Monday, March 31, 2014

Understanding Where Things Went Wrong (Part 2)

Things I should note about the last post:

I don't blame my husband, nor do I hate him in any way. I don't think it was intentional at all, regardless of how it affected me. He's still a dear friend to me, and I hope always will be.

Also, I think it's important to understand the definition of dependence, which I overlooked. It is about feeling that you cannot function without someone helping you with everything. It is about thinking you are inadequate at coping with an overwhelming world and feel that you require a supportive relationship in your life to survive. They ignore and deny all their own needs and wants in order to maintain the relationship they depend on, and are unquestioningly loyal and supportive at the expense of their own individuality.

Yeah, I don't feel any of that is remotely true for me. If I thought I was unable to function on my own, I would never have moved out in the first place. The entire point of getting out of my situation was because I was desperate to learn to be independent and didn't want to go back to a situation where I required someone to take care of me. Yeah, stuff is really hard, and I'm definitely not healthy yet, so I do need some help and support. But I don't need anyone in my life. Eventually, I will get there.

So yeah, unhealthy attachment. That is a whole other thing entirely, and something I will admit to. But the whole situation was pretty complicated and got out of control pretty quickly. Probably why I've spent so much time braindumping and processing and trying to understand everything.

I think it came from finding someone I felt I could trust in a lot of ways I really haven't in years, especially since moving to Australia. There was a closeness there I had been craving for a very long time. I have good friends, and many who care about me a lot, and I feel the same. And I even have a couple really quite close friend/relationships, but they don't live in Sydney. So there's still a certain level of very close friend I haven't had. Like someone I could ring up and be like.. hey, I feel like some company, want to hang out? That sort of comfort level. Admittedly, I've been super anti-social for many mental illness reasons since I moved here, and I am not the sort to trust very easily at all, though I've desired to have more intimacy in my life. So I've felt quite lonely, intensified by the isolation and my illness and being trapped in an unhealthy relationship.

So yeah, having finally found that, my brain went YES, this is awesome. Must hang onto at all costs!! Which I suppose is warning sign number one, but all went well for a while anyway, so hard to say I could have figured it out by that point. Then it was yanked away from me, quite suddenly and in a particularly triggering way for me, which started a whole long downward spiral of badness.

The best place to start is to mention the fact that my self-harm addiction reared its ugly head in a pretty significant way while my marriage fell apart last year. And I've still been struggling with it even after moving out. Normally, I don't reach out for help after self-harming to anyone at all, and also, it usually isn't severe enough for medical attention. However, because well-meaning friends were taking away most of the sharp things around me they could find, I resorted to pulling blades out of my shaving razors. They were very sharp, much more than I was used to, and so I ended up with deep cuts a few times on accident. And so, I freaked out and then called the one person I really trusted.

This led to concerns about associating my self-harm tendencies with someone rushing to help me out, and the associated concerns of dependency and, eventually, that I am unable to self-regulate when and how much I truly need someone for support. Needless to say, I disagree with all of that, and I've explained why at least in regards to the dependency. But that's beside the point. The way I found out about all of these concerns was after an extremely bad and stressful day. I ended up with a really bad wound that didn't stop bleeding. I freaked out and reached out for help... but he was with some other good friends, and without telling me why, he sent them in and refused to come in and see me. Unbeknownst to him, non-communication is a massive and traumatic trigger for me, and I freaked out really badly. It's related to stuff that happened over a decade ago, and it hadn't come up for me in a very long time. Still, I was really hurt and I felt that he betrayed my trust. It's hard enough for me to call someone I've put trust in for help. To be avoided by that person without explanation was pretty beyond what my brain was able to cope with. And that started the unhealthy cycle that ensued, because I ended up far past my threshold of thinking clearly, and I stayed there.

