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.

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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.

A Painful sense of Exclusion

There are some weeks at group therapy when I’m calm and confident and participateth2X9CWT00 in the sessions as much as anyone will. On other occasions, I sink into this dissociative dark hole of silence.

I find this kind of experience incredibly difficult to understand. The two group leaders seldom recognise when I am struggling, or maybe their professional opinion doesn’t believe a rescue mission would help.

During last week’s group, I wanted to discuss losing faith in myself, but as the other members were talking back and forth, I started to feel that their issues were more important, more interesting, than mine were.

Whenever this type of experience unfolds, it feels as though my body transforms into a cold dark shell, with no feelings, no emotions, or a voice, almost like watching myself from behind. The inattentive nature of the Therapists only adds to that sense of exclusion and I feel worthless.

Maybe I need someone to connect with, ask questions about what I think and feel in that moment. I am either ashamed or too vulnerable to ask for help – again – because it sounds as though I’m being a selfish brat, demanding undivided attention, and expecting everything to ‘revolve around me’.

When we were growing up, my sister and I didn’t have an opinion or a free will. My mother used to bemoan, “You had a strong willpower that was difficult to break,” and, “It’s always got to be about you.”

Mum and Dad are both narcissistic type people and “perfect” in every sense of the word. Their way is the only way, which they enforced with violence and intimidation throughout our childhood and emotional blackmail into adulthood.

While my sister learned to comply early in life, I was always the rebel and ultimately became an easy target of all three of them. I suppose it was safer for my sister to join forces with the abusers, so I grew up with a strong sense of those three against me, and nothing much changed with time, other than their tactics for exerting expectations.

I talked to my Therapist Paul yesterday. It’s becoming quite clear that there’s a strong connection between the relationship I have with my narcissistic parents and the experiences of feeling excluded in groups.

I told Paul about my secret lifetime belief in my own heartless selfishness… “I am a selfish man who is inconsiderate of other people’s needs and `wants everything to revolve around me.” I have carried this distorted guilt around for too many years.

thCRZ1VW5DSo, how do I resolve this? This is what group therapy is all about. It represents our mini world where the problems we encounter are similar to the ones we experience in our personal lives. The theory encourages an open discussion about my feelings and as I begin to change within the group, so do my relationships with people on the outside. I only wish it were that easy.

Tomorrow morning is group therapy and for the first time in nine-months, I am dreading it. I don’t trust or connect with these group Therapists, so I cannot be certain of their support if I flounder. Nevertheless, if I want to challenge these demons, then I need to find my own voice to break down that painful sense of exclusion.

Secrets

It feels as though my emotions are bobbing up and down on a yo-yo string. Life wasth3JVIHS41 bright and positive in Thursday’s post, but now I’m struggling to drag my mood from the gutter.

It was difficult to answer the comments to my last post, everyone was happy and supportive of the “therapeutic breakthrough,” but I’ve been feeling like a nasty fraudster because I don’t feel happy at all.

I was at group therapy yesterday morning… urgh. We begin each session with “check-in,” a time when everyone says how they’re feeling and what they might like to explore during the hour and a half session.

I stopped raising topics for discussion because the two group leaders are not very attentive when it comes to remembering what members want to talk about and it’s quite hurtful to feel excluded, but that’s for another griping post … morons!

I initially shared how so many areas of my life are changing for the better, especially in terms of leaving the past behind and looking towards the future, but I must have been the happiest person there because the topic quickly turned to matters of a darker nature.

thJYB9F4NQAs the minutes ticked by, my mood sank deeper and deeper into a dark silent hole, and I had nothing to contribute. This kind of experience is nothing new, but it has taken years to understand why it happens, therapy is full of bittersweet moments.

This deterioration in mood and communication skills normally occurs whenever I don’t speak my mind. It will kick off with a familiar sense of suppression and the longer it continues, the more suffocated and self-conscious I become, but nothing can save me from the jaws of silence… all because I’m not telling the whole truth. This time, I wasn’t telling the truth about myself.

With the door to the past firmly closed, I have come face to face with who I am todaythC0RILPD8 and, frankly, I don’t like what I see. There is something in my life that should not be happening, it’s not conducive to my mental health or to my recovery, but it is one of my biggest kept secrets.

Do not let your imagination run riot here, it is nothing pervy, or anything like that, but the shame feels every bit as bad.

I am not quite ready to spill the beans on this one. Talking about it somehow acknowledges its presence and as soon as I do that, it will be time to do something about it, but I am not quite ready just yet. I’ve just remembered a quote on my ‘About me’ page…

“We are only as sick as our secrets”

Therapy – Light at the end of the Tunnel

I had my therapy with Paul today. In many ways, I didn’t want to go. I’m still in thisthJS0QQEXZ weird void like state, which I wrote about here and I wondered what to talk about during our session. I no longer feel the need to go over the same childhood issues, but I’ve spent so many years consumed by the trauma, it feels as though a part of my brain is missing.

