Letters to Linda – Feeling Overwhelmed

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Dear Linda,

I, too, would rather stay in bed and watch tv…pretty much all the time. And I don’t even have that much interest in television, it just usually seems like a better alternative to having to think or having to be alone with my thoughts. Or deal with people, or deadlines, or obligations, or people, or…anything.

I think it’s important to know that there is a difference between feeling overwhelmed and being overwhelmed. They’re very similar, but as I’ve mentioned, anxiety will make you think things that aren’t true, and part of recovery is working toward acknowledging what is the real situation and what is anxiety. Most of the time when you feel overwhelmed, it’s the anxiety talking. And anxiety is loud. Sometimes you really are overwhelmed, and that can happen when you experience a trigger. I have two different approaches, depending on what I identify as my experience.

If I am feeling overwhelmed, and for me that means I feel like I have so much to do and it’s hard and I’ll never get it done and PANIC, I have to stop and assess – rationally – what is the least amount I can do today? What has to be done and what can wait? What will be a real problem if I don’t complete that today, or attend today, or do today? What can I do tomorrow or a different day and it will be fine?

No really, it will be fine if I don’t do that today.

Usually if I stop and assess rather than let anxiety dictate my to-do list, things become much more manageable and less scary. Then I push aside things that do not have to happen today and see about getting started with what does have to be done. And the rule is only one thing at a time until I finish. This way I reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed, I feel more in control and things feel more manageable and achievable – which makes me feel better, which makes things easier to do.

If I am being overwhelmed (by anxiety), it’s a different experience. For me it’s usually a PTSD trigger, it has nothing to do with how much I have on my plate and everything to do with my brain being flooded with whatever my neurons just went wild about. I used to keep going and try to force myself to work or clean or ANYTHING to not address it, which was not a healthy thing to do. These days, I acknowledge that I got triggered, I find a place to rest, I drop everything, I may or may not call someone in my support circle, and I rest until it passes. Sometimes that’s ten minutes, sometimes it’s four hours, doesn’t matter, it’s time I need to recover.

Yes, I can still go to class or meetings or drive or function when I’m being overwhelmed, and I do if I really have to. It’s a judgement call every time. But if I stop and rest rather than pushing myself and not taking that time out, I recover so much faster and so much better than if I ignore it. I’m taking care of myself when I do this and acknowledging that my condition is legitimate and deserving of care and space, rather than telling myself I’m not worth it. If you knew I was triggered, you would help me get to a safe place and do what you could to see that I was comfortable and cared for. Do the same for you!

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!

Life is a Gift

I cried.

I got triggered while driving again last night. Two cars stopped IN A LANE IN THE MIDDLE OF THE HIGHWAY to deal with their fender bender. No pulling off the road, no hazard lights, no brake lights…until the line of speeding cars in front of me slammed their brakes and started swerving.

It set me off…lately imminent threat throws the trigger switch. I stayed calm and breathed until we got to David’s house. Then I cried and had to lay down for a bit. I drove home rather than staying the night, and I hated every minute of that drive. Every. Minute.

This morning I’m still a little shaky, and I got maybe 5 hours of sleep last night because I got home so late and was up early for the weekly walk and talk with my business partner. He failed to wake up, however, so I grabbed some bagels for myself and my parents and ended up in a long talk with them about what’s next for me.

I’ve been given a very substantial gift, they let me know this morning. It’ll let me focus on what I want to for the next six months or so without having to worry about having to sustain myself. No strings attached, just a gift.

I cried.

I don’t understand something like this landing in my lap. I’m still trying to process this kind of generosity. It doesn’t mean I don’t have to work as hard, it just means that I have some room to fail or grow or both without it taking me out. It also means I don’t have to side hustle this weekend, so I’m taking that opportunity to rest and recover and think about what I want to do.

Grateful doesn’t even get there, but it’s a start.

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…

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.

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…

Restoring Through Energy Balance

After months in an anxiety hole, this feels so good.

I was on high speed New Year’s Day.

I went to bed NYE finishing off a bottle of Proseco and a grilled cheese sandwich, I woke up feeling a bit hungover and chugged a quart of water while I scrolled around on my phone. My usual Earl Grey with half and half later and I was full of energy and purpose.

I can’t even remember the last time I had energy and purpose.

Either the Proseco had some magic in it, or all of the work, the thought and the decisions I had been making over the previous week converged into some amazing results. I’m also nearly two weeks into tapering off the antidepressant, and I am finding that my energy, creativity and motivation are WAY UP. I had no idea. Anxiety is also up, but I am recognizing and addressing it in ways that I have not been motivated to do before now.

Cool, right?

It was too cold out for this kid (I am a hot weather girl), and as much as I had the energy to go run around outside, I decided to channel that energy into inside stuff. Into clearing some of my spaces, making small changes that made me a little happier, following through on the meditation intention I had to release hatefulness, which you can read on my post Restoring Through Releasing Others’ Hatefulness, pulling out my little notebook to start writing down thoughts and experiences, and generally doing things that made me happier and feel more accomplished.

After months in an anxiety hole, this feels so good.

Before I started paying more attention to caring for myself, I would have run around on high speed all day, done all the things, worked myself up and crashed in the evening with a panic attack. Now that I’m beginning to understand the concept of balance a bit better, I worked at the things I wanted to do until I reached a point of satisfaction, then I stopped, sat down and read for a bit. I moved from high energy to low intentionally so that I didn’t crash later. Enough was good enough. Maybe sometimes balance is also stopping to appreciate your hard work. I like this so much better.