How I Was Traumatized

I realize that when I described feeling like George Floyd being held down and suffocated, I didn’t explain what happened to me and how it felt.  I had a dear friend who had been horribly abused in a physically abusive family.  She told me more than once that she thought I was dealing with PTSD, but I discounted it.  My parents were both alcoholic, but they weren’t physically abusive.  I thought trauma had to be a result of something violent.

My friend began to do Somatic Experiencing and found it was helping her.  She gave me a copy of Waking the Tiger, Peter Levine’s understanding of trauma through studying animals.  He came to the conclusion that trauma was caused by a natural process that had been derailed.  He developed a way to heal trauma by paying attention to sensations in the body.  In Waking the Tiger he says: “An infant can be traumatized by being left alone in a cold room.”  This is because the infant’s ability to regulate her temperature has not developed yet, and she’s not capable of getting a sweater and putting it on.  Levine essentially describes trauma as happening when the organism’s ability to process the event is overwhelmed by the event.  I realized that an infant can be traumatized simply by being left alone.  Maybe she gets hungry and cries and nobody comes.  Mom may be down in the kitchen warming a bottle of formula, but the baby doesn’t know that.  If no one comes and brings food, the baby will die.  The moment the baby’s reptilian brainstem concludes that death is possible, the fight-or-flight instinct kicks in.  But a baby can’t fight and can’t flee, so the process goes into default mode which is freeze.  This is called “playing possum,” but the possum is not playing.  Instinct has literally frozen the possum’s body.  If the coyote noses its body and concludes it’s carrion and walks away, the possum comes out of freeze, shakes itself off and walks away, restored to normal functioning.  I was nearly 60 when I discovered that I had been traumatized.

Once I accepted that I was dealing with PTSD, I deduced that I had been traumatized by being left alone too long.  I had been severely depressed until I was in my 50’s and got on medication, I had chronic insomnia and constipation, trying to be sexual was difficult and painful, I used to self-mutilate with razor blades.  My mother had made it very clear to me that I was not to be a “nuisance,” i.e. not to have any needs.  As a result it has always been hard to tell when I am tired or hungry, in fact I don’t feel hungry, I look at the clock to see if it’s time to eat.  I know I was fed every four hours (that was the rule in the 40’s) so my mother never had to figure out the difference between a hungry cry, a “change me” cry, or a “tired” cry.  So it was easy to imagine my mother leaving me alone when it was inconvenient, or she was drunk.  I know it must have been very hard to have her first baby when her husband was abroad fighting WWII, and hard for her being alone with a baby most of the time.  But it also wrecked my life.

As a result of the trauma, I would get triggered into a state of frozen terror.  I described what happened to me when I went back to Cincinnati in February of 1971 to spend a week with my parents.  It was pretty bad.  I was suicidal that winter, and didn’t kill myself due to luck.  The first piece was I didn’t know that I had enough of the tranquilizer Mellaril to kill myself.  I had heard a story about someone who tried to commit suicide by swallowing a whole bottle of tranquilizers and didn’t die, just was very relaxed for days.  It wasn’t until years later, working on an emergency hotline in Boston, that I found out that the minimum lethal dose of Mellaril was 600mg.  I had been given 300mg a day during my breakdown in California in the spring of 1970, and I still had plenty left.  WELL.  I just looked it up and it’s not a tranquilizer, it’s an anti-psychotic.  The second piece of luck was that some friends were telling ghost stories on Halloween, and I realized that there might be life after death, and I would just float in space, without a body, all alone. That was scary enough to keep me from actually making plans.

When I started doing Somatic Expriencing with a practitioner, I began to be able to pay attention to what “frozen terror” felt like in my body.  Trying to imagine a real thing that could have happened that would fit my feelings, I came to this:  I am lying in a street at night, I can’t move.  A steam roller is headed toward me, and the driver can’t see me.  There is no one in sight that I could call out to.  Because I’m just a baby, I don’t have words for death, for what is happening to me.  All I know is that I am completely helpless and I’m going to be annihilated.  I don’t exactly feel like I can’t breathe, but I know that something necessary to life is unavailable.  All I needed was a description of what happened to George Floyd, just seeing a picture was enough to remind me what that felt like.  I didn’t think I had got badly triggered, but I’m noticing that in the weeks since I have been finding it harder and harder to function.  I’ve been told that a baby left alone will become apathetic. That’s what I’m feeling.  No words, no motivation.  It’s taken me hours to write this. That’s the best I can do.

