Tragedy

My Brother

My brother
A name
I simply moved
From
One column
To another.

An Analogy: the Wetsuit

When you grow up in a minefield, it seems normal.

People often find it difficult to explain, or to understand Complex PTSD. I often find myself falling into metaphor or analogy to explain the experience. The reason for using an abstraction is because in Complex PTSD the particulars from one person to another vary – greatly. I have found that trying to paint a detailed picture often results in becoming lost in the need for exactitude. It is impossible to be be ‘exact’ for everyone. Enter the analogy.

One question I have seen repeatedly about Complex PTSD is “Why am I having to deal with all this NOW? Why not when it was happening? Why 10/20/30/40 years after the fact?”

In the past I have often explained that when disfunction is your norm – you don’t see it as dysfunction.

Recently I thought this idea needed to grow. While comparing the environment to a minefield works it doesn’t go far enough. The minefield only addresses the environment, while Complex PTSD is the product of how we adapted to that environment.

Think of all those adaptations we learned or created to keep us safe as a wetsuit. See it in your mind and make it as thick or detailed as you like. Maybe you have one of those ‘survival suits’ for the North Sea, light blinking on the top and bright orange. Perhaps your wet suit is more like the body glove of neoprene we often visualize on Navy Seals and Frogmen.*

No matter how you envision your suit to look it all served one purpose – to preserve your life in a hostile environment. By ‘hostile environment’ any diver will tell you – you don’t need sharks to make the water dangerous. The water itself – everything surrounding you – is quite capable of ending you.

That is the mental state in which many of us grew up. Life itself, our most immediate environment posed an imminent threat to our survival. Perhaps there was a shark – a person(s) with the ability to harm you. Perhaps there was not – but your surroundings were as cold as Arctic waters. And some of us endured both.**

To survive we adapted. Those adaptations became the ‘wetsuit’ we wore to help us survive.

Our ‘wetsuit’ served us while we were in those dangerous places. But as we grow, age, we leave the environment(s) that caused us to make those adaptations.

When we no longer need that wetsuit because we have left the freezing water we don’t abandon it. Primarily because we are unaware of it. Those adaptations are integrated. Our ‘wetsuit’ is an intrinsic part of who we are.

Over time, out of that hostile environment, that wetsuit – our adaptations – no longer serve us. The neoprene becomes hot, binding, restrictive, and could even become more than an impairment, but a danger. ***

It is not a sudden appearance of Complex PTSD. We have carried it with us since we entered that hostile place. The reason for the sudden appearance is not because the wetsuit has changed, but because they have changed their environment and no longer need it.

Now – comes the work of peeling that sucker off. And that’s part of the reason you always have a dive buddy. It is easier to get out of the wetsuit when you have help.

At least, that’s one way to think about it.


*Note: I met one of the original ‘frogmen’, once, years ago. His stories were beyond impressive.
**Note: Just imagine a shark wearing a wooly knit jumper.
***Note: Good friend went to a Halloween party dressed as a ‘diver’ – full suit 5mm – almost cooked himself into heat stroke.

The Power of the Eight

Cover_Review_PowerOfTheEight

The Power of the Eight by Suzanne Rho is one of those books that improves after the fact. If that sounds like I am damning it with faint praise – hold on – I’m not.

As I initially read the story I found it enjoyable. It’s the kind of read I like to take along with me on a lazy afternoon where I have nothing else to do.

It’s the type of story I would classify as “pastime reading”. Not too heavy, moves along well, all good things.

Now here’s where things get interesting.

As I started to write this review I spent some time reviewing the story and my reaction to it. And out of a pleasant afternoon’s diversion emerged this facet I hadn’t registered on my first read through. It’s not just a fantasy with magic and adventure and True Love, it also contains a message.

The story at its core is one of longing to belong.

The protagonist is a young woman in a remote Scottish town. In chronic pain, with a generous helping of anxiety and a past of abandonment she manages her way through life. Her life is one of grey monotony. The endless rounds of doctor appointments, trips to the therapist, chronic physical pain and frustration define her life.

