Category Archives: PTSD

There Once Was a Girl

Full disclosure:  I have been in counseling for about the last six months to address my Complex-PTSD. More information about my struggle with Complex-PTSD can be found here —–> Moving from Surviving to Healing

My counseling has been focused on trauma therapy.  We began with building my skills up so that I would not be so overwhelmed during therapy.  I learned I had really strong adaptive skills for surviving, but not for actually living my life.  My counseling is a combination of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

I have been having a difficult time with dissociation during therapy. So much so, that my counselor went to a week long training to learn how she could better support me and others like me.  My counselor has learned that she has to tread very carefully when trying to help me process the various layers of trauma that I have experienced throughout my life.  Accessing one layer has caused a cascading affect that overwhelms my mind causing me to dissociate.  My mind is basically going into seize mode to defend itself. This can be very disorienting and not at all a fun experience.

With the help of my counselor, we have realized my trauma started at a young age and continued on into adulthood.  My counselor told me that we need to help the child heal who was traumatized.  She is still there, but we need to refer to her in third-person.  The idea is that a person will less likely fall into a pattern of blaming themselves for what happened to them as a child if we refer to that child in third-person. 

According to my counselor, the young girl that was hurt long ago is still in me hiding and kind of running the show in a way. She might be silent, but she is affecting my adult life.  She hid away to protect herself, but was never given the opportunity to heal.

During my last EMDR session, I was tasked to imagine the girl. Not judge her, or analyze her, or force her to do anything. Just be there.  I was then task to imagine her in a safe place.  The image that came to mind was her sitting in the grass, under a tree, while holding her cat. This is where the girl went to hide and she has stayed there all these years. The girl did not want to talk, but she found comfort with someone being there. 

Dissociation hit me as my counselor was talking me through our EMDR session. All the images whooshed away to grayness leaving me feeling dizzy and disoriented.  Fortunately, my counselor was able to get me grounded again.  As an alternative to what we had been working on, she suggested that I write a narrative in third-person about the girl. I was to focus on only one trauma that the girl had experienced. 

My traumas are all twisted up together in many layers, so focusing on only one trauma is difficult for me, but I decided to try to write a narrative anyway.  Below is the result of my first attempt of writing a narrative about myself as a child in third-person.  I could have continued writing more, but my goal was to try to stay concise. Keep in mind, I was not diagnosed autistic until I was 36 years old, yet all the signs were there.

—————————————————————————————————-    

Tree CatThere once was a young girl who hid in her room. Her room was the only place that felt like hers.  She was allowed to decorate her room how she wanted.  No one yelled at her while she was in her room.  She was left alone. 

Life became harder when she left her room. She had to be careful how she talked.  Her father would tease and make fun of how she spoke. Her mother would ignore her or dismiss the girl unless she wanted something from the girl.  Yelling happened a lot.  Her father would yell at everyone in the house and her mother would chastise her for not being how her mother wanted her to be. The girl could not understand why this happened.

When the girl stayed in her room, she was left alone. She did not like being alone.  She would ask her parents how to make friends.  She was told to talk to people, but was never guided on how to do that.  People seemed uncomfortable when she would talk.  She was told she was quiet, shy, and stuck-up simply because she didn’t talk much.  The girl didn’t understand why people thought of her in these ways.  She had trouble pronouncing words. She found her mind went blank around people, there were no words, and she didn’t know how to ask for help.  

When she tried to ask for help, she was told to figure it out herself or that she was being silly. She was told again that all she needed to do was talk to people. How do you talk to people when there are no words?

She was told to be more like her little sister who had friends. The girl couldn’t understand how to be like her little sister.  How could she be like someone else?  What was wrong with her?

She was told to loosen up and not try to control everything. This only confused the girl more.  How was she controlling everything?  How does one “loosen up”? This didn’t make any sense to the girl.

There was so much confusion being around people. The girl always felt there was something wrong with her.  No one seemed to notice how much she struggled.  No one seemed to notice how lonely she was. No one seemed to notice how hard she tried.  Nothing seemed to ever be good enough to those who shared a life with the girl, and yet the expectations kept climbing.  The pressure to be someone other than herself grew and grew.

So, the girl would retreat to her room to be amongst her things and snuggle with her cat. She felt comfort amongst her belongings.  She was left alone when she was in her room.  She could listen to her music in peace while talking to her stuffed animals.  She would practice pronouncing words on her own in private where she would not feel embarrassed.

Unfortunately, this peace would not last. The girl’s mother began to chastise her about her toys. Her mother seemed so angry.  What was wrong with keeping the toys?  The toys were taken care of and didn’t leave the girl’s room.  The toys were special to her. The girl didn’t understand why her mother shamed her for having toys, toys that she had been encouraged to get not that long ago. Her sister wasn’t being shamed. Her sister was always allowed to keep her toys. The girl was protective of her belongings. She knew that her father would throw away anything that went into the garage.  Her father didn’t like having things in the house either.  He preferred bare walls, a television that only he controlled, and a chair that was only his.  

