Wednesday, March 27, 2013

An Accidental Adventure

According to WikipediaAn adventure is an exciting or unusual experience; it may also be a bold, usually risky undertaking, with an uncertain outcome.[1] Adventures may be activities with some potential for physical danger, such as skydivingmountain climbing or participating in extreme sports. The term also broadly refers to any enterprise that is potentially fraught with physical, financial or psychological risk, such as a business venture, a love affair, or other major life undertakings.

Over a year ago, when the chronic affects of fatigue, hypervigilence, severe itching, loss of cognitive skills and memory loss reared their ugly heads and took over my life completely changing it, adventure became something I watched in a movie, read in a book, or experienced vicariously through others.

Going outside the den into the big world outside to appointments, etc., became a struggle.  Not because of agoraphobia, although it can be a result of the stress and trauma I went through, but because I no longer had the physical, emotional or cognitive capabilities to navigate the outside world on my own.

My world became constricted, most of the time, to my house.  Especially to one room.  The one I call my office.  The one which houses almost everything I need to sustain life as I know it:  the computer, DVDs, CDs, books, my yarn stash.  In short, everything I need to survive - except the bed, the kitchen and the bathroom.

So when I had an appointment with a specialist in another town about an hour from my den, it presented a challenge.  Factor in that our one and only car (complete with hubby) was in a different town in a completely different direction that day plus all the people I would normally call on for a ride were not available, the challenge escalated.  I seriously considered cancelling the appointment - until my loyal supporter, aka daughter bear, said that if I were doing better she would suggest taking a bus.

Thus began what became an "accidental" adventure.  Problem-solving discovered how to get there (and back) by bus.  Brainstorming with Papa Bear came up with a plan.  He would drop me off and continue on to where he had to be, thus getting me not only to the city in question but to the exact geographical area.  I only had to find my way back - a one-way challenge.

The day arrived.  I was experiencing a lot of angst especially as the ability to speak sometimes deserts me in strange places, and I appear to be mentally disabled to outsiders.  (You've never lived until you've seen people react to you as though you're mentally challenged - or worse.)  Daughter bear suggested I write everything down so that if I couldn't speak coherently, I could show people where I needed to be.

I programmed in the GPS and we were on our way - to the scary unknown.

Arriving close to our destination, it was clear that something was amiss when we drove past a run down, two-story brick building which was supposed to be the correct address.  Oh!  The street had an east and a west.  We were on West, so we tried East - and Voila! like magic the correct building appeared.   Although hours too early for the appointment, we walked to the building, got in the elevator and found the correct office.  Even though it was obvious (at least to me) that I wasn't operating on all four cylinders mentally, the receptionist was delightful (maybe she's used to strange patients).  She confirmed the appointment and gave us directions to the bus station since I would have to find it after the appointment on my own.  

Even though her directions were very simple, I found it difficult to comprehend them.  This is where Papa Bear's unfailing love and help came in.  Together, we found the right exit. Together, we walked to the bus station.  He stayed back while I purchased my ticket home.  Together we walked back to where he had parked the car and prayed for successful ventures for both of us.  Me to my appointment and later home by bus; him to another city to take a course. 

Then I was on my own.  Alone in an unfamiliar city for the first time in a long time.  Alone.  Yet, thanks to Papa Bear equipped with everything I needed to survive: knowledge of where the appointment and the bus station were; my bus ticket purchased.  I had my cell phone, a book and a project to knit.  I had what was left of my tattered and battered cognitive skills - which although submerged but are still in existence.  I had people praying for me and routing for me.

It was not an adventure in the sense that most people would comprehend.  I didn't climb a mountain or vault over a tall building in a single bound.  But I did manage to navigate in a strange city - alone - for the first time since the stress breakdowns.  Away from all the familiar.  Away from all the supports I've built into my daily life and routine.  I challenged myself - and I succeeded.

I am proud of myself for that.

My one regret:  I did not bring my camera along to visually preserve the adventure.

Maybe next time....

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lean into the pain...

Many years ago, at a writers' conference, the keynote speaker told us to "lean into the pain" as we went through life.  Especially through life as writers where to know pain is to write about it.  Life is painful.  By it's very definition.  No one gets out of it ... well ... alive.

In this address, the speaker's example was about a phone call she'd had with her teen age son.  Something nasty had happened at school which had hurt him badly.  These four words, "lean into the pain", were her advice to him.

