Specific trauma feels so far awayPosted: November 11, 2022 Filed under: mental health, Writing | Tags: anniversary, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, emotions, hospitalization, memoir, mental health, psychosis, ptsd, stress, therapy, trauma Leave a comment
For as long as I’ve had this blog (9 years!), I’ve written annually around this time of year, about a hospitalization I went through at age 17. I was there for 19 days; it was voluntary but quickly became involuntary once it was clear I wasn’t actually based in reality.
This year, I wasn’t sure if was going to write anything. I’ve been thinking it over for the past few days. What else is there to say? I mean, there’s a lot, but is it worthwhile? Do I want to get back into the headspace? I’m not even sure if that’s possible anymore (which is mostly a positive thing.)
I started by opening a tab for each post I’ve made about it, so far. Rereading it all. I’m not sure why, but I think I want to try to plot out a timeline, even if it’s hazy and incomplete.
November 12 – December 1, 1999 – hospital
Spring of 2001 – wrote down everything I could remember, for a college course
Next 10+ years – continued to get blindsided by the emotional intensity of this trauma, all the time, but especially mid-November
Spring of 2012 – talked a lot about it, tentatively, in therapy, which really started to help
2013 – got a copy of the medical records. Was disappointed at how boring and repetitive they were. There were some nuggets though, for sure. First wrote about it on my blog.
2014 – brought the records to therapy. Watched my therapist zero in on the paperwork as if she were working out a puzzle. She kinda tore it apart, actually! This was both alarming and calming. Something was definitely lifting.
2015 – I got the records back from my therapist (she had been hanging on to them for me). I had been hospitalized earlier in the year, for the 2nd time for the same reasons, and it started to sink in that I might actually have bipolar disorder, type 1, might have had it this whole time.
2016 – didn’t dwell on it. Lots of other things were going on.
2017 – I was hospitalized for a third time, and the traumatic event was starting to be re-contextualized as just, one of the times I was hospitalized.
2018 – This is where I really started to rework things. I’m not sure how to distill that down into a sentence; it’s just pretty amazing to be able to look back on this journey.
2019 – This was the 20th anniversary of my first hospitalization. I wrote that I thought all this writing might serve a future purpose; I just wasn’t sure what yet. I included a photograph of a re-working of different photos I did for a college project, in the spring of 2002.
2020 – I wrote about starting work on a memoir, and the raw material from that college course in 2001 factors into it, but I couldn’t get myself to revise that stuff; make it more cohesive. I was working hard on everything else surrounding it.
2021 – I had gotten past that block and had reworked the writing quite a bit.
Earlier in 2022 – I was clearing out a lot of old stuff from a storage area in my parents’ house, this spring. I save everything. In sorting through all that stuff and reorganizing it to bring to my house, I found a hand-written letter my mom had given to me while in the hospital. I had been looking for this ever since then! I even asked her about it; I was at a loss for where it might have gone. It was in response to a letter I wrote her – that piece is still a mystery, but it was so healing to finally find this thing.
Present day (my 10th time posting about this) – I’m stuck. My memoir is off track and I’m sad about it. I started to revise it drastically in a whole different direction for a long time, but it doesn’t feel like it’s mine anymore and so I stopped. I haven’t touched it for over 6 months. Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of journal writing, emailing my therapist, the usual. Recently, I started on ideas for a 2nd memoir. I’m starting to feel a little more serious about writing overall; I think I have three different stories to tell. Working on this other memoir has felt rewarding, but it’s not the story. I want to get back to this traumatic event and the events surrounding it. I feel like I might be on the cusp of getting back to it…
In those early posts about the hospitalization, I kept ascertaining that I didn’t need to be there, that it was extreme, and I didn’t actually lose a grip on reality until I got there. I see it much differently now. I definitely was going to need to be there – it was more a matter of when? If I hadn’t gotten my mom to get me there, I would have eventually had to go some other way. I know that now. And I could have ended up doing a lot more long-term damage. It’s kinda incredible that at 17, I had enough insight to know I needed to get there. Somehow, I saved myself. (In looking back over all these posts, I realized I wrote something very similar in 2018. For me, writing and recording and reviewing and revisiting all overlap and blend into each other. I’m starting to feel like maybe I am a memoirist? And trying to understand this one experience could be the impetus that has been pushing me there?)
