PTSD

Healing Expressions: Restorative Art

Yesterday, I was blessed with the privilege of attending a Therapeutic Collage Workshop, offered by Therapeutic Arts Facilitator, Lani Kent, of Healing Expressions, located in Vancouver, WA. Going into the workshop, I wasn’t sure how doing collage can be therapeutic, but, when Lani shared her story and her process, I saw how it can be another way to express and explore experiences, thoughts, and emotions. It can give the unspoken and unspeakable a voice and be a powerful part of one’s healing process.

Lani’s art both speaks from and to the soul. You can view her gallery here. You can also find her on Facebook.

img_7297When we arrived to the workshop, we were greeted by Lani and chose our seats. Each setting had a folder and a small gift packet with a Blessing Card attached to it. Each table had small displays of Lani’s collage art.

She had a very long table almost overflowing with magazines and had lined the perimeter of the room with more of her collage work.

After she had shared her story and experience with Restorative Art and how it had helped her on her personal journey of healing and recovery, she invited us to wander the room and select any of her pieces that drew our attention, in either and inviting way, or even one that repelled.

img_7296-1

At that point she gave us instruction and time to reflect. Then, she explained how to go about the process of collecting the elements we would use in making our own collages.

I confess that I just started tearing into magazines and collected way more than I could use. I collected so many possibilities, that I probably only had time to cut out elements from 1/3 of the material I had collected. I suspect that I have enough leftover magazine pages to make several more than the two I did make.

We were encouraged to write the date and what we were experiencing during this time period, whether it was about what we were doing with the collages in that moment or in the greater context of our lives. Lani counseled that we may not know or fully understand the meaning of our collages, at first. That we may come back to them multiple times throughout our journey and learn more about ourselves, from ourselves, in this way.

As I said, I did two. I’m only going to show one, here. The other one requires some processing and unpacking with my therapist. Both of them do, actually. However, I think the symbolism of the one I’m posting here is probably a very universal theme. Though, when I researched the symbolism I learned some deeper meaning and insight into what this could be saying.

Please let me know how this speaks to you, if it does

Advertisements

Now What?

I’ve spent the past six and a half weeks focusing on prerequisite to job search activities:

Additionally, since I’m trying to get into work I’ve never done before . . . or haven’t done in 25 years (Really?!?!? That much time has passed?!?!?), I’ve applied for two different training opportunities, one which I didn’t get and one which I’m waiting to find out if I get in. I’ve also completed a Volunteer Orientation with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and am scheduled for my first volunteer shift for next week.

In the midst of it all, I’ve been attending a Peer-to-Peer class by NAMI, a REST/DBT class, and other classes and groups taught/hosted by my mental health provider organization (which also happens to be where my application for training was submitted), and attended my 1:1 counseling sessions. I’ve also been taking care of some physical health situations and have been to the doctor a couple of times, acupuncture once, and have my very first chiropractic appointment, ever, later this morning.

There are only two things I haven’t done yet, and one of those is scheduled for this afternoon, Career Exploration. The other, Google training, has been put on the back burner, for the moment, while I take care of some other things that have to be scheduled when that class is available.

Why do I need either Career Exploration or Google training, since I know I want to go into Mental Health Peer Support? For one, I need to know more specifics about transferable skills, more in depth understanding of duties/responsibilities, and what I can expect in regards to compensation. I have a basic, functional understanding of Google Gmail, Docs, and Sheets, however, I don’t really know how they, and the other Google applications work together for business purposes. Like the MS Office classes I took, I figure it’s good information to have, even if my future job isn’t directly related to office work.

Additionally, I need to get a “survival job” ASAP! My electric bill is almost two months behind and my internet bill is almost three months behind. My youngest daughter’s father may or may not be able to cover those expenses for me. Even if he does now, his circumstances have changed to where it’s not a viable long-term solution to getting the bills paid anymore. Even if I get into the training I’ve applied for, it won’t be complete until February or so, then I have to register with the State of Oregon in order to be legal to work. That’s about six or seven months until I MIGHT have a certification.

