Sunday, July 09, 2017

The man my mother lives with

It's hard to remember how I used to feel before the revulsion. Hard to remember when I was 11, 12, 13 and thought he was amazing. He was my mother's boyfriend.

My father died when I was five. My mother had boyfriends after that. All I wanted was for her to get married again so I'd have a father. But one by one they left. Or she left them—it wasn't always made clear to me. My mother is secretive about some of her thoughts—the ones she isn't trying to force you to swallow without questioning.

But this one seemed like he'd stick around. He took me fishing. We spent time with his friends. He brought me to an outdoor fishing and hunting fair, and I shot a shotgun twice, missing the clay pigeons completely. The impact left my shoulder sore.

He spent a lot of time at our house. He brought over his books, jazz cassettes, yellow legal pads filled with clipped articles from The New York Times and New Yorker. He brought a rifle, or a shotgun—I didn't look closely enough to detect which.

And he brought pornography. Penthouse and Forum magazines, mostly. A few novels filled with graphic descriptions of sex and violence.

And I read them.

And he tried to talk to me about sex. One conversation stands out in my memory: he was encouraging me to experiment with lesbianism.

“Girls are nice!” sniggered the degenerate pervert.

“Stop it!” said my mother. She was there. She saw. She heard.

I still vividly remember those Penthouse Forum letters. One of them claimed to be an account of a man seducing his teenage neighbor in her Catholic School uniform. She was curious about cunnilingus, so he offered to perform it on her. A bit later, she reciprocated.

I can't help but wonder if he was hoping I'd approach him and ask the same favor.

Acting out


When I went to camp close to New York City and had time to kill in the airport on the way home, I bought a Playgirl magazine. The other campers waiting with me laughed and compared me to “Darling Nikki” from the Prince song:

Knew a girl named Abby, I guess you could say she was a sex fiend, 
Met her in the airport, readin' a Playgirl magazine....

None of this was normal. But it's typical behavior of a child who had been sexually abused.

In my 20s and 30s, I desperately searched for a husband. But every time I got involved with a man, I rushed into physical intimacy, which of course torpedoed any chance of a lasting relationship. The raunchy images and descriptions echoed in my mind, and almost without realizing it, I copied, I engaged in the same behaviors I'd read about.

This is called “re-enacting,” and it's common, especially among incest victims who experienced sexual arousal (1). I learned to masturbate reading those magazines.

Call it what it is


Showing me pornography and talking to me about sex wasn't just bad judgment on the pervert's part.

It was incest.

All the time we spent together doing nonsexual activities—reading and writing poetry, fishing, listening to music—that was a parental relationship. He was my de facto stepfather, even though they never got married. He still lives in my mother's house.

For decades I knew what he did was wrong, but I didn't have a name for it. Recently I read an article about covert incest and wondered if that was what happened to me (2). I consulted the author, Rob Weiss (3), a national expert in sexual abuse and addiction.

Hi Rob, thanks for agreeing to a consult.

Let's call her Jennifer. Her father died when she was very young. Her mother moved a boyfriend into the home when Jennifer was 10 or 11. He was a former hippie-type who had done tons of drugs and considered himself a poet, although he worked as a custodian. He brought a great deal of pornography into the home — several books and many, many magazines, which Jennifer read. And reread. And masturbated to. Sometimes the boyfriend would try to talk about sex with Jennifer; when her mother was around, her mother would stop him from talking about sex. He also smoked marijuana in front of her during an unsuccessful fishing trip on his friend's boat.

Jennifer has had difficulty establishing healthy relationships with men and has always rushed into having sex early on. Throughout college and her 20s and 30s, she had few long-term relationships but numerous one-night-stands or brief sexual relationships. Part of the hypersexuality might be attributed to bipolar disorder (type 2), which was diagnosed when she was 26. Despite knowing that was a symptom, she hasn't been able to bring her sexual behavior under control. She is now still single at 46 years old.

