Archives for posts with tag: mst

I had a lovely dinner with my traveling partner, after a very productive and thought-provoking appointment with my therapist. “Effective” is a good word. Maybe follow that one with “important” and “relevant”, maybe add “needful”… now I am alone. Alone is hard right now.  I don’t even know why I’m crying, right now… It is a measure of progress that I know it won’t last and that trying to stop the tears has other, sometimes profoundly negative, consequences. The tears themselves serve a purpose, the science says, and will reduce my (apparently high) cortisol levels faster than most other things might.

The a/c is on, and the house is cool. The day has been very hot. I got home with a headache from the heat, and more than a little noise-sensitive, uncertain if I might be ‘dealing with the appointment’ – there is often a delay between the appointment dialogue itself, and ‘when it hits me’ later. Often. More often than not.

It passes. I remind myself that it will. I breathe. I let the tears fall. I feel grateful that I didn’t get to this place while hanging out with my traveling partner – he is supportive on a supremely deep and connected level, but I know that going through these things with me is hard on him, too. It is, frankly, one of the reasons I moved into my own place – some of this is ‘easier’ to face alone. Sometimes is just harder, in general, to face it at all.

I have all the usual choices in front of me. All the practiced practices supporting my emotional resilience – much improved over the past two years – and I feel equipped to take care of me, even now – but fuck it’s harder than I want it to be. I think back to the morning’s contentment and ease. There is another morning tomorrow, and surely I will not still be weeping. I don’t understand why I am weeping now…unless it is simply that some stuff really is worth crying over – at least once – and some of it I just never got to that part at that time. I was too busy enduring, surviving, overcoming, managing, withstanding, and holding on to whatever fragments of self I could maintain in the chaos. The damage piled up, and now I am crying. So. Okay. Now what?

A bit like squinting at fruit I can't reach, with the sun in my eyes.

A bit like squinting at fruit I can’t reach, with the sun in my eyes.

A few more deep breaths. A big drink of water – it’s a hot day and the headache itself is enough to make me weep. A cooling shower…comfy clothes…yoga…meditation…medication (medical cannabis, I’m looking your way on this one!)…and being gentle with this fragile vessel and the tender hurt thing resting within it. We’ll be okay, this woman in the mirror and I; we’re making this journey together – and we aren’t traveling alone; I’m never far from my traveling partner’s thoughts. I could call, right now, and he would answer.

Hell…incremental progress over time is – and in fewer than 500 words, harder already seems a bit easier. I wonder for just a moment whether posting this is “necessary” and realize…maybe that isn’t about me, at all. It wouldn’t be a very complete narrative if I just take the bits I don’t find comfortable out of it. Isn’t that part of what hasn’t worked for me before? It seemed ‘too easy’ – and not relevant to the very real ups and downs. The failures. The struggles. How much harder it sometimes seems…the tears. I get back up. I start again. I let it pass.

It rained the other day, quite a lot. It isn't raining now.

It rained the other day, quite a lot. It isn’t raining now.

I left my campsite yesterday, just before it began to sprinkle. The rain drops were not a surprise; I woke at dawn to the rumbling of distant thunder.  A visiting young owl had dropped in on me Saturday morning and on her departure ripped a small hole in the fabric of my rain fly, making a pre-rain departure a nice convenience.

An ominous sky, and a reminder that the weather doesn't argue about gear.

An ominous sky, and a reminder that the weather doesn’t argue about gear.

There remains further unpacking to do; I do the basics right away, and throw washables, and clothing into the washing machine first thing, and ensure that any everyday use items that I had taken with me are returned to their everyday locations. The rest can be handled piecemeal through the week.

There’s more to say. I walked more than 15 miles of forested trails. I reached 1528 ft of elevation, from a starting point at less than 200 ft. I meditated for more than 12 hours of my three days away. I took more than 1000 photographs (of which fewer than 200 actually ‘turned out’). I learned some good lessons on hiking and camping basics, and reinforced good best practices left from my military experiences. I considered things. I contemplated intangibles. I felt feelings, and explored thoughts. I unpacked some very old baggage, and took a close look in a very honest mirror. I slept well, and deeply. I discovered that DEET irritates my skin – and that there’s always some bit of unprotected flesh that a mosquito can find (it’s their ‘thing’ in life); I am covered in mosquito bites and learning the value of that experience for mindfulness practice. lol

And there’s still more to say, but it’ll keep; today is a new day. I’ll just share this one thing I learned while I was meditating in the forest…

Yes, 'the answers' are here; I brought them with me.

