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.
Breathing in and breathing out. Opening myself to each day. There are times that I come to a point of complete exhaustion. When I become so tired and feel ready to be done. Days where I would welcome an end to the pain. Because to be honest there really are no pain free days. There are no days when the scars on my body do not hurt me deeply. I spent twelve years being systematically tortured, sexually, and physically abused and the remainder of my childhood dodging psychological and physical abuse. Those years have left many scars on my body.
For years I could go through the day without letting on to the pain I experienced. During the years of the abuse I learned that you kept going and swallowed down the pain that you experienced walking, sitting, or just moving. After repetitive times of having the soles of my feet beaten I struggle to walk with the support of shoes. Too much nerve and tendon damage. I dream of a day that I wake up in the morning and am not in pain. Those days of being able to hide the pain have left me.
Why am I writing about all of this? I would guess it is because I so very seldom talk about what happened. I do tell people the quick abbreviated version in which I say that I had a very traumatic childhood. How I walked out the other end in as good of shape as I have is sometimes a mystery to me. What I do know is that my childhood taught me how to fight back. I did more fighting back in those early years than I want to remember. Nor do I want to remeber the consequences that the fight brought me.
I have reached a time now when I am so tired. When I have given so very much to be alive and functioning. At one time in my life I had a great passion. I was filled with immense light that was generated from the bonfire that passion ignited. Now that fire has dwindled to a mere pile of ash.
I know that at the bottom of that pile of ash is a spark. Perhaps so small that it is barely there. But it is there. I can feel it. Somewhere in that pile it is waiting for me to find it. And though I feel so tired, almost to the point of exhaustion I know I need to find it. When I find that small spark I will blow on it and give it the nurturing that it needs to create a bonfire in my heart that none of the exhaustion of just breathing will be able to exist in its presence.
Even though I am moving through a very hard place I am still moving. Sometimes it feels like trying to walk through a wind that wants to rip and tear at you. The only thing to do is pull the hood tighter and keep my head down and move forward against the wind. Because if I stop that wind will blow me backwards. I do not want to go backwards. Even though it is hard to move through the wind there is the added bonus that perhaps that wind is blowing away the ash that covers my spark. And with a little kindling that wind could blow my tiny spark into a roaring inferno.
Once upon a time there was a dark cloud. He had no discernible from. He simply was. He could wrap himself around a person and fill them with fear so powerful that everything would quiet in their mind except the need to escape. This was his nature.
One day he saw a girl. She was a little afraid, a little bruised and a little sad. And he fell in love. He followed her everywhere. Sometimes wrapping her in his cloud until she could not think for the fear and then slowly he would release her and she would breathe. When she was in a situation that was unknown or around too many people he would embrace her and she would leave that area as best she could. He loved her but he was slowly taking away her life.
After many years the girl, now a woman, met a friend. This friend loved her and walked beside her. He could see the dark cloud and he could see how afraid she would become at times. But there was nothing that he could do. He could only walk through life with her, hold her hand and love her. While she became more and more afraid of the world outside her door. Though he shared her with the friend Panic, for that was who he was, liked that she stayed close to him always.
Time passed and the woman found that she did not like having to stay at home. She resented Panic. She resented the loss of her life. So she made a plan. If she brought someone out with her to where she needed to go they could help her find her way out of Panic’s embrace. They could see her begin to be afraid and help her to be somewhere safe. The woman had found a way to be free. She began to learn how to gain control of the fear and how to quiet her mind.
The cloud became sad when he realized that when he embraced her she would slow her breathing and quiet her mind. He found that if she were still for a moment she could say things to her mind that helped her find a peaceful place. A place where she could be calm and not be afraid.
Over the years she learned how to keep herself safe. She learned to know where the cloud liked to be. And to prepare herself for meeting him. Slowly she reclaimed her life. Though Panic still embraces her she has learned how to stay safe. Most importantly she has learned to trust herself to know the difference between real danger and Panic.
This has been a hard week. Disappointments and events that were very scary. All things that happened in the last few days. Good things have happened as well. But some of the things that happened were very hard. I called a couple of friends and we worked through some of the problems. They gave me good ideas for coping and for making it through the day. Nothing huge just a lot of things that hit on triggers that send me on a journey into the dark place.
I try to avoid the dark place. Basically I go there when I am worried or when things seem to be going very much in the wrong direction.It is not a nice to place to visit. Let alone stay for an extended period of time. Today there were several things that happened that had me opening the door. Fortunately for me I was spotted by my best friend as I seemed to be heading toward that place. And an intervention ensued.
In our house an intervention of this sort usually involves hugs and someone saying that you seem to be headed in that direction. This makes you have to acknowledge that, yes indeed you are going in the wrong direction. Does this always work? No, not always. Sometimes it works really well and other times it is just a time for someone to sit with you.
