Victims on Trial: Revictimization of Abuse Survivors

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When was the last time you felt truly accepted, just as you are? You might think, “Well, my friends and family accept me no matter what.” But is this truly the case? What if you became addicted to drugs? What if you committed a crime? What if you found yourself in an abusive relationship?

If your family and friends have or if you believe they would fully support you through any of these situations, you’re truly fortunate. Many people find themselves in situations in which they have lost control and need considerable help yet, not all of them find the help they need. Instead, they are met with comments like, “Why don’t you just do xyz?” or, “You’re on your own with this one,” or “I’ll only help you if you do as I say.

Those who have experienced abuse in relationships, romantic and otherwise, know what it feels like to lose control and to feel completely powerless to help themselves. Often, they have been convinced from the start that they do not know how to make decisions and that they’re not capable of forging a life of their own. This belief is reinforced when supposed “helpers” put the blame back on the victim for staying in an abusive relationship or for even being in the relationship in the first place. “Why would you stay with someone like that?” translates to, “What is wrong with you? Why can’t you just choose something better?

Helpers often forget that one of the main problems in these relationships is that the victim has lost their agency and has been controlled emotionally and/or physically. Reminding a victim that their decision-making abilities are faulty not only disempowers them, it revictimizes them. They are further revictimized through controlling helpers who will only give support if certain contingencies are met. Again, the victim is under the control of another person albeit one with an attitude of beneficence.

Those who have been abused are often traumatized as well and suffer from panic attacks, flash backs, hypervigilance and nightmares. Upon entering a treatment program, they are often forced to relive their trauma by recounting their story multiple times to multiple people.

I have written this post in a passive voice up to this point but I must state that this was exactly my situation the last time I was hospitalized. I was forced to retell my story multiple times as I cried uncontrollably and pleaded for the doctors to let me stop. I was reminded that the information was necessary and that it would be “good for me to get it out.” Needless to say, this was not the case. I relived every horrible moment again and again as my interviewers took copious notes.

During my time in the hospital and after I was released into an outpatient program, I was reminded that I was an active participant in all of my pain and that it fell upon me to stop it. If I just learned the right coping methods and told my partner what I wanted in the right way or if I just chose to leave, everything would be okay.

Sure! No problem!

Our attitude towards those who have been victimized is often one of supreme judgment. We look upon them as weak, stupid and culpable for getting into their situation and not being able to get out. It never crosses our minds that what these people might need most is compassion, acceptance and trust in their ability to make good decisions for themselves.

Survivors of abuse often develop extremely judgmental internal voices that continue to “batter” them even after they’ve left the relationship. They have feelings of longing for the person who hurt them and they hear, “What is the matter with you? You’re so stupid!” They return to the relationship — “You’re in for it now! You can’t do anything right, can you?

Let’s just stop. What gives anybody the right to pass judgement on anybody else? You know what happens when we do that? The one being victimized loses their humanity. They stop being a person like everybody else and start being a lower creature, undeserving of kindness, healing and respect. They continue to inhabit the position of less-than, just as they did when they were abused. The responsibility for getting help falls upon them just as the responsibility for being abused was theirs all along??? No.

We need to get off our high-horses and show some f***ing compassion. We do not have the right to put anybody on trial for being abused any more than we have the right to blame people for getting cancer. That’s inhuman and cruel. All people deserve kindness and respect no matter their situation. People who have been abused shouldn’t have to explain themselves or do anything special to receive support. In fact, respect and acceptance would go a long way in these people’s lives.

We are not weak and we are not stupid. We have dreams, hopes and aspirations just like anybody else. We desire love and companionship, healing and peace. We are precious and worthy of respect even if we have not been treated that way.We are deserving of lives lived with dignity, even when we feel worthless. It is not anybody’s job to save or condemn anybody else, only to treat them just as they are — human.

Thank you for reading.

