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Owning It – A step past acceptance

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I always say when you are open, the universe speaks to you. I am hearing one message loud and clear being repeated from multiple sources. It’s starting to sink in and take hold and I hope I can explain this clearly.

I’ve always had something to struggle against. An illness, a disease, a deformity, a disorder.  I’ve always accepted each one as it is diagnosed as a new part of me to struggle with, fight with – and HIDE!! I was taught to be normal, above all costs. Never let anyone know you are suffering. Never let anyone know you are different. Never let anyone know you need help. It is shameful, horrible, disgusting. It is whining, weak, pitiful. No one will want to listen or be in the room with you. No one will accept you with all of your flaws. You must only present a perfect version of yourself, like an edited photograph representing you instead of your real you.

No one can see you in a wheelchair, a brace, a bandage, a pimple, a scar, if you’ve gained a pound, if your nose is red from a cold. No one can see your pain or fear or confusion.

I followed those rules most of life, somehow I actually did. I hid my disabilities like a good girl. I know I shared my difficulty with having to use a can a year ago, in public. It took everything in me to show people I needed that, something so visibly wrong with me, and of course the comments came, “you’re too young to need a cane…” remember that?

OK, so my doctors are now recommending that I get special tinted lenses in my glasses, and special earplugs. The idea here is that my migraines are caused by overactivity, overexcitability, too much stimulation of neurons and these aids can help reduce sensory input, reducing triggers and sensory overload, meltdown and confusion. Makes sense, I struggle when shopping in bright lights or surrounded in a noisy crowd.

But my first thought was, hell no, I don’t want to look like a freak. What if people notice? What if they ask me about my weirdo glasses? Can I handle that?

I’m working with this one major stuck point still as it runs deeply and is multifaceted, this feeling of being a freak and needing to hide flaws. It is a core belief, reinforced by my entire family, and sadly, by most of my adult relationships as well. People do not often respond positively to people with special needs. But that doesn’t mean I should be afraid to have special needs. I started to accept that I do – but can I own it?

Here’s the difference. And wait for it, it was explained to me by my MIL!!! I was telling her about these lenses, and tentatively expressed my fear of wearing glasses that would make me stand out. The ones I need are likely a deep rusty rose color (and yes I’ve already explored all of the implications that my doctor is literally prescribing rose colored glasses, so, umm, anyway) and would be quite obvious. I asked MIL, what if people ask me, why are your glasses pink? She said “Tell them you like pink. Get some other pink things, a pink hat, flower, bow, necklace, color your hair pink. Own it. If they want to look let them look. If they want to ask, let them ask, Who cares what they think. If these glasses help you feel better…that’s all that matters, you are all that matters, not them. Just own it. Be someone who wears pink. why not”

I actually cried. My mind was blown. I have never heard such a message of acceptance in my entire life. And to come from someone that is closest to my mother figure, well, it has broken something in me. I needed someone’s permission I think, and she gave it to me. I can be weird. I can like pink. I look different. why not. who cares what they think?

Can I do that? Can I stop hiding? Can I own it? Oh my god I don’t know but I know I want to. Can I be the girl that doesn’t care what I look like when I dance in the rain, all alone? Just be her, own that feeling I get when I’m hiking and carry it with me everywhere? How do I start? I just start. I stop hiding.

I say hello world. This is me. I am not apologizing any more.

OH!

I forgot to add the other message I received from the universe. I was listening to music this morning, and put on Colbie Caillat to see what I got in the youtube mix. She always makes me happy. First song that came on was “Try” and I wasn’t writing yet, so I watched the video, with all these beautiful, unique women, and woah did this message hit me hard. Tears were unstoppable. This is exactly what I needed to hear coming from one of my favorite singers too. So simple – yet beyond powerful. I think I’ve heard the song before, but never absorbed it like today.

You don’t have to try so hard. to belong. Do they like you? you don’t have to bend until you break. you just have to get up. look in the mirror, at yourself. Do you like you? I like You.

Here’s the entire song:

Put your make-up on
Get your nails done
Curl your hair
Run the extra mile
Keep it slim so they like you, do they like you?

Get your sexy on
Don’t be shy, girl
Take it off
This is what you want, to belong, so they like you
Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Mm, mm

Get your shopping on, at the mall, max your credit cards
You don’t have to choose, buy it all, so they like you
Do they like you?

Wait a second,
Why, should you care, what they think of you
When you’re all alone, by yourself, do you like you?
Do you like you?

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to bend until you break
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Mm, mm

You don’t have to try so hard
You don’t have to, give it all away
You just have to get up, get up, get up, get up
You don’t have to change a single thing

You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try, try, try, try
You don’t have to try
You don’t have to try

Take your make-up off
Let your hair down
Take a breath
Look into the mirror, at yourself
Don’t you like you?
‘Cause I like you

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I scream everyday

I am not a thrill seeker, not an adrenaline junkie. I have too much adrenaline in me at all times. It never settles down. My body and brain are always on high alert. Nothing I do can change that, it seems.

