Flashbacks in the Rain

I almost died in a car wreck that happened in the rain. For the most part (and thanks to EMDR and a lot of therapy) I don’t really have problems anymore when I drive. When I do, I have coping skills that work well. So today was a pretty big surprise when I was driving in the rain on my way to a meeting and started having flashbacks, not about my car wreck, but about the day of my brother’s accident. Clear as anything were the memories of getting the call from my mom, picking up his truck, sitting in the ICU waiting room unable to pray and barely able to hold it together, leaning on the prayers and shoulders of friends.

I’ve rarely had flashbacks of my own trauma, much less that of someone else. And while that day was traumatic for me, it hasn’t had nearly the impact that my own trauma has.

As I began to write this post, I also began to ask why and to process what happened this afternoon. I’m dreaming again… I’m processing again… I’m resolving trauma again.

I am done being afraid of the hold the past has on me. I’ve survived this much this long, and I can deal with whatever else boils up. But this was interesting, because as much as the flashback experience while driving on slick roads was not pleasant, it didn’t shake me. I’m now more curious about it, about where it came from and why that day?

I dream when I’m relaxed or when I am processing. Emotions, events – they all get run through my dream cycles in full color and epic drama. I don’t dream the exact thing, I dream versions of it, or nothing at all related. I started dreaming again this week after a long time off. My resting heart rate is slowly dropping, I’m a little more calm during the day and now memories are emerging that probably haven’t been dealt with. The human brain is fascinating.

Am I excited by this? Nope. Am I afraid of it? Also nope. Gonna deal with it and move on…

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Bone Deep and Mind Breaking

‘Tis the season for joint pain.

Pain, you make me a believer.

I’m a summer girl, if for no other reason than hot weather doesn’t cause me joint pain. I inherited the family curse of old bones in a young body, and I can sit around with mature members of society and chat aches and pains with the best of them. They never believe someone my age can know how they feel, but since I can predict weather changes based on my elbows and hands and predict the overnight temps based on my knees, they eventually come around to accepting me as one of the wise. Or at least one of the chronically inflamed.

Add the prospect of months of constant deep joint pain to my neurological disorders and you get someone who hates winter. Me.

I finally broke again yesterday. I hit my limit of stress and went over the edge into nausea, dizziness and headache. Am I getting sick? No. I have PTSD, and the stress overload I’ve experienced in the last two weeks sent me over the edge again. The nausea is not completely new, the dizziness was. Thankfully I was able to hold it together to work with a couple of clients, and my mom and my brother kindly drove me where I needed to go. I was not about to drive in that state. Could I? Yes. Was that the best thing for me and everyone else on the road? No.

It would have been better if, when I got off work and got my hair cut, then grabbed some crafting supplies for a project I’m working on for a charitable organization, I had popped a Xanax and gone to bed. Just be done with the day and the stress and sleep it off. But I am so determined to not let the negative part of my brain control my life. So I texted a friend to see if I could catch a ride with her to Bible study and she gracefully didn’t hesitate. That support network? It’s everything on the days I can’t.

I took my knitting because it helps me stay present in group discussions, and knitted my way through tackling Jonathan Edwards’ writings on Charity. It was challenging, and it was good. The woman who hosts us in her home had made a spiced tea and cookies, and she has such a calm, loving presence. Toward the end we shared prayer requests, and I opened up about my struggles, about trying to come to terms with my new normal, that there are always barriers to living the life I want to live, that I have realized I will never be healed and I will live with this for the rest of my time on earth.

I live in pain. Every waking moment is hell because I have no hope that this life will ever be what I want, that what has happened to my brain will subside and I can live free from the demons in my head. I expressed that, and was received with love. One of the women in our group said that what I was saying was exactly her daughter’s experience. I found so much comfort in that, that someone understood. Those that didn’t understand met me with love and compassion.

That moment of vulnerability? It opened up so much love for me. It added women to my circle and to my team in struggling against and with what I’ve been dealt. I have gotten really ignorant responses from church people about my condition and what I do to try to heal. Last night was not that, and I was so comforted.

It is so fucking hard to be vulnerable when the person you were is ripped out of your hands and you’re trying to find your way again. But damn is it sometimes worth it.

And Client’s Brother messaged me all evening, showing a lot more interest than I expected.

When you live with chronic pain it can be hard to be thankful. But today I am so, so thankful.

Good Practice Today (And This Week, Really)

…yes, I admired grass. Like I said, I’m laughing too.

I didn’t really come with a natural ability to chill out, and post-trauma I have had ZERO ability to chill out, so I have to practice.

Yep, I practice being calm and taking care of myself. I know, I laugh at it too.

This week has been one of my best since my brother’s accident about 4 months ago. He was badly injured at work and that put my recovery on pause until recently. I was so focused on him and my family that my brain stopped working through the trauma for a while. Now it’s back, now some emotions and realizations are starting to come back to the surface. It’s a good thing, it’s part of my healing process, part of my recovery. I’m so much better prepared to let my brain resolve things now, so much better at recognizing that after working 3 long and intense days, knocking off work early to go for a hike was a great thing for me to do.

