Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Words/Labels

I've learned a lot of new words as I've walked through this period of my life.  My favorite being the euphemism "in transition".  In plain language:  unemployed.  But hey! it sounds positive, so let's go for it!

No purpose for this picture - except to brighten your reading pleasure
And while we're at it:  I was not fired, I was terminated - or dismissed.  Two euphemisms for the price of one.

Words to make something unpalatable look, sound or feel better.

While we're at it, there are other terms, not euphemisms, which I've recently learned which describe my situation:  stress breakdown, psychiatric injury, hypervigilence, reactive depression, complex PTSD - to name a few.

Then there's the terms the original specialist (another euphemism - this one for psychiatrist) used to diagnose my condition during the crisis phase from the stressful situation:  bi-polar disorder and mixed personality disorder.

Words.  Labels.  In our world, in our minds, we need to put things into neat, little boxes and label them.  We want the world to make sense.  We want everything to fall into order.

In short we want to make things that we cannot understand, understandable.

We want to make sense out of the senseless.  Put order into the disordered.

As I walk through this journey of recovery, I keep trying to make sense of the non-sensical.  I want the why questions to be answered.  But there are no answers.  None that can take away the pain anyway.

If I'm to be labelled by those involved in the former stressful situation, by the medical community, by those who faithfully walk with and beside me and, ultimately, by myself, I would pick the terms stress breakdown, psychiatric injury and reactive depression to describe what happened to me as a result of the severely stressful situation, where I'm at now and what I'm recovering from.  What I'm dealing with on a daily basis.  These terms are for conditions which are not mental illnesses.  Rather, they are cause and effect situations.  Cause (severely stressful situation) = Effect (stress breakdown, psychiatric injury, et al).  Simple.  And they don't have the negative connotations of bi-polar, etc.  Ironically, I never had the symptoms of bi-polar.

Yet these conditions are not always that easy to recognize.  Especially when one is in an overtaxed, overused and understaffed medical system.  Where it takes months to see a specialist and then the specialist is so overburdened and overworked that he spends as little time with the patient as it takes to "diagnose" the problem and prescribe medication.

So it all boils down to words.  Semantics.  Sometimes euphemisms.  Assumptions.  Perceptions.  Based on who we are, how we think.

This is an interesting blog for me because as I write it, my mind wanders all over the map.  Never staying at one place or one topic for long.  In short, it mirrors the path I've been walking through since early 2011.  All over the map.   Never in one place, at once thought, for long.  Always changing.  As research uncovers something else.  As therapy progresses.  As life events unfold and intrude - sometimes like a bomb exploding and causing re-injury to the fragile soul.  Always changing.

An "all-over-the-map-journey".  Kind of like a round the world trip - except you don't get to board a plane or boat and go to exotic locales.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Currents of Life

ARRRGH!!!!!

After several days of struggling with and thinking about the concept I was blogging about, I finished a posting.  Only to discover that it hadn't saved because I had too many characters in the labels.  Sigh.

I could say live and learn ...

My garden one day a couple of
weeks ago
... or I could hide under the bed and stay there - which is what I felt like doing.

People might say:  what's the big deal?  You can always rewrite it...

The problem is, my mind doesn't go the same place twice.  Oh sure, I can write a new blog on the same theme.  The idea is still there.  The theme is still there.  The pictures are still there.

Light house - the same day
BUT my mind won't go in precisely the same direction twice.  My mind is like the current in the river - always flowing.

Muskrat - the same walk
My mind is active, fluid.  Thoughts tumbling here and there like water tumbling over the rocks in the river.  Sometimes, a very strong current.  Sometimes more languid.  But ever moving.  Ever changing.

Just like the pictures in this blog.

River rushing - current strong -
water level high
Papa Bear and I took a walk one day.  We live across the street from a river and often walk along it's banks holding hands, pretending we like each other (actually, don't tell anyone, but we're not pretending.  We actually do like each other - a lot.)

It's been a mild winter here in southern Ontario.  Unseasonably warm temperatures tempered with brief tastes of winter.

