Archives for the month of: July, 2013

In two days my brother leaves for China for the next 10 months. He will be teaching English to middle school children and it is sure to be a great learning experience for him. He is scared out of his mind, and rightfully so, but I think he is ultimately excited to be going.

I am dreading 10 months without my brother. He is 2.5 years younger than me, and apart from my fiancee, he knows me like nobody else does. He is the only one I have in my life who truly understands what happened to us in our childhoods and how it can affect our everyday lives in the present. We have always been very close and each other’s biggest supporters (of course our abusive father always complained about us being “too close,” “ganging up on him,” and “always being on each other’s side.”). I know that when I need to reality check, I can go to my brother and he will understand. When I am questioning my memory (as those of us who have experienced gaslighting are wont to do), he confirms what really happened.

I suspect he is having some similar feelings about leaving me, because last night we went out to dinner and he kept bringing up things that we had done as kids to survive the abuse and try to make a pleasant world for ourselves. “Remember when we used to bundle up in our coats and put our heads in so we could pretend to be asleep in the car?” “Remember when we made up that shared delusion/fantasy that a robber had come to take everything material away because we couldn’t deal with our father taking everything else away?” We are the only ones who understand these things for each other.

I know there will be ways to communicate with him in China, but it won’t be easy. Facebook is blocked in China, and he’ll have to get a cheap phone while he’s there. I’m not sure if he’ll have the money to call long-distance. There’s always Skype, but with the time difference I’m not sure how this will work out if I continue to work third shift and he’s at work during his day. Letters will most likely be subject to censorship. I know we’ll find a way to communicate, but it’s scary not having a plan.

Also, he will be missing my MSW graduation in May. He wants to come, but flights to and from China are way out of our budget. I really wish I could have him there, because he has been one of my biggest supports during this degree.

I know I’ll adjust to him being gone. I’m just feeling pretty sad about it today. I’m going to say goodbye to him tomorrow because his flight is during my shift early Thursday morning. I really hope I can keep it together so that I don’t make him more upset and anxious about leaving. I know this is something that is going to be very good for him, and I want him to have a good time without worrying about me.

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One of the things that I feel like a hypocrite about is communication. I help my clients with communication ALL THE TIME. I can write an assertiveness script like nobody’s business…for someone else. Actually, I can do it for myself as well. Where it falls apart is actually using the script. I get so excited when my clients report back to me that something we came up with in session worked, but I have this crazy idea that “Of course it worked for them, but I’m DIFFERENT. Nothing can work for me.” This is a bullshit excuse to not put myself in a slightly vulnerable situation by asking for what I need. If I’m going to be an effective social worker and a happy person, I need to practice what I preach.

To be clear, I only have a problem with assertive communication with people in my personal life. When it comes to school, internships, and work, I get what I need and do not feel guilty about it. I’ve even gotten a reputation as being one of the more assertive and outspoken members of my cohort in graduate school. And if you give my clients the run-around and they are not able to speak up for themselves, you will get an earful from me and I WILL get my clients what they need.

In my personal life, however, I clam up pretty easily. I know that I have messages running through my head saying I don’t deserve things and I’m not good enough, but I’m not sure this is the real sticking point. I think I’m afraid of not getting what I need even if I ask, so I just don’t bother. Of course, if I truly need something and the other person is not willing to cooperate, then I need to reevaluate that relationship. But that can’t happen if I don’t even bother asking. Then I end up stewing and becoming resentful, which is kind of ridiculous.

Example: For the past year, I worked 40 hours/week overnight, went to school 6.5 hours per week, and did a 16 hour/week internship. I am not exaggerating when I say that it almost ruined me. My internship ended in May and I am just now beginning to feel like a real human being again. This coming school year will have me doing the same hours of classes but a 24 hour per week internship. I am totally freaking out over how I am going to survive this until May.

