A journal of healing

Posts tagged ‘veterans’

Midsummer Dreams

Nightview 2015

The light has shifted ever so slightly in the garden at night. I have been doing an epic battle to keep everything hydrated. But even so, things are crisp or wilted. My glorious ferns are gone and the grass is brown and crunchy. The trees in their deprived state are dropping leaves early. I fear for how brown our fall will be this year.

I am not good with the heat. The other night, the little air conditioner in our bedroom could not overcome the heat and it was still 80 in the room. I find myself longing for a storm or two. I realize I could never live somewhere that was sunny perpetually.

I spend my last hours of the day in the garden readying from my Kindle. It’s so dry that the bugs and mosquitos are less and so the light does not attract them. I finished a non-fiction book intended to reflect on what it is like to live with PTSD. It was a story of woman who was raped by her boyfriend over a period of times when she was 16. She lived with his threats and never told anyone. The book revolves around her growing up and dealing with the ramifications. She is splinter from her family, her own choice, and ends up as a disenfranchised woman living in a hovel.

Although the book explained about triggers it was not a good representation of what it is like to live PTSD. The woman in the story goes to a psychiatrist and is “healed” by simple breathing methods and other mindful exercises. She meets a man and life goes on off into the sunset. Although the authors attempt to help bring awareness, I think she misrepresents the truth.

People do not ever heal from PTDS. They learn to cope. And while some are better than others, it still can rear its ugly head at any moment. Triggers come from everywhere. I was reading where a female soldier (nurse) who had PTSD after being in Nam was fine for years. Then she moved to a new area to work at a hospital. She started having horrible flashbacks and attacks. She could not figure it out when on a very still night she heard the sound of a chopper flying to the landing pad at the hospital. It was not the first flight since she moved there. Normally it was noisy with other ambient sounds and this was so subtle she never paid attention. But her ears did. They heard and she would start to have panic attacks.

The shift in light for me is a trigger. I am so sensitive to it that I am aware before it really gets to the point where it bothers me. Something about the afternoon light before sunset in the fall and winter makes my chest tighten and other sensations. It has to do with sunset around 5 pm. This was the cocktail hour when my parents would barricade themselves away from us and start drinking. Yes, this still affects me forty years later. I am aware of it and can normally deal with it. But I still get a stomach ache and my mood shifts.

This morning, as many Sunday mornings, I sleep an hour or two longer than normal. It is very common for me to have nasty dreams but there is a prevalence of one reoccurring situation and it often plays out in these stolen moments of extra sleep. I have no idea why and I cannot control my dreams. Even after being divorced for over 13 years, I still have horrible dreams about the way I was treated. I am not going to dwell by explaining this as I need to let the dream I had this morning go. But my point is PTSD does not just end.

I know what I have to do and will tend to it. The summer ending is always hard for me. We are off to the River for our long extended stay in a couple of weeks. That will help me to focus and ground. There needs to be more awareness of PTSD, and not just for Vets. It affects many people in many ways.

 

Live not in fear

hawk 15

“Ne vivent pas dans la peur” Live not in fear. Terrorist are not powerful because of their acts, but because of the fear they instill. More people are affected by a terrorist event because of fear the act will be repeated somewhere and they will be the next victim. This is the goal of terrorism and the world will come to its knees if allowed. And not because of just the fear, but the retaliation this could cause.

We watched a movie last night called the “Kingsman.” The movie itself was entertaining and had a lot of special effects. The theme of the movie was that the villain put microchips in the necks of powerful people and then gave away free cell phones. At his command he could create mass chaos and uncontrollable anger by sending a signal to the chips and phones. People would turn on anyone near them and fight them to death. In one scene, a whole church congregation turned on each other and everyone slaughters each other except the hero, who walks away.

This is the same effect that terrorism is based. By causing fear in the minds of the population, they can create anger and then the mob mentality will escalate until we have a war. And to me, that is not the answer.

And as much as I hate violence, I am not sure not doing something is the right answer either.

Terrorism touches people in so many ways. 911 had a huge impact on my life. It altered it completely. No one in my family died. But it was the catalyst to the end my marriage. My ex-husband wanted to be recruited to serve and was turned down on every front. He had to face his age and his lack of abilities to be a hero and it changed him completely. His anger, and the anger of the group of people he hung out, with was palatable.  Their hatred and desire for massive retaliation was ugly.

I hear my husband talking to his right winged family members and I hear their hatred for all Syrians. How silly is that to hate a whole population because of a few assholes. But that is how the mob mentality is created. After 911, anyone who looked Middle Eastern was suspect.

I would hate to think we could head back into a state of war after so many years. The government has been very careful to name disputes anything but war, such as a “police state” or even a peace mission. You do not hear much about the fighting in Afghanistan and how many of our folks are being maimed. Why are we still there?

I do not propose a solution. Half of me says: “do whatever it takes to get rid of this scourge.” But I know it will involve the death of innocent people. But their action already took the lives of many innocents. I cannot imagine the horror.

