On the Chakras

More often than not we find scientific ‘proof’ that ancient wisdom passed on through generations that was considered ignorant hokey-pokey non-sense turns out to be true. How did they know?

 

This painting I created is my artistic interpretation of the manifest and un-manifest world. The colors symbolize the manifest world; and the shades of tan, white, black and grey are what is on the other side. The colors also are the Chakras.

 

As humans we know very little that can be scientifically proven regarding the spiritual world or how conscious life pops in and out of existence. The energetic body is something that some types of scientists dabble in, but again there is no ‘proof’.

 

Eastern philosophies and their ancient texts explain that as there is a visible physical body, there is also an accompanying invisible energetic body. It’s just as complicated and intricate. It has systems, nodes, and channels as our physical bodies do. Energy can get blocked just as an artery can. Emotions are energetic. They get stuck and if not released can go deeper and deeper into our being and/or eventually manifest through physical pain.

 

Mental health professional do this type of work and explorations. Yoga is all about the energetic body and helping energy flow more easily through the practice of physical postures (asana). Hence, my interest in the topic. Additionally my interest in art and color peaks my curiosity into how color is combined in various ways.

 

The chakras are something that has always fascinated me, long before I understood, practiced or taught yoga. The first time I heard about them, they just made sense to me. Like my cells deep down inside knew it to be true even though my mind was kind of laughing at the idea.

 

For anyone who doesn’t know about the chakras (I was well into the my 30’s believe it or not before I ever heard of them!), they are 7 of the main energetic centers of our bodies that energy flows through. They start at the base of the spine in the tailbone area and work their way up the body through the crown of the head through the center part of the body.

 

Later while completing a 500 hour yoga teacher certification course I would learn about the rest of the energetic system, but the chakras are the most well known and are depicted through so many texts and pictures throughout history.

 

The chakras have colors. There are 7 and they coincide with the colors of the rainbow. Their flow is vertical (unlike my art piece). Like the koshas (yogic) and other more managerial concepts I’ve learned about in my life through my business education, they remind me very much of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. It also reminds me of evolution in that it starts out very basic and physical, but then moves toward a path of higher consciousness and enlightenment toward self-actualization and understanding why we are here. We can’t get there until the lower needs are met. In the chakra system, if anything is blocked on the lower end; the energy is unable to flow up higher.

 

These two pictures I swiped from Google Images are a visual depiction of what I’m describing. Maslow’s famous triangle in this photo is actually colored similarly to the chakras.

The chakras are energetic. I later came to the realization that when I’m in emotional pain, the actual physical accompanying pain is located at a chakra point. It often points me in the direction of where I’m being blocked.

 

I’ve studied and read a lot of spiritual and religious texts. I don’t have a strong belief in any one thing, but I have an idea of how my own personal belief system/understanding of the physical and non-physical worlds are: the tangible and intangible. The part where we are alive and moving about this planet, and the part of the cycle that is blocked to us. The part where we wonder what happens to our consciousness or spirit when our physical body dies. What is our spirit before we are born? Is the spirit even real?

 

My artistic expression of the spiritual life cycle is depicted here. Like the Yin-Yang, half of the time our spirit is in the manifest world and the other half in the unmanifest world.

 

The colored lines are the manifest world, the world where white light bends and we can see color.

 

The non-rainbow colors represent the un-manifest world. When all colors are combined and mixed together, they create the ‘color’ (if you can call it that) brown. When you add white to brown it becomes tan. Adding black darkens it up. White is all there is, with everything included in it (white light contains all the colors in the spectrum), and black being the absence of it all – together they create gray. At dusk when we are in between day and night, color is shaded over. It doesn’t exist to the eye. Only form.

 

Our physical life is surrounding by this unknown. Before birth and after death there is the unknown. Lack of light (life) is as far away from us as possible. Or is it? Does it bend and show color in the absence of material things? Possibly it contains all the colors blended together (browns), and on the side closer to death and darkness that brown is darker, while on the side closer to birth and brightness it’s a shade of tan.

 

White and black together make a perfect in between shade of gray. Gray even has shades- darker and depending on the mixture of black and white: still a total absence of color. Science already has determined that in the absence of anything material, refraction of white light is also absent.

 

At least to our senses that is. Perhaps if we had another sense we’d see a whole other world on the other side….

 

The chakras here in this painting are the physical living world we experience. They move from a lower vibration to a higher one. Less conscious to more conscious. More connected to the earth and physical things to less. Much like Maslow’s triangle.

 

 

1stCHAKRA

Color: Red

Sanskrit name: Muladhara

Known as: Root chakra

Location: Base of the spine in the tailbone area

Symbolizes: safety, survival, grounding, nourishment from the Earth energy (food, other humans, clothing, etc)

My interpretation: it is our root. It’s located in a place where we sit and literally connect to the earth beneath us. Also in a place where we connect with other humans through copulation.

To me it symbolizes the earlist part of life when we are completely at the mercy of others. We build a foundation from the original safety and survival as babies. Our perception of the world is shaped from there. We come into life here. We could be stuck here our whole lives. If we are, unless it’s purely lack of money for food/shelter/clothing – it’s an energetic or emotional “stuckness”.

 

2ndCHAKRA

Color: Orange

Sanskrit name: Swadhisthana

Known as: Emotional chakra

Location: Lower abdomen, about 2 inches below naval and 2 inches in

Symbolizes: emotions, creativity, sexuality, and is associated with water, flow

My interpretation: it is what is next. We feel and can interpret that after we are fed. Sexuality helps life to stay on the planet. It’s the next closest thing to survival after we are fed, clothed and have the ability to live. It’s also our ‘gut’ feeling and is at the gut level. It symbolizes the childhood part of life where we are learning and growing, coming into our own and understanding how to respond to the world.

 

3rdCHAKRA

Color: Yellow 

Sanskrit name: Manipura

Known as: Solar chakra

Location: Upper abdomen, between the heart and belly button (solar plexus)

Symbolizes: Mental activities, intellect, personal power, will. It’s where self-worth, self-confidence and self-esteem are built and is at the core of our personality and identity.

My interpretation: Once we have that safety and gut feelings, we are able to use our mind and will power to go about in the world. That will power is based on our heat and desire. Heat and power like the sun. It’s the younger adult part of life up until middle age or the part of life where we shift mentally to part II – or something else. Where we are moving & shaking, taking care of the young and old. Working and using our physical identity to move through the world.

 

4thCHAKRA

Color: Green 

Sanskrit name: Anahata 

Known as: Heart chakra

Location: Center of the chest just above the heat  

Symbolizes: The ability to love, relate to others, have compassion and feel our inner selves.

My interpretation: Mentally we can move past all the intellect and listen to our heart. It’s like the highest of the 3 proverbial minds (gut, mind, heart).  It can guide us the right way if the solar plexus chakra is flowing freely and we can distinguish it between the monkey mind and the inner self. It’s the connection of the physical body to the higher body. It’s a place in life that symbolizes a switch to another thought process. If you can get there it’s beautiful. Usually around middle age or when we start to get tired of the grind and ask “What For”?

