Category Archives: Being a survivor

Door Repairs

The weirdest little things change the course of your life sometimes. I’ve had three major depressive episodes in my life. The first was after finishing my undergraduate studies. The second was four years or so ago. The last one is happening in real time.

The first depressive episode lasted for about nine months after I had finished my undergrad exams. I remember the day when things changed around in vivid but disjointed pieces. I met with friends, I think we were making sushi. And this one guy, who I would not count as a close friend, somehow said something that got through to me. For the first time in nine months, a feeling got through to me. A human connection was made. I broke down the moment I got back to my dorm room and cried for a long while. After that, it got better. The mist I had been captive in slowly lifted. (Christian, wherever you are, I never told you this, but thank you!)

The second time around, I was already at a stage where I had accepted that I was suffering from PTSD and was getting help for it. That didn’t mean that depression didn’t manage to put its claws into me again, unfortunately. So even while in therapy, I slid back further and further, starting in autumn and again lasting for around nine months. This time, what turned things around was the simple act of going to the doctor. Not to my therapist, though I did that, too, but to my regular GP. Because I had a migraine. And I hadn’t taken a sick day at work for something like ten years, but I had a migraine and I went to the doctor and got a sick note and went home. That simple act of self-care was something I had not done ever before. And it was enough to flip a switch in me. The feeling of greyness slowly vanished over the next few weeks and color returned to the world.

The third time, well, that one isn’t over yet. But in the past few weeks something changed. The heavy mud that I have been wading through for more than a year now seems to be retreating. There are days when I wake up rested and still have energy even after a full day of work. It’s an amazing feeling. One that I had forgotten. So I’m asking myself, how come? What happened this time? And I think the answer is: door repairs. Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been doing my work. I’m taking my meds and I’m seeing a therapist. But two weeks ago, our porch door broke. It wasn’t necessarily surprising, there had been signs for a while. But then crckkk. Something inside the locking mechanism had gotten lose.

Now you have to know, the house falling apart around me, my home disappearing and leaving me freezing and defenseless – my anxiety’s worst nightmare and favorite scenario.

But then, the following happened: I didn’t know anything about door repairs, so tried to find out which company had repaired the door before. No luck. Called my parents whether they remembered. No luck. Did some google research – better. Found a company that looked trustworthy, forwarded the info to hubby. Hubby said: just try it. I called them, they took down some notes and said they’d call back. They never called back. I smelled patriarchal bullshit. Wrote an email detailing the problem, asked hubby to send it. Hubby sent it, got a call back within an hour (fuck you, patriarchy) and a repair guy came by the next morning and repaired the door within two hours. Hubby got to work half an hour late, but it was fixed, the bill wasn’t too bad and – things got done. I got things done. We got things done.

Cause here is the other thing about my depression and my anxiety. They tell me that I’m alone. They tell me that I’m responsible for everything and if I can’t get shit done, the world will break apart. But I needed help because some sexist dude only listens to guys (that’s a whole ‘nother topic, not getting into that right now) and hubby helped. I was not alone. We got shit done.

And ever since – upward swing. Now, it’s too early to tell whether this holds. I might crash back down still. But at the very least, I now remember the feeling. That feeling of concentrating without effort. That feeling of being grounded in the moment, your mind alert enough to concentrate on the people around you. That feeling of sitting in the subway on your way home and feeling awake and like the day was good.

Door repairs, people. I tell you.



I had a moment last week, sitting on a park bench, freezing and empty, when suddenly there was a connection to the past.

I almost toppled off the bench at the onslaught of pain while a child’s voice inside me started repeating, “It hurts so much and I don’t want to apologize for it.”

So. I think I finally met my inner child and it’s fair to say that she’s not doing well.

Actually, “in unbearable pain” is probably the right wording here and I can tell you that even the five minute window into her feelings that I got was enough to drain me for two days. In other words: the experience sucked.

But at least I know now. That while the anxiety feels like something external, something that I inherited instead of something that formed in me, the pain and the sadness are all mine.

