Mom’s assets

The lawyers sent me a list of mom’s assets. Her life savings all in black and white. A cold, horrible itemized list, reducing her life to a dollar amount.

She worked so hard and died at 68 with barely any savings, no hope of retirement. So sad. 

I can’t quite explain how this list makes me feel but I would like to try. Renewed grief at seeing her name next to the word deceased. Anger at the lawyers, at the legal necessity for all of this due process. A different anger, a sad anger at my brother that still won’t talk to me. A deep pain, sadness perhaps, this longing, this hole, this emptiness that washes over me and chokes my breath out as I cry. I want a family. Yes I have my children but they don’t fill this aching hole. 

I had a major accomplishment in PT today. I used the one machine without my weak leg shaking, first time ever it just went smoothly. Everyone cheered for me there. That didn’t fill the hole either. I wanted to call my mom and tell her too. 

But all I have  of her is this dreadful bank statement. And so many mixed up memories. She wasn’t always good to me, but she was trying.

And that was her true asset. 

PTSD: The animal within

The reptilian brain exists within all of us, not only in those with past trauma. Trauma seems to keep this area of the brain alert, extra sensitive, unable to rest. The image below explains many areas of the brain, including the reptilian inner brain.

brain

(image from http://www.traumarecoveryinternational.com/the-reptilian-brain—where-ptd-lives.html)

The brain is divided into 3 main areas, reptilian, limbic, and neocortex. The chart below is from http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_05/d_05_cr/d_05_cr_her/d_05_cr_her.html

The reptilian brain, the oldest of the three, controls the body’s vital functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature and balance. Our reptilian brain includes the main structures found in a reptile’s brain: the brainstem and the cerebellum. The reptilian brain is reliable but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive. The limbic brain emerged in the first mammals. It can record memories of behaviours that produced agreeable and disagreeable experiences, so it is responsible for what are called emotions in human beings. The main structures of the limbic brain are the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the hypothalamus. The limbic brain is the seat of the value judgments that we make, often unconsciously, that exert such a strong influence on our behaviour. The neocortex first assumed importance in primates and culminated in the human brain with its two large cerebral hemispheres that play such a dominant role. These hemispheres have been responsible for the development of human language, abstract thought, imagination, and consciousness. The neocortex is flexible and has almost infinitelearning abilities. The neocortex is also what has enabled humancultures to develop.

The reason I was thinking about the parts of the brain, and the reptilian part specifically, is because I wanted to understand more about what happens to me during my response to hide (or freeze), when the flight part of fight or flight is activated. This is a powerful feeling, stronger than butterflies in your stomach or stage fright or social anxiety. I was talking to hubby, and he said something that after all these years with me I could not believe he still misunderstood, and so I need to clear this up here as well.

PTSD – and the actions within flight or fight – are not my choice. I do not choose to run away. I have to run away. No thought has happened. I have run before I know I have run.

Before the running, when anxiety and fear is lower, when the danger seems manageable, yes, I can choose whether to attend an event or not. But once certain triggers are activated, it is an automatic process, my brain has decided for me that the situation is far too dangerous and tells me to hide – NOW. It does this by turning off the neocortex, and possibly even turning off the limbic brain too to get me moving. It’s why you don’t cry until later, gets in the way of fighting or running.

So why do we have this part of our brain that allows us to act without thinking? Well to save our lives. If we had to debate whether an oncoming car was moving fast enough to kill us, or if that intruder has a gun, or if that bear saw us, well we would already be dead. We need our automatic reactions to pump the adrenaline, to get our heart and muscles going, to move us out of harms way without standing there thinking about it.

I also suffer from the freeze response. When fight or flight does not seem a good option, our reptilian brain freezes us. It is like playing dead while wishing you were dead. Many child abuse victims know this response, they could not fight back or get away, so instead they experience system shut down. I did this so many times as a child. I still do now for certain triggers. For years I would lay there frozen, unable to speak, while hubby had his hands on me, thinking I am enjoying his touches. He was devastated and even angry when I finally told him. He still doesn’t understand that being frozen was NOT my CHOICE. That inside my head I am screaming and crying, but outwardly unable to do or show any thing.

Sometimes when I retreat to my room, I am not being rude, I am not trying to hurt anyone’s feelings, I am not choosing to ignore people, my brain thought I was in danger and believe me, there is no arguing with your reptilian brain because it nicely shuts off your thinking portions for a while, as part of the safety feature. Once the adrenaline slows and my brain can send out the ‘all clear’ call, then I can start to reason through what happened and make choices about coming out of hiding or not.

