Welcome back to Deskraven, your mental health forum. If you’re looking for a vehicle to elevate your voice, please email me at Contact@Deskraven.com!
I don’t know when this blog shifted from topics of mental illness to chronic pain, but I’ve been going through my diagnosis process for the better part of five years. The truth is chronic pain and physical illness can have a profound impact on your mental health.
To recap, in 2017 I became unable to work for four months and applied for disability. I was denied, and had no choice but to reduce my level of functionality from very active roles to a desk job. At that time we thought my pain was related to a car accident that took place in 2015. Last year my leg pain worsened and my ankles swelled up. I was hospitalized for two days where we ruled out neurological conditions and autoimmune disorders.
After seeing a chiropractor and receiving a lumbar region MRI it was discovered that I have a 2mm L5/S1 disc herniation, mild spinal stenosis, and early signs of arthritis. Shortly after I was referred for epidural spinal injections. When I met with my pain management doctor, he started me on Gabapentin to assist with nerve pain and scheduled a nerve conduction study also known as an EMG (see previous post). This test came back unremarkable.
At my follow up appointment this week my pain management doctor pointed out that none of my test results so far explain my pain levels. With that said, he referred me to an OBGYN for a pelvic exam to asses for endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition where endometrial tissue grows on the outside of the uterus and nearby organ systems. Every month, the tissue swells and sheds on the inside of the uterus leaving the body in what we know to be the female menstrual cycle. With endometriosis, the tissue behaves the same way, swelling and shedding, although because it is outside the uterus it has no where to go resulting in internal bleeding, scar tissue, and immeasurable pain said to be worse than child birth. This condition creates lasting damage and health concerns as the body attempts to cope with the strain of chronic pain, incorrect autoimmune responses, nerve damage, hormonal imbalances, infertility, and digestive troubles. Aside from severe chronic pain, women often report fatigue, headaches, pain during sex, and mood swings that significantly interfere with their ability to function, participate in social activity, or maintain a quality of life. No two cases are exactly the same, and women’s health continues to be a pressing stigmatized issue.
There are four stages of endometriosis depending on the severity and depth of tissue damage. Some women may be in stage one and experience debilitating pain. Others may be in stage four and have no symptoms at all. Surgery is almost always required and may result in anything ranging from laparoscopic procedures to a full hysterectomy. Endometriosis never completely goes away, and must be monitored through out a woman’s life to assess the need for additional surgery. Treatment options also include pain management, pelvic floor physical therapy, and hormone therapy.
I meet my OBGYN on the 31st. My pain management doctor added Cymbalta to my Gabapentin in the mean time. I follow up with him in two months. I have mixed feelings, but I’ll try anything.
I’m in pain everyday. It is tearfully worse around my unmanageable monthly cycles and I do have a history of cesarean surgery. My pain is localized in my lower back, hips, pelvis and shoots down into my legs with what feels like warm stabbing nerve compression and muscle spasms. I feel tingling on the top of my feet. The right side of my body hurts more than the left which consistently throws off my balance. I have trouble walking, standing, driving, sleeping and can not tolerate exercise at this point. I also have a history of migraine, vertigo, mood instability, and my mobility has dramatically decreased.
It stands to reason that I would assume this was a spinal injury, but I’ve been taken down another road entirely. I experienced improper diagnosis and treatment as a teen sequestered in the psychiatric wing of a local hospital as well. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I was correctly diagnosed with the mental health conditions I manage now. I am now 31 and there’s a real possibility that I have been experiencing endometriosis for the past ten years masquerading as something else.
The truth is you can think you know what’s wrong with you and it can be something you never suspected – or – more than one thing. I have had to contact my physicians to confirm prescriptions have been ordered and amend my medical records. I have had to do extensive research of my own, and seek second and third opinions. The truth is we expect doctors to know it all, but they don’t. The truth is doctors make mistakes. It’s so important to advocate for yourself in the medical setting and work as a team. Working with mental health conditions and psychiatrists is no different. I’ve been doing well for a long period of time, but I’m considering returning to therapy.
In some cases medical trauma can meet acute clinical criteria for PTSD. If you’ve read this blog for any period of time, you know this has been a hurdle of mine. The truth is trauma and grief are not linear. We can not always anticipate recovery or relapse, which is why strategic coping skills are so important to develop if you have any intention of coping well. No amount of meditation or eastern scrap of religion could have prepared me for this, but it does help.
