When Bullied Children Grow Up

It’s been about 4 years since my diagnosis of Complex PTSD following severe psychological childhood bullying, and subsequent domestic violence relationships.

I was diagnosed a full year before I accepted that diagnosis. I left that therapist the moment she suggested the PTSD, and that it began with the bullying, because I had never associated the way that “friend” treated us as bullying. I’d merely seen it as one girl being a real bitch.

My counsellor came to her conclusion by asking me to detail my early childhood experiences. She had suspicions that the symptoms I was displaying were related to early childhood trauma, but I think that initially she suspected some sort of family abuse, until she heard about the loving and accepting and nurturing environment that my family had given me.

That’s when she began asking me about my experiences with friends, with school, and then with men.

That bullying label she applied to that girl.. it came as a shock. Through our sessions, I began to detail specific incidents; and in doing so, remembered more of them.

In order to explain the specific type of bullying I experienced, it’s probably easiest to liken it to a domestic violence relationship.

That girl started out sweet, and friendly. Within a very short period of time, she changed direction and would cast one of us out every couple of days, forcing the rest of us to go along with it under threat of being the outcast; the girl who nobody was allowed to speak to, the girl the group would whisper about behind their hands, the girl who would be laughed at and humiliated and occasionally pushed around the playground.

At 8 years of age, it’s a very scary and confusing experience, to have people that you love treating you in such a manner, with absolutely no explanation as to why.

What was more damaging was what happened when she decided your time as an outcast was over – she asked you why YOU had ignored THEM.

I now know that there’s a term for that behaviour, and it’s designed to make you question your own perception, to take the power away from you, the power that allows you to stand up for yourself. It’s called Gaslighting.

She began to control every aspect of our lives, both in school and out of school.

She decided which boys we should have a crush on. The boy she picked for me was a boy I actually had a crush on. She told me to ask him out, I did, she then became jealous when he bought me a gift, and she told me I had to break up with him. I did that, too.

None of us were allowed to have sleepovers without her being present. If we did, we had to keep it secret, so we couldn’t go back to school the following Monday and laugh and giggle about the silly little things we’d done. We had to tiptoe around each other and pretend nothing had happened.

It was rare for us to dare her wrath because inevitably, the girl you’d invited over, when she felt she was next in line for being outcast, would dob you in to protect herself. We all did it. It taught us that we couldn’t trust anyone, especially each other. We learned to keep happiness a secret, in case it was used against us.

We all discovered quickly that none of us were allowed to excel in anything. Some of us deliberately failed exams, others held back their sporting potential, and each of us tried desperately to become her Best Friend; the one afforded protection over all others.

She constantly accused us of having a secret.

Have you ever tried to prove you don’t have a secret? You can’t. You simply get accused of lying, regardless of what you say, and the conversation goes round in so many circles, with them suddenly changing direction, or throwing in another accusation, until your brain is so confused, and exhausted, and too full of anxiety over the consequences of this conversation that in the end, you just admit to something to make it stop – the punishment is preferable to the interrogation.

My first romantic relationship was practically identical to my relationship with this bully. He employed all of the same tactics, and threw in a whole bunch of cheating to go with it. The gaslighting, though. He was a master, and the end result of all of that relationship was a girl who didn’t believe in herself, her memories, or her own feelings. Everything I thought, felt, or saw was incorrect, so I lived a secret life on the internet, with friends he was unable to touch. It was the only place I had ever been allowed to learn who I was.

A year after that initial diagnosis, I went back to my therapist. I finally believed her.

From then, my mind was a place I didn’t recognise. All of the barriers I’d created over the years had been broken down, but life itself hadn’t stopped to allow me to process it. I didn’t know how to cope. It was touch and go for awhile there, with so much rage exploding onto the people I came into contact with, and the destruction of some dear relationships.

But I learned how to cope. I learned how to process it, and I learned how to put the pieces of my past together with the reactions of my present. I healed, I became a more productive member of society, I lost all that rage, the self-hatred, and a fair chunk of the shame I’d been carrying for the majority of my life. I don’t have panic attacks, I don’t react to current situations in a manner affected by all of my past. I can quite confidently say that my C-PTSD, while it will always exist within me, no longer affects my daily life.

It’s been a good four years.

