Thursday, 25 April 2013

Sexual arousal when remembering and talking about sexual abuse

You have probably guessed what I'm about to talk about from the title but just to be explicit: this could be triggering and please read with caution. Speaking of 'explicit', I have tried not to be too so but I am about to tell you about something that is so in its very nature. This post has been written by myself (Candy: observer), as well as Little C and Candy (the part that generally goes to therapy and might be considered one of the 'main persons'). Should really get different names for your benefit to save confusion. Everyone thinks they are 'Candy'. Little C starts; I have typed for her and mostly corrected things from how she would say them except where it felt wrong to. Didn't want to take her style away from it, but have hopefully made it more understandable than it otherwise might have been.

"Today I wented to the psychology session with Candy and talked to the psychologist who is called T on here and I not allowed to tell you her real name but it's a better name than T. I talked to her about Easter and things and she asked me some questions about bad things that happened before when I was a baby and when I was in house number one and house number two and I tolded her about getting squished and having to do things I don't like to do and the big faces in the cage and willies and about stuff like that and it maked me feel yucky while I was telling her it and I got sore back and arms and face and head and feeled sick and I got weird feelings in my fanny and maked me think about willies and then I needed to go to the toilet. All of them things makeded me feel sad and yucky and I wanted T to give me a hug because I was scared and sad. T gave me the headphones and put the nice song on for me and I listened to it going in my ears and tried to think about being on the moon and tried to take big breaths and feel better.
From Little C"

After switching back from Little C in the session Candy felt all of those pains and that 'weird' feeling which was sexual arousal. It is a really awful thing to experience this arousal when remembering or talking about sexual abuse. It is confusing. Candy arrived home wondering that in fact her problem is not so much trauma related but actually some kind of sexual perversion: that she would feel turned on by that kind of situation. In stating this to herself Candy felt ashamed and disgusted with herself however, reassured herself that at least therapy was the right place for her, so she would just need to explain to T that she should be treating her for some kind of sexual perversion disorder rather than DID. We decided not to spend too long wondering what would have caused 'me' to become this way.

I am not unaware that people who have experienced sexual abuse can become aroused when remembering or talking about their experiences or during flashbacks and dissociation. I'm also not unaware of studies that show that females may have a natural arousal response to sexual material which can help protect them physically from damage during rape. I have been told that the pleasure points in the human body are wired to work from birth but that they aren't usually activated until later in life and that sexual abuse can activate these prematurely making an arousal response in a child even though they in no way wish the experience to be happening. I know all of this. I don't think I remembered any of it at that point though, or if I did, I didn't feel like it applied to me... Candy.

"I felt sure I must simply have a disorder that makes me turned on by horrible things and that maybe I'm just not getting enough sex or perhaps my low sex drive over the past six or seven years was just my way of trying to manage the huge sex drive that I really have and had previously and this is it bursting out again. I felt ashamed when I came home, knowing that my body was feeling this way with the images of abuse still in my mind.

To put it frankly, having a physical reaction when I am having flashbacks is not a new experience for me. I often feel pain in my body and usually notice afterwards that I am wet between my legs when I go to the toilet, so I know then that my body must have had a sexual arousal response, even though I wasn't aware of it happening. I am usually only aware of pain and feeling sick. I find the wetness difficult enough to mentally deal with and feel bad that my body has responded this way. Sometimes the reaction seems to be a lot stronger though, like this time. I am consciously aware of it and the feeling of arousal, although I don't want it, is strong... really, really strong. How horrible to be talking about awful experiences and to feel that way physically and how horrible to see too that my physical reaction is much stronger than I nearly ever have during 'healthy' sex with Adam. Sometimes when I am cuddling Adam and I know he wants to have sex, I feel like my body is dead. There is no wetness, no tingling, no feeling of change or becoming ready. Just anxiety and numbness... and sometimes an overwhelming need to fall asleep. He may try to stimulate my clitoris and vagina using his fingers or his mouth but it doesn't have any effect on me at all. I often just can't feel it or if I can, it's just irritating or uncomfortable. Yet looking in my head at the image of someone who should never ever have been touching me this way doing similar things, although it repulses me, immediately makes me feel like I am burning inside and out with a need for more.

