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.

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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/

Talking About Things

Sometimes I wonder about whether I should talk about the fact that I have difficulty with some situations. There have definitely been some negative moments arising from talking about my issues. There have also been some very amazing growth experiences.

I just spent four days in the hospital while the doctors tried to figure out and understand why my heart has been acting this way. The paramedic performed a cardioversion in the ambulance, whether it really scrambled things up in my brain for a  little while or not I was having trouble getting my thoughts to stay clear long enough to use my skills for coping with panic. It was a struggle to find a calm place. I tried meditation, guided and meta. I also tried to distract myself with other things. But it did not work. Nothing seemed to work.

During this time I had to have a stress test which also involved a CAT scan. I am very claustrophobic. The thought of going into the donut shaped machine was causing me no end of terror. I told the technician and the doctor that were working that day about some of my issues and how it was such a struggle for me to reset my panic into a calm even at the best of times since arriving at the hospital. These amazing people worked with me and together we had a rock and roll sing along while I went through the CAT scan process. They never left me until I had to actually go into the donut and even then they kept talking to me. They helped me to feel safe at a time when I had nothing to cling to ground me in my panic.

The night before my brain cleared up enough for me to get my skills to kick in I had a very bad anxiety attack. This time I took anti-anxiety medication. While I was waiting for it to take hold and help calm me so that I could sleep the nurse sat and held my hand. She talked with me about her own fears and struggles with an encounter with a CAT scan. She talked about the things that sometimes made her uneasy. By doing so she helped to bring things back into the world of normalcy.

I am home now. I try very hard to decided whether to tell people about my struggles or to keep quiet. When I do talk about them I find that I am able to get the level of assistance I need. I don’t actually need much assistance. But sometimes, like in the hospital, it helped the doctors to understand and gauge what was happening with my heart. It also helped two very wonderful people to rise to the challenge of how to help me feel safe enough to go through with a necessary test.

It comes down to where the individual feels about whether to share their experiences. Sometimes I need extra help to get through things. And if I say who I am and what I have endured, it gives people a chance to help me. Something they not be able to do without that knowledge. It is a very individual decision.

Looking for a spark

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.

What I have to offer

Sometimes my insecurity overcomes me and I wonder what I have to offer. I can usually work my way around that thought because I do in fact have a lot to offer. I have some very important skills of empathy and knowledge that I have developed because of what I have been through in my life.

At one low point however my husband read something to me that reinforced how I have been feeling lately and in a way it was also very empowering. He read this quote by Martin Prechtel from The Smell of Rain on Dust:

“Those who lose what they cherish most, whether they are warriors or housewives, must become our blessers. This means we must seek them out and kindly petition them for their blessings. It has always been that way in village life the world over. But this has been lost. We must relearn how to be blessed by those have lost the most, for their blessing really are the best kind. That means we might have to respectfully approach people we’ve been mistakenly warned to stay away from. Not accepting the blessing of those who have fought and lost, loved and lost- those who have lost a lot and then taken the courage to again learn to live- is the same as endorsing war as a good way to forget to whom and what we owe the blessings of being alive in the first place.” (p. 101-102)l

Now, when I think about what I have to offer I think about what I have been through, lived through, and learned from as the gift that I have to offer to others. I am learning to embrace all that I am and all that I have to offer, finally.

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.

Relearning Self-Care

One should never underestimate the importance of self care. Those words make a very important statement. It is something that I have been failing to do for some months now. I have not taken time to do things that are healing or nurturing for myself in a very long time. As result I have slowly stopped being there for people.

In my internship I show up and I am actually the most present with people that I am anywhere. But home life and personal life have been in a fog. I have dreaded getting up in the morning. And I have struggled to try to find some joy in the world. Things have been bleak. The funny thing is that I have also been thinking that it was not very obvious to others. My family however have been very much aware of how I have been unavailable.
Letting my self get into this state has also opened up old trauma wounds and anxiety. The anxiety attacks seem to get stronger and more frequent the less self-care I do.

Things are doing better. I have started to remind myself to stop and enjoy small things. Starting the process of self care with small things is important. Otherwise the act of caring for yourself becomes almost a herculean task. Little steps do the most. Recently I was told that I needed to take small things that give me joy and do them until they are large parts of my life.

I have been taking more time to spend with my children. I have been giving and receiving longer and more meaningful hugs. I have been petting and talking to my dog ( who has also felt my distance from others). Listening to music that makes me dance. I have been coloring in an amazingly detailed coloring book. And eating with more meaning and not just trying to fill some unattainable need. I have also begun to realize that I have a deep need to keep doing this. I am feeling the stirrings of peacefulness again.

So, today’s goal is to enjoy the day, the people I am with, and the time I can spend with my family.