Sunday, November 22, 2009

Don't unsubscribe!

I'm sorry to anyone who's subscribed to my blog! You've probably got about 100 emails from here. I've been fixing up the categories, which required me to re-publish posts after I changed the categories. Hopefully I am done with this pain in the ass exercise, and will be able to post something real tomorrow. Until then, peace out from your friend the blogging nerd.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

You know I'm no good

"I cheated myself
Like I knew I would
I told you I was trouble
You know that I'm no good"

-Amy Winehouse "You Know I'm No Good"

The other day I saw a segment on the News Hour about Iraqi war veterans struggling with PTSD. When the man they interviewed talked about his symptoms, and somehow, the way he talked about, I was really struck by how familiar it sounded. Kind of how, last January, I saw an interview with a man in Gaza during the war? Israeli military offensive. While he was talking about being in a hospital while it was bombed, a bomb hit close by, and the look in his eyes seemed so familiar. Terror, panic, lack of comprehension, not being able to take it all in, resignation, helplessness, anger. It's the look of someone who's body, every cell in their body, is telling, screaming at them hysterically to run, but their brain is telling them there's no point, no way to escape it. Somehow, this man who is back in the United States is experiencing those feelings that are like what this man is feeling with bombs dropping next to him in Gaza, and I'm watching on TV and thinking I understand how they feel because I thought my dad would kill me back when I was a kid. PTSD is strange that way. We are all human, and we are animals, and we have limited ways of coping with overwhelming terror and horror.

Our survival instincts and strategies for processing psychological trauma are built into the primitive parts of our brains. So as someone who experienced abuse, rape, and the suicide of someone I was strongly bonded with, I can end up with the same mental disorder as war veterans, torture victims, people who lived in war zones, hurricane and other natural disaster survivors, people who lived through car and airplane accidents, victims of violent crime, kidnapping, terrorism, etc. The cause doesn't necessarily have to be comparable, although they do have the fear of your own destruction or witnessing someone else's in common. It is somewhat comforting to know that what I'm experiencing is "normal", not just for abuse survivors, but all sorts of other survivors as well. It is less comforting to think of how much of this violence is caused by other humans, and how we so often ignore the psychological costs of war, domestic violence, rape, and other trauma and terror.

After the report, there was a discussion about military men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with PTSD. One of the people in the discussion suggested that we shouldn't think about this as a mental illness, rather, like an injury such as a broken leg that can heal and the person can fully recover. She kept talking about these warriors who get injured in battle, and they need to be acknowledged as wounded warriors, not mentally ill. I get her point, in theory PTSD can be temporary until the person can process the trauma. That is one way to deal with the stigma of mental illness, just deny that PTSD is a mental illness. But PTSD is a mental illness, the symptoms are things like depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, memory disturbances, suicidal behavior, and the treatments are psychology-based, including therapy, antidepressants, and anti-anxiety drugs. The man in the report even says that it's not like breaking your leg, because your leg is put in a cast and in six weeks you're all better. His wife talks about how he tries to go off his medication and things get bad again, and although she doesn't identify the medication, she's says it "takes the edge off" and I'm assuming its an antidepressant, or maybe an anti-anxiety drug.

Of course I'm not against people in the military thinking of their comrades with PTSD as "wounded warriors", just like I don't have a problem with people preferring "survivor" to "victim" (although I prefer victim because I think we need to get it through our heads that if someone victimizes you it doesn't make you bad. I don't think the word victim should have bad connotations because the whole point of the word is that something bad was done to you, so the negative connotations lie with the person who victimized you, not you. But I understand that "survivor" sounds more empowering. I think it would be more empowering, though, if society didn't make it a practice to blame the victim. The whole point of the word is that it's not the victim's fault!) It just seems like kind of a slap in the face to all the mental health professionals, people with PTSD, and others who have fought to get PTSD recognized as a mental illness and are working on treatments and support to then deny that it is a mental illness. That kind of feeds into the stigma. I also don't like the idea of separating the PTSD that war veterans experience from the PTSD that anyone not in the military might have. People in the military are not mindless killing machines, they are human beings just like the rest of us, who are asked to survive conditions that most of us can't imagine, on our behalf. I know I can't imagine what it would be like to see people killed in front of you and know you could be blown apart at any time, and then have to go from the horror and violence of war to "normal" life. Of course that would be overwhelmingly traumatic. Just like it would be for anyone.

