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So I Kinda Disappeared…

So…ummmm…hey!  I’ve been gone for a while; I actually wasn’t planning on coming back.  My therapist always says that you can’t help others until you are healed.  Which I agree with sort of, kind of, not entirely.  I agree with the fact that if you are in the fire of something, you are not in the position to assist or show support to others.  With that said, when are you completely healed from PTSD?  That sounds negative but hear me out.  I have heard claims of people who say that they are healed, they have no issues anymore, and PTSD is behind them.  I have learned to cope.  I know my limitations. I practice self-care (sometimes).  But I am not sure I can ever imagine not being triggered by a narcissistic personality or by a man who is overtly sexually disrespectful.  If someone belittles me or condescends to me, I can’t imagine just letting it roll off my back.  Even so, I feel like I am better.  I feel like I have grown.  Recently though, not so much…

My life fell apart for a bit.  My marriage was in jeopardy and the reasons behind it were emotionally and mentally debilitating.  The political climate was, and still is, extremely confrontational.  Our financial situation went into an upheaval and quite frankly, is still uncertain.  I was triggered.  I was angry. I was terrified.  At that point, I needed to step away.  I needed to heal.  I needed a moment to breathe.  Anything I would have shared would have come off as a tirade.  That’s not my goal for this blog or my Facebook page.  My goal is to share inspiration and support with each other.  If something inspires me, I want to share it with you.  If I am experiencing something that I think can help others; I want to write about it and…share it, with the hopes that you will share with me as well.

So my life went into a downward spiral and I stepped away.  That’s ok.  Maybe there are those out there who are completely healed and never again have to suffer with triggers or insecurities or fear or anger.  That’s great!  I’m thinking that I am not one of those folks though.  I will have moments of weakness and I will struggle but I make this promise, I will not bring you down with me.

I agree with my therapist that we need to be in a healthy place to help others.  What defines a healthy life though?  Total and complete healing?  What if that never comes, then what?  I currently spend most days at home with my family trying to figure out where that smell is coming from. Is that where I top out?  I can’t believe that.  I think it is ok to share our imperfect lives with each other.  Our imperfections can offer a community that feels open and familiar.  How is your healing journey going?  Let’s celebrate our victories together.  It’s nice to be back.  Much love to you all.

The Horse That Changed Me…

I was diagnosed with PTSD four years ago through a rape crisis center.  While going through therapy, I discovered other programs that were offered, yoga classes, a photography class, and equine therapy in a group setting.  Equine therapy?!  I signed up.  I mean, I AM lucky enough to live in central Kentucky surrounded by beautiful horses; I have to try this.  I arrived the first day and we were given an introduction about what to expect and how equine therapy works.  It was then time to choose our horse.  I knew immediately the one I wanted.  A Spotted Draft named Sargent, he stood 16.2 hands high and was massive.  We had made eye contact during the introduction, quite frankly, he may have chosen me.

Sargent was matter-of-fact, yet gentle in his demeanor.  He could be stubborn and he could be impatient, especially if he decided he would rather be grazing.  Sometimes he would do as I ask and other times resist.  He was just like…ME!  I am certainly resistant to change and I can be stubborn.  I definitely do not like being told what to do.  Sargent was my spirit animal.  We made a great team.  There were times that my therapist and I would do individual EMDR therapy (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) in a corral with Sargent grazing nearby.  If I became emotional, he would come stand beside me to make sure I was ok.  One evening we had to complete an exercise involving several rubber balls.  Each ball represented parts of ourselves and they were to be sorted in different circles.  There were various sized rubber balls, about five, to be sorted while we held onto them and walked our horse.  Sound awkward?  It was, but to make it even more challenging these balls had to be sorted while also carrying a balancing ball, this representing my trauma.  So imagine one arm full of assorted sizes of 5-6 rubber balls, holding a lead rope to guide your horse, and keeping this huge balancing ball with you on top of that.  I was dropping balls everywhere.  I decided to just put down the “trauma” ball and guide it with my feet while sorting the others.  Sargent decided he would help by moving my “trauma” with his nose as I dealt with the rest.  We worked together so well.

