I wear a Fitbit to track my sleep and heart rate. I pay a little attention to steps and exercise, but gone is my compulsive goal-meeting to satisfy the little vibrating band on my arm. I was thinking about giving it up for a bit in an effort to listen to my body rather than a wearable tech device, and I still might, but I just learned about Heart Rate Variability (HRV) and how it can serve as an indicator of symptoms for people who experience PTSD. Per the people at Harvard:
HRV is simply a measure of the variation in time between each heartbeat. This variation is controlled by a primitive part of the nervous system called the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It works regardless of our desire and regulates, among other things, our heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and digestion. The ANS is subdivided into two large components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as the fight-or-flight mechanism and the relaxation response… HRV is an interesting and noninvasive way to identify these ANS imbalances. If a person’s system is in more of a fight-or-flight mode, the variation between subsequent heartbeats is low. If one is in a more relaxed state, the variation between beats is high. In other words, the healthier the ANS the faster you are able to switch gears, showing more resilience and flexibility. Over the past few decades, research has shown a relationship between low HRV and worsening depression or anxiety. A low HRV is even associated with an increased risk of death and cardiovascular disease. Read the full article here
This feels like such good news to me. It doesn’t change the importance of listening to my body, it gives me another way to listen! After a lot of research last night and this morning I ordered a heart rate monitor that can read HRV so that I can try this out. Not only can this help me understand what I’m experiencing, I can take action on that information. There are a variety of ways to improve HRV, even in the short term, for people who experience PTSD, including yoga, meditation, marathon running (not likely for me, but glad to know it’s an option!), focused breathing and other techniques that engaged the parasympathetic nervous system.
I’ve been listening to The Body Keeps The Score, and as technical as it sometimes is and as difficult as it can be to listen to, the information on managing PTSD symptoms has been really helpful to me, and I’m looking forward to trying out HRV monitoring for myself.
I still feel like I was just in a car wreck, and I have a lot of neck and upper back pain. PTSD is a weird animal. I slept 12 hours last night and spent a lot of it dreaming about whether I experience schizophrenia. It was a main point in my dream sequence, questioning myself about it and evaluating and seeking out evaluation.
When I was diagnosed with PTSD I was evaluated for numerous mental health conditions, all of which were ruled out, including schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. I don’t believe that’s what I’m experiencing now, but I’m also curious as to why that condition specifically. I don’t know much about it so I’m not approaching the question with a lot of knowledge, and I’m not aware of knowing anyone with that diagnosis, so I don’t have personal experience to speak to. I don’t know why that was part of my unconscious processing. I don’t know what, if anything, it means.
I do know that this week, the anniversary of the trauma that got me an altered brain, has been painful and limiting. There are so many things that I want to do that I am not able to access because my body’s memory of being under life-ending threat is so powerful that it is blocking my attempts to live. I’m not even talking about jetting off on a last-minute weekend trip or kayaking on some of the fast rivers created by recent flooding, I’m talking about cleaning my floor and pulling out the cold weather clothes I’ll need for Monday. I’m listening to The Body Keeps Score, but I’m not making it through fast enough to know how to address this and what I can do differently. It feels like I’ve reached a sticking point in recovery – as in I AM STUCK and don’t know how to wiggle past. Somewhere in my brain below the trauma I have the desire to wiggle out and start living, but that desire is under a mountain of trauma that does not want to budge.
are vital to my recovery and well being and are worth my time and energy.
is not in conflict with the joy of living.
As I’ve worked – so hard – to repair what I can of my brain, I’ve hidden at home a lot. Leaving the house for work and necessary errands is usually enough for me to handle, and it feels like a long time since I’ve been social. I don’t go out. I don’t have that many friends nearby (most of my close friends are in other states or countries and I keep them forever but also don’t see them often) and I haven’t really exercised in something like a month (the weight loss thing has made me stay in more than usual, and I reckon will keep me in until I can fully resolve that one). I haven’t always been like this, and it’s not a form of existence I particularly like, so I find myself increasingly pondering thoughts like, “I wish I were strong enough to do ___________________________ (fill in the blank).
It’s not just weight loss.
Some friends asked if I wanted to join them in a few months for a short trip, and invited my boyfriend to join. I’m really looking forward to this, and a lot of the trip will be new to me. I couldn’t get boyfriend to commit to going, so I decided to book my own trip and leave him to join later if he wants.
Living. Making bold decisions. Doing what I enjoy. It’s what I’ve worked so hard to do – go on a trip with friends I know I’ll value for years, and for no better reason than they asked and I want to. So I let my boyfriend know I was going without him, booked my flights, and promptly had a meltdown.
Doing what I want, for me, is a trigger. Living a big life is a trigger. Doing things that hold connection and enjoyment for me is a trigger.
No wonder I stay home and work.
I’ll just add that to the list of neuron paths to reprogram…
I really struggle with fear of what people I care about are doing. Even a little bit of unknown can send my anxiety skyrocketing, and when some of my family or other people close to me are out and about, it can be really challenging for me to stay calm. I like for everyone to be home safe. I like me to be home safe too.
Part of it is I don’t trust them. And I’m not sure why in particular? Because none of them have given me a reason not to trust them. But instead of being happy about what they’re doing or the opportunities they have or going about my own business, I worry endlessly about their well being and safety. It is emotionally exhausting, and not something I even want to do. It’s one of the instances in which a PTSD symptom seems impossible for me to get a handle on or control, and I feel scared and beaten by it. It can really affect my sleep, and certainly affects my ability to be calm.
I don’t go out much at the moment unless it’s necessary because just getting back to full steam with work has been challenging enough. I also like to have a plan, and planning is hard because I only have so much mental energy before I burn out for the week and have to recharge. So I work hard as much as I can, then get to a point in the day (which is earlier in the day as the end of the week nears) that that’s all I can do and I need to rest.
It’s infuriating at times, because I feel stuck this way and don’t yet see a way past it.