violetcheetah: (Default)
You probably don't want to read these dreams; they involve nuclear holocaust, and living but rotting bodies (chiefly mine), and non-functional bathrooms. I post them in part because these are themes that come up in my dreams with an exhausting regularity, and in part because it was somewhat unique to have three archetypal-for-me dreams in the course of two nights. If you have been curious in the past about what I meant when I referred to "armageddon dreams" or "bathroom dreams," this post will give you examples. If you are also curious about the kinds of dreams that I gather are common among trauma survivors, then read on.

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violetcheetah: (Default)
[I wrote this in June. I meant to edit it to be more coherent before posting it, but that's not going to happen, so I'm posting it as-is.]

I was six, or maybe seven; it was after the library opened, but before I was reading chapter books. I'd checked out a book by Richard Scarry; he drew a world where the town was populated by animals doing people-things: perhaps the postman was a dog dressed in a postman's pants and shirt, the nurse was a cat with a smock and white cap. They had a playset at the library, all the characters and roads and buildings of the town, and I loved them with the greed and longing and desire of a six-year-old, almost as much as I loved books. And this book was enormous; not thick, but maybe 12 by 15 inches, and when you are six, bigger is better, bigger is grown-up.

I sat on my mother's lap while she read it to me. I was old enough to read, had been for years, but I wanted her voice behind my ear, her hand turning the pages; I wanted her there to see things I pointed out in the pictures that I hadn't noticed the first dozen times, so I could share that magic of discovery and feel it again. We sat on "her" side of the couch, under the lamp. My father, as always, sat on the other side of the couch. Often he watched TV as we read, and I was used to tuning out the noise and hearing only my mother. Tonight the TV was probably on, but I couldn't hear it, because my father was drunk, and he was yelling.

He was mainly yelling at my mother. He usually directed everything at her, because when he was drunk, I was invisible. He might threaten to burn down the house "with all of you in it," but he wasn't talking to me; I was just eavesdropping. The words weren't meant for me, because I wasn't there, and if I'd said something, or made a noise — even whimpering — I instinctively knew he would be surprised to see me there and also angry that I was listening in on something not intended for me. So I sat on my mother's lap, not moving, not being seen by him, while she read to me as if his screaming was the everynight drone of the TV. He did not know I was there. She did not know I was there, either; she read the book to my body, as if my mind inside were the same as every other night. She read as if I could hear her, as if I didn't hear my father, or smell his fermented breath, or comprehend his words. She read as she would have if I were looking at the pictures, discovering new things, pointing out those discoveries. The lack of my presence was not important. I knew this. The important thing — the only important thing — was that the stageplay go on, that my body stay in her lap until the back cover closed, without acknowledging the audience of one (my father), even as he climbed on stage and stood screaming at us. Because…

I was too young to know sci-fi, or fantasy, to know of parallel universes or overlapping worlds or ghosts that inhabit the same room as the living without ever being seen — and more importantly, without being able to touch the living. But he was a ghost screaming at my mother, apparently unheard. And I knew that was the magic spell. I was sure that, as long as he didn't think she heard him, he couldn't act. I don't think I knew for sure if she couldn't actually hear him or was just pretending, but I didn't think about it because it didn't matter; what matter was that he -thought- she didn't hear him. As long as he thought she didn't hear him, he couldn't act, couldn't do the things he was threatening. And I needed — from my own, third, universe that was not the same as either of theirs — to both not distract her from her not-awareness, and to not let him see -me- be aware of him. So I was still. My body didn't move, and my mind didn't move, not until the book was closed and my body could exit the stage. I don't remember that part, the closing of the book and my leaving. But I must have done it, and done it well, because he did not burn down the house that night or shoot us in our beds.
violetcheetah: (Default)
This post is kind of a sandwich: cat-whisperer giddiness to start and end, with some oversharing about psychological trauma in the middle.

