A Meeting, A Millennial & A Sour Taste

I’m on the upper edge of the Millennial age bracket. I don’t identify with the group at all, and I don’t spend a lot of time around the age set. My clients, colleagues and friends tend to be either older or also don’t fit the stereotype, but I don’t have any animosity toward those who do. It’s just not where my life has led.

However, there is a limit to my patience for uncivil and entitled behavior no matter what age exhibits it, and it didn’t help that it was literally in front of my face in a meeting last night.

I attended a policy meeting regarding land use development code last night, hosted by a non-partisan organization that has monthly gatherings on various policy topics. They have really knowledgeable professionals speak who are also really good communicators, and I learn a lot by attending. The events are relatively small (40-50 people) and relaxed, and they serve wine and snacks for the group members and members of the public who wish to attend. The person speaking last night was a fantastic communicator, and I was so glad I went. He spoke well, clearly, effectively, and used language that was both accessible and inclusive. It takes a lot of hard-won maturity and compassion to speak as he did, and for the most part the group showed him respect accordingly.

For the most part.

Then there was the woman next to me.

I’ve realized that I’ve had a tendency to call young women “girls”, not from a lack of anything other than my own recognition of my age, since I still often unthinkingly include myself in that label and females younger than I are therefore also “girls”. I don’t want to be disrespectful or belittling, however, so I’ve started to make an effort to say “young women”.

This young woman was fashionably dressed and was speaking to the friends who had seated themselves around her (and therefore me) in a manner that quickly hit all of the “this is a Millennial” stereotypes I have. They apparently don’t understand why the city cannot make it so that they can live in the middle of downtown, frequently protest many injustices and love less expensive wine. If I sound dismissive, I’m saying this with humor. I don’t often get to overhear conversations like this, and I just have a different perspective, although I think anyone who protests injustice must be very passionate, and I admire that.

This particular young woman was clearly passionate, and willing to use her voice, because she was prone to interrupting the presentation with strongly-asked questions, loud snaps of her fingers and much whispering with her neighbors.

If we’d had a speaker who presented himself differently or who had not done such an outstanding job from the start acknowledging the historic harms of land use development, and the decades of harm caused by discriminatory policies in cities, and the challenges so many communities face today because of their inability to build wealth, I might have taken a different view of her behavior. And she wasn’t the only person who was disruptive, she was just the most disruptive.

Maybe she needs to be disruptive. Maybe her passion leads her to demand to be heard. Or maybe she lacks the maturity to hear what was being said, to reflect on it and to appreciate the opportunity to hear an effective communicator and his helpful and correct suggestions for how to be more effective at organizing for change. Maybe she’s compassionately fighting for other. Or maybe she’s not aware of her own entitlement. The rest of us probably were. I certainly was.

When the meeting ended and the room started to clear, I had to wait a minute to have a path clear to the door for me, and I noticed that her empty plate and few glasses of wine had been left on the floor next to her chair and next to me. I didn’t eat or drink, so didn’t have trash of my own, but I picked up her trash and got it to the waste basket for her, without comment or discussion. I guess some people need to make noise and some people think it’s good to pick up the mess you make before you demand others do the same.

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What I’ve Learned from Working Through Illness

For much of my life, I tended toward extremes. I was either super productive, or got nothing done. I was super interested, or could be paid to be interested. All-out effort, or zero effort. I knew this, and just shrugged at it and accepted that was just the way I was.

Fast forward to post-PTSD diagnosis (my diagnosis was the event that allowed me to stop my manic pace for the first time in nearly three years, but once I crashed, I crashed hard), and that approach to life, which didn’t serve me before, is certainly not serving me now. What I was really doing then was balancing extremes. After my car wreck and before I was diagnosed, there was no balance, just the extreme end of staying busy and never stopping. The mindsets and habits that I had developed then led me to do nothing when I wasn’t feeling well, and everything when I was. That really wasn’t doing me much good.

So I’ve learned, slowly, to work through my illness. Some days are really slow, some days not a lot gets done, some days there is no noticeable progress on the to-do lists. But I don’t let it stop me, I don’t give up and I take either small steps or large steps each day, depending on how I’m feeling and what my capacity is.

I no longer shrug at bouncing from extreme to extreme, I purposely regulate it, paying attention to when I can keep going and when I need to pause. I try not to get upset with myself when I struggle or am slow, and I try not to get too jazzed when I am feeling better and can do more. Feeling good tends to get me excited, and then I can go a bit overboard, which often circles back around to not feeling well. I like the rush, but it doesn’t do me a lot of good to chase after it without making sure I have what I need to do that.

