Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Scalding Point

I got an email from a friend this week, asking how I was doing and saying that my recent blog posts have her worried, what with all the weird symptoms I've been having. The panic attacks (that has to be what that was last week, right?), the brain/leg disconnect, all of that.

Add to that list the week-long migraine I'm currently trying to conquer. :/

She wondered if I'm more symptomatic these days, or if I'm just writing about it more now.

I think both. But as much as it sucks, I also think of it all as a pretty good sign that things are moving in the right direction.

One of the expected outcomes of this therapy has been that I would start to experience the feelings I've been repressing all these years. I knew that.

What I didn't account for was the extent of it, and the many ways those feelings would manifest. I thought I knew what was coming, and I didn't. It's been one surprise after another.

In its own way, that also makes me glad. Encountering the unexpected makes me believe that I'm truly open to this experience. If I only found what I expected to find, I'd probably be ignoring everything that didn't fit into my pre-conceived notion of what this whole thing would look like.

Anyway. About the symptoms.

I think I'm slowly waking up to the reality of my own body. It might not seem like it, because what I'm encountering is sort of the opposite of feeling-- all that disconnect. I'm discovering first what  I'm NOT feeling, not what I AM feeling.

But the thing is, I wasn't aware of any of that before. I wasn't engaged enough with my body even to know what I was ignoring, let alone what there was to experience. I didn't know what I didn't know, before.

Now I know what I don't know. Or at least, I know that I don't know some things. There might be more that I haven't found yet. There probably are. I wouldn't know. Ha ha. Yet.

So I'm experiencing a lot of that now: the disconnect, the physical distance, the body's capacity for self-preservation. It seems strange that we are capable of keeping secrets from ourselves. And yet I feel like I am stumbling across new hidden truths every day, these days.

The other thing I'm finding is that I wasn't just protecting myself from the negatives, but from the positives as well.

I told you about this before, I know: in the diagrams in this post, I showed you how those boundary lines begin to shrink, with PTSR, until even the normal charge and discharge of energy begins to fall outside of your tolerance levels, and you begin to feel overwhelmed by the simplest, everyday things.

So I knew that. I did. I knew that meant that high emotions of all types were too overwhelming, so I had avoided them for years.

What didn't really hit home was that when I did finally start to relax my boundaries a little and try to let some of this stuff through, it would all feel the same: disconnected, overwhelming, anxious, uncomfortable. 

And physical. Almost completely physical. 

My emotional receptors or translators or whatever the hell they are haven't quite turned on yet, or haven't started communicating with ME about it, anyway, so I find that I am experiencing not emotional feelings but physical ones that seem directly connected to this work.

So, progress feels like a headache, or like a broken connection, or like lungs without air. Of course it does. This is the only language my body knows, at the moment-- the most primitive of sensations understood by the lizard brain: physical pain. The body can react to this instinctively; no emotion necessary.

The difference is: I see it now. My conscious brain is taking notice, finally, and experiencing it not just as discomfort but as an awakening to what's behind it: the body's attempt to re-establish communication. The sound-check screech of an internal microphone:

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

I've been writing more about this stuff, I guess, because I've started to accept it as part of the process and see how it is bringing me closer to integrating everything. For the past two decades, these things-- lack of air, migraines, back troubles-- have been emblems of weakness and failure, things to be ignored or endured in spite of themselves. 

Now they feel like guideposts. Feeling more means feeling more. And though it might feel bad at first, the bad part will eventually be over, and I'll start to experience good feelings as good instead of overwhelming, and somewhere beyond that is equilibrium. That's where I'm trying to go.

It struck me today that this stage of things is a lot like getting into a tub of water that's much too hot. It hurts, at first. It scalds. But if you hold very still, the water around you equalizes, cooling a bit as you heat up to meet your skin halfway, and you can get to a place of comfort again.

For a while after that, every time you move you have to go through that scalding pain again until the proper adjustments are made. 

At some point, you become used to the heat, and the heat becomes used to you, and what was once scalding becomes soothing, and your skin and muscles stop resisting and begin to draw comfort from the warmth.

