I’m sipping my coffee and thinking about my recent meltdown, and the later realization that it may have been connected in some way to the recent clutter-reducing destruction of many years of paper journals. After so many years of working to improve my emotional wellness and heal whatever I can of my PTSD, it took me by surprise to have such a bad episode so recently. I was completely taken by surprise – and frankly, that’s almost comical; intellectually, I know not to just “tick a box” and call myself “well”. Mental illness doesn’t work like that – it’s more a journey taken over time. A lifetime.

When I began talking it over with my therapist, it became pretty clear that the chaos and damage that surfaced in those painful moments sourced with some of my earliest adult trauma in my first marriage, and I know that that had its foundation in the childhood traumas that are older still. I was (and am still) dealing with the lasting effects of family violence. In the here-and-now, where such traumas are not part of my current experience, I was nonetheless “primed” for panic because the daily news is filled with stories of family violence, family killings, and domestic violence related femicides (I do my best to avoid reading those articles, but the headlines are everywhere).

Firstly, let’s just get this out of the way; don’t kill people you say you love. (This seems obvious…?) Don’t raise your hand in violence outside the explicit requirements of actual fucking warfare. Just… don’t. Violence is ugly, unnecessary, and the outcomes are unpleasant and often quite permanent. If you are an American in the United States, our social contract with each other states – in writing – that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “inalienable rights”, and this means you are explicitly agreeing that these things are sacrosanct and not to be taken lightly. So… yeah. Don’t fucking kill people. Especially do not kill your fucking family. Jeez… who are we that this has to be said??

So, yeah. Here I am almost 60, and I am still dealing with the traumas inflicted on me as a child, and those inflicted on me as a young adult. We’re talking about horrors of many years ago… more than 30 years ago. Fucking hell. You’d think spending something like 30-40 years in therapy (on and off, and most recently a pretty consistent 10 years or so) would mean… no more chaos and damage. No more panic attacks. No more freak outs. No more tears.

It doesn’t work that way. It’s more like the crumpled paper analogy suggests (used as a lesson for anti-bullying, but quite relevant). The damage is done. The lasting outcomes are… lasting. The lost trust. The peculiar defensiveness. The hyper-vigilance. The thinking errors. Some of it can be corrected and eased over time… with practice. Some of it… maybe it’s always part of who we are as survivors. Scars that tell the tale.

Note: having been hurt doesn’t get us out from under our own obligation to be the best human being we know how to be. Being hurt is not an excuse for inflicting hurts on others. Just saying… adulting is hard.

I’m not sitting here feeling gloomy or tragic. I mean, fuck yes it’s a major bummer, and frustrating as shit… but… there’s hope for further improvement over time. I come back again and again to the tools that work, and to the lessons learned over time. I take a moment to reflect on how much progress has been made, and how much easier things actually are. So many new beginnings. The chaos and damage doesn’t tell the whole story, and living mired in my nightmares is no longer my way. That’s something. My results still vary. I still need practice practicing the practices that shore up my wellness and promote healing. That’s just real. It’s a commitment to healing – and to living well.

The harder part here may be balancing what I know through experience and study with what I achieve through my words and my actions – making the understanding a living experience isn’t an instant win. There are so many verbs involved. Try, fail, try again… repeat. Very human. (Don’t give up, just keep practicing and improve over time.) While I’m not personally to blame for the horrors or violence inflicted on me, I am personally responsible for those that I inflict on others subsequently – whatever the hurts that shaped me.

I sip my coffee enjoying the quiet time to reflect on the powerful impression trauma makes on our entire being, and the way it can shape who we become and color how we see the world around us. Worth a moment or two of self-reflection and I find myself wondering if it is too soon for another trip to the coast to watch the waves pound the beach on a stormy afternoon while thinking about the lasting effect of trauma, and how best to begin again? If not that, well then, it’s another work day, and other beginnings have my attention.

