Posts Tagged With: trauma

Day 2111: Say it isn’t so

“Say it isn’t so” is

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Say it isn’t so that people get hurt at the opera.

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Say it isn’t so that people we love leave.

Say it isn’t so that big brother is watching us.

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Say it isn’t so that the sun will become our enemy, as average temperatures rise around the world.

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Say it isn’t so that our cries for help go unheeded.

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Say it isn’t so that somebody put these bumper stickers on his big SUV.

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Say it isn’t so that so many people are traumatized by abuse.

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Say it isn’t so that Daryl Hall turned 72 yesterday.

Say it, please, in a comment below.

Say it isn’t so that I would ever forget to thank all those who help me say what’s so important to me in these posts and — of course! — YOU.

 

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 21 Comments

Day 1754: I can’t get over it

I can’t get over how many people I see in group and individual therapy who’ve been sexually, physically, and emotionally abused.

One of those people recently borrowed and returned this book I have in my office:

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In both of  my therapy groups yesterday, everybody shared thoughts and feelings about personal experiences of abuse.

I can’t get over people’s resilience, too.

I also can’t get over how “Get over it!” never helps people get over anything.

 

I can’t get over taking and sharing photos on this blog.

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I can’t get over how the sink at work is always clogged.

I can’t get over how many people read this blog.

I can’t get over my gratitude for you!

 

Categories: personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Day 209: Two sides of the same coin

This post was inspired, somehow, by watching the show “Breaking Bad” with my son and my bf last night.

Not sure what I’m going to write today. That’s not an unusual situation when I sit down to write a post, but it’s true, even more so, this morning.

Several years ago, when I facilitated writing groups, at a Psychiatric Day Program, I would often suggest that people write freely without editing. Sometimes I suggested people write with their non-dominant hand.

Not sure how to “free-write” with my non-dominant hand when I’m typing, today! But I will do my best.

I’m noticing that my left leg is bouncing as I’m writing this.

One of the people in one of my therapy groups, last week, pointed out that my foot was bouncing — air-tapping — when I was making a point that felt important.

Later in that same group, when we were doing a writing exercise about the topic of “Worry,” I made the suggestion that somebody, who was stuck, try “free writing” and maybe try writing with their non-dominant hand. They kept writing with the same hand, but the suggestion seemed to help.

I think the bouncing leg/tapping foot thing is a sign of two sides of the same coin: Fear/Anticipation. Anxiety/Energy.

I’m not sure if my leg and foot are bouncing and tapping more lately, or if I (and others) are just noticing that more.

Right now, I want to write about something that happened last week, when I woke up in the middle of the night and had trouble getting back to sleep.

When that happened, I tried something new, based on what I’ve read so far of this book (which I’ve referenced in a previous post, here):

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The author of that book, Peter Levine, writes about how people who have experienced trauma (and he says that many of us have experienced some form of trauma) often have the normal, animal physiological responses to that trauma frozen in their bodies.

I often think of the “deer in the headlights” response, when I read his book:

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Peter Levine also cites the “Flight or Fight” fright reaction.

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(Note: The above illustration came from a blog called “The Atomic Meme,” in a post about the biology of stress.)

Peter Levine, in “Waking the Tiger,” says that our primitive, protective reactions to fear-inducing traumas get stuck in our bodies.

I am not sure how Peter Levine is going to “prescribe” — in his book — how people dispel those frozen impulses. I haven’t gotten that far, in my reading.

But I came up with my own prescription, in that middle of the night, last week, when I couldn’t sleep.

Here’s what happened: I woke up and the calf muscles in my legs were hurting me. They were painful. They were tight.

Why were my legs doing that, I wondered? It was possible that I had walked too much that day, in too-new shoes. It was possible that I needed to drink water. It was possible that I needed more potassium.

All of these were possibilities. The reality was: I couldn’t get back to sleep, no matter what I tried.

And I thought about something I had read in the book: Peter Levine’s life-changing experience as a treater of trauma.

Here are some excerpts of how he describes that important encounter, in “Waking the Tiger”:

I was asked to see a woman, Nancy, who was suffering from intense panic attacks.

She appeared paralyzed and unable to breathe.

I became quite frightened.

I had a fleeting vision of a tiger jumping toward us.

