Cold Hands

[NOT A TROMP POST. While this is a post-US-election piece of writing about the weird twists and turns of grief, beyond that, any similarities between my comments here and the Orange Cheeto-led sh!tshow that is our current political outlook is purely accidental. And sincerely regretted.]

* * *

milk_cropped
Alice, pre-trauma. Apparently very excited about milk.

One of the stranger symptoms I have discovered—as I claw my way back from the dissociative fog of PTSD that rotted out my brain over 25 years of squatting there like a toad, undiagnosed and untreated—is a limited ability to notice my body’s sensory input. I have to cook with overwhelming flavors, or I don’t taste my food. I must remember what I expect to smell, before I can detect an odor. If someone asks me whether a room’s temperature bothers me, without also specifying if they think it may be “too hot” or “too cold,” I often start to panic, suddenly aware that I have no idea what temperature the room is—and no clues from my companion to guide me.

But I noticed something interesting on my walk home this evening: I noticed my hands felt cold.

It can be tempting to feel dejected when, after four years of putting all my time and energy into recovery, “cold fingers” represents one of the pinnacles of success so far. Which is not to say my only success—far from it. I have knit together aspects of my personality broken apart for decades; identified and defanged many of my severe triggers, reducing to a bare minimum the most debilitating symptoms; and reconstructed narratives of my life so that nearly all of my memories are accessible again, when and as I choose. All in all, it’s one helluva lot, and I don’t discount any of it.

Still, it exhausts me that every time I reach a new plateau—every time my capacity to handle the sh!t stories I am already carrying increases—my brain decides it has yet more sh!t stories to throw my way. I fell down yet another well of despair two weeks ago: another unresolved pocket of pain and grief demanding to be worked through and released.

Four nonstop years of this has left me very, very tired.

I have stopped asking myself if all this work feels worth it; I fear more days than not, the answer would be a resounding “NO.” I have tried to stop asking if I believe I am out of the red yet, in the world’s grand tally of joy and despair—if the rent in the world that is my life has let in nearly enough of the first to justify the torturous second. (I try not to ask. Sometimes I still do. The answer always makes me sad.)

What I can also say, though—when I start not from questions but from answers—is that even in the midst of this week of tragic national news, I have old college friends still making time for me as I work through this latest grief-pit, willing and eager to help me revisit memories from 25+ years ago and sort them out. I can once again write words that other people read, and even more: other people value my opinion enough to often send me words of their own. And tonight, walking home on a cool evening in November, I could feel my hands as they grew cold.

For today, it is what I have. And today I choose to name it, “Enough.”

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[“Cold Hands” is part of my ongoing memory project.]

19 thoughts on “Cold Hands

  1. In my hospital context, we’re beginning to focus on the impact of secondary trauma on those who are most directly involved outside of the patient and family: medical staff, registration folks, environmental workers (who step into the room and clean up all the blood), etc. my reading has taken me to THE BODY KEEPS THE SCORE: BRAIN, MIND AND BODY IN THE HEALING OF TRAUMA, by Van der Kolk. “…trauma literally reshapes the both brain and body, compromising sufferers’ capacity for pleasure, engagement, self-control and trust.” So glad your hands were cold!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you! The last three weeks have been exceptionally strange, as various pockets of sensory awareness — also memories, cognitive processes, and lost bits of personality — keep coming back online, as it were (for lack of a better metaphor). There are parts of my brain that seem to literally not know what year it is now. I have no doubt that if I could go back and have brain scans taken at various points over the last 30 years, they would show a range of abnormal changes.

      I hope that the work is still going well, and feeding your soul and heart as well as your mind. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The work is going well. Thanks. I constantly find myself amazed and overwhelmed at the stories of so many who have endured so much, either at the hands of others or simply because we live in such a complex and broken world. There is a socioeconomic substratum of folks who are caught up in cycles of horror and illnesses that replicate themselves generation after generation. These are the hidden people who never appear to “catch a break.” Often the mothers, they work themselves into an early disability or grave in seemingly hopeless attempts to find a way through all the shit served up by life or, all too often, the men with whom they’ve become enmeshed. All too often, I can only sit with them in their darkness and hold their hands. They know this is NOT the way life was supposed to be. I seek to let them know they are not alone in that place they find themselves, both at that moment and in the moments to come.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You kind of had a Molly Ringwald vibe going on, there. Cute.

    Small victories are huge. I’m only 2.5 years out and it is extremely difficult to let myself feel new feelings, to be this raw all the time, and to have stuff I deliberately repressed pop up in my awareness like some sort of seriously fucked-up evil Jack-in-the-box. So, yeah, small and very important victories.

    I get overwhelmed a lot that I will be spending the remainder of my life getting better. Do I have the strength? Some days, yes, but a lot more days, barely.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. On behalf of my 17yo self (who made her own clothes, including the outfit pictured, and who thought she’d died and gone to fangirl heaven when Pretty In Pink came out and MOLLY FREAKIN’ RINGWALD played a girl who made her own clothes too), I thank you. I ONE MILLION TIMES thank you.

      It is quite possible that the faux turtle top-paired-with-deep V shell I am wearing in this photo drew inspiration from that character’s prom dress design, in fact.

      (I am putting your comment down as my small victory for the day, btw.)

      Liked by 1 person

        1. Creepy like that (IF it is, in fact, creepy at all) don’t bother me none! I like to imagine happier roads not taken. A parallel universe in which Baby Dyke Alice meets Baby Butch and they have a torrid summer fling? I’m totes cool with that. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Beautifully written. You have a talent to articulate clearly so your readers can feel (or not feel) the cold. Love the photo. I can’t quite join your joy in milk but we take what we can (and I really mean that broadly).

    Liked by 3 people

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