Out Heals Shame

Rev. Jordyn Morrison Clason, Ph.D. ~ http://www.RealClairvoyantPsychic.com

Experiencing trauma can lead to shame depending on the nature of the trauma endured. When we’re filled with shame we retreat inside ourselves and fear having others know what we’ve been through; as though we were somehow to blame even though we intellectually know that’s not the case. It’s ironic really because if you experienced trauma from a person or group of people, they, not you should be feeling the shame. Yet they lack the moral conscience for this so the survivor of the trauma ends up with it instead. This seems terribly unfair in my opinion. But we see it all the time with abuse survivors; they think they were at fault somehow no matter what their head tells them. It’s difficult to reason with your emotions because they aren’t reasonable! So you have to muddle through the emotional baggage ’til your head and heart are on the same page. Not an easy task no matter who you are.

In my experience, speaking about my traumatic experiences sort of relieves the pressure inside me; it’s like the steam from a kettle being released. For all the years I carried around the shame of my past I believed keeping it to myself would be easier but it wasn’t. Instead I had unrelenting depression and anxiety never feeling at peace for very long. When I started psychotherapy I didn’t talk much about the abuse I’d suffered because I couldn’t allow it to surface. I thought if I did then I might fall apart (which I did later). So I wasted years talking about my symptoms never discussing the causes of my chronic depression and anxiety/panic disorder. All this because I carried so much shame inside me that I figured no one could accept me due to abuse. How sad that I had so little self worth and love for myself that I couldn’t imagine telling anyone what I’d been through. I’d also minimised what I’d experienced a great deal too so felt unjustified in feeling the way I did; like we need to have reasons for our emotions! Sometimes they are irrational but we aren’t robots so that’s just how it has to be.

When we don’t confront our past it tends to show itself in maladaptive patterns until we recognise where they’re coming from. For some this means abusing one’s self or others so it can be serious. Once the trauma can be remembered and processed it allows us to stop looking for distractions. Our minds don’t have to spend so much energy on repressing what happened to us. If you’re like me sharing what happened to us can be scary or even threatening; yet that’s what’s needed for one to end the behaviours destroying us or other people if we perpetuate the hurt inside us onto others. You can’t be free ’til the secrets are outside of you because that’s what loosens our abuser(s) hold on us. They wanted us to keep quiet and hope we took responsibility for what was never our fault to begin with. If we had had the coping tools to know better we would have done better but most abused children aren’t lucky enough to have the resources or simply are too young to process what happened in a meaningful way.

Ideally, our abuser(s) would recognise what they did to us as wrong and make restitution but too often this never happens. Usually it doesn’t happen because the abuser was also abused and can’t face their own painful past, it takes courage to confront painful memories and process our hurt emotions. So sometimes our abuser(s) just aren’t courageous enough to deal with their own pain and continue to make others suffer. Or maybe the abuser(s) aren’t alive so restitution isn’t an option. But you can still face your pain and know you are making a difference because you won’t be perpetuating abuse/pain onto more people. In fact you can also come to appreciate you are stronger than your abuser(s) because you’re choosing to confront your pain. This might also be an opportunity for you to see that your abuser(s) felt so awful they couldn’t bear to face what happened to them so took the ‘easy route’ by hurting other people. It really isn’t easier to hurt other people than face your own pain but I think it takes less effort because it doesn’t require that you challenge yourself. For that reason I consider it the ‘easier route’.

