Saturday, June 30, 2012

Off Again!

 Off again!  Twice in the same week.  In the same direction.  Crossing at the same border crossing.  This time, with Papa Bear, at the wheel, going the "fast" way i.e. expressways aka interstate highways in the States.

Going to visit my Mama Bear.  The Matriarch of our clan.  For her 97th birthday this coming week.  On the Fourth of July.

Born July 14, 1915, Matriarch Bear grew up during the decade of the roaring 20s.  Was a young adult struggling to get her education in the depression years.  Served in the Navy as a WAVE in the 40s.  A young mother in the 50s. Watched her children grow up and re-entered the workforce in the 60s, living in the suburbs.  The 70s saw her cubs starting to fly away and stretch their wings.  One married and starting a family.  Her first two grandchildren.  The other cub still trying to find out who she was.  The 80s saw both of her cubs married and the addition of two more grandchildren.  It also saw retirement and trips with Patriarch Bear to different places including Canada where one cub, two grandcubs and a cub-in-law now resided.  Still spry, still very active, she could walk this poor bear under the table at that time.  The 90s saw her still in the house, she and Patriarch Bear purchased in 1956 in the suburbs.  Getting older.  Still feisty.  1998 saw a huge change in her life when her fellow partner - and sparring partner - through life died suddenly.  Living alone for the first time in more than 50 years.  Cubs grown and gone.  Into the millennium, she "aged in place" in the old house in Ohio.  But by the middle of the first decade of the millennium, it became evident that it was time for her to move on.  To move closer to family.  In 2005, right after her 90th birthday, she took the initiative to move.  Hundreds of miles from everything she's known for almost half a century, she moved to an enriched seniors housing facility near one of her cubs.  A huge change.  But a good one - for all of us.  Now in the 10s, her mind still active, her body is getting frailer.

She's lived through WWI, WWII, the Korean conflict and the Vietnam War, the Bay of Pigs Fiasco, and the Cuban Missile Crisis - just to name a few.  She's experienced rationing.  She got her driver's license in the 60s - somewhere in her 40s.  She's experienced turbulent changes.  She's seen segregation and desegregation.  Watched riots on the TV.  She watched the world change around her while she was busy changing diapers, making lunches, working, tending her garden, painting, doing the things most women of her generation did.

She saw the transition from horse drawn conveyances to cars.  She witnessed the birth of the TV.  Saw men go into space and walk on the moon.  In short, she's gone from the "stone" age to the computer age - in 97 short years.

So, this week I will make the trip to see her once again.  To honour her.  To thank her for being my mother.

I will rejoice with her on her birthday and celebrate the 4th with her and my sibling cub as only small town America can.

I will give thanks for my mom.

Thank you, Mom, for everything you did to make me the woman I am today.

I love you.

Happy Birthday, Firecracker!

Friday, June 29, 2012

Pushing the Envelope

"Pastor" Karl

Recently, in this blog, I've been exploring the reality of the extent of the damage/injury I sustained during the severely stressful situation in 2011.  Of the on-going challenges I cope with on a daily basis.  How there are no instructions to follow to navigate through the physical morass I find myself saddled with.  How I wish there was an emotional GPS to guide me through this.  At the next intersection, turn right.  Etc.  But then would I learn anything?  Or would the GPS to emotional health become a crutch?  An enabler?

And so, this week, I was faced with a challenge.  One I could accept.  Or deny.  The choice was mine.  What decision was I going to make?  Was I up to this challenge?

The challenge?  Driving to Niagara Falls, NY to see a good friend (and encourager during this rough time) whom I hadn't seen in approximately 25 years.  Someone who knows me well.  Someone who's seen me when I was angry, unloveable, and was still willing to come alongside me.

The problem?  Niagara Falls, while a good deal closer than northern California, where Pastor Karl and his wife now live, was still a far drive from the "Golden Triangle" where I live.  About 1 1/2 to 2 hours using expressways.  More using back roads.  Expressways are still beyond me.  

To complicate matters, Pastor Karl was only going to be in the area for three days.  Three weekdays - which meant that Papa Bear could not accompany me - unless he took time off work.

I enquired of several encouragers who have gone the extra mile in the past.  None were able to come with me this time.

Social isolation is part and parcel of the road I travel.  My outside network is limited.  Especially when asking someone to give up an entire day.

