“We Got This!”

“We got this,” were the most important, comforting and powerful words I have heard in a long time.  Right before they were spoken to me, I was feeling panicked. Wondering how I was going to have the strength, to get through the next moment, let alone the next day. I didn’t know how I was going to muster up the courage to face the pain of an original wound, while at the same time deciding if it’s safe for me to break the code of silence that is still deeply ingrained in my psyche.

On that cold and snowy afternoon,  as I was getting ready to leave my therapist’s office, a sense of panic overwhelmed me. Not only panic of what I was facing but the panic of attachment. I feared I would be too much for her, that she would bail, that she would panic and become frightened by what she was hearing. But then something completely unexpected happened. In a calm and reassuring voice, my therapist said, “We Got This!” Those words landed layers deep and made all the negative self-talk dissipate. Those three little words hit me with the softness of the kindest hug and the safety of the bravest shield and I believed her the moment she said them to me.

I still feel like I have to fight for my life, my mental health, and for the freedom from the skeleton hands of the past that keep trying to pull me down. I understand that the hard work of healing happens when I get home; between therapy sessions. Processing what was talked about, incorporating the tools for distress tolerance, trying to feel safe enough to just-sit with it all, while also managing my symptoms of PTSD often feels like a full-time job. That’s okay! I’m more than willing to do the things I need to do so I can live the life I want to live.

Since that day, I have been able to trust that I can handle this new step on my journey. Even though I feel like the ground beneath me is a bit wobbly, I can walk with my head up, eyes forward. I know if I stumble, panic, or feel the sour breath of the monsters, that, with help, I will keep moving forward.

I don’t know what sort of challenges I will be facing as I work to heal this wound that’s ready to be acknowledged. But I do know that with acceptance, self-compassion, and support, I will be able to work through whatever is next. How do I know? Because “We Got This!”

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

Listen to the whispers, before they become screams

I have become this oddly worried person the last few months. My children and my husband have all gone through tremendous life changes since November. Some exciting and joyous, some scary and devastating. As with all crises and life-changes, things eventually even out. We begin to operate on a new normal, and what was once scary and heartbreaking morphs into something that may be better. We know for sure that everything is impermanent and things change constantly. But when the changes happened in a matter of six weeks, it was easy to let the day-to-day worry seep in and take over.

I suddenly became that person who worried her hands, was anxious all the time, wondering if the snow would be too much, or if my husbands cold was something more, or if the kids would find happiness if they felt stressed for an hour. I was catastrophizing everything and it felt terrible.

I could tell it felt terrible, by how my chest was constricted, I felt on the verge of panic attacks, obsessively cleaning my house, and worrying, worrying, worrying all day long. I couldn’t stand to be inside my body. I was becoming a person that I didn’t want to be or live with, and my self-esteem was tumbling. Something had to change!

Late last Fall, I knew I needed to find a new therapist. I had been “graduated” from therapy for about 8 months but I felt I needed someone to help me continue to learn to live with my PTSD symptoms. Even using all the tools in my toolbox, I found myself still fighting them and being angry at them every day.  After a long search, I found a new therapist and had my first appointment in January.

Last week during our session, I told her how I had become this worried, anxious person who felt terrible in my mind and body. I had an understanding where it was coming from, and I knew why it was happening. I didn’t need that kind of insight. What I needed was to learn how to put things in perspective so I could begin to feel better, and to stop any downward spiral into crisis.

After I described how I felt physically, emotionally, and my thought patterns, she taught me this: Listen to the whispers in your body. (the fatigue, the need for rest, the need for peace and quiet, the way the body wants to exercise (does it need yoga or aerobics). She explained that my body and mind were whispering to me. If I could stop, and listen to those whispers, then my body, and mind won’t have to begin to scream at me.  Screaming at me may manifest into crisis.

I stopped and aptly listened as she was teaching me this technique. It sounds so easy, and of course, we hear (and I say to others) just stop, don’t forget to breathe and rest. But when it comes to myself, those are often just words. There was something about the lesson of listening to the whispers that make sense to me and felt doable.

