Tag Archive | Posttraumatic stress disorder

Self Harm Imagery

Horse Hugs

Here’s a big old horse hug to anyone out there who is hurting (I’m afraid to hug bears) (Photo credit: Reggie fun)

**Trigger Warning**

Self harm, I think, can be done mentally, with no outward signs.

We have all discussed the troubles associated with negative thinking, and allowing the inner critic to put us down and steal our shame. But today I want to look at another form of mental self harm – Imagery.

I have suffered with suicidal ideations for way too many years. I can be having a great day, and pow, there goes a fleeting thought wishing myself dead. I can usually shake it off and keep going, I’ve gotten quite used to these bothersome thoughts and know they need dismissing immediately.

About a month ago, I went a bit further than suicidal ideation. I got stuck in some of those thoughts, they became intrusive, powerful, and uncontrollable. It was frightening. It was horrible. But even more horrible was the imagery, the waking nightmares, the gruesome daydreams I conjured for myself.

I spoke to my therapist about these images, and told her that thankfully they are no longer intrusive, but that I can still recall them easily, and that they now can flash into my consciousness like those ‘I want to die’ thoughts. These are much more disturbing to me, they have more power and take me a little longer to shake off, since I am seeing myself die horrible deaths.

So I starting thinking more about these images and why I may have created them in the first place. I think I may have been doing the mental equivalent of cutting, inflicting self harm. I did not pick up a knife, but many of my imagined scenes had me slowly and deliberately cutting myself, watching myself bleed. I f I could not stop the mental scene, I would watch myself die, and often watch my children find me this way.

I think my brain found my biggest weakness and has been using it against me. Huh? Are you still with me? I know this sounds a bit bonkers, but I think it makes sense in the context that PTSD controls my emotions and visual memories at times – why couldn’t it create new ones for me? And now I have to relive these invented traumatic scenes. I have never been carved up and mutilated, so why can I imagine it so vividly? AND – when I was down so low, why did these images have a soothing effect? Yes, that’s when I thought of cutting, and the calm I have heard others describe around that activity. And then of course of the shame cycle, the ever present shame cycle.

Is it possible that my abuse damaged brain had to up the ante on me, since I have been doing so well plugging on through the flashbacks and depression, and overall so much stronger and healthier these days? Did I find a new way to hurt myself? I can’t truly consider suicide, every time I do, the thought of leaving and hurting my children brings me back out of the dangerous ‘make a plan’ zone and back to the ‘let’s play with the idea of it’ zone. So my brain invented the most painful images it could, my children not just suffering with my loss, but having to see my gruesome bloody body and know that I did it to myself.

I want to get these images out of my head, but alas, just as I can’t erase my childhood memories, I can’t erase these new ones. I almost thought about drawing them, but was afraid that would give them more power. I know I can’t simply ignore them, they must be processed and allowed to fade.

Sigh. Why, when life is otherwise good, would I traumatize myself like this? Well, I hated myself for a few weeks there, that’s why. I remember hating myself like I was an evil putrid stain. Something foul and disgusting that no one could bear to even acknowledge exists, let alone look at or live with. And so I found a new way to hurt myself.

Sometimes I hate being creative.

I tried searching for anything about mental cutting and found this forum where people discuss experiencing nearly the same feelings from imagining they were cutting. So many hurting people in this world, and so much strength as well.

I did not find anything yet close to my own experience though, since I have never cut myself in real life. I attempted suicide twice, and neither of the times were a bloody method.

 

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Trying to keep my head up

Balloon Boys

This hat might help keep my head up (Photo credit: Camera Slayer)

So many negative thoughts pushing my head down. I’m full of fear and hopelessness, but also this edgy restlessness too. It is really uncomfortable inside me right now.

I realized I don’t want friends. Not real people that would call and stop over. I realized I push away anyone who tries to get too close.

Is this a fear? Sure, there may be a fear that I may start to need them or depend on them, and that they would leave me, abandon me like all my other friends did when times got tough. Safer to keep everyone out of my heart.

But another fear is my privacy. My need for a secretive life. I think I need to feel misunderstood. It is a part of what fuels me. I’ve never had a busy social life, just a busy life. Even though I was in many clubs, had many jobs, volunteered, etc I was there for the doing part, not the doing it together part.

