Asserting myself, Part 2

I woke up the next morning, not looking much better than I did the night before. The swelling migrated downward, pushing my eyes outward towards the sides of my face. I looked like one of the aliens you see in movies. I put my glasses on and brushed my hair in front of my face. No one could see me. Though I couldn’t see anyone else, either.

My legs were shaking as I sat in the waiting area of my therapist’s office. My therapist came out to get me like usual. I kept my hair blocking my face, hiding the disaster underneath.

I don’t know how I thought I would get away with it. My therapist noticed the different style right away. She asked me if I was hiding. I told her I was. She thought I was hiding to hide. She didn’t know I was hiding the disaster on my head.

My therapist continued to prod. She needed to see my face, and I needed to be able to see hers. I told her I was scared. She said it was safe, that I didn’t need to hide. She asked if it was related to what happened on Monday, but I told her it wasn’t.

My therapist kept telling me it was okay. I told her I was afraid of getting in trouble, I was afraid of her sending me away. I started crying. She said she wasn’t going to send me away, and that I wasn’t in trouble. I finally told her I was hiding something on my head.

Now my therapist understood what was going on. She asked if it was a wound I was hiding, and I nodded yes. She asked if I could pull my hair back so she could see. I hesitated, took a breath, and pushed my hair over. I felt overcome with shame. I felt like a failure.

She assured me she wasn’t angry with me. My anxiety started to subside. She asked how it happened. I told her I didn’t remember it all. I told her everything that happened before. I told her that I finally stood up for myself. I finally did what my therapist had been encouraging me to do for so long.

But it failed. My therapist could sense my disappointment with the situation. I had this false sense of hope that I would assert myself and that it would work, and all would be right with the world. Instead, I asserted myself and it failed. I put all of the blame on myself.

My therapist reminded me that I can’t change other people’s behaviors. It’s not my fault that my roommate didn’t understand. I did what I needed to do. I stood up for myself.

Don’t let this be a reason to stop standing up for yourself. Yes, it didn’t work this time. That doesn’t mean you stop doing it. It won’t always work out this way.

As we continued to talk about it all, I noticed my therapist wasn’t focusing on the fact that I completely self-destructed. She focused on the positive. I finally asserted myself. One thing I have been struggling with for so long, and I overcame it.

Sure, I could have done without the likely concussion. I could have done without the bruises and scrapes, and the half-blackened eyes. I could have done with the horrible headache and eye pain. I could have done without that all, but I can’t change that it happened. I can only work through it and try to prevent it from happening again.

We discussed what led up to the issue, and how I could work on changing it. It’s difficult once I get in that place, to get myself back out. The reason I asked my roommate to stop is because those words are reminders of things my mother said to me. When I hear them, it triggers parts of me. I start to get confused, not realizing that it’s my roommate and not my mother saying those things. Younger parts can’t tell the difference. It causes chaos that I would rather not deal with (and I shouldn’t have to).

I know all of the things I can do to distract myself. I know how to ground. That’s not the problem I have. I just don’t know how to put that all into practice when I am already on the edge.

I wish my experience ended up a little less painful. But damnit, I asserted myself. Let’s focus on that.

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Asserting myself, Part 1

I have an issue being assertive.

Standing up for myself was never a possibility before. I had to bow down to my mother for 29 years. I had to stand there and take whatever she threw at me. I couldn’t fight back. I couldn’t be assertive, because my mother never viewed me as a person.

I’ve had to learn how to stand up for myself. You would think, at 30 years old, I would have figured it out on my own. But no. I am learning now what I should have been taught as a child: assertiveness.

It feels so wrong. It feels so dangerous. If I had stood up for myself while I was living at home, I would have ended up in pain. Even though I’m not at home anymore, it’s been difficult to get over that gut reaction. But I’ve been working on it.

There was a situation on Wednesday. I was eating my dinner. The cat used the litter box, which didn’t bother me because I couldn’t really smell it (certain smells don’t affect me much, and the smell of shit is one of them). My roommate started spraying air freshener, which then made my food taste like chemical and flowers. I kept eating, because I promised my therapist I would eat dinner every day and I knew I needed it. Someone had commented that the smell was better than smelling poop, and I said not really. It was the truth.

