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Trauma is in the eye of the beholder

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What do people really think about you? What are you showing them? Well what they think depends on how they frame it in their minds anyway. So much subjectivity, so much interpretation and assumption.

I’ve become increasingly interested in my doctors varying opinions of my mood lately and how it applies to my future. As most of you know, as soon as you have “Psych” history on your record, it can be difficult to get medical attention without doctors telling you how you feel and that somehow trauma and depression are actually causing the issues, not anything they can solve, and you end up with another referral for therapy.

If you have an “extensive Psych” history like mine, it is almost impossible.

I started comparing notes.

My back surgeon notes that I am pleasant and upbeat, cheerful, even 3 weeks post surgery when my pain level was still quite high.

But the neuropsych team inote, flat affect, appears to be severely depressed, speaking noticeably slowly, moved to tears.

Let’s see what is the difference here? It’s not just that the psych team is looking for it, I’m not saying that, I am behaving differently in these appointments. Hmmm, I wonder why? Seriously. That was snarky if you couldn’t tell. OK let me spell it out by giving you a glimpse of the conversations.

When I am talking with my back surgeon, I am grateful, he has changed my life, reduced my pain, restored strength and balance to my weak leg. He see me as strong, able, resilient, and able to do whatever I want to do. He knows nothing about my traumatic past and never has asked about it. He expects me to heal, because nerves, bones and muscles heal at an expected rate.

When I am talking with the psych team, they continually poke and prod about the relationship with my parents and brothers and husband. They force me to relive and retell some of the worst moments of my life. Usually I am meeting someone new, forced to tell my story to someone I do not fully trust for them to make another assessment of my condition. My flat affect is me trying to remain calm and choose my words carefully, knowing I am being judged. My tears are me, reacting to pain in the moment, recalling my sorrow.

But I don’t live there in that sorrow. Each doctor is only seeing a snapshot of me, a moment of me, not all of me, not how I function each day all day, not my life. I wonder how many people can retell their worst fears and memories without appearing traumatized. Even if you weren’t abused, I bet if you spent 3 hours describing every pet that died, how you miss your grandparents, maybe you were bullied, your boyfriend broke your heart in high school, your friend died in a car crash or overdose, your parents split up – whatever – life is full of heartache and tragic moments that we don’t call abuse. I bet if you made a list of them and described them out loud, that any “normal” person would appear depressed and traumatized and dysfunctional.

I don’t think its me that needs realistic expectations, I think it is the medical community. I almost want to prove my theory by starting over with a new doctor, stating I have a brain injury from purely physical means, caught in a shockwave perhaps and see I still have the same sad “Sorry but we can’t help you, you’ve been through too much to get better at this point in your life” story. I bet I would get sent to rehab and expected to heal if I didn’t have a psych history.

Well I expect more of myself, always have. Yeah, I got knocked down. But I’ve been down before, so what. I am out there jogging you guys. It isn’t beautiful, I mean I won’t win any medals, but I am not using a cane and both feet leave the ground at a pace faster than walking. I know I am healing. I know what I can do. I can do more.

I don’t care about my history, its irrelevant at this point. My brain doesn’t care. I am no longer being traumatized. I am sleeping, eating well, exercising, going to therapy, doing brain training games, pushing towards creative thought – why can’t I expect healing to happen? I don’t have a bunch of faith, but I’ve always believed in resiliency, set a goal, make a path, and eventually you get there.

My therapist thinks my lack of creativity is tied more to grief than brain damage. I’m starting to think she is right. My mom was my constant cheerleader, so supportive of my artwork and writing. I always shared my ideas and progress with her, always created for her, and she poured on the constant praise, sometimes annoyingly so, and almost over the top. I think I depended on that more than I ever knew though. Without her daily comments on my blogs, her multiple emails, I have no one else cheering me on, encouraging me to draw something today, asking what my next project will be, asking me to make something for her. She kept me going. I see this now. So at some point I will have to draw through the tears, and just keep going, until I am drawing for myself and the world, and show her that her years of support were enough to keep me going even after she is gone. I need to feel this pain of missing her and draw anyway. Somehow with my teary eyes and shaky hands I know this is the next step I need to take. An empty page has never been so frightening.

