I’m home, I’m starting to experience the severe anxiety that usually comes after a work trip, and I am 3 for 3 this week! I had great receptions to both of my project presentations and succeeded in securing the permit my client needed to move forward with their business! It can be so hard to work with PTSD (it can be so hard to do anything with PTSD), and I am certainly in need of some calming and self-care, but I did it!
By the time Friday night rolls around, my brain is doing something like this:
(checking weather forecast) ok so I didn’t get around to my side projects for work this week and I could work on the mapping project tomorrow, or I could work on that paper I want to write…exercise would be good, but it’ll be pretty warm so maybe I’ll go for a walk if I get up early enough because I don’t want to sweat a lot…but I could work all afternoon and that would be fine, and it’ll help me get caught up so I’ll be ready to deal with whatever happens next week, and I’ve been wanting to get some forward progress on that mapping and haven’t done it…I really need to get my shit together…maybe Monday I’ll try to be better about eating and exercise, I just need to get caught up on these projects……………………
By the time Friday night rolls around, my body is doing something like this:
Wow, I still have a lot of tension in my shoulders, and the spot on my shoulder that sometimes has stabbing pain is flaring up…I really want to rest and take a break…are you noticing what is happening? I need you to take a time out and start writing about your trauma experiences, because you’re still stuck on a few things and you just learned that writing can be an effective way to integrate trauma…you’re also carrying a lot of tension in your hips and your breathing is still shallow a lot of the time, so take some time to practice yoga…you just learned that approaching yoga differently than you’ve done it so far could be really beneficial to your nervous system, so take some time to try that out and see what happens…………..
My weekends need some practice.
I am struggling this week. Losing Josh in the middle of the week that my body remembers as the most traumatic week of my life is just hard. I didn’t prepare for it because my therapist thinks that creating that expectation will make the week inevitably negative, but not preparing for it has just left me unprepared for what I’m experiencing. I worked well past midnight last night and have been busting my ass for the last few weeks. I’m busy with work, yes, but I am also using it to cope, per usual. I didn’t plan to take a day for myself to be still and reflective and work on reprogramming, I was going to travel out of town on an unnecessary work trip just to accommodate someone I have already over accommodated. This was not a good approach for my situation, and now with a funeral tomorrow and my owns needs and experiences not met or addressed, I am struggling to hold it together.
This shit is hard.
It’s likely that by Monday (or even before) I’ll be ok and the moment will have passed and I will have some freedom for a while. That does not help me today. Today my body hurts, I feel compressed and pinned, I want to isolate and disappear and be swallowed up and I am so consumed by stress (not anxiety, strangely) that I cannot let my foot off…
And in writing those last 6 words and reading them on the screen I realized what I am doing. I pushed down on the brake of my car so hard and for so long as I smashed down a highway that my heel was bruised. I tried so hard to stop the crash that could not be stopped that I have stayed that way, foot on the brake, for five years. I am that way now. My body feels like it did while I was bracing myself to die. It hurts.
I don’t know why today. Today isn’t the anniversary, but it’s the date that I’ve had in my head. The 14th will be the 5th anniversary by date, it was on a Monday. Today is the 11th, a Thursday, and it’s in the middle. I had a traumatic breakup (the back story covers four years so just understand that it was a severely traumatic moment) on October 8 or 9 (I can’t even remember things were so blurred at the time) so the 11th is in the middle of the two events that resulted in my PTSD diagnosis. It was too much for me to handle. I had no support. I had no way to talk about it. I just had to keep going. And my body remembers.
But now I know. I don’t quite know what to do about it, but if the first step is to recognize what’s happening and notice how it feels, there are surely more steps to take following that will lead away from what I’m experiencing now so that I don’t have to do it again. I would really like to let my foot off the brake.
For years I have coped with anxiety by numbing with food, work and spending money. I started spinning with anxiety at the end of the workday, and got agitated, not able to sit still but not able to find anything to do with myself, and I just wanted to eat. And I would have, normally. This time I went on a walk instead and listened to You Are a Badass. I ate after I got back because I had too much of a calorie deficit for the day, but by that point I wasn’t eating to numb or distract myself, I had resolved my anxiety and was starting to get a lot of creative thoughts and ideas. I don’t expect the challenge of changing how I cope with anxiety will be any less difficult anytime soon, but change starts with the first step.
