Talking It Out Is A Lot About Listening

Yelling and screaming are easy, but they don’t heal, because they mask what’s underneath.

I’m sitting in my warm house, not obligated to go anywhere today while Iceblast2018 churns outside. Or something. I didn’t get too much precip at my house, so I could probably walk outside without falling on my butt, but I hear it’s bad other places so I’m staying put. Plus I worked my side hustle delivering groceries the past two days, and it’s been intense as people have been stocking up before the forecasted doom arrived. The tips were awesome yesterday, but I didn’t go to bed till well after midnight and I didn’t sleep in.

After my massive trigger episode Sunday night I was not feeling very steady. It’s exhausting to have your brain wreck off into a trauma pit, and even more so to claw your way out. I did though, and I got stable by myself – no Xanax, no relying on someone else to fix it, no blaming anyone else for this (except the guy that did this to me). It’s really tempting to aim this somewhere else, want to be rescued, want to avoid, want to make it someone else’s problem. It’s not though, it’s mine, and I won’t heal if I don’t own this shit and manage it. No one can do that for me.

What David did for me was listen. I got an unusually early text from him yesterday, and since I was still in “everything is a threat” mode I was a little slow to warm up. He had no idea that I had been through a really bad night because one texted sentence was so loaded with trauma for me. I don’t carry a list of sentences and words that trigger me, because I’m not going to live like that. I couldn’t make a list if I wanted to, I have no idea until it happens. And him avoiding my triggers doesn’t help me heal.

What does help me heal is how ready he is to listen when I’m struggling to sort out what’s going on. I work really hard to stay blame neutral when I talk about what I experience, because that’s a fast way to shut down a conversation.  I’m not a surface-dweller, and neither is he. So we talked, and he listened a lot, and didn’t try to tell me what my experience should be.

I rolled into my regularly-scheduled therapy appointment in pajamas and a blanket-like poncho because I had too much else going on to get dressed, and I get to go to therapy in pajamas if I want to. I did want to, and I have a pile of laundry to do before I can leave the house in any semblance of real clothing. I talked about what had happened and what I wanted moving forward, and she was supportive of how I view myself and how I want to navigate what feels like near-constant triggers. My resting heart rate is pretty clear that I have a lot of anxiety right now. It was a really helpful session, because, again, it was about repairing the damage that I have, not trying to push this on to someone else to fix. No one else can fix this.

But someone else can and did talk to me for a long time on the phone, which was reassuring in itself, and brought sexy back to this situation with a “yes ma’am” that just about melted my panties off.

You know how warm fuzzy it is for someone you like to pay attention and remember the things you like and respond to? After working about 8 hours side-hustling, half of it in the rain and cold, I got a recording of “Yes ma’am” in response to something I asked for, and now I can listen to that sexy sound bite any time I want…

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.

Dating With PTSD – Communication

Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse. 

I am dating an incredible human who is accepting of my traumatic experiences and who is willing to listen (patiently) while I try to work out the things that trigger me. One of my challenges is that I don’t know what will trigger me or when, or how badly. I can’t predict my anxiety levels or what will make me want to push him away, what will violently drag up fear or what will be a small raising of my eyebrow.

Part of the trauma that broke my brain was an abusive relationship that I was in for four years. The first two years he was abusive and manipulative, the last two he was unbelievably cruel. I was in a horrible car wreck at the end of year two, after I had moved away but we were still talking. I had no idea I had PTSD, I had no idea why I couldn’t let go of him, and he took every bit of shame over what he had done to me and my near-death to emotionally beat the shit out of me, again and again and again.

He was a broken person not looking to heal. He nearly broke me. I still have a lot of scars, and it feels like I am now having to pull them back open to heal correctly.

He used communication as a weapon. He would not respond, not give me straight answers, not let me know what was going on or what to expect, because as long as I couldn’t get my feet under me in the relationship I had no way to access control. Post-car wreck I spent two years unknowingly creating negative neuron response pathways in my brain. It is taking a long time to repair those, and because I don’t even know what they all are, I keep stumbling upon them.

For example, David and I were texting, and I didn’t get a response back at one point. It wasn’t critical, and rational brain wouldn’t have thought much of it. I knew he was busy and I had my own things to do, and if I did have a rational brain I would have just checked in with him later. However, that drop in the conversation hit a neuron pathway that remembered that this is a negative thing, that when this happens I am going to get hurt, that when he doesn’t respond it’s a reason to panic and fear the worst. It snuck up on me before I could figure out what was happening, and a few hours later when we did start texting again it took very little (he was telling me what he’d been up to, a positive experience for me in normal conditions) to set me off on a severe trigger.

I don’t want to lash out or start a fight or make accusations when this happens. It isn’t David’s fault, it has very little to do with him and he doesn’t know. I don’t even know until it happens, then I am scrambling to understand why the hell I just had this deeply negative response to a circumstance that feels like it should be no big deal. Then I have to – in the middle of a fear-riddled experience for me – be completely vulnerable and ask for space and understanding while I sort out what’s happening. Telling how I feel and what I need is another trigger, because doing that previously got me another round of abuse.

