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How to Socialize an Adult

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I’d go out much more often if the world was full of bubbles. Something to think about.

Okay but the world isn’t full of bubbles. And I’m not 4, so its not socially acceptable for me to blow bubbles everywhere I go. Socially acceptable – Yuck – I hate that.

See, I was not properly socialized when I was little. I was not exactly raised by wolves, no, I think wolves would have done a better job.

So what is an adult to do, when she finds herself in her forties, wow, yes, forties now, and completely alone? I have never learned to make friends, not really, not the kind that lasts or that will be helpful and supportive. I have only learned to blend in, hang out, be a part of a group. When I start actually getting to know people, or letting them know me…stuff goes all wonkers.

So a quick recap, thanks to neuropsych dude, I know I have never felt safe, and I have these rules and alarm bells for how I operate to keep myself safe. Even though I may not need to be so strict now, these rules and bells are hard wired, they formed in my brain to help me grow up. Am I doomed to always be alone because of them?

I have been taking first steps at genuine friendships. Face to face was way to scary, so I have been using a variety of online friendship apps. I find that behind the safety of my phone or computer, and the delay of texting, I can calm down those alarm bells and proceed further with people than I can in real life. In real life, I shut down or run away, not great friend making skills.

I’ve been using friendship apps that have a no flirting, no dating policy. I’m actually finding genuine people this way, instead of the multitude of creeps I was finding online at the other sites, even when I would say I’m not interested, BAM an unsavory pic sent to my text. No thanks, goodbye.

I’m starting to believe there are good people out there, but so far I have not found any near enough to me to meet for coffee or whatever. But I am patient, and building skills. And more important, people are reaching out to me with kindness, showering me with it. They check in on me, encourage me, and also get me to do some tough thinking to help me get unstuck. One is helping me to find my spark, my words, get me to start writing and painting again. They are becoming…true friends? wow.

I am so grateful.

Maybe I can do this

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Internal Conflicts

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I am not at peace. Nothing in me is at peace. I sense the battle, I feel like I am fighting, and its because I am. Even within myself, my own systems, my own body parts are at odds, creating pain and conflict.

I could give so many examples, literal and more abstract. The point I’m trying to make is a concrete one today though, as I discover yet another physical issue, a malfunction, a deformity of my bones. I can poke fun a bit today, because yesterday I cried. I’m done crying so I am dealing with this the only way I know how.

So my big toe has been hurting. Not a major concern to me, it has hurt most of my life, but much more so recently. It aches after I walk. I assumed it was due to a few factors: a horse stepped on it when I was about 7 and I received no medical care, it is on my weaker leg with drop foot, I stomp and stub and don’t walk properly on that foot for most of my life. I figured it was hurting more now perhaps because I am walking better? Using my toe more? hmm. Or do I have more feeling in that foot now since the recent back surgery? Was it always hurting this much? Not sure.

What I do know is that it never used to look like a zombie toe. Yep. Now after I walk, especially on uneven ground like gravel or hills, my toes fills with blood, like internal bruises. Black plague? Despite appearances I don’t think so…so I went for an xray and my doctor says nothing is broken, maybe I sprained it, and I should get new shoes. Umm okay.

6 weeks and a new pair of shoes later, I still have zombie toe. I saw a podiatrist yesterday. After more xrays, he is confused, and comes in the room with my favorite phrase. Wait for it, you know what’s coming, right?

“I’ve never seen this before”

Sigh

Okay what special lottery did I win this time? Apparently my toe joint did not grow correctly.  It has been this way for most of my life. Oh! The joint is too small, missing the cup, bulbous portion to support and lock, to provide balance. It is up too high and needs to travel too far to reach the ground, my foot needs to twist and flex to support me. My toe is hyperflexing at that joint, busting blood vessels. Not a birth defect but a growth defect, possibly related to scoliosis, or possibly that horse injured the growth plate, but it doesn’t look like it was ever injured or broken, just never grew properly. Apparently, limping on it for 28 years has concealed this issue, actually done me a favor but now that I’m putting all of my weight and attempting to correct my gait to use a proper heel toe roll step instead of the drag slap I was using, it is stressing my malformed toe.

