Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tuesday’s Child is Full of Grace

One of the many, many strategies I use for staying one step ahead of PTSD depression is gratitude. For surely, anyone who looks at my life now is envious of the love in my life and the many gifts the universe has given me. And so, as I come into the home stretch of therapy and dig deeper than I ever have, I am going to try to formalize the practice of gratitude to hopefully keep me from falling too deep into a hole. I am a Tuesday’s child after all.

The things I have been particularly grateful for this week:

The irises have opened. These are planted in my memory garden and were separated from a group of irises that belonged to my closest friend’s partner who died of cancer a number of years back. They remind me that even when the person is gone, the love stays with us.Spending a three day weekend with my daughters at our lake house. No internet, no cell phone service, no distractions. We spent most of day 1 getting the place into shape - mowing through 8 inch grass, getting out the deck furniture, cleaning and making beds. But the rest of the weekend was sun bathing, listening to the oldies station, kayaking, planting flowers, playing cards and generally just enjoying our time together. Laughing. A lot of laughing. Which could have been the Mike’s hard lemonade they were drinking.

Baby ducks and geese. I love this time of year when all of nature is exploding with new life. It’s hard to see in this picture but those geese were the proud parents of 11 little goslings. They were still in that fuzzy stage that makes me smile.
Anti-itch cream. An entire army of bugs had a banquet on the back of my neck while kayaking.

My new favorite s’more - roasted marshmallows on Girl Scout thin mint cookies. Seriously. My friend introduced me to these when we went into the woods last weekend. Obsession is not a strong enough word for how I feel about them.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

On Safety

As part of my therapy I have been encouraged to write about the impact of living with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This post is about one of the biggest impacts - losing the sense of safety. For those who are new readers, years ago my partner and I went to a secluded place to enjoy a picnic and each other. We were assaulted by a group of 5 men, 4 of whom raped me, and then when Daphne tried to help me, she was sadistically attacked and tortured. Ten weeks later, she took her own life. And yes, it is amazing to me that I was able to write that - calmly and being able to control the flashbacks that inevitably come when I think of it. I do believe that the therapy is finally helping me conquer the demon that is PTSD.

I have very little memory of the time immediately after the attack. My memory jumps to walking into my church, seeking some form of safety. Although I had friends who offered me a place to stay, I believed that I was still in danger. I knew those men were still out there, and I lived in a deep and debilitating fear that I would cross their path again. My minister allowed me to stay in a back room at the church and I remember him sitting with me for hours, long into the nights. I am not sure how long I stayed in the back of that church. But I remember I was terrified to be any place else.

I stayed in that town for another eleven months while I cared for my best friend who was dying. During that time I did nothing but go to visit her. Eventually I had to return to work, but could only do so because friends drove me there, and then I locked myself into my office. I could not go to a store, or a movie or anyplace where there would be people I did not know. I was extremely secluded and emotionally dead. Once my friend passed, my first priority was to get away from that place.

By moving, I thought I could start over and the terror would magically disappear. It did not. I could not stop anticipating the next trauma. I again had difficulty going out in public. I did not feel safe in my own home. I could not sleep. Every noise, every shift in the wind, had my heart racing, ready to flee. Every thing around me was dangerous, unpredictable and threatening. I started therapy.

It was no surprise that years later when I was able to begin a new relationship it was with a police officer. She made me feel safe. I could go out if she was with me. When I moved into her house, it was the first time I felt safe in a place. She had her own police car and at night it was parked in the driveway. That helped.

Home and church became my only safe places. At work Martha arranged for me to have a panic button. A small device under my desk that I can push and the police will respond. It helps, but I still flinch if someone comes unannounced into my office and the sense of panic lingers for hours. Everything must be controlled. It is exhausting.

My trauma was both emotional and physical and my body constantly reminded me of pain and humiliation. For a long time I could not let anyone near me let alone touch me. Sexual intimacy led to flashbacks and I would once again feel the pain, relive the terror. Not being to distinguish between the past and the present, Martha would become the attacker. It was pretty scary for a while, having intimacy with someone I loved become a terrifying experience for both of us. Fortunately, therapy was able to help that. And Martha was patient and proactive in learning how to deal with it. Still, even years later, there are some sexual acts that are still too triggering for me and will never be a part of our relationship. I know how blessed I am that she graciously lives and gives within those limitations.