20th anniversary of a specific traumaPosted: November 11, 2019 Filed under: mental health, Uncategorized, Writing | Tags: anniversary, anxiety, bipolar disorder, depression, emotions, mental health, psychiatric hospital, psychosis, psychotic break, ptsd, stress, therapy, trauma, writing 6 Comments
For 20 years, I’ve been churning and mulling over, obsessing and ruminating about, writing and re-writing the events surrounding my first hospitalization which happened around this time of year in 1999, when I was 17. Up until the age of 30, it had a hold on me in that way that trauma can stay with a person: it was my biggest source of shame and fear, I felt like it defined my past and if only I had avoided it, maybe my mental health wouldn’t have gotten so derailed for so long. It was a super sore spot that for some reason I just kept picking at, revisiting, but wasn’t getting anywhere with.
I’m 37 now, and I’ve been seeing it much differently, with the help of my therapist. It was extreme and drastic, for sure, but it led to me getting real help that I desperately needed – without that help, my mental state could have festered and bubbled badly for much longer, in a much darker place; who knows what might have happened. Not that I didn’t suffer for way too long regardless. I did! But some systems were in place that helped me feel not so alone, even through those times where I despised those systems.
I’m writing kinda vaguely here… I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit because I thought I was bipolar and I stopped being able to sleep, and things were getting wonky. I was indeed diagnosed with bipolar disorder, as well as having gone through a psychotic break. I was there for 3 weeks, even though I kept thinking I could leave at any minute, if I could just figure my way out. I was put on medications, and later on, different ones and different ones and different ones. So many different ones. I got disillusioned with drugs and eventually weened myself off of everything because they ultimately didn’t make any sense. They did do me some good at some points in time, but not much.
The thing that helped more than anything else, ever in my life, was getting assigned a therapist. I was required to attend 20 sessions after my hospitalization; I ended up going so many more times than that; if not specifically with her because she moved away, then to the therapist she referred me to. In fact, I’m still seeing this therapist (with a break of a bunch of years in between, during that time where I wrote off meds and all other psychological interventions).
I was talking recently with a friend about therapy, (It seems like all of my friends are currently in therapy…) and I referred to the fact that my parents facilitated me being in therapy from such a young age (and by young, I mean 18) as “early intervention.” I know that term usually refers to 3-5 year-old’s who might be on the spectrum or might have a learning disability or a speech delay. But, sadly, when it comes to emotions and figuring out how to communicate them, age 18 is still pretty much “early intervention,” in my opinion. Things are definitely getting better, but not fast enough! And when I said that out loud to my friend, it hit me how lucky I was. I always went to therapy willingly – at some times, it felt like the only thing I had to look forward to. Usually it felt like the progress was not quantifiable. Was it doing anything? What good was it? Was it worth it? I still pretty much always loved going, even if logically I wasn’t so sure.
My therapist has told me that among her clients who have gone through psychosis, I’m the only one who has ever wanted to revisit it (for me, there are 3 instances). Everyone else just wants to put it behind them. I don’t understand that; and I’ve ended up doing a lot more than just revisiting it. I think there’s a lot of worth there. It feels like a gold mine in an alternate universe. The more I write, the more I can mine it later, for future purposes. I’m not sure what those purposes are, exactly, yet, but I want the raw material to be intact as much as possible.
In the spirit of that, here’s one short snippet, that I first wrote in 2001:
“I’m going to be leaving tomorrow,” I announced at our afternoon community meeting. I figured that since I wanted to come here, I was allowed to tell them when I wanted to leave. I was getting sick of this charade. The day before, I had told the nurse that I wanted to go home, expecting to find my parents there when I woke up. When nothing came of that, I panicked, but then I realized the key was for me to get myself out. I was going to have to stand up to everyone and announce my intentions. I had to take control. Everyone, including the staff workers, stared at me without saying a word. That made me uneasy, especially when my statement went untouched, and the meeting continued with staff member Bob saying, “If no one has anything else to say, it’s time to go to the gym.” It’s alright, it’s alright. They’re just testing me.”
There’s a lot more where that came from. Maybe one day I’ll share it with a wider audience.