Archives for posts with tag: fear is the mind killer

I’m awake. It’s 1:37 am.

I’m not awake for some wonderfully cool reason, like a late night out with friends, or not yet home from a concert, or anything like that. I’d intended to be sleeping, and until some moments ago, I was.

I woke abruptly from a deep sleep, heart pounding hard and beating very fast. I felt short of breath, and fearful. Panicked. The world was quiet, so I could pretty safely assume whatever woke me was internal, rather than external. I didn’t struggle to find a solution to my racing heart and gasping breath; I immediately, gently, eased myself into a very comfortable relaxed position, and began slowing and deepening my breathing, and soothing my consciousness; there was nothing obvious to be so frightened about. I started letting that go, first, with firm reminders to remain in the moment, there in the darkness of a space that, after 4 months, finally feels more or less familiar, most of the time. I turned on a light. I sat up. I continued to support myself with soothing practices. I got up and took an antacid for my very acid stomach and quietly cursed my acid reflux. I got a glass of water and added some Calm to that.

Over the next few minutes, sitting down to write a few words, using even that to help me “sort myself out” in the quiet hours of night, I sip on my glass of water, and feel the chill of the room start to play a part, too, cooling me down.

It’s been a long long time since I let myself make any effort to “figure out” a waking moment like that one. I just don’t do it any more. It’s like digging at a scab, just barely gratifying at all, and definitely not actually helpful, just very compelling. So, I don’t. Because doing so wasn’t useful in a positive way, and it tended only to mire me in a whole assortment of shitty crap loitering in the dark corners of my consciousness waiting for a chance to be weaponized and turned inward. So… I don’t know what woke me. I don’t know why I woke so frightened and overwhelmed. I don’t know what the anxiety was about. I have made knowing such things not a priority of any sort. And… since I’m not “picking at that sore”, the fear and anxiety are already dissipating. With practice, not hours – minutes. It is 1:51 am. I may actually get back to sleep at some point, soon. ūüôā

I’m still feeling restless and weird. So, some yoga next. Just postures that promote relaxation and calm. I keep the lights dim. Each small practice picked up along the way has value right now. One by one, I step through the most relevant practices I have learned over time, and I feel myself begin to calm, to become relaxed, to settle down through and through. I’m okay, right now. It’s enough.

I think I’ve mostly come to terms with the likelihood that some portion of my symptoms of PTSD may linger for the remainder of my life time… I sure feel more able to deal with them, generally. Even two years ago, a night like this might have evolved into something more serious, lasting days, destroying my sleep, eroding my judgment, damaging my relationships… this seems better, not perfect. There is no “perfect”. I’m not “cured” – but I am far better at caring for myself in such moments.¬†That’s something pretty wonderful.

I finish my water. Run this post through spellcheck. Then, head back to bed. ūüôā

 

Nightmares woke me early this morning. I sat trembling, drenched in sweat, for some minutes wracked with sobbing before I was entirely certain that I was awake, and that I’d had a nightmare. I let the Nightmare City fade from my recollection, content that in forgetfulness I would also find relief. My distress passed pretty quickly; I have made this space very safe feeling, and my bedroom walls are hung with art, my art, and I chose pieces with positive meaning – and a lot of glow. Even in the darkest times, I am easily able to re-orient myself upon waking, and I know I am safe, and at home.

Straight from waking abruptly in tears, to meditation, and then to a soothing hot shower; I am okay now. It’s a lovely quiet morning, and the chaos and damage amounts to so much less of my experience these days. Some nightmares are tougher to get past than others, and this was one such – not the nightmare of graphic horrors, rather it was the nightmare of bitter disappointment, cynicism, sorrow and loss. The nightmares of sorrow are sometimes much harder to get over, for me; they seem very real and difficult to dispute. It’s a very human thing to have a nightmare, and I am¬†grateful to be awake, however early. I am grateful to have come so far that I can look my insecurities in the face this morning and admit to myself that I have them, and also observe that as with other constructs of my mind, they lack substance, and they lack factual support. I smile at the woman in the mirror, and make coffee.

