A Place to Myself Again (About Feeling Safe – or not – as A Survivor of C-PTSD)

This may be a mundane thing to talk about for most people, but it’s a biggie for me: I’ll move again.

Some 10 years ago I moved to an area west of Munich, Bavaria, Germany, which is probably among the most desired to live in in all of Germany: It’s called “Fuenfseenland” (“Five Lakes District”) for the fact that five lakes – ranging from very small to fairly large – are located in more or less immediate vicinity of each other. Interested parties seeking to buy property have to have really deep pockets – in the millions – to be considered. Each of the lakes is virtually embedded in nature preserve areas, some of which are even closed for public access due to their rare and select wildlife they sport and for being breeding grounds for endangered birds. Water, both that of the lakes as well as drinking water, is of the highest quality in the country. There are large patches of woods, serene trails along the lake shores, beaches and a multitude of recreational activities and tourist destinations. Next to all kinds of outdoor activities there is art, history and cultural events. It’s an area I endearingly call “Li’l Paradise” for its beauty and recreational value as well as general quality of living.

I consciously decided to move here and treat myself to the bounty of possibilities following my divorce in 2003, a number of career, health and personal setbacks in the following years, which in their combined outcomes ultimately resulted in my becoming disabled in 2007. Today I am convinced that I wouldn’t be among the living any longer hadn’t it been for the healing properties of these beautiful, scenic surroundings and the comfort they provided me with, especially at times when I felt completely isolated and disconnected from everyone and everything else. I didn’t get to take advantage of all of it as the disability quickly extinguished my modest material accomplishments of the 2.5 decades leading up to it, which forced me to declare bankruptcy in 2010 and needing to depend on very meager welfare benefits eversince. But whatever small activity I had access to – usually riding the bike into the woods and to the lakes or taking long walks, often with my camera in my gear – I would do as often as possible. I often had to force myself up and into gear as recurring major bouts of depression have been haunting my waking hours to this day. But when I did, I could always feel the soothing effects of being immersed in all this beauty, the fresh and clear air, the clean water (in summer, when going swimming), the almost pungent scent of the plants and trees, especially in spring, when everything stands in full bloom. I found some deserted spots, which provided me with the much and often needed opportunity for completely unwinding – an experience, I haven’t had all that often in my life, if ever.

There is a book I recently read, which is called “The Afterlife of Billy Fingers” by Annie Kagan. In one chapter Annie’s deceased brother talking to her from the realm of the afterlife says something to the effect of nature providing more “light” than any other place. Telling from the effects it had on me, nature truly is a healing force and if we were to look at life from a spiritual angle, it did seem to (re) connect me with the light inside (I will confess though that in my darkest hours entertaining thoughts about a potential afterlife not only didn’t help, but made things worse for me… talk about a double edged sword in that regard…). And again: I probably wouldn’t live anymore, if I hadn’t had access to all this in the previous years (next to – exhale – family and some important and loyal friends, both in the virtual as well as real world, who saw to it I wasn’t getting competely isolated, for which I’ll be always grateful to them!).

About three years ago, I was forced to move from my former abode as my initially mild-mannered neighbour had morphed into a source of torture for me for reasons of having become very inconsiderate as far as noise and general behaviour is concerned. Given that I have been living with the outcomes of complex post-traumatic stress disorder for 50 years and haven’t had (access to) specific treatment to this day – minus some hypnotherapy by a very well-intended doctor, who is now a friend of mine and whose efforts I believe to have helped more than any other attempt at therapy previously – I still am very sensitive – or even hypersensitive – to sudden noises or even vibrations coming from neighbouring parties, which quickly feel disruptive and threatening to me. I guess, the technical term would be “triggers” that activate some (unprocessed) fear memory in my system and which quickly manifest a full blown reliving of traumatic events, some of which happened as early as in the first weeks of my life on this planet. Since my neighbour had developed a habit of coming home from work for lunch break and then getting into violent fits with his gaming console, which he seems to have used as an outlet to blow off steam incurred from work, living next to him gradually became intolerable. My varying approaches of solving the situation by being understanding at first and then moving on to putting my foot down and trying to set and claim firm boundaries didn’t yield any lasting results. In the end, I never got any more than about 3 hours of consecutive, uninterrupted sleep, which had me chronically fatigued, not to mention cranky to the n-th degree. It wore me thin to the point, where I couldn’t be sure of my otherwise rigidly exercised and practiced impulse control, something I had brought myself to applying from an intuitive understanding that acting on – sometimes violent – feelings might get me in potentially irreversible trouble. Long story short: I was defeated and I had to move, if I didn’t want to risk completely losing it and freaking out on him in violent ways (I abhor violence, but any person can only be pushed so much until they lash back for mere self-protection, right?). It took a few years to find something suitable and my search was additionally burdened by the situation with welfare and bankruptcy (let’s just say that a societal drop out is not the ideal candidate for a potential tenant with most landlords or realtors). After about 3 years of looking for a different place, I found an understanding elderly lady, whose embedded appartement I moved in to about 3 years ago.

