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Funny thing happened yesterday, while I was sorting out what paintings will hang where, here in the new house… an ex crossed my mind. Oh, very briefly, and not in a weird or upsetting or chilling way. I was simply hunting for a particular painting I thought would be exceptional in a specific location, and I could not find it. I could not find it in the stacks of paintings in my studio closet, or in the flat storage cabinets along the wall, or stacked among the unsorted stacks-by-size, or… anywhere. Weird, right? I mean… not so weird; paintings sell. I don’t put much energy into selling art (not the sort of energy I put into painting paintings, for sure), but some of them do still somehow wander off in exchange for money. lol

I solved the mystery with an email search. I almost always email my partner when a painting sells. The subject line is pretty nearly always the same:

“[name of painting] sold! $xxx.xx”.

No idea why, exactly, I do this, but I do, and I can count on two things: firstly, batches of new work get emailed to a friend and attached (giving me a date they were created, and some notes about the new work, often including size, media notes, technical details, and title, if not also providing some insights into my inspiration at that time), and secondly, I email my partner when work sells (giving me details about where it went, and for how much it sold, and when). It only took a few minutes to find the original email with the new work attached… then a few more to find the sale acknowledged. (I could do much better with my business record keeping. lol I even think I should.)

That’s it, really. End of the tale. I sold the painting I had in mind to an ex, almost a decade ago, for a not-insignificant sum. In that moment of acknowledgement (and relief that I hadn’t just lost the damned thing), my ex crossed my mind. Briefly. Impersonally. Healing really does happen. Sometimes it takes more time than feels reasonable or convenient, but it can happen.

“K5: Gently Now” 16″ x 20″ acrylic on canvas w/glow, May, 2010

This morning I sip my coffee and enjoy the quiet morning, undisturbed by thoughts of exes. They aren’t part of my life, by choice, and generally with good reasons.

It’s a new day. The sky is still dark. The house is quiet. The coffee is hot and the mug warms my hands pleasantly. I sit with my thoughts awhile. New beginnings will be soon enough. There’s definitely room in my day for “now“.

One of the big motherfucker’s of PTSD is the lasting impact, the lasting change to cognition, implicit memory, patterns of thought – all the things that make up the “D” (disorder) in PTSD. It’s hard. Recognizing the damage done, and the way it holds potential to “call our shots”, in the moment, is one of the enormous challenges involved in healing. It’s a lot of work finding – and maintaining – perspective and balance. I don’t point these things out as someone who has found her way, or has some solution, or is “over it. I point them out because I am still affected, even 39 years later. The worst of it, in the here and now, is the way it affects relationships with people dear to me who were in no way involved in the damage done, who mean me no harm, and indeed wish me well and want to share some piece of life’s journey with me.

Fuck PTSD.

It’s a major “begin again” moment, right here. My symptoms flared up completely “out of nowhere” (by that I mean, “predictably, but I wasn’t watching for it because I made foolish assumptions about my current emotional wellness, generally”). I certainly could have handled myself much better than I did. A chill calm morning shattered by tense voices, hurt feelings, frustration, irrational fears… it can feel like ruination. It can feel like more damage is done. It can feel like “spreading it around”. It definitely isn’t “fair”. There is guilt and shame beginning to try to fill the space where those irrational fears had been acting out their moment of drama. It’s fucking hard. It’s very very real.

Mental illness – and mental wellness – may not conform to our idea of what they “should” look like, who “should” be afflicted, or how we think such things “ought to” progress. I’ve learned a handful of things over the time and distance this healing journey has covered, though. Mental illness is commonplace. We’ve all got problems. We all hurt sometimes. No one is immune to communication challenges, or emotions.

I take a deep breath. I exhale. I relax. I let it go. My Traveling Partner alerts me he is going to soak in the hot tub. His tone is no assurance that I’m actually welcome… so I choose to do the hard thing; I open myself up to potential hurt feelings, and suggest I’d like to join him. He doesn’t say “no” or set a boundary. I take a deep breath… and begin again.

We soak together, listen to birds sing, and let the day begin.

