Can’t Connect

I know it’s probably a common feeling for people to feel they aren’t connecting with anyone when they basically don’t know anyone in a new town.

Without Jack here, it feels like no one “gets” me. It feels like no one hears me or understands what I’m really saying.

It’s a lonely, disorienting feeling.

That new-girl-in-town feeling is glommed on top of a couple years of the stress of taking care of Jack, then him dying in May and finally my uncle dying a few weeks ago.

I know I won’t always feel like this.

All things pass.

For the first time in over ten years, I wanted to just sleep and sleep today. I didn’t want to be me. I didn’t want to feel sad anymore.

When I ignore my sadness and refuse to cry (because I’m so darn sick of it), my body/mind will wake me at 3 in the morning.

So I woke at 3 in the morning.

I still wouldn’t cry.

I ate a buttered, toasted Bays English Muffin with a Coke, finished a book on John of God, and started a memoir by P.D. James. (The latter quite good.)

I went back to sleep at 7 a.m.

I didn’t want to get up at 11, but the room was drenched in sunlight.

I didn’t want to do trauma releasing exercises.

I didn’t want to listen to the usual songs that elicit tears, even though I knew it would make me feel better.

I sat on the couch and drank two bottles of water, plugged in my earbuds and checked what playlists Apple had for me today. (I signed up for the free 3-month trial.)

The 70’s playlist had a song I never heard of by an artist I never heard of. The singer/songwriter was Judee Sill.

She has the voice of an angel. The harmony in her music is out of this world, the lyrics and melodies incredible.

I checked out the original album. Eponymously titled, it was from 1971. How did I never hear of her? I was 14 and 15 years old that year. All I did was listen to music.

Her big influences were Bach, gospel and country.

She signed with David Geffen, was critically acclaimed, opened for legendary rock groups, but never became a big name herself–even though the legends she opened for recognized she was way ahead of everyone else in terms of her songwriting.

Her second album came out in 1972 and there wasn’t another.

She had a terrible childhood and eventually became addicted to drugs, having to resort to prostitution in the end to feed her habit. She died of an overdose in 1979. She’d been forgotten by then.

I couldn’t get enough of her today.

Music can make me feel connected to myself and then I feel grounded and somehow recognized. I need to remember that.

Check out the fabulous artist, Judee Sill.

 

Eventually I flipped through other playlists. Guess which was the song that did the trick, got me crying even though I didn’t want to?

Mel Torme’s “That’s All”.

Ach! I’m such a romantic.

Anyway, I sobbed and sobbed and felt better. I didn’t feel as tired. I took my shower and did some errands, made a couple phone calls and scheduled my first yoga class for tomorrow.

 

 

Ode to the Cotton Bug VI

 

Oh Cotton Bug, Oh Cotton Bug,

Hello.

What’s happening?

Remember when we watched Keeping Up with the Kardashians together?

Or I imagined us watching it together anyway,

you in your glass bubble

me on the couch in my human container.

Good times.

I think you’re the only one I’ve connected with out here,

besides my uncle.

That doesn’t mean I want you back.

You go your way and I’ll go mine.

That’s the way it’s got to be.

Still…I’ll never forget you, Cotton Bug.

So long.

 

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PTSD Freeze

Even though I knew I was doing all I could to care for Jack’s congestive heart failure and kidney disease last year, unconsciously I felt increasingly powerless and ineffectual. I think tennis is so appealing to me right now because I succeed in my intention to hit the ball across the net over and over and over again. It’s cathartic and gives me a sense of competence. It also releases a lot of tension.

Speaking of releasing, I do my Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE) every day.

One morning, I did TRE before tennis and, oh-my-gosh, I was on fire–or “in the zone”, as the tennis pro said. He asked what happened. I thought it was possible the TRE I did beforehand helped, although I didn’t tell him that.

In a trauma situation, the psoas muscle is activated first. It is in your deepest core and connects to your leg muscles so you can immediately fight or take flight. If you can’t fight or take flight, and the trauma goes on too long and you don’t get a chance to release that crazy life-or-death energy in a timely fashion, you freeze and can tighten up at your core and eventually get lots of physical symptoms like IBS (because you can’t digest in a fight or flight situation—only diarrhea and/or constipation), insomnia, all sorts of pain, inability to cry, and so on.

My childhood situation went on too long without a safe place or person to accommodate the release of my trauma energy. I was too young, small and dependent to fight or run, so I froze at various levels (emotionally numb, physically numb, etc.).

Every once in a while I physically freeze in situations that evoke some level of fear or apprehension.

