Tag Archive | applying mindfulness

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!!

Horrible Holidays

I can already feel the buzz and excitement in the air, the tightness in my chest, the sadness in my bones, as I prepare not for a season of joy but a season of battles.

I am so determined to take some of the pain out of this time of year, I just don’t know how to do it.

The pressure. the obligations. the judgment. the triggers-everywhere. the lack of good memories to re-create. feeling left out. feeling like I don’t belong. feeling doomed to be the bah-humbugger forever.

Hubby was willing to listen last night and I think we scratched the surface of this many layered rotten onion of bad brain programming.

I tried to remember the last time I actually enjoyed a visit to his parents’ house. It has been so long since I have not dreaded going there for any reason, let alone a huge holiday dinner. I described it for Hubby and asked him what changed? I remembered wandering through the fields and forest, alone, exploring, deep in my own peaceful inner world. They have 40 acres of beautiful rolling hills. I remembered joining them for dinner, drinking in the gorgeous scenery, feeling relaxed and like I belonged there with them.

His answer – “We didn’t have kids back then”

Wow. He’s right. But I think it is more than that. They didn’t know. They didn’t know what AF had done to me. They didn’t know about my suicide attempts. They didn’t know about my pain and struggles. My secrets were safe, and I was safe inside my inner fortess. Lonely? yes. but safe.

That is definitely when my relationship with his parents, with him, with myself, with the universe changed. When I went from the perfect, brilliant girl who had it all together, to the poor lost soul that needs help.

And I’m stuck in this odd limbo, of trying to be authentic, and trying to fit in, and I suppose that is the human curse. I would actually prefer to go back to my safe persona that is always quiet and polite, never offends anyone, never causes trouble. Instead I’m the one who makes people uncomfortable, the moral policewoman. My ‘that’s not right’ alarm bell sounds in my head and I must decide if I try to right the wrong or can live with myself if I let it go. I need to learn to love  – and be loved – by people I don’t like. Is that what family is truly about?

I am trying so hard to do things ‘right’ for my kids. Without the kids in the picture, I could easily avoid these conversations or situations, I could hide and disappear like I used to do, I could protect myself because I didn’t have to protect them. And this is complicated, so pay attention to this – I do not think they need protected from MIL or any of Hubby’s family, I know they are safe, that’s not it at all. What I am trying to protect is my children’s precious memories of these events. I’m afraid to disappear and lick my wounds and have them think back like “where was mom?” Why didn’t mom go to any of our family dinners? How do I raise them with strong family bonds and values if I am always absent? I don’t want them to be antisocial like me.

And then I asked Hubby what he enjoys about going to his parents and we started swapping stories of going to Grandma’s as a kid – and his stories were full of warmth and nostalgia. They kept pouring out of him until tears welled up in my eyes and I asked him to stop. It is too much to bear. Hearing his stories side by side with my own tales of shame, horror, neglect, loneliness, ridicule, and abuse. I don’t think my Grandma liked her own children much, and barely tolerated her grandkids. And yet I loved her. I loved her cold heart and cursing words because she was my only grandma. Just as I loved my abusive parents – they were my only parents. And maybe part of me regrets all this love I so easily shared, when it was twisted into something ugly and used to hurt me.

I identified another strong feeling last night. It is jealousy. I am jealous that Hubby feels he belongs in his family and actually looks forward to these gatherings and big long days together. I resent him for not having to deal with the pain and all the shit. I am angry this burden is all on me. I am allowing myself to be angry about this – for the first time ever. This is not the same as ‘poor me’ or ‘why me’. Anger is a stage of grief and I have not yet completely grieved for my loss of a supportive childhood. Will I ever ‘get over’ this loss? Some days I think yes, but most days I think no.

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And so the emails begin. No phone calls or conversations to plan dinners around busy lives from my side of the family tree.

