.posthidden {display:none} .postshown {display:inline} By His Own Hand. . .

1/31/2021

The post that I can't publish

Imagine the worst moment of your life, whatever that might be, however long it might have (or be) lasting.  Imagine now being forced to relive various aspects of it seemingly at random for months without end.

That is my corona/2020 experience.

And so on the edge of 6 years since Cam died, this is what has defined my life for the most part of recent history.

Constant cleaning.

Isolation.

Abandonment.

Flashbacks/nightmares.


One of the problems is that PTSD has created a circus mirror that is particularly bendy the more I am by myself.  And so when I notice it start to bend I try and make sure I don't have too much alone time.  But sometimes things come up for people and so even with well intent I end up alone.  And also unbending the mirror is exhausting.  On top of the inevitable march of time towards anniversaries, it's just too much right now.


Camz would not be happy with how I have been dealing with things the past couple weeks. . . she would be realistic about it and give me some benefit of the doubt but also she would sit me down and tell me when and where I'm being a crazy person.  But I don't have her here to do that for me.  Or to lay my head on her lap and just not worry about words or talking but just focus on being.  Or to listen to her problems and celebrations so that I'm not just wrapped up in my own head.  Or to get away and just be together and enjoy the experiences of life.


Six years.  It's an eternity and it's yesterday.  Whether I want to or not I am in that hospital bed next to her, listening to her breathing slow more and more until the final rattle.  I'm a couple days before she got to see everybody and give her assignments, wailing and hating that I'm wailing in front of her while she's contemplating death and her comforting me instead.  I'm several months out, making phone calls and texts to people who have apparently gotten to a point where my grief is too great for them to bear anymore, but instead of telling me that, they just. . . disappear.



I'm tired.


12/19/2020

The first signpost

Two things before I dive in: first, this will likely be lengthy and honestly might be too much for me to try and sort through in one chunk; second, I am an expert only in my experience, and so what I am saying with regards to certain topics might be not completely correct/not fully understood (and there will be statements that I'll put in italics that I don't have sources for and that may or may not actually be clinically true, but they have been relevant and/or helpful).

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I started therapy through BetterHelp on October 29th, 2020.  I'm starting here because my brain really wants to just make a timeline but I think for ease of understanding I need to go through things as I have been discovering them, and the timeline fits in where it will.

I started therapy because I observed my relationships crumbling, because I was waking up with the thought of "I can't do this anymore" in all its various iterations, and that thought stuck with me the entire morning, day, and night, because I felt isolated but also realized that I was isolating myself.

And so in early December, I started to learn about PTSD, and that unlocked a new world of understanding for me.

PTSD has four parts to it: re-experience (of trauma), arousal (of fear and/or anxiety), avoidance, and withdrawal (both escape tactics).  Often we think of it with regards to war experiences, and those triggers of loud noises or large crowds or tight spaces or whatever might trigger a person back to the feeling of something that happened in war.  But PTSD can stem from any traumatic event, where physical or psychological harm occurred, and not every traumatic event causes PTSD.  (And as an extra nugget to remember, there's a Complex PTSD that adds in a dissociative aspect where there is disturbance of self-organization that leads to affective dysregulation, disturbance in relationships, and negative self-concept) 

Arousal looks like a flight or fight response, and a few of the possible feelings include feeling keyed up/on edge, having trouble sleeping, becoming suddenly angry or irritable, and rouble concentrating.  Anger is sadness that had nowhere to go for a very long time.  Reexperience can be caused by a trigger (a visual, a sound, a smell even), a memory, a nightmare, a flashback.  Avoidance may start as avoiding situations, conversations, anything closely related to the trauma, but eventually is turns into avoiding all people and things that make you anxious, and is considered PTSD when the avoidance coping becomes a lifestyle.  Numbing is a disconnection from people and activities that used to be enjoyable.  It also comes with increased sensitivity to feeling negative emotions like guilt, fear, anger, or shame.  These can cycle into overworking, isolation, pushing people away, high risk behaviors, substance overuse.  Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

Numbing tells you that you can't get hurt by something that you aren't connected to or feeling about to begin with. 

That sentence was the first clear bell in this journey for me.  I wrote back in August a post that I deleted soon after posting.  I won't post it all here but two excerpts are revealing:

"I have reached capacity in rejection. . . now there's a yo-yo that is distractingly hard to keep up with, and the next step is to move to the side, put both the negative and positive experience into the same box that is labeled "there things don't matter" so that they won't affect you strongly.