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Connecting with the pain of all of us…

I have been feeling very sad and sore, quiet and tired.  I’ve been doing a lot of digital puzzles, not to avoid the feeling but because I didn’t know what to do with it.  Actually, I see that making some art would be the best expression, but I didn’t think of it.  It wasn’t until I was reading some words from Pema Chödrön — words of advice for difficult times sent out by Sounds True — that I realized that what I was feeling was tenderness. a grieving tenderness.  Pema Chödrön says it’s what you feel when your heart is broken open by pain.  I knew that my PTSD had been triggered by George Floyd’s murder.  I avoided looking at the videos, knowing that I couldn’t bear to see what was done to him.  But I saw a transcript of his last words, written out like a poem: “please… please… I can’t breathe…”  I didn’t read the rest, deleted, moved away, but it was too late.  I too was alone, unable to breathe, calling for help and getting no answer.

As I sit with the tenderness, I realize that I don’t just feel it for George Floyd and all the Black people unfairly impacted by our capitalist system and also by COVID-19, but also for all the white people who’ve joined the protests, standing with the Blacks.  I saw pictures of the protestors, and it lifted my heart, but didn’t change the grieving quality of the tenderness.  Then I realized that I also feel tenderness for the White supremacists and police officers.  They also have been badly hurt and don’t know it, won’t admit it, hurt other people to keep from feeling their own pain.

That last understanding came from what happened as a result of a performance of Journey Into Courage.

In the audience were quite a few children from a camp that is an alternative to jail for juvenile offenders. We went there the day after the performance, and met with them at their usual community gathering. They asked us questions, and then they shared similar events from their own lives. The counselors said they heard some of those stories for the first time. One young man said he was at camp because he had sexually abused younger children, and now that he knew what his victims suffered he wouldn’t do it again. It was a pivotal moment — someone who might have gone on to become an abuser had been turned around.

It was a pivotal moment — someone who might have gone on to become an abuser had been turned around.

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“Sing the things you see…”

Tuesday, May 26
3rd cup. coffee.  I want to work on the questions from Humanity Rising.
1. What am I being called to do?
The first word that comes is “art.”  But how can that serve the world?  Allowing your creative energies to flow smoothly, without impediment, will help humanity’s creativity flow to create a more just, compassionate, and sustainable world.
2. What stuff is coming up for me?
Roots.  The root of the radical.  What is needed is change from the roots.  You have been working all your life at getting down to the roots of your life, getting down to the roots of your wounding and healing them.  Now you have come to the root below the wound, to creativity, sacred art.
3. Can I hold difference with respect?
You do it all the time.  Yes, you get triggered if you try to talk to Trump & cohorts.  Better to do the lovingkindness prayer for them.  See how you learned from Dana how to make space for the person who doesn’t want to dance.  And how you are able to see that those who behave badly have been wounded.
4. What’s my highest vision?
Humans working with Nature to build a just, compassionate, sustainable life for all.
4A. what’s my piece of it?
Right now, to respect social distancing.  Keep posting important information on social media.  Metta prayer.  Practice your art.

Friday, May 29
Quote from Krishna Das’ book “Chants of a Lifetime” that I just loved, that gave me complete permission to spend time & energy painting.  When KD’s guru sent him back to America, he said “How can I serve you in America?”  His guru said “If you ask how you should serve, then it is no longer service.  Do what you want.”

