My Family

I’m staying with my mum and her husband right now, for my one week of vacation. It took me 9 hours to drive here, and I made it without caffeine and with making only one stop. It was actually a beautiful drive. Getting out of the city to the countryside is quite lovely. Now I see why people visit national parks. I’m using the last five days of my paid time off before those days expire next month. I think I would like to take a week off again sometime this year, even if it’s unpaid leave from work. These sound like the words of a non-depressed person, don’t they?

My mum is very glad that I’m visiting. She’s happy to see me. She cooks me meals, dotes on me, wakes me up at 10 in the morning, my preferred waking time for vacation. I’ve been sleeping 12 hours every night since Friday. Pretty typical for my weekends, actually.

Yesterday my brother made dinner at my grandfather’s house. He went over in the early afternoon to start cooking. Dinner was salad, bread, lasagna. He made a small, vegetarian lasagna just for me, and kept the cooking utensils separate from the meat. He’s so sweet and thoughtful. He made the whole wheat bread loaf from scratch, as well as the lasagna sauces, the bechamel sauce, the salad dressings. Everything was from scratch. He is such a good cook. Gourmet too. My grandfather said it was the best lasagna that he’s had in the last 10 – 15 years. He’s 82, so he does have bragging rights as to the best lasagna’s that he has enjoyed over the course of his life.

The best part was when I hugged my brother, and he put his arm around me, and I told him I loved him, and he said, “I love you too.” That was the best feeling. My mum and I have been sharing brief conversations in the kitchen. I’m seated at the table and she is always standing. We talk about how difficult it was for her living in foreign countries working full time and taking care of two children by herself. We’re going to go for a walk later today, just she and I, at a lovely park which is just a short drive away.

She’s also been filling me in on the family problems and disputes and also about the difficulties of her own life. Her husband gets upset very easily and has anger issues. I’m sure it’s something that could be fixed with psychotherapy and possibly medication, but he’s never been to see a therapist and probably never will. My mum hoards things and hasn’t thrown anything away since my father died in 1987. Well, that’s not entirely true. Over the years she has slowly been going through things and cleaning up and getting rid of things, but she and her husband have a four car garage that is just full of stuff, along with the interior of the rest of the house. The upright piano hasn’t been tuned or used for over 10 years and it just sits there collecting dust and serves as a vehicle for storing stuff on its’ surface. I think my mum could benefit from seeing a psychotherapist but I don’t know if she would be willing to or if I could convince her, and she cannot afford it anyway. I would be willing to pay for her to go.

My grandmother is dead and my grandfather knows that he’s going to go soon too. My mum says that he keeps delaying finishing his will, and that he established a trust but there’s no money in it, and he’s telling his eldest daughter, my mum, that it’s her job to fund it, but she makes less than $1,000 per month and that’s not nearly enough to live off of in the big city where she lives. My mum’s next younger sibling is my uncle and his wife. They want to have nothing to do with my mum’s husband because they don’t like him and because he kicked me and my brother out of his home multiple times. At one point my brother was even living on the street out of his car because he had nowhere to go, and relations were strained with all of the family members so no one was willing to take him in. The next sibling is my aunt, who lives with her dad, my grandfather. She is prodigal in her ability to compose the most amazing songs on the piano. But she has severe scoliosis and is overweight and has pigmentation abnormalities on her skin that make her very unattractive. She also has mental illness and takes psychotropic medication. She will never be able to provide for herself, never will be able to have a husband, and that is what the unfunded trust is for that my grandfather created, so that when he dies, she will somehow be taken care of. My mum’s second sibling, my uncle, is very rich because he is a doctor, but is unwilling to help anyone but his own children. He is also very narcissistic. Then there’s the youngest sibling, another uncle, and he lives on the other side of the country. He’s a teacher and will not change professions and will never be able to make enough money to afford living where the rest of his family lives. This is a very expensive neighbourhood. He sides with his brother on every family dispute.

My grandfather wants my mother to divorce her husband and my mother thinks that her youngest sibling’s marriage isn’t going to last. He has a 3-year-old child, my youngest cousin. My brother seems to be doing okay, despite all of the difficulties in the external family. My mum’s husband constantly threatens to leave her and move to the Midwest where things are cheaper, cost of living, and the ideology is more republican and much less democratic. He is a republican in a sea of democrats. He hates his job and constantly threatens to quit.

I worry about my mum and her life, and how she’s going to manage if her husband moves away or quits his job or divorces her. She may have already separated from him had it not been for the fact that she is financially dependent on him. He provides for the two of them. She said it’s not much of a marriage and that all he cares about is money. That’s the substance of the relationship, is money. He’s trying to get her to learn programming because he is a computer programmer, and she just doesn’t get it, but he keeps pushing her, and so she keeps trying, all in an effort to please, or rather, appease, him. I also don’t understand how he can manage to live in my mum’s mess, because the hoarding seems to be all her doing. But things just collect and there are piles on the table and piles on every surface of the home, including the floors. There are small pathways to walk throughout the home.

My brother just recently bought a home and he and his partner have discussed taking my mum in and letting her live there, if need be. All of her stuff would go into storage and it would cost thousands of dollars a year to store her accumulated belongings. I’m so glad I no longer have a storage unit, and that I gave away so much stuff to Goodwill in order to be able to fit my life into my small apartment. It feels good to have less stuff.

