It’s My Birthday!

This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much.

Last night was hell.

My birthday is a trauma anniversary. Eating is a coping mechanism. Work is a coping mechanism. Isolation is a coping mechanism. Ironically, all things that I can’t always avoid…

I stayed in bed most of the day yesterday and napped in between working. I had nothing left, and in therapy I identified that I felt like I didn’t matter to the people close to me and felt alone. I had forgotten that my birthday was used as a weapon against me in previous years, and it took most of the day for me to consciously remember that, and to realize that I was having a rough day because I was anticipating another horrible birthday. Another day that was supposed to be about me on which I was ignored, abused and made to feel like nothing.

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I ran off to the desert this year and thought through how to reclaim my birthday. I was going to make it about me doing for myself this year, about not relying on others to make the day special. My brain had other ideas, and last night was an emotional post-trauma hell. This morning I’m still shaky, still feeling a bit off. The well wishes started before 6 this morning, which I really appreciate. I still can’t connect to them, and I’m still a bit walled off, and still a bit emotional, but I’m much better, and the crazy has subsided.

I understand that sometimes the brain – and this seems to be true for mine – cannot process trauma until it feels safe to do so. My experience with that is as soon as I think I’ve taken a step forward in recovery and made progress, I get rewarded by the baseball bat of trauma memory. Congrats! You’re doing great in recovery! WHACK! It’s so painful and frustrating and…shit. This seems to be the year that I can process why I hate my birthday so much. Maybe that means a better next year? I was able to sit with the pain last night. I still haven’t needed Xanax this year. Yep, I made it through last night without meds to knock me out so I could avoid it. I took the beating, and today I kinda feel like I got that beating.

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I woke up early to a quiet house. No cards, no acknowledgement that it’s my birthday. It’s expected, my family doesn’t make a big deal out of my birthday. I used to be the one to make a big deal out of it, used to make my own cake and organize my celebration, so I can understand why they don’t. And the point for me is to not rely on others for this. Emotionally, it’s still a letdown, but rationally, I enjoy the quiet morning. It’s raining and cold and I’m temped to not even leave the house today. I can work from the comfort and safety of my bed again, and ignore the world for another day. I can nap again if I need to.

Cause, you know, it’s my birthday!

Letters to Linda – Feeling Like You Have No Support

There’s something powerful about knowing – and asking for – what you need that can be a great step toward healing. 

Dear Linda,

One of the most challenging aspects of living with PTSD is feeling like you have no support. I still don’t really feel that my illness is supported, and I live openly with it.

I think that people generally have a hard time understanding things outside of their own experience. This isn’t really something you can understand from the outside, because it happens inside your skull. Your behaviors, your feelings, your experience – those aren’t things you can easily share, so they are things that make it difficult for someone to be able to support you in if they don’t know.

It’s almost harder if someone wants to be helpful, because they try to take your experience – or what they understand of it – and put into the context of their experience, which means that THEY DON’T UNDERSTAND. And they’re telling you they do, and you know they don’t, and you don’t want to deal with it because you have enough pain, so you do whatever you have to and agree to whatever they say just to make it stop. Most people can’t just listen. They can’t just let your story be your story. They can’t just figure out what you need. And you feel like you have no support, when you desperately need someone else to help carry the burden.

So take your experience back, and make it about you.

You need to know what you need before you can tell someone else, so spend some time understanding what you need. Is making dinner every night just too hard? Do you need solitude and silence for a couple of hours a day? Do you need to be told good night every night before you go to bed? Do you need someone else to get the oil changed in your car because that errand is too challenging and overwhelming for you? Do you need someone to remember that you hate broccoli and not make you try to like it or eat it? Do you need someone to figure out another way to exercise because what you were doing is now attached to the trauma you experienced? Do you need someone to act as a buffer between you and someone who is unkind to you?

Whatever it is that frees you from everyday stress related to the trauma you experienced, understanding that will help you to either know what you need to address and recognize so that you can deal with it in a way that is less horrible for you, or you need to hand it off to someone else to deal with.

When people don’t support you, it may be because they have no idea how. If you know what you need and can be specific about it, you can assign a way for them to support you that is authentic to your needs, and far less frustrating for you.

