Monthly Archives: March 2014

Wish Upon a Star, You Can go Far. Sit on Your Butt, You’ll Stay in a Rut

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Everyone at some point in their lives dreams about what could have been or should have been. They look back upon their life and say things like, how in the hell did I get here and with these people?  

 The answer is simple to say, but hard to accept. For the most part, they chose the elements of their life that brought them to where they are currently. (This is not to state catastrophes and events thrust onto someone are chosen by the victim! No, no, no, but everyone has choices concerning the aftermath of such events.  That’s a different topic.)

 Why do we make the choices we do? We think it’s in our best interest at the time, that’s why. The problem arises when we make choices without examining what truly is in our best interest. Many of us wander through life, dreaming, but never taking ourselves seriously enough to invest time into evaluating our choices with the life we really want. Then one day, we turn around and wonder how we got where we are and why do we feel so miserable.

 As we grow, we develop a picture of what our perfect world would look like. Then, hopefully, we spend our lives making choices to get us as close to that perfect world as possible. We do this because when our real world closely aligns with our internal, ideal world, (quality world) we feel good.

 So, okay, here you are in a relationship that does not match your ideal world. You work in a job that is so far off base from your interests, talents and desires that you hate getting up in the morning.  You look at yourself in the mirror and say, who is that person looking back at me? Now what?

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   Step one: Do you know what your ideal life is? If not, start figuring it out. Play with the idea of having a magic wand and there are no limitations. Forget the idea of, why do this, I can’t accomplish this anyway. Just do it.

 Step two: What does this ideal world say about you? Do you see patterns? Do your dreams show you feeling powerful, more accepted, more creative? This is important because while you may not be able to get your exact ideal life, you can find good substitutions to get those same needs and wants met.  Let’s say, you want to be a surgeon, but you don’t have the education or time for medical school. You realize you want to be a surgeon so you can help others in the field of medicine. Become a phlebotomist, a Red Cross volunteer or first aid officer at your company.

 Step three: Look at the choices you are making in your life. Do they line up with getting closer to your ideal world? Why or why not? Identify the areas in your life or choices you are making that push you further from your ideal life.

 Step four: Get more information about other choices you could be making. Talk to people who appear to have similar ideal lives. Read books and cruise the internet for more information. The more information you have about what you want, the easier it is take steps to make it happen.

 Step five: Set goals for yourself. Remember not all goals are external. For example, today, instead of dreaming I was married to Johnny Depp and being pissed at my spouse, I’ m going to find out what qualities in Johnny Depp I admire and see how my spouse lines up. Or, deciding – my spouse has great qualities and my ideas about Johnny Depp are based on fantasy and not reality. I really wasn’t that crazy when I married my spouse. He’s pretty special. These are internal choice changes.

 An external choice change might be, my spouse ridicules me, threatens me and I don’t want or need to live like this. I’m going to investigate what it takes to get a divorce or what is in my community to help people like me.

 Think of goals as the set points. They are your rudders helping you steer through life.  

 Step six: Evaluate! Evaluate!

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 What is it you really want?

What are you doing to get it?

 Is it working? Why or why not?

What can I do different?

Set goals and do it!

 No one has to spend their lives sitting in a rut. We create the ruts and put ourselves there. Choose to get up and wish upon a star. You have what it takes. Just do it.  

Come on Get Happy!

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The world of social work and psychology are always doing research and trying new approaches to help individuals and the world survive, thrive and bloom. These processes come in waves and the most current wave is in the area of Happiness or Positive Psychology. Trainings and new book offers arrive in my mailbox almost daily on understanding, using and living in the realm of happiness.

 I thought I’d share the information I’m getting. Some of this is, in my opinion, common scene. Other pieces of information, on the surface, may appear new, but with reflection I think you will find you knew this all along.  Here is the information:

  1. Happiness is considered 50% genetic, 40% within our power to achieve through activities and positive thinking, and 10% environmental (we experience something that brings us joy, laughter and pleases us).

2. Stay connected to people, places and activities that bring you positive energy appreciate and validate you.

3. Realize that everyone has problems. The key is the mind set: problems are temporary and solvable.

4. If you can’t get out of a bad situation, change your attitude. Play positive and uplifting thoughts, memories in your head. Listen to music you like. Be involved in activities that offset the situation. There are great stories from POWs using this technique to survive in captivity.

5. Stop focusing on what could have been, what should be or should have been. Stop trying to escape your problems and meet them face on.

6. Express your needs and concerns positively and take ownership of them. An example: When you forget to pick me up, I feel abandoned. Instead of I’m pissed at you for forgetting to pick me up or how dare you forget to pick me up.

7. In relationships, focus on WE instead of ME. Always ask – Will what I am about to do or say bring our relationship closer or pull us further apart?

