Learning what is different today than when I was abused as a child

My system of parts has been in a state of perpetual trigger these past few weeks. I can verbalize I am in the present moment, where I am at, and what is happening, but my body and mind is adamant that I am in the same danger as my childhood.

I have become afraid of my spouse, therapists, and all sorts of other things in my life.

Usually when this happens I am not able to verbalize that I am safe, an adult, and in 2019. So, it’s new and scary to experience both realities at the same time.

When I am overwhelmed like this, my knee-jerk reaction is to convince myself I need to commit suicide. I know I don’t want to do this to my kids, but how to figure out how to stop the pain, the fear, the confusion.

My therapist was gracious enough to do an extra-long session with me yesterday to try to help me. We both want to get me through this time of year without a psychiatric hospitalization, which has been inching closer.

My therapist wants me to dig deep.

My mind is programmed to look for similarities to my child abuse so as to protect me from more abuse. Guess what. It is easy to find a lot of similarities in my life right now.

My therapist says I need to focus on what is different (and some other things that I can’t remember), so I am trying to talk my way through the day asking myself what is different. I do this because too many parts of me do not understand that my life as an adult is different than when I was abused as a child.

I must remind myself I have power I didn’t have as a child. I have choices I didn’t have as a child. My environment is different than when I was a child. My body is stronger and my brain is smarter than when I was a child.

I am hoping and praying that by digging deep into what is different for me today that the many system insiders who are stuck in a triggered state can come out and be free to experience life as a person who doesn’t get perpetually abused.

My insiders believe our purpose in life is to fulfill the fantasies and needs of the sick and twisted on earth.

I am trying my best to imagine a life where my system doesn’t expect to be abused at every turn throughout our days. What I have learned for myself is that the abuse is such a part of my system insiders that my perpetrators get to continue the abuse even when it has actually stopped.

I am not saying that abuse doesn’t happen to adults, especially those of us who have been abused as children. It does. And it has happened to me more times than I like to think about.

Still, the brutality I experience in my mind everyday is not really happening, so I must learn to turn it off. Separate reality from distorted reality.

My system of insiders deserves peace. We deserve to live at a restful state of not feeling like we are being attacked constantly.

So, I must scan my environment and my mind and remind myself of what is different today.

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 there 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. 😔

The Benefits of Neurofeedback for the Traumatized Brain

Neurofeedback

Let me begin by saying I am a huge believer in the amazing benefits of neurofeedback for everyone. In fact, if you were around me daily, you would probably hear me griping about why neurofeedback is not done in every doctor and therapist office in the country, and the madness of insurance companies not wanting to pay for this very effective tool for so many ailments.

I was first introduced to neurofeedback this past Summer when I had gone to an “integrative” treatment center for trauma. As someone who was becoming more and more frustrated by the short-comings of talk-therapy alone, I was looking for something that would address the entire mind-body-spirit of my being.

I have experienced severe childhood abuse, which resulted in a lifetime of wrestling with Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Depression, and Anxiety.

Many of us would like to believe that once we escaped the childhood abuse, we are free to live a happy life. What most people don’t speak about is the lifelong affects severe childhood abuse has on a person’s brain and physical health, which contributes to the lifetime of struggling with various forms of mental illness as a result.

I have been in treatment for my severe trauma on-and-off for 28 years. I think during that period most people in the field of treating trauma would agree with me that they haven’t always known what they are doing with treating trauma.

Today, so much more research has been done to show more effective ways of treating trauma. For instance, EMDR has solid research behind it as a very effective tool to help many trauma survivors process their trauma faster, which means many people are not stuck with the aftereffects of trauma for their entire life. This is huge, but not always told or offered to trauma survivors. Though, to be fair, trauma survivors are more likely to stumble across EMDR than they are neurofeedback.

If you read a lot about trauma, or are in the field, you should be aware of the cutting-edge trauma experts like Bessel van der Kolk, Peter Levine, Dan Siegel, Pat Ogden, and Stephen Porges. There are a lot of other so-called experts out there, but most of them are what I would term “old school,” as they have not embraced the significant importance of addressing the mind-body-spirit when attempting to help people with trauma. They are sticking mainly to talk-therapy only as an approach, and this is a horrible disservice to those who have been traumatized.