Anyhow back to my main argument of talking about your trauma or ‘spilling the beans’; personally, I prefer ‘airing the family’s dirty laundry’ as my preferred term because it just sounds ‘spicier’ and a bit titillating! But I digress… Once I finally told my therapist about the sexual, emotional, psychological, physical abuse and neglect I felt free. The shame had begun to dissipate like morning fog when you live by the coast. I still felt some shame when I had to hide my past in front of other family but it was beginning to be more manageable. Once you open the proverbial can of worms there’s no putting the lid back on. The secrets you protected from your conscious mind won’t be forced back into hiding. You can try to deny it happened for awhile but usually the truth wins because you can’t really ‘unknow’ what you know once you’ve confronted it. This is a good thing even though it doesn’t feel in the least bit good to begin with! I felt so awful I reverted to my eating disorder I’d been in remission from for a couple of years because starving temporarily numbed me and took my focus off the new awareness I had concerning my past. I think it’s fair to say any addictions you had in remission may flare up temporarily until you can ‘digest’ what you’ve learned. Mine gave me a respite from having to face things I didn’t feel capable handling. In essence it was easier for me to deal with my eating disorder and try to manage that then it was the horrible reality of my mother sexually abusing me.

Busyness is a way to escape ourselves. My family suffers a lot from this in order to avoid their childhood abuse coming to the foreground of consciousness. Idleness is not a ‘sin’ but an opportunity to go within and understand yourself better.

I’m feeling stronger these days internally but it’s been four years since I ‘discovered’ the type of abuse I’d been through and I haven’t been employed the entire time either. In fact I quit paid employment because I felt I’d been delivered such a huge psychological blow I couldn’t possibly continue my job. For quite awhile I worried about what I would end up doing with myself since I was no longer employed or a university student. My identity came crashing down. The pieces were flimsy to begin with so it’s likely for the best I had to reconstruct my idea of who I was again. What I’ve discovered along the way is you’re a lot stronger than you ever imagined. I didn’t think I could survive the distress I was in yet I did and I am healthier now than I have ever been. Yes, I am still unemployed but people should not base their value on their employment status. You are not your job, car, house, or any other material/external thing. It took me until recently to realise I could be worthy as a person without a paid job. I was always brought up to believe you had to be educated and wealthy to be worthy but that’s not true at all. What’s in your bank account doesn’t make you wealthy because wealth ought to be measured by happiness and love, not dollars and cents (or Euros, Yen, Pounds etc.). One can give back to society and/or their community through volunteer work or helping family. I won’t elaborate on this though because it’s too much for a post meant to discuss trauma and shame. Perhaps I’ll do a post on economics another day!

What do you think about the ‘truth setting you free’? Does sharing what happened to us with someone we trust heal us from our shame? Have you experienced abuse/trauma you kept hidden from others (perhaps yourself as well) then discovered/shared it and experienced relief?

©Natalya, 2014. Reflections On Life Thus Far®

 


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Learning to Stand Up For Myself

Okay, I know assertiveness is an issue for a lot of people but for me it’s been a life long struggle. I’ve fallen prey to ‘the

No friends except my imagination.

No friends except my imagination.

disease to please’ at times and been unhappy for denying my true nature. This started in childhood, as most troubling issues tend to, where I was taught my thoughts, wishes and feelings meant nothing. A child can only hear so much criticism before they decide it’s not worth the pain of continual rejection and being ignored. For me, this came from my own mother. At school I was often picked on and bullied because I was not conventional in my interactions and looked like an easy target, I suppose.

The thing is I never made friends easily either. I had a few ‘frienimies'(friend+enemy) who would pretend they were friends with me but just used me for homework/class work. I wasn’t even very good as a student back then but I had this one girl who copied my journal entries in grade one during class then told the teacher I’d copied off of her! Then in second grade (I was 7) the same frienemy got my favourite pencil sharpener taken away because she was playing with it and talking so the teacher took it. I didn’t have the courage to ask for it back explaining that it was mine. In fact I lost a lot of personal items sharing them with the frienemy never returning them. Yes, I could have asked for the items back but I had learned from my mother I wasn’t worth listening to. So I never did anything. On my way home and to school I’d get bullied too being called names and made to feel unwelcome. It was very uncomfortable.

I think when I developed my eating disorder in junior high I was trying to take up less space and go unnoticed. Of course

My true self slipped further into the recesses of my mind.

