Tag Archive | healing

Reality is Sugar Free

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Some of my doctors are better than others at providing a clear view of reality, while others offer the sugar coated version. Some are extremely confident while others provide wiggle and waffle room. I would, sociologically speaking, find it fascinating if it wasn’t my future we were discussing.

I visited one of the top spine rehab neurologists in the country yesterday. I’m glad I didn’t get my hopes up before the visit, but I am also glad I went so this can be settled once and for all.

His phrasing refreshingly sugar free, so I am going to provide a  summary of our discussion here.

Dr: What is it that you think I can help you with today? What brings you here?
Me: Well, I haven’t seen a neurologist for my spine since I was a child, after the initial injury occurred, and based on a recommendation from my physical therapist I wanted an evaluation of current status and what I might expect for healing, and if you could do anything for the other bothersome symptoms I have like stomach issues, bowel/bladder, leg twitches while sleeping, balance trouble, leg weakness, things like that. And I wanted to see if you had any information on how this might effect vestibular function or migraines. (I think I rambled on a bit actually but that was basically what I tried to say)

He gave me a good long stare.

Dr: I have reviewed your charts. I see your xray here (points to screen) and this is not a healthy spine, I would be amazed if you didn’t have balance issues and leg twitches. I saw your vestibular testing, some of that was rediculous to give to you, you have impartial messages going through half your body, of course your brain is confused by that, that doesn’t indicate malfunction, that indicates adaptation to so many years of your central nervous system doing its best.

He then did a standard neuro exam – watched me walk up and down a very long hallway, hit reflex points in knees, feet, ankles, arms with his rubber hammer, had me try to push against his hands in various positions to check strength. He noted the weakness, abnormal reflexes, difference in size and temperature of my legs.

He made that face they always do when they confirm spinal nerve damage. Even when they know, they don’t like to see it. I don’t like it either.

He seems like he wants to dismiss me, and I almost panic, this can’t be it, I waited 4 months to see him, drove 2 hours, and walked 20 min, waited an hour past my time. I was getting my questions answered.

Me: Would it be worthwhile at this point to do any testing to evaluate the nerve health, like EMG or anything else to see how the nerves are functioning now? Either to help with physical therapy or provide information as to the extent of the damage? Give me realistic expectations?

Dr: No. It would not be useful. We use those tests as pass/fail, the numbers are irrelevant for treatment. You have already failed without further testing, you have signs of severe nerve damage. If we tested you, your numbers may come out high or low, but they will come out as abnormal, which we already know, so its a waste of time and money.

Me: Oh. I see. So I was once told that I might expect some healing every 10 years or so, the rate of nerve growth. Is that still true based on recent medicine?

Dr: Only the Good God knows if you may expect some healing, but some doctors do say some stupid things, don’t they? This type of damage is not known to be reversible and at some point it may be time to stop seeing doctors and get on and live your life as you can.

I had to blink that back, totally was not expecting that response.

Me: Okay… but what about some of the other secondary symptoms. I’d really like to sleep better. Anything to help my legs stop moving and twitching? Or to keep my stomach moving along to prevent the heartburn and constipation? Or to give me better sensation to know when it is time to use the bathroom instead of watching the clock?

Dr: We don’t have any magic pills for you. Again, with the damage and curve still left in in your spine I would expect some considerable irritation and twitching. You should ask a GI about those other issues. What I will do for you is contact your vestibular therapist and add some exercises to your plan that will help with balance, make you more confident, and reduce falls. I’m also referring you to a vestibular neurologist. There’s nothing more we can do for your spine. You should know it is very strong now, between the fusion and the hardware, your spine itself is quite safe and protected within its armor. You could still pull a muscle, but there is nothing you could do to hurt your spine, even drive a truck over it. hehehe

He recommended Otago and Tinetti exercises. I looked them up and found that they are mostly for older adults fall prevention. Hmm. Seems like my CNS has aged prematurely. Here is info on Otago and here is some on Tinetti exercises, each has a pdf to download and youtube of course has many videos too.

So I guess I appreciated his attempt to give me confidence and lighten the mood. I believed him, every word. My spine is solid. The damage has not changed much since I was 12, I don’t really expect it to change much, better or worse, so I guess I can accept that. It isn’t something that needs monitored. OK. I am fine with one less doctor, really I am.

And I agree that I don’t need any more painful, expensive tests to prove what we already know. Fine. Move on.

Somewhere I was maybe hoping for some radical new treatment, something cool with stem cells, or a brand new medicine that speeds up nerve transmission, or something that filters out these random twitches, an implant, an electrode…but no such luck. Its ok. I’m ok. I’m glad I asked.

 

The cost of healing part 1

Healing costs more than money, and I have been paying the price for years. But somehow this year seems to be costing me the most.

Let’s talk about money first, because it is easier.

I had a full ride scholarship for biomedical engineering to an elite college, $50,000 a year. I worked so hard to get myself there and had big dreams. That was the time PTSD first hit me, when I left home. The migraines became daily, I became suicidal, unable to sleep or think, nightmares, social anxiety, startling easily. My confidence vanished. Every skill I used to get myself there – poof – gone. By the end of the first year I was forced to withdraw, lost my scholarship, lost my dreams, my hopes, forced to change to a less expensive school and a major I did not want. I was forced to take out student loans for the entire amount, well I thought I was forced, I did not clearly understand what I signing with Sallie Mae at the time. They said sign here and you can go to school, so I did.

I did not care much any more, I felt empty, but I kept going.

The migraines and depression were a constant battle but I graduated with honors, easily got hired. But the stress was building. My new marriage was sad and distant and lonely. I had no friends. I was not challenged in my job, only by the social anxiety and panic attacks. I became suicidal again and was forced to resign.

At that point we had bought a house based on my income. Losing it suddenly was devastating. We could no longer afford two cars, cable, eating out. We also lost my insurance. The psych visits and meds were staggering. We kept adding to our credit cards for groceries, meds, doctors, even getting advances for the mortgage. Until we couldn’t.

Hubby convinced me to cash out my 401K that I had been paying into since I was 16. All my hard work, all that planning working in government jobs and we had to flush it away at age 25. I still regret that, especially since the following year we declared bankruptcy anyway.

