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Saturday, June 28, 2014


Sometimes I want to scribble on a blog post.

There are drawbacks to not writing with a pen or pencil.

By the time I import the picture of a scribble, I don't want to do it anymore.

My brain feels tired.

This week I stopped trying to find people when I have panic attacks. I know Therapist says I need to talk to people because it keeps me from going into isolation mode, but:
1. People are busy and when you're panicking and trying to do what Therapist said and no one is answering, the panic gets worse.
2. I'm done feeling like people have to take care of me when I have something so stupid. A panic attack will not hurt me. It's uncomfortable. I don't like it. But I don't need a baby sitter while it's happening.
3. I'm tired of the feeling that the only reason I have relationships is so the other person can bail me out when my life gets stupid. I want real conversations and quality time together. That doesn't happen. I am not a liability--but I feel like one. I'm pretty certain that every time I appear in someone's chat box, the first thought that crosses their mind is, "I wonder what she wants now."
4. I'm actually very capable of handling the problem myself. And it's time. When I was emotionally depleted, caring for a suicidal daughter, or coping with a large amount of physical pain, I think it was wise of Therapist to assign me to have people to call. I did need help then. And maybe it's okay for me to be a liability sometimes. I know if the people in my life had stretches of time when I was needed mostly for support, I wouldn't mind. But I don't need to be the dependent person anymore.

But I suppose the biggest reason is that I don't think talking to people is solving anything. It just makes me feel vulnerable because then they know I panic about everyday, normal things like crowds, and being alone, and not being able to run yet, and construction sites, and my mother (except my mother isn't normal, so maybe it's okay to panic about her). And being vulnerable might be good and wonderful and terrific, but I think I've done it enough for awhile.

So I've been practicing instead. At this point I have memorized two Scarlatti sonatas, the first movement of a Mozart sonata, and two movements of Debussy's Reflets dans l'eau. That's about 30 minutes of music. So I have something to show for my panic. I think that's a good thing. 

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sometimes I write posts about when I was more stupid than I am today.

There was a time when I used to judge people who were:
1. overweight
2. jobless
3. in chronic pain or fatigue (I called it "hypochondria" because I'm an expert on these things).

I'm not proud of this. But as I believe life is a place of learning, I'm giving myself props for doing just that, and I'm giving The Big Guy props, too, because He sent me a number of life lessons and situations that would make me uncomfortable enough to figure out I was judgmental and stupid and just plain wrong.

One time I took a plane trip. I was seated between two lovely women. We chatted a bit before the plane took off. I settled in for a nice ride to my destination. Then the stewardess noticed that a very large man was sitting in front of one of the emergency exits. She looked up and down the aisles, then escorted the large man to my row and had him trade places with my seatmate nearest the aisle. When he sat, he spilled into my seat. I had barely enough room to squeeze over for him. The woman in the window seat pulled up the armrest so I could share some of her seat.

The man was so large that he couldn't do up his seatbelt. He couldn't put down the tray when drinks were served. Then he ordered two glasses of red wine. I was wearing a white blouse. I was certain he would spill on me (he didn't), and I would end up at my destination stained and smelling of wine (I didn't). I fumed and pouted. I was mad at the man for being large and at the stewardess for moving my original seatmate and making me uncomfortable. I did not like that large man.

As we got up to exit the plane, the man smiled at me and thanked me for being such a polite neighbor. He offered to help me with my bags. He apologized for taking up so much of the seat. He asked why I was taking a trip and offered information about his own reasons for flying. He talked about his son in Saint George, UT. In short, he was generous and kind and I missed out on an opportunity to get to know him better because he was large.

That will never happen again. I do have a phobia about people who are larger than I am (this would include most men and many women). I feel unsafe with them. I'm afraid. That is no excuse to treat them with disdain or draw incorrect conclusions about them. I've worked on this for about four years now. I'm finding that I like myself so much better when I'm not thinking about another person's size or making judgements about what they "should" weigh. In truth, it no longer matters to me--except when it endangers their health. Then I find myself wanting that health to be better. I have no desire to be without my loved ones. And I wish I could apologize to the person who shared my seat on that flight.

I used to believe that a person was only jobless if he/she was lazy or unemployable because of disability. I had a friend with MS. I would go to her home a few times a week to do small chores, help her exercise, and keep her company. I knew her family was struggling financially. She was on a medication that cost them $2000 monthly after the insurance paid their part. I didn't believe she was unable to work. I suggested many jobs that involved typing, working online, or telephone services. She would smile pleasantly and thank me for my suggestions, but she never tried them.

