Guest Blog

Living With the Rollercoaster of Bipolar: A guest blog by Brooke

Cycling Again

 

Ah, my old friend Bipolar Disorder. You’ve reared your ugly head again. What I love/hate about this disorder is its unpredictability. Just when you’ve spent years believing you’re fine, wham! it rises up again and swoops in like a plague of locusts.

 

I had had no real issues since 2008. I don’t know what triggered that cycle but I ceased to need sleep and on top of a full time job I decided to teach a Saturday morning English class for high school students who were in danger of failing but wanted to go to college. I loved doing it but I don’t remember sleeping much at all during that time. I finally recognized this manic cycle when I started flipping through my journal and saw the changes in what I was saying and doing.

 

I found myself a good psychiatrist (my old one was in Tucson and I was now living in Phoenix) and got back on medication, which I had been off since I started having children in 1998. I somehow had thought that with pregnancies and hormones I’d been cured but apparently not.

 

With my psychiatrist’s help, I received a re-education in bipolar disorder and began again with my medication. In fact, I was so compliant and stable, that just last year, in 2015, I asked if it was possible that I would be able to get off my medications. It seemed as though my psychiatrist might laugh but he takes his job and patients much more seriously than that.

 

And then in November I began seeing things out of the corners of my eyes. Strange things: on the right side, I saw a large block of marble that seemed rather like a sheet except I knew it was cold stone. Behind that, a fleeting glimpse of a head, also made of marble. On my left side there were dark figures dancing. These actually have a name: shadow people. They were moving stealthily but in rhythmic motion.

 

My doctor said I was having a minor psychotic episode. It didn’t feel very minor to me but ever compliant, I took the new medication my doctor prescribed home and took some that night. It made me feel as if I wanted to crawl out of my own skin.

 

That manic episode lasted through the middle of December. And I thought then that I would be stable again. But now, today, another manic episode is beginning.

 

So what can I do to help anyone else going through this? What can I say to make anyone else’s struggle with bipolar disorder any easier?

 

First of all, accept that you have it and there is no cure. It’s not cancer and you’re not going to “beat it.” This is frustrating because our instincts tell us we should go out and find a cure for things, make things all better, keep them from coming back. But this doesn’t go away. You’ll have to accept it in order to move forward at all.

 

Second, see a qualified psychiatrist you feel comfortable with and trust. It may take some time for this one. And insurance. But even without money (I’m broke, trust me, and applying for my state’s Medicaid program), there are good psychiatrists there for you. It’s important to find one who is right for you and who will be there when you call. Because I can almost guarantee you will have to call.

 

Third, TAKE YOUR MEDICINE. Yes, I was yelling that. Many people, myself included, feel stable and think we can stop our medicine. That is one of the most dangerous situations with bipolar disorder. It can result in very risky behavior during mania and such intense depression that suicide seems like a bright and shiny option. If your meds are not right for you, talk to your doctor. But don’t just stop taking them. There may be no cure but stability is possible.

 

Fourth, don’t give up. I know that sounds so trite. Why bother if there’s no cure, or the meds make you sick? Well, you are important. You need to grow into believing that. The world needs you. It took me a long time to learn to believe that about myself. I still have a hard time. But when the strength comes from inside, you will have the ability to survive and thrive.

 

So, even though life is a roller coaster with bipolar disorder, you can learn to ride it without falling off. I’m going to hold on tight during this new manic episode and take my meds. I’ll get frustrated and irritated and angry and find ways to deal with it that don’t involve yelling at anyone or attempting to harm myself. And when this is gone, I’ll probably be depressed. And I’ll survive that too, even if I have to keep the crisis hotline number right next to me at night. I’ll survive and I’ll thrive. And I know you can too.

 

Brooke is a freelance writer and blogger, living in Arizona. Check out her personal blog Brookesworldofwords.blogspot.com . She will be starting a new blog shortly about Tea and Organic Food.


Follow her on Twitter at @bfred58

 

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I Am a Spiritual Abuse Survivor: A Guest Blog by “Christy”

Spiritual Abuse Survivor

By: Christy

You wouldn’t know from looking at my life now, but as a kid, I used to reenact exorcisms during play dates. As a teen I spent my summers doing dramatic, religious, crucifixion mimes for onlookers in third-world streets. As a young adult, I could be found trying to convince Buddhist kids they were sinful, and there was a hell waiting for them if they didn’t convert. Most of you with church backgrounds reading this don’t have such extreme stories, but many of you may have baggage around harmful beliefs you were raised with and some of you are survivors of spiritual abuse.

 

Spiritual Abuse Definition: Harm, or control inflicted on a person in God’s name, or under the guise of religion.

