Friday, January 19, 2018

PTSD and Me

When most people think of PTSD, they think of soldiers coming back from war or war torn areas. While this is very much a real thing, there are so many more of us who deal with it. In fact, according to the Nebraska Department of Veterans' Affairs, 5.2 million Americans suffer from it in any given year. That's a lot of folks, folks!

As always, I'm not really here though to talk about anyone else's experiences. I can only speak to mine and since I had something trigger recently, I thought that maybe it might be a good time to tell all of you about it.

According to one doctor, I've had PTSD since I was approximately 3 years old. Yep, you read that right. Three years old. That comes out to about 38 years of PTSD and for me, while that one traumatic incident started it, others just added to it over the years. Let's start at the beginning though...

When I was about three, I was sent to my father's house for some sort of visitation. He left me alone with his girlfriend while he went to work. As the tale goes, this girlfriend had her own children taken away by the courts and was a very jealous type. For whatever reason, she beat me. That sounds ...somehow more than a description and yet not enough of one... She returned me to my grandparent's house covered in bruises, including perfectly circular ones that went up my spine. I had to be taken after hours to see my pediatrician where, at the age of about three, I had to be examined to make sure I hadn't been raped. Imagine your child having to go through all of that and having no idea what they'd done.

I can tell you now what it is that I think I did. I existed. That's all that it took. For years, I had nightmares and after a lot of time, I can tell you what I think happened to me. At some point, I was locked in a closet because she didn't want to see me. I was almost potty trained and at some point, I had an accident and peed my pants. I was slapped or hit repeatedly across my vagina. I was given a scalding hot bath and held under the water while she screamed at me. Then, I was dropped on my grandparents' porch and she drove away. My father lost all but supervised visitation after that.

That's when the nightmares started. I should say nightmare because it was always the same one. I once asked my grandmother about it and her response was, "Oh god, we'd hoped you wouldn't remember." I was an adult with children of my own by this time and she'd had no idea about the nightmares because I'd never told anyone.

That's where the PTSD started and if I were to write out full descriptions of what added to it, we'd be here all day, so I'm just going to do a list:
1. Parental Abandonment
2. Emotional and sometimes physical abuse by my mother
3. Loss of a child (17 weeks pregnant) followed by emotional abuse by his father
4. Divorce
5. Rape

There may be other things, but honestly, how many do we need, right? I mean, that's a lot for any person.

Over the years, I've struggled to move past some of these things but I know that they've molded me. How my parents treated me has directly affected how I treat my own children. I won't thank them, but they were a very good example of how not to parent. Perhaps, in some sadly ironic way, they've made me into a better parent than I may have been otherwise.

There have been other consequences, of course. I don't trust easily and while I'm an open book if asked, I don't open up easily otherwise. It's very hard sometimes for me to believe that anyone really likes me and if people don't make those first moves, I automatically assume it's because they don't like me. It doesn't occur to me that maybe they're waiting just like I am.

Relationships....all I can say is ouch. I left my divorce having no idea who I am and eleven years later, I'm just at the point where I can say, "Yeah, I'm finding parts of myself and it's good." I've had a couple of pretty intense relationships in that time and the problem was that at least one of them was a case of two broken people which never goes well. My last relationship left me damaged in other ways
and added to the PTSD. My current relationship? We've been together for about 2.5 years and I'm lucky that he honestly believes that I'm not hard to love. As for me, he's forced me to grow and get stronger. He doesn't believe in rewarding my insecure behavior and more than once I've been left with the decision of leaving the relationship or dealing with whatever issue is buzzing in my head.

Why am I sharing this with all of you? As with everything that I write about here, I want you to realize that if this is something that you deal with, you're not alone. For those who don't, I want you to realize that others around you may be dealing with things that you have no idea about. PTSD can be one of those silent illnesses that you don't even know is there unless someone tells you.

For example, when something triggers me, I don't get violent (the stereotype with this disorder). In fact, about the opposite happens. I'm more likely to curl into myself. I'm more likely to sit and stare into space. Someone once told me that I was the stillest person they had ever seen. I had fled to their house to get away from the world after someone that I trusted and loved essentially stabbed me through the heart and then turned their back on me. The friend didn't really have furniture in their living room so I spent the weekend sitting on his hard wood floor and just surviving. Every person handles things differently and their survival mode may be different.

Up above, I posted some of the symptoms of PTSD. Short of one or two, I've probably dealt with all of them. I'm happy to say that the recurring nightmare from childhood is a rare occurrence these days but I'm still hyper alert to certain behaviors. It's for this reason, I've had to walk away from some friendships and some people. Their behavior is a trigger for me and while they may realize it, they don't feel the need to change it. See? I told you that on some level, all of these posts were interconnected!