Seriously

So I still can’t walk correctly or get up to jogging without breaking my toe off. Okay. Sure.

What the FUCK?? OKay, I am trying to keep my cool, but why does the universe not want me to walk or run?? Why is this so damn hard? I want to kick this stupid life in the face but it would hurt my stupid deformed toes so I won’t.

So now what? Well they sent me home with a make shift support brace made out of tape, spray glued onto my foot, that’s supposed to last several days if I keep it dry. I can retape it then myself maybe. Then they made molds of my feet and are making me custom orthotics to support my freaky feet. I’ll get those in a few weeks.

They said it will be very painful, because we need to move the bones, like braces on teeth, it will be a slow process. Part support and part correction from years of walking incorrectly. Tight ligaments, weak muscles, loose joints, a real mess. He added a new rx to my PT regimen for my foot for stretching and strengthening to help with gait. I may never walk without a limp. Yeah okay, just what I wanted to hear.

This tape already affects how I walk, since I can’t flex my foot, it is hurting my knee and hip to compensate. I feel all off balance, and its just some tape. Not looking forward to stiff orthotics in my shoes. That’s just me complaining, sorry. I’ll do it, and I’ll be okay. But I guess I was using my foot to make up for the lack of flexibility, now that my spine is fused to my pelvis, I am walking totally different than prior to this surgery. I feel like an android with new programming, just working out the kinks to walking 4.2, please wait.

I may have always been destined to have a limp, even without the neurological issues that arose from the back surgery. The shape of my foot is so strange. My mind is blown.

I struggled to find shoes that fit me comfortably as a kid, even before the surgery, and I was delayed in many motor skills, like I was 10 before I could ride a bike without training wheels. I was ridiculed for this, never taken to a doctor to see why.

I want to hate my body each time I get more news of my freakiness. I hold back tears until I reach my car in the parking lot each time a doctor says, woah that’s odd, and gets all confused about how to proceed. I want to start over with healthy bones and nerves. I imagine for moments what life must be like for people that just get up and walk with no effort, but that isn’t helpful. I can’t fight this. I can’t hate it, that would be hating me, and I know that gets me nowhere and I’m tired of being nowhere.

No, I need to accept this too, work on compassionately comforting my pain, coming up with a treatment plan to correct or at least slow the progress from getting worse. I need to protect myself. Those quick thoughts that yes, my parents should have done this for me 30 years ago pass over me, overwhelm me with anger and sadness, but then I let it out and let it go. That’s over. Its up to me now. I’m here and ready to do what needs to be done.

I have a feeling all of my bones are formed wrong if they xrayed everything and I don’t just have scoliosis but some other bone/nerve disease. I know my shoulders have similar issues like my toes. I’d bet you anything my hip, knee and finger pain would find anomalies if we investigated. I mean I use a weirdo mouse for my thumb pain and have braces periodically for my ankle, knee, elbow….hmmm. I’m trying to find the connection, asthma, migraines, scoliosis, joint problems, balance issues, muscle cramps, weakness and twitches, leg movement during sleep, sensory issues, feeling cold, fatigue, sleep issues. I found CMT which has some similarities but my feet don’t look like that, not yet anyway. I read some people did not get diagnosed until age 60-70 because it progressed slowly their whole lives. I think I may mention it to my neurologist anyway, get them thinking more holistically if I can. I know this is all connected somehow. I feel so certain my mom did not have fibromyalgia but whatever this mystery condition is, and that I have it, and so do my kids. Maybe genetic testing can be done? I’ll have to ask. I feel so certain that if I didn’t have the trauma component I would already be diagnosed. But I can’t stay on that thought either. Just keep pushing onward.

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.

Accept or Fight

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When another doctor tells you that what you want is not possible and you need to accept that and set more realistic goals for yourself, do you do it or do you keep fighting for what you want?