 

 

5th CHAKRA

Color: Blue  

Sanskrit name: Vishuddha  

Known as: Throat chakra (voice)

Location: Throat  

Symbolizes: Communication, self-expression, speaking our truth, creativity

My interpretation: When the lower chakras are unblocked we find ourselves more closely in the flow of life. We are able to be creative, speak our truth, and communicate in a heart-felt way with the world and people around us. On the proverbial life line, it’s at the later part of life where we understand how we are interpreted, live from a heart level rather than a level of obtaining material wealth, possession or status.

 

6th CHAKRA

Color: Indigo (or Purple in some places)   

Sanskrit name: Ajna  

Known as: Third Eye chakra 

Location: Forehead, between the eye brows   

Symbolizes: Inner wisdom, intuition, imagination. Ability to see the big picture inside and out. 

My interpretation: In other cultures the elderly are praised for the very notion that we get wiser as we grow older. We can be taught certain things, but it’s only through really knowing and figuring out their truth for ourselves that we can become wise enough to understand the wisdom bestowed upon on from sages of the past.

 

7thCHAKRA

Color: Purple (or White in some places)   

Sanskrit name: Sahasrara   

Known as: Crown chakra  

Location: Top of the head    

Symbolizes: Inner and outer beauty, universal connection with spirituality and consciousness. Pure bliss.  

My interpretation: Sounds like heaven on earth! With everything else unblocked and no attachment to any outcome- we can experience total peace, utter bliss. It’s the closest thing in our living world to death and not having an investment so tied and rooted to the material world. It’s the top of Maslow’s pyramid where we self-actualize.

 

The pyramid and the image of a sitting body are both sort of triangular in shape. My interpretation is that the larger base is at the bottom because those descriptions of what these areas symbolize are the most connected to earth. They are more difficult to move through and where the majority of individuals experience life. As we move up toward the more narrow sections, there are less humans around that thrive in those parts regularly, and it gets a bit easier to move because it’s further away from the root or axiomatic apron string. We can move up and down the Chakras at any time. But if the energy system is blocked by emotion it is difficult. Even a person with little to no food if they are emotionally clear can self-actualize.

 

In my artistic expression of this cycle the colors live in the middle of the known and unknown worlds. The small symbols on the painting that go from left to right, bottom to top are my humble explanation of moving upward through the chakras toward the unknown, which ultimately is completely and utterly surrounded by the pure energy of beautiful, boundless, weightless, expansive and all encompassing white light.

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com

this and 6 other pieces were inspired by contemporary artist Sean Scully. 2 weeks ago Daren and I went to the Wadsworth in Hartford and it was the last day for his exhibit. He works in stripes mainly.

 

 

 

 

 

The Inevitable Scream

2am this morning.

I’m taking deep breaths and have my hand over my mouth. A long established, cataleptic practice. Additionally my eyes, temples and the space in between my eyes really hurt. I subconsciously begin to rub those areas with the hand that comes off my mouth. In just writing this my forehead, temples and eyes hurt.

 

It hasn’t been that long since these small acts were even noticed and now provide the insight as to what is happening to me. Chakra wise it’s the voice and wisdom body inside that are in pain.

 

I thought back to one evening about a year ago on my therapist’s couch. When I described ‘The Scream’, she (with empathy and almost automatically said) – it’s because you had no voice. Instantly tears sprung to my eyes. With that sudden understanding of what was unknown, obvious and finally understood – my throat hurt. It made sense! It was obvious to her, but new to me. I couldn’t wait to tell my husband. But somehow relaying it not long after over the phone while he was waiting for his son to finish hockey practice late at night while sitting at Starbucks and catching up on work himself, it got lost in translation and I couldn’t quite explain it. It lost it’s potency and I lost the motivation to meditate on it and explore it further.

 

The Scream. It was inevitable.

 

The scream I speak of took place in mid-February 1994 just days before my 18thbirthday outside of the Patchogue courthouse on Long Island. The previous summer on July 9th was the first time the police were involved in the Domestic Violence and child abuse that had been taking place at home since I was born, resulting in the February court date. I wanted justice. I wanted to see something happen, but nothing had. Since I was still a minor for a few more days, the law allowed my parents to move the case to Family court – which was at the time slightly more serious than a bad joke, and my father walked away without even as much as an anger management course or proverbial slap on the wrist.

 

I didn’t know what was going on that day. As I was leaving with my parents in what seemed like minutes after we had gotten there, I asked my mother what was going on. She just ushered me outside. Once out in the bright sun on that brisk February day I asked again. No answer. I stopped and got louder- “What is going on?!”

 

A few passerby’s looked our way. My mother must have felt compelled to answer due to the attention we were drawing. She pulled me aside as my father continued to walk to the car.

 

Mom: Nothing is happening.

Me: What do you mean nothing?

Mom: Nothing.

Me: What does that mean?

Mom: It means we are going home.

Me: What about dad? Classes, probation? What happened in court?

Mom: Nothing. We moved the case to family court and he is able to go home.

Me: I thought that classes and probation were the minimum, what about the restraining order?

Mom: That was if we left it in criminal court. We moved it to family court.

Me: I thought that was my decision.

Mom: It’s not, you are a minor.

 

With that she continued to walk to the car. I reluctantly followed.

 

With each step I grew more and more aware of what just happened. More confused. More enraged.

 

When we got to the car I stood there behind it. I didn’t want to get it. It was bright, sunny and cool out. The car seemed like the box I was proverbially stuck in my whole life – hot, stuffy, enclosed. I was mad at them. I didn’t want to get in. I was confused. I was angry. I wanted justice for what has happened to me.

 

I stood there.

 

My parents got out and asked me what I was doing. I didn’t know.

 

They were urging me to get in.

 

I didn’t want to. I couldn’t even speak.

 

The more they urged me; the more trapped, confused and angry I felt. I felt stuck to the ground beneath my feet. Literally and metaphorically.

 

Esterina – get in the car

 

No.

 

No? What do you mean no?

 

I don’t want to.

 

Get in the car.

 

No.

 

They both started to approach me when I let out a scream. A scream I didn’t know I had in me.

 

They halted their approach and watched me, panicked.

 

“Esterina – get in the car”.

 

I screamed again. And again. I screamed at the top of my lungs, like I never screamed before. A scream that seemed almost inhuman.

 

They stood frozen and watched me like I was a wild animal. That is what I felt like – a crazed wild animal. I continued to scream, and scream, and scream for what seemed like minutes.

 

They watched in awe and horror.

 

When I stopped, I realized I felt better. I had to go home. I had to find a way out of my life and house. It was a few more months until high school graduation. I had no idea what I was going to do; but I had to get in the car, go home and figure it out.

 

It felt so good to scream. So good, I was able to get in the car I didn’t want to be in. I didn’t want to be in their company, but what choice did I have? I got in the car and we went home. My mother spoke of this scream a few times to others, but never me. It was never mentioned again, but I never forgot it.

 

The July 9, 1993 incident happened when I was 17. Until that day, me and my family pretended that our home was like any other and that violence and abuse wasn’t a part of it. Once the cops were called by my youngest brother that day (it was his 13thbirthday) the cat was out of the bag, and it was a little easier to tell my then friends and boyfriend what happened. I showed them the bruises. I didn’t have the voice to talk about the past, but only to say this has happened before. The first time you talk about it is the hardest. That was the last bite the beaver took of the dam before the leak started. It would be years though before the dam actually flooded.

