Trauma

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What do you think of when you think of trauma? I work in a hospital, so I often think of things like massive car accidents or industrial accidents…things that bring people into a trauma center. Because of my interest in behavioral health, I also think of things that cause PTSD, which we most often thought of as being experienced by veterans of combat or survivors of extreme violence.

Trauma affects all of us, however. An example that my therapist used just last night was this one: Try to remember what you ate for breakfast on Friday. Anything? Any ideas? I don’t mean those of you who eat the same meal every day…I have a coworker who eats Cheerios and a banana everyday, so this would not be the right question for her. But there are other questions that work the same way. What shoes were you wearing last Tuesday? Did it rain three weeks ago on Thursday? The point is that it is hard to remember these things. They don’t tend to stick with you. Now, try to remember where you were when you found out JFK had been shot, or that the Challenger had exploded upon takeoff, or that America was under attack on 9/11. Or when you found out your beloved grandfather had died. Or that your spouse had an affair. Or that a parent had cancer. Or that your friend had died in a fire. Those memories are indelible. They will remain with you because they were processed through the emotional center of your brain and will continue to be retrievable throughout the rest of your life.

So it turns out trauma is more than what you find in patients in the emergency department. Seemingly small things can affect people in different ways. For some people, their lives are affected by one massive trauma, like surviving a plane crash or being in an abusive relationship. But some people have a series of smaller, more subtle, less obvious experiences that add up to a similar reaction.

When I first learned about this, I was deep in the shame that comes from eating too much and shopping too much and assuming that I did these things because I was lacking in willpower. And when this whole trauma thing was related to me (I don’t have a “big event” that ever made me consider the role of trauma in my life, although many of those examples I used above are my own), it was hard to swallow because those of us who do these things to excess have learned to blame ourselves for being weak. I eat too much because I can’t control myself. I shop too much because I am a shopaholic. It’s because of something I am doing wrong, so don’t try to be kind to me and help explain it away for me. That might not let me blame myself anymore. What would that be like?

If you have ever dieted and then “fallen off the wagon” or set a budget and then been unable to stick to it, you might have an inkling of what I am talking about. It feels like failure, and it is accompanied by plenty of negative self-talk and self-blame. But consider, for a moment, that it is not your “fault.” What would that look like? Would it be harder or easier to bear? How would things change?

What would it feel like if things were to REALLY change?

I have followed the plight of Syrian refugees because their story has captured me. I can’t imagine being in a position where the thought of placing my entire family, including small children, into a raft or makeshift boat and setting off across the Mediterranean with no real guarantee we will make it to the other side, seemed like a better choice than staying in my homeland. What could I be fleeing that would be so unbearable that it would make that seem like my only option? The image of Aylan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy who washed up on the shore in Turkey when his family was trying to find their way to safety in Greece is burned into my memory. He is just one of the children that have become victims of the current refugee crisis…one of the millions of displaced people. And we have a presidential candidate who has compared these people to poisoned Skittles, suggesting that we should help none of them because there might be a couple of bad ones in the bunch. The trauma that these people are enduring will follow them for the rest of their lives. They will feel these effects forever. What small things can we do to offer help?

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Remember how this country was made great. Don’t let hate inform your actions. Don’t let fear overrule basic humanity. Maya Angelou said:

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”

Now that we know better, it is time to do better.

In the blink of an eye…15 years – Remembering Dennis O’Berg

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Below is my introduction from five years ago to my first post, in 2006, remembering and honoring fallen FDNY hero Dennis O’Berg on the fifth anniversary of his ultimate sacrifice at Ground Zero on 9/11. It is now 2016, 15 years after that awful day, and I am honored again to share my tribute with you


In 2006, I heard of Dennis O’Berg for the first time when his name was given to me as part of a 9/11 memorial project called Project 2996. Project 2996 aimed to insure that every innocent person lost in the September 11th attacks had a tribute to them written up on a blog and put out on the internet. I have continued to post my original tribute every year since then, and every year, I think of Dennis’s parents and wife, who lost such an important and beloved individual at the hands of these terrorists. If I could say anything to them, I would want them to know that I think of their son often and I am proud to honor him through this tribute. He gave the ultimate sacrifice, and he will never be forgotten. Below is my original post.


