Ugly useful things

This is a “Don’t try this at home”– kind of post. I’ll say it again: I don’t recommend any of the things below, the sole purpose of this post is to be authentic – and as mental illness isn’t always pretty, this post isn’t either.

Most days I am very aware that it is incredibly important to practice self-care and if I can’t do it for myself I sometimes do it to see my therapist smile. But then there are the other days. Those where I feel so dark and twisted and cynical that I just can’t bring myself to act responsibly. And that’s when things like the following happen:

Once upon a time when I was very, very desperate, I searched for “100 reasons not to cut” on the internet, just to see if there was anything convincing. I was in a dark place so nothing I found actually felt like it mattered: “Your family might worry.”, “The scars will look ugly!”, or “The wounds may not heal well.” simply left me as indifferent as I’d been before reading them. But then I stumbled upon a thought so self-destructive that I still find it fascinating: If you are as worthless as you think you don’t deserve the relief cutting would grant you. And that was that – it resonated perfectly with my non-existent self-esteem and it did indeed keep me from cutting for a while.

There were lots of days where the only reason I decided to stay in this world was defiance. Days where I didn’t want to keep living for myself or even my family – but just so that they didn’t win. They being all the people who made me feel like shit. As much as I hated them they seemed to keep me alive during some awful times.

There were occasions where I played sick games with myself like: For every hour so-and-so doesn’t call there will be a cut. If they call in time there will be no cuts today. Luckily I had some talkative friends at the time.

I used to wander around at night – not just at places with lights and people but rather in some dark and shady ones. Condemned houses. Railway tracks. Motorways. Factory sites. You see, I grew up in an industrial town. I loved the twisted beauty of those places. They gave me a sense of freedom. Their ugliness matched my inner gloom. And above all I somehow figured that if I could walk there unharmed it might mean that I deserved to live after all. Or that I was invisible. Invincible. The one who could walk places no one else wanted to see. I might even have hoped to find a kindred soul there. I didn’t.

Also I used to spend a lot of time with people who seemed even darker, more cynical, more broken than I felt. Not because I wanted to be understood or thought I could help but just because I wanted to pretend that I didn’t have real problems. It effectively kept me from wallowing in self-pity.

Now, none of these things are healthy. They are not productive or good or functional. But they are the twisted ways of coping we develop if we can’t do anything else. Self-harm is just a way of “coping”. Drinking is just a way of “coping”. I think that even healthy people sometimes use dysfunctional coping mechanisms so to some extent everyone can understand what I’m writing here. And I don’t want to judge myself because as sick and absurd as some of these things might seem – at the end of the day they’ve kept me alive so that I have the chance to learn more functional ways of coping now. You can read about those in a few days. Until then: Stay safe (unlike me ;))!

 

Therapie: Session #19

As the issue of dissociation is very present at the moment my therapist surprised me with an experiment. Sitting in a different chair than usually I was supposed to talk from the viewpoint of my “Detatched Protector”. That is one of the Schema modes and it seems to have “switched off” my feelings for a long time, made them bearable, “explained them away”. Interestingly it wasn’t weird to talk from its “point of view” – in that situations the answers suddenly came easily and clearly. The Detachtched Protector came into my life when I was quite little and every time something was difficult, everytime I would (should?) have felt sadness or fear it came and told me that there were worse problems in the outside world. That there might be time for my worries later on but that this or that was more important first. That I should wait for it to be over. Not enduring it in the sense of finding a way to cope but rather to let it float past me. Because it is not that bad…

Why? Why? Why? My therapist asked that question multiple times in different ways – what was the purpose and why was it the only way to get through things? And suddenly the scales fell from my eyes: It didn’t protect me. It protected others from me. From me. From my feelings, my problems, my needs.

For most of my life I’ve assumed that it would be a burden if I ever needed help. Or that people wouldn’t love me if I stopped functioning. In a family that was perfect at first and then fell apart; where there was too much on one side and too little on the other there was no other option than growing up quickly. And growing up meant: Being rational. It meant enduring things, functioning in order to not further strain the system. It meant that there was no room for the monsters in the wardrobe, let alone the fear of them.

I learned that grief has no purpose as it cannot bring back beloved people.
I learned that anger has no purpose as tantrums only make others not take you seriously.
I learned that fear has no purpose as appearing to be helpless could be viewed as a weakness.

Nobody told me that all this cutting off emotions would only make the monsters wander from my wardrobe into my head. And I didn’t know what methods the Detatched Protector would use in order to keep up appearances. It is so powerful that I still believe the things it whispers into my ear. Since the experiment I’ve been confused, don’t know what is my opinion and what’s just some sick mode.

