wordweaverlynn: (therapy)
Captain Awkward tackles some very difficult situations. Trying to maintain a partnership with someone who is having mental health issues definitely counts. For me this advice is right on the nail. And I'm speaking from the standpoint of the depressed and ADHD partner.

I've suffered from near-lethal depression most of my life. This advice works for me. Yes, there are times I feel so profoundly incompetent at everything that I'd rather be dead. But for me, knowing someone else relies on me is actually helpful. What I wouldn't do for my own sake I will do for a partner or a friend. For me it's good to have obligations and even better to meet them.

I've already lost one friend over this, but truly, I think this advice is worth considering. I shared it with my partner, who was glad to see suggestions for handling the issue if I melt down when she tells me what she needs from me. It's useful to make the distinction between the depression and the person who has the depression.

I don't recommend this in all situations. Any advice needs to be tested, tried gently, modified to fit circumstance. But I am saying this is the wake of a memorably difficult year, in which I was suicidally depressed for a long stretch, then had to deal with a family member's attempted suicide, and then got slammed with hugely triggering news events that recalled the worst days of my own life while evoking idiocy and horror from the mass media.

I have been very far from well. But I have been doing my work in therapy, trying to take good care of myself, and trying to keep up my end of household chores. A week ago, we rejiggered the chore list; because everyone else is working and commuting, I now have more chores. But that feels fair to me. The change didn't come with accusations that I was lazy or with a lot of passive-aggressive repressed sighs. We discussed it like adults. We worked out what was fair. I am undoubtedly crippled by PTSD, ADHD, depression, allergies, asthma, and being short. None of those things are likely to change. But I still have responsibilities, and responsibilities are signs of my strength and my adulthood.
wordweaverlynn: (ireaper)
This is what it's like to live with someone who has PTSD.

ETA Sorry, I wasn't thinking how off-putting that might sound! This warm, melodic song by the Indigo Girls is about seeing the stress rise in someone you love, and how you prepare for helping them to reconnect with the present when they're feeling swamped with the past.

wordweaverlynn: (madness)
How a suicidal girl grew up to lead others out of the agony of borderline personality disorder and into productive lives.

Dr. Marcia Linehan, developer of Dialectic Behavior Therapy, spent 26 months in a mental hospital -- most of the time in a ward for the very seriously disturbed. A religious experience helped heal her -- and then she went on to analyze both her own mental illness and the religious experience, understand the step-by-step process of self-destructive thoughts, and devise ways to break the cycle.

She has saved a lot of people's lives, and Dialectic Behavior Therapy works for many kinds of pain, not just extreme mental illness. I use her techniques on myself; they help with PTSD and depression -- with any self-destructive cycle of pain.
wordweaverlynn: (therapy)
After posting the link about learned helplessness, I took the trash out. The Bearcat was outside, frisky and excited to see me. I reached down to pet him, and he reared up like a circus horse to rub his head against my hand -- one of his more endearing habits. I'd take a few steps and he would romp along with me, pausing every few feet for more petting. Then as I withdrew my hand he sank his teeth and claws into my forearm, deep enough to draw blood -- one of his less endearing habits. He's just trying to get more love, but in a way guaranteed to instantly end the petting session.

I found myself in tears -- not so much from the pain, although it was considerable, but from the feeling, familiar from childhood, that I was being punished although I hadn't done anything wrong. In fact, I was being virtuous in taking out the trash, and kind in petting Bear.

Learned helplessness has been a factor in my life from the very beginning. I managed to escape through stories, but I still react very badly to situations in which I feel helpless or am punished no matter what I do. If the situation involves an impersonal force or an authority that's clearly inimical to me, it's relatively easy for me to keep fighting. After all, I have nothing left to lose. (Defiance R me.) However, if I'm put into a double bind by someone close to me, I can react with deep, even suicidal despair.

And this explains a great deal about my currently triggered state, The rug has been pulled out from under me -- my life has changed suddenly and painfully, I've been put into a difficult and polarizing situation that could easily cut me off frorm people I care about. And I cannot fix it, change it, influence it, end it. All I can do is endure while other people choose, react, and decide. For a control freak like me, that helplessness, that sense of being swept up in someone else's actions, is utterly wretched.

The feeling of helplessness is compounded by my injured hand. That definitely limits my options. I'm doing what I can to reclaim my agency: I've been using Dragon Naturally Speaking for NaNoWriMo, which is how I've managed to "write" so many words (and such a rough rough draft). I've also listed 100 goals to achieve in 100 days and am happily managing an Excel spreadsheet of goals ranging from the minor to the huge.

I will not let this defeat me.
wordweaverlynn: (Default)
Sometimes my worst nightmares and worse memories escape from my mind and romp through the headlines. I'm sure I don't need to list or link the stories. Any of the cases where the nation is horrified to discover that people of all ages are beaten, abused, raped, held captive, murdered.

Any of us with PTSD will resonate to certain stories. We're attuned to violence by our own history, and we chime like bells when the right harmonic is struck.

It can be very easy to get sucked into the story. These horrors draw a lot of people's attention, and therefore they also draw a lot of media attention. You could watch coverage day and night on TV and on the Internet.

