Day 5: Why Do I Feel So Much Shame? How Am I Going To Change It?

Keeping in line with the theme of schemas, today’s blog will be about the defectiveness/shame schema.

Just a quick reminder of the definition, this schema refers to the belief that one is inherently flawed and that if others get close, they will realize this and withdraw from the relationship, This feeling of being flawed and inadequate often leads to a strong sense of shame. Generally parents were very critical of their children and made them feel as if they were not worthy of being loved.
When I think back to my childhood, I don’t know if my parents were super critical or not. I honestly can’t remember. I remember them having high standards for me and expecting me to get A’s in school, but I was in the the Gifted program as a child, so I think that might have been part of it. I know schoolwork came easily to me, so easily in fact that I was often bored during class. I was also bullied mercilessly for being smart and catching onto to things quicker than others, and for coming up with ideas that were most certainly outside of the box. When you’re going to an inner city school, sticking out like that is bad. I can still remember how much it hurt to be made fun of for always raising my hand when I knew the answer because 9 times out of 10, I knew the answer, plus a it of trivia to go along with it. I was just a kid, and very socially awkward. I didn’t learn until years later that nobody likes a know-it-all and my wealth of knowledge was very much unwanted and undesired.
I think I acquired this schema over years of being bullied at school and no one doing anything about it. It probably also stems from the years of abuse I endured while many people (actually pretty much everyone) turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to my sufferings. I know that at a young age I started cutting because I couldn’t handle all the emotions inside of me that I didn’t understand. I never said anything to anyone about the cutting because I didn’t think anyone would care, and I felt a deep sense of shame at the fact I was cutting. I knew I shouldn’t do it for some reason, but I was still compelled to do it when I became overwhelmed, which was often.
I don’t know when I started believing that people didn’t care about me and that I was nothing, but I know it was pretty ingrained in my head by the time I was 13. I struggled even more as a teen, and things only got worse in my twenties. Now that I’m 30, things have reached a head, and I’m ready for some hope and change. REAL hope and change. Hope and change that I have control over.
I don’t want to deal with these feelings of shame, rejection, inadequacy and failure anymore. I can look back and see where the thoughts might have started, but I’m ready to change them now. I feel ready to accept the things that happened to me, and acknowledge that they hurt and move on. I’ve got a long road ahead of me, but I think I’m ready to start letting people see the real me, and if they don’t like what they see, well then they weren’t worth the energy spent on them anyway.
Who am I though? I’m a snotty, sarcastic brat sometimes. I get my feelings easily hurt. I don’t like being criticized, too much anyway. I don’t like gossip or talking about people behind their backs, and I’m disinclined to befriend anyone who does that. I’m loyal to the people I care about. I’m a semi-devout Mormon. I love my religion but I struggle with the practicing it at all times, and in all things, and in all places. It’s all a part of the learning to be a good Mormon thing though, and I don’t stop working at it. I have to remember not one member is a perfect Mormon and it helps keep me calm-ish when I inevitably screw up, lol. I’ll come out swinging if I feel my kids are being threatened or in danger. My daughter’s school definitely knows who I am because I don’t hesitate to talk to them if I perceive a problem. I’m officially a geek. My husband can be thanked for that. I quote Harry Potter like Scripture, am obsessed with Orson Scott Card’s Ender Games series, and am impatiently awaiting Catching Fire being released. I love fighting for mental health rights, and am passionate about promoting anti-bulllying and suicide prevention programs for all the grade schools across Utah. I thoroughly enjoy my work with NAMI as well as the small part I play with the AFSP. I want to do more and am slowly building up to being more active in those organizations.
I think maybe I am starting to love me. Or at least like me a little bit. I mean, if I met someone who was just like the person I described me as, I’d at least like them. I might even adore them. So if I could adore a hypothetical person who is just like me, why can’t I adore me? Why can’t I be my biggest fan? I mean, no one else is going to be my constant cheerleader like I can be. My husband does his best, and my friends do their best, but they all fall short. I’ve got to cheer me on because only I know the best way to cheer for me.
And in all honesty, I haven’t been a very easy person to befriend. I’ve perceived myself as socially awkward for so long that it’s my defense mechanism I hide behind. I can’t be sociable because no one will like me for who I really am. I’m always sticking my foot in my mouth so I should stay aloof and distant. My therapist says I hide behind my sarcasm, but I’m working on overcoming that. I’ve been 100% genuine in all of my conversations with commenters and in my blog posts.
I can’t think so negatively anymore. One of the biggest things I have to do is practice forgiveness. I have to forgive myself for all the screw ups I’ve made, and let them go. God has forgiven me for my sins ‘and remembers them no more’, why can’t I do the same? I’ve got to. I’ve also got to accept that it was…not…my…fault…for being abused as a child. I am slowly coming to terms with that and trying to accept that I was a helpless victim at the time. I pray that I’ll be able to forgive myself because once I’m not holding myself to such impossible standards, maybe I’ll truly love myself then.  I’ll be able to see others as the beautifully imperfect people they are too, and enjoy having them in my life.
So, another introspective blog about where I am in this adventure called Life, and where I plan on heading next. I’ve made goals, now I have to follow through with them. Wish me luck, I think I’m going to need a healthy dose of that to become the person I dream of being. I hope you found my journey through this schema interesting and not a boring waste of time. If you’ve stuck with me this long, thanks for sticking it out with me.
So is there anything you discovered about yourself as you read this post? Do you have any goals you want to make, or any things you’d like to start changing about yourself? I still feel I’m a very flawed being, I know I’ve got lots of work to do to change that. How much work, if any, do you think you have to do on yourself?

