When Not Being A Priority Is a Trigger

I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke.

I want to vomit. 

There is just no way to understand what I live with. At least that’s my assumption. Because after sharing blogs, sharing books, talking about my experience, trying to share what goes on in my head and trying to develop a way of talking about what happens in my brain in a clear and specific way… “I am engaged with old school friends. Probably best to say goodnight.” was like being shoved off a cliff. 

Hello, familiar pit of mental hell. 

And no amount of him saying, “I’m not very good at communicating over the phone.” can repair the neuron paths in my brain that immediately take me to the worst moments of my existence when they get hit with the news that I’m just not important enough to be a priority. 

Ever felt your soul scream? You can’t hear it, thankfully. I don’t think I could survive hearing it. Feeling it is painful enough. And it happens for me when someone safe becomes a threat because my injured brain reads threat. I’m in fight mode right now and am desperate to survive. I’m also desperate to rein in the fight, because I’m about to destroy things… mainly the him that just became a threat. 

I’ve worked so hard to repair the damage so that this wouldn’t happen. I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke. And now, because of a trigger I forgot I have, my soul is screaming in pain in between waves of nausea. 

The only thing I have to hold onto is that I didn’t break before, and this might be the worst trigger I’ve had in a long time, but I was able to manage two of them, so I might be able to handle this one too. 

Whirling Through the Week – Until I Hit a Wall

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable.

I had a lot going on this week.

I had some kind of idea that work would slowly pick up over the month and I could adjust. Nope, things blew up this week and I’ve been scrambling to do it all. Plus I had to be “public me” a lot, and spent a lot of time managing conflicts, in conferences and meetings and taking on more work. Not surprisingly, I hit a wall this afternoon and started to slide into a panic attack.

I have been doing a lot to recognize and address past trauma, which I am increasingly aware was in great part due to abusive communication, and when I have already hit my stress limit I have a really hard time not taking everything the wrong way.

Basically, if I start saying I’m tired, there is a meltdown on the way.

I realized today that I have a tendency to recoil in preparation for a verbal beating when I start toward a panic attack. I start making plans to isolate, I use any and every excuse for why I must not bother someone and I make a really big deal out of something that hasn’t even happened. My brain, in the process of wrecking, ties communication to abuse and prepares me for it by telling me to shut down and shut out.

This is without there being any verbal beating or any communication abuse. Or any abuse. Or…anything.

Sometimes dealing with this shit is really weird.

It’s a little terrifying too. I was in the middle of talking to a client, changing a drawing and trying to tell David what was happening so that I could hopefully stop the process of making problems where there weren’t any. He reminded me to breathe, and that helped for a few hours, but now I’m back in a similar place, where I’m making a lot of assumptions and creating problems that aren’t there. I’m glad I’m starting to recognize what’s happening, but dealing with it while I’m also exhausted and have hit my stress limit for the week is challenging.

I did a couple of yoga classes when I finished work to try to continue the process of calming. They were more meditative than active, and I found the word vulnerable coming up repeatedly as I stilled my body and slowed my breathing. As in be vulnerable.

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable. I want to put up my defenses and not have to challenge myself and my thinking and repeat to myself that I am experiencing cognitive distortion and that things are not what I am making them out to be. I would way rather tuck in and take a Xanax than sit in pain and stop the negative, destructive thought patterns that I lived with for a few years.

I’m done waiting for a better time to deal with this. There isn’t a time that I will be less busy, will be in a better place, will have less on my plate, will have my shit together or will be more ready for a relationship. I can’t put my life on hold because this shit is hard, and I have so much opening up to me. I think that was the message in yoga. When the choice is before me, and the choice is hard, time to choose vulnerable.

Letters to Linda

I can open doors and invite her to walk through.

Sometimes you go through hell so that you can help others through it.

If all of the pain that I have lived with for the past few years can be used to help someone else who is in pain. It’s worth it to me. Not because I’m that self-sacrificing or any kind of imagined hero, but because it gives my pain a purpose, and it isn’t wasted. If someone benefits, whether that’s me or another, there’s purpose, and I find peace in that.

Having a platform to speak about my experience with PTSD (traumatic car wreck) in a way that I don’t feel compromises me the same as speaking about my other PTSD-causing experiences (traumatic abuse and sexual assault) gives me the freedom to say things that I find many trauma survivors don’t feel the freedom to say. When your trauma comes with shame, the last thing you want is for people to know. It’s why I don’t talk about being in an abusive relationship. I don’t want to re-live it, I don’t want to explain it and I don’t want to hear what most people have to say about it. Car wreck is different, it’s much more socially acceptable, elicits sympathy and the stupid comments don’t hurt as much (anymore).

