It only took 9 words to trigger me so badly that I had to hang up the phone and fight for control of my brain. It only took 5 seconds for my body to flood with chemicals so hard that I could feel it happening and knew I had to get clear of anything that might compound the trauma I had just experienced (being triggered can be traumatizing) before I put myself at risk of losing control of my car again. I got triggered by a comment that conjured up a past horrific experience while driving on the road I nearly died on 5 years ago next month. There is no way to explain the pain and fear.
But I can explain that I knew how to manage it. I got off the phone quickly, I started breathing deeply, I reminded myself that I can perform mechanical tasks just fine when under extreme stress – and driving is a mechanical task – I reminded myself that I was safe from the thing that was terrifying my brain even if being on the interstate at a high speed was not particularly safe, that even if I wasn’t in control I never really am anyway so that wasn’t worth expending energy on, and if I wanted to drop my plans and go home, I could do that. If I wanted to pull off the road and get someone to come get me, I could. If I wanted to never talk to that person again, I could. If I never wanted to work again, I could. If I never wanted to drive again, I could.
I got to my work meeting and parked, then sat in the car for a minute to collect myself and check in now that I wasn’t focused on highway survival. It took 90 seconds before I started feeling tired and defeated. That kind of experience – going from focused and intentional to fighting for your life in the space of less than 10 words – is one that I’m still not sure how I survive.
What I can’t explain is how I called the person who triggered me back and made sure they understood that they can never use that phrase with me again. Ever. I can’t explain how I walked into the meeting and was fully present and engaged for five hours, including calling back a difficult client during the break and walking through what he was requesting. Or how I drove straight to another client’s office to sign legal paperwork needed required for a project, checked in on project progress and had a long chat with the admin about something I care nothing about (but she does) before I got back to my office to finish and submit an application that has a critical deadline more than 24 hours before that deadline. I turned right around on a phone call and addressed an asinine response from a city official to plans I had submitted, made the “corrections” to keep the peace (even if everything was right there in the documents and the revisions were a complete waste of my time) and finished up with a 10 hour day…10 hours after I was triggered.
I ate whatever the hell I wanted for dinner. Which amounted to half a baked potato and a slice of bread in addition to what was otherwise a normal keto meal.
PTSD is a living hell. But life goes on, and I’m going with it.
I’ve had a bit of a PTSD relapse this week. If I’m not working I’m in bed, and I’m certainly not bouncing out of bed in the morning.
I what and why, I know my current limitations and how to manage it, I just don’t know yet how to get out of it. Looks like some damage goes deep, and I still have work to do on this trauma.
Good thing I see a therapist! But I’m working out of town this weekend so that’s gonna be a challenge…
I hurt everywhere. My muscles, my joints, the fibers in between that I don’t know enough to name… it all hurts.
I know that the body stores trauma in connective tissue. I had body work done shortly before I started therapy. It was nearly unbearably painful, and I cried for the first few sessions. Nearly three years later (ok wow it’s been a minute) I’m thinking I need to have that done again. After processing so much trauma, I’m feeling like it’s trapped in my body and needs to be released. Even an injured finger joint that doesn’t normally hurt feels swollen and hurts. And I feel like I’ve reached max fat – I feel so puffy and tense and painful that I almost don’t recognize myself.
It’s discouraging to experience this after I’ve been working so hard, but maybe it’s necessary?
I have taken my sweet time to read it, but I’m back to working through The Mindfulness Toolbox: 50 Practical Tips, Tools and Handouts for Anxiety, Depression & Pain.
This section struck me, because it speaks directly to the blurb I wrote about my blog about being a person that likes to get from point A to point B:
An outcome orientation is focused on the future, which often produces worry or anxiety about achieving a desired outcome. In a very real way, it saps the enjoyment and curiosity out of the experience itself.
Learning how to change focus from outcome to present-moment process can be a powerful experience. Most importantly, it reduces anxiety that comes from focusing on expectations and outcome-oriented thinking.
