Some bad news and why in the past I self harmed

I’ve been feeling a little out of sorts today.  Not the grumpy type of “out of sorts”, just the type where you don’t feel quite right.  I couldn’t sleep much at all last night and when I did, I kept having vivid nightmares.  Same when I tried all morning to get more sleep.  I mean, I’ve been having a lot of nightmares since starting cymbalta, but they have been a lot worse the last week, but last night was the worst insomnia and most nightmares I’ve had in a long time.

Last night I got some bad news.  My grandmother has been unwell for quite some time but last night I was told that she doesn’t have long left.  We’re hoping months, but it could be just a few weeks. We don’t know.

All last night while I tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep, I felt guilty for not feeling more sad.  I love my grandmother dearly.  I already miss her dearly only getting to see her twice a year and I will miss her terribly when she is gone, but emotionally right now, with this news, I just feel 99% numb.

I mean, I’ve never been a very emotional person for lots of reasons.  I mean, I HAVE emotions, I feel them very deeply actually, but the way they come out isn’t “normal” or more precisely, just not like the average person.

Part of it is having aspergers.  I’ve never been very good at expressing emotions the way society deems “correct”.  This combined with being abused as a child, being punished for showing any sign of pain or weakness by my mother, and being teased and bullied by other kids for not expressing emotions the typical way, and not being taken seriously by other adults when in physical or emotional pain, means I learnt to just not show any emotions.

But even though I didn’t show them, as I said, I still felt them deeply.  And every time a person casually said to me or about me (sometimes knowing I could hear them, other times thinking that I couldn’t hear them) that I was things like “snobby” or “aloof” or even “doesn’t have emotions”, it was like a knife through my heart.  It’s like being trapped inside a box of one-way glass – where I can see out but no one see in.  I wanted to scream at the well meaning people that their comments were cruel and were the total opposite of what I was feeling, but instead I just buried my pain more.

The reality is, no one can contain that kind of crushing emotional pain forever. It always comes out in one form or another.  For some people it comes out in rage, others turn to substance abuse, and others, like me, turn to self harm.  As a child, I kept in all the pain, the abuse at home, the bullying at school and other places like church (yes sadly I was bullied a lot at church as well by the “popular” kids), inside of me until I had my first major depressive episode when I was 16-17.  And between a severe biological depressive episode and the escalating abuse and bullying I was going through, I could no longer keep the pain buried. But every time I tried to reach out for help, whether from friends, extended family, professionals or other trusted adults in my life, no one took it seriously.  Even when I shared about the beatings, all that would happen is I’d be offered sympathy for a few minutes (something I never wanted – I dislike sympathy because at its heart is pity) and then people (even the professionals) would act like I hadn’t said a word.  Even when I would turn up to school with injuries, I’d get a few minutes pity and offered panadol, and then it would be back to business like nothing had ever happened.

And that was on a good day.  I have never forgotten when I was around 14 years old, the only one of two times my father hit me, having punched me in the face so hard he fractured my cheekbone and left my face permanently uneven (thankfully not too obviously so).  Not only did I have a black eye, but I had a burst blood vessel in my eye itself so my face looked like something out of a horror movie for a few weeks.  My friends didn’t know it was my father who had done it, because my parents had bullied BLB and I into saying we had had a fight and that he had done it.  But it was still painful for months after, but instead of offering care, my “friends” were quite blunt, that my face was gross and they didn’t want to see me or be seen with me.

So I learnt that even when I had physical injuries, people just wanted me to shut up and disappear.  To not only stay quiet, but not to be even seen until my injuries were no longer visible.  And even though surely the adults in our lives should have realised my brother (who was just a little kid at the time) could not remotely have the strength to break bones with a punch, no one ever questioned the story that we were forced to tell that he did it.

So anyway, when I was 16, facing a severe biological depressive episode, being beaten at home, bullied at school and church activities, I could no longer contain the immense pain I felt inside and turned to self harm.  I don’t know why it worked – I’ve tried all the silly alternatives some professionals suggest such as using ice, flicking a rubber band on sensitive skin, writing on yourself in red pen, etc, but none of those do anything except for make me more depressed and feel silly.  There was something about the self harm that just let the pain out.  I did my best to hide it – in fact my family never knew about it until five years later.  The only people who knew at first were my best friend who I confided in and my piano teacher who saw it during a lesson one day.

Unfortunately my best friend of the time freaked out and told our entire group of friends at school who then in turn freaked out.  They were supportive – for a few minutes.  But after the day they found out, they then acted like it had never happened and went back to dumping their own petty problems on me constantly (such as “oh I like this boy and I can’t get his attention, my life is over”) and getting upset if I ever tried to talk about my life.  Story of my life actually – I have always been the one people come to with their problems, something unconsciously about me seems to announce to the world that I will listen and always be there for people, but when in turn I have needed a friendly ear, people who were all over me when they wanted support, are suddenly nowhere to be found.

I eventually beat that depressive episode and stopped self harming until the next depressive episode.  And that continued over the next 5 years – I’d be fine for 6 months or even a year or 2, but then I’d have another depressive episode and do it again.  Then I have my most severe depressive episode when I was 21 (or it started when I was 21).  When it was really bad and all I could think of was suicide, I did what I thought was supposed to be the right thing and sought professional help.

