The song “Voices Carry” by Til’ Tuesday always gave me somewhat of a chill. Not in a bad way, but through some haunting lens I didn’t quite understand but felt a magnetic draw to.
2 years ago while preparing some yoga classes April’s Sexual Assault month which has a strong hand-in-hand partnership with October’s Domestic Violence month (a topic that I feel very strongly about as a child abuse survivor) – I set out on a search for songs about these topics.
Voices Carry came up under Domestic Violence. Yes, I suppose – ‘shush, keep it down now, voices carry’. It wasn’t all too different from some of the other 80’s tunes like Luka and Behind the Wall. It had that same eerie vibe that drew me in, while not really digesting much what the lyrics were so poignantly about.
A few months ago on the way home from work my music was playing on shuffle in the car when “Voices Carry” came on. Likely for the first time I really listened to and digested the lyrics. The Internet search from 2 years ago plagued my mind, but I wasn’t so sure anymore that Domestic Violence was completely behind it. Was it a secret lover perhaps? What did the words mean???
Hours later after dinner, walking the dog and the nightly routine – Daren was out at hockey with Devin and I picked up my phone before bed to search the lyrics meaning.
No doubt it was about the power dynamic in an Intimate Partner relationship. But what I read over and over and over, is that the song was originally written with “She” instead of “He”. I read a lot about the video and how the man tried to control the woman… (never saw this video) and how it could be about sexual assault; but I couldn’t shake what almost seems now after one too many sources said that it was about a lesbian relationship.
Wow. That just shifts everything now doesn’t it?
I’ve written about this before- that back in May 2017 I was required to take a 50 hour CT state training on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in order to teach yoga at Domestic Violence shelters. I was ambivalent about the training. It was a requirement. I had to shift my schedule a bit to fit it in. It ended up being a life-changer.
The topics were so eye opening. It wasn’t just about the topics. It was about the dynamic of relationships. The dynamic of human unfairness. The dynamic which children grow up and how certain segments of society are treated unfairly. How cycles of violence perpetuate through generations. How we treat and work with perpetrators. How the police are trained and not trained to deal with these issues. How the law works and how the laws have changed over the years. How our culture almost encourages boys toward violence and treating women as objects. How the LGBT movement plays into it all. How race is involved in this. I trained at the umbrella agency in Bridgeport CT. I was finally able to piece together that these topics are all so very related and are ultimately human rights issues. Human Justice Issues. All encompassing and under one umbrella.
It was there I very sadly realized that I myself have PTSD from childhood abuse. I was very likely unable to handle the awareness until then. It was probably the most educational 50 hours I’d ever spent – professionally and personally.
Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and a same sex relationship – how can one song be related to all 3? How can these topics even be related?
Strange thing is that they are. It’s all stuff that as a society we’ve kept hush about and swept under the rug. Things that folks were ashamed of and had to hide. The unspeakable, but oh so very real truth.
I heard the song again last night on the way home after sharing a few drinks with a friend. It haunted me as always. Something I read a few months back when I search it the last time preoccupied my mind enough for me to try to find it again (of course I could not – go figure). A writer explained how she always believed the song was about a heterosexual couple in an affair situation until she read about the “she” word removal as well. At that point she wrote a bit about how sad it was that the record company wouldn’t record it, as stations and the public were not ready for the topic; but how that changed the words and entire meaning of the song for her.
Voices Carry… Voices Carry… Voices Carry.
That was the main meaning. If we don’t keep quiet about a topic, the voice of it will carry to others. The message will get across. Yes, ‘shush’ we’ve been told to keep it down, that voices will carry. But on the other hand – Voices Carry! The more we talk and bring awareness, the more our voices will carry. Would it have been so bad to carry the message the writer intended to send?
The love of homosexuals. Any human or sexual orientation that is involved in intimate partner violence. Child Abuse. Sexual assault/abuse/rape. The mental illness of perpetrators. & their own sordid pasts… These are human rights issues. Things that have made people feel ashamed and lesser than. Things they’ve felt the need to hide. People who have felt they have no voice.
Not treating everyone the same regardless of the shoes they’ve walked in is ABUSE.
No need to listen to the bully who says “Shush & Keep it down now”. Voices do carry. All of them do. Like drops in a bucket. Each little drop will contribute to the eventual overflow that will change things. Every voice counts.
Wide awake and pitch black. A quick look at the bedside clock reveals it’s only4:40am. I still have over another hour to sleep.
My mind races with things I’m excited to do today. I don’t know how I could get them done, but I want to try to fit them in if at all possible. I would love to start the holiday baking. I have a scarf to finish and several more origami boxes for gifts to make. And definitely squeeze in a run. An appointment and work are the anchors of what I need to work around. I mentally strategize about how to make the fun stuff happen. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, looking back this crazy thought process wasClue #1that I was anxious and trying to vet my energy in a positive way.
Then I remember it’s my husband Daren’s Birthday! Maybe I should get up and make scones to surprise him with? I can do that, then maybe run before logging into work since I’m teleworking today. That would be a fine start to the day.
I forgo the attempt to go back to sleep and decide on birthday scones.Clue #2that I wasn’t quite right should have been when I went into the bathroom for my Ayurvedic morning routine and I didn’t quite screw a cap back on one of my oils before picking it up again… by the cap. Ugh what a yucky mess.
I stumble downstairs in the dark all set to make blueberry scones. The three cats are milling for breakfast and are so very underfoot, the sink is sort of full and the dishwasher needs to be emptied, I need to clear these things to bake – all are in my way.
My heart starts to race.Clue #3. Things not going the way I expect. I take a deep breath and remind myself that nothing I am doing is truly necessary, has a deadline, and are only things I would like to do and are in no way vital.
For a few minutes I feel calm and present as I put everything away, feed the cats and rush over to open the blinds. Why am I rushing???Clue #4.
