Uplifting song about a victim of trauma being restored in Christ.
Uplifting song about a victim of trauma being restored in Christ.
I have been very quiet on here lately because we’ve been keeping the pregnancy quiet- and that’s all I want to blog about! I am 12 weeks 5 days pregnant, and due at the end of March 2015. We were able to see the baby on ultrasound yesterday, and he (or she) was hanging upside down kicking his legs, completely oblivious to the outside world.
We are a little overwhelmed at the prospect of having three babies to take care of, but excited- both at the very same time! I have quit therapy because of the new baby, though. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. My therapist is a trauma therapist, and I do not want to process my trauma while I am pregnant. It’s hard enough to keep my emotions in check with ginormous hormones and a big fat belly, so I think I’ll spend the next year focusing on what she has taught me. We will keep in contact, and perhaps in the future, if I need it, I will return to finish what we started.
Right now, I am focusing on meeting my children’s needs and trying to get food on the table regularly- meals is my Achilles heel. We are also now the proud owners of TWO businesses, one of which has been running for the past two generations. My husband is the third generation to take it over. We are excited but again, overwhelmed! 🙂
I am also strongly considering changing my blog url and my username. I am ready to move on from being identified with my mental illness. I still want to bring awareness to it, but I am not a victim. I am a survivor. I want my blog to reflect this. I am tired of dwelling on my struggles. I am ready to move forward and focus on my health, not my past.
I will post on my half marathon next. It was quite an experience!!!
This afternoon, I was finally able to sit down and have a moment to relax. I sat at the table while my 4 year old son played with his toys next to me and my 8 month old daughter crawled on the floor.
I heard my daughter cough a few times and I looked down to see her playing with the computer chord. When I stood up to pull it away, she stopped breathing and her face turned red. I immediately scooped her up and swiped her mouth, but didn’t feel anything. I pried her mouth open and still there was nothing. I tipped her and began pounding her back like I’ve practiced on so many CPR dolls before, and she started coughing again (thank God). I lifted her up to swipe her mouth again and there was nothing in there. She was still coughing so I tried to nurse her, hoping I could wash down the obstruction. She latched and immediately started gagging.
I told my son to put his shoes on and stand by the car while I put her in her carseat, simultaneously rechecking her breathing. She was breathing but coughing and would gag every several coughs. I called my husband and as I was walking down the steps he came flying down the driveway.
We arrived at Patient First or Urgent Care (or whatever that place is called) in record time and everyone looked up when we burst in. I barely heard myself say, “This baby is breathing but she’s choking on something.” An immediate swarm of doctors and medical staff surrounded us and I handed her over. She started coughing and then SCREAMED! They gave her back to me after checking vitals and her throat (they couldn’t see anything either), but after the screaming she had stopped coughing.
They said it sounded like whatever it was probably started to go into her lungs but either came back up (maybe when I was doing CPR?) or the acid disintegrated the object. Her throat probably opened up and she had most likely finished swallowing the remains when she started screaming. I tried to nurse her again and she latched okay but was too distracted to eat.
They told us to watch for fever, fussiness, lethargy, or more coughing and if so, to take her to the ER. She came home and took a nap and seems to be doing okay, thank God. She has her 9 month check-up tomorrow and her lungs will be re-checked then for any sign of fluid build-up (they said something about if the object is still in there, the lungs will start to fill with fluid).
In all the commotion, I never registered that my son might have been afraid too. Tonight, he started throwing his toys and yelling that he couldn’t let his sister eat them and he was scared.
My heart broke and I immediately sat down (several hours after I should have, to talk to him) and talked to him. He said it was really scary when all the doctors ran in and were looking at his sister. We talked about that being my scariest moment that day too, and we talked about the purpose of doctors, the purpose of making sure there is nothing small on the floor, and then we thanked God for her safety. After that, he was okay!
What a day.
For the past year and seven months since I’ve begun having regular flashbacks, I have been hell-bent on being heard, asking questions, and demanding answers. I went into therapy with “A” for the specific purpose of diving headlong into my past, willing myself to come through on the other side as a survivor. A continued to ask me to slow down, but listened and allowed me to process my past at the pace I deemed necessary, and the more I processed, the more trauma-focused I became. I couldn’t purge it fast enough; it was nice to be heard and validated. It was nice to feel safe.
