Moving to AZ, PTSD and a Can of Fanta Orange

As of Tuesday, we’ll have been in Arizona two months…and what a two months it’s been!

OMG!! We’re still so exhausted.

We arrived in Phoenix near midnight on August 11th. We’d hired a driver to pick us up at the airport and take us into the Tucson area. (Long story as to why we flew to Phoenix instead of Tucson.)

While Jack and the driver waited for our luggage, I stepped outside for a few minutes. I clutched a big white 3-hole binder notebook tightly to my chest. It held every single password to every single account we had: banks, charge cards, ATM’s, online sites. It also contained three years of taxes, birth certificates, our new lease, directions to our temporary house and so on. I remember sitting down a moment in the glorious Arizona night and taking a deep breath. We made it! We finally made it!

It was kind of warm so I put my purse and notebook down on the ground and took off my jacket. After a few minutes, I went back inside the terminal.

You know what’s coming, right?

As we approached Tucson an hour and a half later, I looked around the car and said to Jack, “Honey, did you see me put the white notebook in the trunk?”

AHHHHHHHHHH!!!!

Oh the sinking feeling in my stomach!

Need I say, I was up until dawn changing passwords.

The good news: the next day, some lovely honest soul handed the notebook into the Phoenix airport and they Fed Ex’d it to our new place. God bless you honest soul, wherever you are!!

For the next two weeks, while waiting for our furniture to arrive, we stayed in a gorgeous home in the mountains in Saddlebrooke. I saw four shooting stars the first night. It was very dark in the evening in that area so when I’d go outside to look at the sky, I’d see billions of stars. I’d been dreaming of that for months.

In the daytime, the mountains reminded me of The Sound of Music, one of my favorite movies, so you just know I was singing “The Lonely Goatherd”, “The Sound of Music”, and “Climb Every Mountain” all the time.

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I also met this cactus.

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Can you see his face? He didn’t have the happiest expression, but he felt so kind. I talked to him a lot.

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Sometimes I felt like I was in heaven.

Speaking of heaven, there was a soul nearby taking a break from there. He kept slamming the door of the second bedroom of our temporary house. As soon as we acknowledged him, he stopped doing it. He was actually quite debonair, smelling of a delicious after-shave. When I went into a deep meditative state, I could see he was tall, middle-aged, with dark hair and glasses. I didn’t get any telepathic message, but my impression was he was related to the owner and just checking us out. He left after the first few nights.

I have to tell you, this move was pretty stressful what with Jack being 88 and me having PTSD.

The altitude hit him hard and he felt dizzy for a couple weeks. He had and continues to have balance issues that understandably undermine his wellbeing. I had trouble breathing for a week, then got sick as a dog with a horrible cold.

With the exception of twice last September, I hadn’t driven in 35 years (Jack doesn’t drive anymore), so between trying to get my sea-legs again and not knowing where we were and our iPhone GPS voice sometimes working, sometimes not—finding our way around was extremely stressful.

I bought a car for the first time. That was an experience.

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I unpacked fifty boxes at our new place and hung about 40 paintings/pictures/posters.

I stocked our new kitchen.

AT&T didn’t work at all out here, so I had to switch to Verizon and buy new phones. (They didn’t do iPhone 5s.)

I had to find all new doctors for Jack. And a barber. Why do they all want to give him a buzz cut? For years now, I keep asking for the Cary Grant look, circa 1966, and they nod their heads and then make him look like he’s in boot camp.

Someone left the patio door in our new apartment open before we moved in, so we had lots of leaping, many-legged bugs as well as moths to clear out in the weeks that followed. Quite gross.

Jack’s computer died so that was a bummer. I finally reset it to factory settings, but still can’t figure out how to enable his video mode so he can do his flight simulator. One thing at a time, though, right?

None of this would have been such a big deal if it weren’t for that fact that I was EXHAUSTED and Jack was dizzy and/or lightheaded and/or off-balance most of the time and I surreptitiously watched him like a hawk practically every minute of the day, unless he was sleeping.

Need I say, I was in a near-constant state of hypervigilance. Startle effect returned. My tummy began to twist and shout. My eye began twitching. And then I started waking up with a disconcerting physical symptom of stress I thought I’d left behind two years ago. Portions of my arms buzzed with energy as if a zillion, trillion, kazillion cells had condensed in small areas and begun expanding and contracting at top speed.

