Friday, August 30, 2019

Looking back at (non) recovery of trauma (graded exposure)

Avoiding it for ages only makes it worse.
Jumping in too far too fast makes it worse too. 
So what to do? 

Graded exposure therapy or desensitization is something I learnt about recently in relation to coping with my PTW (post trauma weirdness). Looking back over the years I can see the times I tried to just get over and rip the Band Aid off probably retraumatized me. And the fact that I've lived with it for so many years also kind of feels like it is getting harder.

So graded exposure makes a lot of sense. Dipping into it in a small way, until that gets comfortable, then moving on to the next step, or the next rung up the ladder. Staying there until that feels comfortable etc etc. Maybe like if you were afraid of dogs so you got a toy dog to play with, and then moved on to playing with a puppy, and eventually you could work your way up to a full grown dog.

For more on this see the 3 books I listed here that have been useful in recent months.  

Thursday, August 22, 2019

3 books- related to counselling

I have not read any of these books in their entirety, but they have all been useful in the last few months. (As mentioned here and on this trip.)

The Body Keeps the Score,  (Kolk) chapter 3 helped me to understand in a bit more depth what my counselor explained to me about post trauma. It describes what happens in the brain when a traumatic memory is triggered. Its as if it is actually happening in the present, with the left brain activity decreasing while danger signals are being sent from the amygdala.  (That is my current layman's understanding anyway, feel free to leave a comment if you want to clarify it.)
"Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, one of the world’s foremost experts on trauma, has spent over three decades working with survivors. In The Body Keeps the Score, he uses recent scientific advances to show how trauma literally reshapes both body and brain, compromising sufferers’ capacities for pleasure, engagement, self-control, and trust." (Amazon)

Trauma and Resilience: A handbook,  (Schaefer) section 5 has some ways to manage traumatic stress.

"Are you looking for resources to come alongside people who are suffering
as they serve God? This book brings together theological perspectives;
personal stories; and spiritual, psychological, community, and medical
resources. It is research-based and at the same time practical. This is
a handbook for church and mission leaders, peer supporters, counselors,
those in personnel and member care roles, as well as those who suffer. It is also an excellent resource for training courses about this topic." (Amazon)

The Anxiety and Phobia workbook  (Bourne) has a chapter on graded exposure/desensitization

"...unparalleled, essential resource for people struggling with anxiety and phobias for almost thirty years.
Living with anxiety, panic disorders, or phobias can make you feel like you aren’t in control of your life. If you’re ready to tackle the fears that hold you back, this book is your go-to guide..." 

Friday, August 09, 2019

I was happy to find out (again) that my thyroid....

Last October I felt tired. Sleeping didn't help. I had some blood tests. Turned out one of my thyroid tests was abnormally high. My TSH was 9 when it is supposed to be between 0.4 and 4.

I was happy to finally find out that my thyroid was probably cause for fatigue.

So in January I travelled  to see a doctor about it. He did his own blood tests for thyroid function in his more reliable lab (he didn't trust the lab I'd used). It turned out that actually my TSH was only 2.2. In range. So my thyroid was ok. The scan and exam of it gave him no concern.

I was disappointed to find out that my thyroid couldn't be the cause for fatigue. Not that I want to be sick, but I want to know why I was so tired.

But then last month I travelled a bit further to see another doctor. I told her I had though I had a thyroid issues previously but my function was fine. She ended up doing the tests again, and 2 extra that hadn't been available back in Cambodia. So my TSH was still in range but the other 2 tests showed that -yes,  I DO  have a thyroid problem.

I was happy to finally find out (again) that my thyroid was probably the reason for fatigue.


This is the simplified 5 min version- thyroids are much more complicated. I just tapped this out in the required five minutes. 

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Is it a holiday? Is it a conference? No, it's a...

It’s not like any other travel I’d organised before. 
It’s not a mission trip to a host country. 
It’s not a visit to a passport country. 
It’s not a holiday. 
It’s not a conference. 
It’s not going away for study.

It's a tailor-made international health trip.

Emails flying between 3 countries. Collecting the correct documents for medical matters and crossing international borders. Trying to write a budget with 3 or 4 different currencies. Scheduling doctor's appointments not knowing how long it would take to get there from my accommodation, or how I would do that with no local language or knowledge or sense of direction. Trying to choose the cheaper flights that also matched up with when counsellors and guesthouse beds would be available...   

It felt like such a hassle to have to organise it, and it was annoying that we would all need to put our lives on hold for the duration. Going away cost so much money and I needed many people’s help to make it happen. If only I didn’t live somewhere without these services, there would be no need for a trip like this. I could just slot it into our normal everyday activities.

These were my thoughts as I prepared to have our babies overseas, and more recently as I got ready for two weeks of counselling and medical appointments in a country we have no connections to.  I resented having to travel for fairly run-of-the-mill health events. 

So what was this trip like?

It was a little like a holiday, in that I was in a relaxing environment away from normal life. 

And a little like a conference in that I learnt a lot of exciting things that I’m eager to take back to my real life. 

I was in a country that was neither my passport country nor host country. Daily activities included catching taxis from my accommodation to meetings. They weren’t big group meeting though, rather individual counselling sessions or doctor’s appointments. It was great to finally be able to investigate the mental and physical health issues I had been trying to work on over the last six months.

And the accommodation wasn’t just a place to sleep. It’s a little like a guesthouse, but specifically for cross-cultural workers. People often stay and rest when they visit the town for a holiday, health care, between conferences and while in transition between countries. 

This means I was instantly part of a community of others who have similar (but very different) life experiences and who are also there for counselling, or having babies and a variety of other reasons. Joining feels so easy and enjoyable; it makes the whole experience of a health trip even more valuable. I don’t know how to describe just how amazing it is to be briefly immersed in relationships that start and end quickly but with a connection that feels so unique and deep.

And it means it felt slightly reminiscent of living on Bible college campus, each family or individual has their own place to sleep but we all eat together. Perfect balance of personal space and community life. The big difference being that instead of classes to attend there is a pool, gardens and playgrounds. Other differences are that people often arrive and depart via the international airport, and stays are usually measured in weeks rather than years. 

It also means that I could really focus on my health as food and laundry is all taken care of onsite. Counselling and getting blood tests results back is exhausting, so I didn’t have energy for much else.  The only “housework” I needed to do while there was collect drinking water from the dining room, and drop my clothes off at the laundry.

Being away from both my passport and host country meant that I was free from any distractions and obligations. I could use all my brain space and energy on the specific things I needed help with.  Instead of resenting that I had to travel for health care, I’m actually really glad now. It worked really well. I feel like it was more helpful doing it like this than doing things from home, slotted in around normal life.

I remember the same feeling when we were away to have our first baby. It had been so hard to get there, and I was annoyed I couldn’t just do things from home like pregnant friends in my passport country. But when we were there, it felt so beneficial to have that family time away while going through such a big transition.

Yes, it was expensive, time consuming, and I needed a lot of help to make it happen; especially from my poor husband who basically had to put things on hold for a couple of weeks. But it turned out to be really effective in the ways we were hoping, as well as enjoyable. In fact so enjoyable I almost didn't want to come home!  It's a strange thing to have such meaningful memories in a country we aren't connected to in any other way. 

My clean laundry waiting for me! Boring photo but exciting moment.
I was excited to see Velvet Ashes this week is all about TRAVEL. I wanted some way to remember this whole experience of a two week counselling intensive while staying in a missionary retreat, so this blog post is what I came up with. 
I enjoyed being driven around by drivers who know where to go, on smooth roads, in closed vehicles with suspension. 

Photo by Owen Beard on Unsplash