Letters to Linda – PTSD Basics

Here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

Welcome to hell.

That feels like the real welcome. PTSD is hell. It’s worse if you don’t have information about it, support for your experience or can see a way out. It’s standard-issue to feel trapped and unable to escape. Not only can doors seem closed, they can seem to not exist at all. And that’s why it’s hell. It is really hard to have hope when you first come to understand that you have PTSD.

It doesn’t always show itself at first. It took me two years to get diagnosed, and until then I had no idea what was wrong with me, I just knew I either needed to get help or I was going to move to Canada. That’s not a joke, I was checking into travel when someone opened a door for me. And that is the beautiful thing about this experience, and something worth holding onto: people will open the doors that you couldn’t even see.

I hope these letters give you comfort and encouragement. I hope that my experience helps you reclaim yourself because you have more information, and you have someone who understands. So here are some things I wish I had known earlier:

  • You are not crazy. It feels like you are, yes, but what you have is a diagnosable condition from trauma. Your brain has an injury that needs to heal, and that does not make you crazy, it makes you absolutely deserving of love, support and healing.
  • Not all PTSD looks the same. If comparison is the root of envy, it is also the root of you being really unsure if you even have PTSD. Humans are unique and our neurologic response to trauma is unique. Just because you don’t have the symptoms on a list on the internet or because you don’t think your experience with trauma was “as bad as someone else” doesn’t mean that you are any more or less, it means that there is good reason for addressing your experience and needs, not someone else’s.
  • You can heal. In a lot of ways this can feel like a life sentence, and it is. There is so much damage from negative thoughts and behaviors that come from PTSD, especially if your trauma experience is not addressed for years after it happens. But there is always hope! It takes work, and it’s hard, but you can heal. It starts with believing that you can, and I certainly believe you can, because I’ve been there.
  • Give yourself some space to heal. If you had a broken arm, you would have gone to the doctor, had your arm repaired, be in a cast, possibly had surgery and have a timeline of several weeks to heal. Then you would get your cast off and still have time to rebuild strength in your arm and get it back to full use. If you didn’t get medical help very soon after your arm broke, your arm might heal in a way that made it hard to use, or very painful. Our brains aren’t very different! The big difference is that we often can’t see when our brains break, so they are much harder to get help for, and, unlike a broken arm, brain trauma can have a lot of shame with it, so it can be really hard to talk about and get help for. And that’s ok, because you didn’t know. Don’t beat yourself up, rather acknowledge that you didn’t know, and now that you do you can start the healing process.
  • There is not a timeline. This is not school or work. There are no deadlines or requirements, this is all at your pace. You get to decide what you’re comfortable with and what kind of progress you want to make. For me, it has take two years to get stable, to understand my trauma and my experience to the point that when I have severe anxiety or flashbacks or triggers I can deal with them in a healthy, healing way rather than a negative, harmful way. I still have a lot of work to do, and as I heal, I am finding more trauma I wasn’t aware of. Not fun! But I have accepted this is a process that does not have a timeline or expectations, it’s a journey at my own pace. The more effort I put into healing, the faster I heal, and the more I put off taking care of myself, the less progress I make. That also means I get to take breaks when I get tired of this whole thing or if I get busy with other things in life. When I have the motivation and space, I can really dig into re-wiring my brain.
  • Start with acknowledgement. PTSD can have so many lies. Anxiety is a lie, depression is a lie – there are so many things your brain will tell you that aren’t true. However, that experience is very real, and very valid. All it takes to start on the path to healing is to recognize what’s going on. If you are experiencing anxiety, acknowledge it. If you have a trigger experience, acknowledge it. If you are drained and exhausted, acknowledge it. If you can’t deal with groups today, acknowledge it. If you are in fight mode, acknowledge it. If you feel like you are stuck, acknowledge it. For me this was the hardest and easiest step to take. “I acknowledge that I have a lot of anxiety right now.” may seem silly or pointless, but recognizing what you feel and pausing to acknowledge it is actually a very powerful step forward. When you recognize negative experiences, you can address them. Start there.

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.

Restoring Through Sleep

I can also have physical manifestations of anxiety that make it hard to sleep.

