Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Fabulous Adventures of Bear and Beau

This is Jean Bear. I admit that I'm quite attached to him, despite the fact that I'm an adult. 

I could say it's because, if I hold him when I sleep on my side, he keeps my spine from twisting and hurting my back. I could say that those with PTSD from childhood trauma are supposed to "reparent" themselves as adults and do childlike things like have teddy bears. I could say that he's a perfect book rest when I read in bed at night. All these things are true.

But mostly I just like my Jean Bear just because I like him. He's snuggly and cute. I like Bear.

So does my partner Beau. Soon after we got together, he created a voice for Bear and would make Bear have conversations with us. In fact, sometimes, I hear Beau and Bear having an earnest conversation together -- when I'm not even in the room.

Beau so likes Bear that I searched and searched...

... and found Bear's cousin, Bo (not to be confused with Beau), just for Beau. I let Bear and Bo get to know each other for a bit before I let Beau in on the secret.

They met on Christmas day and became fast friends.

Soon, Bo met Lamby, Beau's younger son's best buddy. The first day his son met Bo, he set him up with Lamby before he went to school so they could get to know each other while he was away. I think they look like Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.

It was somewhere around this time that I began to find Jean Bear doing curious things around my home. Here, he's reading an Agatha Christie mystery. 

He was on the same page all day, but that's okay. Bear reads slowly, or so Beau tells me.

Soon after I went to Pride in this top, I found Bear getting in the spirit of Pride too.

You see, Beau decided that Bear needed some adventures, and he's been having them ever since. Curiously, it seems to happen whenever Beau's around, but not when it's just me and Bear alone. 

Here, Bear is playing with a trivia game about ancient civilizations -- on the very top of my bookshelf that I can't reach... but Beau can. Hmmm...

Bear is a prince for a day.

Beau informed me that Bear wanted to know what it's like to be me, with a back injury, so he got to spend some time using my knee pillow and divan. He wore my glasses too.

Because of my disability, I have a cleaning lady (who is also a friend and neighbour). She seems to be getting in on helping Bear have adventures too. Recently, after she'd cleaned my place, I found him like this, with the remote control.

Now that Beau lives in town, Bear's been taking little trips to visit his cousin Bo...

... and Lamby. Here, Bear, Lamby, and Mole are having a little confab on Beau's son's bed.

Bear seems to be getting more and more adventurous and more and more flamboyant as time goes on. After this adventure with the contents of my vanity table, he told me (voiced by Beau) that he likes wearing bling. It's fun, he says.

These are just a sampling of Bear's adventures. I'm pretty sure he's now unstoppable and I'm guessing that  this is merely the first installment in the fabulous ongoing adventures of Beau and Bear, best friend's forever.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Pleasant purple: soothing the pain of PTSD

Shorts: Reitmans; Shoes: Ecco; Shirt: Be Cool; Sunglasses and hat: thrift; Bangle: vintage; Necklace: from a local boutique; Earrings and ring: Effy
It was a hot day. I had the idea that this hat would shade me from the sun. It didn't, but it did give a retro late 80s/early 90s appeal to my outfit that was kind of fun. 

I doubt this change purse is really Anna Sui, but that's what it says. It looks well against Beau's "garden" which consists of some potted flowers and herbs. He's very proud of his garden.
I set off to meet Beau for a walk. I was feeling anxious and wanted to walk as briskly as I could to burn off stress and excess energy. Of course, my version of "brisk" is other people's version of a sluggish pace. This has not always been the case.

Before my back gave out, I used to exercise for stress relief. I'd regularly jog for about 45 minutes, weight lift for an hour, do a little more cardio on a stair master, and then jog home. That's a grand total of two and a half hours of intense exercise in one go, several times a week. On my "non-exercise" days, I would walk for miles.

I exercised so much that my doctor was concerned about me. So were many of my friends. My doctor tells me that I was underweight.

Yet all this exercise only barely managed my stress, anxiety, and what I called my "terrors." 

You see, I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). 

Complex PTSD, to be exact. Complex PTSD develops when a person is exposed to prolonged and repeated trauma which he or she cannot control.  The victim is often a child and the trauma is often inflicted by a care-taker or care-takers. There is no chance of escape.

