Getting Me Back

Sex and dating have been the last big issues I haven’t really dealt with post-PTSD. I didn’t have to, so I didn’t, and figured I’d deal with it when I had to. Well, now I have to if I want this relationship to continue. Which I do, because Client’s Brother is an incredible surprise, and I’d like to see where we go. He knows I still have a lot of shit to work through, and he’s kind and compassionate about it. Since I have a giant question mark about my reactions to everything (post-assault I am pretty skittish about, well, everything), I have no idea what I’m comfortable with and what I’m not. I have so many negative emotions about sex and dating, and changing that is going to take time and energy that I don’t yet have available for this. He’s walking through this with me, and I couldn’t really ask for more. It’s quite wonderful.

As I’m rolling into the end of the work year and things slow down for about a month, I have some space to step away from the office and focus on myself. It’s time I really need to do this, to get ME back. I need to form different coping habits, need to resolve some background noise and pursue some things that bring me joy, things that I haven’t had the energy to pursue. As much as the recovery process is central to my life, I’m ready to move beyond recovery and be more than the anxiety and scars. I think that identity was ok for a while, and I think it gave me a bit of shelter, but I’m more than the scars and want to be more than the anxiety. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions, I don’t start things on Mondays and I try to avoid high-expectation change scenarios. I’d rather start something on a Tuesday in April. So no end-of-year or new year plans, just seems like the right time to push myself forward a bit and regain some of what I like about myself.

Week One Off the Meds

When they all seem to conspire against you…

I’m not going to post about this every week, but I have made it through the first week of coming off my medications. It was hell. And I’m still full of synthetic chemicals. 

The situations and circumstances around me were the real issue, not my response to quitting my first prescription. I’m ok. Maybe a little more grumpy, a little more intense and a little more looking for connection. There’s also a slight internal shift I can’t put my finger on yet. I might have a little more ability to push through? I think I might also be slimming down a tad. Or it was the 6 hours of playing ball on Wednesday…

Between my family, my friends and my job, the week was bonkers. I’m not sure who called who to sabotage my sanity this week, but they did their damndest. I don’t hate people any more than usual though, and I successfully ran a meeting full of strangers, so… Maybe that was a test? I guess I passed? 

I reckon it’ll be January before I’m completely off everything. That’s a bit ambitious, but I’m nothing if not ambitious. And if this goes the way I’m planning for it to, I’ll be much better off by my birthday. 

I Had To Go Be Public Me

It’s exhausting though. Because this has been a hard couple of weeks for me, and I have very little spare energy at the moment, and I just poured it into a bunch of strangers. 

Anxiety makes things harder, amirite?

I had to go be public me all day yesterday – the charming, attentive, engaged, contributing, smiling, listen to your whole life story and make you feel good for telling it me. It’s not an act, it’s authentic. I enjoy being out and about and meeting people and making things happen. I also like to be rewarded with yummy food for showing up, not gonna lie.

It’s exhausting though. Because this has been a hard couple of weeks for me, and I have very little spare energy at the moment, and I just poured it into a bunch of strangers.

Before I would not have thought about it in those terms. I would have done my job, fulfilled my obligations and gone on the next day with no break in the schedule. It was a pace that kept me from having to deal with myself. A year and a half later, I able to say, “Oh hey that was a lot yesterday given where I am right now so today would be good for taking it easy.” And I do.

And I’m doing it without stress eating. I cannot tell you what a big thing that is for me.

I didn’t binge eat when I got home last night. I had some toast with butter because I was a little hungry but not really. I had toast with a scrambled egg this morning because, again, I was a little hungry but not starving. I had my tea with half and half as usual.

I did not melt down into a binge-eating, guilt-inducing mess. That is worth celebrating. The painful process of scraping out what’s left in the deep recesses of my trauma experience was so worth it, because of how I was able to handle yesterday and today with a calm and gentleness that I have rarely afforded myself in the last several years. Yes.

12 Hours of Sleep Later

I let out so much trauma yesterday.

