PTSD

Back to School and other updates

I did it! I’m back in college after 25+ years.

I had basically given up on the idea that I would ever get to go back and get my degree. Of course, after so long, I’m actually starting completely over. So much so that I’m enrolled in a mandatory College Success Course!

If it wasn’t for the fact that the organization I work for unionized, I wouldn’t be able to attend. If you have a union, and you aren’t really aware of the benefits it offers, please investigate it. You might discover something you didn’t realize would move you forward in your path or help you shift to a different one.

Anyway, I’m super excited to be back in school. It’s going to be a long road. However, if I focus on that, I will get overwhelmed and probably discouraged. Realistically, to get to the level I want to in my career, I have to get my Master’s and I’m at the beginning of obtaining my Associate’s. Standard educational timelines mean six years, at least. Meaning, I’ll be at least 60 yrs old before I would be able to practice as a clinician and 62 before I could have my own practice, independent of immediate supervision. That’s if I were able to go full-time. Which I can’t.

Why can’t I? I am about to be officially, completely single-parenting a 13 year old on the Autism Spectrum while working full-time, and being a fully accessible grandparent to my four grandkids. All of this while managing mental and physical health conditions and fighting to survive financially. Adding full-time college on top of all of that isn’t realistic.

Fortunately, I’m enrolled in a program that breaks the terms up into eight week segments. I’m taking four credits this first eight weeks. I’m registered for six credits for the second eight weeks. That puts me at almost full-time. Depending on how this first eight weeks goes, I may drop one of the courses for the second eight weeks. I don’t want to do what I’ve done previously and take on too much, too soon, overload myself, get overwhelmed, and meltdown. Slow and steady wins the race, yeah?

In the meantime, I’m also needing to file bankruptcy and my car has broken down.

My wages have been being garnished for over a year. The cost of the bankruptcy and hiring an attorney will likely cost close to what I have left in the garnishment and mean making a payment arrangement. However, it will also prevent a few other debts from going to court. I hate the idea of bankruptcy. I absolutely hate it. It’s just that financially I will be barely staying afloat once the fallout from my pay raise happens.

You read that right. My pay raise is going to create some financial difficulties. Why? Well, because the path from dependence on the government and social services to self-sufficiency is set up for people to fail. With the disappearance of the middle class, how easy do you think it is to scramble out of poverty and get a foothold into sinking sand?

The aforementioned health issues have me on multiple medications, including an insulin pen. Up to now, I have qualified for the Oregon Health Plan under the Affordable Care Act. Once my pay raise kicks in I will lose eligibility for that insurance. I’ll be paying for medical through my employer and have to set money aside for the cost of prescriptions. I’m not sure how much all of that will be, but, I’m quite sure it will likely be over $200/mo. I’ll likely lose the full amount of housing subsidy I’m currently receiving. That will be an extra $600-$700/mo. I will lose the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), aka “food stamps.” That’s another $400/mo. I’m looking at losing over $1,200/mo. support I qualified for, WHILE WORKING FULL-TIME, with a pay raise that will raise my gross income by $583/mo. So, I suppose not having a car to pay maintenance, gas, and insurance on is a good thing.

I’ll be making more than $20/hr. still barely making ends meet. Between taxes, retirement savings (which is losing pace with the economic issues facing our country), and the garnishment, I’m currently taking home half of my gross and surviving on about $1500/mo. plus the subsidies I listed above.

Let’s recap: Back to college – YAY!!! Broken car – BOO!!! Pay raise – WOOHOO!!! Losing benefits – UH OH!!!

Oh, yeah, what am I studying you ask? Social Work.

Yep. That’s right. I’m studying to go into a career to try to help people, like myself, navigate broken and disconnected social service systems, while attempting to navigate those same systems myself.

I’m already learning to be grateful it’s online and that I don’t actually have to interact face to face with the privileged folks who seem to think the English Poor Laws were a good thing and that we should bring them back.

Lord, help me.

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My picker might not be broken anymore

My picker was broken. I just realized that might be better.

“What’s a picker?” you ask.

