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!

Burnt. Toast.

“It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’m back from my brief stint in relative seclusion, and I have nothing left today. Everyone is going to get “no” as a response. Everyone.

I deeply enjoyed my weekend in the desert. I did not enjoy coming back to sub-freezing temps, and that short break was enough to highlight the things in my life that are really weighing on me.

It really bothers me that no one asks me how I’m doing. No one close to me, that is. If they do, it’s a surface level question, and any response I have that isn’t “great!” gets dropped as though I didn’t just say “I’m not doing well today.” My people aren’t checking in with me. Strangers and acquaintances, sure, but not my family and close friends. No one asked how my flight was, and I’m scared to death of flying. No one celebrated with me that I didn’t have to take Xanax for either flight. My Mom wanted details of my trip while I was hauling my luggage upstairs. Yes, I want to give you every detail of my weekend while I’m struggling to drag a suitcase and a couple of small bags up to my room. Can it wait ten minutes?

I hide most of what I experience because sometimes I don’t even understand it, and because I have yet to see it help for me to say what’s going on. “I’m having a bad day” or any other version of it gets met with the appearance of indifference. I can understand it must be hard to look at me or talk to me and know that I don’t blurt out what I feel, I need time to work out how to talk about it. If I ever did blurt it out, I would terrify everyone, because I exist in a painful reality. There would be screaming and yelling and probably a few punches thrown. So I keep it in, and I don’t get the time to slowly release it to someone. And they otherwise don’t see it so…it’ doesn’t exist? And I’m fine. And I can do anything. And Ashley is so strong and capable.

I am because I don’t have an option. There is no space in your life for me to be anything else. I do what I have to do to survive.

Therapy was rough this morning. I cried a lot. When we got to the root of my tears, it was that I don’t feel like I matter. I have been busting my ass for a lot of people, and don’t feel like I’m getting any of that in return. My business partner picked me up from the airport in the cold yesterday, and that was the most someone has gone out of the way for me in…ever? As much as I can grouse about him, he can hear what I need and just do it, no questions, no judgment and no making it about him. He said such a kind thing to me yesterday when I thanked him for picking me up, “It’s just what you do all the time.”

I’ve been driving around, working with clients, writing documents, getting us more work, taking care of my increasingly frail grandma, trying to keep the chaos at home to a dull roar and being emotionally supportive to the point that I feel burned up. I wanted to say “no” to everyone today. I don’t want to answer calls or respond to emails. I certainly didn’t want to comfort my grandma or work on my business partner’s project to help him finish or be supportive of David while he swoops in long enough to be supported and encouraged then disappears again to go help someone else. Anyone else but me. Because for whatever reason, me not having a good day only merits an, “I hope you feel better.”

Well shit, I hope I feel better too. It’d be nice if I didn’t have to do it alone…

Threat Level Calm Down

I would rather not want to punch someone in the throat every time I get asked a question.

There are Monday mornings that I go to therapy in my pajamas. Then there are Monday mornings that I go to therapy fully dressed and feeling good. Today was the second of those. Probably because I slept this weekend.

We agreed that my Friday night driving trigger was most likely caused by my being on high alert for the past two weeks. Imminent threat on top of elevated threat response = I went to the moon. She commented that I seemed very protective of myself today in the way I was talking. Yep. I’m a little feisty.

I did really well last week in doing yoga every day. Ten minute sessions, and I only missed Friday (busy freaking out, and whatever). Big step forward? YES. BECAUSE I DID SOMETHING FOR MYSELF EVERY DAY AND DIDN’T MAKE EXCUSES.

In working toward a balance that I can live a better life with, I’m doing as little work as possible this week so that I can prioritize my well being. Last two weeks were all the work and all the energy into other people. This week is work and energy into me, so that I can hopefully get past this lingering cough and have the energy and focus I need to trust my instincts and make some moves. It’s getting close to decision time, and I am not in a good place to make big decisions. Yet.

I don’t expect other people to change or adapt to me, and I would rather not want to punch someone in the throat every time I get asked a question, so time to do some restorative things to get my threat level down to a reasonable level and get on to the next thing.

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…

When People Say Dumb Things About the Hell I Live With

I stopped dead in my annoyed tracks and realized what had actually happened.

That dick friend of mine? Surprising to no one, his mom is what some might call…rigid.

Being “out” about PTSD (the car wreck part, I rarely open up about the rest of it) and being fairly open about my experience with anxiety, triggers and medication means that I get to hear a lot of dumb things. I don’t accept that “people mean well”, because they don’t, and that is a garbage excuse for projecting your ignorance onto someone who has an injury. I said the same when my brother was hurt. If you don’t know what to say, ask.

So this mom is a very religious and fairly judgmental person, and has actually said, when she learned that I see a therapist, “Well, I’m glad that works for you.”

It does. It’s like physical therapy, but for my brain. People have to work hard to get their bodies functional again after trauma and injury, and my brain is part of my body. Pretty simple. Also pretty hard for her to not say dumb things about.

I was annoyed yesterday at church when she asked how I’m doing and I excitedly told her I have been able to calm myself twice now (three times including last night!) without medication. She immediately wanted to know what role Scripture played in me doing that.

None.

She’s of the view (that I see pretty often at church) that the Bible holds all of the answers for healing mental health issues. You just pray and memorize enough verses and it goes away. We can take our kids to the surgeon for broken arms, but if you have broken brain? Just pray! Hahahahahahahaha. No.

