I cracked my eyes open a bit, struggling in the weird morning light. I looked at the clock and thought, geeze, it should be brighter. The cat had been pulling on my covers and the dogs stirred. It was time to get up. I pulled back the curtain to reveal the street lights still on and a blinding snow storm raging outside. The snow is coming down so hard that it is hard to see across the street. This was not at all expected and certainly not welcome. The only good thing about it is that it is Sunday and I do not have to drive to work in it. But my enthusiasm for being positive was gone and it was going to be a struggle not to feel trapped in the house and worried about the weight of the snow on some of the budding trees. March is a mean month around here.
I want to share something I using. I have been practicing meditation for some time. Some days I can get quiet and really go deep. Most days it is very difficult to quiet my mind and retain that quiet for any length of time. I have learned that even a few moments are good. I find some days that trying to focus on nothing produces a worse effect of perseveration. When I find myself digging in on something that is bothering me, trying to get quiet is like trying to hold on to water with a sieve. It won’t work.
But I do have something that does work. It takes time to develop especially if you have PTSD. Being hypervigilant makes it very near impossible to quiet the mind. I have to be in a place that I feel very secure. This spot where I write is one. But I am often interrupted by an animal that thinks because I am quiet I need to pet them. My favorite place, and the place I am the happiest, is outside in my garden. I realized yesterday as I was sitting in the sun, that this was the tonic that I needed. Being inside for over five months has depleted me.
I am working on something else to help calm me and make me feel less like I am going to explode. I have been trying to do this for a couple of years. It has taken me all this time to make this successful. Serendipitously, someone sent me an email talking about the very thing I was doing.
When you are hypervigilant or suffering from some form of PTSD, your mind has been trained to go to a place of fear. That happens in milliseconds. Something triggers you, and there you are. When you are not aware or do not have the ability to feel and see when it happens, it is extremely hard to not go there. And what happens is you build your fear base exponentially. One little trigger sets off a chain reaction and down you go. For me, it gets compounded with a physical reaction producing pain and immobility.
When I am in the throes of a panic attack, trying to calm myself is not happening. Matter of fact it exacerbates it. It’s like not trying to look at an accident when you drive by. Instead you’re drawn to it.
My new practice, which is really helping, is to do “spot ahh” moments. It has taken sometime to feel what that is. When we are children, we do this naturally. It is when someone does something or we see something that is miraculous. We sometimes hold our breath as if to breathe would disrupt the moment. It is finding the joy and wonder in small, inconsequential things. They are everywhere. But if you are spending your life in fear, the darkness shields your eyes and plugs your ears.
Why is this good medicine? Our brains are constantly learning and developing new neuropathways. We get wired every time we do something and we print this as a memory. For children and adults who are subject to constant horrors and trauma, the brain prints neuropathways that will enable them to be safe. One must remember that trauma is based on the perception of the victim. We learn early on basic dos and don’ts in order to survive. Things like not trusting people, being quick on your feet, being defensive, never having your back to someone are methods used to survive. This type of protection has to be hardwired and impulsive. That is what makes it so hard to change. On top of that, our brain builds negative reactions faster and holds on to them harder than positive ones. It goes beyond just thinking. It is a chemical reaction occurring spontaneously to a trigger whether real or perceived.
Trying to “talk someone” down is near impossible. Imagine how difficult it is for the individual to try to “talk them self down”. It does not work. Things like affirmations and listening to just words is not enough. Trying to meditate to calm is like swimming in a pool with a shark. You know it is there and you are trying to enjoy the water, but something is lurking and threatening you. You cannot think safe. It needs an all-encompassing mind-printing, neuropathway-generating situation. Mediation is an excellent tool to calm down a bit. The breathing and relaxing is a great way to calm physically. But you need both the brain and body to connect.
I am trying this method. When I start to feel something nice… that soft glowy feeling of “ahh”, I stop and totally focus on it. I print it. I feel what my body feels which is usually deep and soft breathing, my skin almost tingles, and for a brief moment, I have no pain. I pay attention to the perception of no fear. Time stops for a moment and I am lost in a sea of pleasure. Sometimes I say in my head “print this”. Pay attention. The sensation goes very deep. I can feel it coming on and I have to stop and focus.
An example of this is what I experienced yesterday. I had several “moments of ahh”. One was outside. The birds were singing, the wind was gently ringing my wind chimes, the sun was on my face and warm and it was blissful. Later, I was sitting in my recliner reading a good book. I stopped and paid attention to how I felt. I was bundled in a comforter which made me feel like I was floating in a cloud. The light was streaming in the uncurtained windows and through my plants creating a lovely array of shapes and colors and I had a dog curled up with me. I was totally safe. I deeply felt it. I can actually draw it back up as a memory now. I am building an arsenal of those moments.
This is what will make the difference. I will create a system over time of these memories. And because they are new and very strong, they are slowly replacing the fear based ones. Someone once asked me why I struggle so much. I said because I did not know what safe was. The memories were obliterated with years of fear which grew stronger with each infliction. I am sure there were happy times in my past, but I honestly struggle to be able to pull them out. So I have to create new ones. I have to teach my brain to be able to go to a happy place…..seriously.
Paying attention to the world around you is not new. It is called Mindfulness. There is tons of work being done in this field. I have taken classes and read tons on it. I have actually brought into my workplace and have a class in my orientation program. There is no real skill other than a decision to work at it. And it takes work. In our hurry-up, instant gratification world, it takes dedication to this practice. I am not talking about running around in a Zen like trance. No one can teach this to someone. It has to be embraced by the individual. Just take a moment to stop and pay attention to the environment and your place in it. An added bonus to this practice is that it makes me aware of how lucky I am, how wonderful things can be in my world and I am grateful. Feeling gratitude is also very beneficial to your well-being.