A journal of healing

Archive for the ‘Brain’ Category

In hot water

fogfalls   This sound really egotistical and it is not what my intent is. I am sincerely amazed how intuitive I can be. It is not always a great thing but it has kept me alive. This may seem like a small issue to some, but what happened this last week tells me it is important enough to share. Maybe someone else is like this and does not realize it. I am talking about stress and what it does to you.

About a month ago, I had my heating system annual tune up and cleaning. The guy who came to the house was very nice. The same week, my mother-in-law was in the hospital dying. The day he came, we were all supposed to meet at the hospital to talk about a care plan. I wanted the guy to hurry up and finish. I went to check on him and he starts telling me my system needs to be drained down and a new valve needed to be installed; the same valve that was replaced two years ago. Every time they come out, they find something wrong with the system. When we turned the heat on, it dripped two drops. He said he was going to adjust the pressure and some other things and then forty minutes later he left. They would call me to set up an appointment for the next work.

As the weeks went past, there was nary a drip. The system is a gas fired boiler that circulates hot water throughout the house. The heat is not drying as force air and is very cost efficient. And boilers last for decades. The parts that support the system do not. Since I have been here fifteen years, I understand that things need to be updated. The system is very quiet except for an occasional tick of the baseboards.

What was happening when the system kicked on was this rush of water coming into the system that sounded awful. It was very loud in the kitchen and the first time it happened it scared the crap out of me. I thought we sprung a huge leak. I went downstairs and all was well. We were not home a lot the next weeks and the weather was warm so it did not happen too often.

But every time it did, I would tense up so bad. Stories ran through my head of imminent disaster. It was amazing how loud the rushing water sounded. I thought that maybe he put the pressure down and that eventually the water would stop doing it. But it didn’t.

But my body flared. The intense reaction was so visceral. My home was in danger. I love my house. It is my safe place. I was not sleeping and a lot of other things were happening in my body. My morning glucose readings were very high. On top of the boiler, the garage door opening system broke and needed repair. I discovered that on Tuesday of last week when I came home and the safety eye was laying on the floor. The door does not close without it facing the other eye.  Then on Wednesday, the ice maker crapped out.

Luck was totally in my corner. The door people had an opening on Friday and could come out to fix it and tune up the opener. My husband was off and home. Perfect. He knew I was upset about the ice maker so he called someone and they could come on Friday too. We also had scheduled a tune up for my car on Friday, which was supposed to be no big deal. But you know how that goes.

I was so freaking frazzled that by the end of the week, my body literally was on fire and I had a diverticulitis attack. I was not sleeping and my hands and hips and back were flaring so much I could hardly walk. I went to work in the morning, after dropping my car off with the intent of picking it up and being home when the icemaker dude was coming. Since I was going to be home, I called the heating people and after a run around, they were going to send someone out as well in the afternoon.

The heating chap was a rather nice young man and he listened to what was going on. I told him the story of the valve and he of course was thinking his fellow worker was correct. But he heard the rushing of the water and looked at the gauges and said there was not enough water in the system and that was a big issue. He wanted to at first drain the system by going all over the house and opening up things… and I thought I was going to be sick. Then he put some water into the system and he thought the gauge was broken. He drained some water with a hose he had and a bunch of other things. He had so many scenarios of what was wrong and he tried many things. Nothing was wrong with the gauges. There just was not enough water in the system. He filled it back up and then went out to his truck and called the guy or the office. I went into the other room. He came back in still on the phone for a while. Finally, he called for me. He looked funny.

Seems I was absolutely right. The guy before drained water out of the system and reset the gauges improperly. The poor boiler was trying to operate without the right pressure or water. He could have ruined the system. There was nothing wrong once he filled it up correctly and reset the gauge. It has been quiet, no drip and is keeping us toasty. They offered me a maintenance agreement and gave me such a deal on it as an apology that it paid for itself. I get two years of free tune ups. Good customer service.

But what amazed me is how much my body calmed down. I spent the rest of the weekend in a much better place. I slept better than I have in a month. My glucose readings dropped fifty points and it is not from eating better, that’s for sure. My physical reaction to the loss of safety in my home was not controllable because I did not even know how bad I was until the things were fixed. I feel so vulnerable because I do not know how to fix the mechanics of my house. I hate being fleeced.

The car was fixed and only what I needed. The garage door works terrific and he fixed the issue of why the eye fell off so it won’t happen again. It did once before and I got it back on. The icemaker had to be replaced but I love having ice so it was worth it. The guy who came out was very nice and lives nearby and fixes all kinds of appliances. It is a good feeling of having someone like him available. He was honest and fair. All is well and there is a safe feeling again in my house.