My thinking is that life on this world will not end because of global warming. We will end our existence on this phenomenal planet by self-annihilation. And no one wins.  I just hope that fear will not be the dominate factor for solution.  We need to remain calm, carry on in our lives, stay informed and support a significant solution that will not end up with just more death.  Je suis tellement désolé, France.

aspry

My father in law (FIL) passed away this past week. It was a sad crossing for my family. He was the glue that kept very different groups of people together.

He was a WWII veteran and at the end of the war, he met and fell in love with my mother in law. They were married 69 years. She has Alzheimer and does not know what happened. He had been her sole caregiver for the past seven years since she began her decline. The descent into her private world was most apparent the last few years. She was not the nice type, but would berate him unmercifully. It took him going in to the hospital with kidney failure for the family to rally and do what needed to be done. They put Mom in a wonderful memory care place that practices the Eden Alternative http://www.edenalt.org/ which takes patient focused care for dementia to a new level.

Nothing brings out the skeletons in a family like a crisis does. His sister is a piece of work. Although each of them is as different as can be, they usually get along. But this brought out the nastiness and hurt from the past. I have not cared for her much, but tolerated her princess ways for my husband. But this last month made me decide that if I never have to deal with her again, it would be ok. When my FIL’s death was imminent and he was struggling with the fluids in his lungs, she ripped into my husband in the hallway. She did not understand hospice and accused her brothers of killing HER father.

My FIL was a frugal man. He was raised by Italian immigrants during the depression. He saved a lot of money and put it aside for his children. His mistake was he told them. His sister is the only one of the three of them who is not self-sufficient financially. I do not know her income, but as a bartender, I am sure there is not much in the way of a pension or retirement. Her father bailed her out all the time. She also had control of the finances for the estate. At one point, before my FIL got really sick, she wanted to move them to a smaller cheaper (crappy) apartment to save money. They would have to figure out how they would get meals as this place did not provide them. They were 94 and 90. It was always about the money for her.

Fortunately, my brother in law superseded her and took custody of my FIL. He moved him up to his house. My MIL was secure at her new place and life looked really good. However, life is unfair. My MIL fell and broke her pelvis. My FIL rallied for a week and then went steadily downhill. We think the release of having to take care of his wife allowed him to let go from everything. He passed peacefully surrounded by his family including out of state grandchildren who flew in. My MIL is recuperating and has been saying now for some time she is all alone. No one actually told her anything, but she is in such a state that she would not know who we were talking about.

We have always been an afterthought with his siblings. My husband harbors some unresolved angst about being always treated like crap by them. I have heard stories and they really did from early on treat him like garbage. He paid for the sins of his older brother who was a real hell-raiser. His sister was the princess and her parents doted on her. Joe was the forgotten child. He has never been able to get past all the hurt. He demonstrated this by not calling his parents or participating much in their lives. For 35 years, they lived in Florida and he was not able to visit or invited along when others were. When they moved back he did not reach out. When there was a crisis, as there had been many these past few years, his siblings expected him to come to their aide which he did reluctantly. The last time my FIL was in the hospital, my husband stayed with his mother for many days of pure hell. She needed 24 hour surveillance. She would nonstop repeat the same thing over and over and over… His sister refused to stay with her because she “could not handle it.”

The memorial service was in the city where my BIL lives there with his family. His father and the rest of the family live in another nearby city for all their lives. We were not told anything other than to show up. This was the final hurt for my husband. His brother’s friends were invited but we were told it was family only. The day before the service, we went to the funeral home for a viewing. It was all the same people who were in the room when he died. My poor FIL was laid out on a table with only a blanket covering him. It was awful. I have no idea what that was about but afterwards, my BIL and SIL and their children spent the day doing activities and had a big party. My poor husband and his family were not invited at all. We found out about it all the next day. To the bitter end, they had treated him like crap.

I personally like my BIL and his wife and his children. I get along with them all. I will miss not seeing them, but support my husband in distancing ourselves. It is sad to think that this is what happens. His parents spent 69 years together and then were separated before death. I am sure my MIL will not be around for too much longer. Everyone thought she would go first. We visited her yesterday and she would recognize us and then would not. According to her we have a nice home in Monaco. I wish! I think my SIL would prefer that her demise would hasten as she has hardly spent any time with her this summer.

My parents died at an early age. Although my father was 71, he was in and out of the hospital for many years after my mom died at 57. I was the “keeper” for both. Their deaths totally cracked an already splintered family. I am still very close to my oldest brother, but distanced myself from the other two brothers and sister. It was necessary for me to do this as they are really a bunch. It actually gave me peace. I think this is what will happen for my husband. I think not having to have them in his face will make things easier and maybe he can let go of some of his pain. He loved his father dearly and is dealing with his remorse, but it will fade.