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I scream everyday. I don’t mean I raise my voice and yell or lose my temper. No that isn’t. I speak in barely audible tones actually. I mean I scream. The scream of someone who is startled, frightened, sent into panic.

My kids are used to this response and are careful not to sneak up on me, but it doesn’t matter, no one can be careful enough. I am still going to jump and scream about something.

Generally it is when my back is turned and someone says something I don’t expect behind me. That will get a short AHHH, my heart racing, I nearly fall over, brace myself on the counter or wall or chair or whatever is near. I can’t see for a second as I recover, then when I see it is my dog, or kid we all laugh it off. I have learned to laugh, although honestly I don’t find it funny. The fear I feel is real. I laugh so the other person doesn’t feel badly and take my condition too seriously.

If someone unexpectedly touches me, my reaction is even stronger. I scream a bigger, longer, louder scream almost like a howl AAAOOOOHHHHH and I move, run, duck, lash out or some other defensive move. I have hit Hubby – good thing I am not strong. I have pushed the kids away, thankfully never hit them, as I retreat. I have hurt myself, bad scrapes and bruises, as I retreat so quickly. I have bumped into objects, like walls, chairs, railings, bedframes, whatever is between me and the scary thing that touched me. I have lost my balance and fallen too.

I don’t feel like I am anxious or near panic before these events happen. There is not time to breathe and prevent this reaction, they are over so quickly. Like when someone jumps out and says BOO or a snake suddenly crosses your path. You react. I do this all day long, every day, in my own house. I can’t remember not doing this.

But here is something interesting. I remember my mom doing this.

I remember my mom being jumpy. Screaming at silly things, startling if you walked into the room, even if you didn’t say anything. I remember my brothers picking on her, actually playing tricks to make her scream, like bringing in tree branches and saying “look mom, a snake!” I never thought those tricks were funny. I was always careful to be quiet and say “Hey Ma” as I came near so as not to sneak up on her. I hated when she screamed.

But I never thought much about this, about these memories of her until now. I am now of course thinking that she also had PTSD, when she was the age I am now. That she was worn out and frazzled by her abusive husband and whatever else happened to her that I don’t even know about.

I’m also thinking, I wonder if this can have a genetic component. Because not everyone gets PTSD. Some people can endure torture and recover without flashbacks and nervous breakdowns and excessive startle responses. Maybe our nerves were already wired to be sensitive. Maybe I would have always had migraines and ulcers and a high stress body but the repeated traumas put us in full blown PTSD. I don’t know. No one knows. Just some thoughts I had.

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

No lunch,no problem

I defeated anxiety again. This story sounds trivial but it isn’t at all. It shows progress and healing.

My daughter packed a lunch for school and forgot it at home. Last year I would not have been able to do anything about it. The thought of walking into a school office would start the panic. I would rationalize, that it didn’t matter, that it taught them to be responsible, that they won’t really suffer they have money in the account to buy lunch…I had many more excuses for why I didn’t have to hand someone a lunchbox. I was terrified of a two minute errand because it was new, and required social interaction.

So this time I just did it. No excuses. Drove there. Shaking hands, deep breathing. Pause in parking lot for grounding and breathing. I walk up to front door, see a sign saying to use door 2C during school hours. I have never done this. Never gone to this school during session, I didn’t know where 2C was. I felt my heart racing faster, feeling stupid, I start pulling on locked door after locked door. None of them are labeled anything, let alone 2C. 

Then I see it! Painted so big I might be able to see it from home, if not from the moon, a huge 2C on a door by itself. I enter that one to find myself in a type of airlock, a secretary in what I assume was bullet proof glass with only a vent hole to speak through like at a bank or subway. Wow. Sad they had to design it this way, but I understand I guess. And I am the one with unbalanced thoughts regarding safety? Hmm.

Anyway, I waved the lunchbox, and managed a sheepish grin. She buzzed me in. I already had my girl’s name and teacher on a sticky note, so the secretary just said she would make sure she got it and smiled nicely. I thanked her and hoped my face smiled back and that she didn’t see the terror in my eyes.

If I could have ran I would have, but instead I walked back to my car, gasped for air like I had been under water, and drove home once I could feel my fingers.

So prior to last year, this task would not have stressed me. But at some point everything like this became impossible. So I am healing from that. But what is even more remarkable, is my understanding of my fear, because now I can hear my thoughts, my stuck points.

I was afraid to do something wrong, to be stupid, to be laughed at, to get caught making a mistake when I should know better, for someone to figure out I had never been to the school before and ask me why, for someone to figure out my secrets.

The thing is, no one cares. People in this world don’t mind when I don’t know something and don’t care about my secrets. They just want to do their jobs. People in this world are generally friendly or at least not the cruel enemies AF had created in his delusional world.

