How I Keep Guilt From Haunting Me

Max knows how to keep Guilt away!

Max knows how to keep Guilt away!

I’ve just written a post for my blog next week. I’m caught up with the revisions I’m doing on my memoir. There are only two more chapters to talk to my editor about and then the work will begin to have my book become a reality in the fall of 2016. I’m excited.

But I’m feeling restless. The studio needs a good dusting and vacuuming. My computer desktop needs attention and I should start rereading the booklet of things I need to know about She Writes Press, the hybrid publisher I plan to go with. I promised myself weeks ago that I’d come up with an elevator pitch for my book and haven’t thought about it since then. There are over a hundred emails that need my attention and possible filing. They’re mostly about writing, publishing, and building an author platform, a true necessity if one is to sell the book she is getting ready to publish.

There is too much to do. It’s already late afternoon and I need to walk the dogs in about an hour and then there is dinner to prepare. But all I want to do is put my feet up and not be pushed to get more work done.

I opt to relax, write in my journal, and do some reading. But as I sit down in my favorite chair with a tall glass of iced tea to begin my friend, Guilt, arrives and begins haranguing me.

“What do you think you’re doing? How can you be writing in your journal and reading when you’re getting ready to publish a book? You need to go back over to the studio and get to work on your platform. You are not doing enough to pull in readers. You’re lazy and a wimp. Look what your friend J. is doing to promote her book. GET TO WORK!“

Despite Guilt’s unending criticism I pick up my purple pen and start a new page in my journal. I begin by making excuses.

“I haven’t put pen to paper here in almost a week and I need to remember all of the brilliant ideas I’ve already forgotten because I haven’t put in time writing here. There is just too much to do and  sometimes I just need to kick back and enjoy life without being pushed.”

Gathering steam I address Guilt: “You want me to be a writer? Then let me read. Everybody knows that reading other writer’s words is the way to learn. Now go away and leave me alone.”

I end up writing well over four pages about how important reading and writing in this journal is for me. I notice Sam and Max sitting at my feet and staring at me. They have an inner clock and they know it’s close to “walky” time and then dinner. I have twenty minutes left to do some reading before it’s officially their time and I’m going to take it.  I tell them to go lie down.  But do  listen to me? No.

I delve back into the book that has taken me over a month to get to the middle of. I haven’t read a novel in ages, my preference usually being non-fiction.  But The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt is a page turner and I need to use every extra minute I can manage to to read it.

When my twenty minutes are done, I get the dogs leashed up and drag Guilt along on our walk, stopping at every fire hydrant and blade of grass that dogs have peed on. She’s not happy when I start complaining her about her persistant nagging. She keeps trying to get a word in edgewise using her favorite words, “Yes, but.” However, I’m way ahead of her and leave her in the dust just after Max pees on her shoe.

I have to laugh. She never gives up and she’ll probably be waiting for me around the next corner ready to start her never ending pitch on how to keep working non-stop so that my book will be on the New York Times best seller list. I may have to use physical force to keep her in the ditch.  But that’s okay, I think I have the upper hand and she’ll leave me alone as long as my guard dog, Max is with me.

Does Guilt or some other critic hassle with you during your busy days? Do you have a sure-fire remedy for keeping them away?  If you do, I’d love to hear about it.

Remembering My Dad As A Hero

IMG_0009I considered saving this post for Father’s Day next month, but after much thought decided this post was most apt for Memorial Day, because it was my dad’s participation in the First Special Service Force, during WWII that shaped his life more than anything else. Called the Devil’s Brigade, by the Nazi’s because of their dare-devil bravery and skills, this American-Canadian commando unit was organized in 1942. You can learn more about them here.

1st  Special Service Force Patch.

1st Special Service Force Patch.

