I’m Good, And Far From Great

I’m becoming very uncomfortable in my cocoon.

It’s apparently usual for people who have experienced trauma (and those of us who have had our brains wrecked by it) to cocoon themselves in some way to protect from further trauma. Sometimes that can look like gaining weight (me) and sometimes that can look like staying at home or another protective environment (also me).

The things that we do to protect ourselves when our brains tell us constantly that we are under threat – even when we aren’t – often don’t lead to us living our best lives. They are survival lives, they are necessary for a time and they serve a purpose.

Mine is just no longer serving me, and I am starting to stretch against the defenses I’ve built around myself.

Those defenses – the weight, the avoidance, the staying at home so much, the (relative) lack of networks and social circles, the lack of exposure for my work, the missing pieces in the picture of a life that I find fulfilling – are now holding me inside a life that has become too small and too confining.

I’m just really, really grateful. And I’m trying to be aware of the reasons I have to be grateful for this new phase so that I don’t shortcut the experience of living them.

I have been holding myself back in a way that has now developed its own set of problems, but the reasons are valid, and it has taken a long time to rewire my brain to understand that I can indeed live a bigger life. It has taken years to get my confidence back, to learn to manage the triggers and to acquire the tools and resources I need to be able to get out of the cocoon.

I am not great. I am far from it. But I’m good, and I’m really grateful that I am finally in a place to be able to say that.

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Working Back Up

I fall down a lot.

Not literally, I wouldn’t describe myself as a clumsy person, but I mentally and emotionally fall down a lot.

Sometimes big falls, sometimes small, but a lot, and frequently. Sometimes I straight up bust my ass.

And I get back up.

Every. Single. Time.

If I fell down this much physically, I would be really concerned. And very bruised. And might have a broken or fractured bone or two. If I fell down this much literally a lot of people would have noticed, and I’d have to take more cautions about how I move around. Or would I? Would I be more cautious, or would I keep going for it, trusting that I would eventually get better at moving around and would eventually quit falling down so much?

Sometimes I get back up only to fall down again right after. It’s usually surprising and unexpected and unpleasant. After all, I just worked to get back on my feet, so to speak. But just as I would keep getting up if I fell down physically, because otherwise I’d just be laying on the ground, I get back up mentally and emotionally. And sometimes I lay here a minute and hurt before I breather out and work my way back up on my feet.

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Trying to Be Patient

I’ve got a pretty busy week, with a lot of public appearances for work, a very important presentation and a lot of triggers going on.

I have the tools, I have support, and I need the patience to use them and wait it out.

Things can shift so quickly for me. I can be triggered in an instant, I can have the flood of chemicals in a panic attack dissipate in about 20 minutes, I can go from good to horrible in minutes, I can have thoughts of disaster and destruction in a split second, and I can be distracted by having to be “on” for work and not worry about anything at a moment’s notice. The set of things I’m dealing with right now though will not be resolved quickly, and the triggers I will really just have to wait out, because while I’m consciously happy and excited, my brain behind the scenes is running on death and disaster, and trying to be really intrusive about it. I need time for those disaster predictions to be proved wrong, and as hard as I’m working to combat it, time and effort are what this needs.

And sometimes that’s the way it is. I often move and operate at a fast pace, so the slow things are really hard for me – particularly when it involves my trauma brain. And I haven’t done yoga in about 5 days, which says a lot. Yoga is a lot harder for me when I’m not doing as well managing the mental chaos.

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The Things We Do For Love

My therapist told me it is good for me to not avoid doing things that trigger anxiety for me, because my brain gets rewarded for avoiding and not avoiding will get subsequently much harder with each time I avoid.

This is not true for everyone, and is true or me only after a lot of work to have the tools and resources available to me to handle the triggers in a healthy way.

And since I do have those tools to manage triggers and anxiety, and I’m willing to use them to navigate life, I chose today to drive a box truck around a metro area to do a big favor for my partner, who needed some help getting a few things moved around from a few places to a few other places.

I drove a truck. A 15′ box truck. In the rain. In traffic. On the interstate. Nothing bad happened, and I did it really well. Not even a near miss or an almost really bad.

I did spend the day on high alert, and with a lot of anxiety, and with a little bit of feeling like I might pass out, and with a lot of the discomfort that quickly turns to anger for me. I had to be mindful of how I felt a lot and had to be very careful not to speak meanly or carelessly. I had to reassure myself a lot and drive a little bit slower than usual (probably wise in any regard) and ask for help when I changed lanes so that I didn’t miss anyone in the fairly large blind spots. It was stressful, and I am still coming down from the stress. I’m not there yet.

But I made a conscious choice today to do something I knew would be hard for me and that was pretty much guaranteed to be triggering for me, not just because I love him, but because I love myself.

I love myself enough to be honest about what I can and can’t do, and to push myself when I can. I love myself enough to start saying yes when for a long time I’ve been saying no, but only out of fear. I love myself enough to actively use the tools I have worked really hard for to manage anxiety and other PTSD symptoms so that I don’t have to be limited in what I can do. I love myself enough to allow myself to live a bigger life and not stay in the small life that is no longer serving me.

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Being in the Public Eye with PTSD

I’ve been hiding at home for the better part of 5 years.