At 494 Dean Street in the Prospect Heights section of Brooklyn stands the building housing Engine Company 219 and Ladder Company 105. The two companies have shared that building since 1977. Prior to 1977, they were located in separate houses, about ½ mile away from each other. Ladder 105 has its roots in a volunteer company, Ladder 5, from the Greenport section of Brooklyn that was organized in the latter half of the 19th century. After spending time as Ladder 5 of the Brooklyn Fire Department, Ladder 5 of the Fire Department of New York (FDNY), and Ladder 55 of the FDNY, Ladder 105 was organized on January 1, 1913, as a part of the FDNY.

One member of Ladder 105 who was lost on September 11th after responding to the rescue efforts at the World Trade Center site was Dennis O’Berg. Dennis was 28 years old at the time of his death. He was a resident of Babylon, on Long Island, where he lived with his wife of less than one year, Christine. Their first wedding anniversary would have been September 28, 2001.

Dennis didn’t always plan to be a firefighter. He graduated from the State University of New York at Geneseo with a degree in accounting and worked for the Big 4 accountancy firm Ernst & Young after graduation. However, he followed his father’s footsteps as a firefighter, entering the academy because he felt shackled to his accountant position. He graduated from the academy not long before the September 11th attacks and was assigned to Ladder 105. Being a firefighter changed him into a happy and smiling and easygoing person. On September 11th, he had been a firefighter for only seven and a half months.

Dennis’s remains were not found in the wreckage at Ground Zero, and his family held out hope that something would be found so that they could plan his funeral. After only his helmet, his jacket, and one of his boots was found, Dennis’s family held a memorial service for him on June 28, 2002, burying an empty casket. Dennis’s father, Lt. Dennis O’Berg, retired from the FDNY on September 11th to dedicate himself to finding his son. However, when all the wreckage had been cleared, it was not to be so.

Family and friends remember Dennis as someone who was young at heart. He was a fan of Harry Potter, Norman Rockwell, Star Wars, and the New York Rangers. He collected baseball cards and enjoyed all kinds of music. He was a romantic and often gave his wife roses for no particular reason, took her on long drives and picnics on the North Shore, and left her notes telling her that he loved her. She found one of those notes in her bed the evening before September 11th as she was preparing to retire for the night. His dream was to be there as a husband and father for his wife and kids and to raise a family on Long Island. He never got to fulfill that dream. Instead, his life was cut short by the terrorists who attacked America on September 11th.

Dennis P. O’Berg. Forever in the thoughts of his friends and family. And now, forever in my thoughts as well.

To learn more and pay tribute to other heroes lost to us on September 11, 2001, please visit Project 2996.

How do you decide what to fight for?

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By now, it has become pretty apparent that there are some hot button issues that have me feeling a whole lot of feelings and coming here to my blog to discharge them. And I have been thinking, in these last few weeks, about the diversity of issues out there, and I have been wondering how it is that people choose those for which they are willing to fight. After all, there is no way you can fight for them all, is there?

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So issues of equality are pretty big for me. I believe 100% that what we do with our lives is much more important that what we look like, the color of our skin, our sexual orientation, whether we have tattoos or piercings, whether our hair is brown or black or blonde or magenta. If I meet someone who is so different from me that we seem to have nothing in common and learn that person has a passion similar to one of mine? That’s a person who I want to get to know. If I happen to meet my doppelgänger someday and find that she tortures small animals and has the Confederate flag hanging in her yard? I would probably be momentarily stunned by the fact that we looked so much alike, but then I would be gone. That is not someone with whom I would seek a relationship.

But there is SO MUCH going on in the world right now. How do you choose what to fight for? We have environmental issues, animal rights issues, foreign aid issues, health issues, equality issues. Local charities, national charities, international charities. There is the Girl Scout troop at the church down the street selling their cookies in front of the grocery store, and then there is the American Red Cross, seeking donations via text message for disaster relief. On TV, you hear Sarah McLachlan singing in the background while she tells you about the plight of the dogs, shown in heartbreaking conditions, being helped by your donations to the ASPCA. There are Wounded Warrior Project commercials and Save the Elephant commercials, also with accompanying photos that can’t help but make you stop and think. Need is everywhere.

