Friday, April 26, 2013

The Worst 6 1/2 Weeks of my Life ...

From a Deranged Mind Perspective.

My life - as I knew it when I woke up that morning - changed in one moment.  The moment my body came crashing down on the floor with all the weight on one place - my wrist.

The pain was ... well ... astronomical.  

I remember screaming as I lay half in and half out of the bathtub.  Papa Bear had no idea what had happened but could surmise that whatever it was I hadn't drowned.  I was making way too much noise.

Up to this point, life during that time period had been very difficult for me anyway.  The on-going process of recovery from trauma wasn't going well.  People, especially people close to me, misunderstood and turned on me.  Venting frustration and overall disapproval.  Saying things like:  "After all, you don't have cancer."  Even saying that the emotional recovery I'd experienced and was an on-going process was heading the wrong direction.  Shaking my fragile self esteem to the very core of my being.  Thus ushering in a different phase of the journey.  Acute psychological trauma/injury  heaped on top of everything I'd been dealing with up to that point.

Life once again became a daily struggle.  Not just to survive, but to maintain even a facade of normalcy.  I struggled daily to regain what I had lost.  To deal with the present trauma.  Affects piled onto affects.

And then my mother died.

Coming back from the funeral, what little strength and resources I had were completely exhausted, I could barely function.  Everything was a chore.  There was no energy left.  Zip.  Zilch.  Nada.

Even simple things like grocery shopping overwhelmed me.  Life as I knew it came to a screeching halt.  Unable to do the simplest things.  Unable to enjoy life.  Unable to cook and prepare meals for my husband.  Unable ....  My world seemed to circle around that one word.  With "not understood" coming in a close second.  Only people walking closely with a victim of trauma, PTSD, etc. understands what it's like.  Outsiders looking in don't have a clue.  Not because they're intrinsically mean, but because
"it" doesn't have a name (i.e. cancer) that their mind can grasp.  And because they're not motivated enough to read the literature available and research trauma, how it impacts the victim and how to walk with, encourage and support the victim.

Most of that time from September to mid-November  before I broke my wrist is only a blur in my mind.  One grey day after another.  A struggle to get through.  To cope.  The most common feelings:  being overwhelmed; exhaustion.

Then I broke my wrist.  My right wrist.  My dominant one.

If I thought things were bad before, they suddenly got worse - much worse.

My life already defined by "couldn'ts" became much more limited.  I couldn't dress myself at first.  I couldn't knit. I couldn't crochet.  I couldn't even write.  I couldn't open cans.  Even making the morning coffee required some creativity.  Now my life was even more defined by the word "unable" as emotional fatigue/injury collided with the physical.

Constant pain.  My swollen fingers protruding from my blue cast like fat, green sausages.

Most of the things that kept me halfway sane, like knitting, crocheting, writing, were gone.  Driving too.  I became a "shut-in" for all practical intents and purposes only leaving the house, my safe place, when escorted by someone, usually my long-sufferin' spouse.

Christmas was coming on.  More couldn'ts.  I couldn't make presents. I couldn't drive to buy presents.  I had no idea what to buy people anyway.  Ideas wouldn't come, the mind was so disabled.  Overwhelmed.  In pain.

Even the painkillers weren't working well.  The help that normal people receive when they're going through a difficult period i.e. a diagnosed disease simply wasn't there.  No meals brought in - even though it was physically impossible to prepare any.  No phone calls of concern.  Nada.  I was left, for the most part, on  my own to struggle through and meet my/our basic daily needs as best I could.  My therapist told me that I needed to rest in order to heal.  But how to do that?  How to rest when every formerly mundane, routine task (a) still needed to be done and (b) required more effort and creativity than ever?  How to rest when the outside support just isn't there?

Yet, somehow we made it through.  I say "we" because it was Papa Bear taking care of me, taking care of his "injured" den mate   He did the dishes.  He carried laundry up and down stairs.  He opened cans of cat food (for which the cat was immensely grateful).  He cut my meat.  He drove me places.  He even dressed me the first few days.  Always sheltering me.  Always watchful.