I have seen a team of neurologists and neuropsychologists now.  They are all singing a similar tune. That I am different. That I have to accept that I cannot return to the previous version of me that I recall before the brain injuries. (I’m not sure if I have discussed the extent of my brain injuries here, I haven’t wanted to talk much about it and writing was so difficult before. But I have some serious cognitive dysfunction, memory gaps, processing delays, visual lags and disturbances, sensory overload….it goes on.) That skills like creativity, and certain personality changes, once altered, do not heal and come back, at least not identical to what they once were. I may be able to enhance what I have, but I will never be who I used to be.

I may never be able to do what I used to do.

Every time I think of this as a fleeting thought, the tears return.

Another esteemed doctor told me this again yesterday. They are well educated, at a great hospital, known for their expertise, and my gut trusts them. However, there is also something in me that is screaming they are wrong. Doctors once told me I may never walk again, that my weakened leg would never regain muscle tone. Well look who is out there attempting to jog. So I don’t accept “never” as a final diagnosis. I feel like I’m still in here, just slowed down.

He recommended I either apply for disability or try to work with a vocational counselor, but he doesn’t think I can keep up with the pace and demands of a job. That was harsh, but possibly true. I may be overestimating my stamina at this point because I want to be better.

He said that I am still traumatized, understandably, and that for me, the trauma never stopped. 40 years of trauma. He said that would be enough to break anyone. But add all my medical issues and it was like adding gasoline to a fire. And then on top of that, a stressful marital relationship, he says it was a cascade of events and none of them were good for brain health.

We talked about my social support network, and I said I’m all alone, completely. I have a few online friends and my counselor. We talked about how I isolate myself and why. I told him about how I have low tolerance for people, no matter how much I try, I can’t enjoy being with them, or think they aren’t good people when they make fun of others, are greedy, I catch them lying or cheating, etc. I said I try to turn down my moral standards but I can’t. He said something I never heard before. He said of course you can’t. You have never felt safe in your life. As soon as someone says or does something that makes them have any possibility of being a bad person, you go into self protection mode and either stop talking, leave the room, or hide or whichever other skills you have learned to avoid conflict and being noticed. This is to keep yourself safe. It makes perfect sense and is your core belief stronger than all others. Safety comes first.

My jaw dropped, and I felt angry a bit, kind of embarrassed, and I wanted to say he was wrong, to fight that, but as it sunk in, and so many social interactions spanning 40 years flashed across my mind. Holy crap. He is right.

Here I was thinking I was over my trauma and it didn’t matter any more. That I was an introvert and yeah maybe I was wired differently, or maybe on the aspberger spectrum, or maybe just get annoyed with small talk and petty people. But no. Every social decision ever has come down to safety.

He said the right trauma based psychologist may be able to assist me with that component and he would help me to locate one near me to work with. He said I can’t live the rest of my life alone, or I will continue to deterioriate.

I don’t know. I feel like I’ve tried. I feel like the people that accepted me never accepted the real me and when I do reveal the real me people run for the hills, unable to handle me. So maybe someone can help me find this tightrope skill of balance of how to build a relationship that I feel safe in, connected to the other person in a real way, without overwhelming the other person with my intensity.

I think figuring that out will help me in any job I may come to have in the future, whether I go through the disabled workers board or get one on my own.

I do know that I want to be a part of the world and connected to people, to good genuine people, and I just don’t know how.

I do know I’m not ready to give up and get on disability and never work again. I think I still have something to offer. I’m still smart in some ways, just really slow, and get tired out quickly. I’m hopeful the new migraine meds will start helping with some of that too. I’m hopeful that my family is done adding trauma to my life and I can finally move ahead on my own. My parents are gone, my brothers aren’t speaking to me. The hole hurts, but an empty hole is a dull ache, not like the tortuous pain of constant flaming daggers tossed at you.

It doesn’t matter – Yes it does!

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What you do matters. What you want matters. How you feel matters.

