Having a sense of peace

Photo of river and sky invoke a sense of peace.

Nature can help us maintain a sense of peace.

Sometimes having a sense of peace in this world is hard to do. Of course we hear that we should keep our sense of peace about us. Christ said He gave us His peace. Other times, however, we are enveloped in peace, like a field of energy surrounding us, emanating from within. It might sound a little woo-woo, but it’s real nonetheless. You’ve probably experienced that yourself.

Sense of peace amid turmoil

The kids are fighting, the baby is crying, the insurance company is denying your claim, your spouse just got fired, the house is a wreck, and you have company coming over in ten minutes. It may be “natural” to scream and pull your hair out, and you may find yourself doing just that.

You may also feel as if you’re standing in the eye of the hurricane, aware of, but not controlled by, the things going on around you. This is one of the goals of Orthodoxy: to maintain a sense of peace, no matter what is going on in our lives. I think it’s a result of theosis and taming the passions. I am no expert on Orthodoxy, though, let me tell you.

How to have a sense of peace

I don’t have any silver bullet or magic pill to make that happen for you, or even for myself. There are still times when I feel shaken up, angry, or afraid, such as every time my cyberstalker sends someone else to contact me for him. Also, there are times when I can’t see the next step in the path, or when nothing seems to work, and I’m frustrated.

Getting out into nature, even if it’s just for a few minutes, almost always helps me. Sometimes standing in front of our icon wall and praying helps the way I feel, and sometimes it doesn’t. Notice I said “how I feel,” not “how things are.” Feelings, while important, aren’t the most important thing sometimes. Sometimes what we do is more important than what we feel, and sometimes things can be getting better even when it doesn’t feel like they are.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety my entire life, stemming from severe abuse with no way out. Trusting God is HARD for me. I can CHOOSE to do it, but I might not FEEL it. That’s okay, because the feeling follows the choice. It might take a while, but it comes. I have to do it over and over. Perhaps someday it will be automatic, but for now… I have to make the choice. Trusting God, for me, is what provides that sense of peace. Not all of the Saints had that abiding sense of peace, but many did. I hope one day it just stays with me. Until then, I choose to step into it whenever I can. If it doesn’t come naturally to you, may you do the same. I wish you a deep and abiding sense of peace.

Stress responses with DDNOS and PTSD

Stress responses with DDNOS and PTSD are unpredictable

As a severe survivor who has had several letters after my name, such as DDNOS and PTSD, sometimes I’m triggered by things that wouldn’t bother most people. For example, someone accused me of causing a problem that was in fact her plumber’s fault. He didn’t install the required plumbing vents, so sewer sprays out of the downstairs sink when anyone flushes upstairs, and the sink goes glug-glug-glug all the time. He lied to her, saying it was all caused by our flushing a toilet downstairs while the water was turned off to that toilet. All that would do is drain the toilet’s tank (which it did), and there’d be no influx of water to fill it. No problems.

Anyone who knows the first thing about plumbing, water flow, or gravity would have known he was wrong. But she believed him and turned her anger on me.

The Orthodox response

The Orthodox thing to do would be to respond calmly and explain the truth, or perhaps to keep quiet. My response? I kept quiet, alright, but not because I’m Orthodox. I froze like a deer in the headlights, because I was triggered.

I couldn’t say anything. I couldn’t tell her what was actually going on: that her plumber ripped her off by not installing the necessary vent pipes when he installed the plumbing, and he was lying to cover his tail and convince her to put the blame on someone else. I have done some plumbing and have read quite a bit about it, so I know some things about it, and I can Google and ask a good plumber about anything I don’t know.

Mental health counselor

The irony here? The woman is a mental health counselor, and she didn’t even realize that she had triggered me and sent me into a state of frozen panic. The sad part: I really like her and I can’t even talk to her right now. I think she would care if she knew. At least, I hope she would! Also, it bothers me that her plumber took advantage of her like that.

If she would just look it up online or talk to another plumber, she’d find out the truth: sewer from upstairs spraying out of downstairs drains has nothing to do with flushing a toilet that had the water turned off to it. Nothing at all. It’s caused by improper/insufficient sewer venting, and it will never go away until that is fixed. Vents need to be installed in the building, and run all the way up to the roof. If I weren’t scared of heights, I’d offer to install them for her. Maybe she’d be less angry with me.

Triggering stress responses

So this has all been very stressful. Obviously, some people’s stress responses with DDNOS and PTSD are not triggered by things like this. Everyone has their own unique constitution.

Sometimes, I can handle a huge stressor like an assault and just shrug it off, or take charge in an emergency and go home when it’s done, unaffected. Some people who know me think I’m a paradox like that. I have to agree, and I feel bad for them that they are dealing with it, but I don’t know what to do to help them. It’s not like I can just say, “Okay, my stress responses will be more predictable from now on.”

I don’t think there’s any way to know for sure how a person with these conditions will react to a stressor, or even what things they will find to be stressful. I know with me, being accused of something—especially when I know I didn’t do it—will trigger me every time. So will someone being angry with me, unless I have years of experience with them that tells me I’m still safe. I’ll think of just the right thing to say, hours or days after the confrontation. But I probably won’t have the nerve to go say it to the person, so it will sit inside my head.

Now, I could choose to let this new relationship go and just let her stay angry at me forever because she was taken advantage of and bought a lie, or I could find the courage to speak, and try to repair it. She and I have quite a bit in common and I thought we could be friends. I’m going to try to repair it, even though I know it will be stressful. I like her. I think she’s worth it. I know she won’t physically assault me, so I’ll be safe that way. If she yells at me, I can just walk away and go get safe emotionally. Stress responses with DDNOS and PTSD are a royal pain, but they’re part of life.

Update: I sent her a card, explaining my response. She brought me a gift in return, and things seem to be better now. She also told me that her handyman also told her the plumber was not being honest with her.

Looking perfect, A tale of two vases

A story about looking perfect

Two pottery students each were tasked with creating a slab vase from clay. The first one hadn’t taken a pottery class before, but the second one had.

The first potter was quite concerned with appearances, and thought that if the outward appearance of her vase was good, then her vase would be good. So she threw the clay onto the table once, cut it into slabs, pried them up, and forced the pieces together in the shape of a vase.

She then spent most of her time focusing on smoothing out the surface of the clay, making sure there were no blemishes showing on the outside of her vase. She wanted her vase looking perfect before it went into the kiln, and it did. Other students came by and “oohed and ahhed” over the appearance of her vase. Yes, it certainly did look good. She and her vase had succeeded in looking perfect.

Build a good foundation

The other pottery student wanted a beautiful vase, too, but her approach was different. She knew that

  • the clay had to be worked to the point of pliability,
  • the air bubbles inside it needed to be removed, and
  • getting the air bubbles worked out takes time.

The clay needed to be thrown again and again and again, to remove the air bubbles. It needed to be warmed by her hands to be made pliable, and worked gently into shape or it could crack and split and need to be redone.

Better than you

During that time, things didn’t look so pretty. So while the first potter instantly had something that looked good on the outside, the second potter’s work didn’t look so beautiful at the time.

The first potter pointed at and made fun of the bumpy appearance of the second potter’s slab as she worked on it, and kept throwing it repeatedly to work out those bubbles. She said, “You should do it like I do, and make that thing look good, fast. You’re a horrible potter. Everyone can see that I’m better than you.” By the way, if you do anything like that in my class, or anywhere within earshot of me, my response will be swift. Mistreating others is not tolerated.

Ignore bad advice

The second and slightly more experienced potter knew that yes, her slab still had some blemishes, and it didn’t look as good on the surface as the other’s, but it would soon be air-bubble-free and thus structurally sound, and ready to survive the fire of the kiln.

A piece of pottery that has air bubbles in it would explode in the kiln, and while the shards might look beautiful, it wouldn’t be a whole, functioning vase. It might be able to be glued back together, but the damage would always be there, and would be pretty easy for people to see.

Beautiful but shattered

The second potter also knew that any on-the-surface problems in her vase could be smoothed over before it was fired, or sanded away after it had been fired. Either way, it could be glazed or painted and its appearance improved even more after it had been tested in the kiln.

The more important thing was to build it soundly so it would withstand the heat of the kiln. Appearance was secondary to that, and it would come in time. Appearance without correct underlying structure just gives beautiful, broken shards—shattered vases.

Quit worrying about appearance and be concerned with reality

Looking perfect has nothing to do with being good. Christ called this way of doing things being “whited sepulchers, full of dead men’s bones and all manner of filth.” It doesn’t lead to life, but to death. Is appearance important? Yes. But far more important is the underlying structure, the reality. Take care of the structure underneath before worrying about the surface. Take your time and do it right.

~An art-class lesson I gave years ago (without the reference to Christ or scripture, as it was designed for public-school classes).

Clicking into place

I feel like things are clicking into place in my brain/composition. They are mostly things that my parents should have taught me when I was a child, but didn’t. I guess they were too busy with their drama ever to think about teaching us anything.

Personal development

Every time something falls into place, I am a different person–just a bit usually, but sometimes it changes me substantially. I’m not the same as I was several months ago when we moved and lost internet access. I’m certainly not the same person I was over a year ago when I started attending an Orthodox Church. In some ways, I don’t recognize myself, but that’s okay.

Sometimes I can feel it happen in the middle of a sermon. Shift. Slide. Click.

Sometimes it’s during an interaction with my children or husband. Sometimes, I don’t know when it happened, but I know something recently did.

Orthodoxy changes us

Sometimes it feels like I’m supposed to pass through a cut-out of a certain shape, but my shoulder is too wide in this spot here, and the passage sands away that part of me. Sometimes it hurts, and sometimes not so much. At first, I objected loudly. What?! You’re going to reshape me? Rebuild me, redesign me?! I like who I am just fine, thankyouverymuch. I would cease to be me if you did that. No.

But they were right. Not only am I still me, as the people in my parish said, but I am more whole, more integrated than before. And when I say that, yes, I do mean it in the psychological sense with a dissociative disorder.

Inner peace

I feel at peace, and to realize just how huge that is, you have to understand something about me: my life, from the womb on, was chaos. I didn’t know where “home” was going to be at the end of any given day, for example, or if I’d have anything for dinner that night. I never knew any peace. I had only an intellectual understanding of the word’s definition. It was like a street urchin hearing about a feast at the palace. Yeah, riiiiight. Like that’s attainable for me.

To experience peace, calm, serenity… my soul and even my body let out the proverbial Ahhhh! After, that is, I got used to it. At first, I was so accustomed to turmoil that if there wasn’t already some in my life, I’d subconsciously find a way to create some. It took a while to get used to the idea, and even longer to get used to feeling it.

Sure, there will be times of stressful happenings, but I will never again revert to that previous state of chaos, tension, fear, and stress. I will never again lose my peace, Lord willing. Now, I welcome these “sanding” moments. At least a little. I know I’ll be in better shape when I’m through that doorway.

Food during Lent

I decided that for Lent this year, I’m only going to make the same few foods over and over. For one thing, I don’t want to cook, and there are reasons for that:

  • Standing hurts, so I do it as little as possible.
  • I have to cook from scratch due to IgG-mediated food allergies and financial restrictions, and that takes longer than throwing together something from a package does. Cooking one big pot of something and using it for several meals means I can cook less frequently. Food during Lent shouldn’t take long to make, in my opinion.
  • Since 90% of the foods I liked and knew how to cook were removed from our diet, I don’t have much interest in making anything anymore. I always loved throwing together different baked goods and dinner dishes. I always cooked from the hip, rarely even glancing at a recipe, and pretty much everyone who tried my food loved it (not so anymore). Doing that with gluten-free, dairy-free dishes doesn’t work very well. It’s just not the same anymore. Is it possible to have “dietary depression” from not being able to eat the foods you like due to dietary restrictions? If so, I’ve got it.
  • There are other things on my to-do list. My kids take up most of my day, still. Lord willing, I’ll live to see the day when they don’t, but for now, I can’t get much done when they’re awake. Just the appointments alone are hard enough. Today, I drove about 110 miles for an errand and an appointment (that the receptionist messed up on, again, which means I’ll have to go try to do that appointment for the third time…and drive another 70 miles to do it). I salvaged the trip, though, by going to three stores in that town to get some things we needed. It wasn’t a total waste, but easily could have been.

