The last couple of weeks I have been working on being able to feel the "Happy Anticipation" of the season. I love the Christmas Season, the magic and wonder of it all. I also have great anxiety come up this time of the year.
Growing up, there was never a good Christmas. It would always start the same, with a promise of "this year its going to be different". But with the drinking and violence it always ended up in violence and tears. So, each year I would be in hyper alert mode that looked very much like high energy but in reality I was spinning like a top and wound as tight as a spring.
I also found it hard because I was reminded of what I didn't have, and still don't have. I do not have a big happy family of origin, or all the other stuff that society and TV/advertisers tell us the season is all about. I do not have "wonderful childhood memories that warm the heart."
Christmas day was very hard for me and at times, it was a very difficult day and I felt very alone, even if I was with people who loved me. To try to keep these feelings away I would dissociate or be in a very hyper alert stage that must have looked like manic behavior.
Thankfully through therapy I have been working on these issues. I am for the most part, able to stay present and in the moment, but I am also aware that I am more likely to get triggered and stressed this time of the year. I also tend to have "spikes" where my anxiety peeks and I become anxious and go into hyper alert mode. However, unlike the past I am able to notice- for the most part- when I do this and am able to notice this and do what I need to do to ground myself and remind myself I am in the present and we are safe and not dissociate.
This year I have much to be thankful for. I have been able to start and keep healthy family traditions that my son and I look forward to. I am able to feel the love of those that care for me, weather they be here, or somewhere else. I have a wonderful husband who has supported me and helped more then he will ever know. I have a son I am very proud of as he has grown into a very fine young man. I have a wonderful circle of friends who love me just the way I am. I have my health, a wonderful support circle and am very happy with my life and who I am. I look forward to the future, something I never thought I would feel, let alone have.
For those of you who are struggling with this time of year. Hang in there, it will be finished soon. Hang in there as it can get better. You may feel alone, but I want all of you to know that you are not alone. Life can be good, this season can be good, the world can be good.
I wish you all a very Merry Christmas, or what ever holiday you celebrate this time of year. May you all find Peace, Love, and Contentment in your corner of the world this season and always. I want to thank you all for being in my life, be it in real life or on line.
I will be thinking of you all and sending out loving metta-( multi-significant term meaning loving-kindness, friendliness, goodwill,
benevolence, fellowship, amity, concord, inoffensiveness and
non-violence. The Pali commentators define metta as the strong wish for
the welfare and happiness of others)
May you all be protected from inner and outer harm
May you all be peaceful of heart and mind
May you all be healthy of mind and body
May you all have peace attain the path you walk
May you all have an ocean of compassion for your suffering
May you live your life joyfully
That is my wish for this season and always.
Cheers and be well
Thursday, 13 December 2012
Up Close And Personal With Dissociative Identity Disorder
Blessings come in all shapes and sizes, and sometimes in the most unexpected places. My blessing came in May of 2003 when I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (D.I.D), formerly known as Multiple Personality Disorder. When the diagnosis was made I let out a huge sigh of relief and thought, “Oh, Thank God I’m not crazy.” Then promptly panicked and thought “Holy crap, I must be crazy,” as the visions of Sybil and the Three Faces of Eve came to mind. I soon learned that although Hollywood’s versions make for good entertainment they are not reality.
While D.I.D. had its survival function, I paid a price. I fractured and created alters (fractured ego states) in order to cope. I could only experience pieces of life. While all my emotions and aspects of my personality were held by my alters, I could only consciously remember fragments of some events, and of other events I had no conscious memory. This was true for traumatic and non-traumatic events. It was through these fractured states that I experienced life. My alters were like characters in a play, all waiting in the wings for their cue (trigger) to come on and play their part. By the time I was diagnosed I had a large cast of very complex characters and I never knew when the scene was going to change, let alone the play.
It was not until I was diagnosed, that I realized that not everyone is like this. The scattered puzzle pieces that were my life started coming together and I learned why I had huge gaps in my memory and why I felt so disconnected from the world. Dissociating had become a hardwired and habitual response to any anxious situation.
