Looking for Family

When I was younger I desperately wanted a family. At the time I was not particularly close to any member of my birth family. Because of this I would try to meld with others into their family, I felt like the proverbial cuckoo’s egg. I was trying to plant myself in to a family. Doing this is basically how I survived a large portion of my childhood. I would find a friend that would let me be a part of their family in a small way. Even if it was only in my imagination, I created family.

When I was twenty-one I moved from San Antonio to Massachusetts to be near other parts of my birth family. By that time the need for family had become so great inside of me. I just wanted to have family and here were actual blood relatives. At the time the need that I projected was so great that I am surprised that they did not just turn and run away. My need to feel nurtured or to nurture was so huge that I did not even recognize it. As time past I felt as though I was isolating myself from them in many ways. I felt that I was intruding into their lives. Or I would feel as though I was taking advantage of their generosity. As I saw the need in me I tried to be casual. I also felt their withdrawal from me as I withdrew. In some ways I was the unknown interloper trying to impose myself on them and their family. I did not grow up around them and I did not really know them. I had grown up thinking about them. And was jealous of their closeness to each other. And here I was an outsider trying to get into their inner circle.

As I gained more knowledge of myself and who I wanted to become I found that I did not quite fit in with some of the family that had welcomed me. Or this was my belief. Whether or not this was true it was what I believed.

I moved on and away from family at some point. I stopped trying to become one with them and stopped trying to find what I was missing. In time I found the man that would become my husband. Together we created our own family. A large, loud, and beautiful family. That I have been very honored to be with as they grow into adulthood. They have given me an immeasurable sense of being a part of something truly amazing.

I often look back with regret on the family that I seemingly scarred off. I don’t think it was all me. I don’t think that it was anyone’s fault or anything like that. I just regret that the only contact I have with most of my family is on facebook. I am just glad that the deep need that I had,from the time I was very little to be a part of a loving family, has finally been realized.

I have often wondered if others who have come from abusive homes have similar experiences of looking for family. I have a very big family now. I am close to my sister that I grew up with and I have created an extensive family of friends who function as family. My choice family rather than a birth family. There are many members of my birth family or extended family in my choice family. For which I am very grateful. I guess where I am going with this is that family is what you have. Even if what you have is family that you brought together and not one you were born into. If home is where your heart is than so is family.

Relearning Self-Care

One should never underestimate the importance of self care. Those words make a very important statement. It is something that I have been failing to do for some months now. I have not taken time to do things that are healing or nurturing for myself in a very long time. As result I have slowly stopped being there for people.

In my internship I show up and I am actually the most present with people that I am anywhere. But home life and personal life have been in a fog. I have dreaded getting up in the morning. And I have struggled to try to find some joy in the world. Things have been bleak. The funny thing is that I have also been thinking that it was not very obvious to others. My family however have been very much aware of how I have been unavailable.
Letting my self get into this state has also opened up old trauma wounds and anxiety. The anxiety attacks seem to get stronger and more frequent the less self-care I do.

Things are doing better. I have started to remind myself to stop and enjoy small things. Starting the process of self care with small things is important. Otherwise the act of caring for yourself becomes almost a herculean task. Little steps do the most. Recently I was told that I needed to take small things that give me joy and do them until they are large parts of my life.

I have been taking more time to spend with my children. I have been giving and receiving longer and more meaningful hugs. I have been petting and talking to my dog ( who has also felt my distance from others). Listening to music that makes me dance. I have been coloring in an amazingly detailed coloring book. And eating with more meaning and not just trying to fill some unattainable need. I have also begun to realize that I have a deep need to keep doing this. I am feeling the stirrings of peacefulness again.

So, today’s goal is to enjoy the day, the people I am with, and the time I can spend with my family.

How I want others to see me

I was going to write about what I would like people to know and understand about having PTSD. I deleted the whole thing. It felt like a rant and not something helpful at all. Although sometimes rants are helpful. But I would like to share instead all the positive things I feel that I have because or in spite of having PTSD.
And unsure of how to do that I decided to write a poem. And here it is.

