Tag Archive | emotions

I rolled in it. So what

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I wrote about my bad mood and bad attitude yesterday. It felt a little like I was rolling around in the mud, getting good and covered, feeling it ooze out between my toes, clump up in my hair, even crunch down on some grit in my molars once in a while.

I think that bad mood needed validation because I feel so much better today even though absolutely nothing else has changed.

But I’m generally not allowed to gripe, moan, complain, vent, or bitch. I’m supposed to roll with the punches and keep on smiling. Usually I can. But lately it has been getting harder to smile and I wasn’t sure why. The thing is, these punches, they actually knock me out, flat into the mud. Each time I drag myself back up and keep limping along. But for a little while, I’m going to stay down here and roll around in this mud. Stop hiding.

I can’t exactly go on strike, but I can lighten my load a little while I stay here and make mudpies. I’m supposed to go to an awards banquet tonight. I’ve been so worried how to handle it, how to smile for that long, how to pay attention and get out of conversation I don’t want to be in…screw it. No one needs me to eat chicken tonight. My husband can go without me while I make mud angels.

I think if I embrace this dank muddy place I’m in, instead of trying to hide from it, I’ll be much better off. Besides. Mud can be really great. Think hot springs and mud masks. Mud wrestling? Well…not my thing but hey some people like it. Adobe houses. Clay pottery. Yeah. I’m just going to stay here in my deep dark pit and see what happens if I stare at it directly.

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Hiding and crying

I can’t look at him. See his pain. He is crushed. My 8 yr old has a birthday party today. We are not good at social stuff and don’t know any parents in town. He sent invitations out in class and no one rsvp’d yes or no, so I assumed there would be some yesses that just show up.

Nope.

We are sitting here with pizza, cake, balloons, streamers, an empty house, and a devastated kid staring out the window in case someone shows up.

I don’t know what we are doing wrong. I don’t know how to fit into this small town if they never let me.

I feel like this is all my fault and I have failed him. He is supposed to be laughing and playing games. Not feeling like a loser. I don’t know how to fix this.

So I come up to my room, it is unbearable to watch him any more. I check my email and get a reminder from the ecard service I always used for my mom’s birthday. Her birthday is tomorrow.

Now I miss her and feel like I screwed that up too. I can never tell her happy birthday ever again. She’s just gone.

I don’t know what to do, except cry. I hope hubby doesn’t need me, because this is not stopping any time soon.

I’m sorry kiddo.

I’m sorry mom.

I love you both and I do my best. Sometimes it isn’t good enough.

Complex Grief, Pre-Mourning the Loss of a Parent

My mom is now in hospice care. And the pain has hit me full force, in fact I can barely type this through the tears flooding my face. I stop and calm down but as soon as I start typing and see the words I start crying all over again.

I thought I had more time.

I’m working furiously on myself, to heal, to recover to a more stable ground. I needed space from my mom and brothers after my suicide attempts last year and they granted it to me. I have not seen or heard from my mom, no visits, calls, not even an email in so long. Because I asked her not to.

Because I thought I had more time.

I withdrew from everyone this past year, went deep into myself, into my fortress of solitude where I regroup, lick my wounds, and learn how to go on. I’m doing that now. I’m starting to open up again, bit by bit, as the world appears safe and I test the waters with each wary step.

With complex PTSD comes complex grief. Even though I more clearly understand my mom’s role in raising me in the chaotic, traumatic world, contributing to my feelings of shame and worthlessness, allowing me to be abused and feel unloved and unlovable…as I heal and go through this recovery program I’m better able to feel and identify my emotions in the moment. I don’t hate or resent my mom. I am disappointed that we were never close, never had a strong supportive relationship. I do appreciate the times she tried, and the times she apologized. I don’t think she intentionally caused me pain, I really don’t. I think she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to my abusive father, herself also being a victim. I can understand all of this. It saddens me. I feel she did her best with the tools she was given.

I forgive her completely. I truly do. I had hoped to have a limited relationship with her again at some point.

But I thought I had more time.

So now I am forced to make a choice. I don’t feel ready to visit her, not out of the blue. Plus my brother has told me she looks terrible, the cancer has really taken its toll on her. I’m not sure I can handle seeing that, my brain will fixate on that image forever.