Discuss: Have you ever been misdiagnosed or the subject of a medical mystery? Share your story in the comments below!
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at email@example.com!**
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The truth is I should be doing my homework right now, but I have so much to say. Last week marked the beginning of the end of a very long road. If you know me personally or have been a dedicated Deskraven reader, then you know I am not shy about sharing my diagnoses with my readers. This is because I believe in assigning pain a function so that our suffering may not be in vain. This, emboldened by the power of community, has offered me a great deal of meaningful processing and the subsequent healing that follows. The mission now is to return that information back to the masses.
That being said, I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder w/ Agoraphobia. I have many posts archived on all of these disorders if you care to learn more specifically about how these can impact your life. For now, I will be concise.
In short, Mixed Bipolar Disorder is characterized by disorienting mood swings and behavioral changes that often result in significant social and professional consequences. Mixed episodes are unique in that in contrast to Type 1 or Type 2 Bipolar Disorder, Mixed Bipolar Disorder consists of both highs (mania) and lows (depression) simultaneously. This is considered significant because people who experience mixed episodes are at a greater risk of suicide due to the impulsive energy mania provides while also being in a state of depression. This presents differently for each sufferer, but in general I experience a great deal of grief and agitation that can range anywhere from clinical sadness to full blown psychosis if I am not careful to force feed myself self-care and the power of saying, “No.”
Similarly, PTSD is characterized by mood instability, sleep disturbances, and a false sense of reality brought on by trauma. Trauma consists of experiencing something life threatening such as war, relationship abuse, addiction, mental illness, an auto accident, a chronic illness, medical trauma, an untimely death, a sexual assault, etc. – or watching someone we love experience these things. Trauma is relative so what may be traumatizing for you may not be for someone else, or vice versa. Most people who experience these types of life disturbances experience a period of profound grief. Often with the help of a professional counselor or spiritual teacher, we are able to move through, process, and release trauma in a way that both honors our suffering, and releases us from our entanglement to the traumatic event. This allows us to move forward with little to no lasting impact on our mental health. Individuals who become stuck or stagnant in this process develop Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Finally, Panic Disorder is characterized by panic attacks, the sensation that you will in fact die at any second, physical manifestations of fear including shaking and hyperventilation, and the fear of their inevitable return – usually in public. As you can see, this disorder is incredibly cyclic and self-perpetuating. The good news is this also makes it one of the most treatable mental health conditions. Agoraphobia is often the product of Panic Disorder in that this experience triggers pathologized avoidance of public, wide open spaces, crowds, and any location that may produce the inability to escape to the point that it becomes a clinical phobia that interferes with your quality of life or your ability to leave your home.
For some reason my soul decided that the above conditions resulting in two in-patient psychiatric hospitalizations would not suffice for one lifetime. So, in addition I also experienced a car accident in 2015 that ultimately lead to me developing physical chronic pain. Subsequently, I had several other injuries over the years, including a concussion, but believe this incident to be the most significant. What I should have done was seek treatment from the Orthopedic Surgeon and Physical Therapist I was referred to, and made the person who hit me pay for it. Instead, in my stubborn naiveté, I accepted a $1200 settlement and never went to the doctor. For the first couple of years I had aches and pains, but in general I remained very active and physically fit. Sometime in 2017 my injury worsened.
Suddenly, I found myself collapsing at the side of my bed when attempting to stand up. I found I could no longer tolerate my yoga practice because the nerve pain was excruciating. I could no longer enjoy being active in nature or playing with my son. I experienced neurological symptoms and nearly lost consciousness. My posture began to suffer and I developed difficulty walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, driving…existing. No matter what I did I couldn’t get comfortable. The pain was constant, burning, and sharp; localized in my lower back, shooting into my hip joints, and down into my lower extremities. I experienced inflammation, pins and needles, numbness, muscle spasms and migraines. At the height of this I found myself completely unable to work, slowly losing everything I had worked so hard for, and applying for long-term disability before the age of 30. Countless ER visits, a bajillion CAT scans, innumerable blood draws, and one grueling in-patient hospitalization later we were able to rule out life threatening neurological conditions and auto-immune disorders.