But here’s where I have had to take a moment and really thing. I do care about all of these things. Some of them I care about very deeply. But I can’t fight for all of them. I am one person, and the money and time I have to donate can only go so far. So I have been asking myself what it is I really want to fight for. And these are some of the organizations which I have chosen to support:

There are other groups that come and go from my list. But right now, this is who I am supporting, either through donations or through fundraising or through giving some time. They all represent causes about which I am passionate. And they are all doing some amazing work on behalf of people who need them.

How about you? What causes do you support? What’s important to you?

Some thoughts. I have them.

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Beyond the occasional misogynist, I have not had to deal with a whole lot of judgment because of who I am. Well, I guess I have perhaps been judged because of body size or my propensity toward wearing out in public a sweatshirt that I purchased in 1994, but I have never felt that there is something about me that might mean I should fear for my life. I never thought of it as white privilege exactly (I just took it for granted, I think.), but I guess that is what it is.

So last week, on Tuesday, Alton Sterling was selling CDs and DVDs outside of a convenience store in Baton Rouge, and following a confrontation with two police officers, he was shot and killed by the officers. The next day, on Wednesday, Philando Castile was shot in his car by a police officer in suburban Minnesota. And Facebook became filled with people on both sides of the issue of the Black Lives Matter movement.

I have to admit that my first post about these events did not reference BLM. While I did decry the violence against black men by police officers throughout this nation, I chose some different wording and pointed out that ALL lives matter. But in reference to the BLM movement, saying that all lives matter is like saying to someone raising money for breast cancer that they should not differentiate but should be raising money for every other disease as well. All diseases are certainly in need of fundraising efforts, but that specific fundraiser is for breast cancer. Don’t make it about all the other diseases out there. And then Thursday night, during a peaceful protest in Dallas, a sniper who was not part of the protest opened fire and killed five police officers who were there to help keep the peace and intervene if needed. It is certainly a tragedy that these police officers died.

And then the narrative on Facebook changed a little bit. There were the BLM folks. There the ALM folks. And then there were the new Blue Lives Matter folks. And apparently, you had to choose a side.

So yes, all lives matter. And yes, the lives of those police officers matter. But black lives definitely also matter. You don’t have to hate police officers to believe that black lives matter. You can believe in the worth of both. If you support the police, you don’t have to assume that all black people are bad. Caring about black lives and caring about police officers are not mutually exclusive. But this started out as a story about black men being killed by police officers in this country. Unfortunately, it did not stay that way for long.

I have a friend whose comments were so true and meaningful, and I want to paraphrase them here. When a white woman is pulled over by a police officer in a traffic stop, her first thought is probably, “Crap. How much is this going to cost?” or, “Great. Points on my license. Again.” Her internal dialogue will NOT be, “I hope this police officer doesn’t shoot me.” She does not fear for her life.

However, we are reaching a point in time where a black man in the same situation might feel that his life’s in danger. I have friends who have to tell their children that they might someday be in a situation where their actions in such a traffic stop might lead to a police officer shooting first and asking questions later.

Last month, the tragic massacre in Orlando at Pulse of members of the LGBTQIA+ community in one of their “safe” places had people who I care an awful lot about feeling that they may have to fear for their lives because they are not cisgendered heterosexuals. And now I have friends who I care an awful lot about feeling that they may have to fear for their lives and the lives of their family members because they are not white. And that is NOT okay!

There is so much hate in this world, and we LOVE to grab on to a cause and get all offended on social media and take a side and argue our side passionately. And then something else happens, and we are on to the next issue, and these hot button issues fade into the background.

But black lives matter. The same can be said about many other groups, but this week is about black lives. And they matter.