Enough.

Enough.

By the time I have coffee in hand, with cream and sugar this morning, I am dressed for work and wearing a smile. Today feels good. My arthritis pain is there, but in the background and less immediately relevant to my experience. The apartment is nicely tidy, and I am content with the life I am living. I am able to smile over the weekend that didn’t go at all as planned, and look ahead to a lovely evening in the company of my traveling partner, and to a far future that is not determined and wide open with possibilities remaining to be chosen. I have succeeded in setting myself free of so many limitations I had held onto – clung to – for so long. I have no idea at all what the future holds, beyond the questions, and the choices; I have been choosing change long enough to unravel all potential predetermination¬†on which¬†I might have settled. The reality of it feels much better than the fear of doing so told me it would. ūüôā

Fear isn’t a joke. It can become a crippling disability, stalling me from within, limiting me, fighting any hint that I may do or be or go or have…something. Every now and then, Fear will throw a consolation prize my way, and nudge me into making choices that ‘keep me safe from harm’ but it is by far more common that my fears merely limit me to no good purpose. Fear lacks a subtlety of purpose, and is something of an emotional dinosaur, and I find it is best not to indulge it.

This weekend, having the use of my traveling partner’s car while he was out of town, I used it to drive across town to the concert on Saturday. Ordinarily I would eschew the highway in favor of quieter back roads, side streets, anything to avoid the freeway; that’s Fear talking, right there. I am actually very uneasy about freeway driving at this time in my life, largely because of the number of people I can easily see are actually on their cell phones and don’t have their eyes on the road – which I do find quite terrifying, honestly. Still…this particular weekend, I put my fears aside quite willfully, and took the freeway, both directions. As it turned out, it wasn’t a big deal at all, and definitely ¬†shortened my drive time. Small choices to disarm my fears make big differences in my day-to-day experience of my life – and of myself, but I lack the vocabulary to describe the change easily. Is it enough to say that the less power Fear has in my experience, the calmer and more centered I feel? The stronger I find myself? The more willing I am to tackle other things about which I feel uneasy, or reluctant?

Choosing change isn’t always ‘easy’ – and it isn’t ‘effortless’, ever. Choosing change requires a certain vulnerability, and a willingness to be aware, and accepting, of that thing that I am inclined to change. The fun of it is that these are my choices to make, fully my own, and if they go poorly – I can make other changes as well. Living is not much about permanence. There’s very little of that to go around. It’s not the point at all, is it? Change, though, and the will to choose change, is a¬†thing that gives us some say in the impermanence of our lives and our experience… There’s plenty to consider there, for a Tuesday morning.

It's a journey with a lot of stairs to climb...

It’s a journey with a lot of stairs to climb…

Are you sad? Unhappy with circumstances? Mired in tedium? Bored with ‘everything’? Frustrated with feeling stuck? Sorrowful? Wrapped in ennui? Chronically angry? Tragically wounded? Just spinning your wheels in life, metaphorically speaking, and going nowhere? There’s hope! There is change – and it is always always always within reach to choose it. (Having said that, I will also observe that it isn’t always the change that I¬†think I¬†want most that is most easily within reach, and sometimes the menu isn’t full of options I¬†favor highly…but those things do not stop me from¬†choosing change.) Change is, regardless; if I don’t make choices based on meeting my needs over time, pursuing the life I most want to live, and move forward on my journey with my will intact, I will nonetheless experience change. In the choosing lies great power; I am my own cartographer. At each intersection in life I choose the direction of my journey, myself. How about you?

...And there's no rush; the journey remains worthy when I take the time I need for me.

…And there’s no rush; the journey remains worthy when I take the time I need for me.

