Flashbacks in the Rain

I almost died in a car wreck that happened in the rain. For the most part (and thanks to EMDR and a lot of therapy) I don’t really have problems anymore when I drive. When I do, I have coping skills that work well. So today was a pretty big surprise when I was driving in the rain on my way to a meeting and started having flashbacks, not about my car wreck, but about the day of my brother’s accident. Clear as anything were the memories of getting the call from my mom, picking up his truck, sitting in the ICU waiting room unable to pray and barely able to hold it together, leaning on the prayers and shoulders of friends.

I’ve rarely had flashbacks of my own trauma, much less that of someone else. And while that day was traumatic for me, it hasn’t had nearly the impact that my own trauma has.

As I began to write this post, I also began to ask why and to process what happened this afternoon. I’m dreaming again… I’m processing again… I’m resolving trauma again.

I am done being afraid of the hold the past has on me. I’ve survived this much this long, and I can deal with whatever else boils up. But this was interesting, because as much as the flashback experience while driving on slick roads was not pleasant, it didn’t shake me. I’m now more curious about it, about where it came from and why that day?

I dream when I’m relaxed or when I am processing. Emotions, events – they all get run through my dream cycles in full color and epic drama. I don’t dream the exact thing, I dream versions of it, or nothing at all related. I started dreaming again this week after a long time off. My resting heart rate is slowly dropping, I’m a little more calm during the day and now memories are emerging that probably haven’t been dealt with. The human brain is fascinating.

Am I excited by this? Nope. Am I afraid of it? Also nope. Gonna deal with it and move on…

!!20170401_165514

 

Bone Deep and Mind Breaking

‘Tis the season for joint pain.

Pain, you make me a believer.

I’m a summer girl, if for no other reason than hot weather doesn’t cause me joint pain. I inherited the family curse of old bones in a young body, and I can sit around with mature members of society and chat aches and pains with the best of them. They never believe someone my age can know how they feel, but since I can predict weather changes based on my elbows and hands and predict the overnight temps based on my knees, they eventually come around to accepting me as one of the wise. Or at least one of the chronically inflamed.

Add the prospect of months of constant deep joint pain to my neurological disorders and you get someone who hates winter. Me.

I finally broke again yesterday. I hit my limit of stress and went over the edge into nausea, dizziness and headache. Am I getting sick? No. I have PTSD, and the stress overload I’ve experienced in the last two weeks sent me over the edge again. The nausea is not completely new, the dizziness was. Thankfully I was able to hold it together to work with a couple of clients, and my mom and my brother kindly drove me where I needed to go. I was not about to drive in that state. Could I? Yes. Was that the best thing for me and everyone else on the road? No.

It would have been better if, when I got off work and got my hair cut, then grabbed some crafting supplies for a project I’m working on for a charitable organization, I had popped a Xanax and gone to bed. Just be done with the day and the stress and sleep it off. But I am so determined to not let the negative part of my brain control my life. So I texted a friend to see if I could catch a ride with her to Bible study and she gracefully didn’t hesitate. That support network? It’s everything on the days I can’t.

I took my knitting because it helps me stay present in group discussions, and knitted my way through tackling Jonathan Edwards’ writings on Charity. It was challenging, and it was good. The woman who hosts us in her home had made a spiced tea and cookies, and she has such a calm, loving presence. Toward the end we shared prayer requests, and I opened up about my struggles, about trying to come to terms with my new normal, that there are always barriers to living the life I want to live, that I have realized I will never be healed and I will live with this for the rest of my time on earth.

I live in pain. Every waking moment is hell because I have no hope that this life will ever be what I want, that what has happened to my brain will subside and I can live free from the demons in my head. I expressed that, and was received with love. One of the women in our group said that what I was saying was exactly her daughter’s experience. I found so much comfort in that, that someone understood. Those that didn’t understand met me with love and compassion.

That moment of vulnerability? It opened up so much love for me. It added women to my circle and to my team in struggling against and with what I’ve been dealt. I have gotten really ignorant responses from church people about my condition and what I do to try to heal. Last night was not that, and I was so comforted.

It is so fucking hard to be vulnerable when the person you were is ripped out of your hands and you’re trying to find your way again. But damn is it sometimes worth it.

And Client’s Brother messaged me all evening, showing a lot more interest than I expected.

When you live with chronic pain it can be hard to be thankful. But today I am so, so thankful.

The Answer is Compassion

I could have blown up all of these circumstances with MY WAY. I didn’t, and today has been a beautiful moment of light in the darkness of hate that has once again tried to descend.

I had thought of and titled this blog before the horrific act of terror in Las Vegas last night. That event and the heartbreaking loss of life, health and sense of security that results do not change my statement. If anything, I am affirming my position. Because when we speak before we listen, when we don’t give voice to those who experience trauma, when we do not answer the question “What do we/I do” with Compassion., we don’t do the right thing. The answer, now, as ever, is Compassion.