Another day, another new beginning. 🙂 Time to choose my adventure…

My Traveling Partner and I recently watched a video that made some bold claims about the “harms of mindfulness” as a “culture” or as a self-help service available for anyone… at a cost. I rather expected I’d disagree throughout; I’ve gotten a lot out of mindfulness practices. Instead, I found myself nodding along. See, here’s the thing, “mindfulness” practices really don’t need to cost a single cent. Google “mindfulness”, watch some unbranded professional quality “not selling you shit” content, and start practicing – it could be that simple, and that close to being wholly free. It gets expensive when you start adding on self-help “professionals”, new age “gurus”, spiritual “healers”, and their many mindfulness centers, methods, systems, and… fees. What’s so crazy to me is that in general, much of this seems to come out of a genuine interest in making mindfulness practices available for the betterment of people who are suffering. (Scammers will always do what scammers have always done; grab an idea, gloss it up with an emotionally engaging pitch, and start raking in the profits at the expense of many who can’t legitimately afford that.)

Break free of the sales pitch, the expensive retreats, and the costly subscription service. Just be. Breathe. Exhale. Relax. No, it’s not a cure for everything. Hell, it’s maybe not a “cure” for anything at all. Does it feel good? It can. Is it helpful? It may be – it is for me, personally.

Maybe you think you are “doing it wrong” and that’s why it “isn’t working” for you? What do you mean when you say “working for you”? If you think it is going to solve all of your challenges, stop you ever shedding a tear or feeling hurt or knocked down in life, you may want to reconsider what you expect of this simple humble healthy practice. Let it do what it can, and stop right there.

…I’m saying this because I have considered, now and then, the monetary potential in having a successful mindfulness blog…what would that take? What would it look like (for me)? I always come back to the place I started; I don’t have a hunger to make a profit on the suffering of folks who are struggling to find balance or peace. That just seems like a shitty thing to do (to me). I mean, seriously? I’d be writing anyway. I write. I’d be meditating anyway. It has worked for me. The concepts are not new, and aside from the price of a handful of books, they haven’t cost me anything much. Why wouldn’t I share my knowledge (whatever I’ve got) and my words freely? I’ve considered writing a book. If/when I take that step, sure, pay me. LOL Fair.

One thing I didn’t like about the video we watched was the way the content was written to explicitly mock certain concepts or exercises used in one program or another to teach mindfulness practices. I found that unnecessary, misleading, and in poor taste generally. (We live in a world that seems to place value on misleading words in poor taste that are not helpful or necessary… which sucks, but that’s a different bit of writing for another day, I suppose.) I’m thinking specifically about the “eating a raisin” exercise that appears in MSBR coursework and other places.

As for “doing it wrong”…? Are you?

Any comfy cushion will do.

Here’s the thing about the “eating a raisin” exercise (in my opinion) – it isn’t at all about the raisin. Nothing to do with raisins in any way. Choose your fruit. Choose whatever taste or sensation you care to explore more deeply. The exercise itself is about being present, aware, and engaged entirely with that sensory experience. That’s it. You could do it with… oh, say… a cup of coffee. (If you’re a regular reader, is it now dawning on you that perhaps my frequent starting point of observing that “I am sipping my coffee…” may have significance you didn’t previously realize?) Yep. I practice this exercise often – with my coffee – to become more engaged, more “grounded”, more present in my physical reality, more “awake and aware” – because I frankly need the fucking practice. I was irked that the content creator we were watching tear down the simple (and admittedly somewhat silly) “eat a raisin” practice missed the whole fucking point of the exercise.

…I did appreciate that the video was explicitly opposed to financially exploiting the emotional pain of people seeking solutions through mindfulness, though. Don’t spend money on free shit, people. You don’t have to put yourself through that. If you want professional mindfulness coaching and you have the money and are willing to spend it on that? Get a good therapist. Period. Pay for what has legitimate value. Want to take a luxury retreat and practice meditation and mindfulness? Book a comfortable hotel on the coast somewhere, and take yourself there and be mindful. Enjoy. It doesn’t need to cost thousands of dollars, have a “name brand guru” smiling on the brochure, or require a waiting list. lol Seriously. What did you think my “going coastal” adventure days were about? That’s me taking a “meditation retreat” more often than not. 🙂

Sufficiency. Perspective. Mindfulness. Wrapped up in a bow. 😀 Enjoy. Please don’t just give your hard-earned money to charlatans, fake gurus, or slick salespeople. It’s not necessary.