The house that the girl lived in didn’t feel like hers. The house was an uncomfortable place to be in. When being inside the house became too much, she would go outside in the yard or down the street into the woods. When outside, she would find a special tree to be near, to touch, and even hug. She liked the feeling of the bark. She liked the smell of trees.  She liked the intricate patterns in the trunks and leaves of the trees.  She liked to watch the insects, birds, and squirrels that lived in the trees. The girl liked being around trees. Trees didn’t yell at her. Trees didn’t chastise her.  The girl found that she could talk to the trees without having to speak.  Trees were safe. Trees understood and helped her feel better. Trees told her it was going to be okay.   

So, the girl wrapped herself up inside herself and went through the motions of the life she found herself in. She was expected to do what she was told and was taught to not make others upset.  If people were upset, she had to find ways to make them feel better, but no one seemed to take much notice when she retreated. 

Her mother would take it personally and ignore her. Her father would only interact with her on rare occasions.  She was expected to come out of her room when requested and not to question.  She was expected to be a good girl and do as she was told.  Rules were rules and she could not disappoint. To disappoint meant more yelling and more chastising.  The girl learned her needs did not matter, what she wanted did not matter.  She wasn’t allowed to show much emotion, because it made others in her life uncomfortable.  

The trees knew what she needed, though. The trees let her cry and let her scream.  She would run and dance amongst the trees, playing in the leaves and making dolls, bracelets, and crowns with the pine needles.  

Returning home meant more silence, more demands, and more loneliness. She wanted to hide when she was at home. Her cat was her only companion.  When at home, she felt something wasn’t right with her.  She felt tense and on guard all the time.  She wasn’t like how the others wanted her to be. 

She wanted wings so she could fly above everything and everyone. She wanted to soar above the trees, like Hawk Girl. She wanted the power to run incredibly fast, like Flash Gordon. She loved the feeling of the wind on her face as she rode her bike fast down hills.  The sensation made the girl feel like she was free.

And that was what she really wanted, to feel free. Feeling the wind on her face made sense to the girl. Feeling the texture of the bark on trees made sense to the girl.  Feeling the softness of a cat’s fur made sense to the girl.  Moving fast made sense to the girl.  Loosing herself in her music made sense to the girl.  Caring for her toys made sense to the girl.

What the other people in her life were saying to her and wanting her to do did not make sense. The expectations being placed on the girl did not make sense to her.  She felt so alone and suffocated in the house she lived in, but outside amongst the trees where she could run, bike, hike, dance, move, and be loud is where the girl got a glimmer of what feeling free was like.  To the girl, freedom meant having the space and permission to feel like herself.

Unfortunately, much of that was eventually taken away from her. As the years went past, the girl’s mother seemed to become even more controlling and her father even more distant.  The girl did not know that there had been a box being built around her to contain her.  The girl did not know that the other people in her life were uncomfortable with her spirit and felt that her spirit needed to be controlled.  She was still being expected to be someone else.    

The silence inside the girl grew as she wrapped herself even more into herself. She was in pain and wanted to find protection from the containment her life had become. The young girl stopped talking. She retreated deep within herself. She just wanted to be left in peace sitting under her tree with her cat staring at the blue sky, feeling the green grass under her feet and the warm breeze on her face, and listening to the birds flying overhead.

And this is where she has remained to this day.

Tree Clouds

(Images do not belong to me.)

 

Moving from Surviving to Healing

It has been a while since I have posted. It has been a very busy period of time.  In April, I had a huge emotional trigger that sent my life spinning.  This showed me that I had some deep emotional trauma that was demanding to be heard.  I realized that I needed help with this. So began my struggle into finding a counselor that not only accepted my insurance, but who was also familiar with Autism and was trauma-informed.

With the help of my son’s counselor, I was able to find a suitable counselor for me. I have now been officially diagnosed with Complex-PTSD and it has been officially determined my ex-husband’s treatment of me is the primary cause.

My counselor has helped me realize that I do have a lot of skills. These skills have kept me alive up until this point. What has happened is that I am now in this gray area where my skills are no longer working.  I need different skills to help me move forward into the next chapter of my life, one that is free of domestic abuse.

I am still scared. I want him out of my head, but this is going to take time.  According to counselor, my neurology has led to my memories being stored in separate protective bubbles rather than in an interwoven web.  These bubbles leak and interfere with everything else in my life.  This has led to my previous attempts at counseling to fail, because (1) no one realized I was autistic, (2) no one saw that I was in an abusive marriage and I did not have the appropriate words to understand what was happening to me, and (3) traditional forms of trauma therapy does not work when memories are stored in the way mine are. 

It has been 12 years since I last was in counseling. I was diagnosed with PTSD 15 years ago due to a medical trauma. Over a period of three years, I was traded amongst five different counselors, was put on 10 different anti-depressants, five different anti-anxiety medications, and three different sleep aids. Nothing worked and I had paradoxical effects from the various medications. It was finally determined that there was no point of me being on the medications, so I was slowly tapered off. Counseling ended around the same time.  Another five years would go by before I was officially diagnosed with Autism, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Social Anxiety.

I have known I am autistic for about seven years now. I also know now that I am a domestic abuse survivor. 

It has now been officially determined that both my children exhibit signs of PTSD as well.

All three of us are autistic. All three of us present differently.  All three of us have been harmed by a covert narcissist who used passive aggression as a weapon, but who can also be incredibly charming, particularly to those who are not his target.  It can become extremely difficult to get people to believe you that you are being harmed when there are no visible bruises or broken bones.