 

I was raised in The Jesus Movement, a Christian counter-cultural response to the Hippie Movement. The Jesus Movement was characterized by living in communes, and helping others in need. Some major beliefs and practices of this movement were speaking in tongues, exorcisms, spiritual warfare, and the End Times apocalypse. Our family of five, lived “on faith” with no income, and were meant to be a sort of healing agent for people who came to live with us. This included people with criminal records, addictions and untreated mental illnesses. We lived with some very dangerous humans.

 

My memories and personal formation in The Jesus Movement are mixed, sort of like a crazy circus filled with laughter, then changing to absolute horror, then back to laughter.

 

The horror part, the part that is connected to trauma for me, is something that I’m still working on even now. I was subject as a small child to beliefs that were overwhelming and terrifying, which are the very definition of trauma. I’ll name a few: Hell for unbelievers, The Rapture, Satan/demons seeking to destroy Christians, and not trusting others outside of our belief system.

 

Imagine if you will:

  • The years I spent thinking about the people around me suffering in hell for eternity if I didn’t share my faith/be a witness for Christ.
  • The obsessive terror that I would be demon-possessed if I didn’t put my spiritual guard up.
  • The fear about how I would survive an End Times apocalypse.

 

The results were:

  • Unspeakably violent nightmares for decades.
  • Chronic anxiety, and OCD tendencies.
  • Migraines, chronic illness.
  • Final diagnosis of PTSD

 

Spiritual abuse is openly evident to most people who witness the awful televangelists taking advantage of people financially, especially the poor. Or it’s clearly exposed in high-profile cults such as Scientology. But it’s often not validated in the general public in every-day church experiences.

Some common examples are: being treated differently or poorly because you dared to challenge a pastor/leader, being slated as dangerous because you asked too many questions about doctrine, being viewed as “less than” because of your gender or sexual orientation, being used up as resource in church, but never acknowledged or thanked, and being shamed and manipulated for any religious reason.

 

For children, spiritual abuse can look like: being scared into making a conversion decision, using God to shame or scare a child into good behavior, teaching violent, complicated scripture inappropriately, and teaching children they so bad/sinful that Christ had to die a violent death for them.

 

These abuses, often unintentional, can be both implicit and explicit. They often represent the ultimate double bind – damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

 

If I honestly acknowledge the depth of my own spiritually abusive trauma, I can say I felt like I was living in a Saw horror movie with a Jigsaw God playing sadistic games with humanity. He asked me to either commit violence on myself (don’t ask questions about anything, keep in line and ignore my doubts, fears and abusive experiences) or commit violence on others (other people are going to hell to be tortured forever, and I have to be ok with it to keep my community, and retain my salvation).

 

In short, many people have walked away from church for spiritual abuse reasons. The ultimate “fuck you” from the church is to call them “weak, fallen, or deceived” or some other invalidating or diminishing label. I see a tragic and tangible example of this horrible double bind in the high rate of suicide in LGBTQ youth coming from religious backgrounds.

 

Is it any wonder that there is a mass exodus from churches? Between doctrine that is engrained into children as shame and fear, to invalidated adults not being able to question and be honest about human struggles, to the church being judgmental and politicized, people are leaving. They are sadly not finding many places to process their pain, or be understood. People who’ve experienced spiritual abuse often feel utterly alone, and unseen in their struggle.

 

I’m not saying all churches or religions are bad here. There are many great, faith communities who do wonderful, healing work in the world. But, religious systems overall need to do a better job for those who have been harmed in God’s name. The Church especially needs to practice non-judgment, non-violence, acceptance, kindness and speaking out publically against all forms of abuse.

If you have experienced any of my story, or this type of trauma, find a safe mentor or counselor to help you process your feelings. Spiritual wounding goes deep, and we need others to help us navigate our healing like any other trauma in our lives.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Christmas Dread : A Guest Blog by Cassie J. Sneider

I love Christmas, but I am dreading the inevitable questions from my boyfriend’s well-meaning midwestern family that always seem to come up about what my family is doing, what they’re up to, how they celebrate, etc. Even though they know that I don’t talk to my family, this always seems to come up and it can turn a great day into a teeth-grinding panic attack spiral. It’s hard for normal people with healthy families or at least only mildly quirkily sitcom-dysfunctional families to understand why me or you or anyone we know would want to remove themselves from their Family. Families stick together! Blood is thicker than water! My family is my everything! My mother is my best friend! Sisters are special! Number One Dad! Live Love Laugh! Dance like none of your creepy uncles are watching!