I live on the East Coast, and found myself not making any progress with the swamp of trauma symptoms I was stuck in while I was doing extensive talk therapy only. I decided after doing a lot of research to head to California to get help with my trauma symptoms that were so severe I wasn’t able to function in my life. I was desperate as I had been in bed for 17 months, and generally not participating in my life,

After arriving in California, I quickly had an entirely new vocabulary for trauma treatments, and I was open to just about everything. I am tempted to go into all the different therapies here, but I want to stay focused on the neurofeedback. Neurofeedback therapy for trauma survivors was a given for every therapist and good trauma treatment center I looked at on the West Coast.

Ideally, when you begin neurofeedback, you want to get a QEEG or “brain map,” which is a snapshot of your brain and how it functions over a fairly short period of time (for me, it was 40 minutes under different scenarios). This brain map is so valuable because it can be compared to what a normal functioning brain looks like, and it can also be used to show that during the brain mapping period, your brain might look similar to someone who has anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, pain, depression, etc.

In my case, my brain map looked worse than even I expected, so it was a little overwhelming to sit with the results. I had done a brain map of my son who has some attention and sensory issues, so I had an idea what it was supposed to look like.  In layman’s terms. my brain showed a shit-storm of color in areas that should have shown up white, and my brain waves were extremely erratic and all over the place outside the normal range. For someone with complex-PTSD, this validates the daily symptoms we experience.

I learned a very important word called neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize and heal itself by forming new neural pathways. This concept is so, so important to think about when looking at healing trauma.

Once my rational brain came back online, I knew I could repair much, if not all, of what was wrong with my brain through neurofeedback.

Through only 15 sessions of neurofeedback, I came out of it with some extremely important results as a trauma survivor. I don’t know how else to put it, but my mind was stronger. I was no longer depressed. I had less anxiety and an easier time going to sleep. Most importantly to my overall healing from trauma, the 15 sessions put me in a place where I could regulate my emotions better, which means I could tolerate talking about the most difficult parts of my trauma, which is something I was not able to do prior to the neurofeedback.

The inability to tolerate difficult or overwhelming emotions is probably the single biggest reason why trauma survivors stay stuck in talk therapy and don’t make the progress they need to move on with their lives. Yet, my experience in the old-school trauma circles that dominate the trauma industry is that there is almost no mention or even knowledge about the benefits of neurofeedback for trauma survivors.

If I look today at all the mainstream trauma treatment centers in the U.S., there is no place that is currently utilizing neurofeedback despite the extensive research that supports its usage. The only places that seem to offer it are the places where your insurance will not pay, and you are expected to pay out-of-pocket $40-50k per month for treatment. That’s the only way to get intensive cutting age trauma treatment at this moment.

The good news is that you can find neurofeedback offered on its own in some outpatient settings. I live in a major city, and there are probably about 14 options listed on a Google search for people to pursue neurofeedback. Typically, if you have severe trauma, you can expect to do 30-40 sessions for the neurofeedback to stick for the rest of your life.

When I returned to my home city on the East Coast, I found an excellent neurofeedback provider, and I am really looking forward to updating you on the continued results I experience to lessen my symptoms and to help my brain function the way it is intended.

neurofeedback_1

My hope is that you take away from this that neurofeedback works for many, many problems people struggle with. Besides the symptoms of trauma, it has been shown to help people with ADHD, Autism, Insomnia, headaches, Anxiety, Depression, and overall improved brain performance, which is why you will hear of Olympic athletes who use neurofeedback to enhance their performance.

Neurofeedback is not new and whacky, There is lots of science to support it. Don’t expect your doctor or therapist to recommend it, because that is not likely to happen. But, if you are feeling stuck or want to get better quicker, it is a no-brainer to take advantage of neurofeedback to help heal your brain.

And if you think your brain is just fine as a trauma survivor, let me mention when I took the brain QEEG, I was feeling relaxed and nothing was bothering me too much. But, what showed up on the QEEG was a huge amount of anxiety that I am so used to experiencing everyday that it did not seem like a big deal and was unnoticed by me. This unnoticed anxiety I am used to living with has already caused me some serious health consequences.

musclebrain

The bottom line, if you have the means to do so, look into neurofeedback and give it a try. It is easy to do, and the results can be life-changing. I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t benefit from a stronger functioning brain, even if you think you have no issues. If you have a severe trauma background, do it. It will save you years of talk therapy time and money, and will give you a better quality of life.