Grounding by Lifting Weights (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I wrote yesterday about feeling dissociative and disconnected. As I composed my post, I thought to myself that physical exercise would probably be an effective method of grounding myself, even if the effect was only temporary. Today, as I engaged in my workout routine, I paid special attention to how my sense of my body was impacted by being physically active.

I love using Fitness Blender (not an affiliate link) for my daily workouts. The founders have made their videos are free and both of them have a positive outlook on health and exercise. My ability to lift weights has been diminished since becoming ill a few weeks ago, so today’s routine was particularly fulfilling as I was finally able to lift near my capacity instead of having to use half the weight I normally would.

After completing the workout, I feel more present in my arms, but cannot sense much in terms of my lower body. My legs aren’t physically numb, but I don’t feel connected to them or like I am inhabiting them fully if that makes any sense (if you haven’t struggled with dissociation, it might not). I still feel an eerie sense of calm, but having my heart rate up is counteracting it slightly.

Going for a run would seem to be the type of full-body exercise that might allow me to come more present, but the abundance of ice outside isn’t going to make that a safe experiment. I think I will add a series of stretches for each part of my body to see if that brings more depth and richness to my sense of being grounded. If you’ve dealt with trauma and feeling disconnected from your body, what effect does exercise have on your ability to become grounded? Are there types of physical activity that are more effective than others? Are there any kinds you’ve learned to avoid or that worsen your dissociation?

Dulled Senses, Empty Body

CW: Discussion of dissociation, PTSD and effects of trauma

After a long weekend during which my illness and the weather has kept me house-bound, I am finding myself feeling and acting disconnected and detached. As part of my chronic PTSD, I struggle with dissociation, which manifests in varying degrees. At its most extreme, I feel physically numb and unbound by the normal constraints of time and place, unsure of where I am, who I am and what is happening. Today isn’t like that, but is instead a more subtle form in which I feel deflated, apathetic, mentally dulled and aloof. The more I try to find myself in terms of sensing my body, the farther from it I feel.

I’ve been in and out of crisis mode after a series of severe triggers last holiday season. I know that seeking accommodations at my job is likely to lead to a confrontation of some sort, whether it is in needing to advocate further for what I need or dealing with the fallout if I get what I’ve requested. On days like today, where I know a storm is coming but the weather is perfectly calm for now, I shut off to a degree that all of my creativity, spirituality and even my connection to my physical being feels severed. Internally, I’ve gathered all the valuables and am boarding up the windows and doors, even though I feel so calm in my actions that the shift seems invisible.

As I sit with this reality, the relational disasters I’ve endured make more sense. Someone triggers me, but only the parts of me who protect me fully perceive the danger. They scatter inside me and prepare to abandon ship, but I’m still listening to the band play and enjoying my dinner, oblivious to the coming calamity. When everything lists and panic ensues, I’m somehow already at the head of the line for the lifeboats, but can’t understand how the small gesture or unkind word was the tipping point. In other words, I perceive events through multiple filters, and have already pulled the plug without knowing I was about to do so, yet am conscious of my decision to jump overboard after a more minor rattling or shaking–
“the final straw”–occurs.

It’s terrifying to feel that the leavings I take are pre-ordained and mostly out of my control. Yet, I have not regretted very many of them, irrational though they seemed at the time. It is scarier still to feel hollowed-out in the moments between the initial decision and the final withdrawal, abandoned yet waiting to run. I think I’m afraid but I can’t feel fear, because fear could quicken my footsteps too much and I wouldn’t successfully plot my course. So instead I am feeling and knowing nothing but the awareness that an signal is coming and I will need to, with immense speed and focus, react to it when it occurs. I’m living wartime again, the battle of a childhood of indifference and hatred punctuated by sheer terror and violation.

