Even as I posted yesterday, I realized that I had left something out.  With a title that focuses on coping, maybe I ought to actually explore to cope or what I am doing to try to cope.  Especially since today turned out to be rough, and I’ve been re-living the traumas of the last few years, and feeling some of how I felt back then.  It’s catching up with me a bit, afterall, but it still isn’t as bad as it was a year ago or even last Fall.  Rather than another list of hurts and traumas, today I think I will list some of the things I am doing to try to cope.

  • I did actually finish my master’s degree, and there was some thought that I put into the timing of it.  The extra time is a good thing right now.
  • I selected a job that gives me a chance to learn something that I am interested in, and also that I need for myself (DBT).
  • Signing up for classes just to keep me going and to spend time with people – exercise, bobbin lace, and going to the classes with someone (daughter, cousin) who shares those interests.
  • Working on friendships IRL, and online - trying to connect with people.
  • Finishing things – knitting projects, my degree, paperwork (hmm, maybe some of these things are still in progress, but I am working  on it).
  • Signed up for a free online self-esteem course, and working through it with a buddy so we can race each other and talk about it as we go, and keep each other on track.
  • Relaxation, meditation, and listening to a self-hypnosis program for self-esteem and confidence.
  • Music – both that that resonates with my mood, and some to distract and pull me out of it.
  • Continuing to practice and improve my own music skills (piano, violin, recorder, flute).
  • Reading a lot.
  • Chocolate, cocoa, warm herbal tea, hot baths, and my electric blanket and a cat on my lap.  Not necessarily all at the same time.

Hi again!  It’s me.  I’m still here.  I just realized that it has been five months since my last blog post though.  And I noticed that in my last post, I was really trying to stay positive, because my objective for this blog was to be positive, and for it to show my success story in my recovery.  So, I guess that means I don’t write if I don’t know how to be positive.  In that last post, I was making an effort, and I was trying to convince myself that powerlessness was an illusion and I didn’t have to give in to it.  Yeah, well, I recognize that date too.  Within a day or two after that post, things got worse at my job, and I gave up trying to salvage it.  I spent those days sitting in my office slicing up my arms when nobody was looking, and a month later I was starting to make suicide plans again – not seriously, but I was entertaining the thoughts.  I’m fairly safe with that now, because when those kinds of thoughts start, now the first thing I try to puzzle through is how to do it in a way that makes my point, but without having harmful effects on people who don’t deserve to be hurt, and since there isn’t a way to do that, I don’t get too far.

Anyway, I thought I would hold on to that job long enough to graduate from my master’s program so that I could get a real job in my field, because nobody would possibly be interested in hiring me within a month of graduating for a job that I would have to leave in order to do what I earned a degree in.  Besides, I wasn’t in the right place mentally and emotionally to try job-hunting and be very successful at it.  But when I asked for some time off, I was forced to resign instead (or have being fired on my record).  And I did eventually get a new job, even a job in my field, only part-time and at a significantly reduced income level.  But it’s a healthier atmosphere and better experience and I’m doing what I want to be doing.  I probably wouldn’t have gotten around to looking if I hadn’t lost the other job, so I guess they did me a favor.  I wish that I had been able to summon enough courage to leave earlier.  I wanted to have something else lined up first, and it wasn’t going to happen.

 Once I settled down and got out of self-destruct mode, I still spent at least two or three months in a dissociative fog, going through the motions and not feeling anything, and not connecting with anyone.  I woke up (I think I was in and out for a while), and realized it was winter.  Winter is always a difficult time for me.  I might start out trying to cope, but at some point generally too many things are going wrong and I give up.  But you know what?  I think I’ve made it through the worst of it for this year, and it didn’t get as bad as last year did.

