This Hike On A Cloudless Day

Walking at a slow and easy pace, I mindfully climb up a mountain trail on a cloudless day.

Prayer flags hanging in the trees. Some tattered, some brand new. All of them, hundreds of them secure in the branches high and low.
Crossing bridges made of wood I’m mindful to quiet my footfalls.

Besides the babbling creek, the only other sounds I hear
is the gentle wind rustling the leaves and grass.

Large stone incense burners filled with offerings of those who climbed before me, remind me to stop, rest, and breathe. Remember to breathe, take it in, and just walk softly. Peacefully.

This mountain; this hike under a cloudless sky
brings me closer to the place I’ve longed to visit for years.

My senses are awake. I feel peace and reverence.

I sit and meditate, letting go of the strings that hold me hostage to the stress and worry of the past few months. A knowing that I’m letting it go. I feel myself letting it go. I take a deep breath and wipe away tears of gratitude as I commit this experience, this landscape to memory.

I feel free, strong and affirm to myself that this mountain walk, this hike on a cloudless day, is a gift of beautiful peace that I get to experience as I travel along life’s path.

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

Road Trippin’ with PTSD

As summer begins to wane and the occasional cool breeze brings a hint of fall in the evenings,  I find myself packing to hit the road and drive thirteen hours to go hang out in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. It’s was a spur of the moment decision to leave, which makes this even more exciting. But, for me, especially this time of year, where there are triggers, triggers everywhere, I have to make sure I have some plans firmly in place so my adventurous road trip doesn’t become a series of frightening flashbacks from a time long ago and a place that I don’t like to talk about.

I absolutely love the freedom of hitting the road, not having a specific destination to sleep, and just enjoying the journey. I love the spontaneity of it, and the “let’s take this road and see where it leads” adventure. It appeals to my carefree nature that is often squashed by my symptoms, but still lies just below the surface.

I love the majesty and strength of the mountains. They make me feel safe, protected, and extremely grounded.  They touch that part of me that needs to feel grounded by the steadfast rock, the earth.

I live in Minnesota, which is nowhere near the mountains. When I get close to the mountains, and my senses begin to come alive, I know I’m now on vacation. I was once that person who worked to go on vacation. Road-trip?  I was the first person to raise my hand and jump into the car. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people!

Then I was struck with PTSD and everything changed. The things I did without thought have suddenly become a big production. I’m plagued with flashbacks, especially at certain times of the year when my symptoms are easily triggered.

My trauma occurred over a 20-year period in many different places throughout the world. I can be triggered by certain smells, sounds, the way the wind blows, dialect, and many other things. Sometimes, that can start a flashback. Sometimes, I get disoriented and anxious, and sometimes it’s just a general feeling of knowing something’s off. When I’m at home, I can figure out ways to ground myself, get support or use one of my distress tolerance tools to ride out the wave. When I travel, things are unfamiliar and it takes longer to come out of a trigger.

Another symptom of my PTSD is that I become overwhelmed in busy, loud, places — restaurants, for example. It’s very easy for me to get flooded by too many menu choices and a voracious appetite can become non-existent. Before PTSD, I loved trying new food and going to restaurants that I wouldn’t have visited while in my hometown.

Busy roads while not necessarily triggering, can be overwhelming for me. The speed and crowded freeways can be overstimulating, and I tend to get anxious.  The same anxiety I used to feel in a gridlock or driving at night with 18-wheelers whizzing by is now more pronounced for me. My anxiety is ramped up because my perpetrators often drove me to places across the country.

I used to try to navigate where I was by counting the light poles. I thought if I kept track of them I could find my way back home. Of course, I would lose count very quickly or realize that it didn’t matter anyway, and simply sit quietly waiting until we stopped at a final destination.

But once I became a young adult and understood the freedom of the open road, I began to love road-trips. I still love road-trips!

