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

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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.)

Confronting My Anxiety

I was thinking about my last entry and anxiety. It’s a challenging thing to deal with as I’m always on edge to a certain extent. It just depends on how powerful it is and how much I’m able to beat it back or cope with it. Sometimes are easier than others. If I’m feeling relatively well rested and the symptoms of my illness aren’t too bad, it’s generally more manageable. But with fatigue, lack of sleep, headache, nausea, joint pain and more. I don’t want to do anything, much less wrestle with powerful emotions.

One thing which helps is ensuring, as best as I’m able, that my surroundings and circumstances are not stressful or overwhelming. If I’m trying to deal with conflict or there’s some crisis going on, it’s hard to summon enough strength and resources to deal with both. But even when things are peaceful, anxiety is draining all by itself. It saps not only my strength, but self assurance and general sense of well being. Intense emotions are draining. Being in a state of constant “readiness” and fear can be truly exhausting even when all my surroundings are calm and peaceful. Anxiety hashes my mello, man…and that pisses me off! (lol)

This is one of the reasons why I’m trying to be mindful and aware. I can’t challenge something if I give it free reign to ravage and pillage all through the inner part of myself. But this is not easy. First, the anxiety must be at a level where I can actually face it head on. If I’m on the verge of panic, I may not be able to face it directly at that moment. Over the years I’ve had to be sure that I was in a safe place, around safe people, in order to allow myself to be mindful enough to allow for a glimpse of it before slamming the door shut again. It’s taken me a long time to be able to actually “sit there” within myself, and actually stare back at it for any length of time. Decades of therapy have been invaluable in being able to get to that point. Once I got to the point where I could be in the same room with it (so to speak), once I could face it without trying to race away in terror and pain, only then could I start to work at reducing it or at least coping with it to any small degree.

Another, more recent thing, is learning how to “detach” from this “aversion.” In Buddhism, the thing which causes pain and discontentment in life are the attachments to desires (pleasures) or aversions (pain). To address this, the Buddha offered the “Noble 8 Fold Path” (which I’m not an expert on and won’t get into here). To free myself from the attachments that my anxiety has on my has proven helpful, but difficult, and as of yet I still haven’t been able to reach a point where I can utilize it for complete relief. Attachments are like feeling gripped by something, to feel almost possessed by something. For me, falling in love is such an experience. It fills me. I experience the emotional sensations surge within and I feel lost within that emotional experience. It was the same thing the night my son was born. I was completely lost in the emotions I experienced. That feeling of being “lost in it”…that’s what attachments are.

I had some kind of an awareness of such things before I read anything about Buddhism. I would think it’s a common experience to, at times, almost be able to internally “watch” one’s self as an almost separate entity. Perhaps my experiences with disassociation have helped me notice and further develop this separate yet internal awareness of watching myself, yet still be within myself. I don’t know. Disassociation usually means I completely zone out and am just about completely numbed out, both in emotion and mind.

However I discovered this, my imagination is such that I can actually picture something like anxiety as if it were in a separate, isolate space within me. Sometimes I can do it intellectually, but still be lost within the emotion of it. Other times I can place it in a separate space both in thought as well as emotion. At times when I’ve been able to do this – and it’s not common or often – I do feel better. That doesn’t mean it still doesn’t cause that vigilant “fight or flight” fear response of anxiety, but somehow it seems to be more manageable and tolerable.

This isn’t a cure all, some magical technique or a way to just “get over it and move on” (I hate that!). I still experience anxiety and likely will for the rest of my life. But if I can make it more manageable. If I can be better able to tolerate it and sort of separate it from the core of who I am, then I finally have a weapon I can fight back with. I may not be able to overcome it most times and may often not be able to summon the strength to wield the weapon, but the fact is I have it and (more importantly) I know that it’s there, that I have access to something. This is a much better situation than believing and feeling that I have no choices, no hope and no way of defending myself (against negative emotions like anxiety). I don’t want pity or well intended suggestions, I want something to fight back with on my own! The only person you can never escape from and the only one who will always be with you…is yourself.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Helping My Son With Anxiety…As I Struggle With It Myself

One of the surprising things I’ve come across with in the WordPress world are the number of people who struggle with anxiety. It shouldn’t surprise me, but for some reason it did.

I struggle with anxiety myself. Part of it is fed by CPTSD (complex post traumatic stress disorder) and the way my experiences altered my brain structure and chemistry. I react more intensely to normal, every day things and at the same time, my brain is less able to process any intense emotions. Frickin’ bummer, but I do what I can. There are techniques of redirection, meditation, deep breathing and the like which I’ve learned over the years and help me cope with anxiety, even if I can’t dissipate it or make it go away. Another reason for my anxiety is my thyroid illness. Unfortunately, one of the symptoms of thyroid disease is anxiety. Even though the medication and supplements I’ve been taking have improved my overall health, anxiety is still a problem and there isn’t much I can do about it except learning how to cope with it. This is really why I want a quiet, unremarkable life. I already struggle, even with quietude and within a peaceful space. I’ve never felt comfortable in the loud, rushing, confrontational world which is the predominant way of living in the north eastern part of the United States. I love my home of Philadelphia, but it’s not the laid back patrician area that it was when I was growing up. I really miss and long for that old Philadelphia, what I believe is (was) the real Philadelphia.

