PTSD

Legacy

‘Round and ‘round she goes
Freewheeling and spinning
Bouncing from thought to thought
From one thing to another

Up is down, down is up
Good is bad, bad is good
Riding the exhilarating waves
Crawling through the dark valleys

Always looking to be “fixed”
Always wanting a “fixer”
Needing control
Living in chaos
Dying in love

Her life is mine, as well
My children can attest
I fought like mad
Lashing out, relentlessly

Life on the edge
The art of the con
The good apprentice
Crumpled and abandoned

Obsessive plans
Frenzied achievement
Burned out
Crashed hard

Time and again
Rinse and repeat
Cycles within cycles
Antagonist and victim

The mind forgets
The body remembers
In the midst of anger
In the midst of turmoil
Conflicted life

Lost momentum
Lost joy
Lost hope
Lost self
Unmoored

Immovable mountains
Crashing and clashing
Awakened in conflict
Change begun

Spiritual awakening
Fortuitous convergence
Extraordinary and mundane
Unforeseen support
Asked, offered, given

Long and winding
Road of an epic journey
My strength is my weakness
Renewed and redeemed
Bridging the past and the present

From mother to daughter
Connecting the generations
A new future written
Shaped by what was
Walking into what will be

UBC 4/20 Day 15: Trauma Muscles

Many people are experiencing various waves of emotions about what’s going on in the world today: panic, fear, anger, sadness, etc.. These are all normal responses to the global threat and common traumatic experience. However, if those feelings get too intense and pervasive, it can become debilitating and make it difficult to function. Then, there’s also dissociation – that feeling of being disconnected from emotions surrounding these events…kind of like compartmentalizing thoughts and action separate from emotional response. In my personal experience, that kind of thing I’ve learned as an automatic coping mechanism, which is an automatic response to trauma, a symptom of my PTSD. For me, dissociating has enabled me to get through periods of life when I was experiencing things which would have triggered overwhelmingly immobilizing emotions.

The thing is, we get really good at what we practice, right? In my life, I’ve bounced from trauma to trauma to trauma and dissociating, disconnecting from my emotions to the point where it became my way of life. I got so good at it, that, not only did I not consciously experience the “negative” emotions, I was also disconnected from the “positive” ones. It’s important to realize that emotions are neither negative or positive. Emotions are instinctive tools which tell us something about ourselves and the world around us. If we don’t learn how to read and understand our emotions in any given situation, then, whatever action we take as a result of the emotions we experience can have negative consequences.

Another word for practice is “exercise.” The more we exercise dissociation, the stronger our ability to ignore, push down, and function in spite of our emotions becomes. Suffice it to say, I have very strong dissociation muscles. They developed into a form of brute strength. But, brute strength only gets you so far. In order for it to be useful and constructive, that brute strength must be shaped, sculpted, and toned. In other words, training is needed.

I had a lifetime of developing the brute strength of dissociation to contain and manage my emotions until they started leaking around the edges and creating some truly negative and destructive consequences. I’ve now spent over six years training to hone and reshape how I handle my emotions. Dissociation is still my automatic “go to” response to intense emotion. However, it’s now mitigated by things I’ve been learning. Specifically, DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) has been very instrumental in teaching me how to harness and use the strength of dissociation in constructive ways. All while I continue to train and learn new methods and ways to mitigate it.

Which brings me to the present time of stress and trauma we are all going through as individuals, families, communities, a nation, and the global collective.

In the past month, I have experienced the feelings and had the thoughts of many, if not most, people in the world around me. I have seen two distinctive responses to those thoughts and feelings: acknowledgment and acceptance of the world as it is now, or fear or denial about how bad things are or will get. The first response gets things done and keeps one moving forward, facing and learning to overcome these new challenges. The second response results in stagnation and, possibly, regression.

I believe my well-developed “trauma muscles” and the training they’ve been getting from therapy, DBT, and spiritual growth is what has enabled me to address the issue and effectively deal with issue of being unemployed. It is also the thing which has helped me to continue my healing and growth process in my mental health.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that trauma is the best training tool for learning how to deal with and manage emotions. It isn’t. Trauma changes us and derails our path to who we had the potential to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, maybe it’s not. It impacts our relationships and our ability effectively and constructively function in the world. But, with training and healing work, I believe that the strength we gain from surviving trauma, can become powerful and impact our lives and the lives of others in amazing ways.