I exclaimed loudly, “You are being attacked by a large tiger. See the tiger as it comes at you. Run toward that tree; climb it and escape!” To my surprise, her legs started trembling in running movements. she let out a blood-curdling scream.

She began to tremble, shake, and sob in full-bodied convulsive waves.

She recalled a terrifying memory from her childhood. When she was three years old she had been strapped to a table for a tonsillectomy. The anesthesia was ether.

Nancy was threatened, overwhelmed, and as a result, had become physiologically stuck in the immobility response.”

So, when I couldn’t get back to sleep, after a couple of hours, my legs still cramping (they felt like they were saying, “We want to run!!”), I decided to try an experiment.

I got out of bed, in the dark, and stood there, thinking about that passage above.

My son was asleep downstairs. My boyfriend was awake, downstairs. The cat was downstairs, too. So I knew I wouldn’t be frightening anybody with my experiment. No one would be able to hear me, I was sure.

As is often true when I do a mindfulness exercise, I wasn’t sure what exact form this experiment would take. I gave myself the following instructions, “Run as hard and fast as you can, in place, like your life depends upon your running, on your getting away from what you’re scared of.”

And I ran in place, really, really fast. I didn’t scream. I didn’t need to. The running was intense, hard, and fast.

I didn’t “get anywhere” because I was running in place. But in ways, I covered a lot of distance. I released a lot of energy. And I felt like I might be able to get back to sleep.

When I went back to bed, my legs weren’t hurting as much. They felt a lot better.

A little while later, I was still awake, and my legs still felt stiff. So I tried that exercise one more time.

Then, I tweeted the following:

Cure for insomnia + leg cramps + anxiety + weight gain = Run like you’re being chased by monsters. Rest, repeat.

And I went back to sleep.

Now, I want to end this blog post, so I can meet my old friend, Barbara, on time. (I’ve mentioned Barbara, before, including this post about some “monsters.”)

Thanks to Peter Levine, tigers, “Breaking Bad,” my son, my boyfriend, Barbara, and to you, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Day 161: Tales of Tigers

Tiger Tale # 1

When I was a little kid, my parents went away on a trip. They brought home, as a gift for me, a Steiff puppet, that looked a lot like this:

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I was apparently unfamiliar with the fine points of animal classification at that age, because I named it “Tiger,” despite the telltale lack of stripes on its fuzzy little body. Tiger became my favorite toy. I slept with Tiger and often carried him around with me. As we say in the psychology business, Tiger was a transitional — or comfort — object. Or, as one might say in any business, I loved Tiger very much.

One of my main memories of Tiger is — of course — a scary one (since those are one type of memory that tends to stick). My family and the family of my mother’s best friend were visiting New York City. I was carrying Tiger with me, and Richie — the son of my mother’s friend, who was a little younger than I — grabbed Tiger away from me, yelled, “I’m throwing this off the top of the Empire State Building,” and ran away. I remember being so scared and upset, in that moment, standing frozen and alone, both Tiger and Richie gone.

I can’t remember details about what happened next, except for vague memories of Richie catching some hell about that. And I know that Tiger was returned to me, because here he is:

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Two things you might note about Tiger today. (1) He is hangin’, these days, with his own transitional object and (2) the top of his head is particularly fuzzy. The latter is due to his needing corrective surgery years ago, after being placed on the top of a lamp, so he could listen to a little girl practice piano.

Tiger Tale # 2.

When I was 10 years old, and had my first major heart surgery at Children’s Hospital, I know I didn’t have my comfort object, Tiger, with me. People probably thought I might lose him. Or maybe there were other rules about that. I know there were rules, during those days, that prevented my parents from being with me there, outside of normal visiting hours. (Things have changed, quite a bit, regarding parents and children and hospitals, since 1963.)

My mother told me a story, later, about sitting at my bedside, soon after that surgery, during regular visiting hours. I had fallen asleep. Suddenly, I stiffened. As my mother described it, “You went stiff as a board. Then, you yelled, ‘I have a tiger in me! A tiger!!'”

My mother was freaked out and frightened by that, I know. Again, I don’t remember the details that followed.

That tale has always stuck with me. My assumptions about that — then and now — include these: I was in pain. I felt like violence had been done to me (and my world). I was probably scared and angry.

One thing I’m noticing now: Just like with my Steiff puppet, I used the word “tiger” not-exactly-correctly, to name something important to me.

