An Interesting Nightmare

I had an interesting nightmare last night. It wasn’t even really a nightmare in the traditional sense of the word. I mean, no violence or monsters were involved. Then again, most of my nightmares don’t involve that kind of scenario.

In my dream, the last client to contract COVID in our care home, came into my room and went straight to my bed while I was lying in it. I tried to crawl to one end to keep my distance, because of course getting out of bed would mean getting stuck touching her. I eventually managed to press the call button, but no-one came. Finally, this client left, but I was utterly distressed and tried to press the call button again, but to no avail. I then went out of my room and to the living room, even though I’d decided to stay in my room while more than half of my fellow clients are positive for COVID. Then, one of the care assistants, a woman I’ve only met briefly once or twice, came to my room to have breakfast with me (apparently it was morning), but I asked for the morning staff. The care assistant explained that the staff was busy and she was having breakfast with me instead. Then I woke up.

The nightmarish aspect of the dream was, in part, the fact that a client with COVID came into my room and my bed. This to me signifies how scared I am of contracting the virus, even though I keep saying there’s no surefire way to prevent it anyway and I’m not scared of getting very ill. I am, however, quite honestly, pretty scared of the consequences of room-based self-isolation should I be positive. I mean, I’m now basically in room-based self-isolation too, but my staff don’t have to wear PPE other than surgical masks and they can still be within a five-feet distance. I’m not sure about holding my hand or holding me in an embrace, as I’ve been cautious and haven’t asked, but I know from the times I had to self-isolate with suspected COVID last year and in 2020 that those are big no-nos should I be positive. At least, my staff wouldn’t even get within a five-feet distance even while wearing PPE then.

Another aspect that was nightmarish to me, was the fact that the unfamiliar care assistant ended up helping me rather than my trusted staff. This to me signifies how I’m experiencing attachment to this staff, and she wasn’t even my assigned home support worker or another of my favorite staff. I guess this counts as a win!

Lastly, a nightmare aspect was the fact that the care assistant told me that the staff was busy. I am forever frustrated with staff being overworked and busy and at the same time, I’m trying to accommodate them as much as I can. For example, yesterday the staff (same one who was supposed to come in my dream) forgot to come by my room at 3:15PM when she had finished handover. At 3:45, fifteen minutes before my one-on-one time would start, I’d had enough and pressed the call button. I was really frustrated, thinking that I’d be left to my own resources now that over half of the clients have COVID. That would make sense, rationally speaking, since I’m not sick or whatever. Not that the other clients are very sick, but oh well. As it turned out, the staff had forgotten to show up because she hardly ever works late shifts. This, plus my nightmare, does show how easily I think that I’m being abandoned.

Sharing this post with Scott’s Daily Prompt from last Saturday on the topic of nightmares.

Dealing with Anxious Attachment and Attachment Loss

Okay, I’m probably giving up on the 31-day writing challenge. I love the prompts, but right now, they just don’t seem to inspire me. I’m not feeling well at all right now. Haven’t for about a week or more. Like I shared in my post on Sunday, I have been feeling triggered by my staff being on sick leave. It’s not just that, of course. The change of seasons with all its triggers to my time in crisis back in 2007, doesn’t help either. The emotional flashbacks are so bad I’m considering asking my nurse practitioner to temporarily up my topiramate. For now though, I’ll write a little about attachment loss and abandonment issues.

When I was first diagnosed with complex PTSD and dissociative identity disorder in 2010, part of the consultation that led to this diagnosis involved an attachment styles questionnaire. I scored highest on the anxious/preoccupied attachment style. This means that I tend to depend heavily on others. I struggle to admit this, but it is true.

As such, I fear attachment loss or abandonment a lot. Most anxiously attached people tend to seek another relationship right away when one ends. I don’t have any exes, since my husband was also my first boyfriend, but I do notice it in other areas. For example, now that my assigned staff is on sick leave, I’ve already been thinking about who will become my assigned staff if she ends up not returning. Which, in fact, is something I cannot get out of my head for whatever reason.

