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Friday, October 29, 2010

Some of my photos from DC

I took a couple pictures on my trip. Hope you enjoy them.
~Jess

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Back from DC

I just returned from my trip to DC. It was bittersweet. My husbands first cousin as well as his good friend died in Afghanistan last week. Arlington as always is humbling and emotional. Our unit lost another soldier and another one of ours lost his leg in Afghanistan this month. Having my husband home cant come soon enough but we have barely just begun the journey into this deployment. I will write more when I have the chance.

Always,
Jess

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

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 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, behavio, 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 or had 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. We had a clean break up and continued to be friends and talk all the time. Until the night 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 was found hanging in his fraternity house, he had 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. When he deploys it is not of his choosing and I know that he loves me and continues to love me from a million miles away. I get that. But 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. With his deploying to Afghanistan and our unit having a loss so soon in the deployment triggered my disorder and my panic.

In the last year we packed up and left our  prior duty station. Our  prior duty station  is the first place I have lived in my entire life where I felt loved and supported-truly- for being me. I have made friends at all of our duty stations but never any that I continued to talk to on a daily or even weekly basis after we left. There are some I speak with occasionally but nothing like at our last station . I had great friends there, my “family” that we made. They are amazing. But like everything else in my life I assume the friendships would end with us moving, or at least become distance and turn into acquaintances. I never imagined I’d still be in constant, daily contact with them. This is new to me. I normally am able to keep people at arm’s length and when I move the communication slows down and eventually dies or lingers to a couple times a year phone call/email. So far, almost a year into this move, I am still in contact with my sisters that I made there and it feels great.

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 *my state*  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 was gone months out of that time, we  had multiple members of his family and three sets of our friends from our prior duty station 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 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 here 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 want to make friendships. Long, lasting friendships that turn out to be more like family then friends. I really do. The point is sometimes I have to fight myself and the negative thinking. Its not as easy as just not thinking these things. Its not black and white. It’s a lot more complicated.

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.

Monday, October 4, 2010

People Change

I debated posting this. It has a lot of very personal information in it. But I decided to because really it is how I feel and I am tired of judgmental people.

A lot of things have occurred recently that has made me think. How often have you heard the phrase, “Once a (fill in the blank) always a (fill in the blank).” People are way too quick to judge other people. I firmly believe that it is a personal choice to let your past dictate your future. It is not important to me what a person has experienced in their lives but what they do with what they’ve experienced. Making a mistake does not make you a bad person. It gives you the opportunity to learn, to grow and yes even to change.

I was abused as a child. Horrifically. Both my mother and my step father ended up in prison serving long terms for the abuse I suffered. My step father had sexual abused me and that abuse turned into rape as I got older. I’ve got scars from his physical abuse; stabbing and burning me. My mother was often away from the house prostituting herself, to get money to pay for her cocaine habit. To many people these two would be considered poor excuses of humanity and would be written off as bad.

I spent much of the next years bouncing around foster care and being required to visit my parents in maximum secured prisons in Chicago. I missed a lot of school going back and forth to the prisons. And guess what, my mother changed. Once she was in prison she was able to get help for mental health issues, addiction and anger problems. She has spent much of her life on drugs and addicted to men. In an all women’s prison she was forced to face her demons. Turns out she was rather intelligent. While in prison she got clean, earned her GED and then earned her vet tech license. My step father killed himself in prison when I was ten years old. I will never know if he would have changed. My mom finally signed her rights over to me when I was fourteen. However, we stayed in contact until she died.

As much as she learned from her past, learned what not to do, learned and grew as a person she could not outrun her past. She had H.I.V. she was not sure if it was from the prostitution or the sharing of needles. Eventually the H.I.V. progressed into AIDS. When she became sick with pneumonia the fight for her life failed and she died. It was at her funeral and memorial that I became reunited with some of my biological family.

My mother had been writing me since she had given up her rights. I had gotten to know her and to forgive her. Forgiving her was much easier than forgiving my step father. I eventually forgave him too, the forgiveness was more for myself then for him. I couldn’t continue to have those negative feelings weighing down my shoulders.

I know people have the ability to change. They have the ability to overcome their circumstances and to grow. They can learn from their mistakes, big or small, and move forward in such a way where they allow good to come from what had been bad. It is possible.

My mother changed. She was a convicted felon. She changed her outlook on life, her attitude, her self esteem. She changed everything. But she couldn’t out run some of the consequences of her past- namely having H.I.V. Sometimes the things we do in the past continue to haunt us during our day to day activities. My mom had to take a ton of medication and her health dwindled. But even as she had that constant reminder she was able to stay positive and keep being the new person she was. She didn’t give into the past but continued to grow despite the past.

I was an abused child. The system failed me. I bounced around foster care. I’ve never been part of a loving family. It is what it is. I don’t allow that to affect my day to day life. I have never been arrested, I have never abused anyone, and I have succeeded in life in my own ways. I have compassion for others. I am not bitter and angry. I do not use it as a crutch or an excuse for bad behavior. I have never once tried an illegal drug, or even a cigarette. I recognize the fact that my family had an addiction problem and I’ve learned from my mother’s mistakes and refuse to repeat them or repeat the cycle. I have every excuse in the world to be dysfunctional, the things I have seen, the people who have hurt me have given me that right. Or have they? Do you ever have the right to hurt another person or to do things that you know are wrong? I don’t think so. I don’t get to abuse a young, innocent child just because I was abused. That does not give me an excuse to hurt a weaker person. Period. End of story. I don’t care what has happened to you or what you have done in the past, you know as an adult what good behavior is.

I also know that my past affects me every single day. I battle PTSD. I battle insecurity. I have attachment disorder and a real problem accepting love. I carry those around like my mother carried around H.I.V. But I learn from my past. I learn from the pain and I use it to help other people and to help myself. Mistakes do not have to be regrets. Mistakes can be learning tools and can be building blocks to a successful future.

I understand our pasts help shape our futures. But we each have the opportunity to decide how they will affect us. You can grow and change and evolve from it or you can dwell and focus on it and repeat the past. I do not believe that once a person is “bad” or act in a bad way that they will always be bad. I believe that every person has the ability to change and simply needs to own up to their behavior and face it head on. As adults we run out of excuses, we know right from wrong. Stop making excuses for behavior and start changing it. Anyone can start over, anyone; no matter what you have done wrong, because each day is the opportunity for a new beginning.
I am not a judgmental person. My friends come from all walks of life, all circumstances.

Some of my closest friends have past that include drug usage, jail time, failed marriages, teenage pregnancies. I do not care what you did in your past. To me your present and your future are more important. Who you are today is more important to me than who you were ten years ago. Being a good person now, having learned from the mistakes of the past, is what matters to me. If you are a good friend to me, honest, loyal and caring I will return the favor.