some thoughts on “The Body Keeps the Score”

I don’t consider myself an avid reader, yet lately that’s all that I’ve been doing. What i’m about to say is in no way to shame others for doing things solely for enjoyment… but for whatever reason i personally have found myself frustrated, more than anything, any time i tried to play video games or watch TV. When I read, at least i feel like im learning something. and when i’m having “too” much fun, it starts feeling empty somehow.

it’s not necessarily that i feel some profound need to be productive. it’s more that whenever i did these things — scrolling through facebook, sometimes listening to music even — i had the sense that i wasn’t doing it for fun but merely as a distraction. to keep my mind off of whatever I was feeling at the moment. (Except as a result i ended up too distracted to focus on the distraction itself…)

Self-indulgence — such as overeating — is a coping skill first and foremost. So i guess it’s only logical that the less stressed out I am, the less I need it. But that’s not all.

I’m currently reading the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk. In it he discusses the impact of trauma on your life. And although i don’t suffer from PTSD or anything like that, the book has resonated with me immensely. You don’t need to have experienced anything horrendous in your life order to benefit from all the insights it offers about people, our needs, and the way we process our emotions.

A lot of it also makes intuitive sense and kind of confirms certain things I have suspected for a while now (while backing it up with research).

The major thing that i personally can relate to is the disconnect between your body and mind when you find yourself unable to cope with something (I do not know why i personally struggle with this, but, as always, I have some theories). Basically “all trauma is preverbal” and unless you have a vocabulary to deal with it (and also address it in a way that activates specific brain regions associated with linguistic expression), it will manifest itself in physical ways.

The author provides many alternative methods that will bring the traumatic memories to conscious awareness where they can be faced head-on, arguing that conventional talk therapy is not enough to put those feelings behind you.

among others, he talks about mindfulness, and does so in a way that for me, a person who’s been playing with the idea for ageesss but could never muster the courage and/or self-discipline for it, finally makes it more appealing than scary. Or maybe it’s just that I’m ready now?

whichever it is, i’m becoming increasingly annoyed with my habit of just numbing out.

A few passages in particular have stayed with me:

[Many traumatized people] lose their sense of purpose and direction (…) How could they make decisions, or put any plan into action, if they couldn’t define what they wanted or, to be more precise, what the sensations in their bodies, the basis of all emotions, were trying to tell them?

Traumatized people are often afraid of feeling (…) [Many of them] are compulsive eaters and drinkers, fear making love, and avoid many social activities: Their sensory world is largely off limits.

Although widely understood to be harmful to health, each adaptation [such as smoking, drinking, drugs, obesity] is notably difficult to give up (…) [T]he presenting problem is often only the marker for the real problem, which lies buried in time, concealed by patient shame (…).

at the risk of coming off as tone-deaf, i will admit that i have noticed these patterns in myself. by no means am I trying to appropriate the term “trauma,” i think I’m just … oversensitive, and poorly equipped to deal with it.

Van der Kolk perfectly captures the feeling i had in therapy of being somehow removed from the experiences & feelings i was describing. Even while i was crying my heart out in the comfy chair, it still never felt like i was getting to the core of the feeling.

that was because my memories and sensations are so scattered and fragmentary that I cannot put them into a coherent sequence which I could integrate into a larger narrative. everything bad that happens to me feels like the end of the world

…that never ends but goes on, and on, and on.

PTSD is an extreme reaction to an extreme situation. but the strategies proposed in this book are not limited to such severe distress. they’re about cultivating self-awareness, which is the only way we can manage how we feel and behave.

Self-awareness was the very thing I had always lacked, and now you’re telling me I can develop it by simply practicing yoga? 🙂 …It’s not that I didn’t know it would help; everybody kept telling me so. But my body felt so foreign, and i was so reluctant to get in touch with it.

on a seemingly unrelated note, i had this massive realization a few days back … that obsessed as i am with it, I don’t actually care how stupid or intelligent I am. Or i do, but only to the extent that it influences other people’s perceptions of me. I have carried so much shame about being “dumb.” but only because i thought of it as a factor based on which other people would reject me.

mind you, i know this might be true most of the time.

but the rejections don’t hurt because i desperately need this particular person in my life. they hurt because every.single.person’s pronouncement on my negative qualities, I take as gospel. it doesn’t even have to be articulated in these terms; my boss laughing at me for being too straightforward with a customer does the trick, and bam! I’m depressed for the rest of the day.

Maybe i wouldnt feel as bad about myself if i didn’t assume everyone had all these expectations? or even if they do, it isn’t my job to meet those expectations. I never realized I could be happy and satisfied with what I was; that I could be comfortable in my skin just the way that I was. because i felt i was always being judged, my own feelings never seemed like enough, never mattered.

in other words, my body and mind were out of sync.

