Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Losing Control

I have been wrestling with control.

For years I had heard that the key to conquering PTSD was control. Control of my emotions, control of the triggers, control of the symptoms, control of my life.

And I learned that control. I have controlled my emotions and memories by putting them all into little boxes in my head, and then sealed them up, tight. I have learned to control my life by forcing people and events into predictable scenarios, and by avoiding everything and anything that reminds me of the trauma - words, people, places, smells - I have kept myself on a very, very narrow path. Never step outside the lines. I have kept an iron grip on myself and my world in order to feel safe. When Martha and I were having significant relationship problems we went to see a counselor. Her main complaint was that I am a control freak. No surprise there.

Yet I was still suffering flashbacks and nightmares, and crying jags and depression. I knew this was the PTSD - things having to be predictable and in my narrow range of safety. If they were not, then my world became overwhelming, flashbacks became unbearable, I would lose my footing not function.

At some point I realized that things were backwards, an awareness that instead of controlling it, I was being controlled by this illness. I watch very little TV for fear of triggers. Movies are heavily vetted for potential upsetting content before I trust myself to go. Places I cannot go. Music I cannot listen to. Things I can not talk about. Things my friends dare not mention. The trauma was controlling me. Which was sadly ironic since I was determined never, ever to let myself be controlled again.

Last year I have began the work of giving up control. Exposure therapy – the opposite of my self-imposed avoidance approach to life. While avoidance has provided temporary relief, it doesn’t last and has forced me into a very confined existence. Facing the triggers and trauma should reduce the frequency and severity of the PTSD symptoms. Or so I’ve been told.

I have cleared a few of those hurdles yet still have the biggest to conquer. And I am now also trying to change those small ingrained habits. All those little daily avoidance techniques I hardly recognize I’m doing, but have become my normal.

Giving up control after so much time is proving more difficult and more frightening than I had imagined. Stepping outside my comfort and safety zone, inch by inch.  Now, facing the details of my past, and how it has affected me, I am getting up each day and trying.  And every time I lose a little control,  I find a little more of myself.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March Madness

I never played sports growing up. I surfed and played beach volleyball, but just for fun.   I now live in a household filled with athletes.  Very, very competitve, driven, focused people.  Did I mention competitive?

Martha played basketball in High School. When I met her she coached a girls’ High School varsity team. She still coaches a 5th grade travel team, is the director of a travel club, and is on the board of directors for an AAU travel club. She loves basketball. That is actually too small a word. She lives basketball.

When our girls were born, she filled the house with Fisher Price hoops and balls of all sorts. Our girls started playing competitively in third grade and played right through to the varsity level. They were both three sport athletes, but basketball was their main sport, played year round.

Beanie was recruited to play at the college level but opted out and went for a better education at a Division I school (much to Martha’s consternation). She plays club ball there and has a job as a basketball referee. Her school’s womens’ team is nationally ranked in the top 25. Beanie never misses a game.

Peachie, who unfortunately stopped growing at about 5' 4", realized her basketball days were over but will be playing field hockey in college.

We have two outdoor basketball courts, one in the driveway one in the backyard. There is an additional hoop next to the pool. I don’t think there is a room in our house that doesn’t have a basketball, trophy, or some other bball related item.

Seriously. This is the rubber duck in our bathroom.

This week started March Madness. Two weeks of non-stop college basketball.  Men and women.

I came home yesterday afternoon to find every television tuned in to a game, and Martha, Beanie and Peachie sitting with three laptops open on the coffee table.

“Really?” I said when I saw it.

“What?” Martha said.. “You can watch games on-line that aren't being televised.”

So, for the next couple of weeks I will be a basketball widow. And I’m okay with that. After spending thousands of hours watching my own daughters play, I am just very grateful to be planting my butt in a recliner in my home and not on some hard bleachers in a smelly gym.

And as long as Martha is yelling at the refs, she is not nagging at me.

