Thinking Of Children

 

Little S - Pretty In Pink

Little S – Pretty In Pink

So much of this year has been spent thinking about children, about having children of my own, about my therapist having a child, about myself as a child. It seems only appropriate that my final post – my final drawing – of this year be one of Little S.

To help me not forget that that small and innocent child still lives inside of Adult Me, and hurting Adult Me, also means hurting that very precious little child. So that I can remember to be kind to myself.

I wish you all the very best for the new year.

xx

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Boxes, Bin Liners & A Pregnant Therapist – An Entry About Preparing For A Major Therapy Break

Last week was a big week, therapywise.

Started a bit shakey on Tuesday, feeling very anxious, and stepping into a mode of not wanting to engage, not wanting to connect and deliberately steering clear of potentially explosive material. There was a definite wish to keep it simple, to not touch on anything that could be even remotely emotionally triggering.

Then, on Wednesday, my second session of the week, the second I sat down I was overcome by this very intense need to retreat into myself, to shut everyone and everything out, to protect myself from making myself vulnerable. To, in essence, stop all processes and just deep-freeze everything. A. responded to this information by stating that that’s quite alarming, and I went on to spend the rest of the session trying to explain this reaction, to dress in words what this fear looks like. Did a bit of waltzing around, but eventually, in my own unique roundabout way, I arrived at the fairly obvious conclusion that a lot of this wish to cut and run comes from the worry about what will happen once A. goes on maternity leave.

I used the analogy of unpacking my moving boxes to try to illustrate what the worry is; how, as long as all my things are still in the boxes there is a certain order to things. I know exactly what’s in each of the boxes, and although the contents may not be immediately accessible, I can get to them, with a little work. On the other hand, were I to empty all the boxes, even if I arranged the contents neatly on my bookshelves and in my wardrobe, well – the contents wouldn’t change, but in an emergency situation, it’d be that much harder to grab everything and run for cover. That, yes, in day-to-day life it’s easier to have things within reach and in the line of vision, but, having spent so much of my life in survival mode, it’s really hard to trust that a fight or flight inducing situation isn’t forever lurking just around the nearest corner. I keep hearing the voice of Little S desperately urging me to not lower my guard, to make sure that I have a clear escape route at all times. And although Adult Me is trying hard to keep hold of Little S’s hand, to steady her and to show her that things are different now, it’s hard. It’s a fine balance to allow Little S’s voice to be heard, to exist, without giving into it – because, after all, she speaks from years of experience and from a place of almost unimaginable pain, and her voice is in no way trying to halter progress, but simply wanting to make sure that I don’t get hurt again. It’s a kind of poorly calibrated and somewhat mis-directed self-protective impulse.

Now, Adult Me knows that in order to move forward I have to somehow find the courage to keep at it, to keep sharing, to keep expressing, keep unpacking those boxes – even now when things feel so very fragile – knowing that, should things come crashing down around me, I can always grab a couple of bin liners and chuck my stuff into them to make possible my escape. It won’t be as neat, precise or efficient as if all of my things were still boxed up, but it would still work as a temporary measure. The only problem is that, as I explained to A., unlike with my actual, material possessions, when it comes to my emotional property, I don’t feel that I have that bin liner to hand; the fear is that I lack that quick-fix temporary container to make things manageable. I can have things out, look at my emotions, experience them, especially in the safe environment that therapy offers, or I can keep them in the box for now, until I feel ready to un-box, but, once they’re out – it’s not very easy to re-package. That, although I do have some practical outside tools, should things get really bad in A.’s absence; Drayton Park, the crisis team, shul, Samaritans, my friends and family, I just don’t trust it that I have the inner means to keep myself safe without shutting down. And that leaves me feeling very frightened and vulnerable.

With this in mind, it makes perfect sense that Little S pipes up, reacting strongly to thinly veiled abandonment issues popping up in the face of A.’s impending leave, pushing for me to keep on the well-beaten path of trusting no-one but me, to rely on myself and myself alone, to let no-one in and let nothing out.

