Saturday, November 22, 2014

#GirlArmy, Part Two

Hello, Dear Readers!

My husband is home on a visit and has graciously swept the girls off on a fun-filled Daddy Day so that I can sit with you and write some long-marinating blog posts.

Yeah, that was a plural. Imma try to crank out a couple, here.  May only post one today, and then another in a few days, just to give you something to look forward to. Ha ha.
_____

When last we spoke about #GirlArmy, my friend and her daughters had left their home late one night to escape her husband, and fled to my house. It was the beginning of something terrifying and new and courageous and powerful, and we found ourselves in it together.

The next morning, we all woke up, and there was much squealing and delight when it was discovered that there were overnight guests in the house that hadn't been there when my daughters had gone to bed the night before.

Hope and I rustled up some breakfast for the troops and embarked upon Operation: Safe Haven.


I was determined that my home and my presence would be a safe, peaceful, stabilizing foundation for those girls during whatever was coming next. And for Hope, too. It was an awful situation with no solution that wouldn't cause heartache, but this: this was something I could do.

Lots of things happened that next day. 

One of the first: Hope's husband showed up at my front door, wild-eyed, demanding to talk to his wife.

He had his face right up to the glass of the window in the door, clenching his jaw so hard he was shaking. I stared him down through a gap in the blinds and told him to go away; that he would not be coming in, and that she would not be coming out. 


He insisted. I planted my feet and squared my shoulders. "No." 

He insisted again. "No."

I left the door to tell her he was there, hand on my phone to call the police because I wasn't sure of his mental state, and when we returned, he had gone.

I wish I could have said something better, something more poignant, something closer to what I wanted to tell him-- that he and I fight some of the same battles, after all, and I would much prefer to be his ally in this than his perceived enemy.

I wish he could have heard me, that morning, if I had.

But I was afraid for his kids and mine, who were in the room behind me, and I could tell by his eyes that he wasn't in the headspace to hear anything from me. So I turned him away from my door.

It was a terrible thing to have to do, but also something I think his daughters needed to hear me do on their behalf, so they'd know: he wasn't coming in.

One of the next things that happened that day: I told the two oldest girls that my house had an alarm, and that while we were all inside, that alarm was set. "You are safe in this house," I told them. "No one is coming in unless we let them. You are safe here." 

The 15-year old nodded at me solemnly, her eyes angry and huge. I wrapped my arms around the 10-year old, and held her while she shivered and cried.
_____

The details of those early days are disappearing into my fog now, so I don't remember the precise order of things, but I can tell you the main points: Hope needed to make sure that her husband wasn't going to show up back at the house for a while, because she and the girls didn't feel safe with him there.

I wanted them to stay with me. We live 20 minutes away, and school had begun, so it was a bit of a shuffle in the mornings getting everyone ready and a challenge to figure out how to get the high schooler to school an hour and a half earlier than everyone else without making the high schooler spend the night somewhere else, which she didn't want to do and her sisters didn't want her to do (testament to the fear this situation had struck in these girls-- it even trumped normal sibling squabbles!).

But that arrangement would have taken its toll after a while, and Hope also wanted to take some of the power back and reclaim her space, and show the girls that they could be safe in their own home.

So she went to work trying to arrange with her husband-- who was wild with fear and blame over the consequences of what he had done, if not quite (or, frankly, close to) the level of contrition and desire to find help for his symptoms and commitment to make permanent and positive changes in his behavior that Hope and I were hoping to see-- something that would allow her and the girls to come home and him to stay away.

He eventually agreed, reluctantly, to stay with family nearby.

In the meantime, while they were at my house, I tried to distract the girls with as many peaceful, fun, bonding activities as I could think of, so they'd feel anchored in the little community we were creating.

We formed a band: The Girl Army Singers, and began practicing our first cover: "Try" by Colbie Caillat, led by Hope's 10-year old's lovely soprano and my sloppy guitar. 

We recruited a neighbor and her daughter-- in a similar situation themselves-- and set out on Operation: French Fries. The details of the operation are confidential, but suffice it to say: Mission Accomplished!

We'd found a big bird house on the curb on our way home one day that looked like a perfect fairy house, so we placed it in our garden and spent an afternoon making "fairy accessories" to go with it. They made fairy beds, fairy swings, a fairy car, and all sorts of little things for visiting fairies to enjoy. 

