Category Archives: grief

Scarred for Life!

I read an article recently that discusses what happens to children who have been traumatized at certain crucial stages of development when they grow up.  The author’s opinion was that trauma during the terrible twos and again during puberty had a permanent effect on the individual.

Awhile back I read a different article about a study.  The study involved a group of children who had been bullied at certain ages and checked in with them at intervals for their entire lives.  The study reached the same conclusion–that particular childhood stages were very vulnerable for psychological damage and that the damage is virtually permanent.  The bullied children as adults tended to remain unsuccessful outsiders throughout adulthood no matter what.

Well, I could have told them that!

It’s kind of nice to know that the way I turned out is not my fault.  I did not choose to hang onto the past and fear the future.  I did not choose to wallow in grief or get lost in worry and anxiety.  Instead, this is basically what I became “made of” due to the timing of events and how those events mixed with my “self” during my childhood and youth.

This means to me that my task is not about weaknesses or flaws.  I don’t need a cure.  I need to accept who I am now.  I need healing and purpose.  My task is to keep finding my way.

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Filed under anxiety, bullies, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, grief, growth, healing, human nature, journey, progress, PTSD, self-care, self-respect, stress, Uncategorized, wellness

Weeping Willow

One morning last week I let the cat in through the back door and then just leaned against the window panes for a bit and absent-mindedly stared at the autumn all around.

On the west side of our back yard is an old apple tree and the compost pile.  In the center is a little flower bed.  And to the east is a huge old willow tree.  Except on this day it was lying on its side with roots in the air and branches and limbs strewn over ours and our neighbors’ lawns.

I love our trees the same way I love our pets.  Seeing the tree destroyed like that made me want to find a way to set it back up and let it somehow live for a few more years.  Magical thinking.

Later on I went outside and was able to look inside the termite damaged trunk.  There was a cool spray of dust from the roots slowly falling around me while I was in there.  Then I walked around checking out the full  length of our old willow and found dozens of bees freaking out near the ground under some limbs.  I guess their lives got mightily disrupted because of this.

It must have fallen during the night.  Neither my husband nor I heard a thing.  It was a complete surprise.

We’ve lived here for twenty-three years, so there are some memories attached to this willow.  We had a tire swing in it for awhile.  Our cats had chased squirrels up and down it over the years.  Lots of birds nested there, naturally.  One time, my husband set part of it on fire!  By accident, of course. And another time it lost about half its limbs due to a freak October ice storm.  That tree just might have had a more interesting life than I have had so far.

My husband and his friend made quick work of it with their chainsaws the other day and I have checked out the new piles of future bonfire wood a couple times.  It is kind of satisfying to see the orderliness of it.  Plus, we both thought this clean-up would take months (having had experience with only cheap, crappy chainsaws in the past).  Instead it took only a few hours with a couple of new, deluxe chainsaws.

Since the carving up, I haven’t been out there at all.  I’ve been busy and other things have been on my mind.  When I do see the tree from a window every so often, it still surprises me but not with the same twist in my gut as on the first day.

This is the kind of thing my life is about now.  And for the time being, or maybe forever, I prefer it to the tedious grind of being out there in the world of work, side by side with mostly strangers, and letting the external pressures of every single thing in the universe take over my poor brain.

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Filed under anxiety, depression, emotional health, family, grief, growth, healing, love, pressure, self-care, social phobia, Uncategorized, work

My Sub-conscious, She So Smart

The Terrible Job came up in conversation yesterday.  I handled it.  Pulse good, breathing steady, visualizations under control, rest of day like an average day in the life of someone recovering from clinical depression.

Then  this morning I woke up from a dream in which I tried like crazy to get a job back there at the Terrible Place.

It was going to be different this time.  A retiree who had been a friend and a former co-worker who had become an enemy both came up to me and said the new boss would re-hire me and give me anything I wanted.  I guess they were desperate for my magical skills or something.

The retiree said he would be there because he would also come back to work, and he was already wearing his uniform.

I was right in the middle of crashing a graduate-level photography class.  I was in over my head anyway knowledge- and skills-wise.  I thought, might as well get my old job back, making a living in the arts isn’t working out.

So I started racing around looking for “Bob”, the guy who wanted to re-hire me.

I kept trying to tell people, I don’t know if this will work.  I might have to pay back all the retirement money they refunded me.  I was mentally calculating what my paychecks would look like with all the deductions.  For example, I’d need new uniforms since I threw out all my old ones.

Bob kept being unavailable.  I could see him but he kept having to leave for meetings and such.  But I knew it would be okay because he wanted to hire me back.  He was a different boss from the old one.  He understood what I offered.  He must have since he was willing to give me anything I wanted.

