What Have I Learned?

Two years ago today, I almost lost my life to a distracted driver. It has been a long haul of countless doctor appointments, specialists, medication changes, cognitive therapy, and learning to adapt. The following is what I have learned.

Success does not always mean money or material possessions

One of the first things I learned from my speech pathologist was how to schedule my day. I by no means have this perfected. Progress is what I look for here. The key for me is to know my limits, and respect them. I used to think that because I am unable to work I had to schedule myself to a snapping point. I was asking so much of myself that I was breaking down. Success these days now means I can make my scheduled appointments, take care of the house, and find time to take care of myself.

Being kind to myself does not make me weak or stupid

Part of my heath issues is PTSD. Living with this is challenging. Flashbacks to the accident come and go. They are most often triggered by an irresponsible driver. Flashbacks are without a doubt the most unpleasant part of what I have learned to deal with. They can be brutal at times. When they occur, I know what to do so I remain safe. This is what adapting is all about. Nightmares can be grisly replays of the accident, or it can be my mind telling me I am going to suffer some other horrible death. The nightmares come and go with zero warning.

There will always be individuals who think I do not have it that bad. All I have to say to them is this; I wonder if you can walk around not remembering what you said five minutes ago. I also wonder if you can plug up your nose so that you can smell noting. Not one thing good or bad. Walk around like that for a few days and tell me how you feel. Put your head in a vice and squeeze as hard as you can. Then, squeeze some more. I get it. Plenty of folks abuse the system. Other people make fun of me behind my back. So be it. My biggest lesson is simple, I choose not to be mean on purpose. We all do mean stuff from time to time, myself included.

So, what has this all boiled down to?

You never know when your number is going to be called. Hug the people that matter most to you. Even though the last two years have been hard, I appreciate life more now than I did before. Perhaps that was the point.

The Invisible Woman

Have you ever felt that you could disappear and no one would notice? About two years ago, I had to take a hiatus from blogging due to life circumstances. I had so much to say, but no way to get it done. I felt like I vanished off the face of the Earth. Not writing hurt me in ways I cannot fully explain. It made me feel lost. It made me feel invisible.

I struggle with feeling invisible from time to time.

Let me give you an example. A year or so ago, friends of mine got married. My closest friend was one of the bridesmaids, and I tagged along to the wedding with her and her boyfriend. A photo was taken with the two of us looking our best. The comments flew in on Facebook, all glowing comments about my friend and how glamorous she looked. Then, one of her friends mentioned me and my height (or lack of it) “Oh wow, your friend is so short.” My heart sank. I felt so invisible at that moment. My height? Really? Is that all you have to freaking say? I bet you that person didn’t even think about what they said. Maybe they even thought it was cute. My friend even came to my defense on Facebook. It meant the world to me to know she found that comment unacceptable as well.

This still happens today. If I had a dollar for each time someone said “Oh, I didn’t even see you.” I would have a stack of dollars from the floor to the ceiling. I know it is not meant to be personal, but there are times I grow sick of it. I know I am only four feet ten inches tall. Look around and you might see me. On most nights that this happens, I say “Look down!”

That is sarcasm so many people miss. If I have to say that, you have irritated me and again I feel invisible.

Growing up, I created a larger than life personality so that I would not be so invisible. That part of me will never go away. I loved telling jokes from a young age. When I was in second grade, we did a bicentennial show and I brought the whole house down. I have been chasing that feeling since that day. This is why I write, dance, do whatever. This is how I show myself that part of me will never be invisible.

Have you ever felt invisible? How did you deal with it?

Feelings Won’t Kill You

A conversation last week turned to the subject of feelings. My tendency is to run as far away from those as I can. I have often thought of anger, fear and resentment as negative emotions that need to be avoided at all costs. When these situations pop up, I have learned to draw back and not react right away.

When I was a young girl, I had to be happy at all times. If I showed any emotion other than happy, it could lead to a severe punishment. This could range from being stuck in the corner facing the wall for a length of time, to a hard spanking, or both. This is part of why I spent most of my childhood reading books. They were my first escape. I loved my mother, but I feared her as well. She had a ferocious temper that could be set off at any time. Keeping how she felt to herself made her a ticking time bomb. Years ago, I was headed down that same destructive path. I did not want to wind up with an ulcer from repressing that much rage. I knew there had to be a solution.

