SOMETIMES YOU OUGHTA BE SCARED

clown hugBells should go off in your head if you’re walking in the woods and a clown in a bunker’s offering free hugs.  

Or when your guy grabs your shirt, slams you up against the wall, and says you don’t wanna make him angry.

And the whole theater’s screaming at that dumb young thing not to open up when the doorbell rings at midnight and nobody’s expected.

I’m not generally an alarmist although my husband David would disagree.  I do worry about fire starting in a trash barrel where he’s dumped grass clippings.  Or being afraid things are gonna blow up.  Or when I feel eyes on me when I’m working late by the open window in my first floor office and I can’t help myself I just have to look.

One summer my panties started disappearing off the clothesline, hang-up calls began right after my soon-to-be-ex left the house, and the guy across the street would make a racket so I’d look up to see him standing naked in his doorway.  When the phone rang at 2 one morning and the soon-to-be hustled me into the dark backyard I thought yeah, sure, I’m gonna get whacked — he had lots of, uh, connections; I didn’t for a second believe the police were evacuating the neighborhood.  But they were.  That spooky ass guy shot a neighbor who was coming home from shift work.

A bit after I rented out my condo, the woman whose doorway was a few feet away from mine was strangled at home then dumped in the woods. The daughter’s boyfriend went to prison for murder in a sordid story worthy of a bestseller.

Like people in an abusive marriage or those who return from war, I can talk about what’s happened to me as if it had happened to someone else.  Traumatic stress is often numbing and, whether the stress is long- or short-term, the need for self-protection can make us look (and be) detached and dispassionate.

Danger exists in trusting others even as protection is so desperately needed.  Laying down the guise, being vulnerable and exposed, is almost literally a deadly challenge that many won’t choose.

Traumatic stress is so often unexpected — who would set themselves up to be traumatized? — we cannot prepare or protect our psyches from it.  A system-wide shock indicates that everything in our world — most especially those to whom we are vulnerable like spouses, parents, children, friends as well as surroundings that once felt safe — is now suspect.  Add to that the invisibility of chronic, traumatic stress and the difficulty of  recognizing or relating to it adds to misunderstanding and further isolation and loneliness.

Traumatic stress can be vigilance run amok.

The experiencing, fearing, seeing, remembering of violence and harm can derail our thoughts and emotions, often forever.  Like someone who puts and keeps themselves in line for abuse, or those who think themselves immune to repeated horror, all of us need to realize that horror commands a price.  Similarly, we need to know that sometimes, not always, we can predict nasty experiences and seek to avoid them.  Problem is, the invisibility of stress disorders can mean that some people are less in control than it seems.  The creed of healthcare workers, protectors of public safety, combatants, and others who serve reinforces our expectations — and their own — about invulnerability.

Sometimes, vigilance is underrated.

Putting ourselves in charge, like not hanging out with somebody who slams you against a wall, is a proactive step to avoiding traumatic stress in the first place.  And when you can’t avoid getting bummed out, talking with a professional helper can expiate what may be stuck in your head.  That’s necessary if you want to be able to live your life without looking over your shoulder for clowns.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist in private practice who specializes working with couples, especially those for whom invisible disability — like PTSD — is part of their relationship’s mix. She and her husband David hold Couples Communication Workshops that help inoculate couples from the stress that a poor relationship can bring.  Register now for the lateswt workshop at www.BeingHeardNow.com

© 2015, Being Heard, LLC 

THAT GIRL KEEPS FALLING ON HER BUTT

fall-down-stairs.jpgMy balance, isn’t.

So when I head straight toward the bushes at the entrance to my building it isn’t surprising.

Bushes are a trigger in picturing my first (and only) experience as a new MSer in an MS support group.   Recommended by my neurologist, the group experience was meant to help me cope with the way-past-due-diagnosis of my disease.

Instead, it freaked me out.

Walkers, wheelchairs, canes, crutches – and me, invisibly disabled, in high heels looking at a future unable to wear them.

Big time downer.

Especially when a guy lost his balance and landed on his butt in a bush. That he laughed it off was horrifying.

I understand, now, the reason he laughed.  Not only is laughing at the faux pas around the commonplace common, but situations that elicit that kind of response are also all too common.

The reality he must’ve experienced then is one I now share.  Today I laugh, too.  Because it’s truly comical at times and also because laughter is socially reassuring.  “It’s alright, folks.  I’m alright.  Nothing to see here, move along.”

Knock wood, I’ve yet to experience anything dire in my navigational mistakes.  Embarrassment to be impaired in public is what hurts. Most of us don’t know what to do in a situation like that.  I put lots of effort into looking unimpaired, but when I catch sight of myself in a shop mirror, the reality of how I walk, for example, isn’t normal at all. 

When I use an assistive device, a rollator in my case, parents scold their children for staring.  I’ve yet to hear mommy or daddy use the opportunity as a teaching moment to talk about disability; rather it’s “don’t stare” before hurrying away.  No wonder society hasn’t made much progress in accepting the disabled community who, except to children, remain largely invisible.

