Coping with stress

My stress levels have been progressively increasing over the last few weeks. To the point, now, where they’re at intolerable levels. I’ve been mildly unwell for weeks, and now have what the specialist thinks is eczema spreading like wildfire. I’m grateful that the rash isn’t some horrible disease, but I’ve never had it before and can’t help thinking it’s stress related.

I’m quite sure spending the last few weeks packing up my mother’s house hasn’t helped my stress levels. Nor has having her officially move in with me. She’s been living with me for months, but now it’s formal and proper, or getting that way, and my once cute little house is filled with her stuff as well as mine … there’s barely room for either of us to move. And there’ still more stuff to come! Then there’s work which is busy and pressured. I like the work, I like the people I work with, but I’m finding it incredibly difficult to keep all the balls juggling in the air. The one for me; the ball for my life pretty much dropped long ago. Which is another obvious source of intolerable stress. And then there’s therapy – that’s a whole other chapter, just there. I’m learning a lot at the moment, but the PNT is also pushing me in ways I’m finding really difficult, and it’s all just adding to the stress I feel.

Take today, for example. It was raining when I woke, and I immediately had a little party inside, thinking it was the perfect day to loll about and potter and do not much. Of course that didn’t happen because I ended up running errands for Mum, and trying to put some of her things away, and tidying up my own mess, and catching up on chores… and when I finally did get to sit down this afternoon, I turned the TV on to watch my favourite show and do some knitting (a new thing, it’s great… but more on that later). My mother had barely said a word all day and yet took this opportunity to prattle on about every little thing, and seemingly nothing at the same time. I’m ashamed to say I lost it once or twice and snapped at her. But, for god’s sake!!!!! All I wanted was 30 mins of quiet time with my favourite TV show. Is that really too much to ask?

Everything feels so crowded. I have no space. Not physically, mentally or emotionally. I feel muddled and messy and streeeeetched. And squashed in on all fronts. I just want to run away. I’ve learned from PNT that I excel at the flight thing, so I guess it’s logical for me. Will that help? Probably not, but I can’t think of anything else to do. I’ve looked at my schedules and there’s just nothing that can give, time wise. I’m trying to sort the house out, but that will take time. And short of gagging Mum, I’m just not sure what to do with her. And then there’s work. And therapy.

It’s all too much. I’m at wits end.

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I’m faulty

I’m not really, I know that. But I did grow up believing it. I also grew up in an environment where expressing any sort of emotion just wasn’t acceptable. Not for anyone except my father, who of course, as “Master” and “Ruler” of his domain, could do and say and express anything he wanted to, irrespective of the impact on other people. But with my mother also in that environment, telling me to “be strong” in circumstances that only the hardest of souls could be strong in, I came away believing that feelings are wrong; that if I have feelings, then I’m somehow faulty. As if all those other reasons to feel faulty weren’t enough, there’s this as well. Sigh.

The PNT spoke about this in my second session this week. About how having feelings isn’t actually “faulty”, but part of being human. An important part of being human. Go figure?!?

I have to say I’m not enjoying my sessions with PNT, though I am learning a lot and because of that I’ll keep going to see her. (The situation with the Wonder Therapist and potentially having two therapists is as yet unresolved. I’m playing ostrich on that one LOL) Anyway, PNT spent quite a lot of time trying to get me to just sit with my feelings, and especially to get in touch with the anxiety I was feeling. I didn’t like that one little bit. By the end of the session I wanted to run away and get completely drunk, though I also understood why that was, perhaps with a degree of clarity I’ve not had before.

Of course, getting drunk, taking drugs, eating, cutting or doing any one of a zillion other things is just about trying to avoid feeling that anxiety. But you know that already. Apparently I am the one who’s slow on the uptake here 😉 And who wouldn’t want to avoid it? It’s awful!!

When I wasn’t dissociating or trying to deflect her attention with vaguely humorous comments, I did feel the anxiety. It’s hideous. Why would I want to feel that?  Apparently because having feelings is normal, and unless you feel them, you can’t learn to manage them. Hmph.

But enough about that for today. I also want to share a couple of things with you. First there’s this scarily accurate poem about a fear of rejection over at Kellevision’s blog. Check it out. Amazing. It stopped me in my tracks.

There’s also this really awesome speaker on TED Women. What she says about being true to yourself or your body will let you down certainly resounded with me. Anyway, check it out. Really great stuff.

The link between emotions and adaptions

The struggle against my maladaptive side continues. And the maladaptive coping mechanisms continue to be my first port of call. Nothing serious, just there and seemingly more reachable than anything more helpful I may have learned in my time in therapy. These maladaptive coping mechanisms have been causing a lot of stress. The constant fight, the ugly thoughts… it’s distressing and upsetting and exhausting.

