Adulting Hard (And the Bruises to Prove It)

I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up.

If there was a point in my life that Fridays elicited a “Yay! It’s Friday! The weekend!” response, I have forgotten when, and those days are long gone. Weekends are not a break, weekends are a continuation of work, a different set of work, or an endless round of chores and responsibilities. The only thing that distinguishes the weekend for me is that BAGELS happen on Saturday mornings, and traffic downtown isn’t as bad in the morning.

PTSD took away whatever semblance of “fun” I used to be, and there’s not a lot of free-wheeling, spontaneous, free-to-seize-the-day about me. That and my grandma not aging well (lots of things upset her and I’m the one that gets to hear about it), the unending health crises in my immediate family (we are maybe stable again after my brother’s visit to the ER last week for addiction), running a company with a business partner that has no executive function (it all lands on my shoulders) and my efforts toward recovery, which lately have just meant getting triggered a lot and being tired to the point that I hallucinated while driving.

What am I doing wrong? I thought I had this handled?

I have a stack of work on my desk that has approaching deadlines, I don’t have the focus or energy to tackle it head-on, yesterday I had to pivot to finish two courses for my fellowship that I hadn’t realized weren’t done so that pushed other work off a day, I ran a meeting last night that was completely dominated by a woman who has expertise and does know a lot about the topic our committee meets about, but who does not know all of the context and connections to the topic (and I do), so for every point I made that will help expand the breadth and depth of our organization’s position on this topic, she said “No.”

Y’all know the type. She knows everything, and everything she knows is stuck in the past, and not easily communicated to people who are not experts. That’s why I’m the committee chair, I am good at translating and good at connecting, and I hold more experience and more degrees relative to how to manage the process. And I got stepped all over. And it wasn’t going to be any other way without a fight. Cause she says “No.”

I can’t even make anti-dating fun. David has just as much chaos and barriers as I do at the moment, and it’s starting to consume his energy too. My struggles with mental health killed any kind of “honeymoon phase” we might have had, and my continuing series of triggers has not made our relationship less challenging. I can barely function some days as an individual (my therapist has described me as “high-functioning anxiety”, I see it more as “high potential to fail” anxiety), and there has not been a lot of time for me to adjust to functioning as a couple before everything has kind of hit the fan. Yay.

Long story for another time, but I was at Disney World a few years ago having one of the worst moments of my life. I had been obliterated by my ex and the fireworks show was going on and on about your dreams coming true. What a shitty message to the broken person I was. My dreams were destroyed, thanks. Anyone have a flask in this park?

I’m not a fairy tale kind of girl. I don’t dream in sparkles, I don’t wait for a happy ending and I am certainly not going to be rescued from the shit show that is my life right now.

That message wasn’t for me because that message isn’t me. It doesn’t fit. And I think that’s part of what I’m struggling with right now. I don’t fit. I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up. In figuring out who I am and what I want post-trauma (I am a different person, and it’s a good thing), I don’t fit. Anything. So I guess now I get to figure out how to make it fit…

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…

Chaos Strikes Again

I have a tendency to toss aside all of the things that are important to my health and well-being to manage crisis.

I have mentioned previously that my youngest brother was in a work accident last year, about 8 months ago. My mom was severely ill about six months before that. This weekend my eldest brother (still younger than I) was in the emergency room for anxiety and alcohol-related reasons that I am still not completely informed of. I don’t need to know, honestly, what I do know is that he’s back home for the time being, and in the very difficult first stages of recovery.

The illness and accident were things outside of my experience, and it was easier to jump in and provide care. This is very close to home, because I struggle with similar things. I keep a careful eye on my drinking because I’m fully aware of the family history with substance abuse, and I don’t want to poke that tiger. He’s made a different choice to this point. I do have the anxiety, but there again, I’ve sought help and have worked hard on recovery. He is just now almost being forced to consider recovery.

It’s hard.

Especially since, once again, I am moving on a clear path forward and now my energy is being pulled aside to help deal with the latest family health crisis.

I have a tendency to toss aside all of the things that are important to my health and well-being to manage crisis. I go all in, do all the things and ignore my health. This has been with work, it’s been with family, it’s been with friends…and this time it’s not happening.

