Category Archives: PTSD

A Daunting Prospect

guiltyI was only just writing in my last post about the significant improvement in mood and then I woke two days later, with a severe dose of the blues.

While I’m struggling to understand the therapeutic process – or fully believe in the healing – positive changes are undoubtedly underway. The sudden turnaround in mood wasn’t immediately obvious until I reread my therapy journal from the night before. The words were bold and clear, adorned with question marks, “My attempted murder.”

When Wednesday came along, I really didn’t want to go to my session with Paul. I wasn’t consciously avoiding any connection with the memories of my attack, but I did feel suffocating apathy. I know from experience that something very powerful takes place whenever we choose to a sit with the feelings in therapy, even if they are only resentments for being there.

Paul sensed my unease, “It looks as though you’re finding it difficult to be here today.”

This took me by surprise. He’s one of the most passive Therapists I’ve ever met and not usually forthright with his own observations. We talked for a while about trivialities and then I eventually told him about my journal entry and the change of mood.

“It’s the only issue I haven’t yet focussed on in therapy, but I don’t know how to even begin talking about such a traumatic event. I can easily run through the details, but they always feel more like describing a movie, completely absent of any personal connection. I’ve never even thought about the impact it had on my life, never mind the feelings.”

“This reminds me of the issue you had during the initial months of therapy when you were experiencing dissociation from feeling anything in the moment.”

“I know this is a form of dissociation but awareness does not seem to help, it only adds to the frustration. Whenever I go in search of the feelings, there is only an empty space… nothing. If there are no emotions, what is there to talk about?”

“Do you feel anything right now?”

With great relief, I noticed the clock was approaching the end of our time, “The only thing I feel right now is intense fear, as though a black hole is opening at my feet… and I am slowly backtracking.”

Two days later, it was time for the weekly group therapy and once again, I desperately didn’t want to go. I can see how this was purely avoidance, but my mind was playing tricks at the time. I scrambled to find every possible reason not to go, even sabotaging the journey to keep me late.

I shared with the group how confusing it felt not to be able to talk about the feelings. One of the other members said something so simple that I wondered why I hadn’t thought of it myself.

“Sometimes it’s easier to identify the feelings, but quite another to feel them.”

That statement’s so true. I can identify the terror and helplessness, the fear and anger, the violation and intense hurt, or I can tell you about how it was the final straw to a lifetime of violence and injustice. The missing ingredient, crucial to healing, is the ability to feel any one of those emotions.

At the start of therapy, I had this general plan of the things I needed to talk about and, morebottling importantly, the emotions I should feel. I couldn’t bear to think about certain childhood memories and the thought of willingly analysing them in therapy was a daunting prospect, but I knew exactly what to expect.

The experience of almost losing my life to a psychotic murderer feels entirely different. Even though I lived with the aftermath all these years, the depth of emotion is completely new territory and any thought of digging up the trauma is terrifying. But, I will be disappointed if I reach the end of this therapy programme in January without a reasonable attempt to connect with the feelings.

Therapy and Healing

I’ve not been writing a lot about therapy lately. My last post about Paul’s absence was actually twoWP_20131116_001 weeks old. I’m not sure what’s going on for me right now. In the days leading up to this therapy programme, I often wondered what healing from trauma might actually feel like and what shape the process might take.

Each one of us have our own route to healing, but my own journey  feels as though I’ve been on a rollercoaster ride of reflection and rumination, writing and talking… anger… regret, and many stages of grief.

We learned early in our group how important it is to observe the feelings. There were months when I seemed to exist in a weird trance like state with a whirlwind of emotions circling inside my head. I thought acceptance, healing, and change might never come into focus, but this is beginning to feel much more likely.

The last group I attended was two-weeks ago. I had only just received the bizarre telephone call, which brought news about the death of my long lost friend, Anne.

I’m still trying to grasp how extraordinary that coincidence actually was and the news has been difficult to come to terms with. However, the experience came to mean so much more than synchronicity or grief.

In the days that followed the news, my mind was awash with long forgotten memories of the past. It took a few days to realise that beyond the nostalgia, was a clear view of how I once viewed my existence.

I recalled the enthusiasm and heaps of confidence that would eventually become lost beneath years of mental health problems. I have able to taste what life once meant to me and what I meant to life.

When I first approached a Psychiatrist five years ago, almost begging for help, the distress came from a realisation that I didn’t want to get any better, “not if it means interacting and trusting other people again…” My perception of life had been utterly dismal for so many years, it was easy to lose track of what existed before the days of mental illness.

th0UQOMD3LIt feels as though these long forgotten memories form part of the missing jigsaw and now I can see a lifestyle that is worthwhile aiming for. Of course, everyone changes with time and there is no return to a former self, but I finally envisage what life could look like.

