My Miracle

My Deliverance

 

About 5 ½  years ago, I was dramatically healed, through faith and medication from bi-polar disorder that had kept me in bondage for almost half my life.  However, there was at least a score of things—traumas in my life—that caused me to continue to live with a severe case of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.  For five years, the Lord made the burden of those traumas light on my back.  I had no flashbacks or panic attacks.

 

Then events trranspired in the winter of this year to throw me back into the “Lion’s Lair.”  I began to feel the traumas as though they were happening today, and I became less and less able to function in a normal way.  I was being torn apart emotionally by the voices of my abusers that were somehow woven into my cognitions.  There seemed no way to get rid of these voices.  I was told by two therapists that people as severely abused as I was almost never got better.

 

Then, a week ago, I was climbing my staircase.  On the landing is a Minerva Teichert painting of the Savior rescuing a black sheep.  I don’t remember consciously looking at the painting, but as I passed it on the landing, I noticed that, as usual, my insides were tied in knots.  For the first time, I thought to cry, “Why is this happening?  Where does all this anxiety come from?”

 

Before I had reached the top of the staircase, the answer flew into my head.  It was one word, and I never, ever would have arrived at it on my own.  The word was: guilt.  Light dawned.  I had done absolutely nothing to merit this heavy load of guilt that was my constant companion, that always told me I wasn’t good enough, that I could never achieve because I wasn’t smart enough, etc., etc. etc. in every area of my life.  I was carrying my abuser’s voice in my cerebral cortex and it was part of every thought, every decision.  Inside I was nothing more than a frightened little girl holding up a big mask.

 

I had studied cognitive therapy intensively, and knew that voice was lying.  I knew furthermore that it didn’t belong in my head and that its perpetrator was long dead. A clear vision in my mind and heart, reduced that loud and frightening voice to a little tiny white pill, the size of an aspirin. I pictured it on the sidewalk somewhere, and I brought the metaphorical boot of my faith down on it, gleefully crushing it into millions of pieces.  It would never rule me again.

 

The change in me was so marked my husband and friends all noticed it almost immediately.  However, I saw a long road ahead of me, tracing faulty cognitions about who I was and then forging new paths in my brain with healthy cognitions.  This is usually the work of years.  However for the next seven days I was exahusted with all the projects I needed to finish.  But at the end of the day I slept hard.  Once I woke because of a horrible flashback.  The Lord sent the Holy Ghost immediately, slapping that memory out of my life and replacing it with the warm and loving presence of the Spirit.  That is when I realized that the Lord was healing and redirecting my neuropathways while I slept.  I got a sore throat, so during the weekend I slept the clock around, and yesterday, Monday, I woke up literally a new woman with a new countenance and a properly functioning brain.  The years of work I saw before me had been accomplished while I slept.  What remains is my own unique and true personality.

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Which Part of my Brain Do I Believe?

I have recently learned that our brains are composed of 88% subconscious thought and only 12% conscious thought.  When we are having flashbacks, or dwelling on our traumas, or for some reason unknown to us, simply feeling unsafe, waiting for the “other shoe to drop,” we are dwelling in a state of helplessness induced by PTSD.  Our trauma is stored in our subconscious until something happens, maybe only fatigue, to induce our conscious mind to retreat.  Reality is given over to the past.  In my case, I cease to think like an adult who has a measure of control over her life, and become a traumatized child.  In this state, I have panic attacks at just about everything.

When our lives are out of balance, when we find ourselves in a helpless state, dwelling on our trauma and unable to exert any will to dwell in the present.  We are living with our subconcious to the fore and our conscious mind in retreat—dominated by emotions and thoughts from the past.  This state of PTSD usually occurs in concert with some kind of trigger, something as slight as a glance at an old yearbook, an e-mail from someone in your past not even associated with the trauma.  It can even be caused by a smell.  When this happens to me, it means that 88% of my brain feels unsafe and frightened.  Most often, I can just “sleep it off.”  The problem is, that it often initially occurs in public, initiating a panic attack.  This can be deeply embarrassing to myself and to my spouse, but I have learned not to beat  myself up about it.  Until I have “made the shift” to using my conscious mind to control my unconscious, it can happen any place or any time.

