The climb

The climb
Climbing together

Monday, October 31, 2016

Triggered

This is hard to write. I want to talk about the term triggered (LOL jokes! haha). No, really. I'm a survivor. Being public about this to the degree that this blog allows goes against my upbringing. What about the consequences? What will people think?

I don't know what people will think. I have no control over their filters and processing and internal associations. I don't know if I care. I'm at a low point, a nadir - this is the actual dark night of the soul that I assumed I was going through months ago! I am laughing about that now because of where I am today. So much lower. This is going to sound awful - but there is no hitting bottom. There is no bottom. If you are low, you can always get lower. Luckily, you can also always move in the opposite direction, which I refuse to call "up" because I don't agree with the associations that come with the term.

Image credit: https://youtu.be/S9YxXJBvYS4


Recently, I was almost completely incapacitated by of one of the darkest emotional places that I have been in my recent memory. I've been darker places. I didn't understand why, at first. I've gotten used to forgetting and glossing over. It's a great survival mechanism that provides a certain degree of cheerful interlude in the way that gruff, antisocial withdrawal and accompanying violent and antisocial impulses simply cannot. If you're faced with the necessity to escape, please consider cheerful nihilism! I'll write more on that if anyone expresses interest. I'm nothing if not willing to procrastinate.

The whole GOP nominee grabbing a pussy thing...this is not a political commentary. It's about trauma, I guess. Sexual trauma, and the fact that being female means you have a 1 in 4 chance of having been sexually assaulted. I think it's more 50/50, because of all the rapes and sexual assaults I survived, I reported not a single one.

I was molested when I was 5(ish? - could have been at age 4). I was sexually assaulted by a teenage boy when I was 12. I confided in a friend, who said with deadly seriousness and a grip on my arm that I will never forget, "don't tell anyone. It will just be horrible and you'll have to tell everyone and they will think you are lying and nothing will happen anyway. I promise it will be worse if you tell." Most rapes go unreported.

Most reports demonstrate this to be true. I suppose that justice is cold and blind, and these are how cases must be examined in order to provider the appropriate evidence for a decision that has a higher likelihood of approaching "the truth." I suppose that there is no room for consideration of being human, a child, vulnerable, or the idea that no sane individual would put themselves at risk for the kind of terrible scrutiny that rape victims are often subjected to.

This is actually true for any individual or group that are subjugated, muzzled, systematically oppressed, etc. You learn very early that there are parallel realities. Some people have access to stuff, others do not. Some people have power, others have a little and always want more, some have none. You can comply, really that's all you can do, but it doesn't matter because even compliance is no guarantee that your oppressor won't randomly change their mind and, through the power of cognitive dissonance, shift the target of acceptability in their own mental schema to disallow whatever that complying individual or groups' current demonstration of compliance. Gaslighting, o hai.

source: https://agovernmentofwolves.com/tag/pepper-spray/


Comply


I'm sure this is a familiar term. In many ways, my passion for social justice and racial equity stem from my experience as being powerless. You comply, be still, do as you're told, and they will eventually leave you alone. Sometimes, though, the very compliance seems to incite an avarice. You see the eyes change, go blank and blind and they become enraged with the compliance because they don't want you to comply. This murderous rage that exists in some just wants to be fed. If you comply, the standards change. You no longer know what to comply to, every gesture you make, every effort to calm the situation down only enrages them. They even reach out and prevent your attempts to calm and soothe yourself. There is an animal inside us, all of us.

Some people have befriended their animal, and in this way the animal is tamed. But some people deny the animal, or fear it, and in this way the animal can take control in moments of weakness when resolve has been tested. When you are angry, in pain, when you lose yourself in the moment and forget everything but right now and this moment. I've seen it come over the face of more than one person, obliterating their individuality. It is the same face in every scene, regardless of the time that lapsed between, regardless of the physical body engaging in the atrocious act.