Anyway, my son also struggles with anxiety. Part of the cause for him is that anxiety is a common symptom of autism. Again, not much to be done. Another cause is all of the therapies he was subjected to when he was younger. It’s hard to grow up and constantly be in therapy. My son grew up with “don’t do this,” “do that,” “do this a different way,” “let’s practice that again” and so on. Constantly being redirected and corrected (for his own safety, not our convenience) has had an impact on him. It’s increased his difficulty with self confidence and feeds the anxiety which is a symptom of the issue which required all the therapy in the first place.

Anxiety is tough to deal with on a daily basis. My son loses the ability to think and speak when his anxiety spikes. He knows what he wants to say, but his brain is unable to form speakable thoughts. This is very frustrating for him. It’s intensely frustrating for all autistic young people who struggle with this and, from what I’ve seen, is the ultimate reason why some become aggressive or violent. You can see the deep frustration and anger on their faces: Knowing the idea of what you want to say, but just not being able to express it in anyway – as a life long disability – is something that I know I would find enraging. I don’t know how I would respond to that kind of difficulty.

We’re fortunate with my son. Somehow, all the therapies worked well enough that he’s able to formulate those thoughts if he can reduce his anxiety and take his time. The thing which has made it easier for him is that I’ve learned to take him by the shoulders and gently pat him on the back. In my calmest, most peaceful, reassuring voice, I always say “that’s okay, buddy. Take your time. No worries. Think it through.” I know that if he senses my anxiety and frustration about his not being able to speak, this significantly increases his anxiety and he completely looses the ability to articulate himself. It’s been vital for him to, in effect, “feed” off my calmness while he struggles as well as the reassurance that doing what he can, in his own way and own time is not only all right, but is a way of being. If he see’s me calm and not impatient or irritated, he’s able to take on that calmness as well and use the techniques he’s learned to be able to find the words and express his thoughts. It’s taken a lot of work over the years – and I suspect more than a bit of luck – but he’s able to express himself, by knowing how to calm himself – rather well.

With my own anxiety issues, it’s sometimes difficult to give him the support he needs. I can’t hide anything from my partner or son. They know me too well. I do what I can, but I’m also honest with him if I’m struggling. I’ll tell him that I need a minute with the result that I’m working to calm myself down and give him the emotional support he needs as he’s trying to reduce his anxiety to find the expression of his thoughts.

My anxiety is interesting. I’ve explained the origin’s and it’s taken me many years to understand where it comes from. The worst was when I didn’t understand or know the cause. Before I had a better understanding, I would assume (quite reasonably) that the anxiety was do to the situation I was in or the people I was with. This make me more neurotic, because I was assuming a connection between the anxiety and something or someone with which there was no connection or the connection was that they reminded me of my parents or a situation of my past. Not knowing what was going on made this emotion difficult to live with and made daily living difficult, often immobilizing.

But understanding better creates a different challenge. My anxiety simply exists, as a state of being. It always tries to lach onto and infuse itself into any negaive thought, experience or worry that I have. It’s always looking for something – some thought or emotion – to infect. It’s a real pain in the ass.

There are some techniques to alleviate the worst of it. But even with these, there are some times when the only thing I can do is just get through the day. I can’t function, I just do what I can to get through the day. Sometimes the best thing I can do is be mindful of the fact that the anxiety is a lie. Because I feel it, it’s valid, but the underlying causes are sometimes out of my control. At such times, I do the best I can to not “feed” and increase it’s power. If I can’t reduce or dissipate it, I can at least work at not allowing it to get worse by deliberately contributing to it. Cold comfort, but I do what I can.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

More Than Anything, What Would You Want? This Is What I Want More Than Anything.

First of all, I want to thank everyone who’s stopped by and especially those who are “following” me. I will strive to return the favor as I learn a great deal and my world becomes larger (in a good way) when I see what others have written. If I’m not consistent with “liking” or “commenting,” please don’t think I’m not interested. I’m striving to live in the present, off line, and there are times when it’s all I can do to make an entry myself. If I’m “following” you, I value your writings and the insights within them. Also, I do have difficulty with boundaries and social interactions. Reaching out, even on line, is difficult for me. If there is a fault, it’s mine, not any lack of yours.

Just thought I’d say that.

I just got back from a walk. I try to do this as my doctors have told me (no surprise here) that exercise is good.