After I read your article, I wondered if her mother's boyfriend's behavior could be considered covert incest. She has struggled not only with intimate relationships but with work as well, having been fired from several jobs (I think the bipolar is a factor there as well). I can't tell if she's a sex addict, but I do know she's desperately unhappy, having wanted very much to marry and have children, which is unlikely at this point (at least having children). She has stopped speaking to her mother, since the boyfriend still lives in her mother's home and is financially supported by her mother.

Any insight you could provide would be greatly appreciated.

He wrote back in less than a day, suggesting that we speak by phone to discuss the case and adding:

Actually - fyi- this is not covert incest. His showing her those magazines and talking to her about the content -is actual incest. Covert incest is just that -not appearing to be sexual- like using your child like an EMOTIONAL husband or pal. But once the overt sexual piece is added, it becomes plain old incest.

This woman has a profound, early, chronic sexual abuse history by an abusing stepfather and emotionally absent mother. No wonder she is where she is today.

On the phone he told me this: "Incest produces intimacy disorders in adult women," he said. "Your stepfather is a predator. This was reportable, arrestable, and I would report him if he's involved with other children."

Incest doesn't have to involve physical contact to inflict damage. A father figure who creepily plies a teenager with porn and tries to discuss it with her—that distorts healthy development. It's explained well in this article about a psychotherapist seeing increasing numbers of pornography addicts in his practice:

“It’s particularly dangerous in adolescence,” Wishart said. “The brain is going through so much transition and change, it's sort of pruning and growing. So, the things you’re being exposed to in adolescent years are the things that are harder to sort of rework later in life (4).”

That is what the degenerate pervert did to me.

Lasting wounds


Time doesn't heal all wounds. Trauma leaves a lasting imprint on the body. Bessel van der Kolk, an international expert on trauma, wrote about this extensively in his book The Body Keeps the Score.5 His decades of research have shown that trauma causes systemic inflammation in the body, which increases a person's vulnerability to a number of pathologies, physical and psychiatric (6).

For decades I tried to ignore what had happened to my adolescence, even as the effects plagued me in adulthood. A raft of physical ailments. Sinus surgery. Bouts of nausea, gastritis and reflux. Grotesquely overgrown fibroid tumors that required surgery. Chronic back pain. Crippling knee pain. Neck and shoulder and ankle injuries—I've sprained each ankle more than twice. Many trauma survivors are clumsy, physically uncoordinated, not at home in their own bodies. I walk into walls, bang my head on cupboard doors I've just opened, trip over small obstacles and uneven sidewalks.

Even worse were was the psychiatric and emotional fallout. Difficulty managing intimate relationships. Anxiety. Depression and suicide attempts. Binge eating—I'm lucky I never took to alcohol abuse or sampled harder drugs. Many trauma survivors numb their pain with heroin; as a social worker in a methadone program, virtually all of my patients had some history of trauma. I also manifested an “exaggerated startle response”(7)—one of the telltale signs of traumatic injury—that makes me self-conscious when co-workers or clients innocently trigger it by tapping me on the shoulder or calling my name when I'm not looking at them.

These are the sequelae of childhood sexual abuse. The body keeps the score; it doesn't forget. Trauma leaves an impact that manifests in many ways. Years of emotional misery, physical agony. Because he committed incest with me.

I realize that I am an adult and responsible for my own life, but I can't help but wonder how different my life would have been had I not been exposed to so much pornography at such an impressionable age. I have no doubt I would have been messed up somehow, but I don't think I would have been messed up as badly.

And I'm alone while that disgusting pervert has a comfortable retirement in my mother's house.

During a phone conversation almost 20 years ago, my mother once worried out loud about how “sickly” I was,. She was concerned that a 28-year-old was having another colonoscopy because of persistent nausea and gastric pain—which, like many of my other ailments, had no apparent etiology.

She was right. I was and am sickly, more sickly than the average woman my age who grew up middle-class in the suburbs, with access to proper nutrition and excellent medical care. Because of the trauma. My body keeps the score. It hasn't forgotten, though I tried to forget.