And then you are left with a choice, of course. Continue to comply, perhaps to your death, or act out in concerted defense...or an alternate choice, one that seems to have always worked for me. Dissociate. Remove yourself. Become what they want you to be for that moment, until you can carefully and quietly sneak away. Body safe. Soul and heart broken. This is survival, and perhaps part of how our species became so successful that we are actually destroying our own habitat. You just pick up and put back together and become as much as you can with what you have left. Each time, a little diminished, but ultimately successful if you live long enough to pass on your precious knowledge, through birth or transference.

It's not the end of the world to let part of yourself die. There is a lot there, believe me. That's the whole point, I think. You'd have to be bigger. Big enough but able to continue even with nearly nothing left. And it's not an instantaneous choice, either. You get a grace period, (LOL "grace" is an awkward term for the horrific post traumatic numbness that permeates everything like "the nothing" from The Neverending Story). So you have some time to be numb and consider, if you are of that constitution: do I let myself die? Or do I hold on to this pain and let a scar heal over the still-exposed thorn.

I've done both. I became a bloated, cellophane-wrapped, anesthetized sac of sadness by holding onto pain because I feared death. Not suicide, mind you. That's death, too, but honestly a bit easier than the death in little bits - at least in my personal worldview. When you decide after a time that the bloating and cellophane are cumbersome, then you can also choose again. And it hurts in an indescribable way to let part of yourself die. Sometimes you have to turn your back and walk away. Other times, you can gently hold yourself and care for yourself with love while you allow that piece of you to pass away. Sacrifices to the gods or the universe or your ancestors or nothing, the little deaths that allow you to actually go on living.

With each incident I lose more of myself. Raped again in my second semester of university; it's my fault because I was under age and he brought me to a bar where he knew the bartender and I could get beers - 2 coronas don't usually make you feel like the floor is swinging back and forth, I now realize. We'd been set up by my then-best-friend. I stumbled through my life in a haze, a permanently retracted position like a beaten dog. Always, always expecting to be hit. I suppose with each incident I became more vulnerable to the next. Compliance can lead to that, too.

Abusive relationships, home invasion, drug abuse to numb the pain, and finding myself in positions where I was freely sacrificing myself. Not for survival, not out of empathy, but out of a deeply felt sense of utter nihilism. Existence is pain, nothing means anything, embrace the Epicurean delights that are available in the hellish world we live in, consequences be damned, because this is all you get, baby. This is it. Either live like and die like you mean it or be one of those timid waifs that exists on the sidelines safely existing on scraps of mediocrity...

Mud and Lotuses


I've worked diligently for over three decades, to fight the good fight. Keep my head up. Struggled to believe in the decency and goodness of people. In the face of some really terrible situations I struggled through and composted all that shit. Medium for growth. No mud, no lotus blossom. I've got like a Martha Stewart (TM) style menagerie of lotus blossoms freaking sprouting out of my dome and slithering out of my ears and nostrils and every available orifice.

And yet. And yet. I have life, I have stress. Things are tough. I tend to withdraw socially when I am struggling most, which also means a lack of the empirically proven very helpful social networks that lessen the blows from the "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune." I find that people are willing to help, but that nothing seems to assuage this depression that has been crawling quietly up my spine for the last 6 months. Not even hugs. I've had a series of spectacularly awful events in my professional and personal life that make me want to burst out into Santa Claus belly full of jelly style guffaws. How can it be this absurd, really? Am I just going insane?

I see these gracious gestures from friends and family but....it's like I'm behind glass. Or under water? And their words are distorted. I can see what they are showing me but it does not compute. I can't seem to wrap my mind around anything.

I take my chinese herbs and get massages, acupuncture, I go to therapy and I take my Western prescribed medications. I lay in my bed. The tears roll down my face. I seem to have lost the ability to accept support, for reasons that are multitude. I have a deep conviction that I have to do it myself. It feels like I have the flu, like that sensation of anguish where it's like you can feel every particle in the air hitting your skin? Like you're moving through jello that was made with insufficient quantities of liquid? I'm laying in bed, I can't scroll through my phone. I can't even hold it up to crush candies or effortlessly buy things to make me feel briefly not horrible on my amazon prime app. I can't breathe. I can't speak. Everything hurts.