So how do we make this shift?  We must work on integrating our brains, so that the subconscious is ever more subjected to the person we are today—the adult.  When we wake up in the morning, starting the day with an adult ritual, such as reading our scriptures, pondering them, praying about them, and then planning our schedule for the day, we are acting and not reacting.  We are taking charge of that scared child as an adult.

My therapist has given me a mantra that I must put on a sign or cross stitch some day.  A neon sign might be a good idea.  (My husband has already made a round disc for my keychain).  That mantra states: “I am confident in my competence.”  In other words, I listen to my adult voice, not my unsafe child’s voice when faced with the day or with a specific task.  I consciously pull on all my experience as an adult to rescue the unsafe child and convince her that she is safe.

No one can keep me really safe but the Savior, and so I must live my life in close concert with him. I must pray to have His Spirit with me I all that I do.  When I fall into my subconcious through some trigger, I must plead with him, “taking His hand” to pull me out.

When I develop the habit of turning to my “higher power” for rescue, I will not long be lost, but will be filled with peace and well-being.  I will put on the Savior’s metaphorical yoke and walk beside him.  Soon I am walking where He is walking and not in the dark, scary path where I was.  I am walking in the light.

 

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What Do You Think of Yourself?

In this excellent blogpost from HealMyPTSD.com by Martha Trowbridge, we can see how PTSD can make us “automatically” hate ourselves, and read her excellent suggestions on healing our Spirits.

Contemplation: Choose a day in which you can devote yourself to recording every choice you make, every action you take, and every thought, every emotion that holds power over you. Choice, action, thought, emotion – note each from the moment you awaken, through the moment you fall asleep, as well as those you experience in your sleepless hours. Do not assess, just note.

On a day when you have energy, take out your notes. Review them, incident by incident. Was each choice, action, thought and emotion:

self-loving [self-protecting / self-nurturing / self-embracing / self-cherishing] or

self-hating [self-endangering / self-destroying / self-critical, self-rejecting / self- neglecting]?

As you review your day, can you detect responses to noxious stimuli that aided and abetted the crimes your PTSD committed against you?

Now, study your notes to see where you can begin to change your responses to PTSD’s noxious stimuli. Identify, then commence with one small change in your response. One small way you can begin to interact with yourself in a kind, loving manner. Practice your self-loving response, until it becomes your ‘default response’ to the stimulus. Celebrate! Then get to work on another noxious stimulus.

As you begin to practice authentic self-love, you will come to perfectly understand why your Spirit has grown so weary. You will come to fully comprehend how toxic your Spirit’s environs have been.

Which is why, in order to truly heal from trauma and depression, you must turn your dedicated attentions to purification.

Purification is essential to authentic healing. This requires purification of your weary, assaulted Spirit, and purification of your Spirit’s surroundings. Odd as it may at first seem, it requires your firm commitment to Purity Of Heart, and Purity Of Spirit. Without this commitment you are likely to fall prey to future violations, future traumatizations. Given the condition of your traumatized Spirit, is it likely your Spirit will survive them? What’s more, given all you have already suffered, do you really want to put your Spirit to this cruel test?

Through the shrieks of your traumatic sufferings, your Sacred Spirit is desperately pleading with you. To protect Her [Him]. To honor Her [Him]. To enter into am everlasting dynamic of authentic self-love, in which all your future choices, interactions and purpose seek to protect, respect, treasure, honor and celebrate Her [Him].

Our Spirit is our central processor, through which all else in our existence passes – all that occurs within our body and our mind, all that we feel, think and do, all that we are. It is our quintessential identity. Within our Spirit dwells our past, present and future. As our connective tissue with God, our Spirit is thoroughly sacred in nature; when long dishonored, traumatic experience overwhelms our Spirit, throwing Her [Him] into crisis. Prolonged PTSD is, simply put, a Crisis Of Spirit.