If you don’t understand why you might want to not spend the holidays, or any day, with your family, try to imagine surviving in a cave with a pack of wild, angry dogs. At first you’re like, “Oh, cool! I love dogs!” and you reach out your hand and a dog bites your finger off. You’re like, “Wow, that’s terrible, but at least I have nine more fingers.” Throughout your time together, the dogs growl and snap at you more often than they are nice, but you still try to reach out to them when you are lonely, afraid, or sick, and then the day comes where you only have one finger left. You can try with the dogs again, and hold out hope that maybe this will be the time they come around to you. Or you can try to protect yourself and keep that finger, because you might want it someday to press a power button on a TV or to ding a bell in a hotel lobby or to point at something or maybe even just to fill out one of those foam hands at a sporting event.

I chose to leave the cave of wild dogs and to keep my one finger. I try to surround myself with people who love me and care enough to say, “Holy shit! You only have one finger! I’m so sorry. Can I help you with that Cat’s Cradle?” when I am struggling. It’s not easy to get by with this much damage, but my life has improved greatly knowing that I am no longer putting myself at risk by trying to be a part of a pack where I don’t belong.

Cassie is an artist living in NYC.  Check out her blog

Follow her on Twitter @CassieJSneider

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3 Changes Newly-Diagnosed ADHD Adults Should Make: Guest Blog by Vee Cecil

While adults with ADHD don’t often exhibit the hyperactivity of children with the condition, they do have the inattention and impulsivity associated with the disorder. As Mayo Clinic explains, adult ADHD symptoms include difficulty focusing or concentrating, restlessness, impulsivity, trouble completing tasks, disorganization, frequent mood swings, struggling to cope with stress, and a hot temper. These symptoms often lead to several problems, such as unstable relationships, poor work performance, and low self-esteem.

 

Once they have a diagnosis, adults can make their lives easier by making some changes. Newly-diagnosed ADHD adults often feel a sense of relief for finally understanding why they are the way they are, but that relief may turn to fear or regret. That’s why the first step newly-diagnosed ADHD adults should take is to accept and honor their feelings. Once people come to terms with the diagnosis, they are able to take positive steps toward dealing with it.

 

  1. Determine the Best Treatment. After being diagnosed with adult ADHD, people should work with their doctor to determine the best treatment for their symptoms and situations. As PsychCentral.com explains, current treatments commonly involve medication, psychological counseling, or a combination of the two. The combination of therapy and medication is thought to be the most effective treatment. Of course, your doctor will discuss the benefits and risks of medication, and it may take some time to identify the best treatment. Counseling often includes an educational component, so that newly-diagnosed adults gain a better understanding of the disorder and how to live with it.

 

  1. Proactively Manage Your Impulses. One change ADHD adults can make to better manage their impulsivity is to consider the situations in which they are most likely to be impulsive and make a list of them. Identifying those situations is the first step to better managing them, because ADHD adults will be more aware of the need to think before acting. Another great way to manage impulses is to get plenty of exercise. And as this article notes, going on a walk with a furry friend is an excellent way to work off some of your extra energy, and in turn, clear your mind. It has also been proven to reduce feelings of loneliness and depression.

 

  1. Get Organized with Structure and Neat Habits. The inattentiveness and distractibility associated with adult ADHD often results in difficulty being organized at work and at home. This also tends to make ADHD adults feel overwhelmed. Breaking tasks into smaller chunks and developing a system for getting organized is one of the best changes ADHD adults can make. Developing a structure for organization and adopting neat habits will make a world of difference for ADHD adults.

 

For organizing at home, determine which objects are necessary and which you can store or trash. Though this article addresses the needs of children with ADHD, its advice holds true: organizing work areas, setting up a “staging area” by the door for keys, wallets, etc., and storing items in labeled bins can be a big help in managing your ADHD at home.

 

At work, use lists and make notes for tasks, projects, deadlines, etc., and consider using a to-do list app so you can set reminders for tasks as well. Finally, help yourself by avoiding procrastination. If it is a task that requires a very short amount of time, do it now to alleviate the feeling of being overwhelmed.

 

Certainly, newly-diagnosed ADHD adults have much to consider upon learning they have the disorder. But, there are changes you can make to manage your symptoms and make your life easier.

 

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, bootcamp instructor, and all-around health enthusiast. When she isn’t training clients or playing outside with her family, she is working on her recently-launched blog where she shares her favorite wellness tips and recipes.

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OCD and CBT OMG!: A guest blog by Lindsey

This week, and every year during the second full week of October, is International OCD Awareness week. Now, here’s the thing: it’s awareness week for those that do not experience and suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders. For those that do, it’s nearly impossible to be unaware. Maybe I’m exaggerating, because I’m sure there are those that find some repose from their obsessive thoughts, but for many of us it’s hard to fathom a life free of OCD and the stigma that accompanies it.