Even while working a physically demanding full-time job, he came home and did the daily chores.

How to end this posting?  Usually, I find something positive.  Some hope.  Something on the up side to leave my reader with; however,  there are times in life,when not much positive is happening and the best one can do is deal with what life has thrown at them.

This was such a time.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Rough Spot on the Journey

Sometimes my walk through PTSD, trauma, severe stress and its aftereffects resembles the photo above.   A walk on a pier.  Except that when the bear (who strongly resembles Papa Bear) reaches the end of this pier he will stop, maybe take a look around, turn and head back to tierra firma.  Not so with victims/survivors of trauma.  It seems like in my journey, the on-going journey through trauma and recovery, is like that walk on the pier.  Except the trauma doesn't know enough to stop at the end of the pier, look around and turn back.  It keeps on going straight ahead off the pier and and into deep water.  With no warning.  It doesn't even know that the pier, the safe territory, has ended and unfathomable depths are ahead.  Uncharted territory.

Also, unlike the picture above, there is no lighthouse to warn of shallow water, rocks, or other dangers. To guide us from danger to safety.

In the journey of trauma, especially since so few people understand it - unless they've embarked on the journey themselves or are walking with one who is - the journey is largely based on trial and error.  Stumbling into deep water i.e. extreme fatigue, stuttering, memory loss, loss of cognitive skills, balance issues, et al. and then working with each affect individually to find a solution.  Rest.  Right brain activity.  Going out with someone rather than alone.  Staying inside where it's safe.  Determining who are the safe bears in the den.  And, most importantly, who are not.  Finding out what works - and what doesn't.

I was suddenly plunged into such a time on my journey during the latter half of 2012.  Unexpectedly.  I didn't even see the cliff (or the end of the pier) until I had unknowingly stepped off it and found myself falling, falling, falling....

A person I had considered safe was going through rough waters of their own - and started lashing out at me.  Hurtful words.  Words that caused significant re-injury to an already fragile psyche.

Words like:  "After all you don't have cancer."  "You turn everything around to yourself."  "I don't think you can go an hour without using the words 'I', 'me' or 'my'.  (I dare you to try it.  Since our worldview begins with ourselves and radiates outward, this is an impossible task - especially (a) in the middle of a shopping trip and (b) when the other person is not following the same guidelines).

This ushered in a whole new phase of re-injury and trauma, depression, which as day followed day began to resemble brain injury.  During this time, I was following a blog about a young girl in our area who had been hit by a truck and her journey through physical recovery from the injuries and also from the brain injury caused by the impact.  As I read the blog, I began to see some (slight) similarities between this girl and her journey toward regaining what she had lost and my journey.  She often felt overwhelmed when re-learning skills.  Re-learning skills, i.e. therapy, would leave her so exhausted that she would have to take numerous naps during the day.  She would become overwhelmed with the task at home.  Irritability followed.  Frustration at not being able to do the things that she used to do easily.  Etc.  And, also, not understanding why the truck had hit her.  Why she had been traumatized.

Going out for a short time left me exhausted.  Trying to plan a meal or go grocery shopping left me overwhelmed.  I stayed home in my safe place more and more.  My life constricted by the sensory and other overload imposed on me by the re-injury, the re-traumatization.

Brain injury?  Was it possible that I had sustained something similar to a brain injury through the trauma?

I broached the subject with my therapist who said that trauma creates chaos in the brain.

Chaos in the brain.  Who would've thunk it?  Not me.  Not the people who inflicted the various traumas on me.  Nor the people walking with me.

As I walk through this particular phase of the journey, a phase in which my cognitive skills go up and down on any given day; a phase where words sometimes dessert me and I resemble a mentally deficient person; a phase where the physical affects such as extreme fatigue, lack of balance, etc. are still there, I'm learning to go with the flow.  To embrace life as it presents itself in my current circumstances.  To enjoy what I still have.  And to value those who have chosen to walk with me.  Those who have not given up on me as the journey progresses.

Once again, thank you to all those who are walking with me on the journey.  Helping me up when I fall.   You are my lighthouses.  The light shining in and illuminating the darkness giving me hope when all seems hopeless.
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God bless you.