About eight years ago, I stood with Jack on a Chicago street. Suddenly, a potentially dangerous scenario between the police and a man who appeared deranged and violent was playing out a few feet away from us. I remember wanting to back away from the situation. At the same time, I saw Jack moving closer. I tried to move towards Jack to pull him back and found myself frozen from the waist down. It was crazy. I couldn’t move. It dissipated, but ugh. Don’t like to feel like a little kid again, but the survival brain transcends the thinking brain so what can you do…

The following is kind of absurd. The tennis pro was trying to teach me something new last week—to punch the ball at the net, not swing–because there’s no time. I felt apprehensive, unsure of what to do. He started hitting balls at me fast and furious. Guess what happened.

For a few seconds, I locked up from the waist down! I could move at the waist and lean into the ball, but I briefly couldn’t move my legs. I was like, Give me a break, Survival Brain. We’re not exactly anticipating the threat of annihilation here.

It’s like my body learned this paradigm to survive when I was a kid and every once in a while, when I get a sense of apprehension, it won’t allow me to move until it assesses the situation.

I love my survival brain. Sometimes it’s like Shane with Alan Ladd (saw that last night). Sometimes it’s Don Quixote. Either way, it’s protected me for such a long time.

The best thing for me—and my tennis game—is to stay loose with Trauma Releasing Exercises.

 

***

Why do 90% of sports socks have compression arches now? They didn’t have them for decades. I do not believe the sock manufacturers of the world got together and said, What can we do that will unnecessarily increase our budget, but will potentially benefit the feet of our consumers? Let’s do something altruistic because love and compassion are what we’re all about.

I think it must be somehow cheaper for them to manufacture these socks by double knitting that area over the arch. Forgive my cynicism, but it just doesn’t make sense to me they would voluntarily do anything that doesn’t increase their bottom line.

I do not like these socks. By nightfall, my feet are super sore under the “protected” area–and I never had an issue with my arches.

I don’t like it when something is presented as if it’s to my advantage, but  it’s really to the advantage of the other party.

***

It’s going to take time to meet new friends here in AZ. I’m trying new things like a boxing lesson next week.

 ***

 

Ode to the Cotton Bug V

 

Oh Cotton Bug, Oh Cotton Bug

Where have you gone?

Is the season over

and you’ve gone on to more accommodating climes?

Was I your Palm Beach?

Was I your Breakers?

Or maybe I was West Palm Beach

and one of those little old, dank motels across the street from the big ones on the water.

Was I caviar?

Or chopped liver?

I finished watching all 300+ episodes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

I thought maybe I could take a selfie of us in my closet

before I flushed you down the commode.

But you’re gone.

“When the rain beats against my window pane

I’ll think of summer days again

and dream of you.”

Goodbye Cotton Bug.

Goodbye.

  

***

Impossible Things

I saw an old boyfriend when I was in Chicago. We went to Gibson’s on Rush Street for lunch. The Eggs Benedict were scrumptious and the chocolate mousse cake to die for.

Budanyway, he reminded me of the one time in my life I was overweight and how shocked he was I was able to take it off. (I’m not particularly disciplined and virtuous. If cigarettes and pills had calories….)

Two things contributed to my weight gain of forty pounds at the age of 48.

I’d been taking Zyprexa for a while. (You really don’t need another reason.)

And my meds were no longer effective in helping me sleep, so after a year without significant rest, I drank ten to twelve Cokes a day to stay awake at work. That’s like how many pounds of sugar a day, right?

My old beau asked me what I did to lose the weight. I told him I worked out 2 ½ hours a day, five days a week for four months (70 minutes aerobic, 20 minutes hitting a punching bag, 40 minutes doing weights, twenty minutes lunges, squats, and crunches). I didn’t eat much. Mostly peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Nothing else.

Here’s a strange thing.

I’d been 5’-6 3/4 “ all my life. Every doctor appointment confirmed this was my precise height from sixteen years on.

After I lost the forty pounds, I went to a doctor. The nurse measured my height.

5’-7”.

I said, “You mean 5’-6 ¾”?

She said, “No. You’re 5’-7”.”

“No way. I’ve been five-six and three-quarter all my life.”

She measured me again.

5’-7”

And 5’-7” I’ve stayed for the last twelve years per the nurses at every doctor’s appointment.

The only thing I can figure is that all the working out and stretching somehow straightened my posture and spine to bring me up another ¼”.

I was delighted. I love when something good happens that’s supposed to be impossible.

***

Around the time I grew taller, I read an excellent paper on PTSD that used the term “encapsulation” to describe a PTSD symptom. It brought back a memory.