I saw the PNT for an additional session the other day, in a “crisis” you might say. It wasn’t really a crisis; just anxiety and panic about the maladaptive side, and some depression settling in around the edges.

I’m not even sure what we talked about, the PNT and me. It certainly wasn’t all these maladaptive coping mechanisms. We did talk about the anxiety, and about its sources, and then she got into a whole lot of family-related stuff that, at the time, didn’t make a lot of sense. Sometimes I think there’s more “madness” than “method” in her approach, though I seem to be learning stuff at the same time.

I realized afterwards what she was saying, though – that I probably come from a long line of people who don’t know how to deal with their emotions, so it’s hardly surprising that I don’t know how either.  Yep, she’s right there.  And that, as a child, I probably had to squish down all my emotions in order to survive. Yep, right again.

She didn’t say it, but I’m guessing it’s this business of not knowing how to deal with my emotions that brings the maladaptive side out. I probably knew that, but had forgotten. I’m seeing the PNT again this week, so will see what she has planned this time around. If nothing else my sessions with her make me curious about her process. 😉

How quickly we forget

I think I’m struggling. In fact, I KNOW it. I recognise the signs: the poor sleep, the constant anxiety and dread in the pit of my stomach; the skittish thoughts; the thoughts and emotions put on hold because I don’t have the time or space to deal with them. I’ve started drinking again. Nothing you’d call a problem, but I do like a little something at the end of the day to quell the anxiety and keep my mother’s voice from boring into my head. I like the calm; the almost-peace that comes it, and my ability to forget that now my house feels like the cess pit of negativity and cynicism.

I went out with some friends the other night and got absolutely hammered. I loved it. It was the first time in ages I’ve forgotten – or almost forgotten – all the cr*p that’s going on in my life. I also contemplated taking drugs – something I’ve not thought about for a long, long, LONG time.

This isn’t about doing myself any harm. Not really. In fact that’s just about the furthest thing from my mind. I just want to block things out, forget about everything for a while. Understandable, I suppose, given that my mother is now out of hospital and staying at my place* and given that she potentially has another type of cancer on top of her original cancer. Not a spread – a new cancer. Entirely separate, they say, just a “coincidence.” Cr*p huh? She’s having another biopsy this week, so we’ll know more in about ten days time.

I was flicking through some old blog posts this week, when I came across this one. It’s about coping and all the different things I’ve done over the years to cope – the good things, and the bad. I realized how much work I’ve done with the Wonder Therapist to develop new coping mechanisms, and how quickly I seem to have forgotten them.

A nice realization, but it hasn’t really helped me. I still wanted to spend my weekend blotto or unconscious. I know this is something I should discuss with my therapist, and I will. I do feel a bit embarrassed, though, given I thought all these maladaptive things were pretty much behind me. I guess not. Sigh. Hell, I guess at least I’m not cutting myself, right?

blah blah

* Her proposal to move in is as yet unresolved. I’m pretty much ignoring it for now. At least until we get the results of her latest round of tests.

I made it

Yes, I’m here on the other side of Christmas hell, and I lived to tell the tale. 🙂

Actually this year was better than most. I kept focussed on myself, and kept my therapist’s advice top of mind (as well as Therapy Doc’s and Dr Kathleen’s – which I blogged about here and here).

For my future reference, and for yours, here are the things that I think made the biggest difference for me:

  1. Minimising time in the cesspit of negativity and criticism – I arrived late, and left several days earlier than normal. That certainly helped. I woke in my own bed on Christmas morning and, even though I was alone, I felt happy. I held on to that feeling for as long as I could. And when things did start to skirt the edges of “gnarly”, I reminded myself that I was leaving soon. 🙂
  2. I expected nothing – meaning that I expected things to not be great. In some past years I’ve gone hoping there’d be a miracle and the day would be great. Of course, it never was, and I was left with nothing but disappointment. Going in with no expectations was a much better approach – and accepting whatever happened, was equally important.
  3. I helped in the kitchen – kept myself busy, in the lead up and on Christmas day, preparing food. And for once we didn’t have enough food to feed several small African nations for a year – just enough for a nice meal without too much over indulgence.
  4. I kept my therapist in mind – I remembered the advice she’s given me over the last couple of years, and all the positive things I’ve achieved.
  5. I kept you guys in mind – that’s right, you lot; you readers; you out there. 🙂 I thought of you and imagined an invisible force binding us together and steeling us against the shenanigans we usually endure.
  6. I focussed on happy thoughts – and happy places. Things, people, places, ideas that make me happy or smile. If I felt things starting to slide, I just focussed on those and they got me through.
  7. I minimised conversation with my father – ok, sure, there were some exchanges, but mostly I was able to keep busy and keep away from him. And when I had to be near him, I did everything I could to avoid looking at him or touching him –guaranteed triggers for me.
  8. I kept touch with iPhone magic – games, social networking, anything that enabled me a few minutes peace, and some grounding.