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Sargent and I during equine therapy at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope

Equine therapy was a real turning point in my healing.  I’m not sure why exactly as there were several healing aspects.  One was working with a large intimidating animal and the feeling of accomplishment in doing so.  I had never been around horses so everything was a bit scary at first.  The other was being in this “natural” setting.  There is something therapeutic about being outside, being with animals; there is a purity about it. Sargent did not find me strange or over-emotional.  He just enjoyed being groomed, getting attention and having a purpose.  He sensed that I loved him…and he was right.  For that moment, he was my best friend.

The program lasted for several weeks and was every Saturday.  It interfered with family functions and limited my ability to schedule outside activities.  No regrets, zero.  It was the best thing I could have done for myself and for my healing.  The experience inspired us to adopt a horse of our own.  Tucker is not a trained therapy horse, but he is a beautiful Saddlebred rescue who is happy to be with a family.  When I am struggling, I will go to the field and bring him into the stall for grooming.  It still calms me.  Tucker enjoys receiving love and gives it right back.  He even gives “kisses” on the cheek!

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Tucker enjoying the field.

 

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Tucker sharing a special moment with my husband.
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Selfie Time!

 

My time spent with Sargent taught me that I am worthy of trust; that I can begin a work and finish it; that I can conquer my fears and insecurities or at least not have them control me.  I also discovered that therapy is not just sitting in a room talking with your therapist; it can be multi-faceted and creative.  It can certainly surprise you.  I visit Sargent from time to time.  He still lives at Central Kentucky Riding for Hope located in the Kentucky Horse Park.  He still aids trauma survivors with their therapy as well as performs in the Special Olympics.  He is quite the champion…

“I discovered that the horse is life itself, a metaphor but also an example of life’s mystery and unpredictability, of life’s generosity and beauty, a worthy object of repeated and ever-changing contemplation.” -Jane Smiley

 

New Experiences!

My intention when I started this blog was to write 1-2 blog entries weekly, but then life happened.  February was TERRIBLE, just awful, no good, a thank-God-you’re-done month.  There was tragedy and marital upheaval, illness and exhaustion.  I am not giving up though.  A few years ago, I would have deleted everything, pretend it never happened and chalked it up to just another failure.  I am inspired by bloggers and activists who have started an online community and admit to when they are struggling.  It’s ok to struggle, it sucks, but we have permission.  I have permission to feel overwhelmed, permission to step back, and permission to rest.

With that said, I’m trying something new this week!  New things scare me, more like terrify.  I still have an underlying fear of people seeing through me.  That they might actually see my pain, see my experiences, see how I am different.  They will see the “real” me and judge me.  As paranoid as that sounds, it is honest and authentic, this feels very intimidating.  But I am in DIRE need of fun.  I am in need of human contact that isn’t too serious.  We have a local shop that offers art classes.  Usually these art classes involve painting a specific scene, but this week, it is a sculpture!  *pause for ooo and ah’s*  We will be making a wire sculpture that can be used in a garden (or whatever) of a fairy.  This excites me because I have been wanting to create a whimsical garden next to my patio on a hillside area for…like…ever.   This year is the year!  Well maybe…but whenever I develop this garden I WILL have a handmade fairy to add to the mix AND hopefully know how to make more. This is a big deal y’all, BIG!  I am going by myself.  I am doing an art project with zero artistic talent, I’m like an art troll.  I need this!  Did I mention I am going by myself?  I am full of surprises.

I have another new experience coming up in a few weeks.  April is Sexual Violence Awareness Month and locally we hold a march through downtown called “Take Back the Night.”  Participants meet at different locations in the city marching with signs and chanting toward a central location.  There we listen to speakers and learn about services to help those who are victims of sexual violence.  The stage then opens up for volunteers to speak and tell their story.  This year I will be speaking.  Do you guys have any idea how nervous I am!  ACK!  I’m really more anxious than nervous.  I want to focus more on a specific issue and encourage others to speak up and be a voice more than talk about what actually happened to me.  If this goes well, I plan on joining a team of volunteers who work with the rape crisis center and speak to our state congress about funding and laws on this issue.  I have been wanting to do that for years but couldn’t, because I wasn’t ready.  These things take time.  If you rush the process, you risk hurting the cause more than helping it.  I have to be strong to do this!  I feel ready and this, my friends, is a good feeling.