Today is a good day to choose change, and to embrace a future built on my choices. Today is a good day for practicing the simple basics, and embracing The Big 5 (Respect, Consideration, Reciprocity, Compassion, and Openness) in all my relationships. Today is a good day for deep listening; we all have our own desire to be heard. Today is a good day to change the world.

 

 

I am grooving to¬†a Petey Pablo track, waiting for water to boil, and thinking how very reasonable that there is rain in the forecast; my traveling partner is out-of-town for a few days, and it seems reasonable to me that the very skies would have an emotional meltdown over the lack of his good company. I’m okay, because he’s merely traveling, and love has no proximity requirement, or expiration date. The moody cloudy threat-of-rain skies seem mildly appropriate, is all – or at least, entirely understandable. ūüôā

I woke in the middle of my dreams, which isn’t my favorite experience. They seemed ‘relevant’ and potentially ‘insightful’ or ‘eye-opening’, but once my eyes did actually open they dissipated too quickly for further consideration…there were people…saying things…with emotional subtext…somewhere. Dreams are rarely urgently worthy of my attention, although it took me a lifetime to recognize that the headgames my conscious mind sometimes plays with me (to my detriment and disadvantage) are not off limits to my sleeping consciousness, and my demons dance regardless; it doesn’t¬†necessarily give them significance, or meaning that is useful.

My coffee is very nearly perfect this morning – and tempting, although too hot to drink. The cup is too hot to hold comfortably…I found that out the hard way. The coffee is too hot to drink, and the tempting cloud of whipped cream I topped it with as a treat this morning tempts me overmuch – my tongue and the roof of my mouth paid the price. Lesson learned? Well…maybe. I’m still a primate, doing my best, and in the mornings my decision-making is at its daily ‘quality low point’ until my brain is really fully awake. I give myself the courtesy of refraining from self-deprecatory hassling or mockery – I don’t need it from me, really, I already know my fingertips are a bit sore from trying to hold that cup, and my mouth is already scorched from trying to sip too-hot-coffee. I think I’m good there, no further berating needed. lol

A paragraph later, and some fun dancing to Gangnam Style – I love how random my morning playlist is – my coffee is finally¬†sipping temperature. I dance across the living room, coffee in hand, headed for the open patio blinds to watch the dawn…my neighbors probably think I’m mad. I don’t find value in self-consciousness or shame being a part of my daily experience – certainly, even being over 50, and not ‘dancer fit’ at all, I am disinclined to give one moment to whether a woman my age/weight ‘should’ be dancing where people can see me. That’s such obvious bullshit it was urgently necessary to put it aside as soon as I woke to the understanding that it is indeed bullshit. Dancing feels good. A quick exploration of dance styles and fads over the many decades of humanity will reveal that some of it is definitely more about how that must feel than what it looks like. ūüôā

A favorite Crystal Method track turns up – and I turn it up; I’m excited to see them live on Saturday. There’s definitely that moment considering the concert when a feeling of self-consciousness does arise; I feel it most when I consider how much younger ‘everyone else’ may be, how more easily they may move, how beautiful and sexy youth is… Youth, I remind myself gently, is very much its own thing, with its own fears and doubts. Nothing to be concerned about for me – over 50? I have a lifetime of experience and perspective, and I am having my own experience. For me, it’s sort of the point of that favorite track in the first place.

