This art and poetry portrays the ordeal of intrusive thoughts which are brought on due to mental illness, specifically complex trauma, anxiety disorders, personality disorders and psychosis.
My intrusive thoughts have been dominating my life since I can remember. As young as 5 I recall laying in my bed and reasoning with myself, internally bargaining:
“If I die in my sleep, I wont know, I will just die and then it will be over”.
Scary things had always happened at night in my world, the dark couldn’t be trusted and nor could most adults.
As I got older my intrusive thoughts took on an internal shaming ritual, whereby ripping myself to shreds about how I looked, how I had acted or how no one loved me and I would be alone forever – hence why these thoughts turned suicidal. Repeating to myself again and again:
“you are fat, you are ugly”,
as if I were counting maniacal sheep – one named fat the other ugly.
Sometimes the thoughts can turn external and onto others, fearing you may hurt someone or even kill someone – not because you want to but because you fear you will lose your mind. I used to fear that one day whilst travelling to school or college that I would push someone onto the railway tracks. Visualising it was horrifying, playing it out scene for scene , watching others scream in horror and watching myself be carted away by the “men in white coats”.
With psychosis the intrusive thoughts are there but take on a hallucinogenic dimension. In the dark seeing evil angels looming over me or small fairy like creatures guiding me to safety, another world would open up – but what if I got trapped there? What if I wanted to stay? Reflections in mirrors can cause dysmorphic appearances, my eyes would disappear into my sockets, skin looked to be hanging off my face and seeing other people as myself.
Traumatic experiences cause flash backs which take you back to your trauma and hold you there in order to relive the ordeal again and again. Or you try and recreate the trauma and imagine a new ending – all the while punishing yourself internally, blaming yourself for what has happened to you or for what others have done to you.
Medication can help but it can be so much worse if you miss a dose or have to come off your meds for whatever reason, as well as very unpleasant side effects. There are so many drugs I have tried over the years and the ones that worked best were always the ones which left me like a zombie during the day, which is fine if you wish to be a zombie and there have been times this has suited me, to barely exist. However when you want to survive and possibly even live you can’t compromise on the “being awake” part.
The important thing to remember when dealing with intrusive thoughts or if a loved one is experiencing them, is to take this seriously – it is like any other health concern, such as finding a lump or a cough that just wont go away. Intrusive thoughts are an anxiety driven issue due to:
“THE AMYGDALA CONSTANTLY SENDING US FALSE SIGNALS THAT WE ARE IN DANGER”
Fight or flight is triggered with the obsession (the intrusive thoughts) and then the compulsion (is the bargaining – the fear) and the cycle repeats like groundhog day. Many people suffer in silence with these feelings and become trapped in their own isolation created due to living this way. So if you feel this is you or someone you know – please know first and foremost:
YOU ARE NOT ALONE!
There is support out there for you and your loved ones.
Waking up from the intensity of nightmares and night-terrors, feels a though you have been battered black and blue emotionally and physically. The hell of thinking within your unconscious dream state that you are trapped in this dystopian creation of your own afflicted mind, causes you to wake screaming, as if you were grappling through time and space to re enter this realm of existence.
Then you wake; the truth hits you like a tyrannical fist, you try to unpick the mess of your insensible and sensible self which is tangled like forgotten jewelry left in a drawer. You lay there trying to regain some control over your faculties, you are still and lifeless – almost catatonic. The world as we know it has not been brought into focus yet, it is still a distant memory.
Hours go by and you’re still unable to move, your mind is working so hard at the puzzle that is your trauma. At this point what is real and not – is completely interlinked; woven together like a tapestry of war.
Finally you feel able to move, the world has invited you in and you feel, you can find your way there. You stick to muscle memory tasks, such as getting dressed, making a tea and sitting at your desk.
Unfortunately, your mind does not always recognise your consciousness in reality and “the real world”, so it flickers from flashbacks to memories of nightmares, interchanging as if someone had a remote control to your brain and was flicking through the channels of your life.