Paul said last week’s session gave him a better understanding of what the dissociation is like for me. He wholeheartedly agreed with my interpretation of “The Void” and shared my idea of finally leaving the past behind. Of course, he’s very careful never to lead and always accepts whatever I say. It’s nice to feel so understood, my perspective is always right, but I can’t help but wonder whether he would ever say if I was wrong or mistaken.

We talked a little about the rumination and how this is an act of dissociation and an attempt to resolve disagreements in my mind (which comes from fellow-blogger, Ellen). My current ruminating takes the form of imaginary arguments with my mum and sister. It’s manic when loose and could easily swallow the entire day, leaving a trail of tense anxiety and resentments. Not only does it sabotage any chance of grounding in the present moment, it robs me of the opportunity to move forward.

th251A6SLTThe rumination is a difficult habit to break, but I have tackled it this week by using a basic mindfulness technique of being more aware of my surroundings, particularly sounds. Dog walking would normally be a time of intense rumination and I sometimes wondered if other walkers were able to see my mouth muttering away as I wandered around in a ruminating-trance.

This week was different. I walked and listened to the here and now. It sounded like everything was on loudspeaker, the birds, ducks, dogs, and children, AND, bloody heck, I do live in a noisy neighbourhood! It feels as though I’ve only been in a semi-conscious state for such a long time, or locked inside the prison of my own mind, childhood trauma.

Being with Paul today also had a different feel to it. He said I appeared more groundedthA2PSAOHE and at peace, with a clearer idea of where I am and which direction to take. I knew then I have definitely turned a corner and… Is that light I see at the end of the tunnel?

I need to focus my attention on two things. The first is the relationship problems I have with my mum and sister, which of course is also the source of rumination, so two for the price of one, things are already looking up. The second is to confront what it is about the present moment that frightens me the most, what do I avoid at all costs, but that’s something for my next post.

Therapy – Experiencing the Void

Rather than plan the usual agenda for therapy yesterday, I decided to turn up with theth1W15UEW3 same dissociative void that I wrote about in my last post “Find a Way Back to Me.” I didn’t understand why it felt important to share this moment with Paul because to sit with a void implies sitting with nothing, and that is normally a little too awkward in therapy at the best of times. Let me tell you, it felt weird, really, really WEIRD, but I did it.

We sat through most of the fifty-minute session saying very little. I don’t usually deal with silence too well in therapy, but perhaps I’ve reached a stage of feeling comfortable with Paul, or maybe the dissociation just didn’t care.

Paul said I look incredibly sad and tired when I sit quietly, but he wondered if this is more to do with dissociation rather than sadness. It must have been dissociation because I couldn’t think or feel much of anything, other than a strange kind of exhaustion.

thPTT3DKVLIt felt more painful to be sharing such an honest part of myself and it made me realise just how preoccupied I am with Paul’s thoughts and feelings during our sessions. I try not to bore or depress him too much and my final thought is always about the effect of my monotonous voice on his mental wellbeing. This also spills out into my personal life, where I feel responsible for other people’s feelings.

Half an hour into our time and Paul seemed pleased and comfortable with how our session was progressing. I couldn’t help wonder if it was because he didn’t need to listen to my voice. He said, “Not only were you prepared to come and sit with this void today, you are allowing me to experience it with you.” I knew this was probably significant, but it didn’t increase my sense of connection.

I told Paul that it feels as though I’ve hit a dead end. I don’t necessarily want to go over the same methodical details of the past, yet there is a fear and hesitation towards entering the present moment.

There appears to be a wall of painful emotion that I need to walk through first, so I am hovering in this void instead of moving forward. It is not all about fear, but also about the uncertainty of which direction to take because the options are not entirely clear.

This reminded Paul of a seminar he attended recently where the speaker used a line chart to demonstrate the ups and downs of therapy. When things are running well, with realisations and changes underway, a client tends to feel as though they are up and moving forward, until the stage when nothing much appears to be happening and they begin to question why. However, those times of apparent inactivity, are actually the periods when we’re absorbing what we have learned and preparing for the next leg of the journey.

After therapy, I thought about the comments from yesterday’s post. Some were suggesting that maybe it’s not so much about finding a way back to the old me, as it isthD3TGU6OE about getting to know the new me.

In truth, I don’t yet know what all of this means and probably fail to recognise some kind of healing experience, although I imagine that will come further down the line. I have no closing smart-ass statement, nothing to help guide another through something similar. I only have the facts of my experience… Me in the present moment.