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Friday, September 25, 2015

"Touch me, remind me who I am.” ~Stanley Kunitz

I've been thinking a lot about love. Surprise!

I've been talking with Tabitha and Adam about love. I'm learning a number of things difficult to articulate, but still true. I don't know that I'll be able to explain, but I'm going to try. Words make things real to me.

Adam told me that he knows Darrin and I love him. We tell him often. He says we show him more often. When we were talking about this, I said I knew my parents loved me, too -- sort of like a person loves ice cream or going to a movie. They like having me around. Adam says that's different from what he feels from us. He says being loved by Darrin and me is something he feels all the time, in the background. And he feels that deeply. It's not something that comes and goes, it just is.

Tabitha says knowing she's loved and wanted by us gives her the courage to try new things. She can fail and still be safe. There will always be someone to hug her, help pick up the pieces, and brainstorm new ideas to try. She says one day she wants to go far away. She's not afraid to leave because she knows it won't make us love her less. She believes she'll feel loved even when we're not with her.

When I was 17, I left my parents. I had no car, so my mother drove me 200 miles to the place where I would live and work. I had never met my employer. I did not know who I would be sharing a bedroom with. My mom drove to my new workplace, helped me lift from the trunk my suitcase and a laundry basket holding some basic necessities for the independent 17-year-old, got back in the car, and said good-bye before driving away. I had no idea what to do next.

It never occurred to me that I hadn't been hugged. I was never hugged. There was no mention of calling home, no discussion about how I might return home, should I choose to do so, and no "I love you." Again, I was not surprised or disappointed. I had no expectation that any of those things would happen.

I picked up my suitcase in one hand, balanced the laundry basket on the opposite hip and made my way to the building entrance. Once inside, I lowered my belongings to the cement floor. I was in a sort of recreation room with a ping-pong table and a television. A couple of young adults were there. They said hello. I continued to stand quietly. After a couple of minutes, one of them came over and asked if I was a new employee. I said I was. She took my basket and placed it against the wall, indicating that I could leave my suitcase, as well. Then she told me to follow her. We located my new boss, I was shown to my new room, and I was given my new work schedule. It was 5:00 p.m. I would start at 7 a.m. the next day.

My guide and my boss left me in my new room. I sat on the bare mattress that was my bed and wondered what to do next. I hadn't eaten that day, but didn't really worry about it. I rarely ate. A set of neatly folded white sheets were at the food of the bed. I spread the clean sheets over my mattress and covered them with the quilt given to me by my grandmother before I left home. It was made of tiny, colorful squares and backed in bright red flannel. She was the only person who acknowledged that I was leaving. She had hugged me.

I think, had I been less misshapen by the different traumas in my life, I might have cried at that point. It didn't occur to me to cry in the moment. I had long since understood that affection was not really something I was allowed. I felt awkward when my grandma hugged me, and confused, too. Hugging didn't really make sense. Well, more to the point, hugging ME did not make sense. I understood that other people did that. It just wasn't something they did with me.

There is no doubt that I was horribly lonely in that moment. That was unremarkable. I was always lonely. I assumed that was just part of being alive. But I had decided I would like to be lonely in a new place rather than in the house where I grew up...and was raped...and was abused...

It was a good choice. That summer I gained a friend who didn't care that I believed I wasn't supposed to be hugged or cuddled or enjoyed. Her name was Karen. We were a team at work. After work, we were still a team. We went hiking and camping and shopping. We sang and giggled and wondered who we would be in ten years.

Within a couple of weeks there was a young man who showed interest in me. I had tried dating a boy in high school That was disastrous. But I liked this new person. He wanted to spend time with me, but he didn't insist on any kind of physical reward for his presence. If I didn't want to be touched, he complied. He told me he liked me. He also said I was very young and he was fine if I just wanted a really great friend. His name was Tom.

So we were really great friends. And we went on dates. Sometimes Karen came with us. I asked if it was awkward to be the third person. She said it might be if I was in love, but she knew I wasn't. And she was right. I wasn't. Not with Tom. But he had taken me home to meet his family and I was in love with them.