Self-care is only conceptual to me right now. I can try to rest but will drift into flashbacks. I can reach out to a friend but may endanger my relationship by being easily triggered. My main coping skills are to immerse myself in television and stories, so that other people’s stories replace my singular one into which all the threads of my life weave and to gorge myself on unhealthy foods so that the confines of body become known to me again. I intensely and spontaneously craved junk food yesterday for the first time in weeks and couldn’t understand why, but its purpose now seems clear. I shut down to conserve energy for the fight to come, even though my methods likely soften rather than harden my defenses.

I will come back to myself and will come more whole again. I’m in a temporary state of dissociation after repeated triggers that overwhelmed my healthier abilities to cope. Were I hysterically crying or having panic attacks, it would be easier to first detect and to then address my needs. It is substantially more difficult to notice the lack of a normal reaction as opposed to an exaggerated one, but they can both be equally destabilizing. Have you ever dealt with dissociation? How does it tend to affect you? What do you do to cope with apathy and detachment?

Naptime in the Winter (In the Cards)

The astonishing snowstorm this weekend in Newfoundland has brought back memories of significant snowfalls I’ve experienced, during which the only means of getting around were small paths carved out of the snow. I think that if, upon opening my front door, I was met with a wall of snow, I’d be tempted to retreat inward (and perhaps to chill some beverages in the natural refrigerator). The theme of an inward-looking viewpoint speaks to me as tied to winter. Deep inner work is, to me, the heart of the winter season, alongside an invitation to a slower and more gentle approach to self-care. I am attempting to allow myself to actually rest, rather than to opine the importance of it while ignoring my needs.

I tend to give myself enough time to sleep at night, so I don’t nap on a regular basis. One of the few times I will physically lie down during the day is if I’m sick. This weekend, the weather where I live has turned bitterly cold and I am still not feeling well. In particular, I find my energy flags by mid-afternoon. I purchased the best robe I’ve ever owned in my life this winter, and have been curling up in bed in my spare room with my pup while wearing it.

It may seem obvious to those who are more able to still themselves, but it has felt like the height of luxury to be able to be warm, cozy and at peace without having to watch the time or jump up to accomplish the next task. I’m a good sitter, in that I do lounge around quite often, but there is a distinct difference to me between being at rest and fully unwinding, as I do not flirt with sleep when I watch TV or sit on my couch. I find myself wondering if I would be more productive if I completely stopped what I was doing and napped on occasion, rather than going into a halfway-state of resting my body without resting my mind.

Even in the time it has taken me to write this post, worries about being lazy and unhealthy are already creeping at the edges of my mind. I’ve been sick for a week and a half and I still cannot accept that my body needs care and cannot always go at one hundred percent. Part of my mission statement for this year involves owning my limitations. My physical constraints have always been a primary source of frustration and struggle for me, so I hope I can allow myself rest in the form of napping when I need to as a simple reflection of my desire for self-care and comfort. Do you nap? If so, is it a part of your self-care routine? If not, do feelings of guilt related to productivity or other self-judgments hold you back from doing so? How can you be kind to yourself today?

A green bush covered in slowly melting snow.

At the Edges, Melting (Today's Simple Pleasure)

Today’s Simple Pleasure card encouraged me to observe an edge and to record what was occurring at the transition line. The wintery mix Mother Nature provided in the last 24 hours proved an easy jumping off point for this encounter. We had snow which turned to sleet, freezing rain and then simply rain. The resulting slush has created minute transition points.

As I shoveled the “snow,” I noticed that it was melted underneath and had turned clear, so that it looked as though I was pushing a mound of congealed water. I made little progress in clearing my driveway as it weighed an astronomical amount and I didn’t have the strength to move more than the bare minimum necessary to open a few footpaths. A lesson I can take here is to consider how deceiving change can be. It may feel as though what’s come before can simply be pushed out of the way, whereas the true burden of what I’ve lived through may only become known to me in attempting to rid myself of it.

I kept getting halfway across my driveway, gliding with ease and thinking “I’ve got this” and then the physics took over and I was stopped dead in my tracks by the pile of accumulated slush. Each time, I had to pause and reconsider how best to dispose of the water ice in small batches. This image so fully captures my experience of trauma. Every time I believe I’m good to go, something trips me up and I have to unpack piece after piece of what had previously felt insignificant.