In your healing quest, what happened to you to stir up PTSD, or by whom it was inflicted has little importance. To rise up from your ruins and truly heal, from this moment on you must commit to authentic self-love, turning your devoted attentions to its faithful practice.

Hate your trauma, if you must, but not your Spirit. Authentically love and support Her [Him]. In this time of crisis, your Spirit needs you more than ever.

Please join me in loving gratitude to Michele Rosenthal, for her prodigious work on behalf of those who suffer PTSD.

Your Sacred Call to Self-Love, Part 1

Links:

Wings Of Self-Love: Soaring To Glorious Healing From Trauma And Depression by Martha Trowbridge

– Martha Trowbridge Radio, LLC: Audio Interview with Dr. Chris Germer, The Mindful Path To Self-Compassion

Martha Trowbridge is Executive Producer and Host at Martha Trowbridge Radio, LLC: Empathic Wisdom For Suffering Women. As a victim of violence two decades ago, for years she experienced PTSD, accompanied by traumatic depression.

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Spend Life Waiting For the Next Trauma?

Do You Spend Life Waiting For the Other Shoe to Drop?

Believe it or not, this is a common side effect of PTSD.  It’s pathology is easy to figure out once you have the key.  Trauma strikes you out of the blue.  You are never expecting your FIRST trauma.  It comes at you with the speed of a freight train.  You are living a normal, if not peaceful, life.  Then WHAM!

Those who have experienced prolonged abuse are also particularly vulnerable.  We never expect that a day can go by without trauma.  So even when trauma is long past, our nervous systems are primed, on alert, ready to be assailed by our worst enemy.  We live life “on the edge.”

The best way to get over this feeling is to re-learn trust.  But first we have to get rid of our erroneous thought patterns brought upon us by the trauma.  This is best tackled by cognitive therapy.  David Burns wrote the definitive work: BE Happy. I have adapted his work to suit my own life.  When I am waiting for the other shoe to drop, I take out a piece of paper and identify my automatic thoughts.  They often go something like this.

I am beginning to feel peaceful/successful/tranquil/etc.

But I know that I am worthless

Because I am worthless, something is going to destroy my peace/tranquility, etc.

I have to prepare myself for something awful to happen

It is better to feel worthless and anxious than to be taken by surprise

This chain of automatic thoughts cankers our souls and keeps us from happy lives and success at what we most want to pursue.  But it is full of errors.

1.)    You are not worthless.  You are a son or daugther of a God who loves you and desires your success.  He desires that you overcome these feelings of worthlessness imparted by a traumatic event where someone used their agency to harm you.  He (God) is offering you the healing power of his love.  Take His hand by going to Him in prayer and asking to feel His love for you.

2.)    This is the cognitive error of fortune telling.  Everyone has trials when they are trying to do the right thing.  However, they are not inevitable.  Remember Moses and the Red Sea.  When trials come, you have the Lord on your side.  You are like Moses with his rod, commanding the seas to part, or David with his sling killing Goliath.  That same power is available to you if you ask for it to defeat whatever comes to keep you from progressing.  YOU HAVE PERSONAL POWER when you are in partnership with God.

3.)    Instead of preparing yourself for something awful (we have dealt with that in #2, why don’t you redirect your thoughts, and prepare to succeed.  Turn that negative energy into positive energy!  Using inspiration from every source you can find, prepare for success, for happiness.  Prepare by DOING.  Take positive steps toward a happy life, a successful journey toward your goals.

4.)    When you feel powerful, and when your hand is in the LORD’s, you will see immediately how to deal with negative things.  Negative things always happen to people with a great work to do.  The greatest tragedy is not death, but not doing what you were born to do.  Are you going to let evil people or circumstances stand in the way of your divine destiny?  There is no need.  You have the power of the Universe on your side.

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Florence and “The Little Girl That Was”

Florence and the “Little Girl That Was”

Part of PTSD that began in childhood is that you remain that traumatized childhood well into your adulthood without knowing it.  But, as Michele says, you are not your PTSD!

