mental illness

Childhood Trauma and Mental Health: Guest Post From a Survivor

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Herding Chickens Guest Post:

One of my readers has agreed to share her experience on Herding Chickens. She has been following the blog for awhile. C always has great insight about my children, particularly Mary. This is because C is a survivor of trauma herself. She also lives with a mental health diagnosis she agreed to share with my readers.Enjoy! I think parents like me have a lot to learn from C. This will be written in an interview format. You may leave questions for C in the comments section.

HC:  Thank you for agreeing to do this. I am hoping you can shine some light on mental health and childhood trauma. Can you share your story with us?

C: First, I’ll give some background. I just turned 30 and I am in a master’s program for clinical counseling. I am a trauma survivor. My earliest memories involve trauma. This trauma involves my parents and maternal grandmother. I was never removed from my home. I did not start receiving treatment until I was 12 years old and it was from a guidance counselor.

I had my first psychotic episode around that time as well and began self-harm. I went impatient around that time. I wasn’t given a correct diagnosis at that time. I was too old for RAD, too young for borderline, and too young for bipolar. So they threw oppositional defiant disorder at me.

My parents were very good at acting perfect while demonizing me. They would call me a “bad little girl.”  I was medicated for depression and later Bipolar Disorder. I was discharged with lots of conditions such as limited contact with my father, family therapy as well as psych evals on my parents. I was supposed to attend a day program, and continued individual therapy. I went to the day program and continued therapy.

That therapist saved my life. He saw through the denials of abuse and sent me to a residential treatment facility. I went when I was 14 almost 15 and spent about a year there. By week two I refused meds and quickly became manic. I stayed that way for months. I did make friends while I was there. There were a few adults I came to trust. I  believed that they would protect me and they did. I got my Borderline Personality Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder diagnosis while I was there.

My parents were supposed to go to couples counseling, psychoeducation and parenting classes. They went to the parenting classes my mom went to therapy on her own. They were supposed to decide if they were going to be together to separate. They did not. I was discharged with no aftercare plan. For about 5 years I swung between mania, psychosis and depression. I also developed Agoraphobia. I didn’t go back to therapy until age 19.  I did a lot of talk therapy at first. Eventually I did prolonged exposure and Dialectal Behavior Therapy (DBT), which I think desperately needs to be adapted for children. I wrote a paper and did adapt it somewhat. Then I went back to talk therapy and I still go weekly.

My personal life is depressing. I don’t have many relationships. My fear of abandonment is crippling my need for attention drives people away. Imagine an adult friend having those clingy behaviors Mary is having.  My family can shun me at times. I struggle with attaching to people inappropriately and letting go. I am still intertwined with my parents and am “retraumatized” often. I have no choice right now because I need to keep my medicaid while I’m going to school fulltime. I find strength in my trauma. I am currently in a fight with my previous university for discriminating and stigmatizing me. Since age 15 I have attempted suicide 4 times. It has been 6 years since I injured myself. Self-injury, like cutting, is very much like an addiction. When I was younger I was manic more than depressed, but that pattern has reversed in recent years.

I have always known I am not my diagnoses. I have Bipolar but I am not Bipolar. It’s something I manage. It has both enhanced my life and damaged it. It takes time to develop a very strong understanding of the diagnosis.  Making sure you have the correct diagnosis is so important. Learning how the diagnosis affects my life and not how I affect the diagnosis was important. Also there are many therapists who treat the diagnosis and not the person. That is detrimental. No matter how close a person’s symptoms match a disorder in the DSM, there are always many nuances, differences and uniqueness to each person.

HC: You sound like an incredibly strong person. When did you start reading “Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care” What drew you to this blog?

I started reading this blog about 8 months ago. I think another blog I follow had a link to it on her twitter. I kept reading for three reasons (in no particular order): 1) I am still trying to make sense of my life. I thought if I could read about kids who have experienced trauma and what they are like, I might find a group where I fit in. Also, sometimes I still like I caused so many problems for others with my behavior. If it’s from the trauma I can absolve myself of that. 2) Fostering/adoption is something I am considering. 3) The blog is compelling. It took me a very long time to get help. I want to see the turnout for children who get the therapy, meds, and proper parenting.

HC: Thank you! Can you tell our readers a little bit about your diagnosis? How did this affect your childhood? How does it affect you now?

Currently, I am diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder type 1, Borderline Personality disorder, and PTSD. By the time I saw a professional I was in sixth grade and the professional was a guidance counselor. He recognized something was not right with me. I was too old for a RAD diagnosis but still too young for a diagnosis of Bipolar, Borderline Personality Disorder, or PTSD. At that time (1999) Bipolar was not diagnosed in children. Although, all the mental health professionals I’ve seen in my adult life agree that the bipolar came out in 4th grade. I have very few complete memories before age 15. I will get random snippets of things, but there are very few things I can recall at will.

