Saturday, January 03, 2015

It's Time

"She wanted to give that terrified man in the uncool sweater the confidence to share his own bare ugly truth.”

 Moriarty, Liane (2014-07-29). Big Little Lies (p. 458). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

**trigger warning** sexual abuse, mental illness


Some of us are story-tellers.  And the world needs hurting story tellers because there are others of us who can't talk about the hurt, who seek kindred spirits in the glow of a computer screen or between the pages of a book in the wee small hours of the morning - but one thing remains.  We all seek community with and in our pain.

So the wounded, healing story teller has a place, I think, and while I have certainly not kept my particular wounding a complete secret, and I have certainly left enough pieces of the puzzle lying around this blog that a clear enough picture could be fit together, today is the day I am choosing to tell it plainly.  I have been hurt, badly, and I am healing, by the grace of God.  If any of my story is helpful to someone else, it needs to be told.

So.  Here's me.

In August of 2012, I started having flashbacks of rape.  As I had not, to my knowledge, ever been raped, this came as a considerable shock to me.  (And let me say, I don't know how to reword that sentence, but "considerable shock" is a massive understatement.)  They were flashbacks with very little information - my body felt exactly like I was being raped, in the here and now, and sometimes there would be a few images along with the physical sensation - the bed I was lying in, the window in the room, how old I was. The first flashbacks happened every half an hour or so over an 18 hour period - truly one of the most terrifying and heartbreaking stretches of time in my adult life. 
By the end of that year, it was clear to me that a) I had been sexually abused for much of my life b) I had completely repressed all knowledge of any of it and c) my most consistent abuser was my father.

(Let me just say:  if you are reading this, and you knew and loved my father, I'm sorry.  Me too.  I loved him too.  But, as my husband says, people aren't binary - all bad, or all good.  My father was many good things, and some bad ones as well.  If you are related to my father, and you are reading this, please know that I am open to dialog about this at any time.)

So that's why I'm in therapy. 

Now the mental illness bit.

In January of 2013, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder, which used to be called Multiple Personality Disorder.  If you're my age, you may have an immediate picture of Sally Field crawling around the floor gibbering like a three year old in the movie Sybil.  Or you're thinking of The Three Faces of Eve, or more recently, The United States of Tara.

That's not me, or, at least, not completely me.  I don't "lose time".  I do not find myself somewhere and not know how I got there (any more than any of the rest of us who go into "autopilot" when we're driving do) or find myself having forgotten hours or even days of time.  There are no clothes in my closet that I don't remember buying. (although for many people with DID, those things do happen) I don't suddenly wake up in the middle of a life I don't remember.  What DID looks like for me is - there are bits of me hidden away inside my own head.  I call them "memory keepers", or "insiders", and while many people with DID have a static number of distinct personalities, many of us don't.  I don't.  It's easier to think of the inside of my head as a halfway house for hurting kids.  They work up the nerve to tell me their stories, my psychologist and I help them to feel safe and heard, and they start to heal.  As they start to heal, they integrate, and make space for someone new to be heard.  It is quite rare for any of the parts to speak to people other than Brad, my psychologist, or my mother. Most people I meet have no idea what is going on inside my head (although there was a pysch nurse who took one of poetry classes ...)

What DID looks like, for me, on a practical level, is sometimes anxiety, sometimes PTSD, sometimes depression.  I'm learning to pay attention to thoughts that don't make sense in the context of the current year (ie "Who is that old woman in that bed?  Our mother is not that old!") I monitor myself for reactions that seem out of proportion to the current situation.  (Panic attack at the grocery store?  Is there any tangible, external, measurable, present danger?)

I don't leave my house without Rescue Remedy, a small stuffy or two to tuck into my palms when I'm overwhelmed, a small pack of essential oils (lavendar for calming, lemon or peppermint or eucalyptus to yank me back to the present day), and I have a small book of "emergency coping mechanisms" that covers triggering scenarios.  It's pretty much transparent, unless I tell you about it.  Those fingerless mitts I love to wear?  A great way to have lavendar ready to inhale.

I have learned to be careful about leaving the house when there's new memory struggling to surface , or a new part has recently come online- it can be very taxing to fight off flashback or overwhelming emotion when there's someone new in the "halfway house".  I stay home if I think I might not be in the right kind of headspace to drive myself home.

I have a lot of trouble staying asleep.  Sleeping is a different kind of brain activity from wakefulness, and I often wake up in the morning with someone else at the forefront - not quite in control, but quite strongly present.  I have learned to be intentional about having a routine to start the day with because routine also brings me back to the present.

