Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Book Review: Geography of Bliss - Eric Weiner (also my daughter as a tick)

I am happy today, and that is not a word I throw around lightly.  This mood that gave me the idea for today's post.  Well, that and Vienna's homework.  She asked for help with her Sociology: learn about a culture that is different from ours.

Side Bar: As I write this, she is reading over my shoulder.  In her words, she is, "like a tick, always watching" ....not creepy or anything...

As I sorted through my knowledge of other cultures (sociology is my favorite subject), I thought of the perfect book:  Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. 

Bill Kuffrey publicdomainpictures.net

I got very excited and explained to her that Eric Weiner, a Foreign Correspondent for National Public Radio and a self-proclaimed Grump, had decided to spend a year traveling the world to visit the happiest, and least happiest places in the world. 

Side bar: I also told Vienna that I can't concentrate while she is watching, and she said to pretend I don't know she is there because most people that have a tick, don't know. . .ok....creepier still. . .

We looked at the table of contents, each chapter covers a different country.  Which one to choose?

Piotr Wojtkoski publicdomainpictures.net

Chapter 5:  Iceland: awesome!  Visiting Iceland is now on my Bucket List because of this book.  Icelanders love chess and writing (heaven), and they go months without seeing the sun.  I'm from Seattle, I'll fit right in.  When I go to Iceland, I will NOT eat harkarl, rotten shark, but I will think of Mr. Weiner's description of it:

"The harkarl has an acidic, unnatural flavor.  Worst of all is the persistent aftertaste.  It lodges on the roof of my mouth and resists eviction, despite my attempts to flush it out with many glasses of water, a bag of honey-roasted cashews, an entire wheel of gouda cheese, and two bottles of beer.  By the time I return to my hotel, an hour later, the taste has, ominously migrated to my throat, and shows no signs of leaving soon.  I feel sick."

A local man explained to him that the only way to get rid of the after taste is to drink svarti dauoi, or black death, the Icelandic national drink.  Weiner says the very nasty hang-over was a price he was willing to pay to get rid of that taste.  Harkarl, anyone?

Side bar: Vienna went to class, but not before warning reminding me that she, like a tick, will always be watching. Rotten shark and ticks...I think I'm going to have nightmares tonight, how about you?

Chapter 6: Moldova..ewwwww.  It is said to be the least happy nation in the world.  Maybe the problem is their music.  You know how uplifting music can be, right?  Well apparently it works the other way as well.  According to Weiner:

"Russian pop is--how do I put this diplomatically?--bad.  Very bad.  So bad that it may have contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union."

There you go.

Chapter 7: Thailand...ah, don't read that chapter Vienna.  Their morals are..um...different than ours.  The chapter begins with how despite his best intentions not to go, one night at 1 am he found himself in a bar. . .yeah, that is not the essence of the whole chapter, but enough for me to have Vienna skip it. 

Chapter 2: Switzerland:  I can't forget Switzerland.  You know the saying one man's trash is another man's treasure.  Well Switzerland shows us that one man's misery is another man's happiness.  Or something like that, read this and decide for yourself:

     "Why are the Swiss so happy?"  I ask Jalil.
     "Because we know we can always kill ourselves," he says with a laugh, but he's not joking.  Switzerland has one of the world's most liberal euthanasia laws.  People travel from all over Europe to die here.
     The strangeness of it all sinks in.  In Switzerland, it's illegal to flush your toilet past 10:00 p,m, or mow your lawn on Sunday, but it's perfectly legal to kill yourself.
And so Switzerland has one of the highest suicide rates in the world.  How can a happy country have a high suicide rate?  There is a theory in the book. . .

If you like humor, sociology and philosophy, you will love this book as I did.

Vera Kratocvil publicdomainpictures.net

What?  Oh, you want to know which country she choose for her project?  Why Moldova, of course.  She read this line:

""Getting to Moldova turns out to be nearly as tricky as finding it on a map.  It's almost as if the Moldovans are off sulking in their corner of the globe.  'Leave us alone.  We're not happy, and we like it that way.  We said go away!'"

"You should move there," she said.

I had to laugh at that.  Evil girl. I guess she chose it for her report since she thinks I should move there, and she's planning to visit...or wait, if she is truly a tick as she claims, she will just go with me.

