Posts Tagged Mental Health
In therapy the past few weeks I’ve been doing some reflecting on the leaps and bounds of progress I have made. Even in my nightmares, I am making this same progress, which says to me I have come a long way in applying what I’ve learned to get better from trauma — in dealing with hypersensitivity, in dealing with conflict, in being assertive and self-compassionate.
At work, I’ve been dealing with a difficult abusive person. No matter what I do, this person will not be happy and they will be angry with me. It reminds me all too much of what I dealt with when I was a child with my caretaker. I have learned to not take what this person says personally, but a few weeks ago, I stood up for myself in a big way. I was sick of dealing with it, and identified what it was I needed from this person, which were my ground rules or guidelines for dealing with this person. Then I met with them and stated my guidelines. It hasn’t been perfect, but it has helped. That’s a huge step for me. 3-4 years ago I would have never had the guts to tell someone what I needed from them, let alone even be able to identify I needed anything. I used to not have needs. My whole life centered around how I could do anything and everything to make others happy and not angry at me. What a difference.
A couple weeks ago, I was struggling with my personal life. I wasn’t sure if it was just winter causing all my friends to get more and more distant. But, I knew this was not how I wanted my life to be. I want strong friendships with people I can count on, who can count on me, and who I can spend time with doing the things we both enjoy, and learn from each other. I feel like that is lacking. But, I had this dream I was taking this class with my friends. They had walked into the room and reserved a bunch of seats at a table for our friends, but they hadn’t saved me a seat so I had to sit with people I didn’t know. Ordinarily, this would make me upset – like they didn’t think about me and now I have to deal with being around people I didn’t know and wouldn’t know what to say or do. But, in the dream, it didn’t bother me and I thought, “Well, I get to meet new people. Your loss.” And happily sat with another table with complete strangers. This made me realize, sure, some of my friendships have grown distant for whatever reason. But, I have the opportunity to make new friendships and even ones that are stronger, where are values align more and we have more things in common, like being active or doing volunteer work and community service. Shortly after that dream I got to meet up with some of my friends. They all made fair-weather plans with me and no one followed up. I could be upset about that, but I figure they are busy, or inept at making plans. It’s their loss. And instead I made plans of my own. Granted not all of them were the best ones. I ended up volunteering for something that made me uncomfortable – it actually does fall under the avoidance category since it was at a place where I had been a zillion times with my ex-husband. And granted I’m probably viewed as an asshole because I got there and just said I can’t do this and I don’t want to be here and left. But, I feel a lot better that I was able to just say what I wanted and move on. Lesson learned – don’t put yourself in situations you are uncomfortable with and you don’t care about. I would have much rather been attending another event that night that benefits people rather than an idea I just don’t believe in anymore.
At work I have been working on a lot of goals for my company. This certainly put me in a big reflective stage on my own life. Here I am making all these plans for them. But, what about me? I have goals and I’m not meeting them. That’s not fair. So I have been applying what I do at work, to my own life. And hopefully that will mean I am a lot happier about where I am going and what I am doing here on this planet. One of my friends had posted this article on the 10 Painfully Obvious Truths Everyone Forgets Too Soon. So many of these are what I am talking about in this post actually. #2 is “You Live the Life Your Create for Yourself.” For a while, from August till November, I was feeling like I was waiting for my life to start. When in reality, I was living it. But, all the things I used to look forward to, like traveling, spending time with family, game nights, spending time with friends, running races, volunteering, I just wasn’t doing them. And it felt like I had kind of disappeared. I think I was adjusting to my new life and living with someone again. Now I feel like I’ve done that and I get really excited when I pull up my list of goals, and start to really want to put plans and dates together on those. Of course more and more things pop up in my head of what I want to do. And I start feeling like life is too short. Then I think of #3 Being Busy Does Not Mean Being Productive. One of the good things I gained out of that period of time between August to November, was learning how to relax – how to not have to do anything and not worry about it. If you need extra sleep, then that’s fine. If you need a night to just tune out at home, that’s fine. I learned how to not be busy, and that I didn’t need to be “busy” to feel alive. What I want is to be able to live my life so that if I were to die tomorrow, I’d be pretty proud of my life, of my relationships with my family, my friendships, what I’ve done as extra-curricular and at work, what I’ve seen of the world, how I’ve dealt with the world, and so forth. When I stop and think of that now, I actually thing, gosh I am already there. I’m pretty proud of who I am. Sure, there’s a few things here and there I want to change. But, I have the power to change that, to set goals and make those happen.
