I went to my psychiatrist today.
Through our one-sided conversations where I talk while he writes, I realized that through my childhood and adolescent years I felt like I was never wanted. I was just ‘there.’ A nuisance. A pain. Not a being – but a thing that was part of life. How awful for a child to go through life feeling like this.
Then it hit me that the child I was sympathizing with was me. I was distancing myself from MY actual life by thinking of myself as a ‘thing’ instead of a being.
Self-loathing takes on so many forms … it mutates in your brain to become something from another world. A world of hate.
Why would I feel this way? I don’t want to ask “who made me feel this way,” but rather, why? Why did I – why DO I – not hold myself to a higher standard in my own mind? Why do I hate myself so much? When did it start? I have so many questions today that I wish could be answered.
“Is it my own fault?”
Over 1 million women each year experience postpartum mood disorders.
This is her postpartum depression story.
I know a lot of people don’t talk about postpartum depression. And a hell of a lot less talk about needing medication to treat PPD. But, hey, I’ve already told the internets that (at one point) my vag looked like Mickey Rourke and that I poop with my feet on a stool, so why stop the self-humiliation there?
When I had my daughter, my postpartum experience was a shitstorm I never wanted to repeat. Not only was I extremely depressed (baby blues, my ass!), but I also had a cancer scare, developed a thyroid problem, got two bacterial infections, and found out my mom has Parkinson’s Disease.
Needless to say, I went down and went down hard. I never really recovered.
Queue the after-effects of having a baby in an already-depressed person, throw in the obstacles thrown in my path, take away all things that resemble sleep, and add an infant who cried from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. every day, and you had me: one hot mess of a mama. Let’s just say it was not pretty.
I lost friends, alienated the ones I loved, lost all sense of self-worth. The only thing I managed to do right was to be a good mom. But that’s ALL that I was. Outside of being a mom, I was a shadow of my former self.
I started therapy right before I got pregnant again. I didn’t want to start medication since we were planning another baby and the jury is still out on the effects of being on anti-depressants while pregnant. Therapy helped and things evened up a bit when I actually got pregnant, but I was never really there. I participated in my life, but didn’t have an active role in it. I didn’t realize it then, but I hadn’t experienced true happiness in years.
I decided to take control before The Crazy Train of postpartum depression even left the station. I started anti-depressants in the hospital right after I had my son and had a prescription filled for when I got home.
So far? Best. Decision. I. Have. Ever. Made.
Now that I am actually receiving effective treatment, I feel something I haven’t felt in a long time: happiness. I didn’t know how far out of control my depression had gotten until I actually did something to address it. Now, not only does the medication not sap me of all emotion, but it has actually helped me feel real emotion again. I actually feel like I AM someone again. I feel joy, sadness, relief, anxiety, love. I feel everything. I’m not just a passenger on the back of the bus of my life. I’m actually driving again and it feels fantastic.
Now, are medications an easier choice for me because I am a formula mama? Sure as hell are. Is there something you can do even if you are not? Yep – talk to someone: a friend, your doctor, your priest, your mom.
Hell, talk to me!
Having a baby is hard. Having a baby while struggling with depression feels impossible. It’s not your fault and you are no less of a mom for having it. Just get help. I did this time and I feel real again. I feel whole. I feel strong.
I feel like me.
I’d started EMDR with a therapist at the VA for trauma when a co-worker at the assisted living center physically assaulted me. My reaction made me realize it was time to start some work I’d buried for decades; the relatively small action of him violently twisting my arm behind my back stimulated a response that had me making mental plans to kill him, and I am a strong believer in ahimsa.
Ed.-In the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist traditions, ahimsa is a respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.
During the first few sessions last year, I made a list of small and large traumas in my life: being born with a cleft palate and the years of surgery, my father’s death in Vietnam when I was two months old (I blamed his death on my imperfection), the father and son who molested me when I was eight, being gang-raped by my peers in the army when I was 20, and the subsequent break and burying of that for 20+ years.
We chose to focus on the smaller, more recent trauma. After working through it, I realized I didn’t need to carry those unfortunate events. I returned to school and work, avoiding intimacy and instead allowing my large, no-longer-carried, but still present damage to sit in my cluttered room, a “Monster in a Box,“ as Spaulding Gray put it so well.