The book covers so many topics in such detail that i could never do it justice, but i highly recommend it, not only to survivors of trauma. everyone can take away something valuable and relevant to themselves from a really good book like that.

so much of life is just passing the time, just going through the motions. it is okay to be kind to yourself. I used to dismiss it as a waste of time. But … if enjoying yourself isn’t worth it, then … what is?

I’ve been doing some strange things lately, spontaneous things like somersaults in the meadow, which i could go into how that reconnected me with my body and my childlike sense of joy and all that, but it was just SO MUCH FUN. yesterday i went for a walk in the rain late in the evening; that felt amazing, too.

i think i used to discount physical ways of managing negative emotions because i thought they made me weak. i thought i should be able to rationalize my way out of sadness and anger, to self-regulate intellectually. But the truth is, feelings have a very real physical dimension. I mean, even in the most basic sense of neurotransmitters and stuff, they literally are physical.

of course ultimately i ended up distancing myself from what i felt with distractions that were very physical indeed.

luckily, turns out you can do very basic things with a sense of purpose.

regulating the dys

having agreed on postponing our sessions until July, one of the things my therapist emphasized during our last appointment was that i really need to keep talking about whatever it is that i feel i need to talk about. this seemed counterintuitive, but also validating. guilty as i feel about it, much as i wish i could stop it, there’s still loads and loads of things i need to share before i can process & get past them.

and yes, i’m aware that talking about shit in abstract terms is one of my favorite ways of avoiding real responsibility. it’s a coping mechanism of sorts. not a very productive one, to be sure, but a skill nonetheless.

what i will try to do is i will try to make the abstract concrete, and to put a more positive spin on things. I can’t help being a verbal processor; might as well turn it into a strength. if all i do is hypothesize, i should at least be able to shift my perspective, and potentially it can make all the difference.

to my surprise, after my all time low didn’t come the biggest high of my life. that’s what would normally have happened. but this roller-coaster ride wasn’t sustainable. and so i settled on a place in between, or rather removed from, depression and happiness. i put a hold on experiencing my emotions, because i needed to break the pattern in order to examine it.

examine it i did, though i’m still not clear on why it’s there or how to change it for good — but at least I know about it. and i know that certain things contribute to my mood getting better or worse, and there’s not that One Thing that i was looking for that would solve All My Problems.

The concrete has always sounded incredibly banal to me, but I have come to understand that there’s no shame in admitting that it does help.

for whatever reason, i resented the fact that im actually relatively low-maintenance, and I don’t need that much to be happy. solution? i didn’t do any of those things, because they seemed pathetic. unambitious. boring.

it’s almost as if i wanted to amount to fuck knows what, without meeting any of my most basic needs first. but you know what, you can’t just skip steps like that, and neglecting self-care catches up with you eventually. I have to take care of myself not out of vanity, but because nobody else will.

i also now appreciate that self-regulation is a complex skill, but very much a teachable one. And that precisely because it is so complex, sometimes baby steps can take you further than you thought they would (or could).

i get sad sometimes, but i can be okay with that sadness. i may not be able to make it go away, but there are things i can do to get through it. make it more manageable. learn from it. and if all else fails, distract myself from it until it passes on its own as it always does.

it will come back. but i will be better prepared to deal with it.

PS i haven’t yet figured out how to credit the artist, but the featured image is one of my favorites by @PDLComics (obviously).

a life of non-statements

I’d like to preface this by saying that I experience the world, including my own emotions, in very physical ways. which is to say that when i’m talking about food, for instance, i’m not really talking about food, you know what i mean? With that in mind, i present to you a conversation about moisturizing.

the back of my hands gotten all irritated again. I showed it to my parents and kind of laughed about it, but they didn’t seem amused one bit. Stern looks on their faces, they kept asking why i don’t do something about it, and i kind of just stood there limply, not really knowing how to respond.

They were both growing increasingly frustrated, so i thought about it for a moment and replied (let me remind you they are very right-wing), You might be relieved to learn that it’s not a feminist statement where i make myself purposely ugly or anything like that. I just… don’t care.

they looked at each other, their expressions going from blank to baffled to offended, and then my dad asked, Well is there anything you care about?

Another pause from me, then a tentative shake of the head “no”. they stared at me in disbelief. The conversation ended there, and i went to my room.

And I’m sitting here, confused as to what it was that so exasperated my parents. and also — was my answer accurate? was it genuine? im inclined to say yes to both, because it was spontaneous, and, in a way, uncalled for. What i should have said instead was something along the lines of a dismissive “ughh you know my lazy ass & how i am about wearing gloves!”.

i don’t know why i decided to be honest when put on the spot today. probably because i had never tried to get to the bottom of my own poor decisions before. I didn’t have time to process the conclusion that i arrived at at that very moment.