I was in love with the way his mother treated me like I was one of their family. She took me into the kitchen with her and had me help cook and take a turn doing dishes while she chatted with me and made me feel that I had lived there my entire life. I was in love with the way his father teased me, just as he teased all of his children, gently and mischievously, but always with a look in his eye that told me this was happening because I was one of them. I belonged.

Mostly, though, I was in love with his sister. Completely twitterpated. She was thrilled when I came home with her brother. She immediately claimed me as her best friend. I was told about her fiance, her college shenanigans, her favorite foods, and invited to wear anything in her closet that appealed to me-- and she was very excited to explore my wardrobe, as well. She was a little disappointed that I was smaller, but thought there were still some of her clothes that would look "darling" on me.

When I left my job and went to school, Tom's family wrote and called and invited me to come visit. And I did. Even when Tom left for his mission, I continued to visit his family. They said I was their youngest daughter/sister. Two years later I got married. Not to Tom.

At that point contact ceased. I lost my place in that family. I think they were upset with me.

I write this story because I believe those two years were a time when I had the closest thing in my life to a real family relationship. It wasn't real. That became clear when I got married. But I do think they loved me. They just didn't know what to do next. Neither did I.

But during that period, I came the closest to what Tabitha and Adam were expressing when they told me what it's like to be loved by parents and siblings. I think it's interesting that I would feel that way when there was no real tie to the family, and when I didn't marry their son, they disappeared. That's not really how family works. But before all that happened, I had moments when I was certain I was loved and cherished. It felt constant and sustaining. And then it went away.

I have sought that feeling of being loved and needed - an integral part of another person's life - in other people. While I understand that's not something they would welcome or encourage, I still find myself doing it. I want to know that I am loved and welcomed in the same way that I esteem my children. As my parents seem to be incapable of feeling that way toward me, I subconsciously find myself seeking to establish that type of relationship with someone else - anyone else.

Most of the time, as soon as I notice I'm doing it, I stop the process and back away. I remind myself that Darrin loves me unconditionally and forever, and what I'm doing is inane and pointless - not to mention the fact that if the other person becomes aware of what is happening, I'll be labeled a freak and a miscreant and there will be no more fun times for us anymore.

But there have been a couple of times in the last decade when, despite my efforts to make it stop, the attempts to bond went on without me. And, yes, the other person became aware of it. And I apologized. And I ended up stressed and aggravated with myself because no one wants an adult Samantha trying to create intimate, familial-type bonding with them. I know this. Knowing does not keep my subconscious from trying.

And in the midst of trying to block the needs and bonding attempts, I find myself desperately needing to hear from the other person that I'm still loved in spite of the weirdness that is me. On really awful days, I've even asked to hear the words from them. In those moments, I don't seem to care if it's appropriate or if they want to tell me I'm loved. I just want to hear it. And when the words have been said and I'm drowning in a mixed sea of mortification and relief, I wonder how I might be different - might be whole - if my mother had hugged me the day she left me behind when I was seventeen.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Sometimes I worry a little.

Minor health glitches. Last Monday I had a nosebleed. It lasted about ten minutes and stopped. Then I had another on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday.

Thinking the weather was becoming drier, I increased my fluid intake and purchased some saline spray to counteract the problems the change in the weather was causing. And there was no nosebleed on Friday or Saturday.

But also on Wednesday I was putting in my contact lenses and felt an odd sensation inside the back of my head. It felt like something was wiggling. Immediately I felt dizzy. I tried to call Darrin, but couldn't make any noise come out. Finally, after about 20 seconds I could make a sound, but it took at least 10 more seconds before I could form a word. I sat on the toilet seat to get my bearings. Darrin came to see what was wrong, but within seconds I felt fine.

Then on Sunday, I was making dinner and, out of the corner of my eye, saw something black slide across the floor. But it made no noise. And nothing was there.

Later that day, I was reading and I fell asleep. Except I rarely nap and I wasn't sleepy. I awoke feeling like an insect was crawling on my face. But it wasn't an insect. It was blood. Lots of it. Both nostrils were bleeding this time. I ran to the sink, but even with my nose pinched shut and blocked by a tissue and my head tilted forward, I was gagging on blood flowing down the back of my throat. My mouth was full of blood. And it wouldn't stop. Finally, after 45 minutes, the blood stopped coming from my nose. About five minutes later it stopped draining down my throat.