 

That particular day I had an argument with my father. He was annoyed about how long I was dating my boyfriend and didn’t have a ring. I tried to explain that I didn’t want to get married, that I didn’t even finish high school yet. He got angry and couldn’t fathom that I was dating someone I didn’t want to marry. I said I wanted to finish school and have a career first. Then the hitting started. It’s about as far as I care to explain, but it’s the story of how most of these incidences went.

 

The truth was I didn’t want to marry early. I didn’t want to depend on anyone to support me as my mother felt she needed my father’s support. She hadn’t finished high school and was embarrassed by that her whole life. I didn’t something more for myself. I wanted independence and an education. Through words, deeds and actions; my mother has communicated numerous times that she wouldn’t be with my father if it wasn’t for us 3 kids. I grew up feeling like a burden. Very unwanted. Very unloved. There were no kisses, hugs or I love yous in my home. I didn’t even know that was a thing people did. It was for TV if anything.

 

Not long after “The Scream” I decided to join the Coast Guard and set an enlistment date of August 9th. It was the perfect solution for getting out, supporting myself, learning a trade and obtaining money for college. A true ticket out of my house.

 

Against my own intentions, just 3 years later I was already married and pregnant with my first child. At 23 I had my second child. Scared of turning out like my mother, I made it a point to not settle and was determined to obtain a degree to and have the ability to take care of myself. I did finish my required 4 years of active military time. I put in another 4 years of Reserve time. I did go back to school and had a BS in Business by the time I was 24. At 25 my then husband and I bought our first home. At 29 I had an MBA and a very decent full-time job in the government. At 32 we bought the larger home in the nicer suburbs with the good school system. At 34 I was divorcing. There was no violence in my home, but I realized I married a man that had the same maladaptive habits as my father. I was unable to see how badly he treated our children because it was so much better than the way I grew up. In our home there were kisses, hugs and I love yous. I thought it was how it should be. It was later I would realize that it wasn’t so healthy either.

 

From the time I left home until I divorced I felt very healthy mentally. Once the stability of a home and two biological parents were out of the picture, I felt like I started to unravel. The scream was still in me. Unbeknownst to me.

 

The years from 34 on were kind of a rebirth and kind of a mental hell. I love my now husband, but joining two families that came from two different backgrounds with children that still went to two different homes with other parents and family members who could not possibly be any different from one other was a recipe for turbulence. My now husband and I had different ideas on what our newly formed family would look like, how we’d spend our weekends, evenings and summers, how much time we’d spend as a blended family together and apart. What our holidays would look like. All things that were my little to only down-time, and things I had previously very much looked forward to. His ex was far more mean & manipulative than mine, and had a very strong opinion about how we spend time with his kids; which pretty much dictated how we lived, how we spent our money, and everything we did. He didn’t want to fight with her or disappoint anyone and in turn succumbed to the belief that this is what divorced life looks like.

 

I disagreed. I felt like I had little to no voice on how I wanted to spend my time with my own husband, children and blended family. I started to lose the voice I had gained in controlling my own life as an adult. I felt trapped.

 

After a few years “The Scream” came back.  I can’t even remember the first time I screamed again like I had in the parking lot of the Patchogue courthouse. Probably in my car. It was a place I screamed a lot. I would be driving home from work and singing loudly to music thinking I was happy, when I’d get an overwhelming feeling of being trapped. Usually due to traffic, but it rubbed on the nerves of feeling trapped in my life. Feeling voiceless. Feeling that I had no control and had to live as someone else dictated. I’d think about the evening ahead. Evenings busy with making dinners, kid activities in different towns all over the state. Things that I didn’t plan but we had to do. Things I was too tired to do at the end of a long day. Things that took time away from unwinding and spending quality time with anyone in my life – even my own children.

 

Every new thing that popped up on our calendar and every new expense that arrived without my consent or knowledge would feel like a little dagger. It was small at first, hardly noticeable – but over time it would bother me more and more. I’d express my frustration to my husband in the little time we had together and were able to talk without anyone else hearing. Those rare times were in bed, on vacations or on the days our kids were with their other parent and we didn’t have an event of theirs to go to. So it seemed like I was always frustrated. It seemed like all we talked about was how I was frustrated. We couldn’t even get past this to have a conversation about taking control of our lives because the whole conversation would be focused on how I am and shouldn’t always be upset. It went on like this. And the longer it went on, the longer I felt unheard and the more and more the scream inside tried to break free.

 

It would come out often. I’d scream and just lose my mind. In my car, in my house with no one home, at home with people home, late at night while arguing with my husband. For the life of me I couldn’t relate it to anything in my past. Hindsight is so very 20/20. I can’t believe no one else around me was able to help me relate this. We were all in our own worlds trying to get through every single day and all the things that needed to be done, who had time to think about rest, mental health or self-care?

 

Rest. Self-Care. These are things that are SO necessary; but I was taught, and for certain my husband’s ex felt that downtime is for the lazy. We should be busy at every moment doing something productive. Even though our home was full of non-stop activities, if something was unscheduled for one of my step-kids for a New York minute, she’d step in to make sure they had something to do. Something of course that would require my husband’s time, which meant it was my time because he wasn’t around to help me with the house(s), dinner, shopping, pets, other kids, etc.

 

Downtime is necessary. And I didn’t have it. And it sent me into crisis mode.

 

Something about turning 40 initiated a stream of events. It was like the next piece of the dam that I had built as a child to protect myself snapped. Not broken and flooded yet, but enough to cause some damage.

 

It’s no coincidence that this breakdown took place over just a few months. A period where I began physical therapy for my back, started yoga teacher training, and hit my knee under a table at workat work, which required other physical manipulations. Unless you are immersed in the world of mental health and or energy work, it could be hard to understand why I don’t find this to be a coincidence. The trapped emotions were being knocked on and broken up so to speak through these activities.

 

Suddenly, I almost couldn’t bear being in the car and commuting to work. I couldn’t face days of going to work and killing time there when there was so much to do at home. I couldn’t stand another minute of not having time for myself to meditate or go deeper into the practices I was studying. I couldn’t stand having a life with little to no meaningful human connections and being an un-humanized vessel of money and transportation.

 

The scream would come more often. I’d get hot. I’d lose control of my bladder. One day in the summer the following year right before I checked myself into an IOP, I broke into boils on my chest. Every time after a few minutes I’d think about something related to childhood and it was make the screaming and subsequent crying that would inevitably take place for a long time after feel almost like a release. I was embarrassed to tell anyone this. I thought it was rather melodramatic. I had no idea it was all PTSD.

 

Then one evening last summer on July 11th, 25 years and 2 days after that incident when I was 17, I had a really bad evening. It was following a few days of step-children drama, an accusation about something I didn’t do. It followed a few too many drinks at a charity event, and then an argument with my husband about the kids. The scream came out again. It was a hot summer night. Every window was open, and as usual after a few minutes it had nothing to do with the present. I was screaming and crying for the past. I was unbearably hot and had no bladder control so I stripped down, got in the bathtub and screamed. I was screaming HELP. I was screaming about the help I wanted and needed as a child, the help I wanted then mentally. The help I wanted in needing to feel heard and understood and not like a burden of someone who is just not happy with the wonderful life I was being told I have and should be grateful for.

