It has become more and more important to me the older I get to share my emotional world with others. I have come to realize that I am not unique. Sharing my emotional world is a positive thing for me, and I hope for others. I think that if I take a chance and share my dark side, I can maybe help others or I can maybe make new connections.
I have always shared a lot, but not publicly. In many support groups where it was safe I also readily shared. There I often bore my soul. Doing so I believe saved my life because it began the process of healing. I also shared my emotional world with a trusted friend or two. Still, there was so much I wouldn’t share also because I was ashamed.
The more people I speak with or get to know, the more I realize that my emotional world is similar to others. I also know that when I was at the lowest points in my life, it always helped to hear from others. Others who either could understand or who had had similar emotional worlds as I was having made me feel connected.
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There is still so much I haven’t shared.
I wrote my #metoo list, but it is on an anonymous site. Athough I would tell myself not to feel ashamed about certain things, I still do. If these things were someone else’s experience, I would tell them to let it go, to be at peace, to not feel ashamed, that they weren’t at fault, etc. Someday I will also share this part of my emotional world.
Sometimes sharing my experience has alienated others. I cannot speak for them or explain why they turn away from my life. But I have learned that we all need to be authentic and be ourselves. The less fear we have to share our inner selves or even to just accept our entire emotional experience, the wiser we become.
But I am becoming more and more open. I hope that by doing so I not only help others, but that I too can keep growing and stay in a positive place…
My anxiety has increased with the pandemic, despite trying my best to keep it and depression at a distance. I have become increasingly aware of how much I did to overcome my anxiety and depression the past ten or more years and how the pandemic has stripped away a lot of my efforts.
Starting in 1990, I spent twelve to fifteen years dealing with my issues with groups, individual counseling, and healing workshops. I also was on almost every medication out there for depression, as well as some to help me sleep. Later also I was on a low dose of one specifically for anxiety.
The last fifteen or more years, I have been off medication and relied on other ways to feel good about myself, my work, and my life. I continued my journey to keep my body as healthy as possible, and exercised regularly. As my kids grew older and my belief that my marriage would be a fulfilling one faded, I worked on making my world bigger by getting more people and activities in my life for myself.
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The last three years saw my world become immensely social because of taiko. Many weeks I drummed two to three times with others, and I almost always had a taiko trip planned. The more workshops I did around the country and in Germany, the more people I had to share experiences with. Even online, we maintained the connection we had made while making music together. We continued the discussion of life and how taiko can change the world. I had taiko players sleep at my house, and some of my current closest friends are from taiko, even if they reside far away.
When I returned from Germany on March 16, I plunged into self-isolation with determination to get through it. I used all the tools I have gained the past thirty years of my recovery and living with PTSD. I faced each day with purpose. I exercised with different friends most days, worked at home, and tried to get my family to do things together. I posted on FaceBook often and stayed connected with my friends around the world with zoom meetings or in other ways. I wrote a lot and posted a couple of essays.
Additionally, I joined my taiko group’s zoom meetings with enthusiasm, asking them if we could check in with each person taking a turn. I wanted to hear how everyone was doing (instead of just getting to business). I reached out to people to talk or to make FaceTime appointments. I ate healthily and talked to my kids a lot. In general, I was pro-active. I was determined to ensure that I would remain emotionally and physically healthy and productive, knowing that if I didn’t, I could end up in a dark place.
I couldn’t beat pandemic anxiety
But this past weekend, I slid into a dark, low, and sad spot. I know I have been sliding for a while, but I had kept fighting to stay afloat. I acted “as if,” even if I didn’t feel it – because I learned in the nineties that if you act “as if,” very often eventually you will feel it or at least you will have gotten through the rough spot.
There were different kind of anxieties to deal with before the pandemic. Yet because I was quite active each week, I was able to rise above the negative feelings because of social interactions, playing music with others, and having purpose at home or elsewhere.
But the past two days especially I feel like something has pushed me down, and my low-grade anxiety has morphed into a depression. I feel sad. I feel like there is no point. I feel like my dream will never come true. Going mostly out of business, knowing soon I will have almost no income and will be 100% dependent on my spouse, not having income from writing, I felt like if it weren’t for my kids, my animals, my father (and whoever else I cannot think of at the moment who would be very sad that I left), I could be done with my time here on earth.
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Of course, I realize that my worth here on earth is more than what I earn or produce. But for me, being a great parent and a part-time essay writer, a sometimes tutor and editor is not enough. I feel I accomplished basically two great things so far in my life. But if I live another ten or twenty more years, I would like to accomplish at least one more great thing. I have a big dream that I have hardly began constructing. With life after the pandemic, will it ever get off the ground? Does it matter if I sit around? Should I really continue to work toward my dream?