I know. Go to a doctor. And I should have gone the ER on Sunday. But I'm not insured. Darrin and I lost our insurance in June, shortly after he was laid off. I'm working up to 18 hours daily to cover our expenses and there's nothing left for an Obamacare policy. We're still paying hospital bills from when Tabitha was suicidal. We're still paying hospital bills from my gall bladder removal in March and Darrin's appendectomy in May. Go to a doctor? Out of the question.

So on a whim I took my blood pressure on Sunday. It's usually normal to low. My numbers were 151 over 109. That's a little high. Okay, for me, that's alarmingly high.

Being Samantha, I started to do research and, sure enough, nosebleeds happen when blood pressure spikes. And I've been under a little bit of pressure lately. We've known for a long time that my blood pressure goes up when I'm feeling very stressed. Which I am. Very.

So I've been doubling my water intake, and using the saline spray. I have some blood pressure medication which was prescribed when I last had surgery (I get a little nervous about surgery which usually pushes my numbers up around 140 over 90), so I'll take that. My doctor said he'd renew the prescription whenever I felt my stress level rising, so I can continue the meds for awhile.

Today is Tuesday. No nosebleed today or on Monday. Still, my blood pressure hovers around 140 over 90 which, says my doctor, is too high. I'm giving this until next week. If the BP doesn't respond to the medication and/or the nosebleeds return, I'll make an appointment to see my doctor, insurance or not.

The truth is, I've never had a nosebleed as scary as the one that happened on Sunday. I'd like that to not happen again. Ever.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

This morning a goldfinch stopped to visit my crabapple tree as it migrated through. The tiny bird hid easily amongst the leaves, but it's difficult to remain invisible when jumping from limb to limb is more important than remaining unnoticed.

Darrin says he is going to mow the lawn today. We'll see. I'm not sad about the soft grass we have this year and if it gets a little long because the mower refuses to start, I'm okay with that.

Tabitha wants to make some sort of apple pastry today. She's listed puff pastry, and fresh and crystallized ginger high on her list of ingredients. We'll put our heads together to see if we can come up with something edible. Darrin won't like it. He has a problem with our ginger obsession.

Darrin has been walking to work with me a couple of mornings a week. This week, in the midst of bright sunshine and blue sky dotted with tiny clouds, a rainbow stretched across the western horizon. This phenomenon appeared every morning at 7:30 and remained in place for at least 30 minutes. I didn't take a picture. I didn't think about it. Sometimes it's okay to just be in the moment and enjoy what is.

My to-do list this weekend is yuck. I have a backlog of online work that's been suffering since I began teaching three weeks ago. Also piling up are assignments waiting for me to grade them and housework that needs my attention. I'm unmotivated. I'd rather watch the goldfinch and look for rainbows and walk barefoot in the grass. Still, if I wait things will only become more stressful and yucky, so I'll take care of as much as I can before Monday.

I'm not focusing on the parts that are hurting inside. I'm making certain I'm noticing the beautiful that is outside. I'm hoping one day it will seep into me and ease whatever is causing me pain. Therapist tells me to do this. As I have no plan B, it seems prudent to follow his instructions.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

I just want everyone to love me madly - is that asking too much?

Letting go has been a good thing, I think, and it really was a gift. I think there comes a time in everyone's life when they recognize that the work they put into relationships exceeds what is equitable. In really important relationships, it's not unusual for one partner to give more than the other for a time, but usually, as soon as he or she is able, the other partner steps back in and helps to strengthen the parts that have become weak. But those relationships are rare.

I think most people believe this:
And it's probably a truth. Just because I don't buy it doesn't mean it's false. And since pretty much the whole world believes this, there's more than a slight chance that I've been wrong and this is what friendship's all about. It's just that I've experienced the "pick up like they just spoke yesterday" friends, and I've experienced the ones that really seem to want to be present and have real conversations because they actually did speak with me yesterday. I prefer the latter.

However, I also understand that's impractical. And expecting that I can have that kind of a relationship with anyone except Darrin is stressful to everyone involved. Hence the letting go thing. 

