Burnt. Toast.

“It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’m back from my brief stint in relative seclusion, and I have nothing left today. Everyone is going to get “no” as a response. Everyone.

I deeply enjoyed my weekend in the desert. I did not enjoy coming back to sub-freezing temps, and that short break was enough to highlight the things in my life that are really weighing on me.

It really bothers me that no one asks me how I’m doing. No one close to me, that is. If they do, it’s a surface level question, and any response I have that isn’t “great!” gets dropped as though I didn’t just say “I’m not doing well today.” My people aren’t checking in with me. Strangers and acquaintances, sure, but not my family and close friends. No one asked how my flight was, and I’m scared to death of flying. No one celebrated with me that I didn’t have to take Xanax for either flight. My Mom wanted details of my trip while I was hauling my luggage upstairs. Yes, I want to give you every detail of my weekend while I’m struggling to drag a suitcase and a couple of small bags up to my room. Can it wait ten minutes?

I hide most of what I experience because sometimes I don’t even understand it, and because I have yet to see it help for me to say what’s going on. “I’m having a bad day” or any other version of it gets met with the appearance of indifference. I can understand it must be hard to look at me or talk to me and know that I don’t blurt out what I feel, I need time to work out how to talk about it. If I ever did blurt it out, I would terrify everyone, because I exist in a painful reality. There would be screaming and yelling and probably a few punches thrown. So I keep it in, and I don’t get the time to slowly release it to someone. And they otherwise don’t see it so…it’ doesn’t exist? And I’m fine. And I can do anything. And Ashley is so strong and capable.

I am because I don’t have an option. There is no space in your life for me to be anything else. I do what I have to do to survive.

Therapy was rough this morning. I cried a lot. When we got to the root of my tears, it was that I don’t feel like I matter. I have been busting my ass for a lot of people, and don’t feel like I’m getting any of that in return. My business partner picked me up from the airport in the cold yesterday, and that was the most someone has gone out of the way for me in…ever? As much as I can grouse about him, he can hear what I need and just do it, no questions, no judgment and no making it about him. He said such a kind thing to me yesterday when I thanked him for picking me up, “It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’ve been driving around, working with clients, writing documents, getting us more work, taking care of my increasingly frail grandma, trying to keep the chaos at home to a dull roar and being emotionally supportive to the point that I feel burned up. I wanted to say “no” to everyone today. I don’t want to answer calls or respond to emails. I certainly didn’t want to comfort my grandma or work on my business partner’s project to help him finish or be supportive of David while he swoops in long enough to be supported and encouraged then disappears again to go help someone else. Anyone else but me. Because for whatever reason, me not having a good day only merits an, “I hope you feel better.”

Well shit, I hope I feel better too. It’d be nice if I didn’t have to do it alone…

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.

When Not Being A Priority Is a Trigger

I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke.

I want to vomit. 

There is just no way to understand what I live with. At least that’s my assumption. Because after sharing blogs, sharing books, talking about my experience, trying to share what goes on in my head and trying to develop a way of talking about what happens in my brain in a clear and specific way… “I am engaged with old school friends. Probably best to say goodnight.” was like being shoved off a cliff. 

Hello, familiar pit of mental hell. 

And no amount of him saying, “I’m not very good at communicating over the phone.” can repair the neuron paths in my brain that immediately take me to the worst moments of my existence when they get hit with the news that I’m just not important enough to be a priority. 

Ever felt your soul scream? You can’t hear it, thankfully. I don’t think I could survive hearing it. Feeling it is painful enough. And it happens for me when someone safe becomes a threat because my injured brain reads threat. I’m in fight mode right now and am desperate to survive. I’m also desperate to rein in the fight, because I’m about to destroy things… mainly the him that just became a threat. 

I’ve worked so hard to repair the damage so that this wouldn’t happen. I’ve paid so much for what someone else broke. And now, because of a trigger I forgot I have, my soul is screaming in pain in between waves of nausea. 

The only thing I have to hold onto is that I didn’t break before, and this might be the worst trigger I’ve had in a long time, but I was able to manage two of them, so I might be able to handle this one too. 

Dating with PTSD – Communication Failure

I’m pretty used to doing this by myself, at least that’s a more comfortable place than this new hell. 

The post I wrote yesterday? Ha. Yeah.

I didn’t hear from David for hours yesterday. No response to the text I sent in the morning, no response to the text I sent in the afternoon asking if he was ok. I put all of my energy yesterday into not freaking out, into not assuming that something had happened to him, to one of his family, that he wasn’t massively hungover, that he hadn’t ghosted me…and worst of all, that after WE JUST HAD THIS CONVERSATION, he hadn’t just failed to hear me or failed to care and done exactly what I had asked him – and he had agreed – not to do.

It brought back all of the abuse, all of the manipulation, all of the fear, all of the four years that I lived through absolute hell in a relationship. Merry Christmas to me, those wounds are still there.

