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, Caretaking and Acceptance

In 1978, I took care of my mother when she had cancer. I was twenty-two. I didn’t know I had PTSD back then. They actually hadn’t come up with the term yet.

My feelings were buried in those days and that was normal for me. So were being hyper-vigilant and suffering from insomnia.

I do remember being puzzled one night in 1979, when I realized I’d lost any sense of a future. It was a bizarre visceral sense, as if a huge, thick, immovable wall had somehow come up inches from my face where before my future lay open. This, I’ve come to know, is what they call “a sense of a foreshortened future”.

I also had an exaggerated startle response, which embarrassed me, and woke every night at two in the morning unable to breathe. I thought it had something to do with smoking. I didn’t know you could have panic attacks in your sleep.

During the day, I was the personification of “normal”. I was cheerful and energetic and ever-helpful, until I burned out and became sick right before my mom died.

It took about six months after she died before I regained any wellbeing. The hardest part was feeling guilty for burning-out. I didn’t know then I could’ve asked for help. I didn’t know I could’ve said “I’m so tired, I need someone to help me here” or “I need a time-out, some kind of break, to rejuvenate.”

I just kept going like a machine until I wore out.

So here I am, almost forty years later, taking care of my dear husband, Jack, who has Congestive Heart Failure and Kidney Disease. Since we moved to Arizona in August, he’s been hospitalized six times.

The experience of caretaking is different now compared to when I was twenty-two and frozen inside. One big difference is I feel my feelings now since going off the PTSD meds a few years ago (see my book: PTSD: Frozen in Time).

Sometimes the feelings are overwhelming.

And when I say overwhelming, I mean terrifying.

I am afraid of Jack suffering, of his being unable to breathe and going back to the hospital, of his kidneys giving out from the diuretics, of the possibility he’ll get a stroke, of my burning-out and getting sick and depressed.

Sometimes, I just feel scared. I wake up in the night able to breathe just fine, thank God, but I’m scared and can’t figure out specifically why. I calm down and the fear goes away when I say the following quote to myself. (It’s from the book Alcoholics Anonymous.)

“And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation—some fact of my life —unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens in God’s world by mistake. Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.”

When I was little, everyone in my family denied reality and I did, too, both involuntarily from the “freeze” of fight/flight/freeze/collapse and consciously, when overwhelming feelings came up in response to the insane behavior of those I lived with. My feelings were buried and I couldn’t release the trauma energy, which determined the quality of my life for decades to come (numbness, despair and occasional rage).

When I unconsciously fall back into burying feelings, which is essentially denying reality, fear blooms in my stomach like a sickness. But if I take a few minutes and detail the reality of what’s going on in the moment, and cry it out and/or talk it out and/or run it out—then I feel better, more grounded. I get my perspective back and I don’t feel scared anymore. I might feel concerned, but not scared like a powerless kid. I can come up with solutions.

Some people think acceptance is resignation. For me, it’s the first step to taking action.

So here I am, not clinically burned-out, but on the way there if I don’t take steps to prevent it. My biggest issues are hyperarousal, hyper-vigilance, hyper-focus on Jack 24/7 and feelings of isolation. I must get out of the house and out of my head several times a week to feel balanced. Thank goodness, I can go to support meetings and be reminded to accept the things I cannot change and change the things I can.

I need to come up with more ideas, though, because this is how I feel today: I’m so tired, I need someone to help me here and I need more time-out, some kind of break, to rejuvenate.

I’m not a machine anymore. I may have been treated like one once upon a time, but I never was.

Meet Anthie, My New Plantie

I heard a knock on our door last week and opened it to find our upstairs neighbor holding out a Spirit Anthurium. She was giving us a gift for no other reason than to be wonderful. God bless her. I looked down at Anthie and said, “Hello Anthie!” She was positively bursting with joy.

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I never had an anthurium before. I looked it up and they represent new beginnings and celebration. How perfect for us with Jack getting better (“Celebrate, celebrate, dance to the music”) and the beginning of our new life here in AZ.

We couldn’t bring any of our plants from Chicago. They would’ve died in the mover’s truck. It was hard for us to let them go, but we found them good homes. I’d done their portraits in colored pencil before we left and immediately hung them in our new place.

***

I read my first book by a shaman about eight years ago. He said plants (along with trees and stones and everything in nature) have spirits. Not only that, but he said the spirits of plants want to help us if only we’d ask. I’d never heard of this worldview, but it resonated.

Not long after, I was up in the wee hours buzzing with hypervigilance, buckling under from a bad tummy and buried-trauma-energy manifesting in pain every which way. I wandered from window to window in the dark of our high-rise apartment and finally stood in the kitchen where we had several plants on a ledge. I’d bought one of them at a grocery store a couple months before and it was not doing well. I repotted her, gave her fresh soil, misted daily, trimmed the dying parts, but she was fading fast. It was upsetting. She was clearly dying. I couldn’t think of anything more I could do to save her.

