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In between   (a poem)
.
my mind struggles against its own illusion
nightmare tumbles out into still morning
light is heavy,
a fog of echoes...
and I am caught
.
day dreams the sunlight
dreams light the day
and I am caught in between
mourning echoes...
like a stillborn ghost
who can't take a breath in the present

….
  
I live on a tropical island and just want to go surfing with my husband, but the nausea in the early morning as I try to eat  breakfast and drive with him to the beach is so uncomfortable.  Day after day it makes even surfing a chore, and I consider not going anymore.  Background anxiety and unreasonable irritation interferes with our marriage, frustrates him enough to want me out.  

For me, a trip to the grocery store or meeting a group of people awakens the same dreadful fear as rockclimbing a cliff. Perspective has been lost in the extremes.  I try to gain some control over this hindering nuisance, seeking situations that bring the same surges of adrenaline so I can learn to master it.  If I can just push past the avoidance that would keep me inside doing nothing, if I can just ignore the feeling I want to throw up, if I can just get out there, I am rewarded with life’s potential beauty eventually.  Many days I do enjoy the thrill of mountain biking or connection with nature when surfing, but there are too many days of internal struggle that reduce what should be enjoyable to a relentless chore of wrestling inner demons.

The VA offers a few sessions of marriage counseling, and the doctor begins to explain PTSD.  ***, I’ve learned to cope with an unreliable brain, but now there’s this?  From what I understand (and that’s just me, an amateur philosopher) Sometimes the brain is so traumatized, that the memory is literally sealed off, encapsulated, protecting it from changing.  If later something happens that is similar, the brain triggers avoidance responses as a take-no-chances survival mechanism.  Literally the brain is protecting one’s self from one’s self.  This all-or-nothing strategy works fending off potential dinosaur attacks, but in our complex society, these automatic avoidance behaviors complicate functioning and well being.  Life becomes an attitude of constant reaction instead of motivated intention.

The website for the National center for PTSD says.  “After a trauma or life-threatening event, it is common to have reactions such as upsetting memories of the event, increased jumpiness, or trouble sleeping. If these reactions do not go away or if they get worse, you may have Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.”  

“Common reactions to trauma are:
• Fear or anxiety: In moments of danger, our bodies prepare to fight our enemy, flee the situation, or freeze in the hope that the danger will move past us. But those feelings of alertness may stay even after the danger has passed. You may:feel tense or afraid, be agitated and jumpy, feel on alert.  
• Sadness or depression: Sadness after a trauma may come from a sense of loss---of a loved one, of trust in the world, faith, or a previous way of life. You may:have crying spells, lose interest in things you used to enjoy, want to be alone all the time, feel tired, empty, and numb.  
• Guilt and shame: You may feel guilty that you did not do more to prevent the trauma. You may feel ashamed because during the trauma you acted in ways that you would not otherwise have done. You may:feel responsible for what happened, feel guilty because others were injured or killed and you survived.  
• Anger and irritability: Anger may result from feeling you have been unfairly treated. Anger can make you feel irritated and cause you to be easily set off. You may:lash out at your partner or spouse, have less patience with your children, overreact to small misunderstandings.  
• Behavior changes: You may act in unhealthy ways. You may:drink, use drugs, or smoke too much, drive aggressively, neglect your health, avoid certain people or situations.”   It lists four main symptoms: reliving the event, avoiding situations that remind of the event, feeling numb, and feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)”

Four words strung together: Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  They’ve become a tired cliché, exhausted from the endless threat of random cruelty camouflaged in banality, weary of the weight shouldering back the wall that separates death and gore from the living.  Living was a reflex beyond willpower and devoid of choice. Control was self-deception.  The mind was so preoccupied with A: survival, B: sanity, in that order.  Rest was a cruel illusion.  The tank was drained, no room for emotions ditched.  Empathy took too much effort, fear was greedy.  Hopefully they can be remembered and found on the other side, if there is one.  Sleep deprived cells were left hyper-alert from the imminent, shot up and addicted to adrenaline.  Living was Fate and Chance, and meant leaving that time and place sealed in forgetfulness.  

Now PTSD is a worn out acronym, a cold shadow of what it feels like.  I try to think of something more personal that can describe the way it randomly visits me, now resigned to its familiar unwelcome influence.  It steals through my brain, flying ahead of me with its own agenda of protecting sabotage.  Its like the Guardian Trickster of Native American legend.  Its an archetype but real enough to make mistakes: Chulyen, the black raven.

A decade after the ER, contentment is found in a garden of slow tranquility as a butterfly interrupts a sunbeam.  My heart fills with bittersweet as I’ve finally found something I love and want to keep.  Just then Chulyen’s grasping black claws clamp my heart with painful arrhythmia and it fills to burst, tripping in panic trying to recover its pace.  The sudden pain drops me to my knees, in the dirt between fragrant lavender and cherry tomatoes.  Pain stops breath and time and makes me remember the ER, when my heart rebelled its ordained purpose for a week.  I had tried to throw my bitter life back in God’s face but He didn’t take it.  Now that I have peace and a life that I treasure, He’s taking it now.  The price for my mistake is due.  It was all just borrowed time and I’m still so young, my children just babies.  God with a flick of cruelty reminds me not to put faith in the tangible, especially when its treasured.  The sharp claws finally relent and I can breathe, looking up with a gasp and the Raven takes flight overhead leaving a shadow.  Bright noon warmth, unusually heavy and foreboding, seems to say ‘there will come a time when you will not welcome the sun.’   Doctors run an EKG and diagnose ‘stress’.