Made me think of the letter from my Higher Self that I wrote in a Kripalu workshop in 1991:
My Dear One, this is what I have to say to you. You are an artist. Your art unfolds from inside out. Do not worry now about how it is to appear in the world, that will happen as it unfolds. Do painting, drama, whatever your heart wants, do it. That is the only way you will find out what is there. You cannot tell from the seed what the flower will be, you can only nurture it as it unfolds, and allow the unfolding to happen. You will be surprised and delighted and awestruck to see what is there. You will never see the immense treasure that lies sleeping in your heart until you begin to unfold it through your art. I give you courage and faith. And I tell you that “selfish” and “unselfish” are useless words, do not let them stop you from bringing out what is within. Courage, dear one, I give you courage and anger and fire and poetry and dance and gold and jewels and silks and velvets. Do not think that the material world is materialistic and unspiritual. The material world waits for you to make it sacred through your art. Offer your works to the god, and others will be nourished by the overflow. For the greater glory of god, my dear, keep bringing out what is within.

Saturday, May 30
Full of a confused mix of feelings.  Grief and anger for George Floyd, held to the pavement and suffocated by a cop’s knee on his neck while he gasped “… please… please …  I can’t breathe…”  Wanting to go to the vigil on Hanover Green, join the people standing socially distanced with masks.  Unable to go to the vigil because I haven’t the energy to ask for permission, drive, find a parking space, come back and self-quarantine for two weeks.  Well, actually, the self-quarantine part isn’t that hard and would be worth it.  Feeling sad and confused about unintentionally stopping my brother talking about his anxiety.  My intention was to support but I should have kept my mouth shut.  Mocha now underneath the table because it’s too warm to sit next to me and comfort me with her furry touch.  My heart squeezed and stretched by the music of the lost words blessing: “enter the wild with care my love and speak the things you see…    and when every hope is gone let the raven call you home.”  While walking the dog in a blue and green world I look up and see a hawk circling.  I hear its cry, a high-pitched “pwee,” and know it for an osprey.  I pick up my brush and dip it in water and then in the rust-colored gouache.  I draw it carefully down the lines I’ve drawn to indicate roots.  I feel happy doing this finicky task, I enjoy the color and the texture of the paint, and the way the brush lays it down.  I don’t care what it looks like.

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Life, the Greatest Gift of All

There are a bunch of shadbush on the far side of Scattergood.  Every time I walk by and see their delicate flowers and red-brown leaves I grieve not being able to see the shad in flower along the Gale River.  I miss the wild landscapes of Franconia.  Though now that I’m reading Braiding Sweetgrass, I realize that the most beautiful landscapes, like the ones in England, are made by people & nature working together.  That most of what I’ve known, in Cincinnati and Franconia, has been second growth after clear cut.  Homesick for the home I never had.

The music in my head is “We are the world, we are the children …  there are people dying, and it’s time to lend a hand…”

“to life, the greatest gift of all” — I still have a hard time with that.  Can’t see life as a gift.  Certainly not my life.  My life has felt like a punishment, or a difficult chore that takes all my energy just to get through the day.  But then, what about the “life” described in Braiding Sweetgrass, in Spontaneous Evolution — the life of Nature, so beautiful and intelligent, creating conditions for more life.  Not human life — we’ve made such a mess of it — but the ongoing creative abundant forgiving life of the universe.  I say “forgiving” because I finished the chapter about “Sacred and Superfund” in Braiding Sweetgrass, where Robin Wall Kimmerer discovers how the plants are coming in to reclaim the poisoned dead land.  This is the land around Lake Onondaga, both land and lake poisoned by industry.

But if I think of “Life” not as something that came to me wrecked, but as some Great Power in the Universe, that (who?) starting from hydrogen, created the periodic table of the elements.  After I had my realization/vision of that incredibly complex, unbelievably beautiful, intricately interconnected Whole, the periodic table of the elements changed from something familiar to something totally amazing. It looked like something clearly created by an Intelligence. But an intelligence way beyond human brains. I have some sense of the complex process by which the elements up to Iron were created in the interiors of stars, producing energy which blazed out into the Universe as light. The elements heavier than iron have to be created by input of energy, so they are only created by a supergiant star which explodes, sending all the elements out into the universe, seeding the primal hydrogen with heavier elements, thus making the creation of planets possible. And the universe goes on creating, by what rules only he/she/it/they know. (What is the correct pronoun for the Universe?) On a planet the right distance from its star to have liquid water, elements combine into molecules, which then combine into living cells, which then combine into complex organisms, which then combine….   the result is incredible complexity and diversity and fertility of ecosystems…   with ever increasing awareness until we have beings capable of detecting quantum mechanics and enacting compassion.  The full story is well told in Spontaneous Evolution.

