“Sawinery”: woodworking as PTSD/C-PTSD art therapy.

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Credit: Sawinery.net

Once in a while my readers reach out to me with questions, their own stories about abuse, or projects they are working on.  I can’t respond to all of these, but I do appreciate when my readers want to share things with me.    Occasionally, something stands out so much to me or is so innovative that I feel like it might be of help to other readers, so I asked the person who sent me the email about this if I could share it on my blog.

Sawinery is a blog about the woodworking world.

Woodworking? Why would I want to include an article about that?  It’s not a topic I’ve ever written about and isn’t the kind of thing I do write about.   But this is different, because the blog’s owner told me they have started to explore the power of woodworking as therapeutic healing art for trauma related conditions of PTSD and C-PTSD.    In the owner’s own words:

We recently interviewed 3 people: two men and one woman, who suffer from CPTSD/PTSD, one because of abuse in his childhood and one after retiring from the army — who are all doing woodworking as therapy.

They describe how it improved their creativy, that it helps to cope with confusion and anger as a result of trauma, that their confidence has improved and that they can now communicate more easily with other people.

You can read the full interview here:
https://www.sawinery.net/blog/woodworking-cptsd-ptsd-therapy-interview/

If you suffer from a trauma related disorder like PTSD or Complex PTSD, or know someone who does, you may want to take a look at the above link and share it.

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What is moral injury?

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Moral injury (also known as soul injury), is a serious mental condition similar to PTSD that many Americans are suffering from right now under Trump’s increasingly threatening and authoritarian administration.   This condition is also very common among soldiers who are forced to commit acts that go against their conscience or violate their understanding of right from wrong.

According to Wikipedia, moral injury

refers to an injury to an individual’s moral conscience resulting from an act of perceived moral transgression which produces profound emotional shame. The concept of moral injury emphasizes the psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual aspects of trauma. Distinct from pathology, moral injury is a normal human response to an abnormal traumatic event.  The concept is currently used in literature about the mental health of military veterans who have witnessed or perpetrated an act in combat that transgressed their deeply held moral beliefs. Moral injury can also be experienced by those who have been transgressed against. For example, when one goes to war thinking that the purpose of the war is to eradicate weapons of mass destruction, but finds that not to be the case, the warrior can experience moral injury. Those who have seen and experienced death, mayhem, destruction, and violence have had their worldviews shattered – the sanctity of life, safety, love, health, peace, etc. – can suffer moral injury as well. This injury can also occur in the medical space – among physicians and other emergency or first responder care providers who engage in traumatic high impact work environments which can affect their mental health and well-being.

Moral injury or soul injury is quite common, and can affect entire populations.   It tends to separate people with a conscience and empathy from sociopaths, the latter of which are likely to be drawn to the very person or situation that is causing moral injury and PTSD to the normal population.

Since moral injury is closely related to PTSD, the symptoms are very similar.    Depression, sadness, and even suicidal ideation is common, especially if the victim sees no escape from the threatening situation or tyrannical leader/ government.

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It is under the spiritual perspective of moral injury that Lindsay Carey (Australia), John Swinton (UK) and Daniel Grossoehme (USA), provided a comprehensive holistic defintion of moral injury based on the systematic reviews of Jinkerson plus Hodgson and Carey. [30]

Moral injury is a trauma related syndrome caused by the lasting physical, psychological, social and spiritual impact of grievous moral transgressions or violations of an individual’s deeply held moral beliefs and/or ethical standards due to (i) the betrayal of what is right by trusted individuals who hold legitimate authority and/or (ii) by an individual perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about inhumane acts which result in the pain, suffering or death of others and which fundamentally challenges the moral integrity of an individual, organisation or community.

The violation of deeply-held moral beliefs and ethical standards—irrespective of the actual context of trauma—can lead to considerable moral dissonance, which if unresolved, leads to the development of core and secondary symptoms that often occur concurrently.  The core symptoms commonly identifiable are: (a) shame, (b) guilt, (c) a loss of trust in self, others, and/or transcendental/ultimate beings, and (d) spiritual/existential conflict including an ontological loss of meaning in life.  These core symptomatic features, influence the development of secondary indicators such as (a) depression, (b) anxiety, (c) anger, (d) re-experiencing the moral conflict, (e) social problems (e.g., social alienation) and (f) relationship issues (e.g., collegial, spousal, family), and ultimately (g) self-harm (i.e., self-sabotage, substance abuse, suicidal ideation and death).

