On Being Fiercely 40 (now that I'm 41)

Darlings. Look at this! A blog post! I had to do it. For posterity. By the time I finish and publish this post I will be celebrating my non-official birthday and will have completed my 40th year on this mortal coil.

And what a year it was, yo.

Honestly? I have lost track of time and space this year. So much has happened it feels like at least 10. Which isn't a bad way to go when you are 40 and 40 happens to have been your favourite year so far.

I have always heard women proclaiming that their lives began at 40 and everything fell into place and it was the literal best and I was like..the lady doth protest too much, methinks. BUT I AM HERE TO TELL YOU IT IS ALL TRUE.

Which is not to say for a single second that 40 has been one big joyful skip in the meadow of serenity. Not so much. Not at all. I mean when I think back on the year I feel really happy and good about it but apparently lots of shit went down (which I know cognitively and I can even identify to be all too true for several moments like earlier today around 2pm as I sat in my empty bath, fully clothed texting  "FML" messages to a friend).

HOWEVER. HOW.EVER my general sense is that this year has been awesome and that isn't because it has been easy because it hasn't all been easy.  It's just that I feel like me.  And I'm (finally) cool with who I am. All messy and twisty and volatile and angry and peaceful and kind and bitchy and hurt and healed and wise and ridiculous and immature and disciplined and driven and lazy and cool and sexy and dorky and insecure and confident and self loathing and confused and clear thinking. All of me. I'm down with it. I finally am who I am and I love this crazy broad I call Myself.  Yes I do. And I make no apologies for whatever it is I am on any given day because...I am who I am. And that's what 40 looks like. That's the gift it's brought me. Accepting that I am who I am and working within that acceptance to be the best version of me that I can muster on any given day. And some days that looks like just getting out of bed (or getting into bed and staying away from the defenseless public).

Other stuff I love about being 40/41? I'm fortunate enough to be healthy and active and old enough to know how lucky I am to be healthy and active and experienced enough to be good to my body and treat it with the respect it deserves instead of doing crazy things to make it look a certain way I listen to it so that it can feel and function a certain way.  I'm not even going to pretend that I don't care about how it looks. I want it to look as good as it feels, and when it doesn't I get frustrated and I'm not sorry about that either. I think enjoying the way we look and feeling confident in our skin is nothing to be ashamed of and certainly something to strive for.  


I'm just not willing to do weird stupid things in the pursuit of appearance at the expense of being able to enjoy life.  I have never enjoyed being inside of my body more than I have this year.  And I know these are jinxing words and I know that this might sound braggy or insensitive to those who are struggling with health issues but please do know that I cherish every moment when I am challenging myself physically or just feeling relaxation or the good type of tired or pleasure in its many forms. I don't take it for granted. I have had long periods where I have struggled with considerable physical pain with illness and crushing fatigue, I know how soul destroying it is.  Having a healthy, vital body to live inside of as I have continued the hard work of healing from PTSD has been a beautiful gift which I appreciate with a great sense of joy and wonder.  This year I have done some sort of yoga almost every day,  I have kept up with running and I feel like I'm the best runner I have ever been since I started running at age 17. 


I finally figured out good form. Seriously, how did I not know how to run properly all these years and miles later?  A few months ago I started going to a mixed martial arts gym. A couple of years ago I would have laughed at the concept. It was so not me. But do you know what? I left my comfort zone and have discovered that Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and boxing have been the most fun, healing things I have done in a long time. But more on that later.

And as ever, the  PTSD thing. Man alive that's a beast! Am I right? However, it's a beast that can be conquered. With patience and determination and education and support. It can absolutely be conquered. I still struggle mightily some days. Life has a way of just pulling the freaking rug out whenever you think you are nailing it. Life is a total bitch that way.  But here's what's hopeful. I still get triggered from time to time and then I hate everything and it's the worst and I take a moment to do whatever just to stay alive and then...it passes. It. Passes.  There have not been any major spirals into despair. There haven't been any more weeks/months lost to torturous pain or perhaps worse..total catatonic numbness. There have been excruciatingly painful, confusing, isolating horrible moments, hours, maybe a day or two and one month in particular this year was grueling, but the reprieves have come quickly and regularly. This is profound progress.  Darlings, please listen to me. If you are in the catatonic numbness or the greyness of the days when you wish you could just cease to exist...please know that this too shall pass and with the right help, you are going to experience those times less and less and even when you are in them the edge will not be quite as sharp and the despair will not be as enveloping and terrifying. It honestly does get better.   And none of this is for naught. I have been so honoured to walk beside others on this journey. In places similar to where I am now, or further down or forward on the path of healing.  As an ex-Mormon, a religion which finds meaning in everything and nothing, it was weird to suddenly find myself at a loose end. Having to define my own belief system. Weird is the wrong word. It was devastating and horrifying and terrifying but also liberating AF and ultimately it has brought me so much peace.  My pain means something if I'm willing to use it to hold space for others who are experiencing their own.  And that's enough for me. I need nothing else to find meaning in my life. I'm here to help with what I've learned through suffering. There's enough struggle and grief in the world to keep me occupied with that for the rest of my days. And they will be days well spent if I do.

Being 40 has given me focus. I have streamlined my life considerably in recent months. My circle is small and tight, my commitments are few and focused, my goals are reasonable and I am patiently tenacious about achieving them. "Patiently tenacious" means that I am learning to adapt when necessary but that I'm not just rambling around in the dark hoping to get shit down. That's another thing about being 40, there's definitely a sense of actually actively figuring out how to get shit down rather than just dreaming and hoping about that "one day" when it will all magically fall into place.  I have checked a lot off the old bucket list this year. And once you get into that zone you find that it becomes easier and easier to do.

In summary this year I have loved my life (even when I've been cursing it) and I love my people. I am grateful to have lived another year of this brilliantly brutiful life. I have been incredibly fortunate in my circumstances and my relationships.  I so hope that I can live many more just as eventful, exciting, growth filled, humbling, confusing and fully alive as this one.  Thanks for being along for this ride, and for letting me be a part of yours.

And since I drink now (which by the way is really most enjoyable in moderation in case you were wondering), cheers and L'Chaim and bottoms up and all that!

Kisses,
k






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