I will admit that I thought less of her for that. I thought she just didn't want to try--that she didn't want to make the commitment to employment. Perhaps I even judged her lazy. That is not beyond the realm of possibility.

Years later, I stumbled upon a web page about the medication she was taking. I read about the medication and the side-effects--which are much less severe now than they were when my friend was taking it. The truth is that, while it alleviated the physical MS symptoms, it also kept my friend from thinking clearly. She sacrificed her analytical thinking, her short-term memory, and her emotional clarity. In order for the medication to suppress her physical symptoms, it also had to suppress many of her other brain functions. She was also prone to depression (beyond that which she already suffered as she felt the disease remove her physical strength and watched her feet and hands curl and stiffen). She was unable to do the most basic of tasks--including using the bathroom unaided.

I think of my "encouraging" words and wish I could take them all back. They didn't encourage. They amplified the fact that she was unable to do the things I thought were so simple. She was doing the best she could. I didn't understand that. In fact, I probably heaped a great deal of hurt and anxiety on her already painful and anxious life.

I used to believe that people in chronic pain/fatigue were actually just really, really needy people. They lacked attention so they made up symptoms to garner sympathy from those around them. They procured pain killers which assuaged the emotional pain, but couldn't help imagined physical pain. They slept all the time. They were cranky and sad.

I thought they needed to just get up and go for walks. I thought being up early in the morning, enjoying the sunshine, would help them stop wanting to do unhealthy things to get attention. I thought, if they really did have pain, they probably didn't eat right, or they weren't getting enough exercise. I thought they just needed to stop focusing on wanting other people and do things to get healthy emotionally--and physically, if necessary (which I doubted).

I've been known to tell them all the ways I stayed healthy. I've talked about my exercise regimen, foods I don't eat, how movement will solve all their problems. I've been a consummate expert on the things that make them sad or hurt. And in the process, I've minimized a condition that seem enormous to them, belittled their difficulties, and judged them to be illogical and silly.

Then, for three years, I had the opportunity to live with chronic pain. I watched my diet. I exercised regularly. I got adequate rest and kept myself busy. And I wanted to die. Sometimes just driving to the gym made me cry. I didn't give up--but I also didn't get better. And in the midst of all that, I wanted to eat my words to other people who felt similarly. I admitted that I know nothing of what they endure. I wished I had not been so illogical and silly when I believed I knew what was best for them. I wanted to apologize for my callous dismissal of their very real, debilitating condition.

I am reminded of this today. A sweet friend of mine who has for years, been looking for answers as to why he suffers chronic pain, sleepless nights, and recurring depression, announced on Facebook that he was willing to do some retesting to hopefully, get some concrete answers and possible treatment. I don't know if he'll find what he's looking for, but I respect him as he continues to try. It's daunting and frustrating. I love his heart. But a different friend, perhaps one who lives in the space I used to inhabit, posted this:

"Have you tried yoga, swimming, stretching, are you living a fully active lifestyle? Like exercising properly? I've got scoliosis in my spine and I've always got back pain so I eat healthy, stay active, swim, stretch every morning before activities and constant throughout the day. Sorry, but man up [Samantha's Friend] . If you think about it. I've always told you that your a strong and wonderful person. First place to start would be to go to the gym and do some push up and sit ups. Less excuse, more victories!"

I sort of want to punch him. My friend has tried yoga, swimming, stretching, etc., for many years. While I appreciate the commentor's enthusiasm and desire to connect through his similar experience, he really has no idea what my friend experiences and it's wrong of him to make assumptions. Not only wrong--but unhelpful. Even more unhelpful is the instruction to "man up," and it sort of nullifies the comments about being a "strong and wonderful person." (I've decided not to lampoon this commentor's inability to use your/you're correctly, or castigate him for his grammar and style errors--it's Facebook, after all.) And while my friend might make an excuse occasionally, I think he's allowed that. He's dealing with something really painful and there are days when he just doesn't have the stamina to fight back anymore.

So I'm rewriting the comment here. My friend probably won't see it, but I'll talk to him later and tell him, myself.

"I know you've tried many things to help alleviate your pain. I know it's terribly difficult for you. I admire you for having the courage to try again, knowing there might not be answers or treatment. Facing that kind of disappointment will add to your stress and pain. You're amazing and I love you for trying. I've had pain of my own--but it belongs to me. Only you know how yours feels and it would be wrong of me to assume I can "fix" you. Remember that I'm here for you, I love you, and it's okay to be sad or frustrated or weak or tired or angry. You've been dealing with this a very long time. Don't give up. I believe one day, you'll find the answers and relief you seek. In the meantime, remember that you're not alone. It won't help the physical pain go away, but it might help alleviate some of the emotional stress. Thank you for letting me know the next step you plan to take. I appreciate you."