So, one blog post later, I don't know if anything I've written here has helped anyone but perhaps it's a reminder to be kind to one another because we never know what someone else is dealing with in their lives. A bit of kindness costs nothing  but can be worth all the gold in the world to someone who needs it.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

It's So Hard To Say Goodbye...

Welcome to day 2 of things stuck in my head. I don't know if all of you have read my last few posts, but if you haven't, I encourage you to go back to them. All of these are interconnected, as you will hopefully find as you read through them.

Today's topic is one that's been on my heart for a while now. I'm seeing a lot of people having to deal with others that are so toxic that it's making them either physically sick or emotionally so. I want to tell you my story.

About nearly six years ago now, I publicly declared myself an orphan which confused a lot of people. Both of my parents are alive and well. From the outside, I had always had a great family life. That was from the outside though. From the inside, things weren't so pretty. My parents abandoned me (and my sister) with my grandparents when I was very young. My father had left me with his girlfriend when I was a toddler and I was horribly physically (and emotionally) abused. My parents weren't parents. They were sperm and egg donors. Once that part was done, they wanted nothing to do with the actual raising and effort it takes to raise a child.

Fast forward a lot of years and my grandfather had died and my grandmother was very sick and in the hospital. I was called by my mother to rush up there because she may not make it. I did and that's when the guilt laying started. She wanted me to somehow fix everything but there was no way that I could. My grandmother did get better and was sent to a home to rehab. During this time, it was discovered that her house was filled with bugs and that she was a semi-hoarder. My mother and my uncles turned to me and expected me to drop everything to clear the house. The problem? I had two small children at the time and it was summer break. My uncle would guilt me into helping by throwing out how she'd raised me and done everything for me and yet wouldn't allow my children into the house and would tell me how if the police stopped by, I would lose my children. I couldn't afford daycare and their father (who I was divorced from) worked all day. I couldn't win. My one uncle, the one I thought was reasonable, wouldn't stand up for me and bowed to whatever his younger brother wanted. I couldn't win. So, I did the house...and once she got home, I visited whenever I could.

Fast forward from July when she came home to March when she soon as she died, it fell on me to start going through the hundreds of boxes that we had stacked in the garage when we cleared out the house. It was my job to be there every weekend...oh, and I had to create piles. Trash, donate, and if there was any chance it was worth anything, it had to be set aside because my "family" was selling off anything of value, even if my grandmother had wanted someone to have it. They tried to sell me an antique desk until they realized they'd have to do repairs to sell it. After that, I could just have it.

I lasted until that point, I walked away. I walked away from that entire family and other than twice when I had to, I haven't spoken to any of them since. Was it an easy decision? No. I had every social standard whispering in my ear that family is forever, that you only get one set of parents, and everything else we've ever been taught about family. Was it the right decision? Yes. I discovered a couple of years later that I have PTSD that began when I was a toddler and was only added to by my "family".

It's not just family though. Sometimes you have to walk away from others that you care about and that you love because they've just become toxic in your life. I have one friend that I have to do this with. We were once very close but in the past year or so, he's turned into someone that I no longer recognize other than a brief glimpse now and then. When I comment on a post of his on Facebook, he almost always belittles my comment or turns it somehow so I look like a bad person. It's gotten to the point where I question myself and that isn't acceptable.

I'm going to say this and I want everyone to listen....A friend is not someone who makes you feel bad about yourself or who makes you constantly question who you are as a person. That isn't a friend. Get away from it. Run. Don't walk. These people are hazardous to your health. It's going to be hard. It's going to suck. There may be tears. I know I've shed a lot of tears as I've hit the unfriend button and cut people out of my life. It's not easy. Heck, even with my parents, even though I know just how toxic they are (and what I put here was just a small taste), even though I have no idea where they live, how they are, etc ....the fantasy of having proper grandparents for my children lures me in and every so often I reconsider. Then, I remember that my own children asked if they had to have them as friends on Facebook or talk to them. They will never be the grandparents that I wanted for my children and if I want to be a grandparent to my future grandchildren, I can't expose my own children to that.

It's incredibly hard to say goodbye to yesterday, to the happy memories, to any of that, but what you have to remember is that if that person isn't the person in those memories, you're not saying goodbye to your friend, but to someone who has, by choice, become toxic and a stranger. I'm not always great at following my own advice, but you have to take care of you first. Just like on an airplane with a child, you have to put your own oxygen mask on first in case of an emergency. Take with you the happy memories but leave the ugly in the past.

