My Evening With “Satchmo”…And A Wonderful World

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I must admit I’m struggling a bit tonight. I’ve stumbled across that Minotaur and we’re slugging it out pretty fiercely. But I refuse to yield my optimism or my determination. As I’m sitting here, wrestling with that primeval beast within myself, a song suddenly came to mind and I’ve been playing it over and over and over again.

As I sit here, watching the sun set on a clear, warm, beautiful day in the city, the home, that I love so dearly, I think about the song “What A Wonderful World,” by Louis Armstrong (nickname “Satchmo”).

The world is a beautiful place…it’s people who can choose to make it ugly. I choose to offer a wonderful world…

There are some times when thinking is not only cumbersome, but interferes with the business of living. Sometimes, we just need to enjoy the act of “being.” Sometimes, we just need to watch the sunset, and listen to a song which speaks of beauty and peace.

If you don’t want to click the link, here are the lyrics:

I see trees of green, red roses too
I see them bloom for me and you
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

I see skies of blue and clouds of white
The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night
And I think to myself what a wonderful world.

The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky
Are also on the faces of people going by
I see friends shaking hands saying “how do you do?”
But they’re really saying “I love you.”

I hear baby’s cry, and I watched them grow
They’ll learn much more than I’ll ever know
And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.
Yes, I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

“I Am” Is Quite Enough!

Just got back from my chiropractors appointment. Yea, I may be experiencing the onset of arthritis. This, of itself, is a bit of a bummer. But if it’s true, the more ominous thing is that means my autoimmune system is starting to attack the rest of my body again. The consequences of that are anyone’s guess.

I’m committed to being positive and proactive. But news like this fires up my anxiety and I have to work very hard to confront it and ease it back. Anxiety due to neurochemistry or physiology is one thing, but that doesn’t mean I have to nurture and “feed” it. To free myself from the aversion to anxiety, the discomfiture of it, is something I strive for. To free myself from attachments to it, to free myself from being possessed and controlled by anxiety, is something I can certainly do. That doesn’t mean I can make it go away, but I can snub my nose at it and refuse to let it get any deeper “into the castle.” If all I can do is offer defiance, then I offer the best, strongest defiance I can.

I’m finding a new strength and determination. This is largely due to the earnest, gracious support I’ve gotten from this blogging community. You all have helped me more than you know. A stupid little thing, a “like” or brief comment absolutely makes my day and makes me feel like I have 10,000 people behind me. The effect that this has on me is something I can’t fully describe.

I thank you. I’m most grateful to you all.

As I said, I want to be positive and proactive. I want to remain that stubborn, hopelessly optimistic, idealistic, audacious “Theseus” who sits on the mast and challenges God to an accounting. Yes, I’m a Quaker. Yes, I’m a spiritual person. But I’m also the “black sheep” of God’s family and I refuse to be patronized or keep quiet about it!

One of my challenges is that I see all of what could have been, rather than what is. Focusing on what could have been is a poison which ravages the soul and leads to darkness. The attachments to things which “might have been,” take away from manifesting myself in the present of what actually is. What “could have been” is a fantasy, “what is” provides the opportunity to answer the great existential question. There is vital purpose and meaning to “what is.” Dwelling on anything else is a betrayal of my purpose, meaning and very existence: It’s a contemptuous refuting of that existence. There’s value in what is. There’s meaning in what is. For whatever reason, there’s a very valid purpose to what is.

Desiring or craving “what could have been” is only a half step from what I wanted, but never could have. This will deaden one’s soul.

I want to be an all pro quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, guiding my beloved home and team to 10 Superbowl rings. Ain’t gonna happen.

I want to be Paul McCartney or Tony Banks (from the music group “Genesis”). Guess what? Ain’t gonna happen.

But why is it so terrible to be who and what I am? If I’m always focused on who and what I’m not, I’ll never understands what it means to be all that I actually am. I am a father. I am a husband. I (am coming to believe) that I’m some sort of writer who supports and encourages people all over the world, none of whom I’ve ever met. These things are a sacred trust. Why do I cast them aside so flippantly? How can I be so callous and dead to all that I am? There is value and meaning and purpose in being who I am. Even in pain and suffering, I say there is value…and meaning…and purpose to it all. Why do I discard my appointed task and path?

I am who I am, as I am, for a purpose – a very valid purpose. An essential purpose and reason.