One beautiful summer’s night when I was twenty-eight, I stood out outside my apartment in Chicago’s Old Town, waiting for my friends to pick me up. The sun was nearly set. There was a breeze off the lake. I stood on the pavement and felt suddenly strange. I didn’t have the words or a concept for it back then, but now I can say I felt encapsulated—as if I were trapped inside an invisible, weightless container that removed me from directly experiencing my existence. My senses had been involuntarily put at a remove. I couldn’t snap out of it. This feeling came and went as the years went by.

I think now it was a combination of derealization (the world seems unreal) and depersonalization (detachment within from one’s mind or body or being a detached observer from oneself. Dreamlike.) I’d get triggered by something and slip into this remote state.

Both the ideas of being encapsulated and impossible growth inspired my book Nicky Chase: Man in a Fish Oil Pill. (I’m plugging something new!!!)

It’s a short novel written in the first person, which tells the story of me finding a tiny man in a fish oil pill and how Jack and I helped him break out of it and grow into his full stature. It’s a metaphor for the experience of PTSD and its healing. I think literally two people have read it. Impossible I know.

There’s true life stuff in it, too, about Jack and me when we lived in Chicago and my dear uncle Roy when he was still living in his house on the golf course in AZ. He died a week ago Friday at the age of 100. I feel so fortunate I was there with him when he took his last breath. I know he is on the links with my dad every day—on the other side.

I’m happy to say I do not feel encapsulated anymore. For better or worse, my senses are rarely at any remove. In fact, most of my blogs have to do with releasing the energy of overwhelming feeling.

 

***

Ode to the Cotton Bug IV

 

Oh Cotton Bug, Oh Cotton Bug,

I came home last night and found you were gone.

I thought the whirling, swirling, twirling carpet-cleaning machine took you to the Eternal Cotton Fields.

I can’t say I shed a tear.

I might’ve even said, “Good riddens.”

Today around eleven a.m.,

there you were again

crawling up the side of my white couch.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you were encapsulated.

I could set you on the cocktail table

to watch the last 37 episodes of the Kardashian show

in your little, plastic bubble, which I’d puncture with tiny holes so you could breathe and still experience something of existence–however removed.

But this is an impossible thing.

I gently picked you up with a Puff’s tissue and sent you whirling, swirling, twirling down the drain.

Goodbye Cotton Bug.

Goodbye.

an

Sensory Overload

I came back to Chicago to bring Jack’s ashes to his niche.

Underneath my gross fatigue, I kind of feel like screaming.

After living in small suburbs outside Tucson and Phoenix this last year where everything was so quiet and relaxed, it’s a shock to the system to be back here. I’m staying in a hotel off Michigan Avenue. The lights, the crowds, the noise, the smells, the cars, the movement—my senses are bombarded. Doesn’t matter I lived downtown over 40 years. After one year in the quiet, I’m parrying the shocks like a boxer.

And then there’s the emotional aspect.

We left here a year ago last month with hopes and dreams of a new life living in the foothills of Tucson’s majestic mountains. We were so excited.

But that’s life, isn’t it? It doesn’t work out the way we’d like sometimes.

It’s the human condition.

We had a great eleven years together, the greatest years of my adult life. I’m so grateful for that. So much joy after decades of darkness.

Feels like an avalanche of memories accumulate with each block I walk and I can’t release the emotions fast enough.

It’s hard to feel so much. After years of living numb, emotions buried, it can be overwhelming. Make me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.

Oh yeah, I’m stealing from the late great Marvin Gaye!!!

Loved that album.

You know when I really got sensory overload? (Here comes the plug for my book.) When the meds stopped working and I got off them. I wrote about it in my memoir PTSD: Frozen in Time.

My senses became Super Senses. They were so exaggerated, everything hurt. The worst was the sense of smell. Everything with an odor made me literally feel like gagging (except cigs, go figure). All the smells I loved from baking brownies to bath soap to the balmy summer wind off the lake made me sick. It was pretty disabling. I couldn’t go anywhere without feeling like I was going to puke.

My vision hurt as if I had a constant migraine. I had to wear sunglasses in the apartment.

Sound hurt, which was ironic since I’m severely hard of hearing. A fork hitting the kitchen floor was torture. Jack wasn’t allowed to speak. He had to write me notes.

Since I felt like puking, I didn’t eat a lot. I can’t remember much now about how sensory overload effected my eating. I do recall how loud it was in my ear. I had to chew really slowly.

The worst was a pain in my head like someone with a metal letter opener was stabbing me through my ear drum

I kept all movement and experiencing of life to a minimum. Most of the time, I was prone on the couch in the den with my eyes closed.