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violetcheetah: (Default)
This started off as an attempt to explain the emotional/mental side of scentsitivity, but it spread to encompass other ways in which I'm invaded.  I wrote it several months ago, and rereading it, there's a resonance between the way "normal" people seem to perceive me — that they are interacting with a figment of their imagination because they can't conceive of someone like the actual-me existing — and the way I feel interacting with my mother.

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violetcheetah: (chess)
I really didn't want to post this, because it's terrifying to think about people I know reading it and knowing this is part of who I am. Which is why I know I need to post this.

Trigger warning for... I don't know, hospitals, psych holds, loss of free will, non-consensual restraint.


June 18, close to midnight, I went to the Beth Israel E.R., because the arrhythmia had morphed into chest pain. They did an EKG — which I knew wouldn't show anything because it's not that kind of chest pain, it's sharp and focused, not crushing and all-over — and sent me back to the waiting room until they had a bed. The bed they had was in the hall. People passing, loud, smells, people passing smelling like smoke, like alcohol, like perfumes, the pneumatic tube thing across from me making its air-brake noise every couple of minutes with no warning, a man yelling, a man snoring. I don't know when it stopped making sense, when I forgot the present; I never did completely, but it didn't help to hang onto the edges of the here-and-now.

They wheeled my cot down the hall to a dim room, the world flying by like in a car sitting backwards, and the room was dark, but I wasn't in Kentucky, I wasn't anywhere. They were annoyed, I couldn't tell what they were saying, I was saying something but I don't know what, and they were annoyed and wheeled me back, and then people were standing around me asking things, saying things, one of them smelled of cigarette smoke, and they wheeled me into a room with a glass front, and slid the door closed, and I knew it wasn't my bed growing up, but it had side rails and it felt so high, and exposed, and no way to get off of it because of the rails except to slide off the foot, and I , I don't know what I felt, if I felt anything, maybe terror, I don't remember the feeling, just the knowing I had to not be on the bed, that it wasn't safe, exposed, so I slid off the foot of it and sat on the floor between the side and the wall, and then there were two or three of them, not just annoyed but angry, "I'm not doing this again," I think someone said. Telling me to get on the bed, I could get back on myself or they'd put me there, and I knew, I should just do it, but I couldn't make myself, and I couldn't explain, and someone said they'd get a blanket and it'd be nice and comfortable, and I think that was when I felt the terror, I don't know why, just, the coaxing, cajoling, that was what my brother had always done, no force, just pleading, almost. Then there were people holding me, four limbs, hanging in the air, and I could see myself screaming, bucking, kicking, and I was ashamed, and just, just confused, why didn't I just do what they wanted, and they held me four limbs stretched on the cot and someone wiped I guess alcohol on my thigh, I was wearing a skirt and they lifted it and rubbed something cold on the back of my thigh, and I looked and could see the syringe, and my throat burned from the screams and I think they couldn't hold me still enough, I don't think they ever injected it. Ativan, someone said somewhere in there, I recognized the name and knew I didn't want it, it makes me feel dead.

A woman came later and said I had to get undressed, for the chest x-ray. She said I could get changed myself or she could do it for me. So I undressed and put on the gown. She said they'd put my clothes in the corner with the rest of my stuff, but that she had to go through my bag to make sure there was nothing dangerous, and no pills, so I took out the pills I keep and she put them in a plastic bag and left, and then didn't come back, and at some point I dozed off, maybe they did give me the Ativan, and when I woke up my clothes were gone, and my backpack was gone, and I asked and she said it was behind the nurses' desk, and I said she'd said it could stay with me, and she was annoyed and said it couldn't be in the room, and I asked why they'd needed to take the meds out and search it if it wasn't staying, and she said they never keep patient belongings in the room, and she left.

