Saturday, January 26, 2013

The alone-ness of PTSD.

The past two weeks have been full of emotions.
Most recently, I went with a friend of mine to have a medical procedure done. The procedure itself was not a huge deal. NOT fun. Definitely not pleasant for anyone. But throw in a little PTSD, and what is mildly uncomfortable for others becomes a traumatizing moment.

I came back from that experience angry. Anger confused me. Angry at what? or who?
Sad and angry that she is having to go through any of this? Yes. What else?
Angry at the fucked up person that abused her? Hell yes!! And there's more.

A week ago, I went with K to her doctor's appointment at the Huntsman Cancer Institute. I don't know how it is other places, but every person who goes through cancer deserves to be treated the way they treated her. Compassionate, professional, knowledgeable doctors and staff. At least two staff recognized her walked up to her in the waiting room to give her a hug and talk to her. The doctors had all been working together and reviewing her scans and files to come up with the best solution for her cancer. BJ and I were in the room with her, plus three people conferenced in on the phone, plus several others who would have been there if she had wanted them there. She was surrounded by amazing and loving support.

I was so glad to see K had all those people and resources. I wish she didn't have to go through this. I love her, and would do anything I could to be helpful, and I was only one of many.

A few days ago, there was a funeral for three beautiful people. The family they left behind were surrounded by love. So many people willing to help, bring food or flowers or heaters, drive shuttles, decorate, offer a hug, a kind note, take pictures, and more that I couldn't even see. It was beautiful to see all of the love, the shared sorrow, and the support.

No one should ever have to go through that kind of loss. No amount of love from people could take the pain away, but there were so many that were willing.

As I sat in the ER with my friend, she tried to explain to the nurse that she had major PTSD.
"What? Were you assaulted or something?" (Just in case anyone is wondering, NOT a very helpful way to word that question.)
My friend asked the doctor for something to calm the anxiety, he offered a small dose of Ativan. He didn't ask what she normally took. He didn't stick around and listen when she tried to explain that Ativan doesn't do much for her.
Twenty minutes later, when the nurse asked if she felt the effects, she said, "No."
The nurse went ahead anyway, and when she saw my friend's tears, said nothing, finished the procedure and ran from the room.

I understand that doctors and nurses have a lot on their plates. These people meant no harm. I understand that my friend probably wouldn't want a room full of support at that moment. (I'm not sure she even wanted me there. I just told her I was coming... and then told the people at the front I wanted to see my sister. She didn't kick me out, so probably okay that I was there.)

It's just... I feel angry and sad that someone with PTSD has to go through it all SO alone.

Typical for me, I wasn't able to put to words the feeling when it was me. Watching someone else go through an experience that is similar to my own, I feel sad for the alone-ness of PTSD.

People don't understand. Doctors, nurses, and professionals don't get it. Most friends and family can't understand what it's like. They can't understand the pain, the confusion, the mixed up ideas, the flashbacks, the nightmares, the loneliness, the depression and anxiety, the guilt, and the shame.

So much shame associated with the abuse and the PTSD itself. I felt like I couldn't let people know what was going on. I didn't want them to think I was crazy, attention-seeking, broken, or screwed up. I couldn't handle the stupid things people would say (Things not to say, Stupid things people say)  - it was better to be alone than to have to take care of someone else when I was hurting.

Flashbacks were so personal and so frightening, I didn't want to go through them alone, and I didn't want to have anyone else around while my body was going through that. I was lucky to have BJ. He seemed to understand what I needed, and just sat with me.

Sexual abuse is so personal, so perverse, and so painful... It's hard to talk about. (Sometimes impossible to talk about.) Even now, I don't like talking about it. I still feel very raw and afraid when I tell someone I was molested or raped. Just those words make me want to crawl in a hole.

(And recovery means you stop talking about it... Why is that?)

I shared some of these thoughts with BJ.
He said he wished he had money like the Huntsman's had money.
He would start a big complex just for PTSD research and treatment. There would be doctors of all kinds who were trained in their specialties as well as in PTSD. The place would feel kind and compassionate, and they'd have an ER. There would be therapists, staff, and caseworkers. 