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The Poisoned Bottle : A Legacy of Child Abuse

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about narcissism, especially in parents, and I keep running across this idea of the perfect parent. As children, we need to believe that our caregivers are “perfect”, not perfect in the sense of doing everything “just so” but perfect in the child’s sense that everything our parents do is for our benefit. Perhaps it is better described as a perfect trust in our parents to always look out for us. Thus, their actions are always for our highest good.

The idea that we have this need makes sense to me. We are born completely dependent on our parents to give us shelter, nourishment, love and to keep us safe. When we grow up without any one of these things, we are not able to see that anything is missing. We have no reason or ability to question anything our parents do or fail to do. We trust them and accept their behavior regardless.

When we are abused or neglected, this behavior is not questioned. Indeed, we may grow up believing that we deserve the treatment we get, that we are less important than others or that we are bad or wrong. Our parents, in essence, feed us from a poisoned bottle of abuse. We drink the poison without question. Our parents might even tell us it’s good for us. Perhaps it even tastes good. Nevertheless, it is all we have and our parents are our sole providers. When we are old enough we may even drink the poison ourselves, still unaware it’s destroying us inside. And when we go on to form relationships of our own, we may feed the poison to others, not knowing it’s true destructive nature.

With the realization of my mother’s narcissism, the proverbial veil was lifted from my eyes and I could see that my mother had been feeding me poison in the form of covert abuse and neglect. I grew up completely enmeshed, acting as a friend, partner and parent to my mother. With no idea that anything was wrong, I continued to cater to my mother’s needs while my own needs were neglected. I enjoyed a very “happy” relationship with her. She was caring and affectionate in my eyes and to the eyes of the world. But underneath my happy existence ran a deep undercurrent of immense loneliness, fear and self-hatred.

I understand now that I’ve been living off of the same poison I was fed as a child. Even though I see it, I still struggle not to drink it. I know I didn’t cause any of this to happen nor could I have known any of it was wrong. I grew up believing my mother was the most important person in the world, me — the least important. I believed I was never precious and that anything I had could be taken from me at any time. I believed that any pain I suffered was my own fault and a result of something I did.

It is painful for me to write this now. My mother made the poison she fed me very sweet and I never thought she would do anything to hurt me. When I have thoughts and feelings of worthlessness now, I have to say to myself, “No! That’s the poison, don’t drink it!” I am even trying to replace the poison with antidote — the good, healthy nourishment all children need and deserve from the start. I imagine a kind and caring inner mother who loves me unconditionally. I even have conversations with her sometimes.

I hope, with time, that I can get most of the poison out of my system and that I won’t make the mistake of feeding it to anybody else. We are so precious, people are, and we deserve to be taken care of, by ourselves and each other. When we fail to care for one another, the legacy of that loss can be immense. We don’t need that.

Thank you for reading and listening.

Take care.

The Lost Art of Listening

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Today, I was thinking about listening. I belong to an online support community in which you can post to vent, receive advice, support, provide help for others, whatever you need. It’s a wonderful safe place where you can remain completely anonymous if you choose. However, I’ve noticed that oftentimes people will post to the forum, wanting support, and in return will receive long personal stories from other users that detract from their original post and do not answer the call for support.

I believe the tendency to relate to others through one’s personal experiences is well meaning and a genuine attempt to understand where the other person is coming from. Unfortunately, this can leave the person seeking support feeling dismissed, forgotten and invisible. When I was a little girl, I remember trying time and time again to tell my mom how scared I was of my nightmares. She would remind me my dad and she were right next door and that they wouldn’t let anything happen to me. Needless to say, this did NOT make me feel better.

If she had listened, my mom might have learned what my dreams were about and why they frightened me so. But neither my mom nor my dad were adept at listening. This lack of visibility and recognition contributed to a sense of worthlessness that plagued me my whole life. This may seem an extreme example but not so extreme if we think about the consequences of disregarding others on a larger scale. We can disregard others to the point of neglecting their needs completely or harming them when they’re asking us to stop.

