Monday, February 27, 2012

A tale of two encounters

All of us have run across people from our present, near past or even distant past in unexpected places.

My favorite of all of these stories is the time in the late '70's when I was working as a waitress in a coffee shop in a large mall in Dayton, OH.  A man stood in the back, staring at me.  Putting it mildly, this was very disconcerting.  Who was this man?  Why was he starring at me.  I felt uncomfortable.  Exposed.  Nervous.

The "fashionista"
Finally, he approached me with the words:  "It's a long way from LaPlaza Mall."  LaPlaza Mall was (and still is) in McAllen, TX, about as far south as you can go and still be in the United States, where I was enrolled in a language school learning Spanish.  While there, I got a job as a waitress in a coffee shop at the mall.  At the end of the school year, I returned to my hometown of Dayton, OH and, you got it!, got a job as a waitress in a coffee shop there.  I had waited on this man in both places.

He was starring at me because at first he wasn't sure if I was the same person.  To the best of my knowledge, he had only encountered me one time.

Another encounter which was also a total surprise came during a rest stop on the New York State Thruway a few years back.  Someone called my name.  I looked around.  Didn't see anyone I knew.  Kept on going.  Then my husband said, "MamaBear, I think someone's calling you."  He was right.  It was a woman I hadn't seen in years, a former co-worker from Kitchener, ON.
the biker

What are the chances of meeting people you know hundreds of miles from "the scene of the crime"? Infinitesimal?  Slim to nill?

What are the chances of meeting someone you know or knew on the streets of your own hometown?  A large, industrial city in Southern Ontario?  What are the chances of meeting former co-workers in offices, medical practices, etc.?  Still slim but still probably.  Much more probable than the first scenario.

Today, I recount the tale of two recent encounters.  Both different.  One good.  One bad.  Both involving people I knew from the same situation.  One still there.  One, like myself, gone.

Both people had encouraged me in a difficult space.  Not by words spoken, but by actions.  Smiles.  Treating me like a valued person.  Friendly in a hostile environment.  Not friends.  But friendly.

The "creative genuis" in action
My one and only photo t-shirt
One I met in a small, medical office in the reception area.  I was so happy to see her.  I had wanted to contact her and let her know how much she had meant to me in that time, in that place.  And here, unexpectedly, I was given that chance.

She treated me like a human being when I needed that.  She smiled at me.  She engaged in chit chat with me.  I treasured her and valued her for that.  She was a blessing, a bright spot, in an otherwise dark place.

However ... my sixth sense, that pesky radar attuned to currents emanating from people, was in action. Big time.  Actually overtime. Warning me. Telling me things I didn't want to hear.  I made a fatal mistake.  I ignored it.  Turned it off.  Told it to shut up.

the naturalist
My logic, on the other hand, was telling me quite the opposite. It had been many months since I had exited the stressful situation stage left; therefore, I had nothing to fear.

My logic was wrong.

I smiled at this unexpected encounter.  I plunged in without testing the water first.  Immediately telling this woman how glad I was to see her.  How much she had meant to me during this time in my life.  How I had wanted to have the opportunity to tell her this.

At that point, something went wrong.  What happened next is hard for me to put into words as I do not understand it.  I will probably never understand it.  While I was trying to build a bridge between us, I felt an unexplainable, unassailable wall come up.  A solid wall.  A high wall.  A barrier between two people.  I felt something in the way.  She was not receiving my words or the intent behind them.  Why?  I don't know.  I'll probably never know.  I can read currents.  I cannot read others' thoughts.

the sophisticated one?
I continued to try to reach her.  Trying to put her at ease.  Hoping for a smile.  Some sort of human interaction.  Chit chat.  Closure.

Instead, I felt I was verbally attacked.  Not once.  Several times.

I felt violated.  I felt incredible tension and hostility emanating from this person.

In the end, she made it very clear that the two of us could not co-exist in the same waiting room.

I could not deal with the hostility which I sensed bombarding me like emotionally sharp daggers.  I left.

the gardener at rest

Once outside, away from the what I now realize was a violent assault in the form of verbally abusive behaviour, I started shaking.  I began to cry.  Nay.  I wailed.  Like a child bereft of its mother.