Fundamental betrayal: my mother doesn't care


My mother now says she didn't know that this went on throughout my four years of high school. But she saw the degenerate pervert try to have sex discussions with me. She told him to stop, but I don't think he stopped. She knew what was going on and she didn't put a stop to it.

Sexual abuse happens not only because fathers/father figures commit it, but because mothers/mother figures don't stop it, don't see it as wrong, or don't "see" it. They don't consciously ignore it—they're too emotionally distant to acknowledge it. She was working full-time, supporting herself and two children and a freeloader. She “never saw” all the magazines and books he brought into the house. (In her defense, it's quite a small house, a modest three-bedroom.)

Most of what she did for me was good. I was always fed and clothed. Never beaten. Went on decent vacations. Was put through an expensive private college. Braces on my teeth, even oral surgery to correct a snaggletooth.

But none of that protected me from the impact of the incest. I have to live with the consequences: I'm alone and I will probably always be alone.

She's still feeding, clothing, and sheltering him. It nauseates and infuriates me. Even now, she has more compassion for him than for me. When I started trying to explain to her how badly he injured me, she accused me of lashing out at a “sick old man.”

I tried to explain how wrong what he did was, bringing pornography into the home and trying to talk to me about it. I said to her, "I am damaged."

She said, "I'm damaged, too."

I'm not a parent, but I thought you were supposed to want your children to have a better life than you did, and that you wanted to protect them from avoidable harm.

"Do you know that if I had told any of the teachers in school about the porn at home, you and the dirtbag would both have been arrested?" I asked.

"I guess I was foolish," she said. "I'm sorry." Foolish? For allowing me to be molested?

I told her I wanted her to kick him out of her house and stop spending money on him. She said, laughing, "You can't control me." That's when I stopped talking to her.

I don't want to be reminded that my mother doesn't care about my pain. She sends me holiday cards, birthday cards, money. “Love, Mom.” If she loved me, she would be furious that someone injured me so profoundly, so lastingly that I suffer decades later. But she wants me to pretend it never happened.

I tried that. It didn't work. Just led to decades of romantic heartbreak and problems getting along at work.

My mother refuses to hold him accountable for the lasting damage he incurred. I refuse to say it's okay, because it's not. I have to live with the consequences: I'm alone and I will probably always be alone.

Am I blaming him for how I messed up my own life? I was already damaged when I met the degenerate pervert. I wouldn't have had a normal adolescence, I was too wounded by my father's death and years of being bullied in elementary school. So there's no guarantee I would have lived happily ever after even had I not been exposed to pornography.

But I didn't need to be further damaged, and I was, and now my life will never be close to what I wanted. All I ever wanted was to have a baby, and now it's too late. I was innocent, and he destroyed that innocence. I've endured decades of physical and emotional pain, and the physical is bound to get worse as I get even older.

My family laughs at my pain


I don't want to be around people who act like my mother hasn't done anything wrong, when she let the pervert sexually traumatize and warp me. Acceptance is difficult when you're in constant physical and emotionally pain, and the unrepentant source is unharmed.

One of my aunts is just as bad as my mother. We've always had a good relationship; she's always supported me. So I thought I could tell her what the degenerate pervert did, and name it as incest.

She said, "Oh, c'mon!"

That was a punch in the throat. I tried to explain the terrible developmental consequences that kind of pornography exposure has on a teenage girl. She condescendingly said, "Well, it might have felt like abuse, but it doesn't sound like abuse."

Half my family doesn't care that I was traumatized. That I suffer every day. That I will never be whole. I can't be around people who minimize and deny my pain.

A Truly Unacceptable “Apology”


At the behest of my mother, I'm sure, her degenerate pervert boyfriend sent me this facile letter:

I need to apologize for allowing you to read "Penthouse" when you were a teen. Certainly, I had no inkling that the letters to the editor would give you false ideas, but it still was irresponsible. Treating you as one of my gruff peers was wrong. I ought to have been more sensible and maintained a proper adult/youth relationship.

I have sincerely regretted these actions many times in the past two decades. I surely do not merit forgiveness, but allowance could be made for dreadful judgment. Hopefully, then a healing process could begin.

