Stress is sneaky.I go through the day and think that I am doing great. I walk out the door at my internship and get in my car, start the engine and begin the drive home. After about ten minutes there starts a buzzy feeling in my brain and I start to feel the stress that I had been blocking all day start to come forward.
I do fairly well at the internship. I don’t have any panic attacks, except the first day. I communicate with others and have made some friends. But as soon as I walk out of the door everything comes forward and bashes me in the head. Which brings up the need for “the great how to decompress before I go home” quest.
I have tried listening to books on the drive home that make me laugh, I have stopped to go for a walk, I have stopped an just looked at nature. But so far I am finding the stress just builds up until I have to hide for a short while and just escape. But escape just relocates the stress it doesn’t actually make it better. Some of it is in finding a peaceful place to be in my mind. And for that I need to clear a space.
At the moment I am at residency for school. Surrounding by a large number of people that I do not know. At the same time I am also surrounded with people with whom I have developed a friendship. All the new faces and all the people that are around me have triggered some of my anxiety and panic that I feel in crowds. What I have decided to do is to carefully choose in what things I will participate and then to spend time in my room “nesting” feeding my soul and healing. Putting together the things that I need to do for the semester. Clearing away the things that need to be put into order and contemplating how to bring home the peace that I am finding.
Breathe in and breathe out. Find the center ground and stand in the space that I have designated as sacred. And let the feelings roll from me until I am back to the center. Then reach out and wrap the feelings of peace that being here at this place brings me.
Sometimes, when I am very stressed or in the midst of dealing with ghosts from the past, I stutter. This used to be a real problem for me. I also had a lisp. I saw a speech therapist for a short time when I was very young. And it also led to many opportunities for me to show the bullies why it was not a particularly good idea for them to pick on me. But teasing hurts. Which led to me not talking much. Or I would pace myself so it didn’t show up as much. It was not a constant thing and definitely more prominent during times of traumatic experience. But it was still there.
After my father died and we moved to Texas my mother bought a house that saved me. Well the fact that the bathroom had fabulous acoustics actually saved me. My father had died and the majority of the ongoing trauma died with him. But I still had the stutter and the lisp. And this is how the bathroom saved me. Everyday after school when there was a lull between anyone else coming home and my coming home, I would read out loud in the bathroom. I could hear myself clearly and listen for the shape of the words. I read Jane Eyre out loud in the bathroom until I had the stutter under control.
The depth of the language and shaping of the words enabled me to be able to overcome that particular obstacle. It was also an amazing feat since in reality I had only been reading for about four years at that point. Up until the fourth grade I had been just barely getting by in the reading department. But again I kept practicing and reading until viola I could read Jane Eyre. And pretty much anything else that was put in front of me. It was how I escaped the horrors of my life and stayed sane.
The other night I started to stutter again. There is a lot going on in my life and I had been having a particularly hard time with nightmares. While talking to my children I could not get out the words that I wanted to say. I started to panic. It is kind of a claustrophobic feeling to not be able to talk. To not be able to express the things that you are feeling. It creates a sense of being trapped. I took a moment to think and try to get past the feeling and relax so that the words could come out. I stayed silent and let the breathing ease my thoughts back into a place that was calm. And then I slowly began to finish what I was saying.
There are fewer and fewer times when I feel my ability to speak slip away. Being able to remember how to stay calm and speak slowly has helped. As has the knowledge of breathing and being mindful of what is happening around me at that very second. And not the panic that is trying come from the past. Right now at this very minute there is no threat, there is only me and the sounds of the cars driving past and the sound of the keys as I type. In this moment I can speak and not stutter, be free of any traps, and allow myself to just be at peace.
I love bees. I love to watch them as them move from one flower to the next. I am not afraid of bees because unlike wasps they have no desire to mess with you. Or so that has been my experience. But the one type of bee that I despise is the type that take up residence in my head.