 I felt trapped.  I was there in that office at that particular time, that particular day to drive poor Papa Bear to an appointment.  I felt trapped.  I had to wait for him.  I could not just drive off into the sunset.  Every part of my body was in full flight mode.  But I could not flee.

the camper

the pirate?
Then the pain began.  My back spasmed.  I was wrecked.  Uncontrollably weeping.  Seized with physical pain.  Feeling like a piece of flotsam washed up on a sea of hostility,  bereavement, loss.  Utterly useless.  Fit only for the rubbish pile.

The second encounter took place less than two weeks later.  Again, someone who had been friendly at a time when I needed a friend in that same situation, that same place.  In the years since she left, I had run into her a couple of times at the immigration office where she now works.  She was there the day I became a Canadian citizen.  She helped make my day special by

enthusiastically congratulating me.  She was a blessing when I sorely needed one.

My encounter with her happened on a city street, at a bus stop.  After encounter #one, I admit that I was afraid to approach her.  Yet, I did.  My radar, in stand down mode.  Emitting neutral currents. No full alerts.  We embraced.  I told her how much she meant to me.  She responded telling me how much I had meant to her.  That I was always friendly.  I treated her with dignity and respect.  We shared good memories of our association together.  It was good.
the shadow of the woman I once was

Two different encounters.  One message.  Two different outcomes.  Which one reflects the true Mama Bear?

I'll let you, the reader, decide.

Till tomorrow....

Sunday, February 26, 2012

A Mid-Winter's Break

 Today, I need a break.  A day of rest.  A day to recuperate from the stress of reliving pieces of the trauma.  A day to focus on a recent adventure which brought peace to my soul.

So today, I blog in a way I've not done before.  A picture blog.  No narrative.

Today, I present to you Niagara Falls, ON in all it's power and majesty.

Family Day (Canada); Presidents' Day (US), February 2012.


Wintertime at the Horseshoe (Canadian Falls) from the Canadian side

Just above the Horseshoe Falls

At the brink

The rainbow at the Canadian falls
 the American falls seen in the foreground

at the brink again

The other side of the rainbow

Wandering rainbow forming at the American Falls

The Maid of the Mist's winter resting place.

The end.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Radar Kid

This is a hard blog for me to write.  I feel like I'm standing at the edge of a vast wasteland, a desert.  An arid place.  Without water.  Where little grows.  Where I've learned you have to be tough to survive.

A place where I live, yet one which is not understood by others.  A place as intrinsic to me as breathing, as vital, as much a part of my life; yet one which others deny exists.

A lonely place to be.  A place often discounted as perceptions, assumptions and opinions by those who not only don't live there, but have no idea this place exists.  Or maybe they're afraid of what this place might reveal about them.  Truth buried.  Hidden.

Welcome to my world:  the world of the "radar kid".

When you read the phrase "the radar kid", what image comes to mind?  A child with the old rabbit ears antenna coming out of his head?  Or maybe, if you're a member of the younger generation, a satellite dish?  A cell phone tower?

Do you think of extraterrestrial beings?  Someone with paranormal or psychic abilities?

As a radar kid, I'm none of these things, but rather I am very attuned to my environment, to those around me, to the tensions and currents between individuals.  Not any and all individuals, but those who are close to me: involved in some way, shape or form in my life.  This part of me which is keenly attuned to and able to pick up "signals" from the environment around me has become sharper, more focused as I have matured and my world has broadened from including only parents to including teachers, peers, co-workers, etc.  Like the furniture in the living room, it's been a part of my life since early childhood.  I know no other way to be.

During a childhood fraught with verbal abuse, confrontation, and volcanic eruptions on a daily basis, I learned to tread carefully and quietly.  To navigate dangerous emotional territory on a daily, if not hourly, basis.

Fear of those verbal onslaughts was part and parcel of my early life.  As common as the love seat in the living room or my father's secretary in his bedroom (in this case "secretary" is a piece of furniture not a person).  Part of my everyday scenery.  A common occurrence.  I thought every family existed in this state of war.

During these formative years, I learned not only to tread carefully, very carefully, but to test the waters.  I learned to read the tension levels emanating from those closest to me:  my parents.

A radar kid picks up on the unspoken.  On currents between individuals.  On things no one else can sense.  The currents emanated from people are palpable to a radar kid like myself.  I can actually feel them so acutely that at times I feel like every nerve ending in my body is standing at full alert.   Sensing a strike about to happen.  Not always exactly sure what the attack is about or where it's coming from, but certain that one is in the offing.