The day after marrying my mother on February 14, 1942, Dad enlisted and was sent to Helena, Montana, where he trained as a paratrooper, learned to ski, and fight in winter conditions. On completing training in 1943, his unit was sent to Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands, where he and his comrades were to take down the Japanese forces gathering there. But finding that the Japanese had evacuated the island in anticipation of their arrival, the force was sent to Italy. Dad was dropped over Anzio, and worked his way up the boot of Italy into Southern France and eventually to Germany, where he and his men opened up the gates of German concentration camps, to set those who had survived the Holocaust free. He remained in Germany after the war, working in intelligence for the army. Mom and I joined him there in 1946 and my brother, Zed, was born in Munich, Germany, in November of 1947.

As Dad worked his way up to the rank of Major, he was part of numerous catastrophic battles and traumatic events. After his drop over Italy, he became aware that the plane scheduled to drop troops in the same spot after his, tragically dropped them into the Mediterranean, due to the same bad weather conditions my father’s plane had encountered. The entire load of soldiers drowned.

Never physically wounded himself,  Dad found himself to be the last man standing, as his unit worked at taking out a nest of Nazi’s. After another battle, he saw his best buddy’s head blown off as they stood together overlooking an area they believed they’d cleared of German troops.

Dad rarely talked about his experiences or his medals for bravery, but it was evident that the war had brought about huge changes in him. Mom always said he wasn’t the man she had married when he returned home after the war.

At the time, a returning soldier’s constant mood swings and violent behaviors were blown off as Shell Shock, something he and others in his position would grow out of. If they didn’t, they were thought to be lacking resilience and were poor soldier material, despite their heroic acts during the war.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is the result of participating in war, being a victim of abuse, or being witness to, or affected by a traumatic event. It came to everyone’s attention during the war in Viet Nam, and as our knowledge in the field of psychiatry has expanded, troops returning from the Middle-East are checked for this debilitating syndrome that can take down families if left untreated.

Throughout his life, Dad fought a war within himself. He ran our family as a military unit, inspecting the way we polished our shoes, made our beds, and kept ourselves. Finger nails had to be clean and trimmed, and our ears were to be without wax or dirt.

Our rooms had to be organized and spotless. If he observed a book out of place on a bureau he would sweep the book and everything else onto the floor, demanding that we clean up the mess he made.

He could be very silly.

He could be very silly.

He was big on punishment and beat my brothers and me with a horse crop. We never knew what to expect from him and rarely felt completely safe when he was at home.When my parents fought, which they did frequently, I feared Mom would leave and I’d spend the rest of life living alone with Dad.

When he died in 1982, I began working through my inner turmoil and recovery from my own PTSD. Yes, the children and spouses of those with that disorder often have it, too.

Writing a memoir and keeping a journal have helped me to recall even the special moments I spent with with my father. That when I was small he’d collect a big bowl of snow after a storm, drizzling it with maple syrup and orange rind as a special treat to celebrate a day when we could all stay at home.

Without yelling at me, he taught me how to ride a bike, water ski, and drive a car. He sadly gave me away to my husband, Bill, at our wedding, and when my own kids arrived, he became my friend, as I watched him soften and play with his grandchildren.

I remember the last time I saw him alive in the final stages of bladder cancer. He told me he didn’t want to live any longer. Upon advice from his doctor, I told him that he could make his exit by simply pulling out the IVs and lines keeping him alive. Several nights later he died, having pulled his own plug.

Dad and Mom with Zed and me.

Dad and Mom with Zed and me.


Though I’ll never forget how he abused me, forgiveness and love have taken the place of hatred and fear. He did the best that he could with what was available to him at the time. For that alone I see him as a hero. Unless you’ve been in the shoes of someone who suffers from flashbacks, panic attacks, and all the rest that goes along with PTSD, it is impossible to understand the pain and fear of living in world where trauma and stress seem to be around every corner.

Recovery and forgiveness are possible. The Body Keeps The Score, by Bessel A.Van der Kolk, MD, and Michele Rosenthal’s, Your Life After Trauma: Powerful Practices to Reclaim Your Identity, are two books that have helped me gain an understanding of how trauma changes the way our brains operate and how to begin the road to recovery. If you or a loved one suffers post-trauma, give them a read.

Has trauma shaped your life?

You’ll find out more about my own journey through trauma and PTSD in my upcoming memoir, ME, MYSELF AND MOM, My Journey Through Love, Hate, and Healing.

