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Halloween, Part II

| By Paul | | Comments (2)

On the day of Halloween, I was very much on edge. While I had planned for weeks and dealt with a steady stream of internal messages, I was still not prepared for what was to come.

A conflict had been building for days about staying safe. That is not particularly unusual. However, I knew the level of risk was. Even with seeing both my psychiatrist and therapist that day, which were both helpful, I did not have a real grip on staying safe.

My first order of business was to get back to my house. That was a battle in itself. I made the decision to go home not because I pushed parts of me away or ignored what was coming up or issued an ultimatum. I have learned that none of that works. I got home because I kept my hand on the "steering column" even though the amount of actual control felt minimal.

I like to use metaphors. Felix Baumgartner jumped last month from 24 miles above Earth and in the process he broke the sound barrier. What interested me the most was his press conference after his landing. When he jumped, he almost immediately ended up in a uncontrollable spin. It wasn't clear to him what to do. He said he reached out with one hand and it made it worse. He then reached out with the other and it made it better. All the while he stayed the course and kept trying.

Now, I'm not equating was was to come during my Halloween evening to this historic jump. But, for me personally, there are similarities. The similarity was that the risk was so great and it was not clear that what I was doing was enough to get me through without serious harm.

I have not often shared writings taken directly from my journal, but as I am trying to get across my experience, this seems to be the best way to give some context for what was going on:

5:58 pm: "It's getting very loud inside. It's ramping up big time. Having hard time staying home."

8:11 pm: "The night has taken a nasty and dramatic turn. All the internal struggle to keep contained what was beneath the surface is gone. It's as if that content is gone. It now has nothing to do with Halloween or anything of the sort. It's now just about getting hurt. That whole dynamic seems to have replaced everything that has been the struggle up to now."

9:09 pm: "It's not going well. Drive to get hurt is huge. It's dwarfing any ability to see what's really going on. I'm flipping about trick or treating and the Halloween party being now Sunday. This feels like an eternity."

9:14 pm: "I'm now in bed. Starting to be more in touch. I'm aware of huge physiological swings: hot cold hot cold, searing pain no pain, loud noise and silence. I'm way too overloaded. This is too much even for me."

9:15 pm: "I am adamant about no medicine. I know that stance is not helping me."

9:21 pm: "It's now escalating."

9:26 pm: "Enormous ringing in ears. Feels a lot like when I've taken massive overdoses. It's some physiologic chaos mirroring mental chaos. It's got to be a good barometer. This doesn't happen that often. This is akin to a medical crisis. It's clear cut now."

Here "clear cut" refers to needing the hospital. The discussion I had with my psychiatrist that morning was about why it is often clear cut for going to an emergency room for a medical crisis, but not for a mental health one. The reality, we both agreed, is that I have been able to get through many mental health crises safely without needing to go to the hospital. But there is always a safety risk. There are many mental health crises I have not navigated safely. Despite those realities, I felt strongly that trying to get through on my own was what I needed to do.

The closest parallels I can think of to this experience are the times I have lost control in the hospital, was not safe, and had to be restrained in the "quiet room." But I was not in the hospital. So my safety was totally up to me. What happened then was that my journal entries got more sparse and, at the same time, much more bizarre.

Because I do not have a "memory" which corresponds to these entries, I will not share them here. I do not think that is fair to me. But suffice it to say that my reading through them is extremely difficult. They were off scale.

But at 6:01 am the next morning I made this post:

"I woke up moaning. I am not leaving house today. Not going to work. Last night was too hard. I need to recover. I can't believe how hard last night was. It was so risky because in the midst of all that was going on, there was a parallel planning to get hurt very seriously. My body feels wrecked. Like I have been beat up. Everything hurts."

At 10 am I wrote:

"Despite how wrecked I feel, there was a huge sense of accomplishment about having stayed safe last night. It was not just that we went through something really hard and came through it, though that is a piece of it. It's way more than just suffering through with all of me. Maybe it was a sense of internal trust. But I haven't been able to hold onto it. The gains from last night are not enough. This is not over. Not by a long shot. I'm way overstimulated. I'm jumpy. Hypervigilant. I'm not settled down. It's only continuing."

Just a few minutes later, four to be exact, I wrote: "I have found my way back to center."

I have a policy to avoid language specific to self-harm or suicidal behaviors. In this post, 'safety' refers mostly towards the latter end of that spectrum (i.e., suicide). Tomorrow's Part III post will focus solely on the aftermath.

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I know it has been a long time since I have been writing regularly here. I have been keeping regular entries in my journal, but this has always been the place where I try to "collect my thoughts," make a bit more sense, put the pieces together, and gain some perspective for myself.

So, I am glad to be back!

I have this gut feeling that I am on a bit more stable ground. And it does not take more than a few seconds to look back here and see that my sporadic posts over the past few months of summer have been mainly about having no traction and then finding some stability.

