Whirling Through the Week – Until I Hit a Wall

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable.

I had a lot going on this week.

I had some kind of idea that work would slowly pick up over the month and I could adjust. Nope, things blew up this week and I’ve been scrambling to do it all. Plus I had to be “public me” a lot, and spent a lot of time managing conflicts, in conferences and meetings and taking on more work. Not surprisingly, I hit a wall this afternoon and started to slide into a panic attack.

I have been doing a lot to recognize and address past trauma, which I am increasingly aware was in great part due to abusive communication, and when I have already hit my stress limit I have a really hard time not taking everything the wrong way.

Basically, if I start saying I’m tired, there is a meltdown on the way.

I realized today that I have a tendency to recoil in preparation for a verbal beating when I start toward a panic attack. I start making plans to isolate, I use any and every excuse for why I must not bother someone and I make a really big deal out of something that hasn’t even happened. My brain, in the process of wrecking, ties communication to abuse and prepares me for it by telling me to shut down and shut out.

This is without there being any verbal beating or any communication abuse. Or any abuse. Or…anything.

Sometimes dealing with this shit is really weird.

It’s a little terrifying too. I was in the middle of talking to a client, changing a drawing and trying to tell David what was happening so that I could hopefully stop the process of making problems where there weren’t any. He reminded me to breathe, and that helped for a few hours, but now I’m back in a similar place, where I’m making a lot of assumptions and creating problems that aren’t there. I’m glad I’m starting to recognize what’s happening, but dealing with it while I’m also exhausted and have hit my stress limit for the week is challenging.

I did a couple of yoga classes when I finished work to try to continue the process of calming. They were more meditative than active, and I found the word vulnerable coming up repeatedly as I stilled my body and slowed my breathing. As in be vulnerable.

The last thing you want to be when your brain is wrecking on past trauma is vulnerable. I want to put up my defenses and not have to challenge myself and my thinking and repeat to myself that I am experiencing cognitive distortion and that things are not what I am making them out to be. I would way rather tuck in and take a Xanax than sit in pain and stop the negative, destructive thought patterns that I lived with for a few years.

I’m done waiting for a better time to deal with this. There isn’t a time that I will be less busy, will be in a better place, will have less on my plate, will have my shit together or will be more ready for a relationship. I can’t put my life on hold because this shit is hard, and I have so much opening up to me. I think that was the message in yoga. When the choice is before me, and the choice is hard, time to choose vulnerable.

First Successful Trigger Cope of 2018

It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…

The work is paying off.

I’ve spent the last week or so working on new coping techniques for anxiety while I didn’t have a lot of anxiety (relative to what I can and often do experience). I’ve learned to not pressure myself to learn new things while putting my energy into dealing with intense anxiety episodes, which is why my default anxiety food is still grilled cheese.

I found out two days ago that a friend of mine from grad school had been hit by a car on Christmas, and was in the hospital recovering from severe injuries. It wasn’t long before I starting thinking I might want to prepare for a trigger…and sure enough it was a trigger.

I dropped what I was doing and went through a yoga practice. Didn’t sit around stewing or freaking out or getting really emotional, I acknowledged what my brain was doing, let it go, chose another way to think about it, and did yoga for a while. It stopped the trigger experience, and I was left with mild to moderate anxiety the rest of the day instead of a massive panic attack.

I’ve been practicing yoga every day for a week in the hopes that getting accustomed to that will help me not have such a barrier to accessing that tool when I get triggered. Different coping tools for different trigger, but this one was a success, and the first trigger of the year didn’t become the first panic attack of the year. #grateful

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.

I Got Up and Did Yoga

Something clicked for me last night. Something lit up that said this wasn’t going to happen without intention. Duh.

A few weeks ago I bought a book on mindfulness on the recommendation of my therapist. No secret that I am not where I want to be mentally, and I have not been doing much in the way of things that are highly likely to improve myself and give me an edge in my ongoing battle with PTSD. I’ve been flat losing the battle the last couple of weeks. I think some days I don’t want it enough. It’s misery to wallow in it, but then sometimes I don’t know where to find the energy to push out. Yeah, I’ll confess I’ve been wallowing.

