From “Fuck You” to “Thank You Cancer”

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Six months sober, and divorced… A few days after my final goodbye to my four year old son, I hit my knees.

the second cocktail of chemo drugs caused a reaction and hair loss

 No, I wasn’t praying.. I was in so much pain that my body collapsed into a ball without much thought.  One minute I was texting “sweet dreams” and by the time she responded I wrote back “I think I’m going to the hospital”.  I felt like I was going to DIE; like a gremlin and the monster from the Alien were doing the monster mash right there in my gut.  I panicked, not only because of the pain but because I lived alone.  What if I got worse before I could alert help? One of my fears of being alone coming to life.  I called my friend asking her if she could please take me to the hospital.  She asked what’s wrong and I told her “please just come quickly.” I debated calling an ambulance but I didn’t want the attention of the street.. My self consciousness still winning, even in an emergency.

  By the time she arrived I had slithered down the 18 stairs from my raised house and was sitting balled up on the bottom step counting the hour long milliseconds that it took for her to arrive.  Once at the hospital, it took 45 minutes to be seen, and another 30 to get any kind of pain relief.  They wanted to do testing first.  I can’t say I blame them, I’d hit every emergency room in the area in pain at one point or another, seeking pain medicine to get high. In the moment tho, I hated every last one of them.  Restraining myself from punching holes in the wall felt impossible.  Laying waiting in our little cubical of the ER, I felt the mess starting to kick in.  The edge of the cliff began to get distant, and the doctor came and asked my friend to step outside.  She returned in tears, the doctor behind her looking somewhat apprehensive.  They told me they had found a tumor… A 19cm tumor wrapped around my left ovary and Fallopian tube.  It was the size of a 5 month pregnancy.  I remember the doctor looking at me like I was crazy.  “You didn’t have any symptoms before now?” He asked.  I thought about it and told him that I did have an increase in pain but I assumed it was because I was sober, and I could actually feel pain now, or maybe because I had started walking and my body was adjusting.

Pictures from the initial surgery

A symptom of PTSD is unmanaged dissociation.  Everyone does it on some level whether it’s entering auto pilot while driving,  and you end up wherever you are going but you don’t remember getting there.  That’s the mild side of the unmanaged dissociation spectrum.  Extreme sides of the spectrum are cases are dissociative identity disorder or DID (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) where the psyche completely splits into separate identities to perform various roles to the host.  There are many stops along the way of that spectrum, and I fall in at about the 60-70 range.  If you want to know more on this feel free to ask!  The point is,  my ability to separate from the feeling of physical pain was so fine tuned that the magnitude of the symptoms weren’t registering.  There was a disconnect.

  So, back to my story.. It’ll be a miracle if this blog actually tells the story I opened it to tell!
  From there I was rushed into surgery, the tumor was removed, along with my ovary and Fallopian tube.  A week later I found out that it was indeed cancerous.  Another fear.. Both my gran and my mother were killed by cancer on my mothers side, and my dads mother was also killed by that monster, and now it had me.  I won’t go into all the specifics.. Maybe another blog piece, but that was where my faith really began.

It wasn’t in a foxhole prayer, “God, please save me… ” it was real faith.. It was where I stopped bartering with the “if there’s a God” and started accepting the current moment exactly as it was.  I had been working on my third step in AA, “we made a decision to turn our will and our life, over to the care of God as we understood him” and I was almost all in.. The only reservation I had about staying sober was “if I lose my son I’m getting fucked up” and then I’d lost my son, and stayed sober.

Truth be told, I was secretly in love with another recovering alcoholic and I wanted to prove how committed I was to sobriety.  She had so many years sober, and I had only months.  I thought if I could tackle these monsters of reasons to drink, without drinking, we could bypass the “sober for a year rule”.

  I fought, every day, well almost every day.  There were some days when I couldn’t fight, and I had to lay in bed and just rest.  I remember feeling so much anxiety and panic when I would try to lay down and rest.  This video pretty much depicts that part of the fight (i record and document everything because my memory isn’t too great, and i lose time a lot… a big part of my recovery has been trying to piece together and accept that these things will happen, but looking for ways that i can take care of myself to make them less intrusive)

I was so scared that while I was resting, the cancer was taking over. No imagined it to be like a black cloud that I’d dispersed with my light of my sun, but crept back over when I wasn’t looking.  If I stopped, my body would get weak and I’d lose the fight.. And that just wasn’t an option.  Most breakdowns actually served their purpose in bouncing me back for the next round…

I spent many manic nights awake.  I began painting.  I didn’t want to watch tv, and so I started painting and found that I could paint! I had no idea.  I was pretty amazing at it too!!

Painted from a photo of Chicago that I found online
My secret love challenged me to try spray painting after seeing a video of the NYC spray paint artist..


Time lapse Video of 48 hours of learning to spray paint… not bad!