Yesterday having a therapy session coincide with a trauma anniversary was really a gift. After a few months of distraction by the happenings of life, I got back to what had been holding me back from living. Feeling at peace with something that had taken me three and a half years to even verbalize, forgiving myself, not placing any expectations for what the next few days would look like…thank God I’ve come so far.

I was exhausted yesterday. I felt like I worked all day but accomplished nothing (not true, got a lot done, but didn’t produce anything new and I like to produce work), and by the time 4pm rolled around I was ready to bounce out of the office and go for a walk to clear my head. I did, it was very hot, and I was ready for shower, dinner and bed when I got home. Shower, pizza and bed, more specifically, because I wasn’t about to cook and pizza sounded like the ticket, which it was.

Part of my recovery struggle has been with food, because I tend to stress eat (I think they call it eating your feelings) and my weight has, throughout my adult life, often been 30-40 pounds above where I would like it to be. Now is such a case, and I tend to experience guilt over eating foods that aren’t “healthy” because that’s how it works, right? You eat healthy food, you aren’t overweight. Except that’s not how it works for me. One of the things I said yesterday was “I have no shame about it.” There are more places in my life that I can speak those words with authenticity. Like eating pizza.

I’ve discovered that when I sleep and take time for myself, when I don’t focus on food, when I don’t have cortisol production going 24/7, I don’t have to worry about what I eat, even after 30. So it was never about the food, it was about the unresolved trauma that kept stacking up until it got to be too much. Now that I’m processing it all and learning better ways to think about my experiences, I can eat pizza guilt-free because it’s no longer about comforting myself, it’s about enjoying some pizza, and I don’t over-enjoy it. I can put it down. I did last night, then fell asleep early and woke up when I was ready. 12 hours later.

My body needed that. I let out so much trauma yesterday. Early on in therapy I used to come home exhausted, and this was similar to that. But this time I let myself rest and sleep and shout-out to my business partner who is so accepting and accommodating of my needs. I am still on slow-roll and that is FINE. I don’t have to hit it hard every day. Yesterday was about acknowledging how hard I’ve been hit and being proud of how hard I’ve worked to heal.

Saturday Morning Rocket Math

It will take a lot of math, the level I like to call “rocket math” (“rocket science” is really just a bunch of math, in my mind).

I was texting a friend last night in between him prepping for a chili competition today and me being the driver while out with my girlfriends. He asked how my love life was, which made me laugh because that’s about the last thing on my mind. I think he was checking to make sure I’m still single but I have cognitive distortion so there’s no telling. Ha!

I responded with how I felt in the moment, but my own words stuck with me:

Sitting in the ICU for 9 days while we waited to see if they could save my brother’s fingers was horrible. Doing nothing but care for my family and try to keep my company going for three months was hard. The transition month going back to dealing with my trauma was almost worse. I have had no business dating.

I’m just about through all the shit I’ve had to slog through in therapy, and I think I’ll be open to dating in another month or so. Just hasn’t been important while I’ve been in survival mode.

You know the best part of my week right now? A coffee shop opened downtown. It’s run by a surfer hippie. I know you don’t drink coffee but their cold brew is the best I’ve had and doesn’t cause me anxiety. They have a bagel guy who makes the best bagels I’ve ever had, and I get up early on Saturday morning no matter how exhausted I am and go get coffee and bagels. That has been my thing just for me for a couple of months.  As much as I love coffee and bagels, I would like to have more in my life that’s just for me than that.

Which is one of the reasons I was up early this morning after a late night out doing “rocket math” with my business partner. We have a passion project that we first cooked up in graduate school that we are now starting to formalize into a written theoretical framework. It will take a lot of math, the level I like to call “rocket math” (“rocket science” is really just a bunch of math, in my mind).

I used to think I couldn’t do math like this. I used to think I couldn’t do a project of this intellectual magnitude. Yes, I can. And if I can do rocket math, I can have a few more things that are just for me.

Lightbulb! Intentional About Reducing Cortisol Production

After reading some articles and helpful blogs, I realized that maybe it was something else – lack of sleep, and too much cortisol production.

