Myers Briggs, munchkins, and me

real vs falseI have come to the conclusion recently that quite a lot of what I experience on a day-to-day basis is a function of my personality, rather than my illness. Yes, I am dissociated a lot, and because of that every sensation is either heightened or dulled depending on what state I’m in. But a lot of core things about who I am are, actually, a result of who I am.

For example, I find planning really difficult and stressful. I feel like I’m often led to believe that this is either some terrible character flaw or a ‘diseased’ part of me that needs healing. And, I have to admit, some healing is definitely needed in this area. But in fact, the main reason for this is that I am a personality type that actually finds planning very restrictive. As a ‘perceiver’ on the Myers Briggs personality paradigm, I tend to thrive on spontaneity and feel diminished or threatened by too many planned events.

Similarly, I find small talk and large social events very overwhelming… to the point where, if I stay too long, I start to feel ill. Again, this is partly a function of there being altogether too much going on in my head as a result of the dissociation. But it is also that, as an introvert, small talk was just never going to be my thing. If I’m able to track down someone at a party that I can have a meaningful discussion with, then I (and everyone in me) is a whole lot happier. But if I am stuck with being polite, I feel trapped and dead inside.

So I’m coming to realize (with the help of a great friend’s wisdom), that a lot of what my munchkins (alters / parts) do is actually pointing me towards who I really am. They tend to get upset about things that, actually, I’m not too crazy about myself. If I start living out of a place of pleasing others, rather than living as me, things get out of balance in my head. If I have too many things planned in, and no space to be spontaneous, likewise. If I have several social events in succession where I’m unable to have a decent conversation, to feel like me, I get exhausted and depressed.

So thank you, munchkins, for reminding me of who I am. And although at times it’s painful, and frustrating, and distressing, I imagine the consequences of living a false life would be far worse.

Insomnia and I

Well, not proper insomnia. But certainly sleep-deprivation is what’s happening a lot at the moment. I seem to swing between coping fairly well with the disturbed nights, with the exception of sore eyes, and totally crashing and not functioning for most of the day. And it’s not that I’m not sleeping – I can get to sleep without too much difficulty – but either I wake much too early (5.15 am anyone?), or I feel like I’ve slept for hours, but because I keep waking up, or dream far too vividly, I spend the next day in a jet-lagged haze.

I’m not too sure what the cause is. My hypothesis is that it’s a result of a wonky combination of tablets with the lingering effects of childhood trauma. I’ve seen the doctor, and we are working on the medication issues – though I’m off to a bit of a rocky start with that. The psychological causes are a bit more thorny to unpick.

I had a revelation last week: the body knows how to get what it needs. The body knows how to sleep when it needs to, providing it’s given the chance. It knows when you need rest to recover from illness, and it makes you feel lethargic and fatigued. It knows how to tell you when it’s dehydrated or malnourished. So in theory, if I really focus on my body and how it feels throughout the day and night, I should know when it needs to sleep, and I’d be able just to let go and let it do its work.

But here’s the problem. When you’ve spent nearly 30 years distancing your mind from your body, restoring this connection is no simple matter. If I start to focus on my body’s sensations too much, I get panicky, and I think this is because it is my body, rather than my mind, that carries the memories of being abused as a child. Tuning into my body means connecting with the sensations of being abused. And obviously that’s no fun. It’s much safer to be floating above somewhere, or closed off in a little cerebral bubble.

But, I remind myself, this isn’t the path to healing. What I really need to do is find a new way of encountering my body that doesn’t make me relive the wounds of the past. And hopefully, finding a few more zzzzs as I do.

Finding the family in me

It’s funny how we are constantly bombarded by images of nameless beauties and implicitly told that we should aim to look like them. I’ve spent the last few days poring over old family photos; we’ve inherited a stash of black and white snaps from the 40s and 50s since my grandma died. It’s been fun admiring Grandma’s perfectly curled 1940’s victory rolls, and laughing over dad’s extreme roundness (some would say obesity) as a baby. We discovered other things too: that my brother resembles a great uncle, gunned down in the Second World War; that my wonky, asymmetrical eyebrows are genetic, linking me back to my father and his mother.