I can't undo my past ignorance and stupidity about beautiful, worthwhile people--but I can stop being stupid and ignorant now. And I will.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Kate Kelly is going to the Celestial Kingdom because she is a woman--and everyone knows all women go to heaven.

Okay. I can't stand it anymore. I was going to remain utterly silent about my views concerning misogyny and accepted mormnorm views of gender within the church. I was never planning to mention the Ordain Women movement, their leader, or their followers. There is so much being said right now that adding my words will only increase the cacophony.



Before I begin I will preface: Please do not ask me if I am a supporter of feminism or Ordain Women or anything else. Please do not ask me why I stay in the church. Please do not ask me to explain my conviction or testify as to my beliefs. If I feel like talking about those things, I will. Otherwise, I won't. The end.

Moving on.

I am disheartened every time I read comments on a post for/against feminism in the church, or the Ordain Women movement, or the pending discipline council for Kate Kelly. Over and over again I hear the rhetoric that women are more spiritual, nurturing, and caring. I hear people saying that there will be more women than men in the Celestial Kingdom based solely on that rhetoric. I say that's assuming a great deal about the afterlife (which hasn't happened yet, by the way, and in my opinion, there will be a larger number of people shocked out of their pants by the outcome, than those who predict the overwhelming presence of eternally glowing females), stereotyping women, and sending a really awful message to those of us who aren't nurturing or spiritual...ummmm...does that mean we're not really women?

Repeatedly I hear the argument that if women are ordained to the priesthood, they'll take over everything in the church--and the men will let them because men are inherently lazy. We have to let men, and only men, hold the priesthood because they need things to do so they don't get complacent. ACK!! REALLY????

Everything about that makes me feel nasty. And offended. And I'm not even a man.

PEOPLE are inherently lazy. Even people like me who were blessed with way too much energy and are always finding things to do. Just because we're busy doesn't mean we're doing things that are good for us, or assigned to us (yes--I procrastinate--often), or that we don't spend days playing stupid Facebook games or watching movies. 

We have to give men something to do in the church so they don't become complacent? Who thinks of these things? Are they spawned from words said somewhere by someone and then taken out of context or extrapolized (I know--not a word--don't care)?

I keep hearing all sorts of crappy things that smack of men and women needing to be or act or dress or whatever--simply on the basis of their gender. In my opinion, this is complete nonsense. Perhaps that's why I'm different.

I believe my mother tried to instill some gender role wisdom into us, but as she was always screaming at us, we ignored her. My dad, however, taught in a way that we were willing to listen. Our family started out with five girls, joined by two brothers at the very end. My father wanted his daughters to become whatever they wished to be. He encouraged us to read, play sports, learn to care for ourselves, wrestle, dance, and sing. We weren't spared the heavy work on our farm. We moved sprinkler pipe, lifted bales, helped with calving and branding and dehorning, killed and processed chickens, plowed and planted fields. He also sent us flowers, made sure we had prom dresses, and let us know we were beautiful and strong.

I do not believe differences between men and women, beyond the obvious physical ones, are inherent. I know men who nurture and empathize and women who are analytical, as well as men who love flowers and romance and women who enjoy sports and hunting/fishing. Don't tell me that "most" men or women fall into a stereotype. I don't believe it. And if it's true, then I believe it's a societal issue that needs to be mended.

The best parental compliment I've ever received was when my Adam came home from class one day and said, "Mom, did you know there are men who think women are not as good as they are--just because they're women? Some men think women can't do math, don't make good doctors, and should just be mothers or work in jobs that don't require degrees. I didn't know there were people who thought that way. How does that happen? It makes me a little bit angry. Tabitha's better at math than DJ and me, and you're the smartest person I know. If you were a doctor or a lawyer or a police officer or an interior designer, you'd be the best. How can people make assumptions based on another person's gender? And why would they demean the opposite gender? We need to talk. You need to explain this to me."

Yes. He said that. Which means Adam grew up in a home without stereotypes and gender bias. He watched his father do household chores with his mother. There was a time when Adam was a preschooler when his primary caregiver was his father. He's seen both parents contributing to the household budget through various means of employment. He has witnessed times when Mom has taken charge and led the family, and other times when Dad has done the same. Always Adam has noticed that his parents work together, support one another, and never assume that something will be done based on gender.

I understand that other homes work differently, and I support that. Each family must find what works best for them. My job is to not place a value judgment on how other homes operate, but to find the balance in my own home. I get to choose the lessons instilled in my children. Darrin and I, together, decide what examples of gender and gender roles our children will see as they spend time in our home.

