Showing posts with label self-doubt. Show all posts
Showing posts with label self-doubt. Show all posts

Saturday, September 22, 2012

I feel like Humpty Dumpty with nothing but a gluestick.

Lately it feels like every day comes with a new insight into just how broken I am. I’ve known since I was fifteen that I have clinical depression.  For more than twenty years I have cycled between dysthemia (low level but constant depression that dulls your senses and affects every part of your life) and major depressive episodes.  There have been periods where I was depression free – most of university for example and most of the time since I’ve been on my meds – but most of my life has been lived in varying degrees of depression.  The first time I spoke to someone about it I was fifteen, ever since then every conversation I’ve had with anyone about my mental health has been about depression.

No one has ever asked me about anxiety, no one has asked me about flashbacks, no one has asked me about anything that would have helped them to see what I believe is the bigger picture.

The first time it occurred to me that I might have PTSD was over ten years ago.  But the images we are given of PTSD are of soldiers returned from war hitting the deck when a car backfires. We are led to believe that anyone with it can barely function and has vivid full-blown flashbacks where they lose touch with reality and relive their trauma. So I never spoke to anyone about it because I didn’t think anyone would take me seriously, I’d never been to war after all and I never hallucinated or lost touch with reality.

It’s the same with anxiety, I’ve only ever had two anxiety attacks in my life. When I was about ten I had an attack that left me rocking back and forth, crying, convinced that “they were coming to get me”, I’m still not sure who “they” were.  Last year I had a mild anxiety attack with a racing heart and shaking hands. They were very different experiences but I call them both anxiety attacks, the first because of the intense fear and paranoia, the second because of the physiological symptoms. I had always thought that having an anxiety disorder meant having panic attacks all the time so I figured that while I had some anxiety it obviously wasn’t bad enough to talk to anyone about.

A lot of the time if someone had asked me about anxiety I would have said, “No, I don’t have a lot of anxiety” when what I really meant was that I don’t feel anxious all the time. What I failed to acknowledge was that the reason I didn’t feel anxious was because I had circumscribed my life to avoid those things that made me anxious.  But living a life of avoidance is not the same as being anxiety free.

Part of the problem too is that I honestly don’t know what “normal” feels like. I don’t know how non-anxious people respond to things so I don’t know if my responses are anxious or normal.  I find myself asking things like, “Is it normal to get shaky and feel butterflies in my chest when I mildly disagree with someone on Twitter?”  I’m guessing no.

So maybe I could just say that I have the dual diagnosis of depression and anxiety but I still don’t think that’s the whole picture.

When I went in for my mood disorder assessment the psychiatrist told me that I needed to treat my trauma before I got any CBT or MBCT.  Which got me thinking about PTSD again.  So I Googled it, and there was one symptom that really jumped out at me: The sense of a limited future (you don’t expect to live a normal life span, get married, have a career).  Did I ever tell you that I used to believe that I would never live past the age of twenty-five? True story.

Another significant symptom for me was “persistent feelings of helplessness, shame, guilt, or being completely different from others” (  Although, to be fair, I’ve felt completely different since I was a child, the feeling has only grown more intense as I’ve gotten older.

So, last night I started looking at online assessments.  After three tests the consensus is that I do likely have PTSD.

So I guess that’s how broken I am.

This whole journey has consistently shown me how wholly inadequate the mental health care system is.  Not once in the last twenty years has anyone given me a comprehensive mental health evaluation.  I said I was depressed, they asked depression related questions and then they agreed with my assessment.  This is not how diagnosis should work.

Depression is known to co-occur with, or be a symptom of, other mental illnesses but everyone I ever talked to took for granted that depression was the extent of my problem.  A friend of mine recently had the same kind of experience.  He’d spent most of his life trying to get treatment for depression only to find out upon proper assessment that he has BPD (you should check out his blog, he’s writing great stuff about his own process).

