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.

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Fall down, get up. Drop out, get in.

I still remember the day I got the call that I was accepted into grad school. It was such a happy day. I had such high hopes for my future. I was so excited to finally interact with people who were understanding and shared the same interests as me.

And then six months later, I dropped out of grad school because someone (or multiple someones) reported my DID and my blog and all of a sudden, my abilities came into question.

I didn’t just lose my place in grad school that day, I lost my dream. My wish of becoming  a counselor was ripped away from me, trampled on, shit on, and set on fire. All because I struggle with a mental illness.

From talking with others, I knew that going into the counseling field would be difficult for me. I could not be open about my DID, but that is impossible, considering my name is forever tied to DID through my professional writing. I didn’t feel like I should have to hide who I am, and unfortunately, many in the mental health field are not accepting of people with mental health issues themselves.

So instead of putting myself out there to be hurt again, I took a different route. I applied to different programs, still connected to psychology, but not focused on the counseling aspect. Quantitative psychology, neuropsychology, and experimental psychology – all programs that got my interest, and all programs that so many in the counseling field would never, ever consider because they find the science of psychology too difficult.

I have been stressing out for the last couple of months, worrying that I would not get into a program, and if I did, that I would not be able to start until next year. I found an experimental psychology program I really liked, contacted the head of the department and asked if he would still consider me for the fall semester (the deadline was already up months before). I scurried to get everything I needed in, rushed to take the GRE as soon as I could, wrote a different essay for each program I applied to, and waited the last few weeks with a tremendous amount of anxiety.

I got my acceptance letter just a few days ago, my first choice school and program. I’m starting in the Fall semester. I will even be working with my first choice mentor, conducting research in the area of affective neuroscience and environmental impact on emotional development. Basically, I will be focusing on the biological and environmental bases of emotion, and what causes emotions to “go wrong”.

Hopefully, no one will feel the need to use my diagnosis against me this time around.

 

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.

Perfection

Growing up, I had to choose between being hurt for being too good or being hurt for not being good enough. There was no in between; those were my only options. So I chose to be perfect. It probably helped that I was born with relatively high intelligence, which allowed me to succeed academically with very little, if any, effort.

But it still ended up hurting me. Being perfect was viewed as an insult in my family. Being perfect meant that I thought that I was better than them. How could I have the audacity to think I was better than anyone, especially them? It made my parents angry, and they took that anger out on me. I could never take pleasure in an achievement; it ended up resulting in more pain.

I held on to perfection like it were a life raft, saving me from drowning. It’s the only thing I had in my life that gave me any sense of worth. Other people would tell me how intelligent I was, how much potential I had, how much talent I possessed. I needed that because it gave my life meaning.

Unfortunately, my need for perfection has hindered me in the long run. If I am not perfect, I feel worthless. I cannot bask in many of my achievements if I know I could have done better. I hold myself to (at times) impossibly high standards.

This was exemplified recently when I took the GRE. I told my therapist the unofficial raw scores I received, completely lacking any enthusiasm about them. I was such a mess when I took the exam that I knew, in my belief, that I had done poorly. My tremendous headache (self-induced) and lack of sleep just ruined everything for me.

“I know students that would be thrilled to have GRE scores anywhere close to yours.”

“But they’re not good enough.”

“You can get in to any school with scores like those.”

“But they’re not perfect.”

On some level, I knew my therapist was right. But I was so mad at myself because I didn’t get that perfect score. I could have slept longer. I could have not gone crazy and banged my head the day before. I could have eaten breakfast. I could have done better than I did. I need to be perfect or I’m not good enough.

So when any other person would be ecstatic with those scores, I could not take any kind of pleasure in what was, in reality, a considerable achievement. I talked about it as if I were talking about cloudy weather.

I also think my previous graduate school experience has hampered my academic outlook in general. I can no longer get excited about anything because no matter what I did before, I ended up not being good enough for the program. If I don’t get excited, I won’t be as hurt in the end when it doesn’t work out. It’s a twisted form of self-protection.

As a child, I held on to hope that perfection would save me. It never did. So why do I still need it in order to feel like I’m worth something?

The return home, Part 1

Last Friday, I took a train back to the  city I fled 11 months ago.

I didn’t have much of a choice. The graduate schools I am applying to require the GRE for admission – I had never taken it before because it wasn’t required for my first graduate school. The application deadlines are fast approaching (and in one case, very much past) and I needed to take the exam as soon as possible. I tried registering online, only to find out that almost every test location was either closed down, or did not have any available test dates for the next three months. The only option left just happened to be the farthest from my current location, and the closest to my home of origin.

Scrambling, I tried to figure out a way I could even get there. I asked an old friend, out of desperation, if he could take me. He agreed. Because of timing (the test appointment was at 8:00 AM Saturday morning) and distance (an additional 30+ minutes of travel), I had to take the train the day before and stay overnight. It definitely caused some panic.

I was worried about my arrival, because I would be stopping in the center of the city, where all of the buses pass through. Many of my former coworkers travel by bus, and a few of them live in the area. I was worried about someone seeing me and alerting  my mother. But during my therapy session last Monday, my therapist reassured me that the likelihood that someone would recognize me was low. My hair was completely different, and I had lost a significant amount of weight. She encouraged me to work out a plan so I would be out in the open as little as possible. I felt a little better, and less panicked.