You don’t look like an anxiety patient!

I suffer from PTSD with a dose of comorbid anxiety and depression thrown in. If you’re following this blog, you know this. Now, lately, I’m suffering somewhat more than average and sleep less than is healthy, so, like a grown-up, I’ve decided that it would be best to get help.

Turns out that my former therapist is retiring. Also turns out that even though I have always appreciated the hell out of him, I have not appreciated him enough.

Yesterday, I went to a second session with a new potential therapist. In hindsight, I should have already been suspicious after our first meeting but I was lucky with my first therapist, so my defenses weren’t up.

After our first meeting, the therapist had said that she thought we would be a good fit and that she’d have a regular place for me in a month or two. She also said that she wants to be very focused in a therapy, and thus, as homework, she wants me to think about what I want out of our time together and describe it more precisely than I had.

Now I had described it as: “Traumatic events happened more than once in my childhood and in my last therapy we only managed to get to part of the trauma, so I’d like to get to the rest of it. I’m reasonably sure that will make my symptoms get less.”

Please note that this therapist has trauma therapy and EMDR as one of her specialties and she was recommended to me by a trauma recovery center.

I didn’t think my description was all that unclear but thought that maybe she wanted more measurable results. Something more tangible. Something less complex.

Yes, warning flags should have gone up when I felt like I needed to dumb it down for my therapist.

But I did it anyway, so I said: “I want the anxiety to be manageable again. I want to enjoy things that are not routine instead of being plagued by irrational fear.” And because she had told me to give her two concrete goals, I added: “Also, I want to be able to sleep 8 hours per night again.”

She looked at me for a long moment.

Then she said: “You don’t look like an anxiety patient. And 8 hours of sleep per night really isn’t an attainable goal anyway.”

Talk about a punch to the gut.

She went on to bullshit-explain to me why everything I wanted was wrong while I sat there stunned, fighting back my tears. It was the moment where it sank in that I had come here under the illusion that she was going to take me on as a client while she already knew that she was going to boot me.

She gave me the reason she had prepared before I ever showed up that day a few minutes later: She’d noticed when reflecting on our last meeting that she hadn’t felt “an instant connection”, and connections happen instantaneous to her or they don’t happen at all.

I didn’t answer with anything more coherent than “that’s not how it works for me”.

I was still stunned. I was still close to crying. I felt rejected and small and unable to grasp what I had done wrong.

Fortunately, my brain has learned a few tricks in my last therapy. It recognized bully in the room, tearing me down where she was supposed to lift me up. My survival instinct and with it my flight response kicked in, and I got up and ended this as fast as I could.

I stumbled outside. I called my husband. Talking about it, my mind settled and I went from being close to tears to being angry. I figured out that I was unable to grasp what I’d done wrong, because I hadn’t done anything wrong.

This woman calls herself a trauma specialist but I doubt severely that she actually takes on many trauma cases or that she fares well if she does. She doesn’t have the first idea about it.

People like me, who have been abused over many years in their childhood, don’t do “instant connections” with people. You have to earn our trust. Even if you’re a therapist.

And the casual disregard of “you don’t look like an anxiety patient” proves why we don’t open our hearts for someone to stomp on before we’re sure that that won’t happen. That we’re going to be taken seriously.

It is my right to protect myself from you.

And I guess that is what I learned from this experience.

That from now, I will go into first sessions and say:

“I am a survivor. I will not trust you easily. There will be silences while I’m thinking and I will look mostly past your shoulder instead of at you. My words will be measured and portray little emotion until I trust you with my heart. If you can’t cope with that, this is not going to work.

I am tall and I am loud. I may be an introvert but I am not shy. If you think that means I do not suffer from PTSD and anxiety, then this will not work out.

And last but not least, I am polite and friendly but I will not let you tear me down.”