Last week I met with a Spine Specialist and received the MRI I have been seeking for years. Finally, I got some answers: L5/S1 central disc herniation and a narrowing of the spine, sometimes referred to as Spinal Stenosis. In light of these results my doctor referred me for various types of treatment including chiropractic adjustments, a 20-session spinal decompression program, and pain management including spinal steroid injections with the end goal being complete physical rehabilitation. Fortunately, he believes I am not a candidate for surgery at this time. He is also considering additional MRIs as he has seen in his practice a neck injury masquerading as lumbar pain.
After some discourse and the types of answers that only yield more questions, we decided the best course of action would be to get a second opinion before we commit to a decision and begin pain management. Currently, I am spending 2-3 days a week in doctor’s offices, receiving chiropractic treatment, alternating between hot showers and ice packs, consuming copious amounts of ibuprofen, altering my lifestyle as much as I can tolerate, and spending 30-40 minutes a day hooked up to a TENS unit at home with the help of my beautiful wife.
The more doctors you meet the more you realize why medicine is considered a practice. No one really has all the answers. It becomes paramount to advocate for yourself in the medical setting, and to work together to find the best course of treatment for you. Finding a good doctor or therapist is a lot like dating. Chronic pain is not that different from psychological anguish. The outcome is the same, and sometimes it takes time to find the right provider.
Somewhere I read that ruin is a gift life gives us because it is only in the dismantling that we are able to transcend our suffering. In this light, I have come to appreciate my white-knuckling desperation as an indication of teaching, as well as the not so gentle push from my loving wife to seek treatment. Perhaps the key to becoming a true patient is to simply not engage in resistance, the same way mental health recovery means not resisting the good that is being offered to you even though you’ve been told your whole life that you don’t deserve it. It’s okay to feel how you feel, so long as you’re willing to do something about it. The truth is I am as stubborn as they come, however, this trait will never serve me unless I learn how to shift resistance into determination.
Humility has been my calling to self-development and recovery my calling to life. Similar to the way a flower manages to bloom between the cracks in a sidewalk, at some point you learn that overcoming suffering is a choice. I know this experience is going to teach me exactly what I’m made of because the only way out is through. This resilience is revelatory coming from someone who previously held no sense of self-preservation. I say that to say this: Do not ignore your pain in whatever form it takes. Address it.
Healing is not only for you, but for those who love you, and refuse to stand idly by while you concede to what your life has become. The truth is that despite every obstacle you have faced, you do not have to accept victimization or enabling on your path to wellness. The truth is you can decide to take accountability, to change, and to do whatever it takes to reclaim your quality of life. I know there will be days of purposeful set-backs. Sometimes I make progress. Sometimes I cry and the chores don’t get done. Still, I can see myself on the other side of this, and I can’t wait to give my wife the partner she deserves.
Discuss: How has chronic pain impacted your life and mental health?
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**
Have you ever had a rage dream you were so sure was real? Last night I dreamt of many combative arguments with various friends and family members that involved me insisting they remove themselves from my immediate surrounding. Filled with overwhelming anger and four letter words, I recognized their hurt and betrayal regarding memories of my own that have taken place in real life, and confronted it head on from a position of strength rather than victimization. In my heartfelt conviction I felt vulnerable but strong. Upon waking I was pouring sweat and my heart was pounding with the residual anger. Still, I found solace in the fact that my nightmare remained largely advantageous as it afforded me the opportunity to examine the boundaries my mind implied to better serve me. It was clear to me that despite the intense level of emotion I was experiencing, I was validating my suffering and laying the groundwork to disallow that harmful energy to harness my better self. The more I dig into soul development and trauma work, the more I realize that despite the progress I have achieved there is so much more to unpack. That being said, I have been known to get in my own way as my peace keeping nature drives me to avoid conflict. While mostly favorable, this has no doubt extended my grieving process over the years. I have found that each time I seek to start the conversation and find resolution, it quickly becomes too painful and I pull back. The truth is there are some things I am not yet ready to unravel, and that’s okay.