“I slept in” is my every day this week. I wear a Fitbit (the Tiny Tyrant) for the primary purpose of tracking my sleep, because it says a lot about where I am in the anxiety spectrum..or where I will be soon if I don’t sleep more. I may have said this before, I do well on about 9 hours a night. And if your knee-jerk response to that was to negate the time I find optimal for sleep length, you probably don’t have my brain, so stuff it.

As I am getting into practicing the things that will make be better, as I begin to engage in a lifestyle that helps me heal rather than continues the damage, I have to remember to sleep. It is the only way I reset from anxiety – drugs don’t even do it. And when I am paying enough attention to myself, I need to sleep more after a severe trigger episode like the one I just had. Sleep brings back some balance, some calm and some self-awareness that I can’t get any other way. So right now I’m sleeping as much as my body wants, and scheduling my day once I wake up. I’m calling this a good use of Christmas break.

Sleep doesn’t come easily though when I’m practicing restoration. Once I’m asleep I’m good, but getting there can be a challenge. Bedtime is when I can have anxiety spikes. There’s nothing left to distract me, nothing left to figure out or do…it’s like a gasping chasm between me and rest that has no bridge and no way across. Anxiety loves to simmer as I’m trying to go to sleep, keeping me awake with the lies and uncertainty.

I can also have physical manifestations of anxiety that make it hard to sleep. Last night (and this has happened before), anxiety was cold. I had been comfortably warm watching a football game in just my pajamas. As soon as I lay in bed wanting to sleep, in those same cozy pajamas, in warm fuzzy socks, under a thick blanket, same room temperature, I was shivering with cold and could not get warm. Our experience with temperature is relative, sometimes 60 degrees can feel good and sometimes it can feel chilly. I had no reason to be so cold before sleep other than anxiety. My fingers were like ice and I shivered until at some point I fell asleep, anxious about so many things that are out of my control until I did.

But I slept, I got the reset, I woke up in a warm bed on my own time (I have no end of gratitude for this luxury), and today is a day that is starting off with restoration rather than anxiety.

Anti-Dating

I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

My latest PTSD episode was a negative experience for both David and I. You can tell someone what it’s like, you can tell them what to expect, but they don’t understand until they experience it with you. Even then, they only see the outside. It’s worse when they think they’re at fault. This really is just about me and what goes on in my brain. I hate that it can hurt someone I care about… and that there wasn’t much I could do to prepare him. I got blindsided and was scrambling to understand what had triggered me. Not a very helpful place to be when you’re trying to communicate what’s going on. Add Xanax to the mix and I don’t even remember most of what I told him. It was probably better for both of us that we had a Christmas pause. I wanted to make a play on words and say Christmas break, but to his credit we didn’t actually break.

We hiked several miles yesterday in the cold to talk about it, without spending too much time talking about it. I knew it had affected him, I just didn’t know how much. I hate that something I can’t control just brought a really wonderful month to a sharp halt. I hate that I killed the fun. I hate that someone hurt me so badly that I have a negative neurologic response that is so severe it put a relationship I value at risk.

I hate dating. I’m terrible at it. So I asked if we could not date. Anti-date, actually.

Dating doesn’t work for me. I like to do what I like to do while living out what I believe. I like creative energy and being productive and dragging people into my schemes and solving problems and drinking good coffee and walking and talking and eating bagels on Saturdays. Once in a while I like to get hella dressed up and blow money on an amazing dinner. Most of the time I like to cook. I like heavy blankets and BBC Masterpiece and pretending I’m athletic. I like people who see the world differently than I and I like ridiculous high heels. I really like burgers that ooze cheese when you bite into them.

I like all of those things by myself. I think I’d like them even more with another person. I think I’d like them more with this person. I like to share things I enjoy with people I enjoy. “Dating” doesn’t seem to really fit that – or me. I want to live my life and invite someone to join me, not spend my time barely scratching the surface and deciding if we have enough chemistry to try to ignore the problems.

When you’ve been hurt deeply, when you’ve broken deeply and when you’re healing deeply, the surface barely registers. It’s not enough to make me look up from my knitting. I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

Then average-height, dark and handsome shows up across the table from me and I think I have to date him because that’s what you do.