History shows that I often find myself struggling to keep things together during therapy breaks, that flashbacks and nightmares tend to increase at a maddening rate when I haven’t got that safe space to unload my emotions in, that the risk of self-harming behaviour sky-rockets, and so, with a break of this proportion on the horizon, well, it’s bound to drive my fears to boiling point. In some ways it would be more worrying if they didn’t.

A. reassured me that she has no interest in making this break any harder than it needs to be, and although it felt really good to hear her say that and I genuinely appreciate her wanting me to know this, it’s still incredibly daunting to know that I have such a big break ahead of me. And finding that courage, well, it’s something only I can do.

This week’s final session – Friday – was spent doing some further exploration into the constant internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. We looked at how Adult Me very much wants to do everything in her power to ensure that I don’t start going back on the progress I’ve made thus far in my therapy, while – at the same time – Little S is deeply invested in that tried and tested path, pulling in the opposite direction, wanting to go for what is known and what feels safe.

The conclusion is, of course, that what we need to focus on in the next few months, is to find not only a bin liner, but preferably a nice sturdy IKEA bag, to ensure I have what I need get me through once A. does go on her leave. To find that something which will allow me to resist listening too much to Little S – without completely ignoring or silencing her – and to not give in to the temptation of going down that comfortably familiar path of keeping myself safe through shutting down.

So, I’ve definitely got my work cut out for me. But – hopefully – I’ll find that I have what it takes.

To carry on.
Being me.

All the very best and more,

xx

IN OTHER NEWS

I was utterly surprised to find out, earlier in the week, that my blog has been nominated in two categories of the TWIM Awards this year. The TWIM Awards is an annual award given to blogs focusing on mental health issues. My blog is nominated in the categories “Best PTSD/Extreme Emotional Stress Disorder Blog”, and “Best Therapy Blog”. Feel honoured to have been nominated (especially considering how incredible some of the other nominees are) and would like to send out an absolutely massive thank you to those of you who have voted for me. I’m chuffed beyond words! Truly.

If you would like to support me, or any other blog, you can do so by casting your vote here.

Winners will be announced on January 1st, 2012.

Papers, Memories & Being Believed

It’s nearly half nine in the evening. I have a million things I need to do. Sorting, packing and throwing; getting ready for my pending move. Only a week to go now.

I had two goals for the day: 1) go through my various piles of papers to decide what needs to be kept and what ought to be chucked and 2) go through all my clothes, shoes, linen etc with the same objective.

I’ve managed to do the first part. It’s taken me hours. Never realised how much paperwork I’ve actually got: bank statements, invoices, council tax paper, student loans etc etc etc. You get the picture.

Now the job wouldn’t be quite so hard if it were only those things to leaf through. Admittedly I’ve got a somewhat compulsive need to hoard bank statements, but even so I’m not really that emotionally attached to them. No, it’s all the other paper stuff that makes this job hard. The postcards, birthday wishes, letters, little notes. Those are the things I struggle to let go of.

I found a piece of paper from some years ago with lots of little messages scribbled all over; the remains of an impromptu game played with my sisters and co some years ago. The words in themselves neither grand nor particularly meaningful, but somehow I still find it hard to make myself throw this piece of paper away, because it’s attached to the memory of all of us sitting in the kitchen passing the paper round and round, writing those little messages, the sillier the better. Precious moments of togetherness.

Then there are papers which I feel I need to keep for other reasons..

Quite early in the day I came across the legal paperwork from the court hearing against my brother all those years ago. The two versions of it. One – the publicly available version – which has nearly all of my testimony and most of his blanked out – and the other, the one only I and my brother have the right to access, where the testimonies remain intact, carefully transcribed by the court clerk.

And, of course, I had to stop and read through them. Couldn’t just put them in the expandable folder without first reading them, despite knowing full well that no good would come from doing so.

I’ve not read them that many times; once when I first got them, just after the verdict was passed, and once again a few years ago when I requested copies of them. And yet, despite this, there are passages in there which I could easily quote word for word.

