I Am Not OK, But That Is OK

SailorI’ve been wondering recently (as always) why I am the way I am.

I’ve been trying to come up with an explanation.

It feels like I can’t help these ways.  I think the way I think because of all that I am, and all that has happened.  I feel like I use it as an excuse, but am I allowed to feel that way?

I wish there was a way to explain how my feelings exist, where they came from and where they go afterwards. I may think of things in a black and white way, my now famous Marmite effect, but often I am a walking contradiction because my opinions can differ from day-to-day.

My therapist has been very insightful.  A little while ago we discussed all of the issues surrounding the time I was in a psychiatric unit at age 14.

If you haven’t read it, but would like to, my story is here.  In a nut shell (or should that be sea shell?) I started having anxiety attacks at age 8, for some reason I can’t remember.  I struggled on until I was 13 years old, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, an eating disorder, obsessive compulsions and was admitted to an adolescent psychiatric unit for a year. I’m still struggling now.

My therapist realises that I am much more accepting of other people’s problems than my own.  She asked me why I think this is. I told her I understand that everyone is suffering in their own way.  I saw this in the psychiatric unit. Sometimes this suffering means that people act in a certain way, they might say or do things that hurt other people, but they are generally acting this way as a resolution to their suffering.  She probed further, why am I so accepting of others, but not of myself? I didn’t have an answer.  I always felt like I should be able to cope, no matter what and everyone elses hurt is more important than mine – I should help them deal with their hurt.   Eventually it gets to a point where I can’t deal with my hurt anymore and PTSD triggers an explosion.

It once came up in conversation how emotionally dysregulated I am.  My therapist wonders why I feel things so strongly compared to others.  So do I!  Often everything is exaggerated.  Imagine feeling sad, but with the volume turned up 100%, the most sad you could ever feel, but the situation doesn’t really require you to feel that extent of sadness.  An example would maybe be that you are in a shop and they don’t have the product you want. You’d maybe feel a bit annoyed and select a different product.  To me, I’m genuinely 100% angry or sad.  This could be for five minutes or so until I switch onto the next feeling, or it could last all day.

This had me questioning what is Emotional Dysregulation? Where did it come from?

My therapists attributes my poor emotional modulatory skills  to the fact that I was institutionalised at a young age. While my peers were learning to deal with normal situations and what effect they had on their emotions, gaining different experiences in life, going out and socialising, I was in hospital drugged up to the eyeballs, struggling with self-injury, trying to re-learn what “hungry” was and fighting depression.

Good old Wikipedia associates ED with early experience of psychological trauma and may be present in people with psychiatric disorders, such as borderline personality (BPD) and complex PTSD. Once again, showing that all of these illnesses are inter related!

I also did a bit of reading around PTSD and the effects of institutionalisation in young children.  Once again, it explains a lot. Low self-esteem is due to lack of physical and emotional space in an institution, so one can’t develop a sense of self. I think this is very true. In hospital, we had our individual rooms to rest in at night.  Each room was decorated exactly the same.  We weren’t allowed to personalise them. During the day you had to be in the group.  If someone felt bad during the day (which was kind of inevitable seeing as we were all mentally ill) it had a knock on effect to others.  Despite this knock on effect, there was definitely a presence of a united front.  All off us felt the same, with similar issues and we could give and receive empathy in a way we never had before.  We could support one another, when the circumstances of our condition allowed. However, in the long run, I don’t think I developed a very secure sense of self.  It is true that I feel much more myself in the blogging world with other mental health bloggers who I can relate to.

Anxiety is typically associated with PTSD and the effects of living in constant fear as a child, can typically transgress  into adulthood.  So that’s why I get anxious over nothing! I was shocked at being labelled with the tag “PTSD” at first, but actually it fits.  Now I can start to understand why I feel the way I do!  I also found out that people with BPD are more likely  to suffer from PTSD.  I’m not sure where I read that, but it’s definitely something I want to look into again later.

I have strong attachment and trust issues and fear of abandonment.  I feel  like I have felt this always, but perhaps this can be explained again by the institutionalisation, as it seemed to exacerbate this.

Imagine being 13/14 and being separated from your family by an hours drive.  You feel ill anyway.  You’re anxious.  You can’t think straight because you haven’t eaten a proper meal in days because you think it’s going to poison you.  All you want to do is feel safe, but you don’t know what will make you feel that way.  You are taken away from your relatively safe home, placed in a very clinical hospital environment and seemingly abandoned by your family.  Hospitals are intimidating environments.  Imagine how small and scared I felt by myself! No wonder I have a fear of abandonment and don’t trust anyone, I was abandoned at a critical stage in my life!