It’s been a long process of understanding myself, my past narratives and my current limitations, but as I finished a project this morning that I have completed in the midst of more than a week of dealing with severe symptoms, I’m really proud of myself for taking those hard steps and sticking with the project when before I would have given way to my narrative of extremes. We can change if we want to, we just have to really want to.

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The Fear Goes Far Beyond Myself

Living with PTSD, I frequently experience intrusive thoughts of disaster, death and injury to myself. I can be sitting quietly and comfortably at home and thoughts of accidental harm and injury can race through my mind, completely unwanted – and to those who don’t live with it, completely unwarranted. “Just don’t think about it” or “Focus on the positive” don’t apply here. I have a neurologic condition, not an attitude problem.

It’s bad enough when I experience these intrusive thoughts about myself, but I can also frequently experience them regarding people I love and care about. I like having everyone under the same roof with me, and when they are all dispersed, I can go into a panic from all of the terrible things my mind conjures up could be happening to them.

It’s exhausting.

It also causes control issues that I have to keep a careful watch on. If your brain frequently or constantly tells you that people could die or be hurt when they are not around you, the behavioral issues that you can develop from it can be catastrophic to your relationships, and you can be controlling and unreasonable. Not because you want to be that way, but because your brain is telling you in no uncertain terms that is how it has to be. In looking for something – anything! – to relieve the relentless horrors that flash through your thoughts, it is so easy to be overwhelmed and overcome by the notion that if you don’t control it, the worst will happen.

It’s a lie, and it’s a lie I have to fight every day.

I have to know when I’m thinking this way, because I have to keep the behaviors that come from it in check. Not only to I have controlling tendencies (not a good look, and not how I want to live), I also have tendencies the opposite way – completely disengaging so that when the worst does happen, I’m already emotionally distanced. Both of these approaches are brutal on relationships and other people, and they don’t ultimately help.

Take a breath, pause what you’re doing, acknowledge the thoughts, hold up reality (conscious thoughts combating the negative thoughts and reinforcing the thoughts you would prefer to have) and repeat as necessary. You have to reprogram your brain, and it takes time.

Controlling the people you care about will not improve your relationships with them. Controlling the things you care about will not make them better. Cutting off people you care about will not help you heal. Disconnecting from things you care about will not make your symptoms better. What makes it better, slowly, is confronting the intrusive thoughts as you are able with purposeful, new thoughts. What makes it better is communicating what you are dealing with to the people you are affecting, because honest information drives out shame and helps heal. PTSD is not an attitude problem, and the battle is not won with shallow and casual statements, nor is it won by avoiding the symptoms. Face them as you are able, and keep trying.

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Found My Sweet Spot for Weight Loss

Several years ago, before my brain got wrecked along with my car and before intense workouts sent me into panic attacks as they now do (apparently the high heart rate is a trigger), I used to work out a lot. I also ate a lot. I’ve really never been one to turn down food, but food had also become a way for me to cope, little did I realize at the time.

I’ve never been skinny or slender, and the winter I worked too much and was also still working out, when I finally got to what is more of an “ideal” weight, my family and friends were concerned because I looked too skinny to them.

I worked out because I wanted to, and because it balanced my eating habits, and because it was social, and because I liked being strong, and, thankfully, not because of other reasons that have been a struggle for so many people. I also sometimes liked to push myself, and in the spring about 9 years ago I decided to lost some serious weight. I lost 20 lbs in a month by exercising, which included 4-5 miles of walking every day and about an hour of high-intensity workout.

I’ve never been able to lose weight by diet alone, until now.

When I say diet, I mean what and how I eat. I stopped eating late at night, I stopped eating foods with added sugar and dessert, I haven’t eaten many processed foods, and I’m eating smaller portions at a time. The last month or so I lost focus and ate whatever, and gained weight back accordingly, so I went back to that improved eating pattern this week and I’m down 4 lbs. Go figure.

There are so many reasons why I  gained weight after my car wreck, after my family’s illness and injury, etc. One is that I don’t work out at high intensity anymore, I can’t deal with it. Something about the high heart rate seems to trigger flashbacks and panic attacks, and the few times I’ve tried have not been pleasant. Even making efforts to build back up to it have been triggering, so it’s not the best option for me right now. I do yoga 4-5 days a week, and it builds muscle and strength, but it’s not a big weight loss tool.

That leaves me with how I eat, which is also challenging. On weeks that I stay on high alert especially, my brain craves carbs so desperately that it’s like fighting an addiction. I JUST NEED TO EAT CARBS, because my brain thinks it needs fast energy to burn in preparation for fighting or fleeing. I’m so much kinder toward myself now that I understand that’s what’s driving my compulsions for calorie intake, and it has helped a lot in managing it. I don’t always win that battle, but I am winning it a lot more now that I know what I’m fighting.