I knew I would return to therapy, but also knew I had to pay the mortgage, stay well, and wait for that mythical time when I was ready. A dear friend whom I had a brief relationship with a few months back sent a text near the end of December saying something like “help, this is killing me.” I didn’t even think about whether or not I would help her, despite how poorly things had ended just a few months back.
I loved her really since the moment I met her, and went, not expecting anything but to somehow help her survive the recent loss of custody of her son. Being with her, loving her, gave me the push to re-enter therapy. Last Thursday I spent two hours cycling through the largest, most painful personal event in my life.
Sexual assault is a common enough experience that the VA mental health clinic has a pamphlet about Military Sexual Trauma. Prior to starting the job, I self-reported the experience as an eight (where zero is nothing and 10 is death) 25 years after three soldiers sexually assaulted me, drunk, in a shower.
During this session I was vibrating with disturbance, weeping, and asked not to dry my tears, over-intellectualizing, referring to myself in the third person, returning to the scene, again and again until I imagined myself as each of the perpetrators.
In the end, we decided that “survivor” reminded me of that song from Rocky, so instead I’m just a human, a human who happened to be victimized by other humans and who wasn’t to blame, wasn’t raped because of anything but the fact that humans occasionally do horrible things for reasons we will never know. I ended up a one on the scale of 0-10, unable to believe I could ever be at a zero for such a profound violation.
Instead of an out of body experience or dissociation, the thought of the event now causes a vague flutter in my gut that I am very, very willing to tolerate. I wasn’t willing or interested in completely letting it go; the thought of completely removing it as significant felt unnatural, as it did happen, was real, and has caused more disturbance, illness, and pain than any other event in my life.
We ended the session with the standard wind down. I left the VA center feeling strangely taller, breathing more deeply, and at the same time feeling like I was missing something, something awful, but familiar, something indelible and old.
I return next week and every week until the work is done.
When I began counseling for childhood physical and sexual abuse, I was broken.
A broken heart, a broken spirit. I had carried the guilt and shame of my childhood abuse for so long that it was like an old winter coat. So heavy to carry around each day. So hot that some days it was stifling. And yet it had the comfort of the known.
It was scary to throw off that old heavy coat of guilt and shame and face what else was under there.
I thought we would begin slowly. I thought I would share just a bit at a time. My counselor agreed to go at the pace I set. But once I began talking, I kept right on talking. I told her EVERYTHING I could think of. If I thought of something in between sessions, I wrote them down so I could tell her next time. It seems that once I felt a crack in the dam that I’d built to protect myself, the floodwaters couldn’t run fast enough.
I let it ALL out.
It was scary. I shook like a leaf in a hurricane the first session and sometimes after that. But the overwhelming feeling was relief. My need to let it all out was greater than my fear of what my counselor would think of me (of course, that was my insecurities and had nothing to do with my counselor). It was such a RELIEF to release all the secrets I had been carrying.
Once the rush of information was over, we started working on issue after issue.
At some point in counseling, my shame and guilt turned into anger.
ANGER that the abuse occurred. ANGER at those adults who knew and did nothing to protect the little freckled girl with long braids that I had been. ANGER that I carried the guilt and shame of the abuse for so long. ANGER that my stepfather never was held accountable for his actions. ANGER at the days and nights of fear and pain and abuse I endured as a child unable to protect herself. ANGER at the bruises, welts and blisters I had to hide outside of our house. ANGER. ANGER. ANGER.
My counselor encouraged me to feel the anger, but I was terrified of the anger. I remember one conversation where my counselor asked my what about the anger made me so afraid. My reply was “I am afraid that the anger is so huge and so overwhelming that if I tap into it I won’t be able to control it.”
She asked me what I thought losing control of the anger would look like.
I told her I was afraid that the anger would take over and I would just scream and scream and scream until my throat was so raw I wouldn’t be able to scream anymore or that the anger would take over and I would break every single thing in my house. I truly was afraid to let myself feel the level of anger that I knew was raging inside of me.
