Tag Archive | control

What am I worth

pandys.org – low self esteem, reclaim yourself

Rape and sexual abuse are violations of our mind, body, and spirit. Because of these violations, it is extremely difficult to reclaim our personal worth. Without this self-driven empowerment, we can feel less than those around us. This feeling then causes issues in our personal, professional, and academic lives.

We often find it challenging to:

• feel secure in our emotions, reactions, and expectations
• stand up for ourselves

www.anxieties.com – I am not ashamed

Accepting Who I Am

  • I’m OK just the way I am.
  • I am lovable and capable.
  • I am an important person.
  • I’m already a worthy person; I don’t have to prove myself.
  • My feelings and needs are important.
  • I deserve to be supported by those who care about me.
  • I deserve to be respected, nurtured and cared for.
  • I deserve to feel free and safe.
  • I’m strong enough to handle whatever comes along.

No one expects you to change a long-standing attitude overnight. But if you can continue to reflect on these attitudes until you begin to believe them, you will be on your way to overcoming panic. Building up our sense of self-worth increases our ability to confront the obstacles to our freedom.

The second kind of affirmation has to do with our expectations about how we must act around others. It reminds us that we don’t have to please everyone else and ignore our own wants and needs, that we all get to make mistakes as we are learning, and that we don’t need to view every task as a test of our competence or worth.

Supporting What I Do

  • It’s OK to say no to others.
  • It’s good for me to take time for myself.
  • It’s OK to think about what I need.
  • The more I get what I need, the more I’ll have to give others.
  • I don’t have to take care of everyone else.
  • I don’t have to be perfect to be loved.
  • I can make mistakes and still be OK.
  • Everything is practice; I don’t have to test myself.
  • I am not ashamed.

 

But I am ashamed. It is still there, an aching, gnawing presence, something in me telling me I’m not the same as the other humans on the planet. That I don’t belong. That I can’t let them know about me or my struggles. That I am worthless.

I’m working on my stuck points but I have not had much movement in this area yet. I can intellectualize and know the bullet points above are true, but my heart and soul do not believe them. I was raised to be nothing, less than nothing. I was raised to be a playtoy, my only purpose AF’s sick enjoyment, one way or the other as he controlled me. His control was 100% complete. I was not a separate being with separate feelings. I served him. That was my normal.

My love and fear for AF were one in the same, and consumed me. I was driven to please him. I was so starved for attachment, connection, admiration, affection. My slightest mistake would be ridiculed and punished by removal of love. I was never good enough but it didn’t stop me from trying harder, because I had to try something.

  • I learned to never say no, becoming whatever anyone else needed, whenever they needed me, I could morph into their ideal person and serve
  • I learned to serve others selflessly, volunteer, help, cheer up, give gifts, boost, tutor
  • I never needed anything for myself because there is no me inside
  • I can keep on giving endlessly, it is the only thing that makes me feel ok, I will do it until I drop from exhaustion
  • I have to care for everyone else and keep everyone safe and happy, everyone else is my responsibility, my fault
  • I must be perfect to be loved, I understand I am unlovable
  • mistakes are not OK, ever, I will punish myself
  • I will test myself and set myself up for failure to prove my worthlessness
  • I am ashamed of me, my thoughts, my feelings, my appearance, my past, my choices, my failures, my existence

 

So I have some more work to do. I can stop those thoughts now, as I am aware of them, but they are still automatic and triggering. The biggest problem I am still having is that I feel empty. And when I compare myself with the rest of humanity, I don’t feel like I am a part of everyone else, like I will always be a faker, because there is no me in me.

I am concerned with this now. Because knowing that I was raised by such a gifted psychopath, I am concerned that this state of being is irreversible. That my social damage is so completely devastating that I may never recover a sense of self that my parents were supposed to instill in me, not rob from me. AF knew exactly what he was doing.

He prevented my bonding with my mother. He told me she hated me. My youngest preschool memories are him telling me how much she hated me and never wanted me, telling me to stay away from, that he was the only safe person for me. I can remember that at age 3, so I can only assume he started it even younger. I can’t remember ever getting a hug from my mom, I was always afraid of her when I was little, and it wasn’t because she yelled or hit me, it was because AF taught me to be afraid with his whispering. Then as I grew older and he actually told me he loved me more than my mom and wanted to divorce her. My own mom was jealous of me. Hello, calling Dr Freud, come on, this is sick stuff.