As I've grown older and my life experience has broadened, so has this ability to pick up on currents, tensions, nuances, etc. become stronger.  In some cases, I can not only sense the currents in the air but can also smell them.  This sixth sense is my private, personal, internal CIA:  my intelligence and information gathering system.

Gossip has a palpable feel and smell to me.  The stench of gossip lingers in the air long after the words have been said.  It emanates from those who participate in the gossip themselves like the smell of cigarette smoke on a smoker.  I can feel its presence when I am near these people.  The tension, the smell also fill the room or situation in which the gossip occurred.  Just going into a room immediately after gossip is, for me, like going into an enclosed place where electrical currents are running amok, zigging and zagging all over the place.  A place filled with noxious, nauseous fumes.

The road I travel
This sixth sense has been so strong, so much a part of my life, that if the currents are strong enough, the fumes emitted strong enough, I can sense them across distances.
Sometimes I feel like this bird
Adrift and alone in an endless sea
I've known before I was called into the office for a reprimand, that something was up.  That I was in trouble.  For what?  I didn't know.  I just knew that something was brewing.  Something so strong that, once again, I felt as if every nerve ending in my body was standing on end.  Prickly.  Unsettled.  Not able to settle down.  I could actually feel not only the tension emanated in the office but the nerve endings on edge in my body.

At times this intunement to my environment has been so strong that, I've been at home several miles distant from the scenario playing out, ill, suicidal, barely able to function, yet I felt something.  Something unpleasant happening.  I sloughed off this feeling.  Thinking it was part of the breakdown I was suffering.  The phone rang.  Again, every nerve in my body was shouting at me.  Warning me.  Don't answer it.  I knew before I looked at call display who it was.  I didn't know what it was all about but something warned me that the caller was not calling to ask how I was or when I planned to return.  My husband refused to let me answer the phone.  He refused to let me listen to any voicemails left by the caller.  He refused to let me return the call.  He took me away.  Out of reach of phone or email contact.  He saved my life.

I cannot go into specifics on who called or what the calls were about.  I can only say that while I was in a life and death struggle, tensions and gossip were escalating to such an extent that I could feel them.  Sometimes, I can feel them still - months later.  I feel like I am caught in a vicious current with violent waves battering me from any and all angles.

Recent experience has revealed that my sixth sense which was warning me, advising me to be careful, was still as ready, active and able as it's ever been.  That even though I was no longer part of the situation, it was continuing in my absence.  As strong today as the day I left.  To be careful.  To tread lightly.  Just as in the days when I was growing up sensing the currents between my parents, warning me of explosions to come.

And so in the midst of turmoil and high alerts, I look back at the peaceful, tranquil times; savour the memories which brought peace to my tortured soul.  Times when the water in the sea of my emotions was quiet, as smooth as glass.  When tranquility was present.  When my soul was bathed in the light from the setting sun - and left me knowing that all was well with my soul.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The sixth sense - intuition

Invisible Heroes: Survivors of trauma and how they heal by Belleruth Naparstek became one of my "bibles" in my journey through trauma and resultant PTSD after my therapist suggested I take a gander at it.

This book gave me an incredible sense of relief as it described me in detail.  It was as if this clinician knew me, Mama Bear, intimately.

I read amazed as I found myself, my story, my disabilities, my challenges in the pages of her book.  Validating me as both a person and as a survivor of trauma.

My eyes popped wide open.  My understanding of myself as a victim of trauma deepened, coming into focus when I read:  "One surprise benefit that comes from a traumatic experience is the emergence of intuitive abilities that were previously only dormant or occasional."  (Invisible Heroes:  Survivors of trauma and how they heal, 91-92)

This brief sentence opened my eyes to an ability that is an integral part of me.  One which I've had for many years and learned to lean into.  One which is, to me, part of the furniture in my living room.  Accepted as normal.  Yet, this ability is far from the norm.  Not everyone has it.  Most people don't.  Because they don't have it, they don't recognize it or accept it's validity.  They pooh-pooh it.  More to the point:  this ability scares the heck out of those who don't have it.  It's too uncanny.  Too far out of the normal.  Yet, for a survivor of trauma such as myself, it is part of my normal:  a vital, integral part of who I am.

I call it the sixth sense.

Researching intuition and intuition as a sixth sense, I found that most sites were not on the same page as myself.  Even Belleruth herself thinks of intuition as a paranormal, psychic phenomenon.

To me, it's neither paranormal nor psychic.  It is uncanny, though.

