Re-Adjusting: Resurrection and Transformation

looking back

Source: pexels.com

If you have ever experienced the death (or loss) of a loved one, you know that your life becomes a series of firsts. First birthday without them, first holiday, first year, and so on. So here I am in my first month without him.

These last 30-days have been a slow drip through the surreal. My emotions have ranged from acceptance to anger, but mostly I just want to be in silence. My hospice grief counselor says I am right on schedule for feeling all the feels. She mentions that after 2-3 weeks the shock usually wears off and the emotions begin to rise. This feels about right, because it has only been recently that I have felt more anger and irritability mixed in with the pre-existing sadness.

I wish I could go on retreat, somewhere in the hills or forest, and just be in silence with every emotion that arises. This feels like the ideal thing to do, but instead I go to work, and mostly it has been okay. After a full day I am exhausted and do nothing (and I am grateful for the ability to do nothing). Sometimes I get a burst of energy, but as quickly as it comes, it slips away (I guess that’s why it’s a burst).

Being in my grieving life, and “old life” has had it’s consequences. One day, I came home form work to suddenly feel a horribly paralyzing anxiety that left me feeling physically, emotionally, and mentally agitated for hours. I realized that being in both my grieving life and my “old routine” life felt like a schism, and that living in both worlds was/is probably too opposing for my psyche.

The flashbacks have been the hardest. At times I can’t stop thinking about my father’s last days. I remember the lightness of his thin body, his agitated body movements, the pained expressions on his face, and the sadness in his eyes. The inability for us to verbally communicate haunts me as I wonder if he was in more pain that we knew. I wonder if he was scared. I wonder if dying was scary for him.

Then there’s the wondering. Wondering if he really had dementia. Wondering if there was something else going on and that we could have helped him more. Everything happened so fast that we didn’t get a chance for a decent second option or tests. This helpless experience has made it easy to feel guilty for not doing more, especially before he became symptomatic.

On most days, it’s the experience of a routine that no longer is. I never realized how much my dad was on my mind. Like an idling car, he must have been a constant hum in my subconscious. I still wake with the thought of calling my dad to see how he is doing, or spontaneously have the desire to tell him what I saw that day. If I have a really good cup of coffee, I think of him and sending some to him. One afternoon I sat in a medical lab waiting for a blood draw. I imagined the many times he did the same. Even though he was relatively healthy, he had routine blood draws and doctor visits to monitor his health. I imagined how this must have been so tiresome for him.

Despite all this, I trust that both he and I are well. I trust that I will land in my new normal. I trust that dreams of him are our way of staying connected and I trust he is with me in my waking life.

With today being Easter, I find myself more aware of resurrection. It’s everywhere all the time! A resurrection is an awakening, and re-birthing, a renewal, and a transformation. On my dad’s final days, I was well aware that he was in his own transformational journey. It was intense to feel our lives changing and falling into deep stillness. At that time I wondered what both our resurrections would look like.

Today I still wonder, and yet know, that resurrection and transformation is happening in it’s own slow and gentle way everyday. Anxiety attacks and all.

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Saying Goodbye, Part 11: Earthquakes and Landscapes

I awoke on Wednesday to my first day home without my father.

I had spent the greater part of February in his home 3-hours away, in an unexpected whirlwind of emotional chaos, intense vulnerability, and the eventual release of him as I watched him being taken away for cremation.

I know enough to not expect that I’d return home to life as I knew it. “Now back to your regularly scheduled program” does not apply here.

I know that my life is now altered. Yes, everyday, our lives change. Each day is unlike the next. But this is different. There are these life-altering events that completely changes the landscape. Subtle shifts become earthquakes and aftershocks.

Upon waking, I take it slow. “What’s next?” in every moment. I try some “old life” on by checking e-mail (that felt okay, let’s try…) listening to a recorded call from a training I’m in (yeah, not quite feeing it. Let’s try…) suddenly it’s too much. My heart aches and I feel my energy in my belly. I remember a song that feels the way I feel now.