I gladly accepted the challenge, and within 24 hours I was spray painting my way to a masterpiece. 🙂 I remember selling some of those to my friends on Facebook, helping to generate some money towards the mounting costs of prescriptions and co pays.  I delivered pizza part time for Papa Johns in the evenings, and worked the back drive thru window of McDonalds with my AA sponsor and good friend in the mornings.
Having fun on the job 😉
  I bounced between photography and painting when I didn’t have the energy to walk.  In finding the gift of artwork, I saw a reason for being sick.  I would’ve never known I could paint if I hadn’t slowed down.  I remember how I felt the first time I realized that.  I’m crying again now just remembering how intense that feeling of trust in the universe was.  I remember telling the universe that it could’ve been a little more subtle than the big C, but then I thought about all of the times that I could’ve slowed down, and should’ve slowed down, and I didn’t.  Always running running running because I didn’t want to feel, and if I slowed down or stopped then the feelings would come flooding thru me at an overwhelming rate and I didn’t know how to adjust the faucet.  It was stuck wide open and I couldn’t handle all of that so I ran, staying busy.  It’s why I got fucked up to begin with. Thank you cancer.
a dresser from my sons room that became a painting project
  Four surgeries, and five chemos into the fight I began researching what could I do to improve my chances.  I asked questions on Facebook, and you guys responded with juice recipes, plant based diets.. And so I tried it.  I remember I couldn’t eat much at the time, but I kept telling myself “if I’m going to force myself to eat something, it’s going to be something that will help kick this bitchs’ ass! And I’d add a spoonful of peanut butter to a very green leafy disgusting  cocktail, blend it up and drink up.  I remember making music videos and joining the happy days fb group where my newsfeed filled up with all of these reasons people were happy that day.  That’s where I met a lot of you guys!  There was something about knowing people were watching, or at least feeling like they were, that grounded me.  I didn’t want you to see the real me.  I didn’t want you to see the crazy me, so I attempted to hide it, failing miserably with those I got close to, but it served its purpose.  I kept striving to improve, to be a better person, to show all of you how amazing I really am.. Because I didn’t feel it.. And you guys would tell me I am, and for a moment I would feel it… And as a true addict, it felt good so I wanted more.

 I began a bucket list which I named the “remember when list” because it was a list of things I would one day sit on my front porch telling stories of “remember when” to what I’d hope to be, my love.. Sitting next to me, saying “yes dear” 🙂 – that fantasy pushed me.  It set a tone inside of me and I wrote that list of things I wanted to do in my lifetime!! As that list grew, I realized that I didn’t have time to have a job.. Not in the traditional sense.  I started thinking of ways I could make money without actually going to work, and reading nomad blogs, learning how to travel as cheap as possible.  Again the faith came in, as I thought about everything I had already survived, and I saw how each individual storm in my life created a piece of evidence that I would be okay, no matter what.  Dealing with mental illness, never actually killing myself despite many years of feeling that was my only safe place to live mentally… Katrina.. Being homeless.. Heartbreaks.. I had survived  many storms, it’s what I do! In that I found strength and courage.  I saved links, and took notes, learning and forming the vague outline of how I could actually start working on some of these bucket list ideas.  Sure.. I couldn’t go backpacking Europe that day, laying in bed feeling sick as a dog, hurting, and generally wanting to die on some level.. But I could start studying.. Figure out what id need to do.. What equipment would I need? I’d only been camping twice.  I started looking on craigslist, and reading more and more.

What could I sell to generate money? I started painting sand dollars, and furniture, and whatever else came my way.  I sat out on Saturdays at the farmers market, hoping to sell a piece.  I went to galleries and talked to the managers, showing my portfolio.. I read blogs on how photographers make money with their pictures.. And the majority of the money is in portrait photography.. It wasn’t something I felt I was good enough for, having seen others work.  I didn’t have the money for the equipment I really needed, but I took my Panasonic LUMIX camera and did the best I could.. Watching YouTube videos on how to edit portrait pictures.  Touch ups etc.  I had the eye, I just didn’t have the knowledge, but I learned!

Adorable little girl and her mother that responded to a FB ad

I posted questions in fb photography groups, and they came back with all the answers to help me improve.  It provided the money to travel some more, but I didn’t care for it enough to pursue it further.

I took on a couple of website gigs, rehashing skills from my earlier years, and hustled flipping a broke down car.

Changing out the brake calipers – gotta trust the Universe to learn this on YouTube!

There’s never an easy answer to “how do you afford to travel” I just do whatever the moment presents itself with, and I am always provided for.  The Universe takes care of me as long as I allow it to.  I never thought I’d be a paid blogger.. $5-$12 a day, but it’s something! Every little something adds up and creates opportunity for more experience, and with more experience comes more opportunity.  It’s an amazing circle of life.

  Now my hope is to use my blog to not only record doing all this with mental illness.. (Which I really want to write about the transition from traveling to home.. I definitely need a better plan for reentry.  The last few days have been rough and I feel very spacey, ungrounded), but not only that and frugal traveling, but I’ve been writing the story of the travels from a first hand perspective as if the reader is the one traveling.  Once the story is written I want to record it and put pictures and videos to it so that the viewer or reader feels as if they are really traveling the world.

Then I want to donate it to everyone fighting a terminal illness, so that they can dissociate into the story and maybe get a little relief from the reality of the pain and treatment that they are going thru.  I hope it inspires them to fight, to really see the world, or whatever their bucket list things are, and if that’s no longer an option, I hope I get to help fulfill at least one of them by having this experience to share.