Just remember:
1. It's okay to feel sad that you're having to let go of either what was or what you were hoping it would be.
2. You're not melodramatic or an attention whore because you want people to invest the way you have.
3. People who are happy to have you as their friend, to do for them, aren't the people you want to have around if they're not acting like your friend or there for you when you need them.
4. Broken people are broken and it's not your job to fix them. (This one is a reminder for myself because I sometimes seem to collect these people...dang big heart!)
5. It's okay to walk away if a relationship is no longer healthy and a good thing for both people.

And most of all...remember that you're not alone. There are those who do love you and who are your friends and even your family, even if you weren't born into it.

PS I'm not going to lie. As I've typed this entire post, I've had one song in my head...and I bet you can guess which one.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Being Brave is Hard

Last week, I wrote a post about where I am right now. In it, I mentioned that it was almost a summary of a few posts that would be coming. This is the first of those posts.

Most of you probably didn't see my 2018 goals post over on Life With Katie. In it, I put Be Brave as one of my goals. That may seem silly. Brave is something you are, not something you do, right? Wrong. This isn't the soldier on the battlefield kind of wait, it kind of is. Every day is a battle for some people. So, let me try that again. This isn't "accidental" or subconscious bravery. This isn't the kind where you just do it. I'm talking about the kind of brave that is a conscious decision...and that, my friends, is the kind of brave that is hard and exhausting.

Let me give you an example:
Things between me and the man are a bit odd right now. I have my suspicions as to why and I'm not going to share them here. The problem is that when things go a bit wonky in this relationship, it's insanely hard for me. My PTSD kicks in and it's incredibly easy for me to start to spiral to a very bad
place. I spent a day in a very bad place. Then, I decided that I had to get brave. I had chosen it for a goal and now was the perfect time to practice that. After all, if you practice something enough, it becomes habit and wouldn't life be easier if decisions became second nature and not always such a conscious thing?

So, the next morning, I took a lot of deep breathes, cried some more tears, and then I made a list of what I wanted to get done by the end of the month. Then, I started with the little things...I ordered my son's birthday gift, I sent out things that needed to be sent... at the end of the day, I had a decent sized list of things that I had gotten myself to do.

And then I slept for two days...

Yep. For the following two days, all I did was sleep. Forcing myself to be productive instead of curling up in a ball took every bit of energy that I had. Then, I had to convince myself that it was okay and that I didn't need to beat myself up that the list wasn't progressing and that instead, I was thinking of more things to add to it. I had to remind myself that if I pushed too hard, too fast, I'd be useless and useless isn't something you can be when you have children who need you. So, I slept when my body said sleep and I did when I had to do. Now, it's a new week and I'm making that same be brave, even though I know what it might lead to.

If I'm not brave, if I just give into the anxiety and the fears, I won't be who I want to be. I have to fight, even if it's through choosing my battles and even if things take longer than a month. I didn't get to where I'm at overnight and I won't get away from it overnight either.

So, to all of you who are struggling right's okay. You're not alone. Try to find a way to be a little bit brave each day. Maybe that's just putting on pants, or eating breakfast, or sending out that email that you know that you should. It doesn't have to be huge, it just has to be something. I know what it will tire you out. That's okay too. Take the time that you need to recover. Be kind to yourself. I know just how easy it is to beat yourself up until you're curled up in a ball. Life is hard, but somewhere, deep down inside all of us is a little bit of brave.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Where I Am

Over the next week or so, there may be more posts here than y'all are used to. I've had a lot in my head and here seems like the right place to let it all out. In some ways, I think that this post is almost going to act as a summary even before I write the other posts.

You see, I have a lot going on in my head and outside of it as well. If you know me, you know that I don't handle change well and to be honest, I'm starting to freak out a little bit. For my sake, and perhaps so you won't be confused, let me break it all down...

Issue #1: My baby..well, my oldest but he was once a baby..turns 18 on Friday. Yep, 18. The age where his stepmother can tell him that he no longer has to listen to me or come see me or any number of things. Technically, none of that is true but things get said that aren't true all the time. On top of that...well..he'll be 18. The tiny 5 lb 6 oz little one that I held in my arms is legally going to be an adult. I know this seems silly because living to adulthood is one of the things we want for our children, but for me, this is one of the first major steps in letting go and I'm struggling a bit with it.