A few more women came and joined us there in the fairy garden: Hope's sister. My sister. A close female friend of mine who used to work a women's crisis hotline and who I'd now introduced to Hope as a resource. 

Our joking term for our six daughters, #GirlArmy, suddenly became the name for all of us: women standing together, supporting each other, loving each other, believing in each others' strength. We turned our "female" characteristics into assets to help us through difficult situations: inclusion, nurturing, acceptance, emotional intelligence. 

From that point on, while the things Hope needed to do sometimes got harder and scarier, her resolve stayed firm. She had reached out, and we'd linked arms and lent her our strength, and no way were we going to let her down. 
_____


In the months since those first awful weeks, there have been some tough moments. More suicide threats, more harsh words and reckless, unpredictable behavior from Hope's husband. More sorrow and fear for her daughters. More helplessness and dread for Hope. But she has continued to persevere.

She's been able to secure a restraining order that both keeps him away from the family AND allows him supervised visits with his children, which she honestly wants him to have. It also requires him to get the help he needs. 

Most importantly, it gives her the space SHE needs for some healing of her own. I wish that for her, above all else.

There is more to come, for them, and I hope they'll be able to navigate it peacefully and in ways that offer the most benefit to everyone involved. I and others will be here to ensure that Hope is supported no matter what happens.

Hope has been an endless source of inspiration to me, through it all, with her relentless search for sources of beauty and gratitude in the everyday moments of her life. She refuses to be kept down by the heartbreak and fear of the unknown that infuses everything about this situation with her husband, and she looks instead to the positive in others and in the world around her. Every day.
____

My own role in all of this took me by surprise, and taught me something important about myself that I was thrilled-- and relieved-- to learn.

As you know, I spend most of my time in severe overwhelm.

This thing with Hope and her family happened as my daughters were beginning kindergarten and my husband was out of the country for an unknown amount of time, and I was trying to hold all the threads of my household and establish new routines and navigate entirely new territory-- prime overwhelm time, for me.

But somehow, when the crisis came, some calm, centered part of me took over, and I knew exactly what to do.

I remember feeling strangely divided, as if I were being fed lines from some subterranean part of myself where the command center lay, and I was getting them just in time to use them; not beforehand, not being allowed into the thought processes that created them. It was a bit like flying blind, but I knew the instructions I was getting were the right ones.

I don't feel, most of the time ever, as if I am operating from the perspective of the wise, experienced 43-year old woman that I am. 

As Dr. Oz and I discovered a while back, I still tend to identify as a 19-year old, when I think of who I am at my core. That's the "real" me, as far as I can tell.

But the truth is, I AM a wise, experienced 43-year old woman. I have lived her life. I have done the things she's done. I have collected her moments like stones in my pocket. I have learned her lessons. I know what she knows, feel what she feels, think what she thinks, although I'm not always aware of it at the time.

But she's in there, this woman. This Me. And when I need her, when others need her, she is there in an instant.

She doesn't announce her presence or force a noticeable shift. I wouldn't have known it, really, if it weren't for the hindsight realization that I was handling things quite well, wasn't I, and that was quite odd considering the circumstances, wasn't it, and it was almost as if someone else were driving the bus right now, wasn't it, and hey wait a minute...

O_o

PTSD. It's not Multiple Personality Disorder, but boy... you can see it from your house.

Anyway, it was a strange time. I haven't been that over-taxed, especially emotionally, in years, but instead of overwhelmed, I felt... useful. Instead of wanting to shut down, I felt a desire to reach out and be there for someone else.

It felt... I don't know. Something like grace.

I felt uniquely qualified to help. I felt strong enough to be leaned upon. I felt like I had room in my arms, my home, and my heart to shelter people in need. People I loved.

And the best part: I felt as if I were the one being given the gift.

The gift of trust from those little girls, who felt safe in my home. The gift of confidence from their mother, a woman I admire beyond words, that I had something to offer them. The gift of faith from all of them that we are better united than we are apart.

I haven't felt strong like that in a long, long time. I guess when it's your own family you're with, you can convince yourself that you don't have a choice in the matter, so choices and actions don't seem to come from a place of strength but a place of compulsion or habit.