He prevented me being close to my brothers. We were all isolated from one another and wedges of jealousy put in place. At age 5 I was overly affectionate with my older brothers and their friends, desperate for belonging, and thinking what AF did with me was normal. At some point one brother molested me too. At age 8 I was asked to tutor my 12 yr old brother who was struggling in school. It was humiliating for us to be forced to sit at the dining room table for hours. His work was easy for me…but that wasn’t the point, it made him hate me. I was put in direct competition with my oldest brother for grades and scores, but even if I surpassed him, I would get laughed at for trying because I just a girl and it didn’t matter, I would never amount to anything. I have a zillion examples, but this is enough for now.

He prevented my emotional expression. It simply was not allowed. I had to be calm and pleasant at all times. I had to deny my own pain and reality. Doctors were only permitted if his plaything was near death. Which I was, too many times. And it was mom that took me to the emergency room while he laughed and called me weak. I tried not to love the pets he brought home, but I became protector each time, and each time he tortured, took away, or killed one, he would laugh again, it was my fault for loving the filthy stupid beast. It was my love that killed it.

He prevented normal socialization. He did not permit going to friends houses, had all these rules for dinner time, phone calls, who could come over, invitations had to come before 6pm, you had be back before dusk, you could not attend other family events, we did not attend funerals or sporting events, we did not join teams or clubs. We only saw our Grandma once a year at Christmas. We did not have birthday parties. We did not go on vacation. He had total control over me in some ways, and complete neglect in others.

All of these lessons were repeated for me as I grew up. They were my normal. I believed the world he created for me, it was flawless and complete. I was alone.

I grew up with books and stories. My friends were the characters in the books and my imagination. I taught myself to read and write before preschool, language always made sense to me. I had trouble holding a pencil, but we had this clickety typewriter and I started writing stories in kindergarten. AF made fun of me for wasting my time reading and writing fiction, but I needed that escape. He tore up my little stories, along with the illustrations. I actually recall one about an invisible train. I’m sure they weren’t Shakespeare or anything, but I’m also sure I was pretty damn gifted and should have been encouraged not ridiculed. I stopped writing but I didn’t stop reading, knowing he wouldn’t destroy a book he would have to pay for. I did try to hide it from him though. By third grade I had read every book in my elementary school library. I started riding my bike to the public library, I still recall the day I got my own card! As long as I got back before dusk, got perfect grades, did all my chores, no one cared where I rode to by myself.

I didn’t start writing again until I had my first kiddo. I don’t know why, but something about becoming a mom brought out my creativity that I had stuffed away a lifetime earlier. I started writing a novel while my newborn napped. And I was happy.

Until I wasn’t. Postpartum depression took over. PTSD triggers took over. My novel sits in a folder, abandoned. I no longer have the energy or interest to jump back into it. I have no more creativity. I have nothing inside me. I have no ambitions that are for me. Everything is…meh. Pointless.

I have been off work over a year now. April 2015, PTSD became unbearable and I entered a suicidal crisis. A nervous breakdown I suppose. I am still not recovered from this, and although I can imagine getting some job and making money to provide for my family, I can’t imagine getting any job I might ever care about. And that makes me sad. But I will serve, because it is what I do. But not yet. I’m not ready yet. My mind and body need more time to heal before taking on more. My goal is when the kids go back to school, it is hard enough just being mom all summer without another job too.

 

Learn to identify your own emotions

13-21664-large

Yellow shows regions of increased sensation while blue areas represent decreased feeling in these composite images. Image courtesy of Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, and Jari Hietanen. link to article below.

I’ve been searching for aids to help me identify what I’m feeling in my mind and body from moment to moment and came across this diagram from Discover Magazine – Body Atlas reveals where we feel emotions. Before I started trauma focused therapy, I was unaware we felt emotions anywhere other than in our minds. I was so tightly in control of my emotions, that I did not fully feel them, and I did not feel them in connection to my mind and body and the moment.