I had a beautiful baby girl, who had some physical challenges in the form of Developmental Hip Dysplasia, but my therapy and diagnosis gave me all the tools I needed to get her and ourselves through it unscathed.

She’s recently started a couple of days a week at Day Care. It’s an exciting opportunity for her to socialise with other children.

While it’s a wonderful opportunity for her, I’ve found that it’s been quite triggering for me – I wasn’t expecting that.

My daughter is pure sunshine. She’s friendly, and happy, and loves to share. She adores other children, and gets so excited to spend time with them. What’s triggering me is the fact that at the moment, it’s her chasing after them.

It’s a silly thing to be hurt by.

I only see her at drop off and pickup; an emotional time for all of the children. It shouldn’t affect me that those children stick to the kids they already know, but it upsets me to see my daughter on her own so much. If she engages with another child, it’s because she initiated it, or she sits on the periphery, smiling or laughing at what they’re doing, just waiting to be invited to play.

This is most definitely a situation where only time will help. She needs to settle in to the environment and the concept of being away from her family for hours on end. They all need time to get to know each other. I know that once they’re comfortable, they’re going to adore her and she won’t even need an invitation to play.

I know that this is a situation where I need to remember that my experience is not her experience. I’m desperate for her to know something that I never did – the pure, guileless love of a friend you can trust. A friend who cares for you enough to stand up for you. A friend that you can spend time with, without worrying that the fun moments you’re sharing are going to be erased the very moment they dob you in for inviting them over.

I’m not worried that I will taint her experience with my own. I know that I can keep my hurt from clouding her life, because I was given the tools to do so.

I am just surprised by the extent of the damage done to me by one little girl, over a period of five tiny little years. Experiences that ended 20 years ago but are still resonating within my subconscious, despite therapy and all the work I’ve done to heal from them.

I’m not angry about it, I’m not hurt by it (anymore). I am aware that her behaviour had to have been due to her own experiences in her own life. I can’t blame an 8 year old girl for not having the tools she needed to deal with whatever traumatic situation she was experiencing. Her behaviour ended up putting me in that same position, years later.

I am just… surprised. I am in awe of the power of the brain, and of the consequences of traumatic childhood experiences.

I am also now more prepared for the future; for the days my daughter comes home crying because someone was mean to her. They’re going to trigger me. They’re going to make me angry, and they’re going to *hurt*. I am determined, however, to encourage my daughter’s natural empathy for the suffering of others, whilst helping her to cultivate a healthy self-esteem.

That’s far easier said than done. My own parents did exactly the same things for me, and I still fell into this trap. I refused their help when they tried to intervene. I forbade them from contacting the school or her parents because by that time, the damage had already been done. Just like with that high school boyfriend, I needed that bully to love me. I believed both of them when they told me that nobody else would want me, so I did all I could to become what they wanted me to be. Of course, what they wanted me to be was broken and in their control, so nothing I changed about myself ever made a difference, except in the damage it did to me.

For now, I’m going to work on putting my own feelings aside, and focus only on the positives that this new day care experience is providing for my daughter.

Hopefully, by the time bullying starts, I’ll have developed a strategy for helping my daughter through it.

You know, that… or schools will have actually done something to address the epidemic.

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Homecoming

I was only recently saying to a friend that having mental “health”, after three decades of trying to understand my mental illness, is a foreign place, to me.

Mental stability has a sameness to it that has never been part of my life, either as a child or an adult. I’m used to peaks and troughs, constant confusion, the gripping chill of reasonless anxiety. I’m certainly not used to emotional equilibrium.

At first, it was a most welcome state. I was able to deal with any issue that arose in a calm, secure, and controlled manner.

Then it just got kind of boring.

I lost the desire to write. Nothing stirred my passion, anymore. Nothing seemed worth the effort. It appears that my passion is fuelled by rage. By injustice. By bad people who get away with doing bad things to good people.

And that’s why I’m here now, in my old angry home; a place that is red and sharp and full of tiny little pointy things.

I wonder whether I should be concerned that this place makes me feel safe? It’s a place where footsteps need to be considered, because when you step too far inside, it can be quite difficult to leave. But it’s nice, for now. Nice to recognise something of myself.

I know I can’t stay here, I have a wonderful world waiting for me on the other side, but for one day, I’m just going to take a little holiday inside the red, and remind myself why I worked so hard to leave it in the first place.