UBC4/20 Day 14: Parenting from afar

At the beginning of this month’s challenge, I mentioned my youngest daughter, but, I haven’t said much about her. Since I’m having some big feels regarding her and my relationship with her, I figured I’d talk through it here. If nothing else, I’ll get some more Emotion Color Wheel practice in. I’m feeling sadness and love. Sadness about her not being with me and love simply because she’s my daughter.

Digging deeper, I realize my sadness a lot of things: distressed, melancholic, shameful, and hopeless. Exploring that more reveals that I feel agonized and hurt, depressed and sorrowful, regretful and guilty, anguished and powerless. That’s a lot of sadness that’s heavy on my heart. I’ll get to the whys in a little bit. But first, I want to explore the love more. There’s tenderness and longing. Those expand out to compassionate and caring, affectionate and sentimental. That love is all twisted and intertwined in the sadness.

The love is actually buried under the sadness in a lot of ways and I think that’s all tied to my childhood trauma and the mother wounds I carry. I know I have attachment issues. It’s very, very difficult for me to be physically affectionate. I don’t enjoy snuggling, hugging, and close physical contact with anyone. I never have. Please don’t hold my hand for more than a few seconds. I can give hugs, but, please don’t hug me. Don’t get me wrong. I love being with people and interacting with them, but, not in a physically close way. This social distancing thing and communicating via Zoom, Messenger, FB Groups, and texts are all fine for me. Much easier for me than being in a roomful of people.

But, I digress.

I’ve known about my attachment issues for a very long time. I’ve been acutely aware of it since my youngest daughter was born, a little over 11 years ago.
I decided to breastfeed. Great for her health and good for us financially. Except, that’s the only thing she would do if she wasn’t screaming or crying. She howled for 45 minutes after she was born and didn’t really stop for the next five months. She was constantly on a breast. Clinging to me. Burrowed against me. I wore her in a wrap around me because it was the only way I could get anything done. It was like being pregnant, only carrying the child on the outside of my body. My life was centered around her need to feed and have that comfort.

I hated it, but forced myself to do it because I wanted to give her that opportunity for attachment to me in ways I hadn’t been given with my mother and had been unable to give with my older children. So, I also decided to let her self-wean. Only, she didn’t really. She nursed until she was almost three. By then I had to cut her off. It took her a couple of years to stop asking for it. Part of the reason I let her nurse so long was because her dad, who she was very attached to, was a truck driver and took a long-haul over the road job and was gone weeks at a time. Then, after an incident between him and my teenage daughter, I moved out and got my own place for a couple of years, thereby limiting their ability to be with each other. So, nursing was the primary touch point for comfort and a sense of safety and stability I could give her…even though I hated it.

Her dad and I stayed separated for a couple of years, but, were still enmeshed with each other and I wound up letting him move in with me. By the time a year had gone by, I was either in an emotionally hyper-reactive state or in a near catatonic dissociated state in order to manage the depression without knowing I was also trying to manage PTSD and Bipolar Disorder (II) and not receiving treatment for it. Things came to a head on her fifth birthday and I took her and left three days later. I have not gotten back together with him, but, because of her and her issues, he’s still too much a part of my life and I continued to be psychologically and financially enmeshed with him.
It turned out that our little girl is on the autism spectrum. It’s hard to tell because she’s what’s considered high-functioning. That label implies that she’s less impacted by the spectrum issues because she’s highly verbal and more social than children on the spectrum are often characterized as being. I don’t think she’s less impacted. I think she’s impacted differently and I’ve had to fight tooth and nail to get her the identifications, diagnoses, services, and supports she needs.

Over the past six years, her dad and I have “co-parented.” In our case that means he got to have her with him on weekends, school breaks, and holidays, while paying for her needs and wants, providing my phone, and paying for electricity & internet. So, functionally, I was operating as single parent. I was the one to deal with all of the agencies, organizations, medical facilities, and educational systems. I was also the one who bore the brunt of her emotional/behavioral issues.