But it’s really quite simple: I just… don’t care.

part of it is because i don’t feel like i deserve to feel good about myself. another part is that i’m really too lazy and lack initiative. yet another is that im too indecisive & easily overwhelmed. maybe i want someone to take care of me. maybe i need attention. but it all comes down to the same thing.

let’s extrapolate to something more serious than my 80 year old’s hands. let’s take education. work. dating. friendships. that catch-all called “personal growth”. let’s take something as basic as physical health.

I used to care. but it was all… too much. too much effort & too little payoff. too many disappointed hopes. too much stress & pain. too many… options.

I’m still in two minds about the relationship between my lack of internal motivation and lack of self-esteem: i cant decide which one caused the other. but maybe at this point it doesn’t even matter. it’s a vicious circle, anyway.

I’m empty. I sympathize with nothing. I strive for nothing. I stand for nothing.

i learned a valuable lesson today. it’s that there’s only one way to find out what i want. i need to at least perform acts of caring, if only to realize at the end that i didn’t “truly want” anything; if only to be able to say that i didn’t give up.

but it’s so hard, so scary, to allow yourself to want.

Realistic Change

day by day, i’m peeling off layer after layer of my most basic assumptions about myself. i feel like what little i used to have in the way of a personality or a sense of “wholeness” has completely disintegrated. but maybe it’s for the best?

when i look in the mirror, i don’t see the same person i was last August. furthermore, it’s hard for me to think back to a time when i was drug-naive. because the meds opened my eyes to things i would otherwise never have realized on my own — but once i have, there’s no going back to how things were.

before, i was just impulsive. now, i can see the potential for healthy spontaneity and deliberation — even if i can’t yet execute them perfectly. before, my eating pattern was the problem. now, i see it for what it is: just one among many expressions of my impulsivity, and an attempt to ground myself firmly in the present instead of dealing with my problems.

i know i keep talking about drugs. but that’s only because of how transformative they have been to my self-perception. in ways not always positive, but mostly productive. ive been on medication for so long, it’s become my new normal. i’ve adjusted, more or less returned to baseline, and started taking this peace of mind for granted. but things will never be the same, even after i taper off.

i honestly can’t begin to comprehend how so many people can be so matter-of-fact about taking medication. it’s like, no, you don’t understand, i now feel like a whole new person! not because i behave differently, but because i perceive my own behavior in a different light. and im less attached to it; i see more potential for flexibility. it would not be an overstatement to say that i will probably forever see my life as divided into the pre- and post-ssri eras.

the first day was a revelation, in the most literal sense possible. it was like waking up in somebody else’s body. i’ll freely admit that i might not be thinking clearly right now. but it’s nothing compared to the thick, opaque, syrupy fog that i had lived in all my life. i was a child stuck in a young adult’s body.

you could argue that i might have achieved some self-awareness without pharmacological treatment, because i was simply ready to be honest with myself. even if that’s true, the meds make it that much easier and less painful & scary. but i highly doubt i could have.

the medication isn’t the only thing though. even just seeing somebody and talking about myself, just myself, sort of in the third person, where i can be concerned about my own wellbeing and kind of own all my fears, but also hopes. even just being open right here. validating my own existence. it has all made a world of difference.

the pills don’t have magical powers; they don’t alter your personality, making you into something you’re not. ha! i wish that were possible. but there’s no pill in this world that could make me into what i think i “should” be. and besides, therapy doesn’t have to be about “change”; it can be about acceptance through understanding, and about learning to play the hand that you’ve been dealt.

what the meds do is they make you … notice. because of the contrast. what i’m saying is, i always knew i was anxious, for example. but i had absolutely no idea just how anxious i was truly am. and this is not a value judgment, by the way, im not saying that anxiety is inherently bad, necessarily. but it can be a pain in the ass.

yes, the first words that come to mind when i try to describe the effect that antidepressants have on me are still “numb” / “dull”. but a certain degree of numbness can be invaluable to someone who has thus far felt everything, all the time, and they didn’t even know it.

i have a limited vocabulary for describing my internal states, but at least now i know when something is happening. it may sound odd, but i used to be completely oblivious to my emotions, how, or that they affected my behavior.

i had a general idea of some of my problems (though it is a bit intimidating to consider what i might still not know that i dont yet know about myself lol). but i couldn’t point to specific instances of when they tended to crop up. i had no clue the extent to which they permeated all areas of my life.

but in order to combat a problem, you need to be able to identify it. that in and of itself seemed unfathomable to me. firstly, i was too caught up in my own feelings, and secondly, i was too insecure. it made it impossible for me to admit to my weaknesses, never mind analyze & try to overcome them.