I find myself irrationally angry at the three friends I've managed to contact in my withered state, who are not messaging me back. Where are you. How rude. Can't you find the time? I ask for so little! Like a junkyard dog, used to living on nothing - just throw me some scraps every few weeks, I'll be your friend for life. Even if you totally kick me in the head. Because You're Worth It. Unconditional love, baby, Radical acceptance. No matter what you do to me, I am eventually going to be alright with it because I am free to do the work to make that happen.

The other Sunday: Scene
I wake up. I can't seem to stop crying. The sun is shining, the weather is sweet. Solo parenting again. The children are mouthy and stir crazy. I am defeated. In the face of a temper tantrum about not getting to eat a second ice cream sandwich, I crumple in front of them like a sad mom in an after school special. I turn and walk away, hanging my head while being harangued by the tantruming child. Nanny 911 could use this clip ad nauseum for purposes of effect. I don't bother to respond. I shut my bedroom door and collapse into tears. Why is everything so overwhelming? Why can't I function today? The mountain of laundry...the dishes....the assignments. I'm a doctoral student. I have to ask for an extension, which brings a boil of old shame to a head inside of me because academics are my haven, my safe place, I've always excelled. I am brilliant, even in my nadir of depression I can recognize that. But brilliance is not equated with emotional stability. Indeed, the opposite is true.

If you don't keep it together, they will take your children from you. I flashback to family court, the dyed- bright magenta-red, stiff curly ringlets around the skeletal, pale face with overly-severe, drawn-on eyebrows, as the female attorney peered into my eyes from across a courtroom and said that my history of PTSD and 10+ years in therapy were a liability in the eyes of the judge.



Take a time out. Take your medicine. Tranquilo. Calm your tits, bitch. Drink you tea, sniff you some lavender oil, get your massage, meditate, watch something funny, take a shower, go for a walk. If all else fails rub ice on the soles of your feet and snap rubber bands on your wrists to keep you here. Ground yourself, bring conscious awareness to the soles of your feet and your body against the furniture and the pressure of gravity weighing you down so much that you feel like your feet are made of lead. /end scene

That Black Dog


Source: http://www.demolitionnews.com/2015/05/12/comment-beware-the-black-dog/


Go to therapy every week, call if you have an emergency. There's always the suicide crisis hotline. Just keep working. Keep trying. Manage the stuff as best you can, let the rest of it go.

My house is not tidy. My children watch me go back to the room to cover my face with a towel that's been wadded up and folded so that I can sob into it without being heard. Do they know? They must. Sometimes they ask me to stop crying. People want to help but mostly they just want you to stop crying.

When they come, insisting on this and that, they ask me to be specific and I simply cannot. I can't make the words. I lack the resources or capacity to even speak. I just say, nevermind, I'm fine. No worries. It's cool. Crack the kind of jokes you know will make them laugh because like all depressives, you are a commensurate comedian.

Trudge into the kitchen and respond in monotone to the cheerful questions and endless chatter. Beg them to sit in front of the TV, or talk amongst themselves, or quietly sink into the background and let the internal agony of having to perform consume you.

I have to think to walk. Right foot. Left foot. Step step step. Open the fridge. All these steps. I think them through to make sure that I don't forget. I make sure that the children have used the toilet and are set up with snacks and drinks. In the evening, I let them watch TV too much. They drag laundry baskets of clean clothes I haven't folded in front of the TV and make their own lounges using clean laundry and laundry baskets and pillows.

I lay in bed and waver between waking and sleeping, in a world where I hear my children's every move and word, monitoring like a surveillance microphone, unable to rest, unable to get up.

It's been more than a decade since I was last this incapacitated by trauma. I've built a life for myself, a semblance of one. I have children, I am (was) getting a doctorate. My fifth degree, permanent student = permanent moratorium. I had a place and people. I had the capacity and position to help others. In the last few months I've seen this all slip through my fingers.

Understand this: I do not want to be a burden on the system. I don't want to need help. I want to be a contributing member of society. I fight every day and have fought every day to do the same thing that allowed me to survive multiple rapes and sexual assaults from an early age into my 20s - I survive. It takes more to think about all that risk and keep moving than it could ever take to blindly skip into danger with the blessing of oblivious bravado.