In an institution with so many other children, despite the comradery, there was also a lack of trust between us and the adults.  As minors, we had no say in our care.  We weren’t told what was happening, what our medications were.  We were told what to eat and when.  It ended up a very “us and them” relationship, which in hindsight, didn’t help in anyones recovery. I still have trust issues now, but this might be due to my all or nothing thinking because I think you should be able to trust someone or not.  If someone breaks my trust, it is not often I can forgive because what if they do it again? My emotions are disastrous when that happens and if I forgive, this leaves me open to being hurt again.  It’s almost selfish, but in the case of ED it’s self-preservation.

This problem also resurfaced when I was discharged from hospital.  I was hospitalised for a year.  At my discharge it was like “We can’t do anything more for you, see you later.  Now go back out into the real world”.  All I’d come to know, was about to change in a very short space of time.  I felt relatively safe in my stable environment and I was being shoved back home, shoved back to school and expected to get on with it. I was abandoned yet again!

I remember everyone in school seeming really childish.  They were all worrying about who was going out with who, what was on at the cinema at the weekend, going clubbing.  I couldn’t identify with any of that. I had just survived something huge for someone so young.  I saw the world through different eyes. Why were they worrying about these little things that seemed so insignificant to me?  Because I couldn’t identify with their interests, I found it difficult to re integrate with my friends.  I think this is what makes me socially awkward now, the fear that I am still too different.

Looking at my life in this way, I can sort of see why I am the way I am.  It still leaves me with more questions like what would I be like if I wasn’t admitted? Would I still be alive, even? Did something really happen when I was a kid to make me this way? Is it genetic? If it wasn’t genetic, would I have been able to cope with situations better? Will I ever be better?

I often get told to leave the past behind me because it’s in the past and you can’t change it.  But it is equally true that this piece of detective work could be the start of understanding and self acceptance.

I hope this can help other people start to unravel why they are the way they are and if I can forgive and accept myself, others can too.

Via habitformingsuccess.com

Love Sailor xox

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16 thoughts on “I Am Not OK, But That Is OK

  1. Le Sailor,
    In my book, you’re more than OK. You’re incredible. And such a pleasure (and insightful) to read.Thank you for being transparent and honest.
    Le Clown

  2. Sailor sailor sailor. I have so much respect for you. I can only imagine what it was like at such a young age to be hospitalised when it was difficult enough for me at the age of 25.

    You have a tough story girl and I just hope and pray for you that you will recover and feel better each day and leave that horrible past behinds you.

    Wishing you the best xx

    • I can totally empathise with you on leaving hospital for the rehab program. When you’ve been inside so long, it is so difficult when there is no gradual re-introduction to anything. I think people like us don’t cope with change in routine anyway, and a change like this is blinding!
      Because it is my life, I never really took a step back, looked and thought of the consequences of everything. I think I’m allowed to be different. I am part of a minority of people who have been through difficulties like this!
      Wishing you well too. I know you’ll get through this in the end.

  3. lol, seashell . . . I love it!

    I spend a lot of time wondering why I am the way I am, too. Sometimes I’m afraid that the past, the whole big break, will repeat itself. But what I most contemplate is my childhood. I try to keep those thoughts out of my mind . . . I’ve noticed that when my mind returns to a certain painful part, I start to feel almost as if I’m living it over again. This mostly involves all the yelling and strife that occurred until my parents divorced.

    But I’ve realized that it’s not worth dwelling on the past, not chiefly, anyway. I have to figure out how I can use the resources I have now to get better, to find some semblance of confidence and so on in the here and now.

    My emotions are all over the place, too . . . not as drastic as it sounds like yours are. Sometimes I’m just annoyed, but at other times I’m really aggravated. Like today I was going to get some popcorn chicken at the store deli, and some lady in front of me took all of the popcorn chicken left. I was really sad that I didn’t get popcorn chicken for lunch. It probably didn’t help that I’d eaten nothing all day so far, lol.

    I’ve been told that my emotions are more intense than others’, too. What’s weird is that I express my emotions less than most, so most people would think I’m rather emotionless. I think it might be because I’m afraid that people will ridicule how inappropriately intense my emotions are. At least, that’s what seemed to happen to me while growing up. I was always told, “you’re too sensitive.” Like I was just supposed to get over it. Gee, I wish I could, but I can’t. So my best alternative is to try to live with it.