Truly listening to another person means not only hearing their words but deriving meaning from them and responding compassionately. If someone confides a problem in us but does not ask for advice, how will they feel when we give them our opinion on what we think they should do? It can be difficult to feel “helpful” when we’re not doing anythingHowever, compassionately listening to another person’s story is doing quite a lot. We affirm their experience as being real and important and when we reflect their feelings, we affirm their importance and validity as well. We do not have to agree with them but listening is not about right or wrong, it’s an affirmation of our value as human beings.

How do we become better listeners? I watched a wonderful TED talk on listening by Julian Treasure in which he outlines a simple acronym to help us remember how to listen–RASA.

R stands for “Receive” or tune-in to what the person is trying to communicate.

stands for “Appreciate” by making sounds to show you have received the message and understand it’s meaning (Mhm, Oh, I see).

stands for “Summarize.” This is the time for you to reflect back what you’ve heard and show you understand (So, …).

stands for “Ask” which allows you to move the conversation forward or clarify anything you had questions about.

I’d like to add that while “What,” “Who,” “Where,” and “How” questions can be helpful, “Why?” can sound quite judgmental. Think back to the last time somebody said to you, “Why would you do that?”

Improving my own listening skills has added tremendously to my life. I feel much more helpful than I ever did when I would try to problem-solve for people who needed my support. It also takes a tremendous amount of pressure off of me to relinquish the need to “help out” when someone is expressing their feelings to me. I have begun to break free of the old transactional (I scratch your back, you scratch mine) mode of relating to people that was so toxic and hurtful in my childhood. This will allow me to form more meaningful and caring relationships with others.

The needs to feel visible, important and understood are in all of us. One of the simplest ways to validate another person is to listen to them. When we feel acknowledged and affirmed we are more apt to treat others the same way. By making this small change in ourselves, we can have a huge ripple effect on the world. I encourage you, the next time you get the chance, to try out these ideas and just see what happens!

Thank you for listening.

Magic Mike is redefining feminism? Please, No.

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I wasn’t planning on writing any more today but I just had to get my thoughts out about this.

After reading an article in The Huffington Post entitled “He Does Us Dirty: How Magic Mike Is Redefining Feminism” I have to put my hand up and say, “No. Absolutely not. I disagree.”

The author starts out by comparing girls to women in a way that diminishes girls’ validity and importance. She compares them to “one-toned paint” as if they’re completely  one-dimensional and lack any sort of character or complexity. Then goes onto say, “but women can’t be ignored.” Yes they can. I’ve seen it happen!

She goes on to congratulate filmmakers for finally cluing in to what women want which apparently is scantily clad men gyrating for a couple of hours on the big screen. Perhaps the most telling phrase in her article is, “But if guys are always getting what they really want, why aren’t we?” So…guys want to reduce women to sexual objects, not think about them as thinking feeling people and exert control over them in any way they can and THIS is what WOMEN WANT TO DO TO MEN?

The author seems to suggest that the new face of feminism is to take the objectification of women by men and turn it around. They can do it, so why can’t we? Because it was never right in the first place! People should not objectify other people and just because men have been doing it for hundreds of years does not mean the goal of feminism should be for women return the favor!

To me, feminism is and always has been about respect and equal treatment. Feminism is about being seen and valued as a human being. Women have been oppressed and dominated by men for centuries–anger about this is warranted and understandable but simply reversing the discourse is not equality! It’s not even a reversal, it’s women falling into the trap of a patriarchal mode of thought based on devaluing a group of people to gain power and control over them.

The system that reinforces male domination is one in which sex is used as a way to objectify and devalue others. In this system, sex is not part of a complex web of physical and emotional needs nor is it part of a mutual and loving relationship (monogamous or not) based on the valuing of human beings and their bodies, it is a one-dimensional, power-driven act, completely disconnected from any feeling whatsoever and unconcerned with any sort of physical or emotional consequences for the less powerful person.