My true self slipped further into the recesses of my mind.

there were many reasons I had my eating disorder but trying to be small enough so people would not notice me and leave me alone was in there too. The bullying didn’t stop in my teen years but it was more covert through social exclusion than overt mean comments, although there were still some of those as well. I guess I was trying to be as little bother as I could possibly be so people couldn’t find reasons to pick on me. The two friends I had in junior high were a combination of a friend and a frienemy. Each I tried to avoid but had so little backbone you couldn’t tell I was trying to avoid them(the friend was nice but not very bright and annoyed me).

By high school I’d managed to acquire a few friends from the older grades whom I got along with. But we weren’t close really and I had trouble feeling like I had the self worth to ask them to keep in touch with me after they’d graduated. It was lonely. I had my frienemy from junior high still and a few friends I chatted with and hung out with, yet I had such low self worth I couldn’t envisage any of them wanting me to hang out with them after school hours. The frienemy I’d have gladly left behind but she was like a parasite and I couldn’t tell her to bug off.

Well I won’t bore you with more details from my elementary-high school years in terms of bullying. The general pattern was I would be stuck either having no friends if I spoke my mind, and no

Silenced and alone.

Silenced and alone.

friends (except frienemies) if I didn’t because I didn’t want to be around the people who were drawn to me. It was a difficult time for me. Any kids I hung out with were usually ones who’d decided to be buddies with me. Seeing as how I had no social standing what right did I have to act better than them and tell them to go away? The kids I tried to be friends with were ‘out of my league’ so to speak, proper geeks, whereas I was a loner and outcast. Social groups never mix in schools, do they?

Thank goodness I made it through those years because university was much better. My friends were mainly from the hospital though, as I’d been in for mental health treatment when they were. We became friends and it seemed that, as unhealthy as we all were, at least it felt like they were easier to be with than those I’d been with in pre-university years. My self-esteem was still in the basement and I tolerated Narcissistic behaviour from people, essentially repeating the relationship I had with my NPD mother. But I had intelligent friends to talk to and hang out with finally.

After years in therapy I’d acquired a bit of self-esteem and awareness of what was and wasn’t healthy from my childhood

Where had I gone?

Where had I gone?

home. Progress had been made! Yet other problems remained. I don’t want to go into it all today because it would take quite awhile. So instead I’ll wrap up by telling you I’ve begun to feel I have the right to my thoughts, feelings and wishes like anyone else. All those years ago when my mother first started silencing me from the inside out got thrown out allowing new space for my healthy new thinking patterns. It’s taken some time to adjust. I’m not 100% yet but I am getting there and feel I have the right to be heard and listened to finally.

Bullying gets a lot of coverage in the media here in North America so I’m aware some of you may be tired of hearing about the issue. Well that’s fine as you needn’t read if you don’t want to! My concern has been with getting those memories out of my head so I could be free from their influence on me. I’ve never actually talked about being bullied before. In fact I’d largely repressed a lot of it. But it wanted to come out so I gave it it’s due here in a post. Hopefully you won’t mind another piece on bullying if you’ve grown tired hearing about it in the news as of late. Anyhow, I feel like I got ‘something off my chest’ by writing this. So I feel a bit better. Like there it all is, suddenly I’m stark naked mentally. What’s left cowering in the crevices of my mind now? I wonder, I wonder….

The light of hope and a healthier me.

The light of hope and a healthier me.

©Reflectionsonlifethusfar, 2012.

 


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Dissociation and Wholeness Post-Therapy

ImageDissociation has played a major part in my life so I figured I’d devote at least one post to it here. As a child I started dissociating to cope with a mentally ill parent who would not acknowledge their illness, nor seek help. Being thrust into an environment everyday your whole life that emotionally eats away at you is horrible. The only ‘escape’ I had access to was through my mind in the form of dissociation. My other parent was oblivious to what went on at home seeing only what they chose to see. Thus, I had no respite from the turmoil caused by being raised in a home that was chaotic more often than not. Each day was one in which I never knew what to expect. Some days weren’t so bad but generally that was more the exception than the rule.