At any rate, the point is that in six weeks I’ve done about everything I can do, on my own, to get ready to actually look for a job. I’m still not fully ready to actively search for a job. I need to actually work on getting my resume set up for the career I want instead of the kind of work I’ve done in the past. I need a damn good cover letter.

I need interview clothes. I haven’t been employed for over seven years. So, what few clothes left over from my previously employed time are at least 10-15 years old and more than a little worn. A majority of the clothes I’ve acquired since then are mostly hand-me-down, hand-me-overs and beyond casual. The newest clothes have been bought with summer comfort in mind: several spaghetti strap camisole like tank tops and a pair of denim shorts. I don’t have any interview dress shoes. Again, worn out, out dated, and unprofessional describe the shoes I own.

If I can’t afford to pay my bills, I can’t afford to go shopping. Which means, I need to access more services to obtain these necessities. That means I have to find organizations and programs that offer funding to do these things. Funding requires proof of accountability. So, in order to move forward, it’s time to stop being the Lone Ranger and get more help.

Which brings me back to what’s next after completing the NCRC?

It turns out that “membership has its privileges.” Now that I have that certification, I have been assigned a WorkSource Employment Specialist. I have to be in communication with her at least weekly and meet with her on a regular basis. At each meeting, I have to complete and Opportunity Plan.

It’s basically an action plan worksheet. There’s a minimum of one thing that has to be done in each of four categories: Skill Building, Job Search, Networking, and Self-Care.

The benefits of working with her and in this program are:

  • I get a monthly bus pass for the duration of my job search and for three months after employment.
  • I get a small clothing allotment ($100)
  • I have access to Dress for Success – which actually opens a whole new level of pre-employment services, including actually getting a small, employment oriented, wardrobe for interviews and post-employment and a more focused and intensive week of job readiness classes that will help me even more with the resume, cover letter, and interview preparation.

I’m most excited about getting access to the Dress for Success program! However, in order to get the referral to them, I either have to have an interview or attend a Job Fair. When I met with the Employment Specialist yesterday, she didn’t have any Job Fairs scheduled for the near future.

I’m afraid of losing momentum.

Last week, when my daughter was sick, I didn’t leave the apartment to do anything other than check the mail, if I even did that. As the days went on, I felt the depression trying to assert itself. The apathy started rising it’s ugly head. Inertia started taking hold. I basically did NOTHING.

So, I’m concerned that I may relapse with my mental illnesses, if I lose the structure I’ve been building up of having something to leave my apartment for, each day, that is moving me toward a future I want to have.

I’m happy to report that, while preparing this post, I found a Job Fair, left a message to register, and shot my Employment Specialist an email, requesting a referral to Dress for Success.

Much Ado About Nothing Major

If you’ve been reading along, you know that I took the NCRC (National Career Readiness Certificate) assessment yesterday. It’s a certificate that lets employers know that you have basic workplace skills to understand workplace documents, mathematics, and graphic representations of data. Each of the three assessments can achieve rating levels from bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Whichever of the three has the lowest rating, determines your overall rating. So, a platinum in reading, a silver in math, and a bronze in graphic literacy will yield and overall rating of bronze.

As previously discussed, my perfectionistic nature isn’t happy with the idea of having the lowest score determine the overall outcome. You may also be aware that I was super worried that my math score would drag me down. So, I was incredibly anxious about taking the math assessment.

The assessments are proctored and each one is 55 minutes long with 35 questions. On the math assessment, I guessed at two and ran out of time before finishing the last one or two problems. I assumed that meant I had gotten a low score.

Apparently not! I scored PLATINUM!!!!

I also scored Platinum for reading. The score that dragged me down was Graphic Literacy. I got a Gold rating for that one. So, my overall rating is Gold. Evidently, I’m not suited to be a chemist, medical researcher, or engineer. I’m good with that.

I have to admit, though, that in addition to feeling quite ecstatic about my results – I couldn’t stop smiling for at least the first half hour after finding out my scores – I’m also feeling a bit sheepish.

Why?

Well, I’ve known about the NCRC since 2013, the first time I thought I was ready to reenter the job market. I doubted myself and got overwhelmed by life and didn’t follow through on taking it then. In 2015, I started the process of getting ready to go back to work then, again, and avoided it completely. I could probably have taken it six weeks ago. However, I was so full of self-doubt about my math abilities, that I avoided it.

