Category Archives: PTSD

Catcher in the Rye

Empathy: the ability to share someone else’s feelings or experiences by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation.

“How are you? I haven’t seen you in so long! Gosh, I thought of you all day on Sunday. My dear friend <redacted>’s friend killed herself on Saturday night after learning that her husband had been having an affair with her best friend.”

She went on with some additional details, the two teenage sons left motherless, the years of marital counseling that were ultimately an exercise in futility, details I barely heard through the roaring train echoing through my head. Embarrassed, I hastily wiped away the tears that had immediately sprung into my eyes without warning before she even finished the first sentence. I took a few deep breaths, willing my pulse to slow and hands to steady while she murmured sadly, “I just kept thinking of your strength. I remember you all those years ago, how you put one foot in front of the other. Do you know what strength that takes?”

Yes. I know.

It’s been two weeks since that conversation, and I can’t get that nameless, faceless woman out of my head. I’ve thought of her, that woman I never met and did not know, as I’m running. Watching a television show. Playing with my dogs. Having dinner with my girlfriends. Doing the laundry. That woman who was so blindsided by despair and devastation that she couldn’t imagine spending one. more. minute. with the agonizing, searing hot pain inside her. Seeing the mind movies, concocted by her own insidious imagination, unbidden and certainly unwanted, but ceaseless in their loop. The replayed conversations, with their subtexts now uncovered, like subtitles in a foreign film, only you didn’t realize upon first viewing that you didn’t speak the language.

It is a foolish and useless desire, but I wish I had known her, or rather, she had known me. I wonder, pointlessly and perhaps, arrogantly, if the outcome would have been different if she knew of someone who had walked through the fire and come out the other side, charred and scarred but alive. I think that I would have gone to her house and held her hand, sat with her on the bathroom floor, and said “you want to die and you might feel this way every second of every minute of every hour for weeks or months but you will not feel this way forever.”

I could make her that promise with confidence, and maybe, just maybe, she would believe it. And if she didn’t, I would say it differently, emphatically, repeatedly, until she did.

I want to be like Holden Caulfield, catching women if they come too close to the brink of double betrayal insanity, keeping them safe from the rabbit holes of their own madness.

The sad truth, of course, is that just like no one can stop children from losing their innocence, no one can heal or fix anyone else. Ultimately, I had to do all the hard work, all by myself, stop my own self from going over the cliff.

But a little piece of me wants to believe that if that woman just knew of another mere mortal, an ordinary woman with no superpowers to speak of, who could draw on reservoirs of strength and courage and fortitude she never believed existed within, that maybe she could have held on until she discovered her own.

 

 

Rock bottom, relapses and revelations

Even though this blog is mainly about running and triathlons and pretending to be an athlete in my middle age, I’ve found my most enthusiastic and loyal readers are women who connect with PTSD (or, as I like to reclaim on my good days, post traumatic growth).  Seven years after my divorce, and five years after taking down my previous blog, I still regularly get emails and communication through social media from women about infidelity and divorce. Sometimes it is a mother, or sister, worried about a family member going through the discovery phase; sometimes it is a heartbroken  or angry betrayed spouse herself, either struggling to get through the next hour, or battling to let go of the rage and fear and sadness after many years.

While the circumstances and backgrounds differ, the women have a strikingly similar plea: tell me it’s going to be okay. Remind me that it gets better. Reassure me that there is life after this.  Tell me that I, too, can have that happily ever after.

Happily every after? Oh dear. What type of snow job have I been pulling in this corner of the internet?

I would love to tell you that, with enough time, all heartache and trauma ceases to exist. That falling in love with a new man, even several years into a very happy and healthy relationship, magically erases the scars left from profound deceit and betrayal. That children are so resilient that divorces don’t leave scars, no matter how much they are loved and protected. I would love to tell you that PTSD can be “cured” with therapy and medication, guaranteed never to rear its ugly head again.

I wish more than anything that was all true. But it’s not. Or at least, not in my case.

I’ve been in a hell of a storm since 2017 very nearly began. Well, more accurately, according to my therapist, I’ve either been in a storm or battening down the hatches since 2010, because the delightful thing about not being able to go cold turkey is that you never really get a chance to heal. You can smooth those rough edges over, strengthen those coping skills, and even fool yourself that the horizon is clear, but it’s not, not really.

And so, relapses happen. They happen to many. The alcoholic takes “just one” drink, the drug addict takes “just one” hit, the panic attacks and insomnia and intrusive thoughts say this is “just one” bad week. Only before you know it, weeks turn into months, and one day you get on the scale and realize you lost 5 pounds. You get on the treadmill and can’t run a mile when just two months ago you ran a half marathon. You get up in the morning and can’t remember the last time you slept for more than a few hours at night.