In a Podcast entitled “Raw Spirituality,” hosted by Alyssa Malehorn and her partner Zack Fuentes, I have gained a plethora of knowledge about the spiritual realm from a New Age perspective. In many instances I disagree with their findings as I frequently find holes in their logic, but for the most part their insight has been very healing and third eye opening. In episode 16 they discuss Soul Fragmentation & Reunification. It is the concept that by acknowledging the traumatic events we endure, we notice that we leave pieces of our soul behind with each negative encounter leading to a fragmented sense of self. The solution then is to recall that energy back to yourself in order to heal and reunify the soul. This creates the space needed to process, grieve, and release our anguish leading to a more reliable integration. It doesn’t take a believer to see how this type of philosophy has a lot to offer us all. If nothing else, it teaches us to sit with and tolerate our grief rather than avoid it. In general, those who face trauma work head on are typically more successful at processing in the long run compared to those who consistently victimize, deny, or distract themselves from it. I know this from personal experience. These spiritual teachings support the idea that self responsibility and psychological barbwire are not synonymous, however, if you find yourself coming up against fear or resistance during this phase, you may require additional support such as that of a therapist to move forward.
Psychologists have long explored the role of dream states as they relate to processing trauma since nightmares remain a hallmark symptom of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Our mind utilizes dream states to relive and process trauma whether we’re ready for it or not. Understandably, this can lead to a multitude of consequences related to emotional distress and disordered sleep. In an article entitled “How to Manage Trauma-Related Nightmares,” The Psychology Group offers up some additional solutions:
Typically, the first step is addressing the cause of the nightmares (in this case, PTSD).
There are evidence-based treatments for trauma or PTSD that are known to be very effective in reducing symptoms. An individual evaluation would be important to address if medication is necessary and to rule out any health risks.
If trauma-related nightmares persist, here are specific evidence-based treatments to address them:
Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) and
Exposure, rescripting, and relaxation therapy (ERRT).
These treatments share some basic aspects like visual imagery (visualizing a scene or activity in your mind) and nightmare rescripting.
Here is an example of how visual imagery and nightmare rescripting work:
Think about a nightmare that comes up frequently
(Where are you? What is happening? Who is present?)
What are you feeling? (during the nightmare and when you wake up)
How would you like to feel instead?
How would the story need to change to feel this way?
It’s hard to convey the nuances in this technique. A trained therapistcan help you further by teaching you the specific strategies to rescript the nightmares properly (to address the last two points).
Although individual treatment is very powerful in managing trauma-based nightmares, there are skills that you can try yourself. Such as grounding, and relaxation or breathing exercises.
Grounding techniques are helpful to distract or temporarily get some distance from the distress caused by nightmares by focusing on the present moment.
First, be sure to completely wake up after having a nightmare. The idea is to help you get oriented in the here and now and to re-establish your sense of safety before you go back to sleep.
Tip: it is useful to have a nightlight or a lamp near your bedside to aid you in getting oriented in the present moment
After waking up, begin this grounding technique.
It’s all about your senses. Focus on:
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
If you need a little more help, you can follow a grounding technique with a simple breathing exercise.
Over the years, self control and grounding techniques (sometimes with a medicinal assist) have been the most beneficial to me. Likewise, I completely avoid horror movies and dark themes of spirituality to see to it that my mind has less invention to leap from. At the peak of my suffering my nightmares would trigger panic attacks, insomnia, and vodka consumption at 9am before I learned how to better manage them. As dreaming remains an unconscious activity, it is paramount to ground yourself in the present moment as described above and stay calm. This is often easier said than done, however, with practice it will become easier to pluck yourself from a frightening dream state and place yourself back in the physical world long enough to process the heart of the trauma. Over time, this will lead to a decrease in the intensity and frequency of your nightmares.
Discuss:What have your dreams taught you as it relates to trauma work?
See below for more Deskraven posts on the topic of PTSD and nightmares:
Welcome back to the Deskraven Blog, where I aim to lay bare 100 ugly truths about my mental health journey.
If you’ve read this far, then you know I live with Mixed Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, and Panic Disorder with Agoraphobia on a consistent basis. Of these, the Bipolar Disorder appears to be the most pervasive and problematic lately. Bipolar Disorder is a progressive life-long illness. That is, it never goes away and in fact, the longer you go without treatment – the worse your episodes become over time.