We return to usual sessions next week, but already my time is running out in therapy. We finish group in December and from January until June, I will be on a rapid sliding scale with my Therapist, Paul.

It might sound strange, but my least problematic condition in recent years has been Agoraphobia because it kept me safe and comfortable within an isolated cocoon. At the heart of the debilitating phobia is a fear of venturing into strange places with the prospect of meeting unfamiliar people. This brings me full circle to the very place I started with my Psychiatrist five years ago, only this time, I do want to face those fears and I will ultimately find a new life, but the prospect of change is scary and therein is the next stage of my therapy.

Dr Gerald Stein writes a nice post on avoiding our fears, taking control, and making the best of life here

Memories of Violent Crime & the Feelings.

I don’t usually remember the anniversary of this occasion, but I was supping morning coffee when something on the radio reminded me of today’s date. The kitchen clock eerily read, July 12th 9.20am, the exact same date, and time when the horror began, twenty-four years ago. That may seem a heck of a long time, but in terms of recovering from this kind of crime/trauma, it is merely a blink of an eye.

I’ve already written about this attempted murder experience, so I’ll not go into details here. I posted about the actual incident in, “My Attacker.” If violence and blood ‘triggers’ you, it might not be the best post to read.

The location was rural and as I crashed head first through my assailants bedroom window, the sound of breaking glass was like a bomb going off and people came running from the next street, only to find a blood soaked body lying motionless beneath a 20ft drop. The first neighbour on scene happened to be a nurse.

It was raining heavily that morning and as she tried to keep me conscious, the raindrops were splashing the side of my face and running through my hair. Don’t ask me why I asked the most bizarre question, “Excuse me, but do you have an umbrella?” I’ve always been partial to dissociating from the emotional pain, but the flippancy was a sign of the years to come.

A local police officer arrived seconds later and recorded the time as 9.30am. I couldn’t feel any part of my body and neither could I move. My assailant crouched over my head and for a moment, I thought he might just finish what he started.

This morning, as I watched the second hand slowly tick from 9.20 to 9.30, I recalled the details of those life-changing minutes. Despite undergoing specialist therapy for PTSD and months of sessions over the years, I’ve never been able to connect with the emotions, but today was different.

This experience just happens to coincide with yesterday’s post about our resistance to what hurts the most. In the last 10mths, Paul has listened to my story cover to cover. We encompassed everything that I originally set out to address, but I wasn’t expecting this foreboding sense of emptiness and uncertainty. What now?

I read somewhere that this is where some of the most important work takes place in therapy, when we stand alone with only the emotion. The Therapists already know the details, now it’s time to share the raw feelings. I wish we could just skip this part of the healing process.

Paul is the best Therapist I’ve ever met and if I can get through this with anyone, I can do it with him, but time is not on our side. This is only a Two-year therapy programme and I am already half way through.

There is no room for jostling around with ‘resistance’, but the prospect of actually experiencing those long-denied emotions is not only frightening, it feels like one of the most unnatural things to do.

Yes, July 12th is a day that usually goes unnoticed, but the tears were surprisingly different this year. Maybe this date will go down in history, not as something tragic, but as a new beginning.

The Fear Depresses me the Most

It has been a long time since I experienced significant bouts of depression. I’m quiteblack dog sure many readers will relate to that jittery feeling we get in the pit of our stomach, never really knowing how low the depression will go, or if it’s merely just a passing blip.

My MH diagnosis’ includes Major Depressive Disorder so I guess it does what it says on the bottle. There was a time not so long ago when chronic depression became more than a regular occurrence, but it feels as if I’m out of practice, although this can only be a good thing.

Where did this episode begin? The largest part of it seemed to settle during my therapy with Paul yesterday. I was already exhausted and feeling pissed off on arrival, which just seemed to snowball during our session.

We briefly talked about a number of issues, without going into anything in depth, but those topics possibly held more significance than I initially realised.

I told Paul about my emails to the narcissistic mother and Sissy, the Golden-child, asking for no contact. There’s not one shadow of doubt or regret hanging over that decision, but underneath the certainty, is a weird sense of loss. I didn’t expect this to happen.

The fact is, childhood memories and dysfunctional family dynamics have dominated my life for such a long time and now that my mind isn’t so swamped, there’s this vast empty space just waiting… waiting… for… my… future. The fear depresses me the most.

Somewhere along the way, I lost faith in myself. I was always a worker and the opportunities were more than I could’ve ever wished for, I loved and breathed my vocation. But, fifteen years disappeared and there’s no way I would qualify for the same positions today.