As we head into this year’s Presidential election, we can choose to propagate hate against those who are different than we are. There is a candidate who would certainly be willing to help us out with that. But this country is better than that. And next week, when that candidate has made another asinine comment about another group of people, it might seem like last week’s incidents happened a long time ago.

Please don’t forget. We are more alike than we are different. And it’s time that we start demanding that hate not be allowed to be our story.

Introductions

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I am an active participant in group therapy, and because the group I attend is an open group, we have new members join it from time to time. Each time that happens, the facilitator (who also happens to be my therapist) asks us to go around the circle and introduce ourselves. In the beginning, my introduction usually started out like this, “I’m a nurse.” And that is pretty much how I defined myself. There were a lot of things I did NOT particularly like about myself, but at the end of the day, I could present myself as a nurse because it was something to be proud of and something I was doing “right.”

I am still a nurse, and I am unbelievably proud of that title. However, as I have learned more about this new 40-year-old me, I have begun to identify with the following quote:

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I have been very, very busy lately. I work full-time (more than full-time when necessary). I am a grad student. I am in the midst of a practicum for my MSN right now. But it turns out that I am more than just a nurse.

Due to a variety of circumstances, I have had two days off in a row, and it has been pretty glorious. I donated platelets yesterday and had a visit from a friend. I read and worked on school work and lay in my hammock and watched some TV. I relaxed. I caught up on laundry and some housework. Today, I slept until 9:30 AM (!!!), which is the latest I have slept in a LONG while. I spent most of the day at home, with my dog and my cat, which was fitting because it is my dog’s tenth birthday, and I loved spending it with him. I went out to get him a McDonald’s hamburger as a special treat and did some grocery shopping, but otherwise, I stayed here at home. I did more reading. I did more school work. I didn’t watch much TV. I listened to music and colored for a while. I spent more time in my hammock. I drank a beer in the middle of the afternoon.

Last time someone new joined group and I was asked to introduce myself, my words had changed a little bit. “My name is Mary, and I work as a nurse.” It’s a subtle shift, but it’s a shift just the same. I have learned that there are other parts to me, and I am just as happy to share them as I am to share my job title.

Another shift that has happened recently is that my apartment, after four years of being a temporary place to stay while I figured things out, has become my home. I look forward to returning here at the end of the day. I don’t feel a need to escape it by heading to Target or to work or to the grocery store. I don’t mindlessly wander the mall or bring my Nook to Wegman’s or Barnes & Noble to read for hours. I am happy here on my couch, surrounded by things that are important to me, especially now that so much of my “stuff” has been sorted through and either thrown or given away. The things that remain are items that I chose purposely to keep in my home.

Of course, my hope is to be in a position to buy a house sometime soon(ish), and that means I will be starting over again in a new place…hopefully, my last new place. If I am even close to as happy there as I feel sitting here right now, I am a lucky lady. So I am still a nurse…but I am also a lot more than that.

Grey

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Last week, I tackled a whole bunch of topics, and I want to tease one out to go into a little more depth about it. I have a bundle of thoughts and no idea how they will translate into words, but I have never been much of an editor of my blog posts, so why start now? Let’s see where this goes.

So I have been dieting (off and on) for a long time…like greater than 20 years. And within the past three or so years, I have really started considering (and later embracing) the idea that diets, for the most part, don’t work. Statistics say that anywhere from 95-97% of people who lose large amounts of weight are unable to keep it off (read more about this here). There is a reason that diet commercials have that disclaimer at the bottom of the screen, the one that says, “Results not typical.” And over maybe the past two months, I have gotten to the point that I cannot and will not stay on that hamster wheel. I have places I want to go, so it became time to get off.

When I saw my PCP this year, I acknowledged to her that my weight is higher than it was last year. However, I also told her that I was unwilling to try a diet to “fix” that because that would feed the fuel of my eating disorder more than almost anything could. She was agreeable to this…I am fortunate to have a really great doctor and to have learned over time to begin acting as an advocate for myself, although this is still very much a work in progress (Fun fact: I think that a nurse’s most important job is to be an advocate for his or her patients. In the NICU setting, I feel that it is equally important to teach families to be advocates for their babies. I have never been very into the idea, however, of being an advocate for myself).