It’s the thing inside of me that picks the people I allow and invite into my life on an ongoing basis. It used to just refer to the men I’ve been in romantic relationships with but I’m realizing it is also referring to friendships. My romantic relationship history has been on a spectrum from dismal, at best, to harmful. My friendships have been a bit better, but still very problematic at times. I’ve been hurt a lot by both kinds of relationships, as I’m sure many of us have. It all started in childhood with the circumstances I was raised in and the people I was raised by.

TW: Trauma triggers ahead regarding childhood trauma and mental health issues

My mom was a teenager from a broken home who had never really been given stability and roots when she got pregnant, married her first husband, and had me. Additionally, she experienced undiagnosed and untreated mental health issues. My parents were married in November, I was born in June, and they were divorced by August. We moved from California and landed in Texas, eventually. She was married two more times by the time I was six and she was 22. Wow! I just did that math. I hadn’t realized exactly how young she was when she married my second stepfather…who happened to have been a pedophile. Now, I suddenly understand how I wasn’t the only one he groomed, manipulated, and took advantage of. I have some unpacking to do. I guess I have something to discuss with my trauma therapist later today.

Anyhow, moving on.

After the events that took place in her third marriage, we moved around a few more times until she found her family in Portland, Oregon. So, we moved up here to be close to her father and brother. Within a short period of time, my relationship with her deteriorated badly, as did her mental health (unbeknownst to me), and she signed guardianship of me over to my uncle (who was only 15 years older than me). I was 12. Subsequently, she moved back to Houston and, within a couple of months, killed herself. She was a few weeks away from her 29th birthday. Within a short period of time it became evident that substance use/abuse was an issue in my uncle’s home and within a couple of years his marriage broke down and at 14 I started taking on adult responsibilities, such as taking care of my infant cousin so much that people thought she was my child.

We moved several times within Portland until I landed back in the apartments my mom and I had first lived in when we arrived in Portland. That’s where I met my oldest child’s biological father. I was 16 and he was 30. It took me awhile to figure out that my first “adult” relationship was actually just another form of child abuse. We lived out of cars and hitchhiked across the country and lived out of cars for three and a half years, manipulating and conning people for money and survival. I had my son during that time. I was 17 when he was born. At 19, in a bout of domestic violence, my neck was almost broken and that was the last time I ever saw my son’s father.

From that point forward, my relationships were with men who weren’t available emotionally or in a materially supportive way.

Then I had my first mental breakdown at 22, had an aborted suicide attempt, dropped out of college, and spiraled out of control. I got pregnant with my second child at 23, and was a single-mom of two at 24. During the pregnancy, I met the best man who wanted to be supportive in all ways, but I wound up pushing him away because I didn’t want to need him so much on any level. I wasn’t ready to be dependent on anyone. I suppose I was afraid of losing something I didn’t think I deserved, so, I just chose not to have it in the first place. Two years later, I met the father of my youngest child. We had an 18 year, more on than off, relationship characterized by his anger and my depression. By that time, I was so traumatized I didn’t believe I could have or deserved anyone better and tried so hard to make it work that I developed complex PTSD to the point I still don’t remember the physical abuse my children tell me happened to us.

A little over eight years ago, within a few days of our child’s fifth birthday, I left him. It took me from December 2013 to June of 2019 to break from my co-dependence with him and be able to move toward independence and self-sufficiency. He just got married this past weekend and I finally feel free from him, except for the fact I still have to interact with him as the co-parent of our child.

I’ve spent the last eight years in therapy and working on my healing and recovery. I’ve discovered I have Bipolar II Disorder, cPTSD, and Binge Eating Disorder. It’s been a long road and, apparently, there’s still more to this journey.

I’m tired of doing it alone. Finding out he was getting married last week precipitated me getting an account on a dating app. I’ve been on apps before which resulted in passing in the night experiences. So far, this one’s different. I’ve made two matches whom I’ve actually met face to face.

Will I form a lasting romantic relationship with either? I don’t know. What I do know is that the caliber of human they are is unlike any of the men I’ve invited into my life before…other than the pastor and elders of my faith community. Open, honest, communicative, empathetic, non-judgmental, kind, and generous are the characteristics I’ve witnessed in both of these men. If nothing else, I’ve met two people I’m willing to bet are going to be good friends in the long run.