Then she told me she had a plan, if I was willing. She took me out to her car in the parking lot. She opened the trunk. There in her trunk and in her back seat were huge plastic garbage bags of glass bottles. She had been saving glass bottles for a month or so. Not just hers, she had also asked friends, relatives, and neighbors to save their glass bottles for her.
Her idea was for me to find a place and time where I could be alone (or have a trusted person with me if I chose) and break the bottles. I could scream, cry, or “talk to” the people who I was angry at with each bottle I threw.
Her only “warning” – wear safety glasses.
I won’t lie. It sounded kind of corny to me. But I really trusted her by this point and I was aware that I really needed to deal with this anger before it exploded in some uncontrolled way.
My husband took the kids for a Saturday to go to a park, out to lunch, etc. I went into our basement and set the stage for a safe anger experiment.
I wanted to be able to contain the flying glass so I could avoid anyone being cut later on an overlooked shard. I hung up some plastic sheets so the glass would stay in one area of the basement. I lugged bag after bag of glass bottles to the basement, knowing there was no way I could break all of these bottles at once. I put on long sleeves to reduce the chance of me being hurt by flying glass and donned the ever-so-lovely safety glasses.
I felt stupid. I felt ridiculous setting all of this up. Do “normal” people have to go through all of this just to deal with some anger? But I soldiered on. I wanted to at least be able to say that I tried.
I threw the first bottle. It shattered, but I felt nothing. I threw the second bottle. Again, nothing. I threw the third bottle with some real gusto. Oooh, that felt GOOD! I started throwing the bottles as hard as I could. I eventually started yelling things like “THIS IS FOR NOT PROTECTING ME” or “YOU BASTARD, ROT IN HELL” or “YOU SHOULD CARRY THE GUILT AND SHAME” as I threw the bottles. IT. FELT. AWESOME.
Oh, I was ANGRY. REALLY, REALLY ANGRY.
But I can’t even describe how it felt to have an outlet for that anger.
Bottles were flying fast and furious! There were clear bottles, green bottles, amber bottles and blue bottles (the blue ones had the most spectacular shatter for some reason).
When I had thrown EVERY. SINGLE. BOTTLE. I was breathing hard and exhausted. But I realized I had felt my rage, really felt my RAGE, and the world had not stopped turning. My house was still standing. My family was fine. All was well. Better than well. Not only had I started my anger work in a very satisfying way (I can not describe the satisfaction of yelling out “YOU ARE A SICK FUCK WHO TOOK ADVANTAGE OF A LITTLE GIRL ” and then hearing the shattering of the bottle) but I had also proved to myself that I could handle the anger without losing control.
I know it sounds a little “nuts.” I know it sounds kind of corny. But I am here to tell you – this exercise opened the door for me. It helped me get past my fear of the anger and bring it out in the open so I could work on it.
So thank you SR for being such an awesome therapist that you collected bottles from far and wide for me. Thank you for showing me a way to tap into that anger safely.
I saved a little glass jar of the multi-colored shards of glass. Blue, green, amber, clear. I smile when I walk past it now. Beautiful reminders of my righteous anger and SR’s lesson that helped me release it.
I am neglected.
I’m the product of parents who didn’t know how to fulfill my emotional needs.
I alternate between believing both that “my parents gave me everything; I had a happy childhood; I don’t have any reason to be this messed up,” and “my parents emotionally neglected me; I had an awful childhood; no wonder I am this messed up.“
I fantasize about being in the hospital because that seems like the ultimate (and only) way that people might finally see me and care about me. Logically, I know that it’s not true, but my emotional brain is convinced that being sick or hurt is the way to get the love, attention, and care that is not present in my daily life.
I am ashamed.
I’m a 22-year old who is still desperately attached to my mangled childhood stuffed animal, Lambie.
I surreptitiously, but uncontrollably, pull out my own hair. I know have trichotillomania (and dermotillomania while we’re at it), but it’s one of my most shameful “secrets.”
I eat spoonsful of Nutella straight from the jar, and sometimes that will be the only thing I eat for the majority of the day.
I am depressed.
