Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Owning Our Words

Anyone who experiences post traumatic stress due to past abuse understands that being emotionally triggered by someone doesn't mean they have done something to hurt you or cause you pain. It means a certain interaction with them "flashes" you back internally and involuntarily to a painful and/or traumatic past.  

When this physical response happens to me, as it occasionally does, it's usually obvious to me what or who the trigger was. 

I don't always express what I'm feeling, but the physical response is something I have to deal with. I also still have occasional nightmares that connect back to abuse and trauma in my past, even though I have not suffered abuse in over a decade.

I don't make anyone else responsible for what happens inside me. But I do try to help others understand something they have never experienced. People with emotional triggers are not rare. You just may not realize how many people around you deal with them to varying degrees.

One of my emotional triggers is when someone is condescending to me or another person -- it doesn't have to happen to me. It can be a dismissive tone or a choice of words reminiscent of my past. But when an exchange like this occurs, it ignites a post traumatic stress response in my body physically. I feel my heart rate increase, my blood pressure rise, and/or anxiety/tightness in my chest. 

Post Traumatic Stress (PTS or PTSD when it is a full blown disorder) is a very real and lasting condition, even after a person has healed from past abuse and is living a good, healthy and productive life. When a survivor makes themselves vulnerable enough to share this and explain it, the worst thing you can do is tell the person they just take things too personally and they are too sensitive. That does nothing but intensify the relived emotion, breaking down communication even further.

You see, that's exactly what the abuser did to dismiss or invalidate whatever the victim said,  felt, or thought. 

An abuser always changes the subject by making every difference about the victim's sensitivity or proclivity toward taking things personally. And any real dialog or understanding shuts down when this happens because then the victim must either defend themselves, agree that they are the real problem, or just stop trying to express themselves. That's why this is a tool used by narcissistic abusers.

This article explains the trauma a victim experiences in this type of relationship...

I wrote this blog post a couple of weeks ago after a post traumatic stress experience. But I wanted to sit on it a while before deciding if it was something I wanted to share. I actually forgot about it. Then a friend sent the above article to me yesterday. The article describes what I and others have endured in abusive relationships. It connected so well with the thoughts I had put on hold. I knew when I read it that I would finish and publish this post, including the link.

If we truly want someone to feel that we respect and care about them; if we want them to tell us how we impact them; we must own our words and our tone, even when we come across differently than we intend to.

Simply saying "I" could have said that better ... "I" am sorry for my unintended tone ... Those are words that will diffuse anxiety and tension. That will keep communication flowing. I've been on both sides of those words. I know. Just because I suffer from PTS when I'm spoken to a certain way, that doesn't mean I don't ever have to apologize for my words or tone! I apologize often. 

Telling someone they take things wrong, or too personally, or they are too sensitive, but then apologizing for causing pain diminishes the apology because you've already put the pain squarely on them and their sensitivity, disowning your contribution to the breakdown in communication. That's a cop out, not a sincere apology. You may not be a narcissist, but that's what narcissists do!

What leads to more effective communication and another person feeling heard, understood and respected is being able to own our part (specifically) in the communication breakdown, NOT offering an abstract, unspecific apology for pain we didn't cause... 
but also never really tried to understand.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Thoughts on Aging

When I saw this article by BrenĂ© Brown (on Maria Shriver's blog) for Prime: Reflections on Time and Beauty, I was inspired. It is a portrait book that features portraits and accompanying essays of women from the ages of 35 to 104, by American photographer and filmmaker Peter Freed, along with the stories of the women in the photographs. The Prime Book celebrates what it means to be a woman in her “prime” in modern-day America.

I am approaching my 57th birthday next month and I have so many thoughts on aging.

I loved the idea of sharing a black and white portrait with no makeup because it's raw and honest and brave. 

I'm not suggesting I'm letting you see me at my worst. I was having a good hair day and I experimented with different spots in my room for the most flattering light. But after reading the article, I felt a compulsion to go into my bathroom with my phone, wash all my makeup off and take a selfie. Well, several. And I didn't like any of them. This is the best I could come up with after six or seven (eight or ten, who's counting?) tries.

