I spent most of the afternoon trying to write up how I fell into the career I have and why I do what I do. I couldn’t even write a cohesive story.
I know that trauma disrupts narrative and memory, and this evolution of my career has happened in the middle of the trauma that changed my brain, but it has been painful to not be able to craft a cohesive, linear narrative of something that is fundamental to who I am.
It makes me feel like I’m failing at everything.
I tend to catastrophize situations, and that is exactly what I’m doing here, but I cannot seem to kick myself off the loop of not being able to acknowledge what’s good. I am making my own way, opening my own doors and having great response – and all I see is failure.
I don’t have the support I need from the people I need it from, and all I can see is failure.
I don’t have a clear path forward, and all I can see is failure.
I’m not quickly bouncing back from this or adapting to it, and all I can see is failure.
It’s for these moments that you need the practice of self-love and self-care. It’s for this that you need to be able to forgive yourself and give yourself some grace. It’s for this that you need the perspective that this is temporary and that you can hit the pause button before trying again. So that is what I will do – set down the article and the other things I feel I’m failing at – pause, then try again.
Whether it’s this particular point in time or that we’re not a good fit regardless of time, my boyfriend lashed out at me in a way that surprised and hurt me, and that I didn’t find fair. We’ve had a lot of problems in the last few months, including communication problems, which don’t seem to be improving.
We’re both trauma survivors of different types, and it has been a hard combination to deal with, particularly as the ways we cope are different and not often compatible. That, coupled with how hard I push myself to heal and how hard he thinks I push him (not clear yet if it’s pressure I put on him or pressure he feels because of me), we wound up in a shouting match after he went radio silent for a day and didn’t appreciate my views on that.
Just let me know what’s going on, I can’t read your mind and no, I don’t feel assured that the reason doesn’t involve drugs and/or alcohol, honestly. The past doesn’t stay in the past when you keep repeating it.
It’s hard for me to know if what he said is really how he feels, because we’re back to not talking after he blew up at me again for wanting clarity on what taking some space entails, but he made some statements that don’t sit well with me.
“You need to stop being so pessimistic…it’s like dating two people, the one I love and then (statement left unfinished)…You put expectations on me that are completely unreasonable…You pust way more pressure on me than you ever put on yourself…” and a lot of bringing up other people, which I’m not the least bit interested in when we’re discussing our own relationship and the problems that are between us.
And the people who do know me and have for years will tell you without hesitation that I put way more pressure on myself than I ever have or will put on anyone else.
I don’t see myself as two people. I was evaluated for bipolar disorder when I was diagnosed with PTSD, and I showed no indication of it, nor does my trauma history support the diagnosis. And I don’t have that experience. I am the same person, no matter what. What does happen, and what is a constant problem for me, is that sometimes I am public-facing me, and sometimes I let the mask fall and am the me that often struggles to maintain my sanity and independence, such as it is. I don’t see that as being two people, rather being a multi-faceted person who places high value on successfully relating to other people and who chooses not to show the darkness I live with because I don’t always want to be reminded of it myself. But when I don’t have to put that kind of energy into my appearance, I don’t, because I don’t have that much energy.
This isn’t the first time this has happened. I worked at a gallery for several years, including when the car wreck happened and for about three years after. My employer put a high priority on customer service, and when I was on the sales floor I was “work me” – charming, helpful, sparkling and knowledgeable. I frequently engaged with customers in long conversations, and I took pride in being a bright spot in the day. It made us money and made me look really good to my bosses, and I really enjoyed it. But that was a snapshot of me, not the whole me. A man asked me to dinner one day after talking to “work me”, and I am not kidding when I say he was disappointed to find that outside of work I was quieter and a little more reserved. He ghosted me after dinner, and I know it was because he thought that the snapshot of me he had gotten of me at the gallery was the whole story, and that’s the story he wanted. Well, no, I’m a human, not a Barbie.
Now that issue seems to be coming up again – and I frequently communicate how I’m feeling to my boyfriend so that he knows what to expect and doesn’t get blindsided – it is hurtful and disappointing, because this is after more than a year, not just a date. I don’t get to walk away from this, and I fight as hard as I can to beat it. But hey, if this isn’t for you, I get it. I don’t want it either.
We aren’t pessimists. We aren’t two people that you can separate into a person you love and a person you don’t even like. We aren’t simple, we aren’t your problem to fix and we don’t need your bullshit and lack of compassion. I am a human with a traumatic brain injury that is overlooked and ignored most of the time, even by the people closest to me, because you can’t see my injury and you choose not to engage in the communication and behaviors that will help me heal. And that’s not on me, that’s on you, because I am doing the best I can, and frankly it’s enough.
