Reflections on 2012

So here we are at the end of another year. Thanks to Castorgirl for hosting this month’s Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse, and for suggesting the theme of reflections on the year. Like many, I sometimes struggle to see the positives (perhaps this year more than most), so it’s been nice to have a reminder. Thanks CG!

The biggest, baddest, and hardest part of my year has been the death of my mother. It’s been two and a half months now, and I still can’t believe I’m writing those words. Death. Mother. In the same sentence. Yet it was inevitable, really. Her passing, and my grief, overshadow everything; are sometimes overwhelming, yet somehow I manage to get up everyday and keep moving.

I don’t want to reflect on 2012, or look ahead to 2013. The more time moves forward, the more distant my mother seems. But, here goes…

My biggest hope for this year was that I would get to spend more time with Mum.Yep, I did get to do that. 🙂 I’m so glad that I did. We became a lot closer and I grew to understand her more. Of course we snipped and snapped at each other sometimes. And sometimes she drove me completely nuts, but I’m told that’s normal. It’s what made our relationship real. I would give almost anything to have her back, but at the same time I’m incredibly grateful we had the time we did. I’m glad I could be there with her until the end. Grateful, too, that her passing was quick and painless and peaceful. After all she’d been through she deserved those things at the very least.

I learned a lot this year. About life, and death, and the world. I learned that caring for someone with a terminal illness is hard, hard work. Much harder than I’d ever imagined. I still can’t believe how exhausted I was; how little time I had for anything. I think I’m still recovering. Though, of course, I would do it again in a heartbeat.

I learned that grief SUX. Big time.

Perhaps the most important things I learned were about myself. Thanks to a truckload of therapy. I had some moments of mindfulness. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I’ve had glimpses of what being mindful is like and I think I like it.

I learned how disconnected I was (am) from my body, and how difficult it is for me to establish that connection. Sadly I can’t share any wisdom on this one with you – I still get caught off guard when I notice something in my body.

I learned a lot more about my anxiety and how it manifests itself: in my breathing, in the tension in my shoulders, in my “ADD”, my worry about being late, etc etc etc. In learning about my anxiety, I also started to learn about what I want, or think I want, in work and in life, without the pressure of anyone’s expectations. And I started to learn about the kinds of things that stress me, especially at work, and how I want to manage or eliminate that stress.

I knitted. A lot. And I loved it. I loved discovering all the stitches and patterns and beautiful yarns out there and discovering some fellow knitting friends. 😉

One of my biggest achievements, I think, is that I built a relationship with Mum’s cat. An old, cantankerous cat who has hated me for much of her life. Who broke my heart when, after Mum passed, she’d come looking at Mum’s chair and ask me where Mum was. She trusts me now. Even lets me brush her and purrs while I do. I never thought it would happen, but it did and I’m proud of myself for having the patience and love to sit with her through all this, as she sits with me.

That’s it, folks. I’m going to save my “hopes” for 2013 for another time. I will leave you with one of the songs that’s moved me this year. A lovely little piece by Missy Higgins. It’s a song about losing her grandmother to dementia, and to death. It struck a chord with me.

PS. Actually I may have undersold myself. I think by far my BIGGEST achievement was allowing myself to feel my feelings in the wake of my mother’s death. Ordinarily my approach would have been to eat, drink, shop or otherwise bury my feelings, but experience has taught me that doesn’t work. No, it doesn’t. The feelings just get bigger and come back to haunt you later on. So, instead, I allowed myself to feel. I think it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done and it’s still bl00dy awful, but I’m doing it. There’s been a little bit of numbing, but really nothing compared to what I’d usually do. So while it feels like the most unnatural thing to say – go me!!

Two months

It’s two months today since I lost my Mum. It’s a funny thing saying that you “lost” someone. Like you put them down somewhere and forgot where they were.

