I wanted to post about my meltdown and healing incident earlier this week. It’s about acting out, and that’s not a bad thing, but a form of expression when we have no other.
This betrayal and abandonment, it started brewing up during the ECT threads in the liberal/feminist blogosphere, and lately feeling crushed visiting snarky lefty pop culture blogs that I always find fun and entertaining even though I don’t comment much, but I appreciate as safe unjoyable places to unwind and mock Republicans. [note: that should be ENjoyable, but think I’ll leave the typo be in case it’s trying to tell me something]
Reading Shakesville, Bossy, Unfogged and Pandagon means now and then stumbling on one thread of dozens filled with ignorance and stigma, not toward mental illness, but people like me, who defy the mental illness party line.
More of these threads have popped up in the wake of John Travolta’s lead role in John Water’s Hairspray. John Waters is a countercultural icon, and his movie has been re-done with Travolta in the role of Divine, so this is of interest to pop cult liberals. Most don’t like what he’s done with Divine’s character, and is getting raked over the coals for that, and scientologist Travolta is also on record as agreeing with the general views of anti-psychiatry, so disdaining anti-psychiatry enters the mix as well. The comments are galling and there is no countervailing viewpoint, of course, it would be out of place for someone to derail a cozy groupthink thread where folks are just goofing on anti-psychiatry nutjobs and I’ve learned that stepping in to lay out the complex issues and policy and links and readings and whatall will be considered poor form. Psychiatry is not the liberal blogophere’s issue, and they don’t really care. I wish they would do the right thing then, and shut the fuck up. It took me a week to say that, so don’t come crying to me about these bad manners.
So there’s that. Pain of ridicule and exclusion within the liberal community, then the mental health agencies I’ve been talking to recently and finding that consumer voices aren’t welcome on the boards, and those that are oppress the survivor/ex-patient viewpoint. Monday I read that gay opinion leader advocate distance and discrimination toward those with mental illness and my mind cracked open. I’m not blaming anyone for this. It’s old and it’s terror, I can’t breathe, good people are strangling me.
I went into an old distress pattern I learned to recognize during therapy, comprising several states all in a row, and can’t make coherent sense of until the dust settles.
I left the house in a state of anger and went to the library. I have a history of problem behaviors at the library, like a lot of kids with shitty lives the library became my sanctuary at an early age and I return to it when going through times. It’s a symbolic place, and I have high expectations for what will happen there. A soft, calm, undemanding environment where I am totally free and surrounded by oak and staircases and books written by people who wrote them to help other people untangle their mind.
I was in this state of anger, having trouble with a computer, and that made me angrier, then the librarian was ineffectual in assisting me and that made me angry at him, and he became angry at me, and then I went and got a better librarian, it was all huff and puff, you better goddamn get out of my way and that was my time at the library.
I left there and wandered erratically, which is part of the routine pattern, then finally went into a Japanese restaurant, also a soft, comforting and symbolic environment, and notably a new setting, which meant a new chance I guess because my manner shifted, I was now beggish and submissive and all sorry sorry sorry, and as I sat with head bowed, eating my bowl of rice I realized something is going on that with a little work will become apparent to me.
The thing is these are not just everyday stressy personality changes that people go through. It’s intense and totalizing, with major shifts in manner, and the whole process seems to have a life of its own, there’s an automatic quality, like something’s been activated and I will go through predictive stages until it’s resolved, I mindlessly self-harm, or drink it to sleep. That’s what I used to do before 20 years of therapy, before I got tools and skills and understanding and language for finding the logic in my behavior. This is my narrative. There is meaning in how my personality plays out if I can find it.
So when I came home to look for answers on the intertubes, I found this link at the Bay Area Radical Mental Health blog, and this page put things in order, just like my old therapists would, who said the same things only there was no Complex PTSD construct back then, and the counseling I received was not by any means considered “radical”, which says something awful about how far we’ve strayed from what used to be considererd mainstream community mental health treatment. What he tells therapists to do here is what my own did for me, right down the line, and I’m going to endorse this page with every fiber of my brain and body, if you ever find yourself in a state, this could be the journey out:
…the client typically remains lost in the flashback and has no recourse but to once again fruitlessly reenact his own particular array of primitive, self-injuring defenses to what feel like unmanageable feelings. I find that most clients can be guided to see the harmfulness of these previously necessary, but now outmoded, defenses as misfirings of their fight, flight, freeze, or fawn responses. These misfirings then, cause dysfunctional warding off of feelings in four different ways:
1. fighting or over-asserting one’s self with others in narcissistic and entitled ways such as misusing power or promoting excessive self-interest;
2. fleeing obsessive-compulsively into activities such as workaholism, sex and love addiction, or substance abuse (uppers’);
3. freezing in numbing, dissociative ways such as sleeping excessively, over-fantasizing, or tuning out with TV or medications (‘downers’);
4. fawning in self-abandoning and obsequious codependent relating. (The fawn response to trauma is delineated in my earlier article on “Codependency and Trauma” in The East Bay Therapist, Jan/Feb 03).
Yes, there it is. And then he talks about how to get out of it, all his techniques exactly what my old treaters taught me, so reading this was like sitting with them again, in those soft, calm spaces, connecting with former care and direction. And just because these pages on the internets have a way of disappearing I copied and filed away the essay, and can shoot it via email if it’s ever needed out there. Hooray for humanisim.