Anyway, when I was first trying to break away from the diet culture, I found some other things to try (because I love a good program or tool or strategy). I tried mindful eating (which consisted of me sitting at my dining room table and eating in silence while the cat paced back and forth across the table and the dog waited patiently by my chair for any crumbs I might have to offer). I tried intuitive eating (which involved reading a book, being unable to see how I could possibly translate it into my real life, and then realizing it was sort of still a diet). I tried listening to podcasts and searching through Pinterest for empowering quotes and reading “un-dieting” books. And those didn’t work any better than dieting.

And then I turned 40. We have covered that already.

So the big thing I am seeing a lot of on social media lately is this whole body positive, fat acceptance thing. And I felt like, if I was going to eschew diet culture, I was going to have to embrace this whole movement that people like Virgie Tovar and the Militant Baker are doing so well. But I have to be honest. That did not feel any better to me than dieting did.

What I have seen is a lot of black and white. And this has made me feel like I had to choose between either being in a shame spiral and actively planning to lose weight and being assertively pro-body positivity/Health at Every Size. And I just am not. I don’t really want to stand on a big platform and make that my message. I want to embrace instead some shades of grey.

I went into my Facebook account and unfollowed any pages that had to do with these topics and this movement. I had found that what I had first sought out to feel better about myself was actually making me feel a little bit worse, as I would sort of cringe and scroll by those posts and think about how I “should” be paying attention to these messages. I went through my Bloglovin’ account and unfollowed a bunch of blogs that seemed to be encouraging me to do something that I did not want to do and be something I didn’t want to be. I stopped lending my voice to that particular conversation. And without that “noise” on board, I began to think about what this movement meant to me.

And here is what I have decided so far.

I am firmly pro-female, and I would say that I believe in “everyday feminism.” I am not overly political, and I probably will not be found at a lot of protest marches. But I believe in and support my fellow women, whether I want to join them on their journeys or not.

I want people to feel good about themselves. I want to be someone helps people feel good about themselves. I want their self-worth to be about more than what the scale says that day. I want to be known as someone who is there to lift people up and to allow herself to be lifted. I want people see me as someone who is comfortable in her own skin.

I do NOT want to go on a diet. I do NOT want my weight to dictate my day. I do NOT want to change my life to try to fit the ideals of society, as I don’t think that the ideals of society are relevant in my current life. I don’t want to “fit in” to the ideal. I am okay with being outside that space. But I also don’t want to feel like I have to do the opposite. I want to exist somewhere in the middle. The place where body size truly does NOT matter. Where it is not an issue at all, political or otherwise. Where health is still important, but it does not have a number attached to it.

I want to be healthy. And my body, in spite of its size (some might say), is healthy. And my mind is also feeling pretty healthy these days…so I think I am just going to continue standing here in the grey. And the grey area is pretty wide and has many different shades. Anyone is welcome to join me here.

I’m blogging it…

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This here blog has been languishing out here in cyberspace, first because I didn’t have anything to say, and then because I did not have anything to say that I wanted to be attributable to me. I had some major processing to do, and I know that I do that best in writing, so I started an anonymous blog that I have been turning to when I have felt a need for some writing time. To the best of my knowledge, the only regular readers of that blog are my therapist, when I ask her to read it, and me. But it has served its purpose well.

My needs have changed as far as blogging goes because I am willing to have my words read now by anyone who happens upon them, and I am happy to have them presented as my words. I have some things to say, and I want people to know that I am saying them. Let me give you a little bit of my reasoning for that.

I turned 40 about a month and a half ago. And I was worried about turning 40 because, if I consider myself to be the sum of some labels that I once assigned to myself, I am divorced, childless, in debt, and living in an apartment. I am overweight. I have an eating disorder. I struggle with compulsive shopping, and I have tiptoed over the pack rat line right into some hoarding. I spend a lot of time with my therapist, and I have been given flak in the past for discussing that openly. All these things together made me feel a little bit like I had not done enough for someone who was going to be 40.