I also notice that last night we left a mess of pillows and blankets strewn all about the living room. Pet toys are everywhere. And there is a cat puke to boot! I realize I’m rushing and that opening blinds can take place after I start to bake. Why do I need to keep reminding myself to slow down this morning?Clue #5.
I walk very slowly on purpose back to the kitchen and begin taking out the ingredients and supplies. I preheat the oven. Start the coffee maker (how could I not have done that first thing?Clue #6), and start to assemble what I hope to be scones in a short 20 minutes or so.
Moments later my heart starts to race again. My breath is erratic.Clue #7.
Something is SO wrong. But what? Why last Wednesday evening did my son Tom snap at me when I asked him to keep the dog’s training collar on? I immediately get angry about this even though I didn’t at the time. The look of disgust on his face 10 minutes later when I asked him politely if something was wrong while I was in this same kitchen at this same counter, assembling the makings of a Thanksgiving dish. The look on his face was followed by a loud, angry statement about how he doesn’t appreciate coming home from work and being talked to like that. I quickly looked over to Daren at the time who had his back turned pretending not to hear the conversation.
“Like what?” I asked.
“Forget it ma!, I’m taking the dog for a walk” as he stormed out the door.
How dare he? At the time I almost laughed it off. Immediately after the door slammed behind Tom, I asked my husband if I said anything wrong. He affirmed I had not in the very least. Hours later while at his girlfriend’s house, Tom texted me to say he was sorry about snapping earlier and that he loves me. The whole episode was just NOT a big deal. So why am I so upset this morning?Clue #8.
I start mixing the wet ingredients into the dry, being careful not to overmix. As I prepare the counter with a light dusting of flour before turning this beautifully slightly moistened dough to the floured surface, I consider how much I cannot stand when someone accuses me of something I didn’t do, then yells or gets mad at me for it! Kind of the way my oldest step-son stormed out of the house and sent a rash of nasty texts after falsely accusing me of throwing away pieces of his mother’s wedding cake one morning a few months back. Immediately following that incident my husband scratched his head along with me and assured me I did nothing wrong, but after a few days if it was ever brought up again he appeared nervous and shifty; looking like he really doesn’t want me to bring it up ever again. Did he talk to his son? What on earth about that changed his mind so drastically about this incident?
Now my heart is REALLY racing. I feel as if my life is at stake and I need to fight for it! Why am I even thinking about this now?Clue #9
I continue to work, but my hands are shaking, I can’t concentrate.Clue #10.
I want to bring these things up with my son and husband. Unearth them and find out what they were thinking long after the fact, as soon as I see them today–Clue #11.
There are two ways this story could go
I could do just that – what I wanted to do. Talk to them about it. And how might that go? I know how this story ends, but it wouldn’t matter because I don’t want to feel the terror, anxiety and anger I feel right now about it. I want these feelings to go away pronto. I’ll sound angry, because I am angry and super crazy anxious. I’ll let them know I can’t sound kind and gentle when I’m anxious like this – but it will not matter to them. All they will see is an angry mom/wife. They will be defensive. I will plead that I’m just trying to understand and want to talk. They won’t understand me or why I’m bringing it up. I don’t know why either. All I know is that I’m infuriated about this. I’m infuriated about being accused of things I didn’t do and then being treated poorly because of these said non-existent things.
I could remember that I have PTSD and I missed a lot of clues that I was so obviously anxious this morning, I woke up anxious and at some point became triggered in the kitchen.
This morning thankfully I went with the latter option. In fact as soon as I came to terms with the very real fact that I have PTSD last summer it was an option at almost all moments when I had this feeling that something was just terribly wrong and at some point it started to feel like my life was at stake. My issue nowadays is that I always feel terrible when I miss the earlier clues. Sometimes I can catch them and breath or take a medication. But today I missed them all before I was fully triggered.
As I begin kneading the dough I thought more deeply about what I’m really, really feeling. I was likely triggered by Tom’s reaction simply by being in the kitchen in same way with the same light while it was dark outside. That trigger lead to thinking about my step-son months ago, but itreallyled all the way deep down into the child inside me that became frozen in a certain state 40+ years ago.
Being accused of something that wasn’t my fault, something I didn’t do, or something I couldn’t have possibly known was the norm. It often led to consequences where I was abused, sometimes very badly. My mom was often a bystander, not wanting to be abused herself. She would often look away or side with my father (the perpetrator). Someone standing by while I was unfairly accused hurt even more. Even though he didn’t mean it, Daren keeping his back turned or refusing to talk to me about the supposed wedding cake incident feels like a bystander not helping the child inside me in need.
Since this past summer I learned that long-term childhood abuse is particularly complex if it was at the hands of a caregiver, because as a child your actual survival is at stake. You need your caregivers to live. That terrified part of me has become frozen in time. I often handle situations like this and a handful of others that would have led to abuse in a similar manner. During the initial encounter I’m very strong. I act as if nothing is wrong, as I had to do as a child just to get through the episode. Crying wasn’t allowed, even while getting hit- in fact it made things worse. I learned to deal with an incident by being strong and doing whatever I need to do. The hurt, terror and anger always came later and still does until this day when an old wound is rubbed, some time has passed, and my body feels safe and I’m re-triggered. Which often enough strangely leads me to feel as if I’m in survival mode. My heart, my breath, the crazed thoughts. My lower brain’s alarm signals to me that I need to fight for my rights, get out, get even, I’m being wronged, etc.
We all have that lower brain (the reptilian one without higher rational thought-like acrocodile). Mine recognizes triggers that were necessary for survival long ago and all our lower brains possess the ability to shut down the executive functioning portion of the brain if survival really is at stake when we need to flight, flight or freeze. It’s how we are built. The problem with PTSD is that sometimes the danger is only perceived and not even real. If the person doesn’t catch it, they have an episode which isn’t pretty. When I’m already anxious before I’m triggered I’m far more likely to not notice.