I don’t like waking up with those buzzing arms, but I’m grateful my body gives me messages. This particular message means: BURN OUT APPROACHING!! Slow down, rest, do Trauma Release Exercises (TRE).

Thank God for TRE. It’s still my number one go-to when I find myself in a state of overwhelm. As I wrote in my book, PTSD: Frozen in Time, Trauma Release Exercises relax the psoas muscle—the first muscle activated when fight or flight hits. When I relax the psoas, I’m able to cry and release the cortisol build-up (stress chemicals). Then my fatigue lifts, my stress symptoms abate, I get perspective back and I feel pretty good again.

***

Mid-September, we visited my 99-year-old uncle Roy outside Phoenix. He used to live in his dream home on a golf course until last winter when his physical needs required 24/7 medical care. Even though his facility is very nice, it was still tough to see him there and I know it’s very tough for him to be there.

Driving home, I felt very sad. After an hour and a half on the highway, I pulled over to a rest stop. It was clean, quiet and empty. Just restrooms and vending machines. We decided to get something to drink and sit a few minutes before getting back on the road.

Although I’ve been drinking Coca Cola since high school, for some reason, I decided to get a Fanta Orange. I hadn’t had one of them since I was nine.

The sun was shining and it was hot, but we were comfortable sitting at a table in the shade.

Everything was strangely still and quiet. Wonderfully still and quiet.

I took a swig of the Fanta.

It was ice-cold and delicious.

I took another drink.

And then, out of nowhere, I felt joy.

 

 

PTSD, Releasing Trauma Energy and “The Gypsy Rover”

I continue to be exhausted, but again—for good reason!

Besides the usual PTSD fatigue from interrupted sleep, hypervigilance and digestive issues, we are relocating to Arizona and gosh, there are a lot of details that go into such a venture.

I can’t believe in less than six weeks, I’ll be leaving Chicago. Except for eight years in the North Shore, I’ve lived in Chicago all my life–originally on the South Shore, and then downtown by the lake. I always loved Chicago and I love it still.

When we moved from the suburbs down here in 1974, the noise and traffic and crowds were exciting. But it’s not quite the same nearing sixty (and eighty-eight for Jack). Plus, when my meds stopped working ten years ago, and particularly getting off them completely three and a half years ago, my senses all became ultra-sensitive–almost insanely so for a while–especially to sound, smells and energy. Sometimes I find the teeming city streets so oppressive, I don’t want to walk out the door anymore. And dear Jack…he can’t navigate the out-of-doors as well he used to.

So we’re going somewhere quiet with wide open spaces and I can’t wait.

***

My stomach was bad last night. I couldn’t figure out if it was emotion and/or related to digestive issues. I Googled PTSD and stomach problems. There are a whole slew of fantastic articles explaining why we have difficulties related to our tummies. I won’t try to translate the complexities, but suffice it to say–those of us in fight or flight or hypervigilance have activated sympathetic systems, which means the marvelous rest-and-digest world of the parasympathetic system is often elusive.

I tend to be excellent in an emergency, and crash when it’s over. Yesterday, there was a possibility my husband had a new heart issue, but it didn’t turn out to be so. Everything is alright. Hooray! But I felt the fatigue of the high-cortisol hangover today.

I had myself a good cry tonight and my tummy pain cleared straight away, so I guess stress was manifesting as pain in my stomach this time, which it not infrequently has done in the past.

***

In my book, Frozen in Time (Adventures in Releasing Trauma Energy), I wrote about my experience releasing trauma and emotional energy after I got off the meds. Everything I buried in childhood (and later years) came up to be felt and released. To say it was sometimes overwhelming is an understatement.

The first year, I experienced a lot of involuntary trembling or shivering when I released. I’d always know when it was coming because I’d get very cold in the center of my chest (the freeze state!). I used to wonder if I’d ever learn to release that kind of energy in a timely fashion or if it would always get stuck for years somewhere in the system of my body-mind.

When my brother had heart surgery this winter, I stayed with him the first night in his room in the ICU. The major concern of the staff, besides keeping him stable, was to keep him from vomiting. He was effectively tied down with tubes, particularly the one in his neck, which didn’t allow significant movement.

My brother felt so nauseous. The nurse would ask him if he was in pain. He’d say no, he just felt nauseous—but she kept giving him more pain medicine. I told her I was concerned she was giving him too much. He never had much tolerance for it. He used to feel sick on one codeine.