But really the problem basically is that I'd rather live with my problems than deal with another rejection.  Because seriously, who I am and what I deal with in a given moment is not more important than what I can do for someone in both short and long term, and I am not in a place to open up without a grand fear of continued rejection because who knows what happens next."

The really interesting part is back at the end of August I said something about the PTSD of shutdown being like bone marrow transplant land, but I didn't know how close to the nail I was hitting because we use mental health terms so flippantly in our culture.

So going back to diagnosing what happens with PTSD, the chronic avoidance deprives you of opportunities to process the event, to relearn that triggers may not be as dangerous as they were during the trauma, and eventually leads to depression and poor quality of life as you begin to cut things/people out of your life.  There are several different "personalities" in how these things happen- for me this is what stuck out:
Displacer: Takes expression emotion and displaces the feeling in other people or areas of their life. (stresses out at work, chronically agitated, upset at minor events.) 
Minimizer: Person who is aware of their emotions, but when felt, works to dull the emotions and avoid them at all cost.
Somaticizer: Converts emotion into physical symptoms as a way to express and channel emotion.

And trauma impacts the places where we feel most vulnerable- again, this is what stuck out for me:
Esteem-I deserve to have bad things happen to me; if I don’t protect myself I am a weak person
Intimacy- I am unlovable because of my past; if I let other get close to me, I'll get hurt again. 

Future oriented thinking and recovery feel vulnerable as it pushes us to the unknowns of our lives.
Fear of the future, life after trauma, causes guilt ("I made a mistake, I feel bad")/shame ("I am a mistake, I am bad")/self-sabotage (you subconsciously make sure you don’t get it; you push people away to hurt yourself; or accept only the love you feel you deserve) to be triggered when we are most afraid of repeating the past, and leads you to believe you’re undeserving of love.

Undeserving of love.



Now.  That's a lot of information, and I feel like I'm only scratching the surface, but all I can say is that all of those things above have resonated in ways I can't being to describe with regards to the past few months.  So this is the tl;dr- all of it boils down to this fear of abandonment.
PTSD from being isolated and alone because of what having a bone marrow transplant means.
PTSD from losing close friendships in the first few months/couple years after Cam died.
PTSD from losing Cam.  It's weird to think of that as abandonment because it's not like there was a choice.  But the emotional response is still feeling abandoned.


I've done things the past few months that I can't explain, and others that I don't even remember.  "Your feelings are valid" does not necessarily mean "your reaction is an appropriate response to what just happened."  But having a name of what's been going on in my brain has been very helpful in trying to stop doing it.  


There's still some missing parts of the structure, as much as I want to have it figured out and be in a new normal.  Treatment is a marathon, not a sprint.  And there's so much more that I want to say but my brain is turning in to mush at the moment.

But this is a signpost for me, and maybe for someone else who is struggling.  Whether it's PTSD or depression or anxiety or whatever, you don't have to live with it.  And the American Christian world is good about shoving off mental illness as just a sin problem.  There is some truth, but it's not a complete picture.  And the flip side of therapy is that anything that does not align with what's in the Bible is worth throwing away.  And that's what I really want to get in to, but it will have to be a different day.  Maybe tomorrow afternoon.  But the past few weeks I've been working really hard and have been having better days and better relationships than I was the several months leading up to making these discoveries.

So if you take anything away from reading this- don't feel like you have to live with your problems and your pain.

11/17/2020

Human again

 I need to put a memorial stone down, even if what I do is ramble for a little bit and force accountability by putting this out on social media.  

Which I haven't been on at all in three weeks, which has been lovely.  But now I am able to handle being on it again.

But.

The pandemic has been hard on me.  The past few months have been especially hard.  Taking a job that I didn't realize was going to weigh so heavily and pay so poorly.  Struggling to connect with people that I know love me and are struggling just as hard as I am.  Trying to break back into an industry that is forever changed (and there is nothing worse than singing in a mask).  Losing complete sense of what really matters and what is temporary.  Fighting and trying harder than ever, losing harder than ever, wanting so desperately to be done with everything and at the same time not wanting to give up and yet not sure how to keep moving forward.  

One helpful thing that I probably should have done long ago has been going to therapy.  I've been using BetterHelp, and it's been very helpful the past few weeks (and if you are on the fence about doing something like it, please reach out to me, no matter where you are or what you believe, because really it's an incredible service that is crafted exactly to what you want or think you need).  

I've also held on to this:

Psalm 77 (MSG)

I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might,

    I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.

2-6 I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord;

    my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.

When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,”

    I didn’t believe a word they said.

I remember God—and shake my head.