I do not know what it is like to be in a healthy relationship. My children do not know what it is like to have a supportive adult male figure in their lives. I married what I knew.  I already had the skills to survive with someone like my ex-husband, because I had grown up in a similar environment.  He felt like home to me and I didn’t understand why. 

My counselor is helping me find self-acceptance. I am still disappointed in myself.  I don’t understand why I put up with all the bullshit for so long.  We were married for 15 years.  He has been with six other women over the past six and a half years. The first three were during the last two years of our marriage.  My children and I already knew about the sixth girlfriend, so it was quite a shock to me that the letters he sent us in April to declare her presence in his life had such an impact on me.  I fell into panic that ebbed and flowed for weeks.  He knew just how to hurt me.  His letters were full of invalidation and denial of all the harm he had caused, not just to me, but to our children as well.  Once again he made me feel worthless and no good. 

Logically, I know that I have a lot of worth, but my heart is still struggling with all the internalized ableism that I was subjected to for so long. The thoughts are not my own. The thoughts that haunt me were put there by others who did not see my worth and sought control.

I was to be kept in a box of their making and contained under their authority. My needs and wants did not matter. I was expected to comply with their wishes and not assert myself in any way. 

But I did . . .

I fought back . . .

I broke out of the box, but my wings are damaged and it is going to take longer than I expected to heal.  

The second attempt at visitations ended a long time ago. My children have stopped talking to their father. They won’t even call him “dad” anymore.  My son refers to him as “my father” and my daughter refers to him by his first name.

Yet, he still periodically, out-of-the-blue, sends letters to our children that are short, unemotional, and invalidating, but at the same time claims that he loves them. I believe he feels something for the kids, but I wouldn’t call it love. Love is a verb and he has no idea how to love the kids. Whenever he claims that he loves them, it is like a slap in the face.  They don’t believe him.

Emotional abuse is a very real thing and it has life-long effects on people who have been subjected to it. It is important to believe people when they say something is not right. An abusive marriage takes time to build. This process is slow, insidious, and can happen under the radar.  I am only now learning just how deep and damaging the trauma was that I was subjected to.  I only now understand that I was subjected to not only emotional abuse, including verbal abuse, but also mental and financial abuse as well. 

He is a gun enthusiast. The last time I heard, he owned seven different guns.  He also carries concealed.  He has never threatened me or my children overtly.  He does everything covertly.  The threat is unspoken, but very obvious. My 16 year old son came up with a safety plan on his own on what to do if his father shows up unannounced.  My son should never have felt that he needed to so that, but the threat is real even if it has not been spoken out loud. Guns don’t make me feel safe.

I have written additional material over the years about being in an emotionally abusive marriage.

Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse Posted on June 9, 2014

Abuse and Its Many Forms Posted on October 29, 2018

Toxic Shame – You might struggle with it and not even know it! Posted on January 10, 2019

Here are some additional resources:

The Domestic Abuse Hotline

Domestic Violence and Abuse

How to Recognize the Signs of Mental and Emotional Abuse

Three charts on: how emotional and economic abuse go hand-in-hand

Toxic Shame – You might struggle with it and not even know it!

(Trigger Warning – Mention of suicide and abuse.)

“Toxic Shame”, just reading those words makes me cringe. I didn’t know until recently that there was a term for it, but I am very familiar with the effects and damage that toxic shame causes.  In my experience, toxic shame can cause generational damage as well.

What is toxic shame?

To answer that question, I first have to explain what ordinary shame is. According to Mary C. Lamia Ph.D. , “as a self-conscious emotion, shame informs us of an internal state of inadequacy, unworthiness, dishonor, regret, or disconnection. Shame is a clear signal that our positive feelings have been interrupted. Another person or a circumstance can trigger shame in us, but so can a failure to meet our own ideals or standards.”

brene brown

In the article, What is Toxic Shame? , it is the shame that has become toxic.  That level of shame is described as “internalized shame” that hangs around and alters our self-image. For some people, toxic shame can consume their personality. For others, the shame lies beneath their conscious awareness, but can easily be triggered.

The article further explains that “toxic shame differs from ordinary shame, which passes in a day or a few hours, in the following respects:

  • It can hide in our unconscious, so that we’re unaware that we have shame.
  • When we experience shame, it lasts much longer.
  • The feelings and pain associated with shame are of greater intensity.
  • An external event isn’t required to trigger it. Our own thoughts can bring on feelings of shame.
  • It leads to shame spirals that cause depression and feelings of hopelessness and despair.
  • It causes chronic “shame anxiety” – the fear of experiencing shame.
  • It’s accompanied by voices, images, or beliefs originating in childhood and is associated with a negative “shame story” about ourselves.
  • We needn’t recall the original source of the immediate shame, which usually originated in childhood or a prior trauma.
  • It creates deep feelings of inadequacy.

“If not healed, toxic shame can lead to aggression, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, and addiction. It generates low self-esteem, anxiety, irrational guilt, perfectionism, and codependency, and it limits our ability to enjoy satisfying relationships and professional success.”

 I understand all of this.  Shame and guilt have been used as weapons to manipulate me, to control me, to make me comply with another’s wishes, to make me submit.  It is an awful experience and it stays with you.  For much of my life I had no defense against this.  I was conditioned to be a co-dependent early on. I was taught that my needs came secondary and that I must never disappoint.  It was the end of the world if I disappointed, so I complied, much to my detriment.

