Two Years Post-Trauma I’m Crying At My Desk

I’ve been a bit ragey, unsettled and unfocused the last few days.

I had been doing so well, I thought. My routine has been a bit disrupted but not anything I didn’t choose to do, I worked out Tuesday evening and had a minor freakout but was calm by the time class ended and I thought I managed that pretty well, and I’m sleeping less than usual at the moment but I’m mostly waking up on my own so I didn’t see that as cause for concern.

So what was going on with me?

My brother’s work accident was two years ago, and this time last year I was sitting in the ICU, doing everything I could to support him and to support my family and praying ceaselessly that he would get to keep his fingers, which had been badly crushed.

A miracle happened, he has fingers that not only work but that are strong, he’s living life on his terms and doing what he loves, and every second of fighting for him has paid off magnificently.

But my body does not forget, even when my memory does. When I realized why I have been feeling rage this morning, I sat at my desk and cried. I’m so grateful that he’s a living miracle, and I still hurt so much. That was the worst day of my life, worse than anything that has happened to me, or any of the days that the effects of trauma have handed me a beating. His accident happened after my car wreck, after my diagnosis and after I had been in therapy for a year. It was a huge disruption to my healing process, and one that I would gladly do again. But it took me a long time to process what had happened, because I had no time to think and feel, I just had to act, and that didn’t slow down for months as I tried to keep myself, my year-old company and my family functioning.

Trauma stacks up fast when you have PTSD, and even traumatic events that ultimately turn out well can add to the burden that is so hard to carry. Especially because our bodies don’t easily forget. Mine certainly hasn’t, although I thought after last year I’d be ok.

I am ok. I know now what can happen, I’m learning that even years later trauma anniversaries are hard on me, and while I try not to conjure them up, I still need to be a little more aware of them. This morning helped me to release this one a bit, I think, and I don’t feel the rage and angst any more. I do want a day off. But first I have to go rodeo.

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Next on the Reading List

One of the better things I’ve done for myself is get an Audible subscription. I wanted to read more, but was having a hard time sitting still to read, so I decided to listen to books and see if that worked. It has helped me a lot, and I have used listening to books as a way to learn.

This isn’t an ad or a sponsored post, I’m just sharing what it working for me.

I listened to Florence Williams’ The Three Day Effect: How Nature Calms Your Brain over the weekend, and it was really good. It’s one of the Audible Originals, short audio-only programs that are free to members at the rate of two per month, and hers is one of the May productions that I got to download for free.

She interviews military veterans with PTSD, survivors of sex trafficking and sexual violence, personal friends and she shares a lot of her own experience struggling with divorce. If you have triggers related to those topics it might be challenging to listen to. I certainly cried, and she goes to very emotional places.

Her viewpoint, and what she’s seeking to understand better, is that after three days in nature, the body experiences calming in a way that is not available in urban settings. She goes on a river trip with veterans in which brain activity is measured, she goes on a camping trip with survivors of sexual violence and observes the changes the women experience (and the challenges of being in an unfamiliar and “unsafe” space – the great outdoors – when the purpose of the trip is to promote healing, which requires notions of safety and security), she stays in yurts with a friend with writer’s block who isn’t able to engage with his creative process and who is initially in the story no lover of the outdoors.

She talks too about awe, and how important awe is to our experience as humans. I had no idea.

I haven’t been outside much in the last few months. Two summers ago I walked outside a lot, even on the really hot days, and I had been walking or hiking fairly frequently until last fall, when I just kind of stopped. The weather where I live has been all over the place this spring and we’ve had a lot of rain days and flooding, so I haven’t had a cohesive block of time to begin redeveloping the habit of getting outside. Now that I’ve listened to the book, I’m motivated to find ways and make time to start doing that again, and to plan my own outdoor getaway. All of it made sense to me, and I have no doubt I would benefit from any steps toward getting back out in nature.