I finished two master’s degrees following my car wreck, in programs that were at a major university and required you to be present for all classes, and I didn’t miss a class. I also worked retail during that time, so I talked to A LOT of people, and was pretty well known at my store. I started therapy close to graduation though, and when all of the trauma started spilling out, I gained a lot of weight, found myself being frequently triggered (especially while driving) and generally just disappeared to the comforts of home to recover and rest in between venturing out for work.

I am in a much better place now, after a few years of really hard work. But it’s still hard, and I am rolling into a phase of life in which it looks like I’ll be going back into the public eye, so to speak.

Hiding at home has been great, but it’s not ultimately fulfilling for me. I know when I need to rest and I know what my capacity is, but my capacity to be in public (and this is everything from going to the grocery store to giving presentations to elected officials, it all has a similar exertion from me, believe it or not) is changing as I’m moving along in my recovery process, and it kind of feels like it’s time to start reclaiming what I like to do. I like to volunteer. I used to be very active in community building and downtown affairs, and now I’m armed with a substantial amount of knowledge and experience that I didn’t have before. I think it’s important to volunteer and be engaged in civic affairs, and I want to do that. As often happens, “THE UNIVERSE” is pushing me back into it a bit before I’m ready, and I’ve had a lot of opportunities pop up since I gave a presentation last week to connect in the place I live and to be re-engaged in ways that are similar to what I enjoyed and found so fulfilling before.

I’m a bit rusty. Remembering a lot of names, shaking a lot of hands in quick succession, all that goes into participating in committees and boards of directors and other community-oriented positions is something I haven’t done in a while. Making others feel welcome and comfortable, showing up on someone else’s schedule – haha, if you experience PTSD, you know how challenging and overwhelming that can be!

And then there’s the reality that I can be triggered at any time, by so many things, by words or conversations or contexts and THAT MIGHT HAPPEN WHEN I NEED TO BE HAVING MY PUT TOGETHER PUBLIC FACE ON! And it is EXHAUSTING for me to be “ON” – the longer I have to be my public persona, the more exhausting it is. I’m not a fake, I’m very much myself, but it’s a protected version of myself that shuts down the reactivity and maintains a cheerful state of calm and engaged. I like to positively contribute to my surroundings, and attitude can be everything.

That isn’t always feasible, and I’m not even sure it’s best, but it’s what I do and how I cope and what works for me. It can be impossible for people who experience PTSD to be able to step out into the public eye, but it can also be how some people who experience PTSD cope. PTSD doesn’t always look like the retiring, protected homebody, it can look like the consummate, engaged professional who is rarely home. Both of those are perfectly valid, and both need to be rooted in the most important thing – noticing how you feel, knowing what YOUR healthy boundaries need to be and taking good care of YOU.

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With PTSD Trauma Sometimes Bubbles Up…and Sometimes It Explodes

Everyone who has said yoga is a good practice for people who experience PTSD has been correct, in my experience. It was a long, rough road to get started, and I know so much more now than I did when I first started hearing that. Research said do yoga, my therapist suggested I do yoga, people I know said do yoga. But it was so impossibly hard for me to do yoga, and I am just now starting to enjoy it rather than endure it. I can get really angry during yoga. I’ve talked about this before, but as I continue to practice and start to get into a regular practice I’m noticing a lot more about it, both the benefits and why it was so hard for me to get here.

Yoga tends to bring up a lot of emotion for me.

Hence the anger, sometimes seething rage.

I’ve not been feeling well this week, but “not feeling well” can mean a multitude of things. I had gotten so far as to tell my boyfriend I thought something might be wrong with me, and as much as I’ve stuck with my regular work schedule and knocking out my do-to lists, I’ve been slowly plodding along during the day, and have had a lot of other things going on – upset stomach, anxiety, hard time focusing, not feeling very strong or energetic, etc. And my resting heart rate, the best indicator of how much I’m experiencing PTSD symptoms, has been creeping back up.

I avoided yoga on Monday, because I just didn’t want to, even though the next video in my playlist, ironically enough, was Yoga with Adrienne’s Yoga for When You’re in a Bad Mood. Ha! I snacked, ate dinner, snacked and ate ice cream instead, trying not to be hard on myself for eating more than I needed to instead of doing yoga. I knew I was avoiding, I just didn’t know what. Last night I did yoga, and it took about three minutes before I was in tears. There it was.

If I have an experience that echoes an experience that was traumatic, or that was connected to trauma somehow, or if I’m in a context that resembles one that was previously connected to trauma, it messes with me. Even if the reality is, “nope, totally different this time.”, by brain and body sometimes (most of the time) can’t tell the difference. It is a constant battle, and one I can never get ahead of because there’s not a way for me to anticipate this. Even if I could block out all of the experiences that connect to trauma for me, and I don’t want to because a lot of positive things connect to trauma for me, there are so many and so many that surprise me that it’s not even feasible.

So I have to keep going, keep trying, keep sorting through the thoughts and the connections and repeatedly checking my emotional responses against reality¬†and making specific and intentional choices to not allow trauma to win.¬†It is exhausting, and it is making me really slow and ineffective this week when I want to be doing a lot of writing for work and pushing some projects forward. Interestingly to me my work isn’t bad, and the quality isn’t suffering, but my speed is super slow compared to usual and I’m not excited about that.

Now that I know what’s going on I can address it and work through it, but like the rest of my week this isn’t something that can be resolved quickly, and my brain needs to see “it’s different this time” proved out before it can accept the new information. This shit is hard, y’all, and if this is also your experience, I get it, and you are certainly not alone.

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