It would be big enough that the community would get involved. There would be high school choirs singing or guys playing piano in the lobby. And home-made stressballs made by people in the community available to anyone who wanted one.

They would research the brain, and how to overcome the effects of trauma. And have cutting edge treatment and technology to give every person the best chance of not only surviving but living life to the fullest after survival.

They would have a place where someone could go when they couldn't sleep, because it was too hard to stay grounded AND sleep. Staff and therapists willing to just be with someone who is hurting that much.

Most of all, it would be a place where people wouldn't have to feel ashamed. Not of PTSD symptoms. Not of the abuse or trauma. Not of needing extra support or love or attention.

Suddenly, I wish I was a millionaire. I would like to be a part of creating that place.

Until someone has the money to create such a place, what can be done?
Is there anything that can be done, so that people with PTSD don't feel so alone?

I want there to be more that I can do. 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Life and Death. Hope and Sorrow.

I've been on a roller coaster of emotions this past week. I wrote about one of the highs. Today, I'd like to write about the lows.

Last week, I went to visit BJ's sister in Montana. Two hours before BJ and I got there, she got a phone call from her oncologist. It wasn't good news. He said things like
"Stage 4" and
"noncurative" and
"maybe treatment could buy some extra time, but...."

The next few days BJ and I went through the ups and downs and backs and forths with them.
In one of the conversations, she asked what I would do. I told her I would want to LIVE, not just exist. If treatment could only by her more quantity of life, but not quality of life, I wouldn't want that. I would want to live until I die.

She asked BJ what he would do. He said something similar.

Her husband said this seemed to be the less shitty of two really shitty choices. 

We talked about nutrition and natural healing. She has been studying about the power of the body and mind, and asked me if I thought the body could heal itself. ABSOLUTELY. I've experienced the kind of healing that people weren't sure was possible. My broken body and mind has become mostly whole. If I can overcome that, there are so many amazing things that are possible.

When it was just BJ and I, we cried. I felt sad and hopeless.
Both K and R have made me feel loved and accepted. They make everyone feel loved. They deserve to live loving and happy lives. I LOVE being around the two of them, because they are so loving and kind and fun to be with. Their wedding was so healing for me - changed me.

I felt angry that she wasn't getting what I wanted her to have. I felt sadness for her husband. He was so lonely for so many years, and then he finally found K. And now they were going to go through hell together, and for what? She was going to be in horrible pain until she died. How is that fair? He would go back to feeling lonely. My heart ached for him so much, I couldn't handle it.

And then I'd go back to thinking about the amazing machine that our bodies are. The miracles I have seen happen. I'd feel hopeful and scared.

Her oncologist had suggested surgery - even though the way he talked about it didn't make it sound like much of a solution. She decided she wanted to have all of the information from all of the sources she could find before making a decision. She drove back with us to meet with the surgeon in Salt Lake. This doctor had much more confidence in his ability to treat her, and was much more hopeful.

He said things like,
"completely cured"
"do everything you have always loved to do"
"pain and treatment for a year, and then LIFE"

I felt huge relief. She is tough and positive and amazing. A year of hell will be HELL, and it isn't fair, and she doesn't deserve this, and it fucking sucks... and then she can get on living the life she deserves. I will be there to support her any way I can. (Even if it's just swearing in the bathroom with her.) BJ will be there. Her friends, parents, her daughter, her husband's kids, her other siblings and their families... She is SO loved by so many. She'll continue to inspire and touch so many people's lives.

The next day I was out with a friend when BJ called me to tell me that another friend, Jen, had lost her daughter in a car accident. Kel was nine months pregnant with Jen's first grandson. Kel's fiance was also in the car along with their dogs. All of them were killed. In an instant, their little family was just... gone.

As I struggled to find out the details, and learn how Jen and all of Jen's friends and family were doing, my heart ached. I thought of the excitement Jen had felt when Kel got engaged. When she found out she was going to be a grandma. I thought of all the stories I'd heard of Kel. She was passionate about animals. She had a gift for understanding and loving animals that made me want to be like her.

I thought of all the times Jen was there for me. The way she listened and helped me feel loved, the things she taught me about loving myself. It isn't fair that she should have to face such a devastating thing.

