The venerable, 85 year old Senior Peer Counselor put it best, “These people are a gift.” I learned so much from the unmarried couple in their 70’s with whom I stayed in Oakmont for the past eight months.
- I enjoyed being surrounded by beautiful objects and expensive books that I did not have to dust.
- I learned what it felt like to be on the receiving end of verbal abuse.
- I saw what “scab-picking” was.
- In dismay, I watched the man flee into a financial fantasy to shield himself, emotionally, from the verbal abuse. For 10 years he had been sending money to a Nigerian “lawyer” in the hope of getting a bank in Abu Dhabi to lend him a million dollars to invest in real estate. Just before I left today, he told me the Nigerian lawyer had been jailed, which froze the man’s assets in Nigeria during November and December, and that he had fired the Nigerian. He continues to believe that his loan will fund “next week.”
- I watched the hostess punish me by keeping the TV tuned to Fox News.
- I learned that isolation is the enemy of mental health.
- I saw that Learned Helplessness keeps people trapped in ruts of thin emotional survivorship. They mistake this for courage.
- What takes real courage is climbing out of the helplessness that was learned when one was vulnerable, sharpening the tools that have been gained over the years, learning to trust yourself again, and doing what it takes to get out of the rut.
- I learned why the work we do as Senior Peer Counselors is so important.
- I learned that love is simultaneously fragile and indestructible.
- I learned that a dog is a fountain of joy and unconditional love. I won’t be paraphrasing D.C Fontana anymore about “enslaving animals for the emotional gratification of humans.”
Their beautiful Golden Retriever suddenly became lame before Thanksgiving and had to be euthanized before Christmas. The house was not the same without her. The Feeling of Healing was gone. A grayness descended.
I have had a bad week. Last Thursday, after a shower, I dried my ear with a twist of toilet paper and plugged up one ear. I ignored it, and on Friday I increased my SAMe intake from two tablets a day to three, shrugging off the warning of increased agitation.
Saturday morning the ear was still plugged up so I went after it with a Qtip, driving the wax so far into my ear that it triggered feelings of claustrophobia. To distract myself, I went to see “Zero Dark Thirty” about brutal interrogation, waterboarding, and a Seal assault leading to death. I was so overwhelmed with the feeling of suffocation I had to leave the theater three times in the first hour. The feeling of being choked was so strong I actually took off my necklace. Yet I took a third SAMe for the day right after the movie.
Saturday night I felt like I was dying. My mind said, “it’s just earwax. You’re not going to die of earwax.” but my body really ached up the center line from my solar plexus to my heart.
My early-life decision came back: No one would help me. They were going to leave me me die. I had such a strong “felt sense” of being a sick child with plugged ears and a stuffed nose and not being able to breathe. I felt like I was being punished for being bad.
I know that at the age pictured, with two smokers in their early 20s for parents, I had frequent bouts of tonsillitis and upper respiratory congestion. My long hair would get matted when I was sick and I hated having it combed out. In frustration, they may have decided to “just let her cry.”
I kept going outside for walks in the 25-degree night because it was the only time I felt I had enough space or enough air. My mind said, “You don’t breathe through your ears. This is discomfort. You can tolerate it.” I did not wake up my husband because there was nothing he could do to help me. I started to understand what Xanax is for.
Vulnerable means Woundable. Can we try “Receptive”?
I try to fix things myself. I was so frustrated that I could not see into my ear. I knew the Emergency Room on a Sunday in January would be full of people with the flu coughing on me because ear wax would be called last. By mid-morning I realized that a neighbor I sometimes speak to is a retired doctor. I knocked on her door at noon. Nothing.
By mid-afternoon she was back and was happy to rinse out my ear with a dilute solution of hydrogen peroxide. She got it unplugged. I was SOO relieved. Went to the store and got her a $20 bottle of French wine. But I didn’t sleep that night. The agitation was almost as bad, except this time I could hear with both ears. I found a pile of leaves on the sidewalk nearby. Crunching though them at midnight calmed me.
Monday morning it took 2 hours to get a doctor appointment, and they wouldn’t give me one on the same day. Another bad night, but I stayed inside. Tuesday the young doctor scraped the wax off my eardrums and it hurt! “I thought you had suction!” I yelped. But I can hear better now.
What I Learned
As toddlers, we really are helpless, but the “learned helplessness” can be crippling in later life and can become part of the foundation of depression. To climb out of the harmful early leaning, I can learn to look for the Helpers, and to ask for help. I now have tools that I did not have as a pre-schooler, including Reiki, Zen Mind, Compassion and other spiritual and mental tools.