When I switched alters, people did not notice a big Jekyll and Hyde change, or any drastic change in the way I dressed, talked or walked. In time family, friends and my family doctor were sometimes able to recognize when I had switched. They would have noticed a change in the inflection, volume, tone or cadence of my speech. A tilt of the head, a look away, or a change in body language, or the way I looked at them. They may have noticed different cognitive, levels, or a different behavior, or coping style. I would have slight facial changes that they said were hard to describe but they would know something had happened. A very observant friend mentioned that it was like a wave had passed across my face. Sometimes my emotions would come on very strongly and the intensity of them would be more than the situation required, this was especially true with anger. I’m sure there were moments when my behavior left others thinking, “What the hell was that all about?”
The switching would be accompanied by ringing in my ears, vertigo, blurred vision, trembling, queasy stomach and many other body sensations, as well as disorientation. Sometimes the switching was more obvious and looked like mood changes, especially when I was triggered. I was so disconnected from myself, that my family and friends would often notice the switch before I did, and often my body language was saying the exact opposite to what I was feeling.
When an alter was functioning I felt completely engulfed by whatever emotion they were holding. If the one who held joy was out, that’s all I would feel. You may ask “what’s wrong with that?” Well the problem is that’s all I would feel. I would be like a little kid on Christmas Eve; so excited, happy, buzzing and overwhelmed that I was unable to soothe or ground myself. I would feel the same intensity for the alters that held the anger, sadness, grief, shame etc. This is the all or nothing way of feeling that is characteristic of alters.
I would make decisions while in these altered states, which may have seemed like a good thing at the time, but were not. Being asked, “Why did you do that?” was not helpful to me because I already felt enough shame for the action/decision I made. The chances are that I was not the one who made the decision. What I did find helpful was to be asked “Can you think of any trigger at the time before, or did you feel any sensations before that?” These alters were developed when I was a child so they were all operating from “kid logic.” They do not have the awareness and ability to view their actions, behaviors or the world, in the more complex way of adults.
By 2003 this coping style was no longer working. It had caused severe disruption and confusion all my life. Up to that point I did not know of any other way to cope, but the proverbial penny had dropped and there was no going back. I needed to be authentic with myself if I was to move on, yet this was a very scary place to be.
I had spent most of my life being numb. For the first time in my life I began working at staying in the moment; not only noticing the switching but feeling the physical and emotional pain from the past. It scared the crap out of me. I think of it as how an addict might feel during recovery. Could I indeed live in the moment and feel life, past and present without dissociating?
As my therapy evolved, I slowly learned to trust my psychiatrist, and subsequent counsellors, to feel safe enough to begin gently peeling away the façade that was my life. Without the use of my habitual defense mechanisms, raw emotions and sensations were being exposed, felt, and looked at for the very first time.
My protective alters did not like this one bit. They remembered me being threatened with harm if I ever talked about the abuse or the pain. Operating on “kid logic” they believed if they convinced me to engage in destructive behaviors or self-harm they were keeping me safe. This also prevented me from feeling the physical, emotional and psychological pain of the abuse.
This was very confusing to me and those around me. While one alter wanted to harm me and shut me up, another knew I needed help and had to deal with it. It was an intense internal battle that wore me out and must have looked like some bizarre behavior. It was like having a reality TV show about a very dysfunctional family living inside me, and I was being pulled in all directions.
In time, with great support and acceptance, I was finally able to talk about what had never been spoken about before. I no longer needed to keep stuffing it down only to have it erupt and leak through the seams into my life, or dissociate to work through the events that caused me to split in the first place.
I have been fortunate to have knowledgeable and caring professionals and very supportive family and friends along this healing journey. My family doctor had not heard of D.I.D. but was open minded enough to listen to me and my psychiatrist and counsellors to learn how best he could support me. They have all included me in my recovery, allowed me to express what works best for me and worked with me through this.
It has not been easy and there were many times I did not know if I was going to make it. There have been many struggles along the way and one of the biggest was to begin to break the misconception people (the public and professionals alike) have of this condition.
According to the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation, studies show that “1.1 % to 3% of the general populations have D.I.D.” “This puts the prevalence of D.I.D. as at least equal to or higher than schizophrenia, which is about 0.5% to 1.5 %.” (American Psychiatric Association, 2000, p.308, Howell 2011). Of that number only 6% percent will have the extreme change in behaviors that are obvious (Kluft 2009, Howell2011).