I know now that I will never “get over” this. I am forever changed. I know that the days become easier to bear, little by little. I am getting used to Mum’s absence. I no longer look for her on the couch when I get home, but the loss and the grief are always present. Like the other day I drove past a coffee shop, and though it was one I’d never seen before, it’s name was a word Mum and I used sometimes when we baked. It was another stabbing reminder that she’s gone.

The Back Up Therapist says at the moment it’s like I have a gaping wound, and everything like that coffee shop is like ripping the bandage off and reopening the wound. Again and again and again. Apparently one day I’ll rip the bandage off and the wound won’t be so raw and gaping. At the moment I can only hope so.

I try to pass the time. Even pass it healthily. The Back Up Therapist says that will make things easier in the long term. Thankfully, for once, my inner-self knows she’s right. So I eat (relatively) well, get regular exercise, don’t drink or take pills. And I feel those wretched feelings.

But I still miss Mum. For all her faults – and this blog recorded many – we had a close and enduring bond – better in the last few months of her life than for sometime before that. To say I miss her feels like such a ridiculous thing to say. There’s a huge hole in my life where she used to be and nothing – NOTHING – can fill it.

A friend said recently that the thought of losing her Mum is more than she can bear. I thought so, too, and yet somehow I have managed to survive the last two months. It seems incredible, but I have.

Being in your body

The PNT wants me to get back in my body. Some days I’m not even sure I understand what she means. Truth be told, I’ve lived an almost entirely ‘cerebral existence’ as another blogger called it* for just about as long as I can remember.

I think I looked like a deer in the headlights the day she first asked me how it felt to feel sad.

PNT: “Tell me, how does it feel when you feel sad?”

Me: “What do you mean?”

PNT: “You know, how does it feel? In your body?”

Me: *speechless*

She’s been getting me to try a mindfulness technique called “body scanning”. Occasionally I can do it, but most times I run out of energy around my ankles… or even earlier, like my feet, because I can’t get a good ‘reading’ on them. I don’t know how they should feel; let alone how they do feel. And this despite several years of yoga practice *eye rolling* (although admittedly I haven’t done any real yoga since before this blog was born; since things fell apart; or even before… which is possibly another reason they fell apart in the first place, but I’m sure that’s another topic for another day).

This has all come to the fore in recent weeks because I’ve been suffering an unknown abdominal complaint that has kept me away from work, and from life. So far I’ve had numerous tests, and the usual gynecological and gastrointestinal suspects investigated and have come up with nothing. Nothing. That’s n-o-t-h-i-n-g. Except for a bowel disease that I’ll need to pay some attention to at some point, but that apparently isn’t related to my current pain.

So I’m left feeling like I must be making it all up; like it was all in my head to begin with. Not a good feeling, I can tell you. It triggers all that old stuff about being hopeless and a failure and a malingerer who will never be good at anything and … you get the drift. Now, here’s where I get confused, because the PNT says pain is real. REAL, she says. It’s our bodies telling us something isn’t right. So, umm, there’s pain, and my body saying something’s wrong but medical tests saying there’s nothing wrong with me.

Say what? You’re confused? Yea, me too. :S

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In other news I’ve been reading far more than I’ve been writing lately. That’s not necessarily a good thing, but if you want to see what I’m reading, you can follow me on Twitter here, or a round-up of my tweets/twusings (?) on Kerro’s Kronicles here.

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* Sorry, I can’t remember who you are, but I remember thinking it was a great phrase, and a great blog post.

Stress Sensitivity and PTSD

Hi peeps, it’s a rare and special time when I get to blog these days, though I think of it (and you) often. Things are going quite well over here. Life continues to be almost completely mad, but somehow I’m mostly holding it together. I’m continuing to juggle the WT and the PNT, and I’m learning heaps, especially from the PNT who’s approach is completely different.

One thing I’ve noticed, particularly in the last week, is that my stress tolerance is much lower than it used to be. Apparently stress sensitivity is relatively common among those of us with PTSD. That’s kind of a no brainer, but isn’t something I’d really thought about or consciously (mindfully) experienced before.

