Embracing Intent

20180515_113233

I am always tired. I go to bed sporadically, I sleep until the last possible second, I have nightmares and night terrors (though, somehow blood pressure medicine has made this better*), I have no nighttime routine, and doctors have been telling me for years to get a sleep study done because of my endless fatigue.

This, in conjunction with not eating breakfast, makes for a very grumpy Kaela.

I’m so happy that I took time off from work to address my PTSD. The fact that my nightmares/night terrors are infrequent, it makes the idea of going to bed and sleeping a lot easier to manage.

When I first started taking the medication to help with my night disturbances, I was relieved at the difference a terror-less sleep felt. I felt more energetic, which meant I could tackle my PTSD and focus on healing. I no longer wake up with panic.

However, I am still always tired.

***

It’s amusing how two unrelated things come together to relay the same message.

These past few months I’ve been on a quest to change my life. I read this morning my visit notes from Monday’s therapy appointment, which read the awful phrase “moderate episode of recurrent major depressive disorder.” Yuck. It’s true, but I think that phrase misses an interdisciplinary root cause beyond my trauma.

Faced with this awful note on my history, and from the powerful fatigue I felt this morning, I yet again began my daily research into self improvement.

I wanted to know how to be more disciplined, thinking this might be where I could change things despite how I feel because that’s the definition of it, to trudge on beyond feelings and impulses. And you know how impulsive I am.

***

I keep rereading this book called The Miracle Morning. I discovered it indirectly, as a former peer at Emerson College had posted it somewhere (I think). She now runs a business helping women entrepreneurs, which I think is pretty cool.

One of my best friends and I have a goal spreadsheet on Google Sheets which we track personal goals and wellness, and so after rereading The Miracle Morning again, I thought what better way to finally practice it than to include it on my wellness tracker.

I was so, so wrong.

Having to wake up earlier than normal is one challenge with poor sleep. Waking up early and then meditating, exercising, reading, journaling, as well as other things all before anyone wakes up (because really, what mother can do anything after the kids are up) is, at least for me, impossible.

What the book gets wrong is that making such a huge change overnight doesn’t have lasting results. It sets you up for guilt, anger, and disappointment.

It’s a lovely idea, but no thanks.

***

Have you ever just read an article and thought about how general and basic it was? Like it was telling you stuff you already know?

I Googled nothing more exciting than the phrase “self discipline” and out came a bunch of articles on tips and tricks and easy things to help me. Speed lessons.

These kinds of articles, because they are so short, have the certain expectation that you should read them casually instead of with intent. Oh good, here are some 5 tips. That will last in my brain at the rate of 1 tip per minute, and then POOF! gone.

Frustrated by the repetitive nature of these articles and my own ineptitude for recalling information that I read from these countless trivial articles, I decided to pull out my little notebook that I use when scribbling little tidbits of information.

What an amazing and unexpected transformation that one small change to my reading habits had. I started reading the first article I came across and took notes.

It felt like I was in a classroom again: reading with purpose and scribbling down all the important information. I felt like I was actually learning.

No, the information included in the one article I did read wasn’t profound. But, it was helpful after really processing the information I read.

I went through, just as I did when reading a textbook in college, and took my notes on information I thought were important. After finishing my notes, I annotated them and created a task list for me to keep working on the steps the article included.

Maybe I will gain more discipline from what I learned reading the post, maybe not. Regardless, it started moving things along in my head and gave me a new perspective on casual reading v. reading with intent.

***

One of the steps Cohen includes is to eat healthy. Oh, boy.

How many times have I heard advice on how eating healthy will change my life. Okay, yeah, sure.

But, because I was reading with intent, I looked at her reasoning behind it. That because poor nutrition can make you tired and grumpy, you are setting yourself up for failure when trying to change yourself.

Poor nutrition can make you tired. When you are tired, it’s difficult to focus, resist temptation, and work towards your goals.

I repeat, I am always tired. 

As soon as I read that, I made an appointment with the same doctors who had scheduled my sleep study years ago but I ultimately never showed up to the appointment. I go next month.

Baby steps.


The article I mentioned here is called “5 Proven Methods for Gaining Self Discipline” by Jennifer Cohen, published by FORBES magazine. You can find it here.

