Mental Health – My Story

By now you have hopefully read all the other mental health blogs I have posted so I am not going to explain the different types and definitions in here. This will just be me… as terrifying as that is for me.

As a person who is diagnosed with MS I can tell you the grief still hits me 5 years later. Of course I grieve the person I used to be, I grieve the person who I always imagined I would be. I have anxiety about being a mom and a wife with all of the unknowns of this terrible disease. Having no control of how my body behaves or how it will behave in the future is the hardest part for me when looking forward and making plans. I LOVE making plans, I like knowing what my schedule looks like for the next few weeks or months. I can plan my rest and chores and doctors appointments in there and perhaps some grown up time with friends and date nights with my husband.

I have anxiety about embarrassing my kids when I go places with them because I cannot control my body’s reaction. I have to use Oak as my brace and balance when out in public. If it’s too hot I leave him home (soon to be remedied by some awesome booties his new trainer told me about) so he is not walking extended periods of time on hot cement. When I don’t have Oak I use a cane, or a walker, and I am always very aware of how that probably makes them feel. It may just be in my head, I don’t want to be 30 something using a cane or a walker… I am not old yet!

I have a pit in my stomach caused by the dread I feel about my future. Will I be at their graduations? Will I be in a wheelchair if I am there?

In the span of 10 months, starting at the end of September in 2015 I was rear-ended 3 times. All three times my youngest son, who was 3 at the time was in the car. My therapist tells me that it’s not just “fight or flight” there’s actually also freeze. This is what I did, and do once I looked back on so many of the accidents I had in my life. I stopped short of a truck that stopped abruptly to avoid hitting a car stopped on the road that first time. I took a breath at my skills of stopping us safely and looked in the rear view mirror just in time to see a sedan NOT stopping as the sped toward my car. My SUV was slammed into the truck in front of me and the only two things that I thought were “but I stopped” and if my kid was ok. I was so concerned for my son that one of the men at the scene actually came around and asked me to please move the other side of my car so that I wouldn’t get run over.

Growing up in southern California in the 80’s seemed like such a dangerous place in the news and community. It most likely started with the abduction of Adam Walsh and then there were so many other missing children after that. A girl was taken from her home during a sleepover with her friends, helicopters flew around my neighborhood with a bullhorn announcing descriptions of missing children (this was pre-amber alert) and milk cartons were plastered with faces of kids who were no where to be found.

We were latchkey kids, my dad worked out of town mostly and my mom worked bankers hours and LA traffic is no ones friend. We were to come straight home, lock the doors and not answer it for anyone. If someone did come to the door we would turn off the TV and hide behind the furniture (because kids don’t realize turning the TV off only secures the idea that someone is home). I remember that our neighbors called the police one time because she was a stay at home mom and felt it was her place to get into our business of being home alone for a few hours. The terror that rose in me when the police came to the door was immeasurable. We refused to answer the door, we turned off all of the lights and we continued to ignore them even after one of the slipped a business card under the door. That was one of the times that my father must have been working locally because I remember he came home, gave the police and the nosy neighbor the what for and congratulated us for not opening the door. I don’t remember her being in our business after that.

When I was four I was cut in the arm by a pocket knife while visiting my aunt in Reno with my brother. I remember being put in the bed of my cousin’s truck because of all the blood and the 4 stitches required in my arm. I even bandaged my doll so we would be the same. About the age of 7, I was clawed in the eye by a cat that was thrown at me, and it required surgery to remove an oil gland from my eyelid, I had to wear a patch on my eye as school started that year. It was humiliating. We had earthquake drills at school to prepare the inevitable occurrence and there were many days we had indoor recess because the Santa Ana winds would blow all the ash from fires our direction.

School told us that if there was ever a fire at home we could not stop for anything, just immediately leave the house, of course as a child this would not work for me, what about my dolls or my favorite books, or clothes. It was so stressful to me that when my uncle accidentally showed up on my birthday one year (he wasn’t a kid guy and I still remember the uncomfortable look on his face when he realized it was my birthday) he said yes and took me to a store to pick out anything I wanted. Blissfully, I picked out a hot pink duffel bag, in my mind this solved one thing that was a constant stress for me. I now had a perfect place to put all of my beloved items in case of a fire, there would be no stopping, it was at the bottom of my bed and one swift move would be over my shoulder and out the door with me.

On my 7th birthday my dad took me to get my ears pierced, I was so excited. He took me to the mall and I selected my little studs and the girl at the shop pulled out this gun contraption. Did you know that these could fail to work properly? I didn’t, I soon found out they could though. The left ear she started with did not go all the way through the first time, the pain was still there but no stud. She did it again, at this point I was terrified but my dad was there and I was going to be brave. Eventually she did get both studs in but I will never forget the fear that day. When my holes closed up about 10 years ago from a lack of wearing earrings often enough I was very worried when I went to get them re-done. Thankfully, that time there was no issue but the anxiety was with me the whole time.

I was a very anxious child, I chewed my nails and worried about things I could not control. My parents did their very best at raising me with their life experience and what they knew. I never told my parents how scared I was or that I slept facing certain directions in my room depending on which way I thought a predator I heard about on the news would come in to steal or murder me. They didn’t know, because I did not tell them, I wanted to be brave and I probably wanted to be their favorite.

