Posted in Community, Emotions, psychology, Therapy

The Living Nightmare that is childhood sexual abuse

*A featured personal story for this MENTAL HEALTH MONTH series*

I’d been in counselling following the breakdown of my relationship with my sons’ dad. It had become excruciatingly painful, revisiting places and feelings I’d long-forgotten so, about eighteen months in, I leftwithout telling my counsellor. I stayed away, despite her letters asking me to return.

However, things were coming back to haunt me. It was like I had this video in my head, fast-forwarding, re-winding over and over, sometimes so fast, it made me feel physically sick. The accompanying thoughts were disturbing and taunting me but, as I had nowhere to turn, these thoughts just amassed and I felt like a volcano, ready to erupt at any moment.

In desperation, I wrote to Linda (my Counsellor) to ask if I could go back to counselling and thankfully, she agreed. At my first appointment back, she said she hoped and thought I would return. I got the feeling she knew there was more than the breakdown of my relationship going on.

However, because I’d kept my dirty secret, together with these revolting thoughts and stomach-turning feelings, inside for so long — It took many months before it all came tumbling out — but I just couldn’t say the words.

I tip-toed around the topic but Linda was good at making me stay on track, patiently asking endless open-ended questions like “and then what happened?” or “and how did that make you feel?” How f*cking stupid was she? I felt angry, so f*cking angry. Right at that moment, I hated the world and everyone in It! And I felt full of rage towards Linda – for making me do this! I hated how she was digging into the filthy pit of my stomach, scraping out the misery, disgust, hatred and fear, one dirty lump after another. Then she turns. She asks, almost sweetly, “Hannah, can you tell me what is making you so angry?”

“Okay, Okay! I was f*cking abused. Is that it? Is that what you want to hear?” I screamed, and “I. was. sexually. Abused! You happy now? Or do you want to hear how he told me touch him, and I did. Okay. I did! And I don’t know why……,”

Zapped of all energy, my screeching gave way to sobbing and whispered apologies to Linda.

Months in and towards the end of one of our sessions, Linda held up a book and I burst into tears. It was the first time I’d ever seen anything in print about what had happened to me. I felt sick, I couldn’t breathe, and I was sobbing uncontrollably. I think I was in shock, I felt shaken and I had a panic attack.

However, once I’d recovered from the panic, I think I felt slightly relieved. It hadn’t happened to just me. Not that I wanted it to happen to anyone else, but others had been through it, come out the other side, and had written a book to help people like me.

That afternoon, I took the book home and was sitting on my bed, feeling slightly dazed and afraid to open it, when my brother walked in. Puzzled at my silence, he sat with me and saw the title of the book. He put his arm around my shoulders, opened the book, and as we read the Preface, we shed silent tears together. I will always remember this moment and I’ll be eternally grateful to my brother.

I continued with the counselling, trying to unravel this mess – this living nightmare of childhood sexual abuse. processing my thoughts and emotions, slowly. For a long time, I hated myself. I hated that it had happened, that I let it happen, that it went on for so long.

I’d known all this stuff for years but refused to confront it. I wasn’t able to push all that stuff to the back of my mind anymore. I’d always hoped that was it; in the past — gone. But it never goes. It does get easier in time.

Catch Caz at: https://mentalhealthfromtheotherside.com

Her twitter: @hannahsmiley

Pinterest board: http://www.pinterest.co.uk/pin/800444533760600123/

If you would like to submit your personal story to be featured this mental health month, contact me here or on Instagram @written_in_the_photo or on Twitter @philopsychotic. We will be covering Schizophrenia, Bipolar, and Dissociation next. If you have anxiety or trauma related stories you’d like to share, message me anyway. We’ll get you featured.

Read today’s post on Trauma here.

Posted in Community, psychology, science

mental health month: trauma

Welcome back! Let’s talk about Truama and Stressor related disorders. Read more for a great book recommendation for emotional trauma and CPTSD.

What is Trauma?

This can be any event or events which leave lasting psychological distress. This ranges from emotional abuse influencing your world view to the vicious physical flashbacks veterans face after war. A car crash can be a trauma that makes you anxious or avoidant about cars. Divorce is a trauma. Children of alcoholics, such as yours truly, have a specific set of common trauma responses. Sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, a gun to your head are all specific traumas that can cause specific perspectives and responses from people.

Sometimes trauma can cause a person to lash out suddenly, aggressively, or present the opposite characteristics; some will shut down, avoid, and become stagnant or submissive. There’s research supporting the hypothesis that traumatic events can heavily influence the wiring in our brain. This has a lot of implications in all mental health conditions, not just Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. But for the sake of honoring Trauma today, we will talk about that only in the context of trauma.

What Are Trauma Disorders?