I am only as strong as I believe
IF everyone could see me in my true form
They would know and understand
If everyone could see me when I push through
When I make it to the other side of the pain
They would not be so quick to judge.
If everyone could see the courage that breathing requires
They would stop wondering if I could accomplish something
If everyone could see that the greatest strength I have
Is in knowing that I can do what I need to
It is in knowing that though the price is high
I can hide and lick my wounds later
After I have accomplished what I am doing.
If people could understand
That I do truly know my limitations
And that I am perfectly capable of challenging them
I change and grow everyday.
I can move beyond the limitations people put on me
Because the bar I set for myself is so much higher
If everyone could see my true form
They would see the scars that have healed
And the great beauty of the healed scars,
Mixed with the great light of my soul
Have made me who I am.
Not perfect, not the same as everyone else
Sometimes more fragile
But infinitely growing and always changing.

What does it feel like to have PTSD

Someone once asked me what it felt like to have PTSD. They asked me what it was like and how did I handle the things that came up because of the PTSD. I don’t remember what it was that I said or if I was able to give an accurate assessment of what it feels like. But I was asked this question again recently. And though I have a better handle on life, my depression and the triggers that set off the terrors, panic and anxiety this is what it is like.

It is waking up at night for no real reason with sweat pouring off you and your heart racing with no way to calm yourself. It is walking into a room and having a door shut to loudly and feeling like someone just hit you with a mega dose of adrenaline and you have no where to run and depending on where you are, no way to release it. It is walking through a room and a certain smell hits you and you find that you are not in the room but reliving some of the most horrific things that have ever happened. It is going to work in the morning and leaving as much of the PTSD as you can outside the door so that you can function and get through the day. It is walking back out to your car where you try to put all the pieces back together and come down from the amazing job you did of holding things together in spite of the panic.

It is learning how to draw on the things that you have learned as a survivor so that you can help someone else through their own hard times. It is trying really hard to not judge people about how they respond to you because they have no idea you are struggling to keep it together. It is realizing that for the last however many years you have lived in a fog just to get through and that you have missed so much of your life. It is living with a sense of impending doom and panic when there is nothing to be afraid of anywhere near you. It is about being terrified of losing everything that is good in your life because for the first time you don’t feel alone.

It is also about waking up and realizing that you are still alive. It is about remembering to breathe. It is about relearning to open your heart. Relearning to trust. Relearning that the world is not as dangerous or as bad as you thought. It is about being in this moment right now and knowing that I am safe. It is about remembering to feel the snow as it hits my face and not thinking about any other thing that may have happened in the snow. It is about an amazing act of courage that gets you out of bed, through the day, through the large groups of people, and safely back home. It is about trusting that you are not the things that happened to you. It is about releasing the past at whatever speed you can. Even if it can only be measured in nanos.

Having PTSD is feeling like everything from yesterday is involved in today and making it though anyway. It is about being courageous and remembering to breathe.

Being Present not just getting presents

Here we are back at Christmas. This is probably one of the harder times of year for people. It is also the time of year that people think there is no problem at all. And for some that is a completely honest statement. But for others it is something to think while the world falls apart around them.

This is not an easy time for me. I find myself more depressed, more easily stressed out, and suffer unexplainable crying jags. In other words I am profoundly not having a jolly time. For me the reason is trauma triggers. A lot of not good stuff happened for me this time of year as a child. As a result I struggle with this time of year.

Don’t get me wrong. I totally love Christmas music. I love the stations that play holiday music for a solid month. I love the stories that are shared of holiday experiences. And I very much love making people smile with gifts or acts of kindness. I am not a humbug sort of person. I even have a shelf of sappy Christmas movies that I watch. But sometimes the past and the triggers that come up are often more than I can handle.

