“…But I Grew Strong, and I Learned How to Get Along.” ~ Gloria Gaynor

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So, something happened last night and when it did, I was quite gobsmacked.  A friend and I were chatting about relationships, and she said, “You know the saying… no one wants a woman who has ever been abused.”

What?  I guess when she said that, 2 things quickly ran through my mind:  first, that a relationship with me is probably not advisable, and second, I am ‘dirty’ or ‘shameful’ for having been in abusive situations.

I guess I can understand the idea of a relationship not being the easiest thing with someone who has been abused…whether man or woman.  There is a lot of baggage we carry and although time can soften those memories or even push them down so far you aren’t really conscious of them, I know how easy it is for those to affect others.  My friend and I have been discussing trust lately and both of us have struggled with situations that have broken it, and let me tell you peeps, nothing breaks trust more than abuse.  Once that happens, and although you tell yourself again and again the next relationship is a new playing field, it’s easy to be wary of how the game is going to be played.

Take cheating.  Please.  Before J cheated on me the first time, I would ask him if he was talking to his ex.  He would look me in the eye, tell me a firm no, and also made me feel that questioning him was wrong because I had nothing to worry about.  And?  Those words meant nothing, because all along he was planning for the moment.  After, when we got back together, he said the same.  He had learned his lesson…saw how much it hurt me…and vowed, eye to eye and holding hands, it would never happen again.  The next day, it did.  Of course, through this all he was emotionally and verbally abusive to me.  In retrospect, which truly is so much clearer than when you are in the midst of something, I could see the purpose in that:  the worse I felt about myself, the more likely he could proverbially have his cake and eat it too.

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How do you get past that?  How do you allow yourself, in a new relationship, to believe the person when they say the same?  Once you’ve been burned, how do you not assume that all stoves are hot?  It’s almost reflexive…an ‘instinctual’ reaction that has been created to protect you from this happening again.  It’s not that you are ‘blaming’ the new guy/gal for something they haven’t done.  It’s not that you don’t want to believe what they are reassuring you of.  It’s not that they have hurt you.  But unfortunately, our past experiences dictate so many of our future ones, and when something has made such a lasting impact on you, it’s hard to brush it aside.

Now, the idea you should never be with someone who’s been abused?  Hmmmm…gonna narrow your playing field, that’s for sure:  1:3 girls and 1:5 boys will be sexually abused by 18 (scary as fuck, isn’t it?), and about 3 million cases of child abuse are reported each year…and these are only the ones recognized and turned in for help.  So there are an awful lot of victims out there walking around as adults.

What upset me the most about the comment of never being an a relationship with someone who was abused made me feel disgraced.  Embarrassed.  As if I was at fault for what happened.  As if I could have stopped it anytime.

With J, it seems I should have been easily able too.  But like anyone who has been abused by a partner, once you have been manipulated, broken down emotionally, made to feel less than in every situation, it’s tougher than it sounds.  You see, I liken an abusers tactics to fishing (something I actually love to do):  the victim needs to be hooked and then played with so they don’t fight what’s happening.  That’s what abusers do.  They bait their hook based on what they see in you (vulnerability, sadness, loneliness) and use that to catch you and reel you in, all the while making you think you are in a better place.  But it’s not, because it’s a net where everything you wanted was just an illusion.  Then, abusers break down their victim.  It’s not as dramatic as cutting off your head and scaling you, but it’s damaging none the less.  Once you’ve been broken down to the very bottom of who you are, it’s very very tough to pull yourself up…or even believe you should try.  This is so hard for people who haven’t experienced abusive partner relationships to understand.

And then with the psychologist.  I was a teenager when he started sexually abusing me.  I had come to depend on him to where I trusted him with my life.  The power dynamic between a psychologist and client is very one sided, with the professional having all of the influence and advantage.  People seek out help because they are dealing with something that is insurmountable to face alone, and the person they seek help from becomes something of a guru.  A savior.  And once that’s been established, especially in a 15 year old and for 2 years, being able to see it any other way is almost impossible to do.  Then, to be told you owe them…that’s it’s going to be healing for both of you…that it puts you on a higher level than his other patients, is something I needed to hear at that point in my life.  It made me feel like I must be special, and that I must have some power over him too.  I mistakenly believed I was so much better than I had thought for him to see me in a sexual way.  That was a heady thing to someone who desperately needed that validation.

