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Life in the Time of Covid

Wake up. Remember reality. Go back to bed.

This is how I, and I’m sure at some point you, have felt since March of 2020.

Now, let’s forget for a second that Covid-19 is a virus.

Let’s make it real, let us give this monster a name, an identity.

Basically, the Monster, previously named Covid-19, showed up one day, risked murdering the majority of our population, ceased to leave us alone, and has morphed into a million little personalities; not anti-social ones either.

The Monster has changed everything, forever. I’m not sure if we will be coming back to what we knew before. Many people are outraged, many are scared, and many are neutral. There is no one ‘ right’ answer to this Monster mess and we know it. I have no idea what we should do to protect those we love or how to make sure we are spending valuable time with loved ones and not spend it isolating. The Monster feeds off instability and we have that here.

Okay. It’s time for some radical acceptance. We are at where we are at. People will hate wearing masks, and others will not mind at all. People will resist vaccines, and people will get vaccines.

What we can do is be curious with ourselves.

Why does their behavior weigh so heavily on my mind?

Why do I care what the ‘other side’ is doing with their lives?

Yes, it’s valid to be angry with people that don’t agree with you.

No, its unessecary to consistently gripe with them.

My main point to this, is to live your life focusing on what you can do to change your life and the life around you.

This whole Monster virus is about love. It takes away what we love – family, businesses, friends, freedom, etc.

We have no idea when our time is up here, and when we are on our death beds, the last thing we want to be thinking of, is how much time we spent, on battling those who disagreed.

Lets try to love more, instead.

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i’ve always been someone who hangs onto perishable people, far past our expiration date.

The little girl that still lives inside of me, who is a part of me, is always in the background of my mind, reminding me that people cannot be trusted, and people will eventually leave.

This little girl is restless and relentless, she paces through my mind, tripping over every legitimate thought that flows on around her.

For years, I have been trying to quiet her through a variety of tactics.

Weed numbs her out the best, while alcohol comes in second.

I have taken away the latter from myself, and this little girl is now sneaking around and peeking around corners.

With the threat of shedding the rest of these tactics, her voice becomes louder.

“Take care of me.”

That’s all this poor little girl wants.

That is all she speaks.

How can I care for this part of me, who attaches herself to everyone I meet?

She consistently plants the seed that I will be neglected and abandoned, again.

This thinking worked for me then, when I was her age.

Now, her thinking is no longer serving me.

She is no longer serving me.

It becomes instantly clear.

We must live together, combine forces and coping skills, share stories and memories, and become friends with one another, in order to survive this life.

Now, the challenge will be fighting my fears, and meeting with that little girl, so eager to speak, so eager to connect.

Wish us luck.

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The Smoking Woman

the last time i saw you

was years before you died

that big smirk, hazel eyes

wrinkled face, aged and wise

leaving your home, i reverse to see

the door ajar, peeking out at me

the smoking woman seeming carefree

dog in hand, both of you, short and gutsy

i wave goodbye, ‘i love you’ with glee

knowing one day i will miss this reality

the last time i saw her

almost two years has passed

my personal doomsday

an emotional bomb blast

i have no choice, i look at that day

as the other side gently making way

for the gutsy smoking woman

April 23rd, feast day

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Surfing the Wave

You don’t choose to be depressed.

In the time of ‘be positive!’, it can be difficult to validate our own feelings about our mental state.

In reality, it’s okay to feel however you feel. If you are feeling sad, happy, lonely, horny, or rageful, those feelings are coming from somewhere; they are valid.

What we do with those feelings shows where we are; how long the kettle can boil without exploding.

We really need to choose better ways to cope, better ways to communicate, and better ways to surf the waves.

Let’s be kind to ourselves. We deserve to feel these emotions, good and bad. That is the complexity of this weird life; we love, we hurt, then we learn.

So today, instead of choosing positivity, choose to cope.

Choose to surf the waves.

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The Swing

sitting, playing, silently listening

chest tightens, shoulders freeze

here she comes again

the swing

i sit with her, listening, helping, playing

she soothes me with anger and rage

I finally feel something, not sadness

I finally feel

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What is Complex Trauma?

According to The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (2021), complex trauma (c-ptsd) describes both children’s exposure to multiple traumatic events—often of an invasive, interpersonal nature—and the wide-ranging, long-term effects of this exposure. These events are severe and pervasive, such as abuse or profound neglect.

In the article “Understanding Complex Trauma, Complex Reactions, and Treatment Approaches”, written by trauma expert, Dr. Christine Courtois, she summarizes complex traumatic events and experiences as stressors that are:

(1) repetitive, prolonged, or cumulative

(2) most often interpersonal, involving direct harm, exploitation, and maltreatment including neglect, abandonment, or antipathy by primary caregivers or other ostensibly responsible adults

(3) often occur at developmentally vulnerable times in the victim’s life, especially in early childhood or adolescence, but can also occur later in life and in conditions of vulnerability associated with disability, disempowerment, dependency, age, infirmity, and others.

