Letters to Linda – Feeling Like You Have No Support

There’s something powerful about knowing – and asking for – what you need that can be a great step toward healing. 

Dear Linda,

One of the most challenging aspects of living with PTSD is feeling like you have no support. I still don’t really feel that my illness is supported, and I live openly with it.

I think that people generally have a hard time understanding things outside of their own experience. This isn’t really something you can understand from the outside, because it happens inside your skull. Your behaviors, your feelings, your experience – those aren’t things you can easily share, so they are things that make it difficult for someone to be able to support you in if they don’t know.

It’s almost harder if someone wants to be helpful, because they try to take your experience – or what they understand of it – and put into the context of their experience, which means that THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND. And they’re telling you they do, and you know they don’t, and you don’t want to deal with it because you have enough pain, so you do whatever you have to and agree to whatever they say just to make it stop. Most people can’t just listen. They can’t just let your story be your story. They can’t just figure out what you need. And you feel like you have no support, when you desperately need someone else to help carry the burden.

So take your experience back, and make it about you.

You need to know what you need before you can tell someone else, so spend some time understanding what you need. Is making dinner every night just too hard? Do you need solitude and silence for a couple of hours a day? Do you need to be told good night every night before you go to bed? Do you need someone else to get the oil changed in your car because that errand is too challenging and overwhelming for you? Do you need someone to remember that you hate broccoli and not make you try to like it or eat it? Do you need someone to figure out another way to exercise because what you were doing is now attached to the trauma you experienced? Do you need someone to act as a buffer between you and someone who is unkind to you?

Whatever it is that frees you from everyday stress related to the trauma you experienced, understanding that will help you to either know what you need to address and recognize so that you can deal with it in a way that is less horrible for you, or you need to hand it off to someone else to deal with.

When people don’t support you, it may be because they have no idea how. If you know what you need and can be specific about it, you can assign a way for them to support you that is authentic to your needs, and far less frustrating for you.

Thank you for wanting to help. What would really benefit me right now and a way that you could really serve me and make my life easier is if you could come with me to the two professional events I have this month. I’m not very comfortable with crowds, and there will be people there I don’t like to be around, but I need to put on a good face. I don’t need you to hover or to tell people I’m anxious, that’s not information I want to share. 

Dealing with driving and parking makes me anxious, so would you be willing to drive? That will help me to be more calm. I would also like to leave about an hour into the event, so can I use you as an excuse to leave? If you could let me know after we’ve been there an hour that we need to leave for our next event (i.e. me going home to comfortable pajamas and my cat to watch a movie), that would be really helpful, and I’ll feel more comfortable leaving at a time that is better for me rather than staying past what I can comfortably manage.

It’s a clear ask, it’s specific, and it’s something that most good friends would be willing to do, if not happy to do for you. And it comes from you knowing what you need so that you can ask for the support you need.

It would be so great if people just understood. It would make our lives so much easier. But they don’t, and a lot of times we don’t. It can feel like a burden and one more thing we have to do on top of all of the other things living with PTSD requires, but there’s something powerful about knowing – and asking for – what you need that can be a great step toward healing.

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…

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 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.

Sharing Some Love

The good people never really die.

Don’t miss the beautiful stories because they don’t fit within your preconceived ideals.

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The yarn in this piece of wall art – and five other pieces I finished today – belonged to a friend of mine who lost her battle with cancer two years ago. Yesterday was her birthday.

After she passed her husband gifted her yarn to me, and yesterday I began to use it for the project to raise funds for an orphanage. She was a social worker, a mental health advocate and one hell of a woman. Kathy, I hope you enjoy seeing your love continue to be shared, as you were so generous yourself in sharing it.

Not As Planned

I’ve had two trigger episodes in the last week quite unexpectedly, which does not exactly put me in a great place to care for my family.

Very little of my last 5 days has gone as planned.

My brother’s surgery did not go as planned. They only got to one of the three fingers they were going to repair, and it did not have blood in the bone so they stopped after repairing that finger to wait for more tests to develop a new plan. Healing will take longer for him and may be more painful. A plate in one finger is painful enough. I am so thankful his surgeon does not take any shortcuts with his hands and is willing to wait for a better plan to address my brother’s injuries.

My Mom is very ill. She can barely get out of bed at the moment and requires care as well. She had the same illness last year and nearly died, so I’m a little on edge since I know this can quickly escalate to a hospital visit. She’s not up to care and parenting for sure, and this is an even more challenging time for her to be ill since my brother is in recovery and may be back in surgery in the next couple of weeks.

I had some obligations this weekend that thankfully did go as planned, since it turned out my attention was needed at home more than anticipated. I bailed out of one commitment early and no one noticed, which was great. I have some work things to show up to including an all day event on Thursday, which I don’t really see happening at this point. Shame, since I’ve been looking forward to it for months.

I’ve had two trigger episodes in the last week quite unexpectedly, which does not exactly put me in a great place to care for my family. I didn’t get half done that I had planned (changing my workspace, which was important on my to-do list for myself until all of this happened, getting in some exercise and yoga, etc.) and have been up way later and way earlier than I would like to be. Last night I slept on the couch because getting my butt up the stairs was too much. Fitbit didn’t register the 43 times I woke up, and I wasn’t even Xanax’d.

Thank goodness therapy was scheduled for this morning, and I had a safe place to vent about how I COULD NOT HAVE PLANNED FOR THIS, nor, really, did I feel prepared to deal with it all. Family illness is hard. Family communication breakdowns because family is ill is hard. Mental health challenges for the caregiver are hard. Putting my job on the back burner while two projects got strangely intense at the end of last week is hard.

I don’t have a “but” today. Not “it’s hard, but…” Not “it didn’t go as planned, but…” Nope. Just hard, and it could get harder. All I can do is my best, and I will use what I’ve learned in the last few months to take care of myself so I can take care of my people.