Today I can go out to public places and have a fairly normal life, although I still need to control my environment. I still scan every room for the exits. I will only sit on an aisle. Near a door. I still panic if anything moves quickly in my periphery. I avoid crowds and groups of men. Sudden noises, men shouting, certain smells, the sight of blood, anyone approaching me from behind, all put me in a state of panic. I do not watch TV for fear of some random trigger. This has become my “normal.”

Sleep remains the most unsafe place to me, the one place I can’t control. Night terrors are the worse - to wake in a soaking sweat, thinking I am back in that place. But I know they will recede when the immersion therapy stops.

Perhaps the most lingering safety issue I still deal with is a concern for the women in my life. I need to know everyone is safe. I panic when I don’t hear from someone. My daughters have been well trained in texting me often whenever they are out. Everyone traveling must let me know they arrive safely. I have been told I can be obsessive in this. I think I lost a friendship because of it. But I don’t know how to get it to stop. Security was my biggest factor in allowing my daughters to choose a college and I am willing to pay thousands of dollars more for that service. Currently my oldest daughter is taking a summer night class at our local state university. I know the security sucks and my heart races, my thoughts going to horrible places, for the entire three hours until she walks back into the house. Near panic mode, it sets off every fear I have for women everywhere.

On a similar note, I experience extreme anxiety whenever I see women showing any public displays of affection. So much of me wants to follow them and make sure they get home safely. And I feel very sad that I cannot show any affection to Martha anywhere but in the privacy and safety of our own home. I even feel anxiety when my daughter walks arm in arm with me down a street or in the mall. As much as I want to savor that affection, I become a hyper vigilant mess - sweating, heart pounding, constantly looking over my shoulder.

Safety and security are strange things. Sometimes they are just there and I can't explain it. A connection with a person and suddenly there is a feeling of safety. While with others, no matter how long the relationship has been there, no matter what the relationship is, there is something that prevents that natural feeling of security. Therapy has helped immensely. It has helped me establish a safe place in my imagination, where I can go to escape when I feel too much stimuli, and given me coping strategies for when I can’t.

Overall, I know I’ve come a long way since those early days of cowering in the back of a church. With a lot of training and practice and love and support I have been able to go back out into the world and have a successful career and loving relationships. As my therapist always tells me “don’t let your world get smaller.” Still, it is something I have to work on every day.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Burning House

From the website The Burning House

If your house was burning, what would you take with you? It’s a conflict between what’s practical, valuable and sentimental. What you would take reflects your interests, background and priorities. Think of it as an interview condensed into one question.

Participants then take a picture of what items they would gather together from their homes and explain the contents with a brief description.

My list is very short. Perhaps because I once lost everything I owned and realized that my “stuff” was so unimportant.  Also, I had a real rehearsal for this a few years ago when we did have a (mostly smoke) house fire.

These were the things I grabbed then -
  • Two cats and one dog - not pictured
  • Three Billie Holiday albums, which were the only things I had that were Daphne’s.
  • My great grandmother’s watch
  • A fireproof box containing passports and other important papers, although our really important papers are in a safe deposit box.
  • my copy of “The Little Prince” , my favorite book, given to me by a very dear friend.

I had also grabbed some photo albums and home videos but I have since duplicated most of them and stored them in a safe location.

Today I would also add these items -  
  • Daphne’s journal which still feels like a gift from the universe that I can hold something so intimate to her
  • My dad’s sweater. He passed away a few years ago and I like to wrap myself up in this when I am feeling a little low.
  • A book of Robert Frost poems that my mother gave me when I graduated High School. She wrote a beautiful note on the inside. The book was only recently returned to me and I would be sad to lose it again.  

