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.

 

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Easy to Be Hard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wasn’t.

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m sad. I miss him.

But I’m on an even keel.

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

 

PTSD and the Shattering of Identity

I’ve been going through everything to toss or donate or pack in preparation for a move up north in a few weeks.

Tonight, I flipped through a few of my favorite books, including a volume by Edward St. Aubyn: The Philip Melrose Novels. The subject is difficult (sexual abuse in childhood and how it plays out over the years), but the writing is incredible.

On the back blank endpaper, I’d written a quote. (I didn’t underline it on the actual page, so forgive me if it’s really a paraphrase.)

“Personal identity is dependent on the continuity of memory.”

A few minutes later, I looked through Invisible Heroes by Belleruth Naparstek (a must-read for those with PTSD) and came across:

“Trauma disrupts internal continuity, interferes with coherence, and at least temporarily shatters identity. And when that’s gone, nothing is right.” 

Then I picked up Soul Retrieval by Sandra Ingerman. She writes about how parts of your soul can take off when trauma gets too intense. You survive, but you’re a little less than you were each time. You’re not your whole self anymore, you don’t feel like your old self. Theoretically, a shaman can retrieve those parts and bring them back through your chakra.

I remember years ago, after reading those books, saying to Jack, “Maybe that explains why I don’t identity with photos of myself throughout childhood and even afterwards. It’s always been as if they’re photos of someone else. Maybe that’s why I’ve always felt alien to my own history. It explains the effect on me of the blanks, the disconnects, why I’ve rarely felt whole.”

[In case I had soul parts out there somewhere, I did go to a shaman to have them returned. (I wrote about it in my book (PTSD: Frozen in Time).]

So many books helped me understand the consequences of childhood trauma and suggested non-traditional ways of healing that worked for me. (Twenty-five years of talking to therapists and psychiatrists and taking meds kept me alive, but not much more—so I was open to non-traditional ways).

***

It’s Saturday night and I’m awfully tired. My eyes don’t hurt so much as they did the first couple weeks after Jack died. My attention span remains limited. I still have trouble focusing on movies or books, but this morning I was able to watch Avatar all the way through. It was pretty cool. (I loved the references to energy.)

And I can write (although I have to use a big font in my drafts). Progress. Yay!

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.

Almost Felt Normal Today

It’s about 6 p.m. in Tucson at the moment. I’d like to take a nap, but don’t want to. I don’t want to wake and remember Jack is gone. So here I am writing a quick blog.

I know I have a good cry coming up. I’ve probably said this literally a hundred times to Jack, but why stop now? I hate crying.

Who does, right? It’s just that with my history, I’ve had to do a lot of it in the last four and a half years.

Oh well…as I wrote in my book (PTSD: Frozen in Time), I didn’t cry for decades so….it’s just that sometimes it feels like throwing up and that’s no fun.

I had a good break for a while, though. A really nice break. My emotional well-being was pretty beautiful. I evened out. But as would be expected after Jack’s death, I’m feeling pretty sad.

***

This morning, I got up early, had breakfast, exercised and went to a support group meeting.

It was great. It got me out of the house and out of my head, gave me perspective, and pushed my consciousness aside enough to hear what’s going on in other people’s lives.

I burst into tears twice. Once in compassion for another and once when I shared the sadness I was feeling.

I was talking with this one woman. She didn’t understand why she’s been feeling so angry lately and why she’s crying all the time and it’s been five years since her (violent, sexual) trauma and she doesn’t want to talk about it anymore and she feels like she’s going nuts and, after “getting past” childhood trauma years ago, why is this one so hard to kick and “Where is God in all this?”

Oh man, what can you say?

Sometimes a person needs to just get it out. Most of the time, I’m not asking to be fixed, just listened to with compassion and understanding.

Besides me, two other women came up and briefly shared their experience and she really bonded with one who had literally the exact same trauma situation happen to her (although by a different perpetrator).

What a mystery life is.

***

After grocery shopping, I got in the car, turned on the radio and heard an old song, “A Summer Song” by Chad and Jeremy. I burst into tears. It wasn’t even one of our songs. I won’t play our songs at the moment.

“A Summer Song” was actually before my time. I was seven or eight when that came out, but we had the forty-five when I was little. I always thought it was pretty and soft and gentle. It sounded kind and loving and that’s what Jack was. Kind, loving, and gentle. (But also a tough fire fighter from the south side of Chicago!)

***

Well, that’s all for now. I’ve got a good cry on my schedule, then dinner and hopefully I’ll find a classic movie to watch before an early bedtime.

Last night, I watched “The Quiet Man”. It was wonderful. Maybe I’ll do “Casablanca” tonight. I haven’t watched it for six months.

You know the line, “We’ll always have Paris.”?

Well, I’ve never been to Europe, but for the fifteen years before I met Jack, I dreamt the most frustrating dream several nights a week. I kept trying to get to Paris and I never could get there. There was always some issue with the plane.

The night before I moved in with Jack, I had the happiest dream of my life even though it lasted but a moment.

In the dream, I stood in the sunlight on a beautiful, cobblestone street in Paris.

I’d finally made it.