I’m not here as an accident or mistake, and neither are you! We live in the perfection of who we are. To deny or ignore this is nothing less than sacrilege. We live in the perfection of who we are…and we are that perfection in living as we are.

I became physically ill because of the effects of CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder). This is my path and my challenge to confront. Come what may, I accept this challenge and defy anything and everything blocking my path. From the deepest crevasse and the darkest places, I cry out defiantly:

I…simply…am.

I wish you all strength, and courage, audacious determination, and as always…

Be (Most) Well, My Friends
Your Friend, Theseus!

Return To Sender – A Technique I Totally Forgot About

I just got back from my therapy appointment. We’ve been utilizing EMDR methods (Eye Movement Desensitization And Reprocessing) to try and more directly address the emotional challenges and wounds I’ve been struggling with. During the session, my therapist reminded me of a technique which I had been using about a year ago, but then, for various reasons, forgot about.

The basics of it had to do with the fact that the emotional pain I’m experiencing isn’t something I deserve and is basically not mine to own. As such, she suggested (and I agree) that since it’s not mine, I need to meditate on and be proactive about returning it from where it came. This isn’t something to be done physically, but is an awareness or mantra which I acknowledge and tell myself. Whenever I’m experiencing this pain, I need to be aware of it, and then purposefully send it back out to each person who inflicted and imposed it on me.

While this may sound like a bit of a cute trick, it’s an important way of perceiving and handling this pain. The truth is that I don’t deserve it and didn’t do anything to deserve it. By repetition and malice, my parents and their families, as well as others I’ve encountered in my life, have placed guilt, shame, depression, deep sadness, self loathing and many other things within me. They’ve saddled me with these things. They’ve beaten my down to the point that I took these things on to carry. In part, it was an excuse for me to carry things which they didn’t want to look at or carry themselves…so they did everything they could to make me carry them. But there’s a strange thing about pain and suffering. You can’t free yourself from these things by forcing them on another, you can only infect others with the same pain and suffering you refuse to face, deal with or process. When I lived in contact with my parents in their families, I learned how to do this to them as they did it to me – but I always felt that there was something wrong and unhelpful about it. I never fully accepted it and have sought all my life for a healthy way to free myself without causing harm or pain to others.

Another quick thing is that another reason why my parents and their families did this is that they believed it was normal and appropriate to make other people feel as bad, if no worse, that they did. This is the whole “kicking the dog” thing.

In any case, I lit up when my therapist reminded me of this. There’s something about meditating and being mindful of the fact that the pain I’m carrying isn’t mine to own and that it needs to be mindfully, deliberately, proactively rejected as being false and then being returned to the sender of it.

(Note that as with all techniques and therapies, there is no “magic pill.” It takes time and effort to see if anything is effective and I’m going to have to account for enough time and effort to see how effective this could be)

Now I have an odd sense of humor. When my therapist helped me remember and start to re-implement this, all I could think of was Elvis Presley singing “Return To Sender.” The lyrics don’t apply to the point I’m making, but the chorus keeps ringing in my head every time I feel the twinge of that pain. In my mind, I see me as Elvis in the song and video! (lol)

I also felt better after the therapy and another thought came to mind. I greatly respect the “coolness” which is Denzel Washington. Man, I wish I could be more like him sometimes. In the future, I want to make use of his style of confrontation when dealing with whatever challenges appear. The therapy helped so much, I could see myself talking to those negative, anxious, painful parts of myself like Mr. Washington did in the movies “Remember The Titans” and “Gangster.” Obviously, therapy helped revive a bit of my determination and fire. I’m grateful for that!

I realize that I’ve only been granted a temporary reprieve and not a release from all those inner struggles…but I’ll take ‘um as I can get ‘um.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Influencing Circumstances To Be At Peace…But My Brain Still Hurts

With CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder), I have more intense emotional reactions to things and at the same time it’s more difficult for me to process any emotional reactions. This is due to the changes in the brain which occur to people who experience trauma. I don’t know the whole of it, but things like the limbic system are physically altered by trauma. Because of this, I need to keep myself in situations and circumstances which are as calm and peaceful as possible. In life, this isn’t always possible of course. But at the same time, I don’t have to contribute to my difficulties by choosing to get into situations (or circumstances) which are, for me, provocative and stressful.

Last night, I watched a bit of news. Ordinarily, I avoid this because I find it all so upsetting. When watching the news I sometimes wonder if anything positive ever happens! Why is the negative stuff so over reported? Anyway, the reason I do watch sometimes is to have a general idea about what’s going on in the wider world. I’m not a political person, but I do vote in every election, major or minor. I’ve also had long discussions with my son about the importance of thinking about what’s going on in the world and how important voting is. It’s because of these things that I sometimes grit my teeth and turn on the news.