The morning and afternoon were a blur of trying to doze, or just trying to find a position where my head didn't hurt and I could stop being. I got up to pee, and the guy watching near the nurses' desk saw me and nodded, and when I came out a woman told me I should have told him I hadn't given a urine sample yet, but no one had told me they wanted one, she was annoyed at me but it didn't make sense. I talked to other people, or they asked questions and I answered them, I guess, asked for numbers to call, friends, my shrink, my psychiatrist. They called M, I didn't want her to know, didn't want her to have to deal after having just had to deal with her mother, but they wouldn't let me leave alone, or strongly recommended against it, or something like that. So she came, and waited, and waited, and finally I went home, and I got up the next morning and went to work.
violetcheetah: (Default)
There are two main aspects to my job at the USPS; people work in two-person teams on each machine, with one person "feeding" unsorted mail into the machine, and the other person "sweeping" the sorted mail out of the "stackers," which are arranged in four rows of 50 to 75 columns, looking kind of like a big wall of PO boxes, only with little flip-up gates instead of doors. You sweep the mail from each stacker as it starts to get full, which sounds simple, but depending on the type of sorting the machine is doing, and the mail you get, the stackers may fill up in sudden and unpredictable ways: stacker 15 fills up, and you empty it and 10 seconds later stacker 119 halfway down the big machine fills up, and so on. That's the type of mail we usually run on my shift. But Sunday night at work, Finness and I were running "first-pass" mail, which usually has stackers all filling up slowly and steadily at the same time, and sweeping is pretty methodical and mellow, especially for the first half hour, when about all the sweeper does is clear the occasional (or not-so-occasional, depending) jam. The lack of anything to do usually drives me crazy and I'd rather feed, but Sunday I went with it, and Finness and I were just generally talking and joking as he fed, and the machine jammed, so I strolled about a third of the way down the machine to deal with it. And I smelled smoke. Not burning rubber from one of the many belts, but wood smoke, or paper. This does happen sometimes, if a piece of mail gets caught somewhere and doesn't cause an actual jam: not actual fire, of course, but enough friction to blacken the paper. But not that often. And this was pretty strong.

So, one of the things my father used to do when drunk was threaten to burn down the house with us in it. I used to be terrified of fire, and yet compelled to watch when we burned burnable trash, because otherwise I'd spend the time while the fire was burning worrying about it going out of control. I needed to watch and be prepared. So that was going on in my head at work, smelling this: a desire to run before the house burned down, but also needing to know what it was, where it was, to figure it out and fix it and stop something bad from happening. Of course, in the present, nothing bad was going to happen. A piece of paper getting so hot from just friction that it bursts into flames? No, I knew that wasn't going to happen. But the smell, and the not-knowingness, triggered an adrenaline dump and a need to do — if not to run, than to stay and rectify.

I couldn't identify the spot it was coming from, partly because of the overhead fans blowing, maybe; all I could tell at first was it was somewhere in the middle third. I discounted the last third or so of that, because the fans would have wafted the smokey smell that direction. So I started at the far end of where I thought the smoke could be coming from, clearing the stackers of mail. I started at stacker 130, and worked my way forward, up one 4-row column, down the next. It was getting stronger. Eventually I was pretty sure it wasn't on the bottom row, because the smell wasn't as strong when I bent close enough that the ceiling of that row was inches from my head. A couple more columns up, I was sure it wasn't the next-lowest of the four rows. But I kept clearing all the rows because they needed clearing, anyway, and because I needed that methodicality to feel like I was in control, I think: no emergency here, no urgency, just doing the job like normal. Then I got to stacker 52, and I found a flyer, flimsy like a small sale bill, with the edge caught under a belt, but in such a way that the belt could still turn, just kept grinding away at the paper. I got Finness to stop the machine and I pulled the paper out, its edge charred, with a drop of congealed... Ink? Lamination? I don't know... brown-black stuff on one corner. I'd found it. I took it up to the feeder; Finness marveled at its condition; it was done.