I’m trying to get up the nerve to call her. I haven’t heard her voice in years. I got her phone number from my brother. I keep staring at my phone. All I have to do is push the button, but when I try I start shaking and crying. I don’t want to talk to her like that. I want to let her know I care, that I’m sorry this has happened, that she is suffering, that I’d never wish this on anyone let alone my mom, and that I wish we had more time.

I wish we had more time.

But here’s the thing. My brother said mom is at peace. She is relieved to have an exit plan. She has wanted out for decades. She’s been living like she was dying for as long as I can remember, so she has finally gotten her wish. Is this better than being distraught? To happily give up and have no fight in you? I don’t know. She never had any fight in her. A victim of life for life.

I don’t want to be like that. I don’t want to welcome death. I want to fight. I used to fight.

I keep thinking of a song by Tim McGraw, “Live Like You Were Dying” because of one line in it. I’ve been hearing this song in my head, endlessly since I got the news about hospice.

“Talkin’ ’bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time.”

I’ve spent an entire year in my bed or recliner. Like I already died. Partially I was healing, but partially I had given up and was only going through the motions.

So I’ll keep trying, and eventually I know my finger will press the call button. While I keep trying, here at home I’m looking through photos of mom with my kids, going over some memories together. My daughter asked if she could have a locket to put her Grandma’s photo in, I said yes we would get her one.

And then I saw how social support networks are supposed to work – when you don’t isolate yourself. My daughter said she told her friends at school and received comfort and sympathy and many questions. This generated more discussion here at home and we hugged and cried together.

My daughter made a beautiful card for my mom, in her favorite colors, full of flowers and butterflies, and poetry. My son painted a picture. We are going to mail her a care package along with some photos of us since I don’t think we can visit.

I have this gnawing feeling of guilt like I SHOULD visit, like I HAVE to visit, but my counselors say I don’t, and that those are shame gremlins speaking. If I WANT to see her, then maybe I should try to manage it, that is if mom even wants to see me. But I don’t have to operate out of that place where I’m the good girl and satisfying urges to squash feelings of guilt and obligation.

This is so complex and each day brings up more powerful emotions for me. I wish I had more time to sort it all out. I’m doing the best I can with a difficult situation that I can’t control. And I’m doing it moment by moment. I might change my mind once these feelings settle down.

I’ve included Tim McGraw’s song here in case you don’t know the one I mentioned earlier. I’m going to listen and cry again. You’d think my well would be dry, where are these tears all coming from??

Learn to identify your own emotions

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Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen. link to article below.

I’ve been searching for aids to help me identify what I’m feeling in my mind and body from moment to moment and came across this diagram from Discover Magazine – Body Atlas reveals where we feel emotions. Before I started trauma focused therapy, I was unaware we felt emotions anywhere other than in our minds. I was so tightly in control of my emotions, that I did not fully feel them, and I did not feel them in connection to my mind and body and the moment.

I was raised with a number of unbalanced beliefs about emotions, many from the trauma and abuse I endured, many a product of survival, many a product of the aftermath.

Emotions made me weak.
I’m not allowed to feel that way.
I should feel like . . .
My feelings are troublesome and need to be hidden.
Showing my true feelings could be dangerous.
I might be rejected or unloved if I am not pleasant at all times.
Negative emotions are bad.
Only bad people have bad feelings.
Everyone else’s feelings are more important than my own.
I have no need to feel anything of my own.
Crying is pointless and bothers others around you and should not be done, but definitely can never be seen.
I shouldn’t make others uncomfortable.

Then there is the issue of the pain I was consciously avoiding. I knew it was there, somewhere under the surface. I never looked directly at it. I learned to avoid falling in the hole, somehow, even though I had my eyes shut. This new counselor encouraged me to open my eyes. At first I thought she was crazy, that I was incapable, and that I would fall in the hole and get swallowed up by that pain. But what I found was that it wasn’t a hole, but a wave. I had been avoiding and holding back a wave. Once I let go, it washed over me. I felt it. I got wet. I struggled and thought maybe I couldn’t get back up for a moment, but the intensity didn’t last. Soon I could breathe again and the tears started flowing. And then they stopped too. I’m still not good at crying, it only comes out in little bursts. But each one is an amazing connection of mind and body, and I don’t judge or try to control anything, only feel what my body needs me to feel. I can’t do it everytime. My natural inclination is still to block it all. But once in a while we literally have a breakthrough and my counselor is so proud to see me express emotions, and then I laugh too, at how odd it is that she WANTS me to cry and feel this pain.