I'm at the scalding point now. Every motion seems to bring a new burn. But I really do think it's a sign of progress and that someday, maybe even sooner than I think, I'll be able to relax into it, and what's been clenched so tightly inside of me will unfurl and finally bloom.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Breathe, Dammit

Well, there's been a bit of a wrench in the works this week.

I can't breathe.

Like, I can't fill my lungs completely and get a good, full, satisfying breath. It's been going on for a little over a week.

I am getting enough air to function. I am getting enough air. I keep telling myself that. I. Am. Getting. Enough. Air.

But it keeps drawing my attention, obviously, and once I'm thinking about it it gets worse, and when it get worse I start to freak out, and then I have to calm myself down all over again and remind myself: I can breathe. I can breathe. I am getting enough air.

This has happened to me before. A lot, actually. The first time, I remember, was right after I started dating T. Sometimes it continues, on and off, for a day or two, sometimes for a week or two. Sometimes it goes away for a year or more, other times it comes back every few months, just to keep me on my toes.

It's never been this severe, though.

I am yawning constantly, trying to force my lungs open. Sometimes I can't even get enough of a breath to yawn.

Last night, we were out to dinner with a friend and having a great conversation, and suddenly, right in the middle of things, I started to lose it-- something that has never happened before. I started to get dizzy and sweaty, like  I was hyperventilating, but I wasn't breathing heavily, I was struggling to get a full breath. 


I started envisioning ambulances, oxygen masks, a night in the emergency room. I was trying to keep my cool but my husband and friend both noticed and talked me down a little, and then sent me outside to walk around while they collected the kids.

I thought at the time that I would have freaked out completely if it had seemed a more convenient moment. That would be just like me: to have the iron will to repress even a full-blown panic attack rather than inconvenience the group.

I took a little Ambien last night and got the first deep, uninterrupted sleep I've had in a while (this has more to do with having two three-year olds than anything else), and woke up this morning breathing full and easy breaths.

Now, unfortunately, I am not. This is really getting old.

I've talked to Dr. Oz about this before, and showed her the spot in the center of my abdomen where things feel tight and restrictive.

"Those are your boundary muscles," she tells me every time. I never remember exactly what that means, but I've been thinking of it as a metaphorical term for my ability to open myself to change or vulnerability.

That tightness and restriction are my body's way of insisting: no, no way, keep out, move along, nothing to see here, we've got this, retreat, retreat! 

This shortness of breath often comes during times of high anxiety, although it doesn't always. At least, not anxiety that I'm aware of in any conscious way. I have no doubt that I experience all kinds of anxiety physically rather than emotionally, being as disconnected as I am. This breathing thing could be the result of an overloaded system, and I've just missed the early warning signs because those pathways don't work.

I would have thought that impossible before the whole "I can't communicate with my own legs" thing. Now, all bets are off.

Anyway, I've been examining this quite a bit, as you might expect. There isn't always a clear cause, but right now there are a few things that could be contributing to some particularly high anxiety.

First of all, I increased my dosage of Wellbutrin a few weeks ago. Doubled it, in fact. A dosage that's too high can cause anxiety.

But I've also had quite a bit of upheaval in my self-imposed low-stimulus life in the past week and a half, after the publication of that essay I told you about last week. Stepping out of the shadows and posting it was a big deal for me, first of all, and then there's the whole matter of having stated an opinion on the internet and subjecting oneself to public scrutiny.

That's been nerve-wracking, to say the least.

I've received many, many positive and supportive comments, which are wonderful and validating and definitely the coolest part of this whole thing. That stuff is overwhelming to me, being, as it is, outside of my very tiny little safety zone, but I can at least acknowledge that it's a positive thing and there's no risk in trying to take it in.

And then last Sunday, holy moly, my article got tweeted by Lenore Skenazy, she of "Free Range Kids" fame. She is the mouthpiece for the "anti-helicopter" movement, such as it is, and a very brave woman. She's had to endure death threats for standing up for her opinions on this subject. She is also the person who inspired me to think of the way I'm raising my kids as more than just instinct, but as a strategy. I thought of her when I was writing the essay. So imagine my shock and awe when I saw that she had not only read it, but tweeted it out into a much bigger world than I ever thought it would reach!

Lenore Skenazy. You have got to be KIDDING me.

So. Imagine the woman who freaks out when she has to make a phone call to someone she knows receiving THAT little piece of news, and you might get an idea of how overwhelmed I was at that point.