I remembered what the shaman said and, even though I felt a little foolish, kneeled down and whispered to her, “If you can heal, so can I.”

Within two days, that plant turned around. Her leaves turned dark green and she multiplied so fast I had to buy a larger planter. I couldn’t believe it. I also began to get better through various non-traditional means. (See PTSD: Frozen in Time.)

img_1315-2(Healing plantie third from right.)

***

When I got off the meds years ago, I was utterly discombobulated by incredible physical pain and energy shooting through my arms and legs every day. I meditated a lot, not just for stillness at the center, but for answers and help.

One day, I’d gone deep into a feeling of relaxed floating inside of a wave. Many times, when I was in that state, a sort of screenshot would open up in my head, startling me out of the trance mode. The screenshots were always helpful or epiphanic. So this day, I’d been in a kind of despair, needing comfort and assurance I wasn’t dying. (All my pain and bizarre symptoms made me feel like I was dying, even though the doctors could find nothing.) I floated in a deep relaxed blank when a screenshot slowly appeared. It was of the leaves of the first plant I’d ever gotten. They were around me in a gentle embrace. There was so much love. My eyes quickly opened. I was incredulous.

***

I read a book about plant spirits and the author suggested you invite the spirit of a plant to join you on a walk. Since they’re grounded all the time, they appreciate the opportunity to move. It was my habit at that time to dance to music in the living room when Jack went out. I walked over to Little Mama (see below), the plantie that held me in meditation, and invited her spirit to hop on mine and dance with me. I started the music and let loose. I was swinging around and doing my thing. I lifted my arms up and out and suddenly felt long tendrils reaching beyond my fingers into the air. I kept dancing, but I have to tell you, it freaked me out! It’s one thing to read this stuff, but when you experience non-ordinary reality happening, it really blows your mind. At least it did mine.

 

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My dancing partner, Little Mama.

***

A wonderful book called The Secret Lives of Plants details one scientific case study after another showing plants have some kind of consciousness. The more you bond with a plant, the more love you show it, the more it is connected to you. I love that stuff.

I’ve been getting back to meditating again now that Jack is better and free time is opening up. I laid me down the other day, thinking of Anthie and wishing my ability to meditate and blank my mind was better developed so I could communicate with her. I fell into one of my old-time deep floats and, lo and behold, I got a screen shot of her. She was sitting next to our dining table and beside her stood what I think was her spirit–a soft, misty, yellow energy emanating light in a sort of stalk-like shape.

***

I am glad my worldview changed ten years ago. I’d been cynical all my life after losing my faith in a loving, interventionist Supreme Being because of genocide, molestation and slavery, not to mention what felt like a complete lack of response to my prayers as a child.

It’s true there are horrible things that happen in the world and sometimes no one intervenes, or what interventions there are appear fruitless, at least temporarily. There are also wonderful, miraculous things that happen that give me a sense of awe and wonder. As I always say, it’s a great mystery

I want to take action, if I’m able, when bad things happen. I also want to focus on those phenomena that give me a sense of awe and wonder.

Welcome Anthie!

P.S. Check out the coolest blog with gorgeous pictures of the faces of flowers. Don’t they look like they’re smiling and posing? From My Garden – Patricia Grace

 

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.

His Heart Broke Open

Jack has had one health issue after another since we got out here to Arizona last August. The most recent hospitalization was four weeks ago when he got a blood clot in his leg. They performed surgery and he eventually went to rehab.

He was in tremendous pain at first (there were complications to his recovery) and sometimes he was in despair, but as time went by he got a little better, so much so that one day he was able to walk (on a rolling walker) to the small lunchroom where the other rehab patients had their meal.

A lovely nurse named Theresa took him that first day. They stood at the entrance of the room. She said with her beautiful Irish accent, “Where would you like to sit, Jack?”

Jack looked around the room and saw a great big bear of a man sitting alone at a table. He was in his late sixties, early seventies with white hair. He had his head down and he wasn’t eating.

Jack said, “I’d like to sit with him.”

Theresa took him over to the table and Jack sat down. He said, “Hi, my name is Jack.”

The big man didn’t look up. He mumbled low, “I’m Ray, but I don’t talk much.”

Jack said, “That’s no problem.”

Theresa started asking Jack questions about his life, what he’d done for a living and so on. Jack began talking and, after a little while, started telling funny stories. Pretty soon, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ray’s head shaking. He looked over and Ray, though he still had his head down, was laughing.