Now, if there was only some way I could fix what happened on Tuesday with the elections……..

 

 

 

 

Trauma Informed Organziations

crystal light

I am currently working on a certification from the University of Buffalo on Trauma Informed Organizations.  I have been studying trauma related materials for a while. It has been fascinating and helpful  healing for me.

What is a Trauma Informed organization? It is an organization that has taught trauma informed care from the person who answers the phone to the CEO. It is the basis for policy and procedures. Trauma informed agencies and organizations are totally aware that every contact with a patient makes a difference in their reaction to the care being offered and also in their ability to get well.

For example, a person with mild PTSD is coming to see a doctor for stomach upset. The admission person snarls at them because they are lacking some information on their admission form. She tosses the clip board at the patient and says snottily, “you need to fill out all of the information!” She is line with several people behind her. (Having people behind you is a big trigger for trauma patients.) The client/patient did not fill out all the information on purpose because she is not ready to share her details yet. She will once she sees the clinician but not with everyone else. It is her right. Her stomach issues are actually a response to the stress from domestic violence, but she is not going to share that easily. A trauma informed organization treats everyone like they have a trauma. The clinician who she eventually works with should request a trauma screen once the patient is comfortable with the plan of care. By doing a root cause analysis, then, and only then, will the real healing begin.

Trust is huge along with safety for someone who is traumatized. Just walking into a new environment is bad enough, let alone in a waiting room with strangers, standing in line  and having to answering questions to someone who does not give a rats-ass about why your there.

Another perfect example of a non-informed practice is the process of getting vitals. This is me: I am sitting way too long in the waiting room. Other patients are called before me. I start to worry why I am not getting called back. Did they forget me? (Blood pressure begins to rise) Finally someone swings the door open, and even though I have been coming to this practice for years, and they all know me, they bark my name from across the room. I get my stuff and in a cadence for jogging, we go back to where all the rooms are. They stop and bark “get on the scale.” I am immediately humiliated. Blood pressure is really rising. Then we trundle off to the little room where she asks questions about meds. She pulls a cuff from the drawer and puts it on over my sweater. The pressure is high.  She sharply asks me why I am there. Of course by this point I am upset.

This is how I dealt with this. I sit near the door so they do not have to yell across the room. I refuse the scale….which used to be a fight. But it is your right and the trauma issues getting weighed causes me…well, they know now not to ask. I tell the doctor because I weigh myself every day. In winter, the clothes you have on can add many pounds.  I make them use the right sized cuff and on my skin. It bothers me that they don’t wipe it down afterwards. Surprisingly since I started doing this my blood pressure readings have been wonderful. When they ask why I am there to see the doctor, I simply and nicely say, “I will tell the doctor” or I say “follow-up.” They have no reason to know. If I need a shot, the doctor has to order it and he will tell them.

Being a trauma informed organization can only improve healthcare across the board. Non-adherence and non-compliance are huge issues. Patients need to want to take their medicine and follow their plan of care to improve their health. Our medical system in the USA is totally reactive. We spend millions on after-the-crisis care. Being trauma informed and using methods such as trauma screenings and motivational interviewing can only improve patient care.

Being trauma informed is for all health organizations. The scenario I described about myself is my GP at a family practice. Even though I work in homecare, being trauma informed can be practiced there as well. It can be used in every environment where there is a community. When we see people who seem out of it, or stand-offish or short tempered, it would be mindful to remember: You do not know the whole story.

 

 

 

To schmooze or not

strom 1

Today was a really weird day. I felt like I was at odds with people. Ever have a day like that? I of course, was doing nothing wrong…. But it seems that every turn was an argument or discussion. It was beautiful and the temperature hit 84. I thought maybe people were angry because they were inside. I had a couple of meetings that it seemed if I said black, someone had to argue white.

Finally I got home and worked in the yard and had dinner later. As the day ended and a storm was blowing in, I sat under my tree in my garden and just thought about things. The air was beginning to swirl and I have many wind chimes that were ringing their tunes.

As the warm tempest began to build with the sky turning pink and dark I had a time to think about the day.

And like a slap to the forehead, I realized it was me. All me.

I wanted people to just instantly agree with whatever wonderful idea and concept I was pitching in the meetings. I usually have great luck with swaying people to my thoughts. Yes, I can schmooze with the best of them. I come from a family that was very good at this talent. My father made his living as a salesman of many things. My brother sells high end corporate properties. I make my living to some degree developing people, which is a form of selling people on themselves.

