Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Sum of My Parts

A request:

If you haven't already, will you sign up as a follower of my blog?

It won't get you spammed or even reveal your identity if you don't want it to. I don't think you even get emails telling you when I've updated. It will only put my blog and any others you follow on a dashboard for easier access.

I want to know who's out there. And because I hope to turn this into a book someday, I want increase my followers-- more followers are, among other things, proof that people are interested in reading about PTSR recovery-- and the more I have, the more I am likely to accumulate. Weird law of blogging.

And on that note, please feel free to spread the word and link to anything here (or to quote me with full citation and links to this blog) and leave your thoughts in the comments. You are part of this thing, after all.

Thank you! And welcome to the party!

A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Oz and I had another one of those conversations that was similar to a hundred other conversations we've had but suddenly, that night, hit me in a whole new way, and I had a completely different understanding of it than I was capable of having before.

So many of the things I've come to understand over the last 18 months have come to me in layers rather than all at once. It's bizarre. Dr. Oz has lots of visual aids-- graphs, lists, pictures, hand-outs. Most of them, I've been looking at once a week for over a year, and every once in a while, that familiar jumble of words and images will suddenly click into place in my head and make sense in a way it never did until that moment, no matter that I could draw it myself with my eyes closed.

That feels like a sign of progress to me. Growth of this kind is slow, but sure.

Wait, let's pause for a public service announcement: this actually raises an issue for readers of this blog who might be experiencing similar struggles: there are layers to gain in your understanding of this stuff. Your layers won't look like mine. Your epiphanies will be different ones. So if this blog resonates with you, consider it your first layer-- but only the first of many.

And then, please, find yourself a Dr. Oz and gain yourself some more. It's worth it.

Okay, back to the conversation.

We were talking about my panic attacks-- the ones I told you about where I feel like I can't draw a full breath and I start to freak out that I'm going to suffocate.

I've been having those frequently for the past few months, and have had them intermittently for the past 15 years or so. It's clear to me now that they are psycho-somatic, and that they are, in fact, panic attacks, and that they are a result of the PTSR. I think they result from my brain's sense of control being threatened. The progress I've been making in therapy is lowering a lot of walls, and there are still parts of me that are unhappy about that. 

They've been doing just fine, thank you very much, and don't need no stinking progress.

So the softening of emotional restrictions is somehow triggering the tightening of physical ones. Gotta keep it all together, you know, one way or another. If the lungs get compressed in the process, well. Breathing is boring.

So that's neat. I mean clear, precise, obvious. Clean. The certainty appeals to me. I can work with that.

What I have also discovered is that I am wrapped up so fucking tightly that I can clamp down on a panic attack and render it a mere annoyance. Often significant annoyance, I admit, and increasingly so lately, as whatever part controls the clamp loses its control over the rest of me, but still.

I was actually complaining to Dr. Oz that I can't even have a freaking panic attack like a normal person. Why can't I just hyperventilate and collapse and get some xanax and get on with things, like they do in the movies? Wouldn't it be easier to just know that this was what was happening, to get confirmation of it from certified sources, and then follow the steps to making them stop?

This seems like the opposite of what I should be hoping for, doesn't it? But I can't help it: I crave the release. I want to just FREAK OUT, just once, and get it over with.

If my ability to endure a constant state of panic to the extent that my breathing is restricted for months at a time is any indication, that is never, ever going to happen.

I think that desire to lose my shit might be the "fight" or "flight" instincts trying to assert themselves in my lizard brain. Something's trying to break out. But everybody is an independent contractor in there, and nobody's talking to me about anything. I've been relegated to the sidelines, somehow.

Well. That's a little off track from where I'm going.

I told Dr. Oz that the panic attacks were bugging me again, and she gave me a handout from one of her colleagues, Janina Fisher, Ph.D., who knows a thing or two about trauma and created most of the visual aids Dr. Oz uses in our sessions.

She said, "Let's take that panic and assign it to a part, and then step back from it from a moment. The panic isn't all of you, it's just a small part of you. What is that part feeling? Where does it live? What does it need from you right now?"

I admit, I hear stuff like this, and I go straight to Gestalt therapy and screaming at an empty chair, and my inner cynic starts flapping her hands, going, Whoa whoa whoa, ease up on the weird stuff, lady. Not going there.

But instead of forcing me to have a conversation with myself out loud, she went on to say that we could perhaps break out a few different "parts," and get a little distance from them and examine them and see what it is they need that I can address with my inner "Wise Adult", in the hope of maybe diminishing those needs and neutralizing and integrating the parts back into the whole.