As a person who rarely feels ‘real’, it’s been helpful for me to trace my physical features back to older family members. I’ve been slightly obsessive about it: somehow for me, discovering that my almond-shaped eyes come from my paternal grandfather and my curly hair from my maternal grandmother helps me to pin myself down, to say ‘this is me, and this is where I belong’. This is what I look like; I’m not the shadowy, insubstantial figure of my imaginings, that constantly shifts between male and female, adult and child. And it’s also made me think: why do we spend so much time trying to look like characterless supermodels when (if we are lucky) the features of those we loved are written on our faces?

And for those whose families only ever brought pain, there is also the consolation that each person’s particular combination of colouring and features is uniquely their own. Each face, though it may bear traces of the past, is its own fresh start.

The safety of solitude

 

I’ve been cheered in the last couple of weeks by reading two excellent novels whose protagonists are survivors of trauma. The Language of Flowers, by Vanessa Diffenbaugh, describes the life of Victoria, a young woman who was abandoned at birth, and her experience of growing up in care and foster homes. Astonishing Splashes of Colour, by Clare Morrall, is written through the eyes of Kitty, who lost her mother as a young child and experiences varying degrees of disconnection from the rest of her family. When I first read Astonishing Splashes of Colour several years ago, I was most interested in the author’s descriptions of synaesthesia – a condition I also have. But upon re-reading it, I was able to identify Kitty’s feelings of disconnection from her world, her amnesia and her ‘losing time’, and thought: of course, she has a dissociative disorder.

The thing that struck me most in these accounts is these characters’ relationship with space. These women, like I myself, have a love-hate relationship with sharing their personal space with others. They long for company and yet shun it; they cosolitudeme near to others and then withdraw, like the breaking of waves upon sand. Both Kitty and Victoria, at the end of the novels, find a way of living with their partners, and yet also apart from them, each guarding a private, additional living space that they can retreat to when cohabitation becomes too much.

I say that I was cheered by reading these novels, and by this I mean that in these fictional characters I found someone I could identify with. My friends look at me with bafflement when I describe my need for space, and frequently encourage me to get out more, see more people. And I am torn – because really, I would love to spend less time alone, and sometimes my heart feels as if it is splitting open from loneliness. But at the same time I feel this primeval pull to solitude, to peace, to safety. Spending too much time with people exhausts me and doesn’t feel safe. I need a place I can retreat to, where silence is guaranteed.

I suppose it is not surprising that those who have experienced significant trauma in childhood (such as those with dissociative disorders) experience a greater need for solitude as adults. The world has failed them; it has become synonymous with insecurity, danger, and pain. It’s much safer to stay separate, and solitary: to enter in on my own terms, and then, when I need to, retreat into the security of isolation.

Artificial tears

I made my once-in-a-blue-moon trip to the optician last week. For a few months, I’ve been getting pain in my left eye and down the left hand side of my face, and suspected this was due to some kind of sight problem. Sure enough, it turns out that my eyes are different to each other in some way (I don’t have a clue about eyes) and so now I have a shiny new pair of glasses that seem to alleviate the problem somewhat. But in addition to the sight difference, I also have slightly dry eyes – i.e. my tear ducts aren’t working too well. So I’ve been prescribed artificial tears too.

I am a person who loves to see patterns in life – so you may need to humour me for a minute. As I’ve previously mentioned, some disturbing facts about my childhood came to light this autumn. These shook me up considerably and caused me to walk around with a lump in my throat for several weeks.  I constantly felt on the verge of crying, but the tears wouldn’t come. And this is unusual for me, because I am generally a person who has no difficulty shedding a few tears. And then the optician prescribes me artificial tears. Coincidence? Maybe. But it pleases my pattern-loving brain to consider that perhaps this is an example of how our physical bodies represent our internal states.