Getting older, I am learning to put these feelings in their proper place. I don’t need to stew in them, but I need to not deny their existence either. We all have different things that set us off. My biggest thing is phoniness, followed closely by irresponsible drivers. It drives me insane when folks behind the wheel of a vehicle are more interested in texting than driving. That can make me lose my temper. I almost got hit by a car again a few months ago. The flashback was horrible. It took a while for me to calm down. Living with PTSD is not fun. Trust me.

So, what do I do to keep myself from losing my temper? I have a few strategies to keep life in perspective. First off, I write. This is my main outlet. If my mood is not good in the early morning hours, I listen to loud music. That helps me get back on track. If that doesn’t help, then it is time for me to go for a walk. The point is, these days I do not have to sit around stewing over real or imagined slights. I am far from perfect at this, but with time I have improved. Anger sometimes shows me where my focus needs to be. Getting pissed off isn’t always bad, there are times it spurs me into action. If I never got mad at my now ex-husband for his abusive behavior and infidelity, I never would have left.

Life would certainly be different, not necessarily better though. Even with all the bumps and bruises, I would still pick this life. It has shown me what I am made of. It has also shown me to stop being so scared to feel things. Feelings won’t kill me.

Ten Years Gone

Today is the day my mother passed away. Ten years seems to have gone by in a flash. Where did the time go? That morning, the phone rang and my husband answered. It was the hospital announcing that mom was in surgery and that the family needed to be there. I arrived around 7:30 in the morning. It was not good news when the surgeon came out to talk to us. Her situation was dire. They would be taking things “moment by moment”

That is never what you want to hear. Someone was not going home from that hospital, most likely it was our mom.

My brother and I were on watch all day. We got updates that were not encouraging. Finally, we decided to get some dinner. When we returned to the hospital, we found out she had been moved to the surgical ICU and we could see her briefly. The room had glass walls so the doctors and nurses could see at all times what was going on in those rooms. Our mom was unrecognizable. She looked like a skeleton. She had been hooked up to a ventilator and had a bunch of nurses around her. The stench in that room was incredible. We had no idea it was the smell of imminent death.

My brother and I held her hands. Then her eyes opened. One of the doctors was in there telling us she was doing remarkably well. They were planning more surgery and had to set all new goals for her. She was going to bounce back. He told us to go home and get some sleep. We had another long day ahead of us tomorrow.

As we left the hospital, she coded.

We ran back up in time to see her being hit with defibrillator paddles. We heard the doctor half screaming half crying “I was just here! What happened to her?” My brother and I cried like the two kids we were. One of us would stop, the other one would start back up. I called my husband to tell him mom was dead. Mom had been sick for years we found out. She suffered in silence. She didn’t want to burden anyone with her problems. She was the strongest person I ever met without a doubt.

Looking back, I now know why she opened her eyes. She was trying to say goodbye to me and my brother.

Goodbye mom. Ten years gone and I miss you still. Rest in peace.

Thinking Is Fun – Try It

I may forgive certain people, but I never forget what they did. I will give you an example. I have an acquaintance who does not know that much about me. When I first started seeing my boyfriend, she had a negative opinion of me. That is fine, we are all entitled to our own thought process. Not everyone is going to like me.

The difficulty was, her thoughts were shaded by someone who already hated me. This person was easily manipulated by someone stronger. Months later, they were able to see they had been played. Letting someone else control your thoughts is dangerous ground. It takes away your own individuality and gives another way too much power.

When computers first came out there was an expression – GIGO “garbage in, garbage out” the human mind works pretty much the same way. I can talk to ten people about one person and come away with a few differing viewpoints. If my basic frame of mind is negative, I may validate those people who have awful things to say about someone without getting to know them. This robs me of forming my own thoughts, whether positive or negative, and it also allows someone else to do the thinking for me.