People are always mothering me, even people my children’s age.  That drives me nuts!  I guess my insecurities must show blatantly.  However, there are some things I do well that have nothing to do with my PTSD or “little girl feelings.”  People are always astonished when they read my resume.  I am astonished myself.  How did that lost little girl accomplish all those things?  One day at a time.  She believed she could and so she just did it.  Though sometimes I seem to be a clutzy “little girl,” I am actually a very accomplished woman.  But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fight.  I fight that little girl all the time.  I have mantras hanging all over the place: “You are competent!”

I just returned from a visit to Florence to flesh out and finish my lastest novel.  It was a magical trip.  The Lord taught me things about my book that I didn’t know.  He put amazing experiences in my path that taught me about the goodness of everyday people.  He gave me the title to my book (in my sleep): The Only Way to Paradise.

I had to fight my little girl every morning to get up and get out there and experience the city I think of as a second home.  If I listened to her, I stayed bunched up in my room, sleeping.  If I triumphed, I went out and the Lord sent me another adventure.  Little by little He changed my perceptions and leant me new abilities.  (Read my other blog at http://ggvandagriffblog.com for a day by day account of my extraordinary glimpse into the hearts of genuinely good people)

But I had to take the first steps.  I had to decide to go to Italy alone so that I could prove my competence to myself.  I had to make all the arrangements, take the flight, and arrive at my destination.  Then, each day, I had to chose what to do.  I have physical limitations, so this was always a job not only to overcome the “little girl,” but also physical pain.

I made it.  I’m home.  And my life and work is richer a thousand fold.  And that “little girl” is in her place—deep down where she can’t cause trouble.  But if she comes out, I can still make the decision to make her disappear.

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The Darkness Is A Lie

There is no denying that when you are in the middle of a traumatic flashback that the darkness seems very real.  But the fact that you must hold on to is that it is a lie.  The trauma is over.  You are safe.

What about right after a trauma?  In one of my books, The Last Waltz: A Novel of Love and War, I had a terrible spell of Weltschmerz (literally “world pain”) when I was researching and writing about World War One.  I simply couldn’t believe that anyone could have come through such senseless, horrible slaughter, in this case at Verdun (nearly half a million Germans killed on one day), and not be scarred for life.  It rested so heavily on my heart that it actually hurt to breathe.  I didn’t know how I could continue the story.  People want to see sense in the world.  That is one reason they read.  And what did I, a thirty-some housewife in the Midwest know about that kind of suffering?

I will always remember (unless I get dementia or Alzheimer’s) the powerful words that materialized in my mind one day as I brooded on these things while doing the wash.  The voice said clearly, “G.G. you cannot bear this pain.  You were not meant to.  There is only one who could ever bear it, and He has already done it.  Remember, death is not the ultimate tragedy.  The ultimate tragedy is not becoming who you were born to become.”

Now I knew first hand the “Balm of Gilead.”  Working it into my novel was more problematic, but I managed it somehow.  The words certainly weren’t my own.  And I was given other words.  I am in Florence now, and without my copy of Last Waltz, but Amalia’s best friend has just saved her from unintentional suicide.  She tells her, “All you see is darkness, but the darkness is a lie.  There are still colors there.  There are people and places and textures.  The darkness just hides them.  Walk into the light.  Make a conscious effort to walk into the light.”

Amalia resists.  Don’t we all when we’re in the grip of intolerable pain?  But this is the time we most need to drag ourselves with our last modicum of strength into the light.

Things that bring light into my life are the smiles and voices of my grandchildren, the solicitude of my husband and children that never wanes, the arms-open Christus statue I have in my home, the Minerva Teichert painting of Christ as the white-robed shepherd, holding me (the little black lamb), and all the little angel gifts my dearest friends have given me.