Because this whole “self-care” thing is still a fairly new concept to me (I was raised on the absolute opposite approach, to just work harder when things get hard), I am still – kid you not – learning about how to give my body a break so that I am not constantly producing cortisol, which I have been doing for…maybe the last 14 years or so? Now that I’m past 30 and not as fit as I was before my car wreck, I have wrinkles, silver hair starting to shimmer its way through my medium brown and stomach fat that has never previously existed. Laugh at me all you want, my tummy is a new and not exciting part of my body.

I wanted to blame it on being out of shape and my eating habits and getting a little older and just the natural course of life. After reading some articles and helpful blogs, I realized that maybe it was something else – lack of sleep, and too much cortisol production.

Right before my brother’s accident, I had come to a really good place in my recovery, was starting to sleep, balance life and lose weight rapidly. After his accident I was on high alert 24/7 for months, constantly under a lot of stress and did not sleep much. My weight gain was more than noticeable, it was opposite the trend I had started just prior to his accident.

It’s taken me nearly 5 months to realize that while a lot of other things in my life have not been conducive to excellent health and fitness, my lack of focus on the real culprits was what was causing the most damage. It’s not uncommon for my whole body to hurt for reasons I can’t explain. I haven’t been able to get my weight back down. And I couldn’t work my way to achieving my goals.

This is much more than a glass of wine, a pedicure and a bubble bath (and anyway I’ve had to quit drinking because my anxiety levels are currently bringing out alcoholism tendencies that I don’t want to tempt), this is a condition that has to be addressed for what it is.

So, I am very intentional about sleep, and lots of it. I went to sleep before 9pm last night to make sure I got a very good rest before going out with my girlfriends later (my body is so long-term sleep deprived that I can get 10 hours without trying). I am also working to be aware of stress and try to address it immediately by asking myself, “Does this need to cause me stress?” “Can I approach this more calmly?” “If this is causing me stress, can I choose to not participate?”

I am having to work at these new coping skills, but the work is worth it if I can beat back my two biggest harms and have a better quality of life (and a slightly flatter tummy 😉

Caring For Others When You Can’t Care For Yourself

I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself.

I am done taking care of other people.

That was my thought Saturday night as I waited somewhat impatiently for my chickens to leave my house and go home (chickens being my group of younger friends who I generally adore but sometimes get worn out with). In the last two and a half weeks I have done back to back post-surgery for my brother, care for my very ill mother (who is much better now), running my firm (which got super-intense last week when things got challenging with every single client’s project at once), running my parent’s house while my Dad was out of state on business, helping some of the guys win over the girls they like, and dealing with the absolute nonsense spewing from a friend who dumped her boyfriend and is now taking her need for attention out on the rest of the group.

I am seriously thinking about getting them back together just to give the rest of us (me especially) a break.

Which brings me to one of the most challenging realities of PTSD for me: it is so much easier to care for (read meddle with) other people than it is to take care of myself. Not only that, but when I do get caught up in taking care of and meeting the needs of others, it takes me some time to wind down from it. I have a lot more anxiety now than I did last week, because I have all of the residual anxiety that hasn’t been addressed or sorted or dealt with while I have done nothing for myself. I’m also resentful that as much as I have been taking care of others, not only do they not acknowledge what I’ve done (family especially), they don’t care for me (again, family especially).

Enter therapy this morning, where I had to put names to my emotions, face these challenges and acknowledge that one of the core issues that I struggle with having PTSD is I experience anxiety when I don’t know.

I was in a very abusive relationship in which I was horribly betrayed a week before my car wreck. I didn’t understand it as abusive at the time because years of abusive employers had done a number on me (whole other story for another day), and I am coming to realize that what causes me the most anxiety is not knowing. I would really rather know the worst than not know. Some of that comes from being manipulated by someone I thought I could trust, some of it comes from genuinely thinking I was about to die. There is a lot of unknown when your car is smashing around and you are in complete sensory overload.

So now I get to begin to work toward sitting peacefully with not knowing, with understanding that anxiety will not bring resolution. It’s a little much to take in today. I’m going to need some time to process. I’m starting with making a plan to reorganize my workspace to be better for me (which I was going to do two weeks ago but didn’t because I was busy with others) and I’m listening to Brene Brown’s TED talks.

This is hard. This part is really hard. Onward.