Dulled Senses, Empty Body

CW: Discussion of dissociation, PTSD and effects of trauma

After a long weekend during which my illness and the weather has kept me house-bound, I am finding myself feeling and acting disconnected and detached. As part of my chronic PTSD, I struggle with dissociation, which manifests in varying degrees. At its most extreme, I feel physically numb and unbound by the normal constraints of time and place, unsure of where I am, who I am and what is happening. Today isn’t like that, but is instead a more subtle form in which I feel deflated, apathetic, mentally dulled and aloof. The more I try to find myself in terms of sensing my body, the farther from it I feel.

I’ve been in and out of crisis mode after a series of severe triggers last holiday season. I know that seeking accommodations at my job is likely to lead to a confrontation of some sort, whether it is in needing to advocate further for what I need or dealing with the fallout if I get what I’ve requested. On days like today, where I know a storm is coming but the weather is perfectly calm for now, I shut off to a degree that all of my creativity, spirituality and even my connection to my physical being feels severed. Internally, I’ve gathered all the valuables and am boarding up the windows and doors, even though I feel so calm in my actions that the shift seems invisible.

As I sit with this reality, the relational disasters I’ve endured make more sense. Someone triggers me, but only the parts of me who protect me fully perceive the danger. They scatter inside me and prepare to abandon ship, but I’m still listening to the band play and enjoying my dinner, oblivious to the coming calamity. When everything lists and panic ensues, I’m somehow already at the head of the line for the lifeboats, but can’t understand how the small gesture or unkind word was the tipping point. In other words, I perceive events through multiple filters, and have already pulled the plug without knowing I was about to do so, yet am conscious of my decision to jump overboard after a more minor rattling or shaking–
“the final straw”–occurs.

It’s terrifying to feel that the leavings I take are pre-ordained and mostly out of my control. Yet, I have not regretted very many of them, irrational though they seemed at the time. It is scarier still to feel hollowed-out in the moments between the initial decision and the final withdrawal, abandoned yet waiting to run. I think I’m afraid but I can’t feel fear, because fear could quicken my footsteps too much and I wouldn’t successfully plot my course. So instead I am feeling and knowing nothing but the awareness that an signal is coming and I will need to, with immense speed and focus, react to it when it occurs. I’m living wartime again, the battle of a childhood of indifference and hatred punctuated by sheer terror and violation.

Self-care is only conceptual to me right now. I can try to rest but will drift into flashbacks. I can reach out to a friend but may endanger my relationship by being easily triggered. My main coping skills are to immerse myself in television and stories, so that other people’s stories replace my singular one into which all the threads of my life weave and to gorge myself on unhealthy foods so that the confines of body become known to me again. I intensely and spontaneously craved junk food yesterday for the first time in weeks and couldn’t understand why, but its purpose now seems clear. I shut down to conserve energy for the fight to come, even though my methods likely soften rather than harden my defenses.

I will come back to myself and will come more whole again. I’m in a temporary state of dissociation after repeated triggers that overwhelmed my healthier abilities to cope. Were I hysterically crying or having panic attacks, it would be easier to first detect and to then address my needs. It is substantially more difficult to notice the lack of a normal reaction as opposed to an exaggerated one, but they can both be equally destabilizing. Have you ever dealt with dissociation? How does it tend to affect you? What do you do to cope with apathy and detachment?

Giving Myself Permission to Hope and Dream (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Today’s simple pleasure could not have come at a better time. I’m feeling in a negative rut in several areas of my life as of late, so hope has been hard to come by. I keep making attempts to improve my life but have only met with limited success in my vocational and relationship arenas. Every failure and setback leads me to feel like I’ve dug myself deeper into a pit of despair and hopelessness.

One possibility that has been more promising than the rest is the idea that I may not be able to alter certain areas of my life in significant ways, but I can potentially expand my experience and activities in a manner that improves my quality of life. I am opening to more creativity and artistic expression as a means of bringing purpose, intellectual enrichment and challenge into my daily experience. Specifically, I am planning to equip myself with digital tools in the next few months so that I can illustrate the intuitive card deck that I have been working to create for the past few years.

I struggle with judging my time spent being creative as frivolous, and then I have a crummy week like this week where the core importance of grounding myself in my own body as a sensing and expressing being, rather than existing only in my identity as it relates to my occupation and friendships, shines through. So, for today, I hope that I can achieve my creative goals and that I can continue to find new avenues for exploration of the world that excite and interest me. Where might you benefit from giving yourself permission to hope and dream?

Taking a Self-Portrait (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

For a trans non-binary person who is now a few months on T, I’ve been taking surprising few photographs of myself. I think that I am scared about experiencing changes I don’t want more than I am focused on the ones that show up that cause me gender euphoria. This reflects my punishment-averse nature much more than it does my potential ambivalence about taking T.