Issue #2: The move. (insert cheesy dramatic music here) Everyone kept telling me that it was so far away, don't worry about it yet.  Except, I realized that it's going to be here before I know it. If all goes as I'd like, I have 3 more visits with the "man" before I won't see him again until after the move. Three is a pretty small number. More than that, by this time next year, I'll have to know 100% sure where I'm moving to so that I can start trying to find a place. I'll be packing up my barn this summer to prepare. By this time next year, I'll start breaking down the office/studio so that I can use it as a moving staging area.

Issue #3: To get ready for issue #2, I have to do some serious cleaning, purging, downsizing (yes, I know that means purging but ...umm...), and organizing. Like serious. Part of my ocd/bipolar/ptsd issues include having hoarding issues as well. That means that there is a lot of stuff that I have to go through. On top of that, I "inherited" (aka it was dumped on me) a lot of my grandmother's things and all of that has to be sorted through which is a whole minefield of emotional triggers. On top of this, I'm doing this primarily on my own which is tough when it comes time to move donated goods to the car (stairs + really bad knee = ugh) or just moving heavy things like the box for the new bookshelf we need. It's incredibly easy to get overwhelmed.

Issue #4: Mom stuff. I know I already wrote about my oldest turning 18, but I didn't mention that his brother turns 17 at the end of the month and is talking about where he's going to apply to college, who has the best programs and all of that. He's smart and a planner and I love that about him. I also love that he has the confidence to say hey, this school in Boston or in Texas has an amazing program and I might want to go there. My mom heart through is seriously struggling with him being so grown up (while at the same time being incredibly proud of him). The reality is that once he graduates, I feel as if my family is going to away. That's not quite right but I don't know the right word. He's going to follow his dreams, his brother will be staying here and going to college, and if everything goes as planned, I'm moving away. Ben jokes things like, "Yeah, you're going to move and just leave me behind." and my mom heart breaks because I love those two more than anything on this planet. Roger teases his brother, "How are you going to feel when I go away to college and you never see me again?" and while I know he's teasing, I can't help but cringe a little inside. Mom guilt is a very real thing, folks and these two have been my everything for so long that I'm more than a little scared of losing that identity.

Those are the big ones. There are other things ...smaller things like not allowing someone else's "issues" affect me to the point where I'm curled up unable to function, or the fact that all of my email accounts have thousands of emails in them and I can't seem to find the time to deal with that. Let's just say that the little things add up and feel like big things really fast. Yesterday, I was a disaster. I would go from 'there's no point' to 'I have to do this for me' to somewhere in the middle and I ricocheted back and forth all day long. It got so bad that it made me physically sick.

I'm better today and that's why I'm writing this. I said in my last post that I would continue to post here and since yesterday's roller coaster, I've spent some time thinking. Someone I love is obviously going through something but since he's not sharing with me and is, in some ways, treating me very differently, I don't have a choice but to continue moving forward the best I can. It's hard not to spiral because of the changes, but it is what it is. I can't live on his roller coaster and keep mine under control.

I've made some tough decisions. I'm taking a month away from Geek-o-Rama. Since I essentially run everything, that means that the site is at a total standstill. The reality is that I'm considering shutting it down entirely. It's been my baby for over 5 years but I may need to just let it go since I can't find people who want to run it with me. I'm also taking a "mostly social media break". What does that mean? It means that I'm leaving my laptop off unless I'm writing. I won't be on Facebook all the time. I need me time, time to sort things out, time to get things done, and being around that many people with so many of them posting about their problems just isn't healthy for me. I'm also going to continue the culling of my friend's list there and what groups I'm a part of. If people want to know what I'm up to, I have fan pages for here, for my writing and for my site where I post book info, reviews, and recipes. People can follow me on any of those and keep up with what I'm doing.
I'm not making myself inaccessible, just taking some time for me.

This post got really long so if you read all of this, know that I appreciate you and I'm cheering for you in your life too.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

On Ending the Stigma

I spend quite a bit of time driving back and forth from the village that I live in to the town that the boys' dad lives. Today, while taking the youngest into work, I got to thinking about a post that I saw on Facebook the other day. I guess that in some ways, it inspired me to sit down and write this post.

The post included an article where a woman talked about what depression was to her. Honestly, I read it and I didn't feel as if I connected to the article so I'm not going to link it here. What did stand out to me was my friend's response to it. I'm doing this from memory, but essentially, she said that she wished more people would post about their struggles with depression.

I read her comment and I sighed. Yep, sitting on my couch, I sighed loud enough that my kids looked up and wondered what was wrong. You see, I know multiple people, myself included, who tried to publicly share their struggles with depression and it didn't really go so well. For me, I had people unfriend me and others that I know stopped following me. It felt as if nobody wanted to see it and nobody cared. I stopped sharing and so did others that I know. I commented essentially saying that.

