What it is like to have repressed memories resurface

A message from the Universe, I suppose. Everywhere I turn I am seeing videos and stories about repressed memories.

To some, using the words “repressed memories” brings up the idea they are not true memories.

I have to admit, I don’t even use the words “repressed memories” when I often think about or fight to remember all that has been forgotten from my childhood.

For me, I have always known I was the victim of a lot of child abuse. I just did my best to not think about it, and to try to move on with my life as if that didn’t happen.

There have been moments in my life when I was able to get away with not feeling like an abused person. It isn’t hard to pull off looking normal when people really don’t look that closely at you.

For instance, when I was in high school, my behavior was full of contradictions, but nobody really cared enough to pay attention or say anything to me.

In high school, I was the nerd who excelled in ROTC. I also skipped school and hung out with the druggies. I was a nervous wreck when it came to dating boys, and I was also spending a lot of time having sex with boys and men in dangerous situations. I was both super responsible, and super reckless.

I later learned this was my Dissociative Identity Disorder playing out without me realizing it was doing so.

Even with all those contradictions in my behavior, I didn’t try to figure it out. I was hell-bent on repressing my past and trying to pretend I was alright.

I could remember plenty of abuse if I wanted to. When I was in college and got raped, that stirred the pot for sure. After that, I fell in love with a man, which I later learned didn’t work so well with the idea of keeping my past repressed.

I had plenty of meaningless sex in high school, but now in college, having fallen in love for the first time, sex was extremely difficult, and becoming more difficult with each day that passed. My past was really coming back to haunt me as I experienced flash backs and younger parts while trying to have sex with a man I loved.

Being the martyr most CSA survivors are, I told this man to leave me enough times that he finally did. I was heart broken, which is probably what led to my first psychiatric demise and hospitalization.

Fast forward 30 years, and I can still remember countless episodes of me being sexually abused as a young child. What’s missing is that I often don’t remember right before, some of the during, and definitely not afterward. It’s like I don’t have complete memories of anything, but I know with certainty these incidents I do remember are true.

Nowadays, I am finally working to try to process these memories, and for me, I honestly have no idea when new pieces of the memories are coming.

Yesterday, I was sitting in my car after therapy thinking about a specific abuse situation I had mentioned to my therapist, and I described it in session as a random occurrence that happened to me. Not 45 seconds in my car I was consumed with flashbacks and voices of my mom telling me to get out of the car right before I walked toward the man in the parking garage. I must have been refusing which is a little surprising to me as I normally did what my mom said, but she wanted me to get out into a darkened parking garage by myself when I was around 5. I was terrified and knew no good was coming from me getting out of the car. But the flood of memories could feel her anger and her demands and her pushing me out of the car.

“Get out!”

This little piece of repressed memory has left me intensely suicidal for days. Somehow it was better to think I randomly encountered the creepy man in the parking garage than to know this was yet another man my mom had set me up for.

Another betrayal.

It is not like this is news to me that my mom was a disgusting, narcissistic, psychopath. I have known that for a long time.

But, this little piece of the memory still hurts so much. I guess it is hard to come to terms with someone’s evilness when you keep getting new pieces of evilness tossed your way.

It is not that I forgive, I don’t. It is not that I love her, I don’t. She deserves my hatred and worse, but I am limp with weakness when it comes to having any appropriate or real feelings toward her.

Incidentally, I ask my parts to tell me more, and I am often frustrated when they don’t. I feel like I can handle it, but now I realize each new fact brings new pain.

So what is it like to receive repressed memories. It is fucking awful, and there is nothing you can do to prepare for it. The best I can hope to do is to ride it out without killing myself.

Staying alive has been really hard with this stupid new piece of a memory. The worst part of a memory is not always what seems like the obvious worst part.

I do believe it is important work to work through memories to move toward recovery. I disagree with those who avoid it and say it is not necessary.

For me, I may not heal, or integrate, or even find happiness, but I will at least know who I really am before I die. And that has to be enough.

Review of Sheppard Pratt’s Trauma Disorder Unit

In some ways, Sheppard Pratt resembles a college campus instead of the typical scary hospital.

Clearly, this is only one person’s experience with Sheppard Pratt’s TDU. Everyone is likely to have a different experience, but I think information is important, so I hope you find this helpful while also realizing it is only my point of view.

Admission Process

Perhaps the worst thing about Sheppard Pratt is its current admission process. I can start by saying the current person running their admission process is not exactly friendly or compassionate, and I’ll leave it that they can do much better.

