The Whispering Dark Shadows

Dark shadows once quiet
whisper
come with me

Tempting me
with safe corners
in darkened rooms

Shadows playing on the wind
then falling
deep into silence
tempting me to follow

I learned long ago
to listen to the shadows
to feel the yin
to acknowledge the damp, deep cold

I’ll settle in
with the softest of down
and multi-layers of love
until the whispering dark shadows
are quiet once again

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

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I’m honored to be one of the contributors to Ashley Peterson’s new book: Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, Understanding the DSM-5.  Follow the link to find out more information, including how to order your copy. Thank You, Ashley, for including me along with the other amazing contributors. https://mentalhealthathome.org/2019/09/09/release-making-sense-diagnosis/

 

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Thank-you symptoms, but I’ve got this!

The past few days during moments of exasperation, I’ve said out loud to myself, “You’re being so weird, just stop it!” In reality, I haven’t been weird, I have been feeling off, and instead of sitting with the feelings, and letting them surf on through, I’ve been running the other way in a grand state of denial.

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. They don’t just amplify on certain calendar dates, they simmer,  just under my skin in both the Fall and Spring seasons.

There are days when the triggers and symptom 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.

Lately, I have been able to tolerate some of the triggers that in years past, would send me hiding in the house. I noticed I was able to name what the trigger was without flashbacks or much anxiety. That felt great, and I made sure to acknowledge how far I’ve come in my healing journey. But, as the weather has changed and we entered September, my body memories and reptilian mind have been fighting for a seat at the table.

I’m pretty good at accepting, and having compassion for my lizard brain and body responses by telling them, “Thank you for doing what you are meant to do, but we are safe now, and I’ve got this.” Most of the time that works, but sometimes as the skeleton hands of the past slowly edge up my spine and try to pull me down, some deep feelings get stirred up. If I don’t acknowledge the feelings and sit with them even for a short amount of time, they come out sideways. I get emotional, irritable, and I start demanding an impossible perfection from myself. If I’m not careful those feelings can inadvertently push play on the negative self-talk and doubt.

This morning, when I caught myself again saying, “You’re being so weird, just stop it” it made me pause. Instead of running to the next distraction I sat down to reflect, on what was really going on. With reflection, I stopped denying that the change of season is having an effect on me. It’s not me refusing to let go of the past, it’s an internal response to the trauma I survived.

Now that I’ve accepted what is going on, and forgiven myself for how I’ve been feeling, I say to my symptoms, “Thank-you, I see you, and I’ve got this!

PTSD

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

Getting Triggered by the News

I make a conscious effort to be careful about what I read and listen to on the news.  It’s a tricky line to walk sometimes because I’m inherently curious and interested in what is happening in current events around the world. I don’t want to live in a bubble. I want to know what’s happening, I want to be able to critically think about things so I can form my own opinions and have thoughtful conversations.

When my symptoms were at their worst, and I was going through the throes of processing my memories, my therapist had me follow the “puppy and kitten rule,” meaning I could watch anything as long as it included cute puppies and kittens.  That “rule” helped me minimize being triggered at a time when most of my days were spent experiencing flashbacks, anxiety, panic, and fear.

I stayed away from intense news and was mindful of what I watched on tv and what movies I saw. Most of the time, I watched lots of comedy. Admittedly, there were times when I broke the rule. I sometimes sought out programs with violence that in some way mirrored my own abuse. Or I would pay attention to sensationalized cases in the media that were hard to avoid. Inevitably I would get triggered.

As I began to manage my symptoms and felt some sense of safety the puppy/kitten rule was lifted. Because I had been so careful about what I ingested from media outlets for so long, I developed an avoidance for watching or seeking out certain information because I knew it may be triggering.

Recently, there was a news story that I had done my best to avoid. When it first came out, people were outraged, and then the news cycle changed. I understand why that happens. There is so much out there every day, and each event is shocking and sad, and sometimes incomprehensible.  But because my trauma is sort-of similar to the aforementioned news story, I was on high alert when I scrolled past it. I had a definite curiosity about the details but hadn’t read anything besides the headlines.

Until the other day!

The other day the headline changed and I knew that the very thing I feared when I first heard the story did, in fact, come true. I knew this person would never be convicted.  I felt sick that even with awareness, this kind of trafficking still goes on, and in my mind, will probably continue to exist.

Then I got triggered.

I’m not used to those kinds of triggers any longer. There is plenty for me to navigate in my daily life, and anniversary times of the year, and I thought I was far enough along in my healing journey that I would be okay. But PTSD doesn’t operate that way. It doesn’t care that I was just reading an article, and it doesn’t care that this person had absolutely nothing to do with me. I had never heard of him. PTSD simply understands that my sense of safety and trust is altered because of the trauma I experienced, and my brain and body will go into the memory and protection mode automatically.

