Managing PTSD: Keep Showing Up

Continuing to do things that aren’t working isn’t a path to successful recovery or management of post-traumatic stress, and there are a lot of things that don’t work. But there are things that consistently do work for many – meditation and breathing, yoga, EMDR, drum circles and theater (not kidding, read The Body Keeps the Score if you want to know more) – but they only work if you do them.

Which means you have to do one of the hardest things for someone with PTSD. You have to keep showing up to do them.

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Photo by Luis Aquino on Pexels.com

Particularly if it takes a while to be diagnosed (two years for me), you can get to the point that showing up to anything, even just yourself, is too overwhelming and too hard. I recently watched a video about military veterans with PTSD and their service dogs, and how one man had grocery shopped late at night to avoid crowds and be around as few people as possible when he went out until he was matched with his dog. I completely understand that.

But it can be damn near impossible to get yourself to do anything that is uncomfortable, including the things listed above that are supposed to be “easy” or “simple” or “calming”. For some of us, those things are not. It has taken me months to be able to do yoga consistently and for more than a few minutes at a time, and I’m just now pushing myself to stay with the positions that are hard for me to hold.

This stuff is hard. All of it. It’s different with PTSD. It is really hard to show up once, much less every day. But the work to heal and the desire to not stay trapped by your brain are worth pursuing, worth attempting, worth working toward, even if it’s in small bits. However small a step you take to show up, it echoes throughout the universe and is heard. I hope that you are able to hear it.

Working with PTSD: Why a Schedule Matters

Getting myself on a schedule was a challenge last year. I like to wake up naturally, and sometimes that’s my only option, because when my brain wants sleep, it will sleep.

I’ve found that having a schedule that mixes external obligations with internal goals is working for me this month. Yesterday I was feeling really overwhelmed with my workload but needed to be at a meeting shortly after lunch. Being on time was a struggle for me last year as it can take me longer than I think to get out of the house, so this year I’m trying to be aware of that and focus on leaving on time. I was 5 minutes early (the new goal) and the meeting went really well. It’s a project that I’ve had a lot of frustrations on but we had a great discussion and left with a clear path forward and assigned next steps. It felt really good.

This morning I had a meeting with a recently funemployed colleague, and the ideas and work we discussed were inspiring and energetic. Again, getting out of the house and being on time was a positive experience and well worth the effort. To add to that, I was on top of my work before and after these two meetings because I was concerned about fitting everything in and staying on schedule this week while I juggle multiple projects.

I’m a planner so scheduling naturally works for me, but staying on schedule has been a challenge the last few years as anxiety has been a barrier to that. I’ve had to recognize that it’s an issue and something I have to be intentional about changing, and like any other change, I have to work at it and practice it.

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I’m excited that I’m only two weeks into the year and this is already proving positive for me. It can take a lot of my energy to be on time and be engaged in project meetings, and in the past that effort has wiped me out – sometimes for the rest of the day or for a couple of days. Managing PTSD is an energy suck, especially early on, and it takes a lot of work (it’s taken me 3 years. honestly) to be consistent and on time with work.

What I’ve also recognized is that for me to be my most productive at work, I have to stick to my non-work schedule too, the taking care of me schedule. Even on the days that morning stuff gets moved to evening because I don’t have enough time when I wake up, I’ve started being careful about stopping, eating and completing my daily routine. So it’s not a hard and fast schedule, but it’s a schedule that prioritizes taking care of myself so that I can be in a place to walk out the door on time and deliver projects to my clients in a way that meets both my expectations and theirs.

1% Better Requires a New Yoga Mat

My 1% is a little longer than a week this time, but includes a few elements. Every day I’m checking my HRV when I wake up, doing a guided meditation, practicing yoga (and I mean practice cause I’m not very good at it) and I’m working at least 45 hours a week.

Whew!

This is a lot for me to do at once, but it’s what I’ve been trying to be able to do for months. I just kind of quietly started shortly before New Year’s Day and have kept it up for a couple of weeks. Except for the working, that’s new this month for me to push past 40 hours, and I am certainly feeling it.