And that was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Ray grew up on an Indian Reservation in Arizona and became a physician’s assistant. He’d had brain surgery and was having trouble learning to walk again. The reason he was so down was because the only person he ever loved (besides his grandmother who brought him up) was his wife and she was in another hospital with a blood disorder. He didn’t know when he’d be able to see her again, or even if they’d ever be able to live together again.

After lunch, when Jack returned to his room, he told me this story and how Ray put his big mitt of a hand on his shoulder before he left and said how much Jack helped him that day.

When Jack told me this, he cried.

I cried, too, not just from the story but because Jack never cries.

Every day at lunch, Jack and Ray talked about their lives and connected. Ray told Jack stories from his youth–how his grandmother taught him to revere the spirit in everything: the trees, the earth, a stone, a bird, how, once upon a time, his hair was black and so long it fell to his waist.

Sometimes Ray wasn’t there and Jack would sit with another patient, Margaret, and he’d make her laugh, too. She told him that he was helping her with his positive attitude and funny stories.

When Jack told me that, he cried again.

Jack has cried every single day since that first day with Ray—for any number of reasons: when touched by a person or a story or a kindness.

He said he’s never felt so much love for others, whether strangers, friends or family, as he does now.

It’s the most amazing thing. He never cried before. Never talked about loving people. He was always so macho, so tough: a Chicago firefighter and Teamster from the South Side of Chicago.

And he still is macho and tough—but now, it’s as if his heart has broken open in the most magical, wonderful way.

I love that he cries and encourage him to continue letting it out whenever the tears well up. Not only does it cleanse the soul and release cortisol, but maybe, just maybe, it might help heal his Congestive Heart Failure—if by any chance one reason he has it is because he kept a lifetime of tears locked inside his heart.

I can’t believe such a wonderful thing came from such a long stretch of darkness and suffering.

Now that’s a real Christmas gift!!

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Be Like the Hummingbird

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Be Like the Hummingbird. Find a source of nectar and places to rest.

Meet one of the two hummingbirds who come throughout the day to feed in our little patio.

There’s a male and a female. After they drink their nectar, they have such royal posture as they sit on the Bird of Paradise outside our patio wall—as if surveying their kingdom–that I think of them as a prince and princess.

I read somewhere that because of their incredible metabolism, they have to rest 85% of the time.

I can identify, especially lately. Jack is hospitalized now for the fourth time—after getting a blood clot removed from his leg. He’s in rehab at the moment.

I am EXHAUSTED.

But—for the first time in my life—I have been asking for help. His daughter has been out to AZ twice, my sister-in-law came last week, my brother is coming next week, my cousins the week after. I put a request on our apartment complex site for a cleaning lady and people who would hang out in our den for a couple hours while I go for a run or to the store (paid sitting) when Jack is back and got a lot of responses.

I am trying to conserve energy. It’s so easy for people with PTSD to burn out. I’ve burned out twice in my life—at 22 after taking care of my mom before she died of cancer and at 49 due to years of workaholism. I bounced back pretty quickly at 22. Not so much at 49. Now I’m 60.

I do not want to risk it again.

I will conserve energy as much as I can like the hummingbird.

What is my nectar?

Driving to and from the hospital, I blast tunes—everything from Louis Armstrong to Santana to Tony Bennett to The Doors.

I’ve been eating pretty good. I drink my anti-inflammatory drink every day.

The last few days, I’ve been able to take a run by the mountains. Today an eagle soared above me and a hawk landed close by underneath a tree. Butterflies everywhere.

I’ve been reading some great books. (Just finished the fantastic Trials of this Earth by Mary Hamilton. Memoir: Part Dickens, Part Laura Ingalls Wilder, Part Mark Twain and all true.)

I cry whenever I can. That’s huge for me.

I do Trauma Release Exercises most every day.

But I am beat.

Interestingly, before all this happened, Jack had a dream. He saw himself changing vehicles while they were both moving. He said it was an awful dream–terrifying and painful. And sure enough, his body has changed and it’s been scary and painful.

What a mystery life is.

 

 

PTSD and Burnout, or What a Shiny Button Told Me

We were out here in AZ only a few weeks when I caught a bad cold. First in ten years. It wasn’t surprising though. I was exhausted after moving cross-country, buying a car, driving for the first time in thirty-five years, learning the roads of my new neighborhood, finding grocery stores, pharmacies, barbers, dry cleaners, doctors for Jack, etc.

Then our furniture arrived and all which that entailed: putting up forty pictures, stocking the fridge and cabinets, setting up the closets, etc.

I tend towards constant hypervigilance, but thanks to Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) and other PTSD energy release methods I wrote about in my book PTSD: Frozen in Time, I’ve been able to sleep pretty regularly—and that’s key for my mental health.