Suddenly I don't know where I'm going with this, except to say that it kind of amazes me that PTSD is largely the same disorder regardless of how you got it. Also, my battlefield has mostly been intimate relationships, so no wonder I have so many problems with them. I have been marveling this week on how much self-hatred I harbor in my poor, conflicted heart. Other people can tell me, and I can tell myself over and over that my dad didn't abuse me because I'm worthless, my mom didn't not protect me because I wasn't good enough, my great-uncle didn't sexually abuse me because I'm only good for sex, and my brother didn't kill himself because I was a selfish and lousy sister, but it just doesn't sink it to the level where I believe those things, truly. I still don't think I deserve consideration for my feelings, sensitivity, and respect. Somehow, it feels good to admit to myself that I still feel that way. My conscious, adult brain knows it's not true. My conscious mind is like the beach, and my subconscious is the entire ocean, lapping up on the shore, coming up completely in my dreams, which are full of fear and conflict. The guilt and grief feels overwhelming, yet not hostile. It's just there, keeping my toes wet during the day and washing over me at night. I sit on the sand, day after day, waiting to unite with the part of me that's a mermaid.

From Neil Gaiman on twitter (neilhimself)- The Patti Smith Group - Because The Night - 1978.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Night of Desirable Objects

Before Halloween I discovered that the drugstore down the street was selling wigs for under $5. I don't know if it's because of the recession and they thought people wouldn't be spending on Halloween this year, but everything was heavily discounted for weeks before Halloween. Whatever the reason, I stocked up on crazy wigs. I got a pink, blue, and purple one. I used the purple one for my Halloween costume, Nymphadora Tonks. I realized that this year was a bountiful one for wearing geeky costumes. I was Rin Tohsaka and anime Alice from Resident Evil for the Anime Expo, Elektra for Comic Con, and then Tonks from Harry Potter. I even bought a sewing machine because I needed one for costumes. I'm hoping all this dress-up and going to conventions is increasing my geek cred.

Also, this picture is evidence of how my face has been breaking out lately, which should really be worth some hockey cred since it's from my new helmet. My helmet is great because it actually fits. My old one was too big, so anytime someone hit me in the face during a game, which was like, all the time, the helmet would shift and I'd be struggling with the cage trying to get the chin rest back on my chin with my hands in gloves so I couldn't just hook my fingers around the cage to move it, and all this is going on during a game and I couldn't see very well because the helmet is over my get the picture. So the new helmet is wonderful because it stays on my face, but because it is so snug I am also getting all pimply on my chin and forehead. It's for hockey, so it's worth it.

In other geek news, I discovered my new favorite Facebook game- Tiny Dungeons and Dragons. It's a lot like the real D&D, except, this is the great part, no Dungeon Master who doesn't like girls playing. That was my problem when D&D first got popular. It was after the boys in my neighborhood decided I had cooties and didn't want me playing with them. But thanks to Tiny D&D, I am free to create female adventurers with armor and gauntlets and a sword for each hand, and adventure my heart out. Since I am having so much fun making up for lost time, and since I found the game because a boy, that is, a man sent me an invitation to it, I suppose I can forgive the boys who wouldn't let me play with them way back then. I am so enamored with my level 7 Elf Ranger I can't even tell you. I am already planning for my next female character with much enthusiasm.

I've needed the distraction because I've been pretty miserable lately. For one, I've been sick. No, it's not the swine flu. It's some sinus-y, coughing, having a hard time breathing, headache-y kind of thing. It started way back in the beginning of October and has just been lingering on, especially the cough. The worst was when I was too sick to play hockey. It made me all depressed. I am finally able to breath during games again. I had what seemed like a lot of games where I was struggling to get enough air, and spending my time on the bench heaving and hoping I wouldn't pass out. My Culver team, bless them, would look over at me while I was hacking my lungs out on the bench and say, "What's your problem?" Then after the game, while I was bent over the garbage can dry heaving, one of the guys would say, "Are you sick or something?" You could just feel the love.

I'm still coughing, sneezing, and tired, but playing has got easier. I feel pretty normal out there, if slightly more winded when I get to the bench. I keep taking all these cold medicines because I'm afraid I'll get a sinus infection like I did two years ago. I had to take antibiotics which completely messes up my stomach. All the over-the-counter medicine is bad enough on my touchy system. My friend recommended using a Neti Pot. So, I don't know if you've tried this, but it's this strange plastic teapot-looking thing. Strange because the spout looks like a penis. I mean, it does. So you put this saline/salt stuff in it, and warm water, and stick it in your nose and tilt your head to the side. The water is suppose to pour through your sinuses and out your other nostril. Of course when I did it, the salt water ran down my throat; I gagged; bubbles came out my nose and I drooled on my shirt. Then I walked around my apartment with snot and saline water on my shirt, sneezing bubbles and cursing the Neti Pot. This is one of the many reasons why I am glad I live alone.