    I bow my head—then wring my hands.

I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep;

    I can’t even say what’s bothering me.

I go over the days one by one,

    I ponder the years gone by.

I strum my lute all through the night,

    wondering how to get my life together.

7-10 Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?

    Will he never smile again?

Is his love worn threadbare?

    Has his salvation promise burned out?

Has God forgotten his manners?

    Has he angrily stalked off and left us?

“Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business

    just the moment I need him.”

11-12 Once again I’ll go over what God has done,

    lay out on the table the ancient wonders;

I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished,

    and give a long, loving look at your acts.

13-15 O God! Your way is holy!

    No god is great like God!

You’re the God who makes things happen;

    you showed everyone what you can do—

You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble,

    rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.

16-19 Ocean saw you in action, God,

    saw you and trembled with fear;

    Deep Ocean was scared to death.

Clouds belched buckets of rain,

    Sky exploded with thunder,

    your arrows flashing this way and that.

From Whirlwind came your thundering voice,

    Lightning exposed the world,

    Earth reeled and rocked.

You strode right through Ocean,

    walked straight through roaring Ocean,

    but nobody saw you come or go.

20 Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron,

You led your people like a flock of sheep.


I have been trying the past couple weeks, but specifically for many days in a row now I am finally human. There's a lot to work through.  I am still screwing up in many ways.  I am still screwed up in many ways.  But this is a signpost and a reminder that God is faithful and is holding on to me even if I lose my grip.

11/02/2020

Thankfulness list

1- I’m thankful for time change.

2- I’m thankful for cooler weather (finally).

3- I’m thankful I already voted.

4- I’m thankful for CFA breakfast.

5- I’m thankful for crying.

6- I’m thankful for rain.

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8/21/2020

Provision and faith

The past week these two verses have stuck out to me (they have parallels in Matthew but I have the feeling this entry will get too long so I'm going to stick with the Luke ones for now).

Luke 12:25-26
And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? If then you are not able to do as small a thing as that, why are you anxious about the rest? 

Luke 17:6
And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

As far as provision- Jesus says that adding an hour to our life is a small thing.  If someone said "if you drink this mixture you will guaranteed live for an extra hour" and it were proven to be true somehow, people would go crazy.  In some ways we try to add time to our lives through medicine, eating habits, working out, etc, although actively I don't think we think of it with quite that mortal of a view.  But just the concept of adding time to life is not something we really have any control over.  Having that kind of power would be HUGE.  Yet Jesus says this is a small thing for Him.  And so in the context of not worrying, Jesus is showing just how powerful He really is and how well He can provide all the things we need for life.

As far as faith- I did a little research about growing mustard, apparently it grows pretty easily with basic needs met (tilled soil, some sunlight, etc) and also grows pretty quickly.  It's common in the middle East and there are wild mustard plants that grow quite large (there's more talk of mustard seed and other seeds)
along the Jordan river.  Some translations make a size comparison (faith as small as a mustard seed) but I think that cheats a little of the original language.  There's more to compare than just size, even in the context of the disciples trying to figure out why they didn't have "enough faith" to expel demons.  But either way,  it's not the size of faith that "makes it work"- it's where the faith is placed.  If you don't put a seed in the ground, it won't grow.  And while the farmer may plant the seed, water it, care for it, but he is not actively growing the plant through any power within himself.  So the challenge for us is to actually put our faith in God's power.  And that means giving up control, letting go, and actively planting that seed of faith.

And what is faith?

Hebrews 11:1, 6
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.
And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek him.

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It's been rough.  Really since March, but also the past 10-12 weeks spiraled into darker places.  But this past week there have been some Spirit-led discoveries through some trainings I've had to do for a new job I've taken.  I've been dealing with a lot of feelings of rejection through this pandemic; being alone for an extended period of time is never a good thing, but then when I have managed to reach out, I found myself being ignored, forgotten, or brushed aside. . . and so the past few months I've found myself beyond the ability to cope with that.  It seems easier to live with the problems than to risk another rejection.  So between that and the PTSD of the pandemic response being like bone marrow transplant land, I'm a mess.  But some of that rejection I think I have misinterpreted; instead of rejection, what I was getting was sympathy.  One training module described the difference between empathy and sympathy:
Sympathy is looking down into the dark hole; empathy is coming down into the dark hole.
Sympathy says "well at least _______," empathy says "I've felt that and you're not alone."
Sympathy moves on quickly; empathy stays and listens.  
Sympathy tries to give a response to try and "make it better", a band-aid for a gaping wound; empathy makes a connection, a compassionate listening to let the other person just empty their heart. 