And then the terror hit. He knew from a previous conversation we'd had about my issues with fire, and he's seen me melt down way more than I was doing now, so it wasn't surprising, and I didn't have to do anything as far as working, so I stood and let my hands spasm until the run of mail on that machine was done, and then we moved on to another machine, and I said, essentially, I'm going to sit down, on the floor, and it doesn't mean I'm freaking out any more than when I'm standing, I just need to be sitting. So I sat, and grasped my shoulder where it vibrates, and I was jumpy but okay, so I just stayed like that, still not understanding why I'd delayed freaking out until the smoke was done. Then I realized what I'd been thinking while I was looking for the source of the smell, even while I wasn't consciously aware of thinking it:

I'm imagining it. I'm making it up. There's nothing here, I'm being a drama queen, just pretending there's something here to get attention, and convincing my own self at the same time so I won't have to admit I'm pretending. I was actually so sure of this that I convinced myself so thoroughly that there wasn't anything there, that when I saw the paper, I still didn't entirely believe it. I had to show Finness and see his reaction to be sure it was real, and when it was real, that was so at odds with what I believed that I... The world was not what I thought it was, and it was terrifying. Even though I was right. I was so sure I was wrong that when I was presented with objective evidence that I wasn't wrong, I nearly lost track of the present because of the cognitive dissonance.

violetcheetah: (Default)
[Long, overly personal, and possibly freakish and incoherent to anyone who hasn't had a PTSD flashback, or whatever hybrid I have.]
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violetcheetah: (Default)
[Apologies for those of you who are driven insane by second-person references; I didn't set out to write it that way, it just kinda happened.]

I don't trust people. I also, simultaneously, trust completely. Every kindness you give to me, every tiny act of caring, I grab hungrily, sure that it's sincere. At the same moment, I am searching for ulterior motives. It isn't that I later doubt you; I trust and doubt at the exact same instant, latching on with cat claws to draw you closer — to pull you inside me, or me inside you, because nothing is close enough — and as I do so, slashing you and kicking you away from me. "Ambivalent attachment" is the psychological jargon. It happens with kids who don't form a "secure" bond with their caregiver when they are small. We go through life looking for that intense, all-encompassing connection.

It's hard to both trust and distrust at the same instant, every instant. Not just hard: agonizing. People bandy about the term "cognitive dissonance" flippantly — I do it, too — but real cognitive dissonance makes you want to scream, sometimes for hours. It's exhausting, thinking double, feeling double, especially about something as important as whether you can trust someone with what feels like your soul.

Sunday was not a good day. People surprised me in a couple of breathtakingly awful ways. Not people I intensely trust/distrust; one seemingly tiny event was that at the end of my workday, I discovered that someone had taken my jacket out of the break room. I don't know who, so now I am potentially betrayed by everyone who was in the building, by each person I work with. And I like all my coworkers, so it can't be any of them, but it has to be one of them, but... But the worst part was not the theft. Worse than the missing jacket was the probably three or four minutes I spent, staring at the shelf where I had left it 6 hours earlier, thinking, "But I remember leaving it there. Am I misremembering? I must not have actually left it there, because if I had, it would still be there. Maybe it is there, and I am not seeing it." I went over and actually touched the surface of the empty shelf, half-expecting to feel my invisible jacket. I had to be wrong. I walked down to the other end of the building where I'd clocked in, to make sure that I hadn't brought it down there with me and left it. I did this even though that end of the building is colder than the rest, and yesterday was cold enough that for the first time I wished I'd had something long-sleeved to wear. I remembered standing there with goosebumps thinking, "Gee, I kinda wish I hadn't left my jacket in the break room." And now, six hours later, I stood there in the cold thinking, "Did I actually think that or am I making up that memory?"

I got home and sat with Butler in my lap, petting him more consciously than usual, needing the comfort, and also needing to give him happiness, needing to do something good, to feel good about myself, to feel his happiness. I was after a while completely at peace. But at the same moment, I was in pain. I ached over the betrayals of the day and wanted to scream, while gazing at Butler gazing at me and feeling sleepy peace. It isn't quite the same as cognitive dissonance, but it's still painful to do. And yet, it feels right. The complexity is somehow soothing, feels like what I'm supposed to be doing. But is it something I should do? Is it normal? Not "Is it different from everyone else and therefore bad?", but, is it pathological? Is it maladaptive? Should I refrain from holding two feelings at once because it's somehow hurting my mind, my brain? Just because something feels good doesn't mean it's good for me.