So I am disheartened as I hear the ignorance (yes, it IS ignorance to make assumptions about a group of people based on race, religion, or gender) spewed in the comment sections of the posts I read. Today it became so overwhelming that I needed to rant. I'm pretty sure it's asking too much for many people within the church to think about reality rather than rigid mormnorms which have place in tradition but not in doctrine or actual fact. It's just easier to spout words you've heard before rather than to come up with your own thoughts and ideas based on logic. It's also less scary to rely on supposition and rumor, rather than think about--even pray for--answers to difficult or uncomfortable questions that turn tradition upside-down.

Seriously, people. Just stop it. You sound ridiculous and you're making me crazy.

P.S. Having said that generalizations are evil, I admit that not all commentors are insane. Some give thoughtful, even thought-provoking, responses. It's just that their quiet voices are ramrodded by the people who are certain their view is the only possible correct one. Having made it clear that I am not trying to stereotype commentors (but managing to stereotype them in spite of myself), I must stop before the rant inside me becomes aggressively unruly. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Understanding the Crazy in Me

I once knew a person who dealt with bi-polar disorder. He would take his medication religiously for awhile, then go off it. He said it was because he felt better and didn't think he needed it anymore. Then one day he told me that while that reason was valid, there was also a part of him that wanted the intensity of feeling that came with the manic part of the disorder. The euphoria and energy felt joyful and wonderful. He missed it when long periods of time passed without it. While he understood that inducing such a state by not taking his medication was unwise, he said there were times when he felt a huge loss as his feelings and demeanor remained stable.

I mention this because, for the first time in months, PTSD symptoms have been waning. They're not completely gone and I still battle periods of stress and panic, but I can feel myself leveling out, becoming less extreme in my feelings and reactions. This is an overall state of being and is not yet constant. There are still moments when I'm irrational and oversensitive, but those are lessening as the symptoms become more benign--more of a lurking in the background feeling, rather than being in my face all the time.

And I understand a bit of what my friend was trying to tell me. While, for the most part, PTSD symptoms are overwhelming and frustrating, they also allow me a corridor into deep feelings I have difficulty tapping otherwise. I feel moments of greater intimacy, or a large depth of love, or intense yearning for connection. It doesn't make sense to me. My brain tells me the opposite should be true--that I am so distracted by the negative impulses and emotions stirred by the PTSD symptoms that my capacity for love and intimacy would logically be diminished.

Logical or not, though, as the symptoms subside I find myself feeling less inclined to seek out conversation and company on a regular basis. I am content immersing myself in my life, my work, my own thoughts. I need less reassurance and desire for intimacy and connection are less important than spending time outside or practicing the piano. And for the first time in my memory, I find myself missing the intensity of love feelings that seem to be a byproduct of PTSD.

I miss the heart-melting joy that used to come when someone said, "I love you." I wonder why I don't feel pain when I understand that I'm not needed as I used to be, or someone I was close to is now content with online conversations or telephone calls. That recognition, when PTSD was rearing its ugly head, would incite deep feelings which indicated I was alive and involved with people. I wanted that. I desired to care. And I did care--too much. But it was still an indication that I could feel deeply.

Anyone who talks with me when PTSD symptoms are strong, will tell me, "But Sam, you're frustrated by all the feelings. They make you feel helpless and stressed and afraid. I'm not sure you know what you're talking about."

And they would be right.  I don't. I sound like one who is never satisfied. I want PTSD to wane--but I want to keep feeling--how can I want both?

The truth is that in the past decade I have discovered that there is beauty in nonsexual intimacy and closeness. It fills a huge void that has been aching inside me for most of my life. There is comfort in connection and bonding. It makes me feel human and loved in ways that I did not believe were possible. And there is something incredibly satisfying and joyful in knowing there are people who love me in spite of me--and I love them back.

I can have all those things without PTSD devouring my soul, but on a smaller scale, and without the intense flashes of joy and longing that come when symptoms ramp up my emotions beyond my ability to manage them. And while I know the lack is healthier, I still miss thinking randomly of someone and wanting to see them, hug them, feel the essence of who they are, and know that they are the only person present for me--just for a moment.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

I can write about it when it's finished.

When the process is happening, I always wonder if I'll be successful, or if I'm doing the right thing, or if, when I'm finished, I'll be in in a larger mess than before. And writing about the things that might go wrong usually sends me into panic attacks and makes me grumpy. So I wait. It seems best.

One of the things I did not expect when I began all this therapy stuff, was that I would lose control of my thoughts and feelings. I understand that was naive of me, but I've had such a stranglehold on those for most of my life, that I could not comprehend any other state of being. As I did the therapy exercises, I got a taste of what was to come, but I was completely unprepared for what happened after integration.

