Sunday, September 19, 2010

Anger Misjudged

I always finding it surprising when I discover something new about myself or what makes my PTSD tick. It usually comes to me out of the blue and it's not always when I'm doing something related to the revelation. This morning I realized I have a skewed perception of anger and how I relate to it. Ever since the stalking and PTSD I have misjudged how people react to my behaviours, particularly when I can't see the person. It is how I perceive the person and it's not reality, particularly when it comes to email interactions. I am constantly thinking and fearing that my emails, or my avoidance of emails have created some kind of anger reaction in the other party. I am constantly reminding myself that for the most part people do not care or think about me, that my lack of an email back to a friend or a timely response to a professor does not create anger in them, but most likely they don't even think about it. The same can be true of face to face interactions. I'm constantly wondering and worrying that something I've said, or done will create anger in the other person and how I'll deal with it.

It's a vicious cycle and I can't believe that I am just seeing it now, 5 years after the incident. I was constantly on edge over emails from the stalker - do I respond, do I avoid, do I try to reason with him, will I say something that angers him and starts the cycle of threats, phone calls and emails. I knew that email and msn have long been a trigger that creates PTSD symptoms - particularly the computer sounds from a new email, or the pinging of a new message from MSN. It was so bad at one point that I had to change all of the sounds on my msn messenger and my email so that they wouldn't immediately make me sick to my stomach, anxious and paranoid. I spent weeks and months learning to overcome my fear of email and I'm still not completely over it. I still kind of hold my breath when I open my email or log onto messenger but it no longer holds the same terrifying feelings it once did. To find out now that I still have email issues is both enlightening and sad for me. It's good to know because now I can work on finding ways to overcome this problem, but it's also sad to see how far I've come only to realize I still have so much ahead of me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How to Save Money at University - Books

Saving money while attending University is difficult to do - especially when tuition and living expenses are not getting any cheaper. By some miracle and a lot of hard work I have managed to complete my BA, MA and 3 years of my Ph.D without going one penny into debt. I think that's about to change if I continue my Ph.D since my funding is running out and financing this kind of a degree is a bit different than my previous two.

So, a few tips for those who are attending University for the first time this fall. I'm sure there are a few things in here that returning students will find useful as well. This post was getting extremely large so I'm breaking it down into several parts, the first being textbooks.

1. DO NOT buy your textbooks before the first day of class. Go to class, pick up a syllabus and figure out what books are absolutely necessary, what books will be on course reserve at the library and if the textbook has changed from last years offering of the same class. I made the mistake in second year of trying to get a jump on things and the huge line-ups at the bookstore by buying my textbooks early. The textbooks had completely changed between when the professor submitted their syllabus in August and when class started in September.

I also know professor's who have extra complimentary copies of textbooks from the printers and give them away in a lottery the first day of class - for a few of my students last term that was a $250 value just for showing up to pick up their syllabus. If the textbooks are the same as last year scope out bulletin boards on campus for people selling their used textbooks cheap.
Another tip is to ask your TA if they are selling their copies of the textbook from last year. I hate having copies of the same thing hanging around my house so I'll sell my books from last year when I get my new teaching copies. One of my friends keeps her copies and loans them out to students who are hard up.

2. Once you've figured out what books are absolutely necessary, check out the library and see if they're available on reserve, or in the stacks. I was extremely fortunate in that a lot of my textbooks were available on reserve for 2-4 hours at a time. While this requires some dedicated hours in the library to read and co-ordinating my schedule to accommodate this slight inconvenience it saved me hundreds of dollars every year. Chances are you'll be on campus with a couple of breaks in between classes anyways so this works well. The other ace up my sleeve was that my mother was a graduate student at another University. She could take out books by the semester for me and since they were from another institution it usually meant that the books weren't recalled too often. I realize this isn't an option for everyone, however if the books are in the stacks take them out and keep renewing them. If they get recalled, be ruthless - hold onto the book until the last possible day before accruing fines. As soon as you return the book, recall it back. It's not about being 'nice', it's about getting what you need to succeed in school.

