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 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?

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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.

 

Ode to the Cotton Bug

Ode to the Cotton Bug

 

Hello little cotton bug.

You look so sad and slow crawling on my kitchen floor tile.

Why don’t you run when you see me tower over you?

Do you not value your life?

Or is it because you are in despair and are past caring?

How long in cotton-bug years have you searched for the cotton fields, which once filled this land?

Ten cotton-bug years?

Twenty? A hundred?

Now the cotton fields are gone, replaced—at least in my vicinity—by an apartment complex.

Your paradise is lost.

At least in this dimension.

And yet, you are valued by one you do not know.

The lady in the management office asked that I not squash you with my shoe, but gently sweep you out the door instead.

Oh cotton bug, I am not so generous as she.

Do not come here. Stay in the wild. Close your eyes in the fresh earth, remember all time is now and return to your golden vista.

Or come inside and die.

 

I am very tired and still recuperating from caretaking Jack and the sort-of mental decimation I went through after his death. It’s like my I.Q. exploded into bits and half were blasted billions of miles into the universe. Day by day, one or two return. At least, I think they’re mine.

Grief wakes me in the night in the form of stomach pain, which is a drag. It goes away when I cry. I have to release buried energy or I’m in trouble. It’s interesting to me that even in sleep, sadness has a life of its own. Certainly my buried trauma energy didn’t go anywhere until I released it decades later.

I’m so tired, I’m not even going to advertise any of my books here! Now that’s tired.

S’long for now.

 

PTSD and Feeling Paralyzed

I was diagnosed with PTSD in my 20’s and immediately put on medication. At the time, I was like, Great, man, fine, whatever you want to call it, just give me something to make me feel better.

I didn’t know anything about PTSD, what caused it, the symptoms, and so on. I was just in a zombie state, numb or in despair, unable to sleep more than an hour or two a night, unable to keep a job very long. I was barely surviving.

There was no internet back then. Even if there were, I don’t know if I would have done that much research. I was in too bad a shape. You may know what that state of affliction feels like.

The meds helped insofar as I could sleep again. Sleeping regularly, I got my physical health back and, therefore, could keep a job much easier. (More on my story in PTSD: Frozen in Time.)

For about twenty years after diagnosis, I continued to live mostly in the dark as far as understanding PTSD.

Although I was socially adept at work and developed a successful career, I became increasingly isolated outside of the office.

When I was home in my apartment on weekends, I’d go from feeling fluid, self-assured, smart, and successfully independent on Friday evenings to feeling a complete failure at every level on Sunday nights–curled up on my couch feeling afraid, demoralized, physically cold (despite environmental warmth), almost paralyzed (despite athleticism), and in despair.

I did not understand this weekend-metamorphosis and shoved it out of my head the rest of the week.

Sometime in my 30’s, I read The Courage to Heal by Ellen Bass and Laura Davis. (Subtitle: A Guide for Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse).

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that my childhood trauma was not sexual abuse, but I had so many of the same survivor symptoms that the book spoke to me, especially on the issue of boundaries.

It’s been many years since I read that wonderful book, so please forgive my inexact and dusty paraphrasing of what I recall. If memory serves, the authors suggest something to the effect that adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse sometimes don’t realize—at an unconscious, visceral level—that their bodies are their own now, under their power and control alone, and no one can touch them unless they say so.

They may understand this intellectually, but physically moving gets the message to the survival brain and calms the body down.

I remember them saying it might be helpful when a person is having trauma symptoms to pull their bodies back into the present moment by punching out or kicking out or somehow through movement letting their body/minds know there is no one in their personal space now. The adult survivor is physically free, they can move in whatever direction they want to go, no one is going to stop them. No one can come into their space unless they allow them (barring unthinkable scenarios).

This was an epiphany to me at the time. A real paradigm shift. It was the first book I read that related to what I was going through, years before I read a ton of books on PTSD (beginning with Peter Levine’s Waking the Tiger.)

I thought of this recently because, since my husband’s death, I have experienced periods of feeling frozen again–tiny, powerless and paralyzed with fear.

But I’m not little anymore or powerless or frozen. It’s just a feeling, albeit an unpleasant one.

