Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Life During Wartime: When There is No "Post" to PTSD

We are amazingly resilient as human beings. But at some point you just have to ask how much can one person take? I received this letter and was amazed by its length and detail. I had to condense it a bit in terms of practicality. But this woman has experienced a constant barrage of trauma her entire life. It continues on and on to present day. She has made some mistakes in judgment to be sure, but also some smart moves too. And yet her psychic pain seems to never end

There is a gender bias in the diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. When men go to war and suffer exposure to near death experiences and mutilation, we call it PTSD. Women are frequently given the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder when they are exposed to the same. In the males case, we point to some external source as the cause. With women we blame some internal mechanism, we blame the victim and this is simply unfair and an example of gender bias.

So I am going to make an attempt to help this woman sort things out. There are no easy answers here.

Hello, I found your post on Craigslist and I believe that I was meant to find it today as I am looking up from the bottom of a hole and can barely see the light. I fell like I am already in my grave and each day another pile of dirt falls down on me. My story is a long one, so bear with me.
I was born to two drug addicted parents in the early 70's. My father tried to clean up his life and enrolled in the service. My mother was overwhelmed with my daily care neglect is not even a harsh enough word. When my Grandmother found me, I was covered in bed sores and very ill. She immediately sought custody. My Father dropped out of the service and became involved. He resumed his previous habits and my earliest memories of being with him are full of drugs, porn. I was molested more than once by his druggie friends. I grew up in bars. My Grandma tried but she had issues of her own being a severely abused wife.
At age 5 my father married my birth mother's cousin. She had grown up in an orphanage, having been abandoned by her own mother, and she was abusive and inappropriate with me regarding boundaries. She would discuss their sex life with me, and walked around nude. They put my room in the cellar, unfinished and not heated. I basically took care of myself from a very early age. My Father would disappear for days at a time. She would drag me out at 3 in the morning to go look for him, once trying to run him over in the street.
Around this time I was molested by a teacher at my school. I loved the attention that he gave me, and as long as I felt like he cared about me, it was ok. This began a pattern of male “attention” throughout my teenage years. My dad's marriage fell apart when he got a teenager pregnant. I was completely ignored by him at this point.. I walked several miles each day to spend time with my Grandma, my only rock. I began to abuse drugs and alcohol myself. My Dad reacted by getting really strict and I resented his control. His response was either whipping me or grounding me for long periods. I became isolated and depressed. I attempted suicide and was hospitalized in a psych ward.
My mom tried to reenter my life. But she was inconsistent in keeping plans at best. Her motives were always selfish in design, a con to get me to babysit her druggie friend’s kids or some other scam. The visits often ended with me in some horrible neighborhood, abandoned by her and vulnerable to being rolled and you guessed it, sexually abused.