How can I tell this? I spent at least an hour in conversation with both of them before we even ordered our meals. Our meals took a long time to finish because our conversations continued and went deeper. After we ate, we chose to spend even more time together, in conversation. We learned about each other’s lives, current and past. We shared our beliefs, mores, and values with one another and found a lot of common ground. All together, each encounter lasted at least three or more hours. Even if we never encounter each other again, I feel like I’ve been seen, heard, understood, and accepted. I’ve never felt that way by any man or very many people at all throughout my life.

Eight Dimensions of Wellness and Personal Medicine

SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) has identified the categories in the graphic above, as primary areas of wellness to support recovery from and help prevent substance abuse as well as support good mental health for everyone and help those experiencing mental health issues to heal and recover from crisis. To watch their video explaining this Wellness Initiative, click here.

The Eight Dimensions of Wellness are:

  • Intellectual
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Social
  • Occupational
  • Financial
  • Environmental
  • Spiritual

These are the parts of our lives and ourselves which build us up and can tear us down. These make up the safety net and structure that enables us to live our lives to fullest and in the healthiest ways so we can live meaningfully and act with purpose. Without the anchors of meaning and purpose we can become lost and struggle to care well about ourselves and others. Without having strong “whys” which provide meaning and purpose we can feel despondent and hopeless. Focusing on things in these areas, in a balanced and constructive way, enables us to be our best selves and strive to live healthy lives which enrich the lives of the people and the world around us.

As and Adult Mental Health Peer Wellness Specialist (PWS), I have lived experience where I have struggled (or continue to struggle) to integrate the ideas and implement the behaviors which build up these areas of my life. These are things I’m learning about and figuring out for myself and my own wellness journey. I have the privilege of turning my life’s manure into fertilizer in the lives of others as I share my experiences and acquired knowledge and understanding with others who struggle in ways I have done. Learning how to live well, or as well as possible, with physical, mental, and behavioral health challenges, including trauma, addiction, and illness (mental and/or physical) takes time and effort, especially if these aren’t things we learned while growing up.

One way I’m working on this is through Personal Medicine.

I’m not talking about medications, supplements, or herbal concoctions. I’m talking about the things we do in our lives which promote our wellbeing and help us manage and navigate the difficult and painful challenges we all face, whether we have a diagnosis or not. These are the things which provide purpose and meaning and remind us of who we are and what we’re capable of. They are things we do, not things we take. On a surface level it may seem like I’m talking about coping skills. However, they are deeper and more connected to our sense of self. Coping skills may need to be the starting point but drilling deeper into what is important and life-giving to ourselves is what the ongoing process is about. Personal Medicine is about creating an action plan to help us navigate challenges everyone faces. It empowers us to assert ourselves and advocate for our needs in times when we may feel not strong enough to fight those battles.

Pat Deegan developed the concept of Personal Medicine into a structured and constructive way for people to walk themselves through areas of struggle and challenge, such as:

AngerAnxious FeelingsConcentrationDistressing Voices
Effective CommunicationFeeling DepressedFood CravingsGrief
Harm ReductionNegative ThinkingOppressionSelf-Harm
SleepTraumaTroublesome BeliefsWorry

Each of these subject areas has a set of cards with ideas or prompts on how to manage them. All sets include a blank card for one to develop their own, unique, individualized action to address the issue being experienced. Any and all of these things can and do impact how we navigate the dimensions of wellness. In the beginning of this year, I went through certification training and I am now a Certified Personal Medicine Coach (CPMC).

In my role as a PWS at the organization I work for, I have the opportunity incorporate my skills and knowledge as a CPMC to support those who are working to become their healthiest and best selves in their recovery process, whatever that is and looks like for them. Next week, I’m starting a group: Personal Wellness and Life Management. I plan to use the Eight Dimensions of Wellness framework to present Personal Medicine as a way to address the obstacles and barriers we carry within ourselves which hinder our wellness.

Basically, I’m going to be building a loose curriculum around these concepts, incorporating these tools. Lord help me! I’ve never done anything like this before. Good vibes, prayers, and encouragement are requested and welcomed. I’ll keep you posted.