This has been my life for as long as I can remember; however it has grown darker again and is still growing with ferocity. Since becoming older and now in my 30’s, the space in my mind seems to be at capacity, which means when one cupboard or box is opened in my mind – things are now having to be squeezed tighter or rearranged, which in turn causes mess and a lack of new space for new experiences, emotions and eventually memories. Leaving me stuck in a hoarders prison – internally locked in. It is not that I wish to keep these memories or thoughts it is just they need to be processed, labeled and filed away.
Which is difficult when they are buried under years of self preservation.
Reliving trauma in therapy is my only solution, other than self destruction – which is ever so appealing. The temptation of setting fire to the mess that is my internal world seems enticing, a cathartic “fuck you” to the pain. Nevertheless my intentions are to stay in this mind until my husband dies ( which will hopefully be both of us in old age) as the thought of being without him is even more devastating than anything I have ever thought possible. This life is short as I have seen many times over, I promised myself I would spend this time understanding these illnesses which plague me day in and day out, as well as helping others who walk this tightrope of madness and sadness.
We will never forget what was done to us – you see. These abusers, predators and enablers, they caused so much of this. With their torture, subjectification, voyeurism, rape, incest, emotional battery and manipulation. Which begs me to ask, what do they carry with them after the fact? The best you can hope for is guilt; but this is not enough, this is not representative of what we suffer, the victims! They want pity, and sympathy for their affliction, which plays into further domination.
Reliving is a daily task, it does not end when I leave the therapy room, it does not silence the sounds of purgatory. It is in fact something those of us who have complex post traumatic stress disorder have been doing everyday and everynight since we were young.
My mind has been replaying reels of trauma – with added horror, as if my psyche wished to add special effects to my already terrifying past. Despite this, upon committing to reliving in a long term therapeutic setting and being at capacity – in my minds storage capabilities, the intensity rises further causing me to experience psychosis and physical pain.
This process is long and will be a continued managed activity of will power and a determination to use this experience as a way to contribute to the world. The idea is to turn myself, the victim into a survivor and then a thriver. These will never be whole states of mind, and knowing there will be bad days and good days and even relapses, but using the trauma to thrive even for 10 minutes is something worth committing to.
“It’s often said that a traumatic experience early in life marks a person forever, pulls her out of line, saying, “Stay there. Don’t move.”
― Jeffrey Eugenides
Recovery is not a time period set out, it is a continued process until death. When I say I am in recovery, do not be confused and think “that’s good she will be recovered soon” this is not how it works. Recovery is about a continued focus and is an exhausting task to undertake daily, which means there will be days I can not do it or days when triggering events or stressful life experiences put the mind back into those frightful moments which we tried so hard to keep organised and tidy.
Let me ask you?
How do you recover from being sexually abused as a child?
How do you recover from sexual violence, rape, assault, stalking and being beaten as a teenager?
How do you recover from having two parents (who are severely mentally ill themselves) one abused you, abandoned you and does not love you at all, to the other who didn’t love you at birth and couldn’t attach to you and who emotionally abused you, kept leaving you with different people and whose constant fragility due to their illness consumed your life?
You don’t recover…
You hopefully survive and then spend your life recovering.
So this is me and where I am, I know I am not alone, I know you are suffering too out there, I know it is hard and you’re ready to quit! But I want you to know that you are not alone and that you need to take this slowly and realistically. Do not allow pressure from others and society; which make you conform. They do not have to live your life, you know the truth.
Living is hard.
But reliving is harder.
For a bit of history on the practices of therapy in regards to PTSD AND C-PTSD, please read on…
Since the re-emergence of recognition of severe trauma on human development and psychopathology in adults in the 1970s, Chu and Bowman observed there had been three generations of trauma treatment theory. The first generation of research and response began in the early 1980s and emphasized abreaction of traumatic experience in treatment. Abreaction originated from psychoanalytic traditions and describes the processes of acting out and expressing unconscious conflicts that, in itself, brings relief.