Detail from "Emotion and Reason" 2012

Letting emotion lead on life’s journey may not be ideal…

What if everything were suddenly quite different? What if my traveling partner didn’t make it back? What if I woke up utterly unable to dance because my arthritis had become so severe that my spine wouldn’t move at all? I live alone now; what if I have a stroke and there’s no one here to help me? What if my resources run out before my life time does? “What if”¬†is some nasty stuff – it quickly becomes anxiety if I give it a chance to grab onto something I can’t shake off. I’ve learned something sort of interesting about the emotional ‘what if’ scenarios, though; if I go ahead and allow myself to consider the extreme fully, frankly, and in a truly practical way – without the emotions that so urgently want to have their say being¬†the focus of attention, it usually becomes quite obviously both fictitious – like so much of what my mind offers up – and manageable if it played out in real life along the most likely trajectory. For example…what if my traveling partner didn’t make it back? I would grieve, no doubt there, I would grieve a long while. The fear of grief and grieving is what drives the anxiety, but the fear isn’t even¬†real¬†fear – it’s a projection of an emotional reaction to a situation that has not happened. So, I comfortably set the fear aside, along with the recognition that I would grieve. Then I take a look at what life would be without my traveling partner, and come up with… living. Outside the fear of grief, there’s little to cause stress…I would live my life, working, paying bills, painting, writing, gardening, investing in other aspects of my social life, eventually (most likely) cultivating another satisfying adult romantic sexual relationship with a worthy partner… Nothing could ever change what my traveling partner and I¬†have shared so far, and that would always be mine, and part of my experience. “What if” scenarios tend to be this way, for me, explored they are harmless – but there’s the¬†rather practical matter of refusing to allow the fear of my emotions to become the fear of my potential imagined circumstances.

"Emotion and Reason" lit differently - how we view emotions, and how we use reason, make a difference.

How I view emotions, and how I use reason, makes a difference in my experience.

Isn’t it strange that emotions can be so scary? It seems odd when I think about it; they have no more substance than my thoughts, although they are a more commanding experience in the moment. I find that my reactions and attention reliable turn toward my emotions first and more attentively, than to my reason. I try to be mindful of that, because they are also quite intense, and not particularly tied to ‘reality’. Emotions are often driven by assumptions, expectations – or¬†something I ate, or the ebb and flow of my hormones, or…nothing I can directly observe or be certain of. Sometimes they are more similar to the experience of taking a mind-altering substance than they are to ‘reality’ in any real sense. They are most certainly not to be trusted in life’s driver’s seat for long.

Perspective matters. "Emotion and Reason" acrylic on canvas w/ceramic and glow 2012

Perspective matters.
“Emotion and Reason” 24″ x 36″ acrylic on canvas w/ceramic and glow 2012

Today is a good day to breathe, to feel, and to be mindful of the content of my thoughts; they have only the substance I give them. Today is a good day to be present, to be okay right now, and to walk on – fear has trouble keeping up when I do. Today is a good day for love, and for living. Today is a good day to notice how very small the world actually is, and how little distance matters to love.

Starting the day thinking of love - it's a very good start.

Starting the day thinking of love – it’s a very good start.

[Trigger Warning; discussion of nightmares inspired by sexual trauma, child abuse, domestic violence and war. Be kind to yourself, my words are not worth ruining your Sunday.]

We sleep. We must. Sleep is non-optional, even for the sleep-challenged. We sleep, or eventually, we go mad, and we die. I have difficulty sleeping, and struggle¬†with a number of ‘sleep disturbances’, and have since I was very small. My biggest sleep challenge is returning night after night to ‘The Nightmare City’ when my sleep has entered a period of prolonged and frequent bad dreams; the first day or two it isn’t an issue, but after a few days, in spite of clearly understanding how necessary sleep and rest are, I begin to fight the need to sleep, to avoid the nightmares. Yes, nightmares are that bad.

Oddly, I rarely have nightmares if I nap, during the day. How strange is that?

I do all I can, all I have learned how to do, to ensure that when I wake from a nightmare I can quickly recognize I am no longer asleep, no longer threatened, and re-orient myself for sense of place and time, and begin to make willful use of mindfulness practices and meditation to calm myself. It’s nice to have that going for me, these days. ¬†My physician is concerned about my difficult sleep. She’d like me to do a sleep study. Sure, okay, no problem. ¬†She’s a good doctor. I listen to what she has to say. ¬†I know, though, from a lifetime of experience, that medical care will not lock the gates of The Nightmare City.

