The worst thing about trauma

It hits at all levels

Just a tip — if you have a weak stomach, don’t Google “trauma” and look at the images. I just did, and I regret it.

Anyway… I’m writing this ahead of time and scheduling it to publish while I’m way. By the time you’re reading this, I’ll probably be on the road, off to collect the rest of the crap from the smashed vehicle my spouse was in. Again, I am so grateful things didn’t turn out worse.

Still, it’s a sh*tty way to spend my day off. Especially when I was in such need of downtime, having been really sick all last week.

So much for that.

To be quite honest, the hardest part about the whole thing was that everyone had to emotionally process everything. They had to call their friends, talk to everybody they met about it, recount the experience, get sympathy from people, have an “emotional release”… and do it all over again. And all the while, the friend’s smartphone kept going off and dinging with every text that would come in, setting off the most irritating set of ringtones I’ve ever heard, and not giving me a moment’s rest. Driving a long distance on very little sleep, having that smartphone go off every 15 seconds was nerve-wracking, to say the least. It was startling and jarring, and no sooner would they settle down from one emotional conversation with someone, than someone else would call them, and they’d launch into their hysterics all over again.

Oh. My. God.

I am so tired. I went to bed when I got home last night — about 6 p.m. And I slept till 4:30 this morning. It felt great to get 10-1/2 hours of sleep, and I have a massage later today, which will be fantastic. I also need to drive back out to the tow yard, halfway across the state, to pick up the rest of the equipment in the trashed vehicle, so it’s not a total loss. I just need to work today, to move and go about my business, work around the house, call the insurance company, and take action, without constant processing going on.

Please. I need a break.

Now, I know that I do a lot of talking, myself. And I have to consider my own approach to talking things through and processing everything. I like to think that I process and move on. That I speak my peace and then make necessary changes to ensure those things don’t happen out of my negligence or stupidity or lack of preparation. It’s one thing to go through difficult times. It’s another, to never shut up about it, and “get stuck” in the whole experience, because you want others to feel sorry for you.

If I ever sound like the friend who kept replaying that experience… somebody tell me to shut the hell up. I am truly sorry, if I ever put any of you through that.

Truly, I am.

The crux of it for me, really, is that when we experience trauma, our bodies are put into shock, and on a physical level, we get primed for startle and hyper-alertness. Our bodies are trying to protect us, and they think they have to keep being alert. But they don’t. Our minds pick up on our body’s hyper-alert state, and they get tricked into thinking that they need to be hyper-alert, too… rehashing the experience, so they can “learn” what the situation looked like, to avoid it in the future.

The thing is, for some situations — like a punk in a fast car being an asshole — you cannot predict and anticipate it, so all the “learning” you are doing is just sucking up your energy that could be spent on healing from the whole hellish experience. And rather than making you safer, you’re re-traumatizing yourself and making everything that much worse.

That’s my argument with people who insist on telling everyone about their awful childhood experiences with abusive parents/uncles/siblings/caretakers, etc. It doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t solve anything, it just keeps spreading the trauma around to everyone who had nothing to do with it, and who don’t deserve to be sucked into what was a truly horrific experience.

Trauma needs to be handled in other ways, not talking. It’s a physiological experience, and it needs to be dealt with on the physical level. The body takes over the mind — hijacks your executive functioning — and you have to get it all to settle down, before things in your mind can calm down.

That means resting and eating right and moving. You cannot heal without some sort of movement. You just can’t. You’ve got to get out of your head and get your ass up out of the chair/bed, and really move it. Because if you don’t, your body is going have a backlog of stress chemicals that convince it that it needs to be on HIGH ALERT, and you will keep reliving your shitty experience as though it were still true.

Okay, enough of my rant. It’s time for me to do something constructive with this energy. Time to move.

Time to go juggle. And get on with my day.

Onward.

 

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So much for my weekend off

Where’s my damn’ car?

Well, it was a nice thought. I had three days to work on my projects and pretty much unwind, catch up with myself, and sleep… get healthy, etc.

That was the plan, anyway.

Then my spouse got into a really bad car accident on Saturday afternoon, and I had to drive out to a country hospital to meet them and the business associate they were traveling with. The hospital was really old-fashioned – like something out of the 1950s, and the ER physician was about as dynamic as a brick. I’m not sure that he did a thorough job checking out my spouse, who hit their head on the door frame. They said they just had a bump on their head, and they didn’t have a headache. My spouse kept trying to charm the doctor, while he was doing the examination, which can’t have made his job any easier. I didn’t know what to do, other than keep them from lying to the doctor outright. They’re terrified of doctors, and they were completely freaked out by the whole experience. So, there was only so much I could actually do.

