Road to Recovery – Episode 07

Written by M.

** While writing this article I realized that for some reason I have trouble writing down HIS name. I’m not sure whether I’m protecting myself or him for some twisted reason. Anyway I’m done with it, he deserves no protection and especially not from me. So I did a little editing and where there used to be HE or HIM, now stands his name. I refuse to live in fear, I refuse to let Michael Joosten (yes, that’s his name) control my life. He doesn’t deserve that, I will not give him that pleasure. And most importantly, I deserve better than that!**


So I’ve told you how this one guy changed my life, you know, in the bad kind of way. I told you how I was making myself going to places where I knew Michael would be, in the hope that it would stop the fear and the panic attacks. Time to give you an update.

Making myself face Michael, putting myself in the ‘dangerzone’ isn’t easy and it takes a lot of strength every single time. It was easier in the summer, since I’m a big summer person, I’m just in a happier place. Vitamin D really helps me. What also helped was that Michael works at our only beach club. If I wanted to lie in the sun, without lying on my balcony, be around people, I went there. Strengthened by friends joining me and the warmth of the sun, I could face my fears. And whenever I saw Michael walking towards me, I would grab my friends hand, squeeze it and hold my breath. Not letting go until he passed by me. And he sure saw me, his eyes pinned on me, his expression getting darker. Or at least that’s how it seems to me. But we hadn’t had the best summer, so the times I could make myself face Michael can be count at one hand. And those rare summer days are long gone, so hadn’t seen him in a long time. Until last week when I was suddenly faces with him.

I was having a fun night out at my brother’s bar along with a friend. Not a really busy night, but a there was a great group of people and a good atmosphere. Then another group enters and as I look at them I recognize Michael’s friends. And then I see Michael, standing outside, talking to the bouncer. And for a moment, my world stops, realizing that he’s about to come in and something tells me that he will stay here for the rest of the night. My heart starts to race and I know that I have two options; having the mother of all panic attacks or try to find something to hold on to and get through this.

Then one of Michael’s friends comes up to me, a friend that I have known for a couple of years now and always been a good guy, despite his choice of friends. He comes up to me and asks me how I’m doing. When I respond, not great, he asks me why? So I tell him straight up “because Michael is standing right outside”. Which was pretty much the reason for him coming up to me, to warn me, knowing I have had several panic attacks because of Michael. He gives me a worried look and asks if there’s anything he can do for me and all I can think of is “just keep Michael away from me”.

As Michael enters the bar, my heart’s still racing, temperature is rising and I feel the panic taking over. I look around to see who I have with me, to help me, keeping me grounded. I see my friend, my brother, though he doesn’t see my panicked eyes, my brother’s co-owner of the bar. I should feel safe, but when it comes to Michael, I never feel safe and I doubt I ever will. But refuse to lose my dignity and have a panic attack in front of him. So I decide, right then and there that I won’t. Instead of getting a panic attack, I grab my drink, hold it tight and drink. After about the third Gin Tonic the panic and fear calm down a little and I’m able to relax, just a little, but I’ll take it. It sure isn’t the healthy way, but at that point I was merely trying to survive. It held me up, so I continued this strategy. Until I was drunk, very drunk, something I really regretted the next day. But it got me through the night without a panic attack, without breaking down in tears, or well, at least not so he could see. When they started closing and I was the only one left, the co-owner of the bar sat me down and said how proud he was about me making it through the night. That’s when I broke, but it was ok, at least Michael didn’t see me. We had a good talk and he wants for me to be able to move on. He will now look into getting us together to talk it out, so I could stop being afraid.


The next day I was sick as hell, one horror of a hangover, like I said it wasn’t the healthiest coping mechanism. I did get a few other praises for being strong enough to make it through. So I take my victories where I can, distractions when I need them and continue one day at a time, one step at a time. It’s a hellish ride, but I keep hoping for a good outcome.

So far for now, till next time.
Have love,
M

Road to Recovery – Episode 06

Written by M.

As I said before, most burn outs are related to trauma, as is mine. But what I haven’t told you before is what happened to me. So here it is, this is my story.