My issue is I want to control things. It is not so much about winning, but that is it to some degree. It is about people buying into my world, my rules and my way of thinking.

How freaking arrogant is that?

The truth is it is not about control and it is not about arrogance. It is about safety. And if people fall in line with what I need, I am safe. Arguing is not being safe. Different people’s methods of doing things creates exposure and is unsafe.

Funny how I can see this in other people, but it took a long time for me to see it in me. But recovery starts with identifying the issues and facing them.

Time to work on some releasing.

 

 

 

Releasing

osprey

Most mornings, when I lay in bed for a moment, I sense fear. It is not a pleasant sensation. I have tried to explain this to many people, therapists and such. They  responded with a “get over it” attitude. It is a very real phenomenon for me. I do not enjoy it. I do not manufacture it by will and it often colors the rest of my day. Most of the time, the preoccupation with tasks and duties of the day helps to dissipate it in short course. But it often lingers in a physical reaction in my body, even if my mind has moved on.

The sensation is not about any one thing. It is so general; I do not think I can describe it well. But it comes over me like a heavy blanket as I lay there. It happened again this morning.

Last week, I spent some time listening to Hal Dwoskin talk about the Sedona Method. He has the greatest laugh by the way. His technique is to feel whatever feeling you are feeling. Really embrace it. Then you ask yourself a series of questions, which paraphrased is basically giving yourself permission to first acknowledge the feeling in all its intensity and then just for the present moment, letting it go. He demonstrates this by holding on very tightly to a pen, and then dropping the pen. You can pick the pen back up if you want or let it roll away.

At first I thought as I listen that this was the biggest pile of doo doo I had ever heard. But I listened to a series of six programs and then a movie. All this was a promo to buy the DVDs for his program. So for six nights while I was painting I listened and enjoyed his stories.

But I though what the heck, how hard can this be. I researched the Sedona Method, because that is what I do. It has been around for a very long time originating with Lester Levenson. There is a ton of material out there on the process and I also became aware of how many of the other programs are just modification of his method.

I have been trying it. I do it on the way to work when I have time to focus on what transpired since waking up. I have to admit this works. By really feeling whatever is going on, really being in the present moment and then just letting it go, there is a small shift every time. If I keep repeating it until the feeling is not apparent, and then I simply move on. The key is really acknowledging the feeling. People like me are riddled with guilt and so when we have a negative feeling, guilt comes along for the ride. We often suppress our anger or sadness as part of the conditioning we received. This process gives permission to me to really be mad or sad…. But then, let it go. I trick my brain by saying for only this moment. If I want to, I can come back to this. I never seem to.

I may have to repeat the process a couple of times to really drop it, but I do. The interesting part is that the body chemically shifts. I find my breathing returns to a deeper, calmer pattern. My muscles release and relax. I can get myself into a tight little ball in a NY minute. My gut eventually calms down. It is not like euphoria comes over me. It is all very subtle.

The brain can be a nasty beast. I found myself the other day coming up with something horrendous in my mind. I was so upset by what was transpiring out of my own creation that I was crying on my drive in. I did the method and by the time I was almost to work, it was gone. I cannot tell you what it was I created now. Gone. This has happened now a couple of times.

This is all very new. I am trying it when I get frustrated with people, which is often. I am trying it in situations where I would have in the past held on so tightly that I would get muscle cramps. I am far from 100% successful. But every time I let something go, I feel better and so it is becoming the preferred state.  More neural pathways of pleasant things are being created pushing the old nasty ones out of service.

Maybe this is why this method has been around for so long. It is so simple anyone can do it. Here are some links with more information.

http://lesterlevenson.org/   http://www.sedona.com/programs.asp

 

 

Negativity bias and forgiveness

rain clouds'

The negativity bias[1] (also known as the negativity effect) refers to the notion that, even when of equal intensity, things of a more negative nature (e.g. unpleasant thoughts, emotions, or social interactions; harmful/traumatic events) have a greater effect on one’s psychological state and processes than do neutral or positive things.[2][3][4] In other words, something very positive will generally have less of an impact on a person’s behavior and cognition than something equally emotional but negative.