While folding blueberries into the scone dough, my higher and lower brain were in conflict. The part that I innately identify as me(more or less the higher, rational thinking part of the brain)was telling myself I was alright, I’m only in my kitchen; totally safe- I am and will be ok.
This part of my physical symptoms of being triggered are where adrenaline has entirely flooded my body. I can feel it’s desperate need to be released. I start to boil with heat. I hyperventilate and often cry uncontrollably. The next few hours are always recovery. Sometimes this happens often – several days in a row. I’m told it’s normal as you are going through PTSD treatment to go through time periods like this. When a childhood trauma victim feel safe as an adult- however many years or decades later, the body begins healing itself through bringing up old cellular memories in order to rid the body of deep-rooted habits/reactions/etc that no longer serve it.
I put the scones in the oven and set the timer. I’m lost. What was I going to do next? Did I make the coffee yet? I’m dazed, I’m confused, I’m sad… I’m just overwhelmingly dysfunctional. Daren comes down. Today I can explain my full thought process. We hug. I cry. I can hardly pick up a cup without almost dropping it. The scones are ready. We enjoy them although I can’t finish even one.
Sounds crazy? Yes, I know. But overall, I’m feeling better day by day. I know I need to go through this to get over/past/through – however it’s best phrased “it”. I continue to be patient and greet whatever arises, being careful to not get suckered into false alarms. That’s the trickiest part.
But I’m OK. I’m enjoying the healing, one cell at a time.
Social Media Disclaimer:
Many people often ask me why I so freely share my troubles. I share because I’ve found shame for so long in not being perfect. I’ve felt for too long like damaged goods I’ve learned none of us could ever be perfect and to even try to entertain such a thing or put on that façade is a set up for failure and takes WAY too much energy. We all suffer and we can only gain strength with connection. So I’m living the change I’d like to see by normalizing what is after all very normal.
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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.
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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 –
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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I will start with the kids because when I see people I haven’t seen in a while, it’s the first thing they ask me about to break the ice.
Starting with the oldest.
Tom is now 20. He has been going to college at the University of Southern Maine for 2 ½ years, majoring in English. He met a sweet girl the fall semester of last year named Aisy. I had the pleasure of meeting her for the first time on my birthday this year. Tom spent the summer with Aisy and her family in Rhode Island while working at a tent/party set up company. He says it was the best summer and job of his life. He’s had a myriad of jobs in college and is currently working in Whole Foods. But only temporarily. As of today he will be moving back home and finishing school here in Connecticut. Aisy is also moving back home with her folks to finish school in a more economic manner. We are very much looking forward to having Tom back home with us, Koji & Devin. It’s rather quiet in our house these days!
Gabby. She is now 18. She finished high school last June and is currently a freshman at the University of Rhode Island (URI) studying Geographical Oceanography. She is challenging herself the first two semesters with several lab classes and an intense course load. She is also in the Honors Program. The last days of senior year brought all kinds of fun and memorable activities like prom, award ceremonies, trips and of course graduation. Gabby worked at Panera Bread for the past year through the time she started college. She is still a seasonal employee and will be working through winter break. It will be nice to have her home for the next month too. Other than one of the cats, I’m the only girl left in our house. Gabby does add a nice feminine flair!
Last visit to URI where Gabby decided she wanted to attend this school
Last fending tournament last March
Kieran. He will be 18 in just 14 days from today. He is a senior at Hopkins High School and just got into Harvard! Yes, Harvard – wow! 3rd generation (both his parents & maternal grandmother). We found out just Tuesday evening after his winter concert while my in-laws were visiting. Kieran has many highlights this year. Most notably he made it to Nationals for singing. He was in Disney with the nationals group just a few weeks ago following the Thanksgiving holiday. He had many roles in school plays and recently was cast as the lead role in Heathers for the Spring 2018 Musical at Hopkins. For a variety of reasons he hasn’t been spending considerable time at our house, but we are very proud of his accomplishments.
Devin. He is now 14. He finished up IDS (the elementary/secondary school he has been in since he started school) this year in June. It was emotional as he said goodbye to teachers and friends he has known since he remembers pretty much anything. Of course in this day and age it’s not goodbye – as he is pretty much on a perpetual group chat with his old friends on a daily basis. Devin is now a freshman at Cheshire High School (CHS, where Tom & Gabby went to school). He is also in his last year of playing hockey with the Whalers. Next year he will transition onto the high school hockey team. He is still playing the trumpet and we were treated to yet another great holiday concert at CHS last night.
Daren and I traveled quite a bit this year. We started the year on a work trip (Daren’s work) to Newport CA. In April we took Gabby and her good friend Kelly to Disney for their senior year. Devin and his friend Cole joined us. We also took some day trips & weekend trips to Long Island and around New England to Kingston RI, Portland, ME, Stowe, VT, Grafton, VT… to name a few. But our biggest trip was definitely to Africa! We went to Africa to celebrate Daren’s 50th birthday. We visited Cape Town, South Africa, Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and then went on an overland safari that started in Zimbabwe – went all through Botswana; and landed us back in South Africa in Soweto.
At Disney in Anaheim during the Newport Visit this year
Chobe National Park Botswana
Random beer tasting trip in Rhode Island
Daren turned 50! He is still working at CHC (Community Health Center), rocking it with doing 3 jobs and writing grants and papers left and right. In the off time he still runs, reads and plays piano. This summer he spent quite a bit of time working on the lovely boat the Melanie’s parents (Melanie & John – our good friends) no longer wanted. After fixing it up he got down to Branford as often as possible to take her out on the water. And the ol’ piano needed some serious fixing. All the keys recently got replaced last month in a serious several day long event.