The world has come a fair ways in trying to quash the stigma of mental health issues, but we still have a long ways to go. There are too many people like me who take years to seek treatment because of stigma. I didn’t even know trichotillomania had a name until a decade after it had started affecting my life. I was the butt of many jokes in high school due to my obsessive use of purell, and yet many of these same people poking fun at my OCD asked me on multiple occasions to use some because they knew I was likely to have a bottle in my bag. I’m learning how to laugh about it now, but it’s taken me a long time to get here.

Obsessive thoughts are a part of being human; it is physically impossible to control our thoughts. What we CAN control is our behaviour, and our actions. (It is when our obsessions and subsequent compulsive actions threaten our daily life and routine that we must take initiative and seek help.)

Keeping everything neat and tidy doesn’t make you OCD, just as being sad doesn’t mean you’re depressed and being nervous for an interview or exam doesn’t mean you suffer from anxiety. Language is important!

If you have people in your life living with OCD, the best thing you can do is be kind. Be patient. Try to understand without judgement. Talk about it. OCD ≠ quirky, if the thought of changing the way you do something, not repeating something, etc. makes your brain scream, reach out to someone.

My god, if you’ve made it this far, you are a brave, brave man. I posted that into the facebook void a few hours ago, immediately wanted to take it back, but didn’t. I’m thinking of it as an exposure therapy exercise in and of itself.

In summation: OCD sucks, and the exposure therapy I’ve been doing in CBT sucks worse because it’s scary as fuck, but it works.

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I Have Been Diagnosed as a Sociopath: A guest blog by “Damon”

I have been suffering from depression since I was 16 years old. It has been on and off since then and when I felt I was spiraling downward, I always felt there was something more to it. As of November of 2014, my therapist, who I had been seeing for about 4 months, told me who I really am. I was diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder among other personality disorders. In layman’s terms, I am a complex sociopath.

I didn’t know how to react to this information when it was given to me. Sociopaths are people you hear about on the local news or America’s most wanted. But I never felt that it was something that could be described about me. Immediately, I felt like I was a pariah, an outcast, someone to be avoided. I suddenly felt as if I understood what it was like to be hiding something about myself that defines me. Similar to someone who has not come out of the closet yet.

Looking back, I can see that I had many of the traits that would be characteristic of someone with this diagnosis. I shoplifted as a teenager and convinced all of my friends to join me as well. I didn’t treat my pets in the best ways. I used to trespass on private property including breaking and entering. I hated authority and often disregarded rules. It was difficult for me to hold employment (and sometimes still is) because I genuinely did not care.

Here’s what being a sociopath means to me today:

I feel no shame, guilt, or empathy toward others. I realized that the only moments I felt sorry was not for what I’d done, but rather I was sorry I got caught doing. During a group therapy meeting, I was told by a member that her son’s wife had had a miscarriage. Everyone in the room was crying or aghast but me. I couldn’t relate or care.

I feel nothing. I often feel nothing. Most of my emotions are a ruse, a lie to seem like a generally happy friendly person. The few feelings I do feel frequently are rage when something does not go my way and joy in the form of laughter at a good joke.

I am exceptionally intelligent in ways that often astonish my friends and family. All of my immediate family and friends have advanced degrees whereas I do not but I can often best them in games of trivia. My father will often ask me about songs and events that happened before I was born when he wants to learn about them.

I can be charming and interesting at any point in time that I choose. It is easy for me to start up a conversation with anyone at anytime, but again this is hollow. This process of putting on a face is something I can only do for so long. I feel like I am out of breath after a while. Women often tell me that I’m sweet or a great guy, but what I’m showing them is a mirage. In fact, I am the exact kind of person their friends and family would like to avoid.

I don’t feel love where others would say I should. I see my parents more as landlords than I do as a loving support system. My brothers would say we have grown close over the years, though I feel no such connection. I don’t know if I can love a person fully and I hide who I really am from potential mates. I can cut ties with any person in my life at any time I choose.

It is difficult for me to understand other people. I am often irreverent toward attitudes and traditions that others hold near and dear. I don’t understand the point of funerals, weddings, and most family events.

I am a fan of Boston area sports teams as well as LeBron James because many dislike them although I don’t know why, and I can relate to that.

I never could find the root cause of why I am what I am. Maybe because my brother molested me in front of my parents, who did nothing. Maybe because of a major concussion I’ve experienced. Maybe because of a horrific traffic accident I’ve experienced. My therapist says family history of diabetes is often found. Perhaps that is it, I don’t know. But what I do know is that for the rest of my life, I’m going to be fundamentally different than other people in this way. I am in the process using the positive aspects of this diagnosis to my advantage. For example, I don’t have fear taking risks. I can approach any woman I want to be around. My ambition is one that can hardly be matched.

