Do Superheroes Get PTSD?

Crazy

Several Teesha stamps on this card

One of the items on my IPR Bucket List is to attend a Teesha Moore art retreat.  I found Teesha years ago when I first started using rubber stamps.  Hers were grungy, and weird, and everything I loved.  As you can see from the link, she makes bizarre-o collages and art journals, and held Artfest annually near her home in Issaquah, Washington.

First she quit making rubber stamps (boo!), then she quit offering the retreats.  I never had the funds to get out there anyway, but I always hoped—you know—someday.  So, she stayed on my list, because weirder things have happened (like me going to London last year).

Yesterday, she sent an email to announce that Artfest had risen from the dead and would I like to register?  Boom!  Done!  Later, as I scrolled through the information about Artfest, I realized some Cosmic Convergence or Synchronicity Faerie worked unseen in the ethers, because the theme of the retreat is:

Calling All Superheroes to Unite

As Teesha says on her website:

It is my intention that by the end of Artfest Rising, we will all be flying out of there with our capes flapping in the wind and our confident faces to the skies from our newfound understanding of ourselves, our powers and our place in this world….not to mention an amazing super-sized journal packed full of the coolest artwork around!

What feels even more serendipitous is that I’ve been contemplating my super powers recently.  I know most people don’t consider mental illness a super power, but take my Clark Kent glasses for a moment and have a look-see. dark knight

There’s Bipolar Disorder, a cross between The Dark Knight and The Human Torch.  This is Human-Torchthe veteran, the Bad-Ass, the muscle. Fatale

Then, there’s Binge Eating Disorder.  She’s been around a long time, but never identified, never given her full cred in the super power department—sort of like Fatale, one of the Dark X-Men.  Deceptively evil—strong as the horse she’s usually eating. mistique

But the super power that’s come out to play recently is one I know little about.  She’s a Mistique, a chameleon, blending into her surroundings for the sneak attack.  This, of course, is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  She’s played me for a while now, posing as memory, setting trip wires that jettison me into past trauma with anxiety and flashbacks.  I’m not used to thinking of her as part of the Superhero Pantheon, but this girl’s got game.

These three (four, really—Bipolar could never be content with one aspect) might seem like a hinderance, a handicap, but look again at their power.  They’ve protected me, kept me safe.  Sure, there’s a price.  And the bill never gets settled.  But the more I learn about them, their origin stories, their special abilities, the more I can see their beauty.  I’m making room for them, inviting them in instead of locking them out.  It’s a tentative truce, but we’re making progress.

I can’t wait to take them all to Artfest next spring to see what happens.

We’re on an Adventure.

Saying Yes

Coming of AgeThe last couple of weeks created a lot of thrashing around for me.  In IPR, I was required to recount my history—something I’m loathe to do as it is only painful and seems to trigger the dark side of my bipolarity.  At the same time, I cast off my life-long dream of ever controlling my compulsive eating enough to lose weight and started seriously working on accepting myself as I am.   Self-love and PTSD may be strange bedfellows, but they seem to be making progress together.

I had a Bathroom Revelation—you know, when you’re in the shower or on the pot, your mind blissfully drifting, and BLAM! the Next Great Idea materializes out of the ethers (so to speak).  E=mc2 came to Einstein this way, so who am I to question a loo’s creative holiness?

Anyway, this simple thought came:

Mindfulness is Not Enough.

And from that, I understood that nothing would ever be enough.  Nothing I do will ever cure me of this mental illness.

Of course not, right?  Everyone knows there’s no cure.  But everyone isn’t me, and I was sure I could crack this nut.  I would find the Key—my own, personal Incantation—that would unlock this prison.  If I worked hard enough.  If I followed every lead.  If I…

But, suddenly, I understood what Luke Skywalker tried to tell me this summer about striving, how there was no way to win that game.  Working hard at managing my bipolar disorder became another club to bludgeon myself over the head.

What happens when I let go of that dream as well?  What happens if I really accept all of who I am—obese and bipolar, creative and destructive, intelligent and compulsive, single and romantic, mindful and delusional?  What happens when I relax into all of that?  Allow all of that?  Say, “Yes” to it all?