These are not real bees. These bees are the feeling I get when I have totally overstimulated my brain. This happens when I have tried to do way too many things in one day or at one time. The only way that I have found to ease this buzzing in my brain is to find a quiet space and try to empty out my brain.
I do this in a mindfulness type of way. I sit quietly and try to actually pick through the things that the bees represent. Today for example I have spent way to much time reading articles on a very interesting topic. But I should have stopped at least three articles ago. Now I sit back close my eyes and let the information flow through and sometimes out of my brain.
If I don’t do this a switch in my brain goes off and I become frantic. Which only intensifies the need to release the feeling. At this point only a quiet room with no stimulation helps.
I did not even know that what I was feeling was over stimulation until a few years ago. All my life I just thought I was going crazy. Then one day I had an “AHA” moment. I realized that I was putting to much into my brain at one time. It is one of the reasons that I do not do well in crowds. I am easily over stimulated.
Meditation has been a god send to me for this purpose. The things that I am learning about quieting my mind has helped me more times than I can count. I am not an avid meditator. I practice when needed to bring peace to my mind when the bees begin to buzz. And then instead of a cacophony of buzzing my mind can go back to a gentle hum. Ready to be overstimulated all over again.
Have you ever watched a horror movie? ( I haven’t seen one in years and always try to watch the really old ones like the Spiral Staircase, more scare less gore.) And have you ever wondered what the heck that person was thinking? Does anyone in their right mind go down into the basement, where there is no way out, when there is some strange noise coming from down there? Having been faced with numerous opportunities to go down the stairs I will unequivocally say that my preferred option is to wait till daylight and then go armed.
Sometimes life has given me times when the amount of fear I am feeling is equal to the amount of fear that the noise in the basement gives me. And though I love the ostrich approach to handling fear it is not always appropriate. Take writing this blog for instance. I have been dealing with a large amount of fear and panic for the last few weeks. Starting a new phase in my life and feeling totally overwhelmed by it. To the extent that I sit down to write and either I am looking at technical difficulties that only antiquated dial up can provide or I am afraid to let the panic ooze into my writing. In any case I did an ostrich. And hid my head until the panic passed.
Only like the sound in the basement that I am eventually going to have to check on in order to have peace somethings don’t go away on their own. I am finding that facing the panic and just moving with it is helping. Breathing helps a lot. The first day of my new experience I had almost constant panic attacks. But I would surreptitiously begin the relaxing breathing that usually helps clear my head. And it did clear my head. Finally the day was over and I found myself sitting in my car having a whopper of a panic attack. The lovely “iron band around your chest if you try to breathe you might die” kind of panic attack. Drove home did the few things I needed to do and went to bed, watched a lovely safe movie and passed out. Then proceeded to have panic attacks through out the night. Got up and did the whole thing over again.
I hate that fear that the monster in the basement is coming up the stairs for me. The bottom dropping out of your stomach kind of fear. It doesn’t really help me navigate through life very well. It does keep me observant but doesn’t help navigate. I have found that if I were in a movie and that lovely creepy music was playing I would definitely avoid the basement. But in life I don’t get the music and somebody needs to go down the stairs and make sure it is just the cat having kittens or the mice forming a union and taking over the shelves. But breathing and meditating helps. As does talking it over with friends. And nothing says you made it like a comfy warm bed and a good movie at the end of the day.
I wonder sometimes when is it a good idea to tell someone that I have PTSD. I have wondered that because I have encountered situations where someone has asked if I had any experience with trauma. Not knowing whether they meant my trauma or someone else’s trauma. I said that I had experienced trauma and had PTSD. Suddenly the conversation had changed.
I was not looked at as someone who might be capable of doing things I became someone who might not be very trusted. It is weird how people can change their idea about you so quickly. You would have thought that I had admitted to being a serial killer in my spare time. I had not changed in those few minutes but their opinion did.
It makes it hard to be honest about yourself to yourself. Do I have to go back to the child who could not tell anyone about the horrors she endured, again? I hope not. That was a hard place to be.