And then the number of shares I was getting exploded-- I had 1700 new shares the next day, and have had nearly that many again since then, bringing me up to a quite-respectable-for-this-tiny-local-website 4200 shares.

I'm speechless at that, I really am. This is by far the largest audience I've ever had for something I've written.

So there's all of that overwhelm, and then there's the kind that comes from the natural consequences of posting something online: the dissenters.

That one's been a little harder to deal with.

I haven't had very many negative comments, relatively, but there have been several, some of them pretty mean. This kind of thing throws off my careful equilibrium like nothing else. And although I've shortened my refractory period over the past week, each new negative comment does throw me for a while. 

That's the overwhelm that makes me wonder if I'm ready for this kind of exposure. Too late now, I suppose.

Since the breathing thing coincides with the posting of this essay, it could very well be the experiences of the past week and a half that are causing it. I hope so, actually-- a psychosomatic response is still a lot more malleable than a chemical one, even if it takes a while to get a handle on it.

And then there's the whole set of realizations from my conversation with Dr. Oz that I talked about in my last post. This could be the cause, as well-- or maybe it's the thing that filled my little tolerance cup to the brim, so that the very next thing that came along made it overflow. That happens.

Or maybe it's a combination of all of the above. I do tend to just keep pushing things under until they explode and pop out all over the place, so that could very well be what's happening now. Ugh. Whatever it is, I need to find a way to make it stop before I end up in the emergency room.

The other night my husband suggested that I try some trigger point massage to see if that had an effect. 

I don't know if you've ever tried trigger point massage, but you should. If you have any kind of pain issue-- anything at all, even if it's already been diagnosed and you feel certain that trigger point work will do nothing for you-- you should get The Triggerpoint Book, because it shows you how to do trigger point massage at home, and this stuff works better than any body work I have ever tried.

For real: this book changed my life, and my husband's, and my sister's. It's amazing.

It shows you how knots (trigger points) can form in your muscles that can cause referred pain in your body, sometimes in seemingly unrelated places. There's a great one in the back of your calf, for example, that can alleviate severe lower back pain that is often misdiagnosed as disc or sacroiliac trouble. I know, because I've done some work with that one, and seen my back improve in one day more than it did during five months of physical therapy.

Anyway, I was skeptical that trigger points could affect my ability to breathe, but I shouldn't have been. Trigger points affect EVERYTHING. So I took a look, and sure enough, there are a bunch of trigger points in the pectorals, the scalenes (along the side of the neck), and along the bottom of the rib cage that affect one's ability to draw a full breath.

And guess what? These particular trigger points are caused, variously, by severe whiplash, an imbalance in the way you hold your head, shallow rather than full belly-breathing, and emotional tension and anxiety.

Which, if you could look that up in a dictionary, would be exemplified by a picture of me.

So I've been poking around at these trigger points over the last couple of days. The helpful thing about this kind of body work is that you can tell if you need work on a particular point if it hurts (a LOT) when you poke it. If you're feeling around in an area and don't find a really tender spot, that's not the trigger point you're looking for. 

If it is, you will know. Immediately. This is not for the faint of heart, but man, does it make an immediate difference.

So I keep massaging the trigger points along my rib cage and below my collarbone, and I'm covered with bruises from all the pressing (I'm like a banana. And extremely pale. So this stuff shows on me). These are stubborn ones-- there's a lot of history here-- but they do seem to be helping a bit.

I want it to help a lot. It seems to address the problems I'm experiencing exactly, so I really want this to be effective. I'll let you know if I make any progress.

This post seems a bit disjointed, for me-- you know how I like a nice pretty bow at the end-- but I think I'll leave you here and go poke at my ribs some more. I'm self conscious that all my gasping and yawning is drawing attention to me here in the coffeeshop, and that is counterproductive to taming the anxiety.

Hopefully, I'll return next week with a belly full of air and a bruise-free abdomen!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Braced for Impact, Part II

Okay, I'm back to finish this story, and this week you get a bonus, crazy, real-life example of the learnings herein in action.

It's nice to see the positive changes in my mind and body so clearly manifesting in my life, for once. Not even I can write this off as coincidence.

But I get ahead of myself. Again.