This caused problems for me this morning. I already have anxiety as a common companion. But the things I saw last night really made my anxieties spike about the present direction and the future which seems to be fast approaching. The most difficult thing, though, were the negative thoughts which started arising, even before I was fully awake. Most times, I bring negative thinking into conscious awareness and challenge them while maintaining a sense of mindfulness. However, it’s really rather annoying when I’m not even fully awake and the negativity starts flowing. At that time of the morning, I don’t want to be conscious or mindful of anything. After my morning coffee, fine, bring it on. But I don’t want to wrestle with that stuff when I’m “in between worlds.” Just a pain.

I avoid certain things like watching the news because I know the effect it will have on me. The circumstance with my wife where I had to set boundaries and limits with her was much more difficult. It caused innumerable problems in our relationship for many, many years and has left scars which still haven’t healed. This was something that was very stressful, but I wasn’t able to fully influence. It was very difficult and ended up invoking emotions and issues which re-traumatized me to the point where even now, 2 years later, I’m still trying to dig myself out of that hole.

But there is another type of stress as well. We live in a townhouse complex in the Philadelphia suburbs. One of the challenges of living here is that parking can be a bit difficult. Every unit is assigned 2 spaces, but some of the folks living in the neighborhood – who are all very nice people – will sometimes have 3 or 4, even 5 cars which take up the spaces. There are also times when some of these folks will park in one of our spots. Any time this happens, I fall into a rage which I can barely contain.

Now of course this is ridiculous. With all the things going on in the world and all the other difficulties (like health issues) I struggle with, who the hell cares where anyone parks!? It’s such a small, insignificant thing, especially knowing that all of our neighbors are very nice, reasonable people? But this is the challenge. When these things happen, it feels very invalidating and disrespectful. It triggers a lot of past experiences when others went out of their way to deliberately do things like this, just to get me angry. When the larger, more important things in life are constantly, deliberately violated, one becomes more inclined to overreact to any perceived slight – so, some very small things can invoke intense, vitriolic reactions.

So I have more intense reactions, am less able to process them or “self sooth” and am overly sensitive to being invalidated or slighted, even when such things are not intended. This makes daily living very difficult at times. Because of watching the news last night, it’s going to take me a day or two to calm myself down and find some semblance of peace. The problem is that the anxieties, negative thoughts and painful emotions aren’t things which can be turned off like a switch. The ebb and flow from lessor to greater intensities. Once these things have momentum and power, it takes a lot of time and a great deal of effort for me to ease them back down to as manageable level as I’m capable of.

There is a positive side to all this, though. Part of it is that I’m more able to empathize with the pain of others and I understand the value of compassion. It also means that my intense reactions can also be of joy or happiness. The negative things are always in the background. However, because of the structural deformities of my brain, I’m able to, perhaps, more deeply understand and appreciate the joys and happiness of others, with others, for others. That, is a good thing.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

(P.S. Just for fun…Know that when this stuff happens, it hurts my brain)

Facing That Faceless Thing

Anxiety and intruding negative thoughts haven’t been as much of a problem for the past day or so. Yesterday and today, I’ve been trying to start some sort of daily routine and be mindful, present, conscious. With respect to intruding negative thoughts, I’ve gotten better at handling and reducing them. I don’t try to force them away, I allow them to express themselves. However, I also challenge them. I confront negative thoughts with the things that I’ve learned from all my years of therapy and self contemplation. There are things I didn’t understand when I was a teenager, that now seem obvious to me. There are other things which I wasn’t even aware of which I’ve come to know. There are even things which I used to believe to be true which I now know are false. Part of the technique is to not try to prevent those thoughts, but not allow myself to ruminate on them. One of the Taoist teaching is that “if you want to make something weak, allow it to be strong.” So I’ve gotten to the point where I allow negative thoughts their expression, but then think about them for all the falsities that they are and allow them to fade out. This has taken a lot of practice and there are some times when it’s easier to do than others. But in the 5 or so years I’ve been making use of this, the overall number and intensity of intrusive negative thoughts has been reduced. I still have them. I still struggle with them. But getting to the point there something is better or tolerable is better than continuing to be a prisoner to it.