View of lighthouse - the next
morning
On this particular day, it was overcast and above freezing.  We'd had rain.  Before we headed out for our river walk, Papa Bear and I walked around the yard.  We spotted my spring bulbs starting to peep their heads out of the ground.  My early blooming Helleborous actually had a bud.  The grass was green.  As we walked on, we saw that the river's current was strong, sheets of thin ice swiftly travelling downstream faster than we could walk.  Logs floating in the river.  Papa Bear and I watched mesmerized by the spectacle unfolding before us.  We walked on to where the path takes a dip to go under the bridge.  There Papa Bear spotted a muskrat.  It was a wonderful walk.  I had a great time commemorating it with my ever present companion in life - my camera.

One week after initial picture
40 cm of snow
shovellers out in force
Night came.  A new day dawned.

The next morning, I peaked out my window - and saw a different world.  A frozen world with a thin sheet of snow covering the lawn.  Blanketing the bud, the sprouts, the grass, everything.  The softening earth now frozen with the quick freeze.  Blast frozen.

The whole view changed suddenly.  Overnight.  If I hadn't taken pictures the afternoon before, I would have thought I had been imagining things.

A week later, the view from my window changed yet again.  Forty centimetres of snow came down, creating a thick covering of snow over everything.  Schools cancelled.  Libraries and universities closed.  People out on the 401 in Toronto with their snow shovels.

Life changes.  It never stays the same - from one moment to the next.  Always fluid.  Always changing.

Embrace the flow.

And yes, I rewrote the posting.  On the same theme, but different.  Just like life.

One week later

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I only look normal ...


 But then that statement begs the question:  What is normal?

Indeed.  What is normal?

Is normal just a setting on your dryer as author and speaker Patsy Claremont states?

Or is there really something called normal?

And, if so, two questions come to mind:  (1) who defines what is normal? and (2) how do I achieve normalcy?  I guess the answer to question #2 depends on the answer to Question #1.

After what, what is "normal" to a gangbanger is definitely not normal to a Yuppie - or a Boomer such as myself.

What is "normal" to a person raised in the GI Generation (1902-1926 - which included my mom and most of her generation - is definitely not normal to those born in Generation Y/Millennium (1981 and 2000).

Then there are personality types.  I'm an ESFJ.  Therefore, to me those I consider "normal" are those who exhibit my same personality traits.

I've been blessed - or challenged (whichever way you choose to look at it) - with a deranged mind.  A mind that thinks for itself.  A mind that doesn't follow the leader - unless it makes logical sense to this admittedly deranged mind.

Irreverence, spontaneity, wacky sense of humour - and more - all come as part of the package that is me.

Add creativity, caring, empathy and compassion.  Keep stirring.  Do not overheat or boil as the package that is me is tender, fragile.  Scarred by life's events, yet still vertical - more or less.

Then there's the emotional scarring caused by verbal abuse, bullying in the school system and later in different workplaces.  Complex PTSD.  Trauma and recovery from.  For me, going through all these things, my normal is totally different from what someone else would consider normal.

Sometimes my "normal", taken out of the context of the talents, strengths, weaknesses and scars that comprise who I am and how I look at and deal with situations, seems totally abnormal.

Some years ago, I was dealing with a lot of different challenges which all came to a head on one particular Sunday morning.  I'd previously had a hellish work situation which ended badly and had just discovered that I had PTSD.  I'd gone to a counsellor who I'd seen off and on for a number of years who became abusive and had just started therapy with a lot of fear and trepidation with another counsellor.  I was being bullied by one coworker at my new job situation on an ongoing basis which was causing a lot of distress.  To top it off, my three year old granddaughter's paternal grandmother had been taken to the hospital. with a pulmonary embolism and was not expected to live.  My granddaughter was there at the time and was transferred to our care as her parents were leaders on a youth retreat - somewhere.

In retrospect, this was a recipe for disaster.  In retrospect I should never have been in church that morning, let alone volunteering in the church library.  I was too fragile.  Too broken.  Too hurting.

I threw my Bible on the floor in the church library.  Someone was so appalled at my behaviour that she reported me to the pastor.

The next thing I knew, my pastor who was considered to be warm, compassion and fatherly was at my door.  Furious.  Wrath personified.  How could I do such a thing?  How could I?  He kept saying to me.  Forget the compassion.  Forget gentleness.  Forget - well forget everything except that he was totally appalled at my behaviour and came, not to help in a terrible situation or to offer compassion and help, but to condemn.  Which he did very well.

For years I struggled with that day and the pastor's visit and reaction. His anger.  His lack of compassion for a hurting person.