So, what about you - what would you take?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Rapture Weekend

I have been in a funk. Deeply sad and very frazzled. As a gift, one of my closest friends rented a cabin for the weekend, deep in the Adirondack mountains. We arrived in an unseasonably chilly rain on Friday and settled in to this little hunting lodge - no TV, no radio, no WiFi, and no telephone reception. By night fall a huge storm settled in, thunder rumbling through the mountains, which had us hunkering close to the fireplace, hoping not to lose electricity, and wondering if maybe the end really was coming.

Although the forecast was for rain all weekend, we woke Saturday to a beautiful sunny morning. Outside the moisture was evaporating and forming a surreal mist throughout the trees and over the lake. Maybe I had been raptured and this was what heaven looked like. It was truly breath taking. We were able to wander, and canoe, and write, and enjoy the quiet solitude of being miles away from civilization.

In the evening we enjoyed an outdoor meal and sat lakeside, laughing at the loons, and wondering if the rest of the world still existed. We truly would not have known.

Sunday I woke to a full pancake and bacon breakfast and felt totally pampered and relaxed. Well rested. Spiritually fortified. Immensely grateful.

Driving home, cell phone service finally came back and with it, a text from Martha - “come to the hospital as soon as you get home. They have arrived.” They , I knew, meant two miracles babies.

Back story - a woman Martha works with tried for years and years to get pregnant. After much frustration she asked Martha about the clinic we used to get pregnant. We introduced them to our doctor and became involved with their journey, enjoying the irony of two lesbians helping a straight couple get pregnant. Anyway, it turned out that her uterus could not carry a baby. They eventually went the in vitro route, her egg, his sperm, and her sister who graciously offered to carry the baby. Then they found out they were having twins. And then the sister had health issues. It has been a long and stressful process.

The babies - Cody and Sophia - were born late Saturday night. Everybody happy and healthy. On Sunday I got to hold them. Really, is there anything better, more life affirming, than holding (and smelling) a new born baby?

When I finally got home, I learned that the Yankees and won the series against the Mets. That won me a free lunch with my niece next time I’m in NYC. Someone had gone grocery shopping and most of the laundry was done. Amazing. The weekend just kept getting better and better.

Last night I went to bed feeling renewed and ready to face the week ahead. Martha and I cuddled and talked about the weekend and especially about those beautiful babies. And then she said “we should have more.”

More what?

“More children.”

What???? Aren’t we a little old to be thinking about having babies?

“Not having them silly. We could adopt children. Or become foster parents”

We have, off and on, begun to talk about the next chapter of our lives since we will have an empty nest come September. But wow, more children was not at all what I was thinking. And somehow that feeling of peace and calm began slowly drifting away.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reality TV

My daughters watch MTV. Jersey Shore, 16 and Pregnant, Teen Mom. I used to block the channel but they are now 17 and 19 and can make their own decisions if they want to waste their time with such puerile, worthless crap. Not that I’m judging.

Anyway, yesterday Beanie and I had this conversation:

Beanie: Wouldn’t you want to be on a reality show?

Me: No

Beanie: You could make a lot of money.

Me: I never wanted to make a lot of money.

Beanie: Wouldn’t it be fun to be famous?

Me: Is this going somewhere?

Beanie: MTV is looking to do a show about kids with gay parents.

Me: (laughing) and you l think they would want us on their show?

Beanie: I already sent them information and now they want more.

Me: staring at her in disbelief,  “What????”

So she told me she had sent them preliminary info and this is some of the email they sent her:

Your family’s unique situation has certainly caught our attention, and I would love to chat with you in regards to a new family docu-series that is currently in development.

The next step in our casting process would be for us to have a phone conversation discussing your interest, and then for your family to send in a personal video-self submission.

At your earliest convenience, please include the below information:

· Individual descriptions and pictures of each family member. Please include their personality and what role they fulfill in the home (Mom, Dad, Sister, Son, Grandma, etc). Is one the Drama Queen and the other the Peace Maker? Do they have quirks or talents? We want to hear it all! The sooner we receive these materials, the faster the casting process will be.

· Any video footage and home videos of your family! This would supplement a self-submission required for our show.

In order for my producers to consider your family for the show, we do require the above pictures and descriptions as soon as possible.