Oh man, it was nuts. Poor Jack. I’d just moved in with him.

All this faded in time.

***

I’m glad I’m here taking care of business, taking Jack off my checking account and replacing him with my brother, changing power of attorney and health, etc.

But I’m too pooped to pop.

Couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours the last two nights.

Met with an old boyfriend today. Went to lunch at a restaurant/bar with the tastiest Eggs Benedict. Walked through the city to the train. Went to the suburb I grew up in.

So many memories.

I’m glad I’m not numb anymore.

But it hurts.

Make me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.

 

***

Ode to the Cotton Bug III

 Oh Cotton Bug, Oh Cotton Bug,

hello.

It’s me writing from Chicago.

I know you did not die

When the carpet cleaners came.

You crawled up the side of the white couch in your perennially-relaxed fashion

And watched the cleaners whisk through the room

from your perch on the top of the pillow.

You felt quite excellent.

Do you miss me? Or is it the Kardashian Marathon you miss?

It’s frustrating not to be able to manipulate the remote.

You’ve come to depend on me, haven’t you Cotton Bug?

Oh Cotton Bug, I must say this:

Move off the couch by the time I get home

Or you will die squashed inside a tissue in my fist.

 

***

The last few weeks were stressful. My uncle, age 100, was deteriorating fast. I’d visit him in the assisted-living facility every night and come home sad and exhausted. Much to my delight, I found Keeping Up with the Kardashians the perfect stress antidote. There’s been a marathon going in the run-up to the beginning of the 14th season.

It’s not only been a great fantasy distraction, it’s given me oodles of ideas for reducing stress. You might like to try some of these, too.

For instance, next time you’re down, do a photo shoot of yourself!!! Not for a magazine or family or anything, but because you’re an insane, amazing hottie. Plus, it’s so fun!!!! This is best done in St. Bart’s. Bible.

 

***

I was too tired to workout tonight, but writing helped calm me down. I’ll listen to Binaural Beats on my iPod in a little while. That usually helps me sleep.  Thanks for listening and so long from Sweet Home Chicago.

PTSD Teeth

I’m putting off working out so I thought I’d write a quick blog about PTSD teeth.

I wrote a short essay about them in my book PTSD: Frozen in Time (That’s an Amazon link. Elsewhere: https://www.books2read.com/u/m0zzRl)

One of the things I said was that, statistically, people with PTSD clench and grind their teeth more than the general population. Surprise, right?

I clenched my teeth while I slept for decades. Sometimes when I woke up, I’d have to pry my teeth apart with my hands. I only sporadically went to dentists so I didn’t have one watching my teeth slowly deteriorate over the years. If I had, theoretically s/he would have suggested I wear a tooth guard. Unfortunately, this wasn’t suggested until I was nearing fifty and my front teeth had become so thin at the bottom, they were breaking off into little square chips that cut the inside of my mouth. That hurt, so I’d take a nail file and try to smooth the jagged edges. You can see the result of my fine work in the before photo below!

 IMG_0698 (3)

Anyhoo, I got a tooth guard, some implants (ow!) and began seeing dentists regularly about twelve years ago. I didn’t think there was anything that could be done to fix my raggedy teeth. Then about a month ago, I went to my new dentist in Arizona and he said he could bond them.

I don’t know why my Chicago dentists didn’t come up with that idea, but I was thrilled and immediately booked a bonding appointment.

Here is my after picture. Yay! Isn’t it nice that some things can change?

 IMG_0700 (3)

Looks like I smoked two cigars between the first and second shots, but it’s just the lighting. Those two pics were taken within an hour and a half of each other.

I also wrote in my book that according to peeps on earthclinic.com, black walnut tincture can strengthen teeth. I used it regularly after I was 50. My teeth seemed to get better. They didn’t get any worse, for sure, and they stopped breaking off. I didn’t get any cavities for a decade either, so it didn’t hurt.

 

***

So…

…I guess I’m going to have to work out now. Wah!

Here’s a tip. If you increase your workouts to two hours a day (weights, aerobics, core, balance), you will not lose weight if you eat a lot more. As in Milano Cookies. Lots of Double Chocolate Milano Cookies.

 ***

Ode to the Cotton Bug II

Oh cotton bug, oh cotton bug, where have you gone?

I know you’re still here. I feel your cotton-bug spirit.

Perhaps you’ve found yourself a cozy nest in the millions of fibers of my living room carpet.

You seek warmth for you are in tune with the seasons.

You sense the winter coming.

