That specific trauma is no longer a big deal

Around this time, 16 years ago, I voluntarily admitted myself to a psychiatric unit, but then I got stuck there for 19 days without knowing what was going on.  The lack of communication was horrendous.  I suffered a psychotic break and left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.  I accepted this for years, and I internalized that I have a mental illness in some pretty detrimental ways.  This has always stayed with me, always felt like something I needed to work through and get past.

Two years ago, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma

Last year, I wrote about finally bringing that record into therapy and how it felt to have her go through it.  I was starting to realize that maybe I didn’t need to pick it all apart; maybe my perspective was shifting naturally, over time.
That specific trauma is still there

This year, although I’m acknowledging the anniversary, it feels like just the slightest emotional blip on my radar.  I talked about it in therapy yesterday.  I finally got my hospital records back from my therapist (she had been holding onto them for me for a whole year!)  I looked through them again last night – there was always one page I skipped over.  It was handwritten by me, explaining what had been going on in my social life that led me to feel like I needed to be hospitalized.  I read it and felt OK about it.

Although this seems counter-intuitive, I think it helps that I was hospitalized in January.  Where everything went wrong the first time around, everything went right(?) (maybe not right, but it went smoothly) this time around.  I can overlay this experience on top of my shitty traumatic experience, and things make more sense.

I resisted the diagnosis of bipolar disorder for a long time,  I’d been off all meds for 9 years; I felt relatively stable.  When it was re-affirmed that I have bipolar disorder by the psychiatrist I was assigned, (“Once a bipolar, always a bipolar.”) I bristled at that.  Actually, I bristled at him in general every step of the way.  Appointments with him lasted a mere 2 minutes.  He was inflexible and adamant I stay on meds forever.  He forgot pertinent information about me.  (At one point he told me I needed to stay on meds because I had been hearing voices.)  After 6 months, I just stopped making appointments with him.  With all his intensity toward me staying on meds, it was surprising how easily he let me just get away.  Maybe he didn’t even notice I left.

My therapist helped me find a new psychiatrist; she’s awesome!  She’s willing to follow my lead on what I want to do about drugs, and she’s willing to dialogue with me instead of ordering me what to do.  I still don’t know what to do about drugs, but at least I have the space to feel supported with whatever I do choose to do.  For now, I’m staying on them, but I can’t pinpoint why.

I respect this new psychiatrist.  When she (also) told me I fit the criteria for bipolar type I, for the first time in a very long time, I felt like I could accept that.  I don’t need to incorporate that in any particular way into my identity; it doesn’t need to mean I view myself differently.  Personally, it’s not a core part of who I am.  It just is an aspect of me that can just be, and I can leave it at that.

And I can finally integrate the difficult journey toward mental health as parts of myself, rather than things that happened to me.

Stress symptoms due to testosterone

I have been under a lot of stress lately.  Between taking on an acting supervisory role at work for 3-4 months and being hospitalized, I can’t remember the last time I was so stressed out.  Probably throughout college, over 10 years ago.  And although it sucks, there are some interesting things I’m learning about myself at the same time.  Namely, that stress is interacting with the added testosterone in some typical (but surprising-to-me) ways.

I’ve been on testosterone for close to 2 years now.  And in that entire time, I did not experience a lot of the negatives you hear about – oilier skin, heightened agitation / quicker temper.  Right now, I’m experiencing that.  Plus some added hormonal weirdness:  I feel hot and then cold and then hot and then cold.  I am stress-sweating a lot.  I STINK!  My skin feels prickly, then I feel light as a feather, then I feel like I’m weighted down, back and forth.  I’m getting more hairs on my chin and around my nipples.  I am pacing and dancing and taking magnesium and doing a lot of other things to try to counteract these stress symptoms and just calm down.  I feel calm right now, as I’m writing this.

Not too long ago, I was planning on increasing my testosterone because I’d like to appear even more androgynous.  Now I’m thinking that won’t be anytime soon.  There will be a time – it’s just not right now.  I’m even considering stopping Androgel for a while, but that’s not something I’d do lightly.  For right now, I’m hanging in there, because in my own mind, I’d like to be on it…  We’ll see.  I’ll probably talk to my therapist about it, first and foremost.  She has witnessed a lot of my agitation lately.

Normally when I’m stressed out, I might tend to clench my teeth.  I will have trouble sleeping.  I will have obsessive ruminations in an extreme sense.  Those thoughts can get pretty dark and even turn to uncontrollable visions of violence.  I would probably get a cold, due to my immune system being compromised.

Right now?  I haven’t been sick all fall/winter.  I previously was having a lot of trouble sleeping, but due to my new medication, now I am not.  I am clenching my teeth a lot.  And my obsessive gauge is going at full throttle for large chunks of time.  I’m taking super good care of myself – eating well, showering daily, applying deodorant often and chewing gum, to mask bad bodily smells.

I am really off my game, but I’m hanging in there…

These symptoms due to testosterone (educated guess) are really throwing me for a loop.

That specific trauma is still there

Around this time (middle of the night), fifteen years ago, I started a game changing series of events by getting my mom to bring me to the hospital, from which I was admitted (voluntarily) to an adolescent psychiatric unit.  Once I was actually there, I didn’t want to be there anymore, but a lot of things were changing, and I ended up having to stay for 19 days.  I left with a misdiagnosis of bipolar disorder and prescriptions for Depakote (mood stabilizer), Risperdol (antipsychotic), and Wellbutrin (antidepressant).  The medications changed a lot over the years…  I’m happy to report I’ve been med-free for about 9 years at this point.

