You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (Eleanor Roosevelt)
This afternoon was going well, until I saw the email. Yesterday I cheered by an email from my professor, who said he wanted me to stay in his class despite my absence Tuesday night and that I was “intelligent and insightful”. Today, however, I check my email and discover an email from the Director of my program,saying that “I want to ask that you make your Tuesday evening class…your top priority (aside from self-care and your family). That is, so that you can finish this course, please do everything you can to be rested and ready for Tuesday evenings…For the next six weeks, please really try to focus in and finish the work for this course.”
Some background here: At the beginning of the semester I was getting terrible migraines (because I needed bifocals, as it turned out) and missed several classes, which is a huge deal in my program–classes only meet once a week, for three hours. I was asked to consider a medical leave, which is was, but then a couple of days later I discovered at my eye exam that my need for bifocals was causing my migraines. So I decided to stay in the class, and my prof and the Director agreed, as long as a gave him (the Director) a signed statement saying that I will make the class a top priority and not miss any more classes. Which I did. Then I get an email repeating almost verbatim what he said before. After I was so sick I had a fever of 101, hideous chills and sweats, etc., and I still showed up for class.
He did reiterate in his note that the faculty support me in finishing my degree, and that he knew I was a good student. But most of the letter seemed to imply that when I had problems finishing classes before–because of migraines, fibromyalgia, neck surgery, and a couple of nasty depression relapses–it was because I wasn’t focusing enough. Wasn’t trying hard enough. I have always really liked him, and I am feeling a bit…crushed, that he seems to think I’ve been slacking off in the past.
Sometimes, I wish people knew how much courage it takes to get up in the morning, knowing I’m going to be in pain all day. And I realize I may be projecting some of my insecurities on to this email. I do feel insecure a a good share of the time: if I just tried harder, couldn’t I beat this thing? (Well, things, in my case.)
I need more spoons.
However, one of my favorite authors did come to my rescue:
One of the most beautiful ways for spiritual formation to take place is to let your insecurity lead you to the Lord. Natural hypersensitivity can become an asset; it makes you aware of your need to be with people as it allows you to be more willing to look at their needs (Henri Nouwen)
I could do with a little less hypersensitivity these days, though. It’s hard, as right at the moment I’m in the midst of a fibromyalgia flare and feeling very fragile thanks to my depression and PTSD. Now I have to figure out how to hand my insecurities and doubts about myself over to God. And my therapist.
Does anyone else out there feel fragile, like the least little thing will make you break? Or that if you just pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, as the saying goes, that you could be well?
Edit:I may have spoken too soon–at the end of the letter he tells me how glad he is I am in the Program. But this is still a good lesson on how deep my insecurities run.
I once, years ago, had a terrible experience with EMDR. It is powerful stuff. I had a therapist who was harsh and pushy and obviously not well-trained in the techniques for using EMDR in therapy.
I don’t remember much of the abuse, or the rape. I was so traumatized that my memories remain fragmented, unprocessed by my brain.
But they are still there.The guilt, the shame, the crummy self-esteem, the grief…
I’ve made huge strides in therapy over the last twenty years. But I cannot really get past the trauma stored in the little gray cells of my mind. Hey, I can’t even deal with losing my beloved mom and dad, and they’ve been gone for 7 and 21 years, respectively. So, I am trying EMDR this summer. My therapist recommended I wait until I am with class for the spring before starting; it can cause nasty PTSD flares, and I don’t want to deal with class and trauma simultaneously.
I am frightened, though. I don’t want to deal with those memories. I’d much rather my brain just pack them away and let me get on with my life. I keep repeating to myself the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” So because I want to live my life fully, instead of cowering in the shadows waiting for the next trigger to spark a flare out of seemingly nowhere, I will face my fears, and do the thing I think I cannot do.
Please, please don’t let the Fort Hood shootings increase the stigma that already surrounds PTSD. The shooter had never even seen combat. People with PTSD are far more likely to self-harm that they are to hurt others.
I think my migraines have totally addled my brain. I’ve had them all week, just when the A to Blogging Challenge began. I couldn’t find my blog on their Linky list, so I think I might have been removed for not posting. I DID post briefly yesterday about the Challenge, then removed my post because I thought I’d been taken off of the list; I just happened to look at my stats today, however, and I had five visits to that post yesterday. So. I will do the Challenge, starting today. I have to post every day this month except Sundays. So I will post today, starting with “E” and my theme is Healing.