That being said, I know I was well liked by teachers and peers. I just never knew what to do with that. I knew how to be a friend, but not how to have friends. I got into fights a lot, usually when something was happening that I had couldn’t tolerate and had to stop. This could be teasing or one instance a friend was just playing around. She shoved me a couple of times, even after I told her to stop. I nearly broke her jaw. Physical contact has always been a trigger for me. I had many fears. I was paranoid a lot. I was manic a lot. I was very lonely.

As an adult, fear of abandonment and the need for someone to love me rules all. I attach to people instantaneously. It’s like I am a child and I have wrapped myself around mommy’s ankles immediately. I never would have done this with my mother. I don’t know how I choose these people. It just happens. Then I will do almost anything to keep these people in my life. At any sign that they are going to leave, whether it is real or imagined, I become distressed. It’s like experiencing all 7 stages of grief at the same time. It’s like a hole is burned into my soul that can never be filled except by that person. I haven’t had many relationships romantic or otherwise. I feel pathetic. My chronological age and emotional age are so out of sync, that I can’t make it work. Emotionally I am about 18. Chronologically I am 30! Of all my diagnosis the Borderline Personality Disorder is the worst.

HC: I know that you experienced some childhood trauma, which causes you to feel unsafe in relationships. Many foster/adoptive parents want to know one thing. How can we help? What would have helped you in childhood to know you were loved? Is there anything that helps you now?

These are great questions. I will answer them in reverse. What helps me now is simply knowing that someone is thinking of me. My cousin is great for this. He will text or call me because he saw something that reminded him of me. It could be something we did together, or he could just invite me to dinner. Can you believe it’s that freakin’ simple? Yet so very few people do it. Sorry, but it isn’t about you making sure they feel loved. They have to be able to feel loved. I’ve lived so much of my live believing I’m “unlovable.”

I don’t think that belief was shattered until I was 18 and my nephew was born. A big part of feeling love is being chosen. When my nephew was a baby he chose me over other people. The belief that I was “unlovable” started to peal away. I think that in childhood, having friends would have helped in a major way. If you can get your kids to socialize, and make a friend or two, it would be great. I know getting to that point is difficult because their chronological age and emotional age don’t match up. I did read a study that said kids with anxiety often build confidence and social skills, if they are placed in a group that is a year or two younger. That may be helpful here as well. Creative outlets are also important. I know Mary and Carl are musically inclined. So maybe lessons of some type would be beneficial. This can apply to sports as well. Having that talent and knowing there is something great about them is helpful.  Giving them control over when and where to share that talent can balance the inferiority/badness/out-of-control they feel.

HC: That is really helpful advice. Thank you. Have you ever had violent outbursts during a manic episode, or periods of dissociation? What signs or triggers should parents look for? Since we can’t read our children’s minds, what does it feel like to be out of control?

Comments on Bipolar Disorder: Anything can happen during a manic episode. The longer the episode goes on the greater risk for losing control, becoming psychotic, and dissociating. Be aware that mania in children and adults look very different. I was often violent during mania, complete with crazy strength. I once picked up a wooden coffee table with 4 panes of glass measuring about 24×24 inches, and threw it across the room at my brother. He was calling me names and teasing me. I had no other resources to make him stop, because of the mania. I also flipped over a sofa with my dad sleeping on it. I would bang my head on things punch things. This evolved into cutting and burning. The self-injury was almost always an effort to escape the dissociation. It was so scary.

Comments on Trauma: Dissociation is so much more that not being in control. It’s not knowing which way is up. Not knowing what’s real and what is a dream. Who is talking to you and what’s just the hallucinations. Keep in mind that as a child I was not in treatment and my trauma wasn’t over. I ended up in a residential program at age 14-15. My experience was unique. Most kids don’t talk about positive experiences in residential treatment facilities. However, I had one counselor who took care of me a lot she said she always knew I was dissociating/entering psychosis by the way I would look at her. She said it was as though I was looking through her. She also said it was like I was struggling to listen and nothing was getting in. Also I tried any attempt to control things. I had OCD-type behaviors. I wanted to organize having and doing things is a just so manner.

HC: Thank you for sharing that with us. It sounds like that caregiver was very attuned to you. What accomplishment in your life are you most proud of?

During undergrad I was in the Social and Behavioral Sciences Club. We were looking for a cause, and I suggested having an out of the darkness walk. Those are walks that the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has to raise awareness about suicide, suicide prevention, and stigma surrounding mental illness. So another student and I made it happen, and we had our first campus walk. Over the three years I was there we raised about $20,000. We also brought people together to talk about this issue. We remember those who have been lost, the survivors, attempt survivors, and those who are struggling. We also had events leading up to the walk.

HC: That’s quite an accomplishment! If you could have changed anything in your childhood, what would it have been and why?

I wish my mother would have taken my side just once. She chose my father over and over again. She participated in the infliction of pain upon her children. Til this day she doesn’t take my side or acknowledge my pain. However, she will for my brother.

HC: That’s terrible. I’m very sorry about your mother. No one should have a childhood like that.  What would you like parents of children with mental health disorders to know?

