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!!

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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)

Manning up

I started to write this post about how I’d stepped up (or “manned up”) this week in coming clean with my therapist. And then I realised that I’d actually “manned up” in a few situations, so thought I’d give myself a big bloggy pat on the back. 🙂

  1. I finally came clean with my therapist. Funny, I had avoided this in the session after my post, and by the time the next session (or the one after) rolled around, I felt much more able to tackle it. So much so that I barely squirmed or cried or anything – just had a “normal” (at least “semi-normal”) discussion with her about it. I’ve waxed lyrical on the benefits of talking to one’s therapist so many times in the blogosphere. Seems that sometimes there’s benefit in waiting, and not blurting.
  2. I reported a guy at work for giving me a work nerd stick that contained p0rn0graphic material. It was gross and freaked me out … It came on the back of the bad trigger at work, so possibly I was more sensitive than I ordinarily would have been, but seriously people, pornography at work? Just. Not. Appropriate… EVER.
  3. I’ve been feeling lazy and lardy and awful lately. For months actually. And then my BFF online pointed out that I used to go to the gym regularly, and it seemed to help with all the body tension. She’s right. What she said triggered a massive “a-ha!” moment in my brain, so I went to check out a new gym after work yesterday. Spur of the moment appointment to check out the gym, and a spur of the moment decision to sign up. I felt really motivated while I was there, so I went again this morning. It really brought my focus back to my body, and made me aware of all the places I’m carrying a ridiculous amount of tension. Of course it also made me aware of how much condition I’ve lost, but I’m hoping this will ease as I get back into a fitness regime, and (hopefully) gain some of my fitness back. Thanks BFF! 🙂

I also bombed my therapist today (as in ‘last minute bomb’ or LMB – kinda love it when we get to throw them occasionally) – “Why do you always ask the hard questions at the very end?” she asked. Ha ha! I asked her about my intense fear of abandonment and can she talk to me more in “intellectual terms” about it. I’m desperate to understand it, though I do fear it’s a bit like therapy in this regard – that if I stop intellectualising and just go with it, I’ll start to get better. Of course, I’m not sure what the “it” is in this situation. I guess that will be top of the agenda for next week…

Once living in fear

It seems like ages since I was able to blog regularly. I feel bad about that, though I know I shouldn’t. Like has gone into crazy mode, and mostly I’m going day to day dealing with things. On one hand it feels like I’m completely unstable; on the other, I know I’m not, and I’m actually coping well with what are incredibly difficult life events, if almost crippled with exhaustion. I know I’m also continuing to heal, as I was reminded last night.

Just as I crawled into bed, shortly after midnight, I heard my door bell ring. Of course, being so late, I panicked. Heart thumping, palm sweating, brain frying panic. I lay in bed, totally frozen. I was scared almost to death about who was at the door, and the bad things they had come to do. I watched the clock tick over* and waited, everything on high alert, convinced someone would break in. I literally couldn’t move.

At some stage I must have fallen asleep, because when I woke up this morning, well, I actually woke and no evil had taken me in the night. Of course, the first thing I did was check the front door – no one there, no one sleeping on my porch, nothing. Strange.

And then I remembered how many nights I’ve felt that panic before. How often, over the years, I slept with knives under my pillow, or scissors under the blankets. How often I sat under the window or by the front door, waiting for the bad men to come.

They never did.

And so, while I panicked (who wouldn’t panic that when their doorbell rings so late?), I also remembered that I’ve come a long way. It’s been a loooong time since I slept with knives or stayed awake all night to make sure nothing bad happened.

And that, my friends, as they say, is progress. 🙂

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* It’s a digital clock. It doesn’t tick. But what do we say now about digital clocks? Do they flip? Swoosh? What is it we say now that analogue barely exists? What will little kids say in years to come?  

Taking care

We got news yesterday that my mother’s cancer is more advanced than originally thought. It’s not good news, and it’s thrown both Mum and I a little bit. Actually it’s been a week of bad news on one front or another. I’m blaming some weird planetary activity. 😉

On top of the cancer and the myriad appointments I’ve attended with Mum, I’ve had my own health issues to deal with, as well as work, and putting my father in a nursing home, and a job interview (that’s another story) and and and …

Understandably, this has all taken its toll and I’ve been feeling overwhelmed.