As I’m revisiting this story today, I’m glad I didn’t yell out the name of another ferocious thing with fangs and claws — like Bear, Beast, or Monster. Instead, I used the name of something I already loved.

In a lot of ways, I’m still making sense of that moment.

For example, this is a book I’ve been reading lately:

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I bought this book, years ago, because of the title. Since then, it’s been recommended by several people, as an effective way to work with people dealing with PTSD symptoms. I’ve resisted reading it, until now. (Also, I CANNOT hold on to the first word in the title of that book. Whenever I mention it to somebody — a healer, or somebody who wants to heal — I can never remember the verb. In my mind, I struggle: “Taming the Tiger?” “Turning the Tiger?” “Stirring the Tiger?” And I look it up, every time, to discover that first word, anew.)

The time is here for me to look more closely at that tiger. And even wake it, in some way.

Something that helps me feel braver and more ready: I’ve always loved cats, of all kinds. Big ones. Little ones. Wild ones. Tame ones.

Including this tiger-striped one, who watches me as I write:

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Thanks to all, for reading today.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Day 121: Why I relate to the Boston Carjacking “victim”

This blog post is dedicated to a wonderful, amazing member of “my team,” Carol.

I woke up this morning at 4 AM.  (Why am I doing that? I’m working on it, people.)

Almost immediately, I came up with these ideas for blog posts today:

  1. Fear of humans — and other creatures —  loving me too much. (I’m not ready, I decided, to write about THAT, yet.)
  2. “What’s in a Name?” (about what it’s like to have a name that nobody can pronounce or spell and which some people seem to make fun of).

I had decided on the latter topic (thanks to my childhood friend, Debbie, with whom I’ve recently reconnected via Facebook and blogging here).

Before I started writing, I took a quick look at the news headlines at cnn.com.  (Why, oh why, am I doing that?)  (I’m working on it, people.)

And I saw this article, titled “Carjacking victim recalls differing demeanors of  bombing suspects.”

I would like to make this a short blog post, since I think there’s A CHANCE I might be able to fall back asleep for a little while. So I would like to present two quotes from this cnn.com article and confess about why I relate to these excerpts.

Okay? Here we go …

Danny had stopped his vehicle to send a text when Tamerlan walked up and tapped on the window. The suspect, allegedly carrying a handgun, opened the door and got into the passenger seat.

When I was 22 years old,  I was driving back to where I lived with my roommate Barbara, in an apartment in Cambridge. It was late at night.  My memory is that I had  been visiting with my long-time friend, Jon, and we had been talking about our relationships with other people, as well as other topics. (By the way, believe it or not, Jon appeared in my blog post, a few days ago, here.)

After I parked my car, in back of my apartment building,  and got out of it, there was a man waiting for me.  As soon as I saw him, my heart sank.  Sure enough, he meant me harm. He took me into my car. I was sitting in the passenger seat.

Under questioning by Tamerlan, Danny played up being Chinese and tried to humanize himself by talking about cell phones and family. Danny told CNN he felt being Chinese helped save his life.

That’s exactly what I tried to do with this guy, in 1975:  “humanize” myself, because I had recently read an article — in Newsweek, I think — about how rape was an act of rage. What I got out of that article was this: one thing that might help me survive would be to humanize myself to the rapist. So, I said everything I could think of, in service of that.  And I told him that I had a pacemaker and to be careful.  And he stopped. And I said, “I’m scared.” And he said, “I’m scared for you, too.”  And I had no idea what that meant, when he said that. I thought I was still in danger.

But, I wasn’t.  He left, soon after that.

During the carjacking, Danny thought about a girl in New York whom he really liked.

He thought he’d never see her again.

I thought about my roommate, Barbara, asleep upstairs in our apartment. I thought I would never see her again.

I did. I saw her the next morning.  Now, she is my biggest supporter, as I write this blog every day.

Wow.  That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you what’s most amazing to me, right now:  Maybe this topic IS related to topic # 1 (see above)  (as well as to how I can be scared by other people’s anger).  (I’m working on both of those, people!)

It’s incredible what happens, sometimes, when you are “putting it into words.”*

Thanks for reading these words today, dear readers.

