Saturday, March 10, 2012

Real Time

One of my hopes for this blog was that once I'd gotten you caught up with the back story, I could start blogging what was happening in real time.

There are two problems with this idea. First, it's impossible to catch you up, because the more I learn about what's happening to me, the more things in the past click into place and become new chapters in the unfolding story. So there will always be a need to hop back and forth. Which is fine, just not as clean or linear as I once thought it could be.

I'm not sure that was a good goal to have, anyway.

The other problem is that I don't really WANT to talk about what's happening in real time. I like to tell stories, where I can draw the conclusions and tie up the loose ends and pull out a pretty moral and stand back at a safe distance and say, look at that, isn't that clever?

I don't like to talk about feelings I'm actually having, at the moment I'm actually having them.

For one thing, this requires a hell of a lot more insight into one's emotional self than I have. I'm not good at this. I don't feel my feelings in real time, so how can I discuss them? I need a few hours or days to figure out what was happening to me in whatever emotional moment I'm trying to examine.   

This gets absurd in the therapist's office. Conversation I've had more often than I can count:

"How does that make you feel?"

"I don't know."

"What are you feeling right now?"

"I'm trying to figure out why I reacted that way."

"That's not a feeling."

"But that's what I feel."

"No, that's what you think."

"I don't understand the difference."

Okay, that's a paraphrased conversation. But the spirit of it reigns in pretty much every conversation I've had with every therapist I've seen.

For a long, long time, I didn't even get the distinction they were making. I didn't just fail to understand the difference, I failed to understand that there WAS a difference.

I used to. I did. I was extremely emotional, and extremely emotionally aware as a teenager. Even for a while after my accident, I still spoke this language, still perceived the nuance. I was a  poet as an undergrad, for god's sake. The language of emotion might have been the only language I spoke.

But I am far away from that now, and somehow, doing this work has taken me further still. Once I started down this road, it became clear that in order to work through this stuff, I'd have to embrace it, accept it, and move through it.

By "this stuff," I don't just mean the emotional distance. I mean whatever fear, anger, and sadness may come from the work, as well. I mean the depression and paralysis that those things cause. 

And, since these are all the things I've been struggling to keep under control for the past 20 years and have been operating under the assumption that they were caused by my own weakness of character and not that car accident, doing this work feels a lot-- A LOT-- like I'm giving in to my worst self.

Like I've had a secret shame hidden in the back of my closet for years, and am now walking around with it pinned to my shirt instead.

This doesn't feel like work, it feels like surrender. It feels like I've lost the fight.

Okay, wow, here's a real-time moment: looking back over the previous paragraphs, I see a glaring contradiction. Did you catch it?

I'm complaining about feeling emotional distance AND feeling fear, anger, and sadness? As my therapists have helpfully pointed out, those are feeling words. Even my emotionally-stunted self can see that.

So... here I am, in real time, calling bullshit on myself. It can either be feelings or no feelings that I'm struggling with. Right? Can't be both.

Or can it? In the last post, I told you about the fog that descended during an emotionally-charged time, eating everything in its path and erasing reality right before my eyes.

So maybe that's what my problem is now. The emotional distance isn't just my default way of being, end of story, as I've always assumed. It's the result of the PTSR working against the impact of the feelings I'm actually having, because my limbic system can't handle anything outside of those drastically-narrowed boundaries I've set.

So that means that if I find myself struggling more, feeling darker, sadder, more depressed, more lethargic, further away from whatever epiphanal moment I've imagined is coming at the end of all of this, lost in some sort of dark, sterile void... it's not because I am emotionally distant, but because this is what emotions feel like and I've just forgotten?

The body knows, says Dr. Oz. What are you feeling in your body right now?

Tightness in my chest and abdomen. Can't draw a full breath. A familiar, chronic, frustrating feeling. Restricted lungs, with the added indignity of aching muscles in my back from restricting them my own damn self.

What else?

Frequent throbs in the forehead: the lingering traces of the migraine I had on Thursday, which was-- and this is really saying something, friends-- the second-worst headache I have ever had in my life. It was genuinely terrifying. Headaches like that make you think of things that seem crazy later but like the only possible truth in the moment: Aneurysm. Stroke. Sudden, screaming death. 

My husband pointed out to me this morning that I haven't been the same since it happened. I've been in some dark place ever since.

Assuming that these headaches are tied in to all of this-- and I think it's the correct assumption-- I think I may just have figured out the cause, or at least a major contributor. 

My problem isn't that I'm not feeling, it's that I am feeling. This is all working and I'm beginning to feel things again, and then I'm overcompensating by trying to erase it all as it happens, by any means necessary. 

