Sorry, I’m Taking Up All My Energy

One of the things I like least about my experience with PTSD but which has perhaps been one of the most important lessons for me is that I don’t have enough energy to go around.

Anxiety, depression and my misprogrammed neurons suck up most of the energy I have, leaving not much else available. What is left goes to maintaining myself (food, bathing, drinking water, staying somewhat organized) and working, which means that I have very little left for anyone else.

I now avoid a lot of people, crowds, noise and social “obligations” because I do not have the capacity for it. If it is an energy suck (and a lot of people from my life before PTSD are), I do not engage, or engage at a minimum. The capacity to do so is just not there. I got called a misnathrope the other day, which I think was unfair. If my mental illness were visible, y’all would be shocked that I do as much as I do. I think that is true for a lot of us with “invisible” illnesses.

But please know that I see you, and I respect and admire what you are able to do and who you are able to be. So often Life finds a way, even in the darkness.

And this is very different from my life previously, in which I had so much energy for other people and building community and volunteering hundreds of hours a year and working long hours and working out 7-11 hours a week and dating guys that put very little effort into our relationship…which is a different story.

I’d like to be able to direct more energy externally, I’d like to not have to qualify relationships by how draining they are for me and I’d like to be out and about more. But I don’t have the capacity, so I do the best I can with the people I can and go from there.

Pick Back Up

I bounced back from this weekend faster than I ever have from a severe PTSD episode, but I still don’t have the momentum and sunny disposition I’ve previously had when whatever it is that flips the switch in my brain does its thing. I’m in vaguely familiar but still uncharted territory, and it’s about as uncomfortable as you might think.

But I have so much to do.

I feel like I’m grinding gears, trying to find the right gear to move forward in and not quite getting there while the engine is working. It’s creating a lot of tension and not helping me focus while I try to balance the forces of energy and find the right fit.

Mostly I want to fight.

Making Room for New Things

My desk faces a wall. It’s slim, not very deep, but has worked well for me for over a decade. On the wall in front of me I’ve pinned up cards, artwork memories and various and sundry bits of detritus that people have sent me over the last few years. I don’t gaze upon it with adoration, it’s more background noise. But it’s fun, and I like it.

Since I’ve been feeling better this week, I’ve had a lot more creative energy (a lot more energy overall), and the ideas are starting to flow. I have a number of personal and professional projects I want to work on, many that I was working on when my family members started going down two years ago. I want a place to capture that, to make notes and jot down ideas and keep track of what I’m working on. Digital space is fine, but I like paper for this type of thing.

When I was sorting through boxes a couple of months ago in an attempt to organize and consolidate my belongings, and found a stash of Post-It note pads in varying sizes. In a previous life I was obsessed with Post-Its and bought tons of them in different sizes and colors to organize myself. I’m not obsessed now, but I do find them occasionally handy, and put the stash in my desk drawer for later.

I now have a use for those oversized notes.

I’m taking down most of my wall detritus to make space for an easy-to-reach note wall so that I can keep up with my projects, ideas and progress. I’m going to stick large pieces of brightly-colored paper in front of me. Not that the cards and artwork are less meaningful, it’s just time to do something different, and give myself some space for where I am and what I can do now.

The Long and Unlikely Road to Bettering Self

I have a constant urge to be better, whatever that means. I don’t have a clear idea of what “better” looks like, I just know that for a long time I haven’t been satisfied with where I am, and I want things to be different. I know that to great extent I can effect change within myself, and I can accept that I can do (functionally) nothing about anyone else, and that has put me in a place over the last few months that has gotten me really curious – about myself, my abilities, where I am with PTSD and where I want to be instead, what it looks like to love myself and care for myself and make myself a priority and what I can and cannot tolerate in my own behavior and that of others.

I don’t have that many “good” days, days that I feel energetic and interested in life and happy and motivated to leave the house. I push through most days, trying to not drop back down the hole while I try to do the things that research and a lot of smart, caring people think might have the best chance of getting me where I want to go. I’m starting to oscillate a bit, I think – I’m having noticeably more stints of positive and motivated than I’ve had in a few years. I’m definitely more awake and aware, and am staying less in the dark hole and am peeking out at the world more. I’m thinking more about doing things that I enjoy and have taken a few small steps that I don’t seem to have backtracked. I’m seeing some ripple effects from my changes and it’s cool. I like to think that building better energy around myself has the potential to positively radiate out, and I’ve lived with negativity for so long that it’s a nice change.

But, I still have the question of what better looks like and what I need to do to get there.

Waking Up Lonely

There are times that my introspection becomes overwhelming. I haven’t yet learned to moderate it – although I was so numbed out for years that there’s a lot built up.

I really miss having a lot of people over for meals. I used to entertain quite a bit, and had a large group of friends and acquaintances who were happy to appear at my command when I wanted to cook.

I love to feed people, and I love to cook. Which I no longer do.

My family has been through a lot in the past two years, and through part of that and prior to the start of a series of traumas I cooked for everyone. I liked it, and was good at it. Now that my mom isn’t working and has turned her energy to caring for my grandmother, she has pushed me out of the kitchen. It’s her domain, right down to washing the dishes.

My mom was not a good cook when I was a kid. I have zero good memories of her food, and a lot of bad ones. It’s different now, and she makes great food, but she also leaves no room for me to do what I love.

She gets really anxious about cooking for holidays. I mean weeks of freaking out and planning and more freaking out and lunch two hours late and panic about the turkey not thawing in time. Every. Holiday. So I started cooking holiday meals myself, because I like it, it’s not hard for me, I can do it to the nines in 5 hours, it’s perfectly cooked and timed, and mom doesn’t stress us all out. And I get to feed people, which I love.

But now that’s she’s back in charge of the kitchen, we’re back to the unnecessary anxiety of Thanksgiving. I say unnecessary, I don’t know what it is that bothers her so much, she’s not one to discuss feelings. I do think it’s unnecessary because she knows she can just let me handle it. But she doesn’t. I’ve been pretty much ignored, and this morning she was going on about making my brother her sous chef to get things prepped tonight so that she doesn’t have to do them tomorrow. She would also rather cook everything tonight and microwave it tomorrow.

No.

I feel pretty ignored by my mom, which is usual since I’m the only one with an (mental) illness that she has not stepped in to help, and she seems to have forgotten how smoothly things have gone the last five years when she just let me cook. And now she and my brother, who get really extra around each other, will be spreading their manic energy all over the kitchen, which was once my place of calm. And I’m going to…find something else to do, or else suck it up and join, because these are not two people who reflect much on their own issues and behavior.

Yeah, I know, get my own place, do something else (i.e. leave the country) for holidays, tell them how I feel, etc. But you also know that family isn’t that easy, and that doing the best thing for yourself often has consequences that you’d rather avoid. I would. So here we are.

The Silver Lining

This morning did not start well. I had so much anxiety last night that I was dizzy every time I stood, and I couldn’t sleep enough to get out of bed energetically. But two things happened to turn that around for me.

I met with a graduate student I am mentoring through my alma mater’s former student network, and we not only connected well but my professional work and personal interests align well with hers, so it looks like I will be able to provide real benefit to her. I’m thrilled by that, because not all of the matches are so successful, and I want to give back. I think it’s important.

During that meeting I got a call from a client who wanted to discuss some plan changes, and who is really happy and excited by what I am producing for them. That was gratifying, and I’m really happy that I am helping someone turn their vision into an achievable goal.

I still don’t have much relief from the anxiety and being “on” half the day has been tiring, but the good is there, I acknowledge it and am grateful for it and I am doing the best I can to be responsible for the energy I bring into the room.