His father had a wonderful long life. He would have been 95 in a month. My favorite comment by a man of few words was at a huge family event for a graduation. The back yard was filled with people and kids running around, playing games, sitting at tables in a tent and chaos ruled. We were sitting across from them. He looked around at the mass of people and said, “I caused this.” His eyes were filled with joy and love.

 

 

I am a sinner!!!

pink clouds 8-15

“I am a sinner. I have done something so egregious in my life that I deserve completely the issue at hand.”

This is how someone who has PTSD brought on by childhood trauma thinks. This is how a woman copes with the reality of living within an abusive relationship of a spouse or family member. This is what the perpetrator tells them and when it is someone you are supposed to trust, you take it as gospel.

The lesson is learned early when in innocence, the child or woman stands up to the inflictions and is beaten worse or punished even more cruelly. There is guilt placed on them that they are so flawed that their judgement is totally wrong. When you add isolation, which often happens, the person is so humiliated because they are led to believe they have caused their own situation and it is their entire fault. So they submit which is why so many people end up either dead or remain in the relationship.

Children often have no escape. They hear nothing but ridicule and criticism. They are abused mentally, physically and sexually by members of their closet trust unit, their family. This circle of constant wearing down of any self-worth is worn like a cloak and the energy given off to others in the world is a reflection of this lack of confidence. People treat people as the person treats themselves. And this only perpetuates their loss of confidence. When all hopes of a bright future are dashed at the malicious behavior of others, the person mentally gives up.

What happens in the body is another story. The body is designed to protect us. I have written a lot about the reaction of trauma and there is a ton of information on the physical deterioration of the human life form from trauma whether it is a one-time happening or many. There is evidence based research on the impact of trauma and the propensity of chronic illness later on in life. Please read the Ace Study information here: http://www.acestudy.org/

Now repeat this treatment for fifty years and then ask, who could possibly have a different outcome of low esteem and self-deprivation? How could the body after all those years of cortisol floods and other hormones and muscles in a permanent clinch all the time not affect the health of someone? This is my story. It is not about sympathy and it is very difficult, more difficult to talk and write about than anything I have ever done because you see….I am a sinner. I still in my subconscious think I deserved everything that ever happened to me. And so the manifestation of chronic illnesses is only another reinforcer.

The reason I am writing about this stems from another blog of the dear Dr. Victo Doloro: https://doctorly.wordpress.com/2015/08/27/eroding/ . It is about how obese patients are treated by the medical community. I wrote a long reply to that but it made me come to grips with something currently in my own life.

A week or so ago, I started to feel like absolute crap. We were headed out for vacation; I was able to quell the uneasiness of my ickiness with the anxiety of the trip. I always am anxious to some extreme, but going away is very difficult. I lose what little safety I think I have. Once away, I still was anxious and I thought it was about work. It is what I do. I find a reason for something so I can deal with the guilt of not being perfect. Although we had a splendid time, I knew something was wrong Big Time. We got back and the symptoms did not get better. If anything, I felt worse. I had my nurse educator take my blood pressure and sure enough it was up there, more so than it has been for a long while. I decided to look at my glucose, and yup, it was up. I took readings for four days and it was constantly up there.

I did a very difficult thing. I called my doctor and made an appointment and I asked him to order all sorts of blood work. On Friday, the lab tests came back and there was nothing significant in the findings. I was within a range I had been in before. This summer had been a whirlwind of barbeques and going out every weekend and enjoying ice cream cones while sitting by the canal. And I just came back from vacation where we treated ourselves to what-ever we wanted including shell fish. I had brought all my numbers down when I was on Weight Watchers and because of the change in eating habits, I actually as mindful on the trip and not a crazy fool. I only gained four pounds back from which meant I was still 20 pounds lighter than where I was less than a year ago. Just knowing that made me feel better.

This morning, the last test came back (urine) and it was off the chart. From what I can tell, my kidney crashed again. I had taken a shot (Simponi for my Psoriatic Arthritis) the Wednesday before we left. I had a reaction at the injection site I have never had before (I have had seven shots of this product) I noticed the next day that I felt like my blood pressure was up and I was very stressed. As I said, the anxiety of the trip and so forth. On the trip, I was not drinking water as much as I normally do because of how much I have to pee every five minutes and you can’t do that when you are traveling. I also consumed restaurant food which has a ton more salt than I use. But according to what I have read, I should have edema, and I don’t. There is also the possibility that the test was contaminated and the outrageous reading is inaccurate.

But here is the point of this long epistle. It took me four days to call the doctor. Why? Because in my mind I am totally blaming myself for whatever is happening. I am in a state of being triggered from guilt and the fear of oncoming punishment. For me, having to go to the hospital for more tests makes everything in my body tighten to the point of almost being crippled. I am sure it is adding to the heighten BP. Worse is the treatment I know I will receive. My GP is not like that. But this will surely mean a trip to a nephrologist and/or endocrinologist. My last experience was beyond awful and I wrote about it in Victo’ s post and I have written before about it. Even the nephrologist I saw never talked to me about kidney disease, but only about he bet me I would be so much healthier if I lost 25 pounds. HELLO??? I did and this happened anyways.