Thank you for wanting to help. What would really benefit me right now and a way that you could really serve me and make my life easier is if you could come with me to the two professional events I have this month. I’m not very comfortable with crowds, and there will be people there I don’t like to be around, but I need to put on a good face. I don’t need you to hover or to tell people I’m anxious, that’s not information I want to share. 

Dealing with driving and parking makes me anxious, so would you be willing to drive? That will help me to be more calm. I would also like to leave about an hour into the event, so can I use you as an excuse to leave? If you could let me know after we’ve been there an hour that we need to leave for our next event (i.e. me going home to comfortable pajamas and my cat to watch a movie), that would be really helpful, and I’ll feel more comfortable leaving at a time that is better for me rather than staying past what I can comfortably manage.

It’s a clear ask, it’s specific, and it’s something that most good friends would be willing to do, if not happy to do for you. And it comes from you knowing what you need so that you can ask for the support you need.

It would be so great if people just understood. It would make our lives so much easier. But they don’t, and a lot of times we don’t. It can feel like a burden and one more thing we have to do on top of all of the other things living with PTSD requires, but there’s something powerful about knowing – and asking for – what you need that can be a great step toward healing.

The Both/And Experience of Feeling Good In My Skin

I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once.

I’m open to non-exclusive.

Feelings, that is. I had a new experience yesterday that I don’t recall having had before.

For most of my life I’ve thought of myself and had the experience of being all or nothing. I was either all in or not interested/engaged. Which means that there has been no balance. I would work furiously to the detriment of my health, or I would get nothing done. I was either working out 11 hours a week or not at all. I was either eating healthy every meal or eating whatever I wanted. I either felt awesome or horrible, calm or anxious, exhausted or energetic. There has been no balance, no chill and no both/and. Until yesterday.

For the past couple of days I’ve been experiencing what I can only describe as physical anxiety. From what I remember I haven’t had that happen, the anxiety I experience has all been in my head. I haven’t been close to reminders of physical trauma in a few years though, and I do remember that driving after the car wreck was physically difficult. I would get headaches and a lot of tension in my shoulders. When I started getting the trauma worked out of my connective tissue through physical and massage therapy, it hurt like hell. That was a bit more than two years ago, so it’s possible I don’t remember. Sometimes I don’t, and I’m fine with that.

So to yesterday, reclaiming sex is looking like more of a trauma-clearing experience than I had realized. I was somewhat prepared for the mental anxiety, after all, that’s what I’ve been focused on healing for the last two and a half years. What I didn’t think about was that I have physical trauma that also probably needs to be addressed, and that’s now coming up too. My body hurts, I don’t feel well (feel like I have either a cold or allergies) and I would really just like to rest in bed for a few days in comfy pajamas and under my heavy blanket. I really don’t like not feeling well, I have other things to do. However, I don’t want to hold on to this, and releasing it would probably feel amazing. I’m thinking through that today as I handle business.

At the same time that I am experiencing physical anxiety without accompanying mental anxiety, I am feeling really good in my skin. And that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, since my face looks rough, my skin is a bit loose where I’m starting to lose weight from going off the drugs and the constant blast of the heater/winter air combo makes me feel…shriveled. I’m not rocking a summer glow, is what I’m saying.

And yet I feel really good about my body for the first time in…years? Ever? Maybe realizing how much I’ve survived and how well I’ve done to heal from it is showing me that my body is pretty amazing after all, even when I have a lot of anxiety swirling around it. It’s weird, but I like that this is the way I’ve come to the realization that I can experience two things at once. I’m not limited to either/or, it can be both/and. I like not being limited, I spent enough time with limits.

Sharing Some Love

The good people never really die.

Don’t miss the beautiful stories because they don’t fit within your preconceived ideals.

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The yarn in this piece of wall art – and five other pieces I finished today – belonged to a friend of mine who lost her battle with cancer two years ago. Yesterday was her birthday.

After she passed her husband gifted her yarn to me, and yesterday I began to use it for the project to raise funds for an orphanage. She was a social worker, a mental health advocate and one hell of a woman. Kathy, I hope you enjoy seeing your love continue to be shared, as you were so generous yourself in sharing it.