Back and forth it has gone... Super functional when needed. Sometimes collapsing. Some great accomplishments at work that sort of spoke to me "It's okay keep going like you are!" Great alliances with my kids accompanied by huge meltdowns. The same type of alliances with my wife and also large fights.

Sounds like the stuff of normal everyday life, right?

It would be, except for the fact that there have fairly often been complete breakdowns in safety. That is not acceptable anymore, but yet I have been handling these huge lapses in very old ways, by getting up, dusting myself off and moving on to the next item on my list.

I have been hoping the new school year for my kids would bring some much-needed structure back into my own life and help me slow the pace down. I do not really know how it happened, but the past year has been about taking on more and more; partly because I felt like I needed to, but also because I knew I could. My schedule has been so busy that I have not been able to have any consistent time for self-care. There has been only a bit of self-care here and there, but mostly everything else in my life has come first. As a result, those little bits have not been enough to keep me safe or allow me to feel like my life is under control.

There might as well be a giant red flag flapping in front of my face. And I have to wonder, "Is this your garden variety 'workaholic' mode meant to foster distraction and denial?"

I know, because I have done it many times before, that if I set limits for myself, practice more self-care, and do "less", that there are huge benefits. I can often be more productive in all facets of my life and be much happier and achieve more "wellness" as an added bonus.

We are now two weeks into the new school year, and nearly three months since the old school year ended, and only today does it truly feel like there is real settling. Real slowing.

Could it be that I have been on a three-month long roller coaster ride and it is now just coming to a halt? If so, what a waste. My hands weren't even up in the air!

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Living and Perspective

| By Paul | | Comments (26)

This is the point at which this blog takes a decidedly personal turn. I am probably going to start writing about things that are more about my day-to-day life, though I will always try to tie it into a broader picture on healing.

The last four weeks have gone like this: I had an enormous trigger in the middle of February. I handled it well initially, but it eventually led to an internal breakdown and huge disconnect internally. I landed up in the hospital and truly thought I was set back two decades ago. I was certain it was going to take a long time to turn things around and would need to cancel my obligations for the next several weeks. But, I am not in the same place I was two decades ago, one decade ago, or even a year ago. I was able to turn the incapacitating disconnect into a total connect which propelled me forward in just a couple days. I learned that my "resilience" is probably here to stay. And that knowledge gave me confidence.

I did not have to cancel any of my obligations. After I got out of the hospital, I had to prepare for a big elementary school "lip sync" show I was co-leading for the following weekend. That went super well. All 150 kids loved it. They got a taste of being on a real stage with real sound, lights, props and costumes. I dressed up as the school mascot, a "penguin" and danced a final act before all the kids came up on stage and we closed out the show with the traditional "Cotten Eyed Joe" dance. I had enormous satisfaction for having a big role in making it happen.

The following week, I had to meet a work deadline of a large research proposal that had been in discussion and preparation for many months. It was a single-spaced 15 page main narrative document with a whole host of ancillary materials. I was not happy with the quality of the main narrative initially, but I had some people contributing pieces to it, and eventually I was able to pull it all together and submit something I was proud of.

Traditionally, there have been total collapses after these work proposals. I have done many dozens of them over the years, but relatively few over the past several years. Even with the last one that was due middle of January, I had a decent sized collapse and I only wrote one part of the proposal. But I did not collapse this time. Instead, the next day I went to the championship swim meet for my youngest daughter and photographed the whole event.

There was definitely a worry of collapse after that. I struggled quite a bit the beginning part of last week, and last Tuesday I started to write a post titled "System Disconnect" but did not get very far as I was too mired in difficulty. I found myself run down. I cancelled some obligations.

But if I had to describe what it felt like, it was as if there was a little something extra in my "tank" that I could call upon. In the not-too-distant past, I could easily find myself in bed for days, unable to do practically anything. Instead, by Wednesday I was back on schedule. Thursday was St. Patrick's Day and I photographed a town event. Friday I went to work and attended an evening social function for work. Saturday I cleaned the house and then went to my youngest daughter's swim banquet where she won a trophy for "Most Improved Swimmer" for her age group. Sunday I was out hiking with the kids most of the day while my wife was in bed sick with a flu. Monday I spent most of the day volunteering in our town's elementary school—more on this in another post. Tuesday, today, I was at work by 6 am and was busy until I left for therapy at 4 pm.

So, what is the problem? Well, on one level there really is no problem at all. I know that to the outside observer my life has looked incredibly smooth. I have been navigating everything perfectly. My wife is the happiest she has been in a long time, because I have been very engaged with the family for a long time now and my engagement is only increasing with time. To me, on one level it feels like things are also very smooth.

