Athlete

I’ve never been known as an athlete.  I was once a cheerleader, and spent a brief amount of time on a dance team in college, but those were not considered “sport” when I was younger, but flights of fancy that happened to include incredible feats of balance and coordination.

The first time I went whitewater rafting was the first time that I ever put my body anywhere near the category of athletic.  As I was hurtling down the rapids—of a class far more challenging than I was prepared for, since my sister and I just told the company guiding us down the gorge that we were experienced rafters to avoid the possibility we weren’t allowed to participate—and paddling like a motherfucker, I suddenly realized that my body was capable of great things.  I was an athlete if I could make it down that river without drowning.  I was an athlete if I loved hurtling down that river in that rubber boat, paddling like a motherfucker.

I think in that moment I became a little more brave, and felt a little less “breakable” and fragile.

I’ve always had this strange dichotomy of fragile and strong in mind.  I feel broken and small and like I could shatter at any moment and never be put back together again, in true Humpty Dumpty fashion.  But I also know that there is this visceral and strong animal that resides within, ready to attack whenever needed.  I’m somehow both the predator and the prey.

Today, as I was joking with one of the trainers at my gym about my poor basketball performance in the past, saying, “There are some things no amount of practice can perfect—like my free-throws”, he responded with the assertion that I am an athlete.

When I pressed him for proofs, as an overweight and disabled woman who feels like shattering pretty much all the time lately, he said that all the proof anyone needed was to watch me work out.

Let me be clear.   By “work out” he means me using a band and my own body weight to build atrophied muscles and upper-body strength.  I don’t do some crazy CrossFit shit like some of my friends.  I don’t run.  I don’t use weights.  I don’t train with somebody yelling at me to push harder and go farther.  I do small and metered movements, always checking and double-checking that my form is perfect and my body isn’t taking on too much stress or strain.  I am slow.  I am unbalanced, and need my trainer to catch me on occasion, because I have toppled over completely.

But here is the thing:  I am an athlete.  I approach this process with the determination and the drive that any athlete would, even though my body places so many limits on my performance.

I am a girl with fight, even when I am frail and fragile.

So, I guess what I am trying to say is that there isn’t really a dichotomy at all.  What I am trying to say is that I can be both things.  I can be fragile and I can be fierce.  And I can even be those things simultaneously.

Some days I feel like I am small and porcelain on the inside, but tall and steel on the outside.  And that isn’t always a healthy thing, because sometimes I hide the vulnerability too well, and give people false impressions.  But, often, it is a helpful thing to be both fragile and fierce.  Because I don’t know that I could face the day if I didn’t have some shell that was protecting the precious parts at the core.  I don’t know that I could walk my street, take the bus, sit in waiting rooms, see doctors, have tests and imaging and procedures and surgeries, pick up groceries, or go to the gym without that fierce part of me.  But I also know that the soft and subtle and sensitive parts of me give me the compassion and humility that is so needed to be a decent and loving and caring person.

Strength can be weakness.  Weakness can be strength.  It all depends on the situation, and the perspective, and the purpose, and the mindset.

And I can be both weak and strong.  So can you.

It took me a bit to embrace what that trainer said today.  I didn’t want to immediately agree that I am an athlete.  I wanted to protest and to point to all the frailty and disability and challenge that resides in my life and my person.  But when I considered it a moment longer, I knew that he was correct.  I knew that the strong, hard-working, brave woman that I am also shines at moments, and that I don’t only have that frailty and disability and challenge.  I also have milestones reached, dangers navigated, brokenness healed, and struggles overcome.

I will always be disabled, barring several miracle cures being discovered in my lifetime.  But I will also always be the athlete.  I will always have strength of mind and will.   I will always have a strong sense of justice.  I will always seek to protect what is good and eradicate what is unhelpful or damaging.  I will always approach my wellness and my loves and my passions with drive and determination.  I will always be a fierce fighter.

We like to box things up, and divide and contain things.  It seems neater somehow, and less messy.  But life isn’t really that way.

Life is this messy mixture of the good and the not so good.  Life is not dichotomies, but a doughy ball of mixed up ingredients that sticks to your fingers.  It isn’t meant to be broken down and divided and put in the appropriate category.  It is meant to be the mess.  And that means that the fragile and the fierce can be one and other and together and apart and melded and separated to infinity, but they are never going to be all or none.  They will stick to my fingers.  I will sometimes feel one way, and sometimes feel another way.  And sometimes I will feel both.

And the people who are in my life and in my inner circles will need to understand and acknowledge and accept that I am both things—the athlete and the disabled woman.  I am both, and I won’t cease to be both.

Right now, I don’t feel very athletic.  I have a headache.  My shoulders and quads are screaming in pain in tandem.  My hand and wrist are bruised.  My facia is tight in my right leg.  I am coated in pain relieving cream, and it isn’t relieving much pain.  I desperately need to stretch well, but I’m afraid if I lay out on the yoga mat, I will just fall asleep there and wake with a ridiculous patterned face too late to attend important meetings tomorrow.

Right now I feel small and broken, and a little like I might break down.

But I’m fine with that.  Because I know that my fierce self is in there somewhere beneath all of the uncomfortable surface.  And when I need her, she will emerge.

But, in this moment, the only ferocity I foresee is the fight over the covers and space on the bed between myself and the dog and the cat. I will win that fight.  I’m committed to winning that fight every night.

So, I head toward my bed with the aches of the day, but I know that I am and will continue to be the athlete.

