Saturday, April 1, 2017

A Glimpse in the Window....

...of my brain.  

As I have stated several times in the past, I deal on a daily basis with Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD).


WHAT IS C-PTSD?

From the website Out of the Fog:
"Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape, such as in cases of: 
  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull,splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions."
In learning how Trauma affects the brain, first we need to learn how a "normal", untraumatized brain develops.   Dr. J. Douglas Bremner writes:
Although the bulk of brain development occurs in utero, the brain continues to develop after birth. In the first 5 years of life there is an overall expansion of brain volume related to development of both gray matter and white matter structures; however, from 7 to 17 years of age there is a progressive increase in white matter (felt to be related to ongoing myelination) and decrease in gray matter (felt to be related to neuronal pruning) while overall brain size stays the same.  Gray matter areas that undergo the greatest increases throughout this latter developmental epoch include frontal cortex and parietal cortex. Basal ganglia decrease in size, while corpus callosum, hippocampus, and amygdala appear to increase in size during childhood, although there may be developmental sex-laterality effects for some of these structures. Overall brain size is 10% larger in boys than girls during childhood. (Source: Traumatic Stress:  effects on the brain)
So, we know that children's brains continue to grow and develop all the way through about age 17.  There are a LOT of changes that happen during this time, which will affect the child for the rest of their life.  During this time, for every person, there WILL be stresses, and it is important to note how the brain is supposed to respond to stress.

A good explanation is available on the Harvard Health website:

The stress response begins in the brain. When someone confronts an oncoming car or other danger, the eyes or ears (or both) send the information to the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing. The amygdala interprets the images and sounds. When it perceives danger, it instantly sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus.  When someone experiences a stressful event, the amygdala, an area of the brain that contributes to emotional processing, sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. This area of the brain functions like a command center, communicating with the rest of the body through the nervous system so that the person has the energy to fight or flee.
For our purposes, we are going to stop there, with the technical explanation of what happens in a normal stress response.  Just remember the parts of the brain mentioned...the amygdala and hypothalamus...and one that was not mentioned: the hippocampus.  These parts of the brain are important pieces of what happens with a traumatized person.

What we know already is that stress is hard on our bodies.  An accumulation of too much stress leads to health problems.  Doctors will tell people to reduce their stress in order to get healthy or to stay healthy.  A Harvard Health website says this about stress:
Stress is unpleasant, even when it is transient. A stressful situation — whether something environmental, such as a looming work deadline, or psychological, such as persistent worry about losing a job — can trigger a cascade of stress hormones that produce well-orchestrated physiological changes. A stressful incident can make the heart pound and breathing quicken. Muscles tense and beads of sweat appear.
This is a NORMAL, non-traumatized person's response to stress.   And the results can be disastrous. From the same website:
 Persistent epinephrine surges can damage blood vessels and arteries, increasing blood pressure and raising risk of heart attacks or strokes. Elevated cortisol levels create physiological changes that help to replenish the body’s energy stores that are depleted during the stress response. But they inadvertently contribute to the buildup of fat tissue and to weight gain. For example, cortisol increases appetite, so that people will want to eat more to obtain extra energy. It also increases storage of unused nutrients as fat.

So, long-term stress responses make us tired, built fatty tissue, and cause weight gain, as well as increased blood pressure, damage to blood vessels and arteries, and a raised risk of heart attack and stroke.


WHAT IS DIFFERENT ABOUT A TRAUMATIZED PERSON?

A traumatized person has experienced trauma of some sort, either short- or long-term assault on their safety and well-being, physical, and/or emotional.  What happens inside the brain of someone who has been traumatized?

Christy Matta, a counselor, explains:
The body’s response to acute stress is a preparation for emergency.  Adrenaline and other hormones are released.  The body shuts down processes associated with long-term care.  When under immediate threat, digestion, reproduction, cell repair and other body tasks related to long-term functioning are unimportant.
Of immediate importance is survival.  Increased blood sugar can provide extra energy for muscles. Increases in cortisol counter pain and inflammation. Blood pressure increases. Blood is diverted from our extremities to our major muscles to provide us with extra strength. Increased endorphins can help us ignore physical pain.
You can see the effects of these changes to the body in many of the symptoms of stress, such as racing heart, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, shaking, feeling hot and flushed, and sweating. (Source: How Trauma Can Effect Your Body & Mind)

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Dependa-what?!?

In some circles, being a "military dependant" is a very derogatory label.  There are accusations of laziness, and classlessness, and abuse, and any manner of unseemly behavior.  While there may be instances (as in any circle) where there is a hint of truth to the accusation, I have not found these stereotyping labels to fit any of the military families I know.