I’ve been taking an inventory of what happened last year in January that built up and I didn’t cope with:

  • Starting internship, which increased demands on my time to 20 hours/week, volunteer, in addition to the usual stuff.
  • Policy change at work that required me to work more hours than I had been in order to maintain full-time status (and I couldn’t give up full-time status because it was the first time ever that I actually had benefits available – something I wasn’t willing to lose because I had felt like a non-person before when I was only part-time and felt invisible and unrecognized and disposible).
  • I actually planned to use one day of personal leave to go to a retreat with friends I hadn’t seen since two moves ago.  (I was very insecure about being able to take off and go and spend time on something for myself).
  • Because I felt guilty and had to “pay” for wanting to do something for myself, I allowed myself to be used.
  • The morning that I was planning to leave early and drive out to the retreat, I was immobilized by a sudden depression and confusion.  I couldn’t even figure out how to get dressed that day.  I missed most of the retreat, but made it for one hour the next day before having to leave for my badly needed therapy appointment.
  • Agitation, anxiety, etc. resulted in intense tooth-grinding and I broke a tooth on my way driving home after therapy.
  • Caught my hair on fire, reaching for my herbal tea from the shelf above the gas stove where the teapot was heating.
  • Extreme weather a few days later caused me to lose control of my car (a little plastic Saturn) and I couldn’t stop and ran into the back of a Hummer.  The Hummer was not damaged, my car was totaled, and I got the blame and a ticket, even though there were 200+ similar accidents on that stretch of highway that day, including one less than 200 yards behind me, at the same time as mine.  I wanted to fight the ticket, and got too worked up and couldn’t summon enough energy to try.
  • On the coldest day of the year, my beloved goat gave birth to triplets, lost them, and was down and unable to get up.  We lost her too, after two or three weeks trying to pull her through.
  • I didn’t realize that I wasn’t coping, and continued to try to juggle job, school, internship, and life.  But my clients could tell that I wasn’t ok, and my anxiety made them feel anxious.  All three of my clients asked me not to see them anymore, all the same week.
  • I fell behind at work, and supervisors became critical of everything I did, never again to recognize my efforts, improvements, successes, or that I put everything else on hold to focus on their priorities.

Ok, I think that summarizes what happened last year.  I never really did recover from all of that, and maybe I was not engaging with life even after most of it had changed, because I was bracing for a repeat of some of the same stuff.  The point – this year is not last year, and I think that I really am coping now.

This week, hopefully, should mark the end of my “bad season.”  Today is the anniversary date of my mental collapse, six years ago, that was my rock bottom, and my wake up call to start living my life.  This week is associated with that day, six years ago, and also losing my grandmother three years ago, and my brother’s suicide, two years ago (which I think was actually in March, but I throw it in here too).  Anniversary dates can be associated with a return of feelings from the past, and sometimes we dread those dates rolling around again.  It can help to take note of those feelings and where they come from, but it also helps to recognize that it isn’t happening now, and we can move on.  So, this is where I am now, and I will do my best to focus on moving forward from here.  Spring is coming, and I am listening to the heavy snow we got last week as it melts and drips off from my roof.  Soon it will be time to get outside and start working the garden.  Yeah, this year I’m planning to have time for a garden.

I feel like a non-person.  This is nothing new, but I am feeling so powerless and invisible right now.  And stuck.  I don’t know what to say.  Saying anything gets me in trouble.  Not saying anything keeps me stuck.  The whole thing gives me a horrible headache, and I think that maybe I shouldn’t exist.

 I wanted to keep this positive here, but tonight I need to try to sort some things out.  And I would appreciate any help that you can offer.  Okay, I was going to write more of the details, but if I did that, I would sound like I am whining, if I don’t already.  Let’s just say it isn’t limited to one area of my life, but right now I’m extremely burned out with my job, not because I don’t like the job or the people I work with, but because the administration does not seem to appreciate me.  It is really at a critical level right now, and I’ve tried to tell them so, and they just keep on making it worse.

I am recognizing a pattern, and it is lack of personal power.  Any sense of having control of my own life was systematically destroyed during my childhood.  I gave up a long time ago, and trying to gain some control now is an uphill battle and I’m facing major obstacles and often ready to give up again and conclude that I don’t deserve to have a chance, or even to exist.  Yeah, following that thought out to its conclusion is a pretty bad place.