When we make ourselves live in the light, it hurts at first.  But if we stay in the dark, we will die early.  Who is it you were born to become?  Perhaps you were meant to be the Good Samaritan on someone else’s rocky journey.  PTSD makes you feel helpless, but that is also a lie.  You lived through the trauma.  And it is absolutely true that where there’s life there is hope.

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Treat Yourself With Tender Respect

Show Yourself Tender Respect

When my PTSD is upon me, I feel no confidence in myself or my ability to do anything significant.  I am constantly amazed by the praise I receive for the books I have published.  I also fear that if I write what is really close to my soul, it will be rejected and ridiculed.

My very intelligent, widely read therapist has read my books and been amazed by them.  The woman who sits in her office is hard to connect with the “brilliant” books she has read.  As I leave for this time in Florence where I will be working on my “Crazy Ladies” book, she has given me two mantras that my husband has designed and printed out for me to tape above my computer.  They say “I have confidence in my competence” and “Be a Star Thrower.”

My PTSD has essentially robbed me of my confidence.  This, as I have mentioned in former blogs, is why I am going away for three weeks.  My confidence will spring to the fore when there is no one to “take care of me.”  It is there.  I know deep down that I am an essentially competent human being. I just need to step back into that version of myself.  I cannot write if I am not feeling competent.  So how do I switch gears?  By turning into my writer-self.  And how do I do that?  With writing exercises.  This is one of the ways I show myself that I can write well.  I must tap into my right brain (no pun intended).  I take a trigger, and write for twenty minutes without stopping.  It is like a violinist doing her scales.  Then the world disappears.  My PTSD disappears.  I escape into a place where my right brain delights me with its insights and creations.  By doing this, I am respecting myself.  I am having confidence in my competence as a writer.

What is a “star thrower?”  The expression refers to a tale of a man who was picking up starfish on the beach and throwing them back into the water.  Another man approached and said, “You can’t possibly save all the starfish on this beach.”  The star thrower replied, “I can save some, and that is better than none.”

How does this tale relate to us?  What we accomplish has meaning. We need to give ourselves credit for the significant things we do, especially handicapped as we are by our disorder.  Anything good or substantial that we do is better than doing nothing!

We should respect our bodies by treating them carefully and well.  Eat right.  Get enough sleep.  Exercise.  Buy yourself something attractive, even if it’s just a new tie or scarf.  You are worth it!

God loves you.  Shouldn’t you love yourself?  As the saying goes “He doesn’t make junk.”

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Journeying Past My Cognitive Ruts

In my last post, I wrote about my coming writing retreat to Florence.

That city is a spiritual/creative touchstone for me, and I know it is just the place where I can find anwers about my future direction, where I can be stimulated to achieve things that I haven’t thought of before, and where I can find the truth about MacKenzie, my alter-ego character, who is struggling to get past the trauma that has taken over her conscious life.

I have no current trauma, but I have recently discovered that in some respects (read last weeks blog) I have never gotten rid of the old ones.  Even after years of cognitive therapy, my brain still runs in its old ruts.  I still, even after winning a major award, have deep misgivings about my ability as a writer.  I can’t really define my audience, because they are all like me, and who in the world is like me?

Being in Florence, I assume a new identity.  Being in Florence, I believe that I am a writer.  Being in Florence erases my cognititve ruts! There is a magical property about that city along the Arno.  There, out of nothing but the manure of the “Dark Ages,” the Renaissance bloomed.  Donatello,Michelangelo, Rafael, Bottichelli . . .  and on and on.  Their only model was antiquity—the art of the Greeks and Romans.  In my mind, they surpassed it. Michelangelo’s statue of David is one of the greatest achievements of mankind, and he had no training as a sculptor!  Was he the least bit  afraid when he looked at that piece of marble?  I know that his talented hands were guided by God.  There was no other teacher available.

This will be my third trip to Florence in 18 months.  This time, I go alone, and I will pray that God will tell me where to go, in the same way that Moses had to get his feet wet before the Lord parted the Red Sea.  As the poet, Theodore Roethke phrased it, “We learn by going where we have to go.”