I had a similar question. The DSM-5 has somewhat of an answer. Here are the diagnoses they list:

  1. Reactive attachment disorder: This is in early childhood or infancy where the child does not look toward their caregiver for “comfort, support, protection, and nurturance.” If you’re anything like me, psychopathy might pop into your head. There isn’t a lot of research supporting Reactive attachment disorder as a precursor to psychopathy. But if you’re interested, here’s a random presentation I found on the subject.
  2. Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder: This is basically the opposite of the above disorder. These children will approach strangers and act overly familiar with them, also breaking cultural boundaries. Often they have experienced some kind of pattern of severe neglect from their caregivers. They must be at least 9 months of age to receive this diagnosis. Don’t ask me how that works.
  3. Posttraumatic Stress Disorder: This has some of the longest criteria to meet and is often diagnosed very quickly. Major symptoms can be obvious. However, for those of us who have struggled with emotional abuse, it takes a keen eye to recognize the signs. PTSD is an emotional response to one or more traumatic events. This includes “fear-based re-experiencing, emotional and behavioral symptoms. Experiences range from explosive “reactive-externalizing”, to dissociation.
  4. Acute Stress Disorder: This would be caused by a gun to your head, or anything else that threatens death, serious injury, or sexual violation. This also applies if you witness one of these events, such as someone being shot in the head, threatened to be shot in the head, someone being raped or beaten. If you had a conscience and were the person filming Ahmaud Arbery‘s death, you may develop this disorder. Evidently that person has not. This can happen to police officers or detectives, or any emergency responders who are repeatedly exposed to violent/disturbing/fatal cases. Keep our COVID front-line medical staff in mind.
  5. Adjustment disorders: This is marked by emotional or behavioral symptoms that appear within three months of a stressor. For example, the changes a person may experience after the death of a loved one or sudden death of a close friend.
  6. Other-specified Trauma and Stressor-Related Disorder and Unspecified Trauma and Stressor Related Disorder: These both carry criteria of a person exhibiting trauma like responses that cause significant distress but don’t fit in the categories of the other disorders.

How do People Manage?

Writing this hasn’t been easy. My chest is tight, my hands are shaking, and I keep having to remind myself to breath. My senses are become more sensitive by the minute and I’ve had to change my music to something softer and easy to ignore. My stomach is in knots. I’m not thinking about any incident in particular, but the body has an amazing memory. It encodes emotions, sensations, feelings. That’s why dissociation is such a common respond to trauma: escape your body and the feelings are void. It’s a mistake to think only the mind holds the capacity for feeling.

Therapy is a common go-to for trauma. EMDR has stormed popular psychology but according to my research professor last year, it’s unclear whether the lights/wands used in EMDR are causing an effect or if it’s the CBT you’re doing during the session. After all, CBT is the leading therapeutic treatment for trauma. There are no studies with participants using CBT, EMDR (that includes CBT), EMDR without CBT (which would basically be flickering lights or waving wands with you sitting there awkwardly staring at them) and no treatment which would put you on a “waiting list”, you unknowingly part of the control group.

Much of my own trauma is rooted in emotional events. Being threatened, bad mouthed (an eleven year old being called a bold little motherfucker for expressing distress about something is kind of how that went constantly), and intimated taught me to be suspicious, distrusting, and defensively aggressive. Being homeless created a lot of insecurity, confusion, and depression; the first day I wanted to kill myself I was eleven, sitting outside of the house we stayed in where the owner drank a bottle of Jack Daniels each night followed by a plate of Xanax. Her daughter had sex orgies loud enough to permeate the street and the other went to work and school. I have many more stories about many wild people I’ve encountered. Maybe I’ll tell it sometime.

But the alcoholism and drugs in my own house, coupled with our 3 year homelessness, and my terror of school I’d experienced since I was five in day care, made me closed, submissive, and withdrawn. When I hear certain words today–for example, in a team meeting at work, if I hear the word “activity”, my body flashes cold, my heart races more than it already was, my hands shake, my muscles twitch. This is an example of an encoded emotion from my days in school. There are studies going into this.

I didn’t ever talk. I fainted if I was asked in front of the class, and was so nervous to raise my hand that I often peed on myself in elementary; I couldn’t ask to use the bathroom. By middle school I’d developed a ritualistic routine to avoid asking for anything in class: use the bathroom before school, five minutes before the bell ended break, five minutes before the bell ended lunch. That’s continued through college; I’ve never got up and walked out of a class before the class ended. By high school, my dissociation got so severe I experienced fugue states (only lasting at most a day), one that caused me to walk into four lanes of traffic against the light, with my friends apparently screaming. They eventually caught up to me but I only remember walking through my door at home. I don’t remember the rest of the day or what made me so terribly distressed that I left my body.