I’m supposed to be studying but I am disillusioned after having taken my GRE diagnostic exam. I passed the verbal section by getting a 76%. But for math, I am in the 3% percentile. Not 30, it’s a 3. Meaning I only got a handful of questions right. Math used to make sense to me when I was in school but it no longer does, and I’ve forgotten all of the rules and formulas. I only have 2 months to study and I’m afraid my score is not going to improve by much. This means I probably won’t get into my school of choice. It is rather disappointing.

I have a week left of staying here. I won’t have to go to work during the week which is nice. My mum doesn’t have air conditioning and it gets very hot in the house. They have fans to circulate the warm air. I won’t get to see my therapist this week as I am out of town and I am not doing so poorly that I need a video internet chat session. I am going to be okay. It’s good for me that I am reconnecting with my family. I don’t do this very often.

How my therapist became a therapist

A blank page is what I start with every time. And I manage to fill the page with words that are meaningful to me. Right now I am going to recount the story my psychotherapist told me today. He has told me before, but I had forgotten.

My therapist grew up in a Catholic family with nine children on the East Coast. He remembers diapering his baby brother when he was 10 years old, which is how he remembered how to use cloth diapers on his own children many years later. I believe he grew up on a farm. He knows a lot about farming and about growing apples. His first degree was in agriculture. He wanted to become a farmer. Back then farmers made about $9,000 per year. It was and is not a lucrative business. Actually, he told me, his first dream was to become a pilot, when he was in his childhood. But he had never been in an airplane or a boat before and as he got older he discovered that he gets motion sickness, even in a car. So, becoming a pilot was not a possibility.

When my therapist went for his masters degree, he signed up to get a dual masters in agriculture and education. He worked on a 350 acre farm that his university had, growing crop for the studies that the university conducted. However, land that was near a market for buyers was very expensive and he wasn’t inheriting any land. He could have purchased no more than 10 acres. So, he decided, if he couldn’t become a farmer, he would teach the subject at community colleges. Hence, the masters in education.

As a part of the education masters degree he was required to complete some teaching hours. He thought he was going to be assigned to teach teenagers at a high school. Instead, his first assignment was working in a first grade classroom. He told the teacher he would be assisting that he didn’t know anything about teaching children. She said to him, I want you to help these three children, and she gave him their names. They are having difficulties with their behavior and I want you to work with only these three students. That’s all you will do, all semester.

The first young student was a boy. He often got into trouble. My therapist noticed that this boy never instigated the commotion, but was always the second person to become involved in an event that was taking place. He became the center of attention. As my therapist worked with him more, he came to know more about this child’s situation. The mother was ill and could not function, and the father had some unknown poisoning that no doctor could diagnose and it confined him to a wheelchair. These parents could barely provide the needs for their child. CPS was constantly checking on them to see if they needed to pull the boy out of the situation. This child was starving for guidance in how to act and behave with other people. He needed another adult in his life.

The second student was a girl named Tina. She had these strange behaviors. She would get up during the middle of class, more times than any of the other students and ask to use the bathroom. Instead of using the bathroom she spent a lot of time staring at herself in front of the mirror. She would wander down the hallways, just passing the time until break. As soon as the recess bell rang, she was always the first one out the door. She had incredible dexterity and was often on the monkey bars. First one out the door and always the last one to come back in from recess. She was behind in most of her subjects and could not grasp the concept of 1 + 1 = 2. Her activity page was blank at her desk.

My therapist asked a teacher at one of the local Montessori schools about this child. He was given the advice to incorporate physical activity into the learning, because physiologically she was very good. Do you have lollipop sticks? He was asked. Yes. Okay, well, use the lollipop sticks to demonstrate addition. “Can I have one lollipop stick?” “Now, can I have another? That makes two.” Tina quickly learned the concept, and it was subtraction she understood before the addition. She was beginning to be able to complete some of the class assignments.

There was an exercise where the teacher drew on the board an example of a house and a tree and a bird. She asked the students to copy it and draw their own version. Most of the students handed in a fairly good replica. Then it came to Tina’s drawing. The general expression from teachers with this child was just, “poor Tina”. They just didn’t understand her. It was a much more simplified version of a tree and a couple lines for a bird, and for the house it was just one large rectangle with a square in front of it, below it. “Poor Tina,” was all they could say.

In spite of many phone calls and invitations to include Tina’s mom, the teacher got no response. They took it upon themselves to do a home visit. The teacher called the night before and the morning of, to confirm they were coming over, and didn’t get a response. She asked my therapist to come along because he had been working with her this semester. “I’m not an expert,” he told the teacher. “Yes, but you were the one working with her,” she replied. They got there and knocked on the door of the apartment. There was some shuffling noises, and then the door finally opened. They were invited in. On the couch as soon as you entered there was the mom’s boyfriend. He was passed out. He was naked and the mom had covered him with some blankets. The only place to sit was on the floor, because the couch was taken, so they sat in a circle on the floor. During this whole time, the boyfriend didn’t wake up during the conversation. Not a stir. If he did, he didn’t move.

They went through the whole visitation process. When they were done my therapist told the mom he had some questions. “She seems to spend a lot of time looking at herself in front of the mirror at school. Why do you think that is?” Turns out, the mom was embarrassed to admit, they didn’t have any mirrors in the apartment. The only mirror was a small circle that was left of a broken mirror above the bathroom sink and that sliver of mirror was at adult height.