I was about to tell you, last time, about how a bunch of things clicked into place and I suddenly saw a thread between my pre-accident self and my current self in a way I hadn't before.

I did a writerly thing, last time, and made it sound like it all happened in a moment-- a lightning flash of insight. That's bending the truth a bit. I guess there were a few moments like that, but in real life it actually happened in stages during the conversation with Dr. Oz.

I'm only telling you this because it's easier to explain it all if I give you the conversation instead.

So. At some point that evening, after the discovery that I was physically and figuratively braced against life (this feels so true to me, as true as the ground beneath my feet. I am braced against life), Dr. Oz said, "So let's think about this. Who were you at 19? Trauma often freezes us, emotionally, at the point when the trauma occurred, because progressing past that would mean having to integrate the trauma."

Whoa. That makes a LOT of sense to me. I think it's a huge reason I've been such a late- (or non-) bloomer in my life. I've definitely felt arrested and overwhelmed when it comes to taking on "adult" responsibilities, mindsets, maturity. In a way that feels like more than just normal resistance to aging, which I'm sure everyone feels. It doesn't feel like resistance, it feels like an inability, and it's never made sense to me because I'm an intelligent person capable of learning and development.

So what gives?

Dr. Oz: "What's happening at 19? That's when you're forming your ideas about who you're going to be, and creating your identity, and deciding on your direction. It's an extremely formative time, because it's the point at which you really begin to become an adult."

Click. One big cog fell into place.

That vital process, for me, was interrupted at a very important time. And going back and picking up where I left off would have meant having to wade through the emotional aftermath of the trauma. I experienced a tiny bit of that in a very visceral way, back then, if you remember, and was definitely aware that I was choosing not to do it again in very conscious ways, as well, I'm sure, as unconscious ones.

"So I just sort of skipped over that part, then, and tried to keep going without it. That actually feels very true," I told Dr. Oz. "I've noticed before that I had much more confidence in myself and my point of view when I was younger than I do now. One of the biggest struggles of my thirties had to do with this. After I got out of that relationship with T, I knew I had really lost myself. But no matter what I did, I never really got myself back."

In fact, when I compare the way I was before the accident to the way I am now, the biggest loss really does seem to be my self-definition. That used to be one of the strongest motivators in my life: This is who I am. This is what I believe. These are the ways that I think and work and act. These are my boundaries, the places where I stop and the world begins.

I lost a lot of that before I ever met T-- it makes sense, then, how I could have let him into my life-- I'd let certain boundaries collapse because I couldn't bring myself to maintain them for fear of triggering myself, somehow. 


I'd always been able to draw the line from my relationship with T to many of the things that happened after, but I'd never been able to understand how on earth I let him in in the first place. It's because it wasn't T that caused me to lose myself. I was already well on my way to being lost before he ever came around.

This feels true.

"This inability to define myself has probably been the biggest challenge of my adult life," I said. "I worried about it a lot before I had my daughters, because that was when I was able to see it most clearly. I knew it would become increasingly important that I stake a claim somewhere, have a consistent perspective, have a defined sense of myself so I could model it for them. But when I look for that, try to find my foundation, I just see emptiness."

This is really hard to articulate, but I'll try:

I find it almost impossible to think about this kind of stuff. Literally. If I start, like if I try to define my values or opinions to someone, from the mundane to the essential, I get anxious, uneasy, physically uncomfortable. A knot in my chest, restricting my breathing. And my brain does anything it can to distract me. It's almost a physical sensation in itself: the feeling of reaching out your foot to take a step and finding nothing but empty air. The feeling of trying to focus your eyes on a spot, only to have it fly away the second before you can see it clearly.

For as long as I can remember, I've gotten this feeling whenever I try to do anything that nails me down as a person. Making plans for the future is a huge example of this. The idea of a 5-year plan or a 10-year plan-- or even a 1-year plan-- makes my chest constrict and my palms sweat and I can't breathe. No kidding.

I'm a person who appears well-prepared for the future and fully capable of success. I've got multiple degrees and a decent resume and experience in fields that are important to me; I've got good friends and a wonderful husband and two bright, funny, gorgeous daughters; but ask me what I see myself doing in five years and I become practically catatonic. 