  1. I check my HRV every morning when I wake up. I have a heart rate monitor and an app that do it and after 2 minutes I get a number on a scale of 1-10 that shows my relative “readiness”, essentially how much stress tolerance I have that day. I’ve been in the 6-7 range, which is a bit low, and I am struggling with being overwhelmed and lacking creativity in a way that is consistent with those lower numbers. It’s ideal for me to be a 9 or 10, but I haven’t been a 10 yet this year and I’ve been a 9 only 6 out of 14 days. 7 is when I have to start paying attention and be mindful about not pushing too hard and 6 is when it’s pretty likely I will have a meltdown if I’m not protecting myself from what might seem to be pretty minimal stress. I’ve done this every morning for 30 days in a row now, and I’m getting pretty familiar with what the number – a proxy for my stress tolerance – can tell me about myself and how it can help me manage PTSD.
  2. I’ve been doing a guided meditation from Audible with 20 sessions. The first session is 5 minutes and you work up to 20 minutes on the 20th session. I just started it for the second time because I wanted a little more practice with some of the breathing techniques, which were new to me, and I am changing up how I do it. The first time through I laid down because that was the most comfortable and I did it right after I checked my HRV, so I didn’t have to get out of bed and could comfortably roll into my morning. I think that was helpful, and a good way for me to get started. This time through I’m listening to the sessions in the evening while seated on my yoga mat. My goal is to meditate twice a day, morning and evening, which I will start doing once I finish this round of 20 days.
  3. I’m watching Adriene Michler’s latest 30 day yoga video series and have somehow managed to stick with it for two weeks! Day 5 was rough, which she mentioned in her daily email, but also Days 6-13 were rough, so… Today was the first day that I wasn’t resentful or pissed off about it, and while I wasn’t jumping on the mat in a hurry to get started, I wasn’t mad about it either, and I didn’t swear at her today. In all seriousness this is a really great video series, and it’s free! It’s helping me go through the process of regaining strength (because hiding in my bed has turned my muscles to jelly), and after two weeks I’m starting to see and feel some muscle again. Yay!
  4. 45 hours a week might seem arbitrary, but that’s where I need to be to get my billable hours where I need them while still working on my company and giving time to non-profits. Being an entrepreneur and small business owner means WORK, and there for a long time I wasn’t putting in the hours I needed to, plain and simple. After analyzing my company performance and work hours (I track them all!) for last year and setting some clear time off and pro-bono goals for this year, I know where I need to be, and it’s a minimum of 45 hours a week. I’m pushing myself to reach that this month because I also need to know if this is a workload and pace I can handle. I don’t have the endurance I used to, and this may not work for me! But I only know if I try it out, and I was 48 and 50 hours the last two weeks. It’s hard, and I’ll see where I am in another two weeks, because today I had some doubts if this is really a pace I can successfully keep.

And I bought a new yoga mat that arrived yesterday. It turns out that a 4mm thick mat wasn’t enough to cushion my knees in several poses (my yoga space has a tile floor), and now that I’m doing yoga every day I can’t fudge my way through very comfortably. New mat is 6mm, which is much more comfortable but also a bit slippery, and still smells like PVC, so I’ll let y’all know how I fee about it in a couple of weeks. Until then…onward to 1% better!

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Let’s Talk Chapstick

I’ve mentioned that I don’t like to be uncomfortable. PTSD seems to have changed my skin, and made it more dry and tough. This is especially true for my lips, which often crack and peel!

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means I may get a commission at no cost to you if you use the link to buy a product.

I don’t recall having dry, cracked and peeling lips as often as I have in the last few years. I drink a lot of water, I’m not out in the sun much and I really don’t know what else to think except that I’ve noticed my skin has changed – and not for the better.

I tend to be a Chapstick girl rather than a lipstick girl, although I will occasionally wear lipstick for work or when out to dinner. Chapstick is my jam though, now that they make a Natural Lip Butter in Pink Grapefruit! https://amzn.to/2CgynMi

This has been a lip-saver for me. I ran across it at my local grocery store and bought it on a whim. It has worked so well that I now keep one on my dresser and one in my purse, and when I was traveling in November and lost my Chapstick, I could tell a difference – the regular Chapstick didn’t work as well as the lip butter (and certainly doesn’t smell as good).

You can also check out their Sweet Papaya (which I have but prefer the Grapefruit) and Green Tea Mint (which I haven’t tried) if Grapefruit isn’t for you, but whichever flavor you prefer, I highly recommend this lip care line!

Working with PTSD: How to Push Through When You Have to

It would be so much more convenient if the world could pause long enough for us to stop, get what we need, recover, heal and get geared up to try again.

If you figure out how to do that, please let me know.

It doesn’t, and if you own a business, sometimes it can all come in the door at once: client requests, deadlines, bills due, repairs needed, inventory delays and probably some personal issues (or explosions) on top of it. Does this happen to everyone? Sure. Is it so much harder with PTSD? Absolutely. “Everyone gets overwhelmed sometimes” is one of the least helpful and supportive phrases I have ever heard, and I don’t care if it happens to everyone because I know how it happens to me. Overwhelmed for me might be more like obliterated for others.

But the work doesn’t stop, because it was stopped for too long, and pushing through is so hard because I pushed through until I couldn’t anymore. So what do I do?

There are a few features of my life at the moment that are pretty similar. Physical, emotional and mental endurance are not my strengths right now, and that plays out in very similar ways. I used to be able to muscle through a obstacle run or a double workout, but I now struggle on hikes with uphill sections. When I hit the uphill parts, I have to slow down and watch my footing, then I start to lose energy and I have to be intentional and aware of my steps. I go from ignoring my feet to paying careful attention to them, and start placing my feet rather than walking. It’s a subtle difference, but one that shifts my energy into something that works better for me and is focused more efficiently, more effectively. The noise around me drops out a bit (and I become less tolerant of it) and I zero in on placing my feet, taking those steps, no matter how small or how slow they are.

I do the same with work. I still have to know the big picture and where I’m headed, but I shift my focus from the big (overwhelming and too much to deal with without shutting down) to the steps, walking carefully and as slowly as I need to so that I can keep progressing without freaking out because I had to stop or freaking out because I tried to tackle too much at a time.

When I have to slow down, I often have to work over the weekend, and that’s another thing I have to carefully step through.

What do I need to get done, what can wait until next week and how do I protect my schedule and my well being while I don’t drop the ball and put myself further behind? If I’ve had a week or few days in which I haven’t been well, being intentional and slow with my steps, even if it means working a little longer or more days than I normally would want to, usually turns out to be my best move. Keeping up the forward progress – while I make sure I take care of myself and rest when I need to – will usually get me out of the overwhelming stretch and back to a place that things seem more doable without putting me behind as might happen if I were checked out and stopped.

Not every difficult stretch will work out this way, and sometimes you might need to take that full step back, or even call a helicopter to come pick you up off the trail. However, if you are ready to start moving forward consistently and are experiencing some challenges with managing feeling overwhelmed with work and having those time pressures, try shifting your view and your focus down to your feet, and trust that you will know how to step.

I Really Kind of Hate Yoga Right Now

I’ve done yoga 10 days in a row now. And not just a few minutes and call it yoga, I’m following along with Yoga with Adriene’s Dedicate program.

I kind of hate it.

Adriene is a fantastic yoga teacher, and a kind person. I think she puts a lot of love and thought and energy and kindness into her videos, and I am a big fan. Her website is one of the ways I was able to start yoga and not beat myself up over how little I felt I was able to do. Now I’m sticking with longer daily practices, and I am finding that I am often really uncomfortable, angry, frustrated and swearing at my screen.

I think this is kind of telling.

I don’t do discomfort well, I don’t have a lot of physical strength or stamina right now and I do not play well right now.

And she does.

So whatever it is that is preventing me from engaging in play, from just doing my best, from enjoying this experience, from being open to learning…it’s deep, and it’s angry, and it doesn’t much care for the yoga mat.

PTSD can be layers upon layers of trauma, and since PTSD has been strongly linked to shame, sometimes we can have a hard time escaping shame. I can have a hard time escaping shame, especially if I am already activated, which I have been several of the last ten days.

What happens from this experience, though, and what happens when I keep doing the things I’ve set out to do because I know they provide benefit and healing, and what happens when I pay attention to how I feel, and what happens when I rumble with what I’m experiencing, is that I start to unwind and unpack and untangle the trauma. I start to open up those deep, dark places of shame that are holding me back from living and I let the light in to heal.

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It’s hard. And I was not able to do this three months ago. But now I am, and while I’m grateful, it hurts.

 

Living with PTSD: Relationships

The grief of not feeling supported in your illness is intolerable.

I know. I’ve been there. I am there. Very few people in my life are able to or willing to support me, and no one within my immediate vicinity. For me, it’s the hardest thing about PTSD to live with. And yet I’ve had to learn to tolerate it. Because without the ability to tolerate pain and grief, you cannot heal. You cannot numb it, you cannot push it away and you cannot avoid it. It must be reckoned with. To do that, you have to learn how to tolerate the intolerable. Not from others and not from yourself, but from within yourself. Once you can face it, once you can look at it, you can reckon with it, and you can begin to release it.

 

IMG_20180601_211000_163.jpgI no longer cry audibly, except for my breathing. The pain and grief are too deep and too overwhelming to express with sound. I’m not sure I really cry anymore. I think I sob silently. I’m not sure when that happened, I just know it’s gone on for a long time. I’ve cried a lot since my car wreck, and it doesn’t look likely to stop. I sobbed through the first part of a yoga practice the other evening. The instructor was talking through the intro, and I was blowing snot all over my left sleeve. There is just so much grief that comes with PTSD. Most of the time I don’t understand, but I’m not sure I’m yet at the point I can.

What I do know is that getting intentional about healing is the way you begin to heal. Learning to love yourself is the way you begin to heal. Learning what your triggers are and deciding what addressing them in the way that is the kindest toward yourself is the way you begin to heal. Getting curious about how your brain has changed and what you can do about it is the way you begin to heal.

Finding people you can build trust with and who can support you is so important. Learning to set boundaries for behavior you can and cannot tolerate is more important. You may have to do things differently. Your relationships may need to change. People may not know or understand or be willing to learn how to support you. People may not be able to support you, even if they want to. Regardless of what others can and cannot do, what they will and will not do, finding a way to communicate your experience (or not) in a way you can tolerate and knowing what it looks like for you to need to reduce or remove a relationship for your well-being is important. It is really hard for others to help if they do not know (although thankfully some people will already know and understand and make space for where you are). But once they do know, they will prioritize that priority to the extent that they prioritize you. And you will know.

But sometimes knowing and doing are two different things. I understand that. We do the best we can. Center on being kind to yourself first.