It was the idea that the story held a person with a chronic illness at the center that initially caught my interest. Usually most heroes are able bodied and relatively sound of mind.

Indeed, we meet Ren (aka Renee) in her psychiatrist’s office. Our first glimpse of Ren is of a young woman dealing not only with perpetual anxiety, but also persistent physical pain.

She manages both with a sharp self-deprecating wit and pure grit. Ren is not one to wallow in self-pity or use her physical challenges as a free-pass. It is wonderful to see the myth of the helpless chronically ill person smashed. In her portrayal of Ren, Ms. Roh captures a very realistic look at the life of the chronically ill. Ren exhibits the power of most of the challenged to elevate the skills of day-to-day life to a level which the healthy might never perceive.

There is one aspect of this trope that didn’t get smashed. Pity that. I was a bit disappointed to see that the line of traveling to the alternate – magical – world cured the protagonist. One day I would like to see a protagonist fight for their health rather than having their problems – pardon the pun – magically resolve themselves.

But, I have to give the story some slack. It is a fantasy, so why not envision good health or physical perfection. Some might consider those greater blessings than discovering they had magic. So, I shouldn’t quibble about that.

However, I do have one quibble. Lulled ≠ Lolled

I suspect the misuse of the word is a typo. Or even, a case of the computer thinking it was smarter than the human. Damn you, autocorrect. I trust the error will be corrected in time.

Quibble aside –

The story draws Ren, an abandoned, isolated, wounded person into an environment where she can flourish and most importantly finally find the place where she belongs.

Everyone could benefit from spending some time in Ren’s brogues.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

The Beginning Writer: ah, humility

beginning writer writing

I am here at my desk taking big calming breaths as I look at a mountain. A figurative mountain, but still it is impressive and daunting in its size for a beginning writer.

I have to climb it.

It’s not a question of do I want to or do I not. It is a necessity. One that I hadn’t considered. Actually, I’ll admit, I thought I wouldn’t have to climb this particular mountain. Not so.

I have reached the point, which I suspect all writers come to somewhere along the way, where I have realized that although I can tell a good story, and I have a good story to tell, I still have a lot of craft to learn.

The realization is both painful and, I hope, ultimately rewarding.

I have a lot of craft to learn.

I’ll admit – it is a painful realization. It’s right up there with stepping on a lego block, or stubbing your toe on the doorjamb. It’s the kind of pain that after a long hard day makes you sit down on the floor in utter defeat.

I suspect this is one of those junctures in life where people either give up or they dig deeper. I wonder how other writers have faced this particular Rubicon. What was the moment Neil Gaiman looked at his story and said – this is rubbish? And what made him go on? Margaret Atwood? Toni Morrison?

What made each of them know that this dream – their dream – was worth the effort? They embraced that challenge even though it was, maybe, wrapped in a bitter pill.

There are moments in learning that define careers. I’ll use Chemistry as one example – because I’m a Chemist. There is one notorious class that is often referred to as ‘the weed out’ class. It’s Organic Chemistry. I have seen dozens of people decide to switch their major after failing Orgo, as it is called in the nerd world of the lab. That course has altered the trajectory of more people than I can imagine. A great many Chemistry majors become Biology majors after Orgo. I had friends who wanted to become doctors, but after failing Organic Chemistry they changed their aim.

But, a few of my friends who had failed found something in themselves that refused to let this block derail them from their future. One friend took orgo three times before he passed. I admire him immensely. He’s got grit.

The beginning writer needs grit

I’ll be honest, I never needed grit. I have been blessed with a curiosity and the ability to understand complex things. I’ve always been more abacus than human. That’s from the Complex PTSD, but I won’t take you down that rabbit hole today.

After decades I finally have a dream in my life that is ‘my dream’. It is also something that is not coming easily. So, I’m learning grit.

I’m learning to recognize the places where I lack skill. Which is a hard thing to do with the drum beat of ‘not enough’ in the back of your head. But, I have learned that in order to get where I want to be I have to fight for it. I fight my own failings, and keep moving along that learning curve. Though, not always as smoothly as I would like.