Then I picked up H. Norman Wright's book:  Helping the Hurting.  One chapter goes through trauma and how that affects people.  The most significant portion I read stated that for people like me who have been through trauma, the "barriers" in the brain that regulate our behaviour have been broken.  They're down.  Not operating.  In layman's terms that I could readily understand, Wright commented that the trauma victim is behaving in what they perceive as a normal manner in an abnormal situation (paraphrased).

My "normal" on that day, at that time, was viewed through the lenses of an abnormal situation.  With the barriers fully down.

So then, we go back to the original question:  what is normal?

My normal as a victim of complex PTSD, trauma, verbal abuse, etc. is as far different from the normal of someone who has never had to face these issues as is the normal for a paraplegic from a person who has never suffered a spinal cord injury and is confined to a wheelchair.  The difference is visibility.  One is visible; the other is not.

What then is normal?

I agree with Patsy Claremont:  normal is just a setting on your dryer.















Friday, February 15, 2013

The On-going Journey Towards Recovery


After coping with and learning from a bad experience which lasted over four years, I finally hit the brick wall.  I could no longer go on.  I realized the futility of even trying.  I had a stress breakdown.  I suffered psychiatric injury.  Now, a year or so later, I cope daily with the physical affects of latent stress on a daily basis.

My on-going journey comes with no easy, 1-2-3 instructions for healing.  It's a progressive, in-my-face, daily journey.

As far as depression goes, there are two theories for healing.  One is to do absolutely nothing.  Lie in bed all day if you want to.  Play solitaire in your room if you want to.   Etc.  The other theory is to try to keep to life as normal as possible.  Wake up at the usual time.  Perform the usual tasks.  Do the usual activities.

I always ascribed to the second theory.  Until I hit the brick wall this past fall - about six months or more after the original stress breakdown.

At the time, I was cognizant that I'd had a breakdown of sorts.

Stress breakdowns, psychiatric injury, reactive depression, complex PTSD do not come with manuals.  There are no simple instructions to follow.  No magic wands to wave.  No pills to make it all better.   To make it go away.

Does this mean there is no hope for the victim?  Recovery not possible?

No!

It simply means that each victim's path is unique to that individual.  Only with strong support can the individual even hope to make it through.

With a nightmare, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Waking up.  With a horror story, there is no tunnel.  No light at the end of it.  It's more like a quagmire in which the victim is sinking deeper and deeper.  Past the ankles.  Making walking hard.  The quagmire appears endless.  Totally engulfing.  Hope is in short supply.

I remember a moment in an Olympic games many years ago which has stood out in my memory.  An athlete had sustained an injury but was determined to run again.  He started off with the others.  All eyes on him.  Running.  Would he make it?  Would he complete the race?  At first, it seemed like he would.  Then he fell.  He picked himself up.  Tried again.  Fell again.  Picked himself up.  Could no longer run.  Tried walking.  Determined to cross the finish line.  His face showed both his struggle and his determination.  His father and his coach witnessed this man, picking himself up.  Saw his determination.  First one, then the other, left the sidelines and approached the runner.  The father on one side.  The coach on the other. Their arms around the athlete, the three completed the race and crossed the finish line.  Not the way he wanted to.  Not on a sprint, arms waving in the arm, huge smile on his face to cheers of adulation.  Yet, he attained a greater victory.  By not giving up.  By continuing on in the face of great adversity.

From here my (deranged) mind flits to a more recent memory of a man I've never met nor talked to.  Whose name I don't know.  Yet as he ran past me on a beach a few years ago, he created an indelible imprint in my mind.  A jogger.  There are many of those on the beach.  What caused this one jogger to impact me so much?  The answer.  He was running with a prosthesis.  To me, he has become a visual image for me to keep on.  To face the challenges.  To continue on the race.  It can be done.


This is you and me, my fellow journeyer, on the path of recovery.  We can do this.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Tribute to ...

... my ever-lovin', long-sufferin' Papa Bear.  My partner in crime - er - the journey of life.  My best friend.  My Valentine.

The Bear who knows me - and loves me anyway.

As those of you who follow this blog or are either close personal friends or friends via Facebook are aware, I broke my wrist in late November.  The right one.  The dominant one.  The one I have used  all my life ... and taken for granted.  Suddenly out of commission.  Broken.  In a cast.  Painful.  Very painful.