Until next time....

Friday, April 12, 2013

Time Out ...

... from recovery for a wee respite to indulge in photos, walks and other enjoyable things.

A very wise bear (aka one of my cubs) advised me early on in my process of recovery to discover my passions.

Passions.  The things that make me tick.  That put that spark and sparkle in my face and eyes.

What are they?  

Photography for one.  Writing.  Creating/crafting.  Travel.  Walks.  They all interrelate.  The camera goes with me whenever I travel or take walks.  I've learned that photo ops come at unexpected moments so to always be prepared (like a good former girl scout shout).  Furthermore, I also write about those times.  Those times of brief respite from the daily task of recovery.  Those times of joy and wonder.

Sometimes the best photo ops are found in my own back yard.  Take this one I shot Saturday April 6th of two robins in my lilac tree.  A cold morning.  It almost looks like Mama and Papa Robin are having a discussion which probably started out with Mama Robin taking Papa Robin to task (in a snarky Robin chirp):  "Why did you insist on coming here when we could be in Myrtle Beach sunning by the ocean wearing my brand new bikini, enjoying the surf, sand, sun and warmth?"

Later the same day, Papa Bear and I went on an adventure to the local annual Maple Syrup Festival in Elmira, Ontario.  Our annual pilgrimage.  Camera in tow.   Although we went early, people were there in abundance.  Everywhere.  The main street was blocked off and filled with all sorts of vendors selling all sorts of products from food and crafts to ... well ... maple syrup.  Not just any maple syrup, mind you, but locally made maple syrup.  On the way to the festival, we passed trees with sap buckets and collecting lines.  Just the week before, I had my first taste of maple sap which tastes like slightly sweetened water.  Even with the crowds, it was a good day.  And being able to relieve it over and over again via the pictures makes it even better.

Then there's the crafting, my favorite right-brain activity which has helped to keep me sane while enriching others' lives at the same time.  Those who read my other blog, The Naked Knitter ( are acquainted with this passion.  Last weekend, in between watching birds in my backyard and attending the Maple Syrup Festival, I was engaged in my least favorite task of creating - doing the finishing.  Weaving in the ends so that the finished work will not unravel.  Making the fringe for the afghans on the right and left in the picture (identical pattern - made with different yarn weights and hook sizes so that one is a youth afghan and one is for a baby).  Afterwards, the passion to take pictures asserted itself with this whimsical idea of hanging them on the clothesline.  This way, I will always have the pleasure of reliving the thrill of seeing these three afghans take shape beneath my fingers long after they have been sent far away to a new (hopefully forever) home.

Then there's the creative spark of the bear who shares my den:  Papa Bear.  His spark usually manifests itself in the humorous.  The unexpected.  I bought this container of playdough for use in my on-going therapy re: broken wrist.  The idea was to squeeze it thereby adding flexibility to my stiff fingers.  Also to pull it apart which uses and strengthens other muscles.  Papa Bear, though, had other ideas.  More creative ones.  I laugh every time I see these fingers pointing out of the container (and yes, I did leave them be).  I couldn't resist.  The playdough is or more value (laughing value) to me in this shape then it is in its regular shape.  After all, playdough is cheap and there is more in the store.  Fingers?  Well ... if provoked I guess I can always give the provoker the finger....

I had more pictures lined up to share, but decided to end with this one in the interest of keeping this posting short enough to keep the reader's interest all the way through.  Books are good.  But not if they're a blog posting.  I managed to capture this little guy on a walk about a week or two ago, on the St. Jacobs (Ontario) Millrace trail.  We often walk this trail.  Although I'm not usually able to walk the full length and back anymore, even a small outing is good.  Getting a photo op like this one exhilarating as these little guys flick and flitter about.  Never staying still for very long.  Always on the move.  Camera shy. They refuse to pose.  Impatient.  But I finally managed to catch one on camera   Which makes me the winner ... at least this time.

These are the things that give me joy.  That put the spark and sparkle back in my eyes.