A year later, I came through on the other side, and had quit seeing A for a month or two. Through a series of events over the past few months, not only did my PTSD symptoms return, they seemed to double in force. I returned to A, who stated my symptoms were beyond her expertise, and she recommended I be evaluated for some sort of intensive outpatient program. I jumped around to several therapists until I found a therapist who specializes in trauma, and who is a Christian.
I do not know exactly why my symptoms have slowed drastically since this change in therapists, and it is probably for several reasons. However, her technique is vastly different that even I have been trained in (including her asking so many questions I do not have the ability to think long enough to shut down in session). I have been seeing her weekly for over a month, and we have not delved into my past at all. She uses metaphors with me. The first one was of me running a marathon, and that me falling prey to my symptoms was like me veering off-course. She said her goal is to help me process the trauma while I stay on course, without me spiraling into what I had before. She also likened this process as me walking into the woods; if I look ahead at all the woods, I’d be terrified and overwhelmed. Our goal is to process one tree at a time, and though it is hard to walk into the woods, she would give me the tools to conquer just one tree at at time.
Finally, last session she told me I was ready to begin the slow process of approaching a tree. She recommended several books, including the two I chose, “On The Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg, and Not Marked by Mary DeMuth (I chose this one because Mary is writing from the perspective of a survivor and her husband is writing from the perspective of husband of survivor; I want my husband to be able to come alongside as best he can). “C” told me to read in very small increments, and if I started to feel any anxiety at all, I was to close the books immediately and distract myself. Not only would this build my tolerance and strengthen my ability to control symptoms, it would give me a sense of choice and control that I had lost in my trauma.
I am trying to take one page at a time, just as I am trying to take one day at a time. I have been fairly level, but extremely sensitive to triggers. However, if I can remove and isolate myself immediately, usually I can calm down again and will be fine the rest of the day. This is nearly impossible with a husband who is basically home this summer and two young kids. I am having more good days than bad, and my bad moments are not always lasting a day. I am feeling things that I have not felt in a while, like light anxiety (versus panic attack anxiety) and light sadness (versus the level of shame that drives my self-harm).
Slowly but surely, I am moving forward. When I have a full bad day, I am discouraged because I tasted freedom and it tasted like the best chocolate cake I have ever had. I would like to eat this chocolate cake every single day, and enjoy every taste in my mouth. After having chocolate cake, a bad day tastes like spoiled food that has been dumped into the trash. Even a bite of trash after chocolate cake drives me to self-harm more quickly than usual. My goal is to learn to sit with the trash in my mouth until the bad taste passes. I heard once that instead of self-harm, sit in a chair and grip it as hard as you can and force yourself to just sit. But that doesn’t work for me. Running helps immensely. Running hurts much worse than any self-harm I inflict, and it is healthy and shuts off my racing thoughts. My goal is to stop self-harming, but my first memory of self-harm was when I was about 4 years old. That is 24 years of bad coping to deal with. And slowly but surely, as I conquer one tree at a time, my desire to self-harm will diminish. When I make it through to the end of the forest, I know the shame and desire to harm myself will fade because the roots will be gone.
One tree at a time.
Photo Credit: http://picslava.com/chocolate-cake/
I have been spreading myself emotionally thin over the past few weeks. It has caught up to me in a series of almost continuous dissociation, hypomanic episodes, angry and physically violent outbursts, and self-harm. I have opened myself up to sharing an overview of my past with five new people in a matter of weeks, in the name of finding a therapist that is experienced enough to manage my level of trauma and my symptoms. I have finally found a trauma therapist I am very pleased with, and she happens to be Christian- which is important to me right now, as I cannot heal without God’s healing hand.
She is slowly working her way into my past through a very long intake process, and has not asked a single time about my trauma. She has stated that she primarily wants me to focus on staying present during session, and when I reported (she checks in regarding dizziness every few minutes) mild dizziness today, she had me stop the intake to share the tasks I had completed that morning. It took me several minutes to recall what I had done! It was clearly a rough morning full of dissociation.
She also stated that she strongly encourages me to have a psychiatric evaluation completed and most likely go on meds, because we cannot delve into trauma work until my symptoms are managed much better than they are now. This is a difficult step for me because I am breastfeeding and I do not want to wean. It is my daughter’s reference point for everything when I am around; she uses it to connect, feed, play, and for comfort. Weaning would change our entire relationship. I am not against formula feeding, as I formula fed my first, but I fought very hard to establish a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter and I am agonizing over the possibility of having to give it up.