Fog, funk, headache. 

Erase. Distract. Sabotage.



I've got to think about this for a bit.


  1. Have you and dr ozconsidered adding Rosen method and s/e bodywork to the mix? It mightbe a good addition. I have two awesome practioners I can recommend.

  2. I used to get migraines as a kid, and I'm still a bit awed by how they stole entire days away, just erased them from the timeline of my life.  What I'm in awe of now though is you, somehow parenting your way through them.  How on earth do you manage to do anything other than shut yourself in a darkened room when they come on? 

  3. Mirith Griffin15 March, 2012 18:41

    "But that's what I feel." "No, that's what you think." "I don't understand the difference."
    Yeah.  I don't have anything insightful to say about this, but yeah.  

    You talk about feeling like a secret shame is now pinned to your shirt.  My sister and I were talking about shame today.  She is looking for ways to lose weight, and she decided to mention that this to me and our other sister.  This is a big departure for her.  We were taught never to show any weakness, or we would be annihilated.  We were raised by Klingons.  

    Anyway, it's occurred to my sister that maybe if she told other people about her weight-loss project, maybe other people would back her up rather than sabotaging her.  I think that's phenomenally brave.  I also think that outside our family of origin, it's true.  

    My relationship to shame has changed a lot in the last few years.  I used to be very wary, very self-protecting, very reserved.  On purpose, I stopped.  This is sometimes mortifying.  Now if I have to lose weight, I tell everyone I have to lose weight.  When I'm depressed, I tell everyone I'm depressed.  If I'm writing smut on the Internet, everyone gets to hear about that too.  And strangely, what I hear back is not, "Begone, heretic."  It's "Yeah, I gained five pounds at Christmas and I have to step up the Zumba."  "I'm on Prozac and it's not working.  What are you on?"  "Girl, I wrote something this morning that will singe your eyebrows off.  Here, read it."

    It is scary coming out of the dark, and the battle is uneven.  There are good days and bad days.  But you are fighting the good fight, and I believe you are winning.  

    This is a stupid question, but I keep hearing that Botox has the capacity to help with chronic migraines.   Is this worth pursuing?  I have no idea, but those migraines sound like hell.  

  4. KateTheGirlWhoLived17 March, 2012 14:07

    Eric: Although I do get that sort of migraine occasionally, I've had them long enough that I have figured out how to either keep them relatively controlled with medication or just push through them. There's a certain grim, spiteful pleasure in not letting them win. ;>

  5. KateTheGirlWhoLived17 March, 2012 14:33

    I get chills every time you allude to the Klingons in your past. If I don't respond directly or emotively enough to those allusions, it's because it always feels like a sacred moment to me, to have someone share something so powerful and painful, and I am afraid anything I say would sound like an empty platitude. 

    I am listening to every syllable of your story, Mirith. I sit with it often and am enraged and inspired by the things that have happened to you and what you've done with/against/because of/in spite of them.

    Sometimes I don't say enough of that sort of thing, and interestingly, it's for the exact reason you talk about here-- shame of showing weakness, self-protection, reservation. Somehow, revealing myself even through admiration of others feels too vulnerable.

    I know exactly- exactly- what you mean.

    I made a conscious effort to stop doing this too, about 10 years ago. I try to be freer with praise and affection, in particular, because there is no down side to that (even though my traitor brains sometimes whispers the opposite to me in the dark). 

    Let go, let go, let it in. Give, receive. They feed each other or starve each other, depending on what you allow.

    I learned, and keep learning over and over again, the lesson I hope your sister is learning now that she's told you of her need: stating what you need and enlisting support is not a weakness, but a strength. It's the opposite of what it feels like right down to your bones... and most of the time you realize that as soon as the words leave your mouth.

    Like so much of what I've discovered on this journey, the hardest part is NEVER the step. It's the moments right before the step. It's not moving and seeing what happens that hurts us; it's not yet having the courage to move that holds us rooted and bound to our pain.

    Botox: I have heard that, too, although I've never looked into it. I am holding out hope, at the moment, that this therapy will resolve the psychosomatic element and I will render myself migraine-free. This is known in my brain as PLAN FUCKING A. 

    But if it doesn't work, who knows, I may look into botox. Botulism surely can't be any worse than the heart- and liver-harming migraine pills I've been shoveling down my gullet by the handful over the past 15 years. 

    Bonus feature: a Nicole Kidman-like forehead and a formidable advantage at Texas Hold-'Em! Watch out Vegas, here comes my poker face!