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…

!!20170401_165514

 

The New Normal? Geez I Hope Not.

I think it would actually be better to just accept that my family does not accommodate or support my struggle with mental illness and make peace with it.

I’m about a week into moving from my normal anxiety program into anger/rage/short fuse under tight control. I don’t want to explode on someone and hurt their feelings.

After a week of this I have zero idea still of what is behind it, and can only guess its some combination of weather/trauma anniversary approaching/lack of support from my family/stupid friends/driving in rain a few days (I wrecked in the rain). I have done different things every day, eaten sugar, not eaten sugar, eaten gluten, not eaten gluten, taken vitamins, drank more water, gotten more sleep, shrugged off some responsibilities, taken on some responsibilities, exercised, not exercised, read before bed, eaten tacos and organized my work space.

No. Change.

Now it feels like the new normal, which is not good news, and I don’t know how to change it because the things I usually do to feel better are having zero noticeable effect. And since I’m pissed of at everything all day anyway (plus there is not a minute of the day that I don’t want to DRINK), I’m more annoyed than usual at my weight, my work, my family, my friends and my hair.

I can exercise choice, right?

Might be time to make that plan to lose the trauma weight.

I have been ON IT at work, which is going really well, and I am also putting it down when the work day is over.

I think it would actually be better to just accept that my family does not accommodate or support my struggle with mental illness and make peace with it. 4 years later they are not going to change even as I continue to. And that’s really ok.

My friends and their bonkers relationships are also not my problem. Better to accept their weird selves and not insert myself into what annoys me.

I got a haircut, and it looks amazing. Go me.

Caring For Others When You Can’t Care For Yourself

I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself.

I am done taking care of other people.

That was my thought Saturday night as I waited somewhat impatiently for my chickens to leave my house and go home (chickens being my group of younger friends who I generally adore but sometimes get worn out with). In the last two and a half weeks I have done back to back post-surgery for my brother, care for my very ill mother (who is much better now), running my firm (which got super-intense last week when things got challenging with every single client’s project at once), running my parent’s house while my Dad was out of state on business, helping some of the guys win over the girls they like, and dealing with the absolute nonsense spewing from a friend who dumped her boyfriend and is now taking her need for attention out on the rest of the group.

I am seriously thinking about getting them back together just to give the rest of us (me especially) a break.

Which brings me to one of the most challenging realities of PTSD for me: it is so much easier to care for (read meddle with) other people than it is to take care of myself. Not only that, but when I do get caught up in taking care of and meeting the needs of others, it takes me some time to wind down from it. I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself. I’m also resentful that as much as I have been taking care of others, not only do they not acknowledge what I’ve done (family especially), they don’t care for me (again, family especially).

Enter therapy this morning, where I had to put names to my emotions, face these challenges and acknowledge that one of the core issues that I struggle with having PTSD is I experience anxiety when I don’t know.

I was in a very abusive relationship in which I was horribly betrayed a week before my car wreck. I didn’t understand it as abusive at the time because years of abusive employers had done a number on me (whole other story for another day), and I am coming to realize that what causes me the most anxiety is not knowing. I would really rather know the worst than not know. Some of that comes from being manipulated by someone I thought I could trust, some of it comes from genuinely thinking I was about to die. There is a lot of unknown when your car is smashing around and you are in complete sensory overload.

So now I get to begin to work toward sitting peacefully with not knowing, with understanding that anxiety will not bring resolution. It’s a little much to take in today. I’m going to need some time to process. I’m starting with making a plan to reorganize my workspace to be better for me (which I was going to do two weeks ago but didn’t because I was busy with others) and I’m listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks.

This is hard. This part is really hard. Onward.

So Many Things Are Good Now, Like Showers

It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

Now that my brain is back to processing trauma, some things are much better, and some are not. It’s why I’m in therapy still, to navigate what stability brings. I’m really glad I know this – that when things are stable for me, my brain feels that it can start releasing information for me to process.

Then I sit and wonder how I’ve forgotten so much. Eh.

For example, showers used to be horrible for me. I got to the point that I dreaded my daily rinse off because I had nothing to distract me and that’s when all of the trauma would hit me full force with anxiety brain. I would try to enjoy the hot water and time to myself, but that didn’t work. Now though? I don’t have the racing, anxious thoughts so often, I have learned to beat them back in still and quiet time, and showers ARE THE BEST. It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

I still kinda hate intense exercise, and I only recently realized why. I used to work out intensely between 7 and 11 hours a week. I was active all day most days with my job, and I was in great shape and really strong. Post wreck I stopped working out, then started to hate exercise. It took some gentle prodding from my therapist to start walking and practicing yoga, and it took another year to realize why I WOULD NOT do more. I once had a tough workout shortly after a traumatic experience, and post-PTSD-inducing trauma I couldn’t make myself do it. I still can’t sometimes, but at least now I know why, and I can work on it and up to it. Cooler temps will help (I do a lot of exercise outdoors because it’s happier for me), here’s hoping for an actual winter this year!

This week I realized why I’ve been limiting my time visiting my grandma. I went to see her the evening of the day of my wreck per our regular schedule, and I acted like nothing happened. I have been caring for my grandma for 4 years, and haven’t viewed it as a burden until now. Now I just can’t even, as the kids say, and it’s a chore to see to her needs when that hasn’t been a struggle for me until the last few months. Well, it’s associated with a trauma event, even if indirectly, so that’s something for me to address too before my brain builds some kind of negative web of neurons about my grandma!

I’ve put just shy of 40 miles on my feet this week and have done some deep stretching in yoga (pigeon pose tonight, which I highly recommend!), so I am sore and feeling a little beat. I was up and down a ladder and jumping off and back on a cabinet to measure a building and windows for work today, and so much of me just wants that elusive total day off. Working this weekend though to not let myself get behind, but not giving up staying active during the week and making time to push my body a little. I had forgotten how good it feels to be tired BECAUSE I DID IT, and it feels pretty good. So did that shower!

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.