Mental Health: An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters for People with PTSD and CPTSD.

The “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters,” by Portia Nelson is a mainstay of 12 Step Programs.
It is primarily used as an allegory to describe the addictive process. i.e. the insanity of repeatedly and consciously making the same mistake with the hope of getting different results.
The “Autobiography” goes like this:
“I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place.
But, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes me a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in. It’s a habit.
My eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault. I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.”
Portia Nelson, There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery

I received my copy of “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” in a clinical setting, as part of a treatment group for people with C-PTSD.

For me, that’s a problem. Here’s why:

In my experience, people with primary substance abuse disorders know they are in a hole, even in their denial. They not only know where the hole is, they know how they fell in, and they know the way out.

Our for profit medical system sees “behavioral” health and 12-Step Programs as a cheap alternative to providing the more expensive services required by people with mental illnesses.

Some people with severe mental illnesses have substance abuse disorders, but they are secondary to our illness, and to the artificially induced poverty, that forces us into slum housing and into the arms of aggressive drug dealers.

I did not fall into a hole.

I was placed in a hole as an infant.

Any attempt to crawl out that hole was met with violent beatings.

After she solemnly read the ‘Autobiography in Five Short Chapters’ to us, the therapist who was running the group asked us what we thought.

I raised my hand:

“What if we were stuffed into a hole before we knew we were alive?”

She had no answer.

Behaviorism has few answers for people who need intensive psychotherapy.

***

For those of us with mental illnesses related to childhood sexual assault and trauma, I offer this Autobiography in Five Short Chapters for People with PTSD and CPTSD.”


Chapter One
“I wake up and I am in a hole. I don’t know that I am in a hole. The hole forms the circumference of my world. I base my options in life on its width and depth. It is uncomfortable but the hole is all I know.
I feel constrained and helpless.
One day I look up and see that light enters the hole through an opening at the top.
My eyes are so dazzled I cover them.
***
Chapter Two:
I live in a hole in the sidewalk but I am not certain of this.
I try to pretend that It isn’t true but I see that there are edges at the top of the hole through which the Sun shines.
I decide to climb toward the light to look beyond the edge.
I climb to the top.
It takes a long time.
I see that beyond the hole is a vista that is more rich with possibility than anything I have ever imagined.
My fear is so profound I fall back into the hole where I know I am safe.
***
Chapter Three:
I live in a whole in the sidewalk, which is where I was placed as an infant.
I try to forget what I saw when I climbed toward the light and looked over the edge.  The hole feels small and cramped but the thought of leaving fills me with dread.
I try to pretend that I don’t know that I am stuck but pretending doesn’t work anymore.
I am furious.
Why am I in this hole?
 It isn’t my fault.
I contemplate climbing out
***
Chapter Four:
I live in a hole in the sidewalk. My world is in this hole yet I feel I must leave this tiny world for the larger one above: the real world.
I slowly climb to the top of the hole and slowly pull myself out.
I stand at the edge of the hole, terrified and uncertain of what to do next.
***
Chapter Five:
There is a hole in the sidewalk. I’ve spent my life in this hole and once believed  it was the entire World. I am terrified and want to throw myself back into the hole, but enter psychotherapy instead.
Rob Goldstein 2014 – 2019

Awards: The Disability Award

Melinda Sandor at Looking For The Light  blog nominated me for this award; she is a dedicated blogger and activist and was one of my first Featured Bloggers.

Melinda is also the driving force behind the blogging collective, Survivors Blog Here.

When I saw the name of the award my first thought was, ‘an award for being disabled?’ but based on the nominees it’s clearly an award for people who strive to transcend their disabilities and give meaning to the pain. It’s an honor to get this award. Thank you, Melinda.

The rules are to display the award badge, answer the questions, choose your own nominees, and develop your own set of questions. Melinda’s questions are so practical I’m going with hers.

Advances in Brain Imaging
Fig. 2. Example of reduced regional cerebral glucose metabolism in the anterior temporo-frontal cortices in a patient with dissociative amnesia.

