Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Full of Grace

1. This was delivered to me.   Somebody knows me well.

2. That I only have to pedal 5 minutes from my home to ride past scenes like this.  What a great way to start my day.   And to work off a little of the above.

3. An employer and a family, that when I am pining for the mountains and the weather is clear and the temperature in the low 70s and the humidity low,  look at me and say "GO"  even though I have other things I should be doing.

4. Butterflies.   Daphne loved butterflies.  She grew up in Harlem and never saw them.  When she moved upstate she was absolutely beguiled by them.   Whenever I see them, I think of her, which used to put me in a bad place.  Now, I smile and say hello.  Happiness on so many levels.

5.  25 pounds of blueberries - picked, eaten, washed, eaten, baked into pie, eaten, and frozen for future pies and muffins.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Full of Grace

It’s been an ugly week.  Ugly news.  People all over social media spewing their own ugly opinions.  So to combat all that ugliness, here are some of the beautiful things I saw people do this week.

- The volunteer organization I work for put out an email saying there was an elderly woman who needed help moving into an assisted living facility in an adjoining city.  On a sweltering morning 17 people showed up. Men, women and a few teenagers - all of various colors and ethnicity and ages and strength.    After getting everything packed and loaded, I had the honor of taking the lady in my car and as we were about to leave, she looked at this virtual united nations of helpers and said “this Town has really changed.”   I held my breath waiting for the other shoe to drop.  Then she said  “I am sorry to be leaving.”    I’m sorry she had to leave too.

- My secretary’s daughter is losing her battle with stage 4 ovarian cancer.  My secretary had lent her daughter and son-in-law her car to drive to Philadelphia where the daughter is being treated.   Then things turned worse and my secretary felt she should go.  My colleagues came up with a car for her to use and contributed more than $500 for the trip.   All within 15 minutes.  I really love the people I work with.

- Last Thursday I went to the ballet - Giselle, danced by the National Ballet of Canada.   That alone was beautiful enough to carry me through the week.  Seated in front of us was a group of campers, all proudly wearing their bright neon yellow shirts,  all special needs kids.    Sometimes they were a little loud and often clapped at the “wrong” times and I could hear a few of the hoity toity grey haired ladies muttering about it.   At intermission many of the campers went into the aisle to give their rendition of the ballet.  Their joy and delight was so exuberant that many other audience members got up to dance with them,  even some of the hoity toities in their finest 5th Avenue clothes.   And everyone applauded.

So if you, like me, are getting discouraged by the haters and the pundits and those who like to regurgitate bad news over and over,  please remember that there are a lot of really good people out there.  People who do not feel the need to tell everyone else how to live but simply go out and show the world what love looks like.  

Friday, July 19, 2013

For All of Us

For all of us who work every day to put the pieces back together, or hold them together - I love this.

May you always see your picture.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Wedding Planning

So Martha asked me to marry her.  It was not a romantic proposal -

Her:   “Do you want to get married when the girls are done with college?”  

Me:  “Yes. It makes a lot of financial sense.”

But then came the inevitable - having to plan for a wedding.

First the date.  This was easier than expected.  We have to wait until next year so we don’t lose the financial benefit of my income not being included in college financial aid.  So we picked  next year on October 8th.  It will be the anniversary of our quietly going to the beach, exchanging rings and making a commitment to each other.  The 25th anniversary of that date.  Alright, so that’s a little romantic, right?

But then it starts to get complicated -

Her:  So, what do you imagine this wedding will look like?

Me:  I don’t know, something simple at home, or on the beach. Maybe include just the girls?

Her:  Sounds good.  But . . . . don’t you think your sister should be there?

Me:  And maybe your niece?

Her:  And our closest friends?

Me:  Okay.  But absolutely no gifts.  

Her:  Well, if we’re going to start inviting people we probably need a place to do it.  And then some kind of reception.

Me:  Really?  Do we have to be that fancy?  Can’t we just keep it simple.

Her:  Okay.  But if we are inviting any people we need to do something afterward.  

Me:  Okay.  But if we do that, what are we going to wear?

Her:  Right.  Forget that.  Something simple, just the girls.  On the beach.

Me:  Maybe a destination beach.  Make it a family vacation.

Her:  That sounds nice.

Me:   Do you really think my sister will be hurt?

Her:  Yup.  

Me:  Okay, just my sister and your niece.

Her:  What about their families?

Me:  Crap.  

The world goes round and around and around.  And so does this conversation.    I imagine that at some point we will just say “screw it, we’ve been living like this for 25 years, we don’t need any formal recognition.”

And then someone will say “ yeah, but if something happens to one of us, it’s good to have that financial protection.”   

And we keep going round and round.  