 

I was an adult feeling like a child. I now know and understand that my husband represented my mother. The gatekeeper between me and my father who didn’t want to shake anything up and upset him – so turned a blind eye and pretended that nothing was wrong. The mother who told me that I have a nice life and home and I should be happy. The mother that made me feel like a burden because I was alive and the reason she had to be in this unhappy marriage with this abusive man.

 

My husband was the gatekeeper between our uncontrolled time and his ex and kids. He couldn’t understand that with a nice life why I wasn’t happy. I felt like a burden that I wasn’t happy and tried to use our free to time to discuss things he didn’t want to address – because it would shake things up and upset someone else.

 

It’s now so obvious.

 

A few days after this incident last summer, where again – exactly 25 years and 2 days later cops were called for the first time, I had the epiphany of my current situation and how the characters in my present life represented my past. Once that happened the dam really broke for good. I had a few really long, hard months of understanding this and learning about PTSD and the brain. How my lower brain – the one that takes over in times of crisis (the instinct to run and not contemplate when being chased by a lion) cannot see the actual people, but responds to the emotions it interprets to be dangerous and floods the body with fight or flight hormones. When I couldn’t physically fight I’d scream. And scream. And scream….

 

It’s why I put my hand on my mouth when I’m anxious.

 

That wasn’t my last scream. I was now aware of how dangerous they were. Neighbors don’t understand. They hear help and screaming and call cops. They should! So my screams became muffled. Or I’d get in the car and drive to a remote place. I’d scream until I felt like I was able to ‘get it out of me’. I can’t explain the release I feel afterward. It’s cathartic. Even in the throws of crying and screaming, it’s better than not, and I feel like I’m purging all that is bad inside of me, despite it looking very differently to an outsider.

 

I had a lot more ‘safe’ screaming last summer. Nights I couldn’t sleep I’d get up and write or read about PTSD and allow myself for the first time in my life to think about what happened, and finally begin to process it.

 

I’m not proud of screaming. I’m not proud of how I’ve acted and argued or fought before I actually got to a place of where the scream came. I’m not proud of the self-destructive and relationship-destructive behaviors that took place. My body was in fight-or-flight mode. I actually did feel a shift of losing control at a certain point. I always knew the moment, but I was truly helpless to stop the flood as my lower brain took over. I can relate to the term “faulty alarm system”. It is really what it is. Not a true emergency, but something internally so close; that it sets off the alarm and subsequent actions. The propensity of the reaction to the situation doesn’t match. That is PTSD.

 

 

I haven’t screamed in many many months now. Once I understood what happens to the body, what my triggers were and how to get somewhere safe it was game changer.

 

This is a blog I’m not even sure I will post. It doesn’t wrap up nicely. It doesn’t tie back to some sort of theme. It just is. I woke up, had my hand on my mouth, my temples and third eye hurt… I remembered that it was because it was tied to feeling voiceless. I remembered the scream that first day when I was 18 and felt it was inevitable. That day and always, until I felt I have a voice.

 

The below is from an email I wrote to my family in the middle of the night last summer. Oddly between the evening of Aug 6thand Aug 7th– the anniversary of my mom’s passing. She died around midnight on 8/6/06 but wasn’t pronounced by Hospice until they got there until after midnight, which is what her death certificate says. Strangely it links to someone else who wrote about “The Scream”. Just learning and knowing I’m not alone has helped me to feel human and not alone.

 

Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope I’m not bugging you all with some of these emails. I just had the strangest, but maybe good night and wanted to share with someone. 

 

I woke up as usual in the middle of the night with a overwhelming sadness. I started to cry about things I was remembering. The more I thought, the more I cried. Gabby wasn’t home (she is a college kid often out in the middle of the night). No one else was up for at least two floors and I really, really cried. 

 

I had a assortment of stronger than usual memories. I remembered different places where I felt the most mix of emotions – like extreme excitement and profound anger at being hit at the same time, such as how happy and angry I was when we went to Disney; or bought a new (used) car. I was seeing details of things like I was still living at home. Dented walls, my mirror in my room with the pictures of my friends tucked around the frame. I even remember the exact pictures of who they were of. I remember my ballet slippers hanging off the brass bed, my curling iron on the dresser… It was like I was there, the level of detail was so great. 

 

It was mostly my room that made me sad. I was thinking about how I would lock the door, but that really didn’t do any good. My father broke the knob and lock many times. I was thinking that if he tried to come in I should have just gone out the window, but at the time that never crossed my mind. I wondered why… Because I wouldn’t know where to go… For years I had no vehicle. The neighbors would have sent me back. I had no money or change to make a phone call at a payphone. Unless I grabbed mommy’s phonebook in the dining room I wouldn’t have even known anyone but my friend’s numbers to call. And what would I have told them? How was I going to get past him to get the phonebook and out the door? I was so brainwashed to believe that I should keep this quiet that it would have been a horror to tell someone far away that I didn’t have their number like grandma or aunt Fran. I felt the repercussions of telling anyone would have been worse than just enduring it. It was to perturbing to even imagine telling any friends. My room that I was remembering was like a jail cell. I felt unbelievably hopeless and trapped.

 

As I cried I had such a mix of emotions. Like why? I must have done something in a previous life and this is karma. That actually made me feel better, as it made sense and I was paying my dues.

 

I also couldn’t help but wonder if I was being dramatic. If it wasn’t as bad as I thought. 

 

Some of these thoughts soothed me as I stopped crying and tried to fall back to sleep.

 

I couldn’t fall back to sleep so I googled “delayed onset PTSD in adults of child abuse”. Many things quickly came up, but my favorite (very long) was the this one – http://www.naasca.org/2011-Articles/081411-PTSDinAdultSurvivors.htm

 

There were two things I like about this article. First it is a complete description of my journey, as it describes completely how I’ve felt from a child up until now, and explains why now; after such a delayed period this would come up. The second thing is the poem at the bottom written by a survivor called “The Scream”. 

 

I’ve screamed “The Scream” the first time days before I was 18 in front of the courthouse with my parents when they dropped the only charges we ever had from that famous 7/9 day without my consent, as I was still a minor for a few more days and the laws were quite different back then. They were scared of my scream. They couldn’t get me in the car. They genuinely looked panicked. They told at least Mario about it. I scared myself. I didn’t know it was in me. It felt freeing to scream. After a few minutes and watching their panic, I fell silent and just got in the stinking car – feeling unbelievably trapped. No one talking about a thing. Like what just happened never happened. I was so numb I was not even thinking about how I was going to get out of this jail I was living in. 

 

Up until a few years ago ‘the scream’ was a distant memory. Now it happens often enough. I get triggered and I cannot stop screaming. I remember telling my therapist about it a few months ago, with slight concern. She just looked sympathetically at me and said you are using your voice to get it out, because you felt voiceless for so long. “The Scream” is what prompted the call to the cops on 7/11. 

 

After I read a few articles I felt more normal again, remembering I am having a human reaction to a human experience. I still couldn’t fall back to sleep, so I tried some yoga nidra which has been helpful as of late. When I got to the part about visioning a safe place, I quickly scanned my memory for one and only could remember theapartment on Coney Island Avenue in Brooklyn. It wasn’t a safe place at all. 