Daren & I putting up backsplash at Summer Island last winter
I would say this year was even more about yoga for me than last year. I started the year out by opening my own LLC (Yograzia Balance). At first I was holding classes at a home studio. It was going well until someone complained twice about zoning. I’ve taught at a variety of places throughout the year. Most notably I became certified to teach trauma informed yoga at domestic violence shelters. It is the most rewarding teaching I do. Currently, I’m enrolled in a 300-hour yoga teacher-training program, which will finish in June. I’m loving every minute of it, as the material transfers immediately over to my personal life and practices. I’m continuing to work part-time at the VA. My job is not quite as challenging as others at the VA have been, but it works perfectly for our lifestyle at the moment. I also take care of the house & rentals in Branford. More below.
The rental house in Branford has been a success to date! We had over 25 renters this year and got nothing but rave reviews on both vacation rental sites. We used the house ourselves for 2 weeks in the summer and almost every time it was empty. In 2018 we have it blocked for 4 weeks in the summer and hope to make it down more often in the off season. Turning it over and answering calls and texts on the weekends from the renters is not my favorite thing. However; I learned a lot this year, made many adjustments and changes, and hope to have a better handle on the rental process and turnovers next year.
That’s all the good/positive stuff. On a more realistic note –
I’m still struggling with stress, anxiety and PTSD. Being 100% honest, it’s been the most challenging year I’ve ever faced with treatment, medication(s), and my own personal growth. Grades are a struggle for some of our brood. Work, school, and home challenges often get in the way of a mood, sometimes an evening. We’ve have blended & biological family struggles, hurt feelings, and harshness exchanged. We had a flood from our dishwasher into the basement this summer that knocked our kitchen and basement out of commission for a while. We had contractors in the house almost every day for about 6 weeks. Devin had emergency hernia surgery. Tom’s car broke down on the Fourth of July holiday.
My ex (John) moved away to Tennessee to start a new job and life. My brother Mario has been staying with us when he can while trying to start a new life away from Long Island. Our pets bring us so much love and joy, but they also destroy stuff, throw up, cover our homes in hair, scare away guests and delivery people…
But we are so blessed. We have food in our bellies, a warm place to stay every night, healthcare, clothes in our closet, JOBS, and as the late Dr. Seuss would say, brains in our head and feet in our shoes. No one likes a struggle, but I’m actually thankful for them. They bring insight and make the good times even more sweet. I’m learning that struggles are as normal and expected as joy, and to not be so thrown off when they show up knocking on the doorstep. Learning…. Not there yet – but I am enjoying the path to learning to be ok with whatever I wake up to face each day.
Here’s to the closing of 2017. Onto the next!
Wildflower garden at the back of the house in Branford
At Powder Ridge this fall
Maria & Koji on Mario’s 40th Birthday
At Stony Creek Brewery
Sunset across the street Daren & I caught
Kofi about to get some doggie ice-cream
Kofi swimming after Tom in the kayak
Mother’s Day 2017
Koji hanging out with Aisy’s dogs
Gabby with M&M (the only other female creature in our house)
Maria while she stayed with us at Summer Island this July
Koji & Gilmore
Pumpkin spice with cream cheese frosting cupcakes I make every year in honor of Daren & I’s anniversary. I made them for our wedding too.
Maria & Ella reunited with Anna Sara at JFK
Dropping off my little girl at college
All 4 animals lounging on our bed
Long Trail brewing company in VT
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Wikipedia defines a division bell as: A division bell is a bell rung in or around a parliament to signal a division and thus call all members of the chamber so affected to vote in it.
Hence –it’s a call to action.
It’s also an album by Pink Floyd that was released in 1994. Pink Floyd was one of my favorite groups in high school. In 1994 when this album was released I was a senior in high school just about to graduate. I heard it right after I made my decision to join to military once I graduated. It felt like a time of hope. The album spoke to me.
It’s time for me to do my part in a call to action against domestic violence. I grew up as a child in a household with domestic violence. My father was the perpetrator, my mother, brothers, and myself the victims. More than anyone though, even my family would agree, for some reason I bore the brunt of the violence.
Like a fish doesn’t know it’s in water, I didn’t know I was in a bad situation. I didn’t realize my father was an alcoholic. I knew he was a gambler. I knew what happened in our house wasn’t right, but I also thought it could be worse and the people who experienced something worse were really the victims. There were so many people in my life who saw the signs and bruises and heard our excuses. Teachers, friends, friend’s parents, our own extended family, our neighbors. No one dared ask past the excuse. They all suspected, but they dropped it there. I always thought – they should suspect more, poke a hole in my ridiculous story so I have a reason to elaborate. Since they didn’t, I assumed my parents were right and it must not be too bad.
Everything went. Things broke. Things were thrown at us – food, boiling water, household objects. Our heads and bodies made holes in walls and doors. I was thrown across the room, beaten with a chair, punched, kicked… you name it. Called names, told I was stupid, lazy, a whore, an idiot, etc. Looking back it’s a miracle I made it out ok.
I was also told not to cry – by both of my parents. Neither could stand anyone yelling back or crying. I learned so early on to bury my feelings and cry only under the cloak of darkness.
I knew I wanted out of that house, probably from the age of a toddler. My mother once said to me she couldn’t leave my father because she didn’t finish high school and couldn’t take care of us. It was my life’s mission as a kid to finish school and get an education so I could take care of myself. I didn’t want to be like her and put anyone else into the situation I was in.
It wasn’t until about a year after I left my house & was in the military that I realized anything was different about me. I overreacted far more than anyone else to other people’s anger. I jumped when asked to do something and did it better than anyone else. The only good that probably came out of my growing up situation is that it made me a good solider, a good employee, one who aims to please. But other people’s anger really got to me. I went to see a counselor through the EAP program once my ship was on land. She gave me a book about co-dependence and didn’t think I needed to go back. It was no help at all to me.