With that lesson learned, I have been practising listening to the whispers of my body and mind and trying to hear and honor what they are saying. I’m not perfect at it, I’m still trying to metabolize what that really means for me. But, I’m going to use it as a daily practice. I hope a lifelong practice.

Do you listen to the whispers in your body and mind before they become screams?

Thank You for reading my new book, If I Could Tell You How It Feels.   Available in both Kindle and paperback.

Why I Write

It’s been two weeks since I finished collaborating on a new writing project. Since then,  I have allowed myself precious time to sit on my deck and reflect over the whirlwind of the past year. Releasing Untangled, emerging from the shadows of silence, blogging, speaking to groups, and now preparing to pitch our project, I ask myself, Why do I write?

When I speak to groups and open it up for questions, I’m almost always asked, what made you write a book, or have you always been a writer? The answer to both is, “no!” I never wrote anything beyond copy for ads, or random newsletter articles for my jobs before 2011. I didn’t keep a journal, never was a huge letter writer, I really never gave writing a thought.

When I began therapy my therapist suggested that I journal. Most of us have been told by our therapist’s to journal our thoughts and feelings. I despised journaling. I would become so emotional, because often, the pages looked like one big opus for wanting to end my life. I would literally tear up the pages after I wrote them, despondent because I couldn’t separate my feelings from what I wanted to write about. It was all emotion and no substance, no thoughts, no depth and it felt destructive. So I refused to continue to journal.

But, I found myself writing emails to my therapist and we would talk about them at our next session. It was becoming evident that I was looking for a way to write down my thoughts. My therapist went to a conference on PTSD. At the conference, he learned that when clients journaled on a keyboard, (not pen and paper) that it was easier for them to keep journaling. The act of using a keyboard was incorporating bilateral stimulation which helped put some distance between the terrible trauma and intense feelings and they were able to keep writing longer. That made perfect sense to me, so I began to use writing as a healing tool.

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. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  At first, I think it provided distance from having to use my voice, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found if I read it out loud to my therapist, that I was speaking the truth.

Eight years after that first assignment to journal on a keyboard, I have written four books, had a number of published articles and enjoy engaging on my blog. I reflect on writing from a different perspective. Now, I write because I love to share what I’m thinking, feeling or musing over. I write because I’ve had feedback from others, to help give them a voice, to put feelings into words that they may be unable to describe. Writing is a way to be seen and heard, especially by a group who suffers from mental illness and are often marginalized.

I write because I will no longer be shamed into silence. But, I also control the volume of my voice. I want to be effective in destigmatizing mental illness, invisible illness, for me, PTSD. I know that I’m a quiet word of mouth writer. It fits my personality. I love the writers who are more vocal, and speak with confidence and often, they know the volume of their voice and can reach a much wider audience.

I write because it fills my cup, it satisfies my creativity and it keeps me connected to the world. I care deeply about what I write and share, hoping that the connection between us continues to grow. Sometimes that starts with a simple written word.

Why do you write?

 

fullsizerender-6

 

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

 

 

Triggers and Tools

Living with PTSD often means understanding that there are triggers, triggers everywhere. Coping with PTSD often means learning the tools to handle the triggers. 

Before I was diagnosed I had no idea what was wrong with me. I was quirky to my friends and family, but inside I felt out of control and crazy. I could tell that the people I was with didn’t react the same way I did to certain situations, but I couldn’t understand why.

People can sometimes sit down at a restaurant and marvel over the choices on the menu. I become anxious and lose my appetite because the choices are overwhelming. Walks in the woods typically are filled with deep breathing wonderment at the smells and sounds of leaves rustling and crunching. I would cringe and keep looking over my shoulder because the crunching meant someone was running behind me to catch me. 

The sound of distant fireworks is often a sound and a sign of summer festivals and fun. I bristle and remember a time when I heard guns or bombs. The beautiful full moons shining brightly in the sky brings a sense of awe.  I often feel left-over dread and fear for the rituals the solstices brought in a place long ago, but not so far away. 

These are just a few triggers that I have to manage living with PTSD. 