Today I am wondering why. I used to wish for some girlfriends, like I had in high school. Someone I could call and chat about anything, someone to go to lunch and movies, and talk about boys and clothes. I started getting close to some ladies a few years ago, and have pushed each one away from me, saying to shopping or movies or dinner parties. They are still happy if I text them or hang out sometimes, but no one tries to get close to me any more. And I am relieved.

I think it has more to do with my fear of them needing me. I know that at times I need to withdraw and retreat into myself. I get very selfish at these times, as I try to recreate my purpose for living and simply keep going. I have not found anyone, except a few other bloggers here, that truly understand this. I don’t want them to come complaining to me about their day and expect a shoulder to cry on. I can barely be here for my family, I don’t think I can handle that from anyone else.

I avoided my sis-in-law’s calls when I heard she broke her leg, I just didn’t want to hear about her pain and troubles. She lives too far for me to be obligated to help, but I couldn’t even offer to listen.

My therapist told me to be gentle, and not force myself to do anything I don’t have to do. So I screen phone calls, cancelled yet another performance with my friends, don’t let my kids have friends over, and spend most of my time resting and icing my back.

I’ve had a headache for over a week now, like a pre-migraine with pain and aura, extra sensitivity, but not the pain I know it could be. The back spasms and twitches are a bit better than last week, but any twisting or bending starts it up again. I figured out how to line up multiple ice packs to cover my entire spine at once and found some relief that way. But then, like an idiot, I felt cold and shivery too, so I had a heating pad on my tummy. I felt ridiculous, but it worked.

I had a terrible morning today, did not want to be up with the kids. Hubby is back at work and I have no buffer. Every time I think I have everything all set the night before, each morning gives me surprises that my sleepy/grumpy brain can’t handle. Simple things, like we are out of the jelly for PBJ sandwiches so I have to hear them whine. I can’t handle whining right now. It feels like knives piercing my skull. I either have to go numb and make no response at all, or I get angry and snap at them. I get so impatient for them to just grow up and leave me alone.

I don’t want to be this type of mom. I want to explain to them why I am acting like this so they know it isn’t their fault. But what to say that would make any sense or wouldn’t make them worry?

My daughter asked me today why I make them be so quiet in the morning. I was thinking, “So I don’t want to hit you” but just told her what I always do, “mornings are hard for me, I’m still tired and slow”

I’m keeping my head up above these negative thoughts, but just barely. I’m so afraid that one big stress will suck me under if these little bitty stresses cause so much havoc.

I don’t know if I need more rest, more time, or if I need meds to get rid of this terrible feeling I have. Not ready to jump on the antidepressant train, with side effects and withdrawals so terrible. I’m not sure they are the answer anyway. Still fighting that everything is pointless feeling. I think I need to find the source of that and squash it once and for all.

I had some time alone this weekend and did feel better, got in some exercise so maybe just more time resting. But I hate waiting, I feel like I need to be doing something, anything, to keep fighting, to change something. I’m no good at treading water, the thoughts are so heavy this way.

Maybe I just need that helium balloon hat to keep my head up. Or a brain transplant. I’ve been looking into neurofeedback and other therapies. Maybe it is time for something altogether different to get out of this loop. Or that is my desperate way of looking for an answer that doesn’t exist. Deep in my heart, I fear that is true. That I will always be battling myself, my own worst enemy. Always keeping everyone away, always slipping under the water.

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Feeling Abandoned When I Know I am Not

Why can’t I shake this terrible feeling? Why does my brain keep lying to me? I keep having this terrible feeling that Hubby has pulled back away from and even ignores me lately. I know this isn’t true, and I still have to battle this feeling.

He has not been around as much, that part is true. He has been working extra long days to make some Christmas money, and he took a week long business trip. At home, he is either worn out and sleeping, or rushing about helping with the kids, making dinner, doing chores. He has not been able to stay awake to talk to me once the kids go to bed, and I miss him like crazy. All of this is true and makes sense.

What isn’t true, what doesn’t make sense, is the next step in my PTSD brain. Apparently this feeling triggers a whole slew of unhealthy thoughts and emotions for me. I start having thoughts like, “Is he purposely ignoring me? Is he annoyed with me? Am I a burden to him? Would he rather I wasn’t here?”