I was raised with a number of unbalanced beliefs about emotions, many from the trauma and abuse I endured, many a product of survival, many a product of the aftermath.

Emotions made me weak.
I’m not allowed to feel that way.
I should feel like . . .
My feelings are troublesome and need to be hidden.
Showing my true feelings could be dangerous.
I might be rejected or unloved if I am not pleasant at all times.
Negative emotions are bad.
Only bad people have bad feelings.
Everyone else’s feelings are more important than my own.
I have no need to feel anything of my own.
Crying is pointless and bothers others around you and should not be done, but definitely can never be seen.
I shouldn’t make others uncomfortable.

Then there is the issue of the pain I was consciously avoiding. I knew it was there, somewhere under the surface. I never looked directly at it. I learned to avoid falling in the hole, somehow, even though I had my eyes shut. This new counselor encouraged me to open my eyes. At first I thought she was crazy, that I was incapable, and that I would fall in the hole and get swallowed up by that pain. But what I found was that it wasn’t a hole, but a wave. I had been avoiding and holding back a wave. Once I let go, it washed over me. I felt it. I got wet. I struggled and thought maybe I couldn’t get back up for a moment, but the intensity didn’t last. Soon I could breathe again and the tears started flowing. And then they stopped too. I’m still not good at crying, it only comes out in little bursts. But each one is an amazing connection of mind and body, and I don’t judge or try to control anything, only feel what my body needs me to feel. I can’t do it everytime. My natural inclination is still to block it all. But once in a while we literally have a breakthrough and my counselor is so proud to see me express emotions, and then I laugh too, at how odd it is that she WANTS me to cry and feel this pain.

Then she helps me to identify and understand it all, and to reduce its power over me. Sometimes I think she is a magician, when she tears down a mental barrier and I can actually feel it, like a switch in my brain, something changes. A belief I had is no longer so powerful, just like that. And now all I have to do is practice it the new way of thinking and I’ll keep getting better, firing new neurons, making new pathways instead of stuck in these PTSD ones I’ve had for so long.

Sometimes I sit in front of her, unable to identify what I’m feeling because it is too intense, and too many feelings all together. She helps me by telling me what she sees in my body language and asking me what I feel.

One time, I had a worksheet that generated something that brought on feelings in me that caused me to nearly pass out. I would get a choking feeling in my throat, my heart would race, my stomach clench, a cold sweat, and then I’d get dizzy and things would go black if I didn’t ease up.

Terror.

She identified that one as terror. not fear or panic or anxiety, but terror. No wonder I had been avoiding it. It was a childhood memory that I’ve been carrying around, one of so, so many, that I couldn’t make sense of at the time, so it remained unprocessed in my mind and body. A dark shadow in the corner of my mind. A thought I don’t think. A feeling I don’t feel. One of many.

It was why I had become numb. It was why I learned to disassociate. I understand now.

Toddlers learn to identify and regulate emotions when parents teach them what they are feeling. I was taught not to cry. I was taught to shut up. I was taught to always smile no matter what – or else. I was not allowed to feel and never learned to identify or regulate basic emotions. So I get to do it now.

Forgive my tears and tantrums, forgive my outbursts and confusion, I’m an emotional toddler, learning it all brand new. I feel like an idiot, out of control, unpredictable. So far I have no lasting relief from all of this new knowledge, only extreme pain, despair, distress. Sometimes I feel like it was better being numb, but of course I couldn’t go on like that. That’s what lead to my complete breakdown. My mind and body could not do it any longer.

So here’s what I have figured out. I walk around nearly constantly with some level of fear, sadness, and shame. That’s my baseline. It’s a cold, sleepy, kind of an empty feeling that makes me want to hide and avert my eyes. It makes my mouth dry, my voice quiet, my shoulders slump, my fingers clench and feel cold, and somewhere in my chest, I guess I have a constant heartache.

Anxiety and panic is more in my chest, with my throat and breathing. I cross my arms.

Disgust makes me nauseous, my entire stomach gets tight and woozy. I get dizzy too. My lip curls.

Anger I feel in my head, my eyebrows get tight, my face gets hot. I get a racing feeling, quick thoughts. Heart is pounding hard but not fast.