I can't answer. I don't know.

But it's more than not knowing, it's a visceral sense of danger in even asking the question. I can't even let my mind stray to it. I can't allow those thoughts to be present in my head. There are uncomfortable physical sensations that accompany every close call.

I know this was going on as far back as college, within the first year or two after the accident, because I used to panic sometimes that the fact that I couldn't imagine myself in the future somehow meant that I wasn't meant to live a long life. That my inability to see myself in a different time with an expanded life was prophetic.

I chalked that up to morbid post-accident fears, and I guess that's what it is, to some extent, but it hasn't gone away as I've gotten older, and in fact has gotten a lot worse as I've had fewer and fewer rationalizations for why I am still this way.

At this point, even committing to a plan a week in advance can cause panic. I'd begun to wonder if I had some sort of social phobia. It's inexplicable, frustrating, but utterly compulsive. I can't stop it, no matter how ridiculous my rational mind knows it to be.

I told Dr. Oz about this.

She said, "Well, think about it. You were in the middle of that when you experienced this terrible trauma. Somehow, your brain and your body have associated the two. You are afraid to think about the future, because your body doesn't think the future is coming. You're still waiting for the impact. You can't let yourself rely on a future because deep down, you don't believe you'll ever get there."


So here I've been, just sort of floating along, not wanting to go back and pick up the reins of my life because it would mean crossing that divide between Before and After, and confronting everything that lies between them. As a result, my sense of self hasn't been able to expand as it should have. I haven't felt free to create a future me. I've been stuck in some sort of identity limbo, and gradually losing the ability to simply stand in a place, claim it as mine, and say, "This is me, and everything I do emanates from here."


A point of view. A solid place, a place of self-knowledge and confidence, a place with boundaries from which you cast your nets or throw your stones. The fortress of the Self.

That's what I lost in the accident. That is what I lost.


This is why I never became a writer. A writer MUST have a point of view. A story-- any story-- gets told from a place. This is how you know what to say and what not to say. This is how you convey an idea or build an image or make a point: you start from somewhere, and you end up somewhere else.

I left my starting point back there, Before. I lost my soapbox, as it were. And rather than go back and fetch it, I chose to float, without a self, without a future.


I know what you're thinking. Um, hello, idiot, what do you think you're doing right now? Writing!

Well, yes. And like I discovered when I tried to relax my legs and couldn't, I am obviously capable of operating my thigh muscles because I can walk.

I am obviously able to commit to a plan and follow it through because I finished college and grad school.

I am obviously able to form intimate relationships and feel emotions because I have a husband and children who I love.

But the gap between what feels true and what is true is broad, and in many cases not passable at all, and that lack of a grip on reality is disorienting and frightening and makes me distrust myself and makes me ashamed and doesn't feel like a symptom of anything, but rather like the qualities of a crazy person, or a lazy person, or an incapable person, or a person who doesn't deserve what they have because they didn't do what they were supposed to do to get it, like I've just been faking it all this time and nobody has noticed, but they will, any second, and it will all be over.

It feels like floating, watching life pass me by and not being able to join in. Like things just happen to me, and I have no say in what or how or when because I can't declare my own will. It feels like I'm  tethered by the ankle to a foundation that has crumbled beneath my feet and I have nowhere left to stand. It feels like the only smart thing to do is brace myself against whatever is coming: the impact. The ending. The fall.

That's what it feels like. That's what my lizard brain thinks is happening. That's what my body has believed these twenty years, and it's been flinching away from every movement, clenched against expected pain.

But that's not what it is. My ability to walk is proof of that. My family is proof of that. My career is proof of that.

This blog is proof of that.


I missed out on defining myself, back when that was my only job. So guess what? I get to do it now. As I become aware of what is true rather than what merely feels true, that foundation beneath me magically starts to rebuild itself, and I find, more and more as I do this work, that I actually do have a place to stand.

So from there, I get to decide what's important to me, what has survived those years of floating in the void and still feels essential to my being, what motivates me, what I want for myself, what brings me joy. 

I get to design Kate 2.0. Who will she be?

A wife.

A mother.

A creator.

A teacher.

A writer.