I think it began, came into focus, during a traumatic event I experienced vicariously as a very young child, described in my blog entitled "Lye", in which a neighbour was brutally attacked when a janitor through a homemade, lye-based concoction in her face.

I say vicariously because although I was in the apartment immediately below at the time of the attack, I neither saw nor heard anything.  I vividly remember the aftermath of the attack.  I remember exactly what we were doing that day.  What I was feeling prior to the knock on our door.  Even the smells in our apartment.  The faces of our neighbours.  The sounds of their voices.  The  victim's children being ushered into our apartment until someone could come for them.  I remember all of this more than 50 years later as though it just happened yesterday.

Earlier my chums at the apartment complex had had a contact with this man which was very unpleasant, very different from the norm.  They imparted the information to stay away from this man because he was "mean".  Child speak:  crude but effective.  Being me, I didn't believe them.  I went up to see for myself.  I experienced for myself this man's nature.  I realized the truth of what the other children in the complex were saying.

I believe that my sixth sense, my intuition, began that day and has, if anything, become more developed over the intervening years.

I've developed an uncanny ability to read people.  To come up with two plus two equals four.  Not by what people say.  But rather, by what they don't say.  Or how they say it.  If two or three people use the exact same words with the same intonation,  my sixth sense, my intuition, kicks in big time warning me of potential danger from these individuals.   In addition, I read body language.  Facial expressions.  The way someone walks.  Patterns of behaviour.  Patterns tell me a lot about people.  Observation.  I observe people:  my family, my workmates, my neighbours, people I interact with in a group setting, people in the mall.  No one is immune from my observation.  It's not malicious:  it's simply a part of me, part of the furniture of my psychological makeup.

In the instance with the janitor and his concoction of lye, he had a pattern of being a mean-spirited person.  I didn't trust him.  I avoided him.  However, the adults did not have that sixth-sense.  They were not able to read this man.  It was a huge shock to them when he attacked our neighbour.  To me, it was not a shock.  I knew he was mean.  As a five year old, I did not have the capability or life experience to discern how mean he was.  I just knew intuitively that there was something wrong with this man and to avoid him.

Years ago, on an intercity bus trip, our driver was playing a game with the passengers:  he said he had six "hats" and asked us to guess what they were.  I immediately said he was with the Highway Patrol.  He didn't answer. Turned the conversation away from my suggestion. At the very end of the game, he turned to me and asked:  "How did you know?"  He thought it was because I'd seen him speaking to some Highway Patrol officers on a break.  He was wrong.  My perception was based on two things:  (1) the way he walked down the aisle of the bus at the beginning our journey with his hole puncher on his left hip and (2) he had disclosed that he had recently acquired a degree in psychology.  Two plus two equaled four.

My uncanny ability to read the non-verbals, to discern the intangibles, to add two plus two together, almost invariably comes out with the correct answer of four.

  Tomorrow, I will introduce the "Radar Kid".  A second part of the sixth sense, intuition and how it affects my life as an Invisible Hero.  One who has survived trauma and lived to tell the tale.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

I came, I saw, I conquered

Tobermory, ON Lookout Tower
note the person on the stairs ... going up

In an earlier blog, I recounted my successful attempt on combating my worst fear.  The fear of heights aka the fearsome and intimidating Parry Sound Lookout Tower.   Although I did it afraid - and still do it afraid even after four successful assaults, facing this fear up close and personal gave me a heady sense of excitement.  I did it!  I actually did it!  Even though I did it hanging on for dear life to poor Papa Bear's hand - actually his thumb, I was inordinately proud of myself.  I had confronted a fear which had dominated and controlled me my entire life - and lived to tell the tail.
With this success behind me.  I craved more.

Soon another challenge presented itself:  the Tobermory Lookout Tower in (of course) Tobermory, ON at the tip of the Bruce Peninsula where Georgian Bay (sometimes called the sixth great lake) and Lake Huron meet.

I had known for some time that it existed but had never met it up close and personal.  I saw the turn off sign at the highway every time we did a weekend away at the Bruce.  We'd never taken it:  until that day when I decided to confront my fear once again.  This time with a new challenge.

This tower although high and scary is not identical to the one in Parry Sound.  It is not as high but actually was more of a challenge to me.  It is built of wood and steel rather than all steel as the one at Parry Sound is.  Therefore, it sways in the wind creating a sort of singing sound which to me was quite unnerving. The stairs are on the outside, rather than in the middle, which makes the height more visible and, therefore, more fearsome (to me).