Though I have been flirting with opening the door to the dark place today I have decided to keep it firmly shut. I might just look through the peek hole and see what is happening inside. Usually though it is too dark to be able to tell what is going on. Which is a good thing. Today is going to be a self care day. And I will spend it with friends and family doing things that bring me joy. Because the dark place is just too dark.
This morning I went on line and went to the regular sites that I visit. One of my favorites is findyourmiddleground.com. This morning it was about listening to yourself and be present with yourself. The question that was asked was: What is alive in me right now? So I sat quietly, unclenched my jaw and did a shoulder roll or two and then listened. And the response I got back was “FEAR”.
I have been trying to do a lot of things lately. I have been actively searching for internships, doing school work (sometimes the learning opens up stuff I would rather not) and all the other things that I need to do. But as I sat there listening to my inner needs the thing that came up was the fear. I spent several years hiding at home. Terrified, well maybe not terrified, to go out and be around people. I would go to certain locations that I felt safe in and that was about it. I tried to do very little outside of my home. I read, sewed, and baked. That was about it. Oh, and raised my children.
Now I have ventured into the world. I don’t experience the same triggers that I used to experience on a regular basis. That actually happens much less now than it did before. I also have an amazing set of coping strategies that get me through most situations. But I have felt this fear coming and have noticed that I am using certain coping strategies to get through the day that are generally reserved for very high intense situations, not daily living.
I know that going back into my shell is not an option nor is it one I want to flirt with right now. I do think that acknowledging that I am struggling with a new level of interaction and treating myself gently is important. So today I will take advantage of this knowledge and try to see what I can do to treat the fear with respect and to also find ways to reassure myself that all is safe in my world. Ice Cream for breakfast seems completely appropriate.
It was not that long ago that my main goal in life was to be invisible. If no one saw me than the chances of getting judged, hurt, embarrassed or any other negative social encounter were minimized. This however,much to my disappointment, never worked. I am basically a friendly person and though I try to be quiet and nondescript it does I am not invisible. Being invisible meant that there were no expectations on me. I could do nothing and thereby not make any mistakes.
Making mistakes gets you noticed and it wasn’t perfect. I have no idea when the need to be perfect popped into my life, I just know that it did. There were many opportunities that I have passed up because I was afraid that I would not be able to do the task well or I was afraid that I would have no idea what to do. Going to school is hard. I tend to want to know what I am going to learn before I get there. That way I can coast through and, you guessed it, not make a mistake.
One day I decided that enough was enough. It was okay to not know the answer. I hated being called on in class, even if I knew the answer I froze up and could not remember it. The world was not going to end if I turned in a non stellar or non perfect paper. And it was also not earth shattering if I didn’t know the answer. This was one of the hardest things to do. It also caused me to shut down and hide the first time I turned in a paper that I knew was not going to be that good. I dreaded seeing the advisor that got that paper when I went to the next residency for school. I lived in fear of her shunning me or thinking how unintelligent I was or any number of other things.
And then the big moment. I went to the next residency totally dreading seeing her. Feeling beyond any doubt as though I were the least intelligent person on the campus. And walking up from my car who was the first person that I saw? The Advisor. She greeted me with a hug asked how I was and was genuinely glad to see me. There was no animosity or reason to fear. She had returned my paper and told me what I needed to fix. And that had been the end. I was not perfect and the sky did not fall.
I have since then used that as an object lesson for myself. I do the best I can and the world does not end. It goes on. I do not fall apart. I grow. So even though it is still very very very difficult for me to try to do something that I do not know from the outset that I will succeed, I am trying new things anyway.
Today I caved. I gave into the anxiety that I can usually keep under control. I really wanted to go with some friends today to Boston. It is a three hour drive four and a four hour drive back. The drive is beyond my comfort zone. I can handle the two hour drive that I usually undertake when I want to go to a city but four is really outside my comfort zone.
I don’t really remember when driving became such an issue for me. But it is an issue. The thought of going on a long drive starts a small anxiety. then over a few days it builds. If I can somehow manage to muscle my way through the drive to the destination the drive back kills me. Then it takes days to get over it. I think that it really depends on where I am psychologically at the time. And right now I am very overwhelmed.
My son tried to talk me into going. Using all the regular arguments to get past my anxiety and fear. But that did not work. I then pointed out to him that I actually do have large issues with panic and anxiety. His response was that he forgets that. Which makes me feel better that I am not always seeming like a basket case. And I do try to muscle my way through things with the hope that the more I do it the easier it will be. But in this case it was not working. I was building into that blind panic that makes you feel like if you move you will die.
So, today I am still at home and my friends have gone off with out me. This has become my new goal: To get past this anxiety. I know I can. I know the cause of it. This is going to just take time. And hard work. And a lot of patience. But I am fairly certain I can do this. I just need a plan.