Those of us with D.I.D. spend an average of “5-12 years in the mental health system before being correctly diagnosed” (Howell 2011). We also often have co-morbid conditions such as addictions, P.T.S.D., depression, eating disorders etc.
Dissociative Identity Disorder is a reality and as long as young children experience prolonged, overwhelming, and horrific circumstances it will continue to be a reality. The foundation of this disorder is a very creative and remarkable defense mechanism that allowed me, and allows many others to survive. By creating alters to deal with the traumatic events of my childhood, I was able to survive hopeless situations that were impossible for me to accept. As my family doctor told his colleagues, “This is what happened to her. This is how she dealt with it. And this is how it’s affecting her life now.” That sounds simple enough to me.
Being correctly diagnosed has been a gift. It’s been a long and rocky road, but I am grateful for it and to those who have travelled with me. I have a very full, rewarding and rich life. The people who are in my life know I have D.I.D. It’s no secret.
I am captain of my dragon boat team, play golf and ringette and am working on my memoirs. I volunteer in various organizations and am a much loved member of my community. I have spent the last few years advocating and educating others about D.I.D. In the last 6 months I have talked to the grade 11 psychology class at the local high school, given a presentation to the North Island College R.N. practicum students at the local hospital, and have started a blog and facebook page about the daily challenges of living successfully with this condition.
I meet regularly with my family doctor’s medical/practicum students and let them know what this condition is all about and how best they can help their future patients. It’s been a lot of work but it is worth it. I appreciate the fact that I now have linear memory which allows me to remember having lunch with my son or going for a walk in the woods. I am able to feel connected to myself and those I care about and am now relaxing into life, as opposed to reacting to life. These truly are blessings.
Howell, Elizabeth, (2011) Understanding and Treating Dissociative Identity Disorder: A Relational Approach. N.Y.:Routledge ISBN 978-0-415-99497-2
Saturday, 24 November 2012
In October I was surfing the internet looking for a creative writing/memoir workshops in my area. I wanted to really start working on my writing but knew I would need some help along the way.
I did not really want to take a 2nd year college course as I would be required to write assignments I am not interested in. This is not to say I may not do it later but at this point in time it is not what I am looking for. I was having no luck until I found a program at the University of British Columbia called The Booming Ground. This is a non-credit- yeah hoo!!!!- writer- mentorship program. You can choose poetry, fiction or non-fiction/memories.
It is a program in which a mentor will work with you one on one, and help guide you with your writing. Hot dam – this was better than what I was looking for! They will work with you to a maximum of 30, 000 words, which is about 5000 words a month. I sent for some information, they sent it to me along with a application form. I filled out the form and they asked for a sample of my writing. So I send it off into cyber space hoping that the universe will deliver it to where it is supposed to be. It does and two weeks later I get confirmation that I have been accepted and they soon let me know who my mentor is.
I sent an e-mail to my mentor explaining my condition that some days I can function, some days I can’t and that it would really help me if she can think outside the box, and that it would be very helpful if she did not mark anything with red ink! Her reply was that she has no problem thinking outside the box and has worked with people who have done memoirs and realizes it can be a very difficult task.
So, my first assignment was to start writing from when I was diagnosed so that’s what I did. She told me not to worry about it as this submission was to allow her to see what kind of writer I am, where my strengths and weakness are, what my writers voice is etc. So this month, off I go to my friends studio, (she has given me space to write)- and I start.
Well, actually it was not that straight forward!!!!
I fretted for three nights about it, wondering how I was going to start, how it would sound, how to do it and wondering what the hell I got myself into.After all these years of talking about it and people telling me I should do it I wondered if I could really do it, and I found excuses not to go to the studio. But eventually I went and started to put words to paper, and last Friday the 23rd I sent in my first submission of 5054 words. Only 850, 000 more to go and my memoir will be done!
It has been a very interesting process. It has made me look back to that time when I thought my life was falling apart. A time where there was much confusion and pain for myself, my family and I thought I was going crazy. It has also reminded me how scary the “first steps” can be.
I think back to the fear and uncertainty I felt when I first started to get help. I didn’t know what the future held for me, and as terrified as I was I knew I needed to listen to my guts, to follow my intuition and step through those doors. After all, my intuition had kept me alive.