My workload and the never ending pressure at work has been increasing exponentially over the last few weeks. Last week it hit the point where I couldn’t even tackle anything. I was completely paralysed. My to do list is so long all I could do was just stare at it. I’m not sure what caused this. I guess it was fear. Of what, exactly, I’m not sure. Not getting things done? Not getting them done on time? Getting into trouble? Oh, and then there was the presentation I had to give at a client training day last Friday. Ugh. Have I mentioned I have a pathological fear of public speaking? Well, I have a pathological fear of public speaking. 😉

Seriously, that alone was enough to tip my stress from ‘just about managing’ to completely paralysed… and, along came all my old “friends” – my PTSD symptoms. I was a triggery mess, flash backing all over the place, having nightmares and dissociating like crazy. 😦 I haven’t been like that for a while, so it was a bit of a shock to the system, yet strangely familiar.

It made me realise a couple of things I thought might be important (the PNT said they’re really important). One: my baseline isn’t as highly strung as it used to be. I used to be stressed like that all the time. And I mean: All. The. Time. I didn’t even know I was like that, but I was. I was a jittery, heart pounding crazy woman; literally running on cortisol and quickly spiralling out of control. Apparently I’m more relaxed now than I used to be. 🙂

The second thing I realised was that not only am I not like that anymore, but I also don’t want to be like that any more. I much prefer it when I’m NOT feeling so stressed. Who would have thought? 🙂

So what do I do with this information? I’m not sure. It’s obviously important. In a few ways, actually. First, it’s important that I’ve realised these things. And (possibly more) important that I even noticed them. Probably shows I’m not as out of it as I used to be a degree of mindfulness. Or something. Second, it seems important in a ‘how I want to live my life’ kinda way, although it’s really all too new for me to understand what that means, or what that looks like in practice, and how I keep it that way. Definite progress on both fronts, I’d say. 🙂

A new start?

I’m sitting at my desk, in my new study, relishing some time to catch up on the blogosphere. I moved house, with Mum, just over ten days ago. While physically it’s still chaos (we are drowning in a sea of boxes, from her house and mine!), I am enjoying having made the move. I now have a bedroom AND a study to call my very own. Somewhere I can escape and have some ‘me time’ – and (with a bit of luck) blog time 🙂 I’ve been putting quite a bit of effort into setting up my study – I’ve painted the walls, put up a whole wall of bookcases, and ordered my new ‘reading on a Sunday afternoon’ armchair. It’s my retreat; my escape from the world – and from Mum and her foul comments when needed. I can see a little bit of the garden – the hydrangeas are battling winter, but the tulip tree is flowering beautifully, and today the sky is bright blue – a reminder that winter can sometimes be beautiful. 🙂

Life has been completely hectic for the last couple of months, but mostly I’ve coped well. The PNT is helping me get back in touch with myself; helping me become more mindful (not always successfully), and helping me learn some better ‘self-care’. Say what? I hear you utter. Crazy, I know…

I also consulted a natural therapist last week – she reminded me of a lot of the good things I’d somehow forgotten. The importance of nutrition, the importance of whole food, the evils of gluten… things I’d somehow let get lost in the hurly burly of caring for Mum. Actually, if I’m honest, much of this got lost before Mum got sick. Somehow, in looking after my mental health, I’ve almost completely forgotten about my physical health! I’ve been eating much better since seeing the natural therapist – I can’t tell you how good that feels! Not that my diet was overly bad beforehand, but I’d got trapped into eating food that Mum likes to eat and which I don’t like. Or do like but aren’t at all good for me. It feels so good to be eating ‘me’ food again. And by that I mean it feels good physically, not just emotionally; in fact not even emotionally really, as I’m not even gloating in some faux feeling of virtuosity. It just feels good physically to put good food in my stomach. Nurturing and grounding in a whole other way. 🙂

I have plans to get back to yoga, and may be start meditation, but for now they are stuck in the procrastinating box. I’m not sure why, they just are. I’m trying not to beat myself up about that. It will come; when I’m ready it will come.