I was relieved to awake this morning and notice that the precipitation had at least spared the tree limbs and power lines, as I had feared they would be coated in an icy glaze that could knock out the electricity or bring down parts of a tree. I’ve met some borders of growth that have taken an inch by an inch to reach, whereas I’m finding other places in my life from which I’ve been unnecessarily shrinking. It is hard for me to know how intensely to assert myself, as I don’t want to respond with a whimper when I need to roar, nor do I want to knock about when small steps would suffice. Perhaps what’s required is more careful deliberation and noticing of the true state of affairs before I take action–there is no sense shaking a tree that’s already free.

Finally, I took a photograph of some of the bushes on my property. I am amazed at how much snow ice they can hold, and the ecosystem they can provide for small animals sheltering beneath them. There have been so many times I’ve been startled by a rabbit bounding out of the undergrowth or a swarm of gnats erupting skyward if I knock into it with my mower. Each bush is a sturdy, non-descript parts of the landscape, but is yet teeming with life and protection. There is a stillness of purpose here of which I am jealous. I wish I could allow life to come to me more than I do; I perceive its edges as places of destination, not as interludes that arrive to me when I’m holding steady.

In sum, nature’s message to me, when I take time to meet Her, is nearly always the following: Be here, still. And I am always grateful for the reminder and the insights She provides. What have you learned from noticing areas of transition in nature? Has snow or precipitation taught you anything? Where might you slow down to see what’s changing?

Tasting and Smelling Delicious Food (Today's Simple Pleasure)

I am still sick with a respiratory illness but am hopeful that I am on the road to recovery. My sense of smell has been severely impacted and I’ve eaten meal after meal in which the only aspect of the food I could appreciate was its appearance and texture, because I could not taste anything. Today, some scents and flavors are getting through, so my lunch felt like an incredible luxury solely because I could enjoy more than how it looked!

I created a whole-wheat pasta dish with spinach, salmon and home-made pesto sauce. I started by cooking the pasta on one burner while I wilted the spinach on another in a cast-iron pan. After removing the spinach, I then pan-fried the center-cut salmon, skin-side down, in the cast iron. Finally, I toasted the pine nuts and then blended them with locally-grown basil, avocado oil and Parmesan cheese in my Vitamix (I am allergic to garlic but most people would add it in here). After sprinkling on a pinch of salt and a dash of oil, I served the dish in a large ceramic bowl I use for my more elaborate meals.

The creamy texture of the sauce, combined with my renewed ability to detect actual scents like basil and salmon, was so enjoyable. It makes me think of the tens of thousands of meals I’ve eaten in my lifetime and leads me to wonder how many of them I’ve scarfed down without any consideration or appreciation for being able to bring all of my senses to bear. A good meal is my quintessential simple pleasure. Have you cooked anything tasty in the last week? What’s your favorite or go-to lunch? Do you have any mealtime rituals that enhance your enjoyment of food?

Forwards and Backwards (In the Cards)

Today’s card focused on two themes that I would like to explore: 1) the fears that are difficult for me to face and 2) the interplay of restoration and a fresh start. In seeking health and happiness, I think it can be useful to know what might hold me back from taking risks to obtain it. It is also useful to consider what in my life needs to be torn down and what might be salvageable.

I would say that I fear the unknown, but in reality I think my strongest fear is of what I’ve known. In being a survivor of childhood sexual abuse in the context of my family, I’ve known the possible depths of both direct harm and betrayal from a very early age. Perhaps the best way to put it is I fear being helpless again; losing my autonomy and having people who wish me ill control my means of subsistence. Mine was a friendless upbringing that I would do almost anything to avoid revisiting.

In fearing the known more than the unknown, I believe that I’ve resisted fashioning my life in direct opposition to that which I knew growing up, even though some of the outcomes of my choices would seem to contradict this. I’ve tried to make who I am and what I do a reflection of my core values, strengths and skills. I want to stand for something and not only against something, but trust me when I tell you I know my enemies.