At the beginning of this month, I once again listened to my intuition and sat down and started to write. It was not as scary as starting therapy, but I still don’t know what my future holds, if I will get published or if anyone would even want to read my book, but like my therapy, I know this is something I need to do.
All first steps can be scary. It may be our first physical step, the first time we ride a bike on our own, the first time we skate, do public speaking or our first step in getting help to heal.
And yes, the first time I sat down to start to write my memoirs.
Stepping into the unknown can be a scary and terrifying place to be, but unless we take that risk and step into it, we will miss so much. I am glad I took that risk.
I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes that really helped me in the beginning of my healing journey.
Human beings , especially at an early age are amazingly resilient….Errors can be made and errors can be corrected; And tenderness, care and understanding can help bring about new beginnings at any age
I send you all tenderness, care and understanding and wish you all new beginnings.
Be gentle with yourselves.
Those are my thoughts for today
Cheers and be well
Tuesday, 13 November 2012
Happy Birthday To Me….
From this post you can see it’s my birthday- I was born of Friday the 13th, I was not supposed to survive and my parents were told that if I did survive I would be a vegetable…as you can see I have been very tenacious the second I was born. Some would say stubborn. I read somewhere the difference between stubborn and tenacity- stubborn means I won’t, tenacity means I will!
It has been an interesting Birthday. Last Friday I met a friend and we went for a walk and she treated me to lunch and gave me some wonderful hedgehog chocolates. Last night I had many birthday wishes from my ringette team- and chocolate and wonderful hugs. This morning there were tons of e-mails and Facebook messages wishing me the best and to have a great day. I then went singing with a wonderful choir group- they serenaded me with an awesome happy birthday song, and many wonderful hugs, then my son took me out for lunch, then I met a dear friend for coffee and she surprised me with a wonderful Pavlova cake- it is to die for…she was up making it at 6:00 am this morning.
I get home and there is an e-mail from my sister that says “To my beautiful, talented Sister....have a VERY happy birthday. We wish you a year of all things beautiful and many giggles and happy surprises.” I have presents and my husband and I are going out for dinner. It’s been a wonderful day, and later this week I am meeting another friend for coffee to celebrate.
This is- once again- such a contrast from what I grew up with. Growing up- birthdays were never a big deal and I got the sense they were more stress as my mom worried about getting me a present. I learned early on not to mention an upcoming birthday or look forward to it or celebrate it.
Needless to say, things are now different. In the choir I am in, -it’s called Letz Sing, and is a non-audition, non performing choir community where every voice is welcome. The philosophy is that everyone is inherently born with the ability to sing. One of the people in the choir is a retired psy nurse who has known me for some years and walked along beside me through many of my challenges. She told me to celebrate me. I think I will.
There have been times in the past where I felt no one cared about me, and it would not matter to anyone if I was around. I truly believed that no one would show up at my funeral. I now know people do care for me, and that I do make a difference in the world and it does matter that I am around. Not only do I know, I feel the connection with my family, friends and the world, and I can now accept all these wonderful hugs people give me.
Why am I telling you this? For all of you who have just started on your healing journey, or have stumbled and are trying to get on your feet, or feel alone and lost in the dark wondering if you have the energy to go on. For those of you who feel alone and feel as if you are lost wondering through a foreign land, and for all of you who are about to deal with some very tough issues and are afraid to look at what needs to be looked at. You can do it; you have survived it all and are still here. It is not an easy journey; I have stumbled and fallen many times, I use to tell my psychiatrist that “I’ve been down to the black abyss of Hell and back so many times I should get frequent flyer points!” As deep as the deepest despair I have felt during those times and wondered if I would make it, I now feel how wonderful life can be. Because of the work I have done, I now have connection with life and those in my life. It is a wonderful feeling. All the hard work is worth it, do not give up.
So I am going to “celebrate me!” And my birthday wish is that each and every one of you celebrate the very unique, wonderful person you are, celebrate your survival, your true self, your courage, your tenacity and your strength. No matter where you are in life, celebrate you! You are unique, you are special, and you do make a difference in the world. You may not believe that now, but persevere and time will show you that you are.
Tonight I will make a toast to me, and all of you who carry on!
Cheers and be well