The SP TDU admission process is designed to disempower clients as they have the unrealistic expectation that your private therapist is going to do all the work to get you admitted. In fact, they don’t want to speak with you at all and only want to speak to your therapist (in my case, this means dragging the admission referral process out as my therapist is short on time and administrative tasks are not her strong point). Even after the initial referral process was done, the admission coordinator requested my therapist get discharge summaries from past hospitalizations before they would approve me on their waiting list. More wait time as my therapist is too busy to chase paperwork from previous hospitalizations, and I wasn’t in the best of shape to assist her. Eventually we persisted.

Unfortunately, Sheppard Pratt will not hospitalize you if you do not have a referring therapist and psychiatrist. I am not sure where this leaves people who don’t have one for whatever reason.

My request for hospitalization at Sheppard Pratt was not to do work or get a diagnosis, I was in a severe suicidal crisis. Initially, we were told it would likely be a 1-2 week wait. After many phone calls from my therapist and me, we were told it would be another 1-2 weeks. Although the Admission Coordinator verbalized her understanding of how dire my situation was, she really didn’t seem to care.

At more than one point we asked if we could be admitted into their general psych unit and we were told “no” and that they would not tolerate us “gaming the system.” We were not clear as to this response as it says on their website that in emergencies, it is possible to be admitted to the general psych unit, but transfer to the trauma unit was not promised. We were ok with not being transferred as our safety was very poor and we simply wanted to go to a safe inpatient unit. Again, we were denied that option.

In the end, it took me 6 weeks to gain an emergency admission into Sheppard Pratt’s program. There was no priority given to those in crisis versus those coming in for diagnosis or to do some work. I was also told I had 24 hours to enter the hospital if I wanted the admission spot. This came with no pre-warning that an opening was coming up, but for fear of losing our place on the list we took the spot which took a lot of shuffling since I was coming from out of state. Surprisingly, when I arrived at the Trauma Unit, there were a few open rooms that remained open. Perhaps they don’t have enough staff to handle more?

The Program

I would say their program is highly individualized. They have groups and individual sessions. I was only allowed to attend the boring educational groups because the staff felt I was too unstable to hold it together for the deeper groups. I won’t get my feelings hurt about this since there were many of us not allowed to go to those groups.

The therapists they have there are often therapists who are training to be top trauma therapists. I’ll be honest, my therapist was shitty. Every session felt strained and awkward. I didn’t benefit from her at all. The upside to that was I didn’t have any transference with her, which is usually something difficult for me to manage.

My psychiatrist was someone I saw 5 days a week, and he was exceptional. We got off to a rocky start as he was triggering as hell, but fortunately, this doctor’s ego was intact enough that he was willing to change his behavior that was so triggering to me. A nice thing about the psychiatrist was that he actually did therapy with me instead of the typical medication management. I grew to have a strong appreciation for this man’s competency with DID.

The real heroes of this unit are the mental health workers from every shift. Sheppard Pratt really did something right when they decided to hire and train top notch people who could sit down and talk to you just about whenever you needed it. These sessions were key to the success of my treatment there. I’d go so far to say that these people had a higher skill level than the therapist I worked with.

While in the program, you can expect to learn a lot of skills to manage your DID. People take it quite seriously, so it was helpful.

The Unit

The nicest thing about the unit is that it feels completely safe, and has very little chaos going on.

The food was below average, but you can survive on it. Unfortunately, the TDU is not allowed to go to a cafeteria to pick out the food, so food can be disappointing, which caused more than a few freak outs amongst the patients. Keep in mind that the unit does allow you to keep a snack drawer where you can have things brought or sent to you. Most importantly, this space can hold sodas, well, at least when I was there.

Each person has their own bedroom, which is quite the luxury for a psychiatric hospital, but a real necessity for trauma patients.

The bathrooms are on the hall, and though you mostly have privacy, it is not uncommon for someone doing checks to knock on the door while you are in there to make sure you are ok.

There is a lot of unsafe behavior that has happened on this unit in the past, so they have very strict rules about what you can bring and not bring. This makes it hard to stay there for long. For me, not having access to a hair dryer was emotionally hard for me to deal with on a day-to-day basis as my hair is wild without it. Nothing I could do about it except avoid mirrors and dissociate my appearance.

It has been a year since I went into the program there, and I have actually stayed out for an entire year now, which has not been something I have been able to accomplish after leaving other treatment programs.

There is no doubt about it, I got help while I was there. It was hard being there for so long, but it turns out it was worth it in the end.

My opinion is this: I have experienced what is out there for people with DID over the past few years, and Sheppard Pratt is hands down the best available.