 I used to flounder and drown in the vortex of my symptoms, but now, I have the tools to help me cope. I understand that there are triggers, triggers everywhere and I know the reasons why. Knowing the truth and understanding my past has been a huge help for managing my mental health. 

I understand what flashbacks are, and while they are terribly uncomfortable, I have the tools to cope with the aftermath. I have the tools to work through panic, anxiety, and fear. 

I have a plethora of distress tolerance tools and I have to employ them daily. There are days it feels like my full-time job is consciously finding something to ease the distress, but it is time well spent. 

I understand that going to a restaurant, grocery store, library, or a place with a lot of stimulation, brings some responsibility on my part. Perhaps I can look at the menu online and find something to eat before we get there. I may need to put a book on reserve and pick it up vs. wandering the shelves of the library and becoming overwhelmed by the choices. I have to communicate before my anxiety ramps up,  but I also need to remember and acknowledge if all is well, giving myself a mental pat-on-the-back. 

One of the tools that I’m appreciating the most right now, is that I’ve learned to enjoy the moments when I’m not symptomatic. I’m still hyper-vigilant and my startle response is off the hook sometimes, but I’m not necessarily waiting, or looking for someone or something to happen, and I can calm myself a lot quicker with my learned tools. 

Reminding myself I’m safe, understanding that my intense symptoms caused by triggers are time limited and that I’m okay helps me live with PTSD. The tools help me cope and accept PTSD and all the symptoms that come with it. 

Some day it’s still a tricky dance and I find myself stunned by the experience. I feel clumsy and inept, but with continued practice Im hoping for a symbiotic relationship between triggers, triggers everywhere and the tools to calm and soothe. 

image source: pixabay

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

 

Therapy Ends; Now What?

Why I Write

It’s an unusually warm, long and beautiful Autumn here in the Midwest, which has afforded me precious time to sit on my deck and reflect over the whirlwind of the past year. Releasing Untangled, emerging from the shadows of silence, a year of blogging, speaking to groups and now preparing to collaborate on an exciting project has me asking myself, Why do I write?

When I speak to groups and open it up for questions, I’m almost always asked, what made you write a book, or have you always been a writer? The answer to both is, “no!” I never wrote anything beyond copy for ads, or random newsletter articles for my jobs before 2011. I didn’t keep a journal, never was a huge letter writer, I really never gave writing a thought.

When I began therapy my therapist suggested that I journal. Most of us have been told by our therapist’s to journal our thoughts and feelings. I despised journaling. I would become so emotional, because often, the pages looked like one big opus for wanting to end my life. I would literally tear up the pages after I wrote them, despondent because I couldn’t separate my feelings from what I wanted to write about. It was all emotion and no substance, no thoughts, no depth and it felt destructive. So I refused to continue to journal.

But, I found myself writing emails to my therapist and we would talk about them at our next session. It was becoming evident that I was looking for a way to write down my thoughts. My therapist went to a conference on PTSD. At the conference, he learned that when clients journaled on a keyboard, (not pen and paper) that it was easier for them to keep journaling. The act of using a keyboard was incorporating bilateral stimulation which helped put some distance between the terrible trauma and intense feelings and they were able to keep writing longer. That made perfect sense to me, so I began to use writing as a healing tool.

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. At first, I strictly used it for bilateral stimulation. I would write and send what I wrote off to my therapist. I started to find that I was able to write down what I couldn’t say aloud.  At first, I think it provided distance from having to use my voice, but then I found it actually gave me a voice.  When I still couldn’t speak a truth, I found if I read it out loud to my therapist, that I was speaking the truth. 

The courage to share my writing with others happened because a friend wanted to understand what was happening to me. She knew I had just been diagnosed with PTSD and wanted to know what it felt like, so she could understand and be supportive. 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 reached out. They wanted to be there, but I couldn’t verbalize it. I was confused, ashamed, scared and thought everyone who loved me would run away if they knew the real me. Since I couldn’t really explain it,  I wrote a poem (My PTSD) and began sharing it with people who asked what it felt like to have PTSD.

