Ooooo, That Looks Good!

I have wrecked myself before trying to shop and eat my way through my feelings.

We’re days into cloudy, dreary, wet weather, and it’s somewhat reminiscent of the last year I lived in California. The sun didn’t appear for three months, and I thought I was going to lose my mind. I didn’t know then about seasonal depression, but I got to find out later! I also got to find out about PTSD, anxiety, depression and many of the other mental health concerns that y’all have bravely shared here in the bloggosphere. Look how much I know now!

I also know that I can acknowledge what I am struggling with, and while it doesn’t always make things go away, and sometimes doesn’t even make them feel better, it does let me quit worrying what might be going on and accept how I feel as the experience of this moment or this day or this week. So, I acknowledge that I am experiencing depression, and I don’t need to cope in unhealthy ways, I can recognize it and accept that I may need some self-care, but I do not need to self-indulge.

Because when I experience depression, I want to shop and eat my way through life. It’s like my brain sends out a glittery billboard that says, “TIME TO SHOP FOR ALL THE THINGS AND EAT ALL THE THINGS!!!”

I want everything I see – new makeup, workout gear, shoes, a new purse, cute things generally, my nails done, a stack of books, cooking equipment that I don’t yet own… Haha, I need to stay home and stay off the internet! I also want to eat everything I see, and Instagram is not helping, because so much amazing looking food, and QUESO, and CHOCOLATE, and…

I have wrecked myself before trying to shop and eat my way through my feelings. To throw out my favorite Star Wars quote, “IT’S A TRAP!” It’s a distraction, not a solution, and while I am actually hungry and I have not eaten indulgently today, I don’t need to eat myself sick or buy things to make myself feel temporarily better. I’m sure there’s a good alternative available to me if I put some thought to it, but right now just acknowledging what’s going on is enough.

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!

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. 

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. ❤

First Successful Trigger Cope of 2018

It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…

The work is paying off.

I’ve spent the last week or so working on new coping techniques for anxiety while I didn’t have a lot of anxiety (relative to what I can and often do experience). I’ve learned to not pressure myself to learn new things while putting my energy into dealing with intense anxiety episodes, which is why my default anxiety food is still grilled cheese.

I found out two days ago that a friend of mine from grad school had been hit by a car on Christmas, and was in the hospital recovering from severe injuries. It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…and sure enough it was a trigger.

I dropped what I was doing and went through a yoga practice. Didn’t sit around stewing or freaking out or getting really emotional, I acknowledged what my brain was doing, let it go, chose another way to think about it, and did yoga for a while. It stopped the trigger experience, and I was left with mild to moderate anxiety the rest of the day instead of a massive panic attack.

I’ve been practicing yoga every day for a week in the hopes that getting accustomed to that will help me not have such a barrier to accessing that tool when I get triggered. Different coping tools for different trigger, but this one was a success, and the first trigger of the year didn’t become the first panic attack of the year. #grateful

Restoring Through Releasing Other’s Hatefulness

As I work through all of the dark, negative neuron pathways in my brain, I’m finding a lot of neurons have been wired to be resentful about the haters.

I have had some haters.

I don’t really mess with people. I don’t antagonize or badger, I’m not a pot-stirrer. I call it like I see it, but I usually keep those calls to myself because I don’t think the other person will hear what I’m saying and I don’t really see a point in starting conflict. I like to just do my thing, and I’m not really that interested or concerned with what others are doing. I’m not at all nosy, and I rarely pry into someone else’s business. Most of the time I just don’t care that much because I have PTSD to deal with, and that takes up a lot of my energy, but even before that I had dialed pretty far back on interfering where it wasn’t my business.

I’m a high performer. Curve killer, teacher’s pet…I’ve been called all of it. In my mind I just work really hard to do a good job, because if I do have an ego, it’s tied directly to my evaluation of my own performance. Here again though…this is about ME. I spent years not understanding why people got so hateful toward me for what I was doing for myself.

I was skipping along, doing me, and coworkers, teammates and whoever got bent out of shape about it and frequently unleashed some pretty hateful behavior toward me. Mostly passive aggressive shit because cowards don’t confront things head on. I let most of it go because, again, I didn’t care what they were doing (unless they hampered my performance), I was focused on what I was doing.

As I work through all of the dark, negative neuron pathways in my brain, I’m finding a lot of neurons have been wired to be resentful about the haters. I’m holding grudges I didn’t realize I was holding, the hair on the back of my neck still stands up when thoughts of people who have been hateful to me cross my mind. I was in abusive work environments for years, and most of the resentment is from the way I was treated by abusive coworkers. But those days are gone, and it does me no good to hold onto it.

Whatever pain they were acting on, it wasn’t really about me. As the target of a lot of lashing out, I work really hard to not lash out. I’ve blown up twice this year in trigger rants where I let a lot out, but I blew up at a situation, not at a person. I won’t do it, it’s too harmful. And now that I understand that I was the whipping boy for someone else’s pain, it helps to not take it so personally, to release it. I’ll set the intention for a meditation practice, and release the hatefulness so that I can continue to heal my brain.

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.