Well, you know where this story is going. About two in the morning, he vomited and was choking. I watched his blood pressure go to nothing as the doctors and nurses came running into the room. I kept yelling his name, telling him to stay with me, hold on, hold on.

It was awful. I saw the life drain from his body leaving a crumpled shell.

Someone said, “Get the suction.”

I watched the nurse go for the device and then turn, holding it up, saying, “It’s not working.”

I was praying like you wouldn’t believe. Talk about powerless.

The next thing I knew, he was coming back. I couldn’t see how they cleared his throat, (they were surrounding his bed), but he could breathe again—albeit weakly.

How fragile, dear and helpless he looked. I held onto his hand until I saw he was stabilized. Pretty soon everyone left, except for the ICU nurse.

All was quiet and dark again and I sat down in the chair.

But I had an odd feeling from time to time. A kind of sixth sense. So all night long, I’d get up off the chair, stand next to his bed and take his hand. He’d open his eyes and I’d say, “What’s happening?” and we’d talk a bit. Rather, I’d talk and he’d smile and say a little something.

I wanted to make sure he was still there with me, that he was okay, that the pain meds weren’t taking him away or slowly shutting down his breathing, which they can unpredictably do.

I remember softly singing “The Gypsy Rover” to him. I’d been listening to The Greatest Hits of The Highwaymen that December. My brother and I used to sing songs like those in grade school talent shows, he with his guitar and me beside him harmonizing. He smiled to remember.

When at last morning came, I had an overwhelming sense my brother was going to be alright. The danger was past.

I came home around ten a.m. after his son, my nephew, arrived. I stood in the kitchen and told Jack what had happened in the ICU. And while I was telling him, the most marvelous thing happened.

I started shaking. I was naturally releasing the emotional energy of the night before.

I felt like I’d come a long way in the healing of my PTSD to finally, in a timely fashion (not thirty or forty years later), feel safe enough in my body-mind to shake out trauma or stress energy close to the event that inspired it.

***

About a month ago, my brother called and asked me about that night. He’d started having fragmented, hazy memories emerge. He remembered he kept feeling like he was drowning. And every time it happened, every time he thought he was going under for good, he felt my hand grab onto his and pull him back up out of the depths.

That made me feel great. I did something good.

Not to mention I trusted my instincts and they were on target.

I spent so much of my life alone, not doing anything for anyone else, just trying to survive. I didn’t have children. I didn’t have a network of friends. With the exception of the five years I took narcotics, I mostly spent my life working and my weekends alone, trying to rest enough to get through another week.

I hope I have the opportunity to do more good in the world now that I’m so much better, now that my body-mind knows that, essentially, I’m safe.

PTSD: The Long and Winding Road

I’ve felt so tired lately, and for good reason. In addition to unpredictable trouble sleeping, IBS-related stomach discomfort, the hangovers of cortisol flooding (after fight-or-flight triggers), and hypervigilance, there have been major health crises in my primary family since last September. I won’t go into all the tedious details, but these events included three life-threatening operations with complications and attendant caretaking.

And then, my dear husband, Jack, and I decided a couple months ago to relocate from Chicago to Arizona at the end of this summer.

We are super excited to move, but because of my husband’s heart condition and other health issues (he’s decades older than me), I’m doing a significant portion of the preparatory work (packing, scouting for homes, streamlining finances, finding homes for our planties and the furniture we won’t need, researching and interviewing movers, etc.).

Doing all this suits me fine really. I like to organize. Also, as an adult child of an alcoholic, one of the roles I unconsciously took on long ago was “caretaker” and it’s still second nature to watch over others and manage complex situations, especially emergencies. (I think a lot of us PTSD’ers are great in emergencies when, at last, our insides match our outsides!)

So originally, I was going to write a blog solely focused on the issue of PTSD and fatigue.

But then I thought about where I was at when I got off the meds three and a half years ago, (and was shocked to discover myself riddled with all the symptoms I’d had twenty-five years before, pre-meds) and instead decided to contemplate how far I’ve come.

(I write in detail about this in my book Frozen in Time: Adventures in Releasing Buried Energy and all I did to alleviate or get rid of PTSD symptoms.)

I wouldn’t have been able to take care of my beloved uncle, brother and husband during their health crises or even go alone on a scouting expedition to Arizona a couple weeks ago, if I hadn’t found ways of alleviating or getting rid of debilitating PTSD symptoms.

