Flashbacks in the Rain

I almost died in a car wreck that happened in the rain. For the most part (and thanks to EMDR and a lot of therapy) I don’t really have problems anymore when I drive. When I do, I have coping skills that work well. So today was a pretty big surprise when I was driving in the rain on my way to a meeting and started having flashbacks, not about my car wreck, but about the day of my brother’s accident. Clear as anything were the memories of getting the call from my mom, picking up his truck, sitting in the ICU waiting room unable to pray and barely able to hold it together, leaning on the prayers and shoulders of friends.

I’ve rarely had flashbacks of my own trauma, much less that of someone else. And while that day was traumatic for me, it hasn’t had nearly the impact that my own trauma has.

As I began to write this post, I also began to ask why and to process what happened this afternoon. I’m dreaming again… I’m processing again… I’m resolving trauma again.

I am done being afraid of the hold the past has on me. I’ve survived this much this long, and I can deal with whatever else boils up. But this was interesting, because as much as the flashback experience while driving on slick roads was not pleasant, it didn’t shake me. I’m now more curious about it, about where it came from and why that day?

I dream when I’m relaxed or when I am processing. Emotions, events – they all get run through my dream cycles in full color and epic drama. I don’t dream the exact thing, I dream versions of it, or nothing at all related. I started dreaming again this week after a long time off. My resting heart rate is slowly dropping, I’m a little more calm during the day and now memories are emerging that probably haven’t been dealt with. The human brain is fascinating.

Am I excited by this? Nope. Am I afraid of it? Also nope. Gonna deal with it and move on…

!!20170401_165514

 

Managed Chaos

The first day off meds turned out to be the day I’ve been dreading, by horrible coincidence.

I might need to move my weekly therapy sessions to Tuesdays. Monday afternoons, for whatever reason, tend to hit me with a bat and keep whacking.

I was on my way to a meeting with a new client when my grandma called. She never calls during the workday because she is afraid she’ll interrupt something important. She doesn’t believe I silence my phone if I don’t want to be interrupted. Thankfully I  hadn’t done that yet because she called to tell me she had fallen and needed help getting up again. I found out when I got to her that she had been on the floor for three hours before she called. It took me 45 minutes to get through 30 miles of traffic and get to her. I literally picked her up off the floor and set her in her chair, then stayed to make sure she could use her walker again. I’ve been dreading this day. She has severe arthritis (which she refuses to have treated) and her left ankle has almost no cartilage left from years of dancing. She didn’t have the strength or flexibility to get herself up off the floor. She called me her Jesus for saving her.

I’m not even close, and that strength to lift her? That was Jesus, not me.

Yes, she or I could have called for help, but she was very embarrassed and she didn’t want anyone to know, because they might try to push her into a managed care facility and she deeply values her independence. I support her autonomy, so I got the call. I changed my meeting for later in the week (who gets mad at someone who has to go help their grandma?), calmly walked her through the process of getting her up again and didn’t make a fuss, as she says. I’ll be checking on her the next couple of days. That was the condition of my secret keeping.

My Mom is ill again. Not nearly as bad as before, but she slept really late this morning, which is concerning, and puts running the house back on me.

One of my brothers recently broke up with his girlfriend, whose alcoholism pushed him to a breaking point. Today he found out who she was cheating on him with. I supported him while I made dinner, since I was home much earlier than expected and Mom wasn’t up to it.

Did I mention I started weaning off my meds today? Thank goodness synthetic chemicals are hard to get out of your system and I won’t feel the effects for a while…

I’m gonna go stress eat now, because even after making dinner I didn’t get enough to make up for all the calories I burned today remaining calm…

The Depression Side of Recovery

This is the part I struggle against the most.

When I was diagnosed with PTSD I was also diagnosed with mild depression and prescribed a low dose SSRI. I haven’t upped the dose in the two years I’ve been on it, and based on my rapid tolerance increase for Xanax and alcohol (is there such a thing as having a pre-conditioned liver from a family history of substance abuse?), I am pretty sure the SSRI is useless at this point. I have a choice to make this winter, increase the dose or stop taking it, because it really isn’t having much effect for me and I like to take as few medications as possible.

I think the management of mental health by medication is an individual choice, and I have very little to say about other’s choices. What I know for me is that the goal is to gain enough stability through thought and behavioral changes that I can be medication-free, after using medication to help me through the process of getting stable. However, that means there will be not as good days. Depression kills my motivation to do ANYTHING, particularly anything that is good for me (I never want a salad when I’m experiencing depression, ya know?).

I am getting my ambition back, some of my creativity back, a lot of ME back. Depression kills all of that and stuffs it in a hole. Because I can’t predict depressive episodes, I never know when I will not be having it. Once upon a time I had the discipline to keep going and push through, but after doing that for two years following severe trauma, I can’t anymore. It isn’t there. The strength to push through is gone, and it’s incredibly frustrating because I want so badly for it to be there. I have things to do!

I am finally able to put those feelings into words, and the first step for me in any aspect of my recovery is usually understanding and acknowledging what is happening so that I can address it. I can say then, “I am experiencing depression. Depression causes a lack of motivation toward accomplishing things that are important to me. I can find a way to address this.” And that, y’all, is why I pay a therapist!

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.

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.

Which Pulls the Trigger?

We (my therapist and I) are asking what the root question is that not having the answer is so hard for me to handle.

Millennials and trigger warnings – we all roll our eyes, right?

I think I might have to get a t-shirt:

Warning: Don’t Trigger Me. 

I’m looking at you, grocery store parking lot drivers.

Four years after the event that gifted me with PTSD and a year and a half into therapy, we are finally able to start looking into why I still get triggered. Why my brain floods with a burst of chemicals that wreck me without chemical intervention. We (my therapist and I) are asking what the root question is that not having the answer is so hard for me to handle. Why did I end up crumpled on the floor last week? Why do I have so much anxiety about my brother? Why is work Such. A. Challenge.?

I had no idea you could even ask, much less answer those questions. I find it encouraging. I like that I can keep learning and growing and figuring this mess out, that I’m not stuck in a black abyss of not knowing. It’s hard work, and having to do this while my brother is both recovering and rebelling, while my mom is bedridden and while my clients are a collective dumpster fire is HARD.

But hell, it’s better than doing all of this and not believing I’ll be able to get a handle on my brain some day.