I have wanted so badly to point fingers at everyone else this past week. I have wanted to make everyone else the contributor to my suffering, my pain and my struggle. However, there are two key problems with my doing that:

  1. I am not acknowledging their part of the story, and may be placing blame where inadvertent action is causing me to perceive intentional harm.
  2. I can control nothing but myself, and even if I think it would be better for other to change their behavior, I cannot make them do so (nor, indeed, do I even want to when I honestly address my feelings).

Instead I am making changes that I can make, that are of benefit to me, and I am releasing the things I cannot. I bought a ticket to visit a friend this month who I have held back from visiting because of my fear of flying. I addressed my PTSD symptoms very directly with my Mom, and she listened, which was very healing after feeling that she had ignored me the other night. I gently asked a friend not to include a person in our group who has hurt the group (she lacks a certain amount of discretion and tends to just add people into activities without checking with the core group first, which has caused some issues when the added people were not positive participants). She accepted the correction immediately, and I responded by checking with her for her level of comfort about a location change for another planned event.

I accepted help. I accepted an offer of a venue for an event I am hosting that will take a lot of the burden off of me, and I did it because I acknowledged this person would like to contribute and it would make them feel good.

I could have blown up all of these circumstances with MY WAY. I didn’t, and today has been a beautiful moment of light in the darkness of hate that has once again tried to descend.

Compassion is the answer.

 

Paintballin’

I HAVE A SOURCE OF PAIN PEOPLE CAN SEE.

I got the shit shot outta me this morning by my brother and our friends. I liked it way more than I thought I would. There is something really fun about running around in the woods and trying not to get splattered by a high-speed ball of pink paint.

I had the first and last kill shots of the day. I also have a welt the size of a softball on my shin. I can’t comfortably set my right arm down. I find all of this funny.

I am a pansy when it comes to physical pain. I have endured soul-rending emotional and mental pain and gone on about my day, but getting shot with a paintball from 20 feet away at 320 feet per second? Ouch. Except it was a brief ouch before it passed and the memory quickly faded.

I got shot and went on without complaining or dwelling on it. Four of the shots hurt like hell and I took them like a champ. I shook it off and went back to shooting. That was a major step forward for me. And it’s cathartic to have visible bruises.

I HAVE A SOURCE OF PAIN PEOPLE CAN SEE.

It is incredibly liberating in a way, right when I have been struggling so much with the invisible injury of PTSD.

To be clear, this is not about self-harm or some of the other coping mechanisms that some people who struggle adopt. I am so, so thankful that I do not have that challenge on my journey. But I do have a couple of playfully-attained battle scars from running around in the woods with compressed air rifles and some pink paint, and I am taking a moment to appreciate what that has revealed about me.

I Thought PTSD Was a Life Sentence

I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

I live with anxiety brain. I have been diagnosed with PTSD. Here’s how that happened, and how I view it now.

Almost four years ago someone I loved and trusted betrayed me with absolute cruelty. Less than a week later I hydroplaned on an interstate and the hood of my car went under the trailer tires of a semi. I honestly thought I was going to die before the car came to a stop, but I came out of the blur and wreckage with a few bruises and already on the phone with 911. The witnesses to my wreck couldn’t believe I was alive. The wrecker driver couldn’t believe I was making jokes. I couldn’t believe an engine could be in pieces like that. I was in law class the next morning, and didn’t miss a beat until two years later, when I was down to my last shred of sanity and my choice was between leaving my life and starting again or getting help. I chose to get help.

The trauma broke my brain. I maybe could have made it through one event or the other, but I could not do both, and two years later I learned that I wasn’t crazy, I have a diagnosable injury that I can do a lot to heal. I am almost two years into the healing process, and I will have to work at it till I die. Lots of practice!

The trauma that I experienced in less than a week – all of it out of my control – handed me what I saw as a life sentence of frustration, self-blame and much-reduced mental capabilities. My intelligence, my focus and my stamina under stress were blown to pieces, and everything I knew to do to get ahead in life was taken from me when I finally broke down. I was pissed. Some days I still am.

A few months ago my younger brother was badly injured at work and my experience with PTSD suddenly had purpose. I was no longer the weak one, the only one in therapy in a tough family, I was the one with compassion, empathy and Grace. I was the one who could keep smiling, stay positive and support the family’s physical and emotional needs. My injury and healing suddenly set a clear path forward not only for what not to do and say, but what to do to help heal. I have my answer to the question “WHY?!?!?!”, and it’s enough. Even if it did pause my own recovery for nearly three months. It’s enough.

I’m still working through the anxiety and trauma I had before the worst week of my life. I had to learn that I even had anxiety and trauma before. I had to learn there are names and reasons and answers and tools and that yes, I can exercise a certain amount of control over my life. That was freeing. I haven’t forgotten the endless days of pain, the endless tears, the silent sobs, my soul screaming while I was pushed to my limits by something nameless residing in my brain that wouldn’t let me let go. I can’t forget that much pain. If I did, I wouldn’t be able to be so compassionate now.

Life sentence? Maybe. Life changing? Definitely. And good thing, because I am a much better human now than I was before.