Apparently that warranted name-calling, because she then called me a name. I asked her to please stop. She persisted and called me something else. I felt the noise in my head increasing, so I got up, threw away my food, and went upstairs without saying anything.

This wasn’t the first time it happened. I knew it was going to happen again. I knew that me just saying STOP wasn’t enough. I went outside and grounded myself. I told myself I was not at home anymore, that she was not my mother, that I can stand up for myself and be okay.

So I took a deep breath and came back inside. I was doing to do it. I was going to be assertive.

And I did it. I told her when I say stop, it means stop. I told her when I’m telling her to stop, it’s for a reason. I told her she needs to respect my boundaries. I told her this wasn’t the first time, that it’s not fair and I can’t tolerate it anymore.

She didn’t absorb anything I was saying. She immediately defended herself, saying she didn’t keep calling me names, she used adjectives (as if that was any better — I don’t understand). She made it seem like I was in the wrong, saying that she was offended by my attitude and I should be sorry (as if that warranted being called names and adjectives — again I don’t understand). She told me to move out if I didn’t like it. She didn’t care at all about what I was saying or feeling.

I got frustrated and went to my room. I was angry. I was upset. I was walking the line between present and past. I felt myself slipping. Then I dissociated, and came back to find a disaster on my head.

My head had a lump the size of a softball. There was blood on my desk from the cut on my forehead. My head was scraped down the center, and bruised across the top and the side. I looked like a disaster. I couldn’t feel anything.

There was no way I could hide this. This is it. My therapist is surely going to send me away. I went outside, sat on my steps and smoked the last of my cigarettes. I could have stayed out there all night if I had more.

I may not have felt any pain, but I certainly felt the panic. I broke my therapy contract. And I don’t even remember doing it. All I could think about was how mad my therapist was going to be when I showed up at session looking like I did. I ruined everything. I was going to miss school. I wasn’t going to be able to finish the book. I was going to end up locked away somewhere.

And none of this would have happened if people just listened when I say stop.

Pardon the mess

I am at a functioning level right now.

When I say functioning, I mean I am able to get out of bed and go about my life in the most minimal ways.

I’m back in graduate school. It’s been a little hectic. With a professor missing in action for two weeks (due to a death in the family), it’s now a rush to get three weeks of work done in the next week. I was a little overwhelmed at first, having never used SPSS analytical software at all before, but I am getting the hang of it.

I’ve also been co-authoring a book on DID. The rough draft will be finished in just a couple of weeks, so it’s crunch time to make sure everything I want to say is included. Some of the chapters are intense. While writing about my abuse and struggles is tolerable in small doses, writing with deadlines on specific topics that I can’t avoid has sucked some of the energy right out of me. I’m well passed the halfway point now, so I’m not giving up.

I am going through some physical health issues. I should be used to it by now, but I am not. It’s anxiety-provoking. I have been fortunate enough to find a primary doctor that understands my PTSD and anxieties. Even though it takes me hours in travel just to get back and forth to her, no other doctor was willing to work with me, so I endure the trouble. I’ve got a lot of specialist appointments in my near future, and that scares me. We are taking it one step at a time, but even that one step seems like a leap across two mountains.

My mental health is shit. I’ve been managing to stay out of the hospital, but it’s been difficult. The only thing keeping me in check is all of the other shit I have going on that I won’t be able to complete if I’m in the hospital. That’s probably not the best motivator, but it’s working for the moment.

I have a lot to write about, a lot that’s on my mind. I just wish I had the energy right now to do it.

Freedom, Part 2

It has been one year now that I have been free.

In the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to make it this far. I had limited finances, no job, no family, and no friends. I sat in my room the first few days and just got lost in my thoughts. I told myself I would enjoy freedom as long as I could, and then kill myself once I ran out of money. I had very low expectations, a lot of fear of the unknown, and a lot of anxiety about the world.

Many people don’t understand it when I say I ran away from home, that I escaped. Regular people just move out when they change locations. But I never had that ability. I ran away and ran towards freedom.

But even then, I could not run away from my mother’s programming. Even though I was physically free from her, I carried the same beliefs about the world that she had trained me to believe. She wanted me to believe the world was a scary place because that is how she kept her control over me. And when I moved away, I still thought the world was out to get me.