My integration experience required me to reclaim parts of myself that I had separated from completely. I had to reclaim childhood memories, feelings, and experiences, and also those from my teen and young adult years. I had to include those parts of myself as "Me". I expected it would be unpleasant (it was) and frustrating (oh, so frustrating) and that I would resist strongly (I didn't understand how difficult it is to be in a struggle with myself). What I did not expect was that after the integration was finished, I would sometimes think thoughts, or imagine scenarios, or believe in things as a child does. Things that are completely illogical and highly emotional.

Sometimes I would get caught up in a daydream. I don't believe that has happened to me before--or if it has, I don't remember it. Occasionally I would find myself lost in thought as I wished for experiences, or people, or things that have no actual possibility in my life. It was a little bit shocking to find myself in that place. I'm a practical person. I don't waste time on what cannot be.

As with each new development, I thought about this a long time before I decided how I wanted to respond to it. In my opinion, there really is no place for it in my life. I don't have time to wish for impractical things, and in reality, I probably don't want them anyway. They're passing whims and they cause me distress when I find myself missing people or distracted from work as I dream about sitting on a beach that does not exist.

So for the past few months, I have been working on regulating this part of me. Therapist says it's not unexpected that I would find myself thinking in a childlike way about future possibilities and relationships with people, but I am not a child. I have no desire to be one again--that part of my life was particularly unpleasant.

I have systematically taken the daydreams and disassembled them, reminding myself that they serve only to cause me stress and distract me from what is important. These daydreams are different from the "meditation" part of my PTSD maintenance regimen. They bring to mind things I cannot have and would never choose--in the way that dreams move through our subconsciousness, teasing us with nonsensical ideas, scenarios, and people.

Something that has caused me a great deal of distress is the way that I have fixated on my need to have people near me. Somehow I have formulated a subconscious belief that those I love the most will simply end up being my next door neighbor, for the sole purpose of being near me. Job security is, of course, irrelevant, as is a paycheck which will cover necessities, bills, and provide a comfortable disposable income. I have no idea how I became so self-centered.

Therapist says it's not really about being self-centered. He says I have found people I'm learning to trust, people I want to spend time with. As a child, that was very rare. But children are usually surrounded by people they love and trust. He believes my subconsciousness is trying to provide that for me even though the time for it is long past.

Therapist could be right. That does not, however, make my obsession with this healthy in any way. So I have used my meditation time, and my exercising-thinking time, and my alone time, to purge my head of the thoughts and beliefs that have formed in reference to this. And I have contacted the people involved and asked them to tell me in words that there is no need (or desire on their part) for them to be closer geographically. Sometimes the request has been hidden within a conversation in such a way that the person is unaware that I have asked that of them. Other times I have simply explained the problem and asked for the necessary response.

I won't lie. Hearing my child-dream deflated by their words has been more painful than I expected, which only reinforces my belief that this was necessary and right. But I haven't liked it. And I've found myself wishing, as I've had those unpleasant conversations, that someone would say, "Are you kidding? I want nothing more than for us to be neighbors! I've always wished for that. Someday (soon, I hope) I believe we will be. We need to make a list of things we want to do when that happens."And now you have a slight glimpse into the workings of my mind when I'm not reigning it in and reminding it that I have work to do and no place for wild imagination that has no basis in fact.

It's not really rejection because I asked for the statements and information, and also because I've never actually issued an invitation for anyone to live near me. In fact, a long time ago when ATP was thinking of moving near me to go to school, I thought it was very good that he was looking at a college about 50 miles away from me. That would afford us both distance enough to not feel crowded by each other. But that good sense present in me a long time ago, seems to have fled.

But it feels like rejection. I'm not sure why. I think Tolkien Boy would say it's because everyone needs to be wanted. But that doesn't sound right to me. I'm not UNwanted. I think it's just a weird side-effect of a weird side-effect.

Regardless, it's done. At this point I get to concentrated on being an adult, taking care of business, and living in the real world. But I have to admit, the world my childthoughts created was a lot more fun, much gentler, and I think I could be happy there.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” --Buddha

When I was growing up, some famous person used to say, "Eat right and exercise every day." I'm guessing it was on a television commercial or some PBS show, because I remember hearing it more than once. It always made sense to me--even though when I heard it, I'm not sure I understood what "eat right" meant. Quite frankly, I'm not sure most people know because nutrition standards change often and they work best when they're personalized. However, I think that phrase was one of the reasons I began with healthy eating and regular exercise when I needed to manage PTSD.