My support system is different when I travel. For my family, it’s often a good respite for them when I go out of town for a few days. It’s not an easy decision for them to let me go off without one of them accompanying me. So, a lot of moving parts must happen before I leave. My support works together to provide text, phone or FaceTime calls with regular check-ins. I must be mindful and respect the times that are available, especially with a time change. It feels uncomfortable for me to know that I require this support, but I’m grateful that I have this in place so I can do the things I would like to do and visit the places that bring me peace.

I understand that traveling with all my PTSD symptoms front and center is a huge challenge. But, I’m determined to have a great time and get my spirit renewed in the mountains. I’m going to the The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at the Shambala Mountain Center. This has been on my list of things to do for many years, and I’m so excited to go.  My intention is to hike and camp in the beautiful Rocky Mountains and fill my senses with the crisp, clean mountain air, and for just a few perfect moments, breathe with ease.

Road Trippin’ with PTSD is certainly a challenge, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning and the agreement to tell my travel companion if I’m having any symptoms, this adventure is not only possible, it’s happening!

Photo by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

Just A Poem

I had a dream that I fell.

I grabbed for a plant
and tumbled down
a large gaping hole
clutching at loose vines
screaming your name.

I don’t know if you rescued me.

You were there when I fell
but then I woke up
trying to find the meaning
or the no meaning in the dream.

Would you get a rope
and pull me up?
Would you do what you could
to help?
would you walk away
pretending that you
couldn’t see or hear me?

Is it worth screaming your name?
or should I pull myself up?
Strong and Independent.

Maybe dreams are just dreams.

But there is a small
part of me that wonders
if the safety of your silent world
is all you need
that pretending to neither see or hear me
has nothing to do with me
and everything to do with you!

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

Lessons from a real and metaphorical mountain climb

I always used the metaphor of climbing a mountain to describe my healing journey. Then I was able to experience a real mountain climb. I am traveling to those 14ers again next week. I’m not sure if I will attempt to climb it again. Last night, I started to fear I would experience HACE (high altitude cerebral edema) again. And even though we have a plan in place this time, I may just stare at its majesty from below 10,000 feet, and with overwhelming gratitude remember these lessons from a real and metaphorical mountain climb.

