My Marathon To Mental Health

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I seem to have this notion that once I’ve completed this marathon, my PTSD symptoms will disappear (or be very manageable) and my marriage and parenting will be on track. It seems like quite an unrealistic notion, as running does not improve marriages or parenting, and while it is a healthy outlet, it will not magically remove my PTSD diagnosis. However great I feel after running, I still have to walk back in the door to a needy family; I will still have severe attachment issues; I will still be triggered by the little things.

If my problems will not magically disappear, what will be the benefits?

Faith: There is no way I will be able to complete this training or the race without God giving me energy and stamina. My daughter is nearly nine months old and is still waking several times a night, and my PTSD symptoms have wreaked havoc on my body. I also feel like my mind has been clearer and as a result, I’ve been able to do more devotions over the past month. I have not self-harmed since I’ve been running.

Fitness: Before last month, I had not run farther than 4.5 miles, and honestly I had no desire for more! That particular mud run (in 2012) was 95 degrees, I had taken 2 ibuprofen so I could run through a knee injury, and then I was given a 5-Hour Energy drink (and I rarely have caffeine!); by the middle of the race I was dizzy and I very nearly threw up at the top of the 20 foot wall! However, each time I go out now, it seems I am improving my distance and my pace. My biggest goals are 1- not be the last person to cross the finish line (or be in the top two-thirds), and 2- put a 26.2 sticker on the back of my car!

Nutrition: It is very hard to run any distance when you’ve eaten a giant buffalo chicken cheesesteak or an enormous burrito (with queso) from Moe’s. My husband and I are slowly working to improve our diets so that our bodies can manage our respective training programs (because my husband is also doing the marathon).

Marriage: My husband and I finally have something in common! We have something to talk about, besides the kids, that we both care about equally. That’s big! We’ve been married nearly five years and my conversation falls short on the topic of sports, much like his conversation falls short with psychology.

All of the above will contribute to improving my mental health; I am already seeing the mental benefits of exercise and am looking forward to seeing where I’ll be in September. If I can conquer a marathon, I feel conquering my past will be cake… or I’ll be too distracted to be bothered by it! While I know this endeavor will not magically remove my PTSD diagnosis, it is a big step towards healing (well, 26.2 miles worth of steps, plus 18 weeks of training, towards healing!).

Photo credit: http://www.canstockphoto.com/vector-clipart/marathon.html

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Fixing Our Form

Yesterday when I was running, I saw my shadow and realized I quite resemble Phoebe when I run. Embarrassing. So today, I fixed my form. By fixing my form alone, I shaved off 25 seconds per mile from my pace!

In regard to healing from our trauma, maybe all we need is to adjust our form. Pull our elbows in, straighten our backs, and lengthen our strides. Do the coping skills our therapists tell us, choose to make changes that will lead to a recovery. Open our mouths and move our limbs when our brains say our bodies should be frozen. Eat healthy foods to nourish our bodies.

Some days I do not want to make the effort. Change is hard. But it took almost no effort for me to fix my running form. My breathing was nearly the same and my bad knee doesn’t hurt like it usually does! Maybe, just maybe it doesn’t take much effort to start making healthy strides towards healing. And if we make the smallest of changes, perhaps we will see that all of a sudden our bum knee isn’t bum anymore; our breathing is regulated; and we have reached the finish line without realizing.

And let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. -Hebrews 12:1

Photo credit: hungryrunnergirl.com

Run Your Race

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I went for a run today. I was completely alone for all but a few people, and I realized just how much healing is like running. You are on a desolate trail all alone, and no matter how much you want company, there is often nobody around to encourage you or hold your hand (though we do at times get to run with support of all shapes and sizes along the way). Sometimes you pass people who are doing their own training. Some can run faster and longer, and have stronger leg muscles than you; some are happily riding their bikes enjoying the scenery while you fight to breathe; some are being pushed in a wheelchair; some are running at your speed but are going in the opposite direction; and yet others are stopped to rest on the side.

I ran for a good distance, and kept pushing myself because I wanted to reach a distance I could measure when I got home to map my course. I ran for 30 minutes before I turned around, and alternated between walking and running the rest of the way. While I walked, I focused on breathing in the crisp air, and I noticed things along the road that I did not see while running… squiggles in the dirt from a recent snake, patches of purple flowers, intricate spider webs. I had been planning on sprinting the last 1/4 mile but was so busy in my head that I missed my landmark! In the same way, when I am stuck in my head, I am missing everything around me; my daughter’s rapid milestones, my son maturing into boyhood, and my husband’s frustrated pleas for his wife’s attention.

