“Be Kind To Yourself”

These were the words spoken to me by my therapist yesterday. I’m struggling, a lot, and needed that reminder. It’s times like this that I’m especially grateful for therapy and a great therapist.

My inner critic has been especially boisterous this past while, as have the critical voices from my childhood and beyond. Every attempt at positivity and self-compassion has been met with these negative voices shutting it down. Separating out the voices and recognizing which is my own inner critic, who is ultimately just trying to protect me, and which belong to those people in my life, who due to their own issues and projections have targeted me with their hurtful words, has been helpful.

“You’re useless, a waste of space, and will never amount to anything”, “you don’t deserve love, a hug, attention”. The voice of others. When these kinds of words come from people you love and are supposed to trust, who you are dependent on as a child, they build up and almost become like a part of you. It’s extremely difficult to challenge them.

“You can’t do this”, “it’s not good enough”, “you’re too much or not enough”. My own. To my inner critic I can say “thank you for trying to protect me, but it’s okay if I am unsuccessful at this. I’ll learn from it and do better next time”, “It doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s good enough”. This voice is trying to protect me from rejection, shame and pain. See the difference? For me at least, it’s easier to deal with my own inner critic.

When I got home from therapy I was exhausted and wanted to take a nap. But the critical voices were so loud (“you’re just lazy, you should be working”) and I was struggling to tap into my own self-compassion. I then remembered C’s words “be kind to yourself”. In that moment I decided to pretend that she’s talking to me instead, and to speak to myself the way she speaks to me, with kindness and compassion. And it worked. So I ended up taking a guilt-free 90 minute nap, one I desperately needed. By pretending that C that was talking to me, I slowly started to find my own self-compassionate voice again. So that’s another simple little tool for my coping toolkit.

It’s so easy to get lost in all the voices of negativity. Both those around us and those within us. So if you struggle with this, maybe this concept can help you as well. I hope you have someone whose kind and gentle voice can help guide you in finding your own voice of self-compassion.

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The Place Of Emptiness, Apathy And No Purpose

I just finished an amazing book by Donna Tartt titled The Goldfinch, and want to share a paragraph from it that sums up my feelings (and opinion) about life.

“Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is catastrophe. The basic fact of existence-of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do-is catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, &c. For me-and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs” to employ a favored phrase of Xandra’s, no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death.

I know. Morbid and dark.

Emptiness is a part of me. Even in my happiest moments, it’s there, lurking in the background. Waiting. It’s almost as though that’s my foundation, with all the other emotions laying upon it, and then when those emotions pass I return to that foundation of emptiness.

I’ve had a couple of those nights lately where I’m crying in a dream, and wake up crying. The sadness overwhelms me. But once I’m up the numbness sets in, and I go through the day not feeling much of anything. Not seeing a purpose for this life. For existing.

I’m just at the point where I don’t expect good things to happen anymore. For my hard work to pay off. Hope feels like something not meant for me. Accepting where I am. What my life looks like. Going through the motions, doing what needs to be done, but not really caring.

What’s the point of hard work when the only thing that comes from your effort is more shit. Never feeling like you’re able to move forward, because things just continue breaking apart around you.

But whatever.

Do I Really Love?

There are times where I feel nothing for people. Not even those I “claim” to love. This can last from hours to weeks. Sometimes I wonder whether I really do love after all? Then there are moments where I know I love that person/those people and I feel it, but that feeling can come and go so quickly sometimes.

I’m one of those people who almost never cry at funerals. Instead of thinking I’m at the funeral in order to say goodbye to someone and all of that funeral stuff, I’m dreading going due to the social aspect. It’s not about the person who passed away, it’s about my own social anxiety and unease. The exception was at my grandmother’s funeral, where I was in a dissociative bubble and so disconnected from everyone there that it felt I was alone.

When a public figure dies, for example by suicide, I don’t feel a thing. I don’t get why suddenly everyone is talking about it and seeming to genuinely feel sad about it. Sure, I pretend I care, and it’s hard (and shameful) to admit this, but I actually don’t. This always makes me feel like a hard, cruel person. Or not human at all.

I told my therapist this in our session last week. We were talking about my uncle who recently got diagnosed with cancer. She asked me how I feel. My answer? Nothing. I feel uncomfortable, but not sure exactly what that feeling encompasses. Where once I felt so close to my uncle and knew I love him, suddenly I don’t feel anything toward him. My therapist mentioned something about trauma and PTSD symptoms, but I can’t really remember what all she said… My mind and memory have been cloudy lately. Want to bring this up again in tomorrow’s session.