This felt like a choice, and an easy one to make at that. And although the circumstances surrounding it were awful, it was a wonderful thing, to have such a friend, and to be such a friend, and to take part in creating such a loving cocoon of safety for a family I love like my own.

#GirlArmy. A united force of strength, joy, resilience, nurturing, inclusion, gratitude, and love. 

I feel a little as though I'm a Girl Army of one, with these multiple parts acting independently inside my mind and body, so I'll give myself the same advice I'd give the other #GirlArmy:

We'll get through this together, because together we are powerful.



Thursday, October 30, 2014

Quick Update

I apologize for the dearth of posting lately.

My husband has been abroad, as you know, since August, with only once short break, and will continue to be abroad with only one more short break until December. He has left London and is now in Tel Aviv. It hasn't been much fun for anyone, except for me, the week I was in London. But it appears that he has kicked so much ass that he will be made some sort of royalty upon his return to the States.

So. If that is true, that may turn out well for all concerned. We'll see.

At any rate, I haven't been able to take my usual day-long breaks to write my blog posts, which are sort of necessary in order to do the necessary emotional work to get the job done.

Please accept this short update and promise: I haven't forgotten about you! And I am continuing to do some very challenging and intricate work with neurofeedback that I look forward to telling you about-- it's kicking my ass, in fact.

AND I still have the rest of the #GirlArmy story to tell you.

I will. It's coming, ASAP.

Until then, take care, and keep checking back. An update will be coming soon, dear readers.

xoxo

Kate, The Girl Who Lived

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

'Ello from London

I'm in the middle of writing #GirlArmy Part Two, but wanted to post a little bit of London here, separately, just because that's a pretty serious story and feels a bit unseemly to combine the two in the same post.

So! I've been here for four days, and have another three left in this wonderful city. 

I got to spend the first day and a half with my husband, who hasn't done any sightseeing in London at all. Since I've spent some time here and seen all the big tourist attractions already, he gets to pick which ones he wants to see in the brief time he has to see them. He has good taste: Tower of London, Globe Theatre, Westminster Abbey and Parliament.

He's had to work for the past three days (this has been a positively grueling trip for him, actually. He's been going back and forth between London and Tel Aviv, and working 12-16 hour days. I can't wait until he can put this behind him, and neither can he). But since his clients are Israeli and Rosh Hashanah begins tomorrow, he gets the next two days off to run around London with me.

We checked the Tower off our list on the first day, so tomorrow it's the Globe. We're also fitting in what we've heard are the best steamed BBQ pork buns in the entire world in the morning, and a super-posh traditional Afternoon Tea at Brown's Hotel, the oldest hotel in London and the place where Queen Victoria herself used to take her afternoon cuppa.

I mean, why not, right?

For the past few days, though, I've been wandering on my own, taking silly pictures to text to my girls, who are at home with my parents, and seeing a few sights on my own personal must-see list:
Highgate Cemetery. My teenage goth self has never outgrown the allure of a peaceful, overgrown pile of gravestones, and this Victorian delight did not disappoint.

I stopped by a little French patisserie on the way and bought a baguette with butter and camembert and an apple pastry to have for lunch somewhere in the depths of the cemetery. 

I found the perfect little bench under a shady tree. Heavenly.
















I also went to the Temple Church, because I have a bit of a thing for the Knights Templar, although I usually avoid churches and cathedrals when I'm traveling because.. eh, you see one, you've seen them all. And I've seen a lot more than one.

But of course, the Temple Church has those cool effigies in the floor (you may have seen them in The daVinci Code), so there was that. But even better, it had about 100 silly faces beside the archways that surrounded the main, domed vestibule.

EXCELLENT fodder for the five-year olds at home!

(I apologize for the crazy formatting here. I tried. I failed. I give up.)


Face
Face

Face
 
Face Face
     

Face Face Face
Face



Face Face Face

Face Face Face Face Face Face
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face Face ...















And finally, because I couldn't leave London without making my Sherlockian pilgrimage, I went over to the place on Gower Street where they shoot the exteriors for Sherlock and had breakfast at Speedy's and took a few pictures like the fangirl that I am:




It should be noted that I also went to the Sherlock Holmes museum, but I found it to be rather ridiculous. It's a flat at 221b Baker Street, set up as if Sherlock Holmes and John Watson lived there, and the guides, dressed in Victorian garb, show you where "Sherlock's room" was, and where "Doctor Watson's study" was, as if they were real people.

