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Posts Tagged ‘mindfulness’

At Mama Bear’s urging, I started to read about mindfulness about a year ago. I make it part way through a book, trail off around chapter 7 or 8 and then a few months later she will ask me to start to read the book again. On Friday she asked me again, for the 4th or 5th time. You would think that I would have made it all of the way through the book by now, but no, I haven’t. I think that I made it to chapter 9 this past time, but I can’t locate the book, so I’m not sure.

You would think that I hate mindfulness; I certainly seem to be resistant to reading about it. The fact of the matter is that I’m actually attracted to it and I read the Mindfulbalance blog on a daily basis. I seem to be able to take it in small doses, just not in chapter form. And many, many times I read something on the blog and think, “Well, that sounds good, but I am no where near to applying that to what I am dealing with right now!” But sometimes it hits me just right. Whichever way it goes, the blog allows me to take that bit and think about it, which seems to work for me.

So when Mama Bear asked me, “Would you kill me if I asked you to try to read the mindfulness book again?” at our last session, she was surprised when I not only agreed (because the book does flesh the concepts out more), but informed her that in the aftermath of my crisis, I had been using meditation in an attempt to help calm my mind. Once she recovered, she suggested that I change from doing a meditation focusing on breathing to one that also focused on the body.

I tried it and to my own astonishment, I really liked the experience. It left me feeling more solid than I had all week, which was a huge relief for me. At that point, I was intrigued and started to do a bit more research. I discovered that the body scan meditation is often helpful for sleep issues. I definitely have sleep issues; they aren’t so much in terms of getting to sleep, but the quality of my sleep is compromised and I tend to spend the night clenched in a ball.

I figured that it was worth $1.99 to get an app for my phone that would let me do the body scan in bed, as I was falling asleep, on the chance that it might help. I woke up only once during the night and discovered to my astonishment that chronic pain in my shoulders and back was only a fraction of its normal state. I wasn’t sleeping clenched up for once!

At that point I started to experiment with different meditations and bought the sister app to my first purchase. I tried the “lake meditation”, hoping that it would apply better to my state of mind than it does, but it still left me feeling calm and focused, so that was good. I tried another 15 minute or less guided meditation, to see what it was like and felt good after it. Later on in the day, while I was driving to the grocery store, I started to feel pressed in upon by some intrusive stuff. I decided to pull over and try a quick 3 minute meditation to see if I could interrupt the intrusions. I noticed that at the end of the meditation, I felt noticeably dissociative, but I also was in a calm, not just numb state. I went on with my errands and before long the feelings of dissociation faded. A successful experiment and something that I will need to remember to try in the future.

That evening, I had a more difficult, but still important experience. I was doing another 15 minute guided meditation when I started to experience some intrusive memories that had a physical component. At this point, I can’t actually remember what the memories were. I do remember repeatedly trying to shift my focus back onto whatever the focal point was in the meditation and repeatedly being pulled back by the memory. And then something clicked and I was able to see how I was remembering something that had happened, but what my body was actually experiencing was an entirely different set of sensations. My actual experience was sitting still in a chair and feeling how my body made contact with the chair and the floor. All of the other stuff was “just” a memory of something terrible that happened a long time ago. To my surprise, the focus was able to shift to my current experience and the memory was put in the background, without any real effort on my part.

Today, my experiences with meditation have been far less successful. I first tried to do the “mountain meditation,” but it simply didn’t work for me this morning. I needed more time to develop the images today than the recording gave me and I wasn’t able to figure out a way to modify it to suit my needs. So I switched to a guided meditation and I found my mind being drawn away over and over, until I switched it off, rolled over and let myself sob angrily while rocking myself. I simply had too much going on inside emotionally in order to be able to do anything but express. The meditations are supposed to allow for you to observe your emotions and let them by, but when they are a volcano inside of you, it just doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, because I have been practicing thinking in meditative terms, maybe I was a bit less caught up inside the emotional turmoil than I would have been in the past. Who knows?

Anyways, I have seen today that this isn’t going to be an easy process, even though it is one that has promise. And now that I have experienced difficult emotions paired with meditation a couple of times, the parts of me that just want the peace that the meditative experience can bring are feeling a bit nervous. Yes, this actually is something that will help to connect me to my feelings; it isn’t a soporific. The idea is that I am supposed to be mindful about what I am experiencing right now, and if I have been dissociating the rage that I feel towards my father, then I may experience some powerfully disruptive emotions when I try to meditate. And what did I write about last night before I went to bed? Well one hint, it had to do with my father. No wonder I had those experiences when I tried to meditate right after waking up this morning. And it’s no wonder that I have been angry all day.