Having read through those papers I put them away, but – of course – the memory of the court hearing stayed with me. The feeling of not being sure whether or not I’d be believed by the judge. Not knowing how my brother’s repeated statement “I can’t deny or confirm. I don’t remember” would play out against my detailed, if emotionally detached, descriptions of sexual abuse.

The written word has always been very important to me. Ever since I can remember I’ve kept a journal, writing about my life, about the ups and the downs, the joys and the sorrows. During the court case one of my journals, a small black moleskin note book, was submitted as evidence against my brother. I had kept it hidden for a long time, this secret diary – separate from all my other journals and locked in a metal box so that no one but me would ever be able to read it. In it I had for the first time written down the things my brother was doing to me. It was written in code, a childish attempt at disguising who the abuser was. The code was of course easily cracked once the truth had come out about my brother and read like a memoir of abuse. It had never been intended to be read by anyone, it was just a way for me to try to deal with what was happening when I got to the point where I simply couldn’t keep it all inside, but of course the police, and later on the prosecutors, viewed it as a goldmine of proof against my brother. Some sort of physical proof of things that had happened. A paper trail.

Ever since then my journal writing changed. I still write as much as I ever did, but I write differently. The knowledge that what I write can have such an impact, can hold such power, has changed it. I often find myself noting down where I am or what time it is when I’m writing, almost as if somewhere at the back of my mind, I worry that one day this journal, too, will be read by someone other than myself; that accuracy will be paramount, lest I be thought to have made things up.

I’ve talked about this with A. in my therapy; this self-imposed obligation to express myself in a very precise way, to make sure that I don’t make statements I’m not entirely sure about. The fear that should I be found to have made a mistake it may also be assumed that I might have got other things, important things, wrong.

Of course Adult Me knows that everyone makes mistakes sometimes, that everyone stretches the boundaries of truth sometimes, and that doing so does not mean that nothing she says will be believed, but Little S.. well, Little S still fears that Adult Me might be wrong. And so, every so often, Little S goes to battle with Adult Me, and every once in a while Little S pops up in Adult Me’s journal, checking that there are no discrepancies, making sure that she could never be accused of making things up.

It can be hard, that internal struggle between Little S and Adult Me. It can be tiring, confusing and sometimes painful. It’s a constant balancing act, ensuring that Little S feels heard, while allowing Adult Me to move beyond the childlike constraints of Little S’s experiences.

Anyway, it’s time for both Little S and Adult Me to go to bed now.

We have a whole day of packing ahead of us in the morning.

Sleep tight!

xx

Question Marks & Exclamation Points

A. is moving. And though I’ve known ever since she initially told me about the move that I’ll be moving with her, it’s still stressing me out. I know it doesn’t quite make sense, but even that tiny change is rather unsettling to me. The last few sessions the pile of moving boxes in the narrow hallway has grown, and something about it really gets to me. I guess it creates something of a dent in the constant that I want therapy to be.

Adult Me knows that going to a new place won’t really change the therapy or my relationship with A., and that in a few sessions’ time at the new place, it will be absolutely fine. And yet Little S is reacting to this change as were it the onset of the apocalypse.

And I wonder why.

I have a few layman’s theories. Or, two, at least.
The first is that this could be a perceived echo of the fear I may have experienced as a baby, being brought from India to Sweden at the age of six months. A sort of non-accessible memory or fear being triggered by A.’s move. The second theory is also childhood related. It goes as follows: Despite the fact that as a child I was fortunate enough to to grow up in a single home, for a variety of reasons I didn’t form strong enough attachments to my parents to feel that the ties to them were secure, safe and permanent. (Or, as A. typically puts it: I didn’t experience the relationship to my parents as being unconditional.) Therefore it follows that since I, even in a reasonably constant home environment, felt that important relationships could easily break down or even be destroyed, the prospect of an actual move (as is the case with A.) becomes all the more frightening. And I panic.

Of course it’s impossible to know for sure why we react in a certain way, but I do find it helpful to at least consider the different possible reasons. Trying to understand how past experiences may influence us in the here-and-now might not actually change the way we react, but if we can see some sort of underlying reason, it may make it easier to accept the way we feel as something natural. (As opposed to telling ourselves that we ought to be able to control ourselves and our emotional responses, something which tends to be neither helpful nor productive).