  Having said that..
I’d like you help me out by clicking on all the ads you see on this page, clicking back to the blog between each one.  I get paid per reader and per ad click.. And that helps fund this adventure.
I’d also like you to shared story if you believe in me and want to be a part of it!
And lastly, there is a box to subscribe to the blog, if you want notifications of new posts to the blog.
With that.. I hope you enjoyed my story.. It’s what got me to where I am today.. This year I have seen 22 states in the USA.. Fallen in love with traveling, seen my nephew for the first time, seen my first concert, mastered camping, backpacked four cities, opened an Airbnb of my own, become a paid blogger, met sooo many amazing new people, and next month I am leaving to backpack Europe! It’s wild!  If this is a dream, I never want to wake up.  Thank you Cancer!
“It’s a perfect day for a perfect day!”
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Mental health tools – blogging

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Well it’s been a while since I wrote a blog, and it’s been a while since I was panic free. Courtney even responded on a post I made about having anxiety for hours, “when’s the last time you blogged or did some artwork” but I was so caught up that I didn’t really hear the message. I had just written in my notebook that morning trying to ease the anxiety and it hasn’t helped.. But it had, it just wasn’t at the level that blogging helps me when I’m practicing it every day. It’s like exercise for my brain, and just like the stationary bike sucks on the first day after not getting on for three months.. Writing is the same. These tools only work for me when they’re part of my daily life. Doh!
Ok.. So what’s going on in my world? 
Well, I’m currently writing from a commune in chicamauga, Georgia. It’s an abandoned elementary school on the Alabama/Georgia/Tennessee state lines. It’s 10 minutes from Chattanooga, which is an amazingly beautiful town. Last night we went to the river walk to watch the sunset. I can’t tell you how big my smile is that I can write “we” .. Third year in a row that I’ve made a New Years resolution and it’s become realized.  
  So Yupp.. I’ve been traveling.. When I got back from Greece on March 16th, Amber went home, back to New Orleans and I stayed in Conroe, Texas at my besties house.. Courtney (the one with the bad ass food truck Falacos – if you’re anywhere near Houston, YOU WANT THESE BALLS IN YOUR MOUTH!!) and Benny (the artist behind the badass wall murals and famous peeps paintings that y’all see me posting) .. I have so much love for these guys.. Definitely on the inside of my circle, and have been a rock of support in walking with me thru this recovery journey. So I wanted to stay and visit before heading home from Greece.. and a friend came to visit for Courts birthday.. Introducing Kate.. Now, I wasn’t expecting to meet someone in that moment.. I was jet lagged, working on little sleep, and attempting to be present for the day at the food truck.. But something about listening to Courtney tell me about her friend that was coming over had captured my attention. I wanted to know more .. And after meeting her.. I really wanted to know more… and now I’m in Chattanooga Tennessee, with Kate.. And Athena (who I adopted the day after meeting Kate) and here we are .. A happy lil family road tripping!
  So .. New Years I made a resolution that I wanted to manifest a wife. Kind of a weird one isn’t it.. But in that moment, I asked God to present that person in my life, and I made the decision to really focus my energy into envisioning what that person would look like .. I don’t mean physically.. I mean, what qualities would I want.. Ability to travel, ability to be patient wit my panic stricken ass.. Someone I felt safe with, and could talk to without fear… Someone secure.. That wouldn’t get jealous or possessive and not be ok with me traveling alone still. There has been quite a process of really picturing the role that this person would play in my life, and learning myself enough to know the role I can offer to play in theirs. I’d love to be Casanova every day for them, but in reality.. There are some days that I just can’t be that.. There are some days when I need to just be by myself.. I’m learning how to be open and honest during panic instead of acting like I’m ok. I’m learning how to ask for my needs to be met.. Because I never wanted to bother anyone before .. I didn’t wanna be a burden, and I felt like I was on my mental days.  
  I have to say, God delivered when he introduced me to Kate. This road trip is showing me how true that is. 
So.. Where else have I been since Greece?? 
Miami, home, Pensacola, Orlando, Cincinnati, Ohio, Galveston Texas, and now the smokey mountains… And I’m supposed to be staying home for my therapy. Oops! Truth is .. My anxiety is better when I’m on the road and distracted by life, and falling in love with the new places.. 


Having said that, it’s time to get dressed and check out Rock City! I’m so excited.. And now my anxiety is down so I can get dressed and start this day! She’s so patient.. Just sitting in the chair across from me.. Athena on her lap.. Taking care of her own affairs. She’s amazing. 😍

Allowing emotion – Rage

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Raging 
My head is vibrating. I can feel the tornado inside of me whirling up strong and stronger. I keep having flashes of destroying everything in my path.. Throwing the paintings from the walls.. Smashing the tv.. Punching things and just swinging uncontrollably .. Whats the point of it all??? What’s the point in experiencing all that “awesome stuff” if I can’t feel it.. If I can’t remember it.. If the fucking pictures on the walls could just have easily been bought at the store? What’s the point of wasting hours and hours painting ?? Who cares if I can paint or not? Who cares if I can write? Who cares if I can adopt all these amazing fucking tools and share them with others??? What does it matter, if sitting here in MY living room, in MY house.. I still feel this. I still feel everything. It still fucking hurts. I’m still alone. I’m still fighting with myself every moment just to get up and take a shower.. It’s a fucking shower.. I still feel black hole depressed. I still don’t wanna leave the house, but wanna run far and wide. I still can’t escape the tape player of reasons why I am feeling hurt. It’s just gotten longer. New things added to it.  