In my present state of constantly fluctuating disabilities/altered abilities, I figured that I could probably make it there on my own.  But could I make it back?  What if I started out and then was unable to make it home?  What if I got too tired to drive home?  Too foggy in the mind?  Not alert enough?  What if?  What if?

What should I do.  Should I try?  Or should I stay home in my safe den?  

I had decided no.  I would pass.  Stay in the safety zone.  Not push the envelope.  And then Pastor Karl arrived in Buffalo and called me.  Something in me said "make one more effort to try to find someone."  Just one more effort.  If you don't, you may well be passing up a once in a lifetime chance to see Pastor Karl in the flesh up close and personal.  The opportunity may never happen again.

Who could I ask?  I put my thinking cap on.  (Helps to have a thinking cap!)  Running mentally through my limited inventory of friends and (mostly) family, my sister-in-love's name popped out.  Another encourager at times during this journey.  She wasn't able to come BUT she offered the assistance of her daughter who has her learner's permit.  In Canada we have the graduated licensing system, which means in practical terms for this trip that "A" could not drive on limited access highways.  However, since I'm not up to driving those roads - yet - and would have had to drive the back way anyway,  I jumped at the offer.

During the last hour while working on this blog, I have become very tired.  Too tired to continue writing.  To continue thinking.  Mentally still buoyed up by yesterday's trip.  Physically, needing to crash.  Therefore, I will finish today's blog, not with words, but with pictures.

Thank you for accompanying me on my journey through recovery.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


One thing you've noticed if you're regularly following this blog, is that it's been very sporadic lately.  Posting one day, then nothing.  Or maybe two or even three or four days in a row.  Then nothing.  Very erratic.  Which is why I made up a "new" word:  erracticism.  There's eroticism for erotic.  So why not erracticism for erratic?  (And yes, my spell check is having major issues with this word since it doesn't exist.  But then that's the advantage of being the possessor of a deranged mind.)

As I walk this path which I really didn't expect - or want - to be travelling at this, or at any other, time in my life, I find that it is not an easy forward direction.  


I call this phase in my life recovery.  Recovery, I've found is very erratic.  I start going in one direction thinking I've finally found a solution - only to find myself back in bed.  Bedridden temporarily.  Not able to move.  Not able to read.  Sometimes not even able to sleep.

And/or the itching crops up again.  Every time I think I've got it tamed, it finds ways to remind me that it has no intentions to lie low and be tamed.  The good times are when my skin actually feels like skin, not like an inside out pincushion being pricked ceaselessly from the inside.  Minor itching on the torso.  Warning signals are when the itching extends from the torso to the limbs.  I know I'm in big trouble when the itching makes its way to the scalp, the eyeballs, inside the ears, the toes, the fingers.  You name it, nothing is sacred when I'm in a major flare-up.  There are times I feel like screaming.  There are times the discomfort is so severe that I can't even find words to use.  Those are the times I throw some cream to Papa Bear and make motions.  Fortunately, he understands.  He hurts when I hurt.  He feels badly when I feel badly.  He feels helpless.  Because there's nothing he can do - except apply the cream.

I started out this blog early this year with definite goals in mind:  to start writing again, to hone my craft in the pages of this blog, to work towards a certificate in writing from a local college, to start exercising with an aquafit program, to attend a Bible study regularly.  In short:  to start moving forward.  To put the past behind.  To explore options.  To re-enter the outside world.

At first, it seemed like everything was coming together.  I started the blog.  People even read it!  I took a course in grammar via computer - enjoying the interaction with others in a "safe" environment i.e. the class message board.  I regularly attended a water walking class at our local rec centre which meant I was getting out regularly and interacting on a very basic social level with others i.e. hello, good-bye, how are you this week?  I attended the Bible study faithfully.  Never missing a week.  That was hard being in a room with roughly 25 other women.  Ironically, the Bible study was on Grace Fox's Moving From Fear to Freedom video series.  My original intention when invited to attend this group was simply to get out and start being around people.  Socialization.  Little did I suspect that I would be thrown into confronting fears I didn't know I had.  Fear of people.  Fear of rejection.  Going back time and time again was hard.  Not because of the people.  Because of the fears.  Because of the lies I'd internalized from the severely stressful situation in 2011 which has changed my life - for better or worse.