File:Attachment Theory Hyperactivation.png
A good diagram of an unhealthy attachment cycle
Most of the details beyond that are unimportant and unnecessary. After the triggering incident, I was very, very clear about why that's a big problem for me and that all I need is upfront, honest communication about what's going on and why. But despite that, my friend kept pulling away from me, since he felt he needed to for his own health, and he was really terrible at ever communicating to me about it. Generally, things that needed to be boundaries would come out after a conflict, and after I was blamed for things going wrong. So yeah, this whole cycle kept my brain in high anxiety overdrive, second-guessing and freaking out at how different his words of reassurance were from his actions of pulling away more and more. So, I kept clinging more and more tightly, terrified and panicked about losing this super important friendship that I had finally found after so long. Rationally, I know that is a terrible idea and never ends well, but I wasn't coping with things at all. I haven't found myself in a situation like this in a very, very long time, so I was a bit lost and flailing about trying to keep the friendship intact, and feeling like I was never able to do anything right to do so.

This also led me into a really terrible space in my mind, full of blame and guilt and self-destructive behaviours. The judgments of my behaviours and motivations made me react defensively, because I knew they weren't true. But because I was panicked about saving the friendship, I would take on these ideas and, since I did honestly make mistakes, believe these terrible things about me to be true. So, I'd backtrack and give in and do whatever I thought would help things go back to status quo. But after every conflict, he'd pull further away instinctively, though without any true explanation of his needs. So I'd get hurt or angry because he was acting different to how I thought things were, react extremely poorly, and everything would start all over again.

Finally, enough was enough, for both of us. I was tired of feeling constantly one step behind because of the lack of communication and how quickly things had changed in the space of a couple months. I was tired of feeling blamed, judged and completely misunderstood, as if my feelings or perception of things was completely invalid or even important. I was tired of being shut down and shut out of talking things out because of being 'irrational' and 'unreasonable' simply because I disagreed with these judgments and misunderstandings. I was tired of taking on all the negative ideas about me and taking it all out on myself. I realised how terrible and unhealthy this all was for both of us, and I wanted out.

I'm pretty proud of getting to that realisation instead of giving in and taking all the blame onto myself one more time, as I could have. Yes, I wish I had understood it all better much earlier. Looking back now, if it was a situation I found myself in again (dear god, I hope not), I would take the first sign of pulling away as needing space and be like... ok, let's try this again in a bit once things are settled down. But hey, hindsight is always fantastic. I'm not proud of a lot of my actions, but I can only keep moving forward, keep learning, and keep trying to do better.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Understanding Where Things Went Wrong (Part 1)

An update to my last post, the reminders above my monitor are helping quite a lot. Every time I feel myself dragged back into the negative thoughtspace, I read them, take a deep breath, and I will feel calmer afterwards. If reminders for now are necessary, then they are necessary. Whatever it takes to keep the demons at bay.

I've been thinking a lot about recent events, processing, understanding, clarifying in my mind everything that happened, good and bad. One big source of conflict was that I was becoming 'dependent'. I felt hurt. I felt judged, and, more importantly, judged wrongly. Though I certainly didn't express myself well at the time why this was such a problem for me, and so I was also judged to be in denial about everything. I've still only just been organizing my thoughts about the whole issue, and even doing research to better explain why this was never remotely a threat, in my mind.

So, yes, I did just break away from a marriage that was codependent, and so worries about me sliding back into dependency in some way are not unwarranted. Codependent is the term my psychologist has used to describe my relationship with my husband. Codependent brings up thoughts of interdependency, where both sides are completely reliant on the other in some way. And that's kind of a true way of thinking about it, but it's also not. It's more true to say that one person's actions create a codependent situation. It's about a cycle of feeling needed.

In my case, I did spend time at the beginning of the marriage completely dependent, because my mental illness was so severe at that point that I was completely non-functional. But I started treatment and over the years, I've been making a lot of progress increasing my functionality and towards my own independence. I got to the point where I held down a steady job! A very challenging job, but challenging in many ways which were fantastic for my mental health. I worked full time, or nearly, most of the time I held the job. It was almost like being a real person again. At this same time, my husband quit his job because he was so miserable and went into a period of pretty terrible depression and a long unemployment. His behaviour and actions began to affect me negatively and drag me down. It slowly became harder and harder to continue functioning as I had been. It got to the point where my own mental health deteriorated back to a severe level and I even self-harmed some... an addiction I had broken for years at that point. At the same time, my physical health deteriorated, and I wasn't able to continue working, either. So, I quit my job, and ended up frustrated, angry at myself, and fell deeply back into my hole of depression and anxiety. The husband managed to secure employment by this point, and things in the relationship went back to 'status quo'.