Then he asked Tina about her drawing. He said, “I get that’s a tree, and that’s a bird, but what’s this?” he asked, pointing to the rectangle and the square. “That’s the sofa,” she said, pointing to the rectangle, “and that’s the T.V.” she said, pointing to the square beneath it. There wasn’t any other furniture in the house other than the sofa and the television. Nothing. Just those and the beds. The family was very poor. In the end, this young girl drew a more accurate picture than anyone else who drew a house during that class assignment.

On the day he was to leave, the first boy saw that my therapist was leaving the classroom. It was the end of the semester. He ran over to my therapist and grabbed his arm and wouldn’t let go. He started kissing his arm, and saying, “Don’t leave. Don’t leave.” It was heartbreaking.

My therapist found it fascinating to study these children. From then on, he was hooked. He changed his focus and took all of the psychology classes that his school had to offer. After that, he transferred to another school where they offered more psychology classes. Before this experience, he had never considered psychology as a subject he wanted to study.

“That’s a lot of studying, and a lot of work and a long time,” I told him at the end of the story. “Yes,” he replied to me.

“I keep telling myself, I don’t have to get my masters,” I said. “And at my age, they’re asking me to go back to school to get my doctorate,” he subtly reminded me.

Battle Wounds

I don’t have more or less invisible scars than you because there is no way to quantify them. For each person it’s different. But I know that they are there, lingering in the background, waiting for a minute trigger to incite a volatile emotional spin. I am still not used to paying attention to these triggers. Sure, I know that to stay well, I need to stay away from alcohol, from manipulative people, to not watch upsetting videos on YouTube. Those are the negations of what not to do. I know also that I need to stay in a positive mind frame, be grateful for small and big accomplishments, remind myself that I am loved by many, take my medications twice daily, feed myself, reach out to others when I need help. These are ways of helping to keep those scars sutured and closed.

What brought this up? Something simple: I never wear heels. I wore heels to work yesterday. It was painful! I’m used to ballet flats, every day. Screw my Italian friend who dared to utter his opinion that ladies in flats look like walking ducks. Fashion is a different mindset over there. I do think it looks incredibly professional and elegant when a woman has beautiful shoes, a slight heel, pointed toes. But what about the toes that get squished? And you can’t always wear socks and it gets sweaty and the pinkie toes rub against the material and become red and sore. The back of the shoe sometimes cuts into the crease above the heel. Ouch!

Suffering in silence with every step I took throughout the office, the physical pain reminded me of my silence of the emotional pain. However, it’s different now. I’m not in actual pain. No one is hurting me and I am not harming myself. I live with the memories of the pain. Pain is something of the past. Being in a mind frame of remembering those painful events and remembering the resulting emotional turmoil and confusion is not a good place to be. It’s not a place to stay. It’s a place to visit when the moment calls for it, and to desperately fight to clamour my way out of that hole. Because pain is a black hole and it can be endlessly dark. Don’t go there if you don’t have to.

I think of my dad every once in a while. I know that he has been dead for a long time and I have memories of coming to this realization over and over again which are ingrained in my physical being. It feels like physical pain, although it’s mental. The tears growing up were plentiful. I also cried for my mum’s mourning, which lasted years. I cannot wish I had known him because that was not meant to be. I can be grateful for having had him for the first three and a half years of my life. I’ve had several father figures since, including my psychotherapist. He is the closest to a father as I have ever known. I am so lucky to have him in my life.

Every time I go into a therapy session, I find healing that I wasn’t even looking for. In fact, therapy, albeit very challenging, is also an adventure, because I never know what is going to happen! A conversation path can lead us to a completely unforeseen topic to be uncovered, and my therapist guides me smoothly through the process. It’s a wonder to me. And when I cry, I let myself cry. It is healing. Talking about the future is healing. It’s a positive experience. Talking about the past can also be a positive experience because he accepts me with a nonjudgmental attitude and with unconditional positive regard (something I learned about in my Introduction to Counseling class).

I realize these therapy sessions are for 50 minutes once a week for a reason. I always wish I could have more therapy than what I get. But if I saw him twice a week, I would be relying on him more to bolster my mood rather than getting to practise doing it for myself, on my own. Evenings are very difficult because I look at the clock and sigh, when I realize that I still have three hours before bedtime. What do I do with those hours? Motivation to study, it’s not there. Last night I simply went to bed earlier than usual. I was supposed to shower, but didn’t get around to it, so I’m wearing my long hair in a bun to hide the fact that I haven’t washed it for two days. This struggle with showering time has been something that has gone on for too long. It’s getting better, but very slowly, and not without setbacks.

My therapist has taught me skills of coping, different ways of thinking, giving myself a break, looking at positive aspects rather than negative ones, distracting my mind from thinking too much, regulating my emotions, noticing when a trigger comes my way. My battle wounds are healing, slowly but surely.

Growing into my Womanhood

I am a woman. I am not a girl, but a fully grown, mature, responsible, adult woman. It is a concept which I haven’t quite wrapped my mind around. Every once in awhile, I am reminded that I am a woman, like when I went out with another female friend tonight, and we had nice, adult conversation. It was give-and-take. We respected each other.