Eventually I go outside again. Put my game face on and take my child to therapy, make appointments, keep trying. I plaster a mask of normalcy onto my face and pry the corners of my eyes and mouth in an upwards direction, while intentionally relaxing my inner eyes and eyebrows and not flaring my nostrils. This is a face I have studied in the mirror. I make it when I want people to feel pleasant around me. Sometimes I lower my lids a little more, or tilt my chin in different directions, purse my lips, nod or furrow brows. This is how you figure out how to look normal, people. You study it, practice it, and find increasingly complex situations to test it in. When you add new features. those must be tested as well.



This is my experience of living with complex PTSD and being triggered. It isn't a joke, and as a consequence this post has taken weeks to write, which is not my normal. I'm at a place where I don't really know the way forward anymore.

This is triggered. Not feeling uncomfortable, or sad, or weird, or angry. Triggered is being overtaken to the point of being frozen, and then you are alone, inside that ice, doing the hard, hard work to chip your way out again, each time.

4 comments:

  1. Dear Cynthia -- I will not insult you to say outright I understand. But . . . while not all, I truly do "get" a great deal of it, unfortunately, for what you have written here (and other places) and in ways I probably cannot properly convey . . . You do not have to believe me of course, but I identify on so, so many levels. I suspect you probably have never cared for me and that is, of course, okay – but I just want you to know that on some plane of existence of shared, but separate experiences, of life, loss, mood, journey, pain and adaptation (or not), we are kindred spirits -- of some species, lol. No one can say or do anything during some of the times we think we need (them, others, SOMETHING) the most. In your humanness, you have been suffering . . . aye, steps I have trudged along so knowingly myself. BUT -- I think YOU know your SOUL knows more, and IS (always has been, always will be) more -- and will continue to be your best ally, along with your guiding spirits. Closing my eyes, picturing you, and sending light, love, hope. ❤️ stina

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  2. I'm sorry:( I understand much of this but not all--and especially about the part where you tend to withdraw during times when you need people the most. That's why for 3 years I left Facebook. I was dealing with the very real possibility that one of the great loves of my life was dying a slow death from what I thought was Spinal Muscular Atrophy and there was nothing I nor the doctors could do. And I was anguishing alongside him and feeling every IV stick in every little limb, piercing his hands and his feet. I had never prayed so hard in my life, felt so alone and terrified, hopeless, and felt that there was nothing in answer to my prayers but the VOID. For six months they led me to believe my 2 month - 8 month boy may not live. And still I don't know...and they don't know...meanwhile there was also the idiocy in academia, and for me, as I have spent most of my life in academia--I have always seen and known the idiocy there. I was never sexually assaulted but I was sexually harassed. And in the beginning, in my early 20s, I didn't know better (as I didn't start dating until I was 21) but then I started pushing back. It didn't always help. And sometimes I got scolded for it. For doing what the law told me was right and what ethically I knew was right. One day I will have the courage to tell my story as you have here. You do have more courage than I do...you have stood up continuously when you have been the most weary and exhausted. Even if to cry. Some people say that it is not courageous. But I say, they have never really been in battle. All warriors cry. And the best cry with a ferocity that can be heard across a large void:)

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    1. Also the depression that came with my time with my baby in the hospital and then my time never quite "cutting it" in academia made me desire suicide but I knew I would NEVER ever do it because my children need me to survive. It was a darkness that ripped me badly. But my children and I need each other to live. I kept bargaining though, asking god if there was a god that I wanted to trade places with my son, more than anything. but at the same time, I wanted to be fully functioning to be the mom I must for the babes.

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  3. Though our experiences and background are different and I never suffered the same hardships or trauma you have, I can really GET pretty much everything you wrote here (except that academia was my haven--it was really for me the worst kind of prison, and science and logic were my freedom). Regardless, having kids, having trauma, having the depression, having the thirst for truth and knowledge and curiosity...yes, It makes so much sense to me:( I feel both motivated by your post to tell my story too but also intimidated because well, in a lot of ways I know I do not have a gift for writing nor do I have the courage, yet. I am really glad you have that bravery.

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