Mental Health Crisis? Call 988

On July 16th a national hotline went live for people who are experiencing or who knows someone experiencing a mental health crisis. 988 is the new way to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. Check out the NPR article & interview explaining it here.

This is something that’s been needed for decades.

In 1981, when I was 12, my mother died by suicide. She was living with her mother at the time and I was in another state living with her brother. She had turned guardianship of me over to my uncle. There were a lot of reasons, but underlying them all was undiagnosed and untreated mental illness.

Then, after finding my mother’s body, my grandmother had nowhere to go. So, when my uncle arrived several days later because he had to drive from Oregon to Texas, it was discovered that my grandmother had continued staying in the apartment she had shared with my mom. The only thing that had been done was the body removed. No one came to support my grandmother, find her a safe place to stay, or even come in and help clean the space so she didn’t have to see evidence of my mother’s gruesome demise.

Decades later, I saw the police and coroner’s reports and it was evident that no one had thought beyond the stereotype of a hysterical woman who was depressed over a broken marriage and an estranged child. What no one realized or understood is that, in addition to those things, she likely had Bipolar 1 with auditory & visual hallucinations. Of course, my grandmother was from The South and from the Don’t Talk, Don’t Tell generation and no one talked to me about anything. So, maybe they knew something but just didn’t talk to me about it.

Which was really unfortunate. If I had realized the extent to my mother’s mental health issues, perhaps I would have been able to get my Bipolar 2 diagnosis before my life completely fell apart when I was 44 years old.

I could have used a service like 988, 30 years ago when I had my first brush with suicidal ideation. Instead, I reached out to my roommate from hell, who called her boyfriend, who called his best friend. They brought a fifth of tequila and I woke up the next morning in the bathtub, wrapped in a blanket, without clothing, and no memory of the night before. Perhaps it would have not only kept me from completing my suicide attempt, but also prevented me from waking up without a clue what I had experienced or done the previous night. Maybe I would have been able to connect with resources which would have enabled me to stay in school, or, at the very least, helped me to do more than barely exist inside the depression.

I can’t regret any of these things, because they are what has shaped me to be the person I am becoming and I’m liking who I am more and more. These things have formed the life I have, which, while challenging and difficult, is also full and fulfilling. I wouldn’t have the family I do or the relationships I do or be aware of the people who care about me and who I matter to.

However, I can hope and pray that this 988 service will positively impact the lives of others who are suffering in ways I did and worse, showing that people care and that life can be worth fighting for and living.

Renovating: April 2021 NaPoWriMo, Day four

Visit @SpaceLiminalBot on Twitter to see more liminal spaces.

Today’s prompt on NaPoWriMo.net was to choose a photo of a liminal space from @SpaceLiminalBot on Twitter and write about it.

Confession, I had no idea what liminal meant. When I looked it up I learned that it’s about the ambiguity of being in a transitional state. Neither here, nor there, but somehow occupying the borders of both spaces. Now that I know what it means, I can honestly say that it’s the story of my life.

From childhood forward
My mind active and yearning
Voracious, needy

Guidance lost too soon
Bottled grief. I was unmoored
‘Tween loss and anger

A runaway teen
Trauma and disappointment
New life comes forth

On the road again
No peace, no rest, nowhere home
Life saved from cruel death

Back where I started
Family ties bind and gag
Beginning again

In my element
Learning and aching to grow
Success! Feeling hope

Upward and onward
Fast forward to my limit
Falling and spinning

A life not taken
Ungrounded, always a risk
Begets a new life

I spent decades lost
Throwing away loved ones
Relationships burned

Scrabbling from the pit
Trapped in a cocoon of mind
My health overwhelmed

Hard recovery
Love’s faith in community
Investing in me

Beginning again
Not alone but supported
Still renovating

Trying to care for me

In the five years between these two photos:
I stopped being employed;
I left a two decade toxic relationship;
I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism, diabetes, bipolar disorder, and cPTSD;
My youngest child was identified as experiencing High Functioning Autism Spectrum Disorder;
Two grandchildren were born;
Relationships with my two adult children have been restored and improved; and I’m navigating the ongoing process of co-parenting with the ex.