A book Jennifer Cohen mentions in the article called THE POWER OF HABIT by Charles Duhigg looks promising. It’s on my to-read list on my Goodreads

My favorite materials for taking notes are Papermate InkJoy gel pens, Papermate Flair felt-tip pens, Mildliner highlighters, and Pilot Juice gel pens.

I also love Mead’s A5 size Cambridge Edition notebooks.

Generally, I prefer the style of Japanese/European notebooks because they often have more places for documentation, thinner lines, and are better organized than American notebooks.

None of the links are sponsored. These are just links to thinks I either like or have found.


I am not a doctor and I am not diagnosing or recommending this medicine. Don’t take medical advice from me.

Between Passion and Practicality

I don’t think anyone can prepare for the difficult and mostly unanswerable question “What should I do with my life?”

The conflict for me is between passion and practicality, it’s the struggle I’ve been facing all of my adult life and ultimately, despite my PTSD, what keeps me stagnant in my career.

The closest people in my life know that one day I could wake up and want something completely different than the day before. I think some could consider it a weakness, but I disagree. The gift of impulsivity and fickleness have let me explore opportunities many people might not consider.

For instance, the other day I began researching the process of going to medical school and taking the MCAT for fun. Because why not, right? The application process, plus the prospect of touching strangers (gross), showed me without a doubt that I. Do. Not. Want. To. Be. A. Doctor. Period. Gross.

Researching PhD in English and eventual lifelong dedication to the study of literature and what it means to be human lead me to the understanding that even if this is my vocation, for what purpose is literature? Didn’t Plato suggest that all art is just an imitation of reality and can never embody the real thing? Do I really want to be part of a conversation dominated by politics, negotiations against the white maleness, and not to mention the inevitable struggle of everything else? Meh.

After exploring all sorts of different careers, jobs, vocations, whatever, I’ve come to the conclusion that

There will never be a perfect career to fit all particular points in your life, that devoting yourself to one field limits your potential, and along with that last point, don’t put all your eggs in one basket (though that sounds more efficient than carrying multiple literal baskets).

I accept myself as an inconsistent being. So here’s to a life of odd jobs, testing the waters, and limitlessness.

Another Snow Day, Another Day Inside

20180322_095005_picmonkeyed.jpg

We are two days into spring and it’s a snow day. Again.

Every time it snows I become more of a hermit than I already am. It’s pretty difficult for me to go outside, even for a walk, until all the roads are plowed and even then it’s iffy. I’m not quite sure how I’ve lasted six years in New England, but I’m thankful for grocery delivery service and all the takeout places that will deliver in the snow.

During any sort of natural disaster or mass death or destruction, I become completely incapable of thinking about anything else. I rarely, if ever, watch the news now because it often gives me panic attacks. It’s especially difficult to go on Facebook and Twitter because of all the politics and shootings and war and accidents.

***

My therapist explained to me that when you experience trauma at such a young age as I did, that the triggers aren’t directly related because of the way the brain is in its early stage of development.

I was five when I survived the earthquake. I don’t fear earthquakes. I fear fire and large crowds and starvation and thirst.

I fear the thought of everyone being in danger. And I can’t often handle it if it happens.

I think more about the end of the world than I do about things that bring me joy.

***

My daughter’s due date was on the day the Boston Marathon Bombings happened. Luckily, it turns out, I had to be induced early at 37 weeks from preeclampsia. But when the bombings happened, I was glued to the TV and Facebook, newborn in hand. The thought of bringing her into that kind of world was terrifying. I often think about having her homeschooled and living somewhere deep in the forest.

***

Every snow storm is a little bit of exposure therapy because each winter I see how the people in New England survive it. They plow. They salt their roads. They buy shovels. These people know their stuff, and that makes me feel safe.

I hope next winter I can drive on the roads. I’ve done it a few times before, but it took such a long time for me to “come down” from the panic. I’d rather not lose an entire day, but maybe that’s what I need.

***

Snow days can be blessings too. When I can’t find the courage to go outside, I have an opportunity to spend more time with my daughter, to reflect, to clean, which in itself is a therapy of always putting things back together, just like I’m doing with myself.

The Benefit of My Nightmares and My PTSD

dan-burton-583476-unsplash.pngIn my nightmare, I could see it forming on my dog Lily’s belly… this giant bursting hand-like thing reaching out towards me. And, because of dream-logic, I decided to go to class instead of taking care of my poor doggy. After class was over, I found out that Chris had taken her to the vet, who said she needed to put her to sleep; so he did. I never got to say goodbye, and I was heartbroken. And then I woke up.

