I Hate Uncertainty

I will probably will write about the post-Christmas period in the next blog. But no promises!

Here are two pages about my personal feelings about Christmas:
 https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2015/11/30/christmas-plans/ (The images disappeared — I don’t know why.)

https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/12/20/ephemeral-equilibrium-another-christmas/

This page is about the source of winter holiday customs. I wrote about Yule and the winter solstice but a great deal applies to Christmas, too. https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/

Whether it’s personal or on a big scale, uncertainty makes me nervous. I know intellectually that things can change in an instant, any instant, and I will be absolutely unprepared, but I wrap that horrible idea in a cozy blanket of denial. Gets me through the day.

There is massive uncertainty about the direction America will take. I pass on that: nothing much I can do. I will just endeavor to be a decent human being, giving of myself when I can, being as productive as I can. And trying to be more aware, loving, and grateful each day.

On a personal level, I have learned that I can sometimes diminish uncertainty by becoming more informed about whatever it is that is bothering me. Sometimes, not always. Sometimes things just get convoluted.

The Internet is awesome for gathering information! I remember the old days when I had to go to the library. I always ended up surfing the stacks and I spent lots of time sitting on the floor reading books that had nothing to do with whatever I was trying to research. Fond memories – the dusty smell of books, old leather bindings, the joy of coming across a wonderful mis-filed book. But it took up a lot of time, much more than surfing the Internet, even with the distraction of crosswords and cat videos.

I especially hate uncertainty about medical matters. I find that if I have a name for something, I calm right down. But when the doctor doesn’t know or won’t tell me, I am on my own. I can tell the difference from a legitimate website and misinformation or attempts to sell me some magic product that will make me all well again. It’s hard to do, though, because I’m anxious and it is time-consuming.

I’ve just done a good job of avoiding what I thought I wanted to talk about.

Deep breath. Recently I have noticed that I am having trouble with my short-term memory. For example, I put dinner on the table and sit down to eat. But I haven’t brought a fork. So I get up and go to the kitchen to get a fork. But when I am in the kitchen, I have no idea what I came to get. It takes a long moment to come back to me. This can happen a dozen times a day.

I was like that when I first remembered stuff and I was totally overwhelmed. I knew my behavior and the remembering were connected, so I spent exactly zero minutes wondering if I was getting demented. But this time I think it has nothing to do with my RA background. Of course I might be wrong, but it just doesn’t feel the same. Feels more like being stoned. And, of course, I have been reading recently about “mild cognitive difficulties” being a pre-clinical symptom of Alzheimer’s. It apparently shows up about ten years before Alzheimer’s sets in, so I have some time to prepare.

I’ve noticed a couple of other changes. One of the side-effects of the anti-depressant I take, Wellbutrin, is trouble remembering the right word for something. It’s been there for quite a few years but it got a good deal worse about three or four months ago. I stop in the middle of a sentence, frozen because I can’t remember the word or a substitute for it. I can see the object if it is a noun, and I have an idea of what it is I want to express if it’s a verb or adjective, but there are no words associated with the image or idea. If I am writing, I just put XXX where the word should be. By the next day I can fill in the blank.

I know this is aphasia because my mother became progressively more aphasic before she died. It was from TICs — transient ischemic attacks, mini strokes, when the brain is deprived of oxygen for a short time. But her arteries were all clogged up, and mine are clear. So that’s not the explanation.

(Huh. I just thought that this is the linguistic version of not knowing which object I wanted from the kitchen.)

Another problem is that my fine-motor coordination is shot. Can’t thread a needle, even though I can see the thread and the eye of the needle. My typing is horrible because my fingers don’t land where I want them to. It often takes me as long to clean up a sentence as it did to write it. Very annoying, given the amount of writing I do. It’s also embarrassing when I am rushed and miss some mistakes.

I’m not as worried about clumsiness being a sign of early dementia because I have never read anything about it’s being associated with dementia. But who knows? Maybe I just need to do more surfing.

Now that I have put my fears down in writing and told y’all, it’s unlikely I can keep the denial going. Time to get sensible. My first step will be trying to find some self-administered screening tests for cognitive decline. If things don’t look rosy, I will tell my doctor, who is absolutely wonderful. I can’t think further than that.

Thanks, everybody, for listening.

Phobias and Counter-Phobias

There is an entry on the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas on December 15, 2012.

I’m really looking forward to running away over Christmas. A friend from Arizona has invited me, and she does not do anything at all for Christmas. There will be no tree, no Christmas lights on the cactus, no presents, no traditional meal with traditional left-overs. We probably won’t even know which day Christmas falls on.

Instead, there will be drives through the desert, bird watching (hope I see a road runner!), real Mexican food, and lots of talking and catching up. I’ve been there before and know you can see rabbits from her kitchen window and quail and their babies from her living room window. I also know that the thrift store and discount stores are great and I can find real pretty clothes for next to nothing. Perhaps best of all, there will be a three-day powwow with lots of drumming and dancing.

When I stay home, I also avoid celebrating Christmas, but it’s an effort. I get invited for dinner and feelings are hurt if I decline. I am given presents even though I insist I don’t want them and a few Christmas cards float in. Some years, though, I have gotten brave and bought a table top tree and made miniature decorations.

I know that I cannot avoid every situation that brings up bad feelings and horrible memories from the past. It just isn’t possible, because almost every single thing has a bad connotation. As it is, my life is constricted by my fear of having the past stirred up. I don’t watch TV or see movies, for example, because even the most innocuous movies have violent scenes. By the age of five I had seen enough violence to last many, many lifetimes.