What I wanted was to work in an easier office that wouldn’t leave me bone-tired by the end of each day.  That wouldn’t overwhelm me with responsibility.  That wouldn’t constantly change the Standard Operating Procedures simply for the sake of change or for the sake of someone else’s big, fat, stupid ego.  I knew exactly which office I wanted and since nobody else really wanted it, it would be perfect.

I never did connect with Bob.  The whole plan slipped through my fingers even though I had a couple allies and every reason to think the scheme would work out.

Ha!  How funny is that?  In real life none of this is possible.  No one wants to hire me back.  Certainly not on my own terms!  That one is extra funny.

And no matter how many times I turn it over in my mind, there was no saving the situation when I still worked there.  The wrong people were in charge then.  There were no allies at that time.  And I was completely drained of anything that a person needs in order to be successfully employed, let alone have a career on my own terms.

It is really over with and it hurts quite a lot.

It has been over three years now since I left the Terrible Job.  I’m still on the mend.  I am still not capable of employment.  The financial repercussions are huge and unlikely to go away.  The emotional repercussions are the hardest part of all of it.

It’s really very hard to accept this.  But I have to in order to be healthy and move on.

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Filed under depression, dreams, friends, grief, healing, honesty, human nature, injustice, Uncategorized, work

Triggers

I have come a long way in the past three years, just about, since I walked off the Terrible Job.  At that time I was a shadow of myself.  Clinical depression, anxiety, incredible work-related stress from a toxic job environment, PTSD, unresolved grief issues…. all that and more! left me in a very fragile condition.  The moment I walked out that door was the first moment of real self-care that I had ever attempted in my life.  And that is what I have been doing ever since.

Lately, I have been able to exercise a certain amount of detachment when it comes to what is going on with symptoms of my mental and emotional illnesses.

For example, this past week I learned that other people had been invited to events that I might have expected we would also be invited to.  However, we were not invited.  Both times it bothered me but for different reasons.  And one of the “slights” hurt a whole lot more than the other one, even though that one was not actually personal in nature and was completely understandable.

That’s how triggers work.  Crap from the past that was stuffed way, way down gets unexpectedly dredged up, and the emotions are just as painful now, even out of context, as they might have been back in the day.  If only there had been a safe way to express them at the time of the original hurt.  But there wasn’t a safe way or even a known way to express the emotions.  So someone like me will place them into something like suspended animation forever and just carry them around for years and years without realizing that those emotions are just biding their time.  In an unguarded moment, they come back to life and once again you have to decide what to do with them.

Decisions about emotions sounds strange.  But that is what I did subconsciously in the past and that is what I must now do deliberately in the present.  In the past I had to stuff things down because I was overwhelmed and because I was mainly on my own to figure out these things in the trenches.  It was a way to go.  I don’t have to stuff things down now.  I have space to work in and I even have some skills.  These skills are very new but they are there.

This detachment that I am able to feel these days is a very useful skill for now.  It allowed me to sit with some very, very uncomfortable feelings for a couple of days.  Then I felt able to look at the situation and see other possible scenarios to explain why we were left out.  I acknowledged that maybe we were actually left out because nothing had actually been planned ahead of time.  Other personalities were thrown into the mix and nothing could be done about it at the last minute.

Once I got that far, I was able to talk about what happened.  That was not very satisfying but it was another chance to organize my ideas about being left out.

A day or two after that, I wrote out what happened and how it made me feel.  That was hard because I still want to judge myself.  There is still that voice which wants to tell me, you are not worthy of being included therefore you are foolish to be hurt when you’re not included.  Not a good or accurate message at all but that voice is so persistant!!!

After I wrote it all out, I felt quite a bit better the next day.  A couple days later we got an unexpected invitation from the same source and there it was:  the physical, visible, undeniable proof that my voice is a liar.  We are worthy, we are loved, we mean something, we matter.

What an awful lot of hard work it is to heal and grow in spite of the burden of mental and emotional illness.  This is why it is a priority for me.  It is very hard work and I do not have the stamina to do this while also working and being out there in the world at the level I used to be able to be.

As frustrating as it is to be working on the triggers, I am seeing progress.  I used to just get lost in my stronger emotions.  Now  I am seeing a fairly clear way through them, which gives me reason to hope.

 

 

 

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Filed under anxiety, boundaries, decision making, decisions, depression, dysfunction, emotional health, family, friends, getting along, grief, growth, healing, history, human nature, injustice, planning, pressure, progress, PTSD, self-care, Uncategorized

The Slow Climb

One of my friends posted a job listing on Facebook so I clicked on it out of curiosity.  I had been led to believe that this particular job (with the state) was political and that in this part of the state you need to be a Republican in order to be hired.

