Everybody has mental health. The question is how good it is, and how we manage it. We need strategies for managing our emotions and feelings. Here’s how.
‘It’s horrible being triggered.’
I nod. It’s an understatement. There are no words to describe it. The trigger comes and our bodies and brains surge with the aversiveness of survival: everything tells us to get away. This is dangerous! This is painful! This isn’t good! Get away, get away!
All I did was walk into the kitchen and pick up a cloth. But the sudden waft of bleach flung me far, far back into some childhood memory. I switched to a traumatised part of myself. I had been ‘triggered’.
I was brimming. And I hated it. I hated being upset. The surge of emotion through my body. Being out of control. The pounding heart, the air being crushed out of my chest, the pain-stretchy zinginess in my arms and legs, and the scream … the lacerating, shrill shriek of a scream in my head.
‘Unfortunately, you’ve undone all the good you’ve done today.’
She was deadly serious and I was utterly perplexed. What was she talking about? I had spent the day delivering my training day ‘Dealing with Distress: Working with Suicide and Self-Harm.’ A tough day, but a good day. A day of hope for how to help people who see no other way through their pain but by taking their own lives. A day of guts-and-bowels emotion.
Real hope isn’t cheap. Real hope is born out of a bloody struggle. Hope has guts. Hope is what you’re left with when you’ve stared down the despair. So how did I get from hopelessness to hope?
Years ago, when I first started therapy, I was invited to imagine a safe place. I didn’t understand the concept at all. First off, I didn’t understand how powerful positive visualisations can be. Secondly, I didn’t know how to feel safe. And thirdly, I didn’t have anywhere that I could summon to mind and feel positive about. Bummer.
Self-care is entirely counter-intuitive to survivors of abuse. To me as an abused child it is obvious that I am bad. I am being hurt because I am bad. And I am bad because I hurt. It’s a never-ending cycle of self-evident obviousness.
It might have been ‘just a routine blood test’ but that didn’t stop me passing out. Again.
From a teenager through into adulthood, even the word ‘medical’ could render me light-headed. I couldn’t bear the sight of blood, I couldn’t even hear descriptions of blood; hospitals and doctors and dentists and needles were meticulously avoided. Someone once described to me an accident they’d had involving a mangled leg, and within 5 seconds I was starting to feel faint. Within ten I was sweating and shaking. Within fifteen I was unconscious in a heap on the floor.
For a long time I didn’t understand why I was such a ‘wuss’, as I saw it.
You’ve come a long way. Misdiagnoses, mistreatment, maltreatment even—but eventually you’re here. You’ve found a therapist willing to work with you—either privately or on the NHS—and so now you’re expecting it just to happen. Right? Wrong!
Rather than engaging with mental health services because we trust that they will be helpful, many of us—rightly or wrongly—fear any involvement with them partly because we fear losing further control by being ‘sectioned’. We fear losing our liberty, losing the right to make decisions about our life, and losing the right to choose the kind of treatment we receive.
If you don’t have an LPA, many decisions will be taken on your behalf either by medical professionals or your next of kin or relatives. In situations where you have a domestically violent partner or spouse, or abusive parents, this could put you in a very worrying situation.
Coming to terms with flashbacks—understanding what they are, learning how to manage them, and eventually figuring out how to reduce them—is a cornerstone of recovery. Carolyn Spring explains what goes in the brain during a flashback and how to learn to manage them.
I could cope with it no longer. Every part of me—eyelids, throat, bowels—everything was clenched tight in a ball of furious unbearability. This feeling—such a feeling!—loomed up over me like some prehistoric sea-monster, ready to snap me up and devour me, ready to pilfer my bones and pick apart my brain. This feeling was too much.
After trauma our brains are sensitised to threat and our amygdala – our brain’s ‘smoke alarm’ – tends to react to burnt toast as if the house is on fire. In this article Carolyn Spring shows how to turn down the sensitivity of our smoke alarm – and overcome the impacts of trauma.
One of the hardest things I found in dealing with triggers was the aftermath: the shame, the self-blame, the sense of failure and powerlessness that once again something had happened that I’d had no sense of control over.
What medications should be used in the treatment of dissociative identity disorder? This fact sheet takes guidance from the ISSTD’s Treatment Guidelines for DID.
Crisis makes sense. The adrenaline of it can become addictive, or be all we’ve known. Life doesn’t feel right if things aren’t frantic, if relationships aren’t disastrous. Crisis can be an attachment cry. Crisis is the language of emotions that we don’t know how to regulate.
For a long time, therapy sessions would end with a fairly typical exchange. I would express frustration at myself for not doing enough, and gently but firmly the response from my therapist would go, ‘Be kind to yourself.’