It's actually more about expectation than practice. When one releases the expectations, paradigms shift dramatically. It's taken some preparation and some rehearsal time, but I think I've finally got this down. In fact, I may have shifted a bit too far. I've lowered my expectations to the point that when someone actually contacts me, it sometimes takes me a day to figure out how to respond. I'll work on that. 

But I'm noticing that if I don't wait for someone to talk or call or text or whatever, or to respond to my attempts at contact - if I just move on with my life and let the ball remain in their court, it's like there's nothing, really, left to do. I've done what I can. I might nudge the ball a bit, just to make sure there's no longer any interest, and then it's time to do something else. 

The truth is, I'm tired. Incredibly tired. And I'll admit to being depressed because Facebook keeps telling me there's no shame in that. And when you're tired and depressed, reaching out to others for support feels desperate and joyless. And exhausting. And so incredibly lame. Because I think some horribly embarrassing part of me keeps waiting for someone to notice, and how can they because I'm so busy making sure no one could possibly guess that I'm dying inside. 

But back to the letting go part. 

I don't wish to be misunderstood. I'm not giving up people or relationships or any of that "stuff." I'm just letting whatever happens happen. I'm waiting to see if one day I'm able to suddenly understand the meme above, and actually appreciate it without rancor or resentment or sadness. Hey! Maybe I'll actually grow up and be an adult about something in my life. That would be a step in the right direction, I think. In essence, I'd be saying, "We have lives. It's good we let each other live them. And it's good we have lunch every once in awhile so we can see who has more grey hair and wrinkles, who put on the most weight, and who is the oldest fart."

Okay, that's probably not without rancor. Two out of three, though. That's not bad.

Monday, September 14, 2015

A Decade has Come and Gone.

Do you feel old now? Well, you're not. Ten years is only a drop in the bucket when you consider how many years you have left, but that's not really what I'm talking about. I'm talking about communication.

Ten years ago, online chatting was the way to communicate. Texting happened, but lots of people were getting to know one another online. I was no exception. I made many friends, some of whom I met in person. It was great. It was also very out of character for me.

I'm not an extrovert.

Today people prefer texting. I do not. It might have something to do with the fact that I type more than 100 wpm, so chatting with people feels seamless and natural, in spite of the fact that one cannot always understand the nuance behind the words. Texting feels awkward and silly. It requires abbreviated messages that rarely convey what I wish to say. And I'm finding that many of the people I would text with don't answer very quickly. That doesn't lend itself well to conversation and when I want to talk with people, it's usually because I want to connect and converse, not leave a pithy message and then wonder if it will be answered.

I think, too, for someone with PTSD, texting is counterproductive. There are times when the intent behind online chat can be difficult for me to decipher. When it comes to texting, multiply that difficulty by about a million.

So in a decade I've become a dinosaur. I don't like to text. I'm the only person on this earth with a cell phone who prefers to actually use it as a phone or not at all. Don't get me wrong. I like getting texts. I like hearing from people I love in any venue. I just don't want to send tiny messages to each other, sandwiched in between everything else we have to do, until we eventually become bored or distracted by something else.

But no one really chats online anymore. And it's rare that people call each other either.

I find myself in a very similar situation to the one I was in just over 10 years ago. I rarely talk to people. I work long hours. In my spare time I run, or read, or practice the piano. And that's how it's been for most of my life. It's probably the way it should be.

So I'm left wondering what happened to me a decade ago when I suddenly began talking to complete strangers, and connecting with people I'd never met (and might never meet), and a day did not go by without my starting a conversation with someone, or some person finding me. I think maybe I just went a little crazy. I forgot who I was for ten years.

Or maybe I was possessed. I think that's probably it.

Friday, September 11, 2015

There is a tiny red bird in my tree.

I was told by a good friend once that I could be a good leader if...

Then he went on to talk about all the reasons I could never be a good leader, as if I had somehow indicated that was a thing I wished to become. I listened, bemused. Leadership is something to which I have never aspired. It ranks alongside politics, animal husbandry, chemical engineering, municipal sanitation work, and construction. My friend, however, seemed to believe I was being untrue to myself and letting down all those people just waiting for me to lead. All those people.