I am not a Republican so I always figured that particular job was “out of the question” for me.  I clicked on the link just so I could see if there was a way to tell from the application that you have to be a Republican.  There isn’t anything obviously political about it.  I’m sure they have their ways, though, if they want it to be political.

The application was fairly short.  They mainly want the last five years of job history plus whatever other jobs you have had that would qualify you to work there.  And… have you EVER been fired OR quit a job before you could be fired.

I was fired once when I was 20.  It was quite traumatic at the time.  It was also traumatic having to explain it on subsequent job applications.  I still got the jobs, though.  I even received unemployment benefits after the firing because their investigation showed that my firing was unjust.

That was thirty-four years ago!!  I don’t think about it very much any more.  Maybe if I was “normal”, I wouldn’t have thought about it in years and years and might have even forgotten the whole episode.

Some people would probably chide me for being unhappy about not being normal.  But that has been what I have consistently wanted my whole life!

It’s hard not fitting in.  It’s hard having to invent yourself and your routine… every single hour of every single day.  It’s very hard to attract odd kinds of attention from strangers.  I just don’t think “normal” is all that bad.

I’m not going to fill out the application at this time.  I’m obviously still “triggerable” which means I’m still not out of the depression/anxiety/PTSD woods yet.  I can still picture myself at that job I was fired from.  Still know the names of the people involved.  Still can see the events of the day like it is happening right now.

There is something different, though.  Now I can see how I got into that situation.  I can recognize that a healthy me would not have even worked there to begin with.  A healthy me would not have worked at my last job to begin with either!

The difference now is that I can recognize what a healthy me would be.  That’s a big deal!  It is hard-won knowledge.  It is measurable progress.  I don’t know what it will get me at this stage of the game.  But I’ll take this seemingly small gain.  It actually gives me something to work with.  It might be the difference between “forward” and “stuck”.

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Filed under anxiety, boundaries, bullies, decision making, emotional health, getting along, grief, healing, injustice, progress, PTSD, self-care, self-respect, Uncategorized, work

Mug Shots

As a school girl, I spent several years avoiding high school biology class because I dreaded the thought of dissecting worms. However, as a college track student, it was pretty much mandatory to have this class on my transcript. So, I ended up taking biology in my senior year with all sophomores as my classmates.

The kids in the sophomore class were much nicer than the kids in my class. Not once in that entire year did I hear anybody get picked on or disrespected in any way, shape, or form in that room. Never did I have to second guess anything that came out of my mouth as being something that could possibly draw negative attention to myself. In spite of the dissection of worms, it was pretty relaxing in there. It made me think that my life would have been quite different and a lot more fun if I had been in their class instead of mine.

The Class of ’81 has a very nice Facebook page, too. All the postings are supportive and polite. They seem to really like each other.

A while back they were trying to compile a list of all the classmates who had died since graduation. One name jumped out at me. Someone said she had been murdered in Florida and it was a cold case. This was shocking in and of itself. But the reason her name jumped out at me was because I remembered she showed up at a party I threw back in 1980.

Party-throwing is a rare activity for me. I do not just throw a party on a whim. Any party that I throw has to have a specific purpose. That way, I can be sure people will actually attend.

This particular party was for a co-worker at the fast food restaurant I was employed at in 1980. Although I was young, nineteen, I was a parent by then and my just-above-the-poverty-line little family was self-supporting. It was a noisy party because I was nervous and had the music turned up so people would have to shout. And because of that, we did get yelled at by our landlord. It was not a drunken brawl, however, and one of the guests brought some homemade chocolate chip cookies.

I know I talked to this girl who showed up at the party but I don’t remember what we talked about. It was so odd that she came. She obviously knew someone who was invited because there would not have been any other way for her to hear about the party. But she was a couple years younger than us and still in high school. My impression of her from school was that she was kind of naive and not super smart. Just an impression based on moments here and there passing her in the hallways.

My impression of her at the party was that she might be a little out of control. She was tall and a little awkward and had very dark hair and eyes. It seemed like she needed to be out and about. Any party, any place, any people would do. Her body language and behavior were fine. I think it was just the fact that a high school girl had gone to a stranger’s party, my silly little party, instead of doing almost anything else, that left me with the impression that she was a little bit desperate.

It turns out that her Florida story is a little less shocking than the word of mouth story on Facebook.

A search on her name turns up at least a dozen mug shots from the same county in Florida. I imagine, then, that she was well-known by the Sheriffs Dept. She looks very skinny in the photos but she has the same eyes that I remember. Eventually, she looks a little ragged and even skinnier. In one mug shot, she has a nearly healed black eye. At one point, she was using the name of an old high school friend as an alias.