Moral injury can be treated with CBT and other psychotherapies, but not everyone has access to professional help.  Self care is of vital importance.  If the news is disturbing or upsetting to you, and is causing you PTSD-like symptoms, take breaks from it, or even ban it from your life altogether.   While it’s important to stay informed, if there’s a real emergency, you will find out about it.  Your mental health is more important than knowing every detail of what’s going on in the world or in the country.

Try to break the hypervigilance habit.  Many people feel more “in control” if they stay on top of current events, even following the slightest detail, but the reality is, outside of practical activities like voting, signing petitions, writing letters, or protesting, there isn’t much you can do to change things.   SItting around being depressed or worrying about what might happen in a week, or a few months, or a year can drive you crazy and make you miserable.   It will drain all the joy our of your life.  Keep in mind that even in the most undemocratic regimes, most people can still find moments of joy and love in the people and the world around them.  Anne Frank was such a person who remained hopeful even while interned in a concentration camp.   Obviously not everyone has the emotional makeup to remain that upbeat and brave, but her story has brought hope to millions.

Spend time with friends and family that you trust, obviously those who feel the same way as you do (things have become so polarized that you might have to avoid friends and family on the opposite side of the political spectrum, at least temporarily).   Be sure to spend time doing fun, nonpolitical things with your friends and family members, not just talking about politics and the news.   Of course there’s a place for that too.  If you want to feel like you’re making a difference, you can plan to attend protests as a group or have letter writing or phone call “parties.”

One way you can follow the news in a more lighthearted way is to watch the late night TV comedy shows, such as Saturday Night Live or Jimmy Kimmel, instead of cable or network news.     You will still get your news (in fact, these shows are often more accurate in reporting than actual news programs) but in a way that can make you laugh and see the lighter side of a very serious situation.    Gallows humor has its place, and can make an unpleasant or unbearable situation seem more tolerable.

Remember that if you are suffering from moral injury, there is nothing wrong with you.  In fact, it means you are functioning human being with a conscience, and you are merely reacting in a normal way to an abnormal situation.  Still, if the suffering becomes intolerable or you find it hard to function, it can’t hurt to seek counseling to learn coping skills.

Almost Sunrise is a documentary film about moral injury.  It focuses on returning soldiers, but should also be of interest to anyone suffering from this form of PTSD.    You can watch a short video and read an article about the film here:

Almost Sunrise / Moral Injury

According to their site, these are the most common symptoms of moral injury:

  • Overwhelming depression
  • Guilt or shame
  • Loss of meaning in life
  • Feelings of worthlessness, despair and remorse
  • Feeling like “I’ve lost a part of myself”
  • Feeling like “I do not know who I am anymore”
  • Feeling intense distrust

Grey-rocking: if you can’t go No Contact.

This article has been picking up in views lately, so I decided to reblog it. Several people have told me they’ve found it helpful. I know this trick has helped me in dicey situations when I can’t go No Contact with a narcissist.

Lucky Otters Haven

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Lately I’ve been hearing a new term in the narcissistic abuse community: grey rocking.  I don’t know if it’s a new term or not, but I haven’t heard it before.

How to Grey Rock a Narcissist.

It’s always best to go No Contact (or Very Low Contact) with the narcissists in your life, if it’s at all possible.   But sometimes it isn’t.    For example, you may have underage children with your narcissist and shared custody of them.  Or your boss or a coworker may be a narcissist and you’re not willing to leave your job.  Or you may be in a marriage or relationship with one, have no options for leaving right now and are biding your time until you can save enough money to leave.    Or perhaps you’re still living at home with narcissistic parents and don’t have a place to go yet.

In these types…

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Confusing patterns.

This is an older post about a very confusing time for me during my recovery journey. It’s very common for people with Complex PTSD who survived narcissistic abuse to believe they are narcissists themselves, but if you think you are one, most likely you are not. I definitely have narcissistic traits, some that I picked up from my abusers, others that may be inherent, but I don’t have NPD.

Two years ago, I became so certain I did that I actually started a second blog about it. That blog has been taken down, though some people did tell me they found it helpful and that makes me happy. It’s very common for people with C-PTSD to believe they have NPD. but I just couldn’t leave the blog up because it started to feel like a lie.