I listen to “Winter” by Tori Amos on repeat and break down sobbing just as I need to. Every part of me vibrating in grief. Why does life seem so stupid. All the things that took up space in my life seem to riduclous. I should have spent more time with him. Should have, should have, should have….

Saying Goodbye, Part 4: Difference in Perspective

Rorschach_blot_01

Rorschach blot

Monday came with no improvement and my father was taken to the Emergency Room via ambulance. It was a rush of fear that went through me as I followed the ambulance to the hospital.

By this time my father’s condition was pretty bad. He was mostly unresponsive with eyes closed and mouth open. His cough was due to aspirating pneumonia, but after being suctioned at the E.R., the gurgling was mostly gone. The hours were long and cold as we waited, hoping to get some news on what was happening and what could be done.

This is when things really began to get surreal.

The doctors came to us with dire news. “Send him home for comfort care, so he can pass in peace” was the suggested action, although there was “no pressure” in making our decision to treat or not. This decision was not easy to make as the attending physician said that he couldn’t determine what was wrong based on my father’s symptoms, lab work, and scans. You read right, “We don’t know what’s gong on, so send him home to die” was what we heard.

We decided to treat as our belief was that my father was able to get stable with the right care. They gave him IV fluids and antibiotic. Slowly my father began to regain some responsiveness. He began to move a little, folding his hands across his sternum, and touching his mustache in his familiar way.

I stayed with him throughout the night, until he was admitted into a room the next morning.

For the next two days my father’s condition improved. He talked more, recognized people, made requests, and asked questions. His personality began to show again, and his vitals began to improve. He still wasn’t strong enough to get out of bed, or sit up for long on his own, but once again, we were hopeful that things would continue to improve for him.

The only thing that wasn’t improving was his inability to swallow. He didn’t pass a swallow test, but the speech therapist said she would try another test when his strength improved.

Up to this point, the attending physicians inquired on our decision to keep treating or begin comfort care. In the spirit of informed decisions, we decided to meet with the palliative doctor to better understand what this option meant.

The information she provided was grim. Worst case scenario seemed to be all she could give us. Which makes sense since that is her job. But we weren’t ready for death yet. Not with my father’s condition improving by the hour.

Options to treat were also reviewed with the palliative and attending physicians. The treatment options were more invasive, as they included feeding tubes and dialysis.  Then there was the issue of dementia.

Even with my father’s improvement, and even with invasive treatments, my father’s dementia would still be present and progressing. The degree to which he could improve with treatment was unknown, but what was known was that dementia wasn’t going anywhere and would only get worse.

Although there was no rush, we felt pressured. It was an implied pressure in the urgent tone used by nurses and doctor. “He is not going to improve, he will only get worse, let him go” was what I felt.

I became angry and frustrated at the lack of possibility in the hospital staff. They were treating my father as if he came in with a toe tag and death certificate and had no idea of what he was like weeks before being admitted. They met an 84 year old man with a dementia diagnosis, and saw a dead man. I saw my father who was strong and a fighter, and this discrepancy between myself and the doctors felt powerless and infuriating. The doctors would say I was in denial.

 

Growing Edges and Traps

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Image Source: http://goo.gl/ZAX1Yi

Over the last few weeks, I have been sitting with and working through a growing edge about my subconscious set-up where, no mater what I do, I always end up wrong. At first, I knew it’s was a growing edge because I didn’t have the words to describe what I was facing. I get fleeting clarity, but as quick as it arrives, it dissipates. In short, I get confused about what I’m trying to process.

Having gone through this before, I know enough to just be aware of it, be with it, and let it unfold in it’s own time. I also know that it is a rooted and core issue, so I have some ego resistance to seeing it. My ego survival depends on the construct I am trying to work with, so I have a very subconscious resistance that blows confusion into my brain when I try to look at it.