When asked to recall a recent emotional event, people tend to report negative events more often than they report positive events,[38] and this is thought to be because these negative memories are more salient than are the positive memories. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Negativity_bias

If you were to ask fifty people in a group that is face to face, “are you happy?” most people will answer quickly that they are. But underneath, you will find that most people are not happy as happiness is one of those elusive feelings. We think we are happy, but if you start to think you are happy, these nasty little negative thoughts worm their way into your frame of reference. Couple that with the fact that most people have experience a disproportional amount of unpleasantness, and for some trauma, by the time they reach early adulthood. We are the walking wounded.

But not everyone is a negative-Nellie. I have been searching for so many answers in the last years. This includes my question of how is that some people just seem naturally happy? Are they oblivious to the world, which by the way is not very nice? My inquiry has led me to conclusion that it is a choice. It takes focus, patience and a lot of fortitude to have a quiet, calm and pleasant demeanor.

It also takes solitude and time to process input because negativity comes at you without your choice. We are flooded with input which is judgmental, sadistic and hateful. Information is disguised as humor is measured in the failure of others and how quick we are to place blame for their mistakes. In actuality, the humor comes from the relief that we are not the victim of the joke.

When I think of someone who is truly happy and content, the only people I think who really reach that state are people who are cloistered. It is easy to be happy and content when you live unaffected and separate yourself from the reality of the world. Peace comes from having all your needs being met in a secluded and secure environment. (This is one reason why recidivism is so high.)

I am striving to change many things in my life for the better. I know I do not have a lot of time to turn around sixty years. I also do not want to be one of those people who are so guru-like that they become annoying. I doubt my demeanor will ever reach that state. I have too much of a sense of humor not to see the idiocies of humans as amusing, including myself. I do not watch TV. I rarely listen or look at the news. I figure I surround myself with enough catastrophe proclaimers that if something really awful was coming they would tell me. Not that there would be much I could do about it, so why worry? I admit that I have isolated myself these past months. I even moved my office to a much more secluded area at work, which has been wonderful. I only see the people who have intent to see me. My other office was like being on display all the time. I stopped seeing anyone connected to “working on myself.” I found that it was like being tethered to my past and that I was never going to get on with it if I kept dragging up issues that I cannot change now. Besides, I am the only one who can really have an impact on my being.

Instead of being stuck in the past, I am trying to improve the future. I have ideas of what I would like to achieve in the future, but I am not putting a goal on them. I do not want to be intimidated by a point of measure. It sort of defeats the purpose. Instead, I think of it as a pathway, a direction to go in.

I am also including a huge amount of forgiveness in my work. I hold on to things. That is the basis for the negativity bias. We all automatically process in the negative domain. It takes time to reprogram our pathways to find alternative reactions. It is hard work.

An example of this is my health and weight issues. I am stuck in a cycle that I may never actually break. It is horrendous. (I know that is a big word) Seems that being fat creates being fat. There is a condition called metabolic syndrome which has many implications, but basically it is the construct that some people are predisposed to being fat. (I hate the word fat and it triggers all sort of things in me, btw) It also seems that there is a hormone called Adiponectin which is secreted in the blood which helps to regulate metabolism. However, the heavier you are, the more body fat you have, the less of this adiponectin you have circulating in your blood. Adiponectin has been postulated to play an important role in the modulation of glucose and lipid metabolism in insulin-sensitive tissues in both humans and animals. Decreased circulating adiponectin levels have been demonstrated in genetic and diet-induced murine models of obesity. http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/26/8/2442.full

It seems that this also is a marker for inflammation. In other words, the less adiponectin flowing, the more inflammation you have. How this pans out is that you can eat the same amount of calories as a skinny person, and the heavy person will gain weight no matter what. Add to the fact that your body is coursing with inflammation, which also adds water weight and will stop anyone from moving and viola….you have the perfect storm.

Here is an example of how negativity bias works: I took a break from writing at this point. I started going down this path of “Gee, people who read this will think I am looking for an excuse…” and down the negative path I skipped. It took a pause to realize, “I don’t care. I am writing this piece in hopes someone else might find something good in it. The facts are I am facing a pretty big mountain (no pun intended) but it is totally my choice how and what I do. I know in my head that I am not going to give up, so it does not matter what people think. They already judge me for being fat so, who cares?”  The last line makes me smile and I move on…….

My point is that we all face hardships in our world. It is being human. How we face them is also our choice. Some call on a Deity for help, others look to science. I am somewhere in between. When I said I was working on forgiveness, it was not in relationship to others. It is totally in relationship to me. If I don’t forgive my own trespasses against myself, I will be permanently mired in the muck of life. Only through this freedom can I really forgive others.

