Im Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of

Im Going Outward Bound Once Again- Well, Sort of

Sunday, 17 December 2017

Do What is Right For You...

It’s that time of year once again, the many holidays are upon us and you can feel the excitement in the air. We are bombarded by the music, lights, advertisement, movies etc. about what this time of year “should be” like for us- ie happy, warmth, love for our fellow man etc. But for some of us, we face many challenges this time of year. I know I do.

I guess I’m a bit of a walking contradiction. I do enjoy this time of year, the lights, the music and colors, and that sense of awe, wonder and magic I feel at this time. But, I also struggle with flashbacks, memories that are not warm and cozy. Broken sleep and spikes of anxiety, I find the everyday things seem to take more of my energy, so I really have to choose wisely.

As some of you know, for the last 8 months, I have been working on sitting with - (meaning not distracting myself away from) - whatever emotions come up, and this month has been no different. There have been the challenges of the Ghosts of Christmas Pasts visiting, but there have been wonderful moments of Christmas Present. Like I said, a walking contradiction J

I think really we all struggle in some way this time of the year, but it is rarely talked about. I don’t know if that because we all “believe” that it has to be “just right” because at least we feel some form of control, or we all have these “expectations” of how it should “just be”, but in reality we don’t have a lot of control over much of life on a daily basis, let alone this time of year with added stressors etc.

 Those of us with a mental illness or mental health challenges can find this time of year even more challenging.  This is where self-care and compassion should be front and center.

This is what my self-care looks like.

 Pots of tea, sometimes on my own, often with friends and family. I have booked an appointment with my therapist- I saw her last week, and I am in contact with here via email over the holidays. I have booked extra appointments with my family Dr. When I saw him last Monday he said, “I imagine this is not your favorite time of year”, and in a lot of  ways it’s not, so we had a good chat about that. I see him again tomorrow, and will book another appointment when I am there. He can’t “fix” the issues for me, but having a sounding board, sure helps, and often by talking about the issue- instead of keeping the conversation going in my head- gives me clarity and new perspective. 

Did I mention pots of tea? Warm blankets fresh out of the dryer, a good book. Drinking tea out of one of my favorite cups and going to lunch with a friend.

 I am working on being mindful of when my brain wants to hijack itself into the hyper or anxiety mode, and do what I need to do to ride that out, and not act on it-just so you know, I am not always successful, but I’m working on it. If I need to go into town I try to do so when it is not too busy, like before noon, or on a week day. I have my essentials- like tea J-  Last week I stopped at the local tea shop, picked up my various teas, and now  do not have to go into town this coming week. I know, I may have a tea problem J

 And unlike  the past, I allow my emotions to come up- whatever they are, feel them, sit with them, and this year there has been moments of grief, in all its various forms. Sometimes it’s a quiet sadness as I think about friends who are no longer here, or of friends who are struggling. Sometimes it’s a quiet grief that last a moment or two with a quiet tear. And sometimes it’s the body wrenching, snot nosed, red eye grief that takes over my whole body and I am exhausted after, that is also ok. . I have learned, for the most part, not to question why this is happening, but allow myself to feel it, process it and let it pass.

As hard as this may all sound, by doing this, it allows me to receive and enjoy moments of Christmas present. Examples of these are, making Christmas cake with my son- that’s our tradition, listening to Christmas music and dancing around the kitchen as I make more shortbread, and the smiles of the faces of those I give the shortbread to. Stopping to notice the magnificent hawk that is in a tree. Stepping out into the night, when insomnia visits, and gazing up at the stars, or fog, as we have had a lot of that, and being still for those moments. Laughing with friends and family, looking at Christmas lights and putting up the Christmas trees. With each of these moments, I am full of gratitude because I remember times when these were not possible.

I guess what I am trying to say is, take care of yourself during this busy time of year. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. This will look different for each of us. Give yourself love and compassion as you would give a friend, and remember that you are important, you matter and you are worth it.

 And remember, that it may not feel it right now, but it will get better, and you are not alone. Reach out for help if you need it, get those supports in place ahead of time if you can. Let friends know how they can support you through this time of challenge. You do matter, you are worth it, and you are a treasure to this world.

