I’m having an emotional day, for no apparent reason. It is probably my body, being rebellious. The downside of this is that when my skewed hormones decide that a day is an emotional day, I have the misfortune of experiencing that emotional day in terms of where my brain takes me, which is usually on a ride through PTSD symptoms-land. One of the things a counselor taught me to do, years ago, was to write my thoughts down. According to Richard Wiseman, in the book 59 seconds, when you’re hurt, you should write about it and then write about the good things that have come from that. In other words, it helps to force yourself to be a glass-half-full kind of person. Though, I do wonder how far that approach to psychology goes. Sometimes, writing about it is a big enough struggle, especially when there are endless layers of horrible things that contribute to your pain. Finding the positive aspect of those endless layers can be pretty damned tough, and what do you do when there are things that, honestly, there are no positive aspects to?
I promised to make an effort to write more about my experience with mental illness to help raise awareness about it. So, when I wrote about what came to mind through this morning’s ride on the emo-coaster, I thought I would post it here, but first I’ll give a little context for you.
This morning’s emotions feature the-feeling-of-alone-ness, which is a common feature of PTSD. That’s right, even though I’m well-loved and have a great life, right now. I feel alone, sometimes. This isn’t because I am alone, though. Alone-ness, for those who experience it because of PTSD or depression is not telling us that we’re all alone in a literal sense. Instead, it is more like our brain has used our experiences to build a glass room for us. We exist in this glass room of alone-ness with all of our experiences and we meet people through the glass walls. We can see out at what seems like an accurate portrayal of the world around us, but that world around us has trouble getting in. Everything around us seems like has the ability to get in, but it can’t. To others, it looks like they can enter at any time, but they can’t or don’t. When encountering others in their own glass rooms, the relationships are even more complicated, because you find yourselves trying to enter each other’s glass rooms in an endlessly complicated labyrinth of glass-puzzle-y-alone-room-ness. For each person existing in one of these alonerooms, the way inside is unknown. There’s no lock and while there may be pathways inside, those can be long and convoluted and since you have no way of measuring distance, you have no way of knowing how close you are to the person inside or what direction to go in. To the outsider, the person in one of these alone-boxes looks like they’re right there. You can see them, touch them, but you just don’t know how close they are. A person trying to get in can somehow move closer or more far away at any given moment and that distance doesn’t depend on their actions. That doesn’t even depend on the actions of the person inside. That distance is uncontrollable and unknowable. The glass aloneroom is subject to some kind of Heisenberg-type theory of mental proximity. The barrier is invisible and the distance is unknowable and deceptive.
Meanwhile, while in this headspace, the main option that someone like me has is to work our way through it. Many of us have been through this routine before. We each have different strategies. For me, it is all about finding what comforts me and sticking with that. If I have the emotional energy, I sew. If not, I might turn to gaming or reading. Another dysfunctional element of the glass aloneroom is that it often doesn’t inspire us to fix the feeling of being alone by being social. In fact, it is often just the opposite. Confusingly enough, deep feelings of being alone often lead to a desire to be left alone. For me, this creates a really stupid inward struggle where I try to decide if I’m going to force myself to be around people or if I’m going to just ride this emotional ridiculousness out on my own. Today’s strategy is to go it alone.
As I mentioned, with PTSD, these feelings are often associated with life events. It isn’t that these memories of these events necessarily led to the brain going on an emotional bender at that particular moment, but some psychologists seem to think that these memories are actually brought back to light because of the emotions, and sometimes other factors. Which is why, in this case, I was already feeling pretty down, but then someone else’s actions actually led to me attaching a memory to today’s emotions. When taking the if it hurts, write about it approach to this problem, that means writing about the memory attached to the emotion. Below, you’ll find the results of today’s write about it approach, for the most part, but I have excluded the part about what good has come from this. I wrote some things in there that I don’t feel like sharing.
So, basically, here’s a depressing bunch of information from my life. Enjoy!
A question asked by a friend about adoption was a weird reminder of how screwed up a part of my life was. It seems so weird, now, and I see the full scope of crazy, in retrospect, but at the time these things were happening, it seemed like what was happening was how the World was supposed to work. Now, I sometimes notice how people behave around me or what they say and I realize how much my past creates a sense of distance from other people, because to them, my past is just another story. It is just another thing they heard about on TV that happens to other people.
In this case, a conversation about adoption reminded me of some really messed up things that happened after I was raped and discovered I was pregnant. My mother and a church bishop tried to get me to have my mother adopt my baby. My mother wanted to pretend it was her baby, to protect me from social stigma and because she believed I wouldn’t be able to find a husband and get married if I already had a child. She also wanted to hide that I was pregnant and planned this bizarre and elaborate cover up. Anyway, in the process of all of this, I had insisted that if I took that option, it wouldn’t be someone I know that would adopt my baby, so spent some time reading about adoption.