PS: BTW, Twitter almost unanimously agrees with me on how people with anxiety look like:


One voter for the “tremble” option explained: “We constantly tremble with rage because people are so f*cking stupid.” Aye.

Trigger Warnings. (An open letter to Neil Gaiman.)

Dear Neil Gaiman.

I adore you. I adore your work. I adore your approach to life, to marriage, and to parenthood. I think you’re brilliant.

But I don’t think you understand how triggers work.

I have read my way through your long introduction to your short story collection “Trigger Warning”. I have followed your musings on why books shouldn’t be safe places. On how they should be unsafe. How they should make you uncomfortable, confront you with new truths and expand your horizon.

And I’ve come to think that we misunderstand each other. Because I agree with you about new truths and new horizons. The safety that I want and the safe place you mean are not the same.

So let me tell you how this looks like from my perspective, what actually happens when I get triggered. (I tell you this on my personal blog where you won’t read it – in the same kind of one-sided conversation that you chose when you made this the introduction of your book where I couldn’t answer – the irony is not lost on me.)

When I get triggered, I disappear.

It’s simple as that, though there is a medical term for it. It’s called dissociation and it means that I am gone. That my mind leaves my body because it has encountered trauma that it cannot deal with and feels the only way to get through it is to not exist.

That sounds trippy and new-agey to you, maybe, the mind leaving the body. But let me assure you, it feels like none of those things.

It feels like nothing for a while, like blankness, like white noise. And then when the body sucks the mind back in, it feels like pain. Like death that is following you around for hours, sometimes days, making you sick and nauseous, not allowing you food or the comfort of sleep, before finally all your higher brain functions are back online and you’ve un-entangled yourself from the past.

Being triggered does not expand my horizon. It does not teach me anything new. All it does is suck me into an old abyss that I’m familiar with but can’t stop from falling into.

So let me try to explain it to you this way, using your metaphor of the horizon and mine of the abyss:

If I was wandering in the wild, on a mountain plateau, in search of new places and expanded horizons and you knew there was a cliff ahead, invisible from my path, but sheer and steep and sure to break my bones if I fall down its side – would you begrudge me the warning sign at the roadside telling me to proceed with caution? To slow down my pace and steer my steps carefully so that I can get close but don’t accidentally tumble? So that I can experience the new without hurting myself?

A trigger warning is no different than that. It’s not a restriction. It doesn’t say “entry forbidden”. It says “proceed with caution when exploring these paths so that you don’t tumble into the abyss”.

With all my love,
Mashiara Dream.

To those who love the sinner but hate the sin ( = being queer)

I have spent a sleepless night thinking about your love.

You tell me “you love everyone” and that you just feel that “that kind of relationship is not what’s best for me”.

I’ve spent a sleepless night thinking about why it makes me feel so bad when you tell me you love me. Why it triggers me. Why it terrifies me.

And somewhere in the darkest depth of the night I have found the answer:

Your love is like that of an abusive husband.

Like him, you know what’s best for me, better than I do, so I should obey your laws not follow my heart.

Like him, you take my freedom away because I can’t be trusted with it and might do something you don’t like.

Like him, you isolate me from the ones I love because you say they aren’t good for me, they will damage my soul.

Like him, you promise me to be free from pain later, in an undefined future, if I just accept being lonely and relying solely on you now.

Like him, you will punish me if I misbehave. You will strip my rights away, you will beat me up – because you love me and want to make me better.

Like him, you say I will only be worthy if I negate who I am and live for your ideal and your belief of what I should be.

Like him, you drive me to despair and call it love.

And like with him, I need to be protected from you. I  try my best to protect myself but I know on my own I am not enough. I need allies. Who fight for my right to be free and to be safe and to love and to be happy in this life.

I am crying while typing this because I hope so much that I have enough allies and I’m so afraid that I don’t. That one day I will have to rely on your love. Which I know will kill me.

Childhood Memories – Battered Women

I was thinking about the neighborhood I grew up in today. Specifically, about the two battered women who lived on our street.