When I got pregnant with Tommy I was determined to be a different kind of parent. I read every book I could get my hands on about parenting, which was pretty limited 21 years ago – it wasn’t like I had Amazon or all the time in the world to shop while I was active duty. I think the books served me well. John didn’t read anything and was quick to listen to me. We were on the same page as parents – loving, stern, caring, rules, and fun. Once I had Tommy and I was a parent myself, I started to realize how it feels to care for and love another little human so much. It really started to bother me thinking about the way I grew up. I just didn’t understand. For about a year I think I cried and journaled EVERY SINGLE day. John was kind and patient. He was more angry at my parents than I was. Again I went to counseling through the EAP, and again I found it to be a waste of time.
One day about a year of absolute post suffering, in the middle of writing – something just clicked inside me. It was like something you read about in books or see in the movies. All of a sudden my sadness was just lifted. It wasn’t replaced by bliss and I wasn’t overly joyed; but I felt a sense of letting go of the past. I suddenly realized what John meant when he said there is nothing you can do about it anymore. I think I just put the pen down and stopped shedding tears. I was just done crying about the past. I was only 22 at the time.
For the most part since then I’ve been able to talk about my experience without getting swept away by it. When I was 30 my mom passed away and her boss asked our family if we would write a little something about her life. I wrote this story that I shared on the 10 year anniversary of her passing on my blog page: https://esterinaanderson.com/tag/my-mom/.
At the time there was nowhere to post it. I emailed it to a bunch of my family and friends. Everyone gathered around & supported me. It was the first time I was public with what happened in my house. I hit send and was kind of frightened by the reaction I might get. I had always felt ashamed and broken by the situation – as if it made me different from everyone else and less of a person. But the love and support I received made that feeling disappear. It felt good to share. I felt light.
For the next 10 years I only talked about it when it seemed relevant (super rarely). It wasn’t until I went to a Yocovery class last March that I realized I was still very much affected by what happened to me. Yocovery is a special program at my yoga studio where addicts and family members of addicts go weekly to share their stories and do a little yoga. I was curious about what it was one Friday evening, so I drove over and joined the class. Everyone started sharing their stories. When it came to be my turn and I started talking, I was surprised to get choked up and then start crying. Wow – it did still bother me. Over the next few months I started to read about the affects of child abuse on adults. I was a classic case. Anxiety, anger, rage, guilt, shame, emotional numbing, dissociation. On the outside I’m very normal and well adjusted, but I hid a lot. And I hid it so well I was no longer aware it was even there.
In December I became aware of a group called Exhale to Inhale (ETI). ETI. is an organization that supports victims of domestic violence and sexual assault through the teaching of yoga. I joined the group and will soon be taking trauma teacher training so I can volunteer my time at shelters and safe houses. In the month of April the organization asked members to hold donations based classes through their own events and at their home yoga studios. I wanted to be a part of that. I emailed my beautiful point of contact at my home studio and got it registered for a volunteer class on Sat 4/15/17 http://www.yogasouthington.com/news-and-events/. I may also host a personal event at the house in Branford on 3/31. Stay tuned.
As strong as I feel, while researching some quotes, pictures and facts to incorporate into this class; I had to stop, cry and feel. Even 23 years after I have left the house, the experiences sit so deeply within in me until today. As a child I had nowhere to go, I didn’t even really know I was in harms way. In school we learned when to tell, but my parents would tell me that is for other people, not us – don’t waste their time. And I believed them.
I just still wanted out of that house. Music through my growing up helped me to escape and deal. Be normal. Sing in the car. Have something fun to connect to. Dance in my room with the door closed. Pink Floyd was one of those music groups for me. Those last few weeks in high school when the Division Bell came out, the end was in sight. The songs on that album mean so much to me. They can be relevant for so many topics. In my room while falling asleep – those songs… the lyrics and instruments were about the rise and fall of innocence before and after abuse. “On the Turning Away” from Momentary Lapse of Reason spoke to me about people who kind of knew but turned away. And then the escape. The ringing of the division bell at the end of that album in the song “High Hopes” as it faded away, sounded to me at the time like the bell toll that was my escape. Any bells I heard after that, especially in my early days of boot camp and in the military were the sound of justice for me. I hope to make that album in some way part of the theme for the karma class to raise money for ETI. The ringing of the Division Bell is a call to action to vote on something and bring justice. It’s time to do something about domestic violence.
Also in reading about the topic of child abuse I had to shake a bit in disgust. Sometimes as a society we take identifying “abuse” too far. Feeling angry, yelling at a kid every once in a while when they actually did something disrespectful, not looking up for the 5th time when a child shows you something and pretending it’s the best thing you ever saw while you are trying to finish something for work, taking some time for yourself and not attending every last little league game is NOT abuse. I couldn’t believe the things I was reading. It’s not even in the same league. Doing these things repetitively could be – absolutely… But children who now feel like they are being neglected and abused by working parents because they only help with their homework 50% of the time is not neglect. I understand why people tune out and don’t pay attention to so many allegations.
There is real abuse taking place. It can be hard to weed through the garbage of allegations, but those who know about it or have experience just can tell. There is a true sense of hopelessness, loss of control, and fear in victims. ETI’s two platforms of Intimate Partner violence and sexual assault help survivors to feel empowered, to feel safe, to help themselves, and to connect with the spirit inside of them that knows the right thing to do.
People are surprised I don’t hate my father. I do love him. I can’t be around him for long. I feel kind of bad for him. He has no real friends. He is still an alcoholic. He hangs with the wrong crowd and does the wrong things. When you talk to him he lives in the past and will still talk about my mom and how she left him, never understanding his part in it. He is still quick to blow up. Has been in jail a few times. He is loving. He is generous with his money. He has some really insightful, intelligent things to say sometimes. People that don’t know him who tell me that my father is a good man and nice company don’t know any better. I liken it to what my brother Mario once said recently about the type of people who support certain politics – if you say you like pops you just don’t know any better; and there is no way I can explain it to you because you haven’t experienced the dark side.