Finally, I got some better sleep and thus felt stronger to go on my little outings on the bike or on foot. But…. it never really felt like a place to myself, seeing as the floor layout is not completely separate from the main house, where she lives. I did my best to get used to the situation and technically speaking, there weren’t any major problems or “friction” or such, the latter probably from me being somewhat submissive and from understanding that I might compromise a largely benevolent living situation, if I “claimed my rights” as a tenant more expressively. (Side note: We once had another tenant living in one of the rooms in her part of the house; this young lady did not shy back from expressing herself and her needs for convenience, resulting in getting the boot only a few weeks later. I think, you can see what I’m referring to). I think, the specific aspect of this place is that I’ve never entirely felt secure or “protected” in that I am really safe, when closing the door behind me. While my landlady is very considerate in terms of noise or general behaviour, the mere fact of noticing her outside my window retriggers some still unprocessed and apparently active fear memories. I really really worked hard on trying to desensitize even those deeply buried “trigger points” – and I think I’ve made some progress in that regard. But nonetheless: While living here had its beautiful aspects, like e.g. the place being located in a very quiet neighbourhood, a pond sitting right outside my french windows to the porch and the place overlooking a patch of wood, the beautiful garden, the sounds from birds and wildlife entering my humble abode, while all of this also had some healing properties, I could never entirely shake the feeling of being…. well…. “threatened” in some way. I’m completely aware of how this won’t make any shred of sense with anyone not living with the outcomes of (C-) PTSD. It doesn’t. They just lack the experience. But be that as it may – my own system processes this situation differently given the outcomes of events in my life, which seem to have disrupted the process of developing a sense of safety, a sense of being able to rely on myself for self-protection. I did whatever I could to retrain my “mind” – and body – on this by consciously employing an inner monologue in the aftermath of such little disturbances, hoping to get my mind to “reprocess” those early seeded burdening outcomes and getting myself to relax and feel safe. Unfortunately, after having tried this for those entire three years that I’ve been living here, I can’t say that I have made the progress I had hoped to see (which would have been not to feel unsafe at all, but perfectly “protected” and well). How can I tell? Well, for instance when going about recording tracks for music I am in the process of composing, I can’t really get into the flow of the creative process. It is especially then where I notice the lingering outcomes of (C-) PTSD the most. Let’s say I’m on the computer, recording a guitar track for an upcoming song – b.t.w. this was done in the previous place I refer to in the beginning of this blog – and I try to get into the feel of the song and the specific part I’m about to record. With the tiniest interruption – like e.g. my landlady walks past my window to the left of my desk – it breaks my focus for hours (… and in the former place, I would literally shake for hours until I had settled down enough to continue; of course, I quickly learnt to just drop it and get out, when those triggers kicked in like that). Of course, I have thought of moving the desk to a different place inside the appartement in hoping I’ll feel safer and less disturbed working in a different spot. But it’s beyond that. Apparently, my needs for feeling safe are just a notch or two higher than that of any given person. Strictly speaking, I’d need a small studio or tiny house to myself in order to feel safe enough to open up to the creative process, where the latter requires complete abandon in order for anything to “come through” from the realm of creativity. And that complete abandon can only happen, if one feels secure and safe to begin with – a situation, I haven’t had for years, maybe forever. Why and how it is that I still managed to come up with anything – I have no idea. But bottomline: I soon began to understand that I’d have to move again in order to get to go about any creative activity. And the latter is what I feel to be the last resort of making sense of my entire existence to begin with. I surely did my best to sustain myself in the real world out there and for decades so – until the outcomes of my condition caught up with me in ways that made it impossible for me to function in a normal manner any more. The latter – I don’t presume to be anything out of the ordinary any more – at least not when you had to go through experiences in your life, which noone should have to go through at all, let alone this early in life. You know, even minus all the oomph and sometimes drama that the condition is associated with in regards to all the things most people take for granted, like e.g. relationships, intimacy, feeling safe in your body, yada-yada, even if I don’t take any of this into consideration, it has become fairly obvious to me how fear and love are at opposite ends of an emotional – and physically manifesting! – spectrum of human experience. In other words and to put it in a nutshell: Where there is (predominant) fear, there (hardly) can be love. And – vice versa! So, I guess the bright outlook and conclusion from this can be: Love – has the potential to heal everything.

So I guess, I’m best advised to start with love – love for self, self-compassion. And so I’ll honor my bodymind by moving to a new place. Apprehensive? You bet. In doubt? Absolutely! Sure it’s the right thing to do? Not at all. But it might be the next good thing on the path to healing. If not – I think, after having lived with this thing for such a long time with minimal and for a long time no help at all, I am safe to say that I’m glad to have – myself around for looking after me.

In that vein – wish me luck, if so inclined! 😉

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