The Fascination of Fixing your Flooded Basement



In keeping with the promise I made to use writing about my experience less as catharsis (which is fine but I do have a therapist and a private journal) and more in terms of offering help in practical portions, I want to cover one of the things that has been very useful to me in being on the path to overcoming my crippling PTSD relatively fast. And that has been to Stay Fascinated.

I am fortunate that the capabilities of the human body and mind are endlessly captivating to me, and while I used to know that there were definitely mind body connections, I had no idea how deeply and inextricably they run together.  I had no idea of how layered and protective the human mind is. How brilliantly the webs of memory and trauma are woven to help us to cope in the short term.

Because I am prone to oversimplifications and analogies in my explanations, I will liken it to when your house is a DISASTER.   It's the worst it's ever been and then suddenly you find out that you have overnight guests on the way. Maybe your in-laws. So what do you do? You deal with the mess but not in a way that is a long term resolution. You don't have time to sift through the crap and make decisions, you just need to create an appearance of not living in a slum and having your shit together.

Maybe you grab a bunch of bags in the method of "Stuff and Scream" I outlined sometime ago, whereupon you grab all the crap off all the surfaces you can see and scream at the family members to join you in stuffing it all into  random bags which you will hide in the basement until such a time that the guests are gone and you can deal with it properly.

 So that's what often happens with trauma. Childhood trauma particularly. Especially when it's dealt by people who are supposed to be safe and in charge. When trauma comes at you when you are a kid or a teenager or maybe just very overwhelmed and/or unsupported, you are like...Oh HELL no. I am a kid. I am not equipped for THIS. So you stuff it into all the bags and put it into the basement and pretend that everything is fine. 

Now some people actually forget about all the crap in the basement but others are uncomfortably aware of the piles down there. And some forget about it for a while because life is full and busy and distracting, but then something reminds them and oh dear, what a bummer that is.

But regardless of how consciously unsettled you might be, having all your hastily grabbed, not properly filed or disposed of clutter randomly stuffed down in the basement, is going to wreak havoc on your life when bills go unpaid and permission slips are lost and people are crying about the precious artwork they created for you that you obviously don't care very much about....

And soon enough, if you don't get down there to sort stuff out, other guests come and you'll just keep piling more shit on top of the original chaos and and all the mess gets mixed up, and life will get messier and more chaotic, and more confusing, and if you leave it long enough eventually those piles..well they are going to start making sure that you deal with them.

Maybe you get a situation where your family just can't even with the fact that you don't have any idea where the passports are,  or your wife is hella pissed because the basement is now essentially unusuable or omigod...maybe.... there is a flood down there.  And then...well you are out of options. Time to face the music. Right?

When it comes to trauma believe this one truth if you don't believe anything else I ever tell you. You are going to have to get down there and sift through all that stuff at some time if you are going to have a fully functional, happy life with good, satisfying relationships, and if you don't, you are going to be consistently unhappy or anxious and weirdly triggered in ways that don't make any type of sense to anyone least of all you, and eventually you will just dismiss yourself as a horrible, worthless person. That happens a lot sadly, with predictably disastrous results.

Here's where Staying Fascinated is a life saver. Look. Friends. Nobody relishes the idea of going down into a nasty flooded basement full of soggy crap that you have convinced yourself you don't need anymore.  I mean I guess some weirdos do. There's probably a show on TLC about that. I dunno. Back to most people though.  This is why you have to find a positive motivation. Not just: "Omigod the house is going to literally fall down if we don't sort out the flooded basement."

But how about:  "Ok so when we clean up the basement,  I bet we are going to find so many cool things we have been looking for, and maybe we can even put in new flooring and make it super functional and cozy and have people over to play pool and chill on the yoga trapeze". 

Is this analogy clear as mud? Yes? Ok: Working through PTSD in therapy is like that. You can look at it as a chore and a nightmare or you can approach it as a fascinating opportunity to understand so many amazing things about yourself and others and how to navigate a life that seemed like it was in charge of you rather than the other way around.
Because honestly, it is.

I was reviewing a few blog posts from May's gone by and there is a clear pattern. First when I wasn't aware of my triggers, everything was just awful. Then I was aware of my triggers,  but I was so upset that I was continuing to be triggered and I wasn't OVER IT already, so everything was even more awful.

Now I know what I'm dealing with. So everything is hard, like really hard but it's getting better. Slowly but surely,  it is getting better. My therapist tells me that it's not even happening slowly but very fast actually. And when you consider that I'm working through decades of trauma over the course of a couple of years I must agree. But without her help and without what I understand now, well, you guys I just don't know. I might not be here. 
Knowledge is power. Knowledge is fascinating.