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Britain’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children

But it leaves a mark.  A scar.  Like a smudge across your face that everyone can see.  You perceive yourself as being different, because you are.  You’ve been through something that was dirty.  Wrong.  Degrading.  Humiliating.  Hurtful.  The feeling of powerlessness that goes along with such abuse stays with you, whether it’s been 5 or 35 years.  And since having a mental illness feels the same way in terms of feeling different (for lack of a better word), it’s a double whammy.  Having bipolar makes me more sensitive, emotional, more likely to ruminate, etc. so processing the abuse, and then putting it in a compartment to try to ensure it’s effects on new situations are minimal, is tough to do.

When ma was going through her divorce with R who had abused her, she would say how she never addressed it because of the shame it wrought inside of her.  I told her, time and time again, that the shame was on R, not her.  She was the victim.  Not the perpetrator.  I wish I could listen to my own words.

Those of us who have been abused already feel guilt, a sense of betrayal by those who have hurt us, feelings of stigmatization, and damage to our perceptions of our self-worth.   We don’t want to be seen different or damaged.  We want to be seen as survivors who have come through abusive situations with strength.  With lessons to share.  With an experience that allows for empathy.  With more compassion for all who have faced such dark periods in their lives.  Maybe others will never ultimately see it the way I do, but I think it’s admirable.

Kristi xoxo

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Shame on you.

So, I was surfing around on my iPad last night, and came across a couple of blurbs about celebrities who have been age shamed lately.  Eva Mendes posted a pic and someone said she was getting older (OK…how should she stop time?), and another was of Gwen Stefani who wore a leotard, hoodie and boots with sequins while giving a concert.  People said she should ‘act her age’ and ‘quit performing since she’s so old’ (she’s 50!).  Lara Spencer on Good Morning America was age-shamed because she posed in a dress with ‘old looking knees’, and Madonna was shamed regarding her old looking hands, and actually had multiple, invasive, painful treatments on them to make them look younger.  And we all know about fat shaming:  take a look at the tabloids this summer and we’ll see pics of celebrities who have the “Worst Beach Bodies” because of weight.

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Shame.  That’s an interesting word; one we need to understand since it’s being done so much to others on social media.  Do you know what it means?  To shame someone is to try to make them feel they are disgraceful or should be humiliated by what they ‘are’.  It means you should feel bad for whatever someone deems to be an issue.  Look at those words:  disgraceful, humiliated, guilty.  Damn.

Of course we should feel shame when we do something wrong.  Self-shame in that regard is healthy since it makes us realize how wrong we were and then hopefully makes sure we don’t do whatever it was again.  I once read a parenting book that said “You should never allow your child to feel shame.”  What the fuck??  Of course I wanted O to feel shame when he did something wrong.  How else could he learn to internalize his own consequences for behavior?  And I don’t know about you, but I’ve done a lot of things in my life I am ashamed of, and rightfully so.

However, we aren’t looking at personal, internal shame.  We’re looking at what’s put upon us by others who want us to feel shame simply for ‘being.’  Age shaming?  OK…guess you’re not going to get older (let me know how that goes).  Fat shaming?  All righty…stop eating those desserts before you gain a few.

Hmmmmm.

But, what really hits home for me is mental illness shaming.  And yep, it happens.  The mentally ill are shamed for having a disorder or condition.  Period.  We are supposed to feel humiliated, disgraced, less than.  Our illnesses are shameful while other medical conditions such as arthritis, COPD, asthma, etc. are accepted as a struggle the person has to bear.  “Of course, take the medications that help treat the symptoms.”  “Of course you can’t join us for dinner since you aren’t feeling well.”  “Of course, take your time…I know you are struggling today.”

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Gemma Correll

What?  Of course physical medical conditions should be treated with such care and support!  But, shouldn’t that hold true for MENTAL ILLNESSES we well?  Sadly, those of us who live with mental illness hear things like this instead:

  • “Do you really need all of those meds?  Don’t they just screw up your brain even more?  I wouldn’t take something that messes with MY brain!”
  • “C’mon.  You’ve been depressed long enough.  Get out there and so something!”
  • “You can’t make it?  Why are waiting until now to tell me?  What the hell?”
  • “Therapy?  How does talking to someone help?  No one’s probing my mind.”  (Thank fuck for that.)