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maine

My family went on our first family vacation in two years last week. It was much needed and much looked forward to. My husband isn’t much of a travel planner, so I tend to propose an idea to him, he agrees with it, and then I plan the whole thing out. In many ways it’s nice, because it means that everything is to my taste.

When trying to decide what to do for this trip, we knew that we needed to keep the costs down, so it needed to be a place that is within a two day drive. So no trips to Glacier National Park for us, which is the sort of thing that would be our first choice. My daughter and I love the ocean, so I thought that a holiday close to the ocean would be a good thing. Eventually, I hit upon the idea of renting a cottage on an island off the coast of Maine for a week. We would cook for ourselves and do outdoor activities, so we could keep the costs to a reasonable level.

Off we went on our island adventure and all was well on the two day trip there, other than not being able to leave until 8pm on Friday, so not getting to our first stop until 3AM! Saturday evening we made it to the island, found our very pleasant cottage, made the beds, pieced together a dinner and then fell into our beds exhausted.

Early Sunday morning, I woke up to nightmares. I almost never remember my dreams. I’m sure that I have bad dreams all the time trying to process what I am dealing with, but I just don’t remember them. Well, something changed, and Sunday morning set the pattern for the entire week. I woke up to nightmares at some point during every night/early morning last week, except for the final night. It reminded me to be grateful that I normally don’t remember my dreams, because if that was a taste of what is going on when I am doing heavy duty processing, I think that I will leave the dreams to my unconscious mind for that side of the work.

On Sunday morning, I managed to get back to sleep and woke up feeling somewhat better around the same time as my husband did. So we did what most couples would do on a vacation morning while their child is still asleep: we started to cuddle and kiss. At least we did until I suddenly was massively triggered into a child state and feeling terribly trapped.

I continued to feel dissociated during the day, although we did go out into the woods and to the beach and we played a new game as a family, so I still was functional. When I was active and out, I simply felt dissociated, as if part of me was being active with my family and doing the things that I enjoy but that part felt about 10 feet away. The rest of me was wrapped in a cocoon, and I couldn’t even touch the ground or really connect with anyone. Actually, it took me about three days to get to the point where I could even describe how I felt- I was that dissociated.

Much of the time when I was alone, I felt as though I was getting memory type flickers of things. Most of the time when that happened, I was able to not engage with them, although I do remember at one point clearly connecting with something and collapsing, curled up into a ball.

It was a very odd experience: I was doing things that I enjoy very much with my family on this beautiful island off the coast of Maine, but at the same time, internally, I was having a very different experience. The thing was that I was so numbed out and dissociated that I couldn’t even see that maybe I should be concerned about what was going on for the first few days.

Monday morning was a repeat of Sunday. Tuesday morning was a repeat of Sunday and Monday. And I continued to go along in a dissociate state that I couldn’t seem to touch, no matter what grounding technique I used. Finally on Tuesday afternoon, I e-mailed Mama Bear, because by that point even I could see that something was going wrong, although, the thing that I could most clearly see was problematic was my physical relationship with my husband. Thankfully, the woman has good sense and pointed out that I was putting pressure on myself and working from expectations, not from what I actually wanted. Being sexual with my husband because of expectations simply would not work.

Once I took that pressure off of myself, things got somewhat better. I still was dissociated, but enough less so that I could actually figure out some of what I was experiencing. I felt trapped. I knew that I was being triggered by something, but I just couldn’t figure out what. There were things in the bedroom that we were in that made me uncomfortable, but not enough so to have this extreme of a reaction all day long. I had felt fine on the drive up to Maine, so it wasn’t that I had brought it with me. I just couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up on trying to figure it out.

At that point, we were mid way through our week on the island and I resigned myself to the fact that I might continue to feel that way for the rest of the vacation. However, I also kept in mind that I knew that I was not going to stay in that state forever. I wasn’t actually trapped in it, even if I felt trapped right then. The “knowing” me simply had to hold on to the knowledge that the state that I was in would ease at some point, even though the “experiencing” me was afraid that I was stuck in it long term. Panic wouldn’t help me in any way.

I also accepted the fact that I just wasn’t going to have the vacation that I wanted to have. It was frustrating and it wasn’t fair, but accepting it for what it was would make it easier for me to get out of it as much as I could. I might only be able to have 40% of the experience, but that was better than the 25% that I had been getting.