That pesky perfectionistic nature, that all or nothing attitude has been holding me back.

I’d like to say that this revelation means I won’t give into it’s immobilizing effects again. But, that’s probably not true. What is true is that I can start questioning the self-doubt when it rises its ugly head in the future. I can ask myself if I’m worried about doing something imperfectly or if I’m holding back because I genuinely don’t have the knowledge or skills to attempt it.

Another thing I can do to combat the perfectionism is to evaluate whether the goal I have in mind or the result I want requires the level or even the thing at all that I’m working so hard to be as perfect as possible at.

For instance: A Peer Wellness/Support Specialist doesn’t really need advanced MS Office 13 skills. Yet, I pushed myself to attain advanced certificates in Word and Excel. That job also probably doesn’t require algebra or geometry. Therefore, it would have been no big deal if I had gotten a lower score on the math assessment.

It seems that I have a lot of unpacking to do around the perfectionism. It will give me something to work on with my therapist when next we meet.

Is there an area in your life where perfectionism could be holding you back?

Ramble on

A lot’s happened over the past two days and even more is happening today.

On Monday, I attended the orientation session for the Health Careers NW study. It’s a federal research study to determine if providing vocational training in healthcare fields and employment support for low-income people receiving public assistance can help them attain a greater degree of financial self-sufficiency…uhmmm yeah!

In order to move forward with that process and when I, eventually, obtain a job, I’m going to need to show my Social Security Card. I don’t have it. Rather, it’s (hopefully) lost and buried somewhere in the depths of a very large box full of boxes and bags of papers…and by very large, I mean a moving box sized to carry several oversized pillows and lightweight items.

Trust me when I say there isn’t enough time or physical space for me to go through it and continue doing the job readiness, mental health recovery, and physical health activities I’m doing.

So, the Employment Specialist who has been working with me through the Social Security Administration’s Supported Employment Demonstration (a different federal research study to determine if people who have been denied Social Security Benefits for disabling conditions can successfully be transitioned back to employment with Employment Supports, Mental Health Case Management, and Physical Healthcare Supports…uhmmm yeah, again!) has been helping me get to and from some of these employment readiness activities I’ve been doing. She went to the orientation with me.

We decided to try to get to a Social Security Office afterward. However, she was on a tight schedule and had already agreed to take me to a store where I could exchange my empty 5 gallon water bottles – it’s too hot to go without decent water. The first place we went was out of water. So, we had to go to a different store.

While walking into that store, I tripped on a curb and went down on my left knee, then rolled onto my back. I managed to avoid going down too hard, thankfully.

By the time the water got replaced, it was too late to go to the Social Security Office. So, we agreed to go Tuesday…fully expecting at least an hour wait. Lo and behold, we got there and I had less than a 20 minute wait! 😮

I had tried to sign up for the NCRC, which I talked about here. However, I couldn’t just sign myself up. So, I called and spoke to the gal who’d led the Health Careers NW orientation on Monday. Now, I have four hours of testing to do today.

Not looking forward to it.

I tried to do math prep yesterday. I realized that geometry will kill my math score…which will kill my overall rating, since the lowest score determines the final rating.

The perfectionist in me is quite unhappy with that thought. However, the realist in me knows what’s what and that, ultimately, geometry is not a part of my career path and that my other abilities will speak for themselves when the time comes.

So, I decided not to make myself crazier with the math prep.

Later, I had a Volunteer Orientation at NAMI. NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness. It’s a nationwide, peer driven organization offering support, education, and community engagement for those experiencing mental illnesses and their families. Since I want to get into peer work, this is my next logical step.

There are several opportunities for me here: teaching classes, as long as I’ve already taken them myself; Community engagement – speaking at schools, organizations, and businesses about my lived experiences as both a person living with mental illness and a parent/family member of others who have experienced mental illness; operations support, which will have me exercise my office and writing skills.

I start next week. My first volunteer project will be working on updating the local resource guide. The current one is two years old and things change.

I’m really excited about this next phase.

