Quiet Friends

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The fields do not sleep

and tonight

neither do I.

Country roads beckon me

and I wander

not quite alone,

fireflies are quiet

but sure friends.

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Wellness Wednesday: Trusting Yourself and the Process

Most of the time I look fine.

Sometimes I’m fine, most of the time I’m fine, in fact … but my anxiety can be so intense/trauma trigger feelings so unbearable that I want to stay in bed all day. Ever since I started listening to The Body Keeps the Score, I’ve recognized that relational trauma has symptoms that are consistent with anxiety, panic, PTSD, ADHD, depression, and even bipolar. When you didn’t feel safe or supported with adults growing up, it’s hard to learn how to sort of relearn that for yourself. This book has been extremely helpful, and I am racing to get to the treatment section.

Anyhow. I am high functioning. I compartmentalize when I have to, but I don’t have much trust or faith in anything and a faculty member saw right through that the other day when I embarrassed myself during a meeting about potential dissertation ideas. My draft of a research question leaned more toward qualitative research than quantitative, but when I shared what I actually was interested in (in line with quantitative), but shied away from, he said that I should trust in the process to figure it out, and that’s what having a committee is for. He saw right through me, though, because I don’t like asking for help. If I currently am not able to understand and see how a project can be completed (research design, stats and all) by myself, I’m less inclined to do it, because I don’t like to rely on anyone (which is foolish in this case, but that’s how I function). Caught.

In the Body Keeps the Score, it says that in order to heal, you need to:

Tolerate feeling what you feel, and knowing what you know.

It seems simple, but if you’ve been dealing with trauma responses where it feels unsafe to just simply “be,” it becomes a little more complicated. Furthermore, when rage has nowhere to go, it can turn inward. The book presented research to confirm this, in which incest victims had more immune system disorders/diseases than those who didn’t endure such abuse. Bodies are affected, your body can literally start attacking itself.

It is sort of comforting to know that it is not entirely my fault that I did not develop a helpful map for what is safe and what is dangerous, because that came from caregivers. If your caregivers weren’t consistent in this, how could you be for yourself unless you make a valiant effort to change what you were given?

A wonderful example was given in this book that helped me a lot. If you were told and treated like you were adorable, smart, and amazing growing up, you will internalize that and be outraged/not accept when other people don’t treat you similarly, or at least, relatively well. On the other hand, if you were met with criticism, disgust, and treated like a nuisance or just ignored… well, you get the point. When others treat you that way, it will seem normal. No outrage. This sets the stage for learned helplessness.

What is so frustrating about feeling stuck in a trauma loop/emotional pain is that most people who suffer intellectually can know it’s not rational. Equally frustrating is that these types of reactions are coded in the more primitive emotional part of the brain, so just addressing irrationality is not enough. This is not simply a thinking problem… it’s a body problem as well, which is precisely why it isn’t always helpful when a well-intentioned person says something like: “But you’re amazing!” Or, “look at the past and recognize that it’s not happening right now.” Yes, but it feels like it is.

Tips

  • One tip that I have started to try to bring myself into the present moment is using essential oils. I realized I did have a little vial of lavender. I don’t put it on myself, just smell it briefly. It’s supposed to calm anxiety. The scent is pleasant, but strong, and sometimes disrupts my thought tornadoes… so that’s one thing I can leave you with until I get to the treatment part of the book.

 

  • Another visualization technique to rid yourself of intrusive thoughts, I’ve had less success with, but I’ll share it anyway. This is supposed to start new neuro pathways instead of going down the familiar fear/pain one. Visualize an object that represents your intrusive thoughts or traumas and go through a process of locking it away (NOT destroying, because it will always be there, the point is to not focus on it anymore or let it have power over you). This locking away could be done in your basement, or outside, or anywhere that makes sense to you, but it should be a real place you can visualize. Take time to really think about all of the sights, smells, sounds, and touches that go along with it. For me, it was visualizing a cassette tape with all of my trauma thoughts and negative spiraling. In my mind, I write “not needed” in sharpie on the tape and then bury it outside in my backyard near a creek and a favorite tree to watch over it, taking time to think of the sense walking through my backyard evokes. You might also think of a spiritual figure handling the object/guarding it for you, if you’re so inclined. The second part, which is equally important, is visualizing and sensing a pleasant activity afterward. For me, this was snorkeling, so I thought about what it feels like to swim in the ocean, taste the salt water, hear the waves, and see eagle rays. All of this is supposed to help your brain go down different more healthy/helpful paths than the old familiar painful ones that keep you stuck. I’m assuming this takes a lot of practice, because I haven’t had much luck with it yet. But, if you’ve been on the same path for a while, it makes sense that it would take time for that one to become obsolete and overgrown in favor of another.

All You Have Is You

The title of this sounds a lot more depressing than I mean it to, but I’ve been struggling lately. If you have anxiety, depression, or are dealing with trauma, it really comes down to you being able to regulate yourself and working toward getting yourself to be able to find out what’s true and what’s not. Sure, friends, family, and intimate partners can be there for support, but ultimately it is your responsibility to try to regulate yourself.

That can be really frustrating, though, when the people around you trigger you, or you were harmed by someone close to you. Maybe someone close to you caused the trauma, or contributed. Shouldn’t they try to help you? Yes. They should, but not at the expense of you learning to help yourself. There is nothing more constraining than feeling like the people who hurt you were the ones you sought comfort from. Learning to give that to yourself is hard if you didn’t have stability growing up or emotional connection. I’ve been working on self-regulating lately and failing. Here are some of the things I’ve learned though.