Trigger Warning – Mentally Strong People: The 13 Things They Cannot Help and Yet Continue to Fight Against Daily

Clearly the author of this list, Amy Morin, hasn’t heard of Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD or Complex PTSD, just to name a few trauma-induced personality disorders. Many of the behaviours on this list are symptoms of those disorders, as people who suffer them are given no choice but to do whatever it takes in order to physically survive the situations they have no escape from, or control over.

While the things she advises in this list are, of course, stepping stones to freeing your psyche from the burdens that disable your ability to analyse and recover from life’s difficulties, the tone with which it is written is extremely offensive when you consider that millions of people in the world suffer extensive trauma on a daily basis – trauma which often results in the manifestation of those disorders previously mentioned – these are not disorders that one is born with, they are disorders developed following trauma.

That is the key message that must be heeded here. People who suffer these disorders didn’t have a choice in their abuse, and they don’t have a choice in the symptoms they experience as a result of that abuse.

I think it is incredibly irresponsible for a “licensed clinical social worker”, as Forbes describes Amy Morin, to completely disregard the personality disorders which are comprised mostly of the “13 things” in her list, when mental illness is still so incredibly stigmatised in society.

I’d love to see Amy Morin read this list, out loud, to the face of childhood sexual assault victims, or those who have grown up in or endured abusive environments for years on end, where every ounce of power was stripped from them, forcing them to adapt their thoughts and behaviour permanently, in order to survive.

Recovery from these disorders requires the sufferer to spend every single moment of their day fighting instincts they were conditioned to experience in order to survive their physical, mental and emotional traumas – instincts which are no longer required when the traumatic situation ceases, but instincts that remain part of their psyche and their body for the rest of their lives, thus impacting the way in which they interact with and navigate the world.

Recovery requires the sufferer to ACCEPT and FORGIVE themselves, whilst REWIRING EVERYTHING THAT THEY HAD TO BECOME IN ORDER TO PHYSICALLY REMAIN IN THIS WORLD. They have to take responsibility for what was done to them, as well as the way they reacted. They have to take responsibility for keeping their natural instinct at bay as it is generally not appropriate for their current situation and can have a profound effect on the people in their lives.

So you’re sort of right, Amy Morin: mentally strong people don’t 1. “waste time feeling sorry for themselves”. What they do is feel sorry for the horrendous abuse they had to endure at the behest of someone else. And then they turn themselves inside out keeping the effect of that away from other people, whilst recalling that abuse over and over and over.

They don’t 2. “give away their power” – their power was stripped from them – they never had a choice in the matter.

They 3. “shy away from change” because they are terrified by change -their lives have been spent following strict rules of survival, and many “changes” they experienced quite often signalled a new form of abuse, often in the form of gaslighting.

They 4. “waste energy on things they can’t control” because their abusers ensured they didn’t HAVE control. Many of them NEVER had control, so when they escaped their abusive situation, they had no idea how to make decisions for themselves, they were used to being controlled at all times so they find tiny things that they can control and they focus intently on them.

They DO 5. “worry about pleasing others” because pleasing others was what may have downscaled their beatings from “life-threatening” to “permanent scarring”, for example.

They 6. “fear taking calculated risks” because every single chance they took to escape their abuse resulted in some form of “punishment”. Everything, except allowing the abuse to continue, is a risk to people who have endured trauma. Clearly, allowing the abuse to continue is also a risk, but it’s one they know better than freedom.

They certainly 7. “dwell on the past” because despite being conditioned to believe that they deserve everything committed against them, there is a voice inside that screams at them, asking them to explain why they “allowed it to happen”. There is a voice that doesn’t let them wholly accept that they deserved their abuse – a voice that tells them “something isn’t right”. And they dwell on the past because in most occasions, their abuse wasn’t acknowleged, either by the perpetrator or those who could have helped them. The ongoing effects of that abuse also aren’t being acknowledged as something they can’t control, rather they are being blamed for being a bad person because others do not understand why they act in certain ways. Even when the abuse by the perpetrator ceases, the behaviours learned in order to survive, remain, and these behaviours do not fit with normal, healthy relationships. The victim is viewed as a perpetrator as their behaviour can sometimes unfairly affect the people in their lives. Consequently, they spend much of their time explaining their past, to justify their current behaviour.