Well I am not going to fall into this trap. Objectifying people does not make me feel more powerful and it is not what I want. As far as film goes, I’d like to see more women in leading roles  doing something other than trying to find a romantic relationship. I want to see complex female characters who think and feel and express themselves in a variety of ways. I want to see more movies by women which the aforementioned movie is but does nothing to empower women. I want to see women break out of societal stereotypes. I do not need a bigger woman to be funny to find her palatable, I do not need female characters to be beautiful so that they’re “allowed” to be quirky, and I do not need a woman to act like a sexist, disgusting man to find her powerful!

The whole point of feminism is not for women to “be more like men” or “do what men do,” it’s to do what we want and say what we feel and not apologize for it and still be treated like human beings! It’s not to stop slut-shaming, it’s to get to a place where we value ourselves and each other for being alive and not for looking a certain way.

I’m tired of our culture putting sex and looks and success above everything else! We are so much more than that and THAT is what feminism is to me–truly seeing and respecting the value of every living thing, being so connected that we cannot harm the world or its inhabitants without harming ourselves. If we believe that feminism is a simple reversal of roles while still buying into patriarchal values of objectification and domination, we have missed the mark. No, this is not it — not at all.

Phew!

Period Education as an Act of Feminism

Not long ago, I was experiencing horrible depression, mood swings and suicidal thoughts every month! Right before my period. These were not your run-of-the-mill PMS symptoms which are bad enough; they were life-altering in the worst way. I was suffering from premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD).

I began researching treatments for PMDD awhile ago. Most of what I read suggested changing birth control pills to level out hormones. Not again! I had been on so many different types of birth control I was beginning to feel like a lab rat!

I dug a little deeper in my research and started looking at the female hormonal cycle. I learned what hormones and which levels were responsible for certain shifts in mood. I noticed that when estrogen dipped dramatically is when I felt the worst. So I looked into estrogen therapies for PMDD and found that some women had received relief from it.

I contacted my nurse practitioner and told her all I had learned and what my concerns were. She suggested further progesterone therapy and a few other options but nothing I liked. My psychologist (just one of the 500 people who are part of my “team” at Kaiser!) suggested Zoloft and my heart sank. I’d been on and off  antidepressants since I was a kid and I did NOT want to go on another one.

I stuck to my guns and learned all I could about my cycle and what I could do to help myself. I even found an amazing website called HormoneHoroscope.com. It contained mountains of information compiled to help women become more knowledgeable about their bodies and take control of their lives. I must say, it has certainly changed my life for the better!

The website, started by founder Gabrielle Lichterman, is an invaluable resource for women everywhere. Lichterman even offers a free app to help you track your cycle and read information about what to expect each day! Knowing what to expect and what I can do to help myself has dramatically alleviated my PMDD. I’ve never felt more connected to my body or more empowered to help myself. In addition to the app, I keep up-to-date on interesting information and the latest research about women’s hormones with the weekly newsletter. Since discovering this website, I no longer feel out of control, I am more accepting of the changes my body goes through and I even celebrate feeling more feminine and comfortable in my own skin.

Knowing more about our bodies is an act of feminism. Many women are ashamed and ignorant about their bodies and indeed we have been conditioned to feel that way. Women’s periods are secretive and “dirty” and we are encouraged to maintain silence around them. Feminine products are marketed by how discreet they are and many women and girls try to hide the fact that they are on their period.

Ah yes, the freedom to have anybody 6 inches from your rear end while you're on your period! Stay free!
Ah yes, the freedom to have anybody 6 inches from your rear end while you’re on your period! Stay free!

To educate women about their bodies is to empower them. With this knowledge we can be a friend to ourselves and allies for other women. In another place and time, women knew their bodies and celebrated them. They helped one another and were purveyors of knowledge not just for each other but for their communities. This is completely attainable again. We can start by educating ourselves!

Thank you so much for reading!

P.S. I’ve begun to question the legitimacy of charging money for feminine products in public restrooms. Periods are no less natural than urinating or having a bowel movement yet we are not charged for toilet paper. When I see those machines charging money for tampons and pads, I like to leave little notes that say, “You don’t charge for toilet paper!”