I get an email from Brother 3 on Friday asking if I can drive up for a siblings photo shoot on Saturday to give as a christmas gift to mom. No call or text, just an email with less than 24 hours notice for me to make over an hour drive. Forgive me if I don’t feel like I was really wanted there. But this made it easy, because I didn’t want to be a part of it. I couldn’t possibly be in a fake photo with these guys that I’ve barely spoken to in the last few years. I have not seen or spoken to Brother 1 since the Terrible Wedding where they invited my AF and another known pedophile (sis in laws’s father)  and I was forced to smile pretty for their photographer. And Brother 2 also abused me as a child. I just can’t do it. Part of me now thinks brother 3 knows this and purposely gave me an easy out. That’s a nicer way to think of it, so let’s do that.

Next email is from Mom. “I’m so grateful for my family, I would love if everyone could come to my house for thanksgiving dinner on Sunday” Hubby works on Sundays and she knows this. I sent other possible times we could attend in my response, but here I go causing trouble already. I am ready to attend this year – sort of. But the saddest part is how indifferent I am. I don’t miss any of them. Not my mom, not my brothers, not my nieces or nephews. Knowing them only reminds me of pain. Distance gives me peace. Do I need to build up tolerance and face the pain, or can I turn my back on my own family? They won’t make the cutting remarks like Hubby’s family – oh no – we will all be sweet and extra polite, laughing and tickling like nothing bad has ever happened or ever could. And then one of the kids will mention an email from grandpa and my MAMA BEAR syndrome will kick in and I will be forced to either intervene or not. I will be overwhelmed by the sadness in my nephews eyes. I will tread softly so as not to burst any denial bubbles or poke hole in fake personas. I spot the cognitive distortions, the irrationalities, and recall being mired there myself. But as the only member in my family that has sought counseling and actively battling for my soul – it is difficult to watch, and I again must decide if speak my true thoughts or do I let it go this time.

It is exhausting.

I spent my childhood alone and have no special holiday memories, none that I can separate out from the rubbish anyway. And here I am isolating myself as an adult, even though I have my side of the family and Hubby’s side trying to act like a family and include me. Am I doomed to never enjoy it? Do the wounds run too deeply? Will it ever seem like my real life and not an ACT from a terribly written play?

I’m trying to figure out if mindfulness can help me. Whenever I start to worry about the holidays, I am stopping the worried thoughts and focusing on my body. I notice the headache, neck/shoulder tension, queasy stomach, clenched jaw, racing heart. I breathe into that feeling and accept the pain. I say yes, I understand I am worried. I have been hurt in the past. But I am not being hurt right now. This is as bad as it will get, I don’t need to protect myself from this, I can feel this and handle this.

This is helping with the pre-worrying stage – but I still have huge doubts that mindfulness will help ‘in the moment’ during a family dinner. Do I excuse myself mid sentence to go have a 3 minute breathing break whenever someone has a cutting remark? If I started deep breathing for every assault to my senses I would soon be over oxygenated. And even if I don’t get lost in panic or depression, the breathing will not remove the elephant from the room. Action still needs to be taken.

So I guess what I’m saying is that I think mindfulness will in the situations where I am not, or kids around me are not, being hurt or threatened. But what coping skills exist for when the danger is real? (like AF emailing the 10 yr old niece) And I’m the only one that thinks it is dangerous?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mindfulness and depression, part 2

I want to expand on my comment in part 1, that being mindful is really about being bodyful.

The way I understand the methods in this book, “The Mindful Way Through Depression” by Williams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn, is that when we suffer from chronic bouts of depression that we are used to living in our minds instead of in our bodies.

It seems that this book feels that most people, have difficulties remaining attached to physical sensations throughout the day, most days of our lives. That we run about ignoring our bodies and sensations and live instead with the running commentary of thoughts, worries, and plans.

I agree with that, but it is so entirely complicated.

But here’s my difficulty, and I have to play the ‘special card’. But this is not coming from my inner child right now, she is skipping along quite happily at the moment. These are simply unavoidable facts about my history that I am trying to integrate into the new knowledge I gleaned from this book.

I have a special relationship with my body –  full of extremes. Due to illness, pain, trauma and abuse- I have learned to filter or ignore some body signals, and have enhanced or tuned into other body signals to protect myself over the years. What does that mean?