Nowhere is this more illustrative than in the construction of Florence’s signature sight—the red brick dome of the Cathedral that towers over the city.  I think we can draw lessons on hope from it that we can change old patterns and find new ones, if we are willing to forsake cognitive ruts.  No one knew how to build such a huge dome when construction was begun.  After one hundred years of work, most of the structure of the cathedral was finished, with the builders confidently leaving an enormous hole in the ceiling for a future dome.

The generation that began the dome, spearheaded by architect Filippo Brunelleschi, had no idea how it was to be done, but they started it, using the locally manufactured terra cotta brick.  By the standards of that time, a dome of such great size would collapse under its own weight and some large medieval cathedrals had collapsed during construction.  The builders went as far as they could using conventional techniques, then contemplated alternatives.  Brunelleschi finally conceived of building a smaller dome first to support the structure of the larger dome.  This and many other unknown and unorthodox methods were developed and the great dome was completed in 1436.  The Duomo has become the most prominent symbol of the beginning of the great Renaissance, which began in Florence, then spread through Italy and the rest of Europe.

So, I am hoping that I will discover some new cognitive paths in my brain in this city, the whole of which is a testament to the blossoming of art.  I hope that I will be able to advance, a toe at a time, if necessary, by writing MacKenzie’s story as she learns by going where she has to go.  Wouldn’t it be nice to come home with some new, positive and constructive ruts where the destructive ones used to be?

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Why on Occasion Are My Reactions Extreme?

I recently had an experience (which I realized I had had many times before) where my husband acted a certain way and I reacted in an extreme manner.  For purposes of illustration, I will give you the script.

I was going about the process of buying a new stove which I was paying for out of royalties:

Husband:  Have you checked out all the options on the Internet?

Wife: Yes

Husband: Have you read the reviews?

Wife: Yes

Husband: Have you gone to look at them in the stores?

Wife: Yes

Husband: Did you ask the salesperson whether there would be a sale after the first of the year?

Wife: Yes

Husband:  Well you can’t make a decision like this without consulting your [29 year-old] daughter.  She knows all about stoves and making major purchases.

Wife’s thoughts: Like I don’t?  Like I was never the assistant treasurer at Harvard?  Like I was never a bond analyst at Fidelity?  Like I never went to Stanford?  Like my IQ is not below zero?  Like I never taught college?  Like I never won awards for my writing?  Does he think I am a four-year-old?  Anger builds and builds and builds.

Two days later after repeated incidents similar to the above:

Email from wife to husband:  I’m going to Florence [Italy] alone for three weeks.

Husband: Complete bewilderment.

Now most of you probably wonder how I could have lived for 38 years with a man who clearly thinks I am an idiot, and you also think that my reaction to this conversation about the purchase of a stove was extreme and a little crazy.

The back-story is very important here, because it is the backstory that created the cognitive habits in our brains which conflicted in this exchange and many like it.

The Backstory:

My husband lived through 25 years of our 38 year marriage as a caretaker who not only prevented me from committing suicide, but also protected me from any kind of stress which would lead to such an eventuality.  Even with my extensive background in decision-making, I regressed to the point where I had no faith in my abilities.  I was very happy to leave all the decision-making to him.  I had zero self confidence.  So David, who had initially had every confidence in my ability to do anything, (such as buying two houses without him even seeing them) suddenly was in the position of protecting a severely handicapped “child.”  This carved a “rut” in his brain, quite literally.  His neuropathways formed a habit of thinking as real as the habits employed in driving a car or typing on a keyboard.  They were reflexive.  He had also come to recognize in our extremely capable daughter the qualities which I used to have.

However, considering the fact that I have been well for five years, his cognitive patterns with regards to me are way outdated.  He is forcing himself, biting his tongue, going to therapy—doing all these things so he can change his “habit” and support me in spreading  my wings again to become who I once was and go on from there.  His decision not to argue against MY decision to go to Florence shows a tremendous leap of faith.  He is supporting me in every way, and I know it is scaring him to death.