Anyone who has PTSD or suffered depression knows how dangerous those thoughts can be. I find myself on the edge of that slippery slope, looking down into depression. So far I have remained on top, looking in, and haven’t fallen into that uncontrollable land of despair. But those thoughts, those dark thoughts that encourage me to jump wear me down. Something in my brain wants me to sink back down. Something in my brain tells me I’m not worth it and that I will ALWAYS feels sad.

I know enough to argue with myself now. NO! I won’t always feel sad. NO! He loves me and misses me too. This sadness is actually a good thing – it means I have finally attached myself to hubby and trust him. You should miss someone when you don’t get to see them. I have to reason through all of this and decide which parts to share with an over-tired hubby. He takes on guilt so easily, and I don’t want to do that. But I did promise to keep him informed of my mental state.

So I choosing this post as way to say I am not doing so well, the dark thoughts are attacking me. I have had so many passing thoughts of “life is too hard, I can’t do it, it would be so much easier if I just died in my sleep”.

Those thoughts are in my head, but they aren’t mine, right? I struggle with this part so much. It must be the PTSD or depression talking, because I know I have hopes, dreams, and plans. But it can’t be healthy to hate a part of my brain, just like it isn’t healthy to hate an overweight body. But I hate these thoughts. I hate how it makes me feel, I hate how tired it makes me, and I hate how close it gets to stealing away my hope – each time.

Today, I have no joy in my body, but I know to go through the motions and do what is right, and to ignore those dark thoughts, or even better, fight them. I have not been abandoned, I am not a sad, neglected child again. I need to stop feeling like one and needing so much from Hubby to prevent those feelings. It isn’t his job to be at my side 24/7. He is more than enough – he is amazing, so I don’t ever want him to feel like this is his fault or like he should be doing more.

Seasonal and Cyclical Battles

So what’s up with me? I’m not entirely sure, it has no name. Every November I risk losing my mind. My brain and body attack me until I wave the white flag. I think it may be some physical and psychological symptoms working together – like an annual perfect storm.

I think my PTSD kicks up a notch with triggers all around.I fear all of the upcoming holiday gatherings and memories of years past. My guilt picks up as I dread gift exchanges, never having enough money and giving handmade gifts, or sometimes nothing at all. I am tormented by giving tons of junk to my kids so they can have the same experience their friends have, and my own belief that the stuff is junk and not needed and I hate feeding their greed and materialism. (NEW! My therapist has a new theory as well, she thinks the darkness of the shorter days is actually a trigger to me since most of my abuse occurred when I was in my room at night. I may be feeling like it is almost bed time all day long, triggering my fear of abuse. Not sure what to do with this new theory though, just tossing it out there for consideration.)

I think my immune system crashes, after months of fighting allergies to pollen, grass and  mold, and the rotting leaves outside and the dry/dusty furnace air inside put me over the top. I get so dry that I can’t smile without my lips cracking and bleeding. My lips cause me all sorts trouble, from peeling to cracking, to chronic painful sores (chelitis and cold sore blisters – not so pretty). Running humidifiers, drinking extra water, peroxide rinses and using lip balm helps a little. My sinuses and ears stay blocked up, I have a constant headache and can barely hear. Antihistamines and decongestants only help a little. Neti pot and showers help more. (I have spoken to a friend with lupus and have decided to visit a rheumatologist to investigate a possible autoimmune disease. I’d hate to blame PTSD and actually have a physical disease. I get rashes from the sunlight, joint pain (I have a special mouse that keeps my thumb straight, have to wrap my knee to prevent it from locking while I sleep, have red swollen knuckles, mouth/nose sores, GI issues)

My sleep/dream cycle goes batsh*t crazy. I can’t sleep very long at all, sometimes wake up after just 10-15 minutes with a feeling like I have slept longer and get so disappointed to see the same TV program is still on. Often I can’t sleep on purpose, like a restless toddler, I can only fall asleep when I’m not trying. If I lay down and try to sleep, I get a panic attack. The flip side is I fall asleep when I don’t want to, like during business meetings. And my dreams are always vivid and wild, sometimes terrifying, sometimes just wild goose chasing – always exhausting. I’ve increased vitamin D supplements again, reduced caffeine, try meditating, and that list goes on, I blog about it often. But the fact remains that a big part of me still fears falling asleep.