Those of you who read this blog know that my now crippling back injury was caused by severe child abuse. The abuse was constant, of every conceivable (and inconceivable) type, and far worse than anything most people can even imagine. 

People tell me they can imagine it but they can't. They think they know how bad it was, but they don't until I tell them the details. When I do, I always get the same response: shock that any child can be abused that badly. And even more shock that I am both alive and sane after enduring such horrors.

Expecting someone not to have PTSD after abuse like that is like expecting someone who has just been repeatedly run over by a truck not to have any broken bones.

I have many of the symptoms of PTSD, perhaps the two most troubling being nightmares and panic attacks. The nightmares are ubiquitous, and so much a part of my nights that I can't imagine what it feels like to sleep without them, and to wake without them lingering in my mind and soul.

For years, I managed to keep the panic attacks in almost complete remission through exercise, punishing, intense, grueling exercise. Exercise that would leave me shaking, give me stomach cramps, and make me so hungry I could think of nothing but food. The above photo was taken about ten years ago. This is not me at my thinnest. I had gained weight by this point, simply by dint of being over thirty.

I don't mean to deride what I did to get by. If I were well, I would still be exercising, though hopefully not as much or as compulsively. I enjoyed exercise (up to a point) and I miss it. I was extremely fit and muscular. I ate well. I managed to get three degrees (okay, two degrees and a two year certificate), and build a good career. I did not take drugs or drink to excess, both common refuges for those who have PTSD. I managed to maintain my moral compass, despite having been raised in an amoral environment.

I did the best I could, and it was pretty damned good. It really was.

But then my back gave out, not because of the exercise but despite it. I was in so much pain, it hurt to breathe. I could not walk across the room without being in agony. It took me nine months to be able to walk a block. 

Obviously, I couldn't exercise. I had to find new ways to deal with my PTSD.

The panic attacks came back. 

If you've never had a panic attack, count yourself lucky. Most people end up in the emergency room the first time they have one because the symptoms -- racing heart, complete body sweats, numbs hands and feet, severe dizziness and nausea, terror -- are so severe, it feels like dying. Basically, the nervous system thinks the body is under attack and floods it with adrenaline, readying it for fight or flight.

I'm doing a lot better now, both physically and emotionally, but I'm still disabled and I still have PTSD. And I still have panic attacks.

This day was not a good day. My gut was roiling, as it often does when my stress levels increase. (All kinds of physical symptoms of stress are common to those with PTSD.) 

I found myself on the brink of a panic attack and Beau wisely suggested that we skip the walk and go home and relax.

It worked. I calmed down and felt much better, but spent, drained, and weakened, as one would after been awash with adrenaline.

We decided to go for a gentle walk -- with enjoyment of nature, not briskness and burning energy, as our goal. 

I needed calm and relaxation and I know that nature helps give me that. 

So do other small beauties, like the colour of this bracelet or the pretty lace in my top.

I wasn't sure if seeing this little jacket was good or bad for me. Way back in 1975, when I was four and five and already living in hell, my grandmother embroidered denim shirts a lot like this for everyone in the family (and it's a big family). Mine had little bees and flowers on it and I loved it. Because of Grandma, we were cool, really really cool.

This jacket on this stroller reminded me of my grandmother and of the beautiful shirt she embroidered for me. But, because it reminded me of my childhood, it also reminded me of being abused. That's how life works for those with PTSD; anything can be a "trigger," something that reminds us of the trauma we have endured.

I think this smile is what is called a "wan smile": it's a little watery and uncertain. I couldn't manage much more than that yet. The tightness is gone here, and I think I look prettier as a result, but the sorrow has become visible.

To me, my face in this photo is more authentically me than it is in photos in which I look strong and happy. I sometimes think the authentic me is weak, sad, and emotionally bruised.

But are weakness and sorrow really my authentic self?

All those who know the horrible details of my childhood say the same thing: "You are the strongest person I know." They often add that they would be insane if they'd lived through what I've lived through.

"How stupid," I always think. "If they knew all the pain in me, and how hard it is to do well, they'd know that I'm really very weak. For crying out loud, I am literally crippled by what happened to me! Where's the strength in that?"

But I'm starting to grasp that they know how hard and painful it is for me and that's exactly why they say I'm strong. I'm trying hard to believe them.