You can’t force an uneasy mind

When anxiety takes hold, or even anxiety’s precursor of overthinking, the mind is in a dangerous system overload. A talented pilot can recognize the danger signs and possibly pull up out of the death spiral before stalling out and nosediving. But even the most talented cannot be forced through the anxiety, forced to overcome the fear, to get over it, or snap out of it.

Pulling yourself up out of the grips of anxiety takes awareness, self compassion, and plenty of practice. The earlier you catch it, the easier it is to apply the brakes. At some point, it is a lost cause and all you can do is wait it out and breathe. 

The worst thing that can happen to an anxious person, is the addition of more stress by expressing frustration, disappointment, even anger. Yelling and asking the anxious person to rush, to do what they fear, will escalate the anxiety and cause further delay. An anxious person already feels like a freak and would love some gentle, quiet support, some sympathy and understanding, someone next to them so they aren’t so alone.

We feel so alone, so often, and we hate it.

Doing the impossible

Fear, anxiety, panic, triggers…these can make certain things seem impossible because you feel like you are dying or battling lions or jumping out of airplanes. We can’t do it because we have the stress chemicals in our bodies as if we are in a life or death situation. We can try reasoning, you will be fine, and it helps, but is not always enough to overcome how we feel. If you feel like your head is in the mouth of the lion already, you are sweating, heart racing, choking, about to scream, vomit or pass out…saying to yourself, or hearing someone else say “you are safe, you will be fine” seems like a lie. In that moment I have to trust my feelings, it is how our bodies are designed to keep us safe.

So I can wait out this response though, and try not to trigger it to level 10. If I approach something that causes this response in me very slowly, breathe through it, wait until I am calm again, I can keep moving forward.

I have successfully tackled a few items on my avoidance list using this method. I prefer to do it all in one day, but very slowly, rather than repeated exposures on multiple days as my counselor suggested. I use my ability to hyperfocus. 

There was an entire city I was avoiding. I completed an art commission there with an intimidating man. He fooled me and my name got involved with a lawsuit from another artist. I had huge amounts of guilt, shame, and overall feelings of failure. I have avoided the city to avoid seeing my art, avoid running into this man, and avoid confronting my feelings.

Last week I decided it was time to stop avoiding this. I headed to that city and got to my safe zone, about 5 miles away, and pulled over at a park. I stayed there about 20-30 minutes until I felt restless and bored instead of anxious. I drove a little closer until I felt like choking and pulled over at a Walmart. I went in and bought some cookies. I ate a few until I was calm and drove a bit closer. Next I stopped at McDonalds and got some coffee to go with my cookies. This stop took a little longer. I did some writing on my phone to distract me. I drove a little closer and stopped at a movie theater. I looked up the movies and considered seeing one, but nothing sounded interesting or worth the back pain of seats not meant for me. I drove closer and realized I was on the same street now as my art. I was feeling dizzy, so pulled over again and did some breathing exercises and texted my sis in law. I drove again and parked across and down the the street from my art. I could just see it now. I cried. I cried a lot.

I sat there for about 2 hours, looking at my art, crying, feeling hurt, angry, guilty, sad, whatever came up I allowed myself to feel it. I listened to the radio and wrote to online friends. Then another wave would hit and I cried again. Once it was dark and the place had closed, and I was sure I would not run into the owner that hired me, I drove across the street and into the drive next to it to really see my art close up. I have not been here for years. It was in bad shape. Many spots were damaged by weather and many were repaired by less skilled artists. Oddly, this made me happy. It brought me comfort that it no longer resembles my work and I can get some distance from it now.

I drove past it again yesterday with no anxiety, no hesitation, just a bit of sadness, no crying.

So I am learning how to process these huge emotions, stop avoiding so much of my life, and keep moving forward as I heal.

People keep expecting me to be normal

I am far from normal. I used to pretend really well. I used to smile and force myself through each day desperate to blend in, to hide my troubles, to appear normal. It used to be easier, with numbed out emotions, drinking too much, and dissociating. Now that I am present, the world continues to be terrifying and overwhelming. Triggers wait for me around each bend, around each thought at times. 

This is my new normal. I have complex PTSD. I have for many years, but I am in a different stage now. I know it is confusing. You and I both know intellectually this thing, whatever it is today, that I am unable to do is safe, totally not dangerous at all. And yet I have to do mental and breathing exercises to prepare for it. 

Sometimes I get hit with a triggering event or multiple events so fast I am not even sure why I changed my mind until I reflect and fill out ABC and challenging belief sheets later. All I know in the moment is I want to go home or stay home or get out of the room you are in and hide. The shame and fear chokes me.

All I do know is that if you keep expecting me to have normal reactions and act surprised, angry, hurt, confused each time I am triggered, like you don’t know me at all, then my shame is increased. You want me to be better, but I am not. I am sorry.