So you get yourself back on the therapist’s couch.

Thinking goddammit but I got over this.  Thinking that you thought the worst was over, but you failed to take into account that it can always get worse. Rookie mistake, and god knows, you’re not a rookie, so now you’ve relapsed and feel like a fool.

 

But, here’s the thing. The women who are asking me to tell them it gets better? That it’s going to be okay? I can honestly say that while happily ever after is illusory, and there’s no such thing as unicorns and fairy tales, it absolutely and totally does get better and it will be okay.

How do I know? Because there’s only one real rock bottom. And once you’ve hit it, I mean really hit it, you never go there again. You might relapse, you might bungee jump down and spring back after your face hovers, inches, millimeters from that concrete floor that could shatter your bones, but you will never hit it again. Want to know why? Want to know how I know?

Because once you’ve clawed your way back from rock bottom, you know you can do it again.

In 2010, when my then-husband told me he was leaving, and the truth slowly came trickling out over the course of several months in Chinese water torture fashion, I completely lost my shit (I’m sure there’s a better, more clinical DSM-V term, but let’s go with that). I had never felt so unmoored, so alone, so without any hope or vision for my future. There was no manual for this insanity. I was trapped in a bad Jerry Springer episode, only there was no “off” button on the remote, no channel to change. My entire life, forwards and backwards, ceased to exist; my identity –  that of a wife, a best friend, a partner – stripped from me; my most beloved and cherished role as a mother downgraded to a 70% position, without my input or consent.

It was gone, all gone. They talk about a light at the end of the tunnel? All I saw was a yawning black chasm.

That was my rock bottom. I will never hit that again. I know now that I can survive. Once you know that? Really know that? It’s etched in your soul.

Sure, relapses happen. I have returned to therapy after a 4 year hiatus, brushing up on those coping skills, reminding myself of how to deal with the PTSD triggers that will assuredly not abate for another 5 years. I’m circling my wagons, conserving my energy and finances, following professional advice, both therapeutic and legal.

Recovery does not mean that the struggle ceases to exist. Recovery is about knowing that you can fight the good fight, and that if it’s not okay, it’s not the end. That there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and taking comfort in the knowledge that the light is there, even if you can’t see it.

Ultimately, it’s about faith. Hope, instead of hopelessness.The belief, no matter how shaky it feels some days,  that rock bottom only hits once.

*This post inspired by Glennon Doyle Melton’s article.

 

 

Five years

for better or for worse,

for richer, for poorer,

in sickness and in health,

to love and to cherish;

from this day forward until death do us part

Today is our 5 year anniversary. I think this is supposed to be a “bigger” anniversary, because it’s a half decade, or at least, my husband seems to think it is, since he has repeated several times over the past month, “It’s our five year anniversary. We have to celebrate! It’s a big one!”

But while the sentiment is sincere, the enthusiasm is strained.

2017 has not been good to us, on so many fronts. As I alluded to in my last post, we’ve been dealing with so much. We’re exhausted, and depressed, and overwhelmed.

Put simply, we’re dealing with the “worse”.

Last weekend, as he once again drummed up some forced enthusiasm for our impending anniversary, I realized that I needed to somehow, some way, carve out a little corner of gratitude for this day. Despite the, for lack of better word, clusterfuck that has been our lives for the past few months, we are good.

Really good. I mean, distracted and strung out and broke and sleepless, but good. I realize that sounds weird. But I know what it is to take stress and anxiety and depression out on your partner. Been there, done that, have the divorce decree. I know how easily the planets in the orbit can chip away at the sun.

Our life has been hard lately. And it would be so easy to take all that anger, and resentment, and anxiety, out on each other. But we’re not.

We’re in this together.

So, in an attempt to acknowledge gratitude for that not-so-small favor, I put one picture from each year of our marriage up on my Instagram this past week. I included the following description with each picture:

Q: What do 2010, 2012 and 2017 have in common?
A: Therapists, lawyers, children in crisis, PTSD, medical bills, and oceans of tears.

But you know what they also have? My silver lining, my fearless warrior and the love of my life. Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light. Hatred cannot drive out hatred, only love. This Friday will be our 5 year anniversary. I’m counting down the years.

Summer 2013 – married one full year. Our road trip to Florida with a 13, 11 and 8 yr old. I don’t have a blog post for our 1st anniversary – this blog didn’t exist yet.

January 2014 – our 2nd year of marriage. This was our trip to Cancun to see my dear friend Sarah get married. 2nd anniversary blog post here.