So far, it means pulling back from the rigidity of my routine, from documenting every gnat’s ass detail of my brain flatulence.  It means trusting myself a little bit more, following my instincts a little.  And crying a lot.

This is new territory for me, this saying “yes” business.  It’s different than galloping after compulsions or riding a manic wave.  Saying “yes” comes from a loving place, a place of plenty and safety.  When the depression was darkest last week, it meant holding myself and saying, “Yes, this is part of me, too.  I’m not broken or wrong.  I am simply this, too.”

There is benefit from a Plan when the illness is raging at either end of the spectrum or when I’m sliding into those two extremes.  That’s when I forget what helps.  That’s when I can’t remember “yes,” and a Plan is needed to wade through to the other side.  But I’m trying to live looser in the between times.  Instead of scribbling out a Daily Plan, I look at this on my way out of the door.

Nurture

Create

Connect

 

And maybe that’s enough.  We’ll see.

Because I’m still On an Adventure.

Ghosts in the Fence-Line

She's a FighterA friend once introduced me by saying, “This is Sandy—she has shitty boundaries.”

At the time, he was absolutely right.

I was coerced into a sexual relationship by a doctor who was treating me.  One of my therapists was a sexual predator.  I didn’t see either of them coming.

Since then, I’ve worked hard at keeping control of my own power.  It still takes time to realize I’m being stepped on or pushed, but when the lightbulb goes off, I push back now.  It’s difficult and painful, since the old traumas tend to rise from their graves when I stand up for myself.  I’m told this is a form of PTSD.  Great.  One more acronym for my file.

Like everything else, if it takes too much effort to push back, or the discomfort of it is too much, I bolt.  Run from the danger, run from the past, run-run-run.  But, I’m working hard at that, too—working to stretch my tolerance for distress, which includes the distress of planting my fence posts in the ground and defending them.

I had to do that at work this past week.  I have a set schedule that I can count on now—1:30-4:30, Monday-Friday.  I can plan around it.  I can plan on it.  But some of my co-workers keep trying to undermine it.  “Can you meet with a client at 10:00?”  No.  “Can you come with me at 1:00?”  No.  “If you could flex a bit,” they say.  Or the last straw for me on Monday—”We can wait until you’re ready.”  Ready for what?  To be valid?  To be Normal?

I watched my brain do it’s thing—thrash around with the Ghosts of Boundaries Lost and make preparations to quit the job.  But, then a miracle happened.  I’ve been watching this s-l-o-w shift for a while now.  It’s like my mind puffs out, a little more air in the pink balloon up there, and other options present themselves.  Suddenly, I remembered that my boss is on my side, that she wants me on the team.  So, I sent her a careful email.  “Help.  Do you have any ideas?”

Her response was immediate.  “I didn’t know this was happening.  I’m sorry.  It will never happen again—I’ll make sure of it.”

So, when I met with Luke Skywalker yesterday (my interim therapist), the Ghosts were swirling.  Just walking into his office brings them up anyway—he’s my care-provider, he’s a guy.  The Crypt yawns wide.  He gave me some options—stick them back in the vault for the time being and play a game of Uno with him instead or take them on.  I’m not one for pussy-footing, so I said, “Come on, let’s go.”

Most of that work yesterday was simply staying with the feelings as they rose and fell—terror, shame, guilt, self-hatred, self-recrimination.  There were moments I couldn’t catch my breath, moments I cried so hard it scared me worse than the emotion.  As I write about it now, a sudden swell of despair passes through me.  It’s so strong it washes in the idea that death would stop the pain.  The return of that old impulse, however fleeting, shocks me.  And pisses me off.  How dare those old perverts still have any control over me!

It’s always a restless night when the Ghosts swarm, so I’m heading off to the pool a little bleary-eyed and emotionally hung-over.   But, I’m heading off to the pool.  And then to my new therapy group, and then to work.  Because I’m getting good at mending my fences.  And I’ve got the barbed wire scars to prove it.

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