 

Again, I was FLOODED with minute details about the outside & inside. The hallway and two flights up. I was remembering or not remembering that the lock on the front door didn’t work for a while before we moved. I couldn’t remember if that was real or just a dream that I’ve had so many times. If it was a dream, what did it symbolize? Not feeling safe, locks not working? I cried again for a long time. Same mix of emotions like it’s my fault or I’m over exagerating it. But I remembered the article and how the only way to move through it is to experience the thoughts and feelings again. So I let them through to pass. Letting the memories and details just flood me. After reading the article I embraced what was happening, as it’s the only way to let it go. 

 

The article is very long as I said, but here is a clip from the end after explaining how one would have gotten to this point 

 

“Survivors attempt to flee from feelings about having been abused, from normal reactions to an abnormal situation. Because that situation was life-threatening in thepast, some survivors mistakenly believe that to experience those feelings today would also be life-threatening, would bring on an emotional breakdown, a falling apart akin to death. They do not understand that the breakdown has already happened, when their feelings were preempted by shame.

A survivor can afford to look that “death” squarely in the face when he has people who will stand by him, as well as the insight and power he did not have as a child. When it is finally safe enough, the survivor will remember the memories and feel the feelings about the trauma. Such a “thawing out” is a second chance, an emotional reincarnation. Still…the first sensations that have been repressed or avoided all of one’s life can feel like a tidal wave.

When he is ready, the thoughts and feelings return. In response to what has been uncovered, he often feels great anger at the betrayal itself and the injustice and randomness of the violence.

Underneath that anger is a terror and helplessness that is more difficult to experience than the anger. (“Maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Maybe I’m just exaggerating.”) This can go on for a long time, but with the help of others, the survivor will eventually accept that the trauma was as bad as he knows it was.

Profound sadness follows. This compassionate acceptance of “poor me” and the mourning of the losses that the trauma created eventually lead to resolution.

When the losses engendered by trauma are fully mourned, the trauma loses its power over the survivor. Instead of the emotional breakdown they feared…survivors experience an emotional breakthrough! Completing the grieving process means divorcing the trauma from one’s sense of identity and self-worth.”

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Life in the Slow Lane

Today I woke up feeling good. On 7/11/18, 2 months and 2 days ago, I had just one of the worst evenings of my life. The following few days were even more difficult. These last 2 months have been a journey that I realize is life-long and I’m in no rush to finish. I’m enjoying and embracing every step forward and every obstacle that prohibits steps forward, or that even sets me a few back. Obstacles and set backs are really necessary learning experiences.

Today I’m in gratitude. I might not be in an hour, but for now I am and I’m incredibly grateful.

I could write for hours about how I got here (I promise I won’t). The biggest contributor was my childhood and the mal-adaptive strategies [albeit very normal] I developed early on to deal with life while my brain was forming. One of my newly favorite psychology writers Van Der Kolk calls it Developmental Traumatic Disorder (DTD). This diagnostic explanation is fairly new in the world of Psych. It didn’t quite make it to the DSM 5 which is latest edition of the manual by which mental health clinicians diagnose and bill for disorders. For now the closest diagnosis is PTSD, which DTD is branch of. Particularly for me, for now it’s Delayed Onset, Complex PTSD. It turns out I’m just another statistic and if someone were watching closely, everything that happened to me could have been predicted.

I’ve been through a gamut of emotions the past few months. Many before 7/11, but even more, and much more intensely since. Crazily, but also not surprisingly this episode took place just 2 days and exactly 25 years after what was one of the most transformational days of my life at the time when I was 17. I’d written about it before in My Mom. It’s one of my trigger dates, something I don’t think I fully believed in until this summer. I didn’t consciously recognize the significance of how the date triggered me, but my body did. The Body Keeps the Score.It really does.

What I realized most profoundly this summer is that I have PTSD. I really do. Two and a half years ago I had my first panic attack. I was immediately diagnosed with Anxiety and Panic Disorder. Last summer the PTSD diagnosis was added. While I remember telling people about it, somehow I didn’t realize how important it was to my mental recovery to embrace and work on it. In fact, when the true awareness hit me like a ton of bricks just less than a week after 7/11 this year, I was surprised to realize that I’d been sharing and telling people about it prior to then. A few days ago I re-read something I added to my blog page in May “About Me”, and it was there too! Why wasn’t I working on it?

I wasn’t working on my trauma and PTSD for many reasons. Because it wasn’t urgent and didn’t seem important. Because no one tells you that it’s important. In fact, no one can; it’s something you have to discover on your own when your body is ready. Also because I didn’t have the time or the life style until now. That is why I’m in gratitude this morning. I’m moving in the slow lane and I love it.

From a young age I moved fast. I always had excessive energy. I never understood how anyone could sit at a meeting or in a class and not fidget. I was just always bursting out of my skin. Driving… I had to be in the fast line. I was constantly assessing for traffic, changing lanes with the flow. Heart always racing. Breath always erratic. I was always, always, always looking for more efficient ways to do things. From driving to folding laundry to cleaning… to redesigning whole work groups and even departments at my job. I was good at it. It was a great outlet for my energy. I was efficient and I helped others to be as well. A good use of my talents. Or so I thought.

Now I’m living in the slow lane. I still have the habit of moving fast, but I catch myself at least 80% or so of the time when I realize that for no good reason my heart is in a lurch or my breath isn’t steady. I stop it and slow down. I manage my breath. I smell the roses. I ground myself in the present and it’s SO much better. I think about that quote about how nothing or everything is a miracle, and see things as beautiful. Even ugly things. I wish we could teach our children this from a young age. Instead we are programmed to ‘succeed’, to do more & faster, to have it all, to do it all. We are programmed to think we are a failure if we don’t meet this criteria. On paper by this methodology I was a huge success.

Take two driven people like my husband and myself, put them together, and what do you have? It’s debatable. 7 years ago I would have thought a match made in heaven. In fact at our wedding we incorporated the Japanese term of kaizen (continuous improvement) into our vows. Ugh… how I cringe now. All I can think of is U2’s lyrics in the song ‘Moment of Surrender’

The stone was semi precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

I do believe in continuous improvement, but not in the way it was taught to me (faster, better, do more, etc). I believe it the slow movement. That less is more. That slowing down and even stillness is where the magic of life lies. Take a look at the pets in our lives. They are content with doing less, watching the world outside the window for hours just as it is. Accepting us for who we are. Not caring about how we are dressed or what fancy letters come after our name. They are in a sense more human from a sense of connection than we are. I have four pets. I didn’t even have time to pet them before. I would shoo them away when they came to climb on me when I collapsed on the couch after 16 hours of non-stop movement. We had to have our dog in day care just to get exercise and go out because no one was home long enough to play with him or take him out. Picking him up and dropping him off was another burdened activity on the check-list. Why have pets, kids, a house (2 in our case), a garden, etc – when there was no time to put any love or life into any of it? It’s been a slow realization for me that none of this makes sense. That I was living by a clock and not a compass. It took even longer to do anything meaningful about it. I’m still on that journey and in no rush to any finish line. The unfolding is a beautiful experience that I’m embracing wildly.

I wrote a few paragraphs back that I could write for hours about how I got here. Everyone has their own journey, their own stories, their own level of awareness, and their own (hopefully) point in their life – more often than not in the second half of it, in which they proverbially “wake up”.