My arms aren't long enough. And I don't like pictures of myself not smiling. (I guess I could have smiled, but the photos from this book are all serious shots.) 

I gave up on actually liking my face without makeup and said "enough." I decided to force myself to make a choice from what I had because, after all, this wasn't supposed to be about vanity. As I compared images, I kept coming back to the one above and then realized I had forgotten to remove my jewelry. Oh well, I'm not a real subject for this portrait book. I'm doing my own thing. And I couldn't bring myself to begin the process all over again when I had an acceptably raw and honest image. (I also wanted to avoid the possibility of John walking into the bedroom and seeing me doing this. He probably wouldn't get it. I probably would have been teased unmercifully.)

I think this is an empowering thing to do for ourselves individually and collectively. I felt empowered by the photos of the other women. I felt like I was looking into their souls. I didn't look at any other woman's photo the way I look at my own. I find all kinds of things to admire in their "naked" images. In mine, I see one eye larger than the other and a crooked nose (above). I see gravity around my lips, chin and jawline (more noticible in the second photo). Lines in my forehead. The one thing that makes me happy visually is that I have finally found a product that helps my eyebrows to grow in thicker and darker. (So, for my friends who are wondering if I took off ALL my makeup, the answer is yes! thanks to RapidBrow.)

But all that is so superficial. Whatever I see in the mirror that pleases or displeases me isn't really me at all. It's my shell. Who I am is what you know through my words and actions. Who I am is found in how I love, help and lift up others. Who I am is found in my heart and mind. And even though my face and body are not growing more beautiful with age, my heart, mind and soul are better and stronger than ever. Dare I say it, I feel more beautiful on the inside than I did at twenty, thirty, or forty. I love who I am inside at 57 more than any age I have ever been, even if I don't welcome the physical changes of aging. 

Being in the prime of life isn't about the tone of our skin or the strength of our joints. Our hearts and souls can be in the prime of life at any age. This is something I'm discovering as I grow older and struggle with my reflection in the mirror. And I assure you I do, no matter how hard I try not to be vain and superficial. But inside my skin, I am more comfortable than ever. I'm learning to accept and even embrace all that makes up my personality, for better or worse. That doesn't mean I won't always strive to be the best person I have the potential to be. It doesn't mean I don't see areas where I consistently fall short. But I'm getting better at accepting my imperfection as part of my humanity. I don't say everything as well as I want to. I probably never will. But I realize that pleasing people is no way to find value as a human being. For every person who is pleased with you, there will be someone you can never please no matter how hard you try. For every person who likes you, there will be someone who doesn't. 

I am still trying to overcome my rejection issues. They go so deep. When I feel discarded by someone, I have a need to understand why they're so willing to let me go (when I want to hold onto them). When a friend pulls away (as friends will do for reasons they don't always disclose) I look for ways to blame myself. I assume I have done something wrong that I don't even realize. Sometimes I feel discarded or rejected when I haven't been. This is toxic. And I know it is rooted in abusive relationships. God has multiplied true friends into my life exponentially over the past 13 years. And yet I still focus on one or two friends who drift away and wonder (neurotically at times) why.

It dawned on me recently, as I was feeling frustration with myself over this, that if I'm going to grow and learn how not to place my value and self-worth in being loved by everyone, God has to give me these experiences and even a few friendships that do not blossom as I hope all my friendships will. I'm learning to accept that I can't be everyone's cup of tea, and that it's perfectly okay. I'm realizing I don't want to be bland enough to survive on every palate. I want to be loved and appreciated for who I am; hopefully more sweet than sour, more salty than bitter, but knowing I am a combination of them all. And that's what keeps me from being bland and nondescript.

So I think I'll keep my passion, even if it is sometimes misunderstood. I will continue to have strong convictions and opinions. I will continue to be and express myself, as I encourage others to be and do the same with me. One thing I can promise is that I will never leave a friendship over differences in opinion. And I will always try my best to understand as much as I try to be understood.