Taking responsibility for things that aren’t yours (false responsibility) and toxic guilt are two things that often go hand in hand with toxic shame. A person ends up becoming overly agreeable which opens them up to being easily manipulated. Shame corrodes the person from the inside and can affect all areas of their life.

This is not something that just goes away. My conditioning followed me well into adulthood. Mix in my autistic brain insisting that “rules are rules”, my unwavering loyalty, my need to help others, my fear of disappointing people, my social anxiety traits, and my full-blown Generalized Anxiety Disorder as well as never being taught growing up how to advocate for myself (I learned as an adult) and I ended as someone who has, overtime, developed Complex-PTSD from being subjected to years and years of emotional neglect and abuse.

Keep in mind that shame and guilt are two different feelings.  Brene’ Brown, researcher-storyteller, explains in her TEDtalk – Listening to Shame:

Shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. Shame is “I am bad.” Guilt is “I did something bad.” How many of you, if you did something that was hurtful to me, would be willing to say, “I’m sorry. I made a mistake?” How many of you would be willing to say that? Guilt: I’m sorry. I made a mistake. Shame: I’m sorry. I am a mistake.

I was not the way they wanted me to be.  My masking took a huge toll on me, but, in my mind, I had to comply. It was how I avoided the shame and guilt trips.  If I just complied, then I was spared the emotional gut punching. By complying and trying to please, maybe I could feel valued and not worthless, at least for a little while.  If I objected in anyway, advocated for myself in ways that contradicted them, and/or insisted on maintaining my personal boundaries, then the shaming would begin. The shaming is still happening, but instead of complying, I get angry.

My neurology and my ability to parent have been attacked for years.  This started when I had had enough and drew a metaphorical line.  I wasn’t going to tolerate being treated like that anymore.  I should never have had to fight those closest to me in order to have my individuality and identity, but I did fight for over three decades.

How does toxic shame become generational?

Parents can unintentionally or intentionally transfer their shame to their children through verbal messages or nonverbal behavior. If they were subjected to toxic shame, then they might project that shame onto their own children and the cycle continues. This is even truer when a parent has an untreated personality disorder or untreated mental health issue. Some examples of this include: a child might be feeling unloved in reaction to a parent’s depression, absence, indifference, or irritability or feel inadequate due to a parent’s competitiveness or over-correcting behavior.

Toxic shame makes it very difficult for a person to accept themselves. A person can find that they hate themselves, that they feel absolutely worthless and have no value what so ever. If this person is also autistic who is trying to live in a world that is not designed for them then that feeling of worthless and emotional pain only grows exponentially.

Up to 50 percent of autistic adults have considered ending their own lives, a rate two to three times that seen in the general population (1).  There was a time that I wanted to die.  I wasn’t suicidal. I just wanted my physical, mental, and emotional pain to end – more on that here.

According to Luna Lindsey:

Shame sends two of these three messages: 

  • I am intrinsically unacceptable which will make me always be alone
  • I am inherently unfixable and therefore will always be a source of trouble for those who do love me.

And shame (and resulting anxiety and depression) causes so much pain, that the third ingredient is an easy leap. After suffering long enough, suddenly death seems like a relief.

Luna continues on and suggests some possible solutions:

Affirmations – “For starters, when I feel this way, I often find relief from reading the well-crafted and autism-specific affirmations by Liane Holliday Willey which are posted on the WrongPlanet forums. These work most of the time, except for when, for whatever reason, I’m feeling overly cynical and don’t believe them.”

Self-Acceptance – “Because of these differences, there are many behaviors that will always be difficult or even impossible for NTs to accept, and you have to accept that, too.”

Identify your strengths (Aspie Superpowers) – “These are examples of how ASD makes you particularly awesome. They are the other side of the coin, your X-ray vision to the kryptonite. For examples, see the two links at the beginning of the paragraph. Come up with your own list. During shame-filled times, go over them and remind yourself of your strengths.”

Consider coming out –According to Brené Brown, shame requires secrecy, silence, and judgement to survive. Without these things, it will die. Consider finding a safe space, free of judgement, either with safe family, or safe friends, or with a therapist, or online at a place like WrongPlanet. Bring your shameful moments to light. If you feel judged, then go back into your shell until you do find someplace safe.”

To close, I would like to share a poem by Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance:

May all beings

Heal and awaken

Into the love and awareness

That holds and honors

The fullness of being.

(Poem found at The Power of Mindful Empathy To Heal Toxic Shame)

 

References:

  1. Segers M. and J. Rawana Autism Res. 7, 507-521 (2014) PubMed

Abuse and Its Many Forms

(Content Warning:  Discussion about the different forms of abuse and a personal story.)

Abuse can come in many forms. Some forms are so imbedded into society that they are often overlooked, ignored, and/or dismissed. So, what constitutes being abused?  According to the Lanark County, Ont. Coalition against Family Violence, a single act may not constitute abuse, but if someone is doing something to harm or control you then you are being abused. You have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.  Abuse is a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights and in the worst cases can result in death.