One of the most frustrating things for me was that I realized that extra stimulation increased the levels of dissociation. An 8 year old chattering at you and bouncing around is stimulating. Simply being around my daughter made things worse for me, much of the time. So we would take her out on hikes and walks on the beach and I would drop back and try to focus on little details, so help me ground into the experience. The different colors and textures of moss on a fallen tree. How things reflect in a pond when there is only a breath of wind. The iridescent colors in the mother of pearl on the inside of an abalone shell. Those connections to that moment helped me to take in as much of the experience and be as present as possible.

Unsurprisingly, the memories from the 2nd part of the week are more vivid than the memories from the first part of the week. I never managed to completely ground myself- I was somewhat dissociated the entire week- but I was able to manage the situation well enough that it didn’t completely degenerate into my being a dissociative mess. Instead, I was able to help myself.

And I finally figured out what my trigger was: being on an island. I felt trapped because I was on an island. The morning that we left, I felt better even before we left the island, but within an hour or two of getting to the mainland, I felt as though a huge load had been lifted from my shoulders. It turns out that my husband also felt trapped, but had a much more mild reaction than I did. I’m not sure how much of it was not being able to get off the island easily and how much of it was simply being on a small island. Between the ages of 10 1/2 and 13, I lived on a small island, so that may have been part of the trigger for me. I really don’t know and it isn’t important right now. What I do know is that there was nothing that I could have done short of leaving the island other than just what I did: remind myself that I wasn’t really trapped in the now, and work on grounding and being as much in the present with my loved ones as possible. And repeat over and over and over.

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picasso style portrait

Today has been a day of contrasts…

This morning was actually a very nice morning. I felt as “normal” and contented as I have felt in a long time and we went out to a local festival and had a charming, lovely time. For awhile all felt well with the world and I looked around at the other families and remembered that this is what life can feel like.

But by the time we got home, I was so exhausted, I couldn’t stay awake and fell into a deep sleep for a couple of hours. When I woke up, things were different for me.

I felt so bleeping sick and tired of dealing with everything related to the trauma. It felt like enough to make me just want to scream. Unfortunately, that also translated to being just as sick and tired of dealing with myself. I didn’t quite hate myself, but I was full of self contempt and couldn’t find a scrap of compassion. Everything that I thought about felt self indulgent, attention seeking, and pathetic.

Then I was reminded that Mama Bear has asked me to start reading “The Mindful Way through Depression” from the beginning again. So I read chapter one again. For the third time. Or maybe the fourth. And it made me think about the way that my negative self thoughts and emotions were reinforcing each other. I couldn’t make it all go away, but somehow just taking a bit of a step back and observing what I was doing helped me to disengage enough that I didn’t feel quite so horrible.

And then I was able to pull together dinner for my family and propose a fire outside and making s’mores. I actually found my way back to feeling a bit normal and able to enjoy being with the two people I love the most.

But by the time my daughter went to bed, I was a mixed up welter of emotions- anger, grief, confusion, resentment, shame, and who knows what else… I don’t seem to be able to think in a straight enough line to be able to really figure out exactly what any of those emotions are related to. It’s all just swirling around and around. And I’m back to being so very, very impatient with myself for not being able to handle all of this any better.

Maybe tomorrow will be a bit more clear.

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I did something for myself today that I have needed to do for awhile. I got a massage. I haven’t gotten a full massage in 3 or 4 years- only targeted ones when I was doing physical therapy for the herniated disk in my neck or quick chair massages. This might seem like a bit of an odd time to decide to get one, since I have been having trouble with being triggered, but I have also been holding so much tension in my neck, shoulders, and back that not only was I in pain, but I have been experiencing numbness extending down into my fingers. Experiencing pain in my body is triggering itself.

I have a history with this massage therapist (A.); we started to work together when I previously lived in this town and I was pregnant with my daughter. She helped me get through a difficult and frightening pregnancy and then she helped me get through nursing. While I hadn’t seen her in about seven years, in my mind, she is an established safe person. I don’t think that I would have dared to try a massage just right now with a new massage therapist, because if it started to go wrong, it could go very wrong. My first attempt at massage went quite wrong. I wasn’t prepared for what it would be like and I ended up being massively triggered, which required that I flee the massage. While I was in that triggered state, I found myself on a pedestrian bridge that was several stories up and I briefly, but seriously considered throwing myself over the side, until I was able to force myself off it and to contained place where I could pull myself back together. So I don’t lightly go into a massage and I recommend that an abuse survivor considering a massage have a good idea of how they will react and a back up plan in case they don’t.

As I said, I know A. fairly well, I live only 5 minutes from her office, and my husband’s work place is only about 5 minutes away. I felt that I could manage in the off chance that something massively went wrong.