Going back to how my life used to be I can honestly say that I did not feel like a woman. I was anything but. I was the “toy” wife, the “play thing”, an object to use for garnering attention and sexual gratification. I had met my abuser when I was a teenager, and in many ways my young adult years of growth were stunted. I was treated like a child, someone younger, someone inferior, someone incapable (and not allowed) of making her own decisions. I wasn’t allowed to talk because he had to be the center of attention. I didn’t get to tell my own stories. A part of me lay dormant. That woman part of me that was waiting to blossom one day.

There have been many times in therapy where I have regressed to a younger state of self. I have this angry three-year-old inside of me who is angry because my dad died. I have an angry eight-year-old wanting to defy authority. I have a risk-taking 16-year-old and a mature 19-year-old. But somehow once I hit 20, that growth stopped. It was when I decided to move in with him. It was pretty much all downhill from there. Don’t get me wrong, I had my fun in life. There were things about my life which I enjoyed. But I wasn’t allowed to handle the finances or make any of the big decisions, like where we were going to live. I was actually dependent on him, and he cultivated that dependency to his own benefit.

So when I say that I am a woman, it means a lot to me. I am still trying to figure out my place in my world, where I belong, what my purpose in life is. I am learning to be okay with my body and the way that I look. I get to choose how long to grow my hair, and what colour it’s going to be (natural). I don’t have to wear makeup. I get to choose my own clothes. And even in choosing my own clothes, I feel like an adult. Because I actually get to cover myself up! Some might think that being a curvy woman, one would want to show off those curves! No! Not me. Now that I get a say in what I wear, I wear things that hide my curves. I don’t want anyone looking at my body and objectifying me. I want them to see me for me.

It was so validating, being out with another woman friend tonight. We both got to be just ourselves. We talked about fun things like the idea of “speed dating”. It sounds interesting because I’ve never done it before. We talked about our accomplishments at work, our future plans, the possibility of going on a road trip together. I didn’t have to worry that I would say the “wrong” thing and she already knows all about my mental illness, my depression. That’s how we met two years ago, at a Cognitive Behaviour Therapy meeting. She falls into the category of “friends and family” not someone personally afflicted with a mental illness. She has done her utmost to understand it on someone else’s behalf. I admire that.

I want to be able to be silly. To have the freedom to joke around, or to act younger than I am given the right moment (and not remain that way for an extended period of time as I used to have to in order to protect myself emotionally). I just want to be me. That’s what it boils down to. And part of being me is being a woman, and discovering what that means to me. In relating to other women, I begin to garner a sense of who I am in relation to them. I have achieved things in my life. I am financially independent. It’s so amazing! I wasn’t this person I have become many years ago. I continue to grow and to change. I want to have a future. I want it to be a better future than what my past has been. I can see it happening, slowly, day by day, step by step. And as my friend who text messages me for support and runs an anti-suicide website says, “just take a deep breath. Breathe.”

Letter to the Victims Compensation Program

Letter from the Victims Compensation Program:

“You recently submitted the application listed above for crime victim compensation.”

“We reviewed the application and found that we do not have everything we need to consider it complete. We need additional information before we can continue to work on your application. Please provide the following information on the attached form and return it to us by mail or fax within 10 days.”

“No good cause reason for late application”

“The law states that an application for compensation must be filed within three years of the date of the crime, three years after the victim turns 18, or three years from the time it could have reasonably been known that a crime took place, whichever is later. Additionally, an application based on any crime eligible for prosecution under Section 801.1 of the Penal Code may be filed any time prior to the victim’s 28th birthday. The Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board (VCGCB) may, for certain reasons, consider extending the filing period.”

“You submitted your application past the filing time limit, but did not tell us why. To help us determine if the filing limit can be extended, please answer the questions on the attached Late Reason Reply Form.”

“The law authorizes the Board to establish maximum rates and service limitations for reimbursement of outpatient mental health counseling services. Regulations provide an incremental approach to outpatient mental health service limitations. A claimant is limited to an initial number of sessions (15, 30 or 40) depending on how he or she qualifies.”

 

My response: The crime did not just take place in 2005. It was 6 years of abuse that I suffered, which ended in 2012. As a result of crimes committed against me I have suffered 4 years of mental health issues including suicide attempts. I did not have the courage or emotional strength to go to the district attorney with my story until last month because I was previously too suicidal and would have likely made another suicide attempt had I come forward sooner. The DDA was willing to open the case again based on my previous suicidality and I am asking you to reconsider as well. I did not know the victims fund existed prior to June 2016.

Triumphantly I Cry

I walked into my therapy session today feeling content and mildly happy. I left feeling very content and definitely happy. In between coming and going there were tears and emotions felt. The tears were from sadness. That elusive word “trigger” came up again today. It’s a tricky word for me because I constantly need the reminder that I actually have “triggers”. As a concept, it just hasn’t registered in my mind yet. I know what my extreme triggers are, and how to stay away from them, such as watching self harm videos on YouTube, but the subtle ones are difficult to catch.

We started talking about my day. I told my therapist that my bosses at work are putting pressure on me for a project I’ve been neglecting. That project encompasses about 20 boxes of client files, actual physical, non-digital paperwork, and it is my task to scan in all of the paperwork so that we can become paperless. Among my other daily duties. This is a collection of over a decade of client files. I’m allowed to start by scanning five files a day. That is certainly doable. My therapist explained to me that this is what we do, we make it a bigger project in our minds, we tell ourselves it’s overwhelming or “too much” or “I just don’t want to do it”. But the task itself is not difficult. It is the stories we tell ourselves.