Episodes of Bipolar Mania and Depression have the potential to cause lasting damage to the learning and memory systems found in the brain. For some of us, Bipolar Disorder also has the potential to become the source of PTSD as a secondary diagnosis, as the episodic nature of Bipolar Disorder can provoke traumatizing psychological experiences and catastrophic social consequences. For me personally, PTSD stems from multiple traumatizing events related to mental illness, abuse, abandonment, suicide, and medical trauma.
The stress of Bipolar Disorder often triggers my underlying anxiety into full blown Panic Disorder, a mental health condition characterized by reoccurring panic attacks. A Panic Attack is a surge of intense fear with severe physical symptoms resulting from perceived danger in the absence of an actual threat, and the fear of their imminent return. It is not uncommon to feel as though you are having a heart attack or dying, often resulting in a visit to the ER. The fear perpetuates the physical response, and the physical response feeds into the fear. I am fortunate to say I haven’t had a significant panic attack in sometime, although last week I could feel those old familiar pains bubbling underneath.
Paired with my deeply introverted nature, it suddenly became blatantly obvious how these things are connected, and why I feel no need to leave the house due to a general fear of people, the inability to escape, and/or wide open spaces that leave me susceptible to harm or humiliation, better known as Agoraphobia.
I could see the crash coming, but there was little I could do to stop it. I could see myself soaring high above my normal energy and productivity levels in the weeks prior. I found myself sleeping and eating less, talking, reading, and writing with frenetic energy, boasting long term goals in the grand scheme of things, and just generally acting outside my character. I was in a Mixed episode.
If you’ve ever been in a Mixed episode yourself, then you know how quickly euphoria can turn to dangerous agitation, motivation to listlessness, and paranoia to psychosis. In the worst case scenario, you may ultimately be faced with suicidal ideation while you try to exist in a psychological space that shares symptoms of both Mania and Depression simultaneously. Most people associate Bipolar Disorder with swinging between the two mood states, but the truth is everyone with this disorder is different, and patterns of mood and behavior tend to be more cyclic than previously thought.
In the aftermath of a Mixed Episode, it is not unusual for people with Bipolar Disorder to describe the sensation of a Depression crash. That is, the emotional fallout that takes place after an episode of Mixed Bipolar or Bipolar Mania. Indeed, what goes up must come down. You may see changes in you or your loved ones. This can last days or weeks, and generally consists of feelings of disconnection, stress, worthlessness, complete exhaustion, and changes in behavior or routines as you come to grips with what you may have just experienced. Suddenly, you may find yourself rooted back in a reality that doesn’t seem to glow as bright. Perhaps you’re even pushing through denial to understand that your mind works differently.
As I continued to soar, I knew the landing would be anything but gentle. Being that I am currently unmedicated, I had no choice but to ride the wave, and pray my insight would keep me as grounded as possible.
By the second week I found myself unable to breathe or sleep effectively, and was toppling into relentless crying spells. All I wanted to do was eat and sleep. I was juggling mental health symptoms, chronic pain, work, school, motherhood, cold-like symptoms in the era of Covid, and had started my menstrual cycle (which is uniquely debilitating for me, but that’s a story for another day.) I felt increasingly overwhelmed by the demands of what it means to function, and soon the day came where I couldn’t get out of bed at all. With the support of my incredible girlfriend, I called into work and took a mental health day. Once the feelings of guilt and insecurity passed, I was instantly humbled by the notion that sometimes mental illness demands self-care take precedence over earthly obligation.
That evening, my sweet girl returned to me and poured into me the healing of good company, validation, and heartfelt conversation. She was so lovingly reassuring, always seeking to provide whatever it is I need, and the blessing was not lost on me. The next day, I began the task of pulling myself out of the clinical Depression that followed. Through it all, the most important thing to me will always be my family, and the due diligence I feel to spare them pain, treat them well, and lift them up – especially when I am drowning. One of my greatest challenges throughout my mental health treatment has been asking for help when I need it. Don’t let it be yours.
If you don’t make your mental health a priority – it has the potential to do it for you. You may feel deeply concerned about the repercussions of taking a mental health day. However, if you don’t listen to the limitations of your mind and body, you may find there is no ambition, family, or hobby to return to. In some cases, the risk may outweigh the benefit of pushing through.