8. Every morning, stop before starting your day and be grateful for what you have. Name them in your head. Your house, inside climate control, your car, family, food, clothing, fresh water, a job…

9. Acceptance, that you are not perfect and neither is anyone else. Have compassion toward yourself and patience and acceptance toward others. (This does not mean you have to agree with their behaviors or choices. It is honoring them as a fellow human being trying to make it).

10. Remember you can’t read other’s minds; you don’t need to judge their actions or  take them personally. Example:  He didn’t accept my idea. I know he’s out to get me and this is part of his plan to make me look like a fool. I’ll show him.

Give these a thought or two. My wish to you this day; may this St. Patrick’s Day bring you a renewed sense of happiness.

Death I Grapple at Thee, Trauma I Stab at Thee…

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Murder candy at the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, muse for Stephen Kings, The Shinning.

I have heard it said the death begets death.  Put another way, when you’re grieving or helping someone who is grieving; passed deaths, funerals and aftermaths come flooding forward.

This is also the case for severe trauma.  Experiences with other’s traumas provoke strong memories and features of one’s own trauma.  For this reason, I often tell my clients who are dealing with severe traumas, to avoid news broadcasts and closely monitor television shows and movies before watching (if possible). This helps prevent suddenly finding themselves in a virtual situation similar enough to what they experienced to cause problems.  

Until you know what your trauma triggers are this is shaky ground. It would be easy to say, I experienced child abuse; therefore, I won’t watch things that show or discus this topic.  Since the mind is like a 4-D movie camera recording during a traumatic event, the obvious might not be so obvious.

For example: The well groomed newscaster presented three horrific events; the remains of 11 dead bodies found in Ohio killed by a serial killer; a Toyota’s accelerator got stuck and the car accelerated to 100 miles an hour, killing the driver when it hit a tree; a woman was thrown from a roller coaster at Six Flags Amusement Park in Texas and died on impact.

In which of these stories would a person with severe trauma experience the most triggers? It’s a person by person answer. It may not be the most heinous which grabs the person. It will be the one that elicits the most triggers from that 4-D movie reel in their head.

In my own case, as I have PTSD, the story that grabbed me was the story at the amusement park. I’ve never been thrown from a roller coaster, in fact I love coasters.  So why would this story grab me?

In my case, it had to do with something I and many people with PTDS develop. It’s the fear or guilt of having a good time. In my case, it is fear.  My life experiences have taught my brain that as soon as life calms down and starts to look normal, something horrific is coming around the corner. It’s something I’ve had to actively evaluate and be aware of for many years.

So, who in those news stories was having the most fun when something horrible happened? Yep, it was the woman, vacationing with her family and then ejected from the coaster to her death. What made this situation worse, the news reporter stated when the coaster pulled out of the platform the woman realized her lap bar wasn’t closed properly and there was nothing anyone did or could do once the coaster left the platform to help her.

This brings about three more common traits of people with PTSD. These are the feelings of helplessness, inability to escape and sudden realization of impending serious harm or death. The other two news stories probably contained these elements as well; however, this third story compounded all three elements. If the woman had been my age, that might add a fourth component. If instead of on a coaster, she was in a situation similar to what I experienced, that would add another component. The more components are involved than the stronger the reaction tends to be.

So you see it’s complicated when you or a loved one is learning to live with PTSD.  Part of this learning is in understanding how the brain processes trauma and what triggers are hard wired to respond. As the person and their family learn these, the next steps are learning to compensate for reactions, lesson reactions and know your limitations.  Most of all never stop exploring and never give up.

If you do get triggered, this protocol will be useful.

  1. Ground yourself.        Do a mental check. Where are you? Who is with you? Are you safe? Your brain needs some external impute from you to circumvent the need to protect you from the danger it perceives you are currently under or about to experience.  Telling yourself things like, I’m in my living room, there are green curtains on the window, I’m drinking Lemon Zinger tea may seem silly, but they tell your brain you are not in that place where trauma originally occurred.
  2. It’s okay to be triggered.        Being triggered is a horrendous feeling, especially if it leads to physical, emotional or visual flashbacks. Once you have calmed your mind and body down. Do not, I repeat, do not chastise yourself for having been triggered in the first place. What you experienced was strong enough to provoke the same response in you everyone experiences when they try to put their hand in fire. The brain knows how to keep you safe. Triggers are the mechanisms the brain uses to screen for fires.
  3.    Be an investigative reporter.         Logging down what you were doing or watching when you were triggered, any information about how you reacted feelings after the fact are invaluable.  Over time, you will see patterns. Perhaps, it’s anything that sounds like explosions or the smell of curry. Even if you and another person experienced the exact same trauma at the same time, your log will be as unique to you as your finger print.  Don’t be afraid of finding the patterns.
  4.     Bring your information to someone who can help you.         It is typically best to work with someone knowledgeable about trauma reactions when processing and learning to live with triggering events and information. Take your log and your insight with you. You know you and your traumatic event(s) better than anyone. No counselor or therapist is a savior. They are only another human being with training that is there to help. Find someone you trust and become partners in your quest to living healthily with PTSD.