 

 

 

Creating New neuropathways

bush

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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Scarlet Letter

3-30-14 snowfall

This morning I went to work to feeling like I needed to explain myself to everyone. It has been a bad couple of days lately…well not bad…wrong word. But not great is not adequate either. I am in one of my cycles that I will eventually spin out of…and there… I apologized. I need to stop doing that. It should be enough for me to be me and that includes the not so great stuff. Somewhere, that wiring of self-compassion short circuited.

Yesterday was a perfect example of what it is like to live with PTSD. It started when the first weather alert was broadcasted on Sunday for a wintery mix. ICE…my most unfavorite weather. In 1991, our area was decimated by a catastrophe of an ice storm. We went without heat and power for 14 days. It started to lose the “gee, we’re camping in our home” around day five.  Because my husband at that time was a cop, he was gone and working 24 X 7. (Later, I found out he was not working all those hours.)  I was left to tend the home fires, so to speak.  When they call for ice, I go into hyper-worry now.

On Monday night, they moved the prediction up to Tuesday afternoon.  I had a huge workshop to facilitate and would be stuck until the last which meant after five pm. I started to become hyper.

Tuesday morning, I was a mess. I did not sleep the night before. I was up and out early. And exactly as they said, it started to snow right after lunch. It was heavy, wet snow and coming down in buckets.  My physical reaction started in earnest. I was breathing short breaths. My gut was a mess. I lost my appetite, which was ok. But by two pm, I was starving and nauseous and had to eat. It went straight through me with vengeance. My voice was higher than normal and I spoke in short abrupt sentences, when I could say a whole sentence. I could not focus. I was not nice to be around because I was looking through people.  I kept getting up and leaving the workshop to either pace or go to the bathroom.

Finally I was released from my self- inflicted prison and headed for my car. I took a lot of gruff and ridicule for being so upset. My team laughed at me at first and then became condescending. They have no idea what is really going on with me. It is not really their business.  But I normally take a lot of kidding on many things. But this was too close.

I got home. The drive was awful. It is only ten miles, but it is up and down a lot of hills. I went from abundant snow to a down pour of ice that was so loud on the metal of the car, to just rain by the time I hit my town and my driveway.  I had to peel my hands off the steering wheel. I unfolded myself out of the car and realized how unbelievably tense ever muscle in my body was.

The evening was spent watching stupid crap on Facebook. I needed to numb. I had eaten a huge meal of pasta and broccoli and cheese. In truth, that is my comfort food. I could have eaten the whole three cups of pasta, but I stopped myself and put half away for a lunch this week. This demonstrated that I can be mindful even in the worse response.  I went to bed at my normal time and fell asleep.

At 12:46, I was done. I woke up and could not get back to sleep. I laid there and felt the chemicals still surging through my body. My hands, arms and legs were vibrating. I started deep breathing which did calm me. I had a few body discharges which is not to say I passed gas. (giggle) It means I do this shudder thing with my shoulder as a method to discharge tension. It is the same principal as an animal that plays dead and then has to get up and shake after the threat is gone. I kept cycling back between full alert to a milder calm by doing guided body mediation. But I did not fall back asleep for a couple of hours. Last look at the clock was the hour before the alarm was to go off. This morning, I was exhausted and muddle-headed.

I wrote about this in detail for a couple of reasons. Many people have some form of PTSD. It comes in varying degrees. Something in the person’s life programed them for this response. NO one asks for this. The programming is intense and can come from  a long duration of exposure. It can also be a singular event. Our bodies learn from events so that we do not repeat them. Some learn and move on. Others imprint and hold the reaction which becomes more sensitive in time to fewer stimuli. Continual negative exposure hardwires the mind AND body to react uncontrollably. The threat is only perceived by the individual and the reaction is as personal as their fingerprint.

I write this because compassion is required by everyone in order to understand the effects of PTSD. I am not a war veteran. I come from a wealthy upbringing with little material needs. It is the same misunderstanding that many people have that domestic violence only happens in the inner city and trailer parks. Trust me, that is so incredible false.

But I do not want to have to explain myself. No one should. I do not want to wear a Scarlet A for abuse around my neck. There are programs now being designed to support children so they have a chance to reprogram. But for the adults of my generation who were told to shut up or else, or for women  (and men) caught in an abusive trap, there is a lot of misunderstanding.

I even heard it yesterday.  “Get over it. It’s only snow.”  Well, not for me it isn’t.