If I am proud of one thing, it is that I am no longer willing to compromise my well-being or my goals for someone else in crisis. I have done that too many times, and have paid for it. I’m not where I want to be in life, and a good part of that is because I have put my life on hold to handle someone else’s problem. I just don’t have it in me this time. And this time is a lot more emotional and a lot closer to what could have been me. I can support, I can give hope, I can invite to join, but I cannot fix this, and I do not want to wreck myself in the process.

So I worked my side hustle, I made lunch plans, I’m working hard and I’m still contributing to my brother’s recovery, if not as full-force as I would have in the past. Now to just fit yoga in…

Restoring Through Making Decisions

I didn’t even realize I was frozen. I didn’t realize that I was stuck, but I was STUCK.

I have been sitting on a lot of decisions, I realized this week. As I’ve started taking a hard look at the anxiety hole I’ve been wallowing in and making plans to do some work to restore myself to a more positive human, a person who does things (I am a doer, for sure), I have needed to pull my head out of the sand, as it were, and make some play calls.

I didn’t even realize I was frozen. I didn’t realize that I was stuck, but I was STUCK, and I think I have David to thank for the realization, because as he was describing someone else who was stuck, I was taking in those comments and starting to think, “Wow, that’s me.”

I don’t want to be stuck. I like to do things, and I haven’t been doing things, I’ve been letting life happen. There are a lot of reasons why, the primary reason being that my family experienced severe trauma through my youngest brother’s accident earlier this year. It has taken me months to recover and get to a new path of healing The path I had been on is no longer available to me, and it has taken 7 months for me to see that. I kept trying to get “back on track”, but that track is gone, so time to find a new one. Enter this process of restoring. It has been a way for me to find that new path toward healing from my current circumstances, not my previous or imagined circumstances. No doubt I’ll have to do it again, but that’s for when it happens.

With my substantial insurance and mental health care cost increase that starts tomorrow, I’ve had a lot of anxiety about cash flow and getting my bills paid while we ramp up contract work in the new year. A lot of my work is long-lead on invoicing, and we just went through the annual slowdown plus delay on decisions from the tax reform uncertainty. I like to plan ahead, not wait till I hit an emergency to make a move, but I’ve been worrying without taking steps to reduce my worry. That ended this week when I teed up some options and scheduled some time to see exactly what my options look like so I can make that play call. Even if none of it works out, I made the effort, and I don’t fear failure of attempt so much as failure to act.

I’m going into the New Year already on a path to restoring, and already having made some decisions to push me off high center. Happy New Year!

XOXO,

Ashley

Reliving the Worst Day of My Life

I can take care of things in the moment, but then who takes care of me? 

My brother was working on his truck bed yesterday morning. He had a hand-held grinder, and the grinding blade hit something that jerked the tool out of his hand. The blade cut across the back of two fingers on his right hand…the same hand that is very slowly healing after his accident in May.

I was upstairs on the phone with my business partner when I heard both of my brothers hollering for me to come help. I was at the bottom of the stairs when I saw the trail of blood across the floor. I quickly hung up and ran to the kitchen sink, where my youngest brother had his hand under running water, groaning in pain.

Thankfully the cuts were fairly shallow, and after some bleeding, cursing, near-barfing and fainting on his part and a few laughs, I got him bandaged up and on Tylenol. He was back at it a short time later after the pain and shock subsided.

Then it was my turn.

His accident was the worst day of my life, and reliving that by seeing his fingers cut, hearing his pain and bandaging him up – we’re not that far removed from when we weren’t sure if we could keep his fingers healthy enough to avoid amputation. I could respond calmly and quickly in the moment, sure. I wiped up the blood trail from the garage to the kitchen, scrubbed the doors and floors, bleached the sink and the dishes nearby and threw the towels in the wash. He didn’t need stitches, but he did need a good bandage job, which I did carefully to avoid putting him in more pain.

I freaked out later. I wasn’t even willing to drive.

Handling my own triggers is one thing. Supporting someone I love dearly while they deal with a trauma trigger that is also a trauma trigger for me? Almost more than I can handle. 36 hours later I am still shaky, still distracted, still just wanting to sleep it off…for a week. This is so hard…and it will happen again.

External support systems are so important for this very reason. My family has experienced trauma together, so when we get a trauma trigger, like my brother’s mishap yesterday, it’s hard to learn on each other because we can’t hold each other up, at least not for long. I can take care of things in the moment, but then who takes care of me?