They most definitely 8. “Make the same mistakes over and over”, because safe environments feel unsafe. The whole “Better the Devil you know” scenario. They spend the remainder of their lives in a state of hypervigilance, waiting for the penny to drop, for the rug to be pulled from under them.. if they’re in a situation they know (abusive), it feels like home, despite “home” being the least safe place for them. They are conditioned to accept abuse because they’ve been conditioned to believe they don’t deserve otherwise.

Some of them 9. “Resent other peoples’ success”, particularly those suffering Borderline Personality Disorder, because they can’t fathom what is so intrinsically wrong with THEM, that they were made to suffer at the hands of someone else. Many things feel like a personal attack. When you haven’t done anything to deserve the horrendous way you’ve been treated, you in turn can’t understand why others have a seemingly blessed life, free from hardship.

Many 10. “give up after failure” because their entire everyday life is spent in a state of “trying”. Trying to please their abusers, trying to avoid the next beating, molestation, or phrase that might trip your paranoid, psychotic partner into gaslighting you to ensure your continued compliance. Trying to navigate the world with a head full of trauma. The idea of trying something outside mere physical and mental survival is overwhelmingly exhaustive, and to be frank, not a goddamn motherfucking priority when simply making it to the shops without breaking down is something that takes 2 hours of intense “talking yourself up” to accomplish. Any sense of failure carries with it the weight of every other failure they have experienced throughout their lifetime.

A lot of them 11. “fear alone time” because being alone means being left with memories. Being left with self-hatred. It means staring at walls because you don’t know how to make plans because someone made them for you for 5 years and if you dared to make a decision for yourself, you were punished. A lot of them also fear being with other people, or being around a particular scent, or sound, or time of year, because it triggers horrendous memories and emotions that overwhelm them.

Some of them 12. “feel the world owes them something” because nobody protected them from the trauma in the first place. It isn’t always that people ignored them, many simply weren’t aware, and the abuser ensured the victim had no voice with which to seek help. Once they leave that abusive situation, and begin to comprehend what was done to them, they get angry, and they  demand recompense from whoever they can get it from.

Many of them 13. “expect immediate results” because simply comprehending their life, their abuse, the effect it has had on their psyche, is a long and exhaustive process, and they are desperate for the pain, anguish and exhaustion to disappear. They want to be normal, to be happy, and it feels extremely unfair that despite all they’ve gone through, the only way to reach a sense of normality, where their instincts and lives can become part of the world again without it wreaking more havoc, is a long, drawn out one where they often have to examine their abuse in detail and wonder whether they’ll ever reach the end of that road. They want immediate results for the other aspects of their lives because simply existing as they are takes everything they have.

While I do see where Amy Morin is coming from with this list, I feel very strongly that she has done a sincere disservice to people who not only have to suffer the results of their abuse on a daily basis, but also the stigma that surrounds the resulting mental illness, and the incredibly difficult task of surviving life, even when they have managed to escape the abuse.

If a person genuinely wishes to help me in my recovery, I ask them to first and foremost do some research on Complex PTSD.  I am happy to answer questions and clarify the ways in which this affects my life, as the purpose of recovery is to establish and maintain healthy relationships – healthy for me, and healthy for the other people involved.

Mental illness is already difficult enough to live with, without the stigma attached. I’d like to see the world working to break down this stigma, rather than reinforcing it. 

People cannot help their mental illness. That doesn’t take away their responsibility to manage it to the best of their ability. Blaming them for being who they are, however, helps no-one.

So I’ve just cured my anxiety. For today.

I think I may have inherited my nan’s Travel Anxiety.

Until her recent hip replacement, which required her to travel 1.5 hours to the nearest hospital that performs those surgeries, she hadn’t left our little town for around 30 odd years.

I’ve never really enjoyed travelling, but it has only been the last two years where I’ve experienced panic attacks in relation to it. I thought it was only when I travelled alone, but last night seems to prove that it isn’t quite the case.

My travel anxiety isn’t quite like my regular anxiety. I would probably describe my regular anxiety as a constant, mild case of overworrying, about everything. I don’t have regular panic attacks, nor am I confined to my house, or afraid of public transport – I can manage this, and medication helps.

