The Healing Power of Movement and Connection

I have always liked to move. I was in dance classes by the time I was six years old. I couldn’t wait to turn 18 and quit ballet so I could take jazz classes. I just really wanted to do Jazz Hands! I love to dance and I danced into my thirty’s. Then I discovered health clubs. I became an aerobics instructor, a certified personal trainer, and health club manager. To this day, when I walk into a health club and smell sweat, I’m happy.

A little more than a year ago, while working out, I noticed a poster promoting a new class. What caught my eye? The word Dance! Since I love to dance my natural curiosity and endeavor for a new form of exercise class were peaked by the poster. Little did I know that stepping into that first dance class would begin a healing connection, and a place of refuge for one hour a week.

My PTSD symptoms can be debilitating sometimes.  I feel exhausted, ungrounded, and triggered by too much stimulation, or I’m hypervigilant and stressed by being around a group of people. Even though exercise is an integral part of my self-care practice, it can be an enormous struggle to go to the gym. But I really wanted to try this new dance class.

On the first day of class, the instructor immediately engaged with each person as we were walking in. Welcoming us and talking about the class with passion and excitement, explaining that we were just going to dance. It didn’t matter if we got the steps, or what we looked like, we were in this together as a group, a community.

I’m the type of exerciser who doesn’t really engage when I go to the gym. I come in, work out, and leave. But there was something different in the way we were greeted that stopped me for a moment. I felt included, equal, and that all of us who were in that room were more than just bodies to fill a class. I didn’t care that I didn’t know the steps or the songs, I just moved with the music, knowing that maybe I would catch on sooner or later, but more importantly, I felt fully in my body. Something else was different, I wasn’t anxious, hypervigilant, or bothered by any symptoms of my PTSD that can often plague me during my workouts.

A week later, I had to force myself to go to class.  I had a very difficult morning and wasn’t sure I would be able to cope and have control over my emotions. I thought that I would stand in the back by the door and if I had to leave I could quietly exit. When I arrived, we received the same warm welcome, the same passion, excitement, and the message that we are enough. We are okay and worthy, and that we are just going to dance. Together! I didn’t stand in the back which is my typical go-to spot. I moved to the front. I felt safe, secure, present. I let the music move my body. I skipped and twirled with inner-child lightness and stomped with empowerment. I smiled, sweated, and felt that something had shifted in me.

After class, without giving it any thought, and trusting my instincts, I went up to the instructor and introduced myself.  In uncharacteristic self-disclosure, I told her, that I struggle with PTSD, her class is fabulous, and I’ll be back.”  I typically would never disclose my illness in this setting, but I knew that I was feeling different and that the class was having a profound effect on me.  I don’t know why, but I felt compelled to communicate this to her.

After a year and a half, I no longer question how this class affects my well-being. I have enough internal data to know it helps. Even though there have been many, many times that I am struggling with my symptoms, I no longer need to force myself to go. For me, this class is as important as any other self-care, grounding technique that I have learned to use along the way.

Trauma survivors can often feel invisible, alone, and disconnected from our bodies. This class has helped me trust my ability to stay connected in my body. That it’s safe, and I am okay. Not only am I okay, but I am also worthy of how it feels to move my body and stay in the here and now, present, fully connected. I feel secure in my ability to move in a safe and easy environment without the fear of crushing PTSD symptoms.

I look back on that day that I introduced myself and risked the vulnerability of self-disclosure. I was moved by the way my instructor listened to what I was saying and the next thing I knew, in a spirit of unity, we were standing there, two sweaty strangers hugging heart-to-heart forming a bond of acceptance and connection.

That power of connection through movement that brought the two of us together has forged a bond of mutual respect and hours of deep conversation. I will forever be grateful for my empowered, yet willing to be vulnerable heart-to-heart sister/teacher.

Photo by Bruce Christianson 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    

Advertisements

A Tiny Tale of Two Friends

Grace and I have been friends for 41 years. We were roommates for four years, we got married around the same time, our children are fairly close in age, and we have always lived within ten minutes of each other. Although we look nothing alike, when we go out people often ask if we are sisters.

Our story began as two crazy party-all-the-time teenage roommates having adventure, after adventure, which means we have a vault of secrets that we keep safe for each other. A vault with a combination so locked down that it could never be cracked.

Then we settled down. Both of us married, had careers, children, houses, developed interests apart from each other, and navigated the nuances of life. We even collaborated on a beautiful inspirational book. I wrote poetry set to Grace’s watercolor paintings that we printed and sold locally.