Through a series of mistakes and judgmental attitudes (mostly on my part), I ended up at a coffee shop earlier this week sitting across from a woman ten years younger than I, who I will call Linda. After a brief conversation that you can read about in the post link, we got down to purpose. She asked me about my experience with PTSD, because she also has it. She was exposed to violence in a Mexican drug war and later to sexual abuse from a group she thought were her friends. In a story that felt so familiar, she didn’t realize for a long time that the violence was traumatic, or that the abuse was not ok, and that she wasn’t able to exercise choice. It left her empty, detached, obsessive and ashamed.

“Normal” things are triggers. She’s working so hard to hear a bachelor’s degree, but she has a hard time focusing and her grades suffer. Groups are uncomfortable for her at best. Her friends don’t understand and don’t try to. She’s ashamed of her response to “normal” things and hates that people perceive her as cold and disinterested. She’s dating a guy who loves her for who she is and is trying to learn how to support her, and she’s scared she’s going to sabotage the relationship because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be loved. She doesn’t feel that she has access to mental health care, and she is swirling around in anxiety, not knowing what to do to break free.

That was, and to some extent still is, me. I’m further along in recovery, so I have a bit more clarity, but that is me. I don’t have to say I understand, because the energy I give off in response to what she says communicates how deeply I understand. And accept. And don’t judge. And I know how hard it is to ask for help. I know how hard it is to even understand what’s happening, or why all you want to do is lay in bed and watch tv. Why you torture yourself with negative thoughts and why self-harm is so attractive.

I’m not a mental health professional, I’m a client. And I can’t fix people, I gave that idea up already and my life improved drastically when I did. I can, however, share my experience with her in a way that meets her where she is. I can open doors and invite her to walk through. I can explain why she experiences some things in the way that she does, and I can give her the space and support to recover in her own way and her own time.

I think in this instance giving is the gift, and it’s one I want to share on my blog, so I’ll be posting the letters in the hope that they multiply the encouragement and acceptance for whoever will benefit from it. ❤

Dating With PTSD – Communication

Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse. 

I am dating an incredible human who is accepting of my traumatic experiences and who is willing to listen (patiently) while I try to work out the things that trigger me. One of my challenges is that I don’t know what will trigger me or when, or how badly. I can’t predict my anxiety levels or what will make me want to push him away, what will violently drag up fear or what will be a small raising of my eyebrow.

Part of the trauma that broke my brain was an abusive relationship that I was in for four years. The first two years he was abusive and manipulative, the last two he was unbelievably cruel. I was in a horrible car wreck at the end of year two, after I had moved away but we were still talking. I had no idea I had PTSD, I had no idea why I couldn’t let go of him, and he took every bit of shame over what he had done to me and my near-death to emotionally beat the shit out of me, again and again and again.

He was a broken person not looking to heal. He nearly broke me. I still have a lot of scars, and it feels like I am now having to pull them back open to heal correctly.

He used communication as a weapon. He would not respond, not give me straight answers, not let me know what was going on or what to expect, because as long as I couldn’t get my feet under me in the relationship I had no way to access control. Post-car wreck I spent two years unknowingly creating negative neuron response pathways in my brain. It is taking a long time to repair those, and because I don’t even know what they all are, I keep stumbling upon them.

For example, David and I were texting, and I didn’t get a response back at one point. It wasn’t critical, and rational brain wouldn’t have thought much of it. I knew he was busy and I had my own things to do, and if I did have a rational brain I would have just checked in with him later. However, that drop in the conversation hit a neuron pathway that remembered that this is a negative thing, that when this happens I am going to get hurt, that when he doesn’t respond it’s a reason to panic and fear the worst. It snuck up on me before I could figure out what was happening, and a few hours later when we did start texting again it took very little (he was telling me what he’d been up to, a positive experience for me in normal conditions) to set me off on a severe trigger.

I don’t want to lash out or start a fight or make accusations when this happens. It isn’t David’s fault, it has very little to do with him and he doesn’t know. I don’t even know until it happens, then I am scrambling to understand why the hell I just had this deeply negative response to a circumstance that feels like it should be no big deal. Then I have to – in the middle of a fear-riddled experience for me – be completely vulnerable and ask for space and understanding while I sort out what’s happening. Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse.

I am so, so thankful that David was accepting, accommodating and that he listened once I got to a place that I understood what had happened. I needed to have a safe space to work through what had happened, and once I did, once I did a bit of reprogramming, I realized that for the first time I made it through a major trigger event without Xanax. Pretty amazing.

For those of us who live in the hell of PTSD, we need that safe space to process, to try to understand what is going on and to have you listen openly and without trying to tell us what our experience is. Our experience is hard enough for us to understand and deal with. When you add a partner to the mix, it’s a challenge to open up and let you know what’s going on. A challenge I’m slowly discovering is worth it.