So…this morning I got out of bed (just physically moving sometimes rids me of the frozen, tiny feeling, although a workout or walk is more satisfying), had my berries, and started planning a brief road trip.

I’m going to drive up north to the town where my uncle and cousin live and check out apartments. Although the area I live in is beautiful, it’s shot through with the sadness of Jack’s illness, multiple hospitalizations and passing. Plus, I know almost no one here.

Also, the area up north is the closest to an “old neighborhood” for me after Chicago. I visited my dad and uncle there for over twenty years.

I hope you are having a day filled with moments of wellbeing and that you will hear a song or some music today that heals your heart.

Felt Frozen This Morning

I haven’t written for a while because my husband’s congestive heart failure and kidney disease got worse, and he died two weeks ago.

I feel lousy.

I feel sad almost all the time. I sob periodically.

I’m mad sometimes. Not at anyone in particular, just mad–like a crazy, inarticulate I-hate-the-world feeling the kind a little kid would have.

I miss Jack so bad, I don’t have words to do justice to the feeling.

Woke up this morning with that frozen feeling, a sort of an inner paralysis. I felt tiny, too, which goes back to old childhood trauma.

I am familiar with that feeling.

I’m glad I went through so much releasing of trauma energy years ago because now I read my body pretty well (after decades of physical numbness when I didn’t have a clue), but I’m still learning.

Like last night, I had the worst back pain ever for no physical reason. I did sleep on the living-room couch for months across from my husband, who had to sit up to sleep (due to fluid in chest/lung area), and I slept in a cot in his room when he was hospitalized, but I never had back pain from these things.

Years ago, when I was fired from a job in my late twenties, I had almost immediate back pain that no physical repositioning or drugs could alleviate. It went away with time and new interests, (although I did start a life-long practice of crunches to strengthen my lower back.)

Through the years, the lower back pain returned and I came to associate it with a sudden withdrawal of support. Certainly, my losing Jack qualifies.

I wondered how long I’d have to put up with the excruciating back pain. I can’t afford a chiropractor at the moment.

As for pain pills. Forget it. (See my book: PTSD: Frozen in Time)

Then I started crying for about twenty minutes.

My back pain went away.

A couple hours later, I got that TMJ feeling in my jaw.

Man, I hate that pain. Hadn’t had it for decades, not since I was in my early 30’s and feeling so much unexpressed rage about my childhood. I worked out a lot of that over the years, especially with punching bags and hitting (smashing) tennis balls as hard as I could across from a ball-machine. I gave away the big kickbox-type punching-thing when we moved from Chicago to Arizona. It’s too hot to play tennis in AZ at the moment. Plus, I’d need a ball-machine.

Around midnight, I started crying again. When I finished, my jaw pain was gone.

I’m so lucky I can release the physical pain with crying. I hate it, but imagine the alternative.

So anyway, when I woke up feeling that old paralysis this morning, that little girl freeze of fear, I knew I had to make a move.

Some move.

Any move.

I started this blog entry.

Cried.

Then I called and left a message for my brother.

Cried.

Then I called the Pension Board and Mutual Aid Board.

I’m going to take a shower when I’m done writing this, and take a walk plus do sprints. (Only in the low 90’s at the moment!) I don’t feel like it, but I know I’ll feel better.

I hope to see my Scarlet Tanager friend. He reminds me of a cat I had once. I’d be reading in my apartment, lost in a book for a couple hours, paying no attention to Kitty. She’d do something to get my attention, run quickly, madly, from one corner of the studio to the other several times, and then stop and lick a paw as if nothing happened. When I’d say, “What’s going on Kitty?” She’d look so disinterested, as if to say, “What’s that? I have no idea why you think something is going on. I’m just minding my own business here.”

The Scarlet Tanager does something like this when I start walking. He’ll come out of nowhere, race ahead and stop at a bench or tree branch a few feet ahead of me. I’ll stop, in real awe and wonder, and say, “Hi beautiful Scarlet Tanager. What’s going on?” He’ll turn his head this way and that, as if to say, “What’s that? I have no idea why you think something’s going on. I’m just minding my own business here.”

I will bring him a strawberry today. I read they like strawberries.

 

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.