I did promised a friend of mine that we would do a C25K program together.  We were supposed to start this week.  It is Friday…it didn’t happen.  We both suffer from RA (Rheumatoid Arthritis) and have both been struggling with a flare up.  Between stress and temperature variations, I’m not surprised.  Both RA and PTSD sufferers deal with brain fog which inhibits mental clarity and focus.  Since I have both and I am in the midst of an RA flare up, the fact that I am able to form sentences is pretty darn amazing!  *insert applause here* I was determined to do a blog post this week though.  It’s good to push yourself sometimes, as long as you are encouraging healing and not beating yourself up.

It is Saint Patrick’s Day so I will leave you with this Irish Blessing…

May your joys be as deep as the oceans, your troubles as light as its foam, and may you find sweet peace of mind, wherever you may roam.

Love and healing to you all… Go out and try something new!

Self-Care, a Time of Healing

I need to recharge.  Somebody hand me some battery cables, I need to be rebooted.  I’m tired, exhausted y’all.  If you have read my last two blogs then you know this has been a terrible month, horrible, in a word…Blech.  *Now this is the time that you go back and read my last two blogs.  Then read the blogs before that so that you know every day is not a bad day.* I have been struggling with my energy levels and with motivation.  I have termed it “battle fatigue.”  All of these recent emotions have brought up the dangerous cocktail that comes with PTSD…anger, depression, anxiety, and hypervigilance.  While my brain is trying to sort through it all, the end result is exhaustion.  Enter stage left, self-care.

I think at times we confuse self-care with self-indulgence.  Self-indulgence isn’t always bad as long as it doesn’t lead to overindulgence and self-absorption.  But self-care is different, it is about refilling and revitalizing yourself.  How can you be of any good to others if everything in you is depleted?  How can you be any good to yourself?  I’ll just give you the answer; you can’t.  Society, culture, today’s standards, whatever you want to call it, has told us that we have to be everything to everybody all the time.  A sacrificial lamb to all those who need us whether it be a business, coworkers, friends, family, kids, spouse, significant other, you just give till it hurts and you, YES you, will earn a gold star.  It’s an impossible goal.  Someone is going to get slighted, and the one who pays the biggest price is you.  We have to listen to our bodies.  We have to listen to that still small voice that is whispering in our ear, “Relax for a moment,” or “Don’t grab a burger in the drive-thru, you need a salad,” or “How about some time to yourself.”  We often ignore those voices because there just isn’t enough time or who has time to chew a salad, I mean really, I have to actually stop and eat that…with a FORK!!  Give me this burger, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.  But are you really living?

What I have described above could apply to just about anyone.  We could all use some self-care.  But when you are dealing with PTSD, or any other mental condition or injury, you are much more vulnerable to the effects of stress.  As I am dealing with the current chaos in my life, I am more likely to fall into depression and isolation.  I am more likely to wear anger like a favorite shirt.  I am at a point that I need to make sure I am “filling my cup.”  For me, I have to allow myself to rest, as well as, set daily goals.  I am tempted to lie down all day.  That’s not healthy.  I set goals for myself that keep me active without exhausting me.  Today, my goal is to write this blog.  I also made sure that I worked at the kitchen table facing my window so that I could listen to the birds and watch the squirrels.  It makes me feel better.  Yesterday my goal was to clean my refrigerator; I did it.  The goals can vary but I set them, every day.  I do not have the energy right now to do any form of high impact exercise like running or aerobics.  I can still walk though.  Even a leisurely stroll is better than being sedentary.  I have inspirational books and fun fiction to read or maybe I can grab my camera and look for some photo opportunities.  I want to rest my body and feed my soul.  I need to heal.