However, you say, why should an argument about buying a stove trigger such a bewildering reaction in me?

This is where the PTSD comes in.  For the first eighteen years of my life I lived with an extremely abusive controlling mother.  I just had to take it.  I was exactly like a prisoner.  She even listened on the other line to my phone calls.  I tried to run away on several occasions, but no one would take me in.  (Writing became my escape, my dissociation from the abuse and fear of abuse).  When I finally truly escaped and went to college, I was FREE.

So, without my realizing it, a cognitive link was formed in my mind between any kind of controlling behavior and complete imprisonment with a madwoman.  Therefore, the pathway in my brain that has formed since I first left home is to RUN when faced with controlling behavior.  Because I CAN!  I am no longer a prisoner and I  have to prove that to myself.

But this is the first time I have contemplated running to a foreign country for an extended period of time.  This is accounted for by my writing brain which began as my only escape.  I am currently writing a semi-autobiographical book about a woman with no self-confidence who has fled to Florence to “find herself” and shed the negative mold she has unwittingly poured herself into in suburban Ohio.  Florence makes her feel creative again, like “all your dreams can come true.”  It should be easy to see the connection between this character and me.  I am trying to burst the bands of my illness and find my wings.  In my mind there is this link now between Florence, which is truly my creative touchstone, and the reestablishment of my self-confidence.  I need to do something hard, something rewarding, something that will add to my art.

My husband loves the writer in me.  He relates to these feelings I have.  He knows I have to go alone.  I know I have to take this step, so my heroine, MacKenzie, can take it.  And it is radical enough that it will form new cognitive patterns in both my husband’s brain and mine.

I’ll keep you posted.

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How Much “Soul Space” Do We Have for Christ?

Today my husband, David, and I viewed the Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU museum of art.  It included several altarpieces ensconced behind “faux altars” constructed especially for the exhibit.  There were chairs placed in rows in front of these “altars” so we could sit and meditate upon the major paintings:  Christ in Gethsemane being comforted by an angel, the resurrected Christ holding a child to his side, and the resurrected Christ with arms outstretched, surrounded by people who were hurting either physically or emotionally, as though begging them to come to Him and find that His yoke is easy and His burden is light.

We were tremendously moved by the exhibit.  As I commented to David, after our recent European travels, it was like a drink of living water to see paintings of Christ triumphant instead of all the variations on the crucifixion that we saw.  The painting of Christ praying in Gethsemane was the most personal to me and seemed to possess a genuine power about it that radiated the message “He is suffering for me, because of the things I did wrong, but also so He can understand my pains and sufferings as a mortal.” (Alma 7:11-12).  I felt as though the Savior himself endowed those tragic, painted eyes with life and a sense of benevolence.  “I am bearing this only because of how much I love you.  No one else can do this for you but me.”

As we left the exhibit,  we encountered a group of adults that appeared to be on an excursion from a group home for the mentally handicapped.  I immediately thought of how happy the Savior must be that someone had made the arrangements for them to take this outing.  I thought how happy it would make them to see the images of Christ.  Then a startling thought entered my head, “They know Him better than you do.”

A metaphor came into my mind.  I saw myself as a measuring cup, standing next to one of those mentally challenged adults.  I was filled, probably up to the two thirds mark with the blessings of an active intellect that understood many things of temporal importance, a husband who loves me, three healthy, happy adult children who are faithful, and two grandchildren who bring joy and happiness into my life.  I am average-looking, with no outward problems that might make people aware of my inward struggles.  I have enough to eat (too much!), nice clothes to wear, and a lovely home.  The reason I was only filled to the two thirds line and not all the way full is because I am mentally ill and always will be in this life.  I depend on the Lord daily that my medicines will continue to work, that we will be able to afford them, and that my skewed body chemistry will continue the same, so that we won’t have to start experimenting with medicines again as my life hangs in the balance.  I also depend on Him daily to make me a better writer than I am, to reach whatever level of talent He desires of me to celebrate Him unto this secular world.  Thirdly, and most importantly, I depend on Him for His atonement, which is the only thing standing between me and a life with Satan in the Telestial Kingdom for eternity.  Christ enables me by filling my cup to the full line, making up for me what I have no control over and can’t do myself.

