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. ❤

Caring For Others When You Can’t Care For Yourself

I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself.

I am done taking care of other people.

That was my thought Saturday night as I waited somewhat impatiently for my chickens to leave my house and go home (chickens being my group of younger friends who I generally adore but sometimes get worn out with). In the last two and a half weeks I have done back to back post-surgery for my brother, care for my very ill mother (who is much better now), running my firm (which got super-intense last week when things got challenging with every single client’s project at once), running my parent’s house while my Dad was out of state on business, helping some of the guys win over the girls they like, and dealing with the absolute nonsense spewing from a friend who dumped her boyfriend and is now taking her need for attention out on the rest of the group.

I am seriously thinking about getting them back together just to give the rest of us (me especially) a break.

Which brings me to one of the most challenging realities of PTSD for me: it is so much easier to care for (read meddle with) other people than it is to take care of myself. Not only that, but when I do get caught up in taking care of and meeting the needs of others, it takes me some time to wind down from it. I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself. I’m also resentful that as much as I have been taking care of others, not only do they not acknowledge what I’ve done (family especially), they don’t care for me (again, family especially).

Enter therapy this morning, where I had to put names to my emotions, face these challenges and acknowledge that one of the core issues that I struggle with having PTSD is I experience anxiety when I don’t know.

I was in a very abusive relationship in which I was horribly betrayed a week before my car wreck. I didn’t understand it as abusive at the time because years of abusive employers had done a number on me (whole other story for another day), and I am coming to realize that what causes me the most anxiety is not knowing. I would really rather know the worst than not know. Some of that comes from being manipulated by someone I thought I could trust, some of it comes from genuinely thinking I was about to die. There is a lot of unknown when your car is smashing around and you are in complete sensory overload.

So now I get to begin to work toward sitting peacefully with not knowing, with understanding that anxiety will not bring resolution. It’s a little much to take in today. I’m going to need some time to process. I’m starting with making a plan to reorganize my workspace to be better for me (which I was going to do two weeks ago but didn’t because I was busy with others) and I’m listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks.

This is hard. This part is really hard. Onward.

My First Foray Into Meditation

I want to be able to accept my lack of control as a circumstance that does not require me to react with anxiety.

A couple of years ago a dear friend recommended meditation as a way to cope with anxiety. He was doing guided meditations and was appreciating the results. At the time I had no idea what meditation was, and I was quite adverse to anything resembling sitting still or thinking, and especially both, so I didn’t pick up that practice.

Fast forward to my current place of stability, brain on high process speed, the realization that my statement in EMDR was not the best statement for me (THANKS FORMER THERAPIST THAT I HAD TO FIRE – but that’s another story), adjusting that statement, practicing yoga with some consistency and being more comfortable with thoughts: I am ready for this meditation thing.

Change happens when you’re ready for it. If you aren’t, I don’t know that you actually change. Unless you are forced to, but even then it might be a temporary adaptation? Another topic for later. The point is, I was not previously ready to meditate. But having found myself in a place where my lack of control over, well, anything causes me considerable anxiety on a daily basis, my goal for the next few weeks is to adjust how I think about my lack of control and come to a place of acceptance over what I can’t, namely the behavior and choices of other people (also hurricanes, seriously).

I have found that after I practice yoga for about half an hour I am really ready to think about things. More than that, I get to a place that I have pretty much blocked out the noise and have space in my brain to work on myself, or just be peaceful. Today I sat with affirmations that I can accept not being in control, that I can be at peace with circumstances that are not what I want, that God provides for this, etc. etc. It was nice, and it was a start. Because my statement had been “I am in control.”

FALSE.

I am hardly ever in control (someone brought me lunch today and something in it caused my digestive system to hit the eject button, so I wasn’t even in control of my lunch today) and most of what I do is dependent on other people, the weather, availability of gasoline…so I want to be able to accept my lack of control as a circumstance that does not require me to react with anxiety. This will surely take some practice. First step made.

More Ups & Downs & Post-Storm Anxiety

I didn’t go to church for a bit over a year because I was tired of it, disconnected from it and not interested in the petty politics of it. Not God, to be clear, not my relationship with Jesus, but with a particular brand of church that to my perspective lacked a clear focus on Jesus.

I went back to church on the invitation of the friends I mentioned a couple of posts ago, and have barely missed since. Except today, when church was cancelled because the school we meet in cancelled church because the district cancelled all weekend rentals in case the schools needed to be converted to shelters (presumably).

We have a more or less “singles” group that hangs out and has fun, and several were up for church despite the weather, so I organized a small group meeting at one of the guy’s houses and even though the rain and wind was fairly strong this morning, we had 6 people meet up for “church”. It was exactly what I needed. It was a calm, safe space with genuine friends in the middle of a literal storm. We went to lunch after and hung out for a few hours talking about nothing important.

Now I’m in bed hiding from the world and wondering where on earth that sense of calm went?!? Because right now EVERYTHING CAUSES ME ANXIETY.

Yes, I drove in conditions very similar to those in which I wrecked, but I’ve been through EMDR and I didn’t hydroplane even a little, but maybe my brain still doesn’t like it.

Yes I drank coffee (known to increase my anxiety) and ate a few donut holes (also known to increase my anxiety), but I thought I had tempered that with water and protein.

Yes storm is not that bad here and we are safe from flooding. I hate that so many people are not in that place, and social media is BANANAS right now (these check-ins as “safe” from people who haven’t even had rain today are so dumb! There is life-threatening flooding that is causing a real need for people to know the status of loved ones, don’t make this about you if it’s not.)

Didn’t do yoga but went for a walk and took a warm shower after, which made me feel pretty good (temporarily).

So here I am, glad that so many people are bravely helping strangers and giving what they have to help, but staying in my bed because I don’t want to create a problem and I can take care of myself from here. Outside is not a place I can safely be right now.

This is such a strange experience. I am used to taking care of others, stepping up and helping, taking charge and figuring it out. This whole month in therapy I have been working to understand how to learn to take care of myself, because that is something I don’t do very well. Frankly, it’s easier to ignore my needs because they just annoy me.

Well, here’s my chance.