I’m ready to start my list and I figured out why it is so difficult. Remember those stuck points from cognitive processing therapy?  It seems I am still stuck, big time, on a major one.

“It doesn’t matter” or, related but even bigger,”I don’t matter”

Those two thoughts run rampant in my head, causing downward spirals into negative thinking, but even worse, causing numbness, thoughts of worthlessness, causing my protective shields to go up full force and dissociation to engage.

How do I get past this one when it is so huge? I need to build off those sparks I wrote about previously. Those moments when life sneaks through and I do feel something. I must be in here. And then I parent myself. What if my daughter had no desires? What if she thought it didn’t matter what she wanted? What if she thought she didn’t matter?

Okay. Wow. That hurts, unbelievably so. To even imagine for a moment another child having these thoughts is unbearably painful and brings tears to my eyes. But for me – for me it is truth. Okay. So this is how I will get my motivation and feel something, and get my head on straight. I’ll tap into this pain, because this pain is feeling alive. This pain brings me strength as it washes over me and I realize if only for a moment that if my beautiful children matter, then I must have to. I must still matter. It is just so hard to hold onto that. And now I know I matter most because I have taught my children they do matter. They know it in every cell. They will never question it or hear this in their heads. And I matter to Hubby. I now understand his pain when I say I don’t. Wow. Okay.

So if I take that realization, that raw emotion, my inner strength – how do I make a list of what I want? This is still really hard….

http://jackcanfield.com/blog/know-really-want-life-decide-today/

Excerpt:

Stop Settling for “I Don’t Care, I Don’t Know, and It Doesn’t Matter to Me.”

It doesn’t matter how small the decision, to begin reclaiming your right to decide what you want, have a preference. Yours is just as important as anybody else’s so speak up, voice yourself.

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If you are having a hard time figuring out the one thing you want from your life, why not choose thirty? That’s right. On a piece of paper, write down a list of 30 things you want to do, 30 things you want to have, and 30 things you want be before you die. Sometimes when the pressure to find just one thing is removed, the floodgates open and you discover that there are a multitude of things that you want to do with and in your successful life.

Make an “I want” List

For 10-15 minutes have a friend record your answers to the simple question, “What do you want?” During the allotted time, have your friend ask you the question over and over again. If you’re like most people, your list will range from the very material things to matters of the heart and the true revelations of who you are and what you want from your most true self. Go ahead, start asking: What do you want? What do you want? I want! I want!

So I’ve been trying to trick myself. Ask what I want (what I really really want, I’ll tell you what I want, what I really really want (sorry for the Spice Girls intrusion)) so quickly that I get a response before my stuck points engage and all my defenses kick in.

I also saw a comment on that page that helped a bit

“I’ve always had a hard time making “I want” lists, so I started with “I don’t want” instead. It’s amazing to see how much hard work we can put into getting things that we don’t even want. Once we eliminate some of those, it’s much easier to see what we do want!”

Things I don’t want? Hmmm let’s try that:

  1. A sunburn
  2. Trump as president
  3. Fake friends
  4. a meaningless job
  5. insects. except maybe honey bees
  6. cancer for anyone else I know
  7. to feel dead inside
  8. to fear so much
  9. to waste my life
  10. to ruin my kids’ lives
  11. to hurt or bother people
  12. to feel irritated or bored all the time
  13. to go on a cruise
  14. to scuba dive or snorkel
  15. to be alone
  16. Poison Ivy
  17. lose my sight
  18. to gamble my money
  19. noisy, smelly fish tanks in my house
  20. to be homeless

30 is hard, so I’ll stop at 20. That was interesting what popped into my brain. So let’s reverse now. What do I want? (remember – do not think about money or what feels possible, only what you want. If you want it but think “that will never happen”, it still needs to be on the list) The first thing I keep hearing is: travel. Go somewhere. Get out of the house. Get out of the state. See something new. Do something.