We proceeded to go through the steps of what it will take to scan this mountain of files. You start with one file. You pull it from the filing cabinet. Open it up. Start removing staples and binding. Start scanning. The scanner is of great quality and scans both front and back at once. I save the PDF file of the scanned document. I repeat this process. Then I upload the digital documents to the client file, collect the paperwork, place it in the pile of documents to be shredded. We have a shredding service which comes once a week for pickup.

See? It’s not that difficult! It’s like washing the dishes. My therapist uses this example often. You start washing the dishes. Then you think, “why isn’t he doing the dishes? He’s just sitting there watching TV. Why doesn’t he do the dishes?” Then you build up resentment and all the while you could have just been washing the dishes without the burden of these stories.

Where did my therapy session progress to next? Oh, yes, we talked about the weekend. I actually did something for the Fourth of July. I got out of my house and spent time with people I value. It wasn’t difficult being outside of my house. I enjoyed my time. I did not feel stressed. I got to do everything at a relaxed pace, in my own time. There were no expectations of me from anyone. Again we went through the steps. I open my front door. I close it. I turn the key and lock it. I walk to my car. I open my door, climb in, put my foot on the brake. I start the car. When you break the action down into small steps, not one of those steps is actually difficult. Why, then, is it difficult for me to get myself out of bed on the weekends? It’s not difficult, he says. “Is it because I don’t think I deserve to be out enjoying my weekend, or that I think I am not worthy?” I ask. “No, I don’t think it’s that,” my therapist replies. “I think it is because you don’t give yourself permission,” he continues. “You haven’t had enough practice yet.”

So I need to continue practising being kind and gentle to myself. And slowly allowing myself to do things on the weekend, getting out of my apartment, going for that walk by myself. I have thus far relied on external motivators, invitations out from other people, and the motivation has not come from within. This needs to change. It won’t change overnight.

“In your marriage you weren’t permitted to do the things you wanted to do.” You weren’t allowed to be yourself. My trigger point. My lower lip starts to quiver and I look away to the side. My brow furrows. I start taking shorter breaths. Before I know it my face is turning a shade of red, and the first tear trickles down my cheek. Followed by another. And then it’s difficult to hold a straight face any longer and my lips turn downward. I start to sob and little noises escape from my vocal chords. I am crying. My therapist speaks soothing words to me. He allows silence to let me cry. He always asks when this happens, “do you know what is happening?” It takes me a while to process that he asked me a question, and then more time to be able to find words to attach to this process. “You talked about my past,” I whisper. “Yes, and I triggered you when I spoke about it.” He states gently. “You feel sad?” “Yes.” I sob. “It was sad, what happened to you,” he emphasizes, “but it is no longer happening to you. These are just the memories.” He rephrases that same last remark. These are just the memories and it is no longer happening. I feel more reassured, and I allow myself to cry some more while he waits for me to do what I need to do. I wipe my tears with the back of my hands. My cheeks are wet and my lips taste salty. I take a tissue from the Kleenex box and hold it in my hand. I stare at it for a while. Then I wipe my lips, and then my cheek, and one eye, and then the other. I crumple up the used tissue and hold my fist closed over the ball of tissue. I am ready to move on.

I am no longer experiencing trauma. It has been a long time since I experienced those things, the oppression, the suppression of who I really was. At times the memories come back, usually prompted by a trigger. “I have a red scratch on my arm. I ran a knife on my skin. I wanted to see how sharp it was, the knives my roommate got. It didn’t hurt.” I tell him. He doesn’t say comment on this revelation because he knows it’s not necessary for him to say anything. I know I must not do it again, he knows I keep my promises to not harm myself, and I know it wasn’t a healthy thing to do. It was a curiosity, and I experienced it, and it’s over. It’s important to remember that the memories are memories, and that nothing bad is happening to me right now, in this moment or the last. I am safe and okay and I am allowed to be happy. I will practise giving myself permission.

My Obsession

There can be months when all I can muster is to write two blog entries. Lately, I’ve been putting all of my steam into this blog. It seems a healthy outlet, right? Better than self-harming. It gives me a place to channel my emotions. If it benefits anyone one the side, all the more better. That’s why this interior dialogue is public. For you all. Y’all.

I am emotive. I have tons of emotions. That only means that I am human. The fact that, at least in the past, I have experienced stronger than normal emotions and have acted out on them. That has gotten me the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder. You cannot call people “Borderlines” because we are not our diagnosis. It’s an illness or a disorder that happens to be a part of our mental make-up but it does not define us. I don’t think this was ever an official diagnosis of mine, but I had enough symptoms to be sent to Dialectic Behaviour Therapy, and that form of therapy was helpful. Much more helpful than Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.

Now that I’m doing much better, I do not think that diagnosis applies to me. I also, unofficially, had PTSD for several years but those symptoms are no longer there. No more flashbacks, nightmares, sleeping with the lights on, afraid to step out of my home. Well, sometimes, but maybe that’s more of a neurosis or a part of me being holed-in by confining myself to my apartment. There are days that I just don’t make it outside.