I learned it wasn't enough after about three months. It helped a great deal, but I was still struggling with a number of other symptoms. So I incorporated a mind/body connection. Movement is incredibly helpful for me, but I go to it because I have always found sitting still to be difficult. I have learned that I need time to sit quietly every day, and think.

I don't have to do this for long periods of time, but I do need to have uninterrupted quiet. It is during this time that I figure out a number of things that have been racing around in my brain, trying to attract my attention. I am an expert at ignoring them.

Some have referred to this time as meditation. That might be the proper term. I know I'm unable to do structured meditation, such as one might encounter in a yoga class. I've tried this. It's stressful. It's not what I need. What I need is simply quiet time during which I allow my mind to wander.

I cannot do this outside. If you've ever taken a walk with me, you'll remember that our conversation is punctuated by: "Wow! Look at the clouds!" or "Did you see that shiny bug?" or "I love the way the wind sounds when it blows through the prairie grass," or "Yay! Butterflies!" or "Those are my favorite flowers. So are daisies, and roses, and irises, and orchids, and bachelor buttons, and ..." or "Those birds are flying!" or some other completely off-topic observation I'm noticing in the moment. I am completely distracted by my surroundings. And probably when I get home I'll remember the bird or flower or cloud or bug or sky or wind--and I'll have no idea what we covered in our conversation.

So I make time when everyone is still sleeping, or I stay up after they've gone to bed, and I think. Sometimes I let myself imagine scenarios that make me feel peaceful or comforted. Occasionally I allow other people into my thoughts. I do not guide my thoughts, but I do block any that might be practical or necessary (like, "Oh! I need to pay bills tomorrow," or "I should go clean my fridge," or "This might be a good time to plan menus for the week."). I try to let my mind go where it will, as long as it has nothing to do with tasks before me, work topics, or thoughts that cause me stress.

The thinking times have taken on different forms during the past decade. There have been times when I've been working on something abstract for therapy, when I have used that time to figure things out or speculate on possible solutions or scenarios.

There are also times when I have no planned direction in my thoughts, but I allow myself to consider many possibilities. Sometimes I think about sleep. Sometimes I allow myself a tiny bit of time and space to think about how my life would be different without PTSD--without memories of rape and abuse--without social anxiety or trust issues. I think about having a life where love is accepted without question, people are allowed to be close without my having to strictly monitor my feelings and fears. I think about who I am and how I wish I could comfortably be that person. But, as I said, I limit that thinking time.

Mostly I think about relaxing, living in the moment, accepting what is mine no matter what that means. I always know when I am finished. My body tells me it's ready to move again, my brain says it's time to think about more present tasks, and I find that I'm breathing better and feeling more capable of accomplishing the things on my to-do list.

I have no doubt that this quiet time of mine will morph into many different things as my needs change. It's the part of my PTSD regimen I dislike the most, but is too important and helpful to disregard. There are times when I skip it--the thought of sitting still with my thoughts sometimes feels terrifying. Then I realize that skipping this part only intensifies the PTSD symptoms.

Wow. I really hate writing about this. I think about Darrin, whose Monday-Friday routine consists of rising in the morning, shave/showering, eating breakfast, playing a bit on Facebook, going to work, teaching computer and accounting classes, talking with students, coming home, helping with and eating dinner, grading papers/watching stupid car shows on TV, then going to bed. On Saturday he sleeps till 10, then fixes any car problems, does yard work, grades more papers, watches more stupid car shows...His life just seems simpler.

I know. Comparing is a very bad idea. I think it's just this week. Every day, doing what I know is helpful and good feels like a struggle. I'm out of sorts and cranky. Therapist would tell me I'm not following my PTSD maintenance plan consistently. I would tell him that I dislike him intensely. Then he would laugh at me. More than likely I'd join him. But I'd still dislike him because he's right. Then Therapist would say, "If you could do what you wanted today, what would it be?"

And I would tell him, even though I know he's just doing one of his fancy therapy tricks to help me get my brain and motivation back on track, because no matter how aggravated I am that I have to do this stupid routine, I want to be better, to continue healing, and to learn how to comfortably have relationships or die trying. Right now the "die trying" part seems more likely.

Monday, June 9, 2014

"Only in the frictionless vaccuum of a nonexistent abstract world can movement or change occur without that abrasive friction of conflict. --Saul Alinsky

Physical movement saves me. I have no background in a health field of any kind. All I know is that if I run, I feel better for the rest of the day. It has been three years since I have been able to run.

I've substituted non-impact movement found through swimming or on the elliptical machine. After my surgery I've been able to walk again and I've been taking very long walks. These help, but they are not the same. I want to run again.