I’m a little puzzled at how much of myself I’d forgotten, or left behind, during the last couple of years of therapy. More fodder for the PNT, I suspect. I’ve been reminded over the last couple of weeks that when you do things that align with your ‘inner self’, it feels good. Not just good or even great, but life-giving and energising as well. (Though clearly I’m still struggling a bit with ‘feeling words’ LOL)

Talking about talking

Wow, starting with a new therapist is harder than I thought. I’d forgotten about all the “ickiness” that comes up; the squirming and the shutting down. I’m three or four months in with PNT and am just realising that all that ickiness doesn’t go away. I’ve caught myself a couple of times with her – almost saying something and then someone or something inside stopping me. The fact that I notice this and recognise it is probably a good thing – may be there is some progress, after all? It seems I still have trust issues, though. I’m sure that’s not really surprising – in fact, any one of you could have told me that! It did take me a little by surprise, though. I’d almost forgotten what it was like to sit huddled in the chair, studying the carpet or the paintwork in depth, wishing the floor would open up or the clock would tick over and your hour would be up. Uh huh, that’s still with me.

The PNT is almost nauseatingly keen on talking about all this. I foolishly sent her an email before today’s session saying I’d like to “talk about the talking”. Silly me! Well, silly because she’s onto me like a rabid dog and doesn’t let me get away with my usual avoidance tactics LOL. But also not silly because it helped me clarify that this is fundamentally about trust, and the fear that she’ll hurt me. Irrational fear, of course, because she can’t really do any such thing.

She prompted me to think about how I resolved this with the WT. I’ve found it hard to remember, but of course, I did have trust issues with the WT! The solution? Time, of course, to get to know her (and her me) – her approach, her likely reactions (or non-reactions), her (therapeutic) heart. And a spoonful of sugar, by which I mean a giant – and I mean GIANT – leap of faith. I remember the first time I realised I’d have to put my faith in the WT, how hard that was. How it felt like inching towards the edge of a cliff and then stepping off, not being at all sure what was over the edge, if I’d need a parachute, or if I’d have one. Please tell me I don’t need to do that again??? If you believe this guy, then yea, I do need to do that again. Sigh.

Of course trust, in my view, needs to be earned. I’m not sure what the PNT has done  to earn my trust, if anything. Of course she gets a level of trust and respect by being another human being, with a heart. And she ticks all the basic boxes – she’s reliable, maintains confidentiality, etc – but I need something more than that. I don’t know what, but may be I do need something from her. I remember the early days with the WT – she made an effort, it seemed, to get me to trust her. Things like  going the “extra mile” with appointment times, out of session contact, etc. And of course there was all that weirdness about her not thinking I was a “freak” – that probably engendered some trust. I’ve not had that same experience with the PNT – perhaps because I’m still seeing the WT, so there’s been no real reason to trust her?

And what am I afraid of? Sure, being judged, even though rationally I know she won’t really judge. Feeling like a failure. Feeling not good enough. (Who said there’d been progress? Phooey!) Better to just keep quiet, right? 😉

Emotions 101

I’ve been continuing to work with my new therapist on emotional “stuff”. I’m frequently dumbstruck in our sessions when she asks how I’m feeling and I can’t find the words, or when she asks me what a particular feeling is like and what it means to me and I don’t know.

This week we talked about empathy.

In the course of our discussion I learned that empathy isn’t when you tell someone about events in your life (like your mother having cancer) and they ignore you so they can talk about something else. And I learned that empathy isn’t when a friend launches into hysterics about how your stuff makes them feel. I’m still not sure what empathy actually is, though.

Honestly, I know I’m not dumb, but I certainly feel it during these sessions. 😦

In better news I went to a concert this week. Amazing singers. Perfect pitch, beautiful harmonies, and magical music. Here’s one of the pieces they sang (although some of the group members have changed since this was recorded). I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 🙂