If you’re going…

If you’re going through hell, keep going. ~Winston Churchill

I chose this quote earlier this week. Ironically, nobody needs it more than me on this Wisdom Wednesday. Traumatic stress can be a real rollercoaster. Today I will ride it out, knowing tomorrow will be better. I just have to keep moving forward.

The Key

Well I know it wasn’t you who held me down 
Heaven knows it wasn’t you who set me free 
So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains 
And we never even know we have the key 

 

from Already Gone by the Eagles,

songwriters Jack Tempchin & Robert Arnold Strandlund

 

It’s funny how many times we can hear something and not really hear it.  When I heard these lyrics today (for the fifty-blue-millionth time), it struck me how true they were.  It reminded me that often the only thing keeping us from realizing our dreams is the six inches between our ears.    

 

Be Real

I am certainly an advocate of dreaming big.  If, however, you don’t create a plan the feels feasible to you, there is less likelihood that you will follow through.  I have experienced this myself.  

I have a great idea, yet it somehow the end result or the way there doesn’t really “fit” how I can see myself.  At first I am enthusiastic, but as the plan unfolds I begin to fall back into patterns that feel more comfortable.  For me, I have learned that I will accomplish more over time (and maintain it) if I stretch myself within the realm of what seems possible today… stepping out of my comfort zone rather than into the Twilight Zone.

Baby Steps

Today, one week after my granddaughter’s first birthday, she took her first steps on her own.  She has been standing on her own and cruising around furniture, but anytime someone tried to coax her to let go and walk, she would simply refuse.  Today, her mother “caught” her walking across the dining room.  I joked that maybe she had been a “closet walker.”

It reminded me of when my own children were little and I was teaching them to swim.  I remember other parents at the pool begging, scolding, or trying to reason with their own children to let go of the side, go under water, or jump into the pool.  My style was to simply stay within arm’s reach and let them explore whatever felt comfortable.  None of them were afraid of water.  All of them learned to swim at a young age.  And I didn’t push.  I simply let them do what came naturally.

They all love water.  I think it is partly because I loved water and I just let them be around it in whatever capacity they felt comfortable.  Now I believe getting out of our comfort zone is good for us, but sometimes it just takes baby steps.      

Placid

Recovering from trauma is a process, with it ups and downs… three steps forward, two steps back… and can be unpredictable.

Yesterday was a pretty good day until, on my way home from a trip to the store, a bus pulled up right behind us at a red light.  I thought I had overcome all of my anxiety surrounding buses.  Evidently, I have more work to do.

After having been hit by a school bus while walking to my car in November, I worked with a cognitive behaviorist who recommended exposure therapy.  Right after my accident, the hair on my neck stood on end every time heard a school bus drive by my house.  This was particularly difficult as three buses pick up children in the morning and the same three drop off children in the afternoon.

My therapist suggested I overcome my fear of the bus by gradually getting closer to it until I could tolerate the fleeting feeling of anxiety that always came with hearing it.  After standing at the front door with my walker when the bus came by in the mornings, I eventually had my husband take me outside in my wheelchair when the bus dropped off my son in the afternoon.  This strategy enabled me to pass buses on the road with no physiological symptoms… until yesterday.

When I realized there was a bus behind our car, I felt a bit queasy.  Then I heard its brakes and almost immediately developed an excruciating headache.  By the time we got home, I felt physically sick and cried intermittently for the next 30 minutes.  I felt completely drained and remained on the couch for the next several hours.

Having participated in a trauma survivors’ class and individual therapy, I knew that I needed to talk about what I was experiencing.  I talked to my husband and gave myself permission to feel what I was feeling.  I forgave myself for having what I saw as a setback.  Although I was emotionally exhausted, I was feeling better before I went to bed.

I slept late this morning, and woke up feeling calm.  In fact, I had the thought that I felt unusually peaceful.  Like a still lake, I felt emotionally placid.  The day was peaceful and quiet, with no surprises.  Once again, I am grateful for a good day and the fact that there are increasingly more good ones than challenging ones.

Happy Ending

Today’s  Daily Prompt, “Happy Endings”, from The Daily Post asked that we reflect on a time when we tried to quit something.  It brought to mind the struggle I faced a couple of years ago with trying to quit a job.  I was extremely unhappy, as were many of the people with which I worked.  In retrospect, I was responsible for the position in which I found myself.  Back then, I was convinced that I was a victim.

In my twelve years of teaching, there had been ups and downs.  But during that last year, I dreaded going to work in the morning.  By the end of the school year, entering the building brought on panic attacks.  During the last week of school I sent my husband a text message telling him that I thought I was having a nervous breakdown.  He immediately called me and asked what was wrong.  I told him that I could not stop crying and I could not go back into that building.