My negative mental tapes start running and looping endlessly. I fall into cognitive distortion land where everything is black/white and all or nothing, I misunderstand simple comments and interactions to my detriment, and I somehow misconstrue my own beliefs to unintentionally sound hurtful. I think I’m not good enough, feel like everyone is sick of me, that I’m a huge bother, and can’t accept any compliments without it feeling patronizing.

I stop taking care of my body. This time of year, my eating gets all disordered. I don’t ever feel hungry or full, so I try to eat by the clock and the plate size, but I end up not eating for way too long, and overeating sometimes too. I get random cravings, I stress eat junk food, and sometimes I get a panic feeling when I start eating and I just can’t stop, so the overeating enters binge territory. And then the shame, hiding the wrappers and empty containers from my family, avoiding the scale, knowing my pants are getting tighter. I’m too tired to move, I barely shower and change clothes, actual exercise seems impossible. More shame. I want to be healthy. I know I’m mistreating my body, but I can’t figure out how to change this part yet. (NEW! My therapist has a theory about this too. She thinks part of me wants Hubby to scold me for over eating and putting on weight – like my both my parents always did. She thinks I still don’t trust that he loves me for being me, and that I may be partially testing him to see if he can love a fat slob. I don’t want to be that messed up, but I’m not ruling it out. ALSO something very interesting. I was playing Sims with my 2nd grader last week, and creating a sim that looked as close to me as possible. I adjusted the body weight to what I thought was accurate, and he started laughing and asked why I made myself so fat. ?? I was seriously confused and asked him to make it look like me, and I thought he was just being nice when he went down several sizes. My therapist said a 2nd grader wouldn’t be nice, he was being honest, and that I seem to have some body dysmorphic disorder to go along with all my other distortions. She told me I am beautiful and I cringed and felt nauseous. Hmmm. I understand this intellectually, I took psych courses. But once again understanding does not translate to  instant change. My BMI is 1 point on the overweight side, but could I be wrong about what the extra 10-15 pounds looks like on me? I feel huge and uncomfortable at my current weight.)

So lots to think about, that’s for sure. MIL is taking kids for the few days and I intend to sleep, sleep and sleep, and focus on my eating and any feelings I have while eating (homework from therapist).

It’s beginning to look a lot like SAD and PTSD

Every where I go
Still awake at three, five and ten
eyes glistening once again
with candy and TV shows

Sorry – The Christmas Carols are in full force around here already.

Yes it is November. (sarcastic yay)

Time to start the yearly battle to keep my sanity while I try to keep going. Time to increase my self-control measures to avoid biting off anyone’s head. Time to watch entire series on netflix instead of sleeping. Time to abuse my pancreas and my liver with over indulgence of every sort. Time to feel irritable and frustrated as the norm.

I have not slept well, ever in my life. But it gets so much worse this time of year. I sleep for about 15 minutes, and immediately enter a dream, that shocks me back awake. The shock then keeps me awake and unable to sleep. If I try to just lay quietly, my mind starts racing, and my heart too, and so I turn on the TV to distract myself and hopefully fall back asleep at some point.

Interestingly, I used to blame this weird sleep/dream cycle on zoloft, but I have been anti-depressant free for many years now and it still happens to me this time of year.

I have tried light therapy in the past, but gave up on it because it made me feel worse. Sitting at the light makes me nauseous, nervous, edgy and unable to function most of the day. And still unable to sleep at night.

The only thing that helps me is eating. I hate that. I keep doing it because it keeps helping, but then I feel so guilty and weak and disgusted with myself. But I’d rather be a bit overweight than out of control. I have zero patience with the kids, and even though I hear myself saying nasty things, I can not stop them, I can only leave the room. I hate that part of me. I want them to feel loved – all of the time – not just when I’m having a strange moment of calmness.