My own story started on March 1, 2012. At work I enrolled in a Franklin Covey industry based class for the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It was a 2-day seminar that set the path of a new life for me. At the time I was recently remarried and my husband and I were just finishing up the renovations we worked on non-stopfor 2 months in our new home. I felt SO alive during those renovations. I loved working on the house. We often stayed up until 1 or 2am in the morning on work nights and didn’t feel the least bit exhausted in the morning.

Once the renovations were finishing up I started to feel trapped, bored, and useless. Something I wasn’t accustomed to feeling. Since my husband and I moved in together with our kids the year before I felt like I was mentally unraveling. The renovations were a pleasant distraction. I began going to a bible study at the hospital where I work which one of my vanpool mates hosted. I hung onto many of the teachings and words, learning new language to explain what I was feeling. The Covey class used similar language but explained it in a different way that opened me up in a special fashion. Three things I really connected with was the concept of a paradigm that we see the world through, that I make my own independent choices constantly, and that to feel in line with who you are; we should be living by a compass and not a clock. Wow. This was mind blowing and life changing for me.

Shortly after I explored the bible much more. Then I ran into a Bishop Spong book quite by accident (I honestly cannot remember which one). I was never religious, but grew up Catholic and felt like it was a sin to question anything that didn’t make sense. As soon as my mind took me to those questioning places, guilt kicked in and I pushed it away. The John Shelby Spong book provided the freedom to question what made no sense and shift the focus to something that did in a more mystical, metaphysical way where it allmade sense. From there I found podcasts on the Centers for Spiritual Living to help time pass while having to drive to Bedford, MA quite often for work in 2 ½ hours each direction. Those podcasts prompted me to read the ghastly large book by Ernest Holmes called “The Science of Mind”. The world was opening and unfolding in ways I could have never dreamed. From there for some unknown reason I started taking yoga classes, which spoke the same type of language. Then I would listen to Alan Watts during my lunch walks and long commutes. All different words, but the same beautiful, timeless messages that make sense.

Years later in January 2016 I loved yoga and this way of thinking so much, I started yoga teacher training. My regular life with work, the kids, pets, blended family, commute, and constant RUSH was becoming unsustainable. Why was I adding a full weekend a month commitment to this training? I don’t know but I just felt compelled.

For some reason I thought in yoga teacher training I would learn more about the poses, teaching, and the actual class. Instead, like the Franklin Covey class years before it became a personal journey. I quickly decided that it was a necessity to meditate regularly. Once I started quieting my mind and relaxing regularly, I realized that is how a body should feel and how I lived for the previous 40 years was anything but calm. It started to become unbearable to not feel calm. Combine that with what I now realize is a few PTSD triggers from work at the time, it’s absolutely no surprise that I had my first panic attack exactly when I did and they escalated from there; completely out of control. My body was releasing 40 years worth of emotion that was bubbling just under the surface. The same energy that kept me moving, grooving and successful; was the same energy that was keeping me stressed and mentally unaware that I was damaging myself by not dealing with the trauma that has plagued my mind, body and spirit.

The past two and a half years since have been transformational. A lot of bad and negative things arose, but more positive, learning experiences than anything bad. You have to go through it to move through it. It sounds simple, but it’s much harder than it sounds. It wasn’t until now that I’ve given myself the time and opportunity to heal. But you have to make the time. Your life has to allow it. You have to slow down.

This past summer was rough. I spent hours upon hours writing and allowing myself to remember and experience the anguish of old memories. Many were the same memories that came up during what I now know as PTSD episodes, but I’d felt too ashamed, embarrassed or dramatic to explore. In writing, crying, thinking, gardening, exercising, waking up in the middle of the night, reading, etc – I started to explore my triggers and where they came from. It made sense. I learned more about how the brain is wired and why I seemed to lose control at times. I logged and shared trigger dates with my family. I allowed myself to feel all that I’ve always pushed away and thought I moved past years ago. It was always there waiting for me to deal with it. I just didn’t slow down enough to hear it.

Today I feel good. Over coffee this morning I saw my husband petting one of the cats who was purring where he shouldn’t be (on a counter). When my husband moved his hand away to finish getting ready for work, our cat Gilmore bipped him on the hand – asking for more petting, which Daren provided. We are in a place where we have time to pet our cats. I am thankful I am in a job where if I woke up in the middle of the night and didn’t sleep for hours that the pressure of getting dressed and driving to the office with a smile is not there because I can telework and I’m part-time. I’m thankful for the mental health breakdown this summer. I spent so much time on the days I wasn’t working living like my pets. I napped in the middle of the day if I needed to. I only ate when I was hungry. If I felt like the sun was calling me, I read and wrote outside. If I felt the urge to move I went for a walk, run or bike ride. Listening to my body helped me to attune to what it’s telling me in other ways too. Our bodies are a walking, living, physical communication device. It’s a compass of that path we should be on.

This summer I also listened to the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People CDs that I was provided with from that class back in March of 2012. Listening to the late Stephen Covey’s voice felt like listening to an old friend with sound, sage, timeless advice. I also spent quite a bit of time doing those old exercises again. I created a mission statement, thought about my values and principles, my ‘rocks’, how I communicate with people, how I think and how I live. I thought about the life that I want to program. My own talents. Not the talents the world has barked at me – like designing things bigger better and faster, but what I wanted to be when I was a kid with no restrictions and what that meant. The imprint I want to leave on the world.

These aren’t overnight answers. If I thought for a New York second that I know them right now I’d be fooling myself. I’ll be working on them for the rest of my life. I’m trying diligently to listen to the compass. If we quiet ourselves enough, and ask our inner selves for advice, the most profound wisdom is all there, right within us. Our bodies know what we need. They keep the score.

If you enjoyed my writing, consider leaving a comment, sharing with others, or following my blog

https://esterinaanderson.com

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My dog Koji who teaches me all sorts of invaluable lessons without saying a word
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Bored at home after carpal tunnel surgery of my right hand this past Monday (9/10), I decided to try to open my right brain by painting with my left hand
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My left handed drawing depicting what is supposed to be a sunset
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This one started left-handed by I switched to using my wrapped surgical hand to clean it up (majorly). It’s a rendition of a little knickknack my step-kids gave me for the holidays several years back by one of my favorite fun modern artists (Miami artist Roberto Britto)

On Understanding Panic Disorder

I almost don’t know how to start this. “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year” (1)

I am one of those 18.1% who suffer. When I’m in panic it’s almost as if a doppelgängertook over my body. So many people do not understand what happens and that the person has no control over how they feel. Stress and cortisol flood the body.

Last night I had a panic attack. I actually had several in the past week, and 4 or 5 just yesterday alone. What made my last two particularly long and painful is that other people were home and weren’t reacting compassionately. They live with me and don’t quite understand what I go through, how painful it is, and how little to no control I have over how I feel or can possibly react. I can empathize and understand that it can be scary to someone else – really I can. I don’t want to be in full-blown panic either, believe me – way MOREso than the people around me don’t want to see it.

A key driver is understanding. Panic disorder with panic attacks is not something that can be helped at the moment or have a lid put on it. What makes it all so much worse is when those around you and in society judge you and falsely believe mental health issues are something that can be helped (2). I’m writing this because if my own household doesn’t quite understand what this is about, how can any one else? I need to do my part in spreading awareness.

