I’m Falling Apart! (re-frame) I’m Falling Together!

8 years ago in October, I got the phone call that no parent wants to receive. I was settling in to work, after another difficult morning of trying to get my then 16-year-old daughter out of bed for school when I received a call from the police department saying that my daughter was hit by a car while walking across the street to school and they were patching me into the ambulance to talk to her. As soon as I hung up the phone, I stood up heard myself make a strange sound and heard the sound of glass breaking in my mind and then I experienced the most intense flashback (although I didn’t know what it was at the time) of a girl sitting in an airport, alone broken and bruised. Just like that, the flashback went away and I spent the next year caring for my daughter as she recovered.

 The year following my daughter’s accident I was busy with tending to her health, taking her to appointments, trying to work full time, and keep our household running as normal as possible. And at the same time, I kept having these experiences that were making me feel crazy. I had worked so hard to keep my life, my family and their world so protected that the instant my daughter got hit, my controlled snow globe world came crashing down. In fact, when my son and I were talking the day of the accident, he looked at me and innocently said, “things will never be the same again.”  Extremely prophetic words, that at the time myself nor my family had any idea what that meant.

I started to become really anxious, I started losing track of time, I was called into meetings at work because my performance was becoming sub-par, to say the least. Which is totally not who I am. I’m one of those people pleasing rule followers, who gave 100% at work all the time. Need a project done? I’m your go-to person! Over the course of a year, my behavior totally changed. I was always upset, over the top emotional, taking everything personally and suddenly unable to hide behind that “I’m okay, I’m fine” mask that I brilliantly wore each and every day of my adult life. My physical health began to decline, and I was recalling memories, that was blowing away my dark past, that I worked really hard both consciously and unconsciously to repress. I knew something was seriously wrong with me, or that I was going crazy, or both, so I made a call to a psychologist who agreed to see me the next day.

That’s a very edited version of how the slow unraveling of my psyche began, or  now as I re-frame it, that’s how the slow knitting together of my psyche began.

Flash forward seven years: I have been getting help and dealing with complex post-traumatic stress disorder….that darn PTSD!  I’ve written many posts on this illness, and the effects it has on myself, my family and my friends. In fact, that is really the main focus of my blog. I want to honest about what it feels like to live with PTSD. I also know that I am very much in the middle of my healing journey and understand that how it feels today will not be the way it or I feel six months, a year, seven years from now.

I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, all with a supportive smile for everyone else. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer my friends began to ask me, what does it feel like inside. I couldn’t really explain it, so I wrote a poem (My PTSD) and that was the beginning of sharing some of my writing, but more importantly, I found that sharing with others helped me begin to understand what living with this illness means for me.

I used to fear that if people knew the “real me” they would run away. That simply wasn’t the case. Being more authentic and vulnerable actually enriched my closest relationships. Yes, there were some people in my life, who couldn’t tolerate the changes. I was now a person who had moods, who felt, who wasn’t always happy and there for them. I no longer tolerated anything anyone said, no matter how unkind without defending myself. Those people went away….and really, did I ever really want people like that in my life? I thought I did, but I’ve learned that people like that don’t deserve to be in my life.

Another reason I continue to write and share is because my symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me. As with many mental illnesses, PTSD can be pretty invisible on the outside. Some of my symptoms include flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere.  Like a lot of people, I’m triggered by anniversary dates and things like that, but because of what happened to me, regular outside noises can initiate a flashback. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car backfiring, even the moon can bring on flashbacks.

 

As I have been healing I try to remember these specific things: I work to notice those perfect moments in every day. Even though I’m plagued by symptoms I have learned that in the course of the day there are in fact perfect moments and it helps when I acknowledge them. I don’t necessarily notice them when they are happening, but I can reflect back on them at the end of my day. I also learned that I need to celebrate each step on the path towards health. I know that it’s a long and never linear process and that it really is just one foot in front of the other. I need to do a lot of resting, a lot of just sitting and metabolizing.  And even though healing can feel like be a lonely process, I don’t have to do it alone.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I’m not going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I want. I know what my goals are…to live with my past, live in the truth, and recognize and relish in the feelings of internal contentment. Somedays those goals seem as far away as the furthest star, and other days I can see them just through the clutter, almost there.

And even though it feels like I fell apart, and if I’m being honest lots of times I feel like I’m falling apart; I try to re-frame it and say No, no wait, I’m actually falling together.

 

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I’m filling up from the inside

I feel myself fill from the inside out as I resolve the issues of my past. As I lean and rest into it, I no longer feel like a piece of veneer over a skeleton.

I can feel myself thickening and becoming fulfilled as I’m allowing myself to feel more three dimensional from the inside.

Part of my process used to be employing the art of distraction; kept as busy as I could.

Now I find I’m resting and repairing.