I don't really listen to anybody. Darrin will attest to this, as will anyone who has known me longer than a day. So hearing what my friend had to say about all the reasons I was failing my imaginary leadership role had little effect on my self-esteem. It did, however, as is often the case with me, set me thinking. Why do I shun leadership? Why does it not appeal?

I know people who like to see their names attached to many things. I'm the Facebook freak who removes tags and has to approve pictures and posts placed on my personal page. I don't care if I'm known for anything. I don't really do anything in the hopes that future generations will look to my example and be grateful that I lived. The last thing I want is to be a person others look to for advice, guidance, or leadership. I'm actually pretty happy not being noticed. Perhaps that's why I still blog.

"But you're a very strong woman," argues my friend. I believe he has confused stubborn and intractable with strength. I simply don't give in unless I want to. You could argue the color of the sky with me until doomsday, but if I've decided it's green, and I don't feel like capitulating, I'll simply walk away saying, "You can think it's whatever color you wish. But it's green." And I'll do that even if I know the sky is blue, simply to be unpleasant. That is not strength.

"Look at what you've overcome," Friend insists. But I don't want to. It makes me sad. It's not that I don't feel grateful or at peace because of the issues I've fought through and laid to rest. I fully acknowledge that what I've done in the past decade took more stamina that many people want to think about, and that there have been moments of utter exhaustion while I gathered myself so that I could go to work again. But it was all about me. Always. It was about being able to live one more day. It was about not being afraid that people would hurt me. It was about discovering who I am and who I used to be. And it was about acknowledging that I can't do everything and sometimes other people are responsible for the things that have hurt me. That's not courage or grit or anything remotely brave. That's survival. Every person alive today has experienced survival mode in some form.

"You have optimism and you don't let life get you down." Well, my friend, I'm unsure if that qualifies as a great leadership quality. What I am certain of is that you've never read my blog. Ever. Because losing faith and struggling to find it, wondering if I'll every be happy again, fighting the impulse to seek death over life-- that's what I'm really about. I have an innate ability to be happy. That, perhaps, is unusual. But it never saves me.

The day before my birthday I showed someone, for the first time in my life, the remaining scars that attest to the pain and sadness I battled as a teen. They're atypical, longitudinal marks; thin white lines along the length of my forearm. They're not the measured horizontal lines of a true cutter. I don't know why, after all these years, I allowed them to be acknowledged. The spectator said simply, "You were serious," and I replied, "Yes, I was."

I was serious about expressing pain I could not talk about. I was serious about wanting to die. But I was not strong enough, or courageous enough, and I did not know enough about human anatomy to make those cuts carry out my wish. And in all honesty, I do not remember carving those lines. Their surreal presence on my arm assures me that I did.

I was never meant to lead. I was meant to survive. I was meant to acknowledge that I am surrounded by love and pain and hardship and beauty. Few people would enjoy walking where I wander. But the true reason that I will never lead is that I have no cause. There are many from which I could choose. I listen to loved ones on both sides debate and cringe and writhe, and I feel their energy slide over me without going inside.

G. K, Chesterton once said, "If a rhinoceros were to enter this restaurant now, there is no denying he would have great power here. But I should be the first to rise and assure him that he had no authority whatever." The quote makes me giggle a bit because, no doubt, such assurance would get Mr. Chesterton killed. I have no wish to decide who or what has authority in a restaurant or anywhere else, and clearly, having survived this long I have no wish to die. But I believe my attempt at a leadership role would be tantamount to telling a rhino, well, anything at all. He's not going to listen. No one else will either.

Having said all this, and fully understanding that the following statement has nothing whatever to do with the topic of this post, I am somewhat distressed that we can have a political candidate who not only demeans women (and everyone else - let's be honest), but uses his verbal maltreatment of others to gain the fame necessary to advance his standing in the polls. I thought we, as a people, might be evolving beyond that. It seems I was wrong. I am currently seeking to purchase an inexpensive deserted island upon which to live out the remainder of my days. It need not have internet access, telephone service, or fast food. It would be nice, however, if it had a cave. With bookshelves.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Yesterday was my birthday. This marks the tenth birthday post I have made since I began blogging. They're not all here in this blog, but many are.