And then my week went to shit. Tuesday, I withdrew from graduate school and essentially lost my dream of being a counselor. I was denied for a personal loan, one that I needed in order to get through the summer until I started a new graduate school in the Fall. I had a realization that the people I thought I could depend on were not dependable at all; actually, they ended up hurting me more. I wanted just to go to sleep to avoid the pain, but even that ended up impossible because I was startled awake by nonsense going on close by.

So I spent Tuesday night into Wednesday morning crying. I felt my life crumbling around me. At that point, I decided I should just go home for good. I’m losing everything in the life I was building here, so what else could I do? I decided. Friday, we were going home, and we weren’t coming back.

I walked to work early and sat outside, crying. I felt lost. I was also exhausted, and crying only magnified that exhaustion. I couldn’t deal with the emotional pain combined with the physical pain I am still in, and I ended up leaving work early. Then, cue my emotional break and dissociative chaos I wrote about here.

Somehow I managed to get myself to therapy on Thursday, though I will admit I am not even sure if it was all me. I was a mess. I tried (and failed) to hold it together.

My therapist and I went over what happened in the days leading up to session. I told her how I ended up the closet, which is something that has happened quite a few times before. I reluctantly told her about my plan to return home. I knew it could go one of two ways. My mother would take me in and help me, and I’d have a home and family again. Or she would kill me. That’s what I really wanted. I wanted to go home so my mother would kill me, and I wouldn’t have to worry about doing it myself.

I reached the point of dire hopelessness. There was nothing else left to lose.

Withdraw

At 6 o’clock this morning, I submitted my official withdrawal from university.

I knew it was the right thing to do, but I still cried. And I cried again when I got the e-mail at 8 AM that my withdrawal was accepted.

It has been over a month and I still haven’t received an answer, and I just can’t wait around for a committee of people who don’t even know me to judge me based on a diagnosis and a few sentences out of my blog.

You know what? I’m hurt. I’m angry. I feel betrayed. I feel judged.

This wasn’t done out of concern for me. With the exception of one person (who I know did not write any anonymous reports), no one approached me about any concerns. Shit, no one even asked me if I was okay. A person who is genuinely concerned about someone will ASK that person, or at least make some attempt to talk to her. Genuinely concerned people don’t create fake e-mail addresses and send anonymous reports to the school, with links to my blog posts. That is not genuine concern. That, in simplest terms, is being an asshole.

You write extensively about your diagnosis of Dissociative Identity Disorder. Your blog documents serious struggles with mental health issues that have raised significant concerns…

Yes. I have DID. And? I don’t have it written on my forehead. You wouldn’t know I had it from looking at me. I have chosen to be open about it because of the shame and stigma attached to the diagnosis, shame and stigma that I have been trying to fight against. And yes, I  struggle with mental health issues. Any person who has been through similar experiences has them, too. But I manage them as best I can. I work just to pay for therapy.

In the blog you write that you are “consistently suicidal”, and that you are “in school for something that I’m not even sure I can handle.”

Gosh, a person with DID who struggles with suicidal thoughts. Considering that more than 70% of people with DID have attempted suicide, this should not be a huge surprise. As I have explained in this post, there is a difference between feeling suicidal and being suicidal. No matter how I was feeling, I continued to go to work, I went to class, and I did what needed to be done because I knew they were just feelings.

And what student hasn’t had doubts? My whole life, I’ve excelled academically. I’ve never really failed at anything. But I would be lying if I said I never doubted my abilities. I am sure some level of self-doubt is completely normal. I would be more concerned about someone who had absolutely no self-doubt.

Due to the severity of this situation and the perceived threat to yourself and others, I am making a referral…to evaluate whether or not your circumstances impair your ability to safely continue in the program…

Perceived threat to yourself and others.  Wow. Okay. I am not a threat to myself. If I wanted to kill myself, I would have either stayed in home prison or I would have jumped in front of a train by now. I wouldn’t have gotten a job, enrolled in graduate school, started an organization, and I wouldn’t be going to therapy a few times a week to make myself better.

A threat to others? In what way? Because I have DID? A diagnosis does not make me a violent lunatic. What have I ever done to show that I have ever been a threat to others? I don’t hurt other people. I didn’t even hurt my abusers. I avoided all conflict and confrontation and ran away. I let them get away with everything, when other people would have hurt them for what they did. If I didn’t hurt the very people who caused me so much pain, who the hell would I hurt? Who am I a threat to? No one. The answer is no one.

So, despite getting As, having a 4.0 GPA, scoring higher than average on the CPCE before I even started the program, giving an outstanding presentation on the psychological effects of continued child abuse, and handing in consistently professional, high-quality work, I have had to drop out of graduate school.

I’d like to think this wasn’t because of fear, viciousness, or misunderstanding, but my heart tells me that it was.

To whoever reported me, I hope you are never put in a situation where your life is scrutinized.

I haven’t done anything wrong. I will continue to write. I will continue to fight. I should not have to prove my worth any more than I already do.

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.