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.
For the last few weeks I have been insanely busy. For those of you who have come by looking to see if there was anything new I apologize for the lack, and I will try to be more diligent in writing.
For the last year I have been pushing myself very hard. I have tried to accomplish many things that are difficult and all of them simultaneously. I have had amazingly good days and some that were not so good. I have stuffed down terror and anxiety as well as pushing through flashbacks in order to accomplish both my internship and my schoolwork. The bulk of the difficult emotions and the stuffing revolve around doing an internship. After almost 20 years of isolating myself I have had to be around people, a lot of people, more than was ever comfortable.
I have also met some of the most intelligent and creative people I could ever hope to find. They are dedicated and caring. And with the exception of one know very little about me or what I have been through. And that is fine. It has been difficult at times as I struggle through the panic. A part of me thinks that if I say anything about any of the struggles that I am having that they will not want me to be there. (The little child in me that was always pushed away still shows up sometimes.) I want them to see me as whole and competent. Even if inside I am struggling to do all the things that are required of me.
I spend a good deal of time reflecting on my actions and reactions. I spend a very large amount of time thinking about how I can turn my panic reaction into a viable response rather than the knee jerk reaction I want to give. I have done a lot of painful growth. Good growth, just very painful.
I also found out last week that there is a price to be paid for all the stuffing of emotions, the repressing of thoughts and the forced movement. My body simply did what it needed to and just shut down. My energy levels tanked. I had gone into the red zone of energy levels. For four days I could not do anything beyond moving from the bed to the bathroom, bed to the chair, and sleeping. I lost 10 pounds in 36 hours. And I am just now feeling moderately functional.
I am currently working on as course on mindfulness and that has been my saving grace. I breathe through the panic that comes when I think that I am getting behind. And I try very hard to stay in the here and now. One of the things that we do at my internship is a diary card. This chart helps me to see where I need to focus in order to maintain a balance in my life.
I am doing better. Life is good. I am learning to ask for help. The end of the semester is only two months away. And then I can get my brain back.
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.
There are days when I feel like an imposter. I get up in the mornings and go through all the motions. I do the reading for my course work, work with my daughter on her home school work, look for an internship, make sure the family has what it needs. Even still I feel very much like I have not accomplished anything. I have a check list that tells me that I have accomplished things. And yet I feel like an imposter.
I muscle past the fear and anxiety that talking to people brings up in me. For example, I have to call someone about the insurance and I have to straighten out the order for my new glasses. I am filled with terror at the thought of both. I will do them eventually. But the thought of doing them fills me with fear. The rational side of my brain tells me that this is no big deal. Neither of these two people I will talk to are a threat to me. My life does not hang in the balance, and yet it feels like it does.
Regardless of all that I have accomplished I cannot get past my feelings of failure. For many years of my childhood I felt as though I could not succeed. I was never good enough. Never expected to be good enough. So when I do succeed or do well it is always a surprise.
I would not say that I don’t try, because I do try. Sometimes a little too hard. And it is those times or the times that people express belief in me that I feel like an imposter. It is always a welcome though surprising piece of information when I find out others feel that way as well. For some reason that always surprises me. What also surprises me is when someone believes I can do something that I feel I have no idea how to do.
Which brings us to the feelings of being an imposter. I have come to a point where by using mindfulness and meditation I am able to go to appointments and feel like the real live confident person that I am and not the scared and inadequate person that I feel I am. I am hoping that the imposter feeling will find somewhere else to be for today. But even still as long as I just keep doing what I need to do regardless of the imposter feeling I will accomplish things. Even if I can’t be who I think I should be then perhaps this me that steps up to do all the things that need doing will become the me I look at instead of the me I think I should be. And then the imposter will be the right person.
Sometimes when I am really feeling in a dark place I try to check in with my body. Where am I feeling the darkness and where is the pain centered? Most of the time it is centered in my chest. I tend to have more problems with my asthma when I am having a hard time. Yet something that I always feel is a tightness in my whole body.
It feels as though my body has closed in on itself and solidified. The muscles all feel tight and I have very little range of motion. And though yoga and I have a strained relationship yoga has been helpful. I often think of yoga as that friend that keeps offering you a glass of water when you are thirsty only you don’t realize you’re thirsty. And then when you finally figure out that yes, indeed you are thirsty the friend hands you the water, without rolling their eyes.
It is at this time that I find that I have to open my heart a little bit and accept the hand of a friend. I do not have a steady yoga practice, obviously. But I do have a few positions that I do that help open the door to a more relaxed body. I have found that by locating where I am feeling the pain and the stress I can better judge how to help myself. Panic and stress are located in my chest. Fear and trauma memory are in my feet, (which were damaged when I was young), and most everything else settles into my shoulders and back.
By understanding my body, which has taken me a long time, I can work out with whatever is bothering me. And yoga helps me get through to those spots. If I do it. Standing with my palms pressed together behind my back, fingers pointing up has centered me and allowed me to think through whatever is pressing on me more than anything else. It helps me to breathe and find that opening in the door that I need to be able to step out of the dark place.
For today I am accepting the glass of water that is offered to me. I will quiet my mind and feel my body return to me. In slow and small increments that allow me to breathe.
Usually what happens when I am severely stressed is that I go to ground. I block out the world and go into preservation mode. This means that I do only what is necessary to sustain my life and those around me. I cook meals, make sure everyone is fed and cared for. That is it. I do some escaping into books and try to keep as low of a profile as possible. I stop doing anything. Even though I know it helps or is good for me.
However, that type of reaction is no longer possible. Now I have other things that need to be taken care of. I have school work. I have responsibilities at church. I have other things that need my attention and can not hide in my cave. In all fairness it has been five years since I have experienced this kind of stress. And changing my reactions to it has been hard.
I was just starting to begin a type of yoga practice that was helping. I will just say for the record that yoga and I have been circling each other like cautious adversaries for years now. And we had just recently begun to have conversation. And even though I know that yoga helps in times of stress for me. It is very hard to stop the preservation mode once it starts. I have however stopped it though not before it began to establish itself. I am still doing things, going out, went on a double date with my son’s in laws (who also happen to be good friends), and gone on interviews for internships. It is that last one that has sent me into this new stress mode.
The one thing that I did not back away from was the mindfulness and meditation. Well, my form of meditation. Sitting in the sun and watching the birds at the bird feeder. This did not stop my body from reacting to the stress with the usual self defense mechanisms but it kept me functioning and going forward with the interviews. ( I could live with out the clenched jaw and the lack of solid food that the jaw pain brings.) I am even writing today, which totally flies in the face of hiding.
And like all things there is a cost. I am willing to pay that price. Because being out in the world and living. Not hiding away and waiting for it to be over so I can finally rest. Is so much better. It is so much better to be breathing in the warmth of the sun with friends than to hide at home. I am going out into the world and experiencing the stress and the pain and the confusion. I am hoping that each day is better. And it usually is. There is always something good. Even with the bad things that happen. There is always good things.I think about those good things while I watch the birds, play with my daughter, read to her and with her, bake, and just breathe.
So even though I am getting tired of just drinking my meals or eating soft food. The tension is lessening as I move forward and keep going. I am letting go of the defense mechanisms that I do not need and trying to find peaceful ones to take there place. Because I have a lot more to offer the world if I am in it (evenly painfully) than if I am hiding away in my cave. Yoga and I will have that conversation again today, and I will watch the birds, do my reading, and live in the world.
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.