When I look at that, there’s clearly a wise, compassionate, Intelligence behind all Creation, or becoming all creation.  I do not understand why so many beings have to suffer, unless it’s that we don’t learn without suffering, but I do know, at some very deep level, that we are all held in Compassion. And I so much enjoyed all the birds singing as I walked Mocha this morning.

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Feeling our Way, Intuition and Improvisation

From my journal:
3rd cup
. coffee.  Yesterday was a good day, despite things “going wrong” like a Zoom meeting for a play reading that got hacked, a walk with the dogs that was cut short by rain, etc.  

When I took Mocha out this morning, it was in the 40’s, bright sun, brisk wind.  Windchimes ringing, grass greening, trees budding.  I could almost hear singing “Life! Life! Life!”  But does that cry, does “Life,” contain spirit?  Or is it just, as Sartre claims, without pattern or direction?  I go back and forth.  Sometimes life seems to be purely material.  But then what animates it?  If what we call life has its source in a universal process that includes self-organizing, then “we were meant,” then there is intention, and the goal or direction of the process is shown/proved by the existence of the Dalai Lama, Gandhi, Jesus, and the love I feel when I am able to allow myself to be free of what I “know” about myself.

[Stuart Kauffman talks about the process of self-organization and the autocatalytic set theory in Complexity, p321.  “Life is the natural expression of complex matter.  It’s a very deep property of chemistry and catalysis and being far from equilibrium. And that means that we’re at home in the universe. We’re to be expected. How welcoming that is! How far that is from the image of organisms as tinkered-together contraptions, where everything is bits of widgetry piled on top of bits of ad hocery, and it’s all blind chance. … we make the world we live in with one another. We’re participants in the story as it unfolds. We aren’t victims and we aren’t outsiders. We’re part of the universe, you and me, and the goldfish. We make our world with one another.”]

I’ve been reading Stephen Levine, Meetings at the Edge, and getting an enormous amount out of it. Working with a therapist who had a client wound his wife badly, kill someone, and then commit suicide, he says “If you are working on yourself to examine jealousy and fear and self-protection, then you are the best therapist for this fellow who is feeling these same confusions. It’s all just the braille method — until we each participate in our wholeness, we must just feel our way along moment to moment, practicing deeply the forgiveness and investigation that brings us closer to our true being. Speaking more and more from a sense of what is appropriate in the moment, letting go of attachment to ‘results,’ to that ‘appropriateness’ working. You just do what you do as work on yourself, deepening the compassion and love, letting go of the fear and knowing that keep us so isolated.”p52

Yes, “feeling our way,” using intuition and improvisation, is the totally appropriate way to work with a complex adaptive process. Which is what life is. Which is what the pandemic is. Which is why we are dealing with it so badly, coming from a culture addicted to prediction and control. What is truly amazing is that so many people are coming from a place of compassion and generosity. And that itself shows me that compassion and generosity are built into the “pattern” for the human. If “survival of the fittest” were really the foundation, there would be total chaos and violence.

“Complex Adaptive Systems are dynamic systems able to adapt in and evolve with a changing environment. It is important to realize that there is no separation between a system and its environment in the idea that a system always adapts to a changing environment. Rather, the concept to be examined is that of a system closely linked with all other related systems making up an ecosystem. Within such a context, change needs to be seen in terms of co-evolution with all other related systems, rather than as adaptation to a separate and distinct environment.”  From MIT papers.   The difficulty with them is that there are so many factors interacting that it’s not possible to predict what will happen in the future with any accuracy.  One common metaphor is “If a butterfly flaps its wings in China, it will change the weather in North America a few days later.”