It's the connection that helps the healing process.  There's no "answer" to be found, that was never the goal- but people need to be heard and feel loved.

So yesterday I did probably the healthiest thing in a while and actually initiated, granted to no feedback which was not unexpected, but I know two things to process through: I need an empathetic listener, and I need to reevaluate some of my perspective on what was rejection and what was well-intentioned but ill-received sympathy.

7/16/2020

Fear

I've been avoiding Facebook for quite a while now, primarily because when I get on, I barely have to scroll before I find myself becoming very angry.  This is not my typical M.O. and so I don't like to bring myself into that.  But, a friend recently made a point that helped me see the reactions of others to the coronavirus, both those that are doomsayers and those who are deniers, are all at their core based in fear.  And as I've mulled this over the past couple days, it has really helped me think through things.

For some, the virus is scary because it might kill you, it might kill your family and friends, it might leave you with physical problems that cannot be rehabilitated.  Essentially, it's a fear of death (not only the idea that we might die but also that we might be the causation of someone else's death by passing the virus).

For others, the virus is scary because it has shut down our economy, our livelihood, our identities, our families, our ability to act freely and live independently.  Essentially, it's a fear of submission (in this case, to a virus that has no political agenda and yet has changed our lives in ways we can't control).


Ultimately for both, it is a fear of the idea that we don't have ultimate authority in our lives to shape it the way we want.


I won't go on a tirade about the American values that exacerbate the problem, but the desire to control our own destinies goes all the way back to the first created people.  Adam and Eve choose to eat the one fruit that has been set aside as "hey, don't eat this!" and so there is no surprise that we who have inherited that nature continue to approach life in that manner.

So what is the cure for this fear?  The answer as I see it is twofold.

For the non-believer, the only cure is found in Jesus.  The world is broken; if anyone thinks otherwise, just look around at what's going on.  I'm not saying that being optimistic is wrong, but at the moment a virus has effectively shut down the entire world (hence, pandemic).  However, life is broken on small scales as well: family problems, financial woes, inner turmoil, hurtful political agendas, addictions.  The world is broken beyond the repair of the people living on it.  And so what can we do?

Nothing.  Nothing on our own anyway.

God's design for man is that we would share a relationship with Him, enjoying His glory and worshipping (that is, assigning God as the object of worth).  His holiness requires perfection, but unfortunately our brokenness as expressed in sin keeps that relationship estranged.  One may say they are a "good" person, but certainly no one would say they are perfect.  And yet God is perfect (because if He isn't then He isn't a very powerful God), and He cannot mix with imperfect.  However (and this is a HUGE however) God hasn't left us without a Way.  God came down as a human, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Promised One, and lived a perfect human life.  He was killed by His own people for no legitimate reason, providing a perfect sacrifice that would pay once for all the price of sin.  And Jesus rose again, bringing victory over death and sin for all mankind and leaving for us the hope of a restored relationship with God as well as the power of God Himself via the Holy Spirit.

That's the gospel Hope.  That's the message the Church is sent to share.  That's the lifelong journey of discovering the power of God in our lives to affect change, what takes a monster like Saul and transforms him into the most prolific writer of the New Testament.  That's what takes a prideful, highly opinionated, attention seeking jerk and begins to transform him into someone who is more patient and compassionate (and I'm still working on the pride and appropriate deliverance of opinions).  That's what takes any and every person who will accept their need for salvation from their brokenness, believe in Jesus's death and resurrection, and confess their own sin before a holy God and be brought into a glorious new life for the immediate, for the future life on earth, and for the eternal life after death.

For the believer, we are told in 1 John 4 that perfect love casts out fear.  And so we must meditate on the love of God.  And we have to encourage one another in that way.  The promises of God are not always fulfilled the way we want, but that goes back to Who has authority in our lives.  "Not my will, but Yours be done."  Is this easy?  No, not always.  But open any part of the Bible and you will see both the faithfulness of God and the need of man to depend on Him.  This is why we need each other, why God appointed the church as the primary medium of His mission, because we need others to help us pursue God.

I could go on and on but instead, I will end with three things:

First, if you don't buy into the whole Jesus thing, then ask me questions about what you don't like.  I won't pretend to have all the answers to every single thing that comes up, but also the answers I will give you will come from the authority of Scripture, not just out of my own head.

Second, if you do believe but you are struggling, reach out, to me or someone else.  This pandemic has been awful for some and not so bad for others, but even without that added in, we are not meant to navigate life in isolation (physically we may be isolated, but technology allows us to make some connection).