It’s a quiet Sunday morning. I’m not in much pain as the day begins. My sleep was mostly pretty restful, not dreadfully disturbed. ¬†I woke thinking about cartographers, chaos and damage, the trauma wilderness that so many of us seem trapped within, and it took my consciousness by surprise to find myself fairly calmly ‘looking over the wall’ into The Nightmare City without panic. ¬†Shall I show you around a bit?

Light without illumination.

Light without illumination.

One prominent feature of The Nightmare City is that no matter what the lighting, it feels dark. It is somehow always night, even in nightmares that seem set in day time hours. The darkness is about more than a quality of light. The lights illuminate nothing, they are simply points of other colors, of varying intensity. ¬†Beauty generally seems ‘at a distance’ or in the periphery, illusory and unattainable. ¬†Madness, anger, hurt, fear, confusion, and doubt are generally imminent, and very visceral. The behavior of other creatures and beings in The Nightmare City don’t follow common social convention, or the laws of physics.

Last night the streets of The Nightmare City were empty, deserted; I was alone. I walked, hearing my feet crunch as if walking on icy snow, or egg shells. I did not look down. ¬†The cityscape seemed quite familiar, this time, and very urban. Also vaguely threatening. I felt that eyes were watching me, that ill intent was everywhere, and that the moment was on the cusp of imminent terror. I walked. The air felt icy, and my lungs ached. I found myself wondering if I were holding my breath in my sleep, and realized that this time I was aware that I was asleep, and this was The Nightmare City. ¬†The terror pulled back a bit, receded; demons no doubt checking their calendars for conflicts. ¬†Nightmares are far less terrifying when I am aware I am sleeping. There is a lot of value in lucid dreaming, and I breath a moment of gratitude for awareness that actually has a feeling to it, a feeling of ‘awake’ ‘alive’ and ‘well’ being pulled into my lungs, fortifying and restoring me. In my dream, my phone pings, and I have a calendar alert from a cadre of demons advising me that we’ve rescheduled. I wake briefly, hearing myself laugh out loud, and return to sleep. ¬†I am regularly and firmly schooled by my sleeping consciousness, pwnd by dream world hackers, or taken to task by my demons, and waking only to return immediately to The Nightmare City is pretty routine.

The Nightmare City has streets lined with¬†decrepit town homes and row houses, retail shops, alley ways. There are rarely any cars, not even parked cars. ¬†For some reason, cars generally only show up in pleasant dreams, for me. ¬†I saw a car in The Nightmare City, once, bearing down on me at a high-speed, and me with nowhere to go, back against the wall… waiting. I woke breathless and frightened, holding my breath in the moment before death… waking was a relief. ¬†I don’t trust the sight of a car in The Nightmare City.

There is machinery and industry in The Nightmare City. My oldest nightmare that I can recall, which was a recurring nightmare well into my 20s, when it just stopped, was one of gigantic bees, with huge stingers, operating a system of huge metal gears grinding together. The bees wore pickelhaube-style helmets.  This is a nightmare I think I first had sometime when I was younger than 5 or so. I found it quite terrifying, and incomprehensible.  The bees were operating the gears Рand I was caught in the gears and about to be ground up. The worst of it was that I, myself, was directing the actions of the bees from another vantage point, as myself, but separate from the me about to be ground up Рbut aware that I was one and the same and the outcome would apply to the me directing the action as much as the me being ground up. Quite incredibly terrifying, to the point that I still recall it in detail.

The Nightmare City has cafes, too, and places to stop for refreshment, parks, gardens, neighbors Рnot any of which are to be trusted or taken at face value. Sitting down to a coffee with a group of women who seem friendly, quickly becomes a nightmare festival of mocking laughter, derision, and meanness driving intense insecurity, fear, and a desire to escape, usually in the face of no ability to do so.  A stroll through a beautiful park in The Nightmare City may seem innocuous, but trust me on this one Рthe park is filled with demons, and re-enactments of trauma, and oh hey Рmore derision and mocking laughter.  A good evening stroll through a park in The Nightmare City would be one that was peopled with nothing more vile than mean remarks, and maybe some little old ladies spitting at me, or angry little dogs. It could be a whole lot worse.