When I was 15, I met a guy. I fell madly in love with him from the moment I met him, he was my first love. I only had eyes for him and he could do nothing wrong. Though he absolutely did, in the form of other girlfriends, but I didn’t care. Sure it hurt, but I loved him. Any time he wanted me, I was there and when he didn’t, I did anything to get his affection. I was very serious about him and we were hooking up on and off for several months. His younger sister because my best friend and all of his friends were my friends. He was my world, but one night my world came crashing down.

He had just spent a week with his sister on Aruba visiting their father, when he came home and felt like throwing a party. That’s when I got a call, to please come over to his house, he needed to see me as he missed me. I could hear music and other people on the background. For some weird reason, it didn’t sit right with me, so I declined. After a few minutes, his sister and my best friend called and begged me to come over. Saying the party wouldn’t be the same without me and I caved. So I put on my new clothes and got myself all pretty, excited to see him again. When I got to their house, it was oddly quiet, the music that I heard on the background on the phone was gone and so were the people. But I was so happy to see him again, that I ignored all my instincts and went inside. Walking in the living room, there was no one there except us. I sat down on the couch and he sat down on the other couch, which was weird to me, since I expected him to sit next to me. He starting a chitchat conversation about nothing special until someone came from behind the couch I was sitting on. She started screaming at me, threatening me and he didn’t do anything to help me. Instead he joined her, as did the other five, who appeared from the kitchen, storage closet and hallway.

With all seven of them in front of me, they blocked the door and there was no way out for me, I was trapped. And I just froze. All I could think to do was to sit still and not show them how afraid I was and how betrayed I felt. At first they were just screaming at me, threatening me, but it didn’t take them long to get bored with that. Some got physical, others were throwing stuff at me, like food. For instance, something that I think in the USA is called Mallomars. That’s when they thought it would be a good idea to film me, to make my humiliation even bigger. They hooked the camera up to the television, so I could see myself getting humiliated. I was breaking and I could see myself cry on screen. For one small moment there was a gap between them and I could master enough strength to get up and move past them. But I wasn’t free just yet. As I was trying to get the lock open of my bike to get the hell out of there, one of them shakes a soda bottle a couple of times and sprayed the drink all over me. Other were throwing eggs and soda bottles at me. Finally my lock went open and I could get out of there and bring myself to safety.

When I got home, my brother took one look at me and knew things were very wrong and called my parents to get them back home. The next morning I was at the police station filing a report. It went to court, where only three, (the guy I fell for, his sister and a girl I never saw before that night) of them were charged with taking me hostage and assaulting me. They got 6 months’ probation, all the while I still had to face them at school every day. I never got any kind of apology and I lived in fear.

I started to push it all away and pretend it never happened, which isn’t easy when you live in the same town. Especially when he started working at a popular bar and everybody loved him. Turned out that he told a lot of people about what happened, but from his side, as it was all a big joke. A lot of people knew my story, without knowing it was about me, and laughed about it. Things got easier when he moved to Austria about five years ago. But in March last year, when the long workweeks were starting to take its toll, he moved back. Not just to Holland, but to my town. Looking back at it now, that is what pushed me over the edge and into the burn out. Again my world came falling down because of him.

Last January, my therapist discovered that my survival strategy of pushing it away and not dealing with it, hadn’t worked at all and she diagnosed me with PTSD. That’s when we started with EMDR treatment. Where it works wonders for most people, it did the opposite with me. Instead of looking back at it and telling my past self that I will fine, I started to relive it over and over again, digging myself another hole to claw my way out of. For now, my therapy sessions are up, my medical insurance won’t pay for any more and since I don’t have a job anymore I can’t afford it myself. But for the first time in a long time I trust that I will come to be OK.

The plan to get myself over the all-consuming fear I feel when I see him, is the same of how I got over my fear of flying, keep doing it. So instead of avoiding him at all cost, I need to keep doing the things that might put me face to face with him. It is one very scary thought, knowing that I will be opening myself up to fear and panic attacks. But I’ve also came to the realization that I handle a lot a things different in life than most, because of my fears. Festivals were the entire town is celebrating are exhausting for me, because I’m always on the lookout for those who hurt me that night. With summer starting I want to be able to enjoy getting a drink with friends, without fear.
I also realized that because of him I have some serious commitment issues, besides a very low self-esteem. I fall for the guys of who I know it will never work with. And to be honest, I never really feel safe with a guy. Except for that one guy, an amazing guy I met in San Francisco five years ago. I felt safer than I ever did before. Against my own better judgement, I’m hopeful, that maybe one day it will work out for us, despite the fact that we live on opposite sides of the world. But for now I take comfort in the fact that I’m still able to fall in love, with the right kind of guy. And I know, in time, I will find love again.