One of my most passionate intellectual pursuits is questioning the frame–stepping outside of dichotomies to deconstruct the boundaries of inquiry and to critically evaluate the biases that lead to limited potential. In applying this line of thought to the issue of renewal versus change, perhaps there is renewal and rejuvenation through change and change through a retooling of what already exists. In reality, I’m more on the “burn it all down and start again” rather than the “save whatever you can” end of the spectrum of how one approaches problem areas, but I love the idea of reclaiming pieces of my origins and of generating new growth through the vestiges of what I’ve lost. Going back to go forward and moving ahead to find the past. I have no idea what that looks like as a lived experience, but it sounds more enticing than a linear journey.

To the extent that fear influences your life, is your fear based on wishing to avoid what you’ve already had to endure or is it centered on staying away from new dangers? Which appeals to you more–recharging the past or starting anew? How may these dual pursuits influence each other in your life?

One Side of the Nose Knows? (Today's Daily Presence)

My current illness has acquainted me more intimately than I’d like to be with how my nose is functioning. Specifically, I’ve woken up every morning this week with the sensation that I could only breath out of one side of it. As I sought out information about why this was happening, I was delighted to learn about an entire aspect of biology I’d been overlooking, which is called the nasal cycle.

Tissue within our nose is able to be “erect” and to constrict on one side at a time. This means that one side is receiving more airflow than the other. Our general preference tends to mirror our handedness, so left-handed people breath more through the left-side and vice versa. I’m right-handed and the left side of my nose has been the one that’s felt closed every morning, so it tracks with this. (Note that the second study I found showed the opposite pattern).

Our autonomic nervous system, which I’ve previously discussed, is what is responsible for the shifts that occur every few hours in terms of which nostril is taking in more air. The side that we lay on affects this cycle. We switch less frequently when we are asleep than we do when we are awake. I’ve been waking up at odd times for the past several nights since I got sick, which makes me wonder if my brain is trying to change over the left side, realizing no air is coming in, and then alerting me so that I will adjust my position.

One theory as to why we have a nostril taking in a lot of air and another that is taking in less air is that we are able to notice different aspects of smells depending on how the air is flowing through our nose. I feel like I’m only picking up the “loud” notes of the few scents I can currently detect, which seems to fit with this idea. It is thought that perhaps we need these differences in scent detection to sniff out happy smells like tasty food as well as smells that portend danger such as wild animals.

The speed of our breathing also affects how our nose works. I’ve examined the benefits of slow breathing and can now add that it has an impact on our nasal cycle. Breathing more slowly is linked with having a greater difference between the left and the right nostril airflow. Shallow breathing tends to cause the airflow to be more balanced.

Before examining the research on this topic, I did not know that my nose was shifting every few hours in terms of which nostril received more air. It’s frustrating that it took a bout of a respiratory illness to lead me to slow down enough to consider how this part of my body works, but I think I will now have more appreciation for simple joys such as actually being able to smell the food I’m eating and being able to breath in deeply through my nose without feeling restricted. How is your nose functioning? Do you have any sense of breathing in through one side of it more than another? What’s the connection between the rate at which you breath and your enjoyment of pleasant smells?

Creating Pup-Pie Treats (Today's Simple Pleasure)

My poor pup has been getting a little overlooked between my return to work and my illness, so I decided to make him some homemade treats today. I’ve never attempted to do so before, even though I let him have tiny “people-food” snacks far too often. I settled on a baked treat being the safest bet.

I first measured and then cooked 1 sweet potato by cutting it up and boiling it in water. It came in at 260 grams, so I measured out equal parts of that in rolled oats as well as in dry roasted, unsalted peanuts. I pulverized the peanut-oat mixture in my Vitamix until it formed a loose paste. Once the sweet potato was cooked through, I used the Vitamix to puree it. I mixed the wet and dry ingredients together along with two eggs. I then pressed the dough into a greased ceramic pie pan and baked at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for twenty-five minutes.