So, okay, since I have identified lack of personal power as my problem, I went looking for some information about Personal Power, and found a helpful article.  This quote kind-of says it:

To feel that we are worthwhile individuals, to know that we exist, we have to express our power – feel that we are in control. This imperative to express our power and experience control is central to human behavior. Every human does something to express his or her power in the world. This power can be expressed creatively or destructively.

Humans first attempt to express their power creatively. If such attempts fail repeatedly, they experience themselves as powerless. They may feel helpless and hopeless, and become depressed. What they experience is that they cannot make a positive difference in their own lives or in the world. A cognitive breakdown occurs between their actions and the results they produce. Mentally and intellectually they cease to understand the connections between their behavior and the consequences of their behavior. Then they express their power destructively.

The article is here if you want to read it. And there is some good stuff in there, with discussion of Martin Seligman and Learned Helplessness, and Learned Optimism, and Ghandi, and how to use Power Messages.

I am still scared and don’t have much confidence, but I have to admit that reading that article at least gave me a sense that I can try something, if only to find information to validate how I’m feeling.

Maybe one way could be to find a song that says what you want to move yourself towards believing.  Music reaches me in ways that sometimes nothing else can.  It still doesn’t work instantly, but it’s something.

For example, I know that I have to work on self-esteem, but it is so hard for me to accept any statements from myself or anyone that indicate that there is anything good about me.  My primary assumptions that I live by every day include that I am not good enough, I never do anything right, and nobody even notices me or remembers me.  The last two can be disproven logically by producing even one counterexample.  On a thinking level, I guess I can accept that.  But the emotional level feels so much stronger, still!  It’s hardest to resolve feeling like I’m not good enough, because “good enough” can be defined however you want to define it, and I’m perfectionistic.  So if I make one mistake, or anybody is critical of me, there’s my proof of not being good enough. 

Here’s where music comes in.  I can sing this song and accept these words, because it’s music, and also being in Swedish probably doesn’t hurt, and I have learned the words and I understand them.  I’m trying to replace the more negative songs in my head with this one instead:

Artist: Helen Sjøholm Song: GABRIELLAS SåNG Album: Så SOM I HIMMELEN
Det är nu som livet är mitt
Jag har fått en stund här på jorden
Och min längtan har fört mig hit
Det jag saknat och det jag fått

Det är ändå vägen jag valt
Min förtröstan långt bort om orden
Som har visat en liten bit
Av den himmel jag aldrig nått

Jag vill känna att jag lever
All den tid jag har ska jag leva som jag vill
Jag vill känna att jag lever
Veta att jag räcker till
(Oh, oh, oh…)

Jag har aldrig glömt vem jag var
Jag har bara låtit det sova
Kanske hade jag inget val
Bara viljan att finnas kvar

Jag vill leva lycklig
För att jag är jag
Kunna vara stark och fri
Se hur natten går mot dag

Jag är här
Och mitt liv är bara mitt
Och den himmel jag trodde fanns
Ska jag hitta där nånstans

Jag vill känna att jag levt mitt liv

In English:

It’s now that life is mine
I’ve got this short time on Earth
And my longing has led me here
What I lacked and what I gained

And yet it’s the way that I chose
My trust was far beyond words
That has shown me a little bit
Of the heaven I’ve never found

I want to feel that I’m alive
All the time I have
I will live as I desire
I want to feel that I’m alive
Knowing that I’m good enough

I have never forgotten who I was
I have only left it sleeping
Maybe I never had a choice
Just the will to exist

I want to live happily, because I am me
To be able to be strong and free
See how night turns into day
I am here, and my life is only mine
And the heaven I thought was there
I will find it there somewhere.

I want to feel that I’ve lived my life.

If you want to hear it: GABRIELLAS SÃ¥NG

A few things, actually.