So far for now, till next time,
Have love,
M

Road to Recovery – Episode 05

Written by M.

Well it’s been a while since my last post. So what have I been up to?
Besides following my favorites shows and discovering new favorites, I’ve been busy with my therapies. And a few weeks ago I had a revelation with my psychologist. About 70% of all burn outs are related to a trauma in your childhood, and I belong to that 70%. And so I realized that the source of my insecurities comes from my trauma. Though I never called it a trauma until my psychologist called it that. My insecurities, my need for control, my perfectionism, my fear of sticking out, my inability to trust, it’s all a result of what happened over 15 years ago. And where it was great to have this breakthrough and knowing what the source of all my pain is, it’s also heartbreaking to me that my ex, his friends and their actions still have so much hold over me. But now I know, more than ever, that I need to put this behind me and that this is something I can’t do by myself.

Photo by Ellen Sassen of Sassen en Verstraaten | Studio Twisk
Photo by Ellen Sassen of Sassen en Verstraaten | Studio Twisk

So last week I started with EMDR therapy, where I’m wearing a headphone and I hear the sound of a ping pong ball going from my left to right ear and back to left again. I close my eyes and think about what happened. Thinking about how afraid I was, or how betrayed and alone I felt. Before I knew it, I was crying my eyes out and while writing this blog, my eyes are filling up with tears again. The point of this therapy is that I have to realize that now I’m save and that I can make it through. But even though, realistically I know I can make it through, because I’m still here, when I go back to that moment, I don’t feel like I can make it through. I feel scared, alone and betrayed by the person I trusted most. What happened? I’m not gonna tell you the whole story just yet, but the short version is that my ex has a suspended sentence for physical abuse and taking me hostage when I was 14. In one night I lost the boy I was madly in love with and all my friends. Thank God for my family, they were and still are there for me, whatever I need. And where other people say ‘I should get over it already’ and ask ‘Why does it still bother me’, my family supports me if every way they can.
It will be a rough ride, but it’s time to get my life back and let the past be the past. So I’m moving forward with my therapy, hoping that the intensity of my trauma will get less and that my baggage will get a little smaller.

If you’re also in the trauma group, talk with a psychologist, put it all out there and work hard to be able to move forward. It won’t be easy, but we also don’t want to be back at rock bottom next year, and this hard and painful way is the way to make sure, that that won’t happen. And please remember, that even though the road is dark and it feels like you’re all alone, you’re not. I’m walking this path with you, and with me so many others.

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There may be night that you just can’t seem to fall asleep, even though you can hardly keep your eyes open. This has happened to me a lot, there are so many night that I don’t fall asleep until it’s 4 in the morning, or even later. And then I have so much trouble getting up in the morning at a decent hour, most times I just turn off my alarm and sleep till it’s time for lunch. This doesn’t help making you feel better. I learned that I’m doing better if I stick to my rhythm, although getting back to my rhythm is very hard at the moment. And not sleeping good at night doesn’t make it any easier. So how can we sleep a little better. Something that helps me, is music.
Every time I go to the beautician, she plays a CD of Katie Melua, Piece by Piece, and every time I’m there I drift off. So now, when I have trouble falling asleep, I start playing Katie Melua, volume very low. This isn’t some miracle cure, but most night it does the trick. Do you have music that calms you and is easy listening? Start playing it, volume low and let your brain turn off and drift away. I truly hope this will help you fall asleep.  But if it doesn’t, don’t stress about it. You’ll find your way, the way to a good night sleep, and your way to the life you want to lead. It just takes time.

Till next time,
Have love,
M

Road to Recovery – Episode 04

Written by M.

This week somebody asked me what it is that I feel, having a burn out. This means that even though the taboo that lies on burn outs, is slowly going away, people still have no idea what you’re going through.