The bird perches on my shoulder two more decades later, always seeing death just over there.  So I sit on the porch just a little longer and check my list again, delaying the unavoidable racing heart and rush of tension when I fix the motorcycle helmet strap under my chin.  I know all those stupid drivers have my life in their cell-phone distracted hands and hope my husband knows how much I love him, and my daughters too.  

Chulyen wakes me at 3:00 am when autumn’s wind aggravates the trees.  His rustle of black feathers outside unsettles summer’s calm night.  He brings an end-of-the-world portent that hints this peace is just temporary, borrowed.  Tribulation will return.

Ravens are attracted to bright shiny things.  Chulyen steals off with treasures like intention, and contentment.  I don’t realize they are missing until occasionally I find myself truly living in the moment.  I guess that is another reason why I crave adventure, for those instants and epiphanies that snap me out of that long term modis operandi of reacting, instead of being.  The daily list of ‘I must, or I should’ can for a brief while become ‘I want’  and I am free.

My companion the black bird perches relaxed in the desert on the gatepost of a memory.  A bullet-scarred paint-faded sign dangles by one corner from rusty barbed wire:
    No Trespassing    
    That Means You
I have a haunted idea what's behind the fence.  Chulyen implies the memory with a simple mistaken sound:
a Harley in the distance is for a second the agitating echo of a helicopter...
or those were the very same words they said when...
or I hear a few jangling clinks of forks in our warm kitchen...
hinting a cold cafeteria at 5:00 am smelling of fake eggs and industrial maple flavored corn syrup,
and everything else that happened that day...
My cells recollect, brace with the addictive rush of adrenaline.  But the raven denies access to the memory, distracting with discomfort.  I trip and I fall hard into the gritty dirt of irritation at the person who unknowingly reminded me.  Anxiety floods in along with fatigue of the helplessness of it all, back then and still now.  I can't go further.  Chulyen’s tricking deception says Leave This Memory, you never wanted to come back.
But I already knew from just recognizing the bird patiently sitting there a sentinal,
recalling every other time he tricked me with nausea and depression.
I tried to tell myself again that behind that gate,
the past has dried up from neglect.
Disintegrated into dust,
Blown away,
doesn't
exist.



After everything else, how to work through this?  The VA gave me a manual, a crudely printed set of worksheets with a government-looking blue cover page:  Cognitive Processing Therapy.
“In normal recovery from PTSD symptioms, intrusion, thoughts, and emotions decrease over time and no longer trigger each other.  However, in those who don’t recover, the vivid images, negative thoughts, and strong emotions lead to escape and avoidance.  Avoidance prevents the processing of the trauma that is needed for recovery and works only temporarily.  The ultimate goal is acceptance.  
There may be “stuck points”, conflicting beliefs or strong negative beliefs that create additional unpleasant emotions and unhealthy behavior.  For example, a prior belief may have been “ I am able to protect myself in dangerous situations.”  But after being harmed during military service, a conflicting belief surfaces, “I was harmed during service, and I am to blame.”  If one is ‘stuck’ here, it may take some time until one is able to get feelings out about the trauma, because one is processing a number of rationales.  “I deserved it because…” , or “I misinterpreted what happened, I acted inappropriately, I must be crazy…”  The goal is to change the prior belief to one that does not hinder acceptance.  For example, “I may not be able to protect myself in all situations.”

(chapter continues with recovery methods)
One day I will depart the train at a station without a name,
Pull emergency cord and take the plunge thru parted doors.
I'll pack no suitcase or bindle, in my head young, free and single,
I will be a living swindle - wherefore art prat poet of before?
New job doing something I've shown no interest in before,
Change my name to 'Neville Moore'.

I'll do a Reginald Perrin, leave red herring threads at Sherring-
ham, then dice-rolled palookaville of new self I shall explore.
When Palookas call me Neville, they won't see this wasted rebel,
But numpty Neville, on the level, who misplaced his wasted days of yore.
Amnesiac clerk stoical over mist-shrouded days of yore.
Only knew my name was Neville Moore.

Neville will moonlight at night-school, pick up a trade that's practical,
In minimalist digs post-dossing on unforeseen saviour's floor.
Time's sandstorm obscures lyrics, John Doe-penned hieroglyphics
- lost soul Lysander's from Norwich. His mind shut like a shoved closed drawer
To Poesy's Pandora's box of ******* in indigo iron drawer
In Norwich. No bones to Neville Moore.

Neville will be a straight arrow, nice chap whose mind is narrow,
Tepid tryer temping at call-centre, lockjaw forevermore.
The blandest of mystery men, what was Neville's name again?
Man with no memories blends in; my dead ringer, stunky, strong-jawed.
Eye-witness testimony of 36 years will gladly be abjured
- done myself good deed poll: Neville Moore.

