Loneliness and Hugs

Since I came back from India two and a half weeks ago, I’ve been struggling to adapt to life here in some ways. The thing I miss the most is the abundance of people to hug safely.

First I don’t have that many people to hug in Australia but second and more importantly, my connection disability means that I’m unable to connect to a hug or register the dopamine it would normally bring into a healthy person’s being.

If I’m hugging people regularly I become attuned to it and don’t suppress my emotions as much. Also, the people around me in India are my family that I have deeper bonds with and have over time become better at letting in. While here, when I hug one person a week maybe, my brain switches off the hugging receptor. It’s too overwhelming for my emotional brain to let in this hug, then not be able to process what’s going on because it’s a bit out of practice. But also the other more overwhelming aspect is, it doesn’t want to let in this hug and then crave and not have it tomorrow.

My brain has gone into the mode of protecting myself.

Writing this makes me realize that perhaps I need to chant to have a life where my brain doesn’t have to protect me, where I feel able to cope with whatever is in front of me – joy as well as sorrow.

Regardless, I’ll continue to strive in my practice and go out and engage with others for the sake of their happiness. I refuse to give up and be in my bubble. Sometimes chanting with others feels like a hug, expect that to happen plenty of times over the next week.

✌🏽

Looking forward to it.

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Rescuing vs Supporting

As I was reading this post on the difference between rescuing and supporting this morning, I began to reflect on my journey to learning this valuable distinction.

When I first I got exposed to this concept, I took it to an extreme interpretation. I took it to mean that I must look after myself before I do anything for others. Or by helping them in a way they haven’t asked for, I’m rescuing them and taking away their opportunity to grow while spreading myself too thin.

Through my Buddhist practice embedded with life challenges over the last few years, I’ve learnt that this learning is a lifelong journey of the eternal truth of life. It is about how I always learn to find the “Middle Way”.

Continue reading “Rescuing vs Supporting”

Healing Complex PTSD via Buddhism – Part 1

Today I went to attend a conference called “Trauma, Neuroscience and the Evolving Therapy of Traumatised Children and Adults” by Dr Bessel van der Kolk.

In 2017, when I had left my job and was unemployed and suffering from what felt like PTSD from my last job, I wandered into a book store and picked up his book called The Body Keeps the Score. The mystic law works mystically indeed.

Over the next month, when I was on a detox in India. I read this book, almost studied it. It was as though someone captured my life experience and told me what was happening to me in my brain and body. I could let go of any guilt and shame of my life and take control of my life. I could assert my needs and ask for what I needed. I could stop blaming me for everything I did or did not do. I gave myself permission to look after myself.

I would describe it as a pivotal turning point in my whole life. In Mar’18, my doctor mentioned, his wife a yoga teacher attended Dr Kolk’s conference in Sydney. I felt like I missed an opportunity. I wanted to attend it. When the registrations opened in Oct 2018, I jumped at the opportunity.

It is truly my good fortune that I live in Australia and even have access to these opportunities. It is clearly meant for mental health professionals, but anyone can sign up and go to it. Could you imagine that kind of equality mirrored in society anywhere else? After my citizenship test study, it is particularly telling how equality manifests in many ways in Australia.

Last week, I started chanting with the determination to somehow be able to have a dialogue with Dr Kolk and tell him about my practice and how it has provided so many elements to healing that his research has uncovered. I also started chanting to expand kosen rufu and somehow connect the people present to the Buddhist practice and for their happiness.

Today was a fabulous day in this endeavour. I woke up early in the morning and chanted for an hour, dressed in a bright green, picked up breakfast and got to the conference. I further cemented my understanding of the content, my whole day full of “aha!” moments and notes of how my practice helps overcome c-PTSD.

In addition, I gathered the courage to talk to the person sitting next to me, a young psychologist who helps children and old people in the community deal with difficult circumstances and trauma. I gave her an old Indigo magazine I happened to be carrying with me, a print of The Winning Life that I managed to get from Officeworks next door in the lunch time.

I walked up to Dr Kolk twice, thanked him for his work and talked about how my Buddhist practice helps me. I gave him a print-out of The Winning Life too. He humbly accepted my material and promised to read it. He recognised that his work does not even begin to talk about how to deal with this problem when you’re not living the privileged life in Sydney for example but instead are in a village in India.

He is a brilliant man and a wonderful human being. He even recognised my accent as being from the state I come from in India. Nifty tricks up his sleeve, nobody has ever been able to tell that before! 😀

I still continue to fight my negativity. I berate myself that I should not have taken up too much of his time when he reminded me that he has a long queue and I wrapped up my conversation. I continue to battle my self-loathing and self-hatred. I realised that voice may not be going away for a while but I can create value in whatever way right now. I did my best based on prayer today and will do so again tomorrow.

Rinse and repeat.