His response helped me find the courage to start the “quitting” process.  He told me that although he would not tell me what to do, he did not want me going back to that school in the fall… even if it meant not returning to work at all.  I had talked about leaving, but only after my husband’s comment did I actually see it as a real possibility.

It wasn’t until then that I realized what was holding me in this miserable position wasn’t lack of jobs in the marketplace, or my lack of marketability, but the six inches between my ears.  I had been in the same position for so long, I didn’t believe I could find another job.  Looking back, I realize how ludicrous this was.  What I also noticed was that lots of people I knew  felt stuck too.  I don’t know if this is a phenomenon found in other fields or if it is disproportionately represented in education.  I do know that many unhappy teachers stay where they are out of fear.

So my happy ending began with quitting a job that held more cons than pros for me.  I loved the kids, I liked what I taught, and hated almost everything else about my job.  I had some colleagues I would miss, but I realized I could maintain these friendships regardless of where I worked.  (In fact, I now prefer getting together for lunch with friends rather than commiserating with them at school.)

I made up my mind that I would not return to the school where I had spent the vast majority of my career, even if I couldn’t find a teaching job.  Then I began my job search.  I applied in three different counties, and ended up taking a position very different from the one I had held for so long.  I also took a ten-thousand dollar pay cut.

In return, I cut my actual work day by forty-five minutes.  I also gained (at least) another forty minutes in personal time since I cut my commute by half.   This resulted in less wear-and-tear on my car and less fuel expense.  I was also pleasantly surprised to gain a pleasurable, predictable ride to and from work.

By taking a leap of faith, I not only gained a job I enjoy.  I also found friends in my new colleagues.  I remembered what it felt like to be excited about Monday mornings again.  Most importantly, I learned that there are always new opportunities just within my reach.  All I have to do is choose.

It’s Easier to Do It, Than To Think About It

I had a dream last night.  It was what I call an anxiety dream.  It was like the dreams I have the week before school starts where I am late for school, not by a few minutes, but by hours.  In this dream, I was skinny dipping and I did not know that the owners of the pool were home.  (Not sure why I was crashing the pool, but I was mortified when I realized I might have been seen.)  I realized later today that the dream resulted from my anxiety about taking a shower.  

No, I am not afraid of taking a shower.  But I have intense body image issues and an arm in a splint that absolutely must not get wet… unless I  want to go back to the surgery center to have another one made.  I have managed to deal with my over-the-top modesty until now.  For the first time since I was a young child I would have to be bathed by someone else.  When I was in the trauma unit after my accident, there was so much pain and chaos to focus on that I was not very self-conscious.  It was the same with childbirth.

But I had been thinking about this shower since my surgery three days prior.  I didn’t talk about it, hoping not to feed my anxiety.  Obviously, my subconscious was going nuts.  As much as I was dreading it, I knew the sooner we started, the sooner I would have this humiliating experience over with.  So I told my husband I was ready. 

We went into the bathroom, me, my husband, the walker, the tub chair, and the dog.  (My husband shooed the dog out.)  I awkwardly began to undress, first taking off my shirt, then my bra.  Kelly began to wrap my splint in Press ‘n’ Seal.  Knowing I was about to finish disrobing, my anxiety level was rising.  I decided that talking openly about it might alleviate some of my physiological reaction.  

Just before I sat on my tub transfer chair,  I looked at my husband and told him how hard this was for me, to be so vulnerable.  He reminded me that it was just us, but that wasn’t much consolation for someone who is phobic about being naked.  My eyes immediately welled up with tears as I sat down on my tub transfer seat.  I unlocked the seat and slid over into the bathtub. 

I am fortunate to be married to a compassionate man who understands my fear, even though it is completely irrational.  He began washing me and I realized I wasn’t dying.  I do think it was easier for me because I had to focus on keeping my left arm out of the shower.  Nonetheless, I was conscious of the effects gravity, as well as expansion and contraction, have had on my body.  I was also very aware of all the scars from my accident and subsequent surgeries.  If my husband was, he never let me see it.  He gently and attentively did what needed to be done, including shaving my legs (they desperately needed it). 

He didn’t throw up.  He hasn’t filed for divorce.  In fact, he gave me an innocent kiss and told me he loved me.  The best thing of all is that I realized on an experiential level that I am okay just the way I am, and it is always easier to do it than it is to think about it.  This was an especially good thing for me to do, since I will not be able to shower on my own for another week or so.  (And I think to go without a shower for two weeks might prompt hubby to file.) 

 

Dragon Slayer

Image

October 16, 2013
Tail of the Dragon, Deals Gap NC

Motorcycle enthusiasts will recognize the Tail of the Dragon as a popular destination for riders and bikers (motorcyclists will know the difference… I am a rider).  This picture was taken less than a month before my accident.  (And just in case you haven’t checked out my blog before… No, it was not a motorcycle accident.)  I have been riding for a couple of years, but was not brave (crazy) enough to ride the Dragon until this past fall.  As a matter of fact, I was very “anti-motorcycle” just a few years ago.  But it is not my intention to debate the pros and cons of motorcycle riding.  It is to demonstrate that we have no idea what we are capable of until we “feel the fear and do it anyway.” Continue reading

Don’t Wait!

