It’s My Birthday!

This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much.

Last night was hell.

My birthday is a trauma anniversary. Eating is a coping mechanism. Work is a coping mechanism. Isolation is a coping mechanism. Ironically, all things that I can’t always avoid…

I stayed in bed most of the day yesterday and napped in between working. I had nothing left, and in therapy I identified that I felt like I didn’t matter to the people close to me and felt alone. I had forgotten that my birthday was used as a weapon against me in previous years, and it took most of the day for me to consciously remember that, and to realize that I was having a rough day because I was anticipating another horrible birthday. Another day that was supposed to be about me on which I was ignored, abused and made to feel like nothing.

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I ran off to the desert this year and thought through how to reclaim my birthday. I was going to make it about me doing for myself this year, about not relying on others to make the day special. My brain had other ideas, and last night was an emotional post-trauma hell. This morning I’m still shaky, still feeling a bit off. The well wishes started before 6 this morning, which I really appreciate. I still can’t connect to them, and I’m still a bit walled off, and still a bit emotional, but I’m much better, and the crazy has subsided.

I understand that sometimes the brain – and this seems to be true for mine – cannot process trauma until it feels safe to do so. My experience with that is as soon as I think I’ve taken a step forward in recovery and made progress, I get rewarded by the baseball bat of trauma memory. Congrats! You’re doing great in recovery! WHACK! It’s so painful and frustrating and…shit. This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much. Maybe that means a better next year? I was able to sit with the pain last night. I still haven’t needed Xanax this year. Yep, I made it through last night without meds to knock me out so I could avoid it. I took the beating, and today I kinda feel like I got that beating.

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I woke up early to a quiet house. No cards, no acknowledgement that it’s my birthday. It’s expected, my family doesn’t make a big deal out of my birthday. I used to be the one to make a big deal out of it, used to make my own cake and organize my celebration, so I can understand why they don’t. And the point for me is to not rely on others for this. Emotionally, it’s still a letdown, but rationally, I enjoy the quiet morning. It’s raining and cold and I’m temped to not even leave the house today. I can work from the comfort and safety of my bed again, and ignore the world for another day. I can nap again if I need to.

Cause, you know, it’s my birthday!

Too Stressed to Heal

Once I each a sustained level of stress, my default perception of everything is that it’s a threat.

I’ve been coughing for about two weeks. Started with a strong uptick in pollen in the air, and now it may or may not be allergies/cold/pneumonia (that last one is my Mom’s thought). Whatever it is, I am pretty sure my stress levels, food choices and resistance to rest are not helping.

I was working, side-hustling and dealing with some communication chaos with David’s family yesterday, while very tired (when I say I’m tired I’m usually already in a bad place for PTSD-related anxiety and issues), and by the time I left David’s it was late and I just wanted to sleep. I should have stayed? But he had places to be today and I had work to do, and I didn’t want to sit in traffic in the morning. I kept alternately nodding off and hallucinating on the way home – I kept seeing things on the side of the road that weren’t there, like people and animals.

YES. I WAS HALLUCINATING DRIVING THREATS.

That’s a new one.

I finally called him after hitting my breaks for another deer that didn’t exist, and we kept talking till sometime after 3am.

I have no idea what to do. I am not in a good place. I’m snowed at work, but most of my projects are long-lead on invoicing, so I need to work a side-hustle to make sure I don’t get into financial trouble. I like the side-hustle, but it puts me in the path of a lot of germs, and it’s pretty intense while I do it, so I have a lot of adrenaline going and it’s a bit stressful, but I don’t take it home. What I am doing for work is also a few weeks from completion on everything, so there’s no satisfaction of completing something, and nothing I can clear off my desk yet. I am really struggling to put time and energy into my relationship with David, because I have never in my life prioritized a guy above work, and it’s freaking me out. As much as I know this is a good thing and he’s beyond worth it, new things = lots of stress and I need more time to adjust. And then there’s my family. When someone isn’t in the emergency room with a life-threatening situation, my Mom aggressively approaches me about everything, including my persistent cough, and can’t just ask how I’m feeling and do I think I need to go get my lungs checked out?