 

When Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick wrote the lines:  To the last, I grapple with thee; from the hell’s heart I stab at thee; for hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee, he was writing about a man’s obsessive pursuit to concur an internal demon triggered by an external sea monster.  Is living with PTSD any different? 

PTSD Strikes Again

ImageI have chronic post traumatic stress disorder which means I’ve experienced multiple times in my life where my life was threatened to the point of perceived death or I witnessed someone else experiencing the same. In my case, I have experience both several times in my life.

I can go several days in a row and sometimes as far as two weeks before being reminded that PTSD DOES NOT GO AWAY! This week was a PTSD week and I’m pissed.

The combination of having PTSD and also Chronic Fatigue Syndrome has left me almost completely housebound for approximately five years now. For a while I had work I could do at home, only to find the stress of the work exacerbated both conditions to the point of not functioning and my body shut down. I literally lost forty pounds in four months, was bed ridden and had to be treated at the ER for dehydration. That was a little over a year and a half ago. The contract on that job terminated about a year ago and the healing began. I was doing well and started a small private practice in my home and then last week hit.

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly I can go from being pulled together and almost medication free to being thrust back into emotional, visual and physical flashbacks, constant state of panic, nightmares, jumping and screaming at sudden sounds and feeling completely unhinged, waiting to fend off an attacker, logically knowing it is not there.

I have found that the more secluded from stress I am and regimented in my routine I have, the healthier and happier I feel. Life actually feels worth living and I can contribute to the community and help others heal. Every once in a while I forget my limitations or attempt to rise above them (take your pick).

Several months ago I attempted this. I did it by the book: go slow, carefully watch the people involved so I’m safe, monitor my reactions and self talk, make sure I have an escape route if I’m too threatened and above all – appear normal.

I have a shaky trust in my ability to read people in my life. Even people I’ve known and loved forever sometimes startle me into a fear reaction. For people who are acquaintances or who I’m just starting to know, this fear is tenfold.

All it takes is for a person to react or act emotionally or physically different from what I expect and confusion sets in. Confusion equals fear and fear causes flairs of PTSD. These changes in behavior can consist of raising their voice, yelling, puffing themselves up, twisting my words or intent, flailing their arms around, pounding on things or behaving in ways contrary of what they say they are doing. One or all of these things sets my automatic brain in motion.

What is triggered in me, I call neuro-synaptic frying. It is very physically painful. My brain floods my nervous system with chemicals so I can survive a life threatening event, even if one does not literally exist.  It feels like my entire body has been stuffed inside an open electrical socket. It hurts for hours and because I also have Fibromyalgia contracts my muscles and scrambles the pain signals to the brain. So the pain, sometimes debilitating, lasts for days and I have to take special neurological medications to calm the signals down.

This happened this week. I’ve almost worked past the, it’s okay you’re not in danger, stage of PTSD. My nightmares are still there, muscle aches, extreme fatigue, second guessing my decisions and desires to run and hide diminishing. They were an eight on a scale to ten and now are a three or four.

I did some reality checking with family to try to get a sense on how much I over reacted, the real threat ratio (knowing me and my PTSD history) and where to go from here (knowing my physical and emotional health and situation).  I went out with people I know and trust. A best friend who loves me so unconditionally it never ceases to amaze. There is the church family with no agenda other than to share love and companionship and of course the love, support and companionship of my own family.  Not to forget the humor, encouragement and camaraderie of Facebook friends.

Even with all that positivism surrounding me, PTSD still slammed its ugly head. It wouldn’t be so bad if I could just say, I have reservations about or I see inconsistencies I don’t know if I want to be involved in or I need to watch closer.  No, all that is colored by the lenses of PTSD making the ability to make any of those above stated comments almost impossible at this point. I can’t even say, gee I wonder what is going on with that person that things occurred the way they did. That, I hope will come later, but not now.

I am glad I originally pushed myself, tested the waters because I learned some new things and met new people.  I have to ask myself where is the line between putting oneself out there knowing the limitations and accepting the risk verses, staying safe, healthy and happy?

I’ve meditated, prayed and contemplated to no avail at this point. Perhaps what I did wrong was move too fast even though I thought I was going slow and trusting too quickly. Or maybe it has more to do with not honoring my limitations and working within those parameters.

I can say I’m damaged, but I tell my clients you’re not damaged you are unique.  I say, you have witnessed things other people can never imagine or they go to the cinema to experience. That wisdom and knowledge of the fragility of life may make it so you are more like a piece of fine china and not a plastic cup. You don’t throw fine china in the sink or dishwasher and you don’t put it with the plastic cups in the cupboard. Does that make the fine china damaged? No, it makes it precious. I need to learn that I am precious and treat myself accordingly.