I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t think of something to write. If anything, there is usually so much going on inside my head, that I can’t seem to choose one topic. Today alone, I’ve considered everything from choosing alternative healthcare versus the medical model to tackling clutter, and at least a dozen other topics. Then it occurred to me that the reason I always have so much going on inside my head is that I am always trying to figure out how to improve my life.

Now, that might sound like I’m discontent or just resistant to what is. But I’m a generally happy person, primarily because I practice being grateful for everything, but I’ll save that for another blog post. I’ve had a fascination with self-help books since I was a teenager. I discovered Tony Robbins on a late night infomercial for Unlimited Power when I was twenty-something. Since then, I have been involved in personal growth groups, 12-Step groups, and various accountability relationships.

So here I am, nearly fifty years old, with a wide variety of life experiences. I believe it is my responsibility to take what comes my way and make the best of it. So when my son was diagnosed with Autism, I started researching how diet and exercise could improve his quality of life. When I realized that people I loved were addicts, I began my own recovery through a 12-Step program for families of alcoholics. And when I was hit by a bus (literally… go figure, a teacher hit by a school bus… and on foot), I took an online trauma survivors’ class.

Going back to the subject of gratitude for just a moment, this last incident was what essentially brought me back to blogging. Once I had overcome the worst of the pain and had begun the healing process, I began to realize that this accident was a gift. It actually sounds a bit crazy when I say it out loud, but it’s true. The one big hurdle in my life that I had not yet tried to surmount wasn’t trying to figure out what I want to be when I grow up, but actually taking action to make it happen.

Some time ago it became clear to me that life coaching would incorporate many of the things I had learned and was passionate about along my own path. And in all honesty, my husband actually said to me one night, “It sounds like you want to be a life coach.” Coming from my “plaid is always in style”, Mr. Linear, I could not believe he mouthed the words that I was too embarrassed to say. Since then, I have been gradually getting used to the idea of doing what I really want to do with my life versus what I feel obligated to do because I have a degree for which I still have student loan debt. But until I was faced with my own mortality, I did nothing to make this dream a reality.

Since the beginning of 2014, I have written out my business plan, commissioned an artist to design a logo, and began blogging again. Not too shabby, especially since it’s only the 6th, huh? I said all of this in my non-linear, floral way (inside joke for my husband, in case he’s creeping my page again), to say that whatever is going on in your head… whatever you are passionate about… do it! Don’t wait until you are physically unable. Don’t wait until you aren’t afraid. Just take one step, and then another. And if you need it, there is always “help along the path.”

I Lived to Blog About It

It’s hard to believe this is only the 5th day of January. I have already accomplished so much.

I joined a Year-long Agreement Group that met via conference call for the first time tonight. ( I was happy to report I was 5 for 5.) As a result, I have rekindled the blog I started last year (as an agreement in another group). I also finished writing the business plan that has been gradually forming in my mind for the past few years. My hope is that I will gain some momentum to catapult myself into this new year.

Silly as it may sound, the scariest thing I’ve done these past 5 days is make my blog public. If that weren’t enough, my husband asked me to send him the link. I casually sent him a text message with the URL. Then the butterflies and brain chatter began. I felt sick as I wondered, “Did I write anything that might offend him? Will he think my writing is stupid? Oh God! He won’t share the link with anyone else, will he?”

When he didn’t immediately log onto WordPress, I thought, “Good! Maybe he’ll forget.”

My husband is a computer guy, so it is not uncommon for him to spend much of the evening upstairs playing online video games, catching up on FaceBook and email, or checking out YouTube videos or forums to solve his latest mechanical or technical issue.

When he came to bed rather late last night, I was relieved that he had forgotten about my blog. That was, until he informed me that he had read the whole thing. Every post.

My stomach did the familiar flip flop it does when I find myself completely naked in public. Okay, that has never happened. But if it ever did… I’m sure that’s how I would have felt.

His comments were innocuous. “Interesting. You’ve written a lot.” And then he said he didn’t know that I had sung on cable. I immediately latched onto this comment. He either read it incorrectly or my writing wasn’t clear. I tried to recall the particular post to which he was referring. Like a squid, I immediately shot ink to confuse the attacker. I was attempting to deflect the attention away from myself and aim it toward a technicality.

And then it dawned on me. The only attacker there was me. I wasn’t being criticized in any way. It had been a very matter-of-fact discussion. I also realized that my heart was still beating and I was still breathing. Someone who really knows me read every word on my blog. He didn’t spit on my computer. He didn’t point at me and laugh hysterically. He didn’t post nasty comments on my site. And I lived to blog about it.