Mental health

Feelin shook up

Life is full of ups and downs, ebbs and flows, peaks and valleys. Living with Complex PTSD and experiencing dissociative episodes these last eight years as a result of the severe trauma I have endured has presented many difficult challenges to my stability and daily functioning. Lately I have expierienced a shift that feels like the rug has been pulled out from under me. I’m stumbling and struggling while riding these waves of intense emotions. A place I haven’t been to in quite some time.

When I was with my family this past February, my son got to witness up close and personal how my empathetic abilities draw strangers to me for healing. These are the walking wounded, people who are looking to release their life’s burdens. He quietly observed as this woman approached me on the street to share with me her life story of heartache and pain. She needed to vent to someone who would listen with compassion and understanding. I’m humbled and blessed to be that outlet for others!

This past weekend I had my own unique experience with a fellow stranger who I later came to find out is an empath. She and I knew each other a very short time before she held my hand and confirmed to me some events in my life I haven’t admitted to myself or even uttered out loud. I have been walking around with this deep dark secret since a young child. This is the repressed memory and acknowledgement of being molested when I was five and six years old.

Four years ago I started the journey into healing my inner child. The main healing tool that has worked wonders for me is EMDR, the reprocessing of emotions pulling that “charge” of the trauma away lessening its severity from my mind, body and soul. Trauma is held in the body and can be reactivated and triggered long after the actual physical damage has occurred. Even though these events took place some thirty-five years ago, my cells have been “refired” and thoughts, feelings and flashbacks have come flooding back with a vengeance.

To add to this complex situation, I work in a fast paced, highly stressful work environment. Two days ago I had an emotional breakdown before work. In an instant I was struggling to breathe, heart racing, uncontrollable crying…..the whole thing. My current emotional mindset is NOT conducive to helping and serving others. I need to repack my trauma baggage, rediscover who I am while continuing to peel the layers back of my life’s onion.

I have been riding an intense wave of high emotions, enduring intrusive thoughts and nagging feelings of shame. Anybody who has gone through sexual abuse knows the debilitating feelings of shame. For me they have crippled my life for years at a time. My fear and panic gets triggered as I worry that I’m backsliding into the depths of overly intense emotions all over again. Something I thought I had neatly packed away and compartmentalized in my psyche.

The two questions that first stopped me in my tracks were, why me and why now? Everything was going great and I was feeling so confident. Now I feel angry, ashamed and sad. A kind of mourning is going on. I’m in the process of patiently accepting and observing these emotions without judging myself or wanting to harm myself. Que the intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation. Here comes that heaviness in my heart and overall exhaustion telling me to stay in bed and pull the covers over my head. I’m grieving my childhood and loss of innocence all over again.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far. This is all part of the healing process. We must continually throughout our lives revisit the pain and trauma from our past in order to learn, grow and accept it ultimately freeing ourselves. I refuse to become “stuck” again. I know I must carry on and this too shall pass. I’m taking a break to be kind and gentle to myself. I’m not ok right now and that’s ok.

Mental health

Little Ms. Perfect

What is perfect? There are two separate definitions. Using it as an adjective means this, “having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be“. When used as a verb, perfect means “make (something) completely free from faults or defects, or as close to such a condition as possible”. Either way it’s used I have suffered from perfectionism my entire life. In psychology, perfectionism is described as a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.

My Mom has told me that when I was younger she used to find me obsessively organizing my room. I loved to neatly arrange my books, toys and knick knacks. Cleaning and straightening a room, tidying up things brings me a peacefulness and calm that’s hard to match by other activities. It’s also something that has made me feel strange and weird.

There was a period in my life when I literally couldn’t sit still or overlook a piece of lint on the carpet without having to immediately stop whatever I was doing to pick it up. After the birth of my first son, I found myself in a perpetual state of motion, always wiping a countertop or vacuuming a room that was already spic and span to everybody else’s eyes. I got caught up in routines that kept my in a “loop” for hours. So many routines and rituals had to be achieved compulsively and repetitively. Some days I got so stuck I didn’t even leave my house. Looking back those were dark days.

I’m a shift supervisor at a Starbucks and at 41 this is the first time I accepted a management position. In the past, I had been offered/recommended this role but I always turned it down due to my overwhelming fear of failure. Truth be told my perfectionist ways have plagued me throughout my life. Recently at work my manager challenged me to stop working like a superwoman. She asked me to examine my leadership skills by holding others on my team accountable for certain tasks. At first it felt awkward delegating the things I have been doing alone without help. Lately however I can feel an important shift taking place.

A favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou is,”Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better. Boy does this sentiment ring true in this regard!

I’ve always been an analytical thinker, wondering why things are the way they are and trying desperately to make sense of the world around me. I had this book as a kid called, “The book of why” and I loved it. I’ve especially been intrigued by my own emotions and the emotions of others. That intense curiosity has sometimes kept me up at night.

A former therapist once told me to disengage myself from the outcome of a certain problem I was having a difficult time finding a reasonable solution for. My perfectionist ways and drive to control a situation can leave me breathlessly spinning my wheels. Despite my efforts I end up feeling exhausted mentally with no end in sight.