 

Storms and trauma

Heron Hill 2012  Heron Hill

Wow, this has been a week. The frozen air and deep snow has put a pall on everyone around here. Many people are having issues with their roofs leaking. We had a bit of an issue here at Heron Hill with a dripping window, but I had my contractor come and they shoveled the roof. It stopped. But one neighbor had it so bad her kid was telling us they were doing a bucket brigade the other night. One neighbor who is a young single woman had it pretty deep on her roof. She had someone shovel it off only to bury her house up to the first floor windows. She hired some schmuck who just took his truck and plowed her yard into the street and up into our yard. We have a hill which he was trying to shove it up. I was getting pissed, but I decided not to call the cops on them. It is illegal to plow snow across the street and into another’s yard. But… it’s not worth the fight and the hard feelings forever.

The girls at work are fighting like cats. We had one person swear at our front receptionist because they were following policy and would not admit this person without her badge. We slide the badge through a reader to release the doors. This caused quite a dramatic scene with some real hard feelings and stems from someone who should represent the best of the best. Our VP is extremely vigilant that her staff follows rules and regs to the letter… as it should be. The small bickering and internal fighting is everywhere.

A lot of what is happening here in the frozen tundra is threatening everyone’s safety. This is a topic is near and dear to me. I have been writing variations of posts in my head about this topic. I will be sharing them in a series of blogs for a while. They take a lot out of me to write.  It all stems from this blog post: http://healwritenow.com/weathering-extremes-mindful-ptsd-3/

I am going to take pieces of what she said and share what I felt while reading it. The first part is in relationship to our weather and her reaction to her weather.  Cissy White, the author, nailed it. She talks in this post the feeling or lack of feeling safe. She says,

I’m rattled by all the severe weather. The flood and snow drifts taller than me surrounding my home. Today, we got a blizzard warning for the coast where I am and who knows what’s coming next.

“My once sanctuary no longer feels safe or warm. 

When my home feels cold and unsafe I feel cold and unsafe. The warmth is escaping.

It’s not that I can’t see how beautiful the snow is or how powerful Mother Nature is. Those things I know. What I feel is threat and fear.”

 

I love a good storm especially thunderstorms. I like a ripsnorter of a blizzard if I am home and do not need to go anywhere. But storms are usually short in duration and cause little harm (so far for me.) However, the change in the air, the light and wind are huge triggers for me and puts me into hyper vigilance. I used to think it was like a high, but the copious years of being in that state have now taken their toll on me.

This trigger stems from one of my earliest memories. When I was around three or four, I was the last child of five at home. My mother at that point had lost her live-in domestic and was on her own for the first time in her marriage of thirteen years. She used to stick me in a playpen out on a small enclosed porch for hours. The pen was in a place where I could see out the low window of the door to the back yard. There were windows all around and they were open but what they call jalousie windows and rain did not come in.  A storm had blown in and it was a beaut. I remember being terrified at first and crouching in the corner of the pen. But as the storm raged, I got braver and actually looked out the door. There was a huge old oak tree out there and I am not sure if it got hit or what. But I only remember an electrical sound like a transformer about to blow up (and that in actuality may have been what happened.) But to this day, that sound turns me inside out. I watched in fascination and panic. It is like the high one gets from a roller coaster. Cortisol and adrenaline flows throughout me when I get like this which is poison. Now I do not have to be in an actual event for this reaction. I only have to perceive a threat and whamo.

But as long as my little house here, Heron Hill as I call it, remains warm and dry and no trees are falling on top of her I am fine. I will sit out on the back porch, either the covered one or the enclosed one I have and watch. I will often wake up with the distant flash of lightening and get up and watch the storm blow in. I spend hours storm watching.

But her comment about the warmth escaping and her sanctuary is no longer safe is something I totally understand. Any child who has lived through trauma understands.  We build our homes as a refuge, a place we can let our guard down and release the portable walls we walk around with to protect ourselves. It is exhausting to put up a brave front all the time. Some nights I climb into my soft bed and just cry from that release and overwhelming fatigue. I am safe here, surrounded in the environment I built. I own my home. Only me. It is filled with my stuff except my husband’s den downstairs. He came after I had bought Heron Hill.  It is my garden. Mine! I pay for her, protect her and keep her running. ME! It is a symbiotic relationship completely.