I understand that much of my suffering is in my own head. There are some things I wish could change or have asked to be different. But mostly the anxiety is like an internal feeling of paranoia and fear. Becoming more socially active the past six or more years alleviated much of my lower level of anxiety I had for decades. When I went out to volunteer or play taiko, I had fun with others. I had interesting discussions or even just listened to people as they talked about their lives or interests. Even if I didn’t share my feelings, it didn’t matter, because I still felt validated and connected with other humans.
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I know that the pandemic will end, and somehow I will have to figure out how to get out there again with all my wonderful taiko and other acquaintances and friends.
I have been through other bouts of depression, so I know I won’t cut my life short. I have never sunk that low, and I have confidence I won’t this time.
I know it’s okay to be by myself or just with my kids. I know how to have special time at home and how to connect. I have the tools. I just need the willpower to adjust to this change.
I am grateful for my privileged position in that I am not an essential worker and can be safe at home. My family and I keep each other safe, and we have enough to eat. I am deeply saddened by the suffering of so many in the world. My anxiety has increased, despite these statements.
I am not feeling sorry for myself, which was the message I was told since I was a small child. This may be a poorly-written essay, but I am being honest. My pandemic anxiety has increased, and I am naming it.
Except for with a few friends and a few online taiko activities, I have slowly withdrawn. I read email only once a day because many cause me anxiety, and some I don’t read at all. I exercise less. I even passed down chances to talk with friends, something I never would have done, even just days ago. I asked to take a couple weeks off from my taiko group because I am tired of smiling or looking attentive without actually connecting with the faces I see.
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I am grateful for the friends who have reached out and with whom I could share and listen. Today I spent over an hour on the phone with taiko friends from Germany – the sole purpose of the conversation being to connect emotionally and socially. It felt so good to hear and nod when they spoke of their concerns. Plus, it felt like a burden released to tell them how small my world felt and how lonely I was. It also reminded me that I have to figure out how to have more fun during the rest of this pandemic.
My anxiety has increased with the pandemic, but I know I am not alone. Pandemic anxiety is an issue for so many people now around the world. Even if that doesn’t totally get me out of my slump today, I believe it will eventually. With the help of loved ones, friends, and my own inner gutsiness, I know I will be better tomorrow than I am today. I will get through this, and I know you will also, however you are suffering. These are unprecedented times, and many people feel lonely, sad, and anxious. I will get through this, and hopefully I will again find it easy to feel peace, serenity, and joy. I share with you honestly it case it helps you or someone else who is struggling. Despite our struggles, I believe, we can persevere.
I don’t know how long I have had post-traumatic stress disorder, but living with PTSD is manageable. I first started addressing the main symptom of numbing the emotional pain in 1990. This means that this August I will have been actively trying to get beyond PTSD for thirty years. It wasn’t until some years after 1990 that I was officially diagnosed. Although I wasn’t numbing my pain, I still lived with other symptoms.
These other symptoms included anxiety, depression, negative self-talk or obsessive worrying. I was easily startled (especially if awoken), frequently feeling emotionally overwhelmed whether in crowds, at home, or in groups. I also had difficulty making even small decisions (subconsciously fearing unknown consequences), difficulty dealing with anyone who was or could be angry with me, difficulty speaking out for fear of retribution. Furthermore, for many years hiding myself from movies, news media, or books that might include information or scenes on rapes.
I have actively faced my issues with intense group therapy, workshops, individual counseling, EMDR counseling, and various support groups. Because of this I grew incredibly fast and past many obstacles. I was able to teach my children at a young age to name and talk about their emotions, and to learn the importance of self-care. Despite my diagnosis, I was still able to raise two children with high self-esteem. I finished my Ph.D. on an extremely difficult topic (sexual violence and war). I ran a part-time business for twenty years and homeschooled my kids for about six. I also wrote essays, encyclopedia articles, and started a memoir about one period in my life (I still hope to finish this). I was in a swing dance performance group, later took tap dance lessons, and then more recently started playing taiko.
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Because of societal and self-imposed pressure, however, I used to hide my symptoms. I put on a brave face to the outside world. Often, I wasn’t fully honest and pretended I was “normal” when I had to explain something. I couldn’t admit that I had this “thing,” this “issue,” this “problem,” that makes whatever the event or issue was too hard for me to fathom doing.
I also tried as hard as I could to hide my anxiety or sadness to my kids. Because children can sense so much, I put a conscious effort into smiling and being positive. I pretended to be brave and without fears of simple societal contact. I had always shared smaller feelings, because I wanted them to see one parent who could express a range of emotions naturally. As they kids grew, I began to share more of the feelings I was ashamed of. I came out to my daughter as a rape survivor when she was about sixteen, and I have yet to share much with my son.