She got increasingly violent with me, both verbally and physically. I have been shoved, slapped, hit, kicked, scratched, and bitten. I have been called a bitch, told I am hated and that she wished I had never been born or that I would die like my mother and go to heaven. I was the one who dealt with the school when she would get suspended for tearing the classroom apart or physically attack staff and students. I couldn’t let her be around my grandchildren because she was very mean to them.

She wasn’t always like this. She never acted like this when she was with her dad.

Last Thanksgiving some serious things happened and my adult daughter’s family became homeless. At that time, my grandchildren were five, four, and two. I couldn’t see them living on the street or in a shelter. So, they all crowded into my apartment. My little girl’s behavior escalated again, until it reached the point where she attacked me and punched me in the spine. I couldn’t take anymore and I had her move to her dad’s.

That was just before we went to social distancing, then shelter-in orders. I’ve only seen her a couple of times since then and done video messaging a few times. I don’t know what to do or say that is meaningful for her. I miss her, or the idea of her and having a good relationship with her. At the same time, I’m relieved I don’t have to be in her presence 24/7. So, lots of sadness with bits of love sprinkled throughout.

We’re supposed to spend some time together on Friday. We’ll see how it goes.

UBC 4/20 Day 10: The Colorwheel of Emotion

Color Wheel of EmotionMy therapy homework this week is to start identifying and naming the waves of emotion I experience. Here’s the way it works:

You can either work your way from the inside out, which is what my therapist asked me to do this week, or you can work your way from the outside in, which I think could be quite useful.

When she assigned this to me I asked her when or in what context she wanted me to do this. Basically, her response was to do it whenever I experienced a wave, big or small, of emotion.

I’m beginning with this very moment.

Honestly, I’m feeling anger. What am I angry about? Sleep…rather, the lack thereof. My scalp feels tight and achy. So does the back of my neck. I have been tossing and turning all night. I was too warm, so I turned the ceiling fan on. But, it was too loud and blew too much air. I could have gotten up and turned it down, but, I didn’t for some unknown reason. So, now, the kind of anger I’m feeling is exasperation and irritability. Being exasperated means I’m feeling agitated, frustrated, or both. In this instance, it’s both. I’m agitated that the insomnia has gotten so bad and I’m frustrated because I’m tired and want to go back to sleep, but I know it’s futile. I can tell that irritability is right beneath the surface. Annoyed and aggravated are the extensions of that. Again, I’m experiencing both: annoyed with myself for not getting up and adjusting the fan and aggravated by the knowledge or belief that it wouldn’t have done any good anyway.

Let’s try another one.

Yesterday, I received the email containing the link to the employee portal for the company I’ve been hired by. Through this portal were all of my onboarding processes: completing my I-9 verifying my right to work; the same with the W-4 telling the company how much of my earnings to submit to Federal and to Oregon, before giving me anything I had earned; I submitted my banking information to let them know how I wanted them to pay me; I received instructions on getting the TB testing done; and, finally, accepting and signing the job offer itself.

Ever since the HR guy told me I had a job, I’ve experienced joy whenever I think about it. On the wheel, joy is a base emotion like anger is. This means there’s more to it. After the phone interview, I felt optimistic. I was both eager and hopeful. I was hopeful that I would get the job offer and eager to know if I had the job. Once I got the first email offering me the job, I felt proud, triumphant that I had gotten the offer within a week and a half of submitting my application. Getting the second email containing the link to the employee portal made me enthusiastic and optimistic again. I was excited about embarking on this new leg of my journey, moving toward what I want to be doing with my life, instead of merely surviving. I was eager to do the preliminary onboarding process and move into training. In the midst of it all, I’ve felt proud. Triumphant that my hard work on my own healing and recovery, as well as all the job readiness and training I’ve done over the past nine months has paid off.