No: especially because something feels good, I need to suspect that it isn't good for me. I mean, I have a track record of calming myself in really bad ways: Shutting off, going numb. Ten years of slicing my arm, or my legs. Attaching myself to people in such all-encompassing ways that I disappeared in them, wore them out, drove them away. Why on earth would I trust myself to make good decisions, to act in my own best interests?

I do not trust myself. Even when I am absolutely sure I'm right, even when a memory is clear, even when I read the facts myself, when someone questions me, I immediately think, "Did I get that right? Did I misread the article, misread the situation? Did I make that up?" The most solid certainty shifts like sand, because it is my certainty.

I trust you completely, but I am absolutely sure you are untrustworthy. And I am sure you are untrustworthy precisely because I trust you. I cannot trust myself to make good decisions about who to trust. I have a track record, from the moment I was born, of completely trusting absolutely the wrong people. Why should I trust anyone I trust?

So at least for me, my own attachment disorder, my trust issues, are in the end all about me. It's not my parents I don't trust, or my friends, or anonymous coworkers when I'm not in the room. It's me I don't trust. It's me I'm suspicious of, that I second-guess until I third-guess until I don't know which certainty to discount. Like all the epiphanies I've ever had, it seems blindingly obvious now. I don't know if seeing it will help anything. Maybe?

violetcheetah: (butler)
I grew up in Kentucky, and we didn't have air conditioning in the house. Except on the hottest days in summer — highs above 100 — I never missed it, and even then, I slept with a blanket at night even in August. When I went to church in the summer, I brought a jacket. In high school, they kept the place so cold that I wore my puffy winter coat in class all year. I mean, yeah, they kept it chillier than they needed to, but not that cold. Senior year, my first boyfriend bought me one of those reusable hand-warmers where you flex the metal disc inside the plastic packet to start an exothermic chemical reaction — supersaturated sodium acetate, I think — and then when you get home you boil it for 5 minutes to dissolve the crystals and use it again the next day. It was the most incredibly thoughtful gift he could have given me.

Of course when I moved to Boston, I was always freezing. I didn't spend much time in the dorm lounge in the summer because it was air-conditioned. I wore sweaters at night even in August. I had sock liners and glove liners for winter, with metallic strands woven in, although that was probably mainly for illusion; it was probably just a matter of having two layers that kept my fingers and toes warm. Or at least less frozen; they still ached with cold all the time.

Now, 23 years after the move, I'm usually too warm. It amazes people when they find out I grew up in Kentucky and now I love winter. I always tell them that I used to freeze even in the South, that I froze up here for 10 years, and then it was like a switch flipped, and I acclimated, and now I wilt if it's over 80 degrees. I'm a New Englander now, hardier than half the people born and raised here.

I had an epiphany the other evening. I didn't get home until really late last night, and I was freezing on the train. I'm never cold on the train, but I pulled my arms inside my tee shirt sleeves and crossed them over my chest. I had to get up after 3 hours' sleep to clean at the cat shelter, and even bustling around scooping poop and changing bedding, I didn't mind that the windows were open and the A/C off. There's nothing surprising in this; I think most everyone gets cold when they are sleep-deprived; it's the way the human body generally works, trying to coerce you into lying down and resting.

Then on the train ride in, still without enough sleep and still cold, I had the "duh!" moment. I moved to Massachusetts in 1990; 10 years later was 2000. That was the year I started taking risperidone; it's an antipsychotic, but I take it at a lower dose, for PTSD. I take it an hour before bed, and it doesn't make me drowsy, doesn't suck me down into not-quite-unconsciousness the way sleep meds and sedatives do. What it does is slow down the incessant windmill in my brain.

Before I started taking it, it took me two to three hours to fall asleep. At least. I would start to doze, and then at the edge of sleep, I would jerk back awake — not just to drowsy consciousness, but completely alert, heart pounding, adrenaline surging, sensing a presence. Over and over. Every night. Except for the nights where I would drift sideways, not into sleep, but into something I still don't have a name for.