  • Sometimes simple distraction works. When I have to work 11-12 hours at a rehab center, I get to focus on other people and then I am forced to not look at my emotional pain. Usually that works for me, it’s rare that I would think my work would be impaired because of my personal mental state… but then, maybe I’m just too good at compartmentalization.
  • Sometimes taking care of your basic human needs, like eating well, drinking water, exercising, or taking a shower can help. However, I do know that there are days when it’s hard to get out of bed and the thought of exercising is repulsive … don’t force yourself to do something that feels awful. Find a balance between the discomfort of starting something when you don’t feel like it and the potential benefit.
  • Talking to other people can be good, but can get tricky if you don’t feel ready to talk about a trauma, for example, or if people know you struggle with anxiety/depression/trauma and you feel as though they don’t want to hear about it anymore. That might or might not be true, but I do think loved one’s frustrations come with seeing you miserable, not the fact that they don’t want to hear about it. Oftentimes they just feel helpless. It’s good to have someone you feel like you can tell everything to and that that person understands. If you don’t have that at the moment, try to reach out online through forums, or have some other outlet like blogging (like me!).
  • Some days you flat out will just want to stay in bed. If you need to do that, sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Try to set small tasks for yourself that are manageable and not overwhelming. For example, I set a time limit for half an hour for tidying up my room today to not get overwhelmed and had instrumental piano music on in the background.
  • I do realize that sometimes the thought of even trying to tackle something is so overwhelming that it can leave you in tears. If you are in that space today, or any day, do what feels good to you. And if that means nothing, then do nothing. I realize sometimes emotional pain can be so bad that everything becomes overwhelming, you have interest in nothing, and you can’t think. If you can take a nap outside, I would recommend that. If you can bring yourself to read a meditation book, I would recommend that. If you can’t do any of those things, I would try to recall a time when you felt happy, by yourself, and it wasn’t contingent on anything else. Here is an excerpt from a “happy” journal that I started keeping years ago to remind myself of good things when I feel anxious… and no, there aren’t many entries. lol. This is from yesterday:

I am not happy, but this was compelling enough to mention. Last night lightning lit the sky and millions of lightning bugs lit the fields as I walked in the dark on country roads, trying and failing to photograph both. The breeze swept over me and through the muggy night. I was briefly reminded of who I used to be: adventuring out in nature alone as a child, never bored, not happy–but content. I feel like I woke up at 29 and went to bed at 9. After my anxiety and insecurities sort of took over, it takes effort to get back to myself.

  • Find something that serves to remind you of the core of who you are. Try not to forget, or fall into a trance/dissociation like I have. It’s hard to do, it’s hard to come back to yourself after kind of living in a dissociative state for so long, but to live more fully it has to be done.

 

A Day for Myself

 

Today I swam in a lake, even though I couldn’t see the bottom and I felt the sun on my skin while I read and wrote. I took the day entirely to myself and went to Moraine State Park, in spite of the work I could be doing on my dissertation and coursework for my Methods of Assessment class. This was the first really sunny day Western PA has seen this summer, so I took advantage. I often feel guilty for taking time for myself, thinking I’m not doing as much as others, which I know likely isn’t true. So I try to let go of that guilt and the made-up expectations I think others may have of me.  No matter what you choose in life, someone will disagree. That’s inevitable.

The book I finished at the beach today, Radical Acceptance, has meditations where to deal with suffering, you relate it to universal suffering to feel connectedness with others and to realize you are not alone in whatever you are feeling. So when I feel alone and disconnected and feel like I was set up to fail in relationships from some aspects of my upbringing, I think of how many other people must struggle with that and feel that way. Sometimes it helps. I don’t agree with everything in the book, but it does have some very helpful insights. Maybe I’ll do a book review entry.

Anyhow, sometimes I feel like because I was not securely attached or emotionally connected as a child, I’m destined to repeat that. And I’m angry I wasn’t taught to be secure and not wary of others. I realize others likely feel the same, but I want a solution, something concrete for me to do. That might not be realistic. I do give good thoughts to all those who invisibly suffer like I do. I used to think my upbringing didn’t affect me, and while it wasn’t awful by any means, it didn’t set me up to relate with others well. And no, it’s not because I am an only child, it’s because of my parent’s tension, volatility, unpredictability, and detached emotionality. They would give me physical things instead of connection. So a lot of my issues surface in relationships, as everyone’s does… but mine are truly relational.

I’ve spent so much time doing for others, acting how I think they think I should act, doing what I think they want me to do instead of just being myself and it has made me ill. No more. I’m going to try to give myself permission to be my true self. And you should too, if you haven’t already.

May you create and experience the inner stability you seek.

Wellness Wednesday

I’m so aggravated right now. For whatever reason wordpress won’t load on my shit laptop so I’m writing from my shit iPhone4. 

Anyhow. I’ll keep this brief because I’m not feeling very “well” today anyway. Though I did submit a proposal to a conference so I guess that’s something to feel good about. Keeping your balance while pursuing academia is no joke. It’s exhausting. And if you want to be both an academic and creative writer like I do, it’s doubly exhausting. Being rejected over and over and over and over is hard. I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t yet. I try not to take it personally, but sometimes it’s hard not to. People can be cruel. One comment I received back recently on a rejected manuscript I cowrote with a colleague said they had no feedback because the paper was so poorly written. I know that’s not true but it still burns. Sigh. It makes me even more terrified to submit creative writing that is more personal, if I ever finish anything. It makes me sick to think of how many hours I put into that aforementioned paper for nothing. Absolutely sick. I try not to think of it as wasted time, but that doesn’t make me feel better. Being so busy is one good source of distraction from disappointment in academia at least.  I try to have boundaries and take care of myself but it’s hard.