The main issue they need to resolve is helping people with DID who are in a suicidal crisis get into their general psych unit until a bed becomes open on the trauma unit. I know the hospital has such a good reputation that even the general psych unit doesn’t have empty beds. Still, Sheppard Pratt is in the position where they are mostly alone in helping people with DID around the world, which is a staggering responsibility. I hope they will look to figure out a way to create more bandwidth for their program to help more people.

I have to wonder how many people end their lives because they are unable to access help there. I know I almost didn’t make it.

If you have DID and can wait to get in, the program gets my highest recommendation. A strategy I suggest to everyone is to get on their waiting list if you are even thinking about going into the program. You can always say no-thank you when your number comes up.

Is healing from Dissociative Identity Disorder possible?

I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) in my early twenties. I was in my Senior year of college when I suddenly started having significant psychiatric problems I hadn’t experienced before. Even though my life was actually going very well in the world, my internal experience was crumbling as I had my first Major Depressive episode, panic attacks, and suicidal ideation seemingly coming from nowhere.

I didn’t know what was happening, so I quietly went to the campus mental health center, where the psychiatrist gave me a bottle of Xanax to help me deal with whatever was happening.

It completely consumed my life rather quickly. The pills helped a little, but I was seriously suicidal for unknown reasons.

By some miracle, I had the wherewithal to find a therapist off campus. And then a psychiatrist, and quite quickly, I ended up inpatient at the local psychiatric facility for about six months.

During my time in the hospital, I was trying really hard to understand what was happening to me. I was a mystery to my treatment team, too, as I had so much going for me, why was I doing so poorly?

I started having outrageous transference with my therapist. I felt as though I couldn’t live without her. I would start to get better and approach discharge, and then my therapist would go out of town and I would find myself plotting to kill myself at the hospital. I never had feelings like this about anyone before.

I can remember sitting in a chair thinking in my head that I didn’t understand what was happening. And then I realized there were voices in my head commenting on things or expressing their despair about the therapist. I had always had these voices commenting in my head, but I realized for the first time it was like they were different people with different thoughts. I knew I was going crazy.

I started feeling like I wasn’t in control of my thoughts or behaviors sometimes. I tried to speak about it some to my primary treatment team members, but they didn’t take it too seriously as they knew I was not psychotic.

Back then, I didn’t have the words to properly express my experience of what I now know to be Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID).

When I finally discharged from the hospital, I had a crazy sexually abusive relationship with a counselor from the hospital, and then abruptly decided to get a job at another psychiatric hospital as I was suddenly interested in helping people (and ignored the fact that another part of me had already accepted a job offer from a big corporation).

While I was working at the hospital, I was still trying to figure out me, and would read every patient history, study the DSM, talk to clinicians, sit in on clinical meetings. During my research, I discovered a therapist who specialized in dissociative disorders and trauma therapy.

While still seeing my old therapist back in my college town, I decided to go see the therapist who specialized in dissociation and trauma, and asked her to help me figure out if I had DID.

In case you are wondering, my therapist who I adored and my psychiatrist did not believe in DID.

It is still common today, you have the believers and nonbelievers in the mental health community. It sucks for those of us afflicted.

But I knew I had these strange forces acting within me that I could not explain. I didn’t know anyone with DID back then, so I was really just doing research and grasping at straws to understand what was happening.

It is a blur, but my consultation with the dissociative disorder psychologist led me to a fairly quick diagnosis of DID, and I transferred to her to help me with therapy.

It was a balancing act. I would be in terrible shape during my therapy sessions talking about childhood trauma, and she would also see me as a high functioning successful person at the local hospital when she would come in to see her patients.

What I have found for myself is that if I am around someone who knows I have DID, my parts are more likely to show themselves. My parts found a safe place for them to be “out” and to express their feelings and traumas with the psychologist.

It was a lot. Coming to terms with the truth about my childhood, and learning about all these parts of me.

I managed for a few years to work at the hospital and do intensive outpatient therapy three times a week. Then, the train started coming off the track, and I began a journey of hospital-hopping and instability for the next decade. Sadly, I was so dissociative during this period that I have very little memory of it, so it saddens me to know I lost an entire decade of my life to this illness.

Quite honestly, this was in the 1990s, when there were treatment centers that specialized in DID, but in retrospect, they did not know what they were doing in their attempts to help people with DID. Still, they were important because they were places that understood who we were and what was happening to us, which is not an understanding we could find anywhere else in the world.

As my life was in chaos, and I wasn’t making any progress in therapy, I had a shift in my internal world out of anger toward one of my therapists at the time. This part of me who had enrolled in graduate school to get an MSW had decided that she had enough of the mental health system and the craziness going on in our life.