I try not to. I don't have TV (broadcast or cable), and I actually walked away from the Internet for a few days recently when the Dugard case broke. I limit my exposure. That seems to help.

But just the other day, I stumbled across a story about a kid in Bakersfield blinded by horrific abuse. I was stuck with mental images that I did not want and couldn't easily get rid of. So I searched online to find a fund for the child, and I gave $5. Not much, but what I could give. That helps.

Doing something for another person helps me, partly because I'm doing what I can to alleviate the suffering, partly because it gives me agency again. I'm not a helpless child. I'm not *just* suffering. I'm someone with power to help. And that seems to help break the cycle. Also, being aware of what is oppressing me can help.

How do you handle triggering events in the news?
wordweaverlynn: (no pity)
Before Christmas, I was in correspondence with a very pleasant, intelligent person who took exception to the “Are you ruined?” survey I had, in a spasm of anger, written and posted. That meme listed some handicaps—in the racing sense, the extra burdens placed on some runners—that poverty and dysfunction might lay on individuals. (It was in response to the “Are you spoiled?” meme then current.)

Although that meme touched a lot of people, I’m the last person to defend it as fair or balanced. It was begun as a corrective to the assumed privilege of the other survey but rapidly became the expression of some very old rage. Much of it was written in a white-hot fury, and I didn’t edit it before I posted.

One thing in particular bothered my correspondent: the inclusion of one of the final questions about whether your childhood left you with PTSD.

At first I couldn’t understand why the question about PTSD should be the big issue. Anybody who has been through that particular kind of hell has a higher than average likelihood of having PTSD. I couldn’t see why naming the syndrome would be a problem.

Then I realized that most people’s exposure to the concept has been strictly as a form of insanity defense: part of the culture of victimization and an all-purpose ticket to do nothing, take no responsibility, and mistreat other people while maintaining the moral high ground.

This is so very far from the way I use the concept (and the way most therapists and PTSD sufferers do) that it took me a while to even see the possibility.

PTSD is not a license to abuse other people or waste one’s own life. It’s a useful description of what happens to some people (not all) under extreme circumstances, and because it is an impersonal diagnosis, it helps the survivor separate the scars from the self. Once you’ve done that, it’s much much easier to find the strength to heal and change and grow. Instead of believing myself evil and dangerous, for example, I can see the ways my life made me think that I was—and therefore free myself from that crippling perception.

The diagnosis also helps explain a lot of things that frankly terrified me when I was younger. In 1980, for my 21st birthday, I went to see my first therapist. (When I was 14 I did tell a family doctor that I was crazy; the response was that I should be a better Christian.) When I told the psychiatrist about the flashbacks I was experiencing, he (literally) patted my head and told me that a young lady with such a dramatic imagination should go on the stage. In 1980 very few doctors understood PTSD, and the ones who did were working with Vietnam vets.

As a child, I carried unbearable loads of responsibility. I still take the blame for almost everything bad that happens to me—even things that were not really within my control. And trying to remember that responsibility is not identical to blame is something I’m still working on.

In psychological terms, my locus of control (who I think is responsible for my life) is firmly within myself. I don’t think it’s luck or circumstances or that I’m controlled by either the past or a mental illness. Believing that I had power is one way I survived; recognizing how vulnerable I really was would have killed my hope and thus been insanely dangerous. I needed to be competent. And God help me, I was thoroughly competent.

So now, as an adult, I have to unwind those threads of belief and experience in order to get a clearer idea of what really happened. For whatever reasons, for me, it is very important to be able to name and recognize the damage done to me. IMX, it helps me heal. I know that other methods work well for other people. This one has worked for me.

So when I talk about what was done to me, or enumerate the horrors of my childhood—or even the ways in which my life fell short of the ideal, like not having decent guidance counseling in school, for example—none of this is intended to excuse me for anything I have done or not done.

What it is intended to do is to remind myself that if I haven’t gotten as far as I would have liked, I have come a hell of a long way from my origins. Some of that is attributable to sheer good luck in having books around to teach me what my parents couldn’t, brains to help me think of alternatives, and a profound faith in God that made me feel sometimes that my life could be redeemed. But some is because I have worked damned hard at surviving and making a decent life for myself, and because I never gave up.

Moreover, a big part of my vocation is to help other people who have suffered the same way I have. That’s why I talk about it. Not to keep us all mired in the past, but to show realistically that it’s possible to drag ourselves up from it. “Realistically” is the key here. That means showing that I still struggle. That the pain comes back sometimes. But that it’s possible to fight it and win, to make a decent, loving, productive life.

I struggle with this shit. Someone might as well benefit from that struggle. And I do, too—when things are hard for me, I can go back and reread some of the things I’ve written and some of the comments I’ve gotten, and be comforted. My life has made a difference.

ETA I recognize that this is not the only healthy way to deal with a difficult past, whether that's long-term abuse or a single traumatic experience. Everybody approaches these issues differently. I am not prescribing my tactics for anyone else. It's what works for me right now. Later, I may do other things. And everyone else is free to do what works for them.

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wordweaverlynn

August 2014

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