When I start to feel my old ways creeping back into my daily choices, I try and recall his words. Letting go of the outcome and maintaining an open mind sounds logical enough but my heart stands stubbornly doubtful.

Establishing a connection within myself has been key to easing off my perfectionist attitude. Grounding myself really quiets my mind and eases my fears. Whether these fears are real or hypercritically blown out of proportion, I can often find myself overwhelmed and grasping for my idea of perfection. I’ve learned I’m only hurting myself when I put this kind of pressure on myself.

For there is no such thing as perfect my dear reader but perfect imperfections throughout life. Try shifting your perspective taking a closer look at yourself. Deepening your own connection within your soul. Becoming your own best friend, saving yourself from yourself. Like Shakespeare said, “to thine own self be true”.

Spirituality

For love of water

I was born on the East coast and have lived all my life near water. When I was younger it took an hour or so to drive down the New Jersey shore, depending on traffic. Then in my early 20s I met and got married to a man from Rhode Island. I lived in a few different cities there but my favorite house was a cottage I rented right on a private beach. In all of my adult life I have only felt at home in that cottage, it was my safe and happy space. One entire side of that cottage was windows looking out over Narragansett Bay. The smell of salt water and the sound of seagulls greeted me at my door every day. It was peaceful, serene and beautiful. I’m reminded of how much I cried the day I moved out. Thankfully I took pictures that I look at from time to time and reminisce.

I moved into that house with my family but moved out a divorced single mother. It was there that I found my independence and a renewed sense of self. In the 2 years I lived there, I discovered the confidence I needed to change my unhappy life. Everything about my life from move in to move out was drastically different. If those walls of that beach cottage could talk. Ultimately it’s those circumstances that helped propel me into more healing once I moved to Florida.

It’s been a little over six years since I moved away from the only real home I felt I had. Now I live in the land locked state of Texas. This area has a beauty all it’s own with some wonderful lakes and parks. Lately I have this longing for back home. The people, the food and most of all the ocean!!

I have caught myself feeling nostalgic and even melancholy about the place I call home. There is just something about sitting out on that sand, tasting the sea on your tongue and gazing at the waves. There are two places that give me the ultimate feeling of zen. One place is in the shower, the scent of clean body wash as the water cascades off my shoulders bringing me a sense of calm. The other is the beach.

I read an article recently that discussed one’s attraction and claim to a body of water calling it, my water. It’s that place where you feel most connected and alive gladly naming it as your own. I’m not sure if I have just one of “my water” spots yet more realistically I can claim a few. Nevertheless I feel them calling to me. I need a visit back home. I need to be refreshed and renewed by the ocean’s powerful force.

As an empath who is constantly being twirled around by other’s emotions and energies, the ocean is a place where my own energy can be restored. The ocean provides such a force, an immense energy that is so freeing for me.

I feel stuck in a rut lately. Not creative, bored and unamused. Two days ago I wrote this poem about my favorite thing to do in the ocean. Floating takes me outside and away from myself. It allows me to really clear my mind, release and let go. I feel amazing afterwards.

I set a goal for myself that this summer I must go for a visit back home, up North. To take in the ocean mind, body and spirit. I will leave all that weighs me down on its shore. I will be reborn.

Mental health, Spirituality

Learning to see the forest for the trees

I’m a highly detail oriented person who naturally takes everything in without a filter. Certain things come easy to me while others are more of a work in progress. Emotional intelligence is an area that I have worked hard to understand and master at a young age and I feel is crucially important to one’s well being. Seven years ago while I was in the thick of dealing with many complications from Complex PTSD, I took part in an outpatient therapy called DBT or dialectical behavioral therapy. This psychotherapy is the creation of psychologist Marsha M. Linehan. I enjoyed it so much and (needing reinforcement) I attended it four times! I fondly refer to it as emotional college. I was in a classroom of sorts in a separate wing of the psychiatric hospital I did many inpatient stays at for an entire week, 9AM until 5 PM with only a break for lunch. Our class was small, only 6 or 7 other ladies. We had reading assignments as well as homework. After completing that week I was invited to join an aftercare support group for an entire year.

In many ways those ladies saved my life, helped me learn some tough life lessons about myself and aided me in realigning my mindset, body and soul. Taking an introspective look at oneself is difficult and the desire to change one’s behavior takes lots of patience and practice. At first it was confusing and awkward but after my fourth time going over the educational materials, reading some self help workbooks focused on DBT and spending 2 hours every Wednesday evening with my support group I reemerged with a fresh outlook.

I learned that my intense emotions can sometimes drive me into certain behaviors that are self harming and self defeating. Continuing down that path creates more suffering. Learning and incorporating DBT principles into my life has changed the game!

Like everything in life, it only works if you work it! Over the past few years I like to open that workbook up and give myself a refresher. The main principle that I work the hardest at is definitely Radical Acceptance. DBT uses both behavioral science and Buddist concepts like acceptance and mindfulness to teach better coping methods for people with Borderline Personality Disorder. It has proven highly effective for many mental health disorders as well.