There are many things I am afraid of that I absolutely cannot avoid. Banks, telephones, mail boxes, weekends, new places, etc. etc. etc. So it feels great to pick something big, like Christmas, and avoid it completely. And it is empowering, because now I am in control enough that I *can* run away, whereas when I was a kid I was held prisoner and could not move.

I’m not peculiar, given my history. It’s a natural reaction to try to avoid situations and objects that were used to hurt you in childhood. Makes sense.

There’s another trauma-based reaction, though, and that is to rush head first into scary situations. Scared of drowning? Learn to surf. Scared of guns? Collect them and go to the shooting range every weekend. Sacred of sex? Become promiscuous. You get the idea.

This time you can recreate the situation and make sure it doesn’t end in the death or torture of you or anybody else. This time it’s going to turn out okay. Or if it doesn’t, at least it will end badly in a totally different way than it did in the cult.

I was going to say that I can’t write much more about being counter-phobic because that’s just not me. Then I realized that is nonsense. Like most people, I am phobic sometimes, counter-phobic other times. For decades I was petrified of anybody finding out about the ritual abuse (including myself) and here I am writing about it on the Internet. Again and again and again. Certainly this is a bigger deal than making a phone call or decorating a Christmas tree. And yet it seems easier.

Go figure.

Flashback Worksheets

There is an entry on the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Christmas on December 15, 2012.

I found it far less upsetting to have a flashback if I knew it was a flashback. Otherwise, it never occurred to me that what I was experiencing was a memory; I thought I was crazy or had a brain tumor. Once I learned to recognize a flashback, I could say “Oh fuck, here we go again!” and brace myself. It’s a lot easier theses days.

Caryn Stardancer designed a flashback worksheet and published it in Survivorship. * When I tried to use it, I found I got stuck on identifying the trigger.  I was so immersed in the flashback that I had no attention to spare and could not scan my environment for possible triggers.  I rewrote the worksheet and omitted the whole concept of triggers, which helped a lot.

My Worksheet:
1. What am I thinking/feeling?
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction?
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction?
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present?
5. If it’s in the
Present – what action can I take to solve the problem?
Past – what can I do to calm myself down?

Modifying the Worksheet
I like questions because they jump-start me. Many people don’t, however. If you feel interrogated or intimidated by questions, you can use phrases:
“I am thinking/feeling ….”
“…. from the past might be causing my reaction.”
“…. in the present might be causing my reaction.”
“I can test if it is past or present by ….”
“A present problem could be handled by ….”
“I can soothe myself and calm past feelings by …”

If you don’t like the way I have designed the worksheet, start from scratch and write something different. Whatever works best for you is the way to go!

You might consider dating the worksheets and saving them in a notebook or folder. That way you can flip through them and see if you have had this particular flashback before. (I once had the same flashback for three straight months. No fun.) And you can look back and see how you have changed over the months or years.

A Personal Example

1. What am I thinking/feeling? “I am anxious, almost panicking, because I have to drive to a new place. My heart is pounding. I am afraid I will get lost and never be able to find my way back again. I’ll never see anybody I know ever again.”
2. What in the past could have set off this reaction? “Well, I did get taken to strange places for rituals and other horrible things. I didn’t know where I was going, or whether I would get back alive. I had no choice and no control, no options. It was terrifying.”
3. What in the present could be causing this reaction? “I am going to a supermarket in a different town. There  is no logical reason to have this kind of reaction”. Or: “I am planning to drive across Death Valley. Lots of people have gotten in trouble in Death Valley. My anxiety is realistic.”
4. How can I test if it’s from the past or present? “If I’m not sure whether I’m over-reacting (in a flashback) or not, I can ask a friend who doesn’t have a trauma background. If I don’t have a friend handy at the moment, I can ask myself “How would So-and-So react?”
5. If it’s in the present? “If I am going to Death Valley, I might really get into trouble. I might run out of gas or water or blow a tire. I would be dependent on somebody finding me and helping me, and I understand desert roads are pretty untraveled. It would be sensible to do some research at AAA or the Park Department website to see what I need to do to protect myself. It also would be sensible to carry a cell phone. I need to take some real action in the present in order to stay safe.”
If it’s in the past? “If I’m going to the supermarket, though, chances are I am having a feeling flashback, so I need to soothe myself. I can tell myself that it’s okay, I’m in control and at the wheel now, and I have a map, a full tank of gas, and a charge card. If I get lost I can ask somebody. I have made lots of similar trips successfully, and nothing bad happened.”

Of course, it could be a bit of past and a bit of present. In that case,you need to take sensible  precautions and reassure the frightened parts of yourself.

One you have used your worksheet for a while, you will find that you don’t need it anymore. Differentiating between past and present becomes automatic. So does preparing yourself for a present-day challenge and soothing yourself if the past comes welling up.The worksheet is a simple tool that will help you get to that point a little faster. And it’s nice to know you have an old friend you can always fall back on if you need to.

* I think it is called “Reprogramming Worksheet” and was published in the Survivorship Journal, Volume 3 Number 8 (August 1991) and Volume 4 Number 3 (March 1992.) You can order back issues from https://survivorship.org/back-issues-of-survivorship/
If anybody happens to have a copy, please post it in the comments section. We are okay copyright-wise: it is “fair use” and we cite the source and credit the author and publication.