Tag Archive | strength

Trauma is in the eye of the beholder

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What do people really think about you? What are you showing them? Well what they think depends on how they frame it in their minds anyway. So much subjectivity, so much interpretation and assumption.

I’ve become increasingly interested in my doctors varying opinions of my mood lately and how it applies to my future. As most of you know, as soon as you have “Psych” history on your record, it can be difficult to get medical attention without doctors telling you how you feel and that somehow trauma and depression are actually causing the issues, not anything they can solve, and you end up with another referral for therapy.

If you have an “extensive Psych” history like mine, it is almost impossible.

I started comparing notes.

My back surgeon notes that I am pleasant and upbeat, cheerful, even 3 weeks post surgery when my pain level was still quite high.

But the neuropsych team inote, flat affect, appears to be severely depressed, speaking noticeably slowly, moved to tears.

Let’s see what is the difference here? It’s not just that the psych team is looking for it, I’m not saying that, I am behaving differently in these appointments. Hmmm, I wonder why? Seriously. That was snarky if you couldn’t tell. OK let me spell it out by giving you a glimpse of the conversations.

When I am talking with my back surgeon, I am grateful, he has changed my life, reduced my pain, restored strength and balance to my weak leg. He see me as strong, able, resilient, and able to do whatever I want to do. He knows nothing about my traumatic past and never has asked about it. He expects me to heal, because nerves, bones and muscles heal at an expected rate.

When I am talking with the psych team, they continually poke and prod about the relationship with my parents and brothers and husband. They force me to relive and retell some of the worst moments of my life. Usually I am meeting someone new, forced to tell my story to someone I do not fully trust for them to make another assessment of my condition. My flat affect is me trying to remain calm and choose my words carefully, knowing I am being judged. My tears are me, reacting to pain in the moment, recalling my sorrow.

But I don’t live there in that sorrow. Each doctor is only seeing a snapshot of me, a moment of me, not all of me, not how I function each day all day, not my life. I wonder how many people can retell their worst fears and memories without appearing traumatized. Even if you weren’t abused, I bet if you spent 3 hours describing every pet that died, how you miss your grandparents, maybe you were bullied, your boyfriend broke your heart in high school, your friend died in a car crash or overdose, your parents split up – whatever – life is full of heartache and tragic moments that we don’t call abuse. I bet if you made a list of them and described them out loud, that any “normal” person would appear depressed and traumatized and dysfunctional.

I don’t think its me that needs realistic expectations, I think it is the medical community. I almost want to prove my theory by starting over with a new doctor, stating I have a brain injury from purely physical means, caught in a shockwave perhaps and see I still have the same sad “Sorry but we can’t help you, you’ve been through too much to get better at this point in your life” story. I bet I would get sent to rehab and expected to heal if I didn’t have a psych history.

Well I expect more of myself, always have. Yeah, I got knocked down. But I’ve been down before, so what. I am out there jogging you guys. It isn’t beautiful, I mean I won’t win any medals, but I am not using a cane and both feet leave the ground at a pace faster than walking. I know I am healing. I know what I can do. I can do more.

I don’t care about my history, its irrelevant at this point. My brain doesn’t care. I am no longer being traumatized. I am sleeping, eating well, exercising, going to therapy, doing brain training games, pushing towards creative thought – why can’t I expect healing to happen? I don’t have a bunch of faith, but I’ve always believed in resiliency, set a goal, make a path, and eventually you get there.

My therapist thinks my lack of creativity is tied more to grief than brain damage. I’m starting to think she is right. My mom was my constant cheerleader, so supportive of my artwork and writing. I always shared my ideas and progress with her, always created for her, and she poured on the constant praise, sometimes annoyingly so, and almost over the top. I think I depended on that more than I ever knew though. Without her daily comments on my blogs, her multiple emails, I have no one else cheering me on, encouraging me to draw something today, asking what my next project will be, asking me to make something for her. She kept me going. I see this now. So at some point I will have to draw through the tears, and just keep going, until I am drawing for myself and the world, and show her that her years of support were enough to keep me going even after she is gone. I need to feel this pain of missing her and draw anyway. Somehow with my teary eyes and shaky hands I know this is the next step I need to take. An empty page has never been so frightening.