My spouse and their friend had their doubts about driving — road conditions were not good, and visibility was poor. But they had committed to the trip, and their destination had good weather, so they thought it would be fine, once they got out there. None of us factored in the weather between our home and their destination. Ultimately, thought,the real problem was no so much the road conditions — rather, the poor judgment and behavior of the person who caused the wreck.

They were not hurt badly, but they had to go to the hospital to be evaluated, and then because of their states of mind and body, they couldn’t get back in a car and drive home. So, we spent Sunday hanging out at a chilly little country motel, wrapped in coats and blankets, trying to stay warm, eating Sunday brunch, finding the tow yard where the car was, collecting their personal items, trying to fit them all into my little hatchback (with three people in it), and getting everyone home safely … from quite a ways away.

They are both truly lucky to be as healthy as they are. They’re lucky to be alive. They both could have easily been killed, if they’d been in a smaller car, or there had been more traffic on the road they were on. For that I am truly grateful. There are a lot of things to be thankful for in this. The car may be totaled, but I kind of hated that car, anyway. It was too big for my spouse — or just about anyone — to handle safely. Especially in low visibility. Or where the space is tight. They felt safe in it, but that’s a grand illusion.

I have no idea where or how we’re going to replace the vehicle, but I’ll figure something out. I just got some money from an estate settlement from a relative who died within the past year, and I was going to use that money to fix the house. But it looks like it may go to either fixing this car or buying a new (to me) one.

My insurance company already hates me, because I’ve filed claims for damage to the house that was actually my fault, rather than an accident. I didn’t realize you can’t file a claim if it’s your fault, or if you didn’t call a repair person to look at it before. I thought you could file your claim and then have the repair person come. I guess it’s the other way around. And now I look like an insurance fraudster. Nice.

But this accident was not my spouse’s fault, and it’s a legitimate claim. Basically, a young kid driving a fast car got “adventurous” on a very narrow road and caused 13 cars to pile up. 7 of them had to be towed (including ours), and a whole bunch of people went to the hospital, including my spouse and their friend/business associate.

And I spent Saturday evening and all day Sunday dealing with the fallout.

I know I’m rambling here. I’m tired and still out of sorts. It’s going to be a few weeks, till this settles down, I’m sure. I just have to keep on — steady on — and take care of myself. Keep balanced. Just deal with it.

Well, anyway, it’s time to take a break. This whole thing has got me thinking a lot about trauma and how to deal with it. I’ve already written a whole long rant about it — I’m going to split it into another section and publish it later. For now, I’m going to focus on being grateful that things didn’t turn out worse.

Because they really could have.

The ghost and the machine

It’s all about your perspective – “Ghost in the Machine” by linnsetane

I had a pretty good weekend — no, I had a pretty phenomenal weekend. I had an exquisite balance between body, mind, heart, and spirit, that I haven’t felt in some time, and I actually felt like myself.

Again.

It’s been a long time, since I truly felt like myself. I was reading and studying again, doing some journaling. I did chores around the house and cleaned up outside. And I was out in the woods a whole lot, with naps in between.

I didn’t “accomplish” some of the goals I set out to do, but you know what? I don’t care. I feel really solid, and that matters more than any external goals I set for myself. On Fridays, my weekend goals seem so terribly important. But by Sunday morning, I’ve “rearranged the furniture of my interior life” and a whole new set of priorities come out, which are a lot more life-giving than the ones I identified on Friday last.

It has taken me a long, long time to get to this place. I have been “in the woods” in a not-so-good way for many years, and at last I’m at a really stable place, where I’m not all over the map for no good reason.

Now, in some ways, I still feel strange to myself. But that strangeness has actually become an integrated part of my life now. See, the thing is, I don’t just see myself as a person whose character is set in stone — and that’s it. I see myself now as more of a person whose character is constantly developing along certain lines that are “me” — it’s not the particular details of how I’m feeling and what I’m doing, that make “me” the person I am. It’s actually the process I go through to get where I’m going, that makes “me” the person I am.