As the weeks went on, I started making small achievements. I took the bus all by myself. I crossed a busy highway. I went to the mall. I had conversations with strangers. I went to the grocery store and picked out new foods. I sat on my porch at night and looked at the sky. While these all sound like everyday things, they were not to me. They were things I was never allowed to do by myself.

Within a week, I started therapy. I already contacted my therapists before I even made my escape. They were ready and willing to help me. Therapy started out fine, and then all hell broke loose. After one month here, I dissociated so badly that it took two therapists to bring me back. That was when I got my official DID diagnosis, and I’ve continued therapy ever since. It’s been a couple hundred hours, thousands of dollars, and a whirlwind of emotions, but it has allowed me to be where I am today.

Within two weeks, I got a job. I had a couple of interviews lined up, but I decided to go with the first place that wanted me. In the long run, that ended up to be a great decision, because the people I work with are some of the most understanding, amazing people I have ever met in my life. The night before my first day at my new job, I ended up in the hospital. My PTSD was severe and I was admitted to the psych unit for a few days, without a phone and without a way to contact my job. I thought for sure that was it. I missed my first day and I was a no show. But they understood, and within 24 hours of being released, I started my new job, the job I still have today.

Within six weeks, I finished my thesis on mother-daughter sexual abuse. I received the highest grade of 99. With that, my undergraduate career was done with. I graduated with high honors and a 3.9 GPA.

Within two months, I was hired as a writer for a mental health website, writing about the disorder I was still in denial about. It was a challenge for me in many ways. Taking the position meant that I had to be public, and up until then I was completely untraceable and off social media entirely. It also meant that my name would be tied to DID forever, and that my diagnosis would be public record, so to speak. I decided to go for it, and even though there have been some trials, I am happy with my decision. I have grown a lot through my writing, and have learned so much from others as well.

Within six months, I got accepted into graduate school and started my first semester. I went on to take the CPCE and score above the national average. I ended my first semester attaining a 4.0 and a lot of praise from my professors.

Within six months, I also started PAFPAC. I knew it would take a lot of time and effort, and even though I wish I could be doing more for the organization, it’s there for those that need it. I haven’t been able to do much as far as advocacy, but our Facebook support group continues to grow and helps survivors connect with others.

It hasn’t always been good and easy. I also broke my foot (which did not heal correctly and still leaves me in pain), I was hospitalized a few times (PTSD and panic attacks), I quit a job after four days because I had an emotional breakdown (I couldn’t handle seeing so many happy families), and I had to drop out of graduate school because someone reported my mental illness, via links to my blog.

Looking back, I can’t believe all of this (and more) happened within one year. I never expected to be where I am today. I am still standing. I am healing. I am helping. I am writing. I am telling my story.

And I am free.

I celebrated the day in my own way. I baked brownies and shared them with my coworkers. My getaway driver came down and we went to the movies and went out to dinner. My roommate got me a bouquet of flowers. I ended the night by deciding, on a whim, to get a fish.

I named him Freedom.

We’re both in better places now.

Problem solver

“You’re a problem solver.”

That’s what my therapist told me last session. I’ll get things figured out, because I’m a problem solver.

I do like solving problems. I have always liked solving problems.

I like solving mathematical problems. I was a bit of a math genius growing up. In elementary school, someone could give me a multiplication problem of any difficulty, and I could give an answer without even working it out on paper. I sat in the corner at school every day engrossed in learning and solving mathematical equations, and by the 3rd grade, I was already working on high school level math. I love math.

Why do I love math? I don’t know if my reasons were the same as a child as they are now, but I love math because you are solving problems that have an answer. (Most) math is finite. Math is logical. Math has rules and methods. Zero multiplied by any number will always be zero. Two plus two will always equal four. There is always an answer in some way or another. In math, little to nothing is left up to chance. It’s clean-cut problem-solving.

Problem solving in life? Not finite. Not always logical. No established set of working rules. Not always an answer. Not at all like math.

