Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Flashbacks from Dealing with Pain/Intense Emotions

About a week ago Tempy, from Crackers & Juiceboxes posted a blog entry about how being suicidal (whether you ever attempt or not) is in itself a traumatic event that can continue to haunt you even after you are no longer suicidal. Click here to ready Tempy's post. The truth of this realization and concept really resonated with me. Being someone who was chronically suicidal for close to 5 years and who prayed for death years before that, I am filled with intense anxiety any time I have feelings that are remotely similar to those I felt when suicidal.

Yesterday, I spent a lot of my session with therapist talking about something I've recently realized and how it's proving to be a challenge to me in my current life. My realization: feelings feel the same no matter what the situation. Sadness feels like sadness no matter what the situation that caused the sadness. Excitement, anxiety, fear, happiness, anger - they always feel the same even if the situations evoking the feelings are as different as night and day. For example: Anxiety about starting a new job resonates the same way in me that anxiety surrounding a memory or flashback does.

As a result, days that I am sad or depressed due to (sometimes normal) present day issues, can lead to panic attacks and irrational fears if not cognitively challenged because the association of these feelings with the low, scary, nearly impossible place I was in 3 years ago is sooooooooooo strong. Because these feelings were associated with me just trying to stay alive for so long, the association is automatic. I have to consciously make myself separate them out. I have to constantly remind myself that a bad day today does not mean I am automatically headed into another 5 year stint of being chronically suicidal. Panic tends to set in quickly when sadness, anxiety, or depression are strong b/c there is a HUGE fear of returning to the place that we were. My initial reaction is to think I'd rather die than go back there again. I'd like to differentiate that I am not suicidal when I have these thoughts, but more it just shows how huge our aversion of living like that again is. In these moments, it's almost as if I'm having flashbacks and some PTSD around my adult years of trying to work through my past and surviving my present.

Last evening I had the honor of talking to a friend of mine who has lived through things that I can't even imagine. Our lives are so different, but oddly we always seem to be in the same general spot in healing. I do believe her feelings and struggles are more intense than mine b/c she lived through more years of abuse and more intense abuse. I don't say this to downplay what happened to me, but more to validate her struggles. Sometimes I believe she feels like a failure in her fight b/c she compares her functioning to that of other abuse survivors who just didn't live through the same intensity and severity of abuse that she endured. Last night my friend was very panicked and she was having trouble being grounded. It was hard for her to form her thoughts, but the more she was able to share what she was feeling and thinking, the more it felt like she was living what I'd just been talking to therapist about an hour earlier. Most of her sentiments revolved around saying that she couldn't go back to that life of being chronically suicidal... of day in day out struggles to just breathe. She had experienced some rough feelings and memories recently (she's going through more tough therapeutic work). I am not an expert, but it appeared to me that the depression, anxiety, sadness, etc. that she was feeling seemed to be panicking her more out of a fear of returning to the place she used to be than b/c the present feelings were too overwhelming. It appeared as if she was in a flashback from 2 years ago when she was barely alive more so than that she was in a flashback from her childhood.

Speaking to her last night validated my belief that surviving memories, feelings, and therapy as an adult can have traumatic implications that may often times get overlooked b/c even clients don't give their struggles as an adult enough credence. Please hear me. THE PREVIOUS STATEMENT IS NOT BASHING THERAPY. I would have been dealing with all of this whether I was in therapy or not. Therapy and the care, concern, and respect of my counselor is what kept me alive. I merely am just trying to share my realization that the intensity of what one may feel as an adult when having to deal with childhood abuse can be traumatic in and of itself. This realization has actually helped me combat some present day panic attacks b/c I can reality test and call my feelings what they truly are - not a backslide, but a fear of backsliding into that hell hole of a living space. It's for sure not a magic cure, and it doesn't work every time, but many times it can help to keep feelings manageable and not overwhelming.

I guess calling a spade, a spade truly does have it's benefits.

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