Session the 12th: Hard Candy Christmas

Me, I’ll be just
Fine and dandy.
Lord, it’s like a hard candy, Christmas.
I’m barely gettin’ through tomorrow
But still I won’t let
sorrow bring me way down

    — “Hard Candy Christmas”

What I brought before my bartender, paraphrased:

“Before the 24th I was still alright. I mean, I was mellow. The anti-depressants were working really quite well, and then sometime during the 24th, or maybe late on the 23rd, they completely stopped working, and I started wanting to scream and cry constantly. I didn’t, because it would do no good. It just kept building up and up and going on and on, and it was literally as bad as if my father were actually there, even though I knew he wasn’t, and it was like this for about 72 hours straight, after which I went offcall and could pop a sleeping pill. ((It is important in matters such as these that this is a singular noun.)) And now, sitting here talking to you on the 28th, I still feel like screaming constantly.”

No flashbacks, actually. But it was just about four tarp corners fully waving about in the gale, if one measures these things that way. Possibly a flashback would have been moderately less traumatic, mostly in that I wouldn’t remember it. Whereas right now I still recall that block of constant… well, not terror, or fear, exactly. “Mental anguish” is a term I always think of as melodramatic, but it fits here to a T. It was hell. On Saturday, maybe two hours before my oncall ended, I contemplated killing myself to get out of the situation faster.

Last week was the first time since I came to my new job that I had ever spent an entire Christmas Eve, Christmas, and half of Boxing Day oncall. When I’m oncall, with my pager, I take things pretty seriously. That means no drinking, no sleep medication, often no sleep (I have insomnia, maybe for not surprising reasons), and no engaging activities. Everything needs to be shallow, because I may be called upon to engage very deeply indeed at the drop of a hat, and I don’t context-switch well. As a result, if something happens when I’m oncall, I’m usually on the scene reliably and quickly enough to make sure good things don’t stop (and bad things stop happening), and willing to work hip-deep in tech and business issues for hours on end if need be.

But it was a quiet Christmas (as it usually is), so I had nothing distracting. Literally; couldn’t start anything up, either, because I have to be ready. And of course I was by myself, and all the shops and restaurants were closed on the little, quiet island.

I didn’t realize that I’d relied, before, on being able to get unconscious as quickly as possible during previous years. I’ve done 7×24 hours of oncall throughout my years, but never more than 24 hours at a go during any one Christmas week. Naturally having an oncall fall on those three days was just asking for trouble.

My bartender says that the lack of sleep is what probably made the mental anguish worse. I thought you just got sleepy and maybe hallucinated when you were sleep-deprived; he replied that’s only so if you went into sleep deprivation settled and calm. If you go into sleep deprivation at all unsettled, the tremors only get worse, until they’re earthquakes.

So! In the interest of not killing myself when the New Year arrives, we talked more seriously about figuring out new traditions to help displace the old ones that my father practically all tainted. Probably these traditions need to be “get out of the house and do something” traditions; like doing some shopping in a low-stress tiny traditional shopping area (which the island has got a lot of), or visiting museums and zoos and such. That’s the first take-away I have for this appointment.

We also talked about my close friend who was upset about me not right now being a good friend, which also didn’t help the emotional trainwreck of last week (wreckage still smoldering today). It would almost be funny, the idea of someone who knew that the holidays literally triggered you, being upset that you didn’t come to a holiday concert full of music that triggers you during this most triggery time of the year. Of course, I didn’t think it was funny, I just cried (and it made things much, much worse on the 25th).

The second take away is… I am… kind of scared of doing that. I’m scared of doing anything so crass as “taking care of myself,” partly because my parents taught me that I am not worthy of such measures. Doing anything for myself is sinful, the worst possible sin, and I was already a stupid, retarded, hateful, evil bitch-scum at the age of seven who was going to suffer in hell for eternity and deserved to die and didn’t deserve to be born and only makes other people’s lives bad and should be beaten, kicked, stabbed, cut, burned, strangled, worse… unless I did things for my father first and foremost. (That litany, by the way, is still how I think of myself if I’m not constantly recalling that it’s not true. It probably gets worse when I haven’t had sleep.)

The other part is that I am scared that I will “lose it,” Set Piece PTSD Style, in company.

For instance, I thought about doing some genuinely unselfish activity, like serving in a soup kitchen, but during the holidays I can react badly (hah) to things. I tried hanging out in a Safeway for a little while earlier in the week, to see if I could put up with any kind of busy-busy people-filled environment, and… no. Not during this time of the year. Really not. I could stand it for less than an hour; if I hadn’t left, I actually would have been on the ground screaming. And I hadn’t even been interacting with people.