I gave her a compromise between my actual experience and what she wanted to hear, because I didn’t want to talk about it anymore. I later shot an expletive her way when I was telling my mom about it.

I stopped dead in my annoyed tracks and realized what had actually happened.

She had tried to equate her experience with depression (some kind of six month deal that “went away” either post-partum or at another time in her life, I don’t recall) with PTSD. Not the same. Not even close. And not because her experience is less valid or less important or less difficult, but because they are simply just two different experiences altogether. And I in my annoyance at her clumsy words I had missed what she was really trying to say.

She’s asking me to validate her experience.

She doesn’t have the freedom to look anywhere but the Bible for mental healing and health. She doesn’t have exposure to someone who comfortably works with the science and feels no shame about her extra-Scriptural approach to healing brain trauma. She is having her assumptions challenged and her perspective widened, and that means she might have done it wrong. Which is scary.

Which really isn’t wrong, it just maybe isn’t the most comprehensive or helpful way to look at it.

Being out and still in recovery is hard. But not as hard as not knowing and feeling how she probably feels because she doesn’t understand her experience and doesn’t know where to place it in the way she practices her faith. I’m not annoyed anymore, I’m a little sad and reminded, once again, to always be kind first.

I Got My Ass Kicked Again

It opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

And once again, I deserved it.

Twice in the last year I have said something that I did not intend to be harmful, and have gotten called out on it by women whom I respect. They let me know how they perceived my words, I apologized and explained my position, and through civil and forgiving dialogue the relationship was restored.

This time I had said a few negative observations about someone at church and her boyfriend (she’s dating the roommate of this guy), and I had said them to people who did not take them for what they were and move on. My comments turned to gossip, word got around to her through three people, and she asked me to meet her for coffee.

I’ll call her Linda because that works well for an idea I have that I’ll write about in a later post.

I don’t know Linda very well, but she has come across as cold, detached and not willing to invest in the group. That has not sat well with a few people, and some group dynamics have not been very receptive to her perceived attitude. I certainly have not been receptive to it. For her to ask me to coffee was weird. Not thanks, I don’t like you.

But this is church, and I didn’t want to be starting something by declining, so I figured I’d better hear her out, even if she was also going to lay into me for who I choose to date (or anti-date, as the case may be).

She blew me away.

She said she had heard that I had said some unkind things about her, and wanted to know first if that was true, and if so, had she done something to upset me? I was sitting across from a woman ten years younger, being schooled on maturity and kindness. I didn’t think I’d said what she had heard, so I told her that I had made some negative observations, that without knowing who said exactly what it was hard for me to know if the gossip was true but that didn’t matter, because I was sorry I had hurt her and I had no business talking about her, especially since I didn’t know her well. She graciously accepted my apology, then the magic of authenticity happened.

She asked if she had heard correctly that I have PTSD. Yes, I’m open about the car wreck aspect of my diagnosis, and have found that sharing that connects me to people who do not feel as comfortable talking about what their experience is. There can be so much shame with PTSD. I have a platform for talking about it that doesn’t have to get into the years of abuse, and I use that. She doesn’t have that cover, which I quickly understood as we spoke. She’s were I was, experiencing the after-effects of trauma without knowing what to do. As we shared our experiences and I told her that it’s more than a car wreck for me, she bravely told me her story, one that I related to, and one I understood.

When you have PTSD and you meet someone who understands and lets you know that they will give you only acceptance and not judgement, it is freeing. It’s a big step toward getting out of the prison. I have had people open the door to freedom for me, and I had the chance to open the door for her. It was wonderful, and I am kind of glad I got called out for gossip, because it opened the door to the kind of thing that moves the earth on its axis a bit.

That kind of experience also drains me, and I had a panic attack later that evening because I was too tired to manage anxiety. I ended up stonewalling (new term for me, I’m learning so much this week!) David, and shutting down, then texting him an hour later to try to explain what had happened. I had been triggered by something that connected to past abuse, and it took me a while to track it in my brain. I keep stumbling into these triggers and it’s exhausting.

This whole week has been exhausting. I have put so much energy and work into relationships and into myself. I’m back to work so I’m having to balance some tense dynamics there, and heading into the weekend I’ll be working with my grandma on her end of life directives. I may just stay home on Sunday and hide!

The work is worth it, and I’m so grateful for what I’m seeing happen from acting with kindness, honesty and acceptance.

 

Restoring Through Yoga

I am rarely present these days, but I don’t often catch myself.

You know those really cool, sexy yogi photos of very attractive women in awe-inspiring yoga poses in spectacular locations?

That’s not me.

I started early this year on the recommendation of my therapist. I haven’t done yoga in two months or so until this week, and I can tell. I think I’m less connected to myself and my emotions, I’ve had a little more physical pain than I was when I was practicing yoga for a couple of hours a week, and definitely more tension. I find yoga really helps, and it’s a great time for me to practice focusing.

As I was moving through a half hour video yesterday, I began thinking about what I was going to make for dinner later. I caught myself. I wasn’t present, I wasn’t focused, I wasn’t working on what the yoga session was for, I was thinking about squeezing lemons and what kind of cheese was in my fridge.

I am rarely present these days, but I don’t often catch myself. Yoga is the tool for me to do that, to understand how to observe my mind and my body and begin to make changes based on those observations. If I can be more present, be more observant and make more time for myself (like yoga practice), I can start correcting the thoughts that are contributing to anxiety and sending me in the wrong direction. It’s another way to restore, and another tool I’m more committed to making use of as I go through the next stage of my recovery.