Fight hard, my friends.  But don’t be afraid to fall and to fail and to freak out as well.  Be a complicated mess of dichotomous dough.  Life is better that way.

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Full House

When I was younger, I found myself in situations that were uncommon for most of the people I knew.  One such situation was that of being accused of harboring a runaway, and spending time “on the streets” and “on the run”.

A lot of people find this shocking when they hear about it for the first time.  It isn’t much of a secret, really—just one chapter in a storied past.  But I am a clear-headed, responsible, problem-solver when I am not suffering the effects of illness, and being on the run with fugitives seems really far from where I am in life now, or from my early years, so anyone who didn’t experience that unconventional middle, exhibits surprise when I candidly offer this as a part of my life no more or less affecting than any other part of the story.  In fact, while there were many terrible things happening around me during that period of time, some of my fondest memories also come from that time.

One of those memories is of a household that took me in.  I can’t even recall any of their names right now.  Maybe it will come to me at some point as I write.  But a couple, with a handful of kids of their own, took to “adopting” strays.  I was one of those strays.

Life in that household was strange and hard and fantastic.  You had to work to earn your keep.  As one of only three females in the home, I was tasked with cooking, cleaning, and generally working to keep the men-folk on their way to and from jobs that paid actual cash.  I took to calling the lot of young men my brothers and the one younger girl my sister.  And when the work was done and the bellies were filled, the fun came.  We used to sit around the gigantic dining table that couldn’t fit all of us around it.  We would crowd in.  Sometimes with me on the lap of the boy whom I had followed to this remote place, to reduce the number of chairs and the amount of elbow smacking that happens when too many bodies are in too small a space.  We would spend the evenings or the weekend afternoons playing penny poker.

I had never played poker until then.  And I wasn’t very good at it.  I’m still not.  But that didn’t matter much.  I started to pick up the lingo and would eventually be ready to call out the game as I dealt the hands.  I remember I had a fascination with one-eyed Jacks, so they would often enter into the picture whenever it was my deal.  And while I could tell them what we were going to play, the winning was not a thing I did often.

After I left that home, I don’t think I played poker again.  Not because the memories were not fond.  They were.  But because I really suck at poker.  It may have something to do with what my friend Scott once commented on—he said he liked preaching with me in his audience, because you could always tell by my face exactly what I thought of what he was saying.  I don’t have a poker face.  I have a lot of expressions, and I’m not all that good at hiding one with another.

When I left that home, it was because I left that beautiful bronze-bodied boy whose lap I used to inhabit.  And I didn’t feel bad about leaving him behind.  I had followed him there because, to my mind, he was a shelter during a time when being alone was dark and dangerous.  When I left, it was because I had been reminded of what true shelter should be.

A home filled with love and grace and acceptance was what I entered when I followed that boy to God-knows-where, Hickville, population 15.  And it was far from perfect.  Sharing bath water and cleaning up after a host of teenagers and sweating in the summer heat were not the moments that I longed for.  But being part of this rag-tag “family” helped me know what living without judgements looked like.

And that wasn’t something that my own family or my own community had been, growing up.  We were all about keeping up the appearances and judging the flaws and the failures.  My dad never really got caught up in that judgment, which is part of why we remained relatively close even in the times when I wanted to be far from and unconcerned with my biological family.  But he was the exception to a well-known rule.

When I was later married (to an entirely different body), I moved back to my hometown.  That marriage was followed by a prompt divorce.  And I felt the weight of that “failure” and the “failure” of being a single parent that followed.  But I didn’t let that burden break me.

Instead, I became that home I had left—the one with the table covered in pennies and the laughs and the love.  The knowledge that half of us in that household were avoiding the police for one reason or another never seemed to be a weight at all.  Failures were not a thing.  Choices happened, and the consequences of those choices happened, but that didn’t affect who we were and how we were viewed by the others.  Those were just choices and consequences.  Not character flaws.

My biological family still hasn’t fully grasped the concept of this love and grace and acceptance, and neither has the small town that we came from.  But there are many more attempts at showing that love and offering that acceptance than there have been in the past, and I am proud of and glad for that progress.

But for some time, my home needed to be that home, and my heart needed to be that heart—the one that wouldn’t hold court and make judgments, the one who accepted even the most “broken” of souls.  So, it was.  And I had more than one runaway girl living in my space, and I sold my wedding dress for pennies on the dollar to a girl whose parents wouldn’t support her marriage, and I fed a host of working men every evening, and I shut the door on a room filled with kids some nights, and I made my home the place where everyone belonged.

Lest you think I am painting myself as a saint, I also bought beer for minors, did a host of drugs, slept with some of those men, and traded off babysitting duty so that I could go out and drink a whole lot on the nights my own child was away.

But that is fine, because this is the home where we accept and love and extend grace.  And that is extended to me, as well as to any and all others.

Last week, my daughter started the slow process of moving back home by the end of the month.  Today, I extended an invitation for her friend to move in with me as well, crashing with my daughter or on the sofa, or the inflatable mattress if she prefers.  So, this household of one dog and one human is expanding once more.  We are becoming a full house.  Three women, one dog, and one to two cats, depending on the way that the situation unfolds.  And we probably won’t play poker. I still suck at poker, and we can’t hoard pennies, because we need to add them together and make them into quarters for the laundry.  We will probably have difficult conversations about the end of relationships and the challenges of the world.  We will probably drink ourselves silly at one point … hopefully, only one.  We will be in tight spaces and won’t get enough sleep and will fight over the bathroom.  But my home remains the place where we accept and love and extend grace.  So, it doesn’t’ matter why life is messy or how messy it is.  And it doesn’t matter how long these girls need to stay or how many times the pets fight or how many mouths there are to feed.  What matters is that there is space here.  There is a place here.