I feel in the depth of my soul like I have been captured like a caged animal and I am trapped. Now I will be paraded like a circus animal where people can poke fun and ridicule me. They will tell me that this is all my fault because I am fat and from the front desk to the person who will have to weight me, they will treat me terrible. It is an awful feeling. But I know I have to do something. My fear at one point was so strong that I almost said “screw it. I have to die of something.” Then my new found bravery came into play and I am facing this head on. First asshole who says something that this is my fault because I am fat is going to get an earful from me. I wish I could come up with a card to hand out starting with, “ you are an uniformed asshole! IF you only knew…..” The other thing that this and the conversations on Victo’s blog did was reinforced my desire to continue to work in trauma informed studies. I completed a certification last year in working with organizations to be more trauma informed. There is another longer certification in becoming a trauma informed specialist and I am going to go for that this year.

I know that the fear of seeking medical help is extremely common. The level of anxiety brought on from illness for people with PTSD from any form of trauma is unmeasurable. It is a major cause of suicide. It is only in recent years that PTSD is acceptable for people in the military. It was not uncommon and is still prevalent for soldiers returning to suffer major uncorrectable illnesses because of PTSD. They try to treat the illness and not the whole situation. There is still a stigma of being a weakling. People with childhood trauma and domestic violence victims are very much not understood or even accepted. Countless doctors do not do a trauma screen to see the route of diseases started back when they were physically abused when they were five. And until we stop  degrading and humiliating the victims, they are not going to speak up.

I am going to add to this, although I know this is going to be another post at another time. There is a lot of work out there dealing with people with PTSD and downregulating the body reaction to it. There is ton of stuff on mindfulness and meditation and sensory and energy work and other therapies. I have spent a ton of money and years on trying to find a solution. Although it has helped, some more than others, I am convinced that this is not the cure. I believe there is some so deeply engrained in the body that no one has actually discovered and is able to truly turn off. They can dim it, but not eradicate it. And, like anything, it is hard to say that this too is a failure. But this is all for another time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

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.

 

Judgment

Goddess of the garden

Yesterday, The Good Doc, Victo Delore posted a great post on the vulnerability we all have to react to stimulus without the complete picture. Here’s her post: The Bigger Picture With shame attached, I would have reacted the same to the original situation and thought, “who dares to park in a handicap spot without the credentialing”?  I have a placard to hang from the mirror which is totally out of date. I lack the desire to be labeled handicapped but there are times when it sure makes my life easier to have less of a walk into the store. I honestly have also parked when I am in my car without the mirror handicap sign but only on really bad days and in a rush. One day I was feeling particularly cheeky and parked in the “for expectant mothers” spot. One of the few perks for being fat is you can look pregnant and people won’t ask, “hey, you preggers or just fat?”

Being judgmental is normal. We are taught it at an early age because we are judged. We are criticize and directed for correction as soon as we can voice a decision. When a baby first says, “NO”, the parent thinks, who the heck do they think they are? This is not a bad thing  because we need to learn parameters and boundaries. We also need to test the waters.  Learning what is acceptable is part of being assimilated into a culture.

I was raised by two incredibly judgmental parents who were raised by even more harshly judgmental parents. There was a code instilled in my family of needing to be perfect and that has completely messed with me and all of my siblings. This voice has been a deterrent for me at times because I do not want to face criticism and judgment. But the question begs, who is doing the judging?  When I take the time to really feel what I am thinking, I realize it is often not me; it is the old voice of my parents. It is the illogically comments from a time gone by. It was a mindset that I needed to be aware of so I could protect myself. But I also needed to play along in order to survive in the clan. I rebelled early on when I disagreed with their bigotry and hatred. I still hear their reaction to things and people that are not my real feelings.

I have a huge quantity of personal triggers that set me off. People who have PTSD react to stimulus that others cannot fathom. I have worked very hard to become aware of my triggers and try to deal with them. I am so sensitive to things that no one else can comprehend what they do to me because it is “nonsense” to them. For example, a certain color of light or a shadow on a wall used to completely upset me and bring on a sense of fear and despair. I now can explain that it is the color of light that happens at sunset and the low shadow is a marker of that same time frame. Why does this set me off? Because they are indicators of the time when my parents would begin their drinking.

People with PTSD have a bag of “stuff” to deal with that is so individualized that no one can comprehend what they are dealing with. It is that personal. Yet we hear people all the time say, get over it. We hear and feel the judgment. No one can really comprehend the pain and total suffering of others, ever. We do not have the ability to understand their triggers either. We need to have compassion. And it starts with not judging.