Now I have to write down what the Detatched Protector has to say when feelings come up. Even though I didn’t have a name for it until now this used to be the part of myself I was somehow proud of. And now I have to wrap my head around the fact that it got me into huge trouble.

Whatever, I can’t seem to find a clever conclusion today so I just want to point towards my last post as this is a matter of the heart for me.

Have a nice Sunday!

Pride Month!

June is Pride Month and as I wasn’t able to attend my local pride event I figured that a post about the topic might be better than nothing.

As I’ve been in a relationship with a man for a long time now, people often assume that I must be straight – just as they assumed I was lesbian when I dated a woman. I am tired of explaining the term “pansexual” constantly so what I do most times is just dropping a sentence like “Oh, my ex used to do that! She…” casually – and then enjoy the confused faces.

Anyway, a few days ago someone asked me about the term “Gay Pride” – he wanted to know how one can be proud of their sexuality when it’s something you don’t achieve but just…have. First of all I want to acknowledge that this is a very nice thought – especially coming from a cis-male heterosexual person. More often than not people still think that sexuality is something that we can choose, that we do for attention or in order to be different. So just for the record: Love just happens and there isn’t much you can do about it. I’m not proud of being bi- or pansexual, just like I’m not proud of the colour of my skin or the shape of my nose.

However, there is something to be proud of and that is the LGBT+ community. I am damn proud of all the gay sons who hold their heads high in spite of parents who take them to psychiatrists due to their sexual orientation. I am proud of all the trans kids who shine although they dread looking in the mirror. I’m proud of all the lesbian couples who just ignore men who objectify them every single day. I’m proud of all bisexuals who are sure that they are not just indecisive but simply able to love anyone. And I’m also proud of all the people who identify as genderfluid, asexual, demisexual or agender and have to explain what these terms mean constantly.
Long story short: I am proud of a community that won’t give up until we’re all truly equal before the law – and society as a whole.

Now, this is a mental health blog and perhaps you want to know what all this pride has to do with, let’s say depression. Well here it comes:
My own Coming Out was about the toughest time of my life. I just couldn’t figure out what label to identify with, I felt confused about my very identity (which actually is a very borderline thing to say) and above all I felt very, very lonely. There were resources in my town but I was too anxious to use them and for a long time I felt like I could never truly know what to make of it. I was depressed. I loved all the gay people I knew but still hated myself. I thought I was being stupid for not knowing if this was “bi” or “straight” or “homo” or “pan”.
But that’s just me. And I’m a very small part of this world. Let’s see some facts about queer people in general:

  • Queer teens are up to four times as likely to take their own lives compared to their straight counterparts. They’re also more prone to depression, anxiety and self-harm.
  • A vast number of LGBT+ persons have experienced mental health problems in their lives.
  • The numbers of hate crimes against trans persons in the USA are rising.
  • Homosexuality is a punishable crime in 68 countries; in seven of them capital punishment is possible.

I am glad to live in a country where there are good laws to protect us. But still, we don’t have equal rights and above all we don’t have acceptance. There is much talk about tolerance but I don’t want people to just tolerate anything – I want them to truly accept that not all of us are white, heterosexual, cisgender catholic people. I don’t want any kid’s mental health to decline due to doubt and hate and wrong information. Our existence is not a threat and never has been. Love can never be a bad thing. As long as falling in love can be a political act in itself we need our love to be even brighter and shinier and louder. We need it to be visible and diverse and beautiful. I truly believe we need all these brave unicorns and penguins and dolphins out there who don’t let anyone tell them their love is wrong. And if we manage to love ourselves we might also manage to minimize queer mental health problems.

Happy Pride Month!

Therapy: Session #18

Due to my success at the mall we talked a lot about when and how I dissociate, when I get panic attacks and how those two things connect. Basically I dissociate very quickly when something is too much for me, no matter if it’s a crowd, a (too) emotional conversation, noise, unwanted physical contact; just everything that makes me feel overwhelmed can trigger more or less serious dissociative states. That can go from a slight feeling of derealization to feeling as if I was behind a pane of glass or to states where I completely “leave” my body or can’t feel my hands anymore. Speaking still works most times but I won’t say much more than “yes” and “no” then. At least I can always nod.

My feeling is that panic attacks have always occurred more often at times when I had ignored such states for too long, as if they were the last emergency plan my body uses to make me flee. Since I started working on it in therapy I notice dissociation earlier, deal with it differently, leave situations that don’t work more often and therefore the panic attacks have gotten less.