  1. Travel somewhere I have never been before that has an amazing natural view, landscape, or rich history – mountains, lakes, caverns, forests, rivers, estates, cabins,  mansions, museums, parks, etc
  2. Experience Gershwin Rhapsody in Blue live with full symphony
  3. Take kids to see Joseph and Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat
  4. Go to a concert without kids – Zac Brown, 21 Pilots, Jack Johnson, Shaggy, Lumineers, Chili Peppers, Chicago…so many options
  5. Walk on a white sand beach
  6. Take kids to Niagara Falls
  7. Write a novel (finish the one I started ?)
  8. See the stars in the giant telescope at the observatory
  9. Hear a jazz band in New Orleans
  10. Sit on a horse (I’m not allowed to ride…)
  11. Paint a large painting from my heart
  12. Join a club or meetup group (hiking, art, photography, writing, book club, drum circle…)
  13. Explore Machu Picchu
  14. Take canoe trip down a river
  15. Join a performance group – get on stage again
  16. Take a weekend getaway with hubby and no kids
  17. rescue and train dogs, certify service dogs
  18. grow fresh herbs indoors
  19. illustrate a children’s book
  20. write and illustrate a book of poetry
  21. get a tattoo
  22. save the world
  23. research and write about the brain and behavior
  24. cure PTSD
  25. find where I fit in, a job with meaning
  26. make a friend to have a coffee with once in a while
  27. be a good person, feel like a good person, feel like a person
  28. See original art from Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Dali, Botticelli, Michelangelo….
  29. Do something that afterwards I say “I can’t believe I just did that!”
  30. Drive a fast motorboat

What do you want to do today?

What if there was no tomorrow? What if you couldn’t rely on tomorrow and another tomorrow and another to delay your dreams, goals and desires? What do you want to do today?

This video is from one of our favorite shows, Phineas and Ferb. Everyday these boys fight summer boredom by coming up with something outrageous to do. So many catch phrases and twisted plots, nerdy humor, and awesome musical numbers. Everyday they say I know what I want to do today. And then they do it. Whether it is building a roller coaster, a time machine, a winter wonderland, robot clones…And of course their pet platypus is actually a secret agent fighting against an evil scientist and no one knows… We just love this show.

I’m guessing most of you spend most of your time doing things you don’t want to do. You trudge through life, running endless errands, doing tedious chores. Maybe you don’t hate your job, but most people seem awful happy to get a day off. But then how do you spend your day off? Escaping life in front of the TV? Are you bored? Tired? Do you even know it?

When is the last time you truly felt alive?

Hmmm.

I’m not sure most of us are actually living. If you are, please ignore this. I do know some people that skydive and run with the bulls or climb Mt Everest or whatever. Or I know some people that are going back to school to pursue the career they actually wanted. Living can take very different forms but I do think some key ideas are central.

How to feel alive:

  1. Do something you want to do everyday, not only out of obligation
  2. Tackle your fears – you decide which ones need tackling
  3. Have multiple goals, little ones and big ones, and not all of them related to self-improvement, some are just for fun because you want to do them
  4. Practice mindfulness, live in the moment, experience everything NOW

I think that’s how to get started. I say I think, because I am not truly living. I can’t tell you the last time I felt alive. It has been years, many years. I am idling through life right now, going through the motions of what needs to get done. I enjoy moments, not saying that I don’t. This is different. I might enjoy leveling up in my video game, or that snuggly feeling watching a movie with my kids on my lap. Those are nice. But they don’t fuel me, keep me going, or make me feel alive, move me towards a greater goal, define me, fill me with awe or rock my world if you will.

I want to be amazed. I want to be overjoyed. I want to be excited. I want to feel.

I want to learn. I want to create. I want to grow. I want to experience. I want to share.

I want to feel alive.

So I’m going to start a list full of things I want to do, fears I want to tackle, and goals I want to accomplish. I would list it now for you, but I can’t. My list is sadly empty. White space and crickets. I don’t know what I want. Hmm. So I guess then

Goal #1 – figure out what I want and make a list

There I started it!!

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