So, what does it feel like? Hell, or at least what I guess hell will feel like.
There are days that I can hardly get out of bed and a trip from the couch to the bathroom is too much, too far. There are nights that I can’t seem to fall asleep before 6am, even if I got out of bed early. There are times that I can’t go out to the supermarket because of all the panic attacks. And there are days that I feel like I’m dying. Either from the constant headache and migraine or from the pain in chest. I have spend many night in bed, lying awake, feeling the pain on my chest, on my back and thinking “If I start feeling it in my shoulder/upper arm, I’m calling an ambulance”. It wasn’t until the cardiologist cleared me and told me my heart very healthy, that I was reassured. He also told me that I’m constantly breathing as if I’m hyperventilating. Apparently my body isn’t going back into the relax-modus, making it impossible to breath normally.

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Last week I had an appointment that was very stressful for me. The days before I was stricken by a massive migraine, one that no kind of medication could cure, all because of the stress. The day after the appointment, I had an early doctor’s appointment. After that I went straight to the supermarket, knowing that I would go out again after I’d come home. And when I came home, my cat was curling on the floor, desperate for some attention. So I sat down next to her on the floor and off course, she walked away. But it took me half an hour to get back up from the floor, I was just unable to move. So I just sat there on the floor, in the middle of my apartment, crying. That’s another thing, I cry over everything! Sometimes the stuff I cry about is logical, like watching A Walk to Remember, that movie always makes me cry. But now I also cry about the weirdest things. I cried when my cat walked away after I sat down next to her and I cry watching Gilmore Girls, even if Taylor only crosses the street. I cry because I still have to do the laundry and because I haven’t vacuumed in two weeks. And I cry because this morning, I went to the supermarket with my mom, so I won’t get a panic attack in the middle of the store. I’m 29 and I need my mom to help with the grocery shopping, not my proudest moment.

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Each time I come in contact with what is my stress trigger point, I’m going back several steps in my recovery. I’m going back to a state where I don’t remember anything I’ve learned in my therapy sessions. I keep going over and over and over everything in my mind, making my spin even more. This time it took me a week to even be able to around people again. To pick up the pieces and start the puzzle that is me again. That’s how it feels, like you’ve crumbled down inside to little pieces inside and you have to start the puzzle all over again and you find out the pieces go in different places then where they use to be. In a word, not fun, although technically that’s two words.

Till next time,
Have love,
M

Road to Recovery – Episode 03

Written by M.

There are good days and bad days, that is just how life is. But when you’re in a burn out, the bad days are so much worse. There are days that you can hardly stand on your legs, where moving yourself to the bathroom is a humongous task and all you can think of doing is lie in your bed with the blankets over your head. The trouble is that nobody sees this.

If you have a broken leg, everybody sees that and know what is wrong. But they can’t tell that you have a burn out by looking at you. They can’t see that everything inside you has fallen apart. They don’t see that when you have a burn out, you don’t even recognize yourself. They don’t see that you are crying half of the time, that your concentration is nowhere to be found. And because they don’t see all of this, they can’t possible imagine what you are feeling. And if anyone says that they get what you are going through, even though they haven’t had a burn out their self, than they’re lying. They might not know that they are lying, but they are lying, they really have no idea. They don’t know what it’s like to start crying just because you see someone crossing the street in a commercial.

The thing is, that they are trying to be understanding and they think that they are helping. And it’s very sweet, but when someone tells me that they are tired too and I just to turn in early and get a good night of sleep, I want to strangle them. I’m sure this is meant nice, but this just means that you have no idea what it is that I’m going through. Just as when someone says, I just need to push through, get over it. If someone would say this to me, I don’t just want to strangle him, I actually will, that person will not see the light of day again. I am in a burn out because I pushed through and kept going, even though my body gave me all the signs that I needed to stop. I kept giving and giving and giving till there is nothing left to give. I am beyond exhausted and I feel that a quote of my favorite series of all time will fit in here. So to use Buffy’s words..

I’m beyond tired. I’m beyond scared.
I’m standing on the mouth of hell and it is gonna swallow me whole.