My birthday is interesting. I received a card and a gift from my mother-in-law. She has never once forgotten my birthday since I have known her. I love her for this.

As expected, a couple of my five sisters remembered to send me a birthday text. Another two remembered to send Facebook greetings.

Naturally, my mother remembered this morning and called to send belated greetings and apologize for forgetting. Again. I didn't answer the phone. It's my phone, after all. I get to choose who I talk to on it.

My father won't remember. If he does, he'll think it's funny that he forgot, oblivious to the fact that I have repeatedly told him I am hurt by his reticence. A child should be remembered. I have stopped telling him. My energy is better spent elsewhere.

My brothers won't remember. They were taught long ago that, while their birthdays mean going to dinner with Mom and Dad and a small gift to celebrate their entrance into the world, mine is to be forgotten. It is not important.

I have never posted my birthday on Facebook. Those who remember to send Facebook wishes are people who notice that someone else remembered or friends who know that my birthday is not always a happy day for me. They remember or are reminded by someone else who remembers. My church lists my birthday in the newsletter shared between the women in my ward. A couple of sisters from church posted birthday greetings, as did my stepfather-in-law and my sister-in-law.

One day I will no longer keep track of these things.

Today I cried a tiny bit. Not because I'm sad my father forgot. Not because I wish I was more important to my own family. Not because I didn't do anything fun for my birthday. Because I did.

Two sweet friends were, through happy coincidence, staying with us in the two days preceding my birthday. We spent time together, played games, and shared meals. I celebrated with them, with Darrin, and with my children.

I suppose I cried because it's time. I understand that nothing will change and it's time to let go. There would be less sting, I think, if birthdays in my family were just not a big deal. That was not the case. They were. All but mine. I no longer wonder why. Why doesn't really matter anymore. I no longer try to let family members know that being forgotten hurts. I've grown beyond the painful part. I believe, at this point in my life, I would be uncomfortable and stressed if they remembered at all. My mother left a, no doubt, frenzied and self-deprecating message in the voicemail I have yet to listen to. I'm tired of the reasons why I'm forgotten. I don't really care anymore.

I actually don't believe I'm all that forgettable. I'm remarkable in many ways. Perfect strangers smile at me in stores and some even take time to chat with me. A small part of me believes that I am forgotten by my family simply because they choose to do so. It's convenient. And because I no longer make a fuss about it, they believe I have no problem with being excluded.

I no longer say that my birthday is just another day. It's not. It's my day. And this year, for my birthday, I am giving a very large gift to myself. I am letting go.

I will celebrate my birth with or without those who spawned me, but I will take my gift further.

I will no longer cling to parts of my relationships with others that produce expectations other people do not wish to fulfill - or even if they wish to, are unlikely to have any kind of follow-through.

I will no longer assume that affection is anything but that. One can have affection for another person without being tied to them. I have been guilty of assuming people in my life feel more deeply for me than they do. That is unfair to them. I need to stop.

I will allow my relationships with others to relax into whatever they will be, naturally. Therapist once told me that the only relationship that really mattered, in the end, was my relationship with Darrin. Through the years, Therapist and I discussed how other relationships fit in that construct. Always I insisted that there were other relationships equally important, and their existence was vital to health and happiness. Finally, after more than a decade, I am understanding what Therapist meant when he made that statement. And I am willing to let my insistence that he was wrong relax and morph into whatever it will.

Darrin says I have poured a great deal of energy into trying to create healthy, thriving relationships with many people. He also says that, given the brutal reality of the last decade of my life, I'm understandably tired. I'm noticing that whenever I have a paradigm shift in my beliefs, someone tells me I'm tired. Little credence is given to the possibility that I might actually have thought about this for a long time and made some logical decisions based on life experiences.

Also, speaking of Therapist, last weekend I was able to finish an assignment he gave me a few years ago. He asked me to think about why I no longer have flashbacks, and if I'm ever able to articulate the reason, to share it with any pertinent people and with him. Last month I finally figured it out. On Saturday I shared with the pertinent person. Therapist will be disappointed, no doubt. I believe he was hoping my experience would be something he could use to help other clients who suffer with PTSD and flashbacks. But the bottom line is, it was pure luck.

And now I'm going to go running.