Boardwalk at Murrell's Inlet, SC - my path in life one day this January
Frankly, it puzzled me.  What did she mean by "lean into the pain"?  Why would this be helpful?  After all, our culture is all about alleviating  not feeling, pain.  We're bombarded with advertisements for this pain killer and that.  For this condition or that.  It would seem that our entire focus is on ways to avoid pain, or even potential pain at all costs.

But pain, although painful, is not all bad.  Pain gives you limitations which need to be heeded i.e. don't walk on a leg when it's broken.  Don't ignore the pain from a burn or wound, but rather treat it - appropriately.  Keep your bare skin away from open flames lest you get burned.  Pain makes you aware that something is wrong.  Pain needs to be heeded in order to be healed properly.

I forgot about that keynote speaker for almost two decades.  If you ask me now, I can't tell you who she was or what she spoke on, but I do remember those four words:  lean into the pain.

In 2011 after several years of remarkable recovery and progress through all the past debris that coated my life, things went downhill big time.  Fast.  I had two stress breakdowns back to back.  I lost my job.

A couple of weeks later - my path beside the Grand River in Kitchener, ON
based on a petition submitted to management and HR by my (now former) co-workers while on a protracted leave due to the damage caused by the stress breakdowns.  Accused of many things.  Unsubstantiated allegations.  No one, not even the union, defended me.  Like the log being thrust by the heavy current down the river to places unknown and unwanted in the picture above, I was caught, trapped, in a free-flowing situation which I could not control.  By currents too powerful to escape from.  Unable to protect myself against allegations and reprisals.  Defenseless.

Several months passed in which I worked on healing.  Continually assaulted by emotions, thoughts.  Battered.  Bruised emotionally.  The situation although now in the, not so distant, past was continually with me.  Haunting me.  Tormenting my mind.  Even in sleep it was always there.  Nightmares.  First thing on my mind when I woke up in the morning.  Always in front of me.  I could not escape it, no matter how hard I tried.  No matter what techniques I used.  No matter how many times I went to counselling sessions.  Always in the forefront of my mind.

One day during our regular appointment, I asked my counsellor why these thoughts and images wouldn't go away.  Wouldn't be silenced.  Why, even months later, they were still with me all the time.  Awake or asleep.

Her answer?  You have to face the horror of what you went through before you can put it to rest.

I realized at that moment that there is a difference between a nightmare and horror.  A nightmare you wake up from.  Horror you don't.  You have to work through it.  Slowly.  Painstakingly.

You have to lean into the pain.  Experience it fully.  Face it.  Stare it in the eye.  And don't be the first to back down.

The same path as above - less than two weeks later
Completely different
Then, and only then, can healing begin to take place.

Friday, March 1, 2013

You know you're having a good day when ...

Hmmmm.  Now that's a good one.

Sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean - North Myrtle Beach, 2013
This was a title for a potential blog I put up months ago.  When I had a thought in my head and wanted to expand on it.  I was so sure that I would remember what it was that had triggered this title, that I never wrote anything more down.

Life changes.  It has been so many months since I had a good day that I no longer know what a good day looks like.

Oh yes, I have glimmers hear and there.

For me, a good day translates into a day where I feel peace, contentment.  At home in my body.  A day when all the accumulated, debilitating affects of severe stress have laid down their ugly heads for a truce.  A truce which is tenuous at best.  Unstable.  Liable to be broken at any moment without warning.  But still, for the time being, a truce.

Fog over the ocean
A good day is when the at times severe itching is under control and my skin feels like skin, not like an inside out pin cushion with pins poking from underneath the skin.  A great day is when I can sit in my "safe" room wearing clothes.

A good day is when my emotions are not cloaked and choked under a fog so deep that all creativity, passion and interest are stifled.  A great day is when the spark returns and interest in the outside world starts to flow.  Maybe only for a short time but still there.  Lurking somewhere deep inside straining to get out.

A good day is when I'm able to crochet or knit; cook; work on my blog.  A great day is when I'm able to read the patterns; read a cookbook and understand what I'm reading.

A good day is when energy is not so seriously depleted that I'm able to do small things:  make the bed, take a bath; a great day is when I'm able to plan an outing and follow through, take a walk, drive, ride the bus.

A good day is filled with colour; a great day is filled with vivid colours.

A good day is filled with contentment, shared moments, memories being made.  A great day has all these three plus the added ingredient of laughter.

A good day is where there is peace; a great day is where there is hope.

Hope for healing.

Hope for full recovery.

Late afternoon at the intercoastal waterway, South Carolina