3. If your books aren't on reserve and aren't cheaply available second hand consider pooling your money and finding a good friend in the same class to go in on a communal textbook. This comes with its own set of issues, but if you're in the same class, live close to each other or better yet are roommates I've seen this work out quite well. I've also seen the bad side of this when a friend of Mr. Intellectual's didn't break up with his then girlfriend until the day of the exam because they were sharing the textbook. Classy.

4. Another option is to borrow a friends copy of the textbook for an afternoon and photocopy the entire textbook. It might set you back $20-40 depending on how many pages the books is, if you can get two pages of the textbook per side and if you double-side your photocopying. Places like Staples or Business Depot will even spiral bind the whole thing for about $2.50 depending on how thick that sucker is. Be careful about where you do this. The last year I was in my previous Uni town the Staples got in trouble with the copyright people and wouldn't allow any photocopying of more than 10% of any book. They should have signs posted if this is something they're still monitoring. The irony is that the UPS store allowed me to photocopy an entire book and they were a half a block from the Staples. It shouldn't be a problem if you go to a copy center a little further from the University. One of my old room mates photographed large sections of his friend's textbooks with a good digital camera. I've also used my scanner to copy introductions and conclusions for books I need for my comprehensive exams. I've also scanned only the pages I was responsible for reading each week according to the syllabus. Get creative. The same goes for those horrifically overpriced course packs from the University print shop. I highly recommend sharing those, or borrowing one to photocopy since that's all they are in the first place - a spiral bound compilation of articles and what not that have been photocopied by the University.

5. Looking online can be your best bet for affordable books. See if your University has an online bulletin board for selling books, furniture or ride shares etc. These are easy places to find used books in good condition. Also check out kijiji or for your city for textbooks. Price compare between the bookstore and Amazon or Chapters/Indigo. My one caveat with Chapters/Indigo is that they are notorious for taking forever to ship textbooks. If it takes more than 3 weeks you are not saving any money because you will be 3 weeks behind in your readings for a semester that is only 12 weeks long. This is A LOT of reading to catch up on. Another really awesome online resource is It is THE best place to find rare, out of print and hard to find textbooks or any book in general. Just be careful of where they're coming from since it is worldwide and there will be shipping delays if you're getting your textbook out of Australia vs. continental North America. Also watch the shipping charges, the cheapest book available isn't necessarily so when you factor in shipping charges.

6. Don't wait too long to buy your books if you have to buy a textbook. Some of my students got burned this past year because they were going to buy the course pack in separate pieces by the semester. By Christmas the Campus bookstore had returned all the books they needed for the Winter term and they were stuck waiting weeks for the store to order in new copies for them. The same thing has happened to students who were waiting for their OSAP funding to come in before buying books, or waiting until after Thanksgiving. There is a small window of opportunity unfortunately and the bookstore will get rid of unsold copies fairly quickly to make room for new books or to save themselves money. The Campus Bookstore is also most likely to be the most expensive place to buy your textbooks. Look around and see if your school has a used bookstore, a co-op bookstore or if there is a used bookstore off campus run by some one other than your University.

7. Only get the required texts. Take a look at the recommended books, but if you don't think you're going to crack them or won't find them useful don't buy them. There is a reason they are 'recommended' instead of 'required'. That being said I have a couple of recommended textbooks that I still use today years later - these are mostly style guides and Kate Turabian's A Manual for Writers of Term Papers, Theses, and Dissertations.

8. If you have old books that you won't refer to anymore or don't want because the course was a stinker try selling them to come up with this years book money. I don't recommend selling them back to the bookstore. You will get an insulting fraction of the price for your textbook, even if it's in pristine condition with no underlining, highlighting or creased pages. Make up posters with tags to rip off that have your phone number and email address to sell those unwanted books. Plaster them in highly visible places - the library, the University Student Centre, major hallways of Dorms, and outside the bookstore. My favourite place to put up my ads to sell textbooks are right outside the classroom where the course I'm selling textbooks for meets. It's pretty easy to look up on the Registrar's website where and when the course is held. Just make sure your ads are up before the first class meets and be realistic on your prices. If your books are overpriced compared to your competition they won't move. Also be honest about their condition (some highlighting, underlining, new/unused condition etc). Include the course code, the author, title and edition of your books as well as your asking price. If you're willing to negotiate on price then say so. I usually neatly handwrite my ads using bright marker so they're legible but they also stand out from the piles of other textbook ads.