what’s a bit overwhelming about having more clarity is that i’m more aware of how i’m acting in the moment, and all the other ways i could theoretically act instead. i say theoretically because just realizing that other people in your situation would act differently doesn’t automatically mean that you can actually act any different. you are, after all, still you. i am indeed still me, and i still have trouble translating knowledge into action.

im also kind of confused as to what approach i should adopt. i can (sometimes) tell when im being defensive, or impulsive, or even lazy. but because i have a very narrow repertoire of communicative strategies, i will usually stick to what i know best. i simply don’t know what would work best, or even what “best” means for me; what would help me accomplish my goals, because i don’t have any (or if i do, i dunno what they are!).

one thing that truly bothers me is that i feel “normal, only better”, and at the same time i can’t recognize myself. and the longer i stay in this inbetween state without anyone to guide me through genuine, lasting change, the more likely it is that my newly developed yet equally unhealthy patterns will once again crystallize, and for good this time. and what’s going to happen when i eventually do go off the medication? it was supposed to be a stepping stone. something to help me during a particularly tough transitional period. but what if, in a month, or half a year, or two years, still nothing has changed?

i may be numb, but i’m still apprehensive :/

first do no harm

cw: blood; self-harm

i wanna talk to you about self-care. no, not the insta-worthy kind. (i did say, not all my posts are going to be serious.)

i’m not talking about hot baths and candles and wine, or about meditation.

i mean more like, brushing your teeth in the evening, not just when youre going outside.

i mean like, sleeping in your bed instead of on the spongy mattress on the floor.

i mean not drawing the blinds at 4 pm.

im writing this post with two pairs of gloves on, as im trying to do something about this:

this is my hand today.

now, you may wonder, why is she posting a photo of her awful-looking hand for everyone to see? that’s not attractive content. well, no it is not. but this is my blog, and that over there is my hand, unnecessary as it may seem.

(and yes, ive decided to cover everything on this blog, and be as open as possible. because why the fuck not. i hope you don’t think im trying to be edgy or anything… though if you do i don’t really care either way. i used to worry about being perceived as doing things “for attention” or whatever. idk, maybe i am. but you know what? that’s a valid reason. people need attention. and maybe i can normalize something somebody feels uncomfortable about in the process?)

so anyway. ive been on a different ssri for a couple of weeks, and it’s been great.

except… ive been getting these strange side effects. i now have the memory of a goldfish, but i think i could adjust, if that were it.

now… i never used to hurt myself, even if i “wanted to”, if you know what i mean. but a week ago i messed up at work pretty badly. and afterwards, i was closing the cash register drawer, and i kind of slammed it with the back of my hand, and it didnt close properly, so i hit it again and it did close, but then i… continued hitting it?? and then i punched a hole in the wall with my elbow because i thought it was brick but it was actually plasterboard! :/

and then i forgot all about it and it hasn’t happened since, so i thought it was fine.

but my hands have been getting drier and drier, and i was like, pssshhh it’s nothing, i can handle it if it means feeling this good. and i kind of didn’t really think about it. people would point it out to me, oops your hand is bleeding and i would go haha yeah it does that 🙂

but then today, two different customers recommended good dermatologists without me bringing it up. and a security guard at this beauty supply store i go to stared at me as if i were a leper. and that… made me think.

what it made me think about was how these are all just extreme cases of something i do pretty regularly: ignoring my own discomfort, or even making myself suffer, for no discernible reason.

the things i brought up at the beginning of this post — not brushing my teeth sometimes (disgusting i know), sleeping on the floor, depriving myself of sunlight — i dismissed as bad habits stemming from my laziness. same reason i don’t moisturize, same reason i overeat. MY. FAULT. nobody else’s problem.

but this… this was different. mutilating your own hand, or refusing to see a doctor when your hands look like mine do rn, is not laziness.

it’s self-neglect at best.

i have several hypotheses as to why i behave in this way. i had no good role model for taking care of myself. i expect somebody else to take care of me. i don’t think i deserve to feel good. or i do believe that i deserve to suffer. who the fuck knows. not important (right now).

what’s important is how … normal … it starts to feel after a while. which makes me think of what i said in the previous post about adjusting to the negatives. it was like that for me with taking care of myself: i did very little to begin with, but then over time my expectations of myself in that regard grew less and less.

i’m not counting on anyone to come and rescue me. but i am gonna need to find a way to save me from myself (at the risk of sounding angsty). and i am gonna have to figure out what those reasons are for me.

friends have asked me, begged me almost, to go see a doctor about those hands of mine… i think i might listen.

but for now — do you struggle with something similar in some respect? have you found a way to deal with it?

and this — also directed at myself — please take care of yourselves. even if it means just doing no harm. that’s a start. even if it’s just wearing gloves when it’s cold.

we all deserve it.