At least three different people have commented on my kids being good citizens, well-adjusted, happy, good influences, enjoyable, and nice to have around.  Three people who don’t know each other as far as I know.  Maybe I’ve done something right afterall.

If you have read my story  or some of my other writings, you may have gotten the impression that I wished that I hadn’t become a parent.  I realized that I don’t resent or regret that I have my kids.  They are good kids, and I love them, and I am glad that they are mine.  What I resent and regret is that I have never been good enough.  I resent

  • that I wasn’t ready
  • that I didn’t know that I had choices
  • that I thought that having babies was supposed to be my only purpose in life
  • that I felt guilty for wanting more than that
  • that I didn’t have help when I needed it
  • that I wasn’t able to enjoy being a mom when I was home with the kids
  • that I felt so trapped
  • that now I don’t have the time to spend with them that I want to and that they need
  • that I wasn’t good enough.

But I am glad to have the kids that I do, and that they are the people they are.  They are neat kids.

There were other things that I’m trying to hang on to, and I’m afraid they will slip away.  I had a dream about a week ago about someone following me and harrassing me, and I kept trying to call for help, but my voice wouldn’t work and neither would the phones.  My therapist pointed out that my silence isn’t working for me, and my message to myself is I don’t like this and don’t want to do this anymore.  And at least I did keep trying, so there’s a positive. 

I am usually so resistant, and she must think that I don’t really want to change.  The part of me that wants to change seems to be getting strong enough to get heard.  Life as a victim isn’t the way that I want to live anymore.  Am I really allowed to have any other purpose in life, and to believe that I am here for a reason?

Raising my children is part of my purpose.  There are other things too.  I want to be able to help people, specifically others like me.  I know that’s not going to be easy.  I have some talents, not limited to that area – music, arts, languages, animals, and sometimes an ability to understand other people.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be satisfied with any of it, or ever be good enough.  But maybe I have a purpose, or several, afterall.  If I believe that everyone is here for a reason, then why should I make an exception of myself?  It doesn’t make sense.  But something seems to be coming together.

(picture unavailable – black eye)

This happened a week ago Saturday.  I’ve been called hard-headed before.  I’m not as bad as my father.  He tells a joke about flying over his bicycle handlebars and hitting the sidewalk straight on with his head.  The punch line is “they repaired the sidewalk the next day.”

Anyway, I was shearing goats, and my clipping machine wasn’t cutting hair effectively, so I switched to the more effective shearing machine, which is also louder.  My goat had been a total sweetie and cooperating very well, but he was scared and dived under the deck to hide.  I didn’t let go fast enough and hit my head, hard, on the side of the deck.  Yeah, it hurt a lot.  There was a huge bump on my head.  Nobody said much about that though, until 3 days later when it started draining and started to look like a black eye.  Again, this is not the first time that this has happened to me (different circumstances).  One would think that I might start learning when to let go.

Guess what?  The head injury didn’t hurt nearly as much as another situation where I didn’t know when to let go.  Last week (immediately after the head injury, when I was hurting), I lost the ability to keep my thoughts and feelings to myself.  I had been containing it for a long time, and it leaked out and I couldn’t stop it.  I am glad that I stood up for values that are important to me, but the way that I did it was out of control.  I should have let go a long time ago.  I was a member of the community team here, and I couldn’t deal with the split between representing the team, and the team taking actions that I couldn’t support.  I should have resigned rather than repeating my own feelings.  Then, I hope, I would have been freer to express my opinions.  I waited too long to let go (for lots of reasons such as not wanting to lose the close association I had with people I was working with), and it hurt.

How many of our problems in life are related to not letting go when we need to?  Probably more than we think.  Letting go is really hard.  Think about letting go of the past, letting go of our problems, letting go of hard feelings.  Letting go of our excuses for being the way that we are.  I’m not one to lecture.  This is my problem.  I just think that it’s a problem that probably affects a lot of us.  It’s not always easy to see how not letting go hurts us, but it does hurt and limit us.

Just something to think about.