Nevertheless, Cat does have something in mind, but the plan entails going back to college/university for four years. It’s not the time that feels daunting and I can handle the cost and even the debt, but the thought of returning to study at 52, feels humiliating. I know, I know, we’re never too old, but I just can’t snap out of feeling a complete failure for reaching this time of life without any solid roots.

The biggest hurdle of all is PTSD and ‘related’ Agoraphobia, which is something I don’t often talk about on this blog, but it’s hard to imagine being able to live my life as freely as before. The “related” part is not a medical diagnosis, but it’s entirely the aftermath of being a victim to violent crime, which I wrote about here.

There’s little point telling a victim of any kind of trauma that it might never happen. The fact is, it did happen, and sometimes the unimaginable becomes someone’s reality. .

Yes, I know how unlikely it is to become a victim of abuse or violent crime again and I’ve heard all about “statistically,” but I was once one of those statistics, so applying that kind of logic doesn’t seem to cut it for me.

When I first started therapy, many things were hard to imagine.

It would not have been possible for me to talk about childhood memories without recoiling in shame and trauma.

It was hard to imagine ever finding peace and acceptance for the childhood hurt and disappointment, and I never thought it possible to find the courage to ‘divorce’ my family.

thU6CGHWTTWhen I first asked the Mental Health Team for help three years ago, I shamefully admitted to the Psychiatrist, “I don’t want to get any better, not if it means re-joining life again or connecting with people” and here I am, anticipating and planning both.

It seems these “hard to imagine” scenarios have a habit of becoming reality and this needs to be my focus in the next phase of therapy, but that doesn’t mean every part of my senses will not still be screaming out “DANGER” whenever I try to push past those safe boundaries.

Therapy – Moving Forward

I am not sure what I expected to happen when the childhood trauma finally faded into the past. Maybe I envisaged bright colourful healing lights with life changing eureka moments, but my own experience of “renewal” has crept up so slowly, I almost didn’t notice.

I was apprehensive about therapy with Paul yesterday, mainly because I couldn’t think17423085-3d-small-people--with-a-question-mark of anything to say. We’ve spent months analysing my experience of childhood trauma and the ambiguous family relationships, but these have finally run out of gas.

Turning up for a fifty-minute therapy session without any kind of agenda will run the risk of hitting a wall of painful silence, but I’ve learned in recent weeks that these are often the most powerful sessions.

The Psychiatrist – the wonderful Dr J – used to say, “Whenever you don’t feel like coming to therapy, those are the times when you need to attend the most.” She never did offer an explanation, but the glint in her eye said, ‘try it and see’.

I’m still not entirely sure what it achieves, other than to force someone to sit with the discomfort, and maybe this is the purpose of the exercise, so off I trundled to therapy yesterday afternoon.

thLPKB5TKTI told Paul that the door to my past has firmly closed behind me and now I only see this vast empty space, and this represents my life and the near future. It is my opportunity to build a new existence, but I am apprehensive about pottering around a strange environment.

Paul and I talked about the fear, which didn’t altogether make sense. I did the professional life once before. Of course, I couldn’t waltz back into the same jobs today and there is still the ‘little’ problem of PTSD and Agoraphobia to overcome, but retraining is not out of the question.

Of course, it would be an enormous challenge and I am not even sure if funding (at my age) would make this dream a reality. As we were exploring this, it felt as if there was something more than fear that was potentially holding me back.

And then it happened, a true eureka-therapy-moment, a very small and simple realisation with an enormous potential for healing. I heard my subconscious speak the words that accurately describe my fears for moving forwards. “I’ve completely lost faith in myself.” I bowed my head.

The enormity of those words hovered in the silent space between Paul and me. “How can I trust myself after all these years of running… hiding… and failing.”

Last night I realised the significance of our session. I can barely believe this is little-ol-broken-me, thinking and actually talking of a future. I remember an appointment with my Psychiatrist three years ago, “I no longer want to get better,” I confessed in despair, “Not if it means reconnecting with life or building relationships again.”

Only last year, it didn’t feel possible to get to where I am today, when the positivethNKAGMHVY thoughts start to outweigh the negative ones and suddenly there is a future waiting just ahead. As it happens, Yes, I do want to get better and, yes, I do want to connect with life again.

I think this is progress.

Castle & Moat

I didn’t attend therapy last week due to the hospital fiasco, I feel a little out of touchth532FIEZM already. Looking back through my blog, which is like a memory bank, I now remember talking about “The Void.” Maybe this is why everything feels so blank right now.

