Fighting the Inner Critic

I spend a lot of time fighting with my inner critic, a lot of time losing too. This is a helpful list of statements (scroll down the page) to help counteract those types of thoughts. I think I need them all on a mental “pop-up”!!
I’m sharing the link here in case anyone else finds it useful, and maybe also to attempt to explain a little of the struggle I have with ptsd. 

I once explained how this comes about by saying that parents are akin to gods to children. They rule your universe; they are omnipotent. A child who is abused by these all-powerful beings has two choices: firstly you can accept that the ‘gods’ are bad (thus bringing your entire universe into jeopardy) or you can decide that the fault must be yours and so doing your universe can continue to exist. Every time I fight my ‘inner critic’, I am left having to face this overwhelming existential dread and fear that comes in its place as old mental programming and emotional flashbacks take over. I know it’s not logical, it is the leftover intense terror of a child. It’s exhausting. Some days it feels like a never ending loop, bouncing back from one to the other. Some days I just need to distract myself, either by activity or dissociation. But I know that distraction ultimately is like running away from the battlefield leaving the two armies facing off against each other. It is a battle that I cannot quit if I ever want to be less disabled by my condition. I just wish that I could tell if the armies are getting smaller yet! So I reread the list in this link, and remind myself about black-or-white thinking and go find some yarn and a crochet hook whilst Ben sits at my feet, reassuring me that I am, in fact, in the here and now. Maybe there will even be banana flapjacks, and coffee too 🙂 

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Last night as I was going to sleep, I started to feel tiny bubbles of frustration. Frustration caused by feeling like my mental health is holding my life hostage. I want to feel alive and connected again. I want to feel enthusiasm and energy. I want to be able to go places and do things and not have to constantly consider whether each activity will be too much for my limited energy levels and ability to cope. My life seems a little like it is being lived under the weight of a thick blanket. My emotions are dulled, my thoughts are slow and actions are forced through against the force of blank apathy. 

I wonder if the meds which have brought me up out of the quagmire of a major PTSD relapse are now keeping my mind dulled. I worry that I will have to choose between a permanently fogged brain and being incapacitated by PTSD. I worry that I will never get better than this. Then I tell myself that all these worries are probably not helping. I remind myself to take things one day at a time. I remind myself that I am significantly improved compared to a year ago. Most of all, I hope that these bubbles, these bursts of desire for freedom from illness, are signs of wellness and recovery appearing through the murk of mental ill-health.

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My thought for the day: ‘recovery’ for an amputee does not mean growing back the missing limb. It means adjusting to the loss and finding ways to move forward. I need to stop calling myself a failure because I cannot “grow back” my brain to a pre-PTSD state. Or feeling like I am ‘giving in’ by trying to reshape my expectations of myself to allow for the mental ‘missing limb’.

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It’s not worry when it already happened. 

Something I heard earlier this week reminded me of this. I have had people tell me that “worry doesn’t help” or that bad things are statistically unlikely. I know that because I’m not an idiot. I have chronic PTSD which means the bad things already happened and I’m living with the fallout. Luckily I have an awesome assistance dog who never says anything unhelpful and can give me the physical reassurance I need without causing yet more flashbacks or stress responses. 

I guess I sound a bit tetchy today so please don’t think I’m having a go at anyone. It is incredibly frustrating trying to live with a booby-trapped brain, that’s all..


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Lights on, curtain up.

Sometimes I feel like a marionette on a stage. When I am alone, I am silent and when no one is noticing me I am equally quiet. Then comes the focus of someone’s attention and I must perform, just like the puppet when the audience are waiting and the curtain is lifted. I can be chatty and seem confident. I perform until their gaze has moved on and  I subside into silence once more, my public face no longer needed. Please understand, that public persona is not false, it is one part of my whole. I am open and truthful whilst being “on” though it is incredibly tiring after a while. You see from my earliest memories I was trained to see my self-worth as being dependent upon my ability to perform to others’ expectations. My own thoughts and feelings were not relevant, were selfish, it was what others could gain from me that mattered. In that respect, as an adult I am known for being a considerate and caring person who is always willing to help others. I do this because it makes me happy to do so, but it is also the happiness of a slave that has never known any other choice. 

Currently I am struggling in therapy to find a way to value myself as I do others. I do not know why it is so hard for me to make the leap that jut as others have an inherent value as human beings, then so must I. But in its place is a void, and I can only find my value by my usefulness to others. I guess  I should be grateful. At least this mental screw-up is socially beneficial. I think it would be nice to be able to fill that void a little some day though.. 

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Why I won’t use “trigger warning”.