Food during Lent should be easy

For another thing, from what I understand (which isn’t that much on this topic), the idea is to get our minds off of food during Lent so we have more time to focus on God and penitence. It seems very counterintuitive to me—if the powers that be want us to get our minds off of food during Lent, making special rules and keeping us hungry all the time sure does not seem like the way to do it. If food during Lent is supposed to be quick and easy, the fasting rules don’t seem to be conducive to that in this day and age. But what do I know?

Fasting and hunger pangs

It would be easier to stop thinking about food if we didn’t eat any at all, because hunger pangs stop after about the third day. Of course, I’m sure my doctor would have an absolute fit about that one—as it is, last year she almost ordered me to go back to eating meat because of the muscle weakness and fatigue I was experiencing. This year, though, our Father Confessor told our family to fast only on MWF. Maybe there aren’t many people who could go 40 days without food. I went about 30 days without food as a kid (not by choice), but it nearly killed me and triggered metabolic problems. Not something I’d recommend.

I saw Adventures of an Orthodox Mom creating an elaborate menu for Lent, and I thought no way am I doing that. I thought I should do the same half a dozen meals over and over. We only do about ten repeatedly anyway, these days. Boring gluten-free, dairy-free living. It could be so much more, I know, but not in this house.

Someone suggested that for food during Lent I should do the same meal each Monday for dinner, a different one for every Tuesday of Lent, etc. I like that idea so much I already do that throughout the year (when I haven’t fallen off the wagon and stumbled into haphazard dinner-making land, that is). I was thinking even simpler than that. Along the lines of “Let’s make beans, rice, potatoes, oats, salads, fruit, and that is it,” and, “If I can cook for one hour right now, and make enough food to last us all week…”

So guess what I made when the kids and I got back from that long and nearly wasted trip today?

  • 6 quarts of salad that I vacuum sealed in jars (I found a way to do it that only requires a hand pump, a pushpin, a piece of tape, and a jar with a lid. I found the vacuum pump today for just 40¢!),
  • a pressure cooker full of pinto beans (I canned some of them and froze some of them),
  • a gallon of vegetable soup (I canned it), and
  • french fries for tonight’s dinner. My husband took care of the burgers while I did the fries. (Don’t freak out. It’s okay – our family’s only supposed to be meatless on MWF, remember?)

So for the next week, we’ll only have to make a pot of rice or fry up some potatoes each day. The rest is done. The next time I cook, I’m making a boatload of fish patties and freezing them. It might be a few days, though. My feet and hips are really hurting. My hips have been hurting a lot lately, and I’m not sure why, but after today, with all that walking and standing and cooking on hard floors, I’m hurting even more and not ready to cook again tomorrow.

I found a slow cooker recipe book today for a couple of dollars, and I’ll try some of the recipes in it. I say “some” because the ones that call for noodles or dumplings or anything like that won’t work with gluten free pastas—it will be mush. I love the dump it and forget it kind of cooking, and used to use our slow cookers all the time. At one point, we had six of them—two of the standard 3 QT size and the rest were all different sizes. Now, we just have one 3 QT Rival brand Crockpot. And it doesn’t get much use, I must say. Maybe we can change that.

Increase prayer time

Will I take the three hours a day I “should” be cooking and cleaning the kitchen, and put it into prayer? No, most likely, I will not. First of all, I don’t spend that much time in the kitchen anymore. I used to spend about 5 hours every day in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning up afterward, but that was before I moved into a house with concrete floors. I love them—they are beautiful—but I can’t stand for long on them. So I normally only spend about an hour a day in the kitchen now, if that. With this kind of cooking for Lent, it should give me about five hours a week of “extra” time. I think we could increase our prayer and spiritual learning time by that much, but that’s about it. Another reason we’re not going to do three hours a day is there is no way the kids could tolerate it. I don’t know if I could, either, frankly. One step at a time, please.