That’s when we decided to start a family. No job, me sick, no money. Such idiots. It is amazing we are all still here really. But I had my reasons.

I healed enough to work part time and hubby got a new job, where he is now finally making a decent average income. When we both worked it was okay. On only his income we struggle and cannot pay every bill each month, we have to pick which ones to delay, slow pay, or skip a month.

I tried working full time. I am not sure if that was my mistake, or that I worked with a horrible CEO, or that it was bad timing too with AF’s death. For a year or so we had more money than we needed. It was amazing. We paid off every credit card and started making repairs around the house with new windows and such. But I crashed. The migraines returned, but with an evil twist, hemiplegic this time. I became suicidal again due to the anti seizure meds given to me to control the migraines. I was hospitalized, in a psych ward for two weeks. I was given ECT treatments and more meds than I can recall. It was horrible. I still haven’t written much about it here, might be ready to do that soon.

My hospital and medical bills are staggering, even with insurance I owe about $500 a month to various locations. My pharmacy bill is about $200 a month.

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Today is pay day. Before his pay came in, we had $48 left. Nothing in savings. A credit card maxxed out. No wiggle room. The stress of this hurts my stomach. And it all feels like my fault.

I need to work. I want to work. But I can’t yet. I am not well. Most of the time I sit and stare at the wall, or I turn on the tv and stare at that so it feels better to stare at something that makes sense to be staring at, but I don’t absorb what is happening. I have tried taking tests for jobs and I can’t pass them. I get confused, I can’t remember, I make mistakes. I am not well.

Money may not buy happiness but it does provide security and options and lower stress levels. I hate that creditors call me a dozen times a day. I would love to pay them. I am an honorable person. But I cannot pay them all, I have to choose. So I choose water, electricity, food, meds, school fees, lunch money…please be patient I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

Part of the reason for this post is venting as usual, but part of this is to raise awareness. People don’t know how hard we work and what daily life is like. I hate money. I hate that we need money and that we need things. But we do.

We have never gone on a real vacation. We have saved up and gone to amusement parks for a day. We do not have nice new clothes, we shop at goodwill and walmart for the kids and most of my clothes are at least 10 years old, some even older. We all have 1 pair of shoes for each season. I have 1 purse. We eats lots of plain rice and potatoes and noodles. We do not go out to restaurants or movies or skating or skiing or golfing or whatever else might be fun because it costs money. We do free things at the library, parks, museums.

We do not qualify for welfare or free lunches for kids or food stamps or food cupboards. Our income is too high. But they do not look at our bills, that there is nothing left.

So kiddo says his knee hurts, he can barely walk. I take him in for an xray, they say not broken, likely a sprain, keep it iced and wrapped and gave him a note for no gym or recess. Dr calls me back and says they reviewed the xray report and kiddo needs an ortho specialist, there is some sort of bony growth abnormality.

I thanked her, made the call, and hung up and cried. I freaked out. Then I cried some more.

I don’t want to think about what might be wrong with his knee, does he need surgery? my poor baby is only 8. I have to be strong for him and I am so not feeling strong. Trying not to pre-worry but that isn’t going well today.

And then the money. I have not yet paid for that xray and I had to make more appointments that I know I can’t pay for. What choice do I have? He needs this. I’ll pay them eventually, or I won’t and the debt collector will call me for this too. I will do my best.

This life is effing expensive, and really effing hard.

Discarded

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I’ve been thinking all day yesterday, all last night, and I finally figured out the word I need to describe how I felt  when I was 16. Discarded. Like trash.

Here is my attempt to process this event using ABC format – Event – My thoughts – My feelings.

I’ve been thinking for years I made a horrible decision in telling my mom about the abuse and asking to move in with her.(column A) I have thoughts like – I should have kept my mouth shut, my life would be better if I stayed quiet, I was stupid for thinking people would help me, my reality is too terrible for other people to handle… (column B)

I feel angry at myself still for this decision to speak up, to get myself out of AF’s home. I am thinking I only had one more year of high school, it would have been better if no one knew and I finished with my friends instead of losing everyone. (column C)

I feel angry at all of the adults in my 16 year old world that mishandled the situation. I should have been protected. They should have known what would happen socially and emotionally, but they were doing their job to protect me physically, that’s it.(column C)

I feel ashamed when I remember the looks of everyone who suddenly knew my secrets.(column C)

I feel guilt for keeping the secret, and also for not keeping it, for betraying AF. (column C)

I feel overwhelming sadness for that girl and what she endured, how alone she truly was. (column C)

There is no part of me that believes my mom did not know about AF’s abuse, that he was touching me all day, leaving her bed to come to mine at night. But denial is strong and she chose not to believe it or act on it until the day I said to her “He touches me”. That’s all I said, she did not ask for details. Because I am sure in heart she already knew.

My boyfriend had encouraged me and said I had to do it – He is the reason I spoke up at all, not for myself, but for him. He couldn’t stand the thought of me living with him any more. I was so confused and conflicted. I was trying to build a relationship with this boyfriend but it was impossible, all these barriers that I didn’t understand then but I do now. I fell for this boy, deeply, painfully, and so I wanted to do the right thing  – for him. Of course he broke up with me after all this happened, after he pressured me to sleep with him. He was a year older and said he wanted to be “free” at college. Lucky him. Getting to be free.

Here is the part that may be difficult for anyone other than an abuse survivor to understand. I didn’t want to leave AF. I didn’t want him touching me, but he didn’t do that much any more – I was hardly ever home and I think he preferred younger girls (gross, vomit, but I think true). I also think I was more difficult to control now, as I grew older and gained independence he lost some of his power over me and tried less often to exert it. But listen closely – I loved AF. I needed him. (I feel the worst guilt, the worst torment over this, how will I ever forgive myself for needing what this foul creature offered me??)