I feel so sorry for myself.. How pathetic is that? Millions of people out there trying to survive.. Literally.. They may not survive today.. And I feel sorry for myself. Raging inside my mind, and nothing but a tear rolling down my cheek to show it. So afraid to allow myself to physically feel anger. So afraid to allow myself to ever get close to that line where anger turns rage. I just keep stuffing it back down. I need a healthy outlet. An outlet for anger. Something physical.. But I’m so tired before I ever move… And all I want to do is sleep. 

Intercepting panic and morphing it into pride 101

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Damnit … I was supposed to go the whole time home without a panic attack ://////
Wtf? I wasn’t even doing anything. What was I doing? Wrapping the painting for Michele.. Ohh .. And thinking of how far I’ve come since I first started seeing her almost ten years ago. I’m remembering the panic attacks that brought me there. So technically this isn’t happening.. Technically this is a memory.. Of how I felt then.. That was a good try…
Ok fuck .. Breathe .. Stop trying to rush thru this to get back to what you were doing… Chill out .. Focus.. Walk thru it .. Stop running … No running!! :))) Courtney 🙂 here and now… That’s it .. Plug into another feeling physiologically … Omg .. Of course!!! Why else would I be so in tune with describing emotions on a physiological level .. So that I can slip in and out of them ? Maybe ..
Ok so I’m feeling panicked.. Chest is pounding.. Stretch it out by breathing .. Sit up straight .. But we need a new feeling … Instead of trying to fight it back down to “calm” which is the largest span to cross .. How about a feeling like happy .. Or excited .. Hmm excited is too close to anxiety .. I want my body to actually feel different.. Ok love … What does love feel like.. Grans kitchen .. That hug from behind when she came to check on my progress mixing the cake.. Being tucked in at night .. Having my back washed.. The warm towels out of the dryer .. Ok that feeling is too emotional .. I’m missing all those things .. Ok .. Happy thoughts … Umm .. Victory!!! The time I bowled a 299 in an adult junior competition with my dad .. That feeling of making him proud … :))) Yupp there we go .. Full Chest.. Standing tall.. Kinda embarrassed to be that focus of attention .. But fuck it! 11 strikes in a row!!! You’re a bowler .. A damn good bowler.. Let it shine!
Ok .. Let’s see if we are grounded .. Cos Adele is on and that shit sure doesn’t help calm the storm lmao .. Ahh Adele .. I love you .. Always adding your two scents on this journey … Not this time tho …
and I’m out the bathroom .. Time Check 9:47 .. Started at 9:33 … 14 minutes!! Woooohoooooooo under the 15 minute adrenaline dump time zone!!!!

I find it so fascinating when I go back and read what I write when i am in the midst of the storm.  This one I happened to read for the first time in therapy later that afternoon after a very exhausting morning of panic.  I felt better when I left, having gained some insight about where to go with it.. but it didn’t stop further panic attacks once I got back home.  Luckily I have a ton of homework from her to work on, so that’ll be fun <- note the sarcasm.

Yesterday seemed like a day where a lot of people seemed to be struggling.  I had to step back at one point and just take care of myself.  I wish I could plug my brain in and just let everyone check out the tools they need in the moments that they are needed, but it doesn’t work that way.  Not yet anyway.. I am sure that will be possible one day.

Over the next 8 weeks, I will be facing the monsters inside of me once again.  Thankfully I have already cleaned, swept and mopped my closet once, so this time won’t be so bad.  On a good note.. I have a whole lotta pictures and footage of my travels that i’ll also be unpacking, and working on when taking mental breaks.. maybe even some artwork.. who knows?

For everyone who asks me how to get from where I was to where I am (because it’s usually when I am flying high on life that they wanna know) it’s time to tune in.  Lemme know you’re tuned in and wanna know.. I’m undecided at the moment about just how much I wanna share publicly.. preferably all of it so that it can help others.. but not exactly sure yet.

Goals: complete abstinence from self harm, binge eating, dissociation, panic attacks

Ok.. time to stop avoiding!

 

Post Katrina Stress Disorder with a slice of Fuck You Cancer!

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Holy fucking shit balls! I don’t know how much longer I can be in this panicked state of mind and self. Bad weather never used to affect me. I feel convinced that I am about to know what it feels like to be that house on the tv that got hit. Why this time? IDK but given I keep having a mental picture of it.. its really fucking concerning me. I am usually the one cool calm and collected.. the voice of reason and decision if needed.. but I am by myself, so I really don’t need to the voice for anyone.. just me.
There are so many things I could be doing right now that are on my to do list, and I cant fucking function. I keep pacing towards something but forget what it is by the time I get half way there, wherever there is for whatever it was. Im just circling my house, and I thought maybe I could sit down and blog it out.. I finally got all the way thru the act of putting music on so im not just listening to the wind howling around. This shit is no joke for a Katrina survivor. 
I remember those outer bands. I remember driving thru it, evacuating last minute along the coast. 