9. Look into getting a Library card for your University town's public library. Depending on what courses you are taking they will have some of those books available to borrow and most students won't even think about checking out a public library when they're in the bubble of the University. The same thing goes for when you're writing a paper and all the good books for your subject have been taken already - check out the public library.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Things I'd Like

Just a few things that I'd love to purchase, but haven't for one reason or other. Mostly because I'm a broke student and luxury items are more along the lines of a cup of coffee not made at home and a used paperback. I'm also desperately trying to keep my spending down in order to build up my savings.

Mad Men, season's 1-3 on DVD.

MAC fluidline in the shade macroviolet

A Minus Hipster Plus. I really like their designs.

Necklush, charcoal grey. I love this modern interpretation of the scarf. It is so not your grandma's neck covering.

A Slim Line leather journal, handmade by Julia Boyles.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Letting Go, Part I

It takes a lot of energy and mental capacity to hold onto something, especially anger. Many religions preach the doctrine of forgiveness or showing mercy towards others - particularly Christianity, of which I'm the most familiar with. No where, however, does the bible preach about forgiving and forgetting and yet over time these two concepts have become intertwined. Forgiveness has become synonymous with forgetting the transgression and many believe that without the forgetting component that forgiveness has not truly been achieved. To me this is a fallacy. Forgiveness can happen without forgetting and there are times when forgetting can be dangerous, leaving you open to a repeat of the same hurt. Forgiving and forgetting are two different concepts and should not be intertwined.

Forgiveness is a deeply personal choice and something that happens not so much for the person who has transgressed you, so much as it is for you. Many times the person who has hurt you may not even be aware of the consequences of their behaviour on others, nor are they aware of whether or not you have forgiven them. Thus forgiveness is not so much to ease their guilt or conscience, but rather to ease your mind and free yourself from the chains that holding onto the pain creates in your life. It does not mean forgetting, but rather making peace with what happened and consciously moving forward, instead of letting yourself get bogged down in what happened. This is where I think the "forgetting" concept has been misapplied to the letting go aspect of forgiveness.

To me forgiveness means letting go. Letting go of the emotional turmoil, the anger, resentment, or sadness encompassed in the action or event that has wronged you. It does not mean that you are ok with what happened, just that you have chosen to make peace with it in order to move forward. Wikipedia defines forgiveness as, "the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and/or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution." For me the important part of that thought is no longer seeking repayment or justice and stopping the negative feelings. This can be a powerful healing tool and one that I know first hand can be extremely difficult, if not impossible. For some people forgiveness is just not possible and I understand that without judgment.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Dress Shopping

Later this summer one of my brother's is getting married. In anticipation of the event I've been searching for a dress off and on - something that is appropriate for a family wedding, not dowdy looking, and not black. The last three dresses I bought for weddings were black and it's time for a change, not to mention the fact that this is a summer garden wedding and black would be too hot.

Along the way one of the sales staff I encountered had one of the nicest ways of telling me that a dress made me look fat. After stuffing myself into a dress that was a size too small, just to see if it looked good enough to order in my appropriate size she approached me with the line:

"Maybe we should find a dress that's a little more gentle on your curves."

I had to commender her aplomb in the situation since my ample chest was trying to break free of that dress and it was anything but flattering. In the end I did buy something from that store, but more than anything I was impressed with how this young woman handled things. Especially since I'm so used to retail workers lying and saying everything looks great on me, regardless of whether or not it really does.

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Effects of Moving Home

It's now been a month since I moved back to my parents house. It hasn't been the smoothest transition and I still feel like a transient. I've been splitting my time between my parents house and Quiet Confidence's. His apartment has been a necessary respite at times when I just need some space from my family or the things which are weighing me down.

The one thing I never really anticipated in moving home is that it would increase the triggers that sets off my PTSD. I haven't lived at home for longer than a couple of weeks since I acquired PTSD and didn't realize that I haven't learned to control or offset the triggers caused from this place. I'm still learning what around here is even a trigger. It has been a bit of a setback. I'm still not sure how to best cope with the problem. Leaving for QC's when I'm completely overwhelmed and unable to guide myself out of it has been essential.