Melinda’s Questions:

What was the first sign of your illness?

My first symptoms appeared when I was a child and found the name ‘Antonio’ scrawled in my schoolbooks. I was confused about my age, name and gender, which set me apart from the other children.

What is your worst symptom and how do you cope with it?

The symptoms of depression and dissociation affect memory and concentration, which makes it difficult read and write.

I often go back to a published post to discover typos and glaring gaps in logic. I cope by writing shorter pieces and relying more on photography and abstract designs for creative expression.

I’ve also stopped judging myself when I find mistakes in the work I post, although it’s frustrating to discover a flaw I would definitely have noticed a decade ago.

As for reading, I do a lot of reading I can’t remember.

This is even true of my work.

I often think I’m reading another bloggers post for the first time and discover that I’ve already liked and re-blogged it.

It’s confusing and frustrating.

What one thing about you has changed because of your struggles?

I miss reading and writing longer, more complex, stories, but I’m learning to be patient with myself, and to set more realistic timelines for achieving goals.

I am more compassionate toward other people.

What words of advice or encouragement would you give to someone else suffering?

I’m changing the last word from ‘suffering’ to ‘disabled’, because suffering does not have to define life with a chronic illness.

My advice is set goals and let go of the way you defined success when you were healthy. Give yourself plenty of time to complete those goals.

Never compare your achievements to the achievements of people who aren’t ill.

Learn new skills and practice them.

I knew absolutely nothing about photography when I became permanently disabled. I still know nothing about photography. but I’m better at it.

Name one good thing that has come out of having a chronic illness.

Now that I have the right diagnosis and treatment, I have a better understanding of the forces that shaped me as a child, and a better understanding of why I made certain self destructive decisions as a younger man. I’m forgiving because of it.

The Dissociative

What one thing do you disagree with that is widely accepted as true about your condition?

I obviously disagree with the idea that Dissociative Identify Disorder doesn’t exist. If I go to a shrink and tell her I think I have other personalities and the craziness of it is wrecking my life, I expect her to believe I believe they exist and to treat me accordingly.

I wish the United States had mental health system  that wanted to treat the brain’s mind.

If you could change only one aspect of your illness, what would it be?

Some days I get sick of feeling like I’m running in place. I want the illness to go away.

Name the one thing that works best for you for symptom relief.

I get relief from photography or throwing myself into a project. I also try to eat properly, exercise, and get a solid night’s sleep.

Based on your experience, what is one thing that you would tell someone newly diagnosed with chronic illness?

Learn as much as you can about your illness and become your own advocate.Why did you start blogging?

I started blogging to advocate for better medical treatment for people with mental illnesses.

The blog began to shift focus in 2016 and is now more focused on  art and politics., but I haven’t forgotten my roots.

My nominees

Most of the disability bloggers I know have gotten this award from Melinda.

My two nominees for this award are Dream Big, Dream Often and Jason
at Opinionated Man.

My questions for them are the same as those asked of me.

Check out Stacy Chapman’s award post at Fighting with Fibro

‘The Dissociative’ (c) Rob Goldstein All Rights Reserved


DID: When Everything is a Trigger

My Mother wasn’t allowed to have a mental illness.

As an infant I was left at the mercy of a woman whose family
knew she was beating me.

The crime of moral exclusion is essentially a crime by consensus.

The perps hide behind the sanitized language of noble sounding
absurdities.

“They are food insecure.”

“We are protecting their rights.”

American Voters say they don’t believe in a country that let’s children starve
but they keep voting for perps who are fine with it.

Bette Davis judging you meme
‘Judging you’ found on GIPHY

If the life of a high school student or migrant child isn’t as sacred as the life of a fetus,  no life is sacred and what you really want is control.

Pro-life gives all kids an equal chance to grow up to be their best.

Marching children into lives of pain and ignorance is child abuse.

For all the joy I’ve had, I’m sorry I was born.

This is no bid for sympathy.

This is no statement of intent.

This is the sadness of a man whose had a profound confrontation with evil.

People who sacrifice children to ideology are evil.