But the snow is piling up and it feels like we are drowning. My house is very high up on a hill. The main floor is actually the second floor if you enter through the front of the house. But this floor then exists right to the back yard on one level. My front windows are on the second floor. But the back windows overlook the deck and the snow piles are right to the window sills. We had our roof cleared and ever since we have been having this periodical very loud bangs emanating  from the cathedral ceiling, which is the roof. It is scary as hell. The ceiling in not sagging and there are huge beams that span the house. The house is 60 years old, just like me and is in great shape (not like me). I am sure it has to do with the subzero temps we have steadily suffering with. But it makes me feel unsafe in the one place, the only place on this earth, where I do not feel threatened.

Today I took the long way home to drive past a specific tree. I have no idea what it is. But in February, it sets these buds way up. This is a huge tree, at least thirty feet tall. The buds will actually unfurl to be leaves, but for now they look like unopened tulips. When the low light of morning hits this tree, the buds are pale pink. When I first saw it eight years ago I burst into tears. I used to drive that way every morning but more recently found a faster way to work. Now it is a rite of spring for me to drive by and look for this tree. Today, the buds were very tight but they were there. So….. it can’t be too long.

I hope you will take a look at Cissy’s post. I am going to make several comments about it. She was posted on ACES too HIGH, which is another blog and more about childhood trauma. All very interesting reading and I think will help people understand and have more compassion for each other.

http://healwritenow.com/weathering-extremes-mindful-ptsd-3/

 

 

 

Why I only see the bad in me…..

On my last post, someone asked this question and I thought it is an excellent question. I knew the answer but I went and did some research anyways. Here’s the question:” Why is it I know all I did wrong and think of nothing right? or see mistakes, not successes?”

When humans first roamed the earth they were given a very basic nervous system called the limbic system to protect them. It is a genetic piece of work that still is within us. The system is our warning system that something is wrong and to do something about it. It is fear radar. I have written before how this all works. Through time, the brain became more evolved and we developed the capacity to override the limbic system by learning in reality what is harmful. For example, we know a hot stove can hurt us, but only if we do certain actions like touch the burner. We do not walk around and every time we face a stove, we go into a panic mood or better known as fight, flight or freeze. Unless you hate to cook.

But children who are raised in trauma based environments face a different learning sequence that changes how they react to things as adult. It is not a failure in the child, it is actually another mechanism put into place to protect the child. It appears that genetics predisposes us to develop in certain ways. But our experiences, including our interactions with other people, have a significant impact on how our predispositions are expressed. In fact, research now shows that many capacities thought to be fixed at birth are actually dependent on a sequence of experiences combined with heredity. Both factors are essential for optimum development of the human brain (Shonkoff and Phillips, 2000).

I often wondered why my reactions to things seemed so much over the top. I am very sensitive. I have learned to accept this part of me as a gift, along with the desire to learn to live in peace with it. I am definitely prone to hyper arousal. I would go off and very little would sooth me even if I knew cognitively that things were not as bad as I was making it out to be. When children are exposed to chronic, traumatic stress, their brains sensitize the pathways for the fear response and create memories that automatically trigger that response without conscious thought. These children have an altered baseline for arousal, and they tend to overreact to triggers that other children find nonthreatening (Child Trauma Academy, n.d.).

We all have voices in our heads. And those voices are the echoes of conversations we have heard before since infancy. Many can override negative voices through affirmations and other verbal training. They can change the imprints of negativity. However children who grow up in violent or chaotic homes are too busy trying to survive. Consumed with a need to monitor nonverbal cues for threats, their brains are less able to interpret and respond to verbal cues, even when they are in a supposedly nonthreatening environment.- if a child’s caretakers are indifferent or hostile—the child’s brain development may be impaired. Because the brain adapts to its environment, it will adapt to a negative environment just as readily as it will adapt to a positive one. But if a child’s caregivers are unresponsive or threatening, and the attachment process is disrupted, the child’s ability to form any healthy relationships during his or her life may be impaired (Perry, 2001a).

The question is why do some people only hear the “bad” in their lives? I do not take compliments well. I always am waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is my parents voices I hear which is totally unfair since they are both long gone. Why can I not move on? But if the early environment is abusive or neglectful, our brains will create memories of these experiences that may adversely color our view of the world throughout our life. Explicit memory, which develops around age 2, refers to conscious memories and is tied to language development. Explicit memory allows children to talk about themselves in the past and future or in different places or circumstances through the process of conscious recollection (Applegate & Shapiro, 2005).

This study goes into the effect of long term negative environment. It explains that the brain continues to grow and develop with whatever stimulus the child is exposed to. One way that early maltreatment experiences may alter a child’s ability to interact positively with others is by altering brain neurochemical balance. Research on children who suffered early emotional abuse or severe deprivation indicates that such maltreatment may permanently alter the brain’s ability to use serotonin, which helps produce feelings of well-being and emotional stability (Healy, 2004).