It’s a heart rate hack for PTSD, if you will. And it lets me know what I might be able to expect day to day based on how I experience stress.
There are no affiliate links in this post, and I’m not being paid for a damn thing. I think we’re all ok with that.
The best book I have read to date to help me understand PTSD is The Body Keeps the Score. I like research and data and analysis, so the approach to learning about and understanding PTSD really worked for me. It helped me make sense of what happened to me, what I experience and how to heal, and it gave me hope and comfort. That said, there are no trigger warnings, and it can be hard to listen to at times. It was definitely written by a researcher, the tone of the male reader is a bit flat and clinical, and it does not use caution with the trauma and symptom descriptions. Please take care in deciding if this is a helpful resource for you, and if you are in a place to tolerate it.
One of the tools from the research was monitoring Heart Rate Variability – HRV. From Wikipedia:
Heart rate variability is the physiological phenomenon of variation in the time interval between heartbeats. It is measured by the variation in the beat-to-beat interval. Other terms used include: “cycle length variability”, “RR variability”, and “heart period variability”.
HRV is used in medicine and sports/fitness because it can measure your heart health as well as your state of recovery or stress or activation. The greater the variation in the time interval between your heartbeats, the more relaxed or recovered your body is. You can think about it like the more relaxed your body is, the more variability in your heart rate. Your heart can kind of do its thing on its own time, because everything is cool. However, if you are under stress, let’s say you experience PTSD and you are activated or triggered, so you are under a lot of stress (even if it’s not “real”) and on high alert, your brain tells your heart that you need to be tensed up and ready to fight or flee, and your heart rate variability shortens because your body tightens up and gets prepared for whatever your brain thinks you are about to have to do. Your heart pumps now have more purpose and intensity, and it has to show up to work rather than meander around.
Once I learned that information I decided to test it out. If I can strap on a heart rate monitor and be more aware of how I’m doing (because years of numbing have left me still trying to work on self-awareness and I often still don’t realize I’m headed for a panic attack or trigger until it’s too late) I am all for it, so I did some research and settled on a monitor and an app.
I use a Polar H10, which has bluetooth capability and can talk to my phone or laptop. I had a Polar heart rate monitor years ago when I was working out a lot and I really liked it, but it has since died (too much sweat – ha!) and I needed the bluetooth capability, which is a new feature. The H7 also has Bluetooth, but I think when I bought it the H10 was a little cheaper on Amazon? There are a lot of options for heart rate monitors, including new finger sensors that you just slip over your index finger, but I wanted something less expensive and that I could use for workouts as well. The H10 will record a workout that it can send to my phone when I sync it later.
I use the Elite HRV app, which is geared toward fitness and not PTSD but which works fairly well and gives me a readout that I can understand and work with. It’s free to download, and they offer a lot of articles and info that I pay no attention to.
The app has a Morning Readiness setting, which is what I use to check how I’m doing when I wake up. You can take a reading any time, and after checking throughout the day and in various mental states for the first week, I now just check in the mornings. I put the strap on, open the app, wait for it to read the monitor, then hit the Start button and let it go for 2 minutes while I sit still on the edge of my bed.
When I started taking readings, I had a rough idea that a score of 59 would be a “good” score, and that I would likely be lower because I’m not in great cardio shape and I have PTSD. That was correct, and I was often reading in the 30s and low 40s. That has changed over the last few months, and a good score for me is in the 50s. If I am above or below that by a lot (10 or so points or more) it indicates that I may not be able to tolerate much stress that day without having problems. This morning I was a 6, which didn’t surprise me given the week I’ve had. 10 is the best, I’ve been a 3 before and that day had a massive meltdown that left me crying in a parking lot for an hour.
It isn’t perfect, but it does help me know where I am and how to take care of myself. If I’m in the green, I can probably proceed as usual with my day and not take any special measures. If I’m in the yellow, I need to pay attention to how I feel and be a bit cautious about putting myself in situations that can cause stress or know that I may be very tired by the end of the day and not be very able to handle personal drama calmly. If I’m in the red, I need to practice a lot of self care and be kind and forgiving toward myself. And this isn’t just because the colors dictate my experience, I’ve been testing this out and found it to be fairly accurate. Some days I can have a reading that seems to be higher than how I feel, so I tend to go with how I feel rather than the score when that happens. Sometimes if I score a 2 I’ll check again just to be sure it was an accurate reading, because a 2 is panic button bad and not a good idea for me to leave the house.