If you are still skeptical, how about some science?  Michele Rosenthal, author of “Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity” shared with Healthyplace.com, an easy to understand explanation of how our PTSD bodies react to stress,

Cortisol is the stress hormone you most need to understand.  Useful during a trauma, cortisol helps desensitize us so we feel less pain, increases short-term memory function, and acts as a quick energy boost.  All good things, right?  But here’s the kicker:  When present in higher levels for a prolonged period of time cortisol can be responsible for memory loss, fatigue, and reduced serotonin levels.  Typically high during and immediately after trauma, some studies have shown that cortisol levels actually decrease later in the presence of PTSD.  (We’re all unique and different so the only way to know how cortisol might be affecting you is through the results of a quick blood test done at any lab as prescribed by your doctor)

The adrenal system processes stress hormones, including cortisol. When there’s an overload on the adrenal system a survivor might experience a variety of symptoms such as fatigue, exhaustion and an overload of stress.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  That’s science people.  Science I say!  It is NOT in our heads, it is real and yes, it can be debilitating.  But the good news is, it is manageable.  Setting goals, allowing a time of rest, releasing guilt (that’s a big one), and communicating with your therapist or a trusted friend who understands (that’s big too). Make a plan and replenish your soul.  Please, please, please…take care of you!  And I will take of me as well.  Much love and healing to you all.

My World Exploded…

I just recently experienced a communication explosion.  Not just any explosion, but the nuclear holocaust of communication blow ups…BOOM!   There was a time when I was incredible at expressing my feelings, staying on task with the subject matter as opposed to attacking, and talking about things immediately instead of letting things fester.  We change though, especially if we find ourselves in an abusive relationship.  This happened to me many years ago when I endured personal insult, gaslighting, manipulation, and threats in communication attempts.  I found myself shutting down.  I shut down to protect myself.  I eventually was able to leave the relationship, but the damage had been done.  Fast forward to today.

My husband and I met almost 7 ½ years ago.  It was a Boom Shaka Laka kind of meeting; you get that, right?  It was an immediate attraction, whirlwind romance, full speed ahead, let’s get this party started kind of romance.  We were married a year and a half from our first date.  We each brought to the table our own special circumstances.  I was a trauma survivor with a history of abusive relationships and undiagnosed PTSD.  He was a recovering crack addict, four years sober at the time.  I saw the world as a dangerous place.  He saw it as a new beginning.  I thought things through, he was sporadic and impulsive.  Sometimes it felt like ying and yang, other times like an uphill battle.  I would get angry, he took nothing seriously.  I would want to discuss and analyze the why of something, he did not see the necessity in dragging out our problems any more than needed.  We were both right and we were both wrong.  Our communication broke down and we fell into the Passive Aggressive Zone.  Resentments and distance now had a garden to grow in and we were all too eager to tend to it.

My therapist likes to use the term Big T or Little T, T standing for trauma.  “This is a Big T, Lisa,” or “These Little T’s add up.”  I will use this template for my situation with the reference Big B, the Big Boom.  Things eventually come to a head, it’s unavoidable, and so it has come to our door, the Big B.  We are facing our first relationship changing issue.  There is no passive aggression at this point because it is too big to hide under a rug.  There would be no more hiding from our feelings.  It is now time to face them head on.  Looking back I visualize it this way.  Imagine several small dilapidated buildings surrounding a house.  The buildings are in need of repair, yet no one wants to take the time to invest in them.  The house that is looking out over them suffers a gas leak.  It explodes taking with it all of the surrounding buildings.  The property lies in shards of carnage.  The owners have two choices, rebuild or just leave it.  What do you do?  It would be easy to walk away from the mess and just start new somewhere else with a new property.  Rebuilding this one means we have to meet with contractors and clean-up crews.  There will be a time of displacement, there will be a time of discomfort.  When it is finished, we can come home.  It won’t be the same, which is both good and bad, it will be different.  What is the right choice?  Neither are wrong quite honestly.  Sometimes we have to walk away from the mess and start anew, sometimes we stay and do the dirty work.  We have chosen the latter.