I take one last sip of my ill-chosen coffee. It has gone cold – a fitting fate for a lavender Americano (turns out I do not enjoy the flavor of lavender in my coffee as much as I enjoy the scent of it). I sit with the feeling of a quiet start to an ordinary day for a moment longer.

Now I begin again.

Thinking about a question of perspective, of sorts. I occasionally have experiences where it is clear that the understanding of me held by the person I am interacting with is very much not at all consistent with how I understand myself. I often wonder how that comes to be, and whether it is their misunderstanding (of me) causing the mischief or my own potential lack of awareness of how I present myself: how my behavior is received, and how the words I say are understood. Are they “speaking with a golem” of the woman I actually am that stands somehow between us? Is it me? Am I so thoroughly lacking in understanding of my words and actions in a practical way? Is it both? Neither?

…Am I the woman I understand myself to be, and if so, is that true only when I am alone, or also when I am interacting with others? If I am not she… who the hell am I? A construct of the expectations and assumptions of others? That doesn’t seem quite right to me, so I keep thinking about it…

I think about it during the commute to the office. I think about it over my morning coffee. I think about it while I bite my nails. I think about it as I walk down the hall to a meeting. I think about it in the break room. I think about it at my desk while I work.

I think about this question now and then – and today is definitely one of those times. I think about it without gaining wisdom or coming to some sort of reliable conclusion. I think about it…

…Then I put it aside and begin again.

I’m drinking water and counting myself grateful to have indoor plumbing, hot and cold running potable water from a tap in the house, and additional filtration that ensures the water is clean, and free of weird tastes or sediment. It’s nice. I’m drinking water because I’ve already had my coffee and frankly I do need to be drinking more water. Recent longevity-associated articles reporting on the value of being well-hydrated did not go unnoticed. I started paying attention to the differences on days when I am not well-hydrated vs days when I am – and nights. Yes, drinking more water definitely results in getting up to pee more often during the night, but that doesn’t seem to have anything at all to do with whether I sleep well and deeply, or how easily I return to sleep, so… small price to pay? Well, I guess I hadn’t previously thought so, until I noticed that being well-hydrated seemed to also reduce my snoring (noticeably), as well as improving my ability to lubricate naturally (still a pretty big deal for me, personally, in spite of being post-menopause I really enjoy sex), like, a lot. So I’m pretty committed to drinking more water.

Keep practicing.

…I learned quite recently, and yes “the hard way”, that one bad spell with my mental health can wreck that progress in mere hours. Friday evening I went through some shit and had a nasty flare up of my PTSD on this whole other difficult to describe level. It was bad. I put my Traveling Partner through some bullshit over it (always regrettable and complicated). It got bad enough that I actually had a flashback, and those have gotten to be very rare. The ridiculous level of hysteria I ultimately reached (calling it a “panic attack” doesn’t do the chaos justice at all) caused me to cry a quantity of tears that finally resulted in a loss of moisture that definitely resulted in me more than a little dehydrated by dawn. I woke Saturday morning with a stuffy head, swollen eyes, and feeling like “everything had come crashing down”. It passed, but… it wasn’t good. The low point was the painful awareness that even medicated, I am at risk. I am grateful to have the partner I do. The chaos and damage don’t reliably “take no for an answer” once shit skitters sideways. The self-directed shame and disappointment immediately add an additional gut-punch that makes bouncing back hard. On top of all of that? Damn few people actually “get” what flashbacks are actually like, and they aren’t portrayed in the movies or in media very skillfully (how could they be?).