And from here, at the beginning of a whole new life, I can look back over the years and see that girl who didn't know she could lose her vision of the future, who didn't know that she could lose herself as surely as if she'd died even though she'd lived, who didn't know that she could come so close to death and yet survive, for real, survive, and I can remember what she wanted when she thought about who she was and who she would become.

A wife.

A mother.

A creator.

A teacher.

A writer.

This is real, this life, this work, these dreams, this self. It's always been real. I am closer now to knowing that down to my bones than I've ever been. And I can see myself, in small ways and in larger ones, rebuilding that foundation, trusting my point of view, staking my claim.

Kate 2.0. Coming soon to a life near you.

Want to know how I know I'm becoming more comfortable with the idea of coming from somewhere, drawing a line in the sand and saying, this is me, this is what I believe?

I wrote an essay. It started off as a Facebook post, and got such a strong response from friends that I posted it in my local online newspaper the night before last, and it's sort of going viral. It's on a small scale right now, but it seems to be gaining momentum steadily. It's blown up on Facebook and it's been shared, as of this writing, just shy of 1000 times in about 36 hours from the news site.

Small potatoes, relatively speaking. For me, for someone for who stating a point of view this clearly and coherently seemed, only a few months ago, even a few weeks ago, a physical impossibility, this feels like... redemption.

It's not just an opinion, either, it's a statement of values. Of emotionally-charged beliefs. Of things I've struggled with for so long and would never have been able to articulate without this work and this blog and the interaction and support I've had from my husband and Dr. Oz and all of you.

Also, in this essay, the list of things I want for my daughters looks awfully familiar. Self-belief. Confidence. Determination. Success. Conquering fear. Persistence. Goals. All things I struggle with, myself. 

In that way, this essay is, for me, a plan. Articulated. Put out there in the world without bracing, impact be damned.

The response to this essay has been incredibly positive, not to mention surprising, overwhelming, terrifying, exciting, surreal. I'll keep you posted on where it goes and what happens next. In the meantime, I'll leave you with the evidence that I do, in fact, have some ground to stand on, and I've planted my feet firmly and said out loud:

This is me. This is what I believe.

Please Don't Help My Kids
Dear Other Parents At The Park:
Please do not lift my daughters to the top of the ladder, especially after you've just heard me tell them I wasn't going to do it for them and encourage them to try it themselves.
I am not sitting here, 15 whole feet away from my kids, because I am too lazy to get up. I am sitting here because I didn't bring them to the park so they could learn how to manipulate others into doing the hard work for them. I brought them here so they could learn to do it themselves.
They're not here to be at the top of the ladder; they are here to learn to climb. If they can't do it on their own, they will survive the disappointment. What's more, they will have a goal and the incentive to work to achieve it.
In the meantime, they can use the stairs. I want them to tire of their own limitations and decide to push past them and put in the effort to make that happen without any help from me.
It is not my job — and it is certainly not yours — to prevent my children from feeling frustration, fear, or discomfort. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that those things are not the end of the world, and can be overcome or used to their advantage.
If they get stuck, it is not my job to save them immediately. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn to calm themselves, assess their situation, and try to problem solve their own way out of it.
It is not my job to keep them from falling. If I do, I have robbed them of the opportunity to learn that falling is possible but worth the risk, and that they can, in fact, get up again.
I don't want my daughters to learn that they can't overcome obstacles without help. I don't want them to learn that they can reach great heights without effort. I don't want them to learn that they are entitled to the reward without having to push through whatever it is that's holding them back and *earn* it.
Because — and this might come as a surprise to you — none of those things are true. And if I let them think for one moment that they are, I have failed them as a mother.
I want my girls to know the exhilaration of overcoming fear and doubt and achieving a hard-won success. 
I want them to believe in their own abilities and be confident and determined in their actions. 
I want them to accept their limitations until they can figure out a way past them on their own significant power.
I want them to feel capable of making their own decisions, developing their own skills, taking their own risks, and coping with their own feelings.
I want them to climb that ladder without any help, however well-intentioned, from you.
Because they can. I know it. And if I give them a little space, they will soon know it, too.
So I'll thank you to stand back and let me do my job, here, which consists mostly of resisting the very same impulses you are indulging, and biting my tongue when I want to yell, "BE CAREFUL," and choosing, deliberately, painfully, repeatedly, to stand back instead of rush forward.
Because, as they grow up, the ladders will only get taller, and scarier, and much more difficult to climb. And I don't know about you, but I'd rather help them learn the skills they'll need to navigate them now, while a misstep means a bumped head or scraped knee that can be healed with a kiss, while the most difficult of hills can be conquered by chanting, "I think I can, I think I can", and while those 15 whole feet between us still feels, to them, like I'm much too far away.