I don’t take in strays so much as just allow community to happen where it will.  I don’t consider the people who come to my door astray.  Many of them are less lost than some of the people in my history and life will ever be.  As my therapist likes to remind me, the family member who wants the status quo to stop being followed is often the healthiest and most honest member.  So, even I am a lot less lost than what you might imagine—especially if you have made a habit of judging me from your small, rural, Iowa town.

While I was conscious of opening my heart and my home, I was also conscious of those around me who would open theirs.  These people, along with What’s-his-name and Debbie (I’m now almost certain that her name was Debbie, and his was a one syllable name, possibly starting with an M?), became my shelter and modelled community in the best of ways.

Jessica, Brenda, Andrew, a bunch of willing babysitters, and Julie as I finished college, and Dave, Nic and Adam, Matt, Jen, and John and Misty in the Arizona years.  Allan and Carol, at various stages, Steph, Rhonda, Sarah, Elessa, a bunch of Postmas, and a handful of others in the small-town years.  My Dad, always, and my Mom, learning over the years and loving me with expressions I could believe and hold onto as she slipped away.  Today, it is my beloved Rayven, Luke and Ted, Erin (the bestie with a hundred besties) and Bryan, Rosie, Matt, Josh and Jessica (still and always), Julie (ever-faithful and loving), Adam (and even more Adam, because he never ceases to understand my heart) and Jackie, and a host of others who pay my bills and hear my cries and hold my hands. And who laugh with me around the table at every available opportunity.  And I keep building and keep adding and keep experiencing community with more and other.

Once you see it, this space where judgment ends and acceptance is whole and hearty, you can’t stop finding it.  You crave that community, in its purest form.  And you offer it as often as you are able.  The best thing in the world, the best part of humanity, the deepest love and the strongest bonds and the greatest truths happen here—in these full houses.

I’ll miss my privacy a little.

But I am so glad that I can still say, “I have a full house.”

Even while I suck at poker.

 

Sleepwalker

I once, according to my dad’s telling of the tale, came downstairs from my room, obtained a jar of jam from the refrigerator, took a spoon from the silverware drawer, and started to eat jam directly from the jar.  When Dad questioned me, and asked what I was doing, I became defensive.  Whatever was happening in my head, it was determined that jam eating in the wee hours was normal and not an offense of any kind.

And that is a fun little anecdote regarding the sleepwalking of my childhood.

There are many.

My dad also tells tales of other sorts of sleep disorder, however—sleep terrors and nightmares.

Sleepwalking is rare.  Estimates place the percentage of the population that completes complex action while asleep around 1 to 15.  The phenomenon is a sleep disorder, and it is usually associated with either sleep deprivation, stress, or both.  The combination of this disorder with those of nightmares and terrors is even more rare.  It is hard to say how many people might suffer from all three, because the one experiencing the events often has no recall of the events.

In the past few years, I started to sleepwalk again.  While I have no recall of the events, I have evidences of the events.  One morning, bread was laid out on the kitchen island, as though I were preparing to make a sandwich.  Another morning, I woke to toasted bread, still sitting in the toaster but stale and cold.  On yet another occasion, I woke to near-freezing temperatures and realized that I had turned the thermostat all the way down as I slept.

It wasn’t until I mentioned these events to my sleep specialist that I started to understand the presence of sleep disorders is directly related to stress.   And in my case, that stress is related to a loss of bodily autonomy through chronic sexual abuse and medical testing and treatment for bladder and kidney issues.  Usually adult sleepwalking is tied to and triggered by childhood stressors.  My sleepwalking (along with incontinence and suicidal thoughts) returned shortly after a visit from my brother, and repeated arguments that took place during that time.  The insistence that I do as he believed I should, and the lack of respect for me and my autonomy that such insistence belied, threw me right back into that childhood self with symptoms of extreme stress.

Getting along with my brother is an impossible task.  He wounded me in ways that can possibly (I hope) be forgiven, but can never be forgotten.  He created a vacuum in my life that sucked in all sorts of damage, abuse, and pain.  And while some would argue that the “victim card” isn’t a thing that I get to “play”, the fact is that I am a victim of horrible abuse that does not stop affecting me.  And having a perpetrator of abuses in my physical space, and having that perpetrator tell me what to do, is an impossible to ignore affront, whether it is meant to be or not.

People talk about “finding their inner child”, like it is a fun and freeing thing.  But my inner child is terrified, wounded, confused, and under mind-altering levels of stress.  I don’t want to find that—ever.  But I don’t get a choice, because that child finds me on a regular basis.  She returned in a blink of an eye after that visit with my brother.  And she didn’t leave.

I began sleepwalking again because that child started running the show while I slept—the early expression of my post-traumatic stress coming back into my experience.  This is often the case with sleepwalkers.  If we do it as adults, we likely also did it as children.

I don’t know that I eat jam from the jar in my sleep anymore.  But I am definitely exhibiting the stress that I did in childhood within the circadian patterns that I currently experience.

The nightmares I can make go away.

I didn’t know that was possible until a few years ago, when the nightmares were increasing, and the trauma of the past was leaching from me and leaving a trail of symptoms across my life.  It was at that point that I was finally properly diagnosed with C-PTSD.  And that diagnosis brought the beloved off-label use of blood pressure medication which stops the nightmares.  Or, to be more succinct, it stops me from engaging with the nightmares or remembering the nightmares.