For example, I am usually in pain of some kind or another. Either I have a pulled muscle or I have a headache or a backache or joint pain. I literally can’t remember the last time I did not have some kind of pain — and this goes back to my childhood, when I had a very rough-and-tumble kind of life and I was usually getting scuffed up or knocked around by someone or something or other. I was extremely sensitive as a kid, and a lot of times, if someone touched my arm or my back, it felt like I was being hit. It stung like fire ants or burned like fire or it felt like someone had me in a vice and was twisting. Being young, I couldn’t really explain it. That’s just how it was.

And when I was younger, because of that, I felt like I was always being punished. Because when you were really bad, you got hit or paddled or yanked around by an adult. And that hurt. But I wasn’t being constantly punished — I was just having that kind of experience without any connection with reality. My body didn’t realize it, and my mind couldn’t process that.

So, I’ve had this complex — pretty much my entire life — about being a bad person who needed to be punished.

Well, now that I know more about my situation, that’s not burdening me anymore. I know that my sensitivities are connected with how much tension I’m feeling — when I’m tired or stressed or upset — and they’re not about me being a bad person who should be punished. Pain is happening because I’m doing good things — not bad things. Pain is a sign that I am genuinely trying to do better and be better.

It’s like after a hard workout. Your body is absolutely wracked for days on end, while it recovers and gets used to the “new you”. It’s not a bad thing — it’s a by-product of a good thing, and it will totally be worth it in the long run.

So, I have a completely different view of my pain, these days. And I have a very different attitude towards my experience. Thinking of my pain as the result of me pushing harder to be better, makes the pain about me being driven to be better. That’s a far cry from the old way of thinking and feeling — which was all about me being bad and deserving to be punished.

It’s kind of a “no pain no gain” mentality — “pain is weakness leaving the body” and all that.

So, while I don’t feel physically peachy-keen, most of the time, which at times makes me feel really terrible about being in my own skin, the way I think about feeling crappy has actually restored some of my sense of self. Rather than the pain meaning that I’m deficient, it means that I’m genuinely trying to do better, that I’m motivated and really trying. Waking up today with a headache and fatigue means that yesterday I wanted to be better, and I did something about it.

It’s not about me being in an ideal state at any given point in time. It’s about me being in the middle of a process of improvement that is taking me towards a variety of ideals which I can experience at different points in time. Life isn’t always going to be perfect. Where would be the challenge in that? In fact, it seems to me that the more “yourself” you are, the most challenges you’re going to face, because life likes to keep us guessing — and so do we. I have seen so many people unconsciously create situations that get them in trouble, and I’ve seen so many “good” people dragged into complicated messes, that after close to 50 years of wondering “WHY?!” it’s all I can figure.

Being a good person doesn’t mean I’m going to have all good things happen in my life. It means I’m going to have plenty of opportunities to create more good in the lives of myself and everyone around me, no matter what the circumstances.

And that goes for TBI. Lemme tell you, it has been one tough motherf*cker, getting through this, and in a lot of ways, I feel like the “old me” is gone for good. But the “new me” — or maybe the “real me” that I never recognized before — is not so much about being a certain way in certain circumstances, thinking certain thoughts and having certain feelings about things. Maybe the “real me” is actually a dynamic personality who is constantly learning, constantly changing, constantly leaving the old behind.

I think that once upon a time, I knew this. I cleaned out my study, over the weekend and found some old journals from 20+ years ago. Back when I was still wet behind the ears, I had this amazing capacity for fluid adjustment. I think because everything around me was changing all the time, and the multiple TBIs messed with my head so much, I realized that it was pointless for me to try to hang onto anything for long. But then I “grew up” and got all adult-like and what-not, and for some reason, I had it in my head that “I” was a certain way, and that “I” wasn’t going to change.

How strange.

It got worse after my 2004 injury — my thinking just got so rigid and fixed and brittle. And now that I think about it, that “self” that I felt I had lost… that “self” may have never even existed, because my thinking was so one-dimensional and fixed. I had this vision of myself in my head that was distorted and confused, and for some reason, I thought that was “me”.

It was like going into a funhouse and looking at all the mirrors, and then deciding that one image of myself I saw was THE REAL ME, and I invested all kinds of energy in hanging onto that distorted image of myself. Even though it was as far from “me” as you can get.

So, this weekend, it was all about the process. All about loosening up, all about cleaning out dusty spaces and getting things in order. My study is still in some disarray, but that will change. Gradually, I’ll work my way through — one shelf at a time. And by this time next year, there’s no reason to think that it won’t be in decent shape.