Well so are the carpet cleaners.

This Friday.

Unless you leave my space in the next forty-eight hours, you will die.

Goodbye cotton bug.

Goodbye.

PTSD As a Label

Last week, I picked up Darrell Hammond’s memoir: God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F*cked.

Oh man, what a life. Talk about a living hell. He doesn’t go on and on about his childhood abuse, but when he does go into detail, I had to skim. Trigger territory for me.

Becoming successful and somewhat famous on Saturday Night Live did not, of course, change his internal quality of life. Wherever you go, there you are—even if you’re making a lot more money and everybody knows your name.

He self-medicated with drugs and alcohol and was hospitalized many times. Doctors repeatedly told him he was suffering symptoms as an adult which were the result of childhood trauma. They compared it to that suffered by soldiers in war and molested children.

Hammond’s experience of life is chock full of PTSD symptoms. He’s like a textbook case, but he never uses the term “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” or “PTSD” in the whole book.

I thought that was strange.

It’s so clear he has it.

But he won’t say it.

I wondered why.

I’m just guessing here, but I thought maybe he doesn’t want to be labeled.

Sometimes a label can have the effect of stereotyping people, minimizing and reducing their experience, tying it up with a bow, sanitizing it, making it palatable.

But the experience of trauma is, in essence, indescribable—and childhood abuse can never be made palatable.

Hammond’s book is written so well, you really get a feeling for the dimensions of hell he lived through.

If you have PTSD, you know what he’s talking about.

 

Easy to Be Hard

This afternoon, I finished reading Brian Wilson’s memoir: I Am Brian Wilson.

It’s great. He writes so honestly, so simply, and, at times, beautifully, delightfully and/or whimsically.

I burst out crying when he began the chapter about his dad. If you know Brian Wilson’s story, you know his dad was, at times, cruel and violent. What made me cry was not the abuse, which I’ve long been familiar with, but the way Brian approached that particular part of the narrative. He is such a gentle soul and took great pains to paint a balanced and just portrait of his dad. He talked about how if it weren’t for his father pushing the band to be excellent, they might not have achieved what they did when they did. That kind of thing. He said his father was abused also. He tries to understand him and remember the good times, too, however few they were.

It breaks my heart, in a good way, when people find a way to transcend the terrible things that happen to them. It is easy to hate, easy to be hard.

I was hard for a lot of years. It felt right and justified to harbor so much anger. It almost felt like I was accomplishing something. The overwhelming feeling of rage made me feel like I’d somehow taken back the power taken from me. It gave me the illusion of incredible strength and control and I needed to feel strong and in control. That’s human enough, but I nurtured the rage and ultimately that undermined whatever fragile quality of life I had.

It’s natural to feel rage after certain kinds of trauma. I’d have been nuts if I weren’t angry in response.

I tried to understand, too. I even tried to find a way to make it so that the bad stuff didn’t actually happen, which, of course, was impossible—but in the beginning it was preferable to think I was wrong or mistaken or at fault.

I wasn’t.

Anger was a healthy response to what happened to me. It was important I feel it and didn’t block the sensation. But I’m glad I was ultimately able to release the anger safely. Well, most of the time it came out safely. I didn’t kill anyone and I didn’t kill myself.

***

Today and yesterday, my eyes hurt. I know that means I need to cry, but—at the risk of repeating myself ad nauseum–I’m tired of crying.

Years ago, tears dissolved the crippling physical pain that emerged after I got off the PTSD meds. (See my book PTSD: Frozen in Time.) There was so much trauma energy and emotional energy buried in my body.

I know the healing tears can bring, but it is just so not fun.

I feel I’ve cried enough. I’ve gone over my quota. I’d like a surrogate to do my crying now.

Here’s a big miracle though. As I wrote in my book (and in the short-read Startle: A True Story of PTSD and the Paranormal), I met Jack when I had a nervous breakdown. I remember the despair I felt every time I woke. I’d literally experience a vertical drop in my stomach as if I were on an elevator that suddenly fell twenty floors. I’d known despair most of my life, but the nervous breakdown pulled out all the stops. It was like a Despair Extravaganza! I can joke about it now, but it was the most frightening experience of my adult life.

With a background of depression and despair, I expected I’d have that kind of feeling after Jack died–the soul sickness, the emotional nausea, the big drop when I’d wake. I thought I’d have another long, slow, uncertain crawl out darkness.

To my shock, I’ve found that, except for terrible grief the first few weeks, nothing like that is there.

I’m sad. I miss him.

But I’m on an even keel.

Healing is possible. Never, never, never give up.