Apparently I can’t upload music here.  There is a song by Michael McLean called Let it Go, that seems to fit perfectly.   *

*postscript* I found that song on Youtube, but it won’t seem to embed either, so here is the URL:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5vMOpFe9nU4

This post is an invitation for those who have something to say and can’t say it elsewhere.  I’ll respond as I can.  This comment section is for you.  I miss the open sharing that I thought we had, and I’d like to try to make some space where we can share and learn from each other again, and hopefully feel safe.

What is it?  Besides the most likely cause of most of our mental health problems.

According to Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder, (paraphrased) there are many things, including temperament, that influence development of BPD, but one of the strongest predictors is “poorness of fit” with the environment.  Linehan proposes that invalidating environments are the most likely to facilitate development of BPD.

What does an invalidating environment consist of?

“An invalidating environment is one in which communication of private experiences is met by erratic, inappropriate, and extreme responses.” (Linehan, 1993, p. 49).

Characteristics:

  • expression of private experiences is not validated
  • it is often punished and/or trivialized
  • experience of painful emotions is disregarded
  • interpretations of one’s own behavior, including intents and motivations, are dismissed

The individual is told that she is wrong about her own experiences, including the causes of her emotions, beliefs, and actions.

Her experiences are attributed to socially unacceptable characteristics or personality traits.

Displays of negative affect are generally not tolerated.

“Invalidating members of such environments are often vigorous in promulgating their point of view and actively communicate frustration with an individual’s inability to adhere to a similar point of view.”

What are the consequences of invalidating environments?

  • the child is not taught to label emotions
  • the child doesn’t learn to modulate emotional arousal
  • the problems of the emotionally vulnerable child are not recognized
  • little effort goes into solving those problems
  • the child is told to control her emotions, without being taught how to do that
  • the child does not learn to tolerate distress or to form realistic goals and expectations
  • extreme emotional displays become necessary to provoke a helpful response (and these become reinforced)
  • the child oscillates between emotional inhibition and extreme emotional states (no wonder we lose it and blow up!)
  • the child is taught not to trust her own emotional and cognitive responses as valid interpretations
  • the child learns to invalidate herself and search the environment for cues on how to think, feel, and act.

Does any of this sound a little bit familiar?  I see it all the time in daily life.  I’m always trying to teach my clients’ staff to recognize the client’s feelings as real and valid, and to let them know that they are understood, rather than brushing them off with “I like it better when you’re happy.”  If you’re not happy, you’re not happy.  Sometimes all it takes is for the person you are talking to to understand what you are trying to say and recognize that it is important to you, rather than brushing you off.  When we feel unheard, we tend to keep saying it louder and louder to try to be heard.  It may not be possible to let it go without a clear response that is sensitive to the validity of our feelings and message.

I guess that’s all that I dare to say right here and right now.  I don’t think that I can handle the risk of being shut down again.

was last week.  I love conference weekends, both because I get to stay home and listen and watch on TV, so it’s like a day off (which I hardly ever get these days), and because the messages really are great.

I waited to post about conference until the written transcripts were published.  Anyone interested may find video, audio, and written versions at http://lds.org

I would like to mention in particular a talk by Richard G. Scott about healing the Shattering Consequences of Abuse that may be of particular interest here. 

Here is a brief excerpt:

To find relief from the consequences of abuse, it is helpful to understand their source. Satan is the author of all of the destructive outcomes of abuse. He has extraordinary capacity to lead an individual into blind alleys where the solution to extremely challenging problems cannot be found. His strategy is to separate the suffering soul from the healing attainable from a compassionate Heavenly Father and a loving Redeemer.

If you have been abused, Satan will strive to convince you that there is no solution. Yet he knows perfectly well that there is. Satan recognizes that healing comes through the unwavering love of Heavenly Father for each of His children. He also understands that the power of healing is inherent in the Atonement of Jesus Christ. Therefore, his strategy is to do all possible to separate you from your Father and His Son. Do not let Satan convince you that you are beyond help.

