When People Say Dumb Things About the Hell I Live With

I stopped dead in my annoyed tracks and realized what had actually happened.

That dick friend of mine? Surprising to no one, his mom is what some might call…rigid.

Being “out” about PTSD (the car wreck part, I rarely open up about the rest of it) and being fairly open about my experience with anxiety, triggers and medication means that I get to hear a lot of dumb things. I don’t accept that “people mean well”, because they don’t, and that is a garbage excuse for projecting your ignorance onto someone who has an injury. I said the same when my brother was hurt. If you don’t know what to say, ask.

So this mom is a very religious and fairly judgmental person, and has actually said, when she learned that I see a therapist, “Well, I’m glad that works for you.”

It does. It’s like physical therapy, but for my brain. People have to work hard to get their bodies functional again after trauma and injury, and my brain is part of my body. Pretty simple. Also pretty hard for her to not say dumb things about.

I was annoyed yesterday at church when she asked how I’m doing and I excitedly told her I have been able to calm myself twice now (three times including last night!) without medication. She immediately wanted to know what role Scripture played in me doing that.

None.

She’s of the view (that I see pretty often at church) that the Bible holds all of the answers for healing mental health issues. You just pray and memorize enough verses and it goes away. We can take our kids to the surgeon for broken arms, but if you have broken brain? Just pray! Hahahahahahahaha. No.

I gave her a compromise between my actual experience and what she wanted to hear, because I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I later shot an expletive her way when I was telling my mom about it.

I stopped dead in my annoyed tracks and realized what had actually happened.

She had tried to equate her experience with depression (some kind of six month deal that “went away” either post-partum or at another time in her life, I don’t recall) with PTSD. Not the same. Not even close. And not because her experience is less valid or less important or less difficult, but because they are simply just two different experiences altogether. And I in my annoyance at her clumsy words I had missed what she was really trying to say.

She’s asking me to validate her experience.

She doesn’t have the freedom to look anywhere but the Bible for mental healing and health. She doesn’t have exposure to someone who comfortably works with the science and feels no shame about her extra-Scriptural approach to healing brain trauma. She is having her assumptions challenged and her perspective widened, and that means she might have done it wrong. Which is scary.

Which really isn’t wrong, it just maybe isn’t the most comprehensive or helpful way to look at it.

Being out and still in recovery is hard. But not as hard as not knowing and feeling how she probably feels because she doesn’t understand her experience and doesn’t know where to place it in the way she practices her faith. I’m not annoyed anymore, I’m a little sad and reminded, once again, to always be kind first.

Letters to Linda – PTSD Basics

Here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

Welcome to hell.

That feels like the real welcome. PTSD is hell. It’s worse if you don’t have information about it, support for your experience or can see a way out. It’s standard-issue to feel trapped and unable to escape. Not only can doors seem closed, they can seem to not exist at all. And that’s why it’s hell. It is really hard to have hope when you first come to understand that you have PTSD.

It doesn’t always show itself at first. It took me two years to get diagnosed, and until then I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew I either needed to get help or I was going to move to Canada. That’s not a joke, I was checking into travel when someone opened a door for me. And that is the beautiful thing about this experience, and something worth holding onto: people will open the doors that you couldn’t even see.

I hope these letters give you comfort and encouragement. I hope that my experience helps you reclaim yourself because you have more information, and you have someone who understands. So here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

  • You are not crazy. It feels like you are, yes, but what you have is a diagnosable condition from trauma. Your brain has an injury that needs to heal, and that does not make you crazy, it makes you absolutely deserving of love, support and healing.
  • Not all PTSD looks the same. If comparison is the root of envy, it is also the root of you being really unsure if you even have PTSD. Humans are unique and our neurologic response to trauma is unique. Just because you don’t have the symptoms on a list on the internet or because you don’t think your experience with trauma was “as bad as someone else” doesn’t mean that you are any more or less, it means that there is good reason for addressing your experience and needs, not someone else’s.
  • You can heal. In a lot of ways this can feel like a life sentence, and it is. There is so much damage from negative thoughts and behaviors that come from PTSD, especially if your trauma experience is not addressed for years after it happens. But there is always hope! It takes work, and it’s hard, but you can heal. It starts with believing that you can, and I certainly believe you can, because I’ve been there.
  • Give yourself some space to heal. If you had a broken arm, you would have gone to the doctor, had your arm repaired, be in a cast, possibly had surgery and have a timeline of several weeks to heal. Then you would get your cast off and still have time to rebuild strength in your arm and get it back to full use. If you didn’t get medical help very soon after your arm broke, your arm might heal in a way that made it hard to use, or very painful. Our brains aren’t very different! The big difference is that we often can’t see when our brains break, so they are much harder to get help for, and, unlike a broken arm, brain trauma can have a lot of shame with it, so it can be really hard to talk about and get help for. And that’s ok, because you didn’t know. Don’t beat yourself up, rather acknowledge that you didn’t know, and now that you do you can start the healing process.
  • There is not a timeline. This is not school or work. There are no deadlines or requirements, this is all at your pace. You get to decide what you’re comfortable with and what kind of progress you want to make. For me, it has take two years to get stable, to understand my trauma and my experience to the point that when I have severe anxiety or flashbacks or triggers I can deal with them in a healthy, healing way rather than a negative, harmful way. I still have a lot of work to do, and as I heal, I am finding more trauma I wasn’t aware of. Not fun! But I have accepted this is a process that does not have a timeline or expectations, it’s a journey at my own pace. The more effort I put into healing, the faster I heal, and the more I put off taking care of myself, the less progress I make. That also means I get to take breaks when I get tired of this whole thing or if I get busy with other things in life. When I have the motivation and space, I can really dig into re-wiring my brain.
  • Start with acknowledgement. PTSD can have so many lies. Anxiety is a lie, depression is a lie – there are so many things your brain will tell you that aren’t true. However, that experience is very real, and very valid. All it takes to start on the path to healing is to recognize what’s going on. If you are experiencing anxiety, acknowledge it. If you have a trigger experience, acknowledge it. If you are drained and exhausted, acknowledge it. If you can’t deal with groups today, acknowledge it. If you are in fight mode, acknowledge it. If you feel like you are stuck, acknowledge it. For me this was the hardest and easiest step to take. “I acknowledge that I have a lot of anxiety right now.” may seem silly or pointless, but recognizing what you feel and pausing to acknowledge it is actually a very powerful step forward. When you recognize negative experiences, you can address them. Start there.