Perhaps I should start a betting pool.   Will we or won’t we?   Care to place your bets?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Full of Grace

1. A change of plans gave me a couple of days with just my daughters at the lake.

2. Accepting the reality that they have both grown up.  They were both reading different volumes of 50 Shades of Gray.   Peachie - who probably hasn’t read a book since Captain Underpants - is tearing through 50 Shades.    Go figure.

3. Having really great discussions with them about abortion, capital punishment, racism and hypocrisy.     I am amazed at how passionate, articulate and independent they have become in their views.   We didn't always agree, but so lovely to have an adult conversation with them and get differing points of view.   

4. Noodle pudding.  Lots and lots of noodle pudding.  With this crispy, butter laden, cinnamon sugar topping.   There goes the cholesterol numbers.

5. Just learning the difference between green beans and string beans.   This city girl is ever so slowly becoming farmer.   And I like it!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Dream Trails

National Geographic asked 20 outdoor luminaries where they'd like to hike.  (Apparently I missed their call)

Although I would love to hike them all, the Long Range Traverse, in Newfoundland, Canada seems very doable to me.  It's not too far from where I live.  It's only 25 miles,  although I'm not sure why they say it's a 6 day trip - I can easily do 7-15 miles a day, depending on the terrain. 

It’s a route you have to earn: 25 miles by map and compass (there are no trails here) through an impressive wilderness populated mostly by moose and caribou—but not Homo sapiens. The payoff is genuine solitude, pristine camps, and the joy of traveling untrammeled backcountry in Canada’s most out-there province. —Peter Potterfield

Picture of Peter Potterfield as he hikes above Ten Mile Pond along the Long Range Traverse in Newfoundland, Canada

The Details: This trail is not a trail at all. It is a romp across the wilds of Gros Morne National Park, a chunk of land that time forgot on the North Atlantic seaboard. It is well organized and strictly managed, however, with designated camp spots that break the trip down into a six-day adventure. The rules work in your favor—you may share one of those campsites with moose, caribou, or black bear as you trek over tundra and down to hidden lakes, but you won’t run into many other people.

Definitely sounds like my kind of place.  

I do most of my hiking in the Adirondack Mountains of New York which are contained in the very regulated, and protected, Adirondack Park.   There are more than 2,000 miles of trails that are generally well maintained and that wind along forested paths, skip along waterfalls, and lead to summits with 360 degree views that extend as far as the eye can see.

Mt Jo Summit

After weeks and weeks of rain and high humidity, our weather has finally broken, giving us beautiful, crystal clear, sunshine and deep blues skies.   I am about to lace up my boots and go into the mountains to enjoy it.

So, anybody else out there a hiker?  I'd love to know your favorite spots, or your dream places, and why.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  Three beautiful days with lots of friends (mostly our daughters' friends) at the lake.   I never cooked, I never cleaned up, I never washed a dish.  I didn't even need to drag my kayak down to the water.  Everything was done for me.  I do fear that I have reached that place where young folk do things for me because they perceive me as old.   Damn.  I'm not sure whether I like or hate that.

2.  Martha and I winning 4 of 5 matches in beer pong  (I played with water.)  That will show those little college dweebs what old(er) people can do!

3.  Milk tart.   A decadent dessert our South African guest made for us.   Must get the recipe.

4.  Napping in a hammock.  Napping on a float.  A little snooze on the beach.  Really, is there anything more delightful than a nap on a hot summer's day?

5.  One additional day at the lake all to myself.   Glorious after so much commotion.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Answering questions - PTSD and therapy

I think it might be very helpful to some of your readers if you could talk about PTSD has impacted you, what therapies you have tried over the years, what you found to be successful and what challenges you still live with.

My journey has been so long, with so many stops and starts and twists and turns it is difficult to describe it neatly.  But this is the basic history as best I can remember and write it.

I don’t have much memory of  the first couple of years after the rapes.   I remember being terribly frightened of everything and everybody.  I became quite reclusive only going out to take care of a sick friend and to work,  where I locked myself in my office every day.  At that point I didn’t question my behavior.   I was in a very dark place which seemed like a reasonable response to circumstances.

When I was finally able to move away from that city, I met my therapist, Lauren.   She convinced me that she could help me be whole again.   At that time my PTSD was at its worst, although I didn’t yet know what it was.   I was still so hypervigilant, I was a borderline recluse.  Triggers, both obvious and unknown, would have me jumping out of my skin and then literally leave me rocking myself in a fetal position for days.   I believe Lauren’s main approach was cognitive behavioral therapy where we tried to separate my rational fear from my irrational fear, and to relearn that not everyone was out to hurt me.  Those first steps got me to a point where I could interact fairly well with people again.    Even though I did not understand how the change happened, I do remember thinking that is was like a miracle, it changed my life that dramatically.