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Gaslighting, Reprise

I posted “Another Complete Cycle” on March 18, 2020.  It’s about a day when Daily Kos posted something about Donald Trump’s minimizing of the COVID crisis, and I suddenly didn’t trust Daily Kos.  Now that didn’t really make sense, because I never trusted Trump, and I usually believe what Daily Kos says, so why am I suddenly not trusting Daily Kos? Why am I suddenly feeling that I can’t trust anyone?  Why was it such a total knockdown?

Recently, as I’ve been reading through my old journals, I came to place where I did some work with Dana.  He was using a counseling technique called Structural Consulting, and what resulted was seeing that I couldn’t trust myself.  I remember that I said “You mean I really am as lost as I feel?”  He said yes.

From my journal for April 1987:

Dana said that I felt that certain feelings were only appropriate in certain circumstances, and if my feelings didn’t match the circumstances, then I would invalidate my feelings.  “I shouldn’t feel guilty for the deaths of my cats, I was so sick I couldn’t have done anything different.”  “I shouldn’t feel fear, there isn’t anything to be afraid of.”  “I shouldn’t feel angry at the planes, they aren’t doing it to me on purpose, they’re just having fun.”  I realized that I had been persistently and systematically invalidating my feelings for a long, long time.  I’m so busy telling myself I shouldn’t feel what I feel that I never look further, to see what information I might get out of the fact that I do feel this way.  The picture Dana got was of a person who did not trust her feelings, and so she does not know who she really is, nor what is really happening.  Such a person would be disoriented.  My reaction to being disoriented is to make up an explanation, justification, fantasy, whatever.  But since this gets me no closer to the truth I remain disoriented.  Or else I recognize that my fantasy is not the truth and demolish it, but this leaves me more disoriented than ever, because I still don’t know how to find the truth or how to tell the truth when I find it.  No wonder I went into science, at least the rational process of science gave me a method for checking the truth of my perceptions.  The problem continued, however, when I discovered, through the rational process (and my own desire and commitment to the truth) that the rational process could give me only a limited truth.  But how to get in touch with the real truth?

Much later, I saw that the only way to know something was true was if I experienced it myself, or trusted the person who told me about it.  Everything else is second hand, and might not be “true.”

But I’m realizing now that my childhood with Mom was an immersion in “gaslighting.” What Erica calls her “mis-representation” is being a very important concept for me.  An example: when I would get excited about something and start talking about it with enthusiasm, she would call that “thinking I was so great.” This left me terrified to share about something I was excited about, thinking that I was “bragging,” and believing that bragging was bad.  Mother was wrong.  What I was thinking was “great” was not myself but something that I loved and wanted to share.

My first post on Gaslighting, September 2018

Gaslighting, Again, August 2019

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A Day in the Life During Pandemic

Typing up Wednesday, March 25 a month later, which is when I usually do it.  It’s odd to go back a month and see how we were just starting to come to terms with the pandemic.  To see the fragmentation of my day, the search for things that will help.  Also how I move back and forth between fear and connection.

From my journal:

Woke up at 4:20 with headache.  Accepted that I wouldn’t sleep again, and did lovingkindness for all beings.  Then I began to feel scared.  I had one moment of feeling horribly scared of death.  I accepted the fear, added “friends are forged on a dark road, heading out of town…” to “may all beings be held in lovingkindness.”  Feeling scared helped me feel connected with everyone even more.  Then I realized the headache had faded.  Possibly I even slept again.

“Friends are forged….” is from Stephen Jenkinson.

Spent a lot of the day on the internet, signing petitions.  Deena Metzger wrote a beautiful thing about our destruction of the earth, and how it’s also destruction of ourselves.

I wonder what a cell experiences that’s in the body of a person who commits suicide?

I posted what Charles Eisenstein said about initiation.  It’s fun that I’ve gotten a lot of responses from friends I haven’t heard from in a while.  Victoria Cole!  Judy Robison!