Every once in a while I do wish I could stop feeling everything so deeply for a day or even a week. But God created people like me for a reason. And one of my strongest traits is empathy. I think it's one of my best traits. And I couldn't be that without emotional sensitivity. Every trait is a two-sided coin. Our greatest strengths are, on the flip side, our greatest weaknesses. And I think God designed it to be that way. So we are always reminded of our common humanity, even on our best days.

I am thankful for 57 years of learning and growing, failing and succeeding, and mostly for overcoming challenges and adversity in my life. I'm thankful I have turned the most painful parts of my history into my mission field. I'm thankful for tears and for laughter. I'm thankful for all the blessings I don't deserve. I'm thankful for the love I have sown and reaped. I'm thankful I'm still here to grow older and enjoy my family and friends. I'm thankful for so many healed and restored relationships in recent years. I'm thankful for all the times God's plans were better than mine. I am thankful for God's provision and compassion. I'm thankful for His faithfulness to me because I could never be worthy of it on my best day. I am thankful He is showing me that this life is not about earning love or favor, with Him or anyone else. It's about learning how to let His love and mercy flow into us and then through us, freely to others as He has freely given both to us.

I still wish we could hold onto our youthful bodies. But if it meant staying the same inside, I'd never go back to any other age. 

And that's the truth!

Monday, April 11, 2016

Morton's Neuroma Surgery: 4 Years, 1 Month Later

My blog is read daily by patients all over the world searching for information on Morton's Neuoma and Morton's Neuroma surgery. I have hundreds of comments under my original post. And knowing the information I've shared is helpful to so many is extremely rewarding for me still.

I've been asked repeatedly to give an update on my long term results and I try to respond in the comments when asked. But I know I have probably neglected to respond every time. And when I recently passed the four year mark, I started to think that perhaps I should write a whole new blog post just to bring those readers up to date.

The reason I originally wanted to share my MN journey was because most of the people who had gone online and shared information about MN at the time were those who had bad experiences. I found one person who had blogged helpful and reassuring information about his recovery and I wanted to do the same. I went into the procedure expecting to have good results and to do everything in my power to heal properly.

I was told by some people that this was an excruciatingly painful surgery with a difficult recovery; that often the results were not worth going under the knife. But my surgeon told me most of his patients had good results and that he expected a good outcome for me as well. I reasoned that the sooner (and younger) I had the surgery, the better results I would probably have. I was so confident in the outcome, I had surgery on both feet on the same day. I figured if I was going to have to sit around with one foot up, taking pain meds, I might as well sit around with both feet up and not have to go through the whole process twice. I have never regretted my decision.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Say good-bye to your little friend!

Hope I didn't scare anyone with that subject line. Obviously, I was not referring to John. Just his PICC line! It served a purpose (avoiding many, many sticks over a five week period of close monitoring and frequent blood draws). But it will not be missed!

John was discharged today for the final time after graduating to the full 400 mg. dose of Venetoclax this week. His blood work is good. His lymph nodes continue to shrink. And he is feeling more like himself all the time.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Day #36 ~ Third Week of Venetoclax

For anyone looking for an update last week, I apologize. I never got around to writing on my blog. It is always a safe assumption that no news is good news. Sometimes there just isn't that much to tell.

John is doing very well on this clinical trial so far. We just got him settled into his hospital room for Week #3. He will get the next dose increase tomorrow morning. He started out on 20 mg. Last week he graduated to 50 mg. And tomorrow he will start taking 100 mg. of Venetoclax (formerly known as ABT-199). He won't get another infusion of Gazyva (Obinutuzumab) until March 21. He receives those infusions monthly now through June (and then he's done with the infusion drug for this trial).

Lymph nodes are continuing to lessen in size gradually. And his blood counts are responding beautifully to treatment. His most recent CBC in the doctor's office just prior to admission showed improvement from last week.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Day #23 ~ First Dose of Venetoclax

John was admitted to the hospital yesterday. He had a PICC line inserted successfully. He says it wasn't that bad ... compared to bone marrow biopsies without sedation.

Look at his smile. He has such a great attitude going through all this. He says he has always had a high level of tolerance for undesirable circumstances. He said, "I get it from my dad." And then he added, "Well, from my mom too, actually."

Here's a close up of the PICC line...