I have learned to detach myself from many bodily signals for a few reasons, and each one is hugely significant.

First, I learned to tune out AF’s nightly sexual encounters and inappropriate touches – if I didn’t allow myself to feel it, he wasn’t really touching me, it wasn’t really happening – I couldn’t really feel it. It was how I survived. Enough said on that I think.

Second, Again my youth has tainted the simple act of breathing. I was taught to control my breathing due to extreme asthma. I knew about belly breathing and deep breathing exercises at age 4, as my allergist showed me how to control asthma symptoms and keep my airways open. My asthma was so bad when I was little that I would gasp every few words, not having enough air in me to get an entire sentence out. I was unable to make the wind instruments squeak no matter how hard I tried. I was weak and sickly and always aware of my breathing and the tightness in my lungs. Learning to pay attention to this saved me a few trips to the ER, as a precisely timed inhaler use could keep me breathing. (my inner child wants me to point out the ridicule I received about this, and how AF continued to smoke like a chimney and ignore my coughing fits, saying it was all in my head and cigarettes never hurt anyone – his emphysema has served as poetic justice to my inner child, as I would wish no harm on anyone, but inner child dances saying “I told you so”)

Second, I learned to tune out from the pain of my spinal injury and nerve damage. I still do this – how else do you get through a day? If I breathed into an awareness and fully felt the pain – would I be able to carry on? But on the flip side, I also learned to be acutely aware of certain body signals as my spine healed and I learned to feel hunger, control my bladder, and then to walk again. All of those body functions that should have happened without thought or control, required my intense thought and control – mindful awareness – except that it has always had a goal, which I learned that mindfulness cannot.

And so here I am today, trying to be mindful without exerting control, and I keep wondering if it is possible for me – am I truly too special? Even Cesar Milan had a few cases ‘too far gone’ to rehabilitate. Not that I’m suggesting I should be ‘put to sleep’ (of course I have wished for that in the past, so I shouldn’t joke about it, but then to deny this thought now would be lying – so what if I have dark humor, some of you will understand) but I do wonder what level of rehabilitation I may expect to achieve. Is peace and balance truly in my future?

A part of the book explaining mindful walking made me cringe, and then sigh out loud. Here is a bit of it from pages 91-93. I’ll explain my reactions to it down below. This passage was hugely triggering to me – but I trudged on through anyway.

” 1. Find a place where you can walk back and forth in a location that is protected enough so that you will not be preoccupied by a feeling that other people are watching you do something they (and even you at first) may perceive as strange

. . .

3. Bring the focus of your awareness to the bottoms of your feet, getting a direct sense of the physical sensations of the contact of the feet with the ground and of the weight of your body transmitted through your legs and feet to the ground.  . . .

4. Allow the left heel to rise slowly from the ground, noticing the sensations in the calf muscles as you do so, and continue, allowing the whole of the left foot to lift gently as the weight is shifted entirely to the right leg. Bring awareness to the sensations in the left foot and leg as you carefully move it forward and allow the left heel to come in contact with the ground. A small, natural step is best. Allow the rest of the left foot to make contact with the ground, experiencing the weight of the body shifting forward onto the left leg and foot as the right heel comes off the ground.

 . . .

8. Walk back and forth in this way, sustaining awareness as best you can of the full range of your experience of walking, moment by moment, including the sensations in the feet and legs, and of the contact with the ground. Keep your gaze directed softly ahead.

. . .

12. Remember to take small steps and you don’t need to look at your feet. You know where they are. You can feel them.”

OK, so my mind was racing as I read this. #1 – wow – triggering. Yes AF made sure I only walked in hidden areas, he told no one of my disability and made me do my rehab in secluded areas to hide my shame and disgusting broken body. Why should we start any exercise with the need to hide ourselves? If someone thinks you odd – sorry – but F*** them.