It’s a process, I’m still learning, but I think it’s helping and I’m watching as I change my practices over time to incorporate more exercise, yoga and meditation – things I hope will contribute to long-term improvement.
A week without yoga was enough to convince me to go back to it, and the other things that seem to have improved my PTSD symptoms.
My HRV score was a 6 this morning, which for me means I can have an ok day if I can avoid additional stress or a potential meltdown if I can’t. Considering how my week went, I felt that was surprisingly high.
I have eaten my way through every calorie available to me, yelled at someone yesterday (which may or may not have been warranted but not something I usually do in any situation), can’t seem to push through the mental fog of anxiety, cried most evenings and can’t bridge between what I want to do and what I can do. It’s not pretty.
There are certain factors that made this week harder to deal with, but there are also certain factors that have made me less capable of dealing with it, chief among them that I was not taking care of myself. In the name of science, it’s time to get back on the mat (new goal is to stop checking the time to see how close I am to the end of the video, which I do frequently and which it turns out is really hard for me not to do) and back to taking the time every day to consciously pause and breathe.
These seem like such little things, but now that I’ve experienced their big effects I’ve become a believer. And a practitioner. Who needs a lot of practice.
PTSD can be really isolating.
That, combined with just being human, makes me want to point the finger at someone – anyone – else for my problems, and blame the lack of support I have (which is real) or the lack of help (also real) for my lack of healing, progress, and general well being.
I was aimlessly trying to push though another day yesterday, completely unable to enjoy my recent accomplishments, successes and opportunities. I listened to Esther Perel’s TED Talk on Desire, and it rolled around somewhere in the back of my head until I hopped in the shower yesterday evening, desperately in need of a way to shine a light on why I was struggling so hard. She was talking about erotic desire, but what she said about the effects of trauma on desire finally resonated with me. Because that perfectly fits my experience, and it’s with ANY desire, particularly of late.
I have been caretaking for so many people and have been so responsible for so long that I have ZERO desire whatsoever, for anything. Zero. And it is holding me back from living.
The problem lies with me, because I am the one who keeps caretaking and being responsible.
Photo by Designecologist on Pexels.com
I’ve been letting my boyfriend hold me back from desire and blaming him for why I have no desire in our relationship. Well, I don’t have desire anywhere else either, so that shouldn’t be a surprise. And I have certainly been caretaking there, and not holding firm to my statement three months ago that I didn’t want to do that anymore. Well, again, that’s on me.
Now that I understand the issue, I got a little manic and wore myself out in about 3 minutes because I was already out of energy. I still don’t have any, but I do have a much better connection to myself and an understanding of what is getting in my way and why. It feels like a milestone in healing, to understand that PTSD and its effects have killed my desire and the only way I am going to get it back is to engage in the actions and behaviors that get it back (I highly recommend the TED Talk – just click the link above).
I has been hard to hear people tell me I must be passionate about and really love my job when I feel like I’m just good at PR on autopilot. Maybe this will help me make that more authentic.
I think I’ve eaten about 20 rolls/cookies/biscuits today.
Part of it is mindless stress eating, part of it is driving in terror for hours this week and my brain thinking all that threat means I need to EAT CARBS, because I might have to flee. It took me years to learn that’s why I do that.
I was going to go work out, but then I started feeling dizzy and decided I probably needed to not drive. I haven’t done yoga in a week after doing it for a month solid.
I can’t celebrate any of my recent accomplishments today because my brain won’t accept good, and it won’t relax out of hyper-alert (probably due to all of the driving I’ve forced myself through).
I took this photo for work, and for work it tells me something. When I look at it outside of that context, it tells me something else.
The darker layer of wood underneath? It’s really good, and high value. It was cut down and milled over 100 years ago, when we still used old-growth timber. It’s incredibly strong and yet flexible, and it doesn’t take a lot of it to hold a tremendous amount of weight and tension.
The wood on top of it by comparison is brittle and isn’t able to serve a purpose other than as a facade, a skin to cover the good stuff. It protected the valuable wood for a while (over 100 years) and was itself covered over with an even less valuable skin for a few decades, but it wasn’t built to last, and it doesn’t have the value. So now were’re stripping it off to get to the good stuff, which can have new life and new purpose.
I think I’ll quit eating cookies and watch a yoga video now…