He was the only human connection in my life – he designed it that way, remember? We were actually very close and talked about everything with no boundaries. I understand this now, the enmeshment, but back then it felt like he truly cared about every detail of my life. He needed to know everything to control me…but it felt good to tell him everything because there was no one else. Above all I wanted to make him happy, to please him, to make him proud of me. My overachieving was an effort to escape his punishments but also to gain his approval because sometimes he did show me warmth and those moments were amazing. People will do anything for a few moments of warmth, to feel connected to another human, to feel accepted – we are wired this way – and AF  took full advantage of this my entire childhood. Anyway, I am trying to explain that I did not want to move out of AF’s home and into my mom’s, I did not want to leave the only person that accepted me, that talked to me. I feared my mom, I feared that she did truly hate me, and only met me out of obligation from the court order. Our conversations were always surface level, like strangers discussing the weather, we were not a part of each other’s lives. Until I said those words, “He touches me”, then suddenly she was to be my mom, my actual mom, and life was never the same. Sadly I cannot say it got better, and in many ways it got worse.

Child Protective Services came to my school and pulled me out of class, in front of everyone, to interview me, no, to interrogate me in the principal’s office, where he looked at me with such pity. They asked me to tell them exactly what AF had done to me. I froze, unable to speak. So they asked me a series of disturbing questions to which I could say yes or no. “Did he ever kiss you?” “Did he ever put his tongue in your mouth?” “Did he ever take your clothes off?” “Did he ever take pictures of you?” ….you get the idea. It was horrible, humiliating, traumatic, terrifying. I think I answered honestly but I don’t recall, I think I dissociated at some point to avoid passing out.

Sent back to class, kids asking me what that was about, I think I told them it was a custody battle, that my mom wanted me to move in with her. At some point that week, everyone knew. I don’t know how. I don’t know who told my secret. My mom? My best friend? My best friend’s mom? A teacher? Did someone overhear a conversation in the office? I just don’t know. All I know is that at some point, the hallways became easier for me to walk down, because the other kids stepped aside as if I had the plague. They stared, they made nasty comments, they laughed, they stopped sitting with me in class or lunch. Some of my friends’ parents actually yelled at me for not speaking up sooner, angrily scolding me, publicly shaming me, for endangering their kids, for allowing their kids to come to my house. No one was allowed to come see me or talk to me any more even though I was now at my mom’s. This sent me the message that it wasn’t AF, but me that was bad, disgusting, damaged and might somehow hurt their kids. I absorbed that deeply on top of the message AF had already planted there. None of those other adults reached out to me and said AF was horrible, not me. Some actually said they knew AF for years and I must be lying, he wouldn’t do that. Others said nothing, but looked at me from a distance with such pity that I wanted to melt and disappear.

So I did. I disappeared. I withdrew from everything. I stopped trying to talk to anyone. I brought headphones so it seemed my choice to not talk when I sat alone. I worked in the art room during lunch to avoid no one wanting me. Then I found the program to attend classes at a local college. I had completed my high school credits already, I was in all AP classes anyway, so this was perfect. I left. I disappeared and no one noticed.

I have never had a friend, other than my husband, since then. 24 years of isolation to both protect myself and punish myself – simultaneously. Again, a duality that only a survivor understands.

Great ABC sheet handouts with explanations

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.

 

Turtles can’t do yoga

Such an odd feeling to be trapped in your own body. Since my back surgery in April I keep having these odd moments of panic, nearly like claustrophobia, but the small, tight space I am confined within is my own body.

My initial back surgery as a child fused most of my spine but left a few vertebrae at the base in the lumbar L4-S1 and up in my neck free to turn and twist. My recent surgery extended the fusion and internal hardware to give me more stability against my scoliosis and kyphosis. My lumbar discs had deterioriated and disappeared. I had air gaps in my spinal column from so much slipping motion between my vertebrae. This has been corrected. I am no longer in pain. The nerve has been decompressed. I am getting stronger every day. However I had to sacrifice even more of my precious little flexibility.

This may not sound like much to those of you with a bendy, twisty spine. You can’t imagine what it is like to have a solid, rigid backbone. You can’t imagine having perfect posture and never being able to stretch your side muscles, do a sit up, arch or curl your back. I also can’t jump, as your spine is a natural shock absorber, being solid puts all that force onto one spot like a sledge hammer. Not that I was very jumpy, but jostly things like hay rides or roller coasters are quite painful. I have moments when tears come to my eyes now, out of frustration, not pain. I feel like I’m trapped in a shell.

The extra hardware alongside the original hardware have completely eliminated all the twisting. Good for pain. But it feels so odd. Like I am in a full body cast. I simply can’t move.

I can no longer rest my head on Hubby’s shoulder when snuggling in bed. I can barely reach the floor, if I drop or spill something. I have to do a combination of a sumo wrestler squat/ballerina lunge since I can only bend within my hip joint itself, nothing in my back at all. I started driving again this week, and I can barely see for backing up, only having motion in my neck, no longer able to twist at all. I can’t see or get items from the back of the fridge or cupboards. I can’t tuck in my kids, I have to hug them before they get in bed. I can’t reach my dogs’ tummy when they lay on the floor, only with my feet. I can tie my own shoes now, but I have to hold my breath and stretch first. I can’t do even the little bit of yoga I used to do.

I will get used to my new body given more time. I’ll keep working on my leg flexibility too. And I am so happy to walk around without the pain, truly I am. I only wanted to document how odd this experience has been as well, to reach for something that should be within reach, but it may as well be a million miles away because your unbendable body will not let you get there. Kind of like trying to stick your elbow in your ear.

And the toughest part perhaps has been Hubby thinking I am pushing him away, rejecting him. I just can’t get there from here. I can’t get comfortable. I can’t bend and lean into him. All I have is my arms.

tortoise1_cepolina

I feel like a turtle with a hard awkward shell. Turtles can’t do yoga either, and they always seem quite peaceful. I know I’ll be alright eventually.

 

Take time to heal

I received those words from my brother today and it meant the world to me.

Take time to heal.

Simple words with a powerful message. He was saying he loved me. That he understands I am hurting and struggling. That he does not want to add to my stress but he does want me to know he wants me in his life.

I want him in mine too.

I don’t think I have ever heard more beautiful words.