I’d wonder who my mother was sometimes because she could easily dissociate too, having been raised in a brutally abusive home as a child herself. She could be different ‘people’ at times making me wonder years later if she had MPD or DID (multiple personality disorder and dissociative identity disorder). After all, she had been through ‘Hell’ and back as a child and teenager at the hands of her parents. But I don’t want to dwell here on my mother’s experience with dissociation, that can be for another day.

After spending my childhood and teenage years, as well as most of my 20s, dissociating from my experiences I became sad thinking about how much of my life I’d ‘slept’ through. As though a sleep walker waking from a terrible dream I ‘woke up’ fully in 2010 to experience my life for the first time in vivid technicolour. Painfully, I began to deal with my emotions through the practice of mindfulness meditation; negative feelings were the first to surface and I cried more in six months than I had my entire life. Following, perhaps, six month or a bit longer, I began to experience neutral emotions, then, gradually, positive ones. It was like learning to be human for the first time despite having worn a human’s costume my entire life. No longer running from reality I could experience more than despair and hopelessness. Suddenly I  felt ecstatic to be so fully alive and present in my body.

I should mention I only achieved this state of ecstasy with the help of a psychologist; left on my own, I know it would not have been possible (I’d tried before without success). There were many steps in between that I have left out so as not to bog this post down in details but you can tell it wasn’t something that happened overnight for me. It took a massive amount of work to reach the stage where I’m at today.

No longer dissociating in a dysfunctional manner-we all dissociate to some extent for brief lapses such as when we drive home and don’t remember the trip, I appreciate being present in my body. What’s more, I don’t have that Cartesian mind-body dichotomy anymore, rather I experience them as one. I think it was crucial to abandon my former mind body split to reach wholeness. I’d been told more than a couple of times by different therapists that my identity was fragmented. Well it isn’t fragmented any longer. It feels wonderful when you reach an identity that doesn’t constantly change like the colours on a chameleon.

In past times of stress and discomfort around people I didn’t feel comfortable with, I’d dissociate into whomever I thought the person(s) I were with wanted. Essentially, I would ditch my true self in favour of who I believed was desirable in present company. It was extremely destructive to any self esteem I might have had because it made me feel worthless. I also felt very lonely knowing nobody really knew who I was, so being my true self became even scarier as a prospect since I believed if I were to be the real me I’d have no friends. It became a very painful place to stay, yet I feared what taking the risk of being myself would mean. Would I have any friends at all? Wouldn’t it be easier (and better) to simply play the part I thought was wanted in each situation? How could anyone like me for me if I kept dissociating to avoid myself?

Well here I am being me, my true self, I don’t have very many friends left but that’s okay. The old ones were mainly people I didn’t want to have in my life anyway. It’s a challenge to be your true self in this world. The odds are stacked against being authentic. There’s no rewards for letting ‘it all hang out’ so you have to be prepared to be alone for awhile, whilst people get to ‘know you’, and your old friends often disappear. But I wouldn’t change a thing if it means I can face myself in the mirror each day, not hiding behind a mask.

Thanks for reading.

© Zen Lady Meditating and Reflections On Life Thus Far, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zen Lady Meditating and Reflections On Life Thus Far with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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Self Confidence: Where Did You Go? (Part I)

A Failed Suicide Attempt

A Failed Suicide Attempt (Photo credit: jonathan.youngblood)

There was a time in my life, pre-suicide attempts, that I possessed ‘oodles’ of self confidence. I could go anywhere and do anything I wanted without thinking about what others thought of me. It was wonderful. Somewhere along the line though my confidence got shattered and my spirit battered. Doing what I wanted no longer came as easily to me. I constantly worried about what other people would think. This happened sometime after I attempted suicide at 18 for the third time landing myself a spot in the I.C.U.’s Critical section and suffering brain damage. Suddenly I found I couldn’t just do what I wanted to anymore.

