Chambered Nautilus. One of Nature’s Miracles

If somebody were to ask me to describe my life in one sentence, I might, depending on my mood, reply, “My life is a series of sucker punches, unexpected events that may knock me off my pins at the time but which later become inextricably a part of the old, familiar tapestry I call ‘life.’”  

At first glance, this description of my life may not make much sense or it may seem shallow or incomplete. But the more I reflect on my statement, the more I see its truth. For example, when I consider the matters of ending therapy, dealing with grannies who are mean-spirited bullies, and recognizing and appreciating miracles, I know that while these three matters may seem disparate and be, each in its own way, a shock to my system at the moment, I will soon understand why they are important and how they relate to one another. And then each will find its place in the warp and the weft of my life’s tapestry, and the tapestry will be made all the richer. 

In my previous post, July 6th, I discussed the matter of ending therapy. I indicated the reasons why it was time for me to end my therapy sessions and mentioned that my therapist and I would come to an agreement on this topic when I had my July 10th session. Now, ending therapy is not a step to be taken lightly, as you probably know if you have been in therapy for PTSD or C-PTSD. I know this for certain because I have ended therapy with many therapists—16 total!  

However, this time the process of ending therapy has been different from all the other times. Why? This time I am ready to end therapy! There is a huge difference between ending therapy because it’s simply time to end therapy and ending therapy for other reasons. This time I have known intuitively that I am ready for formal therapy to end, and ending has been easy. My therapist and I have formulated a plan together. I have a session scheduled for late August, and in between now and then, I am on an “as needed” basis. But I really doubt that I will need a session before late August. I’ve checked my body for a response to this decision, and the only perceptible reaction is a slight twinge of anxiety in the pit of my stomach when I think about stopping my formal sessions. The twinge is no more intense than the twinges I get when I know I have to speak to an audience, and I know that as time passes, the twinges will fade.  

When I have ended therapy with other therapists, I have not really been ready, and not being ready has made ending difficult. For example, I ended therapy with my first therapist because she retired and moved away. I grieved the loss of this relationship for years until the memory faded and drifted to find its place in my life’s tapestry. This therapist and I had been close. She was there for me when my psyche fragmented into bits and I couldn’t put myself back together. She was the person who helped me through the process of turning my husband over to the police when I caught him violating our daughter. She was there for me as I filed for divorce and endured the usual nastiness of the legal battle. And just before she left, she was there for me as I began a new job and embarked on a new path for my life. What neither of us knew, however, was that our work together was merely the beginning—I was not ready for an ending, for in 1983 Complex PTSD was a diagnosis yet to be discovered. I had a lot of work ahead of me!  

I ended therapy with other therapists for various reasons, mostly because I relocated or they relocated. I left a few because they were unprofessional and caused me harm. I wonder why none of those therapists, such as the one who slapped me and the one who became angry at me because I did not appreciate the way she touched me, accepted responsibility for her behavior and apologized to me. When I ended therapy with these therapists, I felt relief but also pain from unresolved issues with them. Because they had not apologized to me for their contribution to my pain, I was left to clean up the messes they made in my psyche. A few times, I had to see somebody just to get help repairing myself after having been abused by therapists. I doubt that any textbook mentions this reason for seeking mental health help.  

So now I am truly ready to end therapy—I feel it in my bones, and I also know it in that part of my mind where rational thought resides. And I have proof that I can manage my life without needing therapy. For one thing, I have been tested and have passed/am passing the tests—and this is where the “granny bullies” enter the picture.  

Because I am seventy-five years old and rely on Social Security and my small teacher pension for my income, the HUD people consider me to be a “very low income” person and eligible for subsidized housing. I have lived in six housing complexes for low-income seniors, and of those complexes, three were HUD-related subsidized complexes and three were what is known as “affordable housing” complexes. Rent at the “affordable” complexes rose alarmingly, so I have made peace with the fact that I will probably spend the rest of my days in HUD subsidized housing where my rent will never be more than 30% of my adjusted income.  

As I have relocated and moved from one housing project to another, I have done a casual sort of research project on the phenomenon that I call “granny bullies,” elderly women who spend their time gossiping about other tenants and bullying those tenants who appear most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves. In general, I have found that the places where I have paid the least rent are the places where the bullies are most active and most vicious. When I lived in Sherwood, Oregon, a pack of “granny bullies” delighted in tormenting tenants who were on disability due to mental health problems. These elderly women also sold their pain medication to earn extra income. I’ve heard psychologists say that if you want to know how a person will behave in the future, look at past behavior. If there is any truth to this guide, then I can imagine that the bullies at the Sherwood complex have been bullies all their lives.  