We all come from different experiences. Don’t judge, but do give and command respect back – Always. Act in love, but don’t be pushed around. Listen to your gut if something feels off and stand up for what is right. Push a little harder if you are talking to someone you suspect is having any of these experiences. They likely won’t tell you the first time you ask, but once or twice more may be just the little barrier breaker that can save them.
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The familiar heart pounding experience sets in. My whole body tenses. I have a slight shake, and I kind of feel like I’m slightly rocking back and forth in the upper part of my body. My temples tense and kind of pulsate. Fear grips me. A slight bit of heat overcomes me. My body is in full on fight or flight mode. One would think I see a tiger that is about to eat me and I need to make a quick life saving decision. But the truth of the matter is all that I’m doing is checking my work email right now.
I feel like I’m doing too many things. In general. I feel stressed. Like all the time. Today is Wednesday, April 20th. I just came back from a most awesome yet very demanding week of visiting colleges with my husband and daughter. I was pretty relaxed all week. It is an unusual feeling for me. The noise in my head was shut down a few times. Totally quiet. Usually there is a myriad of several demanding things competing for my attention. And even on the rare occasions when there isn’t such as when I’m driving, getting ready to go to bed or uncommonly watching tv, there is still a background static of things I should be doing, forgot about, am worried about, want to look up… the list goes on.
This week it was mostly quiet in my head. It felt great. Maybe what normal non-stressed, anxiety ridden people feel like. Perhaps I’m changing I foolishly think to myself. That thought was shattered yesterday when my flight was delayed in Dallas. It was just me and Gabby coming home with many things to do as soon as we got home. First the connection was tight. I started to tense up then when I realized this only after the plane landed and I looked down at the next boarding pass. I mentally started to plot the route out of the deplaning process to the next gate. I watch with increasing frustration as people move out ever so so slowly. Stopping as they are pulling down their overhead luggage and talking to another passenger as if they cannot do two things at once and suddenly this very trivial conversation about the weather outside is more important. People with wheelchairs and strollers seem to just jump in our way, getting in as if they have all the time in the world. Stopping to laugh and admire the child who is running off and not getting in the stroller while blocking a plane full of people behind them. Gabby and I finally make it into the terminal only to realize we are in terminal A and need to be in terminal C. We are both starving. We stop at Starbucks knowing we will be a few minutes late to the start of boarding time, but agree it’s more important to grab food since we didn’t have time for breakfast and it was almost noon. Starbucks is painstakingly slow too. The girl making my smoothie is moving at molasses pace and kept stopping to flirt with an American Airlines employee who is leaning over the counter to talk to her. She doesn’t even look at me when she hands me the drink and says “have a nice day”. My blood started completely racing. We book on out of there and rush to the gate only to see there is a 10-minute delay. My mind starts mentally calculating what a 10-minute delay will do when we get home. I find that we can still be 45 minutes late and will have plenty of time to pick up the dog from where he is being boarded. Gabby and I find a seat quite far from the gate and take a moment to breath. I return a phone call to the dentist, write a thank you to the friends we just stayed with, and wrote a restaurant review. 15 minutes pass. Then 20. Radio silence from the airline. Only 10 minutes more. Then 10 more. Then it’s unknown. The stress really sets in. I call Koji’s boarding place to add another night. I go through all my work email. I start to mentally plot how to best carry in the bags, go through the mail, scrape cat litter, get the laundry rolling and shower before work tomorrow. I have a grocery delivery coming that will likely also get delayed if this plane doesn’t take off soon. My mind is racing. I can’t read or meditate or do any of the things that one would do to chill. Suddenly I get the idea to calculate whether or not I want to “waste” another vacation day tomorrow. As I weigh the options I notice my muscles and jaw relax at the thought. I text my boss and start to unwind just a bit. I will be ok. I’m still stressed but at a lower level. Gabby is stressed and has all her homework pulled out in the terminal and is balancing it on her legs. She later tells me she was on the verge of tears. My real life starts to set back into my thoughts. The quiet is gone. I’m back to my normal stressed baseline.
Life right? Most people have similar experiences or far worse. First world problems. They are so silly in comparison to disease and starvation. I struggle to realize this. Telling myself this doesn’t quiet the noise in my head. My husband and I are both outside of the home for work at least 11+ hours per day. We have 4 kids between the two of us. One is at college now and is a huge help when home. Another drives which made life so much easier. The 3 living at home are in 3 different schools. 2 of the schools are 30 minutes away in the opposite direction from each other and without transportation services for the two younger kids that don’t drive. One of the kids is in hockey at least 4 days a week and anyone familiar with the sport knows it’s actually a lifestyle. The other two play sports and one still needs rides quite often. We have 3 cats, a dog and 3 fish. We have ex-spouses with complicated schedules and arguments over legal issues. My husband’s ex travels quite often and doesn’t communicate well. She lives ½ hour away and the kids often forget things they absolutely need in either house. My ex recently moved over an hour away out of state and insists my 16-year old daughter drive herself up there every other weekend as if he still lived down the road. It makes me nervous for her to drive so far and on highways with a new license. She stresses about her homework and not being able to see friends when she goes up there. Weekends are filled with trips to these schools, sports and friends all in towns quite far from our home; prepping food, taking care of the lawn and garden, trying to squeeze in some personal exercise, getting the dog out of the house to burn out some of his high energy, maintaining the home and fixing whatever needs fixing. If we use a weekend to get away or visit the older one in college we need to squeeze this other stuff in elsewhere during the week between concerts, sports practice, dinner meetings, after work medical, dental, and veterinary appointments. Not to mention during the week there is getting dinner on the table, laundry, homework, lunch prepping, mail, phone messages, some crisis to avert or bill to straighten out or package to pack up and squeeze in sending out or returning. Every new thing elevates my stress just a little more. I mostly capitalize on it to plot the next course of action in the most effective streamlined possible way. Work is the same. As new emails pop in, calendar items are added, thoughts to explore from my well meaning co-workers and superiors are piled on; my heart pounds, I tense, and I breath erratically. I try to avoid people in the halls or in my suite who want to chat or connect over something mutual because I don’t have the time. I’m thinking 20 steps ahead at how I’m going to accomplish it all and stopping to smell the roses and have human interaction wasn’t part of the plan. I feel like I must look like a walking lunatic; however I’m always surprised to hear that people think I’m friendly and outgoing, seem to have all the time in the world and pull it all together so seamlessly.
