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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!!

Get Motivated. Right Now.

How do you reach that motivational state of mind?

Motivation is tricky and not well understood. It is not linear or one sided. No motivation is complex and loopy and involves multiple factors, some within us, some external to us. Each move we make is a choice. How do we choose?

Our motivation is a combination of our beliefs, our goals, our dreams, our environment, and our mood. Currently I’m in a safe environment that is a bit lax on housekeeping standards. No one here cares if I leave some dishes in the sink or dust on the shelves. No one cares if the papers pile up on the counter. The clutter is overlooked.

I would prefer if everything was perfect and tidy at all times. Somehow I allow myself to overlook the clutter as well, feeling overwhelmed and defeated by it, by the repetition, by the fact that even if I clean it all up perfectly now it will be destroyed later the same day. I can’t keep up so I stop trying. I lost my motivation long ago in this losing battle.

But when someone is coming over to visit, I dig in deep and take care of it. I talk to myself encouragingly to get the job done. I break it down into small steps and lists. This may sound silly. If it does, then I am happy for you that brain functions without you having to kick its ass. If I don’t jumpstart mine, I will remain motionless, thoughtless, an empty shell trapped inside itself. I have tried being my own drill sergeant. That makes me angry and stubborn. No, I like to be my own nurturing mom, holding my hand, gently reminding and encouraging myself that I can do it and what I need to do next. I speak to myself firmly but gently, just like I do to my own kids when I give them instructions. They listen to me because I’m supportive and authoritative. They know there will be consequences if they don’t

Make yourself some coffee
Load the dishwasher
Wipe down the counters
Sort the papers from the hutch

Go on, get up, get started, you can do this. (give possible consequence: You don’t want so-and-so to see this mess, right?) back to supporting. It won’t take long. You’re strong now. Just get started and it will be done before you know it.
Coffee, dishes, counters, hutch

Coffee, dishes, counters, hutch

I turn into a Dora the Explorer episode, repeating to myself what I am going to do. I usually do about 3-4 things in my list. Then I start a new list if more needs done, so nothing gets overwhelming. Often I turn on music once I have my list going in my head.

But something always happens, I can feel the change in my brain and mood once I make the decision and start this motivation process. I go from feeling empty, spaced out, exhausted, to having a bit of energy and focus. Although I don’t exactly enjoy the tasks I am doing, I feel good about doing them. I battled depression and won again.

I found an interesting article here http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/03/03/469033034/could-you-hack-your-brain-to-get-more-motivated explaining how people could use feedback to access the motivation centers in their brains. With practice and fmri they could see this area of the brain lighting up. Super cool.

Excerpt from the article:

Two of the researchers, Kathryn Dickerson and Jeff MacInnes, tried the system out on themselves. Not everything worked. Dickerson said she tried thinking about different memories that left the feedback meter cold. “Zip lining was super fun, but [thinking about that] was just terrible and not effective at all.”

So she switched strategies and tried giving herself a pep talk in the scanner. “I was like, ‘Come on Katie. Move the thermometer. Just do it and move it.’ And I just pumped myself up. That was very effective,” she says. “It was exhilarating.”

It was also exhausting, MacInnes says. “The experience of the task was very difficult. You’re being asked to generate these intense motivational states for 20 seconds over multiple periods. It was very fatiguing for people.”

Study participants had a similar experience, Adcock says. Some people sang Queen songs to themselves or imagined having an angry coach yell at them. “My personal favorite was running down a line with everyone giving you high-fives,” Adcock says. When she took the feedback meter away, the participants were still able to light up their ventral tegmental area by thinking about the same things.

People really are changing their mood when they’re doing this, Adcock thinks. They’re really becoming more focused and eager. And it seems the effect begins reaching out to parts of the brain involved with learning and memory,

“We think that’s exciting because it shows after this training, something changed, Dickerson says. “The brain isn’t quite the same.” She thinks people might be achieving a state of mind that’s more conducive to learning and motivation.

I believe I have learned how to do this myself with the self talk I mentioned above. I know how to get myself moving. My problem is, I don’t often find a reason to these days. Most things sadly seem pointless. I’m struggling with staying motivated or setting goals that I care about. I used to be an overachiever. I know how to get things done. I simply don’t want to anymore. I’m not even sure I’m depressed exactly. I’m struggling with my purpose and identity, which I suppose is depressing and exhausting. But I’m able to motivate myself when I need to, when I see a reason to. And so I am desperately searching, seeking a goal, a dream, something to cling to, to attach motivation to, to stop floundering and wasting all this time.