But what I do not quite understand is why I am not at all connected to the past week or two or more. It feels like the proposal was a lifetime ago (or really didn't happen). It feels like all the stuff at the end of last week and this weekend was a lifetime ago too, even though I can recount the days and everything. Being able to recount the events though doesn't feel so natural. If never pressed, I would have no need to recount them. But, yet, they are all on my electronic calendar. And they are in email records. And they are in my journal. All of those things I did not have a few years ago or even a decade or two ago—at least in this way and so accessible. All are tools I have now that seem to help me in so many ways.

The last week or so has not just been about "doing things." I know that there has been a really unusual quality to my piano playing that is a step or two or three beyond where I normally am at even when I am playing really well. There have been expressions about religion and Easter and possibly going back to the church that I went back to for the first time last year with "My Healing Guide." I seem to know exactly what to say to my kids, without really getting irritated with them. I have even been more open about what I struggle with, telling certain people some things that seem to naturally come up in conversation, but saying just enough so it feels safe and appropriate. If I were just "disconnected", none of these would be possible. So, it is not the normal disconnection which leads to problems with safety and lands me in the hospital.

The reality is that life has not really been so smooth. "My Healing Guide" brought up her assessment that my ability to tolerate distress is extremely high. And if I think about it, I know that in between all this wonderful "functionality," there have been some massive panics. I know after my proposal was done a week and a half ago, there was a huge conflict about getting home safely and I actually needed help to get home. I know there has been a lot of pain and that I have not taken heavy duty pain pills, but instead Tylenol and Advil.

What I do not quite understand is how there can be so much connection and flow that must require most all parts of me, yet there is a huge degree of disconnection (for me).

After spending time in therapy today, then writing about all of this in my journal, then writing about it here, there actually does not seem to be that much disconnect anymore. So, maybe all that I need to do is allow myself to "live" (which is what I have been doing) but merely stop now and again to assess where I am at and maintain perspective.

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Reflections on 2010

| By Paul | | Comments (35)

Last year in Looking Back and Ahead, I tried to make sense of my long healing journey as well as identified my gains for the year. I think it is probably good practice for all of us to reflect on the past year and use it as an opportunity to celebrate the gains, validate the tribulations, and set goals for the upcoming year.

For me, this year has been filled with at least as many ups and downs as the last one. Most of what follows is based on a discussion with "My Healing Guide" a couple of days ago. Whenever I talk about short-term gains, she likes to frame them in a larger context, as being built on the accumulated efforts of the entire journey. She says it is like I have already built a foundation, and our task is to add floors and rooms. I do like that metaphor.

I do believe that the Contract of a year ago was the launching point for what I was able to accomplish this past year. The entire Contract is really based on just a few basic principles (summarized by single words): trust, acceptance, and validation. Everything flows from this. While I don't read the Contract much these days, I don't really need to; its creation came from a place of near complete common ground and all of me knows its essential elements to the core. Yes, the Contract has stood up well this past year. All of me has understood its significance.

While I know our therapy work this past year was a true collaboration, it was important for me to tell "My Healing Guide" that she played a huge role in helping me continue to heal. I absolutely do not take that help for granted. None of my gains would have been possible without her help, without her willingness to be there for me, to walk with me, to listen to me, to promote trust, acceptance, and validation.

I also have an appreciation for the fact that healing is really about living. It is not all about therapy. The work we have done has helped me live more of the life I want to live. Yes, there have been some really low lows this year. But there have also been new connections inside, with my children and, to some extent, with my wife.

The 2010 year started out horribly with the Our Family Crisis, which blew up in our faces. This family "friend" was truly distorting my relationship with my wife and driving a huge wedge between us. This situation had been ongoing for years, but I think it came to a head because the "friend" saw an opening partly because I was in the hospital so often. It is astonishing to me that I was able to solve it. I stood up for my family. I took charge. I reestablished boundaries. The result was that my wife and I became closer and that set us up for what was to come.

In Holy Week, Church Visit, Scandal, and Miracles, I wrote about how "My Healing Guide" went with me to the church where a good deal of my childhood abuse took place. I never imagined that would have been possible, and I still cannot believe we did it! It was initially all completely validating and healing, but it did stir things up inside which caused us to eventually question whether it was the right thing to do after all.

There were gains made, however, which helped us realize it was definitely the right decision. Those gains came at a cost, though, because of internal instability that landed me inpatient quite a bit this past year; five hospitalization for 59 total days. I knew Easter was going to be really tough. In The Word of the Lord?, I wrote about some of the issues I faced during Easter and how I tried to put into perspective the stream of news coming out of Rome.

We then addressed directly an aspect of me key to the self-abuse. Inside, we were all certain this part was the embodiment of evil. We were all afraid of what seemed like unlimited power. In Inside, an art piece done in the hospital, this part stepped forward and joined in the healing process. That was a huge leap forward for all of me.

Not all was safe, though. That huge shift led to additional instability in my system. There was a long period of continued self-abuse from other parts who were newly activated. I wrote about this, mainly from an intellectual perspective, in Sex Injury: Past and Present. I recreated situations that would lead to my own abuse which kept fueling feelings of worthlessness. I do think, now, that I have come out the other side. I firmly believe that kind of self-abuse is permanently behind me. I am continually being reminded of what it was about (through flashbacks) and know it cannot ever happen again.

