I’ve been trying to come up with an explanation.
It feels like I can’t help these ways. I think the way I think because of all that I am, and all that has happened. I feel like I use it as an excuse, but am I allowed to feel that way?
I wish there was a way to explain how my feelings exist, where they came from and where they go afterwards. I may think of things in a black and white way, my now famous Marmite effect, but often I am a walking contradiction because my opinions can differ from day-to-day.
My therapist has been very insightful. A little while ago we discussed all of the issues surrounding the time I was in a psychiatric unit at age 14.
If you haven’t read it, but would like to, my story is here. In a nut shell (or should that be sea shell?) I started having anxiety attacks at age 8, for some reason I can’t remember. I struggled on until I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, an eating disorder, obsessive compulsions and was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit for a year. I’m still struggling now.
My therapist realises that I am much more accepting of other people’s problems than my own. She asked me why I think this is. I told her I understand that everyone is suffering in their own way. I saw this in the psychiatric unit. Sometimes this suffering means that people act in a certain way, they might say or do things that hurt other people, but they are generally acting this way as a resolution to their suffering. She probed further, why am I so accepting of others, but not of myself? I didn’t have an answer. I always felt like I should be able to cope, no matter what and everyone elses hurt is more important than mine – I should help them deal with their hurt. Eventually it gets to a point where I can’t deal with my hurt anymore and PTSD triggers an explosion.
It once came up in conversation how emotionally dysregulated I am. My therapist wonders why I feel things so strongly compared to others. So do I! Often everything is exaggerated. Imagine feeling sad, but with the volume turned up 100%, the most sad you could ever feel, but the situation doesn’t really require you to feel that extent of sadness. An example would maybe be that you are in a shop and they don’t have the product you want. You’d maybe feel a bit annoyed and select a different product. To me, I’m genuinely 100% angry or sad. This could be for five minutes or so until I switch onto the next feeling, or it could last all day.
This had me questioning what is Emotional Dysregulation? Where did it come from?
My therapists attributes my poor emotional modulatory skills to the fact that I was institutionalised at a young age. While my peers were learning to deal with normal situations and what effect they had on their emotions, gaining different experiences in life, going out and socialising, I was in hospital drugged up to the eyeballs, struggling with self-injury, trying to re-learn what “hungry” was and fighting depression.
Good old Wikipedia associates ED with early experience of psychological trauma and may be present in people with psychiatric disorders, such as borderline personality (BPD) and complex PTSD. Once again, showing that all of these illnesses are inter related!
I also did a bit of reading around PTSD and the effects of institutionalisation in young children. Once again, it explains a lot. Low self-esteem is due to lack of physical and emotional space in an institution, so one can’t develop a sense of self. I think this is very true. In hospital, we had our individual rooms to rest in at night. Each room was decorated exactly the same. We weren’t allowed to personalise them. During the day you had to be in the group. If someone felt bad during the day (which was kind of inevitable seeing as we were all mentally ill) it had a knock on effect to others. Despite this knock on effect, there was definitely a presence of a united front. All off us felt the same, with similar issues and we could give and receive empathy in a way we never had before. We could support one another, when the circumstances of our condition allowed. However, in the long run, I don’t think I developed a very secure sense of self. It is true that I feel much more myself in the blogging world with other mental health bloggers who I can relate to.
Anxiety is typically associated with PTSD and the effects of living in constant fear as a child, can typically transgress into adulthood. So that’s why I get anxious over nothing! I was shocked at being labelled with the tag “PTSD” at first, but actually it fits. Now I can start to understand why I feel the way I do! I also found out that people with BPD are more likely to suffer from PTSD. I’m not sure where I read that, but it’s definitely something I want to look into again later.
I have strong attachment and trust issues and fear of abandonment. I feel like I have felt this always, but perhaps this can be explained again by the institutionalisation, as it seemed to exacerbate this.
Imagine being 13/14 and being separated from your family by an hours drive. You feel ill anyway. You’re anxious. You can’t think straight because you haven’t eaten a proper meal in days because you think it’s going to poison you. All you want to do is feel safe, but you don’t know what will make you feel that way. You are taken away from your relatively safe home, placed in a very clinical hospital environment and seemingly abandoned by your family. Hospitals are intimidating environments. Imagine how small and scared I felt by myself! No wonder I have a fear of abandonment and don’t trust anyone, I was abandoned at a critical stage in my life!
In an institution with so many other children, despite the comradery, there was also a lack of trust between us and the adults. As minors, we had no say in our care. We weren’t told what was happening, what our medications were. We were told what to eat and when. It ended up a very “us and them” relationship, which in hindsight, didn’t help in anyones recovery. I still have trust issues now, but this might be due to my all or nothing thinking because I think you should be able to trust someone or not. If someone breaks my trust, it is not often I can forgive because what if they do it again? My emotions are disastrous when that happens and if I forgive, this leaves me open to being hurt again. It’s almost selfish, but in the case of ED it’s self-preservation.
This problem also resurfaced when I was discharged from hospital. I was hospitalised for a year. At my discharge it was like “We can’t do anything more for you, see you later. Now go back out into the real world”. All I’d come to know, was about to change in a very short space of time. I felt relatively safe in my stable environment and I was being shoved back home, shoved back to school and expected to get on with it. I was abandoned yet again!
I remember everyone in school seeming really childish. They were all worrying about who was going out with who, what was on at the cinema at the weekend, going clubbing. I couldn’t identify with any of that. I had just survived something huge for someone so young. I saw the world through different eyes. Why were they worrying about these little things that seemed so insignificant to me? Because I couldn’t identify with their interests, I found it difficult to re integrate with my friends. I think this is what makes me socially awkward now, the fear that I am still too different.
Looking at my life in this way, I can sort of see why I am the way I am. It still leaves me with more questions like what would I be like if I wasn’t admitted? Would I still be alive, even? Did something really happen when I was a kid to make me this way? Is it genetic? If it wasn’t genetic, would I have been able to cope with situations better? Will I ever be better?
I often get told to leave the past behind me because it’s in the past and you can’t change it. But it is equally true that this piece of detective work could be the start of understanding and self acceptance.
I hope this can help other people start to unravel why they are the way they are and if I can forgive and accept myself, others can too.
Love Sailor xox
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