This was an excellent study to help understand the long term impact of childhood trauma and sexual abuse. More and more information is coming out on the long term effects which will help with acceptance. But the most important acceptance is self-acceptance. Based on this study and others, the situation is daunting. If you are chemically and physically wired for hyper-arousal, self-deprecation and negativity, how do you overcome it? Can you overcome it?

Yes, I believe so. All humans have neuroplasticity, which means our brains will create new neuropathways for life. The process slows down as we age. And it takes more than just verbal input. You have to train the body as well to not react to stimulus incorrectly. You have to learn your triggers. You have to learn what is safe. And by that I mean feel within your body, mind and soul what is your place of safe. And you have to forgive….forgive your predators because if you do not, you are still giving them power. And you have to forgive yourself when things set you off course or upset you. This process takes a lot of work and I honor any who keep on trying because I know it is hard. Just as the child who repeated falls when learning to walk, they get up and keep trying. So goes our lives. You can teach an old dog new tricks.

From:

Child Welfare Information Gateway ISSUE BRIEF. November 2009, Understanding the Effects of Maltreatment on Brain Development

 

The Anger Within

I decided again to change this site to be a place of open discussion about other things than just domestic violence and childhood trauma. I realized that just staying so focused on these issues was keeping me in a place I want to move on from. Although understanding the science of trauma is always going to be in my forethought, I want to not dwell on the cause but more on the remedy to PTSD.

For example, I am writing about something today that has been haunting me for a while. What was I like before? So let me explain what this means. I have come to a place where I am so much more tuned into what is happening to my body. I know now when a trigger happens. I feel the changes in my chemistry in my body and mind. I sense my muscles tightening. I feel my shoulders go up, my breath change. I am aware of it probably 75% of the time now.

Now this does not mean I always can control it. It does not mean I don’t go off like a rocket. That’s the thing that I am even more aware of. My reactions often seem to be so disproportional to the situation. But it does not stop me. I am just aware of it. I seem to sit back within and just watch the show.

The other day I went to return a pair of shoes. I had my lightweight purse from going out on Christmas and did not transfer all my credit cards for safety. So I went to return the shoes without the card I purchased them on. I knew before she said anything I had did not have the card. I felt my face flush, my chest tighten, my shoulders raised up and I sensed the cortisol releasing and inflaming me. It was not the end of the world by any means and the reaction pissed me off more than the lack of the card. We could come back tomorrow. I worked at not getting too upset as I slammed out of the door to the car and by the time I sat down, I was calm. My thoughts faced the reality of the lack of the card with a realistic view, but the body reacted totally out of context.

This is not the first time for this either. I am more and more aware of my system going off on “its own” if that is possible. The other week I faced a conflict with an employee. I sat there and listened to her rant, and I mean RANT at me. I have no clue what she was saying either after the first finger pointed comment. I was totally focused on me and what was going on in my body. I felt my face flush and turn bright red. I felt my gut tighten into a spasm and ever muscle in my legs and hands clenched. It was so powerful. My thoughts shut down and I was unable to process her flaying comments about her frustrations. Finally she took a breath and I got up and just left her. I went and calmed myself down as best as I could because I had to continue to the meeting with my boss with her about her issues. I knew I was in a safe place then because my boss and I had talked prior. So I just sat during the meeting and let the employee talk. I was in control, but I will admit, I had to stay completely focused on my body and not letting her get to me. She was not so accusatory and was pretty much shut down by my boss anyways. She also did not have the balls to say the same things to her she said to me.

There are many more times in the past months that I have noticed this physical reaction, which often does not match the mental reaction. I do not like it as I feel I am out of control. But actually, maybe this is the early steps in being able to control things. If I do not know I am having a reaction, I cannot stop it. So I guess I will look at it from this perspective.

It makes me wonder about my father who would explode like a volcano at the most weird things. Sometimes, whatever was the trigger was for him, it was not apparent for us. But then, I was a kid. I think back and he seem to be always on a low simmer that could be fired up at any moment. When I was younger, it was often the alcohol that fired him up, but he had cut back in his later years. And yet, the embers of anger always seem right under his skin, easily accessible and ready to go off. And they did.

For me it seems like I am two different people housed in one body. I am going to keep working on expelling the angry one; the one who loses the ability to be stable and focused. I am a work in progress.