It even occurs to me that many civilian families (including those to whom we are related) may not understand our lives.  Allow me to educate....

From the oh-so-reliable Wiki:
"Military dependents are the spouse(s), children, and possibly other familial relationship categories of a sponsoring military member for purposes of pay as well as special benefits, privileges and rights.[1] This generic category is enumerated in great detail for U.S. military members."

Very self-explanatory, no?  Heh.  Let's try a different route....

I am a military dependant.  

My husband is in the United States Navy.  

That means he goes to work every day wearing the uniform of a United States Sailor.  No, not the funky white bell-bottoms with the "sailor collar" and "dixie cup" cover.  (Thank God.  Those uniforms make MOST people look like the Pillsbury Doughboy. And they're a bear to keep looking nice.  Hello...they're WHITE.)  Usually, he wears what is affectionately called the "blueberrys"....which incidentally are going away in the next few years.  

Dependant means that (like MOST working families), our health insurance falls under his job...his employer provides health insurance for our family as part of the incentive plan.  

Dependant means that we "get to" move every few years.  Whether we really want to, or not...well, frankly, we COULD decide we were done with moving and stay...but that would mean added expense that we cannot afford.  Oh, and we RARELY get to move where we want.  Usually, the choice goes to the "needs of the Navy"...which often falls 5 or 15 slots below our first, second, or third choices.  

Dependent means that WHEN (not IF) he is deployed, I get to be chief-cook-and-bottle-washer, mom, dad, chauffeur, pay the bills, and take care of everything (did I ever tell you about the time I bought a house in his name?...I also bought a car during that deployment).  

At one point in our experience, Dependent meant that I couldn't afford TO WORK, because daycare would cost more money than I could make...even with my college education and work experience.  

Dependent means that if I want to do any further education, work, or spend time with friends, it ALWAYS come after his work on the priority list.  Why?  Because the Navy owns him.  

Dependent means that somewhere around 1% of the US population understands our lifestyle.  

Dependent means that we get a non-blood-related family through other "dependents", who are available when deployments and trainings and detachments happen, to help with inevitable list of things that go wrong as soon as he walks out the door or gets on the plane.  

Dependent is one of those terms that has a lot of implications to a lot of people, and most of them are wrong.  While Dependents have the label because they love a family member who is in the military, they are usually the LEAST dependent people I have ever met...independence defines the lifestyle.  

To all of my VERY independent Dependa-friends....thank you for your input over the last 17 years!!  You're AMAZING, and will be one of the things I miss most when we reach the end of this journey....

Monday, February 6, 2017

February, 2017

This going to be rambling, and probably not very coherent.  Sorry.

First, this month marks 25 years that we have been promised to each other.  We were engaged in February, 1992.  We will celebrate 25 years of marriage in October.

Several things.

This man has been an instrument God used to rescue me.  And I DO mean that literally.  He has been with me through recovery from PTSD (still in that!), and saw me buried under some pretty intense depression that almost took me away.  He has soothed anxieties that I didn't know I had, and pretty much been the rock I needed when I didn't know that my foundation was faulty.

He saw through the fake front that my family projected, and took me out of the abuse and control and demeaning situation I was in.  He has encouraged me, and built me up, and continues to support and encourage me.

My parents hated him.  HATED.  They did everything they could to separate us.  And still he stuck around, and tried to be a good son-in-law.

There have been tough times...but God.
I have doubted....but God.
I was told repeatedly that it would never last...but God.

That said, God is still working on us...we will always be a work-in-progress.

Second, there is a mistaken thought in some Christian circles that parents always know who is the best spouse for their children.  This is a faulty thought-process.  Parents are NOT God.  Parents do NOT know everything.  Some parents do not even have their child's best interests in mind.  Even parents who claim to be Christians fall into that last group.

I suffered so much mental anguish for YEARS because my parents HATED my husband, and many in my advisory circle thought I should have followed what they said and not married him.  There was a blow-up 2 weeks before the wedding.  It was not pretty.  Jason told them to stop harassing me, and not to bother coming to the wedding, due to the fact that EVERY time I got on the phone with them, trying to plan what was supposed to have been the happiest day of my life, they made me cry.  They belittled me.  They disparaged me.  They tried to control me from 2 hours away.  They complained about how much money we were spending.  (They put very little money into it...the total cost of the wedding ended up being less than $2,000, and Jason and I paid for most of it.)

Two and a half weeks after the wedding (election day 1992), I had a miscarriage.  The words of "comfort" I heard?  "I told you that you didn't have to marry him."