And I really am crippled, despite the fact that I look "normal." Here I am reaching for something with which to haul myself up into a standing position. The day to day physical realities of life are not easy for me now.

I really am crippled and I really do have PTSD. The two tragedies of my life derive from the same cause, one over which I had no control and from which I could not escape. 

It's a hard reality to accept: life is not fair. 

But, life is also beautiful. It's the little beauties that have helped me get by. It was so even when I was a tiny child. Those little embroidered bees on my shirt, and a million other little things -- a wonderful book, a cuddly cat, a mountain view -- helped save my life.

By deliberately focusing on such things now, I'm learning to be more gentle on myself. I used to push and push -- with my exercise, my career, my health, my education. As I learned that I needed to find new ways to deal with stress, I learned that one of those ways was to stop pushing myself so hard. Friends had been telling me that for years but I didn't understand. My back giving out forced me to learn that lesson. I had no choice.

So, on this day, after feeling so poorly, I reminded myself to go gently, stay in the shade, move slowly... and, wonder of wonders, I was able to gain some enjoyment from the day, despite my physical pain, despite my emotional pain.

Plus I posed in front of this house as if it was mine. I've always wanted to own this house.

This necklace really opens. It reminds me of a poison vile that a Disney witch might have worn. As a child, I always admired those witches. I wished I had their power and would fantasize that I did; if I had it, I could escape my abusers or, better yet, exact some creative revenge on them. 

I wear a lot of things for my child self: things I was not allowed to own then, things that would have made me feel strong then, and things that have a kind of beauty that would have appealed to me then.

As always, beauty helps me survive and even thrive, in my way. Sometimes it's hard, as if the evil I've known erases the beauty. It's hard to understand that beauty and horror can co-exist in the same world, but it's a paradox I've had to learn to believe in or I just wouldn't have made it and I wouldn't have much to live for now.

And then there's the beauty of Beau. As a joke, he's started calling PTSD "puTUZduh."  If I suddenly jump a mile when a leaf falls beside me, or start worrying that I'm a bad person because I left the cap off the toothpaste, he says, "It's okay. You just have putuzdah." It makes me laugh. And he can say it in public and no-one will know what he's talking about. 

He knows all about my past and its effect on me and is very kind and gentle. 

Maybe sometimes too gentle.

It is a natural impulse for those who love someone who was badly hurt to want to take care of that person. It's like they want to make up for all the pain of the past. But that's not possible. Indeed, it's not even healthy for me to allow myself to be cared for that much.

Above all else, I need to feel like an autonomous adult, and I can't feel that way if someone is taking care of me like I'm still a child. Everyone needs to be taken care of some, but not constantly, and not without it's being reciprocal. I need to take care of Beau too, not just for his sake, but for mine as well.

Whatever power I have, I need to feel it. That power got me far in life, far further than many others with backgrounds like mine. 

I'm learning also to allow myself to feel my weaknesses, but not at the expense of knowing my power.

But I do need to learn that feeling power is not the same as always being on guard. Sometimes I'm like a beaten, cornered dog, lashing out at even those who want to love her.

Glasses: Geek eyewear; Shirt: Old Navy
For Beau's sake, I'm learning to let go of that with people who have proved themselves worth of trust. People like him.

Plus, ain't he handsome? Seriously, look at the colour of those eyes!

As my walk progressed, I even got a little playful in this weird garden full of ... weird stuff. 

... including a weird metal thing that let out such a racket when I touched it, I felt like I was going to get in trouble. The photo of my response gave us both a much needed laugh.

So the day progressed, as days do, and the light began to have that lovely, slanted look it gets.

Beau and I went to our local pub, which is both steps away from his place, and world (or at least city) famous for its huge array of craft beers. 

Beau ordered a sampler set of four. He's a total booze lightweight, even worse than I am, and couldn't finish these four little tasters. On our way home, he felt woozly and asked me why anyone would choose to make himself feel that way for fun. He had to lie down and rest for a bit.

So I got to take care of him the way he'd taken care of me. I also got to laugh at him -- just a tad.

And so the day was salvaged. The bad co-existed with the good, as it always does. I felt tender and bruised but that did not preclude the existence of beauty, and it did not preclude my ability to enjoy life.