We started out chatting a bit to catch up on life history for both of us over the last several years and then I told her about the state of my body. I reminded her that I was sexually abused and told her that I have been doing some intense work recently and that while I thought that I would be OK with her, she needed to be aware that the potential was there that I might not be. Her response was, “I will be sure to hold you sweetly and gently with that knowledge.” One of the nice things about working with A. is that she doesn’t get all freaked out by the mention of sexual abuse, but she also recognizes the seriousness of it and how it can come out in the body. Frankly, it was healing to be able to calmly remind someone that I had been abused knowing that she could handle the information appropriately and I didn’t need to worry about it. It is so different from telling most health care providers.

We started the massage, and during the massage, I noticed several things. First, I am much better able to tolerate being in my body during a massage than I ever have been in the past. This was a huge surprise to me, because I have been so aware of how dissociative I have been lately and I would have expected the opposite. It makes me wonder what sort of progress am I making that I have no idea that I am making. Second, I was able to work with the massage for the first time and just let myself be in it. I didn’t worry about whether she was going to be able to resolve a particular knot; I decided to trust her and her knowledge of the human body and try to just breathe as much as possible during the massage. That was an unexpected benefit of this mindfullness stuff! 🙂 Third, at one point, I could feel a young part starting to get upset and I started to “talk” to that part about how not only can touch be safe, but some people even use touch to help to heal. That is what A. was doing with me; her touch was a caring, healing touch. I felt like several little ones gathered around the table for a bit, marveling at the fact that A. really was touching me in a way that helped me and I had no concern that she would do anything harmful to me. Fourth, soon after that and towards the end of the massage, I felt like there was a connection with the hurt in me that I was able to just sit with, and then I felt myself cold and I started to tremble. It didn’t feel a bad sort of shaking and I know enough from doing a bit of sensorimotor reading to know that trembling can actually be a sign of processing or release, so I just let it be. A. was working on my feet at that point and while she slowed the work down, became even more gentle, and spent a bit of time laying her hands on me and just breathing, there was no sense of worry from her. She was just a calm and soothing presence.

When she finished and left to let me dressed, she also told me to take as much time as I needed, so rather than trying to force it to stop, I let the trembling develop into something stronger and then it felt like my body was trying to expel some of the pain. After she came back, we talked for a bit and she just sat with me while I grounded, because at that point, I had started to dissociate. She told me that she was glad when she first saw me get cold (I needed a blanket) and then the trembling develop, because that meant the the parasympathetic system had been involved. And healing of trauma can occur when there is activation of the parasympathetic system.

I went in today hoping for some relief with my muscle tension and not only received that, but also had an experience that was healing to me in other ways. What an unexpected gift. And what a reminder of how while the brain stores the trauma, there is a mind body connection in trauma that is so important to remember and something as simple as touch can activate that healing. That is part of the reason it is so important to me that Mama Bear will hold my hand when a child part is struggling.

The massage was expensive and I had used gift money to get it done. I wasn’t anticipating doing another one until around Christmas, but this was so valuable that I’m considering talking with Mama Bear about it. I wonder if I schedule a massage a day before a therapy session, there might be a way to then piggyback some of the gentle healing benefits of the massage on the the therapy session. Whether or not I coordinate it with therapy, it may be valuable enough for me to find some way to manage a massage every 2 or 3 months during this difficult period.

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I don’t generally reblog, but this is an issue that I struggle with…  What do I DO with all of the rage that comes bubbling up?  Mama Bear always assures me that it will pass and reminds me that it won’t consume me or turn me into a terrible person.  I am simply a person who was injured badly and is protectively angry as a result. But I always still want to know, “What do I DO with it?”  What a concept this is that maybe I don’t HAVE to do anything with it, while I am in the grips of rage, other than be gentle, patient, and understanding of myself…  That doesn’t mean that I CAN’T ever do anything with it, but rather that it is my choice how I handle it.  Despite how powerful the rage is, it does not control me…

Mindfulbalance

When we’re feeling aggressive — and in some sense this would apply to any strong feeling — there’s an enormous pregnant quality that pulls us in the direction of wanting to get some resolution. It hurts so much to feel the aggression that we want it to be resolved. So what do we usually do? We do exactly what is going to escalate the aggression and the suffering. We strike out; we hit back.  [However] Developing patience and fearlessness means learning to sit still with the edginess of the energy. We discover that joy and happiness, peace, harmony and being at home with yourself and your world come from sitting still with the moodiness of  energy until it rises, dwells and passes away. The energy never resolves itself into something solid. So all the while, we stay in the middle of the energy. The path of touching in on the…

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Well, I seem to have lost my emotional anesthesia from being so sick.  The challenging feelings are back.  I noticed them some yesterday, but today turned into a very difficult day.