  • The road to the trailhead is wrought with bumps, divots, potholes, and dusty uneven terrain. It is hot, cold, sunny, cloudy, ever-changing but it’s possible to start the hike by crossing a wooden bridge at the trailhead, or climb the stairs to the safety of my therapists’ office.
  • The air at the trailhead is cleaner, crisper, and alive with possibility and excitement. As I breathe in, my lungs are filled with clean air and I want to take deep cleansing breaths. As I begin to climb into unfamiliar altitude my lungs keep me from moving too fast and I find I gasping for air. I have to remind myself to breathe. I listen to how my Sherpa breathes and try to follow what he is doing and take slow deep breaths. When I listen to him and remember to breathe and take rest stops I am able to keep walking up the mountain.
  • I know there is a rocky, snow-streaked tall foreboding mountain peak just around the corner but I haven’t had the chance to get a glimpse of it yet. Then, as I round the corner I am at once awestruck by the beauty of the two mountain peaks and overwhelmed by the enormity of what I am looking at. I am determined to climb this mountain that is in front of me, to conquer my past, while keeping brave and optimistic while climbing towards the summit.
  • As I turn around I see a breathtaking, almost indescribable scene and I am in the middle of a cirque. Surrounded by mountains on all sides of me. A place to rest, and restore, to reflect and take the time to notice the here and now. I notice the beauty, the critters, the flora, the fauna the many obstacles that I have already overcome just hiking up this far in life and on this trail.
  • I start to notice the wonderful people we encounter along the way. These people are climbing for their own personal reasons but each person has goals and each person is there to help along the way. Support from others in the form of a friendly hello, or a smile or a vote of confidence to keep going. We are all on the same trail and when the terrain gets too steep or when my Sherpa needs to consult with others, he finds the right person to help along our journey.
  • The altitude is starting to get to me now. It has been hard work and I am starting to feel the effects of my journey. I am getting sicker with each step, but I keep telling myself, “take 10 more steps.”  I am starting to lose sight of the reason I am climbing this mountain and focusing instead on just reaching the summit.  I find I am slowly losing my ability to see the beauty around me and all I think about is taking 10 more steps and the reward will come at the top.
  • The rocks are so hard to climb, the switchbacks look confusing to me. I’m scared I will make a wrong turn and fall off this mountain. I am deep in the throws and committed to continue to climb the mountain, but self-doubt seeps in with each step.  I’m scared and getting sick like I felt while facing the absolute truth of my past but I am determined to keep going.
  • I am starting to fade quickly and then I hear the wonderful words from my Sherpa, “This is your summit.” I thought we made it to the very top. When I realize we didn’t, I felt so upset inside. I felt as if I failed myself, my Sherpa and my family. Then I hear that negative voice inside that suggests this is punishment and I would never reach the summit so I began to bargain and plead to keep going, feeling like my ability to conquer “them” was climbing those last 200 feet. Then I realized that this Was my summit. It was beautiful and quiet and wondrous and rocky and very high. I was sitting on top of the world and the view was the same here as it would be 200 ft higher.
  • I was beginning to feel my head get sick but I was overcome with what I accomplished in reality and metaphorically. For me, the metaphor did not break down. For me, it lived up to everything I had worked so hard to accomplish. I climbed up the rope out of the skeleton hands that have tried to keep me down!
  • Then I am sick! I can’t think straight; my legs won’t work the way I want them to and something deep inside of me says get down. I see the look of fear on my Sherpa’s face, I hear the tone in my daughter’s voice, who had climbed the mountain with us, and I feel the urgency as I am being led down the mountain towards safety. Along the way, climbing up the mountain I got sick, coming down the mountain there were moments I wasn’t quite sure I was going to make it. But just as the journey of the mountain is sometimes wrought with sickness and safety concerns, perhaps descending down a mountain pose some challenges too.
  • I was emotionally disoriented for days following the climb. I was scared because I had developed such severe altitude sickness, but I was also proud of my accomplishment. I was scared because I realized how many summits there would be in reality to accomplish before I could feel healthy. I lost sight of the fact, that I had accomplished so much already, and that each summit is a victory, no matter how high the climb. I had to fight to keep my sense of accomplishment. But fight, I did and now I understand just how many summits’ I have accomplished over the years. 

Some of the lessons my mountain climb has taught me are that it’s the beauty, fear, wonder, excitement, tears, and help that constitutes being able to say I climbed a real 14,000-foot mountain and a metaphorical unyielding mountain range. 



Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

Thank You for the Interview, Mental Health Book Club Podcast

A Huge Thank You to Sydney Timmons and Becky Lawrence of the Mental Health Book Club Podcast, for inviting me on their show. Sydney and Becky’s philosophy is that talking about mental health should be commonplace and their reviews of books and author interviews add to the discussion.

I had a wonderful time talking with them. They were both welcoming, and engaging hosts, and even though I was speaking with them from America to their show in England, it felt as if we were sitting in the same room chatting.

I would absolutely love it if you click on the link below and have a listen. For me, this is really fun to share on my blog, because now you get to hear my talking voice, instead of just my writing voice. I hope you enjoy the interview!

Reflections and Goals

I have a habit of making three or four big goals when I’m about to reach a new decade in age. I tend to do a lot of reflecting, and anticipate what kind of adventure  I can write for myself for the next ten years. I started doing this when I turned 30. I believe it is because the first twenty years of my life were controlled by others in terrible, sad, and tragic ways.  I spent my twenty’s trying to recover and repress my past, so I could simply survive day-to-day.