Distraction can be agitating, and…well…distracting. Distracting from what I need to lean into, to sit with, to listen to, and hear with all my senses. The feelings, the lessons, the healing, the becoming of one with myself. 

filling up

 

I’ve been nominated for a Liebster Award

I’ve just been nominated for the Liebster award by https://arwenfreebird.wordpress.com

Thank You! I appreciate this so much!

Here are my 11 answers:
1, What is your all-time favourite book?   The Source by James A. Michener.
2, Who has been the biggest influence in your life?  My Children.
3, Do you vote? Absolutely – Yes.

4, What is your favourite food? – Tie between a big salad & chocolate.
5, Do you eat meat? Why/why not? – I don’t eat red meat, I just don’t like the texture.
6, Which musical artist speaks to you the most? So many, in so many genres. But I am a solid Aerosmith fan. Have been since 1975. Saw them in concert 12 times.
7, Do you enjoy being barefoot? Yes…in fact prefer it.
8, Would you turn in your best friend if you discovered they were selling drugs? Wow, glad I never had to worry about that, but I think yes.
9, Has your life changed dramatically at any point? Totally!!!
10, If you could have any job in the world, what would it be? Back-up singer for many groups.
11, Would you like to be famous? If not, why not? No, I have no need to be famous, I would like to keep affecting those nearest me and bit farther-reaching one ripple at a time.

Now, here are 11 random facts about me.
1, I love to write
2, I could sit for hours and hours at the ocean and never feel bored.
3, I hiked up a 14,000 ft mountain.
4, I love to read.
5, I love critters.
6, I love music – mostly classic rock, but if it’s good, I listen.
7, I love to travel…road-trips? yes, please.
8, I love to look at the sky.
9, I took martial arts for years, after I gave up ballet.
10, My dream is to continue to find places to speak on behalf of survivors of trauma.
11, My memoir was published 5 months ago.

 

The metamorphosis of who we will be

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The topic of transformation, metamorphosis, growth, change, (insert whatever word works for your personal journey) has been front and center for me lately. I like to bring up the things that are hard to talk about. Most of us want to grow and change. Especially if we are taking the time to go to therapy, or work towards healing the wounds of our pasts. It’s hard, no one said it was going to be easy. But rarely do people talk about the absolute pain one feels when emotional wounds get ripped open in order to process, heal and grow. Its a lonely journey, because no one else can go inside of you and heal those wounds or take away the rawness. You have to be the one to do it. It certainly does not have to be an “alone” journey. We can find therapists, support groups, friends, family, books, even blogs so we are  surrounded by the support we need. In fact, I think it’s imperative to find people who absolutely “get it” and can relate with empathy when we are in the process of  transforming, and becoming the person we want to be.

And really, it doesn’t have to be a shattered past that motivates a person to grow and change. Growth and change are important to do for the rest of our lives. Some people find themselves in a spiritual crossroads, some people find themselves empty after years in a career, and some people are simply unable to feel content and know that there is some road not taken that is calling for them to explore. Whatever the motivation, the transformation to a new way of being from the inside out is painful and sometimes scary.

I have said to a few people, that I believe if we could interview a caterpillar as they transform into a butterfly how it feels, they would tell us it is excruciatingly painful. They are completely changing from the inside out. The end result is beautiful….Butterflies are beautiful!

I know what I had to do in order to heal the wounds of my past. I knew what I wanted my internal life to be and I made a commitment to myself that I was going to do it. I wasn’t prepared for the loneliness of the journey.  But that’s okay with me. I understand it, and I want to talk about it. No one can fix it, it’s part of the deal.

And so when I feel that pain of loneliness, I remember why I am choosing to dig up the past, process what happened, understand my Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, find others who are also on a healing journey, and think to myself that The metamorphosis begins where you accept who you were, who you are now, and who you will be.

 

Effects of PTSD on my family and friends

I’m going to be presenting at a conference in February on living with courage and resilience with PTSD. While working on my presentation, I began thinking about the effects this illness has had on my friends and family the last seven years.

One of the reasons I continue to write and share  is because my PTSD symptoms still have a pretty good choke-hold on me and I want to bring awareness to complex PTSD and what it feels like to live with it every day. As with many mental illnesses, PTSD can be fairly invisible on the outside. The shift in my functioning once I couldn’t repress my memories any longer was pretty dramatic. But physically there was no altered appearance. Often with such a sudden onset of symptoms in an illness we expect to see changes on the outside. Most of us, are used to seeing the physical manifestations of being ill (a pained look, a limp, weight loss, pale)  my friends and family were having a hard time understanding what was going on with me.