I am so, so thankful that David was accepting, accommodating and that he listened once I got to a place that I understood what had happened. I needed to have a safe space to work through what had happened, and once I did, once I did a bit of reprogramming, I realized that for the first time I made it through a major trigger event without Xanax. Pretty amazing.

For those of us who live in the hell of PTSD, we need that safe space to process, to try to understand what is going on and to have you listen openly and without trying to tell us what our experience is. Our experience is hard enough for us to understand and deal with. When you add a partner to the mix, it’s a challenge to open up and let you know what’s going on. A challenge I’m slowly discovering is worth it.

I Got Dumped…Before I Got Started?

When you ask a guy out, then he makes plans with…mutual friends?

Some friends of mine are playing a house concert this weekend, and I have been looking forward to it since the moment I heard it was happening. They. Are. Good. Soulful, they write their own songs, and the house is an acoustic environment that reverberates with magic. The last time they played this venue was Valentine’s Day, and I went alone. It was a soul-filing experience.

I met Matt through a colleague last year and he introduced me to one of his good friends, Carrie. Carrie and I get on like peas and carrots, and it was a very thoughtful connection on Matt’s part. I also think he is super attractive, so when we were at the same non-profit event a couple of months ago, I had just found out about this gig and invited him, knowing he would appreciate it (Matt and Carrie’s husband play in a really good band that stays pretty booked whenever they want to play). He said he’d put it on the calendar.

This past weekend I saw the whole crew at an event that the band played, and Carrie and I tried to catch up over the volume and the tired crankiness of her kids (I get you, kids!). She told me that they and a few other families with small kids are camping in Matt’s backyard this coming weekend, and she couldn’t make the house concert but I should come by Matt’s. Yeah! So fun!

Except I thought he and I had plans…haha. Yeah, no. But I get it, they’re friends like family, and a backyard camp out sounds so fun. Fun for them. I’m not part of the close group, and I have been looking forward to this house concert as something I am willing to share with people who I think will appreciate it, but I am not missing this for anything, and I am not driving way out of my way to go be an awkward camp crasher.

I got a couple of sweaty hugs from Matt after their set ended, and got him to introduce me to Carrie’s husband since she had already left with the kiddos. Matt had teased me about something, and I headed out when they started packing up their gear on my way to another event. I messaged him later with a further comment on what he had teased me about, just a short lighthearted comment.

No response.

People respond when they want to. They show up when they want to. If they can’t and they want to, and they care, they let you know why. My ex didn’t. A couple guys I’ve sort of not really dated since didn’t (dating with PTSD has been something I’ve pretty much avoided so far). And I have finally learned the lesson. If he was interested, he would make an effort. And he didn’t. And that’s that.

So I’m going to go to listen to musicians pour their souls out over guitars, eat and drink in a kitchen with strangers older than me, and not be sad that Matt chose not to join me. Because I won’t be missing anything, I’ll be right where I want to be.

Weather-Induced Anxiety

My anxiety is skyrocketing with every decline in barometric pressure. I am freaking out.

Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, flash floods, fires – I’ve been through it all. Storms don’t bother me and never have. I’m more likely to walk outside and see what’s happening than sit in front of the tv with concern. That was until PTSD, anyway.

I still don’t get bothered by severe weather. If anything, I prepare out of concern for my own convenience than because I think it’s necessary. I stocked up on groceries before everyone wiped out the grocery stores ahead of Hurricane Harvey just because I didn’t want to wait in long lines and I knew people would go bonkers the next day. I’m planning to stay home if we get the rainfall we are expected to get, and I will skip my social plans.

My brain has a totally different way of dealing with an approaching hurricane. My anxiety is skyrocketing with every decline in barometric pressure. I am freaking out.

I experience anxiety from several sources. Weather-induced anxiety is the weirdest for me because it is so disconnected from how I feel. My brain is flooding with anxiety chemicals as fast as my body can produce them, but I’m not actually scared, just exhausted because SEVERE ANXIETY IS EXHAUSTING.

I had a panic attack driving to an appointment this morning. The major source of PTSD for me was a car wreck on a rainy day, and I have had A LOT of driving-related anxiety. This was the first time that I have ever thought I might pass out and wreck the car. As I was driving I had to stay very conscious of my thoughts so that I didn’t let them wander off to death and destruction as the unavoidable consequence of being on the road. I can barely work today because – and many of you will relate to this – I just can’t.

So I set work aside for later and went for a walk (promptly got soaked through when the skies opened up and dumped rain on me mid-walk), that didn’t work so I took a shower and got into pajamas, that didn’t work so I rested for a bit, that didn’t work and that is why I have meds. I’ll take it easy this weekend, sit out the storm and take care of my anxious brain. I might be medicated all weekend, and I’m fine with that because I am able to differentiate my chemically-flooded brain from what is “normal” for me. I know I wouldn’t normally be anxious, I can call this what it is and I can address it. I am also not going to let it keep me from doing things that sound fun.

Recovered? No. Recovering? Hell yes! Bring it on, Harvey!