Think about it!

“PC” and The New Racism

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As I was reading newspaper submissions to a forum on San Francisco’s status as a sanctuary for illegal immigrants, I noticed something. The people who had contributed to the forum seemed to express the same sentiment: illegal immigrants are hardened criminals and should not be allowed into the U.S. There was no distinction made between immigrants who did not have criminal records and those that did. Isn’t there a name for judging a group of people based on the actions of a few? Oh yeah, prejudice!

It seemed pretty clear to me that these people held some pretty racist attitudes. But there was something interesting in one of the submissions. The writer used the term “politically correct” to refer to what his beliefs were not. It seemed to be used like, “I’m sorry if my hatred towards Mexicans offends you but…deal with it.”

I had to look up the term and learned that originally it was used by Socialists to distinguish themselves from Marxists who apparently held views that were in line with party politics but not always moral. In this instance, “politically correct” is a disparaging term to refer to immoral attitudes that are held as correct. The term has been used in various ways over the years but its current meaning encapsulates a belief that ideas or language that could be found offensive should not be expressed….at least not publicly.

“Politically correct” seems to me to epitomize an attitude pervasive in U.S. society today: that of covert racism and prejudice. This type of prejudice is quite insidious and very volatile. When called by its true name, prejudiced individuals become extremely offended and very defensive. “How dare you call me a racist! Well I never!” Yet the evidence of such racist beliefs is visible every day in our legal system, housing system and school systems.

Most of the instances of racism I recall in my own life began after high school when I entered college and the workforce. I remember being at a coworker’s house for dinner and a girl I considered a close friend of mine used the term “jigaboo” to refer to the lips of our coworker’s pet fish. My blood was boiling yet I couldn’t find a satisfactory response to her racist comment. All I could get out was, “That sounds like something (a more openly racist coworker of ours) would say.” I wanted to leave but felt paralyzed. I might add that this person would never consider herself racist and would probably be very offended at the idea.

There were other instances in which company, many of whom I considered friends, would make extremely racist comments about Mexicans at which point someone in the know would say, “Don’t say that! She’s (me) Mexican!” Then I would feel extremely conflicted and  very uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t you say, “Don’t say that because it’s ignorant and wrong!”

Being a very light-skinned person of Mexican and white European ancestry, I’ve gotten to witness people being very openly racist and then, upon learning of my ethnic background, backpedaling furiously and making ridiculous comments like, “Well, you know what I mean.”

“No, I really don’t.”

I write about this idea of covert racism because I feel it’s extremely pervasive in our society and even more dangerous. Our inability to take an honest look at ourselves and the current state of things leaves us open to committing further injustices. Without a willingness to compare our attitudes and beliefs to those of the “true racists” in history like the Nazis or the Ku Klux Klan, we risk repeating history and committing more horrible atrocities against our fellow human beings. Indeed, we still find ways every day to take away other people’s humanity.

My hope is that we will look into the faces of the past and see ourselves. We have always been human in our capacity to love and to hate. We need not commit violent acts upon others to take away their humanity, we need only reduce them to “criminals” or “wetbacks” or “fags” or whatever flavor of prejudice suits us at the time. We need only see the “other” as less-than to rob her of her dignity and right to respect and essentially kill her in our own minds and the public consciousness.

This type of self-reflection and honesty takes courage, perhaps a courage we do not have right now. I believe this is a cause worth fighting for though. We can fight with our minds and our hearts by keeping them open and by never ceasing to ASK QUESTIONS.

That’s all for now.

Thank you for reading.

The Disappearing Girl

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I had a very important conversation with my counselor today about boundaries. I told her I often felt as if I didn’t have any and as though anything or anyone could get in at any time.

From the time I was little, I was given the message that I must be there to answer the needs of others. As the daughter of a narcissistic mother, this primarily meant I had to be there for her but everyone’s needs seemed to be more important than my own. I was a dutiful caretaker and set my needs aside to care for my mom as well as my family and friends.