I am learning the early alert signals, when fear and anxiety are rising, I can try and breathe and ground to keep the reptilian brain from taking over. Sometimes I can, and sometimes I can’t. Although I know more about it now, I am also more sensitive now, like I have mental trip wires everywhere that I don’t even about – a side effect of my current ongoing therapy stirring up symptoms.

I made a connection one evening to this idea of the animal brain. Before a storm, my dog started pacing and looking anxious, coming to me for support for her fear. I know not to comfort her with affection, but that she needs a strong, calm leader in those moments. Someone to show her that she will be safe with me. I don’t pet her or talk to her. I walk around with her, distract her, get her to lay quietly, massage her, call her out if she tries to hide. I don’t let her fear overtake her. I realized I was grounding her and not letting her reptilian brain take over. It really made me start thinking.

Because when I am afraid, I act just like a frightened animal, and also like her I am unable to communicate exactly what is wrong. I also need a strong, calm leader. I look to those around me to provide safety and comfort, and not finding that, I need to be my own leader. I tried explaining this to hubby. That he instinctively knows a bit more about frightened animals than how to treat me. Would you yell at the dog? Would you let her hide, scared, shaking and alone, for hours or days? Would you tell the dog how frustrated you are that she won’t let you hug her when she is frightened? Would you blame the dog or would you comfort and gently try to help her overcome the fears?

I know it must be difficult for hubby, I truly do. That my brain is afraid of him, that he keeps triggering me. But when he leaves me alone after the flight or freeze, it does nothing to disprove those triggers in my brain and instead reinforces those pathways that he cannot be trusted. I keep asking him to let me go for a bit, let me cool down, 20 minutes is usually enough for the nervous system to restore itself. Then come check on me and be strong. Don’t ask me a question – I will say no. Bring me coffee or ice cream, don’t ask if I want any, just bring it to me. (like luring the dog out from under the bed with a treat, right?) Tell me to get a shower or take a walk – don’t ask me. Tell me to ride with you to the duck pond or the grocery store. Make up any reason to draw me out of my hiding place. If you are strong I will listen because I want a leader, someone strong to take care of me. Show me you are not the enemy.

Because in reality – that is all I have ever wanted. someone to properly care for me, to nurture, to understand, to lead with strength, to show me the way when I am scared. I have done this my entire life, when I should not have done this for myself. So maybe I am asking too much of a husband. Maybe it isn’t his job. But maybe he needs to do it anyway, just for a while, just to get me through this. But I know he can’t because he doesn’t. It is what I want, but will never get from him. I try not to be disappointed because I don’t think that is entirely fair to him.

So I will continue to go it alone, relying only on myself to lead the way in these dark moments, and hope that one day the moments will slow down and the triggers will not be daily. No one is saying to hope for triggers to go away completely, only to be less than they are now, easier to manage.

I am getting tired of shaking, hiding and licking my wounds and would like to use all of my brain again. We weren’t meant to function on reptilian brain alone.

Too many words

When it takes me too long in between posts, it is not for a lack of words, rather I have too many.

My brain is as busy as a big city highway, thoughts rushing about, crashing into each other. Therapy has stirred up nightmares and flashbacks at an alarming rate. That, along with otherwise not sleeping has increased migraine frequency again.

My daughter is okay. I hate that she has scoliosis and that my genes gave it to her. It is worse than I thought it was, her s curve and rotation already raising her one shoulder and hip out of level, twisting her ribs so one side of her back appears rounder than the other. But only if you look closely and know what to look for. Dr recommended she start doing yoga to stretch and strengthen her core to combat the sore muscles she already has. Then we go back in a few months for new xrays, and hope the curve has not progressed much. Thats all we can do.

I managed the day of her checkup though I had several flashbacks. It could have been better, could have been worse. We went in through the garage, not the front door where AF used to drop me off. We stopped at the cafe for slow paced breakfast. Upstairs was heavily remodeled since I had last been there. That was good. I did feel triggered looking down the hallway where I spent countless painful hours of physical therapy with no gain. I did feel triggered in the large waiting room, recalling times waiting there by myself, times when both parents came and were so busy fighting I had wished I was alone. I knew the view out that huge window well, as it took me out of the waiting room to watch people walking down below.

It was actually comforting to meet Dr junior. I had forgotten how much I liked and trusted his dad as a child. Junior has the same amazing warmth and accent. The look on his face was entirely priceless when he asked who performed my surgery as a child, and I said it was dear old dad. I decided not to tell him it didn’t go so well, as I don’t fault the surgeon for that. 

I did feel sick to see my girl’s body distorted by this horrible disease. No one really knows a cause yet. 30 years later and we can’t prevent it from permanently deforming us, slowly twisting and winding us up as we grow.