There were two occurrences that led to this resolution.

First, was when my wife found out about my self-abuse by my accidentally leaving my electronic journal open to a particularly sensitive entry. That she now knows about what has been my life's deepest secret—though she does not know details—is incredulous to me. Even more surprising is that while she had immense trouble with this new knowledge, I think it has made us stronger. The cards were put on the table. She finally learned that there are truly dark aspects to what I have to deal with.

Second, was that I physically got hurt from the self-abuse itself. After I wrote Taking Care When Physically Sick, I found out the illness was a result of the self-abuse. Getting hurt in this way ushered in a whole new sense of what the consequences really are, a reality that acting out parts had no concept of before. It brought self-abuse parts together with more healthy parts and is causing yet another reordering inside.

I have the sense that this new internal reordering will be what 2011 will be about. I know it will not be painless and I do not know what the months ahead will bring. But I hope the reordering and focus on safety will allow certain aspects of my life to flourish. I expect work and my relationships with my kids and wife will be where new gains will be made.

Already, the new reordering inside is leading me to come face-to-face with how to achieve balance in my life. How can I be successful at work, for example, while practicing good self-care? Or, said more broadly: How can I participate more fully in life and still practice self-care? 2011 will be about finding and maintaining this balance. Whereas 2010 was about acceptance.

Balance partly comes from being in touch with feelings. And this is why I have been proactive lately about getting in touch with feelings as a kid and connecting the past to the present. I have watched movies and television shows and read books which are validating and asked my Mom for old pictures of me as a kid. This is one way I know of to achieve balance. It is more difficult to get lost in a single part of me if I am also reminding myself of feelings. I have to always remember that balance is key now. Yes, I know I am being very proactive. I know I am forcing myself to feel feelings. This is one major aspect of self-care. And this is the one area I know I focused on when I started this new healing path a couple of years ago.

I also know that self-abuse was one way to solve internal problems, even though it was definitely harmful and dysfunctional. I talked with "My Healing Guide" about it not only being about making myself feel worthless. But also about recreating abusive events so that I could come out the other side and prove that I was "not really hurt" and could go on and be functional. I am not sure how much was which. But I do not think it needs to be my job to figure out what the relative weights were. We are all on a new course now.

If part of the self-abuse was to feel worthless, I have to challenge that now and do deeds that heal that way of thinking. If part of it was about control and recreation, I can challenge those by practicing my skills at balancing and validation.

What is important for me to keep in mind is that I know I have skills and a plan in place to help keep my life balanced and safe.

Yes, 2010 was a year of great accomplishment. And I know 2011 will be equally great if not better.

Happy New Year to all of you!

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We Have Met the Enemy...

| By Paul | | Comments (23)

From 1948-1975, Walt Kelly was well known for writing comics that were based on social and political satire. One of his main characters, Pogo, is a possum and was the smartest animal in the community of swamp animals that made up the comic strip.

One of Pogo's more famous quotes was "We have met the enemy... and he is us." The quote has its origins in war, but Kelly used it as commentary on how humankind was polluting the planet.

Now I do appreciate that when healing from child abuse, such a statement can rub many the wrong way. To many, the enemy is the abuser. But, for me, I am in a particularly challenging place right now. When dissociative coping massively escalates—and by that I mean dissociated parts become activated, start acting autonomously, and I lose large chunks of time which threatens safety—then I cannot help but come to the conclusion that the enemy is indeed myself.

Dissociative coping, splitting, and creating multiple identities are all wonderfully adaptive when a child and into adulthood. But, when you have made that commitment to awareness and communication and healing, and then it feels like that has all been taken away, you cannot help but have a negative view about the underlying mechanisms that drive how we live our lives. That is where I am at now. So, I am not a big fan of dissociation right now.

I see myself squarely as the enemy. And I'm not talking about specific parts of me. I am really not out to pick fights with specific parts. I am talking about the "all of me." Right now, I'm having trouble seeing the healing path. I only see confusion as we ever so quickly move away from being a quasi "internal team" and leap into our own corners.

I have a huge fear that this shift in me is not the normal ebb and flow of healing. That it will be a permanent shift (or very long term shift).

Luckily, Pogo has another famous line. And that is: "Don't take life so serious, son, it ain't nohow permanent." Maybe that way of thinking will be able to keep me going.

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Nearly a year ago, I wrote in this post the following:

We heal when we begin to view ourselves as whole beings who are constantly changing. We heal when we take ownership and responsibility for our actions, even if we used to blame them on a personality. We heal when we view ourselves as a little less special and a little more like everyone else.

In fragmented personality systems such as found in those of us with dissociative identity disorder, I think it is fair to say that, as a general rule, different parts tend to operate autonomously.