I’ve now seen this in three unrelated places today, so I just wanted to say… For me personally, I do not like or use the term “trigger warning” or turn it into a verb “that’s triggering me” either. I find it unhelpful, not useful, and sometimes positively counter-productive.
Actually by alerting me that I might have a negative reaction, it is more likely to cause one. A bit like giving a child a new food and saying “but you might not like this”. It says that you are treating me as if I am still a helpless victim of things I cannot control rather than allowing me to make up my own mind about how I will react. I would rather be treated like an an adult than like a child. And even then, with children I give straightforward factual information and let them decide for themselves – or I decide and don’t expose them to the item in the first place. I don’t put on a horror film and say to Rhiannon – “this might be scary”. I just don’t put on something in front of her that I decide is unsuitable. She is a child and I have parental responsibility. If an adult friend comes round I might say “this film is a horror film, do you want to watch it or not”. To tell them that they might find it scary and then put it on would seem not to be treating them as an adult in my eyes.
This is most emphatically *not* to say that we should not signal upcoming content, that’s a factual statement that gives me a choice as to whether I wish to engage with something, just like the age rating or genre tag on a film. (“the following article is about child abuse, followed by a gap – just like the common practice for spoilers”) 
It is the whole concept of “triggering” that I find disempowering and all too often used either as a form of narcissistic manipulation or an attempt to censor someone. Look at the recent court case where a famous pianist’s ex-wife tried to prevent the publishing of a memoir that included information about his abuse as a child, supposedly because his son could read it and get hurt by it. Or people telling others what label they can/can’t use for themselves because it is “triggering” for others… Like many many people I know with PTSD, it is simply not possible to avoid all potential “triggers” as the reaction is coming from inside our own brains.
I know that this is a personal reaction. I know that many people like to use this term. I felt it important to explain *why* I really dislike it and will not use it. This is not me having a go at anyone who chooses to use it, or indeed people who ask others to use it. I do use factual information such as tv programme synopses or book blurbs to avoid material that I do not feel able to cope with, or that I know I will find upsetting at that time. Like I said, it is the concept of “trigger warnings” as opposed to a factual flagging of upcoming content that I don’t like. This is simply how I feel about it, and as it’s my blog page I’m writing this on, I am free to express those feelings.
Or you could just shrug your shoulders and say that the phrase “trigger warning” obviously acts as a trigger for me… ha ha ha!

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Ninja Life Changes and Emotional Cheerleading

I have made a fair number of impressively sized life changes over the years ranging from country of residence to career path. Since my teens I have almost always adopted the “ninja life changes” theory of how best to go about the process: sneaky, silent and not telling anyone until it is a done deal. I have wanted to avoid other people’s disagreement with my choices affecting my actions. I have wanted to avoid being a person who talks about doing things instead of being a person who actually does things. This way of making and creating big life changes has worked well for me for over 25 years, so why am I now debating trying a different method? 

Optimism. Maybe it’s to do with optimism. I used to be more optimistic than I am today. A number of major outcome-related disappointments recently has not led me to change what I believe to be right action, but it has possibly affected my expectations of the results. I will still do what I believe to be right; I simply no longer have the believe that anything but disappointment waits for me on the othe side of that action. That is a depressing conclusion to draw. And more importantly, that belief has been putting the brakes upon my try-new-things wheels. 

Confidence. Maybe it’s connected to my self-confidence. I have been fighting with and living with a succession of serious relapses of chronic PTSD over the past five years. I have had to give up full time employment, and can just about manage working part-time. What makes me think I could go ahead and cope with the demands of a new career path, new training, new job and all that that entails? I can tell myself that a large part of the reason I can only manage part time work is that my work is no longer a source of energy and inspiration for me. My work has become a never-ending struggle against a system I do not agree with, disempowering and draining. But I need the required amount of confidence to believe that I am still capable of a useful meaningful contribution that I find envigorating and interesting. 

Change. Or rather, Fear of Change. Maybe I am just in a rut and no longer have the youthful willingness for change in my forties that I had in my teens, twenties or thirties. That seems somehow insulting to all the energetic, enthusiastic, creative people I know who have a decade, or two, or three on me. Maybe change is harder as you get older though. And I can’t use the excuses of mortgage or kids as a reason to stay stuck in my current situation. The last massive life change I made was done across countries, and careers and with both kids in tow. Fair enough I was almost ten years younger but even so… I am familiar with fear, and change so I don’t think it is these that are limiting me now.

Myself. Maybe I am no longer a person who fits with the sneaky ninja method. Maybe who I am now needs more open support and encouragement from the people around me to make those big leaps into the unknown. Not people to point out all the possible flaws or pitfalls in my plans, as believe me, I have probably thought of all them and then some. Maybe what I need is simple, unconditional, straightforward support: emotional cheerleaders who will lend me some of their enthusiasm and optimism and confidence and capacity to change. The sneaky stealth change ninja in me feels that admission makes me vulnerable and open to yet more disappointment. The child in me wants to hope that a world exists where cheerleaders exist for me, and one where I can say out loud that I need their help this time around.