Last week I had two dreams back to back that were completely opposing. The first one was a nightmare my ex-husband had broken into my home and was waiting for me there. I got home and he was strangely not mean, difficult or argumentative. I asked him to leave and he left. But, I knew something was up. I looked through the peep hole and saw he was still waiting outside the door thinking about doing something irrational. There was a little old man in the apartment with me. My ex-husband coaxed the little old man into letting him back in. Then he started berating me and belittling me, telling me I was worthless, undeserving of any love or anything. I woke up crying and shaken up.
Then I feel back asleep. This time I dreamt I was in a shop next door to a restaurant. While in the shop, three different men hit on me. It was completely the opposite. I was loveable and deserving of love and attention.
In talking about these two dreams in therapy, my therapist explained although in the dream it was my ex-husband tearing me down, in reality my own psyche is doing that day in and day out when I judge myself and am hypervigilant, always worried that the decisions I make or what I say will not be what someone else wants. That I think how can anyone love me? But, then another part of me realizes how amazing I really am and that I am deserving of being loved.
I went on to talk about how I am still really struggling in my current relationship to say what I want. My boyfriend is vey encouraging and stops to remind me that I can do what I want and have wants and feelings, and there’s no reason to be afraid to express them. Sometimes it is that I know what I want but am worried its the “wrong answer” and other times I just really don’t have an opinion or feeling around something. Therapy has explained this is because I have spent a large part of my life blocking out my feelings because it is a lot easier that way, the other person can make the decision and not be upset or disappointed in me. Except now the other person wants to know what I want and feel. I think I am working on this and it will get easier.
This is amazing and brought me to tears too. I am glad she was there to ask this question and receive this response that can be shared with millions of people now. I hope that more people will help change the world so that there is no violence against women and to help people with PTSD and mental illnesses so that they can get better and stop hurting people in their lives. I hope I can help and have helped people through this blog and my own journey to get better from child abuse, rape, and domestic violence.
Finally, my life feels stable. I am extremely happy and I can do anything I want. Yet, there is always that foreboding feeling that something bad is going to happen because that’s how the past has been, even the last two months have had difficult things to deal with. But, I know, no matter what happens I will prevail because I always have. This last week I had a dream I was driving on a mountainside with two family members in the car. The mountain roads were slick and covered in snow. Like in a video game I’ve played I accidentally fell off the cliff and into a bottomless ravine. I felt so much remorse for taking my family with me. Yet, I had this feeling “we’ll be ok, we’ll get out of this somehow.” And then I woke up before I’d find out if we were dead or not.
I don’t know exactly what the dream was about. If its just me dealing with the feeling that something bad could happen again next. Or if I’m feeling like I need to protect my family. One of my closest friends expressed the opinion to me that if they were in my shoes with the person who abused me when I was a child, they would confront them now and tell them how much they hurt me. I don’t feel that’s necessary, but a large part of why I don’t want to do that is more because I want to protect that person. I truly believe they did not mean to hurt me and that they did it because of how they were treated as a child. I’m at the point where I want nothing more than to just break the cycle. I want to get better and stop thinking the ways that I do (my PTSD brain) and I think from the conversations I’ve been having and dealing with the difficult coworker, I am doing a very good job at it. Just sometimes I get worried I’m forgetting to pay attention if I’m doing negative self talk or anticipation. But, I think I have been doing that a lot less lately because my self-esteem has grown. I have surrounded myself with some loving people and have done a lot of self-acceptance. I have been recognizing when some people make me uncomfortable and recognize that it’s their insecurities they are projecting onto me and I don’t need to worry about those. I’m not saying I should stop caring about other people’s feelings altogether and not do nice and thoughtful things for other people. But, what I’m saying is their problems are their problems and I don’t have any real control over their happiness. But, I do over my own.
This whole weekend I had someone worrying about whether or not I was happy. While its nice that they cared how I was feeling, I wanted that person to concentrate more on enjoying themselves this weekend, not worry about me. One of my biggest strengths is I find a lot of positivity in everything, even an injury. Last year if I had never gotten an injury running, I would have never done a triathlon. Traveling, I hear people constantly gripe about the plane and the seats and whether the wine is crappy or the plane being late. I’m just happy to have hours to read and catch up on news and my thoughts. People constantly gripe about how hard it is to exercise and eat right. Every time I run I feel a zillion times better and I have taken up learning how to cook healthy and delicious meals. I set aside time for these things because they are important to me. I wish more people would find the joys in their life. Because at this stage in the game I am feeling truly blessed to have the amazing life that I do. A huge turn around from 3 years ago.