We have come a LONG ways since then.
24 years.
6 more children.
20+ moves in 5 states.
More jobs than I can count.
More cars than I care to figure out.

Education, exposure, and encouragement have made a HUGE difference in who I am today.  I have had several counselors express amazement that I never ended up with any addictions (outside of caffeine...NOT going there!), given the abuse and control I grew up under, and which no one outside the family saw.

People question why I would "expose the dirty laundry".  "Why talk about it now", they ask, "that's in the past."

First, my story is MY STORY.  It is how I came to be who I am today.  Telling my story is how I heal, and how I show all that God has done in my life.

Second, I tell my story for others whose stories are hidden, to give them courage.  You CAN be different.  You CAN overcome those lies people tell you.  You CAN be who God made you to be.

Third, an exposed dirty story has less power.  The longer these abuses and lies are hidden, the more power they have, and my life now is about breaking those chains of control that those lies and that abuse has over me.  My education has taught me the power of exposing "family secrets", and how freeing it is for everyone involved.

I love doing life with this man.  I love the month of February...it is the month I first had PROOF I was really loved by someone.  And he continues to show it to me every day of every year since then.  I am so glad I said "YES!" 25 years ago!!

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Family Newsletter, 2016

Merry Christmas from the Paxton family!!

Christmas 2016 finds us still in Massachusetts.

We have enjoyed a busy year with many milestones.

Frances transferred from CIU, to Liberty Online, to Gordon College, where she continues towards her goal of finishing school sometime before she is eligible for retirement.

Jon is still in Virginia Beach, currently working full-time, but was able to make the trip up to visit when his sister graduated....

Heather graduated from high school (YAY!), and is working part-time...and trying to "find herself" (...think the parents can help with that!!).

Justin is a Junior in high school, and has been able to take part in several theater productions, thus rendering him unable to keep up with school work or have anything resembling a social life.

Leah is a Freshman in high school, and was also able to take part in the school's fall musical. Her social life is only moderately busier than Justin's...for which the parental units are immensely grateful.  

Katherine is adjusting to being the only sibling still going to school on base, and is 7th grade.  The adjustment to being the last Paxton to enter adolescence has taken her parents by surprise with her ease of adjustment, and their shock that they are old enough for their youngest (!) child to be this OLD!!

Jason has stayed busy with work, which has included several out-of-town trainings in the past two months, as well as having made a trip to SC for (allegedly) his high school homecoming....which was henceforth cancelled due to an alleged hurricane.

Laura started back to work after a significant break (ahem...close to 10 years?), this time working in the field of trauma therapy, and attempting to keep up with her level of Facebook posts and associated game requests, while maintaining a messy house, and staying consistently behind on the laundry, as well as starting back to school AGAIN, writing mediocre papers, and staying irritated about group projects.

Again, Merry Christmas!!  Prayers from our family to yours for a Peaceful and Joyful 2017!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Happy Birthday, Frances!!

Today, you are the age I was when I got married.
Today, you are the age your father was when your younger bother (ahem, brother) was born.









You share your birthday with some famous people:
Samuel L. Jackson
Kiefer Sutherland
Ray Romano
Jane Fonda
Natalie Grant
...and a whole lot more that I don't recognize, but you probably would (at least some of them!)...




From the moment you entered our lives, you have made us better people.
You have chipped away at our pride, and polished away blemishes, and helped us focus on things more important than we could have known at the time.








Thank you for your love of God, and your love of learning, and your love for your family!!  We're so very glad that you are part of our family...that God chose to put you here with us!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A work in progress

I started writing this post on August 28.

This post has been rolling around in my head for a while.  It may still take a while until it is fully formed and ready to be read, but I have to start, at least.

Please be aware that I will probably step on some toes here, if you consider yourself a Christian.  You are warned.

Yesterday, we delivered our eldest child to college where she will begin the year as a transfer student from one of the schools that my husband and I claim as our alma mater (yes, we are professional students...I claim 3 schools, he claims 7).  It was my first visit to the campus, though my husband and daughter had been to visit several times between them.  We also have friends and staff members at our church who have attended the school, and are on staff at the school, too.  It is a very good school, solid theologically, and well-established.  It doesn't hurt that the campus is beautiful.  Of course, in my mind, I started comparing the two schools...the campus size, the buildings, the layout, etc.  Finally, I got to the underlying theological structure, and culture of the school, and this is where my mind went a'wandering.

This school that our daughter is attending is a Christian school.

The school she transferred from is a Christian school (which both Jason and I also attended).

Another of the schools my husband attended is a Christian University.