 Knowledge is healing.

I find that when I'm in a perpetually triggered state as I have been this last month I alternate between not sleeping and then falling into an exhausted catatonic sleep whereupon I have the most vivid often disturbing dreams which are always highly symbolic. That's draining and triggering in turn and so I resist sleeping or I wake up a lot and so the cycle continues.  Today after several days of bad sleep I found myself having the deep sleep with hectic dreaming. None of it was pleasant. I was working through a ton of trauma in those dreams.  At one point I actually woke myself up doing a jiu jitsu escape. It was jarring but also kind of cool. And while it was all rather harrowing I take it as a good sign that the basement purge is going well. 

Where I used to wake up after these dreams, feeling a sense of dread and panic and anxiety and then spiral into a full fledged PTSD episode; I find that I am now at the point that I can wake up, feel a sense of dread and panic and anxiety, acknowledge my emotions, remind myself that they are stemming from my dreams and not reality, analyze the dreams, put them in their place and use them to solve puzzles.

Part of my dream today was about being very sick. I remembered that I always used to get very sick at this time of year. I very rarely get sick,  but I can't remember a single late May until this year where I wasn't truly ill. This year I haven't been sick.  That's not a coincidence. You have to get this trauma out of your cells or it will make you sick. 
One way or another, the basement is going to need to be addressed.

I once read an article about experiencing physical pain as an interested observer instead of a victim. I have used that technique to successfully deal with physical discomfort and athletic challenges many times. And it works just as well with emotional pain. We can transfer ourselves from victim to survivor when we choose to be interested in this process. When we decide to take wisdom from it. When we look at it like a puzzle to be solved. When we anticipate what we will be able to do with the cleaned out basement. 

Stay fascinated darlings. Life is about learning.
xo
k









Do Whatever Just to Stay Alive

If you follow my Instagram story you will know that I have been outlining my practical strategies for coping with flare ups of post traumatic stress. This is partly in keeping with Instagram's May Mental health #hereforyou initiative, and partly to keep me accountable as I fight the demons of May in my own life.  One of my sanity saving go-to's is to go running in the woods and in the story I featured one of my favourite songs for running to and the mantra that I have taken from it.  I'm sure I have mentioned "Stay Alive" from one of my fav movies, "The Secret Life of Walter Mitty". Not a difficult day goes by when I don't chant to myself over and over:

                                                  Do Whatever Just To Stay Alive.


There is a truth and it's on our side, dawn is coming open your eyes...
Look into the sun as the new day's rise....

Deep within most of us on some level most times there is the hope for dawn. But that doesn't mean that the night isn't dark and frightening and how the hell are we supposed to survive that?

All weekend I have kept the monster manageably contained through feverish distraction.  Yoga, jiu jitsu, boxing, some kicking (damn that felt good).  Kids, shopping, going out, yoga trapeze! The monster was always right below the surface and that's not exactly my happiest place but doable.

But today is Monday and the house is quiet. And when you find that the brave Kimmie Schmidt in the drivers seat has been replaced by a frightened little girl who is feeling very threatened and alone that's not a good space to be. Mommy mode saves me until I drop Ella at school and then I sit in the car , swallowing the panic and assessing my options.

1.I can go home and get into bed and pray for the oblivion of sleep since I woke up 25x last night at least.  Nope. That doesn't seem right. Day sleeping can spiral in a hurry.

2. I can get into the bath. It's warm and safe in the bath. But no. Too much stillness.. too much time to think and then I have to get out eventually. Plus my house is a mess.

3. Go for a run. Ok. Do that. I don't want to do that but it seems like a good choice.

I wandered into my room, looking for the last place I kicked off my running shoes. I spot a book I am half way through. It's Glennon Doyle's Love Warrior. G is my jam. She's messy. She speaks her truth and she is vulnerable and brave and raw and real. She gets me. She's been scared and sad and messed up and she figured out how to stay alive anyway. G is always a good choice for me. Running can wait for G.

 I settle into reading about one of the worst moments of her life.  A phrase she has used many times in the past pops out at me. Something like.."when you don't know what to do...just do the next right thing".  Yes. Doable. Even a frightened little girl can follow these directions. Ok I need to clean the house. It's Monday. The house needs to be cleaned.  But where do I start?  I thought of a podcast I listened to recently, Jordan Peterson was  talking about activism and trying to change the world being a bit of a stretch when we can't manage to keep our own rooms tidy. The man is abrasive in his manner but he has a solid point. We can start improving the world but sorting ourselves out first. There's no denying that truth.