As life would have it, both our daughters (who are also good friends) have gotten married within months of each other. Grace helped me pick out my mother-of-the-bride dress, and in turn, I helped Grace find the perfect dress. When we were younger, we never sat around and mused that one day we would be buying dresses for our children’s wedding together. But here we are, 41 years into our friendship and this is where we’re at in our cycle of life.

When we celebrated my daughter’s wedding in April, Grace was there with her whole family.  I was grateful, it was fabulous. I was busy talking to all the other guests but held tight to Grace’s hand whenever I saw her. Yesterday, we celebrated her beautiful daughter’s wedding. Watching my daughter walk in her wedding, and having my whole family with me, I was able to relax and enjoy this wonderful rite-of-passage our friendship was experiencing.

Ours is one of those friendships that have weathered many storms. Not the storms of strife and arguments, but the storms of life. We have been there for each other through great joy and deep sorrow. This past year, we have experienced both. But the joy of watching our daughters find their respective soulmates and marry in ceremony’s that befitted their personalities put a lot of things into perfect perspective.

As Grace and I, alone on the dance floor danced to Beat-It last night at the reception, instead of two middle-aged women, we were  18 years old again, standing in our apartment dancing with candlesticks as microphones using the windows facing the woods as our audience, knowing exactly how each other was going to move and twirl.

When we are old and live next door to each other in the assisted living home, or a tiny house community, blasting Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen and all the other bands of our youth, I’ll still look at her, and with a wink and a smile say, “A good friend will bail you out of jail, A best friend will be sitting next to you saying…damn that was fun.” 

image source: google

Unmasking the Shadow of Fear

The shadow of fear
disguises itself as
a branch without leaves
waving in the dark of night.
Or the touch of the wind
grazing my cheeks when I turn a corner.

It’s the sound of a car
rolling slowly to a stop
behind me.
Or the person I see walking
in the distance who morphs into
a threat from long ago.

The shadow of fear at times
leaves me doubting
if breaking my silence was best.
Or if the truth was better left
in the dark, unsaid, silenced
in the protective bubble that
perpetrators depend on to thrive.

The shadow of fear often brings
the past soaring into the present.
But then, the sun shifts.
I hear birds singing, children laughing
and a friend recounting their weekend.

The shadow retreats; withdrawals
to the edges, lurking, waiting
to see if the past will preside
or the cleansing exhale will bring
me back to the present, to the safety
of the here and now.

The shadow of fear has many disguises
and with time, I will eventually
unmask them all.

©Alexis Rose, updated 9/2018, Photo by rawpixel.com 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    

 

Dear Symptoms, Please Go Away

There is a saying: “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.” That saying is a simple way for me to understand that try as I might, there are reasons my PTSD symptoms sometimes still have a firm chokehold on me. The list can be long depending on the time of year and triggers.

Autumn is beautiful and just started here in the Midwest. Blue skies and Vermillion colored trees often coexist with 70 degrees temperatures. This time of year, from late August until it snows represents trigger, after trigger for me. While I can appreciate the wonderful weather, the long season can be challenging with prolonged symptoms and what can seem like constant symptom management. If only my PTSD understood the calendar, and I could time my flashbacks to happen on certain calendar dates, instead of seasons. That would be awesome!

There are days when the triggers and symptoms management leave me exhausted and feeling like I’m a burden to my family and close friends. I spend most of the time finding ways to work on distress tolerance, and grounding when the autumn winds blow. I was feeling terribly guilty one day about my level of functioning, until my wonderful boss said to me, “It’s okay that you’re feeling this way right now.” Suddenly, I felt less guilty and more accepting of what was happening to me. I could roll with the symptoms instead of feeling like I was failing myself, my family, my friends, and my boss.

I’m sharing my three most frustrating symptoms. Perhaps some of you will relate to them, and for others, maybe they can provide an understanding if you know or have heard of someone with PTSD. I bank on the fact that how the symptoms look today, will not be how they look in the future. As I continue the process of healing and acceptance, I have already noticed that my symptoms are not as powerful as they used to be, but they are definitely still part of my life.