We'll send you a postcard.   

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

You Can't Rush Spring

My favorite season is spring.  I realize that as I write this we are heading in to fall.  Fall is nice too.  The changing colors of the leaves and all that…yeah, yeah.  I hate orange.  If I had my way, I would eliminate orange from the world with the exception of fall leaves and pumpkins.  Still, fall is beautiful, I can’t deny that, but fall is a dying or if you insist, hibernation.  The leaves change color and then they fall off the trees leaving them naked for winter.  Sad.
Jon Harris publicdomainpictures.net
Spring on the other hand is rejuvenation, color returning after a gray winter.  I live in the Northwest so when I say gray winter, I mean it.  I mean months of cloudy skies and rain.  Not that I mind;  I love the rain.  But I really love when the first flowers return in the spring, and the leaves push out from buds on the trees.  Now, that is beautiful.  Tulips are my favorite flower, and they are the second flowers that arrive in the spring.  When I see daffodils, I know tulips are coming.  The return of flowers, leaves and birds never fails to make me feel hopeful.

As much as I love the spring, I can’t rush through fall and winter to get there.  If I could I would rush through summer too, but you can’t rush spring.   

I mention this because spring came in my heart on Sunday.  It was not like spring on the calendar which is predictable. It was a sweet reawakening in my heart caught me by surprise.  I went to church dragging my feet if you will.  (More about why church is painful for me, and why I keep going anyway another time.)  The point is, I was not expecting to get anything out of it.  I was “doing my duty”, so to speak.  I figured that if I went to church and did not end up at some point crying in the bathroom I would call the day a success.  That was my plan.

But to my surprise, the meeting touched me.  There was a message there for me, a healing sort of message.   I was grateful, very grateful, but surprised.  Why now?  I have been searching for that for so long, and then when I didn’t expect it, there it was.

As I pondered this, I realized that there have been other signs of spiritual spring in my life recently.  Again I wondered, why this, why now?  The overall message really hasn’t changed.  There was nothing significantly different about this meeting than other meetings that have made me cry in the past.  The message was the same.  The people were much the same.  So what changed?

It must be me.

My heart is changing, and healing.  I felt something different because I was ready to hear it. What I felt Sunday must have been there all along, but until I was ready, I couldn’t hear it.  I couldn’t feel it.

Realizing that the “problem” all along has been me, of course, I began the “why didn’t I get this sooner”.  We all do this right?  I wondered: why was I so stubborn, so prideful, so whatever.  That’s when I realized it.

You can’t rush spring, and you can’t rush healing. 

I didn’t do anything wrong.  I was not too stubborn.  I was not too prideful.  In fact I think I deserve some kudos for continuing to push forward when it was so hard.  Healing takes time.  Some wounds take longer to heal than others.  But if we hold on through the cold, gray winter, spring will come. 

This is not the end of my healing journey, not even close, I know that, but it is measurable progress and I am grateful for that.  I started this post on Sunday night when I was feeling the warmth of spring, and now it is Monday night, and another winter storm is rolling in.  It’s okay because I remind myself there will be more “springs” in the future.

Petr Kratochvil    http://publicdomainpictures.net

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Living in the Maze

Sometimes my life feels like a hellish maze of PTSD and dissociation.  I believe there is an exit, but I don’t know how to get there so I wander blindly through the twists and turns. 
Photo credit: Jiri Hodan publicdomainpictures.net

Recently I was feeling anxious and jittery.  I decided that I would try some journaling to try and figure out what was bothering me.  So I opened my journal and I promised myself I would just “free write”. No censoring, just free-write.  I don’t have to let anyone read it ever so it doesn’t matter what comes out.  Just write the words as they come to my mind.  So I wrote, and wrote and wrote, and when I was finished I felt better.  I felt purged. 

A couple weeks later I had a quiet moment and I decided to go back and read that entry.  I was surprised what I found there.  I did not remember writing much of it, and was surprised by a lot of what I read.  What was written was haunting and painful.  What I wrote was true.  All brought it back to me in living color.  The memory was pregnant with feelings of fear, and as I read, I felt it as if it were happening for the first time. 