I now know that to achieve anything that is close to your heart you have to climb mountains. Sometimes they are mountains that you never saw. But, the worst mountains are those that you thought you could avoid because you were already beyond them.

It’s humbling to find yourself at the foot of one of those.

So here I am. A bit bruised, my little proto-ego having taken a solid shot to the chops. Feeling very humble and getting ready to start my journey.

Raindrop

Heavy raindrops fall
Splashing on my glasses
Blinding me to all.

Michael takes away
The lenses that warp my sight
With a tender kiss.

Giving me shelter
From the chaos of my past
I cling to his strength

His oak to my ivy.
His sun to my rain.

Nailed in the past… a paradox

This is one of those things that when I think about my Complex-PTSD should have been obvious. How I missed it for so long really confounds me.

I often talk about the paradoxes that arise in C-PTSD. Here I have stumbled into another one. It goes something like this.

Huh. I just realized how weird it is to live with one foot nailed in the past when you can’t remember any of it.

ThinkingTooLoud

Poetry Battle: Bliss

The prompt and the week that it is attached to sometimes are not in sync. This is the situation reflected in this entry to the poetry battle. The prompt was : Bliss.

The word repels me.
Turned its back on me.
So I turn away in turn.
Sore.
Ignored
And bruised.
It denies me its presence
So I deny its existence.
I will be
Barren stone
To being a fool
Waiting
Longer
Longing
For rain
To bloom.

The Things We Keep

Cover The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep, the premier novel of Ms. Julee Balko, is a story about grief, both that which we let go and that which we keep. The thread of grieving carries the story from far before we meet Serena to the final resolution of her own pain. As the reader progresses through the layers of understanding Ms. Balko reveals how grief can poison a family.

The Things We Keep begins with one of the little absurdities that follow a death in the family. Serena is swamped, as are all survivors, with the photos and tchotchkes that carried meaning for her mother. Those items now missing the memory that made them precious become part of the sea of ‘stuff’ that accompanies death.

While alive those maddening quirks of our families are concealed in pantries – they aren’t ours to deal with. After a person’s death – suddenly all those quirks become our property and our problem. When the story opened with Serena dealing with her mother’s cans of beets I immediately understood where she was.

And seriously, what do you do with 53 cans of beets?
Or, in my case, 32 loaf pans?

Book reviews Cover The Things We Keep by Balko
The cover of The Things We Keep Book Reviews and Quote – “Family complexity told with honest simplicity.”

Death, the great equalizer, is also the great reorganizer. In the wake of death within a family, there is an inevitable reshuffling of roles, of emotions, of perceptions, and of truths.

Compounding her grief, for Serena, was the question of why? Why had there been such coldness towards her from her mother? Why had a chasm formed between them?

The loss of her mother comes with both the loss of her opportunity for resolution and a new chance for answers. Although Serena could no longer ask her mother for the reasons, death finally broke the grip of her mother’s choice to hide the truth.

The revelations tumble out as layer upon layer of false memory is peeled away. With the final exposure of the original loss which started the chain of losses throughout the family comes freedom for everyone. The heavy warping burden of grief is finally lifted and the healing of an old wound can begin.

Ms. Balko captures grief with all its facets. She portrays all of the exhausting, frustrating, maddening minefield of emotions that comprise grief, both your own and everyone else’s, with heartbreaking honesty.

The prose is clear and painfully honest. Her words were perfectly pitched for this story of difficult relations and complex family dynamics. Lines of flowery prose would have stifled the impact by dressing it in too much perfume.

As always with grief and secrets, you need to explore down to the roots before you can let go and finally heal.

The Things We Keep is, in short, a complex story told with honest simplicity.

I received an advance review copy for free, and I am leaving this review voluntarily.

Healing the Invisible

There is an event in the writing world called #PitMad. It is a Twitter event with a specialized hashtag, #PitMad in this case, where writers can pitch their novels to agents. It’s a bit like Carnivale crossed with Bedlam.

These events have really taken off in the past couple of years. From initially a few hundred pitches over the day agents and publishers can now be bombarded with thousands of pitches an hour. How they wade through all that, I have no idea.

