Zombie.

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Pushing through trauma.  Trauma layered on more trauma.   Decades of trauma.

Brain shuts down.  Eerie quiet and an empty space inside where my thoughts should be.  Ears ringing.  Body feels heavy and difficult to move. Words come slowly, sticky in my mouth.  Sometimes movement and speech is impossible.  Days blur together.  Conversations become difficult to follow.  Confusion.  Short term memory loss.

When disassociation is the only way to get through the day.  There isn’t even enough energy left to panic.  When stress is something that can’t be changed, when there is no solution, when the fear is overwhelming and I am helpless.  Panic is scary, but there is motion there and emotion.  The blank space is less human somehow.

It’s not a choice.  It’s like a switch is flipped.  My brain says “NO!”  That’s enough, time to quiet down.  Anxiety becomes a physical reaction rather than worries, feelings or thoughts.

I feel like a zombie.  I’m walking around, doing day to day tasks.  I know from experience though that I’m only part there.  I know from experience that days or weeks from now my memory of this time will be divided into two extremes.  Traumatic memories, seared into my brain for life…and blank space, nothing, no memories at all.  Part of the day will be remembered for ever and part of it…it’s like it never even existed.

When stress levels are chronic and traumatic memories from the past are re-enacted in present life, new traumas in the present are linked in the brain to old traumas.  They are no longer separate events.  The brain stores them all together and confirms the facts as PTSD knows them:

“You are not safe”

“You can’t trust anyone”

“Nobody believes you”

This shifts along into another layer of faulty PTSD thinking:

“You are fat.  Your body is disgusting.  Your stomach is too big”

“Nobody likes you.  You are bothering people with your existence”

“People think you are doing a bad job.  People think you are not capable”

“You are letting everyone down”

“It’s all your fault”

In a way the thoughts and the blank space are flashbacks.  They are here, in the present moment, and they are flashbacks to times similar to this one.  The past and the present are linked in PTSD.  Like invasive vines taking over the brick wall of me.

I can’t cry.  I have to feel safe to cry.  There are no tears in the blank space.

I shrink away from being touched.  I jump and startle.

What I want most is to be held.  To be comforted.  To be kept safe.

What I can’t do is let anyone close enough to do this.  The blank space is so large, the buzzing is so loud.

 

 

No words.

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I don’t have words to express my thoughts and feelings today.  50 queer folks shot, and as many as 50 more injured, in a mass shooting in Orlando.

It saddens me, as a queer person and as a human being, to think that I live in a world that is  filled with deadly homophobia and transphobia.  And let’s not forget racism and Islamophobia.  Please remember that the majority of folks killed and injured were queer People of Colour and the shooter is likely to be vilified as a Muslim terrorist, rather than a homophobic misogynist.

It’s terrifying to think about the magnitude of this crime, the number of lives impacted.  Marginalized folks, trying to relax, share love and have a great night in what they thought was a “safe space.”

I don’t really know what to say.  I’ve been disturbed and upset by the oppressive, ignorant and transphobic laws that are being passed and debated in some USA states.   The fact that governments think these types of bathroom laws are protecting people would be laughable, if it weren’t so damn offensive.  When governments stir up hate…it’s a dangerous situation.   Transgender folks just want to pee in peace.   Just like those queer folks in Orlando just wanted to dance with friends and loved ones and enjoy a Saturday night out.

At the end of the day, transphobia and homophobia don’t make a lot of sense.  Neither does racism.  I won’t start with that “all people are the same” nonsense.  No, people aren’t all the same.  People have different lived experiences. People have different paths and different options.  But that’s okay, it’s great, it’s a wonderful thing.  Diversity  should be celebrated.  It shouldn’t be erased with a colour blind attitude, and it shouldn’t be erased through violence.  Diversity should not be feared.

You can’t make a rainbow with only one colour.   You can’t bake a cake with only one ingredient.  You can’t solve every problem using one approach.

Diversity is what gives humanity it’s strength and resilience. All people’s voices must be heard, and that often means that dominant groups need to speak more quietly and listen carefully.

Oh, and ban guns.

 

 

 

I’m triggered.

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Being triggered is exhausting.

It feels like being in a constant state of fight or flight.  It feels like panic.  It feels like a reduced ability to think clearly and stay calm.  It feels like fog, a buzzing in my ears.  Everything sounds too loud, lights are too bright, smells too strong.  My clothes touching my body make me feel disgusting, fat and out of control.  Ana is screaming at me not to eat, while another part of me is saying that not eating will make me more panicked.  An internal war begins.  I feel like I’m in danger.

If someone tells me to “calm down” or “not worry,” the panicked feeling turns to desperate anger and I find it hard to keep it hidden inside.