The first was the mother of two small children, the two girls being my earliest friends.

They were hurting. I knew they were hurting. At four or five years old, I didn’t understand why. I couldn’t place the bruises. I didn’t know what it meant when my parents said that the older child was trying to help. I didn’t know that the black eye was because her father had punched her in the eye when she tried to use her tiny body to physically stand in front of her mother and protect her.

What I knew was that people were looking down on them. That my parents weren’t happy if I stayed overnight with that family. What I knew was that there was gossip. She’s an intelligent woman, why doesn’t she leave him? She should get her children away from this. I also knew that you could gossip but never talk to them directly about it. When you saw them, you were supposed to pretend that everything was okay.

So we did. In our games, we pretended that their father didn’t exist, that their mother was also their dad and that we were happy.

A few years later, their mother managed to get away from her abusive husband. She did it without help. Because there was no help to be found in this neighborhood.

The other woman did not get away. Her husband is a belligerent alcoholic, they have no children. This one just withered away. Where I was still allowed to play in the house of my friends, we were not allowed to go to that house to play. Not because the woman didn’t want us there, but because belligerent drunk husband was unpredictably violent (while charming sober wife-batterer predictably only hit his wife and children, being much too circumspect to risk being reported to the police).

This second woman has been married to her abuser for 35 years now, living in the same neighborhood for nearly as long. For 35 years she has moved about the street like a ghost, silent and almost invisible. Since her husband is intolerable, most people have stopped greeting them decades ago. Note how I say them. They’ve stopped greeting them both.

I don’t visit home often but it’s still a few times a year. The last time I saw her must be almost a decade ago. I talked to her then. Against my parents’ wishes because talking to this woman is inviting the wrath of her husband. A five minute conversation about the most superficial things. I wonder how often she even gets that.

I thought about these two battered women today. And I thought about my parents. It’s not our business. There’ll only be trouble if we try to interfere. We can’t help anyway. It’s the woman’s own fault if she doesn’t leave. That’s what I learned from my parents before I was even old enough to learn how to read or write. Is it any wonder that I didn’t feel like I could share with them when years later as a teenager I was the one being abused? That I didn’t think they would help?

I can’t tell whether they would have helped after all. We’ll never find out. What we found out, though, is, that their teachings didn’t take. I never accepted their bullshit. I’ve got anxiety and depression and every so often bouts of PTSD – but I’m fiercely protective of my friends. When that oldest child of the neighboring family needed to go to a shelter when we were 15, I made my mother drive us. When my parents tried to forbid me being friends with a girl who was being sexually abused because it would get them in trouble if I didn’t shut up, I didn’t listen.

Abusers want you to react like my parents. They want you to be scared. They want to silence you and they want to isolate their victims. Don’t do them that favor.

You don’t need to be loud and you don’t need to change the world. You can’t change the world. I can never help half as much as I want to. But I can do this much. I can not look away when I see signs of abuse. I can ask. I can believe. Not only believe the victims’ stories but also believe in them.

It isn’t much. It’s never enough. But it’s a start.

Birthday Blues

When I was 17, my friend’s ex-boyfriend sat in my room for an afternoon, held something sharp to his wrists (I think it was scissors), and threatened to kill himself if I didn’t tell my friend to get back together with him.

And all I could think was, “You’re threatening to cut but you want to cut in the wrong direction, that ain’t gonna work, dude.”

That’s how jaded I was.

By the way, my Mom was home when this happened. She didn’t interfere (with which I mean: she didn’t come to help). When I asked her afterwards not to tell anyone, she used it as gossip material anyway.

I don’t know why I’m thinking of this today. Maybe because it’s my birthday in a few days and this is now half a life-time ago. Maybe because I still know how much yew needles you need for a deadly dose. Or that aspirin will give you a nasty, painful, drawn out death if you OD on it. It’s the kind of stuff that my brain keeps around apparently, while it is intent on making me forget my friends’ birthdays.

Your priorities are screwed, brain.