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Preparing for triggers

Tommorrow will be a day full of unavoidable triggers. And other stresses too. I am taking my daughter to the back specialist. Upon my insistence, I asked pediatrician for an xray. She has mild scoliosis.

Breathe. It is mild. It may stay mild. 

Because I want the best for her, I am taking her to the same place I went. Recently and as a child. But now we get to go to the pediatric office, the actual same place I went. Even better, better for her, worse for flashback potential, her Dr is the the son of my Dr back then. Same name, same floor. I lost it a few months ago when I had to go to the same building for radiology. 

I have to keep myself grounded and present. My daughter may see a full blown panic attack or flashback for the first time. But I have to be there for her. It would have been better for me to choose a different dr, but not best for her.

So I can do this. Somehow I can do it. I already feel sick, a migraine. Nightmares for days have kept me from resting. I am so tired.

Then other stresses combined as usual to make this week even harder to manage. And yet I must. More later on the other stresses, too much to write now

Good day dear cane

I have officially put my cane into the back of my closet. Woot! Woot! I am walking steadily and with more strength each day. I don’t feel like I am limping.

I am incredibly slow, yet each step is solid. My stride is wider and more natural now. I am spending more time on the weak leg so it is more step-step and less stepppp-hop. 

It has been five months since my back surgery. The strength and balance gains in my weak leg are nothing short of phenomenal. After 27 years of feeling it grow weaker, this simply doesn’t seem possible, like it isn’t my leg. I have advanced weights and color levels in physical therapy. I am rebuilding muscle and nerve pathways.

I have cried a few times at PT, out of surprise and joy from my new strength and control. The therapists beam with delight and cheer me on, all knowing my story, well, my scoliosis story. I feel real and accepted there and cared for.

I still have a long way to go. My success is relative. My walking distance before my leg fatigues is 540 feet, but used to be 100. I have worked up to using 2 pound weights with my arms. I still have negative range of motion in my ankle, unable to bend it up to a right angle, but I am only 1 degree away now, started at 5. 

I have many other metrics and measurements we are tracking. Some seem so pathetic as I regain core body strength from this surgery. Using my arms is still very painful. Pain wraps arounds my ribs and lasts for days for attempting something simple, like lifting a canteloupe.

Every day I do a bit more and try to be patient with the slow pace. The surgeon told me it would take a year to recover, but hearing those words and living those words are two different things entirely.

I want to walk my dog. She is about 50 pounds. I can’t do it yet. I can however, just this week push and turn a grocery cart without assistance, if it doesn’t have much in it. That was a major triumph to buy some (light) groceries by myself, without kids or hubby – or a cane – to help. I was tired and hurting a bit, but mostly just grinning like a fool at my accomplishment.

Gottman, do try this at home

Couples counselor helped us to understand and process the feelings from my fearful walk the night before. I was only focused on the walk itself, how when my anxiety was so high, and I was reaching panic levels, how was my spouse supposed to support me as I begin to attempt these in vivo experiences and start living my life again? But the counselor showed us that yes, that is an important piece, but there is more, bunches more.

The counselor pulled out some worksheets and guided us through using it for the first time, using that walk as the topic. The worksheets were created by Gottman, titled Aftermath of a Fight or a Regrettable Incident. I’m familiar with Gottman for his marriage books, and I was confused by the title. Hubby and I didn’t have a fight. And what the bleep is a regrettable incident…who talks like that? Oh yeah…counselors do.

Counselor explained this worksheet is great any time a couple is experiencing different realities, are not in sync, seem to have trouble communicating clearly, or are on a different page. Oh…well, that describes Hubby and I pretty much any time we try to speak to each other. It’s like I say something and he is using a translator that gets close, but never quite it exactly.

Here’s my worksheet. 2 pages of fun.

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So it took the entire hour of counseling to go through this worksheet with the counselor facilitating Hubby and I taking turns and discussing our feelings before, during, and after the walk. The walk itself lasted about 5 minutes before fear took over and we headed back home. Seems crazy to devote two blogs and an entire counseling session to it right? No, not at all. It only took a few minutes for PTSD to hijack my body and make me feel like I was dying. Even though I knew I was safe, I didn’t FEEL safe, and had all the same effects in my body as adrenaline took over. It took me hours to recover from that walk. I was unable to read to my kids that night. I was worn out and frazzled, shaking, cold, nauseous.

