Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Living with PTSD and Attachment Disorder

Foster children are often evaluated regularly for psychiatric and mental health disorders. I have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for five different (3 as a child, 2 as an adult) and separate events in my life. Five. In addition I have been diagnosed with attachment disorder. I have never been diagnosed with depression, bipolar or any other disorder, not that there is anything wrong with that, but a lot of people assume that people who have gone through what I have gone through and write what I write must have something horribly wrong with us and need help.

The problem with PTSD is that it really never goes away. You deal with it and you live with it, you learn habits and coping skills to have a normal life, but there is always the possibility of flare-ups or triggers happening. Take a soldier, shell shocked from war who has PTSD and learns how to deal with it… now add Fourth of July fireworks right after returning home. The combination can retrigger his PTSD.

This year has been the worst, mainly because in the past I have ignored the triggers, put up walls and simply pretended it wasn’t happening. Seemed to work out ok, well for everyone else it did. I looked happy, bubbly, and never depressed, anxious or upset. That they saw. I kept it all in. The problem isn’t that people think I went from happy to this current state, the problem is I hid all of this and no one knew what I was struggling with before. Many people read my blogs and then see me in person and cant believe how night and day they are compared to my attitude, my happiness. That’s because the blog is therapy. In therapy you talk about things that are bothering you, you get it out and learn coping skills. You don’t go to therapy if everything is perfect in your life. My blog is my go to place to get the deeper stuff out, the stuff I don’t mention or talk about with friends or in casual day to day conversation.

Let me try give an example. If you find a good friend hanging after committing suicide. The event may cause PTSD. Even if years go by seeing anything that resembles that night might trigger it. The smell of the room, the shirt he was wearing, etc. Years go by, youve dealt with it well. Then, one Halloween you go into a store with friends to find a costume and you see a hanging skelton. It triggers the event, you have flash backs, nightmares for days. But you dont want to be considered weird, you cant leave or you have to explain what you went through to the people you came with. So you go to another section of the store... in the future you know how to avoid the store but for now, you are completely triggered. Or say you go to Six Flags for Halloween Fest and there are realistic bodies hanging from trees... That is what it is like for me. You learn how to avoid places that might have triggers but you never know, you cant live in a box, when a trigger happens having coping skills in place and having a support system is essential.

Accept, I dont have a support system in place. Most people in my life dont know what triggers my PTSD. They have NO idea, to include my husband. Because, I dont want to be a burden. I dont want to open that much up and give someone another excuse to walk away. So I deal. I cope the way I have been taught and I do it my way. 

 I had written a post about living with PTSD and Attachment Disorder on Facebook at one point. I found it and decided to repost it on my blog. I wrote it in October, 2010, some things were no longer relevant and thus not reposted. I hope it might shed some light on some things.

Living with PTSD and an Attachment Disorder

Many of you see me as a normal, happy, healthy woman. I am. For the most part. Being normal is quite overrated actually and I really prefer to be abnormal in a quirky sort of way. A lot of you have really seen my insecurities come full circle this year in a way that no one has ever seen. There have been a lot of changes this year that has thrust me fully into triggering my PTSD. I was diagnosed with PTSD (for three events) for the first time at the age of seven. I was re-diagnosed again as an adult, two separate events, and two separate sets of triggers. I have worked incredibly hard all my life to recognize and deal with the triggers as they come in a healthy way.

I have attachment disorder. I have never been on medication for a mental illness, never been diagnosed with depression, and for what I have gone through in my life that in itself is pretty amazing. I have however, been diagnosed with attachment disorder.

Attachment disorder is a broad term intended to describe disorders of mood, behavior, and social relationships arising from a failure to form normal attachments primary care giving figures in early childhood, resulting in problematic social expectations and behaviors. 

People learn how interpersonal skills starting as children. How they interact with others is dependent on the social circumstances they learned growing up. When my parents abused me and I was taken away and put into foster care I met with a counselor every week. I had to learn that the way my parents had treated me was not right, it was not normal or healthy. That was not what having a parent child relationship was supposed to be about. While they told me that the relationship I had been in before was unhealthy they never showed me what a healthy family home looked like.

My first foster home was physically abusive. I then bounced around foster care from home to home. There was a variety of reasons behind it but I kept being rejected until finally I ended up in a group home. They ran out of foster homes for children and thus I got placed in a home where I was the youngest by four years. I went from a healthy weight there to obese as I fought depression. The institution was far from a healthy place for a child of my age. In addition, the children there ranged from being mental ill (retardation, down syndrome, etc), to being one step away from prison and everything in between. Pretty much every misfit out there whose family didn’t want them or couldn’t handle them ended up there. A bunch of dejected, unloved youths with adults who were more interested in a pay check than the best interest of the children. My so called cabin parents were in their early twenties. I started fourth grade in the group home. It was me , a teacher, and a teacher’s aide. That’s it. Every move I made was tracked. 

Finally I ended up in my adopted home, although I wouldn’t be adopted for a couple years. At best it was emotionally unhealthy and abusive. I was not considered one of the children or family but instead a worker. My job was to take care of the children that my single adopted mother would later adopt. I took care of family and home and in exchange received room and board in one location. The nurses who came in and dealt with my handicap sister often took me aside and told me how it was not right the way I was treated there, but I tried to put forth a face that showed a happy person. Until I graduated from high school I never had a mentor or a good example of what a family unit was supposed to be like. All I saw in my life was people coming and going, never staying, never developing good bonds. I was a mess in high school… I wanted attention, I wanted love, and I would do anything to get it (I never did drugs.  I didnt  have sex until college, however.) I talked too much. I didn’t know how to interact with my peers in a normal healthy way. I didn’t know how normal people acted. I had never experienced that. The most important development age was spent with dysfunctional children in a group home.