It’s hard enough to get any kind of treatment or assessment for mental health issues – especially when you have no money – but to have a diagnosis based on tunnel vision can severely prolong how long you go untreated or inadequately treated.  How might things have been different for my and my friend had we been properly diagnosed ten or fifteen years ago? Nobody knows.  All we really know is that our lives have been put on hold for way too long, and to think that we could have had treatment and perhaps moved forward with our lives decades earlier is saddening and infuriating.

And even now that I feel pretty sure of this diagnosis I have a sinking feeling that there will still be no treatment in sight.  And of course that awareness that I may continue to be insufficiently treated only solidifies my fears that I have gotten as far as I can in my professional life, because without some kind of healing I can’t begin to imagine how to do what I need to do to move forward.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy
Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
Borderline Personality Disorder

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

I never called it rape...

*Trigger Warning*

I’ve been thinking a lot about rape lately.  It seems like I can’t go online without someone somewhere talking about rape.  Even though I know it puts me at risk of being triggered I can’t seem to stop myself from looking.  It shouldn’t surprise me really.  When I was a teen trying to come to terms with my own assault I collected articles and research on sexual assault in a big fat folder.  My best way of dealing at that time was to understand the big picture and make it political.  My big project for OAC (grade 13) drama was a play about a girl getting raped by her best friend and killing herself.  In retrospect the two predominant themes in my adolescence were sexual assault and suicide.

And yet, with all the of the processing I’ve tried to do over the last twenty three years I am still unearthing new and surprising aspects of my own trauma, and today is no different.  Over the last two decades I have called what happened to me sexual assault or sexual coercion. I have said he did something I didn’t want him to do. I have told myself that what happened to me was bad and it messed me up but women who’d been raped had it worse.

And then I was reading the comments on this post and I felt like I’d been punched in the gut.

Because rape is not only non-consensual intercourse, it is non-consensual sexual intrusion.  That means that if the perpetrator puts anything inside of you against your will it is rape.  I knew this.  I’ve always known this but I didn’t somehow take the next logical leap.

I wrote a post a few years ago and published it on someone else’s blog.  In it I wrote about not only my sexual trauma but about the physiological anomalies that have complicated my relationship with my sexuality in oh so many ways.  In short I had what is called an imperforate hymen.  I couldn’t get a pelvic exam, I couldn’t wear a tampon, and there was no way in hell anyone’s fingers could have gotten past that particular barrier.

I guess that’s why it hurt so much when he tried.

Immediately after he finished I said to him , “You said you’d never finger me” and he said, “I didn’t.” And I guess in his mind he didn’t, because my body wouldn’t let him in.

But in reality he tried, he really tried. And the question I’m forced to ask myself is this: Is it any less rape because my physiology kept him from “going the distance”?

Between the nature of the assault and my own physiological weirdness I have been invalidating myself for more than twenty years.  I have told myself that my trauma was lesser than that of rape victims.  Despite all the evidence of what it did to me I have been gas-lighting myself, feeling like I was crazy, like I was blowing it out of proportion, that I didn’t know what it was like to be raped, I “only” knew the pain of a lesser sexual assault.

But today I finally understand.  I get it.  Because what happened to me was indisputably rape.

And I don’t know how to incorporate that into my understanding.

It makes me angry, it makes me sad, and it makes sense of so many things.

But please, let there be no more surprises.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Another day outside of the box marked pretty

Yesterday I was working for a festival for which I’ve been volunteering for about eighteen years.  The work is of the type most often done by men but because of the lefty, hippy vibe of the festival we have a good number of women on our crew.  For those of us who’ve been working together for a while there’s a certain comfort level and a certain amount of ribaldry.  Yesterday, however, was different for just one short moment.  Yesterday I was doing what I do best and reminding some men on a parallel crew to wear sufficient sunscreen when one of them, whom I had only met that morning, said “I’d like it better if you put it on me.”  I laughed at him, as though it were a ridiculous notion.

But my internal monologue was more like “What the fuck? That is so inappropriate! And who does he think he’s kidding, obviously he wouldn’t want my fat self to rub anything on him. Why the hell didn’t I even say anything? I’m not a teenager anymore I should have told him that his joke was uncool.”