The real problem in my life, and probably the reason I have been physically sick for so long because of all the stress, is that I am having a lot of PTSD symptoms. Specifically, nightmares and anxiety. I don't really remember the actual content of my nightmares, but I wake up periodically throughout the night, sweating and terrified. Sometimes when I wake up I am convinced I heard someone in my apartment, but I'm too scared to go look (and still half asleep) and then I just fall back into the scary dream. I wake up anxious and frightened. It's hard to reassure myself that it was just a nightmare even after I wake up, probably because they aren't just nightmares, they're flashbacks. I'm reliving the terrors of my childhood. I wake up feeling the way I did as a kid, vulnerable and alone. That loneliness carries through, is the link between then and now. When I was a child, being alone was terrifying because I couldn't survive without a basic level of care and sympathy from adults. As an adult, it just feels like I mostly have to carry this burden alone because a lot people don't understand what it is like to be an adult survivor of abuse, to have PSTD, and just the fact that I am trying to live in the present while being haunted by my past at the same time. I feel like I live in two worlds.

As I keep reminding myself, and my therapist keeps reminding me, the reason these feelings are coming up now is that I do feel safe, safe enough to let this come to the surface and deal with it. I feel like myself as a child is living in my subconscious, fighting monsters, and my adult, conscious mind is trying to be supportive, not get in my way and try to keep this from playing out, not interfere but still help, and not let that battle in my subconscious bleed into my current life and distort it too much. In other words, realize that a lot of what I am feeling is connected to the past, even if it is triggered by things in my present. There are always going to be triggers, and I'll never pass through these feelings unless I just feel them. The conscious mind wants so much to connect them to something. When I feel fear, my mind wants to find something to be afraid of now. When I'm angry, I want to be angry at something I can direct my anger at. I don't want to just feel angry that things happened that I can't do anything about. And I don't want to feel sad at all, but waves of sadness pass over me and I just have to let them. I just have to keep reminding myself that I have to feel this. There is no other way.

One of the strangest, hard to explain feelings is anger towards yourself that you weren't able to protect yourself. It doesn't really matter how irrational that feeling is, you can always tell yourself that you could have done this or that differently, and maybe it wouldn't have happened that way. You could have been smarter, more clever, could have fought back more, could have tried harder not to zone out and somehow you could have found superhuman strength or the right thing to say to make it all stop. It really, really sucks to feel like a victim, because you feel helpless. Helpless leads to hopeless, and you can't survive hopeless. Your mind will do anything to avoid feeling helpless.

I think that's a big part of the appeal of fantasy. If you can imagine yourself as an adventurer, a warrior, a hero in your own life, you can protect yourself from that feeling. In D&D, you win some and you lose some. Some of it is the luck of the draw (or roll), some of it is the armor you've found or otherwise acquired, the weapons, your experience, your resilience, and your own particular strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes you barely get out alive, but you always need time to recuperate. It also helps to think of the resources (or lack thereof) I had as a child, and how I was up against a monster like my dad, with far more experience, strength, and a lizard-y hide I couldn't hope to match. It was like sending a first level Eladrin with no armor or weapon in against a Level 5 Hobgoblin. The Eladrin may be intelligent, but she's screwed. (I'm a D&D neophyte, so don't expect me to know what I'm talking about.)

As I'm arming up my Tiny D&D character and sending her on level-appropriate adventures, I'm trying to arm up that kid inside me that's fighting ghosts on my behalf. And I'm trying to remember that this is normal, at least normal for someone with PTSD. This is not easy stuff I am trying to deal with. Another thing that's kind of comforting about thinking of yourself as an adventurer is that adventurers are often alone. You meet people along the way, you may travel with others, and people help you, but sometimes you do have to enter the evil forest and find your way out on your own. I just wish the evil forest would let me sleep. I told my therapist I was having insomnia, and when she asked me why I said I didn't know. Then I told her about the nightmares, and she seemed pretty surprised that it didn't occur to me that the fear of nightmares might be what's making it hard for me to go to sleep. Go figure.