We are now looking at the healing process.  The Big Boom has destroyed the dilapidated buildings that we were ignoring so that now everything is on the table.  Therapists will be visited individually and couples therapy is in the near future.  Holding a grudge is not a choice for either of us if we want to heal so we have to offer reassurance and honest communication, even when it is difficult.  This is all a process and it will not take overnight.  My hope is that we grow as a couple.  That I learn that I am safe expressing my feelings in a healthy way.  That he learns that sometimes you do have to discuss problems and saying “I’m sorry,” is not always enough.  We are forever changed moving forward, much like the exploded house I described, it will be different…but it could be better.  It could be stronger.  It could be more beautiful.

We fell short in the communication department and we are paying the price with hefty repairs now.  Practicing good communication and open discussion is the foundation for healthy growth.  Here are some healthy communication suggestions that I found on www.loveisrespect.org.  This is an amazing website that not only helps with issues such as communication, but also helps with identifying abuse and other relationship issues.  I highly recommend checking it out!  Here are their suggestions for healthy communication:

  • Find the Right Time – If something is bothering you and you would like to have a conversation about it, it can be helpful to find the right time to talk. Try to find a time when both you and your partner are calm and not distracted, stressed, or in a rush.  You might even consider scheduling a time to talk if one or both of you is really busy!
  • Talk Face to Face – Avoid talking about serious matters or issues in writing. Text messages, letters and emails can be misinterpreted.  Talk in person so there aren’t any unnecessary miscommunications.  If you’re having trouble collecting your thoughts, consider writing them down ahead of time and reading them out loud to your partner.
  • Do Not Attack – Even when we mean well, we can sometimes come across as harsh because of our word choice. Using “you” can sound like you’re attacking, which will make your partner defensive and less receptive to your message.  Instead, try using “I” or “we.”  For example, say “I feel like we haven’t been as close lately” instead of “You have been distant with me.”
  • Be Honest – Agree to be honest. Sometimes the truth hurts, but it’s the key to a healthy relationship.  Admit that you aren’t always perfect and apologize when you make a mistake instead of making excuses.  You will feel better and it will help strengthen your relationship.
  • Check Your Body Language – Let your partner know you’re really listening by giving them your full attention: sit up, face them and make eye contact when speaking.  Don’t take a phone call, text or play a video game when you’re talking.  Show your partner you respect them by listening and responding.
  • Use the 48 Hour Rule – If your partner does something that makes you angry, you need to tell them about it. But you don’t have to do so right away.  If you’re still hurt 48 hours later, say something.  If not, consider forgetting about it.  But remember your partner can’t read your mind.  If you don’t speak up when you’re upset, there is no way for them to apologize or change.  Once you do mention your hurt feelings and your partner sincerely apologies, let it go.  Don’t bring up past issues if they’re not relevant.

I wish I could say that my husband and I followed the above suggestions, obviously we did not, not consistently anyway.  The good news is we are working on that now and are trying to rebuild and start over.  If a trauma survivor with PTSD and a recovering crackhead can do it…I’m guessing you can too.  Much love and healing to you all.

The Demons.

I had planned on posting a blog post a few days ago.  I had begun writing when tragedy struck.  A tragedy entered my world and I was struggling with the processing of it.  I do not understand it.  I am angry.  I am sad.  But most of all, I am numb.

We have a friend who did a terrible thing, committed a horrific act, and then took his life.  This was someone who had been to my house.  Our greetings were hugs.  We had exchanged Christmas gifts.  We ate dinner together often…he did a terrible thing.  I never saw it coming.

Years ago, before I met him, he had hurt someone else while under the influence.  She had been hospitalized for her injuries and he was ordered into a drug rehabilitation program.  That is when I met him.  He was kind and he was quiet.  The demons seemed silenced.  He openly spoke of what he did with remorse, but still blaming the addiction for his actions.  I informed him that everyone who is under the influence does not become violent.  He needed to search his soul and see why.  He thought that was a good point.  The demons were hiding.

The years passed by; he worked and visited.  He rarely dated.  He would go to AA.  Life was fairly quiet.  The demons remained silent.