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* This is a personal “shout-out,” to my faithful reader,  Lena.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Day 110: Arrrghh! I might still be in this guy’s movie

Writing this blog, this year, has turned out to be therapy for me. And I’ve especially needed This Writing Therapy, this past week, since I live — and work — in Boston.

Yesterday, I wrote about how weird, how awful, it was for me, that all the scenes on TV —  as they hunted for the Boston bombing suspect — were so friggin’ familiar.

And that surrealism continued throughout the day, after I published the post in the morning.  Every place the media went, every place they set up their cameras — all were super familiar to me.  I recognized everything.

And the climactic scene, last night, in Watertown?  Hovering in the background, as the news media people waited, was my favorite diner.

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The Deluxe Town Diner in Watertown. I’ve spent countless hours at that diner.

My favorite t-shirt, which I wear when it finally gets warm enough in these parts (like now!),  is from that diner.

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All the people I love in the world?  Most of them have been to that diner with me.

I am grieving for that diner, right now, in a way. I feel very sad, as I’m writing this —  for how that diner — and all those other familiar things —  have been tainted, in memory, by the violence in and around Boston this week.

But I’m also mad right now, as I’m writing this.

(Anger is part of grieving, too, which you may already know.)

Here’s why I’m angry, right now.  I thought this was over (for me).   Like most people, last night, I was relieved when they captured the guy, and he was alive. The media told us he was on his way to a Cambridge Hospital.   It was over.  The healing could begin.

And I woke up this morning, eager to write this blog post.  Eager to write about lots of things I’ve learned, from this experience.

I love when I’m in that place, of eagerness to learn.

I’ve blogged about something, several times this year (because it’s important for me to remember).   When I’m feeling bad — helpless, powerless, depressed — my own personal experience of  “traumatized” — I forget something. I forget that I will get through that bad period.

But I always do.   I  always move through the bad times and come out the other end, with lots of gifts.  Those gifts always include some sort of wisdom — things I’ve learned that I can apply to my journey through life.

This morning, when I woke up, I thought I was through the Bad Time — the time when things feel out of sync, unfamiliar, scary, overwhelming, confusing, shocking — of this Boston Trauma.

But I’m not.

Now, I’m reading that the media is reporting that the guy might be at the hospital where I work.

So when I go back to work on Monday (after missing work yesterday, because my home was on lock-down), I’m assuming that my world will look different.  The media will be there.  The police will be there.

When I was talking to people — staff and patients —  last week, at the hospital where I work, I could see that people were traumatized by the proximity of the pain of the explosions.  Some of these people had run in that Marathon.  Almost everybody knew somebody who was in the race or watching the race.

And, according to the media, several of the severely injured people from the bomb blasts were at the hospital where I work. Staff talked a lot about how we could help others — and ourselves — deal with the nearness of all this.

I am so angry at “the bombing suspect” (as the media calls him) right now. I’m so angry I can’t even go there — write about it —  right now.

I’m especially angry that I might still be in this guy’s movie.

I’m also angry at the media — the ones who are making this friggin’ movie.  I’m especially angry about the misinformation that the media puts out there. I’m angry about the mistakes they sent out over the airwaves — throughout this experience that overtook my home — without ever owning their mistakes.

Digression about Why I’m So Pissed at The News Media

As I wrote,  earlier this year  (regarding how Weather Forecasters Never Admit When They’re Wrong, here),  it drives me up the wall when people promote speculation as fact. I don’t like when people  say they’re sure about something, when they’re not sure. And I don’t like it when they don’t own their mistakes.

The more powerful the people are who promote Speculation as Fact — the more angry I get. I judge it as irresponsible – because it hurts more people.

That drives me up the wall because I, personally, am soooooo careful to  say: I Am Not Sure About This.  That is a value of mine — to own when I don’t know something. I don’t want to mislead people. I don’t want to use my power — my expertise — to give somebody the wrong information.

The 24-hour News Media?  That doesn’t seem to be a value of theirs, at all. And I can understand the forces that dicate their being that way — that viewers want to know what’s going on, that they don’t have time to fact check, etc. etc.  But it still drives … me … up … the …. wall.

End of This Digression

So, right now, I’m assuming that my place of employment — the location where I get to do work I love — might be crawling with the media on Monday, when I go back there. Lots of law enforcement around, too.

Can you picture it?  Imagine what that might be like?

I’m imagining this: Bright lights, armed people.