#2-11 – So similar to what I did relearning to walk with a weak leg after paralysis at age 12. My right leg was not strong enough yet to bear my whole weight. I had a clunky metal brace on it, hip to toe. I started with a wheelchair, then a walker, and then a cane. And then I limped on my own stubbornness, when I could no longer bear the shame of the brace – and fell often. Up until about 3 years, I was still unable to bear even half of my weight on my weak leg, so my gait was a slow drag-hop type of limp and I leaned heavily on the left, only using the right for a split second. I had to think and repeat “heel-toe, heel-toe” as I walked, sending the command for each step. Without my brace, I could not lift my foot at the ankle, so I learned to lift my leg at the hip to swing it out fully and have it land on my heel rather than drag my toes. I thought this made me look like a peg-legged pirate and my family ridiculed me – calling me someone from Hogan’s Heroes (Was it Klink’s friend?) and hop-along-Cassidy, who I never heard of and honestly forgot until I just googled him today – apparently I reminded them of a drunk cowboy with a bullet in my leg.

So here’s the interesting, no fascinating part to me. I was practicing mindfulness to get in tune with my body’s sensations, but since I was controlling it, and had a goal and a harsh judgment – it wasn’t really mindfulness at all.  And if I had tuned in to each sensation, and fully felt the crushing pain in each step, I’d likely still be in a wheelchair – or at least I was so afraid to face the enormity of the pain that I chose instead to block it. My ability to filter out the pain while focusing on the movements is the only way I got through it all. But according to this book, if I had been able to accept the pain, rather than block it, it would have been better for me?

In case you have no experience with nerve damage – Saying a leg is numb, means I can’t feel what happens to it externally. But the internal, constant pain during that time was excruciating. Like my leg was screaming, panicking, and trying to get my brain/spine to listen. It was like being on fire, zapped by lightning, and being crushed by elephants all at once. Pain meds did nothing for it. I still have some bouts of this nerve pain, if I twist and lift something the wrong way, or over exert myself, but I feel so lucky that it has mostly subsided. But I do fear it, and block it. Is pain an emotion? Or is it ok to mentally block physical pain and just not emotional pain? When I think it all amounts to neurochemicals and electrical impulses I just don’t know anything any more and feel my body is too much a complicated mess to fix. If I were a house, I would tear it down and rewire from scratch – too many shorts, too many bare wires and exposed damage, too many rotten areas from neglect, too many bad splices, and the old system is not supporting the new modern devices. I’m trying to run my life on my old ball and knob wires and getting surprised or upset when a fuse is blown or a fire starts.

#12 –  I HAD to look at my feet. I could not feel them. If I looked away for even a fraction of a second I would fall, the leg would simply crumple with no visual feedback. I practiced this slow methodical hell-toe walk, hoping to feel something, thinking how odd I could see it moving, see my foot making contact with the ground, but could not feel it. Again, about 3 years ago the nerve healed enough to start sending commands and feedback. I can now look up while walking, but I am still so fearful of uneven ground, cracks in the pavement, stumps protruding, roots to tangle me, or any other obstacles that I spend more time looking down than up.

It seems I was doomed to have all the usual involuntary body actions needing my observation and constant control from poor health. Add the abuse in to the picture, and it is no wonder that I don’t know if I’m coming or going – what to control, what to let happen, which thoughts are helpful, which feelings to block.

So I am trying to learn more about myself, and simply accept me as I am, before jumpy into a hasty remodeling. Learn how to BE without DOING, have no goals to achieve, and be an observer . . . how odd that sounds. Is this really something helpful? Sometimes you have to judge and DO something, right? How will I know when?

I have had luck with breathing exercises and biofeedback, I have been able to keep my heart rate from soaring by using mindful breathing throughout the day. I have noticed I don’t accelerate into anxiety and panic as I used to. Bringing myself into my body instead of my panicked thoughts has helped 100% – when I can remember to do it, and even that is getting easier, and becoming habit.

Can I use this same mindfulness and breathing into the uncomfortable emotions to survive the upcoming holiday gatherings? I’m already pre-stressing and pre-planning to block the negatives to survive these ordeals, and maybe this is the wrong approach.

More on my ideas for this in part 3