I went along with most things whether I wanted to or not. In fact, I can’t remember an instance of saying “no” to either of my parents until I was almost a teenager. At that time, I told my religious tyrant of a father that I refused to attend church anymore, after which he disowned me. He apologized later but the damage had been done and we remained estranged for years.

Between my mother’s narcissism and my father shoving his religion down my throat, I hardly had a concept of personal rights. I received approval and affection for dismissing my needs and comfort, and this was reinforced by society at large. I was a “good girl”– likable, friendly, funny and always there for her friends and family.

I struggled to feel good enough. Only recently did I realize I had been conditioned to allow others to violate my boundaries at all costs; the cost being my comfort, self-determination and sense of worth.

This cost was too great.

I feel it incumbent upon us to know and to teach respect of all people’s boundaries, especially those of girls and women. Children are often dismissed and reduced as people but females receive a special message: Be kind, be caring and always put the needs of others ahead of your own. Too often, this message results in the violation of boundaries in the form of harassment, rape and abuse.

It feels dangerous for me to post this particular blog entry. I feel as though I might upset my parents or that I am not being “nice.” But I feel a responsibility to the child I was and the woman I am to speak up. I didn’t deserve what happened to me, nor do those people who are violated every day. You don’t need anybody’s permission to say, “no.” We owe it to ourselves and to each other to respect and honor our boundaries and the boundaries of others every day. We are important enough to do this.

I am important enough to do this.

Thank you for reading.

Have We Really Come That Far?

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After viewing some of the pictures from Amy Schumer’s GQ photo spread, I find myself having a hard time deciding how I feel about it. The Guardian ‘s Jessica Valenti wrote an article describing the dismay of some of Schumer’s feminist fans at seeing the photos depicting her fellating various Star Wars memorabilia.

While I can see Schumer doing the poses to poke fun at the media’s sexualization of women, I can’t help but be disappointed at the tired stereotype of a beautiful woman who cannot express her thoughts because her mouth is literally full of a male phallic symbol! Have we truly come far enough that women can strike these poses ironically? I think not.

In the 21st century, many young people are of the opinion that we have progressed far enough that women can express themselves freely without fear of being objectified, dismissed or worse, attacked. Yet, more and more stories of women being victimized in the military, at work and at school continue to surface.

Sure, women won the right to vote almost 100 years ago, but are our voices truly being heard? Every time I pass the magazines at the grocery store, the prevailing images of women I see are highly sexualized, tips on how to “improve” your looks are numerous and the predominant message is that our value lies in our ability to be sexual .

Every day, our rights are on the chopping block to be decided by……not…women. Funny, I thought we had come so far yet I am still not guaranteed equal pay for equal work, nor am I guaranteed the right to be able to make choices about my health and my life should I become pregnant.

I admire the many bold statements Amy Schumer has made about sexism and I can appreciate the spirit in which she portrays herself in various female stereotypes. I hope that we as a society can wake up from our complacency and forge ahead, leaving these old stereotypes behind. Perhaps in the future, women will be featured on magazine covers fully clothed, without anything in their mouths…..and people will still want to read about them!

Thank you for reading!

‘Til next time.

Creativity and Mental Illness: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

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An original piece of mine

I have long been interested in the connection between creativity and mental “illness.” I put “illness” in quotes as I have serious reservations about using this term. As an artist, my whole life I have found solace in my art. As a child I would draw for hours on reams of computer paper my mom would bring home from work. I could be shy and quiet at times but in art I found my voice, clear and true.

I also suffered from social anxiety, digestive disorder and frequent nightmares. At the age of 12, I developed a stomach ulcer and was put on an antacid and anti-anxiety medication. I remained medicated into my early twenties for anxiety and recurrent major depression.

I continued with my art up through high school and even went to a local art college for a year before following my heart to study psychology. Although I still struggled mentally, I enjoyed immense happiness and creativity and excelled in my studies, eventually earning a master’s degree in psychology.