Anxiously attached people also tend to cling to dysfunctional attachment figures far too long. Again, I don’t experience this in my marriage, but I did experience it in the psych hospital. I had an assigned staff who was rather adamant that I become more independent than I could be, but I accepted her as an authority for far too long. Same with my psychologist.

I, thankfully, left that place. However, I do find that something I read while researching attachment loss for this post, makes a lot of sense: the idea that leaving a relationship on paper doesn’t mean being emotionally detached from that attachment figure. Again, not my marriage, but with respect to my care situation, yes, that’s so me! I still experience vivid dreams (not necessarily nightmares!) about the psych hospital. I also still look up things about my former care agencies, thinking maybe I should go back. I still find myself being influenced by what my past care providers said about me, no matter how harmful and wrong. This may be one reason I don’t generally meet the avoidance criterion of classic PTSD, but am rather the opposite: I find myself drawn to things that trigger me. Now if only I could find a way to truly let go of the emotional baggage I’m carrying with me.

Basic Mistrust

I have been compelled to read up on emotional and psychosocial development. One theory is Erik Erikson’s theory, which states that, at each different stage in life (from infancy to old age), a particular conflict is present. In infancy and early toddlerhood, this conflict is basic trust vs. mistrust.

I initially thought that this stage corresponds pretty much to the first adaptation phase in attachment theory, which takes place between birth and age six months. When I checked it though, it includes this stage as well as the first socialization phase, age six to eighteen months. This may be one reason why I relate strongly to basic mistrust even though, in attachment theory terms, I function in most areas consistent with the first socialization phase.

One thing I’m facing lately is a chronic feeling of anxiety and distrust. In my care plan, my emotional development is outlined and in the fear domain, I am said to function at an age comparable to somewhere between zero and eighteen months. This includes all of Erikson’s first stage of psychosocial development. By contrast, it encompasses both the first adaptation and first socialization phase of attachment development. The reason my development in this area isn’t pinpointed to either of these two phases, is that I experience both basic fear (consistent with the first adaptation phase) and strong separation anxiety (consistent with the first socialization phase). Apparently, a baby under six months cannot yet express separation anxiety.

I have little idea why I might experience such strong anxiety, as in, what in my early development contributed to it. I mean, my parents claim I didn’t have these issues until I started to lose my eyesight at age seven. Seven is another important age in both cognitive and psychosocial development, but I don’t think that one is particularly important in my life. The earlier stages seem to make far more sense to me.

Of course, I do know that I probably didn’t have optimal care in my early life. This isn’t anyone’s fault. I was, after all, born prematurely and spent the first three months of my life in hospital. Though my parents visited me often, I don’t think I could rely upon them for meeting my every basic need. After all, they cannot possibly have been in my proximity 24/7, like the mother of a typically-developing child usually is at least for the first few weeks to months. My nurses must’ve provided me feeding and comfort at least part of the time.

As for affection, I have absolutely no idea. NICU nurses aren’t likely to be able to provide any significant level of affection to a baby at all, but I guess my parents would’ve made up for that. I went into this when discussing mother as source and mother as place of attachment. The truth is, I honestly mostly rely on my current feelings to guide my ideas. I, after all, don’t have many early memories of affection. My first memory related to it is from age four or five and it involves my mother using a nickname for me that referred to her needing to be at my side all the time. Then again, most people don’t have many early memories at all and remembering is still a form of reconstruction. In other words, because I experience a lot of basic mistrust now as an adult, it is easier for me to remember the memories that point to this.

This post was inspired by Fandango’s one-word challenge (#FOWC), the word for today being “Basic”.