As if there weren't PLENTY of things to put in a freaking Sherlock Holmes museum besides fake stage props. Some information and artifacts about the breadth and depth of the character's literary and cinematic presence, perhaps? The history of his creation by Arthur Conan Doyle? 

Anyone?

But alas, no, fake personal affects it is. Okay then. Off to Gower Street I went, because if I am going to be spending any time with fake Sherlocks, they are at the very least-- as god is my witness-- going to look like Benedict Cumberbatch.

Hmph.

But anyway, I just wanted to say hello from London and let you know that I am finishing up the rest of the #GirlArmy story as quickly as I can.

I will be coming home soon, although I wish I could stay. I love this city. I have always felt like I belonged here. 

I love riding the tube. I love wandering the streets. I love sitting in a cafe and hearing nine different languages being spoken within earshot. I love the ancient buildings nestled among the brand new uber-modern high-rises. I love the crowds outside the pubs every night. I love the black cabs and the theatres and the tea and the monuments and the graveyards and the people and the rain.

I can't wait to come back. I can't wait to bring my daughters. 

Next time, I hope we get to settle in and stay a while.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

#GirlArmy

Well.

It's been quite the whirlwind around here these past couple of weeks, so you'll have to forgive my lack of posting.

My PTSD has been challenged in some interesting ways, and I (well, the Wise Adult part of me) has risen to the challenge in a way I wouldn't have thought myself capable.

We are definitely talking about new territory here, people.

But I get ahead of myself.

Rewind.  
_____


Two and a half weeks ago:

1. KINDERGARTEN.

My sweet monkeys.
We got them off to their first day of big-girl school without a hitch. They're in different classrooms, as I mentioned last time, which I thought might cause a bit of a fuss at some point, but apparently we'd built it into their expectations so seamlessly that they didn't even blink.

My husband was here to walk to school with us on the first day and share the whole experience, which was wonderful for him and I'm so grateful he was able to do it, because...

2. BON VOYAGE, POPS.

Later that evening, the girls had to say goodbye to their daddy as he left for London, duration To Be Determined.

He's still there, and has another month to go. He's terribly homesick, poor thing-- he hates to be away from the family and London is really, really far away. But, as you may recall, I leave next week for a week-long visit! **

Even better: my husband is such a world-class badass at his job that his company is paying for my trip to thank him for saving their project!

He's also going to be able to take a couple of days off while I'm there, so we'll get some extra time to hang out in London together.

I still intend to write you a post while I'm there. Watch for me!
_____

So, husband gone, new schedule with kids, all of which tend to tax me quite a bit under normal circumstances with all the details to track and things to remember and nonstop action and little time to decompress.

The girls had shortened days for the first two weeks, so were only at school for 3 hours each morning, which is not enough time to get more than one significant thing done. I squeezed a couple of neuro appointments in, some grocery shopping, that sort of thing, and just tried to keep myself focused.

I don't think I've been able to express how difficult normal things like this can be for me, especially when it's all on my shoulders. I feel easily overwhelmed. The fear of losing the threads makes me so anxious that I actually begin to lose them. It's a struggle to feel like I know what I'm doing. Which is humiliating. Which causes more anxiety. Which makes it hard to sleep. Which makes me feel overwhelmed, and I lose threads. 

Vicious cycle.

So, there was that. When that happens, it can become a bit of a slog; just trying to make it through to the girls' bedtime, when I can finally take a moment to recharge. Survive another day. Survive another day.

But a few days after my husband left, something pretty profound and awful and strangely powerful happened that... well, that changed some things. Mostly all for the better, I'd say, although mostly in very difficult ways.
_____

A very dear friend of mine-- I'll call her "Hope," which, although it's not her name, captures her tirelessly positive, tenacious, boundless spirit perfectly-- has been struggling with a crisis with her husband's mental illness for the past several months, and it has been very difficult for all of them, including their four daughters, aged 3 - 15.

They moved to the Bay Area about a year and a half ago, putting us in close proximity to each other for the first time in over 20 years, and we were thrilled to be back in each others' daily lives, especially now that we have our daughters (officially termed "The Girl Army") to raise together.

But since their arrival, Hope's husband began to spiral downward into his illness. I don't have his permission to write about his diagnoses, so I won't. I will say, however, that this crisis began with his attempted suicide last May.