As the days passed, I sat with the slight understanding of my confusion. I kept my feelers out for experiences that might make things clearer. Last week, I was at work and sat on the arm of the couch looking at my books on the shelf. My eyes set on the book “There Is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate“, by Cheri Huber. Now, I bought this book in 2010 but never read it. For whatever reason, on this day in 2015, it just felt right to thumb through it. As I did, I stumbled on something that shook me and brought more clarity to this growing edge I’m on.

“We learned behaviors when we were very young in order to survive. We were taught to hate those behaviors and to see them as signs of our badness. Yet we must keep doing them because they still mean survival to us. And we hate ourselves for doing them.”
The Trap:
I believe I must be this way to survive.
I hate myself for being this way.
Result:
self hate = survival
survival = self-hate

I brought this reading to my counseling session today, and found myself in tears as I read it out loud. I began to feel more clarity in just how scared I was to step into this new awareness. The awareness that, when I want something more, something that matches my deepest needs, I feel like an ungrateful spoiled brat.

As a kid, all my material needs were met, but I recall having  a deep longing for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and understood. I learned that what I wanted was too much, and I was ungrateful for all the things my parents worked and sacrificed for. Of course, as a child I did not have the words for this, so I learned to stuff these needs and feel bad that I even wanted them.

Now, as a grown woman, when I experience this need for emotional connection, being seen, accepted, and/or understood, I immediately make myself wrong, even though a part of me knows I deserve what I want. This fires up especially bright when what I have is good on the surface, but lacks a deeper need. Then I make myself wrong for not wanting to settle for the good that I do have.

This is my growing edge, and it feels like all the healing that has come before this has been leading me to this moment. At this moment, I want and need more, specifically emotional connection, emotional safety, and being understood. I also feel like a ungrateful spoiled brat for wanting this.

As I left my counseling session, feeling lighter having unpacked some deep family shit, I was reminded that I need not do anything right now. I simply need to be present with this duality of wanting more, then feeling like shit because i want more, and look it in the face. At least now, I can see it more clearly.

“Get Over it Already!”

In the first half of 2010, I was in the depths of my depression and anxiety. I was on a leave of absence from work, having consistent suicidal thoughts, inert, had no appetite, and prone to fits of spontaneous crying. I was receiving counseling, medication management, going for daily walks, receiving care from a naturopathic doctor, and attending my mediation sangha.

I was doing what I could, and yet, found myself unable to get out of bed or living room couch. Some days were slightly better than others, yet I couldn’t shake the persistent negative thoughts, suicidal callings, and paralyzing panic.

It was during this time that my father came to visit me for 2 weeks. He was worried about me and, I suppose, wanted to check-in and/or keep me company. I welcomed the visit, yet was not sure how it could bump me out of my depressive state.

He came with me as I drove to my counseling and psychiatrist appointments. We went out to lunch and went for daily walks. It was nice having company, but it didn’t shake my lack of energy or appetite. If anything, it make it worse.

For most of my father’s visit I was thrown across the bed unable to sleep, move, or talk. On one occasion he said “Talk to me!” and when I expressed the suicidal thoughts and feelings I was having, he yelled at me for having them. He made the critical remarks of “I have no idea why you are still fat if you don’t eat”, and “I came here to spend time with you, and all you do is sleep.”

After one particular argument, my father became frustrated and left a week early.

As you can see, my father does not have a bedside manner. He never has. He is revolted at the mere glimpse of weakness. So when he saw the reality of my depression, he had absolutely no idea how to handle it. In a moment of absolution, he sat in the car ready to leave, with eyes cast down he said, “I’m sorry I yelled. I just don’t know what to do. I love you.”

The memory of this came to me this morning, as a reminder that, trying to “get over” something with force is not always a good idea. My father is a “get over it” kind of person, and when he imposed this on  me, my condition worsened.

