Will Therapy Ever End?

Our current therapist made a comment recently that made my heart sink. They said they thought we’re likely to need, at least, some supportive counselling for the rest of our lives.

The body is in it’s early thirties. If we make it to even eighty, that’s another fifty or so years of therapy. Maybe not weekly like now, but perhaps monthly.

Our current therapist will also be retiring in the near future. We’re trying not to worry too much about that, and trying to focus on getting as much DID focussed work done as possible in the time we have left.

That’s one of the hardest parts about having DID. Finding a therapist who has enough knowledge and experience to actually be helpful to us. In the last eight years we’ve just been lucky to come across therapists who are excellent at working with trauma and dissociation.

We’ve recently spent several weeks in hospital. None of us regret the admission. We got a lot of work done, and nearly all of us were able to talk to our therapist. No easy feat when there’s eighteen of us!

Our therapist is confident that we’ll have the majority of our trauma and DID based work done before they retire. I’m not sure how realistic that is. As much as ongoing therapy (for the rest of my life) makes my heart sink, I also can’t imagine our life without regular therapy or hospital admissions.

Does therapy ever end when you’ve experienced chronic childhood trauma?

Ignorance Is Not Bliss

Avoidance. Pushing internal stress away. Dissociating. Zoning out. Eating disorder behaviours. Self medicating.

That’s all avoidance. I’m the Queen of Avoidance. Ultimately I know that avoiding stressors instead of dealing with them isn’t helpful, but it’s still a trap I tend to fall in to. Avoidance is what lead to my hospital admission just recently.

It all began back in February. I went for some routine tests and received some very unexpected and worrying results. I was told to attend a specialist hospital emergency department as soon as possible for more tests and/or treatment. Although I was calm on the outside, I was an anxious, nervous, scared mess inside.

I had all the tests done, saw the relevant specialists, and was sent home with an outpatient appointment for follow up and hopefully a diagnosis. Then, due to sleep deprivation from the stress and anxiety of this first health issue, I experienced an episode of another severe health issue. This landed me in the local hospital emergency department for the evening until, after tests came back clear, I was allowed to go home.

All of that happened over a one week period. The stress of having to deal with serious physical health issues made me push my mental health to the back burner. I just needed to go to appointments, have tests done, get answers etc.

Bad move. It turns out that, for me, pushing mental health to the back burner sets me on a slippery slope to chaos and despair. From February to June my symptoms slowly increased. The most noticeable was the avoidance of everything inside – alters/parts were silenced, and I gradually lost all connection with everything happening inside.

At some point that avoidance started bubbling away like a volcano getting ready to explode. Others memories and emotions began leaking through. The flashbacks started and became gradually worse. Eventually I was becoming anxious at 5pm because bedtime was in four to five hours, and bedtime meant flashbacks. I tried to avoid sleeping, but that didn’t work. I switched to increasing one of my medications so that I could manage the bedtime anxiety better, and fall asleep more easily.

That’s where I was at when I went in to hospital. An anxious, stressed, emotionally worn out, nearly falling in a heap mess.

‘Oh, just PTSD stuff.’

‘Oh, just PTSD stuff.’ That’s how I brushed off the need for my recent psychiatric hospital admission to a work colleague.

I’m disappointed that I felt the need to minimise how much I was struggling, but there’s also only so much that’s appropriate to explain in the workplace. I gave my manager even less information. I just said that I needed to go into hospital and would need two to four weeks off work. No questions were asked, and for that I’m grateful.

How was I to explain that I have a generally unknown mental health condition, and that I was struggling to cope with an increase in symptoms? At work it’s not appropriate, and not necessary. I was more honest with one colleague because I’ve known them a long time.

The real reason for my most recent hospital admission? DID chaos. I was having more flashbacks, anxiety was increasing, and I was doing everything I could to isolate myself from everyone inside and their feelings and memories. I also had trauma anniversaries rapidly approaching, and a lot of anxiety about those. All of that anxiety and stress meant falling asleep at night was becoming increasingly difficult.

I’d made an appointment with my psychiatrist, at the urging of my then psychologist (she’s since retired), to discuss a hospital admission. I didn’t think things were too bad. I was still functioning, even if I was struggling a lot. Throw in a severe dissociative episode in the days before seeing my psychiatrist and I stopped fighting. I willingly agreed to the hospital admission.

 

Returning

We’ve been quiet again for a little while. Internal chaos was building, flashbacks increasing, and my ability to cope was fading.

I spent a few weeks in hospital doing some of the most intense therapy I’ve ever done. Really, truly addressing the trauma we’ve experienced. There were tears, plenty of zoning out, but ultimately triumph.

Trigger words are no longer so triggering. They’re sensitive and painful, but no longer triggering. I can use these words to describe the trauma we experienced instead of doing everything I can to avoid it.

We managed to do a lot of work with different parts. There’s still plenty of work left to do with different parts, but we did a lot.

Now we’re home we’re taking time to adjust to life at home. It will take time to get used to having our freedom. Once we’ve settled back in to day-to-day life I’ll try to write more regularly.

Mini Flashbacks

I think of a flashback as a scene of past trauma replaying in my head along with all the emotions from that time, and sometimes physical sensations, smells, tastes, and sounds. I usually say that I don’t really experience flashbacks because they’re never a full scene.

Wikipedia define a flashback as ‘a psychological phenomenon in which an individual has a sudden, usually powerful, re-experiencing of a past experience or elements of a past experience.’ It goes on to explain that it can be of any experience, happy or sad, although we tend to think of flashbacks of being negative and of a traumatic origin.

Last night I struggled to fall asleep. I’d taken my medication, and followed my usual sleep routine. Once the light was off the fear and panic kept increasing. I turned the light back on and played a game on my phone to distract myself before trying to sleep again.

Then it started. The terror. The panic. Not knowing where I was. Not being able to see anything. The urge to curl up under the covers to stay hidden. No full scenes of abuse or traumatic experience were being replayed in my head, just one tiny moment of fear and terror as a child. I turned our night light on which helped. I could open my eyes, see where we were, remind us that we’re safe, and try to sleep again.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Sometimes we’ll be triggered by small things – a word, a smell, the sight of specific jewellery that a relative wore, nearly anything. Sometimes it’s someone touching us,  which could just be a work colleague tapping our shoulder to get our attention. So many different triggers.

Being an adult, and being scared of the dark is embarrassing. Explaining that you need to keep your bedroom door open, or a light on in order to sleep is embarrassing. I’m hoping everything will settle, and falling asleep tonight will go more smoothly.