Then, I got to the point in the process where I was supposed to schedule the TB test. I contacted the medical facility the company uses for the testing, only to find out that they aren’t doing ANY pre-employment testing…because… COVID-19. Bounced back to anger, with a little fear mixed in. Back to feeling exasperated and agitated. I was feeling scared and nervous, which was really feeling helpless and worried that this whole virus fiasco might prevent me from starting work.

So, I sent an email to the person in charge of the onboarding process. The response made me feel something not on the wheel – relieved. I think that was a joy response to the worry being nullified. I also felt proud again, illustrious, perhaps. She said she was impressed that I had acted so quickly to do the onboarding paperwork and that they were suspending the TB test prerequisite until the medical facility is testing again.

All of those emotions were experienced over a seven-hour period yesterday.

No wonder I was ready for bed by 7:30 last night.

UBC 4/20, Day 2: Future Tripping

I’m pretty sure I got the job. I should find out for sure today or tomorrow, at the latest.

I don’t even have the job yet and my brain has, without my authorization, already begun worrying and spinning about things that might not ever happen, but, have the potential to. I call this “future tripping.”

What am I future tripping on? I’m glad you asked. I’m happy to tell you all about it. Maybe getting it out of my head will help.

1. What if my daughter goes into labor while I’m at work? What if she goes into labor before my shift is supposed to start? I’m the one who’s supposed to drive her to the birthing center. I have no idea who else she could call on to do this for her. Going into full-term labor, without any sign of complication is not a reason to call an ambulance. Even if it was, she’s adamant about not having this child in a hospital setting. She has trauma around her first child’s premature birth and three-week hospital stay.

2. Physicality…what if I’m not physically able to keep up with my physical duties? I’m incredibly out of shape. I may have indicated to the interviewer that I can do all the things, when I’m not 100% sure I can do them all. Some of that has to do with my weight/size. Remember the Binge Eating Disorder I mentioned in yesterday’s post? Well, between that and the lack of physical activity from the depression I struggled with for more than a year, I gained 60+ pounds over the past 15 months. The last time I stepped on a scale I was less than 10 pounds away from 300 pounds. I don’t look it, but I feel every ounce.

3. Parenting time with my youngest daughter. I’ve already barely seen here because of Social Distancing and Stay Home, Save Lives, since she lives with her father now. Saturdays were intended to be my days with her. During the interview, the interviewer asked about my preferred work days and hours, as well as location…promising, right? Currently, Sundays are my faith days and Tuesdays are when I have my counseling and other appointments. He said they don’t usually split days off. So, he said if I get Sundays, then Mondays would be the other day off. That means working on Saturday. If I get the day shift, 7am -3pm,then I could still spend time Saturday with her. If I get swing shift, 3pm – 11pm, I wouldn’t be able to see her on Saturdays at all.

4. Who will be available to help my daughter’s family for the post-birth, taking care of baby, as well as the other three. Their dad is there and has been doing a good job of parenting and being a stay home dad while my daughter works. But, honestly, both of them are dealing with some undiagnosed/untreated depression and PTSD. So, postpartum depression is a big potential thing. I know, I know. None of this on me or my responsibility…but, my daughter’s and my grandbabies’ wellbeing is so important to me.

I still don’t know for sure if I have the job. So, none of this is helpful to be worrying about. So, what is it all about?

My therapist touched on it a lttle bit this week: I have an issue with rejection and not being enough. I thought, at the time that it had something to do with a maternal/mentor relationship that ended about ten years ago. However, now that I’m really thinking about it, I think it all goes back to family of origin and never having any security and stability, plus never feeling that a) I couldn’t do enough or do things the way I was expected to; and b) the rejection I experienced from my adult children in recent history and having been told, about four years ago, that I would never have a place in my grandkids’ lives.

Things are really good with me and my daughter and significantly better with my son than they used to be. But, I guess, I still am carrying that fear of rejection and not being good enough to have a place in my own family. Whih is complete b.s. and patently untrue. Now, if my brain would actually process those truths, I’d be golden.

Enough is enough and so am I.