I could watch myself dreaming, or at least acting like I was dreaming: I moved, my feet apparently walking, my hands either pushing against or reaching toward something or someone who wasn't there. But I had no idea who was in the dream with me; I couldn't read my own mind. When other people were with me as I slept, they would talk to me, and sometimes my mouth would talk back, but I had no idea why it was saying the words it was saying, or who it thought it was saying them to. It was shameful, because if I was aware of myself doing it, then I must be doing it on purpose, I must be trying to get attention, a drama queen, which in my family was one of the worst sins. But if I tried to stop "acting," it was worse: I was gone completely, and by the accounts to those co-sleepers, I was still talking, running, hitting sometimes.

The nights where I watched myself "dream," I don't know how long that lasted: an hour, perhaps, maybe more. Then I guess I would finally fall into actual sleep. If I was lucky, I didn't remember the actual dreams. The dreams I had weren't "real" flashbacks, because they weren't of actual events, which I could recall dispassionately; I dreamt of fires, and drowning, and nuclear holocausts, especially nuclear holocausts, knowing I'd gotten a deadly dose of radiation, that soon I would be horribly ill and wish I could die, but would be without the strength to do anything about it, and I knew I should kill myself while I could still do it painlessly, but I couldn't make myself do it, and I desperately searched through the wasteland of blowing yellow-orange sand looking for someone who was still alive and willing to kill me. Sometimes I would awaken early in the search, but most nights I was, I guess, too tired to wake up, and I would walk and walk, knowing the clock was ticking and the hideous sickness was drawing closer. When I finally did awaken, I was mentally exhausted already, and the panicked, searching dread stayed with me throughout the day, a sense of urgency without a goal.

So some nights I just didn't go to sleep. I didn't feel any more drained the next day if I just stayed up and wrote or sewed or played solitaire until it was time to go to class or to work. And at least the tiredness dampened the restless, purposeless urgency. So I got into an irregular pattern, in which I'd often stay up all night one night and sleep 12 hours the next. That's an average of six hours — well, 5.5, because there was still the hour it took to fall asleep even after an all-nighter, but if I was taking two to three hours to fall asleep each night otherwise, and then actually sleeping for only five or six hours anyway before a dream woke me, then this was much more efficient, right?

In 2000, I started taking the risperidone. The first night, I lay in bed with the usual anxiety — knowing I was about to go through the two-hour ordeal of spinning and jerking awake and then dreams or worse — plus the added anxiety of knowing I'd just ingested a mind-altering substance and didn't know what it would do to me. I drifted down, not into sleep, but also not into the abyss and fallingness. I just lay, my mind wafting, but not spinning. It was comfortable. I thought at some point, well, this is better; I wonder when the falling will start. And then it was light, and I realized after about three minutes' confusion that it was morning. I'd had an odd dream about being in a cow pasture, and I was looking for something, but it wasn't a nightmare, and I hadn't even been confused in the dream, let alone scared.

About a week later, I got up to get the paper and the front door was unlocked. I hadn't checked the night before to make sure it was locked. I thought back: I didn't remember checking the lock for several days. And I hadn't checked my closet before bed, or checked under the desk. There was simply no one to look for anymore. When I woke up at night and went to the bathroom, I just walked there in the dark. I didn't turn on the bedroom light and open the door and walk two quick steps to turn on the hall light and walk to the bathroom and turn on that light and then carefully avoid looking in the mirror while I washed my hands because someone might be standing behind me in the reflection. I just got up and took a leak and washed my hands and went back to bed. I'd been doing it for a week without even thinking about the change.

And if my math is right, that was about the time I stopped being cold all the time. When I started sleeping for nine hours a night on average. Instead of six, or five, or less. Thirteen years later, I have finally put two and two together.


May. 26th, 2013 10:44 am
violetcheetah: (peter)
I wrote the following at last Wednesday's Write Here Write Now workshop.

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violetcheetah: (Default)
Violet Wilson

October 2016



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