One challenge I am working on for myself is the “pause.” I try to take a moment and step away from the visceral reaction to something and breathe. In the second of calming I often can see a different story than the original view. Much like the good Doc says in her post about seeing the old couple and realizing the real story takes a moment of reflection. This process is hard and I often fail. But for the times when I do, it makes for a sweeter time of it. Unless it is a real jerk….and they do exist.  Ok, that was just to make you smile.

 

2015 New years and dream

Goddess of the garden

Again I am amazed at the amount of stories and bloggers of people who have some form of PTSD and Trauma based issues. And the level of trauma ranges from violence and sexual abuse to anxiety and to incurring self-mutilation. When I first starting this new post, I thought I would focus more on the clinical aspects of trauma inflicted issues but then I thought “who was I to write about things like that?” After spending some time reading other posts I think I will continue to share my journey in the hopes that maybe others can relate. I find in the plethora of blogs out there on the topic there is also a difference in each one. And in my own pursuit I have come across information I did not have. I have felt compassion and understanding and I find this soothing. It is sort of a community. And since I do not see childhood abuse or sexual abuse or domestic abuse going away, I think it is important to talk about it and share.

So in that vein, I am going to share a dream I have had off and on for the last (I sat for about fifteen minutes while writing this and realized the amount of years and was shocked) over twenty-five years. But I must give a brief history for it to make sense. I met my first husband when I was 19. We got married a year and half later. There were signs then that he was violent and a liar and cheat but I did not pay attention. I want to get out of the even more abusive situation at home. I did love him, very much so. He was in a band, had long hair, was over 6 feet and large. He wrote poetry and sometime songs. He wanted to go to Canada with me and start a farm and not be in the military. He was pretty close to being drafted when Vietnam ended. I was a total hippie and the thought of raising plants and animals for a living has never gone away. I would never have raised animals to slaughter, but I love cows and sheep. I grew up on farms of my friends and was no stranger to the hard work that is farm living. But I was young and very healthy and strong back then.

From the day I met him, being unfaithful was going to be a part of my life with him and his friends. His best friend was cheating on his girlfriend and wanted to “date” my best friend, and was hitting on her. That was how he and I met. Once we became a couple, in short order, I realized we had a different meaning of being committed. I never caught him red-handed, so to speak, before we got married. But there were signs. I wanted to be married and on my own so I went onward. But there were a couple of situations where his temper flared, including taking a hammer to the windshield of his van and smashing it right where my face was. This was to be his method of attack in the future. He never hit me directly in the face, but would smash things very close to my face such as the wall or throw something. But, after the home I came out of, violence was nothing new.

What became more pervasive was the onslaught of girlfriends. I will not go into all the details of it right now. In the later years it got so bad that he would pick up women at bars in front of me and go off. Early on I knew something was up and would go through his wallet and find names and phone numbers. I had no shame about going through his wallet either. I knew what he got paid, I knew what he gave me, and I knew how much cash he blew on going out. Early in our marriage, he would explode when confronted on things, and I learned to let it go. But I did not let it go. I brought it all inward. It ate away at me all the time. What self-confidence and self-esteem I had was GONE by the time I was 25. GONE! I remember we both went on medication induced diets and I lost a ton of weight. I was gorgeous and had a body like Marilyn. I attracted a lot of attention. But my head image never changed and I had no realization of being anything but a fat, ugly, unwanted woman. The weight came back incredibly quickly and doubled. He had joined the police department, and the level of ostracization became intense. He quickly gravitated to a couple of women in his class and became too friendly with one in particular. This relation lasted for years. She made it very clear to me that he was involved with her. I was embarrassed and humiliated because everyone in our personal circle knew about it and accepted her and the relationship. She was not the only one, believe me, in the 27 years we were married. He had one affair that lasted nine months before he had to confess because she contracted a STD and he had to tell me. BUT…. I have to explain something that will make sense why I was subjected to this for so long and never got out.

After he became a cop, he changed. I believed in marriage being sacred. My mother instilled abject fear about divorce in me. She said it was the ultimate disgrace and failure on the woman. At the time, I did not know her mother was divorced. I did not find that out until several years after she died. I thought it was my duty to stay and put up with it. In hindsight, I know I was also terrified. And this is what he fed into, as most predators find the Achilles in their victims. He would also become the most violent after I confronted him. One time he got so mad he punched the wall and broke his hand. (served him right) He had to go to the hospital and get it cast.