These are the good times.  The mini vacations from life.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Thoughts on Forgiveness in the Journey

St Jacobs (Ontario) Millrace trail
Being the proud recipent of a "deranged mind", my thoughts can go anywhere and everywhere.  Sometimes going off on different tangets in completely opposite directions at the same time.  From TV shows and personality traits to ... well ... the issue I'm struggling with (again) today:  forgiveness.

Forgiveness keeps cropping up in my journey.  I can't seem to escape it - no matter how hard I try.  Every particle of my being screams for justice.  I want justice.  Like a two-year old pounding his fists on the table or feet on the floor repeating the same phrase over and over in a loud voice.  A voice that will not be denied.  I WANT JUSTICE.


There's always a but, isn't there?  Besides the one we sit on, I mean.

As a faith-based woman, the teachings in the Bible are my rulebook.  They're simple; just not easy.

The concept of forgiveness is simple.  Forgive those who have hurt you.  Those who have despitefuly used you.

BUT ... it's not easy.

Forgiveness goes against everything we believe in.

Again, we want justice.  Sometimes we want revenge.  We want the person punished for the hurt they have given us.

Whether it was spreading gossip leading to slander leading to defamation of character or something else, we want the person confronted with their wrongdoing.

Over and over in my mind, the scenario inflicted on me plays out.  The scenario that caused two back-to-back stress breakdowns with subsequent psychiatric injury.  Workplace abuse.  Verbal abuse.  You name it, it probably happened.  Although I was told that this was all in  my imagination and that it never happened.  I was accused of having perceptions and assumptions.  Eventually, I was forced to resign.

Every step forward seems to entail two - or more - backwards.  Little ones forward.  Gigantic ones backward.  Or so it seems.

The current step forward - learning about and how to use Social Media effectively through an on-line course is a case in point.  Exploring what I'm learning, I find people from different parts of my journey on the net.  Accidentally.  And that brings everything back to the forefront of my mind once again.  It feels as though it just happened yesterday although several years have passed.  It feels like it will never go away.  That I will never be able to leave the past behind and go forward into the future - a future that does not contain any of the people involved.

This is where forgiveness comes in.  The only way I can ever hope to leave the past behind is to leave it on the altar of forgiveness.  To forgive each and every person involved for their part in what happened:  bully and bystander alike.

Sometimes it feels like a grocery list of people to forgive should be tacked up on my refrigerator.  Sometimes when I'm praying, I feel like I'm merely reciting a list.

 Sometimes it feels like an impossible task.  Sometimes it feels like an unfair task.  Why should I forgive these people?  They're the wrong doers!  Which is exactly why they need to be forgiven.  Because they did wrong.  We don't need to forgive the one who blesses us.  Who supports us and holds us up.  They don't need my forgiveness.  Gratitude, definitely.  It's the ones who hurt me who need to be forgiven by me.  Not because they deserve it.  They don't.   They need it because I need to let go of what happened, to let go of any control over the situation.  Not to see them free.  But to set me free.

For my well-being.  For my sanity. For my eventual recovery.

I like the way Belleruth Naparstek in her book Invisible Heroes:  Survivors of Trauma and How they Heal describes the benefits of forgiveness.  Coming from a purely practical, psychological framework, she writes:  "The point for the survivor is to forgive in order to free up the energy that has been bound up in anger and resentment, and has therefore been inaccessible.  The goal of forgiveness is to gain a fuller, more vibrant life.  It is a form of kindness to the self" (page 263).

She writes concisely in one and a half pages what has taken me years to internalize in my process.

Once again, I surrender my right for justice.  My (perceived) rights for revenge.  I surrender them to the One who has walked with me through every step, every incident, every gut-wrenching step of the way.

The One who knows me intimately - and loves me anyway.

Forgiveness is usually not a one-time deal.  Often, it is a process with the accompanying forward and backward movements inherent in the journey.

But I am convinced that one day it will come.

Until then, I continue to choose to follow the path of forgiveness.

The path of most resistance.

For my sake.

Same day - same path
Further along

Friday, April 5, 2013

Real Life versus TV

Inactivity - especially forced inactivity - does not suit me.