I guess, my adult daughter could be right about vampire DNA 😂
02/24/2021 – In the four years since the above collage photo, I’ve become grandma to two more grandchildren (4 GRANDKIDS! 😲 🤯); Fought time and time again to stabilize from hypomania & depression; worked my @$$ off to get employment ready; completed two vocational programs simultaneously; and became employed during a pandemic…all in the midst of chronic turmoil and drama.

The smile hides depression and self-loathing…a severe lack of self-esteem and sense of futility. The hair and angle of the pic hide the double chin and side padding of obesity. You can’t see the fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism, type 2 diabetes, PTSD, Bipolar 2 Disorder, and Binge Eating Disorder. Yet, I look healthier and happier than ever before… according to an FB friend.

I wrote about being functionally depressed and nothing has really changed. I still pretty much only venture forth from my dwelling are occasional grocery shopping trips and to to work. My ADLs (Activities of daily living) are sporadic – personal hygiene is taken care of whenever I have to leave the apartment or I feel too disgusted by myself. Nutrition is not a frequent thing…I may or may not eat 2 Baked Lays single serve bags of chips for breakfast or dinner. One thing has improved – I’m not waking up gasping, choking and feeling like I may have had a heart attack because I’m using my C-pap machine to deal with the sleep apnea again.

Despite the depression, I did a thing and I took a risk. I applied for a Full-time position within the organization I am currently employed with. It’s a Peer Support position, which I completed my training, with flying colors, just as the COVID shutdown started last year. I just emailed the department that manages such things to ensure my application has been received. It has been received and submitted to the hiring manager.

I’m also reaching out or responding to opportunities to connect with people I’m connected to through my faith community. I’m participating in a book study of Rich Villodas, The Deeply Formed Life. I participate in our weekly Zoom service. Right now we’re discussing how it might look when we start meeting again, since some of our faith family isn’t able to engage and participate often unless it’s remotely. I submitted some ideas, which were favorably received.

Partially because of the diabetes, I’ve decided to join a couple of my friends on a menu planning journey next month. I’m in no way prepared. The logistics of my life are chaotic and kind of overwhelming. So, I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to make it a complete success. However, I reminded myself “progress not perfection.” That made my inner perfectionist cringe in horror.

To that end, I decided to focus on breakfast. Simple, quick, easy diabetic friendly breakfasts I can prep primarily in the microwave. The first recipe I found was Breakfast Burrito in a Jar on Diabetic Foodie. Since I don’t have jars, I followed the link to the next breakfast, Mexican Microwave Scramble.

Between the Depression, Hypothyroidism, and fibromyalgia, as well as circumstances in my life, I’m really fatigued & low energy. I’m not sure how I’m still functioning at all. I just know that no matter how close I come, giving up isn’t an option.

How are you doing? For real, sometime sharing helps.

Functional Depression

We’ve had a winter snow and ice storm for the past few days. Not necessarily as severe as many other parts of our country and throughout the world…places where the residents ridicule and demean us for not being prepared and whining about a little bit of snow, which shut down our city, to the point where mass transit was cancelled and cab service was several hours late. Normally, this kind of thing would cause people to isolate and get cabin fever…but, pandemic. We were already there.

This also happened over Valentine’s Day weekend. Just another weekend for me. Except, as an essential worker in the mental health field, I still had to report for my graveyard shifts. Fortunately my supervisor has a 4WD SUV and transported me to and from for a couple of shifts. I went to work and fought against fatigue and sleepiness. I seldom sleep well during the days on my night shift weekends. I have an apartment full of people, including four littles six and under. Plus, insomnia. I’m usually awake within two to three hours after laying down.

I love my family, but, the relationship tensions of eight people, a dog, and a cat occupying a two bedroom, 1 bath apartment are inescapable. Between the pandemic and the exorbitant rise in housing costs, I have no idea when my adult daughter’s family of six will be able to get into their own space. It’s challenging to parent my 12 year old daughter with an autistic brain, in a small bedroom that we share, when she wants nothing to do with the nieces and nephew. Their sleep schedule is completely off center from ours. I can’t access the kitchen when I wake up early or get home from work because people are sleeping in the living room, right next to the kitchen. Additionally, my grandkids (and their parents, lol) are kind of like locusts. If they can see it, it’s fair game. So, it can be challenging keeping food for my youngest daughter and myself available when we need it.