Take time to heal

Managing Anxiety from PTSD

So it has come to my awareness that my anxiety and fears have reached epic proportions. I was actually unaware of some of my fears because of how isolated I keep myself, and how much I keep to the same routines, and dare I say rituals. I’m going to ask my counselor if this is a form of agoraphobia, but whatever we want to call it, this is what she has asked me to do for homework to start working on the fears. She wants me to break down the fears into categories as follows: What I can do with little fear or distress, what gives me some level of fear, and what is so much fear I avoid doing the item completely. I’ve started my list below. Interestly enough, compiling this list was quite distressing, as I imagined all of these situations, and also as I realized how many I do in fact fear. How did I let this happen? I didn’t let it. PTSD just did it to me, slowly, day by day, changing my life into what it is now. I’m ready to slowly change it back.

 

Situations with no or very little distress:

Situations where I feel in control, the duration is limited, I have a plan, a shopping list, know what to say or do.

  • Shopping at known stores: It is a super short list: my grocery store (0) in town, my pharmacy in town(10), Dollar Store in town(10), 2 walmarts(25) and 1 kmart just outside of town(25). I’ll go to Sears(35) at the mall if Hubby goes too and we enter through Sears, not the mall entrance.
  • Ordering takeout on phone or drive thru, picking up order if called ahead(10)
  • Teaching(10)
  • Public speaking(10)
  • Public performance(10)
  • Texting sister in law(10)
  • blogging or writing to online friends(10)
  • Anything alone with my kids(10)
  • Sitting/standing on my back porch while dogs are out(10)
  • Going to most dr appts(40)
  • Driving or sitting in my car(20)

 

Situations with some distress, might avoid or need pep talk, rehearsal, recover time:

Situations where the time limit is not predetermined, I may feel trapped, one or more elements are unpredictable, I do not know the ‘correct’ behavior or what to say, I’m unable to physically do the correct behavior due to my health or physical limitations, there are too many variables at once, people may surround me or need to touch me, I may disappoint people.

  • Family or friends gatherings(70): I like to be invited but I nearly instantly think of ways to back out of it, or I do back out of it last minute sometimes making up schedule, health or issues or problems with kids. Except for major holidays with in-laws, I feel obligated and force myself to go.
  • Ordering food at noisy counters(80) (chipotle), but quiet restaurants are fine
  • Calling to make dr appts: I hate committing to the date(50)
  • Telling concerns to Hubby(80): afraid of his reaction, either angry or aloof. Tough to tell him I’m not feeling well especially. Other tough topics include things that need fixed in the house, money issues, schedule updates,
  • Dentist appts(60) I put off until I have many cavities that need filled
  • School functions(60), sports practices, recitals, concerts. I go to most, but avoid if I can, sending Hubby whenever it is ok for me to miss meetings. Concerts I get anxious for days before.
  • If given email or phone, I will always use the email to contact teachers or coaches(70), and only then if absolutely necessary.
  • Texting real friends, even if they text me first(70)
  • Calling sister in law or mother in law(80)
  • Parking in unknown lots for first time, especially in the city, out of town(90)

 

Situations with high distress, avoid if possible

Situations where I feel I have basically no control and everything is unpredictable, I will be triggered and likely experience flashbacks, a high level of conflict, I might be wrong, sensory overload, I could bother people, I will be confused, I won’t agree or like what others do, people know I don’t belong, I could get hurt, my kids could get hurt.

  • A formal complaint (90)(to pharmacy, boss, teacher, neighbor)
  • Ob/gyn:(90) I have not been there in about 7 years now…
  • Lines like post office(80): I have not been to post office in about 15 years
  • Walking around my neighborhood(80), alone, with hubby, with my dogs or kids, it doesn’t matter: I stopped this about 2 years ago
  • PTO/volunteer at school(90): I have never done this even though I’m a teacher and I have time
  • Talking to other parents(90): I avoid this completely, asking Hubby to be our social planner if phone calls are needed. I have actually hidden in my own house when parents knocked on my door if home alone. Kids’ events (other than the final concert) I wait in my car to avoid other parents at dropoff and pickup. I pace around, use my phone, read a book, take a notebook to write in, or work on my laptop so I am busy and unapproachable when forced to be around others.
  • The school bus stop(90): After some ugly incidents with some neighbor girls and their mom last spring, I decided not to have my boys wait at the bus stop in the mornings. I drove them to school this year. I have not seen that mom in 2 years even though she lives a few houses away. After I drop off my kids, I even drive a block over to avoid seeing the crowd gathered at the bus stop on my back home.
  • Attend small town events(80) like the carnival, football games, tailgate parties, christmas celebration, artfest, etc….
  • Spend the day at mother in law’s(80) house, spending the night(100) is even worse
  • Taking kids to a busy playground(80)
  • Calling a friend:I have not done this unless asked to do so at a certain time for a certain reason since my high school friends(90)
  • Having kids’ friends over in my house(80), sleepovers(90) really bad (two friends have made it to the not so bad list, boys(100) have never been allowed to sleepover)
  • Feeling exposed outside(90): too much sun, wind, bugs, heat, cold, bird sounds, dogs barking, cars vrooming, will cause panic and send me back inside quickly.
  • Phone calls or visits with my brothers(90)
  • Working outside of the home(80): I’ve been working from home for 12 years to avoid daily face to face
  • Certain roads(90), buildings are off limits to avoid people or memories

 

Surgery story, part 7, going home

On Monday about 8 am, the Dr told me I was going home that day! I was shocked. It was only day 5 and we had originally planned 7 days in the hospital.

I called hubby at work and asked if he could get off work and how soon. I wanted him there with me for the final discharge instructions and physical therapy so he knew how to help me get home. I was suddenly feeling afraid and overwhelmed, not ready to leave the safe hospital world that I had grown used to and wanted hubby there to support me as well.

Hubby called back and said he was leaving work, heading home to change, then would be up to the hospital. I expected him around 10 or 11. I told him which soft, loose pants to bring me, which top, and decided to go without underwear or bra as the elastic would be too painful on my incisions. I did not think to ask for my coat, thinking the cold rain would remind him of my need for that.

So much happened that final day. More blood work. Visits from so many doctors, physical therapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, home care coordinators, social workers..so many people on a team making sure I was going to be safe and healthy at home.

It was a whirlwind of information, and I wished hubby would hurry. My lunch came and I called, he still had not left home. I was getting angry and hurt now that he didn’t do what he said he was going to do, and that I was all alone, and that he was going to miss the important information.