I didn’t know much about true anxiety either. Why should I? We throw the word around a lot. Many of us live with low -evel anxiety constantly. As a society we are mostly all anxious. Anxiety and Panic Disorder is a little different. “This is not to be confused with nervousness — what most people experience in normal situations. Nervousness and anxiety can both cause similar symptoms, but normal nervousness such as how one feels before making a big presentation or applying for a job differs from anxiety in that it’s rational.” (3) Some things can be helped or talked away from. Normal nervousness is one.

I’ve read a lot about anxiety in the past two years since I’ve been diagnosed. Stress is prevalent in our culture. A large part is due to technology and the bombardment of information. Also, the ability for others to reach into our lives at any moment day or night through social media, texting, email, etc. When I was younger and we had a house phone attached to a wall, either going to someone’s house or calling on that phone was the only way to let the outside in. When you left work everyone was shutdown for the day. No one was on texts and emails creating new things to sort through when you got to work – what you left it as the day before is how it was when you arrived the next morning. These things cause constant low-level stress. A text at 9pm makes our hearts beat faster and creates a false sense of urgency to pick up the phone to read it. Whether the message is from a loved one or your boss, the body reacts as if it’s in danger (heart rate, quickened breath, maybe stomach in knots). While we all might experience that quick burst of anxiety when the cell phone dings at 9pm, after a few minutes it goes away. For those of us with an anxiety disorder it not only doesn’t go away, it escalates.

This article describes it better than I can-

Picture this: you’re asleep at night when suddenly you wake up to the sound of someone breaking into your house. What do you do? You panic, like every sane human being would. You start to sweat, you breathe heavily or struggle to breathe, you feel nauseous, your heart races, there’s a heavy pressure in your chest, so on and so forth.

Now picture something else: all of those symptoms happening when you aren’t actually in any danger. No one is breaking into your house. Nothing is about to harm you or is currently harming you. Your body suddenly just starts to panic anyway. That is a panic attack.”

With panic disorder, the body for no real and current reason goes into full fight or flight mode. It differs for everyone, but for me in particular I’m often triggered by something externally that was threatening in the past. Many times I cannot initially identify the trigger. It is almost impossible too when the brain is flooded and the executive functioning goes offline.

Panic attacks arouse the body to a peak level of excitement which makes the individual feel not in control of him or herself. The mind is preparing for a false fight or flight mode, forcing the body to take over to help the victim face or run from the perceived danger, real or not.” (4) The reptilian brain that all land creatures have to flee or fight is what takes over. Rational thinking is completely shut down. It’s not the time to start figuring out the cause or rationalizing with the individual.

I want to feel normal and not panic more than anything. Riding it out, medicine and therapy are helpful, but it took years for the body to become dysfunctional to this point; it likely will not go away overnight.

I can tell you what makes it worse for me –

  1. Being with someone during a panic attack that doesn’t understand and gets annoyed or mad if they can’t help me. I can’t be helped at that point. Someone in my face rationalizing it for me feels condescending. Shunning me at that point feels humiliating and akin to abandonment. I’m humiliated enough. Standing in judgment only makes it worse.
  2. Another horror is trying to hide it to not scare other people. I feel further trapped. I’ve had panic attacks on an airplane, in restaurants, at work, while driving, while getting ready for bed, when waking up… Of course no one wants to see or hear it, but other people hiding or pretending nothing is going on just makes me feel like a freak creature that needs to be avoided.
  3. Last but not least on is the shame of having to hide a huge piece of yourself to others. Our society doesn’t look kindly to Mental Health issues. Before suffering myself, I too thought it was the sign of a weak mind and something you can control. Last summer I spent a full month in an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program). But forbid I let people know. My own step kids and extended family were kept in the dark. I was afraid to tell people at work why I was on FMLA. It may sound silly or it may not, but if I felt that way I would be willing to bet I’m not the only one.

May is Mental Health Awareness month (5). If you don’t suffer from any mental health issues (Yay You!), it’s very likely you know someone who does; you just don’t know they do. Let’s all do our part to bring awareness and be compassionate to one another to avoid shame, humiliation and judgment. We are all human. Let’s treat one another as such.

Peace.

  1. Anxiety and Depression Association of America https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics#
  2. We Need to Talk. Our Society Has an Issue With Anxiety and Mental Health. https://futurism.com/we-need-to-talk-our-society-has-an-issue-with-anxiety-and-mental-health/amp/
  3. https://medium.com/@gtinari/how-to-handle-someone-elses-anxiety-or-panic-attacks-51ee63f5c23bHow to Handle Someone Else’s Anxiety or Panic Attacks
  4. How to Help Someone Having a Panic Attack https://m-wikihow-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/m.wikihow.com/Help-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack?amp=1&amp_js_v=0.1&usqp=mq331AQECAEoAQ%3D%3D#origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&prerenderSize=1&visibilityState=prerender&paddingTop=54&p2r=0&horizontalScrolling=0&csi=1&aoh=15272981860562&viewerUrl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com%2Famp%2Fs%2Fm.wikihow.com%2FHelp-Someone-Having-a-Panic-Attack%253famp%3D1&history=1&storage=1&cid=1&cap=swipe%2CnavigateTo%2Ccid%2Cfragment%2CreplaceUrl
  5. Mental Health America http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may

<a href=”https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/”>Doppelgänger</a&gt;

 https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/doppelganger/

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Lexapro Journal (Continued)

I’m writing this blog as an update to the Lexapro 100 day Journal one that I wrote back in 2016.

I don’t blog that often, but when I do check the statistics for the number of readers, I see that between 3 and 15 people each day read this article. It is the only article that picks up any traction after the first few days post publishing. I has received more hits recently, so I’m not sure if it show up higher on search engines; but in any case it’s amounted to a few thousand people who have at least opened it. Doesn’t mean they read it through though!

When I tried to go off Lexapro just a little over a year ago, I wrote another blog entitled Lexapro Rollercoaster. I haven’t written anything about it since. I’ve been approached by so many people (some I know well & others hardly at all) who have read my blogs. Folks have asked for advice, inquired how I’m doing, or wanted to share that they or someone they love has experienced the same thing. Because I see that a few thousand strangers have read some of this as well, I wanted to follow-up as Lexapro wasn’t my answer.

I didn’t particularly have a love affair with Lexapro. I started it in March 2016. It seemed at first to be to a miracle drug. After several months the side effects kicked in. Particularly they were the two I was most afraid of – decreased interest in sexual activities and weight gain. Initially I thought it was a fluke and both would pass. But as pounds kept adding on and I felt less and less inclined to indulge in carnal activities, I knew it was the medication.

In January 2017 I didn’t feel like I needed Lexapro any longer. I felt stable emotionally. My primary care provider talked me through tapering off. It was a little difficult because I felt physically sick, but that passed after a few days. A few days later I felt off kilter emotionally again. I went back on Lexapro the same way I went off, but this time I held the dose steady at 5mg to test out how that made me feel. I immediately felt better, as I had the first time I went on. At 5mg I didn’t have the unwanted side effects. Fortunately my BMI had always been on the low side, and even with all the weight gain I was still in a normal range. I didn’t lose any weight, but I didn’t gain more either. The other department I feared was also in check. But my moods weren’t steady. I could get hyped up at anxious about almost nothing, and angry at the drop of a hat. I felt off balance. Nowhere near as badly as I originally did, but not as great as I did at 15mg either.