Cue take two of attempting to work a steady job and function independently. Not all the circumstances were entirely the same, but the end result was. It felt as if every time I began to do well and need my husband's support less and less, his behaviour would worsen and I would slowly fall back into the depths of my mental illness all over again. It was a cycle, a vicious one, and one that my psychologist helped me realise that I needed to escape. I would never achieve the independence I sought so desperately when I was with someone who also desperately needed to feel needed. Add into this his paranoia that I'd leave him and that his life was meaningless without me, and you can see why I have realised it was a form of emotional abuse. I was trapped and desperate, and I knew that if I stayed it would literally kill me. It very nearly did before the actual separation happened, because my mental state had gotten so bad that I fell all the way down back to rock bottom.

I spent most of last year fighting to survive against my mental illness while also fighting to have the courage to extricate myself from a very damaging situation. It was terrifying, especially because I was in no state to cope  much with life, much less hold down a job, and I had no idea if I'd be able to support myself properly or not once on my own. In addition, I'm still experiencing some sort of as-yet undiagnosed chronic pain/illness, and my ability to function is limited greatly physically, as well. Still, I pushed and fought and clawed my way out of dependence, and I am damn determined to be the strong, independent, and functional person I want to be. The very idea that I would let myself slip back into that so easily is abhorrent to me. Yeah, it's been a bumpy road, and yeah, I've had to rely on friends a lot more than I usually would allow myself to... but make no mistake, I got myself here and I already feel so much freer and happier overall than I have in many, many years.

That's not to say I didn't get myself into an unhealthy attachment cycle. I definitely did. And there's a lot of context and other things surrounding how and why that happened. Which I will get to in the second part of this braindump...

Friday, March 28, 2014

Come So Far, Yet Still So Far To Go

There are a lot of things I'm still trying to come to terms with about my life, my illnesses (mental and physical), who I am, who I want to be, regrets, mistakes, worries, dreams...

I underestimated just how much I would end up turning my life inside-out and completely upside-down by leaving my 7 year marriage and beginning the long journey towards finding my own independence. I am constantly learning things about myself and about those around me, both strengths and weaknesses. The most interesting realisation is just how VERY skewed my thoughts and emotions are from my mental illness and experiences up until this point. One of the most difficult symptoms to deal with from depression and other mental health disorders is that you are, to put it bluntly, delusional. Your brain cannot tell the truth from the utterly disgusting lies it is creating. As I've been in treatment, I've understood this to be true, but the actual extent of it is still surprising to me.

The harsh truth of the matter is that my marriage was an extremely unhealthy relationship for me, and I'd even go so far as to label it emotionally abusive overall. Not intentionally, of course. And you can forgive a lot of things based on good intentions. But still, intertwined with the abuse was co-dependence and the roles of carer and caree, and so I felt trapped long before the actual marriage ended. While I've escaped it physically, there are so many mental traps I keep falling into; 7 years of habits and thought processes I need to unravel and unlearn. This process will be slow, and part of the solution is simply going to be time.

Recently, I have finally understood that how easily I forgive and forget, which I always considered a good thing in relationships, is also a huge weakness for someone recovering from a situation such as mine. I'm the sort that doesn't anger easily and, if I do reach that point, I tend to calm down quickly afterwards and it's like it never happened. Where it becomes problematic is if I allow myself to forget about things that are actually quite hurtful and damaging for me and happily jump back into the same situation all over again, often because I'm clinging to whatever I feel is still good. Recently, I got caught in an unhealthy cycle with a close friend which was really painful and terrible for both of us. Despite the fact that I agreed I needed the space as much as he did, I find my mind ignoring how hurt and angry and self-destructive I've been over the past couple months and simply missing what's now gone from my life. And once that begins, I start falling down the hole of self-blame and guilt and begin to believe all the lies my depressed, anxious brain always whispers to me. It feels like a vicious maze my mind has trapped me in that's so well hidden I didn't even realise it was happening until now.