Now a couple days later, it stalks me.  Though I try to avoid it, the feelings are never far from conscious thought.  I know the key to feeling better is to talk about this in therapy.  It is the only way to air it out and get some relief, and yet can you understand what it will take to do that?  I feel trapped.  Talking about it in therapy would mean allowing myself to feel it and sharing it with another person.  I can’t go there.

So I face a “T” in the maze and in every direction there is pain.  This time, I know which way I need to go, but I need some courage that I don’t have right now to move forward.  Instead I will sit here and listen to a comforting song, and cry and hope it brings me courage.

Remember The Hunger Games?  I need some sponsors.  I need care packages.  Anyone got some courage, faith and hope you can send?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Seeing Red Part II

Even though I had never done it before, I felt certain that self-harm i.e. cutting would ease the pain.  Still there was a part of my mind that said, “No, don’t do this.” So I went to the Internet to research.  I found a forum for people that struggle with self-harm (there are various forms of it). 

There was a post titled, “If you are thinking about cutting, but haven’t started: please read”, or something to that effect.  The writer made a very compelling argument, about why not to do it.  The one that weighed most heavily on my mind was “it’s very addictive”.  Once you start it is very hard to stop.  That was sobering.
The post also said that if you do it, you end up wearing long sleeve shirts all year round to hide the scars, and sometimes you cut to deep (on accident) and have to go to the ER.  She said the ER doctors and nurses are NOT kind to people who self-harm.  They are disgusted by it and make no attempt to hide their disgust, which increases your shame.  To be honest, I would have cut as deeply as possible as a way of crying out, “I’m hurting and please help!”  And to think that cry might have been met with disgust saddens me. 

SIDEBAR: This is not a reflection on all doctors.  I have had two fabulous primary care doctors (one is my current doctor), and they have always been amazingly kind, gentle and supportive to me.  One of my favorite bloggers is an ER doctor and I trust he would be kind as well. 

The website also offered suggestions for people trying to stop the addiction of self-harm.  I found them very helpful.
Holding Ice…I didn’t actually use this one, but I share it here because it might help someone else.  I asked my therapist, how could holding ice be helpful since ice is not always available?  He said it can be hard sometimes to be in the kitchen so close to the knives (too much temptation), and holding ice is painful so it helps.  Since my memories have come closer to the surface,  I find the kitchen absolutely intolerable. I don’t cook anymore, but if that would help you. . .
Rubber bands…I used rubber band popping for a while.  I would wear a nice thick rubber band on my wrist.  Then, in true addiction fashion, I started wearing two rubber bands because what if one broke?  I couldn't be without one.
Red marker. . .I thought this one was odd when I first read about it.  I asked my therapist, how would drawing on yourself with a marker help?  He explained people generally use red and that red line appearing on your arm simulates blood.  That still seemed strange to me until I tried it.  Wow, it was powerful.  I did it a lot.  I found that red sharpie made the most realistic looking red color.  I hope I am not making you too uncomfortable by sharing this, just remember Chuck Noland and his toothache.  When the pain is great, you do whatever it takes to relieve it.  Whatever it takes. . .
Using the marker was soothing in a way I simply cannot explain or describe.  It didn’t completely relieve the urge to cut, but it helped make it more manageable.  So much so in fact, that writing about it makes me want to do it.  Too bad it is short sleeve season as I write this.  I need to finish this post… Where’s my red marker?  (So not kidding)
Finally, I share all this so that those of you that struggle with the same things will know that you are not alone.  I hope that you will talk to someone.  Therapy helps.  It may seem to make things harder at first (believe me I know!), but if you stick with it, it helps.   A good friend of mine shared this quote with me, “When nothing changes, nothing changes.” 
P.S. I need to add here:  I am doing a lot better these days.  I rarely have urges to self-harm any more, I have learned more healthy coping strategies.  I realized after I wrote this (which was actually about two weeks ago) that the reason I was thinking about self-harm again, both in wanting to write these posts, and wanting to go buy a new red sharpie...was because of a memory that I am dealing with.  I'm working on the memory now in therapy, it is a many-session-memory.  And that has resolved the self-harm urges again.  So please don't worry!  The fact that I am able to talk about this means I am doing better. 
Photo attribution: http://mycornerthroughmylens.blogspot.com/   The picture in this post was used by permission from my friend, Cathy.  Her blog is wonderful.  Beautiful words and pictures.  I hope you will pay her a visit.