Day 4: Keeping Secrets is Poison…

Dealing With The Mistrust/Abuse Schema

Yesterday I gave a brief overview of what schemas are and what mine in particular are. Today I’m going to work on a therapy assignment and fulfill my daily blog challenge by delving into the mistrust/abuse schema and trying to figure out why I have it and how it affects me. Remember that schemas are an extremely stable, enduring negative pattern that develops during childhood or adolescence and is elaborated throughout an individuals life. We view the world through our schemas.

So just as a refresher, the mistrust/abuse schema refers to the expectation that others will intentionally take advantage in some way. People with this schema expect others to hurt, cheat or put them down. They often think in terms of attacking first or getting revenge afterwards, In childhood, these people were often abused or treated unfairly by parents, siblings, or peers.

So what happened to me as a kid to cause me to have this as my main schema? When I think of my childhood, I only remember bits and pieces. I’ve managed to block a lot of it out for some reason. I remember a lot of unpleasant parts, but there are some good memories mixed in as well. So although I remember waking up at nights to hearing my parents screaming at each other, I also remember going to the beach and spending weeks there. And although I remember the abuse that I suffered at the hands of multiple people, I remember the time my dad took me to Burger King so I could get a Nightmare Before Christmas watch, which I wanted so much. I remember the unpleasant parts so much more vividly though. Thanks to therapy, I’ve come to terms with much of the abuse I dealt with, but there are still so many other instances that are still suppressed and only come up as flashbacks. It’s like I’ve forgotten more about being a victim than the average person will ever know.

How is realizing this stuff helpful for me? Acknowledging that my perception of the world may be skewed because of everything that has happened to me has been very valuable. It’s made me stop and think when my paranoia gets the better of me. It’s made me stop and not juudge people in such a negative light. It’s been a long painful process coming to terms with having been an innocent child who was preyed upon, but being able to comes to terms with it has helped me become more whole. It’s not been fun working through this, for example, my therapist encouraged me to journal, and I would get so upset as I was writing that I would down a week’s worth of pills to stop feeling all the emotional turmoil. Since my emotions were so unsteady, we eventually stopped trying to work through all the abuse that way and put it on the back burner for the time being. We’ve worked on coping skills, and contemplating the thought that I might be wrong about how I perceive the world. It’s been a few months, and I think I’m ready to deal with this schema without resorting to overdosing to cope with the emotions it brings up.

I mean it’s been super unpleasant typing all this out and I haven’t even gone into any detail about what’s happened to me, but I feel better for getting it out in the open. I’m sick of secrets, and of things being swept under the rug, and I refuse to be ashamed of the fact that I was once a victim of abuse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to get a shirt that says ‘Abuse Survivor”, but I’m not hiding it from people anymore. I worked on an assignment in the hospital and the one thing that stuck with me the most was the statement that “You are okay when you can look someone in the eye and say ‘And I’m okay.’.”

And I think I’m finally to that point. I don’t feel that deep sense of shame in my stomach anymore. I don’t feel like I need to keep my eyes cast down anymore as I talk about this. One thing that has helped me through this schema has been my children. I look at their sweet innocent faces and try to imagine any circumstance where abusing them is okay. And there is none. It is in no way my kids’ fault if something happens to them because they are powerless at their ages. I was once that powerless too, even though it’s taken me years to admit it. I couldn’t control the events surrounding me as a child any more than my children can control what we adults in their lives do to them now.

So that’s it. I’m not keeping secrets anymore. I sincerely hope that getting this all out in the open is truly the healing balm that I need to become closer to being a whole person again.