It's not necessarily easy, but in the early days, it was hard, harder than anything I'd ever done, and there would maybe a few hours here and there where there was ease and grace.  Now it's livable - and there are long stretches of days when everything is even-keeled and nobody on the inside is hurting or triggered.  The bad stretches are hours, not days, and every day (this is SUCH a cliche!) is a new start.  (It used to be that I felt like the only reward I got for making it through to bedtime was a whole other set of 24 hours which I then had to get through.  Now bedtime is a blessed blessed reprieve, even if I'm wakeful in the night.

Being Susan is easier than it was two years ago, and (hopefully!) harder than it will be two years from now.  I have been extraordinarily blessed with good, supportive friends and an understanding, supportive, spouse.  I am beyond grateful that the first psychologist I met with is someone I continue to trust and respect.

And - the most important bit - God still loves me.

"Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for His mercies never fail.  They are new every morning - great is Your faithfulness."  Lamentations 3:22

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Stay with it. Mourning into dancing, I promise.

It's Christmas Eve, 2014.  There are no presents wrapped under the tree because we are not celebrating until the 28th, when we can all be home, and we are a last-minute lot.  It's 5 pm and I'm home alone.

I have been dreading this night.

For almost every Christmas Eve of my married life, Brad and I have spent the day racing east.  In the earliest, best years, we would leave immediately after work and drive through the night, arriving in the wee hours of the morning, maybe sometimes just before sunset ...Brad truly wakes up around 11 pm, at least he did then, and he'd sing along to loud rock music and we'd go home.  Home was a farm in the middle of small-town Manitoba, and I'd wake up when we hit the gravel, and so I'd be awake when we took the last turn, when we would see the yard light glowing in the dark Manitoba winter, and we'd know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that within minutes, we would be stumbling, bleary-eyed and weary into warmth and love.  Mom would get up, no matter what the time was, and nobody in the world hugs as hard as she did.

Sometimes, if we'd gotten away early enough, and it was only one or two in the morning, Dad would come wandering out of a barn, tug on his eyebrows, and welcome us as well.

And then there was a new farm, and then Brad's Dad went on ahead, but always - always! - there was Mom, somewhere in Manitoba, waiting for us with a light on.

And then it was her turn to go on ahead, (if it's at all possible, she's got a light on for us all there, too) and that first year, two years ago, so soon after her death, we were all raw and reeling, and last year, there was Cancer, here in our house, and we just haven't yet found our footing, you know?  I want to hand the keys to the house back and say "Wait, who left us in charge?"

And then there's the fact that two and a half years ago, I began to recover repressed memories that completely shattered my view of my own childhood.  Even Christmas memories have been forever altered.

And then we made a Grown Up decision to minimize the gifts this year in order to pay for university, and while that makes total sense on paper, gifts are one of my love languages, and I was trying to be stalwart and acceptant and take a Long View of Things ...

So I haven't particularly been looking forward to Christmas.  Christmas used to fill me with giddy delight, for most of December.  It was almost annoying.  I really missed that mood this year ...

And then.

A week ago someone texted me "I have the COOLEST THING EVER for you!"  A gift she was so excited by she couldn't wait to give it to me.  Not someone I have ever exchanged gifts with - completely unexpected.  And sure enough, it was pretty much not only the coolest thing ever, but something I have been wanting for a long time, and for extra bonus, handmade by a local artisan.

The fog started to lift.

Last Saturday I walked into my Mom's room at the nursing home and my three and a half year old great niece leaped to her feet and thrust a gift bag into my hands.  She was so excited by the absolute perfection of the gift she'd insisted on finding for me that she couldn't WAIT to give it to me.  Even though - we really weren't exchanging gifts on that side of the family this year.

Sunday friends came over with Christmas goodies.  Brad and I were going to play a game later that night but when I unwrapped the plate of goodies, I said "Maybe we could just sit here and eat cookies instead!"  We didn't, but what a blessing.

And then a few days ago, I dropped in at a friend's to find out how to look after her cats while she's away and ...two wee gifts that spoke directly to my heart. 

And yesterday I saw my psychologist and I was finally able to hear something she's been telling me for a few weeks and when I left there ...the Christmas mood started to sneak in. 

This Christmas Eve that I have been dreading?  It started out with my texting a friend and daring her to come to Costco with me on Christmas Eve, because we both needed to go.  And because God is all about "beyond all that you ask or imagine" - she brought me a gift.  (Not that, you know, we were going to exchange gifts or anything!)  And again, not just any gift - a "specifically for Susan" gift.  And Costco on Christmas Eve was exactly the adventure you'd expect it to be ...

And then I drove halfway across town to give my boss a tin of bought cookies and I walked into her house and found the last missing piece.  Her oven was on, there were pies and cookies everywhere, a young grand-daughter helping her - the house was full of warmth and food and love and floury aprons and I was so deeply deeply satisfied, I took off my coat and did some dishes. 

