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.

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/

 

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.

 

My Daughter, My Hero

For the last few months I have been struggling. Struggling to write this blog. Struggling to find a peaceful place in my mind. Just struggling with everything.

Then something began to change in my house. My daughter, who has been struggling with depression for a while started to do something different. She started to exercise. And to do things that she wasn’t doing before. It all started with a small yoga practice. Then moved on to jumping rope and running. She started small. Doing them for a short time and then increasing a little then staying at that level.

She has begun to feel stronger inside herself and less depressed. There is a very strong glow about her now. She has begun to inspire me.

I look at myself and I say there is no way I can do that. I can’t do those yoga positions. I can’t walk very far. I can’t… See a pattern? But then I started to really watch her. She is not doing more than her body can do, only challenging it to do more. She has made it past the wall of inertia that keeps me back.

Yesterday I started to do my very small yoga practice. It felt really hard to start. It was really hard to get my body to move at first. There was so much stiffness in all of my muscles. Each movement was loosening muscles that I had let become almost rock like. With each movement my mind was starting to loosen up as well. All this was followed by meditation. I have built up to fifteen minutes now. Which is pretty good for someone who gets distracted by dust particles floating past.

My daughter is rapidly becoming my hero without her knowing it. And my inspiration to change. The struggles are all there still. The challenges have  not decreased. My mind and my body however are starting to grow a little bit stronger each day. As I watch my daughter overcoming her own challenges I am inspired to try to move past my own.

My Sister

I am just going to come out and say that my father was a real piece of work. He was beyond abusive. He was evil. There are a lot of ways that abusers manipulate and control their victims. Turning siblings against each other is one of those ways. Only in this case the manipulation was is offering to spare one for the other.

For years my sister and I had no relationship. That is not to say that I did not follow around behind her and get into fights with anyone that tried to bully her. She is my sister and I needed to keep her as safe as I could. She was and is the diplomat. She reasons with people and uses great people skills to defuse conflicts. She has lived with my mother for many years and has put up with a lot. And used those amazing skills (which I think is her super power) to help my mother to modify some of those behaviors that made it so difficult for me to live with her.

Today we talked about some very painful stuff. We looked back on our childhood and talked about some of the hard stuff. None of which was easy. She has felt guilt for a long time about some of the things that happened to us. I just wanted to take this opportunity to say to the world (or whoever reads this) that though she may not know it she did more to keep us safe than she knows or remembers. And that no matter what my father told her she was a good big sister. She did work to keep us safe when there was no one else there to do it. She was that person who stepped up for as long as she could and did what she could.

Here, publicly, I want to say that it is an honor and a privileged to not only know you but to be your sister. I love you.

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.

Not passing it on

When we stand and decide that the violence stops with us we truly change the future. I wrote this poem as a way to express how I feel about mine and my children’s future.

There are rivers that flow

Each generation steps into the waters of their family

Waters of generations flow over and around each person.

For some the waters flow sparkling by

filled with love and contentment.

For some the waters flow inky black

filled with pain and sorrow passed from one generation to another

Ripping through them till the water runs dark from them as well.

But I will step into the waters

And 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 black waters assail me

Filtering it as best I can the water as it passes

So my children and grandchildren step into clean water

Water filled with love and laughter.

I will stand as a bulwark

And I will not yield.