Those are my thoughts for today, may you know you are not alone, and may you feel the universe hold you loving in its arms.


Thursday, 23 November 2017

Baby Steps Add...

Baby Steps Add Up.…

Well, once again it has been a “few” months since my last blog.  It has been a time of learning and growth, and during these times I don’t have a lot of excess energy or brain power to write, and, I am learning too be OK with that.

I had spent the rest of the summer and the early part of fall being mindful, sitting still, quiet walks, alone time and processing. Yes, it was hard, and yes it was worth it. This was another step that was needed for me to get where I am now.

During this time, I started thinking I wanted to learn more about my condition, Dissociative Identity Disorder. By this, I mean I wanted to learn the science behind it. But did I want to go to school for the next 10 years? No, not really. It was then that the universe provided.

I had gotten word that some service agencies here were holding a workshop “Dissociation 101: How to work with people who have experienced complex and chronic trauma” They had invited someone called Christine C. Former from Calgary.  She is a member of the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation-(I.S.S.T.D.) - I had not heard of her, but I had heard about the I.S.S.T.D.  and at one time had been a member when I could get their student membership.  They are the foremost experts in this field.

So, I thought about this workshop for a while. I asked myself “Why would I want to take this workshop?” It was a big chunk of money for me, and I wanted to make sure I was doing it for the right reasons. The answer was that I wanted to be able to listen and talk to someone who knows the science behind this condition and has access to the studies and research that I don’t. I wanted to make sure that what I was saying in my talks and workshops were correct, and I wanted to get the latest information, theories etc. so I could share them with my audiences.   

Once I understood why I wanted to be there, I sent an email to the contact person to see if I could take it- as I am not a service provider or affiliated with any organization. I thought all I could do is ask. So, I sent an email telling the agency who I was, what I do, why I wanted to take it etc. and asked if I would be able to take the workshop, and the answer came back that I could.

So last month, during an 18 hour weekend workshop, I learned the science behind dissociation. I learned that of the psychiatric conditions, this is one the most studied, and the most scrutinized.  We know what causes this, that’s more then we know about many of the other conditions. We have thousands of studies- decades of scientific research to back this up.

I learned that what I have been saying/teaching, and my understanding of what goes on in the brain and the central nervous system is spot on, but now I have the science behind it.  When I give my presentation I sometimes wonder “Do I need to go to school to learn about this?” And I have come to the conclusion that I do not. There are experts out there, doing the research, it’s out there if people want to read up and study and get more information. What I do have and can give, is a unique perspective that comes from lived experience, from someone who has been there, gone through the wars and come out the other side. And I am learning that this is pretty special in itself.

On the first day, we all introduced ourselves, of course I was the only “non-professional” there- and I did disclose I live with this condition. I did this because for me, my childhood was full of secrets, and I no longer need to keep this a secret. I also reassured the group that I am not going to turn into a Dr. Jekyll or Mr. Hyde, and that this condition is nothing like Hollywood portrays. I told the group I would not be switching like Hollywood shows.  The facilitator- Christine said something like “Well, if you do, I got it”- she is also a therapist J

I also told the group that it did my heart good to see so many people interested and willing to learn and thanked them for their courage to come and learn about something that can be scary if you don’t understand it.  I have been speaking publicly about living with this condition for about 12 years, it’s nice to see that the community sees and understands the need to better understand this condition and learn how they can better help their clients.

It was an amazing weekend, I learned tons, met some lovely people, made more connections and came away even more self-assured that what I am doing is what I am meant to do. When you work on your own, you do have times you doubt yourself, or at least I do. I have put out the offer to those folks at the workshop that if they have questions, or would like me to come and talk to them, or their group, about what it is like to live with this condition, I am more than willing to do so.

As I said, it was an amazing workshop, and I met some lovely people and some asked me really good questions and great conversations happened. It was really cool when someone told me they recognized my name from the article I wrote, - someone had forwarded it to him. Someone else came up to me and said...” Since you’re the one expert here, what do you think of the workshop?”  I smiled and said, “Awe, thanks”.  I told her the workshop was great, and everything the facilitator was saying was right on, and that it was good to learn the science behind the condition. I now have a better understanding physiologically what was happening in my body and brain when I was switching, memory lapses etc., I now understand. And I also realized how far I had come.  That is pretty amazing, and powerful.