Lately, I keep walking up on a very young me, huddled in a white flannel nightgown, weeping and rocking over something held tightly in her arms. I want to help; I recognize she is me. I walk toward her, but my steps bring me no closer. She is so distressed, and as my frustration builds, she cries harder, and her nightgown starts seeming to have a bit of blood soaking through, where it is tucked tightly around her, and touching the ground. She wails, and I keep trying to drawn near to her, to hold her. ¬†She doesn’t get any closer however many steps I take. There’s more blood than I realized, and the nightgown is soaking up more of it. She cries – I cry out to her. She doesn’t or can’t hear me. We don’t seem to be ‘in the same place’. I reach for her, anyway, hoping that the dreamscape will let me reach her. I see that there is blood on my hands, although I still can’t reach her. There are tears on my face, and blood on the white flannel nightgown I am also wearing… I feel so small. ¬†I start screaming and screaming “Please!! Please!! No!” I wake from it, as often as not, still huddled small and tightly, rocking, something trapped in my firm panicked grasp – usually a pillow – and struggling to breath through tears, choking on snot. ¬†“Unpleasant” doesn’t begin to describe it. ¬†This one has been coming up a few times a week for weeks now.

Some of the oddities of The Nightmare City are just flashes of memory; painful enough, they need no augmentation. I get some of the usual human primate fare, as well, dreams of falling, dreams of showing up to work naked, dreams of loss, of insecurity, of frustration, of grief. There was a time I did not understand that those were also nightmares, they seemed so benign in comparison to other things in The Nightmare City.

Last night though, I just walked through stillness. As if the city were largely abandoned. Doors that often opened at a touch were locked last night. The air was cold, and most of the time I felt I was breathing air; sometimes it is poisoned. ¬†There was no one else visible, just that feeling of being watched as I walked. ¬†Perhaps that, too, was only me, noticing myself. ¬†I thought I heard voices in conversation and turned to face them, all was dark and I was alone, and somehow in my room, sitting lotus on my bed (which I knew wasn’t likely with my knees in the shape they are in, and that alerted me I was still dreaming). I looked at my bedroom door suspiciously; my bedroom also exists in The Nightmare City. Trust me when I tell you opening that door is a very bad idea…although it’s been a long time since I was tempted to do so, and I no¬†longer know with any certainty what might be on the other side.

I woke myself with the observation that the candle on my nightstand was out, but the room was bathed in light; confirmation I was dreaming, and that is often what it takes to wake from The Nightmare City, gently. When I woke I knew that I had, because the candle on my nightstand is battery operated and still flickering, and some odd details immediately adjusted from ‘dream’ to ‘real’, like the pillows being just pillows, rather than huge piles of unfinished paperwork – which hadn’t seemed odd when I was actually still asleep. ¬†I used the waking moments to calm myself; it wasn’t exactly a bad nightmare, as nightmares go, but my heart was still pounding, my hair still damp with sweat, and I was shaking with fear; my ‘to go bag’ from The Nightmare City. ¬†I meditate for a few unmeasured minutes, then get up in the night, like a child, for a drink of water. ¬†Bare feet on hard wood, standing in the kitchen, I still feel so small, so young, so vulnerable… as if for the moment I am not me-now, as much as me-then.

I return to my room, to my bed, to the dimness of candlelight, and to sleep, but not to The Nightmare City. ¬†I dream, instead, Dave Matthews’ love songs, breathing the scent of a loved one from my pillow, and wake later, feeling whole, and content, and well.

Today is a good day to share and to trust. Today is a good day for compassion, and not just for others. Today is a good day to open doors, and enjoy gardens. Today is a good day to change the world.