Let’s be real: 2017 was a bullet-hellscape full of dumpster fires orchestrated by a cartoonishly evil rich white predator, surrounded by a bunch of rampaging swamp monsters spewing corrosive acid at the foundations of democracy and decency. This state of affairs is not normal.
We all know this. But this post is not about politics. I’m not going to let the bitter, caustic acid of hatred and bigotry we’ve had to endure all year be the focus of this post.
Instead, as the year draws to a close, I’m looking back on it intentionally with an eye towards what progress I’ve made, in my own personal life, so that I can take from it what lessons I’ve learned and apply those toward the future. Because I’m definitely going to need them. There’s a long, hard road ahead and many more battles to fight.
[Content note: So this is a pretty personal post and usually, I would put some content warnings right here, but honestly, I’m not really sure what to warn for in this one. It’s mostly a very general discussion of PTSD/trauma symptoms, with mentions of abuse, and some discussion of lack of access to medical treatments and med-shaming. But I’m actively avoiding getting specific. If you see something else I should warn for, please let me know.]
Often this year, I’ve felt like I’m not making much or any progress—but more like I’ve been dragged back into old habits and old feelings I thought I had already worked past. Such is the nature of recovery.
But that isn’t true, not really. While it feels like I’ve been sliding back and back and back, I have to recognize that this is a reaction to new traumas—a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances. I have shifted into a different stage of trauma, essentially, from where I was at before. Basically, that means that I’ve had to re-learn how to deal with everything from the ground up. To use Queenie’s game metaphor, I feel like I’m stuck playing a different level than the one I was stuck on before, although many of the enemies/obstacles are similar.
One of the major shifts is in how much I dissociate. While this is not a new symptom, it’s now much more frequent—a near-constant low-level disconnection, with many instances of stronger symptoms. I’ve felt this way before, it is familiar to me—this is how I often felt while I was right in the middle of the abusive situation that caused this PTSD in the first place, so feeling like this is, by itself, kind of a trigger.
It’s also a feature of being in what my old therapist would have called “survival mode” probably, as opposed to… actually, I’m not sure. I want to say processing or recovery mode, but honestly, the simplistic model of victim/surviving/thriving that my old therapist used is not especially conducive to describing this. To get a little closer to what I mean, it might help to shift to a different model. Thinking about it in terms used to describe RTS, I’d say I’ve moved more into something like the Outward Coping or Underground stages. Neither is a perfect fit, it kind of feels like I’m in between the two. Or maybe in both at once, but for different traumas.
It really feels like my trauma has… shifted. Now, it’s less about the one instigating incident (and by “one” I’m simplifying… I actually mean not a single incident but several related ones, the whole context of that relationship including all the grooming and gaslighting) that originally caused my PTSD and instead, more about chronic, repeated traumas. I suspect that my diagnosis would now be more accurately described as C-PTSD. Some parts of my trauma are resolved, I suppose, but many more parts are not. At this point, life itself sometimes feels like a cycle of abuse I must continue to navigate and endure.
Dissociation is invisible or at least for the most part outwardly undetectable, and I’m pretty sure that’s why my old therapist totally missed my changing and worsening symptoms and wanted to say I was “in remission” instead. It’s something I had a hard time talking about, because 1) I just don’t know how to describe it well in the first place, 2) my old therapist was easily distracted and very chatty, which only reinforced my own tendency to digress, and 3) by the end I only got appointments months apart, so we ended up never getting around to addressing it. All our time was spent “catching up” and I felt that our discussions had turned into the kind of talks that would have been more suitable to have with a friend, rather than a professional. So I’ve been pretty much on my own in figuring out how to deal with this. I’d like to find a new therapist who is more available and more suited to dealing with this situation, but it’s a slow process, and so far I’ve had no luck.