Last year, I wrote about how I came to finally acquire my medical records from my hospital stay, and how I started to process things differently with the help of my therapist:
Continuing to work through a specific trauma

This year, I finally brought this massive document in to therapy with me, despite the fact that I was pretty unsure, er maybe more like totally ambivalent, about what I wanted to get out of talking about it (yet again) exactly.

My therapist started reading through the pages out loud, and simultaneously made comments and processed it in her own way.  At first this felt tedious (the thing is 210 pages long!)  But I also felt intrigued.  It was much more helpful for her to tell me about the content than for me to try to go through it myself (which I hadn’t done since first receiving it, last year).  I also started to feel yucky and shut-downy.  I finally verbalized, “Let’s take a break.”  I was worried this therapy session was really going to have a negative lasting impact on me, but, in fact, I felt fine afterward.  Maybe I’m more resilient these days than I think.

I used to always think that if I do this one thing, or if I find out these missing pieces, or if I reflect back in a different way, the pain of that experience will be lifted.  If I just keep grinding into it and picking away at it, I’ll one day be free.  Now I know that this can’t really happen.  And I can accept that it was a shitty thing that probably didn’t actually need to happen.  It was traumatic.  It was so long ago.  I can look at it with a completely different perspective by now, but not because of anything I did – that perspective shift happened naturally, over time and with personal growth.

There is so much I could write about.  But I actually really only want to write about one thing right now, as it relates to my hospital experience:  while I was there, I wore this one particular hoodie constantly.  And once I was released, I never wore it again.  But there seems to be no way I can get rid of it.  I brought the hoodie in to therapy, along with the document, and told her all about it.  When the document felt too overwhelming to keep delving into, I told her she should just hold onto it and go through it on her own time.  She asked if she could hold on to the hoodie too.  I said, “yeah sure.”


My hoodie sported this sports logo.

The reason I loved the hoodie so much was because the LA Rams were not a team.  (I just looked it up, and they were a team from 1946-1994).  I worked at a thrift store and picked up this gem at some point.  I liked the incongruousness of it.  I do not like football.

Getting slammed by visions of violence

Trigger warning:  violent imagery (as the title suggests).

Last week, I was in high stress mode.  It’s due to an annual drastic change in my work schedule (and really no other reasons, as far as I know about.  I mean, I have other stressors going on, but nothing I can’t usually handle.)  This happens every single year, and it really affects how I engage with summer.  I can always predict it; simultaneously, I always conveniently forget how extreme it gets.

I wrote what follows last week, when I was in the thick of it.  And then I just sat on it, because I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to post it.  Partially because it’s a departure from what I usually write about.  Now that I’m feeling better, I find that, yes, I’ll post it.  So, here’s what I wrote, only slightly edited:

My mind’s reaction to long-term stress is terrifying to me.  I continue to wonder if this is really just how it is. (Why can’t I just grow out of this???).  Some people get stress-induced migraines or upset stomachs or struggle with insomnia.  Anything like that is, without a doubt, difficult to deal with.  In a big way, I am glad I am not afflicted with those stress-responses.  In some way though, a part of me wishes for something like that instead,  but only because it’s relate-able and I’d probably feel like I could talk about it with others.  “My stomach is in knots thinking about what I have to do.”  Or, “I’m losing sleep over this.”  These phrases are super common.

When I get stressed out for long enough, it feels like my brain is rotting away.  I lose brain functioning (not a figure of speech – my cognitive abilities actually suffer in some big ways.)  But more than this:  It feels as if my brain has turned against me; I am bombarded by visions – images of violence being inflicted upon me.  I do not know what I can do.  I can distract myself.  I can try stress reduction techniques.  I can (and do) follow through with inflicting pain on myself in an attempt to stop the visions.  None of these things have ever worked too well when I’m actually in it.  When I was younger, I was “in it” on-and-off for years and years and years.  It would become intolerable.  It’d be beyond intolerable, but, of course, I had to keep waking up and living it, over and over again because there’s no getting away from your own mind.

Often, my brain would feel so rotten that I couldn’t read, I couldn’t make sense of things on TV or in movies.  I couldn’t talk to people or follow a conversation.  Eventually I couldn’t do any schoolwork at all.  (And it wasn’t about concentration, which is a common issue with people who are depressed.  It was specifically that synapses seemingly disintegrated.)  I made it through because luckily I had a therapist at home and a therapist at school, and they helped advocate for me to get accommodations I needed to not flunk or drop out of college.  I felt like dropping out.  I “got by” with very high grades, because I couldn’t have lived with myself with anything less.  ???  Does this make any sense at all?  I was barely functioning, yet I somehow ended up with very high marks.  If my grades had ended up slipping, I would have been even more abusive to myself.  Maybe the people around me could sense that.

Somehow, I could still write, surprisingly eloquently.  Although, it was limited to journal-style writing, not academic-style writing.  Like what I’m doing right now.  When I can’t seem to do anything else.

I get barraged with images spanning from mild (such as my face being slapped or my skin being cut) to morbid (such as being hacked away at with an axe.  Or my head being whacked repeatedly with a 2×4.  Or falling and hitting my head so hard that I pass out.  Or my neck being held down as I am whipped over and over and over again.)  These images are never sexual.  They are disturbing and unwanted.  I seem to have no control over them.

I have heard of some people struggling with urges to actively do something they do not actually want to do.  Like inflicting pain onto someone else.  Or stepping off the subway platform in front of a subway.  Or driving their car off the road and down a steep ravine.  There is an excellent graphic novel I would highly recommend that is largely about this compulsion.  It’s called The Nao of Brown.  What I’m talking about is so similar, yet strikingly different.  I am never the one in control.  I’m not harming anyone else or actively harming myself.  It is always an anonymous person outside the visual frame, inflicting violence on me.  I’m the object; I’m looking at myself.

Last week I told my therapist, “whoever made brains needs to try again.”