My therapist thinks that all this has to do with boundaries – in my family there was a person who never respected my physical boundaries and another one who never knew any emotional boundaries when I was concerned. So now as a grown-up is the first time in my life where I can actually explore where my limits are. If you say you’re learning to set boundaries in therapy that sounds quite well-worn but I’m not even learning to set them but merely to even notice them! What I’ve known so far is that self-harm is the epitome of a boundary. Even as a little child I chewed the insides of my cheeks when I was in a difficult situation. I never knew any other way which is why it’s so difficult now.

Little successes

  • Spent a whole hour in the mall and even bought something completely unnecessary just for myself. But more important: No panic attacks, no dissociation. Breathing and ammonia and peppermint gum and a porcupine ball somehow did the trick 😀
  • Don’t beat myself up because I don’t write much here at the moment. It’s okay for me not to achieve as many posts as I’d like to write – after all I do this for myself and if I don’t want to or can’t write this much right now that’s alright.
  • My partner will not be away for the rest of the week and the sudden change of plan didn’t upset me as it would have mere months ago.
  • Redecorated my room and it looks so nice 🙂
  • Keep going although some things are really tough at work.
  • Thoughts of self-harm exist but don’t take over my whole life.
  • Notice how therapy actually changes my daily routine.

Therapy: Session #17

Starting to write again feels weird after a week’s break but there was just too much to do for me to take the time to blog.
Whatever. Today I told my therapist that I want to prepare for next week as my partner will be away and I know exactly just how much easier I get unstable when I am on my own. We talked about lots of things my partner is and does for me – things I don’t want to share here.
My therapist wanted to know what is different when he is with me and what would happen if he was actually gone forever. My fear of loss nearly crushed me but at least we have a conclusion: My biggest fear is that without my partner, everything would be the way it used to be before I met him. It’s no exaggeration to say that I only functioned before I had him – and he showed me what it means to live; to enjoy. Even today I switch to my function mode when he isn’t near – superficially there is no difference: I go to work as I always do, meet people, get stuff done…but on the inside everything is different. The problem with my function mode is that it leaves me feeling exhausted which isn’t exactly part of the concept of self-care. The other problem is that no matter what I can do, how much I can work and go places, sooner or later, calm will return. And then I start feeling edgy. All the too-intense emotions my partner can intercept with a hug, start attacking me. And it doesn’t matter if it’s joy or fear or rage – I just can’t regulate it and that strongly increases the danger of my self-harming.

My therapist asked what I would like to do in such moments. Scream. Scream, shout, yell until my throat burns. I would love to do that. My emotions make me feel like I’m bursting, as if my body couldn’t contain then. But I’ve never been able to scream. Could I try singing, she asked. I had to smile. Yes, I could do that. If only I knew that nobody could hear me – no neighbour, no friend, not even my partner, then I could sing and everything I usually hide deep inside would come out. But only when nobody can hear me. Sometimes I even wonder if I should buy a car just for that. Why is it so important that nobody can hear me, she asked. And then I could hear them, all the people from my past:

You’re not hitting the notes.
You’re not good enough.
Please don’t give her the microphone.
I certainly won’t miss your singing under the shower.
You should just stop trying.
How did you even get through the entrance examination?
You’re talking too much:
You’re talking too loudly.
You’re laughing too loudly.
You’re breathing too loudly.
Just hold your breath.
Be quiet. Make yourself small. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.

I made the same mistake twice – once with singing and then with painting: I thought I should go to a school where I could concentrate on these things. And as soon as only performance was important, those outlets weren’t what they used to be anymore. I took from myself what could help me.

I know I have to work on the emotional dependance from my partner. But this will be a loooooooooooooong way to go. For now, I just want to regain my voice – who knows what might change when I don’t let it be taken from me by some ghosts of my past?

Therapy: Session #16

Today we spoke about two issues.

No. 1 – my creed:

Only after the last task has been completed, only after the last item on the to-do-list has been ticked off, only after the last work has been done, then will I find that one can have fun in life as well.

When I have not completed something it stays on my mind all the time – I am unable to relax as long as there is something to do. Indeed I am under the illusion that there will come a day where everything is done: All the things I want to change in the flat, everything that has to be done work-wise, every overdue meeting, just absolutely everything. And then I will have so incredibly much fun, I will do so many wonderful things – it’s going to be awesome!
Of course, this is complete nonsense which is why I now have to write a list (yeah!) with things I would do if I could – and then I’ll have to use this list for interrupting my usual to-do-list. My partner is quite gleeful when my therapist sounds just like him and I am sure that he will prevent me from getting stuff done even more often then usually from now on. Even before I’ve started I am frustrated by this task.
Especially now in summer I have lots of energy I could use to get tasks done so I feel like I have to accomplish as many things as possible.