I would love to hear more about you and your family!

I have, of course, said absolutely not. I went on about how MTV would find our family life pretty boring. Look, there’s mom washing the kitchen floor. Here’s your other mom mowing the lawn. There’s the girls, glued to their laptops, stalking people on Facebook. Our family is not exactly high ratings material. Very routine. No drama.   That is our reality.

Strangely however, the MTV letter has no mention of kids having parental consent to do this. I wonder how many kids are already uploading those embarrassing family videos as we speak, hoping to become the next Snooki.

Afterwards though I did wonder how our daughters would describe our family - their perception of our “personalities and roles, quirks and talents”.

Maybe it’s best not to know.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

When I Forget

I have a bookmark that says:

"My friend is one who knows my song and sings it to me when I forget."

The month of May has been hard. Loss of a friendship. Loss of a neighbor. Loss of a grumpy old man.  All of whom I came to love.

And therapy. Opening up those long ago sealed and buried boxes of memories and emotion has been soul shredding.

Lately I feel like I am crawling naked through glass.

On Monday I walked out to my car after my therapy session and just started to cry.  One of those long, cathartic sobbing sessions.  Then, too exhausted to drive home, I went to a nearby friend’s house.  There, I spit out that not only was I losing too many people I care about but I was also losing myself.  A serious pity party followed.

Yesterday I received this email from my friend:

Take the advice of Wendell Berry -

“When despair for the world grows in you and you wake in the night at the least sound, in fear of what your life and your children’s lives may be, go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. Come into the peace of wild things that do not trouble their lives with forethought of grief. Come into the presence of still water and feel above you the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time, rest in the grace of the world.”

You are safe. You are loved. And because you are currently lame and cannot go backpacking, I have rented a cabin deep in the woods for a weekend to find peace among the wild things.

And once again I find myself in deep gratitude for the friends, seen and unseen, who know my song and sing it to me when I forget.

*** I realize that I will be extremely isolated, in a very remote location if the rapture comes Saturday evening. I am pretty sure that I don’t qualify, but if any of you go, could you please leave a note? I really hate losing people.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Losing People

I hate to lose people in my life.  And lately I have lost quite a few.  I find it very hard. I grieve for a very long time.  Even when I lose people that are not healthy for me.  Or a relationship that has gone south.  Doesn’t matter.  I always feel like I should have been able to make things come out better.

I volunteer for an organization that matches people who can help with people who need a little help.  Usually it’s a short term thing - someone needing a ride to a doctor’s appointment is most common.  But a couple of years ago I was asked if I could do some grocery shopping for an elderly, disabled man whose wife had recently died.  Sure.  So every week I call him and write out his list.  And every week when I arrive with the groceries, he grumbles.  Prices are too high.  He didn’t want that size.  Or brand.  Or he wanted something that wasn’t on the list.  Every week I stand there as he goes over the receipt and pays me to the penny.  Once he held back 37 cents because he said “I said half a pound of boiled ham, not .6 pounds.”  He was the grumpiest, most ornery man I have ever met.

At first it became a game for me - this week I would make this man smile. Nope.

I tried engaging him in conversation, asking him about his life. Nothing.

I once brought him flowers from my garden. He told he to take them away.

He never asked me to sit. Never offered a cup of coffee. Never said thank you.

I often wondered why I kept doing it.  I could have easily passed it on to another volunteer.  Really who needed this crap?  So much negativity.

I complained to my mother, who is the volunteer queen.  She lectured me about how it’s easy to love easy people.  But god asks that we love those who are hard to love.  Really mom?  A sermon?  Not what I was looking for.

“What are you looking for?” she asked.

Hmmm. I don’t know, maybe an excuse to get out of this and still feel good about myself?

“Is that why you volunteer - for you?”

Fuck. Why is my mother always right?

And so it became my challenge.  Every week I tried to be Tigger.  He was always Eeyore.   I ususally failed.  He always succeeded.

A few weeks ago I called the organization to get a substitute while I recuperated from my knee surgery.  On Monday I called to say I was ready come back and they told he had passed away.