Kel's brother posted on Facebook that he'd trade places in an instant.
Jen's best friend, and a dear friend of mine, tried to keep everyone updated on details of what happened and funeral plans. While also feeling her own hurt, and loss, and sadness.
Kel was planning the wedding of her dreams, and now Jen is planning a funeral. Somehow trying to honor the fairy tale day with the end of the fairy tale.

Neither of these stories are mine... but the pain, the loss, the fear, the sadness, the love, the joy, the connection is mine. And I feel a sense of gratitude just being a part of the beautiful parts of humanity. Today I am feeling hopeful for K.  I also feel scared for K and for her husband. I don't know what they will have to go through. I am feeling broken hearted for Jen. I am feeling gratitude for all of the love I have felt from so many. I am in awe of all that is this life.

I don't really have words for all of the emotions that I feel.
Just tears. Many tears. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Surprise! (So, that's what we'd do in Montana in the winter...)

In October, BJ and I went to visit his sister and her husband in Montana. We had such a great time: We went fishing, watched movies, laughed, and talked. Shortly after we got back, BJ and I started talking about wanting to go back.

In November, he had the thought, "Wouldn't it be fun to go out there and surprise K?"
Brilliant idea, so we started trying to schedule it... Holiday season made work super busy, plus family parties, and all of the other things going on... Talking to her husband, we finally scheduled the visit for January.

In December, she came here for a niece's wedding. We went out to dinner and played games one night while she was here, and I thought I was going to bust. She was trying to convince BJ and I we needed to come visit. He kept telling her there was no way we were going to go to MONTANA in the winter. "What on earth would we do in Montana in the winter?"

"We could go sledding, or build snowmen, or go to a movie, or just hang out and play games and talk. We'd have fun, but I understand if you want to wait until spring to come."

(It's a good thing she wasn't looking at me during this conversation. I couldn't contain my giggles.)

We decided it would be fun to meet her at a restaurant. Her husband would ask her out to dinner, they'd walk in, and we'd just be sitting there waiting. The day before we were supposed to leave, there was a "severe storm warning" in Utah, Idaho, and Montana. BJ and I were stressing about trying to drive in the blizzard conditions they described.

My Facebook status read:
"Blasted winter storm warning! Might make me change my plans, and I don't want to change my plans..."

The only person to respond was K, "What were your plans? Sometimes we have to make new plans, but they can be even better than we originally planned."

It was so perfect. I told her exactly what my plans were:
"Oh, just dinner with some friends... but if the roads are bad, I'll have to reschedule."

The roads weren't good. Kind of scary. But we were too excited to postpone. It took us an extra couple of hours to get there, so R (her husband) had to find reasons to postpone leaving for dinner. (It turns out, that wasn't hard, she got a phone call with bad news at the time they were going to leave.)

We got to the restaurant about ten minutes before they did.
BJ texted her and said, "Just thinking about you. Love you lots."
She texted back, "Love you. So, just what were you thinking?"
"I guess... just that I wish you lived closer. I'd love to give you a hug right now."

She didn't respond to the last text, because they had pulled up to the restaurant.
They walked in, and she just stopped and stared at BJ. She said all that was going through her mind was, "That guy looks just like my brother."
Then she looked at me (I had a camera in my face, to video this reaction.), and thought, "That lady looks just like Jen. What the hell is going on?"

Then R laughed and said, "We've been planning this for months!"
And then there was a bunch of hugging and laughing and crying.

It's been a week and a half, and we've been hanging out and having a blast (and sharing tears and stories, but that's for another post). But I still smile when I picture her face. Feeling pretty grateful to have been part of such a fun thing.

And just for fun, here's pictures: 

Welcome to Montana...

When she finally realized that WAS her brother, and he was in Montana.

This is how we watch football. Poor R was feeling sick, so he didn't even get to see his 49ers play.

They got a little tired and a little bored waiting for BJ and I to see everything we wanted to see in the museum.

Welcome to Montana. Where everyone puts their wipers up at night, so they don't freeze to the windows.

I thought this quote was cool. The museum was amazing... so much to see and learn and talk about.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Today's Prayer

I know YESTERDAY I posted about my family's response to being more open about my life and therefore my friendship with BJ. Today, I'm fighting to keep myself in a healthy place.

