Introducing My Plant, Minty

I was feeling down late last night. I knew spending time with Minty would be just the ticket, so I put on an old movie, took out my paper and coloring pencils, and got to work on her portrait.

Minty smells good, especially when I play with her long, curly tendrils. When I spray her with water or give her a bath, she laughs and laughs and splashes me back with cool fragrant currents of minty-ness.

She is very beautiful and knows it, yet she is not conceited.

She’s laid back and relaxed. She accepts people, places, things and situations as they are, and is, therefore, very serene.

She was a sixties flower child in San Francisco in her previous incarnation. She wore flowers in her hair and dressed in long, soft, tie-dyed cotton maxi dresses and sandals. She wrote poetry and drew flowers. She was at the first Love-In and Be-In. Sometimes, when I’ve played “Abraham, Martin and John”, I’ve seen a little tear slip down the side of her planter.

That’s not to say she is a sad plant. Far from it. She just has feelings, and lets them come out. It keeps her healthy.

It cheers me up to see her each morning because she is so happy to be alive.

One day, I was dancing in the living room. Something moved me to dance over to Minty. I asked her if she wanted to leap her spirit onto mine and dance with me. As I continued twirling and dancing through the room, I felt her tendrils flowing from the ends of my fingers.

Last night, she told me it is part of my soul’s journey to learn to create a sense of wellbeing on my own, independent of other people’s opinions and treatment of me. I also need to learn to trust my own reality, even if the whole world denies it.

I said, “It’s so tough to do sometimes, Minty.”

She said, “For sure.”

I said, “I survived as a kid by pretending my family’s version of reality was real and true, and then almost coming to believe it–when the truth was my family was not reflecting reality at all. As an adult, it’s still hard sometimes to trust my own reality when others vehemently deny it.”

She said, “That’s how you know it’s a life lesson. It keeps coming up over and over again.”

I said, “It’s a drag, man.”

She said, “I hear you, sister. Just remember, it’s all about love in the end. It’s the only thing that matters. All else will fall away one day, but that. When you are feeling down or wake up in the night empty and sad, focus on love. Think of the things you love, the people you love. See them in your mind’s eye.”

I said, “You are so wise, Minty. But I just have to say—you are such a flower-child! Did you like that song, the one that goes, ‘If you’re going to San Francisco, be sure to wear some flowers in your hair’?”

She said, “He wrote that for me, you know.”

I said, “No way!”

“Way!”

Isn’t Minty the coolest?

My Portrait of Minty

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Minty in Real Life

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Breaking Out of Destructive Patterns

I quit drinking in my twenties and attended 12-step meetings for support. I remember hearing someone compare the difficulty in changing behavioral patterns to a rubber-band that’s lain twisted thirty years on an attic floor. If you untwist the rubber-band, it goes right back to the position it was in all those years, but if you keep untwisting it over and over—one day it relaxes. It’s no longer twisted.

I identified with that. It’s hard to change.

One twisted way of behaving I learned growing up was to remain mute and unresponsive when family members did something abusive to me. Sometimes I justified or rationalized their behavior. Almost always, I buried the event—consciously or unconsciously.

This way of behaving was pretty twisted, but it was how I survived.

When I tried to break out of that pattern of behavior as an adult, the fallout could be rough. It felt sacrilegious to stand in my truth and say unequivocally, “What you did was wrong.”

Within twenty-four hours, I’d second-guess myself and start feeling really bad as if I’d done something terrible. I’d think maybe I should’ve just let it go, especially if the incident in question happened long before.

But this was just ordinary fallout for committing a sacrilege.

I think it was Robert Kennedy who said, “There’s no statute of limitations on evil.”

So after thirty-three years, I called someone out on an evil thing they did to me.

They said they couldn’t remember it, so they couldn’t address the issue.

An acknowledgement of wrongdoing or apology was less my goal than standing up for myself, so I felt calm and happy at first.

But I told Jack, based on the past, I expected some kind of emotional fallout—anxiety, sadness, self-doubt, despair. There are consequences to breaking taboos.