This is really hard for some of my children. I know that some of my adult children want to fix it and make it better. That somehow there must be something that they can do that will make this easier for me. There really does not seem to be anything that they can do that can fix it. I have explained to them that it is really me and that I am the only one who can change how I react and respond to the holidays.

I have made a few goals for getting through the holidays. Goal one is to just relax and stay present. Don’t worry about anything that is not relative to this moment. I have a schedule of things that happen and when they happen. Things like bill paying and so forth. Goal two is to just enjoy my family. Enjoy the moments that I am with them. Make cookies with my children. Play games with them and just enjoy being with them. Goal three is to enjoy what comes my way. Whether that is something fun having to do with family and friends, snow days, or just being in a quiet moment. All the goals are really about being in the present moment and not continuing to allow the past to ruin this time of year.

It is also important for me to allow myself to grieve if that is what I need to do and not block hard feelings from coming. Being present means I can allow them to come but I don’t have to hold on to them. I can acknowledge them and let them go. Way too often I hold on to those thoughts and let them take up valuable space in my mind. When what I need to do is to acknowledge and let them go.

This holiday season I will sing, dance, and make merry. And I will engage in self-care and tenderness to myself. I will remember to take deep calming breaths and be courageous.

My Interview with Oprah

Lately I have been trying to make a decision. I guess that a better way of putting it is that I am trying to find a path or direction. I have tried mind mapping the thoughts around the search. I have tried talking to someone about the decision. Nothing really seems to help me find the clarity that I am looking for. Which leads me to my last place of discourse. My interview with Oprah.

Years ago, when I had time and a television, I would watch Oprah Winfrey interview people on her show. She would ask questions and people would open up to her. Somewhere along the way clarity about what ever it was that they were discussing would appear. I would say around five years ago I started to have time in the car when there was no one else with me and I would talk to Oprah about what ever was going on. She never asked a question I did not want to answer and somehow I would find the clarity I needed to better understand what was going on in my world.

I know that I have mentioned this before in an earlier post. As I drive down the road seeing people talking on hands free devices I know that I do not look strange talking to myself. This particular problem I am struggling with seems to be one of those that requires a series of interviews.

I am not sure exactly why I brought this up here. I think it has to do with communication and feeling overwhelmed. I know that if left to fester on its own my mind will create a labyrinth of problems from one small question. Talking to others about what is going on in my life and the problems or issues that come up helps to untangle that mess of thoughts. The real bonus part of my conversations with Oprah is that I am not insulting anyone as I make my way through the confusion that I am untangling. I have a tendency to just start talking and say what comes up. I do this primarily when I am talking to people I know well. This sort of thing happens often when talking to my husband. Primarily because whatever we are talking about generally results in a knee jerk response from me. When I talk to Oprah I have a chance to recover from that fateful foot in mouth syndrome. Because sometimes all I need is to just let loose with a stream of consciousness conversation with someone who asks the right questions.

When I am struggling with depression and all the trappings that go with it I lose touch with people. I forget that I need to communicate with people and bring all the darkness into the light. I have found that for somethings that have to do with the trauma I need to talk out loud. I need to hear my voice. But I don’t need anyone else to hear or understand about my trauma. I just need to say it out loud. As though the sheer act of putting it out there is all I need. And having an imaginary listener who is neither shocked nor traumatized is really all I want.

I will continue on my journey of trying to find this path that is being so elusive. I will continue to try to find the answers. And I think that on my drive home I will be having a long talk with Oprah.

Be courageous and keep breathing.

Dealing With Emotional Vampires

During this past week I had a really bad day. I dealt with emotional vampires and people just trying to make trouble. At the end of that day I just wanted to grab a bag of Oreos and just hide under my blankets. The day triggered a lot of depression issues for me and left me struggling to find a safe place.