Yes, ‘the answers’ are here; I brought them with me.

Today is a new day, a new experience. Today is a good day to change the world.

First, before I go farther, and carelessly hurt someone’s feelings over mystical or spiritual beliefs we may not share; nothing in this post is intended to slight someone else’s personal beliefs, challenge their system of beliefs, or deny them the chosen beliefs that comfort and guide them. Not even a little bit. This is not about that.

Finding peace and balance is a very personal journey.

Finding peace and balance is a very personal journey.

If you read this blog now and then, you are probably aware that I have a certain…cynicism is a good word… about medicine, and specifically the practice of medicine relevant to women, and our experiences. Still, so many of us get to a place in life where our desperation and suffering require intervention, because we are challenged to find solutions within, and many of us choose the Rx solution recommended to us. Sometimes that’s a life saver. Sometimes it is a game changer. Sometimes it is a real and very practical solution to get us through the hard times. For me… when my turn came the solution offered by the VA, in the form of first one pill, then another, then a handful, only seemed to be helping me, and only initially (resulting in ever-increasing dosages and frequencies being prescribed).  Certainly, being stupefied chemically, pacified, and ‘managed’ by way of the careful and regular consumption of mind-altering drugs (and yes, they are) got me promoted at work, and I suppose that matters… but I couldn’t write easily (and you know I love words!) and struggled to paint. When I could paint, it was often only the most wildly fluid abstractions that were still possible. I watched a lot of television, mostly court tv shows; there is something about the interaction of seemingly real authentic people facing challenges that fascinated me, even drugged.

"Metaphor" acrylic on canvas. Painted on Zyprexa

“Metaphor” acrylic on canvas. Painted on Zyprexa

My experiences with chemical intervention in the struggles I faced with my volatility, my PTSD, my temper, and my hormones were disappointing, at best. The drugs the VA gave me slowly wrecked my health, and along the way I gained a lot of weight. The worst thing about all of it? It didn’t ‘work’. I still had to go through it all, endure it all, and get to the ‘other side’ – menopause, better therapy, practicing what worked. I still had to address the real issues of my PTSD.  There was more to know and to learn about taking care of myself, meeting my own needs where I could, and I hadn’t yet found out about my TBI (which is sort of a big deal in the whole ‘taking care of me’ realm). Many of the drugs I was given turn out to be entirely contraindicated because of the TBI; other treatments were more appropriate, safer, more effective, less likely to cause my brain further damage.

Why do I mention it today? Because each and every time I ‘chose the red pill’ hoping for a miracle, I was disappointed when no miracle came. Over and over it broke my heart, to suffer. I felt like I would never be well, and never stop crying.  We put so much faith in our healers, our medicine men, our preachers, our faiths, our pills and cures and potions – and promises. We keep at it, too, as though the issue is not how we’re going about solving the puzzle, but more that we’ve just grabbed the wrong puzzle piece.  For some reason, we don’t just want relief, improvement, progress… we want it now. Right now. No delay and no real effort.  Pills are much easier than working to improve, so much easier than practicing a skill.  Choosing a different approach was much more challenging than choosing a different pill.

Sip of coffee. A calming breath. A reminder; this is not about you. :-)

A sip of coffee. A calming breath.

Pausing for a moment to reflect on my experience; I hope you are reflecting on yours, too, and in loving kindness, and awareness that your choices are your own, chosen by you, doing the best you can. I hope whatever you choose works to improve your experience over time, too, and if that means an Rx solution to some challenge or another, I hope you get the relief you need, and find wellness and contentment. You get no criticism from me; we’re different people. 🙂

It took me the better part of 2 years to get off the various psych meds the VA had put me on. It was harder than it had to be; there’s limited information of what the experience of going off some drugs is going to be like, and in some cases it is beyond scary, in others the damage left behind was unanticipated, and required further recovery.  Throughout the process I had the emotional support of friends and loved ones to complete the undertaking; very few of them ever thought I needed those drugs in the first place, although obviously something needed to be done. (Turns out it needed to be done by me, and drugs are not required.)