  
 Ok I cant fucking talk about that right now.. y’all don’t even know what it was really like to be down here for that .. unless you were here of course. My guests ask about it, because they see the cement slabs that are still here.. stairs leading up to nothing, where a house once stood. They always seem so completely shocked when I start talking about it, from my own personal experience. I’ve come to realize that most people hear “Katrina” and they think “New Orleans, Superdome, flooding, looting” that’s about it.. that is how the summarize THE most traumatic experience of so many lives. Did you know that Post Katrina Stress Disorder is a diagnosis? I’ve been telling that story a lot lately.. maybe because I’ve had guests almost the whole time that I have been home. Maybe the Universe is telling me that it is time to confront this one. Work thru it and file it away forever to stay.
If y’all could see my scrunched up face, tears forming and falling, my breath halted trying to catch up with the moment of pain that comes with those memories.. the floating bloated bruised bodies.

   
   
 The flock of dead birds laying on the ground at work 3 weeks later. The weeks without electricity or potable water. Lemme tell you a story about a survivor.
It was March 2005 when my nightmare started. I was working Mardi Gras for Dominos Pizza. It was insane hours.. Thursday thru Sunday I probably slept 10 hours, and worked my ass off the rest of the time.. chugging energy drinks like they were bottled waters. While catching the pizzas from the oven, 9 every 3 seconds, a pain invaded my abdomen like no other pain I had ever felt. I passed the cutter off and went to the lobby where the hot bags were stacked, and laid on them, clutching my lower abdomen tight. After the doctor and a few tests, I was told that I had tumors and they wanted to perform a biopsy. I was a bit of a junkie at the time, and I took the pain medicine prescriptions and never went back. My mother was diagnosed with cancer a couple of months later. She wanted me to come visit, but I couldn’t. Work had me tied up, and to be honest, I didn’t want to go. In June my sister got married. I was supposed to be the maid of honor, but I didn’t go. I was “managing my pain” and managing my store at my new place of employment, very poorly.. and couldn’t take off of work. I was caught in a three way love triangle, and a complete mess really.. Mum was getting sicker, but I still wasn’t visiting.
August 2005, Hurricane Katrina moved into the Gulf of Mexico. Thankfully it wasn’t my first experience with hurricanes here in the South. I knew the basics. Stock up, food, water, flashlights, batteries, and fill the tank up. I was managing a gas station infront of Walmart at the time. I couldn’t leave until the tanks were down to 1,000 gallons for the National Reserves to use after the fact. We seranwrapped the pumps and hit the road. 

  
 We exited New Orleans joining the endless traffic of people also still evacuating. My ex, her two girls, and myself in one car… my assistant manager and her girlfriend in the car behind me. 6 hours later we had moved 40 miles, if that. We neared the Six Flags exit…

 
Anxiety and sobbing crying again. I keep telling myself that I survived it all already. I survived 2005. It’s already done.. it shouldn’t be effecting me right now.. but it is. That shit was unimaginable.  I don’t think I can tell the story and portray just how fucking horrible it was. Seeing people stripped down to their survival instincts. Needing gas but having to decide if its worth risking being car jacked after the fact. Bartering cartons of cigarettes to move around unharmed. The smell.. the illness.. I remember the first time I heard an actual song on the radio again.. it had to be October… “ooo thinking about our younger years.. “ The endless days at work because no one came back. 

  
 They moved me to a store an hour or so north of where mine was. Mine was destroyed. People were detoxing off of drugs.. off of cigarettes.. living in the blistering heat of September with no electricity. 

  
 No one came. No one came to help.. for sooo long.. and when they did, they parked a truck and gave out bags of ice that we had to line up for hours to have a chance of getting one. The MRE military meals were brought in.. disgusting things, but when you’re hungry and cut off from the world, you eat it. 

  
 The government were giving out credit cards with $2,000 on it, and people were staying where they were with it.. relocating permanently. Those of us back here worked non stop, rebuilding work, or rebuilding homes.. cutting away the black mold… 

  
emptying houses after houses of furniture that had been left sitting in abandoned homes. I am sure that most of us really didn’t even feel the magnitude of what was going on. Disconnected in order to keep going. Military began policing the streets. Marshall Law was in effect and it was every man for themselves. I’m not sure they were prepared.. Some of them rookies, some of them treating us like wild animals.  

  
Flat tires were common due to the debris and nails from all the blown away buildings. Neighborhood after neighborhood of total devastation and nowhere to go. My house had three oak trees thru the roof and laying in the living room and kitchen, stacked on top of each other. I was homeless. I stayed on the couch of a friend, if I even left work. It was mid October when I knew I had to go home (England). I told my boss I would be back in two weeks.