I’ve also been dealing with the increasing intensity of symptoms from other mental health issues, which have been either un- or under-diagnosed. I’ve been nervous about trying to get anything new diagnosed and I worry that even if I did go through the arduous four-hour-plus(!!) battery of tests my old therapist suggested—an overwhelming commitment when I really only want to try to take one issue at a time—I worry that I’d just end up being stereotyped, med-shamed, and denied treatment anyway. My doctor is already so suspicious about prescribing medications that she refuses to even consider renewing my lapsed Xanax prescription, even though I am actually so careful about using it sparingly that I’ve recently discovered a musty, mostly full bottle of pills from four years ago just sitting around on the back of a shelf. So what chance do I have of actually getting the kind of treatment I would need to deal with this? (And by the way, before anyone suggests switching doctors, this doctor is the best still-practicing general practitioner I have found in this area, and I’ve lived through enough horror stories that I’d rather not even try to find someone else right now.) Add to that my history of having anti-depressants just flat-out not work, and, well…
One of the issues I’ve come to suspect that I have is ADHD, or maybe ADD without much of a hyperactive component (but I believe that is now called ADHD inattentive type? so I’ll just go with ADHD except in discussing times when the old terminology was used). When I was in high school, I had a science teacher who told my mom at a parent-teacher conference that he strongly suspected I had ADD and encouraged her to get it checked out. At the time, I wasn’t sure if ADD was a real thing. My parents had a strong bias against it—or at least my father did, even though he may very well have it himself (he definitely has some learning disabilities, severe enough that he had to repeat grades multiple times). I know that at least one of my younger cousins was diagnosed with ADHD, on my mom’s side. My sister has asked me before if I think that she might have ADD (to which my answer, at the time, was a shrug). So there seems to be a genetic tendency on both sides of my family for this.
I never thought I could have ADHD though, because I have often been able to focus so hard on one thing that I’d be absorbed in it for hours and hours on end, forgetting to eat, forgetting to sleep, forgetting to take a break and stretch. And then I read about ADHD with hyper focus:
Once I got into a project, once I hit the zone, I can sometimes keep going for hours to the exclusion of all else. There have been times where I’ve gone entire days without eating, simply because I didn’t notice the time passing. The lights in the room I was working with would be off, and it wouldn’t be until it got dark enough that I had trouble seeing that I would notice that night had fallen. Sometimes it only happened once someone else turned on the light for me. I used to joke that I was the opposite of ADHD, that I didn’t lack focus, I would get hyper focused. The teacher would say something, and unless I had just enough of a distraction to let me keep paying attention, I would end up focusing so hard on thinking about something the teacher would say, that I would miss the rest of the class.
That was an eye-opener. I recognized myself in that. While I do habitually task-switch, I also have a big problem with getting into a state of total absorption in a task once I get going, to the point that I feel compelled to keep doing it even though I am yelling at myself in my head to stop and go to fucking bed, damn it. Or go stretch, or eat something, or what-have-you. The dissociation further compounds this, because I don’t feel grounded enough in my body to notice sensations like hunger or pain very well, until they’re overwhelming.
And I have never had a sense of time passing. I’m either always running late or I have to overcompensate drastically and show up very early to appointments and sit around waiting. These days I lean towards the latter, because I also have much farther to drive to get anywhere than I used to. Even then, I’m usually actually running really late for the time I set for myself to get there by. It’s just that no one notices because I have pretended the time I need to be there is 20-30 minutes earlier than my actual appointment. I think this may lead to people automatically discounting any suggestion that I might possibly have ADHD. To them, I seem put-together and well-organized.
If I do indeed have ADHD, it’s very possible that this might be the reason that anti-depressant medications have never worked for me, a fact which has puzzled my doctor so much that she went so far as to run a genetic test on me to try to figure out if I am just insensitive to these medications. Turns out I have a gene that makes me extra-sensitive to these medications and I need a lower dose than an average person would have.
My insurance tried to bill me $4,000 for that genetic test, btw. Fortunately, they seem to have backed off after I had the doctor resubmit and pester them about it, but still… After that I am extra cautious about undergoing new diagnostic tests. I have way too much anxiety to even try to get diagnosed right now.
So I’ve been doing all I can to try to manage all of this by myself, and I think finally now at the very tail end of the year, I’ve found some things that work better for me. This post has gotten really long, so I’m going to split it into two parts, and I’ll share a list of things that have helped me deal with my symptoms in my next post.
There are still other issues that I’ve been trying to figure out that I just don’t have a good enough handle on yet to feel comfortable talking about right now. I’m not totally comfortable talking about this yet, either, because I still feel like I must, somehow, be wrong about this. My troll brain tells me that I must be a faker, and since due to the dissociation problem I kind of feel like a fake person anyway, like some sort of fictional character living in a dystopian nightmare universe, well… it’s hard.
But I’m telling myself that, even if it’s unverified, my experiences match up so well with those of people who have been diagnosed with ADHD that I might as well provisionally revise my understanding of myself and try to take their wisdom and apply it to my own life. So this year has been a process of reflecting, reconsidering and revising my assumptions, and trying to restructure my life to manage my symptoms better. Recovery is not an end point, but a continuing process that will never end, and sometimes I need to make a lot of adjustments to increase my resilience level. That’s how I spent 2017.
Moderation note: I have a new comment rule prohibiting unsolicited advice, but if you have similar experiences and would like to share them, please feel free. You are also welcome to share any resources you’ve found helpful related to anything I’ve been talking about here.