Minipress, or prazosin, as a treatment for PTSD, was discovered incidentally by a Dr. Simon Kung at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  The medication had been around for decades, but it was not noted as an effective treatment for nightmares due to PTSD until 2012.  Thankfully, I receive medical care at a teaching hospital that uses cutting-edge treatments, and I started on prazosin mere weeks after my diagnosis. My brain can still engage with flashbacks and nightmares, but my body is prevented from interacting with that engagement, and I remain asleep and unaffected by the subconscious terror.  It still amazes me that this is possible, after having interacted with this terror for over 30 years.  I am in awe that we can simply shut off that terror during the night.  And I am extremely grateful for Dr. Simon Kung’s work to find, study, and disseminate the knowledge that I, and many others who suffer PTSD symptoms, can experience peaceful sleep.

While the medication doesn’t prevent me from sleepwalking, it makes my sleep much more consistent and much less traumatizing.  Having sleep, the restorative and balancing action your body requires, become a source of fear is a terrible thing.  And being able to participate in and enjoy sleep is nothing short of miraculous for my beleaguered and exhausted self.

I feel like this turned into a term paper, and not a blog post.  But it is important, apparently, for me to recognize and report about the challenge of suffering symptoms of stress and trauma during the night … and to present alternatives.

Because, as someone recently told me, people need to hear my stories.  And I am committed to the telling not just because I think it might assist others, but because speaking truth is freeing.  Expressing the challenge and the need and the struggle and the fight and the overcoming of obstacles and the strength and joy and relief of that overcoming is important.  It is such because my voice is my only chance at regaining the autonomy lost as a child.  My voice is the only thing that can offer that child some peace and restoration.  That young self, and my triggered adult self, both need to know and feel and trust that there is a path to good, and that we can walk that path and find that end.

I might make sandwiches or eat jam from the jar in the night for the rest of my life.  I might, just as easily, find the release of stress that I need to stop that sleepwalking from happening any longer.  And it is necessary for others to see this hidden-by-the-dark experience, and to validate that experience.

Because while I don’t fault those in my life for not knowing that I was expressing in my quirky sleepwalking moments the grave burdens of an abused child.  The science wasn’t there.  The advocacy wasn’t there.  The skilled psychiatric specialists were not there.  The only thing that my dad could see was a girl doing weird things—expressing the inexpressible in the ways that my subconscious self could.  And it couldn’t express it well enough, or loudly enough, or clearly enough to spare me the trauma … but at least I tried to express it in some way.

I can express it now.  I’m determined to express it now.

I’m determined to give that child a voice that can be heard, understood, and validated.  I’m determined to let her speak, to cry, to scream out the things that her jam-eating, sleepwalking, nightmare-having self couldn’t quite manage to express.

That little girl experienced chronic, escalating, sexual abuse.  That little girl also had doctors and nurses poking around in her most sensitive and sacred parts without any sort of trauma-informed care.  That little girl was lost in a sea of pain, and she nearly drowned in those deep and dark waters, as the waves beat her and threw her against the rocks.  That little girl needed to say that she was dying from the weight of trauma and shame and conflict and fear and confusion laid upon her tiny chest—crushing her ribs, puncturing her lungs, and making it impossible to breathe.

That little girl also needed others to hear her and to offer validation and to acknowledge the injustice and offer hope and comfort and help.  She still needs that.

I try to offer it to her.  But it is hard to trust just one voice (especially when so many deceptions have been spoken in your experience).  It is hard to assure her that she deserved safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.

It is hard to assure my adult self—this grown-up version of that girl—that she deserves safety and autonomy and privacy and justice and good.  It is hard to believe that my voice can make a difference.  It is hard to believe that I am heard.  It is hard to find validation.  It is hard to find hope and peace.

But that little girl fought hard to survive.

And I am going to keep fighting her fight.

Stubbornly Brave

There’s this space in my brain that is always filled by fear.

I don’t always look it, but I always feel it.

I remember once my friend, Adam, listed links to blogs of friends by offering them a word—a name of sorts that was meant to be a descriptive of the person bearing the link.

My word was BRAVE.

I’m the opposite of brave.  But today I realized that I am also the epitome of bravery.  Because I keep going—ever forward, ever onward, ever higher, ever deeper.  I keep going in the face of all of that fear.

It won’t ever go away.

You need to understand that as fully and completely as you are able.

I will have that space filled by fear for the rest of my mortal life.  Assuming there is a life that follows, I might still have it then.  There is this beautiful dream that all the wrongs of this world are somehow disappeared and unaffecting in the next.  I don’t know that I can believe in that.  Because it is a dangerous thing to believe in a future where the sickness and the pain and the struggle aren’t things.  I don’t know that we can be human and be without those things.  I know that view will upset a whole lot of people.  But I can’t care about that right now.

Because I also need to understand that this fear doesn’t go away.

I put on my “brave face” and I meet the world.  And I need to anticipate that this will be the thing that happens tomorrow, just as it did today … and the day before that, and the day before that.  I need to anticipate it so I can meet it in the best possible way.

I need to be mindful of it.  Because mindfulness is one of the few tools in my box that help manage the fear.

Sure, there is an off-label use of blood pressure medication that keeps nightmares and flashbacks at bay during the night.  Sure, I take anxiety medication and mood stabilizing drugs to make facing the world a little easier during the day.  But the only weapon in my arsenal that I can wield—the one thing that I can actively do, ironically, is to be mindful enough to not engage fear in the ways that the injury to body and mind have conditioned me to engage.