Since then, their family has been through a firestorm of suffering. The girls are, variously, confused, angry, fearful, sad. Hope has been absolutely heroic in her efforts to keep things consistent for them, to support her husband in finding help-- although his illness prevents him from acknowledging that he needs it to the extent that he does-- and to keep the family afloat amid what has been nothing short of chaos.

Over the summer, tensions escalated. Hope's husband has never been physically violent, but the weekend my husband left for London, his moods escalated to the point that Hope felt unsafe in her home for the first time in her marriage, and she called me at 10 o'clock on a Saturday night and asked the question I'd already told her she never had to ask:

Can we come?

Come. I told her. Come now. Grab what you need for tonight and just come here. You will all be safe here.

And so, in the dark on a summer night, the Girl Army arrived at my house. 

It was a heartbreaking moment: the unspoken acknowledgement that whatever happened next, that night marked the end of something. Those girls and their mother were facing a new truth, and it was painful and frightening and sad.

It was so hard to know what to do. I blew up air mattresses and they squeezed them all into the guest room, covering every inch of the floor, and all five of them slept in there even though there was plenty of room for them elsewhere in the house, unable as they were to be out of arms' reach of each other.

Hope and I stayed up talking late into the night. In her astonishing, inspiring way, she shed a couple of tears, made a few plans, and then found a way to laugh, and found gratitude and... well... hope for the choice she'd made,  and went to bed prepared to be strong for her daughters in the morning.

We didn't know it then, but that night also marked the beginning of something. I've found a great deal of gratitude for it, myself.

I'll tell you about it in my next post... from London!



** This post was delayed. So I'm here now. IN LONDON. Another post to follow shortly!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

London Calling

I don't have an insightful update today because I have had a terrible cold for TWO WEEKS NOW and all the cold medicine is skewing my neurofeedback results. 

By that, I mean that I have been too jacked up to notice much of anything useful going on. Ugh.

I've had the worst head congestion ever, though, which triggers my claustrophobia. So that's nice. O.o
_____

General malaise aside, my daughters are starting kindergarten on Monday, which is a pretty monumental event. We are excited and incredulous, mostly.  It doesn't seem possible that the day has arrived.

They will be in different classrooms, which is the school's standard operating procedure for twins and which I had finally decided to choose, myself. My girls are identical and one tends to be the spokeswoman for the team and the caretaker for her sister, so to both prevent people from treating them as a single entity and to allow the girls to develop some autonomy away from each other, we want them split up.

I actually think the caretaker is going to have a harder time with this, at first, than her sister will. She's going to be so worried! She's a lot more deliberate about her role in this dynamic than her sister, who's a bit of a free spirit.

It will be so interesting to see how they grow this year, and to hear back from their teachers, who will be the first people in my daughters' lives to form relationships with them as individuals, without the immediate context of their twinship.

SHERLOCK IS FASCINATED BY THIS!!!

Expect reports. And perhaps the occasional spreadsheet.
_____

One more thing happening this week: my husband is leaving for London on business and will be there quite a lot over the next couple of months. He's got a high-profile project that requires his particular brand of badassery, and he gets to go to the UK to do it. 

I say "gets to." Travel is actually hard on him-- he doesn't love it; he certainly doesn't get to enjoy it much when he's going for business, because he's working all day instead of seeing the sights.

But this time, he's staying for a while, over a few weekends and in an apartment instead of a hotel, and he'll get some time to see some things and enjoy himself a bit. And since he's doing THAT, it seemed like a good opportunity to try to pull a few strings and arrange a rendezvous.

That's right. London calling!

So chances are high that I will be heading to London for a week very soon! I'm hoping to have the arrangements settled by next weekend. My parents have offered to come and hang out with the girls while I'm gone, and since my mom just retired from teaching for 25 years, I have every confidence that a few more days of elementary school scheduling will be a no-brainer for her.

The girls seem unperturbed by this plan. They've informed me that they're fine with skyping. I've informed them that I will scout out all the cool places that we will go together, next time. 

They remain skeptical. Smart kids. Ha ha.

I've spent a good bit of time in London, myself, and seen all the touristy stuff already, and I'll be on my own for several days, so I'm looking forward to some solo wandering. 