I mean, I've always been low energy but I was always able to work and pursue my interests.

Enthusiasm for life.

Now ... it's gone.  At least for the time being.  Due to circumstances beyond my control.

During this time of debilitating circumstances and recovery, I've started following certain TV series on the net.  My favorites:  NCIS, Criminal Minds, NCIS Los Angeles and Bones.

However, I don't look at these shows as mere stories for entertainment; I look at them through the lens of recovering from abusive interpersonal relationships in a work setting.

I see the interactions, the verbal jabs and sparring, the distinctive individual personality traits and quirks that while they do cause tension are accepted - more or less - within the workplace.

Take NCIS for instance.  If this were a "normal" e.g. OK real life workplace, Gibbs, the functional mute who controls his team with mere looks, the occasional terse statement (and threat of unemployment) through the force of his dominant personality and the occasional slap upside the head would be considered abusive.

Dinozzo, our "rich" playboy of Italian origin, would be up on a daily basis for sexual harassment with his constant probing into his females counterpart's personal life.

Abby, the resident goth, is extremely intelligent and gifted in her work, also has distinctive although endearing personality traits including her atire.  Chatty. What real workplace would tolerate her dress code and quirks?  Even given her ability to do the job and do it well?  To solve the puzzles?  She would be a huge threat to those around her who were more average in their IQ and abilities.

She and McGee, the computer nerd and geek, are my two personal favorites.  Although Abby has been accepted by the crew as indispensable,  McGee still needs to earn his spot within the team's social framework. With his superior ability on all things technical aspect, McGee too is different from the others and Dinozzo loves to tease him, constantly putting him down in front of the others.  Constantly demoralizing him.  Constantly playing tricks on him.  Constantly ... well ... constantly being Dinozzo.

I could go on and on about these characters and their interactions.

But this is TV.   Real life is not like this.  A TV show has a team of writers, constantly working together on dialogue.  The dialogues are carefully scripted.  The interactions.  Everything.  Even who plays what role.  In fact, I believe that more time and care is spent on casting one character for a one-time role in an episode, than most employers put into researching those they hire for a permanent spot on their "team".

In the workplace, this kind of scripting simply does not - and cannot - exist.  We fly by the seat of our pants on a daily basis.  We interact.  We react.   Sometimes, we're even able to respond - but not always or often.

We don't put up with others' quirks.  We assume that if a person is different from us, there is something wrong with them.  Since we find them difficult to understand and work with, we want them out.

Forget tolerance.  Forget competence.  Forget everything but the heat of the moment.

In everyday life, we filter everything through the lens of our own personality, our own perceptions and assumptions about the world and our place in it.  We filter everything through our past experiences and how they have impacted us.

If we're lucky, we're also filtering things through the lens of recovery.  But so many people prefer to stay the way they are.  They don't know that there is anything better out there for them.  They're stuck - like Dinozzo in his 16 year old mentality.  They don't even know that they're stuck.  This is normal for them.  And because it's normal, they resist change any way they can.

Anyone who comes across their path who is different, emotionally healthier, etc. is perceived as a threat.

Threats you get rid of.

I wish life were more like a TV show.  With a set script.  A set destination.

Monday, April 1, 2013

An Early Adventure

Ahhh ... home sweet home (away from home)
When most people think of an adventure, they think of things like skin diving, snorkelling in clear blue waters, swimming with porpoises  climbing a mountain, back country camping, skydiving.  Any number of things.  Some more challenging both mentally and physically than others.

I have done some of those things during what I now term the first part of my recovery process.  The part before the "severely stressful situation" escalated to a point where it consumed all of my waking - and probably sleeping - hours.

During the first part of the recovery process, I started to feel "comfortable in my own skin".  I re-created relationships with those who were the most significant to me - my husband, my children, my sister, etc.  I learned to value people and to accept not only who I am but who they are.  I learned what my strengths and weaknesses were and to accept them.  Ditto with those closest to me.  I no longer demanded from them things which they could not do nor did I demand from myself things which were not in my mental, psychological, or intellectual make up to do.