How did I handle the Sherwood bullies? I did my best to avoid them. I was scared and lacked confidence in my ability to defend myself. The level of my fear rose one evening when I came home from choir practice. I lived in a second-floor apartment, and my door opened onto my balcony. From there, I had to share the stairs with the woman across from me. On this night, I reached the landing of the stairs and was confronted by my elderly neighbor who blocked my way. She told me that she would allow me to pass if I told her that I would join her and her bully friends in tormenting another tenant, one who had a psychiatric diagnosis. I told her there was no way I would participate in bullying, pushed past her, and entered my apartment. I considered calling the police, but I was too afraid she and her pals would retaliate if I did that, so I just let the incident go and began searching for a new place to live.  

Fast forward to the present, the summer of 2014. Again, in my present complex, the “granny bullies” are alive and active. One has chosen to pick on me. She pounded on my door and ranted one Sunday because my friend who brings me home from church was parked in the fire lane. A lot of people park temporarily in the fire lane, but she chose to rant at my friend and me. Luckily, my friend is an extrovert and an expert at dealing with obnoxious people, so she ranted right back. The bully will be back, however, because I ignored her the other day when she came to my door. She wanted me to sign a petition, and I was on the phone and let her know I didn’t have time for her and her petition. Bullies do NOT like to be ignored, and she will let me know that, I’m sure. But this time, I’m not afraid of her or the others in her circle of bullies. Bring them on! I have confidence now that I did not have when I lived at Sherwood, and whatever the bullies may do, I will take care of the matter fully and legally. I realized in therapy that I am smart and resourceful, and I can deal with whatever the bullies dish out.  

As far as I’m concerned, I’ve passed the “ending therapy” test and know that I can handle my life without needing to schedule therapy sessions. My reward for staying with therapy, gaining new confidence, and ending therapy? The reminder that yes, life is filled with miracles, little gifts of love that help me continue to grow.  

I was part of one such miracle last Thursday. For weeks, I have had to contend with the cigarette smoke from my upstairs neighbor’s apartment. Every time she has smoked in her living room, her smoke has drifted through my open living room window. As a result, I have fretted and stewed about this. Should I risk knocking on her door and asking her if she could please keep her smoke to herself and hope that she did not explode in my face? Or should I simply bypass her and talk to the manager? I’ve lived here for six months, now, and my upstairs neighbor has remained an unknown quantity. But last Thursday, when the smoke was particularly noticeable, I made my decision. I decided to make the trip up the stairs, knock on her door, and ask her if she could help me solve the smoke problem.  

When I knocked, the woman came to the door carrying her little dog. I told her that her smoke was coming through my window and into my living room and explained that I’m allergic to cigarette smoke. As I talked, she began to cry. I asked why she was crying, and she told me that she was so relieved that I had come to her rather than take my complaint to the gang of “granny bullies” who sit at the round table in our front yard. After I replied that I would never, ever go to the bullies for that reason, she explained that at one time, she had been part of their clique but they had been so nasty to her and another lady who smoked that she felt like a leper. Now she is so afraid of those women that she seldom leaves her apartment.  

When I left my neighbor, we parted in peace. I told her that I would appreciate anything she could do to minimize the smoke, and she assured me that she would try her best. I let her know that I don’t expect perfection, but I’ll be happy if she can at least cut down the amount of smoke. So far, so good. I don’t know what she is doing, but I’m not getting nearly as much smoke in my apartment as I have in the past. I plan to let her know that I appreciate her efforts. I also will reinforce the fact that others I have met here feel the way I feel about the women who sit at the table in the yard. My neighbor is not alone.  

What, exactly, is the miracle? I went, unafraid, to ask my neighbor to help solve the problem. My attitude was not accusatory or blaming—I simply wanted her help to solve a problem that was clearly partly hers. The miracle was that I decided to approach her directly and with love and courage rather than with fear and trembling. And she was grateful! We both gained from the experience—she received my assurance that I was not going to attack her or bully her, and I received her cooperation in reducing the cigarette smoke coming through my living room window.  

I see my neighbor differently now. I no longer see her as a malevolent person who is trying to make my life miserable with her smoke. I see her now as a person who needs to be reminded that not all the people who live here are against her and that she is no more a leper than those women whom I call the “granny bullies.” And difficult as it is to admit—the incident has reminded me, also, that inside each bully resides a person who is possibly just as scared as the victims of her bullying. I say that this is difficult to admit because in seeing bullies this way, I am forced to admit that even bullies need my compassion. For some reason, it’s easier to be angry than to have compassion at times.  

While this experience may not seem like a miracle to others, it is a miracle for me. As I was making my decision to approach my neighbor directly, I remembered Christ’s command in the Book of John, King James Version: A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.In the past, I have not usually called upon the principles I learned as a child in Sunday School, but now that my mind and my heart are not so distracted by my therapy, I am more inclined to think about and apply those principles to my everyday life. In this case, I am so glad I did!

 

Following is a quote about miracles that is attributed to Albert Einstein by many people but is not attributed to Albert Einstein by other, more skeptical, people.  Frankly, I don’t care who wrote it; I choose to see the miracles in life and to let them lead me. 

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”

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