Sensory Overload

I came back to Chicago to bring Jack’s ashes to his niche.

Underneath my gross fatigue, I kind of feel like screaming.

After living in small suburbs outside Tucson and Phoenix this last year where everything was so quiet and relaxed, it’s a shock to the system to be back here. I’m staying in a hotel off Michigan Avenue. The lights, the crowds, the noise, the smells, the cars, the movement—my senses are bombarded. Doesn’t matter I lived downtown over 40 years. After one year in the quiet, I’m parrying the shocks like a boxer.

And then there’s the emotional aspect.

We left here a year ago last month with hopes and dreams of a new life living in the foothills of Tucson’s majestic mountains. We were so excited.

But that’s life, isn’t it? It doesn’t work out the way we’d like sometimes.

It’s the human condition.

We had a great eleven years together, the greatest years of my adult life. I’m so grateful for that. So much joy after decades of darkness.

Feels like an avalanche of memories accumulate with each block I walk and I can’t release the emotions fast enough.

It’s hard to feel so much. After years of living numb, emotions buried, it can be overwhelming. Make me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.

Oh yeah, I’m stealing from the late great Marvin Gaye!!!

Loved that album.

You know when I really got sensory overload? (Here comes the plug for my book.) When the meds stopped working and I got off them. I wrote about it in my memoir PTSD: Frozen in Time.

My senses became Super Senses. They were so exaggerated, everything hurt. The worst was the sense of smell. Everything with an odor made me literally feel like gagging (except cigs, go figure). All the smells I loved from baking brownies to bath soap to the balmy summer wind off the lake made me sick. It was pretty disabling. I couldn’t go anywhere without feeling like I was going to puke.

My vision hurt as if I had a constant migraine. I had to wear sunglasses in the apartment.

Sound hurt, which was ironic since I’m severely hard of hearing. A fork hitting the kitchen floor was torture. Jack wasn’t allowed to speak. He had to write me notes.

Since I felt like puking, I didn’t eat a lot. I can’t remember much now about how sensory overload effected my eating. I do recall how loud it was in my ear. I had to chew really slowly.

The worst was a pain in my head like someone with a metal letter opener was stabbing me through my ear drum

I kept all movement and experiencing of life to a minimum. Most of the time, I was prone on the couch in the den with my eyes closed.

Oh man, it was nuts. Poor Jack. I’d just moved in with him.

All this faded in time.

***

I’m glad I’m here taking care of business, taking Jack off my checking account and replacing him with my brother, changing power of attorney and health, etc.

But I’m too pooped to pop.

Couldn’t sleep more than a couple hours the last two nights.

Met with an old boyfriend today. Went to lunch at a restaurant/bar with the tastiest Eggs Benedict. Walked through the city to the train. Went to the suburb I grew up in.

So many memories.

I’m glad I’m not numb anymore.

But it hurts.

Make me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.

 

***

Ode to the Cotton Bug III

 Oh Cotton Bug, Oh Cotton Bug,

hello.

It’s me writing from Chicago.

I know you did not die

When the carpet cleaners came.

You crawled up the side of the white couch in your perennially-relaxed fashion

And watched the cleaners whisk through the room

from your perch on the top of the pillow.

You felt quite excellent.

Do you miss me? Or is it the Kardashian Marathon you miss?

It’s frustrating not to be able to manipulate the remote.

You’ve come to depend on me, haven’t you Cotton Bug?

Oh Cotton Bug, I must say this:

Move off the couch by the time I get home

Or you will die squashed inside a tissue in my fist.

 

***

The last few weeks were stressful. My uncle, age 100, was deteriorating fast. I’d visit him in the assisted-living facility every night and come home sad and exhausted. Much to my delight, I found Keeping Up with the Kardashians the perfect stress antidote. There’s been a marathon going in the run-up to the beginning of the 14th season.

It’s not only been a great fantasy distraction, it’s given me oodles of ideas for reducing stress. You might like to try some of these, too.

For instance, next time you’re down, do a photo shoot of yourself!!! Not for a magazine or family or anything, but because you’re an insane, amazing hottie. Plus, it’s so fun!!!! This is best done in St. Bart’s. Bible.

 

***

I was too tired to workout tonight, but writing helped calm me down. I’ll listen to Binaural Beats on my iPod in a little while. That usually helps me sleep.  Thanks for listening and so long from Sweet Home Chicago.

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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?

 IMG_0700 (3)

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.

 

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 a Sense of Safety

I’ve moved far away from the place I lived with Jack. The entire area was awash with dashed hopes and sad memories for me. I was crying like crazy all the time. It felt unsustainable. Even the beautiful mountains brought tears to my eyes. How Jack loved them. We’d stop at the beginning of our daily walk and he’d look up and say, “Look at those mountains. I never thought I’d live in a place like this. It’s so beautiful.”

They say wherever you go, there you are, and that’s true.

But I am so glad I moved.

I have extended family members in the neighborhood and I don’t have sad memories popping up everywhere I go.

I love my new apartment. I feel safe. My survival brain was popping off all the time in the old place. Hyper-hyper-vigilance. Exaggerated startle response. Here, it sighs and says, “Ahhhhh.”

One reason I love my new pad is it’s surrounded by big old trees. I love big old trees. I love their shade. I love the shadows they make on the wall through the window.

Another reason is the space plan. I can see all the doors from my position on the couch in the living room or working at the sink in the kitchen or reading in bed. At the risk of sounding like a mobster, I only feel comfortable in a room when my back is to a wall and I can see all the doors. If you have PTSD, you know what I’m talking about.

Strange thing. I got lost my first day here. Need I say, those Google Maps aren’t always accurate. So I was driving through a residential area wondering where the heck I was and suddenly I teared up. Not because of a bad memory, but because the area seemed so wonderfully familiar. It felt like home even though I’d never been there.

I know that I cannot always feel safe. One of the chief characteristics of suffering PTSD trauma, especially in childhood, is forever losing the sense that the world is a safe place.

I can be nice to myself, though. I can do things to make it more likely that I’ll feel safe and have a sense of well-being.

I’m ripe for triggers when I’m tired and stressed. A couple precursor clues that I might flip out in the near future are intrusive thoughts and/or crazy, obsessive negative thinking, especially going off in my head at somebody for something that may never happen.

So I try to get enough sleep. That often means naps here and there to cobble together enough hours. If I can’t cobble enough, music helps. I plug in my earbuds and listen to a playlist or binaural beats.

If I’m feeling lowdown, I’ll ask, What can I do to comfort myself or feel better today? It’s not a totally selfish endeavor. When I feel good, I treat others well and as far as I’m concerned—that’s the only reason we’re here. Love and compassion.

Today, I made my bed first thing and ate a bowl of fruit. I’ll watch The Young & Restless and then start hanging framed pieces on my blank walls. Later, I’ll work-out. I hope to take a nap. I’m pretty burned out from the last two years, but nothing remotely like I was when I met Jack eleven years ago. (For that, please check out my short-read Startle: A True Story of PTSD and the Paranormal. It’s also included at the end of my book: PTSD: Frozen in Time.) I bought a novel I loved in my twenties, called Fifth Business by Robertson Davies. I always need a good read nearby for the midnight to dawn hours when sleep is hit or miss.

I hope you have a great day today and do multiple things to give yourself a sense of wellbeing.

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!