Symptoms of complex trauma can include but are not limited to:

Reliving the traumatic experience

Avoiding situations with reminders of abuse

Changes in beliefs about you and others

Hyperarousal

Inability to regulate emotions

Negative self perception

Difficulty with relationships

Dissociation

Distorted perception of abuser

Suicidal Ideation

Treatment for complex trauma (c-ptsd)

psychotherapy

  • -internal family system work
  • -exposure therapy
  • -cognitive behavioral therapy
  • -dialectical behavior therapy

eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR)

medication

support groups

Complex Trauma Resources

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Posttraumatic-Stress-Disorder

https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/complex-trauma

https://www.verywellmind.com/using-mindfulness-for-ptsd-2797588

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5 Ways To Cope With Trauma Symptoms

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing has always helped me calm and center myself. When I first started singing lessons in middle school, my music teacher always told me to breathe into the diaphragm, into my belly, and my voice would radiate better. She was right.

Now, I use breathing as a calming tool. I particularly like tactical breathing (4 square breathing)!

Breathing involves your diaphragm, a large muscle in your abdomen. When you breathe in, your belly should expand. When you breathe out, your belly should fall.

Self Soothing

I am consistently self soothing. Whether it’s fidgeting with something, taking a shower, or sipping a hot drink, these activities help ground me into the present moment.

These coping strategies focus on improving your mood and reducing anxiety and are sometimes described as self soothing or self-care coping strategies.

Social Support

As the years go on my social anxiety has gotten worse, especially during Covid! When I do spend time with people who are caring and understanding of my mental health, I feel refreshed and connected! It’s a great feeling.

Research has found that finding support from others can be a major factor in helping people overcome the negative effects of a traumatic event and PTSD.

Mindfulness

Ahhhh mindfulness. The one thing I am terrified of is the one thing that will ultimately help in my healing process! Mindfulness heals.

Mindfulness is about being in touch with and aware of the present moment.

Expressive Writing

Clearly, writing is an expressive tool in my life. Writing emotions down is easier for me than speaking them.

In PTSD in particular, expressive writing has been found to have a number of benefits, including improved coping, post-traumatic growth (the ability to find meaning in and have positive life changes following a traumatic event), and reduced PTSD symptoms, tension, and anger.

Reference

Tull (2020) https://www.verywellmind.com/ways-of-coping-with-anxiety-2797619

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How Mindfulness Can Help Trauma Survivors

Being a trauma survivor myself, mindfulness has always been integrated into my treatment.

Recently I was enrolled into a mindfulness based CBT group where I’ve met like minded people who are struggling with trauma and struggling staying present.

So, what is trauma and why is mindfulness so important in regards to it?

According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event.

Ultimately, any event might be considered traumatic if you have experienced and/or witnessed a threat to your life, your body, your moral integrity, or had a close encounter with violence or death.

So why would a trauma survivor want to be mindful when flashbacks may be running their daily lives?

There is an immense amount of data that supports mindfulness as a treatment for people diagnosed with PTSD.

In brains of people with PTSD, deregulation occurs in the area of the brain that is associated with emotional regulation and memory. In the brain, the amygdala represents a core fear system in the human body, which is involved in the expression of conditioned fear. When an person is suffering with PTSD, the amygdala becomes over activated.

Mindfulness meditation is correlated increase in gray matter in the hippocampus, a decrease of gray matter in the amygdala, and neuroimaging studies have found that mindfulness meditation also helps to activate the pre-frontal cortex.

Mindfulness can help people train themselves to get unstuck from a vicious cycle of negative thinking, often a cornerstone of trauma.

Reference

Wolkin, J., PhD, B. G. B., Pratt, M., Whitney-Coulter, A., Naidoo, U., Smookler, E., Staff, M., & Kira M. Newman and Janet Ho. (2018, June 8). The science of trauma, mindfulness, and PTSD. Mindful. Retrieved October 3, 2021, from https://www.mindful.org/the-science-of-trauma-mindfulness-ptsd/.

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Coping & PTSD Flashbacks

I stare off and focus on a spot in the room. The image becomes fuzzy or non-existent and I’m instantly transplanted into my mind – into the scenarios I have been ruminating on.

I am back in my room from middle school. I’m surprised at how well I remember where everything is and what everything looked like. I am back there now, floating through the room to room, recalling the emotions I felt while here.

Despair, confusion, anxiety, connection, sadness, anger, frustration, fleeting happiness

I come out of the dissociative and flashback episode quickly. I am left with lingering images, thoughts, and feelings from the episode for hours if not days.

A flashback is when memories of a past trauma feel as if they are taking place in the current moment.

When I go to sleep at night, I fall asleep fast – sleep gives me a break from reality and my deepening depression.

Since my mom transitioned, my sleep is filled with monsters. Images of family and relational ruin and gore fill my dream state with blips of my personal life replaying itself over and over.

Learning skills and tools to cope with these flashbacks is essential for me and essential for those dealing with PTSD on a daily basis.

Here are a couple of tips that I’ve learned to lessen flashback intensity and lessen them all together.

What can you do to help flashbacks?

Tell yourself you’re having a flashback.

-Breathe! Take deep and slow breaths. Use box breathing. Inhale for 4, Hold for 4, Exhale for 4, Hold for 4. Repeat.

-Return to the present moment by using the five senses.

Distract yourself by watching a film, taking a walk, calling a friend, etc. Do something you enjoy doing!

Use DBT TIPP Skills:

credit: @dialecticalbehaviortherapy on WordPress

More About TIPP Skills Here: https://www.manhattancbt.com/archives/1452/dbt-tipp-skills/

How can you prevent flashbacks?

• Be aware of warning signs. This can help you manage or prevent flashbacks.

• Identify what triggers you and make a plan on how to avoid or overcome these triggers.

Happy healing my friends. We can do this together.

More Resources

https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd-and-complex-ptsd/self-care/

https://www.mindmattersmhc.com/blog/10-grounding-skills-to-help-cope-with-flashbacks-related-to-trauma

https://www.rainn.org/articles/flashbacks

cover art by: https://charlottefarhanartactivism.com/charlotte-farhan-artist-biography/

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I thought PTSD only happened to military veterans.

I was sat in my new therapist’s office in 2019 when she first told me she believed that I had gone through a traumatic childhood and adolescence and suffered from complex posttraumatic stress disorder (c-PTSD).

I struggled and resisted with someone telling me that my childhood was traumatic and developed PTSD. I had and have an intense love for those in my family – I don’t want to think that my mom or anyone did anything terrible to me on purpose.

Plus, I had never heard about PTSD unless it was regarding the military.

My therapist then explained more about generational trauma. Intergenerational trauma (sometimes referred to as trans- or multigenerational trauma) is defined as trauma that gets passed down from those who directly experience an incident to subsequent generations.

Talking to my therapist about generational trauma and complex trauma allowed me
to understand different parts of myself.

After working with this therapist for half a year, we decided that my progress had stalled, and my alcohol intake increased steadily. I was transferred to work with the substance abuse team. Talking about my past traumas (emotional abuse, sexual abuse, neglect) in childhood and early adulthood ramped up my usage of substances, as I did not have the skills or understanding to cope.

Understanding the significant events that lead me to where I am now is essential in my
healing.

I remember being very functional in high school, and I had an immense amount of pressure to get all A’s & be a perfect student, whatever that means.

I know my mom put so much pressure on me because she wanted me to have a good life – and this is the only way she knew how to push me to my full potential. Sadly, that full potential had a lot of drawbacks. I was restricting my food intake, bingeing, and abusing laxatives. I was highly insecure in my personal relationship with my boyfriend at the time, and because of my past abandonment issues, I always thought he would leave me for someone better. I wasn’t sleeping more than a few hours a night, and my relationship with my mom was terrible.

At the end of my personal relationship, three years later, when I was 20, my gut instinct was validated, and he was with another woman the weekend after he abruptly left me. This action in itself validated all of the abused parts of me that believed no one could be trusted and no one would ever stay.

This breakup sparked many mental health conditions to come out of the woodwork. I was hospitalized in 2011 after having suicidal thoughts and plans. After this treatment, I would see therapists on and off but didn’t receive the treatment I should have. I wanted to pretend everything was fine – I didn’t need to address anything; it was far too uncomfortable.

So let’s just pretend everything is okay.

And that’s what I did for years, just like I would when I was a child.

Mom was a source of my emotional abuse and neglect as a child, and a loving and caring parent was sick.

She was constantly ill, and that’s how I knew her growing up, but it was life or death this time. She had a stroke and had miraculously come out of it seems okay.

My family was at her side always during these few weeks in the hospital where she was ventilated. Unfortunately, she was displeased when she was back to her old self.

She didn’t believe we were there with her, and she fought with us.

A lot of tears were shed.

Back then, I saw her behavior as her not caring for us and being who she was.

Now, I can see and understand what traumatic experience she went through, and like me, she did not have the skills to cope.

She slowly deteriorated from 2018 on.

Placing her into assisted living and, eventually, a nursing home was excruciating for all involved.

My mom died in April of 2020. I saw her slowly pass over a few days and saw her lifeless after she transitioned to another place.

My biggest fear had happened, and my mom was gone.

In an instant. Where did she go?

Since then, I’ve been having PTSD nightmares during sleep and flashbacks during the day. In my dreams, mom is always dying or passed away. Some plans include being thrown into the ocean to feed the sharks and whales. Most of my dreams have an imminent threat present.

The theme here is hopelessness and helplessness. I cannot change what happened, and it hurts me – I feel stuck. I feel stuck, guilty, and fearful that another distressing or traumatic event will send me off the edge every day.

Yet – every day, I am hopeful. How can I be encouraging, you ask? Through these two distressing and traumatic events, I have grown substantially as a woman, as a girlfriend, as a friend, and as a daughter.

I now know what I am dealing with (complex trauma) and what needs to be done to heal.

I now know that I am worth more than what I look like.

I now know someone can love all of me.

now know that two things can be true at once.

I now know that I am resilient enough to battle future battles.

I now know that I am worthy of healing.


You are too.