After the initial cook time, I cut the pie into one inch by one inch squares, and baked them at the same temperature on a sheet for 10 minutes so that they would be as dried as possible. I think they could have gone longer but I was too lazy to experiment. Weirdly enough, I unintentionally created the start of a gluten-free biscotti for humans, were I to add perhaps coconut butter and a source of sugar. All in all, not bad for a spur of the moment experiment!

A white ceramic pie pan containing a light brown cookie with chunks of sweet potato. The cookie is cut into small pieces.
Mid-way through the bake process.
A small purple bowl sits empty on a couch cushion. In the upper part of the photograph, a blurry image of a Yorkie is visible.
The empty bowl after offering the treat.
A Yorkie dog is standing on white carpet eating a treat.
Nibbling away!

Lessons Learned (Today's Daily Remembrance)

Today’s card invited me to consider what I have learned from a mistake I’ve made. What sprung to my mind, based on current issues I’m facing, is that I’ve lived “as-if” at times in my life to my own detriment. Specifically, I’ve muddled my way through life as if I do not have a disability, when in fact I do.

I am in the process of applying for accommodations at my job due to my PTSD. I do not know if they will be granted or not, but I recognize in coming to the point where I need to request them that I have finally accepted that I am significantly affected by my mental health condition. I am not doing “fine.”

For over a decade, I’ve lived in a shadowland of feeling completely overwhelmed emotionally but also terrified that the shaky progress I’d made towards autonomy would instantly collapse if I asked for mercy for any reason. I’ve been driven further into the fog by experience after experience where I’ve conveyed my limitations in personal relationships, only to have them be completely ignored or used to harm me. I’ve little faith that institutional mechanisms will prove more reliable, but I have to at least try to seek them.

I feel weak and pathetic for not being able to muster the resolve to defeat my demons, as if where I’m at in terms of functioning is a choice I get to make. It’s as if I’ve run non-stop for almost 15 years and yet continue to question why my knees are bone-on-bone. As though I’d chose this life if presented alternatives without PTSD.

My mistake has been not only in living without accepting my limitations, it has also been in believing my situation to be feast or famine. I kid you not, my conception of my world is one where I work as a professional and make a solid income or one where I’m homeless, with no room for possibility in between. Prior to the last few weeks, I honestly never considered attempting to get accommodations, as I figured my only alternative, if I could not manage anymore, was to quit my job. I question which other areas of my life I hold in the same untenable perfect-ruined dichotomy.

Are there any areas of your life where you live “as-if” and struggle to accept the true nature of your situation? What would it look like to face reality? Are there any gradients available between “all is well” and “it’s gone to hell” in the issue with which you are dealing?

Appreciating Health (Today's Daily Presence)

Well, I just typed and lost an entire post for the first time so here goes a re-write!

As I noted yesterday, I am feeling under the weather with some sort of respiratory illness. I’m coughing a lot and my voice sounds as though a frog is trapped in my larynx. I selected the teeth and jaw card from my Daily Presence deck, and was shocked to realize these areas of my body are feeling better than they normally do.

I’ve been diagnosed with both TMJ and trigeminal neuralgia. My trigeminal neuralgia has gotten better after having a tooth extracted last year, but a recent visit to the dentist showed me it is still active. She merely manipulated my jaw in her evaluation (no cleaning or dental work) and my pain starting spiking on my drive home.

Today, though, my jaw feels loose and my teeth do not hurt. Simply noticing this feels like a sign that I am living with more awareness. It has been easy for me to focus all of my attention instead on what is going wrong with my body. There are of course times where my pain becomes so severe that I cannot ignore it and during which I need to use additional resources to help myself cope. For me, living with chronic pain has been about learning to work with my body as much as I can.

As I grow to fully inhabit the landscape of my body, my attention has widen and my care for parts that are healthy has improved. This awareness has increased rather than diminished my ability to respond to what my body needs when it is ill. Which parts or body systems are working well for you today? How is your jaw and tooth health? How do you balance responding to your body’s needs alongside appreciating what is working well for it?