All in all, it has been confusing to try to live with this part of myself. Though I have told my immediate family and some friends, we have not talked about it. I have felt like the black sheep of the family and will continue to feel that way. But as I have already received help when I felt I was in my darkest hour, I feel I can continue on knowing the roots of my sporadic melancholy.

 

“Damon”

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Importance of Considering Emotional Factors in Psychiatric Diagnoses: Guest Blog by Dr. Terry Lynch

 

Psychiatric diagnoses are generally seen as primarily biological problems requiring primarily biological solutions. Not much attention is generally placed on the emotional or psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses.

This approach is misguided. Of course there are physical aspects to depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, OCD, eating disorders etc. There are physical aspects to all human experiences, but a wealth of helpful information emerges when the emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses are fully taken into account.

There are major gaps in knowledge and understanding within each of the various psychiatric diagnoses. Incorporating the emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses –to a far greater extent than currently happens – can greatly help join the dots and make sense of the various psychiatric diagnoses.

Here is just one example.

The usual explanation for paranoia is that it is a feature of mental illnesses such as schizophrenia. This explanation provides no real understanding of paranoia or why it occurs. A more complete understanding of paranoia emerges when we factor in some important emotional and psychological aspects.

Projection is a well recognised concept in psychology. To “project” means to “throw”. When we watch a movie on the cinema screen, we know that the images appear on the screen because they are projected – “thrown” – from the projector at the opposite end of the cinema.

Paranoia can be understood as the projection of the inner world of the individual onto the screen of life. A common error made in such circumstances is to evaluate people’s experiences and behaviours from the benchmark of what is broadly considered “normal”. Rather, they should be evaluated from the perspective of the individual’s inner world, taking the context fully into account.

If doctors cannot identify a factual external basis for the person’s fear, it is quickly concluded that there is no basis for the person’s fear other than biological, as evidence of mental illness. But if we tune in to the person’s inner world, we find that the person generally feels terrified, desperately unsafe. In 15 years working fulltime in mental health, I have met well over a hundred people whose experiences could be described as paranoia. In every case, the inner experience was one of terror, feeling completely unsafe, unprotected, and totally unable to protect themselves.

Understanding projection helps us understand paranoia. To a person who feels completely unsafe and totally unable to protect themselves, threats may appear to come from all directions. It is a case of experiencing the world not as it is but as we are.

This information presents possibilities. Perhaps helping people in this situation to feel safer can help people experiencing paranoia? This is what I have repeatedly found. Paranoia is the product of feeling very unsafe. Feeling unsafe is a regular characteristic of people diagnosed with schizophrenia.

It is high time that important emotional and psychological aspects of psychiatric diagnoses – such as feeling profoundly unsafe and the projections that result from this – were given the importance their presence merits.

Why are these and other important emotional and psychological aspects regularly missed by mental health doctors? Two reasons: (1) The training of psychiatrists and GPs does not sufficiently prioritise such emotional and psychological aspects; (2) Giving such aspects of psychiatric diagnoses the importance they merit risks raising serious questions of the medical model that currently dominates global mental health care.

 

 Dr. Terry Lynch, mental health activist, author. physician, psychotherapist. www.doctorterrylynch.com

 

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Living with Dissociative Identity Disorder: A guest blog by listener Melanie

D.I.D never comes alone. I’ve been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Major Depressive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobic Disorder, Avoidant Food Intake Disorder, Depersonalization, Excoriation Disorder and PTSD.

All of these disorders effect me deeply, have run my life from a very young age, but I think the disorders that have most effected me besides my D.I.D are my Panic and Anxiety disorders.

I was diagnosed with D.I.D around 11 or 12 years old. Strangely enough, that was around the time the abuse that caused my disorders stopped. My abuser sexually, physically and emotionally abused me on almost a daily basis from the time I was 5 until I was 12. They moved when I was 12. I don’t know how long they could have continued the abuse if they hadn’t left and I didn’t breathe a word of it until I was 16.

Being so young when it began, I was very submissive. I had a lot of outer body experiences during the abuse, complete black-outs, episodes of losing time – sometimes for days or weeks at a time. My other personalities (alters) started taking defined shape when I started to fight back, around 8 or 9 years old. That’s when the violence escalated and it was at 12 or 13 that I developed my most prominent and dangerous alter.

I’ll talk about this alter as if it were my only one, so I don’t confuse all the details and draw this out too long.

The sexual abuse was never verbalized between me and my abuser. Which made it hard to think or talk about in clear words. When it’s never spoken about, it’s hard for anything to feel real. I was little and, especially being a little girl, I was socialized and conditioned to be more obedient, to argue less. I was submissive, nonconfrontational, fearful of authoritative figures, easily manipulated, naive and very trusting. I was a perfect victim.