At the outset, looking up, my heart became stuck in my throat and I gulped.  I was ready to back out before the first step was made.  BUT ... Papa Bear held out his hand, encouraging me to take that first step.  So I did.

That first step led to a second, then a third.  Heart in throat the entire time, we made it up step by step.  Pulses of fear coursing like runaway electric threads throughout my lower limbs.

I could not do this.  Yet each time I told Papa Bear that I had reached my limit, he would point to a spot above me and say:  we're almost there.  Let's go one more.

So we did.  Papa Bear refused to let me back down.  Instinctively he knew that if I backed out now, I would never try again.  He refused to let me fail.  His strength became my strength.  His courage became my courage.  His belief in my ability to make it to the top became my belief that I could indeed attain this goal.

Victory is so sweet

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Trauma - an overview

Trauma.  What is it?  What is PTSD?  How does it affect someone?  Does it affect someone you know up close and personal?  How will I know if a loved one is affected by trauma?  How do trauma survivors heal?  Or is it even possible for them to heal?  More specifically, am I a trauma survivor?  If so, how can I heal?

I've started this blog with the link to a you tube video called "Invisible Heroes:  Survivors of trauma and how they heal": an interview with Belleruth Naparstek author of the book by the same name.  Although my traumas are not physical life or death instances, a car wreck, a mugging, etc., I am the equivalent of an emotional, violent, deadly wreck.  The emotional equivalent of the car wrapped around the telephone pole, the train beside the track with cars upended, overturned, every which way.

I possess all of the symptoms presented in this interview.

Like the emerging dawn of a new day
Trauma victims can emerge from their hidden world of darkness into the dawning of a new life
In the video clip, Belleruth goes into Franny's story.  In her book, she details more about Franny's story, how they met, what the initial counsellor was like, etc., as well as others' stories.  How she as a therapist became involved with and immersed into the world of trauma.  What she learned from treating Franny and other victims of trauma including survivors of the Vietnam War.  What works.  What doesn't work.  Why we are the way we are.  Tools trained, committed therapists can use to help us out of our prison, out of our darkness into a world of light and healing.  Into a world where the past traumas no longer intrude, no longer have power over us.  Into a world, where we can function normally and integrate ourselves into long-term relationships.  Into a world that we no longer believe exists.

How can this happen?  How we can leave the world of our trauma, our descent into incredible darkness, behind and emerge into a new, light-filled world?  How indeed?

Belleruth emphasizes the use of right brain activities, guided imagery and affirmations, to calm and sooth the chaos running rampant within each hero, each survivor.

She calls us heros.  Because we have seen the darkness and somehow managed to survive.  Because we have the inner strength to survive against all odds.  Because we live.

Every day I challenge the darkness, the chaos within.  Every day I struggle to rise in a triumphant manner like the sun rising above the eastern skyline.  Giving light.  Muted at first.  Becoming brighter each moment.  Changing continually.  The higher it rises, the more vivid the colours become.  The stronger the light.  I stretch my arms out towards the light.  I embrace the light.  I embrace the new day.  I embrace the challenges before me this day - today.

I am an invisible hero.  I am a survivor.  Let the challenge continue.  I am ready.

Monday, February 20, 2012

A work in progress

Like any good book or project, I am a work in progress.  Continually being developed by the author.  Fleshing out the character, the plot.  My new normal is not a static state but rather a very fluid one.  One which changes - whether for better or not - every week.  Somedays on a daily basis as I'm working on or processing one issue or another.

Change is part of life.  Period.  Therefore, in order to be (a) alive and (b) human, change is also part of my life.  I'm learning to embrace - rather than run from - change.

The person I was in 2011 and before is not who I am now.  I am in a different spot.  A different space.  I am continually learning, growing, changing, healing.

The person I am today as I write this blog is not necessarily who I will be tomorrow.

A huge part of the make up of my personality and character is that I have the ability to learn from my mistakes.  To research.  To analyze.

I have superb cognitive and intuitive skills.  When I see the tip of the iceberg, I'm not just looking at the tip but interested in discovering the mass below the surface to get a better understanding of it.  To discover what is below the surface of human reactions and interactions.  To discover who I am and what I am this way.

Discovering who I am as a survivor of past trauma and a victim of PTSD has enhanced my view of the strengths I have - partly because of the trauma and resulting PTSD.