Truly.

So, that’s the result of my great weekend. It felt so good to just let go of the Friday-fatigue-flavored expectations of last week and just let things flow. Letting things flow didn’t get me “off course” – if anything, it let me get some rest and more inspiration for the coming week. Now I’m coming back to my work week with a renewed energy and a better understanding — the machine of my life is just that: a machine. But it’s the ghost that does all the driving.

Can you tell Halloween is coming? πŸ˜‰

Onward.

DO try this at home

I’ve discovered something pretty cool. It’s sort of kind of changed my life for the better. It’s simple and it’s similar to things I have done for myself before, but it’s more specific.

I know I’m being cryptic. It’s been a long week, and it’s only Wednesday. I’m also exhausted — couldn’t sleep past 4 a.m. today, and I’ve had a lot going on. Crazy.

Anyway, here’s the magical new discovery — using rollers to stretch my back and massage my spine and work my usually tight back and leg muscles into some sort of flexibility.

I got the idea from the MELT Method (Google it, if you want to know more – I’m too tired to explain) only I use a rolled-up yoga mat as well as one of those plastic water noodles. I lie down with the roller along my spine and I balance on it and rock back and forth a little bit to hit all the pressure points along my spine, then I turn it sideways and lie across it perpendicular, and position it in different ways so I can crack my back in different places.

Holy moly, can I feel a difference. It’s like the lights have come on. Pretty amazing.

The only problem is, now I’m all jazzed up and energized, so I push myself even harder, and I end up probably in worse shape than if I were just this cramped, curled-up ball of tension.

Yah, well, whatever. I feel good mentally and spiritually, and even my pain is the good kind — the kind that comes from working things out and loosening up and letting your body get used to it.

With any luck, I can call it an early night and hit the hay soon.

One can hope…

 

How I learned to slow my heart rate

UPDATE: This post is by far the most popular one on this site, and it has helped a lot of people. (See the comments below to read what they’ve said.) So, I created a whole new site, called How I Slow My Heart Rate where I give more details on the technique. Visit the site

I have also written an extended eBook version that you can purchase at this link.Β 

heart-rateSomeone mentioned recently how their heart just races at times — “off the charts” is how they put it. Many, many years ago, I actually learned how to slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute to a regular pace. Back in high school, when I was working out for track, after a particularly hard workout, my heart would feel like it was beating out of my chest. It was pretty disconcerting. I actually felt ill when it was happening. So I had to do something.

Here’s what I did:

First, I tried just slowing down my breathing, but my heart would still race, and my body would feel like it was starving for air. So, I’d have to start breathing heavier again, and my heart rate would stay fast.

Then I tried taking in a deep breath and holding it… but for some reason, that just made it beat even harder. Yikes!Β I think that is because inhalation is linked with the sympathetic nervous system, which is all about adrenaline and fight-flight-freeze responses. Taking a deep breath seemed to activate the very thing I was trying to calm down.

Then I tried exhaling completely, and holding my breath for a count of 3-5, or as long as I could hold it…. then slowly inhaling, and then exhaling and holding it for as long as I could count.

Somehow the exhalation is what worked for me. It may be because exhaling is linked with the parasympathetic nervous system, which slows the heart rate. I’m not a scientist, so I can’t say exactly for sure why this works, but I’ve come across other people talking about it — like the folks atΒ Coherence and the new science of breath (the pic below is theirs, and if you’re into the science, I recommend you check ’em out).

But all the mysterious science aside, based on my experience, focusing on exhalation is what helps me slow down my heart rate. I actually have a little bit of a heart murmur (no big deal, according to my doctor), so that makes managing my heart rate even more important to me.

To recap, here’s what I do:

  1. Exhale…
  2. Hold the breath and count to 3 or 5 or as long as I can go…
  3. Then slowly inhale and then exhale again… and
  4. Repeat the process.

If I keep doing that, I can slow my heart rate from pounding a mile a minute, to a regular thump-thump-thump. I have slowed it from over 100 bpm to around 70. Sometimes I’ve done it in the space of a few minutes. It’s pretty cool when that happens. It feels a little strange and unexpected, and feeling like I’m suffocating is no fun, but it’s reassuring when the technique works.

I can’t guarantee this will work for everyone, and please don’t take chances with your health and safety if you have cardiac/respiratory issues, but I did want to share that. It just might help.


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