I saw there’s a new X-Men movie coming out in February, and just watched the trailer. When the first film of this movie franchise came out I was obsessed with it. I’ve watched the first 3 movies at least 40 times each, and the later ones about 10 times or so. Which is why when Jennifer Lawrence was cast in one of them a few years after the first 3 I was ecstatic. The point of bringing this up now is because while watching the trailer I got the same feeling I did all those years ago with the first film. These are my people. I’ve always felt like an outcast and “defective”. I would pretend I was one of those characters. My favourite used to be Phoenix (Jean Grey) and I took on that character. I was Phoenix. These days I still feel like a mutant, an alien on this planet. And this questioning whether I truly love is just one of the reasons for that. This new X-Men film is Jean’s journey on the “dark side”. Maybe I’m closer to that version of her.

Sometimes I feel like I have a lump of coal in place of a heart. That’s how I feel right now.

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Struggling

I’ve been struggling a lot these past few days.

My sympathetic nervous system and good old Amy(gdala) thinks I’m in constant danger. My emotions are all over the place. For a couple of hours yesterday I felt completely empty, then another torrent of emotions.

Reading my previous post back, I’m aware that my current emotions will pass, but then what? It comes back again at some point. Like the ocean and waves, it’s never ending. Like I told my therapist today, using coping tools and skills is hard and exhausting.

My sensory system is even more sensitive lately too. Everything feels brighter, faster, louder, leading to me losing my shit much much quicker. Anxiety is a bitch. And my trusty benzo’s? Well, no effect, they’ve been pretty useless. Although I wonder if they haven’t actually been working, and I would have been even worse without them?

Thank whoever for therapy today. It was intense, and most of it a blur, but C was once again very comforting and helpful. We didn’t do much “work”, as most of the session was focused on helping me get regulated and become present, but I was exhausted afterward. I still am.

At the end of the session I got nice firm hug from her. I needed that so much. Hugging a stuffed toy just isn’t the same as close contact with another human. Just as an aside, we don’t always hug after sessions. It’s only happened about three times because firstly, sometimes I’m too ashamed/scared to ask for one, while other times I just don’t feel the need. I wouldn’t like regular hugs, because then it just becomes like a routine and while I thrive on routine, this is something different.

I’m not looking forward to waking up tomorrow morning. Just the thought of another day gives me a sinking feeling. I could take the day off work, but even that feels depressing.

They say struggles make us stronger, but it feels like the opposite is true. I don’t feel stronger. I feel weaker instead.

Remembering Emotions As Waves

It still catches me by surprise how quickly my emotions can change from one minute, hour, week, to the next.

When I wrote my last post I was in a pit of despair which had rolled over me while doing some movement and muscle exercises (sensory integration stuff). Everything just suddenly seemed pointless, and didn’t have the strength or energy to stop the spiral leading me down a dark road.

Once I’m in that dark place, most of the time I can’t even summon up the thought that it will be over soon. I forget that our emotions are like waves, they come and go. You know, the stuff we’re taught in DBT. In those moments it feels like it’s never going to end. That this is it. This is life. This is me. This is how it’s always going to be and there’s nothing I can do about it.

When I’m not in that place where suicidal ideation is so strong, then I remember that this too shall pass. Then I can see the waves and am more able to cope with the emotions rising and falling, crashing and calming.

Here’s to riding the waves.

Why I Wish He Would Understand

I arrived in a state at my therapy session last week. It had been a crap day, with way too much sensory stimulation. There’s building going on next to my dad’s shop, and the store was in chaos… One of the really busy days. Phones ringing, everyone running up and down, loud voices, etc. I just couldn’t work, couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t do much of anything but listen to my music with my headphones on and try to calm my nervous system down.

It ended up with me and my dad fighting again, because he couldn’t understand why I can’t just ignore everything and focus on work. I tried to explain to him again that I struggle to drown out sounds and the constant movement (which makes me nauseous as well) and I seem to lose the ability to use my brain for tasks. I would have thought that he would get this by now as it’s always been a problem for me, since childhood, and a source of lots of fights, tears, threats, etc. I was struggling to explain it to him in a coherent manner while in the state I was in, because for some reason even my language and speech are affected during these times of a sensory overload meltdown. Add in the frustration I was feeling with him not understanding or seeming to listen, and me being unable to communicate properly. I hated him so much right then and was glad when he left the office. I was done talking. I just couldn’t anymore. I was exhausted, yet still extremely riled up.

On a Wednesday I usually leave for therapy straight after work. As I was driving there that day, I couldn’t focus. I felt disoriented and confused on the road. For example, which lane I’m supposed to be in, road signs, other cars. See what I mean about my brain not functioning the way it should sometimes? I’m just glad I got to the clinic without any incident. And that the waiting area was empty and quiet.

I was still highly worked up in the session, and I can’t actually remember much of what went on. I do remember though my therapist asking at some point why I need my dad to understand. That question was on my mind for days afterward. Logically, I know he doesn’t understand and he probably never will, and sometimes I can accept that, but days that like one, I just can’t.