I suppose that some people might read this and think, “She talks about this all the time.”

And you would be incorrect.  But only because I rarely talk about it, which is why I often write it.  Because it needs to breach the dam, and it needs to spill over somewhere.  So, it finds the way through my writing.

Last week, in therapy (which totally fucking wrecked me, by the way), I realized that I am not making a lot of progress in some areas because I am still bowing to the pressure to keep other people’s secrets.  The fear is compounded by the fact that people don’t want me to be honest about what made that fear exist in the first place.

I’m deliberately vague.  I keep the ugly details buttoned up.  I let people believe what they will, instead of telling them the whole story.

Most of you probably think that when I talk about childhood trauma, I mean that people weren’t nice, or that I had to have surgery.  Many of you skim right past the ideas of that childhood trauma and determine that my struggle is one borne from my drug addiction, or my violent husband, or my violent boyfriend after.  None of you know about the times I was raped and thought it was my own fault (because victim blaming is so prevalent that you didn’t even need to know about it to shame me into believing my victimization emanated from my own actions).  Few of you know that I miscarried, once very far into my pregnancy, because I also thought that was somehow my fault.  Some of you I told about the things that happened behind closed doors, and most of you didn’t believe me, or covered your ears, or shamed me and isolated me and added to my pain.  And I let you believe whatever you will, because other people don’t want to look bad, or admit their own roles, or their own traumas.

Just let it go.  Just cover it up.  Just give it to Jesus.  Just move forward.  Just look to the future.

But it doesn’t go away.  It literally, physically, physiologically, cannot go away.

It doesn’t let go of me.

It doesn’t go away.

So, the words might not pour out on this page, but they will start to flow more often and with more freedom.  Because I am giving myself the permission to claim my story.  To tell my story.  To stop keeping secrets for the sake of others, because it is killing me.

I won’t die for you.  I won’t go out that way.  I won’t let your secrets harm me in any ways that I can prevent.  Because it doesn’t go away, but I don’t quit.

All of you know that I don’t quit.  I’m one of the most stubborn people on the planet, and probably more stubborn than most of whatever others might be on any other potential life-sustaining planets.

Here’s the thing:  Adam was right with his descriptor.  It is hard for me to see myself as brave when my mind is constantly assaulted by fight, flight, and freeze synapses and hormones.  But I am brave.  I am brave because I don’t quit.  I am brave because I am too stubborn to quit facing the demons.  I am brave because I dare to tell the story, and to live out my life on my own terms for once, and to find myself and my space and my desires and my need and my loves without the interference of other voices.  I am brave because I kept looking for my peace, even when the violence of others kept coming at me—still comes at me, on occasion.

The fear will always be filling that bit of my brain.

I will always be fighting against it.

I am not just stubborn because of that.

I am brave.

Hold on, everyone.  This ride is about to get bumpy.  But I will put on my brave face and meet the day, regardless.  Just like I did yesterday.

Breakthrough

Sometimes I write a whole lot of stuff and then I just file it away, never to be seen again.

Unless I die and someone figures out my laptop password, divulging all of the secrets within the “Current Writing Projects” folder, there are thousands upon thousands of words that will never be read by anyone.  And that assumes that whoever cracks my password bothers to read my work.

I often feel like writing for an audience makes my writing rather shitty.

In my undergraduate studies, I got a less than fabulous grade in my advanced expository writing course, even though many in the class considered me a fabulous writer.  But I didn’t follow the process that my professor so wanted me to adopt.  My first draft was never handed in on time, and my final draft was usually my first draft with more words tacked on the end.  His process, I believe, was not how I wrote well.

Now, that professor and his colleagues and his many protégés would likely argue that I can’t be writing well if I am still handing in rough drafts.   But I made it through two master’s degrees without a second draft.  And I still feel as though writing in ways that aren’t very stream-of-consciousness, throw-words-out-without-thinking, and blurt-whatever-comes-to-mind are ways that are less successful for me.

I may be wrong.

That happens surprisingly often, given those aforementioned multiple degrees.

But even if they are correct, and my writing would be improved by having a more traditional, tested process, I can’t seem to do it.  Or, more accurately, I can’t seem to love it.

My whole life is sort of like this, I think.  The more traditional and tested, the less enjoyment I experience.  I’ve always been the headstrong, impulsive, unbound type.  And the moment that people set expectations and made rules to hold me in, I suffered.  Some would imagine that the impulsiveness and the chaos of anarchy were what hurt me.  But I truly believe it was being caged that broke me, not being capricious or catapulting into life.

I know that some of this stems from the unhealthy personal history of which I sometimes share bits and pieces.  Feeling captive—being captive—made me desperate for freedom.  I needed to run.  I needed to fly.  I needed to be shot out past the orbit of Earth and end up in the sky, preferably somewhere amid Cassiopeia.  I’m not sure why.  The queen has simply been the place I wanted to be since we had a star-gazing event in the rural backyard of my grade 6 teacher.  That constellation beckoned.  The moment I could, I ran, I flew, I threw myself toward the heavens.

But there were always new sets of rules and people who tricked me into believing I wanted to be caged once more.

This weekend, I read a lovely bit of my daughter’s writing.  She wrote about me.  And she wrote about how I became tethered to the ground by my own body and mind—how I lost my confidence.

I spent all that time seeking to be free, and then my own body and mind caged me.  I finally broke out of the orbits of family, partner, religious tradition, patriarchy, and expectations that were not meant for my good but for my compliance, and the thing that pulled me back down was my chronic illness.