And then I came home and made some Christmas treats of my own, for my own family, because how can I not pass that on?

"Your mercy rains from heaven
Like confetti at a wedding
And I am celebrating in the downpour"

Be blessed.  Be a blessing.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

If I wrote this in a story, nobody would buy in to it ...

A few days ago, I opened the trunk I've carried around with me since I left home for boarding school at the ripe old age of 16.  I was looking for notes or a syllabus or something that might give me a chance at not taking Yet Another Introduction to (some kind of) Literature course.  I found no hint that I had ever taken an English course, but I did find Systematic Theology notes, and a big ol' stack of journals, dating back to maybe 1974? earlier?

I picked one up at random and started reading.  One little story from Grade Ten has been following me around for a few days - a story about when a boy in my grade teased me about something, just normal kidding around kind of teasing, and how that made me feel.  "Like I wasn't ugly.  Like I was just an ordinary person who you could act normal with, or even someone beautiful like Jane Doe."  (I'm paraphrasing. I 'm not going to go dig the thing out again.  And her name wasn't Jane Doe. I changed it, because her real name is a) unusual and b) going to come up again in this story.)  For the life of me, I could not remember one single solitary thing about Jane Doe, but apparently she was beautiful.

So today, just as the post office was closing, someone came running in wanting to pick up a parcel at the last minute.  I checked her id - Jane Doe.  Not really Jane Doe - the same unusual name I had read in my 1976 journal not three days before.  I looked at her and decided to ask the question.  "Did you grow up in Selkirk?" I asked.  She had.  She was born in the same year I was (I had to ask because she is still much better looking than I am!)

She was, unaccountably, the same Jane Doe, and there is no way on earth I would have remembered her at all if I hadn't written her name down thirty-eight years ago.

So of course I had to tell her the story, and then I had to come home and write it down because - wow.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Mom.

She's 77.  She's completely bedridden.  She has been campaigning for over a year to have all her teeth removed because she's on pureed food due to an overactive gag reflex.
She calls me 17 times a day.  Some days only 7.  I have recently put some boundaries in place, because we talk every single morning for at least half an hour, so we are working on an agreement where anything that happens after 9 am can be something we talk about the next day, unless there's an emergency.  But we define emergency differently.  I'm working on that.  Yesterday I thought maybe I could say "Are you on fire?  That would be an emergency."  But that's not what this post is about.

This post is about how we found a gentle geriatric dentist with a heart of pure gold, who looked in her mouth and said "Removing all these teeth is not a bad idea.  I could do fillings, but I'd be patching a sinking ship."
So today she went and had all her teeth removed.  They used local freezing, so she was awake and chatty the whole time, and the dentist didn't mind.  I spent the rest of the day at the nursing home with her.

She's a bit like a child now - super lucid and surprisingly bright, still, but there are some things that throw her.  She's lost a lot of her pain tolerance.  The freezing coming out was excruciating for her - not, I don't think, because it was so painful but because her reaction to new sensations is WAIT WEIRD I DON'T LIKE THIS MAKE IT STOP.  So I spent a lot of time holding her hand and singing to her and begging her to try to stop talking and go to sleep.

"Bad, bad" she'd say.  "Pain, pain."  And then, "I can't close my mouth."  It took me a really long time to figure out what she saying because every time she said the word "close" she ....closed her mouth.  I explained to her 18 times that she could, she just couldn't touch her teeth together because they were gone.  She called for her mother.  (I told her she had her mother's grand-daughter.)

And then she made me cry, because we both dozed off, and she woke up in pain, squeezing my hand so tightly my fingers went white, and said "Father God, use this pain for my good and Your glory.  Use this pain for my good and Your glory."  A mantra, over and over again, and once again, I saw it, that strong strong spine this feisty little lady has.

I'm proud to be her daughter.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sometimes it's just wrong to go to bed without saying something

It's been a wearying week.  I think a lot of it is my entire system falling apart in relief that Brad's surgery went well and that he is home and even working a little ...

Still.

Today was not a good day.  There's been a bit of mental illness ramp-up on my part, and while this is no longer new to me, and I do have coping skills, it's still exhausting.  And I picked B up from school after studying myself into a stupour over "Chapter Three:  The Brain" and Brad was a little bit down and I just couldn't stand the thought of leaving my house again tonight, but it was our turn to do the pickup half of the hockey driving, and I was just really really really done, you know?

So I asked God for courage.

And then B texted me "M's Dad is bringing us home."  Are you sure? I asked, and he was sure, and just to be safe, I looked up M's Dad's cell number and guess what?  I didn't have to do any hockey driving tonight, which freed up some time to make a nice dinner for my recovering husband. 