So you see, this is not something to push through and keep on going. Keep on going isn’t an option anymore. Now it’s time for me. Now it’s time to rest and start to find myself again. And it’s gonna take a while. And telling me that I need try to learn from mistakes isn’t gonna help. Because if I knew what my mistakes were, or knew how prevent this, I probably wouldn’t be in this position. Don’t get me wrong, I love my friends and family, but them telling me what my mistakes are or what I should learn from this, isn’t gonna help. This isn’t something you’re gonna take from friends and family, it’s something you take from a psychologist. With a friend of family there will emotion in it, because they want so badly to help you, to make you feel better. But what we, or at least I, need is someone who can look at it without the emotions. Only they can help me to look at things from a different point of view. And this is a slow process. Seriously people, you can’t expect to recover from a burn out in just a few months. Don’t expect this from yourself, your friends, your family or your colleague! This process take a lot of time, energy, soul searching and what not. Give yourself time, rushing or putting pressure will only make it worse. Go back to soon and you’ll be right back where you started or even worse. It’s a slow process but they say everything will be better at the end, guess I’ll wait and see.

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If you have a friend, family member, acquaintance or colleague who has a burn out and you want to support them and be there for them, please be interested. But if you ask how it’s going, really hear them out. What I found out is that people ask how it’s going, but only want to hear that I’m getting better. Having a burn out isn’t all sunshine and rainbows! It’s dark and thunderstorms, so please don’t expect only positivity. Don’t give us a hard time for not being positive, we are going through something hard and difficult and slow, being bright and sunny for someone else isn’t on our mind. I’m sorry if this upsets you, but that’s something that you will have to deal with. We need to concentrate on getting better, and making you feel better won’t help us with that.

Till next time,
Have love,
M

Road to Recovery – Episode 02

Written by M.

One of the things you’ll learn when you have a burn out is that you’ll know who your friends are. And that’s not always easy.

A girl who I’ve known my entire life, who had been one of my best friends for years, couldn’t be bothered to be interested in how I was. Yes, we’ve grown apart in the last year, but our parents grew up together and we’ve always been in each other’s lives. If I would have heard that she wasn’t doing so good, I would contact her and try to make things better for her. She chose to break all contact. And yes, the fact that she doesn’t care hurts.

There are also friends that don’t get that you can’t remember everything in their lives, because you have too much shit of your own to deal with. And they might hold it against you. A ‘friend’ of mine got mad because I forgot she was doing something. While I just thought that that was on another day. And off course I was happy about her doing that, I’m so focused on myself right now, that I don’t to text her for it. When you have a burn out, you’re struggling every day, some days more than others. I’m constantly going over things in my mind, my mind isn’t getting any rest. This means I forget things I’d normally remember. The part that hurts in this case is that at first she was really understanding. It was only when I didn’t text me, she let me down.

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Someone else I found that wasn’t my friend, was a guy. We’ve been circling around each other for years. Can’t life with or without each other. The thing about him is that when I was going through a rough path a couple of years ago, he was the only one who noticed and because of that he was able to calm me down. And for that reason I’ve never been able to let him go completely. Even though he was a jackass most of the times, I saw the guy underneath the ‘fuck off’ layer. And when he experienced a great loss earlier this year, I was there for him. When we had one of our yearly hookups last month, he told me that he was there for me. If I needed him, all I had to do was let him know. Not long after that, I needed him, needed his arm around me, because I was feeling like crap for days already. But he was nowhere to be found. He closed all communication ways to me.
And now, several weeks later, he asks me if I’m still alive. But he has reached my limit. He’s not a friend, if he was, he would have been there for the last 4 months. But instead he chose to only be there when it’s convenient for him, usually in the middle of the night.

But trust me, you won’t lose everyone you thought was your friend. You might find yourself lucky and already you’re surrounded by real friends. Or if you’re like me, you’ll find that the friend you hardly spoke and haven’t seen in a year is a true friend. One that answers your text, because the message worried her. Even though it’s the middle of the night and your text woke her up.