There was nothing to indicate she had been a murder victim, though I can see how someone might think that from the way the websites come up in the internet search. No, she was actually the victim of a hit and run accident ten years ago. During a three month period that year in Florida, there was probably close to a hundred hit and run accidents. Only one of them was a John Doe. All the rest were known.

I’ve been thinking about her all day long. If someone had told me that night at the party how her life would end, I would not have been surprised. However, when I learned about it today, I was surprised. I guess because I have lived long enough to have met people who should have met such an end but did not. They are still going strong and causing trouble and will probably live a very long time in spite of it all. I would have thought she’d figure out a way to save herself.

There is an old man in town with the same last name as hers and I wonder if he is her father. I have had dealings with him in the past as have local law enforcement and mental health services. In my dealings with him he seemed to have some kind of mania and/or paranoia. I learned to never look him in the eye, rise to his bait or engage him in any kind of meaningful conversation. If he is her father, then I can guess why she came to my party that night.

I never did use the biology class, not even when I finally went to college. I still haven’t been part of a large group of really nice people. I have not given a party in years.

This summer, I invited a couple people to a bonfire in our backyard. Nobody could come, so we never had the fire. I might try it again this summer. If nobody comes, though, we will have the fire anyway.

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Filed under depression, family, first impressions, friends, grief, work

Christmas Lights

We have our Christmas tree set up in the back room. It used to be the back porch of our house so there is a set of windows between the back room and the dining room. From my seat here at the computer, all I can see is a dreamy spray of colored star bursts through sheer white curtains and it is very pretty.

Over ten years ago, my father moved into that room for a day. He had called me in the morning and said he couldn’t take care of himself any more and would I come and take him to the nursing home. I told him that you don’t just go to a nursing home all of a sudden and instead he could come to our house to live. His lungs had been failing for years but this day he had turned a corner and he knew in his gut that there wasn’t enough of him left to be able to live alone.

That was a very long day in which we made trips back and forth with his most necessary possessions and rearranged our house and went to the store and bought some heavy green curtains for the picture windows so he would have privacy in his new room. We didn’t have time to make meals and there was one quick trip to Burger King so we could have something in our bellies.

Evening came and he was sitting up in his bed and I was sitting in his old orange recliner looking at him and wondering how we were going to manage this. He looked at me and said, “This isn’t going to work.” So we called 911 and they came and scooped him up into a big, thick blanket and carried him out of the house like that and into the ambulance where maybe he found all the machinery and lights and activity quite exciting in spite of his fear. He told me later he thought he would die that night. In reality, he lived another 26 days.

This is the first year we have had our Christmas tree in that room. I sit in there every night in the dark, with the only light being the mini-lights from the tree, and just take it in. I sit in a rocking chair facing the wall where we had set up my father’s bed and think about that night in 2004. My thoughts always go to what I imagine he could be doing now. I always imagine him flying among the stars and planets and absorbing everything he sees in outer space. I also imagine he looks out for us and has all this amazing knowledge now that he is on the other side. I imagine he knows things he would never have figured out in life because of the limitations of his physical body with its weak lungs and his Asperger’s mind. He always wanted to understand things and I like to think that now he does.

We rarely went to church when I was growing up and I do not recall ever going to church on Christmas. I do remember the awesome anticipation of there being presents from Santa under the tree. To think that someone who didn’t even know me would go to all the trouble of flying through the night sky in a magic sleigh bringing me presents! There was no other feeling like that. It was unconditional love. Maybe that’s why it took me longer than most kids to give up on my belief in Santa. It wasn’t traumatic or anything. Eventually logic out-weighed the dream.

When our kids were little, and we were living away from home because of the military, we would sometimes have Christmas on the road. We’d sneak and pack up the presents in the trunk of the car and tell the kids that Santa would find us in our motel room and leave presents there. One year we checked into our motel room and found that my father had paid for the room ahead of time as our gift. He could be sneaky too.

It was because of my father that we attended the gatherings of our extended family for as long as we did. They are not an easy bunch to spend time with, for various reasons, but he didn’t see any of the nonsense. He was happy to sit with these cranky people and enjoyed the dinners whether they were well-cooked or not. He liked sitting with the other men watching football on TV. And he liked the long ride out into the sticks to get there and back.

If he is really out in space somewhere among the stars, and if he really has ultimate knowledge, then he understands why we don’t go to the family holidays any more (in fact there really isn’t a big family gathering any more) and he is not judging any of us for it.

Because I like sitting in there next to the tree and feeling that connection with my father, I’m tempted to say that we will have our tree in the back room every year from now on. But there really is no such thing as “from now on” and there never has been any such thing. The most I can say for sure is that we will probably set it up in there again next year and it might become our tradition for a time. That’s really the best anyone can hope for.

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Filed under depression, family, grief, love