Just because I have survived emotional trauma does not mean I am weak.  On the contrary, the fact that I have lived to talk the tale is a telling point:  I am not a weakling; rather, there is a hidden strength deep within me.

During the journey of 2011, I discovered I am an ESFJ personality type.  What others have perceived as my analyzing things to death is actually part of my personality profile.  Discovering what personality type I am and the characteristics inherent in that personality type - which I fit to a "t" - has given me great insight not only into who I am intrinsically but also how others perceive me based on that personality type.

Part and parcel of being an ESFJ is the possession of analytical/cognitive skills.  A part of me that allows me to analyze things.  Think on things.  Research things.  And then come to an educated conclusion as to what really happened and the dynamics behind it.

This ability to analyze, research and come to educated conclusions is a huge strength.  Not a disability or a strike against me.

I could jump ahead to the space I occupy now after almost a year of therapy, research and life.  Or I could dwell on significant pieces of the journey into and through this new normal.  Sometimes extremely painful.  Other times funny: a place with humour reigns.  Sometimes a place of surprising beauty and peace.  Other times a place of facing past horrific events:  a place where horror reigns.  Always a journey.  Always a significant part of who I am and how I came to be this person I now am.

Which will I choose?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Entering my "new" normal

Author Carol Kent entered her "new" normal when her only son was arrested for murder.  Her new normal continues as her son is now in prison with a "toe tag" sentence:  life with no parole.

She must have dark days, yet she chooses to live her new normal openly through her books and lectures:  inviting her readership to live in and work through their own new normals.

Her books have been an invaluable resource to me as I stumble and bumble through my own new normal.

During 2011, as a result of severe, on-going stress, within a certain situation, I finally broke down.  I could no longer go on.  Could no longer go into this situation unless serious changes were made to ensure my safety.  I was on the verge of suicide.  Depressed.  Unable to talk well, I stammered and stuttered continually.  Unable to think or focus.  My cognitive skills, once superb, became almost non-existent.

I went through every hoop put before me.  I went to the crisis clinic and was assessed by a mental health nurse.  Her assessment:  because I had strong support with my family, my suicidal ideation being passive at that point rather than active, and because although I was seriously angry over the situation and those who had caused it, I had no intention of following through with any action, I was not deemed a threat to myself or anyone else, I was sent home and given support through a short-term, out-patient program.

Another hoop: a psychiatrist who, though he misdiagnosed me with bi-polar and mixed personality disorder, also concurred that I needed time away from the stress to regroup and to heal.

Returning a month later to the same stressful situation, very fragile, I lasted seven days.  My situation deteriorated rapidly to the point where I was virtually totally unable to function.  All sense of self eliminated.  All hope and self worth extinguished.  All energy gone.  Cognitive skills destroyed.  Barely able to speak.  Unable to focus.  Unable to concentrate.  Unable to read and comprehend directions such as crochet patterns or recipes.  Barely able to get up in the morning and stay up.  Often if I accomplished one thing, I would end up spending the rest of the day in bed.  This became my new normal.  A world of hurt.  A daily struggle.  A struggle for meaning in my life.  Also a world of confusion as to why this was happening to me.  What did I do to deserve it?

If I had to gauge my suicidal ideation at that time, I would make a narrow, u-shaped line drawing with the left side being passive and the tip of the "u" being the pinnacle where the active started.  I would put my suicidal tendency just a millimeter shy of the tip of the "u" going from passive to active.  I was in dire straights.  My family was afraid for me.  Not afraid of me.  Their fear was for me.

We entered this new reality, this new normal, suddenly and unwillingly.  No warning.  There are no diagrams, no instructions, on how to walk through this.  With severe depression, it's each man - or woman - for himself.  Each person walks his own unique path.  No two paths are the same.  No two answers are the same. No two support systems are the same.

I felt isolated and alone.  My former life where I was productive, earning a paycheck, well-liked, valued even had completely disintegrated.  It no longer existed.  I felt there was nothing left of the former Mama Bear except an empty shell.

Again I was granted a medical reprieve from the stressful situation, but in my heart of hearts I knew that if I wanted to live, if I wanted any chance at recovery, I would have to cut my losses and run.  It was time to go.  To extricate myself permanently from this situation.  To focus on getting better.  To focus on those who loved and supported me.  To find out who I really am.  Not who others think I am.  But who I am.

