Letters to Linda – Feeling Overwhelmed

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Dear Linda,

I, too, would rather stay in bed and watch tv…pretty much all the time. And I don’t even have that much interest in television, it just usually seems like a better alternative to having to think or having to be alone with my thoughts. Or deal with people, or deadlines, or obligations, or people, or…anything.

I think it’s important to know that there is a difference between feeling overwhelmed and being overwhelmed. They’re very similar, but as I’ve mentioned, anxiety will make you think things that aren’t true, and part of recovery is working toward acknowledging what is the real situation and what is anxiety. Most of the time when you feel overwhelmed, it’s the anxiety talking. And anxiety is loud. Sometimes you really are overwhelmed, and that can happen when you experience a trigger. I have two different approaches, depending on what I identify as my experience.

If I am feeling overwhelmed, and for me that means I feel like I have so much to do and it’s hard and I’ll never get it done and PANIC, I have to stop and assess – rationally – what is the least amount I can do today? What has to be done and what can wait? What will be a real problem if I don’t complete that today, or attend today, or do today? What can I do tomorrow or a different day and it will be fine?

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Usually if I stop and assess rather than let anxiety dictate my to-do list, things become much more manageable and less scary. Then I push aside things that do not have to happen today and see about getting started with what does have to be done. And the rule is only one thing at a time until I finish. This way I reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, I feel more in control and things feel more manageable and achievable – which makes me feel better, which makes things easier to do.

If I am being overwhelmed (by anxiety), it’s a different experience. For me it’s usually a PTSD trigger, it has nothing to do with how much I have on my plate and everything to do with my brain being flooded with whatever my neurons just went wild about. I used to keep going and try to force myself to work or clean or ANYTHING to not address it, which was not a healthy thing to do. These days, I acknowledge that I got triggered, I find a place to rest, I drop everything, I may or may not call someone in my support circle, and I rest until it passes. Sometimes that’s ten minutes, sometimes it’s four hours, doesn’t matter, it’s time I need to recover.

Yes, I can still go to class or meetings or drive or function when I’m being overwhelmed, and I do if I really have to. It’s a judgement call every time. But if I stop and rest rather than pushing myself and not taking that time out, I recover so much faster and so much better than if I ignore it. I’m taking care of myself when I do this and acknowledging that my condition is legitimate and deserving of care and space, rather than telling myself I’m not worth it. If you knew I was triggered, you would help me get to a safe place and do what you could to see that I was comfortable and cared for. Do the same for you!

Fat, Sick and In My Happy Place

I didn’t take the time to decompress the way I needed to so that I could fully embrace being here.

Y’all, my weight gain has hit a level that I finally had to notice. And I’m still congested and occasionally coughing. But I’m in the desert, the sky is clear, the temps are cool and warm and the air is wonderfully dry. Plus every color makes me happy. There is some good energy here. And I’m not sure I’m open to it yet.

I ran around like a mad woman yesterday to get a project proposal delivered on time, then had lunch and a walk with David before I hit the airport. I didn’t take the time to decompress the way I needed to so that I could fully embrace being here. The negative stayed with me, the stress and the being sick with whatever the hell I have and the realization that I couldn’t avoid anymore, that I am feeling pretty fat.

It would be easier to enjoy rockin’ my body if I had the clothes for my larger size, but I am pushing the limits of what I own and this is not a time I want to shop for more. And it just doesn’t feel good. Not much feels good at the moment.

Ashley wrote a post-vacay post via Pressing reset (or maybe just pause) that covered it.

I didn’t take the time to get ready to vacay, so I’m spending the first part of it recognizing that and deciding what to do about it. Yes, let it go and all that, right? I have PTSD, so the fact that I am even able to think through and acknowledge all of this (I did run away, but still have to work today so am sitting in my friend’s office working away before we head out on a hike) while I still have obligations and responsibilities to fulfill.

So here’s to taking a day to figure it out, reset, reframe, clear my desk and be ready to rest tonight and enjoy the hell outta tomorrow…while seeing if I can’t maybe also enjoy the hell outta today.

Reclaiming Sex (And the Words that Got Me There)

I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was.

I have had so much negative association with sex. David and I have been held off, aside from some fun times fooling around, because I wasn’t ready, and I had a lot to process and figure out. It’s been hard. It’s also been really good. And, for the first time ever for me, sex is really good.