This is Google’s definition of dialetical behavioral therapy:

Dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT) is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy tries to identify and change negative thinking patterns and pushes for positive behavioral changes. DBT may be used to treat suicidal and other self-destructive behaviors.

In a nutshell it taught me that I can coexist between two mindsets, see both sides of an issue, be both comfortable and uncomfortable in any given situation. The definition of dialetic is this:

Dialectic or dialectics (Greek: διαλεκτική, dialektikḗ; related to dialogue), also known as the dialectical method, is at base a discourse between two or more people holding different points of view about a subject but wishing to establish the truth through reasoned arguments.

For me the bottom line is that one principle I mentioned earlier, Radical Acceptance, is the key to ending my suffering. On most days I can clearly and easily achieve the understanding that even though I may not like something or think it to be ok, it still is. It is what it is. I have the choice to respond or react, always taking my emotions into account.

In this last week I have been blessed with so many amazing opportunities. My fiance and I mingled with some A list former professional football player friends of his, had an overnight in a phenomenal luxurious lakehouse and on Sunday I met Mariel Hemingway at a small movie watching party and interview session.

I have admired her life and career for a long time. I even gave her my poetry book, “Emotional Musings” that she asked me to sign! A real “pinch me” moment that I will cherish forever. To be able to meet such a kindred and emotional spirit is so profoundly powerful.

Despite the years of psychotherapy, DBT classes, numerous sessions of EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) and reading shelves of self help books I still struggle with my core belief that I’m not good enough. I do however understand that I can chose to change that tape that plays relentlessly on repeat through my mind, unpack that emotion from that invisible backpack I wear daily along with the other intense emotions I cope with or I can suffer. Intellectually and logically I get it. Sometimes the disconnect is to my soul. The memories, the flashbacks and unfortunate nightmares that will plague me for life.

At the end of the day, I am growing and evolving everyday. I am blessed and humbled. I have people around me who love and understand me. I’m able to see the many miracles of humanity being an empath. Life is good ❤

Mental health

How I see things

I’ve been in my current relationship for almost six years. Most of the time I can’t believe how blessed I am to be able to be with a man whom I truly consider my best friend. He’s my person. Unfortunately, there is also a black cloud over us at times because of his mental illness combined with complex complications from years of playing professional football. This is simply my side of the story. What it feels like for me.

I say sometimes that the hardest part is missing somebody so much yet they are standing right in front of you. This man has endured the highest of highs on the gridiron and is now forced to suffer the harshest blows to his ego and personality as his memory, physical pains and overall health deteriorate slowly. I often feel helpless and overwhelmed by the reality of his conditions. As of right now he takes fifteen pills in the morning and about six at night before we go to bed. He has told me numerous times how he loathes all these pills.

Another aspect of our relationship that becomes hard to handle is his mood swings. Feeling so out of control, up and then crashing down creates this pushing away and then pulling towards one another. I could set my watch to his manic period every month, like clockwork. The rage, confusion, discomfort and instability inside him tells him to push me away. That I’ll be better off. I can’t help him. I need and deserve a different life. This from the man I love so deeply and have promised to be with forever. In one breath I’m hearing, “I love you”. In the next I’m being told to leave. More accurately I’m being left alone in our bed at night, staring at the four lonely walls of our apartment. We live in the back of his mother’s house and he often retreats into there.

No matter how many countless times I have begged and pleaded with him that I don’t want us to go to bed angry with each other and how it’s really hard for me to sleep alone because of my own C-PTSD symptoms and the feeling of security I get when we sleep together.

Right now my heart is so heavy as yet again I am alone after an irrational bout of senseless arguing. I tell myself each month not to take anything personally, don’t give in to fighting back with him. Yet every month I fall into this trap again. Laying here crying wondering what I did that was so wrong in his eyes yet knowing that he doesn’t have the ability to see things from my perspective. His perception right now is very skewed as his mind whispers lies to him.

I have vowed that I am down for the ride but the journey to healing is one he must take by himself. I can’t fix him. All I can do is be there for him and support him. Love him in spite of the hurt, love him even when I don’t like him and yes also love him when the voices in his head are screaming at him to give up for good.

It requires patience, understanding and stamina on a daily basis. It requires courage to put my own fears aside and not take the things he does and says personally.

I have come to be able to recognize the man I fell in love with as two different people. Both are intense, sometimes intimidating and passionate. One side is an amazingly funny personality and possesses an outgoingness that is infectious to everybody around him. The other side is serious, mean spirited, quick to criticize and unforgiving.

The roller coaster I ride is not for the faint of heart. It has taught me lessons about myself and my own inner strength. I rise and I fall within each and every month’s cycle living with a man who has severe schizoaffective bipolar disorder, PTSD and Concussion syndrome. We are doing what we can to slow down the progressiveness of his conditions yet I am aware of what our future will look like.

As I write this I choose to remember all the love, fun times and so many belly laughs we have shared. I want more of those yet I see them slipping away a little more each month. My heart aches for a more simple and less complicated road ahead.

I will never leave, give up or give in. I’m a love warrior, that is my job❤