So, I ordered a mini-fridge and microwave for my room. Basically I’m turning a small (miniscule) bedroom into a dorm room shared by me and my youngest. A couple of weeks ago, I spent 10-12 hours cleaning and organizing the room. Now, I need to do more in order to make room for the new appliances. I honestly don’t feel up to it, but, the appliances are supposed to be here in the next four or five days. Which means I don’t really have a choice.

Pandemic. Essential Worker. Underhoused. Family tension. Parenting struggles.

Even though I have the support of my faith community, I don’t feel connected to anyone particularly, though I know they would do whatever they could to help me out if I needed it.

I’m feeling isolated and alone in the midst of the chaos.

I’m battling my mental health issues. I’m struggling with physical health issues. My self-esteem is in the crapper…hating myself because of ingrained fatphobia.

Reading all the Valentine’s Day challenges – the love stories of the friends near and far on Facebook, is becoming more bitter than sweet.

My head feels like it’s going to explode. My chest is tight and it’s hard to breathe. My eyes won’t stop leaking and my sinuses are getting stuffed.

I don’t understand why I feel so isolated and unloveable. Listening to Justin Bieber croon how fucking lonely life is, just really resonates.

So, I’m in a pattern of self-sabotage with my health, which feeds into the self-esteem issues. I feel hopeless about making the changes I need to in my current circumstances…and I’ve basically given up trying. I shower and dress when I need to go to work. I eat bags of chips and drink soda for breakfast some days. Despite the type two diabetes, I can’t stop with the soda and carbs. I see the 150 extra lbs I’m carrying on my body and feel self-disgust and think, “of course no one is going to love you like this.” I want to hide and not be seen by people.

But, I still go to work. Sometimes I go to the grocery store. But, that’s all. That’s really where most people are at during the pandemic. The thing is, that was my life pre-pandemic, except for weekly excursions to church. The loneliness and isolation are exhausting. I have no energy left to love and care for myself.

I really need to get and stay on-track with my meds.

De’ja’ vu all over again: Recreating the past

Photo by RF._.studio on Pexels.com

Parenting is hard. Parenting a child with special needs is hard. Parenting a girl in active adolescence is hard. Parenting from a place of trauma is hard. Parenting an adolescent girl with special needs when all aspects are points of trauma in your history, is beyond hard.

I feel like I’m constantly falling down, constantly lacking, and constantly failing . . . even though I know I’m doing my best. I know I’m a better parent now than I was seven years ago. I’m a better parent now than when my oldest daughter was the age my youngest daughter is now, 12. I’m a better parent than my mother was able to be when I was 12. But, I still don’t feel like I’m a good parent or the parent my child needs and deserves.

The reality is that I am really struggling. I love my child but I don’t like her. I love her so much and want so much good for her, but I find myself resenting her for things she has no control over. I’m so proud of her and amazed by the things she does and how strong and determined to be herself she is. At the same time, I am so incredibly ANGRY at how her strength and determination flatten and steamroll the people around her . . . like me and her nieces and nephew. I love her but I hate being her mother.

That’s awful. I know it is. But, it’s also my truth. It’s a convoluted truth rooted in the trauma, rejection, and abandonment issues between my mother and myself when I was 12 years old. Issues that I will never be able to work with her on because she died . . . committed suicide . . . when I was 12.

My little girl isn’t so little anymore. She turned 12 at the beginning of December. She’s taller than me . . . mostly because, like many children on the Autism Spectrum, she’s a “toe walker.” She travels on her tiptoes. Walking with her feet flat from heel to toe is like an impossibility for her. There was no physical reason for it and we put her through physical and occupational therapy to try to prevent any negative effects from the toe walking. To no avail. Now it’s reaching the point of discomfort and pain for her to not walk on her toes.