Lucky Otters Haven

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In the almost year and a half since I’ve been blogging, an interesting picture has emerged. I started to blog after I went no contact with my ex (actually very low contact since we have children) as a way to process having been a victim of narcissistic abuse, first by my family of origin, then by my ex. My focus for the first six months or so was primarily on my abusers, and my rage at narcissists in general. Most of my articles were about narcissists and narcissism, and I read everything I could about it too. I became close with other ACON (adult children of narcissists) bloggers. I wasn’t ready yet to take a good long look at myself and what I could do to help myself, other than staying far away from abusive people. But it was a very good start to a journey that proved to be…

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My Seasonal Affective Disorder makes me want to hibernate until spring.

It’s baaaaack!  I hate this time of year.

Lucky Otters Haven

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Graph I made showing my mood pattern throughout the year. It’s this way every year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my SAD.

SAD is triggered by the lack of light and shortening days for those affected with it. During the shorter days the brain produces more melatonin, a naturally occurring hormone that induces sleepiness in certain animals, like bears. It’s the reason why some mammals hibernate until the warmer, longer days of spring. Unfortunately, some humans retain this biological urge to hibernate, but because we must continue to live productive lives, our natural urge to sleep is ignored and seasonal depression is the result.

I seem to suffer from a weird form of SAD. The fall is much more depressing to me than winter. Most people with SAD feel terrible in late fall AND all winter. But for me, I start feeling depressed sometime in mid-August, when the…

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Taking a break from Trump and the news.

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Other than Meghan McCain’s moving tribute to her father at his funeral today, I’m not even watching the footage of this sad event. I’ve reached a point where I simply have no more capacity to cope with more unpleasant news. For almost two years, since Trump’s election, politics has been my #1 concern, so much so that it has squeezed all my other interests into much smaller compartments.

There is more to life than Donald Trump. I have been allowing him to live rent free in my head and it’s driving me crazy.  He has a way of doing that.  It seems like he’s everywhere, but is he really?  No, it just seems that way.   I think those of us who suffer from PTSD due to narcissistic abuse are especially prone to the kind of hypervigilance which can turn into obsessive thinking and a need to constantly scan our environment for dangers.

Taking a break doesn’t mean I’m no longer going to be part of the resistance. Of course I will! Morally, I feel like it’s imperative that I continue to participate and write about my experience and observations about what I see happening in my country. If we all just decided to pretend Trump doesn’t exist and ignore him, we will definitely fall into totalitarianism. Complacency and a pervasive attitude of “oh, Hitler can’t be THAT bad” or “there’s nothing I can do anyway” is why Nazi Germany happened. Germany learned the hard way but their democracy was restored and today they appear to have been inoculated against another descent into fascism. We might have to learn the hard way too, but I’ll be damned if I become a part of the problem. So I’ll continue to resist and write about politics.

However, obsessing and allowing Trump to live rent free in my head is messing with my sanity, and if I’m insane, there’s nothing I can do to help anyone, least of all myself.

So I’ve been doing other things: watching nature shows, taking walks, enjoying music, and spending time enjoying my family. I haven’t watched the news in a few days because I need a break from it. If it’s important enough, I’ll hear about it. Soon, I’m sure I’ll start following the news again because I must.
But it’s okay to take breaks from it once in a while and realize that no matter how bad things are, or how bad they get, there is still much more to life than the news and Trump. Trump will never “trump” my mental health.

Ask the Question. Ask the Direct Question.

I was heartbroken to hear of the suicide death of Anthony Bourdain.   I loved his shows about exotic cultures, food, and everyday life in faraway countries.  He always seemed so happy and had a life anyone would envy — traveling all over the world and writing about it for a living is my idea of heaven!  Many people would say the same thing about fashion designer Kate Spade, who also committed suicide earlier this week.

Depression and suicide doesn’t discriminate and can affect even those who seem to have great lives. We just don’t know what sort of inner demons Bourdain (and Kate Spade) struggled with.

If you struggle with depression or have suicidal thoughts or ideation, please reach out and talk to someone you trust. Don’t keep your depression a secret — it’s a medical illness, not something to be ashamed of.

Peace from Panic

(Trigger warning: this post discusses suicide. If you need help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800)273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line in the U.S. at 741741)

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This morning I woke up to the tragic news about chef and travel host, Anthony Bourdain. Death by suicide.

Heartbreaking. And after the shock earlier this week, the suicide death of designer Kate Spade.