I can overlook the fact that this person never fully apologized for her early judgement of me. I know she felt she had to toe the line. I understand what it feels like to join in or be permanently on the outside. To be clear, that does not for one second excuse the behavior. This is someone I am able to be nice to, but will never be close friends with. I am capable of making my own choices, because I like thinking for myself.

In my younger days, I followed the crowd just to be accepted. Those days are long over.

Here are The Beatles to remind us “Think For Yourself”

The Same Thing Happens Every Day

In my teen years, life followed the same drill each morning. I never managed to get up with my alarm. This prompted my mother to come in and remove all the blankets from my bed. She would announce at the top of her lungs that I needed to get up NOW! I got up and wandered into the kitchen and began boiling water for instant coffee. Yes, we drank instant coffee in our house, that was what we had, and we were all used to it. While this was going on, mom would chain smoke and drink her coffee. I was silent waiting for the water to boil.

One did not speak to my mother in the morning until she had a minimum of four cigarettes and two cups of coffee. To say she was not a morning person is an understatement.

Around this time, dad would get up, just as I was sitting down. I would sit down for a few minutes each morning before retreating to my room to get ready for the bus. Dad did the same thing every day. First, he would fill the glass tea kettle too full of water which annoyed mom. Then, he would go wandering off and leave it boiling. That also irritated her, but the part that tripped her trigger the most was when he would pour the boiling water into his small cup. He never left enough room for milk, so it would be filled to the top. Then he bent his head down and slurped.

That was it. Now mom was yelling at him to be quiet. I was making a fast exit, wondering when they would get it. Dad never understood how to leave enough room in a cup for milk. Either that, or he did not care and he did it to annoy mom. Either way, the same thing happened every single day. It got to the point where it annoyed me as well. To this day, I cannot stand hearing someone slurping coffee. I guess I have some of my mother’s personality.

What do you find irritating that you inherited from one of your parents?

My Not So Secret Life

A few years ago, I got out of a highly abusive relationship on St. Patrick’s Day. I kept trying to leave, but the reality was I had nowhere to go. Being abused on an a daily basis brought me down in many ways. He used drugs and alcohol to numb whatever feelings he was running from. I had been cut off from friends and family members. I had to sneak off to make phone calls on his smartphone or send cryptic messages via Facebook.

One of those messages reached the only female friend I made in the area. She called me right away. I told her I was in deep trouble and could not get out on my own. I began to cry on the phone. Not only did I feel lost, I was terrified of being caught on the phone. How many more black eyes would I be able to take? He already broke my left thumb, and cracked a few ribs. I knew the gravity of the situation.

My friend asked me if he was doing drugs and I started to cry all over again. It was the dirty secret that was starting to not be so secret.

We formed a plan that we would attend the St. Patrick’s party at a bar we knew. I was able to bribe him with the idea of staying over at our friend’s house and visions of corned beef and cabbage. That plan worked. What happened next I never planned on. He got drunk at the party, and began to turn violent. He wanted me to leave with him so we could get drugs. I refused to get in the car with him. He was intoxicated and becoming more and more unstable. There was not a chance in hell I was getting in that car. FUCK THAT.

When he realized I was not coming, he took a swing at me. He connected. He took another swing and the bar jumped into action. The ladies all formed a wall around me. There was a woman in a motorized wheelchair who was trying to run him over. The bouncer grabbed him by his scrawny neck and tossed him out the side door. I was shaking. I told him for the last time I was done. I had enough and to go straight to hell.

That was not the end of the story by a long shot. Getting him out of my life took getting a restraining order. It also took living in a homeless shelter. At that point, I did not care what I had to do. All I knew was that I was never going back to that bullshit ever again. I would not be with another drunk.

The friend I made helped me go to court to get that restraining order. She saw him act like a fool in open court. I never once have looked back on the path I chose with regret. My only regret is that I did not get out sooner.

If you have a friend in an abusive relationship, please realize this; not leaving is not always a sign of weakness. There may be other factors that you have no idea of. In my case, I had no money. Where was I to go? I was also well isolated in the mountains of upstate New York. I was getting nowhere without help.

Learn the signs of abuse. Please don’t judge.