I haven’t been myself in a really long time.  Some days I don’t even know who that self is, or how to find her.  The weight of fatigue and pain and mental anguish grounded me in ways that nothing and no one else could.  And that devastates me.

And suddenly, all I want is to run, to fly, to be thrown to the heavens.  But I don’t even know how to begin.

Caged.  Subject.  Tethered.

Some would say that as age sets in we become more “grounded”, and they mean that in this sense where you gain stability and live out your years with calculated and wise decisions.  And when any of us stray from that trope, we are cast into another—the mid-life crisis sufferer.

I’m in that forty-something stage that may or may not be mid-life.  I’m not average, so I cannot expect that my life span will hit the average either, frankly.  And some people might think that my recent propensity for bright-colored hair or new tattoos or parties with my daughter and her friends or casually dating a string of inadequate suitors are symptoms of this mid-life crisis.  But those people would be wrong.

My desire to find myself again, and gain my strength, and live unfettered and free, and restore my confidence, and be the kind of woman I love to be is leading me down the road I am travelling.  And that is not a crisis.

That is a breakthrough.

That is me learning to own the parts of me that existed before and between cages.  That is me learning that the Christy who fought to be free is the Christy that is naturally occurring.  That is me learning to fly once more.

I may not be good at careful and calculated.  I may not be good at decorum and expectation.  But I am good.  And I am best when I am set free—allowed to embrace my own way, and to chase my dreams without the weight of expectations, rules, secrets, tethers, and ties.

I think that this journey began with me crawling from a pit of despair, and I have a long way to go before I can spread my wings, but I am on that journey.  My feet are on a path, and that path is leading to my best self—no matter what the critics say.

And I am starting to believe that I can one day make it back to the queen in the sky.  Soon I will remember how to fly.

This Is About That

The other night, I was watching the latest episode of How to Get Away with Murder.  And I won’t let loose any spoilers, because only asshats let loose spoilers from the best and most intense cliff-hanging shows.  (I’m looking at you, people on the train loudly discussing plots and outcomes that we financially challenged people cannot have experienced yet, because the movie hasn’t come out in the more accessible VUDU app format.)

But, spoilers and asshats aside, a character on the show the other night pointed out that childhood trauma was responsible for her pain and her questionable behavior.  And I cheered aloud and then began to cry.  Because Shonda Rhimes had brought me the validation that is so often missing from the recovery process when one is harmed as a child.  She brought me the truth that today is still about yesterday for those of us stuck in trauma.  She brought that truth to a huge viewing audience.

This is about that.

There are lots of people who misunderstand that way that trauma affects us.  And much of the misunderstanding is due to the fact that we want to avoid trauma like the plague.  We don’t like to feel it, or see it, or cope with it.  We just don’t like the messy and unsolvable and uncontrolled parts of life, and trauma, especially childhood trauma, is the epitome of unsolvable, uncontrolled mess.

I don’t have the luxury of avoiding that mess.  That mess is a part of my brain, and not just in the way that a habit is ingrained, but in the sense that my brain was physiologically and chemically affected by childhood trauma, resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder.  And PTSD throws that trauma in your face constantly.  It isn’t a matter of “letting go”, or “getting over it”.  It is a matter of brain formation and function that is far outside my control.

So, when Ms. Keating offered the idea that her present was infiltrated by her past trauma, I related with that.  I related with that HARD.

And then I was disappointed with the next character’s reply.  Even though I know that his reaction is a common one, it seemed to invalidate the pain of the present being tied to the past.  But it is.  It absolutely is.

This is about that.

I would guess that the number of people who have told me that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in (regardless of what that situation was or what choices I had made) is in the hundreds.  And the number of people who likely think but do not say that my choices are responsible for the situation I am in is probably in the thousands.

Those people are wrong.

This is the point where I would like to add that you should READ TO THE END BEFORE POSTING RAGE-INDUCED COMMENTS.

Those people are wrong because my present challenges are not simply a product of my choices, and because trauma has informed my situation for almost forty years.  And it still does.

Here’s the thing:  Your past informs your present.  It simply does.  There are numerous things outside of your control that may have shaped your life to date.  You were born in a particular place, and in a particular time.  Your parents, or lack thereof, shaped the way you viewed the world in your early years.  Your access to education determined much.  Your family finances determined much.  Your skin color, and the resulting prejudice or privilege, determined much.  And trying to pretend or argue away that influence is a futile thing—because we might not be tabula rasa, but we are definitely affected by the things that make up our early years, and we carry some of that with us always.

Now, having pointed to the ways that we all carry our past, I would like to return our attention to my own situation.  My situation is not the result of my choices alone.  My situation is the sum of many parts, but the most influential parts were the traumatic parts.  And my choices—the way that I interacted with the world—were influenced by that trauma.  This is about that. My present is informed by my past.  And every decision has been one made under duress, because of that lingering trauma.

Trauma, untreated, compounds and builds and becomes more and more traumatic.  Imagine you fall, and in doing so break a rib.  It hurts, but you don’t go in to the doctor for treatment, because you don’t see an external injury.  You walk about for a few days, with that pain still lingering, and then one day, while lifting something heavy, that broken bone shifts and punctures your lung.  Untreated trauma, even in a strictly physical sense, can lead to greater trauma.

My childhood trauma informed how I saw the world, how I saw myself, how I viewed trust and love and care and communication.  And that information was skewed in such devastating ways, that every interaction, for the rest of my life was affected by that trauma.  My drug use, my chronic illness, my romantic partners, my earning potential, my friends, my jail time, my parenting style, my sleep cycles—all directly related to the trauma that I suffered in childhood.  And each resulting “mistake” or misstep based on that history created another skewed belief about myself and the world around me.

