The Silliest Thing I Do to Manage PTSD

Sometimes you do what you gotta do to cope.

I have a friend who is a kid’s musician as part of his musician profession. I don’t even know how or when we met, we just know each other, and a while back I ran into him at regional event that relates to my work. He kindly gave me one of his CDs, and I played it on the way home, curious.

That CD has been one of the best tools I have to cope while I’m driving.

Kid music often has a lot of wiggles and movement built into the lyrics, and I play it constantly while I drive. As much as the music is simple and quickly repetitive, it is also happy, sincere, full of wiggles and far from triggering for me while I drive. Listening to the radio has a lot of unknowns, and as I’ve now memorized all of the songs on this album, there are no unknowns, and it’s comforting!

What I did not realize at first is how important the wiggles are while I drive. I’m not having an all-out dance party, but I do move my shoulders and bop around a bit, and it keeps me loose and from clenching up as I’m prone to do when I’m under a lot of stress of have a lot of anxiety (i.e. when I drive). Those movements, particularly moving my shoulders, have made things so much easier for me while I drive, and help tremendously to keep me from locking up in a freeze position.

Silly? Yes. Stupid? Maybe. Working well for me and helping me add some happy to my day? Absolutely.

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This is Why Managing PTSD is More Than a “Change in Attitude”

I decided to go to a 90s/00s dance party fitness class last night. It sounded fun, I knew people who were going, and I felt that I was prepared to be aware of how I felt and not overexert myself.

I had a great time, got a good workout in, and made it home to shower right before I had a panic attack that left me in the fetal position, unable to do much more than stare at my hand or sob for over an hour.

This is why I don’t do things or go places. It’s hell after.

I still don’t feel fully cognitive and it’s been 12 hours.

There is no “try harder” or “think positive” or “be more prepared” that prevents what happened to me last night. I did something I thought might be fun, and my brain gave me a beating. There are other factors that were likely at play, but the timing wasn’t coincidence, and I’ve had issues with exercise for years because my brain reads my elevated heart rate as a threat.

It’s experiences like that, reminders of how much of your life has been ripped out of your hands by trauma, that can be almost unbearable and make it seem like leaving the house it not worth the risk.

But I have things to do today, so I might be a bit slow, but I am going to leave the house and do them and try again, because trauma isn’t winning today.

How a Commitment to Kindness Saved My Relationship

Relationships with PTSD are hard.

My brain reads so many things as a threat, including many personal interactions. It makes most of my relationships very difficult, and I have spent a lot of time being cold, aloof and out of contact for periods of time that vary with the severity of my symptoms. I can have a hard time listening to things I think are small and insignificant when I am dealing with severe symptoms, and I can lack compassion for other people’s challenges and disappointments.

I had to commit to being kind no matter what in order to save my relationship with my boyfriend.

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It wasn’t because I struggle with kindness, I needed a reminder and I needed to really commit to being kind no matter what so that I didn’t let my reactivity harm my relationship. If I am committed to being kind no matter what, I am careful about my tone of voice, my words and my responses to things that can be triggering to me. If I am committed to being kind no matter what I am not ignoring or discrediting my own needs, but I am making good communication a priority and focusing on what it looks like to engage in communicating in ways that are kind rather than in ways that are meant to retaliate. I am being much more aware of my response and how and why I am responding that way rather than closing myself off and listening only to my emotions.

It pulled things back from the edge, it has helped me to take a breath and be a more kind and thoughtful person. Wherever this one goes, those are skills worth keeping and practicing in any relationship.

Scheduling Self-Care

I’m a person who likes plans and schedules.

I’m also a person who likes to forget and ignore making plans and scheduling things to take care of myself.

This week I’ve been busy scheduling haircuts, eye appointments, checking into CBD oil (more on that when it arrives!), scheduling therapy appointments and knowing when I need to show up and meet deadlines and when I can take breaks.

It’s not pampering, it’s care. It’s not things that are ok to put off, it’s things I need now.

One of the hardest things about PTSD is that taking care of your own needs can be overwhelming, making plans and scheduling appointments – then keeping them – can be challenging and ever-changing symptoms can be obstacles to knowing what care you need and when you need it!

I find it helpful to write down appointments I need to schedule when I notice I need them, then schedule the appointment when I feel able to manage my calendar and needs at the same time. Some days I have a lot of work and addressing those responsibilities takes most of my energy, so making appointments for myself is just one more thing to do, and I tend to skip it to reduce the demands on my energy and attention. But writing the needed appointment on my to-do list has helped me to not ignore it for too long and get to it when I can.

