Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trauma and Post-Trauma

[Content note: Description of the after-effects of trauma.]

Tomorrow, I have an appointment with my therapist. I made that appointment two weeks ago, but didn't anticipate when I made it that I would need it so badly. I felt like I was doing well two weeks ago. I was keeping up with work, mostly, and hadn't yet stood in line long enough to royally fuck up my knee for the next week and a half.

More importantly, two weeks ago I didn't know that I would be fighting panic attacks a week and a few days later.

This past Friday was horrid. It was worse than horrid, and is possibly the worst day I've had in months, excepting the 24 hours I spent vomiting/passed out recently, and that was bad in a very different way.

Sometime Thursday night/Friday morning, I had a dream. Only it was a little more than a dream, it was a nightmare based on memory. In it, I remember walking away from a hostile interaction with my brother, shutting a door, and locking it (with one of those push locks). My brother then tried to open the door, found he couldn't, and started shouting at me.

That's it. It's all I remember of the dream, so far as events go.

But I spent all day Friday remembering back to Christmas day when he did that for real, except there was no locked door to keep him out. Both in the dream and in life, there was no way out for me, just a room with one exit, and him standing in it.

On Friday, I went to class. I went to lunch. I read material and submitted a short response paper at literally the last minute. I went to a ten minute TA session for one of my duets. I went to a ResLife Staff Appreciation thing in the ResLife office for half an hour, long enough to enter a raffle and eat some cake.

Through all of it, my mood kept plummeting, refused to stay at my normal cheery level, and as a result I had repeated bouts of tears and shaking.

At 6, I went to campus shabbat services, and only managed to stay relatively positive for half an hour before I had to stop singing in order to fight tears. I ate dinner afterwards, and talked to a friend. And then I caught the campus shuttle back to my dorm, shut my door, and called the after-hours number for counseling services.

The on-call counselor called me back within minutes, and I managed to tell her what was wrong. I told her that I couldn't get the fear and anger of the incident with my brother out of my head, that my thoughts were going in circles, that it got worse when I had some down time, and that I was scared and had had a dream about it the night before.

She told me in return that what I was experiencing was a normal response to an abnormal situation--that, essentially, I had been traumatized, and this was part of my brain's way of trying to deal with it. She said something about cycles of not remembering, and then having it triggered and experiencing basically what I was going through. That I had been experiencing intrusive memories, which were like flashbacks except I knew it was a memory and not happening in that moment.

Perhaps the most comforting thing she told me is that my regular therapist specializes in trauma, and so he'll be able to help me move forward from here. She also talked me through a few coping techniques: making myself busy instead of letting myself think; shocking one of my senses to refocus my thoughts on something else (for example, going out in the cold without a jacket, or holding a hot cup of tea); spending time with friends and telling my housemate-friend that I might need support in my downtime at night.

Well, I made myself busy, or I already had a lot to do last weekend for my job, but I made things take more time by, for example, inviting one of my best friends to come shopping with me on Saturday. She drove, which was awesome because my knee was acting up, so I benefited that way, and she was planning to go shopping that day anyway, so it worked out well. I also went to a music major's thesis, which was a one-act opera, and it was awesome. On Sunday I woke up early and was running around immediately to do a few last-minute tasks, went to breakfast, and then spent 5 hours doing something for ResLife (to be fair, I could have done half the time, but felt the need to do the whole thing).

And then I hit time for schoolwork, realized I had so much to do because of midterms and other stuff and got really overwhelmed just in time for my therapist to call and check in on me.

Normally I can handle this stuff. Normally, I get a 24-hour rest period on shabbat by way of simply not doing homework from Friday through dinnertime Saturday. I didn't get that. Didn't have my spirits lifted by singing the psalms, only had a few hours' downtime on Saturday night when I had a two-hour skype session with my boyfriend. I went to bed really happy that night, but the feeling didn't last through the next day.

I wish it had. I wish I could go back to my "normal" but between midterm stresses, not getting a real shabbat, and having my mood plummet anytime something reminds me of Friday (including having my mother text me, unfortunately), I just...can't. I feel like I'm unable to manage anything right now, except I know I can go to classes and can even participate in them. But I'm not as invested in them, and I keep getting distracted by thoughts returning to Friday. It's a vicious cycle.