I can’t take all the credit for things going better than anticipated. My father, for once, was in a better mood than he usually is, and actually spoke to me (or at least in my general direction) in a civil tone. And my mother went nearly 24 whole hours without getting snipey and critical of the world in general. Even when she did I charged up my Teflon coating and just let it all slide away from me. 🙂

Yay for me!

My anxiety didn’t really start to kick in until after I’d come home – I’m not really sure why. Well, I think I know what the anxiety’s about, just not sure why it didn’t hit until after I got home. Possibly it’s about fantasies colliding with realities, but that’s another post for another day.

Holiday coping

Dr Kathleen has an awesome post about Holiday Coping for Trauma Survivors (it comes from another blog – see the original here).

I’m reposting it here, in its entirety, because I think it’s great – and because it captures many of the things the Wonder Therapist has taught me over the years. (And also because it’s Christmas morning here and I’m avoiding the inevitable – the seemingly interminable day in the cesspit of negativity and criticism. LOL)

The irreverent me particularly likes the reference to the Judy Garland Trail Mix, though of course I don’t recommend this either. 😉

I hope you all have an ok Christmas Day. I hope you can remember that sage advice – Do Not Abandon Yourself – and practice some self-care. I will be trying. Hard.

An Adult Child Abuse Survivor’s Guide to the Holidays

First, and most importantly, this is the primary principle to follow when you’re in the presence of perpetrators and their allies:

Remember this always –

DO NOT ABANDON YOURSELF.

I can’t say this enough – do not abandon yourself.

You were abandoned as a child. You did not deserve this. No child deserves this. So, as adults, we take care of ourselves as if we are our own precious child. Imagine taking your child-self gently but firmly by their lovely, grubby little hand and getting them out of harm’s way. There are many ways to do this whether you are in the presence of perpetrators and their allies (like your own dismissive and scornful siblings who get angry whenever you mention the legacy and source of your pain) or if you’re in a place where you may be triggered.

The following is listed in no particular order of importance because it’s all important. I respect that some of these ideas may work for you, some may not. As long as you keep that all-encompassing guidance “Do not abandon yourself” in mind, you can take it from there.

Here we go:

Remember who you are TODAY. You are no longer a child. Indeed, there is a hurt child who is alive and well within you. But, now you’re an adult who can make choices.  Don’t forget, you are an adult and you have power over your life.

One of the choices you can make is to not go to the abusive family’s house. You don’t have to go. You can tell them you’re sick if you can’t tell them the actual reason for your absence. It’s okay to “lie” in this situation if fear keeps you from telling the truth of the matter.  It’s not really a lie, though. The abuse was and is responsible for its consequences that you may suffer from – depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder.

If you do “call in sick”, don’t answer the phone if you know your abusive family members are trying to call your cell or land line To this, I say – thank you, technology, for caller ID. Don’t answer the calls from your abusive family members for up to a week. Then, if you must, call back and say you’re feeling better. And, when I say”better”, I mean that you’re probably doing great because you didn’t spend time with people who were not good to you and continue to be bad to you.

If you have to be with abusive family members, do whatever you need to do to stay centered as you cannot abandon yourself and you need to remember who you are today.

Staying centered may involve many tactics:

Go to your abuser’s house with your real family, your husband, your kids, your chosen family of dear friends who believe in you. If you need support and active reminders of who you are now, take your supportive people with you. These people are your true family members who love you, won’t abandon you and remind you of who you are today.

This is a big one – STAY SOBER. I cannot emphasize that enough. If you get drunk or high, you will lose that centered spot. You will relax, that’s true, but it’s a false sense of ease.  Do take your Xanax if necessary but stick to your prescribed dose. The Bloggess will always recommend that you should avoid knocking back handfuls of the Judy Garland Trail Mix. And, there you go, a little Bloggess humor for you on a tough day.

Help in the kitchen. Be involved with the preparation. Do this only if such activities are not triggering. I always do this. I put my head down and work. I set the table, I do the dishes, I cook. I put my head down and work it, like a Zen monk whose practice includes performing chores mindfully. That’s an excellent way to stay centered, pretending to be a Zen monk and doing tasks wholeheartedly.