Also, I have to admit that I generally find it easier to live with exclamation points than question marks. Even if the exclamation points are somewhat crooked..

All the very best and more,

xx

PS. Winter Olympics rocks. Why can’t people in this silly country getthat? Ice-hockey, figure skating, half-pipe, ski cross, Super G. Ultra-funky stuff. Sincerely.

What Words Can’t Express – A Visual Representation Of Sexual Abuse Flashbacks

Simultaneous Reality
– Real Time Flashback –

childhood sexual abuse flashbacks

What It's Like Having Sexual Abuse Flashbacks


Little S & Adult Me – An Entry About Coping With Flashbacks

Ten days now since my last session with A.
So far sticking to The Rules (as stated in my previous post).
But it’s hard. Really, really hard. Having had a break from flashbacks for a few months I seem to have entered another period where I keep having them. And I have a sneaking suspicion that it’s to do with A. being away.

It’s almost as if whenever I haven’t got somewhere safe to put my thoughts they start building up inside of me, in the shape of stress. And when it gets to a certain level, something breaks and the flashbacks come back. Like clockwork.

Of course, there are other ways of relieving pent up pressure than through talking therapy, but, sadly, for me one of the easiest ways has traditionally been to get a scalpel out and cut myself. I’m trying very hard to avoid going down that road this time around, but it is incredibly hard to resist, knowing that as little as two or three small cuts would instantly calm me down.

I think people often underestimate the addictive quality of self-harm. It isn’t just a case of choosing not to do it; it takes an enormous portion of will-power to keep to your resolve. Especially when the effect of not cutting is that you have to deal with the fact that, sooner or later, you’re going to experience a flashback.

Contrary to most peoples’ idea of flashbacks, they are not like films playing before you or in your head. At least that’s my experience. Yes, I do sometimes have flashbacks which involve all five senses, but, what makes a flashback different to any other memory is firstly that they pop up whether you want them to or not. Which means that as soon as I feel pressure building inside of me I start worrying, because there is just no way of knowing when I’ll have one, or where I’ll be when it happens. Or how I will react to it.

Naturally, the flashbacks that are audio-visual are the most difficult to cope with, but, I have to say, only by a very small margin. For me, flashbacks are more about emotions, regardless of which specific traumatic experience they are linked to. And even the ones that are essentially just a pure raw re-experiencing of feelings (without the actual image, sound or smell of the abuse) are completely disorientating. Not in the sense that I don’t know where I am, but in the sense that I feel as if I’m existing in two places at the same time. I’m both Adult Me and Little S at the same time. And what’s more, they are all at once both separate and the same.

Also, although it may take a moment to realise that I am in fact having a flashback, as soon as I do, Adult Me gets enormously angry and frustrated with myself for not being able to stop this from happening, while, at the same time, Little S is busy trying to deal with the fear/shame/sadness that the flashback has brought out. In a way it’s like dealing with a past and a present trauma at the same time. And it’s very difficult to know which is which.

I remember having a particularly bad flashback in the middle of a one-to-one session at the women’s crisis centre last year. The person who was with me kept talking to me, and I could absolutely hear her; in many ways I knew exactly where I was. Yet, when the person who was with me asked where I was, it was Little S who answered by describing a room in my childhood home.

Needless to say this is not a pleasant experience, nor an easy one to cope with. Even though I have by now become reasonably apt at finding my way out of a flashback, they do still shake me. Quite badly.

Even when I am able to bring myself back into the present reasonably quickly, it is still a very disturbing and frightening experience. Also, I have a tendency to not realise I’m having a flashback, until I have already started acting it out in the present, by scratching my forehead until I bleed or digging my nails hard into my palms. In fact, it’s often the physical pain of those very actions that somehow kicks Adult Me into action.

So, as I said earlier – it is a struggle to not allow myself to, in the absence of A., go for the easier option and just get a scalpel out.

But, I keep trying.

xx

PS. Just wanted to say a big thank you to those of you who commented on my last post. I really appreciate it.