Meanwhile, my fiancée is working part-time, less than 20 hours per week, and doing nothing else. She states that she wants to get a full-time job so that I can possibly quit my job and find a part-time job, but her actions have not matched her words. I pay all of the bills. She has been living with me for free for the past six months, and I have been silently fuming. She has her own issues that make it hard for her to apply for jobs (depression and anxiety), but she won’t get over these things if she doesn’t try.

Today I felt like I was going over the edge. I was angry and I have been increasingly anxious about how to handle my increased workload beginning in September. Finally, I asked her, “Have you applied to any jobs lately?” She said no and looked kind of guilty. She said she would apply for some today. I went to sleep and when I woke up about six hours later, she reported that she had applied to “tons” of jobs (I could see lists she had made, so I know she wasn’t lying). She had also applied for a full-time nannying job and had already received an email back from the family wanting to talk further.

I didn’t even really have to ASK her to apply for jobs! All she needed was a little reminder and she got right on it. Times like these call for that “That was easy!” button from Staples. I should ask for things more often.

One of the characteristics of the brain’s response to trauma can be emotional numbing. This can be in addition to or instead of symptoms such as hypervigilance, or they can be seen as two sides of the same coin (being hypervigilant but not emotionally tuned into the stimuli and our responses). I tend to experience both, but lately the emotional numbing has been more upsetting to me.

I think I’ve only noticed that I am numb or experience things in a blunted way in the recent past. I’ve obviously been doing it for a long time, and it has served me well when I needed to not feel in order to survive. I also tend to dissociate a lot, which goes hand-in-hand with the numbing experience: if I am not fully present in a situation, I do not feel it emotionally. I often feel as though I am going through life in autopilot or simply going through the motions. Add the sleep deprivation that comes with working third shift full-time and going to graduate school full-time, and I am basically a zombie.

Weirdly, I can turn the numbing and dissociation off pretty easily when I am working with clients. Unless a client is reminding me of my father (in which case I need to discuss it with my supervisor and my therapist and advocate for them to see a different provider), I generally do not check out (more than the normal human amount) during sessions. It is not threatening for me to feel what my clients are feeling in their sessions, and I would need to leave this field if it were. I feel lucky that I am able to do my work.

My problem is this: my therapist does not seem to think my numbing and dissociation are a big deal. She constantly attributes them to my sleep deprivation, even though they have been going on since I was a small child and I have repeatedly brought them up as issues I am concerned about. Another problem is my ambivalence toward working on this: it is often so much easier not to feel. When I admit that to myself, I feel guilty and want to change it. I should not be taking the easy way out. At the same time, I understand that it is difficult to change given the vast amount of time that this has been an effective way of dealing with trauma.

Does anyone have advice on dealing with emotional numbing? Any tips on talking with therapists about this?

This song has always resonated with me…Ms. Amos claims it is about a dream, but I am not buying that for a second.

It feels kind of weird to be posting on a blog! I haven’t done this since my last failed attempt at blogging in 2009, and the good old days of Livejournal years before. Please feel free to visit my “About” page for more information about me. I am going to try to keep this blog as anonymous as possible due to the nature of my work. I will not be posting about my clients at any time due to their right to confidentiality and my respect for them, so please do not expect any information about my work other than generalities.

It’s a little bit intimidating to think about exposing aspects of myself on the internet, even if it is fairly anonymous. I’m sure I will open up more once I get the hang of this and become more comfortable. I still hold a great deal of shame related to events in my childhood. I expect I should post some version of “My Story” soon, but for tonight, that is too much. So…more to come, basically! Ha.

I have been lurking on other blogs a lot and will most likely begin commenting soon. I guess it could be weird to have someone who is in the mental health field reading your mental health related blog (or not!) so if I read/comment and you aren’t comfortable with that, just let me know! I am coming at this from the perspective of both a practitioner and someone who has mental health issues, and I would not comment on your blog if I had not gotten something worthwhile out of it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have found a lot of great blogs by people with some sort of mental health issues, and they have inspired me and helped me heal for a long time now. You can trust that I am not trying to make people into case studies! Thank you to everyone for putting yourselves out there, you cannot know how much it has helped others. I guess that’s it for now.