Sure enough about 2pm PT lady came for me and still no hubby. We went to the gym to practice the stairs to make sure I could get into my home and up to my bedroom. She had me walk without the walker a little, just holding her arm and hand, and that felt amazing. Then we practiced getting in and out of a car safely. I have to do it without bending or twisting- not so easy, that’s why we practice the maneuver.

This lady saw how thin my right leg was and asked about the atrophy. I explained that this surgery corrected 27 years of nerve compression, that I’m stronger and can feel it now. She nearly cried for me, and I nearly cried too, but I wasn’t letting myself believe it yet. Not for about 2 more weeks.

She gave me some other challenges, let’s see if you can walk up the stairs leading with the right leg then. I hadn’t even attempted that in 27 years. I said OK. It took a moment of staring before my leg did what I wanted, something PT calls ‘motor planning’, but then I did it.

Step up. Step up. Pulling myself up with my little right leg. It started quivering after about 4 steps, so we stopped to rest, but I felt like I climbed mount Everest. She wanted to see me lead with it going down now. I was scared. It used to buckle and give out. But I had two railings and a safety strap under my arms, so I said OK.

Step down? Yes! It held! I couldn’t believe my eyes or other senses. That couldn’t be my leg. I went down the 4 steps, very slowly, letting my right leg bear my weight for the first time in adulthood.

When I got to the bottom, my leg was hot, trembling, flexing. I could feel muscles inside of it. Angry little muscles, yes. But muscles working and firing. Such an amazing feeling. I so wished hubby had been there to see this.

PT lady wheeled me back to my hallway and said she was sad I was leaving today, she would love to keep working with me. Then she asked me to walk some more to see how it recovered. It hadn’t. My leg was quivering jelly. I was going to push through and drag it along and she made me stop. She said never push a muscle past fatigue, only up to fatigue.

I was shocked and it showed on my face. I explained that I was used to pushing past that point. She got a little upset and said she can’t imagine any physical therapist asking me to do that, that pushing past fatigue only causes pain, once you lose quality of motion you are doing harm not good. She asked me who told me to do that?

I said it was my dad….she put a hand on my shoulder and said she was sorry and we had a quiet moment of understanding. Wow. And woah.

So many years of abuse, and pain. I felt it all lift and float away in that moment when she understood. Because I understood. It wasn’t me. AF was a sadist. He enjoyed my pain. He taught me to hurt myself, to ignore signals to rest. He would say things like “no pain, no gain” or “nothing in life is easy” or “pain isn’t real it’s all in your mind, you can choose to feel it or not” or “quitters never win”. He was full of sayings like that to fill me with shame for wanting to rest. Well no more.

Now it got confusing as back in my room, the pain from PT was overwhelming. Dr ordered me Tramadol, a weaker narcotic i had not tried yet. I was willing to try, the pain was bad enough, and i figured it might help for the car ride too. The pill and fatigue made me spacey, but I swear two different doctors, a nurse, and the home care rep all gave me different instructions regarding my bandages and suture removal. Again why I wanted hubby there.

Finally about 3pm he did arrive. At that point we were only waiting for the final discharge which took another hour or so. I tried telling him all the information he missed before I forgot, which overwhelmed him, and he could tell I was annoyed but he didn’t know why. I was also dreading the car ride. Nearly two hours of bumpy torture coming soon….

A young girl arrived with a wheelchair. I asked hubby for my coat as he out his on, and he looked frightened. Ummm….I  didn’t bring you one, you didn’t ask for one. I tried not to be too hurt and annoyed by his thoughtlessness as nothing could be done now.  I was packed into the wheelchair, a pillow behind me, and all my gifts on top of me.

The ride down was alright, but it took hubby about 45 minutes to retrieve the truck from the parking garage. By the time he pulled up, I was in excruciating pain from sitting in an awkward unsupported position. I kept trying to shift in the chair but nothing helped. My spine was on fire.

They said I was not allowed to sit still for a 2 hour car trip and that we had to plan a stop at least once to get out and walk for 10 minutes on the way home to keep blood flowing or something. We pulled into a rest stop about half way home. I got myself out of the truck, but it took an enormous effort. I was stiff and sore. Hubby gave me the walker, but I couldn’t make it move in the parking lot. There was too much resistance compared to the smooth hospital hallway. I went about 5 feet and started crying, tears streaming down my face from pain, fear, and frustration. I asked hubby to walk me back with his arm, the walker was too difficult. It was much harder to get in the vehicle this time than at the hospital, I had to push through the pain and the chills from walking in the cold rain without a coat made all my sore muscles angry and tight. Once back in the truck, he cranked up the heat until the chills subsided, then we headed home again. I hoped it was worth it to follow that advice to stop and walk because everything hurt so much worse now. Every bump in the road went directly into my spine and there was no way to soften the blow.

Finally we made it home. I struggled to get out of the truck. I could barely move. Every muscle was stiff and in spasms. Hubby got me to our porch steps, somehow I went up, only three but it felt like I was ripping apart inside with each step. In the house he had a chair for me near the door. Nice, but it had a curved back so I couldn’t actually lean back on it without causing extra pain, even with the pillows. I sat there a moment and decided it would be best to get in bed.

Upstairs.

We started the longest, slowest journey. Step up, moan, whimper, breathe, pause, step up, grimace, whine, breathe, pause, step up, ouch, groan, breathe, pause….until I made it to my room.

Then I stared at my bed. My flat, non hospital bed. And I lost it. I started sobbing. Why did I come home? I wasn’t ready! That trip was horrible torture and now I don’t have an adjustable bed, I can’t do this. I should have stayed in the hospital longer.

Hubby stared at me all bug eyed and helpless as men do with crying women, but even worse because if he touched me it would likely hurt, and he usually says the wrong thing, so he just stared in silence.

In a moment I calmed down, tried to roll into bed, but it was too low and i yelped in pain. Hubby had bought some wedge shaped pillows and asked if I wanted to try it. It made it easier to roll and I got in, but it seemed so hard, like laying on cement! I could feel with my hands that it was soft though, it was only my sore back making it feel hard.