Recently, Disability.gov blogged an article about steps to take when being newly disabled.

It’s worth a read, especially if you’re not.

Specializing in couples work, Kathe Skinner is a Colorado Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Specialist.  She works especially those couples where invisible disability is present.   For over 10 years, she and husband, David, have been Certified Instructors for Interpersonal Communication Programs .  Find the schedule for their next Couple Communication Workshop at http://www.beingheardnow.com© 2014 Being Heard

THE RORSCHACH WENCH.

the-aestate-color-rorschach-inkblot-ink-blot-green-acid-art-print-painting

I keep a book in my office and if I had a coffee table, it would be on it.

It’s red, with a coffee spill down the front that’s dried into a Rorschach-kind of thing.  Nifty for it to be in a therapist’s office.

Inside, dozens of clients have written their “should’s”.

It’s not instructive to describe what they said; more than likely, their self-flagellations are the same as  yours.  What catches the new subscribers is how similar their self-flagellations are.  Put another way, there’s nothing special in their dysfunctional thinking.

Back when I was exploring how should’s get perpetuated, I was stunned and amazed to find myself described in the exact words I’d always used in describing my neuroses (notice I used the plural).  Admittedly, there was disappointment in seeing myself laid out like some common Rorschach wench.   I suspect that others, too, hold their depression, anxiety, mania, whatever, as a sort of badge of differentiation from others.

For others, as it was for me, depression is powerful; it was the coin of my realm and the way I bought into the realm I inhabited growing up.  Depression can get attention, especially when nothing else seems to.  That can be true in a  marriage where one partner exists with an invisible disability.   And just like for the kid who acts out, it’s attention of some kind, even if it bears a high price.

Being a therapist, consequently, has been double-edged: one edge cuts through the dysfunctional thinking, the should’s, the irrespective unfairnesses; while the other is sad to see those defenses so cut down.  What I do in my office forces me to be embarrassed at my own mental laziness.  Being depressed is hard; so is being anxious or manic.

But hey, it’s hard even when you’re not.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach in Colorado Springs, Colorado.  She comes by depression naturally as well as artificially and has recently added anxiety, for which she can thank multiple sclerosis.  Petey and Lucy, the two hooligan cats Kathe and David share their lives with, are too annoying to let depression settle too quietly in their home.  Kathe and David get out of the house by teaching partners the communication skills their relationships need.

WOMEN’S LIB IS A LIE

Speaking from a disabled woman’s point of view, living the “lib lie” in relationship simply doesn’t work.

The “lib lie” I’m talking about is putting career before relationship, being damned if I’ll make cacciatore, or being complimented for how I look.

Where was my head all these years.  I’ll tell you where: in the conference room, the kitchen, and in front of the mirror.

Truth be told, I like making cacciatore — and being appreciated for it.  The same as anybody would, including guysfishy.  Liberation doesn’t stop at individual freedom; its true worth is in how liberated our partnership is.  Oh, stop — I’m not talking about three ways.  See, if one partner realizes cultural or family baggage enough to detach a bit from it and the other partner is clueless, the relationship’s pretty lopsided.  But hey, some partners like their partners a tad underdone.

Clueless for real or clueless pretended, either path leads right back to a problem that’s repeated itself for generations.

Sherod Miller, co-founder of Interpersonal Communication Programs, defines a healthy relationship as the collaboration of two strong people “bridging” to each other across a committed lifetime.  Paula Derrow, writing in The New York TImes, calls it “leaning in together”.  Writing recently about her marriage in The New York Times, Paula describes a marriage right out of Home Depot.

A do-it-yourselfer, her marriage to another do-it-yourselfer spanned two states.   Their finances were separate, and so was ownership of their separate homes.  Except for weekends, each lived a separate life.

Talk about distancing.

When Paula was laid off from her job as a writer, she had reason to need her husband in very real ways, one assumes for the first time. Lying awake, the writer struggled with questions about her independence, whether she could afford to continue living separately, and whether her husband was encouraging and supportive only as a way to get her to come live with him and cook up a cacciatore.

I won’t say where Paula Derrow’s head was, but to come to the realization that her marriage was about the two of them together, not separately, is, to put it charitably, wrong-thinking.

More than most, those of us with disabilities, invisible or not, have had to come to terms with the lie that we can make it on our own.

The poor state of the world economy has left millions out of work, stressing personal worth and identity.   With so many jobless, you’d think social perception about being unemployed would’ve changed; it hasn’t.  Role expectations die hard.

Changes in the social order are happening all around us; role-turbulence is no longer reserved for the disabled or marginalized others.

These days, anyone can become marginalized.

Relationship’s great test is how to be together without losing oneself; how to get from one place to another while travelling together.

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach specializing in work with couples whose relationship is affected by invisible disability.  Like most of her generation, she has been powerfully affected by the Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s and has had trouble integrating that independence with the sometimes-limitations of multiple sclerosis.   She and her husband David live in Colorado where they teach couples to collobate their way to happier relationships.  Read more about she and David’s Communication Workshops at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

CHOOSING TO BE DISABLED.