Satan uses your abuse to undermine your self-confidence, destroy trust in authority, create fear, and generate feelings of despair. Abuse can damage your ability to form healthy human relationships. You must have faith that all of these negative consequences can be resolved; otherwise they will keep you from full recovery. While these outcomes have powerful influence in your life, they do not define the real you.

Satan will strive to alienate you from your Father in Heaven with the thought that if He loved you He would have prevented the tragedy. Do not be kept from the very source of true healing by the craftiness of the prince of evil and his wicked lies. Recognize that if you have feelings that you are not loved by your Father in Heaven, you are being manipulated by Satan. Even when it may seem very difficult to pray, kneel and ask Father in Heaven to give you the capacity to trust Him and to feel His love for you. Ask to come to know that His Son can heal you through His merciful Atonement.

I have to be real, and I can’t keep stuffing my feelings and pretending that I’m okay when I’m not.  That’s part of “finally coming together.”  Too many times in the past I have pretended, not wanting to offend people or risk having someone mad at me or losing relationships.  But then I sit there and steam inside, and don’t trust anybody because I never know when they are going to hurt me again, and I’ll just take it, and go on pretending.  It’s not working.

I’m reading Cognitive-Behavioral Treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder.  None of my therapists has ever wanted to diagnose me with BPD, although I do meet the DSM-IV-TR criteria.  I’m learning a lot about myself from this book.  I hope to learn how to fix some of this.  The author, Marsha Linehan, includes a table of Behavioral Patterns in BPD that she has identified in the women she worked with in developing DBT.  All of the items in the table describe me very accurately:

  1. Emotional vulnerability: A pattern of pervasive difficulties in regulating negative emotions, including high sensitivity to negative emotional stimuli, high emotional intensity, and slow return to emotional baseline, as well as awareness and experience of emotional vulnerability.  May include a tendency to blame the social environment for unrealistic expectations and demands.
  2. Self-invalidation: Tendency to invalidate or fail to recognize one’s own emotional responses, thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors.  Unrealistically high standards and expectations for self.  May include intense shame, self-hate, and self-directed anger.
  3. Unrelenting crises: Pattern of frequent, stressful, negative environmental events, disruptions, and roadblocks – some caused by the individual’s dysfunctional lifestyle, others by an inadequate social milieu, and many by fate or chance.
  4. Inhibited grieving: Tendency to inhibit and overcontrol negative emotional responses, especially those associated with grief and loss, including sadness, anger, guilt, shame, anxiety, and panic.
  5. Active passivity: Tendency to passive interpersonal problem-solving style, involving failure to engage actively in solving of own life problems, often together with active attempts to solicit problem solving from others in the environment; learned helplessness, hopelessness.
  6. Apparent competence: Tendency for the individual to appear deceptively more competent than she actually is; usually due to failure of competencies to generalize across expected moods, situations, and time, and to failure to display adequate nonverbal cues of emotional distress.

Which ones of these am I showing right now?  All of them.  Particularly #6, #1, and #2 for today.  But they are all typical for how I go about life.  Some of them seem contradictory, like the inhibition and overcontrol of emotional responses in grieving; and emotional vulnerability.  But both of them fit.  I wish that I could feel something about losses such as my brother’s suicide a year ago.  I feel like something is missing, but I’m just numb, and pretty much was from the night that I got the news.  And I wish that every little thing didn’t hurt me so much that it feels like I will always hurt, and there is no escape.

Or unrelenting crises and apparent competence.  People who don’t know me well tend to think I’ve got my act together.  I’m pretty good at looking like I can handle just about anything.  But I fall apart so easily.  And I attack myself, and I go passive and try to disappear, dissociate, and be invisible.

I hope that as I continue to read, and also to work on myself in therapy and try to apply it in real life, that I will learn how to change some of these patterns.  Right now it seems hopeless.  But I’m trying not to hide it anymore, and I hope that will be a step in the right direction.  I also hope it doesn’t turn around and bite me.

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