I opened The Mindfulness Toolbox last night while I was spending some quality time with anxiety. Sometimes just opening a helpful book is enough to give me a push forward. I liked the first tool so much – working through how you talk about mindfulness. The author pointed out that mindfulness or meditation can be hangups for people of personal or religious backgrounds that aren’t very open to those words, and offered a lot of other ways to think and talk about mindfulness. I was initially attracted to “take a pause”, but on reflection I realized that is exactly what I don’t want to do. Wallowing in anxiety is a pause – I put my life on pause to do that. If I am going to practice being mindful and really get to working on my brain, I don’t think I want to pause, I think I want to flow.

Have I mentioned that I really like this book? And that was just the first couple of pages.

I also did yoga when I got up this morning. Not “I’ll do it later” or “I’ll do it when I get this other stuff done” or “eh I’m barely in shape to hold a downward dog, maybe I can work my way back up to it”. No excuses, no wallowing, I just went for it…I think for the first time in almost 2 months?

Something clicked for me last night. Something lit up that said this wasn’t going to happen without intention, and no one is going to do it for me (duh, I have overall very little support, much less help, which I am pretty sure contributes to the wallowing). It’s also possible that I am experiencing the emotional distress that my therapist warned me was a possible side effect of going off the meds. That should be temporary, which is good news, but rough while it lasts, which is why it’s good I’m finally opening that book and getting on my yoga mat.

Starting to Feel My Strength

What has been interesting about this short break is that instead of feeling weak or fat or lazy or other self-critical feelings about my unplanned pause, I felt stronger.

It’s such a good feeling to come out of a PTSD episode (I don’t even know what to call it, so let’s go with that). At the same time my brain started to let off I finished a work deadline with time to spare and some good news about being exempt from a state review. I also got an extra part of the project completed for now and was pleasant in my response to a client rep who leans heavily on an attorney I’ve never met – nor have I agreed to work with. So. Much. Relief.

After pounding out the miles for the last few weeks I hit a wall physically as well as mentally, and I haven’t exercised much in a few days. I just couldn’t. To compare, I’m working out about 12 hours a week on average. So far this week I’m at 3 hours, about half of normal. And that’s ok, because my body said it needed to rest, and I listened for once.

All of this the day before my brother has his next surgery, which will change the family dynamic and schedule once again as we transition to supporting him. Talk about timing! But my brain knows, doesn’t it? Time to get it back together, and time to get back to hitting my carefully-set Fitbit goals. The little tyrant tends to control me.

What has been interesting about this short break is that instead of feeling weak or fat or lazy or other self-critical feelings about my unplanned pause, I felt stronger. I’ve lost 3 lbs in as many days (ok but I did stop eating sugar after that Friday meltdown), I can see more tone to my body and I am willing to be more physical – rather than just walking, I’m ready to start tackling trails, hopping around, on and over rocks and tree roots in a way that is much more challenging than what I have been doing all year to rack up miles.

I watched the intro videos to a power yoga series (I really like DoYouYoga and have found the membership to be well worth it) and my first thought of watching this trim and muscular woman hop into a handstand and switch kick into Warrior I was no freaking way can I do this. I’m 30 lbs overweight, and I don’t have a lot of the body strength it takes to do this kind of cool yoga stuff.

Yet.

I also couldn’t run part of a trail, I also couldn’t get my weight down, I also couldn’t find healthy ways to cope with anxiety, I also couldn’t be a successful business owner, I also couldn’t drive again, I also couldn’t love that hard again, I also couldn’t be comfortable in groups, I also couldn’t focus that long, I also couldn’t grow a garden. Three beautiful avocado trees and a boatload of herbs and citrus later, yes I can.

Maybe I can’t do it yet, but starting to feel my strength is making me think yes, I will.

My First Foray Into Meditation

I want to be able to accept my lack of control as a circumstance that does not require me to react with anxiety.