Ok so I will start with my room.  Smoothing the sheets, fluffing the pillows. To keep my panicky mind focused on the task at hand, I listen to my big sister Shona's voice telling me what to do next. Nobody can clean a room the way Shona can. My friend checks in with me to see how I'm doing with my "no sugar" pact. Sugar is a disaster for me and I only lasted an hour yesterday. I have asked him to be my sponsor. He is a sugar addict who has been in successful recovery for months.  I tell him I'm good because I haven't eaten yet. This reminds me I haven't eaten yet. That might explain some of the sense of despair.  Next right thing would be to eat. I open the fridge to see the overnight oats my sainted husband has prepared. Next right thing to do. Tell him thanks for that, check in on his day. Tell him I'm struggling. We talk about the next right thing to do....

This day will be difficult and at times maybe the emotional labour will begin to feel unbearable. But I will breathe through it. I will get some things done. Maybe not nearly as many things as I wish I could get done because it's hard to get a lot done when you are in labour. But some things, certainly. I will do Some of the Things. This day will be ordinary, and difficult and ultimately it will be triumphant. Because as hard as it will try to bury me and lie to me and tell me how terrifying and hopeless everything is, I will proceed in the truth which is that in reality everything is actually ok at this moment and that infinite hope lies ahead and I am loved.

And so are you.

If you are struggling, and going through your own emotional labour right now and you are not sure how you are going to survive it, may I suggest that you join me in just coming up with one right thing to do at this moment. It can be simple. Maybe brush your teeth. Unload the dishwasher, Empty the trash. Go to that appointment. Clean off your desk. Send a thank you note. Walk to the end of the block and back. Any of these are good things to do. There are any number of right things to do now. Just pick one, You can do that. Do it and then do the next right thing and together we will walk this day out and we will stay alive. (And kicking.)




Much love
k




The Unbreakable Kirsty Sayer

I knew from day 1 of May that it was going to be a doozy. It always has been, and in the last few years my complete short circuits occurred predictably on more or less the same day in May. Leading up to those days were a series of occasions and their accompanying triggers, slowly wearing away at the peace and serenity I work so hard to maintain.  When I finally unpacked all of it  in therapy this  week, my therapist looked shocked. "You are not even kidding about May. Wow. And all that is real. It's not in your head. It's real stuff. May really is the worst for you!"

Um...yes. May can die in a freaking fire.

At the end of our session yesterday she said, "I feel compelled to give you a hug. Would that be alright?"

I have many people in my life who say wonderful things to me all the time. I'm very lucky that way, to be surrounded by so many generous and kind people.. A couple of them are truly sincere about it too. They admire me without agenda. It makes me happy that I am a positive influence in their lives, but it doesn't tend to affect the way I see myself, one way or the other. My therapist however does not say much about me. Not one way or another. And when she does, I pay attention.


Yesterday she said to me, in a neutral manner. "You are incredibly strong,  maybe even too strong sometimes."

And it connected. 

I looked up and said to her, "Apparently so. And I think it's time I really start seeing myself that way. It was the first time I was like. Yes. I am strong. Actually."

After I left, I felt ok. In as much as you can be ok and also be in terrible pain.

I felt like a healthy woman experiencing what I have coined as "emotional childbirth". I pushed through my good moments being who I needed to be, (a wife celebrating an anniversary, a mother celebrating her baby graduating kindergarten and her other children feeling the stressors of the end of the school year,) and then, I would feel it rise, an enormous measure of pain that washed over me. The contractions have been happening all month, periodically intensifying over the course of the week and the last few days I have been in real, active labour. The contractions.. 

Like a tsunami wall of pain. Taking my breath away, nauseating me. Physical, excruciating pain. In my solar plexus all the way through to my back. Sometimes paralyzing my throat in spasms too. The throat spasms are not unusual in people who are recovering from the type of abuse and secret keeping that induced my PTSD. 

When before I was sure it was killing me, and I just wanted to die, now I know what it's about. So I breathe through it. I do what I did when I experienced long and difficult labours without drugs and I told myself what to do when I helped others through long and difficult labours without drugs. I sought support from strategic, trusted sources. I allowed myself to alternate between distracting myself when I was able to and then breathing through it when I wasn't. Accepting the pain, moving with it. Knowing that it would pass. That every surge was bringing me closer to the reality of being healed and whole. A couple of nights ago, I lay in bed and quietly moaned to my husband that the pain was so terrible and profound that I could feel it in my muscles and my skin. His theory was that it had been inside of me for so long, hidden even deeper before and it was working it's way out.  I agreed wholeheartedly. I do believe we hold psychological pain in our very cells and so this made sense to me. It didn't make the process any less painful but the understanding made it easier to bear.