And… she told me it would be best if I chose just one therapist. Friday is my termination session for the therapist I have been seeing for over a year. I trust her. I like her. I work well with her. I am attached to her. I do not want to say goodbye. New therapists are sometimes necessary steps to take towards healing, but it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye without shutting down.
I’m bursting with anger and fear
There’s too much pain to shed a tear
Sometimes I’m collected and calm
Meeting their needs, I am their mom
Just one trigger and I am four
Curled up, I can’t take anymore
I try hard but I cannot speak
I’m gone and can only hear screams
More triggers and I am seven
Angry at my God in heaven
My memories and pain are here
Boxed up so the others don’t fear
Can I force myself to be five?
I feel so vibrant and alive
Creative stories in my mind
I get to leave my past behind
I have trauma, is this for real?
There must be honesty to heal
I am longing to be just me
How long until God sets me free?
I decided to find another therapist
This time a Christian and a specialist
She explained dissociative disorders
In a way that was less frightening
And gave tips on teaching my son to be mindful
I walked away both comfortable and okay
And as for my primary therapist
I guess it’s time to say goodbye
I cried in front of her a few times
That’s so rare.
I mean really really cried in front of her
She normalizes my struggles as a parent
Normalizes my struggle with self-harm
The part of me that carries anger
She normalizes my transference and says
“You can always keep me in your back pocket”
When I am dissociated
She teaches me to walk down into the dungeon
And pull my little girl out
She addresses my little girl
And that is what I need at times
She gives me a juice box and sometimes two
Last time even a granola bar
Because I didn’t eat breakfast
And now I must say goodbye
I felt so safe with her
When do you choose to find someone new
When the choice is safety versus
More specialized treatment?
Will I heal with this new person?
Or will I fall apart with every
time I must separate from someone I trust
For the rest of my life?
Am I making a good choice?
What if I miss her?
Am I stupid because I have attached?
I quit once because I realized I was attached
And now I must leave for good
Where will the rage inside go
If I am not safe anymore?
I need a hug.
And. My. Therapist.
Photo credit: http://the1bookblog.blogspot.com/2010_05_01_archive.html
Two weeks ago Thursday, I went to an intake (for Therapist #3) at a nationally recognized Christian counseling center. This was the first time I’ve ever shared my trauma out loud in one lump.
On my way back to my car after session, my heart was broken because of all I had talked about. Therapist #1 called me in the parking lot and I cried on the phone with her as I quickly processed the session. I had called her in the morning because I could not stop dissociating, and she was just returning my call.
I drove for about 10 minutes and felt a great need to pull over because I was dissociating. I floated in and out for 2.5 hours, barely remembering to reschedule my clients for the day. There was no way I was going to make it into work. I called my husband, but only because he left a voicemail telling me he was calling around to find out where I was.
When I was finally coherent enough to drive home, I saw that the car was off but out of gear. Was I really so incoherent that I couldn’t even park correctly? I somehow made it home with just enough time to pump (7 hours is a long time to go without nursing or pumping!) before heading out to my emergency session with Therapist #2.
It took nearly the entire session to ground me, but finally, a combination of a containment exercise and stomping my feet and hitting my hands on the sofa did the trick. That night, I emailed Therapist #1 to fill her in.
I do not understand why the Christian place struck such a sharp nerve for me, but nearly the same thing happened the following week when I attended my first session. It seems to me that I am in the depths of spiritual warfare, because I don’t dissociate like that with Therapist #1… but we rarely talk about faith, and she is not Christian. We have done a lot of work together, and I consider her to be safe. I love sessions with her, and always leave in a great mood, despite the difficult things we discuss in session.
For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12
photo credit: http://www.travelblog.org/Photos/6426542
I think I recall learning in undergrad that only about 25% of people in the US have a secure attachment. That leaves the rest of us with anxious-avoidant, anxious-ambivalent, or disorganized attachments. The anxious-avoidant attachment style is characterized by unhealthy disinterest in attachment altogether. Those with an anxious-ambivalent attachment style over-attach themselves to people. The disorganized attachment style is considered the most destructive of attachment styles, and is marked by an unpredictable mix of all three of the previously mentioned attachment styles.