Unfortunately I've been fairly withdrawn and moody around my family and I feel guilty for it. I'm hoping they don't take it personally, but I know that they are aware that not everything is ok with me. I'm not the most open and forthcoming person when it comes to personal things, so talking about it with anyone around here doesn't even cross my mind. I'm going to give yoga, working out and getting more sunshine a shot for a couple of weeks to see if it improves my mindset. If that fails to lift me out of my depression then I'll be heading back to my Doctor for antidepressants.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Measured Breaths

I'm lying in bed trying to slow my breathing down. I'm trying desperately to stop myself from hyperventilating but controlled, even breaths just aren't coming. Tears roll down my cheek, unnoticed, as I focus more and more of my energies on taking in air deep into my lungs. Images flood my mind on fast forward and as each scene clicks past my consciousness my breathing quickens. Each in and out is like a knife in my chest. My heart races and I ball my hands into fists pressed against my eyes.

I want to call Quiet Confidence to talk me down, but I'm not sure I can speak on the phone. I don't want to call at 2am only to have him hear sobbing and my out of control breathing. Even larger than my desire to hear his voice is the fear that he won't pick up. The thought of reaching out and discovering that he's not available is terrifying. It is untested territory. It is easier to go it alone than call and have it confirmed that I really am alone.

Mr. Intellectual was full of unfulfilled promises and an inability to be supportive of me and it has forever tainted me. I remember the nights when I was suicidal and desperate calling out for help and he would refuse to come see me. He didn't even want to talk to me on the phone and his indifference to my pain pushed me further into the darkness. I remember the way it made me feel and how I lost respect and love for him over his behaviour. After we broke up I never wanted to feel like that with another person, especially someone I love.

That is why I lay at 2 am concentrating on the in and out of my breath while abhorrent images scream through my minds eye. It is easier to hear the next day that I should have called than to call in the moment and find myself listening to an answering machine instead of a real person.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

In Season

Sweet Cherries are now in season on the farm. It has been really nice to walk out to the field in the early evening for some fresh cherries straight off the tree.

I like the quiet and seeing the progress made in the orchard. It is a world apart from what I do during the day and reminds me of my roots.

Empty ladders, left by the trees to be picked tomorrow.

I like to contemplate my work as I walk through the rows of trees. Or just think about life and how I'm feeling. It is a good time to check in with myself emotionally and work through things that are bothering me.

Cherries that didn't make the grade for market are dumped on the ground to be worked under.

The farm is a great place for some quiet contemplation. It also brings me back in touch with the rhythm of the seasons. If you live in Ontario now is the time to look for fresh, local sweet cherries at your farmer's market or grocery store. However, beware that what you're looking at might be cherries from Washington state, not Ontario - so read those signs carefully, or ask questions.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More Than A Hug

I close my eyes and let the sensations wash over me. The feel of your arms as they wrap around me and draw me in close. The smell of your shirt as I burrow my face into your chest, looking for that sweet spot somewhere between your shoulder and your neck; where my head fits perfectly into your body. I inhale deeply and feel myself slowly relaxing, the tension leaving my body. I cling to you for several moments, drawing strength from your calm assurance, from the solid mass of your frame. I feel safe and loved.

This is the moment I think about when I'm making the long drive to your place. It is the moment I dream about when we're apart during the week. It is the moment when my fears recede into the background. It is the moment when I can just be.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Everyday Life with PTSD

There are some things in life that time can not diminish. I'm finding that Post-Traumatic Stress is one of these things. I've spent a lot of time and energy over the past year or so working on my triggers, learning to feel safe and to trust again. There are however, moments when try as I might it comes crashing in on me. It happens in ways and circumstances that I just can't predict and work towards overcoming.

Yesterday I received a Canada Post notice in my mailbox. For the normal person this is a small matter of curiousity and possibly excitement. Who doesn't like getting mail? Instead I started to feel anxious and panicky. I wasn't expecting any packages- I hadn't ordered anything recently. A closer inspection of the notice indicated that it wasn't a package at all that I was supposed to pick up, but instead a letter. This set off more alarm bells and general waves of anxiety.

