Haunted Mind

Completely unrelated to this post…I just have to share…I had to work on New Year’s Eve.   When I got out of my van at work, I looked up and unexpectedly saw Cassiopeia.  Elated, I looked and sure enough, there was Orion.  I was surprised because living in the Pacific Northwest, my sky view is often limited by cloud cover.  Being able to see Cassiopeia and Orion felt like the perfect way to start a new year!

Since I wrote Stealing Guilt, I have had a delicious reprieve from the pain of the last year, but I woke up in a bad space yesterday couldn’t shake it. (think PMS x 10) I felt like I apologized to my children a dozen times for snapping at them, for unusual things.  I knew they were unusual because of the surprised look on their faces.  You’ve probably seen it.  It’s that “what’s the matter with you?” look (teenagers are particularly good at this).  And then I would apologize again.  One would think that after the first couple times I would stop, but it isn’t that simple.  I was mentally treading water furiously trying not to drown, and everything was an irritation to me.  I don’t know how else to explain.  Some days are just really hard. A couple well-meaning people have told me in the past, “just don’t dwell on the memories”…but that is not the problem. It may surprise you, but I have very few memories of what happened to me. I only remember enough to understand where all this pain is coming from.

So I have been pondering how I could explain what this is like to someone whose mind works quite differently.  I think like this: if you don’t have Dissociation or PTSD then your mind is  like a giant conference room…you may have different areas set up for different activities (such as work, family, recreation).  Still you can see it all at once if you want to, or focus on one particular area if you choose to do that.

Some people (like me) courtesy of Dissociation and PTSD  have minds more like a Haunted Mansion..(cue eerie music).  There are many rooms in the mansion. I never know what is behind the doors. There is at least one or two doors of happiness, but many of the doors have some emotional pain, fear or anger from the past (from trauma) that needs to be processed by my adult mind. 

The doors do not have knobs, as least not on the outside.  I never voluntarily open them.  But that does not mean they stay closed…not at all.  Sometimes they open while I am sleeping and I wake up like I did yesterday sad and angry without really knowing why.  Sometimes there is an unexpected trigger that causes a door to open.  It may open a crack, or be thrown open.  Triggers can be like landmines, they catch you by surprise.  Sometimes they open during therapy, which is the best time because then I can process it with someone, and my therapist is pretty good at bringing me back out and closing the door.

The other thing to understand about the rooms is that besides the pain, there are the four walls dividing you from the rest of your mind.  When I am in one of these rooms struggling with the pain, it can be very difficult to remember that there are other rooms with happiness, or that there are any other rooms at all. This can cause memory lapses that sometimes affect people around me and can cause some embarrassing moments.  For example, yesterday I was telling a friend that I was happy to see her, that with the school break it had been so long.  She laughed (good naturedly) and said, “Leslie, you just saw me last week.”  I immediately felt very confused.  Last week?  When? What for?  I had no memory of it, and no guesses.  I just looked at her blankly.  Then she reminded me that our children had played together the previous week.  Ah, about 30 seconds of THAT memory came to me, and I laughed (to cover my embarrassment).  You are likely thinking, “I forget things too, Leslie.”  I know everyone forgets things, but what I experience is beyond normal forgetfulness.  If you know me in real life, just ask my family, they tease me about it all the time. 

I think it is those walls…the separation…that is the hardest.  To bare the pain, sometimes without the remembrance of happier times can be almost unbearable at times. To be fair, it works both ways, when I am in a room of happy feelings, I don’t feel the pain.  I remember what I have thought about the pain, what I have written about it, but I don’t FEEL it.  Not at all.  It feels like I am thinking of a pain someone else experienced and described to me.  I wonder about it, much the same as I imagine you do.  And when I am in a room of pain, I feel the same about happiness.  I see other people experiencing it and I wonder what it must be like because I think, “if I ever experienced THAT, I sure don’t remember.”

 One thing is certain, I have to look in all the rooms and deal with the feelings that are there. I MUST because holding it all back takes a toll on me physically and causes anxiety attacks.  This is one of the reasons for therapy, to clean out all the rooms, and take down the walls.  It’s a long process.  What I hope for in the meantime, is that when I am snippy, or depressed that you will remember and remind me that there have been and will be happier times.


  1. I wonder if you can imagine a rescue crew that comes in to this place with many rooms, and they install escape hatches in each of the painful rooms. Now, each painful room ALWAYS has an escape hatch, not only the door that you entered into. You can always leave at a moments notice. You can get out and the hatch will lock and close behind you – no one and nothing can reach you once behind that escape hatch. This way you are free to go in, clean and cleanse the rooms. Free to pull back the curtains and open the windows and both see and feel the sunshine. Let the light fill the room and secure it in peace and protection.Happy New Year, Leslie.

  2. Wow I had no idea…I should be more perceptive. I thought the reason you seemed so quiet yesterday is that you were really tired. Since I talk a lot anyway I just wanted to let you be. ๐Ÿ˜‰ One thing that helps me on a bad day is to remember the reverse of this saying" when God closes a door he always opens a window" when my day is bad I remember that "When God opens a window he also closes a door…usually on the bad feeling" Granted I am not making light of your bad days, honestly I think my worst day is probably not even close to one of your bad days due to what you have been through. But hopefully that saying will help. big hugs to you my friend! You are amazing!

  3. You have hit this one right out of the ballpark. Your imagery of the haunted house is so perfect. I have been trying to find a way to describe to my family what this affliction is like. Leslie, this is so descriptive and helpful.Now, I will be able to explain why it is when I am angry, I am furious, that while I am flying with the lightness of joy, I am soaring above the clouds without thought of ever touching earth again. While I am in the room I recently discovered, I am a tiny little girl who was abandoned.I hope and pray for the day when my haunted house turns into my cottage by the sea, where I am watching the seagulls fly and the grandchildren playing on the beach, and I am picking carnations and stock from my garden.I know that you will find your house with the white picket fence, or retreat in the mountains (I don't know what it is!) and that the Haunted House will only be the fun thing it is when we go to Disneyland! I know that day will come. With love, faith, patience and prayer, it will happen.

  4. Thanks Jenna, to be fair to you I think I did tell you I was tired…it is my "catch all" answer. ๐Ÿ™‚ But don't worry, you don't need to be more perceptive, I think you are a wonderful friend just the way you are!M.S., thank you my friend. We will both hope for that cottage by the sea…only mine will have tulips. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Leslie, I am glad that my list on my blog is a help to you. Back when I did most of my incest recovery work in the early 1990's, I had never heard of PTSD. I don't know that I have ever had a true flashback. I had memories from the age of 11-17 to deal with when I stopped the denial that the incest was still affecting me. It took me 10 years of doing a lot of talking, some writing, counseling with 3 different counselors and going to 2 different 12-Step groups before I was able to release most of the pain and anger of the incest. Going from victim to survivor to thriver does take awareness – a lot of it, but the awareness came just a little bit at a time as I was ready and able to deal with it. Today I know that the abuse didn't happen just those 6 years that I have memories of. I know that the abuse was possibly going on as young as 3 years old. I may or may not ever recover those memories. Even if I don't, I can work on the feelings as they come up and heal those. I can nurture and protect all of my inner children and love them to the best of my ability.My children were teenagers when I told them about the incest. I wanted them to know why I was so moody and why, some days, my temper would be so short. I wanted them to know that it was me and not them that I was angry with. I wanted them to know that I was working hard to learn to control my rage and learning to release it in ways that were not harmful to them. The most important thing is to talk, tell them what is going on so they can understand. You don't have to share details. Just don't leave them in the dark as to what you are feeling and going through. It teaches them compassion.

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