A couple of years ago a dear friend recommended meditation as a way to cope with anxiety. He was doing guided meditations and was appreciating the results. At the time I had no idea what meditation was, and I was quite adverse to anything resembling sitting still or thinking, and especially both, so I didn’t pick up that practice.

Fast forward to my current place of stability, brain on high process speed, the realization that my statement in EMDR was not the best statement for me (THANKS FORMER THERAPIST THAT I HAD TO FIRE – but that’s another story), adjusting that statement, practicing yoga with some consistency and being more comfortable with thoughts: I am ready for this meditation thing.

Change happens when you’re ready for it. If you aren’t, I don’t know that you actually change. Unless you are forced to, but even then it might be a temporary adaptation? Another topic for later. The point is, I was not previously ready to meditate. But having found myself in a place where my lack of control over, well, anything causes me considerable anxiety on a daily basis, my goal for the next few weeks is to adjust how I think about my lack of control and come to a place of acceptance over what I can’t, namely the behavior and choices of other people (also hurricanes, seriously).

I have found that after I practice yoga for about half an hour I am really ready to think about things. More than that, I get to a place that I have pretty much blocked out the noise and have space in my brain to work on myself, or just be peaceful. Today I sat with affirmations that I can accept not being in control, that I can be at peace with circumstances that are not what I want, that God provides for this, etc. etc. It was nice, and it was a start. Because my statement had been “I am in control.”

FALSE.

I am hardly ever in control (someone brought me lunch today and something in it caused my digestive system to hit the eject button, so I wasn’t even in control of my lunch today) and most of what I do is dependent on other people, the weather, availability of gasoline…so I want to be able to accept my lack of control as a circumstance that does not require me to react with anxiety. This will surely take some practice. First step made.

So Many Things Are Good Now, Like Showers

It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

Now that my brain is back to processing trauma, some things are much better, and some are not. It’s why I’m in therapy still, to navigate what stability brings. I’m really glad I know this – that when things are stable for me, my brain feels that it can start releasing information for me to process.

Then I sit and wonder how I’ve forgotten so much. Eh.

For example, showers used to be horrible for me. I got to the point that I dreaded my daily rinse off because I had nothing to distract me and that’s when all of the trauma would hit me full force with anxiety brain. I would try to enjoy the hot water and time to myself, but that didn’t work. Now though? I don’t have the racing, anxious thoughts so often, I have learned to beat them back in still and quiet time, and showers ARE THE BEST. It’s freeing to find comfort in something that was once a burden.

I still kinda hate intense exercise, and I only recently realized why. I used to work out intensely between 7 and 11 hours a week. I was active all day most days with my job, and I was in great shape and really strong. Post wreck I stopped working out, then started to hate exercise. It took some gentle prodding from my therapist to start walking and practicing yoga, and it took another year to realize why I WOULD NOT do more. I once had a tough workout shortly after a traumatic experience, and post-PTSD-inducing trauma I couldn’t make myself do it. I still can’t sometimes, but at least now I know why, and I can work on it and up to it. Cooler temps will help (I do a lot of exercise outdoors because it’s happier for me), here’s hoping for an actual winter this year!

This week I realized why I’ve been limiting my time visiting my grandma. I went to see her the evening of the day of my wreck per our regular schedule, and I acted like nothing happened. I have been caring for my grandma for 4 years, and haven’t viewed it as a burden until now. Now I just can’t even, as the kids say, and it’s a chore to see to her needs when that hasn’t been a struggle for me until the last few months. Well, it’s associated with a trauma event, even if indirectly, so that’s something for me to address too before my brain builds some kind of negative web of neurons about my grandma!

I’ve put just shy of 40 miles on my feet this week and have done some deep stretching in yoga (pigeon pose tonight, which I highly recommend!), so I am sore and feeling a little beat. I was up and down a ladder and jumping off and back on a cabinet to measure a building and windows for work today, and so much of me just wants that elusive total day off. Working this weekend though to not let myself get behind, but not giving up staying active during the week and making time to push my body a little. I had forgotten how good it feels to be tired BECAUSE I DID IT, and it feels pretty good. So did that shower!