After ten years of chaos and suicide attempts and more hospitalizations than I can count, with a simple, but determined decision, this part was able to put away the chaos of our lives (the endless number of parts), and we were suddenly living with only 5 parts.

This was manageable.

We had 5 parts who cooperated with one another and didn’t even need therapy or hospitals. The depression, anxiety, and suicidality was suddenly completely gone. We still were not able to sleep without medication, but found doctors to prescribe it for us. Other than that, no mental health care was required.

Our only symptom that we worked to hide every day was our amnesia. We couldn’t remember things that were current (and past important life events), like our neighbor’s first name, or how long it had been since we last spoke to our boss, but we were otherwise doing well.

I don’t want to make light of the amnesia we dealt with during this period as it created enormous anxiety in us everyday that we would be found out that we had a mental illness. But, we knew the skilled clinicians couldn’t help us with this problem, so we did what we do best, we hid our truth.

We lasted about 12-13 years in this fully-functioning (except for the amnesia) period of our life where we were successful in multiple careers, got married, adopted children, bought homes and lived what looked like a “normal” life.

Then my dad got sick with cancer. My family required me to come home to take care of him. It was an extremely messy situation that ended with his death (I am leaving out a tremendous amount of trauma that came with this experience).

While he was dying, voices started showing up again.

About 2 weeks after his death when I returned home, I started experiencing PTSD symptoms. Within weeks of that starting, I went to see a therapist to try to prevent myself from getting really sick again. The therapist had no idea I had DID as it wasn’t something I told people, as I certainly didn’t want to ruin the successful and public career I had at the time.

The therapist was a grief specialist, and was actually really good. Since she didn’t know about my trauma background, she didn’t know that her sitting down beside me on a couch in a therapy session would send me into a mute dissociative state.

It was the first time something like this had happened in over a decade. And the therapist recognized it as something significant, and would only work with me if I went to see a DID specialist and got cleared to see her. I reluctantly agreed, having a sense it was a bad idea for me.

Sure enough, I went to see the therapist in early 2015, and my system of parts exploded open with more parts than I even had before. I struggled mightily to hold onto my life and my career.

By 2017, I wasn’t able to work, and was in and out of hospitals with rageful suicidal ideation, debilitating amnesia, depression, anxiety attacks, and off the charts PTSD. My life was splintered into a zillion pieces again.

Now, it is 2019, and I have been working hard the past 3 years with a therapist who understands severe trauma. I am fortunate to have a therapist who takes clients that other therapists throw away.

I am coming to terms with the abuse I endured. I have just barely made it a full year without being in the hospital. I am still suicidal off and on rather frequently, but manage to get through these times a little better. Working on accepting my truth causes a lot of switching between parts on a daily basis, which in turn means I can’t remember easy things that I should remember.

My brain feels like a jumbled mess just about every day. It is frustrating. I accept my diagnosis and don’t hate or even dislike my parts. I accept my childhood abuse as true, but still, I am mentally incapacitated with amnesia and confusion.

I have come to wonder whether healing is actually possible. Maybe it is for some folks, but not for me? I don’t say that in a derogatory way, but maybe the truth is my mind is just too damaged?

These are the questions I am facing these days. It saddens me to think I might not be able to recover my mind the way it was intended to work.

The wreckage from my childhood may be a permanent part of my life. It doesn’t seem fair, but I for one should know life is not fair. 😔

When my Dissociation makes me feel lost

It has been a long time since I have written anything. I have been doing some better, but struggling more than ever with feeling lost.

There are moments when I forget about my Dissociative Disorder, and then I am talking to a good friend about his son and I can’t remember his son’s name.

These moments of amnesia make me afraid to pose as normal to the world. I have thought about trying to go back to work, then I feel this inner flooding of anxiety.

I ask inside to my other parts what we are so afraid of about going back to work. Apparently, they just don’t think we can do it.

It is possibly true. I know I may seem like I am ok sometimes, but then I look back on my day and realize I only accomplished 1-2 things. On an intense day, I might have struggled to get a 3rd thing done.

I am not sure why I can’t get more done in a day, except for this damn amnesia and feeling confused and lost so much.

I have been trying my best to be present for my children as they both have issues going on and need me. Some moments I am good about that, other days I feel inner parts distance themselves from the children and contemplate suicide.

The therapy is a struggle lately. My child parts are so hurt and don’t understand why we are seeing the T less often. Our insurance would rather pay for hospitalization than outpatient care. Brilliant business people.

The therapist wants us to trust her, but the younger parts feel like she doesn’t care about us. The T struggles with this because she says she doesn’t understand what she can do to show parts she cares about them.