I will never understand how my Mother’s family decided to let to suffer.

I was an infant.

Why was the ‘shame’ of my Mother’s mental illness worse than the murder
of my future?

How I do I forgive this?

In a sense, turning my blog into an account of my life as a person with DID carries the same risk as confessional poetry.

One’s life is open to inspection, misinterpretation, censorship and the out right demand by some people to shut-up.

I often wonder if the people who admire the poetry of Sylvia Plath feel her rage and psychic pain:

from “Daddy”

 

“In the German tongue, in the Polish town   

Scraped flat by the roller

Of wars, wars, wars.

But the name of the town is common.

My Polack friend

Says there are a dozen or two.   

So I never could tell where you   

Put your foot, your root,

I never could talk to you.

The tongue stuck in my jaw.
It stuck in a barb wire snare.   

Ich, ich, ich, ich,

I could hardly speak.

I thought every German was you.   

And the language obscene
An engine, an engine

Chuffing me off like a Jew.

A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen.   

I began to talk like a Jew.

I think I may well be a Jew.
The snows of the Tyrol, the clear beer of Vienna   

Are not very pure or true.

With my gipsy ancestress and my weird luck   

And my Taroc pack and my Taroc pack

I may be a bit of a Jew.
I have always been scared of you,

With your Luftwaffe, your gobbledygoo.   

And your neat mustache

And your Aryan eye, bright blue.

Panzer-man, panzer-man, O You——
Not God but a swastika

So black no sky could squeak through.   

Every woman adores a Fascist,   

The boot in the face, the brute   

Brute heart of a brute like you.
You stand at the blackboard, daddy,   

In the picture I have of you,

A cleft in your chin instead of your foot   

But no less a devil for that, no not   

Any less the black man who
Bit my pretty red heart in two.

I was ten when they buried you.   

At twenty I tried to die

And get back, back, back to you.

I thought even the bones would do.

 

Excerpt from Daddy, by Sylvia Plath

A Head Full of Ovens
        A Head Full of Ovens

I saw a guy on Valencia Street last Friday.

He wore a filthy hospital gown; he had a couple of name tags
on each wrist.

I know he was medically cleared for discharge because patients don’t
leave locked psych units without a nurse to open the door.

They just don’t.

A trained physician sent a gravely disabled man to fend for himself on the streets of the Mission.

Just Released -Two-

I am sick with a past I can’t remember, in a present as abusive as the past.

Photograph of graffiti left by homeless people who sleep on Clation Alley in San Francisco
The thoughts of  homeless men and women who sleep on Clarion Alley in San Francisco

My brain is a raging debate:

“That can’t be real.”

“You’re dirty”.

“It didn’t happen.”

I get confused.

The Blind Owl-

from the Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat

“All of life is made up of stories and tales.

I must press the cluster of grapes and pour its essence, spoon by spoon, down the dry throat of this old shadow. Because at this moment all my restless thoughts belong to here and now, it is difficult to know where to begin. My thoughts do not recognize any hour, minute or history.

For me, something that happened yesterday might be more ancient, or less effectual, than an event that took place a thousand years ago.

Perhaps the reason for the appearance of all these reminiscences is the fact that all my relations with the world of the living are now severed, past, future, hour, day, month, and year all have become the same. These stages make sense to the ordinary people, to the rabble—yes, that is the exact word I was looking for

—rabble with two b’s. These stages apply to the rabble because, like the seasons of the year, their lives have recognized divisions and limits and because they live in the temperate zone of life.

My life, on the other hand, my entire life, has had one season and one state. Even though a constant flame burns in the center of my body and, like a candle, melts me away, my life is in a cold zone, in eternal darkness.

The Blind Owl

 A Cry Of Despair

I try to apply the corrective lens of reason to everything I think and feel.

Is something or someone good or bad?

How do I know?

What is DID?

It is relentless fear and confusion.

It is a longing for respite.

It is a cry of despair in a world that normalizes abuse.

 

(c) Rob Goldstein 2015-2017-2018 Revised 10/07/2018

 

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