It still happens today.  Even with proper diagnosis, medication, and weekly therapy sessions, I still make choices based on that trauma all the time.  Because you can’t just wiggle your nose and create a new narrative.  It takes long, hard, painful work to even face the narrative that is mine, much less to create a new one in its place.

Today is about yesterday.  This is about that.  Trauma compounded makes my life a series of traumas, and that is absolutely not my fault.

Yep.  I’m saying it.  NOT MY FAULT.

My choices didn’t put me here, because they were based on a bullshit narrative.  The narrative started with the trauma.  It is the foundation of my entire life.  Annalise Keating, the character who expressed the truth on the show, and I share this foundation.  This is about that.  When your life is built upon a foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear, you cannot make all the “right” choices.  When your life is built upon love and trust and needs that are met, you can make decisions in a different manner than Annalise and I can.  But we don’t have that to build upon.  And building a life of love and trust and “enough” upon the foundation of pain and confusion and denial and abandonment and fear is an almost impossible task.

I’ve found that digging deep into my history and rooting out the beliefs that a small girl formed based on trauma is a strategy that works to help me move forward in healthier and better ways.  But that process takes many years, and much effort.  There are days when I jump in the ring and fight for my own narrative and my agency and my autonomy—building a more positive framework for my future by addressing that negative framework of my past.  There are days when I cannot find enough energy to fight, and days when parts of my brain take over and make decisions for me and follow rote patterns while I dissociate from pain or fear or some other thing that I don’t want to feel.  There are days when I make informed decisions based in new systems of belief.  There are days when I still believe all the core statements that a broken little girl formed in the midst of a shit experience.

Regardless of the way I connect and interact and act on each of these days, there is always the lingering trauma.  Either I am working at coping with it, or I am being overtaken and ruled by it, but the trauma is always informing my day, my choice, my life.

This is about that.

It has always been about that.  It may always be about that.  I don’t know if the work that I am doing to cope will ever stop being such hard work.  I know that I am developing coping strategies, and learning to frame life in more positive ways at times, and seeking to understand and address the disconnect inside my own mind—reintegrating my brain and finding greater wholeness. But I do not know that my altered brain will ever be free of the influence of previous, and especially childhood, trauma.

There is no cure for PTSD.  There is only coping.  And while I keep working toward coping, there are lots of ways that my finances and my health issues and the area I live in and the things I own and the way I approach relationships are already saturated with trauma, and wringing out all of that history and pouring in something better is not going to be possible if there isn’t more hope and more support and more money and more security and more safety at some point.  If there isn’t more good to replace the bad, then I just keep spinning around in a horrible life cycle of trauma repeating and compounding and reinjuring.

So, what is the point of this post?  I’m not entirely certain.  I suppose it is to voice what was voiced and challenged in the television show:  this is about that, and pain, unchecked and without validation and the pursuit of justice, brings more pain and more pain and more pain.

What can solve this problem?  Validation and the pursuit of justice.  Those are the only things that start to wring out the trauma and fill up the broken with hope and love and trust.  Believing, addressing, listening, validating, and seeking to end the pain for another, instead of running from trauma like you are being chased by a wildcat can solve the problem.  Offering peace to replace pain, offering loyalty to replace betrayal, offering encouragement to replace harsh words, offering truth to replace lies, offering things and funds to replace need and poverty, and offering support to replace abandonment can solve the problem.  They can’t solve it immediately, or easily, or even without any new or recurring trauma, but they can add to the work that the victim of trauma is doing, and help to create a better narrative, new core beliefs, and a perspective of blessing and kindness and good.  And that is a significant contribution.

This is about that.

I didn’t make my bed and need to lie in it.  The place where I lie, or stand, or sit, or walk, was made by a series of traumatic experiences that were not my fault, and I don’t need to remain there.  With the help of others, instead of the flippant judgments and imagined superiority that are often the normative response to those who experience trauma, I might be able to find a better place to lie, and make a bed that is comfortable, warm, and filled with love and kindness, instead of the one that I was thrown into by the actions of others.

Because this is about that.  My present struggles have been caused by the trauma of my past.  And admitting that, appreciating that, and addressing that with actions that change the narrative and offer a positive perspective are necessary for my situation to change.

I’m not alone in this.  Millions of people are suffering in the same way—living lives that are informed by and built on the failing foundations of trauma.  And it is time that those of us not fighting against that trauma stopped adding to the weight of that trauma, and started to support those who are working so hard to overcome the past and find better futures. Become part of the solution, and stop compounding the problem.  Believe a survivor.  Support a person in need.  Fight for justice, even when that justice doesn’t serve you personally.  End the stigma.  Ease the pain.

Because this is about that.

Too Much

There has been so much to say that I haven’t been able to say anything.

It’s one of those things that seems inevitable for me.  The more there is, the less I do.  I have heard others speak of this phenomenon.  I’m, apparently, not the only one who suffers this problem.  And I have read a bit about how decision-making gets more difficult with each decision, so having too many things to decide leads to a sort of fatigue or paralysis for your will.

I think I currently have some fatigue or paralysis of productivity, because there is just too much I feel like I must produce—or do, in other terms.

I have this long list of things that I am working on completing … so I spend no time completing tasks and all the time bingeing on The Mysteries of Laura and The Killing on Netflix.  The sheer volume of tasks makes me unable to choose a task.  I am overwhelmed before I even start.

