All right, I get it.
I say as I extract this two by four embedded in my forehead.
Let me back up a minute.
Last week sometime I got this email from my local independent bookstore, the one that people travel from all over the sprawling Phoenix metropolitan area to get to, the one that’s five minutes up the road from me, that one. It was their weekly promotion of who’s coming to do book signings and other tidbits going on at the store.
I saw this announcement right here:
Mark Epstein: The Trauma of Everyday Life
Psychiatrist Mark Epstein, author of Thoughts Without a Thinker, visits with his new book The Trauma of Everyday Life.
Trauma, Epstein says, does not just happen to a few unlucky people; it is the bedrock of our psychology. Here, he explains how trauma can be transformational and used for the mind’s own development. When we regard trauma with this perspective — understanding that suffering is universal and without logic — our pain connects us to the world on a more fundamental level. The way out of pain is through it. Epstein’s discovery begins in his analysis of the life of Buddha, looking to how the death of his mother informed his path and teachings. Epstein also looks to the traumas, large and small, that he, his patients, and many of the fellow sojourners and teachers he encounters as a psychiatrist and Buddhist share. He argues that trauma, if it doesn’t destroy us, wakes us up to both the mind’s capacity and to the suffering of others.
I was immediately drawn to this event. I deal with trauma in my practice, I’ve experienced trauma throughout my life, I read books about trauma, I treat Vets with PTSD and I live with my brother who’s life has been and continues to be trauma filled.
I wrote the date down in my appointment book and planned to go.
The next day or so I checked my mailbox and there was an envelope from my Dad. I wasn’t expecting anything so was surprised and intrigued about what he might be sending me.
When I opened the envelope, there was a newspaper clipping folded up inside.
An article written by the same author about his book.
Ok, I may be naive in some respects but I know signs when I see them. Now what I do with them is another story but I do notice these things.
These last couple of days have been rough. Alfonse has been going through a rough patch. Thankfully he was placed in a new more intensive program through the mental health service he’s plugged in to. We didn’t ask for it, his team just placed him on it because of the recent hospitalizations. What I don’t appreciate, not one bit at all, though is this: he can’t get in to it for two weeks. So they deem him acute enough to require much more intensive intervention and monitoring (which will be great) but leave him with zero services, in limbo, directly from the hospital for two weeks. Talk about a crack the size of the Grand Canyon.
So we’ve been navigating this time together. The medication for his psychotic symptoms is still working but the depression has started lifting it’s dark head again. We’ve been managing as best we can and need to just hang on until next Wednesday when the new program kicks in. We’ve both called and asked what may be available in the interim (nothing). I came home two nights ago to find him on the phone talking to a volunteer on a hotline. We both laughed later when he told me she was telling him more about HER problems than listening to his.
He’s been doing a lot of laying on the couch talking about how depressed he feels. I do a lot of calling people and trying to get him moving in to something, anything while worrying. While neglecting anything about myself.
I will go with him to the appointment next Wed. and tell the Team exactly what these two weeks, in this vulnerable moment, has been like for us. Scary, draining, confusing to name just a few adjectives. How about pointless and irresponsible?
Depression of course isn’t contagious but this has had an impact on me too. How could it not? I’m with him nearly 24/7. I worry. I try to keep him distracted. But mental illness is a formidable enemy and one that will remind you who is boss when it wants to dominate. We’re hanging in there. But honestly, it’s not a picnic right now. It feels like if it’s not one thing, it’s another. We get about five minutes of “stability” and back on the roller coaster. It’s exhausting.
One of my clients came in yesterday venting about how his daughter had relapsed this week. He and his wife are very involved with NA and he talked to me at length about how they’ve had to learn to put their own oxygen masks on and how those weekly meetings keep them focused and sane. The timing of this sharing was not lost on me. I got even more semi depressed acknowledging how, once again, I’ve put my focus on managing John’s life and so little investment in to my own. It’s an easy trap to fall in to. My client was a clear mirror to look in to.
I came home from work with plans to attend this book event but was sincerely exhausted. I really wanted to put on my jammies, work on my craft project and watch some of my Scandal marathon I’m embroiled in.
But those breadcrumbs kept gnawing at me. What will I miss if I don’t go? Just how lazy can I be? I need to find my own carved out life in the middle of all of this no matter how tired I am.
