“If We Talk Tonight, Make Me Do Yoga First”

The goal is just to do.

As though anyone can “make” me do anything…ha!

But really, David and I had a long chat yesterday about what I want recovery to look like for me for the next few months. All the running around, all the working, all the public appearances, all the family concerns…when it gets to be too much, it tends to stay too much. Balance…priorities…I don’t really feel like that will ever be a struggle I win.

Necessary struggle though, so last night after I got home from an event I was determined to get a longer yoga session in.

When I was walking and practicing yoga last summer I wasn’t very much smaller than I am now, but at least I had the muscle to engage in the exertion. Now I’m laughing at myself while I follow a Slow Vinyasa video because I can barely hold a position without thinking I’ll crash on my face. It’s also really funny to do yoga when you have a lot of body fat, because the very trim yogi is bending in very cool ways and I am thinking, “um, not sure I can move my fat rolls out of the way enough? Also wow I am not very flexible at the moment…” I mean, is that much downward dog necessary? I am holding up a lot of weight here!

I take it all with a sense of humor because, really, I am so damn proud of myself that I stuck to it. By the end of 45 minutes my down dog form was so much better. Side bends looked like me not really bending, I’m pretty sure, but I listened to the intent and engaged the right muscles and kept my sit bones firmly planted. Not hard when you got a booty, lemme tell you!

The goal is just to do. To do and practice and repeat to the point that my brain learns this is a much better thing to do when I have anxiety. I need to reprogram my defaults, and after the last two weeks of high anxiety, that is more clear than before. It’s a series of waves, and now that I’m in a down wave it’s time to do the good things and practice the good habits so that they’re easier next time. I need a different plan when everything goes sideways.

So I did yoga first, then we talked. Now to work on more sleep…

 

No Chaos Between Us

That no chaos boundary? I’ve needed that for myself this week.

I learned something new this week. Brains try to fill in incomplete pictures. My brain in particular does this very fast, and generally fills in the unknown with negative. That explains a lot. And now I know why I’d rather have bad news than no news.

David and I have a lot of external chaos as individuals. Family, work, etc. feels like an endless whirling of crazy.  So I set a boundary: no chaos between us.

I have no desire to bring all of that shit into a relationship in which it doesn’t belong. I can’t seem to get anyone else to stop being chaotic, but I need one person that does not perpetuate the cycle, and that’s him. No chaos.

No chaos is more work. Not blowing up, not throwing all of my anxiety at him, not starting fights is work. Holding onto at least one “no chaos day” a week is work. Well, and it’s actual work because it usually is me dragging him with me to go do whatever peaceful and calm field work I need to get done, but the point is to be together, out of our normal chaotic environments, and to find things to enjoy. Plus there’s usually a lot of walking. It’s nice.

That no chaos boundary? I’ve needed that for myself this week. He’s been handling business to move forward and has been…absent. I doubt he would view it that way, but as I’ve been isolating and not able to communicate what I need – and a bit fearful that if I did it would stress him out more – I’m wanting to cause my own chaos. But I can’t, because I said no.

In the relationship that nearly broke me, I was so scared of losing him that I kept an iron grip on the relationship. I had a tightly closed fist, and I fought so hard. For nothing. I’m not going to repeat that mistake, so I hold my relationship with David in an open hand, even when I have to force my hand to stay open. There is a lot of unknown, so my brain is working fast to fill in the blanks, and it fills them in with what it knows. All it knows is negative, so I have to work hard to reprogram, to acknowledge that’s what I’m thinking and tell myself I have no evidence that’s how it is and just to wait and see. I’m spending a lot more time creating a reason for him to stay than reasons not to leave.

And it’s terrifying because I have no idea (too many blanks), but I do know that I don’t want anymore chaos.

Adulting Hard (And the Bruises to Prove It)

I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up.

If there was a point in my life that Fridays elicited a “Yay! It’s Friday! The weekend!” response, I have forgotten when, and those days are long gone. Weekends are not a break, weekends are a continuation of work, a different set of work, or an endless round of chores and responsibilities. The only thing that distinguishes the weekend for me is that BAGELS happen on Saturday mornings, and traffic downtown isn’t as bad in the morning.

PTSD took away whatever semblance of “fun” I used to be, and there’s not a lot of free-wheeling, spontaneous, free-to-seize-the-day about me. That and my grandma not aging well (lots of things upset her and I’m the one that gets to hear about it), the unending health crises in my immediate family (we are maybe stable again after my brother’s visit to the ER last week for addiction), running a company with a business partner that has no executive function (it all lands on my shoulders) and my efforts toward recovery, which lately have just meant getting triggered a lot and being tired to the point that I hallucinated while driving.

What am I doing wrong? I thought I had this handled?