I finally made the decision today that something has to give. I chose work. I’m taking a few days off to deal with things. I’m also withdrawing from the job I interviewed for. I’m just not in the space to take on anything new. It’s also likely I’ll need a bit of time off for Mum, and I don’t want to muck them around.

It feels a bit weird this taking control and taking care, but I know it’s a good thing. I hope you’re all sitting down because I’m also planning to get back into my exercise routine, and get healthy foods going for Mum while she stays with me and endures her treatment. Crazy stuff, I know, but that’s what’s happening. 😉

I also had a nap this afternoon, something I do sometimes. I was at a friend’s place and looked at her bed, and realised I just wanted to crawl into it and fall asleep. So I did (in my own bed). Almost unbelievably I slept for three hours. They say stress does funny things, and sleep is a way for the mind and body to regenerate. I’ll be heading back to bed again very soon.

Needless to say the Wonder Therapist was impressed at my care taking. It’s quite nice, really. I think I might even like it. 😉

Reflections on 2010

I like New Year about as much as I like Christmas. I’m glad the hoopla is finally over and I can shift into something resembling normal for the year. A couple of my bloggy friends have done a “year in review”, so thought I’d give this a whirl. 2010 was a big year for me and another bloggy friend reminded me that as survivors, we tend not to acknowledge our achievements nearly often enough. So here I am.

Some of my biggest (tangible) achievements:

  • Changing jobs – twice. Getting the hell away from that awful boss I had, and then getting a brand new job in a brand new sector.
  • Giving the whole relationships and dating thing a whirl. This wasn’t the big success I had hoped it would be, but it was an achievement for me to saddle up again. I learned a lot about myself in the process. Perhaps my biggest achievement was standing up for myself in The Great Leap Forward. 🙂
  • Taking holidays – several of them – and believing I deserved them 🙂
  • Doing group therapy, which saw my healing move forward in leaps and bounds. I met some amazing people, learned a lot about myself and realised (even finally believed) that I’m not alone driving the survivor highway. I also even believed that I’m one of those “amazing” people – I’ll never forget the day the Wonder Therapist looked at me and said, “now do you see what I see?” (umm, not really, but kind of LOL)
  • Health – this has been a really mixed bag for me, as I’ve had two rounds of surgery to endure and various other health issues. I’m listing it as an achievement, though, because I’m learning (slowly) to address health issues. I even went to the dentist for no apparent reason, other than a general check up! 🙂

I’ve also made many smaller, less tangible steps forward – wearing skirts, for example, as well as heels again. I’ve used public transport – for years a surefire way to a panic attack. And I’ve been out, at night, and discovered I’m not nearly as afraid of the dark as I once was. 🙂 I’m also not as scared of being stuck in a lift, and have sat in the middle of rows at the theatre without panicking. 🙂 I’m also starting to learn how to listen to my body – when it’s hungry, when it’s tired, or in pain. I’m still not great at this one, but I’m learning.

Of course, the year has had its ups and downs, with continued triggers that spin me out of control sometimes. The Wonder Therapist says “that’s what life is like” – it’s completely normal to have ups and downs. I did notice that sometimes the downs have come from me taking on too much leaving me vulnerable, mentally and physically. I’m guessing there’s a lesson in self-care in there – perhaps that’s a job for 2011? 😉

I’ve also continued to have struggles with my family – especially my mother, though at times I’ve been able to see the family dysfunctions from a distance and maintain (or at least try to) my own “self”. I’m  learning to accept my father’s bad behaviour: not accepting the unacceptable, but accepting that it’s *his* behaviour, and nothing to do with me. Nothing I do can change it, or make it better. He is the abusive a$$hat that he is, and that is no reflection on me at all. That’s progress for me, too. 🙂

One area that doesn’t feel so much like an achievement is that I still feel quite distant from “me” – from the person my therapist described here. That person still doesn’t feel like me, even though I *know* it is, and even though I wrote – and believed – posts like this one.

One thing that’s really helped me is the Expressive Arts Carnival (you can see all my entries here). I’ve loved the activities and the encouragement to do things creative. They’ve helped me think about things differently, and get in touch with different parts of me.

I’ve also learned to more consciously drawn on my lessons in therapy, and the blogosphere – as you all saw in my Christmas survival post, just this week. 🙂

My favourite posts for 2010 – and by chance also the most popular – were these:

Thanks for being with me in 2010 peeps, and I look forward to sharing 2011 with you! 🙂