I had always been the master of wearing many masks, and deflecting any conversation away from me, always with a supportive smile for everyone, and a reach out to me if you need something demeanor. Never, expressing a need for the same kind of support of my own. But when I couldn’t hide my illness any longer, my friends wanted to reach out and help me. I couldn’t help them, help me because I didn’t know what I needed. All I knew was that I was going crazy, and there was nothing anyone could do to help me. I didn’t need food, company, or phone calls. I needed someone to stop the madness inside of me. One day, while haveing breakfast with a friend, she expressed her helplessness at not knowing anything about PTSD and asked me “what does it feel like inside?” That question stopped me for a moment. I couldn’t find the words to tell here or to explain it, so I wrote a poem (My PTSD) and that was the beginning of sharing some of my writing, but more importantly, it gave me a safe and effective way to share with others and help me begin to understand in a fairly objective looking way how PTSD affects me on a day-to-day basis, and how the symptoms changed my way of living in the world.

My symptoms include (not limited too) flashbacks, concentration issues, becoming overwhelmed and my brain shutting down, not being able to make choices, anxiety/depression, hypervigilance, and sensitive to the triggers that start the whole shebang of symptoms. We use the term, triggers, triggers everywhere.  Like a lot of people, I’m triggered by anniversary dates and other events, but because my situation was so pervasive and went on for so many years, in so many places often regular outside noises can initiate a flashback. The wind can blow a certain way, or fireworks, or a car backfiring, even the moon can bring on flashbacks. Ugh!  right?!? But those symptoms and my reaction to them often involve my family and friends to recognize what’s happening and patiently either wait or help me through them. For a rock of a person, who never needed any help in any situation…well, you can imagine how discombobulating that can be for myself and others.

Unfortunately, my symptoms have left me with the inability to work. I went from having a wonderful career with the fringe benefits that provided me with some semblance of  comfort for the future and the ability to provide for my family to  only being able to work about 2 hours a day…on a good day. I simply can’t concentrate, do more than one task without interruption and my startle response can be off the hook sometimes.  The one thing that doesn’t seem to be damaged is my ability to use my higher level thinking skills. I have been fortunate to be able to continue to help with marketing ideas for small businesses, and help with recruiting efforts. And also, I’m able to write and have the desire to talk about this topic in public.  As long as I’m careful and don’t push past the point of my brain shutting down, I can recover and have a pretty good day. If I do push myself then I can be down for the count for several days in a row. It seems as if my symptoms (depending on the time of year) can start a chain reaction, so I needed to learn to work within my deficits. This isn’t easy or comfortable for me and because I’m still pretty new at learning how to work within my symptoms, I can find myself becoming frustrated and angry at my PTSD! Honestly, most days, if I’m going to be honest, I am VERY angry at my PTSD. But then I settle down and think about what I want for my life and try to rest and reset.

At the beginning of my PTSD symptoms, my family was just as confused and upset as I was.  No one knew what was happening and everyone was handling it in their own way and alone.  Our once “the Four of us against the world” family unit had deteriorated into everyone for themselves in a ship that was sinking faster every day. It was a shift in our family dynamic that none of us ever expected and we didn’t know enough at the time to get help for the family unit.

My symptoms have definitely affected my family and they still do today. I went from the grounded beacon to becoming almost totally dependent on them. I have been able to maintain a “mom role” and thank goodness my children are now in their twenties, but it’s difficult to know that my daughter is not only my daughter but one of my caregivers. She is the one who can tell right away if I am having a “bad day.” Among other things, she knows where I can look on a menu so I don’t get overwhelmed by choices, she can tell if I am in over my head and can tell if I’m triggered. My son, who I think had the biggest problem adjusting because mom wasn’t mom anymore, has grown into taking the responsibility of managing anything that is concrete and sequential. He’s a teacher by profession and he feels best when he can problem solve a problem for me. My husband has been wonderful and supportive and picked up the slack when I couldn’t. But our dynamic has changed too. He often sleeps in another room because my screaming nightmares, wake him up. He has to get up at 4:30 am for work every morning, so it’s imperative that he gets his sleep. But that has had a huge effect on our marriage. These are just a few examples on how PTSD symptoms have affected my family and friends.

It’s all okay, and it’s all not okay. My family dynamic has changed, and that happens. When you are the reason for the change it’s a slippery slope from feeling like a burden to feeling like this is what happens in life and we adjust.  I also want to be honest when I speak and write on living with courage and resilience. Like any disease, PTSD doesn’t just affect one person, it affects all those in your life who care about you and love you. It’s something I’m aware of every day, it’s something my family and my close friends are aware of and it can be an uncomfortable, but never dull life. I’m sure if asked, my family may pick dull….but maybe not.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calling the Warrior to Fight my Demons

Take a deep breath-breathe-don’t project-don’t anticipate-just wait!

Take it one day, one moment at a time.

I can fight this. I can beat this.

I am determined to live the life I want and I will forge on.

Try to learn the lessons, and just sit with it….good!

I can fight this. I can beat this.

I am determined to live the life I want and I will forge on. Keep all the lessons, good thoughts, well wishes and the prayers from all the people who support and care about me and use them as Ass-kicking agents.

The healing has already begun!

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