It’s that time again! April 2020 Ultimate Blog Challenge

First, let me start by saying, “This is NOT another pandemic blogging projecct.” When I first signed up for this month’s challenge, I was asked what my goal was. My response was to state that I want to write 30 posts that have nothing directly to do with the pandemic. I may refer to it, but, I won’t be discussing the politics of it, the projections, or a daily accounting of my time spent “sheltering in.” What I write about may not wind up being as interesting or light-hearted as it could be in this time of stress and fear. But, it is intended to be a different thing altogether.

Now that we have that out of the way, you may be wondering, “Lillian, what ARE your 30 blog posts going to be about, then?” The answer is, “I don’t know for sure.” Sounds strange, I know. However, I’m not a planner. Never have been. I’ve tried. Lord knows I’ve tried. I just don’t have it in me. Every time I create a plan, it falls through. You know the old adage, right? “How do you make God laugh? Tell him your plans.” Let’s just say that I tickle his funny bone whenever I attempt to make a plan.

What I do know is that there could be poetry or short stories. You might run into something like a devotional, refering to biblical scripture. However, it will likely be a combination of me processing my mental health stuff or discussing mental health stuff. It also might be a record, of sorts, about my search for employment and, hopefully, me adjusting to a job. For the moment, though, let me introduce myself, for those who don’t know me or who need a quick catch up.

I’m a 50 year old mom and grandma. My children are currently 11, 26, and 33. My grandchildren (by the 26 year old) are currently 6, 5, 2, and due in two weeks. The 11 year old experiences the world through the higher functioning end of the Autism Spectrum. Due to her behavioral issues and my mental health issues, I recently had her go live with her father. I have all kinds of feels about that and some of that subject may show up this month. My 26 year old daughter is pregnant with baby #4. Her family of five, soon to be six, are living in my tiny 2 bedroom apartment, along with a dog and a cat. Anecdotes and feels about things related to that may also appear here. As for my 33 year old, he’s married and living with his wife, doing his own thing. There will proably be little reference to him, unless it relates to our history.

I also live with a bipolar brain that has been shaped by trauma. So, I have diagnoses of Bipolar II Disorder, PTSD, Depression, and Binge Eating Disorder. I just started weekly therapy with a trauma therapist. I was blessed with a gift of 6 – 12 months of this therapy by my faith community, otherwise known as “church.” So, there could be a LOT of me processing through my mental health challenges this month.

I haven’t been employed for a little over seven and half years, except for a recent, very brief stint with H & R Block. I took their income tax preparation course last fall, and barely survived it. I also took a three month Peer Support Specialist class, followed by a 10 week Peer Wellness Specialist class, which I completed on Friday, March 13th. The last day I worked at H & R Block was March 16th. I have to obtain my Peer Wellness Specialist Certification through the OHA – Oregon Health Authority before I can actually get a job doing that work. Right now the OHA is pretty occupied and they already took 3 – 6 months to process those applications before the current health crisis. In the meantime, I need an income. So, I applied for a grocery store position, thinking it would be a good bridge job while I go through the hurry up and wait process. But they decided to “pursue other applicants.”

On Monday I applied for a Direct Care position in a mental health group home situation with the community behavioral health organization I took my Peer training through and have been receiving services with for almost a year. The next day, yesterday, they did a phone interview with me. I have a video interview with them today. Wish me luck.

This month promises to be quite the journey, or at least the first chapter of this new book in my life. I’m happy to have the company while it gets written. Thank you for joining me.

Community Mental Health, homelessness, and our criminal justice system.

My family just had a wild and scary experience with one of our houseless neighbors. It was clear there were mental health issues going on, but, in this case the man was a clear and present danger in the way he verbally attacked and physically threatened my pregnant, adult daughter.

Fast forward to when the police showed up:
Do you want to prosecute?

As I’ve been actively involved with community mental health services, both personally and as a student training to provide peer services, I have learned that there is a community mental health response team that can work with the police…Project Respond.

As I have been neighbors with those who are houseless in my neighborhood, I have been able to establish at least a minimal relationship and connection with a couple of them over the years.

Their numbers have increased in my area in the past year. To the point there are three tents, housing I don’t know how many. I have watched them clean their area. Unfortunately, often that resulted in them filling out dumpster to the point I couldn’t dispose of my garbage.