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The thing about friends is that it doesn’t matter how many friends you have, the quality of the friendship matters. You can have hundreds of friends, but if they’re not there for you when you need them, you might as well have no friends at all. A lot of people, including your friends, don’t understand what you’re going through. And that’s OK, it’s not something you can truly understand until you’ve had a burn out yourself, and even then they might still not understand, since every burn out is different. But let your friends know what you need from them. Tell them that you need them to be there for you, that you need them to put up with your crazy and not resent you for focusing on yourself and that this will take a lot of time. If they do that, they are your true friends, the others are only there for the good times.

Finding out that your friends are not really your friends hurts, I won’t deny that. And letting go isn’t easy, but getting myself back is my priority right now. That doesn’t mean I’m not there at all for my friends, I just choose to be there for the friends that don’t resent me for not being the perfect friend right now.
I rather have 3 real friends that are there for me no matter what, then 20 fake friends. Even if that means I sit at home alone at Saturday night.

Point of this story, don’t let the hurt of losing friends take over. Take pride in the friends you do have. Invest in yourself, you are the only person you’re stuck with for the rest of your life, others will come and go. True friends will praise you for investing in yourself to find yourself again and will be there every step of the way. They love you and will want you to be happy, even if that means you’re a little preoccupied.

So far for now, till next time.

Have love,

M

Road to Recovery – Episode 01

Written by M.

Burn out.
The number of people who have or had a burn out is growing fast.
Think about it, everybody either knows someone who had a burn out, or has been there themselves.
But what do you really know about a burn out? Sure, there are a lot of articles out there that tell about the signs of a burn out. But articles about what it’s like to have a burn out? That number is close to zero.

I think that is part of the reason why there is so little understanding for people with a burn out, because, after all we don’t look sick. This is what I hope to change with my blog. To create more understanding of what we are going through. But I also like to help people with a burn out though this blog. It’s important to know whether or not what you’re feeling is part of the burn out. For instance, at some point it really felt like I might have a heart attack. And I was lying in bed contemplating whether or not I should call for an ambulance. Telling my story won’t be easy, especially since I’m still on this hard way back. But if I can only comfort one person and let him/her know that everything will turn out OK, all of this will be worth it.

I just started to cry. And I couldn’t stop crying and I was gasping for air.

First of it’s good to know how you can recognize a burn out. There are several signs that can indicate a burnout. I won’t get to deep into this, since there are hundreds of site that already do this. I will just list them. If you recognize these symptoms, please go to your doctor and get help. A burn out is not something you can get out of on your own.

  • Exhaustion
  • Lack of Motivation
  • Frustration, Cynicism and other negative emotions
  • Absence of positive emotions
  • Cognitive problems
  • Slipping job performance
  • Being preoccupied with work… when you’re not at work
  • Interpersonal problems at home and at work
  • Generally Decreased Satisfaction
  • (Stress related) Health problems
  • Excessive workload
  • Catastrophic thoughts
  • Lack of support or rewards
  • Unhealthy lifestyle choices
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sexual problems

A burn out isn’t something you get from one day to the other. It’s a slow process, and you might not even notice that it’s even happening. My burn out has been building for about nine months, and that’s just the time I started noticing. It could be that it’s been building for years. I felt like I had less energy, had an excessive workload, cognitive problems and just didn’t feel happy anymore. At one point I just had to take a break and didn’t feel like a weekend get-away would be enough. So I booked a vacation for a week and the weeks leading up to that vacation I was really living toward it. If I could just get though these weeks, then I could relax for a week at a sunny beach. And off course, my vacation wasn’t what I needed it to be. And because I was already so far down the road towards the burn out, I couldn’t just lay the negative away and enjoy the positive. The fact that my suitcase didn’t make it to my final destination at the same time I did, made me wrack.  I got so emotional, that I already lost a day of my vacation. Add one very frisky old Italian and the first three days were gone and I didn’t even make it to the beach yet. After that I could relax a little better, but when I came back to work, all the rest that I had flew right out the window. The first day already felt like a really long week. So when my train did ride on my second day back, I just started to cry. And I couldn’t stop crying and I was gasping for air. Right there on the train station, surrounded by strangers who gave me strange and concerned looks. That was the moment I knew, I can’t go on like this. If I’m crying about something so insignificant, something needs to change. They actually needed to change months ago and it’s time to come into action.

So far for now, till next time.

Have love,
M