Waiting to Die vs. Learning to Live

Almost a year and a half ago my heart decided to do strange things. The electrical circuitry in my heart decided to go rogue on me. It started by going out of rhythm and then going fast. The doctors got that straightened out and then my heart decided to show me who was boss. Again they got it straightened out but not until I had been become very nervous about everything. My anxiety began to get worse. The small things that never used to trigger an anxiety attack began to trigger huge attacks. The likes of which I had not experienced.

It was around this time that I learned about the age of my heart. Because of my maintaining a fight or flight existence for so many years my heart was behaving like the heart of someone fifteen to twenty years older than myself. That coupled with my reading about the studies that say that people who experience the level and duration of trauma that I have don’t live as long as those who do not. My heart was behaving like someone who was older and had less year to live. I doctor to my cardiologist about this and she agreed with what I had found out. The topic of trauma related health is something she had been studying. This however made the condition of my heart prominent. Things heal and my heart could also. It was not fated to live a short life by default.

At some point in this journey along my life path I found a bench and sat down. The path of my life continues on but I had stopped and begun to put my house in order and began the wait to die. The uncertainties of my health and of my heart’s functions increased the fear of living that I had been silently harboring for years. There was now a reason to stop trying, my heart could do more strange and painful things. I was afraid to do anything. I no longer saved money for my epic train journey that I had been planning for years. I no longer felt safe to take a train from Boston to Portland, OR. This trip is something I have been planning for five years as a gift to myself for graduating with my masters degree. The thought of going on the trip periodically comes up only to squashed by the fear of something happening to my heart.

When I told this to my doctor she was shocked. What is wrong with my heart can be easily stabilized and should not be a problem. She told me of being on a plane recently when someone with a similar problem became ill. She said there were four doctors on the plane and they had everything taken care of quickly. That there are hospitals all over the place and I would be cared for without any trouble.

As I started to think about my life I realized that I had stopped doing the things that bring me joy. I had stopped baking, quilting, sewing, walking, dancing. I had stopped living. I had given up on everything. I was waiting to die.

After I had this realization I started to look at what I am doing everyday. Is what I am doing waiting or living? There are projects that are waiting to be finished. Things that I have to muscle my way past the depression and anxiety to accomplish. After putting it off for a very long time I have started to work on the wedding quilt for my daughter.

I am finding that I have to go slowly and do just one thing at a time. The anxiety is still very high and it makes life difficult at times, but I am finding my way around it through meditation. It seems at times that I am trying to jump-start my life, much like how they jump started my heart. I hope the experience of re-embracing life will be less painful. I have been focusing for too long on what I cannot do and now I am looking at what I can do. And also how to bring back the beautiful things that I have shut out. It was very easy to stop and sit down while waiting to die. It is a lot harder to get up and start walking again. Now when I stop I have to remember that it is only to catch my breath.

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Changing the River

There are rivers that flow
Each generation steps into the waters of their family
Waters of the generations flow over and around each person
For some the waters flow sparkling past
Filled with love and contentment
For some the water flows inky black
Filled with pain and sorrow
Passed from one generation to another
Ripping through them till the waters run dark from them as well
But I will stand strong
Casting stones to either side
Building a dam to hold back the dark water
Standing firm in the center as the blackness assails me
Filtering as best I can the water as it passes
So my children and grandchildren step into cleaner water
Water filled with love and laughter
I will stand as a bulwark
And I will not yield

©2013 Leslie Whitcomb

https://www.goddard.edu/2013/04/student-leslie-whitcomb-reflects-on-expressive-arts-therapy/

 

Bringing Peace to Anxiety

After a long break in writing this blog I began to wonder why am I writing this or who am I writing it for. I started writing this to tell some of my stories and to just feel like maybe there was someone out there that this could help. Maybe there was someone who just needed to know that they were not alone in their suffering and healing. I never intended this to be a forum on my trauma. What I really wanted was to tell my story in small chunks and talk about how I was moving through the process so that maybe someone else would not feel alone. I hope that in some small measure I have done that. Thanks for reading.

Since the last time I went to the hospital my anxiety level has increased. I was very blessed with caretakers who tried to make sure that through all of the procedures I felt safe. I knew that I was safe. Feeling safe when many of the practices in the hospital trigger traumatic memories of the torture that I endured is different.

For one of the procedures they needed to anesthetize me and put very deep under. I was terrified at the thought of not having any conscious control of my body. The doctors let me hold the mask over my face and I was in control for as much as I was able to be. As I was coming out of the anesthesia I could hear myself talking. Some of the things I said were trauma stories that I have told no one. That was very disconcerting.