I am not proud that my first thought was relief.  Thank god I don’t have to visit with his dread and negativity anymore.

When I talked to his case worker I found out he was a WWII veteran. He had been an engineer. He was predeceased by a wife and a son.  In five minutes I learned more about him than I knew from visiting him for 2 years.

I am confused at how sad I have become with his passing.  I keep thinking I could have done better by him, that I am supposed to learn something from this.

I am going to miss him.

I don’t know why.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mother’s Day Rewind

I woke to the sound of Peachie making a pot of coffee for us. She must have set her alarm to pull that off. She then asked if she could sleep for a little awhile longer.

Beanie, who arrived home from college Saturday, got up and made pancakes. Yum. I found myself spontaneously and constantly hugging her. It was Mother’s Day so she tolerated it.

Then the girls started on the list of chores we made for them. Vacuum the pool. Check. Take the xmas lights off the bushes. Check. Get all of Beanie’s crap out of the garage. Check. No arguing, no complaining. Martha and I were reveling in how sweet it was that they are such close friends. I hope that lasts until their old age.

It was bright and sunny in the morning but quickly went to gray and drizzly. So we came in, the girls made a fruit salad for lunch and we watched a movie. Well, Martha watched it. The rest of us took naps in our chairs.

And then the girls presented us with our Mother’s Day present.

I don’t know how they can afford this when I can’t. The amazing thing is that Peachie, the girliest of girlie girls, assembled it herself. There is hope.

They grilled steak for themselves, swordfish for me, with asparagus and a tomato/mozzarella/ basil salad. All my favorite foods. And then friends came over with an angle food cake with strawberries that had some kind of sweet crunchy meringue coating with chopped walnuts on it.

I do not cook. But I sure do appreciate.

All through the day we received text messages from the girls’ friends wishing us a Happy Mother’s Day. Many of them have lived with us for short periods of time for one reason or another. They call me ‘Maja’, and Martha ‘Marebear’. We have formed quite the "family".

Sharing stories. Sharing laughter. Sharing love. Simple pleasures. I caught myself smiling. All day. We are all back together for the summer, our girls are healthy and happy, Martha and I enjoy each other still, we have a wealth of steadfast friends. Sometimes the abundance of it overwhelms me.

I have recently been using this bloggy space to document a hard therapy journey, which might give an impression that my life is filled with depression and pain and constant wrestling with ghosts and trauma. And sometimes it does feel that way. But that is not the story.

There was a day in my life when I truly thought I would not live to the end of the day. And then there followed a few years when I wished I had died that day. I had nothing to live for. But that slowly changed and I began to live and love again. And then I had children and for the first time, I could see an amazing future. And it has been amazing.

I remember years ago when Jean, my closest friend and mentor, met Daphne for the first time. We had dinner together and they talked as if they had known each other for years. At the end of that evening Jean turned to me and said “you are one lucky fuck.” And I smiled because I knew I was.

I can’t imagine what she would say if she could see the bounty of my life now. I am still smiling. And I am still one lucky fuck.

Friday, May 6, 2011

So far so good

A little over 20 years ago Martha told me she would like to have children. I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday. I was ambivalent. On one hand, I never particularly wanted or needed children. On the other hand, I really had no objections either. And so on that less than enthusiastic note, we began the amazing journey into parenthood.

I remember crying when I saw the ultrasound of Beanie’s little heart beating. After months of Lamaze training she was born late on a Saturday night by emergency C section. The doctor gently handed her to me to present to Martha. Every nurse oohed and aahed over how beautiful and perfect she was. It was my first feeling of parental pride.

Yesterday Beanie told me she had a 3.7 GPA, good enough to make the President’s List. She also is a member of student government, VP of student life, earned a ‘future leader award’, works a part time job and volunteers 10 hours a week for a preschool Headstart program. Yes, she is still making me proud.

A year and a half after Beanie, Peachie was born. Not breathing, she was whisked away somewhere while Martha and I looked at each other in sheer panic. I had never been so scared in my life. And for the first time I knew what it meant, really meant to be a parent.