I don't believe a single word in it. For one thing, he minimizes, just like every sex offender. He leaves out the pornographic novels ("Jessica's Wife" was one of them) and nude photo coffee-table books ("I Am My Own Lover," pictures of people masturbating) he scattered around the house. And understates the damage he did by, for example, encouraging me to consider various sex acts, such as lesbianism.

Rob Weiss was appalled that the pervert sent me that letter. “He had no right to do that,” Weiss said. “He didn't know what impact it would have on you—whether it would retraumatize you.” But as with everything the pervert does, he only cares about the impact on himself. And so far, that impact has been negligible.

A painful past, an uncertain future


This is why I do not forgive my mother. This is why I can't be part of my family. I'm lucky that I have good friends. Because being judged and rejected by your family, on top of the aching traumatic wounds, really hurts. It's been more than six years since I stopped talking to my mother. She loves him that much more than she loves me.

You wouldn't tell a rape victim, “Well, it's not like you were in Auschwitz. He didn't break your arm. Why are you complaining?”

So don't minimize my trauma. Just because it's not the worst possible thing that could have happened doesn't mean it's not extremely bad.

Psychologist Mary R. Harvey says, “Trauma survivors have symptoms, not memories.” It's true that trauma fragments the memory encoding process, leaving behind shards and glints of information, pain and pleasure, some of which the brain desperately tries to bury and some of which intrudes into the present via nightmares or flashbacks.

But the body does not forget.

What I'm doing to heal


My first step toward healing was contacting Rob Weiss, and I will be forever grateful that he took the time to consult with me. He recommended books for me to read and suggested I attend a survivors weekend, which I did in October. It was called “Taking Back Ourselves,” and it allowed me to meet other survivors and feel validated. Nobody laughed at my story or dismissed it. They believed me.

Developing friendships with those women and being able to speak openly of my pain was liberating. I'm sick of pretending to be “normal” when I'm damaged. I needed people who would love me despite the damage and understand that it wasn't my fault.

I also started seeing a therapist who uses interventions that engage the body, including mindfulness, EMDR, and other techniques. Successful trauma treatment requires a physical intervention, since trauma impacts not only the cognitive processing areas of the brain but also the areas that react to emotion and even regulate balance and gross motor control.

Mindfulness increases awareness of your presence in your body; you focus on any sensations you're experiencing in the present moment, without judgment. Right now, I can feel the weight of my body pressing into the seat and back of my chair. My knees ache, perhaps because it's a chilly day and I have the window cracked open (New York City apartments are routinely overheated); the pain is sharp over the kneecaps, dull behind the knees. I've just had breakfast and can feel my stomach shifting from hungry to satiated. Through the windows the sun is shining; I can hear cars driving past on my quiet street.

Developing and practicing that kind of awareness reintroduces and reconnects me to my body. Trauma ruptured that connection.

Another somatic therapy is EMDR. Without going into specifics, many of its interventions are bilateral, meaning they engage both sides of the body. It's theorized that this creates new connections and associations in the brain, strengthening a sensation of wholeness instead of fragmentation.

Trauma has lived in my body long enough. I want to get rid of it.

I've also reconnected with a select few relatives. Not my mother or her sister, but paternal cousins and their mother. Feeling like part of a family helps me feel safer; humans evolved in packs and tribes, and I'm grateful that mine is no longer completely self-assembled. Of course I still appreciate my friends, who have supported me for decades as I struggled and suffered without understanding the root of the problem.

Being alone in life is difficult for me. Not only emotionally; physically as well. Like many female incest survivors, I'm a sex addict. I masturbated compulsively to those magazines as a teenager; as I've gotten older, I expected my sex drive to wane, but it has not. I crave sex almost as much as food, and my body is almost perpetually aroused.

In the past I've dealt with this excess arousal by either rushing into sex with a new boyfriend or having sex with strangers I met on chat lines or online. That I never ended up assaulted, pregnant or dead is something of a minor miracle. It used to be easy for me to find sex partners because I was young and pretty. Now I'm a chubby “cougar” and it's even easier to find young, attractive men eager to please me.