Flashbacks-The most frustrating of my symptoms. They can come at any time, although I have learned that certain things will trigger them if I’m not being mindful. For instance, I was looking at a photo album I had come across on my shelf one day and realized that the images I was looking at were most probably guaranteed to trigger me.  The photos quickly drew me in and I found them compelling and validating, but then realized I was heading down bad-memory lane and put them away. My flashbacks are also triggered by the time of year and anniversary dates of trauma. Certain seasons, full moons, specific dates of traumatic events, the smell in the air, and the temperature, or the cool mist emanating as low fog hovering over the ground can bring on flashbacks.

I know I need to be patient with them. It wasn’t until a couple of years ago, that I understood that I had been having flashbacks for about 30 years. I was casually telling my therapist about an incident I witnessed every night after going to bed. I was telling him how I would wake up each night and witness an event happening outside my window. I described how every night I looked out the window and saw men dressed all in black with army gear, running silently through the woods, guns aimed and ready. I was telling him this because I thought it was so unusual that my boyfriend and roommate slept through this every night. He looked at me quizzically and said, “You were having flashbacks.” He went on to explain that I lived in a very quiet, safe suburb and what I was describing couldn’t possibly go unnoticed by others. Especially if it happened more than once.

I was stunned. I just never thought I was having flashbacks, I just thought it was extraordinary that I had such heavy sleepers in my house. I learned that since I have been experiencing flashbacks for most of my life, I need to be patient as my brain slowly rewires and knows that it’s safe.

I was with a friend a few nights ago, and suddenly fireworks began to go off in the far distance. It’s the time of year that we just don’t expect fireworks to be going off, and I was in a strange place by the woods, so I was already on high-alert.  My friend noticed my anxiety begin to rise. She immediately understood that I was getting triggered. She calmly said that we were hearing fireworks, and took me outside to show me we were safe, there was no danger, and that she was here with me. Just having someone who understood what was happening and intervened in such a positive way, I believe staved off a flashback. This is a huge lesson that when I trust my support and let my friends and family help take care of me (as I would of them) that I can stop a trigger from becoming a flashback in certain situations.

Unable to Work-Unfortunately, the severity of my symptoms has left me with the inability to work full-time, well, even part-time. I’m cleared to work 2 hours a day if I’m having a good day. I simply can’t concentrate. My brain shuts down. I went from having a wonderful job with fabulous benefits to disability.

I’m extremely grateful that I have been hired by a wonderful person (in fact the same person I described in the above paragraph that helped stave off a flashback) to help with her with her business a couple of hours a week.

I can’t be in an office setting. My startle response is off the hook sometimes. While doing some work in a massage business, I would startle and yelp when someone walked through the door for their massage appointment. I felt so unprofessional! The customers who are coming in for a relaxing massage are starting their wellness experience by apologizing for scaring me. Awkward for both of us. Granted I live in the Midwest and we apologize for everything, it was still awkward.

If I push my brain and don’t listen as it starts to shut down and do just one more thing, it can start a chain reaction of symptoms that can render me down for the count lasting a couple of days.

Becoming Overwhelmed: The inability to concentrate can be overwhelming for me. I know what I want to do, and what I want my brain to do but I’m simply unable to do it. I’m too overwhelmed. Making choices at the grocery store, menu choices from a restaurant, even jumping in the car to run errands can feel daunting. There’s just too many moving pieces.

Sometimes the approaching of the night feels overwhelming because I know it’s highly probable that sometime during the night I will have nightmares. I practice good sleep hygiene. I’m mindful about what I read or watch on T.V.  I set my intentions, find and acknowledge the perfect moments I had during the day, use all the tools in my bag of tricks, but the nightmares still come.

And sometimes it’s nothing… I’m overwhelmed because I’m a survivor of trauma and have PTSD and that’s just the way it is, even though I wish it was different.

I had to learn and keep reminding myself that I am working hard to heal, and it’s not anything I did, or am doing, to cause these symptoms. I’m not perpetuating them, I am living with them. When I catch myself pressing play on the tape of negative self-talk, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest, and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life.

I’m assuming next Autumn will be less triggering; I must assume that, because why not? Why not continue to believe that these symptoms will lessen their choke-hold…After all, I’m asking nicely; Dear Symptoms, Please Go Away!

PTSD

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

The Village of Love

It’s okay to just be
in this moment of love
acceptance, respect, and friendship

It’s okay to let yourself feel and give
love, acceptance, respect, and friendship

It’s okay to let someone take care of you
Allowing the village of love to reach out
take your hand and welcome you

Rest as the village feeds you
gives you shelter, and protects you
with a reassuring hand and a knowing
that whatever version of you shows up
it is okay; that you are okay.