The rape and molestation, the cutting (that my abuser inflicted upon me, not self-inflicted), verbal abuse I underwent was all so commonplace growing up, I just tried not to think about it. When I was at school or summer camp, I’d often forget about it entirely. There were several times I remember consciously thinking to myself, ‘if I just don’t think about it anymore, it will go away.’ I said that to myself in regard to my memories of being abused and my disorders. Particularly my loss of time and depersonalization. Those were so frightening to experience and I was scared to think on it, let alone verbalize it.

There were times I opened my mouth to actually say ‘I think I’m being raped,’ ‘the blood on my mattress was not from my period,’ ‘I think I’m going crazy,’ ‘I think I want to harm myself,’ ‘I think I already have.’ I’d open my mouth in front of family or friends, at the dinner table and it would get stuck in my throat like a hot rock and refuse to come out. My body wouldn’t make noise and I eventually surrendered to that.

I was scared to even say it out loud to myself. I didn’t write about it, I didn’t talk about it, I didn’t release it anywhere. I hardly slept, I always felt ill. There was so much time my body was piloted by my alters that most of my childhood is so warped, I can’t really trust any of my own memories to be true or real. Time is like this loose, flat circle that pushes me around like bumper carts and is at the same time, impossible for me to grab hold of.

My dangerous alter hates me as my abuser did, but also hates me in the ways that I have. Considers me weak, disgusting, pathetic, self-pitying and unworthy. She has threatened to kill me before, in writing. I would find frightening notes from her in my bedroom or my school notebooks.

I think she is the part of myself that took on the traits of my abuser to match their severity; to fight fire with fire, in a way. I once heard it explained in a story about a young girl who was attacked by bears and she went home, made a bear costume with big fangs and big claws and when she next saw the bears, she attacked them just as viciously as they had attacked her, not for vengeance, but for protection. That is to say, she couldn’t protect herself from her attackers until she became one of them. So, I think my alter took on that role of condensed evil equal to that of my abuser’s so that I might survive the abuse at all.

I attempted suicide at 12 during a bizarre episode of depersonalization and I saw one psychologist in particular that same night. My mother wouldn’t send me to the hospital (even if that may have been the smarter choice) because she knew she would lose legal control over me once I was in the hospital. I don’t know if it was a desire to protect me from a psych ward or shame of my illnesses that kept her from taking me there. She would’ve given anything for me to be ‘normal.’ I think she still resents me for the macabre strangeness of my brain.

I did some EMDR therapy with this psychologist, he made me draw a lot and we did some exercises that were almost hypnotic. He had me keep journals that my alters would write in, all in different hand writing styles, all with different narrative flows. I know I lost time in his room, I had violent panic attacks in front of him and his room saw a lot of the worst of my symptoms. He told my parents that he ‘suspected’ I was being abused and he even knew by who, though I never said. My parents didn’t take him seriously, I suppose. I didn’t see that doctor again. My family didn’t talk about it again.

I came forward on the night of my 16th birthday. This was entirely by chance. My mother’s friend caught me in a very vulnerable moment, mid-panic-attack and asked me ‘did someone hurt you?’ and I had a complete meltdown. I never even answered, but it’s sort of hard to respond to that question with hysterical tears and full body tremors and then say ‘nah, nothing happened.’ I told my parents that night.

My mother believed me, asked me if I wanted to press charges and respected my decision not to. I don’t know if my father ever believed me. He used my diagnosis against me, saying ‘she makes stuff up all the time,’ ‘how do we know that any of this is real?’ ‘This could just be another one of her stories.’

My sister actually walked in on the sexual abuse once. When I brought it up to her, she had no recollection of it. When I brought up that discussion again, she had blocked that too. Every time I mention it, she seems to be hearing about it for the first time all over again. I think what she saw, she blocked and the unpleasantness of it all just keeps getting blocked again and again.

The last I heard of my abuser was that they were arrested for attempted murder, having stabbed a woman over 30 times, strangled and beaten her. She survived by some miracle. My abuser served 3 months in prison for this attack.

I’ve heard it said that life is an uphill battle. With D.I.D, sometimes the battle starts all over again, skips over parts, rewinds, pauses, sometimes you pop into existence on another hill entirely, watching the battle from some other hill, unable to get back to where you need to be. With anxiety, sometimes sink holes form instantaneously beneath you, landmines go off too close, you hear missiles that haven’t been fired yet, you swing your sword before there is anything to swing it at. With depression, sometimes the air becomes thick like water and every movement to strike or land a blow becomes overwhelmingly difficult, like all of gravity is working against you, there is a loss of impact, a lethargy to even the air.

Reality is bendable to me. Memory is often false, mostly unreliable. Time is almost irrelevant. I experience life with the constant fear that nothing is real and even if it were real, none of it matters.