It only took 9 words to trigger me so badly that I had to hang up the phone and fight for control of my brain. It only took 5 seconds for my body to flood with chemicals so hard that I could feel it happening and knew I had to get clear of anything that might compound the trauma I had just experienced (being triggered can be traumatizing) before I put myself at risk of losing control of my car again. I got triggered by a comment that conjured up a past horrific experience while driving on the road I nearly died on 5 years ago next month. There is no way to explain the pain and fear.
But I can explain that I knew how to manage it. I got off the phone quickly, I started breathing deeply, I reminded myself that I can perform mechanical tasks just fine when under extreme stress – and driving is a mechanical task – I reminded myself that I was safe from the thing that was terrifying my brain even if being on the interstate at a high speed was not particularly safe, that even if I wasn’t in control I never really am anyway so that wasn’t worth expending energy on, and if I wanted to drop my plans and go home, I could do that. If I wanted to pull off the road and get someone to come get me, I could. If I wanted to never talk to that person again, I could. If I never wanted to work again, I could. If I never wanted to drive again, I could.
I got to my work meeting and parked, then sat in the car for a minute to collect myself and check in now that I wasn’t focused on highway survival. It took 90 seconds before I started feeling tired and defeated. That kind of experience – going from focused and intentional to fighting for your life in the space of less than 10 words – is one that I’m still not sure how I survive.
What I can’t explain is how I called the person who triggered me back and made sure they understood that they can never use that phrase with me again. Ever. I can’t explain how I walked into the meeting and was fully present and engaged for five hours, including calling back a difficult client during the break and walking through what he was requesting. Or how I drove straight to another client’s office to sign legal paperwork needed required for a project, checked in on project progress and had a long chat with the admin about something I care nothing about (but she does) before I got back to my office to finish and submit an application that has a critical deadline more than 24 hours before that deadline. I turned right around on a phone call and addressed an asinine response from a city official to plans I had submitted, made the “corrections” to keep the peace (even if everything was right there in the documents and the revisions were a complete waste of my time) and finished up with a 10 hour day…10 hours after I was triggered.
I ate whatever the hell I wanted for dinner. Which amounted to half a baked potato and a slice of bread in addition to what was otherwise a normal keto meal.
PTSD is a living hell. But life goes on, and I’m going with it.
For the decade or so of my career before I started a company, I worked for companies that had abusive work cultures. I didn’t know it could be different, and I had been raised to not be a problem and not think my needs were important. I had a boss that would goof off all day, then make my work partner and I stay 2-3 hours late so that he felt like he was getting something done. We had already been working all day and had gotten our work done, so we were pretty resentful, and him taking us out to lunch once or twice a month did nothing to make up for his horrible management style and how hard I had to work to cover his mistakes.
I worked for two generations of ownership who all thought that as long as you were on salary you had to work as much as they wanted doing whatever they wanted. It was not out of the norm for me to miss lunch or to do something completely outside my job description, or to work 80-90 hours a week, once for three months straight. I missed holidays that I was owed per my position and HR refused to comp them when I could finally take the time off. My bosses were verbally abusive, more especially when I was trying to keep up out of legal trouble, and I was frequently given 4 hours to do a project that needed (and that most people would take) 2 weeks to do. The day I walked out of there on my own choice was one of the best moments of my life.
When I started a company, I brought all of the bad habits with me. I ignored my needs and a work style that fit me best and accommodated my business partner and my clients, not taking time to manage myself, my company and my work in a healthy and productive way. I felt like I was never doing enough, so I worked on projects and took very little time to work on the company.
That all stopped when I announced I was divorcing my business partner. That all stopped when I finally started doing what is best for me and the work that I love. I started taking more time to work on the company, getting template documents set up, getting my accounts the way they need to be set up and getting all of my files organized and cleaned up. I started putting down work when I was done for the day and not pushing myself to work more because I thought it (and I) wasn’t good enough or hadn’t done enough. I stopped answering my phone on weekends. I stopped saying I could do anything or that my clients could skirt all of the rules they didn’t like. I started building boundaries for the pro bono work I take on. I started setting boundaries for my schedule. I started acknowledging I have needs as a person that need to be met. I started investing in software training so that I can be better at my job.
I started doing my thing for me with my rules and my boundaries. And I’m so proud of myself when I look back at what I’ve overcome.
I was at my desk, ready to work this morning by 8am. I wasn’t hungry, despite my juice-only meals yesterday, I felt good and my resting heart rate last night was 65 bpm – probably the lowest it’s been this year.
Looks like the hard work of recovery is starting to pay off.