For me, it was a humiliating and infuriating experience.  As a feminist I was pissed that he felt so at ease using that kind of faux flirtation with me when I know to the marrow of my bone that I could never feel safe making the same joke to a man I didn’t already know well.  For a woman to make that kind of a joke is to risk that she will be taken at face value and be presumed to have consented to some degree of intimacy, for a man it’s just another day at the office.

As a survivor of sexual assault and harassment I was dismayed and distressed to realize that I still feel like I can’t say anything when some guy’s comment crosses a line.  My overriding instinct is to treat it like a joke and keep my true feelings to myself.

But the worst part was the feeling that he was unintentionally driving home the fact that it was patently ridiculous that he, or anyone else, would ever find me attractive enough to actually mean a comment like that.

This is messy stuff.  When I’m sitting with friends and they’re talking about how often they get catcalls on the street I commiserate with them but in my head I’m thinking, I almost never experience that now because I am one of many invisible fatties.  It is a twisted emotional mess to both revile the street harassment that so many women must deal with while simultaneous hurting because you are far enough outside of “acceptably attractive” for anyone to feel inspired to harass you.

I don’t want to be harassed or otherwise subjected to the unsolicited advances of men.  At the same time I have yet to succeed at not caring if I am attractive to others.  When I look at myself, and see myself only through my own eyes I see beauty, strength, and style.  When I imagine what others see I see lumpy and ill-fitted, or maybe even nothing at all.  For that is what so many of us fat-enough fatties* seem to be, flat out invisible.

But this is what it means to be living in a sexist and misogynist culture.  We learn to care too much about how sexually attractive we are but if we are “attractive enough” we are subjected to objectifying and dehumanizing behaviour and expected to be grateful for the compliment.  You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, either way you finish each day feeling a little less than you were before.

This isn’t even really about being fat. It’s about anyone who feels like they’re outside of that little box marked “pretty”.  And if someone does show interest, no matter how offensive, we are expected to fall over with the joy that someone has deemed us worthy of such double-edged praise.  We’ve all heard it, “What do you mean no? You should feel lucky that I showed any interest at all!” to which we all want to respond, “You should feel lucky I didn’t kick you in the face.” But in reality we are far more likely to just turn away, feeling angry and humiliated eventually turning it all in on ourselves.

I don’t know what to do about it. All I know is that one fairly innocent joke sent me into a tailspin of emotions and nothing about that is okay.

*I say fat-enough because I recognize that there are many who are bigger than I am who face fat-phobic harassment on a daily basis. I am speaking from the perspective of someone who's fat enough to be invisible and have real problems finding clothes but not fat enough to be shown outright contempt when I'm out and about..

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Life as it should be

I once had a therapist tell me that I’m living life as it should be in the world as it is.  It was probably one of the most powerful things a therapist has ever said to me.  I find myself living with a constant narrative in my head telling me that I don’t measure up to others, that I’ve missed the boat on growing up, that I have and am destined to fail.  So here’s my dirty secret: the closest I’ve come to a “real job” is a three month contract about a year before I had M.  That came after completing a psychology degree with honours, one year of grad school, a diploma in web design and administration and a certificate in arts administration.  All that edumacation and I never managed to get beyond one short-term contract.

When I had M and started connecting with other moms they were all on mat leave, coming from a wide variety of professions. While they were trying to decide how long to stay home before returning to work I was filled with anxiety and insecurity because I had nothing to return to. When I became pregnant I was engaged in a long and fruitless job search in arts admin and the thought of trying to return to that with an additional few years of being out with my kid seemed impossible. For about a year I operated under the delusion that I wanted to be an electrician until on the last night of my electrical theory class I realized there was no part of me that really wanted that.