The most disabling symptom to reemerge off the meds was physical pain. First, it was in my feet, then my right gluteal muscle and lower back, then it spread in sciatica down the back of my left leg, then pain hit my neck. There was a time I couldn’t sit due to pain. I could only lie down, knees up, feet flat or stand, leaning on one leg. And then there was this incredible, indescribable pain in my solar plexus, unrelated to my digestive cycle.

I was so sure I was dying, so positive, not just from the mystery pain (the doctors could not definitively find anything organically wrong with me), but from the surging energy that woke me, speeding up and down my arms like mice running as fast as they could from my biceps to my hands, the terrifying overwhelming nausea that would bring me to my knees and had no relation to stomach acidity, and the feeling of imminent physical collapse that would strike out of nowhere.

I began reading books on PTSD like crazy. (I list a lot of them in my blog post on Recommended Books on Healing.)

I discovered Peter Levine and Somatic Therapy and came to understand all about trauma energy–the original trauma energy mobilized to deal with the threat of annihilation or equivalent that essentially froze in my system when I couldn’t fight or run or later shake out and release, which is the body’s natural response after trauma and would have rebalanced my system and prevented PTSD symptoms.

I realized that for decades I’d also buried most strong emotions that my survival brain, meds, and later narcotics, were unable to block. I can only remember crying a few times between my twenties and fifties. (On occasion, I did feel overwhelming anger and rage beginning in my early-twenties, and released it, most successfully, through work-outs.)

I had so much inside of me that needed to come out and until I found ways to release it all, I was apparently going to feel it as manifested in physical pain, nausea, near-faints, and feelings of bizarre energy manically buzzing through my body.

I discovered all this talk about buried energy and pain was true one morning, when my feet woke me with burning pain. I went into the bathroom to give my poor little feeties a sea salt soak. I put my earbuds on and began listening to a new sixties playlist I’d created, and suddenly began sobbing like a baby. I couldn’t believe how much I was crying–and without any idea what exactly I was crying about. When I was done, to my surprise and delight, I realized my feet didn’t hurt anymore. And I hadn’t put them in the sea salt bath!

I think the Other Side gave me the paradigm for my future healing that morning. I had to begin releasing the sadness–the feelings of anguish, abandonment, loneliness, and grief from my childhood, and in response to the sad waste of numb and despairing decades alone that followed.

In the last three and a half years, some of the things I did to release that old buried trauma and emotional energy included Somatic Therapy, soul retrieval with a shaman, Trauma Releasing Exercises, mindful meditation, and sessions with an energy healer and chiropractor.

And I cried.

I cried me a river day after day after day. Then one day, all the physical pain was gone, all the nausea, near faints and bizarre buzzing energy were gone, and the sadness became very faint.

And man, it was just in time! As soon as I got rid of all those symptoms, the family emergencies hit the fan. And, of course, we made our decision to move cross-country.

So I am tired. There’s no doubt about it. I still have sleep issues, but they’re better. I usually sleep every night now. I am frequently hypervigilant, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. And although I have digestive-related discomfort, that seems to be improving rapidly, too.

Today I feel so grateful for how far I’ve come. I like this new feeling of hope for the future.

Hooray!!

 

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.

***

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.

 

PTSD and Stress and Cortisol, Oh My!

I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress lately. Not life-or-death stress or flashbacks, thank God, but relocating-across-the-country stress.

Fundamentally, everything is going well. The third bid by a mover came in nearly 25% less than the other two, and all three had equal qualifications so that made for an easy choice. (Just FYI, if you ever get bids from movers, know that they will meet the lowest bidder’s bid to get your business.)

Anyhoo, a few days ago, I tried to apply a United Airlines credit towards our August flight to Phoenix. I won’t go into all the tedious details, but suffice it to say I was on the phone with Customer Care an hour and a half, was disconnected twice, given incorrect or contradictory information multiple times, and at the end, somehow came away without any tickets. It was like The Twilight Zone.

Later that night, I went into my American Express account and saw United had charged me $200 four times and $1 four times. And I had no tickets!! When I called Customer Care again, they couldn’t find me in the system and denied this ever happened.

Talk about denial of reality! I was looking at the charges online.

Oh. My. God.

You’d think a tiger bounded into my room the way I instantly flooded with stress hormones. My heart pounded like crazy. I was covered in sweat inside a minute.

I immediately called American Express, told them the charges were not legitimate, and requested a new card. I don’t know what the heck was wrong with the personnel I spoke with at United, but I sure wasn’t going to take any chances in case a scammer was in their midst.