The essay above can be found here:

Friday, September 7, 2012

Shaky Shaky

Don't be mad.

This will be a short post and it won't resolve the cliffhanger. 

Sorry. Next time.

I am going camping tomorrow and will be off the grid and unable to post during my regular writing time, so Braced For Impact, Part II will have to wait.

But I wanted to check in with you now to report that Something appears to be Happening.

A few hours ago, I realized that I was... freaking out. "Freaking out," for me, looks, to the casual observer, pretty much exactly the same as "not freaking out." Except that I have a knot in my stomach and an overwhelming sense of anxiety and can't focus or relax or or figure out what the hell is going on.

There is usually an obvious cause when I'm freaking out, and my anxiety revolves around  whatever that is until the situation has passed, like a miserable little satellite. Today, there is no such clarity of origin.

That's new.

I also became aware of the freak out, realized what was happening, how it was affecting me, and where I felt it in my body, and then I talked about it with my husband-- while it was still happening, which made me feel quite a bit better.

All of that is also new. (Progress! Go me!)

But the weirdest thing, the reason I'm telling you about this, is that about an hour ago, I noticed that I was shaking.

Just sitting here, trembling like a leaf.

I feel it mostly in my arms and hands and abdomen. And I can't explain it. Just ate, so it's not low blood sugar. Not on any new medication. Not cold. WTF?

But I keep thinking: shaking, according to Peter Levine, is an indicator of energy release. Trauma energy is naturally dissipated this way in animals, and also in people when it's discharged properly. 

I wonder if this is... that? Am I discharging some trauma energy right now? I'm not having an emotional experience with this, other than the really powerful anxiety I've felt all day. As usual, most of this seems to be happening subconsciously and I haven't been invited to the party.

All I know is that Something is Happening. And now that I've named it, that knot in my stomach is starting to feel more like anticipation than anxiety, and instead of feeling like I need to keep a lid on whatever is going on in here, I'm feeling a little excited that the lid might finally be getting knocked loose.

I don't know where this is going or what will happen next, and I hope it doesn't involve anything too crazy. My lifestyle doesn't really allow for that. But if it wants to bubble up like this, a little at a time, and burn itself out this way, I can get behind that.

Anyway, I just wanted to keep you in the loop. All this work I've been doing is beginning to pay off in ways large and small. I don't know yet which end of the spectrum this shaking thing will be on. 

I'll let you know.

PS: As I am finishing this post, the numb, "off-gassing" feeling has started in my calves and thighs. Something is definitely Happening. This is crazy. I wish I could include something more visceral for you-- feel-o-vision, the new version of smell-o-vision!- but you'll just have to take my word for it, I guess.

I'll let you know how it goes the next time I get a few minutes to write.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Braced for Impact, Part I

I was having a Rosen session a few weeks ago, and I was lying on my stomach, eyes closed, feeling myself sink into the massage table, and thinking I was pretty goddamned relaxed.

I mean I was literally thinking that. Like, "Wow, I am pretty goddamned relaxed right now. This is awesome." I was feeling noticeably, notably relaxed.

Shortly after that thought, I was more than a little shocked to realize that my legs were so tense that they were not even touching the table in some places.

Um. So... not relaxed, then.

After a few moments of being completely gobsmacked by that discovery (how the bleeding hell could I feel relaxed when half of my body was nearly levitating with tension?! How could I not know that?! WTF?!), I thought, okay, well, I've noticed it now, so I'll just relax my legs.

And then I realized that I couldn't do that, because when I went to send a message to my leg muscles along whatever internal circuit such messages travel, I discovered that I could not locate that circuit.


Imagine that for a second. Looking at a part of your own body, willing it to relax, and not being able to do it because that part might as well belong to someone else for all the connection you have to it or say you have over how it behaves. 

Well. That sounds dirty all of a sudden. But you know what I mean.