I plan to recount my journey, post about where I am now, and add photos, other images, and quotes (I love quotes, especially poetry) along with a heavy dose of spirituality, the occasional prayer, some tips and tricks I have found that help. I should note here that I am writing about healing in general but also specifically about my struggles with severe PTSD and major depression, along with back surgeries, cervical spine disease, infertility, chronic migraine, and last but not least, fibromyalgia.I also hope to begin a resource list.
I am going to go ahead and post the badge and links to the Challenge even though I might not be officially a part of it. I am looking forward to discovering new bloggy friends from the list (the one I don’t think I am on anymore, lol). I also hope to post a couple of times the first few days to add posts from letters A to D. And next year, hopefully I will be more together and start blogging with “A” on April 1st!
And hopefully, even if I’m not officially part of the Challenge, my posts might help some of my friends out there who are going through a rough stretch.
(Warning: This post may not be appropriate for little kids! This is a no-apologies, spill-my-gutspost.)
I have lived almost all of my life with twin monsters in my closet: shame and grief.
Welcome to the wonderful world of my post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. The monsters showed up when I was six, and have lingered, stubbornly, often undercover, in the depths of my brain, my heart, my very being.
I was molested, technically gang-raped, by a couple (?) of older girls when I was about six, in the school bathroom during lunch recess. At the nice Catholic school my parents scraped and saved to send me to. I don’t remember much. What I do remember is in a form like snapshots in time: me crying, them laughing, it hurting, the tiles of the bathroom floor, the smell of disinfectant. And the harder I cried, and called for my mommy, the more they laughed.
I don’t blame them anymore, not really, although my anger at what they stole from me…And what this did to my parents, there is not just anger, there is fury beyond words..
Yet I know that second and third grade girls do not make this stuff up on their own. And I know that a small percentage of abused children go on to become victimizers themselves. Why this happens, though, I don’t know.
I never told anybody, of course; this was the mid-1970s, and no one talked about things like that much then. Ironically, my mom had warned me about men–including uncles, neighbors, etc. But what mom in 1974 would have thought she needed to warn her innocent little first grader about older kids at school? I think it happened more than once, but I’m not sure. As I said, I don’t remember much. But I do remember, vividly, the sense of shame that covered me like an invisible shroud for the rest of my childhood. My young adulthood. And now, my middle age. (45 is middle-aged, right?)
I love the picture above because I’m happy, you can tell because my smile reaches my eyes. I’ve destroyed a number of pictures from the rest of my life because even in the pictures where I’m smiling, it’s an empty smile. My smile doesn’t reach my eyes, doesn’t come anywhere close.
The shame. I’d say that it follows me everywhere, but it’s a part of me. I wonder, if the shame disappeared, would I still exist? Peel away my skin, muscle, bone, it’s everywhere, festering. Especially in my mind and my heart.
I realized this today when someone I care about and respect became angry at me. Of course, I immediately began to cry, I always do. the harder I try to stop, the harder I cry. And I had one of those Aha moments: I understood, in the flash of a moment, that it was my shame taking over. Taking over me, my thoughts, my body, even, so that I felt ashamed and guilty for taking up space on this earth. And I went right into flashback mode.
My flashbacks are located purely in my body; I thought I was going crazy when I had my first one at age 19 until a therapist explained to me that our bodies do actually store memories, and that is exactly what I was having. Body memories. They last anywhere from a few minutes to hours to days, and during them, I feel as though I am being raped. I have the physical sensation that someone is violating me. I have never been afraid of going to hell. Not only because I believe in God’s overwhelming love and mercy, I also know I have paid my dues, and more.
And the grief. It is, as psychologist and PTSD expert Bellruth Naparsteck writes in her book (which I highly recommend) Invisible Heroes: Survivors of Trauma and How They Heal:
The emotional pain of post-traumatic stress is the archetypal, beyond-reason. It’s the anguish of Oedipus tearing out his own eyes, the howling fury of Medea murdering her children, the outraged betrayal of Antigone digging up her brother with her bare hands. It is outsize, abnormal, crazy suffering.
My twin pals, shame and grief. And then there is the impotent rage and terror that are so “outside the range of ordinary emotional experience, and they overwhelm the ordinary capacity to bear feelings,” according to Judith Herman in her groundbreaking book, Trauma and Recovery. I’m quoting experts now because I’m afraid no one will believe how agonizing PTSD is.
I am going to try a treatment called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization something-or-other) that is intense but has had excellent results. I am afraid, though, to face my monsters head on. What if they win?