One of the curious and frustrating aspects of my experience with PTSD is that once I each a sustained level of stress, my default perception of everything is that it’s a threat. And I don’t have a single person who understands that beyond my therapist, so I don’t just deal with annoyances all day, I deal with constant threats. No shit I still have a cough…

Sick & Cranky

I’m not doing much to promote healing.

I can’t tell if I have allergies or a cold or both. Not the flu, I’ve had that before, but I’m about 2 weeks into not feeling well, and I’m feeling somewhat worse. Congestion, aches, I’m breaking out everywhere, my ears hurt, I cough some parts of the day…ugh.

I have stuff to do! Like a lunch meeting and an increasingly wonderful relationship and family drama and a car to clean out and a side hustle to work and I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS.

Isn’t that how it works though? When does anyone ever have time for this?

If nothing else, whatever has befallen me is serving to remind me that I could improve how I care for myself. That rest day? Hasn’t happened yet (rest days are a mental as well as physical thing for me, and I have to be very intentional about mental rest). I ate processed garbage for dinner yesterday because that’s what was socially acceptable, then I felt horrible (Oreos and chocolate pudding and Cool Whip are delicious, the processed potato salad and cole slaw less so, but it all made my body hate me). I am sleeping a little less than 7 hours a night (I’ve said before, I need about 9).

I’m not doing much to promote healing, at the same time I’m not masking it with over the counter remedies. I am therefore still sick, and very cranky.

And I just wrote out what I need to do so…fine. But if you have any remedies, let me know!

The Both/And Experience of Feeling Good In My Skin

I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once.

I’m open to non-exclusive.

Feelings, that is. I had a new experience yesterday that I don’t recall having had before.

For most of my life I’ve thought of myself and had the experience of being all or nothing. I was either all in or not interested/engaged. Which means that there has been no balance. I would work furiously to the detriment of my health, or I would get nothing done. I was either working out 11 hours a week or not at all. I was either eating healthy every meal or eating whatever I wanted. I either felt awesome or horrible, calm or anxious, exhausted or energetic. There has been no balance, no chill and no both/and. Until yesterday.

For the past couple of days I’ve been experiencing what I can only describe as physical anxiety. From what I remember I haven’t had that happen, the anxiety I experience has all been in my head. I haven’t been close to reminders of physical trauma in a few years though, and I do remember that driving after the car wreck was physically difficult. I would get headaches and a lot of tension in my shoulders. When I started getting the trauma worked out of my connective tissue through physical and massage therapy, it hurt like hell. That was a bit more than two years ago, so it’s possible I don’t remember. Sometimes I don’t, and I’m fine with that.

So to yesterday, reclaiming sex is looking like more of a trauma-clearing experience than I had realized. I was somewhat prepared for the mental anxiety, after all, that’s what I’ve been focused on healing for the last two and a half years. What I didn’t think about was that I have physical trauma that also probably needs to be addressed, and that’s now coming up too. My body hurts, I don’t feel well (feel like I have either a cold or allergies) and I would really just like to rest in bed for a few days in comfy pajamas and under my heavy blanket. I really don’t like not feeling well, I have other things to do. However, I don’t want to hold on to this, and releasing it would probably feel amazing. I’m thinking through that today as I handle business.

At the same time that I am experiencing physical anxiety without accompanying mental anxiety, I am feeling really good in my skin. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since my face looks rough, my skin is a bit loose where I’m starting to lose weight from going off the drugs and the constant blast of the heater/winter air combo makes me feel…shriveled. I’m not rocking a summer glow, is what I’m saying.

And yet I feel really good about my body for the first time in…years? Ever? Maybe realizing how much I’ve survived and how well I’ve done to heal from it is showing me that my body is pretty amazing after all, even when I have a lot of anxiety swirling around it. It’s weird, but I like that this is the way I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once. I’m not limited to either/or, it can be both/and. I like not being limited, I spent enough time with limits.

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. ❤

I Got My Ass Kicked Again

It opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

And once again, I deserved it.

Twice in the last year I have said something that I did not intend to be harmful, and have gotten called out on it by women whom I respect. They let me know how they perceived my words, I apologized and explained my position, and through civil and forgiving dialogue the relationship was restored.

This time I had said a few negative observations about someone at church and her boyfriend (she’s dating the roommate of this guy), and I had said them to people who did not take them for what they were and move on. My comments turned to gossip, word got around to her through three people, and she asked me to meet her for coffee.