As I look back I can see that there really were a lot of other things at play that day. There were a lot of signals pointing toward a depression meltdown. I just was not paying attention. The days leading up to that fateful day were filled with signs like my wanting to sleep and not get up, not caring about certain activities that usually fill me with happy thoughts, and either wanting to eat too much or not at all. I was not paying attention and let my guard down.

I think everyone has those signs. The ones that alert us to danger. It would be nice if I had a soundtrack that played threatening music right before I had to encounter troublesome people or when I am not paying attention to my depression. But, alas, I do not have a soundtrack. I will have to play closer attention to the warning signs of impending depression events and try to guard myself more closely.

I have tried to create a ritual that will help me stay focused. I have a very small yoga practice in the morning and in the evening before bed. I do deep cleansing breaths (When I am not struggling to breathe from my asthma). And I have considered giving up chocolate. Although giving up chocolate is still very much being debated. The trick with having what feels like chronic depression is finding a way to feel as good as possible and take care of myself.

I am feeling trepidation about this upcoming week. Will I have to deal with the same people? Will there be more situations that set me off? Is there a way for me to “duck and cover” and still get the things done that I need to? My daughter gave me great advice this morning. She said, “Don’t over think it.”

This week’s goal is to breathe, stay present, and be courageous.

Divide and Energize

Depression is a very heavy burden to carry. Lately I have been thinking about what it is like to carry something so heavy and have no idea how to put it down. Sometimes I am pretty sure that I cannot put it down. I began to think about something I said in a previous post about sharing the load. I have been made aware of all the people who care about me recently.

I have been made aware of this through my realization of all the people I care about. There are very many people that I love and care about. Some of them I see once in a while and there are others that I see everyday. Since losing someone I knew I have begun to think about how much each of these people in my life mean to me. And also how much I want to reach out to them. I am a praying type of person. I pray for myself and others. I also started trying to think of ways that I could reach out to others. For this I spend time just meditating or for me just thinking about that person and letting things flow through my mind in an endless stream of consciousness.

You may be wondering how this pertains to depression. I have found that the more I am able to reach out from myself and give or reach toward someone I am dividing my depression. I am having to create and use energy to help or reach someone else. For me depression is the antithesis of energy. It is an energy drain. It sucks all of my life force out and makes it so that I cannot get out of bed. But here is where trying to do something for someone else plays in, I am getting up to do something for someone else. Most of the time it is getting up to be with my children or to care for them. There is often a time when I need to have a bigger picture because sometime even that is not enough.

By dividing my depression up and giving it energy I can usually get through the hard stuff. I also know that as much as I love and care for so many people in my life there is a return of all that love. This is where the day to day stuff begins to require real energy and courage. Courage to get up out of bed and remember that I have not always felt this way. And to remember that I will not always feel this way. It also takes courage to take the hand that is offered to you out of love and friendship.

Be courageous and remember to breathe.

Losing Someone

Sometimes I hear the phrase “it takes a community to raise a child.” And there are so many ways that I agree with that. Community is very important. To everyone. This past week I experienced a rather hard thing. Someone I know died. Their death was shocking and surprising. Mostly because it was unexpected. It is not officially known what happened but the conclusion at the moment is that she killed herself.

I know from experience what that dark place feels like and how hard it is to walk away from it. And I know that there are a lot of people in the world who feel that dark place as an intimate place, as somewhere there is no escape from. And that they feel so lost and dark and down that the world would better off without them. Here’s the thing, it isn’t better without them.

The ripples that come from a suicide are huge in their scope. Generations are affected. There are very, very few people in this world that would not leave anyone behind. Everyone has someone that cares or loves them more than words can describe. And everyone is affected by suicide. Everyone connected to that person walks around wondering,”what did I do or didn’t do?”, “How could I have reached them?”, “Why wasn’t I enough for them?” And though those are not fair questions to be burden with people are left to wonder.