I think I'll spend my time in the West End. Covent Garden. Soho. New goal: to write a blog post from a Covent Garden cafe whilst sipping blessedly English tea. My mouth is watering already.

Yes. That is what I will do.

Well.

With one little side-trip, of course, to one touristy place I HAVEN'T seen in London, and one I can hardly skip now, considering its relevance. I mean, really.

I shall, of course, toodle on over to Baker Street at my earliest convenience, and visit the Sherlock Holmes museum.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

I Forget Sometimes

It looks like a lot of you stopped by to watch that polar bear video last week, which is great. What did you think of it? 

So many of you who read this blog come here because you've either had an experience yourselves that makes something in my story resonate with you, or you know someone who has and reading about what I'm going through sheds light on what your loved one might be experiencing.

Does Peter Levine's trauma theory and the PTSD perpetual motion machine jibe with what you see (or feel) in your daily life?

Perhaps more interestingly, have you heard of any other theories that resonate?

I admit, this one clicked with me and I stopped looking. I got a physiological, neurological context that explained the emotional impact, and I was sold.

Well. I wouldn't say "stopped looking." I looked. But all of the other things I saw talked about how to work on current behavior and thought patterns, and not about causes.

For example, there are a lot of motivational speakers and others out there who talk about the way to combat PTSD: mindfulness; meditation; cognitive behavior therapy to challenge and correct negative thought patterns; art therapy to revive your creativity and connection with your emotions; connecting with others as a way to keep yourself centered in the world and prevent yourself from retreating into oblivion.

All of those things are true, by the way.

But all of them are methods for how. None of them explain why.

For me, the hows don't work without the whys.

There is something so comforting in feeling, at my core, like nothing more than a primal, instinctive mammal who was just following a biological imperative.

There's no value judgement in that, you know?

It's such an efficient, effective way to destigmatize the reaction.

I want that for people. A destigmatized view of the ways their brains and bodies respond to cope with danger. 

And a destigmatized view of the way other people's brains and bodies respond to cope with danger.
_____

Robin Williams committed suicide this week.

It was a terrible thing to hear, even though I never knew Robin Williams as a person. I had a few close brushes-- he lived locally, was a friend-of-a-friend a few times over. I saw him once or twice at local shows.  I enjoyed hearing the "real" stories about him-- that he rode his bike around the City, that he dropped in at the SF library occasionally and performed impromptu storytime readings for the kids there, that he showed up at open mics in tiny clubs to try out material, that he was just a nice, regular guy.

I believe that. I like that.

But I have to say, the biggest shock for me, this week, was not that he killed himself, as awful as it was.

It was that so many people, the world over, seemed to think of him as such a happy, joyful guy.

I don't know who they were watching all those years, but it wasn't the guy I was watching.

I found his fast-riffing comedy excruciating, mainly because he seemed so uncomfortable; so pained; so terribly desperate to distract from himself. To me, he always seemed like a guy about to scream.

I loved him, though, in his straight roles. He had a depth to him that was so affecting when he allowed it to show.

And in his one-one-one interviews, whether he was talking about a film or about addiction or depression or talking about meeting Koko the gorilla (my personal lifelong dream**), I loved his calm, and the quiet kindness in his eyes.

The conversations about depression the Robin's death has raised are important and necessary, but they are also frustrating and frightening for those of us who have been in the game for a while. People don't know enough about mental illness. And many of them are quick to cast judgement upon those who suffer, which makes it that much harder for information to spread and for sufferers to get the help they need.

Anyway. You're here. You know how I feel about this stuff. This week was just an uncomfortable reminder of how very far we are from the goal.

Depression is, like, entry-level stuff, as far as mental illness goes. I don't mean to make light of depression in any way by saying that. The condition itself is nothing to make light of. As you know, I suffer from it myself. 

What I mean is: it's the most prevalent, the most easily-identified and treated. It's everywhere. As far as outsider exposure to mental illness, this is the one they're most likely to encounter. 

And yet it's still so far from understood, and so far from accepted.

I forget sometimes.

I'm over here trying to figure out how to bring more exposure and acceptance to PTSD-- something that's a few rungs up the ladder if people don't even understand depression in their fellow citizens-- or in themselves-- yet.

I guess I can only hope that by writing this blog, I am doing my part to bring down the walls around mental illness and shine a light on it so that more people can understand what it is, how it can happen, and what it's like for people who struggle with it every day.