Then she helps me to identify and understand it all, and to reduce its power over me. Sometimes I think she is a magician, when she tears down a mental barrier and I can actually feel it, like a switch in my brain, something changes. A belief I had is no longer so powerful, just like that. And now all I have to do is practice it the new way of thinking and I’ll keep getting better, firing new neurons, making new pathways instead of stuck in these PTSD ones I’ve had for so long.

Sometimes I sit in front of her, unable to identify what I’m feeling because it is too intense, and too many feelings all together. She helps me by telling me what she sees in my body language and asking me what I feel.

One time, I had a worksheet that generated something that brought on feelings in me that caused me to nearly pass out. I would get a choking feeling in my throat, my heart would race, my stomach clench, a cold sweat, and then I’d get dizzy and things would go black if I didn’t ease up.

Terror.

She identified that one as terror. not fear or panic or anxiety, but terror. No wonder I had been avoiding it. It was a childhood memory that I’ve been carrying around, one of so, so many, that I couldn’t make sense of at the time, so it remained unprocessed in my mind and body. A dark shadow in the corner of my mind. A thought I don’t think. A feeling I don’t feel. One of many.

It was why I had become numb. It was why I learned to disassociate. I understand now.

Toddlers learn to identify and regulate emotions when parents teach them what they are feeling. I was taught not to cry. I was taught to shut up. I was taught to always smile no matter what – or else. I was not allowed to feel and never learned to identify or regulate basic emotions. So I get to do it now.

Forgive my tears and tantrums, forgive my outbursts and confusion, I’m an emotional toddler, learning it all brand new. I feel like an idiot, out of control, unpredictable. So far I have no lasting relief from all of this new knowledge, only extreme pain, despair, distress. Sometimes I feel like it was better being numb, but of course I couldn’t go on like that. That’s what lead to my complete breakdown. My mind and body could not do it any longer.

So here’s what I have figured out. I walk around nearly constantly with some level of fear, sadness, and shame. That’s my baseline. It’s a cold, sleepy, kind of an empty feeling that makes me want to hide and avert my eyes. It makes my mouth dry, my voice quiet, my shoulders slump, my fingers clench and feel cold, and somewhere in my chest, I guess I have a constant heartache.

Anxiety and panic is more in my chest, with my throat and breathing. I cross my arms.

Disgust makes me nauseous, my entire stomach gets tight and woozy. I get dizzy too. My lip curls.

Anger I feel in my head, my eyebrows get tight, my face gets hot. I get a racing feeling, quick thoughts. Heart is pounding hard but not fast.

I’ve been trying to feel pride, love, joy, happiness. I think I get them for a moment but it’s too fast and too faint. I know I am proud of my kids, but I don’t feel it in my body any where. When I try to – fear and shame actually kicks in and overpowers…so that’s interesting. I’ve felt the love received from Hubby and kids, a brief warmth, that again gets quickly erased. PTSD is not allowing me to feel good right now. It’s like I’m tuned into the misery channels. Counselor says give it time and the misery broadcast will fade away and allow the good ones to have a turn. Well I have to give it time…I have no other choice, this is me right now.

Sitting with it

I’m many weeks into the cognitive processing group therapy program and I’m finally beginning to understand this mysterious phrase the counselors in DBT said to me months ago. They told me not to be afraid to sit in my discomfort. When I started this program for traumatic stress recovery so many months ago, I was in seriously bad shape. I was having suicidal thoughts daily, no hourly. The mental anguish was torture. I wasn’t sure I could hold on this time. I hated this group, thought it was led by idiots, hated this touchy feely crap, and absolutely hated ambiguous meaningless phrases like “don’t be afraid to sit in it, just sit with it for a while”. I’d look at them politely, but my raised eyebrows should have told anyone I thought they were nutso, not me.