Meeting people like gets me thinking about going back into my shell and not participating in the world again. But that was a dark and lonely place. I would really stay out here in the sun. Eventually I will find my place and be able to offer and give to the world all that I have to offer. But for that to happen people need to stop being afraid of people with any form of mental illness.
In an aside, I finally finished my trauma video for a course. Not earth shattering but hopefully helpful. I may get the nerve to post it at some point.
For the last few weeks I have been doing course work on trauma. This has been both enlightening and profoundly painful. One of the projects that I am doing for the course is a video on PTSD. Two weeks ago I thought that it would be a good idea to do a trial run. No one was home so I sat down with my computer and started. Worked for about a half hour. I thought that I had accomplished a great deal. And I had.
What I also accomplished was to trigger a panic/anxiety attack that lasted for about a week. It was not always strong but it was relentless. Sleep was difficult and so was general functioning. At one point the anxiety attack struck with such force that I thought I was having a heart attack. (Since I have panic attacks frequently I found out and learned the signs of a real heart attack) This was so intense that it scared me and my family. I thought that I would not survive it. It scared my family so much that they put me on lock down from all school work for three days. I could read fiction, if it was not stressful and needed to do extreme self care.
The point of this is that though I took the three days off I went back to work on learning. Set up a new work schedule and increased the self care. It was a stretch for my comfort zone. I pushed the boundaries of my bubble a little harder than I usually do. But I grew and I learned more resilience. Each hard step can make us stronger if we grow from it and mot move back into our shell. That little chestnut was painful. But learning that like stretching muscles is painful so is stretching my bubble.And that information was very affirming.
Healing can be insanely painful. I have begun to think of it like when I exercise and my muscles are really sore the next day. When you exercise, it is my understanding that you are stretching and tearing the muscles and they heal making them stronger. That is what it feels like for me sometimes.
I do things that I have never done before and then I pay a price, like the sore muscles, only in my case it is panic and anxiety. But once I work through the anxiety (and sometimes it can take days) I am a little stronger and it is not quiet so painful the next time I try to do something. And that is where I have been lately. Trying new things that stretch and hurt and trying them again.
Only each time I do I am a little bit stronger.
Once upon a time there was a dark cloud. He had no discernible from. He simply was. He could wrap himself around a person and fill them with fear so powerful that everything would quiet in their mind except the need to escape. This was his nature.
One day he saw a girl. She was a little afraid, a little bruised and a little sad. And he fell in love. He followed her everywhere. Sometimes wrapping her in his cloud until she could not think for the fear and then slowly he would release her and she would breathe. When she was in a situation that was unknown or around too many people he would embrace her and she would leave that area as best she could. He loved her but he was slowly taking away her life.
After many years the girl, now a woman, met a friend. This friend loved her and walked beside her. He could see the dark cloud and he could see how afraid she would become at times. But there was nothing that he could do. He could only walk through life with her, hold her hand and love her. While she became more and more afraid of the world outside her door. Though he shared her with the friend Panic, for that was who he was, liked that she stayed close to him always.
Time passed and the woman found that she did not like having to stay at home. She resented Panic. She resented the loss of her life. So she made a plan. If she brought someone out with her to where she needed to go they could help her find her way out of Panic’s embrace. They could see her begin to be afraid and help her to be somewhere safe. The woman had found a way to be free. She began to learn how to gain control of the fear and how to quiet her mind.
The cloud became sad when he realized that when he embraced her she would slow her breathing and quiet her mind. He found that if she were still for a moment she could say things to her mind that helped her find a peaceful place. A place where she could be calm and not be afraid.
Over the years she learned how to keep herself safe. She learned to know where the cloud liked to be. And to prepare herself for meeting him. Slowly she reclaimed her life. Though Panic still embraces her she has learned how to stay safe. Most importantly she has learned to trust herself to know the difference between real danger and Panic.
Over the last 20years of healing I have learned a number of things.
1) Things get better- it took time and work. But I have gotten better. I can do things now that I could not even imagine doing just five years ago.