While I was running, a beautiful butterfly came flying towards my head and I had to duck to miss it. It reminded me of how often beautiful moments are right in my face and I duck into the next room and hide, intentionally missing them while my heart aches. I watched the river run swiftly beneath me on the bridge and it made me feel vulnerable, much like the rapids in my life; however, there was a sense of safety in knowing I was above these rapids on the bridge. I often feel like the piece of trash that’s washed ashore, but know that in reality I am safe on the bridge… even if the waves crash into me every now and then, there is solid ground beneath my feet and a tall fence on either side to keep me safe from falling into the deep water below.

There were some moments on my run that I ran and some where I walked, but I never stopped moving. And even if I had, eventually I would have had to start again if I wanted to make it home. Sometimes we are too weak to fight, and we must rest. Sometimes we are weak-ish and cannot fight our hardest, but we walk through the motions. And sometimes we are so exhausted that we cannot move. But there is an important pattern that I have noticed in everyone who battles a mental diagnosis (notice I never call it a mental illness; it’s just a diagnosis). We have bad days when the sun is dehydrating our bodies and we wish there was water at the side of the road. We have bad days when we collapse onto the path in frustration and exhaustion. And there are days we finish our run in tears. But we always finish. It’s okay to sprint, run, jog, walk, or even crawl. It’s even okay to sit and take a break, or walk backwards, or throw fits… or cry, or ask someone to carry you, or limp across the finish line. What is important is that each of us will cross that finish line, and we must keep fighting to make it there. We must believe it will be okay; we must believe there IS a finish line; and we must believe that once we cross it we will feel exhaustion, relief, elation, and a sense of accomplishment.

I’d like to suggest that each day we cross a finish line. And if we’ve crossed it bloody and bruised from the run, we have still crossed that finish line because we are still alive. We are still fighting. And if we continue to cross that finish line, each day we go without giving up, we are getting stronger and stronger. One day we will be able to run without gasping for air or fighting to stay upright. Keep fighting.

Run in such a way that you may win. – 1 Corinthians 9:24

Hard Decisions

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I have been spreading myself emotionally thin over the past few weeks. It has caught up to me in a series of almost continuous dissociation, hypomanic episodes, angry and physically violent outbursts, and self-harm. I have opened myself up to sharing an overview of my past with five new people in a matter of weeks, in the name of finding a therapist that is experienced enough to manage my level of trauma and my symptoms. I have finally found a trauma therapist I am very pleased with, and she happens to be Christian- which is important to me right now, as I cannot heal without God’s healing hand.

She is slowly working her way into my past through a very long intake process, and has not asked a single time about my trauma. She has stated that she primarily wants me to focus on staying present during session, and when I reported (she checks in regarding dizziness every few minutes) mild dizziness today, she had me stop the intake to share the tasks I had completed that morning. It took me several minutes to recall what I had done! It was clearly a rough morning full of dissociation.

She also stated that she strongly encourages me to have a psychiatric evaluation completed and most likely go on meds, because we cannot delve into trauma work until my symptoms are managed much better than they are now. This is a difficult step for me because I am breastfeeding and I do not want to wean. It is my daughter’s reference point for everything when I am around; she uses it to connect, feed, play, and for comfort. Weaning would change our entire relationship. I am not against formula feeding, as I formula fed my first, but I fought very hard to establish a breastfeeding relationship with my daughter and I am agonizing over the possibility of having to give it up.

And… she told me it would be best if I chose just one therapist. Friday is my termination session for the therapist I have been seeing for over a year. I trust her. I like her. I work well with her. I am attached to her. I do not want to say goodbye. New therapists are sometimes necessary steps to take towards healing, but it is going to be very difficult to say goodbye without shutting down.

Photo credit: http://yellowgazelle13.blogspot.com/2011/03/getting-closer.html

Me

Woman Pulling Hair out

I’m bursting with anger and fear
There’s too much pain to shed a tear
Sometimes I’m collected and calm
Meeting their needs, I am their mom

Just one trigger and I am four
Curled up, I can’t take anymore
I try hard but I cannot speak
I’m gone and can only hear screams

More triggers and I am seven
Angry at my God in heaven
My memories and pain are here
Boxed up so the others don’t fear

Can I force myself to be five?
I feel so vibrant and alive
Creative stories in my mind
I get to leave my past behind

I have trauma, is this for real?
There must be honesty to heal
I am longing to be just me
How long until God sets me free?