The only official diagnosis I’ve ever gotten is major depressive disorder. I think that’s enough. It was enough to warrant about 30 ECTs and several suicide attempts. Now I’m still dealing with suicidal ideation that creeps back a few times a month, but those periods are becoming less intense. No, they’re not. But maybe I have more control than I used to think I had before. The pain isn’t there any more. It’s the memory of the pain that is there. There is hurt, which is a part of my past and my story, but it’s not actively, acutely painful like it used to be. It used to hurt more than a physical wound ever could, and that’s why I needed to end the pain. Through therapy and many supportive people, I have learned and increased my coping skills. I suppose I’m now more skillful in navigating the emotional world of the mind than some other adults. Some people just never learn. I just happened to have a life experience which required the necessity to overcome and digest and to live with a traumatic past.

Diagnoses aside, the bigger question presents itself: Who am I? I think that this has been a huge dilemma for me. When I was in that relationship for 12 years I wasn’t allowed to be myself. I had to suppress that innate part of me. But now that I am free of an abusive relationship, I am also, finally, free to be myself. However, I don’t quite know who that person is. Does work define me? Do my relationships and the people I surround myself with define me? Do my actions? Do my words count? And every breath that I take? What defines us is different for every person.

I know I’m not doing the job that I am going to be doing 10 years from now. I know that I have many more people to meet in my lifetime. I know that I am not satisfied with the way my life is right now and that things have to change. I could be listening to classical music, reading a nice book, sitting out in the jacuzzi, strolling on the sidewalk. I have the potential for a peaceful life right now. I have no real obligations other than work (and staying alive). I could potentially be happy. That “potential” right now feels like a bug squished under my finger, like the repulsion of having killed an insect. It feels so far away and I see it as the bane of my existence. If only I “could”. I “should” be happy. I could be content. I could feel at peace. Yet I don’t. Not always. Not yet.

This blog has become my obsession as of late. I must have some form of anxiety, which creeps up as I’m sitting idle on my couch, wondering what in the world to do with myself. I don’t want to read a book, I don’t want to exercise, I don’t want to do anything but write, and there’s only so much eating I can do to distract myself. Sometimes (okay, often) when I start a project, I delve my entire being, all of me, all of my energy, unto that project until I’m satisfied with it. Two years ago when I learned to knit (I have since forgotten) I must have knitted 100 ruffle scarves. That number seriously might be an understatement. It wasn’t about the product, it was the process which was my therapy. I gave all of my scarves away, all of the unused yarn I had stored up, even my knitting needles, when I moved. If I paint, it’s all about the painting until it’s done. If I write poetry, the entire focus of my every day is on writing that poem, and the next, and the next. Sometimes the words just flow and I can’t stop them, and I have to quickly grab a pen before I lose them in the next moment. Are you getting the idea of how my mind works?

These phases don’t last very long. Maybe a year. Then my energy wanes and I begin to focus on the next project. Baking was one of them too. Oh, did I used to bake! Up a storm! And for that too, I’ve since given away to Goodwill a lot of my bake ware. I don’t even have flour or baking soda in the cupboard. But I hope this blog isn’t just a phase. It’s proof that I am living and it’s my affirmation to myself that I can be who I want to be, particularly on this blog. I don’t care who reads it or what they think (okay, I care a little). I know there will be a time in my life when I have other things to focus on. Perhaps a family, a more demanding career, heck, even a boyfriend (that’s a long way down the road). But for right now, this needs to be my focus. I feel it in my bones that I am doing the right thing for me by “putting myself out there” for anyone to bear witness to my journey.

And then there’s my therapist. He is the grounding part of my life. He helps me to regulate my anxieties, mediate and negotiate with them. I wish I were seeing him today. I cannot wait until I see him tomorrow. I have to wait. I can’t make time move faster. I don’t have that sort of control. I just have to exercise patience. He helps me to figure out this uphill battle toward success (whatever that will become) and in making my life a life worth living. I’m not there yet but I hope to be, in time.

A Happy Fourth

I saw fireworks tonight. It was actually wonderful. Once I managed to get myself out of bed at noon, I engaged with life. I made two coffees in an unhurried fashion. I did two loads of laundry in the middle of the day instead of late at night at the last minute (no, I haven’t put it away yet, it’s just in a big, clean pile!), and then I went over to my friends’ house to spend the fourth of July with her other friends, their children, her fiance. It was just so lovely. I actively engaged in my life. Having two days of hibernation and difficult days this weekend were worth it, because today made my whole weekend and being alive still, just worth it. I feel loved and these friends are my chosen family. My friend is teaching me first hand how to be a mom just by mothering her own child. She has healthy boundaries and sets limits and negotiates with her child and honours him at the same time. There is love in the family.

I know I’ve been focusing a lot on my blog lately. That’s because I’ve been through some difficult things in the past few weeks, the past months, heck, the past years, and writing about it helps me to bring some equilibrium to the equation. If I write, then I know it’s real, and I haven’t imagined it, and I get to validate the experience that I am having, unlike in my past when I wasn’t valued as a human being, but as an object, and my needs and desires and feelings just meant nothing. I had learned that I was worth nothing. My friends’ fiance told me today candidly that I am beautiful, and I took it as such a compliment, coming from him, because he has no interest in me other than friendship. I don’t often get complimented in that way. I have a pink sticky note on my mirror in the bathroom that says I am worthy and I am beautiful and that every day I live is an accomplishment. I need it there because I forget those things all the time.