It was more than a weird dream because there was actual physical panic involved, the fear of the unknown thing inside Lily, the thought of having to care for her and not being able to, and especially the betrayal I felt when Chris put her to sleep without letting me say goodbye, or without giving me a choice. When I woke up, I immediately looked for Lily, and felt so safe after knowing she was okay and that it was just a dream.

***

About a week after New Years, I broke down. I could no longer handle the sleepless nights, the severe anxiety and panic attacks, the depression, the nightly night terrors or nightmares.

And now, mid-March, this is the first nightmare I’ve had in about a week and a half. My panic attacks are no longer daily, or sometimes multiple times a day, but now about once or twice a week. I was finally, and thankfully, given the confirmation that I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder.*

See, when you haven’t been sleeping, and when everything triggers you to have a panic attack or gives you anxiety or makes you hate yourself, it’s difficult not to be moody. And, after being told so many times that my brief moments happiness was me “acting manic” or that I’m not myself, I started to believe it.

***

My therapist told me something very important last week, something I had not considered: abusers know exactly what they are doing.

I had always made excuses for the man who mistreated me — that he too was just reacting to a world that gave him a bad hand, that I had somehow contributed to his anger and that I had control over it, and worst of all that I loved him.

I think I put the responsibility on myself for his actions because having a sense of control where he gave me none made me feel safe. By making myself a participant in my abuse, I felt as if I could make it stop if only I tried hard enough.

I couldn’t because in reality he is the only one that had control of my abuse.

There was an incident where he choked me after I repeatedly attempted to delete a photo he took to blackmail me off his phone. He made the situation all about me, that he wouldn’t have done that if I would have left him alone. His statement had some truth to it — yes, I could have stopped trying to get the picture off his phone. I could have let him have the picture.

But that would also mean giving up trying to defend myself against him.

Until my therapist said that abusers know what they’re doing, I would have never considered it. And she is so right.

***

I don’t know who I am. I know the facts — my name, where I grew up, the boyfriends I’ve had, what hobbies I used to participate in, the names of the friends I used to have. My abuser had broken me so far down that my only joy became planning and organizing, making lists, dieting and binging. It became a life structured around repairing the damage.

I still can’t bring myself to play a video game for longer than 20 minutes. I still have a difficult time leaving the house without someone I trust going with me.

I remember the ghost of me — the silly and energetic and outgoing girl, the one who loved spending time with friends almost every night of the week.

I’ve tried filling the void with novelty purses and plushies and figurines, the things I would have liked before. It feels like such an empty gesture towards myself. It feels like drowning.

Time stopped that December in 2010 when I first met him. My friends vanished, or rather, he made it so they vanished. I still feel stuck there. I have dreams about those friends all the time, ones where they feel so far away and I’m chasing them through a store or some other place where it’s difficult to see.

It’s been almost four years since I left Texas. It’s been almost eight since that December, and all I want to do is go back and tell myself not to go on that date, to pay more attention to myself and my friends, to leave him after he slit the back of his legs to make me stay.

***

Nightmares have a way of safely processing our wounds. They feel awful and exhausting, especially when only getting a few hours of sleep. But after this nightmare I realized how important it was for me to have them. Chris had taken away my agency in the dream, had made it so I didn’t have a choice saying goodbye to my pup after this awful thing had happened to her.

That’s exactly what happened to me in 2010. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to myself before this awful thing happened to me. I didn’t have a chance to say goodbye to my friends because who knew that would have been the last time I spent any meaningful time with them. Who knew that everything I owned, including my beloved cat Momo, would be gone.

But you see, Chris would never in a million years do something like that. It was safe for my mind to think about him because of how gentle and kind he is, and that when I woke I would immediately return to safety. And the thing I lost was something I knew that was still there — my dog who always seems to know when I need love.

My nightmare, really, was a reminder that I’m safe and loved, that I’m no longer in a constant state of danger.

***

I don’t have a solution to this. This is just one small realization on a journey of recovery I will always take. I’m learning how to live again, little by little.


I only mention that I’m thankful about not being bipolar because I was on the wrong medication. Getting on the right meds have helped me in such a huge way because they’ve helped me think and see things clearly without anxiety. Being bipolar has it’s challenges, just as PTSD, and an accurate diagnosis can move mountains.