I am so ingrained in this system that when I have a few minutes to read at night before bed or a moment to catch my breath and enjoy an afternoon out on the weekend or time with friends that I feel like I must be crazy to think I have a hectic life because look I have time now and I’m not stressed. All in all, that is probably like 5% of my life. It’s so enjoyable that it keeps me going the other crazy 95%. 95% of the time I’m in fight or flight mode.
Thanks to my decision to take today off to unwind and catch up, this morning I woke up softly and did not have to rush. I felt relaxed and well rested. I had coffee, checked Facebook, and responded to my texts with time, attention and enjoyment. When I left to pick up the dog I had the most lovely 9-minute ride. I felt the sun on my skin, the air coming through the window. I looked at the trees and bushes. I heard other people’s music. I was SO in the moment. I was not rushed, sort of like the people getting off the plane yesterday. While I waited for the dog and saw people dropping off their pets for daycare in a rush and in tights, heels, and neck hugging ties all stressed out that it was taking so long I felt thankful that wasn’t me today. Koji and I drove home in peace. We had nowhere to be. He oscillated between having his head out the window and coming over to me to give doggie love. We got home. I fed him and enjoyed watching him enjoying being home. We went upstairs to keep the laundry moving. He sat at my feet while I folded the big, messy, unruly pile into nice neat beautifully folded laundry. My bedroom windows were open. The sun was shining in. I folded the laundry with love. Looking at my clothes, the stitching, the lace… I never noticed these things before. My husband’s shirt he wore on Friday, his running clothes. I thought about him in them and how much I love him. When I went to put the towels away in the bathroom I noticed the pictures on the wall. I hardly see them. I remember the day Daren and I bought them in Marshalls a few years ago. They are pictures of tranquil beach scenes from a porch front. They match the blue and white walls and trim. My bathroom looked picturesque itself this morning with the sun shining in the windows. The plants on the window sills were sitting there alongside the candles. I hardly ever notice them. We rushedly water them every week as we cross off a chore on the list. We don’t lite those candles, but gosh they are pretty. We don’t have time. I want that time. I put away the laundry and feel inspired to write about this. I feel good, calm, peaceful, happy.
I walk downstairs and pull out my computer. I look at my to do list I made for today. I took the day off to catch up so there is quite a bit to do. The list starts to make my heart pound. I pull up my work email to put on my out of office and decide to go through all the new emails that arrived since the airport yesterday since it will make my job of going back to work easier tomorrow. I look at my calendar too for tomorrow. I have back-to-back meetings ALL day except for 2 hours. There were things to prep for that I should be doing. There is an email string with some friends of mine from work about a happy hour that keeps interrupting me in a good way but an interruption none-the-less. I start to stress. And then I stopped. I stopped and starting writing. It’s what my heart wants to do.
This is how I live. I thought it was normal to feel like this all of the time. For the past 4-5 years I have been telling my husband how stressed I feel. As I started to discover spirituality and yoga I felt the intense need to slow down. As I started to realize how incongruent most of my day is in comparison to what my heart wants to do I started to feel more stress ironically. I began reading up on things where I feel a natural call like helping those less fortunate, fighting for womens and minority rights, animal rights, educating our society on thinking of others, the homeless… Not doing these things felt wrong as I got in my car everyday to start my soul sucking commute to work. I make a salary I’m proud of and have a job that helps society, but the money made gets poured right back into the society I’m not sure I believe in any longer and “bettering” the kids. I had to start wondering all what for. What are the kids getting better at? Learning how to run around like crazy lunatics in the hope for “success”? 2 of them are seriously stressed as young teenagers already. What is success? Is it making a lot of money and doing the same for your offspring? Spending so much time feeling like you do a good job at work that enjoying life, human interaction, the family & pets are the last thing you have time for? Because we are so busy we use a grocery delivery service, a maid service and our dog goes to daycare. We order everything online. I don’t see my house and my belongings as I wipe the dust from a scenic picture I picked out. I don’t see the joy in my dog’s face as he runs free with other dogs. I’m not the one playing catch with him, I’m only reading about how much fun he had on the report card I get from his daycare. I’m watching the kid’s sporting events mentally calculating the time and how I’m going to get everything crammed in. When I fall down in an exhausted heap at the end of the night on the couch to watch tv for a few moments before I know I will drift off and a cat immediately jumps on me to sit in view of the tv, and starts purring; I am slightly annoyed rather than overjoyed that this little bundle of love wants anything to do with me after feeding them twice that day and scraping their litter was nothing more than another chore to cross off the to-do list.
I enjoy very little of what I work for anymore. I’m stressed all the time. I wake up many mornings already in fight or flight as soon as my eyes open. Daren will ask me what is wrong and I’ll tell him I’m stressed and anxious. I go downstairs to squeeze in my daily exercise at 4:45 am and try to enjoy a cup of coffee, but I feel like a beast and try not to snap at my well meaning family as they seemingly pile more information and requests on me.