I woke up with bad stomach pains the first night. I knew it was emotion. About four in the morning, I went into our den/library. I sat on the couch in the dark and talked to the spirits of my deceased parents. (FYI, this incident had nothing to do with them.) I was crying and glad to be crying. I knew the stomach pain would go away then.

I talked about a lot of things with my parents. I also asked for a sign I’d done the right thing.

I got back into bed and slept until noon.

I went about my business the next day feeling heavy and down, but fundamentally okay.

I slept fitfully the next night. I woke in the early morning to relieve myself.

I went back in the bedroom and was just about to get into bed when I saw this.

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It was a rubber-band!! An untwisted rubber-band!!

I couldn’t believe it.

I stood there absolutely stunned.

I broke the pattern. I untwisted what was twisted. What was crooked had been made straight.

Hooray!!

Any time we stand in our truth and speak up for ourselves, we do the right thing. How people respond reflects who they are, not the rightness of what we’ve done.

When I can count on myself, the world seems a less dangerous place.

 

***

 

Can I share the growth of my basil babies? Only a few short weeks ago, there was just one tiny seedling sticking its head out of the dirt. Now there are lots and lots of glorious little faces. I like to remind myself they had to push their way through the darkness, trusting only their instinct, before they found their way into the light.

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Slow Down, You Move Too Fast

I was driving a big, luxury car down a beautiful tree-lined country road. No cars behind or ahead. I felt powerless to stop my foot from pushing down further and further on the accelerator. I felt rising panic as I felt the car go out of control. But it didn’t spin out or crash because this was a dream. The car went horizontally, neatly, smoothly to the side, coming to a slow, safe stop beside a grove of trees. My husband walked up, smiling. He said, “Don’t worry, honey. You just went too fast.”

I spent my life going fast. Early on, it was to get through the days and nights of the trauma years. Then I moved fast, talked fast and worked fast to get through the days and nights of life with PTSD as quickly as possible–as if maybe I could outrun it if I were fast enough.

Hyperarousal propelled me into constant activity, except when numbness and despair slowed me down. Eventually, narcotics slowed me down, too.

Whatever state I was in, though, I never felt comfortable just sitting with myself. I had to have something to focus on, to take me away from me, my discomfort, the driven, tense feeling inside.

It was like I always had one foot pushed all the way down on the accelerator and the other on the brake. The tension between the two felt unbearable.

I’m better now. I released so much trauma energy after getting off the meds three plus years ago. (I wrote about this in my book PTSD Frozen in Time.)

Sometimes now I can actually lie on my bed with my arms behind my head just thinking. I could never do that before.

But then something happens that activates my survival brain emergency mode and off I go running around like crazy, and if I’m not running around like crazy, my mind will go a million miles an hour doing obsessive safety checks. Did I do this? I need to do this and that and this. Tomorrow I should start the day with this, followed by that and that and that. Did I remember to do this today? Did I mention to so and so such and such? I need to tell them if I didn’t. And so on.

There are ways to slow down my body, kick in the parasympathetic system, like breath work and Trauma Releasing Exercises.

A more enjoyable way to interrupt my circuitous mental insanity is to get out of myself.

My dear nephew had a birthday today. Although he is in his twenties, he will always be three. Jack and I joined my brother, his wife and my nephew at a bowling alley because the birthday boy loves bowling. And is he good! He beat us all. He didn’t want anyone to sing “Happy Birthday” to him. He wanted to hear “The Star Spangled Banner” instead. He loves to open boxes of pasta so I bought and wrapped some for him. [I got him other cool stuff, too, like a Coke tee-shirt (he loves Coke) and clear speakers that flash lights to the beat of music.] He loves interesting sounds. He likes for me to say the word “blow” in a deep voice. He enjoys adjusting shades. He is a true original and incapable of being dishonest or pretending, which I find very relaxing.

It was great to go out somewhere and forget about myself and my concerns. When I get my perspective back, it’s like the cool calm after a fever.

Then I find I’m feeling groovy again.

Hey, you know I had to end with that!

Kindness

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.” — Henry James

I felt pretty lousy this morning. When I feel physically lousy, my mind follows and I lose perspective. When I lose perspective, everything looks dark. Fears of the future, financial and health-related, loom enormous. Sadness regarding the past creeps in and weighs me down.