I’ve been trying to feel pride, love, joy, happiness. I think I get them for a moment but it’s too fast and too faint. I know I am proud of my kids, but I don’t feel it in my body any where. When I try to – fear and shame actually kicks in and overpowers…so that’s interesting. I’ve felt the love received from Hubby and kids, a brief warmth, that again gets quickly erased. PTSD is not allowing me to feel good right now. It’s like I’m tuned into the misery channels. Counselor says give it time and the misery broadcast will fade away and allow the good ones to have a turn. Well I have to give it time…I have no other choice, this is me right now.

Nearly normal

Feeling nearly normal for 2 days. No new hemiplegic migraine attacks. I am following a strict no trigger diet: avoiding bread, malt, yeast, cheese, fermented/aged items, limiting alcohol, dairy, caffiene, chocolate. Eating real whole foods, nothing packaged. Logging a diary. Up to 3/4 dose of gabapentin. Trying to very hard to be healthy and overcome this.

I quit my side job of teaching art lessons. I thought I would feel sad or disappointed, I just feel relief. One less thing to worry about. I guess I wasn’t that attached to it.

I’ve been up out of bed and trying to recover. I don’t have all my strength back but not limping or twitching. My thinking feels slow, I stare off in to space trying to work, trying to remember the next step. Having trouble getting from A to B mentally. And finding it impossible to find C. I used to do A-Z with no effort.

Example, my mental math is gone. Doctor asked the age of my AF when he died. I don’t know this being estranged from him, but for some reason recalled he was born in 1943. But then I could not do the simple math.

Example, my daughter wanted me to do a math trick she learned. Mom, think of any 2 digit number and add the 2 digits, then subtract that number from the original number…I couldnt do it. I thought ’32’, 3+2=5, and then it was all a blank. completely blank, the number were GONE when I tried to think about what she asked. I could hold on to 32 or 5, but not both together. It was the weirdest feeling, grasping for something so simple, and I thought of the hundreds of students I have seen stumped over the years. It was scary and fascinating at the same time, making me wonder how the migraine had disabled such a selective bit of my functioning – my working memory – or short term memory.

The scientist in me is actually enjoying figuratively dissecting my own brain. I NEED to know how this migraine thing works.

Link to learn about the brain areas

excerpt from above link In the course of a day, there are many times when you need to keep some piece of information in your head for just a few seconds. Maybe it is a number that you are “carrying over” to do a subtraction, or a persuasive argument that you are going to make as soon as the other person finishes talking. Either way, you are using your short-term memory.

In fact, those are two very good examples of why you usually hold information in your short-term memory: to accomplish something that you have planned to do. Perhaps the most extreme example of short-term memory is a chess master who can explore several possible solutions mentally before choosing the one that will lead to checkmate.

This ability to hold on to a piece of information temporarily in order to complete a task is specifically human. It causes certain regions of the brain to become very active, in particular the pre-frontal lobe. (located at the very front of the brain in the forehead)”

In My Head – PTSD and Migraine

I’m in a migraine holding pattern, meaning my brain has forgotten how to be ‘normal’ and is hyper-responsive to anything right now. I have super bionic senses – all of them. I am truly highly sensitive. I am not ‘feeling’ sensitive but I am over-reacting.

I turned on the water in the sink and screamed in pain from the roaring sound that overwhlemed me for a moment.

I have dimmed all of the lights and displays to ease up on my eyes. No interest in going outside, the sun, if we had any shining, would be too bright through closed eyelids. Makes me see spots.

My skin feels as if it is bruised all over, so a simple brush or bump causes near black out as I recover from the shock.

These are not me imagining everything is too loud. The actual neurons in my head have changed how my ears process input. This is a chemical change in my head. It is too soon to tell if new meds will help, still slowly dosing up over many weeks.

Good news is the weakness and twitching in arms and legs have gone and I’m getting around pretty normal today. I don’t have full fine motor control in my right hand yet, struggle to pick up pills, but typing seems better today.

I have not had another major attack since Friday, only minor ones that I DID NOT IGNORE and immediately went to bed each time to make sure they didn’t get worse.