Over the last couple of months, I have been trying to do a better job of observing what is going on when I am hit by memories, largely in hopes that if I can be more mindful of what is going on and keep my feet on the ground, I will be less likely to be swept along by it and into the middle of a raging river.  An added benefit is that I am also starting to notice some patterns; I hope that the information might end up being useful when coordinating my care, but at the very least, it is helping me to feel a bit less out of control and helpless in the face of such unpleasant sensations and emotions.

Today, starting in the morning, I noticed that I was very sound and motion sensitive, somewhat light and smell sensitive, and feeling emotionally unstable.  These are signs for me that I have an impending migraine.  I did what I could to try to prevent it, but those symptoms just didn’t seem to be abating, although the headache didn’t showing signs of appearing, which was a bit odd, but I don’t always get the headache.  Then I was hit strongly by emotional memories and moderately by body memories.  Last month, I noted a couple of times when migraines and memories seemed to be linked, so when this happened, I had the thought, “It’s like I’m having some sort of brain storm.  I think that something is triggering both the migraine symptoms and the memories at the same time.  But nothing externally has happened today to memory wise trigger me, so I think that I need to look at this as something I just need to let run through/past me and do my best to not engage with it.”  I sat there rocking myself, crying for about 10 minutes and then it seemed to ease.

Today had a spring like warmth, and my daughter and dog were in the backyard, so I went to sit on the back porch.  Talking with my daughter, feeling the outside air, and running my hands through my dog’s fur helped me to ground myself somewhat.  But I haven’t been able to fully shake feeling vulnerable and uncertain all day.  On the other hand, each time I have felt myself starting to feels bits and flashes of body memories, I have stopped and paid attention to exactly what is going on with my body in that moment, and I haven’t gotten caught up in the memories, allowing them to progress into something more full blown, so things could be much worse.

I have a feeling that after our move, once we get the new health insurance figured out, I probably should start to look into this memory/migraine connection.  The mind is a complicated, weird thing.  Who knows how things are connected?  Maybe there is something biochemically going on sometimes that makes it much easier for me to be triggered?  We have already been trying to take into consideration factors such as hormonal fluctuations due to my being in my mid 40s and likely entering perimenopause, but maybe we need to take a deeper holistic look at how my body is affecting me emotionally?

Have other people taken a holistic approach?  I don’t necessarily mean alternative medicine, I am most interested in how other people have looked at how their entire health may influence their emotional functioning.  I think that we very often tend to forget just how intertwined it all is…

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After last night’s post, I have noted what I have been experiencing today in regards to feeling triggered.  Unfortunately, today has been a hard one, so there has been a lot to note.

Last night, someone asked me a question about why I don’t seem to be angry at someone from my childhood with whom, by all rights, I should be furious.  I explained that every time I try to work on issues around this person, I fall apart, so Mama Bear and I are intentionally not targeting issues related to him for now.  There are many other things for me to deal with, and hopefully as I practice mindfulness and deal with other issues, I will become strong enough to go back and do whatever work it is that I need to do around him.

I thought that I had kept things general enough that I wouldn’t have triggered myself, but I seem to have been wrong.

This afternoon I decided to do a new yoga video, for both the exercise and the calming effect.  I didn’t feel really upset, but I was aware of feeling a bit unsettled.  Less than 10 minutes into the video, I suddenly began to have body memories and intense feelings of fear and rage.  I managed to mostly ground myself, but I haven’t been able to completely shake the body memories for the last 7 hours.  After about 2 hours of dealing with this, I started to notice signs of an impending migraine.  This was definitely a time when the intrusive memories preceded the migraine.

I now wonder whether there is something going on in my brain that is similar for the two issues, which is why it isn’t uncommon for them to go together.  I do know that a medication that I have been on helps with both the flashbacks and the migraines, so it does make sense that something similar is going on.  The mind is a very mysterious thing.

While I have managed to avoid getting a full blown migraine today, I have gone in and out of the body and emotional memories for too many hours.  I keep on trying to focus on where I actually am, and I find that chatting with friends about mundane things tends to help me to disengage from the memories the most.  But repeatedly, I find that I have gone back to the memories, without even being aware that I have done so.

I find myself just wanting to cry from the frustration and misery of dealing with this.  I am at a point where I am no longer able to think clearly about mindfulness techniques that might be helpful.  So I have come to the conclusion that, for right now, the best that I can do is to keep on trying to ground and remind myself that I am safe and when and where I am and to just keep in mind that this will pass before too long.  I am not really trapped or helpless, I am just having a pretty miserable experience at the moment.

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