Though it was 2007, I recall learning these attachment styles with great clarity, down to which seat I sat in (second row from the right, second seat back- I am really a front row learner but embarrassment during undergrad led me to the second seat instead). At first, I thought the anxious-ambivalent fit me, and then was struck by how well the anxious-avoidant fit. Finally, my breath stopped at the disorganized attachment style; that was me!
Having a disorganized attachment has led to some doozies in relationships, namely with older mentors. I seem to have a need that I believe an older mentor would fill, and they do for a while. Inevitably however, they tire of my constant combination of neediness and withdrawal- often at the exact same time.
This has happened more than once, but my most recent mentor strikes the heaviest chord. Why? She tried the hardest. She held on for 35 weeks and 3 days; 2 days shy of 8 months. For 8 months, she reached out daily with phone calls and emails, I suppose hoping that her persistence would allow my anxiety to settle a little.
As much as I desired a healthy mentoring relationship, I could not allow someone to see my vulnerability. This goal to sabotage the very stability I desired was met with newfound vigor when she caught me in a public bathroom crying about a friend who had been killed by a drunk driver- she held me while I cried. I knew from that point forward that I could and could not trust her, both at the same time.
To say the least, our relationship became discombobulated and ended very badly, just over 7 months ago (7 months and 3 days to be exact), unfortunately with no resolution, closure, or discussion. We ran into each other a couple months ago, and with a passing touch to my forearm I knew she still cared. I hope and pray that one day a healthy friendship will be restored between us. That she’ll forgive if she hasn’t already- holding onto hurt is not her style. That my cycle of destroying the very human relationships I most desire will end.
I love and detest my disorganized attachment style. It keeps me safe, yet it ensures relationship is not how I will come to heal (and still it is how I most desire to heal). It is both my best and worst quality that has come about as a result of my trauma.
I believe only the Lord can handle this and not walk away. But I both love and detest the thought of trusting the One who watched and allowed my trauma. I am told to trust Him; I pray to trust Him. Only He can change my heart, and yet He has not. I keep searching for Him. Perhaps it’s the search He desires from me. Perhaps it’s the search He will use to heal me. I pray relief comes quickly before I destroy any other relationships in my wake.
At a training recently, I heard that trauma is so common that we must assume that everyone we come in contact with has experienced it in some degree- this is part of having a trauma informed perspective. We must have empathy for the negative attitudes or behavior a person may show towards us because we do not know whether these are symptoms of trauma. Normal, processed memories are stored in the cortex of the brain in language form. However, when a person experiences significant trauma, the brain may be altered. This alteration is more serious if the trauma occurs in childhood while the brain is still developing. A significant or unprocessed trauma is stored in the limbic system, or the part of the brain responsible for emotion (including fear). Therefore, each time the person experiences an overwhelming emotion, the brain is triggered and the person reacts with an emotional trauma response.
Because posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) involves measurable changes in the brain, PTSD infiltrates every aspect of a person’s life, regardless of how hard that person strives to keep it at bay. Faith, relationships, work, parenthood, marriage, and friendships may suffer, and everyday tasks can become difficult and overwhelming. Many people with PTSD do not sleep well, and may go through periods where they do not sleep at all. There are, of course, varying degrees of this disorder that may depend upon length of time since the trauma, the nature of the trauma itself, support system, environment, ability to cope with symptoms, and whether the trauma has begun to be processed.
There are several different types of trauma therapy, and one of the most common is trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT). This type of therapy works to change a person’s thought process regarding the trauma, and often involves talking about the trauma in depth and coming to an acceptance. CBT in general is heavily present-focused, so a therapist will assist the client in making small, reachable goals regarding moving forward from the trauma. Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) is also often used. DBT focuses on emotion regulation, especially accepting and controlling overwhelming emotions so that no damage ensues during strong trauma responses. Another common type of therapy is eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). This involves the therapist assisting the client in processing the memory through various forms of bilateral stimulation, so the brain can re-store the memory in the cortex. EMDR does not require the client to talk about the trauma in depth, and is short-term because it only focuses on the brain’s ability to heal itself through bilateral stimulation. The best natural example of this is rapid eye movement during sleep, where the brain is able to process what has taken place throughout the day.