I have heard people say to other depressed people, that they need to “get out, go do something, stop thinking about it” and so on. Although this is somewhat true, forcing one to do so at a dramatically different pace can sometimes be a set up for depression to worsen.

Depression calls us to listen to ourselves. Depression will be call out to us by any means necessary. When we don’t listen by pushing it away or ignoring (denying) it, depression will raise it’s voice and demand our attention. Yes, we must challenge ourselves when depression is here, but the challenge looks far different from what a non-depressives is familiar with.

When depression arrives, we must ask what it’ is trying to tell us and listen with compassion. We challenge ourselves in a manner that is so slow and gradual and we accept when inert will not budge.

Imagine your depression as a fussy newborn cradled in your arms. Forcing the newborn to do something it doesn’t want will only make the them fussier. Yet, if you slow down internally, pay close attention to the newborn’s cues as you try different soothing actions (feeding, swaddling, etc.), you may find what the newborn needs in that moment. Sometimes everything we try doesn’t work, and we simply hold the newborn, and accept the moment as it is.

It’s the slowing down and listening to your depression that can help you to find what self-care you need to take action on. ACA talks about reparenting, and this is one way we can re-parenting ourselves.

Retracing Steps to Emotional Recovery

cowgirl

I saw this quote today and it stirred in me so much gratitude for my emotional recovery. Although there is more work ahead of me (it never really ends), I am so much healthier emotionally now than I was 4 years ago.

In 2010, I was deep in my depression, living alone, on a leave of absence from work, dropped out of my grad school program, and constantly fighting suicidal thoughts. I found it hard to get out of bed, much less go outside. I would get occasional anxiety attacks, which really paralyzed me, leaving me to lay on the couch for hours. It was painful to lay there, and painful to get up. My body felt like lead. Had I read this quote then, I probably would have responded with a giant “Fuck You! I CAN’T get up! I’m TRYING!”

When I read this quote today, I thought of that version of me 4 years ago. How did she grow to eventually live this message?

If I could re-trace my steps what I would find are the following.

  1. Compassion for the self. It’s okay to be where you are right now. You are not a failure for experiencing depression and anxiety. They are trying to teach you something and require your attention. Compassion is a great way to listen.
  2. Forgiveness of the self. Forgive yourself for pushing yourself so hard to be “normal”. Forgive yourself for past decisions. You were trying to go at life alone. Here’s your opportunity to do things differently with more consciousness and compassion.
  3. Start small. If “getting up” and going out in society is too hard, start small. If sitting up in bed is all you can do, then do that. You have permission to know that seemingly small actions are actually huge feats when it comes to depression.
  4. Challenge your comfort zone daily. Again, go small. Check-in with yourself and see how much more you can do from your comfort zone. Can you get out of bed? Can you walk into another room? Eat? Shower? Brush your teeth?  No matter how small the next step, acknowledge your accomplishment. The goal is to stretch out of your comfort zone little by little.
  5. Ask yourself “What do I need right now?” This is another way to do #4. Sometimes what we need is very small, like sitting up or a drink of water. Get still and check-in with yourself when asking this question, and make sure your answer is some thing you can do for you (not what others can do for you). However an exception is if what you need is to ask for something from a positive support person, AND you are certain that they will respond in a positive healthy manner. For example, “I need to ask my therapist if I can see her twice a week”.
  6. Acknowledge your actions, no matter how small, and see them for what they are; acts of love and hope for yourself. Acknowledge what you’ve done and do not compare yourself to others. You are doing your best in every moment on your healing journey.
  7. On days where it is just impossible to do any small act, be kind to yourself. Let yourself cry and trust you will make an effort later. Ride out the intensity and check-in on your ability to do a small action when things feel calmer. As long as you are alive there is opportunity to do a little more for yourself on your behalf.

Living in the world of depression and anxiety is unlike living in mainstream society. Actions are slowed down, and seemingly small actions are huge. For those who are not living in depression or anxiety, it is hard to comprehend why small tasks are so hard. However this is your emotional recovery, not theirs.