I Got Up and Did Yoga

Something clicked for me last night. Something lit up that said this wasn’t going to happen without intention. Duh.

A few weeks ago I bought a book on mindfulness on the recommendation of my therapist. No secret that I am not where I want to be mentally, and I have not been doing much in the way of things that are highly likely to improve myself and give me an edge in my ongoing battle with PTSD. I’ve been flat losing the battle the last couple of weeks. I think some days I don’t want it enough. It’s misery to wallow in it, but then sometimes I don’t know where to find the energy to push out. Yeah, I’ll confess I’ve been wallowing.

I opened The Mindfulness Toolbox last night while I was spending some quality time with anxiety. Sometimes just opening a helpful book is enough to give me a push forward. I liked the first tool so much – working through how you talk about mindfulness. The author pointed out that mindfulness or meditation can be hangups for people of personal or religious backgrounds that aren’t very open to those words, and offered a lot of other ways to think and talk about mindfulness. I was initially attracted to “take a pause”, but on reflection I realized that is exactly what I don’t want to do. Wallowing in anxiety is a pause – I put my life on pause to do that. If I am going to practice being mindful and really get to working on my brain, I don’t think I want to pause, I think I want to flow.

Have I mentioned that I really like this book? And that was just the first couple of pages.

I also did yoga when I got up this morning. Not “I’ll do it later” or “I’ll do it when I get this other stuff done” or “eh I’m barely in shape to hold a downward dog, maybe I can work my way back up to it”. No excuses, no wallowing, I just went for it…I think for the first time in almost 2 months?

Something clicked for me last night. Something lit up that said this wasn’t going to happen without intention, and no one is going to do it for me (duh, I have overall very little support, much less help, which I am pretty sure contributes to the wallowing). It’s also possible that I am experiencing the emotional distress that my therapist warned me was a possible side effect of going off the meds. That should be temporary, which is good news, but rough while it lasts, which is why it’s good I’m finally opening that book and getting on my yoga mat.

I’ve Got Sunshine in My Hair

It has been grey, cold, wet and foggy for…more days than I remember, AND TODAY THERE IS INTENSE, BEAUTIFUL SUNSHINE!!!

I appreciate rain. I don’t forget drought years, and some of my work has placed me alongside amazing people who work really hard to keep water quality and quantity sustainable for the future.

BUT Y’ALL. I NEED THE SUN. AND IT IS BACK.

Week One Off the Meds

When they all seem to conspire against you…

I’m not going to post about this every week, but I have made it through the first week of coming off my medications. It was hell. And I’m still full of synthetic chemicals. 

The situations and circumstances around me were the real issue, not my response to quitting my first prescription. I’m ok. Maybe a little more grumpy, a little more intense and a little more looking for connection. There’s also a slight internal shift I can’t put my finger on yet. I might have a little more ability to push through? I think I might also be slimming down a tad. Or it was the 6 hours of playing ball on Wednesday…

Between my family, my friends and my job, the week was bonkers. I’m not sure who called who to sabotage my sanity this week, but they did their damndest. I don’t hate people any more than usual though, and I successfully ran a meeting full of strangers, so… Maybe that was a test? I guess I passed? 

I reckon it’ll be January before I’m completely off everything. That’s a bit ambitious, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. And if this goes the way I’m planning for it to, I’ll be much better off by my birthday. 

The Depression Side of Recovery

This is the part I struggle against the most.

When I was diagnosed with PTSD I was also diagnosed with mild depression and prescribed a low dose SSRI. I haven’t upped the dose in the two years I’ve been on it, and based on my rapid tolerance increase for Xanax and alcohol (is there such a thing as having a pre-conditioned liver from a family history of substance abuse?), I am pretty sure the SSRI is useless at this point. I have a choice to make this winter, increase the dose or stop taking it, because it really isn’t having much effect for me and I like to take as few medications as possible.

I think the management of mental health by medication is an individual choice, and I have very little to say about other’s choices. What I know for me is that the goal is to gain enough stability through thought and behavioral changes that I can be medication-free, after using medication to help me through the process of getting stable. However, that means there will be not as good days. Depression kills my motivation to do ANYTHING, particularly anything that is good for me (I never want a salad when I’m experiencing depression, ya know?).

I am getting my ambition back, some of my creativity back, a lot of ME back. Depression kills all of that and stuffs it in a hole. Because I can’t predict depressive episodes, I never know when I will not be having it. Once upon a time I had the discipline to keep going and push through, but after doing that for two years following severe trauma, I can’t anymore. It isn’t there. The strength to push through is gone, and it’s incredibly frustrating because I want so badly for it to be there. I have things to do!

I am finally able to put those feelings into words, and the first step for me in any aspect of my recovery is usually understanding and acknowledging what is happening so that I can address it. I can say then, “I am experiencing depression. Depression causes a lack of motivation toward accomplishing things that are important to me. I can find a way to address this.” And that, y’all, is why I pay a therapist!