The East Riding Safeguarding Adults Board has compiled a list of ten types of abuse:

  • Discriminatory
    • race
    • gender
    • gender identity
    • age
    • disability
    • sexual orientation
    • religion
  • Psychological
    • emotional abuse
    • threats of harm or abandonment
    • deprivation of contact
    • humiliation
    • blaming
    • controlling
    • intimidation
    • coercion
    • harassment
    • verbal abuse
    • cyber bullying
    • isolation
    • unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks
  • Financial or material
    • theft
    • fraud
    • internet scamming
    • coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions
    • the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits
  • Organizational
    • neglect
    • poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home
    • poor practice in relation to care provided in one’s own home
  • Neglect and acts of omission
    • ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs
    • failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services,
    • the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
  • Physical
    • assault
    • hitting
    • slapping
    • pushing
    • misuse of medication
    • restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions
  • Sexual
    • rape
    • indecent exposure
    • sexual harassment
    • inappropriate looking or touching
    • sexual teasing or innuendo
    • sexual photography
    • subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts
    • indecent exposure and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into
  • Domestic
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • sexual abuse
    • financial abuse
    • emotional abuse
    • so called ‘honour’ based violence
  • Modern slavery
    • slavery
    • human trafficking
    • forced labour and domestic servitude

Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

  • Self-neglect
    • a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care one one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding

NO ONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED LIKE THIS!!! NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED!!!

GrieveThis is a very difficult topic to be writing about. I grew up in an emotionally and verbally  abusive home. I was in an abusive marriage for 15 years.  I married want I knew.  That was my “normal”.  Everyone who has survived an abusive situation has a story as to why they stayed.  Everyone does.  I am no different.

Growing up, I didn’t feel safe and I felt there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know the language.  All I knew was that I felt safer staying in my room by myself and listening to my music.  It wasn’t until I become a teacher and took classes on abuse that I started to learn the language.  Even then it took my years to finally break free of the situation I had found myself in.  I was taught to just deal with the verbal abuse.  I was taught that the worse thing I could do was disappoint my family.  I had to comply with whatever I was told.  I was conditioned to be a codependent and it was my job to keep everyone else happy.  I learned at a young age that my needs didn’t matter, that my voice didn’t matter.  This continued way into adulthood and into my marriage.

A part of me wants to write about all the different things that were done to me in the name of love, or at least, that was what I was told. It was for my protection, it was because a person cared, it was because I needed to be a better daughter or a better sister or a better wife or a better mother.  That I couldn’t be trusted in making decisions for my children or that I was broken or that I was just a bad person.  The list goes on.

My ex-husband has admitted that he was trying to contain me, to keep me in a box. Letting me spread my wings was frightening to him.  In his mind, by keeping me in a box, he was protecting me.  I know my mother thinks in those same terms.  In her mind, I  needed to be protected.  In order to do that, in her mind, I needed to be controlled and contained.  I was not allowed to be me.  I feel like a shadow around my parents. Something that just stands in the corner until requested.  I feel the most disabled when I am with them.

Remember, you have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.

I have a parent who attacks my neurology. This parent is very ableist and doesn’t even know or wants to know what ableism is. This parent is about control and will manipulate (covertly and overtly) to get it. This parent has problems, but is in full denial.  My ex-husband has untreated mental health problems and a destructive personality disorder. He did get a full psychological evaluation, but refuses to get professional help. My ex-husband and this parent are both passive aggressive, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. My other parent is verbally abusive.  This parent’s anger management problem is right out there in the open.  My ex-husband also has anger management problems, but his is silent and terrifying.  As I said before, I married what I knew.  This was the world that I grew up in and remained in it as an adult.

Four and a half years ago I had had enough. My marriage had already ended.  I had learned that I was stronger and more resilient than I even realized.  I drew a line with my parents, a healthy boundary. I would no longer tolerate the ongoing abuse. I cut off contact to my parents.  Not completely, though, we still email every so often, but I don’t feel safe with them.  I have tried multiple times to reason with them, but was told they are not going to change.  I had to think about myself and my children.  It all really hit me when my children began asking each of their counselors why their grandparents treated me the way they did.  I had to make a change for my own welfare and for my children’s future.

AbusersSomewhere in the back of my mind I knew growing up there was a problem with my family. The cycle of abuse goes back several generations on both sides. I had promised myself that the abuse stopped with me. I was not going to allow the cycle of abuse to continue with my children.  Unfortunately, their father had other ideas. He emotionally abused and neglected them.  The good news is that his cycle of abuse was caught earlier.  My children have been in counseling since they were little learning to cope with the cards life has dealt them.  They are stronger and more resilient for that earlier intervention.  I am still determined to make sure the cycle of abuse in my family stops with me.  I will not allow the abuse to continue.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself.
  • Believe when someone tells you something is wrong. I tried to reach out for help many times, but no one would believe me.
  • Listen with compassion.
  • Don’t be judgmental.
  • Encouragement is key.

Here is some helpful information about stopping abuse:

Here are some additional blogs that I wrote about trauma and abuse:

 

Trauma Does Not Define You

In Greek, trauma means “wound”. Originally trauma referred to physical wounds, but nowadays trauma also refers to emotional wounds. The psychological reaction to emotional trauma also has a name.  It is more often referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  I am very familiar with PTSD.  I was diagnosed with it about 14 years ago. This original diagnosis arose from a horrible medical trauma that I endured and also from the behavior of those closest to me at the time.  Since then, my diagnosis has changed to Complex-PTSD due to what I have come to realize were years of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of my ex-husband and what I endured as a child growing up.  I married what I knew. 