It’s some time later, now. Feels like a mostly ordinary, pleasant morning, aside from the very deliberate gentleness and care we are taking with each other as we move on from a difficult moment. Do you love someone with PTSD? Complex PTSD? Bi-polar disorder? Depression? Anxiety? It’s hard, right? It’s not your “fault” – it’s also not their “fault”. Mental illness is hard work for the one afflicted – and hard work for the people who love them. Take a breath. Get some distance if you need it. Ideally… don’t punish each other. I know. Hard. All of it is hard. Good practices help – they take actual practice, and consistency, and they do help. A lot. Good therapy in the care of a qualified clinician helps (not always easy to find the right therapist, and it can be costly, I get it). Working to avoid compounding mental illness with “second dart suffering” and further inflicted hurts unwittingly delivered on each other is so important… and again, so much work. I can only say “keep practicing” and “begin again”. Yes, my results vary. No lie. Sometimes I fall short of my best self. I may never be wholly “well” in a reliable way that I can casually trust – my vigilance (regarding my symptoms) and (good) self-care practices are one thing I can offer my partner(s) to prevent doing them further damage. It’s not always enough… but I can’t take that personally.

I begin again.

So, I’ve got this day ahead of me, and things to do with it. I’ve hit the reset button, and the rest is a big pile of verbs. It’s up to me which of those I grab onto and apply to the day. 🙂

What about you? Are you ready to begin again? You’ve got this!

First there was the sound of a loud bump or bang. I heard that through the wall of my studio, where I was working. Then, I heard the sound of… running water? Like… loud. Splashing. From a room with no source of water… Shit. The aquarium… I pushed my chair back abruptly and went quickly to the room next door. There was water pooling on the carpet and soaking in, everywhere. Shards and chunks of glass. I could hear the water still flowing and see my Traveling Partner trapped on the other side of a tall bookcase, standing off-kilter, askew, leaning against the wall, above and into the shattered side of the 10 gallon aquarium in the room I call “my library”. Fucking hell. I helped push the bookcase into a standing position, to allow my partner to get around it, and out. He was doing the “calm-but-freaked-out” thing that happens to people when they are mired in an unexpected disaster. “I don’t know what to do, here…” he admitted. A different section of my brain than is the typical day-to-day was still engaged; I’d been working on a complex problem against a deadline. I hear my calm firm voice reply “move the bookcase out of the room so we can get started on clean up; I’ll get towels”.

I handed my partner the entire towel-content of the linen closet, and while he began mopping up water, I began picking up the biggest pieces of glass with great care, avoiding areas that appeared covered in small shards. Task by task we got the worst things handled straight away. Fish, snails, and shrimp, the living creatures were recovered and put into suitable water as quickly as we spotted them. Our tiny portable shop vac, advertised as “wet or dry” definitely wasn’t up for this challenge. Creatures retrieved and placed into water, I headed purposefully to the nearest hardware store for a proper shop-vac worthy of a garage that is planned to become, over time, my partner’s workshop/maker space. While I did that, my partner stayed behind, cleaning up more water and throwing the used, soaking wet towels into the wash. He placed the shattered aquarium, improbably still held together by a cheap plastic bottom frame and silicon-sealed joints at the corners, into a plastic tote big enough to hold it, and then supported one side a bit higher, allowing a pool of water to remain – a haven for any shrimp or fish we hadn’t netted successfully earlier. He moved the almost-new wooden aquarium stand (a cabinet type) off the soaked carpet beneath it, and into a dry place in the garage, with a breeze on it, so it would, perhaps, dry out.

…Sometimes a project goes very wrong, without any provocation or obvious cause…

I decided to re-home the now-homeless creatures (surviving in a small pitcher) by putting them into my big aquarium (and because there was little opportunity to acclimate them well or quarantine them, I was explicitly also choosing to “hope for the best” on their survival – and that of the community they joined so quickly). The big Mystery Snail was unfolding from her shell and beginning to explore almost immediately. The wee delicate Otocinclus, which were spotted and carefully netted by my Traveling Partner during the chaos and clean-up, surprised me with their resilience when I encouraged them out of the small pitcher they were in, and into the large community tank; they quickly joined the three Otocinclus there and began to settle in. The Blue Velvet Shrimp… well, they’re hard to spot against the dark substrate of the broken aquarium, honestly. Did we get them all? Really? I’m not certain, but I think we did. Later this morning, I’ll check for dead, dying, or injured creatures, and salvage the substrate, and decor, from the shattered tank (the plants have already been moved to the big tank). I don’t yet know if I will set up a second tank, again… for now that’s only a thought. More a question.

She doesn’t even have a name. I’m nonetheless surprisingly attached to her.