I was on the edge of that abyss tonight, beginning to fall, when somehow I was able to pull myself back and say NO, it was a horrible place to be in your life and you don't want to go back there! Like, it was a shock to me that I ever really forgot in the first place. I am so trained to squash down all of my negative emotions and feelings to, I don't even know what... keep the peace? Tolerate terrible situations? Fool myself into thinking I needed certain things to be 'whole' or 'healthy', despite how blatantly that isn't true? I haven't really sorted it all out, even if I can see the pitfalls in my own mind. That is a conversation I will be having with my therapist the next time I see her.

Mostly, I was just horrified at how natural it was, and still seems to be. It's like I will keep getting dragged back there against my will if I'm not vigilant enough against my own thoughts. I wrote huge notes with a texta which now live above my monitor:




The fact I feel the need to have a constant reminder in front of me is still pretty frightening. I've been questioning what other thoughts and behaviours I need to examine and pour over with a fine-tooth comb to find what else I trick myself into believing, as naturally as my body makes me breathe. I mean, I've been in therapy a long time now. I'm pretty aware of a lot of things that my brain makes me think that are simply not true, and I'm much better at talking myself through things that I was resistant to before. The idea that there's still so much there under the surface, in my unconscious, that is holding me hostage to my mental illness... that I'm still so beholden to my broken mind... can you even imagine that? Anyone whose experienced depression and anxiety and related disorders will have some idea, of course. I just imagine it must be unfathomable to most of the world who don't fight with their brain and thoughts constantly that something could be so very wrong with it, so wrong that you have absolutely no idea it is remotely wrong in the first place.

I've been going through a bad bout of insomnia the past couple weeks, so I'm not entirely certain this is making sense outside of my exhausted 5am brain... but I guess the bottom line is that I'm a bit scared. Not because my illness is so severe, because I've battled it most of my life. I've made enough improvement to know that I WILL beat this, in the end. I'm just wary of how far I have yet to go. It's a lot further than I thought it was, even just yesterday. What I don't lack, at least, is determination, and strength from pushing myself as much as I have already.

Friday, March 7, 2014

The Value of a Soul

I've learned a lot over the years. Most of my lessons have been how to survive despite the odds life keeps stacking against me, and I do consider the strength I've garnered from these lessons to be extremely valuable. And, as is often the case, I'm still learning new things every moment and every day. Recently, I've been learning a lot about accepting help where others offer it and just how much love there truly is in my life. I'm learning just how lucky I am to be surrounded by some of the most amazing friends one could ask for, and how thankful I am for it.

I've spent a lot of time fighting with my mental illness and the lies it tells me. One of the most difficult things for me to accept has been the fact that there are people out there who truly care about me and my well being and would mourn my passing. Especially towards the end of last year, as my marriage fell apart, it became harder and harder to convince myself that anyone would even notice should I simply disappear one day, never to return. My illness whispered to me that I was utterly broken, unable to ever feel the love that others told me existed between me and them. It felt as if there was a black hole inside of me, sucking up all the emotions pointed my way so that I would never truly understand or experience them. No amount of logical reasoning from the healthy part of my brain could convince me otherwise.

But even within the last couple months, all of that has begun to change. I've let others in in ways I never have before, and I've experienced the assistance those around me are willing to provide when I need them most. I was worried that moving out of my dependent situation with someone to live on my own would cause me to isolate myself even further, hiding away from the world and all the things in it I find difficult to cope with sometimes. Yet, the opposite has happened, and I'm discovering new friendships, and strengthening those I've had for many years now. I understand now that people do value my friendship and enjoy spending time around me, truly. For the first time in many, many years, I feel cared for and loved. And I mean, truly feel it, in the place where I once believed nothing existed but the void that lay inside me.

2014 is very quickly becoming the year where I learn about the beauty and value in friendships, and how to accept what others have to offer me. I can only hope that 2014 is also the year where I learn to love myself, as a thank you to those who are trying so hard to do the loving of me FOR me until I can get there on my own.