Here are a few examples of outcome orientation:
- Learning for the sake of getting that “A” on a test or report card
- Finishing a work task on time
- Focusing solely on a sports training goal or time
- Getting that promotion at work
- Receiving the highest review from a supervisor
- Making sure the house is always spotless
- Comparing one’s progress against that of others
By shifting awareness to the most minute and tiniest details of one’s experience, the process orientation comes into the foreground. This practice also trains the brain to stay in the moment.
I knew I needed to make an orientation adjustment, and now I know why.
I’ve leaned into healing this week. I’m still listening to Healing From Trauma: A Survivor’s Guide, and I’ve had to face up to my post-experience and the symptoms that are and aren’t going away. I’ve found that I have a lot of tension in my shoulders and neck – enough to limit my range of motion. I’ve had a couple of mild headaches. I hurt everywhere at times. I have muscle spasms at times. I have intense and lengthy dreams every night, and yesterday woke up with only survival brain functioning and not much else.
I went for walks anyway. I listened to the book anyway. I did yoga anyway. I slowly stepped forward with work anyway. I ate nutritious food anyway. I ignored all social obligations that were just obligations and not things I truly wanted to do. I handled some banking and finance transactions that needed to happen, I made the beginnings of a plan to run my company solo (my business partner has abandoned me but still has to be officially terminated from the business and we have yet to discuss any of it because he bailed out and has not bothered to communicate). I also made a backup plan for work in case that doesn’t work out.
I’m going to heal anyway.
I haven’t been intentional about it until now. I’m waking up to how often I disassociate, how much memory I don’t have because I wasn’t present, how numb I am, how overwhelmed I am, how often I am in survival mode. I’m still surviving, not living, and I am now starting to understand why.
THIS IS HARD. I’m going to do it anyway.
The next 100 days will end sometime near the end of September, close to the 5-year mark of the week of trauma that nearly took me down. And for the next 100 days, I’m going to be intentional about healing and see where I get.
I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last week.
I use numbing to cope, and have for a long time. Now it makes sense why I don’t miss people, why I don’t feel deep affection for anyone and why a lot of personal affronts don’t upset me.
I live in a near-constant state of OVERWHELMED, and I often wake up already there, which is why mornings can be so challenging for me. Which is why a lot of things are so challenging for me. Why I can get really upset by being asked to do something that is otherwise simple and easily accomplished.
I’ve been dreaming every night lately, and I dream in full technicolor. I’m aware of it and know that my brain is doing a lot of processing while I sleep, but last night I couldn’t get away from a snake, and woke up feeling physically trapped, in pain and disoriented. It was horrible, and I went back to sleep so that I didn’t have to deal with whatever was going on. It’s the first time that has happened, and when I did start to wake up for the day, I was hesitant to do so because I woke up with so much anxiety, and I felt completely overwhelmed before my feet even hit the floor.
I’ve been handling a lot of things I’d been putting off this week, so I may have just adulted too hard. Or the processed trauma is building up in my body and needs to be released. Either way, or any way, one step at a time today until I feel more sturdy on my feet.
My boyfriend triggered me the other day, and my brain is now reading him as a threat.
He didn’t mean to, but he did something that I’ve previously expressed can be triggering for me. It was a communication issue, and he dropped the ball, so to speak, without having a reason or explanation why. I was PISSED, not only because I had been triggered but now I was facing having to do the work to make him not be a threat. Work I really wasn’t sure I even wanted to do.
Avoiding is easier!
I am working hard to not avoid, to face my challenges and the reasons behind them and I am really trying to heal. It’s hard, it’s scary and it makes me sleep a lot. It makes me react a lot when I even think it should be a fairly calm scenario.
Throw on top of that a person I am close to and trust triggering me because he didn’t bother to do something that is, frankly, common courtesy at least and for me a necessity.
So I did what I have a really hard time doing. In my last decade I had a lot of people run roughshod over my boundaries – a lot of that at work, but trauma stacks up, and I had some traumatizing work experiences. I set a hard line boundary of what I will and will not tolerate, and made peace with whatever outcomes resulted from holding that line.
The result has been both of us working to calm the effects of the trigger, a good weekend, honesty and some teamwork.