One morning following the workshop I was going for a walk through the woods and I was thinking of how far I have come in this healing journey of mine. I thought back to the days before I was diagnosed and thought I was crazy, losing my mind and at times, wondered if I had early onset Alzheimer’s. I wondered why other people could seem to function and remember appointments, to pay bills, etc. and I couldn’t. I wondered if life would ever get better, or even if there was a “better.” Those were some dark days. During those days I could never imagine I would be where I am now, doing what I am doing, and being able to walk into a room full of strangers, all professionals, and not only feel confident about who I am and what I know, but believe, and know in my bones that I have something to offer. 

It took a long time to get here, a lot of work, a lot of tears, a lot of support. There were many moments of doubt, and I know I will still have those moments now and then. I know I will have good days, and not so good days, but during those not so good days, I know it will get better.

I also know that I am here, not because of giant leaps, but because of thousands and thousands of baby steps, some so small they were microscopic.

Sometimes we can become overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, I know I do. Things can seem so big that it just overwhelms us and we don’t know where to start. 

I want to tell you that things change when we make little steps. Sometimes, when we are struggling we can’t seem to make a full step, I understand that so well. When those times arrive, do baby, or  micro steps. What is a micro step you may ask?  If you are breathing, that is a micro step forward!

The steps don’t need to be huge, because many little steps add up.

NASA did not decide to land a man on the moon, then do it. It took many years and many steps, and a lot of support to get there. I didn’t get where I am, and develop the ability to do what I can now do because I thought of it. It took many years, many steps, and a lot of support. But, like landing the man on the moon, being where I am today is also pretty frigging amazing!

Those are my thoughts for today, may you be kind to yourself during this journey we call life.

Cheers and be well
PS- here is a link to The I.S.S.T.D.

Here is a link to Christine C. Former, she was amazing, authentic, knowledgeable and funny J

Monday, 24 July 2017

The Beauty of Stillness...

It has been 7 months since my last fresh blog, I have reposted some earlier blogs that I felt fit, but it has been awhile since I have been able to write a fresh blog, and hopefully this will be worth the wait.

 As very often happens, I start writing thinking it’s going to go one way, but it takes on a mind of it in and goes somewhere else, kind of like life. So make a tea or coffee, put your feet up, relax and join me for the ride.

In the early part of May, I decided I needed a serious break so I took some time off of advocating. Now don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, and I think I do it well, but I was running on empty. I had two more opportunities to talk to high school students, but I was beyond exhausted. So after some serious soul searching I decided to decline those invitations and asked them to remember me for the following semester. I did not want to get to the point where I am talking to the students and being so tired I would be wishing I was at home in bed. This work is too important!

Unlike my past “breaks’ I am actual working at “doing nothing.”- No commitments. I am not golfing, hiking, committing to anything etc.

So, I have been spending the early mornings in my garden, drinking tea, watching the flowers open up as they are kissed by the morning sun. Observing the dew drop sparkle before evaporating, being visited by Humming birds, and gaze upon in wonder as a blue and black dragon fly lands on a bouquet of crimson roses. Momentarily, we are both still.

I have been engulfed by the fresh light scent of newness as the world awakens, accompanied by the cornucopia of flowered perfumes that lightly and fleetingly waft through the air, carried by gentle ever-changing breezes.

I love my quiet time in the garden, but it did not start out that way, it was anything but.

In early May when I took myself and my tea out to the garden, it was painful to sit still. I guess the sitting still was not painful- I do have a very comfortable chair- it was the mind that would not settle that was the painful part. I would sit, see a weed and I had this belief and urge that “I had to pick that weed now”- when in reality, the weed would still be there in 20 minutes, half an hour, tomorrow etc.  My mind would remind me of all the things I needed to do, places I “had” to go, things I “should be doing” etc.  It was anything but relaxing.

In those moments, it was hard to sit. I used all the mindfulness tools I had, feeling myself in the chair, focusing on my breathing, feeling my feet on the ground etc. It seemed strange because the more I sat, the more painful it got. My skin would feel like it was stinging, my joints would hurt, I would feel a heaviness and aching in the center of my chest, my ears would ring etc. At times I just wanted to run.