In every labour there are pockets of time between the pain and intensity to catch ones breath. During these waves of intense pain I have had many moments when I felt that relief.

This morning I was looking at an ad for some silly not in any way particularly impressive little product on my phone and I heard my voice say out loud with such wonder and delight, "WOW! WHAT. EVEN?!"  I immediately laughed at myself. Affectionately, actually. I reminded myself of Kimmie Schmidt.

If you haven't seen The Unbreakable Kimmie Schmidt series, I dunno...maybe you should. I rarely watch TV, but when I'm experiencing a post traumatic episode, I find it therapeutic.  It doesn't seem like you should be able to make a comedy out of the kidnapping of a group of young women by a faux religious leader who kept them underground in bunker for years, brainwashing them to keep them there, raping them etc. But somehow they managed to do it.  It's a totally silly show,  but Kimmie herself is nothing short of a delight. Just seeing her face makes me giggle happily.

This morning as I felt myself still labouring through grief, I thought, "Yes!  That's it! Kirsty!
When you feel sad you must: CHANNEL KIMMIE".

Here's what I love about Kimmie :

-Kimmie has seen some dark, dark shit. But she doesn't let it affect her sense of wonder. Life is so unbelievably full of wonder,and beauty and joy and incredible things to learn and experience and see and hear about. The sheer amount of things that there are to LEARN makes me feel giddy with joy. Think about how happy babies are (with the exception of when they aren't). Do you know why? No men not every baby is breastfed, so it's not that. I'll tell you why. It's because literally everything is fascinating and new and amazing to them. That piece of paper they find under the couch. Totally awesome. The noise of it when they crumple it or bat at it, the way it feels in their hand, the way it tastes, the way it moves. That piece of paper is the best goddamn thing a baby has ever seen in their LIFE IS WHAT IT IS, and that's why when you yank it away from  them it's completely tragic. You just took away the best.goddamn.thing.that.had.ever.happened.to.them, you monster.

But it's cool because in about 25 seconds they will discover something else that's also the newest most fascinating thing they have ever experienced. This is also why they need to sleep a lot. Their tiny minds are constantly being stimulated and BLOWN. It's exhausting. Babies are thoroughly alive and learning and experiencing all the time. And they are happy (except when they aren't).

Kimmie , oh how I love her, Kimmie captures that childlike wonder and joy.  And in a lot of ways I'm like Kimmie. I am constantly amazed by like...everything. It pisses my kids off a little bit. They are like..."why is everything so exciting to you mom? Ugh!" Nobody is more cynical than a teenager. They'll get over it.
Anyway I love this about Kimmie and I love it about me too. No apologies. And btw hell yes the fidget spinner is awesome, not just a fad and I will fight you if you try to steal mine. MOVING ON:

-Kimmie is incredibly kind and generous and willing to help everyone. And she respects her own boundaries.
 I'm inclined to be kind and generous and to help people too. I'm wired that way and I feel happy about that. I'm really lucky that I am that way. A lot of people seem to have to work on it or they don't bother working on it and so they are bastards and they don't have a lot of people in their lives who think they are cool and that must suck. Anyway that's never been my problem.  What has been my problem is that my kindness and wanting to help and take care of people means that shitty damaged people can take advantage of me and hurt me. I can be na├»ve about people sometimes.

Yeah, Kimmie had that problem too. We can tell by the fact that she was led into a bunker and stayed there for a lot of years when she could have easily escaped.  (I'm hoping you see the parallels in my own life here without me getting out a pencil and a ruler and drawing them for you). Now, wandering around NYC, Kimmie is in peril of being taken advantage of all over again. Like every single day.  Happily, Kimmie's not dumb though and she's also not weak. (Hey! Same here!) Soon enough, Kimmie figures out the joy and beauty of BOUNDARIES.  Ah boundaries.

We watch as Kimmie figures out those boundaries. And you guys it's freaking inspiring. But why would that be inspiring. I WILL TELL YOU WHY!

