Monday, July 17, 2017

Mental illness isn't funny

What's the difference between a mental illness and a sense of humour? It's too late to ask Robin Williams but I can try and tell you.
As a young child both my brother and I had an incredible sense of humour. I used to laugh at him a lot, though he didn't find me very funny. Throughout my life, if you asked all the people who have known me, they would tell you I have a good sense of humour. The problem is that at times I didn't know what was funny and what was a diversion from my pain. The thing is, neither did anyone else which made it difficult for me to communicate effectively, my struggles with CPTSD.

There have been times in my life that I've done some pretty bazaar things, which others found amusing but in my heart I know came from extreme stress and anxiety and not from a humorous place.

There are two stories that I can remember in particular. A friend of mine was getting married and at her bachelorette she had 2 male strippers. The function was held in my home. After the strippers finished their little act, I went upstairs and dressed up like a stripper,  nothing over the top, but very high shoes, teased big hair and heavy make up. Requesting that the male stripper sit in a chair I proceeded to act out a lap dance. Of course all the guests found it very amusing, but one of my daughters did not, she was highly embarrassed.

On another occasion I went to the theatre with my ex husband and some friends. That night I was carrying a very pretty and unusual handbag that I loved. During the interval I went to the bathroom and a lady made an incredible fuss about my bag, saying it was the most exquisite bag she had ever seen. I looked at her grubby bag and asked her go give it to me. I emptied the contents of both bags out on the basin and filled my bag with all her goodies and gave it to her. Putting all my things into her bag I said 'you can have it'. While she stood in absolute shock I turned and walked out of the rest room.

There are so many stories similar to these two. Of course other people wouldn't think much about these two examples, but years later when I started therapy I looked back over my life at all these incidents and I wept, with a broken heart, for my inner child,  constantly using humour to mask the pain.  Both these incidents and many more happened during my 3rd marriage to a man I absolutely adored, but who tortured my soul daily.

When I was in therapy, I shared these stories with embarrassment, to my therapist. My question to her was why? She had no problem with anything I shared with her, if I was happy with the memories, which I wasn't, but I needed to understand why I had behaved so out of character on so many occasions. It wasn't difficult for her to explain, it was my way of coping with extreme anxiety and in all situations I was hugely triggered.

Most people who don't suffer with PTSD or CPTSD wouldn't understand, what is a trigger, it's different for each victim, but I'm going to try and explain one of my biggest triggers by unravelling one of my worst  - crowds of people.

Therapist : what is it about crowds that makes you anxious, what are crowds normally doing.
Me: shopping, watching sport, at a concert, having a party.
Therapist : what are they doing that you find stressful.
Me: they are drinking or if they are shopping they are spending money.
Therapist : why does that upset you?
Me : because the drinking gets more and more out of control, everyone gets drunk, there is going to be an argument which might lead to someone being beaten up. If they are spending money it reminds me of the shopping sprees my husband used to go on where he spent so much money in a short space of time, on anything from a suit to a building. He had the money and never ever discussed with me what he spent it on. It was overwhelming.
Therapist : why was that a problem for you?
Me : because when people drink, the violence and abuse was often directed at me, from my husband, from my ex husband, from my mother and my step fathers.
My 2 abusive husbands earned the money and I had no say how they spent it. I felt powerless.

(I feel anxious even now while writing this).

When my anxiety went through the roof that is when I would use humour to mask my anxiety. I've learned over time,  how to manage these triggers, but there are many many more.
So specifically what triggered me on those two occasions? Both those incidents happened a few months before my marriage ended. The tension was mounting and I'd discovered some sordid truths. Everything was a repeat of what I'd been through with my first husband, I was re living the trauma, all over again.

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