So I went home, sat down with H and said, “I don’t want to do this, I really don’t” and he said, “Okay, let’s figure out what you do want to do” (have I mentioned how much I love that man?). I picked up the continuing ed course catalogue for a local college and started to flip through it for inspiration, and I found it.  One of their courses was in “life skills coaching”, not the same thing as life coaching but it reminded me that I had actually thought about becoming a life coach before but had dismissed it because I figured I couldn’t afford the time or money to train for it.  I did my research, picked a school and dipped into the money given to me by my grandfather.  Two years later I had a certificate in hand, a website up and running and even a couple of clients.  I love coaching.  It feels like a perfect fit.  If I could afford to I would do it for free but of course I can’t afford to do that.  And therein lies the rub. Whenever I think of how little I contribute financially to my household I get overwhelmed with guilt, insecurity and a diminished sense of worth.  It’s like my ability to make money overshadows everything else in my life.

I love where my life is at right now. I have a great partner and a solid marriage, an incredible child, a home that I love (despite the old roof and bizarre DIY work of the previous owners), some great friends and I’m doing work that I love.  But when I start to think about money and my perception of what others see as valuable or important it eclipses all of that. It casts a pall over my otherwise thoroughly fulfilling life.

I also know that I was not just twiddling my thumbs while everyone else was pursuing their careers and “getting things done”.  But the work in which I was engaged was of a deeper more personal kind.  While others were building their external lives and engaging with the outside world I was doing the hard but invisible work of healing, of trying to learn how to be okay.  It boggles my mind now to think of how many years I went, knowing that I needed some kind of treatment, some kind of professional support in my quest for mental health, and got none.  Ironically, university was the one time in my life when I could have gotten free therapy but I never availed myself of it because university was also the longest stretch I went un-medicated with no significant episodes of depression.  Until a month or two before graduation when I started to slip into a nearly paralysing depression that waxed and waned for more than a year.  At a time when I should have been jumping into the working world I was barely able to leave the house, just struggling to keep my head above water.

I know all of this. I know, intellectually how important the work of healing has been and how much energy and time it has taken and still takes.

But despite knowing all of that, I just can’t seem to shut down that voice that tells me that I can’t and will never measure up. That failure is inevitable. That I’m going through the motions, pretending that I haven’t already failed.  That there’s nowhere left to go because if I can’t make a success of this I don’t know what else to do.  That even if I decided to give up and go to work for someone else, no one would have me.

And right now I just want to “live my life as it should be” and “the world as it is” can go fuck itself.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Sigh. Here we go again.

So the ugly beast rears its head again.
I am so tired of this
This being crazy
This being broken
This roller coaster ride that is my mental health.

I spoke to a friend about my insecurities when I hear other mothers talking about how tired they are after they run off a list of the fifty things they did that day.
I told her that when I hear this I think, “How did you do all of that? I barely clean and I’m still exhausted.”
The reality is that with every day I am doing the invisible work.
Not the invisible work of motherhood or marriage but the invisible work of being and staying okay.
The invisible work of holding myself together.

We talk a lot about the importance of being true to yourself and forging your own path. We talk about the value of the outliers and those who see the world differently.
We talk about not caring about social expectations or conventional norms.

What we fail to talk about is that just because you are different, just because you follow your own path, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard as hell.

I don’t want to be anyone else.
I don’t want to fit in.
But I do want to have somewhere that I feel I belong.
I try to imagine what it must feel like to not feel so profoundly set a part from those around me.

I want to know what it feels like to not feel profoundly, inexorably broken.

I want to know what it feels like to not have lost a parent.
I want to know what it feels like to have a clear and well-defined path.
I want to know what it feels like to have a cohesive extended family.
I want to know what it feels like to assume that things will work out.
I want to know what it feels like to have a consistent group of long time friends.
I want to know what it feels like to feel comfortable in social situations.
I want to know what it feels like to not always be wondering if I should expose this or that part of my life and my history.

And sometimes, when things get bad I want to know what it feels like to drink myself into oblivion.
Sometimes I want to know what it feels like to make the pain real with a razor.
Sometimes I want to know what it feels like to smash everything in sight.

For whatever reason, something stops me. I can’t bring myself to cross these lines.
I know that I have to find a way to push through.
And then sometimes I feel trapped.
I feel trapped by the knowledge that not living isn’t an option.

And so, I’m tired. Tired to the marrow of doing what I need to do to be okay.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Please sir, can I have some art?