The Stigma Of “Crazy”

Out Birding.

Bird Watching

Word has it that I’m a little crazy. Admittedly, I’m different from a lot of other people, but you’re different from everybody else, too. We can all come up with some crazy ideas. They may be foolish, idiotic, silly, farcical, laughable, nonsensical, or half-baked, but everyone gives birth to them and it doesn’t mean that we’re all mentally deranged.

I do go by the name Batty, sometimes. That’s what my grandchildren call me. My nieces call me Aunt Batty. It started when my granddaughter Zoe, now fourteen, started to talk. I don’t know why she started calling me Batty, but it stuck and is quite an apt name. I much prefer it to Granny, Grammy, or Nana.

To me, Batty simply means different. I may be what others call ditzy or eccentric, but I’m not unhinged. I’m dissimilar to many, but we are all different from one another. Janet, down the street, has red hair and thinks vanilla ice-cream is to die for. John, over on Main, has black hair and loves to skydive. They may be poles apart when it comes to religion and politics.  They are both individuals.

Some of us are more open than others and some of us are happier than others. Some people suffer from depression. Others might be bipolar, or possibly, schizophrenic. They are not crazy. They have a mental illness that in most cases is treatable, just like TB, cancer, or the common cold.

When I was small, the talk amongst family members was that my grandmother on my mother’s side was “crazy.” She apparently did some horrible things that no one ever talked about and was eventually found to be an unfit mother. She became the big, dark family secret. Everyone whispered about her and some wouldn’t talk about her at all. They seemed to think that if anyone mentioned her in public, the neighbors would find out that she was insane and shun the whole family. It was all about how they looked in other peoples eyes.

I was never told what her mental health issues were or if she was ever treated. But as a kid, I adored her. I didn’t get to see her very often, but when I did, I thought she was funny, loving, and an original. Her hair was short, frizzy and dyed a strawberry blond color. She laughed a lot in a loud kind of way and had canaries in cages all over her house. I didn’t believe what everyone said about her. But as I got older and my mother told me a few stories about her, I knew she was mentally ill.

As someone who has often struggled with depression and anxiety disorder, I sometimes thought I might have inherited my grandmother’s problems. I was ashamed and feared that someone might discover I was crazy, mad, cuckoo, loony, or wacko. For me that translated into being, “ A bad and worthless person.” My father’s parents knew about Grandma, and delighted in telling my mother that, “The apple never falls far from the tree.” Because of their cruelty, I’m sure my mother felt great shame and worthlessness.

I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD because of childhood abuse. My father had it as a result of his experiences fighting in World War II. My mother came from an abusive home and she most likely had it, too. They were not crazy, nor am I.

In seeking treatment I’ve worked long and hard to minimize my symptoms by understanding how the brain changes when a person is abused. I know that recovery is possible and can provide us with happy and peace filled lives. Sure, I can still get depressed or have a panic attack, but I know what to do to make myself feel better.

Hiding mental illness by sweeping it under the carpet or making cruel judgments about it, only makes the stigma worse. In todays world, many with mental illness are beginning to speak out about their problems, their need for support, and proper care.

 Let’s stand tall to end the stigma of “crazy” together. Speak out. If you struggle with mental illness seek treatment. You have nothing to be ashamed of.


A Close Look At PTSD


IMG_0714Over the last twenty or so years, I’ve been diagnosed with PTSD, three times. Though I was never sexually abused, my father who suffered from PTSD himself, beat me and my brothers, and made growing up into healthy adults, almost impossible. His experiences during the Second World War, screwed up his brain, and like so many other soldiers in every war that has ever been fought, my father brought his “invisible wounds” home with him. At the time, veterans such as himself, were said to have, “Shell Shock.” There was no treatment for what would later be called, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Those warriors just had to get over it by themselves.