Over the years, I watched my own struggles mirrored in the creative community as we lost one after another creative genius: Heath Ledger, Phillip Seymour Hoffman and Robin Williams to name a few.

What is that snuffs out these flames that burn so brightly in our lives? I am not satisfied with the old idea of “tortured genius.” No, there is something else that plagues these artists, singers, actors and comedians. It is not merely an appetite for excess or uncontrollable emotions, there is a connection between our imagination and our destruction.

When I was looking up synonyms for creativity, I found that the only antonym for the word was “reality.” Similarly, when I looked up synonyms for inspiration, I found the opposite word “depression.” Could it be that inspiration and depression are two sides of the same coin? Does true creative genius run up against reality? If reality is full of prejudice, hate, injustice and insatiable consumerism, where does creativity live and thrive?

Perhaps our creative voices are heard on the stage, seen painted on the canvas or written on the page. Perhaps we struggle to be seen and heard in our own lives by the people we love or even when we look in the mirror.

I do not believe this phenomenon to be restricted solely to the social realm. I believe there is also a neurological basis for this connection. After all, the same brain structures and neurotransmitters involved in our “illnesses” are also involved in our ability to convey emotion through creative means.

The best part of this dialogue is the hope it brings. With a greater understanding of the link between creativity and mental dis-ease, we increase the chances for satisfying lives among those who are gifted creatively. An increase in understanding will also increase our compassion for our fellow human beings and our ability to see every person as complete, vibrant and essential to the whole scheme.

Thank you for reading.

‘Til next time.

In and Out of The Woods

in and out of the woodsAfter many months of being lost in the woods of PTSD, I have found a way out. I still venture back from time to time but for shorter periods and with more returns to the sunlight.

Today I ventured back as I went to the Social Security office to straighten out my benefits. My anxiety crept in me like a growing fire, ready to explode at any moment and engulf me in flame. As we got nearer, I spotted the baseball stadium — a trigger for a particularly painful memory. In no time, I was sucked back into the past, experiencing all the feelings I had on that day. I asked to be alone in the car and dissolved into hopeless tears. Other memories of doctors and nurses asking me endless questions flooded in as well. I did not want to be there. I did not want to feel small and powerless again.

My inner mom (more on her later) came to me and told me, “You do what you can do and that will be enough.” I collected myself and enter the building and sit for a short time in the Social Security Office. The visit was relatively uneventful. I sat quietly plugging my ear and closing my eyes.

Once we were done I went to the bathroom where I once again dissolved into tears. Exhaustion set it.

When I got home I looked up an article by Michele Rosenthal, a woman very knowledgeable on the subject of PTSD. In the article, Three Ways Trauma Affects Your Brain, she describes the ways in which trauma alters key brain structures affecting your perception, emotional regulation and memories.

When we experience trauma, the amygdala, our emotional center, becomes hypersensitized to seek out danger. I used to see danger everywhere. Today I saw it in the baseball field and the Social Security Office.

The hippocampus moves short term memories into long term storage. Trauma causes the hippocampus to stop working properly and traumatic memories (the baseball stadium, doctors) stay in the short term area, readily available to ruin your day!

The prefrontal cortex which usually works wonderfully at modulating our behavior, language and emotional reactions goes on the fritz after trauma. We are left unable to inhibit inappropriate responses (hanging up an important call, running at full speed away from a stressful situation), sometimes we lose our words and can’t speak and sometimes we find the words but they’re all derogatory (I have unloaded a barrage of cussing and all together horrible language I could never have imagined).

Facts like these have acted as guide posts in the dark forest, showing me I am not alone. Someone was there before me and erected these signs for me to follow so that I don’t get lost.

The ways in which my thoughts and behaviors have changed because of the PTSD have caused me to doubt myself, sincerely. But as I continue to learn, I know I am not alone in the forest, other people have walked there, other people are walking there now. We have but to find each other.

Michele Rosenthal also offers a wonderful supportive online community for healing from PTSD on healthunlocked.com/healmyptsd

Thank you for reading.

‘Til next time.