Hubby brought me ice gel packs and slid them under me, covered me with blankets, and then I just waited for the pain to ease. I took a tramadol they sent me home with, but it only made me nauseous and did nothing for the pain. Somehow I made it through the night, by breathing, visualizing, and distracting myself with tv and candy.

I wanted hubby with me that night but was afraid he would bump me in his sleep. We placed a giant body pillow between us in the bed as a barrier, later we named it the “chastity pillow” to be funny, but it effectively kept us apart and me safe.

I discovered I could walk to our bathroom without the walker by holding the dresser, the bedframe, and the walls. PT lady calls this furniture walking. My tiny room and hallway really made the walker impossible upstairs. Plus I wasn’t having balance issues, I was ready to walk on my own and try out my new legs.

Just as soon as I napped.

Surgery story, part 6

Saturday morning I woke up feeling hungry, actually hungry, stomach growling and everything. My liquid breakfast was not satisfying at all. The beef broth was gross, plain chicken broth I can handle but this stuff was vile.

When the doctor came in I asked to be advanced to real food, maybe some fruit? He was concerned I had not had a bowel movement yet and I countered logically that I have had no solid food yet…I mean I’m good but I can’t make something out of nothing.

PT guy came for me and we walked to the end of the hall by the nurses station, then he gave me a ride in the wheelchair to the PT room. I remembered a room like this from being 12, various ramps, bars, steps, platforms, even half a car for practicing. He took me to the steps, tied a safety belt up around my armpits, and asked me to walk up the stairs. First I tried it using both railings, then with only one side like I have at home. I felt it pull in my hips and back, but my legs felt strong. I got to the top much more easily than I thought I would be able. Down was even easier. I may have audibly woohooed here, as he gave me a puzzled look. I explained i couldn’t do this easily before surgery, that my leg was much stronger now. I did it twice and started to get tired so we stopped.

He didn’t wheel me back to my room, only back to my hallway. He asked me to walk the rest of the way. I was already tired but he said we needed to build up my stamina. So I did it. Slowly. I think some molasses covered snails passed me actually. But I did it. Woohoo for stamina.

Back in my room an aide came in to help get me cleaned up and changed into a fresh gown. Her idea of helping was different from mine though. She put everything in the bathroom, walked me there and left. I told her I couldn’t bend or reach my legs or back and could she help? Her response was that she had a horrible headache, about to explode, and had to go sit down. So I got back in bed half clean with what I could reach by myself and I would ask hubby to help me when he got in later.

I was disappointed when lunch was more broth and jello. I asked the nurse if the orders were changed? She said not yet, but she saw drs notes that he was going to. I said OK. But then i told her how hungry i was and that i was dying for some fruit. She came back in with a few fruit cups hidden in her pocket. I could have kissed her! She smiled and said Shhhh like it was a big secret and I smiled back before digging into the best tasting pears of my life.

Then I heard a familiar voice, my son. Hubby had brought my kids to visit. They looked scared at first, I tried to let them know I was ok. My youngest got in bed with me, I put a pillow on my belly so he didn’t bump my incision. He liked putting my bed up and down. They brought me flowers, a stuffed bear, candy, and a duck figurine. My middle guy didn’t make eye contact with me, he was struggling. My daughter was chattering away telling me about her week.

Then a helicopter flew near, my room was next to the landing pad. And my youngest seriously must have had his own flashback or something like it. He says, that’s like the one I rode in…I can’t feel my legs…I can’t see…

I yelled to hubby to catch him before he hit the ground and he just made it. He nearly passed out, was all in a cold sweat. We gave him ginger ale and turned on the TV. Hmmm. Guess little guy remembers his icu trip to the special childrens hospital in the helicopter about 2 years ago when he was only 5. And seeing his mom in pain and inflated and all bruised everywhere was bad enough without the helicopter reminder. Poor little guy. He was OK though.

My sis in law arrived soon to take the kids to her house for the night. We planned the timing so their visit with me would be brief, for them, and for me too.

Then I heard another familiar voice. My oldest brother was there. I was somewhat surprised he had come, especially since  earlier today was mom’s actual funeral. Hubby said he brought his whole family, so I decided to visit with them out in the hallway, not enough space in my tiny room.

I was shocked that walking was getting easy, that I had already recovered from PT earlier. I stood and walked and chatted with my brother, his wife and several of his kids until I got too tired and shaky. I felt special and loved. He said the funeral went well and he was so pleased my surgery went so well I was up and walking.

When I got back in bed, I realized I may have overdone it. Ok definitely had overdone it. My back went into spasms. That wonderful nurse saw this and brought me a giant sack of ice nearly as big as me, asked me to roll to my side,  and lean against the ice like giant frozen body pillow. The ice helped in a few minutes and I fell asleep. I woke up soon, feeling very cold, but much better. I asked hubby to move the ice and I was thrilled to see dinner had come, with mashed potatoes! Real food! Nothing tasted great, but with my numb tongue and growing hunger it didn’t matter much. My belly needed food. I still didn’t eat much, I felt full right away, but it was a satisfied feeling.

I slept well that night, in between the poking and prodding of course, and the constant calls from my roommate. She was 79, often not entirely lucid, quite loud, quite demanding. She would ask for nonsensical items with the call button and whoever answered was always polite and always sent someone to check on her.

The next day my sis in law came to visit, the one that went to my mom’s memorial. She brought more flowers.

I didn’t have so many visitors or support during my surgery when I was 12. I was alone for nearly all of it. AF stopped by most evenings after work. Mom only came once when my brother drove her, too afraid to drive to the big city. So for 2 weeks, I was alone there. Alone for all of the tests and PT for a newly paralyzed girl. I don’t remember being afraid or lonely. Abused kids aren’t entitled to feel that. So I didn’t. But I feel it now. I look at my kids, and can’t imagine ever leaving them alone. So I feel now what I couldn’t then, and I understand the depth of my pain and PTSD. I’m ready to care for this woman, that as a child was uncared for. I’m no longer ashamed of the girl within. I understand her, and want to help her.

What a flashback Feels like and how to cope

What does a flashback feel like? What does it look like?

