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.


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.


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.


**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.


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. 


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.


UPDATE: if you aren't seeing the video from your Apple or mobile device, here's the link:


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.


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


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.