Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

I’ve returned from my scouting expedition out west. Man, was that intense! And this week is still intense as we try to nail down a lease so we have somewhere to live by the end of August.

Because I’m kind of drained, I’m not going to write much, but I will say the only PTSD symptom to significantly impact my well-being during my week away was stomach pain. It was related to IBS to an extent, but also due to stress and trying to “digest” so much new information. This was most noticeable the last day. An hour before my ride to the airport, I was in severe pain–so I laid me down and did deep breathing for twenty minutes (slow inhale to a count of eight, hold count of eight, exhale count of eight, hold count of eight) and the pain was reduced by 90%. When I got back to our apartment in Chicago, the residual pain left within an hour.

Here are some photos from The Arizona Inn. It was built in 1930 and attracted the likes of the Roosevelts (the owner was one of Eleanor’s  bridesmaids), Howard Hughes, Clark Gable, Gary Cooper and so on. I loved the architecture.

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Nearing sundown from my patio.

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Free New York Times every morning. I was in heaven. Note: Gatorade to rebalance my electrolytes after “colon blow”.

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I loved these old-fashioned fixtures.

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Doesn’t this look like a perfect spot for writing your memoirs or novel?

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The library had the coolest old books. Mostly first editions.

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I read a wonderful near-death experience book on the way back from AZ called Beyond Sight (The True Story of a Near-Death Experience) by Marion Rome. When she was on the Other Side, she was flabbergasted to see that flowers have souls. I took a picture of this little soul at Midway Airport. Hello Beautiful!

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Ms. Rome also said what I’ve read in many other near-death experience books–that all that matters in the end is love.

I send (safe) love to you, dear reader.

 

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do: PTSD and Smoking

My earliest memories of cigarettes are wonderful.

I remember my parents and aunts and uncles hanging out in one of the apartments of the Chicago three-flat we all lived in once upon a time. There was so much laughter and music and dancing and joy. The beautiful, old, high-ceilinged living-rooms smelled of cigarette smoke, liquor, coffee and perfume. Music always played in the background–bossa nova or cool jazz or the new hip sounds of Motown. The sixties were beginning to swing!

Another memory from that period is of sitting beside my dad on the steps of the back porch at night when he’d have an after-dinner cigarette. I sat enrapt by his stories of the war, of being a boxer, of all the different jobs he’d had like working in the Chicago stockyards and even the opera! I’d look up at the stars and imagine having thrilling adventures of my own someday. I loved the smell of his Kools. I felt so safe. So safe.

After we moved away and the trauma years began and ended, I was thirteen and a freshman in high school. It was an all-girls school. I was surprised and thrilled when some of the cool crowd evinced interest in me. (I’d become a loner by the eighth grade.) One day, in the woodlands area near school, my new friends taught me how to inhale cigarette smoke. I’ll never forget the feeling that first inhale gave me, that little high. I felt wonderfully dizzy and suddenly better than my normal self–transformed, sophisticated, hip. I bonded over cigarettes every day with these girls who would become my best friends.

The years went by.

I became addicted to other things–liquor and drugs–and quit both, but I kept smoking.

It had become part of the fabric of my life. It was a familiar wake-up in the morning, a reward when I worked hard and needed a break, company while I watched TV, a custom after meals, a consolation when things went bad. But primarily, I now see, I used it to soothe me, to comfort me, to calm me down–something I never learned to do myself.

When I moved in with Jack nine years ago, I quit smoking.

Shortly afterwards, painful sores appeared all over my tongue and gums. It hurt so bad, I couldn’t eat. I also got a terrible stabbing pain in my ear drum, my throat and tongue swelled up and an assortment of other bizarre symptoms from the neck up.

I went to six doctors. No one could diagnose it.

An oral surgeon checked the sores for cancer. Oh man, did I get sick from that surgery. No cancer, though.

Finally, a nurse told me, in confidence, that in my case–the cigarettes used to kill all the bad bacteria in my mouth and now that I wasn’t smoking, I was infested with the bad bacteria. She said this happens to a small percentage of people who quit.

I smoked a cigarette when I got home, another that night and one in the morning, and within forty-eight hours, all the sores and other symptoms disappeared.

I didn’t need to inhale that smoke, though. I could have just puffed one every morning and gotten the same result.

I’m trying to quit smoking again because my throat burns all the time. I also had two dreams where I was explicitly told I need to stop smoking now. I’m not too worried about getting the bad bacteria again because I’ve learned about natural antibiotics like garlic and I’m sure supplements like that would help me.

I went cold turkey the first twenty-four hours and thought I’d go out of my mind

I became immediately aware of how tense my stomach became without smoking and how the feeling intensified as the hours went by. I felt uncoordinated and kind of jerky in my movement, even a little paralyzed or frozen. I felt scared, too.