Scarcity is telling me I need to stay at my desk and work away, or else. Or else the company fails, or else I don’t make enough money, or else I can’t keep things going, or else I have nothing to push me forward and keep me getting out of bed every morning, or else I shrivel up and become nothing…scarcity is a lie. Hard as it is, I need to start doing more of the things that combat scarcity thinking, which has been my default mode post-trauma. Like make time to get outside.

man in hoodie jacket standing by the cliff
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Rethinking “Summer” This Year

I’m sure I’m not the only childless adult not in school and who does not work for a school who looks forward to summer.

I did, however, spend 19 years in school, so I know a little bit about looking forward to summer break.

Summer is still a break in many senses for me. I tend to have less joint pain, the sunshine is great and the longer hours of daylight help my moods and mental states considerably. I don’t mind the heat, I like wearing fewer clothes (I find jackets and layers constricting), I like the herbs and veggies right out of the garden and I all around am a summer kind of girl.

For the last few years I’ve looked at summer as a time of seasonal improvement, if you will. Ok, it’s about to be summer, this summer I am going to do this list of goals related to my health and well being and have fun and experience new things and just live life!

That hasn’t happened.

I spent two summers ago caring for my brother. I spent last summer in bed a lot while fighting depression caused by PTSD and exhaustion caused by caring for ill and injured family members for two years. Both summers I had wanted to live that vision of a big summer life, and both summers I did not and was mostly at home. When I did get out and about last year it was for work. I did take a trip out to the desert, but a few days out of an entire summer fell far short of my intentions.

This year I have zero plans, interests, or goals for SUMMER!

It might be because that hasn’t worked out for me yet, it might be because I’ve been really busy with work, it might be because I haven’t realized that summer has just about arrived, but I think it’s because I’m not desperately looking for an escape this year.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m wanting an escape several hours out of the day, most days. I would love a two week vacation – a real vacation – so much. This year, however, after working so hard for months to accept myself – PTSD and all – and to address my symptoms and to make healthier choices and to get out of bed and after working harder and smarter at my job…I might not be so desperate to escape. And I might not be building “summer” up as a season of escape, but rather accepting it as a continuation of the past few months of effort. Because what I need is not a bunch of brunch and pool time and late nights and weekend trips, what I need is to keep working at transitioning from a person who can barely get out of bed to a person who can manage a busy work week, PTSD and the fallout of five years of downward spiraling due to an injury no one can see and I didn’t have a handle on. There are not enough cute dresses and sweaty workouts and brunch cocktails and filtered selfies on Instagram to fix what I deal with or erase the scars of trauma.

For me it will be the slow, steady, show up every day and do the hard work that will get me to a place that I view summer as a season of enjoyment rather than a season of escape, and I am not there yet. But I will keep working at it until I am.

photo of woman in white short sleeved crop top and brown sun hat posing by sunflower field
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Know Your Heart Beat(s)

I’m finding more reasons to be excited lately. PTSD has been a positive excitement killer for me (negative excitement still happens frequently), so this is a new and welcome experience. Or rather the return of an experience, since I used to get good excited a lot.

My resting heart rate has been down to my goal rate for a week straight, and last night dropped another beat.

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There was a time that I was consistently in the 70s and a resting heart rate of 64 didn’t seem feasible. The reason this is important is that my resting heart rate tells me a lot about my state of anxiety and how stress and activation are affecting me. They affect my ability to rest, to have restful and restorative sleep and to let my body recover panic attacks, triggers and meltdowns. I’ve been doing better managing my condition the last month or so and have had healthier eating habits, and it’s starting to pay off.

I wear a Fitbit to track my sleep and heart rate. Sure it tells me my step count and how many stairs I did, but I really wear it to track the symptoms that are harder to see and identify and that I’m not as aware of otherwise. If I know my heart rate, especially when I sleep, I know how well I’m doing, and how external circumstances are affecting me.