Avoiding casual sex is an essential component in any sex addict's recovery. It's a daily struggle for me, with no relief in sight. Unless the trauma body-based therapy eases this symptom as well. Because the arousal seems to be a distraction from actual memories, from sadness and other dysphoric emotions.

What's in store for me


I don't know. I hope the trauma therapy works. It's probably too late for children, which was a dream of mine since the age of 5 or so. Whatever's left of my uterus after the fibroids were removed is probably not capable of pregnancy. But it's not impossible to imagine that I might find love, or at least relief from misery.

Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Monday, March 06, 2017

I. Can't. Even.

I thought I blocked my so-called "friend" completely, but I missed one of her email addresses and she wrote:

Subject: I miss you

I am saddened that you chose to block me. I miss you, I care about you, and I worry about you. My intent in removing you from my private page was not to hurt you, but only to limit that group to the people who are actively giving me support during my most challenging moments. I accept that not all friendships are the same, and that your emotional life is generally too precarious to absorb and respond to other people's emotional needs. I am okay with that, and would still like to offer you my friendship and support.

If you would like to discuss this, rather than just shutting me out, you know how to reach me.

I didn't block her because she removed me from her secret Fb account. I blocked her because she insulted me. I have already shut out my sister for being an abusive bully. Friends don't get a pass. Especially passive-aggressive, backhanded-complimenting, gaslighting, self-glorifying, sanctimonious and condescending bitches. As I said,

if someone is going to walk around with simmering resentment, then lash out and slander my character, I don't need them in my life, I can't trust someone who has such a vile opinion of me and claims to be my friend.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Don't insult me by comparing me to Donald Trump

Many people find Donald Trump's actions... worrisome. I am one of them. Many mental health clinicians have decided to pathologize him as a psychopath or narcissist. I am not one of them.

Trump is a repugnant human being and unfit to be president. He may have Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But with or without NPD, he is unfit to be president. It's unnecessary to diagnose him. And it's insulting to those of us with a mental disorder who aren't total assholes to have clinicians harping on how "pathological" Trump is.

I got into a bit of a flamewar today on the listserv of one of my professional organizations. Someone had posted a link to a distinguished psychiatrist's op-ed in The New York Times. This psychiatrist thinks it's irresponsible of professionals to diagnose someone they've never met in person.

I agreed, and decided to post as well:

I think the rush to diagnose and condemn Donald Trump is the worst kind of stigma reinforcement. The most important social action we can take as mental health clinicians is to advocate that people with mental illness who engage in treatment and participate in their recovery are able to have meaningful lives and contribute to society. Writing a public letter or convening a grand rounds in the absence of any contact with the client is not only irresponsible, it reinforces the concept that mental illness renders people inferior to "normals."

Clearly Trump's behavior and judgment are appalling. He embodies the worst kind of white (orange) male privilege, selfishness, prejudice, narrow-mindedness, stubbornness, cronyism, etc. But to say that this appalling behavior must mean he is mentally ill and therefore unfit for office implies that many or all people with a mental illness are similarly "unfit for office," irrational, lacking judgment, etc. People with a psychiatric diagnosis who are NOT despotic, bigoted jerks are offended to be grouped with Trump.

All that is needed is a focus on his behavior--what he says and does--and holding him accountable, like the representatives in Congress who are pressing for further investigation into the Flynn treason. It's obvious that Trump's behavior renders him unfit for office and his deportment is not statesmanlike. There are many ways to resist this presidency (and advocate for those adversely affected by policy changes) without disparaging millions of Americans en masse by comparison with a bloated buffoon.

(I was so tempted to come out to the listserv like I did in the Bronx. Include myself among the mentally ill who disavow any likeness to Trump. But I'm job-hunting (my great clinical job turned to utter crap when they transferred me to an operations role), and as the next post will show, plenty of mental health clinicians are violently prejudiced against the mentally ill.)

A self-important psychoanalyst (SPA) disagreed with me.