It can take a long time for anyone living with a mental illness to come to terms with it. They can feel like there is something inherently wrong with them, especially kids. Keep your kids age appropriately educated and let them have a say in their treatment. Listen to them and make them feel like they have some control. They will have to deal with this on their own one day, so prepare them for that. Also, let your kids see that mom and dad or grandma and grandpa, or insert adult role model here______, are also flawed. Adults make mistakes too. Let your child’s disorder be part of them, but let them know everyone has differences and no one is inferior to anyone else. Beware if they are idolizing and glamorizing someone. Talk them about how there are things that they don’t know about the person they idolize. The danger is in creating an idol that they can never live up to.

Aside from the trauma, I think dealing with the Bipolar Disorder is easier because it’s always been there. I know what to look for, when to call the doctor, and all that jazz.

HC: How is your life different because of your condition? In what ways are you flourishing despite your struggles?

I can’t imagine having a career, a family, responsibilities, and then losing everything. My social life suffers most. I don’t have friends, and I don’t drink or party so that doesn’t help. I drank once. I was of age (23). I didn’t get drunk. I had 2 beers and 2 shots of vodka and I got manic. I even checked with my psychiatrist before I went to the party. She said it should be fine, it would only increase the effects of my Klonopin. Never again! I am trying to start a photography business, and I do great in school. I am pursuing a graduate degree in psychology. I hope to do something to help the community mental health system and eventually go into private practice.

HC: Your story is an amazing one. You are such a survivor. One last question: when are you starting your own blog and where can we find it? Lol

Not sure. Let’s see how this goes first lol.

 

**Our guest poster, C, is open to answering reader questions. You can leave them in the comments section.

 

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9 thoughts on “Childhood Trauma and Mental Health: Guest Post From a Survivor

  1. Barb says:

    I don’t have a question but I want to say:
    THANK YOU!
    Thank you for taking the time to share your story. I know it surely wasn’t easy but you gave us a lot of things to consider in helping our kids through their own traumas.
    I think you sound like a very smart young lady who is lovable.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, C, for sharing your remarkable story of determination.

    You say that your mother doesn’t acknowledge your pain. I can understand how that would only add to your trauma. But how would you feel if your parents apologised to you for what they did? That they did those things because they thought they were the right things to do, and now they have realised how hurtful they were and please could you try to forgive them? Would that hurt you more? Or help you heal?

    Liked by 1 person

    • C says:

      That is a great question. I’ve had a lot of insincere apologies in therapy or during an argument. My father has given a sincere apology for certain things and I was only able to accept that apology because he demonstrated that he knows now that it was wrong. He was able to show a little bit of insight, which for him is quite a feat. It has been helpful and frustrating. It was helpful when it first happened, but became a challenge because my trauma lasted for years and he still cannot acknowledge that it was an on going thing and that I had gotten my hopes up only to be let down. It’s really about change. Apologizing today and then repeating the behavior tomorrow is only going to cause me stress. However, If I could get an apology complete with being shown that they are different now, it would be very helpful to my healing process. In a way empty apologies seem to lead to trust issues. It takes a while to be able to believe anything they say. If you are considering an apology for you kid(s) I hope it goes well. I do think redemption is possible, but it is earned.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Great insight, C.

        I agree that an apology must be followed, not only by acknowledgement of the pain caused, but also by a determination to avoid acting that way ever again. We are all imperfect, of course, and it takes time to overcome such tendencies. But if a slip is followed fairly quickly by true remorse, then I think we can go a long way towards forgiveness. But it does take time, together with many positive interactions. Apologising with a subsequent “but . . .” doesn’t work, either.

        As for my children, we made it a family policy to set an example of apologising as they were growing up. And it worked. We had all the usual family squabbles. But they were quickly sorted. Even so, I still discuss with them the things I wish I’d done better. And they seem to appreciate the insights. It also gives me a better perspective on how they are raising their children; which is why I never feel a need to interfere with their parenting.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. C says:

    It does take time to overcome things. A good first step (depending on the situation and age of the child) may be for a person to put forth an intention be better and that mistakes may happen but an effort is being made and then an apology should be made when when it can be followed by action. The more apologies made and broken it’s gonna be all the more difficult to accept the next apology.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. C – thank you so much for sharing. You are an inspiration. Am pleased your Dad apologised, but as you say it’s the actions that count. All the best for the future. Let us know if you do start a blog – I find it so therapeutic being able to put things down, but it has to be right for you. How about even a private blog, just for you, so you can see how far you have come? Good luck with the photography – are you on Instagram – good place to share. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing. Take care and best wishes

    Liked by 1 person

    • C says:

      I appreciate your kind words. I do not have an Instagram but I do have a website and Facebook page for my photography. It’s good to share. Finding a way to appropriately share in a way which is comfortable helps to integrate the trauma and reduce the fight/flight response to stimuli.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Childhood Trauma and Mental Health: Guest Post From a Survivor — Herding Chickens and Other Adventures in Foster and Adoptive Care – My Own Voice

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