In the instant I fell out of the bathtub that day (yes, you read right:  OUT of the bathtub landing on my wrist), my life changed - at least for the duration.


I was already struggling with all my other issues which included further re-traumatization and the death of a close loved one.  Grief.  Complicated by others' issues.  For a period of time, I felt like I was getting dumped on.

Predictably, my body reacted in it's now usual manner.  Extreme fatigue.  Weakness.  Lack of coordination and balance.  Cognitive problems.  Feeling overwhelmed.  Lack of energy.  Lack of interest.  Etc.

Cooking - even before I broke my wrist - was beyond me.  Papa Bear and I struggled by on the things he can cook and frozen entrees from different food chains.  Bagged salads.  Even peeling and cooking vegetables was beyond me.  And my ever lovin', long-sufferin' Papa Bear encouraged - and pampered - me all the way.

I had just begun to be able to prepare a simple meal - and I do mean simple - when Voila!  down I went!  This time literally.  Out of the bathtub.  I went right back to being almost completely disabled, this time physically.  Accompanied by pain.  Lots of pain.  For more than two months.  Even when the cast came off, the pain stayed with me.  An ever constant, debilitating companion.  The main constant in my life during all this saga has been - you guessed it! - Papa Bear.

This is where my ever lovin' spouse showed how strong his love for me is.  When I was down for the cast, either physically or emotionally, Papa Bear took over.  Perhaps mumbling, grumbling and growling at times.  But he took over.  He washed dishes - by hand since he and the dishwasher seem to have an agreement that he only empties, never fills.  He made the bed.  He dressed me when the pain prevented me from dressing myself.  He swept.  He vacuumed.  He drove me places.  My own personal sherpa. You name it, he did it.   He did, however, draw the line at shampooing hair or personal care, but found other ways around these obstacles.  All the time he was working a full-time job - in addition to being a full-time caregiver.

An unsung hero in the litany of life.  But a hero nonetheless.  My hero

Thank you for sticking with me, Papa Bear.  I love you.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Togetherness ...

... is what I said to my former apartment superintendents a couple of decades ago when I saw them side by side in the building lobby painting the mailboxes.  What I meant as a joke got a sour grimace.  Turns out these two bears weren't getting along together very well at that particular moment in space and time.  Growly.  Snarly.  At each other.  They may have been working side by side but they definitely weren't enjoying it or feeling very close to each other.

Since that incident, the word "togetherness" has become a shared catchwork between my ever-lovin', ever sufferin' den mate, Papa Bear, and myself.

Togetherness ...

... is more than just a catchword.  A shared joke.  In marriage, togetherness is the glue that holds the couple together, making things work better, greasing the wheels.

Togetherness.

Papa Bear and I recently had a shared "togetherness" experience.

We had travelled to North Myrtle Beach, SC after Papa Bear became unemployed - again.  We've been there before and have enjoyed the slower pace, the sounds of the surf, the sun, the difference in climate from southern Ontario to southern U.S.


Papa Bear has also enjoyed surfing the net and finding web cams.  One he has particularly enjoyed watching is earth cam myrtle beach, sc.  So when we decided to go to Myrtle Beach, we determined to find the web cam and, if possible, phone our daughters while standing in front of it.

Thus began a weeklong search for the web cam.  We had many delightful experiences looking for it in all the wrong places - like North Myrtle Beach near the pier.  The beach was delightful, but alack! and alas! no sign of a boardwalk like the cam shows.  The boardwalk was our  first visual cue.  The flags the second.  But where was it?  We thought it was in front of some hotels.  We were wrong.  We thought it was in North Myrtle beach, where we were.  Wrong, again.

We had all but given up hope of ever finding the boardwalk and thus the web cam when I opened up a tourist brochure and Voila! there was a picture of the boardwalk complete with flags.  BUT the brochure didn't say where it was.  So I went on the world wide web and cued in the words:  "myrtle beach" and "boardwalk".  Voila! again.  I struck oil - or gold - or whatever.

Thus, we resurrected the great "earth cam search" once again (maybe this would make a good scenario for the Amazing Race, eh?  Looking for a web cam is kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack - without the haystack.)