I'm praying that my therapist can help me break it, and get past it so that I can get on with my regularly scheduled life instead of feeling trapped by this one, enormous thing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dreams of Chaos

I just had the most fascinating dream. It had a plot an everything. I and whoever I was with ended up going to the Chaos lands where everything was upside down and topsy turvy. I recall telling a man I was with, whom I didn't like, "Dear Aunt, I love you." the instant we crossed instead of what I meant to say. This phrase popped up earlier, too, as foreshadowing (see what it did there? XD) . The logic of the place was strange, in that "things won't operate the way they used to. The logic might be based on the root of the root of four (i.e. √2)". And we went there, and got out, and everything there was hot and made me hungry and thirsty, so I ate something a magical guide offered after he cooled off a place for my hand to rest when I was overheated. And then someone else said zie didn't eat there because every time zie did, he lost some of his life and transformed into a small person briefly (which evidently 'costs' in terms of years taken off at the end) (also by 'small person' I mean Alice-in-Wonderland Eat-me small). We got back, but one of the women was sad to see some people we had met in Chaos, stay in Chaos, and she wanted to go back.

It was an incredible dream. I wish I could recall all the places we went, everything that happened that made it Chaos. Sadly, it's slipping away even as I type...

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I was/I am/I will be

There's an art class on my campus building interactive art pieces and displaying them for short periods of time around campus. Today I ran into one with three sides, which read "What I am" "What I will be" and "What I was".

I felt very defiant when I wrote "I am a woman" on one side. I tried to figure out how to convey my contempt for current politics and social climates, but couldn't think of a short phrase until after I walked away. I could have finished with "not a uterus".

I also wrote "I will be valued" and "I was unaware".

That about sums up some of the things that go through my mind on a regular basis, particularly when thinking about "home."

It now occurs to me that the only category I put a noun in was the present tense one. Interesting, that.

What about you? What would you have written?


In the last however many months I've identified a few snacks for when my mouth gets dry, and I'm hungry. It takes some searching, but there are a few things I love and a few things that work (not necessarily overlapping).

First up, Sugar-Free Lifesavers. I'm a fan of the Wintergreen flavor, and as a plus, it's the sugar-free my rheumatologist told me to find to prevent more dental decay. The down side? They have a strong odor, such that anyone within a few feet of me can smell the mint.

Second, gummy snacks. Lately I've been buying Annie's Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks, which are high-quality, very juicy, and not overly sweet or anything else. Of course, before looking them up just now, I didn't actually know what they cost; I buy them with my university meal plan from one of their to-go kiosks. I'm hoping I'll be able to a) find them and b) afford them when I graduate.

Third, ice cream or similar things. I love cakes and brownies, and all those yummy snacks. But they don't help my dry mouth at all and in fact tend to use up most of the moisture in my mouth within a few bites unless they're really moist. Instead, after meals I go for ice cream of some kind, provided the cafeteria has a flavor I like. A scoop or two of ice cream does very well for rounding out whatever dry food I might have eaten for dinner. As long as it's not super-creamy, like cookies and cream, anyways.

The major downside to all of these things is that I suspect it would cost a lot of money if I paid for these things in cash on a regular basis. During school breaks, I tend to be SOL on most of the things I eat regularly; I compensate with a LOT of water. 

Does anyone else out there have dry mouth? What do you do for it?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Minor Flare-up

I suspect I've started a flare-up recently. My wrists and hands are achy off and on (particularly just before a dose of one of my meds), my mouth keeps getting either dry or extremely thick mucous, so that I have to keep rinsing my mouth with water periodically (particularly when I'm singing!).

Of course, I've also been spending a lot of time on my computer doing things like scrolling through long readings when it would be better to print it out, except that printing costs money, or paper and ink. Today I printed all of my readings in a computer lab that does double-sided printing.

And so it goes.

At least my meds are handling it enough that my work hasn't been impacted too much this time.

Thursday, February 9, 2012


There's been an outbreak of gastroenteritis on campus. I am not one of the lucky few who hasn't gotten it. I'm still recovering. Tuesday night through Wednesday night is kind of a blur, with few clear memories.