If that makes any sense. 

She started listing possible parts: 
  • The panicked/phobic part
  • The ashamed part
  • The withdrawn part
  • The thinker/control part

She threw that last one in there casually. I'd been complaining that my intellectual part refused to allow the panic to just have its moment-- that I was seriously watching myself refuse to give into panic because it was just too inconvenient and I didn't have time to bother with such nonsense.

Oh. Cliiiiiiiick.

I've talked before about my inner thinker. The scientist. The pedant. The robot. The part that's left once the emotion has been removed, and keeps things under considerable control. 

It's the part that defines me to the rest of the world, really. The reason I have garnered the nickname "Professor." The reason I've morphed in recent years from an INFP into an INTP on the Meyers-Briggs scale. 

The very nerdy me I tend to think of as "me."

Dr. Oz put that part on the list. Right there under "Phobic" and "Withdrawn."

Holy shit.

"But the Thinker is the part that's been holding everything together," I said.

"Yes," replied Dr. Oz. "And she can stop, now. Let the Wise Adult talk to her and find out what she needs, and help her let go of all that control."

Whoa. The Thinker is not the Wise Adult. 

The Thinker is not the Wise Adult.

I... But...That's...I did not know that. I never would have thought of that. She sounds so... you know... convincing.

"Well," said the brilliant Dr. Oz, "That's been her job, right?"

I think I just sat there in stunned silence for a few minutes. Several cogs clicked into place, some hamsters started running and wheels started turning. OMG.

"There are probably some other parts in there, too. Parts that represent all the different stages of the fight-or-flight response. The Thinker is "Fight." The Phobic and Withdrawal is "Flight." The Shame is "Freeze." There's probably some Neediness in there too, to represent the submit/attach aspect."

"Neediness gets shut down right away," I said. "There's none of that allowed."

"So it gets suppressed by the Thinker. That's how the Thinker maintains control."


I don't blame you if you can't quite buy all of this on one read-through. I certainly couldn't have thought of it this way a year ago. It's taken many layers to get to the point where this makes perfect sense to me, and seems like the clear path through whatever comes next.

"So, what comes next?" I asked.

"Well, we start looking at these parts separately, and talking to them through the Wise Adult. We find out what they need and how we can reintegrate them."

But first, I guess, I have to find this alleged Wise Adult. Dr. Oz insists she's in there. She's the one who kept me moving forward, building the life I have in spite of myself. She's the reason I'm married, the reason I'm a mom, the reason I'm not a raving lunatic on the street corner, screaming at the sky. She's the reason I've carried on. 

I've thought the Thinker was her, all this time, and would never have questioned it, but this whole weird thing strikes me as absolutely true, and seeing the Thinker on the same list as the Phobic has helped me understand how limited and damaged both parts are, on their own. Neither represents the whole, emotional self that exists behind all this pandemonium. It was sort of miraculous to see the Thinker reduced to that level; as something to overcome and integrate  rather than submit to. One of those lightning-bolt epiphanies you know in your gut to be true.

So. After all this work trying to stop dissociating, it turns out that dividing myself up into parcels to deal with one by one is the way to go. And so I will.

Because, you know: we want to live. All of us. Thinking, Phobic, Withdrawn, Needy, Emotional, Integrated Me. 

It's a party in here. Who's bringing cake?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Active Release Technique. OMG.

Bodywork update:

I stopped doing the Rosen Method treatment a couple of months ago. I had some very interesting experiences with it and it certainly did seem to help on an unexpectedly cognitive level. I'd recommend it to anyone who has tried many other things without success, and I strongly recommend it only in conjunction with talk therapy, to help you work through the things it brings up.

However: as I am someone whose body is pretty jacked up and needs something a lot less subtle, I'm moving on to greener pastures.

Well, to meaner pastures, at any rate. Enough with the quiet, peaceful laying of hands. I'd like to be man-handled now, please.

Enter Dr. John Beall, D.C., C.S.C.S., A.R.T., at Rise Bodyworks here in Alameda.


First of all, Dr. Beall is hilarious. We chatted about my history throughout my first appointment (last Thursday), so naturally the accident and my current PTSR treatment came up, and he was very interested in that since he works with a lot of people who have experienced trauma.

I told him about the EMDR, and he found the whole eye-movement, trauma-is-trapped-in-the-body thing very interesting and resonant. Later, when I told him about this blog and that I hoped to turn it into a book, he asked, "Are you going to call it Wiggle Your Eyes to Freedom? Because I think that's a winner. People would see that title and go, What the hell, and then they'd pick it up and end up buying it, because they would just have to know."