Many in our profession, certainly not all , consider Donald Trump to be a dangerous psychopath aspiring to create a dictatorship, and feel a duty to warn in whatever way we can . Had we lived in the time of Stalin or Hitler., would we all be telling each other to stop talking? Those of us who feel the situation is much too close to these historical situations are doing what we believe is right and necessary . Those who disagree are free to do so as long as we continue to live in a  free  country. The concerted effort of the Trump administration to discredit the Free Press cannot go ignored by anyone interested in preserving democracy in this country . I am tired of being lectured by people telling me and others like myself to keep our mouths shut, something Steven  already told the Free Press to do. Sorry, it's not going to happen here.

He was so incensed, he wrote "Steven" without appending "Bannon." SPA authored a book about "traumatic narcissism," which apparently is related somehow to "subjugation." Clearly he believes he has a vested interest in all things narcissist. And I didn't tell him to shut up, just not to violate the Goldwater Rule. Another poster agreed with me:

I do agree with Ayelet, it is completely unethical to diagnose someone whom you have not met and done a complete intake exam, psychosocial, medical and  psychiatric history, etc. Where I also object is to the reinforcement and promotion for "hate," of any kind. I will not support it. 

I didn't see that before I posted this:

Then resist politically using democratic means. There are a million ways people are resisting and protesting this presidency. Don't try to diagnose somebody you have never met.

To be fair, I should include that a few people agreed with SPA, or at least said they did before agreeing with me (very diplomatic; I hear the State Department has dozens if not hundreds of available positions):

Agreer #1. Thank you for your posting.  I fully agree that we cannot, and must not, keep our mouths shut. 

I don’t believe an actual ‘diagnosis’ is the best idea.  For one thing, many of us may arrive at different diagnostic conclusions. More important, I think, is to for us to describe Trump’s multiple symptoms and talk about the risk of discounting information of this sort.  I also think we should think of having clusters of professionals as in the 80’s—eg., Physicians for Social Responsibility, Performers for…, Lawyers for….Such constituencies were very effective during the disarmament and anti-nuclear days; they worked together and separately and always collaborated when collective efforts mattered.

Agreer #2. Just want to say I appreciate so much your thoughts on this subject & how you have expressed them. (It doesn't surprise me, of course, from the author of Traumatic Narcissism.)
I believe we are confronting a situation that challenges our normally civilized attitudes & behaviors-- the habits of fairness, willingness to compromise, acceptance of those who disagree, yielding to majority   decisions, restraint re: 'off-site' or 'no-sight' psych evaluations-- all  valuable principles that yet can weaken our resolve to stand firm against truly unacceptable behaviors & positions and a genuinely dangerous threat to our democracy. Yes, surely there is a duty to warn-- even about the obvious.

I agree with Ayelet that it is not a stigmatizing diagnosis, but actual behavior, that shows him to be unfit for office. But the diagnostic label can offer a coherent way of conceptualizing the behavior, a lens for understanding it, and--together with history-- an alert to where it may lead.

However, do we really want to add confusion by conflating narcissism or even psychopathy with 'mental illness'?-- which to most people has a different set of connotations-- and in fact a different meaning. As well as different expectations of treatment outcome.

How did SPA respond? Well.... kinda like a wounded narcissist:

Then let's been all the books by Erich Fromm and Erick Erickson!

He didn't acknowledge the others who posted in accordance with some of what he said. Just fired off a shot. I assume he meant "burn" instead of "been," and remembers the proper spelling of Erik Erikson when he's not typing in a narcissistic rage. For the record, I think Fromm and Erikson have their place, but I really doubt he's earned a spot beside them.

I was tempted to point out his resemblance to Trump--they are both narcissists! and one of them wrote the book on narcissists!--since I was curious about how he'd respond to that kind of a poke. But again--I'm looknig for a new job, and I don't want to appear confrontational.

It is astonishing to me that in the 21st century they're still publishing books that psychoanalyze narcissists. I really need to get my act together and publish my book. Just as soon as I've made a few more gains in therapy. Which is going very slowly. I know that's the right way to do it, but I'm not a very patient person. I just want to remember what I've repressed.

