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.

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/

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 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.

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.

Learning to Speak Freely

Sometimes, when I am very stressed or in the midst of dealing with ghosts from the past, I stutter. This used to be a real problem for me. I also had a lisp. I saw a speech therapist for a short time when I was very young. And it also led to many opportunities for me to show the bullies why it was not a particularly good idea for them to pick on me. But teasing hurts. Which led to me not talking much. Or I would pace myself so it didn’t show up as much. It was not a constant thing and definitely more prominent during times of traumatic experience. But it was still there.

After my father died and we moved to Texas my mother bought a house that saved me. Well the fact that the bathroom had fabulous acoustics actually saved me. My father had died and the majority of the ongoing trauma died with him. But I still had the stutter and the lisp. And this is how the bathroom saved me. Everyday after school when there was a lull between anyone else coming home and my coming home, I would read out loud in the bathroom. I could hear myself clearly and listen for the shape of the words. I read Jane Eyre out loud in the bathroom until I had the stutter under control.

The depth of the language and shaping of the words enabled me to be able to overcome that particular obstacle. It was also an amazing feat since in reality I had only been reading for about four years at that point. Up until the fourth grade I had been just barely getting by in the reading department. But again I kept practicing and reading until viola I could read Jane Eyre. And pretty much anything else that was put in front of me. It was how I escaped the horrors of my life and stayed sane.

The other night I started to stutter again. There is a lot going on in my life and I had been having a particularly hard time with nightmares. While talking to my children I could not get out the words that I wanted to say. I started to panic. It is kind of a claustrophobic feeling to not be able to talk. To not be able to express the things that you are feeling. It creates a sense of being trapped. I took a moment to think and try to get past the feeling and relax so that the words could come out. I stayed silent and let the breathing ease my thoughts back into a place that was calm. And then I slowly began to finish what I was saying.

There are fewer and fewer times when I feel my ability to speak slip away. Being able to remember how to stay calm and speak slowly has helped. As has the knowledge of breathing and being mindful of what is happening around me at that very second. And not the panic that is trying come from the past. Right now at this very minute there is no threat, there is only me and the sounds of the cars driving past and the sound of the keys as I type. In this moment I can speak and not stutter, be free of any traps, and allow myself to just be at peace.

Bees

I love bees. I love to watch them as them move from one flower to the next. I am not afraid of bees because unlike wasps they have no desire to mess with you. Or so that has been my experience. But the one type of bee that I despise is the type that take up residence in my head.

These are not real bees. These bees are the feeling I get when I have totally overstimulated my brain. This happens when I have tried to do way too many things in one day or at one time. The only way that I have found to ease this buzzing in my brain is to find a quiet space and try to empty out my brain.

I do this in a mindfulness type of way. I sit quietly and try to actually pick through the things that the bees represent. Today for example I have spent way to much time reading articles on a very interesting topic. But I should have stopped at least three articles ago. Now I sit back close my eyes and let the information flow through and sometimes out of my brain.

If I don’t do this a switch in my brain goes off and I become frantic. Which only intensifies the need to release the feeling. At this point only a quiet room with no stimulation helps.

I did not even know that what I was feeling was over stimulation until a few years ago. All my life I just thought I was going crazy. Then one day I had an “AHA” moment. I realized that I was putting to much into my brain at one time. It is one of the reasons that I do not do well in crowds. I am easily over stimulated.

Meditation has been a god send to me for this purpose. The things that I am learning about quieting my mind has helped me more times than I can count. I am not an avid meditator. I practice when needed to bring peace to my mind when the bees begin to buzz. And then instead of a cacophony of buzzing my mind can go back to a gentle hum. Ready to be overstimulated all over again.