Funny thing… during the first days moving in, I carelessly spilled 2-3 gallons of water on our beautiful living room floor. I wailed in disappointment and self-inflicted emotional pain, in that moment. I cried – for nearly an hour, almost in hysterics over the mess, and throughout the time it took to clean it all up. I felt I had “ruined everything” in some catastrophic way. (I hadn’t. Clean water, vinyl floor… it was mostly just a pain in the ass, and very annoying after working with such care to bring the aquariums home to the new house.) This time? 8 gallons or so of actual “fish water”? Spilled into carpet? With living creatures tossed out into open air? A small hole gouged into the wall by the falling bookcase? Broken glass everywhere? This was a much bigger deal…  and I was beyond calm about it. Stressed, sure, but also measured, reasonable, practical, and purposeful. No tears. Still, even now, no tears. No one bleeding. No one died. House still standing.

As of now, this morning, I don’t think even one creature actually died during the mishap… and the new shop-vac did a great job of pulling the water out of the carpet. My Traveling Partner was skillful, effective, and cooperative; we worked together to deal with the worst of things, allowing me to return to work (first day back!); he finished the clean-up.  We began again. We hung out. We watched videos. We ate salads.

I sip my coffee this morning, preparing for the day ahead, reflecting for a moment on yesterday’s successes – and challenges. Wondering at the differences in the way I handled two somewhat similar small disasters, and learning just a bit more about what makes the woman in the mirror tick. I consider the day ahead and hope for an easy, uneventful, day – relaxed and productive, would be ideal, I think. I’ll be quite appreciative and grateful for a day approaching routine and ordinary. I give thought to my sleeping partner in the other room, hoping that he wakes well-rested, and feeling good.

I glance at the time. I’m unsurprised to find that it’s already time to begin again. I could use another cup of coffee…  🙂

I was sipping my coffee on a morning after my Traveling Partner had returned home from some trip or another. It was quiet in the room, and in our home, and even out on the street beyond. I woke ahead of the alarm by quite a bit, and there was no hint of dawn-to-come in the sky. Not at that point. My coffee was too hot to easily drink. Based on a couple hesitant, testing, sips, it was also not very good. I pondered the variables in a cup of coffee, mystified and still groggy; how is one cup so crappy, and another so sublime? Don’t I make them all the same way? Do the tiniest subtle differences in timing or process make that much difference? (Are the differences, perhaps, not with the coffee, itself, at all?)

I sighed quietly, a measured, careful, observed exhalation, slowly released following a deep breath. I felt my chest expand as I inhaled, contracting as I exhaled. A cough interrupted the quiet. Another sip of coffee. That moment was okay, and I remained with it, centered and calm, for a while.

(This particular moment was almost a year ago – a blog post written, never published. It finishes thusly…)

It was an okay homecoming. I knew, when I arrived home, that my partner was wholly exhausted, having driven 1800 miles straight on home, then on arriving, unable to actually sleep (coffee is an excellent tool to keep one awake for a long drive, and the risk to our sleep, later, is often one we find acceptable at the time), until much later – shortly before I went to bed, myself. I made dinner. We ate it. Shared a couple of anecdotes. Managed to be contentious and at odds with each other for a moment, and got over that. We are, unavoidably, quite different people, and also quite similar. Neither of those things is an assurance of always being comfortable together, or always being in genial shared space, or even holding the same opinion about literally anything. We’re individuals.

The evening passed gently after dinner. We entertained ourselves with conversation and videos. Eventually, he called it a night, and later so did I.

I woke easily, and well-rested. I’ve already forgotten some useful habits for shared space. lol I think about the commonplace usefulness of any basic tool, whether it is a screwdriver or a habit; lacking the most appropriate tool for any given task is likely to result in greater than average difficulty, increased task complexity, frustration, and time lost to struggling with pieces that don’t fit. In the same way a screwdriver isn’t the correct tool to fit a pipe, good self-care practices are not likely to also be good communication practices (although good communication is a part of good self-care, when it comes to boundaries and expectations). It has been a common (and way too real) experience on this healing path that my own wellness does not change the general state of wellness for any one other person – and they still live their life, and see things through the lens of, their own perspective on life, on circumstances – and on the relationship we share. We are each having our own experience – and we’re not all using the same tools to get any given job done. It’s pretty complicated stuff, and a lot of human beings are barely managing their own bullshit; it’s a lot to ask that people also be kind, compassionate, patient with one another, assuming positive intent… it starts to feel more like juggling than living, at some points. It’s still worth making that attempt, in my own experience.