If you don't have PTSD, know how hard it is for those who do. If you do have PTSD, know that you too can enjoy life, even if it doesn't always feel possible.

(FYI, I`m spreading this somewhat adulterated joy over at Visible Mondays on Not Dead Yet.)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Sexy Teacher? Naw, just a pleated skirt and lots of blue.

Shoes: Ecco; Skirt: Jella; Blazer and top: Reitmans, Umbrella and bangle: thrift; Brooch: vintage
It was threatening to rain that day, as it so often does here, so I brought an umbrella, but, really, it was an excuse because, well...

... it's such a fun umbrella and matched the outfit I was wearing.

Beau wasn't so very fond of this outfit. Pleats, he said, remind him too much of church. Remember, he was raised in an uber-conservative cult that called itself a church. When he says something reminds him of church, he means it reminds him of severe restrictions, rules, repression, and shame -- lots and lots of shame. 

It's true that I was going for a more conservative look. I was going for School Teacher or even School Marm. But, for me, a look like this is more of a costume than anything else. I really am a college teacher, but I'm not at all conservative so I wear an outfit like this quite ironically. It's hard for Beau to see it that way. It probably would be for me too, if I'd had his upbringing.

Anyway, for the previous class, I'd worn something that I didn't think was very teacherly at all, so it was all in the interests of playful balance.

I'm well aware of school teacher fetishes that exist out there. They're similar to the sexy librarian fetishes, I think. My Sexy Librarian post has had, by far, the most hits of any of my other posts. I try not to be creeped out by that. 

Does the teacher/librarian fetish have something to do with wanting to be disciplined? Or do people think that braininess and sexuality are in direct contradiction to one another, so a brainy woman letting loose her sexuality is exotic and hot? Or are there some who just think intelligence is sexy?

I hope it's the latter. I'm not at all sure that it is.

I once had a student who spent the entire semester staring at my chest. It made me so uncomfortable that I started wearing cardigans to class, even when it was way too hot to do so. He failed the course. I guess his attention was not on the material. He asked to meet with me and the (female) chair of the department to discuss his grade. Guess what he did during the entire meeting, in front of the chair.

You guessed it. He stared at my chest. My chair witnessed this. I tried to simply be amused. It wasn't easy.

Ring: Birks
 I'm no disciplinarian, so the fetishists would be disappointed in me, but I am pretty strict as a teacher: lots of pop quizzes, lowered marks for poor grammar, no late papers, no papers that don't meet the parameters of the assignments, no charity passing grades, etc.

But students who are genuinely going through a life crisis find me particularly compassionate, I think, maybe because I have so much experience with hardship myself. Those students get extensions and whatever help I can give them. 

I do think I'm a nicer, more compassionate teacher than I used to be. Why? Probably four reasons: I got tenure; I'm more confident now that I'm more seasoned; my own disability has made me more understanding of the suffering of others... and I have a life outside of work now. Teaching shouldn't be a person's entire life. At least I don't think it should be. 

One of the great perks of my job is free books. Nerds of my variety covet the Norton Anthology of English Literature. Here it is in its entirety, along with several other anthologies on my shelves in my office.
I've also learned the golden rule of staying sane when teaching: Never care more about your students' education than they do. 

So I teach the best classes I possibly can, but understand that learning is a two way street, and students need to do their best as well. No matter how weak the student, if she cares a great deal about her education, for whatever reason, I will bust my ass to teach her as well as I possibly can, and this includes a lot of time I'll give her outside of the classroom. But if a student has no interest in learning, doesn't want to do any work, pays no attention in class, and is resentful of having to, you know, think? Well, I'm not going to worry too much as I watch that student crashing and burning in my class. If I did, I'd have no energy left for the students who really want and appreciate what I have to offer.

This lesson, passed down from teacher to teacher, has kind of saved my life. It's also often phrased thusly: Teach to the good ones. Focus on the good ones, and you'll be okay. I wrote more about that here

Two dangling earrings: vintage; Rosebud earring and larger silver stackable ring from Barefoot Contessa; Deco diamond ring was my grandmother's engagement ring; Gold stackable ring (a promise ring from Beau): Etsy; Smaller stackable ring: from a street vendor
But back to my outfit! Sheesh, you'd think this wasn't a style blog or something.