If The Staff Saw My True Nature…: Reflections on Not Belonging

Yesterday, I was in yet another crisis. I was majorly triggered when a staff told me at the dinner table to calm down or go to my room because she had other clients to attend to as well. This triggered both my fight and flight responses. I was completely convinced that this one remark proved that, if staff truly know me, they’ll abandon me. After all, if they truly knew my nature, they’d know I needed more support than they can offer. I was and still am intensely ashamed of this nature of mine, but for whatever reason, I cannot seem to change it.

I cannot stop this part of mine who thinks she needs almost literally one-on-one support all day. It isn’t even a sense of entitlement, since I don’t feel that I’m somehow deserving of more attention than the other clients. Or maybe at the core I do believe this. I’m not sure. My parents would say I do believe I’m somehow entitled to endless attention.

At one point, I lashed out at the staff member. This led to further intense shame. I was convinced that, in that moment, the staff had seen my true nature and that she was going to make sure I’d be kicked out.

For whatever reason, she didn’t. She did, I assume, write an incident report. Other than that, I must say she was incredibly nice all evening.

And yet all day I was convinced that, if the staff nor the manager were going to kick me out, they must not have seen how wicked I really am. I do know that, in truth, this was one of my worst outbursts of aggression ever. I’ve done more harmful things, but those were harmful only to myself.

The manager came to talk to me late in the afternoon. She reassured me that I won’t be kicked out. I tried to tell her that, despite my desire to be good, I feel I might need more support than my current home can provide. I wasn’t trying to elicit her pity or convince her to apply for more funding for me, but I was trying to make it clear that I may be more of a burden than she can handle. I don’t want to feel attached to the staff and the home and even some of the other clients only to be told in a month or two that after all I’m too much of a handful. The manager sort of reassured me.

And yet, when she was gone, I went online and looked at other places I might be able to move to. Not because I really want to move, but because that’s what I’m used to. I’m used to not being wanted anywhere. And it’s tempting to believe that, with how often I end up in crisis here, I don’t really want to live here myself. Ugh, I don’t know how to answer that question.

We’re In Pain

So we’ve had a mouth ulcer for some days now and as of today, it really hurts. Our staff called the GP, since we can’t go to the dentist now due to our facility’s COVID-19 restrictions and also since they already knew it was a mouth ulcer. The medical assistant couldn’t decide what to do right away so she talked to the doctor herself. Our staff called back some time later. At first, the doctor said to just take paracetamol, but our staff nagged a bit, so now we’ll get some lidocaine gel. This will probably arrive tomorrow.

We somehow misunderstood the doctor’s telling our staff to just give us paracetamol as her thinking we weren’t in significant pain or that we were overreacting. This caused some of us a lot of upset. Over dinner, we were feeling really overwhelmed by the pain and also other clients’ noise. We somehow couldn’t speak until after we’d had a full-on meltdown. Then we got to express our pain and our staff fetched us some paracetamol. That did help some. We’re still in pain, but it’s manageable.

We generally feel very triggered of late. We’re currently reading a foster care memoir by Maggie Hartley called Who Will Love Me Now?. It’s about Kirsty, a ten-year-old being rejected by her first foster carers after they took her in from a neglectful biological mother as a baby. Understandably, Kirsty feels that no-one loves her now and is acting out a lot to prove this point.

I feel a lot of the more disturbed younger parts can relate to this. Thankfully, our parents never abandoned us, but they did threaten to institutionalize us a lot. Age ten was around the time this started.

I also showed a lot of the behaviors Kirsty shows. I mean, I would also often tell my parents that they didn’t love me. Though I didn’t experience the early abandonment Kirsty did, I do most likely suffer with some attachment issues. I can only speculate as to why this might be.

As we’re now in a place where at least so far the staff are saying we can stay, I notice we act out a bit out of a need to “prove” our point. Which is what, really? That no-one wants us, I guess. I’m not 100% sure how to let go of this feeling.

I did journal a lot in my Day One journals over the past few days. It feels good to let out my thoughts. I’m trying to make this a daily habit and hope my blog won’t suffer because of it.