Here's the part though that truly got me thinking... both on that post and in a private conversation, two people commented saying that it's not that people don't care, it's that they don't know what to say. Okay, I get that but to leave or to say nothing can be far more harmful than you accidentally saying the wrong supportive thing. I understand that reading about someone's #BadBrainDay (the hashtag I use on social media) and what that might entail can make people uncomfortable, but here's the thing.. Mental illness and depression are uncomfortable. They're not just uncomfortable for people to read about on social media, but they're incredibly uncomfortable for the people who are having to live with them and for the people who love them. Maybe I should say.. those who are trying to live with them because not everyone is successful. Suicide is a very real and very terrifying possibility for a lot of us who are dealing with these things.

Mental illness and depression are uncomfortable for everyone. How do we end that? For those living with these diseases, there's no real way to truly end it. We'd have to find a miracle cure that would take these things away. That's not realistic. How do we make them more comfortable for everyone else? We talk about it. We educate. We teach people what they can do to help. We keep talking even though it feels as if we're yelling at the wind and that nobody cares.

Everyone's experiences with mental illness differ. As they say, your mileage may vary. There are some things in common, but I can't speak for what helps everyone else. I can only tell you what helps me and know that most likely it applies to others as well. That being said, here are 5 things that you can do to help someone who is struggling:

1. Listen - The words that come out of my mouth (or fingers) may sound like total gibberish and nonsense to you, but they're very real to me. Depression lies and it's good at it. Sometimes those thoughts just keep building up in a person's head and they need someone that they can vent it out to. In my case, I'm not asking or even wanting you to fix anything. I just need to have someone safe that I can vent it all out to.

2. Ask what the person needs - Sometimes what helps the most is knowing that someone wants to help. Ask what you can do to help. For me, sometimes it's something as simple as, "Hey, could you send me a text around 10pm to remind me to take my medicine?"  When things get bad, things like my memory get bad and it's easy to forget to do the very things that could help the most.

3. Encourage - When things get bad, self-care goes out the window. Showering, brushing your teeth, taking medication..the basics that a lot of people take for granted get shoved aside in the desire to just curl up and hide. Encourage...don't bully or do one small self-care task. Heck, disguise it if you have to... "I need to wrap up this email to my boss, why don't you go grab a snack and we'll meet back up in a little bit?"  Sometimes that tiny nudge reminds me that hey, I haven't eaten today and I should.

4. Don't shame - Depression makes the world dark and gloomy. It's the very pit of negativity. Please do not chastise people for being negative or feeling that way. Shaming people who are already feeling as if the entire world is against them only shoves them further down what can be a very slippery slope. I've had people with the best of intentions say to me, "You're stronger than this." I know that they mean well and that they're trying to be encouraging but that isn't what I hear. I hear, "You should be stronger than this but you're failing at even that."

5. Reach out - This is a great one, even if someone isn't caught up in a depressive episode. We all need to feel loved and wanted and there's no greater way to have that happen than to have people reach out to us. If you're local, suggest that you get together. It doesn't have to be something about asking if they'd like to get together and go for a walk? Exercise and fresh air are great for depression. How about asking if you can get together and have a movie marathon? Nobody has to talk, nobody has to do anything. You're just there and they're not alone.  Not local? Send them a message or a text and just say hey, I was thinking about you and wanted to say hi. That leaves the door open for them to initiate conversation. Even if they don't, it's a great reminder that they're not alone.

6. Bonus comes in the form of this graphic that just came across my feed:

I know that it's hard to watch someone that you care about deal with this. It can be hard to know what to say or what to do. I also know that watching my friend count drop as I deal with depression and feeling as if nobody cares can send me further into a spiral. It's the last thing that anyone needs. If you're on social media and you see those posts, don't run away simply because it's uncomfortable for you or because you don't know what to say. Something as small as a comment that says *hugs* or I love you or I'm thinking about you can make a world of difference. You don't have to engage any more than that if it's too hard for you.

Depression and mental illness are uncomfortable. Talking about it when you're afraid people will reject you is uncomfortable. If you truly want to end the stigma, sometimes you have to do things that make you uncomfortable. I sometimes use the hashtag #DoItAfraid ...I invite anyone who is struggling to use any of my hashtags and also the ones that we're familiar with. (#DoItAfraid, #BadBrainDay, #DepressionLies, #EndTheStigma)

As for me, I have this blog as my place to talk about these things and I plan on continuing to.

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