So that would have been enough for my nerves. But no, that’s never how it works. My FIL was also at that hospital that day, having surgery. So we walked through the maze of buildings to visit with MIL and deliver the cards my kids had made. I was losing touch the longer I walked. I kept seeing my girl, who looks so much like me, and lost my bearings, struggled to stay grounded more and more.

We sat with MIL far too long. I asked hubby a few times if we could leave. We had been there several hours now, approaching lunch time, and girly was stressed and hungry. The surgical waiting room was not a good place for her. 

One woman was describing how her husband was missing his ears and chunks of his cheeks due to skin cancer. I wanted to comfort her but I had nothing in me to offer her. I wanted to run away.

Finally we left and started the long walk back to the garage. But this time the hallways looked different. Swirly. I could barely read the directions on the signs and kept getting lost. I easily lead us all there but was now confused. Hubby reached out and grabbed my shoulders. I screamed “Don’t touch me!” And looked for an escape. A few nurses and doctors asked if I needed help. I wasn’t sure…I kept looking around, waiting for something to make sense, waiting for hubby to take the lead, but he never did. My flashback had overtaken me. I was disoriented and scared. My only thought was avoid evryone and get to the car as quickly as possible. But I didn’t know how. I was trapped in one of my nightmares, hallways kept getting longer, people were no longer speaking english, I was struggling to walk, holding onto walls for balance, struggling to breathe but doing it anyway.

I just kept walking. Hubby and girly followed me. At hallway intersections we looked sad and confused and nurses pointed the way. Finally we could see our garage. I knew I could make it now, the fear lessened and switched to exhaustion. The final steps to the car took all my energy. Made it. Sat down. Breathing can resume.

I don’t recall leaving the garage or entering the highway. At some point I ‘woke up’ and remembered the suggestion to go somewhere fun. We needed lunch so I asked girly if she wanted to go to the mall. Sure!

We ate lunch and headed for her favorite store to search for a black dress for choir. I was still exhausted, struggling to stay grounded, but this seemed important. As we entered the store, hubby disappeared. He often does this, wanders off to look at something. So I waited. He was taking forever, so I checked my phone…dead. crap. Looked around and still did not see him so we kept shopping, but were forced to stay in that one store. She tried on a few things, no luck on a dress. Finally I spotted hubby sitting by the fountain outside the store. What? How long has he been there? I tell him I had no idea where he went. I tell him I don’t know if we should buy anything. He gets all defensive saying he thought we were better off without him and he didn’t know where we went and hows he supposed to know…

I was too tired for that. When I have flashbacks I have trouble making decisions, using math, deciding worth. I wanted his help but obviously was not going to get it. I told girly we would keep those things she liked in mind for another day but we should probably get going. She was fine with that.

When we got home I thought I could rest and recover. Hubby had the same idea. He fell asleep and left me to make dinner, monitor homework, manage bedtime. 

The next day he said he thought everything went perfectly. I snorted a bit, surprised by our different impressions of the day. He asked what I thought could have been better and got angry when I made suggestions, because now I was attacking him and pointing out everything he did wrong. I wasn’t even going to bring it up, he asked. I wasn’t going to bring it up because it doesn’t help. I can’t rely on him, in those moments, I am forever alone.

Memory Gaps, What is my brain hiding from me?

I am fully aware that many parts of my life are unknown to me. This is an odd feeling to say the least. Knowing what happened in my other memories, I am sure my brain has done me a great favor in keeping some things hidden.

How do I know I have gaps? Well some are obvious, they are so strange. I can’t picture my mom’s apartment where I lived for 2 years, from ages 16-17. I can picture the parking lot outside, I recall walking from the apartment to the pizza place where I worked, I recall the courtyard outside, I know the building had a front and back door, but it completely blanks out when I try to think of the inside of that apartment. Where did I sleep? No idea. I lived there with mom, my brother and his girlfriend. At one point my brother with schizophrenia moved in with his girlfriend too. In a 2 bedroom apartment. Where did we all sleep? I have no idea. Couch, floor, sleeping bags…I just don’t know. Hubby says he often came over while we were dating and cooked for us, watched tv with me there on the couch. Can’t recall any of that. Complete blackout for the inside of that apartment.

Other gaps I find out from looking at photos of myself. I see me at some place I have no memory of going to. Some look like vacations. I guess I blocked out entire week long trips from the looks of the photos.

Some gaps are from family gatherings, people reminiscing and I can’t recall the event they all swear I was there too.

Some gaps are for hours. Some are for locations. Some span entire weeks, possibly months.