Day 3: A Letter To My Schemas

I was given the assignment to write a letter to my schemas a few months ago to try and get out the emotions that I was bottling up inside me. I’d like to share that letter with you all.

To all my schemas:

I hate you. I despise the fact that I’m stuck in these unhealthy belief systems because of everything that’s happened to me. I hate that I can’t get close to others because I’m scared they’ll hurt me. I hate that I can’t figure me out because I’m just as scared of myself as well. I hate that life has been unfair to me and thus creating all this mistrust in the people I want to care about. I hate how I can’t form new relationships with people because I’m scared they’ll eventually push me away. I hate that I generally distance myself first so I’m not hurt when they do it because it ultimately always happens.

I hate that I feel so isolated from the world and that I feel not one with my community or family  or anywhere really. I desperate;y want to belong somewhere and feel cared about and welcomed, but I don’t know how to un-break myself and find a place to belong.

I strongly despise the fact that I see myself as inherently broken and flawed. Because I view myself like this, I believe others view me like this as well. I hate feeling so ashamed of my past and especially how I feel s ashamed of the person I am now. I don’t think I need to be so hard on myself, but I don’t know how to change my perception. I hate how I can’t handle criticism or feeling rejected by the slightest things and I especially can’t stand being blamed for things that aren’t my fault. I feel like it’s led me to over-blame others at times and not take my share of responsibility. I don’t like feeling constantly on-guard and so self-conscious and insecure in my surroundings and interactions with other people. I hate how I have masks I wear so no one sees the genuine me because I’m too afraid to be left vulnerable. I hate being bipolar, I can’t find the happy medium I need to exist peacefully and it makes me miserable. I hate how my meds stifle my creativity, yet there’s nothing I can do about it. I hate taking meds every day for something no one can see. I hate being punished time and time again because I’m bipolar and can’t always control my emotions. I want to come to terms wuth who I am so I don’t feel so insecure around others and so I am finally comfortable in my own skin again.

I don’t like that I put everyone’s needs ahead of my own, to the point that I go without necessities because I feel that the resources necessary to me would be better used elsewhere. I hate that when I go too long without filling my own tank and fulfilling my own needs I overcompensate and go on a spending spree or if I truly want something and can’t afford it, I’m inclined to steal it rather than waste money on me. This also ties into not having good self control and I hate that about me. I try so hard to stay in control of my emotions that I stop feeling completely because I don’t want to be out of control. I can’t complete tasks, if it’s too hard or perceived as too hard I find it almost impossible to do. I go out of my way to avoid discomfort and pain, but by doing so I generally create more discomfort and pain in the long run.

I also hate how I never feel ‘done’, or accomplished, or good enough.  I’m never satisfied with myself, I always feel insecure about nearly every move I make and it is generally because I want to avoid criticism. I wish I could just feel comfortable and known when things are ‘good enough’ or what’s normal so I could keep my thoughts and behaviours more in tune with that.

And most of all, I hate this trapped feeling I have and the overwhelming frustration of not being able to fix this myself and figure myself out without anyone else’s help. I feel more broken because I don’t know which direction to go in or what steps to take to change my life around and I don’t like it. I should know myself and not need anyone else’s help knowing me and I resent myself for being this way. I resent these life traps because I don’t know how to change them and I struggle to use the techniques I’ve been taught that might help. This is just not fair.

Tricia

*Now that you’ve read this (if you stuck with it and didn’t just scroll to the last paragraph here), you probably think I’m a crazy loon who should be locked up. I disagree. I wrote this letter shortly after getting out of the hospital and as one of my first ‘real’ therapy assignments. I’d like to think that if I were to rewrite this letter now, it’d be far less angry and bitter, and that some of the issues with my schemas have been resolved. You’ll have to come back tomorrow to see me thoughts on my first schema, mistrust/abuse. I analyzed my thoughts and reasons for that schema and wrote about it. I’ll be doing thta for all my schemas this week and I’d like you to notice the difference between my letter talking about those schemas, and how I write about them now. So definitely stay tuned for more crazy ramblings from this bipolar mama!

Have you ever written an angry letter? What did you do with it? Did you tear it up, burn it up, or actually send it? Did you even…put it out in the blogosphere for the world to see?

We’re only as sick as our secrets

I heard this a lot when I was in the hospital. The therapists there taught us that sharing the things we had hidden in the deepest recesses of our hearts could help us heal. I was super skeptical at first, but as I opened up and talked about the things in my past that had been buried away, I actually started to feel…different. I felt emotions again. Well…*one* emotion. And it sucked. I hated how sad I felt, and it was a crushing sadness. I had no idea how long it would last, but if that was what happened when you opened up to try and let the inner hurt out, well…I figured I could live without it, especially if it was going to leave me a crying mess all the time. And we were pushed to our limits to feel and acknowledge our emotions, and to open up, and to discuss things. I was no small source of frustration to one of the therapists because I simply couldn’t open up and talk about things. She would push and push and try to make me feel, but I couldn’t do it. Not in front of a group of people. If I was going to lose control, I’d do it in private, thank you very much.