I didn't know what to do after a while of still feeling this way and still having the images coming through my head and the feelings coming through my body. I wanted to feel normal again, but I also felt like I needed to make it real somehow, like somehow that would make it better... if not mentally, physically. Sometimes after having this experience I have felt like I had to masturbate. It seems wrong because I am unhappy and upset and thinking about terrible things. It's not that I think masturbation is wrong. I don't, I think it's a healthy thing in itself, in the right circumstances despite that I don't really do it very much. I just couldn't tolerate having the feelings any longer and I knew a way to get it over with. So, I used our Rabbit Vibrator to masturbate, but not in a healthy, gentle or pleasant way. More to recreate the feelings of pain inside but to have the sexual response that being abused brought with it; the ones my body was remembering. There wasn't enough pain. I remembered that there should be pain at the back; a lot of pain. I felt a need to recreate that pain too, but I stopped myself from trying to do that this time. But it wasn't just done in order to get a climax to be able to stop feeling it. It was done as a need as well to feel what I felt. That's the hardest thing to acknowledge. How could I want that to happen again?"

A Rampant Rabbit is not for the faint hearted in my opinion, despite it's reputation as a wonder toy. Our version has a very hard ridge at the corona which can be painful even though it is not bigger than an average penis. It hasn't had much use for that reason; even Shan prefers other more modest toys or 'a real man' as she says. But today it was fit for purpose: pain and pleasure and to relive and release. How can that be a good thing? Why did she feel it had to be done? Why did she want to relive it? Was it to be able to move on in that moment? Or is it just a learnt reaction from years of it happening... like the study... just have the sex with me and get it done.

"How can it be OK to have these feelings about such horrible experiences? I hate it and the thought of it is unbearable but in those moments it's almost like it's wanted. Did I want it? I feel so ashamed even though I know that other people go through the same thing. I am not sure that it's not me being devious even though I understand it and sympathise for others who go through it. I want to be able to talk about it with T. I don't know if she could say anything to help but it's such a confusing way to feel and I need to be sure it's not that there's something wrong in my reaction. I feel sorry for her though. It's not a fun topic and I don't know if she would be embarrassed to talk to us about it. I know it happens to people, I know why a person might feel arousal, but why the need to relive it? What is the benefit and should I stop it from happening? I guess T would say I should. But then what? How do we sit with those feelings?"

Saturday, 20 April 2013

Are there different degrees of switching in dissociative identity disorder?

In response to a very heartening comment on an old post asking if I had given up on blogging, I had said that I would answer that question with a post. I have felt bad about that as it was quite some time ago and I never did post again, but I feel now is the time to admit that it has not been for lack of trying. I did try to write a post to get me back into it but it somehow became a monumentally long autobiography and by the time I reached the age of sixteen in the post I was feeling utterly exhausted and overwhelmed and also realised that no one in their right mind would want to reach something so long, so I never posted it. So instead of trying to write a 'getting back into blogging' post, I have just written a post. A plain old standard post with no mention of my lack of blogging, no introductions for new readers and no apologies for not blogging etc (aside from what I have just said). So here you go... (oh and PS, I'm doing a lot better lately than I was a year ago and maybe I'll tell you about that some other day)

In therapy this week my clinical psychologist and I discussed the previous session and some 'switching' (changing from one part/alter/personality being in control, to another) which had occurred during the session. My memory of this is vague... I remember being anxious, not being able to breathe, then feeling like... bad feelings in my throat... then I don't remember what happened next... then I was watching someone talking to T (I was watching from inside my body, in the background, far away) and asking her what she wanted them to do for her. I could see out. I could see the room and I could see T and hear her saying I wasn't anywhere but her office but it somehow didn't make sense and I wasn't the one talking to her. I remember everything being blurry and later my eyes feeling strange and not being able to see properly.

This week, on meandering through our reflections of the process from each perspective together we talked about degrees of switching. Or perhaps we came to conclude that there are degrees of switching. The switching that happened last week was clearly obvious. It was clear to T that I wasn't the one talking to her. I don't have much to say about that really. That's an obvious aspect of DID. But for me there is a different kind of switching, which seems to be more of a grey area.

I can't remember exactly how this came about but at one point I commented that sometimes I don't know 'who' (or which part) I am. I feel like I am actually a different person (not just observing a different person) but I can't say who and I feel that other people probably wouldn't even notice but to me, I am someone else. I happened to be feeling this on this particular day also, I don't know if that's part of why I was talking about it or not as it happens at other times and I don't mention it. I had noticed the change about an hour before I went to my session but I didn't mention it to T because I didn't feel it was necessary; it seemed like more of an internal difference than an out and out switch. I was taken aback therefore when T responded by asking if I felt that way at the moment because she didn't think she was talking to Candy. This surprised me a lot as I hadn't actually realised how obvious my 'internal changes' are.