I decided to go and to tell John I wouldn’t be home for the evening, that he was on his own for awhile. He was ok with it and seemed better. He figured out his own dinner plans and was fine. Evenings are generally better for him.
As I drove to the bookstore I had the distinct thought that I would see or meet someone there who I was supposed to run in to. To keep my eyes open. That maybe it wasn’t just about the author or the book but that I was being put in this place in this time for a reason.
So I kept my eyes open.
The parking lot was packed. I got one of the very last seats available fifteen minutes before the event was to start. Good for them/him for getting such a good turnout.
The bookstore owner kept coming out and asking if there were any open seats, for people to raise their hands. People were pouring in.
I noticed an empty seat in front of me and the woman clearly saving it. I hoped the person she was saving it for showed up as those seats were at a premium and she fiercely guarded it with her purse.
Just moments before the author came out, I saw the wavy haired woman ahead turn around with a face of relief and recognition as clearly her friend had arrived. Oddly I exhaled a little deeper right along with her like somehow I was part of that scene. The waiting game.
As her friend climbed through the packed row to her seat I instantly felt a mix of embarrassment and comfort and my own spark of recognition.
The woman who took that seat right in front of me in that packed house was my Psychologist who I’d been seeing for counseling all last Fall. The one I’d just kind of stopped going to when my life got crazy attending the Travis Alexander trial and just had no time for anything anymore.
At least that’s my identifiable excuse.
I wanted and didn’t want her to recognize me. I wondered if she felt abandoned because I cancelled my last scheduled appointment and then just never scheduled again. I wondered if she had a bad feeling about me for that in any way. I wondered if it would be awkward if she saw me.
Yet I sat through that entire talk about trauma, the whole reason I went to see her as she specializes in a form of therapy that’s all about trauma that I’d specifically sought out, right behind her realizing “oh that’s who I was supposed to see here”.
At the end of the talk, I folded up my chair and put it to the side as they instructed us and could have just left. But I saw my dear Psychologist standing there and approached her, deciding this was my moment of Truth.
Know what? She didn’t recognize me. My hair is different now and I’ve packed on some pounds or maybe it’s just that my own spark is so dim at the moment, she just couldn’t see me. I had to tell her who I was. Now I saw this woman weekly all last Fall and it’s only been a few months but I guess I’m just not myself right now. I get it.
She told me she’d been wondering about me. I told her how the breadcrumbs had been laid down for me to get there, how I had a feeling I was going to see or meet someone there, how she sat right in front of me.
How I was calling in the morning to make an appointment.
She hugged me and I got tears and I knew it’s time. Time for me to dig deep in to myself again. Time for me to take my finger off the pause button of what we started last Fall.
It’s time for me to have my own life.
In that spirit, I woke up this morning also knowing something else.
I’m going up to Sedona as we’d planned, but by myself, for the next two days.
John had decided yesterday that he didn’t feel like taking a road trip, that it would be too stressful. So I shelved the whole idea.
I’ve been helping him non stop since he got out of the hospital. Setting him up on his Ipad and the internet (Facebook, Meetup, recipes etc–I have taken that horse straight to many watering holes), taking him out places, making sure he has daily plans, calling people on his behalf most of my mornings, including him in most everything I do, structuring my life, once again, around my house becoming a version of a Psychiatric facility.
I need a break. He will be fine. He has people to call and he can call me as I’m just up the road. I have to remind myself that he lived on his own for 15 years before coming out here. Through all of his ups and downs. Hovering over him every single moment of every single day is strangling me now.
He has his plan for today and for tomorrow and will get by.
I have my plan. I just need to get on the road, by myself, and clear my head. And read my new book I bought at the bookstore last night. Ashley Judd’s memoir.
A beautiful, strong, creative, talented, capable woman who’s not had it easy in life. And who decided to bravely write about it. I started it last night.
As Dr. Epstein said last night in his talk “sometimes the best way to start resolving trauma is to find ways to not feel so alone in it” (I’m paraphrasing but that’s what he said essentially).
Ashley, it’s you and me and some red rocks for a couple of days.
Alfonse will be fine.
Now excuse me, I need to make a call and get myself an appointment for next week.