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Running, running

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Running, running to catch a star
She needs to go, go so far
away
from there and here
she is
Blindly leaping, crazed, and dazed
Idiots they are amazed
by her
They are running, running to catch a lie
stick a needle in your eye
promises broken, again she cries
screaming silently, can’t you hear
from there and here
she is
Running, running to catch a thief
A stolen life, eternal grief
lost
before being found
Her shooting star, was shot down
nearly lifeless to the ground
Running, running, to catch release
She needs to find that life can cease
to chase her
from there and here
She is
Blindly leaping, abused and bruised
lost and confused
seeking
only
peace

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. 

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.

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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.

Staying present is harder than it looks

Flashbacks have been hurtling me into the past, into this odd blended world where past blends and merges with present in completely confusing ways.

Seeing my sick dog lying there, I suddenly was 8 years old and seeing the dog AF poisoned. The image superimposed, so childhood dog is on top of my real dog like a transparent photoshop layer that at moments is opaque and seems oh so real.

In those moments, I relive the trauma as it happened. Not just like watching a movie, as that would be only sight and sound. This is the entire experience, all of the smells, thoughts, fears, sadness, helplessness. I hear AF laughing, his cruel voice saying the stupid beast got what it deserved. I feel it in my skin and bones. It takes every ounce of energy to remind myself I am an adult, not a child, that I am safe, that this is a different dog, and no one poisoned him, he is sick.

I go through grounding exercises. I look at my hands and breathe and count. I look in the mirror. I tell myself AF is not here, he is gone. I am safe. I can help this dog. I don’t have to watch it die. He can’t make me watch it die. No one will laugh. I can go to the vet. I am in charge. I am okay.

I slip in and out of reality several times as I see my dog struggle. I have not slipped like this since the day I revisited the building of my childhood back surgeon.

Some triggers are just too strong. Some events were just too horrible.

Hubby says maybe I can finally grieve for that dog now, combining with current grief maybe. That I can say goodbye to her also when we have our little funeral. I don’t know if it will help, but I think it is worth a try to get some closure on that.

I don’t have any pictures of that childhood dog, but I started googling and I think she was part border terrier. She was really ugly! All straggly hair, mostly black, some white. But she was awesome, a good friend, and a good frisbee player. She would fetch anything and was always outside with me.

**Next part is graphic, stop reading if you don’t want to know**

It took her three days to die and none of us were allowed to help or comfort her. She climbed onto my brothers bed and stayed there, filling it with blood, as it seemed to leak out of her everywhere. The blood dripped off in a little stream at one point, dripping onto the floor. Her tongue hung out as she gasped for air. Her eyes were gummy and staring at nothing. Once in a while she would convulse, kicking her legs wildly, then nothing but gasping again. We were not allowed to hold her head or give her water. All I could do was stand in the doorway and watch, helpless, as my friend died in the most horrible way and AF laughed.

There were other animals he hurt too, but this was the worst and most difficult to erase from my mind. I don’t know how to put something that devastating into perspective. I can’t help that dog or that little girl and I can’t explain why it happened. So my brain keeps it active, in case one day I may figure it out?

So I am hoping that grief is the answer. There is no why. He was cruel, that is it. There was nothing I could have done. I need to grieve for the loss of the dog and the pain of the little girl. I’ll see if I can, and if it works. Because this is one flashback I would really like to stop seeing, please.

Rest in peace, my good boy

This morning I was fairly certain what was to come. I tried to prepare my kids that their dog might not be coming back home. I explained we would try to help, but if the vet thought it was best, we would instead make a choice to end his suffering.

My kids all gathered round and lay on the floor hugging the sick, barely moving dog. They formed a nest around him, each one crying while they petted him. Then it was time to go. Our 10 yr old put himself over the dog and said, “no, you can’t take him, he is not ready to die! I will protect him.”

