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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.


Jess said...

I was never removed from my family; and probably didn't suffer the abuse that you suffered; but I have attachment disorder also; your blog spoke to me and I am sitting here in tears. I can not make friendships, I can not reach out to people, if I become too happy, I feel like I am probably being obnoxious to quote the paragraph that sounded just like me
"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." Thats' me too
Thank you for this post. It means alot to me to have those words written out.

Tammy and Jake...Our Journey said...

I know that we don't know each other, but I wanted you to know that your post really touched me. To me, you seem like a very real and honest person. We all have struggles and hearing your story, it is completely understandable why you feel the way you do. I have many of my own struggles and the next person has theirs...sharing those experiences is what helps us cope and get through.
If I could, I would wrap my arms around you right now and give you the biggest hug, because things will be ok. If you ever want or need to talk, shoot me an e-mail. I can be a great listener and a really good friend.

Josh said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

It sounds like you have been through so very much awful stuff and of course continue to struggle. The fact that you can talk about it, get therapy, keep working through the issues is a testament to your obvious courage and determination. I will be thinking of you and wishing you all good things! Sara

Casey Morgan said...

This was a very compelling post. Thank you for taking the time to explain all that.

Anonymous said...

I've been lurking around your blog for awhile now, and I'm not sure if I've commented before, but I had to comment here and say hello, and you're not alone. I'm not an army wife, but I do have experience with childhood abuse, PTSD, etc. It's hard sometimes to trust people to be there for you and to accept you for who you are. It's hard not to read into what people say (or don't say) and feel like they dislike you. I go through similar phases myself. Most of the people in my life see me as a confident, outgoing person (who maybe talks just a tad too much, lol). What they don't see are the insecurities stemming from a social awkwardness that never seems to go away.

I wish I had an answer for all of this, but I don't. What I can say, however, from reading your blog, is that you seem like a very likable person. Nobody is perfect, and most people don't expect that from others. Sometimes people like you and me are our own worst enemies. I hope you can find some good, close friends where you are - everyone needs someone they can actually look at and feel, "Hey, this person knows me, and likes me for who I really am."

Hang in there.


Florida Dom said...

What a powerful post. Thank you for sharing such intimate details of your life. Hopefully, it was a positive experience for you to write about it.

I don't know what to say except to congratulate you for being a survivor. You have gone through more than most people would in a lifetime and you sre still a young woman.

I just want to congratulate for how well you are coping with all this and wish you the best of luck in coping with it in the future.

I am rooting for you and I am sure all of your blogger followers are, too. You go Girl.


SugarAnne said...

You are a strong woman. Even after all you've been through, you have willingly chosen a lifestyle where you will likely have to deal with the loss of friends through death and relocation more than the average civilian. This is amazing strength, and you are to be admired and emulated. I wish I could tell you to not be paranoid and know that you heard me... but these friends that you've remained in contact with for this past year speaks volumes to your evolution.
I, too, am rooting for you.


Anonymous said...

Just found your post as I recipricated your comment at mine. I so admire you for having come so far in surviving and making a life for yourself. I wish I had magic words that would help you feel better, but I've never found them. However, I believe with all my heart that you can find healing. If you can survive what happened in your childhood, surely you can overcome these afteraffects. Peace be with you.

Rich Person said...

That would have made me want to curl up into a little ball and stay there. I'm glad you have been able to pull yourself together enough to go on with your life and try to piece something together. I hope that this forum lets you make some of the connections that you find so hard to make in RL. Just remember that the channel here is very narrow, and it can be even harder to interpret what others write. So, I always find it's best to give them the benefit of the doubt.

dublin.paolo said...

Thank you for sharing your moving story ‘SAW’.

I have noticed that you think very differently these days, and thank god you do, because it helps us all to think differently about everything.

Well done you.


Abel1234 said...

This is such a brave, bold post. I hope the messages of support you're getting here in your comments help you to realise that you have online 'friends' here via your blog who also wish you well.

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