Why do wish he would understand, or at least try to? It would save both of us (and anyone else involved) a lot of drama. Because maybe then he’ll stop fighting with me over the same stuff, which just triggers me and makes me feel even more overwhelmed and less able to cope with the normal day-to-day of living and stress that comes with it. And he won’t have to be on the receiving end of a meltdown (or in his view, a tantrum). Case in point: On Tuesday my dad wanted me to go buy lunch. He wanted me to go to a place I absolutely hate. A fish shop. My first instinct when he asked me was to blurt out “but that place smells horrible!” before I could even realize what I was saying and stop myself. Usually this is the point where he will either crap me out for my “attitude” or “laziness”, or the more extreme version, fly into an instant rage. But this time he didn’t do either of those things. He simply replied “I know”, in a tone of voice that wasn’t threatening or triggering. When that happened, I felt myself relax, and willing to handle the few minutes of nausea I’d experience while ordering. That moment, where I felt validated in a sense, just confirmed why I believe it will be beneficial for the both of us if he would at least try to understand.

So yes, I went to that place to buy them food, and even though I was only inside for a minute or two while ordering (there wasn’t a queue, thank goodness), my clothes and hair smelled of the place. Fish and old oil. I had to double wash my hair and I don’t want to see that jersey and those pants for a while, even though they’ve now been washed. But, I survived. My dad’s words didn’t stop me from experiencing those nasty “side effects”, but it helped regulate my feelings toward actually having to go through it.

I know people can’t truly “get” things if they don’t experience it themselves, but relationships would be so much better off if we all just at least try to listen to one another and understand where someone is coming from. Why they react in certain ways. And yes, I know that applies to me with regards to my dad as well.

Where I’m Not A Burden

A few weeks ago I started volunteering at a local dog shelter.

I’ve been wanting to do it for months, but didn’t want to go alone the first time. I hate not knowing what to expect (it fills me with anxiety and/or panic), and therefore find it helpful to have a friend or someone else I know come with me so I don’t get overwhelmed. My business partner agreed to come with me, so I could finally go. Now I go alone, which I prefer, because I can control my time, what I do, and get alone time with the doggies.

It’s been really good for me. There are definitely challenges, because I tend to get attached to animals pretty quickly, and it breaks my heart leaving them behind every week. Especially one particular dog. My girl, Athena. Even though I walk different dogs all the time, I still at least play with her for a while every week, and might take her for a walk as well if I have enough time. I’ll add photos of her at the end of this post.

Spending time with these amazing creatures feels so good. It’s also my weekly exercise (I should exercise at other times during the week but it’s boring, so don’t). I might not be making a huge difference to their lives, but at least I can do a little. And that’s good enough. When I’m there, and with them, I don’t feel like a burden. I feel like I matter. At least to those doggies. I can smother them with love and they don’t push me away.

In one of our sessions when I told my therapist I was going to the shelter the next day to start volunteering, she was really glad to hear that, but told me to take different dogs every week so I don’t become too attached. But now she knows that’s just not possible (at least not yet). When I was telling her last week how badly I want to adopt Athena but that my dad won’t budge and doesn’t want a dog around, even if he doesn’t have to have anything to do with it, she encouraged me to continue going and not give it up despite that. She already knows me pretty well… That something like that (the disappointment at my dad not allowing me to have a dog while living with them) tends to de-motivate me from doing things that are good for me, or that I enjoy. I’m glad she said that because I have been wondering whether it’s worth the heartache of having to leave them behind when I go. But I want to do good in this world, and giving back to these dogs is one way I can do that. They deserve it.

Another reason I enjoy spending time with dogs is because it’s the one time when I’m out in the world that I don’t feel on high alert and sensory experiences don’t overwhelm me as much. Nothing else has such a soothing effect on me, other than a hug of course (which is always way too short anyway). I feel safe in the presence of large breed dogs in particular. Maybe it goes back to one of the family dogs we had when I was a kid. Her name was Cindy, a large cross-breed we had for about 5 years. She was my best, and only friend for a big portion of my childhood. I always felt safe and loved when I was spending time with her.

One Sunday when I got back from visiting my mom for the weekend, I couldn’t find Cindy anywhere. My dad told me they had put her down. She wasn’t sick, but she had bitten one of the other dogs. His theory has always been that the first sign of aggression signals that it’s time to have a dog put down (which I now know is bullshit). I was devastated. I didn’t even get to say goodbye. And his other dog, wasn’t even seriously hurt. She just had a little mark. I was furious, but of course didn’t express it in front of my dad. I’ll never forget that day.

There was another dog at the shelter, Apollo, who reminded me of Cindy, and I bonded with him the very first day. Last week when I wanted to take him for a walk, they told me that he had been adopted. It triggered this horrible memory of having Cindy just gone so suddenly without having had the opportunity to say goodbye. On the one hand I was happy that he got adopted and now has his own family, but a part of me also felt really heartbroken that day. Now? I’m just glad that he found his forever home.

I told A about my volunteering and she said it’s a good opportunity to work on my attachment. I hadn’t thought about it that way, but now I can definitely see it. A form of exposure therapy for people with attachment issues. Just wonder whether it will translate into human relationships? I don’t see why not.