I began to talk to Papa Bear and get to know him.  Really know him.  To learn what was important to him.

As a result, I went on four canoe camping adventures starting at the ripe "young" age of 58 - each different from the other.  I started out not wanting to go at all.  I was a city girl - born and bred.  Although I did enjoy car camping or what I called "civilized" camping, packing everything I would need for several days with only a flimsy canoe for transportation over deep water into bear country.  No way!  And then I came to realize that this was important to Papa Bear.  This was something he really wanted to do.  And he wanted to do it with me.  He wanted to share his adventures and love for this kind of camping with me - his wife of something like 27 years.  So I decided to honour him.

He also decided to honour me.  He listened to what I had to say and we compromised.  We would have an outfitter completely outfit us:  tent, food, utensils, sleeping mats, sleeping bags canoe, paddles, PDF's (personal floatation devices), even the bailing bucket.  In short, everything we would need, except our clothes.

The sentinel - and which way did you say you were going?
Even though I was afraid of many things:  water, specifically traversing deep water in a flimsy canoe which are prone to tipping over and dumping their contents, humans included, into the deep never to be seen again.  Add to that, bears, and the possibility of getting lost, stolen or strayed, I was not a (potentially) happy camper.

Some of the most incredible scenery I've ever seen
Nonetheless we made the arrangements and the day arrived.  The canoe was loaded and in the water.  I looked at this tiny canoe bobbing about in the choppy, deep water and seriously considered running away.  But then, I figured that probably wouldn't work and it would be best to go to my impending doom quietly.

The outfitter advised us to stay close to the shore because of the brisk wind stirring up the water - which calmed me down some as I figured that I could handle.  Until I realized Papa Bear had no intention of adding extra paddle strokes (and metres) to our journey.  Since I (newly demoted crew bear) was in the front of the canoe with the newly promoted Captain Bear in the back, I really didn't have much choice but to stay in and "enjoy" the ride.

It didn't take me long to realize that while we both had a map (the same one), there are no signs out on the lake telling us which way to go to get where we intended.  Also, I realized early on that there are no canoe-through Tim Hortons or McDonalds.  What you bring is what you eat - for as long as the trip lasts ... or the food holds out.  Hopefully, the former rather than the latter.

The master bushwhacker at work

The trip was purported to be "easy" - easy being relative in this case.  Three days, two nights, three portages.  What the literature didn't say is that is was at least six hours of paddling plus one portage that although not very long was almost straight up.  Later we learned that it was called the Devil's Staircase.

I hadn't done anything in the way of physical preparation.  No walking.  No bicycling   No exercising.  Nothing.  I began to breathe hard and give out on the Devils's Staircase.  My right wrist (carpal tunnel) began to throb.  My whole body began to ache.  All I wanted was a 4-star hotel, a good cup of coffee and a nice warm bed.

What I got was a campsite, a tent Papa Bear had to put up, a tylenol (thank God for Papa Bears who come prepared with first aid kits), a small rest while Papa Bear put up the tent and unloaded the canoe and then supper - which I made with a one-burner stove perched on a rough bench.
First attempt at cooking back country style

Our "hotel" came equipped with one rough-hewn bench, a firepit and a thunder box.  No shower, pool (unless you count the lake) or hot tub.
The master firemaker in action

It did come with an awesome bonding experience with God and with my ever-lovin', long-sufferin' spouse.  It came with challenges.  It came with those special moments you remember long after like the time we stood sheltered under a large evergreen watching the rain fall on the lake in front of us while we stayed dry.  It was like standing under a huge umbrella.  That experience alone was worth the trip.

As always, I had my trusty, dusty "other" companion, my camera, with me and took shot after shot of the beauty around me.
The buffet aka bear barrel - containing all our food

After we safely arrived back on tierra firma - or back to civilization (that term also being relative), we debriefed.  Papa Bear wanted to know what I had been afraid of.  What I liked best about the adventure.  And, most importantly, would I do it again.

Without hesitation, this born and bred city girl answered without hesitation a resounding "Yes".  Yes, I would do it again.

And so, we began to plan the next year's adventure.
An example of how another camper passed the time