Of course, I am not denying that there are connections between the parts of the system. The connections are generally either loose or strict; rarely are they moderated and balanced. An example of a loose connection would be parts who do not know about other parts, or will do anything to push away other parts. Strict connections are usually the reverse, where parts will have strong alliances for the purpose of emotional protection, even if that means the body gets hurt through self-harm.

There are always very valid reasons for both types of connections. For example, in many systems, parts need to not know about other parts because behaviors or beliefs or feelings of some are intolerable to others.

The seeds of change are sown when one becomes aware that such a dissociated approach to living is getting in the way of living, let alone living well, or is putting us at risk of dying. Every dissociatively disordered person who attempts to heal, I believe, has learned that the coping that has governed their life has become a problem. In healing, we celebrate our ingenious coping strategy which without doubt saved our lives and our sanities. But we also accept that our remarkably adaptive strategy has become a disorder. I know this may bother some; that I am perhaps devaluing what was originally achieved. But, I really am not. My experience is that holding onto both is a crucial step in healing.

Why does this brilliant solution have to lead to a disorder? I know there are some who are perfectly content living as multiples. But most dissociative systems do not evolve and lead to that destination. My belief is that as the dissociative child ages, internal connections become more rigid. On the one hand, alliances become stronger. But, on the other, some parts can become more antagonistic. This is, to my mind, a more common evolution. Parts were created for a purpose. They serve their purpose well. They keep doing what they do well. And, low and behold, habits form (if you want to use that word) and a way of navigating the world becomes firmly established.

One can easily say such an evolution can be applied to almost everyone, and they are probably right. But for the dissociative, the cost is usually a little higher, and the structure is a bit different.

Learning to break down dissociative barriers—and undertake the process of healing—is monumental work. I have written many times here about what the elements of that healing are. Some that come to mind are acceptance, responsibility, overall safety, balance, feeling, intellectual understanding, and love. I have also written about concrete steps to achieve each, chief among them is cultivating awareness through journaling, drawing, and any other form of internal communication, as well as increasing tolerance to emotions.

I thought I would share something I wrote many years ago and came across this past weekend—the motivation for this post. This letter was one of the first steps I took on the road to healing. I wrote it to "My Anger," but in reality it was a specific part with a specific name and I don't feel so comfortable sharing that here.

Dear My Anger,

Why can't you express yourself in a more socially acceptable way? Why do you always involve yourself in self-harm and aggression? Why can't you be tempered by love or joy or even sadness? Why are you so separate?

The separateness is a great divide. It keeps us from becoming whole. It has always been this way, I know. But life is open to change. That's what makes life so special.

I'll tell you what: If I make the first step, will you walk towards me? I pledge to understand you more, to comfort you, to not put you down.

You have to pledge to be more open, to not be so rigid, to not destroy.

If we do these things, I know life can be better than we had ever imagined.

Maybe this was not the kindest or even the best letter I could muster. But it was a start. And I have not looked back since.

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The Contract

| By Paul | | Comments (7)

I don't really have a good sense of what's happened over the past couple weeks. I am now out of the hospital. But events and experiences are all over the place in pieces. I suppose I could put the pieces together from my private journal entries, and I will do that in due course. I sometimes resist doing that because then it becomes patently clear how discrete and dramatic my experiences really are.

My main accomplishment in the hospital, and there seems to always be a main accomplishment for each admission in recent years, was the eventual "coming together" of all parts of me in order to create an honest and meaningful "System Contract". The Contract is ten pages long (in rather large font) and contains our first definitive statements on what the parameters must be for our system as well as truisms that we often have great difficulty acknowledging (and even deny).

As an oversimplification, the hospital is a place where my system can relax, resulting in a bit of coming unglued (hence the Brief Cohesion post), and then some learning takes place and I make some accomplishment or some meaning that moves me forward.

This is what happened with the Contract. It most certainly would not have been able to be written outside of the hospital. It was done so in four major sections over an intense period of several hours, with each containing a series of very clear and definitive statements. I will not share the whole Contract, but I will share just a few of these statements:

We agree we must be safe and keep all of us safe and not hurt any part of our system anymore.

We will not ever deny that all parts of our system exist, even if we do not feel their presence. We must always know we are a system, even though we are a single person, a single human being.

We accept all parts of our system unconditionally and know that all parts were created in order for the person we are, the human being we are, to survive.

We know we were severely damaged by [abuser]. And this abuse of power and trust caused our system to be created. We all accept these as facts. We will not ever deny these truths.

These are four of the 16 items from the first Section, consisting of the core elements. Subsequent sections were more wordy, very personal and specific.

It was signed by every part. When I was discharged late last week, I saw my therapist and I read the entire document out loud in her office. Doing this was probably one of the hardest things I have ever done; but all of me knew it had to be done. I didn't think I could get through certain sections. We cried. It felt as if a stake had been put in the ground and we were propelling ourselves forward.