My transition goal is to appear as androgynous as I can with some hints of masculinity (leading to me falling into the unfortunate “vaguely masculine” stereotype of non-binary people which ignores trans and non-binary femme people entirely). I think I’m already pretty much facially androgynous, so I feel uncertain about my next steps. In general, I love what T has done to my mind, my issues with my cycle and my energy level, but I have mixed feelings about its effect–present and future–on my physical appearance. On the other hand, I’ve been vibing on considering having people use “he/him” pronouns in addition to “they/them,” so I think there is some fluidity and ambiguity in terms of my end goals.

As I snapped a pic of myself, I immediately focused on any signs of aging and any negative aspects of my appearance. I had a full-blown eating disorder as a young adolescent and am extremely conscious of any signs that my weight has increased, so my eye was drawn especially to the puffiness of my cheeks. To me, beauty is reflected in one’s comfort with themselves. I am so comfortable with my personality and how I show up in the world, but I shrink back and feel exposed when any attention, positive or negative, is drawn to my physical appearance. This exercise has shown me the ongoing disconnect I have with my body. I want to trace the photograph I took and study it until I love it or at least until I know it as myself. How do you feel when you see yourself? If you appreciate your own appearance, especially if you did not do so in the past, what helped you achieve this?

Journaling about a Pleasant Memory (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

Given that I experience complex PTSD, dissociation, anxiety and depression, reminiscing is an activity in which I rarely engage. My memory processes are disrupted and I struggle to organize and verbalize my experiences. When I attempted today’s simple pleasure, I was pleased that I was able to come to a particular memory, one which I think foreshadowed my future enjoyment of nature, community and mindfulness.

A few decades ago, I went on a summer youth trip out of state (still within the U.S.). Youth group was not a place where I felt welcomed or understood, so I was very nervous to spend a week on this trip. We stayed in a city in a southern part of the U.S. in a large, old house where we slept on mattresses on the floor. Our meals were served family-style, which was a huge problem for me as I was a vegetarian at the time and there was meat in everything. I ended up subsisting on Pringles (TM) from a local grocery store, to the point where I could not eat them for years afterwards because I developed an aversion from my over-indulgence.

At one point, a few friends and I asked for permission to walk to the store. As we were returning, the heavens opened and we were caught in a deluge of rain. It was summertime, so it was the sort of warm precipitation that soaks but doesn’t chill a person. We had of course not prepared in any way for this and started half-heartedly running back to the house, laughing hysterically. We passed an office building and a few of its occupants looked out at us and smiled. I felt totally present in that moment, joyful that I was experiencing spontaneous silliness with other people. There was just the slightest hint of danger and rebellion in our actions, coupled with a sense of solidarity and acceptance of our (drenched) fate.

What stands out to me about my memory is that there is no way to set up a scenario to make something like it occur again. Rather, all I can do is put myself in new situations with other people and see what happens. The deepening of my consciousness that I encounter when I tap into the connectedness of humanity is the most profound spiritual experience I’ve ever had and it is one that requires a divine sparkle of “here, right now” that cannot be forced. I anticipate with joy the next time nature brings me together with others.

Giving Someone a Compliment (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I am not a complimentary sort of person. My mind skews to pessimism and negativity, but I do not spend all my time criticizing others. Instead, I tend to lean towards validation and support rather than to positive comments. I see people’s pain more than I see their joy because I am more in touch with my own pain than I am my own joy.

Praising people feels manipulative as well in my worldview as I wonder, if people praise me, what they are trying to get from me. I take the compliments that fit my sense of myself and leave the others to the side. For today’s simple pleasure, I gave positive feedback to a friend online and will continue this practice in person for the next day or two. I tell myself that my praise has more meaning because it isn’t doled out like candy, but perhaps I need to be more willing to share in sweetness here and there. Are you someone who praises easily? If so, how do others react?

An altar containing candles, oracle and tarot cards, a small purple goddess statue, and a painting with a mirror in the center.

Rejuvenating an Altar (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

This simple pleasure brought me joy! When I first began creating altars, I updated them four times a year with the passing of each season. Although the results were appealing, I soon felt cluttered and overwhelmed with the random materials I was accumulating, so I stopped doing much with them. The small altar I worked on today had not been touched in many months, and it was good to light the candles and pull new cards for it.

The card in the back of the display in my photograph is a Lisa Frank (TM) tarot card, which my inner child loves! The particular card I drew is the Lovers. The card to the right is from the Good Tarot. I drew Four of Air, which focuses on rest and self-care. This was an affirmation I needed today as I have been feeling a bit physically run down, which has slowed my pace. As soon as I am not going full-speed, I start to worry that I am lazy and pathetic. Having the guide tell me to take a break allowed me to grant myself more grace.