What I’m good at:

  • I go to the gym and workout at home because I want to be stronger and have a healthy body. I hate being weak. I hate relying on others to lift and carry things. I hate feeling vulnerable. So I am motivated, this one is easy, I exercise daily to meet this goal and my progress is easy to see.
  • I eat whole foods from my safe list because I do not want to have a migraine attack. I do not want days of pain and suffering. I do not want to let my family down and be a burden. I want to take care of them. I am motivated to avoid pain and be a good mom.
  • I continue to blog and fill out cpt worksheets even though my therapy program has ended because I want to continue to heal, to process, to grow. I am motivated to be self aware of ptsd, to manage it as best I can, and work towards minimizing the symptoms.

What I’m not good at:

  • I am not working yet. Although money is tight, we are managing with one income. I am not motivated to return to work. I feel I am a better mom and wife without trying to work. I’m already exhausted and stressed daily. I do feel guilty, but this guilt is not a strong enough motivator to overcome the rest. I am grateful Hubby supports this decision.
  • I am not doing much with my free time. This should change. Eek there’s a dreaded should, but I’m leaving it because it came out. I do have considerable guilt about how I spend my days. I don’t feel like I am doing enough, or like I am enough. No one complains, I put this on myself. I’m so used to achieving and I feel so lost. I want to feel motivated again. I’m hopeful this whiny stage is the first step to finding an action item. As odd as it seems, this is better than not caring. This is an improvement.

So. I know how to put my mind to something I care about. I know how to make a change. I know how to set goals and achieve them. I just need something to care about. I need something to do. Right now. (Yes of course it’s Van Halen time)

 

Learning to Trust…Myself

Trust is Hard. But that’s okay because hard is a marvelous improvement on impossible.

At some point I stopped listening to myself and what I need or want. Did I ever listen? Actually maybe not. I was never permitted to create my own identity as a child. I never went through the finding myself stage as an adolescent. I believe I am doing that now. Teenage angst at age 40, yeah, that’s exactly what I need. Yay.

I am noticing that in the midst of this angst, once in a while I notice little sparks of wonderfulness. These sparks are so startling and so powerful they stop me in my tracks and fuel me for days. What was that? Why did it happen? How can I make it happen again? Is it possible I can feel good one day? Is it okay to hope? Is it safe to dream yet?

After some of these sparks, I noticed a difference in myself. It’s tough to put this in words because it is only a hazy sort of feeling. But I noticed something more solid inside of me. Less dead? Less empty? Something instead of nothing. When you have perpetual nothing, believe me a spark of something almost knocks you over.

I recall caring about stuff, having dreams and motivation, being driven towards goals and achieving, hell overachieving – but I don’t think those were my goals or dreams. Not entirely anyway. I’m still unraveling. It’s not such a painful process at the moment, only a slow one. Like walking through deep water with my eyes closed. Slow going and once in a while I feel something new. Mostly I just keep trudging along because I don’t know what else to do.

But when I feel this new something, I have less doubts in myself. I used to feel confident in my choices and decisions. I used to walk around with a fierce internal driving force, yes a quietly burning one, but still there it was driving me towards my future that I planned. This new confidence, although fleeting, is making small ripples of change. I’ve been stuck for years now, without a plan, unemployed, waiting, healing, recovering. I’m hopeful these glimpses, these sparks of strength and confidence will keep coming, and will help me to learn to trust myself, my judgment and my decisions. Feeling like every decision you ever made has been wrong tends to undermine your own trust, a major component in PTSD. So I’ve been working quite hard to go back and look at those decisions with compassion, understand I did the best I could with the tools I had available at the time, and that truthfully, there is no way of knowing if past decisions were bad, maybe they would have had different outcomes but not necessarily better outcomes.

 

falcon-1570803_1920.jpg

I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of one of these handsome fellows perched in a tree the other morning after I dropped the kids off at school. I was unable to capture my own photo sadly, so I’ve borrowed one here to show you. We have a decent population of peregrine falcons and their bright white chests always catch my attention if their size didn’t. These birds are huge, majestic, strong, fast, and beautiful. They tend to sit just like this with their wings out a bit, I imagine ready for flight in an instant.

Why am I telling about this bird? Because of how I feel when I see one. I feel alive. Instant tingles of joy spread through my body. I feel lucky. I feel stronger, like his strength is on loan to me. I feel like we did something right, well, after we screwed up and nearly killed them all unintentionally with that whole DDT nightmare. These birds almost disappeared, due to humans, but humans saved them and now they choose to live in my trees and grace me with their presence.

I guess these birds remind me that we can change the world, or at least make an impact. Our actions do matter. We can wipe out species or bring them back. We can lift up and support people or cut them down and trample them. We can choose to ignore our problems or we can work on improving the situation. Change takes time, but when it works, it works beautifully.