I have a stack of work on my desk that has approaching deadlines, I don’t have the focus or energy to tackle it head-on, yesterday I had to pivot to finish two courses for my fellowship that I hadn’t realized weren’t done so that pushed other work off a day, I ran a meeting last night that was completely dominated by a woman who has expertise and does know a lot about the topic our committee meets about, but who does not know all of the context and connections to the topic (and I do), so for every point I made that will help expand the breadth and depth of our organization’s position on this topic, she said “No.”

Y’all know the type. She knows everything, and everything she knows is stuck in the past, and not easily communicated to people who are not experts. That’s why I’m the committee chair, I am good at translating and good at connecting, and I hold more experience and more degrees relative to how to manage the process. And I got stepped all over. And it wasn’t going to be any other way without a fight. Cause she says “No.”

I can’t even make anti-dating fun. David has just as much chaos and barriers as I do at the moment, and it’s starting to consume his energy too. My struggles with mental health killed any kind of “honeymoon phase” we might have had, and my continuing series of triggers has not made our relationship less challenging. I can barely function some days as an individual (my therapist has described me as “high-functioning anxiety”, I see it more as “high potential to fail” anxiety), and there has not been a lot of time for me to adjust to functioning as a couple before everything has kind of hit the fan. Yay.

Long story for another time, but I was at Disney World a few years ago having one of the worst moments of my life. I had been obliterated by my ex and the fireworks show was going on and on about your dreams coming true. What a shitty message to the broken person I was. My dreams were destroyed, thanks. Anyone have a flask in this park?

I’m not a fairy tale kind of girl. I don’t dream in sparkles, I don’t wait for a happy ending and I am certainly not going to be rescued from the shit show that is my life right now.

That message wasn’t for me because that message isn’t me. It doesn’t fit. And I think that’s part of what I’m struggling with right now. I don’t fit. I think I’ve outgrown my life without realizing it, and without the room to move and stretch I’m getting banged up. In figuring out who I am and what I want post-trauma (I am a different person, and it’s a good thing), I don’t fit. Anything. So I guess now I get to figure out how to make it fit…

Too Stressed to Heal

Once I each a sustained level of stress, my default perception of everything is that it’s a threat.

I’ve been coughing for about two weeks. Started with a strong uptick in pollen in the air, and now it may or may not be allergies/cold/pneumonia (that last one is my Mom’s thought). Whatever it is, I am pretty sure my stress levels, food choices and resistance to rest are not helping.

I was working, side-hustling and dealing with some communication chaos with David’s family yesterday, while very tired (when I say I’m tired I’m usually already in a bad place for PTSD-related anxiety and issues), and by the time I left David’s it was late and I just wanted to sleep. I should have stayed? But he had places to be today and I had work to do, and I didn’t want to sit in traffic in the morning. I kept alternately nodding off and hallucinating on the way home – I kept seeing things on the side of the road that weren’t there, like people and animals.

YES. I WAS HALLUCINATING DRIVING THREATS.

That’s a new one.

I finally called him after hitting my breaks for another deer that didn’t exist, and we kept talking till sometime after 3am.

I have no idea what to do. I am not in a good place. I’m snowed at work, but most of my projects are long-lead on invoicing, so I need to work a side-hustle to make sure I don’t get into financial trouble. I like the side-hustle, but it puts me in the path of a lot of germs, and it’s pretty intense while I do it, so I have a lot of adrenaline going and it’s a bit stressful, but I don’t take it home. What I am doing for work is also a few weeks from completion on everything, so there’s no satisfaction of completing something, and nothing I can clear off my desk yet. I am really struggling to put time and energy into my relationship with David, because I have never in my life prioritized a guy above work, and it’s freaking me out. As much as I know this is a good thing and he’s beyond worth it, new things = lots of stress and I need more time to adjust. And then there’s my family. When someone isn’t in the emergency room with a life-threatening situation, my Mom aggressively approaches me about everything, including my persistent cough, and can’t just ask how I’m feeling and do I think I need to go get my lungs checked out?

One of the curious and frustrating aspects of my experience with PTSD is that once I each a sustained level of stress, my default perception of everything is that it’s a threat. And I don’t have a single person who understands that beyond my therapist, so I don’t just deal with annoyances all day, I deal with constant threats. No shit I still have a cough…

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.

Whirling Through the Week – Until I Hit a Wall

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable.

I had a lot going on this week.

I had some kind of idea that work would slowly pick up over the month and I could adjust. Nope, things blew up this week and I’ve been scrambling to do it all. Plus I had to be “public me” a lot, and spent a lot of time managing conflicts, in conferences and meetings and taking on more work. Not surprisingly, I hit a wall this afternoon and started to slide into a panic attack.

I have been doing a lot to recognize and address past trauma, which I am increasingly aware was in great part due to abusive communication, and when I have already hit my stress limit I have a really hard time not taking everything the wrong way.