The second day I had two cigarettes and I’ve been keeping it at that.

I Googled “PTSD and cigarettes” and sure enough, a good percentage of people with PTSD smoke cigarettes (as well as drink alcohol, abuse substances and/or eat) in an effort to keep uncomfortable feelings down and maintain some kind of equilibrium or balance.

I realize now the primary feeling I keep down with cigarettes is fear.

Sigh.

I’m still self-medicating–only it’s with cigarettes now. I don’t want to spend the rest of my life depending on something outside of myself to fix the inside of myself. If I’m going to completely quit smoking, I need to be willing to be uncomfortable for an unpredictable length of time. That’s how I quit drinking, tranquilizers and pain pills. I was willing to feel bad for a while.

I’ve been doing the breathing exercises more often (ten-minute sets of pranic breathing) and working out more strenuously. I’m doing meditative work with my tummy, asking the energy that condenses there, What is your source? How can I release you?

The good news is I’ve been sleeping better and my throat doesn’t burn now.

But will I ever be able to say goodbye for good?

I don’t know. I’m going to try.

I associated cigarettes with love and happiness long ago. Then for many solitary years, cigarettes felt like my only friend. They were always there for me.

But now…they feel unsafe. So unsafe.

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As I continue throwing out and packing up in preparation for our big move out west, I found more illustrations I never used for My Husband’s Toes.

At one point, the toes told me they felt no girl toes would ever be interested in them without hair, so I created toupees for them. (Jack sure was surprised when he woke up and found all the hair on his feet!)

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Here’s another one where I cleansed the aura of a toe who’d been feeling down.

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Life isn’t so stressful when I can laugh or be absurd.

Go West, Young PTSD Woman

My plan after my last blog post, about the disconcerting energy vibrating above my chest, was to make a practice of pranic breathing three times a day to break up and release that energy–in addition to my usual once-a-day Trauma Releasing Exercises.

I picked three times a day because my body still thinks we’re in 1968 and gets nervous on the same schedule as it did back then.

Anyhoo, I did pretty good with the 3X pranic breathing the first couple days, but then I found myself doing it only twice a day, then once a day because…well, gosh, I had too much to do!!!!

We’re relocating from Chicago to Arizona and I’m getting rid of so much stuff, donating clothes and furniture to a church, putting aside family things for family, setting appointments with moving companies for estimates, creating my schedule for apartment and house hunting (I’m going alone for a week in June because it would be too much for Jack. He had heart surgery in December and he’s decades older than me) and so on.

It’s totally irrational, when I think about it, that when I need to take stress-relieving measures most, I skip it.

I wake up with energy surges shooting down my arms (a sign I’m under a lot of stress) and think the solution is to do as much as I possibly can as fast as I possibly can.

That does not relieve my stress EVER.

It leads my usual hypervigilance into insane territory.

So I’m back to doing the breathing three times a day and it is definitely helping. It breaks down my body’s sense of EMERGENCY!!! and eases me back into sane thinking and sane mph.

I had an interesting experience the first night of the first day I began my pranic breathing practice. (Three ten-minute periods.)

When I laid me down to sleep, the vibrating energy was still there condensed in the upper left-hand side above my chest. I focused on it, and asked the energy or my body/mind a few questions like, What are you trying to tell me? Are you an emotion? What is this energy? How can I best break this up or release it?

Pretty soon, I found myself falling into a deeply relaxed state. As happens about half the time when I ask my body/mind or Spirit a question, I got a screen shot involuntarily projected in my mind.

It was of a half-open door. Peeking around it were a blue light and a pink light looking at me.

My eyes popped open.

What the heck?

I couldn’t understand the message.

Pink is often related to unconditional love and blue with tranquility. How did that relate to the condensed vibrating energy? And how could colors look at me?

When I described it to Jack the next day, I said it was almost like they were two kids peeking around the door right at the doorknob. Maybe they were little boy and girl angels!

Who knows? But the great thing is the condensed vibrating energy disappeared after that.

I don’t know if it had to do with pranic breathing or the pink and blue energies or with something else.

It’s a mystery.

When I was going through my closets, I found some preliminary drawings I made for a book I wrote a couple years ago called My Husband’s Toes (under the name Lori O’Connell). It’s about how one day, when Jack was sleeping, his toes started talking to me. I got to know them all, had long conversations with each, listened to their hopes and dreams and tried to help bring them to fruition. Although not all the toes had laudable ambitions. In this drawing, the big toe, who said he was Mussolini in a former life, demands a desert landscape be implanted on Jack’s foot. (I didn’t end up illustrating the book. I didn’t have enough expertise and finesse to create what I wanted. It looks like the big toe has dragon-head-bumps or something.)