On my 40 minute drive home all I was thinking about was my therapist and how I get to see him in two days. I can’t wait to see him. I need to tell him about my experience this weekend, every part of it. He is witness to my life, and I need him and want him in my life. I’m sure I could do without him, right? But my life is so much richer because of him. He makes me think about things from a different perspective, and he reminds me of the things that are important.

Tomorrow will be no surprise. I don’t have any variation in my days and weeks. I know what to expect. Sometimes this is a blessing, and sometimes I want more. I just have to take things day by day, week by week, and see what I can take on and manage. I do know though, that if I want change to happen, I have the ability to make it happen. I have a proven history of that in my short past of four years of freedom. I can do this.

My Abuse Story, Part I

Preface: I’m doing it. I’m going to do this. I’m finally doing it. I’m sharing the 20-page written statement I wrote up for the district attorney last month, in parts. I need to share this. Please don’t judge me for what was my living hell. All of this is true and it’s of course told from my perspective. I went through the document and replaced his actual name with “my abuser,” which is what he really was. Here we go…

 

It all started when I was much younger than now. Tragedy struck at the age of 3 when my father died. I subsequently grew up without a male role model. My mom remained single for most of my childhood. Because of the tears and the trauma of my dad’s death, I learned that tears were actually not allowed. I became a very good actress at pretending that everything was okay.

I first met my abuser when I was 12 years old. I had just moved back with my family to the United States from Europe. I was attending high school part time, for French class and a Physical Education class. He was in my P.E. class. We often exchanged greetings and a few words during that class and were friendly, but just acquaintances, nothing more. The following year, at 13, I entered into High School full time as a Freshman. Throughout the next three years my abuser and I would run into each other on campus, passing by on the way to a class, but never exchanged any significant conversation and we did not have another class together. On the last day of my Junior year in high school I was carrying my Yearbook around for people to sign, and I encountered my abuser in the hallway. He asked to sign my yearbook. On the inside of the hard cover he wrote a few words and left his phone number, next to his signed name. He was a senior and graduating. I was to never see him again.

At the end of that summer in the year 2000, just before the start of my senior year, I called him. I dialed his number. We spoke for a bit and agreed to meet. Our first meeting was in the day time. He picked me up at my house and took me to to a special place in his manual steering, old car. It may have been a Honda. He apologized that the air conditioning didn’t work. At first, our meetings took place outside of either of our homes. He also took me to a cliff overlooking the beach and that is where we had our first kiss. My mom soon found out that I was seeing my abuser regularly and forbade me to see him further. She didn’t want me to date him. She knew he was a pilot and told me not to go into an airplane with my abuser. Alas, that had already been done and I couldn’t tell her because she was concerned for my safety and I didn’t want her to worry.

Soon after that, I started letting my abuser into my mom’s home at night after she, her fiance, and my brother were asleep. I would open the front door and we would quietly sneak upstairs to my bedroom. He stayed for several hours and then left before dawn. Other times I went out of my house and waited for him behind the mailboxes just across the street, so no one would see me. I knew exactly how to open the squeaky front gate so that it would make minimal noise. Often, to get out of my house, I would remove the screen from my second floor window, walk out onto the roof, and my abuser would catch me as I made the short jump from the first floor rooftop to the ground. I thought this felt like Romeo and Juliet, where Romeo was below the balcony, and that this was a forbidden love story.

A few months into our relationship we had sex for the first time. It was my first time having sex, ever. It happened at my house. I was very scared, and displayed this verbally and physically. He talked me down to calm me, so that I would comply, telling me it would be okay. I was 16 and he was 18. That was statutory rape. It occurred before the age of consent. We engaged in sex regularly after that first time. It was always initiated by him, he would pull out his penis and take off my underwear to gain access to my private parts. He always initiated the sex. We had talked about sex before, and I had expressly told him many times that I wanted to wait to have sex until I was 17. I was setting a boundary and a personal moral obligation to myself. He disregarded that “no” and had sex with me anyway.

Having sex for the first time produced a number of confusing emotions. I felt guilt and shame for having “let” it happen. I blamed myself although he was the one who pursued it. The more we had sex, the more worthless I felt. My self esteem was being corroded. My complaints and “no”’s were disregarded. I felt like I didn’t matter. I didn’t know how to make those feelings stop.

My abuser had moved from his parents house to a nearby apartment complex. His one-bedroom apartment was a short 15-minute jog from my home. I often went there, and we would have sex. He had a camera and would take photos of us together, naked, and of my private parts. The photos were explicit. His mom went to the print shop where he got the photos printed and when flipping through the photos to see if there were any bad or blurry photos that she wouldn’t have to pay for, she saw these nude photos. She knew that we were having sex, whereas my mother had no idea. My abuser’s mother told him that he shouldn’t be taking such photos, and my abuser’s response to that was, “Well then, don’t pick up my photos at the store for me any more.” He was not in the least bit embarrassed. I, on the other hand, was. I was felt ashamed of the fact that I was sexually active, when I knew I shouldn’t be, according to my own moral standards. I told no one.

That Winter break, my abuser spent three days in my sliding glass door closet. He had a cell phone (when cell phones were rare) and made some business and personal calls during the day. I brought him food and he would come out of the closet at night. His mother was aware of this and she warned him to not get caught (by my mother).