If the trigger goes on for a long time, especially if it is combined with actual real life danger or stress, I eventually become exhausted.  I am desperate for the uncomfortable feelings to pass.

And in the desperation I always begin obsessing about self harm and sometimes suicide.  Intellectually I know that this doesn’t make sense, but it’s my brain’s default setting for  TOO MUCH STRESS!  I learned about 4 years ago that my suicidal ideation is a red flag, it’s a signal from my brain that I need to reduce my stress ASAP.  It’s not really about dying, it’s about ending the horrible painful, out of control panic feeling.  NOW.

My main ways of coping with self harming thoughts and suicidal ideation is by trying to tune out.  I do this mainly by surfing the internet, checking facebook, texting, checking my phone and also by blogging.  I find that technology is a good way of tuning out the self destructive thoughts for a while.   So sometimes, when I’m checking my phone too often, even if it annoys you, even if it seems impolite, try not to judge, I might be coping and distracting myself from negative thoughts.

Another great way of coping with triggers is exercise.  Before I developed arthritis I used to cope by running.  That was amazing.  I miss it so much.  Walking can help, getting out into nature can help, dancing can help, moving my body and letting some of the pressure release.   But when I’m at home, my go to coping during the evening (the most difficult time of day for self harm urges) is texting and internet time.

It’s hard to explain triggers to people who don’t have PTSD.  People who live with panic attacks or generalized anxiety can understand parts of it.  But PTSD triggers are a little different somehow, because they are connected very tightly with actual bad events which have happened in a person’s life.  It becomes very difficult at times to distinguish between immediate stressors in day to day life, and abuse/danger/violence.

Triggers can also be emotional.  For example one of my main triggers is feeling like I am not being believed, or even might not be believed when I’m speaking my truth.  Another is feeling like I’m going to get into trouble for doing something which is reasonable and not generally perceived as negative.  These feelings are related to gaslighting, emotional abuse and systemic/systematic institutional abuse and neglect.

When I’m triggered what I need is to get grounded as quickly as possible.  If I can’t get grounded then what I need is to keep myself safe and as calm as possible.  Sometimes this means that I want to be at home, be alone, or be with people I feel safe expressing myself with.  Staying safe sometimes means spending hours online after the kids are asleep, or lying in bed all evening because I don’t trust myself to make safe choices.   I’m not being lazy, I’m protecting myself in the best ways I have learned how.

Sometimes when I’m triggered I disassociate or space out.  I might seem emotionally distance or cold.  I might be more emotional, or my emotions might seem out of proportion with reality.  That’s because they are!  They are a reaction to reality PLUS the past trigger related to abuse and violence.

I know I’m not doing a perfect job at life when I’m triggered.  I constantly worry that others will judge me because my capacity to perform at my highest level is reduced.  My brain will literally shut down, I will have problems remembering things, trouble finding the right words under pressure, I might cry or freeze up, grow silent or suddenly angry.  I might be impatient with the kids when they haven’t really done anything wrong.  I might snap at those close to me, or not be as kind as usual.   I don’t mean to.  Believe me my level of guilt is so high that it contributes to the problem!  I know I’m not acting “normal” but I can’t help it.   Sometimes I need space to get grounded, sometimes I need others to remind me that even though it’s difficult I’m doing my best and that is good enough.

If the triggers are entirely related to the past, and no danger exists in the present, for example during consenting sex, it helps for the other person to remind me “you are safe right now, it’s 2016, you are with _____, nobody is going to hurt you”

If the triggers are related to the past, but there is some threat in the present moment, it helps to acknowledge both sets of feelings are real.  Yes, this situation reminds me of the past, that is difficult and scary.  Yes, there is some threat in the present and that is scary too.   I  might need to get grounded FIRST and then brainstorm solutions to the present situation.  Sometimes self care can play an important role in grounding.

PTSD is invisible, triggers are invisible, all this is happening inside my brain and my body is reacting.  It sometimes feelings as if the past is happening all over again.  Especially when triggers lead to flashbacks.

Please understand I’m doing the best I can.  PTSD is a difficult illness and because it is invisible it can be hard for others to understand.

Compassion helps triggers.  Everyone deserves to feel safe.  But when you live with PTSD, feeling safe can be like searching for the proverbial needle in a haystack.  When you aren’t quite sure what the needle looks like, or if it is REALLY in the haystack!  You aren’t even sure exactly why you need the needle and what you are going to do with it when you find it!

Yes, life can be confusing.  Triggers can be confusing.  PTSD can be confusing.

Tonight I’m confused, but I’m coping as I write.