How you stand out as a writer is even harder.

This is where my Complex PTSD enters the picture.

For someone who has grown up in an environment where they were in essence ‘invisible’ learning how to be seen, and heard, and noticed is an exercise in something not only new, but frightening in cases. If, like me, your home was dysfunctional with explosive anger you might also have learned that being unseen was safer. I learned early that it was better to be the child that didn’t need, or want, or ask.

I learned that lesson so well, so many times that I even made up a little chatechism that I recited every night.

Don’t Ask – You’ll be denied.
Don’t Rely – You’ll be disappointed.
Don’t Trust – You’ll be betrayed.

By the time I was 13 I had carved a reminder of this into my arm so I would never forget it again. I still have those scars fourty years later.

But, I’m trying not to live by those rules any more. Trying. The healing doesn’t always go smoothly, or in a straight line. Think of it more like a mental health cha-cha. Sometimes you go forward, sometimes you go back. You get the idea.

To tie these two things together – PitMad and CPTSD recovery – think of it as peeling off layers and layers of habitual camoflague. Rule one of PitMad is if you want to ‘win’ an agents attention via the event – you have to enter. You must put yourself out there. An agent is not going to come knocking on your door.

Image by 愚木混株 Cdd20 from Pixabay : Words by MStewart

Participation, putting myself ‘out there’, that means making an active attempt to be seen. That idea just registers in my core as pure insanity.

Be Seen. NO! That’s when ‘bad things’ happen. You get ignored or hurt when you are seen.

Don’t touch it! Just, put the idea down, and slowly step away.

One day you finally figure “Meh, I’ll try it.” So, you do. And you hear the worst thing you could. SILENCE.

Why is silence the worst? When in a situation like PitMad it could mean –

  • The agent just isn’t looking for a fantasy book about a mentally challenged heroine.
  • The agent blinked when your pitch scrolled by.
  • They stepped away for a minute (they’re human, too)
  • Their dog farted and they had to clear the room.
  • They already have a book that is a fantasy about a mentally challenged heroine.

Who knows? There are literally millions of reasons that no one put a little red heart next to your entry. And the competition is stiff. Thousands of entries for all kinds of books scroll by during the day. There is not enough time to respond to them all.

But, though my rational brain knows this, my emotions tie themselves into knots and I’m that small, inconsequential, invisible girl again. Being back in that place makes me wonder if I ever left it at all. Maybe that invisibility is permanent? Perhaps there is nothing I can do to be seen or heard. I will forever be shouting into the void. And, even there, drowned out by millions of others. Never to be more than a dull anonymous speck among stars.

Ouch.

After a few tries you wonder if the voices of the CPTSD are right. You fear you never will be ‘visible’.Part of you contracts with the pain of the idea. But, there is a tiny voice within undulled by all the abuses and fear that whispers – “Try.”

That seed, our original and true self is the one we must nourish.

So, rest when you must. When you can, move on; sure in the knowledge that the Universe sees you.

Falling off the edge

a grayscale photo of medication pills

I don’t know if this post will go up. Really. 
Most of my posts are crafted in a place of cerebral analytic detachment. This post originates in intense visceral pain. 
Still sounds like it is running through the brain, doesn’t it? Well, I have to do that, or I wouldn’t be able to spell viscera. 
Focus. 

Pain. Terror. The only way I could sum this up to myself or to anyone else is simply, I hurt. 
It doesn’t help that I’m quartering my meds. The Dr., the Pharmacy, the Insurance company are all looking at one another and telling me that I am not their problem. 

Meanwhile – I’m running out of my medication. 

I spoke to the state oversight board of insurers. Well, sure I can file a complaint – and then wait 30 days. 

30 days. 
Right. 
Did I mention one of the risks of rapid ungoverned withdrawal is psychosis? 

I’ve already been fighting for nearly 30 days, to get my medication. To keep some semblance of control over my emotions and my mind. 

I’m quartering my dose just to try to keep total implosion from happening. 

I feel like I’m losing. 
I feel like I’m being torn apart. 
I feel frightened. 
I feel – too much.