Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Return of the Dark Side

Trigger warning:  this post contains graphic descriptions of sexual violence.  

I am writing this post at the suggestion of my therapist because I have had a lot of success with writing helping me to drain the residual effects of flashbacks.   This is my therapy.  Do not feel you need to read or comment.

It has been a long time since I have experienced a strong trigger or flashback.   The last one was when I took my daughter to the emergency room.  Fortunately, I was able to catch it before it overcame me.   I thought that was a sign that I had really tackled PTSD.  For good.  And yet, in typical PTSD fashion, I always wondered when the next shoe would drop.  Then it happened

I do not remember everything about the sexual and violent assault on Daphne and myself.   Years of immersion therapy helped remember a lot, and most importantly, to put those memories in their proper place (in the past) and to understand why some things were triggers for me.  One such memory was the one that was the most devastating to my psyche.  The one that  pushed me into such panicked fear and flipped some internal switch that it took me decades to recover from it.

During the attack I struggled for a long time.  I kicked.  I screamed.  I fought back savagely against impossible odds.   Until a man took off his shirt and stuffed it in my mouth to keep me from screaming.   And then someone kicked me in the left jaw.   My next memory was gagging on blood and teeth.   It was at that moment - that moment when I thought I would drown in my own blood, gagging furiously on my own teeth, unable to move  -  that something very visceral changed.  My next memory is that of being very passive - surrendering to whatever else was going to happen.   And beginning to pray.  Something changed in me forever and these memories went to a deep, dark, unreachable place.  

Thanks to all my therapy I was able to uncover these memories and learn why the taste of blood gave me flashbacks.  Why the smell of a laundromat made me crumple.  Why, if I saw a certain blue plaid shirt on someone, I had an anxiety attack.  Understanding where all these mystery reactions were coming from was a huge step in my recovery.   But understanding them does not necessarily mean they don’t impact me in still strange ways.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the dentist for a crown preparation.  As the dentist worked, I began to taste the blood.  I was still in control and knew exactly why I was getting anxious and began my anxiety reducing tricks.   But apparently he was having trouble stemming the blood and stuck a huge piece of gauze in my mouth, the end of which hit the back of my throat and started to make me gag. Animal panic set in and I jumped out of the chair and ran into the bathroom.  

There, in there teeny, tiny bathroom, I sat on the toilet rocking myself as flashbacks formed a conga line through my brain.   I remember the sweat just pouring off me and my heart pounding through my chest.   I remember someone coming to ask if I was all right and mumbling something back.  I am not sure how long I was there but at some point I looked up and saw myself in the mirror over the sink.  I looked like shit and still had my little dental bib on. And that was enough to shock me back to the present.  Crap.  A huge feeling of defeat came over me.  

This story does have a good ending though.  The impact of this episode did not incapacitate me for long.   I asked if the dentist could take his next patient and I took a nice long walk.  When I returned I was able to have him finish the work.  I was jittery and tense for a few days after but able to go about my normal routine.   I concentrated hard on remembering those associations were in the past and went through all the lessons that Lauren had taught me.    (God, I do miss her.)

But I am bummed that after all this time relatively symptom free, PTSD apparently still has a hold over me.  After a couple more therapy sessions, I was able to see this for what it was.  Intellectually I get it.  Emotionally, I am still a bit shaken, once again wondering when another shoe will drop.   Will I ever be free of this?   I don’t know.   On some days the fact that I got past it quickly feels like a victory.  On other days the fact that I am still dealing with this feels like a defeat.  

Today I feel good.  It feels good to be able to write this.  It feels good to know that I am no longer living in a rabbit hole and when I do fall in, I am able to climb back out.  And I suppose that does build confidence for whenever the next shoe drops.  

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Full of Grace

1. Kind people in the grocery store.  After my last surgery, and now weekly after each expansion, I lose a lot of arm range of motion.   I stand helpless in the grocery store, wanting something from the top shelf.  Someone always comes along to graciously help.   

2. My daughters who both surprised me this weekend by coming home.  

3. A small window of warm weather that melted the icy sidewalks and allowed me to take a few glorious walks with my dog and see little patches of green.   

4. My sciatic nerve has finally calmed down.  What a pain in the ass.  Literally

5. Martha finding an extra grow light fixture and helping me set up an additional table for starting seeds in the basement.    Flowers and veggies get planted this weekend.   As much as I love winter, I am anxiously anticipating Spring.

Friday, February 21, 2014

It’s Time to Talk

When my daughters were applying to colleges, Martha and I obsessively checked out each campuses security systems.  We each had different experiences with the philosophy and strength of campus security and wanted to know that our daughters would be living in as secure and respectful environments as possible.  

Last year my oldest daughter became entangled in an abusive relationship.  It was a slow escalation from emotional abuse to physical abuse.  When it hit that level, my daughter was smart enough, and lucky enough, to run.  And fortunately she attended a college who took such abusive behavior very seriously.   She reported the situation to campus security who in turn immediately moved her to safe, secure housing and had her boyfriend removed from campus.   They hooked my daughter up with a domestic violence counselor who helped her fill out a police report.  The college  then conducted a full hearing resulting in her ex-boyfriend being removed from his sports team, removed from college housing and my daughter being given an order of protection.   His family fought this, and we were in college hearings and family court for quite a few months.  Fortunately, each time the college and the courts backed up and protected my daughters’ safety.

The good news is that because the college took immediate and serious steps, my daughter was okay.   We put her in counseling for a bit to help her with the emotional trauma, but she has turned this experience around to help others in this situation.

First she hooked up with an on-campus organization known as Heart One, which was started by a young woman who had also experienced relationship violence and wanted to shine a spotlight on this problem.   Her story can be seen here:

From there my daughter became an ambassador to the One Love Foundation where she met and became friends with Sharon Love.  If you don’t know her daughter’s story -  Yeardley Love was a University of Virginia student who was murdered by her boyfriend (Huguely) who  was a lacrosse player with a violent history.   The University had no notification system to alert them of Huguely’s past run-ins with the law.  

"Campuses should absolutely be doing background checks to make sure that serious felonies, sexual assaults or violence or intimate partner crime, gun violence -- that those students are not part of their campus community," the University president  said.  Claire Kaplan, University of Virginia's director of sexual and domestic violence services, agreed that many warning signs were missed in the Love case.

Sharon Love then began the One Love Foundation to end relationship violence through education and technology.

One Love MyPlan App

An anonymous, free application for smart phones and other electronic devices, the One Love MyPlan determines if a relationship is unsafe and helps to create the best action plan by weighing an individual’s unique characteristics and values. In partnership with, the app provides access to trained advocate support 24/7 through an embedded live chat function.

One Love Danger Assessment App

The One Love DA app is a part of the One Love Foundation’s “Be 1 for Change” initiative that serves as the base of a long-term campaign to combat Relationship Violence (RV) in the United States. “Be 1 for Change” serves as a signature program for the One Love Foundation, with an immediate goal of educating, creating awareness and providing resources for people 16–24-years-old.


This is the time of year when high school seniors are making their college choices.  If you know someone at this milestone, I urge you to encourage them to research their prospective college’s security systems and relationship violence policies.  

One in every three women will experience IPV (Intimate Partner Violence) in her lifetime and one of five college females will experience some form of IPV during her college career.  Researchers continue to find a disturbingly high rate of physical and sexual victimization of women by intimate or ex-intimate partners on college campuses, indicating that college campuses constitute at-risk communities for women.  And too many colleges just sweep this problem under the rug.  My daughter was lucky her college was not one of them or her story could have ended very differently.

If you have a young person in your life, I urge you to talk to them about dating violence.   There is a great organization that has plenty of tips to start the conversation.  

It’s time to talk about dating violence because love is not abuse.  

I am so damned proud of my daughter for working to make campuses a safer place for all women.  

No more silence.

It’s Time to Talk.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  My Highway Department.  25 inches of snow fell from Thursday night at 10 am till 6 am Friday morning.  By 9 am, every road was passable.  By noon every road was clean and dry.   They do an amazing job.

2.  Survived my first (awake) tissue expansion.  The first expansion was done during surgery.  This time I had to go to the doctor’s office and have this gigantic needle pushed through the muscle and into the expansion bags buried in my chest and 60 cc of saline inserted.  This is what the needle looked like.  

Fortunately it looked a lot worse than it really was.  No worse than a flu shot really.  But then my chest was uncomfortable and sore for the next two days.   I have to do this every week now until my final surgery (April 14th)    I am already pleased with how much better it looks but wow, I will be incredibly grateful when this process is over.

In this picture they look uneven but they really aren't.
Must be the lighting.

3.  Martha got me a table saw for Valentine’s Day!  We never exchange gifts for VD, and I know that a table saw is not a particularly romantic present.  But she actually remembered that I had mentioned that my very old saw was dying a slow and painful death.   So yes, that was pretty damned special to me.

4.  Coupons!

5.  Tax returns filed with a very unexpected refund .  (I hope I did them correctly)

Friday, February 14, 2014

Moon Language

With That Moon Language
Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Admit something:

Everyone you see, you say to them, "Love me."

Of course you do not do this out loud; otherwise,

someone would call the cops.

Still, though, think about this, this great pull in us

to connect.

Why not become the one who lives with a full moon

in each eye that is always saying,

with that sweet moon language,

what every other eye in this world is dying to hear?

Thursday, February 13, 2014


I went and talked to my boss about the possibility of retiring.  I gave him the whole song and dance about how grateful I was for this job and how much I’d learned and the wonderful people I  have met and the feeling of family I have here and how it was a difficult decision for me but then, you know, the cancer really began to laser focus my awareness of how I spend my time and that I think I would like to pursue other interests, but oh, I really love it here, and on and on and on.

He sat very patiently through it all and then said “you cannot retire.”


He went on about how we have have a rash of retirements in the past year and that it would be hard to lose all my historical and institutional knowledge (I think he was saying that I’m the oldest person in the building)  and since I am a one person department, there is no one below me who can step up or even anyone who can be trained to do whatever the hell I do.  Yes, that’s what he said  “whatever the hell you do.”

But, I said, with all due respect, I cannot be expected to work here for forever.   I would stay and help train someone else, but I need a finish line.  

Then he asked if I would consider retiring and then coming back as a consultant.  

Ding, ding, ding - we have a winner!

Under this arrangement I will retire and then work part time.  Yes please!

I am now retiring at the end of February.  I will then begin to collect my very generous pension and then I can then set my own hours and work on an as needed basis for an hourly rate.

Everyone wins!  My employer will save a bucket load on my salary and no longer have to pay into my retirement fund.  My medical insurance is already covered for life.  Martha was concerned about reducing incomes before the girls are done with college but I will now be making MORE money than I do now.  And I can have the best of both worlds - a lot more time to do other things while still maintaining my social and professional ties at work.  Plus, I avoid having to go through that awkward retirement party thing.  (I know that last thing seems petty, but it was a huge concern for me)

The only negative is that under our state pension retirement rules, I can work for the government, but there is a cap on how much I can make and this cap is rather small.  So this will translate into me working an average of 12 hours a week.  Which sounded awesome at first, but then I began having night sweats about how I can possibly do everything at my job in 12 hours a week!!!  Of course, it is an average so that on light weeks I could work 4 hours and then when things are busy, I could work 40 hours.    Plus, I can work from home, and I am only a couple of blocks away should anything weird come up.  So I have a lot of flexibility.  Still, it does concern me.  I was the originator of this department and I take a lot of pride in it.  I really don’t want things slipping through the cracks.   And while I don’t mind occasionally working unpaid hours,  I don’t want it to become a habit.  So we’ll see.

To start the experiment, starting in March my hours will be Tuesday thru Thursday from 9 to 12.   
Nice, huh?  The rest of the time you will find me preparing my gardens, working on the honey-do list Martha is already starting for me,  and trying to figure what just what I want to be when I grow up.

Decision #3 resolved.  I do believe I am going to post about every decision bouncing around my mind.  As soon as I post it here, the universe shows me the answer.  Very cool.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Full of Grace

1.  My stitches are out.  I have to admit that this surgery was a lot more difficult than I had anticipated.  The first week was painful, I couldn't sleep, and was very frustrated, uncomfortable and rundown.  But now that the stitches are out, I can move without pain.  I can’t sleep on my stomach yet, but I can move in my sleep without waking myself up.  Huge improvement both physically and mentally.

2.  I’m allowed back in the sauna.  Finally!   

3.  A lovely double date with Beaner and her beau.  I do miss the days when she would tell me that she would never have children because sex was gross.   But I have learned to accept and appreciate, that she has grown up.   And grown up quite well.  

4.  Planning new projects for our home and camp.  I have to keep reining Martha in on the finances, but doing improvements projects together is one of our favorite things and it’s nice to have some interesting things to sink our teeth into this year.

5.  That my daughter told me that these actually exist in the world.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


When my mother died two years ago, I began finding dimes.  I would find a random one on the carpet.  One in the washing machine.  On the floor of my car.  The places they would appear would be common or odd - one in my sauna - and it was always a solitary dime.  Never a penny or nickel or quarter.  I mentioned this to Martha when it first started happening and she said “it’s your mom.”  

I didn't really register what she had said and quickly filed it in the WTF? file.  But over the past two years, I have continued to find random dimes.  Sitting on the deck.  In a tool box.  In a doctor’s waiting room.   When packing for Key West I found one in a box where I stored my sandals.  

Last week I was looking for something to wear for my surgery and found the zip up hoodies Martha had bought me for my mastectomy recuperation.  (Breast removal and reconstruction surgery makes it very difficult to put clothes on over your head)   And of course, when I put one on as I left for the hospital, I put my hand in the pocket and found a dime.   And Martha said “your mom is watching over you.”  I smiled.

Then during some of my recuperation down time I googled “finding dimes.”  It’s actually a thing!  So many people reporting the same phenomenon - finding dimes after someone close to them had died. Weird huh?

I don’t really know what to make of this kind of stuff but I do kind of wish I had kept an accounting of all the dimes and all the places I have found them.  I am going to start a list and get a jar to store them in. Maybe they do have something to tell me?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Full of Grace

This edition of my weekly gratitude is dedicated to people who work in the medical profession, and especially:

- The intake nurse who made me laugh and put my nervous nillies to rest.

- The nurse who got my IV started with only one stick.  I have horrible veins and it usually takes quite a few attempts. One stick was a great beginning.

- The anesthesiologist who spent a lot of time with me, concerned about my concerns, and who came back to sit with me when I was in recovery.  He was so sweetly apologetic that I had problems and even gave me his phone number if I needed to follow up.

- My plastic surgeon who has been so good spending time with Martha and allaying her concerns.  

- The recovery room nurse who - I don’t even everything she did for me - but she was there for the vomiting and the fainting and the uncontrolled weeping, and when I was finally ready to go home, I had the feeling that I just wanted to kiss her.  Her kindness just filled the room.

- And for Martha, who was against this surgery from the start but still has stood by me through the whole thing, including all the hospital sitting, changing bandages, dispensing meds, helping me dress, helping me get in and out of bed, and picking up everything I drop but can't reach down to pick up. She has been an amazing nurse, friend and partner.

I have such huge respect and admiration for medical people.  I’m not sure how they show up every day with the amount of care and compassion that they do.  So today, and every day, I am enormously grateful for people who take care of others.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


I had the first of my reconstruction surgeries on Thursday.   Thanks for all the well wishes and prayers.

The surgery itself went well, although I did have some triggering problems coming out of anesthesia.   I was supposed to be in recovery for about an hour.  I was there for 3 hours.  But the staff was wonderful and Martha was patient, and the lingering anxiety has dissipated.

Just for the record, this is what my chest looked like before surgery.  I don't think I would have considered reconstruction if my chest was flat.  But all the lumps and bumps and concave areas made it really hard to wear most clothing.

This is what I came home looking like.  At first I thought, wow, I really don't need to be any bigger than that, I'll be done with the stretching in no time.  Unfortunately though, this is mostly bandages.

Today I was able to take the bandages off.  Well, Martha did.  I have already fainted twice looking at this mess.   The expanders have been inserted through my existing scars and some fluid added to them. It doesn't show well in the picture but all that redness is bruising and it feels like an elephant stepped on my chest.  But overall, not too bad and I am already pleased with the reduction of weirdness.

After this, I will go every week of so to have more fluid inserted to continue to stretch the skin and muscle until a pocket the size I would like to be is formed.  Then I will have another surgery to remove the expanders and replace them with the permanent implants.  

I hemmed and hawed about doing this for almost two years. I have tried socks in a bra, prosthetic boobs, and just going without.  But the bottom line is this - I had a very aggressive grade of cancer and early detection literally saved my life.   Please take care of your girls and get them checked regularly.   Breasts can be reconstructed, your life cannot.