Mother As Place of Attachment

It’s already been eighteen months since I last wrote about what I read in The Emotionally Absent Mother. Still, the book hasn’t just sat there. I struggled to move on from Mother As Source. The next section is titled Mother As Place of Attachment. Somehow, this is a really hard section. I don’t really know why. I mean, yes, part of the reason I struggle to move on in writing about this book, is that I do it publicly and what if my parents read this? Then again, I don’t really care. I’m in groups on Facebook for childhood emotional neglect and emotional abuse survivors too. Though the member list of private groups isn’t available to non-members, I’m pretty sure they know somehow. Honestly, regarding this, I care more about my husband’s opinion than my parents’.

But there’s something specifically about this section that is hard. I’m not even sure what. Maybe it’s just that I don’t have a lot of early memories of my mother. I attribute this to my father being the homemaker and primary caretaker in our household. But fathers can “mother” too.

The first question asked in the section on your mother as place of attachment, is to rate your sense of connectedness to your mother on a scale of 1 to 10. The next question is how your sense of connectedness evolved over the years.

Well, with my mother, I am generally at a 5. I don’t feel she “gets” me, but we do get along okay. Like I said when discussing mother as source, I don’t feel that I’m made of her, but she isn’t from another planet either. Or maybe she’s from Venus. I mean, we’re not constantly disconnected.

Over the years, my sense of connectedness to my mother has stayed the same. I never quite felt like we had a strong bond, but I didn’t feel totally alienated either.

My father is a different story. We had a strong connection, maybe around 8, when I was a child. Now we’re at a 3 at best. Like I said in my mother as source post, as a child, I saw my father as the embodiment of intelligence, success and well what other positive characteristics are there really? When I got to question his having sole ownership of the truth at around age 15, things started to change. Or did things change earlier on? I’m not sure.

Another question is about bodily contact. This is where I get to question whether the schism occurred earlier than age 15. When I was a young child, my father definitely did give both my sister and me lots of opportunities for bodily contact. I remember when my sister and I were little, my father would wrap us in a towel and drag us to our bedroom. He called this “swordfish” and my sister always asked for “sordsish”.

My mother says that, around age 7 or 8, I stopped wanting to sit in my parents’ lap. From then on, bodily contact like hugging or good-night kisses was very ritualistic. I remember around age 11, being forced to read a certain number of pages in Braille if I wanted a good-night kiss. This at the time felt very distressing. I haven’t studied emotional development except in the context of intellectual disability, so I have really no idea whether it’s normal to still want good-night kisses at that age. I guess not.

As a side note, I did initiate physical contact such as hand-holding with practically every adult until I was at least 12. In my psych eval report from age 11, the ed psych notes that I claim not to need a cane but grab her hand immediately anyway. That first bit was no doubt related to my difficult accepting my blindness, but I don’t think the second bit is fully. Even as an adult, I truly crave physical contact and am a bit indiscriminate in who can give it to me. I mean, I am pretty clear that no male staff can provide me with physical comfort (or help me with personal care). With regards to female staff though (and the entire current staff of my home is female), I do accept physical comfort. I honestly don’t know how my husband feels about this.

PoCoLo
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Attachment Issues and Other Ramblings

Hi people, how are you? I hope you’re doing better than I am, as I’m basically feeling pretty crappy. I tell myself I need to enjoy the good moments, good days even, here in the care facility. I believe that if I don’t feel happy here, then the staff could just as easily kick me out and make room for another person. I know paradise doesn’t exist, so can’t I just be happy with what I have?

That’s not the problem though. I’m not looking to leave this place or thinking I can have a better life elsewhere. I can’t. But still, I’m unhappy at times. Then again, isn’t everyone? And yet I beat myself up over it, which leads to more unhappiness, which leads me to beat myself up even more.