If you don’t say what you need, people don’t know. I was not at all excited about trying to learn to lean on David when our relationship is still new and I was a hot mess, but he needed to know. I wasn’t willing to drive, I was not in a good place and I was not interested in surface conversations. I needed to connect, I needed reassurance and I needed to not further burden my family. I didn’t even tell my mom till later in the evening so that she wouldn’t worry while she was working. So I said what I needed, and got more than I asked for. Find your tribe and appreciate them for what they do for you. When people are willing to be a gift, accept it with gratitude and keep moving forward.

Trying to Not Complain for a Week

What if I took all those frustrations and re-framed them into positive observations? Would it help?

I just about lost my shit this morning when I got home from the store. It rained all morning, and by the time I was hauling a loaded cart out to my car it was pouring. It rained so hard that some of the streets were flooded on my way home, and my street was partly flooded. I unloaded wet bags or groceries and jugs of water (our water tastes weird at the moment), nearly busted my ass slipping on the threshold, got it all put away in my mom’s chaotic kitchen and discovered that the box on the porch was the cane I had ordered from my grandma that we thought hadn’t arrived.

I was checking my Amazon orders last night to see if anything might not arrive this week, and saw that the new walking cane was supposed to have been delivered on Friday. No one had seen the box, so I reported it missing and requested another. From what I can guess, it was delivered to a neighbor and they brought it to my door this morning…4 days later. I couldn’t cancel the Amazon replacement in time to not have them send me one unnecessarily, but…thanks, neighbors. If I get a package by mistake I take it over immediately. I guess I have a spare cane now for someone who need it though.

I was in such a foul mood about all of this and the grocery crazy especially that I was about to lose it. The PTSD thing I live with? Stress can quickly light a short fuse. I stopped myself though and thought, “What if I didn’t complain?”

What if I didn’t complain about this? What if I found the positive, that we can afford all of these groceries and that we needed the rain and that it isn’t also cold and that I got things done early and have plenty of time to start baking for tonight and go to the store again later for my grandma’s stuff and the cake box I need to pick up? What if I didn’t complain for a week? What if I took all those frustrations and re-framed them into positive observations? Would it help? Would it not?

Here goes!

A Little Holiday Magic

Holidays are hard for those of us with anxiety.

I am a bucket of cliches right now. Dating during the holidays, stressed about getting everything done (just bought and began sending out Christmas cards today!), blowing off work to decorate and snuggle, everything is feeling merry and bright…it’s a hard turn to the right from where I was last year. Hell, it’s a hard turn to the right from where I was two months ago.

My aunt, who doesn’t know about David yet, sent me a holiday card with a cute bit of paper mistletoe, with wishes for holiday kisses. I laughed because she was so on point for me this year! I’m going to make good use of it too…

We’re in a bit of a sticky spot for the holidays this year with my family. My mom, who is still recovering from the trauma of my brother’s accident, is being a little grinchy. She isn’t really working right now, but what work she is doing is challenging because of some misbehaving employees. It stresses her out because she isn’t there to be in control, and it – along with a lot of other concerns – are smothering her holiday spirit. She didn’t want me to make cookies, she has been a bit mean about decorating the inside and outside trees, and I don’t want to upset her (and I’m still not sure what all of this is about), so I didn’t make a big deal about any of it and quietly went about tree decorating and light wrapping. She hasn’t been very appreciative, but then again she isn’t throwing any more fits about it. I’ll take it. My dad may not make it back from a work trip for Christmas, and one of my brothers was a no-show at Thanksgiving because of drama with his ex, so maybe she just isn’t in a place to make some effort that may not see the results she wants.

I’m trying to help my grandma through Christmas, and have the job of getting her new assisted recliner to her. My uncle dumped this on me, and she isn’t going to be happy because she doesn’t like new things or being old. It’s a lot of emotional energy to care for my grandma, and holidays are that much more work with her because she has gotten pretty negative about it. She can’t do what she used to, so she just doesn’t participate.

So where is the magic? It’s in me doing it anyway, in not letting my family take me down, in spending time with a many I deeply enjoy getting to know in the middle of my crazy schedule and taking time out to make Christmas a great thing for people who aren’t able to make that happen for themselves. Holidays are hard for those of us with anxiety. Holidays are hard for those of us who have survived trauma and who care for our families, for those of us who are surrounded by more negativity than joy. If you’re in that place, I hope you find some holiday magic to help you through. I’m so very grateful for mine.