Then I turned 30 and I thought, I’m going to set some big long-range goals, and see if I can work towards attaining them in ten years.  I never really told anyone my goals, I just knew what they were. For example, I wanted to own a house by the time I was 40. I figured out what I needed to do and began working towards it.  To reach that goal, I focused on a career choice. I went back to school and this time earned a degree that would help set me up financially. I became a homeowner at 38. Some goals are not that grand. Some are small, such as, I would like to learn a new kind of exercise that is completely out of my comfort zone. I also give myself a break. If I no longer find that a goal I set is useful, or I simply can’t reach it, I let it go. After all, I’m the one writing my own adventure.

I found that the goals I had set in my 30’s and 40’s were focused on family, career, travel, with a reach for the stars attitude. I’m extremely motivated to try new things and don’t shy away from taking risks.

Then I got sick with PTSD. And my goals became extremely clear to me. Learn the truth of my past, have a congruent timeline of my life, and learn to live, not just survive. In fact, those goals weren’t really a choice, they were imperative to my survival.

I recently had a birthday. And although I still have a year until I reach the start of a new decade, I found I was stumbling around and feeling quite unsure of myself, because I didn’t really want, or have a need to set goals.

As I reflected, I was sure I wanted to just be content, surround myself with like-minded and loving family and friends, continue to learn compassion for myself and enjoy this life that I’m living. I wanted to feel happily satisfied that I will always have a natural and insatiable curiosity about life, people, and how we’re all connected. With a little astrophysics thrown in along the way.

Somehow, that resistance of making “goals” caused me a bit of distress. I felt lazy, or like I was giving up, and tuning out. When in fact, I realize I was tuning in. It just looks different than before.

Then I was sent a link to a wonderful talk given by Arthur Brooks at the Aspen Ideas Festival, titled: Strategies for happiness in life. After listening to this talk, I went from fighting this self-imposed feeling of irrelevance to, wow…this is the trajectory I was dipping my toes into but felt like I couldn’t or shouldn’t. In very brief summary, his points were, “don’t rage against change, teach others what you know, take away the parts of you that aren’t really you, and surround yourself with love.”

As I reflected on this talk, and let go of my distress, I took to heart Brook’s four points, and also added a few more of my own. I decided that these points (I’m not using the word goals any longer) are how I want to live for the next decade(s) of my life.

I can make a difference in this world by understanding that although I’m a quiet voice, I still have a ripple effect that may bring change in how we talk about mental illness and help remove stigmas. I can live content, surround myself with like-minded and loving family and friends, continue to learn compassion for myself and enjoy this life that I’m living.

My natural and insatiable curiosity about life, people, and how we’re all connected, with a little astrophysics thrown in along the way, is a part of me, and that’s okay!  In fact, as I reflect and look deep inside in my spirit mirror, I believe this may be a time of deep personal growth, change, and acceptance of… well…me!

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

The Gifts of Writing a Memoir, Happy 3rd Birthday Untangled!

Three years ago today, I anxiously waited for my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph to go live on Amazon. What a wonderful, unexpected and humbling three years this has been.

I took a huge risk by writing and publishing my memoir. My entire life was focused on keeping quiet, not telling, protecting those I loved, or who loved me. It took me a long time to understand that by keeping quiet, I was actually protecting the people who hurt me in my life. Writing Untangled was a way to announce in a really big way, that I will not keep quiet any longer.

I literally went from telling no one but my therapist about my past to throwing my arms up, and saying, okay….what the heck, let’s go for it, and tell everyone at once. My husband and children read the book before it was released to the public, but close friends, acquaintances, and long-lost friends learned the truth of my past when they read the book.  Were there big reactions? You bet there were! Of course, they reacted. The biggest reaction was sadness that they didn’t know what was happening at the time, and that helpless feeling that if they knew, they could have helped. I understand that reaction, I would probably have felt the same way upon hearing of a friend’s brutal past. But, they couldn’t have helped me, and it was imperative to my safety that I kept quiet. I used to feel guilty that I somehow hurt my friend’s feelings that I didn’t share my past, but I’ve learned to let go of that.