"I'll put that on the prospective title list," I said. "I like the way you think."

"I won't even charge you for that," he told me. "You can have that one for free."

So that happened. The fact that it happened while this dude was giving me an extremely satisfying deep-tissue massage around my left shoulder blade that was making my migraine recede might have contributed to the hilarity, but then again, I was hardly in the mood to be entertained, so I think he gets extra props.

What he was doing is called Active Release Technique. It's sort of a combination of chiropractic and massage and physical therapy, with a little trigger point work thrown in for good measure. My appointment was relatively short, but it included some hardcore, semi-terrifying, bone-crunching adjustments in my back and neck and, as I said, not only didn't trigger a migraine but actually helped the one I was already having to calm down. 

It was not painful, like rolfing, although it was a good bit more forceful than regular massage, which always causes me more problems than it solves. It was more immediate in its effects than physical therapy. It was exactly the kind of muscle work I was hoping for, with chiropractic adjustments to boot...

In other words, friends, I believe I may have found The Promised Land.

The other awesome thing about this place is that 20 visits per year are covered by my medical insurance (and also payable through an FSA for any additional visits), so I am going to use up all 20 of 2012's visits in the next month and a half. I am going to get myself seriously crunched. OMG.

For my non-believer self, this is about as close to a religious experience as I get. 

If you're interested, you can look for an A.R.T. provider in your area (anywhere in the world! Non-US citizens, just zoom out on the map!) here

I am also adding it to my resources page (see tab at the top of this blog), along with all the other things I experiment with along the way, so you'll be able to find it easily if you ever need it.

I will keep you updated on my progress with this treatment. I am still feeling the effects of my first appointment, two days later. Next appointment on Monday, and 2-3 per week for the rest of the year. This has all the harbingers of being the bodywork of my dreams. 

It is totally the droid I'm looking for.

This week, Dr. Oz introduced me to a new technique, as well, and I'm having enough trouble trying to figure out how to explain it that I'm going to stop here and think about it over the next week, and I'll tell you about it in my next post.

I'll leave you with this little teaser, though: Dr. Oz and I both think that this new technique might be the key to all my future progress with this therapy. It's a big thing.

Right on cue, the new work has presented itself. I shall never doubt again. 

Or not for long, anyway. Apparently. ;>

Hat tip to my dear friend Megan for turning me on to Rise Body Works and Dr. John Beall. Awe. Some. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Mindfulne-Oooh, Shiny!

For someone with as little natural energy as I have, you'd think I'd be great at meditating.

No. No I am not. I may just be sitting there, but didn't you notice the laptop, kindle, and smartphone, all active and open to several tabs simultaneously? Not to mention the TV or music on in the background? And the little tots running around?

Distraction is my middle name. No wonder I can't imagine meditating. I can't even imagine fewer than three simultaneous internet connections.

But as my friend Mirith pointed out in the comments last week, mindfulness doesn't have to come through meditation. It can come through whatever it is that makes you feel most present and aware of the moment while you're in it.

And as my friend (and husband) Bakum pointed out in the comments last week, I also don't have to start off with huge chunks of mindful time every day. I am new at this. I need to start with tiny moments at a time. One breath. Two. Three.

Baby steps. Not my favorite way to do things-- I like all or nothing, which means nothing a lot of the time. That is dumb. I get it.

Hey, wait, speaking of the comments (and speaking of easily distracted), do you ever read the comments on this blog? I have great commenters. Brilliant, insightful, eloquent, hilarious, and exceedingly good-looking, every one of them.

Also, they are all great kissers. ;>

I'm just pointing them out because... well, YOU could be a commenter here, if you wanted. I would appreciate it. The more of you who comment, the more we all learn. Lots and lots of you have emailed or texted me privately about many of the issues raised in this blog. You could sign in under a pseudonym if you don't want to be known publicly-- I will never out you-- and share your insights with the rest of the class. They will benefit from your contributions to the conversation. We all will.

Anyway. Back to whatever it was I was talking about.

Oh yeah. Distractable me. :/

I am looking through a book my husband recommended called Mindfulness for Beginners by Jon Kabat-Zinn.

I like it immediately because each "chapter" is about a page long. Or less. Tiny, bite-able chunks of information; just enough to ponder while you get to the real work of forcing yourself to be, for a moment, more aware of where you are and how you feel.

The first chapter talks about breath, and how paying attention to the sensations of breathing in the body is one of the easiest ways to anchor ourselves to the present moment.