My husband and I love to watch Anthony Bourdain’s show on CNN, “Parts Unknown.” He was an amazing storyteller. He traveled to both popular and remote places around the world to get his stories. My favorite episodes were when he visited unknown villages, and I learned about another culture’s cuisine and way of life.

In his interesting, quirky, and cool way, Anthony would sit with locals and have in-depth conversations over a meal. People opened up to him. He had a special way of delving…

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Thank God my vacation is finally here!

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I’ve been feeling more anxious and depressed every day about the political situation, and I don’t feel like any of our efforts are really helping.   Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my mind.   It’s so easy to get bogged down in negativity, fear and hopelessness when the opposition is so nasty and overwhelming and you no longer have the slightest doubt of the horrifying reality that you are being held hostage in your own country — a country that is being run by the worst human beings imaginable.

I definitely need to clear my head and get away from all that for awhile.  My annual trip to Florida to visit my son can’t get here soon enough.   I leave tomorrow before dawn (I love driving before dawn on a long road trip — here’s an article I wrote in 2016 about that).   Depending on traffic, we should arrive in Tampa (that’s where he lives now) late in the day.

Our hotel has a lovely pool and hot tub, and serves continental breakfast.  We’ll be spending time with my son when we can (he can’t get off work).  I think this time one of the plans is to hit Treasure Island!  We had planned to go last year but never got around to it.

After four days there, my daughter and I are driving to Clearwater Beach and spending four days there, right on the beach!

I’ll be posting pictures, so keep checking back!

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Further reading:

8 Ways to Survive a 637-Mile Long Car Trip In Just One Day (and make it amazing!)

15 Things I Love and Hate About Long Road Trips

The Longest, Hottest, Most Boring Drive Ever 

Anxiety spiraling into major depression?

Last week I wrote about my son’s dissociation episodes and panic attacks.   He got some anti-anxiety medication there, but they put him to sleep so they haven’t been useful to him, and the panic has not gone away.  He’s been able to manage it a little better, using some mindfulness tricks, but has not been able to see a doctor yet (he will tomorrow).  His two trips to the emergency room just told him what he already knew and gave him a few pills for the panic.

Since last Monday, he says he has had 14 panic attacks.  Today he tweeted this:

the last 2 weeks ive been in a very dark place. im constantly afraid, never happy. ive lost all hope and happiness. i feel broken. I’m only able to focus on my faults. making choices triggers panic attacks. im so fucking scared of life itself. help me.

This rose alarm bells so I called him right away.  He sounded alright but sad/down.   I asked him if he was having suicidal thoughts.  He said no, but he thinks about death a lot (suicidal ideation).   He also said it feels like someone else has taken over his mind and this isn’t him.   He can’t think of a specific trigger that would have set off the panic attacks.  It seems to me the attacks were and are part of a depressive disorder, possibly major depression, which is what it sounds like.

I made him promise not to do anything crazy.  He said he wouldn’t.   He did say he appreciates me calling him so much (it used to annoy him) and staying on top of the situation.   I’m glad he tells me everything, but I’m still really scared.   I can’t be near him right now, and that makes it worse.

At least he’s opening up and being honest instead of keeping everything inside.   I think opening up and talking about it is a good first step.   He also said he’s been thinking about checking himself into the hospital for a week or a few days.  I think that is probably a good idea, even though he will lose pay.

I’m asking everyone to send your prayers his way (or positive thoughts, if you aren’t religious).     I hate seeing him like this.

“George.”

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Linda Lee, who writes “A Blog About Healing from PTSD”  wrote this article about how she learned to deal with her panic attacks — and the advice is quite simple.

GET ANGRY! 

Yes, get angry.   While anger isn’t an ideal place to be, it’s a much more proactive and stronger emotion than fear.

The other day, I wrote about the panic attacks my son has been suffering from.   As his concerned mom (who used to suffer from panic attacks myself), I’ve been talking to him every day, monitoring his progress.    He’s been getting some good advice from his friends, since he hasn’t been able to see a therapist yet (but is planning to soon).

The best advice I heard of came from someone who told him to name his panic attacks.  By naming them, you effectively separate them from yourself, and they become an outside “person” instead of a part of yourself you can’t separate from.

So he decided to name them “George.”  Whenever he sees George coming, he tells him to get lost and yes, he gets angry at George.   He tells George he’s nothing but a big bully with no real power over him.  My son is much stronger than George and he tells him so.    George hasn’t gone away yet, but he’s having less power over my son than he did, and doesn’t seem quite so dangerous.