But he also isolated me. He even admitted he did this when we were going through his divorce. He would do horribly embarrassing things when we were with my friends. And my friends could not stand him. So in short order, the only girlfriends I was allowed to be with were the wives of his friends. I was very blessed that my dearest friend forgave me for the period of time when I did not see her and we have become close again. Other friends did not hang in there. The women who I was in relationship with were very nice, but, I would not befriend them now. There were too many differences, especially with his closest guy friend and his wife. She was a simple woman whose whole world was her family. She had no children of her own, which was horrible for her. But without being condescending, she was also not the brightest woman I have ever met. I have not heard anything from them since the divorce either. The rest of the women were in the same predicament as I. One lady, Linda, had been with her man for ten years. He had another woman, Carol, who he saw every Sunday. He also spent time with her as he pleased leaving Linda crying in the house they shared. We were never sure who he would bring to a party. He cheated on Carol, when he met Linda. One gentleman died “in the saddle” of girlfriend #2. It was such a joke they called her Killer. I am sure his wife laughed all the way to the bank when none of the three girlfriends got anything and he was very rich. There was one guy who kept bringing this woman to our house and events and I made the faux pas of calling her his wife. Nope; girlfriend for over ten years and the wife knew all about it. She preferred to stay home with their children. This list goes on. They all were not cops, but many were. And this is not to say that all cops cheat, but in my permitted circle it was the norm. Most of the women were not highly educated and although some worked, none had management jobs. Some were secretaries, or hygienists or in medical offices. This sounds highly condescending, but they were not interested in anything else. None had outside activities except going to shooting matches with their men. I am serious. Some actually shot. Conversations were about house- hold cleaning products or television. I was even ostracized even within this circle because I believe in gay rights and was called a Feminazi because I was a feminist. It added to the depletion even more of my self-esteem. I had to get out of that circle to figure this out. Many of his circle of friends divorced when the cop husbands retired and they ended up with much younger wives. Very sad. But the real tragedy is what this constant degradation of the wife and the humiliation that goes with being treated that way does to the woman. It strips away every drop of self-esteem you have. Many did not leave because of children, but I found out later, many also were subject to mental and physical abuse. I joined a divorce support group and one of the members turned out to be the wife of a cop I knew only by name. What he did to her was criminal. Being married to a cop has many challenges as the Blue Code protects some and hurts many others.

Now back to my dream. I will preface this also with the facts I am married now to a man that fidelity is not an issue. My husband is the most faithful and loyal person I have ever met. The reoccurring dream is one where I am still married to the ex and he goes through a string of behaviors that flaunt his connection with another woman. The dreams started when I was still married to him. I would wake up crying and humiliated and also very angry. When we divorced, the dreams increased in frequency. I would wake up stressed and upset. Eventually, in the last two years, the dreams would change at the end to me beginning to fight back. There was a couple where I flayed on him. He was a big man so it was futile. It only added to the frustration. More recently, the dream resolves where I am starting to tell him to go f**k himself. Most times I don’t get it out as I become inarticulate and I wake up.

This morning I slept in and the dream came again. Just as I was about to have to face this woman picking up my ex-husband and I to go to some event, yes all three of us in her car carrier truck,…it’s a dream but the other woman always is more macho in activity or had children (we could spent a whole month of that) and I go WHOA…..”you’re an asshole”….and I am about to rip into him and tell him how I feel about this and my current hubby opened the bedroom door to allow our little peanut doggies to wake me up. I was so close.

I have been divorced for 13 years. I have not spoken to him since then. I wrote a letter once but of course never sent it. It helped with some of the anger. The anger I have now is not at him. He was a pathetic jerk and so were his friends. None of them deserve anymore of me. But I am angry and frustrated at myself for not being able to resolve all this in my dream world. It gets to the part where I pull up my big girl panties and I am about to invalidate him and I fail. I am sure there is a whole mess of psychoanalysts who can tell me what this all means. What is very weird is that I have not really talked about much of this period of my life to anyone except in my writing. I think I am still grappling with the humiliation and the fear of retaliation that was so pervasive for almost thirty years of my relationship with this man. He began his isolation and exclusion of me from his life almost from the moment I met him. There is consolation that I am getting closer to speaking up in the dream. In the real world, my self-esteem and self-worth is still pretty fractured. If you couple my childhood years with this period it is 47 years of pure hell. I guess I need to give myself a lot more credit for being able to even have some peace now.

Although I celebrate the New Year on October 31st, I am sending everyone a blessing for the upcoming year of 2015 to be one of great healing and recovery. I hope we all get a bit stronger and fight for help for all the people who are impacted in some manner of trauma to become the Spiritual Warrior they are meant to be. I cannot help but believe there is a reason we all are here. And those who have had some huge battle with the evil of the world, whether it is on a battlefield or in our own homes, we are here to stop it from happening in the future. I really see and feel in my deepest regions of my soul there is goodness and light in everyone and we are not meant to hurt each other. I struggle every day with the whys and what ifs. But the future is where the change can occur, so I wish for it to be a better world for us all.

what is a trigger?

The fact that the cell membrane and a computer chip are homologues means that it is both appropriate and instructive to better fathom the workings of the cell by comparing it to a personal computer. The first big-deal insight that comes from such an exercise is that computers and cells are programmable. The second corollary insight is that the programmer lies outside the computer/cell. Biological behavior and gene activity are dynamically linked to information from the environment, which is downloaded into the cell.   Bruce H. Lipton Ph.D.. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles (Kindle Locations 863-866). Kindle Edition.