Seven years after that first assignment to journal on a keyboard, I have written four books, had a number of published articles and just celebrated a year on my wonderful blog. I reflect on writing from a different perspective. Now, I write because I love to share what I’m thinking, feeling or musing over. I write because I’ve had feedback from others, to help give them a voice, to put feelings into words that they may be unable to describe. Writing is a way to be seen and heard, especially by a group who suffers from mental illness and are often marginalized.

I write because I will no longer be shamed into silence. But, I also control the volume of my voice. I want to be effective in destigmatizing mental illness, invisible illness, for me, PTSD. I know that I’m a quiet word of mouth writer. It fits my personality. I love the writers who are more vocal, and speak with confidence and often, they know the volume of their voice and can reach a much wider audience.

I write because it fills my cup, it satisfies my creativity and it keeps me connected to the world. I care deeply about what I write and share, hoping that the connection between us continues to grow. Sometimes that starts with a simple written word.

Why do you write?

 

fullsizerender-6

 

 

Featured Image -- 1029

Thank you for reading my memoir, Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

http://www.amazon.com/Untangled-story-resilience-courage-triumph/dp/1514213222

https://www.amazon.com/Untangled-story-resilience-courage-triumph-ebook/dp/B013XA4856

 

Can I live with the truth of my past? I already am!

I was a psychological mess when I walked into my therapist’s office seven years ago. Barely in my body and just trying to keep myself alive. It felt as if I was literally standing behind myself, as if I was witnessing somebody else’s life from behind them. No longer able to suppress the memories of my past, I was driven by an insatiable need to tell him everything that I had kept secret for thirty years. At the same time, I wanted him to stop the memories from coming. Because I had buried everything so deep and vowed never to talk, I kept being shocked by what I said to him out loud. It was a paradox. I couldn’t believe that I was saying those words, but I also knew that what I was saying was true.

The first eighteen months of therapy was really about learning distress tolerance tools and safety. I was having memories but didn’t have the tools in place to deal with them in a non-threatening way. My therapist didn’t stop me from trying to recall the memories, but I wasn’t in a place to do the processing around them yet. When I had some solid tools, some rules around ignoring programming and a good support system in place, we began the memory-processing work. During those sessions, my emotions would sometimes get so intense that I felt as I would die from them. I would cry an ocean of tears in my therapist’s office, more than once begging to be somebody else with somebody else’s past, not mine.

I made a conscious decision not to research any details of my mental health diagnoses or any memories that were resurfacing. I didn’t want to put anything in my head that wasn’t already in there. I wanted my memories to be my own, pure, without any information from other sources. So we imposed a “puppies and kittens” rule. I wouldn’t read, watch tv, movies or research on the internet anything that could trigger my memories. It was difficult at first, and of course sometimes, I couldn’t resist a good thriller movie, but as far as specific research, I kept my end of the bargain.

Flash forward to one month ago. June 2016, seven years, 3 months since I walked into my therapist’s office. Last November I had felt that I  fully recovered and processed the memories of my past. But I still had some unanswered questions about how I fit into the big picture.  It felt as some pieces were missing from the middle of a jigsaw puzzle. I wasn’t missing memories, rather, explanations about how I fit into it all.

I came across a couple of lines in a book I was reading, that sparked a question to my therapist. After some discussion, he suggested I read a book that would explain the details I was looking for. I bought the 800-plus page book and read it in five days. I now saw how I fit into the big picture, who the players are and how these things could happen. Then I found a current podcast interview that answered more questions. I felt as if I was no longer telling a story, but that this was my life, my past. Last week, I read a biography that outlined all the horrific PTSD symptoms that I still have, and how trauma affects and changes a person.

For me, I find absolute comfort in the truth! Even though it’s disturbing, it’s still the truth. Until last week, in a state of panic, I looked at my therapist and said, “Can I live with the truth of my past?” He replied, calmly, with compassion, “You already are.”

13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you for reading Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

http://www.amazon.com/Untangled-story-resilience-courage-triumph/dp/1514213222

https://www.amazon.com/Untangled-story-resilience-courage-triumph-ebook/dp/B013XA4856

photo: pixabay