Tag Archives: Dissociation

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.

Seeing Beyond the Void

As we go through life, each of us develops defence mechanisms that help dealth1W15UEW3 with a wide spectrum of stressful situations and to protect us from painful memories. Two clever tactics that I know very well are suppression and repression.

Suppression is something everyone does. It’s when we think about something, but then consciously squeeze it to the back of our mind. This doesn’t need to be in a negative way and can act as an aid to filter out one thought while we deal with something else.

Suppression and repression are very similar, although repression is a little trickier to identify because much of the avoidance takes place on a subconscious level as we deny the memory or emotion even exists. I’ve only just become aware of my own repression, which unravelled during a poignant moment in therapy last week.

When I became a victim of an attempted murder, which I wrote about here, I was extremely lucky to survive, but what I hadn’t realise until now, was a fundamental part of me died inside. While the experience was particularly traumatic, the history of my assailants past crimes, including murder, would only add to the horror and hinder any path to recovery.

I’ve always abhorred any kind of violence because abusiveness has been a prominent pattern in my life since early childhood. Each incident of physical, verbal, emotional, and even sexual abuse would slowly hamper a willingness to recover, while placing significant strain on my ability to bounce back. My traumatised brain soon interpreted life as dangerous territory and wise to be devoid of trust.

Trust is the necessary ingredient for all human interactions, from casual acquaintances to personal relationships. Losing the ability to trust means everything about life feels unsafe. Meeting new people or visiting unfamiliar places eventually becomes something of the past.

th43ZJN5J0The more vulnerable and withdrawn I became, the more I developed an unhealthy need to protect myself from any kind of attachment. My need for love and affection or to trust and be trusted, had sunk beneath years of repression and there was no awareness of just how cold and distant I had become.

I painfully recall the pleas of significant people to consider their feelings and wishes, even if I had none of my own. It felt like they were on the attack, rather than trying to save me from an emotional black hole. As time progressed, the empty space became so vast, it was impossible to see beyond the void.

The dissociation from reality eventually made me inaccessible to those who had spent years trying to hold on to the person they once knew. The consistent pleas meant nothing and I slowly cut everyone meaningful from my life. The diagnosis of Depression, PTSD and Agoraphobia were my new companions in life, but the Disorders also became my shield against any expectations to change.

In the last fifteen years, venturing beyond a two-mile radius of home hasn’t been on the agenda and there are only six places I can visit, anxiety free. While I do believe in my ability to overcome these phobias, I’ve made little effort to push the boundaries. In all this time, I cannot recall boredom or loneliness ever featuring within my comfortable agoraphobic cocoon.

For reasons that may always remain a complete mystery, I once believed this dysfunction lifestyle was not only justified, but also acceptable. I had repressed my emotions to such a depth that I forgot they even existed.

When I learned of my friend, Anne’s, death recently, via the extraordinary coincidental telephone call, my mind became flooded with memories of a time when I viewed life very differently. Over the course of the last couple of weeks, these new realisations are like awakening from a fifteen-year coma to find that I’m living an unacceptable reclusive lifestyle.

There were a number of stark moments in therapy last week, as I recalled the pain caused to othersthAQ8EK2XX and the injustice I dealt to my own potential. Repressing the fundamental emotions necessary to human existence only blocked the flow of healing and tainted my perception of trust.

Fifteen years of extreme isolation is a very long time and I’m careful not to get ahead of myself. I’m excited, fearful, and fragile, all at the same time. It’s impossible to find a way back to something familiar, any previous point of existence no longer exists. The unknown feels a scary place to be and the challenges ahead won’t be easy, but somehow I need to find the courage to move forward.

Snotty Cow

Dr C has never held a conversation with me since she joined the therapy group threethWO80MS6L months ago. I’ve tried to engage with the coldness several times, but it’s difficult to connect with a Therapist who appears distant and downright friggin rude at times.

If I’m trying to interact with someone, but there’s a distance in the dynamics, the experience can transport me back to childhood where I regress within that same sense of exclusion I felt as a child. This has taken me years to understand and I want to stand up against it rather than sink into one of those detached silent episodes.

I already talked about this in the group last week, including how I feel about this odd character, Dr C, but it evidently made little difference. Just because she triggers something from my narcissistic upbringing, doesn’t mean to say she’s not being a snotty cow.

thZCS0JRE4Yes, Cat was sharpening his claws on Friday and that little bit of agitation can feel like the last straw to a mountain of supressed anger from the past. My focus was on Dr C, but she was still looking downwards, even after I started to speak.

Me: “When we enter this therapy room on a Friday, our Therapist, Frankie, welcomes everyone with a smile while you, Dr C, sit there with your head almost between your knees, I often wonder if you’re actually sucking your toes down there.” I have her attention now.

Frankie: Her small stature shifts uncomfortably in the seat. “Yes, but remember we talked about what this represents for you, Cat… the distance, your parents…and how that causes you to retreat.”

Dr C: Mumbles beneath a large hand, now covering half her face, only the eyes are visible and she’s beginning to creep me out. Her English is perfect, but it sounds like she has a sweaty sock stuffed in her mouth. “Yez, go von,” she says in a very neutral-I-don’t-care-tone, which only riles me further.

Me: “The distance I sometimes feel in this room may well remind me of my parents, but your face is still on the floor and it’s rude. I try to feel some sort of connection, but I only seem to hit a frosty front and it’s difficult to find trust in there.”

Dr C: Says nothing, her eyes in a Therapist squint, searching for a deeper meaning within me, but I am adamant that she needs to own part of this.

A couple of other group members shared similar experiences, so it was a relief to realise this is not just my perception. While they talked, I was fighting to compose the misplaced anger.

Me: “When I shared during check-in this morning, you didn’t look at me once, it’s not the first time, and I feel you must have some sort of problem with me…”

I wasn’t looking for their feedback, just as well because I didn’t get any. Nothing could change what I said… actions speak louder than words. Dr C was a little vague, “Maybe you have a point.”

I assumed she meant I had a point about her being a snotty cow, but later that night IthCQGLNBGY wondered if she was actually saying, “You’re right, I have a problem with you.”

The most important thing for me is that I was honest and my self-esteem is no longer at risk of suffocating in silence. Who cares what the snotty cow thinks.