We've got a lot of work to do.

http://www.nami.org/

http://strengthofus.org/

http://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

_____




**Meeting Koko the Gorilla is, in fact, a lifelong dream of mine. I grew up idolizing Jane Goodall and wanting to teach chimpanzees to communicate in sign. I once applied for a job writing science journal articles at The Gorilla Foundation, the compound in Woodside, CA, where Koko lives. The job, like all jobs at the Gorilla Foundation, would have included several hours per week of "gorilla-sitting." OMG.

I had a freshly-minted Master's degree in writing. My cover letter made my proofreader cry. I was so ready, you guys.

I did not get the job. Not even a "thanks, but no thanks." Moreover, Koko did not personally respond to me in sign, via video, telling me how disappointed she was at the poor choices of the bureaucracy that surrounded her.

Whatever. The commute would have sucked anyway.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cold Fire: A Demonstration

Last week's post didn't happen because I was on an actual vacation-y vacation with my family!

And by that, I mean my entire family-- we and my parents and my three sisters and their husbands and kids all gathered at the home of the parents of one of my brothers-in-law (do the math... I'll wait), which happens to be only an hour from where I live. 

Although I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area for 20 years, I grew up in Southern California and my family has remained there, which has meant that seeing them over the last two decades has required a flight or a 7 to 9-hour drive. 

And until recently, I was the only outlier, so it's always been me to do the long drive for Christmas and other major family events.

However.

The balance has shifted recently. My youngest sister, she of relative newlywed fame, has boggled my mind by moving 1/2 A MILE AWAY FROM ME in my adored little town on the Bay, where her husband actually went to high school, and now we sisters are evenly split between North and South, and for the first time in my adult life, I get to live near one of my siblings.

My bro-in-law's dad and step-mom live on Delta not far from here, and (in their questionable wisdom) invited us all for an extended summer weekend getaway, so we went and slept all over their house and on their boats and spent five days splashing around and water skiing and jumping on floating trampolines and having impromptu late-night dance parties and acoustic guitar sing-alongs and cocktail-of-the-day competitions and cooking and laughing and sunning and just having a great time together.


See what I mean?! Me and the sisters, along with my twins and a nephew. Not pictured: another nephew, a niece, four husbands, two grandparents, two parents-in-law, two dogs, a parrot, a few boats, and a trampoline. And a lot of beer.

Parents of formerly-small children may recognize my astonishment at having had... you know... a good time on vacation. 

Ours are about to start kindergarten and until now, time away from home has mostly been pretty much the same as time at home, except more difficult because we don't have all our stuff with us.

But apparently, they have passed some sort of magical milestone, because they are now officially Chicks Who Can Hang. They had a ball. We had a ball watching them have a ball. It was an actual, mutually enjoyable experience, instead of 24/7 twin maintenance. 

We got to relax! 

I think they're finally ready to start having some real traveling fun with us!

Next stop: PARIS! ;)
_____


Anyway, back to the issue at hand.

The cold fire is still going strong.

I only had one neuro session last week, and none this week-- Dr. Q is on vacation herself-- but even without the consistent updates, I'm still getting the off-gassing energy release whenever I think or talk or write about my therapy or anything related.

I keep thinking about that whirling ball of white, electric filament fibers in the back of my skull: the image that now represents, to me, the endless momentum of my PTSD machine, and how maybe, just maybe, the energy created by that momentum is getting more and more opportunities to escape-- evaporate through my skin instead of spin itself into destructive chaos in my head.

I don't know if I've ever explained the "trauma energy" thing this way before, but this is how I've always meant it. Not "energy" in a metaphysical, hippie, "I can see your aura" kind way, but "energy" in a real, literal, muscles-charged-with-tension-because-I-am-poised-and-ready-for-attack kind of way.

This is why PTSD is so exhausting-- it's not primarily an emotional state, it's a physical one, and the emotional turmoil springs from the distress of being constantly spurred into in this physically taxing and stressful state.

Need more evidence that this is a horrible way to live? Take a look at the reports of what they do to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Maintaining constant conditions of elevated threat and physical stress is a known weapon of malicious intent. 

If someone were standing next to me, doing to my body what it is doing to itself, it would be called torture in the extreme.