I’m pounding out my stress and anxiety by the mile. I’m over 32 miles since Sunday, which is really good for me! 9 miles today since I walked with a friend and by myself (running is not my favorite, I never get the high), and as much as my feet are sore and my muscles are not happy, I feel really good about it. I am doing this while meeting intense deadlines for clients, spending time with friends, getting hit with the same disaster coverage everyone else is and looking after my “chickens”, the lovely group of young people that I have adopted and who view me as the favorite “Aunt”.

I pushed my practice a step further by pausing on my evening walk to admire the fading rays of the sun illuminating tufts of grass seeds. Sunsets sometimes make the most warm and comforting and happy glow, and I settled into it as I walked along the trail from my neighborhood and yes, I admired grass. Like I said, I’m laughing too. But it was such a good thing to be present and notice simple, pleasant things and not be burdened by things that didn’t exist in that space. It was also a tremendous accomplishment for my brain to do that. Sometimes I practice and fail. Today I practiced and nailed it.

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Weather-Induced Anxiety

My anxiety is skyrocketing with every decline in barometric pressure. I am freaking out.

Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, flash floods, fires – I’ve been through it all. Storms don’t bother me and never have. I’m more likely to walk outside and see what’s happening than sit in front of the tv with concern. That was until PTSD, anyway.

I still don’t get bothered by severe weather. If anything, I prepare out of concern for my own convenience than because I think it’s necessary. I stocked up on groceries before everyone wiped out the grocery stores ahead of Hurricane Harvey just because I didn’t want to wait in long lines and I knew people would go bonkers the next day. I’m planning to stay home if we get the rainfall we are expected to get, and I will skip my social plans.

My brain has a totally different way of dealing with an approaching hurricane. My anxiety is skyrocketing with every decline in barometric pressure. I am freaking out.

I experience anxiety from several sources. Weather-induced anxiety is the weirdest for me because it is so disconnected from how I feel. My brain is flooding with anxiety chemicals as fast as my body can produce them, but I’m not actually scared, just exhausted because SEVERE ANXIETY IS EXHAUSTING.

I had a panic attack driving to an appointment this morning. The major source of PTSD for me was a car wreck on a rainy day, and I have had A LOT of driving-related anxiety. This was the first time that I have ever thought I might pass out and wreck the car. As I was driving I had to stay very conscious of my thoughts so that I didn’t let them wander off to death and destruction as the unavoidable consequence of being on the road. I can barely work today because – and many of you will relate to this – I just can’t.

So I set work aside for later and went for a walk (promptly got soaked through when the skies opened up and dumped rain on me mid-walk), that didn’t work so I took a shower and got into pajamas, that didn’t work so I rested for a bit, that didn’t work and that is why I have meds. I’ll take it easy this weekend, sit out the storm and take care of my anxious brain. I might be medicated all weekend, and I’m fine with that because I am able to differentiate my chemically-flooded brain from what is “normal” for me. I know I wouldn’t normally be anxious, I can call this what it is and I can address it. I am also not going to let it keep me from doing things that sound fun.

Recovered? No. Recovering? Hell yes! Bring it on, Harvey!

I Thought PTSD Was a Life Sentence

I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

I live with anxiety brain. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Here’s how that happened, and how I view it now.

Almost four years ago someone I loved and trusted betrayed me with absolute cruelty. Less than a week later I hydroplaned on an interstate and the hood of my car went under the trailer tires of a semi. I honestly thought I was going to die before the car came to a stop, but I came out of the blur and wreckage with a few bruises and already on the phone with 911. The witnesses to my wreck couldn’t believe I was alive. The wrecker driver couldn’t believe I was making jokes. I couldn’t believe an engine could be in pieces like that. I was in law class the next morning, and didn’t miss a beat until two years later, when I was down to my last shred of sanity and my choice was between leaving my life and starting again or getting help. I chose to get help.

The trauma broke my brain. I maybe could have made it through one event or the other, but I could not do both, and two years later I learned that I wasn’t crazy, I have a diagnosable injury that I can do a lot to heal. I am almost two years into the healing process, and I will have to work at it till I die. Lots of practice!

The trauma that I experienced in less than a week – all of it out of my control – handed me what I saw as a life sentence of frustration, self-blame and much-reduced mental capabilities. My intelligence, my focus and my stamina under stress were blown to pieces, and everything I knew to do to get ahead in life was taken from me when I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

A few months ago my younger brother was badly injured at work and my experience with PTSD suddenly had purpose. I was no longer the weak one, the only one in therapy in a tough family, I was the one with compassion, empathy and Grace. I was the one who could keep smiling, stay positive and support the family’s physical and emotional needs. My injury and healing suddenly set a clear path forward not only for what not to do and say, but what to do to help heal. I have my answer to the question “WHY?!?!?!”, and it’s enough. Even if it did pause my own recovery for nearly three months. It’s enough.

I’m still working through the anxiety and trauma I had before the worst week of my life. I had to learn that I even had anxiety and trauma before. I had to learn there are names and reasons and answers and tools and that yes, I can exercise a certain amount of control over my life. That was freeing. I haven’t forgotten the endless days of pain, the endless tears, the silent sobs, my soul screaming while I was pushed to my limits by something nameless residing in my brain that wouldn’t let me let go. I can’t forget that much pain. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to be so compassionate now.

Life sentence? Maybe. Life changing? Definitely. And good thing, because I am a much better human now than I was before.