On my way home, I experienced another knee injury. I’m afraid this one was a bit more severe than the first. I’m really hoping that the pain subsides without me having to make another medical appointment.

What happened?

A slightly out of it man got on the bus, chose not to sit down, and neglected to hold himself steady. So, when the bus started to move, he came toppling down onto my lap like a felled tree, his shoulder gouging into the top, inside of my knee, above and to the side of my kneecap.

That’s the leg with the nerve entrapment in my foot and the same knee I’d fallen on the day before. So, now I have some radiating pain going down into my foot. Yay.

Since I’m hurting, sleep is elusive. Which means, I’ll be going into my tests sleep deprived and in pain.

Wish me luck.

God Doesn’t Waste A Wound

Everyone has a story. Chances are that story has a time of crisis or trauma. That moment may be the worst, most terrifying, darkest, lowest time you’ve ever been in, in your life. Often, it becomes a defining moment…a quickening. It becomes an opportunity, an invitation, to do more than survive. It is a moment of learning and growth  . . . or it can be.

That’s what last night’s message and discussion was about, within my faith community. How these times of crisis often present us with a question which causes us to examine ourselves, our lives, our priorities, and cause us to decide who we want to be in our lives and in the world.

Just about everyone has at least one…possibly more.

The Bible is full of them, starting from Adam in Genesis, through to Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, on and on through to the disciples and Jesus himself.

In those moments of trial and pain, many of us, if we are persons with a spiritual faith, question whether or not God is real. We may come to believe that we are being punished for some sin or that he is causing our trouble and pain in order to accomplish something. I personally believe that everything we experience is part of a cause and effect cycle, even if we can’t identify the cause.

The initiating cause doesn’t have to be ours, it can be that of someone or something else, we just happen to get caught in the effect. It is especially in those times when we can’t identify the cause that we may think we have been abandoned by God, believing that he should have protected us against and rescued us from the painful situation.

The reality is that we have a God of redemption and restoration, as well as a God of salvation, refuge, and protection. This means that those crisis moments can lead to us spiraling and spinning into a life of crisis and reactivity. We can feel shattered and completely broken. We may feel as if we’ve lost everything and have no reason to move forward. We wonder why God did this to us or allowed it to happen.

My experience has been that he is present all the time, including in those moments of painful crisis when we feel lost and alone.

Last week, I shared with you about one of those times for me. It was a brief overview of one of the defining relationships in my life and a time fraught with crisis moments, culminating in a near death experience. You can read about it here.

A brief recap: When I was 16, I was a victim in search of a predator, but didn’t know it. I was seduced and manipulated by a man 14 years older than me. I spent 3 years hitchhiking across the country and living out of cars with him . . . before, during, and after my pregnancy with our son, who was born when I was 17. When I was 19 and our son was two, he almost killed me in front of our son. He stopped at a moment when there was no reason or sanity to intervene. I felt as if there was a second between when I was alive and when I would die. In that second, he got up and moved away.

In that previous post, I said that he stopped short of killing me for some reason. I believed then and I believe now, that God was that reason.

There were consequences of that moment. The effects of it weren’t just in me, they were in my son. He was an angry child. I didn’t understand why throughout his childhood. However, once I started my healing process, five years ago, I came to understand that the root of that anger was planted in that moment of crisis.

Several months ago, my son and I had occasion to talk. During that conversation, we touched on his anger and I told him that I knew why he had been so angry as a child and why it continues to affect him. He wanted to know why, so, I told him about that crisis moment when he was two.

About two months later, he called me and told me that he needed to tell me something. He’d experienced a revelation while he’d been in prayer, asking God to show him a more complete picture of what happened and where he had been during the experience. God showed him where He had been in that second between life and death.

My son told me that God showed him that He had been present in my body, my bones, my muscles, my ligaments and tendons, protecting me from the physical effects of the attack. That I had been saved so that I would be here, now, in this moment.

I believed my son, because I knew that there was no earthly reason why his father would have stopped himself and allowed me to escape and get to a place where I could call the police. I just didn’t understand why my life had been saved. I didn’t know what was so special about this time of my life that I would have been saved then so that I could be here now.