As much as it sucked, it was incredibly therapeutic and I discovered that I had to be pushed into emotional turmoil if I were ever going to make any progress on ‘fixing’ me. And once I told the therapists, they did all they could to help keep me working hard on issues that were incredibly difficult to work through…because I was in a safe place, and if it triggered too much, I would be okay. I begged my outpatient therapist to push me just as hard, but she won’t for liability reasons. She said she is willing to push me, but not like they did because she has to make sure I’m safe when I leave her office, whereas I wasn’t going anywhere in the hospital and I could be pushed harder.

But here I am, nearly a month later, and the intensity of the sadness faded, and other emotions have been felt as well. I’ve felt excitement at going out with girlfriends for lunch, I’ve felt happiness at being with my husband, joy at watching my youngest learn to walk…there are still times when I feel sad, but it’s not that deep dark sadness that I felt at first.

Letting out your secrets is a hard and painful thing to do. My therapist has me doing a lot of writing for her, and she also has me working out of a DBT workbook for bipolar patients. The last writing assignment she gave me was harder than I’d expected it to be. She wanted me to write a letter to my schemas, (for those of you who don’t know, a schema is basically  belief that you have about the world that is severely skewed in a negative light, which affects your thoughts and actions; it’s also called a life-trap) and explain how they made me felt. I know my top 6, and I wrote to all of them. It was a painful process.

My main schemas include mistrust/abuse, social isolation, defectiveness/shame, self-sacrifice, unrelenting standards, and insufficient self control. I won’t go into what those all mean here, because I don’t see any point to it. I don’t like that I have these life traps which affect my thought processes and perceptions about the world. I’m especially frustrated that I don’t know how to fix them myself and that I have to rely on my therapist to help me work through them.

I want to be able to do it on my own because that’s just who I am. I help other people with their problems, and I handle my own stuff myself. If I can’t fix myself, then that must mean it was meant to stay broken. This is the attitude I had for the longest time, but it’s recently began to change to where I can accept that if I’ve tried and tried to fix it, then maybe it’s okay after all to ask for help. I just hate asking for help when I don’t know what help I need.

So are we really only as sick as our secrets? I was a disbeliever at first, but now that I’ve started sharing my some of my ‘secrets’ with people I trust…(like my husband, my therapist, my church leader), I’ve noticed a difference. Some have been eye-opening in your face changes in me, and others have been more subtle. I think I can agree that we’re only as sick as what we’re hiding on the inside, and getting it out into the open…to be laid bare for all to see, can be one of the best healing steps of all.

Being inpatient…again and again…and again.

I recently spent close to 3 weeks inpatient psych after 2 suicide attempts. 20 days away from my 4 kids. On one hand it sucked terribly, on the other, I suddenly was forced into discovering ME, and figuring out who Tricia was when she wasn’t being a mommy or a wife. Not that this was my first venture into a psych ward, I had severe postpartum depression after my last child was born and spent 2 weeks inpatient then. I also spent many weeks in the psych ward after a mental breakdown in my early twenties. Not to mention the in and out stays during my teen years. So, back to my most recent visits…

I actually had two forays into inpatient stay, one lasted 8 days, and the other lasting 11. The worst stay was those first 8 days I was gone…I had a terrible doctor who refused to put me on the right medication, instead she opted to put me on Haldol (an older antipsychotic used in the treatment of schizophrenia and acute psychotic states and delirium)which did me no good at all. She refused to prescribe my Concerta, yet continued my Suboxone, and refused and anti-anxiety medication at all, choosing to let Haldol replace any benzodiazepines.  It did such little good because it caused such extreme sedation that I was practically a zombie. I gained no valuable experience from that stay, being unable to attend therapy or groups and whatnot. So after 8 days of no good at all, I was released because I was considered to “no longer be a threat to myself”. This clearly wasn’t true because not even a week later I had a much more serious suicide attempt, thus landing me in a different hospital further away from home and family.

