Did Your Life Turn Out the Way You Dreamed it Would?

Jack got a three-lead pacemaker implanted two weeks ago. During surgery, I sat in a waiting room a chair away from a hospital volunteer. She was a beautiful woman in her late 60’s, a New York transplant, and a great listener. I talked and talked as if I was on Concerta. Nerves, I guess.

I don’t know why, but I desperately wanted to ask her if her life had turned out the way she dreamed it would once upon a time. Before I could ask, the surgeon came in to see me and the volunteer left.

I never had the urge to ask anyone that question. I suppose it’s because in the past few months I’ve had a lot of moments, during trauma release exercises, when I’ve felt bad that my life turned out the way it did. It seemed such a waste. So much numbness, despair and pain. So little happiness.

I remember wanting to be a writer after reading Charlotte’s Web. I wrote a lot of stories, but wasn’t obsessed with writing. I wanted adventures out in the world! I played outside a lot with my cousins who lived in the same apartment building. I loved to run and ride my bike and go to the library and school and the penny-candy store and church. I was in love with life. Everything was exciting or wonderful or a thrilling mystery. I was filled with love and thought life would always be as wonderful as it was then.

From nine to thirteen, during the trauma years, I was frequently sick with strep throat and spent a lot of that time watching old black and white movies in bed. How wonderful to play a part, to be another person, how freeing. And to be applauded and admired for it? That was for me! I dreamed of going to New York someday and becoming an actress.

In high school, I had symptoms of PTSD. In the early 70’s, I certainly didn’t know that’s what they were. The biggies were hyperarousal, insomnia, exaggerated startle reflex, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and hyper-vigilance. When I was 16, numbness, depersonalization, and the sense of a foreshortened future set in.

I remember sitting in my boyfriend’s basement “rec-room” with my friends. We were drinking and listening to music. One by one, each was saying what they planned to be in life and where they saw themselves at thirty. When it got to me, I said from habit I’d be an actress, but the truth was I didn’t sense any future at all. It was like an invisible wall, infinitely thick and immutable, stood one inch from my face all the time, a barrier forever in place between me and any possible future. Of course, I acted as though I had a future, but I didn’t feel I had one and so didn’t much plan for one. It was kind of like I was dead in a way. I didn’t know what to make of the feeling. I assumed it would go away.

This last year, (I’m sixty now), I’ve felt bad sometimes because my life seemed a waste due to decades of untreated PTSD, particularly numbness punctuated with episodes of rage and despair. I had no interest in hanging out with other people when I felt numb, angry or depressed, so it was a life lived mostly alone, avoiding all triggers.

My life might be interpreted as “successful” on paper. I looked good. I was socially adept. I did well in my career, once I got one going (mid-30’s). I accomplished certain things artistically that some might consider noteworthy. I even became an actress (in my twenties), but my unpredictable symptoms of numbness, depersonalization and derealization undermined my ability to act and thus any sustained success and enjoyment it might have given me. I gave it up.

In a way, my dreams did come true insofar as I became a writer, albeit a business writer, and an actress, however briefly.

Long ago I imagined those dreams would bring me happiness. They didn’t. Neither did any accolades I received or money or beautiful living arrangements. Nothing broke through the numbness, the dissociation. Not for long anyway.

How can you feel happy when you can’t feel? When you can’t feel, how can you love?

I wish I could’ve somehow transcended PTSD, but that was impossible. It’s nature’s response to unreleased trauma energy.

Jack’s heart was attacked by a virus. Congestive heart failure was his body’s response. He certainly can’t transcend it, although he can take steps to get well.

He feels bad sometimes because he feels he isn’t good company anymore. He can’t help it that he has congestive heart failure. He can’t help that he’s exhausted most of the time. It’s not his fault. I feel compassion for him.

Having PTSD wasn’t my fault either. It’s worthy of the same compassion.

The best thing I can do for the little girl I once was is to do everything I can to create a life of well-being now. Feeling whatever is inside is essential. In fact, the only adult happiness I’ve known began when my meds stopped working at forty-nine. (See my book PTSD: Frozen in Time .) Sometimes it is painful to feel and release sadness and anger, but the payoff is joy and happiness. In the end, that’s all my little-girl selves wanted.

I’ve wasted enough of my life looking back with regret, imagining how it all could’ve turned out so differently, so much better, if only this person hadn’t done that, if only I hadn’t done this. No matter how many times I check in with the past, it’s always the same.

I personally feel I agreed before I came into this incarnation to grapple with these issues this time around. I don’t think I knew the details, just the issues. However it came to be, I’m putting in a stop-order on regrets for the dream life of happiness I didn’t have.

Enough is enough. Time for compassion, tears and joy.

 

PTSD and the Rain

It’s a cold, windy, rainy night here in Arizona. I go out onto the covered patio often because I love to hear the sound of the rain. I love the smell in the air. I love to feel the cool mist and feel the breeze on my skin and see the glistening light on the trees.