I wonder if this has anything to do with why I've been having such a hard time breathing lately? The panic attacks I get are all about shortness of breath. I've been having that issue again over the past few days. The condition is definitely heightened by my own hyper-awareness of it once it starts, too. It's hard to pull out of a panic attack when the having of it causes you to panic. That's an ugly little self-fulfilling prophecy right there.

But I wonder: as I slowly become more aware of my body, am I triggering tiny defenses that are causing my lungs to freeze up in protest? Is learning to follow my breath making it harder and harder to breathe?

Don't get me wrong-- I get it that this reaction is completely psycho-somatic. It's just amazing how little that matters in the moment. A product of my own mind or not, not being able to suck in enough air to power a yawn is scary.

Part of me resists paying closer attention to my breathing for exactly this reason: being aware of it means not being able to ignore the panic.

Of course, this is the whole point of mindfulness and why it eventually helps-- sitting with your emotions, rather than avoiding and suppressing them, increases your resilience and makes it easier to cope with them overall.

Well. I'll try to stop suffocating long enough to remind myself of that fact. Sheesh. 

I logged into Superbetter earlier to resume my Quest toward my Epic Win. I'm making mindfulness my focus for now, and collecting tools and exercises for practicing it in different ways throughout my day. I'll keep at it and report in a week or two when I have more to show for my work there.


Well, despite my penchant for a nice tidy bow and an overarching message, I'm going to call this post posted and go try some mindfulness for a while this afternoon. 

But answer me this:

Do you ever practice deliberate mindfulness? What is the benefit, for you? How does it impact your moods, thoughts, or actions?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

So Now What?

After the post two weeks ago, in which I questioned whether any of this was actually happening or just a figment of my imagination, and last week's post, wherein I discovered proof positive that real progress had been made, I find myself wondering why nothing feels dramatically different, and what I need to do to move things along in that area.

Mostly, I just do the work that presents itself. Most of the timet, the next step is pretty clear and I am able to take it without a lot of dallying. I've dallied quite enough, thanks. Not interested in whining or navel-gazing; I am actually trying to get shit done, here. 

But sometimes, no new work emerges on its own. I find myself floating, waiting for the next thing to come along so I can get cracking. 

This happens more frequently than I let on. But so far, those limbo periods have always been followed by a break-through of some kind. Like reaching the plateau at the top of an arduous climb, I get an easy walk for a while, until it's time to take on the next hill.

The next hill never seems like it's going to come. It always does, but I never think it will. 

Every month or two, I sit down across from Dr. Oz and announce that nothing is happening, nothing is moving, nothing is changing, I'm frustrated with my lack of progress, I don't know where to go from here.

The next week is usually when one of those crazy OMG moments happens and a bunch of cogs click into place, and the wheels begin to turn again.

I never think it's going to happen, though. I find myself in doubt, every time.

I think it's because the changes are happening at such a deep level. It's not a change of scenery or a change of mood, it's a change in orientation to the world, when it happens. It's a re-imagining of the self, every time.

I've really been trying, when shifts occur, to embrace them completely and embody them in as permanent a way as I can. I don't have time for back-sliding. When epiphany comes, I want that thing integrated and operational ASAP.

This all sounds exhilarating, doesn't it?

Well, it sucks. It totally sucks. In case I've given you the impression that this whole business is enjoyable at all, let me disabuse you of that notion now. There is nothing fun about it.

What's fun, as it happens, is writing about it in such a positive way. Telling the story like it's an adventure, like it's a thrilling chase. A madcap caper! The race to sanity! 

In that way, like I warned you way back in the beginning, this whole tale I've been spinning is, in fact, made up. I've been telling you the story of the life I'd like to be living; events as I wish they were happening; progress as it only gets made in the movies, or in dreams.

What I didn't know back then, when I first told you that writers are liars, is that somehow, in this journey, writing the lie helps to make it true.

I hardly ever know what I'm going to write when I sit down in my usual seat in the coffee shop on Saturday mornings. Sometimes I have a vague idea, but I almost never have a complete one, and it never, ever goes where I think it's going to go, anyway. The epiphanies usually happen to me twice, or in two ways: once in therapy or in preparation for therapy or in the aftermath of therapy, when the lizard brain shifts in its mostly wordless way, sometimes below or beyond my ability to articulate what's happening.