I am pained getting out of bed in the morning. It’s hard to relate to people who casually say, “Yeah, I didn’t want to get up this morning,” but may not understand the gravity of depression. It hurts to the bone.
I have trouble taking my daily antidepressants because a hidden part of me doesn’t believe I’m worthy of feeling better.
I am obsessed with filling my brain with as much information about mental illness as possible. And yet, no matter how much I read books, articles, and studies about eating disorders, depression, anxiety, or impulse-control disorders, I struggle to control my own mental health.
I have a hard time with “I’m depressed.” Maybe because I don’t believe that the real me is just buried under mental illness. It’s more like “I’m a person living with depression.” It has taken so much of my personality and soul out of me, but without depression, I am a lively, joyful girl.
I am taking care of myself (or I’m learning to).
I practically begged my parents to see a therapist, nutritionist, and psychiatrist, when I was only 15 years old. It certainly wasn’t easy, especially because we didn’t talk about anything “emotionally charged,” but I knew that it was a step I had to take in order to alleviate my pain.
I reach out to others when I need it most. Even though I isolate, too, I also know that in moments of desperation, I do instinctively ask for help and support from those I trust.
I treat myself to occasional manicures, special purchases (a dress, a pillow, some art supplies), and a lazy Sunday. As much as my brain tries to trick me into thinking that I am worthless and unlovable, I try to actively do things for myself that remind myself that I deserve care.
I am brave.
I share my story with very few people, but when I do, it is the most rewarding experience. Sharing real experiences and thoughts is how I create deep connections with people.
I moved to Denmark for my first job out of college. I don’t speak the language, I’ve never been away from home for more than four months, and I left my entire support network at home.
I am working full-force in therapy at facing the demons and insecurities I have hidden for years. I am taking charge of my life by learning to be vulnerable, accept my flaws, and love myself in spite of them, and find happiness for the first time in my life.
So, I got my medicine adjusted like I said I was going to in my last post.
After a hilarious rigmarole of being referred to a doctor who only saw seniors, then one who only saw children, then one who didn’t take my insurance, I finally ended up with a really sweet doctor (who is the tiniest woman I’ve ever met).
She added another antidepressant to the one I was already taking, and it seems to have helped the symptoms in question – I’m still sleeping odd hours, but it’s only for 8-9 hours at a stretch, not 12-14, and my default state is “bored” instead of “bored and sad and mopey and lonely.”
(There’s always an “and yet” with mental illness, isn’t there?)
(ed note: Yes. – AB)
And yet I’ve not managed to quite nail things down. I’ll stay up late without realizing how late it is, then sleep until 4 or 5 the next afternoon. The new medicine causes insomnia, so I was warned to only take it in the morning. But if I don’t take it when I wake up at 4 PM, then I’ll just sleep even more. If I do take it, I’ll be up all night and sleep late the next day. If I do manage to wake up early and take my medicine, I’m so tired that even the medicine can’t keep me up and I pass out around noon and wake up at 7 PM (which is what happened today).
I just want to wake up in the morning feeling at least somewhat rested and get tired at night being able to fall asleep. Since when is that such a massive thing to ask? If I could just do that AND have my medicine killing off the sadness and apathy, then all I’d have to do is muster up the motivation to do laundry and clean my room and make it look like a human being lives here!
To top it all off, I’m moving to North Carolina within the month. My best friend is moving back into her childhood home, which she inherited when her dad died, and she’s offered to let me live there rent-free if I cover half of the bills. Her area has a much better economy than mine, so I could find a job more easily. And there are nearby schools where I could get either an associate’s or a second bachelor’s degree in the field I want to move into. It’s too good an offer to refuse, so I’m cashing out my savings and heading up there as soon as she gets moved in and ready.
What if it all falls apart? What if I can’t find a good psychiatrist nearby? I don’t even know what my insurance situation would be before I got a job. What if I get on this same fucked up sleep schedule again and my room stays this messy and I’m awful to live with and she hates me? What if I still don’t find a job and I burn through all my savings? What if I get the degree, and take out a bunch of loans to do it, and still can’t find a job even then?
I don’t know. I was so sure for awhile this medicine had made things a lot better, but I sure don’t feel any less afraid.