No matter how dark things are right now, and no matter how long things have been dark they have not and will not always be that way. Our future self is so full of promise. Everyone is so full of potential and possibility. That the loss of one is so keenly felt. Everyone goes through those times of wondering, like the main character in “Its a Wonderful Life” we often what difference does our being here make? Or who would really notice if we ceased to be here? I have felt that, most people have felt that. And just like the main character learned in the movie the ripples that our lives create are vast and some are so faint that we do not notice them or what change they have brought to someone.

I guess what this boils down to is someone I cared about died. They took with them the opportunity for change and all the miracles that their life brought to people. I have lost way too many friends and family to suicide. Its not okay. Part of me wants to reach out wrap everyone in bubble wrap and just keep them safe. We all live our lives an we all have dark times. For some people I know it is the horrors of war that haunt them, for others it is the trauma of childhood abuse, or mental illness that seems to sap away their energy. These are hard things. But no one ever has to face them alone. Some choose to face them alone, and others think that they would be a burden to someone if they shared the darkness. Those burdens are best carried when the weight is divided among others.

When my heart was filled with sadness from this event I was unsure what to do. Then I reached out to someone wiser than me and they helped. And then that person reached out to others in my behalf and they helped me carry my burden. I have lived though horrors and trauma that I do not share in detail with people. But still when I reach out from my dark times to others the darkness is lessened.

So if you know someone who is in pain reach out and help them to find the help they need. There are many places to go for help. If you are hurting and think that there is nothing left and nowhere to go for help stop and reach out to one person. One candle can light many candles. Don’t suffer alone. Don’t leave us before it is time.

It takes great courage to live. Please be courageous.

Stories

I have always loved stories. I have loved to hear them and read them. When I was little we had this really large stereo. It had a radio, phonograph and a reel to reel tape player. There was one reel that I loved. It was filled with children’s stories. Everything from Jack and the Beanstalk to Cinderella. It was fabulous. I learned how to load a reel to reel when I was four and could set it up myself. I would listen to that tape all the time. My mother had some of Shakespeare’s plays on albums and would listen to those sometimes. I liked the rhythm of the language. The way things flowed. The importance of the story.

Everyone has a story. Everyone has a story that they tell the world and that they tell themselves. Sometimes those two stories match. And sometimes those stories do not match. Growing up I had one story that I told to people about the bruises or the other things I was struggling with. And then there was the true story. The one that I did not share with anyone. The story that I kept secret and hidden. The pain and emotions that I always kept hidden and locked away.

Lately I have been struggling with the emotions and feelings brought up by people. There are times in life when you encounter someone that just sets your teeth on edge. Someone that no matter what you do just annoys you so much you have no way to respond. There is a person in my life right now that does that for me. I can sit there and say to myself that they behave the way they do because they need attention and they need to be acknowledged and validated. But it does not matter. I still feel my blood pressure boil when I see them. Not so much now as say three weeks ago, but still it makes me want to avoid them all together.

Someone whose opinion I value very much told me that “she just fakes it till she makes it” when it comes to these things. But that is something I struggle with. For so many years I faked my way through life. Faked the smile. Faked the normal life. Faked the fact that I could barely stand sometimes. Now I have trouble being anything but honest to myself. I put my emotions out there. If I am confused I say so. If something makes me nervous, I say it does. I don’t lie to myself anymore. I have begun to make my inner and outer stories match.

Sometimes I feel like that makes me very vulnerable. I also wonder if it makes me appear to be less competent. I do know one thing. I can not keep faking it any more. I have begun to resolve my feelings about this one person. And I am glad that I am doing it in a way that I feel is honest to myself.

The story that I told myself when I was in the midst of the abuse was one of that said I must somehow have done something wrong. Why else would those that were to take care of me do this much harm. But it was never about me. It was never about anything I said or did. And my story now is about me. And that the only thing I can change is me. I can’t change this person that drives me nuts. I can change my behaviors and the story that I tell myself. I can be honest in my story. I can tell my story with honesty. Because I am a good story teller. And I am a good listener,even to my own story.