When I landed, my step dad picked me up at the airport and drove me to the hospital. There lay my mother, old and frail in the bed. I felt so angry towards her but I couldn’t be so angry at such a frail woman. Fuck you Cancer!!! For all that me and that woman went thru, she wasn’t yours to take! We did so much crying together in those few months that I got to spend with her. We exchanged forgiveness’ that were long overdue. I took her for days out in her wheelchair… not that far because she didn’t have the energy.. but just to get out. She liked the garden center where they had a coffee shop. I looked after my little sister, who was 5 at the time. My mum had been doing her best to keep up the washing and her room.. and trying to make as unnoticeable as possible that she was dying. Her husband wasn’t doing shit, except for spending everything she had on antique record players, drinking heavily at the pub every night, dating a new woman, and whatever else he did that he didn’t let us see. He’d come home drunk and verbally abuse my mother. They’d yell back and forth.. she mostly cried. I am ashamed to say that it took me as long as it did to stand up to him, but I eventually found my adult voice, stood in his face and yelled “DON’T YOU DARE FUCKING TALK TO HER LIKE THAT!” He hit me and I swung back. He left and went to the pub.
I remember taking her to her medical appointments.. hours of sitting in the room talking to the nurses, and the other patients. I remember the naps that she would fall into, and checking to see if she was still breathing. Sometimes her breath would stop, and I’d think that she had gone.. just staring and waiting.. and then she’d gasp a big breath of air and wake up.. and I’d exhale.. realizing I was holding my breath with her. Friends would come to visit once in a while. I heard that the turn out at her funeral was massive. Flowers would come, and line the mantelpiece of the living room. It was originally my gran and granddads house. I’d sat in that same living room and taken goodbye pictures ten years earlier.. as I fled to America. While my mother napped, I’d go in the attic, and root thru the photo albums and other things left behind. I remember taking my little sister trick or treating around the neighborhood. She was so ecstatic that she got to go. Mum picked thru her candy when we got back. I videoed her playing with V.. pretending to take the good sweets. V handled everything like a trooper. She knew what was going on. I remember her telling my mum not to be afraid because it wasn’t her time to go. I am pretty sure that she is a bit of a psychic just like mum. I lost contact with her after Mum died. Her dad took her, and all the inheritance and severed all ties. Seriously cancer.. fuck you!
I stayed until new years, and lost my job for doing so. My mum and I agreed that she would rather I stay and spend the time with her while she was still alive, than leave and then come back for the funeral. My step dad never let me live it down for not being there at the funeral…
January 2nd 2006 I flew back to New Orleans… knowing I would never see her again.. having no idea where I was going to work.. no house.. pretty much nothing. I started on a friends’ couch, and went from there. It wasn’t until 2007 that my panic attacks started. I’d secured a career, had a good woman by my side and two beautiful kids. Life was back on track and my mind collapsed. I’d maxed myself out. I’d filed so much into the “I’ll deal with this later” category that it burst its banks, and full blown paralyzing panic disorder kicked in. I couldn’t say a full sentence. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t process basic math, or tell you my name. I knew it. I heard the words in my head and knew that I knew it, but couldn’t put my finger on how to do it. Or what that word was. I couldn’t be left alone. I’d flinch at everything. I couldn’t feel anything else but panic. It was panic, or nothing. My kids would come to me, and I’d just stare at them.. I wanted to hug them and laugh, and play.. and I couldn’t. My partner would plead with me to talk to her.. to snap out of it.. to tell her how she could help me.. but that mess of a spaghetti of thoughts and memories didn’t have a starting point. My biggest fear is being back there in that place again. I’ve been there a few times in my life. I’m willing to do whatever it takes not to go back there again.. and that’s why I write.. all the shit that flows thru this fucking brain.. I have to let it out or else it grows and consumes me and it wins.
The weather has calmed down again. It’s dark outside, and I don’t hear the wind anymore. I’ve been writing for two hours… need to move a muscle and change my thought.

For Panicked People Please Post

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“Fuck! Ok, calm down.  It’s just a panic attack.  You are safe…”

Another jolt of panic..

“I’m gonna die I’m gonna die..” I whisper to myself.

“You’re not gonna die.  That’s horrible self talk, where the fuck did that come from?” I reply

My mind flashes a million miles a second, replaying all the reasons that I am gonna die. My heart palpitates..

“This is it! I’m gonna die. I’m having a heart attack.  That was the sugar that’s gonna push me over the edge and I’m gonna die.”

Panic waves over me again.  Have you ever half tripped.. you know.. when you almost fall, but your reflexes catch you, and you prevent it. Without even thinking, you catch yourself, you don’t fall, and you are safe.  Ok.. so you know that feeling of panic, right before all of that autopilot stuff happens.. THAT .. that is what that wave of panic feels like.. but it keeps coming.. just like waves.. the big one knocks you down, and if it’s a strong one, it might even pull you under.

Under could best be described as disconnected.. checked out.. for anyone looking in from the outside.  The fear factor is so strong that the mind has splintered and taken the host someplace else, away from the trigger, trauma.. whatever it is.

Checked out – defined from the hosts point of view – ok bare with me.. that caused a wave of panic just to think about.  “Breathe. It’s okay.. it’s the right hand side of your chest that hurts.. it’s not a heart attack.. it’s a panic attack.. and its really fucking stupid because all you are doing is sitting writing about panic attacks.. to educate other people who have loved ones that suffer from these fuckers, and don’t have the ability to describe what it is, and what would help.  You’re also writing to show other people that suffer with them.. and possibly so much so that they are questioning whether to continue living with this.. that there is hope..”