Unfortunately, the Contract quickly lost its luster. I am quite disconnected from it now. It is a horrible feeling to know you have accomplished something historic, say it's your "mission statement", your "Constitution", your "Magna Carta", but then lose the experience and all the knowing in such a short time.

But this disconnection really does not diminish the magnitude of what I've been able to achieve. There really was a coming together of all my parts; more than the brief cohesion of the last post. It is not surprising that I would lose that complete sense of knowing. And I'm okay with that. I think we have to accept inside that things will still be very difficult and I will struggle.

Even if all that's a given, things are different now. The changes may not be as dramatic and quantifiable as I originally anticipated, but there has been a more qualitative reordering of sorts inside.

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Brief Cohesion

| By Paul | | Comments (9)

My time in the hospital has been marked, so far, by an unbelievable lack of internal cohesion and a nearly constant state of internal fragmentation. For the five plus days here, I have been all over the dissociative map, spending hours upon hours sitting out in front of the "safe" Nurses' Station, using my basic set of learned grounding skills along with the few other patients who also are at various states away from ground. I try not to judge too harshly my needing to do these basic grounding skills. I know the judgements do not solve anything. I use the iPhone games quite a bit, sticking to ones that are most helpful when dissociative: Peggle, Cross me Not, Cross Fingers, and MLB Baseball. I have listened to a little bit of classical music. I write. I draw. I talk. I don't sleep much. I try to participate in groups, but it has been really difficult for me this time.

There are some pressing issues here. The first is eating. I know eating is a form of control. I also know that it was hugely prominent back in the 90s and has been brewing for a while now. I am now at a 20 pound weight loss over the past couple months. And the hospital has exacerbated this issue. With a fragmented psyche, though, it's not uncommon to be in a part of yourself who has no trouble eating. But this often triggers parts of the system who do have these problems, makes them feel out of control, and the result is almost always more dissociation (and more trips to the Nurses' Station). Usually, I find that my best bet is to eat when I am able to maintain somewhat of a sense of core control, make negotiations, eat very small portions in a very deliberate manner, and all the while respect the difficulties that parts of me have.

Other parts have trouble with physical pain and it is severe enough to necessitate narcotic pain medications at times. The pain is always much worse in the hospital. It is always perceived as a complex of body memories. But maybe that is too easy an explanation. Medications are a bit tricky. There are two sides. I cannot rely on the medications as a first response, because they remove my first obligation to attempt to utilize the grounding skills (and may become a crutch). On the other hand, sometimes the grounding skills simply will not yield relief and at a certain point my doctor says, "There is no purpose in being a Marine when dealing with this". So the medication certainly can play a role; although my response to pain medications varies widely.

Yesterday, Monday, was almost totally lost time and this has been par for the course. My journal entry from 4:55 pm reads:

"I'm so confused. I'm switching like a revolving door. Trying to stay co-conscious but it's really hard as I'm drifting in and out. There are these conversations going on. I think I can tune in sometimes but then I can't remember what they're about. I'm lying on my bed. I don't really know what happened today. It's all a giant blur."

In a short span, by 7 pm, there was a sea change. I knew what this meant; that I was on the fast track to leaving the hospital. It is hard not to like me this way. I immediately developed a sense of humor, ironically made jokes about eating (there is a nurse who loves to talk about food), felt super strong and confident, and ultra-grounded. Usually I then quickly begin to get irritated about being here, and do nothing but advocate for leaving.

But I made an agreement when I first came in. It is documented in my private journal. I came in because I went into a functional state, denied parts, and kept pushing onward. I did not go into denial about parts consciously over the past few months. I did it for survival in order to achieve life tasks that needed to be done (e.g., work and home). To achieve this level of functionality, I sometimes have to do the equivalent of putting all the parts in a virtual "dungeon". In fact, often my perception is that parts cease to exist.

When I came in here, I said I cannot use the same tactics I generally use in the hospital, where I get recharged some, reconstitute myself, and leave. I know I will end up going back to the same life-threatening safety issues that are front and center in my life right now. The part of me who is focused on the serious self-harming needs to be addressed and the work needs to start in the hospital. This kind of work with similar acting out parts in the past all began in the hospital. I understand this part needs to be communicated with if I am to achieve any sense of real safety and stability at home.

So, I quickly became determined not to let this new "awakening" get in the way of what I knew I must do. The "awakening", though, felt amazingly good, but it was not long before everything started shifting yet again. By 8PM, I started to act out the normal script; I have been in the hospital too many times to not see it. Oh, there was a temptation to keep telling staff "Things are fine, I feel great, I'm okay." I started to do some of that. But this is not a game, and this is life and death serious. I was up front with them. When I tell that them that I know there is more to what is going on right in the moment, they get it. When I tell that that my safety has been off-scale jeopardized and life-threatening, they get it. When I tell them that I do not have any evidence at all that the motivations of this dangerous part have changed one bit, they get it. The nurse said (paraphrasing): "Not to worry; we will not let you go until the big safety issue is addressed head on."