I’ve been reading Come As You Are by Emily Negoski. It’s a game changer about sex for every woman (I think men would benefit from reading it, and I was sending pages to David as I read it), and was especially so for me post-rape. I like science, I find information freeing, and I would rather have the information and make a decision than not know. Every time I learn I have a choice (abuse, rape and assault are not times that you have a choice, and that infects so much of your life), I get to move forward toward healing. This book gives a lot of information about how our bodies and our brains can better enjoy sex, and how people who have survived trauma don’t have to stay stuck.

There was so much I didn’t know. And now I know. And while reading that book, I started to think that maybe I might actually be ready for sex.

One of the things I appreciate so much about David is that he has changed his language to be more supportive of me. He’s listening and he’s willing to learn, and while our verbal communication styles are different, he’s saying very specific things that tell me he cares, he’s prioritizing me feeling safe and he’s making space for my experience to be valid and not crazy (I still often feel pretty crazy). I’ve also worked really hard to be clear and specific about my experience without assigning blame or shutting down. Go us!

He did the most incredible thing today. We had planned to spend the day in our “couple bubble”, and that got progressively interrupted by other people. I’m not interested in throwing fits or demanding things, and life is what it is, so I rolled with it, and when we finally rolled into his bed, he wanted to talk about expectations for when I was ready for sex so that he’d know.

Y’all, that man is a gift.

I had just read about making my sexuality my own, making it what I choose to make it rather than only what serves someone else and just making the goal pleasure and fun and curiosity rather than performing to some kind of insane and conflicting societal standard or the demands of an abusive past. Hearing him reinforce that I get to make the choice about when I’m ready and what will make me feel safe and comfortable? I wasn’t ready, but I was. All that negative shit about sex that has been drilled into me for years? I don’t have to make it my own. That belongs to someone else. I get to choose. And I chose yes.

I chose yes to today, yes to what I was comfortable with and who I was comfortable with and yes to whatever that brought up. I got to give consent and, to my great surprise and delight, sex was fun. It was good, it was pleasurable, I enjoyed him, I enjoyed me, and when I got home I felt no shame and no obligation. Those words? Those words are the words of someone who had earth-shakingly good sex. Not because we scared the neighbors a mile down the road with a deafening climax (haha, yet), but because everything I’ve felt before that was negative was gone. And because we communicated expectations beforehand, he wasn’t surprised when I cried, he just held me. I cried because at one point he asked if I was happy, and I realized that yes, I was. Then tears. Really good tears that needed to happen a long time ago.

It is really easy to make me the center of this, to work around my needs, but his are important too. So when he breathed “I needed that.” after he finished I was glad – not because I had met some kind of performance standard, but because I want to see both of our needs met in this relationship, not just mine because I’m the needy one right now.

Naturally, I had a panic attack when I got home. I was in a safe place, had just showered, and had time to process. I wasn’t very emotionally connected to him during sex, which I wasn’t surprised about since that was a feelings overload. It was enough that I felt safe and comfortable, the rest will happen as it happens. But here’s the really great part, and the part where I did the real work of reclaiming sex: I handled the panic attack without meds and by facing it head-on, not by letting it control me.

My experience has been to be raped and abandoned. That sounds harsh, and it is, because it was harsh. It was cruel. It was meant to manipulate me, and feel horrible about myself so that I could be controlled. There is so much shame in that experience, and so much reason to shut down. Which is why I texted David to let him know that I was feeling a little bit of separation anxiety and may need some reassurance…JUST KIDDING, TOTAL MELTDOWN. The wave of panic hit hard and made everything that had just been so good out to be so bad.

PTSD is a bitch.

I got called Boss Bitch today, and that’s funny to me now because that’s kind of accurate. I made a decision to be open, to not feel shame, to communicate my experience, to give myself some space to acknowledge the panic and to face it and use the opportunity to reprogram those neuron pathways that wanted me to panic about sex. I settled into a meditation pose, acknowledged my feelings, inquired whether those feelings had any basis, worked though what I knew or had evidence for (basically talking back to the fear that I had just been used and was about to be abandoned, noting to myself that he wanted to stay with me longer, he had no expectations, he was being responsive even though he had other things going on that I had known about ahead of time, that he had made sure I felt safe, that he had checked with me for consent, that he was being intentional about communicating how his work schedule might be challenging for me given what he knows about my communication style), and told myself that I got to make the decisions, not anxiety. I told my brain what it actually needed to think, and that if it still wasn’t sure, we could ask. But I didn’t have to.

David called me my favorite nickname, supported me and stayed responsive until I let him know I was calm and ok. Short texts, big impact. The words that helped me get there as I reclaimed sex.

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.