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Back To Therapy for EMDR

In the last week my PTSD symptoms that I had only experienced while driving have begun to rapidly become more severe and pervasive, so I reached out to my therapist.

Thankfully she had an appointment open, and we’ll start the EMDR process next week. I’m so grateful! I’ve done this once before, when I was first diagnosed, and it was really successful. Now that I’ve had another driving incident (I almost passed out while driving several weeks ago), I’m experiencing a lot of the symptoms I had before, and they’re spreading out form just driving.

If you aren’t familiar with EMDR, you can read an explanation here. Also, Ashley gave a quick explanation it in a blog post.

I’ll be in this process for a couple of weeks at least, and I’m really excited that I have a process available to me to help manage my symptoms!

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Managing Stress and Uncertainty While Working with PTSD

My brain has a low tolerance for uncertainty, and all of me has a low tolerance for stress.

One of the continuing challenges – and lately feels like increasing challenges – of working with PTSD is that I work on projects that frequently have a lot of conflict and uncertainty. I’m finding that with the re-experiencing I have following my latest driving incident, I have less tolerance for the uncertainty.

As much as I know I am good at what I do, that I have the knowledge and savvy to navigate the conflicts successfully and that the most likely outcome will be reasonable and acceptable to my clients, my “lizard brain” is pretty good at taking over at any given time and negating the rational thought that could otherwise be encouraging and calming.

I know I’m not the only one who experiences this.

The question for me now is whether I acknowledge that I have a limited ability to manage my response to uncertainty and remove myself from those situations (not take on that type of project or transition to another work situation), or try to find a way to more successfully manage it, which may include going back to therapy for a period or an EMDR session.

I don’t have the answer yet – more uncertainty – and as much as well-meaning affirmation from friends is nice to have, it doesn’t reach the issue. PTSD in my experience doesn’t respond to rational statements, and it doesn’t respond to positive thinking, which are very surface level ways to address a complicated neurological issue. I have a neurological issue to address, not a lack of positive attitude or lack of knowledge, experience or preparation.

The dichotomies of PTSD are many and complex, and I’m doing the best I can. But I don’t want to stay with a situation that does not benefit my health and well-being, and I think I would be foolish to continue to complain about a substantial barrier to my health while not being willing to take the steps necessary to address it. Now that I’ve learned to listen to my body and pay attention to what I’m experiencing, I have to make good use of that information, and it’s part of what it looks like for me to take good care of myself.

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Detour, Again

After I just talked about going for it, I got in a car to ride to a wedding and had some of the worst re-experiencing I’ve had in a long time. It sent me on a day-long downward spiral, and between the panic last night and the anxiety today, it’s been a rough 24 hours.

Again, it’s so discouraging to start setting some goals and be sideswiped by your own brain.

I didn’t bail out yesterday and I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to skip this wedding and I didn’t want the overwhelming fear of impending doom to win. I also didn’t want to get completely sloshed, so I didn’t drink as I was inclined to do and stuck with a single glass of wine during cocktail hour. I was more than ready to get home, and glad when my companions left shortly after the dancing started.

Work was really hard today, and not just because I’ve had a hard time, but because I had a lot of unexpected conflict to deal with. If you’ve experienced PTSD you know that sometimes it comes with rage, and if I am already overwhelmed and dealing with the cognitive issues I sometimes have, it doesn’t take a lot for me to get close to losing my temper. I kept it in check, but barely, and the annoying communications I was dealing with didn’t help with my commitment to embracing what life throws me. I spent some time thinking about my next career move, possibly as a forest ranger. I understand they spend a considerable amount of time alone.

When you begin to lose (or completely lose) your ability to regulate your response to stress, it is unfathomable how you can manage a day without shutting down and shutting out, which was my inclination for the entire morning and part of the afternoon. I wanted to just go back to bed and not deal with it.

But I didn’t.

I stayed at it, worked as slowly as I had to, rearranged as I had to, kept my emails brief and courteous, and made it to the end of business with surprising speed. I still haven’t adjusted to daylight savings and the evening comes up quickly for me, and I wasn’t rushing through tasks today, I was working at the pace I could maintain and not quit. It worked out, I’ve started to inch toward feeling slightly better and I don’t have the severe anxiety at the moment. A walk to the mailbox this afternoon helped a bit, and I’ll do yoga when I finish a last email for the day.

Even if you have to slow down, even if the steps are small, even if you have to call on your support system, do what you can the best you can with what you can at the time. And if you need to take a day to calm and try again tomorrow.