I don’t know what the architects were thinking when they designed the Chicago high-rise we used to live in. It was as if they forgot the windows and at the last minute added tiny two-inch openings at the bottoms of each, which allowed very little air through. I couldn’t hear the rain at all and if I went downstairs on the deck to watch it, I’d have to run half a block to the cabanas for shelter.

I’m so grateful to be out here and have Jack recuperating in what is normally gorgeous weather. I shudder at the thought of us back in downtown Chicago, boxed in by high-rises, unable to take leisurely walks over the wintry, rushing, crowded sidewalks, and navigating icy cement every time we’d go to see a doctor.

But I LOVED it for many years. It’s a great place when you’re young.

Jack, by the way, gets better and better. We go outside for walks every day. He’s off the rolling-cart and today walked without a cane. I know his echocardiogram will show improvement next month. He had a vivid dream with two angel mechanics restoring the left side of his heart!

As for me, surprise: I still have PTSD! But I feel I’ve healed so much with all I’ve done to release the trauma energy (described at length in my book: PTSD: Frozen in Time.)

My symptoms are much better. I sleep every night, for one. That’s huge.

But I still unconsciously bury feelings. The good thing is I’m aware of it now versus decades of being completely oblivious to what went on inside me.

When Jack asks me how I am in the morning and I say, “I don’t know. I can’t feel anything”, that always means I’m blocking something. Lately, it’s been frustration and anger. Understandable with the stress of the last few months when I didn’t know if Jack would live or die. With me as the sole caretaker, I felt a lot of pressure.

The fastest fix for me is doing Trauma Releasing Exercises, which literally always brings up tears. It’s vital I do this daily because if I go a few days without letting out what’s inside, I can go from calm to rage in an instant over something trivial. I catch it fast and apologize immediately, but then comes the remorse. It’s like I lose my mind for a few seconds. I hate when I do that.

Working out helps, too, but lately taking care of Jack, plus shopping and outside errands, my days are pretty full. I’d love to get back to work-outs again. And meditation.

I’ve been reading an interesting book called Stumbling Down the Shamanic Path by Michele Burdet. It’s a well-written, sometimes fascinating, memoir of, well, stumbling into shamanism. She starts out with meditation and had such fabulous results, it’s re-inspired me to get back into it. She also writes a lot about traveling internationally, dowsing and climbing mountains. I’m at the point where she (at the age of 70-something!) was climbing the Alps, (which she had been doing for years,) slipped and began sliding to the edge of a cliff and certain death when a companion grabbed the strap of her backpack and saved her. Once pulled to safety, she felt a “towering rage”, but in ten minutes, was back climbing the mountain feeling fine. Shortly thereafter, she’s in America visiting a friend on the East Coast when she wakes up feeling utterly depressed. This is so uncharacteristic of her. She’s a dynamo, always on the go, in great physical shape, filled with enthusiasm, passion and fire.

My first thought was she didn’t release the trauma energy when she nearly died. She felt the towering rage and the flood of stress hormones afterwards, but they were almost immediately buried.

In recent years, she’d discovered Sedona, Arizona and met a shaman there who performed soul retrieval on her. I suspect a bit of her soul slipped out on the Alps. Maybe the shaman will help her or maybe what was pressed down (depressed) in her comes out. We’ll see what happens.

I began reading an interesting book about PTSD a couple weeks ago. It was called The Evil Hours by David J. Morris. I didn’t get very far, just read the Kindle sample, but he mentioned how PTSD people talk about the before and after of trauma, how the quality and experience of life is never the same again.

How true that was for me.

When I remember my earliest years, it’s as if I looked at the world with something of the eyes I had in heaven, before I came into this life. Everything was beautiful to me, the sublime and the prosaic—unforgettably gorgeous. I was in love with life, thrilled to see a grasshopper, a seedling struggling out of the earth in spring, to run down the block, jump fences, eat a Popsicle. I loved the trees and bushes and flowers, the rain and snow, the clouds and sun. I loved the ice cold water out of the city fountain across the street, the side of our building where my cousin and I were digging a hole to China. I loved the library and music and paper and pens and our apartment and the church and every building on our street. Sunsets stopped me in my tracks. I felt God in the stars at night. I loved books and school, my family, my aunts and uncles and cousins. So many times, I’d lay on my bed with my arms behind my head and think I was the luckiest girl in the world. I was so happy. The world was beautiful. I was in love with life.

And then, of course, it all changed with trauma and I never again saw the world as I once did.

Though we moved to a beautiful home with a backyard full of cottonwood trees and rose bushes and all kinds of extraordinary foliage, I didn’t feel safe enough to relax and absorb it. I didn’t stop to look at the night sky. There was no space and time for reverie or dreaming. I was focused only on survival and all that entailed. When it was all over, it was as if I didn’t have the means of experiencing life anymore. I was so far removed. That little girl I once was had gone so far inside of me, she was a infinitesimal speck.

But when I was forty-nine and the meds stopped working, I began to feel again. And though it was often terribly painful and I cried almost every day for years, I also began to feel joy, and safe enough to relax and see and experience life a little like I did long ago.

Think I’ll go back outside and see what the rain is doing.

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: 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!!