Those who do not speak the language of psychic pain cannot understand what you are saying. As painful as it feels, it’s okay. Others do speak this language and understand you. These small actions are your foundation in connecting to those who speak the language of psychic pain such as: counselors, therapists, spiritual communities, support groups, etc.

I owe a lot of my recovery to doing things I didn’t want to do or didn’t believe I could do. Yes, depression is disabling, and I had to force myself, step by step, to (literally) get up. I had to tap into that small place inside me that loved me enough to go against my comfort zone.

I also owe a lot to my counselors, support groups, and spiritual communities. Being consistent in connecting with them was not always easy, however acknowledging the small steps of my daily life helped build a muscle in me that would push me to connect with my support systems even when I felt tired, distraught, and fatigued. I eventually exercised again, went back to work, and back to grad school. It was hard work but I never would have imagined then, that I would eventually live this quote.

Grad School Freak Out

Warning: This is a negative ranty post.

I’m in my last quarter of graduate school for my Marriage and Family Therapy degree. One of my last classes is a psychopharmacology class. It’s kicking my ass. I almost failed exam 1, I was lost in my first written assignment, and I failed exam 2. There is one exam to go and one more assignment to go. I feel so completely triggered.

I love learning and the discussion of theories and techniques. I have done well in this program, and have had challenging quarters where I understood what was being taught, but had to manage a large course load with a large workload. I work full-time counseling youth and attend school full-time in the evening. I commute 80 minutes round-trip 1-2 nights per week. But this?

This is something else. This psychopharmacology class is so information dense. My brain can’t seem to retain any information. The language is a jarbled mess. Like bad reception on a cell phone. The grading is steep. Anything below 80% is failing. I feel inadequate and exhausted. This class taxes my nerves and I am in such an irritable fucked up mood after each exam and assignment. The lectures depress me as I can’t keep up with all the information. I can’t understand it or make sense of it. I may be able to if I had time, but I have no time. I could actually fail this class and not graduate.

In short I’m freaking out right now.

 

Normal Reactions to Abnormal Expereinces

When I began to learn about Attachment Theory in school, I felt a familiar language being spoken. Although I have been consciously growing and healing these last 4 years, I was unaware that the process that I was going through actually had a name. To learn that the process in which I have been understanding myself actually has a theory attached to it was quite comforting to me.

It’s easy to pathologist someone as depressed, anxious, co-dependent, etc. I think it’s important for many people to have an understanding that these behaviors, emotions, and reactions are normal given their early childhood experiences. Many circles call this “having a normal reaction to abnormal events”. When I first heard this, I remember feeling seen, heard, and as a result – validated. My reactions were debilitating me, but in hearing this I realized that I wasn’t inherently defected. Instead, I realized that I had lost my way because I was given a faulty road map.

This video for the Still Face Experiment is a snap shot of how our parents, caretakers, and guardians interactions with us shapes how we react to them, the world, and in turn ourselves. A mother staring blankly back at a child represents a mother not responding to the infants cues. In daily life, parents and caretakers easily miss infant cues when the adult is busy, stressed, traumatized, addicted, or in any other way distracted or unable to. Being fully present to an infant 100% of the time is impossible, however, the more an infant’s cues are misread or unread, the more the infant will adopt a stressful reaction. This can lead to a sense of worthlessness (“I don’t matter”) and/or helplessness (“I don’t like asking for what I need”) and a myriad of other issues as the child grows and seeks to be seen.

In my case, I grew up in a large family. My parents were raised in physically abusive homes and neither received much affection. Although I did not experience physical abuse from them, my family didn’t know how to connect on emotionally healthy levels. There was a lot of blame, teasing, and criticism; and if I was hurt, it was because I brought it upon myself. Because my parents worked long hours, I was handed off to whoever could take care of me at the moment. My older sister says that when my mother would return from work, she would hand me off to her and I would turn my back towards my mother in a subtle resistance of going to her. I can image that as an infant, I probably experienced a lot of guessing if my needs were going to be met, and how to go about signalling for it.