With respect to the anxiety. It comes and goes. Depending on the weather, the severity of my pysical symptoms, the circumstances of a given moment or any number of things, the anxiety comes and goes. The best I can do is not expose myself to stressful things (like watching the news) and have realistic expectations about what I’m capable of on any given day or any particular moment. When I’m experiencing anxiety, I try not to “feed” it or give it any air. I try to engage myself in and focus on something pleasant. In preoccupying my mind on pleasant parts of movies, books or memories, the anxiety (at the very least) doesn’t get worse. If I’m lucky, it is reduced or even dissipates completely.

But even in the absence of these 2 things, there’s still that faceless emotional pain which is always there. This is the worst of it. It’s from this emotional pain that the anxieties and negative thoughts emerge and gain strength and staying power. This pain is central to my CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) and has become a way of life and a way of being. I’ve unfortunately learned over the course of my life that feeling searing emotional pain is a “normal” way to feel. There is no logic which I can use to dispel emotions. Emotions have a logic of their own and just, simply, are.

I’m working with a therapist using EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and every morning I try to take a walk (exercise) and use CES (cranial electrical stimulation). It’s my hope that, in time, these things will be able to help me heal and to change what “normal” feels like to me. All the years in therapy were helpful, essential. But talk therapy hasn’t been enough. Not only that, but the things I’ve experienced in the past 20 years – specifically, the past 2 to 5 years – have reinforced the emotional pain, further entrenching the faceless emotional pain and making it more powerful.

One vital requirement for reducing CPTSD is to live in a safe, peaceful environment. Because of CPTSD, even everyday annoyances and inconveniences, trigger powerful reactions and can be debilitating. But if I’m to have a chance at all, I can’t live with a constancy of more trauma and major conflicts / problems.

The challenge is that so many things have happened, that now, I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop. I’m always expecting that something bad will happen and I’ll be put in an untenable situation again. I assume that I’ll be betrayed, mocked or callously ignored, that no one will take me seriously, that I won’t be able to get the basics of food, shelter, clothing and safety. In my experience, something always happens.

I don’t know how exactly to fight this faceless emotional pain. I’m trying different things and if I come across something which helps, I’ll see how far I can take that. But it still hurts. When I haven’t slept well or am fatigued, the pain is even harder to fend off. It’s with me all the time and I can shake it. Experiencing it all the time is very draining, physically, as well as emotionally.

So I’m glad that the anxiety and negative thoughts haven’t been as troublesome…but the emotional pain is still there. It shapes and colors every moment of my day.

I’ll just have to do the best I can today.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Using My Pain To Encourage My Wife’s Joy

While I was studying with my son yesterday, my wife went to meet a group of strong, independent women. The women who go keep a journal of their dreams and they share them and discuss them with each other, as well as give mutual support. I don’t mind my wife going out and doing things without me. I don’t even mind when she’s met men for meetings and networking purposes. So long as the time and the meetings don’t interfere with our marriage or the care of our child, I think it’s a good thing that my partner spends time around others who are strong, independent and supportive.

In a previous entry, I wrote about the difficulty my partner and I had a few years ago. My issue is that some of those people were only concerned with their own self interest and were very negative. The gossip and talk was negative, because they were (are) very negative disparaging people. I had a problem with this because that’s what my parents and their family are like. That kind of thing pulls a lot of triggers for me. But their attempts to break up my partners and my relationship and marriage, was so that my wife would continue to focus her life on them. My wife is a caring, giving person, but this means she didn’t even have a life of her own – everything revolved around these other, more negative people.

After I reached a breaking point, she was able to set boundaries with these negative people…she actually doesn’t have contact with them anymore. But she also started meeting these other positive, strong, independent, enthusiastic women. The difference is that most of them have just as big of a heart and a gift for empathy and compassion as she does. I don’t get along with all of them, but then again, I don’t have to. They are dynamic, positive women who love and support her as much as she loves and supports them. They all understand and respect our marriage, even though not all of them get along with me or understand me. But then again, they don’t have to. They are a support system and inspiration for my wife and it makes me very happy that she’s found and spends time with them all.

I was glad she went yesterday. When she came home, she was glowing and very excited. She sat with me and we talked for an hour or so. At times, she seemed lost, almost somewhere else, almost rapturous. She told me about her dreams and the insights that these other women had about them. She seemed refreshed and renewed. She seemed empowered, energized, with a passion for taking on the rest of her life. I was very happy for her.