2) Community/support group- It is necessary to not try to live this out alone. I have found that I need someone to hear me and to understand. Someone to be there for me when things are way too much for me to do alone. This group can be anyone. For me it is my friends, family, religious leaders, therapists. It can be anyone that fills those needs for you.
3) My story of healing and survival is Sacred- I know that there are people out there who want to hear and give sacred space for your story. I also know there are people out there who don’t give a flying fart in space about your story. That is why who hears it and who doesn’t is important. I have no problem with people knowing that I have survived intense years of trauma. But the story itself…that is sacred. The humiliations, pain, and terror that I survived. That is mine to be shared only with those who have earned the right to know.
4) That feeling of mind crushing soul destroying depression that tells you not to exist anymore can and will pass- This is why you need community and support. It does not last forever and it is hard to get through. It is near impossible to get through alone. That is why we need those we love and who care about us to be aware of our struggles. Because they love us they want us to stick around. And they really do want to listen and help. And that feeling does pass. It comes back sometimes, but it passes.
5) A safety plan- I have needed and implemented a safety plan in my life. When things like number 4 happen I know who to call. I have a list of people to call. I have a strategy for getting through those insanely dark times. And the biggest part of that is speaking up and acknowledging the pain. There is nothing that the darkness of depression hates more than turning on the light. And talking about it…turns on the light.
6) No matter what has happened in my life I am loved- There are people out in the world who love me and reach out to me. They have helped me through to this point of growth that I now enjoy. And when I am alone (which rarely happens) i have my dog. Love is non negotiable. Everyone needs it. It is why we sometimes do stupid stuff to get that feeling. Sometimes those things are actually destructive. Finding a way to get that feeling and stay safe is important.
There really is a lot more that I have found out along the way. But community, safety, and the knowledge that the darkness does actually pass have helped me through the dark times. The times of curling up in a ball and hiding to where I am now. But the most important thing that I have learned is that I have already won. I am still alive. I lived through the hell I experienced. And I have lived to tell my tale. I have great sorrow and for those whose pain takes them from us too soon. And I have great love and compassion for those that struggle everyday to remember to breathe. Everyone’s journey is sacred. And we all need to be community for each other so that we can all heal.
There are days when I feel like an imposter. I get up in the mornings and go through all the motions. I do the reading for my course work, work with my daughter on her home school work, look for an internship, make sure the family has what it needs. Even still I feel very much like I have not accomplished anything. I have a check list that tells me that I have accomplished things. And yet I feel like an imposter.
I muscle past the fear and anxiety that talking to people brings up in me. For example, I have to call someone about the insurance and I have to straighten out the order for my new glasses. I am filled with terror at the thought of both. I will do them eventually. But the thought of doing them fills me with fear. The rational side of my brain tells me that this is no big deal. Neither of these two people I will talk to are a threat to me. My life does not hang in the balance, and yet it feels like it does.
Regardless of all that I have accomplished I cannot get past my feelings of failure. For many years of my childhood I felt as though I could not succeed. I was never good enough. Never expected to be good enough. So when I do succeed or do well it is always a surprise.
I would not say that I don’t try, because I do try. Sometimes a little too hard. And it is those times or the times that people express belief in me that I feel like an imposter. It is always a welcome though surprising piece of information when I find out others feel that way as well. For some reason that always surprises me. What also surprises me is when someone believes I can do something that I feel I have no idea how to do.
Which brings us to the feelings of being an imposter. I have come to a point where by using mindfulness and meditation I am able to go to appointments and feel like the real live confident person that I am and not the scared and inadequate person that I feel I am. I am hoping that the imposter feeling will find somewhere else to be for today. But even still as long as I just keep doing what I need to do regardless of the imposter feeling I will accomplish things. Even if I can’t be who I think I should be then perhaps this me that steps up to do all the things that need doing will become the me I look at instead of the me I think I should be. And then the imposter will be the right person.