I felt slightly ill Tuesday morning and switched to the BRAT diet for breakfast and lunch--a banana and ramen, respectively. I made it to all my classes and felt mostly fine. Then I ate dinner after my 7pm class, assuming that since breakfast and lunch hadn't made me sick, I would be fine. The burger was delicious.

Too bad I tasted it all coming back up for half the night. I think I finally hit dry-heaves around dawn. I was so, so thirsty by the time I dared try to drink some water.

I have really confused memories of taking my meds, and on more than one occasion trying to stand up only to collapse onto the floor. I don't know how long I stayed there each time, but I'm still vaguely surprised that no one walked past my room and called emergency or something the time I passed out in my doorway.

Today, Thursday, I didn't make it to classes. I'm wishing I could do the same tomorrow, but I have silly things like a housing fair I'm required to be at in order to recruit people for the house. It's three hours long. Normally I'd say, great, but I *also* have a TA session and a class tomorrow.

And today I can barely lift anything, barely walk any given distance. I asked multiple hallmates for help yesterday with things like getting a rice-based electrolyte powder from the health center, and then moving the crates that had my liter container in it for the aforementioned powder. I asked one of my friends to go to the kitchen multiple times for filtered water because going to the kitchen required climbing stairs, and after the first time in which I had to cling to the railing and then rest at the top, I didn't want to do it again. I still haven't tried it today.

I feel so weak and also like I can't afford the time. I have/had work to do, and it's all going to pile together again. I was on top of it until Tuesday night hit. Now I'm falling even farther behind.

And it is frustrating to have simple tasks make me short of breath within a few seconds. I went to plug my computer into the socket behind my bed because my hips were complaining about the chair at my desk. So I had to crawl under the bed a little bit, and by the time I pulled back I was breathing hard.

When I took a shower tonight because I started noticing that I smelled, I asked my hallmate/friend to check on me after ten minutes just in case I passed out or fell down. I didn't do either, but I did sway while standing in the shower. Had a hard time keeping my balance. Was grateful that even if the shower didn't have a bench to sit on, it at least was narrow enough to make catching myself easy.

I went through this last year, only I think most of the time it wasn't viral, since going on antacids finally made me stop having episodes. This time it was definitely viral. Lots of other people are sick. We even had warning, in the form of a public health advisory a week before.

It's just so difficult to avoid getting sick on a college campus. And I really, really wish it had picked another week to hit us.

I hate this. Hate it, hate it, hate it. Two days without full cognitive function, one of which didn't even leave clear memories. It might be another two or three days until I'm back to normal. I've eaten nothing but crackers today, and don't feel terribly hungry. I just want my body to be normal sometimes. Even if normal for me means pain, I at least don't usually have a hard time lifting things that are only a few pounds.


Monday, February 6, 2012

The Saga Continues

Content Note: This is part three of a series on abuse. Part One. Part Two. 
Two weekends ago I spent a night at my mother's house for the first time since December 27th. Every time I go there, I spend days or weeks getting my mental health back into a normal, positive track.

Yesterday, early afternoon, I finally called my mother to tell her why I stayed away for the whole month. I told her that my brother had trapped me, that his behavior was escalating, and that things were "moving toward abuse" or some such--I hadn't intended to modify it for her, but it slipped out. She said she would talk to my brother. I said okay and thank you.

Around 10pm last night, I received a text from her.
I talked to [brother's name]. I've asked that you guys agree to disagree & no more argueing.
 Things only devolved from there. I tried to be extremely clear and tell her that agreeing to such a thing 1) would make me feel like I had no way to stand up for myself and 2) would require a level of trust in my brother that I no longer have.

I've tried being tactful. I've tried cooperating. But my mother is not a good mediator, especially because she's involved, and she's also trying to force us to do what she wants, not what we want. It is so, so hard to explain things clearly and with reasons. It is so, so hard to retain respect for my mother when she's asking me to give an abuser another chance, without taking into consideration that I don't want to. She also threw in two lines of guilt tripping in separate texts.