Through the hospital stay I did my meditation everyday. It was sometimes for only five minutes. There were a few times that I was able to meditate for longer periods of time. It is very hard to focus on the breathing when you are in the middle of panic and anxiety so I often used guided meditation. When the meditation did not work I tried to listen to a piece of classical music that seems to work as though it is magic for my anxiety. I have this particular piece in three or four variations. I put them all onto a playlist and hit repeat. With ear buds in I was able to fall a sleep and rest for a few hours.

Flashbacks and dissociation happen very seldom these days. I have been working for a long time to process through a lot of the trauma. Years and Years of working through the trauma. And yet there still seems so much still to work through. I have found that the old adage that for every bad person there are hundreds of good people you can turn toward to help and to heal.

The anxiety seems to be harder to face and to work through. And it always scares me because my first thought is that my heart is misbehaving again. I do a body check of where is the pain. When I slow down long enough to actually put my hands over the painful spots it is never my heart. I can then stop and breathe and slow things down and put them into perspective. This means slowly reviewing what just happened in the last half hour. Sometimes there is a delay on the anxiety and the cause could have been anywhere from a few minutes to half an hour before. Finding the trigger and working forward to a better place helps.

The meditation seems to be the best course for me at this time. Though I now have to augment the meditation with medication to get me to a point that the meditation helps. Primarily I use the Calm.com app for meditation. It has soothing sounds as well as a timer or a peaceful voice that leads the meditation for a set length of time. Lately I have been taking advantage of the gratefulness.org resources. What ever format the meditation comes in I hope that it helps.

https://www.calm.com/

http://gratefulness.org/resource/great-bell-chant/

Finding Forgiveness in the Power of Kindness

I attended a self-care workshop last summer. One of the books that the presenter suggested was The Power of Kindness by Piero Ferrucci. I dutifully found the book and purchased it. I put it on my shelf and thought about reading it. This is the way it goes with a lot of books with me. I buy it and put it on my shelf, fully intending to read it. I have an entire shelf of books I fully intend to read.

I started a book challenge for myself this year. 100 books to be read this year. Of that 100 books 60 of those are fiction, 25 are non fiction, and 15 are spiritually inspiring. The Power of Kindness got put onto the shelf of books I could read for the challenge. Which is how I finally started to read it.

I have struggled with a huge burden for many years. I may not be very judgemental but I do seem to hold on to resentment and anger. There are a number of instances in my life where I have withheld forgiveness. As I sat reading the section on forgiveness I realized how very much I have held on to. The hardest thing for me to forgive has been betrayal. Betrayal can take many forms. But the hardest one is when I give friendship and have that person turn on me or betray my confidence. As well as the feelings of betrayal that come from the abuse.

Ferrucci points out that forgiveness can make us feel very vulnerable because we are letting go of the anger or resentment that has become part of our identity. As I move through and heal so much of the trauma damage I noticed that I had a bag hidden in the corner. Something that I carry around with me everyday. This very heavy bag I noticed was filled with all the hurt, anger, resentment and withheld forgiveness. In some cases it was anger over something that I should have let go of a long time ago.

I will say that having a life changing experience with an illness helps to put things into perspective much more quickly than I had previously been able. I began to open the bag and take things out and examine them one at a time. Some of the things I took out of the bag made me wonder what I had thought putting them in there in the first place. Others I had to put to one side because they needed a little more effort and work to release.

As I lightened the bag I felt lighter. The less things that I had to worry about maintaining. I also realized that letting them go did not mean that I in any way opened myself up to have a repeat occurrence. I am very mindful of what and who I trust or let into my life. But the events of the past don’t need to weigh me down in the present. Forgiveness can be a slow process or it can happen quickly.

The thing that I learned from reading and then applying it to my own life is that forgiving and letting go empowers me. And ultimately it does not have any effect on the person I am forgiving but has huge life altering changes for me.

Talking About Things

Sometimes I wonder about whether I should talk about the fact that I have difficulty with some situations. There have definitely been some negative moments arising from talking about my issues. There have also been some very amazing growth experiences.

I just spent four days in the hospital while the doctors tried to figure out and understand why my heart has been acting this way. The paramedic performed a cardioversion in the ambulance, whether it really scrambled things up in my brain for a  little while or not I was having trouble getting my thoughts to stay clear long enough to use my skills for coping with panic. It was a struggle to find a calm place. I tried meditation, guided and meta. I also tried to distract myself with other things. But it did not work. Nothing seemed to work.