At 10:28 pm, the steps I had taken had again changed things inside. The cohesion started lessening and I wrote in my private journal:

"Not sure what's going on. Feel like some kind of autopilot mode. Feels okay, only slightly awkward. Actually a lot awkward if I try to think about and relate now to several hours ago and how bad things were. Very odd. The whole thing is odd."

At 10:40 pm, I wrote:

"I'm so pissed. All the cohesion is going away fast. I'm so mad! I was "normal" for hours! I always almost trick myself and think that the cohesive state will last forever."

Tonight, I slept for a mere 1.5 hours and was not phased by the second round of sleep medications. I do not know where all this will take me. Doctors, nurses, and friends are basically telling me to "keep working and see what happens". I am working super hard. I am being given time and space. For that I am grateful and determined.

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Making Sense of Nonsense

| By Paul | | Comments (9)

My life is quite chaotic right now and a little bit out of control. By the way, I do know how to minimize!

As a system, "I" am cognizant of the fact that there is an extremely delicate balance between all the facets of my life. We cannot be too much in any one area for any protracted period of time. We all know that inside even though many of us will deny it if asked outright. This balance is crucial for my internal life as well as external life. On Thursday, hopefully, I'll write more about this from a neuroscience perspective. But now I'll focus on what my experiences have been lately.

Balance is what all of us strive for, whether dissociative or not. But there are extra challenges for those of us who dissociate, and as a general rule, the more dissociative we are, the more difficulty we have finding that balance. While there is certainly a concept of a dissociative continuum, and normal dissociation for "normal people", there is without question a different scale for some of us.

Another way of looking at the problem from an astronomical analogy is that most people stay within the context of their own psychological solar system. For the dissociative, we can be in the solar system, in the galaxy, in the Universe, in some parallel Universe, in a singularity point, or in any combination of the above, at any timescale.

For me, lately, I am experiencing more of the extremes of dissociation, where it's difficult, if not impossible, to distinguish between reality and fantasy, between present and past, between safety and danger, and even to know who I am and what "me" means.

Yesterday, I was not that in touch and already somewhat unstable inside. Yet, I was able to shift things to be what I needed to be. I volunteered at my daughter's school, helped my wife fix her computer at work, got some work chores done, cleaned the bathrooms, told my daughter an awesome story about fairies, and more. But there was something missing. I was able to be functional in all those ways at the expense of loss of control. I have been oscillating between extremes and this is not sustainable.

Not only have I been functional over the past week (or longer), I have had some really amazing experiences. I was in the "zone" for a newspaper photography shoot of a parade. I freed myself from the usual "thinking" associated with playing piano and created some wonderful recordings. I was able to teach my daughter, who is somewhat new to the violin, how to improvise, create and feel music. This was an "Aha!" moment for her and it was so gratifying for me. These are examples of how dissociation can be a very wonderful gift and "healthy".

But there has been too much else going on and too many external and internal triggers. I know that parts have freaked out at night and sought out my wife (minutes or hours after some of these great experiences). I nearly lost my daughter at a hockey game (also minutes after a great experience). And I was unable to keep myself safe today. Plus, I am having an onslaught of memories and nightmares I cannot even remember.

This is not unknown territory for me. I've been struggling with a dissociative disorder for a long time, and have been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder since back in the early 90s. Many of the feelings and experiences now are quite similar to back then. But what makes the present different is that I try as best I can to pay attention to what's going on and document everything I can. That effort is usually what makes the difference and keeps me safe.

Right now, that effort to document is keeping me out of the hospital and allowing me to "make sense of nonsense" or at least document the nonsense. I have kept a private electronic journal for the past 16 months, and I write at an average clip of 30,000 words a month. I'm usually around a computer and can write to it whenever I need to. As a bit of an aside, about a month ago, I wrote a handy little script for my iPhone that allows me to be virtually anywhere and write to the journal (as long as I have a 3G or Edge ssh connection). As I've written before, I use the journal (as well as this blog) to help me track of my crazy life and learn from the range of experiences I have. It's certainly not a linear healing process, but it absolutely does help.

One post to my journal stands out. At 3:43 pm yesterday I wrote: "I also think something very bad happened inside just a little while ago. But I don't seem to know about it now. It was purely an inside thing." This, I think, had nothing at all to do with planning to be hurt or anything like that. It was just a knowing that something happened inside and I documented it as soon as possible. I cannot explain it. If I didn't take such care to document, these awarenesses would probably be lost in the noise.

But, despite the documentation, I still have been unable to guarantee my safety. And I am not stable internally to the degree I need to be. I believe some of the functional stuff and good experiences and successes threw me off a bit. I kept using those as signs of hope that things would change. I really cannot assess the chances of things changing and becoming more stable if I keep going without some sort of intervention.