As I said, I thought it was normal. It all came to a head a few weeks ago though. While driving to New York city after a long Saturday afternoon of running the kids around, watching Gabby’s fencing match, and knowing she is driving to Massachusetts alone; Daren and I had some time to catch up on home business we needed to exchange. A few disturbing conversations with the kids, I had slight worry from a semi-argument I had with Tommy earlier that week, and there was the possibility of another pending lawsuit with Daren’s ex. To boot we were running late to catch our show at the Opera and I wasn’t sure we would even have time to eat before the show. I felt the old familiar pangs of stress. But often times I don’t have time to address them so I ignore them. This particular night I didn’t want to engage in these conversations. Daren passed them along to me as one might pass along information at a meeting to their employees that they needed to know. I just listened and stared out the window trying to control my breathing and thinking about how to deal with all of this tomorrow after we come home from the city. Well at 2am I woke up in a panic. I often do. I put all the worries aside for the evening and they woke me up. Luckily this time I fell back to sleep. At 7am Daren and I both woke up. I had one of those mornings where I had the fight or flight feeling as soon as I opened my eyes. Daren was trying to have a nice sunny conversation that I was ignoring as I tried to understand why I felt so stinking anxious. He asks me what is wrong. I tell him I’m anxious. He tells me I’m always anxious. He doesn’t understand this and this is normal dialogue for us. Only that day something different happened. Because there was no house to take care of and place to rush off to, as we got ready to leave without too much distraction I started to get more and more anxious. It got so bad I had a panic attack. It was the first time I had one. I wasn’t scared, I knew exactly what I was. I rode it out. It passed but I had an unsettled feeling for the whole ride home and cried most of the way. Daren could not understand what was wrong. All I could explain is that I was anxious. He asked about what. I tell him about the various things and he says that is just life. I don’t want this to be my life. We have choices about how to live. I live how I’ve been told we should live and I’ve been confused ever since I started questioning this. Two days later while driving to work I started to feel myself working up to a panic attack again while thinking about the upcoming day. I kept control of it. I walked up the stairs to work and the act of being slightly breathless put me right into another panic attack. No one was at work yet so I went right into my office, pulled the curtain and closed the door. I rocked myself back to a normal state after about 10 minutes of hyperventilating and crying. Two days later the same thing happened again. And then it happened the next night, and then the morning after. The next Wednesday evening after Date Night and Daren and I sat in the car outside of the restaurant, I thought about how the night went so fast and I never had time to talk to him about how we can possibly change our lifestyle to ease up on life on the sooner side rather than waiting until the youngest kid graduates in 5+ years… I had the worst panic attack yet. 3 of the kids were home. We were late. I didn’t want them to see me such a wreck. I wasn’t sure what to do.
I knew I had to take the next day off and go to the doctor. I didn’t want drugs. I can control this. I’ll do more yoga, try to actually meditate before bed every night and not just once a week. I’ll start a regular pranayama practice. I’ll figure out later where to squeeze it in. While I’m off I might as well book the hotels for Gabby’s college search week, set up my new phone because the screen cracked on my old one, and do the 90 other things I never get around to do. I took the next day off too for two more needed appointments including having my dental bondings replaced. I felt like I was able to get stuff done and catch up. I knew I’d be fine if I could only catch up. I was a new woman. We had no kids that weekend but still did quite a bit of game visiting and kid shuffling. I also had my monthly yoga teacher training. None-the-less I was fairly relaxed and felt caught up. Daren barely recognized the nice, funny, chill girl he met and fell in love with. Monday the stress began again. Another panic attack. Tuesday I went to my PCP and decided I need help. I did not want anti-anxiety drugs but at this point I felt it could possibly be the only way out. I strategically scheduled this appointment to coincide with Gabby’s annual physical to take the least amount of time off from work as humanly possible. As I waited for her to come out, I started reading about Lexapro. I panicked even more seeing that it could cause weight gain and doesn’t always work. I waited days before starting. I was so afraid. I had an official diagnosis now and was so embarrassed by this. I could never let anyone know, they wouldn’t understand. What would the kids or our exes think? My in-laws? People at work? What if I gain weight? What if it I become dependent? I was having anxiety about taking an anti-anxiety drug.
What helped me come to a decision was the VERY few people online who said it worked. The ones who said they had no sexual side effects, no weight gain and that they can’t believe they suffered so long while this was an option to feel normal again. Some posted about how they came off the meds and learned to better manage their lives while on it a few months. They were my inspiration. I wanted that too. After much hesitation I took my first pill. I started to journal about my experience. It has been a rollercoaster. I did have some side effects but they are starting to get under control. It’s only been 5 weeks, and I’m kind of starting to feel better. I still feel my body in fight or flight, but my mind isn’t following as much of the time. It has less of a stigma to me now and I’m less afraid to tell people about my struggle. I’ve since learned that 1 in 3 people suffer from anxiety. We are out of balance because our world is out of balance. It’s a choice about whether or not to participate in this out of balance world. I need to start working in the lifestyle changes now and making different decisions. Today was a start by deciding not to try to cram in going to work, getting my sweet dog and not having him spend another day at the kennel, and taking the time to write about my experience and not just get on with my to do list. I would like to evaluate all the choices I make and how I spend my time. I want to enjoy my life. See the beauty in my pets and home. Be able to talk to humans that reach out to my without thinking about what I’m not doing. Notice the sun and how it falls upon the trees far more often. I want to be contributing to the world in a new way that doesn’t include being a part of the problem of rushing to the next thing to make money that you need to spend just to keep up with your life.
I feel a call to change and contribute my talents and passions in a new way. I’m not sure how yet. I’m not sure I want to share this but I probably will. Hopefully this is the start of a new journey. I feel peace and love right now. The stress I had when I started writing has lifted. I am home with my very happy doggie. I want to flip the current status and feel peace 95% of the time and stress for 5% of it. I want others to have that too. The world would be such a better place if we did that, and we all pitched in to help the world to do that. I know it’s possible, it just has to be. Namaste.
Koji enjoying being home:
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