 

The moment you know…

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I think for every person who experiences ongoing abuse there is a moment:  a moment when the person knows it is over.  They know they are not willing to take even one more minute of lying, gaslighting, physical violence, sexual assault or devaluing of their humanity.  At that  moment the survivor becomes empowered and powerful.

Some survivors are forced to stay with their abuser after this point.  Do not equate what I’m describing as “just leave” or “why didn’t you just leave?”   Leaving is complicated.  There are lots of reasons why someone is not able to leave.  Never judge a survivor for how long it takes them to walk away from violence.  Everyone has access to different options at different points in their lives.  Even if they are still living in violence, do not judge, for at that time they need your support more than ever.

I’m not talking just about leaving.  I’m talking about the moment of realization “enough is enough!”  After that point the survivor begins to take her power back, even if it is just internally.  She realizes she is worth more than the abuse and that a good portion, if not everything, the abuser tells her is untrue and designed to control and confuse.

Everyone has a breaking point, and after that point they begin to grow stronger in the broken places.

I remember the moment I decided that I couldn’t stay married any longer.   I’d played around with the idea of leaving for about a year, seriously for about 13 months.  I tried to leave 6 months before, but was lured back with promises of him attending counseling.

The sexual assault followed a predictable pattern.  It always involved me saying no when I was awake, or saying nothing when I was awake.  Later in the marriage I wrote my “no” in letters, emails and discussed it verbally during the day.  I explicitly spelled out in numerous ways that I did not consent to sex or sexual touching when I was asleep.   During the majority of the marriage I took varying doses of psychiatric medications that made me tired, sleepy, drugged, slower to respond, and quicker to fall back asleep.  I would fall asleep and wake up 45-60 minutes later (at the time when the medication was at it’s peak strength) to him touching me sexually or initiating sex.  I won’t get into all the details here, but it was non-consenting by definition, since I was asleep and drugged.  He knew I would say no if he asked me when I was fully conscious, so he just waited until I was asleep and impaired.  The medication also can make it harder for me to form thoughts or speak clearly and quickly, it delays my reaction times, especially around speaking.

When I did wake up I sometimes said no again, I sometimes froze and he eventually stopped, sometimes I moved his hand away, sometimes silently went along with it, and rarely I said yes once I was awake.  Even when I said yes when I woke up, I still experienced it as assault, because my body was already reacting physiologically by the time I was conscious.  Then it sometimes felt easier to go along with it because it bought me more time before he would ask or take again.

The last time we had sex was the end of our marriage.  Yes, ironically I can say that the sex was so awful I left him because of it.

I’d already been thinking about leaving, many times when he assaulted me I lay there thinking “This will be the last time”  or “I could just get up and walk out”  but I stayed because I had kids and I was afraid.

The last time was in early July, around July 7.  It was one of the times where he started touching me while I was asleep and when I woke up I decided to say yes.   We had sex.  I felt awful.  I knew it was over.  I realized that if I felt violated even when I said  yes, then there was no hope.  And I still felt upset that he couldn’t understand that if the sex started while I was asleep I didn’t have the chance to consent.

The next few days I spoke to my counselor at the abused women’s centre.  I spoke to one of my best friends, who had consistently been giving me the advice to tell my parents, get help, consider leaving.  Everything just clicked and a few days later I told him it was over.

From then on I never really looked back.  It took me 7 weeks to move out into a place of my own.  Those weeks were a living hell.  But I was never confused again.  I never wondered if I was doing the right thing or not.   I felt empowered to take some action to reclaim my life.

Sadly, in my story moving did not completely stop the abuse, and this week almost 3 years later, I watched someone else hit that breaking point.  Someone very close to me.  My own child.  I’m not sure whether or not to be absolutely devastated at what she’s been going through, or glowing with pride and inspiration at how empowered and strong she is.  At such a young age she is more self assured, confident and has better self esteem that I do as an adult.  She’s learned things as a child that I was taught in therapy as an adult.

At the same time I feel like the world’s worst and best parent.  I feel like the worst parent because I feel responsible for what they’ve gone through, and I feel like the best parent because I have, on my own, created empathetic, strong, caring and brave children who care about social justice and equality.  Sometimes I feel we are good people in spite of, despite and almost to spite him.  Being a kind person is one thing he can never take away and that empower us.

I’m not sure whether I’m triggered or inspired.  It’s been an emotional, upside down week.  I feel like I’ve been fighting to justify my entire existence for 3 years, probably longer.  I’m tired.  I’m so tired.  I sometimes feel I don’t have the strength to carry on, but I also don’t have the option to stop.  It’s a marathon.  Sometimes the decision to leave can happen in a split second, but the leaving can take a life time.