Growing up in a household where verbal and emotional abuses were tolerated really confused my autistic brain. I was told I was loved, and I believed it, but the behavior was not what you do to people you love. As a teacher, I learned the phrase, “at least he is not hitting me”, is a red flag that something is very wrong.  I heard that phrase over and over again growing up.  I was taught to comply, to make excuses.  I was conditioned to be a codependent.  Talking about any of this outside and inside the family was and still is discouraged.  I knew something was off with my family, but I didn’t know what it was.  It just felt uncomfortable.  Yet, I still married what I knew.   

Emotional abuse is insidious. It starts slow and under the radar.  You have no idea what is really happening, only that something doesn’t feel quite right.  The perpetrator may even pull back and be charming again when you call them out on something.  Everything might seem perfectly fine again, but over time that uncomfortable feeling starts up again and it gets worse and worse each time.  It is incredibly confusing.  Before you know it, you find yourself trapped telling yourself that you just have to wait for him to cycle back to being the man you married.  This is what is called the cycle of abuse.  You find yourself holding out for the good times to come back, and that is the perpetrator’s biggest weapon, playing on your hope. You find yourself holding on for something that will never come, real peace and real love.   

As a child, I would wait out the aggressive verbal outbursts and the passive aggressive manipulation until we could feel like a family again.  While growing up, I had no idea I was in this perpetual state of fight or flight. I was always on edge and preferred to be in my bedroom.  Now I understand why I did isolated myself, but back then, that was my “normal” and it was exhausting and frightening.  As a spouse, I did the same thing. I waited out the passive aggressive emotional abuse until the good times returned.  I married what I knew.

According to SAMHSA, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. These experiences may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. Having your ACEs score is like having your cholesterol score.  The score is a guideline to help you learn your risk factors for particular things. 

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris (TEDtalk – video)

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.ACEs Impact

The Impact

ACEs scores are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance abuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The ACEs study used the top ten reported adverse childhood experiences when designing the questionnaire, which consists of ten questions and involves your life prior to 18 years old.  Five questions are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five questions are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one.

I went through the questionnaire  and had a score of 3/10. I had both my children take the questionnaire as well.  Their scores varied.  My daughter had a score of 8/10.  My son first had a score of 4/10, but then he adjusted some of the questions to reflect one parent, his father, and he ended up with a score of 6/10.  I knew their scored would be higher than mine.  They have dealt with a divorce and a father who emotionally neglected them and emotionally abused their mother.  Even with that, learning their scores punched me in the gut. 

I reminded them that their trauma does not define them. Trauma can affect yourself-definition either consciously or unconsciously. Trauma hurts, and as hard as it is to grieve, trauma is not who you are. Your ACEs score is not what is wrong with you; rather it reflects what has happened to you. Just as trauma does not define you, your ACEs score does not define you.  What makes the difference is getting help and developing resilience. 

Prevent ACEs

We Can Prevent ACEs – Video by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are an important public health issue. Learn how everyone can help prevent ACEs by using strategies to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children.

Part of healing from trauma is stating what happened. It is important to share your story in whatever way you are able to, but being able to takes time.

A few days ago in the car, one of my children stated, “Dad committed acts of domestic violence.”

This was the first time either one of them has used the term “domestic violence” in connection with their father. My marriage ended six years ago.

Finally being able to share this information out loud with me meant one step farther away from the trauma and one step closer to healing.

Where do we go from here?

  • There is no time limit on grief.
  • Everyone grieves differently.
  • Don’t let trauma consume you. Don’t live there.
  • No wallowing!
  • Get help!
  • Strive to heal.
  • Obtain and utilize healthy coping skills.
  • Do what makes you feel good in a healthy way.
  • Reduce risk factors.
  • Increase protective factors
  • Get involved in community.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Find what makes you feel your true self.
  • Most of all – Be gentle to yourself!!!

 

Talking About Mental Illness – Society Needs to do Better

Content Warning: Suicide and suicide thoughts.

Whenever a celebrity or well-known person commits suicide, suicide hotline information is plastered all over social media. 

Feeling depressed? Reach out! Call this number!

Know someone showing these signs? Reach out!

I am not disparaging the need for these types of hotlines.  Many people can find help through them. In 2015, John Draper (PhD, Director, National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Member, SPRC Steering Committee) reported that in the ten years since the Lifeline began, their centers have answered more than five million calls from people in suicidal or emotional crisis.  

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – 1-800-273-8255 or Chat

En Español – Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio – 1-888-628-9454

For Deaf & Hard of Hearing  1-800-799-4889

The problem is, how many people didn’t or won’t call? How many children and adults don’t call and continued to suffer in silence, because the people they did reach out to dismissed them or they didn’t feel safe enough to reach out at all? How many kept silent, because they didn’t know what to say, didn’t want to burden their families, or because they were raised not to say anything at all?

According to the CDC, in 2016, nearly 45,000 Americans age 10 or older died by suicide. Yes, as young as 10 years old. Suicide is considered the 10th leading cause of death and is one of just three leading causes that are on the rise.  Researchers also found that more than half of people who died by suicide did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition at the time of death.