I had some earth shattering ones yesterday, so the feelings are quite raw and fresh. I am going to attempt to describe the experience. Then I am going to add some research and comments from my counseling session yesterday as well. I don’t know if this is how everyone experiences flashbacks, if this is typical or not, all I can say is this is true for me.

So what happened yesterday that was so triggering? I had an entire day full of doctor appointments, pre-op assessments to prepare for my surgery next week. I actually had very little anxiety beforehand. I was not looking forward to a day of xrays, blood tests, EKG, physical exam, and anesthesia consult, but I had no panic in me.

So we start driving to the hospital, which is a large campus made up of many large buildings. As we get nearer I look up my first appointment desk and see that the building is the one I used to go to as a kid, where all of my pediatric orthopedic visits were when I was 11 and started back bracing, and 12 and had surgery, and then for years after for physical therapy and rehab to get a paralyzed limb walking again. Hmmm.

Although I had been going to this hospital campus for my migraines and back issues, I had not been in this particular building since I was a teenager. Is this enough foreshadowing for you?

So I walked in the building alone, Hubby dropped me off at the front door so I didn’t have to walk so far.

(He dropped me off just like my dad used to do. That thought didn’t actually cross my mind at that point, not consciously anyway. A-hole used to drop me off because he had a job where he was on call on a CB radio and would stay in the car, at work, while I went in for my doctor visits alone. At age 11, leaving me to deal with having severe scoliosis and whatever treatment the doctor said all alone. He always acted like it was the biggest inconvenience to have to even drive me there. He’d complain about the disruption to his day, how he’d be behind at work, how much the doctor was costing him. I always felt guilty and ashamed for having scoliosis, like it was somehow my fault and I failed him)

I made it into the lobby and started looking for the elevators, but somehow I already knew where to go, part of me remembered. I just started walking and got in the elevator. A nice man asked which floor, I smiled and said 2 please, but my lips felt funny when I smiled. Like they were too thick. And I wasn’t sure I actually said anything, but I saw him press 2 and we went up, so I figured the words must have come out of me. But it didn’t sound like me. It sounded like a stranger behind me or something, not me talking.

I got out on the second floor and the view there was like a bolt of lightning. I was going to radiology, the same radiology I had been to a ZILLION times for back xrays to check the progress of my spine curves. It looked the same, exactly the same. It opened up into the loft overlooking the lobby below, I could see the doors where I just came in. I was struggling to breathe, like someone was choking me from the inside out. Or like my stomach itself was choking me by coming up through my throat. I got dizzy, reached for the rail just in time and avoided falling. I’m not sure how long I stayed there. My mind went blank.

(This was a dissociative flashback, I  learned later)

I came back and I was crouched behind the “wait here for next available . . .” sign, shaking and confused. My arms were crossed tight around myself, head down, I was leaning against the railing now, knees bent a little, but not quite squatting or sitting, more like I was HIDING there. Behind the sign.

The clerk called me up, and I snapped to attention, my awareness returning. I shook my head and walked to the desk. I couldn’t think what I was supposed to say to her. She said “can I help you?” and I still wasn’t sure who or WHEN I was. I was looking at my hands and my cane and I was very confused. I saw the desk number and radiology on the sign and said “Is this the right desk?” She wasn’t sure, since she didn’t know what desk I needed, but was very nice to me and asked me my name, which I luckily was beginning to remember. She confirmed my appointment, checked me in, and asked me to have a seat. I did, and started doing grounding exercises.

I have a great app on my phone, called “What’s Up?” that has all sorts of breathing and grounding exercises in it. I opened that up and started doing some of the lists – Name 5 types of flowers (tulip, rose, daffodil, lily, peony), name 5 fruits (apple, banana, mango, papaya, kiwi)…

Hubby comes in then. He does the grounding with me, which is so much better than being alone. Next list is name 5 capital cities (we both crack up…umm, we should probably know some, neither of us could think of anything so we just named BIG cities instead) The laughing felt great. Just what I needed. The swirly head feeling was stopping.

I had the xrays with no major difficulty and proceeded to our next appointment which was back downstairs. We walked back over the loft, into the elevator, got out on the first floor and I froze again. This time I didn’t just feel dizzy and out of sorts. This time my feet disappeared. This time I felt sad and afraid. This time I re-experienced myself walking alone down the stairs next to the elevator, a grand staircase with full view of the lobby and loft. I both saw myself doing this like a movie I was watching, but also felt it like it was happening in real time. It overlapped my reality. Like a dream come to life. I was suddenly 12, carrying a huge package of my own xrays to this elevator, so that my surgeon could see my curves had gotten worse again this month, that the back brace was not slowing the progress of my scoliosis. I was 12, listening to a team of doctors talk about me in the hallway before showing me my films on the lightboard. Listening as they say, Oh NO! Look here, and here, we’ll have to get more aggressive or her lungs could soon be compromised. And then they smile as if I couldn’t hear them outside my door, and they give me news to relay to my dad, the A-hole sitting out in his car, who can’t be bothered to come in with me.

I don’t recall feeling fear, or sadness, or alone. I couldn’t I wasn’t allowed. I wasn’t able to. If I felt those things…I would not have been able to go into my doctor visits. I would have been consumed and unable to do what needed done. So in my memories, I don’t recall the feelings, because I was numb.

But in my flashbacks – now that I’m no longer numb – the feelings are attached. And INTENSE!!!

I thought I was going to die yesterday. The power of the sadness, and the pure terror pumping through me was bigger than anything I’ve felt yet.

I felt the fear and sadness of a 12 year old starting with 2 60 degree curves in her spine getting progressively worse each month, getting told her own back will crush her lungs and heart if they can’t stop it, that the bracing is not working, and that surgery is required and soon. I felt the fear of that little girl doing that alone while her parents were too busy, self absorbed, or too weak to support her. No one held her hand or hugged her. No one sat with her. No one told her it would be ok. No one even looked at her. In fact she was made to feel like a bother, a nuisance for having this dreadful disease, a shameful bother bringing down the entire family with its inconvenience and cost.