I can paint again. I can write again. I can think clearly (You, there in the back, no tittering!). Let’s be fair, though, I’m not doing nothing. I am doing a lot to take care of me, and it is an active process requiring my time and attention, my will, and my effort: meditation, yoga, study, practicing, modeling new behavior, role-playing the deconstruction of bad programming and conversations that could have been healing if handled differently, developing greater emotional intelligence, learning to ‘take care of me’… I barely have time for life and work, I put so much time and effort into learning to treat myself and others well, and healing, and achieving emotional wellness.  A pill would be much easier; there isn’t one for what I need.  (A pill never got me off the hook for doing the work that needed to be done, either, but often limited my ability to see that work needed to be done.)

Where am I going with this? Into the trees. 🙂 I’m taking time for me, in the woods, camping and meditating, hiking and sketching. Practicing. Change takes work. Sometimes work requires a bit of elbow room. It’s just 3 days, a long weekend alone, and I’m eager to get started; there are a few hours of work between me and… whoever I am when I walk out of the forest. Monday does not yet exist, and there’s still one last gear check, and packing it all up, loading the car, and a bit of a drive ahead. I have no particular expectations, there is no warning label, no contraindications, no risk of overdose. It’ll be me, and some timeless time alone with my heart. I hope I make skillful use of it, take care of my needs over time, and walk a path that leads… to another path, and probably more practice. lol

Walking my own path.

Walking my own path.

Did I mention? I’ll be away a few days. 🙂

Today is a good day to take a step forward. Today is a good day to breathe. Today is a good day to love and be loved. Today is a good day to walk away with a smile. Today is a good day to change the world.

This morning I woke slowly, a second time, having returned to sleep upon waking much early during the wee hours. I woke feeling pretty good, and pretty balanced. I still do, which is nice;  not everyone in my immediate vicinity is similarly fortunate. We are each having our own experience. Interestingly, so far this morning I am feeling content to enjoy mine without struggling in the face of experiences other people are not enjoying so much. It goes further, this morning; I have a certain flippant desire to say “That’s all you’ve got, Universe? You hit like a bitch.”

I experience the small emotional triumph alongside my immediate irritation with myself that I still use idioms that make light of the experiences of women, cast us in a bad light, frame us up as weak, ineffective, powerless, unskilled or unworthy.  It’s not okay.  I am struggling with language, with my emotional dictionary, with the assumptions I make, with hurtful old programming, and with ancient biases still lurking in the shadows that I have yet to address. This is a very human experience.

It’s been an emotionally complicated weekend. Unmet needs outnumber needs that are met. Moments of discord and pain have been far more frequent that moments of great contentment or joy. Small successes often haven’t been the successes I most desired – or needed.  Small failures have felt larger than life.  I’ve been in great emotional pain much of the time since my last therapy appointment. Mindfulness doesn’t mute that, in fact I seem to feel my feelings far more acutely but with far greater self-compassion and a willingness to accept that emotions are simply that: emotions. They have no greater weight or import than I grant them. I am learning to make peace with my emotional experience, and to be more comfortable with my feelings, and less willing to compromise the integrity of my experience. I am learning to make room in my own heart to be who I am. As I said, it’s a very human experience.

Today is a good day to be open to what the moment may offer.

Today is a good day to be open to what the moment may offer.

Today I’ll keep to myself, and savor the small delights a sunny Sunday has to offer. It’s enough.

Wow. Not a very positive start to a post, at all. Is it a difficult morning? Did I wake in pain, or feeling poorly? Am I sad, hurt, or angry? No, not really any of those things, and it is a lovely, simple morning.  I am thinking, almost happily, about yesterday’s challenges – well met, and behind me. What remains is mostly the recollection of a mostly lovely day.

A lovely summer afternoon in this city I love.

A lovely summer afternoon in this city I love.

It isn’t a perfect picture; life itself isn’t about ‘perfect’ unless we choose to make it so. That’s rarely a good choice, in my experience.  I knew as I headed downtown for appointments at the VA that it was likely to be, like many experiences, less than perfect. It’s the VA. The news articles do not greatly exaggerate the issues, and may in fact present a rosier picture than exists in fact. Just saying.

First things first – any possible calm in the waiting room was entirely disrupted by loud administrators and ‘auditors’ of a variety of sorts. Business is business, work has to be done, and it isn’t all medicine…but when a disruptive crowd of noisy people fill up the waiting room of the Women’s Health Center, and some significant portion are rather disrespectful dudes with no apparent sense that people are waiting, and possibly not feeling well, its super annoying. Distracting, too, and as a veteran with a TBI, I’d like to be able to calmly focus on my appointment and my care needs. Yep – all about me, and every other patient there. Keep the freakin’ noise down!