Kimmie doesn't trade in her kindness or her childlike wonder and awe or stop believing life rocks and that most people are cool.  She doesn't become a cynical, unhelpful, jaded bitch. Nope. She sets up her boundaries and they are rock solid.  And it's not just good for Kimmie,  it's great for her friends too.  She has this one friend who is constantly using her at first and she's like this woman's unpaid Everything. At first, Kimmie runs herself ragged for this delusional wreck of a woman and then one day she loses her characteristic cheery shit, and digs in her heels. She decides enough, already and basically lays it all on the line. Tells the painful woman something like, "you are not paying me I am your FRIEND. So either start paying me or start treating me like an actual friend but you gotta pick one and they decide to go with the friend thing. Or the paid friend thing. I can't quite remember but it's all good.  And Kimmie provides help but stops enabling, and the friend becomes more capable and confident and accesses her better self and starts treating Kimmie like a human being and in doing so she experiences what it is like to have a real friend for the first time in her life and it's awesome for them both.

So yeah, boundaries are the best. When I don't ask for what I need or I give more than I am able or if I let people treat me in a way that I know is disrespectful of my established expectations for relationships doesn't make me a chill, cool person....it makes me a person who is ignoring my own boundaries. I become angry and bitter and unkind. It doesn't me happy or anyone around me happy. We don't do people favours when we let them violate our boundaries.  The reality is that sometimes the needs and boundaries of two people just aren't going to ever synch up.  This part is important:
If your boundaries are healthy and  reasonable (and you might need to check in with an impartial third party on that from time to time to be sure, in fact I recommend it especially if you are still figuring this boundary shiz out) and they repeatedly show a disregard for those boundaries, then sadly they are showing a disregard for you as a person, and  y'all don't need to keep hanging. I know babies, it's super sad and it's hard and it can be nothing less than heart breaking. But. To stay in that situation will ultimately be sadder and harder and more heart breaking. That's the truth.
And it's better for everyone that way. Watch Kimmie. She's catching on fast that 'lil firecracker.

-Kimmie doesn't feel sorry for herself. And she also doesn't pretend none of that shit happened to her.
Kimmie has a future, she has a lot of lost time to make up for. She doesn't sit around all day thinking about the shitty thing the Reverend did to her all the time and after she got the Reverend properly sorted out and put in jail where he belongs she didn't revisit the bunker.  (It's important to note that she DID go back to that traumatic place even though it was really hard for her when she needed to get information to put him away though. Again, do I have to haul out my protractor to show you where I'm going with this analogy? No? Great ok. I didn't think so)

So look Kimmie is also  real. She's super matter of fact about her anger over the whole bunker experience, how jacked up it was and how she wishes it had never happened and that it sucked. (In real life,  Kimmie would need a shit-ton of therapy and Kimmie is a smart strong cookie so I know that she would have no problem in seeking it out so she could move on.)  But while she is real about how messed up and hateful the bunker was, she also acknowledges the survival skills she gained down there. For instance, Kimmie is hella strong from cranking the Reverends "wheel" (turns out it was to power the electricity for his TV in his hidden man cave).  He lied to her and the other girls over that, and she was PISSED when she found out what all that cranking was really for, but now she enjoys the strength in her arms to do all sorts of crazy, fun,  interesting and useful things.

And what of all the other chicks Kimmie was in the bunker with? Well this part is interesting. Kimmie being Kimmie, wants to help them as they too assimilate into post-bunker life, and she tries rather unsuccessfully, until she realizes that they want different things out of life than she does. One of them, for whom the bunker was a type of nirvana, essentially keeps trying to get kindnapped into new cults and Kimmie gets frustrated with her, until she figures out a way to work with this fetish of cult lovin lady, and helps her  to become her own guru. (That's a bit sketchy when you think about it, but what do you want this isn't real life). Anyway! The point is that Kimmie recognizes that everyone is on their own path, and what works for her isn't necessarily the right answer for everyone. While she stays in touch with some of the girls, she doesn't seem to think that she has to stay close to them just because they were thrust into these circumstances together. They don't have a lot else in common. 

I think a lot of us are loyal to groups and people that and whom we came to be friends with out of shared circumstances, and then we get all bent out of shape when those people don't fit or fulfill all of our emotional and intellectual needs. If Kimmie kept trying to hang with those chicks she would be severely limited and she would feel constantly nuts.  Kind of like how I felt when I kept trying to be a good Mormon. It wasn't going to work. Those weren't (with several notable exceptions) my people, and that wasn't my scene. Some of them need to get the hell out like I did and others of them, eh it's working. They are happy. It's not my call to make. I hope I empower the ones who feel like I did to ditch.  That's good enough for me.

So that's where I am at, darlings. I will resume my story when May isn't kicking my ass quite so hard and when I'm not so damn busy kicking it back. Because I don't go down with a fight. Never!
I am after all,

The Unbreakable Kirsty Sayer...DAMMIT! ;) Love you all.