It’s an ever-changing process, and one that improves as I understand better what is behind how I feel. I’m really close to my first weight loss milestone, and if I make it quickly, great! If it takes time, also great, because just the knowing is progress.

green apple on girl s head
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Waking Up Has Become the Enemy

I’ve heard “positive vibes” statements that go something along the lines of, “Every day you wake up is a good day.” I disagree, because PTSD causes my waking up to sometimes be horrifyingly bad.

I tend to go through about three different sleep cycles, depending on my stress levels, how we’ll I’m managing symptoms and the gaping void of “I have no idea”. Sometimes I sleep what feels like a “normal” 7.5 hours a night, fall asleep fairly easily, wake up and get up with my alarm without much trouble and go about my day without thinking much about my sleep. Sometimes, probably the rarest occurrence, I have a lot of energy, sleep more like 6 hours a night, bounce out of bed early, get a lot done and feel pretty good about things. Other than unusually short sleep times for me, which I find odd, things are good.

Sometimes, as now, I sleep 9-11 hours a night, have trouble falling and staying asleep, wake up to a panic attack or worse, know that I’m not doing well, struggle through the day, have disturbing dreams and can pretty much kiss any plans for early morning activity I have goodbye, because it won’t happen, I will sleep as long as I sleep and I will not wake up to an alarm, or several alarms.

The length of these various sleep cycles varies, and I haven’t paid enough attention to track them, only to be able to identify them. And since I’m in a long-sleep cycle which has gone from bad to worse, I’m really paying attention now.

I woke up the first time this morning around 6, already dissociating to the point that I left my body. That is a really rare occurrence for me, and I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had the feeling of leaving my body. I haven’t dissociated much in the last year at least, so waking up to the sensation was really disturbing. I worked to get back to being present, calm down, try to process and breathe in the early morning dark, but it was rough.

And the whole time I was also having to face that any and all plans that I had been making for the weekend were not going to happen, because if this is what I was experiencing, I was much more unwell than I’d realized. For at least half an hour I played out the mental battle of bringing myself back to reality and letting go what I had wanted to do today.

I wanted to get up early, head to the bakery for iced coffee and a pastry (things I love), spend about 6 hours finishing up a project for work so that I could have it cleared off my desk ahead of next week, do yoga and relax in the evening or maybe work on a quilt project I’ve decided to take back up.

But coffee and pastry is caffeine and sugar, and there was no way I could go from dissociating to ingesting stimulants without probably needing medication. I haven’t been on any medications for anxiety or depression for a year and a half, and I would like to keep it that way, hard as it sometimes is. So no bakery, no early morning out and about while town is still and quiet, no work, and I knew I needed to go back to sleep to see if a few more hours would let my brain reset from its disturbed state.

Four hours later waking up was a much more pleasant experience, although I still feel unwell and not up to anything that looks like a productive day. I vaguely remember taking notes on my thoughts sometimes in the night – I’ll occasionally get really good ideas or narratives for writing when I’m not in a place to write it all out, and I’ll make short notes on my phone to try to capture the ideas well enough to remember them. The thoughts are like bursts that dissipate and don’t return most of the time, and all I remember is that I had a really great thought with the frustration of not being able to follow up.

PTSD sucks, if I haven’t mentioned that.

person lying on bed holding blanket
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I Just Got Professionally Corrected

I was rolling into the end of the work week when I got an email notifying me that I had made an error in a presentation that had been published in a news article. I had both misidentified a building and had an incorrect date for a photo. Both were honest mistakes, and there are a lot of context reasons for why it happened, but the short of it is that I got it wrong, and that was pointed out to me by another professional who had the correct information.

Ugh.

Being corrected is hard, even when it isn’t done publicly. I don’t like to make errors, and I didn’t like that I had made this one. Not a good feeling.

But I did, and I did it honestly, and I knew I had to respond with humility and gratitude. The world is just a very small place.

So I thanked the person who had notified me, and explained how I had made the mistake and what steps I would be taking to correct the mistake.

I emailed the publication and provided the information for the correction.

I got on social media and explained that I had made a mistake and just found out the correct information, and shared the correction.

I made the correction to the materials I had developed, and double-checked the rest of the materials for any similar potential mistakes.

And now I’m reminding myself that being uncomfortable, a little embarrassed and humble is much better than being angry, dismissive and not open to correction. I learned something, I had a colleague who cared enough to speak up, and I didn’t give into the shame gremlins.

man person street shoes
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