It is extremely difficult for a logical-minded person to make decisions with his or her heart. In the months (even longer, really) leading up to my escape, I was burdened with tremendous fear and anxiety. Not only about the actual escape, that’s understandable – but because my mind and my heart were never in agreement. My heart would tell me you need to get out now while my logic-driven brain would tell me no, you need more money before you can leave, this will lead to financial ruin. My heart would tell me you should tell the people you care about while my brain would tell me no, telling people increases the risk. Numbers. My brain is always about the numbers.

Obviously, I solved a huge problem when I ran away. But did I really? I solved the problem by leaving the abuse, yes, but I just set myself up for different problems. And now I have to put on my problem solver cap and solve a new set of problems that don’t have simple answers.

Finances. Blah. Most times, I’m really good at saving money. I pay all of my bills on time. I have managed to feed myself for under $25 a month. I only buy things that are on sale, even if it’s not what I particularly like. Some frugality has become a necessity.

With that being said, I’m still paying bills that aren’t all mine. I’m stuck paying off my mother’s bills because they are in my name. I don’t have any other way to solve that problem. I’m paying a bill for a friend because that bill is also in my name. I own a car that I don’t even have because I don’t drive. All problems. All problems that I’ve created by my own doing. All problems that I will need to solve.

Therapy. I could save more money by cutting down my therapy to once a week, or choosing a Medicaid-covered therapist that I wouldn’t have to pay for at all. Except I need therapy multiple times a week. It keeps me functional. To be honest, I should probably be in therapy every day sometimes. I couldn’t imagine myself existing without therapy. And when I say therapy, I mean my current therapy schedule with my current therapist. I pay out-of-pocket for a competent, professional, knowledgeable, and experienced therapist, because that is what I need after 15 years of absolutely shit therapists.

Which leads to my next issue, and why I have avoided using mental health care covered by Medicaid. It sucks. Medicaid here covers mostly social workers, mostly fresh out of college with little experience. While there is nothing wrong with that, my issues are a little complex. Many social workers don’t even know what a dissociative disorder is, let alone how to treat one.

I need my therapist just as much as I need oxygen to breathe. I can’t give that up.

School. What a conundrum. Even if I wanted to continue with this grad school, I can’t afford it. I’ve done the math. It’s not possible. I will run out of aid half way through the program. And then want? Then I’d really be fucked. Aside from finances, I have to figure out if I am even capable of being a counselor. Am I too damaged? Are people right? If I am a counselor, I would be limited in my ability to share and write about my life, because being a counselor requires a considerable amount of privacy. My writing is important to me, and so is sharing my story. Can’t I find a way to be able to do both? I need to solve this problem, too.

I am a problem solver, but I am not that good. This equation of life is too complex for me to solve.

Falling

For the last couple of months, I have had this terrible fear of falling.

I know it could be connected to many things. I have also read enough symbol psychology to know that there are meanings behind feeling like you are falling.

I know that it was a fall last summer that caused me to break my foot, a foot that I am still experiencing pain in nearly nine months later.

I know that I’ve fallen down (and up) enough stairs that it would be understandable to be afraid I am going to fall.

Sometimes I feel so weak that the wind could knock me over. There actually has been times that it has. My body and mind give in against the pressure. Instead of fighting back, I let it overtake me. I let the wind push me down, just like I let the people in my life push me down.

Feet are the roots that hold you down. They support the rest of your body. They keep you connected to the ground.

If my feet are my roots, I am fucked. They are so damaged. They have been damaged for a while, and they are only getting worse. Spurs, bone cysts, poorly healed fractures, arthritis, tendonitis…all afflicting the very things that are supposed to be my support and my foundation.

I’ve been trying to block out the pain for some time. I ignored the cracking of my foot every time I took a step. If a part of my foot hurt, I just put more weight on a different part. But then that part would hurt. And now I am at a point where it doesn’t matter where I put my weight; the pain is always there.

And now I spend my days walking so carefully, not just because of the pain, but because I am so scared I am going to fall. Sometimes while I’m walking, I imagine myself in a sort of fast-forwarded scene, taking a step and falling flat on my face, and being unable to pick myself back up. So I stay on the ground, and people just keep moving forward, not bothered by my obvious need for help.

Writing that all out, I can see the symbolism. My fear of falling is not about the pain in my feet. It’s about my fear of failing, about feeling unsupported.

I need to know that it’s okay if I fall.