But while I was walking, I thought about the difficulty I’ve been having to be functional (even with housework). I considered all the lost opportunities and choices I missed as I struggled along my younger years. I thought of all that could have been and all the potential I had in youth which is now lost forever. As I was mulling this over in the most positive way I could, I had a sudden insight. The only thing I’ve ever wanted was to be at peace. The only thing I, actually, truly want now is to be at peace. Money, fame, successful career, just about anything you can think of, isn’t what I’ve been searching for or wanted. All I want is to be at peace. Thinking about it, I don’t care if I’m sick, I don’t care if I live in poverty, I don’t care if I never reach the furthest point of potential. I certainly don’t care about possessions or appearances. If I’m able to be at peace within myself, that’s really all I want.

This washed over me like a cooling breeze on a Cape May beach. For a moment, all the stress and pressure just washed away.

My particular challenge and particular neurotic perspective (among the many others I cling to! lol) seems to be that I always feel that I have to rather than ever feeling like I want to. I feel like my whole life is “have to.” This mindset is so insidious that it even poisons the things that I want to do and am interested in. I know this sounds weird and there isn’t enough space on all of the internet to explain, but the fact is that I always, about everything, feel like I have to. This sucks any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction out of everything in life. But the thing that I finally realized and felt to be true within, is that all I really want is to be at peace within myself. I really don’t care where I am or what my situation is, if I can be at peace within myself, that’s all I really want.

This epiphany was a great relief. Though I’ll have to test this out in my daily living, this revelation just “feels” right.

My partner and child both are invigorated by challenges. My wife says that these all feel like a puzzle to solve and she derives a great deal of enjoyment in solving / resolving things. Me? I don’t see the point in anything and I see challenges as annoying obstacles which get in the way of daily living. To live with violence and overwhelming situations, is to want all the world to be as quiet, predictable and uneventful as possible. Even today, the slightest inconveniences make me feel like I’m drowning.

To be at peace, to strive for an internal peace, allows me to do anything at any time and not feel that I have to do anything. If I’m at peace, I really don’t care what else is going on. This simple change in perspective is very calming and reassuring.

We’ll see how this plays out and how much use I can make of it. The very thought of it is very comforting and heartening.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus

Dissociation And Freedom From “Attachments”

I stopped in at a convenience store this morning after dropping my son off at school. I’ve been trying to be more mindful and deliberate with my thoughts and emotions, but, interestingly, I always disassociate when I’m around other people. Even though I was determined to be conscious and aware as I got out of my car, the next thing I was conscious of was getting back in. Though determined, I had slipped away into unconsciousness none the less.

This is something which I’ve done all of my life. To be honest, it was never safe to be conscious and aware, so I seem to have developed this way of dealing with it. It’s odd, I can function, I can have full conversations with people and actively interact with them, but I’m largely just reactive with those interactions. The only time I’m actually conscious and aware is when I’m alone. Even when walking in the woods, I’ll zone out if a jogger comes along.

Because of my experiences, it’s not safe to be conscious around other people, so my mind goes into a sort of auto pilot and I interact with others in patterned responses to the triggers which their words and behaviors signal to me. The problem with this is that in being disassociated, none of my anxieties or fears are ever healed or resolved. Actually, in living this way, I’ve actually made my emotional reactions, anxieties and fears stronger with the passing years. To heal. To dissipate my emotional pain, I need to be conscious, I need to be aware and actively interact with others.

Driving home this morning, I experienced a release of attachments. I’ve been troubled recently by the fact that I really don’t care about anything anymore. Nothing motivates or inspires me. But there is a difference between hopeless resignation and being free of attachments. From what I understand, Buddhist and Taoist teachings say that the reason for emotional pain and discontentment is the attachments we have to aversions (things we don’t want) and desires (pleasure or things we do want). In being able to free oneself from attachments to those aversions and desires (for pleasure), one is able to be at peace, living a contented life. Wanting to be free of aversions does make sense, but the need to be free of pursuing pleasures or feeling good sounded odd to me. But in watching my reactions and thinking about it, I’ve come to believe that those attachments to pleasures, or the pursuit of them, can be just as pain invoking as those things we don’t want to experience, think or feel.

As I write, I do have a tenuous hold on this freedom from attachments. I still zone out, but, with practice, I can gradually not experience the fear and anxieties while interacting or being around other people. This is something I’m determined to pursue, because if I don’t, if I continue to disassociate, then I’m condemned to reinforce and replay the traumas of my past. I’ll never be free of the emotional pain and will never experience a more safe, peaceful life: If I’m never conscious when having a good experience with others, I’ll never get used to it or learn what normal healthy interactions and relationships are. In my thoughts and thinking, I have a good idea of what normal is. But it’s the emotions, which have their own logic and “thinking” processes which need to be addressed and sort of re-calibrated to what it feels like to be around normal people in a safe interaction.

So it’s not that I don’t want to care anymore, I want to learn how to be free of any attachments to life and things which have plagued me for the whole of my life.

This will take some time. Likely the rest of my life. It’s a frightening and painful process, but I’m determined to see it through.

Be Well, My Friends
Theseus