During this time I had to have a stress test which also involved a CAT scan. I am very claustrophobic. The thought of going into the donut shaped machine was causing me no end of terror. I told the technician and the doctor that were working that day about some of my issues and how it was such a struggle for me to reset my panic into a calm even at the best of times since arriving at the hospital. These amazing people worked with me and together we had a rock and roll sing along while I went through the CAT scan process. They never left me until I had to actually go into the donut and even then they kept talking to me. They helped me to feel safe at a time when I had nothing to cling to ground me in my panic.

The night before my brain cleared up enough for me to get my skills to kick in I had a very bad anxiety attack. This time I took anti-anxiety medication. While I was waiting for it to take hold and help calm me so that I could sleep the nurse sat and held my hand. She talked with me about her own fears and struggles with an encounter with a CAT scan. She talked about the things that sometimes made her uneasy. By doing so she helped to bring things back into the world of normalcy.

I am home now. I try very hard to decided whether to tell people about my struggles or to keep quiet. When I do talk about them I find that I am able to get the level of assistance I need. I don’t actually need much assistance. But sometimes, like in the hospital, it helped the doctors to understand and gauge what was happening with my heart. It also helped two very wonderful people to rise to the challenge of how to help me feel safe enough to go through with a necessary test.

It comes down to where the individual feels about whether to share their experiences. Sometimes I need extra help to get through things. And if I say who I am and what I have endured, it gives people a chance to help me. Something they not be able to do without that knowledge. It is a very individual decision.

Pain Box

Pain Box: a place where you put pain when you are not in a place or position to be able to allow others know that you are experiencing pain.

When I was younger and having to go from day to day with varying amounts of pain depending on the level of abuse, I developed a pain box. It was a place in my mind that I could put the pain so that I could get through the day. It made it possible to walk on feet that had been battered and dealing with bruises that were developing in places people could not see.

That was a long time ago and I don’t often have a need to use my pain box the way I sis before. Since I got sick I have rediscovered it. While I was in the hospital I was offered various medication for the pain I was in. Sometimes I would take it and sometimes I wouldn’t. I am not a martyr I just don’t like taking pills. I also had begun to use my pain box again.

Now that I am home and recovering for what seems like an eternity, apparently you cannot hurry your heart to heal, I sometimes need to use the box. Mostly because I don’t have anything that I can take for the pain I am feeling. The box also makes it easier for me to navigate the world right now and get things done.

While I spend so much time hiding pain, whether it is psychological, emotional, or physical I forget that I don’t always have to hide. I am out of practice showing when things hurt. Because of this I don’t know if I am showing too much or not enough. I have always envied people who can show how they are feeling. When I do it seems as though all the pain I have dammed up behind my box comes out at the same time. It is either feast or famine.

I have always been grateful to my friends who have seen me flood with pain and stayed with me till the flood had past. These same friends are still with me, still stalwart and still brave enough to ask how I am doing and expect a real answer.

Through mindfulness meditation practice, which I am still trying to get in the habit of, I have been able to try to move beyond my box. There are a lot of things that I am learning to not put in the box, but to actually allow myself to feel and allow others to see. The box has gotten me through many painful moments and helped to keep me safe. Now, though, I think it is time to let the box work when I really need it and to otherwise let myself experience life.

The box helps in a crisis but not all life is a crisis. Sometimes life just wants to be felt, acknowledged, and lived.

Being Alive and Living

A few weeks ago I was faced with a serious health issue. One that required me to go to the hospital and receive emergency assistance. But before I made the decision to go to the hospital I had to make a choice.

For the last several months I have been weighted down with deep exhaustion. It was not just my body that was tired but my mind and my soul. I had decided that I would never take my own life. However I had also decided that I would not fight nature if my body became seriously ill. That time had come. I spent a week in this condition.My body was seriously struggling to do what it needed to do. My resting heart rate was 184 and I was becoming more tired each day.

It was at this time that I decided that I needed to fight and stay alive. For my family and my young children. So I went to the hospital and spent several days in ICU while they brought my heart back to a more stable pace. It is not healed and I have a struggle still ahead of me to get better. I chose to live.

There is a difference however between being alive and living. I am alive when I breathe and my heart beats. But what does it mean to live to be truly living? To want to be here and to experience all that I can. To do that I have to change things. I have to work toward living. Taking care of myself physically, spiritually, and psychologically. Not just getting through each day but finding and enjoying something about each day. Not just stuffing all the hard things into a closet so that it bulges while I ignore that those things exist. But working out ways to make peace with the hard things.

Each day is still filled with pain. But this pain reminds me to fight and to live. It reminds me that to be alive is just not enough anymore. I need to find joy in being alive and also bring living back into my world.