The world, our village
shines brighter
as we extend our hand
and welcome you
with love.

My daughter evacuated from her apartment in North Carolina ahead of the hurricane that hit this week/weekend. She had just moved there in August to begin school and had no idea what to do or where to go. She grew up with snowstorms and tornado warnings, and preparedness for those kinds of storms are a lot different than for hurricanes. We didn’t really know how to help, besides wanting to put her on a plane and bring her back home. By the time we looked at flights the prices had increased to a range that we simply could not afford.

Some parents of a friend of a friend, of my daughter’s roommate, offered them a place in their home in Maryland to ride out the storm. They were welcomed with homecooked meals, a room of their own, and tender loving parental care. I am forever grateful for the village of love. For the individuals in this world who provide a safe space, good food, a comfy place to sleep. Their only agenda? A place for people to stay safe as they ride out whatever storm of life they are facing.

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

image source: Pixabay

 

 

 

 

Time to Write a New Life Adventure

Last Spring I became a bit restless. I had just released If I Could Tell You How It Feels in January and was marketing that new book as well as my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph.

I noticed that I began to feel a bit dragged down by the intensity of having written two books within two years of one another. That’s a lot of writing, editing, feedback, more editing, and then all the other minutiae that goes into getting a book published. After publishing, comes the marketing. Which by the way, I absolutely love doing! But last April or May, I found I was beginning to ask myself, “what’s next?”

I knew deep down inside that I was looking for something else to fill my cup. I have done a lot of presenting on living with PTSD, many interviews on the same topic, writing articles for the Huff Post and The Mighty, and promoting my books. I have loved all of that, but wondered, if there was a way I could move in a direction that would enable me to have more face-to-face time with survivors of trauma in a peer-supported way? Or if perhaps there is something altogether different waiting just around the corner that hasn’t come into focus yet.

 I had decided that it was time to author a new life adventure.

I knew that I wanted to continue to market my books, but I also knew that I had to leave myself open to any experiences, people, and opportunities that may come my way. I had one person approach me about going into business with them renting niche office space. I thought about it for a while, then decided that wasn’t a good fit for me.

I continued going to my monthly women’s writing group but knew that the time spent there was winding down. I had been attending for over two years, and I found the group dynamic was not a good fit for me.

I would sit down and become so overwhelmed by the noise and the intensity of the group that I would have to take 1/2 an Ativan to stay for the whole meeting. A friend who went with me one month, helped me discern that having to take a pill to calm me down so I can function for a couple of hours, was probably not a healthy choice at this time in my life. That has everything to do with my PTSD symptoms and the size of the group and has nothing to do with them personally. They are all very lovely people.  I just get too overwhelmed in large group settings.

At one of the meetings I attended, I was lucky enough to meet a wonderful author, presenter Alexis Acker-Halbur who wrote the book, Never Give Up: Break the Connection Between Stress and Illness. We exchanged books, met for coffee, and a new and wonderful opportunity presented itself in the form of a new program Alex has created called T.R.U.T.H. ( The Road To Unresolved Trauma Healing). The program is 8-weeks long and is designed to help survivors of trauma enhance their abilities to recover their health through mind, body, and spirit wellness activities.

After meetings a few more times, Alex asked me to co-facilitate a pilot program that began last night. It was a wonderful, and humbling experience. Trauma survivors have a place in my heart, because of their innate resilience, and the fact that they have survived in spite of what happened to them. Meeting for eight weeks with a group of survivors that have committed to their healing in such a profound way was extremely humbling. I have an enormous respect for the people who joined this program.

I try to fully participate and I’m open to new adventures that come my way. It’s just the way I’m wired. But I also know that I have the opportunity to help author my own life adventures and have done so many times in the past. It’s always a bit scary to prance around in the unknown but well worth the risks.

Sometimes the climb to the top of the mountain is rigorous and uneven. But, with a wink, a smile, and uneasy confidence I’m ready to walk across the bridge between what is known and the unknown!

image source: marc-antoine-depelteau-unsplash

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

one with the wisdom of nature

In this moment the only thing I heard

were the birds happily singing

The only thing I saw

were the leaves gently swaying on the branches

The only thing I smelled

was the earthy moss growing throughout the woods

I was one in the moment

with the wisdom of nature

©words Alexis Rose, photo A.H.

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