I haven’t lost time since 2011. I still have a lot of depersonalization pretty regularly, but it’s manageable. I still have panic attacks, flooding, flash backs, casual, passive suicidal ideation, bouts of severe depression that sometimes come without any warning.

There is so much to my story, it was so difficult to write this. You asked me for 500 words or so and I gave you 1500 and it hardly says anything about my experiences. I hope someday I will be able to share it in greater detail.

Thank you for reading this and giving me this opportunity to share a part of myself that is so often too ugly or heavy to impart.

Melanie

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The Weight: A guest blog by Cassie J Sneider

I discovered that I could make a butt with my stomach when I was in the third grade, catapulting my belly up the list of favorite body parts, right up there with my armpits and any area that could generate a fart sound.

“Mom, check it out! A BUTT!” I would say, squeezing together the fat around my belly button and dancing a little, sometimes a shoulder shimmy, sometimes a rolling motion like a sexy extra in the director’s cut of Aladdin. My younger sister would try to mimic me, but she took after my mother’s side, small-framed, skinny women whose very bones seemed like they might be hollow, like the sun-bleached ones found in the sand on the shore. My sister had her own unique talent: she could suck in her stomach to look like a human skeleton, pronouncing her ribs like a Save the Children PSA, usually accompanied by a low moan. This came in handy when we needed to illustrate that we were in desperate need of a dollar for the ice cream man. Her trick was utilitarian, but mine was sort of for the greater good: if my mom was chain-smoking over a pile of bills or bleaching the bathtub in a silent rage, I could just lift up my shirt, make a butt, and if I was lucky, she would forget about being angry for a second.

**

From the front seat of the bus, I could see myself in the rearview mirror on the way to junior high. Eighth graders filed in and went directly to the back where they threw pencils out the window and used words like “fingerbang” and “whack.” There was a hierarchy among the seventh graders that was based on development, socioeconomic status, and the bagginess of your jeans. Two things I had going for me were that I didn’t have braces or acne. On the other hand, I had glasses, frizzy hair down to my butt, and otherwise looked like the lost Duggar child they keep in a shed. The jeans I had were skintight and Sears’ store brand, Canyon River Blues, which conjures images of men whitewater rafting on one of those retreats where you go into the woods with a bunch of other guys, beat a drum, and scream your father’s name. Nothing about Canyon River Blues says going to school and being seen as a cool, worthwhile human being, but then again, when does anyone care if you are a good person in the seventh grade anyway?

In the seventh grade, I shot up five inches, gained twenty pounds, and outgrew my jeans. They were too tight to move in, and the best part of the day was walking in the door after school and unbuttoning the fly so that I could breathe. This was the 90s, before jeans had any give, and Canyon River Blues were made out of the stiff burlap that might be present on a hay bale during a barn raising; certainly nothing you’d want to have on your skin.

“Can you put your gut away?” my mother asked while I was sitting on the couch watching Ricki Lake and finishing my my homework.

Comments like these fed the new voice in my head that told me I was not only a financial burden for needing bigger clothes, but I was also disgusting. It’s probably common sense to most people, but nobody explained to me that physically growing was a normal part of life and nothing to be ashamed of. I felt deeply embarrassed and my too-small clothes made me feel that just by virtue of staying alive, I was doing something wrong. I didn’t look like the lip-glossed girls on the cover of Seventeen and Sassy in their carefully ripped denim. I didn’t look like Alicia Silverstone getting her belly button pierced by some creep in the video for Cryin’. And I certainly didn’t look like the girls in the back of the bus who wore white eyeliner and said things like, “What are you looking at, dyke?”

Every magazine that came to our house offered advice to transform yourself into somebody you weren’t. Redbook offered crash diets my mom went on, and occasionally I would come home to find the refrigerator full of grapefruit or red meat. One article in Prevention talked about the importance of visible cheekbones and abs in being attractive. I remember making a conscious effort to suck in my cheeks and stomach when I saw the boy I liked in school. One day I caught a glimpse of myself doing this in the rearview mirror of the bus. I looked like I was imploding, which is neither sexy, nor carefree. And I actually was imploding in a way, without a sound, hoping to disappear.

**

The first time I can recall being aware of my body, I was probably eight or nine. I stood up after a long Saturday afternoon of American Gladiators and barbecue potato chips.

“Just look at your stomach,” my mom said. “It’s protruding.”

I didn’t know what protruding meant. I assumed it was a compliment, like I was buff and ripped like Nitro or Laser. But when I looked it up in the dictionary I won in school for being a good speller, I felt betrayed. My own mom was saying I was fat, the very person responsible for my health and emotional well-being. Insults became a regular occurrence as I got older, spiking in moments of anxiety and special occasions. If her jeans didn’t fit right, my mother told me I needed to go on a diet. If a relative was getting married in the distant future, she wrote down everything I ate and worked out until she could buy clothes in the kid’s section. I felt less like an individual and more like an extension of my mother’s body, as if my existence fluctuated with my mother’s weight and whatever her current feelings were toward herself.