Now though, I think it has to do with the career trajectory I’m on. I have a compelling desire to become a Mental Health Peer Support/Wellness Specialist. Not just because of my experience of living with Bipolar II, but also because of the PTSD and how it has manifested in my life. I want to help others navigate through it in ways I never had anyone to help me.

The deep wounding of that event will not be wasted.

 

Write about a time when…

Still feeling blocked. My soul is aching from all the hate and the suffering it’s inflicting on various people groups in my country. I’ve been housebound with a sick child this week and I’m dealing with some mental health stuff triggered by stress and worry about a family situation I have no control over or say in, but impacts me and my youngest child.

I’m determined to follow through with this session of The Ultimate Blog Challenge and write a blog post everyday. I just want whatever I post to be interesting, if not entertaining.

So, I searched for a prompt I could write about substantively. Here’s what I found: Writing Prompts: 60 Ideas You Can Use Today

I chose prompt 21: Write about a time when you or someone you love was scammed.


In some ways, this is my origin story…or one of them.

It was the beginning of my junior year of high school. My life had been upended…again. I was 16.

My uncle, who had been my guardian since just prior to my mother’s suicide four years earlier, had gone through a divorce and a custody battle over my baby cousin. He’d moved me in with my grandmother while he moved forward into a toxic and destructive new relationship.

Meanwhile, my grandmother and I were taking care of my cousin a lot of the time. She was with me so often that, when I was 15, I was often mistaken for her mom.

For whatever reason, I never knew, he moved my grandmother and me back to the place we’d lived when my mom and I had first landed in Portland. It was just down the hill from where his ex-wife was staying and back into the school district I’d been unenrolled from following the breakdown of our not-so-happy little family.

It was homecoming week and I was sneaking into school while other kids were sneaking out.

My uncle was MIA and had failed to do what was necessary to reenroll me in school and, because I was under a guardianship instead of living with my biological parents, I wasn’t allowed to enroll myself.

Contrary to everything pop culture indicates about the adolescent desire to avoid the confines of educational institutions, I WANTED to be in school…desperately. You see, I believed that the only way out of poverty and away from the kind of life I’d lived was my intellect and education.

I’d taken the PSAT (Pre Scholastic Aptitude Test) the previous year, as a sophomore. My scores were high enough that I received interest letters from Harvard & Radcliffe and Whitman College. I was also offered my choice of ROTC scholarships…all contingent upon my graduation from high school.

I was missing half of my first term as a junior and was anxious, angry, and feeling abandoned, again.

That’s when I met him.

At first, I shied away from him. We were living in the place where respectable morphs into disreputable and he was an unknown entity. Strange men were suspect and not to be trusted.

Then, when I was at loose ends one day, I ran into him again. This time, he was with a girl my age. I thought she was his girlfriend. It turned out that they’d moved in right next door. Within a short period of time, they became my port in the storm.

It turned out that she wasn’t his girlfriend, but someone he was helping to get her life back on track. Or that was the story…and I believed it.

He was 30, passably attractive, and treated me like I was an adult. He listened and talked with me as if what I had to say mattered. He was my safe haven from the drama and paid attention to me when no one else, my uncle, could be bothered. I fell in love.

Within a couple of weeks, I was finally enrolled in school, but I’d missed almost two months of the beginning of the school year and was struggling to catch up. I spent every moment I could next door, getting homework help, friendship, and feeling as normal as I had ever felt.

Things got physical. I initiated. In hindsight, I know I was manipulated to that point. But, I thought it was my idea. He pretended to dissuade me, but, took what I offered anyway.

Then, my uncle decided to show up and assert his authority. Probably because my grandmother had been trying to get me to stop going where I was headed and had reached out to him.

There was a scene right out of an angsty teen drama, where my uncle and I were yelling at each other (cue Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It). “We love each other!” I loudly declared. I don’t remember what was said next, but I got my face slapped. I almost hit back, but, my uncle was holding my 2 yr. old cousin in his arms. He saw the look in my eyes and taunted me, “Go ahead. Hit a man with a baby in his arms.”

Next thing I knew, I was out the door and locked in the bathroom next door. Shortly thereafter, the two men were squared off, outside, and I was on the door stoop, screaming for them to stop.

