Coloring to Reflect (Today’s Daily Work of Art)

I finally started a page in the “Trans Affirming Coloring Book” I purchased a while back. I do not like to engage with the human figure in any way artistically, for reasons I do not fully understand. The adult coloring book seemed like a low-risk way to explore some of my feelings and thoughts on this.

I recall having dolls as a child, and sketching human figures as a young teenager. I then went on to develop an eating disorder which may have been the start of my lack of comfort. I think it was when I came into awareness of the extent of my trauma history and my dissociation that I not only disliked looking at myself in the mirror, but also began to have substantial difficulty in connecting with any form of artwork that related to a person/the human body. I prefer visual art that is either abstract or of natural settings with no people present.

The longer I’m sitting with this topic, the more it makes me think I need to create a self-portrait so that I can approach rather than avoid this topic. I didn’t think twice about the fact that the coloring book sat unused for months on my living room table, but I now see that it represents a huge block I have inside of me in regards to how I relate to myself. I want to ease myself into the idea of sitting in front of a mirror or looking a photograph of myself to create an image, so I will start by completing more pages in it. How do you feel in regards to images of people? Have you ever created a self-portrait? What reflections have coloring books shown you?

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 Pause (Today’s Simple Pleasure)

When you’ve spent most of a Monday crying, your week is probably not off to a good start. I had to deal with blatant transphobia, mis-gendering and a dismissal of my past experiences of sexual abuse, all wrapped up in a high-pressure, high-stress situation this morning, and have been dissociating–going in and out of full presence of mind–ever since. When I get like this, I have no filter and overshare, so I also managed to come out to someone as trans who I perhaps should not have. (Their reply was “trans, what’s that?” so yeah it went not so well).

Time distortion occurs with dissociative disorders, and, for me at least, is accompanied by loss of planning and organizing skills. I will start taking incoherent actions without being able to follow one step to the next, as if my short-term memory is lost. Sometimes this includes aimlessly driving or wandering in circles. I can’t stop until I’ve done what I can to feel resolved for the day.

This time, I lost over four hours before I was able to slow down enough to complete my simple pleasure. I’m writing this post and listening to music not to “calm down” but to try to be here instead of in one hundred places, scattered across time, at once. I despise with every cell in my body the fact that people and situations still have the capacity to trigger me into this state of bewilderment. As I pause, I learn the same lesson I do whenever this happens, which is to do everything in my power that I can to not add to this kind of suffering in the world but rather to reduce it. I want to humanize and connect rather than alienated and de-person others. First, I have to gather myself back to my core. How have you paused today, and what did you find when you did?