Or, you know, "interrogation." Whatever. Comme ci, comme ├ža.

So this cold fire thing is a great development, is what I'm saying. The more the better. As we've always known. But since it's happening more and more with the neurofeedback, I've been thinking about it more and talking about it more, and I thought I'd bring it up with you guys again because Dr. Oz told me about something the other night that I thought you might want to see.

I sure as hell wanted to see it.

If you've read this blog from the beginning, then you may remember my "Trauma Theory" post, back in November of 2011, where I talked about Peter Levine's findings that animals discharge stored energy immediately following a traumatic event, unlike humans, whose natural processes are generally disrupted by our cognitive processes and by rescue efforts, inhibiting our ability to complete the fight-or-flight response instinctively.

Releasing the trauma is what allows the lizard brain's hypervigilance switch to get flipped back into the "off" position until it's needed again.

Hypervigilance Switch "off" = Go back to your normal life. 

Hypervigilance Switch "on" = Welcome to PTSD! Hang on to your hats and glasses, kids! It's gonna be a bumpy ride!

It turns out that there's VIDEO of this natural, instinctive trauma energy release happening in real time, with a polar bear, and it is AMAZING. I'm posting it below so you can see it. 

HOWEVER:

Trigger warning: the first two minutes of this video are of the polar bear, with fascinating and trigger-free commentary. OMG, OMG, AMAZING!

At about 2:02 (there is plenty of warning, no surprises), the video moves on to include footage of a woman who has been the victim of sexual assault going through a similar process in a Somatic Experiencing session.

I can't bring myself to watch the last six minutes of the video to tell you how disturbing or triggering it may be. I think that in itself counts as disturbing and triggering, yeah?

I can tell you this:

The woman is in a safe, supported, supervised environment and is working closely with her therapist to achieve this result. 

I can also tell you that I always wished I'd have this happen to me, even though I can't watch it happen to someone else. Scary as it is, I long for the catharsis of letting it all go at once.

But anyway. Caveat made. The first two minutes, at least, are MUST-SEE viewing for readers of this blog. 

What you see this polar bear doing, friends, is saving my life, in a roundabout way.

WATCH:



UPDATE: if you aren't seeing the video from your Apple or mobile device, here's the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZRiLGTtqjg

WHOA, RIGHT??!!

So I think my cold fire is the super slow-motion version of what that polar bear is doing. He gets his all out at once, right when it happens, before the perpetual motion machine gets installed and generates a constant stream of that poisonous energy for his body to battle against forever and ever, and BOOM, he's done.

Mine is coming out now, maybe as it's created, or maybe what's left from last week or last month or last year in the overly-tense fibers of the exhausted muscles of my body, constantly being stocked and restocked with tension they don't need or want or use except to put my bones at war with themselves; make me too tired to sleep, too sore to move; old before my time.

Yeah, this cold fire is a good thing. 

When it first started and Dr. Oz told me what it was, I thought I'd run out of it before long. 

I didn't quite understand the PTSD-as-momentum-generator thing yet at the time. I thought I was feeling the energy of the accident-- the initial trauma, stored in my body from all those years ago-- finally being released into the air.

Now I get it. Oh, do I. It's still happening, in there. The trauma, the creation of energy, the tension, the fight, the flight, the freeze in the headlights... it's all still happening right this moment as urgently as it was on that night in February, 1991.

I've been disheartened, at times-- even very recently-- that despite all the work I've done, some things still seem just as far away as they always have.

Turning off that goddamned hypervigilance switch is one of them.

But watch that polar bear again. Did you see him? Did you see when it happened for him?
Not when he started to release that energy. Not while he was doing it.

Nope: he lays there and thrashes and shakes until it's all worked its way out, until it's ALL GONE, and then and only then does he stop-- so suddenly! so dramatically!-- and take that huge, fortifying, life-affirming, lung-filling breath of what must be the freshest air on Earth.

And then another. 

And then, work done, lungs free, breathing easy, he finally, finally gets to rest.

OMG.

Holy shit, how fucking cool is that??!!

<gobsmacked>

Jesus. This is all hitting me right now, as I'm typing this. I have to watch that again.
  
Hey, listen.

Pretend I wrote an awesome, profound, mic-dropper of a closing line here, will you? I gotta go.

I've got a date with a polar bear.