It was time to quit trying to resolve an unresolvable situation.  To quit spending precious energy on a futile endeavour.  It was time to focus my energy on the life ahead of me.

So I did.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Painting in Words the Backdrop for a New Series

My unnamed hero in my struggle to move forward to healing
Everyday in my life, my new normal, I face challenges.  Not the challenges those with visible disabilities face.  But rather the challenges faced by those affected by trauma, PTSD, depression.  Things no one else can see but which affect the individual on a minutely, hourly, daily basis.  Those who have faced the horror of an unexplainable occurrence which has traumatized and affected them so much that they have difficulty functioning in the outside world.  Those who struggle each day to get through the day and move on.  Those who struggle to heal.  Those to whom the finish line seems to get farther away each day, rather than closer.  Those who simply want to give up, curl up in the fetal position in bed and forget the world exists.

Those who appear normal to the outside world.

This is the world of a survivor of emotional trauma.  The world of one who has been bruised and battered emotionally but still lives to tell the tale.  The world of one who must have some inner strength unknown and formerly untapped to still be alive at the end of the day.  The one who, though left a bruised and bloodied mess emotionally on the floor, still has the courage to wake up in the morning and carve a new life, a new normal, out for herself.

This is my world.  I invite you to enter in to my reality.

I was verbally abused as a child.  I was molested as a child.  I was bullied in school not only by my peers but in one instance the bullying was actually instigated by a teacher.  I was the quintessinal introvert.  Afraid to speak up.  I had no voice.  I never had a voice.

As I grew up, I was in therapy more times than I want to count.  None really worked because  I felt stigmatized for being in therapy.

Then the most monumental occurrence of my life happened:  one day in a dark university dormitory room, Jesus found me.  I began a relationship which has been like no other.  Although things changed gradually over the next months and years, the struggles continued.  Up and down.  Down and up.

Through university, bible school, language school, a stint as a missionary/teacher, marriage, motherhood, etc., the cycle continued.  Ups and downs.  Downs and ups.

I had trouble with anger.  I had trouble with relationships.  I felt no one understood me.  I felt ....

And then the second amazing thing in my life happened:  I entered this amazing three-way partnership with God, myself and my counsellor in late 2006 which has propelled me forward.  To a healthier inner person.

There is a misperception though.  We forget the old adage:  Life is what happens when we have other plans.

Inside, I'm healing and becoming stronger, much stronger, emotionally.  Yet life goes on.  Things happen.  Good things happen.  Not-so-good things happen.  No one is guaranteed a life for of happy experiences with no trials or testings.  Trials and testings - or whatever you want to call them - are actually good things.  They propel us through pain and perseverance to move forward.  To learn.  They cause us to develop character.  Ditto strength and endurance.  The way we treat these challenges whether something to withdraw from or to embrace and grown from, form our character.  Who we are.

2011 became the pivotal year in my saga.  It became the year of my struggle for survival.

It became the year everything changed, and I had to adapt to new challenges:  a new normal.

Tomorrow I will continue this series into my "new" normal.  I hope you will join me there.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Confronting my worst fear

Yesterday I started a blog on the theme of things you will not find on my wish list.  Sort of a continuance of my 20 Wishes blog.

Being the proud possessor of a deranged mind, I am very aware that my mind does not always - or often - stay on track.  It goes wherever it so desires.  Whenever.  It shifts.  It changes direction in one second - or is it one nanosecond? - flat.  If my mind were a train, it would officially be declared derailed.  Off the track.  Only instead of lying in a heap of wreckage beside the track, it would be wandering off intact through fields, crossing streams and rivers, flying above the ground, smelling the coffee, enjoying the flowers.  My mind has a mind of its own.

And so, while I'm trying to write about the things you will never find on a wish list I create, I began to think of why - the logical, practical -  the reasons why these things won't be on my wish list.  And then I began to think of things I wouldn't have dared to put on my wish list - due to fear, unhealthy fear, which I have accomplished since the beginning of this journey in 2005.  Feats of daring endeavour - for me - which have amazed and astounded both me and my family members.  Stories which have become part of the fabric of not only my story but our family stories and memories.

Originally I was going to share a few of these in today's blog, but have since decided to narrow it down to one.  The first one.  The one that started the whole ball rolling.  The one I am most proud of.