I found these people scary.  Which would make them laugh manically if they heard that.

So where am I going with this?

Where am I going indeed?

Recovery is not only hard work.  Definitely not for the faint hearted.  But it's also not a steady forward movement.  It goes forward and backward - sometimes unexpectedly.

It's erratic.

I ask your understanding at the erraticism of this blog as I struggle through this morass daily.  As I keep moving unsteadily and erratically forward.

Thank you for walking with me in this.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Instructions Not Included

Ever tried to assemble something?  Looking at 52 pages of small print instructions - in the dark of night with only a flashlight for illumination?  A flashlight with weak batteries.  Add a strong wind which blows the sheets of paper about like leaves in the fall.  The letters swim about on the paper changing shape and form.  For all the good, they're doing, they could be written in another script entirely.

A nightmare?  Your worst nightmare?

You ask yourself:  Is this a dream or is it real?  Am I going to wake up from this?

In my experience with trauma, especially the latest trauma in 2011, I learned the difference between a nightmare and a horror story.  A nightmare you wake up from.  Horror you don't.

Most importantly, I learned that recovery from severe stress, etc. does not come with any instructions.  No doctor, no counsellor can give you exact directions to follow to get well.  There are too many variables in the equation.  In fact, in my journey, I've been the one researching, problem-solving, describing symptoms to my health care team.  It's been a trial and error process.

I've been blessed that my counsellor not only is well-versed in trauma but has experienced it in her own life, thus enabling her to walk beside me step by painful step.  It was my counsellor who first described my experience as "horror" and suggested that until I faced the horror, it would not magically go away.  It was my counsellor who told me a piece of her journey through trauma and how she learned that after the acute phase settles, the physical body starts to act up some six to 12 months after the trauma.  It was my counsellor who give me a huge piece of wisdom:  when the victim is experiencing both emotional and physical symptoms, taking care of the physical symptoms comes first.

Even then she couldn't tell me what to do.  She could only support me as I stumbled and bumbled my way through the morass.  She could - and did - provide a safe place for me to tell my story - over and over again from this viewpoint and from that viewpoint - ad nauseum and to work through all the complications of recovery from severe stress and trauma.

My doctor, likewise, has provided a support system through regularly following up with me re: medications, emotions, etc.

Both have provided a lifeline.

Both have allowed me to direct my own journey towards healing.

Both have affirmed me as a human being in this journey.

Both have helped restore my sense of self worth, that there really is some value left in this old bear, by repeatedly affirming the conclusions I am drawing and the way I'm directing my healing journey.

Recovery doesn't come with easy instructions.

But it is possible.

I'll be exploring this issue of recovery minus instructions in later posts.  Until then, keep reading and keep healing.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Life is what happens ...

...when we have others plans.

As I originally thought about the idea for this post, I was thinking of all the times I've been  heading in one direction.  Only to have life intervene in a way where I'm forced into another, totally unexpected direction.  Being asked to resign from a position as a children's home in the 1970s was one such example.  Because of that I ended up finding a really good church in my home community, went to Bible school and, eventually, became a missionary/teacher in Texas.  That eventually led to a path which took me first to language school in south Texas and then to a mission on the Texas/US border where I was a missionary/teacher for two years.  Which led to another incident when life intervened with my plans.  During my second year, a lone Canadian male came down for the winter who said he'd had a dream in which I became his wife.  We were married that summer. Resulting in 2.5 children who might never have been born if I hadn't initially been asked to resign from that job in the children's home.

Life is indeed what happens when you have other plans.

Life has been intervening big time in my story for more than a year now.  It's caused a lot of pain, frustration, yet also growth and learning.

I cope daily with the latent affects of severe stress:  itching which at times is so bad that I can't bear to have anything touch my body.  Sometimes I'm close to screaming with the discomfort.  So uncomfortable that words won't come.  Fatigue.  So bad that I lie in bed unable to move, to read, to do anything other than prayer.  But at least I can pray.  Weakness.  My body feels like rubber.  One weekend last fast when this fast starting taking over my life, the sun was shining outside my window.  A gorgeous fall day.  There wouldn't be many others like it.  I wanted to go outside.  Enjoy the sunshine.  But too weak to sit up, I had to content myself with lying on my bed letting the sun stream in through the window.  Other affects come and go:  balance issues, inertia, inability to enjoy things I used to.  Impaired cognitive skills.  There have been times when the balance has been so off kilter that I've had to grab something, anything, to stay upright.