It only gets better. Somehow, by mistake, although I specifically phoned and specifically scheduled an appointment with my primary care provider at her specific request, I was scheduled to see an entirely different doctor, who doesn’t know me, and has not had (or taken) an opportunity to actually review the entirety of my 20+ years of medical care for service connected injuries. She was personable enough, and educated, even fairly skilled on the VA computer system – a nice change of pace in recent years, to see doctors who can also navigate a windows OS – and I figured I’d relax and value what her perspective may have to offer. Seems fair.  My hopeful curiosity quickly fell behind my irritation.  She was quick to hand me the usual commonplace saccharine reassurances about menopause, not a glance at my records. I quickly and firmly objected to her suggestion that I may want to consider antidepressants for some of my menopause symptoms, and pointed her to the portion of my records that documents what a miserable failure that was – years ago.  She started to bring up atypical antipsychotics. I pointed her to that section of my records. Again. Again. Again. We finally get to a recommendation I hadn’t had offered before. She had piqued my interest – something that might ease the hot flashes? (They’re on/off nearly continuously these last few weeks, it’s very uncomfortable.)  No, I had no interest in spending even one moment in hospital purgatory (the pharmacy), yes mail the Rx to my home… and I made my escape.  While I waited for the bus to return me to downtown to connect with light rail, I read up on her suggestion… Um… wait, what? It’s associated with an increased risk of suicide. Not ‘a rare side effect’, nope, it has a white box warning label. Oh. Hell. No. Seriously? Why would a doctor recommend a drug with a high risk of suicide to a veteran with PTSD, and MST – who is also over 50? (Are the VA doctors unaware that veterans over 50 are, themselves, at increased risk of suicide?)

I walked away from the VA the way I often do – angry. To be fair, the state of women’s medicine isn’t fantastic, even in the civilian community.  Currently, the best medical test for menopause is… wait for it… No, seriously, that’s the test. Wait. 365 days, to be exact. Once one successfully completes 365 days of her adult life without bleeding from her vagina, it’s menopause! Very scientific, guys, very reliable… oh…what? You mean I might still have a period, or some spotting, or obvious hormone fluctuations after that? So… um… go medical precision? I think my irritation is understandable. The VA just pours salt in that wound by being more interested in Rx solutions than in practicing medicine and healing people, by rushing patient care in a very industrial and profit-oriented way (and still failing to actually be profitable), and being grossly understaffed in all roles just makes it very unlikely that anything will change – regardless who is at the top. The bottom line is still about the bottom line; no one really wants to pay the bill on all those broken people.  That shit is expensive.

It wasn’t unexpected. I headed for home, hopeful that I could just let it go and enjoy the evening.

Sometimes I have to take care of me.

Sometimes I have to take care of me.

The train was crowded. That’s a simple enough sentence. It doesn’t go nearly far enough. Wedged between a very large man who was drenched in sweat and smelled strongly of eau de unwashed humanity, and a very thin angular woman with children, strollers, and shopping bags, unable to move, pressed in on all sides to the point of being in very close contact – actually touching – I only managed one stop. I forced my way off the crowded train, gasping for breath, near tears, heart pounding – and still that residual anger. I was having a panic attack. Shit. I backed up against the building at the stop, in the shade, and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, and another. The rush of commuters dissipated between trains. A handful of people were milling around, panhandling, chatting. My pounding heart and the rushing in my ears began to ease. A man approached me slowly, cautiously. “You okay, Sister?” He eyed me with wary sympathy. “Yes, thanks,” I replied. I made eye-contact. A homeless veteran? A veteran. Sometimes it is obvious. “I just couldn’t handle the crowd on the train, today.” He looked me over appraisingly, but without hostility or resentment, just that continued calm sympathy. “Yeah… you’re okay, though?” “Yes, thanks.” As he moved away, I contemplated his kindness. I wonder what he would have said or done if I hadn’t said I was okay? I wondered if his simple human kindness, consideration, and sympathy actually have more value than all the pills the VA has ever offered me. I sure felt better… I got on the next train and headed home.

Taking care of me still feels new.  A simple decision in favor of self-compassion, getting off an over-crowded train and waiting for the next one, really matters.  I ended up enjoying a lovely evening at home, as a byproduct of self-care.  Small changes. Good choices. So worth it.

Today is a new day, a fresh start, a different adventure. Today is a good day to be kind to strangers, and a good day to be kind to myself. Today is a good day to appreciate that we are each having our own experience, and we’re all in this together. Today is a good day to change the world.