Basically, if I start saying I’m tired, there is a meltdown on the way.

I realized today that I have a tendency to recoil in preparation for a verbal beating when I start toward a panic attack. I start making plans to isolate, I use any and every excuse for why I must not bother someone and I make a really big deal out of something that hasn’t even happened. My brain, in the process of wrecking, ties communication to abuse and prepares me for it by telling me to shut down and shut out.

This is without there being any verbal beating or any communication abuse. Or any abuse. Or…anything.

Sometimes dealing with this shit is really weird.

It’s a little terrifying too. I was in the middle of talking to a client, changing a drawing and trying to tell David what was happening so that I could hopefully stop the process of making problems where there weren’t any. He reminded me to breathe, and that helped for a few hours, but now I’m back in a similar place, where I’m making a lot of assumptions and creating problems that aren’t there. I’m glad I’m starting to recognize what’s happening, but dealing with it while I’m also exhausted and have hit my stress limit for the week is challenging.

I did a couple of yoga classes when I finished work to try to continue the process of calming. They were more meditative than active, and I found the word vulnerable coming up repeatedly as I stilled my body and slowed my breathing. As in be vulnerable.

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable. I want to put up my defenses and not have to challenge myself and my thinking and repeat to myself that I am experiencing cognitive distortion and that things are not what I am making them out to be. I would way rather tuck in and take a Xanax than sit in pain and stop the negative, destructive thought patterns that I lived with for a few years.

I’m done waiting for a better time to deal with this. There isn’t a time that I will be less busy, will be in a better place, will have less on my plate, will have my shit together or will be more ready for a relationship. I can’t put my life on hold because this shit is hard, and I have so much opening up to me. I think that was the message in yoga. When the choice is before me, and the choice is hard, time to choose vulnerable.

Anti-Dating

I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

My latest PTSD episode was a negative experience for both David and I. You can tell someone what it’s like, you can tell them what to expect, but they don’t understand until they experience it with you. Even then, they only see the outside. It’s worse when they think they’re at fault. This really is just about me and what goes on in my brain. I hate that it can hurt someone I care about… and that there wasn’t much I could do to prepare him. I got blindsided and was scrambling to understand what had triggered me. Not a very helpful place to be when you’re trying to communicate what’s going on. Add Xanax to the mix and I don’t even remember most of what I told him. It was probably better for both of us that we had a Christmas pause. I wanted to make a play on words and say Christmas break, but to his credit we didn’t actually break.

We hiked several miles yesterday in the cold to talk about it, without spending too much time talking about it. I knew it had affected him, I just didn’t know how much. I hate that something I can’t control just brought a really wonderful month to a sharp halt. I hate that I killed the fun. I hate that someone hurt me so badly that I have a negative neurologic response that is so severe it put a relationship I value at risk.

I hate dating. I’m terrible at it. So I asked if we could not date. Anti-date, actually.

Dating doesn’t work for me. I like to do what I like to do while living out what I believe. I like creative energy and being productive and dragging people into my schemes and solving problems and drinking good coffee and walking and talking and eating bagels on Saturdays. Once in a while I like to get hella dressed up and blow money on an amazing dinner. Most of the time I like to cook. I like heavy blankets and BBC Masterpiece and pretending I’m athletic. I like people who see the world differently than I and I like ridiculous high heels. I really like burgers that ooze cheese when you bite into them.

I like all of those things by myself. I think I’d like them even more with another person. I think I’d like them more with this person. I like to share things I enjoy with people I enjoy. “Dating” doesn’t seem to really fit that – or me. I want to live my life and invite someone to join me, not spend my time barely scratching the surface and deciding if we have enough chemistry to try to ignore the problems.

When you’ve been hurt deeply, when you’ve broken deeply and when you’re healing deeply, the surface barely registers. It’s not enough to make me look up from my knitting. I want more. Dating isn’t more, it’s why I stopped trying that.

Then average-height, dark and handsome shows up across the table from me and I think I have to date him because that’s what you do.

Until a scratch on the surface digs up something much deeper, and you have to tell someone they’re free to go for fear of what you might pull them into. I had to be painfully vulnerable to hold my hand open and accept we might not be the best thing for each other. Living with PTSD requires courage, and courage is painful.

I drove home in my three most-feared driving conditions – wet, dark and fast. I was so relaxed I was in shower thinking mode.

THAT DOESN’T HAPPEN. 

It indicated how far I’ve come in processing and putting to rest my car wreck. It’s taken two years, but I was on autopilot and concerned with more pressing issues. I’ve beaten it… So I can beat the next one… the one that’s still blindsiding me with trauma. That’s when I said to hell with it all, I’m doing this the way I want. The only way I know how to not run this relationship into the ground before we have a chance to see if we want this to work.

“Let’s anti-date.”

He said ok.