I think what made me finally feel scared was the sign at the top of the Waterfall Staircase.  It just repeated what they said before: that there was someone from Mott 2 who had the symptoms of coronavirus, that they were in isolation.  They haven’t said they have a diagnosis, though I suppose the tighter quarantine might be a sign.  I met Bev as I was leaving the dining room, and she lit up.  So glad to see me.  She had worried because I’m on Mott 2.

Here at Kendal, the Waterfall Staircase connects the living areas with the community areas, in particular with the dining room and café.  Mott 2 is the second floor of a section named for Lucretia Mott.  There are only about 23 people in that area.

At that time we were still going down to pick up dinner.  Now we stay in our rooms and dinner is brought to us.  Now we have a guard at the entrance to turn back anyone who isn’t essential, and make sure any resident who leaves knows they will have to self-isolate for two weeks.  So far we have had no definite case of COVID-19.

I spent a lot of time putting together a post about Energetic Connection.

Just read an email from Hunger Mtn Coop on what they are doing to protect employees and shoppers, and help those who need it.  My heart softened, tears behind my eyes, and the fear is gone for the moment!

Two more great resources.  One from YES! magazine. one from Sounds True.  My heart is staying soft, my eyes still have tears.

I picked up Sharon Salzberg’s Faith, which I’ve been reading.  She’s writing about sitting on the porch with Ram Dass about a year after his stroke.  “Having faith doesn’t mean that we don’t make an effort. … The particular gift of faith is that it allows us to make the intensity of effort guided by a more holistic vision of life, with all its mutability, evanescence, dislocations, and unruliness.”  p90.  I had told a friend about how trauma can be transmitted through our genes.  Our genes are much more mutable than we realized, we started by thinking they were fixed, deterministic, and that mutations were “random.”  We are surrounded by mystery, our lives are rooted in mystery.  Salzberg says Ram Dass taught us about “a power of faith that doesn’t depend on clinging to the known, but instead on opening to the vastness and mystery of what life provides in each moment.”    (p92)

“Whatever takes us to our edge, to our outer limits, leads us to the heart of life’s mystery, and there we find faith.”  p92

“Life will never be served up with guarantees of safety and security.”  p95

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What if it’s Armageddon?

Reposted from May 2010

This is one of my favorite quotes.  It keeps me going when things are very dark.

“I’m asked, night after night, ‘Is this the New Age, or is it the Armageddon?’ And I say, ‘I used to think I should have an opinion about this, but as I examined it, I saw that if it’s going to be the Armageddon and I am going to die, the best thing to do to prepare for it is to quiet my mind, open my heart, and deal with the suffering in front of me. And if it’s going to be the New Age, the best thing to do is to quiet my mind, open my heart, and deal with the suffering in front of me. It turns out it really doesn’t matter. So I don’t care.”

-Ram Dass, interviewed by Sy Safransky
(the editor and founder of The Sun magazine)

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How I Healed the Phobia

These are the last two paragraphs of my blog post from 2011 about the airplane phobia:

“Looking back at it, I can see better how it became so horrendous.  Hypersensitivity to sound is a symptom of PTSD, but I still had no idea that I had been traumatized.  One thing about an obnoxious and very loud sound, you can’t look away as you can from an ugly sight.  Your only recourse is to go far enough away.  Finding it impossible to live in your own house, in your own town, is depressing in itself.  I felt hopeless and helpless. The planes were triggering flashbacks to a helpless, terrified infant.