Before I begin, I need to set the scene - as all good writers do.  Fear has ruled my life as far back as I can remember.  Fear of the dark.  Fear of monsters lurking under my bed.  Fear of heights.  Fear of closed in spaces.  These fears bound and constricted my life.  Elevators?  No way.  Stairs?  Yes, as long as they were cement and closed-in.  Those that had spaces between each step, were out in the open or were glass enclosed were terrifying to me and, therefore, off limits.  Getting above the first floor in a building could be quite a challenge.

 So now that the background scenery is painted and up.  The background set.  We embark on today's story.

 One summer weekend, Papa Bear and I were visiting Parry Sound, Ontario - a favorite place for us - when his eye caught a fearsome sight.  The Parry Sound Lookout Tower.  He wanted to climb it.  I froze at even the sight of this fearsome structure.  My fear of heights was so strong that even looking at the tower brought on physical signs of panic.

Tom claimed it - alone - while I waited at the bottom.  Then I got to thinking.  Maybe, just maybe, I could do it.  Maybe.  So I tried.  Alone.  I got to perhaps the third landing.  I froze.  I could not go any further.  My legs were like rubber.  Sensations which I cannot describe adequately or effectively were cascading like electric impulses through my lower extremities.  In defeat, I struggled down the stairway.

BUT.  I hate to admit defeat.  In my heart of hearts, I really wanted to do this.  I wanted to defeat my fear.  I wanted to defeat this monster.  I thought about it.  I talked with Papa Bear about it.  His read:  I was actually safer climbing up this tower than I was on a walking trail.  On a walking trail, I could break a part of my anatomy.  On the tower, this was highly unlikely.  Falling off an impossibility.

Another trip to Parry Sound.  This time, I enlisted Papa Bear as my helper, my encourager, my support on this second attempt to defeat the enemy.

My heart in my throat, I gripped the railing with my right hand.  A death grip on Papa Bear's with my left.  Slowly, we went up.  Very slowly.  Stopping at every landing to take pictures.  My legs were a mass of jelly.  But Papa Bear's hand grip remained firm.  His strength became my strength.  He refused to let me fail.  He knew how badly I wanted to conquer this fear.  Each landing, I thought was my last.  Each time, he encouraged me to go one further.  And then another one.  And another one.  He consistently reminded me that I could not possibly fall through the cracks.  That the tower, though it looked fearsome, was safe.  He refused to let me fail.

Digressing a bit.  I had had a dream in which I was faced with driving alone over a high bridge or a skyway or some such thing.  I cannot remember all the details but in this dream I was faced with this fact:  There is nothing to fear except fear itself.  The fear is the problem.  Not the high place.  In this dream, I drove over this terrifying high place successfully constantly reminding myself that there was nothing to fear but fear itself.  In this dream, I felt peace acknowledging that the fear was just that:  a fear.  Not a reality.  The bridge itself had no power over me.  It was the fear that did.

And so I went up those fearsome, terrifying stairs, heart in mouth.  Step by step.  Reminding myself constantly, out loud, that there was nothing to fear except the fear itself.  Reminding myself of my favorite Biblical promise and verse:  I can do all things through Christ who strengths me (Philippians 4:13 KJV).

As we were going up so were others.  Some completely unafraid.  Some having physical problems.  Others not exactly comfortable at the idea of climbing up the tower themselves.  Some committed to making it to the top.  Others not so.

One female duo was quite interesting.  This duo consisted of two women, I believe one the mother, the other her daughter.  They went up quite easily.  I envied them.  They passed us going up once.  Going down.  Going up a second time. Going down again.  This scenario repeated itself something like four or five times while I plodded inexorably and slowly to the top.  Oh how I wished I could fly with eagles' wings to the top.

Fy I did not.  Race I did not.  Consistently with my mind focused on the goal, the finish line, I kept going.  Not intent on being the first one up.  Intent only on getting up there.

People passing us going up were well aware of the challenge I was facing.

Reaching the top finally, we were met with smiles, congratulations.  An acknowledgement by those who had reached the prized goal before us, that we were winners.  I was a winner.

 Papa Bear and I have now accomplished four assaults on the fearsome tower.  A little less effort is needed each time.  Each time, Papa Bear holds my hand and encourages me.  At this point I still cannot reach the finish line, the goal, without his help and support.  Each time, I come away a little prouder of myself.

Yes!  I CAN do all things with Christ's - and Papa Bear's - help!

There is nothing to fear EXCEPT fear itself.