And of course, the list goes on.

Why is it that so many people look at mental illness as something WE are at fault for?  That we must have ASKED for?  That we should be able to control on our own?  Maybe they think we are ‘sick in the head’ because we’re being punished for something.  Why can’t people understand that our illness are often biological too?

In a study done by Ole A. Andreassen at the University of Oslo, people with bipolar have thinning gray matter, particularly in the parts of the brain that control inhibition and motivation (the frontal and temporal lobes).  Psycheducation.org states that “Evidence is growing quite strong that a region of the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex is underactive in people with bipolar disorder even when they are having no symptoms at all.”

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health-innovations.org

 

The Stanford University School of Medicine has determined that scrambled connections between the part of the brain that processes fear and emotion and other brain regions could be the biological reason for types of anxiety disorders and even depression.

MRI’s show structural abnormalities in the brains of those with major depressive disorder or social anxiety disorder according to a study by Youjin Zhao from Sichuan University in China.

In terms of eating disorders, findings are showing that the hypothalamus may not be functioning correctly in triggering the response of being full in the person.  Further, researchers are also determining that certain neurotransmitters in the brain are tied to eating disorders as well.

So…we are finding more and more biological causes of mental illnesses.  Mood disorders, anxiety disorders, eating disorders and even some personality disorders.  Borderline, for example, is now considered an inheritable brain disease with specific brain abnormalities.  Wow.

SSSSSOOOOO, here’s my question.  Why in the HELL are we shamed for having a biological brain disorder???  Answer that for me, peeps.  Mental illnesses are not made up for attention or an excuse or crutch people use when they can’t cope.  They are BRAIN disorders.  Period.  And we should feel guilty for having one (or in my case, 2)?  We should feel disgraced that our brains differ from others?  We should be humiliated to carry a diagnosis showing that we have brain abnormality?

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NO, grasshoppers, we shouldn’t.  Why in the fuck should I apologize or feel shameful for having bipolar?  Why should I have to worry about ‘coming out’ and disclosing this to everyone?  (Kristi…are you sure you should talk about all of this?  What about your job?)  First, it’s a fucking career I went to school for 8+ years to get (so let’s get that straight right now!).  Second, why should I HAVE to worry about having an illness?  A disorder?  OH YEAH.  Because it’s in my brain.  Even though I earned a freaking M.S. in 18 months, while taking care of a toddler, and teaching to pay for it, people should still worry that I just might screw things up at school.  Well, I haven’t yet for 23 years…so…

Here it is:  I’m so tired of people shaming other people for things that they can’t help or control.  I’m going to get old (OK, I’m already there).  I’m going to gain weight as I age (less estrogen, less metabolism, more tummy).  And I’m going to have this bastardly bipolar until the day I die.  Except now there are studies showing how dementia is more likely to happen among us who have bipolar, so that’s something else to look forward too as well.  Goody.

We who have mental illnesses shouldn’t HAVE to be afraid to talk about it…ask for support…get compassion.  I understand when my neighbor with arthritis can’t carry in her own groceries, so I do it for her.  Why can’t others understand that when I’m depressed, I simply can’t answer my phone at times?  Can’t go out to the mall?  Can’t make plans for the week?  When are us ‘crazy, psychotic sickos’ going to get the same treatment as those with physical disorders?

I don’t have the answer for that, grasshoppers.  But you know, I’m just hopin’ and prayin’ it happens soon.

Kristi xoxo

 

 

The Importance of being Honest.

So, I’m cycling through a pretty bad depression right now.  It started in the Fall, and it’s been hanging on a long while.  Hopefully, I’ll start to be back up again soon, but with bipolar, you can never tell.  And depression is a hard fight, because so much of it is out of our control.

Depression (and mania) aren’t ‘moods’…they are states.  And there’s a big difference there, one I wish was recognized more because calling ‘depression’ a MOOD disorder isn’t technically correct.