I feel like a ticking time bomb, that my brain can explode any second for any reason. I had enough control issues, really. PTSD always had me on the look out for triggers, and now I’m worried about the migraine and getting paralyzed suddenly too. And I’m worried that the two conditions are completely intertwined and maliciously feeding off of each other. Hightened stress response from PTSD sets off a new migraine – or a new migraine sets off a PTSD flashback.

As you can imagine, it is not great fun inside my head right now. Like an LSD trip (I am guessing) without all the fun and good feelings. I kind of wish I had experimented with drugs at some point, but I was way too perfect for that.

http://www.achenet.org/resources/abuse_post_traumatic_stress_disorder_and_migraine/

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

Mindfulness and depression, part 1

So I have apparently come back up out of a mild depressive episode. Having suffered recurrent bouts of depression most of my life – how did this one sneak up on me and disguise itself?

I think the key word here is ‘mild’. I did not plummet to the depths of despair and suicidal thoughts as I usually do, and so it was quite unfamiliar to me. I didn’t feel terrible, like the slime at the bottom of the bog that will never have hope of seeing sunlight.

Instead, I felt oddly blank. I felt I was spinning my wheels. I had some searching for meaning, like asking “What is the point”? I was overeating. I stopped exercising and felt more body pain. I hyperfocused on tasks to make each day speed by. I had terrible migraines – the kind where you have to check that your skull had not yet actually split open because this level of pain without any physical signs should not be possible.

I started hating my new therapist, feeling annoyed by her futile attempts to help me, and had grandiose thoughts that she was using textbook techniques to help someone that has never been in any textbook. I like to be ‘special’ when depressed because it means I have a reason to feel hopeless – no one understands me – I’ve been hurt too badly – none of these books will help – I am wasting my time

New therapist recommended a book to me, “The Mindful Way Through Depression, Freeing yourself from chronic unhappiness” by Willams, Teasdale, Segal, and Kabat-Zinn.

My initial reaction? How dare she!! How can she be so thick as to think I am depressed? How could she think this simple book could have any value for me? Doesn’t she understand my complex PTSD, my chronic pain, my disability, so many years of abuse, emotional torture, that I’m special? I was angry with her. Like my children when I suggest they wear a sweater. I recognized my reaction came from my emotional inner child, not a 38 yr old. And I thought hmmm, but didn’t go any further than that for 2 whole weeks. I was feeling stubborn and not going to let her win. Even though I recognized that was irrational, I wasn’t ready to let go yet. My foot was down and my arms were crossed. I may have even stuck out my tongue, that will show her.

She copied a chapter of the book and gave me homework to read it. Well, even though my inner child is dreadfully stubborn, she is also a perfectionist in need of praise and would never slough off on homework, and so I read it – begrudgingly – with my arms crossed and lips pouting. Seriously. Yes I did that. And I hated every word. I poked fun at the examples, at how simple they were, and found a trigger word ‘dwelling’ in there and had to stop reading. I have this reaction often when reading something meant for anyone to read, it feels watered down to me when compared to medical journals. And then I chided myself for being so snobby, just because I understand scientific journals doesn’t mean this is stupid and poorly written. Surely the PhD touting authors were not idiots. Could it be my current state of mind? Aren’t I always telling everyone to be open-minded? My inner child hates to admit when I’m right.

Oh great, here we go. My inner parent showed up to scold my inner child. “You might like the brussel sprouts if you just give it a fair chance . . .”, “It is really good for you if you can learn to like it . . .”

Fine! I’ll read it but you can’t make me like it.

I read it again a few days later, and it didn’t seem stupid. It seemed like experience I have had with my own inner doubts, fears, and spiral into darkness. Hmmm

Here it is a full 5 weeks after my therapist made the recommendation, and I finally went to the library to get the entire book. I read it all yesterday instead of having a Netflix marathon. Actually I did both simultaneously, because well, my inner child does not give up that easily and would only do it if the TV was on.

Most of this book was not news to me, rather it was an affirmation of coping skills I have been using for many years now. Actually I think I may be the most ‘mindful’ girl on the planet for a variety of reasons I’ll get into later. But some things did stand out to me – loud and clear.