I keep reminding myself that running is not a lifelong exercise. Thirty years from now my body might not tolerate it anymore. Also, it doesn't help the life of my new hip. My surgeon makes me laugh. Each time I see him, he goes over precautions necessary to heal completely. Then he tells me all the things I need to avoid so the hip will last as long as possible. Then he looks me in the eye and says, "You're young. Live your life. Do the things that make you feel happy. If we have to repair the hip a couple of times before you die, that's better than reducing your activity level to that of a 70- or 80-year-old. You need to be aware that you have a replaced hip but not base your life on that fact."

I plan to follow his advice.

In the years that my movement has been restricted I have experienced a great deal of pessimism about my future. It has also been incredibly difficult to manage PTSD symptoms. Movement is necessary for my emotional well-being.

I have found that I feel the most optimistic and emotionally strong when I utilize both short, intense workouts and longer workouts of more moderate exertion. When I was at my best, I would run in the mornings for 30-45 minutes, then go for a walk in the evening after dinner. The walk was usually about an hour in duration. The combination of the two types of movement helped me sleep better and manage stress problems that cropped up during the day.

I would add three days of strength training each week. This is not for PTSD management, but because I have a condition called benign hypermobility joint syndrome. This condition brings some benefits--I'm extremely flexible and I heal from injuries very quickly. But it also has drawbacks: my joints dislocate very easily and multiple sprains to the ankle and wrist are common. Shoulders and knees are key points of dislocation and poor posture can cause vertebrae displacement if my back is weak. Strengthening all muscle groups keeps my joints in place even when I engage in impact activities.

While I say the strength training is not a focus for PTSD management, it still provides a benefit. The strong muscles allow me to engage in the cardio activities without fear of injury (provided I don't fall down any big, rocky hills). There is also a subconscious belief that if I am strong, no one can hurt me. It's a false belief, but it helps me have the emotional stamina to engage in some social activities I might otherwise avoid.

The problem with using movement for PTSD management is that sometimes (often) I just don't want to do the things I know I need to. Or I'm traveling and I don't have the facilities or equipment necessary for my workout regimen. And sometimes I feel tired.

I used to be so rigid in my physical exercise requirements that I would go running even if I felt terrible. I remember having the stomach flu once, and still taking a 20-minute run (it actually took about 30 minutes because I kept puking). Therapist told me that was extreme and taking health to an unhealthy level. We worked for nearly a year, preparing me emotionally and mentally to allow myself breaks and days of rest. It wasn't easy.

When I injured myself, Therapist thought that would be a good thing. I would have to take time off to rest. Except I didn't. I still ran. The fall had detached the cartilage in my right hip. It should have been terribly painful to walk and run. But the only thing I felt was that something was wrong with my gait and my stamina seemed considerably less. Three miles was the longest I was able to run. My doctore believes I was confusing fatigue with pain. It's not impossible. I have difficulty still, even after years of therapy, understanding how to feel and process physical pain.

So I had surgery to fix the cartilage and I had to stop running. Three years later, I've still not been able to start running again. In August, my physical therapist believes I will be running. We're working towards that now. She's adamant that my muscles be developed enough to support the joints, that my form be absolutely correct, and that I drop at least twenty pounds to reduce the impact before I begin. I'm working like crazy to jump through all her hoops and I'm not taking shortcuts. This is important to me and I don't want to start running, only to be injured again, or find out that it's not something I'll be able to sustain long-term.

In the meantime, I'm marking how my body responds, emotionally, to the different types of physical activity I'm able to do now. Thirty years in the future, I want to have options if running is taken off my list. Elliptical running seems to be fairly effective and I believe (if I'm ever able to become good at it and stop hating it) swimming might also be on that list. Walking is good but I might have to change how I do it--add some fast/slow pacing and more hills.

Someday I want to be able to write about this and feel empowered and courageous. I have PTSD and I'm doing what's necessary to help me have a "normal" life. Right now, though--today--I just feel aggravated that I'm writing about it at all. I don't feel empowered--I feel like a victim of circumstances. And I definitely don't feel courageous--I feel desperate. The last few months, as my movement has been restricted due to the hip replacement, I've endured some difficult emotional CRAP, with no real way to manage what has presented itself. I'm still battle feelings of failure and listlessness, and motivation is far away. I feel defeated before I even begin.

That being said, I'm going to the gym. Just because I feel this way, does not mean I have to buy into it. And when I get home I'll feel better (and if I don't, I'm having cookies for breakfast).

Saturday, June 7, 2014

"As long as you have food in your mouth, you have solved all questions for the time being." --Fraz Kafka

I don't want to have PTSD for the rest of my life.


I said it.