The last school I attended is yet another Christian University.

You could say that we have a bit of experience in relating to Christian-based institutions of higher learning.

Additionally, we have lived and attended churches in all four quadrants of this country.  Our foundational years, and longest number of years, were spent in the Southeastern states.  We spent a couple of very short years in the West, and four years in the Northwest.  Now we are living in New England.

Over these past 16 years of living in different parts of the country, we have experienced many different churches.  We have attended little bitty churches that met in schools, medium-sized churches, and a couple of really large churches with lavish buildings and lots of staff members.  We have experienced acceptance and rejection in equal parts in those churches.  We have been part of the inner circle, while also being excluded.

Through all of these experiences, my thoughts about how we do church have been evolving.

I love observing people.  I learn a LOT from them.

One of the interesting things I have observed throughout our times in different churches is that *most* have an attitude of "our way is the RIGHT way" to worship, to "do" church.  This has been true of the very VERY conservative church in which I grew up, of the slightly-less-conservative church in which we were married, and to varying degrees in every church where we have had the opportunity to worship over the past few years, with very few exceptions.  This seems to be a thought process that happens across denominational lines, in almost all churches that would be considered Protestant.  It does not seem to matter how educated or cultured the church leadership or members are...this thought process still seems pretty deeply ingrained.

I also have been watching what my friends who claim Christ post on social media.  Election cycles are always interesting and eye-opening.  And my Evangelical Protestant friends seem to been some of the more polarized, evangelistically preachy political people I have ever been exposed to.  Also, every new issue that comes up tends to draw out more polarization and anger.

Trump vs. Clinton
Bathroom wars.
Breast vs. Bottle (aka, Mommy Wars)
War, military, government, etc.
Yoga pants. Leggings. Skirts.  Jeans.  Dresses.
Gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, Paleo, you-name-it....
Spanking vs. not-spanking
Homeschool, public school, private school, unschool....
Vaccines vs. no vaccines

Almost any contemporary problem you can think of stirs up anger, contention, and polarization in the greater Protestant community, and to some degree in all of our society.

As a student of people, all of this anger concerns me on many levels.

It concerns me to see people in the church claiming something is "God's way" to do things, which in fact are treating people in decidedly ungodly ways.

It concerns me that this show of anger is really a symptom of other, underlying concerns, fears, and frustrations that are not being addressed because the anger is more urgent.

It concerns me that our Western churches are so distracted by things on the self-esteem level, that we no longer feel like there is any need below that.  In a word, we are blinded.

WE ARE BLINDED.

I am reminded of the Biblical account of the wealthy young man who came to Jesus asking how to attain eternal life, but didn't like what Jesus told him to do.  (Mark 10:17-27) I am afraid that we as a Western church have gotten to the place where we are unwilling to give up our comfort to help others, or even to help ourselves.  We are blind, and we are selfish.

WE ARE SELFISH.

We go to our comfortable churches with others who are as comfortable as we are, or who hide their discomfort well because it is not acceptable to talk about at church.  We don't see it, so we don't think it exists, and thus we deny the need to fix problems that we think are non-problems.

In our selfishness, we see no need to give up anything in order to be able to reach out to others.  In our selfishness, we refuse to budge from our places of comfort to even consider that others are hurting, are in need, are oppressed, are worthy.

WE ARE FEARFUL

This may seem not to fit with the two points above, but I believe we have let our fears get in the way of doing almost everything we have been asked and/or told to do in Scriptures.  I see paranoia robbing God's people of peace, of friends, of a witness, and of ANY credibility.  I don't think we're the only paranoid ones, but when God gave use a command for each and every day of the year to "FEAR NOT", it is time time recognize that fear should not be running our lives.

As a part of being blinded, we must remember that we cannot see what it is that we cannot see.  We do not know what it is that we do not know.  For that, we MUST be willing to learn from others who are different from us.  We must be teachable.

I am afraid that part of the blindness of the people I know in the Church is (in part) from the leadership.  In recent years, I HAVE seen a few brave and bold leaders who are stepping out to make a difference in their churches.  I applaud those leaders.  Sadly, they seem to be few.

In business, if there is a problem or something to be investigated, the main thought-process is "follow the money"...where is this flowing FROM?

Most pastors and others in leadership positions would often say that they are following what Scriptures teach.  I would challenge them to examine themselves and their teachings from a different perspective.

Every single person approaches life from a unique perspective.  Our views are tainted by how we were raised, the community we currently call home, the friends we have made, the education we have received, the privilege under which we operate.  This biased, tainted perspective is no less true for pastors and church leadership than for their church members.  What we have received is not something we can change, but it MUST be acknowledged before change can happen.