Life ... intervened when I had other plans.

My plans?  What where they?  To stay at my job another 3 1/2 years until the magic age of 65.  To take a long-delayed vacation with Papa Bear to British Columbia - our original honeymoon destination which never happened because life ....

Life happened in 2011 in the form of a stress breakdown, psychiatric injury.  Already coping and dealing with lifelong complex PTSD, I found myself floundering in a turbulent sea of emotions.  Violent waves crashing in over me again and again.  Unrelenting.  Until finally, emotionally I went under.  Drowning.  Crushed.

Life ...

Yet I still hung on like a drowning person to a log.  Trying to survive.  To keep my head above the water that was engulfing me.

I knew I could not go back into that situation.  It would kill me.  I had Papa Bear and the cubs to live for.

Life ...

What do you do when it intervenes?  Go back into the den, curl up, lie down and hibernate?  If so, for how long?  Just for a season?  Or for longer?

What do you do when the big world outside the den suddenly feels unsafe.  Terrifying.  Other bears are lurking out there somewhere.  Hostile bears.  How will I know if they are friend or foe?  Do I even want to?

Life ...  is not only what happens when you have other plans, but how you handle the interruption.

More in another post.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Bloom Where Planted ...

... is a nice, catchy phrase.  One of Mary Englebritt's best - especially when part of one of her cute little pictures.  Problem is ... bloom where planted is a fallacy.  Not always possible.

At one point, stuck in a two bedroom basement apartment with income below the poverty level and the landlord from hell, I thought the reason I wasn't happy was me.  All I needed to do was change my outlook on life.  Make the most of what I had.  Keep trying. Be positive.  Bloom where planted.

It worked.  For a while.  Then I had a breakdown.  Serious depression, for years, ensued.  What had I done wrong?

And then, by a miracle, I got my first - and only - house.  Doors directly to the outside.  A garden to plant.  A clothesline.  A stoop to sit on out front and a patio out back.  Heaven.

In the early days, I picked out whatever plants my heart desired and planted them wherever I wanted to.  My theory?  Actually, I didn't really have one.  Just trial ... and, unfortunately, some error.

I've learned a lot of lessons from my garden.  One of the earliest ones beng that not every plant can bloom where it's planted. Some are doing good just to survive.  To hang on.

In those early days, I had some pretty scrawny plants.  Hostas planted in full sun when they are a shade plant.

And then there was my clematis.  My new neighbour had one planted against her clothesline.  A beautiful blue in colour.  Large flowers.

I picked out my clemantis with care.  Planted it as per instructions - or so I thought - with a little shrub immediately in front to shade its feet.

Two seasons passed.  My clematis did not resemble my neighbour's beautiful flowering plant at all.  Scrawny.  Almost no blooms.  A big disappointment.

Until Papa Bear took a close look at it and said:  "Mama Bear, I think we planted this on the wrong side of the clothesline."  The sun was shining directly on the plant.  The shrub to shade it's feet planted "behind it" rather than in front of it - sun/shade wise.

So one Saturday in 2001, Mama and Papa Bear relocated said plant to the opposite end of the clothesline.

And waited.

The plant grew.  Another season came.

The plant burst forth  glorios wonder!

Buds, then blooms, everywhere.  Climbing up the entire clothesline.  Growing over the top.  Entwining itself on the lines itself.

Now, it can bloom where planted.  Now it can thrive.

Like the plant, I had to learn that being positive in a hostile situation is not always enough.  Sometimes, one has to realize that the conditions are not conducive to blooming.  Survival is all that's going to happen.

Do I continue to battle a hopeless situation?  Or do I move on to better soil?  To more optimum growing conditions?  Where I can not only thrive but bloom profusely?

I choose ... to thrive.  To bloom.  To live.

*all pictures taken in 2011*

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

I am a survivor

 All of the pictures in this blog are of the same plant in my garden.  Duh ... you say.  I think I can figure it out by myself ... you might also say.  And you'd be right.

However, have you asked yourself the question why I would take - and display - so many pictures of one plant?  Of all the plants in my garden, what makes this one so special to me?