Faithful God’s Wayward Daughter

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People have told me in the past not to challenge God. Actually, my husband told me this just this weekend. My reply was, “God is big enough to meet me in my challenges.” I am not a typical Christian. I wear jeans or slacks to a church where most women wear skirts (and men wear suits) because I feel vulnerable in dresses. If the pastor suggests we memorize a certain verse, I choose a different passage and memorize the entire chapter. If someone suggests I ought to be a stay-at-home mom in this time period, I send a quiet challenge by stating that if I can find a good full-time job, I would take it in a heartbeat (which is probably not true). I do not fit into the homemaker, homeschool mom category that many of my reformed Christian peers do. So I guess it makes sense that I’d fight the norm on shoving down any struggles in faith and doubts.

Instead of having shame that I’m questioning God’s plan for me, I think I ought to turn to God with my questions and faltering. He already knows I’m questioning His plan for me, I cannot hide it from Him. So why not bring it out into the open? I believe it is only through honesty that a person can heal in anything, including relationship with the Father.

The Bible is full of miraculous signs that God used to both to show Himself faithful and meet us in our needs, and it is also full of people who struggled in their faith. Elijah brought fire down from heaven as a sign that his God was the true God. Jacob wrestled with God. Abraham laughed at God. King David prayed that God would kill his enemies.

As I challenge God with “What do you have for me?!” and “Do something, Lord!” and “Where are You?!” I am met with verses such as, “Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.” and “You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You.” and “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; you are mine.” and “You will not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day.”

Truthfully, I would not have had the ability to manage a recent crisis at work if I had not been going through my own crisis. It was through my own journey of faith, therapy, and wisdom from a therapist that I was able to manage the crisis- and it was only a few days prior that I discovered the verses I needed and the necessary therapeutic techniques that would de-escalate the situation. I have no desire to be in the depths of crisis and spiritual warfare, but perhaps I can trust that all things do work out for good to those who love Him.

Photo credit: http://sylviabrowder.com/symptoms-of-spiritual-awakening-learn-why-youre-feeling-so-off-balance/

Rapid Cycling

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I am unsure what exactly is causing this, but I have been rapid cycling the past few days… and not quite in a bipolar way; I do not have bipolar or any form of a mood disorder! I am going from bouncing off the walls and screaming with joy (which my son is quite enjoying), to being curled up in a ball afraid of the world, to crying as hard as I can, to yelling, to crying, to bouncing off the walls… mostly partially dissociated. All in a matter of an hour! I’ve had several triggers this week, both personal and professional, and I wonder if my mind has just reached a sort of max. Or maybe it’s simply trying to cope with the news that I’ve agreed to stop seeing Therapist #1 for a few months. She is a major safety, where my transference goes. My inner child needs to be on her couch- I need to sit and cry (crying is a quite recent symptom for me too) and become dizzy and go mute, and then pull out of it in the hour and a half I see her. I have never left her office in a daze because I feel safe. I always leave with a smile and a juice box- sometimes she gives me two juice boxes! Any anxiety left over on the drive is taken out on the straw that is chewed unrecognizable by the time I pull into my driveway. Then I am fine for a few days.

Therapist #1 has recommended that I begin an intensive outpatient therapy of sorts, with therapy 3x a week (which she cannot accommodate), a DBT support group, and a psychiatrist. She wants me to go on the waiting list at a nearby hospital’s mental health program. This is what I would recommend for a client going through what I am attempting to manage. My husband and I have discussed this at length and we just cannot afford to do this. We have decided to try an unconventional route… I am hating the Christian counseling center; it triggers me to no end, and renders me incapacitated to drive home. The only reason I made it home after session last week was because I was clutching my son’s Lego as hard as I could into the steering wheel (a grounding technique I learned with Therapist #2- whom I am not seeing regularly either- that I’ve taken to a whole different level).

But this is why my husband feels it is important for me to push through, and I quite agree with his reasoning. Driving into the parking lot alone is causing a resistance like none I have ever experienced. I do not want to be there. And that is precisely why my husband feels I need to be there. We will try this for a few months, but we cannot afford weekly therapy. We’ve done weekly for a year and just cannot afford it anymore. We will do every other week at this place, and see where my mental health is afterwards. If I deteriorate further (not sure how much more deterioration I must endure in order for a potential hospitalization, which will undoubtedly affect my career), we will then do everything in our power to get me into a psychiatrist and into a more intensive therapy.