So what happened? Did a terrible trauma happen during each of those memory gaps? Not necessarily. Unlike PTSD of a single traumatic event, complex PTSD can include going in and out of a disociative state, blocking encoding of memories, multiple triggers of fight or flight over the years, inbalances in the nervous system and stress chemicals….so many factors can lead up to memories not being stored correctly. They may or may not be repressed, they may not have been stored at all.

http://www.human-memory.net/disorders_traumatic.html

https://jessicapsychology.wordpress.com/2013/07/03/dissociative-amnesia-ptsd/

So other than the very odd feeling that your brain is keeping secrets from you, that you may have a twin or live in an alternate reality. Usually you see an old photo, get the memory jog and think “oh wow! I remember that! I have not thought of that in years!” Not “Hmm, I don’t remember going to Washington D.C in Middle School…Who else is there..How strange..I thought I went for the first time with Hubby in college…But that’s my perm so it must have been 6th grade, it looks like spring, tulips are blooming, maybe spring break?…I have no idea”

I have so many photos like that where I start playing detective, looking for clues, hoping the right clue will jog my memory, wake it up, have it all make sense. Then I would usually start asking people. But even sadder, is I belonged to AF. My mom and brothers had no idea where he took me, even before the divorce he took me on trips alone, not the whole family. Because that isn’t weird or a red flag or anything. I recall some of the trips, and apparently some I don’t. Who knows why. I don’t like it, but I have made some sort of peace that this is the state of my brain, just another bit of brokenness I must deal with.

I have many theme songs but this one makes me smile, helps me deal with this. Do you suffer from long term memory loss? I don’t remember. (you may need to look away during some of the strobe lights, I did) And as a side note, Chumbawamba was a funny favorite of mine in college, danced to it in the clubs, still makes me happy to hear it even though those days and friends are long gone.

I am Grief

It is starting to feel like I am grief, not like I am grieving, not like it is a process, or an emotion that moves through me, but a state of being that is me and completely has consumed me from so many directions.

When I allow myself to feel the sadness, I can’t see to type through the tears, so I need to hold it back to that familiar dull choking feeling that is now my life. That no one wants to see or acknowledge. Yes I am still sad today. Yes it sucks. Yes I need more time. I don’t want to apologize for how I am any more. I don’t want to explain it any more. I want it to be understood. But this is my life – I don’t get what I want.

I do feel moments of happiness with my kids, I do, but it is heavy, weighed down by this sadness, like I have an upper limit, or this shadow turning everything good a bit blurry.

I miss my mom. So much. So many things I want to show her, share with her, apologize for, explain to her. I see her everywhere, the songs she liked, the candy she liked, flowers she liked. I have paintings I started for her

I am also hurting as I realize I have not been treated very well here. I realized I did not receive one sympathy card, no flowers, no casseroles. Not even from my in-laws. Nada nothing. I did get one phone call from an aunt, the wife of my mom’s brother checked on me. That’s it. No one else reached out to me at all. Same for when AF died the year before. I know that was complicated, but everyone pretended it didn’t happen. I have lost both of my parents in the space of a year and a half, both were not even 70.

Then AF declared for the world to see that he never loved me, in his Will.

still-life-1241298_960_720

That broke me. I crumbled. Whatever was holding me together for so many years was shattered then. I lost myself. I became suicidal. I lost my job. I was hospitalized. Then as I was recovering my mom got cancer and didn’t tell me. I had pushed her away while I was healing. I didn’t speak to her during her last year on earth because AF broke me. He stole her from me again. Just like as a child, he kept her from me, creating fear by telling me she hated me and never wanted me.

Hubby is still not understanding. He is not gentle or comforting for me. His volatile moods and rough responses are too much for me to handle right now so I generally avoid him. When I do specifically ask him to do something for me and I think he understands, he does not follow through, leaving me hurt and confused, feeling betrayed all over again. I say please don’t tell ___ to your mom, it will get around to your sisters and come back to torment me and I don’t want to deal with all of that. He agrees. Then an hour later I hear him, he is telling his mom ___ on the phone. (Next day his sisters text me about it…I hate drama, wanted to avoid it, none of their business, didn’t matter, leave me alone, I give vague responses until it settles down) I ask him later why he did that? He yells at me. It is my fault again. How was he supposed to know. Sigh. Do I give up or do I try again?

I don’t understand. I have such little trust as it is, these events don’t help. I am spiraled into emotional flashbacks because he can’t do what he tells me he will do. Did he not agree with me in the first place? Am I not important enough to grant or remember this request? Was he lying to shut me up, make me happy, with no intention of not telling? The doubts flood my brain as I try to make sense of what happened. And he says, Sorry (but he says it so rough like a bark, not sincere), whatever, What’s the big deal.

