A Path to Follow

Brain takes a break. Body keeps score.

The journey behind Mental Health Challenges: Brain takes a break, but the body always keeps score.

I feel it would be highly hypocritical of me, given this is a Lived Experience Service, to only share my tools and strategies of past wounds from which I have healed. I feel it would also be highly hypocritical of me given my assertive community voice in decreasing mental health stigma and helping people to heal through sharing their very real and common experiences, to now hide behind mine. 

The real story behind mental health challenges is not always pretty, is often raw and yes, it can be frightening. What it is often not (despite media representation), is violent or threatening, contagious or life changing for a bystander. What it is, is a strikingly common, lonely existence often hidden behind the closed doors of those you know. Not for me, not for my family and not for my community; not anymore.

Mental Health Challenges: Then

I remember parts of my first experience of *dissociation; some memories, but mostly feelings. Ben, a toddler, and Kyle, a few months old. I remember my sister-in-law dropping me flowers. I remember looking at my feet as breast milk splashed on the flower. I remember smiling and saying goodbye.

I remember being on the bed, phone to ear trying to answer Anthony’s questions.

Where are the boys?  I don’t know.

Did you put them to sleep?  I don’t know.

Tiredness. So tired, too tired, too scared to check on the boys. I could not have done something, could I? I could not check. I needed to sleep. The quiet, warm fog weirdly comforting.

Of course, they were ok and of course I did not hurt them. I had put them down for naps and there they remained, I think, until Anthony got home. That dissociation, like this time, only lasted a short time. The subsequent fog, the disconnection from life and fatigue lasted well over six months. This was my first introduction to serious mental health challenges.

Mental Health Challenges: Now…

In the blink of an eye, all sense of time, place and self, gone…

I may have even gone to IGA in my dressing gown. Yep, my very own customised dissociation.

Some part of me knew I needed help. But *Self and the spoken word had suddenly evaded me; they were simply buried so deep I had no immediate access. There were no words for my boys; that it was happening again. No, not again.

I text my mate, he respected my request to not call. I texted my Psychologist. She called.

“Right. Back against something hard. Feet planted. Got it?” Unusually assertive, she went on, “who am I talking to?”

I didn’t know, I only knew for certain it wasn’t Self.  I can’t clearly remember the rest of the conversation, common with a period of dissociation, but she reached Self enough to convince her/me that hospital was not the answer. Most parts of me, from my lived and professional experiences, actually already knew that. But there was a part of me that just wanted to sleep, didn’t want to talk, didn’t want to think and really didn’t care.

An appointment was made for the next day and I went to bed. No one noticed Self wasn’t with me; I’ve gotten good at that.

Holding onto Self

I awoke the next morning like someone had siphoned every sniff of petrol from my tank. My mind was a fog, my body leaden and my voice unable to verbalise. Self was back, but she was totally and utterly exhausted.

Son to school? Couldn’t drive.

Shower? Couldn’t move.

Eat? Desperately hungry but didn’t want food.

Strangely I was not overly panicked by the experience, as I had previously envisaged I would be when I thought about it happening again. Apparently, my body had kept score. Like having a baby, my body had recorded that it had been here before.

Like last time, my body had decided to put a stop to what my heart and mind could not; emotional and physical over-commitment. It became clear pretty quickly that I needed to re-prioritise my commitments and that doing it now, while my body (not my heart and mind) was in control, was the only way to do it. Fortunately, any negotiations with my heart and mind would be rendered useless by my body’s utter lack of functioning: movement (slow and limited), voice (by written word only), mind (one thought at a time, on only one subject at a time).  In a somewhat detached fashion I communicated my reduced capacities to my two volunteer organisations (knowing that once my heart and mind revived, I would grieve this and a part of me would take over and keep me doing what had brought me to this current state).

My first experience of dissociation evoked a consistent experience of feeling present but not here. Of watching our two little (now big) boys and their dad living life. I was watching on, trapped within my silent and invisible bubble, disallowing me from entering their world. This time is eerily similar, but nowhere near as extreme. I am currently only becoming distressed when a part of me feels frustrated, sad or angry at my total lack of energy to engage. I am still in their world and I can still feel (but not yet reach) that passion and determination to continue toward their world.

Moving Forward

While my external voice and movement is slow, to the point where getting up and down is physically exhaustive, my internal voice and brain appear to be functioning as per normal. I think… Yep, there is the old doubt that creeps in and out still, as there is the sudden and crippling bouts of social anxiety when thinking about seeing anyone outside of my family, but those moments will pass. I know that now. My body has been keeping score and even though my tools are not yet working, I know they are there, ready, when my energy allows it. I hear conversation and my internal voice responds, engages. Then, when I go to verbalise, I just can’t summons the energy past a few words.  Texting, however, writing, however, I can do that.

APTF, even under this blanket of fog and detachment, is as much at the core of my heart, as my family is.   They are intertwined. If you know APTF beginnings, you will already know this. My journey is here to serve a purpose in supporting others in like circumstances, especially my boys, clients and volunteers.

My internal drive and passion is still there; my body is just serving its purpose right now in protecting me from further challenges. This is my journey. I am here to share it so that others will know they are not alone, to know that I am not alone and to increase the awareness of those living near and with us, so that they too, can understand and walk beside us on our journeys.

*Dissociation:  In periods of high stress the brain attempts to protect us by temporarily disconnecting all streams of consciousness from real time and place. 
*Self:  Internal Family Systems Theory’s  premise is we have several parts of our brain that make up our whole being. Self refers to the part that is compassionate and has the best interests of the whole body in mind. The other parts are often generated from past wounds and “painful emotions” and they try to control and protect the person from the pain of the emotional wounds.” “They are often in conflict with each other and with one’s core Self.” ” IFS focuses on healing the wounded parts and restoring mental balance and harmony by changing the dynamics that create discord among the sub-personalities and the Self.”
NOTE: sub-personalities is not a reference to multiple-personality disorder or parts that we are not aware of. They are our internal voices that generate our thoughts, behaviour and speech.


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