First off – being mindful is really being bodyful. Aware of physical sensations that accompany a mood. You are not being mindful if you have a goal for your mood. Examples – you begin a yoga session with the goal of relaxation. You go to a movie with the goal of laughing. You go out to perform on stage with the goal of feeling joy. Emotions can’t be a part of the goal – they need to just happen. Oh dear.

I have been an emotion junkie. I have felt joy, ecstasy, jubilance, loved, only recently in the past few years, and I have been seeking to recreate those feelings and avoid the negative ones. Understandable I guess, after so many years of only negatives, but this is not the balance I thought I was establishing. I can’t command my emotions, I need to experience them as they come and go.

This hit me hard. My dance performances were not as fun this year because I was expecting it to recreate the level of joy I felt the first time –  instead of appreciating the feelings I had at the moment no matter what they were. I had fun – but it did not seem like ‘enough fun’ this time. I blamed myself and I blamed my friends for doing something differently this time – maybe they were tired or not so into it, so the atmosphere had been changed? My emotions were also flattened due to this depressive episode, and the cycle had started. I expected too much, tried to control it and craft my emotions, and found them disappointing or lacking, started wondering what is wrong with me, assigning blame, asking what is the point, and all kinds of other useless monologues in my head.

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you
don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not
doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or
less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have
problems with our friends or family, we blame the other
person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will
grow well, like the lettuce. Blaming has no positive
effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason
and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no
reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you
understand, and you show that you understand, you can
love, and the situation will change”
Thích Nhất Hạnh

I’m still controlling my emotions. But here’s the thing. When so many of them are irrational, or born of triggers and flashbacks that I’m SUPPOSED to control, how do I let go and experience the true ones? I have all these checks in place now to analyze the self-talk, check for cognitive distortions, and revise my feelings to prevent panic attacks or depression being borne of the flashbacks. I’m afraid that these stop-checks are preventing me from fully experiencing the good times – I am always on guard and asking “Is this how I SHOULD feel”, Is this real, am I truly annoyed or am I recalling a time when I felt annoyed in the past, am I truly sad or does this remind me of . . .

So I feel like me again, fairly rational (as rational as emotional humans can be anyway) and no longer stuck in between pouty inner child and scolding inner parent. But I must admit I’m feeling a bit lost and unsure of how to proceed. If the very coping skills I have been taught to stop the panic and depression are preventing any extremes of emotion, then I have to rethink this. How do I let my body run the show, and accept each emotion as it temporarily resides as a guest in my being? No guest wants to be smothered with attention, so no wonder the joy has been hiding from me, fearful it will be tackled and shackled. In fact all of the emotions ran away, refusing to be controlled.

Emotions need to be honored guests, valued, appreciated and allowed to be kept wild and free. Forcing happiness to stick around is like plucking a wildflower – it will soon wilt and wither.

Part 2 I will explain the body component of what I learned from this book, or if not learned, what I am churning about in my confused and exhausted noodle.

 

To Not To

Learning, learning, keep on learning. I have to do something wrong so many times to learn “to not to”.

  • Hubby can’t do something just because I desperately want him to – or even if I feel I NEED him to. He is not good at everything. I must understand he may not be able to solve my problems instantly. It does not mean he does not love me.

So. Yup. I learned a few things not to do.

I’ve made Hubby a partner in my PTSD healing, which is good. But then I was thinking of him as someone healthy who must have answers, solutions to my everyday anxiety. I thought he should be able to diffuse my PTSD moment – in the moment – and restore sanity.

He can’t.

Only I can do that.

I’ve been through some rough emotional times as I learn the ropes in my new job and work through so many triggers. I’ve panicked and I’ve made mistakes. I’ve lost sleep and I’ve cried. I’ve over-eated. I’ve over-over-eated. Several times I have reached out to Hubby to see if he had suggestions for how to handle the stress and demands of my new job and keep me organized so I feel in control. I keep dragging him into my world, and showing him the full force of my pain and anxiety, thinking he would be a strong shoulder for me to lean on, and also a wise teacher. I thought- he has survived a high stress job every day for years and that he should be able to teach me how to do that too. Yes, well. . .

Yoda he is not.