Finally, wherever you fall, consider how fear may be playing in to the way you are currently living/acting/posting on social media.  Fear is a powerful motivator but it's also very manipulative.  Read primary source materials, not just headlines.  Look at the research, not the interpretation of the research.  Recognize that no one knows everything about what is going on.  Consider the golden rule of treating others the way you would want to be treated, regardless of if they treat you that way.

7/01/2020

Getting back to the light

So I did a little research to see if there were any tips for getting your body off of night shift and guys, it turns out that night shift is bad for you!  How did I miss out on that little detail!  I did nights at Wal-Mart for 7 weeks but that was also like 6 months after Camz died so all of that was a hard point in life anyway, but hey! my going crazy is more legitimate than I wanted to give credit!  And then you add forced social isolation and a job that didn't require talking even though there are people around (like literally I would say I made three work friends and I don't know any of their names) and hey! your losing your mind is extremely circumstantial!

I've been in a peculiar dark place for the past couple weeks.  There have been ups and downs through the past few months but I wonder if I had not quit now, then how much further down I would have gotten. . . I still have no specific plan though I have some options presented, and as I pursue them I know God will make it clear which one(s) are for me to take.  But I've got to get back to living in the light of day, and I'm going to bite the bullet and try and stay up through most of today.  I can't stand the thought of another 8-10 hour chunk of time in the dark, alone, waiting for anyone to wake up in order to get the most meager of human connection through text messaging.

Last night I tried my best to sleep extra or at least stay in bed.  I stayed up pretty late (until like 12 or 1) so I didn't wake up until around 8 PM, but then around 10:30 I went and laid back down).  I didn't get back out of bed until 2, and I fell asleep twice which I know because of the dreams I had.  The first was one where we were moving into a new house.  There were no closets but lots of oddly designed armoires that opened from both sides. . . like most dreams, the physical layout of things didn't really make a lot of sense (like, a handful of steps up or down into each room, and I feel like I never got to the bottom floor of the place).  I was doing my best to organize things but not get too far because I knew that Camz would want to be a part of it, and especially with treatment knowing that any time to express control over using her brain power was an important thing for me to provide.  And so when she got there we got to doing the work, and it was going well, just looking through all the stuff and finding a place for everything, and then I woke up.

Those kinds of dreams aren't super common for me, at least not lately; the last couple have been much worse because usually I'm trying to get somewhere but I have a problem navigating the roads, and then when I get to whatever location it is it turns out I had been making my way to her funeral.  I've had that dream twice in the past three months, I think this has been the only time in recent past where she's been alive in a dream.  (The second dream was much less interesting, I was just going to some public park and fighting with people about wearing masks, but it was just as clear/realistic)

And then finally I wake up for real to reality, to coronalife, to unemployment, to 2 AM.

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Clinging desperately to vv. 11-12:

Psalm 77 (MSG)
1-6 I yell out to my God, I yell with all my might, I yell at the top of my lungs. He listens.   I found myself in trouble and went looking for my Lord; my life was an open wound that wouldn’t heal.  When friends said, “Everything will turn out all right,” I didn’t believe a word they said.  I remember God—and shake my head.  I bow my head—then wring my hands.  I’m awake all night—not a wink of sleep; I can’t even say what’s bothering me.  I go over the days one by one, I ponder the years gone by.  I strum my lute all through the night, wondering how to get my life together.

7-10 Will the Lord walk off and leave us for good?  Will he never smile again?  Is his love worn threadbare?  Has his salvation promise burned out?  Has God forgotten his manners?  Has he angrily stalked off and left us?  “Just my luck,” I said. “The High God goes out of business just the moment I need him.”

11-12 Once again I’ll go over what God has done, lay out on the table the ancient wonders; I’ll ponder all the things you’ve accomplished, and give a long, loving look at your acts.

13-15 O God! Your way is holy! No god is great like God!  You’re the God who makes things happen; you showed everyone what you can do—  You pulled your people out of the worst kind of trouble, rescued the children of Jacob and Joseph.

16-19 Ocean saw you in action, God, saw you and trembled with fear;  Deep Ocean was scared to death.  Clouds belched buckets of rain, Sky exploded with thunder, your arrows flashing this way and that.  From Whirlwind came your thundering voice, Lightning exposed the world, Earth reeled and rocked.  You strode right through Ocean, walked straight through roaring Ocean, but nobody saw you come or go.

20 Hidden in the hands of Moses and Aaron, You led your people like a flock of sheep.