Man, did I wake up feeling awful the next day.

Cortisol is one of the stress hormones which flood in a fight-or-flight response. Too much cortisol leaves a person feeling hung-over–wired and tired. It makes a person’s system acidic, too, which means less oxygen coursing through the body.

Over the years, I’ve discovered a couple quick remedies to help get rid of inflammation.

One is baking soda and water. I drink a quarter-teaspoon with water 3X a day.

I also make a high-alkaline drink made of the juice of one lemon (lemons are acidic until they hit your metabolism, where they are rendered alkaline), three tablespoons apple cider vinegar (only apple cider vinegar, this, too, metabolizes as alkaline), two teaspoons of maple syrup and 8 oz. water. Mix well and down the hatch!! Not only will this make you feel good quickly, your skin will turn luminous and your hair shiny.

I’ve seen tears referred to as “acid dumps” because of the amount of cortisol they contain. That’s another good reason to cry.

Meditation, Trauma Releasing Exercises and work-outs are great for relieving my stress, but I like to do nutritional things, too. When my body feels good, my mind follows.

I ended up charging my United tickets online with my Visa (without applying the credit.) I sure wasn’t going to call Customer Care back a fourth time (I supposedly spoke with a supervisor the last time, but he was so impolite and plain wrong about their credit policy, I don’t believe it was the supervisor). I wrote the head of Customer Care telling him what happened. I hope he writes back and provides some kind of solution so I don’t lose that $400-plus credit come September. (You can only use a United Airlines credit within a year of purchase.) I haven’t heard anything back yet.

It would be great if I wouldn’t unpredictably freak out over stuff, but I haven’t perfected my Serenity Now! ability. (Remember that on Seinfeld?)

In the meantime, I’ll continue with my daily deep-breathing sessions, TRE, meditation and anti-inflammatory drinks.

Cheers!

PTSD Frozen in Time

Among My Souvenirs: Drugs, Nervous Breakdowns and Miss Bunny

I’ve been going through closets and boxes and throwing out stuff in anticipation of our move out west.

I am so excited!! Mountains!! Wide open spaces!! Billions of stars visible at night!! (I can only see one from our downtown Chicago high-rise.) Peace and quiet!! Sunny over 300 days a year!!! No more snow!! Close to Sedona and other areas loaded with positive energy and healers galore!!! No more sirens night and day (we’re one block from a big hospital). No more construction noise. (They built five high-rise buildings around ours in the last six years.) No more crazy traffic!! And all this at half the rent we’re paying now!!

I read a decluttering article where the author said, “If you aren’t sure you want to keep something, bring it up to your heart and ask, ‘Does this bring me joy? If not, toss.’”

I think that’s a good rule of thumb, but I am keeping some things that don’t necessarily bring me joy, but are important or dear to me for other reasons.

For example, I found some cartoons I drew in the 90’s and I love them because they remind me of how far I’ve come and that’s such a good feeling.

At that time, I was working sixty-hour weeks in a high-pressure, deadline-driven job. I’d look so forward to the weekends. I always had the feeling that if I could just get enough quality sleep and relaxation, I’d feel better again. But I never did. I usually felt either numb or in despair. It was an empty, sad, isolated life without meaningful relationships or any sense of wellbeing.

For a couple years, I did enjoy synthetic well-being with narcotics, but then my tolerance became too great and no amount of drugs made any difference. I just took them so I wouldn’t get sick.

Getting off them was the beginning of healing, but it sure wasn’t a smooth, easy road.

About four years into my sobriety, I had a nervous breakdown. I wrote about it in my short-read Startle: A True Story of PTSD and the Paranormal. One reason I fell apart was because my PTSD meds stopped working and I couldn’t sleep much anymore. I shudder to remember what I went through. But the good news is, not only did I get through it, but that’s when Jack came into my life. Hooray!!

When I got off the PTSD meds three and a half years ago, all the physical pain I knew in my twenties came back.

But now, thank God, all that’s gone, too.

When I look at this picture below, I think, Poor Miss Bunny. She had such a sad life and didn’t know why or have a clue as to how to fix it. So much more pain was on the way. If I could go back through time, I’d give her a big hug and tell her someday, she’ll understand exactly what happened to her when she was little and why she became the bunny she did.

And then I’d tell her if she only holds on, one day, when she least expects it, she’ll find love and eventually move far, far away to a beautiful land with mountains and horses and billions of stars in the sky each night.

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