I nearly passed out. I couldn’t breathe. I forgot how to breathe and just stopped for a while. I couldn’t feel my feet or hands. My vision was both blurry and focused, like I could see only directly in front of me, but it was with super clarity like a microscope. Is that tunnel vision? And then I burst into tears. Gasping for air, and trying to cry, trying to walk, unable to talk, watching these movies but experiencing them in high-def with surround sound and surreal senses. I couldn’t see the real surroundings with these movies overlapping my vision. I wasn’t sure which people were real, which were memories. I wasn’t sure which me I was – was I 12 or 39? I kept fading in and out between the two ages.

Hubby took my wrist then, kept saying “It’s ok, I’m here with with you, let’s find a chair, I’m right here…”He guided me and I kept having the urge to run! but I was unable, without feet or vision or air in my lungs. His voice I knew, and trusted, and knew it was not a memory, his voice did not belong to me being 12. I followed his voice and let him take to a chair in a quiet hallway. He kind of pushed me into the chair, and told me “push your feet into the ground, feel the ground” He kept holding my hand and wrist and saying he was there with me, that I wasn’t alone. I’m not sure how long it took, but the storm calmed a bit, and I could see where I was again, but still couldn’t breathe, and was still crying uncontrollably. I was trying to do breathing exercises, square breathing is my favorite for calming, but I was unable to count for myself. I asked Hubby to count for me so I could focus. He had never done it before, so I had to teach him so he could then coach me.

In 4, hold 4, out 4, hold 4 – I said in between gasps. Geez I felt like I was in labor trying to breathe in between contractions. This was so hard to THINK!

He started and at first he was way to slow, in……1…….2……3…..4……. and since I was still gasping and hyperventilating I couldn’t come close to his slow pace yet. He sped it up. And said ‘in’ is 1. OH!

he tried again. In..2..3..4..hold..2..3..4..

Yes that’s it. I could feel the quivering in my lungs relaxing a little. His voice sounded so good. The images in my brain were fading and the wall in front of me was getting more distinct.

We sat there counting and breathing for several minutes, not sure how long. Until I could take a deep breath with the quiver and gasp, until I could feel my hands and feet again, until I knew I was 39 and not 12. At one point a nice gentleman came over to us and asked if he could read us some bible verses to help calm me, since I was obviously distraught. We declined, but I thought it was nice that someone was willing to reach out to us.

I stood up and looked over at the lobby, the stairs, the elevator…a little sadness returned, but it is something I can handle now. It is something I needed to know. I unlocked something major yesterday. I got a taste of what I felt growing up, but wasn’t able to feel, what I repressed and locked away so I could survive each day and keep going. It wasn’t safe to feel it back then and I had no one to help me. I do now. I’m safe now.

I made it over to the next check-in desk, a few minutes late for my next appointment, but the clerk there was so cheerful as she looked up my name, and then all of a sudden she started giggling – and shrinking! Her chair was broken and the hydraulic thingy kept making her sink below the desk all day she said, she said someone took her regular chair. Her silly, mundane, human issue of someone taking her chair and swapping it for the crappy one was suddenly hilarious to the both of us as she reached up from her low position and hopped a little to try to see the computer monitor. We both burst out laughing.

It was awesome.

Many people are good and kind. I don’t have to be afraid to talk and interact with everyone. I don’t have to hide my problems, people like to be helpful, and all people have their own problems.

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So the couples counselor was nearly dancing for joy yesterday when we shared this with him. He said this was tremendous progress for us both, shows a level of trust in each other, a willingness to share and learn. And he said that by Hubby caring for me DURING this flashback, it actually negates some of the fear and sadness. He said joy and care are antidotes to fear, pain, and sadness so if I felt loved and cared for instead of ashamed and alone during this flashback, then I may have rewritten some of these memories. Now when I think of them, Hubby and his love and care will also be combined with it, instead of me being eternally alone. That’s why we are supposed to shed the light on the shame gremlins and blast them away with the care of another person – in the moment.

I didn’t realize how powerful that was until he explained it to me. I now have a new connection, a new neuron path that connects loving feelings of safety and care with Hubby to my scoliosis and hospital visits.

Wow.

Almost seems too easy, or impossible. Then I thought about the dream/nightmare imagery, how I’ve been able to think of new endings to some of my recurrent dreams with visualization and imagery. This is a similar process, only it works in reverse to rewrite history and lessen the power or recurrent flashbacks instead of nightmares.

I found a book by Joyanna Silberg, The Child Survivor: Healing Developmental Trauma and Dissocation.  I found an excerpt (page 201 of Silberg’s book shown below) where she discusses the time machine technique. But basically the technique involves imagining the scenario of the flashback but instead of just remembering it, you add something to it, make a change. My counselor said it can be something minor, like make your face green, doesn’t have to be as drastic a change as this. In this book, the author has children imagine they have superpowers and change what happened to them, or imagine saying something they wish they really had said. I see the power and value of this method to get unstuck, to break free of the memory rut. If you change the memory, you have broken that worn path, it no longer exists. You can’t change history, it won’t change what happened to you, but you can change how you think about it, and maybe stop reliving it. Really, once was enough.

silberg time machine

So last night I started imagining that instead of going to my doctor visits alone, my best friend went with me and we played cards in the waiting room. One trip I imagined I brought my dog with me and we played frisbee in the huge open lobby, I watched her running up the grand staircase. I tried to imagine that one time the doctor said I was all better, that my curves were getting better in stead of worse…but I couldn’t do it. I don’t think I can erase and rewrite the bad. But I can add in some good. I can add in some hugs and hand holding, and chocolate milkshakes. I can add headphones and imagine I was hearing great music instead of dad’s horrible words. Just imagine his mouth moving and not hear it – replace with umm, let’s see, age 12…I think I was into Madonna, Prince, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Tiffany, INXS, Guns N Roses, Phil Collins, Whitesnake and the entire soundtrack of Dirty Dancing nonstop from the year before. Both my cassette tape and my video tape were getting worn out. Patrick Swayze…Sigh.

Shut up Flashbacks. Nobody puts Baby in the corner!   🙂

Patrick Swayze will now accompany me in all of my flashbacks. Can’t hurt. Really can’t hurt. May not help a thing, I’ll let you all know how it goes. Next time I think of walking on that grand stair case at the hospital maybe it can look more like this.