Related to the issue of my hating being interrupted whilst doing something my therapist wanted to know whether I’d ever gotten Ritalin as a child or if there ever was a supsicion I could have ADD – I can’t relate to that at all as I think that I am uncommonly good at concentrating – also for longer periods of time…

Issue number 2 was self-harm, just like alwas these days. Today we got to the bottom of things concerning the question why it is so irreplacibly important for me and there were two things that came to mind:
1. Self-harm is anti-dissociative for long periods of time; this is especially important as I am now prone to dissociation where I used to have panic attacks. Situations that usually are huge challenges, make me drift off and feel helpless are not a problem when I know that there is a wound. It’s not even about the pain but simply about the knowledge that there is something that makes me feel present and efficient and stable. Using skills enables me to stay “here” for short periods of time but nothing is as lasting as cutting. Unfortunately my therapist considers whether this phenomenon could be treatable with meds. I don’t know what she has in mind – we decided to try more different skills but (unfortunately) the thought is there.
2. When I self-harm I feel invulnerable. Similarly to saying sorry all the time I try to do something in advance in order to stop it from happening – following the principle of “If I hurt myself and make myself feel small, nobody else can!”. We will try to find out where this comes from but the feeling that I can cope with others hurting me, with disapproval or judgement better when I hurt myself in advance is very present.

I can’t find a clever conclusion so I’ll just leave it there for today.

Corny but important ;)

These past few days I have received even more encouraging and kind comments than usually and I think it’s time to thank you all. All the advice, the comfort and the compliments I’m receiving here are so incredibly valuable for me.

Blogging startet as an outlet for me but by now I feel that there is a huge supportive community I can turn to when I am in need of advice and the fact that there hasn’t been a single unkind comment in one and a half years truly amazes me!

I am so glad to read your inspiring blogs as well – I have learned so much from you all. I also know that I have a lot of readers who don’t have blogs of their own but still remain loyal and write comments and I appreciate that so much.

I guess what I want to say is that I am glad that there are so many people who are interested in what I’m writing, willing to help although they’re struggling just as much as I am and who remind me that I am not alone in this.

Thank you so very much!

Foreign language

In a book I’m reading at the moment the term “trigger warning” is discussed and one of the characters wonders just when he became fluent in foreign language he never wanted to learn.

That expressed quite well a feeling I’ve often had but never could find words for:

Every time I explain to someone that there is a difference between a psychiatrist and a psychotherapist.

Every time I remark that Gollum doesn’t have schizophrenia.

Every time I have a conversation like this.

Every time I start reciting BPD-symptoms in order to make clear that not all of us have scars on their arms and/or are dangerous.

Every time I want to talk about something and suddenly notice that I’m using terms I should have explained first.

As glad as I am to have all that knowledge – as often do I think how it would be pleasant if I didn’t need to know anything about it.

I wish everyone who is compelled to aquire such foreign language skills a wonderful weekend!

Goodbye?

During the last therapy session my therapist (very carefully) suggested something that has been on my mind ever since. I can’t exactly repeat what her words were but it was about the question whether my thoughts of self-harm are just as pressing at the moment because the whole thing doesn’t play such a huge role in my life anymore. Meaning – precisely because I have kicked away the impulse again and again for such a long time it wants more attention, tries to throw me back into my old habits and doesn’t leave me alone.

At first glance that souunds like something to be glad about but it doesn’t feel that way:
I am not ready to think about a definite goodbye.
If it’s only getting worse, why am I holding out?
What I’d like most would be to prove I can still do “it”.
I still want to have that option.
Precisely because it looks like I’m over the hump I should cut.

…and similarly destructive thoughts are on my mind.

My therapist reckons it is time to think about something that can take the place self-harm used to have in my life. Now that I can use my skills to an extent where there’s no self-harm it’s not enough to just kill time anymore – I also have to fill the gap that starts to develop now.
This task is totally too much for me. I don’t want anything to replace self-harm, I can’t imagine what it could be, I am not ready to close that door yet, I can feel that everything inside me is reluctant to think about this. Not because I can’t see that my therapist’s words are making sense but precisely because I know she is right. If I imagine replacing self-harm I feel like a fraud – nothing can ever replace something this destructive and if I imagine that from now on I should first use my skill chain and then fill the vacuum with…WHAT FOR HEAVEN’S SAKE?! every time I want to cut…it just doesn’t work in my head.

I have to talk to my therapist about what she meant exactly – maybe I can reduce the room self-harm take up in my thoughts somehow and it’s not even about a substitute activity. It really confuses me and above all it makes me realize just how unready I am to think about stopping for good….