It’s important to take care of myself. Regardless of the chaos and damage, regardless of my personal starting point on life’s journey, or where I am standing when I begin again. Problematically, this is true for everyone; self-care matters. I don’t “get a head-start” when I practice good self-care – I don’t even get to start at the same starting point as “everyone else”. I’ve started this journey where my starting point happened to be. Self-care is a thing that it is very helpful to do – for everyone. I’m still me. Still have the issues I have. Still have to work on those issues. Still have to trust that incremental change over time will improve things. Still have to recognize that my results are going to vary. My demons got the better of me on Friday night in a big way. I’m fortunate to have a loving partner willing to support my long-term wellness and growth. I’m grateful that I can understand that there is no implicit promise that having a loving partner will actually make this shit any “easier”. I’ve still got to walk my own hard mile. I’ve still got to do the work. I’m still going to fall down now and then, and have to pick myself up and start over. Begin again.

Some practices are more critical than others. Some practices are more emotionally nourishing than others. Some are more or less effective for me as an individual. I did not imagine the simple act of drinking enough water would be one of those very simple very big deals among all my practices, but here we are.

Selecting good practices is a bit like building a healthy diet… fruit is delicious. Sooo tasty. Filled with nutrients we need. Yum. The thing is, though, it’s also full of sugar. Like a lot of sugar. For many of us, building our diet around tasty fruits is not notably healthier than building it around any other tasty sweets. [Note: I am not a nutritionist or dietician, nothing I say in this blog should be construed as medical or dietary advice. I am using “diet” and nutrition metaphorically here.] Veggies may not be as sweetly delicious and tempting in the way luscious ripe fruits can be, but they do make a far better foundation for my diet. So… it matters to choose with care. Whether we’re talking about a healthy diet, the practices we choose for our emotional wellness, the partnership in which we spend our days (and nights)… or the practices we choose for our physical wellness. Turns out some of the most basic practices for my self-care support both my emotional wellness and my physical wellness (looking your way drinking water and eating more veggies!!). It’s worth thinking about for more than a moment. Abandon any one of those cornerstones of a good life, and the foundation isn’t solid enough to rest upon.

Get right down to it, and there’s just no magic bullet, or pill, or single solution to “all of the shit we go through”. No partnership can bear the weight of all of our bullshit. We’ve got to do all the things we can – everything we know to do, as reliably as we’re able to learn to practice. Through practice. Sounds like a huge thing to commit to, but taken a practice at a time, doesn’t it just amount to living life? I think about it a while, let the songs play. Watch the tiny bar of sunlight creep across my desk.

My partner comes in and rubs my shoulders and neck for a moment. “You writin’ a book?” he asks with a laugh. I laugh back; there are no shortcuts.

It’s time to begin again.

It’s evening. Quiet. Chill. My Traveling Partner is working on a project in another room. I’m listening to tunes and relaxing. Nothing much going on. The stress of the morning seems long ago. Distant emotionally. I’m okay. I knew then that I would be although I couldn’t really “feel it” in any sort of immediate way. It took a while.

Listen, this is not that unusual; it can take time to get past a difficult emotional moment. More so if you’ve got that feeling paired to some trauma in your past, or if you’re an “emotional wreck” still trying to sort out who you really are, or if you’ve survived some types of head trauma, or if you’re sick… we don’t all bounce back fast. We don’t all bounce back easily. That’s just real. Cut yourself (and each other) some slack. We’re human. Each having our own experience. It’s gotta at least be emotionally safe to be your own best friend, to “be there” for yourself. It has to be okay to give yourself time to course-correct, and get past that moment and on to the next. It’ll pass. Let it.

…If it’s “not you”? I still say it’ll pass. I still plead with you to let it. Just that. Yield to the passage of time and let your own bullshit – and theirs – go. Let it go. Breathe. Exhale. Relax.

Still sucks to deal with though, right? I know. Get used to that shit. Welcome to humanity. Welcome to adulthood. This journey is the most “important” one of your life… and there’s no fucking map. lol. I’d maybe be careful about calling any one point a destination, too. Easiest to let the journey be the destination, and accept that “the way out is through” – more often than not. Pick a theme song, turn that sucker up loud, and enjoy the ride.

Maybe have a cup of tea, and give yourself a break? Then begin again. 🙂