At that moment, Catherine, who is a very perceptive woman, said, "What's happening? Where have you gone?"

I told her what I just told you. And that I was trying to find the path to get the message to my legs to relax and wasn't finding it. I could get bits of my legs to hear me: my ankles. Toes. Calves. After a moment, I located those. But my quads and hamstrings were nowhere to be found.

"Just notice that for a moment," said Catherine.

"I HAVE noticed it, and I'm trying to relax now," I told her.

"Don't try to relax," she said. "Don't try to do anything. Just... notice."

Easier said than done for a claustrophobe who's just realized that she is once again trapped within her own body and unable to move when moving is what she wants to do. My inner alarm was roaring load and clear at this point.

I tried to just lie there, noticing stuff, but that is really not my style, so I started trying again to locate and relax, locate and relax, locate and relax.

I kid you not, it took a few minutes to make anything happen, and even then it was more peripheral muscles than actual muscles that I was able to target and feel.

I have never noticed this before. As soon as I did, I realized that this has been going on for years and years, and I never noticed until that moment that my brain and my thigh muscles do not communicate the way they're supposed to.

After a quick inventory, I realized that this could also be said for parts of my arms and back, too. Nothing about this feels right. Something is terribly wrong with my wiring. How could I not have seen this before? How long has my body been going rogue on me? How much control do I actually have? How is this even possible?

Just notice,  says Catherine. Don't judge. Just observe.

Yeah. Sure. Easy for you to say.

The next night, I told Dr. Oz about my discovery.

"Which muscles?" she asked. "What was your body doing?"

I looked down at my legs, and suddenly felt that my feet were already pressing into the floor, and the heels of my hands were digging into the sofa cushion on either side of my thighs. 

"This," I said. "I was doing this. I think I'm always doing this, and I only become aware of it every once in a while. My knees are straightening, my feet are pushing into the floor, my arms are doing the same. I'm all stiff, and I walk around like this all the time and don't notice."

She looked at me, took in my posture and white knuckles, and said, "You look like you're bracing yourself. You're braced against something, like your body is still expecting an impact."


It's true, and it's true all the time. I keep catching myself doing it now, as I type this post, sitting here in a coffee shop, relatively relaxed. Relatively, I say, because while I feel relaxed if I don't think about it too much, when I do think about it I notice that my mid-back aches from tension and a migraine is building at the base of my skull because i'm holding my shoulders so rigid.

And my quads and hammies are coiled, ready to spring. Spring where? Don't know. I'd ask, but we're not on speaking terms at the moment.

"What are you bracing against?" asked Dr. Oz. "What's coming? What are you protecting yourself from?"

I hate questions like this because I never know how to answer them. I'm not in touch with my fucking thighs, and I can look right at them: a physical fact. How am I supposed to be in touch with something as abstract and elusive as an emotion, a fear, a figment of imagination? The answers to questions like this always sound so cliche and forced, and I am immediately skeptical of such answers, even when they are mine.

This time, the answer was the most cliche of all, but it felt absolutely true both before and after it came out of my mouth:

"Life," I told her. "I am braced against living my life."

Braced against life. Yes. Holding myself still, apart, resisting immersion, resisting impact, resisting, resisting.

Safe. Safe!


This is what I've been doing, to some degree, since I woke up in that hospital bed with a hole in my skull. Keep me safe, the body demands, and the lizard brain responds by going on permanent lookout, watching, bracing, expecting the worst, walls up, head down, focused on nothing but surviving what's coming... 

And it is coming, whispers the lizard brain. I know it is... aaaaany second now.

Once again, I am astonished by the utter lack of imagination it requires to see the connection between this state of perpetual bracing-for-impact and the car accident that caused it. And also the connection between the physical condition of my body and the figurative condition of my approach to the world.

And the Dr. Oz said something that sent a few hundred little wheels and dials in my head clicking into place: 

"You're braced against whats coming, because your body still believes this is your last moment, and bracing is the last thing you'll ever do."

And suddenly, a whole bunch of things made a whole lot of sense, and I saw for the first time how and why the girl who got hit by that drunk driver became the woman who sits here in this coffee shop, writing this blog.

I think I get it now. 

And I'll tell you all about it in my next post.