As a child, I was told to “pick myself up by the boot straps” and to stop “feeling sorry for myself.” These are positive messages when given in moderation, of course. In excess, however, this led me to swallow my natural emotions and to not learn how to express my feelings verbally in a healthy way. Despite all my journaling about feelings, I still grew up believing no one cared if I was sad or scared. I also thought I was supposed to be stronger and I didn’t want to feel sorry for myself.
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I hid all my assaults from my parents and friends, and once I stopped numbing my pain, I still only told certain people who were safe to me. I knew intellectually that I should not feel ashamed of anything that had happened to me. But I did not know how to voice it. I was deeply ashamed. I taught my children that people do and will care about their feelings. With the right people, it is safe and healthy to express one’s sadness, disappointment, frustration, etc. It is also good to learn to move on after facing a setback.
According to the National Center for PTSD, about half of all women will experience a traumatic event in their lives, and many of these women will subsequently live with PTSD. Traumatic events are also common among men and transgender people. Those who develop PTSD from a traumatic event can experience debilitating symptoms, while for others, the symptoms are less severe. Some people never experience PTSD from a traumatic event. This could be because they have the emotional tools to deal with what happened, but it also could be something about how their brain is wired – something even the experts cannot yet explain.
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I have complex PTSD in the sense that it wasn’t just one event. The childhood lack of emotional support and physical abandonment (in the sense of being left alone, even for multiple days as I entered middle school) prevented me from learning basic coping skills. Plus, I abused alcohol since before before I was a teenager. This led me to not being able to cope with traumatic situations later, including sexual harassment in middle school, high school, and workplaces, constant bullying in middle and high school, and multiple rapes.
You may think that I had lousy parents, but I believe they did the best that they could with the tools they had while I was a young child. Despite not providing me with certain tools required for emotional, physical, and spiritual health, I learned these tools quickly in my twenties. It was like I took an intense course to overall well-being! And by my thirties I was able to provide my children with these tools only because my parents gifted me a sense of drive and a will to survive.
In 1990, I first started realizing all that I had been through. I saw how my childhood, despite not being as bad as many stories I heard, still was not ideal. Digging in, I fought to stay afloat, get past my rapes and understand my raw and strong emotions. I reached out to others, used my phone list, and shared my feelings over and over again in safe supportive settings. Because of a heart condition, I believe that I would be dead if it were not for this determination to not only survive. And I didn’t only survive: I thrived and gave back to the world in a kinder and gentler way than some of what I have experienced.
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Recently I had the experience that someone seemed to think I was a project they could fix. This was because they had witnessed some of my raw emotion and knew I had trauma in my life. But living with PTSD does not mean someone needs fixing, especially someone who has actively been working on growing past their obstacles for so many years.
I think we are all works in progress, and for some reason some people do have extra obstacles to overcome. Early on in my recovery I started to see myself not just as a survivor, but as a thriver. I have been fortunate to have grown up without too much economic distress and much travel and education. This has helped my ability to thrive. I could fight back for my sanity and for justice in ways that those less fortunate than I cannot.
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Still, though, thirty years into this journey, I see how my trauma and the PTSD directed many of my life decisions. I could have become a professor. But having researched war and rape for seven years, I was traumatized and needed a break. Many, I know, would have forged on, but I had fear and felt overwhelmed. I was exhausted. Plus, I had already faced so much in my recovery. I felt a need to step away and stop “kissing ass” to the academic establishment.
Additionally, I had a young child. Had I become a professor, I would have had to leave her for someone else to raise. But I couldn’t do this. I felt a grave ownership and will to make sure she would not be raped at sixteen, not have her first drink at nine, or have regular blackouts by the age of thirteen. My parents were good people, but somehow those are a few of the milestones of my childhood. I just couldn’t let something like that happen to my daughter.
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My last dramatic amount of growth came because I needed to find something more for myself. My kids were older, which allowed me more time. I found taiko, which has helped me shed more grief in three years than I could ever have imagined when I picked up my first pair of bachi and hit a drum. The #metoo also movement inspired me to speak out. I hoped that my story could help others with their grief and sorrow.
This is all to say that while I have had many symptoms of PTSD, I still have been able to push past them – sometimes better than other times – and give back to the world in a variety of ways. I know some of my trauma will always be a part of me. Still, this will not prevent me from continuing to get stronger and to help others who have similar struggles. I, like many of you, am a force with which to be reckoned! 😀