I believed with some meditation and a deeper yoga practice I could keep taking 5mg, feel better and go off completely. I set a soft goal to go off Lexapro before the start of summer in June. But I didn’t deepen my yoga or meditation practices. I didn’t have time to, I was as busy as ever. Although I cut down my professional hours at work; I taught as much yoga as I could without being picky and I wasn’t even doing my own practice. My husband and I started renting out our second home in Branford and I was managing all the rentals and turnovers. Even though I changed the stressors in my life, I unknowingly added different ones back in.

In May that year I took a 50-hour training in domestic violence and sexual assault in order to teach yoga at safe houses in Connecticut. One evening during a presentation about PTSD, I realized with unbelievable clarity that the slide I was looking at described me perfectly. Until then I have prided myself for rising above being a childhood victim of domestic violence and putting it behind me. It wasn’t until that evening I realized I was indeed affected by my past. The ground slightly shifted beneath me, but I wasn’t sure what to do about it.

My emotions became more tumultuous after that. If I was more aware of myself I may have noticed Lexapro really wasn’t helping anymore. One evening in July I had the worst emotional breakdown I ever had. I knew I needed help in a different way. After a little research I filled out some FMLA paperwork and cleared my calendar so I could spend a month in intensive outpatient mental health treatment.

Under the care of the facility, I started to decrease my 5mg of Lexapro daily to once every other day until I went off completely. I felt great. I had no responsibilities during this month other than to care for myself. I journaled daily after my sessions. For the first time ever, I had the time and was willing to really think about how I feel, where my assumptions and habits formed, and how I got to be where I was mentally, physically and emotionally. I was able to sit and question whether or not I wanted to do those things or if they were just maladaptive habits I had from childhood. I made conscious, well-thought out decisions about what I wanted to do, what I wanted to keep in my life and what I wanted to let go.

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I needed follow-up after the program with some type of regular treatment. I’ve gone to weekly couch talk therapy for years on an off and never found it helpful. With the advice from the program I just completed, I researched local therapists that specialized in the exercises we used that I found most helpful. I messaged a few by reaching out and providing a short background about myself. It was easy to discern who I might have a connection with through upfront written communication. I settled on someone local that I thought might work.

When I finally met my new therapist, before she asked me anything about myself; she explained some practices and tools she uses and why. She described the energy and meridian lines that run through our bodies and explained that most people start to question their lives after they meet their goals toward success (or the second half of life). She didn’t need to go on any further, I was sold. Energy, questioning life and it’s purpose, Pema Chodron quotes on the wall, a jiggle jar on the table, a semi-organized non-dusty dank/dark room… This is the therapist I was looking for and never knew it. Additionally, since I had just finished a month long intensive therapy treatment, I knew exactly what things I needed to work on and where they came from. For the first time I felt like I had clear therapy goals and found someone who spoke my language and could help me.

Around the same time I started therapy, I started a 9 month advanced yoga teacher training. This training wasn’t all that different from the standard 200 hour teacher training, but it was far more in depth. This time, having a new-found goal of self-care and making time for myself, I was actually deepening my own yoga practices. I also started a daily sadhana (spiritual practice).

I was only in the training a few weeks and saw my new therapist a handful of times before taking several weeks off for a trip I had previously planned with my husband. I was off medication and only using some new techniques and my sadhana practice to keep everything in check. It was going very well.

Once we returned from vacation I had to cancel my next therapy appointment. I got busy and fell back into the older routine of not making time for myself. After just a few days of skipping sadhana and not doing the therapy exercises, I was completely off balance. It took a full week of being back on the wagon before I felt like myself again. Two more weeks passed and I again made the decision to skip my practices for a few days because I became busy with the holidays. Again, not shortly after I felt incredibly unstable.

For a myriad of reasons I didn’t have a therapy appointment scheduled for several weeks. One day during work when I felt like I was completely unraveling, I called my PCP for an appointment to discuss anti-anxiety meds again. I received an appointment for me the next morning. I spent the evening online looking up various medications that I might ask about. I didn’t want to use Lexapro again and was fearful about gaining even more weight or losing that loving feeling again.

When my provider asked why I went off Lexapro, she asked me to consider Effexor (Venlafaxine). It’s not for everybody, but most patients don’t report weight gain or sexual side effects. I had nothing to lose.

The first evening I took Effexor I felt incredibly sick and disoriented. My husband said I looked and sounded drugged. The next morning I woke up feeling like I had a really terrible hangover. I was groggy, dizzy and nauseous. Sometime around dinner the next evening I didn’t feel dizzy if I wasn’t moving. I was able to eat. I was almost feeling normal by the time I was ready to take the next pill. The next pill brought the same side effects, but they were about half as bad as the evening before. The following day by lunchtime I felt as good as I did at dinner the previous evening. On the third morning I had some vertigo for just a few short hours. I have since experienced zero effects.

Exactly one week after beginning Effexor, I made a nice dinner for my husband and I. We enjoyed it with some wine. As we were cleaning up and getting ready to watch a movie, I was dancing around doing silly kicks and laughing. My husband said I looked and sounded really happy. To which I replied “You know what? I am!” He said it must be the wine. I laughed it off but thought about how we have wine often but I often don’t feel that way. I considered that it might be the meds. I hadn’t felt that good in a long, long time. Before I started “waking up”, having anxiety, questioning the second half of life, giving myself time to contemplate the trauma that I made myself too busy to think about…. I felt like my old self, minus all the stress.

The next day I realized I felt just as good. I felt good the day after that as well, and so forth for the next several weeks. Sometime in January I became busy again and starting skipping self-care. Like the previous experiences, I wasn’t myself. However, this time it took just two days of practice to feel good again. Then again two weeks later I skipped my self-care and practices three days in a row. Not surprisingly I fell right back into the hands of anxiety and stress. It was then I realized that I need to continue to make self-care a priority.

It’s been approximately 2 straight months since I have felt balanced without excessive anxiety. I continue to take Effexor, go to therapy and do the “work” and self-examination it takes to improve mental stability.

Thanks to the program I spent a month in last summer, yoga, and therapy – I’ve received the reinforced message that it is not only ok, but necessary to take care of yourself. I know some people take that too far, but for me taking it too far was never even close to an option. It was almost a necessary survival tactic to stay so busy that I would never have time to relive some of the trauma I was trying to avoid until my body was ready to process it. Instead of running from it, I’ve learned it’s not going to hurt me and sitting with it is the only way to get through it. Sitting with [dis]-ease has only become easier and helped me in all types of other areas of my life.

I still don’t have a magic answer for anyone looking for help. Lexapro was my start. I have my own personal combined strategy that is feasible and working for the time being. For anyone struggling with anxiety or depression – there is no magic pill. It has taken me two years to find something I can keep up with and works. I had to look to where it was coming from. For me that was a strain of PTSD. I had to figure out what works for my body. And I had to find a therapist that I really feels can understand the issues that I struggle with. I hope to sustain some level of sanity while I heal and deal with old issues that have plagued me. I truly am happy and feel more better and better each day. I trust there is something for everyone and it won’t look anything like what helps me. Like I said, unfortunately there really are no magic pills.

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