Like the other serious boyfriend my mother had, when I was about 8 to 11 years old. Who lived in a farmhouse in a nearby town. And took me there--by myself, without my mother or sister--for at least one weekend.

I remember going on the weekend. I remember seeing a mouse in a big room filled with grain that was part of the barn. And that's all I remember. I loved him for a while. And then I hated him.

But I don't know why I started hating him. I eally have no idea, and that is bothering the shit out of me. Did he abuse me as well? Is that why he wanted to marry my mother? She accepted his proposal at first,. I remember him moving toward me, saying, "I want to hug my new daughter!"

And I shouted, "I am not your daughter!"

I was such an unhappy child. Ever since my father died. For decades, starting in college, I tried not to think about all those bad memories. And now when I need to know what happened to me, I can't access them. It's infuriating. I don't know why my mother didn't marry him. If it had anything to do with me.

But I doubt that. It seems pretty clear that my mother didn't recognize child sexual abuse when it was happening in her own house. Like so many other victims who go on to have children of their own. That's how it's perpetuated.

Are the secrets and keys to my current unhappiness locked in my own recalcitrant memory?
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, January 19, 2017

"I care about you, but..."

A person I've known since middle school created an anonymous profile on Fb where she could share her private thoughts and concerns. Kinda exactly like I did.

I guess at some point I stopped following her. Maybe I was going through too much and I couldn't take too much reading about other people's pain. If she emailed me, though, I responded. Back in 2014 she asked me to help her find a therapist for her daughter. I offered to post a query on my professional association listserv:

Ayelet: This is what I'm thinking: 'Seeking contact information for psychiatrists with a holistic approach and experience overseeing light box therapy. Issues are depression, child of narcissist, childhood emotional abuse, ADD, and other learning disabilities. She is a 19-year-old college student who has her own car and can travel a bit."

Alleged friend: Perfect. Thanks so much. I have been wondering: when were you first diagnosed with bipolar? When was your first major depressive episode?

A: Probably college, but I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 24 and bipolar at 25. Only took me 18 years to find a really good psychiatrist -- God willing, it won't take her nearly that long.

AF: What is it about college that messes people up so much?? I wish I knew how to help her more, but she wants to be independent, even though she isn't up to it. Sigh.

A: Your schedule is chaotic, your hormones are raging, you have so much independence that you don't know how to manage, and you think you're an adult & know everything even though your cerebral cortex is still not fully developed. If you'd like me to talk to her, I'd be happy to.

AF: Yep, guess that sums it up 😉 Gotta run. Hope you feel better!

Recently I tried to look at her private profile and noticed we were no longer friends. I wondered why and asked her. She responded:

AF: I removed you from this profile more than two years ago. Interesting that you just noticed.

A touch passive-aggressive. Somewhat patehetically, I asked her why and said that if I'd done anything to offend her, I was sorry. She responded at length:

You didn't offend me or hurt me in any way. But I think the fact that you didn't notice for over two years explains why I removed you. How did you not realize that you hadn't seen any posts from that profile the entire time my mother was in hospice and dying? While I was sitting shiva and mourning? Some major things have gone on in my life which were shared to some degree on my general page, but you didn't notice that you were no longer in the private loop.

I care about you, Ayelet, but I have observed you are very one directional in your use of Facebook. You want people to follow you and comment on your posts, but you do not reciprocate. Your interest in other people's lives, and sympathy for other people's ordeals, is minimal. My private Facebook page is for my inner circle, the few people to whom I confide my deepest thoughts. At some point I realized you haven't earned that position.

I was upset all day--I guess what she said hit close to home. Even though I remember sending her a condolence card, calling her, and trying to comfort her. I guess it wasn't enough.