At the root of all this seems to be a deep-seated belief that there’s no place I’ll ever fit in, and if I do believe I fit in, the staff won’t agree and will kick me out. I feel as though I have to prove that this place is perfect for me – which it isn’t, of course. But it’s as close to perfect as can be and that’s enough for me. But is it for the people around me?

Last night I barely slept for two hours. At 5:30AM, I accidentally sent out a video call to my husband while trying to distract myself. He called back almost immediately, as he was at work already. He assured me that he doesn’t want to get rid of me and my staff don’t want to get rid of me either. I was happy enough with that that I could sleep.

This morning, a relatively new to me staff woke me up. She asked whether I’d manage getting started on my personal care. Normally, I get some help on Wednesdays, but I was too tired or confused or scared to ask her for help, so I just went about doing my morning routine. I was feeling pretty out of it, but I couldn’t explain.

The rest of the day was okay. I went to the dentist this afternoon for a check-up and because I’ve been having some pain. I have inflamed gums, but other than that my oral health is good. I was told I brush my teeth well, something I attribute to the electric toothbrush my husband gifted me for my birthday. Now I will need to use toothpicks too. One filling that I’ve had for like fifteen years needed replacement, but that will happen at my next appt.

Mother As Source

I was finally able to read The Emotionally Absent Mother again, since transferring it from my computer to my iPhone. Until I did this, I was unable to read any of my EPUB eBooks, because the program I used for it was no longer supported by my screen reader. I missed reading this book in particular, since it had a lot of eye-opening questions in it. I last wrote about it last August, when I shared about good enough mother messages. Now, I am moving on in the book and starting with the roles good enough mothers have. The first one is mother as source.

This section starts with the assertion that mother is what we’re made of. It goes on to assert that, both literally and on a more spiritual level, we come from mother. Literally, we come out of her womb. Spiritually, nature is often seen as coming from the ocean, which is in mythology seen as a mother goddess.

This whole assertion seems a bit off to me. Like I said in my post last August, I was raised primarily by my father as a child. Obviously, I came from my mother’s womb, but this is hard to imagine.

One of the thought-provoking questions in this section is to imagine yourself in your mother’s womb. If you can’t imagine this, you are encouraged to imagine being engulfed by her energy. This gave me uneasy feelings. I have never felt able to see that I come from my mother. In fact, my parents used to joke that the neonatologist brought me into the world, not my mother.

Good enough mother-sources are able to create a positive and welcoming environment for their children with their presence. They make the child feel proud to be of her. As such, the next question in the book is whether you wanted to be similar to your mother or as different as possible (or anything in between). If someone were to say you’re so like your mother, would you be proud?

I have to clarify here that my mother herself didn’t and still doesn’t have the healthiest self-esteem. She used to say, and it came across only half jokingly, that I inherited all my bad characteristics from her and all the good ones from my father. As untrue as this is, I didn’t grow up feeling proud to be like my mother, because she didn’t convey that she had any characteristics to be proud of.

With respect to my father, who primarily raised me, I wanted to be like him as much as possible. Until I was an adolescent, I saw my father as the ultimate embodiment of success and every other positive quality. Then I started realizing that he too has his flaws. I now feel more closely related to my mother than to him.

The next question is whether you can imagine being proud to be of your mother. Do you identify yourself in relation to her? My short answer to this is “No”. I identify myself more in relation to my mother-in-law than my own mother.

In short, I do not feel my mother was able to be a good enough source. Of course, physically she wasn’t, by no fault of her own. By this I mean that all her pregnancies were complicated and the one with me ended in my premature birth. I don’t want to say that somehow she rejected me, because I know she didn’t. Once I was born, in fact, I was more unconditionally – or should I say less conditionally? – welcomed by her than by my father.

Of course, the stress of having had four pregnancy losses prior to being pregnant with me, could’ve caused her body to be less welcoming to a fetus. That, however, and I want to be very clear about this, isn’t her fault, or anyone’s fault. There is nothing my mother did to cause my premature birth!