I am stressed about relocating. I am grateful we are in a position to do so, but overwhelmed at all I have to do—since I need to do most of it due to the state of my dear husband’s health. I am only too happy to take on these responsibilities. He would do the same for me. It’s just that I’m burned out from months of family health crises and I am so very tired–and I’ve been tired for so many years.

My sleep is really bad right now. I’m exhausted from the moment I wake until the moment I go to bed.

I sat with Jack this afternoon and talked about how tired I am of being tired. He was so kind, as he always is. He listened closely as if he hadn’t heard this dozens of times before. Eventually, we started laughing about this or that. I felt more relaxed then.

I did Trauma Releasing Exercises, which were helpful.

Before my shower, I listened to some favorite songs. That lifted me up, too.

At Whole Foods, I asked a guy who worked there if they carried sumac. You’d think I was the president of Whole Foods or something the way he dropped everything to help me find it. When he couldn’t see it, he called someone else who came over to help. I couldn’t believe how helpful and kind they were.

By the time evening came, I felt a lot better. I made a new veggie dish of squash and zucchini with sesame seeds, pepper, sea salt, thyme, onions and red peppers. It was so pretty, and tasty, too! (Remember Lucy in the Vitameatavegamin commercial? “And it’s so tasty, too!”)

Simple things make a difference. Talking things out. Laughter. TRE. A few songs.

And kindness.

Simple kindness.

Then life looks bright again.

Stresshead

Sometimes after people have heart surgery, their personalities change for a while. They might get depressed. Often they feel angry, irritable, or grouchy. Their tolerance for stress is lowered. They call it “Pumphead”.

Thank God, Jack’s personality didn’t change, although his tolerance for stress was reduced. I got him a new smart phone and he had understandable trouble adjusting to it after using a landline all his life. One morning, he was very frustrated trying to work it and began swearing. He had no idea he’d hit my speed dial and left a litany of swear words to greet me when I woke and checked my voicemail. Dear Jack. He was mortified.

If he has Pumphead, I have Stresshead.

It’s like my brain is overloaded and I’m in a kind of daze lately. In conversation, I become suddenly inarticulate. I reach for simple words and can’t find them. The ping of an iPhone-text startles me, makes me jump. Then I know I’m in survival-brain hyperarousal mode and my neo-cortex has gone a little dark.

I need to step back when that happens. Do some pranic breathing. Eat something. Do Trauma Releasing Exercises. Talk with Jack and tell him how I feel, how my body feels. Listen to certain songs. Dance. Do mindful meditation. Anything to let my body/brain know I’m safe and pull me back into the here-and-now.

The reason I’m a little freaked-out is because we just decided to move from Chicago to Arizona by September and I’ve been overwhelmed contemplating all I need to do.

We decided to get in the best shape of our lives—mentally, emotionally, spiritually and physically—before the move, so we’re the least stressed doing this.

I’m pretty good during the day and early evening when I’m busy with workouts, errands, cooking, etc.

But late night has traditionally been the time I’m most likely to be hypervigilant or feel afraid and vulnerable. Sometimes it’s hard to shut my brain down then.

Last night was one of those times.

After Jack went to sleep, I felt agitated. My hypervigilance was on high.

All of a sudden, I heard someone singing “Vogue” in the living room. I immediately went out there to see what was going on.

It was Ivy.

And not only was she singing, but she was doing poses!

Who knew?

I said, “Ivy, I had no idea you could Vogue.”

She said, “I’ve got all kinds of abilities, sister. But let’s talk about you a minute. You’re nervous as a bug tonight.”

I said, “Yeah, I can’t settle down. I keep thinking about the move, like how can I safely transport you guys, where we’ll live and so on.”

She said, “You know it’s all going to work out one step at a time.”

I said, “Sure, but you know me. I get hyper when big changes are coming down.”

She said, “You’re hypervigilant-ing all the way across the country, girlfriend. You need to pull it in and deeply focus on just one thing, so you can rest later tonight.”

“I know, but what?”

She started posing and singing “Vogue” again.