I’ll call her Linda because that works well for an idea I have that I’ll write about in a later post.

I don’t know Linda very well, but she has come across as cold, detached and not willing to invest in the group. That has not sat well with a few people, and some group dynamics have not been very receptive to her perceived attitude. I certainly have not been receptive to it. For her to ask me to coffee was weird. Not thanks, I don’t like you.

But this is church, and I didn’t want to be starting something by declining, so I figured I’d better hear her out, even if she was also going to lay into me for who I choose to date (or anti-date, as the case may be).

She blew me away.

She said she had heard that I had said some unkind things about her, and wanted to know first if that was true, and if so, had she done something to upset me? I was sitting across from a woman ten years younger, being schooled on maturity and kindness. I didn’t think I’d said what she had heard, so I told her that I had made some negative observations, that without knowing who said exactly what it was hard for me to know if the gossip was true but that didn’t matter, because I was sorry I had hurt her and I had no business talking about her, especially since I didn’t know her well. She graciously accepted my apology, then the magic of authenticity happened.

She asked if she had heard correctly that I have PTSD. Yes, I’m open about the car wreck aspect of my diagnosis, and have found that sharing that connects me to people who do not feel as comfortable talking about what their experience is. There can be so much shame with PTSD. I have a platform for talking about it that doesn’t have to get into the years of abuse, and I use that. She doesn’t have that cover, which I quickly understood as we spoke. She’s were I was, experiencing the after-effects of trauma without knowing what to do. As we shared our experiences and I told her that it’s more than a car wreck for me, she bravely told me her story, one that I related to, and one I understood.

When you have PTSD and you meet someone who understands and lets you know that they will give you only acceptance and not judgement, it is freeing. It’s a big step toward getting out of the prison. I have had people open the door to freedom for me, and I had the chance to open the door for her. It was wonderful, and I am kind of glad I got called out for gossip, because it opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

That kind of experience also drains me, and I had a panic attack later that evening because I was too tired to manage anxiety. I ended up stonewalling (new term for me, I’m learning so much this week!) David, and shutting down, then texting him an hour later to try to explain what had happened. I had been triggered by something that connected to past abuse, and it took me a while to track it in my brain. I keep stumbling into these triggers and it’s exhausting.

This whole week has been exhausting. I have put so much energy and work into relationships and into myself. I’m back to work so I’m having to balance some tense dynamics there, and heading into the weekend I’ll be working with my grandma on her end of life directives. I may just stay home on Sunday and hide!

The work is worth it, and I’m so grateful for what I’m seeing happen from acting with kindness, honesty and acceptance.

 

Restoring Through Energy Balance

After months in an anxiety hole, this feels so good.

I was on high speed New Year’s Day.

I went to bed NYE finishing off a bottle of Proseco and a grilled cheese sandwich, I woke up feeling a bit hungover and chugged a quart of water while I scrolled around on my phone. My usual Earl Grey with half and half later and I was full of energy and purpose.

I can’t even remember the last time I had energy and purpose.

Either the Proseco had some magic in it, or all of the work, the thought and the decisions I had been making over the previous week converged into some amazing results. I’m also nearly two weeks into tapering off the antidepressant, and I am finding that my energy, creativity and motivation are WAY UP. I had no idea. Anxiety is also up, but I am recognizing and addressing it in ways that I have not been motivated to do before now.

Cool, right?

It was too cold out for this kid (I am a hot weather girl), and as much as I had the energy to go run around outside, I decided to channel that energy into inside stuff. Into clearing some of my spaces, making small changes that made me a little happier, following through on the meditation intention I had to release hatefulness, which you can read on my post Restoring Through Releasing Others’ Hatefulness, pulling out my little notebook to start writing down thoughts and experiences, and generally doing things that made me happier and feel more accomplished.

After months in an anxiety hole, this feels so good.

Before I started paying more attention to caring for myself, I would have run around on high speed all day, done all the things, worked myself up and crashed in the evening with a panic attack. Now that I’m beginning to understand the concept of balance a bit better, I worked at the things I wanted to do until I reached a point of satisfaction, then I stopped, sat down and read for a bit. I moved from high energy to low intentionally so that I didn’t crash later. Enough was good enough. Maybe sometimes balance is also stopping to appreciate your hard work. I like this so much better.