In the book, I talk about my life and some of the trauma I experienced.  I write about how I repressed my memories and how I managed to raise a family and live a life where I mistakenly convinced myself, that my hidden past had no effect or impact on my life. The last part of the book is what my healing journey looked like at the time. Untangled isn’t about naming names or the horrific specifics of what happened to me. I don’t feel people, especially those of us who have been through trauma need to read and be triggered by another’s specific tales of horror.

I do, however, explain in detail the feelings that went along with being hurt, traumatized, abandoned, neglected. I don’t shy away from feeling words such as fear, emptiness, loneliness, embarrassment, shame, etc.  One of the most humbling gifts I experience from Untangled is when people read the book, and they find it is relatable. The events that happened to me may not be relatable, but the effects, the feelings, the sense of no-self is something that a lot of people experience, or they know and love someone who has experienced those things.

We all have feelings, but we may not all be able to articulate them, we may doubt or judge our feelings, or experience that lonely feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. I lived with that terrible alone feeling until three years ago. Now, from the feedback from the readers of Untangled, I know that I am not alone. Admittedly, the validation is a bit of a paradox..I’m so relieved to be validated by relatability and so sad to be validated by relatability.

One of the questions I get asked the most is why did I write my memoir?  At first, I was writing as a way to incorporate another healing tool. For me, using the keyboard as a way to write, instead of using paper and pencil, provided a way to get down my feelings, thoughts, and emotions without becoming overwhelmed. I was taught that for some people, using the keyboard was a way to incorporate bi-lateral stimulation. This method provided a way to create a bit of distance from the subject matter I was writing about. The first gift was while writing, I began to discern the difference between the truth vs my truth. For some, they are the same, but for me, being able to say My truth had a profound and healing impact on me.

Writing gave me the courage I needed to address the pain I was feeling. I would write even when I thought I had nothing to write about. I began to notice that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  It provided distance from having to use my voice. What I discovered was that writing actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found, if I read what I wrote out loud to my therapist, that I WAS speaking the truth. The bonus for me as that He didn’t freak out or go away. The gift of Untangled is that people also don’t freak out and run away. The book has been a tool for conversation.

I am frequently asked if I was afraid for my safety when I released the book?  To be honest, I felt a lot of fear for my safety and took as many precautions as I could, but in the end, I just really wanted to share my story. I wanted to share what it looks like to live through unimaginable circumstances for twenty-plus years, with continued threats to stay silent, and still, be determined to be live not just survive.  I knew that this was my truth, and by publishing my story and continue to talk about the effects of trauma and the resulting PTSD that no one could ever take my past, my truth away from me again.

There are so many gifts from Untangled. The gift of writing, the gift of remembering, the gift of a congruent past, the gift of trying to remove the stigma of living with an illness. I wouldn’t have started writing a blog if I hadn’t written my memoir. I was told that I had to start a blog in order to market a book. I never, in my wildest dreams knew the world of connection that awaited me when I wrote my first post. Not only have I connected with survivors and mental health professionals, but I also have connected with poets, authors, thinkers, travelers, photographers, fun-loving lets blog for the heck of it people all over the world. I’m a better person because of all these connections. There are some people I’ve met that have changed my life. I’m grateful every day for my blog.

Even though I released another book last January, I’m not ready to leave Untangled behind. I’m excited every time someone purchases the book, I wish I could personally thank every person. I don’t ever take it for granted. I love getting good reviews on Amazon, I love hearing the feedback. I hope that the readership continues to grow each month.

I’ve been hurt, I’ve been threatened, I’ve been abandoned, but I wasn’t going to let the effects of what happened to me keep me from trying to have the life I wanted. 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. I didn’t realize that sharing my story with so many people would propel the trajectory of my healing in such a profound and sometimes ineffable way. Never does a day go by that I’m not grateful for the experice.

Happy 3rd birthday, and thank you for reading, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph