Thursday, January 28, 2016

How We Spend Our Lives

In the afterlife you relive all your experiences, but this time with the events reshuffled into a new order: all the moments that share a quality are grouped together.

You spend two months driving the street in front of your house, seven months having sex. You sleep for thirty years without opening your eyes. For five months straight you flip through magazines while sitting on a toilet. 
You take all your pain at once, all twenty-seven intense hours of it. Bones break, cars crash, skin is cut, babies are born. Once you make it through, it’s agony-free for the rest of your afterlife.
But that doesn’t mean it’s always pleasant. You spend six days clipping your nails. Fifteen months looking for lost items. Eighteen months waiting in line. Two years of boredom: staring out a bus window, sitting in an airport terminal. One year reading books. Your eyes hurt, and you itch, because you can’t take a shower until it’s your time to take your marathon two-hundred-day shower. 
Two weeks wondering what happens when you die. One minute realizing your body is falling. Seventy-seven hours of confusion. One hour realizing you’ve forgotten someone’s name. Three weeks realizing you are wrong. Two days lying. Six weeks waiting for a green light. Seven hours vomiting. Fourteen minutes experiencing pure joy. Three months doing laundry. Fifteen hours writing your signature. Two days tying shoelaces. 
Sixty-seven days of heartbreak. Five weeks driving lost. Three days calculating restaurant tips. Fifty-one days deciding what to wear. Nine days pretending you know what is being talked about. Two weeks counting money. Eighteen days staring into the refrigerator. Thirty-four days longing. Six months watching commercials. Four weeks sitting in thought, wondering if there is something better you could be doing with your time. Three years swallowing food. Five days working buttons and zippers. 
Four minutes wondering what your life would be like if you reshuffled the order of events. In this part of the afterlife, you imagine something analogous to your Earthly life, and the thought is blissful: a life where episodes are split into tiny swallowable pieces, where moments do not endure, where one experiences the joy of jumping from one event to the next like a child hopping from spot to spot on the burning sand.
Annie Dillard once wrote “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives."  After watching this video, I am very happy that we have the joy of jumping from one event to the next.  And I am reminding myself to be much more aware and present in everything I do because I don't want to spend four weeks wondering if there is something better I could be doing with my time. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Full of Grace

  • Going to a 3 year old’s birthday party.  She (in her Frozen Ella dress) so excited, so twirly, so giggly, so contagiously happy.
  • Finally coming home from a 3 year old’s birthday party.  Me (in my sweater covered with cheese doodle drool from her younger brother) so over stimulated, so tired, so happy to retreat to quiet sauna, and bed.
  • Our new coffee maker that concurrently heats water for my tea. How cool is that?

  • That my family, who all live in the New York metropolitan area, safely survived the snowstorm.
  • Starting to plan a new project - building a new deck.  Our old deck was never constructed properly (another Martha "good enough" job) and has become literally unsafe.  I love designing and planning and can’t wait to start ripping the old one apart.  

Friday, January 22, 2016

Becoming A Student

Sometime toward the end of last year I saw my therapist for a routine visit.  We started chatting about two things things I still have issues with - control and memory. As she always told me, she is not an expert in PTSD or sexual trauma, but had come across a woman I might be interested in talking to. And so I made an appointment with Leah.  I use her name here because I think I will be writing about her a lot.  

She asked if I wanted/could share my story and I very simply and calmly told her.  Then I sat there. Amazed.  It took me quite a while and then explained to her that I had never been able to so easily verbalize that experience.  Then I waited for some kind of congratulations because I recognized what a huge leap this was for me.  It didn’t come.  I was kind of disappointed.

Instead she said “and what did you do with all the anger?”   And like a deer in headlights I just stared at her.  “Anger?  What anger?”  “After everything you just told me - raped multiple times, witnessing the torture of your lover, and enduring her subsequent death - you felt no anger?”  

Hmmm.  That would make sense, wouldn’t it.  But I don’t remember anger.  I remember sadness.  I remember numb.  But I’m sure she is right.  I know that my reactions don’t always match the circumstances and some things are still playing out in little niggly ways.  

So anger is going to be added to the list.  

1. Anger.  What did I do with that anger? How do I still have issues with it?

2.  How to reduce my need for control.  This is something that Martha has asked me to work on.  I thought I had pretty much conquered control issues until she kept pointing them out.  It can be very helpful to have an outside observer make you aware of behaviors that have become so routine that they don’t really register.

3. And memory issues.  I can remember things that happened, but I can’t remember when things happened.  Or the order they happened.  For example at work, someone will ask me when a certain development was built.  I have no idea whether it was just last year or 20 years ago.  It all feels the same to me.  Even when someone asked me when the attack happened, I couldn’t put my finger on it.  I had to start doing the math in my head to try to narrow it down - it was after I graduated college, so it was after this year, I was working but taking grad courses, but it was before I moved so it was before this year  . . .    it is a very frustrating struggle. I do remember Lauren, my original therapist, telling me that trauma can wreak havoc with memory, often permanent, but it is something I would like to try to improve, if possible.

