Causal Loop

If I were to remain in therapy, what exactly am I hoping to “change” in my life?

I didn’t seek out therapy to change something in my life. I re-entered therapy to gain clarification in my life. I re-entered therapy for emotional support and encouragement. I re-entered therapy as a reality check to gauge whether or not I’m thinking “rationally.” And sure, I’ll admit to having re-entered therapy because I didn’t know what else to do after I lost SSDI.

But if I leave therapy, it will be for the exact same reason.

That’s why I left therapy in the first place, back in 2008 — I didn’t know what else to do.

Because I had no patience or energy left to start over with the newest counselor (no offense meant to her, but we just didn’t “click”), I returned to my previous counselor at his new location. When asked this question of what I hoped to change, I told him, “To make myself go back to work.” That’s what my dissociated self said because I was put on the spot after a non-stop, over-stimulating, emotionally draining 2 week-long trip to visit family. It was an impulsive answer. It was the answer of a part of myself who felt this was the answer expected of her.

So what am I actually working on in therapy? Why am I even there?

Inside my head is so full of chaos — conflicting opinions and values, attitudes, behaviors, interests and hobbies, memories, displaced emotions — that I struggle to keep up with my inner world as much as I do my outer world. It’s confusing. It’s exhausting. Just because I hide it well doesn’t make it any less of a burden. Just because I hide it well doesn’t mean I don’t struggle to cope.

For the first time in a very long time, I lost time. I’m guessing it had something to do with my son and me saying our goodbyes that day (at the end of our almost 2 week visit). I get that I was overwhelmed emotionally. My son means the world to me. Goodbyes are hard for so many reasons. The fact that I don’t know when I’ll get to see him again only makes it that much more triggering. Saying goodbye to my son triggers the day I left him with my ex-husband during our break up and all that pain I associate to being without him for the remainder of his childhood — gut wrenching pain. I can’t even type that without crying.

As a result I lost a few hours from around 5 pm till 9 pm that day.

This hasn’t happened in many years.

I feel like I’ve lost my mind when this happens. It wasn’t until a week later after I returned home that I thought to piece together that evening from my phone and internet history. This is the reason why I journal religiously. Any gaps in my personal journals are periods of time suspect of dissociation. This reaction is understandable, but that doesn’t make it any less disconcerting and knowing why I do this doesn’t help me figure out how to prevent this type of dissociation from happening again in the future.

I feel like I keep repeating myself… throughout this blog… throughout my life….

PTSD is like a vacuum. It sucks all the good out of the world, leaving only the negativity, intense pain, confusion, and distrust behind.

Or maybe, PTSD is more like a movie theater that mostly shows the horror flicks of my past.

Flashbacks or nightmares — which film will show tonight?

My mind is a stage — the film screen that confuses real life with past life.

How do I choose the films this allegorical movie theater plays out when it seems that PTSD, the illness itself, is in control rather than me?

The only respite from PTSD symptoms is that numb disconnect that so many of us with this diagnosis experience when overwhelmed or overstimulated. It’s like flipping the power switch of the movie projector “off.” Everything stops — goes silent; the suddenly black room is void of any stimulation whatsoever except suffocating darkness. However, dissociation comes with a cost. Dissociation is devoid of language, devoid of emotion, devoid of thought. It’s not just the painful emotions and painful memories that are switched “off.” Everything is gone. No emotion. Nothing. It’s walking through life deaf, mute, and blind.

Dissociation is followed by derealization and depersonalization. These more subtle forms of disconnect perpetuate the detached existence that prevent any real connection to reality or other people. Derealization is like being a part of the film that’s showing on the screen. Nothing feels real. It’s knowing this is just a movie. “Let’s pretend we’re part of this world.” Life is a stage where the performance is proving to everyone, “I’m fine. I’m okay. I’m as real as you are.” Depersonalization is simply sitting in the audience watching life go by on the movie screen as parts of the self take on the different roles to interact with others and get things done. Depersonalization is the role of observer, staring blankly through a hazy, dust filled room as the film takes on a dream-like (sometimes nightmarish) quality.

All of it too closely resembles an out-of-body experience that calls into question whether I’m alive or dead. Most of the time, I settle on the latter, accepting I’m a ghost in the machine, reliving life before death over and over and over again….

Strange how the mind plays tricks.

There really are no easy solutions here. It’s a complex, complicated issue that too often overwhelms my ability to cope, sending me right back into that vicious cycle of PTSD trigger –> dissociation — depersonalization — derealization — depression — anxiety –> back to another PTSD trigger again.

Over… and over… and over…

Maybe it is normal for everyone to go through life somewhat dissociated from everyday goings on and emotions to simply cope, survive, and maintain a productive life. Maybe it is normal for people to change their personality to fit whatever situation we’re in. But is it mentally healthy? Because if it’s mentally healthy to lose entire conversations or huge chunks of time or to go through life feeling “beside myself” and detached from reality, then, sure, I agree. There really is no reason for me to be in therapy. If all of that is “normal behavior,” then I never should have re-entered mental health treatment 4 years ago.

This is why I am there.

If I could change anything in my life, this is it. Without changing this coping mechanism, I can’t trust myself enough to go back to work and be able to cope with the added pressure of employment and the overwhelm that sends me into this dissociative state.

My case manager told me, “You do a very good job on your own. I think that’s a) helping you because obviously it’s helping you that you can help yourself; but b) it’s also holding you back because you’re doing the job of the therapist. That can make it feel like, ‘Well, I’m making so much progress on my own, why would I need you?’ While I can understand that, I think it’s somebody else pushing you to address these things on your own. If you were to stop therapy, I’d be concerned that you’d let that compartmentalization stay where it is. You’re not going to have anyone triggering you to deal with these things. While it’s not comfortable and it doesn’t make life easy right now, you said having those triggers helped you handle everything on your own so that later on you’re better able to handle it.”

It took me more than 5 years to structure my life in such a way that worked for me to help me survive around this coping mechanism of dissociation, not to mention the other symptoms of PTSD and accompanying depression and anxiety. I was my own therapist for those 5 years while I was out of treatment. I had to be because I felt I had no other choice. Old habits die hard, but in this case my internal system of compartmentalization is fighting to survive and protect “me” as much as I am.

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