I purposefully started this blog with this piece of information. The book, the Biology of Belief was very eye opening for me. I read through and understood about half of what he was saying. My intentions are to go back and reread this, but currently I have a few other books going. Dr. Lipton, a cellular biologist, was radical in his thinking. He left the exalted chambers of academia to live on a Caribbean island and wrote this book. It is a little high end for vocabulary, but his discoveries of the cells power is amazing. For those who believe in mind, body and spirit, it is a good read.

What does this have to do with this blog? Triggers! This is a phenomenon very common to those who have PTSD and developmental trauma. Unless you have it, it is hard to understand. I have heard several times in my life: “why do you just change?” If it were that simple, I would and so would the thousands who have chronic trauma related issues. This is not a choice. If a therapist tells you that it is, run for the door.

What is a trigger? Each person has multiple triggers in their lives. There are smells that trigger hunger and smells the trigger revulsion. Same nose smells them all. What makes the one smell pleasant and the other not pleasant? The memory attached to it. I love the smell of pine for example. It reminds me of the Adirondacks, The River and decorating the house for the holidays. These are all pleasant places or times that I felt safe. There are smells that trigger the opposite.

Light is a big trigger for me. I am very sensitive to light; the brightness and color of light. For example, the fading crimson light of sunset will often trigger me if I am not careful. There is something about the shadow and color that sets me off if I do not focus and keep myself in the present moment. It takes conscious effort to be aware. Why would this particular light bother me? I had to really analyze this as this has been a factor for a very long time for me, since I was very young.

Every night, my parents at 5 pm would stop their lives and sit down to have cocktails. It was without fail. We children were excommunicated from the area and left to our own devices. The room would fill up with the stench of cigarettes and later cigars. One cocktail would follow another. When I was very young, it was not so much an issue as my brother and I were fed earlier by my mother’s live in. As time moved on, this ritual lasted longer and longer. My father would drink and turn into a monster. And the hard part was it was not all the time. Sometimes he would be fine, and other times he would explode into a rage for no reason. My mother would catatonically sit on the sidelines and allow his irrational behavior to run its course. I did not realize at the time she was protecting herself.

Two things this light symbolized for me. The exclusion brought on by the ritual of cocktails. There was such a feeling of isolation and rejection stemming from their choice of alcohol over their children. And the fear of what drinking would do to my father. When we moved and I was the only one at home, they would get so tanked that they would not stop. Often, I would have dinner on my own, go out for the evening with my friends to come home to either the monster or having to help them get to bed. Needless to say I did not bring friends home.

The tricky part of triggers is we often do not know what they are. I can be going along in my day and realize that I am not breathing well. My chest will get tight and I cannot take a deep breath. I will have no idea what set me off, but something did. It can be as apparent as an argument or it can even be something I overheard. But sometimes, it is just the environment. And that is where cellular biology comes into play.

Think of the cell as a little person all on its own. It has a brain (nucleus) and it has a body with multiple parts that produced respiration and osmosis of sorts and creates energy. Surrounding the cell is the cell membrane which is like our skin…..which of course is made up by cells. “Each eukaryote (nucleus-containing cell) possesses the functional equivalent of our nervous system, digestive system, respiratory system, excretory system, endocrine system, muscle and skeletal systems, circulatory system, integument (skin), reproductive system, and even a primitive immune system, which utilizes a family of antibody-like “ubiquitin” proteins.” Bruce H. Lipton Ph.D.. The Biology of Belief: Unleashing the Power of Consciousness, Matter, & Miracles (Kindle Locations 345-346). Kindle Edition.

This is important to understand because triggers are sensed. They can be attached to a memory which will indicate whether it is a good trigger or a bad trigger. As we proceed through our day, we are assaulted with so much information that if we were to pay attention to it all we would be immobilized. So we tune out. I should say our thinking brain tunes out. The cells on our body do not. So we may feel uneasy without realizing where it is coming from. Have you ever walked into an empty room and felt creeped out? I have. There is something that was there or may still be and I cannot perceive it cognitively, but my little cell brains can. And when that happens, the little cell brains send a signal to the nerve highways and send the non-apparent threat up to the reptilian brain. It reacts and sets off the limbic system and opens Mr. Amygdala who then sends off all sorts of chemicals and then I feel crappy. AND, I have no clue why.

Think of how often this can happen in the course of a day. The part I will get into later is that this reaction or trigger grows exponentially. In other words, simple things set us off more and more. And because we end up being triggered continually, our system is flooded with chemicals that create inflammation and disease. Chronic pain is a common symptom of developmental trauma and PTSD.

This is in part why I had to take a mental health day this weekend. My pain level is out of control. My body is telling me I need to calm down. I had to take myself out my normal environment of work and interactions. It is not how I can live, but the respite was good. Unfortunately, the resurgence in the world of grocery shopping yesterday produced a heightened sense of over stimulation and increased pain level again. But the one day was worth it.