There are some medications offered, usually SSRIs but sometimes heavier medications like Seroquel for a knock-out sleep. Sleeping can be hard with trauma. Your body is constantly in high alert.

Meditation helps some. This can be any activity that helps you focus on your breath and rooting your thoughts in your body. We get so used to ignoring, avoiding, or giving in completely to the distress our body and mind feels that we lose sight of reconnecting our system, which is so essential to wellness.

Support groups and other outlets to express the physical and emotional experiences are key. Just typing my physical experiences above helped relieve a lot of the tension; it’s important to acknowledge what your body feels, and get specific about it–write it down, call a friend or support force, schedule a therapy appointment. Resort to emergency medication if the experience doesn’t abate after trying everything, including sitting with yourself. I’ve had panic attacks related to body-trauma flashbacks push through Seroquel, Ativan, Klonopin, Valium.

Drugs aren’t always what you need. Sometimes it’s just your body screaming for you to offer understanding, consolation, and acknowledgment of its distress; it’s been through the same things you have, on a cellular level.

Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving has been on my read list for a while. It covers “Complex-PTSD” which is not a DSM diagnosis no matter how many psychologists push for it, but references the emotional markers left over from childhood trauma.

Today, we are greatful to hear from Caz again, over at mentalhealthfromtheotherside.com. Read about her experiences with childhood sexual abuse here.

Thank you to everyone who has been messaging me on Instagram. Sharing your story is difficult and I appreciate those of you just reaching out with words of encouragement, thankfulness, and those of you asking about my own experience with psychosis. We will continue with Mental Health Month NEXT WEEK.

Thursday May 14th: Schizophrenia

Friday May 15h: Bipolar

Saturday May 16th: Dissociative disorders.

These posts may be a little later than usual as I am on a hiring panel at my job on Thursday and Friday. Finals are also coming up. I will keep everyone updated. If you would like to submit a paragraph, quote, or personal story with any of those listed experiences, please reach out through my CONTACT PAGE, or message me on:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

Twitter: @philopsychotic.

If you enjoyed this post, please share, like, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue reporting poorly executed science.

Posted in Emotions, Supporting Friends/Family, Therapy

What Is Trauma?

Today I’m switching up the format a bit. I’ve been doing lists and tips for the past few days because I feel the information has been important and also relevant to many of our lives (if this is an inaccurate perception, please let me know in the comments below). But today has a different vibe to it.

For the longest time, I believed trauma could only exist in the form of a sudden, violent, physical instance, like a car accident or molestation/rape or physical child abuse. It wasn’t until I was 21 did I learn consistently being told to shut up, to not speak, was a form of trauma. It wasn’t until I was 21 did I learn the three years I spent homeless during my childhood was a trauma. I also didn’t know that growing up with an alcoholic and an addict was a very specific type of trauma.

So what exactly IS trauma?

Trauma Is:

Any kind of repeated emotional, verbal, or physical abuse/manipulation that has caused lasting effects. This could range from something seemingly simple like your mother nudging you to lose weight and consistently commenting on what you eat, how much you eat, and what kind of clothes you wear, to your father threatening to kill you if you told the teacher he gave you a black eye.

The thing about trauma is that it doesn’t effect any two people the same way. Not every person who has experienced sexual abuse becomes a drug addict. Not every person who was verbally accosted spends a lifetime struggling with their self-worth. Not every person who was physically abused grows up to be physically abusive.

Many people develop their own ways to process (or not process) their trauma. Some people want to pretend it never happened, and there are times where that helps them move on. We hear a lot that everyone should process their feelings, but as a grief study in Europe showed, sometimes people move on easier and still in a healthy way by just getting back to life rather than diving deep into their feelings. (I will put proper citation for that study when I can find a full copy; I learned of it through my previous professor).

Some people relive the events everyday and it cripples them. It invades their relationships, their school, their work, their own sense of peace.

Some people, like me, don’t really recognize where the trauma has effected their life or how. I think I talked a little about the trauma around my learning to speak for myself in this post, On Mental Health and Freedom.

Some people are in the middle and can function well, but are haunted from time to time with flashbacks or residual effects of their trauma.

Where Is Trauma Located?

Maybe that sounds weird.

What I mean is, where do you feel the trauma?

Often with mental health, we’re told “it’s just in your head”, and with trauma that’s not always the case. As a hypothesis, trauma can also be felt in your body as physical memories. Now, I don’t have a research paper sitting in front of me to back me up with this, all I have is my personal experience of certain physical attributes presenting when preparing certain memories for EMDR therapy.

When I find a paper that has studied this with a proper research method, I will update everyone.