I’m applying this to my own recovery and trying to be more patient with myself, and to celebrate improvements no matter how small. This helps to build trust in myself that I can care for me, and that I’ll stop hurting me. When you self-harm, self-sabotage, and self-punish you see yourself as an enemy too. I hope this makes sense because I rewrote three times and I still think it may be out of sequence somewhat, but its the best I can do with it. I’m trying to show how my thinking is changing, that I’m starting feel alive in fleeting moments, which leads to new self care behaviors (like establishing and protecting my boundaries, eating healthier, getting social support, making friends, better hygiene, etc), which builds trust in myself and stops the self loathing cycle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

emotional overload, again

I started outpatient physical therapy to help strengthen and balance my back and legs after my surgery. I knew this was likely to trigger flashbacks from teenage PT, me learning to walk again after my first surgery. And it did. It was hard, but I think I managed well. I made sure I had a female therapist when I made the appointment to decrease my anxiety about someone touching me. I kept myself grounded by telling myself the year, that I am a mom, listing things I could make for lunch.
Session went well, whenever I was triggered, I just brought myself back and instead of telling myself I am a stupid freak, I told myself it was understandable this situation was triggering.

Big trigger when she videotaped me walking. Teen PT did that with me in a swimsuit. Teen lawyers did that to prove my freakyness for AF’s malpractice suit against my surgeon. Both were horrible, humiliating times I was not in control and no one could help me. But some breathing and grounding got me through it. I know she noticed something wrong, but I think she thought I was embarrassed, tired from our workout, but not triggered. She assured me my face would not be in the video, only legs for gait analysis, and that it will help her design my care plan.

She was completely awesome. This PT lady was smart, had empathy, had no trouble with my questions or my special requests.

Near the end of the hour, we started discussing how my leg previously never had any muscle retention. That I worked furiously each day to keep it from sliding backwards, yet I woke up each morning weaker again, no growth, no tone, because of improper nerve signals.

She tested my spatial recognition, my proprioreceptors by forcing me to look away and keep my hands off my leg during the motions. It feels wrong, and a bit dizzying, but if I concentrate, I can do this. This is new from the recent surgery decompressing the spinal nerves. 

PT lady said with this, it is possible that new muscle can now be rebuilt, actual progress and forward potential after being stuck for 27 years. I am still too afraid to hope for this, even though I am already seeing small gains since the surgery. Seeing should be believing, but I know too much that seeing can be deceptive also.

Hope for someone like me, does not come easily, and has a huge cost when things don’t work out. So I remain safely curious. Curiosity keeps me moving and trying – without fear of devastation.

Except I felt a little hope with her words. No matter how much I tried not to.

Then I felt foolish and afraid for feeling hope.

Then I wanted to share my hope with my mom.

That’s when I brokedown. Too much. I made it to my car and cried. Oh mom, how much I wanted to share GOOD news with you….no matter how troubled our past, I do know the pain you felt when I was paralyzed. I somehow thought this news might heal some of that pain, bring us closer. Perhaps not, but I will never know. Just know I forgive your mistreatment of me when I could not walk, I think you did your best to cope and only had denial. 

So I started PT, had several flashbacks, remained grounded while being touched, let myself feel some hope by accident, and I missed my mom.

A full day…all in an hour.

Progress or cycles

I slipped away for a bit, dipped my toe into the darkness. I didn’t even know I left until I started to return.

Dropped the kids off at Grandma’s house on Friday night. I became aware on Tuesday that I was still in the same clothes as Friday. No shower? Guess not. Check my hair, it was a knotted matted mess. Check the time…2pm and I am not out of bed, had not eaten. Did I eat yesterday? I see an empty bag of chips. Oh. And a mound of candy wrappers. Oh no.

Depression got me. 3 days in bed with half watching tv and half sleeping.

When I dropped off the kids, I also dropped off my reasons to get out of bed apparently. I knew I was only living for them right now, but this is scary proof of how true that is. I am not living for me.

I am starting to think this ‘progress’ stage of my therapy is not really progress at all, but an upward swing of my cycle. Meaning I have been here before. Do I really know more this time to prevent a future suicide attempt? Has anything really changed?

How can I measure PTSD recovery progress in a real, meaningful way with metrics and goals?

What do I want?

I want to feel safe. Alone. In a crowd. In bed. In a relationship.

I want to sleep. At night. Every night. Without nightmares.

I want to trust. Others. Myself.

I want intimacy. Closeness. Connection. Friendships. A social network.

I want to require less control. Live and breathe. Be free.

I want to enjoy affection. Human touch. Be comforted by hand holding and hugs.

I am not any closer to any of those wants. Which leads me to the next one.

I want to stop wanting to give up.