I think it’s important to add that I’m not seeking to blame parents or caretakers. In your healing journey, you may experience anger towards those who raised you. I think this is normal and healthy. However, being stuck in blame and resentment can be unhealthy and how long you need to feel this way is different for everyone. My hope is that at some point, you will grow a space in yourself that can make peace with the past, understand that you are not flawed, and learn to be kind, loving, and nurturing to yourself.

Right Now

A couple of weeks go I was under such stress that I actually felt my hair and eyes strained. All I wanted was to stay home and sleep and cry. However I can’t do that. I have a job to go to, clients to see, paperwork that has a deadline, homework to read, and classes to go to. So I took it as slow as I could and booked a massage. By the end of the week I was beginning to feel slightly grounded again.

As the weekend took place, I experienced another stressful event. My typical response is to shut down, which serves me and hinders me. In light of that, I have started to practice what it’s like to be present in these kinds of moments. Last weekend, I did both. I went to bed and the next morning left home early to practice self-care. When I came home to decompress, I began to have a panic attack.

Having talked to a few support people earlier, I remembered their words. “What do you need right now?”. This was my mantra throughout the attack and each time I asked, I gave myself what I needed in that moment. I made small efforts such as sitting up, bundling up, breathing out, and so on. It was hard to talk, so allowing for no conversation was helpful too. As the day went on the anxiety slowly released.

Although the slow and small steps were important, the biggest help came from asking myself “What do I need right now?”. I have asked myself this question throughout the rest of the week, as I am still decompressing from the stress of the lats 2 weeks. I think this is a good question to ask myself in any situation, When I ask myself “What do I need right now?”, I am not only practicing self-care. I am also practicing how to re-parent myself.

New Year’s Cleanse and Your YES

I tend to experience anxiety on New Year’s Eve. It isn’t a consistent type, but more a peek-a-boo type. Throughout the last day of each year, there is a fleeting second of panic and fear that grips me, then, as quickly as it came, it runs off like a mischievous prankster. This year I found some relief in housecleaning and taking a spiritually cleansing bath early in the morning.

I saged and lit a candle as I prayed in gratitude and set my intentions for the New Year. As I boiled some herbs for my bath, I could feel my mother’s presence with me. I remembered her bathing me with herbs and other ingredients in order to help correct a condition. In this moment, I thanked her for her lessons, both spoken and exhibited,  intentional and unintentional. I felt the lineage of pain, and my part in this generational healing.

As I lay in the warm herbal bath, I repeated my intentions and gratitude, and released any wrongs I may have done to others. When the time felt right, I removed the drain cover and let the herbal bath slowly drain away. As this happened, I couldn’t help but realize that I was releasing everything that no longer served me in 2013. I watched the water whirlpool down the drain and thanked the darkness and pain for the lessons they have taught me, and for giving me strength. I was moved to tears as I thought of how my struggles have made me stronger and have made me who I am today. This is when I felt that my morning cleanse was complete.

inspirational-necklaces-butterfly-principle1

Click image to enlarge

Afterwards I made some tea and randomly opened the book You’re Deepest Intent, by Rev. Deborah L. Johnson. These words stood out for me.

“When you become the Yes, then everything you are searching for will be right in front of you. It’s already in front of you, but you just can’t see it” (p.119)

“Putting on the glasses did not make anything appear. It was all there already. But correcting the vision allows you to make sense out of what otherwise appears to be just fog. Instead of putting on glasses to see better, most of you are trying to get rid of the fog. You are ignoring what’s really around you. You have gotten comfortable with what little bit that you see.” (p. 120)

So I asked myself and I ask you, what are you saying Yes to? What are you willing to say Yes to?

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