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Sleep and PTSD

I wonder if anyone without ptsd would understand how much you can crave the oblivion of sleep and yet be terrified of losing control to the night haunts that stalk through your dreams.

To sleep is to open the door to horror, and yet I am tired and long for rest. My eyelid twitches almost constantly from fatigue; I force myself over and over again to release my jaws, to relax my shoulders and even to remember to breathe as the fear and tension activate the instinct to freeze. Don’t move and maybe you won’t feel. Don’t breathe and maybe nothing will happen.

The dread anticipation that has us holding our breath again.

I am the tug-of-war between tension and exhaustion. I am the stretching rope pulled equally from opposing and opposite sides. Eventually, if neither side gives way then the rope will stretch and start to fray. It will hold until the thinnest strand remains twisting and unravelling. Then a final snap and the rope breaks.

Moments, hours, days, weeks or even months later the rope is finally spliced back together. A new join where it came apart. Ready for the game of tug-of-war to begin again.

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Movement is a decision

Our brain provides the electrical impulses that stimulate our muscles into movement. Some impulses are unconscious: heart to beat, lungs to expand and contract, eyes to focus. Some are so well practised that although they were once conscious, now we can rely on desire to create the appropriate impulses and the correct muscles will move in the needed ways. As toddlers we stumbled and fell but now, health permitting, as adults we walk confidently forwards expecting our bodies to perform the complex dance of movement and motion required to keep walking without falling.
But sometimes our brain keeps us frozen, paralysed by a state of mind that seems to disconnect our thoughts from our conscious movements. Sometimes our brain refuses to make the connections; to send the impulses; to pass the information onwards through the rest of our bodies.

Sometimes we are frozen by shock, or by fear. Sometimes we are held in place by pain. We hold ourselves so still as if it will mean that the pain will forget us and slip away to find fresh prey.
I hold myself frozen. I hold myself still. I hold myself against the pain which comes from inside me and so cannot be escaped. It paralyses my body and my thoughts. Tension tries futilely to be the barrier between my self and my pain. But the pain comes from within and so all my tension can do is hold it in, to try and stop it running off to tell tales on me. Tension Is the fighting when you cannot move, you may nor or dare not move. When all you can do is hold tight within yourself and hope that eventually this too shall pass.
My whole body is reverberating with the shock and pain of freshly awakened trauma. Peace has vanished and desperate survival has returned. Time. Mindfulness. Learning to relax. All these things I need. But right now it just hurts too damn much to be able to do anything but try and remember to breathe and hope that sleep will be quiet and deep and swift like an anaesthetic skilfully administered to the sickening patient.

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Comparing like with like..

Maybe I should not compare myself and my ability to function with people who have not experienced trauma in childhood? A friend suggested that to me a while ago and I did not pay much attention to it. Something in the past day or so has brought it back to my attention and I am revisiting the thought. Maybe I am being unfair to myself by comparing my ability to function with people without severe trauma in their past. My friend said to me that really I should be impressed that I am functional at all, especially that I am capable of holding down a job, paying a mortgage, raising two kids who seem largely well adjusted, kind and considerate young people. he said that given what I have lived through, it’s a wonder that I am not some alcoholic homeless social casualty, drug-addicted prostitute or long term psychiatric inpatient. I think his view is an exaggeration perhaps but I get his point. Instead of criticising myself so harshly for my inability to do everything well and measuring myself as a failure for my enduring PTSD and inability to sustain intimate personal relationships, instead of all that I could be being impressed with how well I am doing and with how many parts of life I am managing to do at least as well as the average person. Ah… But my inner critic says that if I am not perfect then I am worthless, and if I were perfect then everything would be alright and my parents would want me and show me the affection I so craved without demanding a price in abuse or emotional game-playing. If I were just good enough then maybe it would not have all happened. I wonder where and how in my twisted excuse for a childhood that idea first arose? .. When did I first feel that if I could just be good enough then the bad things would not happen? Was it the only way I could make sense of the displeasure of my gods, the controllers of my world? Was it the rationalisation of why I was hurt by my loved ones? Those all-powerful all-knowing authorities that ruled my life. Our parents are gods to our small, smaller selves. I know that it is common, even usual, for abused children to blame themselves rather than blame their care-givers as to do that would be to fundamentally undermine their universe. How much pain must a child be in to choose to judge themselves as unworthy failures out of preference to the alternative? To choose to hate yourself because it is better than destroying your own gods and universe? It is such an easy decision to make. I am small and weak; I can be wrong and bad and the world still survives. If I am not wrong and bad, then The world as I know it will be destroyed and the horrific truth will be laid bare with no place to hide from the soul-crushing reality that my parents were not good enough. That they failed to protect me and keep me safe. The omnipotent gods of my childhood are revealed as tacky fairground imitations. Worse still is that they chose at times to put their own needs to control, humiliate, hurt and dominate above the basic right of all children to be cared for.

I have moments where I can glimpse this.

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