I'll  abscond so left Lysander might be eternal loose end, the
Inner poltergeist confined to an indigo iron drawer.
Tomorrow I'll do a John Stonehouse bog-snorkelling, a grandiose
loser who fled being infamous in his own dinnerhour, a bore
Unto myself.  I'll abandon ship,  then life will be less of a bore,
Being much more boring Neville Moore.

And I'll meet a girl called Sybil, Palookashire an idyll,
Where a man with no past can just wash up upon the shore.
For if child is father of the man, Neville'll be an upbeat orphan!
Labels torn off the clothes from Oxfam what Memory's Outlaw wore,
Newfoundhometownbound Mister X such clueless clothes wore,
Clean the pockets of Neville Moore.

Sybil won't be the type to probe, at night she'll pop her Zopiclone,
Cuddle up to normal Neville, earnest the embrace of average amour.
We will rent a little bedsit and expend a lotta effort
To make our place seem white-picket-fenced, tho'  we resided on 3rd floor.
Down updrafts of Fate, untempted to faceplant from the 3rd floor
Is plain ol' sane ol' Neville Moore. 

No temptation, but something racing, the unexplained midnight pacing,
And murmurs in Nev's sleep there's reams in an indigo iron drawer.
But in daylight we'll have daughter, from nowhere the name 'Cobania'
(Nev wouldn't dig Nirvana, fin de siecle scream's aural chore,
nihilistening not for Neville in zen of playful household chores).
Shrug-a-lugs of numb Neville Moore.

Neville wouldn't get promotion, Neville doesn't have much gumption.
Frankenstein's **** domesticus by design, Nev's a swollen snore.
Lice would have mocked, 'Call this living?' Lice is dead, would always give in
To windmills' wheeling withering, watched like a raven, set no store
In what life we have worth living, which is what life life has in store
For unquestioning Neville Moore. 

Neville, don't be snarling slave to snafus by another self made,
Be complete now the only piece is the missing piece of the jigsaw.
Radio receives no 'roger', they won't see Cobania as a toddler,
But for famalam, there's succour: lines left in indigo iron drawer.
For Lice did leave literally living will in indigo iron drawer:
Poem entitled Neville Moore.

Nev and Sybil will have ups and downs, in facades cracks gouge frowns;
Castaway's fury in his eyes curdles Florida coleslaw.
I don't need Sybil's mithering, I mean 'Nev' dint, thinking about writing
- did we do Jack Nicholson in 'The Shining', too nuts too soon in Neville Moore?
Polter-Lice rattling in indigo iron liar's den re Neville Moore's 
Writer's shock swan-song for Neville Moore.

And sweet phantom Cobania, I hope she ends up saner
than her Canoe Man old man, sent reeling by subconscious southpaw
Of split personality punch-ups,  one-man-band fight clubs,
punchdrunk on bad self burps, tho' he burped Cobania with awe.
Pneumatically patting doting dad, errant soon so overawed
By humdrum Heaven, Neville Moore's.

Witness protection program to hide me from self-hate's hitman,
But Miltonic Satan's heart held Hell, for killer within is law
Unto himself. Thus phoenix photo album of my alter ego
To ***-end before Year Zero was burnt down, act of soul at war.
Greener grass scorched earth, everyman Eden sacked by selves at war,
Lysander negging out Neville Moore.

His ship's sailed ment'lly down the toilet - can't see the dream, it's ultraviolet!
Sybil wagging her finger with ****** of a fishwives' wappenshaw.
Cobania's cantankerous tween, Nev hears fin de siecle scream
- call the toilet 'Kurt', it's flushing the dream! Behold:  tombstone beneath 
                                                        ­    a sycamore,
Man from nowhere nowhere now beneath suicide's sycamore.
Quoth the engraving, 'Neville Moore'.

Beneath me to quote Ocean Colour Scene, beneath sycamore willow-leaned,
But day I caught train derailed: no malaise of glory, Anon no more.
Cobania in black with ***** highlights will grieve Daddy on the quiet;
Sybil indignant that the senseless,  existential eyesore
Option all her lost-and-found, found-and-lost, haunted hubbie saw.
Quoth the engraving, 'Neville Moore'.

Nev won't see Cobania grow up: she doesn't exist - s' good job!   
Yet I'll miss driving lessons and wedding, even if shaggy dog's dewclaw
Scratched itself out, vestigial scythe: Neville was never alive.
But this 2.4, 2.0 narrative smelted indigo iron drawer.
Cenotaph recast as mask, new visage's vista dark as in a drawer
Now quoth the engraving, 'Neville Moore'.

After Poe's misnomer, well, misnumbered: one short, 17 stanzas  
Ironically encode birthday of old dud cub who overroars
Last-ditch striped leopard, tame un-me. Lord Lucan, he WAS lucky
-  there's freedom in fake ID! But Neville grew sick, sick of me no more
Now as one two selves expire, same sigh of relief 'low sallow sycamore:
Thank **** Lice is nevermore.
My birthday is 17/05.