Over the years Peachie gave us more reasons for concern - some early health issues, some learning issues, which turned into some confidence issues. And then she suddenly transformed into quite the beauty. Clothing and shoes became overly important to her. That worried us too. But she soon funneled that love of fashion into a program where she organizes a prom for mentally and physically challenged kids throughout our region. She spends countless hours collecting used prom dresses and shoes for these kids and doing their hair and makeup. And then dances the night away with every person in a wheelchair. Yep, she too makes me proud every day.

In my life, I have been so fortunate to have known love. The love of and for my parents. The achingly beautiful love of a soul mate. The supportive and comforting love of friends. And I have been given a second chance in life to love. I know that life can change in an instant. I do not take love or relationships for granted.

But these last 20 years of parenthood have been my biggest lesson in love. I had no idea I could love so deeply. And I had no idea how much love they would give me back. Unconditionally. No games. No ego. No threats of leaving. My children have, by far, taught me more about love then I ever could have imagined. They are tremendous teachers.

People often say we should live in the moment. And I don’t disagree with that. To appreciate the here and now to the fullest. But children force us to look beyond our present selves and our own needs and look toward the future. Nothing takes us out of our innate selfishness, the acting on our own needs and desires, our own bullshit, faster than being responsible for and loving a child.

I didn’t think I wanted or needed children. I was so very, very wrong.

Both my girls will be home for Mother’s Day. We will spend the day together, hopefully in the warmth of the sun, sharing food and stories and laughs with each other. They will cook and pamper us as they always do. Later, our good friends, and their godmothers, will come over and share dessert.

And then as Martha and I curl around each other in bed at night, we will reassure each other, as we so often have when talking about how the kids are doing - “so far, so good”.

Happy Mother’s Day all.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Last week I finally had surgery to repair a torn meniscus and other damage in my knee. Surgery was scheduled for 2:30 and I couldn’t eat or drink after midnight the night before. I was seriously hungry and dehydrated when I arrived at 12:30 for pre op. (I am used to my 3 meals plus constant grazing) Martha and I chatted while I waited my turn. She was joking that we should do this more often as we haven’t had that much uninterrupted time to chat in a long time.

Finally the anaesthesiologist came in and asked Martha to leave while he gave me a little sedative and an epidural. Martha said within 1 minute she heard me say I didn’t feel well. I am not sure what happened. Maybe the epidural making my legs unmovable. Something caused the trigger and I went into a full-fledged physical flashback. But I was sedated and couldn’t move. I was in full panic, terror mode in my head but was being held down by the weight of the drugs. Martha tells me they called her back in immediately. Because I was in such obvious distress, they kept giving me more and more sedation. She knew what was happening and she held me and talked to me, but I have no memory of that. They must have finally given me enough drugs to totally knock me out.

I woke up in the recovery room, incredibly nauseous, very disoriented and disassociated, soaked in sweat and dry heaving. But I had a nurse who was nothing short of an angel. She had obviously been briefed, was so gentle and kind and sat with me, holding my hand, while I was still freaking out. She kept saying “I am here, I will not leave you.”

So, so discouraging. All this therapy to get these flashbacks to stop and this was by far the worse one I can remember ever experiencing. Finally the drugs wore off, Martha helped me dress and I went home. Emotionally and physically exhausted.

The next few days were spent sitting, leg raised, ice on the knee that was then twice it’s normal size. I needed help stepping over the tub to shower which my daughter generously volunteered for. And she was kind enough not to make her usual snide comments about my naked body. Still, I felt I was getting a preview of my future - when I stop being the caregiver and my kids have to start caring for me. Very weird. But I was grateful for her help.

Lately I have been quite depressed and I had been concerned about the sitting around with nothing to do. But friends and co workers came to visit, always with chocolate in hand. It’s hard to be too depressed when you realize you have so much to be grateful for. Nurses, family, real life friends, on line friends who are always there, holding me up and keeping me moving forward.

Angels everywhere.

It is not quite a week since the surgery. I can walk with only a small limp. Stairs are still a challenge but every day it’s getting better. Friday the stitches come out and I can start physical therapy. I hope to be riding my bike out in the country before the smell of lilacs is gone.