My day of rest allowed me to relax and regroup, although it would be a few more days before I was able to fully regain my footing and move forward. I am slowly beginning to return to myself after the fallout, and putting things in place to return to my psychiatrist just as soon as I am able. Despite my uncertainty, the world went on spinning, and my job was there waiting for me the next day. The truth is, we must make time for our wellness free from shame and stigma, primarily when the consequences of not doing so become so much greater.
Discuss: Have you ever taken a mental health day? Did it help or hurt your circumstances? Did you receive support? Share what you learned in the comments below!
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at email@example.com!**
*WARNING: This post makes mention of suicide, self injury, drug use, and abuse. If you find this type of content triggering, please do not continue reading. If you or someone you love is at risk, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255*
As we the near the halfway point of my 100 Truths, I want to take a moment to thank those of you who have followed along this far. It has been a project in introspection, and an excellent conversation starter.
As many of you know, trauma-work has been at the forefront of my healing over the last few years. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been one of my more pervasive diagnoses, and so I find myself being continuously humbled by its rearing ugly head. The truth is sometimes I feel impenetrably strong. Other times I feel one more traumatic event away from losing my last marble. It doesn’t scare me as much as it used to because now I have the tools, but even a well equipped person can stumble backward.
While I spend a great deal of time advocating for others on all things mental health, I often feel unprepared and overwhelmed by what it feels like to be me. For all intents and purposes I should be dead and yet, I am still here. The truth is I still face sensations of disheartened dismay. The truth is I tried to take my own life three times. The truth is I have other family members who have tried and failed, still others who have tried and succeeded. The truth is suicide still crosses my mind as a function of mental illness, but these days I wont act on it. Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” I couldn’t agree more.
Unfortunately, abuse is often generational. When I hear about the awful happenings in the world, I often imagine what the parents of those perpetrators must have been like. While nothing serves as an excuse for abuse, there are certainly explanations found all throughout human psychology. I have written about this before, however as I continue to process, I will go into greater detail in this post.
My mother is a survivor of abuse herself, and her lack of self-understanding was often reflected in her poor choice of partners. For as long as I can remember my parents were rarely in the same room, but my father was the only man who never hit her. My first step-father certainly doled out the worst of it. He was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive toward my mother and I. The abuse consisted of name-calling, yelling, hair-pulling, hitting, slapping, pushing, shoving, squeezing and biting. Domestic violence was an almost daily occurrence in our home, not to be deterred by the company of others. This man destroyed a handful of my birthdays, relationships, and self-esteem. Adding insult to injury, he went so far as to cheat on my mother with her best friend, and threatened to take my very life.
My mother would later share with me that this was her breaking point. This was the event that finally gave her the courage to leave. She still harbors a great deal of guilt from this time in our life, and while I can not fathom exposing my son to these things, I understand her hesitation. Domestic violence often escalates when the victim attempts to end or flee the relationship.
Fortunately, my mind has managed to block out a lot of what happened. Eventually though, the memories resurfaced and my mother helped me fill in the blanks. These things did happen. I was questioned by police, and from the ages of 3 to 10 I was subject to child abuse on a pretty consistent basis. There were other odd things that took place as a result of our economic status such as exposure to petty home invasions, a general lack of supervision, and abusive babysitters.
Later, my mother met another man who was equally dysfunctional, but slightly less violent. He promised to carry us out of our hell and give us a fresh start. During my teenage years he mostly targeted my mother and younger sister. My previous abuse had grown in me a spine that would not tolerate anymore assault, and I told him so, directly to his red spitting face.
During these years the affairs of my mother would exacerbate the violence, and expose us to more strange men. As far back as my memory allows, my home was filled with undertones of abuse, and the childhood conclusion that the world is an unreliable and unsafe place. In some form of strange validation, my medical records show the early stages of my mental illness during this time with consistent reports of anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.
Abandonment and Sexual Abuse
When I was 12 my father experienced something of an existential crisis paired with a job offer that offered him a leg up, and he could no longer call Minnesota home. After spending the last decade of my life seeing my father every other weekend, which was often the only opportunity I had to escape my abuse and build positive memories, he moved to Texas. This experience caused me to cry more than I ever had before in my young life. It also prompted me to put my feelings on paper for the first time.
When I was 15, I was given the opportunity to drive cross-country with a family friend who would later add to my betrayal. He sexually abused me three times over the course of a month before I finally spoke up. While the abuse stopped, the repercussions of this event has had one of the worst ripple effects that still plagues my family today. You can read the details of what happened in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Overcoming Avoidance, where I speak about this publicly for the very first time.