“Healing from the phobia happened literally overnight.  I had started taking Imipramine (Anti-depressant medication) in February and after a few months was beginning to feel  better.  I had started therapy with Dr. Cynthia Rankin in St. Johnsbury, Vermont.  She was a specialist in mood disorders.  I had been seeing her for several months.  It was May and the planes were starting up.  On Friday I had a session with Dr. Rankin.  I asked her if it was OK to “white-knuckle it” through the noise.  She said “Of course.”  Then she said she had observed a pattern in my behavior.  I would start a project that had several steps.  I would do the first two steps just fine, but if I ran into trouble on the third I would conclude that I “couldn’t do it.” I would fail to see that I had already managed to do part of it successfully, in fact I would even define those first steps as failures.  This was enormously interesting to me.  I knew something about training dogs and that the principles worked for human beings also.  I figured I could retrain myself about the planes.  I would write down each one survived with white knuckles as a success, and see how many I could survive before I had to leave the house.  Saturday was rainy, and I went to the first level Reiki training.  I had the oddest feeling afterward that my immune system had “switched on.” I could almost feel a protective field around me.  Sunday was sunny and I sat down with paper and pen, waiting for the planes to start.  Each time one went over I would say “that’s one survived” and make a little airplane symbol on the page.  By the end of the day, I had survived 13 planes, and I knew the phobia was over.  Dr. Rankin had given me my power back for which I am eternally grateful.  I still hated the sound, but I no longer freaked out, and gradually the sound began to fade into the background.  Every now and then I notice a plane towing a glider and think “God! I suffered from that for 13 years, and now I don’t even notice them.”

More recently, in 2018, I realized that the process Dr. Rankin had identified was actually rooted in something my father said to me.  “If you didn’t know how to do it, why did you even try?”

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Invalidating and Trivializing my Experience

I have been reading my journal for 1986, and came across this entry about the noise phobia in November.

I had a bad time with anger yesterday.  Feelings of rage kept surfacing, and I would let myself feel it, but that was painful because it just emphasizes that I am powerless to do anything about the noise, so then I would just stifle the anger which is painful in its own way.  I don’t know what to do with the anger.  I asked Dana but he couldn’t really help.  He doesn’t have the same difficulty letting go of anger.  I said something interesting, I said if it’s something real, I don’t have trouble letting go of it.  I suppose what I meant by something real was a situation were I’m angry at a person who is close to me, not these impersonal situations where somebody is making noise that hurts me and I don’t know who they are.  But what does it mean that I define one as real and the other as unreal.  “Real” means there is something I can work on, a relationship or situation that I can confront and perhaps affect.  “Unreal” means I have no power in the situation, it’s “all in my head”, so I should just stop fussing about it.  What I’m doing is invalidating myself.  My reaction to noise is not “all in my head”, it’s in my body too, I feel just as sick as when I’m down with candida poisoning.  And I’m making it worse by being angry at myself, as though I had any control over my reaction.  So I’m invalidating my own feelings, trivializing them, (you shouldn’t be angry), and angry at myself for being helpless.  No wonder I feel so beaten.  But I’m not being beaten by the noise so much as by my own feelings.  The noise reaction is not unreal, it is a stress reaction, but I’m making it worse by being angry at myself, and by invalidating myself.  I don’t know how to stop doing that, but I will at least try to become aware that that’s what I’m doing.

Reading this, my heart just breaks for myself.  I didn’t have enough information, and I followed the pattern I learned growing up.  That I “wanted to be miserable,” that my pain and my needs were irrelevant.  No one understands what I’m going through because they don’t notice the sound.  Someone even suggested that I go to the airport and find out that the people were really nice.  I couldn’t even see a sign saying “airport” without my heart going off in what I now understand was a fight or flight reaction.  People would say to me the same thing my mother said “Don’t be so sensitive,” as though I had a choice.

What I needed was for someone to say “What you’re dealing with is ‘hyperacusis,’ a possible consequence of PTSD.  Will power won’t change it.”  When I first got here to Kendal, I had trouble with a lot of the noises that I heard when I was here in this apartment.  I remember being very scared briefly and then remembering that if I knew what it was I would stop reacting.  Also, my reaction was nothing like the fight/flight I experienced with the airplanes.  By this time I’ve stopped noticing a lot of common noises. There is a set of new noises which are catching my attention: people’s voices, both outside and in the hall.  I’m pretty sure it’s people having to talk louder because of social distancing.  It is distracting, but fortunately I don’t go into fight/flight.

I talked to my therapist about it this morning, and she said I had learned to talk to myself like a good parent.  “Once you know what the noise is, you will stop being so bothered by it.”  I started to feel wonderful.

Posted in Depression, Journal, Trauma | Comments Off on Invalidating and Trivializing my Experience