Monday, March 14, 2011

On being a Slug

The last few weeks have been a blur of too many commitments, too much travel, and way too many emotional jolts. An exhausting school and work schedule, some serious issues with Martha yet to be addressed, a horrendous lunch with Daphne’s mother, Daphne’s extremely emotional journal, my mother’s health concerns, and the seemingly endless grind of therapy.

This past weekend I put on the brakes. I announced to friends and family that I would be doing nothing. All weekend. Nothing. And to make it almost perfect, I had the house to myself. Beanie is in Florida with her ‘girls gone wild’ friends for spring break. Peachie’s social calendar was filled, and Martha was involved with a basketball tournament.

Saturday morning Martha asked if I wanted to go a bball game with her.

Me: No thanks.

Her: Want me to leave you a list of things that need to be done around the house?

Me: Absolutely not.

I laid in bed most of the day, not really sleeping but not really awake either. I would get up to get some eat junk food, flop on the couch for while, nap, take a sauna, read a little, wonder aimlessly around the house.

When the phone rang I checked the caller ID before picking up. Once Beanie called: “The weather is beautiful here. We party all night and sleep on the beach all day. You should see my tan line.”

Well, I guess I should be happy that she is at least wearing something that is giving her a tan line.

Once a friend called: “You want to go get something to eat?”

Me: Hmmm. No thanks.

Her: Are you okay? You never turn down food?

Me: Yeah but I haven't even showered and I don’t feel like getting dressed. 

Sunday evening my mom called: “your cousin Anna is fine. They felt the earthquake but no damage.”

Really? I didn’t even know my cousin was living in Japan.  And I couldn’t rouse myself to watch the news. It was just too damn real. There was nothing in the outside world that appealed to me.

But this morning, still in the same PJs from Saturday,  I woke with a start realizing there was no real food in the house. Ran out for groceries at 5:30 so I could make Peachie’s lunch before she left for school. Got her out the door and started the laundry which had mysteriously multiplied over the weekend. Opened the computer to start answering emails. Took out the garbage and then on to work.

Sometimes I think I would like to be a hermit - live a solitary life, me and 57 cats, pad around the house in my PJs, never going out, not caring what day it is, eating nothing but chips and chocolate and ice cream.

But then I think its probably a good thing that I have obligations and people who depend on me. I really could be a total slug. And it is not pretty.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Blog Bullets

I have started quite a few blog posts in January and February, yet never found the time to finish them. Now it is March. So here is a summary of some of those posts and a quick catch up of what’s been going on in my life:

- I wangled an invitation to see President Obama speak locally. He is the first sitting president I’ve ever seen. It was required to show up at least 3 hours early to clear security and then wait and wait. But it was worth it. He is a very dynamic speaker and has quite a stage presence.

- I am team teaching a graduate course at the local university for the first time. I thought the idea of team teaching would lessen the time required to do the job. Not. This is the reason I have had no time for anything else. I don’t know how teachers do it. But I am enjoying the naive idealism of the students. Plenty of time for the political realities of the job to beat them down.

- Relationships needing a lot of work. Still patching.

- Empty nest preview. Peachie had the opportunity to go to Florida on her winter break. She was supposed to be gone for 6 days, but because of a northeast storm she wound up staying for 12. Martha and I alone together for 12 days. And it was good. Mostly, because, due to our other commitments, we still rarely see each other, which I think is the secret to our longevity. But we did redo our bathroom, manage one dinner out, one movie, and even a little “don’t have to be quiet” sex. We have worried about how we will make the transition from constant kid’s activities back to ‘just us’ and have begun to talk about it. I think it will be okay.

- Therapy. I returned to therapy in January bound and determined to overcome what felt like just one last major hurdle. Unfortunately, that got sidelined by needing to pick apart a series debilitating physical flashbacks, relationship setbacks and Daphne’s journal. Strangely, as painful as that journal has been to read, I also sense it is also going to be the thing allows me to stop grieving. I am beginning to feel a definite change for the better.

- And lastly, my mom has been quite ill and in a lot of pain. I am leaving to go visit with her for a few days while she has some exploratory surgery and tests. Any positive thoughts and prayers sent her way would be much appreciated.

I am so looking forward to spring.