Another problem I had was nightmares and flashbacks.  My nightmares were always anxiety based - always me trying to get away from men trying stalking me.  I would either become paralyzed in fear or I would be frantically trying to  run away.   I learned to live on very little rest since I was always afraid to fall asleep and have those nightmares.    I do remember doing a lot of therapy work around those dreams.   There was one particular recurrent nightmare where I was trapped on an island, being chased, but I could never find a safe place to hide.  It always ended with me waking, screaming, drenched in sweat and then triggering to the very real flashbacks.   My therapist gave me a simple suggestion that the island have a bridge and the nightmare went away.   I’m sure there was more to this “suggestion”  but that is all I remember.  

The other huge problem I had was having an intimate relationship with Martha.  Even after we got past the obvious issues, if she touched me in a “wrong” place, especially if we were sleeping, I would react by hysterically trying to beat the crap out of her.  (yes, it amazes me that we are still together)     It was around this time when Lauren diagnosed me with PTSD and that alone was a huge step toward healing.   Up until this point I knew I was reacting to life in bizarre ways, often to triggers I did not even know were triggers.   I now began to actually understand what was happening to me and why.  It was a huge relief.

After that, Martha and I started a family and my life became much more focused on my children.    I went in and out of therapy, usually to address a specific problem I was having.  I had learned to avoid what triggers I was aware of and had generally convinced myself that I was now okay.  See?   I have a successful home, family, friends, and profession.   I assured myself that I had totally healed.      

But I hadn’t.  All I had learned was avoidance.  I was a master of avoidance and denial.  But inevitably those triggers kept finding me and eventually I said “enough.”  

I then returned to hard core immersion therapy.   Two brutal years of examining every detail of the assault, over and over, until it lost it’s power to destroy me.   I have to say that while I was doing that therapy I did not see it’s value.  At all.  Raking through the ashes brought back the flashbacks and nightmares.  My anxiety increased tenfold.  And it took its toll on some of my relationships.   But I trusted my therapist and more than anything, I wanted to feel whole again.

Toward the end of therapy we also tried hypnosis.  My therapist explained that there was so much I could not talk about because I literally did not have the words.  Something about the way trauma changes your brain.  Anyway, we did hypnosis a couple of times - something I found incredibly relaxing and think would have gotten me over that last hump.  But as most of you know, my therapist died unexpectedly and that was the end of that.

It took awhile for me to experience the benefit of all that therapy.   It didn’t happen overnight but seems to have finally filtered through, slowly.    Today I am feeling better than I can remember feeling in a long, long time.   I truly feel that I am now in control.  Not trying to control everything - just able to handle whatever comes up calmly and rationally.  

I still have memory issues (I have a great deal of difficulty distinguishing between short and long memory.)   I am still hyper-vigilant, although I think at a much more appropriate level, and I don’t think it is necessarily a bad thing.   I still experience odd anxiety, but I can deal with it much more efficiently.   The nightmares and flashbacks are rare.  They do still occur but I can quickly put them in their proper place.   I can see all the violence in my head but I no longer feel that the assault is happening again in real time.   And boundaries.   I apparently still have issues with boundaries.   It is what I’m dealing with now in therapy.   I still need people to respect my boundaries.

I had been very skeptical of the immersion therapy and very afraid to go through it.  And although I can’t say that it wasn’t horrific to relive it all, over and over, it seems to have worked.   Actually I don’t understand most of therapy, but today I think I could be it’s poster child.

I now believe that PTSD can be successfully managed.   I used to think of it as this huge, dark monolith inside me that forever cast a shadow over me, and I could not escape it.   Now I tend to think of it as a little jack-in-the-box.   I don’t always know when it is going to go off, or why.  And it startles me when it does.  But if my trip to the emergency room last week was any indication, I can now just step over it, say “leave me the f*ck alone”,  and continue with my life.   


I think I have now answered all the questions.  If I didn't answer yours, please refresh my memory.   And now I am off to enjoy the holiday weekend with (too many) friends and family coming up to the lake.   I shouldn't complain.  I love them all.  I just pray that the septic tank will cooperate.

I hope everyone has a happy, and safe, 4th of July.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Full of Grace

1.  Martha asked me to marry her.

2.  Emergency room personnel.   Seriously, huge props to the men and women who can so calmly deal with other folk's medical emergencies.    Actually I am eternally grateful for all medical professionals.   So, so thankful they are in the world.

3.  Having a quick visit with my sister.  - as we know, quickies can satisfy an immediate need, but I am longing for a much much deeper communion with her - which will happen toward the end of July.

4.  Celebrating with my niece who won a Clio award - the equivalent of an Oscar in advertising.  Quite the big deal.

5.  I said yes.