Help me remember that I can't control others.
No one needs me to protect their feelings by hiding the truth.
I can't protect everyone, and they wouldn't want me to (really) anyway.
It's none of my business what other people think of me (although I will always try to be aware of how I affect others.)

Help me to trust the people that are closest to me and love me, at least until I can trust myself again. Help me to remember why I want to stop hiding, and why I chose to stop running away.

Help me to find the place of love, rather than fear.
Love for myself. Love for others. Love for the journey I am on.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

I feel loved by the people that I love.

BJ spent some of the holidays with my family. I was worried...  I was afraid of questions. (Questions that I don't necessarily know, nor care to explore the answers to.) I was afraid that everyone would push to know what my relationship with BJ is. (I am very happy with what we have, and I don't want to try to define it for anyone else. Labels just make me feel crazy.) I was afraid of judgments. (The word "judgments" doesn't cover all that I was afraid of. I was afraid of my family acting like I've seen others act. Judgmental. Opinionated. Critical. Self-righteous. Controlling. Abusive. Etc.)

I didn't know how they would react, and I was afraid and anxious. I had no reason to be. It turned out so much better than I could have imagined.

They all welcomed him with open arms. He said he felt loved and accepted and comfortable.
(Of course, anyone would have told me I was being silly for feeling afraid. Parents and siblings all know and love BJ. They come to visit. We all hang out. Grandparents came to visit, and then we went fishing. My aunt sent me a text, personally inviting BJ, and my Grandparents have said several times that BJ is always welcome. Still... all evidence aside, I was a tiny bit anxious.) 

At the family Christmas party, we were playing a game, and I drew the question, "What do you like most about the person sitting next to you?" I wondered for a moment if the game was rigged... and then felt grateful that I got to answer that question for everyone to hear... Defining our relationship feels scary and upsetting... Telling people why I love BJ, what I love about him, and why I am glad he is in my life: That is easy and I LIKE doing it.

After the games, we talked with my uncles and aunts about camping trips and fishing trips we've been on, and then about plans for future trips. I felt so comfortable. At home even. We all laughed and told stories, and it was... fun. It turns out, they don't really care what my relationship with him is. Their only care or concern is, "Are you happy?"

The answer to that question is, "Yes," but the answer to that question would have been a "partial yes" if I had had to deal with the questions, the judgments, or any of the things I was afraid of. I know that I'm not supposed to let other people rule my emotions... choose my own happiness and all that... but....

I WANT my family to love and accept me. It's easier to be happy when I have a loving and accepting family. It's easier to be happy when I don't have to choose between what is best for me and what my family wants me to do. It is easier to be happy when they just want me to be happy. I know I can't control that. I know they have every right to think or say or do whatever the hell they want, but the truth is... I want them to love me. I want them to love and accept BJ. I want them to be a part of my life, and I want to be a part of theirs. I want them to know ME, so they can love ME. Pretending that I don't want that, is just plain silly.

There are lots of things in life that I might want that I don't get, and if I didn't get the love and acceptance, I'd deal with that. I might walk away from my family, because if they can't love ME, then what is the point? I might hide from my family, and keep secrets if I thought that is what I needed to do in order to have a relationship with them (and if I thought that was what was best.) I might busy myself making new friends, and create a family of non-relatives. I might insist that it was MY life, and if they wanted me in it, they would accept ME. (And then let them make the choice.) I would do what I had to do... I would find a way to make life worth living, whatever that meant, and I am SO grateful that I don't have to do any of that. I am so grateful that I get to be me, live my life, AND have a loving family.

I feel loved. They don't care what I do, who I live with, what my relationship is... except that they want to know me and be a part of my life.

(Why is it so hard to describe what it is like when people have healthy boundaries that lack judgments? Maybe because the way they acted was healthy and normal, but I'm not used to people being healthy and normal. So, I want to describe the healthy and normal, but it's hard. The ones who know what healthy and normal is don't need the description... and the people who have no clue probably won't understand my descriptions anyway.)

I count myself one of the most lucky people on the planet... I feel loved by the people that I love.