So I am back in therapy but feeling very different about it.  I am no longer the simpering, whimpering patient terrified of taking every step.  I am now able to calmly and logically (well, most of the time) examine the cause and effect of sexual trauma.  I am deeply interested in the physical and emotional changes that happen in the brain and if they are reversible by training, or can at least be managed better than I do now.  

I am no longer on the inside struggling to get out but rather on the outside examining me from a whole different perspective.  I am my own case study.   

I am becoming a student.  And I think I have found a pretty good teacher.

I’m pretty excited about it.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Full of Grace

  • Having the financial ability to take a luxurious warm vacation in winter.  I did not grow up with money and spent most of my career in low paying, but extremely satisfying, public service.  To now find myself with financial security, with a little extra money to make amazing memories with my family is something I do not take for granted.  Ever.

  • Airline pilots who safely land a plane full of people through a very turbulent, white out snow squall.  Nothing like a white knuckle landing to make one really appreciate the ground.

  • This contraption that blows the heat from my dryer into my basement rather than wasting it thru the outdoor vent.  It puts out an amazing amount of free heat. $7 at Home Depot.

  • Starting to root sweet potatoes.  There is something so hope and joy filled in preparing for the Spring garden in the grey cold of January.  

  • Very, very proud to have “New York values”

Saturday, January 16, 2016


One week with just my daughters.

Visiting friends in their ocean front condo.

Renting a convertible mustang just for the fun of it.

A few days in Miami Beach - sun, sand, palm trees, roof top pools, 
fruity drinks and Nutella crepes

A delicious Cuban meal in Little Havana, exploring the neighborhood, listening to Latin music,
watching the serious domino play at Domino Park and Nutella gelato.

A morning bike riding through the Everglades

A couple of days on Sanibel Island, sea shelling, solitary walks watching the sunrise
and sharing sunsets.

A quick trip to Downtown Disney for lunch, princess shopping and a traditional Mickey Bar
before heading to the airport.

One week with just my daughters on warm sandy beaches.

A perfect vacation.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Looking Back, Looking Forward

Looking back -

2015 was an interesting year for me.  I started the year being able to go to DisneyWorld with my daughters, a trip that luckily fell in between a ruptured appendix in December and having surgery to remove it in January.  Then kidney surgery in February.  It took me a while to rebuild my stamina but then had a pretty healthy year, including a mild but totally satisfying backpacking trip.

It was also the year that I truly felt I turned a corner in my mental health.  Although the changes have happened incrementally over many, many years, this was the first time I truly felt “normal” most of the time.  Yes, I still had some triggers and a couple of setbacks, but I no longer had the debilitating fear of them.  And I had a lot concrete evidence that all my therapy has worked and given me a pretty solid foundation to deal with whatever comes up.  

It was also my first full year of being retired but working part time.  Feeling financially secure and only working 3 half days a week gave me time for gardening and hiking and very long weekends at the lake.  It was a beautiful set up.

Last year my resolutions centered around reducing my environmental impact and I was very successful.  I drove my car less than 4,000, composted and recycled until our garbage is now less than half of what recycle, and grew more of our own food.  

We finished our kitchen remodel, Peachie graduated college, one of our beloved cats died, Beaner thankfully broke up with the boyfriend and Martha enjoyed her high school coaching job.  All in all a very good year.

Looking forward -

I am starting the year with a beach vacation with my daughters.   They are on the brink of starting their own lives so getting a week together is extra special to me. Plus it’s very important to get my Vitamin D : )

For the first time in 16 years I have a new boss.  He took over in November and he is an amazing listener and learner.  He has asked me to be the director of a larger department, which would mean working a lot more hours next year than the part-time gig I do now.  I may have to “un-retire”.  I have made no commitment to him yet but something is about to change for me employment wise.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.

I have to deal with whatever strange thing is now happening to my uterine lining with more tests coming in February.  I really hate all this medical stuff  but I remain hopeful that it is a side effect of cancer drugs rather than cancer itself.

I have just begun to see a new therapist.   After my amazing therapist died unexpectedly a few years ago, I idled for a while and then started seeing someone new.  As much as I like her, she is more a general practitioner.  She recently referred me to a person who specializes in sexual trauma.  I have seen her once and am already intrigued.  I know I am light years ahead of where I was just a few years ago but I also know there are more than a few rough spots that need some work.   I am excited to begin the polishing.  

The year ahead will also bring changes to my family as Beaner will finish her graduate work and hopefully start out on her own and Peachie is looking to gravitate towards Boston where her boyfriend now lives.  

And so looking forward to the joys and challenges of the new year,  I have set my intentions and resolutions with these three words:

Love - Once again my goal will be to do small things with great love in all areas of my life.

Simplify - Reduce clutter, both physical and emotional, weed out negativity, distractions and annoyances, stop multi-tasking and focus awareness on here and now.

Explore - Work on overcoming my anxiety issues to broaden my physical world and also my inner universe.

summed up by this from The StoryPeople: