Dear Professor

I assume there is a (rainbow) spectrum for healing from PTSD, like there’s a spectrum for autism. If so, then today was firmly a purple day . . . or red . . . which end is the high anxiety side? Hmm, well, since physics would say that the purple end would be high energy (think ultraviolet radiation) I’ll orient my day toward that end. It was . . . challenging. An innocuous conversation with my esteemed and lovely professor (whom I’ll call Professor Q here) led to a panic attack and the confession that men with big personalities frighten me. He asked how my classes were going, and I mentioned how much trouble I was having with statistics. Professor Q encouraged me to speak with the other teacher and just the thought of doing so sent my anxiety into the stratosphere.  All rational thought fled, and the nervous, hurt, panicky me came out. I really hate when she shows up since it means I’ve lost control of my emotions and am operating strictly in fight-or-flight mode.

*sigh*

I’ve just begun my healing journey and I have trouble talking to others, outside of the safety of my therapist’s office, about my trauma. Actually, that’s not completely correct. I can talk to most women, but men? Obviously not, if today is any indication (**note to self: learning opportunity here**). And if that weren’t enough, I left his office shaking, and in serious want of some fatty, sugary carbs. Thank goodness I don’t keep stuff like that in my truck, or I would have had my mouth full of an emotional sublimating treat. No, I’ve lost over 40 pounds in the last 6 months just by writing down everything I put into my mouth. Every. Single. Thing. The control over that part of my life helps me cope and, if I think upon it, my mouth-stuffing really took off once I met and married He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (lol, thank you J.K. Rowling for that one). But I want to do all the fun activities I enjoyed before my relationship with HWMNBN so, 40 pounds down, 30 more to go.

So back to the professor. I have this unrelenting urge to apologize, but I’ve learned that I often apologize unnecessarily. I was conditioned to apologize out of habit. In this instance, I know that I don’t want to apologize for sharing, because I should share my journey with others. I would like to apologize for sounding like a blithering idiot … but I know I’m not really an idiot. Maybe I just need to thank him for listening.

So here is what I’ve come up with…

Dear Professor,
 
     Thank you for listening to me today. Your suggestion that I discuss my difficulties in statistics with my professor was excellent advice. Unfortunately, you could not have predicted my reaction. I spent four years with a man who warped my sense of reality, and used lies to undermine my faith in humanity. I was conditioned to believe that men are untrustworthy, dangerous predators. While I realize how ridiculous this idea is now, I was unable to leave the situation. My sense of safety was dependent upon my belief in these lies. I do not share this story often as the emotional pain is still raw and I am working through the after effects.
 
     I was uncomfortable telling you that I have anxiety around men. I knew that it would reveal that I am not as comfortable around you as you might have thought. Yes, I have anxiety attacks when I come in to ask homework questions. When I first sit down with you my hands shake, I have trouble breathing, and my brain tries to shut down. Usually I sit on my hands so you don’t notice. Then, as the minutes go by and I calm down, the shaking lessens and I start to remember what I’m there to ask. It’s a fight between my brain and my body, but I’m nothing if not tenacious. I love this particular subject and I’m willing to battle myself for the knowledge.
 
     In all things exist the opportunity to learn. I have learned to embrace difficult situations and look for the truths they reveal. I didn’t choose to be victimized, but I do choose to take my pain and turn it into a source of strength. I choose to weigh actions more than words. I choose to listen first and speak second. I also believe in recognizing those who have helped me, whether or not they did so knowingly.
 
     I am grateful for your respect, humor and compassion. Every time we meet, I am afforded another example of the truth about men in general. You, living your life as an upstanding engineer, instructor, and man is proof that predators are not the norm, but the exception.
 

     So thank you, Professor, for being yourself, exactly as you are.

-Kelsey

One of the days I was in Professor Q’s office, and we were working on defining integral limits (that’s fancy nerd math for those of you who get hives at the mere mention of ‘Calculus’), he told me that sometimes you just have to be brave. I didn’t comment at the time, but I’ve been wondering, “Am I brave?” I don’t consider myself to be so, but if I can get past my fear and send this letter on, that’d be pretty audacious, wouldn’t it?

 

Old Trauma, New Reactions


“The best laid schemes o’ Mice and Men . . .” -Robert Burns (To A Mouse)

You might have heard the phrase, “The best laid plans of mice and men,” to describe the how seemingly foolproof plans often go awry.  But have you ever read the poem from which that phrase originates? It’s called, “To A Mouse,” and was composed by Robert Burns. If you can sort through the rough, Scots dialect in which it is written, then it’s a disturbingly delightful piece

The phrase is on my mind today. When I started going back to school a year ago, I was full of light and hope in my newfound healing. I felt like my life had made an enormous turn and, despite some bumps, I was finally headed in the right direction. For me, that direction has always been engineering, of any discipline or design. I’m fascinated by how things work, the math behind our world, and would love nothing better than to spend my life in search of new answers to the childhood question, “Why?”  But I’ve been having issues in school. Not the work or the concepts related to my engineering classes, thank goodness, my brain seems perfectly happy to function according to those needs. No, I’m having trouble with people; men, specifically.

I didn’t piece everything together until just last week. I was sitting in the office of one of my male professors and I was struggling to form cohesive thoughts. My hands were shaking so badly I had to sit on them. My brain refused to comprehend what was being said. My heart was racing and I couldn’t catch my breath. But I ignored everything and plowed forward, piecing together questions and answers with enough stubbornness to finally get what I needed. When I was done, I wasn’t sure my legs would carry me out of the office, so I asked my professor about a project he’d worked on in the past, and just let his story wash over me. Letting him talk was good. It gave me enough time to sort myself out and, when it was appropriate, leave the room.

At this point I was asking myself, “What the hell is going on?” I never suffered these symptoms in the past, but I know that they started when I came back to school. Over the last year I have explained them away as having exerted myself climbing the stairs, or having had too much caffeine during the day. But on this day, I took the elevator and, knowing I was coming in, chose not to drink copious amounts of coffee. I thought I planned everything out so that I wouldn’t be caught shaking like a leaf.

My science brain wanted to review the data. To alter the variables and test another theory. But honestly, what else was there to change? What else could be causing this reaction? And then, like a tidal wave, it hits me. I remember the pain.  I remember the words and the confusion. I remember the tears and the nightmares. And I remember why men scare me.

My abuse wasn’t physical, it was psychological. It came from my husband, a man I trusted, and it started right after we were married. He took every man I had contact with and turned them into monsters. He spun the truth into a nightmare, convincing me that I had been the victim of every man I’d ever known. It didn’t matter if the man in question was one I’d shared a long past personal relationship with, or just the guy ringing up my groceries, they were all used as weapons against me. He started slowly with a comment here or there to make me question their motivations. A derogatory statement about how I wasn’t respected for my mind, just my body. It was drilled into my consciousness that men were evil and I was an easy target.

It got to the point where I was so confused about the world that I rarely spoke to men in public. Further, if I did interact with a man in society, one who was not expressly hand picked for me to speak with, I knew to expect an argument. Those arguments turned into interrogations that wouldn’t stop until I made enough promises to placate his anger. I had to apologize. I had to prove that I only loved him.

I understand, now, that what he was really doing was attacking my sense of self worth to build himself up. If I believed that I’d been a life long victim, then I couldn’t trust myself and my own mind. If I doubted my abilities act independently, then I wouldn’t choose to be on my own. And if I wasn’t willing to be on my own, then I needed someone to protect and lead me around. And guess who wanted that job?

It seems so ridiculous that I believed anything that ever spilled forth from that man’s mouth. But in the moment? Over a very long period of time? Well, he’s a master manipulator and I had no idea how you could torment someone with their own memories. But you can, and, I suspect, it’s as powerful as any physical abuse. I have a physical reaction to men that I cannot control. I understand that it isn’t logical, and that I have little to fear from most men, but I can’t help it. Worse, not being able to stop my body from reacting is embarrassing, frustrating, and maddening.

(I’d like to say, that while I’m writing this, I’m shaking. It’s anger, mixed with pain, topped with anxiety. It’ll stop soon enough, but the story is important. Words have power, even if just written down.)

So I’m not sure what happens from here. I have a professor whom I greatly admire and respect, who I cannot be in the same room with without loosing my composure. I’m reticent to tell him why I’m such a flustered mess when I come in for help with my homework, but I also don’t know how to stop this deep-seated reaction. And what of future male professors? Colleges? Supervisors? Dare I say it, future relationships?

I know this is a lot of personal information to push out into the universe, but keeping it bottled up is never a good idea. Know that I have not one, but two lovely counselors that are working with me. If you’ve been through something similar, I’d love to hear how you dealt with, or are dealing with, it. For now, I just needed to get everything out in the open. I need to remove the power from those memories so that I can move on. I won’t let this fear stop me from pursuing my degree, but I will have to cope. And maybe coping will lead to healing 🙂

Mourning, Loss and The Last Ship

Sunday night I and millions of other fans were supposed to see the season three premiere of The Last Ship. We’d waited ten months for this show and everyone was happily looking forward to a little break from reality. Sadly, because a man in Florida chose to take the lives of forty nine others, the show had to be delayed. Situations in the premiere were eerily similar to the real life tragedy that struck so many in Orlando. However, upon the announcement that fans would need to wait at least another week for their show, a minority of them had a curious response. They got angry.

I know some people were angry because I’m heavily involved with this fandom; I manage a twitter channel with a significant following and write reviews for the show. After the fifth or sixth private message expressing outrage over the delay, I realized that something was afoot. These individuals talked of letting the terrorists win, that they’d never watch again, and called the network some not so repeatable names. I could understand disappointment, even resigned frustration. But such anger? It took me awhile to follow some of the comment strings and pick away at what lay beneath the surface.

I know that this fandom is not insensitive. From our interactions I can say that those who follow the show and who are active on social media are some of the most loyal, caring people you could ever hope to meet. As a rule, they don’t exhibit racism, sexism, or homophobia and are as pro-America as you can be. Yet a few comments posted that night seemed downright heartless. Despite outward appearances, I discovered that the issue was not over the uncertainty of being told to wait until TNT decides to restart the season.  Instead, the anger seemed to be a symptom of a much bigger issue: they felt utterly powerless.

One of the themes on The Last Ship is that freedom is not free; it requires sacrifice. All the characters wanted to return to their loved ones once they understood that the world had suffered great loss from a virus. In spite of these desires, the crew of the U.S.S. Nathan James soldiered on, knowing that if they ignored their selfish desires, they might discover a cure and save the world. Week after week this theme was an affirmation to many viewers that ideals like honor, country above self, and justice still exist in a world that often seems very bleak.

I think that the news coverage on the Orlando tragedy ignited fear and hopelessness for many people. Elected officials started finger pointing and name calling, inflammatory issues of gun control and racial profiling pitted friend against friend, and everyone was caught in a tornado of rage. Would a stricter interpretation of the Second Amendment have prevented the shooting? Should the FBI have been more proactive in investigating their quarry? Could neighbors and coworkers have done more to warn local police about this man?

While I don’t have answers to those questions, I do know that tragedy strikes fear into everyone. Fear is a natural response but it is the action you take despite your fear that is most important. I liken our fight against terrorism to an abusive relationship: one person will always try to hurt the other and cannot be reasoned with. They blame the weaker person for the abuse. The other person does all they can to say the right things and carefully avoid the wrong moves, all the while taking on the blame for their injuries. They start to believe that if they can just be good enough, they won’t get hit again. But the hits keep coming, and the injuries escalate until someone dies or gets out. I postulate that our national sense of vulnerability is due to a cultural crossroads: we have to come together and decide what we are going to do to stop the abuse.

So let’s discuss gun control and background checks. Let’s discuss how we identify and follow suspected criminals. Let’s discuss all of the ideas we have about the best ways to protect ourselves and our families, but let’s do it together. Domestic or foreign, if the terrorists can divide us, then they’ve won. Remember what Benjamin Franklin said when the other delegates worried that signing the Declaration of Independence would get them killed, “We must all hang together or assuredly we shall all hang separately.”  Those words were as true about America in 1776 as they are in 2016. If we want to be free we can no longer be subject to the whims and insanity of terrorists. Let’s mourn our loss and then let’s finish this.

I hope that next week we’ll get to see the long awaited premiere. I hope that we can watch the nightclub scene in the first episode and find strength in how the crew of the Nathan James handle the situation. Above all, I hope we find unity after this tragedy so that lives were not lost in vain and our future is one free of threats to our American life

Rachel’s Revenge

I gave notice this week to my family. Starting Sunday, and for each of the following twelve Sundays, I will not be available for raucous family gatherings, my voice will be absent from the harmonized yelling at nightly news anchors, levels of mockery and ridicule will drop to all time lows and if anyone has a heart attack they should call 911 because ladies and gents, The Last Ship is back on TV. Like many fans, I have waited ten grueling months for the season three premiere, fueled onward by cast photos and the dogmatic belief that the writers room will Shakespeare forth another outstanding season. My family has finally given up hope that I’ll reform my fangirl ways and they only gave me the slightest of eye rolls at my announcement.

Now I should admit that I’ve already seen the first part of the premiere. TNT pulled a fast one on the fans Memorial Day when they ran a marathon with all thirteen episodes of season two and then aired the first episode of season three under the misnomer ‘First Look’. I missed the marathon because I was stuck on a plane staffed by flight attendants channeling the Wicked Witch of the West and there wasn’t one bucket of water in sight. Bless my DVR’s CPU though, it recorded the show and I only debated watching this sneak peak for about eight seconds before I turned it on and . . .  well, no spoilers here!

Suffice to say it’ll make your heart pound. Part of my adoration of the show is the respect the writer’s have for the viewers. They don’t spell everything out for us, instead they let us have those blissful ‘ah ha’ moments when we figure out what happened or where the story line is headed. They also excel at throwing agonizing curve balls. More than one beloved character was killed off last season and some of us are still mourning those losses. It was the cliff hanger, when Dr. Scott is shot and her survival is in question, that garnered the most attention. Social media became a battle zone between those that refuse to watch the series without her, and those that would consider her death a natural part of the story line.  Shocking declarations of fans’ refusal to watch season 3 if she is indeed dead astound me. I think this panicked attitude speaks highly to both Rhona Mitra’s portrayal of Scott and the writers’ ability to make her a beloved character.

In honor of our favorite character whose fate will be revealed June 12th, I thought she should have her very on drink. Something we can use to toast her good fortune or to drown out our sorrows. Since Rachel is British, the base is good old fashioned tea, but let’s squash any notion that this is a hot drink. Since she spent the last two seasons on an American destroyer we’re drinking this cold! From everything we’ve seen of Scott, she’s sweet, deceptively strong and has a dark side you should not underestimate. Remember her kick ass moves on the Russian vessel in season one? Or how about how she helped Neils’ meet his maker in season two? Yes, for a woman like that you need something with a punch. I present to you “Rachel’s Revenge.”

A drink worthy of a strong heroine.
A drink worthy of a strong heroine.


Rachel’s Revenge
4 1/4 cups water
4 green tea bags, as fancy as you’d like
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
6 oz. fresh blackberries
1/4 cup sugar – or any sweetener you choose
Silver Tequila to taste
Fresh Basil for garnish
Ice

  1. Boil 4 cups of water. Make sure the water is actually boiling and not just bubbling – a distinction that is apparently quite British. Once the water boils, toss in the tea bags and turn of the heat. Let the tea steep 3-5 minutes of until it’s the strength you prefere. Remove the tea bags and put the tea in the fridge to get good and cold.
  2. Wash and drain the blackberries. Use a blender to turn them into juice. If you don’t want seeds in your drink, you’ll have to use a strainer to remove them. Or, if you’re lazy like me, count them as extra fiber and move along. Heat the blackberry juice, sugar and remaining 1/4 c. of water until it’s hot, but NOT boiling. Once all the sugar is melted, remove from heat and add the lemon zest. Cool your syrup.
    (**I tried making this blackberry syrup with honey, but the honey overpowered the fruit. Still, you can use any combination of sweeter so long as the result is a nearly sickeningly sweet concoction.) Cool the syrup.
  3. Grab a glass and fill it with ice. Depending on how sweet you like your tea, I used 1/3 blackberry syrup to 2/3 green tea. Add in a shot (or three) of tequila, garnish with basil or herb of your choice. Et Voila!

Please enjoy responsibly 🙂

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