A friend of mine a while back thought I was very susceptible to psychosomatic disorders—I can sense stress from other people very well. And you know, I’m probably sensitive to stress in other people for some reason, like having grown up trying to predict if my father was going to beat my mother or not….

However, museums and aquariums during low-traffic days are probably OK. People are hanging about, but there’s a loooot of space and people aren’t rushing around. And it’s different. And. It probably… won’t be bad.

Gods, this all makes me want to scream. Okay. I’m gonna finish off this post and go hide for a while.

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7 thoughts on “Session the 12th: Hard Candy Christmas

  1. Non-solutionizing comment: You are very much worth taking care of. Really really. Your parents were full of shit.

    I know you know this intellectually. But I just thought I’d say it again.

    Solutionizing comment: Have you considered becoming a docent in one of those museums or aquariums? I suppose it depends whether you could rely on the ambience not triggering you in front of a tour group, but it would be volunteering in an environment that you find tolerable.

    • I docent at the zoo (Woodland Park Zoo) up in Wallingford. One of the best parts – for me at least – is that one doesn’t have to give tours; one can just give interaction opportunities (carts with items on them for people to look at), and if you go with the single-docent (you can work with a partner, but that doesn’t work for me) option of just having a messenger bag with things, you can easily quickly retreat and hide in the bathroom or in the locked cart equipment room as necessary (and if you have to miss a shift, you’re not royally screwing someone else over). Never done that, of course not… Downside is you have to go through fairly extensive training and do some human interaction.

      Have you considered volunteering at an animal shelter or something similar with less human interaction (but positive animal interaction, if that’s not triggery)? The set schedule might be a bit much – or it might not, depending on how your schedule-foo and your brain-foo interact overall.

      (disclosure: bipolar myself, prone to the mixed states, no history of PTSD. just started reading your blog after a friend linked it)

      • Hi peregrine, and welcome!

        I don’t work well with animals is the only problem. And the holidays… are just really really horrible.

  2. replacing old traditions with new ones sounds like a good idea. preferably ones that may not seem “holiday”ish to other people, but therefore lack the triggers that set you off.

    you know how traumas and loss pile on one another. i lost three family members in the last month and one more was on his deathbed for a week before christmas (found out christmas day he will probably make it through). EVERYTHING about christmas became something to sob about. typically, the holidays are just hard in a ptsd triggery way (stress…growing up everything had to be perfect or else we paid the price – thanks, dad). but this year, it was so much more than that.

    anyway, i’m sorry your oncall gave you a meltdown, but glad you made it through. and maybe you should take up a hobby that doesn’t require you to get in-depth for times like that. something like knitting you can kind of go at with your hands but don’t need to mentally engage with?

  3. Hello abi,

    Thank you.

    I haven’t entertained the thought of volunteering at museums and such, but if I work my way forwards, it’s a possibility in several years.

    There are other sharks swimming under the surface of all this, too, which I should probably hash out before deciding on what to visit on New Year’s. My father tainted a lot more things than just holiday traditions, although he certainly concentrated a lot more of his abuse during those times.

    Hello alisa,

    I’m so sorry for your losses. *hugs*

    Knitting and hand work: Good idea, but I did all kinds of needlework, knitting (badly, in amusing ways), crocheting (see knitting), doll-making, random craft kits, etc… pretty intensely, actually, when I was with my parents, because of those qualities. I didn’t know I was leaving an entire minefield of self-generated triggers for myself at that age.

    I’m always a bit embarrassed about the amount and variety of things that trigger me. I don’t cover it in any kind of detail on my blog, because there are too many, and not a few of them are complicated.

  4. ah, that makes sense. i understand about weird and varied (and nonsensical to others) triggers. i wish i could come up with an idea that could help you. i’ve been forced to face some of mine repeatedly lately, so, i know it is hard. you’d think that over time and exposure these things would lessen their influence, but, i guess there really are some wounds that can never heal, not completely.

    thanks for the hugs. it’s been a hard year. but, i am armed with meds, a bartender (i love that term!) i am slowly learning to trust, and a wonderful family, so maybe 2010 will be better. :)

  5. I’ve also got a psychiatrist, who I call the candy man. Medication can be a wonderful thing.

    Goodbye to 2009, hello to 2010.

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