After reading the article, I could tell that something was awry in my body/mind/spirit. I could tell things were stirred up in a way that I could spiral down the cycle of panic, fear, and shame. I closed the computer, went to yoga, had lunch with a friend, and remembered that today is a day when I’m fighting the tiger.  Any shame over being triggered dissipated as I repeated my metaphorical mantra of support to myself.

Seeing things written, or in movies, tv, or media can bring a sort of validation. A sense of see? I’m not making this up!  When you are a trauma survivor you look for validation. My trauma seems so “out of the ordinary” that it’s extremely rare that I felt validation. But, my job on my healing journey is knowing that my truth is validation enough.

I suspect there will be other times when I get triggered by the news. The intensity of my response will probably vary depending on what the triggers are, time of year, and the present stressors in my life. I know what to do when the skeleton hands of the past pull at me, and I’m confident that I’ll remember that I will fight the tiger and win.

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:  ashley-batz

Reflection in the Mid-afternoon of Life

I have a habit of making three or four big goals when I 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. When I broke free of my perpetrators, I understood that I own my life, and I get to decide who I want to be. That revelation and freedom have been an intense/unrelenting driving force for my life since the age of 22.

With this most recent birthday, I’m now (as my friend beautifully described it the other day) in the mid-afternoon of my life. So, with that mid-afternoon sun shining gently on my face, I began to reflect: Did my passion for writing, speaking and trying to destigmatize living with PTSD help others? What was the impact on myself for learning, growth, and change? How can I continue to be a support to this community of survivors as I venture down a different fork in the road?

As I was reflecting, I recalled a wonderful talk given by Arthur Brooks at the Aspen Ideas Festival, titled: Strategies for happiness in life.  In very brief summary, his four 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.”

I’ve stopped raging against change a long time ago. l respect that change is life. Everything is impermanent, including the feelings I encounter when change happens. I have taken away the parts of me that weren’t authentic, and definitely surround myself with love. My children want me to rest more; to relax, to not be so driven and hard on myself. I heard them; it landed, and I will be more mindful about the message I’m giving myself when the negative self-talk tries to sneak in.

As I hang out and look deep inside in my spirit mirror, I believe this will be a time of deep personal growth, a bit more rest, and a lot of self-acceptance. I’m looking forward to reflection in the mid-afternoon. There is a lot of daylight left, and the evening is still decades away.

photo: Alexis Rose

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

The gift of finding my voice; Happy 4th birthday Untangled!

Four 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 four 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.

In my 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.

Although I don’t go into graphic detail of the trauma I survived, I do describe in detail the feelings that went along with being hurt, traumatized, abandoned, and 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/isolated feeling that no one else could possibly understand this kind of emotional pain. Up until the past four years, I lived with that terrible ache of aloneness. Now, because I’ve connected with so many survivors, I know that I am not alone. We are not alone!

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.  I thought it was providing distance from having to use my voice, but the reality was that writing was giving me the confidence to speak, to no longer hide in the shadows. Writing taught me to use my voice.

I discovered that writing was the gift that gave me a voice

Once I emerged from the shadow of silence, I found I became passionate about bringing awareness to help end the stigma of living with PTSD. I needed to find ways to best channel that passion. I had to decide how loud I wanted the volume of my voice to be when I write, do presentations, or speak one-on-one with survivors.

I’m comfortable with the steady quietness of my voice right now.  I feel that my low, steady volume is what suits me the best. I’m a believer that a ripple is what affects change. I want to continue to be a ripple. I want to grow and change with the opportunities that are presented to me, or that I seek out. I’m interested in exploring new ways to affect change, including becoming more involved with peer-to-peer support for trauma survivors.

I have experienced innumerable gifts since Untangled was published fours years ago. 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. Never, in my wildest dreams could I imagine 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, and 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.

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 experience.

Happy 4th 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 Res

Road Tripping 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 to participate in an art and authors festival in Northern Minnesota. It’s been planned since last winter, but I gave it zero thoughts until this week. I’m excited because I will be traveling with my bestie and we have always wanted to take a road trip together, but the driver is someone I don’t know. I’m a bit anxious about that part of it because it’s not easy for me to travel and manage my symptoms, especially around strangers. I don’t want to be the person who appears nervous, edgy or aloof as I navigate new places and different surroundings.

Traveling with PTSD takes a lot of planning on my part, and I have to be aware that this time of year can bring about triggers as the evenings turn a bit fall-like. I have to make sure I have some plans firmly in place so my fun little road trip doesn’t become a series of frightening flashbacks or anxiety-riddled days of being overwhelmed and hypervigilant.

I absolutely love the freedom of hitting the road. I love the spontaneity of it, and the possibilities of  “let’s take this road and see where it leads” adventure. I love to explore, I love new places, I love new people! These things appeal to my carefree nature but unless I’m planful, these experiences of joy can often be squashed by PTSD symptoms that lie just below the surface.

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 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.

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 regual check-ins and remains available if I need to reach out. 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 experience new adventures.

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 and their willingness to be fluid with plans 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