After these sessions, I will do what I need to do to drive home. If I need to sit in the parking lot for a bit, that’s fine. If I need to bring my own juice boxes, I will. If I need to bring a snack to break the dissociation, I will. If I need to cry or call my husband, I will. It’s an hour drive so I will do what I need to do to make it home safely.

Therapist #1 is still available by scheduled phone calls. She is still there. I am not walking away myself, nor am I being abandoned. And yet I am still rapid cycling to an extent I can barely control. It’s time for me to cry a little before I teach my son to do front flips on his bed, or jump from his bed into a pile of blankets and pillows. This is better than being incapacitated, but my goodness. I am not a mother, I am a child! I am 7. I am 7.

For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age,against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12

Photo credit: http://hypnobeast.com/all/swag/hypnosis-spirals/

Containment Skills

During an emergency therapy session last week, therapist #2 had me work on containment in order to ground me. She had me write out trigger words and items that are triggers around my home, and how I feel when I am triggered. Then, I folded them as many times as I could and placed them into an envelope, and then sealed the envelope. She asked me what I wanted to do with the envelope. I told her to keep it. She said that the point of the exercise is to give me control. I am putting these triggers and feelings away until I choose to pull them out one at a time, and I get to control how long they are out (ie, for a therapy session only). I mostly felt better after session. Then, yesterday I had supervision at work (speaking with a licensed therapist to share and collaborate on my cases, which is a requirement for me as I seek licensure), where I shared some of my problems containing my own “issues,” especially regarding a specific client. She again shared the concept of containing the issues in either an imaginary box or a real box. I told her the words keep escaping from their imaginary box, and that my box continued to explode. She told me to stop making up excuses and to practice what I preach.

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Once I returned to my office, I had a no-show, so I decided to use my art therapy supplies to contain my feelings and triggers again.

trigger words

I folded them up and placed them in my work bag, for lack of a better place at work.

in purse

On an afterthought, I wrote something else to place in my pocket to help ground me when I needed, along with this Lego. The Lego has been in my pocket since my session on Thursday. She gave me a polished rock for my pocket as a tangible grounder, and I replaced it with the Lego because it reminds me that I’m fighting for my children. The paper reminds me that no matter how dirty I feel, my body is white as snow.

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A Lot Like Jonah

The following story is taken from this book, with a few changes.

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God had a job for me. But I didn’t want it. “Go to Nineveh,” God said, “and tell your worst enemies that I love them.”

“NO” I said. “Those are bad people doing bad things!”

“Exactly,” said God. “They have run far away from me. But I can’t stop loving them. I will give them a new start. I will forgive them.”

“NO!” I said. “They don’t deserve it!”

I’ll run away! I said to myself. Far away- so far away that God won’t be able to find me. Then I won’t have to do what God says! It’s a good plan! I said, because, as far as I knew, it was a good plan.

But, of course, it wasn’t a good plan at all. It was a silly plan. (Because you can run away from God, but he will always come and find you.)

I went ahead with my not-very-good plan. “One ticket to NOT Nineveh, please!” I said and boarded a plane flying in the very opposite direction to Nineveh.

Well, it wasn’t long before a fierce wind blew, and my home started to lurch and pitch and roll – and everyone started turning green. I sat bolt upright in my bed. You see, the first thing that went wrong with my not-very-good plan was that God had sent a big storm after me.

My family couldn’t function properly. “We’re sinking!” they screamed, and started trying everything they could to calm the storm.

By now I knew that the storm was my doing. “Throw me in, instead!” I shouted to my family (for it seemed we were now on a feeble boat in a tumultuous storm). “And the storm will stop!” My family wasn’t sure. It’s the only way you can be saved!” I cried.

And so, one… two… three… SPLASH! No sooner had I hit the water than the waves grew calm, the wind died down, and the storm stopped.

Just then, when I thought it was all over, when I was sure I was going to drown, God sent a big fish to rescue me. The fish swallowed me whole- with one big gulp.

I must have thought I’d died, it was so dark in there, like a tomb. But then I smelled the rotting food and felt the slimy seaweed and knew I wasn’t dead. I was in the belly of the fish!

And here I sit, waiting to watch God’s plan unfold. Tonight, I have my first session with my new therapist, a Christian who will openly bring faith into the counseling room. We will see where the fish spits me out.