Hubby was unaware of all of that. He said he thought I was afraid to fall, so that even though I clearly expressed my anxiety was an 8 he still was thinking I had a physical fear from the surgery, not thinking I had any emotional fears at all.

I kept waiting for him to come up and check on me, but he was fine, so thought I was fine, because how could a 5 minute walk to the corner result in someone being unfine? Through this process, we both shared our point of view, without blame. At the counselor’s office, I felt safe to share what seemed like critical feelings towards Hubby that I tend to keep inside so I don’t hurt his feelings or get a bad reaction. I’m also ashamed of myself for being too afraid to walk down the sidewalk, so it is difficult to talk about to someone who does not understand. But doing that contributes to me feeling lonely, small, and unimportant.

We both left this session feeling closer and better understood. Also better prepared for how to tackle a future regrettable incident. It seems odd to plan to have regrettable incidents, but of course we are human after all, so it is better to prepare for crap than to think we can prevent the crap.

I’m so proud of Hubby for attending counseling with me and digging deep to find his emotional language. This is all new for him. He often gets stuck in the “explain what you were feeling” parts, and the counselor is patient and guides him through it. I just stay quiet. I know it is hard. I was there in that same boat several months ago. Now I can show off and list off multiple complex emotions within myself, all without passing out at all. But when you have not been trained to look within, to listen to yourself, to value your feelings, it is almost like they don’t exist. Now Hubby doesn’t have my traumatic history, but everyone has triggers and sensitivities. He wasn’t abused, but he grew up in a family without much affection and where yelling was the norm. He also learned to hide to avoid setting off tempers. Not as extreme as mine, but its there. That’s why we are finally making progress with a trauma focused couples counselor – he is treating both of us.

Counselor has been coaching Hubby in his own stress management, breathing techniques, and gave him a few phone apps to try for grounding and meditation, like “Stop, Breathe, Think”. I’m so hopeful (yes I used the ‘h’ word…) that he will find some relief and one day will notice the difference in himself. Like I can feel when tension starts creeping up on me now, but I used to live at stress level 8, always tense, and that’s where Hubby is, so every additional stressor sets him off. He suffers with headaches, heartburn, muscle tightness and cramps, poor sleep and needing too much sleep, feeling overwhelmed, upset stomach, and of course yelling at us to blow off steam.

Counselor also discusses our automatic reactions. Hubby did mention that he often feels powerless with me, and that one of his reactions is to do nothing. That’s why he leaves me alone and says nothing. When he is aware of my pain or struggle he feels powerless, with no tools to help, so he disappears and entertains himself to relieve his own discomfort. This insight was huge to understanding what makes Hubby tick, and that my automatic reaction of hiding in shame, well, no wonder we rarely come together during the event itself. So I need to work on telling him what I need, going to him instead of waiting on him to come to me. And he will work on realizing that for a while here, it is very likely that each new activity has the possibility to bring on a strong fear reaction and while I am experiencing strong fear, it becomes increasingly harder to communicate it.

PTSD sucks. I’m so grateful I have fantastic counselors helping Hubby and I navigate these difficult waters ahead. I feel like I have allies now. Something confusing or overwhelming happens, and instead of swallowing it down and moving forward, I see it as a learning opportunity to bring up during my next session. It is still hard. I’m still ashamed. I can’t look my counselors in the eye when I tell them about my problems. I sweat, get flushed, shake, squirm…But I’m there and I tell them because I want to get over PTSD and one day be free. They keep telling me it is possible, that I’m not a lifer.

Surgery story, part 1

Not for the squeamish, don’t read if medical details bother you.

We left at 4:30 am to start driving to the hospital. A two hour drive. I wasn’t too nervous though, this felt right, like something I needed to do. Like my mom’s memorial service yesterday…but that’s a different story, though of course still fresh on my mind.

We make it to the hospital and it feels like a dream or a movie, not my life. Hubby accompanies me to the check-in counter and they hand him a pager and explain the codes, and how to get updates on my status from it and the many monitors in the area. It was like an odd airport, and I was the airplane being prepared for takeoff.