But, if you have experienced trauma, you may get what I’m talking about. You feel certain things in your body. You may feel yourself separating from your body as the result of a specific memory–we call this dissociation. There may be certain words or attitudes or body language from someone else that may activate a tightening in your stomach or nausea or hot flashes with seemingly no explanation.

For me, one of these things is the “inner child”. The last therapist who asked me to talk to my inner child pulled some kind of deep seeded darkness into the light and whenever someone says the words or I think about it, I break down crying. I’m not sad, it’s just my body’s response. I’ll get warm and my chest will tighten and I have no full explanation for it.

So, it’s not “all in your head”, from my personal experience.

We talked a bit about this at a Hearing Voices Network workshop a couple years ago. We talked about how trauma can cause our mind to separate from our body and how that relates to and can be a catalyst for psychosis.

What this means is that, in approaching trauma, we must consider the whole body experience. We must consider reconnecting the mind with the body and this is often done with grounding techniques, similar to those used for anxiety and panic attacks: reminding yourself you are safe, feeling your feet on the ground, pinpointing areas of your body and focusing on them, or pinpointing objects in the room and saying them out loud.

Is EMDR A Proven Therapy?

NO. You’d be surprised to find that mindfulness isn’t either.

For those who don’t know, EMDR (Eye Movement and Desensitization Reprocessing) is a type of specific trauma therapy in which a traumatized patient is guided by someone trained with specific skills in asking particular questions about a traumatic memory (some of which can feel like CBT therapy) while they move a wand back and forth or flash moving lights. The hypothesis here is that eye movement helps your brain process the memory as a whole.

What I will say, for EMDR, is that studies have shown it works for the majority of people. The problem with the majority of the studies is that they often don’t separate the actual therapeutic content (the therapist leading you, asking questions, guiding you to feel your feelings) from the little lights and wand and all that.

So, in order for a valid study to prove that this therapy works, it would need to be compared with CBT with no lights/wand, Lights/wand with no CBT, the full EMDR package of lights/wand, and guiding CBT questions, and of course a control group of no treatment. Haven’t yet read a study like that. (If you know of one, please send it to me or put it down below in the comments! Please link the FULL research article or at the very least the abstract, not a secondary source).

EMDR is very popular. But so is Debriefing Therapy done after a serious natural disaster/crisis and studies have shown that actually makes people worse.

So POPULAR does not equal PROVEN.

What I will say from my current EMDR experience, is that it’s brought up a lot of pain but it also helped me process an incident at work very quickly. And had I not done that, I think the incident would have stuck with me in a different way. A hindering way.

What is Dissociation Like?

Dissociation can become a way of life for those traumatized, and it can also be a savior. It can pull you through tough moments. I’ve been dissociating regularly, and heavily, since I was 14 and I can say the first few years it bothered me. It bothered me mostly because I wasn’t so aware of it happening until I was told I walked into four lanes of traffic and 3 miles home without responding to anyone.

A lot of the time it feels like you, your essence, is somewhere far away and your body is stuck down here in muddy waters. Other forms of dissociation make you feel like your body isn’t real or that none of the earthly objects around you are real. This can be terrifying for a lot of people, and upsetting.

I’ve been experimenting with turning my dissociation into a profit. Not a monetary profit, but a mental profit. Dissociating has helped me learn to share power with my voices and given me a space I can retreat safely when needed.

Am I Traumatized?

Are you? I don’t know. If you experience some of the aforementioned things, perhaps. I’m not going to tell you what you are and what you aren’t, though. If you feel that there are things in the past that hinder your daily activities today or effect your mood or how you interact with people, it may be worth finding someone to talk to about it.

It took me years to realize that the reason I struggled interacting with people wasn’t because I was strange, weird, or a freak, but because I’d been taught my words were invalid, my thoughts were useless, and I didn’t have any right to speak. That mentality has continued to follow me into my adulthood, and it’s only been in the past year I’ve been able to rationally confront it.

So, as terrifying as facing pain can be, if it’s something you feel you need to get off your chest, if it’s something that’s been keeping you from living the life you want to live, it may be worth working toward gaining a new perspective and reaching out for guidance.

I don’t think I’ll want to talk about all my trauma for all of my life. I’d get tired of being weary over it. But a couple sessions of half-ass studied EMDR won’t hurt.

Would you like to continue the conversation, see silly (and beautiful) photos, or nonsensical two-second videos? Great! Follow me:

Instagram: @written_in_the_photo

*New* Twitter: @Philopsychotic

Snapchat: @FabulousIRLTho

If you liked this article, please share it, hit the like button, reblog, and follow ThePhilosophicalPsychotic. I appreciate every reader and commentator. You give me more reason to continue this joyous hobby.