So maybe “falling off a cliff in mountain snow” is nothing to worry about. I know great things will come of it later because of the resiliency I have gained.
I’ve been quiet for a while now because I’ve been so busy reacting. Weeks ago I left off in therapy and in my last post, working on memory of the last (or first, however you want to look at it) trauma of the 3 traumas I experienced that I haven’t addressed. The past 6 months have flown by faster than I’d ever want my life to go. My memory problem keeps popping up. What was 6 months ago feels like yesterday and what was yesterday feels like days ago.
We remember that a major PTSD treatment goal is to integrate dissociated trauma material with associated memories so that the fabric of our memory becomes like one continuous memory. The problem is that traumatic memory doesn’t mesh with the way we want to look at the world. The dissociated memories often contain misinterpretations and inaccurate conclusions that were formed under great duress, while strong emotions and arousal continue to interfere with processing.” – Cognitive Restructuring Chapter, The Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Sourcebook
Every day I am making unproductive thoughts. I still stay “I’m sorry” too often. I still make decisions within split seconds in order to “protect” myself. The Chapter on Cognitive Restructing addresses a lot of the automatic thoughts and distortions that I am dealing with day in and day out.
A —-> B —–> C
A is the Activing (or upsetting) event. B is the Belief (or automatic thoughts) that we tell ourselves about A. C is the emotional and physical Consequences (or arousal).
I can think of several situations in the past few weeks where I have done these things.
- Flaw Fixation – Fixation on what went wrong
- Dismissing the Positive – Discount positive things, as if they don’t matter
- Assuming – Mind reading, jumping to conclusions, and fortune-telling (or what I call anticipating what will happen and trying to prevent a negative outcome except you have no control over the situation)
- Catastrophizing – making things much worse than they actually are
- All-or-None Thinking – or Black and White Thinking
- Shoulds (Should Haves) – “I should have done this better…” “I must be strong”
- Making feelings facts – I don’t know if I have this problem since I still have a hard time even expressing my feelings in the first place though I have really made an effort to
- Overgeneralizing – “Things always go wrong”
- Abusive Labeling – “I am the only moron who didn’t do this right” which I said tonight actually
- Personalizing – Seeing yourself as more responsible or involved in a given situation than you really are. I do this at work ALL the time.
- Blaming – I don’t do this one either and think I’ve talked about it in a previous post because I have a real pet peeve with people not taking responsibility for their own mistakes. I own up to my mistakes even when I am not really responsible (see Personalizing).
- Regrets – “If only I hadn’t…” In therapy I still catch myself doing this in regards to my marriage and divorce on why I didn’t know I was in an abusive relationship earlier and leave it much earlier, even before marriage.
So now that I torn myself down more, how do you fix this? Which I’m sure everything I’ve worked on is not to be thrown away. But, apparently I need a refresher course in this.
1. A Daily Thought Record
You know those “Things That Bother Me” posts and reflections I do? And the Babel-fish cartoons? Yes, those are good for this. But, I need to dive a little deeper. What are my thoughts? How much do I believe in them (rate them)? What have I distorted? Then be more self-compassionate. What would you say to a friend if they had said or thought these things?
The next chapter is on Confiding Concealed Wounds, which talks a great deal about Trauma and Avoidance, something I have discussed a lot. “People might find ways to avoid the topic by staying occupied with trivial distractions such as work, cleaning, or exercise.” I know I can be guilty especially of the exercise and talked a good amount about. But, this is for another day. Good night!
I watched two documentaries recently, What Are Dreams?: Nova and Happy. What Are Dreams?: Nova explains sleep is an active state that affects your physical and mental well-being. Through an example of a study on a person’s sleep patterns, the documentary explains the difference between dreams in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep vs. non-REM sleep. Our first stage of sleep is non-REM sleep. Non-REM sleep dreams usually are working out every day problems, re-experiencing or practicing experiences, and can be repetitive. REM sleep dreams are usually fantastical or ridiculous, things that would not occur in everyday life.
One of the experiments they share in the film is how if we are woken up during non-REM sleep, we are in a much more happy and confident state of mind than if we are woken up in REM sleep. For example, they woke up a sleep study during non-REM sleep and had them finish a list of sentences. All of the words he had finished were positive and full of hope. When they woke him up during REM sleep, all the words he chose were negative and hopeless or aggravated.