On top of that, I had to deliver news to my grandma that made her cry, deal with general family holiday angst around me and advise my brother on asking out a girl he likes (which did not go well, she just wants to be friends, so now my empathetic ass is taking that disappointment on as well).

I was already a Xanax in when I did hear from him. He’d left his phone at a friend’s the night before and it was dead when he got it back, so I finally hear from him when he got it charged. Did I want to talk?

No. I didn’t want to talk. Ever.

I did talk, last night I told you exactly what will violently drag up horrible pain for me, and that is exactly what you did the next day. You keep telling me you understand, but your words don’t mean shit. Words are empty, they’re hollow, they have no meaning without action, and your actions made it quite clear that I’m not a good fit for you.

I don’t have anyone walking with me in this. I don’t have anyone that I can let in to where the past hurts the most to help me stare it in the face and tell it I’m no longer a prisoner. PTSD doesn’t go away, it doesn’t have a cure, it doesn’t have an end. Do I want to talk? I barely fucking know what to say to myself, much less to you. I am dragging up all kinds of new hurt by dating again, by letting someone in, and there is a reason I have done this by myself for so long. You make it worse. I asked you not to, and you made it worse.

I did talk last night. I kept calm, I didn’t blame, I tried really hard to say how I felt without losing my cool. I tried to say what I need. I was also on Xanax so who even knows. We’d had plans to meet up, and those had been blown to hell, and I really didn’t want to see or talk to him until after Christmas.

The guy who put me here in the first place? He loved to wreck Christmas for me. So this happening so close to Christmas was just another layer of pain.

Did I mention I got Christmas gifts from my stalker yesterday too? That pushed me over into a profanity-laced screaming episode about…everyone.

This morning I was the first to reach out again. I let David know I still wasn’t ok. He made it about him, asking, “Still me?” “Let’s maybe say the situation.” Because I am not wanting to assign blame to him when it was something that just happened. I called him after church and he was on his way to help his brother. Again, not available.

I can’t fix this one. I don’t want to. I’m trying so hard to not let one mishap wreck a relationship that has been so good up to this point, but I needed to see more from him. I needed to see that he understood enough to try to reassure me that he’s there. But he isn’t, and since I’m pretty used to doing this by myself, at least that’s a more comfortable place than this new hell.

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. 

Going Off My Meds

It’s a planned, slow process, and I’m both concerned and excited.

Got my annual notice that my health insurance premiums are increasing by 21% and my coverage is decreasing by 30%. I dare you to try to defend the Affordable Care Act to me. I dare it, but I don’t recommend it.

That letter arrived at a time that I was already thinking about stopping using the medication I’m on, not just for cost reasons, although that was a small part of it, but because my body has been telling me that these things are no longer good for me. My anxiety patterns, my occasional and otherwise inexplicable feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck, and a few other things have all made me begin to think that maybe the meds are no longer serving their purpose.

My therapist agreed.

I was really surprised to have her full support for that decision. She think that I might see significant improvement in my mental health, and cautioned that I will need to wean off of them slowly and one at a time rather than just stopping, so I now have a scheduled plan that starts Monday.

To be transparent about this, I have been on birth control pills for over a decade because when I was younger my periods were extremely heavy (enough to cause anemia) and one day I bled so much at work I had to leave, and a very kind coworker helped me get out without leaving an embarrassing trail. For me, that was it. I’m also on a low dose of Lexapro, been on 10 mg for two years now, and at this point since I haven’t increased the dose, it’s time to get off.

The Xanax stays. I had a massive anxiety episode when I got back from a conference last night and it was the chemical kind. I also don’t take it every day or even every week.

So this will be great or I’ll be back on them in two months, time to find out!

I Finally Had an Open Conversation with My Mom

She accepts that I am not ok, and may never be.

My Mom had it hard growing up. I’ll likely never know how hard. She deals with things quietly and doesn’t often show emotion.

I am about as opposite as it gets, with one exception. I can act, and I can make anyone believe anything. Even her.

We had a long talk today. Yesterday I had multiple stressors, and it was all topped off by my notice that my health insurance premiums are increasing AGAIN by 21% while my coverage is decreasing by an average of 27%. Just try to justify the Affordable Care Act to me. I’ll destroy you and your paltry stance.

Yesterday was also the first time that “suicide” crossed my mind. Twice. Because I am tired of fighting a condition I can’t seem to beat. Tired of not feeling like I can achieve anything, that I can’t get ahead, that I can’t live the life I want. I have never been suicidal, and am not suicidal, but that was the first time I’ve had the thought. It scared me, and I prayed hard. I was able to tell Mom that had happened, and she completely accepted it with no judgement, just an offer to always be there if those thoughts happen again.

She acknowledged that what I have is real, that it’s exhausting and that it has changed my life. She thinks it’s ok if I have to tone down some of my ambition, if I push responsibility onto others. She also said that even though she doesn’t understand my work, she knows I’m really good at it. My Mom is one of the most talented and hardest working people I know, and that was a really uplifting compliment.

I’m reminded in this that God provides. He always has for me. He did today too.