My mind would think “Well, this is no bloody fun and anything but relaxing!” Seeing my canoe I would think “I have to get that out, it’s summer, I am going to run out of time” and other varying thoughts. I knew these thoughts were my way of trying to escape what I was feeling, so with diligence, and at times all the energy I had, I slowly and lovingly brought myself back to the present, to my breathing etc. 

I must admit, I was more than a little surprised by this. When I decided to take a break I thought I would just come go out to my garden, watch the bees, relax, nothing to it- well, like this blog going where it wants to go, life can be like that also.

For a while, the more I sat, the more difficult it got. I did not understand why I was having such a hard time with this, I have had therapy, I practice mindfulness throughout my days, I have come a long way, I’m no longer dissociating, why is this simple act of relaxing in my garden so bloody hard? My husband was back east visiting his kids, I had no commitments etc. It just didn’t make sense, it’s not like I was sitting there all day, or on a week long mindfulness retreat. I continued to sit, and struggle, and sit.

Some mornings were easier than others, but I persevered, and I’m glad I did.

I was starting to notice moments when I could actually relax, they were fleeting at first, but they became more frequent and stayed longer. Sure, I would still get the body sensations, but by allowing them to come and acknowledge them, they would also leave sooner.

Then I had this huge epiphany, I have never ever been able to relax in my garden. I could work in the garden, weed, plant, walk through it, but I have never been able to sit in my garden, relax, and enjoy.

 I needed to honor this breakthrough. I purposefully made a couple of spots in my garden where I could sit, view from different angles, and have a sacred place to enjoy and re-coup. I brought in various rocks I had collected, a piece of driftwood a friend brought me during a time of struggle and I smudged both places. One spot I can sit in the early morning and watch the sun come over the trees and when the sun gets to warm I go to the 2nd spot- it is two walls of lattice, an arbor and all are covered by a vine that provides shade. In the late afternoon/early evening the sun shines on this 2nd spot, but the 1st spot is now in shade. After all these years, having the ability to relax in my garden, and not just relax, but enjoy it is a true gift.  

As with pretty much all of my positive epiphanies, and realizations, there is usually the other side of the coin. As I have said before, this is the trauma therapy. While it is wonderful and invigorating to find these new discoveries- this time, the beauty of sitting, feeling safe  and relaxing in my garden, the realizations and memories of times where the exact opposite happened  would come up and needed to be looked at.  And while these memories are not as “devastating” as some of the other work I have done, and while I am able to do this work at home, and not be in crisis, this work is just as exhausting. This also, does not make the work any less important, or any less powerful. In fact it may be more powerful, think of the airlines that have crashed because of a seemingly small, insignificant bolt or piece that has failed.

As I write this, I realize that while these realizations are not as “loud”, as some of my past work, they are just as important. This is why I need the quiet of my garden and just be. I need to sit quietly, walk quietly and be quiet so these oh so important stories can rise to the top, be heard, be validated, processed and felt. For now, that is my work and I know it will pay off.

Years ago my psychiatrist said to me “It’s a poor man who does something for only one reason.” I am planning a solo trip to Ireland next year, a land I have wanted to visit since I was a child, but never imagined I ever would. I know there will be stressors and I plan on going “turtle speed” Not be a tourist who is running around to “see” as much as they can. I’m taking it slow, or planning to, and I know I will be tested in many ways. One will be the mind thinking “I have to go here, there, have to see this, that” etc.” I know I will not see all of it, but I want to enjoy what I do see and experience, get to know the people, the land, and maybe find out what has been calling me there all these years.

A few months ago I  mentioned to someone what I was planning and told them I would like to visit one of the Aran islands- as well as many other islands- for a few days. Their reply was “Oh I have been there, but you can see it all in one day.” That may be true, you may be able to “see” it all in one day. But I want to feel it, be it, and experience it. I want to be in the moment and not think about where I have to go to or rush off next. I want to be in the present and receive all the gifts this brings.

 I know the work I am doing now, will allow me to experience this, and when things do go sideways, it will help me to come back to the present and calming much sooner.

Those are my thoughts for the day, I wish you all well in your journey and may you find beauty in those moments of stillness

Cheers and be well