August 2015: 3rd year of marriage, and first day of school (ie work). No, we don’t plan to color coordinate. Yes, we often do. 3rd anniversary blog post here.

March 2016: 4th year of marriage, and my husband’s 40th birthday trip to Seattle and Vancouver, Canada. He likes “real” photos. Like us in an elevator heading to Stanley Park. This is typical of the photos he takes of us. 4th anniversary blog post here.

Traditionally, for our anniversary, I revisit some pictures from our wedding. I was lucky enough to have my very talented friend Wendy do our wedding photography, and I have countless gorgeous photographs from that day.

But this year? This is the picture that rings true for me.

I know, I know, it’s not a “traditional” wedding moment. This was taken just after my best friends gave our wedding toast; if you look carefully, you can see the remnants of the verklempt on my  husband’s face (I had just finished a full out cry). My friends spoke, in not-so-specific-terms, of my fight to get to this moment. Of how they were so worried about me. Of how so many people in that room weren’t sure I would make it. And of how my husband came along and helped me piece myself back together again.

At some point, as we stood there, holding hands, me crying, listening to women who knew me, and loved me, best in the world, my 2 younger children came up and clung to us (my oldest is just out of the shot, behind my daughter). There we were, hands clasped, standing firm, with the boy wrapped around my husband, and my daughter curling into me.

Five years later, in so many ways, we are still holding this pose.

Right now, at this moment in time, 5 years into our marriage, we’re not able to focus our attention on each other. We’re not romantically gazing into each other’s eyes. Right now, at this moment in time, our children need every ounce of strength, time, attention and resources that we have.

But we’re still clasping hands. United. Protecting our family.

Happy anniversary to my rock, my partner, my amazing role model and provider for our 3 children. Their eyes are always on us, and I am so grateful and proud to have someone like him holding my hand, and holding me up.

 

Full stop

There are bumps in the road.

And then there are the brick walls. The ones that, quite literally, stop you in your tracks. Not slow life down. Not adjust the weekly schedule. But put everything else in your life on the shelf while you deal with what is in front of you, so impenetrable, that you must figure out an alternative route before you can go anywhere.

The brick wall that makes you fervently hope that you’ve earned enough of a solid reputation at work  that you can, emotionally and physically, check out in order to manage it (I have). That your bosses are kind enough and supportive enough to green light it (they are).

The brick wall that necessitates immediate care and trained professionals and mountains of paperwork with legal mumbo jumbo and very, expensive. fixer uppers.

The brick wall that steals sleep and erases appetite and brings day to day functioning to its barest essentials. When breathing feels like a victory.

The brick wall that makes you feel so incredibly alone because it is so scary, and stressful, and overwhelming, but you are the one in charge of taking it down, piece by piece, brick by brick. Only not really, because it is someone else’s wall. So you feel completely, 100% responsible, and wholly, utterly helpless, simultaneously.

That kind of full stop.

That’s what it is going on in my neck of the woods.

If this seems vague, it is. Because it is both my story, and not my story at all, to tell. I want to write it out, because writing is my therapy, and not write a word, not utter a syllable to anyone about any of this, because speaking of it makes it real.

I have all, and none, of the words about this.

I am hurting, on the most profound, basic, instinctual level, but also surviving. Taking care of business and doing what needs to be done. Because that is what I do.

I can say that my muses, for whatever rhyme or reason, this week have been my badass writer friends. I am an English teacher, and a writer, and a lover of words, so when I need strength, it is words, and mantras, that come to me.

This is my letter to the world that never wrote to me.

I don’t know why this is the Dickinson phrase that tolls inside my brain. The poem it draws from does not particularly apply to my current situation. Certainly “hope is a thing with feathers” would be far more appropriate – but there it is.

Grace always bats last, and the lightness always overcomes the darkness.

I am not a Christian but Anne Lamott has gotten me through more dark times in the past 7 years than I care to admit. She has a way of making the dark and twisty and messy human crap seem beautiful and noble and essential. We need more of her in this life.

I can also say that, with all due respect to Gretchen Rubin, who seems like a perfectly lovely human being, that her Happiness Project book appears to be my own personal doomsday. Remember the first time I tried to blog the Happiness Project? Round two is NOT GOING SO WELL PEOPLE.

I’m not overly superstitious but I’m also not blind to signs from the universe. Consider this my official resignation from that writing project, round two.

I have a triathlon on the docket in 13 days. Suffice to say I’m not in training (and have not been for several days). Full stop, and all. Right now, it is very. very. very. far down the totem pole of priorities. Maybe I will show up, if I can manage to run for more than a couple miles without feeling lightheaded and nauseated (I attempted an easy run the other day in the interest of self-care, and discovered that running after not eating or sleeping for several days, even at an “easy” pace, is not so “easy”.)