Instead of thinking logically about what the letter could be I immediately jumped into wild speculations of something from my stalker or something to do with him. I couldn't help myself. I felt sick to my stomach and refused to face my fears straight on by picking it up that afternoon. Instead I waited to talk to Quiet Confidence that evening before I decided what I was going to do. After talking me down a bit and reassuring me it was fine I agreed t0 go the next day to pick it up. If it was a plain envelope that didn't give me any clues of its origin I'd wait to open it until later when I would be at QC's house. It seemed like a rational, sane plan but I was still really worried. I spent a while that night fretting over the letter and what the hell the stalker could possibly want from me after all this time. Fear is a real and powerful emotion.

This morning over breakfast it came to me in a flash of insight what was waiting for me at the Post Office. I had gone in about a week ago to apply for a passport and it was supposed to be mailed to me after processing. I was told it wouldn't be ready before the end of the month so I had completely forgotten about it. Once I realized what was going on I started to tear up in frustration.

This summer is the 5 year mark of when the whole stalking nightmare began. I had hoped that after 5 years I wouldn't be bothered by it all, and the PTSD would be just a distant memory. It frustrates me that it still crops up. I'm beginning to think it will always be a part of me, even if it is only in the occasional relapse or situational episode. I hate that the unexpected sends me into a tailspin. I hate that I can't handle surprises. I hate that I can't answer the phone if it's not a number I recognize. After 5 years I still hold my breath for a second before I open up my email. There are some days when it makes me uncomfortable to go outside the house in public, so I hide out at home with the doors locked. I know that this is not a normal way to live.

Despite all of this I think I've made a lot of progress in the past year. I can generally recognize when I'm heading into trouble and take steps to alleviate the symptoms of my PTSD. Instead of being in the throws of an episode for weeks on end I can generally keep it confined to a couple of hours if I'm lucky or a few days if I'm not. It helps a lot that Quiet Confidence knows about it all and can sometimes tell if it's PTSD or something else bothering me. Having a supportive and understanding partner has helped me to build the safety net I need to function as normally as possible. I just wish I could handle being surprised a little bit better than I currently do.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Straight out of an Episode of Hoarders

Shortly after Christmas I received a free one month preview from one of the cable providers in my area. This preview introduced me to the A&E show Hoarders and I quickly became fascinated and slightly obsessed. For those who haven't heard of this show, the website describes it as a "fascinating look inside the lives of two different people whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis." A lot of these crisis are quite serious - everything from losing their kids, evictions, and having their house condemned to adult protective services stepping in if they're seniors and taking them into custody. It's tragic and depressing to watch, while occasionally being down right disgusting to see what conditions people actually live in.

The show is a train wreck but I couldn't avert my eyes. It reminded me of a couple of incidents and behaviours I had experienced in previous relationships. I had all but forgotten a lot of it but I remember that at the time I couldn't understand why they did certain things. I chalked a lot of it up to being males and naturally predisposed to living in unkempt conditions. Their places went beyond just a little messy though and fell more towards the downright disgusting and unsanitary. It was more than apathy and laziness that was causing them to not clean up after themselves.

More than their sheer laziness and filthy homes I remembered my behaviour when confronted with these things. I was left wondering what on earth possessed me to do the things I did, especially considering I didn't really like either of the guys. I was with them, but I didn't consider myself to be dating them. It was a strange time in my life when I was what I defined as the "un-girlfriend". I was the girl they thought they were dating, however I didn't exactly treat them well or act like they were legitimate boyfriends. The Jock never even knew where I lived, never met any of my friends and definitely was not introduced to my family. Candidate #2 knew where I lived, but never stayed over and only made it inside the door twice in the year we were seeing each other. The only reason he was inside my home was because he was picking me up and the second time he had stopped over with flowers in a desperate bid to keep me when he knew I was fed up and wanted out.

In both cases I remember doing their dishes on a number of occasions when I was so fed up with the filth. In Candidate #2's case it happened a lot because he hated dishes and lived alone so there was no one else around to complain. He would leave food and random plate scraps in the sink along with his dishes for days and days. I would hazard a guess that some of the pots and pans could spend weeks sitting in the sink and he would turn a blind eye to it all. He also had the nasty habit of leaving leftovers in the fridge to die. Generally it was just easier to throw out the tupperware than to try to empty its noxious contents and wash it for reuse.