I wasn’t feeling anything. I had nothing to sit in. All I had was the same overwhelming fear, pain, shame, guilt, disgust…this big ball of crap I’ve always felt that had always overridden new current emotions. I was disconnected from my own feelings, all I had was this ptsd mess, that when triggered made me shut down and want to die.

So they’ve started to break through my mess of chaos. Bit by bit, chipping away at it, making sense of it, adding logic and compassion.

They’re helping me connect the dots in my own brain and body, recognize and label emotions (starting to…so much practice needed here I feel like an alien or a robot) with these worksheets and mental exercises that add order to my chaotic brain.

Change is starting. I can feel it.

Good things will happen. But mostly I am worn out by this process, and reconnecting with past fears and emotions and hearing the others in group is making me either stuck in perpetual sadness or anger.

I know I’m not angry. And yet I feel angry today. In my bones, I feel it.

And I’m sitting with it.

Disassociating

I’ve attended about 6 weeks of DBT group therapy sessions now, and about 8 hours of individual work by staying after group with a counselor.

Progress?? Yeah that’s a joke. I am learning a lot though. Learning how F-ed up I am and how much more work I need to do to get my brain functioning properly.

Apparently, I am, and have likely been for my entire life, disassociating for large portions of my day every day. I am completely freeeaked out by this knowledge. How could this be true and I never knew? and no one around me knew? I’ve always been ‘quiet’, kept to myself, a dreamer, spacey, people would have to call my name a few times to snap my attention back to them. I know I drift off frequently whenever people talk – I attributed that to boredom or fatigue. Always playing catch-up. Just a bad listener. I know I had memory gaps – I thought that was the migraines or normal – everyone forgets what people said or where they put something and has to have precise routine and lists. I am slower than everyone else at everything – always last to finish eating a meal, fold the laundry, do the dishes, turn the test, write that report, etc.

Turns out my brain is practically turning off parts of itself and I am frozen quite often, much more often than I ever knew. Sometimes a few seconds, sometimes a few minutes, sometimes a few hours. I used to think I was sleeping lightly or dozed off because I have altered senses and memories for what people were doing around me in those times. I can still hear people talking but I can’t move or respond, its not real.

My DBT counselor is teaching me grounding skills to become more aware and eventually stop this disassociating. What’s freaky is I’ve been using many of these skills my entire life to force myself to stay present without knowing it during school, like chewing gum, tapping and counting my fingers, stretching legs, pinching fingers in binder, pushing fingernails into palm, playing with rubberband or bracelet on wrist. I’ve always used ice on my head to stop migraines, turns out that is good for grounding too. Any quick temp change to shock the body back to the present is good. So I’ve been using coping skills and just didn’t know what they were or what I was coping with.

See my abuse started earlier than I can recall, before age 3, and was chronic, daily, it was my life. So it makes sense my brain learned how to adapt and I never knew anything, it was just me, and part of why I always felt different from others on top of my dirty secrets.

So lately, my pattern has been to ground myself back and back and back through what I have to do, and then I let go once I am back home and safe. I am discovering I can lose hours here at home, not sleeping, but zoned out in disassociative land especially after ‘surviving’ a social encounter. I’m now supposed to try to prevent this by taking a cool shower, getting many ice packs, dancing to loud music, keep my body up and moving and grounded after something stressful to break this habit of 30 plus years. It is a skill my brain learned to protect itself from the unbearable pain of child abuse that it could not understand. It served a purpose then, but it doesn’t now. I am safe now (I am supposed to believe this, and I’m trying, but I don’t yet) and I guess I can’t live my life and experience it if I keep tuning it out most of the time.

DBT counselor says this is why I feel empty and detached and it is the first step to building a life I want to live. I want to believe her, and so I am trying. Because there is no alternative at this point.