I have also been the victim of domestic violence and sexual assault, I have been lied to and cheating on by partners I trusted. I was bullied in school and teased because of my name, I got into fights and got cornered and jumped by girls. I lived in a world where being a girl wasn’t good enough, we weren’t male so therefore we are less. All of these things in my life were internalized, buried deep and how I tried to forget. Even when these things are not at the surface though, they change you, slowly until you forget who you are and who you want to be. You must face them to release its power over you and be healed, healthy and happy.

If you are reading this and don’t feel safe to talk to someone, or are worried about being judged, or are not ready to contact a therapist just know, I am here. I understand and if you want to DM with me, I will be more than happy to listen, read and lend a supporting ear to you.

Personal Side Note about Complex PTSD

I decided to write about this one specifically because I have it. I have been reading The Complex PTSD Workbook by Arielle Schwartz, PhD over the past few weeks.

I’ve had the book for close to two years and just never felt ready for the heaviness of the subject and memories I would have to face. Facing truths you’ve tried to bury and pretend aren’t real for over 30 years is a challenging thing to bring to the surface.

I had disassociation from memories that I have played off as no big deal my whole life when in fact are a HUGE deal for a child of 5 or 6. Other things that happened I had never spoke a word of until I felt safe enough with my amazing husband to utter the words out loud without feeling judged, like some how my toddler self was at fault for the things that were done to me.

If it wasn’t for the support of my husband and my amazing therapist there’s no way I would know that my anger is actually anxiety or fright, or sometimes sadness that makes me feel I’m weak.

Anger is my Viking ancestors fighting through anything that remotely feels vulnerable even if it kills me. I have a tattoo of a Valkyrie on my back to remind me of the strength I want and pretend to have.

I’m still alive, I’m still working toward happiness. Even in the face of multiple illnesses causing disability I’m still trying to be the best version of my broken self. You should too, it’s hard but it’s worth it.

Mental Health – Complex PTSD

In case you missed the first two, this is the third post about mental health. While not actually necessary to read them in order it may be helpful in the over all context. I am going to give the low down on this before doing the post about my experience.

When discussing PTSD most people immediately think of active or veteran military, combat situations, being shot at, seeing your teammates blown up by bombs like in the movies. Those people would be right, but there are at least two different types of PTSD, the standard PTSD following traumatic events (either in combat or perhaps domestic violence, severe motor vehicle accidents and natural disasters) and Complex PTSD. PTSD occurs after one traumatic event, C-PTSD occurs after numerous events, usually within childhood.

Let me first say that of course not every person who is in combat, a victim of domestic violence or a natural disaster will get PTSD. It’s this tricky thing that happens when your brain doesn’t want to or cannot process the trauma being thrown at you. On the surface you may get agitated more easily, anxious, maybe depressed, not interested in doing things in public or shying away from the things that somehow remind you of the trauma. I am not going to pretend to know what the members of the military who suffer from PTSD shy away from, but I know that people who suffer domestic violence at the hand of their spouse, significant other (once out of that relationship) most likely find it difficult to trust another person in that role. MVAs (motor vehicle accidents) can cause PTSD, this results in said person becoming more tense or anxious when in a car, nervous about driving through certain areas or intersections, perhaps squealing at perceived threats (don’t judge me).

According to the National Center for PTSD’s website “in some cases people experience chronic trauma that continues or repeats for months or years at a time. The current PTSD diagnosis often does not fully capture the severe psychological harm that occurs with prolonged, repeated trauma. People who experience chronic trauma often report additional symptoms alongside formal PTSD symptoms, such as changes in their self-concept and the way they adapt to stressful events.”

So Complex PTSD is not your standard PTSD, it is chronic trauma over the course of months or years, repeated trauma. It does not need to be the same trauma happening either. It can be domestic violence, bullying, childhood neglect, a car accident, emotional abuse, sexual abuse and numerous other variations. It’s complex for a reason. Most frequently, as a result of this chronic trauma, people who suffer from C-PTSD have negative self-conceptions.

PTSD can change the biology of the brain, causing hypersensitivity in the Amygdala which causes a person to see more things as threats. The hippocampus, in charge of converting short term memory to long term can shrink. ¬†Finally, decreasing blood flow to the prefrontal cortex’s left side (memory and language) and increasing on the right side which can cause mood swings.

C-PTSD has all the symptoms of PTSD but also includes more. Dissociation are the traumatic events, impaired ability to form healthy relationships, loss of meaning for life or even religious connections. Somatization, “psychological pain is “converted” into physical pain-digestive issues, migraines, or otherwise unexplained physical symptoms.”

People trying to deal or not deal with the trauma in a healthy way can have addictive behaviors, drinking, drug use, and emotional eating are a few. Self injury or harm is one of the more serious addictive things that can occur with C-PTSD patients. Looking at this from the outside I could see how inflicting pain on yourself to deal with the helplessness of the pain inflicted on a person by others would be a sort of self control for the trauma.

There are many old school and new evolving approaches to treating both types of PTSD. I encourage everyone to see out a mental health expert to work on moving through the trauma. I have worked through my regular PTSD with my therapist and we are starting to work on my Complex PTSD. It’s not going to be an easy task but I firmly believe everyone should have a chance to live their best, happiest life with a positive self conception. It may take me a while but I am working towards that goal.

As always, when discussing medical information the links are at the bottom of the page. I would love to hear from you, comments, questions, suggestions.