And then it happens again, in the way that feels real-- the way that sticks-- when I sit down and let whatever's been brewing under the surface come out on the screen. Maybe it's the coffee that's the catalyst. Whatever it is, it happens only once I've completed all the progressively-more-ritualized steps that precede a writing session: procuring coffee, plugging in my various tech devices, aligning edges, arranging according to priority of use, switching from sunglasses to reading glasses like Mr. Rogers' religious divesting of dress shoes for sneakers.

All must be done, and done precisely, before I can proceed.

And then I open a new post, and begin to type. Sometimes (usually... almost always, really) I don't even know what I'm going to say until after I've said it. But I rarely sit and stare at an empty screen. My conscious mind might not have been consulted, but my subconscious seems to be rigorously prepared, every week.

That really brings home one essential truth: the element most conspicuously missing from the day to day aspect of the work I've been doing is mindfulness.

Asking a profoundly dissociated person to be mindful is like asking a fish to fly. A fish spends all its time doing the exact opposite of flying. Every thought, action, instinct, and biological compulsion the fish has tells it that flying is impossible. Flying removes that which the fish requires in order to live.

Okay, I should say it feels, to the dissociated person, as impossible as this.

Every single method I've ever tried, in the pursuit of recovery, has come down to mindfulness. Therapy works most profoundly through mindfulness. Body work works most profoundly through mindfulness. Writing and thinking and breathing and living work most profoundly through mindfulness.

Well. Homie don't play that.

Mindfulness is exactly what I do not do. I do not sit within a moment and experience life as it happens. I do not observe intimately and openly events as they unfold. I do not breathe and meditate and let thoughts pass me by like people on the sidewalk outside a window.

Seriously. What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

No, I'm more of a scavenger, darting out, collecting bits of life and scurrying back to my cave to turn them over in my hands and admire them from all sides and think about them from a distance before filing them into place. I am a remote observer. I am a weigher of thoughts.

I need, as they say, a moment.

But I've just realized, as I've been writing this whole last section on mindfulness, that this writing has actually become the place where I get closest. I sit, I let go, and things come. I dress it up as it hits the air and turn it into a yarn being spun, but it comes out of a place more immediate and vulnerable and present than my usual consciousness.

As such, I usually learn the truth about what's going on inside me the same way you do: by reading it here.

Leave it to me to call this bizarrely disconnected process mindfulness, but that's what it feels like to me. It's the closest I can get. It's the only time I just let what comes, come, and it's where the most is revealed to me.

I think this is why I feel like I'm making it up. There's no planning, there's only shaping what is right in front of me. Writing the lie, and making it true.

It's alchemy, this blog. Self-discovery is not a neat process, and most of it seems to happen when we're not looking. Or at least, that's when it happens to me. And then I come in here on Saturday, line up my kindle precisely with the edge of my laptop and stack my earbud case on top, dead-center, put my fingers to the keys, and let my body tell me what is happening within, right here, right now, and then once it's out, I let it change me from the outside, where it's a hell of a lot easier to see and understand.

I can't do it purposefully, yet, but this blog is increasingly authentic proof that I can let it happen without resisting, and I don't know if Dr. Oz would agree that mindfulness is what I'm doing here, but I think it's at least a proper start.

Ugh. I guess it's happened again: the revelation of the next step, just when I am convinced it's never going to come.

Mindfulness. The traditional, old-fashioned, purposeful kind.  

I've said before that I need to get on that. I'm saying it again, and meaning it this time: I need to get on that. It feels like the final frontier, in a way. I can see that everything I hope will happen from all of this work will happen more easily through a real, developed practice of mindfulness.

Okay. All right. Fine.

I may need to enlist some additional resources for this (fish: flying. Remember?). 

Remember Superbetter? This seems like a good time to put that to work for me. One of the things Superbetter asks you to do is identify your support network, and enlist champions to help you through specific tasks, or even to carry out specific tasks on your behalf, to push you along and help you achieve what you need.

Champions: that's you guys. You do your job by showing up here and reading and following and sharing your thoughts (keep doing that! The comments section is waiting for you!). 

I don't know if there's anything more specific a champion can do to help me be more mindful, but if there is, I'll put the word out. Let me know if you'd like to be involved.

Well, I've meandered my way to another epiphany. Funny, how that keeps happening. If it's a sign that I'm on the right path--and I think it is-- I'll take it.

It would be nice, once in a while, to see it coming. Mindfulness will help with that, right?

Anybody feel like they have a particular skill in being mindful? How do you do it? Where do you start, and how do you know when you're doing it? What does it feel like? What's the benefit, in your view? Why is it the goal?

Lay it on me, champions. Teach this fish to fly. This water's getting murky and I could use the fresh air.