But, it didn’t even end quickly, even after I told them that I wanted to keep the baby, my mother conspired to do things that could lead to her adopting the baby. She was constantly talking about adoption and encouraged me to wear clothes to cover my growing belly (not that she needed to, I was a baggy-clothes kind of person, back then). She had the bishop talk to me about the church’s stance on things and while she ultimately decided to support me, I was probably seven or eight months into the pregnancy before she gave up on mentioning adoption.
But, that’s the kind of thing people read about happening in the past, before I was born. That’s the kind of thing people hear about happening in other communities, or before the 1970s. People don’t hear about that happening as much in my generation because my generation was one where teen pregnancy was out in the open and people had started to recognize how we ignore fatherless children. But, in the environment I was in, no matter what happened, my value as a person, as a marriable person, as a worthwhile person, was directly connected to me having a baby. I was damaged goods, in my community.
But my mother’s attempt to adopt my daughter wasn’t the only way she tried to get out of the social problem we were in because of my pregnancy. A friend of mine, who apparently was fond of me but didn’t want to tell me, asked my mother if he could just say the baby was his, and could marry me. When my mother brought that up, we had a huge argument over it. The pressure to get married was stronger after I got pregnant than it had been before. Marriage is a major goal for most Mormons, because it is written into the religion as a part of the path to eternity. I was terrified of men, but my mother was constantly trying to get me to interact with them. At the store, at church, at the doctor’s office. It pretty much didn’t matter where we were. I think some of this effort was to try to force me to be OK again. She wanted the version of me back that I had been previously. The version of me that I had become after I was traumatized was scary to her. I pretty much stopped talking to most people for a really long time and my mom was concerned. But, some of her behavior was to protect how others viewed me and my family. There was often talk about how to “make things right” by finding someone to get married to and my mom would say that I couldn’t do that if I didn’t talk to people. It took me nearly two years to begin to function again, socially. The first time I said someone I saw was attractive to me, after that, my mother literally cried. We were in a car, on our way home and I saw someone from one of my classes at school. I pointed him out to my mother and said that he sat near me in class and that I thought he was attractive. My mom pulled over the car and burst into tears.
Sometimes, on the rare occasions that I talk about all the things that happened in my childhood and young adult life, I think people think that my family are all some sort of twisted villains. I sometimes think that, too. But I do realize that what they have done and what they do, as messed up as it is, isn’t because they’re malicious. It is because they literally think that they’re doing the right thing for someone that they love. In abusive situations, that’s one of the biggest problems that the victim has to face. What people say, that abuse isn’t love, is only partly true. It is a distortion of the reality of the experience of abuse. Abusers typically do love their victims, but their actions they use to express that love are wrong. To the victim, they often are aware of both of those things. They know that the abuse is wrong, but they also know that the abuser might want them and they sometimes know that the abuser loves them. That’s why, even though it was really messed up, my mom tried to adopt my daughter and hide my pregnancy and expressed shame in me being pregnant. That’s why, even though it was really dysfunctional, my mother didn’t respect my privacy and when it was clear she couldn’t pretend the baby was hers, she told most of the women in our church what had happened to me. That’s why she tried to get me to talk to men all of the time. It was in that environment that I ultimately met my ex-husband.
My older daughter was a year old when I met my ex husband – for almost two years I had refused to go to church dances or to put myself in any situation where I would be overwhelmed by people, especially men. I could deal with events where everyone present were women, that happened all the time. But, I didn’t like being around men. That night, though, my brother, a returned Mormon Missionary, took on the same tone that my mother had about me socializing. In order to eventually get married, I had to talk to men, and what better place to do that than a church dance? For them, marriage was the ultimate fix-it. Marriage would make my situation better. Marriage would make our family look right. My brother believed I had to be at that dance and that I needed to be more social. This doesn’t make sense, when you think about it. I wasn’t a social butterfly before I was sexually assaulted, either. After being sexually assaulted, I just withdrew from society even more. I’m not sure how my brother thought sending me to a dance would make me more social.
Maybe, sometime, I’ll write about the rest. How I spent most of that evening sitting in a dark corner, how my ex husband actually talked to me for the first time because of a bet, how my brother had watched me all evening, how I threw away the number my ex gave me only for my older brother to take it out of the trash, how my dates were all double-dates and how my family constantly pushed me into marrying him, to the point that me eventually marrying him was just something everyone assumed would happen. And it did, five months after I met him.
And four years after that, I divorced him.