Then we are trying to plan a party for his parents. It keeps getting more and more complicated, with his one sister coming in from out of state, the one married to the guy I accused of being a creep a few years ago. That plus they are adding more events to the day, a family photo, lunch, dinner, coffee and dessert, all in different locations. I told hubby that I was concerned I may not be able to do all of that. Then he said to his sister on the phone that I may be too tired, not have enough energy to do all of that. My heart sunk. Is he ashamed of me? He can avoid this topic but not the one I asked him to? So I texted his sister after he hung up “Hey I’m not sure he explained it very well, I want to do everything you have planned and it sounds like a great day for everyone and your parents, but I am still struggling with social anxiety and other symptoms of ptsd that may make it difficult for me to do so many events all in one day. I don’t want to let you all down, I will do my best to manage but wanted you to be aware.” She texted back “ok”

So I am trying to be real with the only people in my life. I keep hoping they will one day be more accepting, accommodating, instead of only me being forced to hide my symptoms and smile pretty for them so they aren’t uncomfortable. I have no idea how I married into such an unsupportive group, I suppose some part of me knew this, guaranteeing my isolation and continuation of what was familiar. They aren’t pedophiles and psychopaths, but dysfunction runs rampant.

Maybe a supportive functional family is a myth.

I am trying to manage this grief that keeps trying to swallow me whole. But I noticed I have forgotten how to smile. It is no longer natural. I started practicing in a mirror and those muscles feel so heavy and I can only produce an odd crooked grin.

I am turning 40 very soon. I have no plans. No party. No friends. No extended family, just my kids.They are the only humans I feel safe with, can feel happy with. I hate how much I need them. My daughter is my best friend, we talk about everything. I already fear the day when they grow a bit older and I lose them. Then I will truly be alone on this planet. Until then I will try to cherish the moments and try to make this creepy grin into a real smile and try not to think about how unimportant I am to everyone else.

Preparing for triggers

Tommorrow will be a day full of unavoidable triggers. And other stresses too. I am taking my daughter to the back specialist. Upon my insistence, I asked pediatrician for an xray. She has mild scoliosis.

Breathe. It is mild. It may stay mild. 

Because I want the best for her, I am taking her to the same place I went. Recently and as a child. But now we get to go to the pediatric office, the actual same place I went. Even better, better for her, worse for flashback potential, her Dr is the the son of my Dr back then. Same name, same floor. I lost it a few months ago when I had to go to the same building for radiology. 

I have to keep myself grounded and present. My daughter may see a full blown panic attack or flashback for the first time. But I have to be there for her. It would have been better for me to choose a different dr, but not best for her.

So I can do this. Somehow I can do it. I already feel sick, a migraine. Nightmares for days have kept me from resting. I am so tired.

Then other stresses combined as usual to make this week even harder to manage. And yet I must. More later on the other stresses, too much to write now

Good day dear cane

I have officially put my cane into the back of my closet. Woot! Woot! I am walking steadily and with more strength each day. I don’t feel like I am limping.

I am incredibly slow, yet each step is solid. My stride is wider and more natural now. I am spending more time on the weak leg so it is more step-step and less stepppp-hop. 

It has been five months since my back surgery. The strength and balance gains in my weak leg are nothing short of phenomenal. After 27 years of feeling it grow weaker, this simply doesn’t seem possible, like it isn’t my leg. I have advanced weights and color levels in physical therapy. I am rebuilding muscle and nerve pathways.

I have cried a few times at PT, out of surprise and joy from my new strength and control. The therapists beam with delight and cheer me on, all knowing my story, well, my scoliosis story. I feel real and accepted there and cared for.

I still have a long way to go. My success is relative. My walking distance before my leg fatigues is 540 feet, but used to be 100. I have worked up to using 2 pound weights with my arms. I still have negative range of motion in my ankle, unable to bend it up to a right angle, but I am only 1 degree away now, started at 5. 

I have many other metrics and measurements we are tracking. Some seem so pathetic as I regain core body strength from this surgery. Using my arms is still very painful. Pain wraps arounds my ribs and lasts for days for attempting something simple, like lifting a canteloupe.

Every day I do a bit more and try to be patient with the slow pace. The surgeon told me it would take a year to recover, but hearing those words and living those words are two different things entirely.

I want to walk my dog. She is about 50 pounds. I can’t do it yet. I can however, just this week push and turn a grocery cart without assistance, if it doesn’t have much in it. That was a major triumph to buy some (light) groceries by myself, without kids or hubby – or a cane – to help. I was tired and hurting a bit, but mostly just grinning like a fool at my accomplishment.