I also remember showing up one afternoon when the Jock was at work to clean out his room. It wasn't the biggest room in the student rental and it was made even smaller by the fact that there was garbage, paperwork, clothes and random detritus all over the floor and piled up in random areas. There was a small path from the door to the bed that was sort of clear and enough room to open the bedroom door, but that was about it. I remember spending an afternoon in there with a couple of garbage bags sifting through the garbage and bringing some order to the chaos. I remember that I was so tired of the mess and so desperate to spend one night there in a some what clean bedroom.

This cleaning up behaviour on my part seemed to escalate over time because over a year later I was with Candidate #2 and doing the same thing. I remember cleaning up an entire 2 bedroom townhouse this time around. I couldn't stand the cigarette butts piled over top the ashtray and onto the coffee table, random bits of ash on all kinds of surfaces. The small mountain of pop cans and empty water bottles scattered throughout the house, the stupid pot paraphernalia littered about, the balled up socks discarded in the living room and the mountains of dirty laundry in the basement with matching cousins in the bedroom. I remember one day in particular I had reached my limit and kind of cracked.

I had been avoiding staying over night for a while because he hadn't washed his extremely dirty sheets in a couple of weeks. I couldn't handle the situation and needed to find order in the chaos, both in that house and in my head. Over the course of the day I washed somewhere in the neighbourhood of 12 or 13 loads of laundry, finding shorts from our June camping trip on the bottom of the pile - it was November. I threw out a couple of cases worth of empty water bottles and nearly as many in empty diet coke. Old newspapers, pizza boxes, junk fliers, candy wrappers, McDonald's bags - it all got tossed in the dumpster. I'm not even sure how many garbage bags I took out that day. I stopped short of cleaning the bathroom or vacuuming, but everything else was fair game. I'm not really sure why I bothered. I think I wanted out of the relationship, but instead of dealing with the abstract reality of that I could only cope with the physical reality in front of me.

Watching episode after episode of Hoarders brought up all those old feelings and memories. It wasn't the proudest time in my life, nor one of the easiest. I don't like that I reverted into a maternal figure and cleaned up after them. I don't like that I settled for men at the time that I was ashamed of and didn't really like. I don't like that I was in such a head space that I was kind of ok with hanging out in a place that looked like it belonged on an episode of Hoarders. Eventually I was so overloaded by the show that I stopped watching. I can't handle watching another episode of Hoarders because it makes my skin crawl and it makes me feel like I'm right back there in the living room of the Jock's house or Candidate #2's. It's a feeling and a time I'd rather forget about right now.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

A Life in Flux

I've entered into another period of great changes in my life. I've decided to move home for financial and mental health reasons. I'm not certain that the decision is the right one considering that I haven't lived at home in 6 years. It also means giving up certain freedoms and making compromises. That being said, I really hope that it improves my overall quality of life and gives me the much needed mental boost that I've been looking for over the past year.

For the past year I've been under a low-grade and constant depression, which has been compounded by some unresolved health issues. I'm hoping that this round of specialists and testing will be able to give me some answers or at least resolve the worry I've felt about it.

I have just under 2 months left in my current University town to wrap up loose ends, pack and hopefully finish up with my Specialists in this area. It doesn't mean that I'll be packing in my Ph.D., but rather that I'll be moving office locations and commuting when necessary. I've never been enamoured with my current city, nor with the University itself. I'm hoping that with some distance and perspective that I can learn to love my University and my degree again. In any case, I'll at least be surrounding by some very supportive people and an environment that has been restful for me in the past. I just need something stable at the moment to anchor myself to.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympic Pride

Today is a proud day to be a Canadian. Not only for our gold medal games in both women's and men's Hockey at the Olympics, but also for our overall performance. We stood up well to the test and I'm so proud of all our athletes, regardless of whether or not they made it to the podium.

As the host nation of the 2010 Winter Olympics I think Vancouver did a fine job showcasing our country and celebrating not only our achievements, but the achievements of all the athletes. It reminds me of why I love my country and why I am proud to say I am Canadian!