My mother described herself in high school as the “fat friend,” and though she had thrown out every photo of herself between the ages of 12 and 25, she backed up this claim with a single picture she took of her friends: behind them, two long, skinny shadows next to a slightly wider one holding a camera. She mentioned losing this weight when her first boyfriend cheated on her. His name was Guy, and in my imagination, he looked like the smooth-talking but occasionally skuzzy Ian Ziering character on Beverly Hills, 90210. There weren’t any fat people on TV in the 90s except for Roseanne and Carnie Wilson, so in my mind, I frankensteined my mother’s face onto their bodies. During the good times, my mom and Guy would sit on the beach of my imagination singing like in the video for “Hold On,” and when things were bad, they screamed at each other behind the counter of the Lanford Lunchbox.

My mother is a small woman. It would have been hard for me to believe that she had ever been overweight, if not for her constant uphill battle against becoming fat again.

“Seventy-five pounds I gained with you,” she would say, pointing at the one Polaroid of her holding me after I came into this world. “I thought it would never come off, but can you believe that? Seventy-five pounds.”

In the astonishing seventy-five pound weight gain picture, my mother looks normal. She isn’t wearing any mascara and she is clearly tired, but she is an average woman holding a baby in a stucco early 80s livingroom. There is one thing that does stand out in this photo, though. From the look of disgust on her face, my mother might have been holding a dead carp. Instead, she is holding me on the second day of my life. I grew up with the overwhelming feeling that I was to blame for something and wracked my brains and body trying to figure out what it was. The answer was in this photo all along: seventy-five pounds I couldn’t control.

**

I worked at a doctor’s office in the west village a few years ago. It was upscale, but people mostly came in for pills. Xanax. Adderal. Klonopin. One guy came in for acupuncture and liked to talk about art. He was a middle-aged photographer holding onto a rent-controlled lease in Union Square. His wife had some important breadwinning job, and he took freelance photos for magazines. Tattooed women. Tasteful nudes. He offered to take pictures of me, and I felt like I didn’t have anything to lose. I had just turned thirty and realized that I wasted the entirety of my twenties hating myself. I fretted over the bump in the bridge of my nose. the stretch marks on my butt, the size of my teeth. I stopped wearing shorts because I was afraid that my thighs shook too much when I walked. I got Brazilian waxes for boyfriends who didn’t even shower, one of which had hemorrhoids so bad it looked like a family of pink salamanders was living in his butt. I hated myself like it was my second job and I was going for employee of the month. Living this way is exhausting, and if I could somehow find the strength to be comfortable enough to let some perv take pictures of my beav, then I had made it through The Gauntlet in the private American Gladiators of my self-loathing.

His apartment was huge but cluttered, a mishmash of patterns and eastern-cultural art objects that you see in rich white people apartments where it looks like somebody got a ten-thousand dollar gift certificate to Pier 1 and blew it in one day. We took pictures in the bathroom and kitchen, then on the roof in rollerskates. At the end of the shoot, his sixteen year old daughter came home and was completely unfazed. Just a typical day with cool New York parents, I guess.

I was kind of worried that when the pictures came back, I would look as uncomfortable as I felt being directed to move and contort so that my stomach would be flatter, or that I might be making a dumb face from staring too hard at a school photo of his daughter in the hallway. What I did not expect was to be airbrushed into a skeleton with hair.

“I look like a ghoul here,” I said to the doctor I worked for as we scrolled through the photos. It was insulting to see what this stranger with bad taste in living room furniture thought it took to make me attractive. I finally had visible cheekbones, but my arms and legs were rain thin. I looked like one of the aliens that probe Christopher Walken in the movie Communion.

“Well, you’re like Art Hot here,” the doctor said.

“Yeah, but I don’t look like myself. I am actually missing a piece of my arm in this photo,” I said, pointing out the accidental photoshop amputation.

“Yeah,” said my seventy-year old boss, “but it’s hot.

I rolled away from him in my office chair. “It’s actually not hot. I’m fine the way I am,” I said.

And for the first time in my life, I actually believed it. It took seeing all the things a stranger would take away from me to realize that I wanted them back because I had earned them. The chickenpox scar between my eyes. The bones that stick out of my feet from years of standing in Converse at menial jobs. The stomach that made my mom laugh once or twice when I was kid. This picture removed all of my stories, the things that I am proud of. I am fine the way I am, and I worked hard to be here.

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nakki