Until a scratch on the surface digs up something much deeper, and you have to tell someone they’re free to go for fear of what you might pull them into. I had to be painfully vulnerable to hold my hand open and accept we might not be the best thing for each other. Living with PTSD requires courage, and courage is painful.

I drove home in my three most-feared driving conditions – wet, dark and fast. I was so relaxed I was in shower thinking mode.

THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. 

It indicated how far I’ve come in processing and putting to rest my car wreck. It’s taken two years, but I was on autopilot and concerned with more pressing issues. I’ve beaten it… So I can beat the next one… the one that’s still blindsiding me with trauma. That’s when I said to hell with it all, I’m doing this the way I want. The only way I know how to not run this relationship into the ground before we have a chance to see if we want this to work.

“Let’s anti-date.”

He said ok.

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!

B&W Challenge Day 7

I am normally not a joiner, but I like these bloggers, so…

I was challenged by Laken on Dazed and Still Dreaming to participate in the Seven Day Black And White Photos of Your Life Challenge. Thanks, Laken! This has been an unexpected bright spot for me and caused me to rethink my willingness to share my life.

Tuesday I challenged Haylee at Stumbling Around Our World.

Wednesday I challenged Laura at LF Books.

Thursday I challenged Alexis at Untangled.

Friday I challenged Amielle at Love Amielle.

Saturday I challenged Kashyap.

Yesterday I challenged AnonymouslyAfroIrish.

I’m not a joiner, and I generally don’t do anything the internet tells me to do, but I appreciate the connections I’ve built with several bloggers and this seems to fit that. Also my week is turning into an endless hell and this is an excellent break from that.

No people, No explanation & Challenge someone new everyday for 7 days.

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I challenge Sadie at Sadie the Wallflower because her blog is a ray of thoughtful sunshine!

I now return to my normal blogging schedule…

 

So Many Things Are Good Now, Like Showers

It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

Now that my brain is back to processing trauma, some things are much better, and some are not. It’s why I’m in therapy still, to navigate what stability brings. I’m really glad I know this – that when things are stable for me, my brain feels that it can start releasing information for me to process.

Then I sit and wonder how I’ve forgotten so much. Eh.

For example, showers used to be horrible for me. I got to the point that I dreaded my daily rinse off because I had nothing to distract me and that’s when all of the trauma would hit me full force with anxiety brain. I would try to enjoy the hot water and time to myself, but that didn’t work. Now though? I don’t have the racing, anxious thoughts so often, I have learned to beat them back in still and quiet time, and showers ARE THE BEST. It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

I still kinda hate intense exercise, and I only recently realized why. I used to work out intensely between 7 and 11 hours a week. I was active all day most days with my job, and I was in great shape and really strong. Post wreck I stopped working out, then started to hate exercise. It took some gentle prodding from my therapist to start walking and practicing yoga, and it took another year to realize why I WOULD NOT do more. I once had a tough workout shortly after a traumatic experience, and post-PTSD-inducing trauma I couldn’t make myself do it. I still can’t sometimes, but at least now I know why, and I can work on it and up to it. Cooler temps will help (I do a lot of exercise outdoors because it’s happier for me), here’s hoping for an actual winter this year!

This week I realized why I’ve been limiting my time visiting my grandma. I went to see her the evening of the day of my wreck per our regular schedule, and I acted like nothing happened. I have been caring for my grandma for 4 years, and haven’t viewed it as a burden until now. Now I just can’t even, as the kids say, and it’s a chore to see to her needs when that hasn’t been a struggle for me until the last few months. Well, it’s associated with a trauma event, even if indirectly, so that’s something for me to address too before my brain builds some kind of negative web of neurons about my grandma!

I’ve put just shy of 40 miles on my feet this week and have done some deep stretching in yoga (pigeon pose tonight, which I highly recommend!), so I am sore and feeling a little beat. I was up and down a ladder and jumping off and back on a cabinet to measure a building and windows for work today, and so much of me just wants that elusive total day off. Working this weekend though to not let myself get behind, but not giving up staying active during the week and making time to push my body a little. I had forgotten how good it feels to be tired BECAUSE I DID IT, and it feels pretty good. So did that shower!