I wish I could let her be herself, with her idiosyncracies and quirks, without feeling so beyond frustrated and annoyed. She absolutely refuses to do anything or engage with anyone other than her preferred activities and people who she wants to be around. I feel powerless, especially in light of the societal expectations, rules, and norms regarding parenting and education, especially with children who have special needs. The thing is she doesn’t appear or seem to be autistic to most people. Even her medical evaluation team had difficulty coming to agreement regarding her autism. She’s lived in emotionally traumatic circumstances since conception. So, there are behaviors and reactions that stem from the autism and there are behaviors and reactions that are rooted in her trauma exposure history. Stir in pubescent hormones, in the middle of a pandemic that has everyone acting off and dealing with various types and degrees of trauma, and I have my very own Katie Kaboom.

If the truth be told, I’m probably as much of a Katie Kaboom as my daughter is . . . or at least I feel like I’m on the verge of exploding with her a lot of the time. There’s this surreal sense of loss of control and imminent danger creating a sense of fear of myself and what I’m capable of.

The last memory I have of an interaction between me and my mother lingers on the edges of my consiousness most of thetime when I’m around her.

I had recently turned 12. It was late June or early July, I think. We were living in an old adobe group of single story apartment buildings that had been built to use as military barracks in the 1940’s. Adobe buildings surrounded by asphalt. No trees. No grass. No shade. It was unrelenteningly sunny. The air was still and stuffy. My mom was working as a night janitor with her brother and his wife, who lived in the building catty-corner from ours. While cleaning may have been her job, it wasn’t something that was a priority in our apartment. We were a couple of clutterbugs. So my mom was embarrased for people to see the condition of our apartment. All the doors were shut tight and windows shuttered and covered so no one could see in.

I was hot. The heat was draining and I had no energy to do anything. I just wanted to breathe and I felt like I was suffocating in the stuffy heat of the closed apartment. I didn’t want to go out in the shadeless parking lot/driveway that surrounded the apartments. We had only lived here for three or four, maybe five months. I didn’t have any friends and didn’t have anywhere I could go. I was restless and listless at the same time. I decided to stand in the doorway, with my face pressed against the doorframe on the right, the door pressed against my left cheek, my stocky body filling the area between the door and it’s frame. Nothing visible from the outside.

She was embarrased, exhausted, and overwhelmed . . . I know and recognize this now, but at that time I only thought she was being controlling and unreasonable. It felt like what I needed and wanted didn’t matter to her, even a little bit. She was yelling at me, trying to get me to close the door. I was yelling back, telling her how no one could see inside. I don’t know how long it went on. Not long, I’m sure, but, it felt like it stretched on for a long time, each of us getting angrier and louder. I can’t remember specific words. But, it wouldn’t surprise me if I had called her names or cussed at her.

Suddenly my head was jerked back by my hair and the next thing I remember is that I’m laid out across the sofa and she was sitting on my legs, preventing me from moving. I was yelling at her and trying to kick her off of my legs. Finally, I was able to sit up, bend forward, and I bit her on her thigh as hard as I could until she got up.

I don’t really know what happened after she got up. I know my uncle burst through the door a short while later to check on me. He had seen me standing at the door, then disappear suddenly before the door closed. He was condemning and critical of her. She was crying. Sometime after that, she signed guardianship of me over to him and moved back down to Texas. A few weeks later we got the news that she had committed suicide.

When I’m dealing with my daughter and she’s refusing to do things like, take a shower, let me brush her hair, login to classes, do homework, or anything that isn’t playing Minecraft or drawing on her iPad I feel a rush of overwhelming feelings swirling around: anger, resentment, frustration, shame, sadness, hopelessness, helplessness. Then she starts laying on the insults and declarations of how horrible of a parent I am and how she loves her dad more than he loves me. If I attempt to remove her iPad, she lashes out at me physically – hitting, kicking, scratching, biting.

The roles appear to be switched with me as the mother. But, on a visceral level I don’t feel any more in control or that I matter than I did as a kid going through what I went through with my mom.