When I’m all upset and lashing out, Hubby freaks out too. He gets all anxious to match my anxiety. Then I feel letdown that he isn’t supported. Then he gets defensive. Then I get defensive. Then he starts yelling. Then I cry or yell or some horrible mix of the two. Then I get angry at him for ‘refusing’ to help me and gather my energy to do it myself. I’ll show him. (yes so mature, I know, but hey I’m describing an irrational meltdown, not my acceptance into Harvard speech)

So in a weird way he has helped me by not helping me these past few weeks, as my anger fueled me to muscle through and find my own way.

Hours later, after the ugliness, we both apologize to each other and everything is fine – until I flip out and start over again – usually the very next day. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. I think, maybe if I show him this? Or what if I explain it this way? But each time we escalate until we are both yelling and boiling over and nothing gets solved. Each time I think if I just change the way I ask for help, he will help me this time. He just doesn’t understand yet.

Beat dead horse. Repeat. Wait, why am I repeating something that doesn’t work?

He doesn’t have the skill set to handle what I am asking him to do. Basically, I am asking him to ignore my irrational thoughts, words and behaviors, calm my fears, make my head stop spinning, make my heart stop racing, and allow us to think clearly and calmly together to organize my notes and to-do list. He can’t help but get upset when I’m so upset. I can’t push all his hot buttons and expect a cool cucumber. Ever.

I’ve been asking Hubby to be a business consultant, a therapist, and even an osmotic human Ativan. No wonder he flips out. Although he is wonderful and amazing at so many things – he can’t be my everything.

(I think sometimes I put fatherly expectations on him too, hoping once and for all to have someone take care of me in a way that no one ever did when I was little – but not exploring that too much here, a simple acknowledgement and moving on)

Just because I work at home and he is walking through my office all day here, I can’t expect him to get involved with every work issue. I bet if I saw him all stressed out in the middle of the work day at his factory that I would get upset too, and be unable to offer anything helpful. I would think he was crazy if he asked me to help.

I previously shared what I am doing to restore my balance reactively, with yoga, exercise, crying breaks, walking away from the chaos, etc. So here is what I am doing to help myself proactively.

I went office supply shopping. By myself. Turns out my problem here is not unique and there are millions of products designed to help organize an office. I am not the only forgetful person. I am not the only one who loses things. I’m not the only one juggling a dozen balls and afraid to drop any. I bought colored folders, different sizes and colors of notebooks, a clipboard, dry erase labels, and a huge box of pens. Nothing worse than not being able to find a pen when your boss calls unexpectedly.

Today I made a to-do list and put in on my clipboard. I also have the tasks in outlook, but this task list on my paper is broken down into do-able chunks. Sometimes I do part of an outlook email task and need to do another step before I can check it off. As I took more notes and the day went on, I wrote my crazy notes as I usually do, the ones that look like a football playbook, and then put my do-able tasks on the 1 organized paper on top. I feel like I didn’t lose track of anything today. (I may have lost something, but I feel like I didn’t, and I’m going for emotional control here, so I think I’m on the right track. No tears today)

I didn’t move into my new notebooks or folders yet, need to develop a system as I go. But I don’t feel so nervous about it now. When I had a classroom, I had my planner, my calendars, my folders, and a p-touch labeler. I’d label everything if I could. I feel so good when I see a drawer labeled scissors and inside of it is – ba da da da daaaaa – scissors!

So, if you haven’t concluded it yourself yet, my biggest trigger lately has been my feeling out of control. That has always been a slippery slope for me. An abused child never feels in control, even over the things other children do. The job I have accepted has a huge amount of daily unknowns. I will always have moments out of my control. I need to learn to handle those by keeping my own environment nicely controlled – and to seriously let the other stuff go. Some can be monitored, and some will just go wild. It’s ok. It has to be ok.

I am working directly for the owner/president now. He trusts me to do the tasks. I need to trust myself. Shut the doubting negative thoughts by throwing colored folders at that. File them all away in the proper place. Hmm, maybe I should physically do this? Write down my doubting thoughts and a worst case scenario and file it away in a brightly colored folder.

labeled “To Not To” .

like Tow Mater. “What did I tell you about talking to the accused?” “To Not To” (1:10)

 

Yup.