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How Being Involuntarily Committed Led to Incredible Happiness

In my late twenties, my PTSD symptoms were getting worse and worse. I hadn’t been diagnosed yet and kept looking for solutions outside myself—a better job, a new love, new friends, enjoyable hobbies, and any recognition that I was somehow of value.

I knew I enjoyed performing and thought that might pull me out of my unpredictable states of hyperarousal, numbness and/or despair. I began trying out for shows and succeeded in landing roles, but to my baffled dismay, I found that although some nights I felt great and was able to put on entertaining performances, other nights, I felt like the walking dead, unable to act my way out of a paperback.

It didn’t matter if there was a packed house in front of me. I’d stand on stage feeling absolutely nothing and my performances reflected it.

I didn’t understand I was dissociating and ultimately blamed my numbness and apathy on the material.

So I wrote a one-woman show, figuring I’d always feel enthusiastic about performing that since the content would always come from a deeply-felt place in my heart.

Unfortunately, that didn’t prove to be the case. I continued to dissociate and got terrible reviews.

Man, did I go down fast.

The show ended and, over the course of the next year, I went into a very dark place.

Growing up, my reality was denied daily. I survived by living in accordance with other people’s version of reality. (Ironically, my show was about the consequences of denying reality.)

In adulthood, unbeknownst to me, I still depended on other people to determine my reality. Therefore, if theater critics thought my show a failure, it was a failure—and, of course, so was I.

It wasn’t true, but that’s how I felt.

About nine months after the show closed, I was in such torpid despair, I couldn’t make it to work much anymore and, though I didn’t have any money saved, I quit my job.

My boyfriend suggested we move in together. I didn’t have much choice since I couldn’t pay my rent, so I picked out a nice place and moved in, asking him to wait a bit before he also moved in. I needed a little time to myself.

I found a doctor through my therapist who prescribed a medication I never heard of and can’t remember to this day.

Alone in the new apartment, I hoped for relief with the meds.

They knocked me out like you wouldn’t believe, which I loved.

But every time I woke, I felt just as terrible as I did before.

So I’d take four or five or six more pills and go back to bed because I couldn’t stand being conscious.

I did this every few hours for a few days.

One morning, I woke and, as usual, immediately took some more pills. (I had a lot of them. I’d already filled the refill.)

I laid back down on my bed and the weirdest thing happened.

As I felt myself dropping into oblivion, I heard an almost eardrum-shattering prehistoric roar under my bed.

It was so loud and terrifying, I jumped up on the mattress, leaped across the room, ran into the living room and called my boyfriend, telling him he could move in immediately. Then I went outside and sat on the steps, waiting for him. I wasn’t going back in there alone!

(In hindsight, I believe that roar came from The Other Side. They knew I would die shortly if I continued taking those pills. That’s the only thing that makes sense.)

The next thing I remember was waking up in the emergency room five days later.

Words are inadequate to describe the terror I felt waking up there with no memory of the preceding days.

I froze in fear when the doctor said he had no choice but to commit me because I‘d overdosed. It didn’t matter me telling him it was accidental. I was being committed.

I had no insurance and was afraid I’d have to go to one of Illinois’ infamous state hospitals. My brother made some calls, though, and got me a “welfare bed” in a prominent hospital in an affluent suburb nearby.

You can imagine my state of hypervigilance in the eleven days I stayed in the psychiatric ward. I was terrified knowing I’d almost accidentally killed myself and that I’d lost my freedom. My immediate future was to be determined by strangers.

I’d read a book once called Women and Madness and remembered the author saying that staff in mental hospitals think female patients are getting better if they take showers every day and put on make-up. You can bet that’s what I did first thing every morning.

When I got out of the hospital, I was still in despair. Nothing had changed, except I now owed the hospital over $7,000.

I realized I could not afford the luxury of one negative thought because it would lead me to greater despair and drugs and possibly another overdose, voluntary or involuntary, and I never ever wanted to end up committed to a mental ward again.

So I cut out the negative thinking one minute at a time.

It was HARD.

Sometimes, I’d literally narrate what I was doing in the here-and-now to avoid negative thinking. I’d walk to the bus stop to go to work (I’d gotten another job–selling light fixtures!) and would think, Now I’m walking down the steps. I see a wet leaf on the sidewalk. The leaves are beginning to bud on the trees. There’s a cat in that window. The sidewalk buckles here. I’m coming to the stop sign now….

And so on.

At work, I’d focus on nothing but work.

I made sure to always have a good book on hand and an entertaining VCR movie at home. (Remember those?)

It was really difficult to sustain positive or neutral thinking at first, but day by day I got better at it and at some point, it became second nature.