I’ve shared the beginning of that story, and will share more over time, but the short version is the more I sought help, the more I was abused for it. I couldn’t cope with being abused by the very people who are supposed to help people with severe depression and went back to self harming.  The more depressed and unwell I became, the more the abuse intensified.  The full story of one incident is very long, but when I could no longer take the abuse anymore, and had begged and pleaded for it to stop, I eventually attempted suicide in hospital – and it led me to getting badly beaten and turned away – worse than just turned away but it is too traumatic to share exactly what they did to me, but my “punishment” for attempting suicide to escape the abuse led to them refusing to even allow me back at that hospital for several years and making sure I couldn’t get help in the public system anywhere else either.

Even in the private system I couldn’t get any help.  The first private psychiatrist I went to kept deliberately shutting me down every time I tried to talk about the horrific abuse I’d been through in the public system even though I desperately needed help for the PTSD I had developed from it.  I thought at first it was just because he was in denial and didn’t want to believe it and would rather believe I was crazy than believe that people in his profession were capable of such terrible things.  That disgusted me, but at least it was understandable albeit foolish.  But I was more disgusted to find out the truth months later – that he not only knew my main abuser, but they were close friends, so it wasn’t that he didn’t want to believe a psychiatrist could do such terrible things, it was that he didn’t want to face his close friend was a monster – that he didn’t want me to talk about it because he didn’t want to hear bad things about a close friend.  But what made me so disgusted was the fact that he knew who my abuser was and deliberately hid from me that they were friends instead of declaring his conflict of interest.

The second private psychiatrist I went to, after waiting more than 6 months to get in, just said to me “sorry I don’t do self harmers, you’ll need to find someone else”.  The third I ended up seeing for years, and as much as she meant well, she never understood me at all.  Even when I was suicidal, I was given platitudes about I’d be ok and to just call the crisis team if I wasn’t – this was after I’d repeatedly told her about the verbal abuse I’d had them hurl at me on many occasions, including being told to just go away and kill myself.  I would have thought the fact that she said she left the public system and went private was because of the disgusting way the public system treated people, meant she truly understood what the public system was like, but unfortunately she never believed me about the full extent of the abuse I went through, again preferring to believe I was crazy rather than believe the truth about what goes on in the public system.

So with the abuse I went through in the public system and the dismissals I went through in the private system, I eventually had it beaten into me (literally and metaphorically) enough times, that I learnt to bury my feelings so deep that even I stopped feeling them.

In 2007, I was  on a combination of medications that worked for the biological side of the depression, and mentally I’d learnt to totally suppress my feelings and honestly, I thought I was finally healed.  For five years, I had no depression, no thoughts of self harm or suicide, and by 2008, I’d stopped having flashbacks and nightmares too.  I thought I was cured, I thought the depression, the anxiety (other than social phobia), the pain and suffering was all over.  I had my abusive exhusband out of my life. I got some really negative friends out of my life who had just been using me for things like money, transport and free babysitting.  I thought I was healed.

Even when I was hit with a 3 month depressive in december 2012, even though I was depressed, I got over it without any psych help, and briefly increasing my medication (something my long term psych and GP allowed and encouraged me to do if needed).  So I thought “well if this how my depressive episodes happen, this is no big deal, I can deal with this”.

But it was only when I became pregnant with Rose, and I had my first mixed episode with severe depression, and I developed generalised anxiety disorder for the first time and my PTSD symptoms came back so bad that it was like living the abuse all over again, that I realised I hadn’t been “cured” at all.  All that had happened was that I had learnt to bury my pain so deep down that I couldn’t feel it at all  – and now it was back, bubbling to the surface with no way of stopping it.

Since then, I’ve had a lot of genuine healing.  The numbness I feel now is definitely partially medication induced – my feelings have been feeling rather dulled down in general since starting the cymbalta, but it is more than that.  I mean, I think (I HOPE) what I feel now about my grandmother is just shock.  I’m sure actually, that a big part of the numbness is shock.  Part of it is also hope, that the news isn’t as dire as it sounds, that she could live at least a few more years.  It is hope that she’ll live until at least christmas when I can go spend a decent length of time in Brisbane visiting and not have to worry about possibly losing my job if I ask for a few days off before then to see her (and my husband and kids need me working so we can simply pay the mortgage and bills and buy food, John’s income alone isn’t enough to live on, so I don’t want to jeopardise my kids’ futures for a chance to say goodbye to my grandmother as much as I dearly want to).  But deep down, I worry that this numbness is more than just medication and is more than just shock and more than just irrational hope – I worry that maybe I am still burying my feelings, that I haven’t made as much progress with my therapists in the last 5 months as I thought I had.

I want to feel sad, I want to be able to cry.  I feel like my grandmother deserves that from me.  Because from a logical, non emotional viewpoint, I do feel sad.  I will miss her greatly, but I just don’t “feel” it emotionally.  I hope I will, in fact, I’m sure I will –  I just need time to process it, and it may not be until she actually passes that I truly process it, but I just feel so guilty right now for not being emotional about it.

I am not a robot, I do feel deeply, but right now I just feel numb.  And the insults of the past, that I “don’t have emotions” keep ringing in my ears.  And the truth is, I am feeling it deeply, just not in an emotional way.  I am feeling it physically.  It’s why I couldn’t sleep last night despite being so tired.  It’s why I had nightmare after nightmare.  My body aches all over in a way that I haven’t felt for a very long time.  I am distracted, I feel emotionally numb to everything, not just sadness.  I feel very lost, not wanting to do anything other than curl up in bed. I don’t want to be around people, I don’t want to talk to people, and quite uncharacteristically of me, I don’t even feel like talking to John about anything to do with how I’m feeling.  I just want to curl up under a doona and stay there indefinitely.

My body is feeling my sadness in a way my mind won’t allow right now.  I just hope the numbness passes soon and that I stop feeling guilty for feeling numb.

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