Even if the claims that candy causes behavioral problems are anecdotal, one thing is for sure:

An American diet full of sugar is a significant cause of childhood obesity.

But it tastes so darned good.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 1 in 6 children between the ages of 2 and 19 is obese. Aside from the psychosocial aspects of being bullied or having no date for the 8th grade dance, there are significant health risks.

Like asthma, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and, as researcher Ashleigh May says, mental health problems.

Sugar induces tolerance, meaning the more you eat the more you need to feel satisfied. What’s recommended for children’s sugar intake is a mere 6-9 teaspoons a day while what’s consumed is at least 4 times that, Halloween candy not included.

At some point, people can make choices about how their lives unfold; whether or not choices are made is harder to pull off than it is to suggest.

Most of us who are disabled, invisibly or not, wouldn’t choose disability to be part of our lives. How horrifying is it that some obese people have that option and choose otherwise.

Although she was a chunk-of-a-baby, Kathe Skinner didn’t grow up that way. A Marriage & Family Therapist and Certified Relationship Coach, Kathe specializes in working with couples, especially those when invisible disability is part of the relationship mix. She and husband David reside in Colorado with their two cats, Petey and Lucy. Lucy and David could stand to pass on a second helping of kibbles.

INVISIBLY DISABLED OR NOT, 5 GOOD REASONS TO REVAMP YOUR LIFE

659894f27914674cc2dbb0523225d056If you’re like most of us, change is uncomfortable.  That applies whether we’ve asked for the change, or not.  Change can be as small as changing your haircolor or as big a deal as moving across town or across country. Some adults mimic Peter Pan’s Lost Boys, adamantly insisting they won’t grow up. If that’s you or someone you care about, check out five good reasons it’s a good idea to view change as a relentless part of being alive:

  1. Gain Perspective:  I’ve got an old pair of glasses I wear around the house.  While I’m used to them and they’re comfy, the truth is that I’m limited in what, and how well, I see.  Not seeing clearly what’s in your life is like a horse wearing blinders.  True, you remain focused on one spot, but the trade-off is how much gets passed by.  What comes to mind is the professional focused on business success who complains, years later, about the unattended soccer games and school plays.
  2. Freshen Up:  Habit is soothing; knowing what you’re doing and how to do it takes away our fear of appearing incompetent.  What’s left out, though, are new experiences.  Meeting new people, going to new places, trying something different are examples of keeping our brains engaged.  Brain science suggests that people who remain engaged stave off the negative side-effects of aging.
  3. Grow Up:  The 60s are gone, so are the 90s.  Even if those were the best days of your life, those days don’t reflect your world as it is now.  If  time-travel was possible, seeing what lies ahead would be an interesting and fun exercise.  Many cinematic characters have been given this gift — Jimmy Stewart in the classic Christmas film “It’s a Wonderful Life”.  What would you learn from a trip to the future?  And what would you have to change now in order to assure it? So what’s stopping you?
  4. Get What You Want:  Have eyes set on a certain job?  A new car?  A life partner?  When plans are made to acquire what we want, change is prominent in the mix.  For example, attracting a partner may mean you have to work on issues that are getting in the way, like trusting the opposite sex. When the burden of old thoughts is released, the domino effect of change starts in motion.  The effects include being more comfortable in your own skin, smiling more, being more positive about life.  Your changes affect everyone else in your life.  Everyone.   Amazing, huh?
  5. Keep What You Have:  When partners say, “That’s not the person I married!”, I say, “Good!”.   Aside from Bunny-Love-Sex, who would trade how the years have forged a new and different partnership?  Adding children, for example, insists on change from an “I” stance to the “we” stance of co-parenting.  All relationships insist on good communication and flexibility in order to be ready for change.  Without it, no relationships can grow,

Kathe Skinner is a Marriage & Family Therapist and Relationship Coach working especially with couples experiencing the effects of invisible, or hidden, disability.  As a military brat, growing up changed scenery more than for most.  As a child, she remembers seeing the black and white television production of Peter Pan.  Trying to fly off her bed became a months’ long obsession.  She lives her grown-up life in Colorado with her husband David, and their two cats; in a world of change, Petey and Lucy ground them.  More about Kathe and what she does can be found at http://www.BeingHeardNow.com.

THE JURY’S OUT.

I’m a fine one to talk.

“All change implies the acceptance of loss” is the line I berate my coaching and psychotherapy clients with.

Loss of function with invisible disability carries with it more than just the loss of “being able to…”  It’s how others’ attitudes might change.  Or how communication in bad hair daya relationship — married or not — is impacted.

Recently emailing with a colleague, another permutation appeared:  “All loss implies the acceptance of change.”

These days, for me, that applies even more.

Kathe Skinner is a psychotherapist and relationship coach living and working on Colorado’s Front Range.  She has been courting acceptance of the changes in her life for most of this year.  The results aren’t in.