My mother, was abused as a child herself, and later by her husband, my father. She rarely, if ever laid a finger on me, yet her psychological abuse of me made an already difficult childhood, even more challenging. She was also loving, and at times an ally in my never ending struggles with my father. But she’d also threaten me with, “Just wait till your father comes home! He’ll get you to behave.” I was left to pray that she’d forget what I had done to anger her. Mostly though, I simply had to face the music when Dad came home from work. When he turned physical and brought out the leather horse crop he sometimes used to beat me, my mother would completely disappear, never protecting me from who we all, including Mom, called King Kong. Her behavior was confusing to say the least, and her constant betrayals did not help me to build trust or confidence in her.

I’ve struggled with extreme anxiety, depression, and flashbacks most of my life. When I became my mother’s caretaker during the final seven years of her life, my symptoms grew worse. She lived with me, for most of that time, and because I was there, I became bore the brunt of her sadness and anger. We were constantly at war with one another, making my intention to help her to be as comfortable as possible through her waning years, impossible.

I knew that I needed help after my mother died, and for the third time, I was told I was struggling with PTSD. I finally let go of my denial, and sought treatment with a therapist whose specialty was dealing with Trauma. With her help and a village of other supporters, including my husband, I began a slow recovery, pulling together the lost and broken pieces of my life. Writing my memoir about those difficult times has been the act that has most helped me to celebrate who I am and have become. I look forward to it being published soon.

I’m happy to say that eight years later, I feel like a new person. Though I’ll never be perfect, I no longer struggle every day with anxiety. When depression tiptoes in, I know who it is, and it makes a hasty retreat. Yes, I can still react to certain triggers, but now I usually catch myself before I react and cause extensive damage to my own ego and those around me.

Living with the likes of PTSD has an extremely steep learning curve. Just a few weeks ago, I learned an important lesson about dealing with those nasty triggers. I was sitting in the dentist’s chair, being fitted with a new mouthguard which I need to use at night, in order to keep myself from grinding my own teeth away. It was a new product, much harder and stiffer than the mouthguard that I had been using. My dentist, who is the kindest and best of them all, was struggling to get it seated properly. Suddenly out of nowhere, I had a panic attack, and started struggling against him. I was in tears and for a few moments didn’t understand what was happening.

We took a break from the fitting and in a few minutes I realized that I had been reacting to some unremembered trigger event. I confessed to the doctor, that I have a history of abuse and have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I had never considered telling him about it. What does dental care and PTSD have to do with each other? Having been a military dentist in Iraq before opening his practice here, he knew exactly what I was talking about.

At the time, I had to admit that there is still a bit a shame involved in owning my PTSD. But it is nothing to be ashamed of. Nothing I did caused it. And just because it isn’t on the list of ailments we’re supposed to check off when we see a new caretaker, doesn’t mean it should be ignored. True self-care is learning to accept ourselves as we are and honoring our own minds and bodies.

Finding my center amidst the panic, I learned that it is important to let caregivers of any kind know about the problem I have. My general practitioner has known all along, but being upfront about PTSD with everyone is important.

Is there anything in your life that you’re ashamed of owning?

Why Vulnerability is a Gift in Memoir Writing

Flicker Creative Commons

Flicker Creative Commons

This week I’m honored to welcome, Kathy Pooler,  my very first guest blogger. Her upcoming memoir, will be published next month.  I’ve enjoyed reading Kathy’s blog posts for over a year and when I discovered that she was writing a memoir about abusive relationships, I wanted to get to know her better.  Abuse is also an important topic for me as well. Last month I got to read her final draft, an uplifting story about emotional, domestic abuse and the two failed marriages she left behind.

A huge problem in our society today, domestic violence, both physical and psychological, destroys lives and families all around us, every day. Many women, and men, too, stay with their abusers, afraid to leave them, believing that he or she will mend their ways and become the dream spouse they thought they had married.

Kathy’s courageous story is about her journey through hell and back in order to protect her children and herself.  She transforms from a submissive, naive young woman, into a mature, take-charge  adult, willing to take risks in order to become the confident and loving wife and mother she is today.  It’s filled with lessons for those among us who find themselves in similar relationships.

Do keep an eye out for Kathy’s book next month.  You won’t be disappointed.


 Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” ― Brené Brown

Kathy Pooler

Kathy Pooler

How do you write about pain that was so deep, you don’t even remember how you felt?

You blocked it, buried it, stored it away for another time, then went about the business of your life. Going through the motions, Doing the best you could . Trying not to think about it.

Too. Darn. Painful.

That was me at age thirty with two small children, knowing I had to leave their father. And again at age forty when I had to flee in broad daylight with my children from a second marriage for fear of physical abuse. I had no choice. It was a matter of survival.

For years, I lived with guilt and shame when I faced the reality that my choices led to two emotionally abusive marriages and years of turmoil for myself and my two children. That shame hung around me like an uninvited guest who taunted and harrassed. I journaled my way through it, went to counseling sessions, prayed, cried, shared with friends, but all of that did not change the fact that I could not un-do the damage that had been done. I lingered in a sea of self-doubt, confusion, regret that was too painful to confront head-on.

In my upcoming memoir Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse, I expose my vulnerabilities and flaws in order to find the answers to the question that plagued me for years:

How does a young woman from a loving Catholic family make so many wise decisions about career, yet so many poor decisions about love that she ends up escaping with her two children from her second husband for fear of physical abuse? 

 In order to write this story, I had to revisit the past I kept hiding from. I had to dig deeply and keep digging. In doing so I had to be willing to look at my mistakes and failures.

I had to allow myself to be vulnerable.

None of this was easy or painless.  Many times, I put the story aside to give myself some breathing room.

When I was in the midst of the writing, I didn’t even know what my story was. I just kept writing whatever came to mind.

I began searching. I looked for pictures from the mid-70s of a young father reading to his children who were nestled in his lap. I listened to 1970s music. “Jeremiah was a bullfrog, from Joy to the World took me back to the night we were engaged. Happy faces. Hopes. Dreams.

The marriage that couldn’t be started with the same hopes and dreams of any twenty-something couple in the 1970s then took a turn down an unfamiliar road, a point of no return. And again, in the 1980s when a second chance marriage at the age of thirty-nine left me fighting for my life.

Through the vulnerability—the raw, searing pain of self-discovery—I slowly began to feel compassion for the young woman who tried so hard to have a loving relationship and provide her children with a stable home.

Writing helped me to heal. After a while, I began to experience compassion and a spirit of forgiveness toward the men I chose to marry.

I embraced my inner strength and developed insights into my motivations and decisions.

I forgave myself.

The guilt and shame melted away as I realized I acted in good faith. In writing Ever Faith ful to His Lead, I discovered that I had become a stronger person as a result of all I had endured and it has left me feeling transformed and empowered.

Vulnerability is not a weakness. It took courage and perseverance to break down the tight shell I had created around myself to protect myself from the truth.

And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful that the risk it took to blossom” Anais Nin

I had to face the darkness before I could see the light.

In writing my memoir, I have let the pain go with a spirit of forgiveness, compassion and understanding. Ever Faithful to His Lead provides a message of hope, resilience and courage that I want to share with those who need it the most—women who need to claim and honor their own strength within to find freedom from abuse.

Vulnerability has been a gift that has allowed me to heal and share a healing message.


 Kathleen Pooler is a writer and a retired Family Nurse Practitioner whose memoir, Ever Faithful to His Lead: My Journey Away From Emotional Abuse and work-in-progress sequel, Hope Matters: A Memoir are about how the power of hope through her faith in God helped her to transform, heal and transcend life’s obstacles and disappointments:  domestic abuse, divorce, single parenting, loving and letting go of an alcoholic son, cancer and heart failure to live a life of joy and contentment. She believes that hope matters and that we are all strengthened and enlightened when we share our stories.

She lives with her husband Wayne in eastern New York.

She blogs weekly at her Memoir Writer’s Journey blog:
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One of her stories “The Stone on the Shore” is published in the anthology: “The Woman I’ve Become: 37 Women Share Their Journeys From Toxic Relationships to Self-Empowerment” by Pat LaPointe, 2012.
 Another story: “Choices and Chances” is published in the  “My Gutsy Story Anthology” by Sonia Marsh, September, 2013.