In high school my first real boyfriend, Joe was a strong moral man. He had a lot of musical talent and we would spend hours and hours talking on the phone. He promised never to leave me, no matter what happened between us, we would always be friends. He was driving home and was killed by a truck driver that had fallen asleep behind the wheel.

In college I met this wonderful man, Brian. Brian was an amazing friend. He was a strong Christian and taught me about loving myself. He became like a brother to me. We really got close and spoke about everything. He promised, like everyone before me never to leave. We were both elected to Student Government. We had the same major, went to the same parties, his fraternity was close to my sorority. On Friday November 8th, 2002 Brian and I, with other friends, had dinner together. Brian and I went for a walk and discussed life, as we had many times before. An hour later Brian committed suicide. Moments after telling me he would always be there for me and he loved me. His funeral was one of the hardest things I have ever had to endure.

Five months later, my biological mother died of AIDS.

Do you see a pattern here? I’ve never really been able to get close to people and sustain a long term relationship with them before I have pushed them away. Fear of abandonment attacks me every single time.

A year later I was in a car accident. Hit by a drunk driver. The only survivor. My best female friends were in the car with me. They died on impact.

My husband is the longest relationship I have ever had. He has stood by me during crazy nuts days where I have been so depressed and spent the entire day bawling. He has had to reassure me time and time again that he is not going to leave me. The thought of losing him, losing the only constant I have had, the only support that has consistently been there and not swayed, who has always stayed by me is something I can’t comprehend. The thought of losing him breaks me. I know this is the way it is with many wives, the idea of losing their husband is something incomprehensible and it’s nothing that I go through alone. I try not to think about it, think about him dying. .

My husband has deployed before. It didn’t trigger these symptoms last time because we had developed a strong, long lasting, bond of support before he left. I had a good job, I had great friends etc. Also note, I am not weak. I am not desperate. I can take care of myself with my husband deployed, have no fear of that. I am quite capable of living a healthy, happy, productive life when is gone. This does not affect my day to day life or the ability to support myself. I am just trying to explain the way I am and the way I think.

Because of how fast things happened in Colorado both my PTSD and my Attachment Disorder was triggered. My husband returned from Iraq in late September, in November he missed Thanksgiving and went on a VIP mission, and in December our house was packed. We travelled across country and he in processed here February 10th. He went to JRTC, Gator (an EOD course), the field, HME course in Utah, had multiple members of his family and three sets of our friends from Ft. Lewis visit all since arriving here. And then he deployed. We had very little time together to get settled, to make a life here and then he was gone. Within the first month of deployment one of his friends came home after being injured in an attack, another died, both from our tiny eod unit. It made this very real in a very short amount of time. I was forced with the fact, like all the other spouses in our unit, which our husbands might not come home. It is something we can’t focus on, we can’t dwell on, we have to move forward and be positive for our husbands and for ourselves. For someone with attachment disorder it is a major trigger however.

I feel all alone here. I am scared to reach out. I am scared to develop bonds, scared of losing them. I have kept everyone in Colorado at arm’s length. I have spent minimal time with multiple people in hopes to prevent future pain from losing them, whether it is from distance or death. And I have no one to blame but myself for being so lonely now. I make excuses to not see or socialize with people. I can’t have it both ways. I can either not develop long term friendships out of fear of loss or I can and see what happens. That terrifies me. Having to make that choice is hard.

Having attachment disorder means I purposely keep people at arm’s length. It means I push people away. It means that I see things that aren’t there- I perceive myself to be socially awkward, I perceive my outgoing nature to be a bad thing. I am paranoid people dislike me, I read too much into body language, tones, and words and see things that aren’t there. It is hard for me to know that I am liked. I don’t believe that I am loved. If I was loved why would everyone leave? It is a like an anorexic with distorted body image. I often feel like I am imposing, that I am bothering people. Then I apologize. Then people get upset with me being insecure and apologizing, and my insecurity and apologies in turn pushes them away, which in turn justifies my belief that I am not meant to have relationships with people.

For example, if a friend has to change plans with me, I wonder to myself if they don’t like me anymore. Instead of hearing that a friend is sick and can’t make it to lunch I automatically jump to the conclusion that they don’t like me. I have to battle that, I have to talk myself down from it, I have to walk away from that ledge and talk myself out of believing that they don’t like me and into believing that they are sick. I worry about the things I say, will it turn people off? I worry about the amount I talk. I worry about statements I say, innocently, will people hear them and walk away, reject me?

I have days, months, sometimes years when the triggers are big and I come across as paranoid and insecure. Then there are days, months and years when I appear perfectly normal. Like anyone else with PTSD triggers can hit at anytime and have to be dealt with on an ongoing basis.

Some of you who have been friends with me for years are wondering what the heck is going on. I get asked all the time lately, by those of you who know me most, if I am ok. Because this side of me is not something you are used to. You’re not used to me apologizing for everything. Those of you who have met me during this phase you might think that Im nuts. Wondering why Im constantly insecure about friendships. Now you know.

I am working really hard at overcoming these things. I am trying to see things how they are. This is me. I am insecure and awkward. I am strong and confident. I don’t have multiple personalities, I have triggers. Triggers I have to work with and face head on. I have demons. Not everyone can stand to be friends with someone like me. But there you have it. That’s who I am. If you can deal awesome. If you cant, well to be honest, I suspect most people cant and will disappear. That’s the biggest part of all of this. I have a really hard time attaching out of fear of losing. It takes a strong person to stand by me and continue to be my friend when I push people away. I appreciate all of you who are still here supporting me.

No comments:

Post a Comment