The measuring cup of the mentally-challenged individual appears to me to be at the one quarter line.  He can see, hear, and feel, but cannot really make sense of the world as an ordinary adult.  He is living apart from family and will never have one of his own.  He appears different than other people.  He probably has no artistic talent that will contribute to the world in a recognized way.  Because of these shortcomings, three quarters of his soul can be filled with love for and dependence upon Jesus Christ.  If Christ were here this moment, one of these handicapped adults of His would go to him, would recognize Him, and He them.  These seemingly lacking individuals know in a practical, not theoretical, way all about the enabling power of the atonement.  This little group of people are alive and able to get from day to day through the grace of God. I suspect they know the giver of that grace in a way we don’t understand.

Years ago, when my children were growing up, we knew a Down’s Syndrome girl named Lori.  Like other Down’s children that I had known, some even in my extended family, Lori’s life and personality were a delight.  Her cup of joy was filled to overflowing.  She especially loved our oldest son, and embraced him heartily whenever he came to visit.  Lori eventually became Homecoming Queen of her high school.  As she walked across the stage during graduation, she held both thumbs up as the whole school cheered.  She recently friended me on Facebook.  She was so full of the Light of Christ that she made everyone around her happy.  Contrast Lori with another teenager, not so challenged, that you may know.  Likely, they are very self-conscious, full of undisclosed angst, worried about themselves and the state of the world they are inheriting.  Unless taught by parents or missionaries, they have no knowledge of Christ, and their self-absorption leaves no room for Him.

I have always secretly pitied really beautiful people, famous people, and fearfully intelligent people.  So many of life’s paths are smoothed for them that they have no outward need for a Savior.  They think their world is complete, that they are entitled to everything they have, just because of who they are.  Their characters can become hopelessly warped and narcissistic.  Ultimately, many of them make a horrible mess of their lives, for they are only intent on themselves.  They miss key signposts that point down the roads of self-sacrifice, a solid work ethic, hardship, and the limitations that would cause them to live their lives in such a way that would bring blessings to others.

During college, my husband was well acquainted with a very beautiful woman who was a gifted actress and went on to have a splendid career in television.  She was continually featured on the covers of all the women’s magazines, very vocal about the fact that her career came first, even after her daughter was born.  She left her TV sitcom, convinced that her star was brighter, that she was made for better things.  After starring in several box-office disasters, her career tanked.  I recently googled her and found a pitiful website bemoaning her failed suicide attempt, complete with photos of herself “in her prime.”

Contrast this with the tales we always hear from the missionaries about the people in underdeveloped countries who have almost no material possessions, but are cheerful, selfless, and quick to embrace the truths of the Gospel.  Among the early converts to the church, it was difficult to find anyone who was very prosperous in a material sense.

Because of their needs, they all had room in their hearts for the Savior.

As I have said many times in this forum of ideas, I count my trial with mental health as the greatest blessing in my life.  Were it not for that, I would doubtless never have learned to rely on the Lord to literally keep me alive from breath to breath as I battled PTSD and severe depression.  I wouldn’t have survived in a handcart company, but my testimony is similar to those who endured those trials.  I have come to know the Lord through my extremities. I am deeply grateful that my cup is only three fourths full of  “myself.”  As I age and become subject to things such as hip transplants, sagging eyelids, and short term memory loss, I realize that I am actually pouring out some of “myself” with each new day.  Now I know why my old and bent sister/friends that I served with in the temple were so happy despite their widowhood, their poverty, and their poor health.  They had lost nearly everything they had and filled the void completely with the love of Christ.

I can only pray that I will live long enough to be so humbled.  In the meantime, I am going to try very hard to humble myself so that the Lord will be welcome in my soul, even during times of happiness and prosperity!

Merry Christmas!

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