Oh no. Now what. He doesn’t understand. The other kids do, but he does not, as is usual.

Hubby had to physically pry him off and remove him from the dog. We promised him we would do everything possible to help and would make the best decision for the dog, maybe not for us.

He slammed his door as we left. So angry at us.

At the vet, I minutes later, I said goodbye to my sweet dog. I already knew that the vet was not going to have good news, but when I saw that he had lost 10 pounds since his last checkup it cemented how poorly he has been doing for some time now and made the decision somewhat easier.

He had barely eaten in several days, could barely stand. We were carrying him up and down the stairs to get to the grass. He was not even attempting to stand on his own. He would drink if we brought a bowl and held it just right. His head was stuck at an odd angle, he was unable to lift it upright.

The vet said the vestibular disease could pass…in 3 more days or 3 months if it was an infection, or it may keep getting worse if it was a brain disease. Counting in his confusion and anxiety, and his snapping at us lately, plus the large number of fibroids all over him, we were thinking brain involvement.

If we were able to possibly nurse him to recovery, he would be weakened and stiff. He could barely stand already, with his hip displacement and arthritis. He looked at me, so sad and tired, and I wanted to end his pain.

I signed the termination papers with shaky hands and blurry vision through my tears.

The vet first gave him a sedative. We petted and talked to him while he fell asleep on the table, but cradled in our arms. Then she shaved his leg and delivered a lethal injection. Hubby and I were both crying now. I was using kleenex after kleenex, petting him and rubbing his ears the whole time. Hubby and I recalled happy puppy days and other stories, and then we hugged each other.

After a bit the vet listened to his heart and ordered another injection. She used the other leg. We continued to pet him for nearly 30 excruciating minutes. The vet checked again and said we should go, they would need to administer another injection in the back room, that his veins were blowing and not delivering the full dosage to his heart. She apologized and had tears in her eyes too.

I didn’t want to leave him, but she said she would stay with him herself, he wouldn’t be alone.

So we left. With tears running down our faces. With heavy hearts and empty hands. To return home to our kids.

Our 10 yr old saw the empty leash and screamed, “noooo, you killed the dog” and started crying. We tried to explain that he could never get better, that his brain was sick, and we were being kind, humane, to end his pain. Again the other kids understood, but not him.

I’m not sure how else to explain it. I did not want to lie about any of it or bring home my dog to slowly die a painful death. I know I did the right thing. I’m just not sure middle kid is ever going to agree or forgive me.

I fed only one dog dinner tonight where usually two eat. The other dog looked around the house and at me, sad and confused. I told her, its okay, you will be dining alone now. Go ahead and eat girl. This is going to be tough on all of us here.

Rest in peace my sweet boy. You will always be loved. I pray you are pain free and running happily now. I pray I truly did make the right decision for you. I’m so sorry you are gone. So sorry.

Hiding and crying

I can’t look at him. See his pain. He is crushed. My 8 yr old has a birthday party today. We are not good at social stuff and don’t know any parents in town. He sent invitations out in class and no one rsvp’d yes or no, so I assumed there would be some yesses that just show up.

Nope.

We are sitting here with pizza, cake, balloons, streamers, an empty house, and a devastated kid staring out the window in case someone shows up.

I don’t know what we are doing wrong. I don’t know how to fit into this small town if they never let me.

I feel like this is all my fault and I have failed him. He is supposed to be laughing and playing games. Not feeling like a loser. I don’t know how to fix this.

So I come up to my room, it is unbearable to watch him any more. I check my email and get a reminder from the ecard service I always used for my mom’s birthday. Her birthday is tomorrow.

Now I miss her and feel like I screwed that up too. I can never tell her happy birthday ever again. She’s just gone.

I don’t know what to do, except cry. I hope hubby doesn’t need me, because this is not stopping any time soon.

I’m sorry kiddo.

I’m sorry mom.

I love you both and I do my best. Sometimes it isn’t good enough.