Maybe there’s a clue in that. Maybe it’s a hint that she wasn’t feeling in control or that she mattered. We don’t feel in control or that we matter so we do things that are about taking control and power from someone else, not because we want to feel powerful, but because we want to matter and if we don’t feel like we matter, we don’t feel safe. If I don’t matter to those who matter to me, then I don’t feel that my needs can get met. I’m supposed to meet her needs. It’s not her job to meet my needs. It’s not right or fair of me to resent her for this.

Is the resentment about her or is it about resenting that the person whose job it was to meed my needs and who I was supposed to matter too, oppressed and suppressed me instead of take care of me?

I know now that my mother experienced undiagnosed and untreated mental illness – likely Bipolar I with schizopherenic tendencies. She couldn’t help it and it wasn’t her fault. This knowledge and understanding gives framework and context, but, it doesn’t change the feelings and the child who needed protection and nurture still didn’t get protection and nurture. I struggle to protect and nurture myself and I struggle to provide that for my child.

What does it really mean to be emotionally healthy?

Photo by Engin Akyurt on Pexels.com

I’ve been in and out of various forms of therapy since pre-adolescence. I’ve been doing it pretty consistently for the past seven years. Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to reach a point of being emotionally healthy.

The PTSD has had deep and lasting impacts on both my brain structure and neurochemistry. Bipolar II Disorder means that my brain structure and neurochemistry were already atypical. Both impact emotional health and affect my capacity for instinctively choosing emotionally healthy behavior.

Ten months ago my faith community stood beside me and supported me in my mental health recovery journey. They chose to pay for me to go through trauma recovery therapy, so I could better deal with the myriad of intense psychological and emotional stressors in my life. Past trauma is something I’ve been minimizing, avoiding, and denying most of my life. Dusting it off, picking it up, looking it in the eye, and examining it is not even close to easy. What is easy is distancing and distracting myself, even as I try to face it.

Last week I had a Telehealth appointment, which turned into an audio only appointment because of my dying phone. Since there’s no unoccupied space in my apartment and the sanctuary of a vehicle no longer exists, I walked to a coffee shop that has a large, covered, outdoor seating area. It also happens to be the socially distanced gathering place for the neighborhood dog owners and their dogs to hang out. I sat as far away as I could so as to be heard by my therapist and not heard by the community of strangers. Fun times.

I was telling her what happened the night I dropped my phone. I had gone over to my friends’ house, where I had been living from March – November, to pick up Christmas gifts for my grandkids. While I was there, the woman who had been my first friend from a DBT group I had been part of in 2018/2019, absented herself and had no interaction with me. Her wife indicated that I could try to communicate with her, but I would probably be unsuccessful. The wife is now my primary friend.

I have a lot of sad and mad feelings about this relationship break. However, when I was discussing what happened that night with my therapist, my brain fixated on the broken phone, as if that was the source of my difficult emotions. I was completely aware that’s what I was doing, but couldn’t seem to stop it. So, I said out loud that my brain was wanting to focus more on the phone than the lost friendship.

We discussed that for a bit. We drilled down some and identified some roots in prior relationships with important women in my life, starting with my mother, that ended in rejection and abandonment. Still a lot to unpack there, but both my therapist and I recognize that I’m stretched to capacity to address more trauma at this point. With that agreement in place, the question becomes, “what direction do we go and what do we work on?”

Since I’ve made some significantly bad decisions in the past several months which were decidedly co-dependent, avoidant, and risky and the outcomes of these decisions have increased the emotional, physical, and financial stress on me, thus maxing out my capacity for doing the more in depth trauma work, I figure I need to work on making emotionally healthy choices when faced with situations where my trauma responses have been triggered. I think that’s the only way to clear the path for me to do the deeper work.

My therapist suggested that my lack of emotionally healthy response is more likely rooted in the fact that I’ve never been around emotionally healthy people making emotionally healthy choices and that, while it may be possible for me to come to an understanding of what it means to be emotionally healthy, I may continually deal with an inability to operate with that same understanding. To which I responded that is why I said learning the behavior that comes from being emotionally healthy can be learned, even when the emotions aren’t healthy.

I think of it like reverse engineering good emotional health. Learning to act “as if” I am an emotionally healthy person, might enable me to become an emotionally healthy person.

I think I just found my focus for this year.

2021, the year I become an emotionally healthy responder.

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