Another interesting test by a doctor in the film was a sleep study who played a skiing video game before bed. Before non-REM sleep, he had knocked into quite a few walls and fell skiing. After non-REM sleep his play improved quite a bit, where he was able to remember where he had difficulty and improve his skiing in the game. In the non-REM sleep he had practiced skiing. And in his REM sleep he had practiced walking through his own trek marks in the snow.
Another interesting observation they made in the film which was of a man with depression. He had documented all his dreams for some time. They all had to do with discontent with women in his life. It was not a surprise to the scientist studying this man’s dreams to find 5 years after the study the man was divorced.
I have talked about it on this blog, but I continue to have nightmares of being attacked, and I know it is me dealing with the trauma of domestic violence, abuse, and sexual assault.
So not that I didn’t already know this, but dreams are a way for us to solve problems and keep our mental health. Some of the world’s greatest problems and creative works have come out of dreams. One woman in the film explained if we were to go to bed thinking I want to dream about this problem, 50% of the time we would.
I’m actually really glad I watched the documentary Happy and would recommend it. Although its already things I knew, it was a great reminder that happiness can come in all forms and cannot be obtained by wishing you were happy. There are many things that make people happy, but one of the top things that they drove home was our relationships with people and sense of belonging. Cultures that they interviewed that stuck in my head from the documentary were Japan and Denmark. Japan is known for having the least happy people, really Tokyo. While Denmark is known for having the happiest. Unlike Tokyo, the documentary portrayed that the countryside is much different in Japan. They interviewed one businessman who was out on a business dinner on his birthday and asked him if his friends and girlfriend would have much rather been celebrating his birthday with him than being on business. He said, well my girlfriend knows that business always comes first. You could tell how sad he truly was to say that although what he was morally taught in his culture, that yes business comes first over his own happiness. In Denmark, a mother of 3 children demonstrates how the family lives in a commune that shares cooking duties 2 times a month. The cooking takes 5 hours for approx 50 people. She says that they don’t have to worry about cooking and shopping for dinner every night when they get home from work allows them all so much more free time outside of work. Doing dinner together also allows them all to socialize and have stronger bonds than only being able to see friends, family and neighbors periodically.
SuperBetter has done an amazing job with their PowerPacks to remind you that happiness can’t just be wished. You have to remind yourself that the bad moments will pass, and you will feel better again soon. It is an amazing tool to help remind you to reach out to people, to know you are not isolated, and to work on your relationships with people. I know I have good days and bad days. The reminder that the bad times will pass makes it easier. And having people like my SuperBetter allies and friends and family to reach out to is a world of help.
One of the most awe-inspiring moments from the film was an interview with a mother who had lost half of her face being dragged from a car accidentally by her sister. Her husband had divorced her and became an alcoholic dealing with the trauma, she had remembered being sexually abused as a child as a result of the trauma, it took a number of surgeries and severe pain before her face and body were restored to a normal state. She felt so much despair that she wanted to die. With the support of her son, having her horses on a ranch and meeting a supportive man who was ironically named Happy, she recovered from the traumas and is very happy today. This is a true example of post traumatic growth and is awe-inspiring to me. I am very glad they shared this story.
In the Happy documentary like I have written a lot about they remind you that being self-compassionate goes a long way in your own happiness. I often have to remind myself, how would I treat my friend who is feeling this way? And am much more compassionate toward myself as I would be toward them.
This week my ex-husband followed me home or happened to be going some place near my home. I didn’t recognize him until it was too late. And I made a run for it. In the workbook they try to prepare you for situations if you run into your abuser, but no matter how much they prepare you, I don’t think you could ever be prepared. If I see him again, I’m calling the police. It has put me on a high alert the rest of the week. Some time last year I let down my guard after a lot of time had passed since he last threatened me. Why should I have to live in fear? Why should I have to move? To hide? To always have to look over my shoulder? Then of course the nightmares of being attacked start up again.
Earlier this week I read the Slog’s editorial, “I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother.” And thought, I’m Adam Lanza’s ex-wife and I’m still scared to death of him. I do feel mental health care needs to be more accessible by everyone. But, how do you get a person like my ex-husband to get help and get better so they stop hurting people? So people like me don’t have to be afraid of them? I know the workbook and many people have told me not to worry about him, but how can I not when I’m still worried about my own safety and many others out there?