There was a time, when I had not yet been beaten repeatedly by life, when I completely believed I could make it go away, or reduce the symptoms to the point where I rarely, if ever, noticed them.

I suppose I still believe that sometimes. What I have learned, however, is that in order for that to happen, the upkeep and maintenance will be very daunting. Through research and therapy, I have devised a process that works dramatically, but it takes a great deal of time and effort and sometimes I'm tired. However, I'm going to write the process here, in the hope that seeing it, understanding why I'm doing it, and remembering the consequences if I don't, will help me continue working. Today I'm talking about food.

It is crucial for me to eat healthily. Even without PTSD this would be a necessity. I've been blessed with a body that reacts to artificial sweeteners, flavorings, and colors. It sends me inordinate pain when I eat chemically treated meats like ham, salami, pepperoni, hotdogs, bacon--you know--all the fun things everyone loves. My body will tolerate a small amount of dairy. If my intake exceeds the tolerance point, I'm ill for a day or two. I can drink a carbonated beverage every three to four months now. Ten years ago, such a drink would send my bladder the message that it needed to grow tumors, as would any food item with more than 150 milligrams of sodium. Animal and dairy fats also affect me adversely. So what does that leave? Natural lean meats, fruits, vegetables, soy/coconut/almond milk, homemade breads and cookies, and chocolate. And lots of water. Who can whine about that?

But having these limitations makes eating out an olympic event. And no one understands when I don't eat at a picnic or cookout which, in general, does not offer much from my diet plan. They think I'm trying to lose weight as I nibble carrots and celery (sans dip) from a vegetable tray, or try to eat watermelon (good for me--but I dislike the way it tastes), and I opt for water over the Kool-aid, artificial lemonade, or soda pop. I've learned to treat such events as social only. I eat before I go. Sometimes I do the same when I meet friends at a restaurant. And sometimes I'm thought rude when I eat at someone's home but I bypass much of what is served.

I underwent three years of tumor removal and chemotherapy administered to my bladder through my urethra. When it's happening three times weekly, the illness from the medication and pain from repeated catheter insertions are huge motivators to stay healthy so the process never has to be repeated again. I think I'm okay if I'm judged a rude, compulsive dieter while I protect the vulnerable parts of my body.

I've also learned that when I don't eat correctly (or when I don't eat at all, which sometimes happens), I become tired, irritable, and exhausted. In that condition, there is no chance that I will do the other things necessary to manage PTSD. Panic attacks are normal occurrences. I avoid conversations and interactions with others as I find myself overreacting to words, imagining false motives, and picking arguments. I know why it's happening, I remind myself how stupid I've been to let it happen, which in turn, exacerbates all symptoms and makes me feel that I've failed all of mankind because I ate Chinese food.

I've learned strategies to soften the impact of understanding that I will never be able to comfortably eat like other family members and friends. I research menus for fast food and sit-down restaurants whenever possible before I go there. Usually I can find at least one menu item that will fit my needs. I ask waiters to please tell the cooks to limit use of fat and place all sauces on the side. I always drink water.

Not only do I eat a small meal before attending picnics/cookouts/barbeques, I bring a main dish salad (regardless of whether or not I'm asked) to share. That way I can participate without people asking lots of questions (which I don't really mind for short periods of time) or telling me I don't need to lose weight (actually, I do because my physical therapist says it will reduce impact when I start to run) or wondering if I have an eating disorder (I do--it's in remission, but still something about I have to be cautious).

When I visit in other peoples' homes, I ask for the privilege of making them dinner.  I ask many questions about the types of food they like/dislike, then I try to make something flavorful and beautiful--something new and original that they will enjoy as much as I will, but I won't have to explain about the reactions my body has to boxed or prepared foods, nor will I insult them by not eating a meal they've prepared for me. So far, no one has whined a great deal about having me prepare their food. This is a good thing.

It's okay that I need to work a little bit harder, I guess, to meet my nutritional needs. Diabetics do it. Actually, anyone with a food allergy or sensitivity will go out of their way to make sure the trigger foods are avoided. But I can't say I'm diabetic or allergic or I have celiac disease...I'm not and I don't. And how does one explain in a socially acceptable way that my bladder doesn't process certain substances and the result is painful and extensive--or that some foods trigger PTSD symptoms and make me depressed/angry/anxious and sometimes suicidal? That seems to be beyond the understanding of most people and I get that. It sounds ridiculous.

All that being said, I'm committed to eating in such a way that I can use my food intake as a management tool. And I think I'm good at it, right now, about 70% of the time. There's definite room for improvement. Summer is a good time to work on that. Now I just need to remind myself that this is not a new or temporary thing--this is my life. It's forever.