This was the first year of my high school career in which I did not participate in extracurricular activities. Usually, in the Fall season, I ran for the Cross Country team. In the Spring time I ran and did long jump for our Track and Field team. All of my energy was going to this forbidden relationship and our nighttime escapades, usually multiple times a week on a regular basis. Additionally, I was always a good student. I got mostly A’s and some B’s. This senior year I got a C in one of my classes and my GPA suffered. I also had no energy to study for the SAT exam and subsequently got a low score. Because of this my application to Boston University got deferred.

That Spring was my first suicide attempt. Two things in my life had changed. My mom was planning on getting married, to which I felt neutral and emotionally detached. That did not affect me much. The other thing that had changed in my life was that I was having sex at night, clandestinely, with my abuser. The relationship felt intense. There was the intense pressure of not getting caught by my mother, and I wasn’t getting enough sleep, which left me struggling during the days at school, both emotionally and physically. Since my abuser entered my life I had stopped talking with my friends, and grew distant from them. I didn’t have energy to spend time with them after school any longer.

It was about 9 o’clock at night just before bedtime. I was on the phone with my abuser. I was feeling intense anger, but unaware and unable to express this in any other way, I picked up an old pair of scissors and started cutting through the skin on my left forearm. I made some deep cuts, which bled, and from which I still have scars today. The more he spoke, the more I cut. I had never done it before. He stayed on the phone. I had not contemplated suicide before, but suddenly, the thought came into my mind and it seemed like the only way out of my pain. I attribute that extreme emotional pain to the sex and the confusion I had around it. I found a large bottle of Advil, as well as some other pills, and swallowed them all down with Listerine mouth wash. I wanted to die then. my abuser then got off the phone and called back the landline. My mother picked up. He told her about what I had just done, the suicide attempt, and she rushed me to the hospital. We stayed until the next day. My mom says that the medical staff pumped my stomach, though I was not conscious and so cannot verify that. my abuser’s parents drove him to the Emergency Room to visit, but my mom would not allow him in to see me. Instead, he left behind a teddy bear that he had brought to give to me.

In the meantime, my mom had gotten married, and I graduated along with my brother from high school. Right after graduation our parents took us on a six-week traveling vacation around the world. When we returned we moved from that city to another city eight hours away. I did not see my abuser again until the Fall quarter of my Freshman year in college. My abuser came to visit me about once every 4 – 6 weeks on a weekend during my two years at university. The drive was an average 8-hour drive but he would often boast, for years afterwards to friends and family, that he was able to make that drive in less than six hours. He often drove at speeds over 100 mph.

When at my university town, he would rent a room at a motel right by campus across the street from a restaurant where both I and my abuser’s cousin worked. We spent the weekends in the room, Friday through Sunday. Years later, my abuser would tell me as a matter-of-fact statement that I was “a girlfriend who put out” meaning that I had sex with him often. I think that made him feel good. I engaged in the act of sex, having been trained at a young age that this is what I am supposed to do in order to receive love. I desperately wanted love and affection.

Reaching Out

I’ve been suffering inside my mind for the last nine hours since I’ve been up. Sometimes staying in bed with the blinds closed is a more preferable option. I’ve been connecting with people and chatting via text message. I had a strong desire to get alcohol but resisted and overcame. I spent an hour chatting with a counselor on the crisis text line until they told me it’s not meant for ‘talk therapy’ upon which I immediately cut the conversation off for having been apparently rejected (my own perception, thus my own fault). I’m not blaming myself but I can hold myself accountable for the actions that I do take. Even though it doesn’t feel like a choice, staying in bed all day long, it is actually a choice and I find that shameful to admit, so I don’t admit it and continue to let it seem like the nebulous faraway insurmountable mountain that I cannot attain nor reach.

The truth is I want more people to read what I write. I’ve gotten some family members and some friends to read my blog. I find it has been really helpful. Then there are those who just don’t care. That is a let-down although I shouldn’t be expecting too much, because if I set any expectations I’m doomed to be let down.

I haven’t had much to eat today. Although hunger has not stricken me once today, I’ve been forcing myself to eat, which is why at 22,00 hrs I cooked up a whole frozen pizza just for me. Now I have food in my stomach and maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to have my regular poop tomorrow morning. It always feels good to be regular about that. Things that people don’t talk about?!

Earlier I was feeling suicidal. But it only lasted for a few hours so I’m not going to track it in my digital notepad, or maybe I should. I talked about jumping off the popular suicide bridge in town. I reached out to my theatre friend, who used to be there for me last year, but now that he has a girlfriend, we’re drifting away. Maybe it’s for the better since we had sex during my traumatic years a long time ago, and he was initially intrigued to stay in contact with me because of the immense guilt he felt for having been a part of my instability. The fact is, all I knew at that time in my life was to act out with sex. It was how I got people to like me. It was how I had been trained. I needed to connect with people, but I had been highly sexualized by my abuser, and relating to men in a sexual way was the only thing I knew by then. Luckily I have grown out of that.

My roommate has had a busy and apparently fulfilling day. She has been in and out, church in the morning, church at night. I just can’t imagine being that active, having the desire to be out practically all day. I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how people manage to have businesses and families and children. I don’t know how other people manage to get up every day, without a second thought, and continue on, perhaps even with gusto, or at least, not with the dread that I feel at the beginning of each day. Some people even like their jobs, or at least don’t mind it, and see it as a means of supporting the life that they love. Yet I do not enjoy my job and I do not enjoy my life. Some day that has to change. It’s not going to happen overnight. It has been an upward battle for the past many years. And so I continue, to struggle.