Saturday, June 14, 2014

Mental Illness Feels Like 4 AM (and also Thoughts on Gaslighting)

Awake in the early morning hours, alone, and in tears. I can't tell you how many nights I've spent this way over the course of my life. Too many. It's an eternal paradox. I crave these times for familiar and comfortable solitude. At the same time I despise them, because inevitably I can no longer keep the worst thoughts and emotions at bay. If you asked me what mental illness felt like, I'd say it felt like 4 am; deep into the night, but still a couple hours from sunrise. It's the time where everything is still and quiet, even those who prefer to inhabit the night as I do fast asleep. Four am is the hour of insomniacs; the anxious, the depressed, the broken.

Tonight, there is pain. Lately, there's been a lot of pain; the kind that makes your chest physically ache and tighten and you can't breathe and you wonder if tonight is the night you finally burst open since you can't imagine anything else would provide any sort of relief. Usually that sort is only a sometimes pain. These days it is every night.

Tonight, I was thinking of how much judgement has been thrown my way, even sometimes from those on my side. Not always intentionally, but still throwing blame on me or my behaviour or simply completely misunderstanding the situation or my motivations. To be fair, it's been a huge learning process for me, too. I think many don't realise that my first blogs on here were still strongly influenced by the gaslighting I experienced at my abuser's hand. The long, rambling attempts to make sense of everything was because nothing made sense, even when I was so convinced I finally understood what was going on. I was still taking on so much responsibility and blame that had been heaped upon me unfairly, trying to explain away the terrible behaviour of someone else. Yet, no matter how many times I went over it, clarified it for myself, tried again and again to deconstruct and figure out what went wrong, discovering that the control exerted over me was in fact abuse is what finally made sense. It was like everything clicked and a fog was lifted.

I was thinking of how to describe gaslighting to one who hasn't experienced it, because it's a really foreign idea that someone could mould your own thinking so strongly. The best way to put it is to imagine a disco ball that has been turned inside out, and you are in the centre of it. If you were holding a torch, the light represents you essentially 'throwing blame', in that you bring up something someone does that you find hurtful for some reason. So, you shine your light of 'hey, I really wish you'd stop doing this thing' towards the person responsible, only they are outside the disco ball and instead of shining at them, it hits the hundreds of mirrors facing back at you. These mirrors are the various ways blame and responsibility are thrown back at you, through a lot of rationalisation, justification, and poking at things you are already insecure about (in my case, it was the accusations of dependency and the inability to regulate my coping strategies for myself). True manipulators can make anything sound 'reasonable' and are really adept at reading those who are vulnerable to their tactics. It's easy to make things 'truth' if you can speak about them in ways that make sense to others in one way or another.

Anyway, the light of course gets reflected and intensified as it bounces around and all comes back to you in the centre, all at once. It's really hard to see things clearly and, if you stand in the light long enough, you start internalising it and it becomes normal. That's the reality shift.

A good question, of course, is how did someone manage to affect me so deeply in such a short amount of time? I think I was just a particularly susceptible victim, having only just escaped an emotionally abusive situation with the husband. I was already conditioned to living in an unhealthy environment, even though it manifested differently. I've read that often abusers will purposely pick those who are successful so that they can make themselves feel superior in dragging someone down. In my case, I was already dragged down to rock bottom, so it didn't take much standing in the light, so to speak, to twist up my thinking pretty badly. Though, I also credit my experience with helping me to make the final stand against him, because I knew something was wrong, even though it was very difficult to figure out what. In some ways, my subconscious alarm bells were going off, like, HEY you don't have to put up with feeling awful, this is why you left the husband!

And that's part of why it hurts and angers me so much that so many believe his lies that I have some sort of obsession with him. I never, ever have. It sounds like I admit it in my own words, yes, but those blogs are his truth coming out of my mouth and not my Truth. And even after I began discovering the Truth, I was still confused and lost. I felt as if everything was turned upside down, and I questioned it a LOT. Over and over I wondered if I wasn't just trying to find convenient explanations for things to absolve me of guilt, to help me find some sense of closure. There were nights I felt weirdly detached, as if I were floating away from myself and nothing was real. It's called disassociation when you disconnect like that, and I can only describe it as if I were a cloud, observing things from high above. I experience it much more mildly when my anxiety becomes overwhelming in public spaces, though it's more like my brain shuts off and I can only manage simple tasks one at a time. This was a lot scarier.

I know a lot of my actions made it seem like I was perhaps obsessed and stuck after we stopped speaking. I heard a lot of, 'Forget him! Just move on. You're better off without him. Don't let him get to you.' Yeah, well, I was confused too why I couldn't do that. I wanted to, very badly. But trauma just doesn't work that way. And now I'm annoyed that things are dragging on now when I'd like nothing more than for him to simply stop existing for me.

I guess what I'm saying is that I have been judged for a lot of things out of my control, and not entirely unfairly so. Though, I hoped more would be able to see my journey for what it is, even if it's all been a bit of a mess. Even though I know a lot of mental illness-friendly people, I feel that there still has been a lot of disregard for stuff I've said based on the fact that I'm 'crazy', so there must be something wrong with me since I've been acting so intense and weird lately.

Yeah, that has zero to do with my mental illness and everything to do with the person who caused me a lot of harm. Like, if you've known me for years and I'm acting super out of character, that means there's a really good reason behind it.. not 'craziness'. Honestly, the first indicator that something was terribly wrong should have been how self-destructive I became with my abuser around, to the point I had multiple crisis nights. I have never had that happen to me before in all my experience with my illness. I mean, I probably should have spent a night or two in the ER last year while my marriage was falling apart, but still... and I feel like that ties into how much control he was trying to exert over me. The 'crazier' I was, the more I should depend and trust him to know what was best.

The lesson here is that causing an already self-destructive person to internalise a lot of guilt and blame is super dangerous. That is how serious this is. I am lucky I am not dead, and I got out of that situation as quickly as I did. I imagine his threshold is before actual death occurs, or he wouldn't have called the police the night I ran away to the park with the intention of harming myself. And I even thanked him afterwards, grateful he cared enough to not let me die when his anger and silence is what put me there in the first place. Ugh, it makes me disgusted to think of it.

This is a person people refuse to stop calling friend. *shudder*

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