Then, the parts reveal that because she is not abusing us, she doesn’t care about us.

She says she is never going to abuse us, so she is never going to care about us?

Then there are older parts who say we should just stop going to therapy. This doesn’t go far because the Little’s surface and put us in a Little hurt state of mind.

Anyway, like I said, I am feeling lost. Don’t know what to do about much. Contemplating giving up my career and going to work for a low paying job or no job at all. Can’t seem to make any decision about that or anything else.

Lost. That is me.

I am not who I think I am

Today, I began my day getting triggered by my 6 year old son. I keep getting startled by him while I am sleeping in the morning, which then causes me to release all my fight or flight hormones in my body, and then I feel stressed and crappy at the beginning of my day.

Fortunately, it only happens while I am sleeping.

After getting startled awake, I then went to my neurofeedback appointment, which is a good place to go when you are feeling that way because they can help me bring my body back down to calm.

After calming my body, I then did another neurofeedback protocol I have been working with the last few weeks called “deep states.” I like this deep states work because it feels like you are dreaming while you are awake, and it helps you get in touch with your unconscious mind.

It is not like I go and my mind just accesses all my unconscious memories, but it does help me get a smidge more each time I do it.

Today, I processed a lot of familiar memories while in this deep state, and then I started having new memories that were upsetting to say the least.

I want to not believe these new memories from today, but even after I left I had the weirdest experience of having more and more memories involving the same person. It is like my brain would not stop downloading information into my awareness until there was no more room and I was utterly exhausted.

For better or worse, I had therapy today after neurofeedback.

In therapy, I was overwhelmed and felt suicidal. I had this feeling of impending doom because with these new memories comes the idea that I am not who I think I am.

My therapist thinks it is nonsense (my summation of what she said) that I am not who I think I am, but I don’t agree.

My identity today is based on beliefs I have about my life. It turns out my beliefs are wrong.

I built the foundation of my identity on the belief that my father loved me. No one else in my family did, but I thought my father did. I was wrong.

I have gone from believing I came from a family where one person cared about me, to understanding that I really came from a family where I did not matter to anyone, and was only in this family for their sick needs.

It makes sense now. When my father was dying, and I was sitting there with him everyday, he looked at me with pity, not love. He told others he loved them, but not me.

My false picture and selective memory of my father helped me create who I am. Since that is now known to be false, I am nothing but the garbage they believed I was.

I know I can get through this and define myself, but at the moment it doesn’t seem possible. The building blocks that make up my life are not what I thought.

I know some people might think I am dense for not realizing my missing childhood memories are going to make me feel horrible. But, I already know of horrific things that have happened to me. My childhood is already unbelievably horrible.

How can it be worse? I guess I answered my own question.

Trying to process a stuck memory

I feel the tears nearby, but as a system of parts we all struggle to let go of them.

We have been working hard this week on a very difficult memory that we still don’t completely have. Interestingly, each day we work on this in therapy different parts show up and express very different experiences of the same memory.

Some parts remember this memory as if they were watching it from across the room of my childhood bedroom. Some parts are actively stuck in this memory as if it is still happening today. Others will say they weren’t there at all, but they know about it, and try to keep a safe distance from the entire subject.

There is incredible shame about this memory. It is so horrific in our minds we can’t even bring ourselves to share it with our therapist.

It is our biggest secret. One we all think about every single day, as the trauma is still fresh in our brains as it stays stuck, and because it was such a defining moment in our lives.

This is the day that obliterated the self of this body. There is no coming back from this horror, though our therapist would disagree being the optimist she is.

I experienced so many other traumas in my childhood, but I wouldn’t say they obliterated me. This one did.

How can I let go of something that has such a hold on me?

I am my own prisoner. Refusing to allow myself to let go of it for various reasons.

The stuckness of this memory in my brain is my own personal torture. Crazy to grow up being tortured by others, and then continuing to torture myself as an adult.

I am really trying so hard to process this memory with my therapist. I don’t mean to put up resistance, but I do.

She wanted to do EMDR this week with different parts and their experience with this memory. Everyone says “no” out of some extreme fear for unclear reasons.

Each session, a little bit of processing trickles out. So much of the time stuck in my head in “trauma time,” it is a wonder my therapist doesn’t fall asleep during my silence.

My therapist asks me questions about what is going on in my head, and she wants me to be present to answer those questions. But, I am not sure how to get her the answers unless I leave and go to the trauma to find out what I am feeling or thinking.

I think there is an addiction for me to feel the pain and sadness from the trauma as if it were happening now. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is something that really pulls me in to staying with it.

Tomorrow is a new day, and maybe this day will be the day the levee breaks.