So my new office is finally done. Up until now I’ve been working in my dining room but we found some surprise money and converted the old upstairs kitchen into an office. This is the one space in the house that is truly mine and I plan to make it not just a workspace, but a refuge. That being the case I plan to decorate it in a way that makes me sigh with contentment whenever I look around the room. 

Yesterday we went to the Queen West Art Crawl - an event where hundreds of artists set up booths in a downtown park - in the hopes of finding something to put in my office that would make me smile. Howard took Mae off to the playground while I looked around and I soon found a booth full of beautiful steel sculptures, candle holders, and coat hooks.  I quickly found two items that I liked and settled down to the task of deciding which to get.  I stood there looking back and forth between the two items – a wall sconce for a candle at fifty-five dollars and a tree shaped candlestick at a whopping thirty-five dollars. I stood there in a state of mental paralysis and as I tried to make my decision I noticed that I was getting more and more anxious and miserable. I was feeling sad, angry, guilty, even a little hopeless.  When it came down to it I just couldn’t feel okay about buying something that would be purely ornamental.  More than that, I couldn’t feel okay about buying art.

I love art. I grew up with a deep appreciation for it. My great grandmother and my grandfather were both graduates of the Ontario College of Art and my living room holds four of my great grandmother’s works.  I want my house to be full of art. But the thought of spending money on it fills me with a witch’s brew of negative emotions.

Is it that I don’t think I deserve it? Is that what it comes down to?

When I was growing up we didn’t have much. My clothes were either second hand or hand-me-downs and things like family vacations and Scholastic Books were the stuff of fairy-tales.  I understood that these were things that other kids had that I couldn’t have. But we were okay. We were always fed and my mom even managed to get us into some dance and drama classes. I didn’t feel poor. I’m sure it helped that I had no interest in designer clothes.

When I left home at the age of sixteen I was living on student welfare and after I graduated I lived on welfare for another three years.  My parents would do what they could, giving me groceries here and there so, once again, I never starved.  But I always felt the scrutiny of my caseworker. When I moved in with new roommates she first accused me of lying about the number of roommates I had and then accused me of sleeping with my male roommate. 

The rules for how you were expected to job search were designed not to help you find work, but rather to ensure that you spend your days running around town in the most inefficient way possible. Let me give you an example. I was required to inquire about at least three jobs a day, not on average but each and every day. That meant that if I approached twenty places on Monday, I still had to go out every other day of the week or else I would get in trouble.  Of those three places, each one had to be at a different address. This meant that if you were looking for retail work, as I was, you couldn’t go to several places in the mall in one day and leave it at that without getting a warning letter. So I could approach fifty stores in the mall in one day, and not only would I have to keep looking every other day of the week, I would have to go to at least two other locations in that day in order to meet my requirements for welfare. This is not only inefficient, it is a waste of precious bus tickets and utterly demoralizing.

To add insult to injury, most of the programs designed to help people get back to work or refresh their skills were only available to those on unemployment insurance. 

From welfare I went straight to OSAP (student loans), which was marginally better but I still felt the powers that be breathing down my neck telling me that I was not permitted to have anything more than what they deemed acceptable.  Ten years after graduation we are still paying off that debt.

So after all that time, I am left with the legacy of living on little.  Where I get filled with anxiety at the thought of spending fifty-five dollars - fifty-five dollars that I know I have – on some art for my wall.

Because people like me don’t get to buy art.

This is what so many people don’t understand about living without.  It’s not just about struggling to pay the bills. It’s not just about the immediate hardships. It’s about the deep psychological impact of being under constant scrutiny. From the welfare workers to the student loan officers to the person behind you in the checkout line passing judgment on your food stamp purchases.  People who rely on any kind of social assistance are told that if you’re poor, you’d better be damn poor. 

So here I am. With my own house, new clothes on my back and organic kale in my crisper, still short on funds but with a much-improved standard of living. Money in the bank earmarked for making my office a place of solace, staring at a candlestick and waiting for someone to tell me it’s okay for me to have nice things.