I couldn't help but smile a little at that moment. I think it was relief actually because I want to be 'seen' and understood and T had just proved that she does see me and notices these subtle changes... or I am more obviously different than I thought. But either way I just felt glad that she seemed to notice and understand. Even Adam doesn't get it sometimes. He knows how to identify some of the parts and responds to them accordingly but there are times where I think he just assumes I am in a mood or something. Don't misunderstand, one alter can have moods. I can be in a bad mood and it not be that I have changed to a different part. I may be a part but I have more than one aspect to me nonetheless.

So T had realised she wasn't talking to 'Candy' and wondered what part she was talking to. I explained that I still feel like I am Candy but that I'm also someone else. It's hard even for me to understand that; let me try to explain... When I completely switch, I often feel like I am observing someone else from the background. I am Candy, but I'm not out at that moment so I am not the person you will be talking to; someone else is in control of me and I am just seeing out from the background. However, during these less obvious switches I still feel I am the person in control and I am talking to you but I am actually someone else, rather that just observing someone else. Does that make sense? Yeah, I'm not sure either. If you have DID you are probably kinda getting it and might have better words or knowledge of dissociation to explain it.

We discussed a little bit and T proposed that it is like I am in between the two; the two being 'myself' and 'another part'. She said: "You're neither here nor there" which I found kind of funny but true in a way. On this day I seemed to be in between being myself and being Ebony, a darker part. T said that I seemed like a less happy person, more subdued. (I wondered then if she ever does sees a 'happy' side of me? I often feel she only sees the downer sides of my personality and then I worry that she must find me a terrible sad sack and a bore) So could it be that it's half a switch? Or is it that I have switched to another part but that me and that particular part are not entirely separate personalities?

In general we like to think of Dissociative Identity Disorder as involving very distinct, separate personalities who have no shared knowledge or memory with the other personalities. I suppose that is what is even 'required' by those who make a diagnosis of DID. In reality, for me anyway, it is not all clear cut. I can't deny that there are those levels of separation (I try to deny it plenty but that's another blog post) but there are other levels of separation which are not so distinct and separate. Is this what it's like for people with Borderline Personality Disorder and Complex PTSD? This reminds me of when I used to try to figure out what was wrong with me when I knew I had dissociation but wasn't sure what diagnosis I would have. It's hard to really worry about categories or symptoms and diagnoses anymore. I used to worry about what my official diagnosis would be if I was 'tested' etc, like it made a difference to how I should feel. I guess I thought if I got diagnosed with DID it was more serious than if I got diagnosed with something else and on one hand I didn't want that because I wanted to be able to deny anything bad could have caused it, but on the other hand I felt if I was told I didn't have DID then I shouldn't be feeling the way I was and that, somehow would make me feel bad.

Nowadays I don't worry about it so much. I have learnt somewhat to accept the periods of denial I go through and not get tangled up in analysing myself but try to sit with the feelings and remember that sometimes I feel differently. Then during the other times, when it is apparent that I very much do have a dissociative disorder and I am more aware of intrusive images and symptoms etc and starting to feel overwhelmed by the need to either accept or deny that I was abused in this way and that way and the other way by him and her and him and them etc... then I try to keep it simple by forgetting about the past and focus on looking at how my life is affected at this moment in time and remembering that this is what I am working to change in therapy, no matter what has caused it. Phew. Hard to write parts of that last sentence and now I am having to do the very thing I just wrote about. It's upsetting and it's an ongoing thing that affects me. I don't need to analyse it more than that at the moment. Breathe...

I digressed a bit there, sorry. To get back on point... maybe the levels of segregation/separation in a system (all the parts/alters/personalities that make up one human with DID) can vary as well from one time to the next. On one day I might be able to be more aware and involved in being a different part where on another day I might be more oblivious to them. I think the experience of feeling like I am another person is a good thing though. It allows me to be able to be more connected to my  DID 'system' and even if only for a short time, realise that therapy is the place for me and that I am not a total time waster who's lying to myself as well as my therapist.