I began to feel good, really good, because I was succeeding at controlling what went on in my mind and I also felt so much better because I wasn’t castigating myself anymore or going over and over every lousy thing that ever happened to me.

Sometimes a painful subject might light upon the wire, but I wouldn’t let it build a nest there. I’d stay calm and get back in the moment.

I did have one terrible flashback in that period, but flashbacks are totally different than negative thoughts.

By the time spring came around, I was feeling pretty darn good even though the only thing that had changed was my thinking.

I kept looking for a job that would pay more money and give me more responsibility, and finally found one.

I was thrilled.

I saved money and moved out of my boyfriend’s apartment into the tiniest living space that ever existed.

But I LOVED it.

It was the cutest little efficiency you ever saw. It was a studio in the back of a huge mansion in Chicago’s Gold Coast. (It had been a servant’s living quarters in the olden days.)

I began to wake every morning with the most wonderful feeling in my body. It actually vibrated with wellbeing.

I never experienced anything like it.

I felt fantastic every single day. I was incredibly happy.

I loved my new job. I was a manager and a proposal writer and, at long last, being paid enough to live a little.

I connected with an old friend and we started hanging out and having adventures.

I began dating again.

And then, I can’t remember the circumstances anymore, but one day I got a hold of some painkillers, which kick-started my obsessive addict-self. (I quit tranquilizers at nineteen and drinking at twenty-four.)

I also started dating my boss.

I think you can guess how this all turned out.

I became obsessed with getting more pain pills.

I stopped being vigilant in my positive thinking.

When I tried to break up with my boss, he became cruel and manipulative.

Little by little, I lost my physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing.

Eventually, I got another job, but it took a long time, and it was years before I got off the painkillers.

I know from experience that watching my thoughts and keeping them neutral, positive or constructive can be accomplished with sustained effort, and lead to fabulous wellbeing, but when I am dealing with PTSD pain and discomfort, I find it more difficult to do compared to how it was when I was in my early thirties and my anti-depressants were effective in masking a lot of my physical symptoms.

As detailed in my book, PTSD Frozen in Time, when I got off the meds three and a half years ago, all the symptoms from my twenties came back, but through a number of techniques, I released most of the buried energy causing me pain and discomfort in my feet, legs, back and stomach.

Lately, I’m dealing with uncomfortable density, constriction and/or vibrations above my chest. (I do not have a heart condition. I check that regularly since it’s in the family.)

If I’m not mindful of these sensations and don’t take action to alleviate them, I find myself smoking like crazy and running around doing errand after errand, going faster and faster, in an unconscious effort to escape my body.

Sometimes, by the end of the night or in the wee hours, I’ve become totally hypervigilant and feel trapped and immobilized. When I feel that old paralysis, I’m least likely to do TRE or The Tapping Solution or mindful meditation or dance, although I know these methods would help me break out of it.

Last night, I read a fabulous memoir called Heart of Miracles by Karen Henson Jones. It’s a beautifully-written narrative of her experience after a heart surgery gone wrong, the two or three years of debilitating pain and illness that followed, and her efforts at healing. At one time, she was consulting with twenty-four doctors. Then one day, she took up Kundalini Yoga and within a month found her health significantly improved.

She also begins a spiritual quest that takes her to India and Bhutan and…oh gosh, there’s so much to this book. It’s really inspiring.

What leaped off the page for me last night was the pranic breathing aspect of Kundalini. I’d been doing some of that on and off for a few years (the breathing, not the yoga), but not daily. It brought to mind what my chiropractor said to me two years ago, in response to the fact that I was still smoking, “Well, that’s one way of breathing deeply on a regular basis.”

I said to Jack today, “I’m going to try to do extended periods of pranic breathing three times a day for a while. I know I smoke more when my chest feels constricted or dense or like it’s vibrating wildly. Maybe this will help.”

Today is Day One. When I finish this blog post, I’m going to do my third period of deep pranic breathing in an effort to break up that area of density above my chest. Maybe if I do it throughout the day, I won’t end my nights so hypervigilant and tense. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Allow me to introduce Little Mama.

Little Mama is the very first plantie I ever bought. I call her Little Mama because she’s brought six other planties into the world (with her cuttings and a little help from me).

Little Mama is very nurturing and kind. Her aura is pink. Her favorite song is “Day by Day” from Godspell. She is very quiet inside and full of wisdom and patience. I asked the Powers That Be (spirit guides, spirit animals, angels and so on) to give me a sign of support one day before I laid down to do my mindful meditation. I fell into a Theta Brain Wave State and right before I resurfaced to normal consciousness, a screen shot of Little Mama presented itself to me in my head. She was so close, sending a message of love and healing support.

I love Little Mama.

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Little Mama in Real Life

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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!