And then I woke up on my 40th birthday, and I felt different than I had as a 39 year old, but it was a different that I did not expect. I felt good about being 40. And over the last month and a half, I have felt better and better about being 40. And my view of all those labels…they have been changing too.

I am divorced because I made a decision to put myself first when my marriage was no longer a viable option for me. I remain single, but I am happy to be single. I have tried to convince myself a couple of times that I wanted to start dating, but I don’t. Dating does not currently interest me at all. I don’t have children, but instead of being childless, I consider myself to be child-free. I am in debt, but with the support of some of the important people in my life, I have taken my credit card debt and enrolled it into a debt management plan, and I have paid off over 1/4 of that debt in less than a year. I live in an apartment, but I am hoping to buy a house next year. I am in treatment for binge eating disorder (which accounts for some of the therapy), and although I am overweight, I am also in recovery from my eating disorder, and I don’t know what I weigh, and I am unwilling to use my weight any longer as a way to keep my life small. I worked with a professional organizer to “de-hoard” a bit, and my apartment is much more bright and peaceful without all that “stuff” filling it up (and weighing me down). And I am not ashamed of the fact that I see a therapist. I refuse to buy into the stigma surrounding mental illness that exists in the US today, and I am willingly to speak candidly about what brought me to therapy and what keeps me there.

I have a favorite quote that sums up how I feel about turning 40. Like many of my favorite quotes, this one comes from Brené Brown: “Don’t shrink. Don’t puff up. Just stand your sacred ground.” And after some events that happened over the weekend in Orlando, when a mass shooting at a gay nightclub killed 49 innocent people and injured 53, I find myself wanting to stand my sacred ground more than ever.

I spent a lot of time in my 20s at a local gay bar (it was not fancy enough to be a nightclub and has since closed down), and I love many, many, many people who are members of the LGBTQIA+ community. What I have seen since Sunday on social media has been difficult to process, and I find myself filled with emotions that have had to be released. I have seen posts that share words of “Christians” who are celebrating the taking of these lives simply because they were gay. I have seen gun enthusiasts refuse to admit that the right to bear arms and the right to buy a semi-automatic weapon are not the same. And I have seen so much pain expressed by these people I love who are reading these words and maybe not having an opportunity to read words on the other side of the issue.

In the wake of this tragedy, I didn’t know what to say. I was so upset and angry to see the reactions I was seeing on my Facebook feed. And I tried to counterbalance them by sharing quotes and thoughts that made it clear that I did not agree with the hate that was being shared. I quoted Martin Luther King, Jr. I changed my cover photo and profile photo to symbols that were to memorialize those lost.

And then a friend showed me that what I was doing was not enough. When a friend is hurting, when a whole community of friends is hurting, quoting a human rights activist and posting a picture of a rainbow is not enough. Offering thoughts and prayers is not enough. Reminding our followers that Christians are taught to hate the sin but love the sinner (which still calls attention to the fact that Christians are supposed to consider members of the LGBTQIA+ to be sinners) is downright offensive.

Right now, I am listening to the Senate democrats finish up their twelfth hour of a filibuster of the Senate, demanding action to act on gun reform legislation to help prevent further tragedies like this one. And as I listen to these words, I know that the 40 year old me is not willing anymore to stay quiet in a way that will lead me to compromise myself and my beliefs in order to fit into any expected mold, whether that is an expectation of someone else or was an expectation of the 39 year old me. And 1100 words into the first post I have written on this blog in over nine months, I want to say this:

We DO need gun reform in this country. We need mental health reform. It is NOT okay that 49 innocent people were gunned down in a place where they should have been safe. Hate is not the answer. I am unwilling to let this be my story. I want my friends who are still or once again fearing for their safety and who are feeling let down by the lack of support they are feeling from the cis-gendered and/or heterosexual community to know that I am mourning along with them, and I am scared for what we are facing in this country. But I am on their side, and I am not willing to stand by and allow this to be the new normal in this country.

I am too important to have to edit my dialogue to make others more comfortable. And they are too important for me to stay silent on this issue.

#ENOUGH

#LoveisLove