Also figuring out this may be core to why Hubby and I have so many miscommunications. He likes to say things on the move as he goes from one room to the next and assumes whoever is in the room has heard him. Like he’ll say “I’m going to the store” and I don’t hear him, and then after a bit I start looking for him all over the house and then he returns home with groceries and I’m irritated because there was something I needed and would have asked him to get if I knew he was going out. He gets all confused because he says he told me and I say he didn’t tell me. At least this is what he says he’s been doing, from my point of view he hasn’t been saying anything to me at all lately and from where I’m at not trusting him or anyone, its hard for me to believe the convenience of he must be communicating well and thoughtfully and it must be me disassociating and not answering and not remembering.

I don’t want to be that unwell. Easier to be angry and not believe them, because, holy hell batman, how do I recover, how do I accept a mental illness that great, that all encompassing, that I’ve been battling my entire life and no one noticed? or they noticed and just let it go? That’s hard to swallow.

DBT counselor says it is possible to rewire my brain – slowly, and painfully. But I have to want to do it and stop hurting myself, and stop fighting the process. Yeah, let me just nail this jello to the wall and pull some monkeys out of my butt. She doesn’t promise rainbows and unicorns, but I don’t even have a concept for what she is promising because it is all so foreign to me. Feel something before thinking and analyzing, stop controlling it, connect mind-body-emotions, talk to real live people without panic, build relationships and connections, live a meaningful life.

I don’t know what I believe. So I am still going day by day with my guard up, seeing who is out to get me, who is trying to trick me, which reality is real.

I’m too smart to feel this confused, right? nope. not at all. My emotions never developed properly, I never learned to regulate them in toddlerhood and preschool – I wasn’t allowed. And then I learned to also disconnect my mind from emotions and body so the abuse didn’t feel real. It’s how I escaped while it was still happening. So if I am to believe this, I have in stead, been disassociating every time the emotions get too intense because I never  learned to self soothe healthily. This became a habit and I became a quiet kid who kept to herself, never caused trouble, and grew up with this bad habit, reinforced over the years because it worked so well, and now I can’t stop doing it because I don’t know any other way.

Maybe

Are you a joy squasher?

I am. Part of this PTSD with depression package is the inability to fully allow myself to feel joy. When something great happens, I feel high, as a kite, like every cell is dancing. And then alarm bells go off.

Woooop! Wooooop! Danger! Joy has been experienced and is overloading the system. Enact defense mechanisms immediately!

And instantly I feel calmer, and give myself unrelenting reality checks. My inner voice tells me every reason why I shouldn’t get so excited, and cautions me to be careful.

For example, I believe my new boss has great plans for me and will treat me right. I feel this in my gut, that something great is on the horizon for my career. That I may actually have a career and not just a few hours of something that pays some of the bills. This is not just my gut though, he has actually said he wants me to lead certain programs and that he has so many projects he wants me to get started on as soon as we hire a replacement for current position. He was open to the suggestion of hiring my sis-in-law and will be speaking to her soon.

These are all good things and I should feel good. I deserve to feel good. I have worked so hard, taken some risks, put myself out there and shown him what I can do. The reality is that I have some amazing skills – all my years of self analysis have paid off into making me a super duper analytical thinker and idea generator. Fighting for my life through depression for so many years has given me a bull dog tenacity for figuring out creative solutions and implementing improvement programs. Turns out my skill set for healing applies directly to business development. I don’t exactly put it that way on my resume though.

So why do I squash this joy and hope? Easy. I am afraid it won’t really happen and I am protecting myself from a huge letdown. Why don’t I think it will happen? Well, because I have not had much luck advancing my career at all. Part of me thinks I am doomed to work for a pitiful hourly rate forever, that I am not permitted to succeed, that my suffering and struggling will have no end. And that is why it feels dangerous to hope, because I am afraid those dark thoughts will spiral uncontrollably if this doesn’t work out. And so I squash the joy. I keep the good in check so I won’t be overcome by the bad.

Is this a good strategy?

NO!

I need to learn to allow the good feelings to linger, dance and play. They feel so foreign, and so I attack them. My therapist said anyone would feel great if her boss praised her like that. And that I should let it ride, float around in the joy, and let it be.

I’m so used to controlling my emotions, so used to them being wrong or distorted that it is difficult to know which ones should actually be there. I need be to nurturing joy, or at least allow myself to feel all of it. How I stop this monitoring and allow myself to feel what I feel?

Does anyone know how?