I always have one eye on Jack. He’s almost thirty years older than me and had aortic valve replacement surgery in December. He also has only half of one kidney working. So I’m always surreptitiously checking on his wellbeing, if not overtly.

In early October, he had uncharacteristic GI tract distress. A few nights later, he had trouble breathing. Since we’d just gone to the cardiologist and Jack had no symptoms at that time and his blood pressure was consistently normal (we check it daily), we had no reason to believe it was a cardiac issue.

Fast forward to today. Over the last three weeks, I’ve taken him to ER twice and called 911 once. He was hospitalized twice and finally diagnosed with Congestive Heart Failure and bronchitis. With meds and exercise, he has a fifty-fifty chance to turn this around. (They suspect a bacterial infection weakened his heart, lungs, etc.)

It’s just me here in AZ – no family, except a cousin and 99-year old uncle outside Phoenix – so it’s vital I don’t burn out.

I’ve made sure to do TRE nearly every day because it relaxes my core enough to cry. Crying doesn’t just cleanse my soul, it also releases the stress hormone cortisol. Afterwards, I feel lighter, feelings of overwhelm and fatigue dissipate, and my energy returns.

I’ve burned out twice before. The first time was when I was twenty-two and taking care of my mother who had cancer. Physically, I bounced back pretty fast after she passed away. I had youth and good health going for me.

I burned out again when I was forty-nine, [PTSD plus a workaholic lifestyle for decades and then no sleep for a year – hello hallucinations! — which I also detail in my book (it’s the chapter at the end called “Startle”.)] That took me years to recover from. (I’m sixty now.)

Funny thing—the irrational idea I unconsciously held that simply by having all this experience and knowledge, I can avoid burnout again. Ha!

A few days ago, Jack was home again and taking a nap. It was the late afternoon of a gorgeous, sunny Arizona day. The house was clean, the dishwasher humming, the washing machine on the dry cycle, the carpets vacuumed, the wood floors swept, the fridge packed with all sorts of good, healthy foods. The leaves of the trees outside my window danced along the walls.

I sat on my bed feeling pretty peaceful. I said a rosary as I looked out on the mountains. I turned my eyes away a moment, moved my hand, and jumped halfway off the bed. You’d think the Wicked Witch of the West just popped up from the floor when it was just the reflection of my moving hand caught by the shiny chrome button on the side of my white cargo pants.

My stomach caved. I hadn’t realized I was in such a state of fight or flight. For me, when I’m in that place of startle, I know I’m not doing that well.

So what am I going to do to keep myself as healthy as I can?

Based on my history, rest is essential. It’s broken up in the night right now because Jack has unpredictable trouble breathing and walking, so when he gets up (and he gets up a lot on a diuretic), I get up. All I can do is grab naps during the day when I can.

I’ll continue to do TRE and cry out the stress.

I’m tired, so I haven’t felt like exercising—but for me that’s vital, too. Not crazy two-hour workouts, but optimally half an hour a day or every other day.

I’ve gone back to listening to binaural beats. I learned about them a few years ago. It’s music with a beat built in that changes the pulse of your brain to a more relaxed state. Your brain irresistibly matches the beat. (I downloaded an album off ITunes literally called “Binaural Beats”.) That helps me calm down when I’m too wired to rest.

We’ve been watching favorite or classic movies that give us a happy feeling (endorphins!) like Casablanca, The African Queen, The Secret of Roan Inish and The Sound of Music or diverting action films like The Equalizer or the Bourne movies.

I make super healthy meals for us and an anti-inflammatory drink made up of the juice of one lemon, three tbs. apple cider vinegar and eight ounces of water sweetened with two tsp. of maple syrup. (The lemon and apple cider vinegar are acidic in the glass, but metabolized by the body as alkaline.) I can feel the difference in my energy when I drink that.

When I do errands, I put CD’s on the car stereo and blast the music. Eric Clapton, Santana, Aretha…. Man, does that give me a soul-saving charge.

I bought a hummingbird feeder today. We have a little patio that faces the mountains. At least once a day, a hummingbird darts in, looks around for food and finding none, darts back out again. I’d love for the hummingbirds to stay just a little while.

I want to do as much life affirming and enjoyable stuff as I can.

I also feel good when I take a moment before sleep and think about what I loved about the day.

Today I loved the beautiful mountains behind our place, the gorgeous blue sky and perfect weather, my morning Coke, finally returning to writing again while Jack took a nap, talking to the kind lady who works at Panera as I waited for the onion soup to-go (which Jack loves), blasting “Layla” on the way to the grocery store, meeting a friendly neighbor this evening who asked about Jack, and seeing Jack’s dear face every time I walked into the living room (that’s his base right now).

Life is such a challenge sometimes, but I think that’s the point. How can I evolve? How can I become a better person?