There is this metaphorical Castle and Moat that I built with my own bare hands over many years. It is my crusade for ridiculous isolation and keeps me safe from the world I perceived as dangerous. The only problem is that the original building plans never did include a drawbridge.

It feels as though I already have the materials to build a bridge, which will reconnect with life on the outside. I just need to figure out how to put it all together.

All of this sounds positive stuff, but excuse the absence of a royal fanfare. We need to really want something before we’re able to bring about the necessary changes to achieve it. I am not sure where my motivation is, or maybe I’m uncertain of which direction to take.

thDCBQB7FJ

None of this comes easy. I’ve been isolated for so many years, I’m too comfortable and protected from all the nasty things that might – WILL – happen in the big bad world, but this doesn’t mean I should avoid facing them.

Many of us take trust for granted, but it’s an essential ingredient for living together harmoniously and for going about our business with a certain degree of safety. Of thL8M3E5X1course, there are different levels of trust, but each of them begins with the most basic, trust in strangers.

Apart from family members, every person in your life was once a stranger who you needed to trust to reach a point where the relationship is today.

I used to pretend to trust people and would build my relationships on false foundations, which is probably why everyone came to mean very little. If I’ve never experienced trust as a child, how would I know what it is or how to experience it?

The only emotion I feel right now is a kind of blandness, not feeling or thinking much of anything. The territory feels strange, even a little disconcerting, but I’m going to stick with it and see what unfolds at Wednesday’s therapy with Paul.

The Court trial & the martyr

As regular readers already know, years ago I was the victim of a completely unprovoked attempted murder by an evil character who is your movie-style psycho killer.

I asked my parents not to attend the High Court trial in an effort to save them from hearing personal details of my life echo around a courtroom disparagingly. There was a vulnerable need to protect myself against mother’s judgemental mentality and those familiar speeches of martyrdom.

I could only envisage my parent’s shame as their son’s life became public before a Jury and a busy public gallery. My assailants defence team were preparing to tear my testimony to shreds with accusations of the most despicable kind. There were only two of us in that room that night, no witnesses, just my word against his.

A High Court trial Jury in the UK are never aware of a Defendant’s criminal convictions until after a Judge passes a verdict of guilty, so for the duration of our humiliating trial, my character came under cruel and degrading scrutiny.

My assailant’s academic intelligence arrogantly tried to justify my extensive injuries and blundered through a ridiculous explanation of why I would jump through a first floor window in a dangerous bid to escape, if I was the attacker. The Jury were there to make a judgement.

The Defendant’s respectable middle class parents sat quietly in the courtroom in support of their precious son, while I couldn’t trust my mother to provide that same unconditional support, not without it being regurgitated sometime in the future with that familiar statement of, “Oh, what a terrible time I’m having.”

On the day of the verdict, I couldn’t go anywhere near the Courthouse. A bizarre and rather shocking twist to this story is that only a couple of years previously, my assailant had actually been sent to prison for life, for the first murder he ever committed.

Two years into his life sentence, he took his appeal to the Supreme Court and the Judges ruled that the Jury in the first murder trial were prejudiced into finding him guilty. Even though he admitted to the murder, those idiotic Judges, in all their glory and wisdom, overturned his guilty verdict and set him free. He had walked free once, this trial could swing either way.

Waiting at home alone for the verdict, I have never felt so nervous in my entire life, the sort where you just cannot get off the toilet, while watching the second hand sweep away the minutes. When the phone eventually did ring, it was the martyr, my mother.

Mum: Well Cat, That’s it finished… (She has that familiar patronising voice, the one that stinks of ‘woe is me’). Now listen, son, I hope we can put this behind us now because me and yer Dad ‘are done’, this is taking its toll on everyone, you know.

Silence

Mum: Hello? Are ye there?

Me: Well? Have they reached a verdict yet? Have you heard?

Mum: Eh?… Oh… Aye, they got him for it… he’s found guilty. Now listen, son, I really hope we can start to move on with our lives. Your only young, you’ll get over it.

Stunned silence

Me: Um…well, ‘Leaving it all behind’ might not be so straightforward for the victim.

Mum: I know that you’re the victim, son, (my tummy turns queasy whenever she uses ‘son’ in that emotionally blackmailing way) but listen, we’ve all been through a hard time over this, we’re all victims, it’s not all about you, you know.”

That telephone call is the beginning of where we are today. There is little point in trying to speak up against such narcissistic thinking and my silence has pushed her further and further away, but the anger, the guilt, and all the things I should have said, but couldn’t, are fuel to the chronic rumination today and this is one of the things I will be working on in therapy over the coming weeks.