Monday, December 06, 2010

Alexithymia

Alexithymia. Kind of has a ring to it, doesn't it? I guess if you're going to have a disorder-they-say-isn't-really-a-disorder, it could have worse names.

Well, what the hell is it?, I'm sure you're wondering.

Alexithymia:

Alexithymia is considered to be a personality trait ... Alexithymia is not classified as a mental disorder in the DSM-IV. It is a dimensional personality trait that varies in severity from person to person. A person's alexithymia score can be measured with questionnaires such as the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20), the Bermond-Vorst Alexithymia Questionnaire (BVAQ),   or the Observer Alexithymia Scale (OAS). 
Alexithymia is defined by:
  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.
     (a cognitive style that shows a preference for the external details of everyday life rather than thought content related to feelings, fantasies, and other aspects of a person's inner experience)
Points 1 and 2 -- dingdingdingding! I have so. much. trouble. explaining my feelings. I would be an amazing poet and writer if I was capable of translating the emotions I felt into words. It's like being a poet with no mouth, hands, or means of communication. And point 4, pretty true, in that it's impossible for me to describe my inner world, my inner state, and I often find it incredibly embarrassing to share my raw thoughts and fantasies.

I've suspected I'm alexithymic for a few years, especially when I was having considerable difficulties in two different long-term relationships. I've been called cold and distant, and both of these women were understandably hurt and frustrated at my inability to share my deepest thoughts and feelings with them. It became a real point of contention by the end of my 2.5 year relationship with J, the PhD in psychology. (though I find it slightly ironic, given her field, that even though I'd mentioned my suspected alexithymia early in the relationship, she didn't seem to understand it when she was involved personally)

Alexithymically-speaking, I have a lot of troubles in other areas besides my 'intimacy issues'.

To figure out what I'm feeling takes time. I have a mental rolodex of emotions I've already named and categorized and I often have to go through it and hold my current feelings against each emotional card. Is it jealousy? Nope. Is it sadness? Nope. Is it anger? Well, kinda. Is it uneasiness? Yeah, that too. And so on, until I feel I've teased out all of the emotions and I know what I feel.

When involved in difficult or turbulent relationships, I sometimes develop confusing physical symptoms. After things went into the shitter with E, I experienced: deep depression, several bouts of serious, debilitating back pain, the flu, a cold, IBS, an abscess, and some migraines. This is a huge contrast with lower stress times, where physically I'm pretty good.

I will often get physically ill during times of great stress and upheaval. They're usually weird physical ailments like lower back pain, digestive issues, headaches/migraines, etc. and it takes me an embarrassing amount of time to connect the physical problem to the mental source (feeling/suppressing lots of emotions). I have a tendency to get depressed and not even realize I'm depressed until a week or two in, until I've thoroughly analyzed my behavior over that period of time and reached the conclusion that what I'm feeling is depression.

I have a hard time expressing my feelings for others. Do you know how frustrating and heart-wrenching it is to be accused of emotionally neglecting someone you love like crazy, only the boatload of feelings you have can't come out in the way that the person wants or needs? Fuck.

I  have a hard time expressing how events made me feel, or the emotional details of events.

I often have to hang back and listen to other people talk about the same event or situation, or a similar situation they've been through. When someone describes the feelings they experience under circumstances similar to my own, it helps me see what my own feelings might be.

It really pisses me off, but I am useless in arguments. It's too much stuff coming in, and too many feelings I don't have names for, and I don't even know what to think, much less form the kind of coherent, intelligent response that I desperately want. It's simply too overwhelming at the time. I have to go away, ponder everything, do some emotion-matching with myself, and only then do I have an inkling of how I want to respond. But then, of course, it's too late. So, basically, I try to avoid all confrontation because I never fare well.

I took the Toronto Alexithymia Scale today and scored 128. The max possible score is 185 and a tally of 113+ = alexithymia. One, I'm glad to know it's not considered a disorder. I have enough mental disorders, what with the anxiety and OCD. Two, it sucks, but it makes me feel relieved that there's a name for this weirdness that I experience.

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