Moods are temporary feelings of whatever emotion is there:  happiness, sadness, grieving, gloomy, cheerful, energetic, and the list goes on.  And we all experience a huge range of moods!  We have happy days and sad days, but those days don’t last.  The SITUATION underlying the emotion (which causes the feelings that are ‘saturated’) doesn’t last, because for the most part, that’s what they are based on.  Getting a raise makes me feel happy.  Getting rejected makes me feel sad.  But, these moods pass as others take their place.  That’s why people will say to those who are sad:  “Cheer up…this will pass.”  And they are right!  It will pass.  Although I think saying “Cheer up” nullifies the person’s emotional mood and makes it appear to be insignificant, I get what they are saying.

But states are different creatures.  They aren’t place dependent.  People dependent.  Money dependent.  They are simply there.  And they are more than just the feeling that’s being projected.  For example, people who might be sad for a while may not experience anything else but that sadness.  Whereas people who are depressed also have trouble sleeping, have changes in eating, are restlessness or lethargic, have slowed thinking and memory issues, experience trouble making decisions, entertain thoughts of self-harm or suicide, and the list goes on.

The causes of depression are different too.  A major life event can trigger depression in someone, but there are underlying issues at work as well that go along with that stressor:  According to Harvard Medical “Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood.  Researchers believe that, more important then levels of specific brain chemicals, nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression”.

So once again, like we see with so many mental illnesses, depression is in the brain.  Not in the situation.  That’s why for depression, meds are needed to regulate this brain chemistry and function, as well as counseling in order to learn better ways to cope with what is happening.

Last night, I was feeling extra down, and put on Facebook that I was really struggling with depression.  So many people reached out to me, and just knowing there is so much support and care out there really helps.  It doesn’t make me ‘less depressed’, but it does make me feel important and loved.  Anyone can use that anytime!

A couple years ago, I never would have posted anything like that because I was still trying to pretend my way through life, and hide the pain I often experience with bipolar.  But like I’ve said before, how can I expect to work against mental health stigma if I’m not genuine myself?  How hypocritical that would be!  When I was in Florida, I posted about how people on the beach were looking at the scars on my legs from when I cut myself.  Once again, if I can’t put issues out there that are related to mental illness, what am I preaching ‘lessen the stigma’ for?

I bought this artwork, created by the Chariho Youth Task Force for their Mental Health Awareness Campaign.  Digital copies of this art can be purchased here for $5 and all proceeds go to mental health programs and information.

BUT, maybe there are people who think it’s OK to talk about depression.  That’s not ‘ugly’.  However, how can you even mention that you’ve cut?  That’s bloody and gross and scary.  Here’s the thing though, cutting does go along with my illness.  It just does.  I hate that I’ve done it.  I hate my scars.  I hate how people look at me when I’m at a pool or my shorts ride up a bit.  Even more though, I hate having an illness that has made my brain so confused at times, that cutting is the only outlet given for any type of psychological relief.  I know how hard that is to understand.  I don’t understand it.  But I know it’s a demon to fight when it rears it’s ugly head, and that at times, I’ve lost the battle.

This reminds me of my Human Sexuality class and what we were discussing the other day.  I was lecturing about development from pregnancy through birth, and when I got the part about what pregnant women often suffer, everyone was OK until I said the word “hemorrhoid!”  EVERYTHING  else was met with nods…but this??  Shouts of UGH and looks of horror!  WHY?  Because hemorrhoids are ‘icky’…nothing we really want to think about!

There are a lot of things about mental illness that are ‘icky’ too.  But we need to hear it all.  The way it really is.  That’s the only thing that will help people speak up and out about mental illness, and then get the support and help they need.

The mentally ill should not be living in a society where there is shame in having a disease/disorder/illness that’s out of their control.  We have the control to get help for it (if it’s available and affordable…2 BIG ifs), and learn better ways of coping with it.  But it’s always there.  Always.  Just like diabetics can be medicated appropriately and watch their diet.  Even if the diabetes is controlled though, it’s still there.  It’s a lifelong disease.  It’s not going to disappear.

The mentally ill don’t have diseases that will just disappear either.  And, the mentally ill won’t disappear, no matter how much we try to NOT talk about the issues that aren’t easy to face.  Don’t we all have the right for care, support, and understanding, regardless of where our disease or illness originates?  Don’t we all have the right to talk about our illnesses?  Our struggles?  Without stigma or shame? I believe we do.  And I’m going to keep doing it until everyone can do the same.

Kristi xoxo