Obviously, I still have panic attacks.. I am in the middle of feeling it right now.. because I took a shower.. yea.. my triggers can be that basic at times.. but “I am ok.. I have survived every panic attack I have ever had, and I will survive this one too.”  Okay.. its easing up.. so.. from the inside, .. splintered.. checked out.. its like being on a simulator ride… ok .. anxiety is rising.. I need to figure out a way to say this without reliving it… blah.. ok just write it .. it’s like a simulator of all your most traumatic moments, being played.. being felt.. being relived… to the outside person.. watching someone on a simulator, react to what looks like nothing going on.. that’s the difference in perceptions of that moment for those two people.  Wow.. that was pretty awesome.. I haven’t thought about it like that before.  Why was that so hard to write? Well, every time I tried to picture it, I saw my own filmstrip, and it’s like peeking your head into a nightclub.  It gets loud really quickly!

 

Ok.. so what can you do for that person?

Know that asking them that question, in the moment, escalates the panic. Why? Well, now they have to try and focus on breathing, and answering the question, and worrying about what you might be thinking, or that they’re worrying you!!! Oh god… too much! It’s a great question, but save it for a grounded conversation over lunch, or coffee.. chances are that the person panicking may have a list of things that they know help them, but they can’t focus long enough to access that list in the moment.

 

In case they don’t have any coping skills.. here are some things that help me…

  1. Keywords and phrases… these may sound obvious, but to the scattered mind it takes a lot of repetition, and refocusing to stay long enough in these words, that it makes a difference.
    1. “safe”.. you are safe, I am safe.. everyone is safe..
    2. “grounding” .. Think about things that ground you
    3. “breathe” .. Deep breathing.. Breathe with them.. breathe in counting to 4, hold it counting to 4, exhale while counting to 4.. if this causes another spike in the panic.. use the Distract, Relax, and Cope technique and then come back to the Square breathing. (Here is a video I made that might help)
  2. Distract Relax and Cope! – this is an amazing technique. It was explained to me using a simple demonstration, which I will ask you to do now.  Hold your leg out infront of you, suspended in the air.    Keep counting until you reach that moment where you can’t hold it up any longer..push thru.. it hurts right? Now keep it up and sing.. “Hello.. it’s me.. I was wondering if after all this time you’d like to meet….” Keep singing..

Okay, did you notice how the shift in focus took the intensity of holding your leg up down a notch or two?  (You can put your leg down now my overachievers) THAT is the technique of Distract.  Once the mind is distracted, it can then relax.. To distract your panic stricken friend, talk about something completely random.. don’t ask questions.. just give them something to listen to.. paint a picture, or tell a funny memory.. in doing so, you are redirecting the film playing in their mind, while getting them grounded to their sense of sound.  The two worlds cannot co exist.  Once you feel you have their attention, notice their breathing.. if it isn’t yet deep, then go back to the breathing and counting for the “relax”

Cope – this is the part when the person revisits whatever it was that triggered them, from a calm, grounded place.  For me today it was taking a shower.  I feel grounded enough to remember what happened.

I was in the shower, the water was hot.. I couldn’t remember if I had locked the bathroom door.  I currently have guests staying thru AirBnb. The what if’s took over.  What if he comes in? What if he hurts me? What if I need my phone and I left it in the bedroom? In fact.. I bet that was the trigger.  I didn’t realize I didn’t have my phone until I was already undressed, and I heard it go off in the bedroom.  I needed to go get it, but I told myself I would be okay until I got back in there.  I am not at a place in my recovery where I believe that.  Having my phone on me at all times gives me a sense of safety.. that SHOULD I collapse, get kidnapped, have a seizure, completely fall apart… I have my phone to get help.  Showers are a trigger for me.  I should’ve just gotten dressed and gone and got the phone… that would’ve probably prevented this panic attack, but I didn’t.  Why? Because I don’t need my phone to be safe.. that is my goal.. to be able to feel safe purely because I am safe.. and not because I have all these safety nets for all of my “what ifs”

  1. Get in touch with their senses..
    1. Taste – Peppermints help me, or strong minty gum.
    2. Smell – tea tree oil is a good one! It’s potent. Vanilla sugar cookie candles. Even better.. cooking, or baking.. that always helps me because it reminds me of my grans kitchen which is one of my safe scenes.
    3. Sound – sometimes calm meditation music helps, sometimes 80s helps.. sometimes silence helps.. just watch their body language.
    4. Touch – a bag of ice or frozen veg on the wrists. Something extreme to snap the mind back.  . there have been times when I have been so disconnected that my nerves couldn’t feel.  This is one of the things that leads to self harm and cutting.  Wanting to feel something.  If this isn’t a sense that can be accessed yet, come back to it.   Drawing attention to that fact can increase panic.
    5. Sight – This is probably the last sense that can be accessed. The persons vision is on the filmstrip playing in their mind.  They aren’t even here.  Nothing exists outside of the body.. the world is big enough in the mind.  This is why safe scenes work well. A safe scene is an actual picture that the person can focus on.  It’s a place they have already predetermined as a safe place in previous therapy, or even to themselves.  Earlier I mentioned this in regards to my grans kitchen.  While I may not be able to see the world around me, I can see the filmstrip.  My grans kitchen is very vivid.  I’m stood on a stepping stool that my granddad has made so that I can reach the counter.  I am squeezing sausage meat out of the links to make stuffing for our Sunday roast dinner.  We are happy.  I am safe. I smell the chicken roasting in the oven. I remember the smell of gingerbread filling the house.  I remember all the vegetables that we made and ate.  I can feel her love. – That is where I have to stop, because that memory then begins to turn into sadness as I miss her now that she is gone, and although it is okay to feel any emotion.. that doesn’t serve me, or this blog right now!