He began dating and the dysfunctions began to show.  Falling too fast, falling too hard, ending as fast as it started.  The words he spoke changed.  Always their fault.  The demons began to whisper.

He met a woman and fell in love.  “She is an angel,” he would say.  He expressed these feelings to me and although his words were sweet and innocent, I was worried.  He had put her on a pedestal so high that no one could live up to these expectations.  The demons were scheming.

The dysfunction began to return.  His talk became disrespectful.  I could see she was unhappy.  The end was near for them, I could see it on the horizon.  I spoke to him about his behavior.  I told him that he needed to see what was inside his soul that made him act this way.  He thanked me.  He thought that was a good point.  The demons were snickering.

She broke it off.  He acted horribly.  He would not let her go; he frightened her.  He spoke badly of her.  I stopped speaking with him.  I have no tolerance for that kind of behavior.  The demons waited.

He met a new girl.  She thought he was kind and quiet.  He called her his angel.  I wanted to tell her, “This will wear off.  This won’t last.  You deserve better.”  But I remained silent.  I never saw it coming.  She never saw it coming.  The demons were laughing.

No one knows what was said; what set off the night’s events.  The demons rejoiced as he did a terrible thing, a horrific thing.  Two people are dead.  A boy is injured.  We all remain silent.  We never saw it coming.  The demons were dancing.

I have been going through the motions.  I post on Facebook.  I watched the Super Bowl.  I go to my committee meeting as if everything is fine, “That’s a good point,” I say…and I smile.  But the demons, they laugh at me, as I remain silent.

Do I Dare Speak??

“The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

-Theodore Roosevelt

I try to read this to myself several times a week.  It is difficult standing up for what you believe in when confrontation is your kryptonite.  I find it invigorating to hold a discussion with someone I feel safe with, even if we have opposing views.  It is more difficult to do so when you cannot predict someone else’s response.  Will they put me down; will I be verbally abused; are they going to make me feel stupid?  Social networking is a cesspool of trolls and angry folks ready to wield their cyber-courage at all costs.  For me, this means that when I share a view online, I risk the chance of a differing opinion attacking me as opposed to engaging in healthy debate. The effect this has on me is weeks of reliving the words that are thrown at me, sometimes months, sometimes years.  I could say nothing and go on posting funny pictures of goats in rain boots but then I feel fake.  I want so badly to express myself, whether it be to support women’s rights or to speak out against the latest social injustice, but it is scary.  Can I do it afraid?  Yes I can.

You may have noticed that until recently, there was no name on these blog posts.  I made every effort to hide my identity for self-preservation, but that is not “being in the arena.”  That is hiding.  I do not share this in shame or embarrassment.  I was trying to protect myself which is totally understandable.  I had to ease into this.  So this is me, my name is Lisa.  I have PTSD and am a sexual violence survivor. I have two teenage children and PTSD does not mean that I cannot be a good parent.  I say that because sometimes I worry that I fall short.  I have also heard parents say that they are afraid to seek counseling because they might lose their children.  This makes me sad. It also frustrates me that the stigma of mental illness is so strong in our society.  So strong that we avoid seeking help due to fear of judgement and condemnation.  “My PTSD Life” is about me and issues that I have come across and dealt with as well as an admission of times I have come up short.  This is who I am…

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I want to be in the arena.  I won’t do it to the point I sacrifice my mental or physical health but I want to “dare greatly.”  I want to speak for those who have not found their voice yet and join in with them when they do.  I take the chance of being attacked, but those who attack me (not disagree, attack) do not deserve my attention.  They were never interested in my soul, more than likely just the increase in their “friend” numbers.  I think it is important to remember that we control our cyber-world.  I am free to post what I want, respond to what I want, befriend who I want, and delete them if need be.  It is important to keep a personal meter on what is healthy and what is becoming overwhelming.  I do take breaks at times, especially when the anger gets out of hand, and that is okay.  We each can find our voice and the freedom to express ourselves in whatever avenue we so choose.

It is nice to finally meet you!

Much love and healing to you all.