On this day, I thought I'd go with the return of 80s fashion and wear fancy earrings in each piercing. It was fun and, I think, quite pretty. 

I remember being thirteen and getting the second two piercings. I thought I was so cool and punk. Now, it just seems normal for my generation, and really no big deal. Of course, back then I wore safety pins, and bracelets, and feathers, and all sorts of crazy things as earrings. 

My rebellion is less visible now, but it certainly hasn't gone away.

Okay, yeah, you've seen this brooch before but, well, it's worth seeing again, is it not? 

I could swear I've seen traditional Irish outfits in which a brooch is often worn in the ruffle at the neck, but I can't find a single image of it online. Am I imagining this? Help me out here.

On this day, Beau picked me up from work in one of our coop cars. On our little walk home from the drop-off point, we crossed one of the best features of our neighbourhood: a little valley known by all the locals simply as The Cut. It's a little bit of wilderness in the centre of the city and is home to ravens, eagles, hawks, racoons, coyotes, skunks, feral cats (most of them now fed, spayed, and neutered by locals), and a plethora of less exotic birds.

The Cut has always been home to the railroad, but, when more trees had to be cut down to make way for a second rapid transit line (the first having ruffled fewer feathers), there was a bit of an uproar. No one wanted to lose the more wild quality of The Cut. Thus you see two of the city's attempts to address this: the plaque saying "Healing the Cut," and the telescope that gives a view of The Cut itself and the mountains beyond. I actually think the city has done a pretty good job, creating a wonderful walking and cycling route along the top of the cut that is full of trees and flowers and, as a result, birds as well.

You can also see here how tall Beau is, which I think is kind of sexy.

I felt a bit sly taking the photo because Beau didn't know I was doing it.

When he caught me, he gave me exactly the same look he gives me if I disturb his sleep at night. It's a grumpy, pouty look. 

It gives me little giggle, which makes him pout more. He never remembers doing it.

And as an end to my day of looking like a teacher, I present to you a view of wonderful trees and the not very distant downtown, from a little bridge crossing The Cut. Those little specks in the sky are the crows flying home as they do every night, thousands of them, like clockwork, just one more happy feature of my chosen home. 

(I'm going to link this up to Visible Mondays over at Not Dead Yet.)

Friday, July 12, 2013

Smug Bug: My New (Thrift) Sunglasses

Sunglasses: thrift: Top and shorts: Reitmans; Bracelet: Forever 21 (Valentine's Day gift from Beau); Shoes: Ecco; Sleeper earrings: some little store in some little mall
So I got these groovy, second hand, pink and green, iridescent sunglasses for only $10. Colour and iridescence? Like a bug. Shape and size? Like a bug's eyes.

I was feeling pretty smug.

The outfit was really just an excuse to take my new sunglasses for a walk. I thought the swirls in the shirt would pick up the green and pink in the glasses.

It was all about the sunglasses...

... the magnificence of which is not really captured in these photos. 

So let's look at the shoes too, shall we? It's so hard to find shoes that look decent and don't hurt my back. As is so often the case, my luck was with Ecco. I think the little wooden button on the side is cute. It's not a functional button. If it were, I couldn't use it. I need velcro on side clasps; otherwise the twisting to do up a buckle or button hurts my back too much.

Don't forget to get my shoes in the photo, Beau! I find people who aren't really into fashion always forget to include the shoes when taking photos. It's awful! I don't even have any photographic evidence of the fact that I once had -- and was able-bodied enough to wear and walk and dance in -- a favourite pair of black, four inch stiletto boots. Why? No-one who photographed me when I was wearing them grasped their importance.

On another note, I also recently got new shorts, three pair, in fact. These are my favourite. Beau's always telling me I have nice legs but I've been assuming that he's just blinded by love. Still, I'm pretty amazed to see how shapely and firm my legs still look when I wear shorts. Given my disability, I've been assuming they'd turned into shapeless, squishy posts. I seem to have been mistaken. 

Thank my mesomorphic paternal line, I guess. I mean, I do what I can to stay fit but what I can do is so very very limited, so I really think genes must play a role in my remaining relatively firm after five years of being really disabled.

But, really, this post is about the sunglasses. Beau didn't want to kiss me when I was wearing them. He said it felt like kissing a bug. Most excellent! That's pretty much just the look I was after.