I said, “Ivy, can I do your portrait?”

So Ivy posed for the picture below. While I drew and colored, she talked about all the wonders out west: the mountains, the billions of stars at night, the wide open spaces, the fresh air, the energy vortexes in places like Sedona, the shamans and energy healers, the wildlife. On and on she went, putting me into the most beautiful, dreamy trance.

Thank you, dear Ivy!

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PTSD, Fatigue and Getting Things Done

The Human Condition + PTSD = Too Pooped to Pop

I’ve been pretty tired all my life.

I keep waiting for the day I wake up feeling well rested like when I was a little girl.

Maybe I’ll have to wait ‘til I go to the Other Side, although I hear-tell no one wants to sleep over there. Personally, I’d like to at least have the option. That’s, of course, after I’m welcomed by throngs of loved ones and ancestors and spirit guides and hundreds of friends from previous incarnations. I’m kind of hoping I get a “Hello, Dolly!” reception where there’s a big orchestral production and maybe dance numbers with guys in tuxedos as I come down the stairs looking gorgeous and young again. After that fabulous welcome, and after God explains to me how spiritually evolved I became as a result of having PTSD, I’ll ask where my small but luxurious villa on the ocean is and off I’ll go to sleep for a long, long time.

As it is, most days I only have time and energy to eat, take a shower, and do necessary errands, mindful meditation and Trauma Releasing Exercises. I usually get some form of physical exercise, too. I also kind of keep my eye on my husband, who is thirty years older than me and had heart surgery in December.

I try to write every day, but I’m often so tired by the time I get errands done, that my mind is mush and I put off writing for another day. Sometimes it gets put off a whole week and that stresses me out because I will probably outlive my husband and I’ll need any additional income I can get from books.

But as far as fatigue is concerned, I’m so much better than I was ten years ago.

I burned out back then due to a year of sleep deprivation, decades in high-stress deadline-driven positions, and, of course, PTSD. It didn’t help that my meds stopped being effective about that time. It got so I couldn’t work anymore. All I was capable of was getting out of bed in the morning, moving over to the couch and turning on the TV. I’d force myself to take a shower in the late afternoon because Jack, the man I’d eventually marry, would come by at six. Luckily, he was retired and happy to bring food or anything else I needed.

I am so grateful not to be burned-out anymore.

I’m so grateful not to see horrific apparitions in the night like I did back then.

I’m so happy to have made it through the despair and the Dark Night of the Soul that followed on the heels of the burnout.

I am beyond grateful that the debilitating pain I experienced after going off my PTSD meds three years ago is gone. (The only pain I get now is IBS-related.)

And I am so very glad I don’t feel the tremendous, absolutely exhausting sadness and grief that emerged after I got off the meds. I cried every single day for two years. If I didn’t, the fatigue of keeping it down was crushing.

Almost every day now, I have enough energy and physical wellbeing to do what I need to do.

It’s just that I do most of it tired.

***

I came upon the blog of a guy named Kevin Kruse who quit his job and posted over the course of a year as to his progress towards his goal of making $100,000 from writing books (and related activities like speaking engagements).

http://authorjourneyto100k.com/

He wrote a book called 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management. “Successful people” schedule their time according to what is most important to them. They make what is most important a priority.

If writing is my priority (I’m trying to finish a trilogy), I need to schedule it early in the day when my mind is clearer and I have more energy.

***

Here are Basie’s children pushing up straight and tall, ready to take on the world!

They love to bask in the sun. They laugh like crazy when I spray water on them. They are very interested in everything that goes on around them. They love when I cook beef or chicken broth because our little galley kitchen gets steamy. They told me it makes them feel like they’re back in The Rainforest.

I said, “What do you mean you feel like you’re back in The Rainforest? You were itty bitty seeds in a packet three weeks ago.”

They said, “Because we were just born, we still remember our last incarnations.”

I said, “Did you guys know me in a previous incarnation?”

They looked at each other and then back at me and made like they were zipping their mouths shut and throwing away the key!

But they couldn’t keep it up. Pretty soon they were laughing again about who knows what.

I tell you, they are the happiest seedlings I’ve ever met.

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