Mental Illness and my First Suicide Attempt
The sexual abuse was my tipping point. Not surprisingly, I entered into similarly dysfunctional and abusive relationships and suffered those consequences as well. I began tolerating treatment I shouldn’t because it was what I had been exposed to. On some level, I felt I deserved it – which I would later learn could not be further from the truth. I endured false accusations, control dynamics, manipulation, and abuse for another five years. During this time my trauma aligned with my teenage turmoil and grew into a new kind of monster. Soon, my self preservation completely left me, and I began hurting myself. I started with kitchen knives and safety pins before graduating to razors. The scars were getting harder to hide and wearing hoodies in July was just impractical. So, I began piling on anything I could use to harm myself or alter my mood state including drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders. During this time my grades began to slip as my transcript clearly shows, the violence in my home continued, my mental illness worsened with increased episodes of hallucination and dissociation, and I grew increasingly detached from my surroundings.
One evening, I went across the street to spend the night with a friend. She could see that something was off with me. Looking back now, I can see how gentle and deliberate she was in her intervention and I am grateful, but at the time I was extremely pissed off. She left the room and I began dissociating from my environment once more as I searched for a sharp object. When she re-entered the room she could see me rummaging through her room and I mumbled something about walking into oncoming traffic. “I’ll be right back,” she said. When she returned she fed me some story about her mother driving to the bank and insisted I tag along. I shrugged my shoulders and got in the car. I stared out the window saying very little when I realized we were not at the bank at all. We were in the parking lot of our local emergency room. I snapped into a red hot anger I can still feel 15 years later. How dare she save me?
I sat in that emergency room for a long while refusing to give up my information as my friend pleaded with the nurse to admit me. Eventually I caved and gave my identifying information. During my stay I experienced sucide watch isolation, spiritual phenomena, the probing questions of a much younger child, and I was asked to take the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory (MMPI) which was ultimately used to improperly diagnose and improperly medicate me. Unfortunately this is fairly common in dealing with teenagers and complex mental illness. You can read more about self injury, what therapy taught me, and how I freed myself from this in a previous post titled, Trauma Confession Series: Self-Injury & Letting Go.
Suicide in the Family
In the years that followed I continued to fall into bad patterns of behavior. Finally at my wits end, I left home at the age of 17 and never looked back. I bounced around the Midwest for a couple of years before I totally lost my footing. Following an unhealthy relationship with a traumatic ending, I relocated to Texas eager to rebuild. Not long after a failed attempt to purchase a vehicle and enroll in college for the first time, I found myself the recipient of more bad news. Within 24 hours I lost a dear family friend and my maternal grandfather to suicide. You can read the full story in a previous post titled, A Suicide Survivor Story – Part Iand Part II.
Self Injury and Self Medicating
Not surprisingly, experiencing loss to suicide shook me to my core and sent me spiraling into an untreated dangerous mind set. At the age of 19 I had slim to no coping skills, and fell deeper into substance abuse and disordered eating to cope with the nightmares alone. Through it all I fought like hell to be better. I was writing feverishly, grasping at mindfulness exercises, and finally confessing to myself that I was attracted to women. The fight within was violent. Eventually the scales tipped against me and the surge of pain I experienced proved to be too great. At the height of it, I found myself waking up hungover in pools of blood and tepid bath water, still fully clothed from the night before. I knew if I didn’t change my circumstances I would die.
My closeness with my father, God help me I love him, was not enough to sustain me much longer. Perhaps he recognized this, and in his fine intuition urged me to make a suicide pact with him. In our shared desperation we promised each other that come hell or high water, and we had had plenty of both at that point, suicide was just simply not an option. So, I set out to make big changes in my life, once more chasing the breath the world seemed determined to squeeze out of me.
The Turning Point
I took a job away from home, traveled excessively, and learned to fall in love again. With the help of my incredible friends and mentors, I began to reconnect with others, with life, and with myself. At the age of 21 I learned I was pregnant, and my life was no longer about me. My body was no longer mine, and my mind no longer failed to blossom. I became an overnight sensation, instantly sober, and determined to practice motherhood with clarity and poise. I returned to Minnesota and the first couple of years were mostly delightful, albeit bouts of post-partum depression, and the sneaking suspicion that something just wasn’t right with me.
