It’s My Birthday!

This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much.

Last night was hell.

My birthday is a trauma anniversary. Eating is a coping mechanism. Work is a coping mechanism. Isolation is a coping mechanism. Ironically, all things that I can’t always avoid…

I stayed in bed most of the day yesterday and napped in between working. I had nothing left, and in therapy I identified that I felt like I didn’t matter to the people close to me and felt alone. I had forgotten that my birthday was used as a weapon against me in previous years, and it took most of the day for me to consciously remember that, and to realize that I was having a rough day because I was anticipating another horrible birthday. Another day that was supposed to be about me on which I was ignored, abused and made to feel like nothing.

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I ran off to the desert this year and thought through how to reclaim my birthday. I was going to make it about me doing for myself this year, about not relying on others to make the day special. My brain had other ideas, and last night was an emotional post-trauma hell. This morning I’m still shaky, still feeling a bit off. The well wishes started before 6 this morning, which I really appreciate. I still can’t connect to them, and I’m still a bit walled off, and still a bit emotional, but I’m much better, and the crazy has subsided.

I understand that sometimes the brain – and this seems to be true for mine – cannot process trauma until it feels safe to do so. My experience with that is as soon as I think I’ve taken a step forward in recovery and made progress, I get rewarded by the baseball bat of trauma memory. Congrats! You’re doing great in recovery! WHACK! It’s so painful and frustrating and…shit. This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much. Maybe that means a better next year? I was able to sit with the pain last night. I still haven’t needed Xanax this year. Yep, I made it through last night without meds to knock me out so I could avoid it. I took the beating, and today I kinda feel like I got that beating.

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I woke up early to a quiet house. No cards, no acknowledgement that it’s my birthday. It’s expected, my family doesn’t make a big deal out of my birthday. I used to be the one to make a big deal out of it, used to make my own cake and organize my celebration, so I can understand why they don’t. And the point for me is to not rely on others for this. Emotionally, it’s still a letdown, but rationally, I enjoy the quiet morning. It’s raining and cold and I’m temped to not even leave the house today. I can work from the comfort and safety of my bed again, and ignore the world for another day. I can nap again if I need to.

Cause, you know, it’s my birthday!

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. 

Letters to Linda

I can open doors and invite her to walk through.

Sometimes you go through hell so that you can help others through it.

If all of the pain that I have lived with for the past few years can be used to help someone else who is in pain. It’s worth it to me. Not because I’m that self-sacrificing or any kind of imagined hero, but because it gives my pain a purpose, and it isn’t wasted. If someone benefits, whether that’s me or another, there’s purpose, and I find peace in that.

Having a platform to speak about my experience with PTSD (traumatic car wreck) in a way that I don’t feel compromises me the same as speaking about my other PTSD-causing experiences (traumatic abuse and sexual assault) gives me the freedom to say things that I find many trauma survivors don’t feel the freedom to say. When your trauma comes with shame, the last thing you want is for people to know. It’s why I don’t talk about being in an abusive relationship. I don’t want to re-live it, I don’t want to explain it and I don’t want to hear what most people have to say about it. Car wreck is different, it’s much more socially acceptable, elicits sympathy and the stupid comments don’t hurt as much (anymore).

Through a series of mistakes and judgmental attitudes (mostly on my part), I ended up at a coffee shop earlier this week sitting across from a woman ten years younger than I, who I will call Linda. After a brief conversation that you can read about in the post link, we got down to purpose. She asked me about my experience with PTSD, because she also has it. She was exposed to violence in a Mexican drug war and later to sexual abuse from a group she thought were her friends. In a story that felt so familiar, she didn’t realize for a long time that the violence was traumatic, or that the abuse was not ok, and that she wasn’t able to exercise choice. It left her empty, detached, obsessive and ashamed.

“Normal” things are triggers. She’s working so hard to hear a bachelor’s degree, but she has a hard time focusing and her grades suffer. Groups are uncomfortable for her at best. Her friends don’t understand and don’t try to. She’s ashamed of her response to “normal” things and hates that people perceive her as cold and disinterested. She’s dating a guy who loves her for who she is and is trying to learn how to support her, and she’s scared she’s going to sabotage the relationship because she doesn’t feel that she deserves to be loved. She doesn’t feel that she has access to mental health care, and she is swirling around in anxiety, not knowing what to do to break free.

That was, and to some extent still is, me. I’m further along in recovery, so I have a bit more clarity, but that is me. I don’t have to say I understand, because the energy I give off in response to what she says communicates how deeply I understand. And accept. And don’t judge. And I know how hard it is to ask for help. I know how hard it is to even understand what’s happening, or why all you want to do is lay in bed and watch tv. Why you torture yourself with negative thoughts and why self-harm is so attractive.

I’m not a mental health professional, I’m a client. And I can’t fix people, I gave that idea up already and my life improved drastically when I did. I can, however, share my experience with her in a way that meets her where she is. I can open doors and invite her to walk through. I can explain why she experiences some things in the way that she does, and I can give her the space and support to recover in her own way and her own time.

I think in this instance giving is the gift, and it’s one I want to share on my blog, so I’ll be posting the letters in the hope that they multiply the encouragement and acceptance for whoever will benefit from it. ❤

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 Yoga

I am rarely present these days, but I don’t often catch myself.

You know those really cool, sexy yogi photos of very attractive women in awe-inspiring yoga poses in spectacular locations?

That’s not me.

I started early this year on the recommendation of my therapist. I haven’t done yoga in two months or so until this week, and I can tell. I think I’m less connected to myself and my emotions, I’ve had a little more physical pain than I was when I was practicing yoga for a couple of hours a week, and definitely more tension. I find yoga really helps, and it’s a great time for me to practice focusing.

As I was moving through a half hour video yesterday, I began thinking about what I was going to make for dinner later. I caught myself. I wasn’t present, I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t working on what the yoga session was for, I was thinking about squeezing lemons and what kind of cheese was in my fridge.

I am rarely present these days, but I don’t often catch myself. Yoga is the tool for me to do that, to understand how to observe my mind and my body and begin to make changes based on those observations. If I can be more present, be more observant and make more time for myself (like yoga practice), I can start correcting the thoughts that are contributing to anxiety and sending me in the wrong direction. It’s another way to restore, and another tool I’m more committed to making use of as I go through the next stage of my recovery.

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.