And then just for icing on the cake, one of the OTHER parents in the hockey car pool called and offered to do my driving for me tonight.

And the phone rang and it was Brad's buddy and they had a good talk, and there is the promise of a visit soon. (He doesn't live in the same city as we do).

And the doorbell rang and there was a cookie bouquet from Brad's employer.

And a few minutes later the doorbell rang again, and then was an ex-co-worker of Brad's and he came in and sat down and the three of us had a really nice visit, and when he left he handed Brad a card, and did I mention I've been praying desperately that I manage to get all our bills paid this month?  and inside the card was a most generous gift, enough to take the edge off, and that's when I started to cry and cry and cry because:

Because of the Lord's great love, we are not consumed, for His mercies never fail.

A succession of small things, but one after the other, all evening long.  I'm still tired, and the mental illness issue is still there, but over there, in the corner, gleaming a tiny, mighty light?  That's hope.  Thank you to all of you who were the hands and feet of Jesus for us tonight.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Manna

In the light of Brad's recurrence of cancer, and his remarkable open-ness about it, I have been getting private messages.  "How are you?"  "You must be so ..." "I can't imagine how ..."

So I thought I'd talk about myself a bit, for those kind enough to have asked, even though it is Brad who is sick.  (although you'd never know it.  One evening last week he cycled 22 km for the fun of it.  Not on purpose - he just kept going until it was dark, and then thought maybe he should turn around and come home.)

Last Sunday in church, the pastor talked about manna, the bread that covered the ground six out of seven mornings for the forty years the children of Israel wandered in the desert. (check out Numbers 11:7-9)  There was a catch though - if the Israelites gathered more manna than they needed for just that day, it would grow moldy and maggoty and have to be thrown out.   (Except for the day before the Sabbath - that day they could collect twice as much).

Enough for just that day.

I've decided that if there's a chance I'm going to be a single mother in my mid-50s, it might be beneficial to gather up the transcripts from my scattered attempts at post-secondary education, take them to a university and see what it would take to get a degree.  There's jobs out there I could do that I can't even apply for because I don't have a Bachelor's degree, jobs where they don't even really care what kind of degree you have, just that you have one.

So spending the last week and a half talking to various universities and settling on two University courses for the fall (one by correspondence.  I don't always have to knit!) - that's enough for today, wheras trying to figure out what job I'll get when I'm done, thereby proving to myself ahead of time that this is a good idea?  That's bread I don't need to gather yet.

Staying in bed fifteen minutes longer in the morning to stroke my sleeping husband's back because he is still there with me, allowing sorrow to move through me?  Manna.  Looking forward to the gut-slicing wrench of losing him on this earth?  More than I need for today.

Please pray that for all of us.

Manna.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review(s)

One fiction, one non-fiction.

I don't read a lot of non-fiction.  I have to be deeply, passionately interested in the subject before I will be able to force myself to read non-fiction, and even more interested than that to read it sequentially, from one end to the other.  (I don't read in order much.  I hate suspense.  If, in Chapter One I have fallen in love with Twinkle, and then the author starts hinting that Twinkle will come to a Terrible End, I have to find out what happens before I can continue finding out what happens.  I tried to stop reading like this when I started writing, because I was aware of just how much agony and angst went into what order to put things in, and how to build a story but - I just can't.  I'm sorry, all my writer friends.  Comfort yourself with the fact that I dearly love Twinkle, who you created out of pixels and wine in the wee small hours.)

1.  The Sum Of My Parts, by Olga Trujillo

This was not an easy read, especially the first six chapters.  It is the author's own first person account of recovering repressed memories of physical and sexual abuse, and her journey to wholeness.  She spends the first six chapters talking about the abuse, and how she, as a very young child, dissociated in order to deal with trauma.

The rest of the book talks about diagnosis and recovery, delving into her being diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder and what that looked like for her during the process of healing.

The book is accessible and relatable without subsiding into sensationalism, and a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand more about the effects, both immediate and long-term, of severe, sustained trauma on very young children, or anyone seeking to understand more about Dissociative Identity Disorder and how that might manifest itself in a healing adult.

2.  Set This House In Order, by Matt Ruff

One of the things that is true about Dissociative Identity Disorder is that there are as many ways of doing it as there are brains that are doing it.  This engaging, well-written novel is written from two points of view, both people who have D.I.D. - one who has been diagnosed and is well on the way to establishing a workable system, and one who has no idea what her issues are.  I appreciated both the diversity and the lack of sensationalism- again, an accessible read, with characters I cared about, and although it is fiction, another good resource for anyone seeking to understand more about D.I.D.