As much as I resented it at first, this actually proved to be a godsend. I had a doctor who actually ‘got’ me, because he understood bipolar disorder. He immediately put me back on the medicinal regimen I had been on  6 months prior to my inpatient stays. He listened to me, he didn’t hide things from me, he was honest with me, and I felt I could be honest with him as well. He respected the fact that I knew my body best and was educated enough about my disorder to know what was effective and what wasn’t. I was back on my Welbutrin, Abilify, Xanex, Concerta and Ambien that day. (After my experience at the previous hospital, I quit the Suboxone and swore off all narcotics for good.) Now that I was in a controlled environment, I discovered that Xanex wasn’t the best anti-anxiety med for me, given it’s short half life, and my extreme anxiety.  My doctor and I made the decision to try Klonopin instead, even though I had not had good results with it in the past, because I was willing to trust him and try it again. Miraculously enough it worked wonders for my anxiety this time, and it lasted much longer than the Xanex.

So with my meds fixed, I should have been good to go home after a few days right? Wrong! This hospital had several different psychiatric units, and I was on a unit exclusively for women who had suffered trauma or abuse at some point in their life. We had a very rigid schedule from 7 AM until around 4 PM, which is when we could finally have some downtime. We spent at least 6 hours a day either in therapy or in classes; learning valuable new skills and learning new coping skills and gaining new insights and perspectives on our lives. The therapy groups were very DBT based, and I’ll never forget some of the practices that were taught. We were given schema diaries, and had to discover our ‘life traps’, which are  negative beliefs about the world that affected how we behave.  I had done the schema diaries before, but never took it seriously until now. This time I was given a starter kit, if you will, on how to proceed with life going forward once I left the hospital.

I’ll never forget the staff there, ever. I’ve never been inpatient anywhere where there was so much true compassion and genuine caring for the patients in the staff’s care. From the head nurse to the therapists, to even the cafeteria staff, these people cared about us and we could feel it. It gave me the courage to actually reach out and allow myself to be vulnerable, and to open up about issues that had never seen the light of day. I actually did the homework assignments, I actually did the workbook assignments, and I actually discovered who I used to be, and who I could be again. It was liberating, and yet terrifying at the same time. I’d spent so many years suppressing my emotions, I had no idea how to handle them now that I was allowing them to surface out. I was in a great place to learn how to cope with them in a safe manner. I also finally had a clear game plan for therapy out in the real world. I knew what direction I wanted to take, and what I needed to work through. I went into that hospital as a broken woman, and left with a sense of purpose and hope that I’d never felt before upon any other discharge. My husband swears that if I ever relapse again, I’ll go back to this hospital because they did me the most good that he’d ever seen.

So how did I end up spending all this time in the hospital anyway? I mean, after going so long on the outside without needing to be admitted? You see, I had quit taking all my meds a few months prior, for a multitude of reasons… which did me no good at all, but for some reason seemed like an excellent idea at the time. I lasted about 5 months without any meds; five miserable months in which I had a few days of functioning, and then many days where I simply couldn’t even get out of bed to properly care for my family. It was a rough time and I feel horrid about how it affected everyone around me, especially my kids. I know they suffered the most by not having mommy totally there. Thanks be to God that I have a wonderful husband who was able to be there too and pick up all the pieces of the mess I was making.

It all really started spiraling downward when my cousin hung herself and left her family behind. I’d been having suicidal thoughts for awhile but couldn’t bring myself to do anything about it because I had my family to think of, right? Yet suddenly here was someone who was able to overcome that and leave it all behind, and if she could do it, why couldn’t I? Not very rational thinking I’ll admit, but what bipolar person thinks rationally when they’ve been off their meds for awhile? No justification there, just an observation. I got more and more depressed, I started fighting with my husband more and more, and there were more and more days that I couldn’t get out of bed and function.

The one who bore the brunt of this, to my shame, was my youngest, who I felt was to blame for all my woes. She suffered the most because she was the most helpless of my kids, the least independent and the one who needed her parents the most. She could sense my disinterest and clung to her dad all the more tightly, distancing our relationship even further, even to the point where I felt giving her up for adoption would be in her best interests because I felt I was doing irreparable damage to her, simply by being her mother. Fortunately, small children are quick to forgive, and also quick to give their love to those willing to receive it and much of the damage I had done has been repaired since I was released this last time. I’m so grateful to have been given a second chance with her and that she has responded so well to my new attitude and sudden interest in her. My other children don’t seem to have suffered as much, they were very happy to have mommy back home, and wanted a lot of snuggles at first, and I made sure they got them. I still make sure they get their snuggles now, in fact.

What was the point of this rambling post? I’m not sure really. Maybe someone will come across it and find some hope in that there is quality treatment out there, that there are good hospitals out there, or maybe someone will feel like trying therapy again, or maybe going to their doctor to try yet another medication again, or whatever positiveness that can be found here. I hope someone can find some positiveness in my little ramblings here because I found hope through what I went through, and I want to share that with the world.