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.

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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.

 

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.

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.

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.

The Ball: a story of validation

I wanted to write about validation. I even wrote the whole post out. Then I realized how dark it felt. I realized I had tapped into all those negative feelings of invalidation that I have experienced. All the times I was told that I should not talk about the abuse or what happened were brought up to the surface. And it was not a happy post at all.

So to spare you that gloomy walk down memory lane I have decided to share a story. One that I hope is less gloomy.

Once upon a time there was a small ball. That ball was really a person. And that person had been told how small and insignificant she was on such a regular basis that she believed the words. She stayed curled up in tight little ball to protect herself as best she could. Sometimes she would open up the ball to see if danger was still there. In her ball shape she could move through her life.

Then one day a friend came into her life. That friend offered her his hand and together they opened up the ball. That ball had stood firm against so many waves. Trapping all the pain inside. And when it opened all the pain came rushing out and overwhelmed her. She struggled for so many years to stand up straight. The tightness of the ball made her bent this made it difficult to walk. Her friend was there waiting until she could stand straight. Holding her hand. Telling her she was amazing and strong. Validating all that she had experienced as real and hard.

Some people came into her life who tried to silence her. They tried to keep her story quiet because it caused them pain. They did not want to know such evil things could happen. So they tried to make her fell like she should go back in her ball. But there were friends always at hand to slay those evil feelings until she could do it for herself. The friends believed in her. And she began to believe in herself.

Soon it did not matter what others thought or said. A very strong wall of love and compassion had been built up. People who believed her stood by her. And very soon she began to grow. She was not bent and stumbling. She stood a little bit taller. And the wind did not move her around as it did when she was a ball. Sometimes though when things get too hard and she feels weakened by the stress she curls back up into that ball. But she does not stay there. She has become limber enough to know how to straighten up and stand. And wise enough to know when she needs to protect the softness of her heart. And brave enough to stand in the wind and move forward.

 

Telling Stories

When I first started to talk about the trauma I experienced, I learned who my friends were. They were the people who listened without judging. Who held my hand when I was panicking or so depressed that I saw very little light. They were the ones who called to check on me and sat with me. There were very few of them.

I would talk about what happened. And in the beginning there felt like there was no filter. I would just say things about what happened. Whatever was most pressing. It was as though I was a kettle under pressure and steam, or stories, kept bubbling out. I could not hold things inside. And that scared people. It would have scared me.

But after a while that intensity passed. I had told parts of my story. Everyone has a story. Everyone is a story. Our lives are stories. Fiction is lives and stories that have been made up. When we talk to people about what we are doing we are telling a story. When you have had trauma you hold on to the story. And sometimes for me the story was so much a part of my life that it felt like it was always there. That passed after awhile.

Some of the hardest stories. The ones that contained the most secrets were the ones that stayed there the longest. Stayed in the darkness the longest. And preyed on the bits of light that came near it. These are some of the stories that I let out when I created the quilt. While I was working on them and designing the different petals I struggled. Struggled to bring them into the light and out of the dark part of my mind. And when I had finished one of the drawings I was so overcome by the amount of hidden secrets that I had just brought into the light that I vomited. I felt the darkness of the secrets that I had held for so long purge themselves from my body.

And then there was a lightness.

The story was out. The tales were told. There are still some things that pop up and gaps that are filled in. But generally the story came through and found the light.

We are all stories. We all tell stories. And some of our stories are very hard. But there are people who listen and people who do not. And there are people who help us feel whole again.