The reason why I am on the fence about going into the hospital is because of those successes and good experiences. The hospital removes that. The other times I have been to the hospital, as far as I can remember, were because of complete loss of functionality. That has not happened now. I am wondering if I can build in safety more explicitly and tell my wife and boss that I need to be home for the time being. My wife already knows that I have not been well. She can tell. She has told me she knows this. She doesn't know how to act about the eating, whether to be happy or upset about my weight loss. She doesn't know how to react to parts flipping out at night and then me being completely functional and on the ball in the morning. I acted incredulous with her about it, because when she brought it up that she knows I've been having a hard time, I was in a completely different state.

I want to see how this explicit safety plan goes. If I cannot make it work, and home falls apart and everything breaks down, then I will know I need to be in the hospital. I am not there yet though. For now, I will push ahead, keep documenting, and trying to make sense of the "nonsense" and hope that I take a trip back to our solar system and stay there for a while.

I have written about many of these issues in the past. One advantage to the blog is that it distills a lot of the things I write about in my private journal. It's important for me to know what happens moment to moment, day to day. But it's equally important to know how those experiences fit into the larger picture. The blog serves that purpose. So, while I am glad that people read the blog, it truly is more for me than for anyone else. My apologies for being so selfish!

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Rocking the Boat

| By Paul | | Comments (9)

For 14 days, my wife is in Europe on vacation with her niece and I'm completely in charge of the kids. Well, my mother-in-law has been here for half the time in the middle, so she's been a huge help. But, I have to be totally responsible for my 11 and 8 year old girls. We are on Day 8 now, but who's counting?

I've mostly taken the time off from work, as I've only gone in a few times. I've learned that being responsible for the kids is a huge job. I didn't really know that before. Well, I knew it, but I didn't experience it, except for a day or two here and there. There is so much to coordinate with this activity and that activity, who we will carpool with, what to wear to school, what to pack for lunch, and on and on. There are so many details. It's so complicated. I'm keeping a lot of lists. We figure out what they want in their school lunches and two snacks the night before and I write all that down, then in the morning I just have to tick off the list. I also have every day all spelled out on another list with every single detail. If I get confused, I just consult the list.

It's been an emotional roller coaster for me, though. I have to be aware of so much. I can't drop the ball. I'm in charge after all. And I know that my kids are totally dependent on me. I guess that's why I can claim them as dependents on my taxes! I deserve that tax break! This changes things. When they go to bed the reality of the emotional stress kicks in. I can tell that old coping mechanisms are at play. For example, there's a lot of blocking out of experiences during the day. I definitely experience more internal fragmentation. This just makes it that much harder for me to sustain keeping track of all the family details. Sometimes my head is swimming.

It's not just that I'm responsible, it's that my whole environment is different. I'm not used to my wife not being home. I don't know how to sleep alone. Yes, I miss my wife! My work schedule is thrown off, as well as my therapy schedule. It's very hard to set time aside to journal and check-in. My whole internal experience is thrown off; it's akin to how things changed internally when we brought our first daughter home from being born.

But, even while my experience is off, I still have to remember at what time to schedule that orthodontist appointment 1 hour away so that we will be able to get back to gymnastics in time. I have to make sure I send in the pick-up note to school, make sure the gym bag is packed with the right clothes and with water, remember to bring her contacts and a toothbrush so that after she eats her teeth won't be dirty for the exam. I have to take pictures of her getting braces so my wife can see them on Facebook. Then, figure out how to get from the dentist to the gym (thank you iPhone voice navigation App) because I don't ever go from one to the other.

I do like it, though. I just don't think I could do this 365 days in a row. I like the feeling of accomplishment. Another good outcome is that because I need to be on the ball so much, I've been able to get a lot of house chores done. Our basement is cleaned out, septic pumped, oil burner and propane fireplace tuned up, and lawn is mowed. I have this extra energy and alertness going for me (with little sleep).

I also have been able to assess what life is like for our family. I'm a little unhappy about how busy my kids are. My immediate reaction to all the kids' activities is this: Whoa! Slow down! What ever happened to coming home and playing? And having real time to do homework? And relaxing? Nope. Can't have that. Apparently, somehow, we ended up having the crazy activity schedules like everyone else we know, even though my wife and I always promised each other that it wouldn't happen to us.

This has happened partly because I've sort of taken a back seat in the managing of our kids' lives. I want to have a bigger say. My kids are great. My family is great. But our lives are way too hectic. And we all know it's easier to add things then it is to take them away!

I've also been able to appreciate the amount of time and energy that I put into healing. This time with the kids has really meant that I cannot put too much effort into healing. I haven't read much of the blogs I follow. As I said, I've written very little in my journal. I watch the clock in therapy. I have to think much less of me and much more of them. I try not to judge whether that's good or bad. It just is right now. I know it won't be that way forever.

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