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.