Similarly, the fact that it hurts me to see, and I need help to see clearly, also symbolises where I’m at emotionally. I keep trying to recall details about the abusive incidents; but my memory of them is unclear and disjointed, and, above all, it hurts to turn my gaze towards them. It is never fun to bring traumatic memories to light.

So, for now, I’ll keep on with the artificial tears and the glasses. And I’ll hope that, just as my physical eyes are less dry and painful, that the eyes of my mind are able to see; and to wash away those painful memories with tears.

Rules

triple constraint

The ‘iron triangle’; pick any two

I struggle with rules. I suppose rules are intrinsically linked to restriction in some way; and if there’s one thing that’s likely to upset my psychological applecart, it’s attempting to restrict myself in too many ways. I recently read an article about triple constraint theory (also known as the iron triangle, or project triangle). This concept states that, for any one decision, it may be possible for it to fulfill two criteria – but rarely three. Take my approach to food: it should be healthy, cheap and easy to prepare. Healthy and cheap (vegetarian curry) is achievable, as is cheap and easy to prepare (frozen pizza), and even healthy and easy to prepare isn’t impossible (Waitrose prepared meals are a revelation). But put all three together, and you become unstuck… baked beans on toast, anyone? Or my criteria for how to spend my free time: something that’s cheap, doesn’t use too much energy, and doesn’t involve consumption of unhealthy food / drink. Oh, and that’s fun as well. That’ll rule out the eating lettuce leaves at home.

What reading this article proved to me (if I needed any more proof) was that, for a person who struggles with rules, not only do I impose a ridiculous number on myself, but that I pretty much make life impossible for myself in doing so. In fact, it would be impossible for anyone - the triple constraint theory puts it in black and white: you simply cannot undertake any meaningful endeavour that satisfies multiple criteria. No wonder I find making my decisions so difficult.

To be honest, subconsciously I’ve been aware of the triple constraint concept for a long time. I know that when I’m buying food, I stand a cat in hell’s chance of getting something that will satisfy my all of my rules. So I am constantly adapting, shifting my priorities: am I more in need of healthy food or cheap food today? The problem is, that for every decision I make, I berate myself for the rule that I have broken, and visualize catastrophic consequences for this slipup. Will I go bankrupt because I bought some prepared vegetables? But if I’d gone for the cheaper, unprepared version, would I have a nervous and physical breakdown because they were too much effort to cook?

A long time ago I felt that God was telling me I spent my life on a tightrope, convinced that any wrong move would send me hurtling into oblivion. In my mind’s eye I then saw a trampoline, and it was like God was saying ‘don’t worry – even if you make a mistake, you’ll bounce right back up again: you won’t die from making the ‘wrong’ decision.’ It seems that I haven’t quite learnt this lesson.

The 80:20 rule continued

In continuation from my earlier post, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I need to function well on a day-to-day basis. I’ve spent far too many years neglecting vital parts of myself to the detriment of both me, and probably those around me. So, here’s a provisional list:

1. Books: a) good (not trashy but not impenetrable) fiction b) some non-fiction to make me think, and c) a Christian book that talks sense without terrifying.

3. One-to-one time with trusted friends

4. Some form of creative expression: writing, art, music

5. Time outside of the house and (if energy allows) some exercise

6. Not too much routine: ideally, at least a couple of days each week with nothing planned

7. Quiet

8. Worship

9. Helping others in some way: it could just be giving time to someone, or buying the Big Issue… or giving gifts.

10. (And this is a biggie) Not imposing unnecessary restrictions on myself. This frequently takes the form of drastically cutting spending, or avoiding certain foods in order to attempt to lose weight.