At this point in my life I found some stability. I found a boyfriend, started working. Doing a little traveling. I enroll in college down south I moved into campus housing. One night a friend of one of my dorm mates forced his way into my room and raped me. I just became numb at this point. I moved back home and in with my boyfriend. We went on to have a child together. A daughter. I could never bond with her because I imagined myself at her age always. The baby that was not wanted or loved, the years of abuse and neglect suffered at the hands of my family, and others. The depression was deep, but I fought to stay on top as best I could. Eventually the boyfriend and I break up, I meet someone new and we have a child together. During this time I had developed severe social anxiety, was very suicidal and a weight of pure terror and dread settled on my shoulders. The only place that I had ever felt safe and not judged was with my first love, so we moved in together and got married. Now, there is an odd quirk about my personality...I have a fear of being the one to care for another being, like I don't trust myself to nurture or be able to hold it all together. For instance, I crave the companionship of a dog and have attempted to adopt several. However, once I am alone with the creature this awful dread rises up in me and I feel as if the animal is a horrific parasite feeding off of my energy and making demands of my time etc. I have sometimes (to my great shame) felt this way about my children as well, and any affection just gives me the heebie jeebies. With the dogs, the only thing that relieves my anxiety is getting it out of my space as quickly as possible, often in less than an hour after I bring it home. It makes me feel like such a bad person to do this to a helpless creature, and this is something that I would like to resolve.
As a side note, I did apply for disability and was told that my case was the fastest to ever be approved, literally within a matter of just a few months. At this point I am living with my first love, raising the two older kids and seeing my youngest child every weekend and as often as I can. The relationship with my first love is unstable and I had never been able to truly get close to him. I have some intimacy issues : ) but when I picture him out of my life it is a horrible feeling, like I will be absolutely alone in this world. I am trying like hell to make a family and be "normal". Then the bottom drops out of my life again. He leaves me for a close friend. Can you imagine? I could not even trust the two people that I loved the most to be decent human beings. Oddly enough, after that I proceeded to have two of the happiest years of my life! I found peace in my heart, it took awhile but I learned forgiveness. I still have not spoken to my friend since the day. I was afraid that I would snap and hurt her very badly. Remember, that is how I dealt with life's little problems. Uncontrollable anger. I learned that at Daddy's knee. I rose above all that and took great pride in my home, in my kids and in myself. I met someone and we began dating. I enrolled in nursing school and got into honors classes! I was walking on a cloud. But not for long. A month after school started I began having fainting spells. I was diagnosed with narcolepsy and had my driving privileges revoked. I had to quit school. I lost my grant and now owed the government money. I could not do fun things with my beautiful kids. A new boyfriend stuck by me, however, and I continued to thrive. He made sure that I got to see my youngest son, and took us all over to do fun things.
Well, about a year and a half later black mold was discovered in my home and we were told to move immediately. I had no money and nowhere to go. I felt that familiar feeling of the floor dropping out from underneath me. Panic rising... I moved into the basement of my boyfriend's mother's home and we made plans to get a place together. Oh, but nothing ever can just be easy. Then I found out that I was pregnant. Now, my youngest son was born with birth defects and I was told to never attempt to have more children. My state of mind worsened. That feeling that I get about the dogs began to creep in on me, like I just have to get away from it. I am in full blown panic and terror mode. The father wants this baby. He has been patient but it is wearing thin. I cry all day, I do not feel happy to be in this situation. I am suicidal. I have no stability. I told my Doctor and received a prescription for Zoloft but I am afraid to take it. I can't see the good in this even though I know there is some. But I feel like I already had a family and that was ruined by my ex. How can I go on to have another family?

Ms H

Hi Ms H

I can see you have had a challenging life. I generally tell clients they have to play the cards they are dealt, but this seems like a very unfair proposition for you. I admire your resiliency.

Although seemingly chaotic, I will try to make some sense of your life and mental state. There are a few repeating thinking errors on your part. You readily identify them, but do to your past trauma and experience, have difficulty "unlearning" them. These patterns run deep in your psyche.

1.Uncontrollable Anger: you state you learned this from your father, but it is also an expression of frustration because you can seemingly never find any continuity and stability; your depression eventually boils over and turns outward as angst.

2. Fear of Nurturing: the failures of your parents manifests itself in your own reluctance to care for others, and this is conflicted by a strong drive you have to care for others (i.e. nursing), perhaps as a need to "fix' family legacy of past generations and your own perceived failures.

3. Need for Help: you have been betrayed by so many that trust is an issues and when someone reaches out, you fear being double-crossed. So the most sincere gesture from others you interpret with suspicion.

4. Unreasonable Need to Please Others (particularly your current partner): You forcibly gave "all of you," in your youth and beyond and this created issues of personal boundaries. If you gave control of your body to so many in the past and they were still displeased, what else could you possibly give them so they would be satisfied? It seems like a no win situation for you.

I am thinking the meds are worth a try. I am sure you read my previous post about co-therapy (pharmacological and talk). A good therapist will examine these cognitive errors and the Zoloft will give you a chance to tone down your emotions enough to sort things out with him/her.

best of luck to you

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