For the record? I don't believe that "[h]e would die for [me]" and even if I did, what the hell does that matter when he actively hurts me in life? *still fuming*

Why does she keep asking me to do things I can't do? Why does she think that she or I can fix this? I'm not willing to place myself in danger just because she wants us to "get along." I'm not willing to deal with my brother without extensive family counseling, and even that I wouldn't be willing to do if he wasn't so involved in the family--or if I didn't have trouble with the idea of simply cutting ties. Not that I think family counseling is going to happen. 1) Not sure if anyone's insurance covers it. 2) My brother has very strong, negative feelings about any kind of therapy.

I'm not sure if I'm making sense or how much I'm rambling. I know that I will not do things on her terms--only on mine. The part I'm having trouble with is letting go of my relationship with my mother, should it be necessary.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Meme: Fictional Characters to Whom I Relate.

Borrowed from Tori, originated at voxcorvegis.

The meme is simple; name six fictional characters in whom you could see yourself, and explain why you were able to do so. Mine are as follows:
  1. Sarah Vida, from Shattered Mirror and All Just Glass by Amelia Atwater-Rhodes. Sarah struggles in these two books to grow up and to see outside the box her family built for themselves. She lives in a very limited world of vampires and those who hunt them. I identify because I spent years learning to connect with my peers, missing pop culture references, and trying to see and experience and understand people from other backgrounds. I've had to re-envision my entire worldview since coming to college, or it seems that way. And so does Sarah. (This may be one reason I've been obsessed with her for years, such that I frequently daydream about her story.)
  2. Karal in the Mage Storm Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. Karal is a priest-in-training apprenticed to a priest-envoy. He sees the world with a lot of compassion, even those who are supposed to be his enemies. His thought processes are actually the closest to my own that I've ever encountered in literature, enough that I've more than once thought about a vocation as a religious leader because of these books.
  3. Lirael from the Abhorsen Trilogy by Garth Nix. Lirael is a misfit and bookish among the kin she grows up with. Both sentiments I identify with.
  4. Keladry of Mindelan, Protector of the Small Quartet by Tamora Pierce. Keladry is a strong female character, loves and is loved in turn by animals, and is a leader. I'm neither a knight nor a commander, but I have a similar effect on animals and people as she does, and I have the same instinct to protect those who can't protect themselves.
  5. Tara in Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Joss Whedon). We're both quiet, and kind, and awesome singers. Also like women, although I am bi, not lesbian. (And wow, my explanations get shorter as I go along!) 
  6. Fluttershy in My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. Again with the quiet and good with animals tropes. I'm not the only one who has made the comparison. (Did I mention I'm also an introvert?)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

First full week

Classes started last Thursday. I feel like I haven't slowed down since the Monday before that when I arrived back on campus for more ResLife training (was it only last week?).

I'm thrilled about all of my classes, although I'm more excited about the music ones than anything else. I have a performance class, a music theory class, private voice lessons, Hebrew, and a Jewish studies capstone course. This is the first semester I've had the majority of my classes in my major (and all of them in either my major or my certificate program). The music major takes a lot of work and has some of the highest credit requirements (=max allowed by the university in one department), but it's so much fun even when it's frustrating.

Physically, I've been doing okay, still. I've gotten some tightness in my wrists, but nothing incredibly painful, and I've gotten used to sleeping in a twin bed again. I miss the air mattress; it has more give than any other mattress I've tried, and is therefore more comfortable for my hip. I've even been managing all the extra walking pretty well. It probably helps that the temperature is rarely low enough even to require gloves. Yesterday it was in the low 60s (Fahrenheit). This is Not Normal weather for the area. We should have semi-permanent snow until April-ish. Instead, we have 60 degree weather in February and January, which should be the coldest months of the year. 0.o (Yes, I'm a touch worried about our ecosystem here.) Even so, I'm betting it's helping my body cope better.

And I'm cautiously excited for a Bystander Intervention Workshop that our wellness and mental health centers are sponsoring in a couple of weeks. It's a six-hour workshop, but it's free, and I can see a lot of applications both as a ResLife staff member and as someone whose home-life involves alcoholics. The workshop has two different tracks, one for sexual assault and one for alcohol; I'm probably going to take the latter because of the men in my life who like to abuse alcohol. Either way it will be useful hands-on training.

So that's what's going on with me. How are you?