So what happened? Well for one thing shame does nothing for self confidence and I had an abundant amount of it after trying to kill myself and failing. Not only that but stigma from being mentally ill wore away at my confidence. It’s hard to be confident when you’re hiding who you are from people afraid of their judgement. I was afraid people would think poorly of me, that they would look down on me for what I had done. This wasn’t something I was used to. I was used to being an overachieving, do good’r. Now I had to re-frame how I saw myself; I could no longer view myself as before, I had to completely shift my focus to incorporate the ‘new me’. What transpired was my personal inner transformation.

Generally when we think of someone transforming themselves a positive connotation occurs. But in my case it was exactly the opposite. My transformation was negative. I loss my self confidence and had precious little self esteem to call my own. When I saw people and they asked me how I was doing I simply told them ‘fine’. Who really wants to hear you’ve had a major depression and tried to commit suicide? The people who knew what I’d done because they lived in residence with me were surprised I’d returned to university. I guess they figured I was going to transfer schools or not come back at all. On this account I felt proud of myself because I told myself I wasn’t going to be a quitter or ‘drop-out’.

The other major piece to my diminished sense of self arose from my newly acquired ataxic gait I’d received after overdosing. A not so lovely reminder of my failed suicide attempt. I felt that I drew attention to myself because I walked without coordination and balance. The brain damage I’d suffered impaired my preprioceptive sense to the point where I had trouble walking in a reasonably straight direction without considerable effort and sustained attention to my feet. Normally when we walk we don’t think about it we just ‘do it’ but I had to look at my feet and the surface I was walking on to help me maintain my equilibrium. When I didn’t I frequently found myself veering left and right similar to an intoxicated person. People generally did not remark on my walking except for kids when I was coming home in the evening. Then I would get comments like “oh she’s been drinking again”, which would not have been too bad if it weren’t for the fact I’ve NEVER drunk alcohol-EVER. Knowing I had killed off brain cells from my suicide attempts left me less than keen to experience further destruction of my brain cells from alcohol. I know one doesn’t loose many brain cells from drinking unless it’s heavily but I didn’t want anymore brain cells dying. Having difficulty walking for years after my suicide attempts reminded me constantly of why I didn’t want to drink.

In addition to impaired walking I dealt with anxiety over getting a job. I felt like I had little to offer despite having completed my Bachelor of Arts degree in 5 years instead of 4. To me, that extra year made me a ‘failure’. Who would want to hire somebody who can’t finish their degree on-time? Now I realize how silly and misguided my thinking was but at the time I was convinced of my short comings regarding employment.

Instead of being proud to have finished my degree whilst mentally ill and not adequately treated, nor accommodated academically, I picked apart everything I saw as flawed in my actions. I just couldn’t see how I’d done anything worth a congratulations. My GPA didn’t please me either because it was equivalent to a “B-” and my last couple of years in university I’d been getting B+’s and A range grades. The first couple of years of university weren’t great for me because I struggled to get my depression under control so lacked the concentration, focus and memory needed to succeed. The last half of my degree, by contrast, was better since I had managed to adapt better to my situation and knew more strategies to help myself academically. I’d also made an effort to reach out to individual professors and request extensions on papers/assignments when depressed if I felt they were sympathetic types. This helped a lot too, as prior to that I’d been handing assignments in late and getting deductions on my grade.

So far I’ve been discussing how I loss my self confidence from 18 onward. I finished university (my BA) at age 24 because I started at 19, after withdrawing a year earlier to seek treatment for my mental health, and took an extra year to finish. Once finished I felt an immense sense of grief and pain. I didn’t know how to identify myself in any other way than as a student. My plans for further studies didn’t flow smoothly because I lacked the knowledge of application cut off dates for graduate studies. They’re a lot earlier than undergraduate application dead lines. Thus, I had a year to ponder what the heck I was going to do. Most of the graduate programmes required higher grades than what I had. So I went with Social Work, a professional degree, but still at the undergrad level. The GPA required for admission was lower than most I’d been exploring and it sounded interesting.

© Zen Lady Meditating and Reflections On Life Thus Far, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Zen Lady Meditating and Reflections On Life Thus Far with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.