…It also takes practice. As with using any unfamiliar tool, it definitely takes practice, and some basic knowledge. Your results may vary – particularly where relationship skills go! (You’re not doing that job alone, and even such things as “getting along” and “communicating” and “sharing” require practice, and a commitment to learning and growing, and you can only do your own.) It can be seriously frustrating, however familiar and commonplace a task seems, to grab that screwdriver, and once already frustrated, realize that the damned thing is a Phillips-head screwdriver not a flat-head. Well, shit. That got complicated fast. True in life, love, and home repairs. LOL

So… I guess I keep practicing. 🙂 Honestly, in every practical way, I only need to practice my own practices, and handle my own self-care. The relationship stuff works out much more easily when I give other people room to be themselves, care for themselves, and we’re open to both the differences, and the things we share – while still understanding that however close we are, or may become, we are nonetheless quite individual. I smile and drink my coffee; nothing new here. I struggle, mostly, when I forget to let go. Attachment to assumptions, expectations, or internal narrative can quickly sabotage an otherwise good time.

…Strangely timely as we two individuals prepare to move. I found it “by mistake” (or at least not looking for it) moments ago, as I considered writing something that, oddly, feels pretty well-covered by the draft I opened with an errant mouse-click. Helpful circumstance. One that puts me gently “back on the path” feeling I’ve understood myself just a bit better in this moment right here, right now… I settle myself into work, and begin again. 🙂

Boundaries are funny things. Relationships are fraught with things to do with boundaries: tested boundaries, inadvertently violated boundaries, well-intended willful transgressions of boundaries, and failures to set and manage boundaries with care (or skill). I have, more than once, been situations such that I’ve set a boundary, unsuccessfully reinforced that boundary, and later found myself in violation of my own boundary/limitations! I’ve received firm “push back” regarding a thing I did/said or did not do/say that seemed, in the moment, unreasonable to me, because I’d been letting that person “off the hook” on something very similar that mattered to me, and subsequently feeling a lot of resentment when they undertake to set that boundary, themselves. Instant drama. I mean, for real – this is a major shortcut to conflict, strife, and unhappy discourse. It can develop into a serious see-saw of repeatedly broken “rules” in a relationship, and result in resentment building up over time, even though in some cases it would certainly appear that all concerned want the same basic outcome, and are setting a same/similar boundary on a single clear concern. 0_o

…Humans being human…

I reminded myself, yesterday, to “get off the see-saw” when my partner approached me courteously and set a clear simple boundary (that I had, myself, set at some previous time, under other circumstances). I felt my annoyance flair up. Didn’t I say… I stop myself. Here’s the thing; my Traveling Partner was only asking of me something that I myself want to see be our shared routine. So… what’s with the aggravation? Isn’t a cheerful “sure thing!” more appropriate? If something matters to us both, enough to set boundaries to support it, aren’t we in agreement on the value/importance of that thing or practice? It would seem so. Do I really need to “have my moment” on it? Isn’t it enough to appreciate that we’ve had a meeting of the minds on the topic? Do I actually also need to have “credit” for “coming up with it”? For real?

…Why do I care who gets “credit” for a quality-of-life-improving idea, within the context of a healthy partnership?

Clinging to our righteous position on some detail or another (particularly something as facile who suggested what first) when all seem to be in agreement on the basics of what has value and what is to be done about that, well – it’s just stirring up drama. lol I don’t much care for pointless drama. I really don’t. So, I took a breath, offered my enthusiastic agreement to the requested boundary, and moved on with my day. Why would I choose any differently? 🙂 In relationships in which people have shared values, similar (or the same) ideas, and yes, even boundaries, are highly likely. Staying focused on the outcome instead of the request (or suggestion) makes so much more sense than fussing over being asked to do what we, ourselves, would ideally like to see done. lol

I smile to myself over my coffee. Sure, sure, changing a habit, and building a new practice is a lot of repetition. Being responsible, accountable, and aware of my actions is routine stuff (and yeah, sometimes challenging) – ideally, I catch my own mistakes and correct those, and move on. No fuss, no bother, no nagging, no turmoil. 🙂 Practices need practice. I’ve got time for practicing. The same is true of my Traveling Partner. We’re both equally human. My TBI doesn’t make me more (or less) human – it just requires me to be mindful, to need a few reminders, a bit of patience, and a lot of practice. 🙂 We have time for that.

I listen to birds seeing beyond the window, and let my thoughts wander to mornings at the new address… what will those be like? What birds will be seeing? Will there be squirrels on the deck there? I was out there yesterday, briefly, tape measure in hand. The neighborhood is quiet. I could hear birdsong and breezes. It’s exciting to contemplate this move… another beginning. 🙂

…I like beginnings…