I was taken back to a little room, given a gown, asked for a urine sample (in case I got pregnant since the last one…ummm no) and then an IV was started. Right away I knew she missed, but she wanted to give it a moment. We watched the bruising grow, the pain get worse, and I was worried this wouldn’t be good enough for surgery. When I told the nurse she seemed annoyed or afraid or mad at herself for failing – all things I didn’t want to deal with, I only wanted a proper IV, no fault or blame. She got a different nurse to try my other arm. She went into the top of my hand, which hurt, and ballooned a little but she insisted it was good. OK.

I signed multiple consent forms, answered ridiculous questions a million times. Finally my surgeon appears at 8:00 am and says we will start at 8:30. Hmmm, I think, why did I need to be here 2 hours early to pee and get an IV?  And I thought of the airport again, this must really be an airport, and I laughed to myself.

Finally transport came to wheel my bed away to OR. It was a long, wild ride over ramps, through buzzy locked double doors, past clusters of doctors talking and blocking the hallway reluctant to step aside, and finally I was tucked into bed parking space outside my OR doors. And left there alone. A long time. A really long time.

At last, after I counted all the tiles, tried some grounding games like listing types of flowers, candies, dogs, etc several hatted and masked people arrived to wheel me in.

This OR was straight from sci fi. I’d had c-sections with general anesthesia, but those rooms were junky and barren compared to this. I think I actually said something clever like “woah” when I first saw it all. One wall was an enormous display screen, like half a movie screen with my CT scans and x-rays on it, all moving as my surgeon prepared himself and his team. I’ve previously only seen this many computers at NASA, my airport thoughts quickly turned space station. So many lights, tools, tubes, hoses, trays…everything was either sterile white, stainless steel, or emerald green.

Now all of this could be worrisome, but I found it comforting. I was surrounded by a team of about a dozen brilliant people gathered just for me by my surgeon. Everyone was calm but excited, like I am before a big performance. I’m an interesting case, a challenge, and you could feel the buzz in the air as everyone prepared for me.

Two nurses got my attention and asked me to scootch over to the little operating table. I was surprised to find it had a comfy cushion on it for my back, a circular pillow for my neck. The table was super narrow, I barely fit on it, on my arms would dangle off. They attached side bars for my arms to rest on and strapped them there with soft Velcro.

Next my surgeon came over and gave me the warmest smile, said we were ready to start and everyone here was going to take very good care of me. Then the anesthetist came over and said he gave me something to relax and …. I don’t recall the end of his sentence. Everything got warm and slow and blurry and then my next memory is in the recovery room.

Surgery success

I’m home from the hospital and mending nicely already from back surgery. I’m in less pain than I was pre-surgery, generally, unless I’m walking up stairs or doing extensive physical therapy.

Here’s the news, something I’m afraid to type, for fear of believing in it or making it not true. But this surgeon was able to correct the problems caused during my childhood surgery. He says to me, “I decompressed the nerve completely. You now have fully restored communication.”

And then he left and I was so groggy, but as the next few days I started waking up from anesthesia and getting stronger, and the neural assessments on my legs were equal. I could lift my right toes and hold them there. I could lift my right knee off the bed. I could stand and walk and feel my legs beneath me.

I still think I’m dreaming.

27 years I’ve had a weak leg. And he fixed it? I went in for a fusion at L4 to Ilium. But I gave him permission to inspect and revise original fusion as needed. He found the compressed area up around T12. And he fixed it. He FIXED it!!!!! I’ll detail the surgery itself in another post.

I have sensations in my belly, bladder, and my legs that are foreign to me but I think are supposed to be there, things I haven’t been able to feel all these years. And even better, the horrible blinding, crushing pain I’ve had in my legs..is gone. Just like that. The pain that no meds, no position, no exercise, nothing helped. It was a constant. No more twitches and electrical zaps making me yelp.

So I can’t let myself believe this is true, because good things don’t happen to me. I don’t get fixed. Something is going to happen, like the swelling will go down and something will shift and it will all return. I’m so afraid to be happy. I keep almost crying with joy, but then hold it back when I fill my head with fears and doubts.

But the truth is…I’m better. I’ve still got a weaker leg, but it responds to me now and is already stronger than last week. Like it’s been sleeping and it’s ready to work now. I have a long road ahead, but physical therapists said I might walk without a limp one day. She said I might even run. OK typing that started the tears. I want it so badly, to run free. To feel strong. To look ahead and not at the ground. Can it be true? Please?

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.