I know I'm a narcissist. But I also know that I prove how much I care about other people every day. To clients as well as friends. And if someone is going to walk around with simmering resentment, then lash out and slander my character, I don't need them in my life, I can't trust someone who has such a vile opinion of me and claims to be my friend.
Copyright (c) "Ayelet Survivor"

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The introduction to my book

This is an incomplete memoir. I won't be delving extensively into my unhappy childhood, angst-ridden adolescence, or confused young adulthood. While I'll allude to seminal events and phenomena from those days—my father dying when I was five, being bullied in elementary school, sibling rivalry, college highs and lows, ten years of aimless career surfing after graduation, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a suicide attempt, and a dating life that makes Taylor Swift look like Gloria Estefan—I'm focusing primarily on personal and professional anecdotes from my life after I decided to become a mental health clinician in my mid-30s.

Having bipolar disorder has made me both a better and a worse clinician. On the plus side, I know many symptoms inside and out and can normalize clients' experiences very effectively. I know the side effects of many psychiatric medications because I've taken them. I can instill hope because I know treatment can work and recovery is possible.

The downside is that my own dysphoric mood and anger can impede my interpersonal effectiveness, both with clients and co-workers. I've learned that even if you're competent and creative, expressing anger or emotional chaos at work will get you fired—in my case, more than once. Behavior that appears out of control will get you dumped by even the most patient boyfriend—in my case, more than once.

While I've finally found an exceptional psychiatrist and therapist, having an excellent pit crew is only part of the battle. You won't win the race unless you hone your driving skills—you'll crash and burn. That's a NASCAR metaphor for emotional self-regulation, something I struggle with every day.

For about 10 years I wrote a blog under the pseudonym “Ayelet Survivor” that I taglined “My life as a single, Jewish mental health professional who suffers from bipolar disorder and a keen sense of irony.” I explored my experiences with graduate school, working, dating, sex, and my religious observance, which waxed, waned, then more or less collapsed. The personal anecdotes in this book are drawn from that source and from my twitter feed, which as of this day has about 230 followers. There are more than 1300 blog posts and 7000 tweets, so obviously I've picked and chosen selectively. Feel free to visit the blog (or @ayelet_survivor on twitter) for a window into my brain at any given time.

In April 2015 I was asked to contribute an article to a now defunct online e-newsletter (“CBT for schizophrenia? You don't know Jack”). After I posted it to my LinkedIn profile, I was pleased to note that more than a few people were reading it, and decided to start writing anecdotes about other clients. After about 10 posts, some of my friends started saying, “You should write a book. You're like the social work Oliver Sacks.” Well, one friend said it, and I was hugely flattered.

I was also asked to contribute to the Chronotherapy blog on PsychologyToday.com, which gave me the first opportunity to merge my professional and personal writing. I detailed my experiences with insomnia and seasonal affective disorder, and also wrote about other individuals' struggle with insomnia and other circadian rhythm disorders.

I've always loved writing. My personal blog was a tremendous creative outlet for me as I adjusted to a clinical career after more than 10 years of publishing and editorial work. I wrote poetry, stories, and plays as a child and young adult, which developed both my skill with language and my conviction that my true milieu is nonfiction. Nowadays I write progress notes, employee evaluations, and reports. Occasionally I'll bust out a villanelle or free verse poem, and I'll include a few in here.

I'm also committed to advocacy. Even before I became a social worker, I've been trying to explain the reality of mental illness in order to diminish the tremendous stigma that accompanies most media depictions. For a while I wrote numerous letters to the editor, which the New York Daily News was often kind enough to publish. I've engaged with the National Alliance for Mental Illness's efforts to provide a counterbalance to stigmatizing movies, television shows, and news coverage. On my blog I tried to portray my struggles with a sense of hope that it's possible to have a decent, even good life while managing a chronic psychiatric condition.

Most recently, I've been entertaining my Facebook friends with a series of updates that explain what circumstances will cause me to reject a man's Bumble or Tinder profile. More than one has asked, “When's the book coming out?” So I decided to include those, along with other dating anecdotes from my blog.

I also learned recently that I'm a survivor of emotional incest. For most of my life I didn't know that existed or that my experience with it had traumatized me. I just knew I was an emotional mess, sometimes more than other times, and that despite psychotherapy and medication, my problems persisted. As I write this introduction, I've just started a new kind of therapy to address this aspect of my life. It's an evolving story.