Prior to years of abusive employers and the trauma that caused PTSD for me, my resting heart rate was in the 40s. Sure, I was younger too, but the years have added up to a heart health situation that is not good for me. If I travel for work, my resting heart rate usually climbs into the 70s. If I have a lot of unresolved problems, same thing. Hitting 65 consistently for a week then dropping to 64 last night is a cause for celebration. I’ve been doing yoga after work this past week, being mindful of what and how I eat and giving myself plenty of time to transition to bed by closing my laptop well before bedtime and getting ready for bed earlier. I’ve also been up much earlier in the morning, and I’m finding the change to work well for me.

Knowing your body, knowing how to track your symptoms and knowing how to tell when to make adjustments to your daily routine (or even having a daily routine) are so important to managing PTSD. It has taken me a long time to get here, and a long time to be able to put the pieces together for myself. This is really cool, and I’m so grateful that even as healing happens slowly, I am able to heal.

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Accepting Yourself As You Are Right Now Is The Start of Getting Where You Want To Be

Self-acceptance is a pretty radical notion for a lot of us, especially those of us who have experienced trauma, who have experienced shame from family and friends and even strangers and who have had a hard time figuring out where we fit in the world.

I did not come from a family in which self-acceptance was an accepted message. I had to start learning it after I was diagnosed with PTSD, and it was a paradigm shift for me, as I had bought into the belief that I was never enough.

Believing that you aren’t enough doesn’t make you better, it eats you alive.

You are enough. Right now. Just as you are. And it is so very important to practice accepting that.

I did not start to heal until I did, because if I couldn’t accept where I was, if I couldn’t take an honest look at myself and make peace with me, there was no way for me to make the kind of changes I’ve had to make to live a healthy and fulfilling life the best I can.

Accepting yourself and where you are doesn’t mean you can’t have goals and dreams and things you want to change about yourself or your circumstances. Rather it gives you the gift of pausing to take a breath – for however long that pause needs to be – before you make your next move.

Acceptance is not a small thing. It’s not an unimportant thing. It is huge and hugely important. And you are worth accepting, right now, just as you are.

It took me some time, and it took a lot of practice, but even as I progress through healing and finding a new path with PTSD playing a significant role in that path, I still have to be able to constantly accept myself where I am right now. You can’t wait until you get there, until you arrive at your highest and best version to accept yourself as you are, because even then it won’t be enough. You can’t wait to practice until you arrive, because you won’t have gained all of the beautiful perspective that comes from practicing now, even if it feels like you can’t fall any further.

Practice accepting yourself now, with everything about you that is now. You are enough, just as you are, right now, no matter what path is in front of you.

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Small Steps Toward Taking Good Care of Myself

I had a hard day.

Before 8am I had already dealt with driving triggers, betrayal, and heartbreak. I spent 12 hours on the road. There were no easy solutions for the project I’m working on and the best answer might be to give up and go with another option. Sometimes the best answer is to walk away.

With all of that, and as sometimes happens, I have a lot of body pain now that my work day is over. Joint pain, connective tissue pain – it comes and goes, and varies from a dull ache to a roar. It’s about halfway between right now. I haven’t found a quick cure for it yet, and I tend to let it hurt rather than take pain meds. It’ll probably be gone tomorrow.

For a long time, if I’ve had a hard day my response has been to not exercise, to not put down work, to not rest and take a break from it, but to go to bed or numb out to tv or binge eat snacks or something not healthy. It’s been to be wired from the stress and start mentally spinning on whatever didn’t get resolved.

I did something different today.

I dropped work when I walked in the door, ate a healthy dinner and did a challenging yoga practice that asked a lot of my stiff and sore joints. I don’t feel much better, except that I did something mentally and physically hard at the end of a hard day, and I didn’t engage in my usual numbing behavior. I took good care of myself, which is a really important achievement for me. I’m worth it, and so are you.

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