      Another safe scene I used for a long time is a picture I drew of the harbor. The boats bobbing up and down.  I can hear the seagulls flying overhead.  I smell the salty air, and I can feel the warmth of the sun covering me like a blanket.  The creeky boards of the dock. The sound of the waves lapping against the wall.  I would imagine myself standing there and deep breathing… there’s no wonder that I now choose to live by the sea.

 

Well… those are the basics that help me in the moment.  Ask your loved one, when they aren’t panicking, what works for them?  J I hope I have helped someone somewhere.. and even if I haven’t .. I am not grounded, and can get dressed and go for a walk!

 

I wanted to die. More than anything in the world..

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Valentines’ Day… when I type that, my fingers glide over the keys as if they are playing the piano.. gracefully, romantically.. a little bump in the rhythm of my heartbeat. It feels quite nice actually.   Valentines’ Day.. 🙂

So.. what does the big day look like for a hopeless romantic single boi such as myself? I’ve gotta say.. I felt pretty content. I didn’t hate a single picture of roses, chocolates or teddy bears posted on any social media. I felt love. I felt romantic. I felt mindful and present.. and completely okay with the fact that I didn’t have a Valentine. That only improved as I hung out with the boys, and talked about what healthy dating and relationships look like.. I felt solid on my path.. that I don’t need someone in my life to feel whole.   For a co dependent, borderline personality like myself, that is HUGE! I am emotionally independent!!! They are no longer dictated by drugs, alcohol, shopping, lust, sex… manipulated by endorphin’s released by my pleasure centers.. they are completely and authentically real. I don’t need to be validated by anyone. I know I am fucking awesome! That positive affirmation I never thought I would be able to wear, and own.. “I am awesome” … I finally convinced myself.

Three years ago today, I was admitted into River Oaks Behavioral Hospital, into the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder unit. I wanted to die. More than anything else in the world, I wanted to die. Correction.. I wanted peace. Peace of mind and heart. Calmness in my soul. It was something that I was convinced would never be possible for me. I’d wanted it for as long as I could remember. Twenty plus years I had been in and out of the mental institutions, bouncing up and down, over and under the bars of mania and depression. Suicidal ideations were the only thing that brought me peace. Knowing that if all else failed, I could take my life, and it would all be over. I knew in my heart that there was a solution, but fighting for so long to keep going, thru all the extended dark days where everything ripped my guts out completely, or nothing fell upon me, creating a shell of numb and void. My partners, through the years, left.. having had enough of the constant roller coasters. Believing that I no longer loved them because I didn’t have the ability to feel it, let alone express it. Or having enough of my impulsive behaviors when manic. Gambling sprees, drugs to try and bring me down so I could sleep. I felt like I was losing my mind. I was losing my mind. I had so much insomnia that it has caused changes in my brain that effects my memory. I took the anxiety medications, the pain medicines, drank, and anything that was considered a downer. You know, a common misunderstanding about drug addicts is that they just want to be high.. and that they’re irresponsible.. while that may be true for a small percentage.. a LOT of addicts use drugs and alcohol to self-medicate their mental illnesses. It gets to the point where it doesn’t really matter anymore.. it doesn’t matter if it is illegal.. it doesn’t matter if it might kill you.. you hope that it will.. it doesn’t matter that you won’t be able to function.. as long as it breaks the current psychotic symptom that is throwing everything out of whack.. that is the ONLY goal that can be focused on, because if you try to think of anything else, the brain malfunctions and goes into shut down.. the fuck its.  Mental illness is a bitch. Some days are so busy, just trying to keep within the realm of grounded that nothing else gets done. I spend days circling my house, one room to the next to the next .. maybe cleaning a little bit here and there, but mostly just trying to remember what it is that I am doing… trying to complete the tasks of things that I have already started. I never get to the end of that haunting list.. it just grows and grows and grows.

 

Anyway … totally got off topic there lol … some things take longer than others! So yea.. from three years ago, wanting to die, until today.. where I am emotionally free, and have so much in life that I want to do before I die… it’s an interesting transition. It’s a program that actually works.  A path from the deepest darkest depression, to the most mind blowing life anyone could wish to live.  I am living a life that I never thought would be possible for me, stacking up the evidence of the things I thought I couldn’t do.. and have done. It’s an amazing journey so far! I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I wish I could sit down and compile a book on how to do it,.. but I can’t.  I don’t have the focus to spend that long on one project.. maybe over the course of my lifetime I will have written it, but for now, I am just able to share the tools as they present themselves to me.  Todays’ tool id square breathing.  Whenever you feel overwhelmed with an emotion, square breathing helps to take it back down a notch, to a level that the next level of self care can be applied.  It’s a very slow process, but reprogramming our minds takes time.

 

Happy Self Love day to me! Okay.. time to go back to the karaoke! Lol