As each new report of homeless sweeps and displacement increase, so does the number of people living on the sidewalk in my area.

Mental and Behavioral Health issues plague these particular men and women, to the point that it’s apparent they are functioning to the best of their ability. They need supports: materially, physically, socially, and mentally.

Back to the question: Do you want to prosecute?

Not really. It is a time consuming and unwarranted expense on us and criminalizing homelessness and untreated mental health issues doesn’t ultimately help anyone.

However, the answer becomes, “Yes,” in this instance because the physical and mental safety of my pregnant daughter and grandchildren is at stake.

It is also the only way to potentially give this man an opportunity to connect with mental health services to get the help he needs…except, without stable housing and food security, one can’t readily follow up on those services.

We have to do better. We have to care more and put that care into action instead of passing blame and responsibility around.

So many people are against providing social services. But, without social services and community supports, these problems only grow.

I can see clearly now…or not

I’ve been using reading glasses for a couple of years now. My eyes have been getting more and more blurry over the past several years. Yet, every eye exam results in a very mild prescription, for a complex combo of issues which include astigmatism and far-sightedness.

I haven’t been able to afford glasses. The last pair I got were covered by my church…up to the cost of a single lens prescription. The progressives were going to cost an additional $200, which I had no way of covering. So, I chose the middle…not thinking it just meant that I was getting what I basically already had without glasses. Silly me.

So, yesterday, I had the opportunity to get an eye exam that will result in a good pair of prescription glasses, sponsored through a partnership between Dress for Success and Myoptic Optometry. For the first time I can remember, I found out the true reason for my blurry vision, which fluctuates in degrees.

Dry eye Syndrome, aka Chronic Dry Eye.

Yay.

Another health thing that won’t be going away.

Fibromyalgia…✔️
Diabetes (2)…✔️
Hypothyroidism…✔️
Bipolar (2)…✔️
Depression…✔️
PTSD…✔️
Chronic Insomnia…✔️

and now…Dry Eye Syndrome…✔️

I can’t really complain. I mean, any one of these things could be so much worse. Plus, there are so many people going through things and dealing with much more major issues.

It’s just that the combination of these things is collectively overwhelming… especially if you factor in the depression’s ability to make everything else seem and feel worse than it is.

Add a night of the worst insomnia I’ve experienced in awhile, and I’m hurting and exhausted. I’ve got a ton of stuff to get done today and all I can do is lie here and be a lump.

Nap time before 9 am.

Thanks for “listening” to me whine. I’ll write something more interesting next time…maybe.

Freya the Fierce

I’m not a dog person.

Really. I’m not.

However, it seems she’s a Lillian dog.

She reminds me a little bit of Falkor, the Luckdragon, from Neverending Story. Which, I suppose she kind of is.

Just like Falkor helped Atreyu battle The Nothing, she’s been helping me battle Depression over the last month.

I mean, who could ignore the demands of a face like that? She’s relentless. Catch. Chase. Tug. She just wants to playyyyy.

Just like I have to stay functional enough to keep my daughter fed and off to school, I have to stay functional enough to keep Freya fed and walked so that I’m not cleaning up accidents.

When the depression got really bad a couple of weeks ago, she was a tangible connection when I would otherwise have been alone.

I’m not a dog person.

Really. I’m not.

Trauma Response

Like the sea cucumber
I protected myself
Spewing my guts
At anyone who drew near

Go away before I get too attached.

Like the abandoned stray
Quivering with hope and fear
Once given scraps
I clung, unrelentingly

No, stay, I need you to survive.

Like the porcupine
Trapped and under attack
Spraying sharp quills
Piercing the inquisitive

I’m dangerous, keep your distance.

Like the sinuous feline
Not to be ignored
Winding around legs and feet
My insistent presence tripping you

Pay attention to me, on my terms only.

Insecure
Needy
Defensive
Demanding

Shaped by trauma.
Forged in neglect.
Informed by abandonment.
Afflicted with mental illness.

Is this at all familiar?

Trauma Is Not Your Fault, But Healing Is Your Responsibility