I went into my appointment. Things calmed down and my uncle eventually left. I snuck back out and went next door. We knew we wouldn’t be able to be together if things stayed as they were. The next day, we left.

Three months after we left, he got picked up on a parole violation. A month later I found out I was pregnant. A few months after lat, I turned 17. He was released, then, we were on the run, again. Almost a year after we’d first run away, our son was born.

We spent a little over three years hitchhiking across the country and living out of cars. We put notes up in rest areas and told people stories about our circumstances designed to manipulate them into giving us money, food, and shelter. He was a low level scam artist and I became his apprentice.

Two weeks before Christmas of 1988, a little over a month after our son turned two, I’d had enough. I was 19 and over it all. I was done and he knew it. He disappeared for a week with that month’s welfare allotment. The shelter we’d been staying in either needed the monthly “rent” – money they set aside to save enough for move in expenses – or we had to go. They gave me our “deposit” back so I could try to find someplace for us to go.

Somehow, he knew to come back that night. We fought. He wanted the money and I wasn’t going to give it to him. He almost killed me in front of our son, but, stopped short for some reason. Then, he left. I never saw him again.

His love was a scam that changed my life forever.

I got nuthin’ – free write

I had no cohesive thoughts about what to write for today’s post, day 16 of The Ultimate Blog Challenge. I know daily prompts are emailed, I just don’t get them, for some reason. So, what you get is a brain dump. Continue reading at your own risk. I have no idea what’s about to come out.


I’m on new meds…rather different meds. At least I’m supposed to be. I keep forgetting to take the iron. Liquid iron is an interesting thing. I need to figure out where to put it to where I’ll most likely remember to take it.

Or, maybe I forgot to take it last night because I subconsciously don’t want to take it because I was nauseated most of the day after taking it for the first time the night before.

Anyway, different thyroid med, different iron med, and brand new vitamin D. These changes are supposed to help mitigate the fatigue I’ve been experiencing.

Sleep would help with that, I’m sure. But, 30 years of disrupted sleep catches up to you.

Yes, I have sleep apnea…but not 30 years ago. Yes, there’s often a 10 year old Cling On, in bed next to me…but not for the first 20 years.

I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia when I was 20, and one of the symptoms the doctor used to identify it was sleep disturbance.

My hands are tingling from holding the phone…yes, I mostly use my phone to write my blogs. That’s because I usually write in the middle of the night, when it’s dark and I can’t sleep, but the child who cannot sleep alone is asleep next to me. Also, for about three years, I didn’t have a computer. Now that I have one, I forget about using it a lot.

Anyway, the numbing and tingling has been happening for as long as the sleep disturbance has been a thing. Yes, I have diabetes, but, I wasn’t even pre-diabetic when I was 20. It was another symptom used to diagnose fibromyalgia…as was the fatigue, and seemingly rootless aches and pains.

My research found that often people with a history of trauma developed it. I also found out that, at the time, it wasn’t usually diagnosed until someone was in their 40’s. Of course, I didn’t do the research until 10 years after the initial diagnosis.

Why? Because I was a single mom, in college, trying to change my life and my destiny. So, I forgot about it. Poor memory is another fibromyalgia thing. Except, it’s also a trauma thing.

Something I’ve noticed is that my fibro symptoms have greatly diminished over the past five and a half years, as I’ve been in therapy and actively working on my mental health, including getting a diagnosis of and getting treatment for PTSD.

I wonder if, in my case, maybe the fibromyalgia is primarily trauma-based. I know that isn’t always the case for everyone who is diagnosed with it. I mean, I’d experienced plenty of trauma by the time I was 20: sexual, emotional, psychological, and physical. It wasn’t all at once and it wasn’t the same people for each kind.

It makes me pause and question if I had been diagnosed and treated for PTSD back then, would I still feel like a mental and emotional basket case most of the time. I mean, what’s past is past, I know. I’m just curious if there’s a connection between trauma and fibromyalgia, then couldn’t doctors screen for trauma and refer for mental health services.


Ok. I didn’t expect that. Now, I’m sleepy again and dozing off. So, I’ll close for now.