There is this thing that they call “uniform dressing”.  It is basically taking the school uniform into adulthood, and removing wardrobe decisions from taking up your precious decision-making energy.  Steve Jobs, Barack Obama, and Vera Wang all practice(d) this way of dressing.  When you think about it, they wear the same thing all the time—not the actual same clothing, but the same basic type of outfit.  Vera Wang wears a legging for her everyday, and Steve Jobs used to be in a black turtleneck at almost all times.  Obama has a white button down and a grey pant for every occasion—dress it up or dress it down, he is always wearing the same thing.

I’ve been thinking about trying the uniform dressing out with my own closet.  I don’t know about everyone else, but I stand in front of that damned closet for way too long.  And it doesn’t matter where I am headed or what I need to do that day.  I spend twelve minutes in front of the closet even when I am choosing joggers and a tee for a reclusive day in my apartment.  And that time staring at my clothes or trying on and taking off items increases in direct relation to the amount of “fancy” associated with the event.

The concept of uniform dressing seems like a good one, in terms of reducing time spent considering clothes.  What I wish for is a similar concept for the rest of the tasks in my life.  How does one “uniform clean” or “uniform pay bills” or “uniform consider the state of the union and freak the fuck out”?  How do all those decisions and determinations and actions become rote and leave my brain less fatigued and less paralyzed?

I’m not sure there is an answer to those questions.  They are mostly rhetorical—unless someone reading this has a solution, in which case, please share your wisdom!

So, yes, there has just been so much to write and so much to think about and so much to plan for and so much to accomplish that I have been stuck not writing and not thinking and not planning and not accomplishing.  I’ve been in this sort of non-being—walking around and appearing to be handling life, but being completely stymied by all the things inside my head.

And being overwhelmed is not new to me, sadly.  But this is different, because every aspect of life seems overwhelming, not just one or two.

I have worries about all the parts of my existence, because the world has changed in significant ways over the past few months, and my view of the world has changed in significant ways over the past few months.  I’ve had all sorts of experiences where what I thought was true, turned out to be false.  I thought that people were reasonable.  I thought that Spring brought security.  I thought that my worst fears were never to be realized.  I thought that life had a certain level of sense attached to it, and that nonsense couldn’t become normative.

I was wrong.

And the world that I have been cast into, by my realizations, isn’t the whimsical Wonderland that Alice gets to explore, but the opposite.  There is no whimsy here.  There isn’t joy here.  There isn’t hope here.  The only thing that my world shares with Alice’s world is the irrationality—the senseless replacing the reasonable.

And the chaos is too much.

I have degrees in philosophy, religion, and social justice.  I understand well the ways that thought and belief and social problems shift and form and reform throughout history.  But I have never experienced a time when that shift happened with such force and velocity that I could see the change happening—feel the pendulum swing.

That force and velocity made the pendulum swing right into my gut, and throw me flailing across the room, proverbially speaking.

The worst of that flailing was in response to the emotional connection I made with the change in thought that I was experiencing.  The knowledge that people whom I have connected with, stood with, and related with believed in and supported this swing of the pendulum was painful.  It still is.  Those who would claim to love me, on one hand, promote ideals that would kill me, on the other.  And the cognitive dissonance isn’t the thing that bothers me most.  The thing that bothers me most is the knowledge that I am the Other.  When it comes down to the nitty-gritty truths of the matter, I am not the person who “deserves” care and kindness and assistance and love and life.  I am the expendable “drain” on society.  I am the margin.  I am the fringe.  I am the problem, and the solution to fixing me is denying me basic rights and basic needs—effectively exterminating me.  Let’s all hope and pray that the literal extermination of people doesn’t become normative.  But we also need to be honest about the fact that denying anyone basic rights and basic needs casts a death sentence upon them.  And I feel like many in my nation are not being honest about that.

Paint the world with your fascism, if you must.  But don’t pretend that you have painted it with hope and love.  Admit that you have painted fascism.  Admit that you are making my life a challenge.  Admit that your actions are placing so much undue stress upon my brain that it cannot function normally—being paralyzed and fatigued by the hopelessness and fear that weights the synapses, slowing them to a crawl.  Admit that you have painted a picture that doesn’t include me, or at least puts me in the dirty, decrepit corner where the others cast out the “problems” they don’t wish to acknowledge or deal with.

And now all the Trump voters are freaking the fuck out because they believe this is a political post.  It is only partly such, because making the presidency a reality show cannot be ignored as a part of the dilemma.  But, it is mostly just me looking at what is happening in the world right now, and acknowledging that I no longer have a place in it, in the view of many.  I don’t deserve a space on the board when we are playing this game.  I’m continually told to not pass go and not collect $200.  I’m stuck in a world where nonsense is sense and reason is replaced with weird tweets and executive orders that can only serve a handful of people.

(Wait.  Are we literally in a game of Monopoly right now?  That would explain so much.  I fucking hate that game.)

So, here it is:  a post with no wise expressions and no neatly packaged solutions, but just the admission that I am overwhelmed and that I don’t know how to fix that.  I don’t even know how to begin to fix that.  This post ends in the same place it begins.  It ends with me paralyzed and fatigued in ways that make me completely ineffective and incompetent.  It ends with the pain of betrayal, and the questions about how and why my experience is invalidated and ignored.  It ends with me having too much to say and too much to do and too much to fix and too much to think about.  It ends with a plea to be heard falling on deaf ears.

Because that is exactly how it started.

And it is too much.