My travel anxiety? Well, that’s a little different.

The best way I can describe it is that it begins with small, lapping waves of worry. Worry that within seconds, becomes actual fear, and inside my body, my chest tightens, my heart beats, then pauses, then double-beats… and then that little wave recedes for a few moments, before repeating itself again – over and over, and building in intensity.

But, and excuse my crassness here, it’s like having sex and getting so close to orgasm that you can touch it…. before it slips away and your partner rolls off, satisfied. In five minutes, it’ll all happen again.

Rather than having a full blown panic attack, all I do is repeat the lead-up to them, over and over. 

The first time this happened to me was the day before a trip to Sydney, and it happened at work, and lasted from 10am until around 10pm that night. It was the most exhausting experience. 12 hours on the verge of panic attacks.

Last night, it didn’t begin until I went to bed, and for some time I succumbed to the fear:

Something’s going to happen to the cats, what if something happens to mum or dad while I’m not here, okay, I know I’m being stupid – something can happen to them even if I’m here – oh shit. Oh fuck. One day, my parents are actually going to die. One day my cats are going to die. Oh sweet fucking fuck. No. I just want to die now so I don’t have to feel those feels.

And that’s when I began to get back to my comfort zone – this is my normal bed time anxiety, the kind that happens every night when I close my eyes and try to sleep. I’ve spent more nights than I can remember, crying silently into my pillow because my traitor brain has whispered things to me.

Which is why I managed to reason my way out of last night’s anxietyspiral.

That, and I don’t think you can really call my nightly self-torture “anxiety”.

No. After last night, I think I can safely say that my night-time anxiety is nothing more than a case of bed time being the only time of the day where my brain is unoccupied with work, planning, or imagining stories. It’s just sitting there, trying to be quiet so I can sleep, which is really its only opportunity to remind me of all those things I’ve been putting off, or ignoring in the hope that they’ll disappear.

This is the anxiety I wanted to turn off with medication. I can handle the day stuff – the bullshit worries that people who have had low self-esteem their entire lives tend to have. That’s the stuff the medication is fixing.

It hasn’t fixed the night stuff… but maybe it isn’t supposed to. Those night anxieties are what push me to make life changes that I need to make.

I hate to say it, because I hate the stigma of those with mental illnesses needing to “harden the fuck up”, but I believe, in my case, that may partly be true – I think my anxieties all stem from this indomitable fear of feeling bad things, and unfortunately, those bad feelings aren’t just part of life, they’re part of living, of actively opening yourself up to others and letting them have a piece of your heart to carry around with them forever.

And even though that means I will definitely feel the worst feelings that humans can feel, it’s probably a very small price to pay for all the love and joy that other people bring to my life.

Yeah. I reckon I’ve got this shit covered.

 

Yes! Another successful social interaction!

In response to the question: “Would you like 2 bags for these items?“:

  • I thought: “No, it’s okay, I can fit them in my handbag. I can fit lots of things in there. Once, I fit an entire dog! I mean, it was cut into small pieces and those pieces put into various sized jars of formaldehyde, but it all fit. Every last little jar”.

  • I said: “No, it’s okay, I can fit them in my handbag”.

Today, medication took a swipe at social anxiety and beat the shit out of it with its sanityfists!

 

Pick-a-Path

… and when I’ve entered the highs of hyperspace, I wonder why I’m really bothering to find the answers at all. The lows and all the crazy in my head only makes it so that I feel all the good things to the same extremity.

Everything makes me giggle. This includes extreme violence and, if I’m in a really good mood, torture. Mostly, though, I just seem to accept that this is my reality and if I can just teach myself to calm down, it’ll all be okay. Maybe I should listen to the people who tell me to give myself a break.

At that point, I recall the things I’ve said or done to hurt the people I care about, and I remember why I made that initial appointment.

And that’s when it happens, the moment where the schism occurs. These two opposing ideas grate at my conscience and then everything goes dark and every possible answer is closed off. They’re all out there, but I can’t see them. As soon as I try to focus on one, it slips away again and I get angry and stop looking for any more.

Right now, that’s pretty much the part where I’m stuck: getting beyond that schism to pick one or the other. It feels like time is running out, but I know that’s just my impatience.

I’ve never been able to enjoy today, for fear of my imagined tomorrows.