Last week I had a new goal to improve by 1% every day. Not in an actually measurable way, but to make small, incremental steps toward bigger goals. I had two things that I wanted to do every day last week, and this week would have two more things that were a step up of last weeks things.
I made it 3 days.
Then I got sucked into a whirlwind of anxiety and PTSD symptoms, and totally forgot I was even doing this.
I’m not even the least bit disappointed or discouraged about it, I’m simply going to try again. So this week is 10 kettlebell lifts every day and one little bit of design work every day.
I am dealing with multiple weekend-long situation triggers, and it has been tough. I can do nothing about it, and have a lot of chores, errands and THINGS to get done, so I am busy and a little frustrated on top of experiencing severe anxiety.
I used to wish time away, and consciously stopped doing that, but it is really tempting to wish this weekend done already.
I started tracking my HRV a few weeks ago, and it’s turned out to be a helpful tool. There isn’t really a target range that I could justifiably set for myself (especially since I’m not a medical professional), but I learned that the app I’m using has an average user number of 59 or so, and I was pretty sure that the research I’d listened to indicated mine would be lower.
For the first few weeks I was in the high 30s and low 40s most of the time. The app I use has a Morning Readiness reading that I do when I wake up, and it measures my HRV right after I finish sleep and there hasn’t been external stressors yet. I adopted and attitude of observing and learning, and watched my initial numbers steadily drop, and the readout pretty consistently tell me that I might need less stress, might need to do breathing exercises or otherwise manage my body’s sympathetic response. I noticed how I was feeling, noticed what the number was each day, and paid attention to whether I thought the two matched. Turns out, they often do.
This week my numbers have been in the 50s, which freaked out my app at first because that is suddenly much higher than normal. The readout cautioned me that I might be recovering and to maybe take it easy. I was! I’ve gotten consistently higher numbers this week, and have the energy and feel-good to match.
I don’t think tracking HRV is necessary, but I do think that having a way to check in with myself at a level that is available to me through technology is helpful, especially as I practice observing how I feel and responding by giving my body what it needs.
My desk faces a wall. It’s slim, not very deep, but has worked well for me for over a decade. On the wall in front of me I’ve pinned up cards, artwork memories and various and sundry bits of detritus that people have sent me over the last few years. I don’t gaze upon it with adoration, it’s more background noise. But it’s fun, and I like it.
Since I’ve been feeling better this week, I’ve had a lot more creative energy (a lot more energy overall), and the ideas are starting to flow. I have a number of personal and professional projects I want to work on, many that I was working on when my family members started going down two years ago. I want a place to capture that, to make notes and jot down ideas and keep track of what I’m working on. Digital space is fine, but I like paper for this type of thing.
When I was sorting through boxes a couple of months ago in an attempt to organize and consolidate my belongings, and found a stash of Post-It note pads in varying sizes. In a previous life I was obsessed with Post-Its and bought tons of them in different sizes and colors to organize myself. I’m not obsessed now, but I do find them occasionally handy, and put the stash in my desk drawer for later.
I now have a use for those oversized notes.
I’m taking down most of my wall detritus to make space for an easy-to-reach note wall so that I can keep up with my projects, ideas and progress. I’m going to stick large pieces of brightly-colored paper in front of me. Not that the cards and artwork are less meaningful, it’s just time to do something different, and give myself some space for where I am and what I can do now.
In the last two days I have started to feel good. My PTSD symptoms seem to be significantly reduced, I have more energy and am more interested in personal projects, and I am willingly exercising, taking breaks from work and stopping work when it’s time to stop for the day. I’m looking into creative projects for myself and for work, and I seem to be paying much more attention to what’s going on around me.
The last two times this happened I was blindsided about a week later by trauma. It has taken me months to recover from both.
My parents are headed on a vacation that my mom is really excited about, and rightly so. They’ve been through the same trauma, and it’s been a long, hard effort to get everyone well and stable. I’m excited for them, and I think it’s long overdue.
My parents were supposed to leave town the day after my brother’s accident. They spent the weekend and the week after in the ICU with him.
My body remembers. Parents plan to leave town: trauma. I start feeling really good: trauma. I’m usually blindsided by trauma anniversaries and triggers, and I spent the month of October struggling to cope with the terror lodged in my brain. This time I know what’s coming, I know how I feel, I quickly recognized the circumstances, and I am making a plan to address them the best I can. I’m having someone stay with me this weekend so that I’m not alone (and therefore all up in my own head), I have plans to do things I enjoy with people I enjoy, and I don’t have any set responsibilities, only a plan of action in case an emergency happens. I communicated how I feel and what this is like for me, my concerns have been acknowledged and accommodated without negativity from anyone involved in helping me, and I am so, so grateful that even though positive growth and change can be a trigger, then can also be an opportunity for better.
I have a constant urge to be better, whatever that means. I don’t have a clear idea of what “better” looks like, I just know that for a long time I haven’t been satisfied with where I am, and I want things to be different. I know that to great extent I can effect change within myself, and I can accept that I can do (functionally) nothing about anyone else, and that has put me in a place over the last few months that has gotten me really curious – about myself, my abilities, where I am with PTSD and where I want to be instead, what it looks like to love myself and care for myself and make myself a priority and what I can and cannot tolerate in my own behavior and that of others.
I don’t have that many “good” days, days that I feel energetic and interested in life and happy and motivated to leave the house. I push through most days, trying to not drop back down the hole while I try to do the things that research and a lot of smart, caring people think might have the best chance of getting me where I want to go. I’m starting to oscillate a bit, I think – I’m having noticeably more stints of positive and motivated than I’ve had in a few years. I’m definitely more awake and aware, and am staying less in the dark hole and am peeking out at the world more. I’m thinking more about doing things that I enjoy and have taken a few small steps that I don’t seem to have backtracked. I’m seeing some ripple effects from my changes and it’s cool. I like to think that building better energy around myself has the potential to positively radiate out, and I’ve lived with negativity for so long that it’s a nice change.
But, I still have the question of what better looks like and what I need to do to get there.
There’s a lot of backstory to it, but my relationship with my boyfriend has been challenging, and I have felt like I’ve been pushed to a place of calling it quits. We’ve both had to learn a lot about ourselves and communication in the last year, and recently I’ve been faced with a choice of pushing past all of that and being vulnerable and honest and starting – and leading – hard conversations, or quitting.
I really wanted to quit.
It’s so much harder to be honest with myself and with him, to say the things that aren’t fun to say, to draw the lines and hold to them, to lay out the situation without making threats, to set boundaries without making selfish demands and to practice love when I have no idea if it will be returned.
I’ve had moments of bright, happy and cheerful the past two days, which quickly tips over into what feels more like manic than actually happy and calm, but I’m still mostly struggling through the confining, dark depression of PTSD. It doesn’t help to be constantly triggered while trying to work through communication and behavior course corrections
I want to take a break from all of it.
But as we know, life doesn’t stop. And if anything, I’m proud of myself for not giving up on me.