Brain Parts: What is the Amygdala and why won’t it go away?

brain

In order to really understand how trauma is manifested in someone, I have to try to explain a little bit of physiology of the brain. I am going to be very basic as I promised this was going to be an easy to understand blog. But this is also part of why things are the way they are for people with trauma related issues. But before I go there I want to share something that came to me the other night. Not everyone has trauma, not everyone gets this at all. Be careful trusting your healing to someone who says they get it, but really does not. That is why I want to do this blog. To help those who are suffering even a little bit to understand why and what is going on so they do not get taken. People with PTSD and trauma relating issues can be extremely vulnerable and therefore easy marks.

I actually was shocked when I first began therapy to find out not everyone is messed up…which  is probably not the right way to say this. What I mean is that I had no point of reference to know I was different. I did not know there was even anything wrong with me. I knew I was scared. I knew I was filled with constant fear. But that was not why I went to see someone. I went because I was in constant pain. I will come back to this in a later post. My point was I had no idea what hypervigilant was and that I was extremely hypervigilant. I did not like to be touched. I had big time issues, and still do sometimes, looking someone squarely in the eyes. I will also talk about the importance of eye contact. But again, I had been like this for so long, I thought it was normal. It was my normal. It is not everyone else’s normal. I really thought other people had childhoods like mine. Some do, but no one has the exact same experience. Be careful of therapists who claim to know your pain and then proceed to tell you how bad their life is. You are paying for them to listen and work with you, not you listening to them. It is also not a competition: “who had the worse time as a kid?” There are times when similar experience could be crucial such as working with soldiers. I also think it helps that a therapist truly understands sexual assault. But all this will be for later discussions. I am just trying to explain why I am writing about all this.

But I must share this experience I had years ago. I went to this counselor who was attached to a Mega Christian church. My brother-in-law attended and recommended it. It was a huge congregation and they had a counseling services right at the church. This was many, many years ago. I went because I was starting to have issues in my first marriage. I went once to meet the counselor and she wanted me to write about my life. I went home and then wrote about thirty pages of stuff. I brought it back the next visit. First of all, she had this annoying habit of sighing after everything I said. Her: “So, Jane, how are you?” I would reply, “I am doing ok.” Her: “(((((Sigh))))))” She proceeded to read my story in front of me. She starts sighing in rapid succession and then burst into tears and left the room. I remember sitting there and saying softly under my breath, “That worked well.” I left and never returned. I laugh now, but that could have been very damaging.

Back to science: The brain is an organ composed of many compartments that all do different things. There are three main parts: The Reptilian, the Limbic, and the Neo-Cortex. The part that is in not in charge for someone with trauma is the cortex. The reptilian brain is the survival brain. The limbic is emotions based mostly on past experiences, or in some cases; trauma.

The Reptilian brain gets its name from being the oldest part of development of the brain. Make perfect sense if you believe in evolution, like I do. This is survival at the most primitive state. It controls heart function and breathing. It is what makes us fight when threatened or retreat or flight if needed. Sometimes the body will go into a freeze. Think of a possum or pill bug that rolls up. If humans have instincts, then this is the part of the brain that may be involved. We have innate fear of harmful things such as snakes, spiders or even the hot stove. This part of the brain kept humans from walking up to a tiger and cuddling it.

three parts of brain

The limbic system is the emotional center. I am going to spend a lot of time on this in later posts because this can be the center for major issues for trauma patients. There are ways to work with helping and I will share what I know and hopefully readers will chime in with what they know. In the center of this area is a “mass of nuclei” known as the amygdala. When I first was learning about this, I thought of one of those garbage cans with a spring lid on it. You step on a pedal and the lid pops up. I thought of this amygdala as being that garbage can with the spring lid stuck open all the time spewing stuff. This is what happens when someone has PTSD. That little bugger is stuck on or open and firing all the time. The stuff spewing out of it is chemical and electronic signals that fire up other glands and areas of the brain that flood your body with lovely things like cortisol. Do not let the small size of the amygdala fool you. It is a very powerful nasty critter when it is overwhelmed. I will talk how it gets overwhelmed. Just remember this is all natural, and just like other diagnosis, can often be remedied.

The rest of the brain is the learning and thinking areas. We actually use very little of this part of the brain. Some less than others. The issue is that most therapies work on this part of the brain. Cognitive Based therapy, CBT, or talk therapy works in this part of the brain. For examples, affirmations that are supposed to rewire your thinking are applied here. Trouble is that little bugger Amygdala is more powerful and will over ride that kind of therapy in no time. The route of PTSD and trauma based issues is that they are not “learned” like a lesson. They are sensed. You have to retrain the limbic system. You cannot think yourself differently; you have to learn what safe feels like in order to turn off the amygdala. And if you have no clue any more what safe is, well….. hence why this is so crazy hard to fix.

So this is a pretty simple explanation of how these three systems in the brain work or do not work. I would love to hear what you think. Please comment in the comment box or share your story with us.

Namaste.