After the conference, I met with a professional acquaintance who had been curious about the Buddhist practice. I was talking to her about work and struggling to talk about the practice. Suddenly out of nowhere, a Buddhist leader appeared and said hi to me. The same person who gave me guidance in January. I hugged him and my friend asked me who it was. I started to explain he was the leader from my Buddhist practice and how he helped me and went into my struggles for the last few years. This changed the tone of the whole conversation and led to me giving her a printed copy of The Winning Life too and inviting her to the meeting next month.

I feel like today I won in Kosen Rufu and in life.

The fight continues, and there is more and more joy everyday!

Here are some key learnings from the conference for me – warning, this is long, and I will write further sequels to these notes for reference!

Background
PTSD patients say this, "I have become a monster. I blow up all the time." PTSD was earlier thought to be a memory diagnosis. However, Trauma changed my brain in a way that I could not be alive in the present moment. It is very hard for me to feel alive, engaged and connected in the present moment. Conventional psychotherapy and treatments is "stupid", people just get treated on the basis of beliefs rather than outcomes, it just does not work. The USA DSM put down diagnostic criteria for mental illnesses which were essentially clusters of symptoms grouped together into "conditions". It was put together for the purposes of figuring out which drugs to prescribe for what, with the caveat to never use it for forensic or insurance purposes. Of course, this was forgotten. Professionals became terrible diagnosticians, diagnosing based on how they would get paid.

Currently psychiatrists are not even allowed to use "Complex PTSD" in their terminology or diagnosis or they can't get the insurance claims or prescribe medications when needed. This is the limitation of the public health system in Australia and insurance system in the US.

In Nov 2018, the largest ever PTSD study costing $4 million found that the best drug performed the same as placebo. Nobody got better. It found that "PTSD is untreatable". What this means - do things that are not drugs, and are not talking on a couch
Continue reading “Healing Complex PTSD via Buddhism – Part 1”

Connection Disability

I’ve often said that the thing I want most in my life is more hugs. And yet this point is stuck in a deeper paradox.

Even though human touch and affection is one of the key things I want in my life, staying attuned to it is a big challenge. As a defence mechanism, I learnt to disconnect from feeling in my body so I won’t feel anything. This existed along side a phobia of touch. I would avoid hugging close friends, let alone casual acquaintances as is often the case in the Western culture. My best friend Ash who now lives in Europe, I first hugged him after five years of being friends with him. He hadn’t even realised it. He didn’t initiate a hug with a woman, he merely responded if the woman initiated.

Similarly one of my work colleagues that I became friends with five years ago complained then about this awkwardness when saying bye to me because he couldn’t hugged me. Then, I was trapped in my phobia, especially if hugging men.

Over the years, I have worked through it and now I don’t think much of it. I’ve even hugged strangers and people I have just met e.g. last year when I made a renewed determination of having more hugs in my life, I even hugged the old man who came to dry clean my couch. He was pleasantly surprised.

Still I have a part of me that’s stuck in fear and closes up if I’m extremely present and vigilant. This part of me kicks in when I’ve decided to hug someone. It just goes snap and cuts off all feeling. It turns into a thing my body is doing but my feeling brain has checked out. If I’m tired or rushed, I tend to cut off in a hug. If it’s too anticipated then I anticipate it and cut off before I have a chance to bring myself to the present moment.

This tendency keeps me stuck in the feeling of isolation. Either I have zero hugs or I feel zero hugs.

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Answers in Metaphysical Realm

I spent all weekend studying numerology books. It was like binge eating, stimulation addiction. I didn’t sleep, cook, just studied numerology.

It threw my system out of whack, as all such binges do. I couldn’t go to my Buddhist meeting on Sunday morning because I was so sleep deprived. I did somehow cook lunch for Monday but worked from home.

Today I was so exhausted that I needed to take a sick day. Clearly didn’t do so well in looking after my delicate self.

Some good things came out of the binge though:

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Finding Freedom

Since last year one of my prayers has been to be able to live a life of true freedom. The last few years of my life have been very shackled because of my health condition. It has been like walking a tightrope – making sure I have food to eat according to the diet and I’m managing everything within the limited energy constraints. There’s been the stress management aspect where I get so stressed that I eat the wrong things or binge eat on the right things, either way it’s been really harmful. Also, not being able to accept the reality of my dietary restrictions, the fatigue I could accept eventually primarily because I didn’t even have energy to fight it but also because I just ate to cope with it.

There was a time of my life wherein I ate a big bag of sweet potato chips every single day, sometimes two. I never kept them at home, because I wanted to be stronger. Instead I would walk across the street, even in rainy and freezing whether, sometime before the supermarket closed at 10 pm to get my fix. Every day I would try to get by without them and every day I couldn’t. They were my only trusted reliable companion.

When I look back at that, I’ve come a long way. Even having one day without the chips would be called progress I think.

Continue reading “Finding Freedom”