In the meantime, I know grace bats last. And I know lightness always overcomes darkness. But if that “last’ could come sooner rather than later, that would be fantastic.

Amen.

 

2017 – Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k Race Recap and Life in General

On Feb 4th I ran the Dallas Hot Chocolate 15k , and I’ve been meaning since then to post my race recap. I’m not sure how two and a half weeks have passed, except to say that my 2017 so far can best be described as the following:

There continues to be a lot, a lot, going on in my neck of the woods, and most days I feel like I’m drowning. So much so that I considered, seriously considered, bailing on the race. I’ve never bailed on a race since I began running in fall 2013 (if you don’t count the 2016 Houston half marathon, which I don’t, since I made the decision roughly a month in advance of the event not to participate after I pulled a muscle in my back. That wasn’t “bailing” so much as changing plans due to injury).

When I say I almost bailed on this race, I mean that starting 72-48 hours in advance of the Saturday race, I waffled on whether I was going to follow through. The week leading up to the race was particularly exhausting and overwhelming and difficult for my family, and I was averaging 2-3 hours of sleep each night, and going through the motions.

The day before the race, when I had to drive downtown to get my race packet (taking time out of work and traveling 30-40 min from school), I gave myself the mother of all pep talks, told myself I wasn’t a quitter, that I would and I could and I should do this, and set off.

And got rear-ended on the highway. I can’t make this up. The universe hates me.

That night, with a stiff neck and sore shoulders to add to my litany of physical and emotional ailments, I was so ambivalent about the race that I didn’t even take my traditional night before gear-laid-out picture. I decided to set my alarm, but gave myself permission to not attend if I felt worse in the morning.

Ultimately I decided that whatever physical discomfort I endured during the 9.3 miles would pale in comparison to the emotional pissiness I would feel at not following through with my race entry. I hate not finishing what I start.

I don’t have an in-depth race recap to share (partly because I waited so long to write this that I don’t remember most details) but I can say this: until this race, I never really understood how people don’t finish races due to cramps. I mean, I’ve heard of people not finishing races due to cramps, I’ve even seen it happen in televised races. Someone is clipping right along, and suddenly grimaces, limps. sometimes dramatically dropping to the pavement, writhing in pain.

I always thought that was a little … much. I mean, how bad can a cramp be?

And then I ran 9.3 miles after forgetting, in my zombie state, to drink many fluids the 24 hours prior. Hello dehydration. And agonizing searing quad pain.

I was doing pretty well for the first 7 miles or so. So well that I knew I was on track to bust last year’s 15k time out of the water. I’m not going to lie, I was feeling pretty badass – there I was, almost not even showing up to the race hours before, and now I’m flying along at a faster pace?

And then my legs starting twinging. Not badly, at first, but enough to let me know they weren’t happy. I wasn’t overly concerned – with less than 2 miles to go, I figured I was home free.

Around mile 8.5, with just under a mile to go, the pain got so bad that I actually had to do this weird Jedi mind trick where I pretended I was floating and my feet weren’t really striking the ground each time, but just skipping across clouds. I know it sounds weird and doesn’t make sense as I type it out, but it worked, in the sense that I hobbled-limped-floated to the finish line when all I really wanted to do was collapse on the ground and start crying. Like those people I had seen on television who I secretly called wusses in my head. #karma

Still, I finished. With a 4+ minute drop from last year’s time to boot.

In other news, yesterday my oldest turned 17. 17. I can’t really wrap my brain around the fact that I have a 17 year old. In one year, I will be the mom to a legal adult. How did that happen?

Wasn’t I just giving him kisses in the park on my 26th birthday?

In my mind, he’s still this age.

But actually, he’s about to be a senior in high school and next year, in addition to delivering cookies to his advisory down the hall, I’ll be ordering his graduation tuxedo.

The Happiness Project

In January 2010, when I was still driving a minivan, I stumbled upon Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. At the time, I was in a life writing rut, and decided that I would blog my own journey following Rubin’s year-long project. For those of you unfamiliar with the book, in each chapter (divided into months) she concentrates on a different theme, or facet, of her life to improve.  I figured it would both give me some material to blog about, and perhaps inspire an evolution in my habits, relationships and routine. Imagine a cross between a virtual book club and online self-improvement project.

I stuck with it for about 6 weeks. Then February 14, 2010 happened. Literally overnight, “happiness” was no longer the goal. Survival was the name of the game.

my copy from 2010, only highlighted through February. In English class we call this “foreshadowing”.

