Letters to Linda – Feeling Overwhelmed

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Dear Linda,

I, too, would rather stay in bed and watch tv…pretty much all the time. And I don’t even have that much interest in television, it just usually seems like a better alternative to having to think or having to be alone with my thoughts. Or deal with people, or deadlines, or obligations, or people, or…anything.

I think it’s important to know that there is a difference between feeling overwhelmed and being overwhelmed. They’re very similar, but as I’ve mentioned, anxiety will make you think things that aren’t true, and part of recovery is working toward acknowledging what is the real situation and what is anxiety. Most of the time when you feel overwhelmed, it’s the anxiety talking. And anxiety is loud. Sometimes you really are overwhelmed, and that can happen when you experience a trigger. I have two different approaches, depending on what I identify as my experience.

If I am feeling overwhelmed, and for me that means I feel like I have so much to do and it’s hard and I’ll never get it done and PANIC, I have to stop and assess – rationally – what is the least amount I can do today? What has to be done and what can wait? What will be a real problem if I don’t complete that today, or attend today, or do today? What can I do tomorrow or a different day and it will be fine?

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Usually if I stop and assess rather than let anxiety dictate my to-do list, things become much more manageable and less scary. Then I push aside things that do not have to happen today and see about getting started with what does have to be done. And the rule is only one thing at a time until I finish. This way I reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, I feel more in control and things feel more manageable and achievable – which makes me feel better, which makes things easier to do.

If I am being overwhelmed (by anxiety), it’s a different experience. For me it’s usually a PTSD trigger, it has nothing to do with how much I have on my plate and everything to do with my brain being flooded with whatever my neurons just went wild about. I used to keep going and try to force myself to work or clean or ANYTHING to not address it, which was not a healthy thing to do. These days, I acknowledge that I got triggered, I find a place to rest, I drop everything, I may or may not call someone in my support circle, and I rest until it passes. Sometimes that’s ten minutes, sometimes it’s four hours, doesn’t matter, it’s time I need to recover.

Yes, I can still go to class or meetings or drive or function when I’m being overwhelmed, and I do if I really have to. It’s a judgement call every time. But if I stop and rest rather than pushing myself and not taking that time out, I recover so much faster and so much better than if I ignore it. I’m taking care of myself when I do this and acknowledging that my condition is legitimate and deserving of care and space, rather than telling myself I’m not worth it. If you knew I was triggered, you would help me get to a safe place and do what you could to see that I was comfortable and cared for. Do the same for you!

Getting Me Back

Sex and dating have been the last big issues I haven’t really dealt with post-PTSD. I didn’t have to, so I didn’t, and figured I’d deal with it when I had to. Well, now I have to if I want this relationship to continue. Which I do, because Client’s Brother is an incredible surprise, and I’d like to see where we go. He knows I still have a lot of shit to work through, and he’s kind and compassionate about it. Since I have a giant question mark about my reactions to everything (post-assault I am pretty skittish about, well, everything), I have no idea what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not. I have so many negative emotions about sex and dating, and changing that is going to take time and energy that I don’t yet have available for this. He’s walking through this with me, and I couldn’t really ask for more. It’s quite wonderful.

As I’m rolling into the end of the work year and things slow down for about a month, I have some space to step away from the office and focus on myself. It’s time I really need to do this, to get ME back. I need to form different coping habits, need to resolve some background noise and pursue some things that bring me joy, things that I haven’t had the energy to pursue. As much as the recovery process is central to my life, I’m ready to move beyond recovery and be more than the anxiety and scars. I think that identity was ok for a while, and I think it gave me a bit of shelter, but I’m more than the scars and want to be more than the anxiety. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I don’t start things on Mondays and I try to avoid high-expectation change scenarios. I’d rather start something on a Tuesday in April. So no end-of-year or new year plans, just seems like the right time to push myself forward a bit and regain some of what I like about myself.