This plant and I have a lot in common.  We've both been traumatized. We've both survived.  And we're both blooming.  Slower than most other plants in the garden.  Stunted surely.  But glorious nonetheless.

I love the colour yellow and I had seen a peony in a catalogue that was yellow.  I wanted it.  Badly.  Problem was that it was very costly.  Over $100 just for the root itself - with no guarantee that I would get a plant out of that root.  I vowed to myself that if I ever saw that plant - or any yellow peony, it would be mine.

The plant on the left is not the one I saw in the catalogue.  It is a tree peony.  But hey!  it's yellow - and that was all that mattered to me at that moment.  The colour.

When I planted it in my garden, I applied too much force getting it out of its container - and broke off the stalk at the root.  Not good.  Not good at all.  Plants come with a guarantee - if they die of natural causes.  Not if the gardener breaks them.

I really really wanted that plant.  So I did what comes naturally to me.  I held body and soul, that is stalk and root, together and planted it deeper than normal.  Packing soil around the broken stalk.  Hoping it would knit itself together - and live.  I watered it deeply to give it a better chance to develop a good root system - and life.  Then, I put my hands on it and prayed for it.  Having done all I could at that moment, I left the plant in God's hands.  The ultimate gardener.

Not to say that I abandoned this plant figuring I could bow out of active duty now that God was in charge, because I didn't.  I kept watch over that plant daily.  It was a dry, very dry summer.  Every time the plant drooped, I was there with the watering can, watering it deeply.  Each time it perked right back up  Time after time, I applied more water.  Ever vigilant.  Ever hopeful.

The next spring came.  Everyday I watched for signs of life.  Finally they came.  Starting with tiny bursts of new growth which became ever larger as the days passed and the growing season progress.  Hallelujah!  The peony was alive!  However, the worst wasn't over yet.  The rabbits also discovered my little survivor - and pruned it down.  Again, it lived.  Problem is that tree peonies bloom from old growth.  Unless my survivor could grow up without pruning, it was not going to bloom.

I appealed to a "higher source" for help:  Papa Bear.  He put a tomato cage around the plant and fastened chicken wire around it to discourage the rabbits.  Now the waiting game began - again.  The watching, the waiting, the anticipation all over again.

Meanwhile, I bought a second yellow tree peony and planted it somewhere else in the garden.  This time I didn't break its stalk.  This time, the plant was protected from the rabbits from the beginning.  This plant didn't suffer any of the traumas the first one did.

A year or so passed.  The second, untraumatized tree peony bloomed.  The traumatized one still struggled to grow, to catch up.

Year three.  A bud!  My survivor was going to bloom!  Yes!  She was still smaller than her non-traumatized counterpart, but she was blooming!

 Not only alive, she was blooming!

I resemble this plant.  I have complex PTSD from many different life situations dating back to childhood.  Verbal abuse.  Schoolyard bullying both by students and teachers.  Molestation.  Just to name a few.  I've struggled to survive the trauma.  Now I'm struggling to recover.
I don't remember where I was in my journey when I planted this peony.  Probably somewhere between my first two bouts of workplace bullying.  In a dark place.  A place of anger.  A place of sorrow.  A place of unresolved issues.  A place where there were no answers to my questions.  A place I never want to go back to again.

Which is why the colour yellow meant so much to me.  A bright spot in an otherwise dark time.  Hope.  For a brighter tomorrow.

That is why this plant's survival has meant so much to me.

At the time she first bloomed a year behind the her "healthy" sister, she was still noticeably smaller than the other plant.  Less blooms.  But blooming happily away nonetheless.  A survivor. My survivor.

Like this plant, I am behind others in my ways - especially emotionally or EI as they now called it: emotional intelligence.  I've struggled to recover from all the traumas of the past - with new ones occurring in the present - most noticeably my second bout with workplace bullying.

My road continues to be tenuous in some ways.  Yet spring always comes.  New growth.  New life.  Blooms in their season.

I've been stunted.  I've needed extra care.  From friends.  From counsellors.  I've needed protection from unfriendly aspects of my environment just like my peony needed protection from the rabbits. I've needed extra "watering" so that my roots would go deep and enable me to survive.

Yet, as I work through recovery there are times when I thrive.  Times when the buds come.  Times when the buds spring forth into glorious blossoms.  Time when I know that I will survive.

And I will bloom again.

Like my plant, I am a survivor.