Ironically, Rubin writes in the initial “Getting Started” chapter that, “One of my goals for the happiness project was to prepare for adversity – to develop the self-discipline and the mental habits to deal with a bad thing when it happened…I didn’t want to wait for a crisis to remake my life” (15).

Too little, too late, Rubin. Thanks for nothing. Perhaps if my ex-husband had decided to wait until Labor Day, or even July 4th, instead of Valentine’s Day, to end our marriage, I would have had better coping skills and handled the events of 2010 more gracefully.

Alas.

Seven years later, one of my goals for 2017 is to write more.  I remember my abandoned happiness project, the book unfinished (barely started), and think about the pervasive malaise of my friends and family coming out of 2016. The wary skepticism for 2017. The general dissatisfaction and frustration of so many, after the national, international and (for some) personal life events of the past year.

What about a happiness project redux?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m actually pretty happy. Truth be told, I relate far more to Rubin in her introduction now than I did in 2010. She shares the skeptical, surprised and bemused reactions of her husband, sister and colleagues as she explains that she wants to increase her happiness level. She writes,”just because I wasn’t depressed didn’t mean that I couldn’t benefit from trying to be happier” (7).

If I had to create a bar graph of my general happiness level over the past 42 years, I would rank my day-to-day emotional barometer over the past couple years towards the top. I’ve had dysthymia more often than not throughout my life (in layman’s terms, that means I trend towards an Eeyore outlook), so my sense of wellbeing most days still disconcerts me.

But still. There’s some life hurdles coming down the pike. Why not work on strengthening my emotional resiliency and wellbeing along with the physical? I ran my first half marathon 4 years ago but I’m still getting faster and stronger; why not work on the same with my psychological health?

Want to join me? Grab a copy of the book (now that it’s 7 years post-publication, I bet you can find it at Half Price Books or a similarly discounted price), and create your own version. I will be blogging about it at least once a month (shooting for two), in addition to my running and triathlon updates.

May we all find even more happiness in 2017.

Six years of Septembers

Septembers are weird for me.

Septembers are exciting, and poignant. My middle child’s birthday is September 10th, so the early part of the month is always spent planning his celebration, and reflecting on just how far my preemie (he was due in the latter part of October) has come.  September marks the month when my husband and I began dating. Our school year begins in late August, so September also contains an overwhelming and stressful, yet exhilarating, rush of parent nights and class retreats and fall sports’ contests.

September requires a reservoir of physical and emotional energy.

September is also the month that my life changed forever.

They say that you know you have healed when you can tell your story without flinching. If that is the criteria for discharge, then close my file and declare me well adjusted, because I have that part nailed. Recently I was chatting with a new colleague friend, and she asked about my divorce; I found myself relaying the plot and players with a nonchalant “just the facts, ma’am” skeletal overview, and forgot the narrative was even evocative until the expression on her face slowly turned to horror.

It has all been so normalized for me, for all of us. I forget it’s not.

Except, six years later, my body still remembers September 22nd, even when I forget. It fascinates me, truly, how the layers of the subconscious work. This year I am paying attention (clearly) but some years, I forget. At least, I think that I forget, except that I always stop sleeping at the end of August. I’ll chalk it up to back to school stress and my miles-long to do list, but then I gradually become more reactionary, moody, short-tempered.  I find myself responding to emails that, 11 months out of the year, I easily disregard.  I find myself a mile or two into my runs with my jaws and fists clenched. I have headaches. I drink some wine with dinner 5 or 6 nights a week instead of my usual, disciplined no-alcohol-except-for-Saturday-nights training protocol.

Some years, I don’t realize why this is happening until Sept 21st, or even the 22nd itself, when I might be in the middle of a lecture on Shakespeare’s sonnets or filling the grocery cart or driving mindlessly on the well worn route to work, and it dawns on me: “This is when I got the phone call.”

Some years, like this year, I wearily say to myself as the calendar rolls over, “Welcome back September. You fucker.”

I wonder if this condition is permanent, if the ghost of trauma past will always revisit on the ninth month. But whereas I once railed against this intrusion, shaking my fist at the unfair universe that not only burned my illusory happily ever after to the ground, but forced me to make an annual pilgrimage to the wreckage, I now accept it as part of me. Like my left handedness or inability to roll my “R”s, it’s a part of me that is sometimes inconvenient, occasionally noteworthy but ultimately, an aspect of my identity beyond my control (no matter how many after school tutoring sessions with my high school Spanish teacher, who finally admitted defeat and stopped deducting points from my pronunciation grade).

September 22nd made me who I am today. It continues to cause difficulty for my children and myself, but it also gave me my husband, my running and my new life, which is exponentially happier and healthier than all previous incarnations.