I should let my ears drain naturally, not even a hair dryer, because ear wax is supposed to stay pliable so it doesn’t stick to your eardrum. Lateral jaw action and an occasional, single drop of mineral oil in the ear will help keep it pliable.
I should have started the search for an ear doctor right away. The feeling of dying can be very scary. Three SAMe tablets is too many.
Just a quick note on Augusten Burroughs (a chosen name, not the one he was born with) and his “help for the self overcoming shyness, molestation, fatness, spinsterhood, grief, disease, lushery, decrepitude and more, for young and old alike.” Gotta say, he sure know how to include keywords in his title!
He doesn’t exactly address fatness, instead he tells a sad tale about anorexia. His solution? Tough love. Give the anorexic a ton of money, tell her you love her, kick her out and never EVER give her another piece of advice. I’ll bet his technique has a low survival rate. And I’ll further bet that his survival rate is just as good as current therapy.
Overcoming lushery: he is an expert, having nearly killed himself with alcoholism. During his recovery he wrote the book “Dry.” His recommended technique? Want something more than booze. This, by the way, is also the way to overcome decrepitude.
Therapy? That was the best advice. This from page 121:
For years, I believed [discussing my past in therapy] was how to live.
I was wrong.
It’s how to stagnate.
I know now how to get over the past.
It has worked for me in a deeper, more enduring way than any therapy I have ever had.
Writing six autobiographical books is what freed me from my past.
“Dry” was one of those autobiographical books. On page 177 of this book he tells a mother who lost a son to alcoholism a hard fact. “The fact she was missing was HIS fact. He loved alcohol. He died doing what he loved most.”
How to overcome Spinsterhood? Meet lots of people by every means possible. Use a different dry cleaner. Go to different grocery stores. Talk to people and present yourself as you are, not the gussied-up version of yourself. If you want someone who will love you as you actually are, present yourself as you actually are.
He ends with a detailed description of the slow death of his partner from debilitating disease. The book is an essay on the meaning of life which he boils down to Be Here Now. Fully Present. Don’t be afraid of the disease. When the symptoms arrive, you will cope with them and it will be okay. The fear of torture is much worse than the torture itself.
This is a good book. Recommended.
This 1997 book subtitled “The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences” is by Peter A. Levine, Ph.D. I read this book quickly over three days and agree that it is ground-breaking. I now have a better understanding that effects of unresolved trauma include constant hyper-vigilance and the gnawing expectation of the worst possible outcome. This produces a constant flow of adrenaline (epinephrine) which leads to the clean-up hitter cortisol, two stress hormones chronically generated by the remnants of unresolved trauma.
Dr. Levine points out that there are THREE things on the menu: fight, flight and freeze. Many trauma-sufferers are frozen in “freeze,” never completely coming out of the unresolved trauma. This unresolved trauma might be an underlying factor in depression which is associated with chronic over-production of cortisol. Movement, particularly shaking, shivering, quaking, are ways to blow off the trauma. Dr. Levine says,
“Post-traumatic symptoms are, fundamentally, incomplete physiological responses suspended in fear. Reactions to life-threatening situations remain symptomatic until they are completed. Post-Traumatic stress is one example.”
In his TED talk below, Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman says that what defines memories/stories are:
- emotionally significant moments
with endings being the most important factor in what constitutes memory. Happy endings typically yield happy memories, even if the event was difficult leading up to the happy ending. In “Waking the Tiger,” Dr. Levine’s therapy leverages this in his therapeutic practice which involves re-enacting the traumatic memory with the patient but changing the ending to a better outcome. You might notice in Dr. Kahneman’s TED talk about the difference between the left-brain “remembering self” and the right-brain “experiencing self.” This is the fundamental distinction made by Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s in her “Stroke of Insight.”
This 2011 book is a quick read and a timely update to PTSD recovery research. Dr. Lawlis describes PTSD well, and with great sympathy he outlines his strategy to recovery. Not surprisingly, it parallels Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor’s path to recovery from the traumatic brain injury of her stroke.
- Surround yourself with loving people who cheer your every positive step toward healing
- Get LOTS of sleep
- Get clean physically. Fresh food, clean water, no toxins. De-tox if necessary (directions included)
- Get clean mentally. Interrupt rumination. Learn to choose positive thoughts.
- Actively learn how to cope with terrifying memories. (Dr. Lawlis has a “machine”)
- and healthy goals
Dr. Lawlis is a fan of supplements, blue lights and his auditory invention (BAUDenergetics.com) that uses sound waves to break the fear cycle. I’m not sure about the machines, but I think he is right about how to heal a damaged brain.