11. Listening to music

12. Therapy

13. At least one tidy room in my house; and not too much of a backlog of errands to do.

So that’s it, really. Nothing too extravagant, or too difficult to access. Yet so much of the time what I know I need gets drowned out by the demands of society. Our world doesn’t really allow for people who like to remain, at best, semi-connected, and thirst for quiet. It’s pretty tricky to live in a relatively flexible way when others around us are trying to pin us down to dates and deadlines. And when income is in short, and rather unstable, supply, it’s totally counterintuitive not to restrict spending. But all I know is: I don’t function if I let too many of the above areas slip. And what I’m trusting is: that my heart is good (i.e. I won’t go on a massive spending or eating binge; I won’t become overly self-absorbed and give up connecting with other people); and that, when I slip up, I have One who covers my mistakes.

The 80:20 rule

I was interested to come across an article on the 80:20 rule recently (otherwise known as the Pareto principle). This stastistically proven theory states that approximately 80% of effects tend to come from roughly 20% of causes. For example, in many countries 80% of the wealth is owned by 20% of the population. Or in a business context, 80% of a company’s sales may proceed from only 20% of their clients. So far, so interesting. But what really grabbed my attention was the assertion that in everyday life only 20% of activities tend lead to 80% of a person’s happiness, financial gain, and social wellbeing. In other words, most of us spend 80% of the time doing tasks that are fairly trivial.

I suppose the reason why I’ve been thinking of this so much is because I am trying hard to listen to the different parts of myself and discern what they need in order to feel safe and cared for. The theory that my therapist and I are working with is that my munchkins (dissociative alters) are parts of myself that weren’t able to have a voice when I was growing 80 20 ruleup, as what they represented – or the experiences they told of – would have been unacceptable. Only in the last couple of years have these ‘parts’ resurfaced; and its often very difficult for me to manage their competing needs and demands. So often I feel like they are screaming at me, and the temptation – as my parents often did to me – is to tell them to ‘stop making a fuss’. It is so easy to perpetuate this cycle: my munchkins need attention; I tell them to be quiet; they get more upset and scream louder. And eventually, if this continues, they will give up and stop screaming altogether; but will resurface in other ways: depression, eating dis-ease, nervous breakdown.

But I’m trying to beat this cycle. Hopefully, by listening to the voices and recognizing that they are all parts of me, I can somehow fashion a life that caters for the varying needs of all of me; a life where no-one will need to scream and cut and hit to get attention. So this leads me back to the initial question: what is the 20% of my life that will help my munchkins the most?

Held

If I go for a couple of days without seeing any friends or family, I start to feel like I’m disappearing. It’s a very odd sensation, and one that’s not easy to explain. I suppose it’s like I’m looking at myself from a distance, and the ‘me’ who’s doing the looking is getting further and further away. Perhaps it’s because I only feel I’m real if I’m seen by others.

My counselor, Chrisholding 1, talks about ‘holding’ his clients in mind in between sessions. Like the non-religious equivalent of praying, he keeps us present in his mind over time. It has occurred to me that this is doubtless what my friends and family do with me even when I’m not with them. Each of the people I care about is, to some degree, present in my mind and heart even when I’m not directly in contact with them, and this ‘holding’ is almost certainly reciprocal.

So I’m holding on to this thought – the fact that I am held by others even though I may not feel it – and it’s helping, in its own small way, to help me hold myself.

Therapy

It is daylight when I enter.

The door wheels shut behind me:

Click.

 

Greetings dispensed, coat shed

I mount the stairs:

This is my bravest ascent.

 

We enter our room

therapy roomAnd the unspooling begins.

A ragged thread at first:

 

But as you grasp,

And gently pull:

I come apart.

 

Here, yesterday’s yarn is not wasted;

Together, through hours of tortuous talk

We will weave a new me

 

- At least, that is the hope.

 

But I am undone, and cannot yet glimpse

My finished garment of grace.

And all too soon

 

It is the hour.

And I must, swiftly, stuff

My spare threads;

 

Descend the stairs,

Don my coat,

Bid farewell.

 

Buttoned up tight,

I cross the threshold of consciousness:

And so on out, into the night.

 

 

Copyright of the author, 2013