    Also, here’s a happy birthday from me! 🙂

    • That kind of sounds like PTSD if something triggers you and you live it over and over again. I’m trying to be OK with this happening. I think where I have fought it in the past it has made the situation worse, but at the same time I don’t want to re live it because it is traumatic! But making sense of things has certainly helped. I’m allowed to feel bad about the things that have happened because they were bad. BUT they aren’t happening now.
      See that would be the kind of thing I’d get really upset about too! (except that I don’t eat chicken). I almost feel like it is done to me on perpose, but I know that can’t be possible really.
      I really understand the emotions thing too. While I feel everything is turned up on the inside, on the outside I am as cool as a cucumber. That’s probably why I was able to hide it for so long. So I guess now when I tell people how I feel, they are less inclined to believe me. But, whatever. This is how I feel, I’m allowed to feel this way.

  4. I think you are more okay than you think. This is a fabulous post full of wisdom and insight, and I really don’t think ‘normal’ people tend to have that level of wisdom or insight about anything least of all themselves.

    This is the first time I’ve read you’re story – it’s not dissimilar to mine in many ways. I feel for you, I honestly get it and, once again, hats off to you for your courage.

    Take care, WeeGee xx

    • No I guess they don’t. I guess that is an advantage of what I’ve been through, I do know myself pretty well and I can make connections between actions and behaviour and emotions that others can’t.
      Thank you Wee Gee xox

  5. Thanks for sharing this part of your journey with us Sailor.
    I can relate to a lot of what you say, although I was a little older when I was institutionalized.
    It all makes perfect sense to me, the way you have analyzed your experiences, and I really feel for you, all that upheaval when you were so young, so lost.
    It’s important, isn’t it, to recognise the basis for our behaviours? It gives us firm footing for growth, and also allows us to grieve what may have been.
    You’re very brave, very strong, to write so publicly of this time. Thankyou again.
    And it’s already Saturday here where I live, so
    May your day be wondrous and the coming year bright!
    Elyn ♡♥♡

    • I’m glad it made sense to someone! Being institutionalised is quite a rare thing I suppose, especially when I was that age. I never wanted to use it as an excuse, but really, why can’t I? It was traumatic and not many people can relate to that. I think it serves as a pretty good explaination as to why I am who I am.
      I did have a lovely birthday! I’m going to write about it soon, but I really ought to get up and dressed!!

      • No, it’s not an excuse, unfortunately it’s a fact.
        Being institutionalised is so insidious, I do relate to you saying it’s traumatic – I was in my twenties and I still have nightmares about this time. It must have been so much worse as a young teenager.
        So glad you had a good Birthday – you deserve this!

        • That is true, and I shouldn’t feel bad about that fact.
          I have nightmares about it too, but I also have some fond memories of the other in patients. I often wonder where they are and what they are doing now. I think it would just be too traumatic to look them up again.

          • Hmm . . . I made good friends too, and lost a few also, they weren’t able to hold on. I have seen one or two from a distance, but it would be too hard for me to talk to them. It’s an area that is still a little difficult for me to confront. Baby steps, I’m talking about it here with you though, it’s a start! Thankyou. xx

            • Yeah that is a start.
              I used to know two people on Facebook who were there, and they were doing pretty well. I don’t know about anyone else though. I almost don’t want to know and remember them as they were, just in case they couldn’t hold on. Of course they could be better too, but then I look at my situation……. I always hoped I would run into someone blogging who was in the same place, but it never happened so far! Or not that I know of anyway!
              At least I have found many other friends here who have been through their experiences that are similar but in disimilar ways. It helps me learn more about myself, looking at other peoples lives xox

  6. It is totally understandable after being in the hospital for 1 year how the world would seem foreign to you. The longest at one time I was ever hospitalized for my depression was 3 weeks and that was after ECT. I had a weekend pass before being discharged and I was actually frightened. to be in this noisy uncontrolled atmosphere..I couldn’t wait to get back to the hospital…I remember this so well because it upset my husband that I wouldn’t wait and have supper first before going back…the children were expecting me to stay. That was when he didn’t have any real understanding of what it was like for me. So you can put the past somewhat there…but the residuals I believe remain with you… in who you are. BTW I like ‘who you are’….Diane

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