Which brings me to my next thought.

The education we receive plays a HUGE role in our perception of the world.
Our parents educate us before we even know we are being educated.
Our siblings, our grandparents, our neighbors, our pets, our schools....all contribute to our education.

If you have had the opportunity to attend college, you are among the privileged.
If your education was at a Bible college or Christian school or university, your education is a rare thing indeed.  The privilege to learn about the world from a Christian, hopefully Bible-based perspective is not something to take lightly.  I am quite certain that my friends who are educators at Christian universities and colleges feel the weight of the job set before them of imparting a unique perspective through which to view the world.

Many of my online friends hail back to our years together at a Christian school, and many other Christian schools and universities are represented in my friend list.

Given the vast number of my friends who have roots in a Christian education in some format or another, it always surprises and saddens me to see Christians misrepresenting the God they claim to love.  I know I have seen others do it.  I am quite sure I do it.  I am human.  We all are.  This is NOT intended to cast stones, or to point fingers.  We are all just as guilty in one way or another of blindness.  We all need others to help us see our blindness.

Education does NOT eliminate that need.  Frankly, I believe it makes that need even greater, because we tend to get lazy with time, and with others lauding our learning.  Like any other profession, there is an incredible need to stay current with our study...of Scriptures, of current events, of how God is working in our world, of the experiences others have, of the traumas they face, of the needs they may have that we do not have.   It is so tempting to look at others from the comfort of my privileged position and to judge them based on my experience.  BUT, based on my experience, there is NO WAY I can fully understand their perspective.  I need to get down off of my self-constructed pedestal, and walk a mile in their shoes, see life from their perspective.  

Since I am posting this in December, we all know the results of the election have been more polarizing that ever, and I believe we need this reminder even more now, as we embark on an unknown future...may we place our unknown future in the hands of our known God, and allow Him to guide our responses.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Exhausted, but life is good!

In the past two weeks, our household has experienced a LOT:
May 26: Jason's parents came into town, I worked. 
May 27: Leah and Katherine went with their school choir to Canobie Lake after their final performance for the year.
May 28: The whole family went on a fun historical excursion in Boston.
May 29: We went to church, and had a fun cookout in our cul-de-sac with our wonderful neighbors.
May 30: Jason's parents flew home, and Jon arrived. I worked.  
May 31: Leah did a presentation at school on inequality. I worked.
June 1: Leah and Katherine were in their first school play.  I worked.
June 2: Family pictures and Heather's Graduation, and All-Night-Grad-Party. 
June 3: Justin and Heather went to a graduation party for a friend on base.  I worked.



By Stephanie of
Sunflower Portrait Studios
June 4: Jason had drill, Jon flew back to VA, I got to have a lovely brunch to say farewell to a beautiful friend, I shopped with Leah to get things for her upcoming 8th grade trip...
June 5: Jason had drill. The rest of us went to church. Frances had a meeting for her upcoming ministry trip to Guatemala. 
June 6: Leah left to go to Gettysburg, Washington, DC, and other tours with her 8th grade class.  Everyone else went to school and work. 
June 7: We finally got a new dryer.  Everyone went to school and work.  Leah is still out of state.
June 8: Everyone is in school, or work...Leah is out of town still. 
June 9 (TODAY!): School, work, Leah gets home (between 10:45 and 11:00 pm)!! Katherine went on a field trip. 
(can life return to some resemblance of normal now, please?!?)
Also, in there, I spent 2 weeks washing clothes here, and either hanging them to dry in my basement, taking them to the neighbor's house, or Frances taking them to the base's laundromat.  Additionally, there was physical therapy, two trips to a car dealership, additional trips to church, and to the grocery store. 
To top it off, I fell today, in the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.  My stupid weak ankle gave out (twisted) and I landed on my left knee and left hand. Yes, it hurts, but it is more embarrassing than anything else. 
I'm tired.  My ankle is swollen.  I have awakened with headaches most of the last two weeks.  My authorization for PT has run out.  3 clients cancelled on me today.  My beautiful lovely amazing neighbor moved to Ohio.  Did I mention that I'm tired???  Life needs to slow down.  And now we prepare for school to finally end (June 20th for the middle schoolers, and June 17 at the High school...Heather has been out for 3 weeks now), and gearing up for VBS, Camp, ministry trips...and no vacation for mom and dad. 
Some days, adulting SUCKS.
**One final note. Something is weird with Blogger. None of the spacing is working right, and I am tired of fighting it. You're just going to have to forgive the mess. I'm tired.