Medical Trauma and Chronic Pain
When my son was approaching his first birthday we decided to move to Colorado. It had been our teenage dream to inherit God’s good mountains and a nature mindset for our son. In true fashion, however, just two weeks in our light was once again snuffed out by something I still find myself unwilling and unable to write about. I fear the task is so great I will never be fully able to grasp or express the magnitude of our experience. (Perhaps the best thing to do would be to one day sit down with my journals from that time and tackle the re-telling from the heart.) In short, our 23 year old brother suffered end stage kidney failure and it traumatized us all.
Two years later I moved back to Texas as it always seemed to offer me a soft landing. Shortly after, I was involved in a car accident that left my body never quite the same. I now live with a spinal injury, S.I. joint dysfunction, nerve damage, and migraines on a daily basis.
It wasn’t until I left my decade of trauma behind that I realized just how severely PTSD had impacted my quality of life. I found myself in a strategic but unhappy marriage with the promise of familiarity and family ties. I was young, but I understood my son’s memory was beginning to form, and I had no choice but to take my mental health seriously. It was time to grow up and get honest because white-knuckling it wasn’t working anymore. So, I went back to school for Child Development and Psychology, entered the field of Behavioral Health, and sought mental health treatment. You can read more in depth about what drove me to find a psychiatrist in a previous post titled,Ugly Truth 34: Psychosis Sucks.
After a proper diagnosis, anti-psychotic medication, and a 7 day in-patient hospitalization that offered me crash course therapy as a professional courtesy, I found myself more stable. I knew there was only one thing left to do.
Identity Crisisand Recovery
Two more years passed until finally I was strong enough to come off my medication, end my marriage, and come out as a lesbian. After one more misstep and two more traumatic relationships, I finally embraced trauma work and self development once and for all. I started to confront the abuse, the abandonment, the trauma, and face my personal truth. I began to manage my symptoms differently and write more, which led to the publication of this blog. I got real with myself and my family about my sexuality. I found it flatly irresponsible to date in my current condition, so I began developing concrete coping skills, growing into my skin, and advocating for others to keep myself in perspective. It sounds strange, but in many ways I had to get to know myself again. Once you strip away all the damage and co-dependency, you’re left with nothing short of a raw sense of self. The truth is you have to process and mourn the loss of whatever pain you carry, let it go (really let it go), and replace it with gratitude for the present moment – which you, and only you, are solely responsible for. It sounds simple enough, however, most people are too busy practicing avoidance or denial to notice. I was one of them. Letting go of my pride and my pain taught me just how useful the vulnerable truth can be. It is a natural gateway to becoming a more loving and compassionate human being, which in turn lends itself well to building meaningful relationships.
Today I am blessed to have more peace in my life than ever before. I try to never lose sight of the fact that the life I live now is something I once could only dream of. There were times so unmatched with darkness I was convinced I would never get out alive. At some point though, you have to set boundaries and take responsibility for your own well being. If you consistently victimize yourself, you will remain in a state of helplessness which, interestingly enough, is a learned behavior. Lucky for us, behavior and thought processes alike are malleable in that they can be changed and modified. As I like to say, adapt or die. Put more gently, pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. No amount of traumatic endurance ensures us that bad things won’t happen. Perhaps the most important thing then, is being prepared for when they do.
Today I have the love of an incredibly beautiful woman who spreads warmth and light everywhere she goes. I feel so lucky to have her, but I also know I deserve her. You can read more about her and how hard I fell in a previous post titled, Ugly Truth 37: Loving a Woman Changed my Worldview.
I have a decent outlook on life (with a healthy dose of cynicism), and most of my sanity intact because that is what I set out to build for myself. The truth is I still struggle from time to time with the chemical imbalances of Bipolar Disorder, the triggers of PTSD, and the irrational uncertainty of Panic Disorder. Some of this just never goes away, but you can certainly achieve some semblance of functioning, happiness even. If nothing else, may this post serve as a reminder that surviving and thriving are not mutually exclusive. Living through trauma is almost never linear. You are not alone, and I’m still here to tell about it.
**If you’re a mental health survivor or mental health provider and want to tell your story – please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!**