 With Papa Bear at the wheel, we started off again.  This time to Myrtle Beach.  Yes.  You've read right.  There is a North Myrtle Beach and a Myrtle Beach, SC.  Kind of like my own Kitchener-Waterloo - twin cities which run into each other.  We still had some fun as Papa Bear kept turning to the beach too early.  But it was still fun.  The sunset was the palest pink that evening.  Like an artist sweeping the sand, sky and ocean with the purest of pastels.

And then we found it!  The Boardwalk.  Right in the heart of tourist trap Myrtle Beach!  We wandered down to the boardwalk.  Craning our necks to find the earth cam.  And then Papa Bear cried out!  There are the flags!  We're in the area.  So we really started to look around in earnest, craning our necks, looking up.

 It was Papa Bear who found the location, i.e. the flags, and then the earth cam.

 Hint:  if you're looking for the cam in my pictures, look up in the middle of the green building and there it is!  Small.  But an ever-seeing eye.  Virtually unnoticed by most walkers-by.

We whipped out our cell phone and called first one daughter then the other and then the other in turn (three in total).  Papa Bear instructed each one how to access the earth cam.  He's talking.  I'm waving - like an idiot - at a green building.  Passers by who had no idea a web cam was even in the area gave me some really interesting looks.  We had a ball talking with each daughter in turn as they watched us from several thousand miles away.  It was the highlight of our trip.  I would rate it as one of the best experiences of my recent history.

Togetherness.  Each of us has certain skill sets.  It took both our skill sets to find it.  Togetherness.  I wouldn't want to travel through life without it - or Papa Bear, my togetherness companion in this journey of life.





Monday, February 4, 2013

Word by Word ...

... Thought by thought.  Slowly.  Ever so slowly.

Forward momentum for me, at this point, is like trying to push a very large, heavy rock up a hill. Actually, the rock doesn't have to be that heavy.  It just feels heavy to me.  Unwieldy.  The hill may not be that steep in actuality.  But to me, it feels like a mountain.  A very large, tall, even scary mountain.

This is how the journey of starting to move forward - once again - feels to me at the outset.

Last year, at the beginning of 2012, I set some "goals" for myself re: moving forward into recovery, into health and a new beginning involving three realms:  professional development; physical development and social development.

Professionally, I wanted to indulge in my dream to become a writer.  But I didn't know how.  Where to start?  I'd dabbled in writing way back in the early 90s.  Went to a writer's conference.  Picked people's brains.  Even got published a few times.

But then life - in the form of severe depression - intervened.  Healing.  Raising children.  Working.  All of these intervened, and I shelved the lifelong dream as nothing more than a pipe dream.

Then life intervened again.  This time in the form of suddenly becoming unemployed.  Two stress breakdowns back to back.  Being forced to leave the workplace under less than stellar conditions.

Struggling to recover.  Struggling to make sense of things than can never make sense.  Trying to go forward.  Being in-transition work wise.  The dream began to revive.

By the beginning of 2012, I was feeling ready to move forward professionally.

Since my dream was to write, those around me encouraged me to start a blog.  Actually some of them had been encouraging me for months.  So, I decided to get off my duff - or rather on it - and sit down and write.  To write my blog.  To share whatever came to me.  And hope that people would actually read it.  So, one day, trembling in my boots, I took the dive.  I found it exhilarating.  Especially as people were indeed accessing this site and reading the words I had written.

I enjoyed it, although I found it to be hard work - especially as recovery from the severely stressful situation and its resultant debilitating physical affects was on-going.  Emotionally, I seemed to be recovering at a faster rate than I was physically.  It was a challenge then.  It remains a challenge now.

Life continues on.  No matter what a person has already experienced or is recovering from, life - good and bad - continues on.  Life events the person has no control over.  Loved ones get married.  Loved ones die.  Loved ones get mad at you.  Loved ones....  And sometimes unloved ones get in the way too.

Life.

So my life continued and I felt like I was drowning.  Buried under layers and layers of junk.  Sometimes my own junk.  Sometimes other people's junk.  Overwhelmed.  Constantly fatigued.  Weak.

Layer on layer.

Yet my mind kept saying:  write.  Write again.  You can do it.  Write.

So I have started this blog up again as well as beginning the naked knitter blog (knittingaunatrurel.blogspot.com).  I'm moving slowly.  The words not flowing as they once did.  But coming nonetheless.

Word by word.

Step by step.