According to The State of Mental Health in America, 1 in 5 Adults have a mental health condition. That’s over 40 million Americans; more than the populations of New York and Florida combined. Youth mental health is worsening. Rates of youth with severe depression increased from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Even with severe depression, 76% of youth are left with no or insufficient treatment.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA:

“Anxiety and depression are treatable, but 80 percent of kids with a diagnosable anxiety disorder and 60 percent of kids with diagnosable depression are not getting treatment, according to the 2015 Child Mind Institute Children’s Mental Health Report.”

“Anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse.”

In Spokane County, Washington State, the youth suicide rate more than doubled from 2013 to 2016. It went from 4.3 per 100,000 people 24 and younger to 10.7, Washington State Department of Health data show.  It was reported that nearly 20 percent of Spokane County’s eighth, 10th or 12th graders have seriously considered suicide, according to the Spokane Regional Health District. In 2016, the last year data was publicly available, 15 percent reported that they made a plan to do so. Chris Moore, a student services coordinator with Spokane Public Schools, says suicide attempts are spiking as well, even among kids in elementary school. “We’ve seen a drastic increase with the number of attempts,” Moore says. “It’s a public health crisis. It really is.

For more information – As youth suicide rates surge in Spokane, school officials search for answers

My family has a long history with mental illness on both sides. Then there is my ex-husband’s family.  Various forms of anxiety and depression, PTSD, Bipolar, alcoholism (which is considered a mental illness according to the AMA and the APA – it’s all there based on information spanning five generations.  

For more information – Anxiety and Depression Association of America – Facts & Statistics

My sister-in-law, who I will never have the opportunity to meet, violently committed suicide with a gun when she was 21 years old, three weeks after her son was born.  He will never know his mother.  He is now older than she was when she ended her life. His father raised him on his own. 

My brother-in-law has struggled with depression all his life and has been slowly killing himself with alcohol and drugs. He is in his fifties and he doesn’t expect to outlive his parents. He can’t hold on to a regular job and lives most of the time with his parents and some of the time with his girlfriend. 

My ex-husband has also struggled with depression all his life, but has refused treatment.  His untreated mental illness and his untreated personality disorder ripped our family apart, twice.  He ran from life instead of facing his problems.  He couldn’t deal with his demons, so he pushed his family away and went into isolation with his seven guns and his paranoid ideas.

My ex-husband came from a family who doesn’t talk.  My ex was raised to believe that it was a sign of weakness to talk about your emotions and to ask for help.  Instead, he buried his demons, walled himself up, and went emotionally flat lined to the outside world. The reality is that he can’t handle his emotions, he fears them.  He is emotionally stunted, a 45 year old man emotionally stuck somewhere between a 12 year old boy and a 17 year old teenager.  Our children are actually more emotionally mature than he is.  My sister-in-law killed herself when my ex was only 17 years old and that is where he stopped growing emotionally as a person.     

My son, who is now 15 years old, was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when he was six years old.  He was diagnosed with Autism a year later.  Autism is a developmental disorder, not a mental illness.  My son was on suicide watch twice when he was 11 years old due to his father’s behavior.  My ex had fallen into a major depressive episode, the worst I had seen him be in. He refused to get help.  He neglected and then abandoned his children resulting in my son developing PTSD.  My son was never suicidal, but he had given up hope in life. He saw no point in life any more.  My son still struggles with depression.  He is on medication and goes to weekly counseling sessions. 

My daughter was diagnosed with Bipolar when she was only eight years old.  She has been on medication ever since. She was diagnosed with Autism two years later at the age of 10.  She is now 17 years old.  She was hospitalized when she was 15 years old due to going into psychosis.  She had been essentially stuck in a depressive state for some time and then had a breakthrough manic state.  The combination sent her into psychosis.  The voices told her she had to hurt herself with a knife and then the voices told her to use fire.  She never did and insisted that she could keep fighting the voices, but we managed to convince her to go to the hospital where she stayed for a week in the youth psychiatric ward.  Three months later a space opened up at a long-term treatment facility for youth.  She went into long-term care as an outpatient for three months.  Her medications were straightened out and a new treatment plan was developed for her to be used by her counselor, occupational therapist, and her speech therapist.

Then there is me.  I was diagnosed with Autism after my children were at the age of 36. 

Depression and mainly anxiety have been a part of my life for as long as I remember, but no one talked about it.  I didn’t have the words I needed to use growing up to describe why I felt the way I did.  I was told to lighten up, to stop taking things so seriously.  I was yelled at if I cried.  I was conditioned to not show emotions or to ask for help.  I was also conditioned that my needs didn’t matter.  I was on my own and told to take care of my younger sister who was only two years younger than me.  Alone, that was how I felt for so damn long.  No one listened when I tried to reach out, so I stopped reaching out.  I withdrew into myself, which only isolated me more, because my family either didn’t know what to do with me or took it personally that I had withdrawn, so I was ignored.  I was an undiagnosed autistic child with undiagnosed mental health issues. 

I grew up in a toxic home, but I didn’t realize it.  All I knew was something was off, but I never could figure it out.  I was told I was loved, but I felt so alone and I was scared.  I felt silenced.  What I wanted never seemed to matter.  I was conditioned to comply.  I had no idea how to say “no” or how to advocate for myself.  I was to comply with the wishes of others and rules were rules.