I’m going through the motions and have not withdrawn from people or events completely. I stay home when I can, and force myself out when I must. The play performances are this weekend and I should be excited to see my kids on stage. But I’m not – I’m just not. I’m happy for them, happy they are having fun and getting this great experience, but I am struggling to share it with them. The thought of being at the theatre all weekend, surrounded by other families does not make me happy.  I hear every squirm and whine and whisper in the audience, and I swear I smell every person there. The play itself is tortuous to me. I hate admitting this. The kids are cute and doing their best, but waiting for them to remember the lines and the slow pacing of the play kills me.  And then seeing it 4 times, ugh. Am I a terrible mom for not wanting to sit through this? The other moms are so excited each time and take pictures every 2 seconds and laugh at the jokes like they haven’t heard it 600 hundred times in rehearsal before. The music accompaniment is terrible, they use this techno organ setting on the keyboard for some unknown reason – though I do like when the kids all sing, that’s always cute. Also my mom is coming to see the play. I don’t think this makes me too nervous, but there is always an unknown with that.

I’m off to see my therapist today and see what else she may recommend for me. I am so anxious to be stable and peaceful once and for all. I can’t accept that SAD and PTSD may rule my life forever. I want to be in charge. I’m hoping the paragraph above is a reflection of my illness, and not really how I feel, but then what is the difference really, as to what causes what I feel when it is how I feel? See, I am struggling right now.

I fell asleep during a meeting yesterday, luckily webcam was off and I was muted so no one knew. But times like this I think I am crazy for ever thinking I can handle a ‘real’ full time job. As much as I dislike my current job, I am so blessed to have it.

http://ptsd.about.com/od/relatedconditions/a/SADandPTSD.htm

I have been reading – another way to pass away the late hours when I can’t sleep – and also found some evidence that PTSD itself can cycle. Especially related to traumatic events. I’ve been wondering if I experienced something more traumatic this time of year and I just don’t remember what. My brain is such a mess, I just don’t know.

I need to stop thinking and start some doing, but my brain is winning these days, and my body is losing big time. But the thought of the treadmill just makes me want to cry, since the task of the shower is so difficult right now. Skipping the shower again so I can drive myself to the therapist. I make these choices every day because I can’t do it all. Stupid brain. Stupid PTSD. Grrr.

PTSD and Schizophrenia May Be in the Same Spectrum

PTSD and Schizophrenia may be related as varying degrees of a similar malfunction.

I was describing a recent flashback to my therapist, and I finally got brave and actually described it without watering it down. I told her how it seemed so real, and that I could see, hear, feel, smell – everything- my past superimposing and flickering over my present – leaving me unsure for moments which age I actually was.  I told her I was afraid to say that before, afraid I would get taken away and locked up. She smiled her sad smile at me, knowing what I meant. I asked her if any of her other clients describe flashbacks as powerful hallucinations – and she said yes.

So that got me thinking – woah – what if my brother’s schizophrenia is similar to my PTSD flashbacks? What if all hallucinations work on the same mechanism, the same spectrum of disorder, but that schizophrenia is much more severe?

What if schizophrenia is a flashback that doesn’t end with a safe return to reality?  I shudder at the thought. 

Turns out some recent studies have been thinking along the same lines. Check out this article: http://healingattention.org/documents/doc_litreviewpsychosis.pdf

Excerpts from that article:

“Paranoid delusions: faulty attempts to explain traumabased hallucinations? Some people, when faced
with negative, emotionally loaded, or unusual or anomalous experiences quickly jump to the
suspicion of external threat, i.e. they become paranoid. Hearing voices when there is nobody
there is often (but not always) a negative experience, and is often experienced as unusual

or anomalous. Paranoid delusions are sometimes, therefore, understandable attempts to make sense
of hallucinations (in various sense modalities) (106, 146–148, 155–157).
Paranoid delusions can, of course, develop in the absence of hallucinations. Is there a difference
between the hypervigilance to threat acknowledged in PTSD patients to be the outcome of
trauma and the belief that people are out to get you which is labelled delusional in traumatized
people diagnosed psychotic? (30, 33). Having been severely or repeatedly abused as a child is
likely to render other people a serious potential threat, a threat that can easily be generalized to
anyone or anything that is reminiscent of the perpetrator or the circumstances surrounding the
abuse. The processes by which hypervigilance develops into fixed paranoid delusions would
appear to be a fruitful research avenue. Again, Nadel and Jacob’s (159) work on the impact of
trauma on the brain is salient. Whether we label this PTSD, DID or schizophrenia, the resulting
fear, distortions and impoverishment of lives remain. Heightened sensitivity to stressors: the Traumagenic
Neurodevelopmental (TN) model Many of the theories attempting to explain trauma’s relationships with hallucinations and
delusions, such as high levels of distress in the face of anomalous experiences and hypervigilance
to threat, are consistent with a heightened sensitivity to stress in general. A study of 271 severely ill
in-patients found that the two subscales of the Brief Symptom Inventory most strongly related to
sexual and physical abuse were psychoticism and interpersonal sensitivity (164).
Heightened reactivity to stressors is a cardinal feature of schizophrenia (165) and is considered
the core of the constitutional vulnerability that forms the diathesis in the stress-diathesis model.”