My overall impression is that my altars are there waiting for me to return as I am able. The Wisdom they represent is patient and kind. Do you have any altars, and, if so, what ideas do you have for updating or rearranging one of them?

Practicing Tree Pose (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I struggle at times in practicing yoga in that I want to be respectful of its cultural origins and not appropriate it as a form of exercise devoid of its spiritual meaning. What I decided to do in relation to my simple pleasures is to spend time learning about the history and culture behind specific poses that I connect with the most, which, for today, was Tree Pose (Vrikshana).

The information I was able to glean online was often contradictory. One source I located included a story of a queen who got kidnapped who kept her love for her husband alive by meditating in tree pose in a forest. Another source described it as a centuries-old pose that is used to raise one’s energy (prana). Yoga is a tradition passed, in part, from in-person training by one generation to the next, so I would love to find a way to learn about it from someone who could provide contextualization and details regarding meaning behind the movements.

My experience of tree pose is that, even though I fall in and out of it repeatedly, I find it to be a grounding and centering pose. I have to steady my breathing and collect my concentration in order to maintain it. I do find it to be more invigorating rather than calming, so I connected with what I’d researched in that sense. What is your favorite yoga pose? What are its origins?

Adopting a Rock (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

A green malachite rock.
Source: JJ Harrison (https://www.jjharrison.com.au/) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

I’ve decided to acquire a malachite rock for today’s simple pleasure. When I researched the associated spiritual qualities of the rock, the first statement I found described it as a stone related to transformation, which fits very well with where I am at in my life currently. I am taking low-dose T in order to medically transition to better suit who I am as a non-binary person and am adjusting much of my social life as a result of coming out as trans, so change is occurring both gradually and all at once.

Malachite also engenders protection, specifically of the heart, which I feel an increased need for because of the impact that being mis-gendered has been having on me as of late. My physical appearance has shifted slightly and I think people read me as decidedly queer, even if they can’t make out specifically what my identity is, and are sometimes unpleasant as a result. Glares and stares are not something I’ve experienced most of my life from strangers. I’m working to learn how to reflect back or bounce off the negativity in the sense of not allowing someone else’s rejection of me to influence me, but rather to see it as a manifestation of the inner hatred they’ve allowed to fester. I ordered a malachite bracelet and am excited to see the effects that the stone has in my life.*

*Personally I do not believe objects such as crystals have any intrinsic powers, but rather I use them to symbolize inner characteristics that I want to manifest.

Watching a Shadow (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

It is raining buckets outside, so today did not provide many outdoor viewing options for my observation. Instead, I used the light in my living room to notice the shadows. As I sat, I realized shadows imply form. They are created in the presence of both a source of light and an object. They focus our attention in a mystery or horror film because they give rise to the notion that something is there, something whose true nature cannot be fully discerned. They imply presence, but, in the absence of a direct view or a mirror, the presence remains without understanding.

I live with so many shadows of trauma in my life–they are cast long and in sharp relief, but the specifics of the events which laid them out are obscured in my memory. Snippets and feelings and pain are all that remain. Even if I am full of shadow, I live in light because I name the monsters. I let be known what I do know to be true.

What I cannot abide well are those who deny shadows, who pretend there are no monsters casting them and who seek to blot out any brightness that would illuminate their dark truths. When one of my abusers communicated their denial to me, they literally stated that there wasn’t even a “pinprick” of light that would show them what I was claiming happened had indeed happened. That metaphor kept at me for a long time, and, through today’s observation, I know why. Killing the light to deny the object to ignore the shadow, or vice versa is the modus operendi of evil and is anathema to what this world needs right now. Shine, stand and outline your truth.

Expressing Gratitude through Journaling (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

I connect a push towards gratitude with invalidation and ignorance of injustice, especially when statements such as “well at least…” or “everything happens for a reason” come my way. It’s hard, therefore, for me to focus on that for which I am grateful in the midst of feeling grossly mistreated yesterday. If there is anything for which I feel appreciative, it is the experience of being fully present and settled in my body.

Present-moment awareness comes and goes for me as I contend with PTSD and dissociation. When I was younger, I lived for the future, thinking that if I changed my circumstances, I could change how I felt inside. Over time, I learned that the scars of my past would continue to ache, even if I left those who wounded me behind. My future seems as relentless as what as gone before: unknowable, uncontrollable and unlikely to make me happy on its own.

Where I find my solace now, when it happens, is in living awake instead of in slumber by connected to my body, my breath and the world around me directly through my senses. These are the moments for which I am grateful, when I am no longer lost in rumination or dread. I have to feel “safe enough” in order to turn my powers of perception from my inner mental world to the outer physical world; anyone or anything that enables me to do so is also an encounter I cherish.