The volume — and the visuals — turned WAY UP.

Dear readers, I was so ready for my world to start looking normal again.

For me, it might still be Trauma Central, on Monday. Because this is how I am defining Trauma, right now. It’s when the familiar and the safe becomes strange and frightening. It’s when we have trouble seeing past that, to a return of normalcy.

Damn it!

Well, as my sister said to me this morning, if he is there,  he won’t be there for long.  That helped — to look ahead to when my personal healing can begin.

And it’s a relief to know, that for many people around me — the people who were “locked-down” yesterday, the people who recognized the locations on TV yesterday, the people for whom the Boston Marathon was a comforting touchstone, the people whose sense of reality was disturbed in any way by the bombings here on April 15 — the healing process DID begin, last night. It began with the capture of the suspect, last night, in Watertown, MA.

I felt that relief, last night, too.  And I guess — I know —  that I will feel it again.

And for the rest of this weekend, I can try to help that healing process along, before I might need to return to the Familiar/Unfamiliar at work on Monday.

I will use those things that help me,  this weekend.

I’ll be more in the moment. (I’m not at the hospital, now!)

I’ll listen to music I love.

I’ll walk around my no-longer-locked-down town, and take in all those beautiful flowering trees — the ones I wait all year to see.

I’ll connect to people I trust.

I’ll talk about it.

And I’ll write about it, here.

Thanks for reading, as I do.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Day 109: 7:09 AM These guys are turning my world into a violent movie

I live in one of those communities, shut down, right now, by the escaped Boston Marathon bomber being on the loose.

I’m writing this as I’m watching this on TV.  I assume many of you share this with me — seeing these scenes.

It’s hard to feel safe right now.  Again, as on Monday, I am getting messages from people who are NOT here, asking me if I’m okay.  I appreciate people reaching out.  That does help.

I just got a phone call from the local police, telling us not to leave our homes.  I am picturing this guy, roaming the streets, becoming more desperate, perhaps about to break in to my home.

My bf came downstairs, while I was in the kitchen, and I jumped. I jumped out of involuntary fear.

Every place that is shut down, right now, is a place where I’ve lived, worked, or gone to school.

As I am writing this, the media are showing “an unfolding scene” in Kenmore Square, another place I’ve spent many, many normal, pre-2013 Marathon Day hours.

The whole world is watching, as the media — right now — is filming this “movie”, this story, filled with speculation and fear, with “tension so high” (I am quoting the TV commentator, as I am watching too, right now).   I’m in a movie I didn’t choose — that I didn’t want — right now.

I recognize all the scenes they are showing, on TV —  as these two guys have been wreaking more havoc– these guys, whose movie I am apparently in, right now.

I’ll say it.

This feels traumatic, on some level.  This is — in the moment — changing my world in ways I cannot control. It is making my world look different  It is making my world — all these familiar touchstones of my entire daily life — look dangerous.

I am in the first stage of trauma, I guess. Shock.  Not understanding.  Trying to make meaning, in the midst of violent chaos which also FEELS VERY FAMILIAR, but in a new way. What’s being reported by the media — more bombings, shooting, escapes, chases — are familiar to me from movies.  The location, the geography, the visuals, are super familiar to me, from every day life.

I don’t know about you, but I get really affected, when I see a local scene I recognize in a friggin’ movie.

This is new, though. Not sure how it’s going to affect me.  I am aware of lots of people, all around me, being affected — being changed by a new experience.

This will have an effect, for a while.  I’ll see it in myself, in others who live where I live. I’ll see it, in my work, as a psychotherapist, who works at one of the affected hospitals.

I don’t know how this story is going to end, but I do know that I’ll be seeing the effects.

I know that I — and lots and lots of other people — will be trying to make meaning of this, in order to regain a sense of “enough safety.”

Like I am trying to make sense, right now.

I wrote on my Facebook page, earlier this week, the following:  “I’m grateful I live in a world where I can blog. Really.”  I wonder if people knew what I meant?  I wonder if that makes sense to you, right now.

When I was working with people in groups, yesterday, we were making lists of “What Helps Right Now.”  People named these things:  “Distracting,”  “Helping Others,” “Taking Care of Myself,”  “Not watching TV”, “Connecting with others.”

My addition to the list?  “Writing about it.”

Here.

Thanks for reading.

Categories: personal growth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

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