Surprising Myself – PTSD Memory Theory

One of the positives (maybe the only positive actually) of having an impaired memory system is that I often surprise myself. I have the ability to completely forget something my foggy brain has done.

I think everyone does this from time to time, not just PTSD sufferers, like when you search for your car keys because you don’t recall where you set them down, and find them later – in the freezer. You get a nice moment of surprise and quick little giggle at how imperfect we really are. We try to hold so many things in our working memory at once, pay attention to a zillion details, and can easily lose the little ones that slipped away, never to be transferred into long term memory.

My happy surprise was a note to myself that I found in my purse, and that I had no memory at all of writing.

I was sitting in my therapist’s waiting room, digging for a blank card from my purse, when I found one with this lovely message on it:

“Connections make you strong within your kingdom. Castles are only strong when you stay inside of them.”

Isn’t that a great surprise to myself? I can be so thoughtful, it seems, just wish I could remember that. I stared at that card in disbelief. It was my handwriting on my card in my purse. I’m no detective, but I’m pretty sure I wrote that. I wonder where I heard it?

And then I let the meaning sink in of those lovely words. And I wondered if I had previously let the meaning sink in, when I wrote it, and I was able to now have a new reaction to it. I used to live all alone, safe in my castle, but it was a haunted castle full of ghosts from my past. I’ve written many posts about it, sometimes calling it: tower, fortress, walls, prison, etc. The meaning is the same no matter what you call it and I was stuck inside, of me, and had no outside connections.

I didn’t know how to make connections to anyone outside my castle. Not even my husband knew what was going on inside of me. And so I started this blog, to figure things out, and with the strongest hope of making a connection to someone, anyone, who may understand me. My connections here, my amazing blogging friends, not only understand me, but also accept and validate me. It was through their support that I was able to find myself and continue reaching out to others.

Brains and memory retrieval are fascinating to me, and I have learned so much since my PTSD diagnosis. And my knowledge is helping me to heal. I see the brain as needing to file and organize all of the data it receives. Ordinary data is filed in ordinary places. Extraordinary or traumatic data is often filed incorrectly. If you will, the secretary in the brain responsible for putting away the memories does a great job with how much there is to process.  But when something happens that does not fit, uses too many emotions, does not make sense, or is just too large, well it is left un-filed. Picture a secretary holding our memory folders, happily humming and filing each and every one, and all of a sudden the fire alarm sounds, and she must drop the folder and evacuate to save her life. That folder did not get dealt with properly during the trauma and now is out of place, and will be found later, once the crisis is over and the secretary resumes filing.

So to me, a PTSD flashback is simply a memory folder that was dropped in a time of crisis, that we now need to examine the contents and either discard if no longer needed, or deal with properly and store in the correct location of our brain. This is my own theory based on my experiences, and may not apply to anyone else. For me, once I actually examine the flashback, look at it directly, feel the depth of it, do what needs to be done with it – usually cry and grieve since I was unable to do that when the trauma happened originally – then I can toss out the extra baggage, and file the memory as a simple memory. When I recall a processed flashback, it no longer has power over me, it is no longer devastating once it is filed properly. And it stops coming up and demanding attention. It is just a memory that I can recall when I try, but it does not force itself on me any more.

So I now understand my goal. I need to find each misfiled memory and put it where it belongs. That doesn’t sound scary when I put it that way. I also think I won’t be completely ‘healed’ until every folder has been examined and relocated. And with so many traumatic events in my life, I still have a towering pile of folders strewn about. But I know I have support. I could not even open these file folders until I had made connections (and got out of my castle!) and found support and truly trusted in my husband, therapist, and even a bit in my blogging friends to help me sort it all out.