I didn’t know anything about emotional abuse until I was required to take a class for my professional certification as a teacher.  Even then, my mind just couldn’t accept that I had come from an abusive home life.  No, it couldn’t be.  There were other reasons for the behavior, always an excuse, excuses I had heard as a child growing up, excuses I was taught to just accept without question.     

By the time I took this class, I was already married and a parent.  I also hadn’t realized that I had married into an emotionally abusive marriage.  I married what I knew.

For more information – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

About 15 years ago, I went through a horrible medical trauma that was made worse by my family’s behavior.  More information can be found here – The Volcano is Awake. There was a time that I wanted to die so the pain would end, but I was never suicidal. I reached out for help so many times, but I was told get over it, bury it, move on.  I would reach out and get a cold shoulder or a back turned to me.  I had to get myself through that dark time of my life on my own and I would never wish that torture on anyone.  What got me through was that I couldn’t leave my children without a mother.  They were only a baby and a toddler at the time and something inside me kept saying that there was no one else to take care of them.  It was my responsibility as a mother that pulled me out and in the process “mama bear” emerged.  I had reached my breaking point, but never fully broke.   I became stronger, but in the process of working my way out of the darkness, I learned I had developed Complex – PTSD.  

Reach outWhen my marriage ended, I once again reached out for help, but was met with the same cold shoulders and told to move on, get over it, stuff it away. As with my medical trauma, I was not allowed to grieve in the way and for the length that I needed to.  I had become an inconvenience, a burden, again.  Once again I found myself alone with two children, teenagers now, and I had to get through the emotional pain of having my family ripped apart, but this time I was going to do things on my terms.  By this time I had learned about self-advocacy and self-determination.  I drew the line and held those boundaries. 

I reached out to others outside my family.  It took time, but I eventually developed a support network that is primarily online.  I am in a better place now, but my children and I are still grieving.  We are getting there, though.  We are much better than where we were a few years ago, but the depression is still there.  It has never fully gone away and I don’t know if it ever will. 

I have tried to create an environment where my children can feel safe talking about how they feel. I want them to feel that there is someone who will listen to them, who feels their voice is important, and who will never give them a cold shoulder and tell them to get over it and move on.  I remind them often that they each have a whole care team rooting for them.  I want them to know they are not alone.   

There is still too much stigma around mental illness. In 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma, Laura Greenstein states, “Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.” 

As a society, we need to do better.  We can’t just post about a suicide or crisis hotlines only during a time when a celebrity commits suicide.  We can’t just think posting these hotline numbers are enough. 

What is mental health stigma?

Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types:

  • social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.
  • perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination and perceived stigma can significantly affect feelings of shame and lead to poorer treatment outcomes.

How can we eliminate stigma?

People tend to hold negative beliefs about mental health problems regardless of their age, regardless of what knowledge they have of mental health problems, and regardless of whether they know someone who has a mental health problem.

 “The fact that such negative attitudes appear to be so entrenched suggests that campaigns to change these beliefs will have to be multifaceted, will have to do more than just impart knowledge about mental health problems, and will need to challenge existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in the general media.” – Graham C.L. Davey, Ph.D

According to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence and prevents them from seeking help. People need to feel safe talking about mental illness, so here I am talking about mental illness in a public forum.  I do not feel shame.  I do not feel embarrassed. I am not a burden. I refuse to be silenced.  I want people to know that they are not alone. End the stigma!!

Educate Yourself and Others – Learn More

“Everyone knows a little about mental health issues but knowing the facts can help you educate others and reject stigmatizing stereotypes. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.” – NAMI

So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?      

Have you ever been struggling for so damn long, then find yourself in a situation where things are working out, but your anxiety has gotten you on guard waiting for the possibility of the rug of life to be pulled out from under you again?

Ya, I am there. It sucks the feeling of relief right out of you. It is really annoying. I keep telling myself that I am in a good place right now, that everything I have been working toward professionally all these years is finally starting to materialize and it is not literally killing me in the process, but my damn brain won’t settle.

There are many reasons why I no longer have my own classroom anymore. Due to my physical health, I don’t know if I ever will be able return to a regular classroom teaching position. After nearly 20 years as a teacher, I miss being in a classroom, but my current job is allowing me to stay in the education field and apply my experience and training in a different way by helping one family at a time. I am paying it forward, you might say.

I am still grieving in my personal life. I have been grieving for years. It feels like forever. It is called Complex-PTSD. Even 15 years after my initial diagnosis, the pain is still there.  I have better coping skills now, but it is still hard. These days there are more good days than bad days.

Too much trauma and loss in my life, I suppose. I have been struggling so long just to survive, and be both mom and dad as well as teacher to my children, that I guess I am not sure how to live.

After everything that has happened to me, I have really struggled to convince myself that I have worth. I remind myself constantly. I have worth. I know I have worth.

*Deep breath.*

*Start again.*

I have value. I am worth it. I will not give up!

*Punches chest.*

I am a real person with real needs and dreams. I will not be silenced!

Not again . . .

—————————

Looking at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I have been at the bottom two levels for many years now.

So, how does it feel to actually live your life as opposed to just surviving?  

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