My big struggle yesterday wasn’t anxiety so much as the steady emotional pain which is such a hallmark of my CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder). There are only a very few times, fleeting moments really, when I ever experience any relief from them. I do what I can, but CPTSD isn’t something you can just turn off or ignore. It’s always there. It’s a wound (or wounds) which will never heal. I feel like Frodo at the end of “Lord Of The Rings.” There was a price for carrying and destroying the ring of Sauron and it effected him to the end of his days.

Despite this, I do live in the world. I’m happy to see my partners excitement and feel privileged to share it with her. Everyone deserves to be happy. Everyone deserves to have a support system of others who encourage and make one feel accepted, loved and uplifted. I do what I can in this way for my wife. I’m happy to see she’s also found this in the company of others. I don’t want my pain to further infect the world. There’s already too much of that. If I can’t be free from my troubles and pains, I can see and vicariously experience the joys and excitement of others. If I still feel my pain, I understand the impact it can have on others. I don’t want anyone to experience such emotional pain. If there is anything I can do to prevent or ease the pain of others, then perhaps that is the meaning of what I’ve gone through myself. If I can’t find peace for myself, then perhaps I can help others to find it.

If that is the purpose of my life, I gladly accept it.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Day 2, Round 2: Helping My Son By Fighting Myself

I guess anxiety has become a theme with me the past few days. As a friend has recently commented, it’s a daily struggle, not something to be casually ignored or tossed aside. This is very true and I hope I didn’t give the impression it’s easily dealt with.

One example for me is working with my son this weekend in preparation for his exams this week. He’s struggling with pre-calculus and it’s been more than 30 years since I cracked open a mathematics text book. Not only that, but I never reached the precalc level myself and the video’s we’re watching make absolutely no sense to me. So I’m watching him struggle and am unable to help. Because school was so stressful for me, it’s pulling a lot of triggers and invoking a lot of negative thoughts / emotions and bad memories. When most of the previous night I was up experiencing the things I did, at school I was exhausted, emotionally drained (yet still terrified), and unable to think clearly. “Failure” was a theme reinforced by my parents (and their families).

I did what I could to hold it together. But by the end of the day I was rather frayed. When my poor wife came home around dinner time, I started to fall into a pattern of sniping and snapping at her. This, of course, is unacceptable, but in being mindful I was aware of the path I was heading down. By this time, there was no controlling or dissipating the anxiety. Struggling with it all day, it was starting to express itself as anger.

Well, even though it was still early, I knew it was time to go to bed. I apologized to my wife for my barking at my wife when she had walked in and explained what was going on within. I’m fortunate that my partner is very supportive. She doesn’t completely understand the why’s of it all, but one of the great things about her is that she doesn’t feel the need to. Love has it’s own reasons which override all else. So I shuffled into the kitchen to get some juice, shuffled back to her and gave her a kiss and then went to bed.

Once upstairs, I lay in the dark seething and almost shaking with worries and anxieties about all the regular things I usually do. There was no way I was going to be able to sleep if this continued and I know how skilled I am at getting myself worked up even more. I breathed deeply and listened to one of the local sports stations. Thoughts and emotions continue to come in waves. But as time went on and I focused my attention on the discussions of the past football season, those waves slowly became less powerful and after some time I was able to drift off to sleep.

Of course, a few hours later, I woke up. This is an issue with my Cortisol levels (Adrenal hormones) and there isn’t much I can do about it. Trouble is that when I can’t fall back asleep, the anxiety (and other negative thoughts and emotions) usually kicks in. Again, I can only do the best that I can with what I have to work with. I tried to refocus on calm, peaceful things as best as I could and then was able to go back to sleep around 5:30 or so.

Today, it all starts again and my son will come down soon to start studying. Regardless of how I feel, I need to be there for him today. I need to keep at least the appearance of anxiety and painful emotions in check. This is not only possible, but just because success isn’t guaranteed, that doesn’t mean I should just give up and not try. If I need to take a break, I will. If I have to stuff it all, I will. If I have to find some other way of supporting him, I will. He knows that I struggle, but he also sees and is learning by my example how to challenge difficult internal things. So I suppose he’s learning more than math today.

I may not succeed, but I’m going to give it my all. I’m certainly not going to quit.

An interesting quote came to mind just now:

“It’s better to fight for something than live for nothing.” – George S. Patton

Wish me luck today. I’m going to need it!

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

 

(P.S. This clip just came to mind. I may well lose. I may well lose spectacularly. But all I want is to go the distance.)