Sit by a window so you can look outside. When you pull in the outside world as you sit with those who abandoned you, the world becomes that much bigger. There’s more out there, beyond the dark cave of the abuser’s house.

Go beyond looking out the window and get out there in that bigger world. Expand your universe. The abuser’s house or the house with the abusers in it is not the core of the world. The world is beyond that house. In this world there are people who believe in you and love you unconditionally. That world contains your working life where you are valued or perhaps your university studies where you excel. So, go outside for a few minutes and take a walk in the bigger world.

Put your therapist’s number on fast dial. Call anytime. Even if you reach their voice mail, leave a message. Don’t fret if they don’t call back. Instead, revel in the knowledge that you were wise enough to reach out. You asked for help and that action alone is therapeutic.

Keeping your therapist in mind, remember the tricks and tools they have suggested to help you through these tough times. For example, I like to use what all of my therapists taught me –  the classic meditation exercise of sitting comfortably and going to my inner place of refuge. FYI – it’s a beach on the Big Island of Hawaii. Not bad, eh?

Minimize conversation with the perpetrator and anyone who has been abusive to you. Again, you can say you’re not feeling well, you have a headache, you need to be quiet. And, again, you ain’t lying here. That person makes you feel unwell and your head probably hurts when you’re around them.

If you cannot avoid conversations with those people, keep something in your pocket to remind yourself of who you are today. I use a little plastic monkey from the Barrel of Monkeys toy-game. Small and with a defined shape, the monkey reminds me of the relative light heartedness of my life away from the abusers. Also, a monkey is not to be messed with and you can pretend the monkey is throwing feces at whoever needs to be taken down.

You can also keep your cell phone on to Twitter, Facebook or chat or whatever you use for social media interactions. Set it to buzz everytime you get an update. Another reminder of the bigger world out there and that you’re part of that bigger, better world.

Okay, get ready for this big one, survivors:

Remembering you are an adult of legal age, Walk out the door the second things get gnarly. Just go.

Everyone, no matter how badaas and brave they seem to be, is scared shitless to do this.  I was scared to do this. But, I’ve done it and I’ll do it again if I need to  because it felt exhilarating, liberating and life affirming.

Don’t leave yelling, but if you do, try to cry, yell some more or laugh really hard once you’re out the door to release what is truly an emotional atomic bomb full of energy. Really try to do that before you get in the car. Do not drive home in an intense emotional state as you are not centered and in control. Respect your anger and anguish and give it time to release and subside. You will feel better and that will help you think clearly as you operate that moving vehicle.

 

The silly season

Yea, it’s that time of year again. Sigh. I know this is a hard time for many of us. A couple of weeks ago I drove past a shop selling Christmas trees and burst into tears. Sigh.

It hasn’t all been bad, though. I’ve been trying to get through, almost pretend this silly season doesn’t exist. Not expect anything (certainly nothing on the family front); not do too much; and just maintain my sanity.

Therapydoc posted on this recently. It’s a great post. She mentions the “countdown” that I go through every year. First it’s seven days to go, six days to go… and once Christmas arrives it becomes 24 hours to go, 23 hours to go … until it’s all over.

She also offers a “prescription” of sorts, which in a way makes clinical the things I’ve been trying to do:

a) plan as little as possible, wing it – yep, doing that. Not rushing around trying to catch up with people. Enjoying the few gatherings I have with friends and colleagues, but otherwise resting and taking care (discovered this week that my iron and B12 levels are something less than what they should be, so rest is coming pretty easy at the moment.)

b) label dysfunctional patterns, but don’t argue; discuss – this one will be a challenge, but I’m hoping I can keep the “bubble” around me when I’m with family. Let them play their games, behave badly… and, if there is a god, let me not engage in it.

c) have an escape plan – sorted. I have taken control of my time with family this year, and reduced it by a day. I will arrive later than normal, and leave earlier. That mightn’t sound like much, but it’s a big step for me, and I’m hoping will go some way to making a difference. And if it doesn’t, I have walks on the beach. 🙂

d) expect little – yep, expecting nothing this year. Absolutely nothing.

e) accept a lot – this is a new one for me. I guess, if by some miracle, my family behaves like anything approximating “normal”, yes, I’ll try to accept it and enjoy it.

f) and when the catastrophic expectations materialize, laugh about them – hmm, not sure about this one. I guess I can try to stand back and laugh at how dysfunctional it all is, and be thankful that I’m not around that level of dysfunction more often.

To all my readers, I hope this season of silliness isn’t taking too much of a toll on you. That you are finding time to rest and take gentle care. ((hugs)) and good wishes to you all.